“What sort of people are we, we Americans? … Today, we are the most frightening people on this planet.” — Historian Arthur Schlesinger
As these words are written, I am on a cruise ship pulling into the harbor of the Greek island of Crete. All around me, the morning sparkles. The water is placid, the sky is clear and pale blue, our ship is embraced by gently sloping hills dotted with houses and shops.
And I just turned on the television.
And I just heard about Dallas.
I have made it a point to keep the news at something of a distance these last two weeks of travel, filling my days instead with shell craters on a beach in Normandy, a shopping square in Barcelona, the ghostly remains of Pompeii. So while I know that two African-American men were killed by police under dubious circumstances in Louisiana and Minnesota a couple days ago, I haven’t seen the videos, haven’t checked too deeply into the circumstances.
I’m off the clock now. I wanted to keep the horror at arm’s length.
But distance is an illusion, isn’t it? That’s what I just learned when I made the mistake of turning on the television.
Indeed, sitting here in this picturesque place on this peaceful morning far away, it feels as if I can see the madness of my country even more clearly than usual.
Two more black men shot down for no good reason in a country that still insists — with righteous indignation, yet — upon equating black men with danger.
Last night, I called my sons and grandson to tell them I love them, explain to them yet again that they terrorize people simply by being and plead with them to be careful. I am required to fear what might happen to my children when they encounter those who are supposed to serve and protect them.
Eleven police officers shot by sniper fire, five fatally, while guarding a peaceful demonstration against police brutality.
The usual loud voices of acrimony and confusion are already using this act of despicable evil to delegitimize legitimate protest by conflating it with terrorism, asking us to believe that speaking out against bad cops is the same as shooting cops indiscriminately.
That is madness.
And then, there was this coda: A black man, a “person of interest” turns himself in to police after carrying an AR-15 rifle through the protest in downtown Dallas.
Through downtown Dallas.
As police are dealing with an active shooter.
Apparently, the guy was not guilty of a crime, but he is certainly guilty of the worst judgment imaginable — and lucky to be alive. But then, in carrying that war weapon on a city street, he was only exercising his legal right under Texas law. The NRA calls that freedom.
But make no mistake: It, too, is madness.
America has gone mad before.
The quote at the top is from one such period, 1968. Hundreds of urban riots had wracked the country, the war in Vietnam was uselessly grinding up lives, recent years had seen the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Medgar Evers and Malcolm X. Now, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy had just been murdered within two months of one another.
And many people were wondering, as Arthur Schlesinger was, about America and its character, about what kind of country — and people — we were. Said New York Mayor John Lindsay, “This is a drifting, angry America that needs to find its way again.”
His words, like Schlesinger’s, feel freshly relevant to this era, almost 50 years down the line.
There is a sickness afoot in our country, my friends, a putrefaction of the soul, a rottenness in the spirit. Consider our politics. Consider the way we talk about one another — and to one another. Consider those two dead black men. Consider those five massacred cops.
Deny it if you can. I sure can’t. Something is wrong with us. And I don’t mind telling you that I fear for my country.
On the night Martin Luther King died, two months almost to the day before he himself would be shot down in a hotel kitchen, Bobby Kennedy faced a grief-stricken, largely African-American crowd in Indianapolis and with extemporaneous eloquence, prescribed a cure for the sickness he saw.
“My favorite poet,” he told them, “was Aeschylus. And he once wrote, ‘And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.’ What we need in the United States is not division. What we need in the United States is not hatred. What we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness but is love and wisdom and compassion toward one another and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer in our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.”
Those words feel hopelessly idealistic, impossibly innocent and yet, wise, grace-filled and … right for the raw pain of this moment I commend them to all our wounded spirits on this shining morning from a peaceful place that, as it turns out, is not nearly far enough away.
By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist, The Miami Herald; The National Memo, July 10, 2016
In my travels and conversations this year, I’ve been encouraged that grassroots people of all progressive stripes (populist, labor, liberal, environmental, women, civil libertarian, et al.) are well aware of the slipperiness of “victory” and want Washington to get it right this time. So over and over, Question No. 1 that I encounter is some variation of this: What should we do!?! How do we make Washington govern for all the people? What specific things can my group or I do now?
Thanks for asking. The first thing you can do to bring about change is show up. Think of showing up as a sort of civic action, where you get to choose something that fits your temperament, personal level of activism, available time and energy, etc. The point here is that every one of us can do something — and every bit helps.
Simply being there matters. While progressives have shown up for elections in winning numbers, our movement then tends to fade politely into the shadows, leaving public officials (even those we put in office) free to ignore us and capitulate to ever-present, ever-insistent corporate interests. No more. Grassroots progressives — as individuals and through our groups — must get in the face of power and stay there.
