Friday, July 29, 2016

Remembering 1968 - A history lesson

Seeing so many young people get excited about politics this year because of Bernie Sanders made me think of another time and another candidate who inspired young people to get involved. That was in 1968 and that candidate was Eugene McCarthy. There are many similarities between Gene and Bernie, but first a little background on the times.

I was 20 years old. The war in Vietnam was raging and so were people at home. The contrasts were incredible. In the ghettoes of our cities Black people were rioting and the police as always were responding with overwhelming force. At the same time Hippies were getting high and discovering a whole new world based on love, beauty, and music. I was somewhere in the middle, awake to the new world we saw being born, but involved in the old world we were trying to save. My biggest role in the anti-war movement was in helping people evade the draft. I gave speeches at the community college I was attending, on the moral obligation we had to evade the draft. I joined demonstrations at some of the navy bases where I was living in San Diego. I played a small role, but a committed one.

We had some great leaders in those days. Many of us had first been inspired by John Kennedy and had never fully recovered from his death. Martin Luther King was our spiritual leader and our moral anchor. Had his cause not been rooted in non-violence it would have been a far bloodier time. No message had a greater impact on my life than that for any change to be lasting and meaningful it must be achieved through non-violent means.

And it was working. Things were looking up. The protests and demonstrations were having an affect. History will show that Lyndon Johnson was one of the greatest presidents of our time for pushing through the civil rights legislation as JFK's legacy, but at the time we hated him. His stubborn commitment to fighting the war was his undoing. When popular opinion rose up against him he did the honorable thing and stepped aside. We were ecstatic. What a victory. If we could bring down a president surely we could end the war, establish justice, and usher in an age of peace and love.

Then the shit hit the fan. Martin Luther King was assassinated on April 4, 1968. If you didn't live through it there is no way I can convey the grief that took hold on us at that time. Here was a man who devoted his live to peace and love. A man who's vision for a better world included all people. A man who fought more valiantly with love and non-violence than any soldier could with guns and bombs. And now he was gone. Many held true to his message and continued the non-violent struggle, but others responded differently. If a paragon of love and non-violence could be brought down by violence, then the only way to fight these forces was through more violence. Riots erupted in most of our major cities. Dark times were upon us.

But we still had Gene McCarthy who was leading the charge to bring the Democrats around to the anti-war side. If we could at least end the war surely things would get better. Soon Robert Kennedy threw his hat in the ring. I was very excited about this. Kennedy was also against the war, but he also brought to the table the legacy of fighting for civil rights, equality, and justice. Plus he was much younger than Gene McCarthy. So now we had 2 good candidates in the Democratic presidential race. Both good men that could do much to make the world a better place.

June 6, 1968 Bobby Kennedy is shot dead. We were still numb from having lost Martin. This was unbearable. Bobby Kennedy stood for hope. Now all hope was gone. Surely the world was going to hell and there was nothing we could do about.

The Democratic Convention was held in Chicago starting August 26 and it would not be a pretty sight. 10,000 protestors were met by 23,000 police and national guard. Think about those numbers for a moment. This year we had what, a couple of hundred protestors show up in Philadelphia. The police riot that ensued is well documented and became a pivotal moment in US history. Watching TV and seeing peaceful protestors, kids mostly, being beaten and gassed by the police had an impact on this county. Unfortunately the image has been largely forgotten and police violence is once again at an all time high.

In those days the primaries were just a kind of popularity pole to judge the sentiment of the people and to see how well a person campaigned. The real nominating process happened by the party bosses in the smoke filled rooms. This year people were outraged by the corruption in the nominating process, but it used to be far worse. It was all dirty politics. If you wanted to move up in the ranks you had to do favors and build up political capital. When you had enough people in your debt you could call in the favors and get what you wanted. That is how Lyndon Johnson passed the civil rights legislation. He had been a wheeler and dealer his whole career and had many people that owed him. He was a dirty politician that passed the most progressive legislation of my lifetime.

