Book Review: This is an Uprisingby Mark Engler

AuthorMark Engler
TitleThis is an uprising : how nonviolent revolt is shaping the twenty-first century
Publication Info: New York : Nation Books, [2016]

This book is a comprehensive evaluation of the tools and strategies used in nonviolent movements, whether they be to overthrow dictators or to advance social change in representative democracies.  Much of this book is based on the work of Gene Sharp (who actually passed away during the time I was reading this), who published his theories on nonviolence in 1973’s The Politics of Nonviolent Action. Engler illustrates nonviolent movements in action through cases of the satyagraha movement that lead to India’s independence from Great Britain, and the tactics and campaigns of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Congress of Racial Equality, and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee during the American Civil Rights Movement.

Two other figures are also examined for their contributions to the theory and strategy of nonviolent movements.  The first is Saul Alinsky, whose book Rules for Radicals (1971), served as a guidebook for organizing community organizations along nonpartisan and ideologically diverse lines towards pragmatic results achieved over the long term.  A countering theory comes from France Fox Piven, who along with Richard A. Cloward published Poor People’s Movements (1977), which argues that the most vulnerable communities lack the resources to manage long-term campaigns or gain political influence without using disruptive tactics such as boycotts, sit-ins, traffic tie-ups, and strikes. From Piven’s point of view, the organizations created by Alinsky’s organizing can become too complacent or risk averse once they’ve established themselves and made ties with political leaders.  From Alinsky’s point of view, the disruptive movements championed by Piven often fail to make lasting social change and run out of steam.

There are obvious beneficial ideas and strategies that can be drawn from each theory, and Engler argues that a hybrid approach was successful in India, the Civil Rights Movement, and more recently by Otpor!, the Serbian resistance to the tyranny of Slobodan Milošević.  Otpor! was a decentralized movement which made it more difficult for the Milošević regime to target leaders for retribution, or for leaders to become too comfortably entangled in the government to the point that would not want to risk taking action.  Despite the decentralized approach, Otpor! maintained strict guidelines on action known as frontloading that helped maintain consistency on message and strategy.  Many Otpor! actions came in the form of satirical street theater performances which doubled as recruitment by inviting interested passersby to attend intensive training on nonviolence.

Engler also relates cases of how nonviolent movements are working in the contemporary United States.  Marriage equality became reality in the United States not because of a Supreme Court decision, but because an organized movement worked for decades to shift public opinion.  Movements can be divisive by design with ACT UP presented an example of a group who used provocative and polarizing  direct actions that brought attention to people suffering from AIDS that could not be achieved by more pragmatic organizations who feared losing the few gains already achieved by the LGBT community.

This is an important book that summarizes the history of nonviolent movements, breaks down key tactics and strategy, and serves as a blueprint for future nonviolent revolutions.  I think massive nonviolent movements will be vital to address the severe social and political issues we’re facing in the 21st century and recommend that everyone read this book to get a sense of what needs to be done.

Favorite Passages:

This book is concerned with a specific phenomenon: momentum-driven mass mobilization. It contends that those who have most carefully studied these mobilizations—examining how to construct and sustain scenarios of widespread protest—come out of a tradition of strategic nonviolence. It argues that political observers watching the democratic upheavals of the twenty-first century should incorporate this tradition’s insights into their understanding of how social transformation happens. Those wishing to bring such upheavals into existence, meanwhile, do well to marry these insights with their existing approaches to leveraging change. – p. 3

Nonviolence is often written off as obsolete, an idea that has been mostly forgotten and is largely irrelevant in global affairs. Yet, every time it is cast aside, strategic nonviolent action seems to reassert itself as a historic force. Without taking up weapons, and with little money and few traditional resources, people forming nonviolent movements succeed in upending the terms of public debate and shifting the direction of their countries’ politics. Nonviolence in this form is not passive. It is a strategy for confrontation. – p. 3

Gene Sharp documented how unarmed uprisings could produce remarkable and sometimes counterintuitive results. Whereas violent rebellions play to the strengths of dictatorships—which are deft at suppressing armed attacks and using security challenges to justify the creation of a police state—nonviolent action often catches these regimes off guard. Through what Sharp calls “political jiu-jitsu,” social movements can turn repression into a weakness for those in power. Violent crackdowns against unarmed protests end up exposing the brutality of a ruling force, undermining its legitimacy, and, in many cases, creating wider public unwillingness to cooperate with its mandates. – p. 6

Walker and Cotton were not trivializing the violence of the police dogs. They took the risks of the campaign very seriously. As King had contended, the point of creating a public crisis in Birmingham was not to introduce Connor or other authorities to violence. Rather, it was to expose the violence routinely inflicted upon the black community under Jim Crow segregation. “We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive,” King wrote. “We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with.”54 Walker and Cotton knew that the attacking police dogs would serve as a choice representation of the much more pervasive violence that flourished in the city. In his tactical foolishness, Bull Connor had become an ally in exposing the brutality of white supremacy. And he was just beginning. – p. 22

But in democratic countries with representative institutions, the conventional wisdom is that the process of altering the status quo looks very different. It means working through officials in high office. It requires prolonged and often painstaking back-room negotiations between various interest groups. And when reforms are achieved, they are never so stark or dramatic as a dictator’s fall. Or are they? As it turns out, this accepted vision of how political change occurs has serious flaws. At best, it presents an incomplete picture of how progress in our society is won. At worst, it is a wrong-headed story that stubbornly conceals the way in which many of the most significant gains of the past century have been secured, from women’s suffrage, to labor laws, to civil rights. It misses how people with few material resources and little access to conventional powerbrokers have sometimes been able to bring about transformations that mainstream politicians consider to be absurd and impractical—right up until the moment when these changes become common sense. – p. 87

In a democratic nation, monolithic thinking likewise trains citizens to focus on the top. The vast majority of people are taught early on to hold this view. Most history books chart the rise and fall of business tycoons and ambitious politicians. The message is further reinforced when the bulk of our political reporters spend their time writing about the activities of these same actors. Legislative victories are credited to the policymakers who sign the final bills into law rather than to any movements that might have made passage of the bills possible in the first place. The public absorbs this bias, conflating the process of democratic reform with the decisions of charismatic leaders who manipulate the course of the nation’s affairs. – p. 95

If there is a common trait in the most prominent movements of the past century—whether they involved efforts to end child labor, redefine the role of women in political life, or bring down an apartheid regime—it is that they took up causes that established powerbrokers regarded as sure losers and won them by creating possibilities that had not previously existed. As the pillars give way, barriers long seen as too daunting to be overcome suddenly appear surmountable. – p. 114

Momentum-driven organizing necessarily places a greater focus on the symbolic. In their mass mobilizations, activists in this tradition need not abandon a push for concrete gains entirely. But instead of measuring their results only by incremental wins at the bargaining table, they use other metrics as well: movement in opinion polls, growing numbers of active participants, the ability to generate resources through grassroots channels, and the responsiveness of different pillars of support to their mobilizations. Organizers of civil resistance cannot be content with empty declarations of victory or with merely “speaking truth to power.” They must be hard headed in assessing their progress in winning over advocates and sympathizers from outside their immediate networks, always guarding against tendencies to become insular “voices in the wilderness.” – p. 140

