Take Back Red

International Women’s Day demonstration at UC Berkeley campus

Berkeley’s local election continues to provide fuel for celebration as Kate Harrison won her race for the District 4 seat vacated by Jesse Arreguin when he became mayor.  The city council now has a 6-3 progressive majority. No doubt it’ll be a challenge to keep that bloc from splintering, but that’s another story.

Meanwhile another hopeful event took place on the UC Berkeley campus on International Women’s Day, March 8. The organizing group focused the rally on the grievances of university non-academic employees, the great majority of whom are women. What I found particularly heartening was that the rally organizers called on participants to “wear red.”  And indeed, many participants in the rally crowd made a vivid circle of bright, resplendent red. Yes!

Republicans have stolen the color red, and it’s time to take it back. The appropriation of red by the party of billionaires ranks high among the monstrous hypocrisies of our time. This hijack rips off not only a symbol, an element of a brand. It ruptures the chain of continuity between the progressive peoples of today and a long history of revolutionary struggles.

In Royalist France, the Garde Nationale raised the red flag to try to terrorize demonstrators on the streets.  “L’étandard sanglant” — the bloody banner — warned that the authorities would shoot.  And shoot they did, killing 50 people in a demonstration on July 17, 1791. Thereafter, the most fearless revolutionaries adopted red as their own flag, to commemorate the martyrs and to demonstrate that they would not be intimidated. The democratic revolutionaries of 1848 raised the red flag on their barricades.  Red was the color of Garibaldi’s struggle to unify Italy.  The Paris Commune of 1871 fought under the red flag, as did the Russian workers in the October revolution a century ago.  At the time I was a college student, the so-called “red states” were Russia, China, Vietnam, Albania, Cuba, and so on.

Red has for ages been the color of everything left of center in the British parliamentary democracy.  In most of Europe, red is the color not only of the Communist parties, but of the whole spectrum of social-democratic and left-liberal movements. It was no different in the U.S. Red was the color of the left, blue the color of the right throughout the twentieth century.  During the McCarthy persecutions — the “Red Scare”– nobody who read newspapers or listened to radio would associate millionaires and billionaires with the red flag.

How did we get to the current chromatic perversion?  A 2012 article in the Smithsonian points to the election of  2000 as the flipping point.  From the advent of color TV to the end of the century, TV newscasts by CBS and NBC generally showed Republicans as blue and Democrats as red. Only ABC experimented with the opposite. But within days of the 2000 vote, the New York Times and USA Today published detailed county maps using red for Republicans and blue for Democrats. According to Archie Tse, senior graphics editor for the Times, quoted in the Smithsonian piece, “I just decided red begins with ‘r,’ Republican begins with ‘r.’  It was a more natural association. There wasn’t much discussion about it.”  That became the new standard under which we suffer today.

At the risk of disclosing my native streak of paranoia, I have to say that I don’t buy this explanation.  The claim that the senior graphics editor for the major metropolitan daily of its time never eyeballed the political implications of the color scheme, and that nobody higher up said anything about it, insults the intelligence.  Nevertheless, until someone comes forward with a more credible story, we’re stuck with this one.

Today’s reportage from Moscow says that the Putin regime intends to ignore the 100th anniversary of the October revolution later this year, largely because it does not want to celebrate citizens taking up arms and overthrowing their rulers. There’s an argument to be made that the implosion of the Soviet Union in the late 80s, and its internal purge of most of its revolutionary history, amounts to a forfeiture of its moral claim to the color red, placing red, as it were, in the public domain, for anyone to grab. Once detached from its Soviet historical linkage, the color red is an attractive commodity. It’s warm, and it comes forward to the eye. It expresses love, passion, emphasis.  In Chinese culture, red stands for courage, loyalty, honor, prosperity, and other good things. All things the Republican party is not.

