How Abortion Caused the Debt Crisis August 1, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis, Racism, Right Wing, Women.
Tags: 1960s, abortion, abortion rights, amanda marcotte, anti-abortion, Civil Rights, debt ceiling, debt crisis, desegregation, feminism, racism, Republican Party, right wing, right-wing populism, roe v. wade, roger hollander, sexual liberation, sexual revolution, tea party
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Last night, right before the fatal deadline, the U.S. Congress finally came to a deal that allows us to raise the debt ceiling, without which the federal government would basically shut down completely and start to default on its loans, creating a cascade of economic disasters. Congress came to a deal before we had to learn those Depression-era money-saving skills (sadly, we don’t have flour sacks to make clothes from any longer). Now it’s time to reflect on how our country has gone so far off track that we can’t even handle the basic responsibility of keeping the country from plunging into a manufactured crisis that nearly led to economic collapse. There are multiple causes, but one that hasn’t been discussed much is abortion.
Yes, abortion. Or, more specifically, the sustained sex panic that has been going on in this country since the sixties and seventies, when the sexual revolution occurred and women secured their reproductive rights. If it seems a little strange to argue that sex panic helped bring us to the verge of economic collapse, well, that’s the nature of the circuitous, ever-evolving world of politics. But it’s sex panic that helped create the modern right-wing populist, and it’s the modern right-wing populist that created the current crisis.
Despite the recent coinage of the term “Tea Party,” what we call the Tea Party has been around under different names forever. It’s basically right-wing populism, and has been the thorn in the side of democracies for at least the past century. The modern form of it in the United States really formed in the sixties, in response to two major social changes: desegregation and the sexual revolution/feminism. (Yes, I realize feminism and the sexual revolution are separate things, but for the right-wing, they may as well be one thing, since it’s women’s sexual liberation that really gets them going.) You had this huge group of socially conservative people who were wound up about these social changes, but not a lot of direction for their anger and hate. Outside of glowering at Gloria Steinem and Martin Luther King Jr., what are you supposed to do to stop widespread social change? They needed direction.
The genius of conservative leadership was that they were able to take all this anger about sexual freedom and desegregation and put the blame on two enemies: Democrats and the federal government. Democrats were blamed for society getting “out of control” and the federal government’s role in enforcing women’s rights and desegregation made them an easy target. Once these villains were established, all this right-wing populist anger could be pointed towards generic goals of big business Republicans. If you hate the federal government for enforcing the Civil Rights Act, it’s easy enough to start hating them for levying taxes, especially if you can be convinced those taxes are going to welfare to pay for what you believe is immoral behavior, such as single motherhood. If you hate the Supreme Court for Roe v. Wade, it’s easy to get you to support putting more conservative justices up there who will routinely vote for business interests.
The theory is that the Republican Party basically exploited right-wing populist anger and used it towards their economic, corporatist ends. This is a non-controversial statement, and is the thesis behind Thomas Frank’s famous book What’s the Matter with Kansas?, in which he wrote:
“Vote to stop abortion; receive a rollback in capital gains taxes. Vote to make our country strong again; receive deindustrialization. Vote to screw those politically-correct college professors; receive electricity deregulation. Vote to get government off our backs; receive conglomeration and monopoly everywhere from media to meatpacking. Vote to stand tall against terrorists; receive Social Security privatization. Vote to strike a blow against elitism; receive a social order in which wealth is more concentrated than ever before in our lifetimes, in which workers have been stripped of power and CEOs are rewarded in a manner beyond imagining.”
A lot of people, including myself, have been critical of Frank’s cynicism in this formulation, arguing that the leadership actually delivers more on right-wing populist demands than Frank gives them credit for doing.
But what we didn’t argue with was the basic premise that there’s two kinds of conservatives: right-wing populists and country club Republicans, and while liberals may not much like the latter, we at least had the reassurance that they’re not crazy. Country club Republicans may want less regulation and lower taxes, but they don’t actually believe that federal power is illegitimate, or that liberals are motivated by Satanic forces and therefore can be treated as always wrong. For the past few decades, the leadership of the Republican Party was able to work with Democrats on commonsense governance such as raising the debt ceiling, precisely because they didn’t believe the wild-eyed rantings from right wing talk radio about how Democrats and the federal government are pure evil. (And the legality of abortion is example #1 in the right wing pantheon of reasons to believe the federal government is evil.)
