Monday, April 28, 2008

Obama, Wright, 1968, 2008

Left Unity for
A Left-Center

By Keith Joseph
Rutgers SDS Member

I know Jeremiah Wright… Well, I never met him, but I know his ideas, he is a part of the American political left. Nothing he said outraged me, or even upset me. I agreed with a lot of it, and disagreed with some of it. If we were to meet in person I imagine we would get along just fine, and we probably could do some good work together.

Obama had to distance himself from his pastor in order to remain a viable candidate -- a smart move. Gary Wills, writing in the May 2008 NY Review of Books, pointed out that Abe Lincoln, who Obama invoked when announcing his own candidacy, was associated with John Brown and the "radical" abolitionists. Like Obama, Abe had to distance himself in pubic from the "extremists." But the abolitionists remained the left wing of Lincoln's coalition, and although he publicly disavowed them (gently) he was secretly and indirectly connected to them.

About 100 hundred years later, in 1968, Robert Kennedy's candidacy for president represented a similar coalition. His brother, John Kennedy's election marked the achievement of full citizenship for Catholic (Irish and Italian) workers (that's why Kennedy's picture hangs in all those Irish bars). Bobby Kennedy continued to lead those "white" workers and he was bringing them into an alliance with the Civil Rights Movement (Kennedy was meeting and marching with two of its most prominent leaders, Dr. King and Caesar Chavez). In other words, Kennedy's campaign was a next phase in the Civil Rights struggle. But the assassination of Malcolm X in 1965 and the FBI repression of the left made it difficult for a left wing to get into that coalition and soon King and Kennedy would also be murdered.

These assassinations sent most left wing forces in the United States into a disorientating tailspin that we have yet to recover from. If it were 1968, Hillary would be Hubert Humphrey, McCain would be Nixon, and Obama would be Bobby Kennedy. Some of our friends on the left have asked us to "Recreate '68." Yes, but let's not repeat the blind rage, instead let's do it over and send Humphrey and Nixon packing. So, we must build a John Brown, Malcolm X, Jeremiah Wright bloc— a left bloc allied to but independent from Obama's campaign.

As Malcolm and the movement developed, he emphasized uniting with other left forces. He and King drew closer together, but after Malcolm's assassination left wing forces pushed liberals and center-left forces away and into the hands of the right. Obama's campaign is the potential rebirth of the Kennedy-King Coalition. And it is time for the radical left to do what Malcolm would have done—get into the coalition as an independent force, consolidate a left wing and build a liberal and left coalition to stomp the war loving right wing in this country while building our own independent left movement.

We have a couple of immediate basic tasks: Obama must be the Democratic Party candidate—By Any Means Necessary. We should plan to camp right outside of Denver during the Democratic Party's Convention and hold anti-war demonstrations and our own left convention. If right wing Democrats try to force Hilary-Herbert Humphrey-Clinton on us we march on the convention and make sure Obama gets the nomination--By Any Means Necessary. In November, we must make sure Obama defeats the war criminal John McCain. And finally, after the election, we must be prepared to convene anywhere in the country (Florida, Ohio etc.) to make sure that the Supreme Court does not decide the contest.

Some of our fellow leftists have been very critical of Obama. The problem with their criticism is that they want Obama to be a leftist. He is not a leftist, he is a representative of the progressive, democratic wing of the capitalist class and he is making an appeal to workers of all nationalities to support him. Obama is a liberal. He is a center-left candidate. He is a part of the mainstream of the Democratic Party. We are the left! It is time we got back in the game.


Saturday, April 26, 2008

Next Battleground - Indiana

Photo: Rocker John Mellencamp Warms Up Indiana for Obama

Fires Up

By Brian A. Howey
Howey Politics Indiana

EVANSVILLE - In the very toe of the Hoosier State, which was rocked and rattled by an earthquake the previous week, Barack Obama was preparing to descend to the stage at Roberts Stadium. His move came in a state that in its 192-year history has elected only three African-American mayors (all in Gary), three African-American members of Congress, two black sheriffs, and two Hispanic mayors. None served much south of I-70.

Indiana House Majority Floor Leader Russ Stilwell of Boonville looked at the gathering crowd on this Tuesday night and softly said, "There’s an undercurrent out there. I’m not sure if people realize what’s going on." In about an hour, more than 8,000 Hoosiers - black, white, young, old - stood in a huge line that wrapped around the stadium, and for most, another two hours waiting for a transformational figure in American history to appear.

Around 10:45 p.m. on this balmy night, Obama took the dais in Evansville to thunderous cheers. "Evansville is going to be so important," Obama said a few moments after Hoosier rocker John Mellencamp sang "Small Town" … "All my friends are so small town. My parents live in the same small town. My job is so small town. Provides little opportunity. Educated in a small town. Taught the fear of Jesus in a small town. Used to daydream in that small town …"

The crowd itself seemed to state that another era had dawned in Indiana.

Rep. Stilwell questioned if Obama could fill the stadium. What if he couldn’t? By now, the question was moot.

What followed was Obama’s now familiar soaring rhetoric and questions from the Eastern Seaboard about the Hoosier state of mind. "We’re not here to talk about change for change’s sake, but because our families, our communities, and our country desperately need it," Obama said. "We’re here because we can’t afford to keep doing what we’ve been doing for another four years. We can’t afford to play the same Washington games with the same Washington players and expect a different result. Not this time. Not now."

In fact, there has been great change here in Indiana. In the three election cycles since 2004, Hoosier voters have tossed out a sitting governor, the Senate president pro tempore, the Senate finance chairman, four members of Congress, more than 40 percent of our mayors including incumbents in Indianapolis, Kokomo, Terre Haute, New Albany, Jeffersonville and East Chicago. Control of the Indiana House has changed hands. Gov. Mitch Daniels has forged and even apologized for change; acknowledging some of it may have come too fast for some Hoosiers.
There have been other changes. At a time when Obama makes a call for building infrastructure, many Hoosier Democrats have lined up as vociferous opponents of Gov. Mitch Daniels’ Major Moves toll road privatization (based, in part, on Chicago Mayor Daley’s similar move on the Chicago Skyway). One of the party’s gubernatorial candidates has based a campaign on rolling back many of the changes Daniels has made that are akin to the type of changes Obama says America desperately needs. Even though Obama and Daniels occupy diverse ends of the ideological spectrum, they seem to feed off the same idea of being change agents.

And now here at Roberts Stadium was Barack Obama taking the clarion call of change in deep Southern Indiana. "We can be a party that says and does whatever it takes to win the next election," Obama explained. "We can calculate and poll-test our positions and tell everyone exactly what they want to hear. Or we can be the party that doesn’t just focus on how to win, but why we should. We can tell everyone what they need to hear about the challenges we face. We can seek to regain not just an office, but the trust of the American people that their leaders in Washington will tell them the truth. That’s the choice in this election."

Obama continued, "We can build on the movement we’ve started in this campaign – a movement that’s united Democrats, Independents, and Republicans. We’re not as divided as our politics suggests. We may have different stories and different backgrounds, but we hold common hopes for the future of this country."

There are 100,000 new Hoosier voters taking all of this in. Hoosier Democrats will vote for a female or African-American for the first time on May 6.

Stilwell joined several southern Indiana legislators such as Dave Crooks and Lindel Hume, and Evansville Mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel, in endorsing Obama. But he was quick to note, "Clinton will win Southern Indiana, but I don’t think they realize what’s really going on here."

There are Democrats who won’t vote for a black man, just as there were in Pennsylvania. In past elections, we’ve speculated on how much a Jewish candidate for governor (Stephen Goldsmith in 1996) might lose in such intolerant proclivities (my answer was 1 to 3 percent). Sadly, numbers like that might exist today.

Barack Obama walked into a city that produced one of Indiana’s worst characters: Ku Klux Klan leader D.C. Stephenson who took over the state eight decades ago. On Tuesday he found a huge crowd and ears willing to listen to what he had to say. How they vote in less than two weeks could alter the course of American history.

Howey is publisher of Howey Politics Indiana at


Friday, April 25, 2008

[The New York Senator's last-ditch efforts to win the Democratic nomination could rely on the "Race Chasm" and the trampling of democracy.]

The Clinton
Firewall and
The Race Chasm

By David Sirota
In These Times

Google the phrase "Clinton firewall" and you will come up with an ever-lengthening list of scenarios that Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign has said will stop Barack Obama's candidacy. The New Hampshire primary, said her campaign, would be the firewall to end Obamamania. Then Super Tuesday was supposed to be the firewall. Then Texas. Now Pennsylvania and Indiana.

For four months, the political world has been hypnotized by this string-along game, not bothering to ask what this Clinton tactic really is. The "just wait until the next states" mantra has diverted our attention from the firewall's grounding in race and democracy. But now, with only a few months until the Democratic National Convention in Denver, the firewall's true composition is coming into focus. Whether Obama can overcome this barrier will likely decide who becomes the Democrats' presidential nominee.ype your summary here

The Race Chasm

Since at least the South Carolina primary, the Clinton campaign's message has been stripped of its poll-tested nuance and become a rather crass drumbeat aimed at reminding voters that Obama is black. Whether it is former President Clinton likening Obama's campaign to Jesse Jackson's; Clinton aides telling the Associated Press that Obama is "the black candidate," or Geraldine Ferraro tapping into anti-affirmative action anger by claiming Obama's success is a product of his skin color, barely a week goes by without a white Clinton surrogate injecting race into the nominating contest.