Practitioners of nonviolent conflict have regularly shown themselves willing to be intentionally divisive, making use of a complex yet critical phenomenon known as “polarization.” In doing this, they grapple with an undeniable tension: broad-based support is vital if campaigns of civil resistance are to prevail. And yet many of the tactics of nonviolent disruption tend to be unpopular. People prefer calm speech and reasoned dialogue to the ruckus of confrontational protest. In many cases, creating a galvanizing crisis around an issue involves inconveniencing members of the general public, potentially alienating the very people that advocates want to win over. Moreover, when a vocal minority speaks out, it can inspire its most ardent enemies to begin organizing in response. Notwithstanding these dangers, the experience of social movements—from the civil rights movement in the 1960s, to ACT UP in the 1980s and 1990s, to the immigrant rights movement in the new millennium—shows that polarization can also be a powerful friend. By taking an issue that is hidden from common view and putting it at the center of public debate, disruptive protest forces observers to decide which side they are on. This has three effects: First, it builds the base of a movement by creating an opportunity for large numbers of latent sympathizers to become dedicated activists. Second, even as it turns passive supporters into active ones, it engages members of the public who were previously uninformed, creating greater awareness even among those who do not care for activists’ confrontational approach. And third, it agitates the most extreme elements of the opposition, fueling a short-term backlash but isolating reactionaries from the public in the long run. – p. 199

With the passage of time, successful movements are often celebrated as heroic and noble. But, while they are still active, their tactics are never beloved by all. Accepting that reality is part of using conflict and disruption as tools for change. – p. 224

The need for disruptive movements to reignite on a persistent basis raises the question of how even very committed people can sustain their efforts over the course of decades and generations. One way to do this is to build communities that reach beyond the realm of traditional political struggle. Although the building of alternative communities and institutions can be a potent force in social movements, it can also present challenges. Activists have long debated the question: Should we fight the system or “be the change we wish to see”? Should we push for transformation within existing societal structures, or should we model in our own lives a different set of social and political relationships that might someday form the basis of a new society? Going back centuries, different movements have incorporated elements of each approach, sometimes in harmonious ways and other times in ways that create conflicts between groups. – p. 271

Recommended booksNobody by Marc Lamont Hill, The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, Do It Anyway by Courtney E. Martin, A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn, and Becoming a Citizen Activist by Nick Licata
Rating: *****


Podcasts of the Week Ending February 17

A bumper crop of erudition for your ears this week.

The Memory Palace :: Hercules

With Washington’s Birthday coming up, a reminder that our first President held people in bondage because he enjoyed what their labor provided without having to pay for them.  The story of Hercules, a talented chef, who successfully escaped slavery.

Smithsonian Sidedoor :: Killer Viruses and One Man’s Mission to Stop Them

The story of the 1918 Influenza Pandemic and the efforts of Dr. Maurice Hilleman to create vaccines to prevent later outbreaks.

The Nation Start Making Sense :: Elizabeth Warren on Monopoly Power

Elizabeth Warren wants to make fighting monopolies part of the Democrats agenda again. Also, the truth behind Warren Buffett, and white working class Trump voter.

The Truth :: Nuclear Winter

 A spooky story set in an outdated nuclear missile silo.  Don’t worry, it’s fictional!

Afropop Worldwide :: Africa and the Blues

A fascinating look into musicologist Gerhard Kubik’s research into the traits of blues music that connect with the music of different regions of Africa.  Read more here:

StoryCorps :: In the Neighborhood

The story of the multi-talented François Clemmons, most famous for playing Officer Clemmons on Mister Rogers Neighborhood, his friendship with Fred Rogers, and their quietly bold statement for civil rights and equality.



Book Review: No Is Not Enough by Naomi Klein

Author: Naomi Klein
TitleNo Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need
Narrator: Brit Marling
Publication Info:  Blackstone Audio, Inc., 2017
Previously read by same author: The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism


Klein’s latest work is aptly summed up by it’s title, the necessity of doing more than just resting Trump but also creating a positive alternative for the future.  Although it was published last summer it feels like it sums up the Trump regime’s first year pretty thoroughly.  Klein elaborates on the conditions in the USA that made Trump’s election possible including: the shift in corporations from manufacturing products to downsizing resources and focusing on creating brand identities, the mainstream news media’s infotainment style of political coverage that focuses on the personality clash of candidates rather than issues, the rise of reality television competitions, and even the culture of professional wrestling.  The Democrats play a role in setting the stage for a Trump Presidency as well with their embrace of neoliberal ideology, their emphasis on wealthy celebrities  having the solutions to world problems, and development of philanthropic organizations enmeshed with access to political leaders, all of which have been reflected in the dark mirror of Trump.

Klein then revisits her earlier book The Shock Doctrine, focusing on how it played out in Pinochet’s Chile, the war in Iraq, and in post-Katrina New Orleans.  Many of the actors involved in the catastrophic decisions in Chile, Iraq, and New Orleans are now major players in the Trump administration, and seem poised to exploit a disaster (natural, financial, or terrorist) to bring the shock doctrine to widespread application in the United States.

Klein revisits the coalition of activists who had success opposing the WTO and economic globalization in the 1990s, but organizational problems lead to its collapse after the September 11th attacks.  Learning lessons from the previous generation of activists, Klein and others have created the Leap Manifesto in Canada as a model for activist coalitions around broad goals of economic equality and stopping/slowing climate change.

Klein’s book seems like a quick summary of other books and ideas put together in one volume, but it’s well-organized and pointed toward the situation we are dealing with today.

Favorite Passages:

“All this work is born on the knowledge that saying no to bad ideas and bad actors is simply not enough.  The firmest of no’s has to be accompanied by a bold and forward-looking yest – a plane for the future that is credible and captivating enough that a great many people will fight to see it realized, no matter the shocks and scare tactics thrown their way.  No – to Trump, to France’s Marine Le Pen, to any number of xenophobic and hypernationallist parties on the rise the world over – may what initially brings millions to the streets.  But it is yes that will keep us in the fight.

Yes is the beacon in the coming storm that will prevent us from losing our way.”

“In this sense, there is an important way in which Trump is not shocking.  He is entirely predictable, indeed cliched outcome of ubiquitous ideas and trends that should have been stopped long ago.  Which is why, even in this nightmarish world, will remain to be confronted. With US vice president Mike Pence or House speaker Paul Ryan waiting in the wings, and a Democratic Party establishment also enmeshed with the billionaire class, the world we need won’t be won just by replacing the current occupant of the Oval Office.”

“[Hillary Clinton’s] failure was not one of messaging but of track record. Specifically, it was the stupid economics of neoliberalism, fully embraced by her, her husband and her party’s establishment that left Clinton without a credible offer to make to those white workers who had voted for Obama (twice) and decided this time to vote Trump”

“Trump’s assertion that he knows how to fix America because he’s rich is nothing more than the uncouth, vulgar echo of a dangerous idea we have been hearing for years; that Bill Gates can fix Africa. Or that Richard Branson and Michael Bloomberg can solve climate change”

“But crises, as we have seen, do not always cause societies to regress and give up.  There is also a second option – that, faced with a grave common threat, we can choose to come together and make an evolutionary leap.  We can choose, as the Reverend William Barber puts it, “to be the moral defibrillators of our time and shock the heart of the nation and build a movement of resistance and hope and justice and love.” We can, in other world, surprise the hell out of ourselves – be being united, focused, and determined.  By refusing to fall for those tired old shock tactics.  By refusing to be afraid, no matter how much we are tested.”

