New Jersey is a One Party State

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The race for governor of New Jersey is the most important election of 2017.  With so much at stake you might think the people would have a real choice, and they do, its just not the choices presented by the Democrats and Republicans.

When it comes down to what really matters — power and money — New Jersey is run by machine politics and the insiders know how to wheel and deal.  Power in the Garden State is managed by a shifting alliance of political machines, ready to cut deals, share power and scratch each others back.  At least that is how its been since Chris Christie came to rule the roost.

60 Democratic officials endorsed Christie in 2013, including major Democratic machine bosses.

Let that sink in. 60 elected Democrats endorsed Christie.

In one of the best pieces of investigative reporting ever written on New Jersey politics Alec MacGillis states:

Christie owes his rise to some of the most toxic forces in his state—powerful bosses who ensure that his vow to clean up New Jersey will never come to pass. He has allowed them to escape scrutiny, rewarded them for their support, and punished their enemies. All along, even as it looked like Christie was attacking the machine, he was really just mastering it.

MacGillis continues to describe the gears and wheels of the machine:

In most of the United States, the big political machines have been broken, or reduced to wheezing versions of their former selves. In New Jersey, though, they’ve endured like nowhere else. The state has retained its excessively local distribution of power—566 municipalities, 21 counties, and innumerable commissions and authorities, all of them generous repositories of contracts and jobs. The place still has bona fide bosses—perhaps not as colorful as the old ones, but about as powerful. The bosses drum up campaign cash from people and firms seeking public jobs and contracts, and direct it to candidates, who take care of the bosses and the contributors—a self-perpetuating cycle…

The relationship between Democratic machine bosses and Christie was so cozy that in the 2013 gubernatorial race the Democratic Party failed to support its own candidate, Barbara Buono.

In her concession speech Buono thanked her supporters who:

“withstood the onslaught of Betrayal from our own party….The Democratic political bosses, some elected, some not made a deal with this governor….They did not do it for the State they did it out of a desire to help themselves.”

The machines effectively deprive the voters of New Jersey of a free, fair and competitive election.

This time around it’s Christie that “kicks sand” in the face of the Republican candidate even thought his very own Lt. Governor. Guadagno is 20 points down in the polls and millions short.  After Christie’s gross absenteeism during his vain run for the Presidency, Bridgegate, Beachgate,  plundering of the treasury with record giveaways to favored corporations, the protection and rescue of Exxon and the unprecedented low approval ratings to show for it, there is nothing Christie can or will do to help. Referring to his miserable poll ratings Christie said, “Poll numbers matter when you’re running for something….And I don’t care.” He used New Jersey for his personal gain and trashed the Republican Party, but no worries, now its the Democrats turn.

The big money knows the game and former Christie donors have switched to supporting Murphy.

A Republican politician, Chris Brown, is quoted in PoliticoNewJersey as saying:

I can only speak for myself and say that I believe there has been an unholy alliance between Governor Christie and Senator Sweeney, which I don’t believe is in the best interest of the people I represent in Atlantic County or this state….”

Where are the lesser of two evils in New Jersey?

When it came time to attack workers they were one big happy family. As reported in The Nation:

[W]hen Christie launched an aggressive assault on the pensions and health-care benefits of state employees in 2011, he did so with the support of Norcross, DiVincenzo, and other Democratic bosses, whose allies in the Assembly joined the Republican governor to give him the margin he needed to pass the changes despite massive protests outside the State House by the NJEA, the CWA, and other unions.In June of that year, Wisniewski appeared on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show, where he joined her in bemoaning the state of the Democratic Party and added, in regard to the pension-“reform” fiasco: “We fought real hard, but unfortunately there were some Democrats who chose to side with the Republicans on this bill.”

Some Democrats?  Just the most powerful Democrats in the state.

Watch this revealing video of Joseph DiVincenzo, Democratic machine boss of Essex county endorse Chris Christie of Governor.  DiVincenzo took the opportunity to champion Christie’s attacks against workers.  DiVincenzo then accurately praises Shelia Oliver, now Democratic candidate for Lt. Governor, for moving the Christie agenda when Oliver was Speaker of the New Jersey General Assembly.

Joe DiVincenzo is Shelia Oliver’s political mentor and boss on her day job. Machine much?

New Jersey’s supreme Democratic boss is also a long-term ally of Christie. George Norcross and his brothers Phil and Donald have built their careers on the city of Camden. After 30 years of such leadership the people of Camden are desperately poor. and plagued by all the problems extreme poverty includes. Read this scathing critique of Norcorss’s recent attempt to develop Camden.

George Norcross lives a life of luxury greasing Christie’s wheels and hanging out at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago where he can easily toss the $200,000 a year membership fee to rub shoulders with the rich and powerful. Camden gets poverty, crime, violence and silence. Norcross gets caviar, cash and Trump’s company.

The machine bosses decided their narrow interest was far more important than giving the people of New Jersey a real choice. And so we got Chris Christie delivered on a platter by the Democrats themselves. Now its the Democrat’s turn.

And if you think there is no payoff, then tell me why the cash-strapped state government approved a $86 million tax break for an insurance company run by — you guessed it — New Jersey’s most powerful Democrat, George Norcross.

Any complaints from supposed Republican Chris Christie for lining the pockets of the leading Democrat? None. One hand washes the other and the people of New Jersey get the shaft.  And the shaft is coming.

According to the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, New Jersey is ranked 50th, that is dead last, among US states for its fiscal health.  Will Murphy repeat Corzine by making fine sounding promises followed by austerity?

