The People Made the First New Deal. Can the People Make Another?

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Massive Protest and Organizing Created the New Deal

The kind of electoral victories we need will take far more than standard electioneering and Facebook debates.  Let’s look at what it took to create the New Deal so we can see just how challenging the task ahead is. During the Great Depression massive organizing efforts and protest movements were necessary just to reform the two-party system. New Deal history strongly suggests that the current dementer v. demexit debate is largely a waste of time until we organize movements powerful enough to upset the existing order.

In our memory Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the standard bearer of the New Deal but it did not start that way.  FDR was a reluctant reformer pushed into progressive action because millions of people were willing to experiment with radical solutions.

Mass movements, third parties and revolutionary parties, labor upheaval, agrarian unrest, powerful populists, discontented veterans, and Democratic congressmen more radical than FDR pushed the New Deal into being. Setting aside for the moment the long-standing debates about the racial, class and other limitations of the New Deal — we can still learn about how the deep conservatism of a major party was partially overcome, for a time, by the forces of reform and revolution pushing from the bottom up.[1]

Workers, Farmers and Veterans 

Widespread labor upheavals changed the political climate. The mass production industries were organized for the first time as thousands of new leaders –including significant numbers of women and people of color — led the revolt from the shop floor. There were strikes waves that included sit-down strikes where workers actually occupied the workplace.  Autoworkers in Flint Michigan kicked off the wave of sit-down strikes that spread into all sorts of workplaces.

Strikes for better conditions and union recognition were massive. For example, in 1934 alone, there were 1,856 strikes waged by 1,470,000 workers.[2] Six million workers formed unions during the decade. Of the 38 new industrial unions, 18 were led by communists or other leftists until McCarthyism and the 1947 Taft-Hartly Act expelled them from the AFL-CIO. So furious was the class war that the New Deal was forced to recognize worker’s rights in an attempt to pacify labor relations.

Woolworth Workers Strike

Female employees of Woolworth’s holding a sign indicating they are striking for a 40 hour work week, New York, New York, 1937. (Photo by Underwood Archives/Getty Images)

Agrarian unrest rocked the heartland. The Farm Holiday Movement claimed 30,000 members and led protests of thousands demanding a moratorium on mortgage foreclosures.  They blocked roads to disrupt markets and destroyed crops and products. In the 1933 the Wisconsin Milk Strike, lead by farmer cooperatives, destroyed milk products in an attempt to raise prices. Thousands of pounds of milk were trashed, creameries were bombed and protestors were shot by police.

Veterans were on the move.  In 1932 “The Bonus Army” marched over 40,000 people on Washington DC where they occupied a corner of the national mall to demand the early payment of a bonus they already had coming.  The veterans’ tent city was attacked by the US Army under the command of Douglass MacArthur and George Patton.  Two veterans were killed and over a thousand injured.  The threat of another march was headed off by the offer of jobs with the Civilian Conservation Corp — a federal jobs program. But still no bonus — instead FDR actually reappointed MacArthur. When FDR vetoed legislation passed by Congress in 1936 to secure an early bonus the Congress returned the bill with a veto-proof majority.  The Bonus became law and the foundation was laid for the GI Bill.

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Unemployed workers formed Unemployed Councils and demanded jobs and reliefs. Unemployment grew to 25% at times and there was unrest and protest across the country. In March 1930, 500,000 people marched in 25 cities to demand relief. Many local demonstrations were brutally attacked by police. People died but we won unemployment insurance.  The Workers Alliance of America originally demanded “the abolition of the profit system” and claimed to represent 400,000 people. They pushed for legislative reforms and progressive candidates. The unemployed movement was lead by communists, socialists, and assorted radicals.

Populists Leaders Push 

Nationally known populist leaders also pushed FDR to the left for a while.  Huey Long is best know for his “Share the Wealth” program.  He proposed to cap personal wealth and personal income and inheritance for the rich. Long proposed a guaranteed income, thirty hour work week, four week vacation, old age pension, free college or vocational training. As Governor of Louisiana and then US Senator he used the resources of the state to build hospitals, schools and roads.  An estimated 20 Million listened to his radio broadcasts and he received 60,000 pieces of mail a week as a US Senator. Long tried to form an independent party to challenge the Democrats.

Robert Townsend was a doctor from California that proposed an old age pension. It generated extraordinary nationwide support and was part of the reason we have Social Security today. There were over 7,000 “Townsend Clubs” with over 2.2 million members and they called for the nationalization of banks. In 1936 Townsend was able to deliver petitions to Congress containing 10 million hard copy signatures in support of the Townsend Plan.

And when judging the movements of the 30’s, remember that the US population was only 130 million or so, less than a third of current levels.

Legislators on the Left

The grassroots rebellion reached into the halls of Congress. In the mid-term election of 1934 the Democrats won a super-majority but much more important — at least 35 Democrats stood to FDR’s left.  Pressure groups like the Washington Commonwealth Federation worked to elect progressive Democrats. Third parties helped push the New Deal as well.

  • The 73rd congress elected in 1932 had five members of Congress from the Farmer-Labor party, 313 Democrats, 117 Republicans.
  • The 74th Congress elected in 1934 had seven members from the newly founded Progressive Party (Wisconsin), three from the Farmer-Labor, 322 Democrats and 103 Republicans.
  • The 75th congress elected in 1936 had eight members from the Progressive Party, five from the Farmer Labor, 334 Democrats and 88 Republicans. Two senators were outside the major parties: Robert La Follette from the Wisconsin Progressive Party and George Norris a progressive Republican from Nebraska that left the party to run as an independent.

