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How We Protect Reproductive Rights, with Jennifer Knox (Working Families Party)

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Block & Build
How We Protect Reproductive Rights, with Jennifer Knox (Working Families Party)

This week on the show we have a feature from Co-Executive Director of the Highlander Research and Education Center, Ash-Lee Henderson on the threat of another MAGA administration to the burgeoning labor movement.

Also, Arizona is the latest state to lean into a total abortion ban in this post Dobbs world. What does that mean for us as organizers and voters?

Joining to discuss this and more is National Director of Organizing and Tech Innovation for Working Families Party, Jennifer Knox.

Find out the legal and electoral status of abortion in your state via the Rewire News guide here.

Text “WFP” to 30403 for info on how to get involved in campaigns supported by Working Families Party.

[00:00:00] Cayden Mak: Welcome to Block and Build, a podcast from Convergence magazine. I’m your host and the publisher of Convergence, Hayden Mock. On this show, we’re building a roadmap for people and organizations working to unite the anti fascist forces in order to build the influence of a progressive trend while blocking the rise of fascism.

[00:00:27] of Authoritarianism in the United States. This week on the show, we have a feature from the co executive director of the Highlander Research and Education Center, Ashley Woodard Henderson, on the threat of another MAGA administration on the burgeoning labor movement. But first, we’re going to talk about Arizona, the latest state to roll out a total abortion ban in this post Dobbs world.

[00:00:46] What does that mean for us as organizers and as voters? Joining me live to discuss this and the issue of party building. in the United States right now is the director of organizing and tech innovation for Working Families Party, [00:01:00] Jennifer Knox. Jennifer, thank you so much for joining me today. It’s great to see you.

[00:01:04] And I’m really excited about this conversation. 

[00:01:07] Jennifer Knox: Me too. I’m super excited. I’m a little nervous too. I like have read Convergence’s work for years but I’ve never been a contributor. So I don’t know if that, what the written version of it is. of long time listener, first time caller is, but I think I’m 

[00:01:22] Cayden Mak: that.

[00:01:24] It’s also I find that so surprising because every time I encounter your ideas in the world, I’m like, Oh JNUC’s on it. You know what you’re talking about. So it’s shocks me that you’ve never contributed to Convergence, but it’s cool that we’re here now. Glad to be here.

[00:01:38] Awesome. One of the things I want to start out talking about, because I think, one, you have experience on campaigns dealing with this issue, and it feels very timely, is on Tuesday, and I’ll say also, when this news came down when I found out about it, I was at the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center’s conference, The Road Ahead, in Vegas, so it also felt there was a, it was, I felt like I was in the [00:02:00] middle of a moment.

[00:02:01] But so the Arizona Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that this total abortion ban in the state that had been left on the books since 1864 is in fact enforceable. This law is 160 years old. It was written before Arizona was even a state. And it makes any abortion in which the mother’s life is not in danger, A felony, and then anybody who’s performing or helping someone receive that abortion care could be punished with a 2 to 5 year prison sentence.

[00:02:29] I guess Arizona’s Democratic Attorney General Chris Mays said that she would not be enforcing the law, but the Republicans in the State House they did not want any debate on the issue and forced it through. Democrats were cut off twice as they tried to deliberate on the law. And the GOP leaders were like, we’re out for the week.

[00:02:46] We don’t need to talk about this more. The scene in the state house is silly, and I feel like it’s, it presages a little about what the MAGA threat looks like. Let’s roll that clip. 

[00:02:55] Sound on Tape: That we recess to the sound of the bill immediately. You’ve heard the secondary motion.[00:03:00] 

[00:03:00] I heard a second. All in favor of that motion vote aye. All opposed vote no. Ayes have it.

[00:03:27] We know that the Supreme Court decision yesterday is extreme and we know that should the 1864 ban on abortion remain the law in Arizona people will die. 

[00:03:50] Cayden Mak: So You know, this is not what democracy looks like. Um, I’m wondering, Jay Knox, if you would talk a little bit about being from Wisconsin, having worked [00:04:00] on these kinds of campaigns in Wisconsin what this what this sort of evokes for you and what it makes you think about?

[00:04:07] Jennifer Knox: Yeah first, I definitely want to just send love and care to all the folks organizing on the front lines and impacted in Arizona because I’ve stood in that moment. Thank you. Where things changed on the dime and you’re then on the defensive. And I also believe, I know they will prevail, but it’s also, it’s tough.

[00:04:26] Cause what they were saying is while we are fighting, people will be impacted and that’s a real weight on people’s shoulders, but yeah, this. Is part of the Republican playbook. So as much as it feels like deeply irate, it’s also not even the first time that this has happened. This is quite a replay candidly of some of the stuff that we’ve seen since 2022 when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v.

[00:04:53] Wade at that time A little a smidge under two years ago, Wisconsin had an [00:05:00] 1800s law that also criminalized abortion. Very similarly criminalized providers, criminalize folks seeking them. And the same, the Democratic Attorney General was like, I won’t enforce this, but still, right?

[00:05:11] This is part of the Republican playbook for a reason. And the law sent a chilling impact down for everyone who is providing healthcare. And they essentially needed to set up a fund, which is still running to this day in the state, but that would move people to Chicago and other places where they could get healthcare in the intermediate time.

[00:05:32] And then it set off the pandemic. very much a political struggle over the following years. And what I hope for Arizona is that they follow in the path of other states who have fought back and actually been quite successful over the last couple years. And so this is, I’m sure they feel at the bottom of that hill, but I’m I believe that they can climb out of it and maybe even exit stronger in a stronger position in terms of having built their forces.

[00:05:59] [00:06:00] And I think that is like one of the questions because I hear this a bit of a debate candidly on the left about, how much should we lean into abortion and reproductive rights as an issue? And is this really something that organizes our forces versus is it something that is more of an issue that the sort of typical swing voter goes after?

