The icons of sixties music are turning 70. Bob Dylan is next. I've been hearing his voice in my head for 50 years. New cds just released bring back the beginnings including songs you've never heard. I'll be sampling this stuff on the radio this week.
culture of protest thurs 10/28/10 6-7pdt kcsb 91.9fm www.kcsb.org
I wonder if you have felt as I have about Juan Williams over the years-he's a national embarrassment. His NPR news appearances as ‘senior political analyst' were typically banal and obvious-top of the head thoughts rehashing exactly what one might read in the mainstream press. There was no evidence of independent journalistic enterprise or insight. And his long association with O'Reilly and Fox News made him seem creepy.
Juan Williams worked for the Washington Post before coming to NPR. While there he was the subject of repeated complaints about verbal harassment from female staffers. These complaints became public after Williams publicly defended Clarence Thomas when Anita Hill testified about his verbal harassment. You can read details about Williams' behavior, and his public apology for it: Post reporter Williams apologizes for 'inappropriate' verbal conduct. At the time, Williams tried to create the impression that he was disciplined because he had defended Thomas, prompting more than 100 female staffers at the Post to demand that the paper make clear the seriousness and longstanding character of the charges against him.
NPR has been officially upset with Williams' Fox News relationship. During the election campaign, he talked about Michelle Obama as a ‘Stokely Carmichael in a designer dress' in an O'Reilly appearance. That episode led NPR to insist that Williams appear on Fox without any identification of his NPR role. I learn from a recent statement by the NPR ombuds that I was one of many NPR listeners who, over the years, had complained about Williams' Fox connection and his poor performance on NPR His termination there was overdue.
But of course it couldn't have been managed more poorly. Like Shirley Sherrod's treatment at the Agriculture Department, an impression of ‘bigotry' in public quotes by a staff person leads to immediate dismissal, without due process of any kind. Ms. Sherrod was exposing her own racist reflexes in order to challenge them; Williams may we'll have been trying to do the same. It reminds me of the old McCarthy era cartoon showing a cop beating a guy who pleads: ‘But officer, I'm an anti-communist" To which the cop replies: "I don't care what kind of a commie you are!"
I'm a strong believer that workers ought to have some recourse. To say that NPR had the right to fire Juan Williams reduces the matter to narrow legalism. To say that his firing was not about the first amendment because that applies only to government restriction on speech is to justify the authoritarian character of corporations rather than to address deep issues of workers' rights and workplace democracy.
A couple of weeks ago, NPR issued a directive to all news employees that banned them from attending the Jon Stewart/Steve Colbert ‘rallies, citing the code of journalistic ethics that the organization promulgates that forbids any public political activity. Something is troubling about this. It's a kind of prior restraint that limits staff members' ability to exercise curiosity and to be normal human witnesses to events. Again, it would be more appropriate to evaluate the conduct of NPR staffers who happened to go to the event in terms of actual consequences.
NPR issued no such directive prior to the Glen Beck rally. They seem to be arguing that no such directive was needed because their staff would never participate in a Beck rally.
But I think the heart of the matter at NPR is their continuous and sometimes desperate effort to overcome the rightwing stereotyping of NPR as a liberal bastion. As a daily listener to Morning Edition, I'm typically perturbed by the bending over backwards straining for objectivity one hears there nowadays.
In an earlier era, NPR news broadcasts were frequently enlivened by commentary by a wide spectrum of advocates. One remembers Michael Harrington, David Frum, Barbara Ehrenreich and a lot of other voices. Reportage included interviews with academic experts who often provided critical perspectives on matters of the day. These days a lot of NPR resources are spent on somewhat lame efforts to spice up economic analysis, and political debate is typically provided by setting up a Democratic/Republican counterpoint.
NPR remains one of the key sources of relatively decent journalism available nationally, but not if you're looking for depth, for provocation, for ideas. I'm glad I don't have to hear Juan Williams anymore (and that my public radio contributions no longer bring me his voice). But that‘s because he symbolized for me the worst of NPR-a bland, phony fairness lacking point or substance. I fear that the rightwing reaction to his firing will lead to even more timidity on the part of NPR management.
Of course the best radio bet is to listen to Amy Goodman!