What I think Frank and those of us who were mildly critical of him failed to grasp is the right-wing populist beast may not be within the control of the Republican Party forever, and that the populists may become a large enough group of people that they could take over the party and make their obsessions—the evils of sexual liberation, the end of the federal government as we know it—the actual priorities of the Republican Party. They very nearly brought a real end to our country as we know it, defying what what Wall Street wanted, and a major reason is that the populist caucus in the party is more interested in ideological purity than doing simply following the lead of Wall Street.
I suppose it should have been easy enough to see coming: for decades, a constant stream of propaganda about the evils of federal power, abortion rights, affirmative action, social spending, multi-culturalism, gay rights and other right wing bogeymen has energized the base to keep voting and giving money and running for office. At a certain point, the populists would have enough power to change the rules of the game. This crisis was averted, but we should not forget the important lesson learned here. The constant feeding of the paranoid, sexually and racially panicked right wing extremist imagination does not come without consequences. In the past, the mainstream media could downplay this because the major victims didn’t have a lot of privilege or power. But increasingly, it looks like the victims could be all of us.
Amanda Marcotte blogs every day at Pandagon.net, and contributes a weekly podcast to RH Reality Check. She lives in Austin, TX with her two cats, boyfriend, and environmentally correct commuter bicycle.
Tags: 1960s, anglea davis, asha bandele, black panther, black panther party, black power, Criminal Justice, history, jericho movement, laura whitehorn, mumia abu jamal, political prisoners, revolution, roger hollander, safiya bukhari, wonda jones
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It is 1990 and I am the newly elected student government president at Hunter College of the City University of New York. My political worldview, largely shaped heretofore by my active opposition to apartheid, Ronald Reagan and nuclear proliferation, is about to make a mighty leap forward. I know, then, that racism is a vise still choking Black people, even those of us born post the Civil Rights movement. I know the philosophy of Martin Luther King. I love Nelson and Winnie Mandela, and have even traveled Zimbabwe in the wake of its liberation struggle. I know some feminist theory, some feminist history. But for all the knowledge I have gathered at this point, I do not know enough to predict the learning curve I am about to embark upon, in large part because it is in this period that I meet Safiya Bukhari.
Under her mentorship I will come to have not only an intimate understanding of which political prisoners are in the U.S., but I will learn how to organize and run a defense campaign for them. Under her mentorship and because she led by example, I will learn never to downplay my leadership as a nod to the patriarchy that shapes, both silently and loud, the role of women in too many of our movements and organizations. Under her leadership, I will learn the power of human touch, the holding of hand of a man or woman who is about to enter their second generation locked down. I will learn patience; the first political prisoner case I worked on was for the New York 3 and it was 1991 and we were fighting to get them an evidentiary hearing; we did. But to get there, Safiya and I worked for months, including one long night where we stood for hours in a downtown New York law school and copied non-feedable onion skin page of transcript after another until all the thousands of them were done and we could get them to the attorneys who were volunteering their time. We lost that hearing but because we came within a hair’s breadth of winning, and because we were just off the victories of Mandela on one side of the planet and Dhoruba on another, and mostly because I had come to deeply love Herman Bell, Jalil Muntaquim and Albert Nuh Washington, the loss shook me in all my naivité to the core. But at the moment when I could have given up, perhaps would have given up, I learned from Safiya Bukhari that we do indeed soldier on, that we come from a long-line of women and men who were kicked down, beaten down, shut down, shut up but got up and got up and got up again. She got up again and made me get up and went on to forge the New York Chapter of Mumia abu Jamal’s support committee and organize the Jericho Movement, a call for the liberation of all U.S. political prisoners and prisoners of war.
The organization exists still today and is known nationally and internationally despite her death in 2003, a loss that put many of us, both behind the wall and not, on our collective knees. I was a pallbearer that mean August day we buried her and I remember feeling so profoundly as we carried her coffin up the stairs of the House of the Lord Church, what many of us feel when someone important to us dies: please God, can have just one more day, one more hour, one more hug or touch or kiss or moment in silence or laugh or cry or anything. Anything.
My call out to the Universe didn’t come to pass that day, but on this day it has because I have my Safiya back with me when every time I pick up this important, this urgent new collection, The War Before: The True Life Story of Becoming a Black Panther, Keeping the Faith in Prison, & Fighting for Those Left Behind (The Feminist Press, 2010).