[00:06:21] They’re like moderate, Republican, leaning white woman who might switch now. That’s like who the Democratic Party is always going after, right? Sure. Yeah. That’s not the base that we should be building. The base that we should be building is actually this multiracial working class. Other kind of swing voter who can choose to opt out of this process if they don’t feel like the system is working for them.

[00:06:42] And I think that it’s true that probably the Democratic Party will use a lot of their forces to organize that sort of middle class Republican wing swing voter. And, I think that is useful as part of this united front. This year, we want more [00:07:00] of those folks on our side, and I’m assuming that, what we saw in Wisconsin, what we saw in Kansas, what we saw in Ohio and lots of other states at this point, is that those folks, when abortion is on the ballot, swing into the United Front against the right, which is useful.

[00:07:17] But also what I’ve observed and seen and would like to see more of is. That I actually do think that this is a winning issue in many of our multiracial working class communities. I can remember standing in Wisconsin. This was like 22 2022 election cycle. And we were like, turn in folks out around the U.

[00:07:35] S. Senate race. Abortion wasn’t explicitly on the ballot. But. In general, it was still a subtext given the kind of recent loss of those rights. And we had this event during early vote, which produced this line down the street of all these folks who wanted to see the rapper. And so folks were like, I saw this brother hold up his pants, run across the street to vote and then come back because he was trying to hurry up and get in line.

[00:07:59] [00:08:00] And I got a chance to talk to this woman, Diamond in the line, who what’s constant in the winter is cold, but it’s not photo op. She had already, she had her little, I voted sticker stuck to her leather jacket and her like leather mini skirt. And she was going to get her, I voted, photo op that day.

[00:08:16] And so when we did the little, person on the street what brings you out today? She had such a skillful line about how reproductive rights. Were necessary and reproductive justice and how if folks are in a tough situation, they need as many choices as possible. And it’s not 

[00:08:30] Sound on Tape: and 

[00:08:31] Jennifer Knox: all the things in that.

[00:08:32] And she was just like crystal clear about her interest in that moment. So I do actually think this is one of those issues that has. 70 80, just like very high levels of support in our society. And that includes among the folks that we’re trying to organize. And so I hope the folks in Arizona, I know they’re like trying to get a ballot initiative up in November.

[00:08:53] And I think there is a way to both be, trying to block the right, but also [00:09:00] at the same time, really building the left. And I, just saying a little more about that as we’re on the Black and Build podcast, I think what I’d like to see, I sometimes feel like in shorthand, we’re assuming that the primaries are right.

[00:09:15] The races where we love the candidate are the places to build. And then the general and everything that maybe feels a little complicated is automatically a block. But Even in the general election, there’s so many opportunities for us to build our forces. And I don’t think we should consider it a one or the other sort of thing, versus there are opportunities to build across the board this year.

[00:09:38] Cayden Mak: Sure. Yeah. And I know that there are a lot of states that are like looking at some kind of ballot measure, some kind of direct democracy step that are, Have some kind of like abortion, sometimes even like state constitutional amendment that campaigners are trying to get on the ballot. And I imagine that this is going to be [00:10:00] like a pretty animating thing for a lot of.

[00:10:03] A lot of voters. 

[00:10:05] Jennifer Knox: I think so. I think in those states where that is on the ballot, my guess is it will maybe even become an issue that feels as big or bigger than, the top of the ballot and what’s happening in the president’s race. And I think that’s, I think that’s great. It’s going to be, I think it’s going to be on the ballot here in Colorado.

[00:10:23] Trying. I think florida has already successfully got in on the ballot. Something will be in new york and Maryland. So there’s, it was talking to Kayla read accent ST louis. I know they’re petitioning right now. So it seems like easily in a dozen states across the country, there could be some sort of ballot initiative around this.

[00:10:39] And I think that is a very mhm. Good thing. Like I love issues in that sort of direct democracy ability for people to really feel the power of their ballot. And it’s such a great opportunity for us when we get those when we get those on the ballot. So I know there are like forces working against people getting on the ballot.

[00:10:58] That’s not easy to do. But I [00:11:00] think it looks like it’s already been successful. And I hope that the list of states adds to that. 

[00:11:06] Cayden Mak: Yeah, that’s I feel like that’s a, it’s definitely a move in the right direction, and I think it also speaks to the fact that abortion isn’t, and the conversation about abortion is very clearly I feel like it’s been moving away from we’re just talking about reproductive rights and into pregnancy and maternal care is an economic justice issue, right?

[00:11:26] That we live in a country with such a thin and meager social safety net that like, one of the big indicators of downward economic mobility for women is whether or not they have kids. And I think that In this, what feels like an incredibly precarious economic moment. I think that people feel that deep inside of themselves.

[00:11:44] Jennifer Knox: Absolutely. As I sit in my one bedroom apartment, not my house with multiple beds, it’s very real, right? People need choices and we see so many trends about in many ways, people waiting later. And I think a lot of that is about the economics and [00:12:00] people feeling like I may want a family.

[00:12:03] But I need to make that’s a economically good time for me. And also, I may choose that actually I don’t want a like tradition. I don’t want a child, but I want to build a family in a different way that maybe works for me as well. And I think that all through that conversation the economics of our time, and especially for, young people in this next generation coming up is deeply intertwined.

[00:12:24] And yeah. It doesn’t often make a lot of economic sense to have a kid if we have not successfully passed the policies that are needed for family leave, for child care support for all the things that are really possible for that experience to be, Joyful right versus incredibly stressful and draining.

[00:12:45] Cayden Mak: Yeah. Yeah. No I totally hear that. Having a child should be just joyful, but sometimes it is, it comes with a variety of stresses that like. Nobody opts into but are part of the experience because of all those things you’re describing. I [00:13:00] think which is the choice of this society though, right?

[00:13:02] Yeah it’s intentional, right? It’s that is a policy. That is a policy choice. Which I actually think maybe is a good segue. Because obviously if reproductive justice is on the ballot in about a dozen states, there’s 30 odd some that don’t have reproductive justice on the ballot.

