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“It’s Time To Leave Home”: There Is Nowhere You Can Go And Only Be With People Who Are Like You; It’s Over, Give It Up

When I think about the problem of big money in politics and the challenges we face to citizen engagement, I am reminded of a prophetic speech Bernice Johnson Reagon (founder of “Sweet Honey in the Rock” – featured below) gave in 1981 titled: Coalition Politics: Turning the Century. She begins by summarizing the impact technology has had on our social constructs:

We’ve pretty much come to the end of a time when you can have a space that is “yours only”—just for the people you want to be there…To a large extent it’s because we have just finished with that kind of isolating. There is no hiding place. There is nowhere you can go and only be with people who are like you. It’s over. Give it up.

David Simon captured how the re-election of Barack Obama sealed this change when he talked about the death of normal.

America will soon belong to the men and women — white and black and Latino and Asian, Christian and Jew and Muslim and atheist, gay and straight — who can walk into a room and accept with real comfort the sensation that they are in a world of certain difference, that there are no real majorities, only pluralities and coalitions. The America in which it was otherwise is dying…

What makes Reagon’s words so prophetic is that she talked about what our reaction would likely be to this reality. We are seeing it play out today in the tension between the supporters of Bernie Sanders and the Black Lives Matter movement. She warned that it would lead us to retreat to spaces she called “home.”

Now every once in awhile there is a need for people to try to clean out corners and bar the doors and check everybody who comes in the door, and check what they carry in and say, “Humph, inside this place the only thing we are going to deal with is X or Y or Z.” And so only the X’s or Y’s or Z’s get to come in…

But that space while it lasts should be a nurturing space where you sift out what people are saying about you and decide who you really are. And you take the time to try to construct within yourself and within your community who you would be if you were running society. In fact, in that little barred room where you check everybody at the door, you act out community. You pretend that your room is a world.

She said that there are dangers associated with pretending “that your room is a world.”

I mean it’s nurturing, but it is also nationalism. At a certain stage nationalism is crucial to a people if you are going to ever impact as a group in your own interest. Nationalism at another point becomes reactionary because it is totally inadequate for surviving in the world with many peoples.

In order to survive in this world with many peoples, we have to learn how to build coalitions.

Coalition work is not work done in your home. Coalition work has to be done in the streets. And it is some of the most dangerous work you can do. And you shouldn’t look for comfort. Some people will come to a coalition and they rate the success of the coalition on whether or not they feel good when they get there. They’re not looking for a coalition; they’re looking for a home! They’re looking for a bottle with some milk in it and a nipple, which does not happen in a coalition. You don’t get a lot of food in a coalition. You don’t get fed a lot in a coalition. In a coalition you have to give, and it is different from your home. You can’t stay there all the time. You go to the coalition for a few hours and then you go back and take your bottle wherever it is, and then you go back and coalesce some more.

It is very important not to confuse them—home and coalition.

She says that forming coalitions is a matter of life and death.

It must become necessary for all of us to feel that this is our world…And watch that “ours’ make it as big as you can—it ain’t got nothing to do with that barred room. The “our” must include everybody you have to include in order for you to survive. You must be sure you understand that you ain’t gonna be able to have an “our” that don’t include Bernice Johnson Reagon, cause I don’t plan to go nowhere! That’s why we have to have coalitions. Cause I ain’t gonna let you live unless you let me live. Now there’s danger in that, but there’s also the possibility that we can both live—if you can stand it.

The tensions we’re currently seeing in our politics are a direct result of people looking for a home and being fearful of a coalition. Too many of us are simply seeking out the comfort of those who are like us and/or agree with us. As a weigh station to nurture ourselves, there is value in that. But in the end, we have to leave home and face the world as it really is.

This is exactly the message President Obama gave to the young graduates of Morehouse in 2013.

As Morehouse Men, many of you know what it’s like to be an outsider; know what it’s like to be marginalized; know what it’s like to feel the sting of discrimination. And that’s an experience that a lot of Americans share…

So it’s up to you to widen your circle of concern — to care about justice for everybody, white, black and brown. Everybody. Not just in your own community, but also across this country and around the world. To make sure everyone has a voice, and everybody gets a seat at the table…

President Obama’s rhetoric about this is often uplifting and visionary. That is as it should be. But Reagon got down to the nitty gritty in her speech about what this actually means for all of us. Anyone thinking it’s about some kind of kumbaya moment is very mistaken.

