We've had a good year. We've traveled a lot, taken joy from our beautiful grandchildren and felt useful to our community. But, in this year, History has come to be more ominous for those children and dark signs abound. .
A number of exemplary poet-singers passed away this year. Among them was Tuli Kupferberg of the Fugs. Listen to his song "Nothing" written a couple of deaces ago; it still resonates.
Our dear friend Bob Potter died in July. He waws Santa Barbara's exemplary political playwrite and poet. You'll hear him read from his unfinished play about Joe Hill and sing a Joe Hill song you've never heard sung.
these are followed by:
This Land is your land sung in Spanish by Sones de Mexico; a song for Haiti performed by numerous current Haitian and US stars; Victor Jara's Chilean Miner song which became an anthem for the 33; Tao Rodriguez Seeger revives the classic depression era song "I Don't Want your Millions Mister'. Grandpa Pete youtubed a new song about the Gulf oil spill (and much more) and winds up the set with my favorite new year song. Please listen!!! Justclick the link
Tonight's show is a 2 hour songfest featuring mostly recently recorded material that reflects on the times just passed and offers inspiration for coming days and next generations. A good way, I hope, to spend a couple of hours this evening...
Our annual Christmas culture of protest broadcast features songs that higligbt the contradictions between the hopes inspired by the holiday and the practices that destroy such hopes. Songs contemporary and traditional...
culture of protest thurs 12/23/10 6-7pm pdt kcsb 91.9 www.kcsb.org
Tags: Christmas songs against war and exploitation
Peter Conn of Health Care for All sent me a batch of parodies of carols that cleverly deal with the health care reform and related foibles. We'll feature these on the show this week, and talk to Peter a bit. We'll also hear the classic parodies done in1964 by the Free Speech Movement in Berkeley as they occupied Sproul Hall before Christmas and feature some performances by the Seattle Labor Chorus of timely reworkings of old carols. A most politically correct way to get set for the holiday.
culture of protest thurs 12/16/10 6-7pm kcsb 91.9fm www.kcsb.org
Tags: xmas carol parodies, health care reform, free speech movement, seattle labor chorus
The Obama debate rages on of course but maybe it can take a constructive turn. If the anger over the tax cut deal is to matter, the best chance is to seek a fight in the House-not with the expectation of stopping it all, but of changing it. One good possibility is to get the estate tax measure changed so that it at least restores current estate tax rates rather than reducing them. And maybe there are other ways to increase the value of the measure for job creation. Liberal economists, by and large, seem to think the deal will actually be a job stimulus beyond what had been expected. That weights heavily against all the handwringing about the cave in and the death of the progressive agenda, etc.
I do wish everyone would make an effort think through the strategic side of this. Obama, I believe, is trying to set up a battle for 2012 that will include the tax issue but go well beyond it. Of course he needs to energize his base, but he also has to reach the independent voters who deserted the Democrats in 2010. But I think he has a plan:
The heart of the battle that he wants to wage is to fight for a large scale public investment program in infrastructure and green economy. I am certain that will be the key theme of his state of the union speech and the measures he will propose in the coming months.
It's a program that has a lot of its roots in the labor and environmental movements but, interestingly, can appeal to some business and conservative types as well. It will provide a basis for rallying grassroots and for local action-since every community and region needs that kind of investment in one or another form. The idea would be to create a public entity that can evaluate public project proposals on their merits and leverage public and private investment to advance these-in transportation, education, alternative energy, weatherization, etc etc. Obama spoke about this vision last week in a speech much less reported of course than the tax deal.
This is one large example of a number of initiatives that can be the basis for progressive activism, organizing and education. It's an idea with many perils and pitfalls but much social and political promise. And it's on this terrain that I think Obama wants to lead.
But while progressives should ally with the President on such initiatives, we really have to implement strategies that directly challenge corporate and financial domination. These have to include direct action that disrupts the institutional order. One essential theme: the costs and burdens of economic contraction and austerity must not be borne by the weakest and poorest. The disgusting cycle, perpetuated by the Obama tax deal, that gives virtually all economic gain to the very top of the income pyramid has to be disrupted. The wars, which drain hugely the public budget, have to be resisted. Demands that might actually help people materially and help the economy as well need to be voiced and acted on-a massive mortgage write-down being one evident example. Movement based organizing on these grounds need to find targets that can be seen and addressed. Make locally accessible banks and their executives responsible for the mortgage crisis for example.
A final thought for today: progressive organizations need to reinvest in college campus organizing. Instead of seeing students just as election time fodder, we need to consider that the campus is the primary space for generating deep, extensive discussion and debate about the social future. It's also the place where human energy for bold and creative action can be generated. Back in the early 60s, a few unions and older liberals more or less recognized their own political staleness, and put a little money and encouragement behind SNCC and SDS-even as these upstart groups made them nervous because they weren't ‘disciplined'. Once again, the progressive side needs activist energy that isn't controlled by big organizational practices and perspectives-energy and thinking that can break molds and invent new modes. But if we spend a lot of our own energy in anguish and attack on Obama, we may lose the chance to spark the new and even dampen new possibilities with our own cynicism
Liberals and progressives are in a fury because of Obama's ‘deal' with the GOP. The fury is justified by the fact that the extension of the tax cuts for the rich intensifies the ongoing robbery of the people by the moneyed elite. But the rage at Obama is entirely off base and reveals a lot about the weakness, not of the president, but of the liberal left.
