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  • Matt Drabek
  • August 02, 2019 02:52:20 PM
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Wherein an Iowan writes about leftist politics, philosophy, and maybe baseball.

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3 Issues from No Shortcuts

So, I’m involved in a labor working group with the Iowa City DSA! We’ve just started reading Jane McAlevey‘s book No Shortcuts in a reading group as a part of our efforts. As it happens, that book was on my earlier summer reading list! Have any of you read it? Here are some quick questions … Continue reading "3 Issues from No Shortcuts" The post 3 Issues from No Shortcuts appeared first on Base and...

So, I’m involved in a labor working group with the Iowa City DSA! We’ve just started reading Jane McAlevey‘s book No Shortcuts in a reading group as a part of our efforts. As it happens, that book was on my earlier summer reading list! Have any of you read it? Here are some quick questions that came to mind while I was reading.

3 Issues from No Shortcuts

1. Agency and Structure

As workers and community members, to what extent do we control the success of our movements and to what extent is that success directed or determined by external forces? McAlevey’s focus in No Shortcuts is very much on worker agency, and to do so she assumes we have a lot of it. Do we? And where are the limits?

One of my favorite books on activism is Poor People’s Movements by Frances Fox Piven and Richard A. Cloward. They focus on the interrelations between agency and structure. One key point they make is that popular movements succeed when they organize, as McAlevey also points out. But that’s a necessary condition, not a sufficient one. Successful movements also require the right opportunity, or structural conditions that are right for the movement to succeed.

How do we handle that latter issue? Are there things we can do to bring about the right conditions? Surely we don’t have to just wait for them. But we surely also have to look for those conditions and pay attention to whether and how they’re present.

2. The Site of Organizing

McAlevey’s lessons and cases are mostly about organizing in a workplace. Particularly a workplace with a fixed (or relatively consistent) number of staff. She talks a lot in No Shortcuts about the point of reaching the workforce and building majority support.

These are great lessons for workplace organizing, but more difficult to apply to organizing working class people across workforces or who might be temporarily out of the workforce. It raises for me the issue of which site or sites to focus on. Ought local socialist groups try to focus on particular workplaces and take advantage of the fixed numbers? Or should we try to organize more broadly and try to work around any disadvantages that come from lack of an obvious bargaining unit? Or should we do both?

3. Alinskyism

McAlevey’s none too impressed with Saul Alinsky, particularly the sort of movements he advocates for in works like Rules for Radicals. For the record, I tend to agree that Alinskyist movements have their problems. In particular, for me, it’s the lack of a commitment to a socialist direction and the clarity and guidance that comes along with such a commitment.

How do we, then, avoid the mistakes of Alinskyism, e.g., building movements around enthusiastic people rather than organic leaders, allowing organizers to lead as a shadow force, etc.?

Note

Of course, this list is hardly exhaustive. These are just a few things that came to mind as I re-read No Shortcuts. Anything else about the book you wanted to mention?

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On The ‘Real America’ Myth

Some conservatives use the phrase ‘real America’ to pick out some kind of mythical utopia of their liking. The concept itself is hardly new. In fact, it sits uncomfortably close to various fascist myths about ‘blood and soil’. But in this contemporary version of the myth, salt of the earth, conservative types supposedly suffer under … Continue reading "On The ‘Real America’ Myth" The post On The ‘Real America’ Myth appeared first on Base and...

Some conservatives use the phrase ‘real America’ to pick out some kind of mythical utopia of their liking. The concept itself is hardly new. In fact, it sits uncomfortably close to various fascist myths about ‘blood and soil’. But in this contemporary version of the myth, salt of the earth, conservative types supposedly suffer under the repression of the liberal, multicultural elite.

And, of course, with this myth of ‘Real America’ comes the pushback. Consider, for example, shows like Real America with Jorge Ramos, a show that fights back against the myth while, arguably, leaning in to the frame.

Land

To some extent, ‘real America’ is a myth about land. That’s the first part of it, anyway. Conservative pundits never tire of showing those graphics about how much US soil votes for Republican candidates. Here’s the precinct-level data from the 2016 election:

2016 US Presidential Election Precinct Map Real America
Source: NBC News

The idea here is that conservative politics dominate large swaths of US soil, and therefore there’s a conservatism undergirding US society. And yet there’s a big problem here: US soil doesn’t vote! People vote! What if, rather than coloring land, we made a dot for each person who voted? What would that map look like?

