Home About CDSA New Ground Events Debs Dinner Links Join DSA Audio Email us

Your contribution is appreciated
but, because of our advocacy work,
not tax deductible.

New Ground 93

March - April, 2004


  • Health Care Justice by Bob Roman
  • Chicago Social Forum by Harold Taggart
  • Giving Peace a Chance by Bob Roman
  • Lest We Forget Thee, Bronzeville by Bob Roman
  • A Political Memoir by Perry Cartwright
  • Building the Dump Bush Movement
  • Other News compiled by Bob Roman
  • March for Women's Lives
    Young Democratic Socialists
    Audio Archives
    DSA National Office
    Fair Taxes for All Coalition

    Health Care Justice!

    by Bob Roman

    By the time you read this, the Illinois Senate should have passed the latest iteration of the Health Care Justice Act. This is the legislative equivalent of the proposed Bernadin Amendment to the Illinois Constitution. The Bernadin Amendment would have committed the State to institute a universal health care system. The Health Care Justice Act would commit the Illinois state legislature to passing a universal health care act by 2007. Rather than going through the legislature, it sets up a task force of stake holders to write the bill. This latest iteration is numbered SB 2581 and HB 4562.

    The Campaign for Better Health Care has been working versions of this bill for some years now. They never had much success until the Democrats took control of the Illinois legislature. Last session, the bill made it through the Illinois House but was blocked in the Senate by a few Democrats who took exception to the requirement that the legislature pass whatever the task force composed. This was partly a matter of principle, but you wouldn't be overly cynical to assume it was the insurance industry attempting to preserve a veto over whatever the task force my come up with.

    Efforts to move the bill were given a boost by the fortuitous coincidence of a National Day of Action on health care declared by Jobs with Justice and the labor movement. Chicago DSA participated in this by distributing stickers and information encouraging people to call their state legislators to support the bill. We targeted our members and individuals that we've had contact on the issue for the past several years. Many other organizations did the same. That some 50,000 stickers were distributed in Illinois alone gives some idea of the size of the campaign.

    The Day of Action also involved a number of workplace actions where health care is an issue. It linked up with SEIU's Hospital Accountability Project that is intimately involved in hospitals' care of the uninsured for an action at Christ Hospital. The Day of Action in Illinois may not have generated much press but it did generate some buzz in places where it needed to be heard.

    The barricade in the Senate was removed by simply conceding the issue. The proponents of the bill agreed that it would be amended to allow the Illinois legislature to pass, delay or kill the legislation composed by the task force. This doesn't exactly "gut" the bill though it changes its nature considerably. Universal health care is now not the inevitability that the original bill implied, but it is still on a "fast track". This issue removed, the bill now appears set for passage in the Senate and, having made it through okay in the last session, passage in the House.

    That a major item of legislation should move in an election year is partly to do with the Democrats controlling both houses. Even more significantly, the bill has picked up some Republican co-sponsors and a number of health care, insurance industry and business endorsers (Chicago Chamber of Commerce!!). Much of this all most certainly has to do with the deepening health care crisis: the way issues of affordability and access to care are moving up the class structure, the way insurance costs are affecting hiring decisions by employers, the way these costs are affecting labor relations, and the way these costs are affecting companies' "ability to compete". All of these are things "we told you so".

    But some of this also reflects the symbolic role of the legislation at this time. The Health Care Justice Act does not commit this body of legislators to do anything while it also sounds great without being specific. This is primo politician bait.

    In fact the really hard part comes next. The task force will be appointed, and just who is appointed will be important to its success or failure. This is where leadership or its lack will play a real role.

    Then there is the actual work of the task force. Because public hearings are an integral part of the plan, there is an opportunity for grass roots organization to participate. Given that the legislation now gives the Illinois legislature a veto, it would be wise to also find ways of involving, even in an ex officio way, as many members of the legislature as practical.

    The product of the task force will almost certainly be some manner of universal health care insurance plan rather than a health care system. Because of the political power wealth brings and because of the way creating opportunities for accumulating wealth is such a part of the script for government in our country, there will be a powerful inclination to try to do this with some mixture of private and public insurance. It will probably resemble Nixon's 1971 approach to the problem that mandated standards for employment based insurance with public subsidies for marginal and small employers and a public system for those not employed.

    This is a politically cheap and a fiscally expensive approach. The public system will almost certainly be stuck with most of the more expensive clients. Retaining employment based, private insurance will not significantly reduce costs to employers or employees even with public subsidies. Thus a disincentive to hire and a competitive handicap for international business will remain. The public cost will be greater at a time when state finances are not good and politicians are unwilling to face the issue of tax reform. And private insurance is generally more expensive to run: more administrative overhead, the need to return a profit, vulnerability to downturns in the financial markets that in turn increase premiums. There are probably ways to minimize much of this, but retain private insurance and you're stuck with them.

    But a more radical approach will almost certainly be subject to an attempted veto by the insurance industry and ideologues of the right. Unless there is a significant change in public attitudes in the next few years, the veto would likely be successful; the legislature is now under no obligation to pass the task force's bill.

    The political demands on advocates of universal health care are legion and constrained by time. The creation and operation of the task force mandated to write the bill will require a focused attention to detail. But the success of the task force will require a canny and focused campaign of public education and agitation, and not simply preaching to the choir, a mistake every one in politics commits but one the left is particularly prone to do. These are tasks beyond the capacity of any one organization, but this adds the problems of consensus and coordination to the mix.

