Sunday, August 21, 2016

Poor Whites and Donald Trump

Since 1990, earnings for men without a college degree have fallen 13 percent. During the same time period, median household income increased by 2 percent.

Middle-aged American whites without a college education are the only age-and-ethnic group that is dying at higher rates than they were 15 years ago.

White men without a college degree are more likely to say the country's best days are over and hard work no longer guarantees success.

Whites with a high-school education or less are reporting more pain, taking more opioid painkillers, abusing alcohol more, and killing themselves more.

So it’s not surprising that non-college-educated whites favor Trump over Clinton by a margin of 65% to 25%. Their condition has not improved under eight years of President Obama. Why should they trust Clinton to do better?

Progressive activists often take a symbolic stand, engage in moral witness, or cast a protest vote against the rigged system? Why shouldn’t poor whites do the same?

Granted, Trump is not proposing measures that will benefit the poor directly and immediately. But when white liberals support progressive taxation, they vote against their economic self-interest. Why shouldn’t poor whites take a stand on principle and try to shake up Washington?

Those thoughts have prompted me to look more closely at the divide between those with and those without a college degree. I recently took note, for example, of a public radio report about resentful female prison inmates without a college degree attacking inmates who have a degree. And I’ve reflected on my own “white trash” roots and my experiences living and working with low-income communities.

This nation’s prospects for fundamental social transformation will be enhanced if we build a broad coalition that includes poor white people (most of whom have no college degree). But middle-class attitudes of superiority and their disparaging opinions about poor whites aggravate the class divide.

In her poignant, personal essay, “Fences: A Brexit Diary,” in the New York Review of Books, Zadie Smith wrote:

One useful consequence [of the Trump campaign is] to finally and openly reveal a deep fracture in [American] society that has been [decades] in the making. [Those gaps] are real and need to be confronted by all of us….The left is thoroughly ashamed of [the poor]…. We have a history of ridiculing the poor… for “shafting themselves,” for “voting against their interests [or not voting at all]” …The majority of those [“uneducated” voters] who [support Trump do] so out of anger and hurt and disappointment…. [They are not] in any way exceptional in having low motives…. We might...ask ourselves what kind of attitudes have allowed a different class of people to discreetly maneuver, behind the scenes, to ensure that “them” and “us” never actually meet anywhere but in symbol. Wealthy [America], whether red or blue, has always been able to pick and choose the nature of its multicultural and cross-class relations, to lecture the rest of the country on its narrow-mindedness while simultaneously fencing off its own discreet advantages.

With those thoughts in mind, I’ve recently posted to Wade’s Wire:

Today Terri Gross, “Fresh Air” host, conducted a 36-minute interview with J.D. Vance, author of the best-seller, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis.

[Vance said:]

A lot of people feel that you can’t trust anything Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama say, ...because they sound so filtered and they sound so rehearsed. Donald Trump, if nothing else, is relatable to the average working-class American because he speaks off the cuff. He’s clearly unfiltered and unrehearsed….

[Obama and Clinton have] surrounded themselves by very elite people who went to very elite universities. And because of that, both in the way they conduct themselves and the things they seem to care about – they just seem very different from the people that I grew up around. And that makes it very hard for me to feel that Clinton – Hillary or Bill Clinton are very relatable.

To read more, click here.


From The New York Times

“The Millions of Americans Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton Barely Mention: The Poor”

By Binyamin Appelbaum

AUGUST 11, 2016

WASHINGTON — The United States, the wealthiest nation on Earth, also abides the deepest poverty of any developed nation, but you would not know it by listening to Hillary Clinton or Donald J. Trump, the major parties’ presidential nominees…..

To read more, click here.


Yahya Abdal-Aziz, an Australian correspondent, sent me an excellent article from the September 2016 issue of The Atlantic, “The Original Underclass.” By Alex MacGillis and ProPublica, [the article includes:]

As Isenberg documents, the lower classes have been disregarded and shunted off for as long as the United States has existed. But the separation has grown considerably in recent years. The elite economy is more concentrated than ever in a handful of winner-take-all cities....

