Archive by Author

Send a Signal to Wall Street

23 Oct

Ana Wilson is a courageous 50-year old woman confined to a wheelchair with cerebral palsy and stage-four breast cancer, who is fighting Wells Fargo and US Bank’s efforts to foreclosure and evict her from her home. As I’ve written in an article on Monday for Huffington Post, Wilson has told Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca that she will refuse to leave her home if his deputies try to evict her.   (The Sheriff’s five-day “notice to vacate” expires on Tuesday).  Ironically, this is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  Is Sheriff Baca aware that he may be evicting a woman with stage-four breast cancer?

You can help save Ana’s home — and also help put the nation’s foreclosure epidemic and “underwater” housing crisis on the public agenda. 

Along with her supporters from the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and other organizations, Wilson has informed Sheriff Baca that she is willing to risk arrest to stop an eviction.  They will hold a press conference at 11 am Tuesday at her South Gate home, then will caravan to Baca’s Monterey Park headquarters. Tuesday night they will attend the South Gate City Council meeting asking the City for assistance.

As I describe in my article, in 2009, Wilson was diagnosed with breast cancer.  She fell behind in her mortgage payments after she was hospitalized and had a double mastectomy. Her husband, a school custodian, had to quit his second job to take care of her and the family income fell.  Soon the family’s finances stabilized and they asked Wells Fargo (which is servicing the loan) to renegotiate the mortgage, but the bank refused to do so or accept her payments. In desperation, Wilson and her supporters resorted to a protest in April at the $5 million San Marino mansion of Tim Sloan, Wells Fargo’s senior executive VP and chief financial officer, where she simply wanted to give him a check for her mortgage. Instead, she was arrested, as I reported in a Huffington Post article two weeks ago.  Her trial is scheduled for next month. Meanwhile, she could lose her home if Wells Fargo gets its way.

Wilson is one of a growing number of Americans who are refusing to leave willingly when the bank or sheriff come knocking on their doors. Wall Street banks created this epidemic of foreclosures and they should be held responsible for fixing the problem, as I discuss in my article.

Wilson does not want to be among the 4 million Americans who have lost their homes to foreclosure in the past few years, often as a result of circumstances beyond their control, including banks’ illegal and/or predatory lending practices. Another 3.5 million homeowners are in the foreclosure process or are so behind in their mortgage payments that they soon will be confronted with losing their homes.

In the past six years, housing prices nationwide have fallen by a third. Families have lost nearly $7 trillion of home equity.  About 15 million homeowners are “under water” — they owe $700 billion more on their mortgages than their homes are worth. Many economists agree that the most effective solution would be for the federal government to require banks to renegotiate mortgages for “underwater” owners to reflect the new market values of their homes. The Obama administration has created several programs to help families facing foreclosure, but has resisted the idea of requiring banks to repair the damage they caused. The bank industry lobby, including Wells Fargo, has fought to stop any legislation mandating “principal reduction.” Instead, they want any mortgage re-sets to be entirely voluntary.

If you’d like to help Ana Wilson keep her home — and by doing so send a signal to Wall Street bankers and elected officials that the banks, not the victims of the mortgage crisis, should be punished — there are three things you can do:

  • Call Sheriff Lee Baca at (323) 267-4800 to request that he not enforce the eviction order for Ana Casas Wilson, given that Ana and her family can afford modified payments and given Ana’s medical condition.
  • Call Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf at (415) 396-7018 to request that he reconsider loan modification for Wilson and her family.
  • Add your name to the more than 13,000 people who have already signed this petition on behalf of Ana Casas Wilson:


New York Book Tour…

27 Sep

I’ll be giving two talks in New York City in October about my new book, The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame.    On Tuesday, October 16, I’ll be speaking at the New School (Wollman Hall, Eugene Lang Building, 65 West 11th Street, 5th floor). The event starts at 6 pm.  On Thursday, October 18, I’ll be speaking at the think tank Demos with Bill Moyers. It will start at 7 pm at Demos’ offices (220 Fifth Avenue, 2nd floor).  I’ll have more details in my next message, including news about another possible speaking gig.  I’ll also be speaking at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff on Monday, October 8th at 6 p.m. in the Cline Library, Assembly Hall.

