The Day After SuperTuesday

Day after SuperTuesday March 3, 2020

Which is two days after our son Jake’s birthday, by the way.

Last night Joe and I attended a DSA Bernie Watch Party at a venue near the West Oakland BART station called 7West.  From what I could tell driving through the neighborhood in the dark, it has gentrified like mad in the last 10 years; no longer artists’ lofts, warehouses, empty lots, debris left over from the 1989 earthquake that knocked down the freeway where the four-lane Mandela Expressway now runs. But this transitional quality makes it a great venue for places where you need parking and space to dance and not pay a lot of money: it was huge; tables, a long bar, a big dance floor near the band, and then a big outdoor fenced-in area with bike racks and picnic tables.

And it was jammed, even when I got there about 10:30 pm, and Joe said that thousands of people – kids, from my point of view, human beings less than 40 years old (Jake is 44) – had been there earlier. The bike racks were overwhelmed. Pretty white group, though, from what I could see.  There were two TV cameras, one apparently from a British station, doing interviews. 

For us, a peak moment was when they projected the words to Solidarity Forever on the screen above the band and started playing it and people turned toward the bandstand, stopped talking and sang.  They seemed to be familiar enough with the song to match the words to the tune.  I hugged Joe and wondered aloud if we had ever had the experience of being in a group of people singing Solidarity where one of us wasn’t actually leading it.  Not for a long time, I’m sure. I remember my first time hearing it sung by a crowd, at a CFT labor ed summer school, and being astonished and a little embarrassed by the sincerity of the old people who were singing and holding hands.  No sign of that here. The kids were happy and seemed to know what the words meant.

There was a lot art around, including a be-flagged pickup truck with a big puppet head of Bernie on the roof of the cab. Apparently there were 3 art trucks like this circulating in the Bay Area yesterday.  They did an “art-build” day where people painted and constructed signs, posters, T-shirts, puppets.

Getting back to the details

So here’s what appears to be going on.  We knew something like this would happen but of course there’s expecting it and then having it happen.

Bernie won Vermont, where people think of him and friendly, smart and reliable but not particularly radical.  He won Colorado. He won Utah. He had already won Nevada and New Hampshire. He really won Iowa, although he did not get the majority of the delegates coming out of Iowa – Buttigieg did.  Bernie had about 6,000 more actual votes than Pete Buttegieg did but the party awarded Buttigieg one more delegate than Bernie. I remember watching CSPAN that night and seeing someone from the Bernie caucus stopping by the caucus manager’s desk and asking why.  The answer was something like, “That’s the way it’s done,” or “That’s the way the cookie crumbles.”

At that point, a little over a week ago, Bernie was on a roll – a ”surge” as the media is calling it. 

Then a week ago last Thursday, two days before the South Carolina primary, an elderly Black South Carolina Senator, Senator Clyburn, endorsed Biden.  Up until then Biden had been viewed as a dead man walking, a limp campaign that wasn’t going anywhere. Not just among my friends, but all over the country, people would say, “Biden…..ugggh. Can you picture him on a stage with Trump?”  Then came the endorsement from Clyburn and apparently Black voters who had been waiting for some guidance turned out for Biden and Biden won South Carolina.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/powerpost/clyburn-knew-democrats-needed-a-signal-to-rally-around-biden-his-endorsement-created-a-political-surge/2020/03/04/2f0c0a60-5e33-11ea-b29b-9db42f7803a7_story.html

I saw Clyburn on CSPAN being interviewed immediately after the Senate voted to acquit Trump. He struck me as someone who had been in office for a long time and was used to wielding the power of his base, and not shy of the camera. Compared to Julian Castro’s comments on leaving the chamber, given what just had happened, Clyburn’s were not sharp.  

After the South Carolina primary, which Biden won, the landscape changed abruptly.  The limp campaign turned into a firestorm — but with the same candidate at the center. Tom Steyer dropped out. Then the moderate-center of the Democratic party — the DNCC — jumped up to “coalesce” around Biden and sure enough, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klochubar announced that they were dropping out of the race, too, and would endorse Biden. So did Beto O’Rourke in Texas, who had dropped his campaign at least a month ago.  Then Bloomberg said he was pausing his campaign.

As the results were coming in last night and Biden was racking up the states, I was driving back from orchestra rehearsal and listening to KQED and heard a pundit say that the only reason Bloomberg joined the race at all was to stop Bernie – he was the party’s Bernie insurance, because Biden looked so limp and weary that the Party was afraid he wouldn’t attract voters and beat Trump.  But after South Carolina, Biden became the candidate of choice, the Not-Bernie. Same guy as before, but suddenly a hero.

By Super Tuesday, of course many California voters had already mailed in their ballots, voting for Klobuchar, Steyer, Bloomberg or Buttigieg.  

NewYorker.com/news/election-2020/2020-live-democratic-delegant-count-and-primary-election-results

Delegates: However, Bernie was strong in some states where he lost

The Democratic Party awards delegates to the convention based on the number of votes a candidate receives. A candidate needs 1991 delegates out of 3,979 in order to clinch the nomination on the first ballot of the convention. As of this afternoon (March 5), Biden has 566, Bernie 501, and Elizabeth 61.  Bloomberg and Buttigieg between them share 79, but by now they have dropped out of the race and endorsed Biden. They are still counting votes in Texas.

In states where Bernie won, he won by a landslide.  I’d call it a landslide if the winner won by about 3:2 or better. These are delegate numbers.  

California: 93 Biden, 155 Bernie

Colorado: 9 Biden, 20 Bernie

Iowa: Biden 6, Bernie 12

New Hampshire – Biden 0, Bernie 9

Nevada – Biden 9, Bernie 24

Utah – Biden 1, Bernie 9

Vermont – Biden 5 – Bernie 11

Biden got a landslide, according to my definition, in the following states.  All of these but Oklahoma are Old South states. These are states with a significant African American population. People are talking about “the legacy of Obama” in these states, but I think that we should be looking at the role of the historic Black institutions that are alternatives to the white institutions.

Alabama – Biden 41, Bernie 7

Arkansas – Biden 17, Bernie 9

South Carolina – Biden 39, Bernie 15

North Carolina – Biden 65, Bernie 35

Oklahoma Biden 21, Bernie 13

Tennessee – Biden 29, Bernie 15

Virginia – Biden 66, Bernie 31. 

But in other states where Biden won, the difference was not as great; these were close races.

Maine – Biden 11, Bernie 9

Massachusetts – Biden 36, Bernie 29 even with Elizabeth getting 23

Minnesota – Biden 38, Bernie 26

Texas – Biden 111, Bernie 102.  Beto O’Rourke came out here for Biden.

Pbs.org/newhour/politics/what-super-Tuesday-data-tells-us-about-who-voted-and why

In Texas, Latinos aged 18-44 voted 53% for Sanders.   Among older Latinos, only 25% voted for Sanders. 

I am going to have to stop here. Too much is happening.  Elizabeth dropped out but hasn’t endorsed anyone. You can imagine the phone calls going on – “My people will talk to your people.” Maybe I will have to do this more frequently.  Right now (as of Thursday morning) Biden has 565 delegates to Bernie’s 506, due to some re-allocation in Texas. Note that the headline says “Biden increases,” although relative to Bernie’s last number, it was Bernie who increased:

https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/elections-2020/biden-increases-delegate-lead-over-sanders-after-more-allocated-in-texas/ar-BB10NoIH

What about Bernie?

Helena Worthen

510-828-2745, helenaworthen@gmail.com

Start with this, if you are worried about how long this message seems to be:

Why Bernie will win: “Look at the structure of my campaign”

I’ve been watching a lot of CSPAN ever since the Kavanaugh hearings so I’ve seen some moments that didn’t make headlines. One was Bernie exiting a meeting at a gym in a small town in Iowa; a reporter pushes in front of him and asks him why he thinks he can win.  He says, “If you want to see how we will win, look at the structure of my campaign.”

That’s exactly right. As Elizabeth Warren pointed out last Sunday night about 7 pm in an interview broadcast on KQED, Bernie’s campaign has been building for a long time. He has not just supporters, he has organizations working on his behalf like Our Revolution, National Nurses United, Labor For Bernie, Democratic Socialists of America and others that are self-organized.  Look at his endorsements on his Wikipedia page and compare them, in both number and variety, to those of anyone else.  There are also literally thousands of young leaders who were inspired by – actually trained in — his 2016 campaign and are now working in other organizations like teachers’ unions to move his progressive agenda at the grassroots level all over the country. His campaign is where much of the leadership of the recent waves of teacher strikes learned their skills. It really isn’t about him, as he says; it’s about us. 