That is one of the twin pillars of the Clinton firewall—a well-honed strategy aimed at maximizing "the Race Chasm." The Race Chasm may sound like a conventional discussion of the black-white divide, but it is one of the least-discussed geographic, demographic and political dynamics driving the contest between Clinton and Obama. I call it the Race Chasm because of what it looks like on a graph. Here's how it works.

To date, 42 states and the District of Columbia have voted in primaries or caucuses. Factor out the two senators' home states (Illinois, New York and Arkansas), the two states where Edwards was a major factor (New Hampshire and Iowa) and the one state where only Clinton was on the ballot (Michigan) and you are left with 37 elections where the head-to-head Clinton-Obama matchup has been most clear. Subtract the Latino factor (a hugely important but wholly separate influence on the election) by removing the four states whose Hispanic population is over 25 percent (California, New Mexico, Texas and Arizona), and you are left with 33 elections that best represent how the black-white split has impacted the campaign.

As the Race Chasm graph shows, when you chart Obama's margin of victory or defeat against the percentage of African-Americans living in that state, a striking U trend emerges. That precipitous dip in Obama's performance in states with a big-but-not-huge African-American population is the Race Chasm—and that chasm is no coincidence.

On the left of the graph, among the states with the smallest black population, Obama has destroyed Clinton. With the candidates differing little on issues, this trend is likely due, in part, to the fact that black-white racial politics are all but non-existent in nearly totally white states. Thus, Clinton has fewer built-in advantages. Though some of these states like Idaho or Wyoming have reputations for intolerance thanks to the occasional militia headlines, black-white interaction in these places is not a part of people's daily lives, nor their political decisions. Put another way, the dialect of racism—the hints of the Ferraro comment and codes of Bill Clinton's Jesse Jackson reference, for instance—is not politically effective because such language has not historically been a significant part of the local political discussion. That's especially true in the liberal-skewed Democratic primary.

On the right of the graph among the states with the largest black populations, Obama has also crushed Clinton. Unlike the super-white states, these states—many in the Deep South—have a long and sordid history of day-to-day, black-white racial politics, with Richard Nixon famously pioneering Republican's "southern strategy" to maximize the racist segregationist vote in general elections. "But in the Democratic primary the black vote is so huge [in these states], it can overwhelm the white vote," says Thomas Schaller, a political science professor at the University of Maryland—Baltimore. That black vote has gone primarily to Obama, helping him win these states by big margins.

It is in the chasm where Clinton has consistently defeated Obama. These are geographically diverse states from Ohio to Oklahoma to Massachusetts where racial politics is very much a part of the political culture, but where the black vote is too small to offset a white vote racially motivated by the Clinton campaign's coded messages and tactics. The chasm exists in the cluster of states whose population is above 6 percent and below 17 percent black, and Clinton has won most of them by beating Obama handily among white working-class voters.

In sum, Obama has only been able to eke out victories in three states with Race Chasm demographics, where African-American populations make up more than 6 percent but less than 17 percent of the total population. And those three states provided him extra advantages: He won Illinois, his home state; Missouri, an Illinois border state; and Connecticut, a state whose Democratic electorate just two years before supported Ned Lamont's insurgent candidacy against Joe Lieberman, and therefore had uniquely developed infrastructure and political cultures inclined to support an outsider candidacy. Meanwhile, three-quarters of all the states Clinton has won are those with Race Chasm demographics.

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D), a Clinton supporter, publicly acknowledged this dynamic in February. He suggested to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial board that Obama's ethnicity could prevent him from winning the state, which, at 10.6 percent black, falls squarely in the Race Chasm.

"You've got conservative whites here, and I think there are some whites who are probably not ready to vote for an African-American candidate," Rendell said.

That was echoed by Obama supporter David K. Levdansky, a state representative from western Pennsylvania. "For all our wanting to believe that race is less of an issue than ever before, the reality of racism still exists," he told the New York Times. "It's not that [Pennsylvanians] don't think he's qualified, but some people fear that it might be empowering the black community by electing Obama."

Primaries are now looming in a critical group of Race Chasm states—Pennsylvania, Indiana (8.8 percent black), Kentucky (7.5 percent black) and West Virginia (only 3 percent black, but a place influenced by the Ohio, Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania media markets, which undoubtedly makes race politics more customary than in other mostly white states).

Clinton, knowing the Race Chasm can fortify her firewall, has subsequently intensified her efforts to put race front and center in the campaign, most recently attacking Jeremiah Wright, Obama's former pastor who has delivered fiery speeches indicting white racism. She is so determined to raise race issues in advance of these Race Chasm contests that she gave an in-person interview to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review specifically to criticize Wright. For reference, the Tribune-Review is a conservative newspaper in western Pennsylvania owned by the same Richard Mellon Scaife who funded the anti-Clinton witchhunts of the '90s.

Clearly, each primary and caucus contest has its own unique politics, and race is not the only factor moving votes. Despite the oversimplified punditry that comes with presidential campaigns, demographic groups—white, black or any other—do not vote as monoliths. That said, a phenomenon as stark as the Race Chasm over 33 elections is obviously affecting the campaign—particularly considering the regional and red-blue diversity of each state cluster on the graph.

"When the black population is really small, racial polarization is small enough that Obama can win, and when the black population is large, any polarization is drowned out by the overwhelming size of the Democratic black vote," says Schaller, who recently authored the book Whistling Past Dixie analyzing demographic voting trends. "But in the middle range, polarization is sizeable enough that black voters cannot overcome it, and these are the states where she wins."

The Superdelegates

Clinton has two reasons to try to highlight race and maximize the Race Chasm, both related to the second pillar of her firewall: the superdelegates. These are the senators, congress people, governors and party officials who control roughly 40 percent of the Democratic National Convention votes needed to secure the nomination.

First and most obvious, she wants to win as many of the remaining states as possible to keep her tally of "pledged" delegates (i.e., delegates won in primaries and caucuses) as large as possible. The correctly reported in March that "Clinton has virtually no chance of winning" the race for pledged delegates. But winning some remaining states and keeping the count close will make it easier for her to argue the race was almost a tie, and thus theoretically easier to convince superdelegates to throw their support to her, even if she loses the popular vote and the pledged delegate count.

Clinton, in fact, is already making the argument that she is only narrowly behind. "We're separated by, you know, a little more than a hundred delegates," she told Time, not bothering to note that a hundred delegates is more than the entire delegate count from major states like Missouri or Wisconsin.

Additionally, in trying to maximize the Race Chasm by focusing on race-tinged issues, Clinton is tacitly making an "electability" argument to superdelegates. (This is not a stupid strategy in courting officials who are all, in one way or another, election-focused political operatives.) Part of that "electability" argument hinges on portraying Obama as "unelectable"—and what better way to do that than stoke as many race-focused controversies as possible? It is a standard primary tactic: Launch a line of attack—in this case, the "Wright controversy"—and then claim the attack will be used by Republicans to defeat an opponent—in this case Obama—should he become the general election candidate. Of course, it doesn't hurt Clinton's cause that, close to half of the superdelegates are white, according to The Politico.

Ruthless, but probably useless

As ugly as it is, the Clinton firewall strategy is stunning in its ruthlessness. It has been half a century since the major triumphs of the civil rights and party reform movements, yet a major Democratic candidate is attempting to secure a presidential nomination by exploiting racial divides and negotiating backroom superdelegate deals.

But success is not likely.

Even if Clinton wins big in the remaining Race Chasm states, Obama has advantages in Montana, Oregon, North Carolina and South Dakota—smaller states, to be sure, but likely enough pledged delegates to keep a significant lead. Clinton, therefore, would have a difficult time convincing superdelegates to go against the will of the people in their states.

That leaves the "electability" argument with the superdelegates—and the problem for Clinton there is that polls show Obama is at least as "electable" as Clinton, if not more so.

A state-by-state SurveyUSA poll in March found both Obama and Clinton defeating Republican nominee John McCain in a hypothetical general election matchup—and Obama actually getting four more Electoral College votes than Clinton. In Colorado, a key swing state, a March Rasmussen Reports poll found Obama tying McCain, but McCain clobbering Clinton by 14 percentage points. A February Rasmussen poll reported a similar phenomenon in Pennsylvania, with McCain beating Clinton by two points, but Obama beating McCain by 10.

And then there is the Pew poll taken immediately after the major wave of media surrounding the Wright controversy. The survey showed both Obama and Clinton defeating McCain, but more significantly, Obama actually performing slightly better among white voters than Clinton—a blow to those Clinton backers hoping that superdelegates may begin to fear a white voter backlash against the Illinois senator.

If her turn to more hardball tactics is any indication, Clinton may be trying to preempt the firewall strategy's failure. In two bold moves at the end of March, her campaign launched a two-pronged initiative to intimidate Democratic leaders and to strongarm pledged delegates who are already committed to Obama through primaries and caucuses.