Who you calling “dependent,” Romney?

19 Sep

Speaking to a group of like-minded conservatives, Mitt Romney disses the 47% of Americans who, he claims, “are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.”

Raise your hand if you:

  • went to a public college or university
  • work for government (i.e., cops, teachers, firefighters, military, social workers, librarians, school janitors, judges, court reporters, bus drivers, etc),
  • borrow books from a public library,
  • work for or own stock in a defense contractor,
  • get your electricity or water from a government-owned utility,
  • went to, or send your kids to, public school,
  • ride on government-run buses, subways or light-rail,
  • use or work for the post office,
  • went to college on the GI Bill, Pell Grant, state financial aid program,
  • are retired and get Social Security payments,
  • ever used food stamps,
  •  lived in public housing or had a Section 8 voucher,
  • used a wheelchair ramp mandated by the Americans for Disability Act,
  • get your health care from the Veterans Administration hospital,
  • go boating or fishing in a government-run lake,
  • have a job whose workplace is safer because of OSHA rules
  • work for a company or nonprofit organization that has a contract with the local, county, state or federal government
  • have a family member who depends on a government-subsidized home health care aide,
  • pay for your medicine and medical care with Medicaid,
  • got a tax subsidy for your mortgage interest and/or property taxes,
  • recycle your garbage through your city’s sanitation department,
  • took a vacation in a national or state park,
  • own a family- or corporate-owned farm that is irrigated by a government-owned dam,
  • played baseball or soccer or used the see-saw or swings in a public park or playground,
  • got your polio and other vaccination shots at your public school,
  • traveled with a government-issued passport,
  • used an elevator inspected for safety by the local building department,
  • eat food inspected for safety by the U.S. Department of Agriculture,
  • went to a restaurant inspected by the local Health Department,
  • were helped by a police officer, park ranger or firefighter,
  • have a savings account in a bank regulated by the Federal Deposit insurance Corporation
  •  flew on an airplane inspected by the Federal Aviation Administration

We (should) Take Care of Our Own

19 Sep

At the end of his Charlotte speech Thursday night, President Obama told several moving stories about Americans who give him hope. And when he ended his address, the hall filled with the sound of Bruce Springsteen’s song, “We Take Care of Our Own.”

One can’t imagine Romney or Ryan embracing those words. That idea — “We Take Care of Our Own” — is what distinguishes the Democrats’ view of the world from the Republicans’ philosophy: “You’re On Your Own.”

“At the very essence of our democracy,” Obama said, is “the idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another, and to future generations.”

We believe that when a CEO pays his autoworkers enough to buy the cars that they build, the whole company does better.
We believe that when a family can no longer be tricked into signing a mortgage they can’t afford, that family is protected, but so is the value of other people’s homes, and so is the entire economy.

We believe the little girl who’s offered an escape from poverty by a great teacher or a grant for college could become the next Steve Jobs, or the scientist who cures cancer, or the President of the United States, and it’s in our power to give her that chance.


In his speech in Tampa last week, Paul Ryan told a story about how, after his father’s death, his mother “got on a bus every weekday for years, and rode 40 miles each morning to Madison. She earned a new degree and learned new skills to start her small business.It wasn’t just a new livelihood. It was a new life. And it transformed my Mom from a widow in grief to a small businesswoman whose happiness wasn’t just in the past. Her work gave her hope. It made our family proud. And to this day, my Mom is my role model.”

Ryan meant this as a celebration of his mother’s lift-herself-by-her-own-bootstraps spirit.

But shouldn’t someone remind Ryan that the bus was a public service, that the road was built and maintained by government, and that the University of Wisconsin in Madison is a public institution?


Want a hero?

16 Sep

To everything, there is a season, according to Pete Seeger’s song, “Turn, Turn, Turn,” drawn from the Book of Ecclesiastes.