If you rely on the New York Times, NPR and network TV for your news, you are expecting that the Democrats will suffer heavy defeat in the upcoming election. For months now, the media mainstream has framed the election story in such terms. The GOP base fired up and angry, while the Democratic base is disillusioned and disappointed and Obama has lost the support of the independent electorate. Voters historically, the story goes, have voted out incumbents when unemployment is high. One has only to look at the polls to expect that the Democrats will lose control of congress.
It's certainly a plausible story and it may even turn out to be true. What's strange is that this is the ONLY frame that the above mentioned media have been using all these months-despite the fact that other, equally plausible, explanations of the poll data could have been considered.
Polling reports started to show a Republican lead in the spring and summer, and it didn't take long for the Times to make those findings into taken for granted predictions of the outcome. It was hardly ever suggested that such poll results had to be seen as very limited in their predictive value. What were the limits?
Most voters were hardly aware of the fall election.
Polls were based on weightings of ‘likely' voters-usually determined by asking people how certain they were that they would vote or how attentive they were to the election. Likely voters measured in such ways are older, whiter, richer and more male than the electorate as a whole. Likely voter surveys are inevitably tilted toward the Republicans especially before the campaign season gets going.
Telephone surveys are probably skewed toward older voters since they probably miss a lot of cell phones, and don't adequately sample those who no longer have land lines.
The main thing the summer polls could be said to be finding was not that the Republicans were going to ‘win' but that the Democrats had to find ways to motivate and turn out their voters. That would be true even if there was little mass disappointment given typical voting demographics in non presidential elections (where older, whiter and richer folk are always more likely voters). But voter mobilization this year was even more urgent. In that sense the ‘enthusiasm gap' was certainly a big challenge...
But the media frame focused on ‘anger', on tea party energy and anti-incumbent fever. That was a real story-but I think it's now clear that the story was about the Republican Party and its internal chaos. It was GOP incumbents who were losing primaries. It was electable ‘moderate' GOP candidates who were being defeated by extreme rightists. These things were certainly covered extensively, but often framed as if the tea partiers somehow reflected a national mood that had turned against Obama and progressive program. Polls that showed that the majority favored the healthcare reform or wanted more far-reaching progressive healthcare policies were ignored.
Fortunately the Democrats and their support structure understood the urgent need for voter mobilization and that process has been going on across the country. Democratic Party fundraising has outstripped Republican Party efforts (but not of course the hundreds of millions of corporate money fueling the non-party propaganda machine). Grassroots voter mobilization seems to be clicking; Obama's campaigning has certainly been well-designed and effective in generating enthusiasm.
In the past few days, the polls have been turning. Senate races, including those of Russ Feingold, Patty Murray, Joe Sestak (PA) and Jack Conway (Kentucky) now show Democrats leading or at least dead even the toxic extremism rampant among GOP candidates is getting attention. ‘Experts' have decided that Democratic control of the Senate is now likely, but still expect the Republicans to take the House. But I'm still seeing mainstream media emphasis on the Republican landslide, and little reporting that the tide may be shifting.
Based on past history, it would be ‘normal' for the party in power to lose as many as 25-30 house seats. Indeed, the most likely Democratic losses are in 2-3 dozen seats Democrats won in 2006 and 2008 that re in Republican majority districts. Most of those are ‘blue dogs'-meaning that the Democratic caucus in the house will be more liberal after this election. And if the Dems lose 30 seats Nancy Pelosi will still be the speaker.
I'm saying all this not to predict a bright outcome in November, but to argue that the major media reporting on politics is woefully inadequate. The Times et al are so fixated on the alleged GOP tsunami that they've failed as serious trustworthy sources of necessary information about the dynamics of the campaign.
This incompetence is particularly glaring given that the blog world is pretty rich with alternative framings and analysis. Read Daily Kos, for one example, for better reportage on the election than anything you'll find in the national media.