    We can do it.

    Chicago Social Forum

    by Harold Taggart

    The World Social Forum (WSF) was launched in 2001 to counter the rising threats to individual sovereignty represented by organizations such as the World Economic Forum (WEF). One of the objectives of the WSF was to spawn regional and local models of itself around the world. Chicago joined the movement in 2004 when the Chicago Social Forum convened its first conference.

    Areas such as Boston created Social Forums immediately after the first WSF convention in Brazil. Chicago may have been tardy jumping on board, but when it did, it enjoyed a success far exceeding organizers' expectations. More than double the anticipated attendees showed up at the registration desk on that cold January morning. Several panels were standing room only. The large dining area could not accommodate everyone at lunchtime.

    Much of the credit must be given to the American Friends Service Committee whose masterful organizing skills produced another seemingly flawless conference. AFSC's talents and decency seems to have struck fear in the hearts of Chicago Police and politicians. The Chicago Sun Times recently reported that AFSC was one of five organizations infiltrated by the police in 2002. It's not uncommon for autocratic rulers to fear pacifists. Hitler feared members of the peaceful White Rose Society so much that when they were captured, he sent his personal hanging judge to conduct the trial. The members, including the tiny Sophia Scholl, were tried in the morning and beheaded in the afternoon.

    If police and city leaders feel threatened by pacifists, they are hallucinating and are unfit to hold positions of power in a democracy. If the police have the time and money to spy on people who exalt peace, there are too many officers and too much time and money in the hands of the city. The incident was just a sample of what is in store for people if groups like the WEF and World Trade Organization (WTO) gain the control they are aiming for.

    The theme of the CSF was "Another Chicago is Possible!" It was derived from the WSF theme: "Another world is possible!" The structure of the event, held January 31st at the spacious Jones College Prep High School on South State St., included three panel segments with 12 to 15 panels each. There was an opening and closing plenary and several creative displays and other attractions that ran continuously throughout the day. The endorsers and co-sponsors were by and large social activist organizations.

    The convention was a gold mine of information addressing environmental, social and economic ills. It did an excellent job identifying symptoms and causes of the problems and offered a variety of solutions to cure the dysfunctional, morally bankrupt pathologies of the nation. The social forums are looking at social symptoms. The economic forums are creating the social problems. It raises the question as to whether or not the social forums are attacking an economic rogue elephant with a pellet gun.

    Several speakers analyzed the failures of the people to cope with the divisive efforts of the rulers. James Thindwa of Chicago Jobs with Justice claimed the world's problems often are the result of deliberate actions by the imperialists. A tactic of the imperialists is to spend all the funds to induce starvation and reverse social gains. They control all the weapons, military and economic, he said.

    Speakers from South and Central America praised events such as the anti-Globalization protests in Seattle in 1999. Those actions, especially in the U.S. and Europe, greatly encourage Latin Americans who face torture and death for supporting freedom and opposing the globalization juggernaut. Some are putting their faith in a world movement against globalization. Hector Reyes, of AFT Local 1600, said U.S. imperialism attacks from two wings with two different weapons: the military and economic blackmail.

    Gregg Shotwell, of UAW Local 2151 in Michigan and editor of Bait & Ammo on-line magazine, expressed deep disappointment in union responses to neo-liberal efforts to monopolize economic control over our lives. Unions still think nationally and the problem in global, he believes. Globalization also offers tools like the Internet that can be used as weapons against predatory globalizm.

    At a forum titled "Globalization and War: Neoliberalism & the Transformation of U.S. Militarism," panel member Dave Ranney of Alliance for Responsible Trade said the Defense Department has a new role. Defense is a minor issue in a one-superpower world. The primary role now is to impose the rules of neoliberalism on the world.

    The promises of "peace dividends" and a more peaceful world once Communism fell were empty. In fact the military budget is growing.

    Are the WSF and its local fledglings a match for the mammoth WEF? The WEF first met in Davos, Switzerland in 1971, so it has a jump on organizing. It claims its mission is to create a better world. It meets at a secluded hideaway high in the Swiss Alps. Its proceedings are secret. It acts like it has something to hide. Its seems more likely that its goal is to create a better world for a world aristocracy and nobility.

    The founder of the WEF is Klaus Schwab, an academic. The WEF began as a forum for Europe's chief executives. Today, 1000 of the world's leading companies attend. A couple hundred smaller companies also participate.

    By contrast, 80 thousand people from 132 (of 191) countries attended the January meeting of the WSF which met in Mumbai, India. In 2005, the meeting will be held again at its place of origin in Porto Alegre, Brazil. The WSF bills itself as the "alternative to globalization in favor of human development and surmounting market domination of countries and international relations."

    The enthusiastic attendance at the Chicago Social Forum is testament to the felling of looming disaster associated with globalization and the desire of many people to do something. There are a lot of people with ideas who want to be heard. That appealing tactic that will rally everyone behind it remains elusive. The new Karl Marx is not there. Other forms of aristocracy have collapsed under their own corrupt load of baggage. The neo-conservatives, who have usurped control of the U.S. government, are hatching one blunder after another. The massive, cumbersome WSF can't focus on a single target as easily as the WEF can. If it ever does, and wages a successful worldwide boycott against Coca Cola for example, it could begin to build awesome power. The people-power were there on January 31st.

