Monday, October 17, 2011

Growing Roots ‘From Below and to the Left’

Staughton Lynd Links 'Occupy'

with 'Solidarity of Time' in Ohio

From 'The Business Journal’, 
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio, Oct 17, 2011

If there is one constant in the last 40 years of political activism in the Mahoning Valley, it's the presence of attorney and historian Staughton Lynd and his wife Alice.

The Lynds marched with civil rights leaders in the 1960s and were among the anti-war protesters gathered outside the Democratic Party's 1968 convention in Chicago. The couple moved to the Mahoning Valley in the 1970s and were front-and-center in the worker ownership movement that attempted to reopen the area's shuttered steel mills. In the years that followed steel's exodus, they became active in the Solidarity USA movement that focused on the loss of steel retirees' benefits, and then began studying the area's new prison industry and advocating for death-row inmates.

Both addressed the crowd assembled Saturday for the Occupy Youngstown protest downtown Staughton Lynd read from a seven-page speech he prepared.

Here is the full text of his remarks:

I want to say a few words about three things: 1. Solidarity; 2. Demands; 3. Life among the 99 PerCent.


We feel solidarity with Occupy Wall Street, and rejoice that they maintain their physical presence at their chosen park.

We feel solidarity with the many, many Occupy This Town and Occupy That Town that have sprung up, spontaneously, all over the United States: all over this land that suddenly seems more like We feel solidarity with the occupation protests taking place today all over the world.

There is also solidarity over time. As a representative of Survivors Of the Sixties -- acronym, SOS -- I feel this kind of solidarity strongly.

Many of you have heard of Abbie Hoffman. He was in Mississippi, in 1967 he promoted the levitation of the Pentagon, and together with Jerry Rubin he started the Yippies.

I met Abbie twice. The first time was during the Chicago Democratic Party Convention, when I saw him wearing a black T shirt, lying face down on a cot, in a Chicago city jail. The second time, more than twenty years later, was in a Franciscan church in Managua, Nicaragua. There is a part of the Catholic liturgy known as the "peace of God" when each congregant greets every other. At the church of St. Mary of the Angels one circled the floor, greeting elderly women, small of stature, many holding photographs of their sons who had been killed in the contra war.

Suddenly a bearded figure bounded across the floor from the other side of the church and embraced me. It was Abbie.

Not long afterwards he committed suicide. Tom Hayden commented: "We are all waiting for the new Movement. I guess Abbie couldn't wait any longer."

Try to imagine what the past three weeks, this moment of awakening, this vista of new hope, would have meant to the trailblazers of the Sixties, to Dave Dellinger and Howard Zinn, to Stokely Carmichael and Jim Forman, to Barbara Deming.

Think also of Youngstown, Ohio, in the 1970s and 1980s, and the men and women who fought to substitute worker-community ownership for capitalist greed. Think of Bishop James Malone, of Ed Mann who led us down the hill to occupy the US Steel administration building, and his comrade, John Barbero. Think of Delores Hrycyk, wife of an LTV Steel retiree. Long before facebook and twitter, when LTV declared bankruptcy Delores called all the local radio stations and said there would be a retiree rally, here in Federal plaza, just as today at noon on Saturday. A thousand people came. A retiree direct action movement, Solidarity USA, was born.

Think of Bob Vasquez, president of Steelworkers local union 1330 at US Steel. Bob said: We lost, but my members told me over and over again that we fought, and because we fought, we preserved our dignity.

Finally, in the 1990s there came, first, the Zapatista insurrection in Chiapas, and then, from 1999 to 2001, what Naomi Klein has described as "the last time a global, youth-led, decentralized movement took direct aim at corporate power." Back then I felt that our protest activity was "summit-hopping." Two young men stayed overnight in our basement who had been in Seattle, went back to Chicago but were unsure what to do next, and were on their way to Quebec.

Speaking to the general assembly at Occupy Wall Street, Naomi Klein described how the new movement is different:

"Occupy Wall Street, on the other hand, has chosen a fixed target. And you have put no end date on your presence here. This is wise. Only when you stay put can you grow roots. This is crucial. It is a fact of the information age that too many movements spring up like beautiful flowers but quickly die off. It's because they don't have roots. And they don't have long term plans for how they are going to sustain themselves. So when storms come, they get washed away.

"Being horizontal and deeply democratic is wonderful. But these principles are compatible with the hard work of building structures and institutions that are sturdy enough to weather the storms ahead. I have great faith that this will happen."


As of course you know, the pundits, the commentators, the talking heads, have one fundamental criticism of Occupy Wall Street: What are its demands? How can you have a Movement without a specific program of things you are demanding?

