Category Archives: Economy

The Criminalization of Survival

What do we all need to survive? Think about it for a minute… what would YOU need? Food, Water, shelter, transportation, the internet?

Seriously, I was looking for jobs a while back because, as a paid activist, and a single dad, it was getting hard to make the so called ends meet… because paid activism is a poorly paid sector. So I was looking. I was doing my very best to find a job and live up to my responsibilities to take care of my daughter and pay the bills and meet the legal arrangements, rent, utilities, insurance, and that sort of thing, that I had signed on to in less lean times. In times of two paychecks. (A thing of the past for me now. A thing of the past for many.) There never seemed to be enough money to get everything paid. I still made sure my daughter had what she needed to not only survive, but to prosper in today’s world, a basic, working computer, books, clothes, food, some toys, most were second hand or discount or hand-me downs, and the rest were simply cheap. She was in Soccer in her home town, and I was a soccer dad.

I worked over 50 hours or more, most weeks, and spent little on myself for “entertainment”… All my clothes were thrift store purchases. I also would buy used dvd’s at the thrift store, or accept used ones from friends. I took a lot of books out of the local library and went to the movies maybe once every other month. When I had a particularly good week at work, (much of my income was percentage) I might be able to treat myself to a half hour of horseback riding for about $25. But this was a rare luxury.

And I still stressed on a regular basis and tried not to feel guilty every time I read something, or talked with a medical professional, (which was rare as it was the early 2000’s and I could not afford health care, so I went to the free clinic, which often meant waiting to be seen) and I was informed that the kind of food I was eating was not very good for me. I often felt like I was not doing the right things, but it was all I could do with the limited income I had… It was too expensive to shop at the Co-Op, so the Super Market, and at times, the Dollar Store would have to do… Eww!

I most probably could have gotten a job pumping gas, or working for some large retail outlet… but then I would not be able to sleep at night knowing I was contributing to a system that exploits poor people across the planet or does direct damage to the planet’s eco-systems… and they do so thanks to any number of wars we have fought to ensure our “national interests” which is code for business interests which is really all about access to resources in other places where we do not live and have no sovereignty in order to supply the consumer needs that help people live in the aforementioned world of today… at a profit .. but that profit was not for me or any of my friends or family… the few family I had left anyway.

I was skilled enough to run most development departments for your average hospital or university, but lacking a degree, I could never even get my application answered. I had done professional development and direct marketing, in essence, for non-profit activist groups for about 25 years up to that point, so I had the skills.

Oh yeah, and so I was looking for a better paying job and I could not even find a gas station job in the local papers because the classified section was shrinking and had so very little to offer that I was qualified to do.

Most of the jobs were now listed on the internet so, if I did not have time to go to the local library, or did not have a decent internet connection, which cost a bunch more money each month, then I was simply screwed.

As I wrote earlier, I worked over 50 hours most weeks, and spent little on myself for “entertainment” and I often had to depend on public transit, unless my car happened to be working when I could afford the repair bills … so to survive, and to look for a better deal, I needed the internet. Since I was divorced from my kid’s mother, and she was registered in the City and I lived in the immediate suburbs, I did not get report cards. I had to log onto my kid’s school web site or email her teachers, unless I could take time off work, to schlep down to the city to meet her teachers… which I did whenever I could afford to … So yes, the internet, in today’s world, is a survival tool.

I was, as you have no doubt read somewhere before, a paycheck away from homelessness… But I prefer George Carlin’s perspective instead. He would say that the problem was not one of homelessness. It was one of “Houselessness”. Here’s what he meant:

I worked as a grant writer for a short time at a non-profit organization whose mission was to end homelessness, at least in Philadelphia. (It was one of my better payng jobs and during that brief time, I was not so financially desperate. They soon laid me off mainly due to lack of funds. Despite my rather decent rate of 20% positive grant acceptance. Not bad for a beginner in the grant world. But not enough to pay my way… so it goes in non-profit activist-land.)

It was a great experience just the same giving me a fuller understanding of the bigger picture and I did do some significant good while I was there…

What I learned there was that the majority of homeless people, (and they ARE people, each with their own stories like you and I) ACTUALLY WORKED AND HAD JOBS. So why were they homeless? Well let’s put all the behavior issues aside for the moment because the idea that it was somehow the fault of most of these people because of some form of moral turpitude that they may have engaged in (Like rich or middle class people don’t engage in these behaviors too) is not and never has been the reason why most people are homeless in the first place. Most people are homeless in the first place for a very simple reason which I have already alluded to twice.

They cannot afford rent.

In the publication “In Focus” put out by The National Healthcare for the Homeless Council, it is revealed that incarceration and homelessness are MUTUAL risk factors, meaning that one can lead to the other. But why would it be illegal to be homeless? In a caring and compassionate society one would think that people who have fallen on hard times would not be punished right?  (It could easily have been me in the past as my story above illustrates.) If they have some kind of condition that helps lead to their plight, why are we not providing some kind of treatment? Besides, the vast majority of homeless individuals are homeless for economic reasons. (Substance abuse, though high in the homeless population, is as often a result of the reality of homelessness as it is its cause.)