There is only one reason that New Jersey — one of the riches states in the richest country in the history of the world — has budget problems and that, in the end, is the machine.

And Phil “Goldman-Sachs” Murphy has signaled his acceptance and alliance with the machine by appointing tried and true team player Shelia Oliver as his Lt. Governor.  Murphy does not have to run hard. The fix is in and he is way ahead on money and polls.  Why have a ground game when the real game is to marry New Jersey’s old school machine with the most greedy, ruthless players on Wall Street and on Trump’s cabinet: Goldman Sachs.

Machine meets machine, falls in love and we live unhappily ever after.

But, what is broken in Jersey can be fixed in Jersey if we have the courage and vision to restore competition, democracy and basic honestly to politics. This election we are lucky to have a real alternative with the Green Party candidates for governor Seth-Kaper Dale and Lisa Durden.

It’s time to stop voting for the bosses unless we want to be political prisoners for the rest of our lives.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Community Organizing in Philly and New York

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Eight in the series: Organize the White Working Class!

In Hillbilly Nationalists, James Tracy and Amy Sonnie shows the hidden depths of working class resistance and organizing. The pathbreaking work of Chicago’s white workers in JOIN, The Young Patriots and Rising Up Angry,  was soon followed by similar organizing projects in Philadelphia and New York.

October 4th Organization (O4O)

O4O looked to Philly’s revolutionary past for inspiration. On October 4, 1779, rioters broke into food and clothing warehouses to redistribute supplies hoarded by businessmen intent on driving up prices. O4O called for jobs or income and pressured the political machines to give working class communities their fair share of city resources.

The ‘70s were hard times for many American cities including Philadelphia. Too often, white workers retreat to the comforts of white supremacy and racial resentment as compensation for economic misery and stress. O4O provided an alternative to racism with a one-two punch: community and workplace organizing.

Their opponent was a rising star of the New Right: Mayor Frank Rizzo. Rizzo had climbed out of the ranks of the police department and marshaled the insecurities and resentments of Italians, Irish, Poles, and Greeks to scapegoat their conditions on the city’s growing black population.

O4O accepted the white ethnic identity of its community but tried to repurpose it with narratives of resistance, finding examples in European or immigrant history as well as in the rich labor history of interracial solidarity in Philly’s once-booming garment industry.

As with most white working class activism, class was the point of contact, but issues of racism were close behind. The cutting edge of the class/race mix was a unifying issue: police brutality. When a young white man was killed by police without indictment or consequences, organizing began in earnest. The campaign against police brutality stressed common ground with communities of color and mounting spirited demonstrations, some of which were suppressed with violent police attacks on peaceful protesters. The O4O launched the “People’s Bail Project,” an educational effort that reached out to the community with information about their rights with respect to police and the penal system. 1

While there is much to learn from each episode of organizing chronicled by Sonnie and Tracy, O4O is remarkable for its attempt to bridge the gap between community and workplace. O4O was based in Kensington, an old industrialized town known for its poverty and mean streets. O4O members organized in their own workplaces, supported strikes, demonstrated at the unemployed office, reaching directly to the rank and file. By working the border between workplace and community, O4O broadened the horizon of working class resistance. O4O also offered a class analysis of the economic crisis that unions too often failed to deliver. Workplace/community organizing was the best counterpunch to Rizzo’s thinly veiled racist campaign to enlist the support of white workers in his nasty crackdown on hippie-radicals, Black Panthers, and other threats to the social order.

White Lightning

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White Lightning used the direct service model combined with anti-racist, anti-war, and radical politics characteristic of other white working class efforts inspired by the Black Panthers. Based in the Bronx, White Lightning matched community self-help for drug addicts with opposition to the so-called war on drugs, which they rightly understood as a war on the poor.

Like O4O, White Lightning faced the rise of the early new right. In Philly, it was conservative Democrat Rizzo. In New York, it was liberal Republican Nelson D. Rockefeller and his campaign to ramp up incarceration as the answer to drugs.

We now know that the Nixon administration secretly used the war on drugs for political purposes. They wanted a method, acceptable to the political center, that would target the black community and hippies as a flank attack on the civil rights movement and the new left.

White Lightning’s focus on beating drug addiction, providing legal assistance, and fighting for decent housing took them into otherwise conservative neighborhoods. Rather than repeating the New Left’s easy condemnation of white racism, they engaged it. By pushing the direct interest of whites and offering alternative white identities rooted in political resistance, White Lighting hoped to build a bridge to struggling communities of color. That bridge was already under construction. White Lightning worked in coalition with black and latino organizations around health care services for the Bronx including a long and successful struggle to remake Lincoln Hospital from “the butcher shop” into a modern medical facility. 2

While these efforts met with partial success at best, they point a possible way forward for organizers of the working class: multi-racial, multi-sectoral coalition building on one hand and long term organizing among white workers on the other.  That is a daunting task, but who said this would be easy.

Trump’s election and the Democratic collapse shows that the liberal shame and blame, hollowed out identity politics, inverted privilege arguments, and general condescension toward working people is a miserable failure unless your aim is to preserve the existing order. Needless to say, White Lightning organizers were not Democratic Party liberals but revolutionaries that challenged power.

Attack Trump we must. But, to do that best, we should follow the lead of our ancestors: White Lighting, O4O, Standing Up Angry, Young Patriots and JOIN. Let’s create compelling and viable alternatives to white identity, austerity, and corporate power, or the right-wing will.  Organizing is the only way.