So why are white Americans in downwardly mobile areas feeling a despair that appears to be driving stark increases in substance abuse and suicide? In my own reporting in Vance’s home ground of southwestern Ohio and ancestral territory of eastern Kentucky, I have encountered racial anxiety and antagonism, for sure. But far more striking is the general aura of decline that hangs over towns in which medical-supply stores and pawn shops dominate decrepit main streets, and Victorians stand crumbling, unoccupied. Talk with those still sticking it out, the body-shop worker and the dollar-store clerk and the unemployed miner, and the fatalism is clear: Things were much better in an earlier time, and no future awaits in places that have been left behind by polished people in gleaming cities. The most painful comparison is not with supposedly ascendant minorities—it’s with the fortunes of one’s own parents or, by now, grandparents. The demoralizing effect of decay enveloping the place you live cannot be underestimated. And the bitterness—the “primal scorn”—that Donald Trump has tapped into among white Americans in struggling areas is aimed not just at those of foreign extraction. It is directed toward fellow countrymen who have become foreigners of a different sort, looking down on the natives, if they bother to look at all.

To read more, click here.


On August 14, the Los Angeles Times reported on a recent survey of American attitudes about the poor and poverty. …

When asked if poor people “prefer to stay on welfare” or would “rather earn their own living,” Americans by a large majority, 61%-36%, said they believed the poor would rather earn their own way.

only a third of self-described conservatives say that the poor do not work very hard.

To read more, click here.


On the August 16 PBS Newshour, Jeffrey Brown interviewed Nancy Isenberg, author of White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America.

Isenberg argues that “upward mobility” in America has largely been a myth. During the colonial period, the Founders advocated “horizontal mobility” by allowing the poor to migrate westward to the frontier. And in recent decades, we have more “class-zoned neighborhoods” than upward mobility….

When Brown asked her how we could lessen class divisions, she recommended setting aside the myths, confront the reality of class oppression, and think more deeply about how it affects who we are and how “we judge people by the way they’re dressed, by the way they talk, by the unwritten codes of class behavior.”

To read more, click here.


Fuller defines rankism as “abusive, discriminatory, or exploitative behavior towards people because of their rank in a particular hierarchy.” In a TEDx Talk,  Fuller considers rankism’s evolutionary roots and asserts that we can overcome it by affirming “dignity for all.”

To read more, click here.


In addition, I’ve previously posted the following related pieces to Wade’s Weekly:


I hope to post to Wade’s Wire and Facebook most weeknights and to Wade’s Weekly most weekends. To subscribe to Wade’s Wire, click here.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Connecting with Poor Whites

How many white people without a college degree did you see speak at the Democratic Convention? I don’t remember any. 

One-third of voters are whites without a college degree. That’s a lot of votes. If Democrats had wanted to appeal to those voters, it would have made sense to highlight poor white speakers. Doing so would have communicated respect and a commitment to listen to their concerns.

According to FiveThirtyEight, non-college voters supported Mitt Romney 62 percent to 36 percent, which makes them “the bedrock of the Republican coalition.” According to The Atlantic, “The single best predictor of Trump support in the GOP primary is the absence of a college degree.” 

According to Federal Safety Net, 86% of Americans over 25 years of age who in poverty do not have a college degree. Poor people tend to be without a college degree and people without a degree tend to be poor.

Compared to 1990, non-college, working-age whites are less likely to be fully employed and they earn much less when they do work, according to the Hamilton Project

Inequality is worsening not only because the top are taking more. In addition, those on the bottom are getting less.

One consequence is an explosion of substance abuse in rural America. Other than income, that may be the number one problem in poor communities. But the Democratic Convention had little to say about that issue. 

They could have presented a multi-racial group of recovering addicts and called for an increase in federal funding for drug treatment, as did President Obama in his Dallas speech, when he said:
We ask the police to do too much and we ask too little of ourselves. As a society, we choose to underinvest in decent schools.  We allow poverty to fester so that entire neighborhoods offer no prospect for gainful employment.  We refuse to fund drug treatment and mental health programs....  then we tell the police “you’re a social worker, you’re the parent, you’re the teacher, you’re the drug counselor.” 
As governor of Indiana, following massive, intense pressure, Mike Pence finally approved a needle-exchange program to reduce the spread of H.I.V.. Shortly thereafter, a health worker
was soon traveling the streets of Austin, in Scott County, in an S.U.V., distributing needles to those who did not feel comfortable coming in to get them. At first, the drug users were skeptical. Then, one day, she and a colleague pulled up in front of a house, and a girl rose from her seat on the front porch and walked down to accept a clean syringe. 