The president said today that is job was to defend the livelihoods and welfare of American families. He said that their fate was being held hostage by the Republican intransigence on taxing the rich. He gave in on that by agreeing to a two year extension of current tax rates. In return he got agreement to extend unemployment compensation for 13 months, a substantial cut in payroll taxes for the middleclass (cuts that will put hundreds of dollars into the pockets of average households next year), extension of the substantial but little known earned income tax credits that help support millions of low wage workers. These are ‘stimulus' measures (that will increase the deficit despite all the yelling about deficit spending), and are coupled with a number of job oriented tax benefits for small business. There is one other really horrible feature of the deal-an estate tax cut that benefits less than 40,000 rich families that adds billions to the deficit without any economic value to the society.
Liberals are furious because they wanted Obama to put up a fight about the tax goodies for the rich. Some wanted this fight even if it meant an eventual tax increase for working families, and even if it meant that long term unemployment benefits would be lost. That he would not go in that direction is said to be a sign either of cowardice, incompetence or his subservience to Wall Street.
1. As president, he must do what he can to protect ordinary people:
"My job is to do whatever I can to get this economy moving. My job is to do whatever I can to spur job creation. My job is to look out for middle-class families who are struggling right now to get by, and Americans who are out of work through no fault of their own"
2. That job takes precedence over attempting to defeat the GOP in a game of chicken. Some are making the point, however, that ‘caving' at this point will only embolden the opposition in battles to come. Obama seems well aware of this and is betting instead that these moves now will rally support of ‘middle class Americans' including many independents who voted for Republicans in the fall.
3. Finally, Obama is quite clearly telling us to look at the power relations that are determining the political process. He used the word ‘hostage' in his press conference-not only to refer to himself but to the people as a whole. The power of the moneyed elite is magnified by the organized irresponsibility of the Republican Party and by the rules of the Senate which systematically protect minority rule. In that context, the bargain he has crafted may well be the best that could be achieved.
The growing liberal drumbeat about Obama's failed presidency, coupled now with fantasies about opposing his renomination, or with anguished hand-wringing about his failure to communicate, to lead, etc. etc. dismays me. I keep saying here that the answer to the corporate dictatorship and the kleptocracy has to come from social movements not from the White House. Yet all these voices keep wishing that Obama would lead such a movement. It's a natural wish-since the work of movement is hard, risky and costly for those who take it on. But to wish for the Leader and to cry when he seems to abandon us is childish, it bespeaks impotence...
Let's start by giving up a lot of BS about ‘principle'. There is NO history of Democratic Party or liberal principle that Obama is betraying. FDR's compromises to achieve social security and labor legislation abandoned African Americans with effects still strongly felt in our social order. No Democratic president was able to achieve universal healthcare and bargained it away for decades. It was FDR who gave J Edgar Hoover the authority to spy on the Left, and JFK gave him the same to spy on Martin Luther King. Bill Clinton's abandonment of welfare and his other ‘triangulations' were larger and more cynical betrayals than Obama's (so far). Obama's record of accomplishment, leadership and betrayal stacks up well against all his predecessors.
And let's stop using ideological yardsticks to judge politicians. Is Obama ‘really' a progressive? Whatever he is, he tells us, he must be a pragmatist in the real world he works in. And we should appreciate and even welcome that!
Ideology is a very poor predictor of integrity or action. Ideology is not what determines the political assessments that most Americans make. This is a big topic, but one advantage the ‘left' has over the ‘right' these days is that the latter is in fact over determined by narrow ideologically driven thinking and therefore inevitably going to fail to connect with the American majority.
A big reason we aren't yet in the midst of a movement on the left has to do with the defaults of the leadership in the national progressive organizational world. At the same time, even with a will to mobilize, strategies for effective action have to be grasped-and defining these is not an easy matter. And finally, there is a loss of ‘vision'-an absence of articulate expression of how a better world might look.
I want to talk about these things some more in future posts...
Meantime, of course, the floor is open for your reflections. Sign in below and remember that State St. is the great street in Santa Barbara.
Tags: liberal fury, tax cut deal, social movement, Obama
The Maccabean struggle celebrated as Chanukah was I think the first recorded movement for national liberation. On Culture of Protest we celebrate Chanike as a time to remember not only the Maccabees themselves but the long tradition of similar struggles down to the present--people fighting against occupation, resisting efforts to erase their culture. This tradition is a heroic one but also has spawned fanaticism and tragic bloodshed. We'll be featuring songs that help reflect on this tradition...
culture of protest thurs 12/2 6-7pm pst kcsb 91.9fm www.kcsb.org
Tags: Chanukah, Maccabees, national liberation songs
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.