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New Ground 71

July - August, 2000

Contents:

  • The May Day Coalition Lives On by Harold Taggart
  • Sondra Patrinos by Robert Roman
  • The Other American by Robert Roman
  • E Pluribus Unum by Harold Taggart
  • Other News compiled by Bob Roman
  • Local Lass Makes Good
    DuPage Civic Fair
    Fed on the Web
    Labor Law Reform
    NLF DSA
  • Qualified Victory in Legal Battle Is Unconditional Victory for Housing Struggle by Sarah Klepner and Grant Newburger

  • The May Day Coalition Lives On

    by Harold Taggart

    About a dozen people attended a meeting on June 4 to decide the future of the May Day Coalition. They voted to continue the coalition with May Day 2001 as its primary mission. While planning for May Day 2001, the Coalition will support other causes. There was little enthusiasm for continuing the chicagomayday.org Web site. However, many groups, including some not involved in the original May Day movement, are excited about creating an Indymedia organization. The voice mail also will be allowed to lapse and probably has done so by now.

    The Indymedia system will replace the Web site. It will be capable of instant broadcast to Internet users. It also will have links to Web sites of members of the Coalition. It could carry selected articles from local newsletters and publications in a format similar to the Commondreams Web site (http://www.commondreams.org/). There is a great need for more Internet technicians.

    The next major event will be the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia (R2K) July 31-Aug 3. No effort will be made to charter buses. Each Coalition member can make its own arrangements and form its own entity groups.

    No consensus could be reached on a goal to make May Day a national holiday. Those mainly with anarchist leanings believe a national holiday will cheapen and degrade the significance of May Day. It should continue to be used as a forum for protest and opposition to the establishment, not become a part of it, they argued.

    There was agreement on the need to do more outreach. Tom Baker volunteered to undertake coordination of that task. Greater labor-community unity was a goal that all could agree to.

    The next meeting of the May Day Coalition will be on July 15 at the New World Resource Center. The meeting is intended to outline the activities of the upcoming year and work out details of the May Day 2001 events. Also, July 15 coincides with Bastille Day, a major holiday and fundraising time for the NWRC. A NWRC party is to be held that Friday evening, July 14 at Quencher's Saloon. On the Saturday evening of the May Day meeting, the Nicaragua Solidarity Committee is sponsoring a rooftop party and fundraiser.


    Sondra Patrinos

    by Robert Roman

    Sondra Patrinos, a founding member of the Committees of Correspondence and its Chicago Chapter's long time Co-Chair, died on Tuesday, June 13, of lymphoma. She was 59 years old.

    I did not know Sondra Patrinos well. I only met and worked with her on the CoC - DSA "Socialist Summer School" project some years ago. There were two reasons why that project worked well. One of the reasons was Ms. Patrinos.

    Ms. Patrinos was a pleasure to work with. She was responsible. She made things happen. Even if there were no other reasons than these, she would be missed.

    Sondra Patrinos is survived by her husband, James Williams. A memorial service will be held on Sunday, July 23, 1 PM at the HotHouse, 31 E. Balbo Av in Chicago.


    The Other American

    by Robert Roman

    The Other American: the Life of Michael Harrington by Maurice Isserman, New York: Public Affairs Press, 2000, 449 pp, $28.50

    Maurice Isserman has done it again. If you're acquainted with his previous work, you'll know that Isserman is a lucid writer and an insightful historian of the U.S. left. This book is no exception. With The Other American, Maurice Isserman has written the definitive biography of Michael Harrington.

    Having said these nice things, a definitive biography of Michael Harrington has some of the character of William Buckley's famous riposte to an introduction for Harrington, which called him "America's foremost socialist". It's rather like being called the tallest building in Topeka. There has, after all, only been one other biography, Michael Harrington: Speaking American by Robert Gorman, written in 1985. Will there ever be another?

    Yet if there were ever a time for a retrospective of Harrington's life and work, this does seem to be the time. The gestalt of contemporary politics has a late 50s, early 60s feel; there's been a renewed interest in Michael Harrington's best known work, The Other America, even a film documentary re-examining its relevance today.

