A tribute to the radical Democrat and “ultimate organizer.”
I first met Tim Carpenter in January of last year, at Progressive Central in Washington, D.C. The third such event in Progressive Democrats of America (PDA)’s 10-year history, the day-long round of panel discussions united left-wing members of Congress such as John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) with activists from the labor, anti-war and environmental movements.
The event’s movement-spanning range of participants and its optimistic yet pragmatic tenor typified Tim’s politics: He believed the strained relationships between the Democratic Party and its foundation—by which he meant working-class people and allied activists—were worth healing and worth strengthening. Ultimately, Tim believed, the networks that link elected Democrats to their progressive base hold the foundation for much deeper social change.
In many respects, in his politics, Tim carried the torch from his mentor Michael Harrington, the idiosyncratic author of The Other America and founder of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). Harrington called for activists to work with federal and state-level Democrats as a means of shifting the mainstream political agenda towards the left. When I interviewed Tim for In These Times’ December 2013 issue, we talked about his involvement in DSA as a young organizer, as well as his roots in the Catholic Worker movement and the impact of red-baiting in American political life.
That’s when I first came to understand that Tim was essentially a radical—a socialist who didn’t call himself a socialist.
“When I was younger, when I was hanging out with Michael Harrington and was a member of DSA in my 20s and 30s, I was very proud of the label [socialist],” Tim told me.
However, he pointed out, the specific word is far less important than the cause it represents. “I’ve learned as I got older, as I battled a lot of my illnesses, is what little time we have,” he continued. “I would rather have folks debate the merits of what it is we’re fighting for, whether it be single-payer or a redirection of military spending to meeting human needs, than the definition of socialism.”
That goal-oriented attitude frequently resurfaced throughout Tim’s work with PDA. “He always had this mindset: OK, there’s only so much we can do on the streets, but we’ve got to bring in that movement inside the party,” says Conor Boylan, PDA’s national field director, who worked closely with Tim. “If we really want to move the agenda forward, we need to be out in the streets, but we also need a legislative vehicle to push through.”
The first time we met, I was a little taken aback by how haggard-looking Tim was. Plagued by an array of health problems, he wore a glass eye and wobbled around with a limp. On top of that, like much of PDA’s leadership, he seemed to test the boundaries of how disheveled one could publicly appear with members of Congress.
“Tim’s the only guy I’ve ever been with on Capitol Hill who made me look well-dressed,” says Steve Cobble, a fellow PDA co-founder who first met Tim on Jesse Jackson’s 1988 presidential campaign. I should note that Steve was wearing light blue jeans and a corduroy jacket on that day in January—Tim himself had opted for an olive-green collared shirt under a navy dress jacket.
I never asked Tim why he looked so casual in these sorts of settings. But I think the answer is obvious: he never felt the urge to impress members of Congress or their staffers. Tim’s mission of building progressive political power spoke for itself; he didn’t need the expensive suits and slick presentation favored by other D.C.-dwelling liberals. From PDA’s early years up until the group’s more recent monthly roundtables on Capitol Hill, Tim entered meetings in Washington with that overarching, singular focus. And he worked to do the same in the streets.
In his March 2014 essay for Harpers, political scientist Adolph Reed Jr. charged that the “American left [has] moved increasingly to the middle,” having abandoned its once-transformational vision in favor of Democratic electoralism. Tim, though a proud Democrat, was never guilty of this. The various pieces of legislation that he backed lay the foundation for an ambitiously social democratic future: Medicare-for-All, full employment, and strong taxes on financial transactions and carbon pollution capable of funding a robust welfare state.
But these are dark times. Ultimately, the political context that Tim worked so hard to transform managed to snuff out his deeper aspirations. Under the shadow of a perpetually self-weakening labor movement and increasingly pro-corporate Democratic Party, Tim and PDA simply lacked the necessary partners to achieve their agenda during his lifetime.
This meant that, more often than not, Tim and PDA were stuck playing defense—they were the fire brigades, as I heard him and his fellow PDAers say several times in our acquaintance. That said, Tim’s work on such defensive front lines can’t be understated. He was an early opponent of the White House’s plan to slash Social Security benefits, pressuring Democratic members of Congress to pledge to vote against any and all cuts. Last summer, Tim and PDA played a vital role in reassembling the once-mighty anti-war movement to block President Obama’s ill-fated plans for military intervention in Syria. And most recently, PDA helped push a majority of Democrats in the House of Representatives to go on record against “fast-track” authority, a legislative maneuver that’s all but necessary for the Trans-Pacific Partnership to continue.
The sheer range of issues that PDA now tackles speaks to Tim’s commitment to movement-building. Reverend Lennox Yearwood, president of the Hip Hop Caucus, called him “the ultimate organizer”—someone who worked to overcome the “silos” that divide progressive groups by issues and race. “Because of our work with Tim and PDA, definitely walls were broken,” he says.