So as the police riot raged outside, the party bosses ignored the people's candidate Gene McCarthy, and marched out their patsy Hubert Humphrey. Did you feel cheated when Bernie was denied the nomination? Been there, know that feeling. Humphrey was not a bad guy. He was much more liberal than most of today's politicians. But as the VP under Johnson he represented the status quo and made no commitment to ending the war or addressing the grievances of Blacks and other minorities.

I pray with all my heart and soul that the similarities between now and then end here. In that election the people were so dismayed by the spectacle of the Democratic convention and violence in the streets, that they sought refuge in the law and order candidate Richard Nixon, even though most people were well aware that he was a liar and a cheat. And less than 2 years later our worst fears came to pass when 4 students were shot dead at Kent State by an over zealous national guard that thought they were preserving that law and order.

There has been lots of water under the bridge in the 48 years since 1968. In some ways it may seem like nothing has changed and we're still fighting the same battles over and over again. But then a lot has changed. None of our leaders were assassinated this year. The people's candidate, though once again cheated out of the nomination, has had a huge impact on the direction of the Democratic party and future policy. Bernie had opened the door for a whole new generation to step in and start working to make the world a better place. Bernie said it was a revolution. In 1968 we also talked about revolution. But in truth it is evolution. It is slow steady change. The thing about evolution is that you can't stop it. It is inevitable. Yes the pace of change can seem glacial to us mortals who have a hard time seeing before yesterday or after tomorrow. But if you look back it is easy to see how much the world has changed. In 1968 Gays had to stay in the closet or become complete outcasts from society. Today they can marry legally. In 1968 smoking pot would mean jail and in places like Texas, many years of jail. Today marijuana is legal in progressive states and no doubt will soon be legal everywhere. In 1968 women were expected to stay home and be subservient to men. Today they can become president. In 1968 most Blacks would never go to college and could expect to spend their lives working at the lowest rung on the ladder. We still have a long way to go to achieve racial equality but there can be no doubt that the condition of most Black families is far better today than it was in 1968.

So if you're feeling bummed by the outcome of Bernie's campaign, or the continued corruption in politics, or the continued racial injustice, or the ongoing wars, please take heart. If you were inspired by Bernie please stay involved in the process. Support candidates at the local and state levels. Maybe run for office yourself. Our best politicians started on city councils, as mayors, etc. We need a new generation to get involved and take us to a whole other level. Look to the past to see where we came from and avoid the mistakes we made, but look to your dreams to lead us on into a better future.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Dear Democratic National Committee

Recently I received a survey from the Democratic National Committee. Most of it was not very relevant to what I care about so I took the opportunity to write them this letter to return with the survey.

When Bill Clinton turned his back on the values that had long been the core of the Democratic party, I became disenchanted with the Democrats and voted for third party candidates whenever possible. The values that I speak of are the social and economic programs enacted by FDR, Truman, Kennedy, and Johnson. Programs that favored working people over rich corporations. Programs that ensured racial and gender equality. Programs that provided a safety net for those facing hard times. Programs that ensured the elderly would not have to live in poverty. It boils down to a party, and a platform of polices, that care about people, all people, and prioritizes people over corporations.
Bill Clinton sold out the Democratic party by embracing policies that had always been Republican priorities. Policies that favored corporations, banks, and the rich. Sure it made him popular in the short term, but it also allowed the Republicans to shift further to the right. Since the Democrats now stood for all of the things moderate Republicans had always eschewed, the Republicans were now free to pursue their extremist right wing social agenda of rolling back all the progress we had made with civil rights and gender equality. Figures like Newt Gingrich could now rise to power and shift the conversation further and further to the right. The end result is the tea party and now the extremist and racist candidates now dominating the Republican presidential race.
Hilary Clinton is not the person to revive these traditional Democratic values and restore the party to national prominence. Hilary has continued on the rightward swing that her husband started. But as long as Democrats continue to act like moderate Republicans the Republicans are going to continue down their path towards extremist racist and nationalistic policies. We need someone who can shift the entire conversation to the left and get the country talking about things that will move our country forward once again.
We are very fortunate, that for the first time in many years, we have such a candidate in Bernie Sanders. Sanders is a bona fide liberal Democrat in the mold of FDR, Kennedy, and Johnson, who can restore our party to greatness and get this country moving in the right direction once again. The huge support that Bernie is generating proves that he has struck a nerve with the American people, who are ready once again to pursue the causes that were once near and dear to Democrats.
This primary season is not about the two candidates, or just picking the best person to beat the Republicans. This primary race is for the heart and soul of the Democratic party. Hilary on one hand represents business as usual and a continuation of the moderate Republican policies of the Clinton and Obama administrations. Bernie on the other hand represents a rebirth of the values that made the Democratic party great, and the social and economic programs that will float all ships and get us back on the path of equality and opportunity for all.
This will not be an easy transition. People like Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and others who are obstructing the course of progress, will have to go. The party big whigs, and the big money people, will have to step aside. The voice of the people is clear. The Democratic party will either return to its core values, or become a footnote in history as the extremist right continues its surge. The battle outside is raging. Don’t stand in the hallways and block up the doors. The times they are changing.
Thank you,
Paul Lieberman