“When we looked up, there were people coming from every house on the street,” Ms. Combs said. “They swarmed the van.”
The flood of new H.I.V. cases slowed to a trickle, as has happened elsewhere.

Substance abuse is only one example of the pressing need for more human services. In-home caregivers, nursing home aides, child care workers, after-school recreation, environmental cleanup, teacher’s assistants, and mental health counselors are other examples of work that does not require a college degree that needs to be done. And we have enough money to pay people a living wage to do it. 

By developing the human-service economy, we could assure everyone a living-wage job opportunity. Yet, when it comes to direct job creation most of what we hear concerns the physical infrastructure, not our social infrastructure. 

Both Clinton and Sanders have talked mostly about the middle class and said little about building a cross-class, multi-racial alliance that reverses the dominant divide-and-conquer strategy. The reasons are unclear. 

They may fear that supporting poor whites would alienate middle-class Americans who look down on “white trash,” a term that “has been adopted for people living on the fringes of the social order, who are seen as dangerous because they may be criminal, unpredictable, and without respect for authority.” 

For the same reason -- a focus on winning the next election -- they may want to avoid promoting their “brand,” the Democratic Party and its platform (as I discussed in "The Convention: What Was Missing").

If either is the case, they’re like corporations that concentrate on short-term profits and neglect the long-term. 

This year, the Democrats need to win by a landslide, declare a progressive mandate, and come close to taking back the House, or do so. Winning the next election is not sufficient. We also need massive, grassroots pressure to transform this nation into a compassionate community. It’s not either/or. Rather, it’s both the near term and the long term. To do that, Democrats need to gain more support poor white people. 

The Democrats can win even if they continue to fail to appeal to white poor people. But if they take that approach, that decision will be morally unjustifiable and will undermine the unity we need. 

Monday, August 8, 2016

Class Myopia

On my way home from work on the bus, I read the New York Review of Books. Today’s poignant, personal essay, “Fences: A Brexit Diary,” by Zadie Smith, touched on the divide between those who have a college degree and those who do not, which I addressed in “I Love Donald Trump.” The discrepancy between those two groups in terms of their support for Trump is striking. Understanding that pattern could help us prevent the future rise of a more effective Trump-like candidate. Though most responses to my post have been positive, two critical responses lead me to feel that I did not articulate my position clearly enough. Reflecting on “Fences: A Brexit Diary” may help to clarify my thoughts.

Smith is an English writer born to a Jamaican mother and an English father and raised in a relatively low-income, ethnically diverse London neighborhood. Two days before the Brexit vote, after a long absence, she returned to her ‘hood and noticed a wall of bamboo slats and plants that blocked the view of her school yard. She soon saw that fence as a metaphor of what was happening to the world of her childhood and her school, with its mix of the “relatively rich and the poor” — as well as the vote to erect a fence between Britain and Europe.

After considering the standard explanations for the decision, including racism, she concluded:
The profound shock I felt at the result—and which so many other Londoners seem to have experienced—suggests at the very least that we must have been living behind a kind of veil, unable to see our own country for what it has become….
A few days before the vote she was at a dinner party with other London intellectuals:

