Major Owens

From KeyWiki
Jump to: navigation, search
Major Owens


Major Owens, 1926-2013, was a Democratic Party Congressman from New York.

In 1983 Owens inherited his seat in the 11th District of New York, Brooklyn, from the late Shirley Chisholm.

Owens was regarded as one of the most far left Democrats in the House. Americans for Democratic Action rated his latter voting record at 90-95 percent on the left side of legislation.

Early activism

Owens got his first lesson in organizing when his parents wrote to the White House praising FDR’s work programs while pointing out that the men in their poor, segregated Memphis neighborhood were turned away when they showed up for work. How surprised his folks were when someone from the administration actually came to their home – and signed up all the men on his block for jobs!

Having resettled in Brooklyn, he became active in Brooklyn CORE, working to fight racism and employment discrimination and becoming active in local community action. As the vice president of the Metropolitan Council on Housing, he orchestrated a rent strike that included placing tenant rents in escrow accounts, a tactic that he is reputed to have invented.

He perfected the political tool of blocking traffic. As a state senator he orchestrated a five-borough action that would have closed all the bridges entering Manhattan to protest proposed massive cuts to the city’s anti-poverty programs, forcing the Administration to relent.

A master of the “inside/outside strategy,” he sat on Mayor John Lindsay’s side of the table as his commissioner of the Community Development Agency that oversaw all of the city’s anti-poverty programs, when activists came to the table to discuss forming a college in central Brooklyn. At night he would meet with the same activists to plan strategy for their next meeting with the Mayor.[1]

Early in his political career Owens and other elected officials in Brooklyn formed the Coalition for Community Empowerment (CCE) that is credited with elevating the term “community empowerment” to historic heights. Its spirit was never far from his heart. He frequently called for civil disobedience as the appropriate action for today’s problems – it is what he taught his students. And it is why he kept a banner near the entrance of his office that proclaimed: “Enter Here for Peace and Empowerment.”[2]

Teaching

After 24 years Owens retired from Congress in 2007, 37 years after the founding of Medgar Evers College. The then president of the college immediately recruited Owens, one of his school’s key founders, to teach in the Department of Public Administration, a job that Owens loved and was perfectly suited for, providing him access to a new generation of young radical organizers. He was a master teacher and his students loved him.[3]

Congress

Owens' work in Congress focused on the need for peace at the international level, ending apartheid in South Africa and restoring democracy to Haiti. Domestically, his focus included the power of education and the need to extend the civil rights struggles to include the less educated, Americans with disabilities and the economically disenfranchised. Some of his accomplishments revolved around funding for historical black colleges and dedicated funding in Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act for parent involvement.[4]

Disabilities Act

Fifty-percent of the omnibus Americans with Disabilities Act was drafted in one of Owens’ congressional committees. He counseled Justin Dart, a national disabilities rights organizer, to develop a 50-state grass-roots advocacy campaign to bring pressure on every member of Congress. He was particularly fond of a photo leading the Washington Wheel Chair Protest March that is featured in his book The Peacock Elite, A Case Study of the Congressional Black Caucus. Hint – Major was not one of the “Peacocks.” The book’s dedication reads like a list of Friends of DSA. [5]

"Congressional Pink Caucus"

In October 1989 the Nicaraguan Sandinista Government announced that they would no longer comply with the 19 month-old cease-fire agreement with the Contras. This had been considered a prime step forward for the "peace process" that was progressing slowly as part of the Arias Peace Plan.

A resolution was introduced in Congress deploring the Sandinistas' action. The Senate voted unanimously in favor, but in the House the vote was 379-29. All the 29 Congressmen voting against the resolution were Democrats.