First, the Clinton campaign organized 20 major Democratic Party financiers to release a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi upbraiding her for appearing on ABC News and saying, "If the votes of the superdelegates overturn what happened in the elections, it would be harmful to the Democratic Party." According to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, the contributors who signed the letter have given a combined $23.6 million to Democrats since 1999. These mega-donors, clearly wielding their financial heft as an implied threat, claimed that Pelosi had taken an "untenable position" by merely suggesting superdelegates should avoid overturning the results of democratic primaries and caucuses.

At the same time, Clinton told Time that technically, even pledged delegates who are supposed to represent the will of voters are permitted to change their vote at the Democratic National Convention. "Every delegate with very few exceptions is free to make up his or her mind however they choose," she said, introducing the possibility of a new, more brass-knuckled kind of delegate campaign. "We talk a lot about so-called pledged delegates, but every delegate is expected to exercise independent judgment."

A late March NBC News poll reports that if a candidate "loses among delegates selected by voters but still wins the nomination," a plurality (41 percent) of Democratic voters believe that candidate would be "not legitimate." Many of those surveyed probably remember both the recent episodes of stolen elections, and the past eras of brokered conventions and corrupt, often racist political machines stuffing ballot boxes.

The latter, in fact, was precisely how the epithet "Democrat Party"—as opposed to "Democratic Party"—was coined. As the language-obsessed William Safire documented 24 years ago in a New York Times column, the term "Democrat Party" was created by Republican leaders in the mid-20th century to imply that their opponents—many bigoted segregationists and machine pols—were, in fact, undemocratic.

After the Florida and Ohio debacles in the 2000 and 2004 election, Republican lamentations about democracy are, of course, absurd. Additionally, many machines have long ago decayed … except for the one inside the Democratic Party itself—the Clinton machine. If that machine's firewall strategy continues to exploit the Race Chasm and threaten to trample the will of voters, Clinton will be asking the Democratic Party, one that has come to champion racial tolerance and democracy, to truly become the Democrat Party—one that ignores those ideals in favor of a single Democrat.


Dreaming Obama in North Carolina

A Story of
Race and

By Tom Hayden
The Nation

RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA. Dr. John Hope Franklin at 94 years old remains a formidable progressive historian, having lived through two world wars, five decades of segregation, the Sixties civil rights movement and now Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. Since there is no comparable or greater authority alive, I was eager to ask him to evaluate this long history. I ventured to North Carolina for meetings and dinner with Dr. Franklin in Raleigh, where he keeps office hours at Duke’s John Hope Franklin Center. It was April 16, and Barack Obama was rolling through North Carolina that week, the state where the student sit-in movement began three years before Obama’s birth. I was especially wondering where Dr. Franklin placed Obama in African-American history.

Dr. Franklin is dark-skinned, tall, and angular, with the strong handshake of a man deeply grounded. He is very present, but his presence also invokes the presence of an ancestor, the kind of father Barack Obama searches for in Dreams from My Father.[1995]. Dr. Franklin is living history himself as well as the author of such classics as From Slavery to Freedom: The History of the African-American People. This is a man who volunteered to fight in World War 2, but was rejected for military service on grounds of race, a man who became a Ph.D while having to personally integrate segregated libraries, the defender of W.E.B. Dubois during McCarthyism, a key social researcher behind Brown v. Board of Education, the first black chairman of a major history department [Brooklyn College, 1956], a man who lived the bitter decades even before the Rev. Jeremiah Wright came along.

His wife Aurelia died in 1999 after 59 years of marriage. Dr. Franklin walks with a cane these days, and the accompaniment of close friends, but is extremely alert, curious and possessed of a mirthful smile. During our dinner, admirers kept approaching our table to wish him well, introduce their families, and share stories.

Dr. Franklin had received a call from Barack Obama the day before, he said, but the two had not connected yet. “The person who took the call is a Hillary supporter”, he softly chuckled.

The Clintons were progressive enough to shower many honors on Dr. Franklin, including a presidential Medal of Freedom in 1995, the year that young Barack Obama published his Dreams. Dr. Franklin spent many hours in the White House during the Clinton years, and even today remains the ranking academic charged with molding how history will be embodied in the new African-American Smithsonian museum on the Mall.

Dr. Franklin will announce his support of Barack Obama, as early as Wednesday, despite several personal entreaties from both Clintons to at least remain neutral.

“Don’t know Obama, never met him”, he told me. What was it about Obama that drew Dr. Franklin away from the Clintons?, I asked. “I thought he was exceptionally bright and qualified, with more potential for growth in office” what he’d seen the Clintons achieve in the years he had watched them.

Then, after staring at the table intently, Dr. Franklin said that Obama’s recent speech on racism was “the Sermon on the Mount, the Declaration of Independence, and the Emancipation Proclamation, all combined into one.” Sensing that this was quite a pronouncement, he then he bit off a small portion of meat, saying that he was on a low-salt diet these days. It was as if his evaluation of Obama’s historic place was an everyday statement of fact. We went on to discuss the size of bass in North Carolina creeks.

I missed a front-row opportunity to see Obama’s Raleigh rally that week, though arriving in time to listen from the parking lot. I was late because I was exploring another chapter of the pre-Obama era. Back in 1961, I was in North Carolina at a gathering of early SDS and SNCC activists discussion the strategy of realigning the Democratic Party as a result of direct action and voter registration. The catalyst for that brainstorming was the 1960 Greensboro, North Carolina, sit-in which spread the wildfire of nonviolent direct action across the South. Here I was in 2008, missing Obama in the present because I was visiting the Greensboro lunch counter site where the activism of my generation first began.

Flashbacks briefly began affecting me as I arrived in Greensboro with two friends from Duke, both graduate students and community organizers. Greensboro is an old textile and insurance town with a couple of historically-black colleges including Bennett and North Carolina A&T, where the four original sit-in leaders had been enrolled. A railroad track bisects the town of 250,000, which is just under 30 percent black. The look of many buildings and streets has changed little. When we briefly became lost, an old caution about who to ask for directions came over me. When I glimpsed white pedestrians walking along the street where the sit-ins occurred, the former sense of high-alert briefly returned.

The old Woolworth’s is still there, on the corner of a street renamed February 1st, its shell being reconstructed, slowly, as an international civil rights museum. The lunch counter, swivel chairs and serving area haven’t changed since 1960. I sat down where David Richmond, Ezell Blair [now Jibreel Khazan], Franklin McClain and Joseph McNeil – and others – asked politely for cups of coffee so long ago. I inhabited the past, the point from which the tremors went forth, then shared coffee and conversation with local people trying to complete the work of memory. They call themselves The Beloved Community Center of Greensboro []

One of them, Louis Brandon, was a participant in those first sit-ins as a junior studying biology at A&T. Rev. Nelson Johnson and Joyce Johnson direct the development efforts. Henry Fry, a Greensboro native first elected to the state legislature in 1968, later the state’s appointed chief justice, and now back at A&T, seemed to be a living example of progress. But all said their struggle has been a hard one. Fifteen years ago the Woolworth property was slated to become a parking garage. Two black leaders were able to purchase the structure. Then a 1999 $3 million bond referendum failed by a close margin on racial lines [85 percent of the town’s blacks voted yes, while 75 percent of the white majority were opposed]. Another referendum was attempted and failed. Someone placed a headless skunk on the entrance.

The prospects improved starting in 2001. The unfolding story of 1960 began including the handful of white students who joined the sit-in from a private women’s college, Bennett. [two of them, exchange students from Mt. Holyoke, were among those arrested]. The state legislature, now reflecting African-American constituencies, eventually provided $2.5 million, and downtown developers and large corporations such as tobacco firms pledging several million more, whether for reparation or profits. As a 2004 New York Times story on such civil rights museums noted, “the lure of tourism money has helped overcome the shame.” The tourism potential of such sites “has shown that the history of the 50’s and 60’s is a valuable commodity.” [1] <#_ftn1> Meanwhile project costs have risen from an initial $7 million to $18 million, largely due to renovation of the 1929 building.

Had things really changed as much as Barack Obama was suggesting? Surely there were deep shifts since the time of John Hope Franklin? How did they feel about the Woolworth lunch counter being both a legacy and a commodity?

The responses were ambiguous. Louis Brandon quickly asserted that “the town has not changed, and if you want any change you have to protest.” Memories remain bitter over the Klan killings of five activists during a textile workers’ march in 1979. Fry, the former legislator and judge, had learned “there’s more than one way to skin a cat, you need the radicals, some conservatives and people in the middle to get it done”, though he agreed that “everything here is a struggle” because “the people making laws are careful to give so many advantages to the people at the top.”

The power of the textile and insurance interests remains “tenacious”, said Rev. Johnson, though “what is changing is the community encroachment on power.” For a time in the Seventies, he said Greensboro became “the center of the southern black power movement”, with a thriving culture of radicals, nationalists, black Marxists, and publications like the African World. Community empowerment has grown through difficult strikes by cafeteria workers, rent strikers and textile workers. In the absence of a strong union movement, he noted, the community was the union, meeting at the church every Monday [two of the original four sit-in students were “anchored”, he thought, by attending the same church. Now “pieces of all these movements are on a cusp of change.”

The conversation over what memory to preserve is at times heated. “The power dynamic is unchanged, but the disguise constantly changes in order to prevent change. This gets told”, he said, pointing to the Woolworth site where we sat, “so that the rest of history of strike and struggle doesn’t get told.” History, he said, ought to be a “servant, an agent, of transformation”, not a servant of the tourism industry. “That’s exactly what Dr. King would not want.”