All the more reason for the people’s progressive movement to reclaim red as our color.  The great Women’s March this past January boldly established pink as a color of protest on an unprecedented scale. That was a great step toward red. The International Women’s Day rally on the UC Berkeley campus clearly and strongly put red back on the progressive banner.  Let’s take back red!

Sources:  Smithsonian, Wikipedia


An important local election

Kate Harrison

With the election of a progressive slate to Berkeley’s city council last November, former District 4 city council member Jesse Arreguin became mayor and vacated his council seat.  A special election to fill that seat is taking place via mail balloting only.  Mail ballots have been sent out to District 4 voters and are due in by March 6.  The candidates are Kate Harrison, a long time Berkeley activist with a successful government consulting business, and Ben Gould, a failed candidate in the Mayor’s race who is a graduate student in an M.A. program at UC Berkeley.

I don’t live in District 4, but the election of a city council member — especially in this district, which includes downtown Berkeley and a large slice of UC students — is of concern to all city residents.  I’m therefore reposting here, from Berkeleyside, an op-ed by my wife, Sheila Jordan, endorsing Kate Harrison.  I personally have donated money to Kate’s campaign and have done some telephoning and canvassing for her.


By Sheila Jordan

Sheila Jordan recently retired as the Alameda County Superintendent of Schools. She is a Berkeley resident and is volunteering for Kate Harrison’s campaign.

As the recently retired Alameda County Superintendent of Schools and a Berkeley resident, I am supporting Kate Harrison for City Council District 4.

Kate looks like the girl next door but make no mistake: Kate is a heavyweight. In addition to the list of Berkeley commissions and committees on which she’s served, she’s worked successfully with the leaders of the City of San Francisco and the State Courts of California. She’s successfully consulted with 29 California counties and ten foreign countries. Her independence is an important quality. While a team player and excellent mediator, no one is going to intimidate her, overwhelm her, or take advantage of her.

Kate is a nuts-and-bolts kind of woman. As a Berkeley citizen activist, she’s been an advocate for the principles of a diverse, participatory and caring city. She knows that in government service, “the devil is in the details.” Government means delivering concrete benefits: potholes fixed, people hired, scholarships granted, tress planted, doors opened, paperwork handled – nuts and bolts. She’s made a living advising other governments how to deliver those kinds of human friendly services. Today she advocates for strongly supporting our prized public K-18 school systems as well as responsible affordable development that provides adequate housing for students and families. We need these qualities on the Berkeley City Council.

Kate knows how to focus on “getting the best bang for the buck.” In my 16 years as head of Alameda County’s K-12 school systems and in charge of approving all Districts’ budgets, I know that without the foundation of a stable budget, the city will flounder. Kate isn’t running for office as a topic for her graduate thesis. Although she has a graduate degree from UC Berkeley, she does not live in a campus bubble. She’s made a career of understanding how to achieve smooth running organizations. She and her husband own a home. She runs a business. She has been tested and vindicated in the real world. Kate will work with the Mayor, Council and community to find and cut waste. She will provide our new Council with vital expertise in finding and spending available resources to make this the best city we can be.

Sheila Jordan

Kate’s endorsements are many and impressive. The California Nurses’ Association, the SEIU, Berkeley Fire Fighters, Central Labor Council, UCB Progressive Student Association, Sierra Club, Berkeley Tenants Union, Alameda County Democratic Party, Hotel Workers Local 2850 … These endorsements testify to a recognition that in this council race, the best candidate by far is Kate Harrison. I’m proud to be part of her long list of individual endorsements!

Please remember to vote and mail your ballot!

Trump Looking for Violent Incident as Pretext

The Reichstag Fire in 1933, regardless of the culprit, gave Adolf Hitler a pretext for consolidating power as quickly placed blame for the fire on anarchists and Marxist elements. Now, writes Connolly, “the very visibility of our public actions against Trump—and they must be continued—encourages them to find a pretext of violence to escalate their demands and public support for more extreme action.” (Photo: Wiki Commons)


Donald Trump is sounding very dangerous these days.

