"This is our first task -- caring for our children. It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged.
And by that measure, can we truly say, as a nation, that we are meeting our obligations? Can we honestly say that we’re doing enough to keep our children -- all of them -- safe from harm? Can we claim, as a nation, that we’re all together there, letting them know that they are loved, and teaching them to love in return? Can we say that we’re truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose?
I've been reflecting on this the last few days, and if we’re honest with ourselves, the answer is no. We’re not doing enough. And we will have to change."
Christmas is to celebrate the birth of the baby, Jesus. The Christmas myth-- the prince of peace was shamefully treated at his birth, but the baby embodied the prince. This Christmas: funerals for 20 little children, brutally killed. The president sees that a society is judged by how it cares for its children.
The songs for our annual Christmas Culture of Protest will reflect this spirit--traditional songs and contemporary ones to help us reflect on the meanings and stark contradictions of the season.
Its time for the annual Culture of Protest Hanuka Radio party. This year we'll highlight through music evidences of how Hanukkah has been increasingly incorporated into popular culture mainstream. We'll feature a new album 'Twas the Night before Hanukkah'--an intriguing compilation that aims the document the 'musical battle between Chanukah and Christmas'. And other songs that seem appropriate to the theme (as well as at least some recognition that Chanukah commemorates the first recorded national liberation struggle as well as a Jewish Christmas option). Hope you can tune in:
Wednesday 12-5-12 10-noon (pst) with a mix of songs, new and not new, pertinent to the holidaze, and to homoring the birthday of Phil Ochs, the death of John Lennon, not to mention Woody. www.kcsb.org
And then--Culture of Protest at usual time (6 pm pst) featuring albums of recent release that might make nice gifts for the protest musically inclined. And we will include a couple of the Henry Wallace campaign songs we couldn't play last week.
These last couple of weeks I've been noticing a lot of media attention to various personages and episodes in American history and I realized that many of these matters have been sung about, before they were televised. And songs, I often think, can be provocative windows on history. So here's what we have included in the program on 11/29/12:
Music for Abe Lincoln (a propos the movie)
Woody Guthrie on the dust bowl ( a propos the new Ken Burns documentary)
Charlie King song based on the words of Dorothy Daythe revolutionary pacifist being promoted for sainthood by the New York cardinal.
Phil Ochs' great song marking the JFK assassination (on the 49th anniversary)
Bob Dylan's musical response to the Cuban Missile Crisis (on its 50th).
On November 15 on Culture of Protest I had a conversation with actor and writer Ian Ruskin. For the paste few years, Ian has been creating performance pieces based on the life and words of American radicals whose work has been forgotten or distorted. His current project : THE LIFE OF THOMAS PAINE deals with the great revolutionary pamphleteer. We talked about Paine and listened to some of what he said. Paine's vision remains unfulfilled to a great degree--and continues relevant to our own time. Ian's previous work included a play about Harry Bridges, the radical leader of west coast longshoremen--and we'll be talking about that as well. You can find this broadcast archived here:
A couple of days after the election we did a Culture of protest program with Daraka Larimore Hall, chair of the SB county Democratic Party and someone really expert on how electoral politics can serve social change.
That famous final line in Robert Redford’s 1972 film The Candidate was meant to sum up the ways that big time electioneering obliterates politicians’ purpose and vision. This is a very important moment to ask the question-understanding that the ‘we’refers not so much to the President and his party but to we, the people. Particularly we who are so rightfully relieved and, yes, elated by the outcome of the 2012 election.
There are many ways to talk about the victory. The rightwing political and cultural agenda has been repudiated by a decided majority. That majority, it seems possible to imagine, is a new and stable coalition in a position to define the political and cultural direction not only for four years but well beyond. The threat of an extreme rightwing GOP victory helped mobilize a majority whose base includes people of color, the majority of women, a huge majority of the young of all genders and colors, organized workers and the so-called ‘creative class’ (people with advanced degrees working in knowledge and culture making and distributing). The Republican operatives based their hope of winning on the historically low turnout of many of these categories—for it was that low turnout that led to their 2010 electoral victory. And mainstream media (and many liberal analysts) reinforced that expectation—stressing the alleged dispirited, disillusioned, disappointed feelings of the Obama base. And then of course all that cash, avalanching on the swing states and on the close congressional races—everyone ‘knows’ that money is what counts in election combat.