Does Obama represent the cusp of change for these deeply-rooted and savvy community leaders in Greensboro? So far Obama has not visited the Woolworth’s site, as he did the historic Selma, Alabama, bridge a few months ago. But the senator held a town meeting months ago at the Greensboro coliseum, filling 2100 seats and spilling outdoors. “The more he talked”, said Fry, grinning, “the better I felt. It was like Shirley Chisholm running for president back in those days, she lifted my spirits. And when I got elected to office in 1968, there was a radical black running for governor who lost, but he got a lot of new voters out. Everything builds on everything else.”

TOM HAYDEN is the author of Writings for a Democratic Society, the Tom Hayden Reader [2008] and Ending the War in Iraq [2007].

[1] Quotes and funding information from New York Times, Aug. 10, 2004, “Civil Rights Battlegrounds Enter World of Tourism.”


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

There You Go Again - Red-Baiting, Race-Baiting

Photo: Billboard
Used vs King
Across the South


By Steve Weissman
Truthout Perspective

April 21, 2008 -Bill Ayers is one of the more interesting people I've known, and I would love to discuss how, in the heat of the Vietnam War, he went from running a Summerhill school in Anna Arbor to bombing government buildings as a leader of the Weather Underground. I could even explain why I thought then - and still think - that Bill was wrong to do so.

The Rev. Jeremiah Wright is a provocative theologian, whose heated rhetoric bears a striking similarity to some of the later speeches of another black preacher, the Rev. Martin Luther King. We could all learn from studying King's words, and those of the Reverend Wright, and decide for ourselves where we agree and disagree.

White workers in the rust belt, whether bitter or offended, could similarly teach us a great deal, especially when political scoundrels such as Dick Cheney sing the praises of "Guns, Guts and Glory" as they send a disproportionate number of those hard-pressed workers, their sons and their daughters to fight and die for the freedom of Big Oil in Iraq.

But using "bittergate," Wright and Ayers to drag down Barack Obama has nothing to do with fair-minded debate and discussion. Nor is all this a needed vetting of Obama, as Hillary persists in saying. The current noise is nothing less than the predictable rebirth of an American political tradition. Call it redbaiting, witch-hunting or McCarthyism, the old slime is back and the reasons go far beyond the demands of Gotcha journalism and electoral combat.

As anyone addicted to surfing the web knows, right wing Internet web sites, Fox News, and right wing talk radio have for some time been smearing Obama as a secret Marxist, Leninist elitist, secret Muslim and hater of Israel. Many of the attacks have specifically raised the specter of Bill Ayers and the Reverend Wright. The poison reached The New York Times on April 14, when the neo-conservative columnist William Kristol led a stinging attack on Obama with six paragraphs on Karl Marx and his description of religion as "the opium of the people." The ever-smiling Kristol headlined his attack "The Mask Slips."

Within hours, Fox News put the issue to Sen. Joe Lieberman: Is Obama "a Marxist as Bill Kristol says might be the case?"

"I must say that's a good question," said Lieberman. Quickly gathering his frayed liberal cloak about him, Lieberman added that he would "hesitate to say" Obama is a Marxist. "But he's got some positions that are far to the left of me and I think mainstream America."

None of this was a secret to the Clinton campaign, which kept saying Obama had not been vetted and would prove an easy target for those nasty old Republicans. Hillary directed this argument to the super delegates, but I suspect she was also trying to encourage mainstream journalists to go after Obama with the same smears the right wing had been using. Then came ABC's prime time debate and - no surprise - Hillary teamed up with Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos, Bill Clinton's former press secretary, to red-bait Obama as if he were a reluctant witness called before HUAC, the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Those of us of a certain age have seen this movie before, and I could not help hoping Obama would reply to his self-appointed inquisitors as Woody Allen did in the 1976 film, "The Front." "Fellas, I don't recognize the right of this committee to ask me these kinds of questions. And furthermore, you can go fuck yourselves." But no. Far cooler, Obama did his best to pivot and turn back to the real concerns of those Joe Lieberman calls "mainstream Americans," which is exactly the way to go. In time, Obama might also rise above the fray with his huge smile and that great quip from Ronald Reagan, "There you go again."

Obama will certainly get plenty of practice. redbaiting is how America's right wingers and their conservatized liberal allies have long fought to kill progressive social and economic change. Accuse the change-makers of being godless Commie pinkos. Berate them for associating with godless Commie pinkos. Damn them for not doing enough to root out all the godless Commie pinkos and their sympathizers, whether from the State Department, Hollywood, the unions, the media, charitable foundations, under their beds or wherever else the beasts of the night might lurk.

Don't laugh, it works. In the late 1940s, President Harry Truman proposed universal health care. Right wingers branded it "Communistic" and smothered it at birth. We still don't have decent health care for everyone, and even John Edwards feared to suggest anything as "Socialistic" as a single-payer system. Better to find "a pragmatic compromise" existing insurance companies and HMOs might accept, as Hillary did so successfully in the 1990s.
Desegregate the races? Heaven forbid! Billboards and leaflets all over the South showed photographs of Martin Luther King attending "a Communist training school," and many white liberals shied away.

Organize workers into unions? Not on your life! Employers and their paid-for politicians branded the organizers as "Reds" and used flag-waving American Legionnaires to beat early unionists to a pulp or ride them out of town on a rail.

In a similar, if less violent, vein, Hillary now sounds like a card-carrying member of what she used to call "the vast right wing conspiracy." McCain has wasted no time trying to link Obama to Hamas. And, should Obama become president, he will run into wall-to-wall redbaiting as he tries to bring about such terribly Marxistical reforms as universal health care, well-paying jobs, more progressive taxation, serious regulation of Wall Street speculators and an end to our military occupation of Iraq.

As for my old friend Bill Ayers, I haven't seen him in nearly 20 years, but I doubt he has his neighbor Obama's ear. When asked about Ayers in the ABC debate, Obama identified him as an English professor. William Ayers is a widely respected and very outspoken education maven, and if Obama has spent any serious time with him, the senator would surely have known Bill's life-long passion has been to find more effective ways to teach our children

[A veteran of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the New Left monthly Ramparts, Steve Weissman lived for many years in London, working as a magazine writer and television producer. He now lives and works in France. ]


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Getting Super-Delegates to Dump Obama?

Photo: Bill and Hillary in the 1960s

Why Hillary
Makes My
Wife Scream

By Tom Hayden

My wife Barbara has begun yelling at the television set every time she hears Hillary Clinton. This is abnormal behavior since Barbara is a meditative practitioner of everything peaceful and organic, and is inspired by Barack’s transformational appeal.

For Barbara, Hillary has become the screech on the blackboard. From First Lady to Lady Macbeth.

It’s getting to me as well. Last year, I was somewhat reconciled to the prospect of supporting and pressuring Hillary as the nominee amidst the rising tide of my friends who already hated her, irrationally I thought. I was one of those people Barack accuses of being willing to settle. I even had framed a flattering autographed message from Hillary. But as the campaign has gone on and on, her signed portrait still leans against the wall in my study. I don’t know where she belongs anymore.

At least Hillary was a known quantity in my life. I knew of the danger of her becoming more and more hawkish as she tried to break the ultimate glass ceiling. I also knew that she could be forced to change course if public opinion was fiercely opposed to the war. And I knew she was familiar with radical social causes from her own life experience in the Sixties. So my progressive task seemed clear: help build an anti-war force powerful enough to make it politically necessary to end the war. Been there, done that. And in the process, finally put a woman in the White House. A soothing bonus. But as the Obama campaign gained momentum, Hillary began morphing into the persona that has my pacifist wife screaming at the television set.

Going negative doesn’t begin to describe what has happened. Hillary is going over the edge. Even worse are the flacks she sends before the cameras on her behalf, like that Kiki person who smirks and shakes her head at the camera every time she fields a question. Or the real carnivores, like Howard Wolfson, Lanny Davis and James Carville whose sneering smugness prevents countless women like my wife from considering Hillary at all.

To use the current terminology, Hillary people are bitter people, even more bitter than the white working class voters Barack has talked about. Because they circle the wagons so tightly, they don’t recognize how identical, self-reinforcing and out-of-touch they are.

To take just one example, the imagined association between Barack Obama and Bill Ayers will suffice. Hillary is blind to her own roots in the Sixties. In one college speech she spoke of ecstatic transcendence; in another, she said, "our social indictment has broadened. Where once we exposed the quality of life in the world of the South and the ghettos, now we condemn the quality of work in factories and corporations. Where once we assaulted the exploitation of man, now we decry the destruction of nature as well. How much long can we let corporations run us?" She was in Chicago for three nights during the 1968 street confrontations. She chaired the 1970 Yale law school meeting where students voted to join a national student strike again an "unconscionable expansion of a war that should never have been waged." She was involved in the New Haven defense of Bobby Seale during his murder trial in 1970, as the lead scheduler of student monitors. She surely agreed with Yale president Kingman Brewster that a black revolutionary couldn’t get a fair trial in America. She wrote that abused children were citizens with the same rights as their parents. [75] Most significantly in terms of her recent attacks on Barack, after Yale law school, Hillary went to work for the left-wing Bay Area law firm of Truehaft, Walker and Burnstein, which specialized in Black Panthers and West Coast labor leaders prosecuted for being communists. Two of the firm’s partners, according to Treuhaft, were communists and the two others "tolerated communists". Then she went on to Washington to help impeach Richard Nixon, whose career was built on smearing and destroying the careers of people through vague insinuations about their backgrounds and associates. [all citations from Carl Bernstein’s sympathetic biography, A Woman in Charge, 2007, pp. 67,69,70,75, 83]

All these were honorable words and associations in my mind, but doesn’t she see how the Hillary of today would accuse the Hillary of the Sixties of associating with black revolutionaries who fought gun battles with police officers, and defending pro-communist lawyers who backed communists? Doesn’t the Rev. Jeremiah Wright whom Hillary attacks today represent the very essence of the black radicals Hillary was associating with in those days? And isn’t the Hillary of today becoming the same kind of guilt-by-association insinuator as the Richard Nixon she worked to impeach?

