FLOTSAM & JETSAM

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Why cross cultural coalitions are important

Sam Smith My suggestion that blacks, latinos and labor come together to form a national coalition hasn’t received a lot of enthusiasm. It doesn’t surprise me because we live in a time of atomized activism, unlike the 1960s and 1970s when there was far greater focus on the issues rather than the cultural identity of those supporting them. To even suggest that blacks, latinos and labor could effectively merge their efforts seems odd, but to this Alinsky-inspired activist it still seems not only possible but highly desirable.

Part of the trick is to concentrate on what you have in common with others, not what divides or separates you. Below is a report of a conference I helped organized 20 years ago that did just that and the surprising results that occurred.
Sam Smith - In 1995, as an active member of the Green Politics Network, I joined a number of other Greens in hosting a conference of third party activists. Over a hundred showed up, ranging from one of the founders of the ancient American Labor Party to Greens, Libertarians, Perot backers, and Democratic Socialists of America. It was a recklessly dangerous idea for a Washington weekend, but Green activists John Rensenbrink, Linda Martin and Tony Affigne seemed to know what they were doing and I was happy to go along.

We established two basic rules:

- We would only discuss issues on which we might find some agreement.

- We would reach that agreement by consensus.

We broke the body into tables of ten or so, each dealing with a different topic. All policies that were proposed were written on newsprint posters. Then participants were given three color stick-on dots with their names on them. Everyone then went up to the board and placed their dots on their favorite issues (cumulative voting style, so that all three dots could, if desired, be placed on one issue). After the vote, those with only their dots on a particular issue were allowed to move them to their second choice (a la instant run-off voting) and so forth until a clear consensus of three issues emerged. This scheme not only produced a consensus, but one that was physical and visual as well as intellectual and fun to watch.

When the various groups produced their recommendations, they were turned over to what was known as a "fishbowl negotiation." Each small group selected a representative to negotiate for it with representatives of all the other tables. The representatives sat in a circle with those they represented behind them. Anyone could stop their representative and request a small group conference but only the representative could speak in the larger assembly. It worked remarkably well.

The small group that had the most difficulty with such techniques was comprised mainly of Marxists who had selected economics as their area of concern. We were, one suggested, guilty of what the Master had called "parliamentary cretinism," and the socialists resisted it firmly. One result, ironically, was that the weakest section of the final statement was that dealing with economics. On the other hand, the libertarians came to the organizers at one point and offered to leave the meeting so a full consensus could be maintained. We encouraged them to stick around, changing our own rules to accept several levels of consensus.

Despite the wide range of views present, despite the near total absence of Robert's Rules of Order, the final document, with full consensus, called for nothing less than a major transformation. The group unanimously agreed to support proportional representation, campaign finance reform "to provide a level playing field in elections;" initiative, referendum and recall; better ballot access; the end of corporate welfare; strong environmental policies; sexual and reproductive freedom; an end to the war on drugs and treatment of addiction as a health matter rather than as a crime; a dramatic cut in military expenditures; workplace democracy and the maximum empowerment of people in their communities "consistent with fairness, social responsibilities and human rights."

Not bad for a group ranging from one of the founders of the ancient American Labor Party to Greens, Libertarians, Perot backers and Democratic Socialists of America. It shouldn't have worked at all, but because the rules we had used felt fair to those present, it did. By ignoring topics of obvious disagreement, we even surprised ourselves with the level of consensus.

We had also discovered the possibility of a political transformation, of moving beyond left and right. We understood that these were different times -- not the thirties, not the sixties -- times that required different imaginations and different risks. We had reached out and had found that we were not alone.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Learning to laugh in Maine

Sam Smith

Long before Bert & I, I started collecting Maine humor during my summer visits. One of my sources as a boy was Walter Stowe for whom I worked on various projects.

Mr. Stowe appreciated having someone to instruct and demonstrate his immunity to poison ivy by chewing on some its leaves. He had a stock of sayings of which he never tired. He could recite a blasphemous version of the Lord's Prayer at breakneck speed and when you asked him how much something cost, he always replied, "25 cents, two bits, two dimes and a nickel, one quartah of a dollah." When you picked up your end of a plank, the instructions also never varied: "Head her southeast!" When you said goodbye he said, "Keep her under 60 on the curves." And he offered this assessment of a suddenly departed brother-in-law: "That fella never was any good. Now he's upped and died right in the middle of hay season."

On the other hand, his assessment of Clyde Johnson was more favorable: "He's the only man who can shingle a barn, tell a dirty story and smoke a pipe all at the same time."
When he needed to stall while thinking of a reply, the quite short Mr. Stowe would go into a brief shuffle, observe his feet intently, pick up his dirty baseball hat and scratch his bald head, finally declaring, "Well now!" with the occasional addendum "Ain't that somethin?"
When I introduced my future wife to Mr. Stowe and told him we were engaged, he did his shuffle and his head scratching, glanced at Kathy and then looked up at me over his little round glasses and said, "Pretty good for a girl."

"Er, Mr. Stowe, Kathy's from Wisconsin."

Shuffle. Hat back on.

"Glad to meet you anyway."

John T. Mann recalls that Mr. Stowe had told his father: "If I die afore the end of mud season, just stick me in the gravel pit 'til the road dries out and the ground thaws."
You never knew when a laugh would crop up. Once, as a teenager, I drove into a gas station, stepped out of my car into a puddle and heard someone say "How's the watah?"
And John at R&D Automotive told me many years back that my brother had been in with his car. "He said he kept smelling gas . . . so I told him to stop it."

Then there was the exchange at Ed Leighton's department store:
"How ya doin?"
"You want the long story or the short one?"
"Oh hell, give me the long one."
"Pretty good, I guess."
And there was the time Bob Guillamette, the plumber, came to fix something. I asked him to also look at the tub he had recently installed because the water was slow to drain. He returned a couple of minutes later saying, "Christ, Sam, you're one of the lucky ones. Most of them won't hold water."

Then he fixed it.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Hillary Clinton: the post modern and the real

Sam Smith

More than a few of Hillary Clinton’s supporters remind me of Mormons or Scientologists in that their faith is considered infinitely more important than any facts. And if you sully that faith with facts, then – just as the way critics of Israel are so quickly dubbed anti-Semitic – you become a “Clinton hater” and part of a “vast rightwing conspiracy.”

Having lived with this nonsense for more than a score of years, it doesn’t bother me, although I still wonder how you can hate something that has no consistent or tangible character.

Further, as one of the earliest (and too few) spillers of Clinton facts, I got my first information not from vast right wing conspirators but from an Arkansas progressive student group. Yet, before I was through, I had been banned from CSPAN and a DC local NPR station. Nobody actually questioned the facts, just who they pertained to.

I was not alone. Some ten reporters covering the Arkansas scandals were fired, transferred off the beat, resigned or otherwise got into trouble.

I came to see the hyper-reality of the Clinton saga as the true introduction to America’s post-modern political era.

As the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy notes:
Baudrillard presents hyperreality as the terminal stage of simulation, where a sign or image has no relation to any reality whatsoever, but is “its own pure simulacrum” The real, he says, has become an operational effect of symbolic processes, just as images are technologically generated and coded before we actually perceive them… “From now on,” says Baudrillard, “signs are exchanged against each other rather than against the real”
We face an election in which Democrats – and liberals in particular – are joyfully supporting the first First Lady to come under criminal investigation, a candidate who had nine major fundraisers or backers convicted of, or pleading guilty to, crimes, who had three close business associates end up in prison, and who – in just one appearance before a congressional committee - claimed that she didn't remember, didn't know, or something similar some 250 times.

But while reality doesn’t mean much anymore, the battle of signs and symbolism has taken its place. And even in a post-modern world, it’s fair to analyze the impact of it all.

If you listen to the Democrats, things could hardly be rosier. For example, Brent Budowsky actually wrote in the Huffington Post:
It is very possible that Hillary Clinton will be elected president by a substantial margin, return the Senate to Democratic control, name Supreme Court justices who will create a liberal court for a generation and help elect enough Democrats to the House to have a working majority in Congress for history-making progressive achievements, beginning with her first 100 days in the White House.
The problem with this assessment is that it bears no relationship to reality. Forgetting for the moment how the GOP has gerrymandered congressional districts, consider the running averages of polls in a number of key states.

In Colorado, for example, Hillary Clinton is in single digit proximity to all the major Republican candidates and even trails Rand Paul. In Florida she is only two points ahead of Bush. In Iowa she has only a single digit lead over all the Republicans except for Cruz. In New Hampshire she has only a single digit lead over Bush and Paul. In Virginia her lead is single digits against the pack. And the same is true of Wisconsin, except for Huckabee.

But aren’t single digits enough? On election day, yes. But more than a year and half ahead of the vote it is a serious warning signal.

For example, although Democrats like to blame the loss of the 2000 election on Nader, in fact Nader’s position hardly varied during the campaign but – still unrecognized by either the media or Gore’s backers – Bush’s poll average went from minus nine to plus six in just the last two months.

Another factor in the race that didn’t get reported was that 68% of voters thought Bill Clinton would go down in history more for his scandals than for his leadership. 44% said that the scandals were somewhat to very important and 57% thought the country to be on the wrong moral track.

And Gore wasn’t even married to Bill Clinton.

It is worth noting how silent the Republicans have been about Hillary Clinton. With her huge lead, the last thing they want to do is discourage Democrats from nominating such a prospectively attractive target. But once nominated this will undoubtedly drastically change and the moderates and undecided will hear things about the Clintons that the media has chosen not to tell them all these years.

In short, the Democrats are on their way to nominating a political IUD that could explode at a time or place unexpected. The sad thing is that Hillary Clinton has so hogged their attention that they don’t really have an alternative any more.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Selma

Sam Smith

When I finally went to see Selma, I was reminded of the American Indian who said of his tale, “Some of the facts may be wrong, but the story is true.”

Certainly the depiction of the Selma march and the abuses by white Alabama officials that led up to it more than justifies and honors the film. Oprah Winfrey’s attempt to register to vote moved me particularly because a month or so before Selma, I had covered the US Civil Rights Commission’s hearings in Jackson MS and reported:
Henry Rayburn, a 63-year-old farmer from near Charleston, was approached by a man with a club when he went to vote. Rayburn says the man told him “he would kill me if I tried to vote.” The Commission wanted to know if the police had been notified of the threat. No, Rayburn replied, because “the law coincides with what the other side does insofar as Negroes are involved.”

Alena Hamlett of Scobey registered in 1962. When her name was published in the local newspaper, as required by Mississippi law, a female effigy was hung near her home.

Dorothy Mae Foster went to register with her husband at Fayette in 1963. She was later visited by three men who presented a card that read: “Thousands of Klansmen are waiting, watching, Don’t be misled. Let your conscience be your guide. Ku Klux Klan.”

