Uber, but for being able to pay the rent

Here in New York, Mayor de Blasio signed major legislation that reigns in the unchecked growth of ride-hailing apps, which have latched on to American infrastructure and workers like a greedy, slickly designed succubus. The law freezes the number of new Uber and Lyft drivers for a year while the city studies the effects of the massive increase in drivers on the road — there are nearly 40,000 more “cab” drivers since 2015, and at any given time, 40% of those on the road do not have any passengers.

The flood of drivers with nothing to do has cut deeply into the earnings of traditional cab drivers, and Uber and Lyft drivers have fared no better, earning about $11 an hour thanks to the flood of drivers. Because they’re still considered independent contractors, they get no benefits from Uber or Lyft, either. So the new law also establishes a minimum wage for the drivers in the city, which will hopefully help the cycle of false hope, poverty, and all too often, suicide, which has become an epidemic here.

I’m not a cab driver, but the Uber problem is not limited to the livery industry. The “Uber for” construct of startup pitches became so ubiquitous a few years ago that it became a punchline, but the impact has been real. As a writer, even with a good full-time job, I am always looking for ways to supplement my income, largely to pay off medical bills. (I’ve had four heart surgeries and even with insurance, medicine costs hundreds a month and a quick annual checkup runs $500. Donate to my Patreon here?) I often look to pick up freelance work, whether it’s journalism unrelated to my day job or copywriting.

The latter is kind of a murky industry, but it has moved more and more towards platforms like Upwork, which function as a mass job posting board. Which would be fine, but the mechanics of the thing and the desperation of writers has led to an incredible plunge in payment rates — we are talking a dollar for a thousand words. It’s brutal. It feels more and more like this is the future — I’ve seen a lot of friends laid off from journalism jobs over the last few years. The uptick in digital media unionization at least gives me some hope. Right now editorial employees from Thrillist, the network of travel and culture sites, are striking after a year of management refusal to recognize and negotiate with their union.

The hard part is that you can’t blame the Upwork writers, just as you can’t blame the drivers. People don’t work for those rates for fun. And you can’t even blame many of the very small businesses and individuals that hire writers on the cheap — times are tight; wages after inflation are down. In the same way, you can’t blame people who take Uber and Lyft — I’d be a real hypocrite if I did that, since I’ve used both myself, especially when the subways were down. Regulating, not eliminating, the platforms is key, so that convenience doesn’t destroy sustenance.

The real solution to the Uber problem would be a more reliable mass transit system, but as New Yorkers and anyone who follows us on Twitter know, that does not appear imminent. It’s one of the big issues animating state elections this fall, which we’ve covered heavily here.

But those frustrating infrastructure battles aside, this really is a momentous occasion. Silicon Valley employs fleets of lobbyists and Uber has especially leaned into trying to shape public policy and opinion. Their ads plaster the subways and they bombard the media with AstroTurf campaigns. It has largely avoided regulation — and been able to get the few laws that have passed repealed — but their money and aggression did not work in New York.

Instead, defiant unions and progressive activists won the day. It’s a landmark event, and already lawmakers elsewhere are taking notice, with aldermen in Chicago also now suggesting a minimum wage for drivers.

Regulating the gig and sharing economy is a national priority for progressives, even if they aren’t linked on it the way Medicare for All has become a unified cause. And without that urgency, it’s an uphill climb. The GOP hates regulation already and states are largely controlled by Republicans. Should the midterm elections go our way, we could see a lot more of these kinds of laws, though even a lot of Democrats are sympathetic to tech interests, even as scrappy startups become international behemoths without much interest in the public good.

This New York Times piece is a great look at the fight Facebook and other internet monopolies put up against even a modest set of regulations. Airbnb is also an aggressive lobbying force, waging rhetorical and financial war against any legislator that dares suggest perhaps it’s not a great idea to have every home available for rent. Neighborhoods are being transformed and housing is at a premium thanks to gentrification, and landlords are frequently kicking people out of their homes in order to turn them into pseudo-hotel rooms. Rents go up with every Airbnb unit; one study found that “New York City renters had to pay an additional $616 million in 2016 due to price pressures created by Airbnb.”

