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Mobilizing to remedy the Raw Deal

It is clear now that Gil Scott-Heron was right: “The revolution will not be televised” – at least not in the form of a Bernie Sanders acceptance speech.

After being thumped in New York, the democratic socialist who has drawn huge crowds by promising socioeconomic revolution stands virtually no chance of winning the Democratic nomination for president.

But Scott-Heron, the late singer/social critic, also was right about a deeper point: Real change won’t come from the top down, anyway, with those who need it most standing by as spectators. It will come from the ground up, fomented by everyday people doing the hard work of upending the status quo. That will be true no matter how the 2016 presidential race turns out.

That’s why Citizen Action of New York is hosting an Albany training session May 1-3 for its members, as well as for the New York State Civic Engagement Table, a statewide coalition that helps member groups empower local residents. The goal is to train up to 100 facilitators this year who can then reach an additional 2,000 people through local workshops of their own.

Citing the discontent evident from the Arab Spring to the Occupy and Black Lives Matter movements, it has become clear that the status quo in which 62 billionaires control as much wealth as half the world’s population is no longer acceptable, said Charlie Albanetti, Citizen Action communications director.

The group has connected with the Communication Workers of America, as well as with author and labor activist Les Leopold, to understand the roots of what Leopold dubbed “Runaway Inequality” in a book by that name.

Leopold – who did a CWA workshop with nurses in Amherst in January – describes in maddening detail the “financialization” of America that has transferred wealth from working people to Wall Street. In the process, he makes it clear how the problems that individual groups work on – education, health care, etc. – all flow from the same root cause: corporate trickle down.

That manifests itself in everything from the Verizon strike to the campaign for a $15-an-hour minimum wage and fair scheduling for low-wage workers, said the Rev. Kirk Laubenstein, executive director of Buffalo’s Coalition for Economic Justice, a member of the Civic Engagement Table. Such fights provide “a way to pivot” from the focus on Sanders to a focus on workers, he said.

But rather than divide their energy addressing individual issues, the goal now is to also educate workers about the connections between those issues and tackle the underlying cause.

Given the outcome of New York’s Democratic primary, the timing of the workshop could not be better because this opportunity should not be wasted.

The excitement around Sanders will dissipate as the reality of his electoral demise hits home. But rather than seeing the grass-roots enthusiasm as a response to the candidate, it could be that the candidate is riding a populist wave that was already there as working people watched the New Deal morph over time into the Raw Deal.

The challenge is to capitalize on this moment even after the politician embodying it fades from the headlines. Because once the media stop talking about a rigged economy and rampant inequality, working people will still be living with it – unless they come together to change it.