When the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee attempted to organize a voter registration drive in Macomb, 16 bombings occurred.
Selma records such moments for a wide audience in a country that has an increasingly hard time even bothering with the past.

On a far lesser level, I admit some problems with the film. I never saw nor met Martin Luther King Jr, but he was a strong figure in my life from my 1950s college days when his Stride Towards Freedom was the most important book I read in those years and it wasn’t on any course list. The closest I ever came to King was sitting on the grass with a date outside the chapel at Howard University a few years later, part of an overflow crowd that couldn’t fit in the church as he gave the sermon. But I developed an image of a man far more friendly and approachable than the formal and somewhat pedantic version in the film. The movie's warmest moment for me was the kitchen scene where the activists ate, chatted and laughed together. There was the King I thought I knew.

I did have slight contact with a few other of the film’s characters. I liked, for example, the treatment of activist James Forman and John Doar, the federal civil rights official. I only got to know Forman later in life but it didn’t take much to like him. And we shared an ironic albeit unmentioned affinity in that he had been removed as head of SNCC because he was too old and I had been kicked out of SNCC because I was too white.

The federal official John Doar also rang true. I had just one phone conversation with him as he took a public interest law suit led by DC homeless activist Mitch Snyder in which I was one of the co-plaintiffs. However, I still remember him, as in the movie, because of a pleasant pragmatism that I hadn’t expected of one not only deeply involved in civil rights at such a high level but later in the Whitewater investigation as well.

On the other hand, as a young reporter in the late 50s, I had seen LBJ up close on a number of occasions and, beyond the film’s factual inaccuracies already reported elsewhere, I found the character to be off base. You didn’t have to exaggerate LBJ, you just had to get the chords right.

But this is a chronic problem of history, especially when it’s written for a movie theater. And especially in an age when exaggeration is our way of getting people to pay attention.

And we can’t be too greedy in our expectations. Compared to the trailers I saw before Selma, whatever its faults, it is a blessed addition to a land which cares so little for what has happened before.

The real World War III: Corporations vs. nationhood


Sam Smith

The recent IMF loans to Ukraine with their dictatorial provisions are one more example of the world’s concealed great war, which is to say the massive invasion of nationhood by corporations. Far more dangerous than any current military threat, corporations have already taken huge territories, legal and financial as well as geographical. Our politicians, many of them covert allies of the corporations, say little of this. And the major media, massive corporations themselves, steadfastly hide the truth from their audience.

For America, not since the Civil War has the sovereignty and constitution of this land come under such assault. In the two previous great wars the damage mostly occurred across two great oceans. Now the victims of the battle are in the heart of our land, witness the deleterious economic effects of NAFTA, the political disaster of Citizens United and the corporate assault on our public schools parading as education reform. Nestles is grabbing our water, our language has been mangled by corporate gobbledygook and even non-profits have adopted the organizational misanthropy of modern corporations.

Without debate, without formal conflict, without even much consciousness, we have absorbed the principles of America’s greediest, adopted their language, and surrendered our constitution and other values to their will. Our last three presidents have been willing participants in undermining our sovereignty, our values and our culture. One might well expect this of a Bush, but Clinton and Obama were just as deeply involved and their liberal constituency hardly said a mumblin’ word.

We may not win this war but we certainly won’t until we admit we are in it and must stand as firmly for American standards and beliefs as we have in great military conflicts.

The Battle of the Economic Bulge – aka TPP – is the struggle presently before us, involving arguably the most disloyal legislation since secession. We still have time to stand up against it. But to do so, we can’t pretend it’s just another measure. We have to recognize the stakes of the battle that we’re in. Our leaders are not surrendering America, they’re just selling it away bit by bit. But the results could well be the same.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Normalizing failure


Sam Smith The tediously unsuccessful manifestations of American intervention in the Middle East brings to mind the lengthy unwinding of the Vietnam War during which our leaders – like alcoholics avoiding treatment – never admitted that they had made terrible mistakes and never publicly discussed the alternatives. They just ran it all out until they had to give up.

In fact, to this day the establishment and its embedded mainstream media regards those who opposed the deadliest stupid war in American history as nuts or extremists while those who organized the withdrawal years after it should have occurred as our wise leaders.

The same is true today, which is why you are not likely to see any serious critics of our Mid East policy on the Brian Williams show. Truth is not regarded as a matter of accuracy but of timing, as determined by approved sources. It is not a question of if the truth is said, but who says it and when,

Thus it is not surprising that American have such little awareness of how many ways our society is silently failing. After all, who with power is there to tell them?

Here are a few cases in point:
- A drug war that has been failing drastically for over four decades.

- The Iraq and Afghanistan wars – the longest unsuccessful military efforts in American history.

- An economy which, once you move past a few comfortable approved indicators, is still in its worst shape since the Great Depression.

- A level of ethnic conflict we haven’t seen since the days of segregation.

- Police and courts that have moved increasingly towards military rather than constitutional standards of behavior, with America just another occupied country. 

- A nation that has silently closed down the First American Republic in favor of a post-constitutional, oligarchic adhocracy whose future remains unpredictable but which history suggests will not return to the better.

- The replacement of votes with money as the primary denominators of elections.
What all these have in common is that our declared ideals have been repeatedly subverted, perverted, and averted to a degree so overwhelming that our leaders, our media and even much of our public consider these stunning failures to be normal.

And as the Germans discovered many decades ago, once you accept the false as normal, anything can happen.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Twenty years in cyberspace

This is our 20th year on the web. Ten years ago we posted this:


Sam Smith, 2005 - This fall marks the Review's tenth year on the web - and our 11th year of sending out email updates. In the last quarter of 1995 we got all of 388 page views, and in 1996, we got 27,000. This year we are approaching three million. [In 2014 we got over 6 million]

How early was 1995? Well, the number of Americans using the Internet was still less than the number who were watching TV in the mid 1950s. And the Washington Post hadn't yet found a way to stay on line and be happy with the results. Some other papers, however, had gotten into the act. Fredric A. Emmert writes that, "In 1992, the Chicago Sun-Times began offering articles via modem over the America On Line computer network, and in 1993, the San Jose Mercury News began distributing most of its complete daily text, minus photos and illustrations, to subscribers of America On Line. The first multi-media news service in the U.S., News in Motion, made its debut in the summer of 1993 with a weekly edition specializing in international coverage, with color photos, graphics and sound. In 1994, the Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service began distributing news to its newspaper customers via computer before their morning editions arrived, and The Washington Post has created a Digital Ink subsidiary, providing an electronic newspaper research service for clients, who can buy custom-made reports on subjects of their choice." The Post dropped the fee-based Digital Ink in favor of its current site in 1996.

Although shorter items from our first year remain online, only one feature story does: America's Extremist Center. From 1996, only the still popular Mission Creep: The Militarizing Of America remains online.

Our earliest email update included with this September 1994 story:

"Strip away the hyperbole and you’re left with yet another American occupation of a small Latin American country for time and purpose uncertain. This occupation, however, can be presumed to have as much to do with restoring democracy in Haiti as the Panama invasion had to do with eliminating the drug trade there -- that is to say, practically nothing. Everyone from the 82nd Airborne to CNN went on full alert, but bear in mind that the Haitian military is about the size of the DC Metropolitan Police plus the Executive Protective Service and the National Zoo Police."

Your editor's interest in the internet was not all that surprising, since he had long ago discovered that keeping up with advances in technology helped compensate for his own deterioration. The Review began as a hot type magazine, The Idler, in 1964 and over the years used such novel technology as Press Type, IBM Selectrics, Radio Shack's TRS-80 (or Trash 80 as it was fondly known), the Model 100 - an amazing battery operated laptop with a six line screen, and Exxon's Qyx, among many others.

Before all that, however, were other influences, starting with Alice Darnell, my high school math teacher who went to Harvard in the summer of 1954 to learn about this new thing, the computer. She returned reporting that she had almost been locked up in a computer overnight, as it needed an entire building to do the work of a present day Mac, and she introduced us to the basics of Boolean algebra.

It would be twenty years, however, before I actually touched a computer: an 8K Atari purchased for my sons. As I fleeted up to 16 and then 32 K it occurred to me that these things might have some journalistic use. In fact, if you wasted a whole Saturday you could already program them to do little things like write messages and keep addresses.

It was a time when an earnest father such as I sent his son to computer camp where he learned to write programs that in just a year or so he could buy at the local computer store. It was a time when a computer expert came to speak at that same son's school and, at the end, the headmaster arose and said, "This is all very well and good, but I'm not running a goddamned secretarial school." Within a year he had purchased an impressive array of computers.

It was also a time short on computer expertise. The Review was blessed with two high school students who came by to empty our floor's office trash who were also seminal cyber whizzes. They shall remain nameless to preserve the security clearance of the one who now works for a major defense contractor, but the latter still provides occasional assistance such as his suggestion that I repair a computer suffering from too much atmospheric moisture by putting it in an oven at 150 degrees for an hour. That was a year ago. It worked and the computer still helps produce the Progressive Review.

Some years back I went to a Shaker village in Maine. While on the tour of this vanishing sect I noted a TV antenna atop the dorm. I mentioned this jarring departure from my image of Shakers to our guide, who explained that the Shakers saw no conflict between technology and their faith. After all, she said, their furniture was technologically advanced for the time.

It was not unlike the Quakers who do not shun change but merely apply their faith to it. About a year and a half after launching our website I tried to give a sense of this approach in a book I was writing, The Great American Political Repair Manual:
"The first rule of media survival is use it; don't let it use you. We must ignore the role the media has prescribed for us -- audience, consumer, addict -- and treat it much as the trout treats a stream, a medium in which to swim and not to drown. The trick is to stop the media from happening to you and to treat it literally as a medium -- an environment, a carrier. Then you can cease being a consumer or a victim and become a hunter and a gatherer, foraging for signs that are good and messages that are important and data you can use. Then the zapper and the mouse become tools and weapons and not addictions. Then you turn the TV off not because it is evil but because you have gotten whatever it has to offer and now must look somewhere else."
WEB WATCH COLUMN, APRIL 17, 1995 - An "ecology of information" is how we need to view the Internet, according to Apple fellow Alan Kay. In his keynote address at the Third International World Wide Web Conference, he said that the old "clockwork" model of systems thinking was obsolete. The complexity of systems today is so great that we can no longer manufacture them. Rather, we need to grow them organically. . .

Alan Kay said that it is the author, not the technologist, which innovates in the new medium. For example, it took 65 years after the invention of the printing press for an author to think of numbering the pages in a book, so that he could cross reference the pages.