Again, it’s complicated, because Airbnb does make things easier for travelers, and it’s nice side income for some people. But it’s the exploitation that makes it troublesome. Every good idea comes with bad actors who try to take advantage of the system.

Alessandra Biaggi is running to make New York, a so-called Blue State, actually blue again

While New York is seen as a blue state, the reality is that a few corrupt politicians have screwed over voters and avoided true progressive reforms.

New York should be a leader in universal healthcare, women’s rights, and affordable housing, offering solutions that help millions of people and provide models for state governments across the country. Instead, the State Senate refuses to consider single-payer healthcare, lets landlords and real estate developers jack up rents and destroy neighborhoods, and watched a world-class subway system rot into a rusty, unreliable underground nightmare. This hurts New Yorkers and people across the country.

How’d this happen?

In 2011, a group of Democratic State Senators broke away from the party to hand power to Republicans. The so-called Independent Democratic Conference — known as the IDC — violated the wishes of the voters and hurt both the state and real Democrats across the country. Over the years, a series of corrupt maneuvers, bribes, and lies kept the GOP in power.

Alessandra Biaggi is running for State Senate in New York’s 34th district, waging a people-powered campaign against Jeff Klein, the cartoonishly corrupt politician who engineered the deal in Albany that has held back not only New York but all of America.

As a young, progressive candidate from the Bronx running to unseat an arrogant, old-school incumbent, Biaggi’s race is in many ways reminiscent of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s shock upset of Congressman Joe Crowley. She says Ocasio-Cortez’s win has energized her own campaign, but there are also important differences.

CLICK HERE to donate to Alessandra Biaggi’s campaign to take back New York for Democrats via Progressives Everywhere’s ActBlue Page.

“The comparison of Congressman Crowley to my opponent is actually insulting to Congressman Crowley, because Congressman Crowley did not go to Washington, DC and empower Paul Ryan,” Biaggi tells Progressive Everywhere. “The equivalent of what’s gone on in New York is that my opponent has gone to Albany for the past eight legislative sessions has empowered the equivalent of Paul Ryan.”

Biaggi is one of eight young, energetic, and progressive candidates running to oust the members of the IDC in the September 13th primary, an effort that’s getting statewide support because of the huge stakes.

CLICK HERE to donate to Alessandra Biaggi’s campaign to take back New York for Democrats via Progressives Everywhere’s ActBlue Page.

“I’m running not just for District 34, because there had been someone in the seat for so long who has blocked progress for all New Yorkers and that’s really a shame,” Biaggi, whose grandfather served in Congress, says. “It both provides an opportunity to do better and make sure that the needs of people in this district are being met, as well as an opportunity to really shift the landscape in a way that sends a message that you can’t take people and your voters and New Yorkers for granted.”

The 32-year-old, who worked for Hillary Clinton’s campaign and has worked in Albany for years as an attorney and high-ranking aide, is focused on four issues in particular.

Before we even dive into Biaggi’s platform, just know that Klein’s priorities have mostly included buying $10,000 Rolex watches, taking illegal political donations, and sexually assaulting former aides. See, I told you Klein was cartoonishly corrupt.

First, Biaggi is vowing to return full funding to public schools. Her district is comprised of parts of Westchester and the Bronx, creating a diverse community where public schooling and the opportunities they offer are essential. Biaggi notes that Klein’s seat on the budget committee did the district’s schools no favors, an abdication of responsibility she would not continue.

Her district’s unique mix of urban and more suburban communities also has her pushing for housing laws that would benefit tenants in all situations.

CLICK HERE to donate to Alessandra Biaggi’s campaign to take back New York for Democrats via Progressives Everywhere’s ActBlue Page.

“We have people with different housing needs, but when it comes down to it, everyone is trying to afford where they live,” Biaggi says. “There are bills that have been pending in the State Senate that can close loopholes in the law, that can make it so that landlords cannot be predatory on tenants, that tenants have protection, that you can actually control their rent stabilization guidelines and just ways to really make the system fairer.”