He attacks the very legitimacy of the courts, for instance, when he tweets that a “so-called judge” will be responsible if there is a terrorist act during the stay he has imposed on the ban against Muslim entry to the U.S. from seven countries. This is one more example of Trump’s demand that his executive commands be obeyed, regardless of other legal and constitutional considerations. Unfortunately, his actions also alert us to previous periods in U.S history when events were created to create a false context for reckless actions leaders wanted to take. LBJ’s production of a false Gulf Of Tonkin attack to press Congress for a war resolution and George W. Bush’s manufactured “facts” about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to pressure congressional support for the Iraq war are key examples. Trump has not moved there yet, but he is looking for the opportunity to do so.

“We must continue our protests, while publicizing how they will be nonviolent. They WANT us to be violent; they even hope to construct the appearance of it to justify their repression.”

Reckless, authoritarian leader are periodically tempted by what might be called the “Reichstag Syndrome.” In 1933 Hitler was handed the Chancellorship of Germany by President von Hindenburg, even though he had not received a majority of votes.

Within three months a fire occurred in the Reichstag—the building in which the parliament met. Was it started by anarchists and Marxists as Hitler claimed? Was it started by Rohmer as Rohmer himself asserted much later? The cause is unclear. But Hitler used the event to announce the necessity of Martial Law to protect the regime. It was used as an occasion to destroy the opposition parties. The event became the cover under which he became Fuhrer.

Do I suggest that Trump and Bannon may follow that precedent? Not exactly. However, they are looking for an incident, an event, whether real or contrived, that allows them to take more extreme action without interference from demonstrations, the courts, or the Congress. The very visibility of our public actions against Trump—and they must be continued—encourages them to find a pretext of violence to escalate their demands and public support for more extreme action.

Our job as citizens is to spread the word about the Trump-Bannon temptation before such action is taken. Doing so to increase the likelihood of resistance against it if and when it happens. We must continue our protests, while publicizing how they will be nonviolent. They WANT us to be violent; they even hope to construct the appearance of it to justify their repression.

Trump is a very dangerous president; we must continue to define him as such even before he escalates his Big Lies further.


William E. Connolly is the Krieger-Eisenhower Professor of Political Science at Johns Hopkins University. His most recent book is, Facing the Planetary: Entangled Humanism and the Politics of Swarming (Duke, 2017)

Talking Carnage

Pat Brown, the current California governor’s father, observed somewhere that in politics, the language always rides off in the opposite direction from the policy. So, if the policy promotes war, its advocates profess nothing but peaceful intentions, and if the policy gouges the poor, the language that wraps the package sparkles with phrases of equality and charity.  

President Trump’s inaugural address can stand as a blue-ribbon model of this rule.  The key phrases aim resentment against elites, express love for the common people, and lay out a vision — an unshakeable dedication — to enter “a new millennium” of greatness.  

“Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth … The establishment protected itself but not the citizens of our country … there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our country … The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer … Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities, rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation … the crime and the gangs and the drugs … This American carnage stops right here and stops right now… From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land … America first, America first … We stand at the birth of a new millennium … You will never be ignored again.  Your voice, our hopes and dreams will define our American destiny.”  

It doesn’t quite have the revolutionary thunder of the Communist Manifesto, but if you read it out of context you might think that it came from the lips of some modern-day Spartacus, seething with rage against the machine and incandescent with a fever to turn the world right side up again.  

Unfortunately, there is a context.  There is the man from whose mouth it came, there is his history, and there is the crowd he is bringing into power with him. He’s no Spartacus.  He’s the son of a rich man. In his own real estate holdings there has been “little to celebrate for struggling families,” especially not for those who are African-American.

He has made his reputation building palaces and clubs for the rich, forgetting entirely the “mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities.” He has invested nothing in reviving “rusted-out factories” here, preferring to have his branded commodities manufactured in Turkey and in China. Even the official inauguration caps with his name on them were made in China.