    Giving Peace a Chance

    by Bob Roman

    New Ground goes to press right before the March 20th Global Day of Action, so you won't read here how it came out. But I can tell you that on one hand there will be many demonstrations; people are not just upset about Bush's policies and his behavior, they are energized. On the other hand, I was wildly optimistic about the divisions within the peace movement. Cooperation between United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ) and International ANSWER never really developed, though neither are they in conflict. From the perspective of the distant bleachers (where I sit), it seems that UFPJ very early on decided that if they were going to be organizing the U.S. participation in the March 20th Global Day of Action, by golly it was going to be their affair, particularly the national demonstration in New York.

    This apparent foolishness is a manifestation of some genuine ideological and political differences. International ANSWER has been a wonderfully aggressive and disciplined organization in organizing protests against the war; however, they're also led by elements of the Workers World Party, a thoroughly unreconstructed Stalinist cult. The basic political orientation is that of outsider protest. UFPJ has its own Leninist elements, but its political orientation is toward the mainstream even though electoral politics is not on its agenda.

    Here in Chicago, this division was reflected in the organization of two primary events, though it would be somewhat inaccurate to characterize the two parties as local representatives of UFPJ and International ANSWER. All politics is local, after all, and the national players are not strongly represented here in Chicago. The Chicago Coalition Against War and Racism (CCAWR) essentially wanted to complete the march the Chicago Police so rudely interrupted a year ago. Their plan was a march down Michigan Avenue to the Federal Plaza in the Loop, beginning at Noon. While many of the folks around CCAWR might remember their interrupted march a year ago as a proto-revolutionary, beautiful gesture of defiance, many of those rounded up by the police regarded it as bloody hemorrhoid of dubious necessity, one not to be duplicated unless demonstrably required. In the days before we became too ironic to take ideology seriously, they may have called it adventurism. These folks, organized mostly around the American Friends Service Committee and Chicagoans Against War and Injustice, started early by obtaining a permit for Daly Plaza and planning an indoor, "family friendly" indoor rally at the Methodists' Chicago Temple across the street in the morning. Those seriously peeved by Bush's imperious policies might wonder how this protest would be noticed.

    At this point it would be natural to start drawing distinctions between "good" demonstrators and "bad". The City of Chicago seemed to encourage this by denying CCAWR a parade permit. In fact both groups are a motley collection of diverse ideological, diverse theological, and diverse civic organizations, some best characterized as mainstream, others as pretty far out there. While attempts to merge the two events were never particularly serious, both parties advertised the other's event. And furthermore, there were a number of organizations that endorsed both events, including Chicago DSA.

    Both events had other events feeding into them. The afternoon "Midwest Still Says No to War" march and rally had a hearty bunch marching up from Chicago's southwest side to join them. The morning "Chicago Faith, Labor and Community Still Say No to War" indoor rally had a chartered bus arriving from the Quad Cities. DuPage County peace groups planned a morning rally at Downers Grove Main Street train station from whence people could catch a train downtown. Chicago DSA made modest contributions to CCAWR locally and UFPJ nationally, did a postcard mailing promoting both events and another mailing to all the individuals in our database residing in DuPage County for the Downers Grove rally.

    In the Chicago area, rallies, vigils and marches were planned for Arlington Heights, DeKalb, Oak Park and Wilmette. Elsewhere in Illinois, a variety of events were being planned in Galesburg, Oglesby, Peoria, Rockford, Springfield and Urbana, and I don't think this is a comprehensive list.

    This is the easy part: the politics of protest. But should we effect regieme change at home, the mess that the Bush Administration created will still remain.

    Lest We Forget Thee, Bronzeville

    by Bob Roman

    Bridges of Memory: Chicago's First Wave of Black Migration, an Oral History by Timuel Black, Jr. Evanston: Northwestern University Press / Chicago: DuSable Museum, 2003. 616 pages, hardcover, $29.95

    Let me begin with the trivial. This is a physically lovely book. Now and again I encounter a book that, as an object, is just a pleasure to hold. In my more prosperous moments, the content of such a book almost doesn't matter. For this book, the moths in my wallet turned to gold.

    But Timuel Black's book may not be what the casual browser expects. The book includes a complimentary forward by the distinguished University of Chicago historian John Hope Franklin and it is to the point. It also includes a fulsome forward by Studs Terkel. Studs Terkel has done some wonderful work with oral histories, but he is not really an historian. He is a journalist, an entertainer, and most especially a polemical storyteller. Terkel's people may tell their own stories in their own words, but in sum they provide chapters in Terkel's own narrative. Bridges of Memory deserves Terkel's praise but the reader should not expect a book by Terkel.

    What Timuel Black has given us, the first in a projected series of three volumes, is basically an edited anthology of field notes. While Black has an agenda, his interviews do not tell a story in the way that Terkel's more popular work would have had them do. Methodology was never one of my interests so I can't comment on Black's interview technique, but I can tell you that much of what you will get from this book will be based on what you bring to it.

    For someone oblivious to Chicago history and most particularly to Black Chicago history, these interviews might quickly blur into one geezer after another wheezing about How Tough Things Were, How Better Things Were (even the women were prettier), What I Accomplished, and The Kids These Days. So there's a point to this, dude?

    Well, yes. Imagine, if you would, that some decades ago Manhattan had been hit by a few neutron bombs. There might have been some property damage, some even severe, but mostly it would have been depopulated and since become the home for people who could find no refuge anywhere else. Even a Chicagoan can appreciate what a cultural void this would leave. And if you had been there during the glory years, wouldn't you wish to preserve a living memory of what those times had been like? This may overstate what has happened to Chicago's "Black Metropolis", but it is the essence of it and of what Timuel Black intends.