Edited by former political prisoner and former Weatherman Laura Whitehorn, this book which includes a forward by Angela Y. Davis, and an afterword by Mumia abu Jamal, has pulled together the political writings of woman who lived the sprit of transformation and with the unshakeable belief that a new world was possible. After her untimely death, Laura and Safiya’s daughter, Wonda Jones, undertook the work of collecting and collating the organizer’s writings and interviews into a comprehensive volume that is now this book, The WarBefore. Here I sit down with Laura to discuss who Safiya was and what we can learn from the vision of a woman, a wise and committed, loving and giving worker woman.
asha: What was your relationship to Safiya Bukhari?
I first met Safiya in the late 1990s, when I was in prison in California and she came to visit. She came in to see all the women political prisoners who were there at the time — the Puerto Rican Independentistas Carmen Valentin, Alicia and Lucy Rodriguez, and Dylcia Pagan; my sister anti-imperialists (and my co-defendants) Marilyn Buck and Linda Evans; and me. It was one of many visits she made to prisoners during the organizing for a 1998 Jericho rally at the White House demanding recognition and amnesty for U.S. political prisoners. After my release in 1999, Safiya and I talked together at conferences and events, but I was not permitted to see her much because I was on parole. She died in 2003 while I was still on parole.
What was one of the most important things Safiya taught you?
From Safiya I drew a model of how to be serious about the work of supporting political prisoners. She knew from her own years behind bars the danger of promising prisoners you’ll do things you can’t deliver. She knew the critical importance of outside support. In her writings she says that while she was serving her eight-plus years in Goochland, Virginia, her biggest challenge was maintaining her sense of her own identity as a political person–as someone committed to fighting for justice. That is so opposite to what prisons are, it sometimes can feel like you are in a dream world. Her hard work in support of political prisoners, and the energy and joy–the sense of optimism–she brought to all of us was something I felt in my bones to be critical.
Again and again as I do this work, I remember what she said at a party when I got out of prison: When you leave prison, and you leave those others behind, it’s like you leave part of you inside the institution. So you have to continue to do the work, because as long as there’s a political prisoner — any prisoner — inside this country, that means that you’re not truly free.
Given that this book was published posthumously, would you please talk a little bit about the process of gathering her papers and putting them into one collection?
Safiya had left a small manuscript of essays, including her own autobiographical narrative and a paper on sexism in the Black Panther Party, among other articles. Once those were all put into the computer and edited, though, it became clear that a huge part of Safiya’s work was missing — years of speeches, articles, and interviews reviewing the history of the Panthers and arguing that the people still doing time from those years should be supported and freed. We found some little-known pieces, such as a debate over whether the U.S. should grant amnesty to political prisoners — the opposing team included some high-power government attorneys. We also found an article Safiya wrote describing post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the government attack on the Panthers.
The first round of challenges was to choose amongst all these materials. At first I tended to want to include everything, because finding the items was sort of a process of discovery, and so many of them are historic. But it was clear that what was needed was not a recapitulation of every word Safiya had written or spoken, but rather a selection, to reflect the development of her thinking and, more importantly, the history of the movements she was part of. For example, Safiya considered at various points the nature of divisions within Left organizations, and how those allowed the government to use provocateurs and informants to divide groups and ultimately destroy them. She returned several times to that theme, and to the question of how individual weaknesses played a role. She tied those themes, again and again, to the overriding theme of how Black people and other oppressed people can struggle for justice in this country. No small task.
At each point, Wonda and I tried to be objective and yet faithful to what Safiya might have wanted. She did not set out to write a book; she was an organizer. We hope that the book will not only be educational but also agitational–that, as Angela Davis writes in the foreword, “readers of The War Before will commit themselves to the campaign to bring Assata Shakur home, and to freeing Mumia, Leonard Peltier, and every one of the human beings for whom Safiya Bukhari so passionately gave her life.”
What makes this book different than other books written by Black Panthers?
This book is unique precisely because Safiya did not try to write a book. The War Before consists of primary source material–Safiya’s accounts of life in the Black Panther Party as it was happening; her thoughts and reflections at several points during her history — rather than a retrospective summing up of the history and her conclusions about it. Safiya’s writings about the Panthers have an in-the-moment quality that I think is similar only to Mumia Abu-Jamal’s book, We Want Freedom. Safiya allows the reader to participate in the conclusions she is suggesting, rather than presenting a summary of those conclusions.