Nate Silver’s calculations, dating back to the pre-convention period, indicated, however, that Obama had a high probability of winning—and that the Democrats had a reasonable chance to keep control in the senate. After months of campaigning, and six billion dollars of campaign spending devoted to all manner of memes to defame and delegitimize Barack Obama and his popular base, the results were much what Silver and others considered probable in June—and the overall swing toward the Democratic party across the country was stronger than expectations.
I know it sounds really naïve, but here’s what I think—it’s actually possible for the majority of people to see how their shared interests are at stake and to vote accordingly. African Americans constitute the most sophisticated voting bloc in the US—understanding that voting as a bloc can be empowering. Maybe having struggled in living memory for the right to vote—and continuing to defend that right—concentrates the mind about how to make the vote politically meaningful. Feminists—and that includes millions of women (and men) who don’t call themselves that—are also plenty savvy as voters. A similar collective electoral identity has solidified among Latinos and Asian Americans—and maybe on a lot of college campuses (if our local UCSB student body is any indication). None of these groups vote simply on ‘identity’ grounds. A good case was Linda McMahon who spent tens of millions to get to the senate in Connecticut—the majority of women in that state voted for her male opponent. In fact, the new majority coalition of 2012 shared common ground on a wide range of issues—melding class, race, gender and sexuality in many states and many ways. For example: Here’s Tammy Baldwin, who happens to be the first openly gay senator now, but she ran and won as a staunch supporter of workers’ rights, drawing on the Wisconsin progressive tradition to help define her populism and at the same time proud of her sexuality. Just one of many situations where the progressive majority framework was validated.
So I’m claiming that this 2012 election was a ‘critical election’—a term political scientists use to refer to (as Wikipedia defines it): “the coming to power for several decades of a new coalition, replacing an old dominant coalition of the other party as in 1896 when the GOP (Republicans) became dominant, or 1932 when the Democrats became dominant. More specifically, it refers to American national elections in which there are sharp changes in issues, party leaders, the regional and demographic bases of power of the two parties, and structure or rules of the political system (such as voter eligibility or financing), resulting in a new political power structure that lasts for decades.”
We can’t, of course, know right at the start, whether this is what has just happened—whether the coalition can be sustained. But there’s another political science factoid that reinforces the potential staying power of the Democratic Party coalition—it seems that parties that preside over a post-recession recovery typically stay in power for decades after. Barring unexpected derailment, a decided recovery is likely in the coming Obama years.
My point about stressing the transformative electoral situation we seem to have entered is not, of course, that this in itself brings the change that the progressive majority needs and wants. What it does is create new opportunities for movements for change to gain leverage. We can see some signs of this just a few days after the results came in. Already, voices in the GOP, responding to the Latino turnout against them, are advocating pathways to citizenship and related immigration solutions. The President, capitalizing on the vote, makes it clear that taxing the rich is essential to his agenda and some Republicans have started to murmur that maybe they better live with that. Democrats in congress are asserting their determination not to bargain away social security and Medicare benefits—this in the face of the endless whine of the deficit hawks about ‘entitlement reform’. So the signals sent by the progressive majority votes are being picked up even inside the beltway. But even these modest gains for equity and justice won’t be secured without continuing grassroots pressure.
I think the potential emergence of a new progressive majority creates the need for and the promise of a far more embracing vision, program and strategy than immediate steps to protect the safety net or improve federal revenue. In fact, there are several versions of the progressive agenda which are now necessary and possible:
RESTORE MAJORITY RULE: I see the election as a providing a mandate for fighting and winning some big battles to make democracy finally come to the USA. The thousands who waited hours to vote, the massive turning of backs on TV manipulation, the big turnouts of young voters (whose proportion of the electorate grew this time)—maybe these are signs that people really want their voices to be heard and their votes to count. The progressive majority will be strengthened insofar as voting is made easier (a million voters registered on line in California this year). As Piven and Cloward presciently argued years ago, if the electorate actually represented the population, we’d have a real chance for a just social order. I used to think that organizing for procedural reform might not be very fruitful; right now, I’m thinking quite the reverse. We need filibuster reform in the Senate, and other measures, state and national, to end the minority veto power that results from super-majority rules. We need to professionalize the management of elections to end the long lines and obstructive practices of local election administration. We need to implement measures like same day registration and other voter easing rules—and of course reverse voter suppression measures. The campaign against citizens united and other finance reform seems poised to make gains. And it would be good to open real debate on reforming the electoral system—end the Electoral College as we know it, raise awareness about proportional representation and other voting systems that allow meaningful alternative party activity.