[00:13:18] What are some of the things that you all are thinking about that are animating for a multiracial working class block that is like the sort of like core of the United Front? What are the things that folks are responding to that we’re moving towards and that like y’all are seeing resonate with folks?

[00:13:35] Jennifer Knox: Yeah, that great question. And I just want to mention, if you are in one of those states where abortion and reproductive rights is on the ballot, definitely help get those petitions done. I think they’re going to drop for you for listeners, just like the list of states. It’s incredibly urgent right now to get the signatures, get that on the ballot.

[00:13:51] Cayden Mak: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. We’ll link to a list. It’s. Quickly, it looks like it’s South Dakota, Nebraska, Missouri, [00:14:00] Arkansas, Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, and Montana, which is a lot of states. 

[00:14:06] Jennifer Knox: And then, but you’re right. It’s not going to be on the ballot everywhere, at least formally. It may be a subtext to some races, right?

[00:14:13] Especially if there’s a, competitive Senate race or something, right? All of this. If you had a deep trifecta, you might be able to overturn federally some of this stuff. There are places where it’ll be a subtext. But it’s true that I think there are other issues and other things that we need to be talking about to rally our people.

[00:14:31] Around and I would say that WFP is in the place of really learning and iterating on that. We’ve both done some multiracial working class polling to really try to understand what is the math line, right? What is the set of things that actual working class people believe and feel aligned with.

[00:14:50] And I would just say, I think that sometimes there are like, I think we, we have to be self critical that sometimes on the left, we’re actually not doing [00:15:00] the best job of speaking to like my mom and my aunties and my cousins, versus the kind of, echo chamber that is. And so we’ve been really trying to challenge ourselves to move in a rigorous manner to actually think about what are the things that are broadly supported, that are the kinds of things that can construct an electoral block, right?

[00:15:20] I think Stuart Hall says that, we create majorities. 

[00:15:24] Cayden Mak: That’s right. Yeah. 

[00:15:25] Jennifer Knox: I think that so much is shifting right now, right? That we have to be in this listening posture and learning. One of the things that I want to be experimenting with, especially in this moment where we see so many people at the top of the ballot, right?

[00:15:40] It’s, I saw this poll that said like 25 percent of Or more people both don’t like the democratic party or the Republican party and both don’t want Trump or Biden, right? The two sort of dominant nominees at this point. And so there’s this. Significant block of folks who, what I would say [00:16:00] is have this deep desire to end the two party system, right?

[00:16:04] They deeply do not feel like it’s working for them, which we agree, right?

[00:16:12] And like it’s breeding a lot of different ways, right? That could lead to apathy, disengagement from this election. That could lead to making a third party vote. Probably, will not be effective in swinging this race and a variety of different things. And so I’m curious about how do we engage those people and build with them in a strategic manner?

[00:16:35] Traditionally, one of the things I’ve thought is like, are people actually are the issues of electoral reform right now? More salient than they normally would be, right? Do people feel deeply how unfair this electoral college system is this two party system is and it’s not like we haven’t over the years, right?

[00:16:54] Had a slate of different measures that could begin to address that, whether it was ranked choice voting, whether which we’ve [00:17:00] helped pass in a number of places, including D. C. Whether it is fusion voting, right? Which we’ve WFP was a part of passing in New York and was very much, is very much connected to the rise of New York WFP, right?

[00:17:11] And the ability to have a successful third party there. And honestly, traditionally, those have been things that have been more appealing to a middle class, Sort of college educated and up demographic and they have not shared things that you could construct a majority multiracial working class voting back on, but right things shift and so one of the things I’d like to test is like to actually, do young people right now deeply want to smash the system to the point where they’re like, Oh, actually, these policies right are no longer wonky to me.

[00:17:44] They seem like tools for me. Yeah. Be able to successfully in my impression and that fight feels critical for me. So I want to be on college campuses and finding out. And yeah, I would love to talk to the young people who maybe, like I heard [00:18:00] on some campuses in Wisconsin that, Maybe they didn’t want to if they say I saw a democratic party canvasser, they were like, nah, I’m 

[00:18:08] Sound on Tape: sure.

[00:18:09] Yeah. 

[00:18:09] Jennifer Knox: It’s okay I would love to see somebody from working family’s party there and see what kind of conversation can be had if we fundamentally actually agree. that we really don’t like this system, then let’s talk about what it would look like to join. Now, part of joining a political party is demonstrating, diversity and discussion, but unity in our action.

[00:18:27] So it would mean like us participating in an endorsement and then moving together as a block, but also what else can we do? We can, could we put, some ballot initiatives on the agenda? And swing states in progressive cities that say, Hey I’m doing WFPs endorsement for the top of the ticket and down for the candidates.

[00:18:46] And then I’m also voting for this ballot initiative that says that like in four years from now, I want ranked choice voting in my presidential election. I want something that allows me to have more choice than I have right now. And that [00:19:00] actually I can envision and aspire to a future where this is not my reality.

[00:19:04] Cayden Mak: Yeah. Yeah. This, this is such an, I feel like perhaps an underexplored aspect of the work of building, is that we are stuck in a system that is fundamentally unfair and we’re trying to like Both win in the sort of like material ways, but also our priority needs to be unrigging it and

[00:19:26] Yeah, we need that. Yeah. Like we aren’t gonna live win in the long term if we can’t unr the system that we’re in. And so I, I think it’s very interesting and I mean it’s very compelling to me also. ’cause I lived in Buffalo, New York for four years and when I moved to New York I was like, what is this voting system?

[00:19:42] ’cause like. Nobody really knows outside of New York what fusion voting really is. But the fact that a candidate can be on a party line for multiple parties, which then allows you to vote for a candidate for a third party candidate who’s endorsed by a third party, but is also say on the Democratic [00:20:00] Party line.

[00:20:00] So they are actually Like plugged into different infrastructures and then allows that candidate to potentially win, which is different than, say, a third party candidate who’s not building infrastructure in that way who’s gonna probably get like 1 to 2 percent of the vote, maybe if they’re lucky and then also demonstrates the power of that growing voting block that’s no, we want, like real progressives, not, like corporate Democrats or whatever.