My bottom-line issue is the climate crisis

I take the climate crisis very seriously. For many years my bottom-line question has been, what kind of government will be needed to shift our institutions and our economy over to create an inhabitable earth? These changes have to be basic, at the level of how we get around, what we eat, how we educate our children, how we design our housing and use our land.  Can it be done democratically? Some people say no, it can’t: the crisis is urgent and democracy is famously messy instead of fast, precise or efficient. To make these changes, they say, we need someone who can grab all the power available and simply make it happen, top-down. But if we turn to another billionaire president to run the country like a business executive, whether it is Trump or a Bloomberg, we are the frogs in Aesop’s fable asking Zeus for a king.  To me, this is despair talking; despair and nihilism. 

Others say, “Yes, we can make this shift democratically.” Even if it’s just a hope, as in: “I hope so,” it’s a hope worth betting our lives on, at the level of “I really hope my grandchildren can breathe the air, drink the water, and live in a world where there is still such a thing as a wild animal, not just ones being raised for food.”

I hope we can make this shift democratically, but I certainly don’t expect it to happen without my help.  My 8-year old grandson, overhearing my conversation about this with his dad, cried out, “Children save the world!”  Not without help they won’t.

Right now we have the opportunity democratically elect someone whose key programs, the Green New Deal and Medicare-4-All, would start to turn the vast ship of the US economy around. Yes, even under a democratically elected government with avenues of real bottom-up accountability there will be some pain.  Habits and expectations will have to change. But it’s foolish to think that election of another billionaire, or a “moderate” Democrat who would be likely to cave, would not equally result in pushback.  Continuing waves of disaster capitalism will only intensify the anger and strengthen the resistance we are seeing today. If we think that the rise of an activist left in the country and the references to a “revolution” signal something extreme, that’s nothing compared to what would happen if we did not have an open path to democratic accountability in place.  

Bernie and Bloomberg

There are two important maps to compare when we think about Bernie and Bloomberg. Both are from the brilliant graphics folks at the New York Times. The one about Bloomberg is about where he spends his money. 

The one about Bernie is about where he gets his money.

If you know something about Bernie’s agenda, you’ll notice that Bloomberg’s philanthropic agenda overlaps a lot with Bernie’s: Education, public health and safety, anti-tobacco, climate change.  You could see more similarities than differences. 

But that’s not the point. The point is, do I want to be governed by someone who moves his agenda by giving vast sums to foundations and non-profits or someone who does it by organizing and leading a movement? Do I want someone who can do anything he wants because he can buy it, and is accountable to no-one (which is what we’ve got now, anyway)? No –I want to have my government in the hands of someone who has got where he is by standing for values that a lot of people believe in, being public and brave and consistent about those values, and taking the heat and being accountable to the people who have put him where he is.

Why, come to think of it, doesn’t Bloomberg run as a Republican?  This was our daughter’s suggestion. Until 2000 he was a Democrat, them he switched to Republican to run for Mayor of New York, spoke at the 2004 Republican convention and then switched to Independent in 2007.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Bloomberg

His philanthropic agenda looks like some of the old-style liberal Republican ideas.  Hospitals and museums! He would win if he ran in the Republican primaries against Trump – Republicans would love him.  The thing is, he’s really running against Bernie, not Trump.

How Bloomberg got on the stage in Nevada anyway

If you wonder how Bloomberg got onto the stage for the upcoming debate in Nevada, where he isn’t even on the ballot, notice the big “or” in the following sentence from the NPR description:

To qualify, a candidate needed to have won at least one delegate in the first two contests, have four national polls showing the candidate with 10% or more or two state polls from either South Carolina or Nevada showing the candidate with 12% or more support. Bloomberg previously cracked 10% in polls from Quinnipiac University, Monmouth University and Fox News.

There are three different ways to qualify, in other words. The Democratic National Committee makes these rules for their own candidates. They changed them to let Bloomberg get on the stage in Nevada. I’m sure he consulted extensively with them before announcing his candidacy. They probably said, “Wait and see how Biden does.”  When Biden started to droop, and the non-white candidates had dropped out, they gave Bloomberg the green light.

A general note about polls

Polling results make news, but there are dozens and dozens of polls and they survey different people differently at different dates.  If you look at any it’s worth looking at a lot of them.  Here’s the Wikipedia entry on “nationwide opinion polling” — see what is under “aggregate polls.” 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nationwide_opinion_polling_for_the_2020_United_States_presidential_election#Aggregate_polls

RV means “registered voter”; LV means “likely voter”, “AA” means “all adults” and then there are some that are blank or unclear.  Little colleges do polls – Emerson in Boston is one, Monmouth on the west side of Illinois is another. It’s good publicity. The results depend on who has a landline, who answers the phone or who clicks on one of these innumerable messages you get via email that ends up with asking for a donation. Most are only in English. Nevertheless, they play an important role in our electoral process.

The Prisoners’ Dilemma

Some people I talk to say: “I really like Bernie but other people will get caught up in the debates and either won’t vote for him or won’t vote at all, and Trump will win and that will be the worst possible outcome.  I know what the right thing to do is, But other people won’t do it so I can’t do it either.”  This is the old prisoner’s dilemma where two people are being interrogated in separate cells. One could betray the other, or reveal the secret, and get released. If they both keep their mouths shut (in the face of torture, usually), the secret will stay secret. Both prisoners have to ask themselves if they can trust the other to do the right thing, or not.

The penetration of “messaging” into our political culture lowers our resistance to creating one message for ourselves and a different one for people who don’t get it, who are less well-informed, who are swayed by scares of one sort or another, who don’t like the word “socialism,” whose main motivator is fear of another Trump term rather than hope for sustainable change, etc. etc.

Bernie does not have one speech for the smart people and one for the “deplorables.”  He gives the same speech, whether he’s in a small town in New Hampshire or at a 6,000 person rally like the one in Richmond, CA last week, or on the debate stage. Thirty years ago he had a public access TV show in Burlington, Vermont.  They recently released all their archives. You can see it on the Daily Show, the same Bernie – standing there in the snow, only with more hair – giving the same speech.  It’s also the same speech I heard in Oakland in 2016.  This is the same link that I put at the top of this message.  Watch the whole thing; it’s likely that clips from his anti-racism high school class will show up, doctored, on right-wing TV:

Also, we are not prisoners.  We can talk to the guy in the other cell and should do so right away. 

Who would be crazy enough to run against Trump, anyway?

To seriously take on Trump, who pardons criminals and practices retaliation without blinking – see Colonel Vindman  — and his twin brother!  Did Trump worry about not being able to tell the two of them apart? — you have to be basically either crazy or on-fire fearless.  Crazy with anger is actually a sane response to looking closely at the climate crisis, and fearless, which is a sane response to perhaps having to deal with Trump’s supporters.  In order to really take this fight all the way over the finish line, we need someone who isn’t in the fight just because it’s an option; we need someone who is on fire.

In fact, no President has ever been elected merely because they were less worse than something bad. People come out and vote if there’s something they want and someone clearly in their line of view, showing them what it is and how to get it.

Finally (sigh), what does “too far to the left” actually mean?

The San Francisco Chronicle has been doing a “What would happen in California if X won?”  They started with Bernie, and said that under a Bernie presidency, given how progressive a lot of California legislation has been, there wouldn’t be that much change.  It’s a fairly balanced article.

https://www.sfchronicle.com/politics/article/President-Bernie-Sanders-Here-s-what-it-would-14990586.php

Especially if you live in Berkeley, the first city in the US to become a sanctuary city (1971), with our fancy bike lanes, farmer’s markets and beautiful residential neighborhoods, assuming you can afford to live in them, we are an example of what “too far to the left” refers to.

Bernie’s agenda is basically a Roosevelt (Franklin D.) agenda for the 2000’s, which was too far to the left for many (not my parents, who lived through the Depression).  When Bernie talks about socialism he often points out that what he’s talking about is Democratic Socialism, as it is practiced in countries like Finland and Denmark, countries which, as we know, are ranked #1and #2 on the international index of how happy people are with their government and their lives:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Happiness_Report

He is not talking about governments that have had “socialist” in their name but were in fact authoritarian forms of state capitalism, like Burma/Myanmar or Iraq under Saddam Hussein.

