Interviews for Resistance: New Progressive Coalition Calls for “Millions of Jobs”

Sarah Jaffe

A coalition of unions and other progressive organizations is pushing lawmakers on a jobs and infrastructure bill that would put millions of people to work. (Photo courtesy of Bishop Dwayne Royster)

Wel­come to Inter­views for Resis­tance. Since elec­tion night 2016, the streets of the Unit­ed States have rung with resis­tance. Peo­ple all over the coun­try have wok­en up with the con­vic­tion that they must do some­thing to fight inequal­i­ty in all its forms. But many are won­der­ing what it is they can do. In this series, we’ll be talk­ing with expe­ri­enced orga­niz­ers, trou­ble­mak­ers and thinkers who have been doing the hard work of fight­ing for a long time. They’ll be shar­ing their insights on what works, what does­n’t, what’s changed and what is still the same.

Bish­op Dwayne Roys­ter: Hi, I am Bish­op Dwayne Roys­ter. I am the polit­i­cal direc­tor of the PICO Nation­al Net­work and PICO Action Fund. I also serve as the first nation­al vice chair of the Work­ing Fam­i­lies Par­ty.

Sarah Jaffe: You are part of quite a large coali­tion that launched a Mil­lions of Jobs cam­paign last. Tell us about that.

Dwayne: We are work­ing with a coali­tion of orga­ni­za­tions that have pressed the Con­gres­sion­al Pro­gres­sive Cau­cus to come up with a plan for a jobs and infra­struc­ture bill that will put mil­lions of peo­ple back to work. In par­tic­u­lar, those folks that have been real­ly locked out of the job mar­ket, locked out of infra­struc­ture oppor­tu­ni­ties and jobs; also mak­ing sure that we are look­ing towards the future and not look­ing towards the past by build­ing out green jobs, by work­ing in urban areas, mak­ing sure peo­ple of col­or are pri­or­i­tized in the work around the infra­struc­ture builds that need to hap­pen, that we are build­ing our edu­ca­tion infra­struc­ture across the coun­try, build­ing schools. We want to make sure we get par­ents and oth­er peo­ple in the com­mu­ni­ties where those schools are get­ting built and those jobs by cre­at­ing job oppor­tu­ni­ties for them.

We are real­ly excit­ed because we think the leg­is­la­tion that is going for­ward is going to be real­ly pro­gres­sive leg­is­la­tion that is going to be trans­for­ma­tive for com­mu­ni­ties. It is not about pri­va­ti­za­tion. It is actu­al­ly about mak­ing sure that pub­lic dol­lars are put towards the pub­lic trust and that the pub­lic ulti­mate­ly ben­e­fits both from the resources that are being built, but from the job oppor­tu­ni­ties that are being cre­at­ed at the same time. 

Sarah: This is a pret­ty impres­sive coali­tion. Can you tell us a lit­tle bit about how it came together?

Dwayne: There has been a group work­ing togeth­er for a sea­son now, for about 18 months, that is real­ly try­ing to push pro­gres­sive ideas in our nation. It is a pletho­ra of pro­gres­sive orga­niz­ing and advo­ca­cy groups that have been togeth­er for a while, includ­ing the PICO Net­work, Cen­ter for Pop­u­lar Democ­ra­cy, Work­ing Fam­i­lies Par­ty, Demos, Ultra­vi­o­let, Col­or of Change. You always get trou­ble start­ed with a list because you start to for­get peo­ple, but there are about 20 orga­ni­za­tions that are pro­gres­sive. The PCCC is a part of that.

We had been work­ing togeth­er already, but after the elec­tion we put our heads togeth­er and said, Okay, what do we need to lift up? What are the impor­tant pieces?” One of the things that real­ly came to the fore­front was that there was going to be this jobs and infra­struc­ture bill that we were deeply con­cerned that the pres­i­dent and the major­i­ty of both the House and Sen­ate were going to try to cre­ate pri­va­tized work that real­ly only ben­e­fits the wealthy and doesn’t real­ly ben­e­fit the mass of peo­ple out there. We began to say, We need to do some­thing about this. We need to get out in front of this. We need to put out an agen­da that is pro-fam­i­ly, that is pro-work­er, that is pro-com­mu­ni­ty, and is pro-oppor­tu­ni­ty,” which is what we did. We worked with the Con­gres­sion­al Pro­gres­sive Cau­cus to do just that.