Biaggi is intimately acquainted with the stalled legislation in Albany, having worked as a counsel for the governor’s office, leading negotiations across branches, which resulted in laws like paid family leave and $15 an hour minimum wage. She knows much more can be done without the political hurdles presented by the IDC, especially on women’s issues, having worked on the New York State Council for Women and Girls. With Roe v. Wade in the crosshairs nationally, she is adamant about codifying it in the New York State legal system, which last updated its abortion rights laws before the landmark case and thus would not provide the protections needed should Roe get overturned by a right-wing Supreme Court.

Her experience in state government means that Biaggi is less an outside bomb thrower than experienced government expert who grew sick of the systemic cynicism and is now seeking office so that she can inject progressive values into legislation. Growing up between the city and suburbs helps her understand the needs of both communities, and as Mayor de Blasio and Cuomo fight over responsibility for fixing the MTA and feud over potential solutions, she wants to cut through all the political roadblocks and chicanery.

Unfortunately, the state’s entrenched powers are dragging their feet; Cuomo hasn’t even named members of a panel meant to study the issue, and with no urgency coming from State Senate leaders, it may not happen for a while. Klein himself kept pushing policies that would take important revenue from the city, something that would only harm his constituents.

CLICK HERE to donate to Alessandra Biaggi’s campaign to take back New York for Democrats via Progressives Everywhere’s ActBlue Page.

Biaggi is open to all progressive ideas to fix the situation as soon as possible for New Yorkers and create the infrastructure that can once again lead the way for the nation at large.

“Do we have a millionaire’s tax? Do we do congestion pricing? All of these things are reasonable options and things to explore,” she says. “And then even the congestion pricing plan as is I think is not progressive enough. It should have incorporated into it into a fair fairs system so that people who are in certain brackets of income or age don’t have to pay the same price. Obviously, not everybody has the ability to do that and you can’t prevent people from traveling in and out of New York City.”

Her inherently progressive approach to economic justice and fairness represents a generational change for New York politics, which has long been mired in corruption and pay-to-play schemes. Biaggi is very much in favor of marijuana legalization, citing its importance in both criminal justice reform and agricultural development. For so long, New York has been held back by Republicans and classist Democrats who function as conservative co-conspirators. That, Biaggi promises, won’t be a problem if she wins the primary.

“I have no intention of ever deceiving the voters by saying I’m a Democrat and then after a few years go by and I’ll be a Republican or empowering Republicans,” she says. “That will never happen. And that’s something that Jeff Klein, unfortunately for himself, cannot take back.”

CLICK HERE to donate to Alessandra Biaggi’s campaign to take back New York for Democrats via Progressives Everywhere’s ActBlue Page.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s seismic victory for Progressive Democrats

A message to cautious, corporate Democrats everywhere

Wow. It is a new day for the Democratic Party. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old grassroots organizer from the Bronx, just defeated Rep. Joe Crowley, the fourth most powerful Democrat in the House of Representatives, in the congressional primary for New York’s 14th district.

Progressives Everywhere was proud to support her campaign, and if you read our interview with her, you won’t be surprised that she won. Still, the size and impact of this victory cannot be understated. Crowley was angling to become the next Speaker of the House. He took millions from millionaires and massive corporations (read this shocking thread). He hadn’t even been primaried in 14 years.

Then came Ocasio-Cortez, an unapologetic progressive who was in touch with her home district and knew that it deserved more than a representative who voted time and again for policies that hurt its residents. She pounded the pavement, talking with every voter she could. She spoke about affordable housing, endorsed Medicare for All, and called for the abolition of ICE. She spoke as a proud feminist and person of color. She was everywhere — at both bodegas and the border in the last few days of her campaign.

Ocasio-Cortez ran an absolutely perfect campaign, blending hardcore grassroots organizing with social media savvy and national media attention. You were part of this. Progressives Everywhere contributors sent in hundreds of donations to Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign, contributing about $6000 to the cause. And every grassroots donation helped. Crowley had a war chest of over $3 million. Ocasio-Cortez had just $300,000 — and nearly all of it was from donors like you. Over 70% came from donations of $200 or less. That’s unheard of.

The massive victory yesterday is the bright spot in what has been another otherwise difficult week for people with souls. The stolen Supreme Court upheld Trump’s racist travel ban and Texas’s racist gerrymandering. Kids are still being separated from their families at the border. And on our side, out-of-touch Democrats continue to pearl-clutch over “civility” for Nazis and the fact that Sarah Huckabee Sanders — the mouthpiece of the hateful administration that is ripping innocent families apart — was gently asked to leave a Mexican restaurant.

