Buy The Battle for the Black Fen!

Category Archives: Uncategorized

VOLUNTARY ASSOCIATIONS

Christina Figueres, who is the architect of the Paris Climate Accord, says the way to get big things done is by “stubborn optimism, a dissatisfied, gritty, determined confidence that humanity can bring about needed change in the face of great challenges.” And, in America, we have often achieved great things through forming Voluntary Associations.

Click on my column on that from Impakter.com:

https://impakter.com/voluntary-associations-americas…

Trump, the Republican Party and the Attack on the U.S.Capitol: An American Progressive’s view

Dear Blog Subscribers,

This is my blog version of an article that was published in Impakter.com this morning: : https://impakter.com/trump-republican-party-attack-capitol/ My wonderful editor Claude Forthomme has added some videos you might want to check out.

 A Review of Barack Obama, A Promised Land (New York: Random House, 2020) and  Carlos Lozada, What Were We Thinking: A Brief Intellectual History of the Trump Era. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2020)

In the first months of the Trump presidency I wrote two columns for Impakter.com: “Trump Tyranny and the Politics of Resistance”  and “Trump and the Problem of Evil” .   The evil of the new regime, I postulated, derived from corporate greed underlying the Republican Party and its Libertarian adherents. In these last weeks of his presidency, however, corporations reeled in horror along with the rest of the nation as anarchistic Libertarians joined forces with white supremacist fascists to vandalize the Capitol of the United States, intent on stopping Senate certification Biden’s election.

The militant thugs who stormed our government, so reminiscent of Hitler’s Brown Shirts, were urged on by President Trump in a final confirmation of his nativistic and authoritarian tendencies.  There would have been no insurrection, however, without solid Republican Party support of their unstable and disorganized leader. Whatever clinical pathology he suffers from is less determinative of his fascism than Republican loyalty. As Paul Krugman chillingly puts it, there is nothing left of the Republican Party but blind loyalty and tribal ferocity: with 139 Republican members of the House of Representatives and 8 Senators still promulgating the lie that Biden lost the election when they reconvened after the riot, it is clear that Republican Party has “gone feral.”

Barack Obama On the Rise of Republican Obstructionism

In the midst of this turmoil, I have been trying to calm my soul by reading Barack Obama’s autobiography, A Promised Land. As you can imagine, it  comes from another country altogether – one where  a hard-working president assembles an experienced set of advisors and cabinet members to reach painstaking, thoroughly thought-through decisions. Given President Obama’s love for rooting about in the weeds of policy-making, I feared the book might prove excessively wonky, but he presents his personal experiences and reflections in his usual engagingly thoughtful style to make his autobiography a particularly interesting read in these difficult times.

Although the most “audaciously hopeful” of Presidents, Obama has been a lifelong adherent to theologian Reinhold Niebuhr’s insistence that we keep ourselves alert to the evils that stalk our world.  Obama picks up on what Trump and the Tea Party Republicans are up to from the start. “One thing was certain,” he reflects on their “birther” attempts to declare his presidency illegitimate with the lie that he wasn’t born in America: “a pretty big chunk of the American people, including some of the very folks I was trying to help, didn’t trust a word I said.”  Nor does Obama mince words about the racism underlying Trump’s birther lie: “for millions of Americans spooked by a Black Man in the White House, he promised an elixir for their racial anxiety.”  Moreover, “Promoting this story, a story that fed not trust but resentment – had come to define the modern Republican Party.”

President Obama’s “Promised Land” is governed by a sense of responsibility for all of its members in quest of a common good; this requires a “modern social contract” to meet such basic universal human needs as Social Security and Medicare: “We generally understood the advantages of a society that at least tried to offer a fair shake to everyone and build a floor beneath which nobody could sink.” 

Adherence to this idea depends upon a trust in government that Obama finds “difficult to sustain” in the face of the extreme economic inequity of American society. He is aware how Republican Party cultivates a useful demographic of working class whites filled with resentment and xenophobia  He worries about right wing use of the media, with Republican radio and tv shows, news outlets and leaders fostering the win/lose paradigm that white males without a college degree are being unfairly deprived by a “socialist, and “un-American” Democratic  Party that ignores their needs and is “far more concerned with the well-being of Blacks and Immigrants than with theirs.”