The fastest rising population in prison these days are single mothers. Why is that? Are people who are single moms more inclined to be bad people? Of course not! My Mom was a single mom for a while. And she raised me with a strong sense of right and wrong and how to treat people with care and respect. But she raised me in the early 50’s and the 60’s… a time when the economy was still artificially inflated from our countries success after World War Two. So I lucked out… not so much for single moms these days. Because there was enough money around, and the U.S. had such an economic advantage that one wage earned could support a family. My Mom was pretty independent, had skills and was the only person in her family with a high school diploma, but in those days, still could not find a job to support us as easily as a man could, so after leaving my birth father, she felt compelled to remarry, I am sure that love played a role in her decision but economics had to as well… But compared to single Moms today, we had it easy when it came to our economic options. My mother’s second husband was working class, but was able to support us as a warehouse manager for the US Air Force. (Yes, my adopted dad was a military contractor. But instead of dealing with weapons, he dealt with household items that service men – in those days – bought at the base exchange, a sort of department store for military families who lived on base… all the better to keep our troops out of the local economy and mixing with the citizens of whichever country we found ourselves in.. In our case it was Canada.)

So single moms in my day had economic supports that are harder to find if not gone today. Which means that options for survival are limited compared to the days when we all dreamed the “American Dream”.  A dream that for many has become an American Nightmare.

Worse still, according to the Correctional Association of New York, 75% of women in prison are domestic abuse survivors. Why are survivors of another crime landing in prison? What’s wrong with this picture? 9 out of 10 convicted of killing an intimate partner, in the words of Justice Debra James, Supreme Court, Civil Branch, New York County, Chair, New York Women in Prison Committee, National Association of Women Judges in her forward to the Association’s report, “From Protection to Punishment”, published by the Cornell University Law School, Avon Global Center for Women and Justice, and the Women in Prison Project, of the Correctional Association of New York.

The report shows how these cases are often convictions for illegal acts that happen as a result of actions these women take to protect themselves from “… extreme physical and mental abuse.” The vast majority of these women are women of color.  She also concludes that, “As this report illustrates, these punishments represent not only failures of policy and practice but also violations of survivor-defendants’ fundamental human rights.”

Then there is the War ON Drugs.

According to the ACLU, marijuana arrests account for over half of all drug arrests—and 88% of those charges are for simple possession. Because of decades-old grant programs, local police precincts are showered with money from the federal government if they keep their arrest numbers high. Police have a built-in financial incentive to focus their arrests on low-level drug offenders to fatten their statistics, especially because these are some of the easiest arrests to make. This is a major reason why marijuana arrest rates have gone up in recent years, and why they make up the majority of all drug detentions nationally.

But for many, this was, and is, an underground economy that actually helped families make those aforementioned ends meet. I knew a young man on Long Island in the eighties who sold low effect drugs from the basement of his parents home and actually paid off their mortgage for them at a time when the economy was experiencing one of a repeated number of “corrections” making those damn ends hard to meet again.  This was one case I was personally aware of, but there were many other examples of so called victim-less crimes,  like pot selling that was often a families only way to keep from going under. But it gets worse…

Contracts with private prison management companies exhibit the same incentive. Cash strapped states contract with these private corporations to run their jails. As a stipulation of the contract, the state must “keep the beds full” or be in breach of contract. This is an incentive to criminalize all kinds of behavior to create a large enough population to round up, (like suspects on the streets of Baghdad, now languishing at GITMO) AND FILL THE BEDS. So single moms who cannot find work with sufficient wages to make those aforementioned ends meet, turn to… Crime? Prostitution, drugs, or maybe just leaving their kids in the car as they queue up for an interview for some dismally paying service sector job in order that their kids eat. And so now, single mothers facing or living in poverty are considered criminals… and they are incarcerated and the beds are full…

This is what we mean by “The Criminalization of Survival”.

On October 9, 2013, Solvej Schou, who writes regularly for TakePart, and has also contributed to the Associated Press, Los Angeles Times, BBC.com, and Entertainment Weekly, tells us this: “… lower income Americans increasingly unable to find steady work and housing, post-recession homelessness and panhandling is on the rise in the U.S., and increasingly being ignored or punished.

“Case in point, peaceful begging—the act of non-aggressively asking for money or food—is increasingly being banned in various cities and states across the country. The criminalization of homelessness in U.S. cities, anti-panhandling and anti-solicitation laws in 188 cities had increased by seven percent from 2009 to 2011, according to a National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty report.”

Examples abound. Check out these extracts…

“According to dailykos.com, the Houston city council passed a law in 2012 making it against the law for anyone to give food to a homeless person, whether that homeless person was in a park or in a food kitchen set up specifically to feed the homeless people of Houston.”

“The same law made it illegal for homeless people to feed themselves with found food (usually from the trash). Dailykos reported that a homeless man was ticketed a week before they published their story on this subject and fined $500 for taking a partially eaten donut out of a dumpster. Five hundred dollars is the amount of the fine for persons who feed the homeless, or for the homeless who feed themselves inside the Houston city limits – the City Council lowered the fine down from $2,000 because of public outcry.”