    Some younger political people might vaguely know Harrington as one of the founders of DSA and one of DSA's predecessor organizations, the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (DSOC). He was that. Others will remember his commentaries on National Public Radio, his great ability as a public speaker and as an author of books on politics, culture and ideology. He was that. Others will remember his political and organizational leadership. He was that. Others will remember him on the wrong side of any number of issues. Yes, he was that, too. Isserman's book covers all this and more.

    The first sixth of the book concerns Harrington's early years, his Catholic education, on through his brief stay with Dorothy Day's Catholic Worker movement. You'll learn more about the early Michael Harrington than you would if Harrington were telling the story, but it really does provide a context for the rest of his life.

    Certainly the next sixth of the book becomes much more understandable in that context as this portion deals with Harrington's career as a sectarian Trotskyist, a follower of one of the founders of U.S. Trotskyism, Max Shachtman. In a sense, it was out with the old religion, in with the new.

    To be fair, this part is as long as it is simply because it cannot be understood without providing an account of the history of U.S. Trotskyism and of Max Shachtman. Even a relatively brief thumbnail sketch makes for a significant digression. It also represents a period of transition. If Harrington's conversion from Catholicism to Trotskyism was abrupt, the transition from sectarianism was a gradual affair, representing a growing involvement in the Civil Rights movement and in mainstream politics. It is in the phase of his career that Isserman characterizes Harrington as a "premature sixties radical".

    Alas that factional squabbling remained a theme in Harrington's life beyond this transition. Isserman takes a chapter to describe the writing of The Other America, the political context, the political consequences for both Harrington and the U.S., and the personal consequences. But after that, it's back to the fighting.

    But this perception (highlighted by some reviewers, most especially Alan Wolfe in the New Republic) is not entirely fair. To be sure, there is the famous incident where Harrington had the new Students for a Democratic Society locked out of its offices; he spent the rest of his life apologizing for that. And there is Harrington's position on the Vietnam war. Not exactly in support of the war Harrington would have denied that characterization. But for those for whom ending the war was a matter of some urgency, the words "distinction without a difference" somehow come to mind. There is that. But the period just after The Other America was highly fractious on the left no matter what your politics. Blame it on something in the water, blame it on something in the air, blame it on the FBI. There is that, too.

    For Harrington, it seems to have been a misplaced loyalty to Max Shachtman, an emotional commitment to the old Socialist Party, and a failure to comprehend the realities of internal Socialist Party politics. The end came in 1972. The Socialist Party supported McGovern in the Presidental elections the way a noose supports a hung man. In 1973, Harrington started over.

    It is here that Isserman's book deserves some criticism. Harrington started over by founding the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee. I would contend DSOC was the most successful explicitly socialist organization in the second half of the twentieth century in the U.S. Once again, it's the tallest building in. But it deserves more than 35 pages. Still, there's useful and interesting information here about the Democratic Agenda project that made DSOC a player in Democratic "Party" politics, providing a legacy of credibility that DSA benefits from even today. And there is information on how easily the plug was pulled on that success.

    If the account of the 70s is brief, the account of DSA is even briefer: 27 pages, or less when you consider that some of it is devoted to the merger with the New American Movement, which formed DSA. I suspect some of this has to do with the logistics, economics and marketing of the book. Isserman had been working on it for about a decade. It was on its second publisher. It was already 450 pages. And it may surprise you to learn that most of DSA's early history is not to be found in the National Office. Don't ask.

    Unfortunately, DSA probably deserves less space than DSOC. Distracted by the internal politics of the merger and its aftermath, DSA never really adjusted to the changes wrought by the Reagan revolution. It attempted to reinvent the Democratic Agenda with various "Democratic Alternatives" conferences, but they were conferences bereft of any substantive political function. And, as Isserman observes, DSA "failed to invent a meaningful political role for local members to play as socialists."

    I think Isserman may be understating the problem. The question may be: is there a meaningful political role for a socialist organization? More to the point, the question is not whether a socialist organization can play a meaningful political role; DSOC is but one example that it can. Rather, is there any particular advantage to doing so as a socialist organization?