Yearwood points to the instrumental part that Tim played in the Hip Hop Caucus’ early years, helping connect the fledgling, majority-black group to larger, majority-white players in the progressive movement, such as the D.C.-based Institute for Policy Studies or the Madison-based Liberty Tree Foundation.
“Since that time, the Hip Hop Caucus has grown to be a leader in the peace movement and the climate change movement. I think a lot of that is because of what Tim did,” says Yearwood. “Plus, Tim gave us a tremendous amount of respect, more than, I would say, a lot of progressives.”
Tim shared another quality that’s vital for organizers, especially in such politically gloomy times: his ability to inspire hope. Among his friends and colleagues, his exclamatory email sign-offs are legendary: Teamwork! Onward! Keep On! Big Hug! The latter, moreover, was not reserved for metaphor. Reverend Yearwood recalls the “sweaty white guy hugs” that Tim used to shower him with—even before they were friends.
Tim fought and organized at his characteristically frenetic rate up until the very end. Before he passed away, he was intensely focused on a petition drive to encourage Bernie Sanders to run in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary. (More than 11,000 people have signed so far.)
“My conclusion about Tim was that … he shouldn’t be able to do as much as he does,” Cobble says.
I, for one, will never forget the time Tim corresponded with me from the hospital late last August. As Secretary Kerry was beating the war drums on Syria, Tim was receiving cancer treatment and trying to connect me with anti-war organizers to interview. “Working from nurses station :-),” he wrote me. “They took my cell away while I’m in hospital :-)” And I’m just a journalist. I can only imagine the other kinds of organizing he was doing from the operating table.
It sounds absolutely insane—and it mostly is—but it makes perfect sense when you consider that Tim lived his life for the movement.
Rest in peace, Tim, and rest in power. Onward!
Cole Stangler is an In These Times staff writer and Schumann Fellow based in Washington D.C., covering labor, trade, foreign policy and environmental issues. His reporting has appeared in The Huffington Post and The American Prospect, and has been cited in The New York Times. He can be reached at cole[at]inthesetimes.com. Follow him on Twitter@colestangler.
Original article on In These Times
Drafted by a suffragette in 1923, the Equal Rights Amendment has been stirring up controversy ever since. Many opponents considered it dead when a 10-year ratification push failed in 1982, yet its backers on Capitol Hill, in the Illinois statehouse and elsewhere are making clear this summer that the fight is far from over.
Last week, State Senator Heather Steans (D-Chicago) bulldozed the measure, Senate Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 75, through the upper chamber 39-11-06, a vote that included two Republicans - Kirk Dillard and Minority Leader Christine Radogno.
SPRINGFIELD-Senate Democrats plan to make an end-of-session push this week to “rectify an historical wrong” -- and perhaps give women a strong reason to go to the polls this fall -- by putting Illinois on record in support of an Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
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Congresswomen Jackie Speier (D-San Francisco/San Mateo/Redwood City) issued the following statement today after offering a joint resolution to remove the deadline for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. The ERA was introduced into every Congress between 1923 and 1972, when it finally passed and was sent to the states for ratification upon three/fourths approval. Congresswoman Speier’s joint resolution has 109 original co-sponsors.
State Sen. Nina Turner said Saturday that she supports efforts to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment but noted that more work is ahead in reaching equality. The Cleveland-based Democrat was one of several political candidates in attendance during an event hosted by the Progressive Democrats of America at the Adena Mansion & Gardens Visitors Center, where Turner gave a fiery speech to a full crowd about the need to support such a change.
A group of Progressive Democrats plans to push for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment with an event here later this month. State Sen. Nina Turner, D-Cleveland, will be the keynote speaker. Turner is the minority whip in the Ohio Senate.
The group, which also is conducting the event to defend voter rights, also will honor a local woman with an award at the event.
One of Mary Larkin's prized possessions is a beat-up, old, wooden cutting board in the shape of a mushroom, but you can't tell by looking at it that it is the product of a revolution.
It was made by Larkin's daughter Debbie, who was one of the first girls to take shop in Parkland schools after the district relented in the mid-1970s to allow them to forgo home economics and do woodworking instead.
Today SJ 78, a bill to ratify the stalled Equal Rights Amendment, was placed on the docket of the Elections subcommittee in the Virginia House. Could this signal GOP support for Constitutional pay equity? Even in the 21st century corporations continue to pay women less because they are women. Last week we learned that General Motors offered their first female CEO a salary 50% less than her male predecessors (the usual female pay discount is only 8%).
Rep. Victoria Steele’s (D-9) bill to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (HCR2016) was assigned to the House Judiciary Committee late last week. (You’ll remember that mid-week, I reported it was languishing on the desk of House Speaker Andy Tobin.)