GREEN ECONOMY: Obama in victory finally spoke about climate change. Maybe the pain inflicted by Sandy can be a foundation for advancing the sustainability agenda. Let’s put the carbon tax on the table. Let’s put limits on fracking and other scary carbon based technologies. Let’s argue strongly and confidently that public-private partnership for alternative energy, climate change infra-structure, retrofitting, conservation and non-carbon fueled transportation creates jobs, builds the economy and makes the future possible. Don’t wait for the president to start or carry this argument—mow’s the time to really spell this out!
DEMOCRATIC FINANCE: The new fronts of the Occupy movement include: moving our money out of the big banks and into community based banks, various forms of debt strikes (by student loan and mortgage debtors), the Robin Hood Tax on financial transactions, and progressive tax reform . Its terrain that doesn’t simply focus on federal legislation but on various kinds of grassroots action.
THE LIVING WAGE: The federal minimum wage has lost 30% of its value in the last 30 years. Many millions of workers earn wages that put them at or below poverty level. In this election, 60% voted to increase the minimum wage there to $10.00/hr., and similar votes occurred in two other cities. Raising the minimum wage significantly seems like it could be an early rallying demand on Congress and a new framework for action in states and cities. And fighting for this could be a way to dramatize the widening inequality that is in fact the root cause of economic stagnation as well as human misery.
RESTORE THE BILL OF RIGHTS: There are a lot of angry voices on the left, disgusted with the Obama’s defaults and failures with respect to civil liberties. Obama’s signature on the defense authorization act, with its provisions for indefinite detention, was a big source of alienation. The implementation of ICE belies the claims about targeting ‘criminals’ for deportation. The prison system is a festering scandal. And Obama’s legacy will include the legitimation of drones as weapon and surveillance tool. California’s majority voted to liberalize the 3 strikes law and narrowly defeated repeal of the death penalty. We need a vocal human rights/civil liberties coalition that understands that a great deal of grassroots education is needed if numbers of [people are to get engaged in these issues. And in the process of that education, the hammering out of a bill of rights platform embracing the full range of such issues needs to be accomplished. I wonder if there are people in congress ready to form a bill of rights caucus, ready to sponsor new legislation, hold hearings and help the consciousness raising process. These are issues that can bring a lot of libertarians into coalition with lefties and, from a sheer electoral strategy perspective; they are issues that a lot of young people really care about.
Five frameworks for grassroots action, for public debate—and I think five arenas where we MUST make gains in the next years and also, now, have some hope of doing so. They’re the things we all have been involved in, in one way or another. All of these go beyond whatever the administration’s current agenda is—but in each case, promises have been made by the president and party leaders, and therefore feet can be held to fires.
For each of these, making gains requires articulating both a program and a strategy for getting there Instead of continuing, as we leftists often do, to wonder ‘what’s the matter with America?” we now need to believe that these domains represent potential areas where a majority is already plausible
What do we do now? Let’s get to work and whistle while we do!
Tags: obama victory, progressive majority, agenda for tomorrow
This week on the radio we featured a sampling of songs by troubadours of today written during and for the current election campaign--songs that often voice feelings and insights that aren't easily expressed in standard discourse. And a few that speak to the general conditions within which we contemplate our choices. We'll hear from some of the leading song-makers--like Springsteen, Randy Newman, Ry Cooder, Ani diFranco and sharp edged satirists in song like Roy Zimmerman and Dave Lippman. And more.
Last week Culture of Protest featured a conversation with UCSB labor historian NelsonLichtenstein, the leading academic analyst of Wal-Mart as a social and economic phenomenon. We discussed the unprecedented and spreading protests of Wal-Mart workers. It's a remarkable development, given the company's record of repressive reprisal against any 'associates' who have tried to organize. And we talked about how this fits into the larger context of current efforts to revitalize the labor movement, like the Chicago teacher's strike. As usual, there'll be a musical soundtrack along with the talk.