Public access to the web will increase dramatically. Microsoft demonstrated their Internet Explorer product, which will be integrated into their forthcoming Windows 95 desktop. Users will be able to access web pages very simply, and drag or drop them onto the desktop, documents, or folders. . .

A new language called Java was introduced. Java safely allows programs, not just data to be exchanged. These small applications, or "applets" allow a new generation of client/server sophistication. One simply clicks on something of interest. The network would install any necessary software automatically, as well as the billing chores.

A REPORT FOUND THAT BETWEEN 1995 and 1996 there was a dramatic shift: "The biggest and perhaps most significant change since 1995 is the increased use of the World Wide Web. Nearly three out of four (73%) report having used the Web, compared to only 21% then. Web use also appears to be more frequent: 51% said they used the Web either yesterday or sometime in the past week, compared to 12% last year. . .

1995 also saw the introduction of search engines.

JON KATZ, WIRED, 1995 - So far, at least, online papers don't work commercially or conceptually. With few exceptions, they seem to be just what they are, expensive hedges against on rushing technology with little rationale of their own. They take away what's best about reading a paper and don't offer what's best about being online. That's the point of a newspaper. . .to filter the worthwhile information, then print it. . . . The newspaper needs to reinvent itself. . . . The object is not to replace, or put into a different format, but to gain a toehold in cyberspace and even absorb some of its values.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Slapstick nation

Sam Smith - The other evening I watched, probably for the last time, the latest episode of Glee. Although the show has long had its fantastical side – such as highly professional musical performances suddenly appearing in otherwise realistic contexts – something more fundamental had changed. People weren’t talking to each other; they were shouting. Rachel was speaking far too fast and too loud. The school principal, Sue Sylvester, had transformed herself from amusingly mean cynic into a ludicrous imitation of herself. And one point, a review noted, “Sue traps Blaine and Kurt in an ersatz elevator before the Warblers perform and, via a mechanized robot, tells them that they must passionately kiss if they want to leave—which they do, after spending over a day in confinement.” Even if you saw it, it made no sense.

In short, Glee had become a slapstick version of itself, an example of a dominant style that is not limited to television series but is leaving its mark on our politics and culture. Beyond the slapstick humor and poor plot of shows like Backstrom, for example, we also find ourselves being loudly lectured by Steven Kornacki, Rachel Maddow and the Fox crew as though we were students of Sue Sylvester.

Move over to politics and we find slapstick candidates like Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz, who seem dreamed up by some second rate script writer.

Almost every public space we peer into we find the loud, the dumb, the exaggerated, the boisterous and the super simplistic taking unprecedented dominance. Sometimes, we can’t even hear music anymore without it being overwhelmed by theatrical background, including fireworks and dancing fish. Whether it is a TV show, State of the Union address, snow storm in New York or half time at the Super Bowl we are surrounded by media propelled hyperbole while things that really matter – such as our declining democracy, environment and economy – proceed with little attention.

Perhaps it helps to explain why we can’t get out of Mid East conflicts and are on the cusp of another Cold War. Exaggeration is the language of the day and bombast the favored lifestyle. Even deflated footballs have become inflated matters of concern.

The original slapstick was a device described by one dictionary as “consisting of two paddles hinged together; used by an actor to make a loud noise without inflicting injury when striking someone.”

In other words, slapstick creates the sound of action while not engaging in  any real version of it. Which is pretty much the story of America today; an excess of noise and drama and a paucity of productive action.

Friday, January 30, 2015

The Clinton-Obama- Alinsky myth

Sam Smith, 2008 - Peter Slevin of the Washington Post deserves some sort of award in media mythmaking for his piece recreating Clinton and Obama as disciples of the great activist Saul Alinsky. They have in fact followed the teachings of Alinsky about as well as George Bush has followed those of Jesus Christ.

To be sure, they both went to the church and prayed. But life moves on and as Alinsky pointed out, “When the poor get power they’ll be shits like everyone else.” The same goes for Wellesley and Harvard Law School idealists.

Clinton, in fact, put her thesis on Alinsky under lock and key once her husband began running for president, something that Slevin buried in his long encomium. And it is hard to think of anything in recent years more certain to have gotten Alinsky angry than HRC’s deceitful, confusing and insurance company-pandering health plan.

The Obama story is different. He actually worked for several years on Alinsky oriented projects. But that was a long time ago and to present him as a present day disciple of Alinsky is just plain false. He is today your run of the mill liberal politician who doesn’t want anybody mad at him and wouldn’t even be a card in the race if he didn’t hold the race card.

I mentioned to a black friend that Obama reminded me a lot of the sort of black lawyers you meet at top Washington law firms. “Yeah,” he replied, “the Negro at the front door.”

They are fine to handle your mergers or litigation, but if you are trying to save a country going down the tubes, you’re probably better off with someone who hasn’t spent his whole life trying to position himself safely in a hostile white America. This is not in the slightest to his discredit personally; it’s just not the job description on the table.

There can be in these glass-ceiling breakers a self-protective caution that enables them to survive but also makes them less likely to break ceilings for others.

I know something about Alinsky because I wouldn’t being doing what I’m doing if it weren’t for an Alinsky organizer who hit our Capitol Hill neighborhood in the 1960s and strongly urged me to start an activist neighborhood newspaper.

For the next few years I was immersed in Alinsky style populism while many of my white friends were engaged in something far closer to the classical stereotype of the 1960s. If there is one theme that has set my subsequent journalism apart from the more typical left media it has been an Alinsky-encouraged approach rooted in community, populism and suspicion of power in all its forms.

Part of the Alinsky approach involved a greater loyalty to issues than to ideology or even to presumed character. Thus Alinsky worked with bishops, politicians, mobsters and even Marshall Field III, who helped him financially.

This kind of approach is alien to a lot of contemporary liberal thinking which presumes potential allies must be thoroughly vetted before joining with them. My own approach, inspired by Alinsky, is that if you have a gun-toting, abortion-hating nun who wants to help you save the forest, you put her on the committee.

Emphasizing specific issues rather than general ideology not only broadens one’s constituency, it gives all parties a chance to discover the weaknesses of their own stereotypes. This is how one wins elections and changes things rather than merely confirming one’s own righteousness.

As Alinsky explained it in a 1970s Playboy interview:

“The ultimate key to acceptance by a community is respect for the dignity of the individual you’re dealing with. If you feel smug or arrogant or condescending, he’ll sense it right away, and you might as well take the next plane out. The first thing you’ve got to do in a community is listen, not talk, and learn to eat, sleep, breathe only one thing: the problems and aspirations of the community. Because no matter how imaginative your tactics, how shrewd your strategy, you’re doomed before you even start if you don’t win the trust and respect of the people; and the only way to get that is for you to trust and respect them. And without that respect there’s no communication, no mutual confidence and no action.”

In other words, if you want to build a coalition you have to accept the fact that a lot of people have different values than yours and you have to display a respect that is lacking in much liberal rhetoric.

In the 1970s, Alinsky concentrated on the middle class. He told Playboy, “I’m convinced that once the middle class recognizes its real enemy — the mega-corporations that control the country and pull the strings on puppets like Nixon and Connolly — it will mobilize as one of the most effective instruments for social change this country has ever known. . . Today, three fourths of our population is middle class, either through actual earning power or through value identification. . .

“Christ, even if we could manage to organize all the exploited low-income groups — all the blacks, chicanos, Puerto Ricans, poor whites — and then, through some kind of organizational miracle, weld them all together into a viable coalition, what would you have? At the most optimistic estimate, 55,000,000 people by the end of this decade — but by then the total population will be over 225,000,000, of whom the overwhelming majority will be middle class. This is the so-called Silent Majority that our great Greek philosopher in Washington is trying to galvanize, and it’s here that the die will be cast and this country’s future decided for the next 50 years. Pragmatically, the only hope for genuine minority progress is to seek out allies within the majority and to organize that majority itself as part of a national movement for change. If we just give up and let the middle classes go to the likes of Agnew and Nixon by default, then you might as well call the whole ball game.”

What if the Democrats has aggressively gone after the Silent Majority instead of ceding it to the right? How different our history would have been. But instead of organizing these folks, liberals increasingly came to look down their noses at them.

A different cop story

Sam Smith – I first met Isaac Fulwood in 1967 when I did a feature for the Capitol East Gazette on neighborhood policing and went with Fulwood and his partner on their beat. The pair had been specifically assigned to deal with youth problems and community relations. Less than a year before the riots that would ruin much of our neighborhood, a few cops like Fulwood (along with the Rec Department’s roving leader program) were on the streets attempting to stop trouble before it happened. But like a lot of good things back then, it was too little and too late.

Fulwood had grown up in the ‘hood, gone to high school there, knew the places, the people and its problems. In the years that followed, our paths would cross – sometimes in odd ways such as attending a baptism preparation session together at St. Mark’s Church, being in a jury pool and once, during a major protest by the Capitol, running into now Deputy Chief of Police Fulwood and getting a big hug, not the sort of thing that usually happened to alternative journalists during demonstrations in those days.

Fulwood was no softie. After all, Mayor Marion Barry was arrested on his watch as chief of police.  Fulwood didn’t like crime not just because it was a violation of law but because of what it had done to communities like the ones he had lived in. Whenever things like the Ferguson or Garner incidents occur, I find myself thinking of Ike Fulwood and how he would have handled it, partly because he understood that there are all sort of opportunities to create a community that lessens the need for law enforcement. He said to me back in 1967 while we drove by some grim public housing jammed into a small site, “They never ask the police for their opinion when they build public housing.”

As I noted, “The police might have a few things to tell the planners about what happens when you crowd people into places like this. But the police come later, when the trouble starts.”

And of cops like Fulwood, I added, “If you spend any time with these men, you can’t help but believe – as they do – that their work is important and that it is fitting and proper for a policeman to aid in solving a community’s social problems as well as serving as its armed guard.”

Years later the Washington Post would write an article about the now former police chief in which it noted his efforts to organize African-American men as mentors for the city's young men. According to the Post, eighty-two men had signed up to mentor, and 24 had been paired with a child. About 45 men had completed training and were waiting to be matched.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Backing off of hate

Sam Smith, 2006 - When a situation such as the one created by the anti-Muslims cartoons and their reaction, the tendency for all parties is to seek ever higher ground of self-righteousness – all the time exacerbating the situation. The fact is that the biggest danger to the world at the moment comes from the conflicting certainties of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim fundamentalists. These certainties are rooted in a varied mixture of paranoia, real persecution, cultural egotism, and a search for more simple answers than the world willingly provides.

There is an alternative approach, namely to back off from the conflict at issue and ask: how do we lessen the chance of this happening again?