We were considering Brexit…. But it turned out we couldn’t have been considering it very well because not one of us, not for a moment, believed it could possibly happen. It was so obviously wrong, and we were so obviously right—how could it? 
After settling this question, we all moved on to bemoaning the strange tendency of the younger lefty generation to censor or silence speech or opinions they consider in some way wrong: no-platforming, safe spaces, and the rest of it. We were all right about that, too. But then, from the corner, on a sofa, the cleverest among us, who was at that moment feeding a new baby, waited till we’d all stopped bloviating and added: “Well, they got that habit from us. We always wanted to be seen to be right. To be on the right side of an issue. More so even than doing anything. Being right was always the most important thing.” 
In the days following the result I thought about this insight a lot. I kept reading pieces by proud Londoners speaking proudly of their multicultural, outward-looking city, so different from these narrow xenophobic places up north. It sounded right, and I wanted it to be true, but the evidence of my own eyes offered a counter-narrative. For the people who truly live a multicultural life in this city are those whose children are educated in mixed environments, or who live in genuinely mixed environments, in public housing or in a handful of historically mixed neighborhoods, and there are no longer as many of those as we like to believe. 
For many people in London right now the supposedly multicultural and cross-class aspects of their lives are actually represented by their staff—nannies, cleaners—by the people who pour their coffees and drive their cabs, or else the handful of ubiquitous Nigerian princes you meet in the private schools. The painful truth is that fences are being raised everywhere in London. Around school districts, around neighborhoods, around lives. One useful consequence of Brexit is to finally and openly reveal a deep fracture in British society that has been thirty years in the making. The gaps between north and south, between the social classes, between Londoners and everyone else, between rich Londoners and poor Londoners, and between white and brown and black are real and need to be confronted by all of us, not only those who voted Leave. 
Amid all the hysterical characterization of those Leavers in the immediate aftermath—not least my own—I paused and thought of a young woman I had noticed in the playground the year my daughter spent in that school…. She was a mother, like the rest of us, but at least fifteen years younger. After walking behind her up the hill to my house a few times I figured out she lived in the same housing project in which I myself grew up. The reason I noticed her at all was because my daughter happened to be deeply enamored of her son. A play date was the natural next step. 
But I never took that next step and neither did she. I didn’t know how to penetrate what I felt was the fear and loathing she seemed to have for me, not because I was black—I saw her speaking happily with the other black mothers—but because I was middle class. She had seen me open the shiny black door to the house opposite her housing project, just as I had seen her enter the project’s stairwell each day. I remembered these fraught episodes from childhood, when things were the other way around. Could I ask the girl in the big fine house on the park into our cramped council flat? And later, when we moved up to a perfectly nice flat on the right side of Willesden, could I then visit my friend in a rough one on the wrong side of Kilburn? 
The answer was, usually, yes. Not without tension, not without occasional mortifying moments of social comedy or glimpses of domestic situations bordering on tragedy—but still it was yes. Back then, we were all still willing to take the “risk,” if risk is the right word to describe entering into the lives of others, not merely in symbol but in reality. But in this new England it felt, to me at least, impossible. To her, too, I think. The gap between us has become too large. 
The tall, narrow Victorian house I bought fifteen years ago, though it is exactly the same kind of house my middle-class friends owned when I was growing up, is now worth an obscene amount of money, and I worried that she might think I had actually paid that obscene amount of money to own it. The distance between her flat and my house—though it is, in reality, only two hundred yards—is, in symbol, further than it has ever been. Our prospective play date lay somewhere over this chasm, and never happened, as I never dared ask for it. 
Extreme inequality fractures communities, and after a while the cracks gape so wide the whole edifice comes tumbling down. In this process everybody has been losing for some time, but perhaps no one quite as much as the white working classes who really have nothing, not even the perceived moral elevation that comes with acknowledged trauma or recognized victimhood. The left is thoroughly ashamed of them. The right sees them only as a useful tool for its own personal ambitions. This inconvenient working-class revolution we are now witnessing has been accused of stupidity—I cursed it myself the day it happened—but the longer you look at it, you realize that in another sense it has the touch of genius, for it intuited the weaknesses of its enemies and effectively exploited them. The middle-class left so delights in being right! And so much of the disenfranchised working class has chosen to be flagrantly, shamelessly wrong. 
We have a history of ridiculing the poor, in Britain, for “shafting themselves,” for “voting against their interests.” But no less has the neoliberal middle and upper-middle class shafted itself, living in its gilded London prisons…. 
There has been a kind of money madness in London for some time and for the rest of us looking on it’s hard to find in such symbols any sign of a beautiful, harmonious, or even happy life…, though at least when you are this rich you can comfortably fool yourself that you are happy, utilizing what the old North London Marxists used to call your “false consciousness.” That crusty standby won’t work anymore for describing the economically and socially disenfranchised of this nation: they are struggling, deeply unhappy, and they know it. 
…The majority of those who voted Leave did so out of anger and hurt and disappointment, helped along by years of calculated political and press manipulation of certain low feelings and base instincts…. I don’t find the people who voted Leave to be in any way exceptional in having low motives. 
While we loudly and rightly condemn the misguided racial attitudes that led to millions asking “them” to leave “us,” to get out of our jobs and public housing and hospitals and schools and country, we might also take a look at the last thirty years and ask ourselves what kind of attitudes have allowed a different class of people to discreetly maneuver, behind the scenes, to ensure that “them” and “us” never actually meet anywhere but in symbol. Wealthy London, whether red or blue, has always been able to pick and choose the nature of its multicultural and cross-class relations, to lecture the rest of the country on its narrow-mindedness while simultaneously fencing off its own discreet advantages. We may walk past “them” very often in the street and get into their cabs and eat their food in their ethnic restaurants, but the truth is that more often than not they are not in our schools, or in our social circles, and they very rarely enter our houses—unless they’ve come to work on our endlessly remodeled kitchens. 
Elsewhere in Britain people really do live cheek-by-jowl with the recently migrated, and experience the undercutting of their wages by newcomers. They really do have to fight for resources under an austerity government that makes it all too easy to blame your unavailable hospital bed on the migrant family next door, or on an oblique bureaucracy across the Channel, which the nitwit demagogues on the TV keep telling you is the reason there’s not enough money in the NHS. In this atmosphere of hypocrisy and outright deceit, should the working-class poor have shown themselves to be the “better man” when all around them is corruption and venality? When everyone’s building a fence, isn’t it a true fool who lives out in the open?
When I read those passages again just now, it broke my heart. The parallels to this country are too powerful. I recall my own “white trash” roots, the shame I felt, and the slights I received. I reflect on how when I hear a southern accent, my gut reaction tends to be disparaging. I regret how when I lived in a low-income housing cooperative, those of us with college degrees who lived there voluntarily gravitated toward one another, and were targets of resentment from those without degrees who lived there out of necessity (it didn’t help that we romanticized the neighborhood). And just tonight the news reported that Trump still leads Clinton 2-to-1 among whites without a college degree.

