I haven't posted a blog for quite a while. We've done a bit of travel, have been otherwise busy, and also trying to figure out what I can contribute as the political whirlwinds intensify. I decided to wait until Pres. Obama responded to the rightwing onslaughts of recent weeks, being as dismayed as you are by the apparent success the tea party drive has been having in setting the terms of public discourse.
Obama gave a big speech this morning at George Washington U. All us handwringing folk on the left might breathe just a little easier in the aftermath. Obama laid out a reasonably progressive and powerful alternative framing of the deficit matter and made points that need to be reiterated and driven home from now on:
A primary cause of the deficits he inherited is the enormous tax benefits awarded to the super-rich.
The top 1% have been getting much richer while the rest of us have lost ground ion terms of income
The size of the deficit over the next decade must be reduced but not in ways that damage the lives of those ‘without clout'
The America we cherish is a place where we care for each other and where public investment is crucial to both sustaining our lives and remaining a great power
Taxing the super-rich is a major component of any effort to reduce deficits
Reducing the costs of healthcare is a major component of this, but that can be done by reforming and strengthening public health funded programs-whose existence is in fact a tool for reducing costs.
The federal spending that is most important is that which represents investment in the future
Military budgets are ‘on the table'
I think these points are valuable in advancing a progressive vision. Such a vision is absolutely crucial, since Obama's centrist agenda can only marginally advance jobs, justice, equality and democracy. Here's a sample of what he left out:
A concerted movement toward a green economy that will create jobs, save energy and turn away from climate disaster-that vision was one he once articulated but is now trying to implement in piecemeal and unarticulated ways.
The best way to control costs of healthcare is to reduce the control of insurance corporations over the healthcare system. Medicare available to all (as an option) would be a feasible path to reducing those costs and that control.
No specifics on what he thinks should happen to social security except for usefully mentioning that it is not itself a deficit problem. A progressive vision should go beyond defending the existing benefit structure to seek real security for everyone who has aged past their work lives.
Putting the military budget up for possible reduction is a very useful move-and it will be upt to progressives to spell out specifics that add up to a move away from the ‘long war' and Empire.
Obama's speech should be read as a response, not only the right, but to grassroots movement on the left-movement that has demanded that the deficit debate focus on tax benefits for the wealthy and war spending, that has demanded protection of medicare and social security, and job creation through alternative energy, public transit, weatherization and other green economy potentials.
If this blog is about anything its been about urging folks on the left to think strategically. For me the pillars of strategy involve promoting grassroots movement , articulating alternative vision and program and using the openings provided by the Democrats in power as resources for change. Obama's speech today suggests how these can work-at least to enable and compel the president to challenge the rightwing.
Tags: deficit, military spending, progressive agenda, obama speech
Phil Ochs, the legendary 'protest' troubadour of the sixties, died by his own hand on April 9, 1976. A new film bio about Phil is playing in theaters around the country and this has greatly revived interest in his story. So tonight we'll do a musical memorial to Phil Ochs, featuring a number of songs in tribute to him, and various renditions of his work by a wide range of artists, as well as by Phil.
culture of protest thurs 4/7/11 6-7pm pdt kcsb 91.9fm www.kcsb.org
In conjunction with the April 4 anniversary of the murder of Martin Luther King a big labor based coalition is sponsoring nationwide events supporting the rights of working people and resistance to austerity programs that protect the super-rich and assault the poor. And on April 5, a nationwide teach-in on these matters will be kicked off with a national internet presentation by leading scholars. Tonight's radio show highlights these themes with music drawn from workers struggles past and present.s
We take note of the fact that Dr. King died in a Memphis battle for collective bargaining rights for city workers, and that April 4 marks the anniversary of the deaths of 29 miners in the Massey mine in West Virginia. Songs about all this and much more.