Recommended booksNobody by Marc Lamont Hill, Listen Liberal —or— What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? by Thomas Frank
Rating: ***1/2

Vote November 7th: Tito Jackson for Mayor of Boston

Hello Boston residents!  There is a municipal election next Tuesday, November 7th.  Please commit yourself to voting on Tuesday and encourage your family, friends, and colleagues to vote as well.  You can find your polling location online at  You will be voting for Mayor of Boston and City Council.

Learn more about the candidates and their issues:

I’d like to encourage you to vote for Tito Jackson for Mayor of Boston.  Tito is a lifelong resident of Boston’s Grove Hall neighborhood and since 2011 he has served on the City Council as the representative of District 7 (all of Roxbury, parts of the South End, Dorchester, and Fenway neighborhoods).  I’ve come to know him in recent years primarily through being active with Boston Public School parents and students to defend against three consecutive years of severe budget cuts from the Walsh administration and the threats of corporate education reform organizations, and advance a just and equitable model of public education.  As Chair of the Boston City Council’s Committee on Education, Tito frequently meets and works with parents and students of Boston Public Schools.  He recognizes the good work that BPS teachers and students are already doing, at a time when it is fashionable to attack public education as failing.  He understands that schools will get better only if every school and every student receive equitable resources and we address problems due to poverty, inequality, and physical and mental health.

As you might imagine, education is one of the key issues on Tito’s platform.  But he is also very concerned with housing.  If you’ve tried to rent or buy a home in Boston in the past couple of decades you know it’s an extremely competitive housing market where an increasing demand for a static supply of housing stock has forced rents and mortgages through the roof.  Members of Boston’s working and middle classes are finding it increasingly difficult to afford to live in the city.  And when new housing is built, developers inevitably target it to high-end buyers.  Tito is committed to making housing economically viable for all by increasing the number of truly affordable housing units.

Of course it’s easy to make promise that look great on a webpage, but there’s something about Tito that sets him apart from other candidates: he is truly a representative of the people who listens to them and works to resolve their problems.  A couple of years ago, Boston was selected as a candidate to host the 2024 Summer Olympic Games.  I had mixed feelings on the issue myself.  On the one hand I enjoy the Olympics and it would be a treat to have it in our great city, but on the other hand I know that the cost of the Olympics can be economically devastating to the host city.  Although the supporters of the bid promised that no public funding would be used for the Olympics, many citizens were concerned about the lack of transparency around the contents of the actual bid documents.  Tito was initially supportive of Boston 2024 but listened to the growing concern of his constituents and filed a subpoena forcing the Boston 2024 organizers to release the full, unredacted bid.  As feared, the bid put Boston on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars in public money, and that was before any inevitable cost overruns.  This is just one instance of Tito listening to his constituents, acting on their concerns, and working toward greater transparency and equity in Boston government.

Ok, so you may be saying to yourself, why change horses midstream?  Isn’t Marty Walsh nationally recognized as a progressive leader?  Doesn’t Walsh have box full of prominent endorsements?  How is Tito any different?

If that’s the case, here are five reasons why you should not vote for Marty Walsh:

  • Walsh has repeatedly put Boston on the hook for the costs of big monied interests coming to Boston, from the Olympics to Indycar, and General Electric to Amazon.  While bringing these megaevents and corporations to Boston may not be bad in themselves,Walsh’s complete lack of transparency in all of these negotiations is bad for the city, especially when Walsh doesn’t even read the fine print of what he’s committing the city to.
  • Walsh’s vision for Boston is one based on prioritizing single-occupancy motor vehicles, an autopian view that we have at least 70 years of evidence won’t work.  Walsh has openly stated that he’s a “car guy” and declared that pedestrians and bicyclists are responsible for their own deaths, “You have to understand, cars are going to hit you.”  He recently minimized problems with the MBTA that features daily delays and overcrowding on crumbling infrastructure, showing how out of touch he is with the average Boston commuter.  Walsh’s pro-car stance and indifference to public transit, bikes, and pedestrians doesn’t even take into the account the effects of climate change on a coastal city like Boston if we keep pumping pollutants into the air.
  • In one of the most heartbreaking incidents in Walsh’s term, he closed the city’s largest homeless shelter on Long Island in October 2014, just months before one of the most severe winters in recent memory.  Walsh was given the option of ferry service to Long Island to replace the unsafe bridge, but instead the homeless (many of them suffering from addiction) were distributed through the city.  Not coincidentally, the homeless encampment at Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard (a.k.a. Methadone Mile) has swelled in recent years.  The Walsh administration only attempts to address this is to put up a tent across the street to hide the homeless and addicted from view.  Meanwhile, a farm on Long Island once used by homeless Bostonians to raise food for themselves was given over by the city to a for-profit fast food chain.
  • Mayor Walsh has slashed the budget for Boston Public Schools every year since he came into office forcing schools to cut teachers, nurses, librarians, and important programs to make up the gaps.  The most recent budget cut support for students with autism by 21%.  Walsh is a major supporter, an effort to funnel public education money to privately run schools that have none of the accountability of public schools and frequently work to break teachers unions, ignoring the expertise of teachers and principals to follow untested education innovations proposed by corporate backers.  Walsh has introduced the Boston Compact, a dark-money funded effort to force all students enrolling in BPS to have to accept assignment at any school, whether a public school or private charter.  BPS students twice staged walkouts in protest of the Walsh administration’s education policy, but Walsh insulted these students and refused to meet with them to discuss their concerns.
  • For the predominately white, college-educated, professional class the Walsh years are boom times in Boston.  But Boston also has growing levels of inequality that place it among the worst cities for equality in the nation.  A recent report card on the Walsh administration from the NAACP gives the Walsh administration a D for equity, access, and opportunity.  In 2015, Walsh fired a City Hall employee who participated in a Black Lives Matter protest on her own time, yet did not fire a racist Boston police officer who posted a video stating the “Black people have met their match” and continues to let this officer to patrol in communities of color.  Rising rents and housing costs are forcing mass displacement of Boston’s working class and middle class communities, particularly the Black and Latin communities of the city.

The Walsh administration has failed again and again on these issues that are important to me: economic growth, transportation, public safety, homelessness and addiction, education, and rising inequality.  I guarantee you that Tito Jackson has solutions to try to address all of these problems, but most importantly he will listen to the people of Boston – all of the people of Boston – when he does so.  We need to move past the king mayor who haughtily dismisses the citizens of Boston while working with monied interests from outside the city, and elect the mayor of the people.  I believe Tito Jackson will best represent the people of Boston.