There has indeed been carnage in American cities, with hundreds of unarmed black and Latino men, women, and children murdered by men in uniform, who in some cities form the most dangerous of gangs. Has he spoken out against this carnage? Never. Does he show sympathy for the victims?  On the contrary.  He blesses the perpetrators, and throughout his campaign he has given aid and comfort to elements who emulate the Klan in all but the bedsheets.

He says, “For many decades we’ve enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry.” Who’s the “we” in this sentence? It’s not you and me but the owners and bankrollers of American industry who have moved millions of jobs abroad by outsourcing manufacturing to lower wage areas. The resulting super-profits have vastly enriched the American billionaires.  Never in history have so few individuals owned so much as they do today.  

The most effective way to stop outsourcing is to tax those profits, cutting them to the rate that would have come from American labor.  Another cure is to tax the trillions in profits that American corporations stash abroad as if they were generated in America. Does the speaker have the courage to propose this kind of action? Only look around at the folks he is bringing with him to Washington. Never in American history has there been a cabinet so stunk up with billionaires. Nothing in the president’s history nor in his campaign statements hints at any intention to touch the golden river of profits that flows into their pockets. On the contrary, his proposals aim to widen and deepen that stream, on the pretense that jobs depend on it, even though American banks are already choked with trillions in corporate profits that nobody knows what to do with.  

Patriotism, the English wit Samuel Johnson observed, is usually the last refuge of a scoundrel.  Case in point: “America First.” By the sound of it, as patriotic a policy as could be imagined.  But then consider not only the Trump merchandise manufactured abroad, but also the source of the man’s wealth.  Because he burned most American banks with his bankruptcies and broken deals, much of his business financing has come from Russian sources. The hundreds of millions he spent to turn the old D.C. Post Office into his branded hotel came as a loan from Deutsche Bank.  Deutsche Bank is a scandal-plagued foreign institution that has been accused, among other frauds, of acting as a pass-through for Russian capital. And Trump comes into office with the major US intelligence agencies having concluded that the Russian government actively intervened in the US election in his favor. Any scoundrel in his precarious position would need to thump the tin tub of patriotism very hard indeed.  

“The time for empty talk is over.  Now arrives the hour of action.”  So he said, and by his actions he will be judged.  The first thing he did was to repeal an Obama executive order that eased the path to ownership for first-time home buyers. Next, he is dismantling the Affordable Care Act, which is providing health care coverage to more than 20 million Americans.  On his early list is defunding Planned Parenthood, cutting services for victims of domestic violence, and a series of other attacks that will entail widespread suffering and loss of lives.  Much worse is to come.  

No shroud of inaugural rhetoric can mask the calculated evil of this new administration. In earlier administrations, a Marxist had to put in some effort to expose the hands of the billionaires who were directing the ship of state from behind the scenes. Now the manipulative moguls have stepped in front of the curtain and dispensed with the bother of using front men to do their bidding. They’ve little acquaintance and much contempt for government ethics. If they have to put their assets in trust, it’s with the assurance that they’ll take them back again, with tax-free gains, when their term is over.  Their administration will be a carnival of corruption and corporate welfare.  They’ll run a garage sales of public assets for favored private hands. No protection, no safety net for “the struggling families all across our land” will be safe.  You’re talking carnage?  You ain’t seen nothing yet.  

(To be continued)


Berlin Bulletin

Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht

By Victor Grossman

Berlin Bulletin No. 125, January 17, 2017

Rosa and Karl: Like every mid-January Sunday in Berlin, their names are recalled by those with a social conscience. Once again thousands laid red carnations, brightening the snowy surroundings, at the monument honoring them and those named nearby who lived and died for a good cause. Karl Liebknecht was a fighter, the one Social Democratic delegate in 1914 to defy a party decision and vote against the World War, and to keep opposing it until he was jailed. Rosa Luxemburg, with him in opposition, and also jailed, wrote bitterly, “The dividends rise and the proletarians fall.” In the bloody days of the November Revolution at war’s end they fought for a socialist Germany, helped found a Communist Party and, two weeks later, 98 years ago, were both brutally murdered by forerunners of the Nazis. Rosa is still especially loved; she was not only a truly revolutionary fighter against injustice, war and oppression, but could also dream. Even in prison she described the sky, songbirds, even the ants and beetles she could observe, and wrote: “I feel at home in the entire world, wherever there are clouds and birds and human tears.”

