AMLO outside the Senate, Monday, October 26

Worker's Party Deputy Mario di Costanzo Tears Apart Carstens Economic Plan

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Update II: the PRI against itself

Quick answer to Sunday's quick update: the PRI deputies are in the thrall of the PRI governors - principally Enrique Peña Nieto, he of the hairdo, governor of the state of Mexico and imminent presidential candidate. Those governors (with the exception of one) are all pushing the avalanche of new taxes becuase they've been bought off with assurances that the states will all get new infusions of cash, which they can subsequently funnel right into their campaigns, and Peña Nieto to his presidential campaign (higher taxes=campaign subsidies). The PRI senators, however, are controlled by Manlio Fabio Beltrones (Don Beltrone of DEA drug legends), the other sure-fire PRI presidential candidate, for whom it is urgent to appear as the hero of the people, the defender of the downtrodden against the new taxes pushed so assiduously by his rival. The advantage of having such an ideologically amorphous party is that it's so very easy to come down squarely on both sides of an issue, no fuss, no muss (certainly not for Peña Nieto's hair), no explanations necessary.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Quick Update: Fiscal Package in the Senate

Hold the phone, your taxes aren't raised just yet. It appears that a PRI-PRD alliance in the Senate is working to eliminate the new taxes from the fiscal package the House of Deputies approved late last week. This includes the proposed raising of the IVA value-added tax from 15% to 16%, raising the ISR income tax 2 points on everyone making over 6,400 pesos a month, a 3% tax on telecommunications, and an increase in the tax (and lowering of the threshold) on cash deposits in bank accounts (IDE). This, after a PRI-PAN alliance steamrolled the presidential proposal through the lower house practically unchanged, despite vociferous protests from the Worker's Party (and the usual equivocations from the PRD). Will somebody explain the PRI, please? Are their Senators more liberal than their Deputies? Have they had a change of heart after seeing the public's disgusted reaction to the proposals? Or - and this is most likely - are they simply trying to have it both ways, voting for the presidential proposals in the House in exchange for favors while trying to give a populist veneer to their machinations by tweaking things a bit before the bill inevitably passes? Votes are expected on Monday. Stay tuned....

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Assault on "Luz y Fuerza del Centro": Calderón's Step Too Far?

From the very beginning of his ill-fated administration (bizarre televised midnight ceremony with an off-camera voice mysteriously declaring him to be the new "president" of Mexico, followed by a three-minute, through-the-backdoor appearance in Congress for an express swearing-in), Felipe Calderón has handled himself in the office he did not win with the bragadoccio and swagger of an emotional three year-old. Explosive, rancorous and revengeful, dogged by his own illegitimacy like a mythological tyrant, and with a propensity for hitting the bottle which is one the nation's more open of secrets (it is not for nothing that columnist Julio Hernández López has rebaptized Los Pinos, the presidential residence, as Los Vinos), Calderón has been giving, with ever-increasing frequency, the appearance of not being, as they say in Spanish, in his cinco sentidos. The results of such a catastrophic unfitness for office are in plain view: an economy set to tumble between 7 and 8% this year, the worst performance since the Great Depression; tens of thousands dead from a US-funded 'war on drugs' and millions more terrorized; the 2007 floods of Villahermosa provoked by dangerously-high water levels in reservoirs, the result of the shadow privatization of the electric industry; a tardy, bungled response to the swine flu outbreak; increased debt, higher taxes, a currency that has lost 30% of its value over the past year, and an upper-level bureaucracy which jealously retains salaries and benefits fit, literally, for kings.

All this notwithstanding, Calderón has been sustained in office, precisely as the rag doll (pelele) López Obrador contends him to be, by a combination of what in Spanish is called the poderes fácticos (defined by the Real Academia Dictionary as "those who operate in society on the margins of legal institutions by means of the authority or ability to pressure that they possess, e.g. banks, churches, the press). The "fácticos" in question here are, in addition to the aforementioned, are former president Salinas de Gortari; a fistful of super-rich magnates, beneficiaries of government largesse, tax exemptions, and the government's not daring to break up their comfy monopolies; and the television two-fer of Televisa and Tv Azteca (which could hardly be considered "press," so I'm putting them in a separate category). Although it has been touch-and-go at times, and has been helped by divisions within the institutional and non-instutional left, these powers behind the throne have succeeded for three years in keeping Little Lipe in office and more or less upright.