Sarah: Trump ran talk­ing about an infra­struc­ture plan, and some­thing that prob­a­bly didn’t sur­prise a lot of us was that what­ev­er infra­struc­ture plans he has float­ed have a lot of pri­va­ti­za­tion and very lit­tle pub­lic invest­ment in them. Can you talk about the impor­tance of pub­lic invest­ment and why that is some­thing worth fight­ing for right now?

Dwayne: I think, ulti­mate­ly, pub­lic invest­ment is about the pub­lic good and what is in the pub­lic inter­est. When we come to a place where we are talk­ing about mak­ing sure that jobs stay in com­mu­ni­ties, that the infra­struc­ture ben­e­fits com­mu­ni­ties, then we are talk­ing about oppor­tu­ni­ties that will car­ry over for decades, as opposed to pri­va­ti­za­tion, which is basi­cal­ly designed to take what lim­it­ed wealth is in poor and mid­dle class com­mu­ni­ties and pour it into rich com­mu­ni­ties and let a few wealthy peo­ple ben­e­fit from that. That is absolute­ly destruc­tive to our nation. It is destruc­tive to the economy.

What is excit­ing about what we are talk­ing about is that pub­lic dol­lars are con­tin­u­al­ly being recy­cled back in the com­mu­ni­ty over and over again. So, when we talk about build­ing up green infra­struc­ture, we are also talk­ing about ways that com­mu­ni­ties can cre­ate solar coop­er­a­tives and so forth to be able to gen­er­ate the elec­tric­i­ty that is nec­es­sary for the com­mu­ni­ty, that is mon­ey that is being reworked in the com­mu­ni­ty over and over again. When we talk about build­ing new schools and we are excit­ed about that and because the infra­struc­ture for many of our schools is 60 or 70 years old, they have got asbestos in them, they are not in good shape, what we are mak­ing an invest­ment in is our young peo­ple. We know we will have a return over and over again. When they are expe­ri­enc­ing qual­i­ty edu­ca­tion both in terms of teach­ing and also in facil­i­ties, they are going to con­tin­ue to trust edu­ca­tion as they go forth, have fam­i­lies, have chil­dren, con­tin­ue to stay in those neigh­bor­hoods and those communities.

Those are excit­ing things that we are going to see hap­pen when we are work­ing on build­ing infra­struc­ture, whether it is phys­i­cal infra­struc­ture like build­ing bridges — and Lord knows our nation is strug­gling deeply because of the lack of the care and main­te­nance of the bridges that we have. But then, we are not only build­ing and rebuild­ing bridges, but we are also tak­ing folk and com­mu­ni­ties that strug­gle deeply and get­ting them the train­ing and the pro­vi­sions that they need to be able to work on those sites and be able to build careers.

That is the kind of stuff that is real­ly going to be trans­form­ing to our nation, that is going to build our nation­al econ­o­my, that is going to help grow our nation back into the state that we want to see it in, which is being a world leader. Right now, we are the laugh­ing­stock of the world. We want to be a world leader in many of these fields — in edu­ca­tion, in infra­struc­ture, in being inno­v­a­tive around oppor­tu­ni­ties to be able to use renew­able resources.

Sarah: So often when it comes to infra­struc­ture peo­ple think of roads and bridges. As you say, we des­per­ate­ly need to work on those, but also think­ing about the infra­struc­ture of care and of tak­ing care of one anoth­er. Edu­ca­tion is such a key part of that and it doesn’t get includ­ed in these infra­struc­ture dis­cus­sions. It par­tic­u­lar­ly doesn’t get includ­ed in infra­struc­ture dis­cus­sions under Trump and peo­ple like him.

Dwayne: Absolute­ly not. I think Trump and oth­ers are try­ing to make deals and they are try­ing to max­i­mize the prof­its for their friends and the oth­er bil­lion­aires that they care about. But, when we think about infra­struc­ture, I think we have to think about the whole in terms of how we are build­ing out our coun­try, our nation, how we are build­ing out future gen­er­a­tions. Any infra­struc­ture project is a project that you are look­ing at that has to last sev­er­al decades. What bet­ter invest­ment in infra­struc­ture could there be than build­ing up solar ener­gy, build­ing out edu­ca­tion pri­or­i­ties for our kids, mak­ing sure that we are cre­at­ing job oppor­tu­ni­ties for peo­ple that have been locked out of those oppor­tu­ni­ties by cre­at­ing good-pay­ing, mid­dle-class jobs? I think that is infra­struc­ture, as well.

I think infra­struc­ture is much big­ger than just look­ing at roads and bridges. Of course, they are incred­i­bly impor­tant, don’t get me wrong on that. But, it is impor­tant that we are look­ing at the infra­struc­ture of a nation, which also includes the human resources that we have, as well.