    There has always been a Black Chicago. Our contemporary city was founded by Jean Baptiste Pointe de Saible (DuSable), after all, and by the 1840s there was a small community of fugitive slaves from the South and free Blacks from the East, mostly on Chicago's south side. They were not well appreciated by their neighbors. Blacks could not vote. They could not testify in court against whites. Intermarriage was forbidden by law. Segregation in schools, public accommodations and transportation was legal and maintained. Chicago may not have cared for slavery, but neither did Chicago care for slavery's victims.

    It is one of life's multitude of ironies that by the time of the first great wave of Black migration to Chicago, the legal status of Blacks in Illinois had improved considerably. By the 1870s, Blacks could and did vote and formal school segregation had been outlawed. Probably because Blacks did vote, when the U.S. Supreme Court began voiding Federal civil rights legislation, Illinois passed its own. If the Illinois laws were not especially effective, neither were they dead letters. They were occasionally enforced. This was enough to leave useful fractures in what was a formidable wall of white fear, hatred and exploitation.

    Even so, Blacks arriving in the city found they were severely limited in where they could live, what jobs they could realistically aspire to have, what education was available, what businesses they might create. This resulted in a physically compact (Manhattan is an apt comparison), solidary community. It also resulted in a split ideology that on one hand aspired to be a part of (or at least have access to) the larger society on an equal basis and on the other hand, despairing of its practicality temporarily or permanently, emphasized racial solidarity, "self help" and alternative institutions.

    It is the latter that informs Bridges of Memory. It's true, as Studs Terkel points out in his forward, that the majority of the interviewees in this first volume are well to do or upper class members of the Black community but it's also beside the point. The people Timuel Black selected for this first volume are the pioneers, the institution builders. It forms Black's definition of "the first wave", by which he means the people who came to the city during the first flowering of African-American institutions or their children. (Being more statistically minded, I would have pegged the first wave as the half dozen or so years either side of 1920.) It also informs the index to this volume, in which individuals are pretty thoroughly indexed but organizations are not.

    Each interview is prefaced by an introductory essay by Black. These essays are quite helpful in placing the subject of the interview, both generally and frequently in relation to the author. Occasionally, as in the introduction to the Willis Thomas interview, they are minor nuggets of history in and of themselves. The introductions are often admiring, sometimes with the affection of a friend, but sometimes with an appreciation for accomplishment made more piquant by a web of mutual acquaintance.

    The introductions and the interviews portray a community whose members were very much aware of one another, where competition was a part of cooperation, where each one's victory was a victory for more than just one's self. You can see this in the almost routine awareness of "firstness". And why not? In a community compressed and hemmed by racism, something as mundane as becoming a taxidermist for a major museum became another open door of possibilities.

    Likewise, a portion of each interview is spent on location. Where did you live and when? Who else was living there? The interviews, cumulatively, give the sense that this is more than just of historical interest. At the time, it would have been an item of gossip, of important social information. Because in the circumstance of housing inadequate in size and in quality and over-priced as well, information about new places where it would be safe (permitted) to live was of some immediate consequence. It might even be an interesting project to map the locations mentioned in the interviews by date and type.

    The interviews are interesting in varying degree. My favorite was actually the last, with Dr. Barbara Bowman, the head of the Erikson Institute, a graduate school affiliated with Loyola University in Chicago. This was mostly because of her discussion of her work and the application of Erik Erikson's model of child development to education.

    For me, the most intriguing interviews were with Jimmy Ellis and Morris Ellis, brothers and successful musicians. These interviews caught my attention concerning a topic mentioned in almost in passing: the merger of the segregated Black Musicians Union Local 208 with the white Chicago Local 10. Both brothers are rather bitter about the merger, on the face of it a victory for civil rights, because they feel Black musicians ended up losing more than gaining anything from it. Both quit the union. What I find particularly interesting about this is the thought of how much more there may be to this story.

    Musicians, performing artists in general and many other skilled trades unions, are not just workers. Musicians can also be bosses by being bandleaders or even impresarios. They are also property owners, landlords in a sense, by being owners of intellectual property. If they become sufficiently successful, they might become themselves property: stars, "hot commodities". Many unions recognize this by circumscribing the roles their members can play in the union depending upon their role in the profession. For example, one of the scandals that rolled off Ronald Reagan like egg off teflon was the question of whether he was really eligible to serve as President of the Screen Actors Guild based on his role in producing the TV series "Death Valley Days" (he was more than just the Host).

    Indeed, Morris Ellis gives Red Saunders a disgruntled, sanctioned member of Local 208 and a major community impresario, an unspecified major role in bringing about the merger. Saunders had been sanctioned because, Ellis says, Local 208 finally stopped letting Saunders get "away with all kinds of stuff" in his employment practices at his place of business. Given that Black praises both the Ellis brothers as being businessmen as well as musicians and given the nature of their specific complaints, one wonders just whose ox was really gored by the merger and what else may have happened to hurt the working Black musician. What intrigues me is the thought that the merger and other changes in the music entertainment business may be a great case study for what happened to the larger community that Timuel Black is documenting: an after the fact canary in the mine, so to speak.