The traditional answer of the extreme branches of all three cultures is found in new law. It doesn’t work well. For example, Metafilter recently summarized laws designed to reduce anti-Semitism: “In Austria it against the law to make any statements denying the occurrence of the Holocaust. . . Laws in Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Israel, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, and Switzerland make it a criminal offense to deny the Holocaust in public. Germany’s parliament passed legislation in 1985, making it a crime to deny the extermination of the Jews. In 1994, the law was tightened. Now, anyone who publicly endorses, denies or plays down the genocide against the Jews faces a maximum penalty of five years in jail and no less than the imposition of a fine.” In this country we have also passed hate crime laws, many of which directly conflict with the First Amendment and certainly haven’t proved effective.

In fact, violent or nasty offenses against cultures and beliefs are far more dependent on the political or social conditions of the time than on any law or lack thereof. Thus Israel’s policies have spurred anti-Semitism just as 9/11 spurred anti-Islamic expression in this country. In the end it is far more like a disease than a crime and the cure is not the forcible elimination of symptoms but the riddance of viruses causing them.

This involves backtracking by all involved. But sadly those in charge of today’s triptych of terror are too pathologically invested in their self-righteousness to slack off and so matters just get worse and worse.

It is up to the rest of the world – both religious and secular – to show the way through the demonstration of workable and decent relationships with those different from themselves. We need to illustrate with examples things that work better than riots or anger. And we best ignore such futile arguments as the current ones about the cartoons and find ways that serve not as another response to the present debate but as an alternative to it.

Absent right now, for example, is the concept of reciprocal liberty. As Thomas Paine said, “Where the rights of men are equal, every man must finally see the necessity of protecting the rights of others as the most effectual security for his own.”

Describing David Hackett Fischer’s discussion in ‘Albion’s Seed’ of the difference in the view of freedom within the American colonies, Leonard J. Wilson writes, “Their contrasting concepts of liberty are among the most visible today. The Puritan concept of liberty, ‘ordered liberty’ in Fischer’s terminology, focused on the ‘freedom’ to conform to the policies of the Puritan Church and local government. The Virginia concept of liberty, ‘hegemonic liberty’, was hierarchical in nature, ranging from the great freedom of those in positions of power and wealth down to the total lack of freedom accorded to slaves. The Quaker concept of liberty, ‘reciprocal liberty’, focused on the aspects of freedom that were held equally by all people as opposed to the unequal and asymmetric freedoms of the Puritans and Virginians. Finally, the Scotch-Irish concept of liberty, ‘natural liberty’, focused on the natural rights of the individual and his freedom from government coercion.”

The good thing about reciprocal liberty is that you don’t have to approve of the other person’s behavior to accept his or her right to engage in it. Thus, one may fairly object to the Muslim treatment of women but, according to the principle of reciprocal liberty, you don’t invade their countries, force a pseudo democracy upon them, or otherwise try to bully them into righteousness. You find more civil ways to deal with your differences.

Europeans are not particularly good at this which is why they have far harsher laws about Holocaust myths or Muslim women wearing veils. But America, at its best, knows that you don’t have to like someone or their beliefs to extend to them the same freedom to be right or wrong. As Walt Kelly said, we have to defend the basic American right of everyone to make damn fools of themselves.

What has worked here can be applied as well to the rest of the world. As at home, for diversity to work, no one gets to approve its membership. It exists because that’s the world is. Sure, it could be better, but neither more hate nor more Hummers will make it so.

Enjoy Obama while you can

Sam Smith – I’m feeling better about Barack Obama these days. He still misleads mispromises, misstates and mistakes more than is healthy for anyone, particularly a president, but he has one big thing going for him: he’s not Hillary Clinton

True, he’s boring, he lectures audiences like they were his freshman class, his lack of political courage prevents him from even supporting things he says he believes in, and his policies wallow in tedious process that only a Harvard law grad or MBA could enjoy.

Further, as he heads for the door, he becomes increasingly irrelevant. As Gertrude Stein said of California, there’s no there there, but he does give us some breathing room for the next two years. And he’s not Hillary Clinton, his probable successor as polls now suggest.

Barack Obama is the fictional, fluid figure he created to gain the place in life he sought. As he admitted in The Audacity of Hope, “I serve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views.”

When he was running against Hillary Clinton in 2008, I put it this way:

Perusing still more puerile pandering in the cause of pacific politics by Barack Oblather, a vision suddenly appeared. While, according to Google, a few others have already experienced this transformational experience, it is still rare enough to deserve mention.

The apparition was, without doubt, Chauncy Gardiner aka Chance the gardener, the last manifestation of magnificent nothingness to appear on the American political scene – albeit the fiction of Chance was safely contained in the movie “Being There” while Obama is running for election to a real White House.

Like Obama, no one knew where Chance had come from. Even the CIA and FBI were unable to discover any information, with each concluding he is a clever cover-up by one of their own agents.

The novel was written over thirty years ago by Jerzy Kosinski. The Obama candidacy may elevate Kosinksi to one of the most perceptive political authors of modern times. After all, what is more Obamesque than the sort of phrase that got Chance started? – “In the garden, growth has its seasons. First comes spring and summer, but then we have fall and winter. And then we get spring and summer again.”….

Obama is engaged in a sophisticated con with a long history in this country. We normally associated it with evangelicals – the Elmer Gantrys and the Jerry Falwells – but the scam can be used by liberals as well. Born-again liberals can turn their backs on reality as well as any conservative, finding solace in the comforting chicken soup of faith and hope. The problem, of course, is that reality just keeps truckin’ along and Americans need far more than clich├ęs to get them through the next few years.
While Obama is clearly being intellectually dishonest, this is, to be sure, a lesser sin than the congenital variety practiced by his leading opponent. The little available evidence suggests that Obama would more likely be a disappointment than a disgrace. Still in the end it’s a sad choice between the venal and the vacuum.

Now our vacuous alternative is running out the clock. For Obama, deception was just a bad habit he used to get ahead. Unlike the pathological behavior of Hillary Clinton, Obama was more like a street con, a guy just trying to figure out whom to fool to get through the day. Obama works the system, Clinton manipulates it like a mob boss. Obama wanted to achieve power; Clinton treats it as her exclusive personal possession. 

The evidence is there, it’s just that the media and, consequently, the public doesn’t look at it. A few reminders about Hillary Clinton:
- She is the first First Lady to come under criminal investigation

- She is the first First Lady to almost be indicted, according to one of the special prosecutors.

- She has had nine fundraisers or major backers convicted of, or pleading no contest to, crimes, including Jeffrey Thompson, Paul Adler, Norman Hsu, Jorge Cabrera, Abdul Jinnal, Alcee Hastings, Johnny Chung, Marc Rich, and Sant Chatwal

- Providing testimony to Congress, she said that she didn't remember, didn't know, or something similar 250 times

- Three close business partners of Hillary Clinton ended up in prison. The Clintons' two partners in Whitewater were convicted of 24 counts of fraud and conspiracy. Hillary Clinton's partner and mentor at the Rose law firm, Webster Hubbell, pleaded guilty to federal mail fraud and tax evasion charges, including defrauding former clients and former partners out of more than $480,000. Hillary Clinton was mentioned 35 times in the indictment.

- In the 1980s Hillary Clinton made a $44,000 profit on a $2,000 investment in a cellular phone franchise deal that took advantage of the FCC's preference for locals, minorities and women. The franchise was almost immediately flipped to the cellular giant, McCaw.

- Hillary Clinton and her husband set up a resort land scam known as Whitewater in which the unwitting bought third rate property 50 miles from the nearest grocery store and, thanks to the sleazy financing, about half the purchasers, many of them seniors, lost their property.

- In 1993 Hillary Clinton and David Watkins moved to oust the White House travel office in favor of World Wide Travel, which was Bill Clinton's source of $1 million in fly-now-pay-later campaign trips that essentially financed the last stages of the campaign without the bother of reporting a de facto contribution. In the White House, the Clintons fired seven long-term travel employees for alleged mismanagement and kickbacks. The director, Billy Dale, was charged with embezzlement, but was acquitted in less than two hours by the jury.

- HRC’s 1994 health care plan, according to one account, included fines of up to $5,000 for refusing to join the government-mandated health plan, $5,000 for failing to pay premiums on time, 15 years to doctors who received "anything of value" in exchange for helping patients short-circuit the bureaucracy, $10,000 a day for faulty physician paperwork, $50,000 for unauthorized patient treatment, and $100,000 a day for drug companies that messed up federal filings.

- Two months after commencing the Whitewater scheme, Hillary Clinton invested $1,000 in cattle futures. Within a few days she had a $5,000 profit. Before bailing out she earned nearly $100,000 on her investment. Many years later, several economists calculated that the chances of earning such returns legally were one in 250 million.

- In 1996 Hillary Clinton's Rose law firm billing records, sought for two years by congressional investigators and the special prosecutor, were found in the back room of the personal residence at the White House. Clinton said she had no idea how they got there.

- Drug dealer Jorge Cabrera gave enough to the Democrats to have his picture taken with both Hillary Clinton and Al Gore. . . Cabrera was arrested in January 1996 inside a cigar warehouse in Dade County, where more than 500 pounds of cocaine had been hidden. He and several accomplices were charged with having smuggled 3,000 pounds of cocaine into the United States through the Keys

- In 2000, Hillary Clinton's Senate campaign returned $22,000 in soft money to a businesswoman linked to a Democratic campaign contribution from a drug smuggler in Havana.

- In August 2000, Hillary Clinton held a huge Hollywood fundraiser for her Senate campaign. It was very successful. The only problem was that, by a long shot, she didn't report all the money contributed: $800K by the US government's ultimate count in a settlement and $2 million according to the key contributor and convicted con Peter Paul. This is, in election law, the moral equivalent of not reporting a similar amount on your income tax. Hillary Clinton's defense is that she didn't know about it

- Hillary Clinton’s participation in a Whitewater related land deal became suspicious enough to trigger an investigation by the Arkansas Supreme Court.

- in 2007, a Pakistani immigrant who hosted fundraisers for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton became a target of FBI allegations that he funneled illegal contributions to Clinton's political action committee and to Sen. Barbara Boxer's 2004 re-election campaign. Authorities say Northridge, Calif., businessman Abdul Rehman Jinnah, 56, fled the country shortly after being indicted on charges of engineering more than $50,000 in illegal donations to the Democratic committees.

- Laura Myers wrote in the Las Vegas Review-Journal: “Hillary Rodham Clinton likes to travel in style. She insists on staying in the “presidential suite” of luxury hotels that she chooses anywhere in the world… She usually requires those who pay her six-figure fees for speeches to also provide a private jet for transportation — only a $39 million, 16-passenger Gulfstream G450 or larger will do.”
To be sure, and thankfully, Hillary Clinton is not Romney, Bush or Huckabee. As we face another contest between members of our political mafioso, it is important to remember that we are choosing not a savior but a battlefield and, at the moment, Clinton is the best problem we have a choice of living with. 

