(Via Geneseo.edu)
Via Geneseo.edu

It’s a good thing that SUNY Geneseo just raised so much money because Andrew Cuomo is out to kill it.

WXXI news is reporting that SUNY Geneseo just raised a record-breaking $23 million over the past 5 years.

And it’s a good thing, too, because the state has been slashing the SUNY system to the bone. I was at the SUNY Geneseo commencement this May. I was shocked to the extent that the University President spoke frankly about their finances. He talked about how the state is funding less and less of the school budget, and how it imperiled their mission of a quality education for all.

Public schools are essential to the health of our democracy. Education is a human right, and state and community colleges are the only way we can provide it at an affordable rate. Student loan and grant programs, if they only go to private colleges, will just drive up costs. We need public schools not only because they’re good themselves, but also to keep private schools honest (through market competition!)

In the midst of all this budget cutting, department closing, and tuition-increasing,  Governor Andrew “1%” Cuomo is making a big deal of a grand poobah commission to cut taxes.

So after this happened:

Cutting SUNY


The Governor is insisting that everything is peachy. So great that we can start cutting taxes.  And thus the “emergency” “we have no choice” cuts to education become permanent.Governor 1% wants to cut taxes


Here’s what New York’s tax structure looks like (without the temporary top brackets about to expire):

Via tax-rates.org

Via tax-rates.org

The top bracket is $20,000! Maybe if we used the same brackets say, say, any other state, we’d be able to cut taxes for the majority of citizens and still be able to offer a quality education to all.

(cc-licensed photo by Flickr user laubarnes)
cc-licensed photo by Flickr user laubarnes

More People, More Power

I’m excited to share this news.

People-Powered Rochester is going to expand its doors, and take on new contributors.

We’ve already signed up a few. You’ll see them start posting soon.

Do you want to join us? 

There’s no pay. But there is a chance to build something that strengthens the entire progressive ecosystem of Rochester. A chance to build an alternative lefty infrastructure that bolsters worthy causes across the city.  A chance to make a truly people-powered Rochester more of a reality.

Join us if you’re interested, and please extend a warm welcome to the new bloggers.

(Taken from wjcny.org)
Taken from wjcny.org

The Workers Justice Center is the coolest local group you’ve never heard of.

They have a ton of staff. They explicitly work for social justice and human rights. They go into the homes of farmworkers and tell them their rights, sometimes facing shotgun-wielding agriculturalist landlords in the process.

Yes. There’s a group in Rochester that goes into the fields and faces down farmer-aristocrats to give the workers legal protection. And they’re even government-funded.

The Workers Justice Center comes out of a merger of two different groups just a little while ago. Now, they have an office in Rochester, an office in Kingston, and a small satellite office in Albany. But don’t be fooled – they have contacts and power around the state.

The Rochester group (you might know them by their old name – Farmworker Legal Service of NY) operates out of a nondescript office on the eastern part of Culver road. Their staff includes lawyers, directors, and support. Their staff also includes many people who actually drive down to talk personally to farmworkers day after day. It’s inspiring.

So what does the Worker Justice Center (WJC) actually do? They have six areas of expertise:

  1. Anti-Human Trafficking
  2. Know Your Rights for workers
  3. Domestic Violence legal aid.
  4. Workplace Safety Training
  5. Advocacy and Lobbying
  6. Community Engagement with partners about the above 5 items.

Let’s drill down into a few of these, shall we?

Human Trafficking

WJC has set up 4 different roundtables (they call them task forces) in the state. Each taskforce has local nonprofits, legal aid groups, law enforcement, business groups, goverment agencies, etc. They all work together on human trafficking issues. And this is the real deal – just a few days ago, for example, staffer Renan Salgado just got back from a trip to Mexico on assignment.

Know Your Rights and legal aid

WJC shows up to the homes of farmworkers and educates them about the legal protections they do have. Often, workers live on the property of their employer. Those employers don’t like that WJC visits (sometimes to the points of calling police, waving shotguns, making threats, etc), but the law is on their side! Tenants anywhere have a right to invite guests over. Did you know that?

It goes beyond just education, however. WJC has a network of contacts and informants. When an employer abuses their employees – physical harassment, wage theft, abuse, whatever – they meet with the workers and take the case as far as it needs to go – often in court.

Advocacy and Lobbying

Farmworkers don’t have the same rights as the rest of us do. They don’t have the right to collective bargaining, overtime pay, a day of rest, or disability insurance. At least, not in New York. The WJC is part of a statewide coalition to lobby to fix it. Every year, the bill, “Farmworker Fair Labor Practices Act” just barely loses in the Senate. This year, WJC has joined the statewide committee of the coalition to pass it.

The big picture:

The WJC is unusally kickass for a legal aid nonprofit. Though they take government grants, they consciously steer clear of those with strings too tightly attached, and supplement their revenue from other sources, which funds their advocacy work. (Since it’s illegal to lobby on the government’s dime).

They aren’t a union, and aren’t trying to organize workers into one. Instead, they’re building a network of people who can call for help instantly when their rights are being violated. WJC then builds a case with the people under attack, and they jointly decide whether to accept a settlement, fight in court, etc.

“With farmworkers and agriculturalists, it’s David versus Goliath. We always side with David”

The WJC prides itself on always siding with the “Davids” that are farmworkers, and has been known to throw hasty rallies outside police stations to keep people from deportation. At the same time, they still have good relationships with law enforcement through their joint work on human trafficking.

