Category Archives: Activism

Tony Judt – Past Imperfect, Present Impotent, Future ?

Tony Judt wrote this about the state of the Left in America in his book Ill Fares The Land …

“We no longer have political movement. While thousands of us may come together for a rally or march, we are bound together on such occasions by a single shared interest. Any effort to convert such interests into collective goals is usually undermined by the fragmented individualism of our concerns. Laudable goals – fighting climate change, opposing war, advocating public healthcare or penalizing bankers – are united by nothing more than the expression of emotion. In our political as in our economic lives, we have become consumers: choosing from a broad gamut of competing objectives, we find it hard to imagine ways or reasons to combine these into a coherent whole. We must do better than this.”

Taking the recent election as evidence Judt, who passed away in 2010, was right on target (no pun intended). Here are some valuable web resources for further investigation of this important thinker:

https://www.c-span.org/video/?189437-1/postwar-history-europe-since-1945

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2010/04/29/ill-fares-the-land/

http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/magazine/tony-judt-interview

The Strange Death of Liberal America

Tony Judt’s Obituary in the Guardian

In today’s America, neoconservatives generate brutish policies for which liberals provide the ethical fig leaf. There really is no other difference between them.”
Tony Judt, Reappraisals: Reflections on the Forgotten Twentieth Century

Phil Ochs – A Buckeye Remembered

Here’s to the great Phil Ochs on what would have been his 76th birthday (December 19). One of the most influential singers of his time, during the Civil Rights and Free Speech Movements and the Vietnam war, he was also an Ohio State journalism student and worked for the school newspaper, the Lantern. At OSU he met his political mentor, Jim Glover, who introduced him to the music of Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie and the Weavers. Odd (sad) that the university remains ambivalent/silent about his legacy…

“A good song with a message can a bring a point more deeply than a thousand rallies” – Phil Ochs

Remembering The Stand In The Schoolhouse Door

The milestone incident known as the stand in the schoolhouse door took place fifty-three years ago today, June 11, 1963, at the University of Alabama, when Alabama’s Governor George Wallace attempted to physically block two black students, Vivian Malone and James Hood, from enrolling in the university. It was one of the crucial moments in the civil rights struggle of the 1960s and a shining example of graceful leadership under immense pressure. 

Previously, in his inaugural address as governor, Wallace had shouted segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” He repeatedly assured his constituents that he would keep his promise and defy any and all federal court orders forcing integration in his state. So on that fateful day he was determined, and honor-bound, to stand his ground. Part savvy politician, part carnival barker, Wallace certainly had a flair for the dramatic and he had staged quite a show for his rabid fans. For his part, Kennedy had to find a way to enforce federal court orders without playing into Wallace’s hands by turning him into a high-profile martyr for the southern racist cause, let alone keep the peace on a campus swarming with white supremacists itching for a fight. The riots a year earlier between whites and national guard troops at Oxford Mississippi over James Meredith had to have been fresh in his mind. (Listen to Bob Dylan’s Oxford Town)

During the stand-off JFK and his brother Bobby were busy working the phones between Washington and their agent at Alabama, Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach. They were very hesitant to just “kick the governor out of the way.” Their primary dilemma: sending troops too soon might set off violence, but waiting too long might be seen as a retreat. Their solution: Malone and Hood waited out of site under a federal marshals’ protection while Katzenbach went forth to confront Wallace face-to-face on the steps of the admissions building. He calmly and respectfully served the court order and listened to the recalcitrant Wallace’s prepared statement. Kennedy then ordered Katzenbach to turn away, walk back to the students, and escort them to their dormitories. It worked! There was no riot, but also no retreat. Wallace was able to save face with his people and leave the scene. Malone and Hood quietly returned the next day and registered without incident.

Alabama was the last American state to desegregate its universities. Luckily, due to the Kennedy brothers’ resolve and quick thinking under pressure, the Tide went out with a whimper and not a bang. That night President Kennedy went on national television to give a groundbreaking speech. In the age of Trump it is important to hear his words again on this important anniversary…

Watch the great documentary on these days by Robert Drew. I read somewhere that this was the first movie that Obama screened when he entered the White House in January 2009? See it below:

Watch NBC News coverage of the standoff at the University of Alabama on June 11, 1963

Read Wallace’s telegram to JFK from one month earlier condemning the use of federal troops in Birmingham

Bring ‘Em On Home Bernie

I am lucky to have great parents. One of the most important lessons they taught me, from the earliest age, is the notion of good sportsmanship and respect for the rules of the game. We Americans know that even if you compete within the rules, and do your best, you don’t always win. But the most important thing is how you play and how you carry yourself afterward, win or lose. Most of us believe that the winners should show respect for their less-fortunate opponents and that the losers should accept the outcome as fair and work harder to try to win next time. What we don’t like is the winner that rubs it in or the sore loser that claims the game was rigged, or who casts the blame on someone else.
Democracy is no game, to be sure, but these lessons carry over. It can be argued that the most important people in a democracy are not the winners, but instead it is the losers that hold the key, because if the losers don’t accept the verdict of the voters, fair and square, well, the democracy won’t stand for long. Recently the Republicans have played the role of the poor losers and in doing so they have practically ground the peoples’ business to a halt. That brings me to Bernie Sanders, for whom I voted. As the father figure of this unexpected and incredibly encouraging “revolution” Bernie now has a responsibility to his flock to lead by example, to take the high road and abide by the rules of the game and exhibit good sportsmanship. I sincerely hope that after last night’s strong statement by the voters Bernie will reconsider his plans to keep on fighting the wrong enemy and cause a scene at the convention. It’s time to face reality and join the legions of good people in the Democratic party in the true fight, the fight against the Right. Revolutions can happen overnight, but those types usually devolve into mob rule, bloodshed and ultimately some form of totalitarian blow-back. The ones that stick happen more slowly, taking years in the making. Some battles will be lost, but perseverance, unity of command and strength in numbers is the winning combination to win the war. It’s getting late in the day, time to come home. Together we will emerge from the darkness….