The Council for Inter-American Security dubbed these 29 people the "Congressional Pink Caucus":

Majority Coalition for a New New York

In 1991, on the initiative of Local 1199 local president Dennis Rivera, Reps Major Owens, and Jose Serrano and Deputy Mayor Bill Lynch, formed a city wide labor/community coalition Majority Coalition for a New New York, to unite disparate forces for a solution to the city's financial crisis "reflecting the interests of working people"

The coalition aimed to focus on an "issue driven" approach to supporting candidates in Council elections.[6]

Socialist Scholars Conference

On April 25, 1992 Owens spoke at the reception at the Socialist Scholars Conference, where he was introduced by Moe Foner. The conference was held April 24-26, 1992 at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, New York City.[7]

Hiroshima Day, 1993

Peoples Weekly World, June 31, 1993

On August 6 1993, a rally to commemorate Hiroshima Day was held at the United Nations, Dag Hammarskjold Park, New York. The rally was designed "to kickoff a national campaign to collect a million signatures supporting a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, commend president Clinton for extending the nuclear testing moratorium, urge renewal of the Non Proliferation Treaty, urge swift and complete nuclear disarmament."

The event was sponsored by the Metro New York Peace Action Council and several other "peace' groups.[8]

Speakers included;

"Jobs and Investment Bill"

On October 7, 1994, Congressional Progressive Caucus members Bernie Sanders, Maurice Hinchey, Nydia Velasquez and Major Owens, introduced the "Jobs and Investment Bill" into Congress, which would appropriate $42 billion over several years for "make work" construction and infrastructure projects.[9]

Democratic Socialists of America affiliations

Democratic Left, Jan. 1990, page 7

Major Owens was long involved with Democratic Socialists of America.

New Directions conference

In May 1986, Democratic Socialists of America "supported" a New Directions conference in the Washington DC Convention Center. Conference organizer was Jo-Ann Mort of DSA.

The conference, supported by DSA, will bring together activists, analysts and elected officials to develop new directions for the Democratic Party and the broad democratic left.

Initial sponsors of the event included Reps. Charles Hayes and Barney Frank, labor leaders William Winpisinger and Jack Sheinkman (ACTWU), Joyce Miller (ACTWU and CLUW) and Jack Joyce, (Bricklayers), feminist leaders Gloria Steinem and Judy Goldsmith and policy analysts Robert Kuttner, Jeff Faux and Eleanor Holmes Norton.

Major Owens addressed the conference.

DSA honor

In 1987 New York City Democratic Socialists of America honored Congressman Major Owens and UAW 259 president Sam Meyers at heir annual Debs-Thomas dinner.[10]

DSA member

Major Owens joined Democratic Socialists of America in February 1987.[11]

As of January 1990, Democratic Socialists of America members holding elected public office included Major Owens;[12]

Major Owens was a long term member of Democratic Socialists of America. From 1994.[13]

Yet the democratic left did not do too badly. Bernie Sanders squeaked back into the House. DSA members Ron Dellums (72%) and Major Owens (89%) were reelected.

"Living Wage, Jobs for all Act"

Nancy.JPG

In 1995, Nancy Pelosi, Bernie Sanders, David Bonior, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Cynthia McKinney, Maurice Hinchey, Major Owens, Nydia Velasquez, John Conyers, Bob Filner, Alcee Hastings, Lane Evans, Edolphus Towns, Jim McDermott, supported Democratic Socialists of America member rep. Ron Dellums' "Living Wage, Jobs for all Act"

Socialist scholars

In 1997 Owens addressed the opening plenary of the annual DSA-sponsored Socialist Scholars Conference at the City University of New York.[14]

DSA endorsement

In July 1996, the Democratic Socialists of America Political Action Committee endorsed Major Owens, NY 11 in that year's Congressional elections.[15]

DSA "People's Hearing on Economic Insecurity"

New York Democratic Socialists of America held a "People's Hearing on Economic Insecurity" on October 28, 1995. The hearing, chaired by Congress members Major Owens and Jerry Nadler, was the second of twelve planned by DSA locals during the next year. With Republicans controlling both Houses of Congress, "progressive" legislation such as Ron Dellums' Living Wage/Jobs for Al1 Act and Bernie Sanders' Corporate Responsibility Act "can't get a hearing these days". Congressman Ron Dellums thus asked DSA to organize town meetings around the country that could begin to "refocus the public debate and unite poor, working and middle-class people around a program for economic justice and growth."[16]

2004 Take Back America Conference

Major Owens was on the list of 114 speakers (which included George Soros) at the 2004 Take Back America conference, which was organized by the Institute for Policy Studies, and Democratic Socialists of America dominated Campaign for America's Future.[17]

Borenstein relationship

Before Democratic Socialists of America member Marsha Borenstein became his Congressional Aide (2003-2007), before he retired from Congress, "before he became my best friend and we went into business together", Borenstein was DSA’s liaison to Owens’ congressional office in Brooklyn.