The War Before is also not a polemic. Safiya considers various points of view about the history of the liberation movements. She is above all self-aware, self-critical, honest. She is not protecting her own decisions and role, she is questioning those, looking for answers rather than asserting them. Unlike many books about the 60s and 70s, Safiya’s writings assert again and again that the history of that era is not frozen in the past. She talks intimately about the members of the Black Panther Party who remain in prison, and how that reality belies any sense that the battles the Panthers fought are over and done, relics of the past. One of the most moving sections of the book involves a discussion between Safiya and a former Panther who was then dying in prison, Albert Nuh Washington. In the discussion, only a few months before his death, Nuh talks about their shared history and its significance. He, too, is re-evaluating, considering the past as living history that continues to exert influence on what we do now and how we see the world.
What do we learn as women about the Panthers and the Black Power movement from this book?
In addition to a thoughtful essay on sexism and the Black Panther Party, Safiya writes and speaks frequently about the role of women. From those specific writings, we glean a sense of how women influenced the Party toward programs dealing with the basic needs of the Black community. But her writings elucidate a much deeper importance of the role of women in the Black Power movement: She shows that militancy is much more than standing up to U.S. state power in demonstrations, or with guns. By the end of “The War Before” I think readers will understand that true militancy does not exist in how we act, but in what we struggle for–and in how consistently we struggle. Safiya’s power lay very much in her willingness to keep fighting. She kept fighting for political prisoners when many others had given up. As Cleo Silvers, another former Black Panther, put it, Safiya showed not only how to be a revolutionary woman during a revolutionary period but, more important, how to be a revolutionary woman during a very non-revolutionary time. The other thing I think Safiya teaches us about the role of women concerns the nature of solidarity. The way Safiya writes about political ideals is not abstract. What we are fighting for, she shows us, is an extension of the best in human beings who rise out of oppression and construct liberation. She shows us her feelings, too, and reflects a depth of collectivity very different from what we see in other histories of the second half of the twentieth century.
What do you think Safiya would say the most urgent issue for people to be working on today is?
For Safiya, the continued incarceration of people like Herman Bell and Jalil Muntaqim, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Russell Maroon Shoatz and Eddie Conway — former Black Panthers who remain behind bars for up to 40 years and more–demanded urgent attention and action. I think she would say that many struggles are critical, but that if we do not fight to release our comrades then our movements will suffer. But from Safiya’s writings you get a sense of an ongoing struggle. And I think you get a picture of a struggle that has not been won, but has not been lost. That is a very different sense of the history of the Black Panther Party than you get from many other sources. So I think that really Safiya would say, if you are fighting for justice, you are doing the most urgent work there is to be done.
asha bandele is an award-winning author and journalist whose most recent book is Something Like Beautiful: One Single Mother’s Journey (HarperCollins, 2009)
Old as the Hills December 22, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Humor.
Tags: 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, age, aging, good old days, Humor, humour, memory, nostalgia, roger hollander, seniors
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A friend sent me the following Email (December 22, 2009). I scored 15/15 on the quiz at the end which I guess makes me as old as the hills:
Someone asked the other day, ‘What was your favorite fast food when you were growing up?’
‘We didn’t have fast food when I was growing up,’ I informed him.
‘All the food was slow.’
‘C’mon, seriously. Where did you eat?’
‘It was a place called ‘at home,” I explained. !
‘Mum cooked every day and when Dad got home from work, we
sat down together at the dining room table, and if I didn’t like
what she put on my plate I was allowed to sit there until I did like
By this time, the kid was laughing so hard I was afraid he was
going to suffer serious internal damage, so I didn’t tell him the
part about how I had to have permission to leave the table.
But here are some other things I would have told him about my
childhood if I figured his system could have handled it :
Some parents NEVER owned their own house, wore Levis , set
foot on a golf course, traveled out of the country or had a credit
My parents never drove me to school. I had a bicycle that
weighed probably 50 pounds, and only had one speed, (slow).
We didn’t have a television in our house until I was 19.
It was, of course, black and white, and the station went off the air
at midnight, after playing the national anthem and a poem about
God; it came back on the air at about 6 a.m. and there was
usually a locally produced news and farm show on, featuring local
I never had a telephone in my room.The only phone was on a
party line. Before you could dial, you had to listen and make sure
some people you didn’t know weren’t already using the line.
Pizzas were not delivered to our home… But milk was.
All newspapers were delivered by boys and all boys delivered
newspapers –my brother delivered a newspaper, six days a
week. He had to get up at 6AM every morning.
Movie stars kissed with their mouths shut. At least, they did in the
movies. There were no movie ratings because all movies were
responsibly produced for everyone to enjoy viewing, without
profanity or violence or most anything offensive.
