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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 • (22) 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
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Friday, December 13, 2013

A review of my Christmas reading on

Hey I did another mini review at, this one is a book that my mother and I used to read aloud to each other during the holidays. I miss her so much. It’s actually a great book for kids, and I’m rereading it this Christmas and thinking of my mom.

image by Amber Sexton

Posted by Amber Sexton on 12/13 at 06:54 AM
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Saturday, August 31, 2013

Citibike-Growing Pains

image by Amber Sexton

Citibike has settled in at it’s current level, until they roll out another stage it’s a good time to assess how it’s all working. In the neighborhoods it serves, it’s now part of the infrastructure, and as good as it’s going to be until they expand. I’m an enthusiastic booster still, but it’s become like another part of our transportation system, when it’s not there when I want it, I get annoyed. I went from not having this service at all a few months ago, to now feeling entitled to it meeting my transportation needs when I plan for it. And yes I know that’s ridiculous, but it’s NYC and that’s about the speed of things. This is a round about way of saying despite using it several times this week and last, I’ve noticed some shortcomings lately related to it finally getting full saturation of members. Today was the first day I really could not get a bike for a leg of trip I wanted to make and had to take the train. However another time I used it it was especially joyous, like when I went to it’s northern and easternmost station (59th & Sutton Pl) on Thursday morning and saw this view. I found a bike at the start, and a dock at the finish with no hassle at a prime morning commuting time, from 9:15-10:00 AM. It was a sweet ride.

However my ending station, on 51st and 6, did not have bikes after 5PM that day, or the next day, so leaving work via Citibike became a problem. I’ve no idea when a redistribution unit brings more bikes or if they come back through natural use in the morning, but between 5 and 6 getting a bike is probably not likely for me from right behind the office. The station empties out and and it probably stays empty until the next day at whatever time riders start to bring back bikes. I’m going to check in with the map this weekend sporadically to see if the dock there fills up and when.

In some ways the empty stations are a great thing, the program is clearly a success, people want it and are using it. The bad thing is I’ve had to go to three stations two days in a row in the hour between 5 and 6 and one of those two times failed to get a bike. This is a problem that is not easy to solve. Theoretically they can put more stations out, but this takes parking space and there’s only so much of that space they can get, or would be fair for them to get. The program may have maxed out on riders it can support in certain areas at the prime times. Citibike has been talking about rebalancing—>here and in other posts. There’s only so much redistributing bikes it makes sense for them to do, and they focus those efforts on hubs like Penn Station and Grand Central. I personally notice that Union Square and Broadway on a Sunday morning at 8:30 is as empty as on a Monday morning at 8:30 but a block away at University there are usually bikes. But in midtown, I don’t see this problem getting better unless they get some stations in spots like garages and off the street in other pedestrian plazas and such, they probably have taken over all the curbside space they are going to get. If you need a bike at a prime time, you might have to skip it and take the train.

Broadway has a large concentration of stations along it’s length in midtown and that’s facilitated by the fact that a lot of broadway above 34th already has lanes blocked off for pedestrian plazas and such. This gives a lot of room to put Citibike stations, and they have put in the largest ones there. When I’ve not been able to get a bike I go to Broadway, unfortunately even those stations were empty at these times around 50th st and just below today. Yesterday I got one of two bikes there. It’s just not going to be a guarantee anymore that I can take a bike from my office at a typical evening rush hour time. Luckily most of the time I do not work regular hours so hopefully that will work in my favor in terms of getting bikes as I need them.

Another issue is that in the app a station indicating very few bikes, might actually have no bikes. Very often you get there and the station has one or two out of service bikes, or a couple of broken docks that won’t release bikes but seem to be trying. The docks may make noise like they are trying to turn some mechanical gear, but the bikes don’t come out. The app, and I assume the system administration as a whole, has no way of knowing bikes or docks aren’t working, or perhaps they do but the app is not smart enough to capture this info and display it. This is the station at Broadway and 49th St. One of these bikes is out of service, because the red light is on on the dock, and the other is in a dock that won’t release the bike.

image by Amber Sexton

Clearly that dock eventually worked because in the wee hours of the morning, I looked on the Citibike website and saw that there is only one bike available at that station, which I assume is the broken bike. I assume that because I’ve now been to a station in Soho a couple days in a row with the same four broken bikes sitting there. I don’t know how long they leave them but it’s become an issue, most stations have bikes locked in a dock under a red light because they are out of service. On that same station map, shows the docks by my office holding one bike also, it’s probably the same broken one that I saw there at 5:45 today, possibly it will be there all weekend. I’ll check for it on Monday and see when it gets turned around.