I wrote and called his office when we wanted him to speak at one of our events. He never turned us down. Having once paid dues he believed himself to be a lifetime member of DSA and never let me forget my affiliation with the organization, interrupting me from time to time when I said something that surprised him, with “Is that the official position of DSA?”[18]

Congress

Owens' work in Congress focused on the need for peace at the international level, ending apartheid in South Africa and restoring democracy to Haiti. Domestically, his focus included the power of education and the need to extend the civil rights struggles to include the less educated, Americans with disabilities and the economically disenfranchised. Some of his accomplishments revolved around funding for historical black colleges and dedicated funding in Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act for parent involvement.[19]

Caucuses

Until his retirement from Congress in 2007 Major Owens was leading member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. He was also a leader of the Congressional Black Caucus, which he chaired in 1995-96.

Progressive Caucus SOTU Address

On Thursday, January 27 2000, from 3:30pm to 5:00pm in 2253 of RHOB, the Congressional Progressive Caucus held its 3rd Annual Congressional Progressive Caucus' State of the Union Address. This event was also sponsored by the Institute for Policy Studies' Progressive Challenge coalition whose Fairness Agenda for America is endorsed by 200 public interest groups nationally.

Caucus Chair Rep. Peter DeFazio(D-OR) stated "The Progressive Caucus Alternative State of the Union will provide a much needed reality check to politicians who would rather ignore the priorities of Americans left out of the economic boom -- priorities like access to quality health care and education, repairing crumbling schools, addressing the growing gap between the rich and poor, and creating a sustainable global economy that works for everyone, not just the corporate architects."

Anticipated speakers included: Peter DeFazio (D-OR), House Minority Whip David Bonior (D-MI), Earl Hilliard (D-AL);Dennis Kucinich (D-OH); Cynthia McKinney (D-GA);. Major Owens (D-NY)Bernie Sanders (I-VT). Tammy Baldwin (D-WI);. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY);Barbara Lee (D-CA); Jerrold Nadler (D-NY); and Lynn Woolsey(D-CA). John Cavanagh, director of the Institute for Policy Studies also made some remarks regarding public interest groups support of a progressive agenda.[20]

The Congressional Progressive Caucus, Chaired by Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), consists of over a quarter of the House Democrats, one Independent and Senator Paul Wellstone. The Caucus will be releasing position papers on Health Care and Income Inequality, with reports on the Alternative Federal Budget, Social Security, Minimum Wage, Education and the Global Economy.

Communist Party connections

Major Owens enjoyed long term ties to the Communist Party USA.

In November 1982, Reps. George Crockett and John Conyers of the Congressional Black Caucus were honored at the Communist Party USA controlled Labor Research Association's Banquet Luncheon. Rep. Major Owens of Brooklyn was also present.[21]

In March 1985 Owens endorsed the National Preparatory Committee for the 12th World Festival of Youth and Students in New York-established to send delegates to an international gathering organized by the Soviet front World Federation of Democratic Youth.

Major Owens YCLUSA conference May 2006

In 2006 Owens addressed a Young Communist League USA convention[22]in Brooklyn.

Determined to fight for a better future and to beat back the ultra-right, over 250 members, friends and allies of the Young Communist League USA gathered at the Marriott Hotel here May 27-29 for the YCL’s 8th National Convention.
Rep. Major Owens (D-N.Y.) welcomed participants “on behalf of all the progressive forces of the nation and the world. To hell with employers who exploit and cause poverty,” he told the crowd. There are people who care about humanity, to stop exploiting workers, who want health care instead of a war in Iraq. I hope your youthful energy can provide the spirit to confront the tough politics ahead.”

In December the same year Owens was honored[23]at the Communist Party USA "Better World Awards".

In New York City, Rep. Major Owens will be honored at the annual “Better World Awards” for his years of progressive struggle in Congress. Also being honored is Betty Smith, president of International Publishers and longtime fighter for peace and democracy. Elena Mora, chair of the N.Y. State Communist Party, will discuss the recent election results.