It is as if Hillary Clinton is engaged in a toxic transmission onto Barack Obama of every outrageous insult and accusation ever inflicted on her by the American Right over the decades. She is running against what she might have become. Too much politics dries the soul of the idealist.

It is abundantly clear that the Clintons, working with FOX News and manipulating old Clinton staffers like George Stephanopoulos, are trying, at least unconsciously, to so damage Barack Obama that he will be perceived as "unelectable" to Democratic super-delegates. It is also clear that the campaign of defamation against Obama has resulted in higher negative ratings for Hillary Clinton. She therefore is threatening the Democratic Party’s chances for the White House whether or not she is the nominee.

Since no one in the party leadership seems able or willing to intervene against this self-destructive downward spiral, perhaps progressives need to consider responding in the only way politicians sometimes understand. If they can’t hear us screaming at the television sets, we can send a message that the Clintons are acting as if they prefer John McCain to Barack Obama. And follow it up with another message: if Clinton doesn’t immediately cease her path of destruction, millions of young voters and black voters may not send checks, may not knock on doors, and may not even vote for her if she becomes the nominee. That’s not a threat, that’s the reality she is creating.


Monday, April 21, 2008

Scorecards for the PA Primary Night

Photo: PA Youth Sign Up for Obama

More Than One
Way To Win
- And Lose!

[Here's a variety of goalposts and scorecards to keep in mind when watching the PA primary returns Tuesday night. --CarlD]

"Once again, Senator Clinton's campaign has resorted to denying both the obvious – and their previous comments – by saying they'd be pleased with a narrow victory in Pennsylvania on Tuesday.

"After enjoying a 20-point lead in the polls and the support of nearly every member of Pennsylvania's political establishment, Senator Clinton needs a blow-out victory on Tuesday to meet expectations. Meanwhile, Senator Obama is pleased with our campaign's progress in building support among Pennsylvania voters of all ages in every corner of the Keystone State and is looking forward to a strong showing on Tuesday night,"

--Pennsylvania's Obama communications director, Leslie Miller.



Bill Clinton: Hillary's "Got To Win A Big Victory. If She Wins A Big, Big Victory In Pennsylvania, I Think It'll Give Her A Real Big Boost Going Into The Next Primaries." After a rare two-day hiatus, Bill Clinton returned to the campaign trail today in Pennsylvania, a state he promised that his family expects to cover "like a wet blanket between now and April 22." The former president again set the bar for his wife's campaign, saying, "She's got to win a big victory" in the Keystone State. "If she wins a big, big victory in Pennsylvania, I think it'll give her a real big boost going into the next primaries," he said in a crowded senior center in this Western Pennsylvania town. [MSNBC, 3/11/08]

WSJ: "Anything Less Than A Double-Digit Victory Could Solidify The Perception" That Obama Is The "Inevitable Nominee." "Anything less than a double-digit victory could solidify the perception that Illinois Sen. Barack Obama is the inevitable Democratic nominee, sparking a flow of superdelegates to his side." [WSJ, 4/18/08]

Philadelphia Inquirer: "The Consensus With The Political Community" Is That Clinton Has To Win The State By Double Digits "To Be Able To Claim She'd Won It A Way That Matter In The Overall Nomination Struggle." "The consensus within the political community has been that Hillary Rodham Clinton had to take the state big, perhaps by double digits, to be able to claim that she'd won it a way that matters in the overall nomination struggle -- given her deficits in both the delegate race and the overall popular voter." [Philadelphia Inquirer, 4/3/08]

Newsweek: If Clinton Wins By Less Than 10 Points, The "Noise Will Grow Louder For Her To Drop Out." "If Obama upsets Clinton in Pennsylvania on April 22, all sides seem to agree that it's game over. If Clinton wins narrowly—by less than 10 points—the noise will grow louder for her to drop out and crescendo if she loses Indiana." [Newsweek, 4/14/08]

New York Times: Clinton Has To "Swamp" Obama In PA. "Clinton not only has to win Pennsylvania on April 22, she has to swamp Mr. Obama there. And she has to go on and post a convincing win against Mr. Obama in Indiana, a state where the two appear evenly matched." [New York Times, 3/24/08]

Halperin: Clinton Has To Win The Popular Vote By More Than 10.5% And Has To Cut Into Obama's Popular Vote Lead And Meaningfully Slice In Obama's Delegate Lead. "She has to win the popular vote by more than 10.5% or the media will say she didn't beat expectations (and her Ohio margin); She has to cut into Obama's national popular vote lead with a big Pennsylvania popular vote win and high turnout; She has to net enough delegates to meaningfully slice into Obama's lead (or you will hear the Obama campaign yawn loudly)." [The Page, 4/2/08]

The Hill: "Analysts Agree That A Single-Digit Win For Clinton Would Actually Be Viewed As A Loss." "Given the large leads the New York senator held from the time the focus shifted to Pennsylvania, analysts agree that a single-digit win for Clinton would actually be viewed as a loss." [The Hill, 4/1/08]

Shrum: Clinton "Should Win The State By Double Digits—And She Has To." Bob Shrum: "Pennsylvania, the next test, is both ideal ground for this message and a demographic nightmare for Mr. Obama. She should win the state by double digits — and she has to." [Bob Shrum, NYT, 4/4/08]

Sabato: Clinton Needs To Win By "A Landslide" of 10 Percent or More To Have A Chance At Winning The Nomination. "To have any chance, however, Clinton can't merely win Pennsylvania, said [Larry] Sabato. 'She needs a landslide,' normally a victory margin or 10 percent or more, to ignite support in the remaining states, he said." [Star-Ledger, 3/30/08]

Chicago Tribune's Paul West: "Anything Less Than The 10-Point Spread Of Her Ohio Victory Could Well Be Seen As A Setback." "To Remain A Credible Contender," Clinton Needs To Win PA By More Than 10 Points. "To remain a credible contender, she needs to win Pennsylvania, preferably by a substantial margin (anything less than the 10-point spread of her Ohio victory could well be seen as a setback) and then surprise him in several of the May primaries, including North Carolina, the last big state to vote. Former President Bill Clinton has said that his wife needs to run up the score in the remaining primaries to convince superdelegates that she would be the stronger candidate against McCain and deserves their vote." [Chicago Tribune, 3/26/08]

Noam Scheiber: Obama Getting Within 10 Points Of Clinton "Would Be A Moral Victory Of Sorts." "I still don't think he (Obama) can win, but he's got a shot of getting within ten points, which would be a moral victory of sorts." [TNR, 3/28/08]


Rendell: "I Think [Hillary] Can Win By Double Digits." Ed Rendell: "I told you there was no way we were 16 points. We have been outspent somewhere between 3 and 4 to 1. For her to win by 8 points will be terrific. I think she can win by double digits, but for her to win by 7 or 8 points being outspent 4 to 1, guys. That almost never happens in politics." [Fox News, 4/15/08]

Rendell: "We'll Win It Somewhere Between 5 And 9, 5 And 10 Percentage Points." Gov. Ed Rendell: "So I'm saying that we will win this state, but we'll win it somewhere between 5 and 9, 5 and 10 percentage points. But any victory over a man who outspends you 3-to-1 and is a good a campaigner as Barack Obama is, is an impressive victory." [MTP, 4/6/08]

Murtha: Clinton's Going To Win PA By Double Digits. Murtha: Sure. I think he could win Pennsylvania in the end. I think Hillary Clinton's going to win it by a double-digit figure. There is no question in my mind about that. Matthews: Double digits. Murtha: Double digits. [MSNBC, 4/1/08]

Rendell: "I Always Believe That If We Got To Pennsylvania, Hillary Clinton Would Carry The State. It's A Very Good State For Her; People Forget It's Really Her Hometown." Rendell: "Well, I always believe that if we got to Pennsylvania, Hillary Clinton would carry the state. It's a very good state for her; people forget it's really her hometown. It's where she grew up in the northeast section of the state. She'll do very well there; she and Bill Clinton probably were in southeast Pennsylvania more than any other big city in the country. The Philadelphia area. They contributed to the turnaround of the city of Philadelphia in the '90s. It's the second oldest state in the Union, second only to Florida. The demographics are good, the history is good. She'll do very well." [MSNBC, 3/5/08]