Events of the past week, however, have called into question how much longer they might be able to pull that off. A week ago Saturday (in Mexican terminology, a sabadazo: a move made on a Saturday, when things are closed, people aren't paying as much attention, and there's no TV news again until Monday), Calderón, by means of a patently unconstitutional decree, dissolved the state-owned electric company, Luz y Fuerza del Centro, throwing 40,000 electrical workers out onto the street in the depths of a recession. This was preceeded, as is standard operating procedure when a public service is on the neo-liberal chopping block, by decades of underinvestment and lapsed maintenance, an 'adjusted' fee schedule which raised rates on irate customers tens of times over, and a well-orchestrated campaign in the media to besmirch the reputation of what is the real target of the company's dissolution: the 90-year-old Mexican Electricians' Union, known by its Spanish initials as the SME. In the weeks leading up to the Federal police occupation of the company's installations (leading to power outages and blackouts, which some of the fired, and supposedly incompetent workers were forced to go back in and fix), story after story railed against the government money being sunk into the company and its union, of the inefficiency, corruption and bloated salaries. Before the ink was even dry on Calderón's decree, the move was hailed as practically an act of patriotism: finally those deadbeat unions getting what they deserved by an administration determined to take on those old, ossified structures of privilege.

The problem, of course, is that the average electrical worker makes 6,000 or so pesos a month, hardly the shower of pesos with which deputies, senators, cabinet ministers and judges bathe themselves daily. And while there is undoubtedly corruption in the SME's upper echelons, there is still more in the unions allied to the administration (Pemex, teachers, etc.), not a hair of whose heads are being touched by Felipe the Brave. No, the sin, as always in Mexico, lies not in being a union (whose armies of workers, properly controlled, can be pressed into service like a president's private army), but in being an independent union, anathema since the days of PRI hegemony. The SME both predates and withstood the historical co-opting of unions by the PRI, which resents them (and has supported Calderón's present manuever) precisely for this reason. Moreover, no amount of anti-union rhetoric in the world can cover up the practical motive underlying the dissolution of Luz y Fuerza: the desire to take hold of the company's fiberoptic network for private gain.

The SME's response, last Thursday, was a large, resounding, and combatitive march through Mexico City to the Zocalo, the largest the city has seen since the days of the desafuero and the protests against the fraudulent 2006 election, a rejection of the government's farcical negotiation terms ("first, accept the liquidation, then we'll talk"), and, by and large, and, by and large, a worker-by-worker refusal to be bought by the administration's offers of cash settlements, English and computation classes. The left appears re-energized, and as well it should, for if the attempt to squash the SME succeeds, one of the last bastions of the post-revolution social contract (that that it was) will be gone, and the left's weakness will have been made evident for all to see. If the left, in fact, cannot rally around the SME and take advantage of the discontent caused by 40,000 workers being summarily thrown out into the street, the worst economy in 70 years, and a host of higher taxes to come that will disproportionately hit the middle class and working poor, and convince the general public that there is a different and better way to go about governing the country, if it can't do this under the current conditions, then the right-wing might as well govern forever, and God help us all.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


There's no two ways about it: it's a stick-up. Mexico's behemoth Finance Minister Agustin Carstens, he of the 3,000 peso-a-day meal stipend, announced a fiscal package yesterday designed to lead the country directly to penury, or revolution, or both. The proposed changes, designed to cover a 299 billion-peso gap between federal revneues and expenses, amount to a torrent of new taxes such as Mexico has never seen in its history. To whit:

1.) Increase of the top income tax band from 28% to 30%. Fine, and even laudable, if this were only to apply to upper-income earners, but, in this case, the increase of the upper band is going to tug all the bands underneath up with it. Result: if you earn over 4,000 pesos a month, the increase is going to affect you as well.