[00:20:26] But we want people who are in line with our values and are going to stick up for our community. So I think that’s such an interesting model. And it’s a really critic, it’s, and it’s critical for people to recognize that like these systems are designed, right? Like we can redesign them if we array our forces and organize our power.

[00:20:44] Jennifer Knox: 100 percent agree. And if we are going to build our own independent political party and vehicles over time, what fusion does is it gives us time to do that. We may be able to win some local city races right off the bat. Cause maybe they take only a couple thousand [00:21:00] tens of thousands of votes, but we might not right.

[00:21:03] Have the hundreds of thousands of votes to win. Governor or the top of the ticket, and we need time. It doesn’t mean we can’t right. We just need time up to that. And, fusion allows us to partake in that race without a spoiler effect happening, which, exactly like you said, that’s by choice, right?

[00:21:18] That’s those laws are written against us to prevent us from having our full expression of our electoral rights, but we can overturn them. That’s right. 

[00:21:29] Cayden Mak: Man, I just had a thought, and then it fell out of my brain. Oh, it was a complaint about third party presidential candidates. But thinking about that spoiler effect, I think that a lot of people are skeptical of.

[00:21:43] Attempts to build third parties because of the spoiler effect and because of the ways in which communities of color in particular get scapegoated for not participating or like Participating in the wrong way quote unquote [00:22:00] and It does make me think about the fact that and this is one of the things that Excites me about the work that you all are doing at WFP is like in order to actually win in the long term You need infrastructure And you need to do things like polling, you need, at this point, technology infrastructure to manage data, stuff like that, and I think starting at the top of the ticket, while it’s splashy and maybe gets you earned media, that doesn’t actually build power.

[00:22:25] And I was wondering if you could talk to that a little bit, and, like, how that’s a part of your thinking and your strategy, and, like, why starting from the bottom up, like this, Makes sense. 

[00:22:35] Jennifer Knox: Yeah. I think a lot of people have wondered why WFP didn’t run a presidential candidate this year, which, I resonate with that, like ration, right?

[00:22:45] I want that for us too, but I do think that choice was grounded in an assessment of how we, what would be the path to governing power. And it was our assessment that we needed to do some pipeline work and we needed to [00:23:00] actually build up the ability to. Win density of races, right? Not just one race, but enough density to be able to take over and create electoral majorities and build governing power, and that would happen most likely on a state level first, and that it would be really important for us to demonstrate our ability to build voting blocs that are a majority and to govern effectively there before, doing this, the sexy, like shot at the presidency, especially when we have, the rock in a hard place right now is that you have an authoritarian right wing that is a very serious threat, right?

[00:23:35] So those running a third party candidate isn’t without very significant risks in this political moment. And there was writing that we could do to build up towards governing power that would be more effective right now would help strengthen ourselves on a path. And so I would think of it not as no, we don’t ever think it’s strategic, but it’s wait, We wouldn’t do that with the level of consolidation on the right.

[00:23:59] And then [00:24:00] also if you study in no elections it’s it is harder to win up against an incumbent versus in an open seat. And so one of the things that’s different in 2024 than was in 2022 is actually right. You’ve got in some ways, two dominant candidates that have incumbency, which Then is a harder condition to win on.

[00:24:19] So I also don’t think that we would choose to make that decision in a 2024 versus a 2028 or a situation where there was an open seat. And so thought goes into, yeah, what are the best ways for us to build in a manner that is long term? And that sets us up for success because end of the day, we do think that.

[00:24:39] Winning matters, right? Like very often it can be the difference. It was a difference between fair maps in Wisconsin and the ability and to pass all sorts of policies that really do right. It’s the ability to be able to expand Medicare, right? There are things that our people need us to be able to deliver.

[00:24:56] And so making the choices on where we can be [00:25:00] successful now and what is on a future timeline is really important for us to do. 

[00:25:04] Cayden Mak: Yeah, that, that is very helpful. And I think that as you say, it’s like it does require some amount of like, pacing yourself, reflecting, being critical of like critically examining all of the choices that we have, because we really do have a lot of choices, right?

[00:25:21] In terms of like, how we build towards this future. And then laying out a real roadmap for people. And I really appreciate that deeply. 

[00:25:29] Jennifer Knox: Yeah. And I totally resonate. And I think if we’re, we make an honest assessment, then our sort of. Progressive set of forces are the smallest right up against the broader sort of Democratic Party forces or Republican set of forces.

[00:25:45] So there we have to be smart about what opportunities we take. And then we also have to assess risk really clearly. 

[00:25:52] Cayden Mak: Yeah, I think the other thing that I’ve heard some folks at WFP talk about to that is really important [00:26:00] is that we also need to be thinking about all everything we do is like a rigorous experiment and that like we can learn from this right that like what I’ve heard you lay out here is It’s an assessment of the current conditions, which is essentially a hypothesis, right?

[00:26:14] This is a hypothesis about how we get from where we are now to where we want to be in the future. And that nobody’s done this before in this country in, in a truly effective way. People are not invested in building a block of the multiracial working class in the way that y’all are.

[00:26:29] And I think that for one of the interesting things that I’m enjoying pulling out in this conversation is like what is the heart of that hypothesis? And I’m personally on board. Like I’m there let’s 

[00:26:39] Jennifer Knox: go. I would just say, I feel as much as, the terrain is challenging this year.

[00:26:44] I actually feel such so much great progress towards alignment 

[00:26:49] Sound on Tape: and 

[00:26:49] Jennifer Knox: so many grassroots organizations moving in alignment with us. And, adopting the same sort of, Like understanding that, okay, we want to build governing power. [00:27:00] That is much more likely to happen on the state level. First, that requires us to get really diligent about building a multiracial working class voting block.