There is an offensive movement that started in this country in the 60’s that is continuing. The reason we are stumbling is that we are at the point where in order to take the next step we’ve got to do it with some folk we don’t care too much about. And we got to vomit over that for a little while. We must just keep going.

In other words, its time to leave home, vomit for a little while about that, and get busy dealing with the world as it is rather than as we want it to be. In the end, its about survival…”Cause I ain’t gonna let you live unless you let me live. Now there’s danger in that, but there’s also the possibility that we can both live—if you can stand it.”

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, August 16, 2015

August 18, 2015 Posted by | Coalitions, Discrimination, Nationalism | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Language And Words”: Magna Carta Said No Man Is Above The Law, But What About Corporations?

Magna Carta reminds us that no man is above the law.

And it should be celebrated for that.

But it should not be imagined that Magna Carta established democracy, or anything akin to it.

The great British parliamentarian Tony Benn put it well several years ago when he noted, as this 800th anniversary of Magna Carta approached, that we still do not have democracy.

“Don’t look at historic documents but treat them as part of the language and words that help us understand what we have to do,” said Benn, who died in 2014 at age 88.

As queens and presidents celebrate today’s anniversary of Magna Carta, with all their pomp and circumstance, we the people should be focused on what we have to do.

If we respect the notion that the rule of law must apply to all—the most generous interpretation of the premises handed down across the centuries from those who on June 15, 1215, forced “the Great Charter of the Liberties” upon King John of England at Runnymede—then surely it must apply to corporations.

And, surely, the best celebration of those premises in the United States must be the extension of the movement to amend the US Constitution to declare that corporations are not people, money is not speech, and citizens and their elected representatives have the authority to organize elections—and systems of governance—where our votes matter more than their dollars.

Millions of Americans have already engaged with the movement to amend the Constitution to overturn not just the Supreme Court’s noxious 2010 decision in the case of Citizens United v. FEC but a host of other decisions that have permitted billionaires and corporate CEOs to define our politics and policies. Sixteen states have formally urged Congress to move an amendment, as have more than 600 communities. Democratic and Republican members of Congress are supportive. One presidential candidate, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, has penned an amendment proposal, while others, including Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton, say they are open to the prospect.

But this movement, like every movement to amend the Constitution in a way that upsets the status quo, still faces plenty of obstacles. Politicians and media outlets that benefit from a system defined by blank checks and millions of negative ads continue to resist the logic of this reform—and the prospect of robust democracy.

Polls show that the American people know that billionaires and corporations are too influential, and referendum results confirm that the people are ready to amend the constitution to reduce that influence. But to translate those sentiments into real change will require more campaigning by the groups that have moved this project forward, including Move to Amend, Free Speech for People, Common Cause, Public Citizen, People for the American Way and dozens of others.

It will also require citizens themselves to begin to confront elected officials with blunt questions that go to the heart of democracy—and to the heart of the question of whether the rule of law really does apply to all men, all women and all corporations.

Tony Benn, the great chronicler and champion of the long struggle for liberty in Britain and around the world, best outlined the challenge that must be made to those who control our politics and our economics—and who are so inclined to resist change.

Decades ago, Benn outlined “Five Questions for People of Power.

They are:

“What power have you got?

“Where did you get it from?

“In whose interests do you use it?

“To whom are you accountable?

“How do we get rid of you?”

“Anyone who cannot answer the last of those questions,” said Benn, “does not live in a democratic system.”

For Americans, the answer to that last question is a movement to amend the Constitution so that we can begin to get rid of the overwhelming influence of billionaires and corporations over our politics, our governance, and our lives.

 

By: John Nichols, The Nation, June 15, 2015

June 17, 2015 Posted by | Corporations, Democracy, Magna Carta | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Run Away As Fast As You Can!”: Ralph Nader Wants Liberals To Back Rand Paul. Don’t Do It.

This week, Ralph Nader returned to the political stage with a new book, Unstoppable, whose triumphant subtitle is The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State. To kick off his publicity tour, he has argued that liberals should “definitely” impeach President Barack Obama, abandon the “international militarist” Hillary Clinton, and instead embrace Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) as a possible leader of his dream coalition.

To what end? In the book, Nader writes that by marrying the Left with the libertarian Right, we can cut off government support for corporations and have “honest government,” “fair taxation,” and “more opportunity.” Nader sees relatively low-hanging fruit in opposing “sovereignty-shredding global trade agreements, Wall Street bailouts, the overweening expansion of Federal Reserve power, and the serious intrusions of the USA PATRIOT Act against freedom and privacy.” He also articulates loftier, if not fully fleshed out, aspirations to “push for environmentalism,” “reform health care,” and “control more of the commons that we already own.”