“Noah’s Kitchen Executive Director Amber Rodriguez told The Christian Post that there are 13 and a half thousand homeless people in Houston and that the $500 fine would feed at least 750 people (Christianpost.com).”

“It was necessary for Noah’s Kitchen (as well as other charity groups that help the poor) to move outside the Houston city limits or pay the $500 fine every single time they offered a homeless person a cup of soup or a piece of toast. Yes, $500 for each and every offense. A second piece of toast to the same person would mean another $500 fine in addition to the first one! Yes, a hungry homeless person could quickly put Noah’s Kitchen out of business completely by simply eating 4-5 pieces of toast from that soup kitchen.”

“Several news agencies, including ABC News, Huffington Post, NY Daily News, Daily Mail, and the New York Times, to name a few, reported on March 19, 2014 that 56-year old homeless Marine veteran Jerome Murdough was jailed for trespassing in Harlem, and was then allowed to literally bake to death in his prison cell where he was jailed. Yes, the cell where Jerome Murdough was confined was allowed to heat to well over 100 degrees and Mr. Murdough died. He was allowed to swelter to death while being neglected by jail officials and employees.”

“Jerome Murdough was just looking for a warm place to sleep on a chilly night last month when he curled up in an enclosed stairwell on the roof of a Harlem public housing project where he was arrested for trespassing,” (Huffington Post).”

Oh, that’s right, there is even  more…

According to the ACLU Debtors prison is making an illegal comeback. There is the story of Stephan Papa.  According to the ACLU:

“After he returned from Iraq both homeless and out of work, Stephan Papa spent one night in a drunken misadventure. Convicted of destruction of property and resisting arrest, Mr. Papa was sentenced to pay $2600 in fines and court fees.” Of course he was not able to pay those fees, and, though illegal to sentence people to jail for inability to pay, he was jailed anyway. Now it may not be the most laudable behavior, but many of us have had a drunken misadventure before and though the particular action may or may not have been criminal, taking a person’s circumstances into account seems prudent. And being drunk hardly seems to require the extreme reaction that Mr. Papa dealt with… His life is disrupted and possible ruined for a long time. Does this seem fair to you? Survival often includes basic coping with one’s situation.. When survival is on the line, we all may resort to “regressive behavior” that we may not be proud of, but that is part of being human isn’t it? So maybe it’s the criminalization of being human is what is at issue? Why not invest in the kind of support to help down-on-their-luck individuals like Mr. Papa a chance to learn new coping skills? Investing in any number of community mental and emotional health programs with just a sliver of what we now spend on war and intervention across the globe would go a long way to building security at home by lifting up people like Mr. Papa while creating jobs and stimulating the local economy in the first place. But how many of you have read that these kinds of community base support programs are attacked because they are “jobs programs”?

Well, what’s wrong with that? We need jobs programs and we need them where there is a real need. Why not reinvest in our communities and stimulate the economy by paying to help people in need rather than helping already obscenely profitable industries with more US tax dollars, (yours and mine) that benefit a few at the so called top at the expense of all of us let alone those most in need?

Criminalization of survival. Who does it benefit? Who profits? And why?

It is time for a change. There are legislative efforts afoot that can help begin to change these things. Simply enforcing current law against debtor’s prison is one solution. Several states have begun issuing simple cards for judges to assist in legal sentencing practices so that they are aware that jailing people for inability to pay for court costs and fines is illegal in the first place… Something one would think a judge should know?

There is a bill in Congress that I have mentioned before to help Mothers and other care givers stay out of poverty by, in essence, providing a wage for home care and what we used to call “housework” affording people of modest means the ability to be good care givers without forcing them to have to make choices like leaving their kids in a hot car to attend a job interview, or stealing the proverbial loaf of bread or its equivalent to feed their families or themselves… This bill is the RISE Out of Poverty Act, and its companion piece, the WORK Act… bills that deserve your support. You should call your Congress Person, both Bills are in the House, (The WORK act is in search of a prime sponsor) and you should demand they co-sponsor and vote for these two important pieces of legislation that would help de-criminalize the very act of survival, like taking care of ones family for example. You can call your Congress Person at the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121. You can also support the campaign to pass these bills by going to the following web site and signing the petition. http://www.everymothernetwork.net/support-the-rise-and-work-acts/  A growing number of organizations have been signing on as endorsing organizations and maybe your church or synagogue or Temple may do their part, or if you belong to a secular group or labor union ask them to endorse as well.

I once faced poverty and, with things as unstable in this world as they are becoming could face it again. So could you or someone you know. The current systems are shaken, and crumbling at their edges, if not at their very core. If nothing else, our economy is uncertain and it is far easier to be facing such a plight these days in a moment by any number of chance circumstances. An unexpected illness in your family, a sudden job loss, or a loss of your home possibly brought about by some extreme weather event thanks to rapidly advancing global climate change.  Most of us are all “one paycheck from homelessness” these days.

Once again, when we look closely we can see that we are all in this together and we must break down the walls that divide us if we are all to be more secure.

Action in the face of fear

There was a time, not too long ago, when the world had 70,000 nuclear warheads poised to launch at a moment’s notice.