Here are the facts: as the number Democrats grew, the number of radical Democrats grew and the number of the third parties representatives grew. At the same time socialist and communist parties were polling about 5% combined. All progressives grew at the same time! What happened to the spoiler? The lesser of two evils?  Those arguments did not yet exist and only exist now to frighten and control the weak minded.

Imagine Bernie Sanders as president with 35 Democrats in the House to his left and 13 Green Party congress members to their left with significant electoral campaigns by self-styled revolutionary parties in the context of a vast popular rebellion — that might be what another New Deal would look like.

In periods of dramatic change old categories are transformed or reconstructed. Before  the New Deal, the Democrats had been the conservative party — during the New Deal they became the more progressive party.  The Republicans — the last successful revolutionary party, the last third party to become a major party — became the more conservative party. Mass political upheaval, third parties and revolutionary organizations fueled the flames of political change.

That Was Then. This Is Now.

You might dismiss this history by saying the conditions were so much worse back then. Maybe — maybe not. But, answer me this: are our conditions not bad enough for you? Inequality crushes millions.  Most Americans cannot cover a minor emergency.  We have the greatest childhood poverty in the industrialized world and life-spans are decreasing. The corporate power has a monopoly over the political system and democracy is but a dim memory.  Incarceration rates are without precedent and the Bill of Rights is in shambles.  And we have existential problems never dreamed of in the Great Depression: endless war, the threat of nuclear war and impending environmental catastrophe. The empire is slowly collapsing. Will it take us all with it?

If we cannot make revolt out of this, then we are not revolutionaries.

The big difference between then and now is in our minds. There is little evidence that the ideas that control electoral activity in our time existed in any meaningful way during the New Deal. Controlling narratives like “incremental change” were not the watchword of the time. The guiding principle was a determined struggle over economic interests and and political ideals — not surrender in the name of lesser of two evils. The principle was not the spoiler, not the dementer/demexit trap, not either/or thinking, not falsely checking privilege to support the machine.  The principle was fierce stormy struggle. That is what real change is. Change requires the both/and approach of the inside/outside strategy because it uses all the means at our disposal not allowing the bosses to divide and conquer or pick our tactics for us. The corporate power wins because it still controls our minds. And the best means we have to contest their control and raise consciousness is organizing and movement building.

In the tug of war to pull the New Deal toward the people all progressives pulled in the same direction if not from the same position. Some pulled from inside, some pulled from outside. Some were heavyweights, like the industrial unions, that provided a solid center of gravity, but some, like the radicals, had better rhythm knowing when to pull hard and when to dig in their heels. There were different players but all of them were necessary.

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The New Deal and the 60’s revolution that soon followed could well be taken as the minimum standard for the kind of popular unrest that will be required for transformational change. How can we approach the revolutionary threshold in our time?  If we do not commit ourselves to organizing and movement building we will never find out.

 

[1] I relied on an excellent and detailed summary, by Puakev, “How Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal Were Pulled to the Left.”  See also Howard Zinn’s lost classic, New Deal Thought.

[2] Bert Cochran, “Labor and Communism: the Conflict that Shaped American Unions” cited in Sharon Smith, The 1930’s Turning Point for US Labor 

Posted in American Culture, electoral strategy, History, Labor Movement, Movement Culture, organizing, Organizing Method, Organizing Strategy, revolutionary strategy, Strategy, union organzing, unions, War, Working Class | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

The Betrayal of the American Man

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Susan Faludi’s book “Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man” takes a remarkably compassionate and revealing look at the crisis of modern masculinity from a feminist prospective. Faludi is an award-winning writer with the skills required to make a challenging topic easy reading. The book is based on years of fieldwork among men involved in various efforts to recreate some kind of a manly world for themselves. Using WWII as a starting point she goes on to shipyards, the space program, the Citadel, football fans, the New Left, Vietnam War, militias, Waco, gangsters, Promise Keepers, porn stars, the Gay liberation movement and more.

It’s all incredibly interesting and often surprising. Almost all of these attempts fail and far too many of these men pointed to feminism as the problem. The real causes of the crisis in masculinity lie in deeper personal and political changes far harder to understand or admit to.

For Faludi that crisis for male identity begins after WWII when an earlier masculinity grounded in being the family breadwinning, community service, useful work, care and nurturance was undermined. The rise of the new corporate consumer culture changed the way work was done and war’s were fought — sealing the fate of older masculine ideals.

This new economic regime undermined traditional masculinity by demanding obedience and passivity. In consumer culture, the pretty and ornamental were all that mattered. Mass media culture valued image over substance and celebrity over daily acts of service or useful work. Feelings mattered most while action was discouraged.

The only way for men to achieve recognition in consumer culture was for them to adopt the behaviors of a conventional femininity already widely critiqued and opposed by feminism. So whether men attempted to recreate conventional masculinity or adapt a more consumer-culture friendly version—based on image alone— they had a gnawing sense of failure. There was no longer a clear answer to the question: What does it mean to be a man? The search for masculinity lead to a dead end and we are still lost.

