This week on the radio we've got a two hour block. At 6 Pm we';ll be talking with Daraka Larrimore Hall (chair of the Democratic Party Central committee) about the horrific events in Norway. Daraka worked for two years with the Norwegian youth labor group that was the target of the massacre and has spent much time at the camp that was attacked. He's got some particular insight and feeling about what has transpired there.
And then we'll feature a host of new songs dealing with current happenings--happenings that inspire contemporary troubadours. Songs that edify, inspire and amuse. We're filling in for Corey and Faviana of Latin American Journal who are indisposed or otherwise engaged.
And don't fail to come tomorrow (Thursday) at noon to De la Guerra plaza to take part in observance of the 5th anniversary of the News Press Mess. Daraka will speak, along with several of the journalists illegally fired for their union activity. And there'll be joined by Lou Cannon, former mayor Blum, with songs by Brendan James.
culture of protest thurs 7/28/11 6-8pm pdt kcsb 91.9fm www.kcsb.org
If you’ve been following my occasional scribbles all these months, you know that I’ve tended to be critical of lefty attacks on Barack Obama, on the tendency to blame him for failures to fulfill the promise of the reform his election ushered in. Instead of such recrimination, I urge that we think strategically about how to make gains—and that strategic thinking includes searching for ways to build upon Obama’s presidency and his promises. And it means understanding that he is not the leader of progressive movement nor can he be. To be president of the United States, he’s the chief “executive of the ruling class’ (as old Karl put it) at a time of increasingly naked class struggle. He intends to play that role seriously and that means something very important that’s usually ignored—he has to define a class interest and therefore challenge the greed and self-aggrandizement of the rich and powerful. The class interest is to try to make the ‘system’ work at a time when many of those who run its institutions are engaged in systematic crime. It means trying to engineer solutions for the deep long-term problems—economic, environmental and moral—that the system’s operation has created.
Obama, unlike his predecessor, is a serious guy who is intent on being a problem solver. He deserves acknowledgement as a political strategist if for no other reason than he succeeded in becoming president even though expert wisdom was quite sure this was impossible. And, contrary to many lefty commentators, his effort during the current struggle over the debt provides further evidence of his strategic skill. His strategy for defeating the GOP is to split the business elite from the Republican Party—a task made easier by the quasi-fascistic lunacy which that party is pandering to. But to do that, Obama has believed it necessary to exempt the banksters from paying the huge costs of their venality (including criminal penalties as well as financial ones), and to claim leadership in the project of restraining the long-term debt. He and his political team believe that this stance not only enables him to win support from centers of corporate and financial power, but will help win back support from ‘independent’ voters who think the deficit is the cause of our economic problems. He seems to be hoping that he will be able to take the deficit issue away from the Republicans forever (just like Bill Clinton did by abolishing ‘welfare as we know it’).
But the dark side of this gets darker by the day: a willful neglect of the need for a massive jobs program and of the needs and rights and interests of American working people. Recent employment reports showed unemployment worsening. Large layoffs of state and local workers due to austerity budgeting offset any slight gains resulting from increased activity in the private sector. The mortgage foreclosure crisis has destroyed the housing market and with it the consumer economy as a whole. Meanwhile two trillion dollars in profits and reserves are held in private hands and not being invested in the American economy. Old Karl may be saying in the grave: “I told you all this would happen!”
But, those of us who’ve been teaching Marx to students over the last number of decades have acknowledged that capitalist society and government have more ways than Marx knew to overcome the tendencies of the capitalist economy to stagnate—tendencies that are largely due to the fact that workers can’t be paid enough (because of the necessity for profit to be extracted) to consume the goods the economy is capable of producing. We long ago accepted the idea that “Keynesian” policies –i.e. government investment programs that create jobs or put money in people’s pockets—can stimulate the growth needed to end recessions and restore employment. And for a long time the chief way this was done was by boosting military spending.