So “too far to the left” apparently means something that looks a bit like Berkeley, a bit like Denmark, and a bit like what would have happened if FDR’s New Deal had not run into virulent anti-communism after World War II.

Too far to the left for Mississippi, or at least for the oligarchs of the Old South

But that’s just what we’d see here in California. What about other places in the US?  The changes in many other states would be enormous. Just for starters, what about the 14 states that did not accept the chance to expand Medicaid?

Think of what Bernie’s Medicare-4-All would mean to people in these states, mostly red poverty rates up to nearly 20% in Mississippi and very few union-represented jobs where healthcare would be a negotiated benefit.  These people are not worried about Medicare-4-All “taking away” their much-loved health insurance plans. They don’t have any health insurance to take away. And there are millions of people in this situation. They also have high rates of voter suppression going all the way back to the 3/5th “compromise” in the Constitution and the creation of the Electoral College.

Any women’s issues here?

There are women who are afraid to get out of a bad marriage because their health insurance and their kids’ comes from their husband’s jobs, and people who continue to work a job they hate because it offers employer-based health insurance – all of those people would be freed up by Medicare-4-All. Conversely, of course, the parties that benefit from having that control (the husbands and employers) would be against it.  I use the wife-husband shorthand intentionally, because of the way the traditional social building block of the traditional family still frames our lives.  This applies everywhere in our society, whether you are rich or poor.  Rich women also experience abuse.

Of course, don’t forget the women who get their healthcare through Catholic healthcare systems, where providers are limited in their ability to prescribe contraception:

https://www.uchicagomedicine.org/forefront/womens-health-articles/providers-in-catholic-health-systems-use-workarounds-to-provide-contraception

Then there are people who have bought insurance plans with lifetime caps or thousand dollar deductibles – all those people would benefit from Medicare-4-all.   The people in the Culinary Union in Nevada who voted for Bernie (and who were interviewed on NPR and Democracy Now) said that, despite the signals coming from the top union leadership, they voted not just for their own self-interest but for the people who walked the picket line with them, their children, their friends, people who couldn’t get the minimum number of work hours that would keep them on their union health plans, etc.

It should be simply obvious: You can’t fund a universal healthcare system unless everyone pays into it.  That’s why you can’t have people opting out and “choosing” a private plan instead. But would private plans be made illegal? No – Bernie doesn’t say that. He’s not talking about making boutique healthcare illegal. There could still be the kinds of private plans that exist now, complete with helicopter landing pads and Steinway pianos in the hospice lounges.  But you’d have to buy those in addition to paying into Medicare like everyone else.

Finally, Bernie in Vermont

I have spent a lot of time in Vermont, where my parents retired and where Joe Berry and I have a house in a small village.  Bernie has been a household name in Vermont for the last 40 years. Republicans in our village vote for Bernie at the same time as they elect a Republican state legislator. Of course, Medicare-4-All passed in Vermont in 2014 (Act 47) and should have been implemented, so people are familiar with the concept. It was a Democratic Governor who, after he ran on supporting Act 47, changed his mind and did not implement it.  My point is that for people who have lived with him in their lives for many years, Bernie and Medicare-4-All is not controversial. 

Contact information for me (if you want to dispute or otherwise comment on this message, or if you want me to stop using your personal email address for any reason) is at the top of this message.

 Onwards.

Helena Worthen

National Writers Union/UAW Local 1981

Democratic Socialists of America, East Bay Chapter

LA teachers out, Gov’t shut

Amazing!! One guy at the top is having a conniption and shuts the government! Bang, it’s closed. We have no government!!! Name any other serious country around the world that has no “government”. Certain border areas of Pakistan, maybe? Well, that’s what things have come down to in the US. Some emergency workers like IRS employees have been called back to work without pay. But big chunks of the Park Service, food inspection, Department of Justice, consular services, federal prisons, the TSA people … and on and on.

Cities and towns are doing food banks for federal workers.

But also not working are the teachers! Teachers (young, committed, serious, hopeful and organized!) are on strike in Los Angeles (for 5 days now) by the thousands, in their red T-shirts, with massive support from families and students and apparently the Mayor and a lot of other unions — and the NFL player’s union. Nothing like a good strike to cheer you up — especially if the guy on the other end of the bookends of power is a total schnippe. Teachers have been leading the way now for nearly a decade, if you go back to the organizing among the Chicago teachers.

And while all this is going on, we are in Viet Nam.

I do not have time to explain everything that is going on but here are some pictures:

Good news, overall

I am writing this on November 15, nine days after the mid-term election. Ballots are still being counted. There are still 7 contests for seats in the House of Representatives that are “too close to be called,” two in California, two in New York, one in Texas, one in Mississippi, and one in Utah. Both are leaning Democrat. In Mississippi and Florida they are still counting ballots for Senate contests.  The ballots for Governor in Georgia and Florida are still being counted.

How state-level elections are run is a matter of state law (http://www.ncsl.org/research/elections-and-campaigns/election-administration-at-state-and-local-levels.aspx). The person who is accountable for how an election is run can be elected or appointed, and if they are appointed, it may be by the Governor, by the legislature, or by some commission whose members are themselves appointed. This person has a lot of leeway in how they run the election. Deadlines, for example — they vary from state to state. Ballots that aren’t  counted by whatever deadline the state decides may not get counted at all. Lawyers can go to court and get judges to move the deadlines, however. Some states have requirements that a contest be close within a certain percent in order to trigger a run-off. There are laws about when to use machine counting and when you have to use hand-counting.  One state has poll workers eyeballing the signatures on the outside of ballot mailing envelopes and determining if they match a sample signature in some other record. To say nothing of old ballot-counting machines and new ballot-counting machines. Right now, Florida has one manual recount and six machine recounts going. It is Florida again where the Governor has tried to have all the election equipment and processes impounded by the police. Florida, of course, is the state where Bush vs Gore, the 2000- election, was decided.

Here is a parody of what the right has done with our electoral system. It’s five of the weirdest old white guys you ever saw, wearing wigs, and singing Beach Boys songs:

watch

Nonetheless, in many places, state and local level, Democrats have already won or appear to be leading in the un-called races, as mail-in and provisional ballots get counted.  Races that appeared to be lost on Nov 7 now are flipping. Josh Harder out in Stockton, for example, whom we supported, has won. Four California districts flipped to blue and one more seems to be coming along.  In Florida, Andrew Gillum conceded first, and then as the count continued, withdrew his concession. In Georgia, Stacy Abram’s numbers are climbing.

Overall, in the House of Representatives the Democrats gained 35 seats and hold 230. The Republicans lost 35 to hold 198.

In the Senate, the Democrats lost 1 to hold 47 and the Republicans gained 1 to hold 52, but two races are still uncalled, so it may turn out to be 49-52.

The Democrats won seven Governorships to have 23 and the Republicans lost 6 to have 25. Again, two races (Florida and Georgia) are undecided. As more and more major policies (like Medicare expansion, unemployment compensation, public sector labor laws, school funding) are enacted at the state level as compared to the federal level, people figure out that they have to think about holding state leadership to account and not vote a nationalist “patriotic” ticket on the state and local level.

This is some pretty good news, and the best part of it is that many of the wins for the Democrats are people who are not the old-style corporate liberal Democrats. Many of the candidates who won were endorsed by OR, Our Revolution – the organization that spun off of the Bernie Sanders 2016 campaign.

This is in spite of our Electoral College process, the 2-senators-per-state rule for the Senate, and then a 60-plus year (post Brown vs Board of Education) strategy on the part of the right wing to bring back the Confederacy.  (See Nancy McLean’s Democracy in Chains.) In spite of failing to re-authorize the Voting Rights Act, permitting massive gerrymandering, and voter suppression down to closing polling places or moving them at the last minute, and on and on, so that the old “3/5ths” rule pretty much is back in place, with only 3/5s of those who could vote being able to vote.

It looks as if we have in fact been able to make a lot of our battered machinery of democracy work anyway. Amazingly. Yes, it has taken a lot of money (individual donations by people who don’t have much extra to begin with) and a whole lot of time. It’s not something you can keep doing forever. But it does look like it happened.

I wrote about his before the election and said, in response to the question, “What would a revolution look like?” — that maybe, if we could make our democracy work, it would look like a shift of the basis of power from the few with bottomless pocketbooks to the many like us. That hasn’t really happened but this is a warning.