But, whatever happens, it’s likely to be an exceptionally bumpy road.

So enjoy Barack Obama while you can.

Monday, January 26, 2015

When the wrong becomes the norm



Sam Smith, 2013 - One of the hazards of being a long time journalist is that you get used to some people doing bad things but most other people not giving much of a damn. It used to piss me off but eventually I began to take it for granted. Now I sometimes describe my efforts as drawing animals on the walls of a Lascaux cave of our time. Maybe someone will find it; most likely they won’t.

Yet, like Quakers and existentialists, you can still witness, even if you’ve lost faith, because it is the only chance you have. You either defend justice and the right thing or you become their silent subverter. Besides, much of what is going wrong is happening in the penumbra of power. If you live far enough away, live a life well removed, and occupy your mind with distant thoughts, loves and occupations, there is still much that sadly you have lost, but you and those around you at least remain remarkably freer than those caught in the trap at the top.

Rummaging through the unrecycled trash heap of the First American Republic, there are little things that still surprise me. Not great catastrophes but trivial matters that also seem deeply revealing.

Like the refusal to let a German author into America because of what he had written about the NSA. Or the Seal kidnappings in countries that are members of the United Nations but which we now treat as if we’re the Chicago cops of the world and they are just part of the global ghetto. Or the Clintons thugging a documentary producer out of his efforts before Hillary Clinton has even announced her campaign.

Small but nasty stuff that most, from perps to media to public, now just take as normal –little indicators of how we have given up.

Part of the dirty little reason for this is because the people who used to stand up against such things are far more typically afraid. Churches don’t want to lose their members, universities their big bucks from government and corporations, reporters their jobs, non-profits their funding from foundations that have become co-conspirators with those they once challenged,

I have always been fascinated with stories about, and interviews with, major criminals. How can they possibly justify such a life style? How do they really feel when they kill someone? But over time what I have learned from these interviews is that all you have to do is redefine normal and evil becomes just another routine day. The very absence of concern is what lets them act the way they do.

This works as well in politics as with Whitey Bulger. Which is why dictatorships often do not need military force to have their way. All they have to do is to get people to shrug their shoulders and look someplace else. As the French say, “It exists.”

The big story of America’s past few decades has been the normalization of wrong. We have lost the sort of major leaders who might challenge it, tell us why it is wrong, and build alternatives.

To be sure, plenty of the less powerful are still on the case, but never in my lifetime have I seen such little support for a better way coming from places like Capitol Hill, churches, universities, and those folks who dub themselves “public intellectuals.”

But while I’m short on faith, I still have a few dreams, one of which is that some black, latino, labor, ecological, youth and women’s organizations will finally discover how to stop defending just their own back yard, and join together in a movement that will make the Tea Party seem a minor anachronism. The numbers are there, the will is waiting, and the soul is just slumbering awaiting the sound of joyous rebellion and creation.

Try it.

And if you need me, you can find me in one of those caves painting animals on the wall.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The day the buses ran empty

Sam Smith, 1966 – Monday January 24th, was the day that Washington thumbed it nose at 0. Roy Chalk. There is a long list of grievances against Mr. Chalk a Washingtonian could compile, but it is enough here to mention that Mr. Chalk is head of the D. C. Transit System and that Mr. Chalk, on the day in question, was in the midst of petitioning the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Com-mission for a fare increase from twenty-five cents to thirty cents.

On the morning of the 24th, about 7 a.m., my alarm went off, but I didn’t hear it. About twenty minutes to eight I awoke and remembered the promise I had made to myself to take part in the bus boycott that day. I don’t like demonstrating, probably for the same reason I don’t like ringing door-bells during a campaign, being on committees, or attending civic meetings. The theory of democracy. I concluded long ago, is fine: the practice of it is often a pain in the neck. Still, thirty cents is a lot of money to pay for a bus ride. It’s more than most public transit riders in the coun-

try pay. John Lindsay had only recently emerged from a bruising fight with New York transit workers; one of the major issues had been maintenance of a fifteen cent fare.

It seemed to many Washingtonians that Mr. Chalk and his company were making enough money already and that, in any event, thirty cents was too much to demand of thousands who rely upon bus transportation for the simple reason that there is nothing cheaper.

So I hauled myself out of bed, swallowed a cup of coffee, warmed up my ’54 Chrysler, and made my way to 6th and H Sts. NE, one of the assembly points established for volunteer drivers providing free car rides during the boycott. There a boycott organizer filled my car with three high school girls and a middle aged and rather fat lady.

A bus drove by and it was empty.

“They’re all empty,” the lady said. It was the first bus I had seen that morning and I wondered whether she was right.

As we drove west a long H. St., I asked one of the students, “Has there been a lot of talk about the boycott at your school?”

“Oh yeah, we’ve been hearing about it on us teenager’s favorite radio station.”

“WOL?” WOL is a popular Negro station.

“Yeah man, soul radio.” A bus passed us with two passengers in it.

“That’s why I’ve got my transistor,” the fat lady said, and she showed me the portable radio she grasped under a purse and a shopping bag with a green floral design on it.

The radio stations, particularly the Negro ones, were playing up the boycott. This was important since the daily papers had not been overly generous with their coverage.

If both the fat lady and her husband worked, the five cent proposed fare increase would cost them twenty cents a day. That’s the price of a loaf of bread. Over the course of the year it would probably cost them as much as they spent in groceries during a month. Nickels add up.

I let off my passengers and headed back to 6th V H. At Florida V New York, I counted five empty or near-empty buses. It wasn’t even nine o’clock in the morning and the boycott was working. With the type of metabolism I’ve got, it’s pretty damn hard for me to feel exhilarated about anything before nine o’clock in the morning. But when I saw those five empty buses it was different. Washington was no longer taking. it lying down. The people were being heard from. The city was coming alive. Today it was talking back to 0. Roy Chalk. Tomorrow: perhaps the Board of Trade and its opposition to home rule, or slum landlords and their rat-infested basement apartments.

The boycott had been organized by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, with the help of numerous civic action organizations includhg the Coalition of Conscience, a respectable group of mild hell-raisers under the impeccable leadership of a white Episcopal bishop and a Negro minister.

SNCC and the other groups charged that the fare hike was discriminatory since it would largely hurt Negro Washington. They scheduled the boy-

cott primarily against nine heavily travelled routes in the mostly Negro northeast section of town. But they also called for city-wide walkout against D. C. Transit.

Washington is a city of considerable apathy in local matters. It has been so long denied home rule that it tends not to believe that the voice of the people matters. It often accepts its fate with a passivity that would surprise more politically conscious communities. When demonstrations and protests are organized, the police are likely to outnumber the demonstrators.

SNCC proposed that people walk, hitch a ride, or stay home on the dav of the boycott. High school students were urged to organize walk-ins. Cars and volunteer drivers were sought. to pick up riders along the boycotted bus lines. Domestics were asked to tell their employers that they would have to be picked up.

SNCC set up a communications headquarters, procured radio equipped cars, and established car assembly points. Handbills were widely distributed, stuck under doors and beneath the windshield wipers of parked cars. The police stationed additional men along the boycott routes.

“It’s beautiful,” the man in the slightly frayed brown overcoat said after he told me he was headed for 17th St. NW. “It’s working and it’s beautiful. Hey, you see those two there? Let’s try and get them.” I pulled over to the right lane by a stop where two men stood.
“Hey man, why spend thirty cents? Get in,” my rider called to the pair.

“You headed down town?”

“Yeah, get in.”

“Great. It’s working, huh? Great!”

The boycott was like an informal game of touch football on a Saturday afternoon. Nobody was too good at the game but everyone who played seemed to enjoy it just the same.


Not everyone played. As I made my way back from downtown, I stopped at several bus stops. “Fight the fare increase: ride for free,” I’d call out.

Most of those waiting for the bus were white. Some pretended they didn’t hear me and looked the other way. Others stared as if I were a little crazy. Still others shook their head in that nervous, embarrassed way people do when they’re refusing to buy pencils from a crippled man on the street corner. During the day I carried 71 people. Only five of them were white. Three American University students. One man on his way to a job interview in a crummy section of town. And one lady who thought the boycott wasn’t going far enough.
I wondered about those who rejected my offer of a free ride. Perhaps they wanted a thirty cent fare. But I doubted that. It was more likely they were apprehensive about anything that upset the routine of life.

They were more prosperous than the riders I picked up on Benning Road; more successful than the cement-caked laborer who got in on Florida Ave

nue; and had more reason to be satisfied with life than the Negro maid I carried who commuted regularly halfway across town to a badly paid job.
But when someone offered them a free ride they were afraid: better not, he might rape me: what’s the gimmick, must be one of those agitators; hitching rides is dangerous . . .

I was glad to get back to Northeast Washington, where people were help-

ing each other out that Monday without apprehension. Life hadn’t done as well by them, not by a damn sight, but at least they were not afraid of its novelties. It’s too bad people get scared when they start to succeed.

At the delicatessen at 24th and Benning, one of the assembly points, a young, wavy-haired Negro who worked with SNCC greeted me. “Been waiting all morning for a car to work from here; said they were going to have one, but they didn’t send it.
Want a cup of coffee?” “Thanks.” “I’m tired, man. Been up all night down at the office. We got some threats. One bunch said they were go-

ing to bomb us, but they didn’t.’’ The SNCC worker went to the pay phone and tried to reach the SNCC office. He couldn’t. “Let’s go out to 34th and Benning.” We got into my car and continued east out to Benning. Lots of empty buses.

“We ,got to live together, man. You’re white and you can’t help it. I’m Negro and I can’t help it. But we still can get along. That’s the way I feel about it.” I agreed.

“You ever worked with SNCC before?”

“Nope.”

“Well, I’ll tell you, man, you hear a lot of things. But they’re a good group. They stick together. You know like if you get in trouble you know they’re going to be in there with you. If you get threatened they’ll have peo-

ple around you all the time. They stick together. That’s good, man.”

People were sticking together well that Monday. SNCC estimated D. C. Transit lost 130,000 to 150,000 fares during the boycott. Only occasionally did the enthusiasm for the boycott threaten to get out of hand. One lady said she had heard that kids at her boy’s school were going to wait at the bus stops and beat up any of their schoolmates who got off D. C. Tran-

sit vehicles. But there were no reports of this actually happening. More probably, it was just talk. Like the lady in my car who asked a man we had picked up at a downtown bus stop,

“You weren’t waiting for a bus, were you?”

“No, I just figured someone would come along and pick me up.”

“That’s good. ’Cause if you were waiting for a bus I was going to bop you over the head.”

We all laughed and the man reassured her again.