Real revolutionaries always contest turf and never abandon their people.


  1. Hillbilly Nationalists, 142
  2. Hillbilly Nationalists, 153
Posted in American Culture, Movement Culture, Organizing Method, Organizing Strategy, Racism, revolutionary strategy, Strategy, Uncategorized, White Privilege, White Supremacy | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Young Patriots, The Original Rainbow Coalition and Rising Up Angry

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Seventh in the Series: Organize the White Working Class!

Young Patriots*

In the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, the social movements crossed over into revolutionary territory. The victories and the failures of the civil rights movement, the intensification of the Vietnam War and anti-war movement, the assassination of MLK, the emergence of a new feminism, the revolt of soldiers and veterans, the stunning militance of the Stonewall rebellion and gay liberation, and the emergence of a mass environmental movement meant that people were moving toward solutions outside of the existing order.

In the white hot heat of the time — as the movement simultaneously approached the revolutionary threshold and the deeply entrenched power of the established order — working-class whites joined with the Black Panthers and Young Lords in the original “Rainbow Coalition.” Inspired by Black Panthers Fred Hampton and Bob Lee, a group of “dislocated hillbillies” with organizing experience in JOIN’s police brutality committee founded the Young Patriots.

Modeling themselves on the Black Panthers, the Young Patriots envisioned two parallel tracks: Serve the people with local programs designed to meet the need of the community and repurpose white nationalist sentiment to revolutionary goals.

While the ideology and iconography of the Young Patriots may seem jarring by today’s cultural standards, remember the immense influence of third world nationalism on virtually all sectors of the American left of the period. The Young Patriots saw Appalachia as a kind of white homeland, an internal colony of the U.S. They adopted the rebel flag in an attempt to transform its meaning.

Imagine young white working class revolutionaries sporting rebel flags and making common cause with the Black Panthers and Young Lords. That is exactly what happened, and that was totally badass. A meeting between Young Patriots and Black Panthers was captured in the documentary American Revolution 2.

Today a reborn Young Patriots Organization and Redneck Revolt, one of the most prominent anti-fascist organizations, are growing rapidly and showing us what patriots and rednecks are really made of.

The story of the Young Patriots so challenges liberal norms of identity politics that it virtually disappeared from historical accounts of the period until Hillbilly Nationalists retold the tale. The Young Patriots attempted something remarkable: the radical transformation of white nationalism and its symbols into the carriers of revolutionary consciousness.

“The south will rise again,” they claimed, “only this time in solidarity with our oppressed brothers and sisters.”[1]  “From historical experience, we know that the people make the meaning of a flag…This time we mean to see that the spirit of rebellion finds and smashes the real enemy rather than our brothers and sister in oppression.”[2]

Like JOIN before them, they saw racism as opposed to the interest of the white working class. William “Preacherman” Fesperman put it this way:

“Let racism become a disease. I’m talking to the white brothers and sisters because I know what it’s done. I know what it’s done to me. I know what it does to people everyday….It’s got to stop, and we’re doing it.”[3]

Despite their high ideals and multi-racial coalition work, the first Young Patriots were a short lived experiment. With their teachers and allies, the Black Panthers and the Young Lords, they were the target of local and national police surveillance and repression by the FBI’s COINTELPRO program. In 1969, Fred Hampton, Chicago’s best know leader of the Panthers and the Rainbow Coalition was assassinated in a pre-dawn raid. The repression worked, and precious organizing energy was consumed on defense and survival.

But if we see the Young Patriots and the original Rainbow Coalition as a failed but inspired attempt to make history — at the high water mark of the last revolution — there remains much to be learned. The struggle of the Young Patriots offers us an essential lesson: revolution requires the transformation, not rejection, of existing cultural traditions. The Young Patriots tried to transform southern white culture.

The Rainbow Coalition also transformed the integrationist strategy of the civil rights movement. “Organizing you own” did not rule out, but instead enhanced, multi-racial work. The original Rainbow Coalition demanded each partner have the confidence and political independence that was only possible when each could first stand alone and strong in their own communities. Under the conditions of self-determination, a true meeting of equals became a practice not just a theory or hope.

Coalition work between distinct racial organizations was another, perhaps more practical, path to the utopian vision of the “beloved community” King envisioned for America’s future.[4]  Maybe integrated organizations underestimated the depth of racism —conscious and unconscious — and wished away racism with the shortcuts of good intentions, superficial outreach, and moral yearnings. The Rainbow Coalition based its unity on sturdier stuff: each group needed independent power as a precondition for a movement that could begin to practice political equality and mutual respect.

Rising Up Angry

Hillbilly Nationalists also tells the story of three other organizing efforts. As the Young Patriots declined a new community organization in Chicago, Rising up Angry, returned to a style more like JOIN but still informed by the radicalism of the Young Patriots.

Rising Up Angry celebrated working class culture and placed culture and consciousness at the forefront. Influenced by the writings of James Forman, Amilcar Cabral, and others and compelled by the practical needs of day-to-day organizing, Angry knew culture mattered and sought to amplify the revolutionary tendencies within existing working class culture.[5]

Angry viewed gang members and street wise “greasers” as potential allies. Angry also saw soldiers and veterans as source of resistance and knew it made sense to honor the warrior while opposing the war. Angry help provide legal counseling for AWOL soldiers and attracted veterans to their organization. In 1972, Angry joined in a national day of coordinated actions “Armed Farces Day” and drew 3,000 to the Chicago demonstration.