Rep. Allyson Schwartz: "Hillary Clinton Will Carry Pennsylvania." "Hillary Clinton will carry Pennsylvania," Representative Allyson Schwartz, who represents part of northeast Philadelphia and nearby suburbs, said in an interview on Bloomberg Television's "Political Capital with Al Hunt." [Bloomberg, 3/7/08]

Clinton Spokesman Mark Nevins: "We Operate From The Assumption That Pennsylvania Is Clinton Country." "We operate from the assumption that Pennsylvania is Clinton country," said Mark Nevins, Clinton's state spokesman. Nevins, who joined the campaign two weeks ago, said Clinton's operation essentially mirrors what Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) had in place four years ago when he beat President Bush in Pennsylvania. "We can build a team here that is unbeatable," Nevins said. "Even if the other side runs more television ads or sends more mailings, they can't beat us on the ground. We've got the support of the people that control the infrastructure here in the state. We've got that institutional structure that can deliver people on Election Day." [Washington Post, 3/7/08]


American Leadership Project Has Spent $450K On TV Advertising For Clinton. "The American Leadership Project, a 527 group supportive of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton that recently began broadcasting commercials in Pennsylvania, increased its purchase of television time today in the state. The group had started out with about $250,000 in television advertising, a relatively small amount, in northeastern and central Pennsylvania in the Altoona and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre television markets, according to representatives of the group. Today, it added its commercial that praises Mrs. Clinton on health care to the Pittsburgh market, spending an additional $200,000." [NYT, 4/17/08]

Clinton Is Getting Help From The American Federation Of Teachers And Emily's List, Which Have "Both Spent Heavily On Mailings And Radio Ads. "Clinton advisers said they think that Obama's edge on the airwaves in Pennsylvania has been neutralized by extensive media coverage and that the support of key elected leaders, including Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell, will help them offset whatever organizational advantages Obama may have. Clinton is also getting help from the American Federation of Teachers and the women's political group Emily's List, which have both spent heavily on mailings and radio ads in recent days. Aronchick said that calls for Clinton to leave the race have boosted her support." [Washington Post, 4/4/08]

The AFT Spent More Than $300K Already On A Radio Buy And Was Considering A TV Ad. The American Federation of Teachers reported today it has bought more than $329,000 in radio ads to support Democrat Hillary Clinton's presidential bid, and may have a television ad coming soon to compliment the radio buy. [Washington Post, 3/31/08]


Clinton Led Obama By 17 Points 4 Weeks Before The PA Primary According to An Average Of Polls. Clinton leads Obama by 17 percentage points, according to an average of Pennsylvania polls by the website Real Clear Politics, and polls show that most voters have already made up their minds. She has the backing of the popular Gov. Ed Rendell and the mayors of the state's two largest cities, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, not to mention an impressive slew of congressmen, county chairmen and assemblymen, making her unquestionably Pennsylvania's establishment candidate. Clinton has also installed her A-team in the Keystone state. Mary Eisenhower, granddaughter of Dwight D. and a force in Pennsylvania politics, is her state director. Mark Nevins, John Kerry's state director in 2004, is also onboard, as is Nick Clemens, who ran Clinton's campaign in New Hampshire. They have 12 offices open now and expect to soon open another eight. And they have over 200 paid staff in the state. [Time Magazine, 3/25/08]

Survey USA: 6 Weeks Before The PA Primary, Clinton Led Obama By 19 Points. According to polling done by Survey USA that was released on 3/11, Clinton led Obama by 19 points 55% to 36%. [Survey USA, 3/11/06]

Rasmussen: 6 Weeks Before The PA Primary, Clinton Led Obama By 15 Points. According to polling done by Rasmussen Reports that was released on 3/6, Clinton led Obama by 15 points 52% to 37%. [Rasmussen Reports, 3/6/08]


Saturday, April 19, 2008

More on Taking the War to the Election

Photo: Brownsville, Fayette County, PA, on 'the Mon.'

Making Connections
in Fayette County, PA

By Carl Davidson

If you're going to work against the war in this election and beyond, you have to get outside your comfort zones and meet new people.

That's the idea we had in mind as we put a stack of Peace Voter Guides in our car and headed 70 miles south to Fayette County, PA, along the Monongahela River, past the rolling hills of farms, small factories and old coal mining country.

We were off to see Sister James Ann Germuska, a Franciscan nun who runs a social service agency for the elderly in the little town of Brownsville, PA, not too far from the California University of Pennsylvania.

Before we got 500 feet down Route 18, though, we saw one of our neighbors outside. He'd just put up 'Vote Out All Incumbents' signs in his front yard, and was busily adding 'Obama 2008' signs along with them. So we did a quick U-Turn, and introduced ourselves. There was a young man from the local campaign office with him. Turned out the neighbor knows my brother from the Volunteer Fire Department, so we became fast allies, and left him a bunch of voter guides. This inspired my partner on the trip to keep a running tally of yard signs all along the route to Brownsville and back.

We had found Sister James Ann online at with a search for people interested in Obama, but outside the campaign. When I plunked in my zip code, up popped Sister James Ann with a message that she would really like to do something, but she's in charge of a 501C3, and has restrictions. I blocked her name and trusty Google returned the name and phone number of her agency. I called to tell her I have just what's needed for 501C3s to work the election.

Brownsville would make a lovely picture postcard in any weather, and it was a gorgeous day. The town runs along 'The Mon', as it's called around here, and the streets run up the sides of steep hills. Sister James Ann's place--a substantial operation-- is near the top.

Inside we were greeted by Louise Hicks, the administrative assistant, who was a little puzzled as we explained who we are, and talked about voter guides. Then I mentioned my talk with the sister on the phone, and at the word, 'Obama,' everything lights up, 'Oh! Stay right here, I'll find her. She definitely wants to talk to you!'

We talked for an hour, covering a lot of ground. I explained that the voter guides are fairly straightforward in that they just rate the three candidates on the war. 'That's all right,' says Sister, 'we know just what to do with them. We can use more for the NAACP here, too. She sent me to the car for more for Hicks, who's also active in the African American community.

Stopping the war is at the top of these women's priorities, but Obama's wider program fires them up. 'I can't stand Clinton, and forget about McCain--and everyone knows where I stand,” says Sister James Ann, clearly a strong woman who speaks her mind. They told us how they drove for hours to Penn State in the central mountains to attend the rally of 22,000.

“We got up front, within a few feet of him,” said Hicks. “He was wonderful,” added Sister. “We desperately need new leadership. With the downturn in the economy and the cutbacks, we're suffering here. . . We need change in a big way.” I noted that Obama is certainly charismatic, and she knows the definition of that term: touched by grace. “Yes! Exactly, and a lot of it!” she laughed in reply, adding that many local students are enthusiastic for the campaign, mainly around stopping the war. “See if you can get him here, and if not him, then Michelle, and if not her, then YOU come back.” I laughed that I'm hardly in the same league, but we'll see what happens.

We left Brownsville with the approaching evening, and took a short detour to a smaller place called Fredericktown, also along 'The Mon.' One of my partner's Grandfathers back in the late 1700s ran a ferry there. As we come off the hill and down into the little river town, there's the ferry, still running, just pulling out, and we snapped a picture of it. How cool is that?

She kept counting yard signs on that way back-first Hillary up by one, then Obama, very few McCain signs, for some reason, since he still has support here. Then just as we neared home, we saw two new ones for Obama, and he squeaked over the top for the day. Hopefully, it's a sign of things to come.

At the end of the day, we got out 1000 voters guides, we have new connections in the neighborhood, and we have more allies in the religious, peace and African American communities. Working an election isn't just about votes, if you go about it in the right way. And it's not rocket science, just get outside your comfort zone, keep your eyes on the prize, and see what happens.


Friday, April 18, 2008

Clinton Trys 'Radical' and 'Terrorist' Baiting

[Hillary Clinton and the media are engaged in a 'terrorist' smear campaign against Obama that involves telling lies against Bill Ayers and others as well. Clinton apparantly has no shame, since plenty could be said about her activities in the 1960s, taking place when Obama was eight years old. We let Ayers speak for himself.]

My Episodic
Fact and Fantasy

By Bill Ayers
from his blog

Day in and day out I go about my business, I hang out with my kids and my grandchildren, take care of the elders, I go to work, I teach and I write, I organize and I participate in the never-ending effort to build a powerful movement for peace and social justice; now and then (and unpredictably) I appear in the newspapers or on TV with a reference to my book Fugitive Days, a memoir of the revolutionary action and militant resistance to the Viet Nam War—the years of miracle and wonder—and some fantastic assertions about what I did, what I said, and what I believe. The other night, for example, I heard Sean Hannity tell Senator John McCain that I was an unrepentant terrorist who had written an article on September 11, 2001 extolling bombings against the U.S., and even advocating more terrorist bombs. Senator McCain couldn’t believe it, and neither could I.