I also had an experience where I took a bike for lunch in Soho and had to go to three stations in that area before I could find a place to park it. I had to walk quite a few blocks back to where I was working, making the whole thing a risky lunch hour jaunt, because I walked in 15 minutes late. I only found a dock because there was a redistributing truck at the station on Canal and 6th avenue and he moved a bike for me to be able to return the one I was using.

So as I said, today I took the subway after finding no bikes to do an errand in Chelsea from Rockefeller Center. I purchased the whole pomegranates I needed to make grenadine for future cocktail posts. Feeling dejected about walking to a few stations and then having to train it instead of ride, I was pleased to see the station on 22nd and 8th had plenty of bikes for my short jag to the L train home. Here’s a picture of what users have come up with as a way of signifying from a distance the bikes that are out of service. They often lower the seat all the way and turn them around backwards. Because you do feel like a chump getting through adjusting the bike and realizing there’s a red light on the dock and that bike is out of service.

image by Amber Sexton

I like when a new etiquette is formed. However some people are only doing half of this gesture. Some are just lowering the seat all the way and that’s it, when I think the crucial thing is turning the seat around at whatever height the post is at. As a lazy person who actually rides on the lowest seat position because I’m also very short, at a full dock I look for a bike I won’t have to adjust first, and often I go up to a bike which is just my height to find it’s actually out of service. So to my fellow riders, flip seats all the way backwards on out of service bikes to help even short people know not to try to use them. Obviously this is not a rule, it’s a new courtesy we are all learning to get used to.

Here I am in my backup helmet after finally finding a Citibike today. A little annoyed and tired, but still rolling along.
image by Amber Sexton

Posted by Amber Sexton on 08/31 at 07:19 AM
New YorkOpinion • (2) CommentsPermalink

Monday, August 12, 2013

I am selling some really ugly cufflinks

image by Amber Sexton

Here is the entirety of the copy on my eBay listing. If you want to actually bid on these click here for the link to eBay

These cuff links are deadstock from my family’s jewelry store. They were sitting there for excess of 25 years, and have been in a box for at least 10. I definitely remember strong disinterest in these when I was a child in the 70’s if that gives a clue as to their age. They are probably made in Europe as their only marking is the “925” stamp, which is primarily used in Europe as US jewelers tend to use “sterling” always, at least at that time.

These are very heavy castings with really hefty cufflink findings on the back which will hold a shirt of any thickness, even deep polyester double-knit. They measure 7/8” on the long side, and just over 3/4” on the short side. The thickness of the front design is 1/8”. The design was probably made with an old style wax gun.

Many of my friends said these were Brutalist, Modernist, even architectural. They said that if they went to a party and said they were $750 David Yurman smoked glass and stainless steel, every gay guy would be trolling the internet looking to buy them. They said Eldritch, or Alistair Crowley, if they told folks they were Prada they would want them. They have said “They are perfectly fine, they just need the right shirt.” They have been described as a la Paul Evans, Todd Merrill Antiques, something one would see on the site. I noticed 1stdibs is selling cuff links designed by Georg Jensen and point out that the designer of these jewels is Hans Nobody.

I’ve also heard my friends and even a date say “I would totally wear these to a snooty ex bf’s party, to my uncle’s Bauhaus art opening”, and I explained “totally wear” as in you would ironically wear them, is different from “pay good money for” which is what one is hoping for when offering jewelry for sale.

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, this was said to me by another friend. This is true, and it’s plausible. The fact that folks had 30+ years to fall in love with these yet did not, does not preclude this possibly happening at a future time. Given additional decades this sort of wax drippery design may come back. You can be cutting edge, decades ahead rather than behind if you choose to pay to own these buggers.

If you do not love them, they will likely be scrapped with other sad jewelry designs from my family’s store once Glenn Beck freaks out enough right wingers to drive up precious metal prices again.

image by Amber Sexton

Update 8/14/13, I have some questions and I did add a description from a friend to the listing, which I hope to keep doing as I get more of them.

image by Amber Sexton

Posted by Amber Sexton on 08/12 at 12:09 AM
Opinion • (8) CommentsPermalink
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