Angry ran a health clinic, organized tenants unions, and supported abortion rights, all of which brought women and women’s issues into clearer focus as a mainstay of Angry’s work. As the womens movement accelerated, Angry’s women took leadership roles and led consciousness raising groups with working class women and men.

In the pages of their newspaper and in a short film, Trick Bag, Rising Up Angry took an anti-racist message to their community. Like all the working class projects in Hillbilly Nationalists, Angry went beyond moral politics to argue that racism against people of color weakened working class power and was against the self interest and psychological well-being of white workers. And Angry did not turn away from physical confrontations with the hard-core racists.

Angry combined radical, anti-racist, feminist, and working class identities and interests in a single organization without getting bogged down in endless debate about the “agent of history” or the “primary contradiction.” And they avoided, or at least blunted, the kind of debilitating internal division and splits that chase people away.[6]

Rising Up Angry practiced an early form of what we now call “intersectionality.” But instead of simply seeing how people are divided into distinct sections, they learned that the lines of power that divided people were also paths of resistance along which determined activists could push back. Class was the central organizing principle for Angry’s work, but even the communists who contributed so much to Angry learned that class consciousness would flourish best if not grasped too tightly.

Class rarely stands naked. Instead it is clothed in culture and perceived with the complex and contradictory states of mind that are the hallmarks of human consciousness.


*In addition to the account presented in Hillbilly Nationalist a well argued and well documented article by Patrick King offers a short history of the Young Patriots.

  1. All citations are from Amy Sonnie and James Tracy, Hillbilly Nationalists, Urban Race Rebels, and Black Power: Community Organizing in Radical Times,  74
  2. 75
  3. 75
  4.  90
  5. 128
  6. 125-6
Posted in American Culture, Martin Luther King, Movement Culture, Organizing Method, Organizing Strategy, Racism, revolutionary strategy, Strategy, Uncategorized, White Privilege, White Supremacy | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Jobs or Income Now!: JOIN and White Working Class Leadership

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Sixth in the Series: Organize the White Working Class!

Yes, that is Harry Belafonte visiting JOIN in 1965. Peggy Terry is on far right.

JOIN and Emergence of White Working Class Leadership.

Jobs or Income Now (JOIN) was a Chicago community organization started as the brainchild of the SDS’s Economic Research and Action Project (ERAP). In their view, poverty was not the result of individual failing but of political inequality. Since poverty was political, JOIN had to confront the Democratic Party political machines that controlled Chicago.

In their day-to-day work, JOIN came to follow the example of the Black Panthers by combining a service model with consciousness raising. They provided direct assistance to the community on basic issues such as education, health, and housing while teaching about racism, class exploitation and war.

Hillbilly Nationalists tells the story of JOIN through the life of Peggy Terry, its most visionary leader. Terry was a poor southern white woman who had been drawn into the civil rights movement as a volunteer for the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). Terry’s motivations were noble but at first were limited to moral politics. She viewed her work as a sacrifice to “help black folks get their freedom.”1 Terry thought she had to give up her own interests to help and could see no good from organizing poor whites.

Terry’s transition to working class hero began at the urging of civil rights leaders. When she met Martin Luther King, he asked her about her own exploitation as a poor white woman and how other poor whites might be organized into the civil rights movement. These were things she had not considered. Monroe Sharp, Terry’s comrade in CORE, marched her into the JOIN office. “This is where you belong….You have to know who you are before you ever know who we are,” Sharp said. And so with the guidance of African American leaders, Terry turned to her own community.2

Terry already lived in a working-class neighborhood sometimes called “Hillbilly Harlem.” With JOIN, Terry made the fusion of anti-racism and class interest her work.

JOIN learned that people found the promise of jobs or income too utopian, so they began instead by listening to community members about what they saw as their most pressing needs. Imagine that! What they found led to activism around police brutality, welfare rights, tenants unions, and rent strikes. As they confronted the power of landlords and politicians, they began coalition work with black and latino groups. They offered public education about the ruthless Daly machine that ran Chicago. JOIN used their newspaper to address issues of international importance, including national liberation movements, the anti-war movement, and movements for women’s rights and civil rights.

As elements of the civil rights movement evolved into black power, these white workers found that “organizing your own” made sense. In fact, JOIN was one of the few organization in the U.S. already heading down that path.

By 1967, local leaders asked SDS members and other outside volunteers to leave JOIN. “We believe the time has come for us to turn to our own people, poor and working-class whites, for direction, support, and inspiration, to organize around our own identity, our own interests.”3

But unlike the degraded forms of identity politics now used by the Democratic Party to protect the existing power structure, JOIN’s identity politics — like that of other social movements of the period — was rooted in participatory democracy and an organizing method designed to empower people and challenge power.

In the tradition of Saul Alinsky and Ella Baker, Terry wrote,

“No matter what background a person comes from…the role of the organizer, their primary job is to find people to whom they can pass on their abilities, their skills. The job of an organizer is to organize themselves out of a job.”4

The self-determination and self interest of these poor white people did not imply separatism or racist white nationalism, but just the opposite. JOIN members attended the Poor People’s March and went on to claim a role for working class whites in the struggle against racism and economic exploitation.

Terry addressed a crowd of 50,000 at the June 19, 1968, Solidarity Day rally.