My e-mail and my voice-mail filled up with hate, as happens, mostly men with too much time on their hands I imagined, all of them venting and sweating and breathing heavily, a few threats—"Watch out!"; "You deserve to be shot"; and from, "I’m coming to get you and when I do, I’ll waterboard you"—all of it wildly uninformed. I’ve written a lot about the Viet Nam period, about politics, about schools and social justice, and I read and speak about all of it. I encourage people to argue, to agree or disagree, to discuss and struggle, to engage in conversation. I believe deeply in the pedagogical possibilities of dialogue—of listening with the possibility of being changed, and of speaking with the possibility of being heard—and I believe in revitalizing the public square, resisting the eclipse of the public and expanding the public space, searching for a more robust and participatory democracy. Talking to one another can help.
So in that spirit here is another attempt at clarity:

1. Regrets. I’m often quoted saying that I have "no regrets." This is not true. For anyone paying attention—and I try to stay wide-awake to the world around me all/ways—life brings misgivings, doubts, uncertainty, loss, regret. I’m sometimes asked if I regret anything I did to oppose the war in Viet Nam, and I say "no, I don’t regret anything I did to try to stop the slaughter of millions of human beings by my own government." Sometimes I add, "I don’t think I did enough." This is then elided: he has no regrets for setting bombs and thinks there should be more bombings.

The illegal, murderous, imperial war against Viet Nam was a catastrophe for the Vietnamese, a disaster for Americans, and a world tragedy. Many of us understood this, and many tried to stop the war. Those of us who tried recognize that our efforts were inadequate: the war dragged on for a decade, thousands were slaughtered every week, and we couldn’t stop it. In the end the U.S. military was defeated and the war ended, but we surely didn’t do enough.

2. Terror. Terrorism—according to both official U.S. policy and the U.N.—is the use or threat of random violence to intimidate, frighten, or coerce a population toward some political end. This means, of course, that terrorism is not the exclusive province of a cult, a religious sect, or a group of fanatics. It can be any of these, but it can also be—and often is—executed by governments and states. A bombing in a café in Israel is terrorism, and an Israeli assault on a neighborhood in Gaza is terrorism; the September 11 attacks were acts of terrorism, and the U.S. bombings in Viet Nam for a decade were acts of terrorism. Terrorism is never justifiable, even in a just cause—the Union fight in the 1860’s was just, for example, but Shernan’s March to the Sea was indefensible terror. I’ve never advocated terrorism, never participated in it, never defended it. The U.S. government, by contrast, does it routinely and defends the use of it in its own cause consistently.

3. Imperialism. I’m against it, and if Sean Hannity and others were honest, this is the ground they would fight me on. Capitalism played its role historically and is exhausted as a force for progress: built on exploitation, theft, conquest, war, and racism, capitalism and imperialism must be defeated and a world revolution—a revolution against war and racism and materialism, a revolution based on human solidarity and love, cooperation and the common good—must win. We begin by releasing our most hopeful dreams and our most radical imaginations: a better world is both possible and necessary. We need to bring our imaginations together and forge an unbreakable human alliance. We need to unite to transform and save ourselves as we fight to change the world.


ABC Blocs with Rightist Demagogy

An Open Letter to Charlie Gibson and George Stephanapoulos

The ABC Debate:
A Shameful Night
for the U.S. Media

By Will Bunch
The Philadelphia Daily News
April 17, 2008

Dear Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos,

It's hard to know where to begin with this, less than an hour after you signed off from your Democratic presidential debate here in my hometown of Philadelphia, a televised train wreck that my friend and colleague Greg Mitchell has already called, quite accurately, "a shameful night for the U.S. media." It's hard because - like many other Americans - I am still angry at what I just witnesses, so angry that it's hard to even type accurately because my hands are shaking. Look, I know that "media criticism" - especially when it's one journalist speaking to another - tends to be a genteel, colleagial thing, but there's no genteel way to say this.

With your performance tonight - your focus on issues that were at best trivial wastes of valuable airtime and at worst restatements of right-wing falsehoods, punctuated by inane "issue" questions that in no way resembled the real world concerns of American voters - you disgraced my profession of journalism, and, by association, me and a lot of hard-working colleagues who do still try to ferret out the truth, rather than worry about who can give us the best deal on our capital gains taxes. But it's even worse than that. By so badly botching arguably the most critical debate of such an important election, in a time of both war and economic misery, you disgraced the American voters, and in fact even disgraced democracy itself. Indeed, if I were a citizen of one of those nations where America is seeking to "export democracy," and I had watched the debate, I probably would have said, "no thank you." Because that was no way to promote democracy.

You implied throughout the broadcast that you wanted to reflect the concerns of voters in Pennsylvania. Well, I'm a Pennsylvanian voter, and so are my neighbors and most of my friends and co- workers. You asked virtually nothing that reflected our everyday issues - trying to fill our gas tanks and save for college at the same time, our crumbling bridges and inadequate mass transit, or the root causes of crime here in Philadelphia. In fact, there almost isn't enough space - and this is cyberspace, where room is unlimited - to list all the things you could have asked about but did not, from health care to climate change to alternative energy to our policy toward China to the deterioration of Afghanistan to veterans' benefits to improving education. You ignored virtually everything that just happened in what most historians agree is one of the worst presidencies in American history, including the condoning of torture and the trashing of the Constitution, although to be fair you also ignored the policy concerns of people on the right, like immigration issues.

You asked about gun control - phrased to try for a "gotcha" in a state where that's such a divisive issue - but not about what we really care about, which is how to reduce crime. You pressed and pressed on those capital gains taxes, but Senators Clinton and Obama were forced to bring up the housing crisis on their own initiative.

Instead, you wasted more than half of the debate - a full hour - on tabloid trivia that for the most part wasn't even that interesting, because most of it was infertile ground that has already been covered again and again and again. I'm not saying that Rev. Wright and Bosnia sniper fire and "bitter" were never newsworthy - I myself wrote about all of these for the Philadelphia Daily News or my Attytood blog, back when they were more relevant - but the questions were stale yet clearly intended to gin up controversy (they didn't, by the way, other than the controversy over you.) The final questions of that section, asking Obama whether he thought Rev. Wright "loved America" and then suggesting that Obama himself is somehow a hater of the American flag, or worse, were flat-out repulsive.

Are you even thinking when simply echo some of the vilest talking points from far-right talk radio? What are actually getting at - do you honestly believe that someone with a solid track record as a lawmaker in a Heartland state which elected him to the U.S. Senate, who is now seeking to make some positive American history as our first black president, is somehow un-American, or unpatriotic? Does that even make any sense? Question his policies, or question his leadership. Because that is your job as a journalist. But don't insult our intelligence by questioning his patriotism.

Here's a question for you, George. Is it true that yesterday you appeared on the radio with conservative talk radio host Sean Hannity, and that you said you were "taking notes" when he urged you to ask a question about Obama's supposed ties to a former member of the Weather Underground - which in fact you did. With all the fabulous resources of ABC News at your disposal, is that an appropriate way for a supposed journalist to come up with debate questions, by pandering to divisive radio shows?

And Charlie...could you be any more out of touch with your viewers? Most people aren't millionaires like you, and if Pennsylvanians are losing sleep over economic matters, it is not over whether the capital gains tax will go back up again. I was a little shocked when you pressed and pressed on that back-burner issue and left almost no time for high gas prices, but then I learned tonight that you did the same thing in the last debate, that you fretted over that middle-class family that made $200,000 a year. Charlie, the nicest way that I can put this is that you need to get out more.

But I'm not ready to make nice. What I just watched was an outrage. As a journalist, you appeared to confirm all of the worst qualities that cause people to hold our profession in such low esteem, especially your obsession with cornering the candidates with lame "trick" questions and your complete lack of interest or concern about substance - or about the American people, or the state of our nation. You embarassed some good people who work at ABC News - for example, the journalists who worked hard to break this story just last week - and you embarassed yourselves. The millions of people who watched the debate were embarassed, too - at the state of our political discourse, and what it has finally become, at long last.

Quickly, a word to any and all of my fellow journalists who happen to read this open letter. This. Must . Stop. Tonight, if possible. I thought that we had hit rock bottom in March 2003, when we failed to ask the tough questions in the run-up to the Iraq war. But this feels even lower. We need to pick ourselves up, right now, and start doing our job - to take a deep breath and remind ourselves of what voters really need to know, and how we get there, that's it's not all horserace and "gotcha." Although, to be blunt, I would also urge the major candidates in 2012 to agree only to debates that are organized by the League of Women Voters, with citizen moderators and questioners. Because we have proven without a doubt in 2008 that working journalists don't deserve to be the debate "deciders."

Charlie, I'm going to sign off this letter the way that you always sign off the news, that "I hope you had a great day."

Because America just had a horrible night.


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

How About 'Pissed Off' Workers?

Truckers Protest Fuel Costs
on PA Turnpike, Interstates

Of Bitterness
and Boilermakers

By Barbara Ehrenreich

I spent an hour yesterday trying to persuade Tom Frank, author of 'What's the Matter with Kansas?' and the apparent intellectual source of Obama's remark on white working class "bitterness," to weigh in with an op-ed somewhere. Unfortunately, he'd already had 20 calls before mine on the same theme, so our conversation moved on quickly to the Disney Princess Cult and its pernicious influence on 3-year-olds. Although all this was off the record, I do not think I am betraying a confidence by revealing that Frank judged Bittergate to be "silly."

Because, of course, a lot of people, and not only in the white working class, are bitter, though "pissed off" might have been a better choice of words. Real wages have been stagnant or falling for years; fuel and now food prices are going through the roof; the repo guy is picking at the locks. Sticking to that most exotic of all demographics—white working-class men—and drawing entirely on my own circle of relatives and friends, I can confirm Obama's observation.