The “old faithful” and many young people, too, walk several blocks from the subway to the site. And, as every year, a militant mix of leftist parties, grouplets and national groups from all Germany and beyond, Czechs and Turks, Kurds and Basques, Austrians and Danes, prefers to first parade for several kilometers through East Berlin, with music, slogans, banners and flags (also a few of the forbidden Kurdish People’s Party, whose bearers were again nabbed by the police).

The day before,  as ever, the newspaper Junge Welt organized a leftist conference. 2800 people, a record, heard reports on events in Brazil, the Basque country, Mexico, Turkey, Cuba and the USA, also a taped greeting from Mumia Abu-Jamal, the framed Black journalist in prison since 1981.

In the crowded rooms two themes could often be heard: Donald Trump and the position of the LINKE party. Not surprisingly, there was little affection for Trump; some were planning to demonstrate in Berlin against him. But some expressed fears at the unprecedented movement of US tanks and weapons through Germany and Poland to the Russian border. Could war hawks be planning some provocation there and using it to oust Trump, not because of his racism or misogyny, but because he wants to negotiate peacefully with Putin? Was the hectic, more than dubious hacker campaign so planned that Trump could be labeled a pawn of Putin and potential traitor in the face of a new emergency? Heightening such fears were reports of a  US Marine unit just arriving in Norway to “learn skiing” and “get used to polar conditions” near the Russian border and then join the big units gathering near St. Petersburg. What would the next days bring?

As for the LINKE, debate centered on its willingness, or refusal, to join the Greens and Social Democrats in a coalition government after the September elections. Would the LINKE join up, if the results permit, dropping its strict opposition to deploying troops outside German borders? Thus far it had voted solidly, often alone, against involvement in  Afghanistan, Turkey, Syria and Mali. This was the basis of its claim to be the one party of peace. Social Democrats and Greens insist it cannot be so stubborn on this if it wants to join in and some LINKE say, “OK, let’s agree on some exceptions”. Others recall the proverbial camel’s nose in the tent, soon followed by legs, hump and all!

But those elections are nine months away, and one difficult baby has already been born in this connection. In Berlin just such a  three-party coalition is now in charge, its joint program supported per referendum by almost 90 percent of all  LINKE members in Berlin. The new LINKE cabinet minister in charge of city planning, herself an engineer, courageously chose as deputy Andrej Holm, an expert, and known as a militant fighter against gentrification and for the rights of low-income tenants, for keeping rent rates down and building more homes for those who need them most.

Then it was found that Holm, after high school, had followed the bidding of his father (the son of an anti-Nazi concentration camp prisoner) and his feelings for the GDR and,  in September 1989 signed up for a uniformed sector of the State Security Ministry or Stasi. Four months later came the end of the Stasi, and soon after the GDR.  But not the animosity of its foes, not in 27 years. The masters in digging dirt found that when Holm applied for a university position in 2005 he had admitted to joining the Stasi but not that he had received pay for three or four months. Had he forgotten after 15 years? Was he trying to save his livelihood and career against the lasting taboos? For his foes that was unimportant. The city, they insisted, could not have such an untrustworthy man in office!

All this landed in the middle of  the Liebknecht-Luxemburg Conference. Then came the news that Mayor Michael Müller, a Social Democrat, without waiting for a university report, as agreed, had decided to fire Holm. One speaker recalled bitterly how Hans Globke, one of those most responsible for preparing the Holocaust, remained a deputy minister and “second most important man in West Germany” until 1963. And so many others had cleansed or concealed a Nazi past! The conference ended with a unanimous call on the LINKE to answer this move by quitting the city government coalition. Yet it was clear to most that this would not happen. The real estate sharks won out, and a day later Holm decided to quit before he was fired. But he vowed to stay militant!

