Thursday, April 20, 2017

Think outside the two party box

Guest: Caroline Fenner, former English teacher, United Federation of Teachers chapter leader, and Director of the Dutchess County Progressive Action Alliance, talks about grassroots organizing to resist the Trump agenda.

Bernie inspired a wave of social activism, even after he lost the nomination to Hillary Clinton. On election day, polls had him 12 percentage points ahead of Trump, a lead that he had maintained during the previous year. Sad that Democrats had defeated their best hope of winning in the fall. Sad for all of us.

We are still figuring out how Bernie has changed the landscape all across America. There are huge crowds now demanding that Trump not roll back a half century of social progress. Not only are there lots of people active, but they are willing to organize. In one way, Caroline's organization embodies Howard Zinn's principle that movements, not parties create change. Nixon thought he had no choice but to go along with the Clean Water Act. He tried to sabotage its passage on the sly (Tricky Dick), but found the grassroots environmental movement too strong to openly defy.

The question now is how separate various grassroots movements are from the Democratic Party. Organizations like Citizen Action and the Working Families Party have been tied a bit too closely in the past. For example, when Obama won the presidency the peace movement died. Much of it had been bankrolled by the Democratic Party as a way to win the election. After Obama won, his party didn't need peace anymore. 

That would be our worst nightmare, that organizations like Dutchess County Progressive Action Alliance end up working for candidates and not for social change. I would think the group would have been right in there pressuring the Democratic Party to elect reformer Keith Ellison as DNC Chair. Another corporate shill, Tom Perez, was elected instead. Perez won't dare question his party's ties to Wall Street and the one percent, the very issues that lost the last presidential race. 

Can local activists rise to the occasion? Their organizational skills are remarkable as well as inspiring. But can their movement think outside the two party box?

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Wilson's secrets turn out to be America's secrets

GUEST: Ajamu Baraka, internationally recognized Pan-African human rights activist, editor for The Black Agenda Report, and vice-presidential candidate for the Green Party USA in 2016, talks about race and how the two party system favors the very rich.

The journey is longer than I had thought.

The more I read and hear, the more I realize that my own journey to understanding race in America is far from complete. I had thought that as long as I opposed racism, that I was dong the right thing. But holding to a principle is not as effective as understanding the long term caste system that I have been living under.

Black people have been systematically deprived of their rights in a caste system that appears to have been as rigid as any one might find in India. I learned in history class that Woodrow Wilson was an "idealist" who couldn't compromise his own morality to get important legislation passed. Now I find that he was a hardened racist who demanded that a curtain be put up in federal offices to separate African Americans from whites. He also passed a law forbidding Blacks from supervising white governmental workers, resulting in the firing of many career African Americans.

Wilson's secrets turn out to be America's secrets. Racism was alive and well in government rules and regulations well into the 1980's. FDR's WPA was purposefully segregated. When Black GI's returned from WW II, they couldn't get loans to live in suburban developments. They weren't allowed to buy houses there either.

The hidden history that most Blacks know, but most whites don't.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Those whose greed has erased their wisdom

GUEST: Tom Newmark, chair of the American Botanical Council, the co-founder  of The Carbon Underground, and chair of the Greenpeace Fund USA, talks about his Sacred Seed project and Finca Luna Nueve, his farm and teaching center in Costa Rica.

Tom's interview represented a combination of science and spiritual thinking. I have grown up always putting the former over the latter, as if science alone could help me overcome my anecdotal view of life. But my short experience at Standing Rock has made me question whether science is all important.

Can science bring us to completely understand our place in the organism that is our earth? Scientific studies may get there someday. Maybe humans will eventually be classified as part of the whole, much like electrons spinning around the nucleus of an atom. But now, we must use our other senses to help restore the world around us which is in chaos.

The Lakota use a type of spirituality to govern their lives. Their reverence for the earth and for all the life upon it is wisdom and not science. I think that science at this point cannot save us. There are too many principles to learn in too short a time. The funding for science is now controlled by those whose greed has erased their wisdom, the oil barons and the weapons makers. We have to use our spiritual wisdom to save ourselves.


Missing is labor and social justice activism

GUEST: Jesper Roine, a professor at the Stockholm School of Economics, whose research contributed to Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century, talks about income and inequality, as well as his new book, Pocket Piketty, that brings the concept of economic justice to a larger audience.

Piketty's book is now widely read by the capitalists of the world, those in the IMF and World Trade Organization. Something is wrong with the neoliberal model that they have been promoting in the rest of the world.