[00:27:09] We have been working with a number of groups to popularize some rigorous polling we did. And I’m like, whenever people say polling, I’m like, okay. The reasons right to know why that is often not reflective of our communities, but WFP owned and controlled this polling did a very rigorous job, including, some like circle focus groups and, both like in person and phones and like really mitigating the ways that our communities are often left out and try to actually map out, what, uh, if there are. Six clusters of folks, right? First of all, who is working class and how do we, that’s an ethereal thing. And we’ve tried to sharpen our assessment about what are the sort of factors, right? Some of that is maybe related to income. Some of that is related to educational attainment, but also sometimes there are certain jobs that don’t require a college degree, but are [00:28:00] quite viewed, in a pretty high level in our society versus, the ones that are more traditionally working class.

[00:28:06] First of all, trying to define who that group is, 

[00:28:09] Sound on Tape: trying to 

[00:28:09] Jennifer Knox: understand truly what is it that they believe and do some clustering. And then to think about, okay, what are the clusters that we think that we could actually organize into a block that would add up to a majority? And yeah, we’ve got, there’s definitely a lot of block that is around this kind of new next generation Left sort of thinkers, which we find ourselves to have a lot of, obviously appetite for that set of folks, but there are others across race across age demographics that we really do think that they share ideas like ours and that together we could constitute a majority and that these are folks that in general, right?

[00:28:48] Are with us around immigration that they believe that, that immigrant families contribute a lot to our society and that they should have a pathway to citizenship, right? Like that, that there are working class people [00:29:00] that believe those things and there are enough of us. So we’re trying to study that block, sharpen our ability to target them this year during the election.

[00:29:06] We’ll be rolling out an ability to be like, all right, here are the, three clusters you’re going after. And we want to be in conversation with them. We want to be moving them. With us to WFP, but right with our broader set of forces, 

[00:29:18] So yeah, we’re we got to build the block, but I think we’ve gotten a long way to just having not just WFP, but a broader set of aligned forces know that’s a priority and to be ready to work for it.

[00:29:30] And big elections, like years like this, one of the opportunities with them is you’re just going to talk to so many people, the sheer numbers, the scale is so high. And so in that. What we say and who we target creates a lot of opportunity for us to build and hopefully end this year stronger than we started it.

[00:29:49] Cayden Mak: Absolutely. Amazing. The other element of this important block is labor, right? And shout out to our friends at labor notes who are hosting their annual conference next [00:30:00] weekend. I’ve been to labor notes. I actually, the first time I went to labor notes, I was like a shop steward for my CWA local it’s been a while, but I had such an amazing time.

[00:30:09] It was like such an energizing experience. We know that thousands of both rank and file union members, officers, other labor activists who are working to organize new shops and then also, strengthen the militancy in their existing shops are going to get together in Chicago. I feel like Labor Notes is one of the sort of Like polls of the labor left in a very important way.

[00:30:30] And with the big wins and organized labor over the past few years, I don’t think it’s a surprise that this is probably going to be the biggest labor notes ever. And one of the things that’s like yet to be figured out is how workers and how the labor movement is going to be responding to the MAGA threat in this year’s election.

[00:30:47] It’s really crucial for the future of the movement. And I’m really excited about. this next special segment that we have because the, one of the things that is really [00:31:00] crucial is that the Biden administration has been one of the most labor friendly administrations in recent history.

[00:31:06] And the flip side of that is that the Heritage Foundation Project 2025 document, which kind of lays out the vision for what A trump term to might look like is it’s this over 1000 page document. That’s it’s very explicit about what the threat is, right? It’s like something where they explore basically every level of policy on every issue.

[00:31:31] You can imagine. And it’s it should be frightening, right? It is a chilling document. And it contains a lot of really specific Threats and attacks on the power of workers organizations to organize to protect people to build better conditions for folks in that multiracial working class.

[00:31:53] Recently folks on our team got together with Ashley Henderson from the Highlander Education and Research [00:32:00] Center to really talk through what this threat is. And I’m excited that we have some tape to play about with Ash explaining the threat of Project 2025 on labor and the labor movement.

[00:32:13] So let’s roll that tape. 

[00:32:15] Ash-Lee Henderson: 1st of all, I’m just really grateful to you Jackson and Stephanie for this conversation. That is actually most of you that are listening now coming into a conversation already in progress. I just am so grateful for the labor left for continuing to pay attention to the rise in authoritarianism and things like that.

[00:32:32] Fascistic movements that are trying to not only come after every kind of civil liberty and every kind of human rights advantage that we’ve made over the last several centuries but really particularly not forgetting to come specifically for workers. This is not a time where just the general.

[00:32:51] Sentiment about right to work is a threat. This is not just a time where capitalists bosses and the [00:33:00] Neanderthals that aspire to be them are just throwing tactical spaghetti at the wall. Why it is a particular heightened crisis in this moment is because they have a plan. Y’all they have a plan and it’s called Project 2025.

[00:33:13] And anybody who knows me knows that I have been obsessed about it since it became. Available to read project 2025 comes for everybody. It comes for lgbtq plus folks comes for folks of color. It comes for people of goodwill of all stripes. It also really does particularly come for labor. I’m going to give a little bit of an overview.

[00:33:34] I’m not going to go super deep just for the sake of time and what the almost 1000 page document says, but I am going to give some of the overall context and then get into the. The sort of protein of the battle plan, what they call a war plan as it pertains to labor project 2025, is it at least 22Million dollar project.

[00:33:55] That is a multi sectoral, multi tactical [00:34:00] plan for the 1st, 180 days of a GOP presidency. Obviously. I believe that the Heritage Foundation and the coalition of forces that came together to make Project 2025 a reality were likely assuming that Donald Trump would be that president would be the person that would enact Project 2025 in the first hundred and eighty days in his second term.

[00:34:24] And again this nearly hundred page war plan, as they call it would essentially move that work. Through their marshals, the marshaling of their forces. To cover every cabinet department in the U. S. government on the federal level and many of the other governing bodies as well.