In the face of this dilemma the fathers of the 50’s and 60’s had little to pass on to their sons. Many of the men interviewed in this book experienced the crisis of masculinity as a heart-breaking and very personal failure. Those seeking masculine comforts in the projects and movements Faludi investigates did not have much of a relationship with their silent or absent fathers — who in the end were as overcome by the crisis in gender as they were.

Second Wave Feminism was triggered, in part, by mass resistance against the suffocating  expectations of gender roles. The author rightly asks why men did not revolt against their gender expectations as well since we were stuck in the same restricted gendered universe. Faludi answer is, of course, incomplete. But we should accept the evidence that existing strategies of social movements have proven incapable of launching a massive men’s movements based on challenging established gender roles.

And while the way forward remains unclear Faludi does give us two very helpful goal posts. The first suggests a transformative approach beyond masculinity.

“Because as men struggle to free themselves from their crisis their task is not …to figure out how to be masculine—rather, their masculinity lies in figuring out how to be human.”

Now that is useful work befitting a real man.

The second thing Faludi suggest is to focus on action; on doing. Quoting Sylvester Stallone, of all people, she wrote:

“So I’m going to put away this vanity and get on with my life. I don’t even think about what I look like. I think about what I have to do not what I look like when I’m doing.”

We can become better men not by chasing after some mystical male identity or gazing at our own reflections but by finding useful things to do. We are what we do — not an identity we claim to be.

So what should we do? I wish I knew. But If we take some cues from a similar struggle the road ahead might become just a little easier to see. I am thinking of the struggle against “whiteness” that white people must undertake. Since men and white people remain as two large buffer groups standing between the tiny elites and the discontented millions, freeing ourselves from this role may well be decisive. Since men and white people are the two largest categories of “house servants” — of everyday people that tend to identity with the powerful — maybe there are some hidden synergies we can learn from. Both are best addressed by doing and acting.

First things first, we should organize men to join the great struggles for freedom that lie ahead. And we must embrace a very simple compelling truth: there will be no freedom for any of us as long as patriarchy and male dominance holds down half the world. Those ideas are getting weaker by the year. It’s hard to miss the leading role of women and girls in the historic West Virginia teachers strike, in the youthful struggle against gun violence, in the new civil rights movement, and, of course, in #metoo.

We need to consider a less simple truth as well: masculinity and male privilege holds men down and keeps us in our places. Yes, we can lord it over those “below” us — but at a price: we agree not to rebel against those “above” us. But it is in that rebellion we can find ourselves, our freedom and take our rightful place in the world.

So men — help other men get active. Anyplace is a good place to start. When the day finally comes that our activism has changed us so deeply that white people no longer act white all the time and men no are longer obsessed with achieving masculine ideals that we will at long last discover our humanity and stand on the threshold of fundamental social change.

 

Posted in American Culture, Corporate Power, feminism, History, Labor Movement, Masculinity, Movement Culture, organizing, Organizing Strategy, Racism, Strategy, unions, War, White Supremacy, Working Class | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

What is Organizing?

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Organizing is a practice aimed at helping people create the social movements and political organizations necessary to wage campaigns and win power.  How do we make real the promises of democracy? Organizing is a time-tested strategy for empowering the people.

Organizing Relies on Action/Movement/Experience

The great American thinker, W.E.B. Dubois wrote:

The theory of democratic government is not that the will of the people is always right, but rather that normal human beings of average intelligence will, if given a chance, learn the right and best course by bitter experience.[1] (emphasis added)

“The people…will, if given a chance, learn the right and best course by bitter experience.” Experience is the teacher, the movement is the school, organizing is the method.

The organizer’s work is designed to produce social action because it is in the tumult of political life that leaders emerge, relationships develop and transformations in consciousness are realized.”[2]

Organizing depends on experience and experimentation rather than doctrine or ideology alone. Ideas are best proven or disproven in action rather than in debate. Words are important yes, but actions speak louder.

Organize the Unorganized!” 

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When the Industrial Workers of the World, set out to unionize big industry for the first time organizing became a make-it-or-break-it proposition for the movement. The Great Steel Strike of 1919, raised up “Organize the Unorganized” as the battle-cry of the class struggle.[3] Organizing was the way forward but was also the best defense against the deportation of immigrants, scapegoating and attacks on radicals, blacks, workers and anti-war activists that was all part and parcel of the first “Red Scare.” Sound familiar?

Today, organizing remains as the most basic task ahead and the greatest contradiction: how to build a movement of people not currently active. It seems so simple: movements grow only when they attract people who are currently not involved or disagree. But that means organizing demands that we work with people we do not agree with. Even if millions have a rough agreement with our values, why are so few activists? Even if people agree on paper, we disagree with their passivity. And that is a far deeper disagreement than a matter of ideology.

For organizers, politics is about disagreement as much as it is about agreement. How do we deal with disagreement?

Telling people that they have been duped or turned into fools and that we are right is not the organizer’s way. We do not call people out. We call them in to activity.  Organizers are wary of exclusivity.  We aim to include rather than exclude.

“Don’t be in a hurry to condemn because he doesn’t do what you do, or think as you think, or as fast. There was a time when you didn’t know what you know today.” — Malcolm X

It’s important to be mindful of barriers to entry.  Almost all political organizations consciously or unconsciously erect barriers to entry.  It is our duty to help people overcome the barriers to entry. We should not expect conversion experiences. What are the intermediate steps?  Even vanguard parties created front groups. Even in union organizing it’s often necessary to do “vestibule” organizing — can’t get them in the church right away, talk with them in the vestibule.