In the last 2-3 decades, ‘globalization’ has meant the export of jobs and investment so that established government pump priming has become less effective in creating jobs. At the same time, military spending has become a drag on the overall economy more than a job creator. Simultaneously, rather than accepting the value of government investment for the long-term health of the US, the corporate and financial elite has decided that they want the freedom to invest globally and have no great interest in the domestic well-being of American society and its people. They have wanted to reduce the cost of labor and they’ve succeeded maybe beyond their wildest dreams. American workers’ real wages have markedly declined while corporate profits have skyrocketed. American workers’ pensions are shredded and much of the social wage achieved in the New Deal and the post war eras (including low cost public higher education) is gone. Recent research by corporate sources confirms that the profits derived by American investors is largely the result of these wage cuts and the low taxes levied on the wealthy class.
What I just said is but a bare bones sketch of the ways the American people have literally been robbed since the advent of Ronald Reagan. But here’s where Marx has always had a very good point: cutting the wages of workers means undercutting the consumer economy, making economic stagnation and decline inevitable.
Obama wants to come to the rescue. He wanted to promote in a major way the ‘green economy’. Large scale investment in retrofitting homes and office buildings, in new renewable energy, in alternative transportation –all this would make millions of jobs and usher in a new prosperity. He wanted to promote ‘infrastructure’—repairing the massive decay of America’s transportation system, upgrading education, making broadband universal, etc. These two interrelated pathways have to be initiated with public money but the returns in the long term are evident. He has been unable to lead this sort of movement because the corporate elite were quite happy to ally itself with the Republican ideological and political opposition (based on fantasy and lie).
The trumped up debt crisis (trumped up by the GOP) seems to have provided Obama with the strategic opportunity to split a lot of the business elite from the GOP given the Republican effort to drive the economy over a cliff. It’s this strategy that leads him to accept so much of the argument for cutting the budget, refraining from real moves on jobs, and entertaining ideas to cut social security and other benefits programs. According to reports about White House advisers’ thinking, winning in 2012 (and presumably taking back congress) will then allow for a second term of new investment in the infrastructure and ‘innovation’.
This thinking could be too smart for its own good. It risks a repeat of 2010—the demobilization of the Democratic base as working people see their interests jettisoned by Democrats who claim to represent them. It’s a strategy which worked for Bill Clinton in winning a second term (but not so much for enabling the Democrats to control congress). It’s a strategy that proved disastrous for Jimmy Carter, and Reagan was elected promising jobs and winning all those Reagan Democrats.
But the situation now for workers and the ‘middle class’ (a term I as a sociologist really despise since it’s a blurring of needed class analysis and awareness) is much more desperate. And as we ‘ve tried to suggest in this space there’s a lot of organizing now going on aimed at fighting back and giving workers some voice. Please pay attention to what’s going on in places like Wisconsin and Ohio and other states where rightwing governors’ efforts to destroy workers’ rights have politically backfired. Note that much of the Democratic caucus in the House seems ready to vote down a deficit deal that would damage social security and Medicare benefits. Their resistance, articulated by Nancy Pelosi as well as the Progressive Caucus gets much less media attention than the clowning of the congressional tea party, but it may be at least as important in shaping the final resolution of this charade. And I mention this because the Pelosi concern is certainly about the anger of the grassroots if benefit cuts are accepted—and on the other hand a belief that real political gain is at hand if Democrats defend what’s left of the social wage.
But there’s a lot missing from the political dynamic. The grassroots anger isn’t being expressed articulately. Its political thrust is to defend threatened rights and not to advance a set of ideas and visions that can give people something to fight (and vote) for.
Some efforts to do that are being tried—like Van Jones ‘rebuild the dream’ campaign. The most interesting thing about that (which you’ve certainly gotten a lot of email about) is the number of diverse organizations that have come together around this—and the way that MoveOn has connected to unions and other economic progressive groups in new ways. It remains to be seen what forms of action might come from the fact that 25000 folks supposedly participated in house meetings to endorse the Van Jones campaign. (If you’ve been involved in this project, please record your thoughts about it in the comments below).