That’s the idea behind using pointillism in our map-making. And the map looks like this:

2016 US Election Pointillism map Real America
Source: Wired

OK, so that map is a bit different. And the idea of applying pointillism to US political analysis is a bit en vogue these days. See, for example, Daniel Immerwahr’s How to Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater United States. Immerwahr’s idea is that the US Empire, which declined on paper after World War II, in fact moved further into a pointillist empire operating through, among other things, control of particular island bases, global institutions, and international standards.

Race and the Rural

And then there’s the second part: whiteness and the rural. All those rural whites, so the myth goes, occupy the soil that constitutes a conservative majority. And, indeed, Republicans do well in rural America. We can take a look at the 2016 exit polls. Trump defeated Clinton 61-34 in rural areas.

Surely that’s as ‘real America’ as it gets?

Not so much. A couple of points. First, these rural voters made up a grand total of 17% of the electorate. Second, as I’ve pointed out a number of times, they don’t fit the image of ‘real America’ all that well. Many of these voters are, in fact upper middle income Americans who don’t work rank-and-file jobs. They’re not so salt of the earth after all.

But, third, and probably most overlooked, even these areas are much less white than people think. 2010 census data shows that people of color make up 20% of rural America. And more recent data from 2012 show 22%.

There are certain pockets of rural America where people of color make up large percentages of the population, and sometimes they even make up a majority. You can find Latinx majority populations in many rural areas in Texas and New Mexico. And you can find black majority populations in many rural areas through Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. Not to mention the various parts of the country, but particularly South Dakota, Montana, and Alaska, where you can find Native American majority populations in rural areas.

And Christianity, Too

More than any other individual American, Donald Trump has pushed hard to include religion in the definition of ‘real America’. From the birtherism rhetoric to choosing Mike Pence as his Vice President to the Muslim ban to moving the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, Trump carries water for right-wing Christianity and utterly depends on their support for his power. Under Trump, ‘real America’ is rural, white, and Christian.

‘Real America’: Everything or Nothing

This brings us back to Real America with Jorge Ramos. We’ve got basically two ways we can deal with the ‘real America’ myth. We can go the Ramos route and acknowledge that everything about America is real: its cities, its suburbs, its rural areas, its white population and its black population and its Latinx population, et al.

Or we can go the other direction and point out it’s all a myth. There’s no ‘real America’, but only many different groups of people together under a nation-state.

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My First Meme

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first meme Trump Kim

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4 Reasons to Learn Spanish

I’ve tried to learn Spanish several times, but I’m sorry to say I haven’t had much luck. The first time was in high school, and my high school offered the choice faced by many in United States rural and/or lower income communities: a couple of French classes or a couple of Spanish classes. I chose … Continue reading "4 Reasons to Learn Spanish" The post 4 Reasons to Learn Spanish appeared first on Base and...

I’ve tried to learn Spanish several times, but I’m sorry to say I haven’t had much luck. The first time was in high school, and my high school offered the choice faced by many in United States rural and/or lower income communities: a couple of French classes or a couple of Spanish classes. I chose Spanish. The courses were painfully slow, and I didn’t pick up much.

Later on in college, like many former Catholics who majored in philosophy, I took Latin courses for my language requirement. Latin obviously isn’t Spanish, but it’s helpful. And then, about 6 months ago, I took up Spanish again via podcasts called Coffee Break Spanish.

More Americans should learn Spanish. Why? Minimally, Americans should learn some language other than English. Many Americans make it through life as total monolinguists. This is much less common in lots of other places. And, sadly, I count myself among the Americans who don’t really know a second language. Sure, I can muddle my way through lots of Latin texts and some German texts. I’ve picked up a basic understanding of Spanish, though I still can’t speak it.

I think all that’s a shame. It’s a manifestation of US-chauvinism and our excessively English-centric international business, cultural, and scientific climates.

4 Reasons to Learn Spanish

So…why learn Spanish? Let’s talk about that. Here are some reasons I think about.

1. Spanish is the second most common language in the US.

This post is obviously pretty US-centric. On that note, if you live in the US and you don’t know Spanish, it means you don’t know the second most common language in your own country. How many Americans speak Spanish? We have pretty extensive data on that. Recent surveys show about 13.4% of Americans, or about 41 million people. About 10 million of that 41 million speak Spanish more or less exclusively.

These numbers are growing. To learn Spanish, therefore, is to learn the language of an important, and increasingly important, part of the country.