This doesn’t require a trip to Washington, though it can. It can be done right where you live — in personal meetings, on the phone, via email and letters, through social media (tweet at the twits!), on petitions, and any additional ways of communication that you and other creative people can invent. Hey, we’re citizens, voters, constituents — so we should not hesitate to request in-person appointments to chat with officials back home (these need not be confrontational), attend forums where they’ll be (local hearings, town hall sessions, speeches, meet & greets, parades, ribbon-cuttings, receptions, etc). They generally post their public schedules on their websites. Go to their meetings, ask questions, or at least say hello, introduce yourself, and try to achieve this: MAKE THEM LEARN YOUR NAME.
OK, you’re too busy to show up at all this stuff, but try one, then think of going to one every month or two. And you don’t have to go alone — get a family member, a couple of friends, a few members of the groups you’re in to join you. Make it an excursion, rewarding yourselves with a nice glass of wine or a beer and some laughs afterward.
Then there are times (“in the course of human events,” as Jefferson put it) when citizens have to come together in big numbers to protest, to insist on being heard. Lobbyists are able to meet with officials in quiet rooms, but when we’re shut out, a higher form of patriotism demands that ordinary folks surround a public official’s district office or a high-dollar fundraising event to deliver a noisy message about the people’s needs.
This is especially necessary for officials who get a substantial or even majority vote from progressive constituencies… but still stiff us on such major needs as increasing the minimum wage, overturning Citizens United, endorsing a Robin Hood Tax on Wall Street speculators, and prohibiting the outrage of voter suppression. We have a right to expect them to respect our vote, and stand with us on the big issues. We’ve been too quiet, too indulgent with such office holders, and they won’t change until we start confronting them publicly.
Both in terms of having your own say and in demonstrating the strength of the grassroots numbers behind the policy changes we want, you and I are going to have to get noisier, more demonstrative, more out-front in demanding that elected officials really pay heed to those who elected them. Let’s make 2016 the year of reintroducing ourselves and our expectations to policymakers. At their every turn, we should be there, becoming a personal human presence (even an irritant) they cannot ignore.
By: Jim Hightower, Featured Post, The National Memo, April 13, 2016
“Trump Doesn’t Really Mean It About The Riots?”: The Aftermath Is Sure To Be Messy If Trump Is Denied
Well, you can relax. It turns out that when Donald Trump said there would be riots in Cleveland if he is denied the nomination, he was only speaking figuratively. So says the Republican National Committee’s chief strategist and spokesman, Sean Spicer:
“Well first of all, I assume he’s speaking figuratively,” Sean Spicer, the RNC’s chief strategist and spokesman, told CNN. “I think if we go into a convention, whoever gets 1,237 delegates becomes the nominee. It’s plain and simple.”
CNN host Carol Costello pushed back, remarking that she did not think Trump was speaking figuratively when he told the network’s morning show that in the event he comes up short of the nomination, “I think you’d have riots. I think you’d have riots.”
Spicer disputed the assessment, remarking, “It’s the left, and the people on the left that have disrupted events are trying to go in and undermine people’s First Amendment rights,” a possible allusion to protesters supporting Bernie Sanders who forced the cancellation of Trump’s rally in Chicago last Friday.
Given the definition of figuratively, we have to assume that Spicer doesn’t believe Trump meant it when he said that there would be riots. Maybe he thinks whatever fisticuffs occur among foaming-mad delegates won’t rise to the level where the term “riot” would “literally” apply.
If Trump doesn’t win on the first ballot, the question will be whether the riot occurs right then and there in an effort to intimidate those intriguing against him, or if the riot only breaks out after Trump has been outmaneuvered and sidelined.
I’m pretty sure that it will prove impossible to have a “plain and simple” second ballot vote, but the aftermath is sure to be messy if Trump is denied. Will Trump’s delegates file peacefully out of the convention hall in protest? Will Trump take to the podium and promise to pay their legal fees if they assault opposing delegates?
It’s not going to be orderly. I’m sure of that.
By: Martin Longman, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, March 16, 2015
Dems have been faulted by conservative journalists for excessive political hyperbole in using the term “war on” in connection with GOP campaigns against unions, young voters, people of color, undocumented workers and women. Call it what you will, there shouldn’t be much doubt that Republicans are dedicated to undermining the political and citizenship rights of these groups.
Not content to wage a war on voting against pro-Democratic groups, it now appears that Republicans have declared a war on free speech as well. We had a staff post yesterday on the draconian anti-picketing bill now making it’s way through the Republican-controlled legislature in Georgia. Today DemocraticDiva Donna Gatehouse has an equally-disturbing blog, “AZ Legislature Attacks Civil Liberties” up at AFL-CIO Now. As Gatehouse explains:
…Women’s and reproductive rights groups will undoubtedly be at the state capitol to speak out against numerous shocking and intrusive anti-abortion and anti-contraception measures before the legislature this session. The GOP majority is apparently so frightened by this prospect it’s trying to make it a Class 1 misdemeanor to engage in “passive resistance.” Common nonviolent protest tactics such as going limp when the police try to remove you from an area or chaining yourself to something could get you up to a six-month month jail sentence.The deadline to introduce new bills has passed but Arizona has a maneuver, called a “striker,” that permits legislators to introduce bills beyond it. They strike out all the language in a previous bill and replace it with a new, and often totally unrelated, bill. It’s supposed to be reserved for real emergencies but it’s used for all kinds of bills, and usually to railroad them through the process with little time for public comment or debate. In this case, the “emergency” is lawmakers facing the unbearable thought of citizens calling attention to their outrageous and undemocratic agenda in the public square.