President Obama’s predictions are chilling:

“ …I found myself asking whether those impulses – of violence, reed, corruption, nationalism, racism, and religious intolerance, the all-too-human desire to beat back our own uncertainty and sense of insignificancy by subordinating others – were too strong for any democracy to permanently contain.”  

What Were We Thinking?

Assaulted for four long years by Trump’s attacks on every norm of civility and democratic process I cherish, not to mention the rule of law itself, I have not been a fan of books about the Trump administration.  Intrigued by Carlos Lozada’s promise of  “a reading of all the books of the Trump Presidency, ”  I couldn’t resist picking up his Pulitzer Prize winning What Were We Thinking? A Brief Intellectual History of the Trump Era.

  

With many other progressives, I have been resisting like mad ever since Trump’s inauguration. Oddly, what I took away from Lozada’s compendium was not more horror at what we have been through but a critique of the way we have resisted. I found myself listing my own takeaways from Lozada’s takeaways: here are the questions I asked myself, and some of my (very tentative) proposals for progressives  (my personal analyses are in italics):

  Demonization is Undemocratic.    

“Aside from generalities about how Trump supporters may have voted for him out of a ‘depth of alienation,’ there is little effort in these (resistance) pages to understand, let alone reach out to, communities beyond the ones the (white liberals) themselves represent.”

“The resistance after Trump’s election worries endlessly about Trump’s America but betrays contempt for Trump’s Americans.”

 It is the contempt of the elite, college educated, mainly urban people for these others that has driven them, and keeps driving them, to believe Trump’s lies.   My solution: aim Biden/Democratic legislation directly at them, attending to their needs like jobs, stimulus money, health care, small business loans immediately; and be sure to let them know where these benefits come from.

There is “no room (in resistance ideology) for traditional conservatives or political moderates who may also want to stand up for their values in Trump’s America but find the president or his policies no less appalling…”

We have common needs and values: find out what these are, then work for bipartisan solutions. Develop more tolerance for compromise. 

“Simply because Trump’s moral compass is broken does not mean that yours unerringly points north.  There is a difference between being righteous and being right.”

One of the things Trump voters hate about us is our conviction that we are smart and right and they are dim-witted and immoral.  Honor our common humanity by showing them respect; follow Michelle Obama’s rule that “when they go low, we go high.

Liberal Progressives Need to Change the Way we Think

“I don’t think the urgency of our situation means that we cannot afford uncertainty.  I need to believe in the value of the doubt I now feel, in its ability to create a new space for the slowness of thought and conviction…”

Do not let the (ideological) perfect be the enemy of the (common) good.  Listen, don’t proclaim. Keep question marks in your conversations and replace intellectual arrogance with a tone of uncertainty or, at least, open-endedness.  This leads the door open for true interchange.

We take the shape of the institutions we are in.  “Popular culture compels us to ask ‘What do I want?’  Institutions urge a different query: ‘Given my role here, how should I act?’ … It is a question that combines personal responsibility with higher obligations, invoking conservative traditions that sycophants ignore, Never Trumpers forget, and pro-Trump intellectuals rationalize away…”

Institutions structure our thoughts and actions and embody our ideas; they form us. “The problem of institutions today is that rather than being formative, they have become performative, functioning as platforms for individual advancement rather than molds for individual improvement.” 

Reconsider the institutions (democratic elections, rule of law, division of power) we liberal progressives cherish, and work to keep these whole rather than going all revolutionary, making speeches about overthrowing everything. Revolution is too close to Libertarian anarchism to foster the common good.

Our Uneasy Future: We Are Not Evolving into Better People

“It’s a soothing vision – that today’s misdeeds will be overtaken by time, demography, and the eventual recognition of lasting traditions.  . . the arc of the moral universe may bend toward Justice, or it may snap back in our faces” in the form of a xenophobic backlash.

 “The mantra of inclusion is always being undermined by the mistrust and hatred of foreigners.”   

With many other progressives, I have assumed that as whites become a minority demographic in America – and this is coming soon, probably by 2040 – non-white voters will see to it that equity is established.  But the perennial and inherent xenophobia, along with the propensities for tyranny, brutality, suppression of opponents and outright cruelty that the Trump years demonstrated, are not going away with him.