They were aimed at various points on the globe, but roughly 60,000 of them were armed to explode on and incinerate and destroy most of the cities in the US and the USSR. This was an existential threat…. that threat still exists today, but it is arguably, in relative terms, much less… There are now 17,300 armed poised devices. You can imagine my relief. Yet this IS a welcome change. Still, many of them are more accurate and … if it were possible to be more deadly than 60,000, they may be more so upon impact, which may be irrelevant, since their use would most certainly be just as deadly anyway. This is because the far reaching effects will get just about everybody in the end. I mean, how many times can you destroy the planet anyway?

There are still too many. There are too many weapons… of all kinds.
It has been said that the world is awash in weapons and, of course, this alone is not the only threat, though these weapons magnify it and make the threat more likely by their very being.

The other threat that needs to be addressed to reduce the chances of their use is human beings willingness to use them. Even more important is our willingness to hurt others. This is part and parcel of their destructiveness and begs the larger question of how do we achieve safety and security? I will come back to this question in its more fundamental aspects later. For now, back to world annihilation.

Many of these bombs are no longer pointed at cities, and many are on hold. In storage if you will… only a few thousand still stand ready to be launched quickly… and the overall “threat level” or Def-Com as it is referred to by the military in the US, is set lower so the chance of a so called “hair trigger” response is less … somehow, I still feel unsafe when I think about all this.

When I contemplate their use… the effect these weapons would have on me, and those I truly love, who are close to my heart, especially if they do not live close by, it is deeply frightening. If these loved ones lie on their deathbed, I should be able to get to their side, but how can I even view their remains if we all go up in a conflagration such as that?

This is a numbing consideration. It is the kind of threat that is obliterating in all its manifestations. Disempowering to even think about. This is so big, bigger than each of us, how can we ever do anything about it? How can this change?
But as noted above, it already has. And this did not simply happen. And it was not at the whim of those who directly control and create this monstrosity.

It happened because of the countless efforts of people like me and you. It changed because enough people, not everyone, but enough people demanded it and, some, many, broke society’s rules to force the change. It was not easy and much work remains to be done….

The outcome is not certain which, in itself, demands that further action be taken or the unthinkable may yet happen. It took direct action. It took actions large and small. It took civil disobedience and the guts to face arrest and abuse both legal and physical.

However, UNTHINKABLE is what this cannot be! Because to be changed it requires us to think about it and face it head on to deal with it and bring about the change we wish for. There is no other way. Denial will get you in the end. So true of so much that holds us back and hurts us.

How to overcome the denial and the numbness and the inaction about this? Like an addict, or an abuse victim our world keeps functioning at this level of insecurity, wondering why life now seems depressing and simply not enough, wondering why it is all so bad out there, and often overcome with the strong desire to distract ourselves with all manner of inducements and intoxications… our fear and denial prevent us from facing these horrors that stalk our nightmares.

We may even convince ourselves it is all for our own good. That things can’t be that bad. We may even think that this is a good thing for us for fear of thinking of ourselves as somehow to blame when we find ourselves in an unhealthy situation such as this one. After all, we may have gone along with it for too long and do not want to feel stupid. But the stupidity lies in remaining in a bad situation. Even if we think it provides us some benefit. (After all, this makes us the strongest Nation on the planet, right? But at such a cost is it worth it?)

But like addicts and abuse victims everywhere, the first step is to admit we have a problem… the second is to face our fear, not an easy task, and then to take action. In essence, to become survivors!

Even small action counts. Small action can build up to big, more effective action and we gain strength and confidence in ourselves and our actions when we take them a bit at a time. We make progress, sometimes slowly, and there can be set backs… but if we look back along the road we can see that we have made progress so, after a much needed rest to recharge, we are required by our need and call to change that we get back up and continue onward. The promise of healthy joy-filled life demands it.

Life itself demands it.

We cannot have what we really want, what we all really want, deep down, unless we overcome the fear and the denial that prevents us from taking action. Then we can sort things out.

It is important to realize that there are some things that cannot be avoided and some things we cannot affect… and many things we should not control… A compassionate young man I knew was recently lost to us due to what we think was a massive heart attack. Maybe he could have taken action to prevent it. But it is also true that there are heart problems in the family and it may have been a congenital issue. There is no way to control for that. Some things we simply cannot help.

But the question is not about control. That attraction has more to do with powerlessness and control is the flip side of denial, because to affect healthy change one must take account of the forces that one is trying to affect and deal with, or overcome if need be, and what keeps us from the changes that need to be made.

One must also be mindful of the other players and why they want control, because, like me or you, they too want the same things and are dealing with similar fear and denial and are obviously losing that struggle to the deleterious effect of us all… so instead of control, which in and of itself is at issue, we should instead, if we wish a healthy outcome, seek appropriate engagement, and when necessary compromise… nothing else will do.

That is not to say that we accept abuse or oppression, but our struggle with it will only succeed in the long run if we do not fall prey to the same afflictions as our oppressor, for if we do then our oppressor has already defeated us and positive, healthy change cannot come about. Our oppressor may have suffered, but we do not have to become like them and we cannot heal them unless they heal themselves.

We CAN be an example and show them the way. Then we all win. Though we cannot make them follow us, our example may be the best we can do.