culture of protest thurs 3/31 6-7pm pdt kcsb 91.9fm www.kcsb.org
This week's radio program observes the centenary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire--the sweatshop catastrophe that killed 146 young Jewish and Italian women. The fire had a transformative effect on public attitudes toward workers, working conditions and government regulation. That hundreds of commemorative events are happening across the country to mark the March 25 anniversary is a testament to the growing feeling that the gains of this past century in worker rights are deeply threatened. We'll hear some moving narrative about the event, and some songs, old and new, relevant to the observance. And we'll also provide some details about the important antiwar action taking place Saturday in Santa Barbara.
culture of protest thurs 3/17/11 6-7pm pdt kcsb 91.9fm www.kcsb.org
This week we have a two hour block. In hour one a conversation with Paul Amar, UCSB professor who has creative insight into the rising social movement in Egypt, with music drawn from the struggle. In hour 2, a montage of songs inspired by the events in Wisconsin--songs about public employees, about unions and about people power. And about International Women's Day which started with women's struggles in the labor movement 100 years ago.
culture of protest thurs 3/3/11 6-8pm pst kcsb 91.9fm www.kcsb.org
Tags: Egyptian revolution, Wisconsin protest, union songs, internatiomal women's day
This week we'll get a first hand account of the Madison protest from Paul Buhle, one of the leading labor historians, who will call in from there. and of course we'll feature music derived from and relevant for the days of struggle.
culture of protest thurs 2/24/11 6-7pm pst kcsb 91.9fm www.kcsb.org
Tags: Wisconsin protest, paul buhle, relevant protest songs
This week on CULTURE OF PROTEST we'll remember the freedom rides on the 50th anniversary of these actions. Dozens of black and white youth rode interstate buses thru the south, deliberately breaking segregation rules. They were met by ,mob violence abetted by local police and the images of this were been around the world. We'll talk about these events with Jorgia Bordofsky, long time Santa Barbara community figure, who was a freedom rider and spent 40 days in a Mississippi jail. Appropriate music will be heard...
culture of protest thurs 2/17/11 6-7pm pst kcsb 91.9fm www.kcsb.org
Tags: freedom rides, ciovil rights movement, 1961, African-American history month
"The executive of the modern state is nothing but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie. " Karl Marx said that in the communist manifesto.
I thought of this statement when listening to President Obama's recent speeches-the state of the union and the neighborly talk he gave to the Chamber of Commerce. Reading Obama through Marx's lens helps us understand the political ‘contradictions' of the USA today and suggests some space for democratic movement in the struggle to ‘win the future'.
I think a lot of the commentary about that COC speech has missed the big point. The main story has been that the president is seeking to ‘repair' relations with ‘business'. If you're a centrist sort of pundit, then you assume that Obama now has moved to the center, away from the dysfunctional leftism of his first two years. From the left, the president seemed to be pandering to the corporate and financial elite in another display of lack of courage: "To kneel before the corporate throne of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce", in the words of David Swanson.
Let's take Marx and Obama seriously and suggest that the President is trying, in both speeches and policy, to actually fulfill the highest function of the executive of the capitalist state. That function is not, according to Marx, to bow down to corporate interests, but to manage the common affairs of the whole capitalist class.
The individual investor and corporate executive seeks to maximize profit and expand his wealth. A government that is driven by such goals will surely get the enthusiastic backing of those investors and managers. Indeed, a lot of such folk are deifying Ronald Reagan this very week because he not only served their interests but did so joyfully and helped make them feel virtuous rather than guilty as they got richer. But Marx's famous formulation doesn't say that the role of the capitalist state executive is to serve individual greed. On the contrary-its central role is to define and manage the shared interest of the class. What we've been experiencing in the age of post-Reagan is a state mainly driven by the particular greeds of corporate sectors and super-rich -and the result has been to undermine the domestic capitalist economy and American society itself.
That's the situation that Obama inherited. Examples:
*The power of Pharma and insurance corporations blocks an effective universal healthcare program that is needed for American corporations to restrain costs so as to compete globally.