2.) A brand spanking new tax of 2% on all goods and services, food, medicines and books included, called - and get this - "contribution for the fight against poverty". And when I say it applies to everything, I mean everything, including, yes, things already covered by the 15% IVA tax (raising the effective rate to 17%). Viva la double taxation! According to diphead Carstens, the tax will not in fact hit the poor, as the money paid (by them) will go back into programs designed to help them. Plus, "those who consume more will pay more." Appears that Mr. C. doesn't quite get the concept of a regressive tax. In short (and how sad that a poor blogger has to explain basic economics to a finance minister), 2% of a low income (20 pesos less a month for a minimum wage earner of 1,000 pesos) weighs much, much more than 2% of a large income, which can easily absorb it. In Mexico, poor families spend 80% of their income on food; rich families, less than 2%. Taxing food and medicines, even if the full weight of the IVA is not be thrown onto them as originally considered, is a cruel, cruel way to suck a few more centavos disproportionately out of an already impoverished population.

And plus, once a tax like this is in place - this new 2% goods and services tax - it then becomes very easy to surreptitiously raise it in the future to 3%, then 5%, then 10%....

3.) Increase the tax on cash deposits in bank accounts from 2% to 3% and lower the threshold from 25,000 pesos per month to 15,000. The tax, designed to crack down on the informal economy, in effect becomes another poor tax. The wealthy, who do everything by check and electronic transfer, are not affected. It is hardly the poor's fault that Mexico remains such a cash-oriented economy and that bank accounts are so riddled with commissions and hidden costs that nobody in their right mind would want to have anything to do with one, anyway.

4.) Establish another new tax of 4% on the use of telecommunication services: cell phones, cable TV and internet connections. Again (how many times does this need to be said until someone listens?), a regressive tax that will hit harder on lower-income earners. It could be argued that only more affluent people have cable and internet access (not exactly true when you see how many satellite dishes there are in the poorer barrios), but considering how hard it is to get a land-line telephone (thanks Slim), can the same be said about cell phones?

5.) An increase in "sin" taxes: 80 centavos per pack of cigarettes, a 3 centavo increase on beer from 25% to 28%, and a new tax of 3 pesos per liter on spirits with an over-20% alcohol content. As of 2010, the tax on games of chance and drawings would increase from 20% to 30%. Of all the taxes mentioned so far, these are perhaps the most defensible, as they supposedly penalize "bad" behavior which implies a social cost to society. Needless to say, however, they are also REGRESSIVE TAXES.

6.) Last but most insidious of all, the plan seeks to revive the monthly increases on gasoline and natural gas that plagued us throughout 2008 and were suspended in the spring through public pressure. That means that once again, gasoline and gas prices will go up every month, at the least. The idea here is to withdraw subsidies on imported gasoline and gases in order to "harmonize" (what a lovely word) the prices in Mexico with the prices in countries where, say, people earn twenty times as much. This is a classic catch-22: for years, Mexico's neo-liberal governments have systematically dismantled Mexico's productive capacity in energy, refusing to build new oil refineries, sabotaging already-existing operations, and shadow-privatizing as much as they could of the production chain to crony-capitalist price gougers (the buy-gas-from-Peru-at-the-highest-possible-price-through-Spanish-company-Repsol scheme, amply denounced at the time by Andres Manuel López Obrador, is simply one case in point). Now that Mexico has become prostrate at international feet for gas and gasoline, then is the moment they choose to then withdraw the subsidies that have kept the prices moderately affordable until now.

7.) And on top of all this, the government is borrowing more money anyway from the International Monetary Fund, mortaging Mexico's meager future to the same institution that wields its loans like weapons to force hard-pressed countries to sell their national assets wholesale.

It should come as no surprise that the fiscal package does nothing to genuinely touch or tax the exaggerated salaries of the bloated upper bureaucracy that will be sucking down all these new taxes in the first place; does nothing to reduce the generous tax benefits enjoyed by the large corporations - preferential rates, seemingly-indefinite tax deferrments, and deductions to the point that said companies often receive windfalls back at the close of the year in "overpaid" taxes; does nothing to tax the stock-market speculators who did so much to cause the crisis (how about a transaction tax on every stock market transaction, paid by nationals and internationals alike? How about a speculation tax on stocks bought and sold within a very short lapse of time? How about an old-fashioned capital-gains tax?) and who have been making a mint on the Bank of Mexico's dollar auctions designed to prop up the ailing peso.

