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The Living New Deal

The Living New Deal

The Living New Deal has its roots in a book project by Dr. Gray Brechin on the WPA in California, but quickly outgrew the original intent as the vast extent of New Deal public works projects became clear.  In 2005, the project became a team effort to inventory, map, and interpret how the New Deal radically modernized California. After two years as a strictly volunteer operation, the California Living New Deal Project was officially launched in 2007 at the University of California, Berkeley, under the direction of Professor Richard Walker.  This was done in partnership with the California Historical Society (CHS), which helped provide visibility around the state, and the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment (IRLE) at UC Berkeley, where the technical side of the project was developed.  Financial support came from grants by the Columbia Foundation and IRLE.

Living New Deal team, March 2019: Sheila Hembury, Harvey Smith, Bob Leighninger, Elliott Medrich, Richard Walker, Barbara Bernstein, Gray Brechin, Glenna Anton, Dylan Nelson + Susan Ives, Lisa Thompson (in front)

The first order of business was to construct an interactive website that could accommodate a range of data on New Deal public works – photographs, site information, historic documents, personal accounts, etc. – and allow users to access that data through Google maps.  An elegant website was constructed by Elizabeth Camacho and Heather Lynch at the IRLE.  An outreach director, Lisa Ericksen, was hired in 2008-09 to organize workshops to recruit volunteers from historical societies around the state.  Graduate research assistants, Lindsey Dillon and Shaina Potts, filtered and entered data and we passed our first landmark of 1000 New Deal sites across California by early 2010.  The partnerships with CHS and IRLE ended and the project moved to UC Berkeley’s Department of Geography.

In late 2010, we decided to go national; thenceforth, the Living New Deal would cover the entire country – 50 states and several territories.   This bold step required a rapid scaling up of the project, its web presence, project team and financing.  First, the website was completely reconstructed in 2011 by Ben Hass with a more elaborate design using Wordpress.  In 2012, Ben radically overhauled the database and made the map searchable to improve user access to our data. In 2013 he redesigned the home page and data storage.

At the same time, the project team grew in 2011 to include a communications expert, Susan Ives, a fundraising consultant, Adam Kinsey, oral historian and book review editor, Sam Redman, and president of the National New Deal Preservation Association, Harvey Smith.  Meanwhile, Research Assistants Shaina Potts and John Elrick were adding hundreds of new sites to the database and map, mostly from published  documents, ramping up the total to over 2000 by Summer 2012.  Thereafter, significant new donations and grants allowed the Living New Deal to greatly expand its organizational and research capacity.

Fall 2012 marked the arrival of our first Project Manager, Rachel Brahinsky, a postdoctoral fellow at UC Berkeley (funded by a bequest of Ann Baumann of New Mexico).  She made a concerted effort  to locate researchers around the country who could assist us in documenting New Deal sites, and this bore fruit with new regional associates in Maryland, Virginia, Wisconsin, Southern California and Mississippi.  By late 2013, the project had a dozen national associates around the country, and that number passed 30 in mid-2014 and hit 40 by early 2015.  In that year we create a second arm of the Living New Deal as a non-profit, incorporated in California, and received our official non-profit status from the IRS.

By late 2013, the number of documented sites in the database had risen to 5000 and by the end of 2015 it had doubled to 10,000.  (You can track  the expansion of our map at ‘Project Growth’).  More people were finding the Living New Deal  on the web and through Facebook and Twitter.  Our website was named one of the top 10 sites of 2015 by  Web traffic was already rising smartly, but that recognition bumped us up to almost 500,000 Google visits for the year.

By end of 2013, the Living New Deal team had a number of new faces. Rachel Brahinsky moved on to the faculty of the University of San Francisco, Sam Redman joined the history faculty at University of Massachusetts-Amherst and Ben Hass moved on to a full-time IT job. Alex Tarr of the Berkeley Geography Department took over as Project Manager, Susan Ives became our development advisor, and Lisa Thompson came on board as webmaster.   John Stehlin of UC Berkeley became our chief RA and was later joined by Glenna Anton of the Geography Department and the returning Shaina Potts.