*The power of giant energy corporations blocks an effective program to promote clean energy, needed to deal with onrushing environmental costs and to promote domestic economic growth.
*The power of huge financial concentrations blocks effective investment in infrastructure, technology and innovation needed for economic growth.
*The power of the rich blocks effective tax and budget policies to reduce state fiscal crisis.
Obama's COC speech appealed to the assembled business elite to fulfill its ‘responsibility' to the USA: "ask yourselves what you can do for America. Ask yourselves what you can do to hire American workers, to support the American economy, and to invest in this nation." He promised to make the country a great place to do business, but he demanded that they change their own priorities (and the inventory I provided above indicates what the key areas of change need to be). The sub-text of the speech was that he, Obama, ‘gets' that such change would contradict the demands and opportunities of the global market.
In essence, Obama was saying, if you continue to operate as you have, the growing anxiety, disillusionment and anger in the American population will grow as the people's living standards drop while the rich grow ever richer. "They see a widening chasm of wealth and opportunity in this country, and they wonder if the American Dream is slipping away", he said.
Obviously, Obama thinks the bully pulpit has value, but I doubt that he's naïve enough to think that his speeches will win the hearts and minds of those assembled. If he's serious about actually managing the system, he has to have a series of policies and programs that will compel behavior change among investors and corporate types. And these are some of what he is aiming to institute:
*A national infrastructure investment program (and a government bank to mange it). Already just announced-a $50+ billion high speed rail program, and a large tax credit plan favoring electric vehicles. The emphasis obviously is on alternatives to fossil fuel, which may have large impact on economic growth, job creation and climate change. Such a program is hoped to attract private as well as public investment. It's a program that has the support of the AFL-CIO and the Chamber of Commerce but NOT the Republican Party.
*A corporate tax reform. In the speech Obama touted this as a way to reduce corporate tax rates, but the purpose of the plan will be to plug major corporate tax loopholes and thereby increase actual revenues from the corporate sector.
*International trade agreements but with the promise that they will embody provisions that protect US labor and environmental standards while creating opportunities to revitalize American exports.
*Education investments that upgrade community colleges make college more affordable and raise support for k-12 education.
*Implement healthcare reform despite the crazed objections of the rightwing.
Obama was, in short, expressing the need for a new economic direction that serves American domestic interest. He said: "Now is the time to invest in America. Today, American companies have nearly $2 trillion sitting on their balance sheets". A primary cause of continuing massive unemployment is that failure to invest. He sketched a program that is intended to make such investment more appealing. But rather than bowing down to corporate interests he was confronting them with a choice: be responsible, or face consequences. He's betting that a sufficient proportion of the elite will sign on to his agenda. The political result of that will be to isolate the Republicans electorally if they succeed in frustrating a program with strong business backing, or driving a wedge in Republican ranks.
Obama's ‘win the future' program is, however, fraught with both practical difficulty and striking moral silences. Its' Progressive dimension is its emphasis on a national industrial policy-a policy that channels public and private investment toward socially beneficial goals rather than relying on the market. That's why the AFL-CIO has signed on to it. But the goals he is setting are woefully inadequate. It's clearer than ever that the country needs strategically savvy independent movements to the left of Obama. Whether he intends it or not, his speeches have left a big space for such movement.
Some of these openings:
The budget crisis requires getting out of the current wars, and cutting the military budget. Some promising signs in the last couple of days: John Kerry, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations committee intends to convene Fulbright like hearings on the Afghan war. Some tea partiers in congress advocate military cuts. And Obama's neo-nationalist rhetoric demands that an alternative internationalist perspective be articulated.
The infrastructure investment program's size and character will be affected strongly by popular pressure. It's a chance for labor, environmental and community based organization to come together and push for a program that really meets the needs of the communities and regions that will be affected. Take a look at the Apollo initiative for clues.