Units of Power/Serve the People

One answer to the problems we face is to create organizing projects that build political structures or what Martin Luther King Called “Units of Power.” Here is King’s critique of his own work:

“Our most powerful nonviolent weapon is… also our most demanding, that is organization.  To produce change people must be organized to work together in units of power.

[I]t is necessary to acknowledge that the torturous job of organizing solidly and simultaneously in thousands of places was not a feature of our work.

Many civil rights organizations were born as specialists in agitation and dramatic projects; they attracted massive sympathy and support; but they did not assemble and unify the support for new stages of struggle.

Recognizing that no army can mobilize and demobilize and remain a fighting unit, we will have to build far-flung workmanlike and experienced organizations.[4]

And again.

“To produce change, people must be organized to work together in units of power. These units might be political, as in the case of voters’ leagues and political parties; they may be economic units such as groups of tenants who join forces to form a tenant union or to organize a rent strike; or they may be laboring units of persons who are seeking employment and wage increases.”[5]

Units of power also take the form of projects that serve the people and enhance their survival.

While they were famous for black berets and self-defense, the Black Panthers built a solid base with service work. They helped to create an enduring model for successful community organizing. This excellent short video looks at the Panthers’ health care programs but they also had a breakfast program for kids, food for elders, schools and legal clinics. These programs became known as “serve the people,” or what the Panthers thought of as “survival pending revolution.”

Bill WhitfieldBill Whitfield of the Black Panther chapter in Kansas City serves free breakfast to children before they go to school, April 16, 1969. Photograph by William P. Straeter AP

The same approach was used by white commmunity organizations you can read about in Hillbilly Nationalists, Urban Race Rebels, and Black Power: Community Organizing in Radical Times. One of the most influential community groups was started by radical students that named the organization JOIN for Jobs Or Income Now.  A noble goal but the people decided immediate survival issues were far more important. Housing was expensive and rundown, so tenant unions were organized. The young were harassed by police so JOIN formed a committee to resisted police brutality. The poor found the welfare system confusing and demeaning so JOIN fought for welfare rights.

Today, organizing continues in all kinds of projects around the country.  A recent union drive at Stamford Hotel used deep organizing methods for a big win. The Democratic Socialists of America are engaged in a very promising effort to build a base using a deep organizing strategy.  Teachers self-organizied the historic West Virginia strike.

Two of my favorites projects are The Young Patriots, and The Poor People’s Campaign. Both have roots back to the last revolution. Both address the intertwined issues of our time.

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We also have a powerful new source for contemporary community organizing in Rising Jackson: The Struggle for Economic Democracy and Black Self-Determination in Jackson Mississippi.  Cooperation Jackson is a network of worker cooperatives and democratic institutions that grew out of decades of organizing.

All serve the people, all are units of power — this is how we overcome.

Organizing Demands Engagement

Engagement is true politics and the starting point for transformative change. If there is no engagement there is no discussion and without discussion there is no movement. Talking with strangers is one of the core revolutionary practices of the organizer’s world.

Saul Alinsky, born to Russian Jewish immigrant parents, founded modern community organizing in the 1930s.  While Rules for Radicals is his best known book, organizers also turn his earlier and more helpful work Reveille for Radicals. Alinsky schooled thousands of activists. He captured the kernel of organizing wisdom when he wrote:

“As an organizer I start from where the world is, as it is, not as I would like it to be. That we accept the world as it is does not in any sense weaken our desire to change it into what we believe it should be.”

The world “as it is” means starting with the people as they are. Then we move forward together.

Organizing focuses first on the people, secondly on those in power. In choosing tactics, campaigns, or language the need for engagement with people takes center stage. Speaking truth to power only works once you are well organized and have spoken truth to the people.

The organizers most important target then is the enemy within: fear, fatalism, denial, and distraction. By engaging people in gradually escalating action we diminish fear and fatalism and all the forms of social control that keep people in their place.

A good organizer is one step ahead of the people — always one but only one.

Relationship Building and Leadership Development

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Ella Baker said, “Strong people don’t need strong leaders.

Ella Baker, was the greatest organizer of the civil rights movement and one of the most influential activists of the 20th Century.  Ella worked closely with many of the great leaders including Martin Luther King — who she did not always see eye-to-eye with. King was the charismatic leader — Baker the classic organizer. Ella did a lot of the invisible work of bringing people together. Her greatest achievement was that she helped organize the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).  SNCC was the bridge between the civil rights moment and young people that propelled the upheavals of the last revolution. Baker mentored a generation of leaders and championed an organizing perspective.[6]

She argued that the movements needed:

“the development of people who are interested not in being leaders as much as in developing leadership among other people.”

It is the organizers job to be aware of an individual’s strengths and skills and to help them find political work that matches and enhances their abilities. Baker’s vision was that everyday people had the capacity to understand and change the world.

Participation, Democracy and Self-Determination

It’s the people’s right to decide what is to be done. The organizer helps the people do it.

SNCC’s slogan was: “Let the people decide.”

As Ella Baker would have it: a good organizer helps people “see their own ideas.”