If approved by Congress, the new taxes will cause Mexico's economy, already set to fall between 7-8% this year, to flatline. This will depress tax receipts even further, creating new gaps which, if precedent serves as any guide, will be filled - or attempted to be filled (keep your eye on the moving target) by still more of the same. Meanwhile, Rome burns, and Felipe, on his balcony, plays the violin.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Howling with the Wolves

The recent silence from this blog is, more than anything else, semantic in origin, to whit: what need is there to 'Deconstruct' Mexico when, as recent reports have amply demonstrated, Mexico is doing its damndest to deconstruct itself? According to the government's own agency INEGI, the economy collapsed 10.3% in annual terms during the second trimester of this year, the worst drop in 70 years, worse even than the Tequila crisis of 1995. But not to fear: Mexico's one major growth industry (no, not the flu) - poverty - is doing better than ever. According to the World Bank, ten million Mexicans have slipped into poverty between 2006 and 2009, raising the total number of officially poor to 54.8 million, over half of the country's entire population of 107 million. Of the 8.3 million new poor coined in Latin America by the crisis, half of them can be found here. In the midst of such suffering, the government comes out with a whiz-bang idea sure to lift all boats: a new ID card, with fingerprints and biometric information so everybody knows who, and how poor, you are! Meanwhile, the drug bloodbath continues unabated; on a visit to Colombia, the Little Napoleon applauds the US plan to further expand its military presence there, than tries to weasel out of having done so (not to worry, once the transformation of Mexico into Colombia II is complete, there will be no further need for him to travel south and genuflect before Urribe); and when even the "left-wing" government of Mexico City is privatizing water services - in the face of all this, this blog, too, has been one more victim of the torpor.

For his part, López Obrador is doing his best to turn himself into a dyed-in-the-wool oaxaqueño: for the next several months, he will be visiting all of the four hundred-odd muncipalities in the state governed through "usos y costumbres," or town-meeting assemblies, rather than through the party system. This on the heels of his visit, over the last two years, to every one of the over two thousand municipalities in the entire country governed (and I use that word very loosely) through the political party system. Now while these actos de presencia are obviously useful in keeping Obrador's profile high and proving to people that he penetrates into the poorest parts of the country where politicians practically never show there faces, a skeptical mind must inquire as to the organizational value (and the word incessantly on his lips is "organization," building a national organization that won't be caught flat-footed when the next fraud comes along) of making five or six whistlestops a day, making a short, campaign-style speech in each town, and then off to the next. Previously, at all of Obrador's stops, computer modules were set up to enroll people into the "legitimate government" and thus build that national organization, though I understand that has been suspended for the time being (in my and my wife's case, we enrolled in the legitimate government over a year ago and have not been subsequently contacted by anyone, not even a mass e-mail mailing - organization?). Clearly, the movement is organizing in some fashion - there are municipal committees, regional committees, etc. but one can only wonder if it will be enough.

Obrador's other reason for being here is the back-scratching alliance he has formed with Gabino Cué, currently a senator for the Convergencia Party for Oaxaca. In exchange for Obrador's support in Cué's second run for governor in 2010, Cué if he were to win, would provide a base of support for an Obrador candidacy in 2012 (as I mentioned in the last post about "out-of-control federalism", having governors on your side helps a lot in campaigns). All this is well and good - alliances are the mother's milk of politics - but recall, Cué started out in the PAN before becoming a Convergencista and Obrador ally, and it is difficult to conceive how a Cué governship would provide a sea change for Oaxaca (although anything, a pile of dung perhaps, would be better than the current horror). Recall that back in 2006, in the depths of the post-electoral crisis and protests, Obrador ran to Chiapas to help Juan Sabines, a PRIista turned PRDista in this case, get elected governor there, and Chiapas, three years later, is in no way the better for it. One starts to wonder, in short, how much Obrador, despite his anti-institutional rhetoric, is still caught in the stick spiderweb, the illusory maya, of party politics, to the detriment of a more genuine (less contaminated, perhaps) form of consciousness-raising and movement-building. Not to be idealists - in the current scheme of things, a connection with parties is necessary for any viable movement; where the greater danger lies, however, is in the movement being subsumed by the party and its aspirations. And the revolving-door system of party affiliations in Mexico only serves to spin the heads of the public and make them ever-more cynical about anybody standing in any party for any office.