“We, the poor whites of the Unites States, today demand an end to racism, for our own self interest and well being, as well as for the well being of black, brown, and red Americans, who, I repeat, are our natural allies in the struggle for real freedom and real democracy in these, OUR, Unites States of America.”5

Our common cause is freedom, and Terry showed us how to make it real.

Peggy Terry for Vice President

The final episode in the remarkable history of JOIN was its support for the candidacy of Peggy Terry to run as Vice President on the Peace and Freedom Party ticket in 1968. With Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver as Presidential candidate, they sought to take on Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey.

But for Terry, the real work was to contest the candidacy of George Wallace, the segregationist and loud-mouthed racist running for President as an independent. Terry’s audience was the working class whites that Wallace appealed to with a potent mix of economic resentment and racial hatred.  In words that could have been spoken today Terry went after Wallace:

“His “little man” appeal has won over many white workers who are tired of their union’s cooperation with big corporations. But Wallace is not the answer to their problems. He is just another kind of boss.”6

Wallace, who went on to win five southern states, had tapped into the toxic blend of racism and economic misery that has long been part of American history and American demagoguery. It is the same seam of bigotry and resentment that Trump attempted to mine.

The Peace and Freedom Party may not have had the funds, staff, or media coverage necessary to win, but they discovered a truth we dare not ignore. Unless the labor and social movements can create a compelling alternative to racist resentment and class exploitation, the Trumps and Wallaces of the world will find a base among the white working class. JOIN took up the long hard struggle that awaits anyone willing to change the world.

Decades later, JOIN’s history is still a useful and usable past. Organizers with the courage and stamina to engage the white working class should consider the basic insights underlying JOIN’s work as a guide to action.

  • Racism is against the self-interest of the white working class.
  • People of color are natural allies in the struggle for freedom and for economic democracy.
  • The important task of “organizing your own,” should be guided by the ideals of participatory democracy and self-determination.
  • Serve the people.
  • Let the people decide what should be done and at what pace.
  • Organizers can be indispensable as catalysts and facilitators but the people must provide the leadership.

  1. All citations from Amy Sonnie and James Tracy, Hillbilly Nationalists, Urban Race Rebels, and Black Power.  p 20

2. 20

3. 56

4. 56

5. 59

6.62

Posted in American Culture, Martin Luther King, Movement Culture, Organizing Method, Organizing Strategy, Racism, revolutionary strategy, Strategy, Uncategorized, White Privilege, White Supremacy | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Sanders Campaign, Greater Appalachia and Young Workers

This article also appeared in CounterPunch.

Tenth in the Series: Organize the White Working Class!

The white working class is ready. Are you?

The 2016 Democratic primary gives us a way of assessing the potential for organizing among white workers. This may sound surprising since the corporate media created a narrative about how white workers supported Trump in the general election. But clear-eyed observers such as Konstantin Kilibarda and Daria Roithmayr, Mike Davis, Bill Fletcher, Jeffrey St.Clair and Jake Johnston have countered that story.

It was the Democrats that abandoned the working class with Trump merely holding on to the Romney electorate as Clinton underperformed Obama in almost every demographic including white workers. The corporate story about white workers in the general election obscures a far more important story for activists and organizers. In order to reverse the drift toward war and corporate rule, we will have to launch bold and aggressive campaigns that replace the discredited corporate forms of identity politics and meritocratic thinking typical of the Democrats.

The Clinton machine tried to assemble an unconvincing coalition, bringing working people and urban professionals together to support a fundamentally corporate and imperial agenda. This project failed, and will fail again, but that failure can open the door to grassroots democracy. The Sanders campaign strongly suggests that victory is possible. If activists and dissident political movements can offer visionary leadership and mount determined organizing drives then millions of white workers will join the movements for social justice and economic democracy.

Greater Appalachia

While an overall analysis of the primary or general election is beyond the scope of this article, we can learn a good bit by looking at “Greater Appalachia.” By this I mean the region of the Appalachian Mountains from Maine to northern Alabama. I realize this is not the typical way of describing Appalachia.[1]

Greater Appalachia is however appropriate for assessing the political potential of the white working class because this region is demographically far whiter than the rest of the country, solidly working class, and ethnically more Scots-Irish.

Southern Appalachia is a region of stubborn poverty. Central Pennsylvania, Upstate New York and New England, outside of the metropolitan areas, have, like the rest of the country, never recovered from the 2008 crisis. These areas are also distant from the urban political machines which have long histories of producing votes for machine politicians.

map-icon-democrat

The electoral map of the 2016 Primary in the New York Times captures the general trends. From northern Alabama to Maine, it shows that Sanders was very competitive where he did not win outright. Where Clinton did win, it was by narrow margins. It is reasonable to assume that had the DNC not rigged the primary for Clinton or the media not presented Clinton as the “presumptive nominee” or elevated Trump with billions in free publicity, Sanders would have done far better.  Sanders voters in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New York voted later in the primary season persisting in their dissent  long after the narratives of Clinton’s “inevitably” were widely circulated by party elites and corporate media.

Clinton did worse and Sanders better in the Appalachian region of every state.

The Daily Kos, a news outlet friendly to Clinton, offered the following analysis.

“The Democratic primary exhibited an even starker division between each state’s Appalachian and non-Appalachian regions. While Clinton won every state except West Virginia, she performed worse in every state’s Appalachian region and Sanders easily won Appalachian Kentucky and North Carolina. Sanders also came very close to victory in Appalachian Maryland, Ohio, and Virginia despite Clinton easily winning the remainders of those states. Clinton won by a comfortable margin in southern Appalachia outside of North Carolina, but still performed dramatically worse than in the rest of those states.”