How is this done? The movement in Iceland today has given new life to an old radical idea. “From the people to the people.” Listen. Refine. Return. Repeat. But stay true. If the people can “see their own ideas” they will lead, if not — you will be on your own.

“The key to organizing an alternative society is to organize people around what they can do and more importantly what they want to do.” — Abbie Hoffman

Huey Perry an unsung Appalachian organizer:

“A community action group consists of low-income people organized together to identify their problems and work toward possible solutions….I feel it is necessary that we take our time and build an organization that involves the poor in the decisions as to what types of programs they want, rather than sit down and write up what we think they want.”

The organizer yields power to the people as a strategy for winning power for the people. This is the deep dual meaning of the classic slogan “Power to the People.”

W.E.B Dubois taught that only “Liberty trains for liberty.” Democracy trains for democracy and power for power. There are no substitutes for experience and action.

“Give light,” Ella Baker said, “And the people will find the way.” Democracy is the “light,”  finding “the way” is self-determination.

Organizing is a democratic means in keeping with democratic ends. There are plenty of shortcuts but they just won’t get you there.

 

[1] W.E.B. Dubois, The Negro

[2] Also see Richard Moser, Principles of Organizing, How Do We Organize a Hundred Million? and Representation, Organizing and Community. 

[3] William Z. Foster was the son of radical Irish immigrants. He had a long, distinguished and checkered career rotating through the revolutionary movements of his time.  Most important he was the most notorious leader of the Great Steel Strike.  His pamphlet “Organize the Unorganized” sets out a revolutionary strategy for the period, but is also full of lessons for our own.

[4] MLK, Where Do We Go From Here?

[5] MLK, Nonviolence, The Only Road to Freedom

[6] See also Barbara Ransby, Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement

Posted in Cooperation, Movement Culture, Organizing Method, Organizing Strategy, revolutionary strategy, Strategy, union organzing | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia

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If you are wondering how one of the greatest strikes in recent history came out of a place we were told was a “Trump County” backwater then read this. This slender book packs quite a punch. Elizabeth Catte takes us on a tour of an Appalachia much more diverse, radical and conflicted than the one we hear about from corporate sources. Appalachia is no more “Trump Country” than is Long Island New York.

The author takes Vance’s famous *Hillbilly Elegy* to task for promoting a racial explanation of Appalachian poverty. Catte’s arguments are completely in keeping with what Nell Painter presents in History of White People: poor Appalachians are cast as broken people from dysfunctional families and damaged blood lines. That conveniently leaves out the role of corporate exploitation and resources extraction. And it hides behind a real history of eugenics and sterilization of mountain folk.

Class and corporate exploitation is made to disappear behind a “culture of poverty” argument also used against blacks, natives and other people. Just as important Catte shows us the hidden history and current resistance of local people against the corporations that dispose of their health — sometimes their lives — and destroy the water, mountains and air of Appalachia. No wonder Standing Rock was so strongly supported in Appalachian communities.

And Catte offers this gem of organizing wisdom from Huey Perry, an unsung hero of mountain resistance:

“A community action group consists of low-income people organized together to identify their problems and work toward possible solutions….I feel it is necessary that we take our time and build an organization that involves the poor in the decisions as to what types of programs they want, rather than sit down and write up what we think they want.”

Start by serving the people — end by changing the world.  The historic state-wide teachers strike then is not some surprising exception to Appalachian history but a continuation of the very best that people — any people — have to offer.

 

Posted in American Culture, Cooperation, Corporate Power, Empire, History, Labor Movement, Movement Culture, Organizing Method, Racism | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Mueller the Politician

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This also was in Counterpunch

 

Mueller has proven himself quite the politician.

I was hoping that the indictments would bring some sort of resolution to the investigation and force all the evidence to become public. But no, this investigation is not meant to be conclusive, it is — like Orwell’s description of war — meant to be continuous.

By issuing indictments to individuals that are unlikely to ever come to trial Mueller has dodged the responsibility of presenting any additional evidence — a perfect sleight of hand.

A relatively small number of Facebook ads were used, many after the election, but no one from the investigation claims it had any impact. We are supposed to imagine it did. The Russian meme bombers may or may not be connected to the Russian government but Mueller provides no evidence. The indictments are little more than unconvincing accusations in keeping with the rest of the Russian narrative as eminent historian Jackson Lears has so thoroughly demonstrated. 

Can anyone argue that the Russians had anything close to the influence of the corporate media when they gave Trump $2 billion worth of free coverage? Or when DNC operatives worked with their media allies to elevate Trump before the primaries even started? No contest. The electoral process is awash in $Billions skimmed from the global economy but that disappears from view in face of the foreign foe.

By shifting the grounds from hacking, collusion and intervention to what is essentially campaigning — the use of information, speech and propaganda by those seeking to influence the outcome — Mueller continues the war on “Fake News.” Clinton used the same tactic from the first days of the new Cold War. Not to worry about free speech, the secret police will tell us what is true and what is not. The First Amendment was designed to protect the people from the power of government. It is our right and our right alone to evaluate and judge information. Anything else is tyranny. And make no mistake, these indictments target domestic dissent smearing Black Lives Matters, Berners and the Green Party as unwitting collaborators with the Russians.