    Readers with an interest in history will find other such nuggets of interest in these interviews. I'm serious when I suggest this volume may be a worthwhile place to look for dissertation topics.

    Scholars are one of Black's target audiences. The other is "young black people under the age of forty" who know little of this history. I'm a bit dubious as Americans in general and The Kids These Days in particular tend to be fairly ahistorical. But the timing of release of this book is great as many others are thinking along the same lines. One example is the HistoryMakers project (http://www.thehistorymakers.com) that on March 13 had an affair at the Palmer House where they honored several dozen historical notables, including Timuel Black.

    I think we are seeing the construction of a Myth comparable to the classic American taming or winning of the "Wild West". Myth is a necessary part of civilization, but there's always collateral damage in such projects. Some may be concerned about scholarship (always a casualty) but there are political concerns as well. The HistoryMakers web site has an interesting institutional and biographical dictionary wherein all ideology is erased from radicalism. It's possible, for example, that Bobby Rush today would not object to the Black Panther Party being described as simply a "progressive organization", but I can't help but wonder what he would have thought back then.

    There's also a personal concern. Heroism is a great way of setting the imagination afire, of priming ambition with possibilities other than the often self-destructive hedonism of the consumer culture. But luck always plays a role. For all the heroes feted by such projects as the HistoryMakers, there are uncounted casualties buried anonymously along the road, out of sight, out of mind. The dark side of the heroic myth is that even in these relatively benign times, it is the equivalent of encouraging human wave assaults against automatic weapons.

    It will be interesting to see to what extent, if at all, the next two volumes of Timuel Black's work deal with ideology and ideological organizations. In the meantime, if you have an interest in history, buy this book. (The Chicago Public Library has many copies, but you won't find them!)

    A Political Memoir

    by Perry Cartwright

    Before I lose all of my declining memory, I think it might be a good idea to write down why I became a radical.

    My radicalism has always been a puzzle, and at times an embarrassment, to my family. Sorry for any pain it may have caused. But the longer causes and consequences remain. So does my faith in the ultimate vindication of the things I stood for.

    The roots of my radicalism go back a long way: to the Great Depression of the 1930s. My dad became Postmaster of York, South Carolina, in 1933, so our family never suffered. But three uncles did. They had to come home with their families and to live with Granddaddy. Their humiliation was palpable.

    We all listened to FDR's "We have nothing to fear but fear itself" speech. All four cotton mills in York shut down for two years. Malnutrition was prevalent. Workers went out into the nearby woods to pick green plants in the hope of warding off pellagra. Brother Tom and I helped mother distribute Christmas baskets to the same families two years in a row. She pointed out to us how lucky we were. Class differences were pretty obvious.

    Then came the great drought of 1934. Daddy volunteered to allow our ten acre backyard for the purpose of corralling ten thousand cows. The New Deal had bought up several million starving cows in the parched Great Plains and brought them to the saturated Southeast. They were sent out to local farmers who were hurting from 5 cent cotton. That started the beef industry in the Southeast. Brother Tom went on to become a noted animal geneticist.

    I saw a beneficit government action, unrelated to private enterprise, which really helped farmers in both South Dakota and South Carolina. Also watched the Civilian Conservation Corps use unemployed young men to contour-grade eroding farms. Also saw the WPA build a new football field and pave some roads. The economy began to pick-up; Keynesian economics they call it now.

    One day a few of us kids were playing softball in the yard. My dad came home and saw a black kid up at bat. That night he asked me why the black boy was allowed to bat. "Because he had been fielding and it was his turn to bat," I answered.

    "In South Carolina we don't never let niggers come to bat," snarled my dad. Where was the Presbyterian fairness in that? Strom Thurmond would probably have added, "But we do let 'em come to bed with us."

    There was an Episcopal orphanage in York. I befriended Archie Lee Chandler who was there because his widowed mother couldn't afford to feed him and his sister. I brought him home to visit, hitchhiked around the state and got to be great friends. He greatly appreciated life outside the orphanage. We talked some politics too. Fifty years later Archie was Chief Justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court (and still a little bit liberal).

    In 1939-40 I attended the University of South Carolina. Made the Dean's list. But the following fall I hitchhiked out west. Rode the rails and met unemployed white men looking for work. I spent the fall working on a potato farm in Idaho. Hard work and poverty, American style.

    The next summer I hitchhiked up to Canada with an old friend Erskine Smith. Maybe the change in latitude affected my brain. I joined the Royal Canadian Air Force. In June, 1942, His Majesty George V, King by the grace of God, etc, etc, bestowed upon a country boy from South Carolina a set of wings along with a commission as Pilot Officer. Also got a snappy uniform, which didn't hurt my social life a bit.

    Possibly the best thing I got out of my year in Canada was to confront some strange new prejudices. Who, in South Carolina, ever thought of hating a French Canadian? I'd always thought of them as jolly fellows who rowed canoes while singing Allouette. Can you imagine my surprise when Protestants from Ontario informed me that those "pea soupers, frogs, papists" were conspiring to turn Canada into a vassal of the Vatican?

    Also, anti-Semitism was quite negligible in the small town South where I grew up. But in Canada, I learned from my fellow Americans, that maybe Hitler wasn't all wrong about the Jews.

    How terribly wrong and confused those bigots seemed to be. Everyone ought to know that the only permissible prejudice was against colored people! I just couldn't add this new load of bias. So I dumped the whole load.