If you grew up in a generation before there was fast food, you
may want to share some of these memories with your children or
grandchildren. Just don’t blame me if they bust a gut laughing.
Growing up isn’t what it used to be, is it?
MEMORIES from a friend :
My Dad is cleaning out my grandmother’s house (she died in
December) and he brought me an old Royal Crown Cola bottle. In
the bottle top was a stopper with a bunch of holes in it.. I knew
immediately what it was, but my daughter had no idea. She
thought they had tried to make it a salt shaker or something. I
knew it as the bottle that sat on the end of the ironing board to
‘sprinkle’ clothes with because we didn’t have steam irons. Man, I
How many do you remember?
Head lights dimmer switches on the floor.
Ignition switches on the dashboard.
Pant leg clips for bicycles without chain guards.
Soldering irons you heat on a gas burner.
Using hand signals for cars without turn signals.
Older Than Dirt Quiz :
Count all the ones that you remember not the ones you were told
Ratings at the bottom.
2.Coffee shops with tableside juke boxes
3.Home milk delivery in glass bottles
4. Party lines on the telephone
5.Newsreels before the movie
6.TV test patterns that came on at night after the last show and
were there until TV shows started again in the morning. (there
were only 3 channels [if you were fortunate])
8. Howdy Doody
9. 45 RPM records
11. Metal ice trays with lever
12. Blue flashbulb
15. Wash tub wringers
If you remembered 0-3 = You’re still young
If you remembered 3-6 = You are getting older
If you remembered 7-10 = Don’t tell your age,
If you remembered 11-15 =You’re older than dirt!
I might be older than dirt but those memories
are some of the best parts of my life.
Don’t forget to pass this along!!
Especially to all your really OLD
Windows Live: Make it easier for your friends to see what you’re up to on Facebook.
The Sixties December 31, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in The Sixties.
Tags: 1960s, activism.berkeley, autobiography, roger hollander
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(A teaching assistant in one of my Polisci courses at Berkeley – I’ve long forgotten his name or what the course was about – had a profound effect on my life in the sense that he persuaded me to think that an individual could make a difference in the world of social change. The Christian/Political Activist commune we formed in the 1960s created a slogan: “think your way into new ways of acting; act your way into new ways of thinking.” This dialectic of thought and action, with the implication that individual human beings thinking and acting in accordance with others in fact do make a difference, has stayed with me all my life. What we put into action in those magic sixties did in fact result in profound social change, the retrogressive period that followed notwithstanding. I intend to take to the grave with me the notion that I, and any other human being, so willing, can make a contribution to social change and the betterment of the world our children’s children will inherit.)
Playas, Ecuador, January 27, 2001
I awoke this morning as usual to the sounds of my radio alarm. But, how strange, my favourite classical station is playing Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A Changin’.” This has never happened before. Have they changed their format? Then I notice this eerily familiar smell. It is incense mixed with the pungent aroma of that outlawed though mind-elevating herb. Still groggy from sleep, I don’t actually realize that something really odd is happening until I get up to wash my face and look into the bathroom mirror. My hair, which in this tropical climate I like to keep coolingly close to the scalp, has grown to shoulder length! And my sideburns have thickened considerably. I look down only to be further shocked by the fact that I am clad in bell-bottomed pajamas (with a tie-dyed paisley design!). This is all too bizarre, I say to myself, and I quickly dress and rush out to buy the morning paper, Guayaquil’s El Universo, the headline of which reads (in English!), “Despite Heavy Initial Losses Westmoreland Predicts Early Victory.”
It was only when I get home and think to look at the calendar on the wall and realize what day it is that I know I am not caught in some sort of Kafkaesque metamorphosis. It is January 27, my birthday. Being that I was born in 1941, today, January 27, 2001, for me at least, the sixties have begun again.
Inspired by this amazing experience, I began to meditate. When (in 1994) I was deciding whether or not to “spend a year or two” in Ecuador, I had consulted with my immediate family — parents, brother and children — and my mother had said to me that she believed in “doing your own thing.” “Mother,” I replied, “you sound like a Hippie.” Without missing a beat she countered, “I AM a Hippie.” It was only then that I realized that hipness could be genetic.