CLICK HERE to donate to Ocasio-Cortez’s general election campaign, as well as to real Democrats running to take back Albany!

This primary better serve as a message to the wimpy DC Democrats and their consultants: voters don’t want one-sided civility or apologetic deference. They want loud, aggressive truth-telling. They want leaders who will fight back against the lies and slide towards authoritarianism. When they go low, we pound them into the ground.

New York Democrats are now energized beyond belief. And the fight doesn’t end here. New York has plenty of fake corporate Democrats left — many even worse than Crowley. Not only is Cynthia Nixon challenging the corrupt Andrew Cuomo in a primary for governor, there are a number of bold progressives taking on members of the IDC, which is a group of breakaway “Democrats” who defy the wishes of voters and caucus with Republicans in Albany. That gives the GOP control of the state senate, stymying all kinds of great progressive legislation. Cuomo, of course, supports them.

That’s why Progressives Everywhere is proud to be supporting both Nixon and challengers to the IDC. Real Democrats who respect voters and will work to make what is supposed to be a blue state actually function like one. Those primaries are in September, and the candidates can use all the help they can get.

CLICK HERE to donate to Ocasio-Cortez’s general election campaign, as well as to real Democrats running to take back Albany!

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is taking on the New York political machine

As much as New York is a reliable blue state during presidential and senatorial elections, it is far from being a progressive utopia. We’ve already focused on the problems created by Gov. Cuomo’s embrace of the breakaway IDC in the State Senate, but the problem also extends to many of the state’s national representatives. This week, we’re talking with one candidate who is looking to change the toxic status quo.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign for Congress had earned a little bit of coverage, but her press team couldn’t find any news outlet willing to premiere her new campaign ad. “They were like, ‘no, no, no,’ so I was like, alright, I’m just going to put it on Twitter,” the 28-year-old political organizer tells Progressives Everywhere. “Thankfully it turned out really well.”

That’s a bit of an understatement, as the ad went mega-viral on Twitter, helped out by admiring words from progressive MSNBC anchor Chris Hayes. The entire sequence of events was a pretty tidy summary for Ocasio-Cortez’s career and campaign, a grassroots effort that challenges entrenched powers that no one has dared face down over the last decade and a half.

A Bronx native of Puerto Rican descent, Ocasio-Cortez is running to represent New York’s 14th congressional district, and in doing so, challenging one of the most powerful Democrats in the city and country, Rep. Joe Crowley. She is unbowed by the inherent odds stacked against her; she was an organizer for Bernie Sanders, who was unafraid to take on entrenched Democratic interests. Crowley spent years helping to control who got on the ballot in New York, but once Ocasio-Cortez qualified, it was game on.

Ocasio-Cortez argues that the relatively conservative Democrat, who has designs on Speaker of the House should Democrats retake Congress, has focused on fundraising and his national donors to the exclusion of progressive policy. On the other hand, she is more focused on the needs of the community, as she made clear during her conversation with Progressives Everywhere. The New York Democratic Primary is on June 26th.

What inspired you to take on such a big challenge?

I was at Standing Rock two years ago, I was seeing what was happening on the ground. I was looking at corporations that were literally militarizing themselves against American citizens. And these companies, they give money to Democrats too. And the day that I left Standing Rock, I got a call from Brand New Congress, which is an organization trying to field non-career politicians in the 2018 midterm to get money out of politics, and they asked if I’d be willing to run. I was like, whoa. So I took a look at what was happening in our community.

We have a lot of these Democrats who are just laying as low as possible and hiding under the “D” next to their name, but they really aren’t doing the right thing. That’s our case here with Joe Crowley. He runs a profoundly corrupt local political machine, silences candidates of color, that silences women, that silences working class grassroots candidates in order to rezone New York City for luxury real estate interests. He hadn’t been challenged in 14 years.

The demographics of the area have changed dramatically. The community here was not being serviced for its needs. We have Rikers Island in the district, and we haven’t had a champion on criminal justice reform.

Click HERE to donate to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Progressives Everywhere’s ActBlue page for New York candidates!