Tito Jackson for Mayor of Boston

If you’re reading this and live in the city of Boston, I implore you to vote in the City of Boston Preliminary Election on September 26th, 2017.  Preliminary elections are notorious for low turnout meaning a handful of people get to decide who will represent our city, and they usually don’t reflect the full range of ideology within the city.  There are four candidates running for mayor of Boston, and the two who receive the most votes will advance to the general election in November.  If you live in Districts 1, 2, 7, & 9, you will also have a preliminary election for City Council, again with the top two vote recipients advancing to November’s general election.  Please commit yourself to voting on Tuesday and encourage your family, friends, and colleagues to vote as well.  You can find your polling location online at

Okay, if I’ve convinced you to vote, you may be wondering who you should vote for.  I’d like to encourage you to vote for Tito Jackson for Mayor of Boston.  Tito is a lifelong resident of Boston’s Grove Hall neighborhood and since 2011 he has served on the City Council as the representative of District 7 (all of Roxbury, parts of the South End, Dorchester, and Fenway neighborhoods).  I’ve come to know him in recent years primarily through being active with Boston Public School parents and students to defend against three consecutive years of severe budget cuts from the Walsh administration and the threats of corporate education reform organizations, and advance a just and equitable model of public education.  As Chair of the Boston City Council’s Committee on Education, Tito frequently meets and works with parents and students of Boston Public Schools.  He recognizes the good work that BPS teachers and students are already doing, at a time when it is fashionable to attack public education as failing.  He understands that schools will get better only if every school and every student receive equitable resources and we address problems due to poverty, inequality, and physical and mental health.

As you might imagine, education is one of the key issues on Tito’s platform.  But he is also very concerned with housing.  If you’ve tried to rent or buy a home in Boston in the past couple of decades you know it’s an extremely competitive housing market where an increasing demand for a static supply of housing stock has forced rents and mortgages through the roof.  Members of Boston’s working and middle classes are finding it increasingly difficult to afford to live in the city.  And when new housing is built, developers inevitably target it to high-end buyers.  Tito is committed to making housing economically viable for all by increasing the number of truly affordable housing units.

Of course it’s easy to make promise that look great on a webpage, but there’s something about Tito that sets him apart from other candidates: he is truly a representative of the people who listens to them and works to resolve their problems.  A couple of years ago, Boston was selected as a candidate to host the 2024 Summer Olympic Games.  I had mixed feelings on the issue myself.  On the one hand I enjoy the Olympics and it would be a treat to have it in our great city, but on the other hand I know that the cost of the Olympics can be economically devastating to the host city.  Although the supporters of the bid promised that no public funding would be used for the Olympics, many citizens were concerned about the lack of transparency around the contents of the actual bid documents.  Tito was initially supportive of Boston 2024 but listened to the growing concern of his constituents and filed a subpoena forcing the Boston 2024 organizers to release the full, unredacted bid.  As feared, the bid put Boston on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars in public money, and that was before any inevitable cost overruns.  This is just one instance of Tito listening to his constituents, acting on their concerns, and working toward greater transparency and equity in Boston government.

If you’re still not convinced to vote for Tito, perhaps you just really like Marty Walsh and see no reason to change mayors, I’m going to ask you to still go ahead and vote for Tito Jackson in the preliminary election on Tuesday.  I honestly think that Marty Walsh will be a better mayor if he faces a strong challenge from Tito, and has to defend his past decisions and plans for the future, and learns to be a better leader by listening to what Tito and his supporters have to say.  If after six weeks of intense campaigning and debates, you’re still not convinced that Tito would make a better mayor, go ahead and vote for Walsh in November.  But I think the more that people get to see and hear Tito Jackson and how he is speaking for the everyday people of Boston, the more you’re going to want to vote for him.

Resistance Mixtape – Anti-Fascist Anthems

I’ve been meaning to make this a regular feature, and this is a good time to collect some songs written in opposition to fascists, white supremacists, and right-wing extremists of all stripes.  It seems that folk and punk are the favored genres of anti-fascism, but if you know a good ripping tune from some other genre to add to the fight, let me know in the comments.

Woody Guthrie – “All You Fascists Bound to Lose”

Peggy Seeger – “Song of Choice”

Fishbone – “Subliminal Fascism”

Anti Flag – “This Machine Kills Fascists”

MDC – “Born to Die”

Aus-Rotten – “Fuck Nazi Sympathy”

Sonic Youth – “Youth Against Fascism”

Rage Against the Machine – “Killing in the Name”

Podcasts of the Week (s) (July 22-August 11)

I’m way behind on posting anything to this blog.  Here are some podcasts from the past few weeks that are worth your while:

BackStory – Are We There Yet?: Americans On Vacation

An interesting history of how Americans made use of their leisure time in the past.  Oh and try not to get fumed about the idea that people who worked with their brains needed vacations while manual laborers did not, an idea still well ingrained in labor policy today.

Ben Franklin’s World – Rosemarie Zagarri, Mercy Otis Warren and the American Revolution

Mercy Otis Warren – writer and revolutionary activist – is a remarkable women of her time and someone you should know more about.

Decode DC – Should Historians Be Pundits?

Doing a better job of comparing our present political situation with the past, and finding what in the past brought about the political climate of the present.

LeVar Burton Reads“The Second Bakery Attack” by Haruki Murakami

I’m really enjoying this new podcast series, which is basically Reading Rainbow for grownups.  In addition to LeVar Burton’s great reading voice, the production values are really strong.  This was the story that introduced me to Murakami over 20 years ago, and coincidentally I first heard it read aloud on a radio program.

99% InvisibleWays of Hearing

This podcast introduces a new series exploring the changes in sound between analaog and digital audio.  As an added bonus, there’s an appearance by Red Sox announce Joe Castiglione.

Politically Re-Active – Is this what democracy looks like? Jake Tapper & Jessica Byrd give their take

I enjoyed learning about Jessica Byrd who helps underrepresented communities engage in the political process.

The Story Collider Epidemics: Stories of Medical Crises

The first story by Ken Haller is a particularly powerful reminiscence of his personal experience of the first signs of the AIDS epidemic.

Twenty Thousand Hertz – Sound Firsts

Some of the oldest surviving recordings provide a jaw-dropping window into the past.  Check out FirstSounds.Org for more.


Podcasts of the Week Ending July 14

Late, but still worth listening to.  There’s a lot of terrific material this week, although to be fair several of my recommendations are repackaging previously released content, so think of this as a greatest hits package of greatest hits!

Best of the Left – The inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men

Several stories debunk the myths of poverty and ask why economists don’t ask the right questions about poverty.

Have You Heard – ‘I Quit’ – Teachers Are Leaving and They Want to Tell You Why

The stress and inequity of teaching in defunded and underesourced public schools is causing teachers to quit teaching, but some of them are prominently telling the world why they’re leaving in hopes of bringing positive change for future teachers, students, and schools.

StoryCorpsBetween June and September

Stories of Coney Island from people who kept the fun in the sun destination alive during its lowest points in the early 1990s.

Politically Re-Active – Street Heat w/ Congresswoman Barbara Lee & Linda Sarsour

Interviews with two amazing progressive leaders, both women of color, and their work fighting for social, racial, and economic justice.  I seriously had no idea that Linda Sarsour was so very Brooklyn.

BackStorySkin Deep: Whiteness in America

Slavery and segregation not only meant discriminating against black people, but also defining what it means to be white.  Three stories detail how the idea of whiteness played out in different periods of American history.

Re:SoundThe Smash the Binary Show

Three stories of the experiences of transgender persons, as well as an exploration of the “feminine” qualities of straight cis men.  I was particularly touched by the story of “The Accidental Gay Parents.”




Podcasts of the Week Ending July 7

Podcast of the Week returns!  Here are five podcasts from the past week that I think are worth listening to.

The Memory Palace :: The Taking of Tom Sawyer Island

That time when the counterculture Yippies attempted a hostile takeover of the land.  Disneyland to be specific.  Except only about 200 of them showed and half of them were there for a goof. What a long strange monorail trip it’s been.

