PROTESTERS: Get up, get down! Corporate greed get out of town!
AI-JEN POO: We’re in a bit of a crossroads. We can continue to go down a path of a low road economy where the fastest growing jobs are all poverty wage jobs. Or we can start to chart a new path.
GEORGE GOEHL: If we’re serious about changing the country and changing who our economy serves, and what values are underneath it, we’ve got to come together in much bigger ways than we have before. So for the conference, we’re training a new generation of activists around how to think differently about how we do organizing.
AI-JEN POO: The conference was called Rising Voices for a New Economy and it was held in Washington, DC, where a lot of decisions about the future of our economy get made. We had 500 domestic workers from around the country meeting for several days. Many immigrant women, African-American women, so almost entirely women of color.
GEORGE GOEHL: Hello NPA!
AI-JEN POO: And then we were joined with the National People's Action and they represent small family farmers and public housing residents and all kinds of working people.
GEORGE GOEHL: There was a long history in the field of community organizing of different organizations actually not collaborating. Actually kind of running down their own path, building their own power, but not building a movement.
The director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, and an ally and a friend of NPA.
I think there was just a recognition that we were up against such big forces. That we actually don't have any choice but to collaborate. The same root causes are impacting everybody. So if you're fighting to save your home from foreclosure, or you're seeing corporate agriculture come into your state and ruin family farms, you see corporate power. And so people are making the connections. And I think organizing, and organizations likes ours and the domestic workers, help people make these connections.
BREANNA CHAMPION: It’s not that my state is broken, that we can’t afford the things that we so desperately need. It's just that the people that are making the most money aren't contributing to our state, and to our country. This is happening all over the country.
Two-thirds of corporations in Illinois pay no income taxes. If they were to pay taxes, that is money that could go to students like me who can't afford school. And not just my education, this affects everything in my community.
GEORGE GOEHL: If you care about us having a modern social safety net, you need corporations to pay their fair share. If you want to see new infrastructure built so we can create jobs in this country, we need corporations to pay their fair share. I could go on and on. If there’s any issue that we need to unite around, this is one of them. And right now, corporations are sitting on record profits but simultaneously paying record low tax levels.
AI-JEN POO: There is so much wealth all around us. I definitely think that our scarcity mentality is one that can and should shift and is not based on the reality that we have here in this country.
GEORGE GOEHL: We need to go expose those lies, tell the new story, and take our country back.
CANVASSER 1: So we are going to be calling targeted voters…
GENEVIEVE LYSEN: 100 folks have come from all across the country to learn a critical organizing skill, which is canvassing.
CANVASSER 2: Right now we have a bill that's just been passed…
GENEVIEVE LYSEN: Today the group of volunteers are calling about a tax haven bill in Maine that would ask corporations to report the profits that they're storing overseas right now. 'Cause currently they're allowed to get away without reporting that income, and thus not pay any taxes on it, and we don't think that's fair.
CANVASSER 3: I'm going to make it really easy for you. I can transfer you right over to where you can either speak with your legislator, which is Senator Langley…
GENEVIEVE LYSEN: In Maine we've been able to override the Governor's veto on our state budget, on a slew of environmental bills, and it was by contacting voters at their homes to call their legislators. So canvassing works.
CANVASSER 4: Do you mind if I turn this computer a little bit?
GENEVIEVE LYSEN: The goal here is that all of these volunteers take back the skills that their learning here today, and bring them back to their communities and their organizations. So we're seeking to build a big group of powerful canvassers across the country to try to turn things around.
MALE SPEAKER: We're going to spend some time this morning.
GEORGE GOEHL: At our conference, we do training, we do issue workshops, and then most importantly, we hit the streets.
PROTESTER 1: Time to make some noise!
GEORGE GOEHL: We actually left the conference and went into the streets.
AI-JEN POO: Protests are one of many ways to get a story out there. To us it’s about making visible the many, many voices and experiences that are made invisible in an unequal economy and society like the one that we live in.
PROTESTOR 2: All right, so our first action is a surprise action. Today we’re taking one of the biggest tax dodgers in the country. GE, General Electric…
GEORGE GOEHL: We took 600 folks from NPA and the Domestic Workers to the GE’s lobbying operation here in Washington, DC. And it was to really go directly to the people that are responsible for the tax dodging that GE is engaged in, and bring the message directly to them.
PROTESTER 2: GE, we’re ending your tax dodging today!
PROTESTERS: That’s right. Whoo! Pay your fair share.
GEORGE GOEHL: In a time that they’ve made 30 billion in profit, they’ve gotten 3 billion back in tax refunds. We need to expose them directly and go toe to toe with corporate power.
PROTESTER 2: Once we get off the bus, remember don’t run, walk quietly, calmly, and quickly. Don’t engage with police. I know we have three police liaisons; can you raise your hands? Whoo!
PROTESTER 3: This is where we get off.
PROTESTER 2: Here we go, guys.
PROTESTER 3: Alright, let’s go, let’s move. Let’s move.
SECURITY GUARD: Excuse me, excuse me. No, no, no.
PROTESTOR 4: We are here today…
PROTESTERS: We are here today…
PROTESTOR 4: Because we’ve had enough…
PROTESTERS: Because we’ve had enough…
PROTESTOR 4: We’ve had enough of cuts to our schools…
PROTESTERS: We’ve had enough of cuts to our schools…
PROTESTOR 4: Medicare and Medicaid…
PROTESTERS: Medicare and Medicaid…
PROTESTOR 4: We’re angry.
PROTESTERS: We’re angry.
Pay your fair share! Pay your fair share! Pay your fair share!
POLICE LIASON: They want us to leave, but we’re here until we deliver our message.
PROTESTERS: Pay your fair share! Pay your fair share! Pay your fair share!
GEORGE GOEHL: Wealthy elites have basically and isolated themselves off from the rest of us. They actually don’t have to see poverty. They don’t actually have to see the people that have been made invisible by inequality.
PROTESTER 5: Pay your taxes so our families can live.
AI-JEN POO: It’s a transformative experience for people to speak truth to power in a really direct way. And it is about civic engagement and participation. It is about making this country the country that makes everyone visible.
PROTESTER 6: Above us are the General Electric offices. And up there, they can hear you. They can hear you.
PROTESTERS: Whoo! We’ll be back! We’ll be back! We’ll be back!
GEORGE GOEHL: We are at this point in building a new movement. That we are not quite at take-off, but a lot of the building blocks are being put into place. Big shifts in how we do organizing, big shifts in terms of collaboration. We feel like this was a little baby step towards aligning some impressive forces across the country.
BILL MOYERS: There was something of the spirit of '76 about those protesters as they marched up Capitol Hill to make their case to any legislators who would listen. I mean the spirit of 1776, when ordinary people became insurgents against imperial power. The House of Representatives, by the way, was once known as "The People's House." And now it's in the imperial grip of money. But these present-day insurgents are just getting started and, as Tom Paine, the great pamphleteer and journalist of the American Revolution, wrote: “An army of principles will penetrate where an army of soldiers cannot.”
At our website BillMoyers.com, you’ll find cause for hope and creative ways to bring about change in interviews I've done with George Goehl, Ai-jen Poo and other activists at our “Take Action” page.
That’s at BillMoyers.com. I’ll see you there, and I’ll see you here, next time.