It’s an impressive balancing act that they’re pulling off. So far it’s been working out well. They’re soon going to help setup a new anti-trafficking taskforce for the Southern Tier, and their contacts with workers are so extensive that they’re hiring extra staff to deal with the influx of cases.

(Picture by AlBrundage of Rochester Indymedia)
Picture by AlBrundage of Rochester Indymedia

Event Reportback: Metro Justice’s No War in Syria Rally

Remember the Metro Justice-led No War in Syria event?

I’ve been to my share of rallies outside the federal building. This was one of the liveliest and most fun. Maybe the visible presence of TV crews helped.

Yes, TV crews! In the legacy media, the event was covered by WHECWRDC, the Democrat and Chronicle, and WXXI. Gary McLendon at the D&C has a particularly nice article.

In the grassroots media, AlBrundage wrote a report with our friends at Rochester Indymedia:

Forty or so local activists gathered in front of the US Federal Building on September 13 2013 to send a strong message to Senators and Representatives inside.  “We do not want war with Syria.”  The rally was organized on short notice by Metro Justice and co-sponsors were Rochester Against War and Band of Rebels.

Passing cars honked their horns in support of the protesters.  One driver even stopped and offered cash to a demonstrator to support the cause.  How often does something like that happen at an antiwar rally?

The signs was abundant and clear, and my friends at the rally agreed that they were pleased to see new faces there. Good work, everyone.

(Photo by Randy Gorbman at WXXI News)
Photo by Randy Gorbman at WXXI News

Richards probably would’ve lost

So says Aaron Wicks, the only person I know of who came close to calling the primary race correctly.

The bottom line is this: an active, full-throated Richards candidacy remains a longshot and would require Richards to do things with his campaign he wasn’t able to do when he could and did have the open support of prominent Democrats. Without their public support, Richards could rely only on behind-the-scenes efforts, and those could prove to be explosive for all involved. Richards will not actively contest this race on the Working Families and Independence lines. He will not renounce those lines either. He will suspend his campaign, and being the public servant that he is, will continue serving as mayor. Until the end of his term. Should duty call once again, should something unusual come up that explodes that status quo and makes Warren an untenable candidate, Richards will be available to serve again. But I wouldn’t wait for that something unusual.

Notice that he wrote this two days before Richards’ formal announcement.

Tucked into that piece, however, is this little nugget: “one could argue that Warren, as the more liberal candidate, would lose liberal votes to White, the Green Party candidate.”

Is Lovely Warren the more liberal candidate? Actual liberals and organizers I talk to disagree. Her education agenda is scary. And her mentor and patron, David Gantt, is no friend to the left. (For this paragraph , let’s treat liberal and left as synonymous)

I wonder what’s been going on in Alex White’s head through all this.

(Delta Lab's one staff member, Regina Nichols, with her stall at Greentopia. Picture cc-by-sa taken by me.)
Delta Lab's one staff member, Regina Nichols, with her stall at Greentopia. Picture cc-by-sa taken by me.

6 things worth learning at Greentopia.

I took a stroll through Greentopia the other day. Here’s what I learned:

  1. Despite its name, Delta Laboratories, inc, is a local nonprofit that has 2 main functions: organizing thousands of people to clean up streams on Earth Day, and providing environmental education to kids in nearby schools.
  2. The new high-stakes testing model adopted in New York this year is already having adverse effects. Teachers are afraid to let their students skip class to go on environmental field trips, because low attendance lowers their stats.
  3. The local Sierra Club has 3000 dues-paying members. That’s a ton of people! I had no idea.
  4. R-Cause.net, a local anti-fracking email newsletter and website, is maintained through 2 women who use a vanilla gmail account to send mail to 2000 people every week. I tipped them off to the existence of free tools like Action Network. Hopefully that’ll make a big difference.
  5. I always knew that Small World Food was a delicious worker-run bakery, but I didn’t know it was so small – there are just 3-4 full time worker/owners and a smattering of interns.
  6. ReConnect Rochester (a pro-public transit volunteer group) is run by the same guy, Mike, who writes RochesterSubway.com. Rochester Subway is well-worth your time, by the way.

On a personal note, I also ran into one of my favorite cousins, made some art with little kids, tasted local apples from a CSA booth, drank a flight of beer at the Genesee Brewery, and we were all treated to a a “guerrilla musical performance” by a bunch of volunteers at Greentopia. Festivals are fun!

Metro Justice Logo (small)

EVENT ALERT: Metro Justice flexes old and new muscles to oppose war in Syria

When: 5pm – 6:30 Thursday
Where: 100 State St
What: Petition dropoff to both Senators opposing war in Syria. Then a strategy meeting about what to do next afterwards.

Metro Justice has spent the last couple of months or so setting up their swanky new website and organizing tool. Tomorrow, they’ll have their first test to try it out. First, they’ll drop off a petition they’ve gathered opposing attacking Syria. Then, they’ll convene a strategy meeting to figure out their next steps.

This move is unusual for Metro Justice.

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Do you remember the other September 11?

The one where the US government backed horrific dictatorship, torture, and murder?

From Our Other September 11, by Rick Perlstein:

Let’s not forget Chile.

On September 11, 1973, warplanes began strafing radio stations and newspapers. Images arrived of people scattering in fear ahead of tanks in the streets. Fearsome generals in coats with starred epaulets ordered President Salvador Allende, the world’s only elected Marxist leader, to step down.

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