    This question predates DSA, DSOC and probably Harrington's entire political career. For in the second half of the twentieth century, most especially here in the States but gradually over most of the rest of the world, ideology has lost its utility to mobilize and direct masses of people not just socialism but all ideologies.

    It's not that ideology is irrelevant. Even a cursory look at the Social Security debate, for example, demonstrates how policy and politics are shaped by ideological subtexts, even if the ideologies themselves are never presented as an argument. And that's the point: ideology remains a subtext, a "hidden agenda" if you will, and never an explicit part of the debate. Socialism remains necessary, but does that require a socialist political organization?

    Harrington was a public spokesman for socialism in the tradition of Eugene V. Debs and Norman Thomas. Isserman ends his book by observing, "In the years since Michael's death, no claimant has emerged to pick up the mantle of Debs and Thomas and Harrington. Michael seems to represent the end of the line." The changed role of ideology may be a major reason why.


    E Pluribus Unum

    by Harold Taggart

    The phenomenal success of the movement against neo-liberal globalization has sparked controversy over the movement's direction or even if it has a direction.

    Michael Albert, editor of ZNet, the progressive online magazine, broached the subject in an article titled "Yawning Emptiness." Central to Albert's article was the Chicago May Day weekend events. In particular, he was interested in the two-day symposium April 29-30 organized by David Williams of Open University of the Left and co-sponsored by Chicago Democratic Socialists of America. Albert, who did not attend any of the forums, praised the theme: Beyond the WTO and Corporate Globalism: Economic Visions of a New Society. "The intent to address vision was exemplary, in my view, but attendees reported that none of the panels even perfunctorily fulfilled the stated agenda," Albert complained, even though each panel had vision in the title and each panel was urged to discuss long-term aims and programs.

    Activists everywhere "rarely put forth even the barest hints of a vision, much less a compelling, well-worked out formulation that could inform strategy and provide hope and orientation," Albert admonished.

    Leftists are comfortable analyzing what is and offering short-term remedies while avoiding long-term aims, Albert suggested. When the average person is asked for solutions, he returns a blank stare. Ask a Leftist the same question and the response is essentially the same only it's shrouded in admirable but unsubstantial rhetoric. Until there is a common vision and common aims, the movement will not attract the broader elements of society necessary for its success, Albert concluded.

    Social critic and author Naomi Klein had a more optimistic view of the movement. Her remarks were prompted by a conference held a few days later in New York City. Klein penned her views in an article titled "The Vision Thing" (The Nation, July 10). Over 1000 people, vastly outnumbering the attendance at the Chicago conference, appeared at a program billed as an event that would "give birth to a unified movement for holistic social, economic and political change." Visions were plentiful, Klein said. One came from Arianna Huffington, another from David Korten, and DSA's Cornel West was there to add another one.

    Klein concluded that the massive effort, in the end, fulfilled Albert's predictions. The movement is inherently amorphous. It can not be shaped. However, that is its strength. What's more, it is not easily targeted by its enemies in the corporate suites and plutocrat mansions and their uniformed hatchet men. The affinity groups that make up the mass demonstrations can meet on the spot and change their entire objectives and directions.

    Madeleine Albright experienced first hand recently the difficulty of dealing with the amorphous mass when she dared to give the keynote address at this year's graduation ceremony at University of California, Berkeley. Police forces monitoring the Albright protest planning on the Internet were convinced the participants were too divided to be more than a harmless pest.

    Fadia Rafeedie, of Palestinian ancestry and the equivalent of the class valedictorian, was seated on the stage of the outdoor Greek Theater. She shared the view of the audience with the Albright. No fan of the Secretary of State, Fadia was thrilled by the events that took place while Albright looked on in horror. The individual actions of the divided groups unfolded as if orchestrated by the director of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. First, a 15-foot red and black banner unfurled displaying the colors of the International Socialist Organization. Inscribed on the banner was the accusation: "Madeleine Albright is a War criminal." The banner prompted dozens in the audience to chant "end the sanctions now!" As the security forces ripped down the banner and escorted the chanters out of the theater, another banner unfurled denouncing U.S. involvement in Colombia. Then in another section of the theater a banner appeared condemning Albright's complicity in American imperialism. Posters popped out from under gowns. As each poster was confiscated by the harried security officers, another poster popped up to take its place.