“You know,” the lady in the back continued, “there were some of the girls at work who said they were going to ride the bus and they really made me mad. I thought I’d go get a big stick and stand at the bus stop and bop ’em one if they got on Mr. Chalk’s buses. Some people just don’t know how to cooperate. And you know you don’t have nothing in this world until you get people together . . . Hey lookit over there, let’s see if that guy’s going out northeast.”

He was. The car was full again and we drove to the northeast end of town together. None of us knew whether the boycott would have any effect on the fare increase. Two days later, however, the transit commission, in a unanimous decision, denied D. C. Transit the hike. The commission’s executive director drily told reporters that the boycott played no part in the decision. He was probably right. The commission worried about such things as cash dividends, investor’s equity, rate of return, depreciated value, company rate base. The boycotters vorried about a nickel more a ride. Fortunately, it all came out the same. But in case it hadn’t, the boycott organizers were preparing to renew the protest. It would have been interesting.

There is plenty more to protest in Washington. And the passivity of the city’s citizens can no longer be taken for granted.

Roy Chalk deserves at least some thanks for that.

After the bus boycott, I wrote a letter to its leader congratulating him and offering to help in the future. Not long after the leader, Marion S. Barry, and his colleague, L. D. Pratt, were sitting in my living room talking about how I could help in SNCC’s public relations. I readily agreed to advise on these matters. For the first time in my life I had joined a movement.

Friday, January 23, 2015

What's new with me


Sam Smith, 2011

One of the ways that bad policies, ideas, and values spread is because the system, especially the media, portrays them as normal. One of the ways one knows this to be untrue is to be old enough to remember when life was different.

I’ve been jotting down things of a political, social and economic nature that have been happening lately for the first time or in record quantity since I covered my first Washington story 54 years ago. Here are a few of the things that are new with me:

– The most radical and irrational Republican Party. To be sure, there had been Joe McCarthy but among those who eventually put him down were normal conservatives who found him embarrassing. Those people don’t seem to exist any more in the GOP.

– The most conservative Democratic president. In an earlier time, there would have been a name for Obama: Republican.

– People who would have formerly been considered political jokes are now talking about running for president, such as Michelle Bachman, Sarah Palin, and Donald Trump. To be sure there was a Pogo for President movement and comedian Pat Paulsen’s campaign, but neither had a PAC.

– An unprecedented level of political nastiness. I can’t, for example, remember a segregationist politician calling for blacks to be shot and killed by helicopter like “feral hogs” as recently proposed for immigrants by a Kansas legislator.

– A record bipartisan contempt for civil liberties. Never has a Democratic president or a Republican Party been so eclectically contemptuous of constitutional rights. As William Shirer, author of a great book Nazism, pointed out, “You don’t need a totalitarian dictatorship like Hitler’s to get by with murder . . . You can do it in a democracy as long as the Congress and the people Congress is supposed to represent don’t give a damn.”

– A decline in the respect for facts. In America’s political debate, facts are now treated like just another ad hominem argument to be dismissed with colorful rhetoric. And numbers are considered simply another form of adjective.

– A Democratic administration without a single cabinet member one can truly admire.

– A Democratic Congress with only a tiny handful of party members who might have supported either the New Deal or the Great Society. But you can’t save the republic just relying on Bernie Sanders, Dennis Kucinich and Anthony Weiner.

– A stunningly vacuous cultural leadership and a weird willingness to let Jon Stewart take care of all it for us.

– Massive passivity by, rather than reaction from, the nation’s young.

– The extraordinary level of bipartisan contempt (depending on who is in which office) for the constitutional powers of the Congress and states.

– The sense one has of Obama seeing himself as a CEO rather than a political leader of multi-faceted democratic institutions. And our treatment as either consumers or employees.

– The level of mind-blowing bureaucratic complexity of new policies such as the healthcare legislation, which no one has truly figured out.

– The willingness to replace legal argument with euphemisms to accomplish violations of the Constitution and international law.

– The bipartisan indifference and ineffectiveness regarding the ecological crises around us, all the more striking because the evidence of ecological danger is now far stronger than when the modern environmental movement started four decades ago.

– The unprecedented willingness by Democrats – from Obama on down – to dismantle great programs of the New Deal and the Great Society.

– A loss of privacy unlike any time I have experienced.

– A record number of people on food stamps.

– A record collapse in housing prices.

– The first decline in family net worth since the 1950s

– Record high average temperatures.

That’s just for starters.

Here, for comparison is how was when I was just a starter, as Jermie D. Cullip describes it:

“From 1950 to 1959, the total number of females employed increased by 18%. The standard of living during the fifties also steadily rose. Most people expected to own a car and a house, and believed that life for their children would be even better. . . The number of college students doubled. Getting a college education was no longer for the rich or elite.

“Over the decade the housing supply increased 27 percent . . . By mid-1955, the country had pulled out of the previous year’s recession and gross national product was growing at a rate of 7.6 percent. . . .Over the decade, GNP per capita almost doubled and the public welfare reacted accordingly as the cost of living index rose by just 1 percent and unemployment dropped to 4.1 percent'”

The amazing thing by today’s standards is that all this was accomplished by a system producing less than 5,000 MBAs a year as opposed to the 142,000 that would be turned out annually by 2005. And nobody talked about branding, mission statements or strategic visions.

There was, of course, plenty wrong and the next couple of decades made big positive changes in the lives of those who had been left behind, including the poor, women, blacks and gays.

Then came the Reagan years and the corporatization of America that would follow. America seemed to stop wanting to be America anymore. Being just another phony brand was good enough. American began its thirty year decline. And to this day, there are few who will tell you.

Further, it all can happen faster than we think. Nine years ago, for example, I gave a talk at a punk rock concert in which I listed nearly 30 ways in which American freedoms had diminished during the lifetimes of the 20-somethings present.

Above I’ve noted just a few of things that have changed since then. If you haven’t thought about them, don’t blame yourself. The media and our leaders have given us cultural Altzheimer’s and they’re not about to change their ways. As Don DeLillo put it, “History is the sum total of the things they’re not telling us.” So that’s what’s new with me. And, I’m afraid, with you as well

 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

How liberals helped create a bipolar America. . . and what to do about it


Sam Smith

America is trapped in bipolar prejudice. Conservatives dislike blacks, latinos, women and gays while liberals dislike white Americans who don’t agree with them, especially men. Conservatives are encouraged by cultural paranoia and liberals by cultural narcissism.
The conservative prejudices have been more than adequately publicly outlined, but the liberal side remains largely under cover. Both sides condemn, but neither is effective at converting, and so things just get worse.

While cultural discrimination has always been a problem for conservatives, it’s only in the past few decades that liberals have turned on a former major constituency, white men.
I first noticed it in the late 1970s. In 1979 I wrote:

Part of the brilliance of the early civil rights movement was to recognize the difference between the homogenous appearance of the white community and its actual heterogeneity, between its own past subjugation to reactionary cliques of power and its potential acceptance of new ideals and alliances. Had Martin Luther King been as stubbornly ethnocentric as some of his successors in the black movement, the blood might still be spreading in Selma today. It is part of the power of Andrew Young as well; he has the capacity to move others than blacks, to speak first of universal rights and needs and only secondarily to plead a particular ethnic cause.

It is a skill that has not been highly valued in recent years. After King, the black movement – rightfully scornful of the debilitating absorption of minorities by traditional integration (as opposed to desegregation with equality) – turned on the coalition politics of the early civil righters and pursued goals in isolation, with guerilla-like attacks on the white establishment that first stunned and confounded it but later only annoyed it. Important as it was for blacks to rediscover long-suppressed values and traditions, once so armed and united they were still only a minority – and one easily turned away from the door.

The separatist politics flourished anyway. It was more important to shock than to convert, to decry than to convince. Whites were driven away from the civil rights movement just as later males would be shunned in the feminist movement. If you were black you didn’t trust whites, if you were a woman you didn’t trust men. If you were young you didn’t trust anyone over 30. If you were a homosexual you scorned straights. And if you were an over-thirty, straight white male your main role in the social politics of the nation was to be confronted and condemned. The role provided a largely immobilized, somewhat guilty mass of American men against which to sling their ideologies. 

The only problem was that by deliberately disengaging a large segment of the population from the battle for rights, active resistance to these movements could function with little fear that their opposition might be reinforced by politically stronger allies. The minority of those with power could battle the minority that sought it on terms considerably more favorable to the former than in the days of the old coalitions…
If you want someone to treat you decently one of the best ways is to treat them decently. It hasn’t been tried much recently on the white American male. It might just help… It means understanding that while you may think he’s sitting on top of the world, he probably doesn’t feel that way, that he feels as much as you a victim of forces he can’t control. It means being really interested in equality rather than exchanging one form of power abuse for another…

Since then, things have gotten worse. Not unlike our bombings in the Mid East, liberals unintentionally have increased the vociferousness of the opposition. Thirty years ago there was no Tea Party, less disenfranchisement of voters, and no Congress as dramatically opposed to basic democratic principles as there is today

Liberals, in planning strategy, tend to forget that they are a minority. Historically, the way that minorities in America have done best – as with the Irish and Jews – is to find ways to lead the majority rather than simply oppose it. One historian, for example, has noted the influence of the Irish bar as a multicultural gathering place on the political influence of the Irish in places like Chicago. We don’t think of things like that these days.

Secondly, liberals tend to lump all whites together – witness the frequent talk of white entitlement and white privilege. This does not work either morally nor politically any better than the right lumping all blacks or women together.

Thirdly, the overwhelming factor of economics is ignored. For example, whites comprise, by one recent estimate, 41% of the nation’s poor. That’s nearly twice as many poor whites as blacks. There are more white than black children living in poverty. There are more unemployed white males than black males. But in recent decades, liberals have turned their back on such matters and tend to treat white males as though they all had power. Not surprisingly, a large number of white males without power have resented this.

The irony is that concentrating on economic politics would bring various parts of America far closer together than emphasizing ethnic or gender differences that liberals claim aren’t meant to matter anyway.

Martin Luther King understood the problem, as Morris Dees noted recently. Three years before his assassination, King gave a sermon in the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta Georgia, in which he said:
[In the 1963 ‘I Have a Dream’ speech,] I tried to tell the nation about a dream I had. I must confess to you this morning that since that sweltering August afternoon in 1963, my dream has often turned into a nightmare; I’ve seen it shattered… I’ve seen my dream shattered because I’ve been through Appalachia, and I’ve seen my white brothers along with Negroes living in poverty. And I’m concerned about white poverty as much as I’m concerned about Negro poverty.