They know not what they ask! Speaking for myself, I don't demand a list of specifics, I demand a qualitatively different kind of society. I seek the Kingdom of God on earth. I want to go back to the Book of Leviticus, Chapter 25, declare a Year of Jubilee and wipe out all debts. But since I am a practical, moderate sort of fellow, I say: Let's begin by declaring an end to student indebtedness, so that young people can pursue their dreams rather than go to work for corporate law firms in order to pay down their loans.

I think Jubilee is a practical program. Twenty years ago, my wife Alice and I were in some of the few Syrian villages that remain in the Golan Heights, occupied in 1967 by the State of Israel. People there make a living by growing apples. And the villagers told us: "We don't understand this idea of fixed property boundaries. Families vary in size from one generation to the next, and therefore, we adjust the amount of land allotted to a particular family, depending on the number of mouths to be fed."

At present, although few of us live in gated communities, this whole society lives with gated imaginations. Each of us is encouraged to build a little island of personal financial security surrounded by an electrified fence. The fence keeps others out and keeps each of us imprisoned.

But OK, we might agree to postpone the Kingdom of God for a little while longer. It's already been delayed 2000 years. And there are a couple of things that need to be done right now, in Ohio, that we should demand.

The first, of course, is to vote No on Issue 2 and repeal Senate Bill 5.

The second is to abolish the death penalty. Friends, the ice is breaking. Not long ago, Ohio executed more men every year than any other state except Texas. In 2010, Ohio was the only state in the nation that deliberately killed more human beings than it had murdered the year before. Presently, with to be sure a pause for Christmas, executions in Ohio are scheduled every month or two into the year 2013.

But the ice is breaking. Paul Pfeifer, the senior judge on the Ohio Supreme Court who helped to draft Ohio's capital punishment statute, has come out for abolishing the death penalty. Terry Collins, who as head of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction witnessed more than thirty executions, has come out for abolishing the death penalty. Former Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro and his wife have written a book about miscarriages of justice in Ohio courts. There has been introduced in the Ohio House of Representatives a bill, H.B. 160, to abolish the death penalty and substitute life imprisonment without parole. I can only say: Come, Lord, quickly come.

These are objectives of highest priority: repeal Senate Bill 5, abolish the death penalty.

But I want to make a final observation about demands. When our critics use the word "demands," they mean: Tell some legislator or administrator what you want him or her to do for you. Gather your own initiative, your self-activity, and your righteous outrage into a bundle, and give it to someone else to act in your place. Tell somebody else what you want them to do for you.

But I say: Yes, we should vote. Yes, we should support this bill and oppose that one. Yes, we should give President Obama some pressure from what Subcomandante Marcos calls "below and to the Left," and thereby give the President some excuse to do what, But this is not our highest priority. Our most urgent objective is not to give someone else the authority to act on our behalf. Our greatest need is not to hand over to somebody other than ourselves the responsibility to remake the world.

No, we need to remake the world ourselves, right now, from below and to the Left. I am appalled at the poverty of imagination that has been shown in the last thirty years in the Mahoning Valley regarding what is to be done. A "shrinking city"? What kind of development strategy is that for a community that is already losing its young people? Tearing down buildings without knowing what to put in their place? Give me a break. A bulldozer can do that. It is not a plan of action, a vision, worthy of human beings.

The Chamber of Commerce, besides sponsoring Senate Bill 5 without a democratic vote of its membership, is anxious to obliterate the memory of Youngstown's militant labor history. There used to be a plaque, right here in Federal plaza, commemorating the Little Steel Strike of 1937. When the streets through downtown were reconfigured for the fifth or sixth time, the plaque disappeared. Don't worry Staughton, I am told, it's in a museum. Yeah, I answer, and that's precisely the problem.

The fact is that new ideas are up and about in the Mahoning Valley but not in corporate boardrooms or in the corridors of power. Quickly, one example of a program that needs to be supported and developed is the idea of providing much of the Valley's food with produce grown locally. Let me be blunt: This is a wonderful idea. But it must become an activity that offers full-time employment to young people trying to grow up and survive in the inner city, or it will remain a middle-class fad, and those young people will leave the area in desperation or wind up behind bars.


I am running out of time so I will just say this one more thing. In the late 1960s it was the thing to do to call police officers "pigs." I objected at the time, and I strongly object now. When I visit the state's first supermaximum security prison on Youngstown-Hubbard Road, often a correctional officer will call out: "Hello, Staughton! Remember me? I used to be your client." Steelworkers and truck drivers who have been unable to find work wind up in the Valley's many new prisons.

If we wish truly to be the 99 percent, we cannot call each other names. Nurses, teachers, and firemen want to repeal Senate Bill 5, but so do policemen and correctional officers.

Barbara Deming had a good way of putting it. She said: "Nature gives us two hands. With one of them, we must hold up a barrier to those we perceive as oppressors, and say: No further, or only over my body. With the other hand we must reach out to those same persons and say: Join us."

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