Conclusion: Our Job in the Face of Continuing Toxicity

The fear and the greed and the violence to human dignity that we have witnessed in the last four years have always been with us in America, in the persistence of economic inequality and in our brutal history of enslavement and genocide.  Many American whites, including progressives, still act under white supremacy’s assumption that white culture is American culture.

The miracle of constitutional democracy is that it has enabled us to broaden our founders’ narrow concept of citizenship to include men and women of every race and ethnicity and gender identity.  It was their firm grasp of the human evil that will always seek to undermine the common good that led them to embrace a balance of power and a rule of law  in a Constitution sufficiently flexible to protect us from the powers of tyranny.

The riot at the United States Capitol reminds us how fragile democratic institutions are and how much attention we must devote to preserve them.  Biden won and we took back the senate because legions of us, from oldsters phoning and texting to Georgia teenagers pounding the pavements, put our sweat into it.  Our victory was not achieved by mere intellectual adherence to our ideas but by hours and hours of phone calls and texts and plain old door knocking, not to mention endlessly tedious meetings and committee deliberations.

 Life, as Aristotle puts it, does not consist in ideas but in actions.  Keeping ourselves alert to social evil and our eyes on the prize – that promised land of the common good – the only way forward for us is the nitty-gritty slog of engaged democracy.

MAKING THE POLITICAL SAUSAGE: ORGANIZING FOR POLITICAL SUCCESS

With  thanks  to  Cousin  Sarah  for  her  home  made  sausage  photo

“What’s needed now is research on tactics and strategies at the organizational and societal levels: moving beyond public opinion and messaging to get elbow-deep in how the proverbial sausage is made.” Sarah DeWeerdt, “Climate research needs a better understanding of power,” Jan 8, 2019 in Anthropocene Magazine

Every day, protesters from our local resistance movement shouted outside our Republican Congressman’s office, demanding he hold a town hall and deploring his cowardice for not doing so by brandishing rubber chickens.   If, as Deweert suggests, “What climate advocates need to know is how to build enduring relationships with political decision-makers,” was this the way to do it?   

I didn’t think so, and that was why I was not among them. I had been visiting him for several years as a member of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, promoting carbon fee and dividend policy. CCL’s long term goal is to develop the political will of both citizens’ and legislators to reduce global warming. Our strategy is for local chapters to cultivate their Members of Congress; our tactic to that end is civil conversation. Here’s how that goes:

1. We start our meeting with a statement of gratitude for an action he/she has taken.

2. We ask for his/her views on environmental issues and listen as he/she talks for items we hold in common.

3. We speak from those common interests, then provide information on carbon fee and dividend policy.

4. We have one “ask” per meeting. For example, “would you consider joining the Climate Solutions Caucus in the House of Representatives?

5. We offer ourselves as resources on environmental questions and provide a notebook of carefully organized background materials as we say our goodbyes.  

By no means a moderate, our Congressman came out against Pipeline 5, which endangered Lakes Michigan and Huron; he signed a letter to President Trump asking him to urge Canada not to dump Nuclear Waste near Lake Huron; he joined the Climate Solutions Caucus in the House of Representatives and, to top it all off, co-sponsored  The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act   when it was introduced in the House of Representatives late in the 2018 session.

CCLers Lobbying

Did I mention that CCL is bipartisan? Our Congressman’s political will was undoubtedly influenced by a member of our group who had worked in his previous campaign. With local chapters conducting respectful visits with Members of Congress all over the country for a period of years, you can see how this tactic of civil discourse creates legislative results. That is how interest group politics works: think of the Sierra Club, for example, The National Organization for Women, The League of Conservation Voters, The NAACP and Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

In “The Path of Greatest Resistance,” a review of two books on the Resistance Movement, David Cole worries that demonstrations and marches do not, in and of themselves, create movements. “The challenge is this,” assert researchers quoted by Deweerdt: “in most cases, the null assumption is that activism becomes power at scale: that collective action is merely the sum of its parts, and the more people who take action, the more likely a movement is to achieve its goals.”

Historically, political sausage is made by mass demonstrations as the end result and public face of long term planning. Take the case of the Civil Rights Movement: the Selma March, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the March on Washington, and the Poor People’s Campaign were effective public outcomes built upon years of organization. The timely dissemination of strategically worded press releases, careful decisions about who was to speak on TV and word by word crafting of their statements were tactics in a long term strategy designed to create national support for the desired legislation.