This week on the radio we observe two centenaries. The woody Guthrie @100 fest continues with big concerts in Brooklyn and DC in these weeks. A new album: Pete Seeger Remembers Woody (Appleseed Records) has just been released. it features Pete talking about and reflecting on his partnership with Guthrie and offering some revealing memories. We'll sample from this 2 CD release. This year marks another big centenary: the sinking of the great ship Titanic. that disaster inspired much culture--film of course, and books, and also a lot of songs. The most recent has just been released by Woody's 'son' Bob Dylan on his new album called 'The Tempest" . And a new Woody compilation features his singing of one of the classic Titanic songs. So we'll hear these offerings this week, plus a raft of other songs that the sinking of the great ship inspired at the time and since.
The anniversary of Occupy Wall Street has made me want to post a blog, breaking a several month hiatus (a hiatus dictated by the fact that Mickey and I are working on our joint memoir, titled Making History and Making Blintzes).
The anniversary is being marked on one hand by a wide variety of street actions and gatherings intended to make it clear that the struggle continues. Meanwhile, much of the mainstream media frame the story as ‘a movement fizzles’. Neither the street scenes nor the media frames help us understand what the Occupy movement has achieved, what it means and what follows.
Frances Fox Piven, one of our most astute scholars of bottom up social movements, has written an anniversary comment that emphasizes a crucial point: social movements can’t be understood simply as episodes of explosive mass protest. The movements that have made history over the last century are multi-pronged, long term struggles expressed in many forms with many competing strategies, ebbing and flowing in terms of large scale participation. From the beginning, the incessant demand that the occupiers themselves issue policy statements, define their goals and direction and map out strategies has been misplaced. The occupy initiative was an effort to dramatize a deep and central issue—the way our lives are now being determined by a small group of financially super powerful institutions and persons. “We are the 99%’ as a slogan has had a transforming effect on political consciousness. Not only does it define the power disproportion—but it suggests that there is a shared interest among the great majority that cuts across the big historic antagonisms that divide ordinary people—of race, of gender, of religion and of income level. Since those antagonisms have been the main social story of our lifetimes, a dramatic move to tell a new and much more hopeful story is bold. It’s not that it has worked already. But something is stirring. Mitt Romney we learn has constructed a fantasy about the 47% of dependent and irresponsible victims who should be overcome by the 53% who are making it on their own. It’s a remarkable case study of a one per center struggling to destroy the potential solidarities among all sorts of people who differ greatly but who share, not dependency, but a sense of being robbed and tricked by banksters and their ilk.
Anyway, I think it makes sense to see Occupy not as a movement in itself but as one expression of a rising and very long delayed class struggle. Marx may have taught that all history was constituted by class struggle, but in our life time, even the left has learned not to expect class to be manifest and central to the ways disadvantaged and subordinated people will consciously organize. We assume that class will lurk behind the things that shape how people act—but when people band together they see their interests in more particular terms—and terms that may be as much ‘cultural’ as ‘economic’. The year just passed—2011—may well be understood as the point in time where class solidarity and anger started to be a conscious driving force in collective action—all over the planet. Workers of the world aren’t yet uniting. But everywhere we look mass uprising is boiling up and it has taken a class-y turn.
OWS came after the Arab Spring, after the Wisconsin revolt, after the Tel Aviv social justice encampments, the Chilean student protests, the revolt of the indignados in Madrid, Greek riots. In a real sense, to Occupy wall street was to make a public move that would help the world locate the physical source of the problems that sparked all these diverse mass actions. OWS, I mean to say, didn’t start or even spark protest; it was a creative effort to help unify the mass protests already visible by communicating their common target, their shared enemy. It’s not at all a stretch to see all of these uprisings as linked—not only in form but in substance. And whatever we come to understand the central linkage to be— that is the movement whose fate needs to be worked on. The question isn’t—where is Occupy going, but rather can and how will people find ways to redistribute power and wealth in democratic directions.
More concretely, though we ought to think about how the many sparks flying out of the Occupy movement have or may ignite ongoing effective action. It’s clear that certain key issues, bearing on predatory financial power, have flowed out of Occupy and continue to be ongoing frameworks for organizing at a community level. Thousands of people have been moving their money out of big banks and into community credit unions and the like. Several city governments and other institutions have done the same. The ‘Move Our Money ‘website estimates that $300 million have been moved since organized efforts began. Much more organizing and action on this is possible—and already this effort has stimulated discussion about how communities and localities can create alternative financial institutions and reimagine banking for social benefit.