This is the season for New Yorkers and all Americans to honor Seeger.

Now 93, the Manhattan-born troubadour has devoted his life to educating Americans and the world about peace, social justice, the environment and our country’s musical tradition.

Why not at least name a city public school after the man?

His legacy begins, of course, with music. The hundreds of songs Seeger has written orpopularized as a member of The Weavers and as a solo artist have sent powerful messages of tolerance and hope.

Seeger turned “We Shall Overcome” into a civil rights standard and a global anthem for human rights. He popularized his friend Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land,” now our unofficial national anthem.

His anti-war tunes “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” and “If I Had a Hammer,” helped inspire the 1950s battle against nuclear weapons and the 1960s movement against the Vietnam War. He also introduced millions of Americans to songs from other cultures, like “Wimoweh” and “Guantanamera.”

But Seeger’s activism extends far beyond the guitar and concert hall. In addition to being a World War II veteran, Seeger has been on the front lines of every major social justice crusade during his lifetime: labor unions and migrant workers in the 1930s and 1940s, the banning of nuclear weapons and opposition to the Cold War in the 1950s, civil rights and the anti-war movement in the 1960s, opposition to South African apartheid in the 1970s and, always, human rights throughout the world.

He’s seen his share of controversy. In the 1950s and early 1960s, Seeger was blacklisted for his left-wing views. Commercial television and radio networks banned Seeger and his songs.

But in response to being blacklisted, Seeger parlayed his talents into doing good. He taught guitar and banjo, played for schools and at summer camps and recorded albums for children.

During those years, Seeger planted many seeds. The youngsters who heard him became political activists and spread the gospel of folk and protest music. That’s how, more than anyone else, Seeger catalyzed the folk music revival that inspired the careers of performers like Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul and Mary, the Kingston Trio, Phil Ochs and Joan Baez — and later Bruce Springsteen and Tom Morello.

Seeger has always had a special relationship with New York. Born in Manhattan in 1919, he lived in the city from the late 1930s to the early 1950s. He then moved to Beacon, an hour up the Hudson River, where he built his own log cabin house, where he’s lived ever since.

And that’s where another major strand of his legacy has taken root: environmental stewardship. In 1966, Seeger launched the nonprofit Clearwater project, dedicated to cleaning up the Hudson River. The effort, at first written off as simplistic and naive, helped inspire the environmental movement. The Hudson, once filled with oil pollution, sewage and toxic chemicals is now swimmable.

Through unrelenting optimism, Seeger endured and overcame the controversies triggered by his activism. Yes, he has gotten honors — a Kennedy Center Award from former President Bill Clinton — and induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

But the city of his birth, the state that has been his home for nearly a century, has yet to honor him in a manner befitting his tremendous influence.

Before Pete Seeger’s fingers can strum no longer, let’s pay respect to his life and legacy. Begin by naming a public school after him. In fact, a committee of civic leaders should nominate Seeger for the Nobel Peace Prize, recognizing his role in bringing the world closer together.

Read more here.

Check out the 100 and offer your thoughts

18 Jul

The 100 Americans profiled in the book have just been posted!

Check out the list and let me know what you think in the comments section at the bottom of the list.


Is there someone you think should be on the list who isn’t? Or someone who is on the list who you don’t think should be there?

About the Book

3 Mar

A hundred years ago any soapbox orator who called for women’s suffrage, a federal minimum wage, or laws protecting the environment would have been considered a utopian dreamer or a dangerous socialist. Now we take these ideas for granted. The radical ideas of one generation often become common sense for the next. We all stand on the shoulders of earlier generations of organizers, activists, writers, artists, and progressive politicians who challenged the status quo of their day.  The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century is a deeply informed, colorful and witty history of the 20th century progressive leaders and movements that changed history. It also explores the new generation of 21st century activists who are shaping our future to promote a more humane, democratic, and just society.

Read what people are saying about The 100 Greatest Americans.