Cooperation is better than control unless you are so afraid that you are too weak to accept others, and if so, and you embrace control, you are by your actions allowing a battle you may lose as you are giving the other the “right” to be an opponent, rather than a partner in the search for security and a healthy life.
To achieve a healthy life, if it be an engaged one or a separate one, for anyone to have security, we must accept the security of others.

Appropriate boundaries are the key when we live separately. But we must also remember that any separateness is in degree only, as all things, each of us, are connected to everything else and each other too… There is no getting away from this. This is an inevitable truth about the universe as vast as it is. I will show evidence later for this notion in future writings.

So considering all of this, how did such a large change in our existentially threatened, connected lives occur? How did we manage to take such large steps back from the brink of possible destruction in such a short time? Just 28 years.
By facing the disease head on and taking action.

I took an active part in this story and as such, I can share personal experience of my part in it.

I went door to door for the Committee for a SANE Nuclear Policy in the 80’s. But I started my activist career on Long Island as a professional canvasser for the Citizens Alliance, which was the community organizing project of the Public Interest Research Group, or NYPIRG. This was one of the original student run organizations that was part of the Ralph Nader family of groups working for progressive change through state legislation and public education and in the courts. This “movement” was reformist and left of center, non-partisan and targeted at the so called middle class.

The Citizens Alliance was a classic attempt at grass-roots organizing right out of the Saul Alinsky play-book so it was a bit more radical at its core than much of the rest of the Nader Network and was really about politicizing middle class suburbanites as a way to erode their electoral support for the Reagan agenda.

But the Alliance worked mainly in neighborhoods of color and poor white neighborhoods so their experience was different from the reformist crowd. In truth it was a good place to cut my political teeth. We canvassed on a variety of issues, many chosen not just for their importance as issues but because of their relation to the populations we were targeting. As such the issues we talked about were familiar and, though controversial to some degree, hardly the kind that would radically change the system in any fundamental way in terms of anything thing like capital and empire. Though in its defense it did foster democracy and politicized a large part of the population to help advance a healthy kind of populism.

In terms of the context of this article, I mention all of this to explain that by and large, though any kind of canvassing can be challenging and, in truth, so outside most people’s experience that it takes a rare individual to be good at it depending on which kind of canvasser one is. I digress here for a moment but this will give you a context to, hopefully, give you a better idea of the challenge we faced..

Though there exists in the world of political canvassing a wide range of flavors, most of it falls into two broad categories. They are what I would call politically oriented or financially oriented. While both consist of raising funds and setting quotas as an intrinsic element of the tactic, (And fundamentally, canvassing is a tactic) one category has its focus as politicizing populations and seeking a grass roots base of support for organizing through memberships and grass-roots pressure on policy makers and corporate targets. The other is much more concerned about building a financial base of donors as the main purpose (though both kinds do this).

But the fact remains that to most people, canvassing is hard to be good at, especially the more politically oriented kind. Because when your main concern is funding, you can get away with being a good salesperson. But when it is social change, you often have to break through suspicion and common misperceptions of fence sitters. (You don’t talk to true opponents if you are a good canvasser, They get changed, if ever, in other ways by their own experience.)

Now having stated this, my point in terms of this story is that I gravitated to and had the good fortune to be part of. the more political variety. As a matter of fact I was pretty good at it and as such became a leader and this gave me opportunity to be an early, and in my day, a somewhat influential one at that, doing all that I could to push the organizations I worked for toward more political kinds of outreach. You see, I wanted to be a real organizer in the worse way and helped develop the early canvass as a political outreach and organizing tool as much as I could.

So my experience was that canvassing on issues like rent control, or toxic dumping and other environmental hazards, even stopping nuclear power or working to get stronger regulation of utility companies and similar more reformist agenda’s over all, it was not too hard to gain significant support in most places I canvassed. My ratio of positive to negative interactions was somewhere around 50% or greater in most locations.

That changed significantly when I began to canvass for SANE. Not only was this long time organization more political than the Nader flavor, which was enough of a challenge, but it was a leader in the US Peace Movement. The US Peace Movement, as distinct from the “Anti-war” movement, dealt with issues that were fundamentally at the heart of the struggle for freedom and justice and empowerment of the public against the system. A system that has had vast inequality deep within it for at least as long as this nation has existed. And its roots, in truth, go back much farther.

But what really made it hard, as if that was not enough, was canvassing to end the nuclear arms race during its very height. With the exception of the struggle for voting rights and to resist racism and sexism, which I have also had occasion to canvass on, the nuclear arms race has been one of the hardest most polarizing issues I have ever brought to the average US citizen’s door because of two things.
The first is the deep divisions in those days regarding the whole US foreign policy strategy which for so many sprung directly from the sense of “American Exceptionalism”.

This notion that we are a chosen people has always been the tactic that those in power in this country have used to win over enough of the population to enable their militaristic, imperialist pro capitalist agenda. (If I may be so bold) Despite the growing change in attitudes by many more people these days about this, the idea of the US as being the good guys, still runs deep.