    Canadians are a pleasant people. They kind of hit a happy medium between the good points of the British and the Americans. Still have friends up there. Later on I became a bit embarrassed and ashamed at the contrast between the behavior of American servicemen and others.

    In March 1943, I was sent to Britain. Coastal Command personnel were integrated directly into the RAF. For the next year I lived British. Fortunes of war dictated that I would visit every corner of the country. Due to my status as a young serviceman, and an officer, and a triple nationality (American, Canadian and British), I was privileged to have first hand experience with more different social strata than almost any Britisher was likely to have. It was fun and educational. I liked the British but didn't like their stuffy class consciousness. In America, we try to hide class differences. In Britain, they flaunt 'em. Our squadron was housed briefly in a castle that had been sequestered for the duration. The 17th Century feudal landlord family had been bought out by a 19th Century mill owner. He installed a silver bathtub. One day I stood in the silver bathtub, and looked through the window down at the squalid mill-village below. The mill workers still had tin bathtubs to bathe in. I didn't have to be Charles Dickens to figure out the gross unfairness of silver vs. tin.

    I dated a Land Army girl a few times. The Land Army was a government agency which recruited young women to work on the farms during the wartime labor shortage. She was a college student, very smart, very proper. On her day off, we went over to Stonehenge. She explained to me the antiquity of the mysterious monoliths. "These Druids painted themselves blue. They practiced human sacrifice, possibly even cannibalism," she recalled in Mayfair accents. "It's rather disconcerting to think that we British were still doing that sort of thing while they were already building great civilizations in Asia and Africa." Not a very radical thought today, but a liberating thought for a young WASP in 1943.

    That friendship might have gone some place, but I was soon transferred to Long Kesh, Northern Ireland. Long Kesh was a RAF base in WWII. That was the war fought to free Europe from German rule. Nowadays, Long Kesh is a concentration camp where the British put Irish patriots fighting to free their country from British rule.

    We patrolled the North Atlantic looking for German subs. Later I was sent to Turnberry, Scotland, then Thornaby, Yorkshire, then to King's Lynn, Norfolk. From there to a real atrocity, the destruction of Hamburg. For three days the USAAF bombed the city with incendiary bombs. For three nights the RAF followed up with high explosives. The first man made firestorm in history developed. 100,000 people died, 1,000,000 were left homeless. The Chief Marshall of the RAF told us, "Gentlemen, try to find your assigned target. But if you can't find it, then drop your bombs on any town. Our primary objective is to bomb the German working class out of its homes."

    This talk about class warfare, coming from a Tory gentleman, sure surprised me. I had been taught that it was very naughty to think about such things. It did whet my appetite to learn more about it.

    I was assigned to a very cosmopolitan squadron. British, Canadians, Americans, plus Norwegians, Dutch, French, and Polish fliers who had fled from occupied Europe. They were the cream of anti-fascists, both in deed and understanding. We talked between raids about the political differences between fascism, Anglo-American capitalism, and socialism. Our CO, a prototypal "Colonel Blimp" tried to discourage any political discussion about the shape of the post-war world. He went ballistic one night when Australian navigator J. C. H. Handfield opined that (1) if we didn't stop killing endangered species like tigers, we'd exterminate them, and (2) that the Empire was probably going to have to grant independence to India.

    Blimp, an old India hand, roared "Gads, I'm actually afraid to let you blokes take off in the morning. You might fly straight to Russia, taking one of His Majesty's aircraft with you." That did it. If things like environmentalism and national independence, were going to be called communism then I was going to have to be against Red baiting.

    I had my adventures, and escapades, but I'm trying to concentrate on those things that drove me leftward. I met an astute Jewish girl from the east end of London. She and her sister were activists in the Labour party. They were forever going to meetings to popularize the Beveridge Plan. That was the detailed program drawn up by Sir William Beveridge for a post-war health and pension system. It became the basis for the 1945 Labour victory. Similar programs were voted in all of western Europe. Even today, the Conservatives dare not try to dismantle those universally popular institutions. Naturally, my own political evolution was accelerated.

    Well, finally, I transferred to the U.S. Army Air Force. The pay and post-war benefits were better. The USAAF looked at my service record and decided that I had done enough combat. I ended up flying hospital planes loaded with the wounded. Up until that time I had experienced a somewhat "glamorous" war, but a year of flying those blind and burned and paralyzed men took all the glamour out of it. I've been an unashamed peacenik ever since.

    On July 16, 1945 we took a load of wounded into the E1 Paso, Texas airport. The control officer asked me if New Mexico was still there when we flew over it, "because it looked like the whole state blew up last night, up in the direction of Alamogordo." It was the site of the first nuclear test. On July 28 my brother Tom was shot down over Hiroshima, Japan. He and his crew were captured and put into the city jail. Tom, because he was the pilot, was taken on to Tokyo for questioning. That saved his life. His whole crew were in the city jail when the bomb went off. Months later, the occupation forces recovered bits of their remains. Forty years later the U.S. government finally permitted a documentary to be made about American prisoners who perished in Hiroshima. Didn't want to be hasty or to suggest that Americans too can die in nuclear war.

    This traumatic event climaxed four years of on the job training for a drastic break with the status quo. After the war I enrolled at New York University. Since then I've put in fifty plus years of activity in the peace, civil rights and labor movements.

