Jon Liss

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Jon Liss


Jon Liss... has organized for racial and social justice in Virginia for the last 30 years. Between 1979-1981, he organized for the creation of an African American Studies department as a student at the University of Virginia. He graduated with a B.A. in History in 1981, and continued his organizing for US divestment in the South African Apartheid regime. From 1983-1984, he served as an elected leader of a taxi drivers association. In 1986, Jon co-founded Tenants and Workers United (TWU), a low-income racial and gender justice organization based in the Arlandria-Chirilagua neighborhood. Jon served as the Executive Director of TWU until 2011. In 2007 he co-founded New Virginia Majority and currently serves as both a board member and as the organization’s Executive Director. Jon and his wife Vicky Menjivar have been married for 26 years. [1]

He is a member of Freedom Road Socialist Organization, and Executive Director of New Virginia Majority.

Background

Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1958 Liss is of "eastern European Jewish" heritage. When his father, an architect, relocated to Falls Church, Virginia the family followed. Jon "grew up Jewish in what was then the South."

Liss graduated from Falls Church’s Marshall High School—and the University of Virginia. A history major, he became intrigued with Virginia’s past. "The old ways" are synonymous with the old Confederacy.

Liss is committed to affordable housing, human rights, and fair employment practices. He is credited with the city’s 1990 hiring of ten bilingual police officers.

"When I graduated from college I knew I did not want a corporate job," Liss explained. "My history degree prepared me to be a taxi driver so I went to work for the Falls Church Yellow Cab Company. It wasn’t long until I was organizing, fighting for drivers’ rights."

"We were union affiliated, the Communications Workers of America, and to make a long story short I was fired." Liss continued. "Law suits ensued and it took a while for things to settle." Jon later organized Alexandria’s driver-owned Union Cab Cooperative.

Liss’ achievements are many. The Ford Foundation in 2003 gave Jon, and four colleagues, its Leadership for a Changing World Award. The Award, including a $100,000 prize, assisted in "fighting what they call ‘Jim Crow II’—meaning discrimination against low-income people, especially immigrants."

"Many people, including African-Americans and new immigrants, are still living with the legacy of slavery," the Award application said, "and they are still learning their rights." Liss speaks "of a wave of anti-immigration ordinances," especially in Prince William County.

"People of color are from the global south, African-American, or born in Africa," Liss explained. "They have a right to city space." According to the 2010 Census Alexandria is 16.1% Hispanic, 21.8% black or African-American. "Race is a social construct," Liss said. "We are a salad bowl not a melting pot. Most segregation problems, issues in the city, are about white people leaving or self-segregating."

Liss, until December 31, 2010, served as Executive Director of Tenants and Workers United. Jon was a co-founder. Established in 1986, TWU is the largest member-based, low-income community organization in Northern Virginia. Its mission "is...to develop multi-racial leadership for social and economic justice, and to democratically control or own community resources including housing, education and health care." In 1990 TWU’s budget was $3,000. Today its operating budget is $1.1 million.

Tenants and Worker’s United was born in response to a Washington Post article detailing mass evictions in Alexandria’s Arlandria section near Four-Mile Run. Many of the residents "were Salvadoran, victims of gentrification." In 1996 Liss and the TWU solved the problem, in part, by establishing a resident-owned housing cooperative known as Chirilagua. TWU’s constituency is primarily Hispanics.

Among Liss’ other accomplishments: passage of Virginia’s first Living Wage legislation (Alexandria and Arlington), education reform including the creation of a bilingual immersion program, and formation of the nationally-organized Right to the City Alliance.

He was a founding member and is currently the Executive Director of Tenants and Workers United and V a founder and steering committee member of the Right to the City Alliance. Previously, Jon was involved in a number of grassroots organizations in Virgina, including: Proceso de Educación Popular, the Rainbow Coalition/Jesse Jackson Presidential Campaign, Northern Virginians Against Apartheid and the Fairfax County Taxi-drivers Association.[2]

New progressive majority

New Virginia Majority is TWU’s sister organization. Liss’ goal is "to patch together a new progressive majority in Virginia." The political agenda includes universal healthcare, better public education, and immigration reform. In 2008 VNW reached "more than 100,000 homes in Virginia’s 11th Congressional District."

"A New Majority is not outside the realm of possibility," Liss said. "So what if some politicians drive us like a corkscrew. We’re advocating for a different kind of Virginia."

From New Virginia Majority’s website: "Founded in August 2007, VNM breaks from Virginia's old history of racism and corporate domination. We build on the best democratic traditions…we work to create a new and modern political system…We build power by organizing the diverse peoples of the Commonwealth." Jon argues "people first," allies with "progressives" and favors "the progressive tax."[3]

FRSO recruitment

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Circa 1988 Freedom Road Socialist Organization compiled a "White Contact" list. It comprised of people Freedom Road would like to work with or to recruit.

