Posted on | March 22, 2011 | 26 Comments
Such eminences as Barbara Ehrenreich and Cornel West were featured speakers at Left Forum 2011, a conference held this past weekend at Pace University in New York City. Left Forum traces its history to a series of events first organized as the Socialist Scholars Conference and sponsored by Democratic Socialists of America.
The theme of this year’s Left Forum was “Towards a Politics of Solidarity,” and among the speakers was former SEIU official Stephen Lerner. His shocking presentation was captured on audio and featured at The Blaze and Business Insider. Lerner described his plan for a “10-state mobilization” against J.P. Morgan Chase beginning in May, seeking “to inspire a much bigger movement about redistributing wealth and power in the country.”
“We need to figure out . . . through direct action . . . how we are really trying to disrupt and create uncertainty for capital, for how corporations operate,” Lerner said. “There are actually extraordinary things we could do right now to start to destabilize the folks that are in power and start to rebuild a movement.”
Lerner, who spoke on two panels during the conference, suggested encouraging homeowners to stop paying their mortgages. Saying that 10% of “underwater” mortgage borrowers are in “strategic default” — refusing to make payments but taking advantage of delays in the forceclosure process — Lerner said if the number of strategic defaults were doubled “you could put banks at the edge of insolvency again.”
Lerner said: “[W]hat would happen if we organized homeowners en masse to do a mortgage strike? If we get half a million people to agree, it would literally cause a new financial crisis for the banks — not for us. We would be doing quite well. We wouldn’t be paying anything.”
Referring to the recent union-led protests in Wisconsin, Lerner envisioned “moving the kind of disruption in Madison . . . to Wall Street,” confronting banks with the accusation that they “stole $17 trillion.”
“We have to think about how, together, we are building something that really has the capacity to disrupt how the system operates,” Lerner said, describing “a very simple strategy” for such a disruption: “How do we bring down the stock market? How do we bring down their bonuses? How do we interfere with their ability to be rich? And that means we have to politically isolate them, economically isolate them and disrupt them.”
Advocating “brave and heroic battles challenging the power of the giant corporations,” Lerner said that he and others decided that JP Morgan Chase “would be a really good company to hate” and said they “are going to roll out over the next couple of months what would hopefully be an exciting campaign about JP Morgan Chase that is really about challenging the power of Wall Street.”
Describing a weeklong campaign of disruptive “direct action” and “civil disobedience” — tentatively scheduled for the first week in May — Lerner said the disruptive protests would “connect three ideas”: “that we are not broke, there is plenty of money”; “they have the money, we need to get it back”; and that capitalists are using New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg “and other people in government as the vehicle to try and destroy us.”
UPDATE: Lerner was fired from SEIU in November by the union’s new president, Mary Kay Henry. Lerner’s penchant for “disruptive” tactics was displayed last spring, when he organized a mass protest at the Washington, D.C., home of Bank of America official Greg Baer, and Lerner told Nina Easton:
“Millions of people are losing their homes, and they have gone to the banks, which are turning a deaf ear. . . . People in powerful corporations seem to think they can insulate themselves from the damage they are doing.”
As Easton noted, Baer is a lifelong Democrat.
UPDATE II: Linked by If You Seek Peace — thanks! Now a Memeorandum thread with more blog commentary by Kathleen McKinley at Right Wing News, Jeff Goldstein at Protein Wisdom and Jeff Dunetz of Yid With Lid.
UPDATE III: John Sexton at Verum Serum features video of Lerner in a 2009 appearance on Ed Schultz’s MSNBC show:
UPDATE IV: Remember that SEIU was sued for harassment and blackmail last week. And referring to Lerner’s ouster last year from SEIU, Ed Morrissey says:
Apparently, the first rule of Labor Nihilist Club is not to talk about Labor Nihilist Club. The second rule of Labor Nihilist Club? Keep your hands off the union cash, dude.
UPDATE V: It might be tempting to think that Lerner is a fringe kook with no larger influence, but Sam Foster at Left Coast Rebel observes an interesting coincidence: The day before Lerner made his presentation at Pace University, the AFL-CIO announced a new protest campaign against Morgan Chase:
Hundreds of workers, religious leaders, community activists and farm worker advocates rallied and protested in 200 cities across the couintry today to demand that JP Morgan Chase respect the basic human rights of people to have decent places to live and work.
Large banks such as Chase are flush with cash and protestors demanded the bank declare a one-year moratorium on home foreclosures. The Wall Street Journal reports that Chase has $19.5 billion worth of home loans in foreclosure—nearly 7.5 percent of its mortgage portfolio and more than any other big bank.
Nearly 400 people rallied at Chase headquarters in New York City. Speakers stood on the back of a truck with banners declaring “Chase: Morally Bankrupt” and laid out the case that as a result of the bank’s reckless pursuit of profits at any cost, thousands of people have lost their homes.
Today’s protests mark the beginning of a new, intensified campaign leading up to JP Morgan Chase’s annual meeting next month.
Here is the logo of the Left’s anti-Morgan Chase campaign:
Just a coincidence, I’m sure . . .
UPDATE VII: Linked by Bob Belvedere at Camp of the Saints — thanks! — and thanks also to Bob and another commenter for pointing out this: Stanley Kurtz has documented that it was at the 1983 Socialist Scholars Conference that Obama became a convert to Alinksy-style “community organizing.” Obama was then a Columbia University senior, and among the participants in the SSC (forerunner of the Left Forum) were Frances Fox Piven and James Cone, “theological mentor” to Rev. Jeremiah Wright. The full story is told in Kurtz’s recent book, Radical-in-Chief: Barack Obama and the Untold Story of American Socialism.