There's my old friend Trice, for example, a flight attendant who's bitter that his company's top executives are about to pamper themselves with fresh bonuses while he's taken a 30 percent pay cut in recent years. There's my nephew Shannon, a former delivery-truck driver who's bitter because he's discovered that his recently acquired college education in computer networking gets him only low-paid, short-term, contract work. And then there are the owner-operator truck drivers I've just gotten to know in the course of interviewing them about their nationwide slowdowns to protest $4-a-gallon diesel oil. Actually, they're not "bitter" so much as righteously up in arms because they, and so many other people, can no longer make ends meet.

Where both Obama and Clinton have gone wrong is in their stereotypes of white working class men-involving guns, religion, and now, in Clinton's case, boilermakers. There is no known correlation between the size of one's arsenal and the degree of one's bitterness; and the same goes for religiosity. It should be noted, in fact, that both the Christian Right and the sport of hunting are in precipitous decline. For what it's worth, the most heavily armed white guy I know is a vegan and animal-rights crusader who's always on my case about cheeseburgers.

As for boilermakers: The drink apparently originated among the copper miners of my native city of Butte, Mont., and it is by no means universal, as I discovered when I ordered one a couple of years ago in a Holiday Inn lounge in rural Ohio. I did not order it for purposes of pandering to the construction workers at the bar, but because I'd had a long, hard day at the podium. It turned out that my bar-mates found my choice of beverage so fascinating that I could not drink in peace. They'd never heard of the drink, so I had to explain, with increasing clarity as the drink went down, that where I come from, boilermakers are a comfort food.

When they either pander to or attempt to analyze white working-class men, the candidates risk tripping over some nasty stereotypes—as in, hard-drinking, white-bread-eating, gun-bearing bigots. When I blogged about the truck drivers' protests last week, I got comments complaining about my sympathy for "rednecks." This is class prejudice, and it is just as ugly as misogyny or racism.

The only thing you can say for sure about the white—or black or brown—working class is that it is being driven ever further down into poverty. Other than that, no generalizations, please—either from the $10-million-a-year Clinton or from the merely upper-middle-class Obama.

[Barbara Ehrenreich is an activist and writer, author of Nickel and Dimed, For Her Own Good: 200 Years of the Experts’ Advice to Women (with Deirdre English), The Hearts of Men: American Dreams and the Flight from Commitment, Fear of Falling: The Inner Life of the Middle Class, Kipper’s Game (a science fiction novel), and Blood Rites: Origins and History of the Passions of War.]


Springsteen Endorses Obama

The Boss
A New Boss

By Bruce Springsteen

Dear Friends and Fans:

LIke most of you, I've been following the campaign and I have now seen and heard enough to know where I stand. Senator Obama, in my view, is head and shoulders above the rest.

He has the depth, the reflectiveness, and the resilience to be our next President. He speaks to the America I've envisioned in my music for the past 35 years, a generous nation with a citizenry willing to tackle nuanced and complex problems, a country that's interested in its collective destiny and in the potential of its gathered spirit. A place where "...nobody crowds you, and nobody goes it alone."

At the moment, critics have tried to diminish Senator Obama through the exaggeration of certain of his comments and relationships. While these matters are worthy of some discussion, they have been ripped out of the context and fabric of the man's life and vision, so well described in his excellent book, Dreams of My Father, often in order to distract us from discussing the real issues: war and peace, the fight for economic and racial justice, reaffirming our Constitution, and the protection and enhancement of our environment.

After the terrible damage done over the past eight years, a great American reclamation project needs to be undertaken. I believe that Senator Obama is the best candidate to lead that project and to lead us into the 21st Century with a renewed sense of moral purpose and of ourselves as Americans.

Over here on E Street, we're proud to support Obama for President.


Monday, April 14, 2008

The Real Elitism of Clinton-McCain


Aliquippa Hospital Workers
Hit the Streets over Mass Firings

Hope And Obama
In Western PA

By Carl Davidson

When I heard Hillary Clinton and John McCain claiming, against Barack Obama's recent observation, that there was no 'bitterness' among working-class voters in Western Pennsylvania, I burst out laughing, 'they've got to be kidding!'

Unfortunately they weren't, and now the cable news punditry and right-wing talk radio has a new diversionary cause of the week to dump on Obama in lieu of serious discussion of policy and programs.

I'm born and bred in Beaver County, Western PA, which, in 1960, was the most blue-collar county in the entire country-steel, strip mines, and everything related to both. My grandfather died in the mill, Jones & Laughlin Steel, crushed by a crane, and another cousin met the same fate a few decades later. My parents are both in the Pennsylvania Bowlers Hall of Fame (and Barack would do well to stick to basketball!). After a long stint in New York City and Chicago, which were irresistible in my youth, I'm now back home, living in Raccoon Township.

Take it from me. There are a lot of bitter voters in these mill towns and the townships outside them. If they don't express it to the coiffured media, they do to each other. It's easy to see why. The towns are mostly empty, ravaged by deindustrialization. And the brown fields where the mills once stood are so poisoned grass won't even grow. After sitting empty for years, the first new structure to go up not too long ago on one near here was a new prison.

Does this mean it's a clear path for Obama? Not at all, it's a rough climb, full of difficulties. But he's doing better than anyone expected. None of the polls are that trustworthy, because some tell the pollsters the 'right' answer, while others, such as new youth voters with only cell phones, are hard to find. Obama's closing on Clinton, now by a five point spread. The more people see him, the more they like him. But both Democrats run neck-to-neck against McCain in November. This is not a 'safe state' for anyone, anytime.

'White male identity politics' is the unpredictable elephant in the room. I've talked with older blue collar voters who claim John Edwards was their runaway favorite, but are now leaning to John McCain, in spite of their hatred for the war. White workers generally split three ways, roughly proportional, between the three candidates.

Younger working-class voters, male and female, white or Black, are not so caught up in it, and they are Obama's ace-in-the-hole. If his campaign can get them to the polls in droves, he can win it. That's the long and short of it, and if you can get here to help, please do so. Everything counts.

The bitterness runs deep, favors no single candidate, and comes in several varieties. Retired steelworkers here had their pensions stolen by speculative capital, winning only part of them back by hitting the streets. There's also another kind of bitterness in Pennsylvania's demographics. It's now one of the oldest population areas in the country. My young nephews and nieces, even with some local college degrees or courses behind them, have a hard time finding work. Many young people have moved away to Florida or California, leaving older relatives behind. Here in Raccoon, they're now shutting down the elementary school, claiming 500 pupils doesn't justify the expense to keep it open. It means an hour on the bus for youngsters from a perfectly good school, and, yes, many parents are bitter.

Aliquippa is the nearest town to me, known as home of Mike Ditka and Tony Dorsett. In my youth, it was a bustling blue-collar town of 20,000-some 10,000 workers in the mill, a mixture of Serbs, Italians and African-Americans. Now it's down to 6000, mostly poor and Black. They were the hardest hit of all, lacking the rural family homesteads to fall back on. Now joblessness, crime and addiction take a very bitter toll on the families still there, with nowhere to go.

Does this mean it's all bleak? No, not at all, although Hillary Clinton is just dissembling, or worse, to assert that there's no bitterness, only resilience and hope, in these towns. People here like to pull themselves up independently whenever they can, like the Scots-Irish and Germans who predominated here in the 1800s. Their class solidarity means they'll accept a hand-up, and offer one, too. But they don't like hand-outs at all, unless you're at death's door, which is why their anti-'Fat Cat' populism also contains antipathy to some features of liberalism. It's also why Obama gets a standing ovation when he tells college students he'll help, but challenges them to give back, with community service work.

This blue-collar populism runs the political gamut-left, center and right. You can get colorful examples in the hot debates in the interactive pages of the online edition of the largest daily paper, the Beaver County Times. Pick any topic or candidate-you'll get fierce denunciations of the rich man's war for oil, combined with warnings against Hillary' 'socialism', claims that Obama's a secret Muslim, and despair that McCain's a clone of Bush.

In this lively public square, Obama or any candidate would do well to discern the main themes. Don't get me wrong. People here are open and friendly. They don't expect you to agree with them, or vice versa. But they do expect authenticity, so when you get out organizing, speak from the heart, and don't put your head higher than anyone else's, and expect the same in return.

At the top of their list is stopping the war now, since it's preventing any solutions to anything else. Next, do something about health care-single payer is best, but either Obama's or Hillary's plan rather than nothing. Then debt relief and fuel prices, although no miracles are expected here.

Finally there's creating new jobs and new wealth. This is probably most important strategically, but people have been spun so many promises, they're cynical, and Obama was right to point it out. Still he should look deeper here, and more often.

What gets people's attention are 'high road' programs like the Apollo Alliance, new 'green' industrial jobs building the infrastructure of energy independence. All those wind turbines and wave generators and whatnot have to be built somewhere, and what blue collar Pennsylvania, white and Black, knows how to do very well is build things that create high value and new wealth.

This is what gets people's attention, not rebates, handouts and McJobs. Obama's a natural on this subject, and he'd best spend less ad money on how's he's not in thrall to lobbyists, and spend more as an advocate of green industrial policy that would give these mill towns real hope for change.

[Carl Davidson is a peace and justice activist, a 'Solidarity Economy' organizer, and webmaster for 'Progressives for Obama' at]


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