The list included Jon Liss, former Progressive Student Network activist. Good friend of John Allocca.

Forward Motion

Jon Liss of the Tenants Support Committee in Alexandria Virginia, contributed an article to Freedom Road Socialist Organization's Forward Motion December 1993 "Power in the community."

1993 NCIPA National Steering Committee

As of Spring 1993, the National Committee for Independent Political Action Steering Committee included Jon Liss.

Socialists Urge End of Fragmentation

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96-06-26 an email was sent from David McReynolds and several other socialists, headed "Socialists Urge End of Fragmentation"

The following open letter has been sent to the organizations listed below.
The letter was drafted by Ethan Young, who has been connected with Crossroads, in consultation with a number of concerned individuals in all of the groups listed.
Fraternally,
David McReynolds, member, Socialist Party USA, New York City, June 26, 1996

To: The National Convention of the Committees of Correspondence

As members of the groups listed above, we have joined together out of concern for the future of the organized socialist left. We have two concrete proposals that are being submitted to all of our groups simultaneously, so that they might be discussed and, if accepted, acted on as soon as possible.
1. We propose that joint regional meetings of our six groups be organized for members and invited individuals, as outlined in the June 1996 issue of CROSSROADS.
2. We propose that organizing begin immediately for a national conference of socialist youth in Fall 1997, initiated by the youth members and affiliates of the six groups, but open to co-sponsorship by other agreed-upon groups and individuals.

Reforming taxi industry

In 2003, after more than a year of discussion and several public hearings, the Alexandria City Council decided to make no substantive changes to the city’s taxicab system. However, last year, a new council with four new members decided to look at the issue again. Council members Rob Krupicka and Ludwig Gaines began work to devise a system that is acceptable to drivers, companies and taxicab users alike.

“We have had several meetings with all of the parties that are involved and plan to present a new proposal to City Council later this month,” Krupicka said. “We fully understand that no one proposal is going to give everyone involved everything they want. However, we hope that everyone will come away with having gotten something. This entire process is about compromise and a willingness to work together.”

Working together has become more complicated because of a split among the drivers. The Alexandria United Taxi drivers Organization was previously a group under the auspices of the Alexandria Tenant and Workers Support Committee. This summer, Kathleen Henry, who worked for TWSC as an organizer and who was the contact person with AUTO, left TWSC and formed her own organization. That organization is AUTO Inc. and she is the president. Jon Liss, the executive director of TWSC, is working with a group of drivers known as AUTO/TWSC.

“We have about 200 drivers who are with us,” Henry said. “We believe that the time for talking is over and that it may now be time to file lawsuits. Several of these drivers have been talking to City Council for many years and council just doesn’t seem willing to listen, at least not to us.

“When I met with Councilmen Krupicka and Gaines, they told the drivers that they had to get rid of me. That’s also part of the split with TWSC. When TWSC got the $300,000 from the city, I believe that Jon was told he needed to curtail his political activities. That group of drivers who are with TWSC are, shall we say, maybe more civil. We just want to take some action,” Henry said.

Gaines denied making any such demand. “That is just complete nonsense,” he said. “Kathleen simply wants to go in a direction that we are not willing to go and the fact that she could make such accusations speaks volumes.”

Liss admitted THAT there was a split and that it is not amicable. “We are proceeding to work with Councilmen Gaines and Krupicka toward the goal of reforming the city’s taxi system,” Liss said. “We are proceeding based on a proposal that was approved based on a democratic vote.

“We know that we aren’t going to get everything we want but we are optimistic, based on our meetings, that we can begin to take real steps toward reform,” he said.

Liss said that TWSC is working with a group of multinational drivers who comprise 70 to 80 percent of all taxicab drivers in the city. He responded to Henry’s accusations about being urged to decrease the organization’s “political” activity.

“Our disagreement with Kathleen had nothing to do with our getting a loan from the city for our new building,” Liss said. “Her accusations are outrageous and are coming from a disgruntled ex-employee.” The $300,000 was given to TWSC in the form of a 99-year loan to purchase a new facility on Mt. Vernon Avenue. City Council approved the loan during budget deliberations last May.[4]

Freedom Road magazine

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Special thanks f Freedom Road Socialist Organization's Freedom Road magazine Number 1, Spring 2001 went to Cameron Barron, Scott Braley, Ajamu Dillahunt, Bill Capowski, Mike Meiselman, Rajiv Rawat, Vicky Menjivar, Michelle Foy, Jon Liss, Chip Smith.

