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Sunday, November 05, 2017

Why I’m in favor of a NY Constitutional Convention

This week I saw colleagues in the media who organized and joined a union, under threat that the business would close if they did, threats that were made true a week later. And in the background of this, are the unions of the state of NY unanimously fighting to defeat the mandatory constitutional convention referendum, or proposition 1 on the ballot this November 7. Our constitution which expressly gives the right to collective bargaining, but does not mandate employers negotiate with our unions, it gives public employees the right to a prevailing wage but is mute on prevailing wages for other employees. It gives the public pension system the weight of an inviolable contract, but gives far less protection to the other workers of our state. And to my distress, unions, including my own,  have looked at a convention, as only something that should not happen. They have decided that our only hope is to cling to what was gained in the 1937 convention in the new deal era, and have not been ambitious for the social justice goals of a new generation. Meanwhile there’s nothing in our NY constitution that requires a private employer to recognize a union, penalizes them for closing rather than deal with one, and only the Taylor law compels NY state to negotiate with public employee unions.

I have two grandfathers who were prominent labor organizers and academics. (they were both married to my grandmother at different times, she was also involved in the labor movement, as was my grandfather’s second wife Pat.) They became labor organizers in furtherance of social justice, because they were socialists as well. They did not know for sure what the end result of this work would be, in some cases they failed. But they and the labor movement in it’s infancy, saw working people in their numbers, and tried to unite them as a weapon aimed at massive corporate power. They did not know it would work, but they saw the huge unmet need, they saw poverty, they saw exploitation, they were thinking of humanity as a whole and trade unionism as a means to an end.

I cannot claim any of that work as my own, I have only in recent years worked at a job which was union eligible and part of my excitement on taking the job is I would finally have job protections not afforded to most people in my industry. Protections which I had lived without for so long and also could become a helper in the union so we could keep those and make our workplace better. I immediately went to meetings and became a steward and eventually supported a candidate running against the incumbent president. Our union has discovered gender and racial pay inequity, made our findings public and I saw a new ambition to fix this in a candidate who was a woman of color.

I grew up in activism in an era of identity politics, and I participated from a young age in work to safeguard reproductive rights against constant assault. We are in an era where these issues are in a new crisis. The movement for black lives, queer equality, trans equality, the rights of the undocumented, women’s equality and reproductive rights could see gains in NY if we held a convention. Our legislature and governor have not kept pace with what is needed, and have not done anything in the year since Trump was elected to shore up the protections in abortion rights, trans rights, voting rights, immigrant rights, that are being assaulted by our federal government right now. We’ve made no changes to address the deaths of Eric Garner and Akai Gurley.

 


The center left and progressives have a huge registration advantage in NY state, membership in labor unions is higher here than anywhere else in the country. We voted for Clinton by 60%. Those advocating a no vote on this convention, are looking at that strength, our support for labor and progressive values, and calling it weakness. They are looking at a process that is more populist than our status quo state political environment and they are calling it undemocratic. They call out the fact that our state senate districts are gerrymandered and choose to continue to return to power those who would perpetuate it, and block the only process with a chance of ending it. By rejecting a convention they are choosing to live by the political process most affected by gerrymandering, the normal legislative process, one which will not lead to a less gerrymandered future.

A convention is less sensitive to gerrymandering, it dilutes the effect of it in three ways. The first way is that there are 15 at large delegates, which are elected by a statewide popular vote, these are not subject to districting at all. The second is that there are three delegates per state senate district. Even with these districts engineered as they are have produced 32 to 31 democratic majority to the Senate, it is not a ruling majority because 8 Democrats have accepted lulus and special favors for their districts in exchange for not supporting the Democratic leader. A few of these districts drawn for the relection of GOP incumbents have also voted for Clinton in the presidential election, some of them have democratic assembly members. Eight total voted to return their republican senator and also Hillary Clinton for president. Once three non-incumbents are running for delegate in these purple districts, they are going to shake out a few extra dems. The last way that populism rules the results of a convention is that all the amendments are presented to voters for an up or down vote. The popular will, a direct democratic process is what determines the final outcome of a convention.

It’s deeply sad to me that my own top level union, and organized labor in general are taking the view that protections we passed in historical conventions are enough. That we have no responsibility to the New Yorkers not enfranchised in this document, especially workers outside unions who have no right to healthcare or paid sick time. They have looked at the state with the highest concentration of union members in the nation, which is in no danger of a right wing takeover, and raised the spectre of one on a flimsy premise. They have looked at one of the best moments to seize the both the resistance zeitgeist and a natural demographic advantage to make progressive change NY and called it dangerous. My friend Tony and I wrote an editorial on just how strong we will be in a convention.