I can't explain the incompetence. I'll conjecture that one factor is the general media assumption that the American population is dominated by what Mencken called the ‘booboisie'-that the American majority can be expected to choose the simplistic, rightwing and silly. Given that basic assumption, it was clear from the start that Obama could never be nominated and never be elected. Since he was in fact elected, it is clear that he can't actually be the president. Since he's actually doing the job, it's clear that the people will inevitably reject him
Lots of us on the progressive side tend to share some of these ways of looking at the general public. There surely is plenty of racism, ignorance, false consciousness and obtuseness out there. It's what the Republican propaganda machine is trying to stoke every minute of every day. My point here though is this: even the flawed tools of polling, used with appropriate care, suggest a far more nuanced picture of that public.
Whatever democratic possibilities remain for the USA depend on activists having such nuanced understandings of how people in general relate to the political. Right now, the future does depend a lot on how the coming election turns out, since Democrats in power provide space for progressive reform. My bet is that that there's still time to win that space.
Tags: polls, fall election, mainstream media, gop, democrats, progressives
Chile's martyred troubadour, Victor Jara, wrote 'Song of the Miner" 50 years ago and it was adopted by the Chilean 33 as their anthem. Miners trials and struggles have been sung about for generations. this week on the radio we'll hear a collage of miners songs to help celebrate the liberation of the 33 and the community they forged.
culture of protest thurs 10/21/10 6-7pm pdt kcsb 91.9fm www.kcsb.org
Had he lived, John Lennon would be 70 years old this week. A number of new recorded compilations and films are being released that sustain his legacy. We'll do our bit on the radio this week focusing on the political John, featuring his songs of protest, his targeting by the FBI, his activist forays.
culture of protest thurs 10.14.10 6-7pm pdt kcsb 91.9fm www.kcsb.org
The One Nation Working Together march on October 2 could turn out to be history making. Reports from participants and organizers paint a picture of the event itself as having the look and feel of an authentic grassroots movement happening. Carl Davidson, whose stature as a grizzled veteran organizer gives him much credibility, offered this overview:
"A rainbow of nationalities, men and women, young and old, and with a solid core from all sectors of the working class filled the area. The crowd's mood was upbeat and militant, and they let it be known with a range of voices, from old-fashioned liberals to the socialist left, that they were fed up with the right wing assaults from Tea Party, the GOP neoliberals and the Blue Dog Democrats going along with them."
Crowd estimates of these rallies have in recent years been hard to find, but Carl claims 175,000. Watching on C-SPAN, I thought that number was credible, and since one purpose of the march was to challenge the Glen Beck hype, it did seem that the October 2 mass was a lot more tightly packed than the array of beach chairs that assembled for the Beckfest.
As is usual for these events, March supporters complained about a lack of media coverage, but I saw a good deal of respectful attention to the event (especially compared to woeful neglect of last year's immigrant rights march). On the other hand, the LA Times, as far as I can tell, failed to devote a single sentence to the LA rally of several thousand in response to the One Nation call.
I've been hoping for months for such an event. As Carl Davidson suggests, the march provided a physical response to the media promoted idea that the Tea Party represents grassroots America. And the march may have helped energize local activists to ramp up voter mobilization energies in these weeks before election day.
But the history making dimension of this event is this: the coalition that endorsed and organized One Nation Working Together is the broadest progressive coalition in American history. I don't think there is precedent, certainly in the last 50 years, for the coming together of the entire labor movement, the major civil rights organizations, the major peace organizations, every progressive organizing network, environmental organizations, feminist leadership, gay rights activists, and the various remnants of the Marxist left. The 400+ endorsing groups signed on to a comprehensive agenda, which embraces but goes well beyond the promises of the Obama administration for jobs and justice. It's news that the labor unions have committed to gay rights and immigrant rights, and that ‘identity' based movement organizations are part of a ‘class' oriented politics and program. Although there's scant mention of the war and international policy in the official policy statement the major anti-war groups are in the coalition, and have created the Peace Table which served as a significant organizing structure for the march, leading a feeder march carrying antiwar banners, and serving in the post-march as a framework for peace activist participation in the wider coalition.