Electoral politics

March 2009 Mimi Carter was "the clear winner in tonight’s forum for Alexandria school board candidates from District A".

Sponsored by Tenants and Workers United, candidates shared their plans for Alexandria schools and how they would address the achievement gap for Latino and African American students.

Mimi spoke about the benefits of expanding early childhood education in the city, the need to hire more bilingual front office staff and offer more translation services, and her plans to get parents more involved with their children’s education.

“Nearly 70% of our student body is Hispanic or African American,” Mimi said, “and the challenges they face affect us all. I appreciate the work Tenants and Workers have done to elevate these important issues and the leadership of Vicky Menjivar, Jon Liss, Ruth Dinzey, Evelin Urrutia and the rest of Tenants and Workers team.”[5]

National Leading From the Inside Out Alum

Jon Liss, Executive Director, Virginia New Majority, was a 2010 Rockwood Leadership Institute National Leading From the Inside Out Alum.[6]

Right to the City

Gilda Haas, Gihan Perera and Jon Liss, conceived of the Right to the City Alliance.[7]

Right to the City leadership

In 2010 Right to the City gave thanks and appreciation to the hard work of outgoing Steering Committee members: Denise Perry, Dawn Phillips, and Rickke Mananzala. At the 2010 U.S. Social Forum, the membership elected a new Steering Committee, consisting of: Anita Sinha, Advancement Project; Jon Liss, Tenants and Workers United/New Virginia Majority; Kalila Barnett, Alternatives for Community and Environment; Alicia Garza, POWER; Mark Swier, Mothers On The Move; Eileen Ma, Korean Immigrant Workers Association; Yvette Thierry, Safe Streets Strong Communities; Gihan Perera, Miami Worker Center/Florida New Majority; and Leonardo Vilchis, Union De Vecinos.[8]

RTTC Regional Contacts 2014

Right to the City Regional Contacts 2014.

Center for Labor Renewal

In 2009 Jon Liss was listed as an endorser of the Center for Labor Renewal[10].

Meeting on Community Organizing

A "Meeting on Community Organizing, Civic Participation & Racial Justice" - organized by the Philanthropic Initiative for Racial Equity December 2011, Washington, DC.

Attendees

"A stronger global movement"

Sunday 18 November 2012, in Washington DC The Lucy Gonzalez Parsons Institute for Education and Justice convened "How can we build a stronger global movement, and what will it take to win? Hear perspectives on movement building from the US and the Philippines!"

With Bill Fletcher, Jr. Author, They’re Bankrupting Us! And 20 Other Myths about Unions Co-Author, Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path toward Social Justice, Barbara Ehrenreich Author, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America and Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream, and Elmer Labog (via video) National Chairperson, Kilusang Mayo Uno, May First Workers Center in the Philippines.

Those signalling there intention to attend via the Wherevent website included Jon Liss, Cameron Barron, Graziela Santos, Samantha Miller, Sapna Pandya, Jane English, Naomi Demsas, Mishy Leiblum, Mackenzie Baris, Virginia Leavell, Betty Garman Robinson, Walda Katz-Fishman, Lillian Diallo, Liana Dalton, Rosa Lozano, Isaiah Toney, Rishi Awatramani, Shane Stewart, Chuck Hendricks - most of whom were associated with the Freedom Road Socialist Organization.[12]

"How to Organize a City"

How to Organize a City: Bill Fletcher, Jr., Jon Liss, and Gihan Perera in conversation, Thursday, April 25, 2013 from 6.30 – 8.30 pm in the Recital Hall - The Graduate Center, CUNY. Free and open to the public.

How can urban social movements cohere with existing institutions of power, from unions to local government? As importantly, how can movements collaborate with each other to achieve broader, systemic changes? Can these movements and political projects realistically be anti-capitalist? Activists and leaders Bill Fletcher, Jon Liss, and Gihan Perera will discuss these issues in an open forum.

Moderated by David Harvey, Director of the Center for Place, Culture and Politics.[13]

"Third Reconstruction?"

August 2, 2013 Bob Wing published an article in Counterpunch, on organizing in the South "Rightwing Neo-Secession or a Third Reconstruction?"

Special thanks to my lifelong colleagues Max Elbaum and Linda Burnham and to Jon Liss, Lynn Koh, Carl Davidson, Ajamu Dillahunt, Raymond Eurquhart and Bill Fletcher, Jr. for their comments, critiques and suggestions.

Left Strategies Collective

The Left Strategies Collective was founded to create conversation within the Left around strategy development. Between 2013-2014, the Left Strategies Collective conducted a number of national calls bringing people together to talk about issues such as Worker Organizing in the 21st century, and Lessons from the Moral Mondays movement.