If we move north, we see support for Sanders in the rural upland regions of Central Pennsylvania and Upstate New York.

While the definition of Appalachian Pennsylvania is unclear, the core of the majority white working class mountain region that follows the ridges of the Appalachian chain in central Pennsylvania voted for Sanders.[2] In three of the central state mountain counties where Clinton does win – Fulton, Bedford and Union – the machine wins by razor thin majorities. “Sanders, for his part, performed strongly in the rural parts of the state, winning rural voters 50-48 and carrying Central Pennsylvania 50-49.

In upstate New York, Sanders wins all but three counties. In the Catskills, just outside of suburban NYC, Sanders wins Sullivan Country 56.1 to 43.9, Ulster County 62.6 to 37.4 and Dutchess County 51.5 to 48.4.

As a general indication of class consciousness, in NY, “Clinton won voters who said Wall Street does more to help the economy, Sanders won among those who said it hurts the economy.

It is interesting to note that many counties in New York flipped from voting for Obama in the 2008 general to Trump in 2016. Fourteen NY state counties flipped from voting for Obama twice to voting for Trump. Was this a sign of bigotry unleashed by Trump? Or was it the deep disappointment in Clinton, who, as former Senator from New York, had failed to keep her promise of jobs and economic development? Or both? We need more evidence.

Sanders went from strength to strength in New England, where he took three of four counties in Western Massachusetts and won all of Vermont, all of New Hampshire, and all of Maine.

The story is not just that Bernie would have won, although all the polls agree. The story is that win or lose, the Sanders campaign shows us what might be. And that assessment is positive enough to encourage anti-racist, union, community organizing, anti-war and environmental movement building among the white working class.

Young Workers of America Unite!

Young workers face the economic crisis head on. If the Sanders campaign is any measure, then young white workers and young workers from all backgrounds are fired up and ready for change.

Organizers, listen up!

In the 20 states for which we have data, nearly 2 million young people have voted for Senator Sanders, almost three times more youth votes than any other candidate in either party….More youth have voted for Senator Sanders than for Clinton and Trump combined.

Since I am using electoral data as a general indicator of what is possible, the white working class, the young white working class in particular, is ready for change.

The corporate order — in all of its extremism and excess — is in decline and disarray whether managed by an Obama, a Clinton or a Trump. Corporate politics can only offer more of the same: perpetual war and global empire, mass incarceration and mass surveillance and the hollowing out of all of our once democratic institutions from elections, to unions, to the Bill of Rights, to education.  The crazy corporate crusade to pillage the planet and impose inequality and austerity cannot be sustained.

Things fall apart; the extreme center cannot hold.[3]

As the white working class — and the whole working class — becomes increasingly unmoored from its tethers, some will soar and some will crash.  But as the great organizer Ella Baker said: “Give light and the people will find a way.”


  1. I make no pretense at offering a comprehensive analysis of the complex historical trends, cultural characteristics, and demographics that make up the either the traditional core of Appalachia, lying south of the Mason-Dixon line, or the northern upland regions of Pennsylvania, New York, and New England.
  2. The Daily Kos article cited above uses a broader definition of Appalachian Pennsylvania much more favorable to Clinton.
  3. Apologies to Yeats, The Second Coming
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Empire Abroad. Empire at Home.

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This article also appeared in CounterPunch.

“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”

Americans are taught to revel in our power and supremacy. Over 650 major military bases span the whole world.  We wage endless wars. American corporations are the most powerful economic organizations in history. The fusion of economic and military power makes our empire unlike any the world has ever seen.

We may be “#1” but it is to this great empire that we have lost our souls and our democracy with it.[1]

The New Paradigm

No great wall separates U.S. foreign policy from domestic policy. The Manhattan Institute is an influential think tank founded in 1978 by William Casey, former head of all U.S. intelligence and Director of the CIA. In a 2006 report “Merging Law Enforcement and Counterterrorism Strategies,” they describe “The New Paradigm:”

We know too that globalization is a permanent fact. The international economy is the engine of our nation and the source of our wealth. It means that all the physical and conceptual walls associated with the modern, sovereign state—the walls that divide domestic from international, the police from the military, intelligence from law enforcement, war from peace, and crime from war—are coming down.

The institutions and ideas U.S. elites used to project “full spectrum dominance” onto the global stage have eventually become part of the political order in the U.S. The “full spectrum” includes us. 

It is empire — most of all — that dooms democracy and constitutional republics. As corporations have an insatiable drive for profit, empires have an insatiable drive for power. And that makes imperial actors hostile to the limits on authority, checks and balances, separation of powers and basic rights that the U.S. republic at least aspired to. As the institutions of representative democracy become weaker and weaker — devoted only to serving the corporate power and global empire — the need for social control of  the people becomes greater and greater.

Targeting Dissent in the USA

The “McCarthyism” of the 1950s was the first modern wave of coordinated social control. Truman stoked the fear and hatred of communism to serve foreign policy, but soon, in the hands of the FBI and unscrupulous politicians, it was turned against domestic dissent. The establishment decided that some ideas were so dangerous that American citizens did not have the right or capacity to think through them for themselves. The government would do the thinking for us.[2]

Dissent was equated with treason, and it was not until the hard fought battles of the civil rights movement that dissent was once again seen as legitimate. It’s worth remembering that Martin Luther King was widely accused of being a communist.

