CPUSA Statement on the Removal of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn’s Historical Marker in New Hampshire:
In early May, the historical marker for Elizabeth Gurley Flynn at her birthplace in Concord, New Hampshire was taken down by Republican members of the city’s executive council. So much for GOP objections to “cancel culture!”
Why is a woman whose life was dedicated to justice, human rights and free speech so threatening? The state’s governor, Chris Sununu, has no problem with that. But we should all have a problem with it since Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, known as “the Rebel Girl,” can help us answer basic questions about our world today. Why can women vote? Why are unions multi-racial and multi-national? Why are we still fighting for women’s right to decide when to bear children? How do we defend people’s rights to speak their minds against powerful, moneyed forces? Why are we losing the right for children to educate themselves rather than work night shifts in the dirtiest jobs of the meat industry?
If Elizabeth Gurley Flynn’s life is important enough to hide, then her life is important enough to know. Born in 1890 to Irish immigrant parents, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn was an agitator who crossed the country to speak for the most marginalized people in the U.S. since she was fifteen years old. She was a founder of the American Civil Liberties Union for the rights of free speech. She was a member of the International Workers of the World that sought to organize unions for all workers of all races, all occupations, all genders and all nationalities. She joined the Communist Party of the United States during the Great Depression in 1937 and continued to champion socialism as an answer to capitalism’s greed and dispossession until she died in 1964.
Elizabeth Gurley Flynn was just one person of millions in the United States who have fought for the basic necessities of wellbeing: dignity, respect, autonomy, collectivity, equality alongside food, shelter and living wages. She was a vocal champion for all of these basic necessities. When we learn about Flynn’s life, we learn about the 1912 Lawrence Massachusetts textile mill strike of young female immigrant workers and their ripple effects in an industry barely organized. Young women workers created International Women’s Day celebrated on March 8th around the world. When we learn about Flynn’s life, we discover the origins of the first sit-down strike at the General Electric plant in Schenectady, New York in 1906. We learn about the mining workers’ struggles that spanned the country from Tacoma, Washington, to Missoula, Montana and Duluth, Minnesota.
We must remember when she was arrested in 1951 under the notorious Smith Act—an Act that criminalized words. To speak for worker’s rights became a crime. To agitate for an end to Jim Crow segregation of Black people’s lives from housing, jobs and basic dignity became a crime. To share the values of equality for all people was not only suspect under the Smith Act, it demanded imprisonment, and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn served time for speaking up and speaking out. Gurley Flynn’s speech at her Smith Act trial is considered one of the 100 best speeches of the 20th century.
But let’s not stop with a marker for Elizabeth Gurley Flynn’s life in Concord, New Hampshire. We need markers for the millions of people in the United States who fought for our basic right to live and to thrive. To erase the life of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn clouds our memories of our long, proud histories of struggle and the benefits those struggles have won. To forget Flynn makes vulnerable the very rights we depend upon to strengthen, expand and recover our shared wellbeing today.
In 1940 Gurley-Flynn was removed from the Board of the ACLU for her beliefs. The ACLU posthumously reinstated her after the labor leader’s death. Can the good people of New Hampshire do less?
“We are a political party of the working class, for the working class, with no corporate sponsors or billionaire backers.”
The Two Decades That Created Our World’s First Mass Middle Class
If we take on our rich, we can recreate that success.
by Sam Pizzigati
Amazing things can happen when societies realize they don’t need the awesomely affluent.
What sort of amazing things? Take what happened in the United States between 1940 and 1960, as economists William Collins and Gregory Niemesh do in a just-published research paper on America’s mid-century home ownership boom.
Over a mere 20-year span, the United States essentially birthed a “new middle class.” The share of U.S. households owning their own homes, Collins and Niemesh note, jumped an “unprecedented” 20 percentage points. By 1960, most American families resided in housing they owned “for the first time since at least 1870”—for the first time, in effect, since before the Industrial Revolution.
This home ownership surge, the two economists posit, rested in large part on an equally unprecedented surge in worker earnings. Median annual incomes in the mid-20th century “nearly doubled” as Americans realized wage gains “both large on average and widely spread across workers.”
This “widespread and sustained increase in the level of income,” Collins and Niemesh detail, “allowed more people to afford and select into owner-occupied housing than in previous generations.”
What brought about that “widespread and sustained” income increase? That question lies beyond the scope of the new Collins-Niemesh paper. But not much mystery surrounds the answer. The years of the mid-20th century saw a vast expansion of America’s trade union movement. The struggles of new unions—in major basic industries ranging from auto to steel—essentially forced the rich to begin sharing the wealth workers were creating.
This massive mid-century labor surge also changed the face of the American political landscape. Union-backed lawmakers put in place programs that helped average families on a wide variety of fronts, everything from making mortgages affordable to expanding access to higher education.
And those union-backed lawmakers helped pay for those new programs by raising taxes on America’s wealthiest. Between 1940 and 1960, the federal tax rate on income in the nation’s top tax bracket consistently hovered around 90 percent.