This was no pleasant start for the Berlin coalition, and may even have relevancy for the national election campaign. It was good, therefore, that Sunday ended with a wonderful meeting in a big theater, with all top leaders of the LINKE party in a friendly row of brief speeches, also the LINKE candidate for German president, speakers from other countries and good music, German and Turkish, all under the slogan “Labor Unions strengthen Humanism (Anti-Communism destroys it).”

In conclusion Sarah Wagenknecht, the party’s most prominent leader, made a powerful, fighting speech. She denounced the forces in  Germany and elsewhere who are responsible for wars, death, destruction and poverty, with resulting waves of refugees. She accused German rulers of bribing some groups of workers into acquiescence while pushing others into ever worsening part-time, temporary, unprotected jobs, divided in each plant to prevent unity, and thus lowering wages. The cheaper-built products helped force countries in southern Europe into “austerity” measures and those in  Africa or Asia into extreme poverty, with half their young people facing joblessness and hopeless futures. Only if the LINKE hits at these problems, offering German working people a true alternative to establishment politics, can right-wing extremists be beaten back. It was a wonderful speech, the crowd was galvanized into new determination to fight back and to fight forward. This meeting, like all the weekend’s events, was truly in the spirit of Rosa and Karl!

[Reposted by permission]

Open Letter from Vets About Haiti

Open Letter from Military Veterans about the 2016 Stolen Elections in Haiti
January 9, 2017

President of the United States Barack Obama       Secretary-General Antonio Guterres
The White House                                                    United Nations Secretariat
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW                             405 East 42nd Street
Washington, DC 20500                                           New York, NY 10017

Your Excellency, President of the United States Barack Obama

Your Excellency, Secretary-General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres

We in Veterans for Peace urge you to reverse your policies which have trampled on the democratic rights of the Haitian people. Today a stolen election, or “electoral coup d’etat” is taking place in full view, with your support. Today, almost daily marches of tens of thousands, demanding free and fair elections, are being brutally repressed by Haitian police and U.N. soldiers, with your support.

As the attached Veterans for Peace resolution makes clear, the origins of the current crisis can be traced back to the Feb. 2004 coup, when an invasion force of U.S., French and Canadian armies overthrew the elected government of Haiti, kidnapping President Aristide and flying him to exile in Africa on a U.S. military plane. The coup led to a wave of killings and persecution of Fanmi Lavalas, Aristide’s party and long the most popular political party in Haiti. Since then, Haiti has been placed under U.N. military occupation, which continues today. 

Since the 2004 coup, Haitians have been deprived of the right to a free and fair election – first by excluding Lavalas from participation in elections, and later in 2015 and 2016 by massive and well-documented electoral fraud. The fraud involved U.N. officials, the U.S. Embassy, and Haitians who had backed the 2004 coup – and who hold key posts in the Electoral Council and Vote Tabulation Center. Operations to suppress the vote were rampant and widespread.

On Nov. 29 at 1:00 in the morning, UN-trained-and-supervised police launched a tear-gas attack on the sleeping La Saline neighborhood, killing three babies by suffocation and hospitalizing others. On Dec. 24, police attacked a peaceful Christmas eve demonstration on Martin Luther King Avenue in Port-au-Prince – beating and shooting journalists and people protesting the electoral coup d’etat.  Police deliberately shot up and smashed windows of cars belonging to Lavalas parliamentarian Printemps Belizaire and Lavalas senatorial candidate Dr. Louis Gerald Gilles. Journalist Thomas Jean Dufait, from Radio-Tele Timoun, sustained bullet wounds.