____________

Ultimately, Andrew Gillum in Florida, Stacy Abrams in Georgia and Mike Espy in Mississippi (all Black candidates) lost, but lost by a handful of votes. Now (two weeks later) Barbara Lee is contesting Nancy Pelosi’s candidacy for Speaker of the House. 

And in between, the hills and mountains northeast of us, up above the Central Valley, went up in flames. A town called Paradise was completely burnt to the ground. Years of alternating drought and heavy rains created thousands of square miles of flourishing forest that would dry out and wither and become kindling. People moved up into these hill towns because land is cheap and living is relatively simple, but if you live way out along a narrow two-lane road and a massive wind-borne wildfire comes pouring down the mountain, and you get stuck behind your neighbors in a traffic jam on that two-lane road, you die. So far there are 80 or more identified deaths and several hundred people simply missing.

The smoke from the wildfires rolled down towards the Bay Area which acted like a basin and collected it. For two weeks the sky was black. According to the air quality index, we had the worst air quality in the world, worse than Beijing on a bad day. Schools were closed and people stayed indoors. If you went outdoors, you work a N95 mask (if you could get one — stores ran out).

At last it rained. The water in the creek running through John Hinkel Park and in the street gutters was thick and black and sudsy.  We’ve washed the floors, curtains and other surfaces. But we’ll keep our masks and our new air purifier. There are thousands more square miles of forest to burn, just in Northern California, and it will all pool down into the Bay.

New Beach is gone; new New Beach will show up when the river goes down

river-high-e1541460967134.jpg

It has rained on and off and then on again, hard, and the ground is saturated so the water runs right into the river. This is what the Old Swimming Hole looks like. We told Lorenzo about this and he asked if the New Beach was gone. We said we would go look, as soon as it stopped raining so hard.

The path to New Beach used to go through a low, open wooded area. That is now a pond. Our old path would go along the right side of what is now under water. You can see the river itself in the distance. The whitecaps are the water pouring over the rocks.

floodedpath.jpg

In order to get to where we could look at New Beach, we had to cross some streams.

joe-crosses-brook.jpg

We went past a pile of crushed metal left over from the flood. It looked like part of an RV. The flood, which was named Irene, picked up whole RVs, trailers and at least four houses in the town and pushed them downstream, wrecking them and twisting them up into little pieces. This was in 2011, seven years ago. Everyone who was in the town then remembers.

debris.jpg

If you look closely here you can see a bicycle. Somebody lost their bicycle.

oldbike.jpg

Finally we got to where we could look and see where New Beach used to be.  See that white pole hanging out over the water? That used to be up on top of a sand pile and people would hang towels on it or sit near it. You can see the pale yellow of the sand under the shallower parts of the water. That’s how high the water is now.

This is not a real flood, like Irene. This is just a lot of rain. This happens a lot.

new-beah-gone.jpg

So New Beach, which was created along the West River below the State Park, is gone. However, it was a flood that created the first New Beach so when there is the next flood, we will probably get another on the same way.  Maybe the sand will be there. Or maybe not. Maybe it will be down the river a ways.

On the way back, we passed this lovely group of trees. There should be a special word for a group of young trees all standing together.

path-uprivier.jpg

Then we came out at the bottom of the field below the Tewksbury house.

tweks.jpg

Still there.

 

 

 

Tuesday Nov 6: no matter what happens, we will be fighting on different ground

The election is day after tomorrow. I remember how I felt after the 2016 election. In 2018, I am much better prepared. I think a lot of people are better prepared. I have never seen mobilization like what I have seen in the last year. Never — not even in the 1970s against the Vietnam War. But no matter what happens on Tuesday,  it’s not going to let up. If anything, the conflict will only get sharper.

I think people on both sides know this.  They’re not thinking of Tuesday as the end of the story.  Nobody’s going to take time off. If the bad guys win, we’re still stuck in a life and death struggle because global warming has given us a deadline: get it together, or get out. If the bad guys win we just keep moving towards the world we have seen in movies, with deserts, continents of toxic waste, and then islands or even mini-moons of luxury.  If that’s what happens, people like us just keep fighting. On the other hand, if the good guys win, the conflict will move to Congress. This doesn’t mean that people at the base  on either side can cool it. The good guys had better not cool it; if we have actually succeeded in electing people we want to represent us, we need to keep them on course and make them make the wheels turn. The bad guys will have a heightened romantic identity as underdogs and flag-wavers; they’ll keep themselves busy. William Berkeley, the colonial governor of Virginia at the time of Bacon’s Rebellion, said, “Woe be it to a governor, three quarters of whose citizens are indebted, discontented, and armed.”

The key races are all so close that wins, either way, are going to be by a handful of votes. It’s going to be 49.9% against 49.8%. That leaves a lot of unhappy, angry people out there. No one who loses by a thousand votes, or four hundred votes, or ten votes, is going to just walk away and say, “Never mind.”  There will be re-counts, lawsuits, ugly name-calling. More pipe bombs, probably.

There will be stunning examples of good leadership, too. Although I believed Bernie could have won – and would have won, if the Democratic National Committee had not screwed with him – I always also trusted that he would show us what losing with dignity looks like. I will never forget the speech he gave at the Convention when he handed Vermont’s electoral votes to Hilary. That was a mind-blowingly gracious and grown-up act. He rose to the occasion.

But maybe 2016 was too soon for a Social Democrat to win the presidency. Maybe the cleft down the middle of our country had to break wide open, maybe each side had to see more clearly exactly what the other side looks like. Maybe we had to actually see Jeff Sessions, the Proud Boys, Charlottesville, Kavanaugh……

Tuesday night we’ll be in Brattleboro at the bi-weekly meeting of the Vermont Workers Center Organizing Committee, a good group of people to be with on a night like that. There’s going to be those maps again, as House representatives who have 2-year terms and the 33 Senators who are up for election show up as columns of red or blue.Then the Governor’s races check in. The VWC meetings take place at a non-profit center called TheRoot, a comfortable building that is part artists’ studios and part community enter. It has parking, heat, a bathroom, a lot of comfortable chairs and books and posters.  It also has internet. I’ll go on line and try to see what’s happening in California, Pacific Standard Time.

I’m prepared to cry. I didn’t cry after 2016; I was just scared. This year, if we lose big, I’ll cry for pity for the human race. But intellectually – in my harder-headed side — I expect that I’m going to hear a big cracking noise, like a beam splitting or – come to think of it — like the 1989 earthquake which I remember vividly: a deep grinding noise way below eardrum-audible, but body-audible, as the East Bay Hills groaned and tried to turn over. When the noise is over, I think I’ll see a country split apart as it hasn’t been since the Civil War.

 

Small Government

Tewksburyhouse

This beautiful old house, perhaps the most elegant in the town, once looked out through three majestic maples across a sloping field down to the West River. There is an el in the rear that you can’t see, so the house is even bigger than it looks. It was owned by the Tewskburys. Mrs. Tewksbury, who was a pianist who taught many children in the village,  was widowed some time in the 1950s, leaving her alone with her developmentally disabled daughter Anne. When Mrs. Tewksbury died, a rich man from Connecticut, Jack Raymond, bought the house with the condition that Anne’s housing would be taken care of. For a while Anne lived in this house, but then moved into a room in the village. Eventually she was taken to an assisted living accommodation in the next town where she died, only a few years ago.

In the meantime, Jack Raymond had purchased some of the other well-constructed, well-sited and historic houses in the village. One of them was at the top of a steep dirt road and ended in an apple orchard beyond which, in a kind of saddle between mountaintops, he built an airstrip. There are people in the village who remember planes landing on that airstrip. All the houses he bought were notable for either their good, classic construction or their stunning locations. The house at the top of the long dirt road, for example, looks out over miles of sloping mountainside into the deep river valley.

Jack Raymond’s plan, apparently, was to create a New England tourist destination and link his properties together with horse-drawn carriages that would take guests from one venue to another. However, he was mostly in the buying mode, not the fixing-up or finishing-the-job mode, and the starkest evidence of this was the Tewksbury house, where he did make a stab at “improvements” by starting to build cement squash courts off the rear el of the house. No one I have talked with knows what Anne thought about this. She would walk through the village wearing her blue wool coat with the fur collar (I remember her mainly in the fall and winter seasons). She must have walked past her house a thousand times over the years, so she saw her family home slowly weather, be partly demolished by the squash court construction, and then bit by bit become an adventure destination for teenagers who explored the inside, broke windows and tore out the curtains and wallpaper.  We would see her at church. She was always smiling and friendly to us.