Phoenix blogger Steve Muratore reports that the “no passive resistance” bill is the idea of Rep. John Kavanagh (R-Scottsdale), who has a long background in law enforcement.
…Apparently, he testified that law enforcement officers are at risk of harm from Occupy protesters who passively resist…What harm? A hernia? Not if they lift with their knees as they’re supposed to.
Given the chance, today’s GOP would make criminals out of American heroes like Martin Luther King, Jr. and John Lewis, who tapped the power of nonviolent protest to strengthen America’s rights of free expression, freedom of assembly and free speech. During Dr. King’s lifetime, there were some Republican leaders of patriotic integrity who stepped up and took a stand in support of the first Amendment rights of protest and free speech. It appears that none who can meet that standard remain in today’s GOP.
By: J. P. Green, The Democratic Strategist, March 21, 2012
On the same day that Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-public employee law takes effect in Wisconsin, public workers in Ohio can celebrate a victory in the battle for democracy.
We Are Ohio, the group leading the effort to repeal Ohio Senate Bill 5, the anti-collective bargaining bill, delivered a record number of nearly 1.3 million signatures to the Ohio Secretary of State today, backed by a “Million Signature March” parade of more than 6,000 people, retired fire trucks, motorcycles, a drum line and bagpipes.
“This is the people’s parade,” said We Are Ohio spokesperson Melissa Fazekas in a news conference after the parade. “You are truly one in a million.”
Ohio’s Veto Referendum
Both Ohio and Wisconsin have had union-busting legislation forced on them by Governors John Kasich and Scott Walker in the name of fiscal austerity, and both states saw massive protests in response to the attacks on workers’ rights and public services. The electoral methods of recourse, however, differ between the states.
Ohio is one of 21 states that allow for veto referendums. A veto referendum is a unique mechanism that allows a new law to be placed on a ballot for voters to either ratify or reject if enough signatures are collected within the statutory timeframe.
About 231,000 valid signatures are required to put the collective bargaining law on the November ballot as a referendum. The 1,298,301 signatures were delivered in 1,502 boxes carried by a 48-foot semi-truck. The Ohio Secretary of State’s office must now sort the signatures by county, count them and distribute them to county boards of elections for validation.
According to the Toledo Blade, “Just the filing of the petitions Wednesday will keep Senate Bill 5 from taking effect on Friday as scheduled. If at least 231,149 of the signatures are determined to be valid, the law will remain on hold until the results of the election are known. If voters reject the law, it will never take effect.”
Wisconsin’s Recall Elections
In Wisconsin, six Republican state senators face recall elections over their vote to abolish public employees’ collective bargaining rights. Three Democratic state senators have also been targeted for recall, in response to their decision to leave the state during the battle that ensued over the controversial legislation. Primary elections for the recalls will take place July 12 for the Republicans and July 19 for the Democrats, with general elections following in August. If the Democrats hold onto their seats and three of the six Republicans are recalled, the state Senate will flip to a Democratic majority, loosening the Republican stronghold on the state.
While papers cannot be filed to recall Walker until January 2012, United Wisconsin, the grassroots organization behind the gubernatorial recall movement in Wisconsin currently lists 189,321 pledges for recall. To prompt a recall election, 540,206 signatures would be required.
“What we saw today in Ohio was a response of millions of people saying ‘no’ to Gov. Kasich’s agenda and standing up for bargaining rights and workers’ rights, because we don’t have the ability to remove him,” said Kris Harsh, spokesperson for Stand Up for Ohio.
Both Mechanisms from the Progressive Era
Ohio does not have a recall provision, thus the referendum drive. But both referendums and recalls are progressive tools that date back to the early 1900s. According to the Ohio Historical Society, “Progressives argued that the referendum made the American political system more democratic.” Referendums were approved as an amendment to the Ohio Constitution in 1912, and the Wisconsin Constitution was amended to allow for the recall of elected officials just one year after Robert “Fighting Bob” La Follette’s death, in 1926.
La Follette fought for progressive ideals — such as recalls and open primaries — to empower average people at a time when corporate bosses ruled the political scene. La Follette’s fight was against railroad barons and agricultural monopolies, while Ohio battled the Standard Oil Trust.
The overwhelming outpouring of people standing up for their rights and for their communities in Wisconsin and Ohio today indicate that the progressive tools given to Americans by fighters like La Follette are just as relevant and necessary now as they were more than 100 years ago.
By: Jessica Opoien, Center for Media and Democracy, June 29, 2011