But in the 80’s during the Reagan years, at least half of the people we talked to, and in many places more than half, were so afraid of the Soviet Union that even though majorities favored a nuclear weapons freeze, there was still resistance to arms negotiations and great suspicion of our movement. We had to learn to achieve our goals with about a third of the support of people in most places we canvassed. Why such a small number when the majority in poll after poll supported our core position?

Because the other thing that we encountered that was very different from all of the other issues I have ever worked on, and this goes to the heart of my argument here, was simply an unwillingness to deal with the realities of a potential nuclear war. There was a deep “Psychic numbing” about the size and scope of the issue. And this was not only experienced by us as a characteristic of people who we canvassed, but many of us felt it ourselves… including me!

I was not entirely convinced that we would be successful in our goals. Though I knew the odds were long, and I reasoned that our only chance was to ignite a movement for change, one of the ideas that kept me going was that if they were going to kill us all anyway I was simply not prepared to go into the night without a fight and if I could send any of the people we considered war mongers to bed having had a bad day as a result of our actions then I would sleep a little bit easier.

One of my political hero’s was Alard Lowenstien. Now I am not normally inclined to find politicians of any stripe very heroic. They can be good allies, and often well meaning and righteous people, some with their heart and their beginnings in some social change movement or other. Indeed I have personally known of one or two who became involved after we canvassed them and got them to attend a grass-roots planning meeting. They became politicized after we brought them up against the system and they learned how corrupt it was. This was canvassing at its best. Mobilizing people for change. And there are other stories which I will share later of the potential effectiveness of this unique organizing tool. But that’s for later.

Now Alard holds a special place in my heart because before he ran for office he was the lead organizer for the Student Dump Johnson Movement which helped mobilize grass-roots voters for Eugene McCarthy’s campaign, whose early win as the Anti-War candidate in New Hampshire and elsewhere helped propel Bobby Kennedy into the Democratic Primary. This, in part, eventually convinced Johnson not to run for re-election. So this guy helped engineer the political defeat of one the most powerful men in the world at that time.

Alard used to say that nothing is for certain. The only thing that is for certain is that you either win or you lose, so you work hard as you can to win. This was the attitude that helped him succeed.

The point here was that what we were doing in those days, that in my mind, was more significant than all the money we collected or all the signatures that were signed was bringing hope to the doors of many and helping open their eyes to the danger all around them. And despite the sense of futility that we and so many people we talked to door to door struggled with when facing this issue, the issue of the existential threat discussed earlier, we made a difference.

We stepped into people’s homes across the country as we canvassed in a number of key cities in a strategic effort to effect congressional action by electoral district. We pulled them away from the TV and engaged them in a conversation about the state of the world and the fate of the earth and everyone on it.

In those days the Congress was a bit less bought off and we were indeed helping to mobilize the deep grass-roots feelings against the arms race that already existed. We did succeed in crafting our message in a way that got around the fear of the Soviet’s by addressing a balanced verifiable approach and using logic and touching on people’s concerns and being as life affirming as we could be. We got good at our craft and worked hard on our communication skills in professionally run workshops in briefings and by reading and training daily.

And we drew from the examples of great leadership figures such as Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, Aung San Su Chi and others. We were a well educated seasoned group and our canvass had a higher percentage of long term, very serious minded and very often older staff than most canvasses of the day. Many of our leaders were woman and we were very well indoctrinated in larger issues of oppression and the connections between them. And we convinced many people that any action, no matter how small, could, be important if we wanted things to change.

As Ted Taylor, the Anti-War Nuclear Physicist told us, to paraphrase him just a little here, it would be better to strive with all our hearts to achieve a world that may seem too good to be true, than to drift toward one that is too dreadful to contemplate.

We did this not just with canvassing, but with a crack PR department and a well run publishing arm that was renowned in Washington DC for accurate and informative briefings and carefully researched literature that we got out to a mass audience on radio, at colleges and events that we held all over the country. We were a respected background source by the Washington DC and New York News Media. We worked hard! And SANE had a rich history. Not a perfect one to be sure, but one with a strong culture of resistance to oppression and militarism including early and strong opposition to the war in Viet Nam and a close association with organizers in the civil rights movement.

But a very concrete example of a small action making a big difference was the act of signing those petitions we carried around.

One of the historic occurrences which helped turn the tide on the escalation in the development and deployment of ever more dangerous nukes was Gorbechev’s rise to power and his eventual challenge to Reagan, who, to a significant degree, was forced to the bargaining table by grass roots pressure which was vey much stimulated by SANE and the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign.

Of course there were many others besides us as well, too numerous to list here, but we played an undeniably large part in this struggle by virtue of our resource base… much of which can be credited to our canvass. In our first year we more than doubled our membership base and it continued to grow not only giving us more grass roots power, but fundamentally altering the breadth of our base and making it more mainstream and much less establishment liberal as the traditional base of SANE largely was. This was already true of the FREEZE and as the two organizations grew closer together and eventually merged, it changed even more. Though our leadership and staff were more militant, our base was a good cross section of the country.

But getting back to the lowly act of signing petitions. In many cases petitions are not taken seriously by policy makers. This is a widely accepted notion and very often true. The success of petitions is usually more in their use to build lists of supporters, but when one knows how to use them correctly they can actually make a difference in swaying the politically powerful and public opinion which in turn can have the same effect.