Sarah: On that note, the coali­tion that is com­ing togeth­er on this seems to include dif­fer­ent parts of the labor move­ment that have been on oppo­site sides of some recent debates. I would love for you to talk about how some­thing like this can bring dif­fer­ent groups together.

Dwayne: Well, I think because we have a pos­i­tive pro-Amer­i­ca, pro-fam­i­ly, pro-com­mu­ni­ty, pro-infra­struc­ture idea that is gen­er­at­ing a big­ger vision of what infra­struc­ture is about, I think sev­er­al of the build­ing trades and oth­er unions that have joined with us in this are see­ing the long-term impact that this can have and the pos­i­tive impact it can have on their indus­tries. When you are tak­ing a look at some of the unions that are throw­ing down with us, they are look­ing for work­ers, they are look­ing for skilled peo­ple. They need to train folks and pre­pare them for the future. This helps to cre­ate oppor­tu­ni­ties for them to get some folks that might not have nor­mal­ly been a part of their organizations.

When you think about the Labor­ers and build­ing trades, even CWA is a part of this and cer­tain­ly telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion is one of those infra­struc­ture pieces. We are talk­ing about, in this bill, about expand­ing broad­band into rur­al com­mu­ni­ties and oth­er areas. It is going to be their work­ers that are going to be the ones that are going to build out the infra­struc­ture for that in time to come and they rec­og­nize that it is important.

If Amer­i­ca is to the best that it can be and to thrive, then we all have to work togeth­er to come up with some real pos­i­tive solu­tions to help us become the best nation that we pos­si­bly can be. This is in their best inter­est. They could cut deals and work it out so that they ben­e­fit on some projects, but ulti­mate­ly their work­ers are going to be on the same los­ing side if Trump’s plan goes through with pri­va­ti­za­tion, because they are going to try to use every mech­a­nism they can try to pay work­ers the least amount of mon­ey and try to get the most out of them as opposed to try­ing to pay good sol­id union wage jobs, union ben­e­fits jobs that are going to ben­e­fit com­mu­ni­ties that strug­gle deeply across the country.

Sarah: So there is an infra­struc­ture bill, but the coali­tion also has a list of prin­ci­ples that you put forth that say what any infra­struc­ture plan most actu­al­ly con­tain. Can you talk about those prin­ci­ples a lit­tle bit?

Dwayne: I can cer­tain­ly talk about the one prin­ci­ple that I worked real­ly hard on was mak­ing sure that there was deep racial equi­ty in the plan. I think that in our coun­try, in par­tic­u­lar in this moment and time, race has been used as a tool to divide us. What we are real­ly talk­ing about is try­ing to have a pos­i­tive racial frame­work that says from the very begin­ning, We want every­body to thrive,” but in par­tic­u­lar peo­ple of col­or have been locked out of oppor­tu­ni­ties around jobs and infra­struc­ture. We want to make sure that happens.

We want to have a pro-renew­able ener­gy strat­e­gy that helps us to under­stand that we have to think about new ways of cre­at­ing ener­gy and bring­ing elec­tric­i­ty and renew­able resources into our homes. We have this free resource called the sun that we are not tak­ing advan­tage of and we want to be able to do that. We want to be able to low­er emis­sions. We want to be able to improve the health out­comes in com­mu­ni­ties that have strug­gled as a result of using coal for gen­er­a­tions for some pow­er plants and oth­er indus­tries and try to find ways to be able to use resources that are not going to pro­mote sick­ness and ill­ness amongst folks. We have prin­ci­ples that we are lay­ing out that we are very clear about that we think are in the best inter­est of our nation, best inter­est of our com­mu­ni­ties, the best inter­est of get­ting peo­ple back to work and cre­at­ing new careers for peo­ple to be able to live into for a very long peri­od of time.

Sarah: You have quite a few mem­bers of Con­gress already sign­ing onto this. What has been the response since this went public?

Dwayne: I think it has been pos­i­tive so far, from what I have seen in the media so far and what I have heard from oth­er folks. I think peo­ple are excit­ed. I think they feel like this is mov­ing in the right direc­tion. Cer­tain­ly, there have been naysay­ers on the con­ser­v­a­tive side who have just kind of dis­missed it out­right. But for the most part peo­ple are real­ly excit­ed that we have got­ten out this enti­tle­ment plan, that we are try­ing to move some­thing pos­i­tive into the future, and that we are try­ing to cre­ate a new frame­work for what Amer­i­ca could look like.