Some liberal commentators, like Esquire‘s Charles Pierce and the American Prospect‘s Scott Lemieux, are dismissing Nader’s vision as fantastical, since the Right will never join his progressive crusade. But Nader’s vision should not be dismissed so quickly. He leads his book with concrete examples from the 1980s of when he put Left-Right coalitions together to stop an over-budget nuclear reactor project and to pass legislation to protect whistleblowers who uncover wasteful government fraud.

More recently, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), and then-Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) joined forces to pass legislation auditing the Federal Reserve. Nader is correct that there are opportunities to build ideologically diverse coalitions and that coalition building is the key to getting most anything you want out of politics.

However, coalition building requires compromise and, most critically, prioritizing one set of issues over another. The trade-offs inherent in Nader’s path into Rand Paul’s arms should make liberals run screaming.

The Nader strategy of a permanent coalition with the libertarian Right greatly limits what liberals can accomplish. Where there is a joint desire to restrain government (end the drug war) and limit spending (stop corporate welfare), a Nader-Paul alliance can form. But you can forget about anything that involves new government regulation, higher taxes, and more spending. That would preclude big-ticket liberal priorities like capping carbon emissions, expanding anti-poverty programs, guaranteeing universal preschool, and investing in infrastructure.

Nader effectively deprioritizes those goals, because his primary agenda is to “Dismantle the Corporate State.” But the hard truth is that if liberals want to make progress on their core agenda, the coalition to nurture is not with the Paulistas. It’s with the CEOs.

The little-talked-about secret of most major liberal accomplishments over the past 80 years is that they received some degree of corporate support, at least enough to disempower conservative opposition. This is true for much of FDR’s New Deal, LBJ’s anti-poverty legislation, and environmental regulation, as well as Obama’s stimulus, repeal of the Bush tax cuts, Wall Street regulation, and health-care reform.

As I observed in the New York Times following the Supreme Court’s upholding of ObamaCare, “When corporations are divided or mollified, reformers can breathe. The president can be heard. Business owners can be convinced that they will remain profitable. The dim prospect of perpetual gridlock can be trumped by the allure of regulatory certainty.”

Nader wants to scrap this long, if quiet, history of liberal success that has built the pillars of modern activist government in favor of prioritizing a civil libertarian agenda. His strategy makes sense if you think smashing the NSA is more important than saving the climate or feeding the hungry. I suspect most liberals would not make that trade.

There’s nothing wrong with forging temporary, limited partnerships with whoever is willing to play ball at that moment. You can work with libertarians against corporations on global trade today, and cooperate with corporations against libertarians on funding infrastructure tomorrow.

But Nader’s vision goes beyond ad-hoc coalitions. He wants to permanently side with government-hating libertarians over government-accepting corporations. That may have superficial appeal to liberals currently agitated over income inequality, but it’s not the strategy that helped liberals in the past century build the social safety net, reduce poverty, and avoid another a Great Depression.

 

By: Bill Scher, The Week, May 2, 2014

May 3, 2014 Posted by | Liberals, Libertarians, Politics | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Common Ground Is Not Always Common”: Beware Of Paul Ryan’s Lose-A-Battle, Win-A-War Strategy

The conventional wisdom is that the Republicans got nothing—except some historic disapproval numbers and a lot of internal backbiting—from the whole shutdown showdown.

But there are different Republicans, with different intentions, and not all of them were frowning as the week of their party’s public shame came to a conclusion.

It is certainly true that Texas Senator Ted Cruz has become a political punch line—the Canadian-born Republican whom Democrats would most like to see the Grand Old Party nominate for president. House Speaker John Boehner’s name is likely to enter the lexicon as an antonym for “leadership.” Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell is going to be spending an inordinate amount of time discussing the term “Kentucky kickback.” And it may even be dawning on the Tea Partisans that the whole “defund Obamacare” gambit was a charade.

The real point of the exercise in chaos that the country was just dragged through was the chaos itself.

And the beneficiary of it all is the Republican who has suddenly stepped back into the limelight after laying low through most of the shutdown: House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin.

Fully aware that the American people have no taste for a “grand bargain” that might see the implementation of at least some of his Ayn Rand–inspired “survival-of-the-fittest” proposals for means-testing earned-benefit programs, for taking the first steps toward privatization of Social Security, for turning Medicare and Medicaid into voucher programs, Ryan has for years been looking for an opening that makes his proposals seem “necessary.”