Mueller’s recent move covers himself, hides the investigation’s lack of substance and lays the ground work for more. Mueller is achieving the true goals of an inquisition: enforcing political discipline and conformity at home and promoting war preparations abroad. The inquisition diverts us from a terrible truth: American democracy was destroyed by our own hands.  The corporate empire killed American democracy.

In fact, there are plenty of people, both Republicans and Democrats, that could be indicted for election fraud and conspiracy right here in the good ole’ USA. Much of the evidence is not in question and has been documented by Mark Crispin Miller, Greg Palast, Election Justice USA, and Code Red. Hackable voting machines, gerrymandering, crosscheck, and purging voter rolls are just a few examples. These crimes gets no traction for two big reasons.

First, it might lead to the kind of election reform that would make it impossible to rig the system. That would force candidates and parties to actually compete in the arena of policy and platform. They might have to offer something positive to the American people instead of relying on cloak and dagger, lesser of two evils and other fear-based tactics to compel people to vote for parties that no longer represent them.

As Ann Garrison recently argued in Black Agenda Report:

“If the Democrats wanted to inspire trust in Hillary’s three million vote margin or in any future electoral outcomes, they would call for junking all the electronic voting machines and instituting secure, nationally uniform methods of casting and counting ballots: paper ballots counted by hand and safely stored to make recounts possible. They would thereby propose to preclude any future election hacking by Russians, Republicans, or other potential miscreants, including their fellow Democrats. They would turn more attention to ending voter suppression than to $100,000 worth of Facebook ads generated by a troll farm.”

Second, any investigation of US election fraud would disarm the war party — which now includes the corporate Democrats and Republicans — by diluting the propaganda they need to command ever bigger budgets that keep the wheels of perpetual war turning. The war party is led by the former Republican foreign policy establishment known as the neoconservatives. Whatever their bloody and criminal past, the “neocons” like their figurehead G.W. Bush, have been rebranded into Democrats.

And the neocons are just the most recent incarnation of a bi-partisan consensus that has, for well over half a century, conducted overt war and covert operations to topple governments, intervene in elections, extract resources, and assassinate foreign leaders. The costs of war, the sheer tonnage of bombs and bullets, the millions of dead on all sides, the 650 major military bases, the dangerous and provocative military buildup on Russia’s borders, makes the words and memes dropped on us by Russians, or anyone else, look like the feeble attempts of rank amateurs struggling to compete in a game we have mastered.

How can we be outraged at intervention in our election when it is the US that routinely undermines the self-determination of other nations? We can be outraged at Russians or Chinese, but only from the perspective of militarized nationalism that neocons thrive on.  Or, from inside the illusion of “humanitarian war” that has been a part of America’s imperial rhetoric ever since White Man’s Burden eased our minds for crushing the Philippines 1899-1902. And always, and ultimately, from the sanctity of our founding myths: that we are chosen, an exceptional nation that only makes war with “God on Our Side.”

Why would Mueller attack a system that he is so much a part of? Mueller has been a loyal member of the machine enabling wars, silencing whistleblowers and permitting torture since he was appointed to head the FBI by George W. Bush. Mueller dutifully repeated lies that bought us the war in Iraq.

So the inquisition will roll on as it is intended to do. How else can we explain that a year’s worth of investigation has produced no electronic evidence of collusion despite having the world’s largest surveillance system at its disposal? The scene of the alleged crime — the DNC computers and servers — have yet to be inspected; Seth Rich’s computers — the same; two key witness, Julian Assange and Craig Murray have never been interviewed by the investigation. The inquisition is not interested in evidence it is not interested in!

Our job however is to resist being drawn into the bottomless pit of palace politics and to organize a real resistance to empire, war and corporate power. For that we obviously cannot rely upon Mueller, the FBI or any political elites. Either we the people do it or it doesn’t get done.

 

Posted in American Culture, Corporate Power, Empire, Green Party, History, Red Scare, Strategy, War, Working Class | 2 Comments

Jackson Rising

jackson_cover

Also in Counterpunch

“Revolution is based on land. Land is the basis of all independence. Land is the basis of freedom, justice, and equality….” Malcom X

Jackson Rising is the most important book I have read in a long time. Organizers are going to love it. If you wonder what democracy might look like in our time — here it is.

Jackson Rising is the rarest of things: a real strategic plan. You will not find a simple wish list that glosses over the hard questions of resources, or some disembodied manifesto imploring the workers forward, but a work-in-progress building the capacity of people to exercise power.

And that project is Cooperation Jackson. Cooperation Jackson is an emerging network of cooperatives and grassroots institutions that aim to build a “solidarity economy.” By seizing on the crisis and weak links of modern capitalism and building on the historic struggles for racial equality by the black people of Mississippi, Cooperation Jackson has created a model we can all learn from.

Just as important, Jackson Rising shows the value of deep organizing. Decades of persistent organizing efforts have empowered the people of Jackson to pursue agendas of their own creation.

The editors, Kali Akuno and Ajamu Nangwaya are both writers and organizers. They have contributed comprehensive, insightful and historically grounded accounts of the struggle in Jackson. The interview with Sacajewea Hall, another organizer, reveals just how central issues of patriarchy are to any attempt to achieve the solidarity economy Cooperation Jackson aims to bring into being. While some essays will be easier for readers acquainted with socialist and anarchist discourse, the general themes transcend ideological borders.