Still, as with Smith and her friends, we progressives tend to arrogantly always assume “we are all right about that.” We speak proudly of our multicultural, outward-looking cities that we consider so different from narrow xenophobic rural areas and red states. Few of us interact with people without college degrees.

To draw more parallels:
One useful consequence [of the Trump campaign is] to finally and openly reveal a deep fracture in [American] society that has been [decades] in the making. [Those gaps] are real and need to be confronted by all of us….The left is thoroughly ashamed of [the poor]…. We have a history of ridiculing the poor… for “shafting themselves,” for “voting against their interests [or not voting at all]” …The majority of those [“uneducated” voters] who [support Trump do] so out of anger and hurt and disappointment…. [They are not] in any way exceptional in having low motives…. We might … ask ourselves what kind of attitudes have allowed a different class of people to discreetly maneuver, behind the scenes, to ensure that “them” and “us” never actually meet anywhere but in symbol. Wealthy [America], whether red or blue, has always been able to pick and choose the nature of its multicultural and cross-class relations, to lecture the rest of the country on its narrow-mindedness while simultaneously fencing off its own discreet advantages.
Those are some of the factors that motivated my “I Love Donald Trump” Perhaps this commentary will clarify my meaning for any who missed it.

I Know Why Poor Whites Chant Trump, Trump, Trump” by Jonna Ivin and the KALW interview with Nancy Isenberg about her new book White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America. have also influenced me. I also recommend those resources.

Our prospects will improve if we learn better how to connect with white poor people who have no college degree.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

I Love Donald Trump

Mutual demonizing and scapegoating in the Presidential campaign undermine prospects for social transformation. That “politics of personal destructionreinforces an ongoing downward spiral. Violence, whether physical or verbal, breeds violence. We risk becoming the evil we resist. Being the change we seek offers greater hope.

Jesus was right: Love your enemies. We can hate what people do without hating their soul, their essential humanity, who they are down deep as a person. With nonviolent communication, we can make judgments without being judgmental.