[00:34:44] They’re serious. It’s, I think, over 80 organizations that have come together across their ideological and value set differences. Across their different expertise, right? Some of them are think tanks. Some of them are foundations. Some of them are identity based. Some of them [00:35:00] are ideology based. It’s all sorts of different conservative and right wing forces coming together across their differences to say, we actually are stronger together can make impossible things possible together in ways that essentially dissolve the federal government aspects of the federal government as we’ve known it.

[00:35:16] And absolve those powers essentially under the presidency, we should all be concerned about that, but let me get specific about why that matters to workers and those of us that throw down for worker justice and for labor. The chapter on the Department of Labor and its related agencies is about 37 pages of the thousand almost thousand page document over 900 pages of the project 2025 document.

[00:35:47] And there’s the only article really that I found that several months of digging an article by Noah Lannard and mother Jones. That really specifically goes into depth about this chapter and [00:36:00] who wrote it. So a lot of this information is coming from that. I really strongly encourage those of you that care about this to, to spend some time in that article.

[00:36:08] Noah writes that it’s essentially this chapter, this 37 pages, is the, It’s the same old kind of union busting that the right has always talked about, but what makes this particularly nuanced is that it’s got more kind of anti woke and pro Christian nationalist language in their description of what they intend to do.

[00:36:29] So there might be things that they are saying are good for workers are related to Christian ideologies and values and certainly are coming after what they ascribe to be like left wing authoritarianism coming for the rights of all people with weird opportunities for them to use pro worker language, but actually doing things that are terrible for workers.

[00:36:52] I want to offer. A little bit of context about who wrote it, because I think you all especially in my OG [00:37:00] labor heads are going to recognize the name. Jonathan Berry wrote this chapter at least contributed highly to this chapter. You might remember him because he led the Labor Department’s regulatory office under Donald Trump.

[00:37:13] And during that time, he denied millions of workers overtime pay. He’s also pretty well known for making it harder for workers to go after individual offices and restaurants that are a part of franchisees. They, for example, McDonald’s, if I work for McDonald’s, and I went after my particular shop.

[00:37:36] Then McDonald’s as a multinational corporation couldn’t be held liable for what one of their stores did. Jonathan Berry is no friend of workers here or anywhere. And it’s exactly why he was tapped to write this 37 page chapter. But let’s get into what he writes in this chapter. Let’s start with the sort of [00:38:00] Neo.

[00:38:00] Judeo Christian, Christian nationalist stuff, because that’s where he starts it. He begins a chapter stretching all the way back to the book of Genesis in the Christian Bible recognizing that fruitful work is an integral part of building human dignity, right? So he starts it that way and essentially identifies the enemy.

[00:38:22] In this first chunk of the chapter, he identifies the enemy as a massive administrative state that is imposing a left wing agenda that favors human resources, bureaucracies, climate change activists, and union bosses over ordinary work. You can imagine that he’s talking about us. He’s talking about the Biden Labor Department.

[00:38:43] He’s talking about the National Labor Relations Board. Because we’ve built, again, I think we workers have built the most pro union country that we’ve seen in decades. And that is uniformly bad for the right wing. After setting that sort of context, he moves into sections [00:39:00] that really don’t have a whole lot to do with labor.

[00:39:03] The connection to labor is quite a bit of a stretch, but is an attack on what we’ve been doing to build social justice unionism and bringing people together across race dynamics, gender dynamics, sexuality, et cetera, by really targeting things like, How the Republican administration, how the right wing president, how Congress should and could through this project, block critical race theory limit anti discrimination lawsuits promote pro life policies in the workplace, among other things.

[00:39:36] He argues that this is about protecting working families and in fact, calls on Congress to pass the Working Families Flexibility Act, which is, as a Republican bill that labor advocates and that we are advocating against because it would let employers provide comp time instead of, time and a half overtime pay, right?

[00:39:54] Again they’re excellent at taking co opting the language of things that sound good, particularly [00:40:00] that we have pushed and co opting it and watering it down and making it something that’s actually anti worker. In a similar vein they are calling for the reinstatement of a Trump era rule that made it easier to classify people as independent contractors.

[00:40:14] Who obviously lack many of the protections that we get as employees of an organization or a company. He labels that plan which the Economic Policy Institute estimated would cost workers more than 3 billion with a B per year, a part of making family sustaining work accessible. I don’t think that costing workers 3 billion dollars per year after the implementation of this project actually makes anything sustainable certainly work or our families.

[00:40:47] So he sets it up this way, and then about 19 pages in, he starts to address the role of unions, labor unions. The title of the first section is Non Union Worker Voice and Representation, [00:41:00] which NOAA offered gives the game away, right? It’s the gag is up. And the top line recommendation in this section is to pass the Teamwork for Employees and Managers Act.

[00:41:10] Which you’ll remember Senator Mark Rubio from Florida, the Republican from Florida, introduced. This bill weakens a section of the NLRA that bans company controlled unions, right? So in exchange, workers would get to be a part of an employee involvement organization which, typically just, Let’s companies ignore them, right?

[00:41:33] And again, 1 non voting seat on the boards of big companies. This act is a rehash of a bill with the same name that Bill Clinton vetoed nearly 3 decades ago because of the strong opposition that labor offered to it. At the same time, this plan makes it harder to form a traditional union. Project 2025 bans card check, or well, would ask Congress to do the process by which a union can be [00:42:00] established if a majority of employees sign cards in favor of unionization and an employer voluntarily recognizes that union. When it comes to collective bargaining agreements this plan under Barry’s authorship asked Congress to amend the National Labor Relations Act so that federal laws and regulations can be set to ask if both sides agree to do so as a part of a compromise.

[00:42:24] As an example, Barry asked workers, he says workers could forgo some overtime pay in exchange for getting more predictable schedules. It imagines employers agreeing to something that they should already be doing, right? They should be providing workers with reasonable notice for upcoming shifts in exchange for getting out of a longstanding legal obligation.