Should you get the nomination, what issue is Rep. Crowley ignoring that you will focus on?

One of the things that he does is takes money from luxury real estate developers and basically translates it into increasing the cost of living in New York City to provide a profit margin for his donors. He does this on a local level and on a national level. One of the only pieces of legislation that he’s even past in the past couple of years involves foreign investment and regulation. The FIRPTA is essentially designed to pad the pockets of luxury developers.

[Note: Crowley’s bill allowed foreign investment in US real estate to jump from 5 to 10 percent without facing a special tax. Crowley received a huge spike in donations from the real estate industry right before introducing this legislation.]

Slowly but surely our affordable housing policies have been tweaked and redesigned in very unsexy and boring wings. But they ultimately result in deregulations for the wealthiest. The United States invests $200 billion dollars in housing every year, but you would never know it because a lot of that money goes to the wealthiest people through things like tax cuts, designed for people who can take advantage of them.

Things like expanding the Low Income Housing Tax Credit. Things like permanently funding the Low Income Housing Trust in the United States. We have federal programs in place. NYHCA used to be the crown jewel of affordable housing in the United States. And you look at what happened this past winter, where people living in NYHCA didn’t have hot water. Some of them didn’t even have heat. That’s not because NYHSA doesn’t work, that’s because the federal government has slowly been defunding HUD.

We’ve basically been rolling back and shutting down all of our most progressive housing policy in the US. And it’s terrible because we know that these things work. We know that affordable housing works, we know that low-income housing works and we also know that we don’t have to live in a world of four-year wait lists for people to afford the cities that they live in.

This is very much a money in politics problem. The industries in particular that have completely captured our government and especially the Democratic Party are Wall Street, real estate, big pharma, healthcare. People talk about what quote-unquote Republican industries are and we think of the NRA, we think of fossil fuel corporations, things like that. But the real companies that are eroding our democracy are private equity and real estate. They by far contribute the largest amount of money to compromise both parties, but especially Democrats and Joe Crowley.

Click HERE to donate to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Progressives Everywhere’s ActBlue page for New York candidates!

Crowley is the chairman of the Queens Democratic Party and has a very formidable machine behind him — The Intercept article about your race laid that out. How do you beat that?

Joe Crowley has not been challenged in 14 years. So when we first started, everybody said there’s no way. He is way too powerful. But as the chairman of the Democratic Party, he has failed. Because as the chairman, he has not been expanding the electorate. He hasn’t been a good steward for the Democratic Party in Queens County. He’s brought in a lot of money, but when you go to an average Democratic Club in Queens, the average age nowadays is about 90. That’s not to be ageist, but there is no diversity in age. So even though he is chairman of the party and he is able to command a lot of automatic endorsements out of fear, that’s just money.

We’ve been doing a really, really good job as organizers. That’s what I am at heart. I’m an organizer. I’m not a big money kind of girl. I was born very working class. My mom cleaned houses and drove school buses. I knew that if I was going to compete in this race, I couldn’t do it on big money. What I could do is out-organize him and so that’s been our main strategy. We have been inspiring and expanding the electorate. This is one of the lowest turnout districts in the United States.

And honestly, if you’re chairman of the Democratic Party and you have presided over the total lowest voter turnout in America, maybe you do deserve to lose your job. Because your one job is to strengthen the Democratic Party and it’s completely languished under your 20-year tenure.

New York has a lot of problems with Democrats who don’t act like Democrats, but instead protect vested interests.

Crowley just endorsed an IDC member while claiming to be a real Democrat himself. We know that for him the only thing that matters is money. And it’s not to dismiss the need for a basic amount of funds to run a campaign. But really when you look at his tenure, when you look at his record, he endorsed the anti women’s rights candidate and put him over the top of Marie Newman in Illinois.

In the places where he actually has the juice, he doesn’t use it for the advancement of social, economic or racial justice. Everything else is just a press release. So with the IDC you have folks that are still taking all of this corporate money and have historically sanitized some of the most progressive legislation in America. Now they’re pretending to have dissolved the IDC, but they still have those corporate interests at heart. He’s kind of like a federal IDC member, he’s not as progressive as he says.

Click HERE to donate to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Progressives Everywhere’s ActBlue page for New York candidates!