And a year before ‘I Have a Dream’ , King was in Puerto Rico, telling an audience, “We must not seek to rise from a position of disadvantage to one of advantage, thus subverting justice. .. For God is not interested merely in the freedom of black men, and brown men, and yellow men; God is interested in the freedom of the whole human race, and the creation of a society where all men will live together as brothers.”

A major turning point away from such a view was the Poor People’s Campaign, started by King before his death. Other activists took the lead. Robert T. Chase of George Mason University writes:
Reverend Ralph Abernathy, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s successor to the slain Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., began the Poor People’s Campaign of 1968 with the proclamation that “the poor are no longer divided. We are not going to let the white man put us down anymore. It’s not white power, and I’ll give you some news, it’s not black power, either. It’s poor power and we’re going to use it….
The five different ethnic groups at [Resurrection City] were equally represented as African Americans, Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, American Indians, and poor whites. The Convention then allowed each ethnic group to elect a spokesman….
By 1968 African Americans were left with the choice between “black power” to create a more separate and empowered black community or integration through the inter-racial movement of poor people to achieve a new socioeconomic policy in the United States. Stokely Carmichael, co-founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and proponent of “black power,” commented that the difference between SCLC and SNCC was between “mobilizing versus organizing.” As [Godfrey] Hodgson has concluded “to mobilize meant to rely, in the last analysis, on white help. To organize meant to stand or fall by what black people could do for themselves.”
Therefore, the “mobilizing” philosophy of the SCLC depended on white, liberal, middle-class support for the PPC. When that support failed to materialize, the PPC failed as a movement. The result was that without King and without white, liberal, middle-class support, the PPC inadvertently served as notice to the black community that integration had not worked. Thus, with King gone and the PPC a failure, the SCLC lost credibility as the forefront Civil Rights organization causing the black community to lose its primary organizational alternative to “black power.”…
The failure of the Poor People’s Campaign extended beyond questions of leadership and tactics. Ultimately, the PPC failed because the traditional constituency of the Civil Rights movement — the white, middle-class, liberals — was repulsed by the goals of the campaign itself. Bringing the poor together as a racial amalgamation of similar interests and goals heightened the issue of class in America and, consequently, Americans came to view the Civil Rights movement as an instrument questioning the legitimacy of America’s economic system and its capitalistic “way of life.”…
Chase concludes:

After the six-week debacle for the PPC, it was clear that white, middle-class, liberal Americans would only engage in the Civil Rights movement when it clung to “American” ideals. In other words, the Civil Rights movement of the early 1960s suceeded because it fought racial inequality as part of a regional and political — not national and economic — problem. The Poor People’s Campaign, however, questioned America’s capitalist system and was thus seen as economically akin to revolution. Therefore, the PPC garnered little support from the white, middle-class, liberals who could concede concrete legislative reforms for the poor but not outright change of the economic system for all Americans. Therefore, the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy, the apathy of the middle class, the terrible weather conditions, the failure to produce anti-poverty legislation, and the inherent difficulty of managing a city of the impoverished caused the Poor People’s Campaign to end ignominiously. When the revolutionary call for a class-based confrontation failed to garner support among the traditional Civil Rights’ constituency, the Poor People’s Campaign was doomed to failure and along with it the last vestige of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “dream.”
Thus, as early as 1968, white liberals had rejected a cross-cultural economic approach to action.

Another little noted factor was that the black concentration in Americans cities would make it easy for black politicians to gain power without having to lead whites. It seems astounding today, but when Marion Barry first ran for mayor in 1978, he had so much white support that the Afro American newspaper ran a column claiming that he was part of a plot by whites to take over the majority black city. Within one term, however, Barry had moved to a more politically comfortable heavily black constituency.

Today, liberals make up less than a quarter of the electorate. Where do they find the support to get anything done? This is a key question that has not been seriously considered for several decades.

A better politics and a happier country would more likely come from changing some their current practices and thinking.

A few suggestions:

- Stop talking so much about ethnicity and gender and talk more about economics.
- If you want to complain about what some white guys are doing, identify them by name, group or class, not by terms like “white males.”
- Tackle the bad guys not because they’re white but because they’re bad and enlist the help of ordinary white men in the task.
- Find ways that minorities can lead the majority. The remarkable Moral Mondays coalition is a good example. A national blending of black, latino and labor leaders dealing with national issues well as ethnic and union ones, could have a huge impact.
- If you don’t like being stereotyped as a black or woman remember that a white guy won’t like it either
- Preach reciprocal liberty, as in you can have your guns but we get gay marriage and abortion rights.
- Don’t try to organize the future by alienating those you want to change. Discover what you have in common.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The other side of Memphis: Mississippi in 1965

In February 1965, one month before the Selma march, your editor, then 27, went to Jackson, Mississippi, to cover the hearings of the US Commission of Civil Rights. Here's my story.

Sam Smith, 1965

And the Lord came to the Good Man and said, "Son, I want you to go to Mississippi and help the poor people down there." And the Good Man replied, "Lord, I'll go if you'll be there with me." And the Lord said, "Son, I'll go with you, but only as far as Memphis."

Mississippi, despite civil rights laws, statements of principle and hints of progress, still inspires Negroes to tell such stories, stories born in the deepest frustration, despair and anger.The U. S. Commission on Civil Rights went the other side of Memphis, to Jackson, Miss., to view for itself this state, that, 100 years after the end of Civil War, remains morally and philosophically seceded from the Union.

We attended the week of hearings and took a look around. This is our story:

Alfred Whitley is a Mississippi Negro who works at a Natchez rubber plant. Coming home from work one evening, he was stopped by a road block. Hooded men with robes appeared, hauled Whitley out of the car, took him into some nearby woods, stripped and beat him.

The hooded men accused Whitley of being "the leading nigger in the NAACP" and demanded to know the name of the white man in charge.

The beating continued, punctuated by the crack of a bullwhip. Whitley was forced to drink a bottle of castor oil. One of the men said, "He's the toughest one I ever beat." Then Whitley was told, "Get up and run." He took off in the Mississippi dark, ran about fifty feet, and fell on his stomach. Searchlights glared above him. Then the sound of guns. Bullets whizzed overhead. Finally it stopped. The men were gone.

Whitley got dressed and went home.

Archie Curtis is a Negro who runs the Curtis Funeral Home in Natchez.

One year ago, late on a February evening, Curtis received a phone call asking that he bring his ambulance to a remote rural spot to pick up a sick person. The funeral director called his ambulance driver, Willie Jackson, and the two of them drove off on the call.

They had been told to come to a crossroad where someone would be waiting to lead them to the proper house. Reaching the rendezvous, the two Negroes found no one. They proceeded a bit further, then stopped to ask directions from those in a car behind them.

It was an ambush. Four men with white hoods stepped from the car.

Curtis and Jackson were blindfolded, taken a distance, made to strip, then struck with whips.

Curtis pleaded, "Man, don't be whipping me like this." But the men continued.

One suggested, "We ought to kill them." But they didn't: instead left the pair with the warning, "You better not tell anybody about this." Curtis turned to his driver and, with the resignation of a man to whom such an experience came as no surprise, said simply, "Well, Willie, we got to get dressed and go home."

T. V. Johnson, a Belzoni Negro, has not been beaten or whipped. He even registered to vote back in 1954.

But he hasn't voted.

During his testimony before the Civil Rights Commission, the following exchange took place :

Q. Are you going to try (to vote) .'

A. No, not until the intimidation

Q. When will you vote?

A. When they all go down.

Q. Who are you afraid of?

A. Everybody .

And why not? Tomorrow it may be T. V. Johnson's night in the woods.

It is hard to be more specific in a state where hooded men appear in the night with bullwhips, bombs are thrown from passing cars, and phone calls bring anonymous threats.

It is said that the Mississippi Negro is fighting for equality. That is not true. He hasn't even gotten that far.

His struggle of the moment is to gain a foothold so he may begin the fight, for equality.

Mississippi is a state where a pronouncement by the Governor or the Chamber of Commerce calling for law and order is a novelty. It is a state where members of a federal panel appointed to look into the rights of citizens solemnly applauds a city not because of any great strides in promoting equality, but because no heads have been bashed in there recently.

It is a state where many appear to believe that the limits of progress are reached when terror is eliminated.

In such an atmosphere sophisticated arguments over civil rights lose their meaning. Until some of the most primitive concepts of democracy are accepted - such as the right of a citizen to vote and the obligation of government to protect its citizens - it matters little who uses which washroom.

The Negro in Mississippi is not only segregated: he has been isolated from almost every mechanism that might possibly change his condition.

You do not have to experience the brutal nights of Archie Curtis or Alfred Whitley to learn the high cost of being a Negro in Mississippi.

The story of these incidents spreads through their county and beyond, bringing with them the tacit moral: don't try to change things.

Over the past few years Negroes have been trying to change things and the most fundamental change they have sought is the right to vote.

Henry Rayburn, a 63-year-old farmer from near Charleston, was approached by a man with a club when he went to vote. Rayburn says the man told him "he would kill me if I tried to vote." The Commission wanted to know if the police had been notified of the threat. No, Rayburn replied, because "the law coincides with what the other side does insofar as Negroes are involved." Alena Hamlett of Scobey registered in 1962. When her name was published in the local newspaper, as required by Mississippi law, a female effigy was hung near her home.

Dorothy Mae Foster went to register with her husband at Fayette in 1963. She was later visited by three men who presented a card that read: "Thousands of Klansmen are waiting, watching, Don't be misled. Let your conscience be your guide. Ku Klux Klan."

She was told, "If you don't take your name off the list you will be sorry." Mrs. Mary Welch of Humphreys County said she was told by a county official that "I was going to get in trouble and wasn't going to get any more commodities." Rural Negroes in Mississippi depend upon surplus agricultural commodities for survival.

When the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee attempted to organize a voter registration drive in Macomb, 16 bombings occurred.

Mrs. Mary Thomas, a high school graduate, had her photograph taken by county police when she went to register. She was asked why she wanted to register. "We've always given you commodities." a county official told her.

Shortly after her return home, a deputy sheriff arrived and arrested her for selling beer without a county license.

She was fined $365.71 for failure to have a $15 license. She had never been told whether she passed the registration test.

Jesse James Brewer, a farmer from Tallahatchie County, went to register last summer. He was told by the sheriff that he had gone to the wrong place. On the way to the proper courthouse, the sheriff passed him. Upon his arrival, Brewer and other Negro registrants were surrounded by a group of men.

One of them said. "You niggers get away from the courthouse. You don't have no business here." For the next three weeks trucks with gun racks on the back repeatedly drove up and circled Brewer's house.

He finally registered on the fourth try.

Brewer is a World War II veteran.

He told the Commission, "The only time I felt like a man was when I was in the Army. After I got out it seemed my freedom run out." And he added, "I want to vote because there are some things I want to get straight."