Smithsonian Sidedoor :: red, white, and brew

Home brewing is a big thing these days, among a stereotypical group of white men, but has a long history in the United States among women, enslaved people, and immigrants.

WBUR The Artery :: Stacks Of Books, But Short On Cash: New England’s Public Libraries Face Funding Troubles

Libraries are used to tightening the belt financially, but in these days of Federal and state cuts they are facing unprecedented struggles.

DecodeDC :: DC History 101, Swamps and Scandals Then and Now

The history of Washington, DC, built on an actual swamp, and how the development of the city reflects the views of the ruling parties over time.

ESPN 30 for 30Yankees Suck

Here’s a new podcast based on ESPN’s successful television sports documentaries.  This episode covers the history of the notorious Red Sox fan chant and how a bunch of hardcore punks made a profitable business out of selling t-shirts emblazoned “Yankees Suck!”  Brings back good memories of late 90s Red Sox games.


Book Review: Our revolution : a future to believe in by Bernard Sanders

Author: Bernard Sanders
TitleOur revolution : a future to believe in
Publication Info: New York : Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martin’s Press, 2016.

This memoir/political treatise starts with a short background of Sanders’ life and then a more detailed account of the 2016 election campaign. It’s still pretty remarkable how in a short time a little known Senator from a small state was able to bring together so many people and win 23 primary elections, get millions of votes in other primaries, and win nearly half of the elected delegates.  Although the 2016 election ended in the triumph of evil, there’s a lot of inspiration of reading this story of what can be done when bringing together a movement based on equality, progressive values, and social democracy.  The second part of the book diagnoses the political ills of America and what can be done to heal them.  It’s preaching to the choir for me, but a handy guide that I hope will be relied on in the coming years.

Recommended books:
Rating: ***1/2

#TryPod Day 9: Decode DC

All this month, I’ve heard about the campaign to spread the news of podcasts called TryPod.  As I am a voracious listener of podcasts (you can see the complete list of my current subscriptions and other recommendations on my podcast page), I figured I ought to participate while I can.  So I will post about one of my favorite podcasts every day for the last 9 days of March.

Decode DC is a different breed of political podcast, less focused on horse races and hot takes on breaking news, and more interested in delving into political culture, in depth behind the scenes stories, and the history that informs today’s politics.

#TryPod Day 7: Best of the Left

All this month, I’ve heard about the campaign to spread the news of podcasts called TryPod.  As I am a voracious listener of podcasts (you can see the complete list of my current subscriptions and other recommendations on my podcast page), I figured I ought to participate while I can.  So I will post about one of my favorite podcasts every day for the last 9 days of March.

Best of the Left is one of the more recent additions to my podcast subscriptions.  I think of this as kind of an audio Reader’s Digest collecting progressive political commentary from radio and tv programs and from other podcasts.  This is a podcast that requires a time commitment as episodes are usually around 90 minutes long and they’re released 3 times a week.  On the other hand, if you’re trying to keep up on political events and seeking a variety of opinions on the issues, this podcast can save you some time.  What I like about Best of the Left is that each episode is arranged around a theme – usually a current event – but in some cases a broader idea is explored such as in a recent on propaganda called Living in an Empire of Lies.

Book Review: Nobody by Marc Lamont Hill

Author: Marc Lamont Hill
TitleNobody: Casualties of America’s War on the Vulnerable, from Ferguson to Flint and Beyond
Publication Info: Atria Books (2016)

Hill’s book is a collection of essays focused on the people whose names have become party of a litany of violence against African-Americans in recent years: Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray, Trayvon Martin and others.  These people who have been made a Nobody in contemporary America are given their full human dignity in Hill’s account of their lives, as well as the incidents that brought their demise and their aftermath.  But Hill goes beyond the headlines and uses these incidents as a window into the greater societal and political trends that undergird them: “broken windows” policing, plea bargains denying people accused of crimes of their day in court and the incredible power this gives prosecutors, “Stand Your Ground” laws and the arming of America,  mass incarceration, and the neoliberal ideal of running the government “like a business” that leads to the exploitation and disasters of places like Flint, Michigan.  This is a powerful book and important book and one I highly recommend that everyone concerned about the future of our nation reads.
Favorite Passages:

“The case for broken-windows policing is compelling because it lightly dipped in truth.  Yet while there is a correlation between disorder (social and physical) and crime, research shows that this relationship is not causal.  Simply put, there is no evidence that disorder directly promotes crime.  What the evidence does suggest, however, is that the two are linked to the same larger problem: poverty.  High levels of unemployment, lack of social resources, and concentrated areas of low income are all root cause of both high crime and disorder.  As such, crime would be more effectively redressed by investing economically in neighborhoods rather than targeting them for heightened arrests.” – p. 44

“Unfortunately, since modern American society, as with all things in the current neoliberal moment, prioritize privatization and individualism, the very notion of the public has become disposable.  As the current criminal-justice process shows, no longer is there a collective interest in affirming the value of the public good, even rhetorically, through the processes of transparency, honesty, or fairness.  No longer is there a commitment to monitoring and evaluating public officials, in this case prosecutors, to certify that justice prevails.  Instead we have entered a moment in which all things public have been demonized withing out social imagination: public schools, public assistance, public transportation, public housing, public options, and public defenders.  In place of a rich democratic conception of “the public” is a market-driven logic that privileges economic efficiency and individual success over collective justice.” – p. 78-79

“There is plenty of reason to debate the central premise of privatization – that business always does it better – but we don’t have to go there to find this idea objectionable.  In the way that privatization separates government responsibilities from democratic accountability, the notion is flawed from its very conception.  Businesses are not made function for the public good.  The are made to function for the good of profit. There is nothing inherently evil in that.  In most cases, the profit motive will almost certainly lead to a more efficient and orderly execution of tasks.  But it does not necessarily lead to an equitable execution of tasks; indeed, it quite naturally resists and equitable execution of tasks. Furthermore, bu injecting moneymaking into the relationship between a citizen and the basic services of life – water, roads, electricity, and education – privatization distorts the social contract.  People need to know that the decisions of governments are being made with the common good as a priority.  Anything else is not government; it is commerce.  One only needs to look back at Michigan to see this idea manifested because the crisis in Flint, as Henry Giroux has written, is what happens when the State is ‘remade in the image of the corporation.'”


Recommended books: Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander, and Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

Rating: ****1/2

Book Review: The Cost of Rights: Why Liberty Depends on Taxes by Stephen Holmes and Cass R. Sunstein

Author:Stephen Holmes and  Cass R. Sunstein
TitleThe Cost of Rights: Why Liberty Depends on Taxes
Publication Info: W. W. Norton & Company (2000), Paperback, 256 pages

This is a book that I thought was a response to the widespread idea in the contemporary United States that taxation is a bad thing that restricts liberty.  While it is in some ways that book, it comes at from a different angle presenting the legal and philosophical case that rights actually have a fiscal cost, and therefore taxes are necessary to protect them.  The book is a bit challenging as it has some legalese, but overall the authors do a good job of defining the issues and presenting their case for taxation.
Favorite Passages:

“American liberalism, like its counterparts elsewhere in the world is based on the reasonable premise that public investment is richly repaid, not least of all because reliably enforced property rights help increase social wealth and therefore, among other benefits, swell the tax base upon which government can draw to protect other kinds of rights.  But the strategic wisdom of an initial investment does not undo the fact that it is an investment.”