Starting in the mid-50s, the FBI’s COINTELPRO program attacked dissenters. While the civil rights and black power movements were the primary targets of violent repression, almost all social movements were surveilled and disrupted. Today, protestors face escalating penalties, police violence, surveillance, and intimidation. Particularly since Trump’s election there have been a host of proposed laws that aim to criminalize first amendment rights of free speech and assembly.

Nixon turned to the “War on Drugs” to create the domestic equivalent of war and suppress the political movements. The War on Drugs — waged by Democrats and Republicans alike — went after hippies, the young and the black community as a way of penalizing the populations on which the movements depended.

 Now we know the outcome of the War on Drugs.

Over the past few decades the American people have created a vast militarized penal system that is now the most powerful institutionalized racism in the US. And like the forms of institutionalized racism that preceded it, the penal system functions as an effective form of social control. Discriminatory and militarized policing, on-the-spot executions, slave-like prison labor, mass incarceration, school-to-prison pipeline, restriction of trial by jury, lengthy and mandatory sentencing, predatory fine, fee and debt traps, and its gigantic sweep and size constitutes nothing short of a preemptive war against the most potentially rebellious parts of the population: the young, people of color, the poor.[3]

Mandatory sentencing laws passed by Congress and signed by Bill Clinton shifted the power from judges to prosecutors. By tilting power away from the judiciary and toward the executive, a highly “efficient” system of incarceration took shape.

Police often get military training appropriate to an occupation force.  Training that emphasizing weapons rather than conflict resolution. The “oil cops” at Standing Rock were employees of a private firm with ties to Blackwater, the corporation that provided the mercenaries used by the US in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The use of facial recognition software, the recording and monitoring of electronic and phone communications and the commercialization of internet browsing data — all without consent or indictments — are part of the most sophisticated system of electronic surveillance ever created. Mass surveillance is a profound attack on the First Amendment. Knowing big brother is always listening chills free speech, dissent and free association.

The penal system chipped away other key provisions of the Bill of Rights including the protection from unwarranted search and seizure, the right to a trial, and the most fundamental rights of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.

With 2 million behind bars, a million of which slave away for big corporations and the military, the penal system is the main example of how the empire’s increasing reliance on force and violence to solve political problems turned inward toward the American people.

But, as intimidating and brutal as the penal system is — it also a last resort. The use of force is evidence that the empire is losing control over the hearts and minds of increasing numbers of its subjects.

The NDAA on the Homefront

The line between empire abroad and empire at home was further eroded by provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

The 1990 NDAA, passed by Congress and signed by President and former director of the CIA George Bush, allowed for the transfer of military weapons to domestic police forces accelerating the militarization of the penal system.

President Obama signed the 2012 NDAA which extended the rules of war worldwide — in effect making the US. homeland a theatre of war — by allowing indefinite detention without trial or justification, in violation of the constitutionally guaranteed right of Habeas Corpus.

The NDAA also included provisions that allowed the “US government to broadcast American produced foreign propaganda in the U.S.”  And that is a lot of propaganda.  In 2009, $580 million was spend in Iraq and Afghanistan on the information war.  Another $500 million was spent by the Pentagon to produce fake Al-Qaeda videos. The NDAA essentially legalized the propaganda efforts of the CIA that were revealed as far back as 1975.

The first amendment is precise and sweeping: ‘Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…”  The Bill of Rights is designed to protect the people from the power of government not to protect government from the people.

In the last weeks of his term, Obama signed off on a bi-partisan effort to amend the 2016 NDAA and establish a “counter-propaganda” program, once again placing government in a position to determine what is propaganda and what is not. In a free country, that is the job of the people.

The chilling logic behind Obama’s record prosecution of whistleblowers under the Espionage Act and the intense Russian-baiting unleashed by the Clinton machine was taken to it’s extreme conclusion when Trump’s CIA director Mike Pompeo targeted Wikileaks as “a non-state, hostile intelligence service,” in a direct threat to free speech, free press and public access to information.  Yet, in the last days of his term Obama insured that the 17 secret police forces would be able to freely share raw data and information gathered on millions of American citizens.

They can know all about us but we cannot know about them.

If the elites trusted the old forms of social order and enculturation— the media, educational system, family, military, church, or even the Constitution itself — to maintain order, would they need to create a system of mass surveillance, incarceration, and propaganda?

What a strange moment we live in!

The revolutionary vision of the Declaration of Independence, the checks on tyranny that structure the U.S. Constitution and the limits on government power listed in the Bill of Rights — though they be flawed, two and a half centuries old and obstructed direct democracy— are far more advanced than the form of government we now have.  There is no democratic representation in the U.S. today   We, the unrepresented people, are taxed and the represented corporations rule us.  The U.S. empire and the corporate power have done what the old British empire could not.

Only massive and disruptive social movements can unmask the abuses of power to truly test the limits of our rights.  The most important question: how do we organize the social movements necessary to restore democracy?  

Next: As corrosive as empire is to democracy, another set of institutions joined the  assault on republican forms of representation: the Corporate Power.

  1. See the work of The American Empire Project, “Empire, long considered an offense against America’s democratic heritage, now threatens to define the relationship between our country and the rest of the world. The American Empire Project publishes books that question this development, examine the origins of U.S. imperial aspirations, analyze their ramifications at home and abroad, and discuss alternatives to this dangerous trend.”  Also see Andrew Bacevich many articles and books such as  The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War.
  2. Ellen Schrecker, Many Are The Crimes: McCarthyism in America
  3. https://befreedom.co/2017/03/04/organize-the-white-working-class/
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Radical White Workers During the Last Revolution

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Fifth in the series: Organize the White Working Class!  This post also appeared in Counterpunch.