The Negro community was indicated by a survey of Negro teachers presented to the Commission by James W. Protho.

Teachers in four counties were interviewed.

In one county, 62% of the teachers refused to be interviewed because the school superintendent had warned them not to discuss' civil rights with anyone.

Registration of teachers ran from a low of 0% to a high of 74%. In every county at least 40% of 'the teachers volunteered expressions of fear concerning voting. In one county 79% expressed fear.

They did not like talking about it.

As one teacher put it, "The walls have ears." Mississippi, pollster Protho concluded, is a "totalitarian local system." Beatings, bombings, burnings, threats of vioience, warnings tha: commodities will be cut off, loss of jobs, removal of credit, as well as photographing, trumped up charges, and other harassment by police, are routine methods of voter intimidation.

But even if these were to disappear tomorrow, the state of Mississippi would still have impressive legal hurdles for the Negro to surmount in order to register.

The odds are clearly stacked against a Negro trying to register. The Justice Department is in the process of challenging several of the state requirements, but the procedure is a tedious and difficult one. In only one county has there been any significant increase in registration because of a federal suit.

The staff of the Commission made a study of how Mississippi law is actually applied by county registrars.

A thorough review of the records of Issaquena County showed that until last summer all white applicants passed voter qualification tests while all Negroes failed.

There was strong evidence that white applicants were given aid in their interpretation of sections of the state constitution. Commission Attorney Charles Hempstone said he discovered that 15 of 48 whites given an identical section to interpret had also given identical answers.

The real hypocrisy of the "reasonable interpretation" requirement was revealed in an exchange between Commission member Dean Erwin Griswold of the Harvard Law School and Humphreys County Clerk G. H. Hood. Griswold, a heavy-set lawyer who speaks in tones reminiscent of W.C. Fields, slowly lifted himself out of his chair, walked over to witness Hood, handed him a copy of section 182 of the state constitution and asked him for a reasonable interpretation.

Hood, who had given this section to applicants and had judged their ability to vote on the basis of their answers, stared at the sheet for several minutes, then started to give a reply that included much of the wording of the section.

Griswold bit off the reply: "I didn't ask you to read, I asked you to interpret." Hood huddled with his lawyer and then said that he would refuse to proceed because of the pressure being put on him by the committee.

"You mean on the grounds that it may incriminate you," Griswold asked.

Hood said, "Yes, sir." The point was made.

Civil rights leader Aaron Henry told the Commission that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had not helped to get one Negro registered in Mississippi.

This is an exaggeration, but even the optimism of Burke Marshall in describing the progress the Justice Department has made (time required for litigation has been reduced, court decrees have been issued to speed up registration), can not conceal the need for additional federal legislation if the Mississippi Negro is going to be able to exercise his right to vote.

The President's new voting proposals would be invaluable in this regard.

Mississippi Governor Paul Johnson has warned that "federal registrars could almost bring civil war," but even he admits "most of our people realize that there has been some discrimination." He noted, in an interview in the Washington Post, that "you don't have a leg to stand on whom a registrar registers a white man who can hardly read or write and turns down a Negro woman with a M.A." But the governor said he would take no steps to remove such a registrar since "it's purely a local situation. ' ' And so it will remain for some time, it would appear, unless the federal government's hand can be strengthened.

George Washington, Sr., appears superficially to fit the image of an Uncle Tom.

Much about the middle-aged Canton, Miss., store owner suggests it. His name, his manner of speech, his buoyant spirit that shields him from the brutality of his environment, and his expressions of faith in the goodness of white men, ill fit him to join the company of the new Negro generation.

Speaking of the police chief of his town, Washington says, "Now, Mr. Dan - he's real nice. He's always polite to me." But George Washington, Sr., is not an Uncle Tom. He has joined the fight.

Last summer he rented a building to COFO workers involved in voter registration. Last summer this house was bombed.

When Canton Police Chief Dan C. Thompson's officers arrived to investigate the bombing, Washington was arrested. He had failed to report the bombing promptly and the police wanted to know why.

Taken to jail, Washington, according to his testimony, was told by one of the officers, "We're going to send your so-and-so to the penitentiary. We can get you ten years." Then, Washington said, the officer "hauled off and hit me."

"What were you doing," a Commission member asked.

The ever-cheerful Negro replied, "I wasn't doing anything. I was just going into jail." He was struck again and questioned for three or four hours before being released.

Reflecting on the investigation of the bombing, Washington commented,  "It looked like to me that they weren't too particular to see who did it."

It was a cogent observation. Two thirds of the one-page police report was concerned with the failure to report the incident promptly. The rest was about the investigation into the bombing.

Later, Washington went to see "Mr. Dan" to complain about the police action. The police chief promised that such incidents would not occur again. And they haven't.

Chief Dan Thompson has had 21 years of police experience. Whatever his views on segregation, he appears to take his responsibilities as a police officer seriously. He told the Commission that he lectured his officers severely after the Washington incident.

Not all Mississippi police officials have as much professional background or seem interested in gaining it.

County sheriffs are elected by the predominately white electorate. They are not allowed to succeed themselves.

Their duties are complicated from the start due to the fact that they also serve as tax collectors and are paid on the basis of commissions received from taxes, fines and licenses

(This doubling in brass is not limited to sheriffs. A sign on a Mississippi road called for the election of a man who was running for the combined post of coroner and ranger.) Canton is located in Madison County. Its sheriff is Jack Cauthen, a member of the White Citizen's Council. Until his election he was a vocational agriculture instructor. Armed with this experience, he administers the law in Madison County.

Over at Laurel, Miss., local justice also proceeds in a curious fashion.

When an attempt was made to integrate the coffee shop of the Pinehurst Hotel in accordance with the public accommodations section of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Police Chief Nix acted on the complaint of the management and arrested several persons for breach of the peace.

Nix maintained that he was obliged to serve any warrant sworn out.

"Any charges," he said, "that are made, I am obliged to serve them, not to prove them. I can't set myself up as the judge." Nix was asked if he was familiar with the public accommodations law.

He said he was.

And there were these exchanges:

Commission Counsel William Taylor: Were you aware they had a right to be served under the public accommodations sections . . . and knowing of this right, did you warn the owner?"

Nix: That's not up to me to determine, that's up to the courts.

Griswold: Do you have any obliqation to enforce federal laws in Laurel? Don't you take an oath to, obey the Constitution of the United States? . . .

Nix: I don't believe I can enforce the segregation or desegregation.

Even in Natchez, where defiance of the law has gone so far that the police chief has been threatened and the mayor has had his house bombed, Police Chief James T. Robinson could attend a Ku Klux Klan meeting and be "very impressed." Eight or nine hundred persons were present and, said Robinson, "I did not see anything that night that would make me think they were anything but outstanding people."

Robinson has, however, made an investigation to rout out members of KKK from his force. He says he found none.

In case after case of civil rights violence, the last notation is "No arrests made." There is no doubt that the police have a difficult job in Mississippi. As George Washington, Sr., told US, "Every white man is the law here." But the evidence strongly indicates that where law officers have behaved in a professional manner, violence has been greatly reduced.

In many instances the police and the courts have been more interested in suppressing civil rights activity than they have in putting an end to bombings and beatings.

There are numerous current practices that do not help to maintain law and order. Among them:

-Failure to investigate thoroughly incidents of violence.

-Arrests of Negroes after they report incidents to the police.

-Failure to present cases properly to grand juries and courts.

-Active police participation in the intimidation of Negroes.

-Indifference to the activities of groups such as the KKK and the John Birch Society.

There are good policemen in Mississippi.

And when you find them, you find men who have been professionally trained and who regard their first obligation to the law. There are not enough of them.

Mississippians have been moderately successful in spreading the idea that civil rights workers from the North have unduly stirred up trouble in their state. They talk of "outside agitators messing in local problems." We have heard civil rights supporters in the North express doubts about the wisdom of a program such as last summer's COFO project in Mississippi.

William Eskridge, a 64-year-old farmer, told us, "I can't honestly say all our trouble is the white man's fault. There's fear among the Negroes. Unreasonable fear. When minds are enslaved, they are hard to change." The arrival of the COFO workers was the catalyst that dissolved the fear and permitted Negroes to take the first halting, difficult steps into the light of hope.

One of the sad ironies of Mississippi is that, even today, the federal government plays an ambivalent role in Mississippi.

The Civil Rights Commission held its hearings in the Veterans Administration Center. In that federally operated building there was a segregated barbershop.

Local federal agencies, such as the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service and Social Security, which greatly affect the Negro, are closely connected with the white leadership of the state.

There are 2,700 ASCS committeemen in Mississippi: only 18 of them are Negroes.

The FBI, despite its many investigators in the state, has an exceedingly poor record. In fact, a number of law officers appearing before the Commission used the FBI as a rationalization for their own failure to make arrests, e.g. if the FBI can't solve these crimes how do you expect us to? It has been argued, by us among others, that the federal government has the power and the duty to become more actively engaged in the protection of life and property in the state. Nothing in the testimony given to the Commission indicated that this need had significantly lessened in recent months. This is not to say that a federal "invasion" of Mississippi is desirable. But there is no reason why federal officers cannot provide discreet protection for Negro churches, meeting places, and threatened individuals. ooo

In Mississippi these days there is talk about a climate of change. Such a climate does exist.

Moderates are saying in public things they would not have dared whisper in private a few years back.

Important groups, such as the Chamber of Commerce and the Mississippi Economic Council, are issuing statements calling for equal administration of justice and law that once would have been considered seditious.

In a few cities, Greenville is noteworthy among them, the responsible forces of the community - local government, the newspaper, the businessmen - have overcome the racial fanatics.

The road the state must follow leads not just away from racial tension but towards an adequate level of economic development, education and social well-being.

To appreciate the difficulties one need only look at the new program announced by Mississippi business leaders. It's called "75 x 75." Its goal: to raise the average income of Mississippians to 75% of the national average by 1975.

To the outsider such an objective may seem extremely modest. But in Mississippi it is simply realistic.

As Mississippians face the fact that they have segregated not only Negroes from whites, but their whole state from America, change will come.

The state's top businessmen know it. Mississippi is changing. As the stranger sees the small signs and smiles, his confidence renewed in the process of democracy.

He leaves the state shoving the memories of callousness and cruelty aside to make room for more pleasant thoughts of progress, statements of principle, and communications between the races.

But as he stares out the window of his compartment on board the Southerner rumbling towards Birmingham, Atlanta and the North, the memories keep forcing their way back. Tar paper drooping from wretched walls; torn, rusted iron roofs that will not last another season; and weathered faces deteriorate silently as the train passes.

An aging Negro stops in a field to wave at the train, then turns without waiting to see if anyone is waving back.

Mississippi is changing.

Will he know it?