In the midst of all this, Jack Raymond got divorced. My father told me that they had had  long conversations about his life and that he was often depressed and immobilized.

Apparently he is still live, somewhere in Connecticut. The house at the top of the long dirt road, the one with the fabulous view (now blocked by a growth of pines and birches) and the airstrip, got a new foundation and secure locks a few years ago, so someone is interested in preserving it. Another one of his properties is the “green house” known as the Gladys Wolf house because Gladys, a friend of my parents, lived in it for many years in another housing arrangement after Jack bought it. This  house is within sight of ours. It is occasionally occupied by a couple who come up from Connecticut for a weekend. However, that house had its barn and kitchen el torn away when Irene came through in 2014:

With the November 6 election two weeks away, we went to a Select Board Meeting at the town offices. The item on the agenda that attracted what for the village is a big crowd (10 people) was getting the agreement of the town to go ahead with spending the insurance money to repair the roof of the Cheney Mill, a post-and-beam building that is the last one standing of the many mills that stood along the Ball Mountain Brook (see the flood video) in the old days. A high wind last year tore part of the metal roof off the mill, distributing it around the town, and insurance would cover the repair and replacement of the roof. After considerable discussion, the Select Board agreed to allow the Jamaica Historical Society (which wants to turn the mill into a community space for exhibits, concerts, etc) to oversee and go ahead with the repair.

The Chair of the Select Board proposed selling the old mill to the Historical Society for $1.98 and letting them undertake the repairs, using the insurance money, or, if they wanted, “sell the wood and take the money and run.” Antique barn wood is in high demand by decorators. The word about the Select Board is that under this leadership, “the town doesn’t like to own anything.” The JHS declined the offer.

Which led to the next discussion, which is relevant to my self-assigned task of trying to capture moments of grassroots democracy.  After the issue of the repair of the mill was taken care of, the majority of the attendees left. The next item was the transfer station. A transfer station is a location where people bring their trash, which is in turn “transferred” to a bigger place. Vermont itself has only one ultimate landfill for trash, somewhere “way up north.” Apparently much of our trash — at least the electronic debris, which can be recycled — gets sold, or used to get sold, to China, although China has now decided not to accept any more. At any rate: after the Roads Department, the Transfer Station is the single biggest operation in the town. It accepts food garbage, electronics, hazmats and metal from three other villages. It also has big bins for paper, plastic and glass and a squisher  for “real trash,” which village residents (people with a special card) can deposit trash into using special bright green and yellow plastic bags which we have to purchase at $3 each. Apparently this requirement has reduced the amount of “real trash” that we send down to the next step in the trash chain from an amount we used to pay $14,000 for to an amount that we pay $9,000 for.

That was the only hard number that the Select Board seemed to have at its fingertips, however. The problem is the “gaylords,”

(https://www.bayteccontainers.com/hazardous-waste-certified-intermediate-bulk-container.html)

which are used to contain the electronic waste. Ours are rusted or rotten through and the toxins in the waste are probably leaking into the soil. The transfer station is located halfway up a mountainside, on a flattened out terrace, but it is above the Ball Mountain Brook a few hundred yards below.

River near mill

Ball Mountain Brook right next to the Cheney Mill and a few hundred yards below the transfer station

The reason this has come to the attention of the Select Board is that the State of Vermont inspected our transfer station and gave us until November 17 to come into compliance. The Select Board member, Polly Flowers (the only woman on the Board, and possibly in her 70s) had researched possible remediations such as buying a shed that could be set on gravel, etc, which would cost $3,500 to $4,000.

The Select Board did not know at that moment, nor did it have any way of finding out, exactly what kinds of money were going into and coming out of the Transfer Station. Everyone knows that the new bags cost $3 each (or $2 for small ones), but what about the checks to the town that people write when they drop off old TVs and other “chargeable” junk? Did the transfer station actually make money, or lose money? What kind of a liability was it? The town treasurer appeared to not be at the meeting, and no one seemed to be able to refer to a handy document that would break out the various activities of the town into budget categories with revenue, costs, projections, etc.

The problem is that if we do not meet the November 17 deadline for fixing the rotten, leaking gaylord, we will lose the license to run a general transfer station (meaning no longer accepting garbage, hazmats such as electronics, and at least one other type of refuse). Since three other villages rely on our transfer station to accept garbage and hazardous waste, that would be inconvenient for more than just people who are village residents.

Nonetheless, one of the members of the Select Board seriously moved that we simply run out the deadline and stop providing the hazardous waste disposal function. That would reduce the number of things the town was responsible for. He also said that pretty soon all the old TVs with “those big square backs” will be gone anyway, and everyone will have these new smart TVs, and the need for so much disposal will be over.

Someone else, however, pointed out that if you don’t have a hazmat disposal option, people will simply toss their cell phones, old TVs, tape recorders, play stations, iPads et etc into the woods as they drive around.

The Select Board did not vote on this motion, but instead agreed to set aside or postpone making a decision on the issue of getting new containers for the hazardous waste until the next meeting which is in early November.  By then surely, someone would know something about what happens to the money taken in by and spent on the transfer station. The woman who had brought the information to the Board pointed out that this would make it impossible to meet the deadline, but she was gently assured that the Vermont agency in charge could be reasoned with and would not shut the transfer station down if they understood that the Board was under “a time framework”.

Small government in action.

Last night I watched the debate in Georgia that included Stacy Abrams, the Black woman who is getting national attention and may actually win.  Her main opponent, who is named Kemp, I think, has put at least 53,000 people on a “pending” list because of some problem with their registration, or perhaps because they did not vote in previous elections, or whatever.  They way you get off the “pending list”, he said, is by coming in and showing your government-issued ID. He scolded Abrams for not voting for on-line registration, but she pointed out that lots of rural Georgia does not have good internet. Seventy percent of the people on the “pending” list are minority. These folks are running for Governor. Stacy Abrams was brilliant. I actually had a dream about her! Kemp was low-key Kavanaugh, doing his best to discredit Abrams by calling her a liar, tax cheat, etc etc. The third candidate was a friendly goofball Libertarian who proposes saving Georgia’s economy by farming “industrial hemp,” but his presence as a wild card forced the other two candidates to deal with some sharp issues, and  also made the panelists and mediator, in the name of equal treatment, enforce the rules with energetic civility. He finished up by defining Libertarianism as “Don’t bother me, don’t tell me what to do, and don’t steal my stuff.” He  argued that since “this is going to be a run-off,” people should vote for him as a protest vote.

In the meantime, we had a lovely discussion of important issues at the regional meeting of the Vermont Workers Center last Sunday. It was scheduled from 9-5 and we got there late (about 10:30). I had not expected to want to stay the whole day but I was having so much pleasure — not exactly fun – listening to people that I didn’t suggest leaving until it was over.

VWC reading ex

The readings (from Gramsci) were well-chosen and the discussions were informative, stimulating, friendly and supportive. There was also plenty of food and good coffee.

Besides which, last Tuesday was my birthday. I invited the ladies of the Benefit over for lunch.

Birthday

So How Would a Revolution Actually Start in the US?

So how would a revolution actually start? 

Our daughter, an ER nurse who thinks ahead, has been reading the New York Times Op Eds post-Kavanaugh. She asked this question.

I don’t think it will start before the election on November 6. Everyone is too busy.

But first, a word from our sponsor:

NJ

 This is not me.This is my friend and she said it was OK to use this.

After the mid-term election, if the Democrats pick up some seats – enough to make some difference at the national level – there will continue to be a period while people are waiting to see what happens next.  If there is good stuff at the local level – like, if Jovanka (a democratic socialist and DSA member) wins for California Assembly District 15 – then people will take a breath and focus locally. People will get behind the more do-able parts of her Bernie-esque agenda and try to move it forward. That’s all.

But if people feel that this is just another election that has been stolen like Bush vs Gore in 2000 or 2004 and Hilary vs Bernie  vs Trump in 2016, then the rope that ties things together will start to shred visibly, like in a movie where the hero is hanging off the side of a cliff and people up above on the top and down below can all equally see what’s about to happen. We will all agree: We’ll say: “You stole it!” and they’ll agree, “Yes, we stole it! Ha ha!”