“Many political conservatives, but not they alone, urge government to ‘get out of the marketplace.’ For their part, some liberals counter that government quite legitimately interferes, or ‘steps into,’ the market wherever disadvantaged Americans are at risk.  But this familiar debate is built on sand.  No sharp line can be drawn between markets and government: the two entities have no existence detached from one another.  Markets do no create prosperity beyond the ‘protective perimeter’ of the law, they function well only with reliable legislative and judicial assistance.”

“Individual freedom, however defined, cannot mean freedom from all forms of dependency.  No human actor can single-handedly create all the preconditions for his own action.  A free citizen is especially dependent… Liberty, rightly conceived, does not require a lack of dependence on government; on the contrary, affirmative government provides the preconditions for liberty.  The Bill of Rights is a do-it-yourself kit that citizens can obtain only at tax-payer-funded outlets.”

“The most common and persuasive criticism of the regulatory-welfare state concerns incentives to antisocial behavior and other undesirable side effects. But ‘dependency’ in and of itself should not be considered one of them.  There are different kinds of dependency, and not all of them are bad.  Although police and fire protection definitely make citizens dependent on ‘public assistance,’ such paternalistic support also increase the willingness of private individuals to embellish and add to their holdings.  Publicly funded education, when operating well, has the same effect.  It, too, is a form of state help designed to foster self-help.  The question is not how to eliminate state intervention, but how to design welfare programs to enhance autonomy and initiative.”

Rating: ***

Book Review: Becoming a Citizen Activist by Nick Licata

AuthorNick Licata
TitleBecoming a Citizen Activist
Publication Info: Seattle, WA : Sasquatch Books, [2016]
Summary/Review:  A Seattle city councilor provides ideas, strategies, and practical advice for how any citizen can effect positive political change in their communities. It includes tips on how to deal with elected officials as well as demonstrating a cause to the public at large.  I read a library copy, but this is such a practical manual it would be handy to have my own copy to refer to.
Favorite Passages:

“Politicians often know what the right thing to do is, but unless there is an organized constituency to put pressure on other public official, they may feel they don’t have enough support to get legislation passed.  The role of a citizen activist is to coax politicians to have the courage to pursue their own beliefs.” – p. 20

“Citizens often find that the biggest obstacle to change is government inertia.  It is difficult to wrestle with, because its reluctance is couched in soft general terms and processes.  But government hesitation will often melt away if opposing parties agree to a common course of action.  This is why it is important to talk to your opponents.  You need to think of how to work with them to overcome a common antagonist; often it is an unresponsive government.” – p. 31

“The lesson for all activists is that you need to have a dual-prong approach to changing the political landscape: being in the streets protesting arouses the public, but afterward quiet organized efforts are needed to get your supporters elected to office so that they can actually change the laws.”

Rating: ****

My Vote For President (and some more important things)

I know everyone has been waiting to see the official 2016 Presidential endorsement of a minor blogger with 289 followers, and here it is!  Actually, I think endorsements are mostly bunk and it drives me crazy how the media constantly speculates over who will endorse who and how many votes an endorsement will gain when I believe endorsements have very little sway in electoral outcomes.  That being said I thought it would make an interesting exercise just to lay out my thought process on voting in November.  And if like-minded individuals stumble upon this post, I believe it may help them too.

So, this November 8th, I will be casting my vote for President for Jill Stein of the Green Party.

I can hear some of you already crying out that a vote for Stein is a vote for Donald Trump.  But you ignore that United States President is elected by the Electoral College.  I live in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts which is perhaps the most Clintonian state in the union.  Even if every Massachusetts citizen voted their conscience, Hillary Clinton is genuinely preferred by most of the voters and would win the state by a comfortable margin.  All of Massachusetts’ 11 electoral will go to Clinton no matter regardless of my vote.  This is true in the majority of the states and the District of Columbia.  If you live in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, Ohio,  Pennsylvania, and Virginia, and want to stop Trump, by all means please vote for Clinton even if you don’t like her! If you live anywhere else you can safely vote your conscience for any candidate of you choice (although if your conscience tells you to vote for Trump, you should reexamine your conscience).

Why then, you may ask, will I be voting for Stein and encouraging others to consider to do so?  Here are four reasons:

  1. I think Stein would make a good President – Voting for a candidate one actually likes is such a strange idea in American politics, but I believe that the more people who do so the more likely we’d end up with public servants who best represent our nation’s hopes and dreams.  Too many people chose instead vote for a candidate that they think will win (because they like to be on the side of winners) or the lesser of two evils (because they want to stop the most reprehensible candidate without considering that they are still electing evil).  No candidate is 100% perfect, but I’ve been following Jill Stein’s career since she ran for governor of Massachusetts in 2002 and appreciate her efforts.  Her background is as a medical doctor and as an activist she’s had success in advancing environmental and electoral campaign reform issues.  The issues that she puts in the forefront of her platform include those that are near and dear to my heart including poverty-reduction, public education, racial justice, environmental protection, greater equality for all, public transportation, and a foreign policy based on diplomacy rather than militarism.
  2. I believe we need more than two political parties – The Democratic and Republican parties do not come close to representing the full-spectrum of political thought in our country.  I think there needs to be many more viable parties in national, state, and local politics to both encourage greater participation in our democracy and better representation in governments.  A criticism I’ve seen lately is that third parties run “vanity candidates” for President and if they really want to make a change they should start the party at the local level and work up.  I’ve been frustrated that many elections in Massachusetts – from mayor to Congress – feature Democrats running opposed and wish that there were Green Party challengers, but ultimately this criticism misses out on a few points.  First of all, local elections get very little media attention to start with, and third-party candidates virtually nil.  Running  a presidential candidate who can’t win has an air of vanity to it, but it’s also an advertisement that makes people aware that the party even exists.  It’s akin to the fashion designer who makes a complex get up for a model to wear down a runway in order to get people to buy their off-the-rack clothing.  Secondly, many states require parties to win a certain percentage of votes in an election in order to earn and retain access to appearing on official ballots and to get matching funds from the government.  Running a Presidential candidate is a way that third parties can keep their party alive for the next local election.  It’s a screwed-up system, but for the time being, a necessary one.
  3. It can send a message to Hillary Clinton, and make her a better President – Over the course of her long public career as First Lady/”Co-President,” Senator, and Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton has repeatedly advocated for policies that have hurt the most vulnerable in our nation and abroad.  This includes supporting unnecessary wars for “regime change,” dismantling social safety nets, increasing mass incarceration, privatizing public schools, deregulating the financial industry, and trade deals that allow international corporations freedoms from United States laws and regulations.  For these reasons I cannot vote for Clinton.  The primary election against Bernie Sanders helped push Clinton to abandon some of her older policies and adopt more progressive policies, but I fear that once she is President she may resume her old ways.  If Jill Stein wins 5-10% of the vote in a Clinton stronghold like Massachusetts that will be a sign to Clinton that the status quo is not acceptable and she will need to govern from a more progressive position.
  4. The Presidency is overrated – I expect this may be my most controversial position, but the power of the President is not as great as everyone thinks.  I frequently see charts showing how the country prospered during certain Presidencies and faltered during others as evidence of a particular President’s greatness or weakness.  But these charts treat the Presidency as if it is in a vacuum, ignoring all the other factors that affect the well-being of our country, including Congress and the Supreme Court, state and local governments, business, the actions of the citizenry, and foreign affairs.  While the Presidential election gets up to two years of coverage, and Presidents and candidates have constant media attention, it is dangerous to overlook the other elections for Congress, state and local governments, and ballot initiatives.  The low participation in these elections have moved our governments away from being representative of our communities, and right-wing corporatism organizations like ALEC have taken advantage of this to elect politicians friendly to their interests and pass legislation authored by ALEC.  We need full participation in our politics at every level to counteract this and give power to the people where it belongs.