You see, one does not have to perform acts of civil disobedience, or risk their lives to make change. Some will have to, and maybe in growing numbers, and they will need our support, but even very small acts can have an impact. EVERYONE does have to do their piece of the work. There is a line in the Koran that speaks to this. It says something like that. That everyone has to do their piece of the work. It may be a big piece. It may be a small piece, but everyone has a piece to do.

In this case millions of names played a key role in an important public relations event that was picked up by major media and helped propel both the US and the USSR to end all nuclear explosions in the testing and development of new weapons. A ban that has held to this day. Though a test ban treaty remains elusive, both the US and Russia still maintain a voluntary cessation of live explosions and this is a good thing. This ban helped warm the cold war and made the eventual reductions in these weapons that I began this article with possible.
And the petitions helped to create that atmosphere when our delegation to Moscow, led by Jesse Jackson, attempted to present them to the Reagan delegation at the summit talks.

When Reagan refused to accept them, this played into Grobey’s hands giving him a distinct political PR advantage when he not only accepted them, but had a field day with the press touting them as representing the peaceful aspirations of the people of the World. This put even more pressure for Reagan to meet the Soviet Ban on testing, which Gorbechev had already initiated.

I personally collected hundreds of those names and the day before our delegation left for the Summit I helped box thousands of them with my staff on the floor of our New York City office blocks from where Norman Thomas had done community organizing years earlier in Soho. Those names played a role in a historic event. Each person who signed helped make a difference and from this I have learned that no action is too small. One never knows what effect a positive action may have down the road.

This has been my experience on many occasions and the point here is that even in the face of a strong attraction to, and in a pervasive environment for, the aforementioned psychic numbing that kept many from acting, we were able to demonstrate that action can work. Indeed, without it we will be doomed to failure. Action, of course never guarantees success, and I cannot tell you that action will promise victory, but I can tell you that in the face of threats and hurts and abuse of all kind, non-action will ensure defeat.

And we must remember all of this as we work to rid the World of ALL weapons of war, the rest of the Nukes, and everything else too… As we work to eliminate poverty, and end racism, sexism and cruel behavior of all kinds.

We live in a world where there is so much unnecessary hurt and pain and so much less love than there needs to be. We live on a planet that can provide for us all…. There IS enough to go around and there are solutions to climate change and most all of the ills that we suffer. The rich and powerful have to learn to share and play well in the sandbox that is the Earth. A better world is possible, but we first have to believe in it. Then we have to get to work.

But all of this will require us to get past our fear. It will take courage and we will all have to help each other.

So things may seem hopeless, odds may appear insurmountable and depression may sometimes consume us but if we allow ourselves to wallow in it, if we accept our lot and fall prey to the weight of our own disempowerment, if we allow ourselves to remain victims and shrink from a struggle for our own lives then we will not become survivors but we will be defeated, at least in part, by our own hand.

In the end it is up to us to take action. In the end there are only two choices.
Action or inaction.

We may need to reach out for help and support and we may not be able to turn the tide alone, but we cannot permit ourselves the distraction of complacency and immobilization. We have to overcome our fear and have the courage get past what terrifies us to live the healthy lives we wish to live and that we all deserve to live.

Life demands it.

David Gibson

No Deal is Better Than a Bad Deal

I went to a rally on Saturday.  It was held in front of the local office of Representative Jim Gerlach (R).  He represents the Pennsylvania 6th Congressional District.  Of course, neither Jim nor his staff were there as they don’t work on weekends.  The Republicans in Congress want us to work until we are 70 years old before we can collect our Social Security retirement money.  On the other hand, they only want to work 1/3 of the year and still collect full pay and full benefits.

Rep. Jim Gerlach was re-elected in November and that is because he tells his constituents that he is a “moderate”.  That’s bullsh*t.  He is a placeholder for Republican votes and he votes as he is told to vote by the House Speaker, John Boehner.  Gerlach voted to dismantle Medicare and Medicaid yet the local press was silent about his vote.  His opponent didn’t have much money and he had a large territory to cover to get name recognition.  The media area is the greater Philadelphia area which makes it expensive to advertise.  Rep. Jim Gerlach refused to debate his opponent because he didn’t want anyone to know anything about his opponent, Manan Trivedi.  As for town hall meetings, they are held via the telephone because Gerlach does not want to be confronted by unhappy constituents.  Yeah, I’ll say it.  Rep. Jim Gerlach is a coward.

Enough of my rambling.  Here is a picture of the poster that I was holding.  H/T to Outstandinginthefield for the wording and thank you to everyone else for your good ideas.  I will hold onto those for possible use at another time.

https://i0.wp.com/i336.photobucket.com/albums/n347/paforchange/DontBeaGrinch.jpg

Live in your strength!