And more problematic to me, is telling a us we need and have a majority of voters to vote no, to protect pensions that cannot be lost in this process. And deluding that very majority that it is powerful enough to reject a convention, but that this same majority would somehow not exist if proposals weakening future pension protections came back to them on the ballot. We’re a strong enough wave to stop a convention, but somehow this same group would be too weak and drain away if they needed to vote no on specific amendments that weakened labor protections put in front of them after a convention. This is incredibly cynical.

 

I’m am fighting for passage of this referendum because I am not satisfied with the way NY state politics play out. The corruption, the 98% incumbency re-election rate, has all gotten worse in the 20 years since New Yorkers last rejected this vote. I’ve come to embrace term limits as the chemotherapy needed for a cancerous system. Today’s progressives can use this tool to bring our constitution and NY into the 21st century by voting yes on the referendum on Nov 7th. We can insure equality for women and trans people, we can allow early voting and same day registration, which our constitution currently prohibits. We can improve labor standards by including a right to paid sick leave for all full time workers, and cost of living increases to our state minimum wage. We can update and codify reproductive rights, we can mandate ethics reform, fully non partisan redistricting, we can create a full time legislature with no outside income. We can insure cases where people are killed in police custody are given state jurisdiction, we can reform cash bail and streamline our courts, we can legalize recreational marijuana. We can even, like bold progressives of the past, create an even greater safety net in our state by including a right to healthcare. We can make our state a place where many of Trumps harmful policies stop at our borders. Our state can be a progressive sanctuary if we remake the constitution to reflect who we are.

 

Posted by Amber Sexton on 11/05 at 10:54 PM
New YorkOpinion • (20) CommentsPermalink

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Building a cat climbing wall

image by Amber Sexton

So I’ve mostly finished building a cat climbing wall. It needs more attached toys and some finishing touches and my walls need paint. But I will put up this photo of my cat Otis using it for now, though he had to be somewhat bribed with treats. Because it is a minor triumph of my silliness.

Posted by Amber Sexton on 06/07 at 02:29 AM
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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Family vacation in Westbrook CT

image by Amber Sexton

So here are some of my pictures of my sisters, and their cousins, my neice at the beach. Westbrook is on the Long Island Sound, the Sound is very calm like a lake, but still salty and with tides. My dad and his wife rent a place there every year now for the last eight years. So it’s become a family tradition.

image by Amber Sexton

I don’t know what more to say really…I don’t have any kids but it’s always neat to take pictures of the kids because they are doing stuff, also they are my family and sweet girls.

image by Amber Sexton

image by Amber Sexton

We had a fire on the beach, and I’ve never been up there when there was a fire. The neighbors always seem to have fires and set off fireworks. This year we had sparklers, and I remembered all the joy of sparklers, and also burning blisters onto my fingers touching the hot wire when the sparkler was spent.

image by Amber Sexton

The neighbors, also use glow sticks, and set off roman candles, we are sparkler only people.

image by Amber Sexton

The neighbors also light sky lanterns, which are positively transfixing floating across the sky. I didn’t have a lens to take an image that would make it look like anything other than a glowing dot. Or a series of them, because they sent out several. I thought they were so beautiful, but I also couldn’t shake how irresponsible it was to send a flame out in a little balloon in the sky. Of course it seemed like it was fine, but my stepmom had seen one fall and hit a house once and go out. Luckily it did, it’s litter being dropped somewhere out of your eyeshot also. Still it was a guilty pleasure, looking at these glowing floating flames fly off into the distance and wink out when they got too tiny to see. I hoped that they really went out at that point and never caught anything on fire and were just living a short life that I didn’t have to be nervous about. But I’m more the sparklers type, where you know if you do something dumb, then it’s just your own fingers to worry about.

image by Amber Sexton

Posted by Amber Sexton on 07/22 at 10:46 PM
(1) CommentsPermalink

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Steam City

image by Amber Sexton

So I posted an incident on facebook the other day, I was walking on 9th Avenue a woman with a British accent said to her friend “Why does steam come out of the sewers here it’s so disgusting.” I turned around and explained we have a steam system with underground pipes that Con Ed pumps into some buildings and sometimes you can see it come out of the top.