So I implore everyone reading this to the following things:

  • Verify that you are registered to vote and if not find out the requirements and deadlines, and register ASAP!
  • Find out what will be on your ballot and research every candidate and ballot initiative.
  • Be aware that there may be primary or preliminary elections.  Make sure to vote in these too!
  • Contribute to your favorite candidates by volunteering, donating, or even just talking about them with your friends.
  • Keep voting in every election your eligible, not just in Presidential election years.  Be aware that not all election days are in November.
  • Keep in regular contact with your elected officials – mail, email, phone, in person – and remind them where you stand on the issues you care about most.
  • Make sure that even politicians you like know when you think they are wrong.  Don’t accept the idea that these are “attacks” that “hurt” the good politicians.  Dissent is necessary for healthy government.
  • Remember that electoral politics are just a portion of what makes our democracy work.  Most of the great advancements in US history came when people who cared got together to make a change.  Commit to being active in your community to whatever level you are able.

Book Review: Feminism is for everybody : passionate politics by bell hooks

Authorbell hooks
TitleFeminism is for everybody : passionate politics
Publication Info: Cambridge, MA : South End Press, c2000.
Previously read by the same author:  All About Love: New Visions

This book is a short primer on feminism that bell hooks always wanted but had to write it since it didn’t exist.  hooks lays down the basic concepts and theory on feminism and how it intersects with race, class, and lesbianism, among other things. It’s a book that at times is also very critical of some ways in which feminism is practiced. hooks makes an interesting distinction between feminism that seeks to advance individual women in careers, education, and politics without challenging the system within which they exist – what hooks defines as “reform feminism” and notes is beneficial mostly to privileged white women – and a “revolutionary feminism” which seeks to overturn patriarchal systems and create feminist alternatives.  It’s also a personal book as hooks recalls her own feminist journey from the earliest consciousness raising through various conflicts.  It’s a great introduction to feminism if you’re interested in learning more about the theory and practice, especially since feminism is all too often defined by its opponents.

Favorite Passages:

From the outset, reformist white women with class privilege were well aware that the power and freedom they wanted was the freedom they perceived men of their class enjoying.  Their resistance to patriarchal male domination in the domestic household provided them with a connection they could use to unite across class with other women who were weary of male domination.  But only privileged women had the luxury to imagine working outside the home would actually provide them with an income which would entitle them to be economically self-sufficient.  Working-class women already knew the wages the received would not liberate them. – p. 38

While visionary feminist thinkers have understood our need for a broad-based feminist movement, one that addresses the needs of girls and boys, women and men, across class, we have not produced a body of visionary feminist theory written in an accessible language or shared through oral communication.  Today in academic circles much of the most celebrated feminist theory is written in a sophisticated jargon that only the well-educated can read.  Most people in our society do not have a basic understanding of feminism; they cannot acquire that understanding from a wealth of diverse material, grade school-level primers, and so on, because this material does not exist. We must create it if we are to rebuild feminist movement that is truly for everyone.

Feminist advocates have not organized resources to ensure that we have television stations or consistent spots on existing stations.  There is no feminist news hour on any television or radio show.  One of the difficulties we faced spreading the word about feminism is that anything having to do with the female gender is seen as covering feminist ground even if it does not contain a feminist perspective.  We do have radio shows and a few television shows that highlight gender issues, but that is not that same as highlighting feminism.  Ironically one of the achievements of contemporary feminism is that everyone is more open to discussing gender and the concerns of women, but again, not necessarily from a feminist perspective. – p. 112

Rating: ****

5 Favors I Ask of Clinton Supporters Should Clinton Be Elected President

The Democratic Party has determined that Hillary Clinton will be their presidential candidate and many people I know and love are celebrating the fact.  Personally, Clinton’s record of supporting neoliberal ideology and a hawkish militarism make fear she would not be a good President, and I’m anxious that her unpopularity nationwide will mean she will lose the election.  But, I could be wrong. In fact, I hope I am wrong!  Perhaps Clinton will win election and become a brilliant, transformational President or at least hold the line against attacks on our people by an increasingly extreme right wing.  But I don’t think this is going to happen if Clinton is left to her own devices.

So here are five favors cordially ask Clinton supporters to do should Clinton be elected President.

1. Hold Clinton’s Feet to the Fire – I’ve noticed a pattern over the past 24 years. First, the Democrats with Clinton, then Republicans with Bush, and then Democrats again with Obama would speak of the President reverently and would object to any criticism of their President.  They hold the idea that we the people should always stand behind the President, and thus turn a blind eye to things their President would do that they would object to if anyone else did it.  I disagree with this notion.  I believe that one can admire their President and support most of what they do, but still be highly critical when the President does something they disagree with.  In fact, democracy functions better when the people make their voices heard.  So if Clinton switches her support back in favor of TPP, let her know that’s not acceptable.  If you think fracking is bad for the environment and surrounding communities, let Clinton know that she should advocate for cleaner, renewable energy sources.  If there’s pressure to go to war in Iran, Syria, or even Russia, let Clinton know that diplomacy and cooperation are always preferable to unnecessary war.

You will not be betraying Clinton, you will be helping her to be a better President.

2. The Campaign Does Not End in November – the triangulation strategy created by the Democratic Leadership Council in the 1990s has been successful in that 5 of the 6 the popular vote in Presidential elections has gone to Democratic candidates.  But this strategy concedes far too much to neoliberal interests while abandoning the traditional New Deal values of the Democratic Party. As a result of turning away from the working people and ceding populism to the Republicans, the Democrats have been considerably less successful in non-Presidential elections.  The Democrats ruled Congress for 60 years, but it’s been largely under Republican control since 1994.  In 1990 the Democrats controlled 30 state legislatures, but today have only 11. There were 30 Democratic governors in 1992, but today that number has been whittled down to only 18.

I’m of the belief that Congressional, state, and local politics are actually more important than who is President in the many issues that affect the every day lives of the American people.  Someone who shares that belief is the right wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) who’ve been very successful in getting candidates elected in state and local elections who will represent their interests and enact their model legislation.  So please, for the love of God, if there’s an election, or a primary election, or a referendum, get out their and vote.  And vote for progressive candidates who share your values. And campaign for them so others will know who they are and what they stand for.  And if you’re one of those people who likes what Bernie Sanders has to say but thought it to risky to run him as President, then get your feet wet by voting for a progressive Democratic challenger to an incumbent in a local election, or even a Green Party or other independent candidate.  We need to make sure that at every level candidates who are representing the will of the people, not the will of ALEC, are getting elected.