Trump has made racist statements, but I cannot say he is a racist (I don’t know that he believes people of color are inherently inferior). He has fascist tendencies, but I cannot say he is a fascist. He sometimes acts like a bully, but I cannot say he is a bully. His children are testament that he probably has positive human qualities.  

I hold sympathy for Trump. His abusive father pushed his sons to “get ahead” (which apparently is the primary message Trump taught his own children). That extreme pressure damaged his brother, but Trump flourished. True to the American spirit, he became hyper-competitive. “Winning is everything.” He’s the ultimate American individualist. He’s a victim of the American myth that you can be anything you want to be.

His relative success nurtured in him arrogance, a sense of superiority, and a tendency to be harshly judgmental. Like the hippies, he does his own thing. Like Frank Sinatra, he does it his way. Like a chronic adolescent, he indulges in instant gratification and says whatever’s on his mind. Like Marlon Brando in The Wild One, he revels in rebellion.

Like Leonard Cohen said, America has the best and the worst. We have high ideals that we only sometimes honor. Trump i’s a true American, a product of the dominant culture, a mixed bag. We cannot criticize him, without criticizing ourselves.

Like many left-wing utopians, without focusing on winnable short-term objectives, he wants to “shut it down,” “shake things up,” “tear down” the “rigged system,” “turn Washington on its head,” and hopefully impose major improvements out of the chaos.

He’s not insane. Rather, he’s crazy like a wolf who aims to dominate. As America taught him, he believes someone must be in charge. You either dominate or submit.

But, most likely, underneath the rigid bluster is an insecurity that constantly drives him to prove himself. As such, it’s sad to watch him perform, with his weak ego just below the surface.

But his performance has provided a great service. He has helped expose how progressives have ignored, disrespected, and failed to address legitimate concerns felt by white poor and working class people who suffer immensely from economic injustice.

Trump has helped us confront those questions. For that, I express my appreciation.

Routinely, progressives preach the “middle-class mythology” -- the belief that upward mobility is the solution. But the obsession with constantly climbing the social ladder is the heart of our problem.

Guaranteeing economic security for all by insuring that everyone can immediately get a living-wage job would be a much different goal. Under those conditions, those who want to do so could relax about their economic future and devote more time to serving humanity and pursuing truth, justice, and beauty.

If we college-educated Trump opponents deepen our understanding of why so many “white trash” support Trump, it will help us learn how to form productive cross-class alliances. After all, we do want to ally with the working class, don’t we?

But thus far, college-educated progressives have done a poor job of connecting with whites who don’t have a college degree.

Trump, however, has spoken to them, tapped their anger, and fed on their resentment toward urban elites who adopt a condescending attitude toward those who “cling to guns and religion.”

It’s not just economics. It’s also cultural. Until progressives learn how to affirm values held by rural and working-class whites that are positive, that gap will not be bridged.

Donald Trump is not the problem. He’s a symptom, created by a social system that thrives on advertising revenue, manufactured crises, and zero-sum games with “winners” and “losers.”

No Presidential candidate is the Devil and none is a Savior. And no camp of followers is purely rational. But we are getting sucked into an increasingly mean, irrational vortex.

We can discredit Trump’s temperament without demonizing him in a way that insults his followers. After this election, another, more effective Trump might follow his path. To weaken that threat, it will help to learn from him and develop better ways to engage his followers.

To do that, we need more humility and less self-righteousness. I suspect most of us have some of the same tendencies that Trump displays, such as irrational gut reactions, being judgmental, a conviction that we have the answers, and a desire to impose our beliefs on those who are less enlightened. I know I do.

Facing those weaknesses and our own class-based biases would help with that effort. An upward spiral of evermore understanding and compassion could then nurture reconciliation with many Trump supporters and help coalesce an overwhelming majority of Americans that could implement major improvements in our society.

Learning to love Donald Trump would be a good first step.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Trump Qualities

When you look in the mirror, as it were, do you see one or more Trump-like qualities that you would like to let go?

Friday, July 29, 2016

The Convention: What Was Missing

One key element was not included in the remarkably successful 2016 Democratic Convention: the Democratic Party.