Historically, progressive coalitions have foundered on war/peace issues. The national unions have rarely been willing to oppose war policies (and at times have been avid supporters of them) in part because of the economic fruits of war spending, while national liberal leaderships have typically believed that their ability to influence national policy depended on their staunch defense of nationalist values. These days, the war budget is hardly providing economic benefit for working Americans and the wars are deeply unpopular. Still, it appears that welding the broadest coalition for economic justice required a soft pedaling of the war. What was different this time is that the anti war movement and hundreds of constituent groups was encouraged to organize within the coalition, to promote its messages as visibly as possible-and most of the speakers at the rally, including top labor leaders, spoke in some way against the war and/or the military budget. The next day, dozens of organizations were represented at a meeting to map plans to attack military spending. Phyllis Bennis, a leading figure in antiwar activism, assessing the march, says:" The anti-war movement itself is now only one stream in a much wider river of protest".
Indeed, it may well be that the one nation coalition, if it can become a full fledged ongoing political force, will create pressure for ‘domestic' reform that will compel reducing the military priority. There really is no way to rebuild the US economy, to finance the infrastructure and the green path, without such a reduction. The best answer to the popular deficit panic is to dramatize the choice between endless war and imperial futility on the one hand, and a sustainable model of prosperity.
The history making question about the October 2 march is whether the coalition and its agenda can be sustained and enhanced as a framework for grassroots action. The first test will be the congressional election. Contrary to mainstream media assumptions, there's reason to expect that Democratic control of both houses will survive-especially if the GOTV strategies of progressive coalition groups are effective. That outcome will be heartening at least as a demonstration that the American majority is NOT in the thrall of rightwing charlatanry and demagoguery.
The more important test, however, is whether the political climate-the demands and debates that dominate-can be shifted after the election. Whether or not Democratic control is maintained, its margins will have narrowed. But the last two years have taught us that numerical majorities in congress hardly provide the means for achieving even modest moves toward just and rational policy. From now forward, the question will not be simply what Obama does but what we do. Instead of focusing as we have tended to do since 2008 on passing some semblance of immediate reform, the challenge and opportunity will be on defining and campaigning for a program that will make our future possible.
I hope to do some more commenting on that from here on.
Tags: one nation working together, antiwar movement, progressive agenda
Joan Baez concert here last week made me realize that her first recording appeared exactly 50 years ago. Hearing her voice for the first time was oine of the biggest musical thrills I've ever experienced. The anniversary provides an excuse for a program devoted to her voice over the half century. Please tune in tonight!
culture of protest thurs 10/7/106-7pm pdt kcsb 91.9fm www.kcsb.org
Dick Flacks here...sociology professor emeritus at UCSB. Budget cuts mean that I can't continue my annual course on political sociology. Maybe a blog will be a space for me to continue to ruminate and pontificate. And maybe (as a veteran teacher on these matters) I can offer some ways of thinking about what's happening nationally and locally that will be useful, as we struggle to make sense of the tortured complexities of these times.
I've been a leftwing activist for more than 50 years. What we've been struggling for all these years is full democracy--to increase the opportunities for people to have real voice in the decisions that affect them. Step by step over these years we've made some gain...but it is a long march, and one that never ends. The big barrier to democracy in our society is the concentrated power of corporations. At the same time, democracy is undermined by the felt powerlessness of people in their daily lives--the persistent belief that our problems are only our own personal concern. It's a strong cultural theme--such individualism--constantlly reinforced by mass media and everyday circumstance. But the current big crisis of the economy maybe makes it more possible for more people to understand that we've got to have social reform and economic reform. So my writing here is aimed at helping us figure out what to think and act on that so that we can hope for new democratic possibilities. WE'll be talking about the local and the national.
The blog name comes from an old labor union hymn:
Step by step the longest march can be won. Many stones can form an arch...singly none. And by union what we will can be accomplished still. Drops of water turn a mill, singly none, singly none.
For 27 years I've had a weekly radio show on KCSB (91.9 fm. www.kcsb.org) It's called the Culture of Protest. It's comes from my fascination with music and social movements. I collect 'political' and 'protest' music and that's what we play each week (Thursdays 6-7 pm). So sometimes here we'll share and talk about that.
I'm worried about one thing about the blogosphere. And that's the way that some people use the blog comment space for anonymous nastiness. I'm sick of the kind of political blather that assaults the motives of others, and sees dark conspiracy behind every thing one doesn't like. This kind of stuff is helping to poison the political atmosphere. So I'm going to strive for a civil tone to whatever interaction may happen on this blogsite.