White Working Class Organizing in the ‘60s and ‘70s

“Poor whites are here today…to make ourselves visible to a society whose continued existence depends on the denial of our existence. We are here today united with other races of poor people, Puerto Ricans, Mexican-Americans, Indians, and Black people in a common cause. That common cause is Freedom!”

Peggy Terry, The Poor People’s Convention June 1968

Yes, our common cause is freedom. The question is: how do we make that real? We will never know until we know our history. The long-lost story of anti-racist, radical white working class activism has been restored by Amy Sonnie and James Tracy in their invaluable book: Hillbilly Nationalists, Urban Race Rebels, and Black Power: Community Organizing in Radical Times. Get it and read it now. The articles that follow are deeply indebted to their work.

During the 1960s and 1970s, radical activists set out to organize the white working class. They linked the pursuit of working class interest and economic democracy with anti-racist organizing. They discovered, and helped others realize, that white supremacy and racism are not a friend to white people but one of the main obstacles to fulfilling our own destiny as a free people.

The context was the last revolution. The civil rights, black power, feminist, student movements and community organizing set the stage for working class whites to make important contributions to the democracy movements of the time. While these efforts were initiated by various groups, the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), radicalized working class youth, and the Black Panthers, they all eventually depended on the leadership of working class communities.

The organizers had been deeply radicalized by the social upheavals of the time. Yet, their own working class backgrounds often placed them on the margins of the New Left. But the activists knew the white working class had enormous untapped potential. The movement to stop the War in Vietnam, fight the bosses, and win the battle against racism needed the hard work and political vision that everyday working people could help provide. The organizers were radicals, many were communists, but virtually all were inspired by third world nationalism abroad and the Black Panthers at home.

The Emergence of White Working Class Radicalism Fits Recurring Patterns in the Social Movements of the 60’s. 

“Black Power” emerged out of the civil rights campaign as an attempt to found an independent, self-reliant movement with its own sources of power, leadership, and inspiration. Black power aimed to create a mass base mobilized around a growing consciousness of African-American identity and history. To do this black power advocates first suggested, then demanded, that white activists leave what had been a multi-racial civil rights movement. The white activists, despite their best intentions, brought with them subtle forms of white supremacy that inhibited the emergence of black leadership. Black Power advocates like Stokely Carmichael wanted white radicals to “organize their own” in a strategic division of labor much in the same way Black Power was trying to organize their own people. 1

Women active in the civil rights and student movements followed a similar path. Deeply troubled by the sexism and male domination of the movements they devoted their lives to, women struck out on their own to start the modern women’s movement. They went massive by focusing on consciousness-raising efforts. In millions of conversations with each other, women discovered that the everyday personal problems they experienced were rooted in institutionalized forms of oppression they identified as patriarchy and paternalism. The personal became deeply political.

The other pattern, set by the Black Panthers, was an attempt to solve one of the enduring problems of organizing. How do organizers that aim at fundamental social change engage everyday people? Their answer was to create self-reliant, community controlled service programs. This approach became known as “Serve the People” but was more tellingly called “Survival Pending Revolution” by the Panthers themselves. Best known for their free breakfast program for school kids, they also provided educational programs, legal and health services, programs for senior citizens, and free food for the poor of their community. And they became infamous for community self-defense against police brutality.2

The Panthers initiated an intermediate program that took evolutionary steps toward a vision of revolutionary change. The service programs were one part of bridging the gap. The other was bringing revolutionary politics within reach. One way the Panthers did this was by emphasizing universal values. “We want land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice, and peace.” Such values need little explanation, are not open to endless debate, and are self-evident.

The Panthers also drew their revolutionary ideals closer to the people by merging staunch anti-capitalism with a transformed version of American traditions. Beneath the glamour of the black beret and intense drama of asserting their 2nd amendment rights, the Black Panthers were studied revolutionaries. Huey Newton’s book, Revolutionary Suicide remains a classic, tragic, part of American revolutionary thought.

The Panthers learned from revolutionary efforts around the world but also laid claim to the ideals of the original American revolutionary colonists applying them to the black colony oppressed within the modern American empire. The last and longest part of the Black Panthers’ 10 Point Program: What We Want/What We Believe — their “major political objective” — called for black self-determination by quoting, at length, the words of the American Declaration of Independence.

However history may judge the outcome, this model was widely influential for community organizing of the period and still shines a light we can follow if we dare.

And so it was, and so it is, with radical white working class organizing.

In Chicago, the SDS sent college students, armed with anti-imperialist ideas and marxist theory, into poor communities. The working class owes these students an enormous debt. The SDS provided the spark and the broader domestic and international context to the problem that workers faced. But, like women and the black power activists before them, white workers chafed under the often unconscious but still stifling cultural biases and assumptions of the student movement. The classism of affluent students limited the full potential of white working class communities. The students had the skills, education, resources, and upbringing that allowed them to take leadership roles. Like women and black power activists, white workers eventually asked the students to stand down and set out on their own to form organizations based on their own culture and political agenda.

Next: Community organizing by Chicago’s Jobs or Income Now (JOIN) set the standard for white working-class activism.


  1. Hillbilly Nationalists p 27
  2. Hillbilly Nationalists, p 68-69

 

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