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Public Lands

The so called militia that has invaded the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge (can I call them outside agitators?) may be a misguided bunch of angry white men, but their intention to get us to take a close look at how our public lands are managed is worthy of attention. The BLM, and to a lesser extent the Forest Service, have to balance a very diverse set of interests and priorities. While the Bundy bunch want to be able to graze cattle wherever they please at no cost to them, many others feel that the BLM has sold out to the cattle industry using taxpayer dollars to subsidize ranches that could not survive otherwise. Much as the Forest Service did for much of the past 50 years allowing logging companies to reap huge profits while devastating the very forests that they were supposed to be "managing", the BLM has allowed much of the west to be turned into virtual desert through over grazing.

At the same time both of these agencies have devoted much energy into wildlife preservation and to provide recreational opportunities. Like the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge much of south eastern Oregon is home to a huge number of migratory birds. A little to the west is Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge, home to Antelope, Big Horn Sheep, and a lot of other creatures that could not survive if the ranchers had access to this land. If it were not for these federal agencies many more species would be extinct. They may not be doing the best job they can, but they are doing something.

So what are the responsibilities as stewards of the land, and who should be these stewards? The Bundy bunch have already stated their desire to turn Malheur National Wildlife Refuge over to ranchers, loggers, and miners. We've seen what the "make a quick buck and get out" attitude has done to the land. Obviously they can not be trusted as stewards, but perhaps the current government agencies can not either. Who then?

I nominate the Native Americans. It's their land anyhow, and their culture is based on a oneness with the land and living in harmony with the Earth. If there are any people that can lay claim to be stewards of our public lands it is the Native people. There are many positives to this idea. Firstly it would be a huge step towards making things right in view of our nations's shameful history. We can restore dignity and meaning to a people who's dignity and meaning was stripped away over the past two centuries. We can give our Native people a real role to play in preserving the land for future generations. And we can benefit from their unique understanding of the natural environment to do a much better job than even our best trained biologists and environmentalists.

I'm not talking about just turning over the public lands to existing tribal governments, or making them part of any reservations. We should keep our existing agencies and infrastructure in place, only start hiring and training more and more Native Americans until they are running the whole thing. The agencies can then work together with local tribes to manage the land. The lands should remain in the public trust and managed for the benefit of everyone, with priorities adjusted so that preservation and restoration come first, and profit making comes in dead last. What's in it for the tribes? Meaningful employment for one. Employment that could go a long way toward improving morale and living conditions. An assurance that no more treaties will be broken and that Native hunting and fishing rights will be honored. But also an opportunity to work together at the national level and to take their rightful place as Americans.

Let's acknowledge the Native Americans as the true stewards of our public lands and give the Bundy bunch and the rest of the angry white men notice that their days of profiting from land their ancestors stole are long over.