3. Fight for Electoral Reform – With that said, it’s hard to get a sense of who are the true representatives of the people when the system is rigged.  Your voice needs to be heard to insure that every American citizen has a vote that counts.  Many Americans – especially black and brown people – have had their right to vote stripped due to mass incarceration, even for minor crimes.  Their vote should be restored and no one should be disenfranchised in the future. As we have seen this primary season, the primary elections are jumble of dysfunctional systems and rules that are confusing and often suppress the vote.  Each state should instead have primary elections – not caucuses – open to all voters.  Superdelegates and winner-take-all elections should be discarded, and delegates awarded proportionately based on popular votes (or do away with delegates entirely and let the popular vote speak for itself).  No one should arrive at the polls to find they’ve been purged from the voter roll. In fact, all citizens aged 18 and up should be automatically registered and able to show proof of residence if their address has changed on the day of the election.  Elections should take place over several consecutive days (including at least one weekend day) as well as early voting to allow every citizen the opportunity to vote.  And the Electoral College that denied Al Gore the Presidency in 2000 should be abolished, allowing the will of the entire country to decide the election, not just a handful of swing states.

4. Recognize That Elections are Just a Small Part of Our Role in Government – Electoral politics are big news, but there’s a lot more to government in a democracy than one team winning and the other going home.  That’s why I’ve found it so refreshing that Bernie Sanders is continuing his campaign to the Democratic convention.  I’m less committed to Sanders as an individual than to the idea of issues of inequality getting the attention and support they deserve.  Hopefully, the Democratic Party will invites progressives and independents into the convention and make these issues a part of the platform going forward.  But either way, American citizens will have to advocate for many important causes that aren’t going to get attention in Congress or state capitols otherwise.  The issues are many: Black Lives Matter, ending mass incarceration, fighting poverty, LGBT equality, environment and climate change, disabled peoples’ rights, affordable housing, equitable public education, and reducing the influence of billionaires, corporations, and Wall Street on American government.  Read up on the issues. Adopt an issue or more important to you and get involved, even if you can only spare a little bit of time.

5. Listen – My biggest frustration with the primary campaign is that far too many Clinton supporters were dismissive and condescending to Sanders supporters and the issues they cared about.  In the context of a heated campaign that may make sense, but going forward I think it’s important to listen to what people are saying even when you disagree with them.  And I don’t mean this selfishly “LISTEN TO ME!”, you can blow me off if you want to. But listen to the people of America who may be less privileged to you.  Listen to poor and the people of color and the immigrants.  Listen to this suffering from mass incarceration, the dismantling of welfare systems, and from the wars in the Middle East.  Listen to students in urban schools and union workers in manufacturing jobs. Listen to day laborers and refugees from Syria.  And when you do speak, try to amplify what they’re saying.

I thank you in advance.

5 Reasons Why Sanders Campaigning to the Convention is Good for the Democrats

If you listen to the popular news media and supporters of Hillary Clinton, the contest for the 2016 Democratic Party presidential nomination is over and Secretary Clinton won.  But contender Bernie Sanders has vowed to continue his campaign until the Democratic National Convention in July, and even has a path to winning the pledged delegates.  I personally think this is a good thing, mainly because I believe Senator Sanders is not only the best candidate in this year’s election, but the best major party candidate for President in my entire life.  But if you are a dyed-in-the-wool Hillary Clinton acolyte you may feel differently.  Yet, I believe Senator Sanders campaign is ultimately good for the Democratic Party and should continue as long as possible.

Here are five reasons why:

  1.  The Republican Party is down to just one candidate, the odious Donald J. Trump.  While I expect that the mainstream media will continue to give an inordinate amount of coverage to Trump, if they’re looking for fresh election events to cover it’s going to be the campaign events, debates, and elections on the Democratic side.  The Democratic campaign has already shown that politics can be civil and issue-oriented, not only compared with this year’s Republican circus, but also with past Democratic primaries.  And the issues they’re discussing are important left-wing social and economic matters.  Having two months where the top political news story is two candidates courteously focused on substantial progressive issues can only be a good thing for the Democrats leading up to their convention and beyond.
  2.  Speaking of left-wing social and economic issues, Secretary Clinton has a history over the course of her public career of being on the wrong side (or more accurately, the right-wing side). This ranges from her hawkish support of disastrous military engagements in Iraq, Libya, et al to her cozy relationship with Wall Street financial firms and big business that has informed her support of financial deregulation and job killing trade agreements.  Competing with Senator Sanders has already forced Secretary Clinton to move left on various issues ranging from the Trans-Pacific Partnership to the $15 minimum wage.  If Clinton goes head to head with Trump, the temptation will be to tack right on issues such as immigration and defense against terrorism, while abandoning left-wing issues.  A couple more months of dealing with left issues should make Clinton more appealing as a candidate to progressive Democrats and independents as well as making sure she will remain committed to these causes should she become President.
  3. The process of primary elections is not all that Democratic.  Caucuses require massive time commitments and primaries are often closed to party outsiders and/or require registration at a date ridiculously in advanced.  This election cycle has also seen travesties such as massive purges of voting rolls, limited numbers of polling stations opened, and lengthy lines at polling stations that are open.  Pretty much every primary season is weighted toward the states that participate earlier in the process meaning that primaries held in May and June are generally not contested.  This year the Democrats can continue campaigning and holding elections meaning that people in populous areas like California, New Jersey, Oregon, and Puerto Rico can participate in voting, many for the first time in a primary.  Isn’t that one tiny step toward a more inclusive democracy a good thing?  At the very least it will mean that voters in these states will be registered – as Democrats – and on the rolls for the general election in November.
  4. Of course, it’s also important to note that despite everything you may have heard Bernie Sanders is still very much in this race.  As of May 9, the pledged delegate count is Clinton 1706 – Sanders 1419, a difference of 287 pledged delegates with 926 pledged delegates to be decided (this does not include unpledged “superdelegates” who do not vote until the convention.  And Senator Sanders is polling very well in many of the populous states left to vote, including America’s most populous state, California.  Don’t we owe it to our country to let the democratic process play out in such a close race?
  5.  Finally, a contested convention may be good for the Democratic Party’s soul. There is a great divide between the establishment party members who follow the triangulation approach of the Democratic Leadership Council (co-founded by former President Bill Clinton) who have abandoned traditional popular labor and economic issues, and the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, not to mention the growing number of left-wing people unaffiliated with either party.  The temptation is to sweep every thing under the rug and turn the convention into a rally for Hillary Clinton (while supporters of Senator Sanders and those who are like-minded are locked out of the convention hall).  But just perhaps it would be a good occasion to hash out all these differences in July, rather than having them come back to bite the Democrats in the butt in the general election and beyond. It could be the opportunity to create a new triangle for the Democratic Party with the DLC old guard only one point while the others represent the Democrats’ progressive wing, and the Independent leftists who could be drawn into the party (or at the very least, convinced to vote Democrat when it counts).

Podcast of the Week: “The Supreme Court’s Loaded Gun” by Decode DC

The topic of this week’s Decode DC is the worst decision ever made by the United States Supreme Court.  Korematsu v. United States validated interning Japanese-Americans during World War II, and has never been overturned.  With the idea of surveillance and internment of Islamic-Americans under discussion in the 2016 election, a lot of people are asking if this Supreme Court decision could allow it to happen again.  The discussion here is alternately chilling and reassuring.