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What I know about sports, I learned watching movies, but what I know about fair play and equality, I learned watching my parents. Although movies Based on a true story, have evolved closer to reality since William Bendix played Babe Ruth, the brain damage of inequality requires more than A Hail Mary Pass at equal economic opportunity and Justice for All to tackle an Equal Rights Amendment fumbled by a deadline for ratification.
In November 2014, Americans will be heading to the polls to vote in the midterm elections.
Women will be voting.
If Alice Paul had not been alive to fight for that right, women still might not have the opportunity to make their voices heard in the United States of America.
January 11, 1885 was the day this great American woman was born and it is on this day that everyone should take a moment to recognize and celebrate her brave and progressive life.
People are out collecting signatures to get the Oregon’s Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) for women on the November 2014 ballot. This could mean a change to the state constitution to include language that specifically protects women. Oregon’s ERA for women has been out there several times before now, most recently before the legislative session in 2013, but it didn't pass.
Congratulations Rhode Island! Rhode Island is the first state to have 100% of their Federal delegation supporting our legislation. A special thanks to Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Senator Jack Reed, Rep. David Cicilline and Rep. James Langevin. We appreciate your support.
Just a few weeks before his death, on October 11, 1963, President Kennedy received the final report of the President's Commission on the Status of Women. A direct line runs between the work of this commission and the establishment of the National Organization for Women.
If an Equal Rights Amendment were to pass, women would have the written support of the Constitution. Instead of women having to prove that they were being discriminated against, violators of the amendment would face a harsher reality, having to prove their innocence.
The benefits of ratifying the amendment are fairly simple. By passing the Equal Rights Amendment, the government would not only open doors of opportunity for women in the country, but also open them all around the world.
UPDATE: Linda Sanchez and Louise Roybal-Allard are now cosponsors of HJ Res 43. As Progressives we should all be outraged that of the 15 members of the Progressive Caucus from California, there are 5 (3) who have not co-sponsored Representative Rob Andrews legislation, HJ Res 43, removing the deadline for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. Unacceptable. They are well aware of the legislation and we must alert them to this fact.
Targeting women’s right to vote may be the undoing of extreme governance and an opportunity to take care of constitutionally unfinished business for women – an Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). The newly declared war on the right of women in NC to vote looks to be the match to the fuse in the renewed push for passing an ERA.
A Major Victory for ERA (Equal Rights Amendment) advocates happened today as Senator Elizabeth Warren becomes the 32nd co-sponsor on Senator Ben Cardin’s bi-partisan bill, SJRES15 to remove the deadline to ratify the ERA.
In the spirit of Moral Mondays the Onslow County Democratic Party announced that this Monday’s demonstration on October 28th will focus on pushing back against the wave of legislation negatively impacting women’s rights to include the targeting of their voting rights. Demonstrators are civilly rallying from 5:00 pm to 6:00 pm outside the Jacksonville City Hall at 815 New Bridge Street to support the passage of an Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) checking state laws that are eroding women’s rights.
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The new push to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) continues to grow as word spreads about the effort to get the Obama Administration to take a stand on the issue of equal rights for women. The ERA 2013 Action Campaign and its partner, ERA NOW, seek to gather 25,000 signatures on an official White House petition to trigger an official response from the Obama Administration, now needs only 4600 signatures by February 9th.
On Friday, September 12th more than 150 activists will go to DC and Demand that their Senators and Representatives support removing the ratification deadline from the ERA (SJ Res 15 and HJ Res 113)
MoveOn.org Petition - Congress Don't Renew Fast Track
Public Citizen Petition - Congress Must Reject Fast Track Authority
MoveOn.org Petition - Stop the Trans Pacific Partnership
CREDO Petition - Stop the Massive Corporate Power Grab
Enter your zip+4 and find your elected officials. This link provides name, address and phone number
Click on your state in the list to find out if your Senators and Representative are cosponsors of the Equal Rights Amendment. Then call and either Thank Them or ask them to support the legislation.
Sample scripts are below.
Thank You ScriptI am a voter in your district and the Equal Rights Amendment is very important to me and all my friends. Thank you for supporting equal rights.
Request SupportI am a voter in your district and the Equal Rights Amendment is very important to me and all my friends. Equality is a human rights issue. The Equal Rights Amendment has been stalled and we believe removing the ratification deadline will most the process forward. Please cosponsor SJ Res 15 (for Senators) HJ Res 43 (for your Representative)
We need to add the Equal Rights Amendment to the National conversation. Use our tool to send a letter to the editor of your local paper.
If your Senator(s) and/or Representative is not currently a supporter, they may not be aware that the legislation exists. Nothing sends a stronger message to a Congressional member than a personal visit to a district office by a voter with a written request for support. Phone calls and emails are incredibly important but nothing gets attention like a personal visit. Our Educate Congress page has information and a sample letter. Print the letter, sign it, deliver it.
There is no faster way to send a message to your Congress members than using our Email Advocacy Tool.
VA State Legislature
Marena Groll Moral Monday - Fayetteville
January 15th Progressive Round Table