    During the entire Albright speech, people were booing, chanting and heckling, and security guards spent the entire time escorting and dragging them out of the theater, according to Fadia. Madeleine Albright's speech was uneven, even stumbling at times as she displayed signs of distraction wondering what surprise would occur next.

    In a last minute change, Albright had been rescheduled to speak first. Immediately after the speech she was escorted quickly out of the theater and into a waiting limosine, which sped away. The events in the Greek Theater support Naomi Klein's assessment that there is not one movement, but many, and they are effective that way.

    Ironically, the movements' convergence points are created by the corporations and plutocrats and their incessant and more and more visible quests to expand their power, accumulate greater wealth, and ultimately, hand control of the planet over to neo-liberal forces.

    Klein claims that "within most of these miniature movements, there is an emerging consensus that building community-based decision-making power whether through unions, neighborhoods, farms, villages, anarchist collectives or aboriginal self-government is essential to countering the might of multinational corporations."

    The massive protests would have been impossible without the Internet, Klein concludes. But the Internet plays an additional role. It forms the movement. It creates a loose structure with sparse bureaucracy and minimal hierarchy.

    The successes over the past year confirm the adage: in diversity there is unity.


    Other News

    compiled by Bob Roman

     

    Local Lass Makes Good

    Some folks may not be hip to this, but Chicago DSA Co-Chair Charity Crouse's day job is Managing Editor of Streetwise, Chicago's newspaper for the homeless. At its annual luncheon this past May, the Illinois Woman's Press Association awarded Ms. Crouse its first and third place awards for news reporting in a non-daily newspaper. The first place award, for team coverage, was for the story "Chicago: City of Neighborhoods for Sale". The story described the consequences of the real estate boom on Chicago's neighborhoods. The third place award was for her story "Chicago Opens Doors for Gay Youth". That story described teens kicked out of their homes after coming out to their families. Congratulations, Charity Crouse!

     

    DuPage Civic Fair

    The Citizen Advocacy Center held its second annual Civic Fair at the College of DuPage this last June 24. Some four dozen organizations, including Chicago DSA, participated in this year's event. It was fairly well attended: about 250 people and 50 organizations.

    The keynote speaker was DSA member and Chairman of the Health & Medicine Policy Research Group, Dr. Quentin Young. The Fair also held four panel discussions: "Affordable Housing", "Democracy and Activism: Building Civic Muscles", "Smart Growth: Quality of Life in Our Communities and Region", and "Democracy and Cyber Space".

    The fair received mention in the DuPage Daily Herald, which also mentioned DSA's presence at the event.

    For more information about the Citizen Advocacy Center, go to http://www.essential.org/cac/, write CAC, PO Box 420, Elmhurst, IL 60126-0420, or call (630) 833-4080.

    Incidentally, the Citizen Advocacy Center's Executive Director, Theresa Amato, has taken a leave of absence to help run Ralph Nader's campaign for President.

     

    Fed on the Web

    It's been in the works for quite some time now, but the Chicago Federation of Labor is finally on the web. It's clearly still something of a work in progress, but the contents include information on labor history (including WCFL), bulletins on ongoing labor actions (currently including the SAG - AFTRA strike against producers of commercials and SEIU's action against Methodist Hospital in Gary), where to find union products, and worker safety (including links to the Michael Bruton Workplace Safety Foundation). Check it out at http://www.cflonline.org/.

     

    Labor Law Reform

    Organized labor has had its hands tied with restrictive laws for about the last half century. The attitude in Congress has been "too bad". Still, not a Congress goes by without some effort at loosening Labor's bonds, and the 106th Congress is no exception. There are two main bills that have been introduced.