I hereupon wrote this dog-eared doggerel in celebration of …
THE SIXTIES: THE SECOND TIME AROUND
(but not ungracious)
(but not bombastic)
(but not unctuous)
(but not outrageous)
loving, not warring
moving, not boring
keeping the faith and the hope
(but this time around without the dope)
(And I don’t trust anyone over 90)
Peace & Love,
The Real Bill Ayers December 6, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, John McCain, Political Commentary, U.S. Election 2008.
Tags: 1960s, 1984, Barack Obama, Bill Ayers, civil disobedience, demonization, fugitive, guilt by association, orwell, Pentagon, racism, roger hollander, terrorist, Vietnam War, war, weather underground
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IN the recently concluded presidential race, I was unwillingly thrust upon the stage and asked to play a role in a profoundly dishonest drama. I refused, and here’s why.
Unable to challenge the content of Barack Obama’s campaign, his opponents invented a narrative about a young politician who emerged from nowhere, a man of charm, intelligence and skill, but with an exotic background and a strange name. The refrain was a question: “What do we really know about this man?”
Secondary characters in the narrative included an African-American preacher with a fiery style, a Palestinian scholar and an “unrepentant domestic terrorist.” Linking the candidate with these supposedly shadowy characters, and ferreting out every imagined secret tie and dark affiliation, became big news.
I was cast in the “unrepentant terrorist” role; I felt at times like the enemy projected onto a large screen in the “Two Minutes Hate” scene from George Orwell’s “1984,” when the faithful gathered in a frenzy of fear and loathing.
With the mainstream news media and the blogosphere caught in the pre-election excitement, I saw no viable path to a rational discussion. Rather than step clumsily into the sound-bite culture, I turned away whenever the microphones were thrust into my face. I sat it out.
Now that the election is over, I want to say as plainly as I can that the character invented to serve this drama wasn’t me, not even close. Here are the facts:
I never killed or injured anyone. I did join the civil rights movement in the mid-1960s, and later resisted the draft and was arrested in nonviolent demonstrations. I became a full-time antiwar organizer for Students for a Democratic Society. In 1970, I co-founded the Weather Underground, an organization that was created after an accidental explosion that claimed the lives of three of our comrades in Greenwich Village. The Weather Underground went on to take responsibility for placing several small bombs in empty offices — the ones at the Pentagon and the United States Capitol were the most notorious — as an illegal and unpopular war consumed the nation.
The Weather Underground crossed lines of legality, of propriety and perhaps even of common sense. Our effectiveness can be — and still is being — debated. We did carry out symbolic acts of extreme vandalism directed at monuments to war and racism, and the attacks on property, never on people, were meant to respect human life and convey outrage and determination to end the Vietnam war.
Peaceful protests had failed to stop the war. So we issued a screaming response. But it was not terrorism; we were not engaged in a campaign to kill and injure people indiscriminately, spreading fear and suffering for political ends.
I cannot imagine engaging in actions of that kind today. And for the past 40 years, I’ve been teaching and writing about the unique value and potential of every human life, and the need to realize that potential through education.
I have regrets, of course — including mistakes of excess and failures of imagination, posturing and posing, inflated and heated rhetoric, blind sectarianism and a lot else. No one can reach my age with their eyes even partly open and not have hundreds of regrets. The responsibility for the risks we posed to others in some of our most extreme actions in those underground years never leaves my thoughts for long.
The antiwar movement in all its commitment, all its sacrifice and determination, could not stop the violence unleashed against Vietnam. And therein lies cause for real regret.
We — the broad “we” — wrote letters, marched, talked to young men at induction centers, surrounded the Pentagon and lay down in front of troop trains. Yet we were inadequate to end the killing of three million Vietnamese and almost 60,000 Americans during a 10-year war.
The dishonesty of the narrative about Mr. Obama during the campaign went a step further with its assumption that if you can place two people in the same room at the same time, or if you can show that they held a conversation, shared a cup of coffee, took the bus downtown together or had any of a thousand other associations, then you have demonstrated that they share ideas, policies, outlook, influences and, especially, responsibility for each other’s behavior. There is a long and sad history of guilt by association in our political culture, and at crucial times we’ve been unable to rise above it.
President-elect Obama and I sat on a board together; we lived in the same diverse and yet close-knit community; we sometimes passed in the bookstore. We didn’t pal around, and I had nothing to do with his positions. I knew him as well as thousands of others did, and like millions of others, I wish I knew him better.
Demonization, guilt by association, and the politics of fear did not triumph, not this time. Let’s hope they never will again. And let’s hope we might now assert that in our wildly diverse society, talking and listening to the widest range of people is not a sin, but a virtue.