Chuck Bell: NJFAN’S Tireless, Thoughtful Vice Chair 

By SHEILA D. COLLINS

Charles (Chuck) Bell wears many hats with the NJFAN. He serves as NJFAN’s Vice-Chair, as legislative affairs specialist, and works to keep the website going and assist in the production of our newsletters. He does all of this on top of a full-time job as Programs Director for Consumer Reports, where he works on a wide range of consumer policy issues, including financial services, auto insurance, student loans, product safety, food safety, digital privacy, and energy efficiency.

A life-long social justice advocate, Chuck comes by this commitment from an early age. His parents were active in social movements for civil rights, peace in Vietnam, and women’s rights. When he was three or four, he remembers that his mother went to sit on the White House steps to call for a nuclear test ban treaty. At the age of eleven or twelve, he attended a teach-in about Vietnam, and in the 1980s, between spells of unemployment, he worked for a food bank and a peace organization in Oregon. Over the course of his life he has championed consumers’ rights, economic justice, affordable housing, clean energy, immigration reform, and peace and opposition to militarism. In addition to his writing for NJFAN, Chuck has published many articles in such publications as the Charlotte Observer, Gannett Suburban Newspapers, the San Francisco Examiner & Chronicle, the Seattle Times, and the Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine.

Chuck has been with the NJFAN (formerly the National Jobs for All Coalition or NJFAC) from its inception. He says: The issue resonated with me because my first real job at the Portland Food Bank was a federally-subsidized public service employment job. I love the idea of expanding job opportunities for everyone who wants to work, by getting the government to invest in infrastructure and social services that are not provided by the private market. That’s a win-win solution for people and the economy as a whole.

When asked how he sees NJFAN’s importance and its focus on a job guarantee Chuck recalled that Sumner Rosen, one of NJFAC’s founders, used to say, “A good job is a consumer’s best friend,” and Chuck says it’s very true. It’s hard to have a decent life if you don’t have two nickels to rub together. There’s a chronic shortage of enough dignified jobs with decent pay and benefits for everyone who wants to work. If workers had a legal right to a decent job, employers would have to pay everyone better and treat workers more fairly. A job guarantee is also a close cousin to other universal economic rights that are vital for a fair economy, such as health care for all, retirement savings for all, and child care for all. And finally, a job guarantee would help us to have a fair transition to a clean energy economy since it would assure that workers who are affected by changes in the energy sector would still have a good place to work.

When Chuck was asked what are his most pressing worry (or worries) about the current political climate in the country and the world, he replied: In his 1968 speech at Riverside Church, Martin Luther King identified the “giant ethical triplets” of racism, poverty, and militarism and pointed out the importance of linking arms across social movements to overcome all three. Unfortunately, we haven’t made as much progress on any of those problems as we need to do. It is astonishing that the US is continuing to waste $1 trillion a year on military spending at a time when homeless people are living in cars and fill the streets of our cities, and when so many Americans still lack health and dental care. We should have implemented a massive program of economic conversion of the weapons manufacturers like Seymour Melman [the scholar and antiwar activist] had proposed and helped other countries to go in that direction. If so, we might have avoided both the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and now the terrible war in Ukraine.

At the same time, there are other huge ethical challenges that have emerged, including the climate and environmental crisis, corporate globalization, a highly polarized media and social media environment, and a global refugee crisis. As we navigate these immense challenges, we must prioritize improving democratic governance and the rule of law because a big chunk of the US political establishment is trying to weaponize social media to promote ethnic and racial polarization. We are really close to losing control of our US institutions to autocrats.

When asked what he thinks are the most important issues today requiring popular mobilization, Chuck replied: If I had to choose three, I would say, moving to a clean energy economy, economic fairness, and racial justice. We can’t get anywhere without economic fairness, so that’s always at the top of the list. It feels like the political polarization we are experiencing in the US and around the globe and then the pandemic that followed and the war in Ukraine, are in a sense a huge distraction from the massively serious climate crisis that will have increasingly serious epiphenomenal consequences. I feel in my heart that tackling the climate crisis has to be policy job #1.

And as for racial justice, at the heart of the political polarization we are experiencing is the denial of fundamental rights to people of color. The right-wing attacks on teachers, librarians, and school systems for even trying to teach about how racism has played out over US history are appalling. We’ve had a fraction of the conversation we should have about policing and mass incarceration, and people are already trying to shut it down. All these years later after Dr. King’s Riverside Church speech, we haven’t had anything like a full reckoning with white supremacy and how it shapes our past and our present.

As another example, I’ve spent the last 15 years or so working for immigration reform with friends in my community. Some of the young Dreamer youth I was working with are all grown up, but they still may not have legal status, and their parents who came to the US to work still have no path to citizenship. The fact that we can’t make a national decision about this is heartbreaking. A fair conversation would recognize that there is so much work that goes on in this country, such as harvesting and producing our food, that would be completely impossible without immigrants. In New York state, we recently created an Excluded Workers Fund to provide assistance to immigrant workers who lost their jobs and experienced poverty during the pandemic. That’s a tiny step forward to recognize our essential workers and to show we are not going to exclude them anymore.

Chuck has worked with a great variety of social justice organizations. He finds working with the NJAN especially rewarding. While a lot of nonprofit organizations and advocacy groups focus on issues that address the harm created by wealth inequality and corporate greed, NJFAN’s positions and policy advocacy aim at the heart of the problem. Like Bobby Kennedy, “We look at things that never were, and say, ‘why not?’’’[1] As difficult as it is to make progress, we have our eyes on the prize. Keep your eyes on the prize. Hold on.

[1] The reference is to Back to Methuselah, by George Bernard Shaw.

Sheila D. Collins is Professor of Political Science Emerita, William Paterson University and a founding member of the NJFAC (now NJFAN) on whose board she serves. The author of numerous books and articles on politics, public policy, social movements, and religion, her latest publication is a biography of a leading human rights activist: Ubuntu: George M. Houser and the Struggle for Peace & Freedom on Two Continents (Ohio University Press, 2020).

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