A national campaign on student debt has been gathering force—aimed at relief, and at a longer run rethinking of who and how education should be paid for. Nothing in this country yet compares with the student uprisings in places like Quebec and Chile, but it’s very possible that the coming school year will see much more engagement and intensity—not only on campus but in the wider communities where student debt relief could be a job creator—removing a significant barrier to home ownership and other consumption. And beyond immediate relief—perhaps the Chicago teachers strike will help foment a far-ranging debate about the value of education. The teachers are I think saying in effect—the corporate education reform movement is really a way to undermine a massive social investment in education and in children’s well-being.
Mortgage debt is of course another focus for national and local organizing—and occupy activists have been central in a number of places in preventing foreclosures and challenging bank practices. Recent federal and state policy initiatives promise relief—but it is clear that bottom up action is necessary if these promises are to be fulfilled.
A great deal of organizing, much of it inspired by what has happened over the past year and a half in the US and globally, is going on right now. We could use some coherent effort to systematically help people in commnities who want to connect to such campaigns. Still, a little web surfing does pay off in locatingresources and ideas.
The election campaigns have for months absorbed most organizing energy. Some of the campaigns—most obviously Elizabeth Warren’s in Massachusetts—are strongly linked to the 99% perspective. I don’t think it’s overly optimistic, however, to predict that after the election (and Obama’s expected win) a much larger and more developed set of campaigns on issues of class will quickly emerge. A Democratic majority in congress would make this even more possible.
There’s another way that the occupy movement opens possibility for real change and that is with respect to imagination. We on the left have been in a defensive mode for pretty much the last 30 years. The results have not been rewarding. Trying to defend the safety net, and the legacy of the New Deal and the Great society, has maybe bought some time for the welfare state, but the public consciousness—the way people think and talk and feel about what’s socially possible—has narrowed. The narrowing is in part due to the fiscal crisis of the state—predicted for more than 40 years to call into question the standard assumptions of social democracy—and in part due to the tremendous onslaught of rightwing propagandizing, We’ve reached some kind of limit. The massive unrest of the past 18 months is rooted in the rebellion of people against austerity regimes being laid on their lives –austerity claimed as necessary because of the fiscal crisis. The incredible fantasy world being created by the Tea Party and the GOP leadership is rooted in the evident impossibility of their beliefs and values when faced with social reality.
In short, there is a desperate need and a decided opportunity for the creative articulation of social alternatives beyond capitalism.
Tags: occupy wall street, fiscal crisis, world wide protests im 2011
This week's program focused mostly on the 1 year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. We'll be on a couple of days before organizers have planned to hold several days of discussion and protest at Wall Street and perhaps in many parts of the country. We'll Feature songs of the movement--street songs and studio performances--and indeed this is a singing movement! And before we're done with our hour, we'll remember with song two 9-11 anniversaries--the World Trade Center and the 9-11-73 overthrow of the democratic government of Chile which led to the torture and death of Chilean troubadour Victor Jara among many other things not to be forgotten.
This week's Culture of Protest will be on just before Obama's big acceptance speech at the convention in Charlotte. Having collected a whole bunch of songs about Obama over the past four years--we've got to play a good sampling of these on this night. The songs span the Obama years--pre-election, celebrating the election and ruminating on the years since. I'm proud of what I think is a rather unique compilation.
Here's the archived broadcast for your lsitening pleasure:
This week on the radio an hour of song--new songs, new versions of classic labor songs--to commemorate labor day. It's a good occasion to honor those who do the work and the struggles of the labor movement--and we're in the midst of a kind of explosion of song performance that help us pay those tributes. And of course there will be songs that tie all this to the rhetoric emanating from the election campaign.
culture of protest thurs 8/30.12 6pm pdt kcsb 91.9fm www.kcsb.org
We'll be at the annual Labor Day picnic with a montage of labor songs for the occasion:
Democratic Party Labor Day Picnic Monday, September 3rd 1PM-4PM Oak Park, Santa Barbara Price: $25/Adult Kids 12 and Under Free!
Please RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org by Friday, August 31st.
August 23 marks the 85th anniversary of the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti, the anarchist immigrant workers convicted of murder charges--a case that mobilized worldwide protest because of the evident political nature of the trial. We'll observe the anniversary with song and narrative. And another major moment in left wing history: August 1937 in Spain, where the Abraham Lincoln Brigade fought bravely at Brunete and other sites in defense of the Spanish Republic against the fascist attempt to overthrow it--and we;ll observe that too. And--we'll play some new selections marking key events of our time, including the Pussy Riot case in Russia, new political songs by Ry Cooder, and more.
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.