    I joined the Socialist Workers Party. I felt that the Communist party was undemocratic. We ran election campaigns, marched in giant union marches against the anti-labor Taft-Hartley Law, protested at the Dutch consulate against the Dutch attempt to re-conquer Indonesia. Those things were the last great radical demonstrations before the Cold War set in, and before the eruption of McCarthyism.

    Then I went to sea. The Socialist Workers Party had a sizable group of young seamen in the National Maritime Union. We were against the Communist party leadership. Mistakenly, we sided with the right-wingers, who won. They promptly turned against Socialists, lumping us in with Communists. We learned a bitter lesson.

    I made voyages to Buenos Aires, to Beirut, all over Europe. Great experience. Visited socialists and saw their courage in fighting repressive dictatorships. On my last voyage I got arrested in Alexandria, Egypt, for having some radical pamphlets in my pocket. I intended to take them to some university students, but was betrayed by a fellow sailor. The police said, "We have been asking questions for 6000 years, and getting answers for 6000 years [torture threat]. In rich countries like America they can afford some democracy. We can't." I never told them who my contacts were. A year later my grateful Egyptian contacts sent profuse thanks. The whole episode made headlines.

    My seaman's papers were cancelled when I got back to New York. It's a free and equal country as long as you are a conservative. So I returned to NYU for a year.

    Then the party asked me to move to Flint, Michigan, for union activity. Flint was the real key battle in 1937 to form the United Auto Workers. The tradition was still alive in 1952. But the Red Scare was at its peak. Union militancy faded, never to really return.

    In 1954 I married Jean Fowler, a local school teacher. She was non-political, but her school board tried to fire her for marrying a socialist. We fought them and won, but again, I saw that the ruling class permits only those ideas with which it agrees.

    In 1955 we moved to Chicago. The McCarthyite Red Scare had chilled the atmosphere. Socialist activity almost halted. Spies and provocateurs infiltrated the movement (a la Russia). Sons George and Carl were born in the late 1950s.

    I went into sales to support the family. We bought a little house in Hyde Park. Jean taught school.

    About that time I became business manager for a little publication called "Southern Newsletter." We advocated working class unity across racial lines, desegregation, and unionizing the South. We worked with Don West, Carl and Ann Braden, Myles Horton, and other southern leftists. Well, history records that the unionizing failed, but de-segregation became a great historic victory.

    We had another victory. In 1959 the House Un-American Activities Committee subpoenaed me to Atlanta. They had made a deal with the governor of Georgia to smear the de-segregation movement as a communist plot. They thought I would take the 5th Amendment. I didn't, and made a speech denouncing their very Un-American plot. The Chairman finally had me led off the witness stand. The whole show made headlines. The Committee went out of business the next year. I'd like to modestly claim a tiny bit of credit for that human rights victory.

    By the time of the 1960s youthful radicalism, I was into my 40s. I had heavy family duties but did march with Veterans for Peace. The 1960s movement brought the wicked Vietnam War to an end.

    However the 60s radicalism had two fatal flaws. It was all middle class, which failed to bring in the working class. The other thing that killed it was dope and libertine living.

    By the 1980s I was living in the suburbs and working very long hours to support my increased family responsibilities. But during that decade, I worked with the West Suburban Interfaith Peace Initiative. Allied with a national peace movement, we had a lot of success in halting the mad bombers, and bringing about nuclear détente with the Soviet Union.

    1989 was an historic year. Communism came apart. It had fallen behind the West in producing consumer goods.

    Great excitement permeated the new American Left: a mixture of old radicals and 1960s New Left radicals. A bunch of us organized the Midwest Scholars and Activists Conference. It ran pretty successfully for eight years. The Conference set off much good discussion. It sought to unite the "Tribes of the Left" which had become feasible due to the waning of fights between Socialists, Communists, and Social Democrats.

    Two large new ideas emerged. A group of thinkers led by Carl Davidson laid out the idea of "Cy-Rev", that the computer revolution had fundamentally altered the structure of society. The theorizing continues.

    The other idea, which I have pushed, is market socialism, which holds that the old top-down, controlled, and totaled planned "communism" failed. It must be replaced with a publicly owned economy but one in which production is guided by the market. It seeks to combine the equity of the socialist ideal with the proven productivity of (boom time) capitalism.

    So here I sit, the 81 year old patriarch of a successful family of kids and grandkids. Makes me feel that I've had, at least, some success in life.

    On the other hand, I'm a creaky old partisan of an historic movement that is at a low-point for the moment. My solace is that American Imperialism is about as creaky as I am, as creaky as British Imperialism was 100 years ago or the Roman Empire 1500 years ago. It shows many of the symptoms that foretold the demise of other empires. It displays an alienating arrogance to the rest of the world. It sends much of its productive capacity abroad, not seeming to understand the obvious fact that this becomes a fatal weakness. It lets its ruling class get richer, while the rest of its people get poorer.

    Some popular upheaval will change it and set up something better. We socialists have learned some historical humility from the mistakes we've made. So I won't attempt to describe it in advance. I'll not be around but I can take some satisfaction from knowing that I helped to lay the ground work.