Él que con lobos anda a aullar se enseña goes the expression in Spanish. He who runs with wolves soon learns to howl. What remains to be seen is if the national movement headed by López Obrador will prove to be more than just another electoral vehicle which, by participating in a rotten system, legitimizes and ultimely perpetuates it.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Election Round-Up

The PRI victory in last week's legislative elections (36.68% to 27.98% for the PAN and 12.20% for the PRD) can be seen through a variety of prisms:

1.) Mexico as the battered wife, worn down by decades of rising wealth inequality, strength sapped by the emigration of its youngest and strongest to the United States, and even more brutally beaten over the last three years by a road-to-nowhere war against drugs that has sent 12,000, including 12 federal policeman just a few days ago in Michoacan, to their graves in various bits and pieces. After experimenting with life on her own (Mexican democracy 2000-2006 RIP) and finding it, with its frauds, corruption, violence and social unrest, not so easy to manage solo, the bruised wife returns, humilliated, to the devil she knows. Better a regular - and predictable - beating that's been going on for 80 years than having to work things out in a brave, new, PRI-free world. Oh, what a wonderful world that would be...

2.) People didn't really vote for the PRI at all. Well, think about it. Overall turnout was about 44% of registered voters, somewhat higher than the direst predictions of absentionism, but nevertheless, well over half of voters steered well clear of the polls. Of those, over 5% spoiled their ballot papers and 64%, in total, voted against the PRI. Do all the math (somebody else did; I didn't), and about 16% of Mexicans on election day actually went out and voted PRI. They just voted for everybody else even less.

3.) The PRI's never really left power in any event. Ever since the fraudulent administration-less-one of Salinas de Gortari, the PRI cleverly started to allow themselves to lose in certain parts of the country, although retaining control of the strings behind the scenes. Thus, the first gubernatorial wins for the PAN in the 90's and the first municipal victories for the PRD. In this lens, the great "democratic transition" of 2000 was a big sound-and-light show for international consumption, for the oligarchic elite was barely affected a ripple by it, and although a few PRI bureaucrats lost their jobs, the larger interests simply merged smoothly into the PRIAN. After the magna-fraud of 2006, the PAN required the presence of the PRI in Congress for the Little Napoleon to take his Flash-Gordon oath of office, and the PRI hasn't stopped blackmailing them with it ever since.

4.) In a phrase: out-of-control federalism. The PRI may have nominally lost control of the federal government (see point 3 above), but they still control the large majority of governerships, a fact which was further reinforced last week, where the PAN lost just about everything they could possibly lose, and the hapless PRD saw three of its gubernatorial candidates decline in favor of other candidates before the elections even took place! Just as the case of Oaxaca 2006 showed that "sub-national authoritarianism" can be just as brutal, or more so, than federal authoritarianism, the elections of 2009 reinforced the fact that state money can just as well be illegally diverted to vote-buying and palm-greasing as federal money can. In Mexico, the federal government subsidizes a large part of state budgets, but its powers of audit over those very funds are extraordinarily weak. Ergo: effectively blank checks being sent out to all 32 states on a regular basis. Free tacos and a bus ride to the polls, anyone?

And to conclude, the "Deconstructing Mexico" award for the most singular electoral event of 2009 goes to the Mexico City delegation of Ixtapalapa. Here, in a classic example of let's-do-anything-to-screw-López Obrador, the unholy collusion of the "New Left" (Ni Izquierda; see my previous post), Felipe Calderon and his cronies on the Federal Electoral Tribunal did everything in their power to thwart the wishes of the electorate, and came out with egg on their respective faces. The story: Ixtapalapa, population two million, is one of the poorest of Mexico City's delegations. In the primary elections for the PRD (which retained its pre-eminent position in the City in the most recent elections) for the city assembly, the two factions of the party sparred in open combat: the New Left vs. the United Left (Izquierda Unida), the Obrador-supporting bloc led by Alejandro Encinas. In the primary, the United Left candidate, Clara Brugada, handily defeated the New Left candidate. With support from above, the New Left candidate appealed - after the legal deadline for so doing had expired - her appeal was accepted by the Federal Tribunal after being rejected by all local courts, and surprise! the Federal Tribunal (if anyone still has any illusions about their objectivity, please look into medication) annulled just enough precincts to erase the 5,000 vote margin and hand the victory to Brugada's opponent, although they waited long enough so that the ballots had already been printed with Brugada's name as the putative PRD candidate! The response was swift and organized: in a matter of weeks, López Obrador rallied his supporters to vote for the Worker's Party (PT), which candidate, in the case that he won, agreed to decline in favor of Brugada taking her rightful seat. In sum, voters in a very poor district had to be informed in a couple of short weeks that, if they wanted to vote for Clara Brugada, they were going to have to vote against Clara Brugada, even though Clara Brugada's name was going to be on the ballot. Confused? The voters of Ixtapalapa weren't. Turning their backs on the PRD, they handed the Worker's Party a handy majority in last week's elections, Clara Brugada goes to the Assembly despite everything against her, and López Obrador remains in the ring for one more round.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Coming Electoral Debacle