The New York Friends of the Peoples Weekly World newspaper held its annual Better World Awards Gala May 6 2007, to celebrate the May Day and Cinco De Mayo holidays and to benefit the paper.

2007 Better World Award honorees include New York City Councilman Robert Jackson, and Latino community activist Adolfo Fana. Past honorees and speakers have included former State Assemblyman Frank Barbaro, NY State Senator Bill Perkins, Rev. Lucius Walker of Pastors for Peace, Congressman Major Owens, and many local union and community activists from throughout the state.[24]

During the late 1990s Owens employed James Steele[25] as his Deputy District Director of Organization. Until 1991 Steele was a prominent member of the Communist Party USA and was in 1992 an initial supporter of the Communist Party breakaway Committees of Correspondence.

H.R. 950, the Job Creation and Infrastructure Restoration Act of 1997 was introduced in the 105th Congress on March 5, 1997 by Congressman Matthew Martinez of California. It had 33 original co-sponsors, including Major Owens. The primary purpose of this emergency federal jobs legislation was to provide much needed jobs at union wages to crisis ridden cities by putting the unemployed to work rebuilding our nation's infrastructure (schools, housing, hospitals, libraries, public transportation, highways, parks, environmental improvements, etc. $250 billion is authorized for emergency public works jobs over a five year period.

Congressman Martinez had previously introduced this bill in the last Congress (as HR 1591) at the the request of over 50 prominent Labor leaders who formed the Los Angeles Labor Coalition for Public Works Jobs, which is why it is often referred to as the "Martinez Public Works Jobs Bill."[26]

This is the most significant jobs legislation introduced in Congress since Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal established the Works Progress Administration (WPA). This bill is the WPA-type program for today. It has strong provisions which will put hundreds of thousands of unemployed building trades workers to work as well as provide jobs for victims of plant closures, welfare recipients who are parents, youth, and the long term unemployed. The public works projects which will be established under this bill will be built in communities with the highest levels of unemployment and with the greatest needs.
The goal of the New York Coalition for Public Works Jobs is to build the movement to pass the Martinez Jobs bill as part of the National Labor Coalition for Public Works Jobs. You can help by asking your union, community organization, or local government body to to join those who have already passed resolutions to endorse the bill. Such a resolution has been introduced in the New York City Council. Calling on additional Congressional Representatives to co-sponsor the bill is very important. We will be organizing petition campaigns, visits to elected officials, and demonstrations and other actions for a public works jobs program.

The leaders of the Los Angeles Labor Coalition for Public Works Jobs and its only affiliate New York Coalition for Public Works Jobs, were all known supporters or members of the Communist Party USA.

Los Angeles , National Labor Coalition For Public Works Jobs

A New York affiliate, New York Coalition for Public Works Jobs, c/o Utility Workers Union of America Local 1-2.

Congressional Progressive Caucus

In 1998 Major Owens Democrat was listed as a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.[27]

HR 3000

On September 3, 2003 Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) introduced H.R. 3000, the United States Universal Health Service Act, which would provide health coverage for all Americans. H.R. 3000 would establish a United States Health Service (USHS), which would eliminate profit issues from health care because it would be owned and controlled by the public and administered primarily at the local level.[28]

According to the Communist Party USA's People's World, initial supporters of HR 3000 were Julia Carson, (D-Ind.), Donna Christensen (D-Va.), John Conyers (D-Mich.), Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), Danny Davis (D-Ill.), Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-Ill.), Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), Major Owens (D-N.Y.), Donald Payne (D-N.J.), and Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.).

The World went on to say;[29]

We will not win the United States Health Service without a massive, prolonged struggle by working people against the corporate defenders of the current for-profit health care industry.

Supporting Aristide

On April 7 2004 in the Whitman Theatre at Brooklyn College. A multinational crowd of 2,000, mainly people from Haiti and the English-speaking Caribbean, packed the hall to hear a program entitled "An Evening with Friends of Haiti: The Truth Behind the Haiti Coup."