That worker-friendly world of the mid-20th century has, of course, long since disappeared. Over the past half-century, we’ve witnessed an enormous redistribution—upwards—of the nation’s income and wealth.
Back in 1982, in the early stages of that redistribution, Forbes began publishing an annual compilation of the nation’s 400 grandest private fortunes. The initial Forbes 400 list included just 13 billionaires. Their combined wealth: $92 billion. Over the next four decades, Forbes notes, the combined net worth of America’s richest 400 would rise to “a staggering $4.5 trillion—making them nearly 50 times better off than their 1982 counterparts, far outpacing the consumer price index’s near tripling.”
Overall wealth in the United States, the Federal Reserve relates, now totals $140 trillion. The bottom half of Americans hold just $4 trillion of that.
The United States, adds the New York Times in a new analysis, is approaching an unprecedented “intergenerational transfer of wealth” that “will largely reinforce” this current record inequality. Households worth over $5 million, the Boston-based Cerulli Associates financial research firm calculates, make up just 1.5 percent of total U.S. households. Between now and 2045, this tiny share of the nation’s households will account for 42.5 percent of expected wealth transfers.
Making that top-heavy transfer even worse: Under existing U.S. tax law, wealthy married couples can pass on to their heirs as much as $26 million without paying a penny in federal estate tax.
Meanwhile, observes a top research exec at the Vanguard Group, tens of millions of American workers aging into their seventies can’t afford to retire. “All but the most wealthy” among us, Vanguard’s Fiona Greig tells the New York Times reporter Talmon Joseph Smith, appear to be—to some degree—financially unprepared for retirement.
Smith’s conclusion? The headline over his economic preview published earlier this week tells it all: “The Greatest Wealth Transfer in History Is Here, With Familiar (Rich) Winners.”
But our upcoming transfer of generational wealth doesn’t have to play out that way. The vast 1940-to-1960 expansion of America’s middle class, we need to keep in mind, didn’t just happen. Advocates for greater equality made it happen. Back before the Great Depression, those advocates confronted a maldistribution of income and wealth just as severe as the maldistribution we confront today. They battled for greater equity, and their success in that battle held up for a generation.
The challenge we confront today? We need to do more than create a much more equitable distribution of income and wealth. We need to create a much more equitable distribution of income and wealth that can last.
Sam Pizzigati co-edits Inequality.org. His latest books include The Case for a Maximum Wage and The Rich Don’t Always Win: The Forgotten Triumph over Plutocracy that Created the American Middle Class, 1900-1970. Twitter: @Too_Much_Online.
Remembering “Moby Bank”
As we noted in the caption of the photo at left, the removal of the utility wires obscuring the façade of the Brick Market got us to thinking about an earlier, less-successful architectural adventure which we used to call Moby Bank.
Unique in a city otherwise filled with elegant colonial- and federal-style buildings, Moby Bank had a style all its own. Composed as it was of two dissimilar buildings with a small connecting passage between them, the term “asymmetrical freak-show” seems to cover it.
Located on the 300 block of State Street, one building had two storys and sat firnly on the ground—where proper buildings belong. The other building had but a single story, jacked up on concrete stilts perhaps 15 feet hight. The two were joined via an overhead corridor about the width of a generous sidewalk. As if these features had not suffered enough indignities already, the whole shebang was sheathed in semi-glossy white brick.
The ungainly layout was presumably arrived at in order to allow space for parking underneath. If so, that extremely modest goal was achieved—at the cost of creating an awful eyesore.
Our best guess is that this travesty went up in the 1950s or 1960s, when the air was full of the exhaust from V-8s engines burning leaded gas. Oh, the good old days… .
Mercifully, the site was finally made presentable again in December, 2003. The elevated portion of the abomination was knocked down. No loss there, except for the opportunity for it to have served as a set for a Grade-Z science fiction movie about an alien invasion. That part of the site was then vastly improved by turning it into an ordinary parking lot. The slightly less homely part remains, camouflaged with a veneer of Standard, inoffensive red brick.
Washington’s $849 Million Capital Gains Windfall Shows ‘Taxing the Rich Is a Really Good Idea’
by Brett Wilkins
Proponents of progressive taxation last Friday pointed to data showing Washington state stands poised to reap $849 million in revenue during the first year of its capital gains tax as proof that taxing the rich works—and could serve as a template for federal legislation.
The Seattle Times reports that when Washington state lawmakers passed this fiscal year’s budget, they anticipated collecting $248 million in revenue from the seven percent tax on the sale or exchange of stocks, bonds, and certain other assets above $250,000.
However, the legislators were pleasantly surprised when figures showed the state has collected over $600 million more than that.
While the amount collected could change after around 2,500 taxpayers who applied for extensions file their returns, progressives welcomed the windfall that will fund public schools, early childhood education, and building and repairing schools across the state.
“Hey, hey! What we knew would happen: Make the wealthiest pay their fair share and it finances investments in education, transportation, and more,” tweeted Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.).
Jayapal touted federal legislation she introduced with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) in 2021—the Ultra-Millionaire Tax Act—that would levy a two percent annual tax on the net worth of households and trusts above $50 million, plus a one percent annual surtax on billionaires.