Veterans for Peace has over 120 chapters across the U.S. and abroad. Recently we sent a
large group to support Indigenous water protectors at Standing Rock, N.D. One of our
principles is “to restrain our government from intervening, overtly and covertly, in the
internal affairs of other nations” – precisely what has happened in Haiti – historically, and including today’s blatant interference in Haiti’s election.

As a veterans’ organization, we appeal to U.N. soldiers assigned to duty in Haiti, to refuse to obey unjust orders to repress Haitian citizens who are exercising freedom of expression and assembly. It is their right to have their votes transparently and accurately counted, and to oppose the “electoral coup d’etat” being imposed by foreign powers.

Please act to stop this injustice and protect the democratic rights of the Haitian people.


Barry Ladendorf
President, Veterans for Peace



Bernie’s New Book

Our Revolution: A Future to Believe In
by Bernie Sanders
Published 11.15.2016,Thomas Dunne Books464 Pages
Review by Tom Gallagher
Reposted by permission
A SWISS JOURNALIST working in the United States tells a story of people from her home country asking about the Bernie Sanders phenomenon and wondering if he is some kind of dangerous radical.
She would simply reply, “He’s a social democrat,” an explanation that everyone understood because she was identifying him with a tradition that went back over a century in Europe.
But for many in the United States, what Sanders was saying was kind of crazy — or at least new. His campaign arguably introduced the country not to 21st-century politics, but to 20th-century politics. As Ben Cohen, of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, told the Sanders campaign kickoff crowd, “This guy’s been saying and doing the same stuff for the last thirty years. If it weren’t so inspiring, it’d be boring.”
Sanders has now written the book on social democratic campaigning in the United States — literally. It’s called Our Revolution, and it’s structured kind of like one of his campaign rallies (I was a Sanders delegate to the convention and therefore went to many of these events). Part one is preliminaries, and in part two Sanders talks issues, issues, issues — and it contains much more detail than any campaign rally. Either part stands on its own.
Ben Cohen was not entirely accurate in his above remarks — it’s actually well over 40 years since Sanders walked into his first meeting of the Vermont Liberty Union Party in 1971 and walked out as the group’s US Senate candidate. The party was prescient, if premature. Sanders would get but two percent of the vote in the following year’s election. He recalls that people who heard his first campaign radio interview
may or may not have agreed with what I said, but what they probably remember was a constant thumping sound on their radios. I was so nervous that my knee kept shaking and banging up against the table. The sound engineer kept waving his arms for me to stop, but there it was. My first radio interview — thump, thump, thump.
From there he made a few more single-digit statewide runs before being elected mayor of Burlington, Vermont, in 1981 — by 10 votes. In 1990, Vermont sent him to Washington, DC, a place he tells us he had been before, but “was never inside the Capitol until after I ran for Congress.” He would become the longest serving Independent in congressional history by essentially supplanting the Democrats in the races he ran.
Our Revolution contains more biographical material than Sanders ever gave up on the stump. Why did the Brooklyn boy migrate to the bucolic state of Vermont? Because Boy Scout summer camp had given him a taste for things like “observing beautiful starry nights for the first time in my life.” But before that he was off to the University of Chicago, getting his first campaign experience in the successful reelection campaign of alderman Leon Despres, an independent member of the Chicago City Council opposed to Mayor Richard Daley’s Democratic organization, and getting arrested in a civil rights demonstration aimed at desegregating the Chicago public schools.
The first glimmers of a Sanders national candidacy probably came with his eight-and-a-half-hour 2010 filibuster speech against an extension of George W. Bush’s upper-income tax breaks. Yet, as late as 2013, he would tell an interviewer that he was “at least ninety-nine percent sure” that he wouldn’t make the run. But he tells us he had serious problems with “Hillary Clinton, the centrist candidate of the Democratic establishment” being “anointed as the Democratic nominee and […] allowed to run without opposition.”
He had no doubts about her skills, but felt that the “Clinton approach was to try to merge the interests of Wall Street and corporate America with the needs of the American middle class — an impossible task.” And then there was her fundraising, which conflicted with his principle “that you cannot take on the establishment when you take their money.” And her infamous vote for the Iraq War and support for “a number of initiatives, including policies in Libya and Syria, which were too hawkish from my point of view.”