2. Spanish is the fifth most common language in the world.

And we’re not talking about just the US. Spanish is the fifth most commonly spoken language in the world, with more than 500 million speakers. As with the others in the top 5, there’s a story here. Much of the story is one of Spanish colonialism and empire. But the background facts remain. Spanish is a language of international business and culture.

Narrowed down only to first languages, Spanish becomes the second most common world language.

3. Spanish is a great language for world travel.

Spanish is great for travelers, and there are lots of places in the Spanish-speaking world I’d love to see. Argentina, Chile, and Mexico stand out at the top of my list. As does Spain, especially Barcelona and the surrounding Catalan region. It’d help to learn Spanish.

Can you go to these places without command of the Spanish language? Sure. I’m sure there are lots of English-language tours and tourist areas where plenty of people speak English. I’ve traveled to Berlin twice with only very minimal German abilities, and I had little trouble getting around. The same is probably true of Spanish-speaking places. But it’s all very limiting.

What’s the best way to expand your travel options in Spanish-speaking regions? Learn Spanish.

4. Spanish is a critical language of outreach for many activist groups and organizations.

Lately, I’ve focused on tenants union activism. We’ve done a ton of door-to-door canvassing and other forms of outreach (e.g., flyers, brochures). We cover lots of neighborhoods, with an exclusive focus on renters and strong working on working class neighborhoods. Who will you find in these neighborhoods? All sorts of people, but a higher proportion of Latinx people and non-English speakers than you’ll find in other parts of Iowa City.

Most of the people who answer the door speak English, regardless of what their first language may have been. But sometimes that’s not the case. Occasionally someone speaks only Arabic, but Spanish is the most common non-English language. To be clear, even this isn’t necessarily a major communication barrier. In the few times I’ve knocked on the door and the person spoke only Spanish, someone else in the household has been able to provide adequate translation. Usually the person’s child. I’ve never had an incident while canvassing where I was totally unable to communicate with the person.

But there’s a deeper point here. To learn Spanish is to broaden one’s ability to communicate effectively. And I think it also sends a message of solidarity.

Bonus Reason: Preservation of Language and Culture

My grandfather grew up in an immigrant town just outside of Houston. Immigrants from many countries lived there, but two countries loomed large: the Czech Republic and Mexico. My grandfather’s parents were born in the former. The idea of a Czech-Mexican town might sound strange to people now. These two groups don’t have much in common in 2019. But if you work back through history, there’s a story here of two very different paths toward ‘becoming American’ (or, in many cases, ‘becoming white’).

Czech-Americans are white Americans. I’m white and so is my dad. But US culture normalized Czechs as white Americans somewhat gradually. My grandfather was born in 1932 near the conclusion of this period of acceptance. As Czechs became fully white, they left behind the Czech language. And my grandfather follows that pattern. He grew up bilingual to parents who spoke mostly Czech. Gradually he lost the Czech language, and neither my father nor I speak a word of Czech.

For Latinx people, the road to acceptance has been longer and bumpier. While I don’t think English-speaking Americans trying to learn Spanish is some kind of panacea, I do think it can be helpful in sending the message that acceptance doesn’t have to mean giving up the Spanish language.

Even better if we lived in a world where acceptance doesn’t come tied to becoming white.

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‘Must Win’ States for Top Democrats

After a…very long slog, looks like the primaries and caucuses almost here. Just kidding! There’s another…debate, and a couple more months. Many of us in Iowa are ready to be done with them, for sure. A question going into the Iowa caucuses: For each of the first four states, which are ‘must win’ for which … Continue reading "‘Must Win’ States for Top Democrats" The post ‘Must Win’ States for Top Democrats appeared first on Base and...

must win states democrats donkey maze

After a…very long slog, looks like the primaries and caucuses almost here. Just kidding! There’s another…debate, and a couple more months. Many of us in Iowa are ready to be done with them, for sure. A question going into the Iowa caucuses: For each of the first four states, which are ‘must win’ for which candidate?

Let’s find out.

What’s A ‘Must Win’ State?

What makes a state a ‘must win’? I mean, it’s nice to win everywhere, right? But must win? Can’t any candidate recover from any loss? Especially with a long primary season?

Not exactly. If each state held its primary or caucus on the same day, Biden would probably win. Maybe even comfortably. But the earlier states impact the later ones, often heavily. If someone rolls up strong wins in Iowa and New Hampshire, or loses only one of the first four states, a snowball effect will probably carry them to the nomination. Even if they’re losing in the polls in most places right now. That’s how, for example, Barack Obama won the 2008 Democratic nomination. His early win in Iowa proved he could win, particularly among white voters in the Midwest. That led to a flip in the polls, where Hillary Clinton quickly went from strong favorite to mild underdog.