“Whether #MeToo and other progressive movements will achieve lasting reform,” Cole asserts, “will depend on these organizations working collectively in multiple forums, including courtrooms, state legislatures, corporate boardrooms, union halls, and, most importantly, at the ballot box. We all need to turn away from our smartphones and screens and engage, together, in the work of democracy.”

Wait a minute! Contemporary political movements use smartphones and screens to sharpen their messaging and widen their base; tweeting and posting, messaging and emailing are powerful and effective tactics of long term organizational strategies.

Flash back to 1967 when I set up the first National Organization for Women Chapter in Atlanta, Georgia.  This involved telephone calls back and forth to Betty Friedan on our landline (a hard person to reach, which she made up for by calling us day and night), a telephone tree for letting members know about actions and meetings (extremely time consuming, as you couldn’t leave a voice message for fear you were talking to a  misogynistic family member), and tons of slow moving snail mail  to and from national headquarters.

Fast forward to 2019, when social media has exponentially strengthened political effectiveness.  In the case of CCL  the organization’s web site provides detailed instructions on such tactical items like how to set up a a meeting with your Member of Congress and what talking points to use.   I am in a group that alerts me by email when to respond to a newspaper article with a Letter to the Editor,  and also a Social Media unit which notifies me when a Tweetstorm needs to be raised or a Post needs a commented on and shared. Where in an earlier life I established newsletters for every NOW chapter I joined, now I administer the Facebook page for our local CCL.  

Did I mention that The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (H.R. 763) has been reintroduced in the 2019 session of the House of Representatives?

From my experiences as a long ago NOW organizer and a present day environmental activist, it seems clear  that the development of political will and the achievement of legislative success depends both on crowds waving rubber chickens and lobbyists making nice, on a strategic blend of rabble rousing and long-term planning.

And that is how the political sausage is made.

Is Age “Just a Number”

A Gerontologist was helping me register at the Gerontological Association Convention in Boston.
 “I’m 81,” I remarked.
“Don’t you know,” she replied sternly, “age is just a number.”
I was there at my Gerontologist daughter’s invitation to disprove certain stereotypes about aging women by talking about my present life as an “aging generative activist.”
“Activity and agency are associated with youth and manhood,” states her panel abstract, “while their opposites – passivity and dependence – are linked with old age and womanhood.”
I told the audience that age has brought me a perspective on my lifetime activism, and gave them some advice on best practices for their own engagement in the public sphere – things like choosing only one cause at a time, not working alone but with a well-organized group focused on that cause, and utilizing their particular talents rather than trying to be something they are not.
In detailing my particular adaptations for continuing my activism into old age,  I pointed out that with more frailty  I tire easily and so march less and tweet more, posting and networking, blogging like mad and engaging in conference calls and on-line meetings.
Then I took a hard look at that pesky term “generativity,” urged upon the aging by authorities like Erik Erickson as a developmental stage when you ought to guide the next generation and act upon concern for people outside of yourself and your immediate family.
Enough of that already! Erikson is a man. Calling for a burst of old age generativity from a woman who has spent her whole life doing for others looks like same old same old to me. Instead, we retired women need to develop tons of self-compassion before we fill our schedules with activism,  a balance between time just for ourselves (self-generativity) and time spent contributing to our communities and our world.
My daughter used consciousness raising groups for our question period. During the chit-chat before we started I heard one (very accomplished) older woman say to another, “But you don’t look 79!” Even here, apparently, the idea that an oldster acting (or looking) “younger” than the number that marks her age is admirable managed to creep into the conversation without any challenge.

 

If you praise me by implying that I am acting youthful by being  active, aren’t you subtracting an essential element of my existence? I am old.  I am also deeply engaged in environmental activism. Both those facts define me.  Also, by some weird cognitive quirk that could reverse itself overnight, I am smarter than I have ever been before. Sometimes, reading an author I could never get my mind around when young or proofing an article that is so complicated I can’t believe I wrote it, I can feel the little neurons in my brain fizzing away merrily just like they did during my first cognitive surge at age 14.
These are realistic descriptors of the way I am now, integral parts of my authentic being. I am not somebody’s stereotypical idea about a number, but  I am  81.  I am not a societal construct but an aged activist woman immensely grateful to have made it whole into the present moment.

Amen, Shalom, Blessed Be