Almost all progressives value, or should value, economic democracy and direct, participatory democracy; cooperation rather than competition; environmental restoration rather than environmental destruction; and the need for a fundamentally transformative political vision. The land is the first and most essential  commons — the original means of production — and all progressives should stand for the return of land to the people.

Decades of experience in Jackson demonstrates that democracy walks on two legs: one economic, the other political. Peoples Assemblies and worker cooperatives are the foundations to both. The People’s Assembly combine both direct democracy and the representative democracy of various coalition partners. Worker and Farmer Cooperatives institutionalize sound environmental practices, promote food security and establish beachheads of a cooperative economy on the margins of the corporate order.

Jackson Rising fuses prefigurative projects, like worker controlled cooperatives, with social change movements, like black freedom struggles. We can combine what George Jackson called “the commune” with political protest as the Black Panthers did with community organizing designed for “survival pending revolution.”

Environmental concerns are inseparable from both survival and revolution in this visionary book. In fact the power of both book  and project draws, in part, from the dawning awareness that survival itself demands revolution. And the project of transformation — the task of turning one thing into another thing through struggle, sweat and study — motivates the essays chronicling this experiment in taking power.

Because Jackson Rising is deeply rooted in the history of the black community and other experiments in worker control around the world it gives us a model for the future that can apply to all of us. Dig into your own radical roots, wherever you may be, and learn from others. Start experimenting in your town. Prepare. When the bubble bursts — and burst it will — we will need a network of worker cooperatives and people’s assemblies to sustain us in the struggle for an authentic democracy.

One of the terrible contradictions of the current struggle for economic democracy is that workers require capital to fight capitalism. I strongly urge you to make a donation today.

Cooperation Jackson has a long complex history and the book it inspired has many moving parts. But for the people of Jackson — and for Chokwe Lumumba who was the leader, organizer and Mayor before his untimely death — one ideal rose above and encompassed all their projects and dreams. This ideal echoes in the streets and meeting halls of Jackson and throughout this remarkable collection of essays: “Free the land!” “Free the Land!” “Free the land!”

 

Posted in American Culture, Corporate Power, Movement Culture, Organizing Method, Organizing Strategy, Racism, revolutionary strategy, White Supremacy | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

How Progressives Can Compete for Major Office: A Class Analysis of Political Paralysis

 

Also at Counterpunch

Learning from the Green Party Defeat in New Jersey.  

Local electoral gains are beginning to add up. The Green Party won 45 local seats nationwide in 2017 for a total of 141 in 18 states. Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) added 15 new elected officials to their 20 already holding public office. Progressives endorsed by Our Revolution and running as Democrats also did well. Overall third party and independent representation is up 40% since 2014. This bodes well for the long game.

But, how progressives and alternative parties can win major office remains an open question.

In 2017, Wall Street’s strongest candidate, Phil Murphy, won the New Jersey Governors race with under 20% of the eligible vote. But it was “none of the above” that had the big numbers with at least 65% of the eligible voters staying home, making it the lowest turnout in history. The people of New Jersey have rejected the major parties without choosing an alternative.  The Green party was unable to win significant votes, totaling a tiny .5% of the vote cast by a brave and desperate 10,000.

The Class Analysis of Political Paralysis 

Beneath the liberal pretensions and snobbery that shape the narratives of New York City media, New Jersey and New York City have become increasingly conservative. Or more precisely, the remaining voters have become more conservative as a growing number abandon elections altogether.

In both substance and style Chris Christie foreshadowed Trump and he was elected twice. The second time was a landslide with the support of many Democratic voters and officials. New Jersey also voted for Clinton when they had the choice of Sanders in the 2016 Democratic primary, as did NYC. Murphy’s victory depended on voters that were willing to overlook the central role of Goldman Sachs in creating the brutal inequality that helped to give us Trump. Nine New Jersey counties voted for Trump as did Staten Island, Orange, Putnam and Suffolk County — the most Jersey-like suburban counties in the New York metro area. Trump is New York City born and bred — a plain fact that the corporate media has all but ignored.  Imagine the scorn that would have been heaped on Iowa, Alabama, or West Virginia had Trump hailed from the deplorable hinterlands.

Is it fundamentally conservative to accept that fact that Phil Murphy can buy his way into the governor’s mansion? I can hear the appeals to so-called realism now and anyway “that is just the way it is.”  Well, that’s the way it was when Jon Corzine purchased the same post in 2005 before losing to Christie in 2009.  The Republican’s open class-war program and New Jersey’s own financial crisis will give Murphy an excuse to betray his promises and — Corzine redux — pave the way for an eventual Republican return to power.

While there are lots of good people within every demographic, New Jersey has two large related social groups that act as a support network for the two-party system.  The urban professional and managerial classes are the core constituency of corporate Democrats and the affluent white suburbanites are the Republican’s base. Beneath the appearance of extraordinary differences between them, they have a lot in common starting with a belief that the established order is the only possible world.

Both believe, in there own way, that the economy is based on merit. Both believe they have earned their social place and their political opinions through hard work or higher education. The liberals just toss in a dash of corporate identity politics to rally their troops and the conservatives stir their side by scapegoating immigrants and calling on  white identity. Both are galvanized by the fear of foreigners — be it Russians or Mexicans — and fall into line by blaming others for problems of our own making.