Like Samuel Jackson in the Instagram mashup, yelling at Kavanaugh: “You did it!! Yes, you did, Brett!”

https://youtu.be/pR5ushM2_gQ

Then things may start moving.

There are two clocks ticking. One, obviously, is climate change. There will be increasing wildfires, hurricanes, floods, new diseases, etc. The price of food will go up (it already has; I used to be able to buy everything I wanted at the Monterey Market for $35. Now it’s more like $70.) It will probably take a year or two for us here in the Berkeley bubble to feel the big changes, so we will just sit like the frogs in the pot while other parts of the world burn and drown and people put what they can carry on their backs and leave home.

The other clock is the economy. There is another crash coming, and this time the ruling class will not even pretend to put a cushion under those who fall to the bottom. We will all be Puerto Rico while the top .01% sweeps up whatever shakes loose and stashes it away. Note that in the wake of the vote for Kavanaugh, the stock market went up. These people are placing bets.

The economic crisis clock is ticking faster than climate change because the people placing their bets will want to get out with their winnings before it all blows up.

These two clocks will run out no matter what happens on November 6. There is no Planet B, no Westward Expansion, no Darkest Africa to claim, raid and rob.

At the point I called Joe to come and help me think about this. What follows includes his ideas.

A Real Revolution Requires a Power Shift

A revolution in America would not be guerilla warfare like Cuba or Vietnam, despite the millions of guns that are out there. If the civil institutions of our limited and distorted but persisting democracy can survive an electoral transition, a revolution in America could start using these existing institutions. That sounds like Bernie’s agenda:  free public higher education, rebuilding infrastructure, tax the rich, jobs in a reclaimed public sector, Medicare for all. But that agenda is the outcome of a power shift, not the power shift itself. A real revolution is, by definition, a shift in class power, in our case from the present ruling class of capital to the working class, the vast majority.

Not all so-called “revolutions” really involve a power shift. When there is just a replacement of one ruling group by another, but no fundamental change in class power and therefore social institutions, that’s not a real revolution.  Examples of this are the Philippines and the “color revolutions” in Eastern Europe and former USSR republics, etc.  There have only been a few real revolutions, maybe five, in the last 100 years.  They can also be reversed and/or distorted nearly beyond recognition.

If a revolution in the US actually began electorally, or looked like it might, at some point the current ruling class would either fix the election, deny the results or attack the new government, eventually by force if necessary. The key example for comparison might be Chile. We would have to be prepared to defend the gains by force, as Allende was not prepared to do in Chile, despite the movement, and many workers, asking him to do so.

There is also the possibility of international action against a revolutionary USA from Europe, Japan, even a capitalist China. From the point of view of the EU, a revolutionary USA might look like a Venezuela. On the other hand, it is possible that if we are prepared, and much of the military refuses to fight us, then it might be fairly peaceful, as it was in 1917 in Russia. Remember that one of the reasons we eventually pulled out of Vietnam was because the soldiers themselves were starting to refuse orders. There still might be a civil war later, with or without foreign intervention. The point is that in order to achieve a real power shift, there would have to be mass support clearly demonstrated for radical changes.

The best way to minimize violence is to be prepared, openly and publicly, and have a big strong mass movement with a leadership that can be trusted. In this we can think of it as a super strike on a much bigger level. We are light-years away from that now, but things can change very fast, even in our lifetimes.

What are the Obstacles?  Racism, Police, Lack of Leadership

We can’t just think of a revolution as voting in the good guys and re-writing laws. There will be opposition. One way to evaluate the likelihood of a successful power shift is to look at what would stand in the way.

The profoundly racialized structure of our society is a major obstacle. Racism has power over us white people through our weakness and fear, which can make us impotent in this fight. The House of Kavanaugh is big and well-built (and like the White House in Washington, was built with slave labor). It will be easier to empty it than to knock it down, but one way or another, it has to go. Exiting the House of Kavanaugh onto level ground where people are equal means leaving behind all the little perks and privileges that it enables. Outside the House of Kavanaugh, a white man has no more points than a Black man or a woman. He doesn’t get to talk more or eat more or walk in front. He doesn’t necessarily get the job if he’s applying for one. People inside the House of Kavanaugh are aware of what will happen if they really exit. No matter where their sympathies lie, they will find it hard to do. “I can’t afford it,” they’ll say. But outside the House of Kavanaugh, gains can be made even for white men that they could never win on their own.  We have seen this happen in strikes, when by uniting across race and gender lines, major gains were won.

Second, our police system is embedded in our racist culture. There may be individual good guys, but as an institution, they are on the wrong side. Today in America, their job is to protect property. They are now equipped with military-grade weapons. Their system feeds the prisons, where one out of three Black men spend some time during their lives. Then there’s the pseudo-military civilian armed forces that operate with government approval, like ICE, which feed the detention centers and the tent camps in the Texas desert where a thousand children are held captive. There is also a huge force of non-governmental security guards and private armed personnel. These entities also have guns, helicopters, trucks, drones, etc. Their power is force. They might prove unreliable politically at some point, since they are basically mercenaries, and some are unionized now, but that’s a far stretch.

The lack of real leadership is third obstacle. There are voices rising, and new faces that are getting familiar, but no one, no group of people who represent a major movement, has emerged. For that matter, there is no overall movement right now that includes everyone who wants a revolution. Instead, we have dozens or hundreds of campaigns. We have no revolutionary organization. If history is any judge, a revolutionary organization is needed. Even here, the recent growth of the explicitly socialist left, largely due to the Bernie campaign, and outrage over Trump, suggests that both a mass socialist movement and even a core revolutionary leadership might soon emerge.

Some of the real leaders may come from the prisons. Prisons have been opened before: the Bastille, for example. And remember Mandela who was released after 27 years? There is movement inside our prison system, too: they just had a mass strike. Again, racism is our key obstacle here.

Are there some hopeful signs?

Hopeful signs include the fact that the public sector itself is still large and a site of struggle, the teachers especially. Under Hitler, all the teachers just became Nazis or shut up overwhelmingly. The Nazis did not have to do mass purges in the schools or the public sector generally. We think, and hope, that would be different today in the USA.  The teachers’ strikes of last spring are a something to be very proud of. West Virginia, Oklahoma, Colorado, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Arizona teachers went on statewide strikes, without the leadership of the teacher’s unions telling them to – or even supporting them, until it was clear that they were going ahead with it. The public sector is important. The right wing Supreme Court was not confused when they came down with the Janus vs AFSCME Council 31 decision! The progressive organizing among nurses and other health care workers, both into unions and for the welfare of their patients (Medicare for All)  is also suggestive for the future.

Other activity in the world of labor is also hopeful. The Fight for Fifteen started as a ridiculous pipe dream; now Amazon boasts it will pay its workers $15 an hour.  Right now there is a national strike going against Marriott Hotels, led by workers in UNITE HERE. David Bacon (dbaccon.igc.org) has some wonderful photos posted of workers on the picket lines in the Bay Area. Based on what we know about internal organizing within UNITE HERE, especially among the housekeeper staff, preparation for this huge action has occupied at least 10, probably 15 years. Not overnight, in other words! That’s a lot of hard work.

Finally, the country might actually split geographically. It happened once already, although the immediate causes were primarily economic, competition against unpaid slave labor, and only secondarily the moral outrage of, and against, the slavers. Also important to remember that what began as a war to save the Union against secession became, of necessity, a war to end slavery, with the action of the Black people themselves, enslaved an d free, absolutely essential to both the change in the war goals and in the final victory. Things can change a whole lot.

What is the comparable issue today?  Maybe the two ticking clocks – climate change and the economic meltdown – will force a revolution, but they won’t split the country by themselves probably; we are all in both of those together (only in the final analysis is that strictly true, and as Keynes said, in the final analysis, we are all dead.) But the sharper the differences between the states, in terms of minimum wage, unemployment benefits, environmental regulations, public education, labor protections, Medicaid expansion and public services generally, the more you wonder if we even know that we belong to the same country. In Illinois, speaking of workers’ compensation laws, we used to say, “If you’re injured in Indiana, crawl to Illinois!” But it looks as if people move to where jobs are, or given the price of housing, where they can get a roof over their heads.

So, when?