How workers’ voices can be heard
I’ve been trying to figure out how workers needs and interests can be voiced nationally in a way that would compel attention and response. Here’s an idea I’m a bit obsessed with:
Use the Democratic presidential primary season as a framework. One or more highly credible leaders ought to run against President Obama in some or all of the states with highest unemployment levels. The aim is to articulate the needs of working families and ‘vulnerable’ people, to tell their stories and to spell out a plan to help meet those needs—and to use the vote in the primary to send a message to the powers that be—a message in support of that agenda. Such a candidate would stress support for the re-election of the president, but that the president needs the pressure to challenge all the pressure he is getting from the banksters and the business elite and the right wing. Such a candidacy would, leading up to the voting, stimulate the crafting of the plan or agenda I refer to (could use public hearings or town meetings or other frameworks for this). It would seek long term mobilizing of supporters to stay in motion after the voting and to ensure maximum turnout in November. It would seek financing from grassroots fundraising.
My candidate for this role is Rich Trumka, head of the AFL-CIO, who has in recent months been speaking in much the way I imagine he might in a primary campaign, and whose capacity for being a voice of labor is established not only by his formal position, but his personal story (as a miner), his physical bearing and his evident passion. I am NOT proposing –and won’t support—a marginal and non-credible candidate—the point here would NOT be to advance a ‘progressive’ position but to try to be literally the voice of working people.
There might be others who could serve as such a credible voice—and maybe different people might run in various states.
I’m sure there are many potential pitfalls lurking in this sort of strategy. So I’m hoping to spark a discussion: What’s your reaction to such an effort? What are its dangers and dark sides?
If not this, then what kinds of action seem feasible and also potent for accomplishing the purpose of strongly challenging corporate domination of policy and politics in the near term?
If you like the idea, can we think of people like Richard Trumka who might be both credible and willing to step up to this role?
Tags: corporate dominationm, workers needs and interests
This month marks the fifth anniversary of what all over the world is called the "News Press mess". On July 28 there's a rally led by the reporters fighting to regain their job rights after being fired for their union activity.
Speakers at the rally at City Hall at Noon on Thursday 7/28 will include several of the illegally fired News-Press reporters; veteran journalist Lou Cannon; former Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum; and Daraka Larimore-Hall, chairman of the central committee of the Democratic Party of Santa Barbara. Folksinger B Willing James will perform songs by Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan in support of the nine reporters who were illegally fired and all those who are continuing to stand up for their rights inside the News-Press.
On the radio this week: Melinda Burns, veteran reporter at the News-Press who helped lead the effort to form a union there and is one of those still seeking redress and justice will be on the Culture of Protest show. She’ll be joined by Ira Gottlieb, one of the attorneys for the news Press workers. Tune in to learn about this dramatic story and get updated on the legal effort by the journalists to defeat publisher Wendy McCaw’s union busting. We’ll have some music too pertinent to the case and the cause.
culture of protest 7/21/11 6-7pm pdt kcsb 91.9fm www.kcsb.org
Tags: Santa Barbara news press, reporters and labor unions
Woody Guthrie was born July 13, 1912. Thursday we'll do our annual Woody birthday show. It's also the night that his most famous disciple performs at the Santa Barbara Bowl. So we will of course feature Bob Dylan's voice paying tribute to Woody and singing some of his songs. And as we usually do, we'll tap the inexhaustible stream of new versions of Woody songs, focusing on work he did that bridges his time and ours.
culture of protest thurs 7/14/11 6-7pm pdt kcsb 91.9fm www.kcsb.org
Tags: woody guthrie, bob dylan, woody 99th birthday
It's not far fetched to see the worldwide uprisings, from Athens to Madison, as scenes from the actual class struggle--workers defending their interests and rights in the face of financial elites drive to impose austerity while their profits and wealth soar. So this week we'll here songs--new and revived--that aim to define and inspire working class consciousness and action. Songs by performers known and unknown, envisioning and responding to the uprising.
culture of protest thurs 7-7-11 6-7pm pdt kcsb 91.9fm www.kcsb.org
Tags: class struggle, working class uprising, class conscious 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.