Mexico slips and slides towards its July 5th mid-term election rendez-vous with belief in the legitimacy of the electoral - or any other governmental - institutions at an all time low. Turnout is expected to be an anemic 30% at best, and of that 30%, a growing campaign to spoil the ballot paper with one big X is gaining ground even among people who usually don't agree on anything else. The result could be - even given the highly dubious premise of an above-board election - a pack of 500 diputados (deputies, members of Mexico's lower house known as the Camara di Diputados) each elected by a third or so of 30%, plus the ballot spoilers, making for a plurality of less than 10% of the adult, voting-age population in their districts.

Low turnouts, of course, help the party with the best get-out-the-vote machine and core of loyal - or simply purchased - voters (known in Mexico as the "hard vote," or voto duro, traditionally made up of loyal "unions" and other organizations whose members vote as blocs), and the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, has 70+ years of experience in getting people to mark their any means necessary. As for the foundering PAN, eager to avoid an argument over the tanking economy, the tack continues to be to point menacingly at enemies within and without: viruses (I saved the world from swine flu, contends an inebriated-looking Calderon on national television) and drugs (Support the President in his fight against organized crime, implores party propoganda) and to count on a potential alliance with the national teachers' union headed by Elba Esther Gordillo and good, old-fashioned governmental vote-rigging to avoid an otherwise-cataclysmic result. And as for the floundering PRD (the PAN founders, the PRD flounders), divided between the New Left (Nueva Izquierda or "NI," which columinst Julio Hernández has suggested truly stands for Ni Izquierda: Not the Left) -which with outside help and yet another baseless ruling by the Electoral Tribunal has taken control of the party machinery - and supporters of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, "divided we fall" takes on a whole new, and imminent meaning.

In response to the New-Left hijacking of the PRD, and the refusal on its part to re-establish the three-party "Por el Bien de Todos" coalition of 2006, López Obrador has been urging his supporters in most of the country to vote for the other two members of that coalition: Convergencia and the Worker's Party, or PT. The strategy here is two-fold: first, to spank the national PRD machinery, led by Jesus Ortega, and the state parties in places where they have effectively sold out (Obrador is supporting PRD candidates only in Mexico City and his home state of Tabasco); and second, to ensure that the other two parties get enough votes to maintain their registros - or registries, government funds for parties that exceed a 2% vote threshold. This is all part of Obrador's one foot in-one foot out dance with the party he helped found - hoping to be the party's standard bearer once again in 2012 by maintaining other avenues open in case the path becomes blocked if anyone by Mexico City mayor Marcelo Ebrard, who has already all-but-openly declared his candidacy, as well as to maintain a loyal wedge of deputies in Congress over and against the Ortega-ite wing of the PRD, known as the Chuchos.

So look for a new Congress with the PRIAN (the PRI-PAN duopoly) majority at least as large as the current one, if not larger, with the coopted sectors of the PRD added on, leaving little room open to the citizens' movement that struggled so hard, and successfully, to avoid PEMEX being privatized in the last session. Look for PEMEX privatization to be back on the table, as well as the proposal killed off in the Fox years to extend the value-added IVA tax to food and medicines, another blow to a recession-weary public, and Calderon's continued push for expanded executive powers that has even Senator 'Don' Beltrones openly worried about the progression of the nation in the direction of fascism (see Calderon's machine-gun military arrests of ten elected officials in Michoacan, without charges). In legislative terms, in short, things do not bode well for the next three years. What the non-party movements will be able to achieve on the streets through their activism is the only speck of hope on a gray legislative horizon.