This guy is one old white guy I feel good about loving. Believe me, for me the list is very, very tiny. But Howard Zinn is a hero for me. This last week he wrote about the US Presidential elections. I absolutely agree with him that they deserve my 2 minutes of attention. That said, I gave the elections several more minutes in the following links focusing on the feminist perspective. Like any addict, I visit more political websites than I should. It serves no real purpose. But, Howard says it far better than I might.
Here are some of the specifics in his criticism, speaking against our obsession with the election he titles, Election Madness.
He begins with a story about a Floridian who has written him long handwritten letters over the years. The man is a blue collar guy with a security guard job who has always railed against the failures of the capitalist system to assure “life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness” for working people.
Just today, a letter came. To my relief it was not handwritten because he is now using e-mail: “Well, I’m writing to you today because there is a wretched situation in this country that I cannot abide and must say something about. I am so enraged about this mortgage crisis. That the majority of Americans must live their lives in perpetual debt, and so many are sinking beneath the load, has me so steamed. Damn, that makes me so mad, I can’t tell you. . . . I did a security guard job today that involved watching over a house that had been foreclosed on and was up for auction. They held an open house, and I was there to watch over the place during this event. There were three of the guards doing the same thing in three other homes in this same community. I was sitting there during the quiet moments and wondering about who those people were who had been evicted and where they were now.”Some news highlights around the same time of this letter included the following that may be reported in the media, but they are gone in a flash:
- Thousands in Mass. Foreclosed on in ’07.
- 7,563 homes were seized, nearly 3 times the ’06 rate.
- 750,000 people with disabilities have been waiting for years for their Social Security benefits
- Social Security is underfunded and there are not enough personnel to handle all the requests, even desperate ones.
These stories are instantly gone (if even reported) but the press day after day is relentless fixated on the election frenzy.
The following really struck me with the historical comparison of the thirties to the present, both as times of national crisis.
No, I’m not taking some ultra-left position that elections are totally insignificant, and that we should refuse to vote to preserve our moral purity. Yes, there are candidates who are somewhat better than others, and at certain times of national crisis (the Thirties, for instance, or right now) where even a slight difference between the two parties may be a matter of life and death.
I’m talking about a sense of proportion that gets lost in the election madness. Would I support one candidate against another? Yes, for two minutes—the amount of time it takes to pull the lever down in the voting booth.
But before and after those two minutes, our time, our energy, should be spent in educating, agitating, organizing our fellow citizens in the workplace, in the neighborhood, in the schools. Our objective should be to build, painstakingly, patiently but energetically, a movement that, when it reaches a certain critical mass, would shake whoever is in the White House, in Congress, into changing national policy on matters of war and social justice.
Do read the original article for details. It is filled with the fact of a people’s movement on many fronts in the thirties. Roosevelt pushing progressive programs all by himself is a false picture. He was pressured by many forces, people in the streets, people protesting. There were “disturbances of the unemployed” in all the major American cities. Strikes were everywhere, all over the country with frightened, desperate people defying police and creating self-help organizations. Without this national crisis, the New Deal politics would never have been instituted.
It is painful for me to acknowledge the truth in what Zinn proceeds to tick off about today’s Democratic Party refusing to move off the center. And all progressives do know that these two candidates are in no way addressing and radical change in the status quo. I will add here in my own words Feminist rights, equality under the law. It is our turn.The list goes on with what people cry out for but neither candidate is offering;
- Job guarantee to everyone who needs one
- Minimum income for every household
- Housing relief to everyone who faces eviction or foreclosure
- Deep cuts in military budget
- Radical changes in the tax system to free trillions for social programs to transform the way we live
None of this should surprise us. The Democratic Party has broken with its historic conservatism, its pandering to the rich, its predilection for war, only when it has encountered rebellion from below, as in the Thirties and the Sixties. We should not expect that a victory at the ballot box in November will even begin to budge the nation from its twin fundamental illnesses: capitalist greed and militarism.
So we need to free ourselves from the election madness engulfing the entire society, including the left.
Yes, two minutes. Before that, and after that, we should be taking direct action against the obstacles to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Zinn, the historian, the activist spells out the American response to crisis after the Revolutionary War when farmers couldn’t pay taxes and neighbors, friends filled the courthouse steps and would not let auctions of the farmer’s lands and goods proceed. In the thirties, people organized themselves and when evicted families’ goods hit the streets, they helped haul them back inside, illegally.
Historically, government, whether in the hands of Republicans or Democrats, conservatives or liberals, has failed its responsibilities, until forced to by direct action: sit-ins and Freedom Rides for the rights of black people, strikes and boycotts for the rights of workers, mutinies and desertions of soldiers in order to stop a war.
Voting is easy and marginally useful, but it is a poor substitute for democracy, which requires direct action by concerned citizens.
I started make-a-(green) plan because of my own disenchantment with the political situation.
It is a really formidable task to tune out this orchestrated election crap. The sustainable blogs I read are growing in the recognition of how important it is to step away from our computers and our television screens. Like any addiction it is tough. But feeling miserable seems almost a prerequisite to change. Why do we think we should change the world without inconvenience, discomfort, depression, anger, etc? I need to keep reading brave articles like this and trusting my own notions. I knew I should trust my feelings of being under-whelmed on supercalifragilistic Tuesday.
P.S. Did you notice that not once did Howard Zinn feel compelled to discuss anyone needing to have the ‘balls’ to stand up? That is refreshing.
Painting by Robert Shetterly