The Obama education program embodies disastrous continued adherence to market oriented education policy: testing, authoritarian control, stratification. It's time for a progressive coalition that advances education not simply for its economic or nationalist benefits, but as essential for human fulfillment, and that understands the classroom as embedded in a social and economic environment that is the main factor in students' capacities for learning.
Public worker unions can take Obama's promise of a government that works and argue that effective government requires skilled employees with high morale. Unions could take the lead in promoting members' commitment to competent and caring public service, and articulating progressive paths to dealing with fiscal crisis.
National movement always begin in local communities and workplaces where models of resistance and grassroots initiative can be invented and tested. The inspiring events in Egypt didn't just happen spontaneously two weeks ago. They're rooted in years of local protest, of autonomous worker action, and grassroots interaction.
The Egyptian revolutionary dynamic was triggered, and continues to be driven by, the energy and independence of young activists who don't take their cues from the established opposition. As I've said here before, I think one of the most important moves progressive groups need to make during the next two years is to help revitalize campus based debate and discussion about values, vision and program that point away from Empire and neo-nationalism, and toward economic and social democracy.
Tags: karl marx, industrial policy, progressive agenda, Obama
Republicans want to claim Lincoln's legacy, and even celebrate the February birthdays of Ronald Reagan and Abe Lincoln in tandem. Lincoln was a founder of the party, but that was in the name of anti-slavery. This week on culture of protest we observe the Reagan centenary and Lincoln's birthday in our own fashion. Reagan inspired a host of satirical song which we'll sample. Our musical tribute to Lincoln features his words that emphasize equality and identification with labor and the common people. "Reagan was for the rich man", according to blues singer Louisiana Red.
culture of protest thurs 2/10/10 6-7pm pst kcsb 91.9fm www.kcsb.org
Tags: Reagan, Lincoln, soongs about Reagan and lincoln, republicans
Judy Collins performs at the Lobero Theater in Santa Barbara next Wednesday evening. this gives us the opportunity to hear her voice on recordings that span the 50 years since her first album was released. She's famous for her magnificent interpretations of some of the finest songs by contemporary composers, but her musical and personal contributions to the culture of protest will be what we'll highlight on tonight's broadcast. Tune in anywhere in the world!
culture of protest thurs 2/3/11 6-7pm pst kcsb 91.9fm www.kcsb.org
Now that we've heard the president's state of the union, we turn to troubadours voices to help fill the silences in his text while adding poetry to some matters he discussed. Honor these troubadours by listening to their songs tonight.
culture of protest thurs 1/27/11 6-7pm pst kcsb 91.9fm www.kcsb.org
The president's state of the union address is scheduled for Tuesday. On this week;s show we offer a collage of songs that speak to the question. It's my experience over the years that our troubadours raise issues and feelings that the president;s speech might well evade. Join us...
culture of protest thurs 1/20/10 6-7pm kcsb 91.9fm www.kcsb.org
Tonight's program takes note of the conjunction of MLK birthday and the horrors in Arizona. We'll make use of songs that help reflect on this convergence, as well as some of Dr. King's voice. We'll add the voices of the just departed Deborah Friedman, the legendary composer of new Jewish ritual song and Aretha Franklin, gravely ill.
culture of protest thurs 1/13/11 6-7pm pdt kcsb 91.9fm www.kcsb.org
Tags: king oliday, arizona violence, debby friedman, aretha franklin
Many of the events of 2010 were captured in song. On this week's culture of protest we'll listen to a. rich sampling of these. Catastrophe was much in evidence: in Haiti, in the gulf, in the mines. Songs about immigrant rights, don't ask/don/'t tell, tea parties. Some cultural heroes passed and we'll hear their voices: Abbey Lincoln, Tuli Kupferberg, Bob Potter. And there were songs urging us, against the odds, to keep hope alive.
culture of protest thurs 1.6.11 6-7pm pst kcsb 91.9fm www.kcsb.org
Tags: 2010 events in song, oil in gulf, miners, deceased heroes
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
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.