December 3, 2013
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – This week will see a series of citywide worker rallies and demonstrations culminating in a major action taking place at Foley Square on December 5 – and for hard-fighting progressives pushing the new de Blasio administration to rein in Wall Street and advance an authentic people’s agenda – the stakes could not be higher.
“We automatically have fear in our hearts that if we ask for too much that we won’t get anything,” UnitedNY Executive Director Camille Rivera said ahead of this week's actions. “And my response is that we have to ask for everything to get what we need.”
Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio’s landslide victory in November’s general election has sparked as much trepidation amongst progressives as it has joy – as those who supported the Brooklyn Democrat’s mayoral run, now weigh just how hard they still need to push in order to fulfill a progressive agenda.
“Democrats, especially in this city, have been walking around the desert for the last three decades,” says Ed Ott, former head of the New York City Central Labor Council and current lecturer at the Joseph S. Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies. “So, now they feel like they’re at the promised land.”
That said, Ott is anticipating policy changes affecting housing, wages and education that happen over time, rather than a “90-day miracle.”
“There’s so many things that people in this city have to rethink,” Ott says. “[But] in spite of this election, there is Ghandian resistance to raising taxes. The problem that the mayor has is that he doesn’t control his own revenues. He has a little bit of the sales tax, he has some of the real estate tax – for everything else, he has to go to Albany.”
Shaking up the state capital in similar fashion to New York City, however, might not be as far outside the realm of possibility as it once may have been.
“The focus on the 1-percent is something that working people are beginning to understand,” says Professor William Tabb, author of The Restructuring of Capitalism In Our Time. “What the left has got to do, is say, 'Yes, government isn’t doing what working people want it to do – and that’s because the 1-percent controls the government.'"
According to Rivera, the progressive narrative blasting Wall Street greed has already changed the face of politics, and helped usher in a new era in New York City.
“Two years ago, you would never have seen the future mayor-elect getting arrested at a hospital,” Rivera says. “You would never have had regular people talking about the left wing as if it’s a sexy movement. Well, the left has taken City Hall.”
Bertha Lewis, a longtime activist and de Blasio supporter, is certainly rejoicing in the mayor-elect’s win, but she is also keeping mindful about what's needed to truly fulfill a progressive agenda in New York City.
“Wall Street, the developers and the right still think this is their town,” Lewis says. “They like the tale of two cities. It works for them.”
Bob Master, political director for the Communication Workers of America, says that progressives “need to see this as a really important time – and push it forward.”
“We worked really hard for this, but just electing people is not enough,” Master says. “Our enemies are extremely powerful and will stop at nothing.”
Despite the challenges, Ott says it’s been a very long time since “liberals and progressives had a mayor that they felt was theirs.”
“The hopeful part for me is that maybe this is the beginning of a turnaround where progressives get an opportunity to show that they can govern in a different way, and they can actually solve some of the problems for poor people in this city without polarizing it,” Ott says.
For many progressives who had high hopes for Barack Obama, the 44th president's disappointing time in office thus far, stands as a warning to the left in New York City about losing its narrative and becoming too complacent.
"We have the first 100 days to make our mark," Rivera says. "We cannot lose this moment."