[00:42:45] So this is a setup and throughout the plan. There’s a lot of policing that flows in 1 direction, right? We should be concerned because project 2025 calls for investigating worker centers, [00:43:00] increasing funding for the labor office that monitors union finances. But at the same time cuts the department’s overall budget.

[00:43:07] It calls for the occupational health and safety administration to get no new power or funding. One of the few policies that could reasonably be construed as pro worker and again, I think this would be a stretch, is the requirement of mandatory overtime on Sundays. I wonder if you can guess why.

[00:43:26] It’s obviously because people might observe the Sabbath, right? Again, connected to the sort of Judeo Christian, Christian nationalism thread that’s throughout this document. He explained that the goal is not to increase pay for workers, but to push more businesses to stay closed on the Christian day of rest.

[00:43:42] This document calls for Congress to eliminate the B. A. box, as they call it, on job postings that require applicants to have bachelor degrees. This might feel familiar to you because you’ll remember grassroots organizations and communities all across the country who led Ban the [00:44:00] Box campaigns that were fighting for the rights to be for the rights of formerly and currently incarcerated people to not be treated as though they are indentured servants at best and enslaved people at worst.

[00:44:11] It’s a co optation of the Ban the Box movement. And that movement is to ban the box is still a policy that’s getting debated even amongst the most liberal of elected officials. But this is what the context of why you should know about this isn’t just because of that co optation, but it’s also because it’s specifically a dig at college educated people who the right has seen and data tend to not vote for the Republican Party.

[00:44:37] More college educated people tend to vote outside of the GOP. So this is their way to troll progressives. That have college degrees, many of whom have been really supportive, overwhelmingly supportive of the pay in the box movement. It’s a petty kind of, you would miss it if you didn’t pay attention moment in project 2025 last couple of things I’ll offer this.

[00:44:58] This [00:45:00] document is in some ways pushing for things that could be wedges in the right wing that we should pay attention to. I think arguably one of the most important of them being a break with Republican labor orthodoxy is nor is Noah calls it to call for sectoral bargaining in the United States.

[00:45:17] Sectoral bargaining in the U. S. would allow workers to negotiate collective bargaining agreements that cover entire industries, entire sectors of work. There are many reasons, though, that we should be concerned and skeptical about that. And what it would look like in the hands of the right wing, but they are saying that this is a potential that could shift have a positive shift for workers.

[00:45:37] And I think we should be cautious and concerned them giving us 1 concession and a sea of things that actually take away our rights is not something that we should pay little attention to. We should pay high attention to that. I could go on and on for days. But the moral of the story is that one, you should check out this article it gets into much more [00:46:00] detail than I have time to do about some of the specifics of it.

[00:46:03] Of this chapter, you should secondly read the chapter itself. See for yourself what the right is overtly telling us. They’re going to do to impact labor movement to impact workers rights movements and worker centers to impact everyday working families. They are being they’re not hiding it. They are being very overt and the thing that you should know about the rest of the document that I’ve yet to mention that is critical to understanding their capacity to make this possible.

[00:46:33] This 37 page document and the desires of their hearts for that plan as it impacts labor. Is that they are building a database of people that they can bring into the administration. Now they are building a database of folks that they can hire as staff that can move the this work and get Trump elected now they are fundraising.

[00:46:54] Now they are not, they are 10 steps ahead. So it is time for us to get serious. Not only [00:47:00] about. How to navigate the contradictions of not being particularly excited about Biden. And some of us actually even more feeling not only not particularly excited, but feeling a real disdain for the ways that he has impacted our communities here and abroad, while also being real that this neoliberal is different than this fascist and the authoritarian and fascistic movements that he represents.

[00:47:23] And recognizing too, so they have capacity and they’re building it. And then lastly, I would argue that we, without a plan, are throwing tactical spaghetti at the wall and praying something sticks. It’s time for us to be more serious about what it looks like to actually have a multi tactical movement ecosystem wide strategy that prevents this because project 2025 isn’t just a concern for 2024 and 2025.

[00:47:52] This plan is written and available to any GOP candidate from the local to the federal level heretofore. [00:48:00] This is not just a short term campaign. This is a campaign to stop fascism and authoritarianism once and for all. And I feel excited. I feel concerned. You can hear that, but I feel excited because we have a more of an opportunity than arguably we’ve ever had to make the kind of societal and economic change that we’ve been dreaming of and have always deserve.

[00:48:19] And my dad would say, there ain’t nothing to it, but to do it. So that’s a little bit about what I think the authoritarian threat is, and particularly how I know it will impact labor.

[00:48:34] Cayden Mak: Whew. All right. I also have some good news for the listeners. This pod is that we have a. Second part that we will also be airing next week featuring conver former Convergence board member, current Convergence print contributor Stephanie Luce, who many of you may know in conversation with Ashley and also Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jackson Potter to talk about how Project 2025 can and should inform the electoral [00:49:00] organizing of workers in battleground states in the coming months, which I think is gonna be very exciting.

[00:49:04] It’s a great conversation. You won’t want to miss it. And there will also be a full version of the video with this section of Ashley laying out. What’s in project 2025 and that second part that will be available on our website at that point to Convergence mag. com. So geez Project 2025. It’s it is a generational a generationally impactful program That undermines a lot of the things that we’ve won over the past 1520 years.

[00:49:37] Jennifer, do you have a, do you have any like things that you want to pull out of there that really stand out to you or stuff that you want to highlight? 

[00:49:45] Jennifer Knox: Yes. And shout out to the comrade Ash Henderson. It’s funny. I’m working with Ash right now WFP and M4BL is going to be doing like we did in [00:50:00] 2020, a series of mass calls that are making meaning at the moment.

[00:50:03] And Ash worked with us on that back in 2020. We’re going to bring her back. She’s forever part of the family. And so I looked it’s great to be, not on at the same time, but on the same podcast. I have incredible thoughts about that. So early on, actually Ash made note of the incredible kind of pro labor environment that is happening right now.

[00:50:26] And obviously, that is to the chagrin of the project 2025 folks. And I, just maybe actually connecting back between. segment in your earlier question about what does a multiracial working class want to hear? I actually think this is something that we should be making more visible.

[00:50:44] I think it would have been hard for anybody in America to get through the last year or two without at some point seeing some workers striking, some workers fighting for their rights and winning, right? Not just successfully winning. And it’s one of those phenomenons [00:51:00] that Everybody either they even if they weren’t on a picket line themselves, it’s like in the air, right?

[00:51:04] It’s in the water around us. You should use that. And so I want to visibilize that for voters on the ground and talk about some of the conditions that have made that possible the same way. When the Supreme Court got a right tilt the way that the right then rushed through all this legislation.

[00:51:25] And we felt that intensely, June of 2020, that Supreme Court was, 2022 was Supreme Court and right then bombs on us, 

[00:51:32] Sound on Tape: but 

[00:51:32] Jennifer Knox: there, there’s also things that we’ve successfully taken over. And, um, there are a lot of things that unions, to their credit are starting are getting right and really like getting more aggressive about organizing new workers.

[00:51:46] One of the things that creates favorable conditions for them is the National Labor Relations Board. And, Biden has worked hard to actually put strong people on there and actually strengthen it. And we’ve got an excellent new [00:52:00] secretary of labor, Julie shoe coming out of California, who has for a long time been the kind of person who will stand up for workers rights, who will push back on corporations trying to do misinformation or trying to fire workers or otherwise penalize them for unionizing.

[00:52:14] And so the it’s not an anomaly that we are seeing more workers fight and win. It’s also related to the conditions being more favorable. And so helping people understand that is happening right now, that we want to see more of that happening. And I hope that, this summer as WFP members will be partaking in WFP endorsement and, needing to decide whether WFP chooses to endorse president Biden or chooses to stay silent in the general.

[00:52:44] I think this is one of the things that they should be thinking about. All the ways that the right is extremely anti labor, but also all the gains that we have been able to make that are pro labor in the last couple years, and that have really shaped the lives of working people on the ground. 

[00:52:59] Cayden Mak: [00:53:00] Yeah.

[00:53:00] No, I think that’s really important because I think that, and I think there are a lot of ways in which Kind of like corporate media will report on something like hot labor summer as if it is an anomaly, right? Like they will not make this important connection between policy and the people who are running the bodies that kind of like arbitrate between different entities and the fact that like people do feel like they can organize and win and that like labor organizer organizers are making strategic assessments about that i think that’s really a key point and it’s important for us to know about that.

[00:53:37] Jennifer Knox: I would just say in the UAW, one in the Midwest, and then I don’t know if you saw this incredible video, you should share it with your users. I’ll bump it to you. And when they’re like, we are taking the fight down south. You know what? Yes. It hasn’t happened in a long time, right? That’s a big move, right?

[00:53:53] Yeah. Conditions that give our unions, the ability to say with their chest, we are going after new grounds right now, and [00:54:00] we believe that we can be successful. And some of that is, we believe we have some defense against some of these corporate tactics that often, really penalize.

[00:54:08] That’s right. When they try to unionize. That’s right. 

[00:54:14] Cayden Mak: It’s always nice to end a conversation on a high note. I love that. I believe that you will win.

[00:54:19] Something I do like to ask all of our guests, because obviously we are in it, we are paying attention to some of the most frightening stuff and trying to balance that with, the hope and light for the future. Is there anything that you can recommend to folks that you’ve been reading or watching or listening to that’s really been filling your cup that you’re like, this helps me like get it together every day?

[00:54:41] Jennifer Knox: Yeah, I see so many bright spots and opportunities, so I’m glad that we’ve been able to talk about them because it’s pretty dim times. Right now, this isn’t exactly A book, but it’s like history in the making. I would watch Summer Lee’s race happening in Pittsburgh, running again for Congress [00:55:00] against a lot of, AIPAC and other forces.

[00:55:02] And CIS has been attacked and it’s running strong. And I, her race is it’s Tuesday, April 20 something. I want to say maybe 23rd, whatever that Tuesday is. Two weeks, two weeks from or a week from. This coming 

[00:55:17] Cayden Mak: Tuesday. 

[00:55:17] Jennifer Knox: Yeah, I don’t know how hard it’ll hit the news, but watch and see because our forces are fighting, they are strong, and they are winning.

[00:55:24] And we need that to be right. We need that energy to see the gains as we move through this year. 

[00:55:31] Cayden Mak: That’s right. And also, if folks want to make phone calls or anything for Summer Lee. This is a time to do it. I know that our friends at seed, the vote are running phone banks and door knocking, and I’m sure y’all are running phone banks.

[00:55:43] Yeah. Yeah. It’s a time to plug in. Thank you so much. Day knocks. It was really a pleasure talking to you. And I always love finding out what’s cooking in your brain. If people want more of what they’ve heard here, where can they go? Where can they follow your work? Working families party? [00:56:00] What should they check out?

[00:56:00] Jennifer Knox: Yeah, the best thing to do is to text WFP to 30403. That will, if you become a subscriber, you’re a member of WFP. It says you rock with us and we want to rock with you. And it can also share with you ways that you can support the candidates that we’re endorsing, like Summer Lee. So you can use that link to get yourself on a phone bank or even deploy and go and support.

[00:56:23] And there will be races all across the country where Really strong working families champions are fighting hard against right wing forces against corporate forces and We’re going to win and we need your help to do that 

[00:56:36] Cayden Mak: Amazing. Thank you so much for joining us today. Thank you so much for listening to all of our listeners this show is published by convergence a magazine for radical insights.

[00:56:46] kated mock publisher

[00:56:55] Other to strategize, struggle, and win in this crucial historical moment, you can [00:57:00] become a member at patreon. com slash convergence mag. I will also say that starting this week, people who are members do get to watch the recording of this podcast live and can drop us comments and questions in the chat.

[00:57:14] And in general, even a few bucks goes a long way to making sure that our tiny independent team can continue to make it. this roadmap for our movements. And until next week, we will see you on the internet.

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