Roine's Pocket Piketty makes these ideas more accessible (160 pages versus over 600). I did understand most of the concepts involve, the inevitable return of the victory of capital over labor. In Piketty's view, the two world wars and Great Depression destroyed so much capital that the ratio of capital to labor became much more equitable. Starting in the late 1970's however, capital began its climb back to the heights of the Gilded Age. Labor's share shrank until the world was again divided between the obscenely rich and the impoverished majority.

Piketty offers some suggestions for how to turn this around through higher taxation and more government spending on social needs. All these efforts are to avoid the obvious end stage of great inequity, and that is revolution. 

Missing is labor and social justice activism. Piketty has the ruling class making the decision to lessen the gross income inequities that face industrial societies. Maybe the working class would make more permanent adjustments. We will be interviewing some Marxist economists for a more democratic take on how change will come. 


Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The totality of the war's cruelty

GUEST: Jill Carnegie, Co-Founder of VoNY (Vegans of New York), Campaigns Director for NYCLASS (Clean, Livable, and Safe Streets), talks about organizing for the recent Empty the Carriages campaign.

In "Slaughterhouse Five" the principal character, Billy, only cries once despite the universal suffering he has experienced as a prisoner of war in Dresden during the Allied firebombing. 

He is scolded for his mistreatment of  horses by two Germans, and husband and wife pair of obstetricians. When he looks for himself, he finds the horses' hooves shattered and their mouths bleeding. They are dying of thirst. 

Kurt Vonnegut's Billy is only able to feel the totality of the war's cruelty by recognizing his own blindness to animal suffering. There are many ways to interpret Billy's epiphany. Is it irony that the German couple complains about the treatment of animals after what the Nazis have done? The Allies have just incinerated an entire city full of civilians. Do horses matter?

To Vonnegut they do. Much of "Slaughterhouse Five" is autobiographic. He was a prisoner of war in Dresden during the bombing. He suffered the PTSD that many war veterans do their entire lives. There is a link between the suffering of animals and the suffering of humans. Both bring tears of humanity to our eyes.  

Sunday, March 19, 2017

State enforced racism

GUEST: Mark Schwartz, activist lawyer and former parent at the Friends' Central School, talks about the Quaker school's decision to suspend two teachers for bringing in a Palestinian speaker, a professor at nearby Swarthmore College.

Is Zionism destroying our First Amendment rights for freedom of speech?

In the nation's schools and colleges, this may well be true. Our elected representatives on the state and federal level are busy plotting how to punish students and faculty members for openly criticizing Israel. To our political leaders, Israel represents Jewish people everywhere, and any questioning of the apartheid state is by definition an attack on Jews. 

But can a state really be a religion? And are states free to commit racism and ethnic cleansing because they call themselves a religious entity? 

Mark doesn't agree with Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel. But he is defending the right of teachers to bring in a Palestinian speaker. Denying that right for an educator is as much as saying that all Palestinians are antisemitic, based solely on ethnic identity. And what could be more racist than that? Zionism in its extreme is the demand that educators and students be islamophobic.

This is simply state enforced racism, like the Third Reich. 




Thursday, March 9, 2017

Solving the racial divide

GUEST: Lisa Lindsley, founder of KarmaKapital and consultant for shareholder activism, talks about her recent work combating racism as part of a new Ulster County chapter of Showing Up for Racial Justice SURJ.

What an interesting talk we had with Lisa Lindsley about a new organization in the Hudson Valley, Showing Up for Racial Justice. Of course, most of Civil Rights progress during the 1960's was a result of Black and white activist working together. But it was not always a happy relationship. Towards the end of the Civil Rights Era, whites were forced out of decision making positions in several national organizations. For white people eager to help African Americans achieve economic and social justice there has always been moments of self doubt.

Whites are for the most part not brought up with Black people in our segregated society. Cultural differences abound, and then there is the subject of trust. How can I be white and not have some deeply buried suspicion that I am smarter or more capable? Will I be trusted? Will I be respected, or subtly hated for my privilege? And does an organization like SURJ avoid all these pitfalls by being only for white people? 

I don't know how my country is going to solve its racial divide. As long as the US caste system survives, Blacks will always be poorer and more in need of government support. 

I will never accept or condone a system that treats one group of people as better than another. I have much higher aspirations for myself and my country. Despite what lingering racism I may still have, I am ready to confront it in order to build a better society. At some point, we will march together to demand the type of integrated society that we want for our children and grandchildren.