Many in both these buffer groups have careers with the major industries of the region: insurance companies and Big Pharma that oppose universal health care; Wall Street firms that produce extreme inequality; media conglomerates that control the newspapers and TV; and the large corporatized universities that serve business interests while impoverishing students and workers. These corporations exert enormous economic, political and cultural power, pushing New Jersey and NYC to the right. Voting records too often reflect that conservatism.

Many unions, environmental groups, student organizations, even some civil rights groups remain faithful to the well-worn but worn-out tactic of “access” to the powerful rather than challenging the powerful. They continue on the same path as if the same 50-year period of relying on access has not also been one of across-the-board decline in the fortunes of the multi-racial working class, students, women and the environment.

In 2016, a record 43% of union members showed their desperation and acceptance of  scapegoating by voting for Trump. In 2017, instead of embracing more aggressive campaigns to better educate workers or organize the unorganized, New Jersey’s union officials took the shortcut, circled the wagons and went for Wall Street.  Now we will see what they can make of their victory.

Will the two-party system retain the allegiance of urban professionals, managers and affluent suburbanites as the multiple crisis of environmental destruction, war, inequality and corporate control continue to deepen?  Its hard to say. Many individuals from both groups already do the right thing.  If their complicity with and support for the corporate order can be weakened, even a little, it could mean a lot.  The best way to force their hand however is by exerting pressure and leadership from below.

The Green Party is a Poor People’s Party

The primary problem with the 2017 Green party campaign for governor of New Jersey was the lack of resources. All other problems were secondary.

The Green Party could not have hoped for better candidates and staff.  Given the progressive, visionary, and hardworking leadership of Seth Kaper-Dale, Lisa Durden and campaign manager Geoff Herzog, I think it is safe to say that great candidates are a necessary but not sufficient part of a run at major office

The Green Party has the values, principle and platform to win. The Sanders campaign proved that. Sanders offered a less complete version of the Green Party values to a public more than ready to hear it despite media censorship and a rigged election.

The Greens have it all except a convincing path to power and the resources to make it real.

Too few volunteers and too little money limited the Green Party’s ability to really test the  strategy of reaching out to the young and the largely black and brown working-class communities.  The focus on the most exploited and oppressed was not simply the result of a grand analysis but was the product of face-to-face interactions with people from the outset. People of color and younger voters from all backgrounds were the most likely to take our fliers, talk with us a bit, look us in the eye and thank us for our efforts.

And, we should not forget that Kaper-Dale/Durden did get the endorsement of two local Our Revolution chapters and two civil rights organizations. An unknown but surely substantial number of our 10,000 votes were from immigrant and anti-racist activists, Berners and social-democrats and young people hoping for a better life.  The Jabari Brisport campaign in NYC also suggests a coalition with DSA and Our Revolution is well worth exploring.

The Green strategy was twofold: outreach to the unrepresented and discouraged working class and to other progressives.

The team was approximately 100 people with about a third who made major commitments of time, energy and money. A real run at power would have required a minimum of ten times that much: 1,000 volunteers with 300 ready to devote serious resources to the campaign.

This begs the question: How can progressive campaigns dramatically increase their resources?

It’s Deep Organizing or Deep Trouble 

One possible answer is to conduct electoral campaigns much more like social movements. If the Green Party is going to have successful runs at major office it will be to the degree that it becomes the electoral wing of the social movements.  Can we organize the unorganized?

First we must bring a culture of organizing into electoral politics and then fuse the Green Party with the kind of social movement organizing that continues outside of elections.

For electoral organizing, progressives might start two years out from the election with a series of listening sessions hosted by local leaders from various communities — urban, rural, small town and suburban. Based upon these listening sessions party activists could go on to help people form organizations suited to their needs or support existing ones. These might be community groups to advocate for their neighborhoods at city hall or service organizations to fill urgent community needs. Electoral reform groups, tenants unions, environmental groups, civil rights groups, Green Party chapters — a victorious campaign might be built on any number of organizations. But, there must be “structure” or what Martin Luther King called “units of power.”  Its about building power, not just speaking truth to power. Each community should develop leadership, strategy and units of power based on their own needs.

Given the dismal turnout it would also be wise to aim for an intermediate goal. While we failed to get 5% for Jill Stein, having a strategic goal helped people understand why their participation mattered. Progressives could launch our own “Fight for 15%” as a way of giving people a handle on the value of sending a powerful message still short of total victory. A 15% turnout in a major election would deliver real power forcing the two parties to move toward the people or face the consequences.

This takes time, a lot of time. The lesson of the Green Party New Jersey Gubernatorial race is that a two year campaign would be absolute minimum and only if it is also based on a foundation of ongoing community organizing. It’s a high bar and I wish it were easier but nothing short of a serious long-term organizing approach will prevail against the most deeply entrenched political machines in the world.

Only millions of people can make history. For progressives that means mobilizing the latent power of the occasion and discouraged voters of every class and color. Most people in the US no longer have faith in the system but no convincing alternative has yet to emerge.  And that alternative can only be created with the energy and power of millions dedicated to challenging power and disrupting existing forms of social control. Getting the people back into politics and the money out will take deep organizing and persistence in the face of defeat.

 

Posted in Corporate Power, electoral strategy, Green Party, Movement Culture, Organizing Method, Organizing Strategy | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments