Tears for Fears

President Barack Obama wipes away a tear during his farewell address, January 10, 2017. (WH.gov)

“Democracy can buckle when we give in to fear. So, just as we, as citizens, must remain vigilant against external aggression, we must guard against a weakening of the values that make us who we are.”
– President Barack Obama, from his farewell speech, January 10, 2017

There was sobbing, actual wailing, in homes all across America, Tuesday night, including mine. President Barack Obama’s poignant and touching farewell address may have been the backdrop for this river of sorrow, but it wasn’t his poetic words, or the sunset of his challenging presidency, or even Malia wiping tears from her eyes or the president when he dried his own.

When the speech was over and the lights came up in McCormick Place, and President Obama moved slowly through the room, thanking each of the smart, dedicated, civically minded people who had given all they had to his administration and election races, the reason for the melancholy became clear. This wasn’t about what we’re losing, but what we are left with.

As someone who has had to mourn too often, I know the waves of sorrow that pound at the heart like a storm surge washing away a dune, eating and coming back to feast again and again, until all that’s left is the indestructible, the warm memories of what was lost.

This is not that kind of crying, that kind of aching absence of a lost parent. This is not solely about what is gone. It is about the terrifying uncertainty of what is to come. It is about a government being presided over by a fool who follows the advice of oligarchs, evangelicals and dominionists, each with their own Machiavellian agenda, whispering sweet nothings in his ear.

Like the Persian king of old, he is guided by vanity, ego and conquest (sexual and otherwise). It is how he values himself among men, to rise above them.

There is a period for mourning, but there comes a time when we must stop our sadness and empower each other to go on – not to “get over it,” as the more strident of our fellow Americans ridiculously insist , but – to  face the inevitable future, as challenging as it may be for our country and values.

“We have everything we need to meet those challenges,” the president said. “After all, we remain the wealthiest, most powerful, and most respected nation on Earth. Our youth, our drive, our diversity and openness, our boundless capacity for risk and reinvention means that the future should be ours. But that potential will only be realized if our democracy works. Only if our politics better reflects the decency of our people.”

The challenge is whether to be numb with fear in the face of a possible religious and/or cultural dystopia, or to stand shoulder-to-shoulder against those who would make it so. I choose the latter, because it is our right and, as I see it, our duty to make the world, our world, our neighbors’ world, better.

The promise of our democracy can be fulfilled, Obama went on, “only if all of us, regardless of party affiliation or particular interests, help restore the sense of common purpose that we so badly need right now.”

“Our founders,” he said, “knew that democracy does require a basic sense of solidarity — the idea that for all our outward differences, we’re all in this together; that we rise or fall as one.”

We are citizens, after all, and not subjects. This country and its leaders belong to us.

“It falls to each of us,” the president admonished, “to be those those anxious, jealous guardians of our democracy; to embrace the joyous task we’ve been given to continually try to improve this great nation of ours. Because for all our outward differences, we, in fact, all share the same proud title, the most important office in a democracy: Citizen.”

The sadness must and will fade with time, so damn the past! Every fight we engage in now is for our future.

We will be loud, but civil. We will fight for our neighbors when their rights as Americans are trampled. We will, as President Obama said, be vigilant.

And because I know you’ve been humming this ever since you read the header, a bit of Everybody Wants to Rule the World:
“It’s my own desire, it’s my own remorse.
Help me to decide.
Help me make the most of freedom and of pleasure
Nothing ever lasts forever
Everybody wants to rule the world.”



Trust broken, empowerment renewed – the new Obama legacy

(Adapted from White House photo)
(Adapted from White House photo)

Expectations always lead to attachment, and attachment, the Buddha tells us, leads to suffering. So it is with the faith we put in the man who we expected to be a new kind of president, one who was deliberative and thoughtful, who we thought was compassionate and fair. Indeed, he often exhibits those qualities, personally.

However, his inability to implement them into a Great Society or New Deal kind of policy, which is what, I think, most of us hoped for when we rallied to him in 2008, means we are left with squandered opportunity. I don’t know if I’ll ever be as excited about another presidential candidate in my lifetime as I was about Barack Obama.

The good news is, we can do something about our collective disappointment, but I’ll get to that a little later.

Granted, it hasn’t all been his fault. For most of his presidency, he has had a recalcitrant congress, and even meaningful bills that made it through the House, like the DREAM Act, died in filibusters on the Senate floor.

He has been more political in his calculus than I believe most of us thought he would be, especially since he lost the House and a filibuster-proof Senate in 2010. That loss is directly attributable to the agonizing effort it took to pass the Affordable Care Act, and the unwillingness of congressional Democrats to do anything too risky before Obama’s first midterm, even though they could have easily passed it. Issues like gun control, minimum wage, raising revenue, marriage equality and immigration reform sat on the back burner because Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi were afraid of the electoral consequences if they took them up.

Even passing Obama’s stimulus package, to help us out of the Great Recession, which should have been a no-brainer for Democrats, was like pulling teeth, and ended up being hamstrung because of Obama’s compulsion to make it more bipartisan.

It reminds me of a key strategy of backgammon that someone once imparted: if you are in a position to bear off your pieces, don’t fuck around incrementally moving them into better position; just move them off. Why? Because you never know how good your opponent’s next roll will be. You know, like the Republicans did under George W. Bush, when they had the White House and both Houses of Congress, they passed huge tax cuts. Twice.

So here we sit, with immigration reform punted, an unsympathetic farm bill that cut billions from nutritional assistance programs, no cost-of-living adjustment to the minimum wage, and on the eve of another round of prolonged military action in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf.

I firmly believe that if the president had gotten more done to help people in the first two years of his administration, he wouldn’t be so far underwater in his latest poll numbers, at real risk of losing Democratic control in Congress, and making it impossible to accomplish anything in his last two years.

That brings us to the reason attachment is suffering. By attaching our emotions to other people and circumstances, we come to depend on their power for our happiness. You don’t have to be a Wayne Dyer fan to get that in a relatively free society like ours, the only person in control of your happiness is the one you see in the mirror every morning. (I’ve gotten flack for statements like that before. I realize that real, daily subjugation and control by an authoritarian figure or a tragic circumstance of life is impossible for many to overcome. That isn’t the kind of suppressed determination I mean.)

I, for one, am not resigned to the inevitability of a failed presidency from the man who promised hope. I am not resigned that the best I can say about President Obama’s tenure is he obviously tried. As Yoda said, “Try not. Do or do not. There is no ‘try.'”

I may be detaching from my expectations of Obama, but I am far from disengaged from the possibility of a government committed to the progressive values I believe in. The government’s gridlock has no chain around my legs, no muzzle on my mouth. I remain committed to getting voters registered and getting them to the polls for the upcoming midterm elections. It’s something I can do for my state and my country.

If you think about it, that is what President Obama has been asking us to do all along: be engaged. His numerous policy tours – over jobs, minimum wage and pay equity, to name a few – were meant to rally the troops, get us to create a critical mass by contacting our representatives in Congress, to get them to do the right thing.

I don’t think we need the president to tell us once again, “Don’t boo. Vote!” Even if it is he who is being jeered, I think Obama would say the same thing. “Don’t boo. Vote!”

Your vote is your voice, louder than all the special interest money in the world, and together we can reach a conventional wisdom shattering crescendo, but we have to show up.

“I’m so proud,” Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate and State Sen. Jason Carter told a voter registration rally in Atlanta, Monday, “to be on the side that says, ‘If more people vote, we win.'”

Register. Vote. Win. It’s something you can do, without waiting for Washington. Besides, it’s your duty as an American.


Detroit and you – where progressive change happens

“We will fight, and we will win!”
– Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), July 18, 2014

Turn On the Water march, Detroit, MI, July 18, 2014
Turn On the Water march, Detroit, MI, July 18, 2014



Fighting the tyranny of an oligarchy that withholds the existential needs of its people in an effort to subjugate them is the act of a rebel. Fighting for the change that leaves the members of a society empowered and self determined is the act of a revolutionary. Both rebel and revolutionary are heroically selfless in their sacrifice, but it is the revolutionary who makes it possible for the changes sought by the rebel to become an unshakeable part of the social psyche.

The need to create change, to keep trying to get this experiment that is the United States right, is an essential part of being an American. “Stamped into the DNA of every American citizen, is a healthy skepticism for orthodoxy,” Vice President Joe Biden told the annual gathering of progressive activists and bloggers, Netroots Nation, in Detroit, Thursday, as he related the story of a conversation he had with Malaysian leader Lee Kwan Yew about what makes our country so resilient. We are not only willing to change; we are constantly finding new ways to affect change, so we can grow.

After all, our Constitution was laid out “in order to form a more perfect union,” which means, to me, that we will never have the “perfect” union, just one we will always be striving to make better.

VP Joe Biden, Netroots 2014

Detroit is an appropriate town for the vice president to continue the conversation for change because it’s a city where hope is what people scratch and claw for, and have for a century. Detroit, you see, is a city of fighters. It’s the birthplace of the American labor movement, and also the city of heavyweight champion, Joe Louis, fiery civil rights activist, Malcolm X, and socio-political philosopher and activist, Grace Lee Boggs.

Boggs showed up at Netroots early Thursday, for a screening of the documentary about her life, American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs. At 98 years old, she is still an ideas driven firebrand, committed to a cultural shift. “We are on the verge of a change as big as when humans stopped being hunter/gatherers and moved to agriculture,” she told those gathered to watch the movie. “We are moving into a post industrial epoch.”

Joe Biden agrees. “We are at an inflection point, where things change in a significant way,” he said. “We are at an inflection point of national and world history.”

This is a time when we can control the direction of human destiny, if only for a little bit of time. This is what a life is for. This is our purpose, and, as Americans, Biden said, “We hold the wheel,” adding “This is one of those moments, the few times in our history, that people can bend history just a little bit.”

Grace Lee Boggs, 98 yrs old, Netroots 2014
Activist Grace Lee Boggs addresses Netroots attendees

What this is, if Biden and Boggs are to be believed, is a rare opportunity for self-determination to control our own evolution. That has been Grace Lee Boggs’ philosophy for decades – before you have revolution, you must have evolution.

In her book, The Next American Revolution, Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century, she wrote:

“All over the world, local groups are struggling, as we are in Detroit, to keep our communities, our environment and our humanity from being destroyed by corporate globalization…

“[Those who are part of this movement] are joined at the heart by their commitment to achieving social justice, establishing new forms of democratic governance, and creating new ways of living at the local level that will reconnect us with the Earth, and with one another…

“Millions of people in the United States are part of this organically evolving cultural revolution.”

For Boggs, the greatness of her city is not the unlikely reassertion of the automotive industry that built it. That’s gone, she said, and therein lies the possibility of something great and new. “A place where justice and fairness reign supreme,” is how one of the Netroots participants, Diane Matsumoto, a Detroit native who now lives in North Carolina, put it.

Diane Matsumoto
Diane Matsumoto

Matsumoto sees the squeeze Governor Snyder’s emergency manager is putting on the town’s citizens, particularly regarding the inhumane withholding of water in the summertime, as creating a space where activism creates opportunity, which creates more activism. “The roots of Detroit is getting its legs back,” she said, “and maybe it takes us all being taken to our knees to remember where we came from.”

She said having awareness raised about the issues in Detroit will, like a car coming off the assembly line, roll out to the rest of the country. The city is, she said, “the canary in the coal mine” of the American middle class, and while she was heartened by the attention the Netroots crowd was bringing to the water issue, she said it’s only the beginning. “It doesn’t matter if there’s more of us [than there are of them], if we sit our ass on the couch eating bonbons. Now is the time,” she said, “we join the fight.”

Maybe this time, the cultural evolution we seek will finally lead to a permanent, stable and sustainable revolution.

AROMA – creating sustainable activism across Atlanta movements

“I’d love to change the world, but I don’t know what to do.”
I’d Love to Change the World, Ten Years After, 1971, by Alvin Lee

Affecting change is hard. Screaming for social justice can be frustrating. As anyone who has ever been involved in social and political activism can tell you, making sure that you have a consistent pool of people to continually put the pressure on politicians and society is the most difficult part of creating and maintaining a sustainable movement. This is especially true for liberals and progressives working in red states, where you have to pick yourself up off the ground, lick your wounds and start again, more times than you’d like.

A new movement in one Deep South state is trying to change that. It’s called Activist Recruitment, Organizing and Mentoring in Atlanta, or AROMA.

“Recruiting, organizing and mentoring, that’s something each organization does on its own,” explained Misty Novitch, a long time Atlanta activist and co-founder of AROMA. “You do your own outreach. You get your own people. You mentor them, you pull them in. You make them into leaders. But we have so few activists, and so much work to do, especially in Georgia, that people don’t necessarily have time to do that.”

What AROMA seeks to do, she said, is “to build community and solidarity across existing groups, and across the entire social justice movement.” AROMA will “recruit for all of our organizations, all of our movements, and help new activists get involved more easily and comfortably, and really invest in their growth and their development as leaders.”

That has the potential for a huge effect on the changing political climate in Georgia, and has local activists very excited. “I think it’s really going to help people be able to see their power,” declared AROMA member Troya Ole’badd, an activist who works against economic disparity in Atlanta. She believes that, if successful, the group will “expand the base of people who are activists” and help create “a paradigm shift and a social construct shift in the state.”

AROMA is the brainchild of Novitch and fellow activist Guled Abdilahi, who leads the group’s website development team.

The idea is for the group to be a resource for Atlanta area activists by providing a directory of hundreds of organizations to whom they may want to lend their time and talents. But it’s also a resource for the organizations themselves, by being a place where they can find trained, committed activists who have been through AROMA’s mentoring program, and where, eventually, they can send their own budding activists for training.

“What AROMA does is almost like a business-to-business service for non-profits,” explained Munir Meghjani, a veteran organizer, and one of the “leader-y people” Novitch tapped to help get the group started, around the beginning of the year. “You’ve got all these non-profits in the world that, unfortunately, have trouble working together,” he said, “At the same time, you’ve got all these volunteers in the world who have passion and knowledge, but may not necessarily be able to link up with the non-profit of their choice. They need a spark to get that fire cracking. That’s what AROMA does.”

AROMA exists for the organizations, Novitch says, as much as it does for the activists. “We want to support existing activist groups and show them we support them by recruiting for them, and say, ‘Hey, we have mad solidarity with you. Here’s what we want to do for you. Do you want to support us to do this for you? Either way, we love you and we love what you’re doing, so here are some new people. Can you welcome them when they come to your group for your meeting?'”

The mentoring program, the group believes, will provide a sustainable, regenerating pool of activists for the social justice movement. According to a recent draft of the document outlining AROMA’s plan:

“We want to mentor people to provide a supportive, friendly environment for newcomers, guide them in finding their place, train them to develop their skills and understanding, and help them walk in their own power, so they can become leaders.”

AROMA meeting, Java Monkey, Decatur, Georgia, May 18, 2014AROMA activists at a planning meeting near Atlanta, May 18, 2014

Meghjani says the group’s mentoring focus comes from an understanding of how difficult activism is. “It’s hard to volunteer. It’s not something that comes easily,” he admitted, but “if you have someone standing with you, especially a mentor, what we’ve seen is you’re more likely to stay, you’re more likely to be involved.”

Novitch agreed. “Activism is very come-and-go, because you’re livelihood does not depend on you being a consistently reliable activist. People come and get a taste and then leave,” she said. “The way we can support the frustration of dealing with activists and activism, is that new activists, or existing activists, can have mentors or just friends, authentic relationships, people to talk to about the kinds of things they’re experiencing, and noticing, and vent their frustrations to.”

That’s something that drew one young activist, Iesha Akyempong, to AROMA. “I am really passionate about the recruitment and the mentoring process,” she said. “I’m really into it because I think it’s important.”

A graduate of Spelman College, where “there’s a big emphasis” on community service, Akyempong said that she likes the way AROMA can help make the activist experience less daunting to a new recruit. “If you’re somebody who wants to be involved in fighting drug abuse, or working for Jobs for Justice, some of those larger causes, you need someone there to help you get involved in it, show you how to do it,” she said, “because you don’t just want to walk into things blind. It’s scary.

“Activists are strong minded, strong willed people. You don’t want to go into a meeting and feel lost, or say the wrong thing, and what could have been a whole group of new friends, are like, ‘Who are you?’”

Even if that does happen, Meghjani says, a mentor can help pull you through. “When people make mistakes and get down, if they have a mentor who is going to be there to support them through it, they’re more likely to get over it, and get over it in such a way that they make a comeback, and they’re going to come back stronger than they did before.”

Ole’badd agrees. When you invest your time in helping people through a difficult situation, she said, it can be personally and emotionally draining for the activist. “Sometimes people just completely fall apart and they don’t even know why. But [it’s important to have] someone who has done it for a while, who is able to come in, talk to you about it and make sure that you, as an activist, get the help that you need, so [your] activism can continue.”

Patricio Cambias, a twenty-one-year-old airport fast food worker and union activist of barely a year, recognizes the value of AROMA because of his own experience. “I was trained by an organizer who taught me what I know. If I had to do it alone, I wouldn’t be near where I am now,” he said.

Cambias, who sees AROMA’s mentoring program as “sowing the seeds of a movement,” said he looks forward to helping others. “I think I could contribute to someone’s growth,” he said, “it brings the movement alive to me.”

And Novitch admits that even an experienced activist like herself could use some further guidance. “We want to recruit a lot of much older activists, from the Civil Rights movement in the Sixties to mentor the middle age activists,” she said. “We want people to be mentors and mentees at the same time, if possible.”

One activist Novitch might look to as a mentor is Milton Tambor, a septuagenarian union organizer who had his first foray into activism in the early 1960s, protesting the Vietnam War. “As a veteran activist,” he advised, “I would say that you have to take a look at each struggle, each fight within a larger perspective. The only way you’re going to be able to make any headway is to think in terms of long range goals. You want to fight and win the immediate goals, but you also want to bring together all the progressive forces so that you can present some kind of a united front.”

After attending some of the AROMA planning meetings, he is cautiously optimistic. “For me,” he admitted, “it’s too early to make an evaluation about AROMA, [but] at this stage of my life, to have young people stepping forward is critical. Going to meetings and seeing twenty, twenty-five people there, talking about their interests in activism, I think that’s great. In all of my activist work, there was never that kind of framework laid out where you could learn from someone and deepen your activism.”

That point is not lost on the young Cambias, who said that without being able to source the activists who came before you, “You lose the collective memory of the struggle.”

Organizers say that is the most important point of AROMA’s goal of recruiting and mentoring new activists. Meghjani points to Novitch’s experience as an example. “The things that Misty learned from organizing in the past,” he said, “the things that worked and the things that don’t work, if she doesn’t pass that knowledge on, then the next person who comes to organize us will make the same mistakes and we’re going to be at the same spot that we were five years ago.”

As for Novitch, creating new activists is akin to raising an army – “a nonviolent army,” she is quick to point out. “We need to recruit them, and we need to make sure that they are able to do anything that any other activists can do,” she said, “so that if one of us burns out and has to take a break, or gets injured or killed or is put in jail, they can take over.”

Picking up the flag and continuing the charge, she believes, is the only way for liberals and progressives to succeed in reaching their goals. We can’t just be reacting to the latest assault on civil and human rights, because that won’t move the cause forward. “Strategically,” she said, “if you’re always on the defense, you’re always going to lose ground.”

Akyempong is motivated. “We cannot just sit back and wait for laws to be passed to get things done in our communities,” she said, “because nothing’s going to happen. If we want something done, let’s get ourselves together, galvanize, and let’s do it.”

AROMA, like any other new activist group, has needs. They of course need people willing to mentor, at any level, and they need a solid leadership program. According to Novitch, “We need help figuring out how to move people through a process of leadership development, and we need people who are willing to help make that happen in a consistent way, over a long period of time.”

She is positively passionate about AROMA’s success. “We have to be the transition team, that helps the world transition between the way it is and the way it could be,” she concluded. “I really believe this group can help do that.”


If you are interested in participating in AROMA’s mentoring program, either as a mentor or a mentee, or think you can help with leadership development, please contact the group through the website – atlanta-activism.blogspot.com – or the Facebook page – facebook.com/atlantaactivism.

Evolution: seeing without the lens of war

“[T]he United States is and remains the one indispensable nation. That has been true for the century passed and it will be true for the century to come.”
-President Barack Obama, addressing the United States Military Academy commencement ceremony, May 28,2014

Just because we start seeing the world without looking at it through a lens of war doesn’t mean we have stopped loving it. Rather, our relationship has grown. Its nature has changed. It is time to let the world finish its rebellion against our authority, presumed or actual, and let it go, let it fly.

“But the world is changing with accelerating speed.”

Perhaps President Obama’s recent declarations about our changing military role is a correlation to having two growing daughters, getting closer to leaving the nest and living on their own. Maybe he’s just trying to get us all to see, it’s time to release our young, and, if we have raised them right, watch them soar.

“The question we face, the question each of you will face, is not whether America will lead, but how we will lead — not just to secure our peace and prosperity, but also extend peace and prosperity around the globe.”

US Soldier in Afghanistan
US Army photo

We never asked to be the world’s parental nest. We never asked. But we had the most money, the most successful populace with a laissez faire attitude about world affairs, and the biggest fist, the strongest hammer. Yet, as President Obama said at the West Point graduation, last week, “Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail.”

“[T]o say that we have an interest in pursuing peace and freedom beyond our borders is not to say that every problem has a military solution.”

There is difficulty in letting go of power, but there is greater difficulty in using it in unwelcome ways, like missile firing drones and monitored cellphones. If we want to have a relationship with the world, we must allow that relationship to evolve. Once we have stopped being the heavy hand with the rest of the planet, we can be the tender touch to nurture, from the strength of knowing how to get things done, what a free world creates.

That won’t be easy, mostly because the time of the United States being trusted to get things done was pretty much relegated to myth, ever since Colin Powell wagged a vial of Saddam’s “imminent threat” (which was neither a threat, nor was it imminent) at the United Nations Security Council in 2003. It was the legend with which we boastfully imbued ourselves for half a century, coming out on the winning side of two world wars (the last of which resulted in veterans actually being taken care of), propped up by Hollywood and exploited by politicians. Whether it was ever true after the 1970s is arguable. The only thing that kept it alive that long was the legacy of a strong middle class, supported by good union jobs and high taxes.

When the basis of your vision for America as the “greatest country on Earth” is rooted in soil that’s been dead for decades, you have to find a plot on a nearby field and plant anew, before the drying, prideful stalk on which we now find ourselves turns to dust.

Not talking revolution. This is a progressive evolution.

And it won’t happen with the current DC dynamic – an intransigent Congress that views any military disengagement as weakness, any unilateral action taken by the executive branch to ease tensions between us and our enemies (and to rescue American soldiers) as an unconstitutional power grab, and a chief executive doing whatever the law allows to satisfy those of us who voted for him (twice), as he tries to reconcile his legacy with the Nobel Prize he won when his administration began.

But it will happen.

In spite of decades of screw-ups on the international stage, we know how to come together to build something. It’s in our DNA, part of the nature of our republic. We can step back without stepping aside, and bring compromise and consensus back to Washington. But it will require true democracy to prevail, rather than the one bought by billionaires and run by millionaires. For that to happen, we have to commit to sowing the real grassroots, so roll up your sleeves and bring your shovel. This is going to be hard work.


The problem with Clinton nostalgia

Hillary Clinton, 1997, 2007, 2013
Hillary Rodham Clinton, as first lady, in 1997 (White House photo), as presidential candidate in 2007 (photo by Veni Markovski) and as departing Secretary of State, 2013 (Dept. of Defense photo)

Let’s start with, on the whole, I’m a big fan of Hillary Clinton. She commits. She works hard. She gets thing done.

Her impressive performance as secretary of state made sure that the good ship Hillary never bottomed out, buoyed by a tide of political good will, domestically and abroad. The energy of, let’s call it love, for her direct political style, despite her loss of the 2008 presidential nomination, makes her the overwhelming choice of an overwhelming majority of Americans to lead our country after 2016. I don’t agree with all of the stands she has taken, but unless someone better comes along, I can see myself voting for her.

But let’s be clear: Hillary Clinton is an establishment Democrat, a stalwart, with her husband, of the now defunct Democratic Leadership Council. The DLC made a political calculation, twenty-plus years ago, to tone down the traditional social welfare, pro-labor rhetoric of the Democratic Party, to try to win back centrists they had lost to Reagan and Bush 41.

The strategy, at the time, seemed to be effective. “The DLC hailed President Bill Clinton,” the Wikipedia entry reads, “as proof of the viability of Third Way politicians and as a DLC success story.” (That, of course, is arguable. There are lots of reasons George Herbert Walker Bush lost that election.)

But it was this move away from the political left that brought us welfare reform and the repeal of the strong banking and insurance regulations of the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act, which many believe directly led to the abuses that crashed our economy in the Great Recession of 2008.

The conscience of the DLC was also present when Hillary voted to authorize the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld war in Iraq. And her defense of lobbyists at an appearance before liberal and progressive bloggers, in 2007, got her booed because, as Politco wrote, at the time, “it seemed to solidify the perception of Clinton as a Washington establishment figure in a year when Democrats are eager for change.”

It was more than two years into President Obama’s first term, before the DLC folded, and had its records acquired by the Clinton Foundation. The change that we were eager for seemed to have come.

Now, in the wake of the release of historical documents from the Clinton White House, Republicans are dredging up the 1990s, again. Reports that Hillary Clinton “dissed” the individual mandate the GOP had proposed during the Hillary-care discussions are now fodder for the Right, but their agrument ignores that, like many liberals today, she didn’t approve of that solution because she was working toward a public option healthcare system.

Sen. Rand Paul has even chosen to revisit the Lewinsky affair, and has been referring to President Bill Clinton as a “predator,” in his obvious attempt to splash some taint of the affair onto the former first lady. What Sen. Paul doesn’t seem to realize is that America didn’t care about it then, and we certainly don’t care about it now. Move on.

I mean, let’s not reminisce about the 1990s, or even the Hillary Clinton of 2008. Let’s have a discussion about Hillary, today, the one who is neither a true liberal nor a solid centrist. What Hillary Clinton is, and perhaps always has been, is a pragmatist, and a damn smart one.

“Clinton is positioning herself perfectly,” wrote Brent Budowski, in the Hill, recently. “If the politics of the [healthcare] law get better for Democrats, she can play it cool. If the politics of the law become worse for Democrats, she can escalate her calls for change and tell voters — accurately and honestly — that she was against the mandate then and that she was right and Republicans wrong.”

If you want to join the mania over Hillary 2016, by all means, jump aboard. Just remember that the direction of United States policy is larger than the promises made by, and the personality of, one politician. It has always been up to the people to steer the course. Don’t just stand on the sidelines, watching MSNBC and reading blogs. Stand for something. Work for something, as if the future of your country depends on it, because it does.


The morality cause: Moral Mondays sweep a region

Morality means giving resources to stay healthy
Moral Monday Georgia protesters leave religious symbols at on the Capitol steps to signify 650,000 uninsured Georgians who would benefit from Medicaid expansion

“There is a longing in America for the recovery of our deepest moral and Constitutional values in public policies, policies people know that hurt the poor, children, women, the sick, and voting rights…
“We know our politics can be moral. Our politics can be merciful. Our politics can be kind, caring, loving and just and fair and equal.”

– Rev. William Barber, of Moral Mondays, North Carolina, helping to launch Georgia’s Moral Monday efforts, January 13, 2014

It’s a great movement. A moral movement. Not merely a moment captured in clever alliteration. Moral Mondays is a movement started in Raleigh, North Carolina, last year, motivated by the extreme actions of a newly elected governor and state legislature whose “policies are constitutionally inconsistent, morally indefensible, and economically in shame.”

Rev. Barber speaking
Rev. William Barber, of the North Carolina Moral Monday movement, flanked by Moral Monday Georgia activists

Rev. Barber said those words in front of the Georgia Capitol, in Atlanta, Monday, not just to point a finger at North Carolina and Georgia, but at every state, he said, “that divides people by race and extremist propaganda.”

“Justice,” protester Rod Mack called it, as he held a hand written sign calling to replace Georgia’s Republican Gov. Nathan Deal with Democrat State Senator Jason Carter, this fall.

Barbara Adle calls Medicaid expansion a moral and ethical issue
Barbara Adle calls Medicaid expansion a moral and ethical issue

Barbara Adle, a participant in the Atlanta rally who would benefit from Medicaid expansion, agreed. “Justice means, to me, equal access to affordable housing, health care, food, jobs. Until every person has equitable access to get their basic needs met, there is no justice.”

Mack said the injustice in Georgia comes from Gov. Deal having “no interest in making sure that 650,000” uninsured Georgians are covered under the Affordable Care Act. “Our state is so far behind in a lot of things,” he lamented. “We need to catch up.”

Another protester, Chris “Cholu” Bondurant, who describes himself as “a frequent flyer” in the local health system, also pointed to Deal as the one person who could change things, but is unwilling to do so. “I have ongoing healthcare problems,” he said, “and would appreciate it if the governor would quit kowtowing to his right wing ideologues and do what is best for the working class people of Georgia.”
Of course, Georgia and North Carolina aren’t the only states where this is an issue. On Tuesday, Rev. Barber and the thirty members of his home state’s Moral Monday Coalition who took a bus to Atlanta, headed to Columbia, South Carolina, to rally with that state’s Truthful Tuesdays protesters.

As he said in Atlanta, “We need state movements to have national implications. It’s the only the way forward.” He called this state-by-state movement away from the politics of fear “a new Southern Strategy.”

That term, “Southern Strategy,” was originally a Republican plan started by Richard Nixon’s campaign for reelection, where the idea was to drive a wedge between white southerners, and the Democrats’ cultural base, by reenforcing the notion of white privilege and exploiting Southern Man’s worst fears about minorities and federalism. That Rev. Barber co-opted it for the growing Moral Monday movement is not surprising, because, he says, the so-called Religious Right, who are the cornerstone of the Republican strategy, ignored the principal of providing for “even the least of these,” and adopted, instead, what he called a “Pharisetical” and “heretical” morality of hate and exclusion.

What would he do?
What would he do?

“If you really want to have a moral discussion,” he challenged the far right, “bring it on, baby!”

Some took a more humanistic approach to the moral questions of fairness. “I think of it as an ethical issue,” said Adle. “If we don’t have a ‘common good’ theme or practice, that’s how you end up with what we have, the split between the haves and the have-nots.”

What was most encouraging about the first Moral Mondays Georgia rally, was that it showed that all Georgians are stakeholders, because it brought out not only seasoned activists and sign waving liberals, but also young Millennials for whom this cause resonates.

Joanna Petolillo and Sarah Walling are twenty-five-year-old women who have been best friends for eight years. They finish each other’s sentences. Their birthdays are both in November, and they both fear what will happen when they are no longer able to be on their parents’ health insurance policies. They found out about the rally through Facebook, and this was the first time either of them participated in political activism.

Walling, a nursing student at a school in Forsyth County, Georgia, said that talking about current events was important to her, and her contemporaries. “You’d be surprised how many times I’ve gone out to just grab a drink with friends and we end up talking about the political policies in place and the ones they’re trying to put in place, and just how it’s going to have a negative effect on us and our economy and our ability to move forward.”

And what will she do with what she learned, Monday? “We can go back and be a voice to our friends and our communities and our co-workers and expand it beyond just ourselves,” she said.

Petolillo said they chose to participate, not just because of their own futures, but for the futures of the children they plan to have. “Just the possibility of our kids getting up to better status than we were able to,” she explained.

Walling agreed. “As my dad always says, we want to leave it better than when we came into it.”

And that may just be the perfect defense of activism, in pursuit of a moral cause.


Moral Mondays Georgia will participate in the Martin Luther King, Jr., Holiday march, Monday, January 20, 2014. The next rally at the State Capitol is scheduled for January 27, at 4pm. See moralmondayga.com for details.

To be in the conversation, be part of the conversation

That could really be the mantra of the transition from Obama’s very public, bully pulpit tactic of campaign style events, highlighting the issues he wants the American people to help him see through, to his new, private “charm offensive,” a series of dinner and lunch meetings with Republican Senators and Representatives aimed at getting past the immovable conversation in Washington, DC.

As recently as a month ago, during the State of the Union address, the president made clear his conviction that “it remains the task of us all, as citizens of these United States, to be the authors of the next great chapter in our American story.”

His actions show that he believes in us that much, and if he could have asked for that commitment from all of us that night, right then and there, without rhetorical flourish, in a way that would have had us all on our feet, saying, “Yes, Mr. President, I will stand with you, march with you and fight with you,” maybe he would have us believing it, too.

But this latest outreach to Congress makes it seem as though the president has given up on getting any broad, mobilized consensus from the populace. He has resigned himself to the realization that the ground war for the issues we believed in enough to fight for in 2012, has delivered a ball into his court, and no matter how many times he serves it to us over the net, begging us to stay in the game, we return it to him weakly. The ball that just dies at his feet. He can’t do anything with it.

He sighs, slumps his shoulders, then, looking up, shakes his head and walks away. “I was counting on you,” he mumbles under his breath.

“That was your first mistake,” we say, matter-of-factly. Well, we may not actually say it, but we’re probably thinking it, as we pack our rackets away and go home to watch the news.

Now, after a winter of can kicking, ass sitting and nit picking, a small number of Republican Congressional leaders of relative character, comfortable with the level of political risk involved in participating in a dialogue with the president, are thrilled that the president has “finally” come to talk with them. Allowing our power to be bypassed in this way means legislative items we didn’t even want to be on the table are sure to be wrangled over, and things that we wanted to be on the table may not even make it out of their respective Congressional committees.

The Republicans in Congress are notorious for saying, “The American people want this. The American people want that,” when poll after poll shows that the party of the House majority has no clue what the American people want. They only know what the one-percenters want, and they will not deign to acquiesce to the needs of the rest of us because we are not the god they serve. We don’t have his capital. Just ask the people still trying to recover from Hurricane Sandy.

But we still have a voice and a vote. The beautiful thing about our politics is that it’s never too late to change things. It’s never too late to get into the game. We can still call our Representatives and Senators. We always have a voice.

You don’t have to pick up the sword for every political battle, but for goodness’ sake, find something you believe in, dig into the depth of your conviction, and fight for it! If you don’t have the kind of country you love, it’s not just the politicians’ fault. They’re willing to change, if you’re willing to ask them.

So I’ll see you on the court. I’ll be the one practicing my lobs. Even if my favorite pols end up hitting it into the net, at least they’ll know I’m there, ready to give them another try.


Winners! See what happens when you give the president a shot he can handle?(Photo credit: whitehouse.gov)
(Photo credit: whitehouse.gov)

It’s not the debates – it’s de base

Forget about a campaign “reset” from the Obama camp, Thursday evening, or anytime during the next twenty-odd days until the election results are final. Forget about the hand wringing and the forget about being nostalgic for September, when Romney was on the ropes.

Now is the time for all good activists to come to the aid of their candidates.

It’s not only because it’s the candidates for vice president who will be debating that makes tonight’s debate relatively meaningless. It’s because of how close the polls are, and how the fickle undecided of the electorate decide to move the few points difference in those polls. There are no more bumps in the polls – only nudges.

To be sure, the pundits will praise the debate “winners,” talk about a campaign getting its mojo back or having “the big mo'” heading into election day. But barring any major meltdown, we are neck-and-neck in the home stretch, and the race will only be won or lost by the strength of the tail wind the respective bases provide.

Americans fought the headwinds of voter ID laws, and have won those – for this election, anyway. Progressives have fought the headwinds of the insane amount of money that came pouring out of the Citizens United decision, and may have at least reached a push, due in no small part to the imperfections of and dissatisfaction with Romney as a candidate.

Even though we may fall into our couches are armchairs every night, and listen to political color commentary on CNN, MSNBC, Comedy Central or Fox, remember that elections are not a spectator sport. Victory does not rise and fall with the opinions of the pundits. It is up to us.

We are not just the twelfth man in the stadium screaming loudly when the opposing team has third and long; we are on the field lifting our own team on our shoulders and carrying them across the goal line. That is the strength of the American political process – that we don’t win just by being interested; we win by being involved, whether with money, with sweat or with service.

So after the debate tonight, regardless of who is declared the winner, make a list of just five things you can do between now and election day to help your candidate and your party to victory – just five things: 5 people to call; 5 donations to make; 5 days to commit to your local campaign office. It really is up to you. It always has been.


Now is the time for all good activists to come to the aid of their candidates.

Boycott 2012? A political system on the razor’s edge

“We deal in illusion, man! None of it’s true! But you people sit there — all of you — day after day, night after night, all ages, colors, creeds — we’re all you know. You’re beginning to believe this illusion we’re spinning here. You’re beginning to think the tube is reality and your own lives are unreal. You do whatever the tube tells you. You dress like the tube, you eat like the tube, you raise your children like the tube, you think like the tube. This is mass madness, you maniacs! In God’s name, you people are the real thing! We’re the illusions! So turn off this goddam set!” – Howard Beale, “The Mad Prophet of the Airwaves,” from the movie “Network,” by Paddy Chayefsky (Sc. 122)

Welcome to the media helicopter. Join us, as we fly over the political landscape. Below, to the right, you see the mountain that the Republicans have constructed, that if you were standing, with your feet on the ground, you would notice is actually a molehill. But don’t worry. Up here, we’re not afraid to blow everything out of proportion. Their memes make it so easy, and it seems the rest of the country takes to our words like pigs to slop.

You can track the landscape beneath us like a map. That’s President Obama’s motorcade on the road to the left, driving on what is, for sure, a bumpy trail that leads back to the White House. The DNC work crew is busy filling in the potholes with Obama’s patchwork accomplishments. They want the road to look good, at least, as they are counting on a convoy of support to fall in line, nostalgic music blaring “Yes, We Can,” the New Day “O” logo flying from banners, bumpers and car antennas.

There remains something strange about the landscape we tour from the helicopter. It maintains a certain sameness, where light and shadow seem never to change, no matter which direction the activity below us seems to be moving. It’s like, if you zoom in to Google Earth, and change the axis on your neighborhood view, there comes a point when all you get is a stretching out of roof lines, because the satellites are presenting only the tops of the houses, and not what goes on beneath the eaves.

The more you stretch it out, the closer you get to a single, thin, nearly invisible line. It is along that line our national politics play out, merely moving back and forth, side to side, or up and down. In its reluctance to embrace the texture of our varied and difficult lives, it seeks to flatten us, compress us, force us into the assimilation of a single political continuum: left, left of center, center, right of center, right.

And while there is plenty of blame for the dysfunctional breakdown of the engine of government that can be laid at the feet of Congressional Republicans, the executive branch is deep under the hood, up to its elbows in gears and grime, and the president cannot show his face as if it is clean of grease smears. Plouffe and Axelrod can dump a cooler of Go-Jo over the commander-in-chief as if he just won the Superbowl, but there’s still that puddle of dirt at his feet. Between now and November, every step he takes tracks damp and dingy traces of the mistakes and missteps of his presidency.

Americans, then, abandon the government issued vehicle at the garage, where they expect nothing good to happen, walk next door to the Greyhound station, and take a bus on a journey through the political wilderness. At least that way, they can chart a course that’s not as one dimensional as the one in which, the system insists, we are participants. Instead, they call for a new ideal, a new set of tools, a new “shining city on the hill.”

There are serious activists in this election cycle who are calling for a boycott of the presidential ballot. Their dissatisfaction will not even be placated with an idyllic third party run – it’s just putting questionable oil into the same engine, and there is no confidence it would go smoothly because, their Facebook event page declares, a third party has “no possibility of winning the Presidential election due to corporate control over the media and the electoral process.”

“Third parties and third party candidates are unable to establish an alternate party or see a candidate to victory,” explained political activist Terri Lee, in an interview with Political Context’s Matt J. Stannard. “We know it, the third party candidates know it and The Establishment knows it too. Boycotting presidential elections does no harm to them because there was no chance for victory from the onset.”

“I can’t believe people are talking about voting,” one recent Facebook commenter wrote, in referring to the bias with which Americans react to news about the inappropriate and unethical behavior of their political enemies. What does it take to go that far in one’s mind, to imply that not voting will send any signal at all?

“It’s desirable to The Establishment to have us follow these silly elections,” Lee said, “to have us believe in the illusion of choice, and to have the public think ‘that’s politics’ and busy ourselves with phone banking, fundraising, canvassing, etc which is all FOR THEM! Intentionally, purposefully, and loudly not-voting is an act of defiance.”

“We do not struggle for control of organizations, social circles, and government,” declares the Vote for Nobody Campaign, on its website. “We do not lobby the State for favors or permission to control those with whom we disagree. Rather, we advocate freedom.”

The question remains, though, by giving up your vote, are you not abdicating that very freedom to the forces you eschew? This may be one tool in the belt, but the only way to create change in this country is to “lobby the State.”

Even if you want to change the entire government system to, say, a parliamentary one, as Ms. Lee advocates in her interview, a Constitutional Convention is necessary. To convene one, you have to lobby for it. One must distinguish, then, between inaction, as “an act of defiance,” and action, as an act of engagement.

Ignoring  the November ballot, or even just the presidential sections (and I am not advocating that, yet) is not and cannot be the only solution one chooses to create real change and “freedom” in our country. It can, though, be a catalyst to get activists moving to produce the right kind of revolution, one that serves our social, economic and diplomatic future.

“You say you’ll change the Constitution.
Well, you know, we all want to change your head.
You tell me it’s the institution.
Well, you know, you better free your mind instead.”
Revolution, by John Lennon and Paul McCartney

It’s the irony of revolution, that to change it on the outside, we have to change it from within; to move the surface, you have to start at the core. In our country, that’s the Constitution. I haven’t given up on that process, yet. Maybe Howard Beale and the Beatles are right – the media want to change my head, want me to free my mind and go along. They want to give dimension to the illusion of choice. I get that. But the real choices, when you get down to it, are either follow the Constitutional process, or engage in forceful, possibly armed, resistance, and if that’s in the mind of any of these movements, as The Beatles sang, “you can count me out.”