For Obama, Iowa was indubitably a must win state in the 2008 primaries and caucuses. Clinton would’ve marched straight to the nomination with a win in Iowa. Instead, Obama won it and Clinton finished third. You know what happened next.

And so, a must win state is often one a candidate needs to win to prevent something like that from happening. It might also be a state a candidate needs to win to stay competitive in a larger field. Such as, oh, the one in 2020.

Iowa: Pete Buttigieg

First up is Iowa, and first up is the Booty Judge. There’s not really much in the national polling to suggest Buttigieg has a good shot at winning the nomination. He’s doing great for a small city mayor, and he’s doing excellent for someone trying to run for vice president. But he’s still polling a consistent fourth place.

That said, Iowa is an almost perfect match for his voter demographics: well educated, white voters leaning toward older people. If Buttigieg can’t win Iowa, he probably can’t win anywhere. His path to the presidential nomination is a win in Iowa, lots of favorable headlines, and then a massive broadening of his voter base.

It’s possible he could stay in the race with a very close second place finish to, say, Bernie Sanders. But, more likely, lose Iowa and he’s done.

New Hampshire: Elizabeth Warren

New Hampshire and Elizabeth Warren are the most difficult state and candidate, respectively. I don’t think anyone really must win New Hampshire. And I don’t think Elizabeth Warren really must win any particular state. Other than her home state. But this was the least imperfect of the possible matches.

The fact is that Warren probably has to win either Iowa or New Hampshire. And winning New Hampshire would be the more impressive statement for her. It’s a state Sanders easily won in 2016, and a Warren win there would very seriously complicate his path to the nomination. Plus, Nevada and South Carolina are weaker states for Warren. A win in New Hampshire would generate some great headlines and momentum heading into two states where Biden’s likely to do well.

And if all that isn’t enough, there’s the fact that anyone else winning New Hampshire is potentially devastating for the Warren campaign. If it’s Biden, he probably wraps up the nomination with big wins in Nevada and South Carolina. If it’s Sanders, he probably also scores a second win in Nevada. And if it’s Buttigieg, particularly if Buttigieg also wins Iowa, Nevada and South Carolina might become a two-way contest between Buttigieg and Biden.

All these scenarios are pretty bad for the Warren campaign. And so, a win in New Hampshire puts her in a great spot.

Nevada: Bernie Sanders

As I’ve said a number of times, the Sanders 2020 campaign rides a diverse demographic coalition into the primaries and caucuses. Iowa and New Hampshire present challenges to him for this reason. But Nevada, on the other hand, turns into a great test case for whether Sanders can win. It’s by far the most diverse of the early four states, and it has a particularly heavy Latinx population. We know from polling that Sanders does especially well with Latinx voters.

And so, Nevada becomes the state where Sanders can turn his coalition into a winning one. If he doesn’t win Nevada, he’s probably not going to remain seriously competitive for long.

South Carolina: Joe Biden

Joe Biden does very well with black voters. It’s his advantage with black voters that’s really holding him up in national polling. The South Carolina Democratic electorate is very disproportionately black, and also disproportionately moderate. In 2016, for example, 61% of South Carolina primary voters were black and 46% were moderate or conservative.

That’s a home team voter profile for Biden. And, really, any plausible path to the nomination for Biden depends on landing big wins across the South. If he can’t do it in South Carolina, he’s not going to be in the race for long. This is the strongest of the four must win state-candidate matches.

Bonus: California

And then there’s the fifth state up: California. What’s going on with it? The short answer is that there are more plausible candidates in the 2020 cycle than most cycles. Odds are that the nomination picture will clear up quite a bit by the time the first four states vote.

But it might not! And, if it doesn’t, California becomes more than a must win state. It becomes a bellwether.

We could look at a few scenarios. Suppose Buttigieg wins Iowa, Warren wins New Hampshire and Nevada, and Biden wins South Carolina. Kind of a logjam, right? Enter California. Whichever candidate wins California probably becomes the strong frontrunner. Or suppose Warren wins Iowa, Sanders wins New Hampshire, and Biden wins Nevada and South Carolina. Enter, again, California. And, again, whichever of the three wins California becomes the frontrunner.

You can play around with a few other scenarios. On any plausible one, if the race isn’t effectively over by the time the South Carolina votes are counted, California probably decides it.

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