I Want My Country Back

Yes, you heard me.  I want my country back… back from the Tea Party and the big corporations that financially support them.  I do NOT want my country to return to the Tea Party and Republican principles of:

  • Repealing the Civil Rights Act because the central Government should not tell States how to treat American citizens.
  • Eliminating the 19th Amendment to the Constitution.  Women should not be voting.  They don’t have time for politics because they need to be in the kitchen cooking and they should be waiting on their husbands.  The bible tells us that women are subservient to men.
  • Returning to slave labor and sweat shop labor practices because businesses should be free to abuse their employees without Government interference.
  • Dismantling Social Security because seniors should have planned better for their retirement.  Too bad and too sad if Wall Street bankers stole most of their IRA money.  Tough luck if the seniors worked at jobs that didn’t have a pension program or 401K program.  If these seniors worked for minimum wage, they still should have thought ahead even if it required providing less food and clothing for their children so that they would have that extra money to save for their retirement.  Some Republican candidates are claiming that Social Security is unconstitutional.
  • Dismantling Medicare because health care is not a right, it is a privilege and the Tea Party does not approve of privileges except when it comes to their idols and themselves.  Besides, only the privileged deserve health care.
  • Eliminating disability payments because people need to be more responsible and not get injured on the job.  This includes our military veterans.  They should stop whining because after all, they volunteered.
  • Forcing Catholics, Jews and Muslims to commit sins by having to read and study the protestant bible in public schools.
  • Allowing property owners to create toll roads.  People have a right to collect money from anyone that crosses their property line.  Good luck with getting to work on time and having any money left over from your paycheck after paying all the tolls.
  • Supporting “Second Amendment” solutions as a means of conflict resolution.  This might also work as a method of population control.
  • Returning to the glory days of lords and serfs.

I want my country back from hate mongers like Beck, Palin, Limbaugh, Malkin, Kristol, Bachmann, Rove, Cheney, and all the rest that appear on Fox News, the opinion network.  The goals for these people are to divide our country and to make piles of money while undereducated people do their dirty work for them.

I want my country back from racists such as Beck, Laura Schlesinger, the Tea Party and the Larouches.  These people are so upset because there is a black family living in, what they perceive as, the White(‘s only) House.

I want my country back from people that profit from the suffering of others (Beck, Palin and Limbaugh).

I want my country back from politicians that place Wall Street above and before Main Street, such as Pat Toomey, Tom Corbett, Jim Gerlach and all the other Republicans and Tea Party members.

Yes, I want my country back.  The one where everyone is treated with respect and  equality, the one where everyone receives good health care, the one where everyone receives a livable wage, and the one where everyone is free to practice their religious beliefs without interference from other religions.

I want back, the country that was progresing forward.  Not the one that is currently heading in Reverse.

Republicans on Unemployment

Even the Republicans that are out of work are complaining about the Republicans in Washington that have denied the current unemployment benefit extension.  It must be nice to have a job in Washington DC with a salary and benefits paid for by taxpayers.

Read all about it here from the Wall Street Journal and DailyKos

UPDATE:

The Tea Party candidates don’t care about these lazy Republicans.  Put a Tea Party member in Congress and it will only get worse because they also want to dismantle Social Security.

Don’t let them fool you because the Tea Party and Republicans are the “death panel” parties.

Don’t let the Tea Party and Republicans make you feel demoralized.  Get out and vote in November and vote Democratic because your life depends upon it.

On Becoming A Poor Nation

Let’s face the facts.  Our local governments are in a financial crises.   With the loss of jobs, comes a decrease in State income tax revenues.  Smaller State revenues means that there is less money to help struggling cities and towns.  Add to this, the decrease in sales tax revenues that are the result of less purchasing power, and we have a State going bankrupt.  Now, multiple this by the number of States near bankruptcy and we have a nation of the edge of becoming a third world country.

As States become poorer, they need to make cuts to their spending.  One of the many areas where they choose to make cuts is in funding for education.  That means that our children suffer by not receiving a full education.  Poor education will not help these children when they become adults because they won’t be able to find a job that pays a living wage or better.  Ignorance is NOT bliss.  It leads to poverty.  The greater the poverty, the closer we are to becoming a third world country.

Even though only about 10% of Americans are heavily invested in stocks and bonds, our economy is driven by the DOW.  In order to grow, we need an economy based on jobs that produce goods.  Our nation has been slowly losing its goods based economy.  Instead, our economy is based on market gambling.  There is no bartering for goods and services in this country.  We can’t “take a chicken to the doctor” because banks won’t accept chickens as mortgage payments from the doctor.  (I’m curious about this “chicken”.  Is is a live chicken or a dead chicken?)

Do you see the pattern?  It a vicious cycle, one that Republicans claim can only be fixed by cutting taxes which decrease revenues.   Understand, the taxes that get cut are the taxes to the richest 1% of Americans and the services that get cut are the services needed by the other 90%.  The Republicans and Tea Partiers support Reagan economics.  It was during Ronald Reagan’s presidency, when the decline in the middle working class started.

The bottom line is this… we need jobs based on goods that pay a living wage or better so that the States and local municipalities can collect the revenue needed to keep our governments functioning.   This includes ample money for police, firefighters, educators, libraries and infrastructure repair and maintenance.  More tax cuts for the rich will not produce jobs and will not bring in more revenue.  Instead, it starves the masses.

One question before I end this thread, how is that “trickle down” economics working for you?