The convention fully engaged the important cultural war between “Individualism or Communitarianism?” Many of the speeches and presentations were remarkably powerful. I lost track of how many times I cried. At the end, I was relieved and reassured that Clinton will win in November.

But none of the speakers called for rebuilding the Party into a unified, activist organization that fights year-round for its platform, In fact, both the Party and the platform were barely mentioned. Following are the number of times the major speakers mentioned “Democratic Party” or “platform.”

Democratic Party
Hillary Clinton
Tim Kaine
Barack Obama
Joe Biden
Bill Clinton
Bernie Sanders

Hillary’s reference to the platform was included in her appeal to Bernie’s supporters: “That's the only way we can turn our progressive platform into real change for America.  We wrote it together – now let's go out there and make it happen together.”

But she said little about how to do that.

Sanders fought successfully to make the platform more progressive and he concluded his remarks by talking about that effort. And he declared, “We have begun a political revolution to transform America, and that revolution, our revolution, continues!”

But the only thing he said about how to achieve that goal was, “Our job now is to see that strong Democratic platform implemented by a Democratic-controlled Senate, a Democratic House, and a Hillary Clinton presidency!”

He did not, for example, in order to transform the Party into an activist organization that fights for its platform throughout the year, urge his supporters to elect like-minded people to local Democratic Party county committees and other bodies that elect the state committees that elect the National Committee.

Instead, as Jane Sanders told Rolling Stone Wednesday, she and Bernie plan to:

“Hold their feet to the fire.” ...If the Democratic Party starts backing away from the platform, ever, we will fight like crazy to support the work that all of these millions of people did….

Starting yesterday, we have two new organizations: the Sanders Institute, which will convey the lessons we've learned as we've traveled this country and met with so many people. [And Our Revolution, which will help craft policies and elect new leadership.]

So Bernie is not urging his supporters to transform the Democratic Party. He is not giving the Democratic Party his lists of donors and volunteers, which reinforces the underlying fragmentation. Presumably he will decide when to mobilize his supporters. His plan does not envision helping to build a powerful, democratic, inclusive, multi-issue, nonviolent, national coalition that can quickly mobilize massive popular pressure on Washington in a timely manner.

I still believe the Democratic Party could become that kind of coalition. But that scenario will not be realized and fragmentation will prevail so long as people like Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders focus so heavily on elections and decline to use their office as organizing tools to transform the Democratic Party into a real organization.

The Party will continue to be an empty shell of an organization that is superseded by the campaign organizations of candidates who win primary campaigns. Weeks ago, a highly accomplished offered to volunteer in a highly disorganized Democratic Party county office in a swing state. Elsewhere, another experienced activist in a blue state asked the local Democratic Party office for a list of voters in his precinct so he could recruit Democrats to engage voters in swing states. Neither offer so far has been accepted. Another Democratic Party activist who’s been registering voters in public locations was told that the Clinton campaign and the local Party would be dividing up public outreach and phone banking. Those instances of disarray and fragmentation are par for the course.

Ideally, some day the Democratic Party will reverse the decline of political parties, as was described so well in “How American Politics Went Insane.” If not, perhaps existing organizations will eventually overcome their ego trips and unify. Or maybe somehow a new national coalition will emerge.

Otherwise, we’ll have to continue to rely on haphazard spontaneity. And we see how far that has got us.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Birthday Reflections: 2016

On my 72nd birthday, my path forward is unclear. I know what I want but I don’t know how to get there.

I want to participate in a holistic, powerful, democratic, inclusive, multi-issue, nonviolent, national organization that:

  • Is dedicated to steadily transforming this nation and its social system into a compassionate community dedicated to the common good of the Earth Community.
  • Builds momentum with evolutionary revolution by backing progressive positions that already have the support of a majority of Americans.
  • Grows a network of small groups of individuals who share that commitment and explicitly support one another in their efforts to become better, more effective human beings.
  • Encourages members to engage in active listening, appreciative inquiry, and respectful, non-dogmatic, non-ideological dialog.

As I see it, major changes in national policy are essential to relieve the suffering and injustice that are so widespread. In particular, the federal government should generate and share revenue with local governments to provide more human services and protect the environment. That public-service program could guarantee that anyone who is able and willing to work could find a living-wage job.