    In March of 1999, Representative Bernie Sanders introduced HR1277, "The Workplace Democracy Act of 1999". The intent of the legislation is "to amend the National Labor Relations Act, to establish the National Public Employment Relations Commission, and to amend title I of the Employment Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 to provide for joint trusteeship of single-employer pension plans". It represents a fairly significant attempt at strengthening the right to organize and workers' and retirees' rights. It was "disappeared" into committee and hasn't been heard from since. It has no cosponsors.

    At about the same time, Senator Paul Wellstone introduced a much more limited bill in the Senate, S654, "The Right to Organize Act". The proposed legislation is much more limited in scope, being an amendment to the National Labor Relations Act. It strengthens the rights of organizers to access the workplace. It improves remedies for violations of the NLRA. And (the best feature) it provides for a mechanism for reaching an initial contract, something that is often problematic indeed. Like Sander's bill in the House, it disappeared into committee. But Wellstone's bill does have one cosponsor, Senator Edward Kennedy.

    These are kind gestures but not news. Still, it's worth noting that Senator Wellstone's bill has shown some feeble signs of life. In May, Representative Jesse Jackson, Jr. introduced Wellstone's bill in the House, which assigned it the number HR4161. Like Sander's bill, it has disappeared into committee and has no cosponsors.

     

    NLF DSA

    No, it's not the National Liberation Front DSA. In the early years of 1990s, Eric Fink (now a genuine Philadelphia lawyer) and a small crew of other DSA members decided there ought to be a North Lake Front DSA. The branch ran from Chicago's northern border south to the Loop and from the lakefront west to Damen. The branch had a few meetings but never established itself. Eric moved back to Hyde Park then away from Chicago. For no good reason, we've never taken the branch "off the books".

    Well, it's about time. But rather than just dissolving the branch, the we figured it would be good to see if there is any interest in reviving the branch, either in its original form or in some amended version. Sometime in the next two months, we'll be organizing a meeting to find out. Until then, we'd appreciate hearing from anyone interested in or supportive of NLF DSA. The major missing piece is, of course, leadership, but any expression of interest or participation would be appreciated. Call Bob Roman at (773) 384-0327 or email at robertmroman@earthlink.net.


    Qualified Victory in Legal Battle Is Unconditional Victory for Housing Struggle

    by Sarah Klepner and Grant Newburger

    On July 5, 2000 Judge Miranda, in the Court of Cook County, in the State of Illinois, dismissed the charges on Sarah "Tobe" Klepner and Grant Newburger. This marked the end of an important battle in the war against public housing in Chicago.

    The day after memorial day in 1998 1142 North Orleans, just east of the Cabrini-Green public housing development, became an important center of resistance to "Urban Cleansing". That day city bulldozers made 1142 the last building standing on a block that held 5 small business and several low income homes only the day before. 1142 stood in the way of City plans to change the face of the neighborhood as gentrification accelerated on Chicago's Near North Side.

    One of the floors of the 113-year old brick three-flat was occupied by the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade (RCYB). The RCYB had moved into that house in pursuit of its Maoist maxim of sharing weal and woe with the masses. The Brigade was involved in stuggles against police brutality and the closure of public housing buildings in Cabrini Green. The heart of the struggle against gentrifecation had been the struggle to keep buildings occupied and the slogan "Hell No, We Won't go" had taken on a new meaning. In this context, when Cabrini residents found out that the RCYB's home was on the chopping block, they urged the Brigade to fight for 1142.

    The defense of 1142 N. Orleans was part of the defense of the Cabrini Green community whose homes and culture were and are under attack by the superstructure. It also became a rallying cry in the broader, city wide struggle for affordable housing. The supply of truly affordable housing across the city has been steadily diminishing since 1990 due to demolition and condo-conversions. A study concluded in 1999 showed Chicago with 153,000 very low income families in dire need of housing. And that situation is worsening rapidly. Yet in the face of this incredible shortage, current city and federal plans will reduce the amount of public housing available to very low income families by 40%. These plans, along with cuts in public aid (welfare) threaten to return Chicago to the days of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle.

