Sally Kohn

David Beats Goliath!: How the Little Guy Beat A Mega-Corporation

With all the Republican obstructionism and Democratic spinelessness in Washington, not to mention the distractions of the Obamacare website, it can be hard to feel good about politics at all — let alone tap into the sort of optimism that inspires and motivates many of us in the first place. Here, then, is a story of a small statewide organization that brought a multi-billion-dollar, multinational corporation to heel.

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White People’s Racial Discomfort

Mark Zuckerberg spoke out yesterday in support of immigration reform, along with other leaders in the tech and business industries. The day before, a major evangelical Christian association reaffirmed its support for a path to citizenship. And a majority of Republican voters — even GOP primary voters — support immigration reform. Yet House Republicans have stalled comprehensive immigration reform legislation because they are playing to a small base of extremist right-wingers who respond to racialized divisiveness.

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Activists Use Love and Empathy to Create New Alliances and Possibilities with the 'Enemy'

Saul Alinsky is called the father of modern community organizing. His 1971 Rules for Radicals is like a political version of The Art of War merged with street fighting tips from a boxing coach—the tone is gruff, aggressive, and blunt. For Alinsky, the ends justify pretty much any means. But a new crop of activists is forging a different path—and turning organizing orthodoxy on its head.

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Will the Immigration Bill Meet Same Fate as Shameful Gun Control Bill Debacle?

The road to citizenship isn’t exactly shovel ready. In fact, even calling it a road might be a stretch.  It’s more like a long on-ramp. With a toll booth. And potholes. And a guard station. And a giant electrified fence.

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Far Right: Our Speech is Freer!

This story was originally published at Salon.

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Ryan Family Fortune Built on Public Works Projects That Romney Campaign Mocks

When Paul Ryan took to the stage in Mooresville, North Carolina, as Mitt Romney’s running mate, he attacked President Obama’s “you didn’t build that” remark about the role of government in supporting private innovation. But while Republicans have been clamoring to make this election a false dichotomy between the private sector and the public sector, Paul Ryan — heir to a private fortune made by building public highways — is a gaping pothole in that plan. Paul Ryan is a living, breathing GOP example of how public infrastructure and private entrepreneurship work hand-in-hand.

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The 17th Amendment is Good for America

There’s a movement afoot to repeal the 17th Amendment of the United States Constitution which allows for the two US Senators from each state to be “elected by the people thereof.” As proof that the Tea Party wants to infringe on your democracy and make it easier for elite corporate interests to control Washington, they want to take away our vote and allow state legislators to secretly appoint Senators through back-room deals.

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Why Ethnic Studies Are Good for America

There’s a proverb that says, "Until the lion tells his own story of being hunted, history will always glorify the hunter." This, in essence, is the reason for ethnic studies.

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Why an 81-Year-Old Widow from Iowa is Marching to Bring the Banks Under Heel

An 81-year-old widow from Des Moines, Iowa, Ferol Wegner wasn’t the type of person who would normally go to a protest against the banking industry. But that was before she lost 30 percent of her pension in the economic downturn. Without mincing her words, Ms. Wegner blames the big banks. “Fraud, corruption and greed,” she says. “These folks must be held accountable.”

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Will Obama or McCain Halt our Growing Immigration Police State?

To: Our Next President
From: Postville, Iowa
Date: June 17, 2008
Re: Do Something!

Postville, Iowa, is as American as it gets. Originally inhabited by American Indians, like most of the nation, Postville became a town in the mid-1800s when a half-way house was established for soldiers traveling between army forts in northeastern Iowa. The small town has been a home for travelers ever sense -- including the more than 300 immigrant workers at the Agriprocessor meatpacking plant who were detained by federal agents one month ago today. In a sense, Postville is still a half-way house for the American dream, a dream deferred for many. And it's a microcosm of the issues facing our next President.

Postville is emblematic of America's pluralistic melting pot. German and Norwegian immigrants moved in toward the late 1800s. A century later, in 1987s, Hassidic Jews from New York moved to Postville to establish Agriprocessor, a kosher meatpacking plant. Soon after, immigrants from Guatemala, Russia, Bosnia, Nigeria and elsewhere arrived, seeking jobs the new factory had created for them. Today, Postville's residents can trace their lineage to some 27 countries.

Without question, there was friction. Postville is a small town, about 2,300 hundred residents according to the 2000 Census -- and "that's counting everyone and their dog", locals quip. So any changes in town were certain to be noticed. "You'd see them, and you wouldn't really know how to talk to them, how to act around them," Wade Schutte, a high school student, said of the new immigrants in 1999 Los Angeles Times article. "It took a while to adjust."

And certainly, like elsewhere, not every long-time resident of Postville was able to adjust and friction often teetered on resentment or even backlash. But most of Postville adapted with and even came to appreciate change. At a gift shop in Postville that now sells Mexican-style painted crosses along side Jewish-inspired glass figurines, owner Nina Taylor told National Geographic in 2005 that there are some who want to "go back to the 50s. But if we go back there, we'd be a dead town." Thanks to all of the changes, Postville's once-stagnant economy has been steadily growing for the last 15 years.

At the same time, if Postville represents America's potential -- as an historically welcoming promise land for newcomers that builds on the strength of diversity to achieve our shared dreams -- Postville also represents a warning. The Agriprocessor meatpacking plant was issued 39 citations in March 2008 for violating workplace safety and health violations. The workers at the plant, most of whom were undocumented immigrants, slaved away doing dangerous jobs in unsafe conditions for pittance wages with little or no recourse. Postville's economic gains came at the expense of these immigrants, driven by a lack of opportunity in their home countries to seek out marginal opportunities here, quickly learning that the American dream was an exploitative trap. While slowly but surely integrating into the larger community, Postville's immigrants were clearly still an underclass.

Rather than raise the minimum wage for all workers in Postville, guarantee quality public schools and affordable healthcare for all, establish a new unionized job training program bringing fresh opportunity to the town, and guaranteeing a path to citizenship and integration programs for all the town's immigrants -- the sort of help Postville really needs -- on May 12, 2008, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency raided the meatpacking plant. Federal agents arrested more than 380 immigrants, ripping apart their lives, ripping apart their families and ripping apart Postville.

Now hundreds of immigrants are being held in converted animal pens at a nearby fairground without access to their families or to lawyers. And the town of Postville is no longer a postcard for the land of community and opportunity America has always strived to be but a reminder of the ugly scapegoating and oppression from which we too often suffer. Rather than improving conditions at Agriprocessor and fixing Postville's problems, the raid made matters worse.

The culture and values of small town America demand that inclusion and community triumph over a go-it-alone individualism that fears anyone or anything different. White residents of Postville have joined demonstration rallies to protest the raids and continue to serve food to immigrants seeking refuge in local churches.

"This is a little town that's some 20-miles from even a McDonald's," Postville resident Doug All told the Los Angeles Times reporter. "So we have to get along." The challenge facing our nation is how to do just that, working together toward the American dream we share.

A good start would be our current president making good on his message that "we've got to be humane about the nearly 11 or 12 million people who are already here." Raids like the one in Postville are anything but, and President Bush could finally show the moral leadership he once claimed as the mantle of his presidency and declare and end to all ICE raids. Meanwhile, Senator McCain and Senator Obama should both condemn these raids and declare that, their first day in office, they will put an end to them. Because Postville, like America, has bigger problems to deal with that require all of us working together -- not immigration raids tearing us apart.

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