Left Strategies Collective members: Rishi Awatramani, Jake Carlson, Bill Fletcher, Jr., Jon Liss, Garry Owens, Biju Mathew, Merle Ratner, Claire Tran, Helena Wong.[14]

Attacking Uber

Circa 2014, Jon Liss of New Virginia Majority and Tenants and Workers United wrote a position paper "Uber and the Degradation of Working Class Jobs. " Special thanks to Andy Rivera, Cameron Barron, Stephen Boykewich and especially Denise Cheng for editing support.

This position paper was produced as a part of the Future of Work Project, an inquiry supported by the Open Society Foundation that is bringing together a cross‐disciplinary and diverse group of thinkers to address some of the biggest questions about how work is transforming, and what working will look like 20–30 years from now. The project is exploring how the transformation of work, jobs, and income will affect the most vulnerable communities, and what can be done to alter the course of events for the better.[15]

Ear to the Ground Project

Ear to the Ground Project;

We would like to express our deep respect and appreciation for everyone who took the time to talk with us, and the organizations that generously hosted us during our travels. Interviews were confidential, but the following people have agreed to have their names listed for this publication:

Most of those listed were connected to Freedom Road Socialist Organization.

Jon Liss was among those on the list. [16]

Liss/VPSN connection

Virgina Student Power Network works closely with Jon Liss and his New Virginia Majority.

Revolutionary Strategies to Beat the Rising Right Wing

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Revolutionary Strategies to Beat the Rising Right Wing, was a nationwide conference call organized by Freedom Road Socialist Organization, Sunday October 30, 2016.

What's the nature of this right-wing threat? What has this election cycle changed about the political terrain we're fighting on? How do we need to prepare for whats coming after the election? Hear about these crucial questions from our panel of top political strategists, including Nelini Stamp, Bill Fletcher, Jr., Linda Burnham, and Sendolo Diaminah.

Those invited, on Facebook included Jon Liss.[17]

Beyond Bernie

Beyond Bernie: Electoral Strategy for an Independent Left

April 2019 Organizing Upgrade pulled together leaders and activists from many of the most important movements of the left electoral upsurge to discuss both short- and long-term electoral strategy. The recent resurgence of electoral engagement amongst the social movement and party left in the US is inspiring and full of potential, but still lacks a shared strategy across the groups leading the charge. Moving past the mainstream media focus on the presidential horserace, we talk to organizers on the front lines about the current state of this movement sector, and critical interventions that independent left organizers can make to move this work forward.

The strategy session included*:

The discussion was moderated by Rishi Awatramani and Linda Burnham.[18]

References

  1. http://newvirginiamajority.org/about/staff NVB staff, accessed November 2015]
  2. [http://www.war-times.org/jon-and-rishi-new-kids-bloc War Times, JON AND RISHI: New Kids on the Bloc Feed_item created by Anonymous (not verified) on March 10, 2016 Written by: Editor | Published in: Community Organizing]
  3. [http://www.alexandrialegends.com/Legend/jon-liss Living Legends of Alexandria, Jon Liss 2011 Jon Liss: democrat with a small d.
  4. Connection Taxi Reform Back On City Agenda More control for drivers seen as part of issue. Wednesday, October 6, 2004
  5. Wins First Candidate Forum! Posted on March 19, 2009 by Joseph LaMountain
  6. [1]
  7. City, In Virginia…Desperately Seeking Spatial Justice Filed under Analysis by admin on December 8, 2010 at 9:23 pm no commentsby Jon Liss
  8. RIGHT TO THE CITY ALLIANCE, MONDAY, JANUARY 3, 2011 The Right To The City Alliance: Year 2010 at a Glance By Anita Sinha
  9. http://righttothecity.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/FundersGuide.pdf RTTC Funders Guide, 2014]
  10. http://www.centerforlaborrenewal.org/?P=EN
  11. Philanthropic Initiative for Racial Equity
  12. Wherevent Lucy Gonzalez Parsons Institute for Education and Justice event 18 November 2012
  13. to Organize a City: Bill Fletcher, Jon Liss, and Gihan Perera in conversation[Center for Place, Culture and Politics
  14. Oregon Socialist Renewal blogspot, The Audacity to Win: A Call for Strategy for the US Left Posted by admin on June 11, 2015
  15. "Uber and the Degradation of Working Class Jobs. "
  16. Ear to the Ground, About, accessed Nov. 12, 2015
  17. FB Revolutionary Strategies to Beat the Rising Right Wing Went 109
  18. Organizing Upgrade, Beyond Bernie: Electoral Strategy for an Independent Left