An optimistic view, therefore, may be no revolution in our lifetime, but a discernable movement toward socialism or at least toward a post-capitalist future where working people have the greatest say-so over what happens. But it could happen sooner. Some famous revolutionary (maybe a Russian?) once said that in an actual revolutionary situation people learn in a week what would take them a lifetime in normal times. Things can change very fast.

Our job is to try to both move them and get ready for the unexpected.

 

 

 

 

The Mansion of the Kavanaughs

It’s been nearly two months since I’ve posted. What could I say that wasn’t bad news? But now the Brett Kavanaugh hearings have happened and all hell has broken loose.  Women protesting all over the place, occupying offices in government buildings, clamoring for the white boys in charge to listen to their stories and pay attention. The best quickie is the Instagram mashup that has Samuel Jackson in Pulp Fiction leaning over Kavanaugh and shouting, “You did it!! You know you did it!”

Here is what I wrote on September 29, 2018. I was responding to an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education by Lindsay Ellis, from September 27: As Kavanaugh Allegations Widen, Elite-College Alumni Recall Harassment From Decades Past Students, by Lindsay Ellis. She has said she wants to post it in various places so I figured I’d post  it here, too.

The Mansion of the Kavanaughs

As a 1965 graduate of Radcliffe (which was then still in the process of becoming Harvard), I am being urged by family and husband to write something about all this.

I have a slightly different take on the #MeToo stories.  I would tell three kinds of stories, not one. First and foremost and overwhelmingly important is naming and describing the patriarchal social structure that we all lived in back then, men and women together. It still exists, as we saw displayed in the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings yesterday, but I am going to talk about it in the past tense for now. Picture it as a mansion made of marble, with columns and twenty wide steps leading up to the front doors. How you inhabited it depended on your gender. At Harvard when I was a student, there was a whole undergraduate library just for “men.” There was one – only one – women’s “lounge” Harvard Yard, in a basement. Walking through the Yard, women could wear trousers only if the snow was a certain number of inches deep. A prominent professor, beloved by many, responded to my request that he be my thesis tutor with “I don’t do girls.”  Women professors for role models of how to survive in the mansion? To my knowledge, there were two: one was a poet who committed suicide.  And there was the white-coated, silver-haired Cambridge doctor to whom I went seeking birth control — a diaphragm – who said, “Educated women make wonderful mothers.” Did he actually assault me? No — but I nearly died of a back street abortion the week before I graduated. This is at a time when the ratio of men to women if you include the graduate schools was about 20 to 1 and getting hit on was as certain as getting rained on if you went outdoors in March.

 

None of what I’m talking about here constitutes sexual assault in and of itself. It’s not individual, it’s the whole structure — the famous professor, the kindly doctor, the library that did not admit women — these are just people occupying rooms in this mansion, but it is designed and run to make all men the masters of all women. Women trying to walk around in that mansion? Well, if you didn’t take the back stairs you had to wear a maid’s outfit or just accept the idea that they assume you were a slut.

 

I can’t begin to touch how this was racialized, at least not in this letter.

 

But it wasn’t all the men, of course. When I connect with old classmates, men especially, my strongest feeling is affection and I want to ask, “You were there too, how was it for you?” This house of patriarchy was great for bullies like Brett Kavanaugh, for whom a drunken party with girls was normal, but it was awful for young men who watched with shame and fear as their women friends and sisters got hurt or bashed around psychologically. What’s more, the roaring of the bullies was as much directed at other young men as it was at us, the women. They suffered right along with us, although we didn’t have a way to talk about it. The house of patriarchy was a totality and occupied all possible space, but there were some safe places tucked away within it — a theater group, a lab, a civil rights organization that had some politics, a chess club where a guy who wasn’t a bully could be undisturbed and actually study. They also might find a partner, a woman who wasn’t attracted to bullies, who could help keep both of them safe. But other young men got dragged or dazzled into the magic circle of the jerks for whom the patriarchy was designed, the football guys and other athletes. During my years at Harvard I could spot those jerks a mile away: they were the B-School guys, the Law School guys, and some of Government majors who aspired to be law school guys. Not so much the Medical school guys, who were usually nerds. (And these grad schools were overwhelmingly male; 50 years later, I probably have to explain that.) If those who were dragged in weren’t Kavanaugh themselves, they hung out with him and basked in the glow, and did what he dared them to do or else. Him renting a bus to take his buddies to Fenway Park and drinking themselves silly both ways would be typical.

 

The mansion itself is just a place, although it’s a place with rules. But it doesn’t in itself perform sexual assault. It has rooms where Harvey Wienstein can be left undisturbed for a few hours after lunch, and someone at the front desk who will call him when the girl shows up, and someone else who will walk her to the elevator, but the mansion itself doesn’t do anything. If it was a workplace, we would call it “hostile environment,” but it’s not a workplace, it’s the world. Or it wants to be the world.

 

So that’s the first way I’d like to see the #MeToo stories told: the mansion. The second way I’d want to see them told is through the eyes of the people who were men but not bullies. I was lucky enough to know quite a few of them. These were my friends. I told my husband that these were guys who would stop when I said “Stop,” but many of them I had no sexual relationship with at all. Today I am still friends with some of them. I have also been to reunions where a guy or two has come up to me, someone I didn’t know, and apologized — not for himself, necessarily, but on behalf of his cohort.  It brings tears to my eyes right now to remember this. There have also been suicides and long depressions and mental illness among some of these guys, I want to say, whereas others have done fine (but none are rich lawyers, by the way). Some of the men who were not bullies themselves were undoubtedly sexually abused, just to show who’s boss. Mark Judge’s depression and alcoholism might be the price he paid for hanging out with Brett Kavanaugh.

 

These guys, the good guys who are not natural bullies and who hesitate to become members of the Kavanaugh gang get hurt in many ways that are not getting headlines these days. Living around bullies can make you crazy; maybe it’s like PTSD.

 

Of course, neither the victims nor the witnesses could talk about their experience out loud. It was worse than forbidden, it was unspeakable. There were no words for it. You couldn’t name it because there was no vocabulary for it. Lacking practice, we none of us knew what to say or how. That will make you crazy.  Doing what Christine Blasey Ford did was an act of sanity in the face of that prohibition. Apparently her just saying those forbidden words out loud in public was so powerful that Brett Kavanaugh has decided that it has destroyed his family, his reputation, his career. No wonder it was forbidden!

 

The third story, then is the experience that Christine Blasey Ford recounted. I want to say first off that her story was so familiar to me that I felt that I could have told it myself. This, and things like this, is what happened not just once or twice but all the time back when I was at Harvard. Maybe not exactly that way, and maybe not to me, but the banal normality of her experience was so absolute that I felt I could have walked right up those stairs and heard those boys laughing— giggling, really, keeping up a running commentary on the challenges of peeling a girl out of a one-piece bathing suit.

 

Maybe the best way to communicate how banal and normal it was to experience sexual assault at Harvard is to say that there were lists of abortionists that circulated among the girls in my dorm. There was one famous one, in Ashland, Pennsylvania, whose name had been mentioned in a poem by Anne Sexton, but there were others, in Montreal and Switzerland and Puerto Rico, and it was not unusual for someone to say, “Hey, can I get a look at that list, please?” I heard it referred to as “the cost of doing business.” You could stay in the dorm, wear your fuzzy slippers and hair curlers, and be pretty sure of staying a virgin, or you could go out into the world and try to live the same kind of life the guys were leading, going places, meeting people, coming back late in a taxi, in which case you took a whole set of risks that the boys did not take and those risks were with you all the time, with payday coming once a month when you did or did not get your period.

 

Yesterday I was so upset (both upset and awed) by what I was hearing during Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony that I took my iPhone, left the house and walked down to the bus stop near our house and just rode the Number 18 bus for a few hours, listening, from Berkeley into Oakland and back, making myself invisible in the company of the other bus riders. A bus is a nice alternative to the mansion. I did notice that quite a few other riders were women my age and they were all listening intently to something on their phones.

 

Then the Senators went to lunch and came back home and now Kavanaugh was being questioned. I do not want to pay him the respect of saying a lot about him. Instead, I want to say what happened to me while I listened to him. I was shocked to find that I was watching him re-build the mansion of patriarchy, brick by brick, log by log, marble column by column, right in front of my eyes.  While listening to Christine Blasey Ford testify, it had been like being in some plain flat place like an open field, just plain reality. She and I were both in the world I recognize, the world I live in now, where girls can get birth control and marriage is not necessary and gay couples are no big deal, and where we can and should talk about bad things and call them by their name and send bullies and jerks and rapists to prison, not put them on the Supreme Court.  Blasey Ford sat there under the lights being stared at by millions of people and she said out loud things that were true in 1982 and true today, and millions of people listened to her and nodded their heads and agreed that she was telling her story the right way, at the right time, to the right people. “Credible,” everyone agreed.