It never occurred to me that someone would not know about the steam system, but then I realized it’s unusual. I’m just from here and simply used to it as a part of the infrastructure. Even for New Yorkers it can be mysterious and easily forgotten, still it sometimes escapes out into the street, and you remember it’s there. It’s not quite like turning on a light, so you don’t notice it. I don’t even know if the building I work in uses it, though there are steam vents right outside. It of course doesn’t feel very modern, but it’s an amazing system and I have been poking around on Con Edison and wikipedia, most other articles on the internet seem to be using these two as sources.

image by Amber Sexton


From ConEd

“...New York Steam’s first central steam boiler plant, located at Cortlandt, Dey, Greenwich, and Washington Streets, was completed in 1881 and included 48 boilers and a 225-foot chimney — at the time, it was one of the tallest features of the lower New York skyline, second only to the spire of Trinity Church. The district steam installation was so novel it was the cover story of the November 19, 1881 issue of Scientific American.

On March 3, 1882, the company supplied steam to its first customer, the United Bank Building at 88-92 Broadway, on the corner of Wall Street. By December 1882, New York Steam boasted 62 customers. By 1886, the firm had 350 customers and five miles of mains, and began an expansion uptown. The system proved its reliability by operating throughout the deadly blizzard of March 11-14, 1888. Through the years, the company expanded and made numerous improvements in the design of steam meters, controls, insulation, and even the pipes themselves.

The company built by Wallace Andrews was to go on to even greater success during the 20th century, but he was not to see it. During the night of April 7, 1899, Andrews and much of his family perished in a house fire. His brother-in-law, G.C. St. John, who was out of town when the tragic fire occurred, was made president of the company and guided it for more than a decade during a prolonged legal battle over Andrews’ will.

The paralyzing effects of the litigation made necessary a financial reorganization that lasted from 1918 to 1921, but ultimately left the company, now called the New York Steam Corporation, prepared for a new era of expansion. By 1932, the tremendous Kips Bay Station (occupying the entire block along the East River between 35th and 36th Streets) and five other stations provided steam to more than 2,500 buildings. Among them were some of New York’s most famous landmarks: Grand Central Terminal, the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, the Daily News Building, Tudor City, Pennsylvania Station and Hotel, and Rockefeller Center. Just about every new skyscraper was a testament to the efficiency and reliability of steam service: most were built without smokestacks or individual heating plants.

During the 1930s, the New York Steam Company maintained mutually beneficial business arrangements that would be a portent of its eventual consolidation. The company supplied steam to the Consolidated Gas Company and its affiliated gas and electric companies in Manhattan. In turn, The New York Edison Company supplied steam from its Waterside and Fourteenth Street electric generating stations during the morning hours on cold days to help meet peak energy needs. In 1932, Consolidated Gas acquired approximately 75 percent of New York Steam’s common stock, and on March 8, 1954, the New York Steam Company fully merged with Consolidated Edison.

Today, Con Edison operates the largest district steam system in the United States. The system contains 105 miles of mains and service pipes, providing steam for heating, hot water, and air conditioning to approximately 1,800 customers in Manhattan.”


image by Amber Sexton

Steam can be co generated at the same time as electricity so it’s considered more green than some other types of heat. But yet, the central steam system only serves a portion of Manhattan, none of the boroughs and probably has seen the end of it’s expansion. We’ve also had a few steam pipe explosions in my memory. This is one of the more recent ones that I recall. I remember an older one in Gramercy which contaminated some people’s apartments with asbestos and killed two workers. New York, on the infrastructure cutting edge during the industrial age, now seems to posses a patchwork of decaying systems which may fail spectacularly at any time. Yet steam is still mostly just chugging along, you don’t hear about it until something goes wrong, people don’t tend to complain about the prices or anything since all the customers are commercial, entire buildings rather than individuals paying a bill.

When it’s wet, big orange and white plastic stacks come out over the steam manholes, water hitting the hot pipes turns to vapor and has to vent. And that can be beautiful. There’s no doubt that the steam in the city has a very noir movie feel. At night if you are where there are steam vents it can seem like the small clouds coming from ground level and the tops of buildings are setting the scene for New York, to play the part of New York in a film. It’s good to step off a curb in your heels and get in a cab at these moments, or pull your hat down over your face and your coat tighter, so you can be an extra passing through the narrative. Leave your small trace in the vaporous night and disappear.

image by Amber Sexton

Posted by Amber Sexton on 05/18 at 12:22 AM
New York • (4) CommentsPermalink

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mom feeding the ducks

image by Amber Sexton

This is my mom feeding ducks on a vacation she took. It’s a nice way to think of her. One of her immutable qualities was instinctual and widespread generosity. Another was her love of animals. Anyway today is one of the days I miss my mom. I have never belonged to anyone like I belonged to my mom, and no one has ever belonged to me either other than her. And I will always miss her, yet I’m also OK by now with her not being there. Happy Mothers day everyone.

Posted by Amber Sexton on 05/11 at 09:26 PM
Opinion • (0) CommentsPermalink
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