When Alex Tarr moved to Rice University in Fall 2014, Gabriel Milner took the job of Project Manager. In 2015, we engaged Brent McKee of West Virginia to carry out research on New Deal history,  Evan Kalish of New York to standardize our site submissions and database, and Chris Carlsson of San Francisco to create a film archive. With the able sleuthing of McKee, Kalish and many Research Associates, the database continue to bulge, reaching 12,000 by the end of 2016 and 14,000 a year later.

McKee added a major new resource to the website in 2015-16: brief introductions to over 60 New Deal programs and 40 New Dealers.  Kalish wrote up detailed formats for project submissions, McKee et al. added advice for researchers, and Milner & Potts created a page on New Deal oral histories. Carlsson & Milner produced a New Deal film and video page.

More new features went up on our website, such as New Deal Smiles (2016),  Working Together (2017) and New Deal Ancestry (2017).  All these required the design and coding talents of Lisa Thompson, our webmaster.

Meanwhile, Kevin Friedly of Indiana began to develop an iPhone crowdsourcing app for the Living New Deal.  A first version (1.0) was ready by the end of 2016 and Friedly and Thompson are at work on a publishable version (2.0) to appear soon (still delayed, alas!)

A new outreach project launched in 2014: a series of hard-copy, printed maps showing the impact of the New Deal on major cities around the country. It began with the publication of a pocket map and guide to New Deal San Francisco late that year, an effort led by Susan Ives, designer Linda Herman and cartographer Garrett Bradford.

In late 2015, we launched a more ambitious project for a pocket map and guide to New Deal New York City, which appeared in Spring 2017. That map covers upwards of 1000 sites in the five boroughs and features 50 key buildings, parks and murals. It was launched with two major events at the Roosevelt House at Hunter College and the Museum of the City of New York in May and it received rave reviews from people and organizations around the city.

In 2017 Erin Reding became our Project Manager when Gabe Milner left for a teaching job in Los Angeles. Elena Ion came on board as Research Manager that year, too, as John Stehlin and Shaina Potts took academic positions elsewhere. When Erin became too busy to continue in 2018, Elena took on the Project Manager job, as well.

A highlight of 2018 was our “Women & the Spirit of the New Deal” conference held at UC Berkeley.  The weekend-long gathering of almost 200 people was a roaring success.  Videos of the speakers can be found on the website.  An important development in 2018 the formation of a New York Living New Deal branch led by Peggy Crane, who assembled a large working group of New York historians and writers.

New additions to our website continued in 2018.  One was a New Deal Inclusion section to counter shallow criticisms of the New Deal on racial grounds.   Another was the creation of our own YouTube video channel to include all of our many videos/films/recordings about the New Deal, including those from the 2018 Conference and our own many lectures and interviews.

Economic Policy Institute- June 2018 Partner Spotlight

Economic Policy Institute

Pictured: Heidi Shierholz, Senior Economist and Director of Policy
The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank created in 1986 to include the needs of low- and middle-income workers in economic policy discussions. EPI believes every working person deserves a good job with fair pay, affordable health care, and retirement security. EPI’s mission is to inform and empower individuals to seek solutions that ensure broadly shared prosperity and opportunity. To achieve this goal, economists and analysts at EPI conduct research and analysis on the economic status of working America and the economic policies that affect their lives, and advocate for policies that protect and improve the economic conditions of low- and middle-income workers.
EPI was the first think tank to focus on the economic condition of low- and middle-income Americans and their families. EPI’s research spans a broad range of economic policy issues, including jobs, wages, and living standards; labor policy; regulation; retirement; federal budget, deficits and taxes; health; immigration; macroeconomic performance; education; public investment; race, ethnicity, and the economy; and trade and globalization. We approach all of our policy issues by documenting the experiences of low- and moderate-income workers and families and asking how public policy can and will impact jobs, economic growth, and the well-being of workers. EPI’s Perkins Project on Worker Rights and Wages, named after Frances Perkins, is a watchdog project EPI established for the Trump era. This project tracks the wage and employment policies coming out of the White House, Congress, and the courts, and keeping an especially close eye on the federal agencies that establish and defend workers’ rights, wages, and working conditions, including the Department of Labor, the National Labor Relations Board, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
When President Roosevelt asked Frances Perkins to become Secretary of Labor in 1933, she said she would accept only if she would be allowed to advocate for legislation that would put a floor under wages, a ceiling over hours, and abolish child labor. She did just that, and eighty years ago this month — on June 25th, 1938 – President Roosevelt signed the Fair Labor Standards Act into law. For more than 30 years, EPI has advocated to preserve and strengthen the rights and protections for working people, like those in the Fair Labor Standards Act, that Frances Perkins fought to establish.