Sarah: Talk­ing about putting for­ward a pos­i­tive view­point, look­ing for­ward into the 2018 elec­tion, it seems in many places like the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty real­ly just wants to run on Trump and Rus­sia. Talk about the impor­tance of hav­ing a plan like this to put for­ward and to actu­al­ly say, It is not just that Trump is bad, but we actu­al­ly have a plan that we want to enact and if you put dif­fer­ent peo­ple in office, we can maybe actu­al­ly enact it.”

Dwayne: Not to get side tracked on this, but that Amer­i­ca has lost its iden­ti­ty. It is a great bas­tion of mul­ti­ple peo­ples, mul­ti­ple eth­nic­i­ties, mul­ti­ple reli­gions, mul­ti­ple socio-eco­nom­ic groups that are here in this one big place. I think what this plan does is that it shows the best of what Amer­i­ca could look like if we choose to be inclu­sive, if we choose to rec­og­nize each oth­er as human beings, if we choose to see that there is no us” and them.” It is all of us together.

We have a plan here that impacts both the urban com­mu­ni­ties and the sub­urbs and rur­al com­mu­ni­ties. It ben­e­fits black, white, Lati­no, indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties, the Asian and Pacif­ic Islander com­mu­ni­ties. It ben­e­fits both those strug­gling deeply and those that have some lev­el of wealth in this coun­try. It real­ly demon­strates basi­cal­ly what I think is the new Amer­i­can iden­ti­ty and ulti­mate­ly, in many respects, what we are ulti­mate­ly try­ing to dri­ve to is we need to cre­ate a new Amer­i­ca that reflects the inclu­sion of all and the absence of none. I think this is the type of leg­is­la­tion that helps us see what Amer­i­ca at its best could poten­tial­ly look like.

Sarah: What are the plans going for­ward for a cam­paign around this plan?

Dwayne: All the orga­ni­za­tions are con­tin­u­ing to roll this out with­in their insti­tu­tions and work­ing with their bases to help peo­ple begin work­ing with their leg­is­la­tors to pre­pare both their House mem­bers and the Sen­ate mem­bers to let them know, Hey, this is what our expec­ta­tions are.” We will be doing the tra­di­tion­al things: phone bank­ing and vis­it­ing the leg­is­la­tors both in their home offices and also in D.C. But, in addi­tion to that, there will be actions. We are going to be lift­ing this up with actions around the coun­try so that peo­ple can get edu­cat­ed around the bill, see how this is going to ben­e­fit their com­mu­ni­ty, and make sure that their voic­es are loud and clear in both telling the House, the Sen­ate, and the admin­is­tra­tion that these are what our expec­ta­tions are for our coun­try. After all, they work for us. We don’t work for them.

Sarah: How can peo­ple get involved with that?

Dwayne: There are a vari­ety of orga­ni­za­tions that we have men­tioned before. We cer­tain­ly would invite folk if they are inter­est­ed in more infor­ma­tion, they can reach out to Work­ing Fam­i­lies Par­ty, they can go to Demos, they can go to PICO Nation­al Net­work or PICOnet​work​.org, Cen­ter for Pop­u­lar Democ­ra­cy, Col­or of Change, and all of the orga­ni­za­tions whose names I always for­get about. There are ways they can get involved in their local com­mu­ni­ties and many of these bod­ies have orga­ni­za­tions in their local areas that they can get in right on the ground.

After all, it is not so much about just being a part of nation­al work, but it is real­ly the local work, about get­ting local mem­bers of Con­gress, about get­ting the sen­a­tors from their states to let them know that this is what their expec­ta­tions are for this work. We would cer­tain­ly invite them to get engaged. If you want more infor­ma­tion, you can go to www​.PICOnet​work​.org and they can reach out to me — that is Dwayne Roys­ter, polit­i­cal direc­tor there — and I will be glad to send more infor­ma­tion to them.

Inter­views for Resis­tance is a project of Sarah Jaffe, with assis­tance from Lau­ra Feuille­bois and sup­port from the Nation Insti­tute. It is also avail­able as a pod­cast on iTunes. Not to be reprint­ed with­out permission. 

Sarah Jaffe is a for­mer staff writer at In These Times and author of Nec­es­sary Trou­ble: Amer­i­cans in Revolt , which Robin D.G. Kel­ley called The most com­pelling social and polit­i­cal por­trait of our age.” You can fol­low her on Twit­ter @sarahljaffe.
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