A broad range of speakers and cultural performers ignited the stage for three-and-a-half hours to express heartfelt anti-imperialist solidarity with the besieged Caribbean country. Haiti has once again suffered a horrific atrocity with the U.S.-orchestrated kidnapping of its democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, on Feb. 29.

The rally was co-chaired by Kim Ives and Karine Jean-Pierre from Haiti Support Network (HSN), with Pat Chin and Sara Flounders from the Workers World Party controlled International Action Center.

Other speakers included Alina Sixto, Family Lavalas New York/Tri-State Area; Rep. Major Owens of Brooklyn; Mario Dupuy, Aristide's state secretary of communication; Don Rojas, Amy Goodman and Bernard White, WBAI-Pacifica Radio; Ray LaForest, Haitian labor organizer, District Council 1707; Brian Concannon, human-rights attorney; Brooklyn College student Starr Bernard; Serge Lilavois, Support Committee for PPN; Los Angeles anti-police brutality activist Michael Zinzun; Dominican activist Marc Torres; and Haitian performers Marguerite Laurent and Phantoms[30].

Paul Wellstone tribute

As the 2004 Democratic National Convention was poised to open in Boston , Jobs with Justice, , hosted a living tribute to the late Senator Paul Wellstone on July 25. Hundreds filled the historic Old West Church to tackle the question, “What must the Democratic Party do to live up to the progressive vision of Paul Wellstone?”

“Paul had the courage to stand the pain that comes with standing for something and not fall for anything,” said United Steelworkers of America union International President Leo Gerard. “That’s what the Democratic Party needs right now. He gave people a reason to fight, to hope.”

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), another panel member, called for “Wellstone Democratic Clubs” to mobilize neighborhoods into the political process to re-order national resources.

Many in the audience were students at Camp Wellstone, a workshop conducted in Boston for prospective candidates and campaign workers conducted by Wellstone’s campaign manager, Jeff Blodgett, also on the panel.

Rep. Major Owens (D-N.Y.) pointed out that too many liberals, including himself, voted for “welfare reform” in 1996. He praised Wellstone as the lone voice defending welfare at the time.

Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner quickly jumped in, igniting the audience with a clarion call for popular direct action to ensure accountability from a Kerry administration. “We need Kerry there and we need to be there to purge the cancer (of the Bush administration) from the soul of the body politic,” he said.

When Horace Small, the moderator, pooh-poohed the importance of trade in this election, Jim Hightower, author and radio personality, nearly jumped out of his seat.

“Tell that to Texas farmers who are losing their farms or workers who have lost their jobs to NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement),” Hightower said. “Who the hell elected the WTO (World Trade Organization)? Right now, in Washington, there are too many 5-watt bulbs sitting in 100-watt sockets. The people are revolting – in the best sense. I think we are going to get George.”

Confessing to once being a Republican, columnist Arianna Huffington reminded the assembly of all the dirty tricks and disgusting tactics that are on the horizon as November nears. Saying that “Mobilization is the key,” she proposed reaching out to the 50 percent of the eligible electorate that stayed home in 2000. “If we are able to just energize 10 percent of those voters, we win.”

The program included the presentation of awards to two attorneys, Julie Patino and Nadine Cohen, both of whom have fought difficult battles to protect affirmative action and voting rights of Massachusetts residents and immigrants. Other panelists included Al Franken, media personality, noted Columbia professor Frances Fox Piven and Anna Burger, vice president of the Service Employees International Union.[31]

United for Peace and Justice

Joan Millman was listed as an endorser of the Jan. 27, 2007 "Act Now to End the War" event, organized by Institute for Policy Studies partner organization, United for Peace & Justice.[32] Also endorsing the event was Democratic Socialists of America, Socialist Party USA, Committees of Correspondence for Democracy & Socialism, National Lawyers Guild, National Organization for Women and the Communist Party USA.[33] At the event, peace activists "converge[d] from all around the country in Washington, D.C. to send a strong, clear message to Congress and the Bush Administration: 'The people of this country want the war and occupation in Iraq to end and we want the troops brought home now!'".[34]

Support for Barack Obama

While the Brooklyn Democratic Party initially backed Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic primary race, Major Owens came out early and strong for Barack Obama.