    Chicago's Annual Gathering of the Democratic Left

    Eugene V. Debs - Norman Thomas - Michael Harrington

    46th Annual Dinner

    Our Featured Speaker

    Jan Schakowsky

    U.S. Representative, Illinois 9th Congressional District


    Defeating the Most Dangerous President Ever:

    Building the Dump Bush Movement

    Please Join Us in Honoring

    Lynn Talbott

    UNITE! International Vice President

    Manager of the Chicago and Central States Joint Board

    Eliseo Medina

    SEIU International Executive Vice President

    With Our "Mistress of Ceremonies"

    Kim Bobo, Executive Director of the National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice


    Friday, May 7, 2004

    Holiday Inn Mart Plaza, 350 N. Orleans, Chicago

    Cocktails at 6:00 p.m. · Dinner at 7:00 p.m. · $45 per person

    Tickets must be reserved no later than Tuesday, May 4. A limited number of tickets may be available at the door at $50 per person. Make sure you and your organization appear in the program book! Please call us for further details: Or, for a PDF format flyer, click here.

    Make Checks or Money Orders payable to:

    Debs - Thomas - Harrington Dinner Committee
    1608 N. Milwaukee, Room 403
    Chicago, IL 60647

    (773) 384-0327 or email: chiildsa@chicagodsa.org

    Auspices: Chicago Democratic Socialists of America,

    an Illniois not-for-profit corporation with 501c4 IRS status;

    contributions are not tax-deductible.

    Other News

    compiled by Bob Roman

    March for Women's Lives

    Illinois Planned Parenthood is coordinating bus transportation from Chicago to the April 25th March for Women's Lives in Washington, DC. At last word, tickets will cost $125. Both DSA nationally and Chicago DSA have endorsed the march, and Chicago DSA has set aside some money to help subsidize Chicago DSA members and YDS members wishing to go but unable. We don't insist that your dues be up-to-date, but you do need to be a member. Just how large a subsidy depends upon how many apply. Please call the office prior to April 13.


    Young Democratic Socialists

    By all accounts (and we had hoped to have one for you) the YDS "Life After Bush" Conference in New York last February 20 - 22 was a successful outreach event. Some 300 people attended, mostly non-members. Locally, the UofC YDS chapter packed a classroom to hear DSA NPC member Ron Baiman talk about socialist economics.


    Audio Archives

    Chicago DSA has added historic sound to its web site. The first, apropos to Health Care Action Day, is a 1971 half hour "infomercial" by Dr. David Stark Murray on the British National Health System. This was done at a time when a National Health Insurance program (something Britain has had since the turn of the last century) seemed a real possibility here in the States. Dr. Murray was for many years the head of the Socialist Medical Association and one of the chief architects of their National Health System. He has a lot to say that is still quite relevant about social medicine today. The second recording is an event from 1958: a joint appearance here in Chicago by Norman Thomas and Max Shachtman speaking on the topic of socialism. This was an event that lasted, including questions and answers, nearly two hours so it has been divided into five segments. We are using very basic (and inexpensive!) technology. The recordings are posted to the web as mp3 formatted files. Thus they are very large and we do not recommend downloads for persons with only a dial-up connection; it will take a long time. The recordings are available on computer CD or audiocassette for $5 each though if you're busted we'll send you a copy gratis. Visit http://www.chicagodsa.org/audarch.html for more details.


    DSA National Office

    The lease was up and they had to move. Because Soho had become way trendy and expensive, there was no way the National Office could have stayed. Instead, they moved downtown to a block away from where the World Trade Center stood and rents, because of pending redevelopment, are relatively low. Their new address is: 198 Broadway, Suite 700, New York, NY 10038. The phone number remains 212.727.8610.


    Fair Taxes for All Coalition

    There they go again. The Republicans are proposing budget rules that pretend to control the ballooning deficit by requiring counterbalancing cuts in programs whenever an increase in spending is proposed. Never mind taxes, for the only appropriate policy is to cut taxes. Unemployment up? Cut taxes. Unemployment down? Cut taxes. Inflation up? Cut taxes. Inflation down? Cut taxes. Federal revenue up, down, unchanged? Cut taxes. One has to admire their consistency even if their arguments are vacuous.

    But what's worse is their proposed cuts: Education and Training ­ 7%; Environment ­ 20%; Health Care 11%; Justice System ­ 16%; Veterans' medical benefits ­ 17%. Veterans' benefits! The amazing gall of these creatures! Do they think no one will notice?

    For more information on how you can help oppose this travesty, go the Fair Taxes for All Coalition (of which Chicago DSA is a member) web site: http://www.fairtaxes4all.org.



    How times have changed. Some decades ago, the Chicago Historical Society and the Chicago Labor History Society put up a plaque commemorating the Haymarket affair on the wall of the Catholic Charities Building, just down the street from the old police statue that told the police side of the affair. This was in the early 1970s and the Weathermen had bombed the statue. The City had just restored it and the site was guarded 24/7. Nonetheless, the plaque on the wall of the Catholic Charities Building hardly lasted a week before it mysteriously disappeared. No one saw a thing.

    Now, as part of a beautification project, the City of Chicago has commissioned sculptor Mary Brogger to create a bronze work on the theme of Haymarket and the First Amendment. The sculpture will be located in the Haymarket. This is a good thing, yet...

    Irony piles upon irony here because it was not until the 1920s, through the work of the new American Civil Liberties Union, that the First Amendment was considered to have any relevance at all to public property. Governmental bodies, such as municipalities, were considered to have the same rights over "their" property as any private landowner. If they did not like what you had to say, they didn't have to let you say it. If you're wondering why the Industrial Workers of the World had to flood Seattle (and Seattle's jails) with soapbox orators in 1919, now you know.

     Add yourself to the Chicago DSA mailing list (snail mail and email).

     Back to top.