     

    Community Support

    In this context a little house became a big battle ground. Over the course of a year and a half, the community's demands strengthened, 400 Cabrini residents signed a petition in support of 1142, while the President of Cabrini Green appealed to the Chicago Historical Society for assistance with converting 1142 into a Black history museum. This demand drew strength from oral testimony that Megdar Evers stayed at the building while doing civil rights work, housing desegregation no less, in the late 1950's.

    By April of 1999 the Seward Park Local Advisory Council had passed a resolution supporting the building remaining on site as a museum. The land under 1142 was scheduled to become part of the park after demolition. The struggle had widened with hundreds of people from across the city participating, including well-known activists such as the Revs. Paul Jakes and Michael Yasutake.

    In the month of April a continuous round the clock vigil were held in 1142 to protect the house from the wrecking ball. Attempts at shutting off the gas and an invalid eviction were held off by the resistance of supporters. In order to win time for the struggle to develop the RCYB raised a legal challenge to the city's handling of their lease. The case was covered consistently in the Chicago Tribune. The social struggle garnered a cover of New City and several Streetwise articles.

    This growing struggle represented a challenge to the City's redevelopment that had to be stopped. When the legal case was sent to the appeals court, the city upheld the tradition of disregarding the demands of the propertyless, moving swiftly and with force.

     

    Eviction

    On April 20, 1999, the entire Cook County Sheriff's eviction department arrived on the scene. It took them over an hour to reach the five people that were inside. The occupants were arrested and the house was torn down the same day, destroying all the property of the tenants.

    The house was lost, but much was gained from the fight. It brought forward new fighters for the power of the masses of people. It also was an important lesson in taking on the superstructure, and contributed to a politicized atmosphere around the housing question.

     

    Defending the Resisters

    In March 2000, in the face of legal challenges, charges on three of the protesters arrested in the eviction at 1142 were dropped. The remaining two defendants were the most visible opponents of the Chicago Housing Authority's (CHA) plan to demolish 18,000 apartments. Grant Newburger [who addressed DSA's June 17 meeting], a key activist with the Coalition to Protect Public Housing, was charged with "obstruction of process", while Sarah "Tobe" Klepner, also active with the CPPH, and author of numerous articles for Streetwise exposing CHA, was charged with "battery."

    A statement calling on the Mayor and State's Attorney to drop the charges was signed by a diverse group of organizations, including the Justice Coalition of Greater Chicago, the 8th Day Center for Justice, the Latino Union of Chicago and members of the Chicago Chapter of Democratic Socialists of America.

    Awareness of the housing crisis has increased since spring 1999, and connections are strengthening among groups across the city of Chicago. This was evident at the two press conferences held to present the statement of support to its targets.

    A spokesperson for the Maxwell Street Preservation Society spoke in between representatives of religious organizations, and a fighter for Black contractors spoke along with a formerly homeless advocate for the homeless.

    An organizer for the Latino Union spoke as did a 33-year resident of Robert Taylor Homes, another CHA development.

     

    The Trial

    When the "Stop Urban Cleansing 2" went to trial, there were supporters from three different CHA developments, religious organizations, and prison and anti-police brutality activists all recognizing that "an injustice to one is an injustice to all."

    After months of legal contention, on the day of trial, the state made several offers, finally coming up with five days of community service at a place of the defendants' choosing after which the charges would be dismissed. It was clear that the powers that be wanted to avoid a trial at which the policies of redevelopment would be highlighted.

    The outcome of the case is important as a model for sections of people who are reluctant to stand up against urban cleansing because they fear the repercussions. The Bulldozers of Urban Cleansing continue to roll and the struggle has shown that it will take something like 1142 only with more organization, and even more support in order to stop those Bulldozers. It set another standard as well that our movement will defend frontline resisters like Grant and Tobe "It Is No Crime To Resist Urban Cleansing!"

    Until the secret files are opened after the revolution, no one can say with certainty that the broad support in signatures, the mobilizations for the press conferences, and, finally, the large turn out for the trial were decisive in the outcome of the case. One thing is for sure, the housing movement is stronger for it. Groups that might not have met otherwise came in contact with one another, and everyone saw that when a strong stand is taken, others will stand with you.


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