Jobs with Justice- May 2018 Partner Spotlight

Jobs with Justice

Photo: Sarita Gupta, Executive Director, Jobs With Justice
Everyone deserves the freedom to earn a decent living and a have brighter future. Yet millions of individuals today—in particular women, people of color and immigrants—aren’t able to support their families and afford basic necessities because the economy no longer works for workers. But when working people do come together in union, they achieve a fair return on their work. By negotiating collectively, men and women establish standards that improve conditions for people across communities and industries.
Jobs With Justice is a national network expanding people’s ability to come together to improve their workplaces, their communities, and their lives. We create solutions to the problems working people face by leading campaigns, changing the conversation and moving labor, community, student and faith voices to action. With our network of 36 labor coalitions in 22 states across the country, we’re building a movement to ensure more of us can earn a fair return on our work. Jobs With Justice advocates for family-sustaining wages, and fair, safe, and equitable policies and workplaces. We win real change at the national and local levels by challenging corporate greed and demanding an economy that works for all.
Sarita Gupta is the executive director of Jobs With Justice and the co-director of Caring Across Generations, and a nationally recognized expert on the economic, labor and political issues affecting working people across all industries. She is a key leader and strategist in the progressive, labor, economic justice, women’s, and caregiving movements, and in 2016, she received the Open Door Award of the Frances Perkins Center. Her background mirrors that of Perkins’, as well as her commitment to improving the lives of others. Like Perkins, Sarita attended Mt. Holyoke College with a focus on science coursework. However, her career path took a pivotal turn when she began exploring socioeconomic barriers to women’s healthcare, and gained greater exposure to student activism.
Under Sarita’s direction, alongside co-director Ai-jen Poo of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, Caring Across Generations is spearheading a national movement to transform the way we care in this country. By harnessing the power of social action, social media and storytelling, the organization seeks to spark connections across generations and strengthen family and caregiving relationships. As a member of the “sandwich generation,” Sarita is grappling with and speaks to the care issues facing more and more Americans, balancing caring for young children with caring for aging parents.
Elder and child care are becoming critical issues. Our current care system, is costly, broken and unfair. Too often caregivers, who predominantly are women, have to leave their jobs because the burden of family care is not affordable or sustainable. And they often neglect their own health and personal needs. We’re testing out a bigger solution to the care dilemma with Home Care for All in Maine. In November 2018, voters will have the opportunity to pass the first universal home care program in the nation. Home Care for All will ensure all Maine families can access the care they need, invest in care jobs, support family caregivers, and keep vital members of our communities at home. We believe that Frances Perkins would approve of our efforts to dream big in creating programs that address working people’s needs in this era. April 2018 Partner Spotlight, Co-Founders and Co-Directors, Jess Kutch and Michelle Miller sharing tools to empower to today’s workers. is helping to build a labor movement for the 21st century — one that is open to all workers and is powered by data and technology. When workers come together as a digital community and start to discuss the challenges they are facing inside a particular industry or company, they can surface problems that may not be so obvious to one individual worker.
In its four years, has been used by nearly half a million workers participating in hundreds of campaigns on issues ranging from aggressive sales goals, to dress codes, to sexual harassment, to wage theft. For example, employees at a major U.S. retailer led a effort to boost wages in their stores. Through their effort on, they recruited co-workers across the country, generated national media coverage, and enlisted support from elected leaders and community groups. After several months, the employer announced they were boosting wages by 10 to 15 percent in stores across the country. The employees at that retailer have gone on to launch new efforts and are currently urging their employer to commit to raising the wage floor to $15 per hour at stores across the United States.
Over the next few years, we aim to grow the number of workers using our platform and increase the rate of change in workplaces throughout the United States, Canada, and other regions. We believe that, by 2020, it will be possible to have 10 to 15 percent of the workforce of every Fortune 500 company engaging in leadership and advocacy on our platform. This representation would create a power center for workers to identify problems and advocate for improvements across workplaces and industries. If we are successful, we believe it will lead to a true shift in the checks and balances that are currently present in our economy.