Instead, the federal government is more concerned about protecting the creditor class against even a small degree of unexpected inflation, which erodes capital. So Congress refuses to engage in short-term deficit spending to fund a real jobs program. And when we approach full employment, the Federal Reserve raises interest rates.

The result is that the federal government intentionally creates widespread poverty and unemployment. Under those circumstances, local efforts to solve homelessness, for example, are doomed to failure. But compassion-grounded advocates who merely help individuals or address local policies neglect national policy.

Since I first became an activist fifty years ago, my associates and I have hoped that some day a powerful, national, ongoing, progressive coalition would come together. On a number of occasions, I’ve joined such efforts, including the Rainbow Coalition, Labor Party, Alliance for Democracy, Progressive Challenge, and the 2008 Obama campaign (which promised the hope of a post-election grassroots organization). None of those efforts persisted.

About 20 years ago, I concluded that certain weaknesses in how progressive activists operate undermine our efforts. So I participated in a stone circles workshop on spiritual activism with Claudia Horwitz and then initiated a series of workshops to explore how the progressive movement might be more effective: several Strategy Workshops, two Compassionate Politics Workshops, and a Holistic Three-Fold Path Workshop. And I participated in a number of similar workshops convened by local faith-based organizations. All of those activities were fruitful.

But I still have not found an organization of the sort that I described above (in the second paragraph) that I can join. And the issues that prompted me to initiate those workshops -- such as fragmentation, ego trips, head trips, power trips, lack of listening, unwillingness to engage in respectful dialog, and just plain meanness --  have come to the fore even more during this year’s Presidential campaign.

Bernie’s campaign prompted me to hope that his movement would take over the bottom-up Democratic Party and transform it into an activist organization that organizes precinct-based clubs composed of neighbors who gather regularly, grow face-to-face community, and fight for the Party’s platform year-round.

I posted numerous essays on that idea online and discussed it with my taxi passengers. After receiving considerable positive feedback, I proposed to the San Francisco Democratic Party that they develop a model based on that concept that could help encourage the Democratic Party nationwide to adopt that approach. Some Party leaders and my District Five Democratic Club expressed support, but so far they have not followed through. So that proposal is on the back burner.

It seems that Democratic Party leaders (and Bernie himself) are almost entirely focused on elections. They don’t seem interested in building a real grassroots organization. So the Party is an empty shell that springs to life for elections and then goes back to sleep.

So I’m once again pausing from trying to initiate anything. Since Uber wiped out my retirement plan, I have to drive taxi and save as much money as I can, perhaps for as long as I am physically able (which will require a stronger commitment to my self-care).

For fifty years, I was lucky. I was able to survive on “movement wages,” which freed me to do my community work (and at times be rather self-indulgent). I never had to be a wage slave or develop a career. Then, when I got my medallion, it seemed my old age was secure.

But maybe the yuppies were right. Maybe I should’ve focused on my upward mobility.

Now if I take a weekly “day of rest” and do some reading, I’m lucky to squeeze out an hour a day to write, which I feel compelled to do. Writing helps me sort out my thoughts and sharing my comments seems valuable to some readers. Few people ever share what I post, so obviously what I communicate rarely seems as important to others as it does to me (lol). But I get just enough feedback to keep writing and circulate it.

So I’ll try to occasionally post at least a little something to Facebook, Wade’s Wire and Wade’s Weekly. Mike Larsen  has invited me to join some friends of his to a Saturday morning “tea and conversation,” to which I’ll invite a few friends. Paul Kinburn and I invited several fellow Western Park residents to a Sunday night “tea and conversation” last Sunday, which went well and may continue. I want to catch up on some loose email threads with friends and place higher priority on such dialogs in the future. I may invite some old friends to experiment with a format for a more intentional, “soulful” conversation that others might find useful. I’ll continue to dialog with my passengers and conduct occasional public-opinion surveys. I’ll try to remain open and available for “I-Thou” mutuality when the opportunity emerges. And maybe I’ll write a new manifesto or a brief memoir about my community organizing.

In the meantime, with Lawrence Ferlinghetti:

I am perpetually awaiting

a rebirth of wonder