An analysis by University of California, Berkeley economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman found that the legislation would bring in at least $3 trillion in revenue over 10 years without raising taxes on 99.95 percent of American households worth less than $50 million.
Last month, Warren, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.) introduced the For the 99.5 Percent Act, which would impose a 45 percent tax on estates worth between $3.5 million and $10 million, a 50 percent tax on estates worth between $10 million and $50 million, a 55 percent tax on estates worth between $50 million and $1 billion, and a 65 percent tax on estates valued at over $1 billion.
Meanwhile, congressional Republicans are trying to repeal the estate tax entirely—and pass other tax policies to serve the rich.
Back at the state level, California, New York, Illinois, Maryland, Connecticut, and Hawaii have also introduced wealth tax bills this year, while Washington’s law was upheld by that state’s Supreme Court in March.
“If the federal government won’t act,” California Assemblymember Alex Lee (D-24) said while introducing a wealth tax bill in January, “we the states will.”
Brett Wilkins is a staff writer for Common Dreams. This work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
How the For-Profit/Nonprofit Model is Bolstering Coverage at The Berkshire Eagle
By Dan Kennedy
One of the more interesting business models for local news that Ellen Clegg and I have encountered in our work is what you might call the hybrid for-profit/nonprofit. For-profit organizations such as The Mendocino Voice in Northern California, The Colorado Sun, the Storm Lake Times Pilot in Iowa and The Provincetown Independent have either set up nonprofit arms or are working with existing nonprofits to raise tax-exempt money that can be used to support certain types of public interest journalism.
This past Monday, Fredric Rutberg explained how that model is working at The Berkshire Eagle, the Pittsfield, Massachusetts-based paper that he and several other business leaders rescued from the hedge fund Alden Global Capital back in 2016. A retired judge, Rutberg is now publisher and president of the Eagle. He spoke at the spring conference of the NorthEast Association of Communication Executives, held in Meredith, New Hampshire.
After Rutberg and his partners acquired the Eagle, he said, they considered—and rejected—the nonprofit model. Among other things, they wanted to maintain the paper’s editorial voice, and nonprofits aren’t allowed to endorse political candidates or specific pieces of legislation.
“Our editorial page is very important to us,” he said. “We were very proud to be among the first five or six papers in the country nationally to endorse Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump.” And though he conceded the impact of that endorsement was “marginal,” the paper’s editorial voice really matters when it comes to candidates for local office. “We think we have something to say,” he said. “We don’t want to give that up.”
But with advertising on the wane, the paper faced a dilemma—especially when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, wiping out the Eagle’s nascent events business. Just before COVID, the paper raised four times the $10,000 it asked for in order to hire a Report for America corps member to cover the Statehouse. With that in mind as “proof of concept,” the Eagle set about looking for a more comprehensive way of seeking donations to bolster its news coverage.
What it hit upon was the Berkshire Eagle Local Journalism Fund, in partnership with the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation. The nonprofit foundation, Rutberg explained, accepts donations to help the Eagle pay for coverage of education, health, economic development, and arts and culture. The Eagle held back from a public campaign during COVID, with Rutberg saying he thought that would be “impolitic” given that the pandemic had forced the paper to cut back the number of days it appears in print (from seven to five).
Last November, though, the Eagle launched its first public drive, raising nearly $80,000 from the community as well as a major gift of $150,000. The Eagle is planning a second public drive this October and has established an endowment fund, as well, although Rutberg said that’s gotten off to a slow start.
Following several cutbacks during COVID, the Eagle is expanding, Rutberg said. Though print circulation continues to shrink, paid digital circulation has risen from 2,700 pre-COVID to about 7,200 today. An arts reporter was hired recently, and the Eagle has started a quarterly magazine—The B.
Some of the largest for-profit papers in the country, including The New York Times and The Boston Globe, accept grant money to cover certain beats or publish journalism produced by nonprofits like ProPublica. The Philadelphia Inquirer, a for-profit, is owned by a nonprofit, the Lenfest Institute, which helps pay for coverage at the Inquirer and other news outlets.
What makes smaller for-profits like the Eagle unique is that they’re making use of nonprofit money to help pay for their journalism on an ongoing basis and not just for a few narrowly defined beats. After all, the four areas Rutberg identified comprise a substantial part of his paper’s coverage.
Nonprofit journalism has emerged as a leading solution to the local news crisis. But it’s important for there to be a viable for-profit alternative as well—even if they are bolstered in part by nonprofit funding.
Dan Kennedy is a professor at Northeastern University’s School of Journalism, specializing in opinion journalism and alternative business models for news. His website, Media Nation, at dankennedy.net, covers “the press, politics, technology, culture and other passions.” Media Nation is published under a Creative Commons Attribution- Noncommercial- Share Alike 4.0 United States License.
“All successful bunko men come in time to believe the world, except for themselves, is populated with a race of human sheep who may be trusted to conduct themselves with true sheeplike docility.” – Dashiell Hammett