When the decision was made to go, Sanders sought advice from the campaigns of Jesse Jackson, whom he had supported in 1988; Dennis Kucinich, whose 2004 and 2008 campaigns never took off, but, in Sanders’s view, “forced the debate in the Democratic primary process into a direction it never would have gone without him”; and Barack Obama, who although “more conservative than Jackson, Kucinich, or myself,” had run “one of the most brilliant campaigns in the modern history of our country.”
All the good advice notwithstanding, however, in the eyes of the national news media this venture was a non-starter. After all, he was a “socialist.” But soon the surprises started.
First there was the money. As Sanders writes, “The media may not pay much attention to the ideas that a candidate espouses, but they do pay attention to your fund-raising capabilities,” and the $1.5 million he raised from 35,000 donors in the first 24 hours after announcing his candidacy got their attention. Eventually this would grow to $228 million in eight million individual campaign contributions from 2.5 million contributors. Successful beyond any reasonable person’s wildest dreams, the campaign’s internet and social media fundraising success was almost too great, in that traditionally fundraisers have had a secondary value of bringing people together, which does not happen when you contribute online, leaving people to find each other out by other means.
And then there were the debates. Eager to get to the issues, he dismissed the idea of trying to sink the front-running Clinton with petty scandals with the memorable line, “The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails.”
And for anyone who, like this writer, had been waiting for the return of a national level electoral left since George McGovern’s 1972 run, there were multiple pinch-yourself-to-make-sure-you’re-not-dreaming moments, like when he said, “Let’s talk about democratic socialism.” Or mentioned the US Government–inspired 1953 coup against Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh in Iran, and the 1954 overthrow of President Jacobo Árbenz in Guatemala. Or when he called climate change the greatest threat to our national security.
Which brings us to the massive age gap in the Sanders vote, which turned out to be just about the exact opposite of what most expected. He had problems connecting with older voters, which he explained with five reasons: their fond memories of the Clinton years, the desire of older women to see the first woman president, their absence from social media, their belief that he must be old and tired, and negative impressions of the word “socialism” rooted in memories of the Cold War against the USSR. As contemporary polling shows, socialism is not a scary word if you’re young — if you’re 30 years old now, you were five when the Soviet Union ceased to exist, so for you socialism probably means Sweden. If millennials have not lived with the fear that the Reds were going to arrive on our shores, they have grappled more than their elders with the knowledge that the human race could wreck the home planet — and the fear that it is in the process of doing just that. He easily surpassed the combined Trump and Clinton under-30 primary vote.
The second part of the book provides a useful platform for anyone seeking public office, and its thoroughgoing review of economics, health care, trade policy, climate change, criminal justice, immigration, corporate media, and social welfare will likely provide any reader with greater depth in at least one area. In my case, it was higher education. I was surprised to learn that student debt has tripled since 2004 and that it is now larger than combined credit card and auto loan debt and is growing fastest among those nearing retirement. Nor did I know that tuition at public universities has nearly quadrupled since 1970 and is up 60 percent in the last decade — this with more than three-quarters of college students now attending public colleges. A country that once led the world in percentage of college graduates is running about 15th now.
There is one serious omission in this book. The second part of Our Revolution contains no section on foreign policy. And in this it is consistent with the campaign. While Sanders was the only major candidate to even challenge our continual compulsion to intervention, this has never been the center of his interests.
On the home front, that Swiss journalist seems to have had it entirely right: the Sanders campaign has introduced the United States to social democratic politics. When he spoke at a Vatican conference on income inequality, The Washington Post noted, “Sanders slipped comfortably into the lexicon of European and South American socialist and leftist politics, including the socialist government models of Scandinavia.”
JANUARY 11, 2017, Los Angeles Review of Books