 

And then Kavanaugh got started. He was told that he could make his opening statement as long as he wanted, and it was long. First, he seemed to be occupying the same reality that Christine Blasey Ford and I inhabit, on that same flat plain. I think he expressed sorrow for her, while also insisting that he didn’t do it: he himself had never met her, he didn’t know her. Then he talked about his family, his father (seeming to stifle sobs while mentioning his father) and his daughter. Then as he talked, his tone got louder and he seemed to puff up with air. At about this point I suddenly felt a chill: I could see the mansion start to rise before me. I could see what he was doing. He was building it right in front of us by listing all its rooms and telling us what went on in each one. He listed his jobs mowing lawns, his summer athletic camps, his “captain’s workouts,” the football team, the basketball team, lifting weights, working his tail off, going to church (which for him is automatic “like brushing my teeth”), the private Catholic boys’ schools he and his buddies went to and the matching private Catholic girl’s schools where the girls that were socially OK went. Then it was Yale and Yale Law School and clerking and working for George Bush, flying on Air Force One. Room by room, he was reconstructing the mansion with all its many rooms, painting it clearly for us, every single room full of regular guys like him leading lives like his. He was building a different “normal”, not the normal that Christine Blasey Ford and I live in, but the normal of himself, the normal in which he is the top dog. By the time he had pretty much listed just about every kind of elite male privilege (boy or man) that a white guy can get in this country, he had passed from calm to sorrowful to a little sniffly to mad, then really full-on pissed off and loud, making threats and finally in a white bully rage, leaning forward with his face blown up, saying things like “You will reap the whirlwind!”  At the climax he was up high in the mansion, standing on the very balcony, his arms wide to the world, suffering like Jesus on the cross because this woman had “ruined his life, his family, his reputation,” etc etc etc. — a victim, but also he had rebuilt the mansion, built an establishment around himself of which he was the exemplary deserving occupant.

 

My husband was also watching Kavanaugh on TV and he asked, “Is that Shakespeare?”  My sister in law was there and she said, “No, the Bible.”  But there’s a way in which Kavanaugh’s rage was something out of Shakespeare, in the sense of mad Lear on the heath, wild and raging that he has had his crown grabbed out of his hands. However, when Shakespeare builds up a character like this — usually someone who has lost something and tries to get the universe to converge on him and get it back for him  – Shakespeare makes sure we can see the other characters on the stage gaping at the guy who has gone off the rails. In Shakespeare, someone will survive to pick up the pieces when this guy blows up. It will be a tragedy, but someone will survive.

 

Not so with Kavanaugh, who finally stopping bloviating leaving everyone clearly exhausted. Diane Feinstein, who although she has a lot of money nevertheless grew up in that mansion, was probably having a hard time focusing on what is real and what is not. She seemed to fumble the first question. Kavanaugh then managed to filibuster his way through most of the ensuing questions. Ultimately, of all the Democratic Senators, only Cory Booker, the Black ex-mayor of Newark and now Senator from New Jersey, was able to bring the jerk to heel and keep him from interrupting. In fact, it seemed as if it was faintly possible that Kavanaugh was afraid of Booker. Which makes sense, especially if you believe as I do that the reason white policemen shoot Black men is because white bullies are afraid of Black men generally, and should be, because they owe them nothing and have nothing to lose.

 

Now I’ll bring this around to the #MeToo movement, which has brought out into the light the stories of what it is like for women in the mansion where most of us still live. #MeToo stories are usually individual stories. We need to go past that. I’m saying there are two other stories without which the stories of individual assaults and violence are incomplete.

 

One of these is the story of the mansion itself, by which I mean all the activities in all the different rooms, closets, hallways, basements and ballrooms where people who may think they play only a whisper or a shadow of a role nonetheless keep the building standing upright. Go back to the fine silver-haired doctor who didn’t give me a diaphragm; he was performing his role in the mansion, but you couldn’t exactly say he assaulted me, could you?

 

The second is the story of the men and boys who can see what’s wrong, can see the blows falling on the woman or girl next to them, but who just eat their own pain and fear being singled out by a bully if they speak up. The structure of the mansion, visible to women, is probably invisible to them; they bump into its walls and don’t understand where the doors are. They must experience something that makes them question what the value of being a man might be.

 

Ultimately, my husband and I calmed down last night by trying to figure out what could be done right now. He said, “Economic equality.” I said, “No, control over our bodies comes first.” Of course, that’s why the right wing wants Kavanaugh in the Supreme Court: to get rid of Roe versus Wade. So we agreed that the thing to do right now is to support Planned Parenthood. No wonder the Republicans want to de-fund it.

 

Enough for now. Thanks for reading all this.

Yours,

Helena Worthen

 

 

Can the Sun Rise in the West?

That’s a line from Fan Shen — said by Kuomingtang reactionaries to scoff the idea that Mao’s revolution could ever really happen.

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First annual Tommyfest.  Musicians from all over the area brought their instruments and jammed.  Four men went off into a quiet place to play.

Big wind, lightning, trees down; bursts of rain. The rivers come up fast. Out west, the wildfires are getting started three months early.

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I have not written much because I am so ashamed of my country. Children coming across the border are taken from their parents and sent to detention centers — some in other states.  Huge demonstrations to protest this. A judge has declared that they have to be re-united, but they don’t have a  process set up.

I am not up to writing about grassroots democracy and how it can turn the tide.  Maybe later. Here is the brook below Pikes’ Falls.

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Below, see if you can see the bird on the bird feeder.  A red dinner napkin around its neck.

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John’s studio. He did the woodcuts a year ago, before the current publicity about the children at the border.

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Bean. Where are we?

The Bean

Joe said, “She wrote for the ages.”  Winter after winter, she would sit in the living room with a small table set up with a typewriter and transcribe this manuscript.

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The writer, my great-great grandfather Joseph Goddard, was so angry about slavery that he couldn’t stop writing, fighting, preaching, traveling all over western New England to rage about it. This was 1838, thereabouts. The first version of this manuscript was stolen, along with his clothes, out of a trunk on a trip he took to New York State, so he wrote it again. This is it.

Something else worth doing.

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Tiepolo.  Feet as beautiful as hands.

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Ladora, Iowa.

LAdora outside

This building was built to be a bank. It functioned as a bank for about 8 years during the 1920’s, when Iowa was an agriculture-based boom economy. Then it went bust. Today it stands out in the town (most of the town is in the picture) like a mausoleum. Inside, it is a bistro, serving high end “small plates” of very good tasty food, lots of wine and beer, no coffee or tea.  Inspirational homilies about thrift and integrity run around all four sides of the ceiling. Upstairs is a tiny “board room” where the decision to declare bankruptcy must have been made.

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Five men playing croquet on the lawn. Three of them are lawyers. One is a union activist. The fifth works in tech.

5 men playing croq

Back in San Jose, the COCAL XII conference drew participants from Canada (Anglophone and Francophone) and Mexico as well as the US. Note headphones for translation. The equipment alone for translation cost $11,000 to rent. The Mexicans reported difficulties getting visas and additional surcharges when coming across the border in Tijuana.

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Posters at the Museum of Mexican American Art in San Jose. So this has been going on for a long time.

Posters in SJ

In the meantime, reports from the primaries are coming in with results in some areas (Ohio, for example) that were sure-thing Trump areas now “too close to call.”  And Missouri put down a right-to-work law 2 to 1.

Here is Jovanka Beckles, who is running for the CA state legislature from our district. She is speaking at a fundraiser houseparty last week in Berkeley. She is a mental health caseworker from Richmond, CA and has been elected to the City Council there. Jovanka ran in a busy field against a stack of other local aspirants, and came in second in a very close vote, which enables her to run in the upcoming primary.  Her opponent, also a Democrat (this is a top-two election) is a white woman named Buffy Wicks, who was an Obama staffer, very young and has never held public office. But Buffy has Obama’s endorsement. Jovanka got the endorsement of all of the people who ran in the primary against her and takes no corporate money.

Jovanka

And then this, which I consider a good sign:

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