The 2012 election, when he was his party’s “big ideas” guy, and its nominee for vice president, confirmed that there was no electoral route to advance his agenda. Americans rejected Ryan, overwhelmingly. He could not even carry his home state for the Romney-Ryan ticket, which was defeated by a 5 million popular-vote margin and a 332-206 Electoral College blowout. Ryan knew that it would take more to get his opening. And the crisis of the past several weeks in Washington provided it.

Some analysts were surprised when Ryan voted against the deal to temporarily end the shutdown and raise the debt ceiling. They shouldn’t have been. While it’s true that Ryan—an enthusiastic backer of the 2008 bank bailout—is a reliable vote for the agenda of the Wall Street speculators who fund his campaigns, he wasn’t going against his political patrons when he joined 143 other House Republicans in voting “no.” Rather, the Budget Committee chairman—who just reported raising more than $1 million in fresh campaign funds in the third quarter of 2013—was voting to strengthen his own hand as he steps into the ring for the next stage of an inside-the-Beltway fight that is far from finished.

The deal that ended the shutdown set up a high-stakes conference committee on budget issues. If there is to be a “grand bargain,” this is where it will be generated. And Ryan—the most prominent of the fourteen Democrats, fourteen Republicans and two independents on the committee—is in the thick of it.

The Budget Committee chairman says it would be “premature to get into exactly how we’re going to” sort out budget issues.

But no one should have any doubts about the hard bargain he will drive for. In the midst of the shutdown, Ryan jumped the gun by penning a Wall Street Journal op-ed that proposed: “Reforms to entitlement programs and the tax code…”

“Here are just a few ideas to get the conversation started,” Ryan wrote. “We could ask the better off to pay higher premiums for Medicare. We could reform Medigap plans to encourage efficiency and cut costs. And we could ask federal employees to contribute more to their own retirement.”

Translation: Get ready for the radical reshaping of Medicare so that it is no longer a universal program. Make way for more price-gouging by the private companies that sell supplemental insurance. Launch a new assault on public employees who have already been hit with wage freezes and furloughs.

And Ryan will not stop there.

He never does.

That’s why the Democrats on the conference committee—led by Senate Budget Committee chairman Patty Murray, D-Washington—must be exceptionally wary.

“Chairman Ryan knows I’m not going to vote for his budget, and I know he’s not going to vote for mine,” says Murray. “We’re going to find the common ground between our two budgets that we both can vote on and that’s our goal.”

The thing to remember that Ryan is working to get cuts to earned-benefit programs onto that common ground.

Ryan cast his “no” vote on the deal that set up the conference committee in order to begin organizing his troops for a fight that will set up the next shutdown and debt-ceiling struggles. The committee has a deadline of December 13. That makes its report—or the lack of one—the first deadline on a schedule that proceeds toward new continuing resolution and debt-ceiling votes in January and February. That creates tremendous pressure for a deal, and Ryan’s at the ready.

That answer to his supplications must be a firm “No.”

That’s what Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, is proposing. Sanders, one of a member of the conference committee says: “it is imperative that this new budget helps us create the millions of jobs we desperately need and does not balance the budget on the backs of working people, the elderly, the children, the sick and the poor…”

Sanders’ office notes: “The Senate budget protects Medicare while the House version would end Medicare as we know it by providing coupons for private health insurance. Unlike the House budget, the Senate resolution does not repeal the Affordable Care Act, which would prevent more than 20 million Americans from getting health insurance. The House version would eliminate grants for up to 1 million college students while the Senate plan protects Pell grants. The House version would kick up to 24 million Americans off of Medicaid while the Senate budget would protect their benefits. The Senate budget calls for new revenue while the House version would provide trillions of dollars in tax breaks mainly for the wealthiest Americans and profitable corporations offset by increased taxes on the middle class.”

Ryan would be more than happy to settle for a “common ground” agreement that opens the way for a little bit of privatization, a little bit of movement toward vouchers, a little bit of means testing, a little bit of an increase in the retirement age. But if he gets that, the big “blink” that everyone was talking about during the shutdown fight will have happened.

If that is where this thing ends, it might not be the Democrats who get the last laugh.

It might yet be a Republican named Paul Ryan.

 

By: John Nichols, The Nation, October 18, 2013

October 21, 2013 Posted by | Paul Ryan, Ryan Budget Plan | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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