In October 2007, one day after Hillary Clinton received the endorsement of the Brooklyn Democratic Party, former congressman Owens released this statement

"Obama stands for the concerns of the masses in the black community who have been let down by the broken promises of past leadership. Our leadership on both sides of the aisle has continued to fail us by supporting the war in Iraq and by standing by while poverty, disparities in our healthcare system and lack of affordable education opportunities for young people weaken our communities. It is time to shake loose from the past and Senator Obama’s record shows that he will deliver on his promise to stand up for us in the White House.”

External links

References

  1. [ http://www.dsausa.org/major_r_owens_1936_2013, Dem Left, Major R. Owens, the People’s Congressman (1936-2013) Posted by Marsha Borenstein on 11.18.13]
  2. [ http://www.dsausa.org/major_r_owens_1936_2013, Dem Left, Major R. Owens, the People’s Congressman (1936-2013) Posted by Marsha Borenstein on 11.18.13]
  3. [ http://www.dsausa.org/major_r_owens_1936_2013, Dem Left, Major R. Owens, the People’s Congressman (1936-2013) Posted by Marsha Borenstein on 11.18.13]
  4. [ http://www.dsausa.org/major_r_owens_1936_2013, Dem Left, Major R. Owens, the People’s Congressman (1936-2013) Posted by Marsha Borenstein on 11.18.13]
  5. [ http://www.dsausa.org/major_r_owens_1936_2013, Dem Left, Major R. Owens, the People’s Congressman (1936-2013) Posted by Marsha Borenstein on 11.18.13]
  6. PPW Aug. 10. 1991, page 19
  7. SSE Tenth Annual Conference Program, 1992
  8. Peoples Weekly World, June 31, 1993
  9. PWW October 8, 1994, page 1
  10. Democratic Left, Mar./April 1987 page 16
  11. Democratic Left, May/August 1987, page 14
  12. Democratic Left, Jan./Feb. 1990, page 7
  13. http://www.chicagodsa.org/ngarchive/ng37.html
  14. http://www.mail-archive.com/pen-l@galaxy.csuchico.edu/msg18263.html
  15. Democratic Left, July/August 1996, page 21
  16. Dem. Left November/December 1995, page 7
  17. Our Future website: Take Back America 2004 Speakers (accessed on June 11, 2010)
  18. [ http://www.dsausa.org/major_r_owens_1936_2013, Dem Left, Major R. Owens, the People’s Congressman (1936-2013) Posted by Marsha Borenstein on 11.18.13]
  19. [ http://www.dsausa.org/major_r_owens_1936_2013, Dem Left, Major R. Owens, the People’s Congressman (1936-2013) Posted by Marsha Borenstein on 11.18.13]
  20. Common Dreams, Progressive Groups And Congressional Caucus To Present Their Third Annual Alternative State Of The Union Address, JANUARY 26, 2000
  21. Daily World, Honor Black Legislators, Barry Cohen, November 25, 1982
  22. http://www.pww.org/article/articleview/9242/
  23. http://www.pww.org/article/articleview/10231/
  24. Progressive Newspaper Holds Better World Awards, Press Statement April 10, 2007
  25. Race and politics: new challenges and responses for black activism By James Jennings page 193
  26. [1] The Job Creation and Infrastructure Restoration Act of 1997 (H.R. 950)From the New York State Communist Party 16 March 1997, email list, accessed June 14, 2010
  27. DSA website: Members of the Progressive Caucus (archived on the Web Archive website)
  28. http://lee.house.gov/common/popup/popup.cfm?action=item.print&itemID=641, Lee press release, September 3, 2003]
  29. Rep. Lee introduces universal health care bill, by: David Lawrence October 9 2003
  30. http://www.iacenter.org/Haitifiles/haiti-rally04rept.htm
  31. Wellstone legacy: Stand up and fight, July 31 2004
  32. UFPJ website: January 27th Endorsers -- Individuals (accessed on Jan. 26, 2011)
  33. UFPJ website: January 27th Endorsers -- Organizations (accessed on Jan. 26, 2011)
  34. UFPJ website: Bring the Mandate for Peace to Washington DC on Jan. 27, Nov. 13, 2006 (accessed on Jan. 26, 2011)