Friday, July 16, 2010

Com to McGovern's Campaign Breakfast! Sat, 10, Coral Seafood!

10-11:30 at Coral Seafood. Come and help get the grass roots campaign to re-elect Jim off the ground.

Jim, who is on the Board of Trustees of Progressive Democrats of America, is one of the Representatives we can least afford to lose - for our District and for the working people of America. He has been a leader on ending the warsIraq and Afghanistan, on corporate responsibility and on the rights of working people. He is now one of the leaders in the fight to keep the extended unemployment benefits in place. As Vice-Chair of the Committee on Rules and Chair of the Subcommittee on Rules and the Organization of the House, he has risen to a level of influence, in the Congress, from which position he has been able to be of great service to our District.

I know many of us think that Jim is so well liked and respected in our District - and the would-be Republican challengers apparently such light-weights - that he is not in any real danger, but I think it would be a big mistake to take this race for granted.

First, this is likely to be a very bad election year for Democrats, with many disappointed and increasingly angry and desperate voters who usually support us staying home or coming out to "send a message to the Democrats" or to "throw all the bums out." I heard a lot of voters in January say that for them the election was a referendum on Obama and Patrick more than it was about Coakley or Brown. This election will I fear be the same, but more so.

Second, with blood still in the water from January, the State is going to be flooded with corporate and right-wing National Republican money, and high-powered operatives playing by the Karl Rove play-book. We had our first taste of this in the Coakley/Brown race, but most of us here in the Bay State are still quite unprepared for it.

And finally, Jim's leadership, especially on ending the wars, has made him a special target of that right wing - as evidenced by the fact that he often shows up on the hate lists of right-wing bloggers.

When we have someone this good on our issues, someone we have supported and who has stood by us for fourteen years, we have to fight to keep them. We simply can't afford to risk losing Jim -and we need to use the opportunity of this campaign to get our own neighborhoods and our own neighbors organized to turn out the vote and keep him in office.

Plus, we need to be building our neighborhood bases for battles to come.

So come on out to the Campaign Breakfast and let's start the process of organizing and doing it.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Did the American Revolution begin in Worcester?

(Published in InCity Times, July 2, 2010)


The word defines who we are as a people. Whether our ancestors came across the Bering Straits 10,000 years ago or just arrived here from Ireland or Nigeria, we are the people who inherited the Revolution we celebrate every July 4. We march up and down, shoot off fireworks, listen to patriotic speeches – and sometimes - more and more often of late - we sit around the barbecue pit talking about how out of control our government has gotten, and how we need a new revolution, or are headed for one - though most of us, for all our bravado, see it as something really scary that we’re not ready for.

Our Declaration of Independence starts with the assertion of our right to make a revolution when we need to, but most of us know very little about revolutions, and our minds are full of images that scare us away if we get too close. Because “we need a revolution” connects to “peasants with pitchforks” and Minutemen with guns – and that usually stops us. Because if we think that a revolution is a war, anyone who understands what a war really is knows that we don’t want one if we can help it.

Yes, we Americans celebrate the Revolution – our own special kind of revolution. We’ve all heard Jefferson’s quote about the Tree of Liberty needing watering from time to time with the blood of tyrants and patriots. But the Revolution we know about, the one in our storybooks, is a strange affair. Our books tell of a revolution that was also a war, one that was started and led by wealthy Boston gentlemen and Virginia planters in powdered wigs who refused to pay their taxes, and who met in attics and back rooms and conspired to organize and lead an armed uprising,

I never understood just why average farmers and workmen cared enough about a tea tax to rise up in revolt against the most powerful empire in the world, risking death, ruin or exile. And as I read about what happened in other countries, and as I’ve watched history unfolding around the world over the years, I was always puzzled why their revolutions always seemed so different from our own.

The story of what happened in Worcester in the Summer of 1774 holds the key to that mystery. The answer is that our revolution wasn’t so different after all. It’s just that what we’ve been getting is the rich folks’ side of the story, as seen from Boston!

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Historian Ray Raphael, with the help of Worcester City Clerk David Rushford, spent some time digging around in the town and city archives of Worcester County, collecting town records and correspondence about the events of the Summer and Fall of 1774, about a revolution which reached a climax in the streets of the shire town of Worcester in the hills of rural Massachusetts on Sept. 6, 1774. This material was organized into the book “The First American Revolution, Before Lexington and Concord” (New Press, 2002). A 2-page summary, “Before Lexington: The Worcester Revolution of 1774”, is available at the City Clerk’s Office.

Raphael’s book tells a story, mostly in the words of ordinary people from letters and town meeting records, about that time, of a thoroughly democratic and non-violent revolution that came out of a summer of open discussions involving most of the people across the whole colony of Massachusetts. It is the story of a non-violent revolution that was not a conspiracy, not a tax revolt, not a war and not led by gentlemen in powdered wigs.

It tells of a revolution that was about regaining control of our local and provincial legislatures, governor and courts, after the British Parliament – controlled by the great corporations of the day such as the British East India Company – had placed Massachusetts under the direct rule of General Gates in the Spring of 1774. A revolution that was driven by ordinary people’s concerns and fears - not about taxes but about debts and foreclosures, and about who would have the power to enforce them and drive them off their land.

This Massachusetts Revolution in the late Summer and Fall of 1774 wasn’t centered in Boston. Rather it grew in the countryside, where 95% of the people lived then, and came to a head in Worcester. There, on Sept. 6, 1774, called together by the Committees of Correspondence, 4,700 mostly unarmed militia from 37 towns, assembled along Main Street in defiance of an ultimatum from General Gates and prevented the puppet government’s courts from meeting.

A week before the “Worcester Revolution”, the Committees of Correspondence had issued a declaration which stated that “The Citizens of Massachusetts are intitled to life, liberty and the means of sustenance, by the Grace of God, and without the leave of the King.” Note that they said not “pursuit of happiness”, but “means of sustenance”. This revolution was not about a lifestyle choice. It was about survival, for ordinary people.

The Worcester Revolution marked the end of British authority outside of Boston. The following month, in October 1774, delegates from across the Commonwealth assembled in Concord to organize a provisional government. Six months later, British troops marched out of Boston in a first attempt to re-conquer Massachusetts and reverse the revolution. The war we call the Revolutionary War, but which perhaps we should call the War to Defensd the Revolution, was on.


Historian Ray Raphael calls the events that unfolded in Worcester on Sept. 6, 1774 the “pivotal event in the Massachusetts Revolution”, and thus of the entire American Revolution that followed. He records that Sept. 6 was celebrated as Revolution Day in Worcester County up until about 1820. Perhaps that custom died out because it never got written into the school books, or perhaps it was because somehow it didn’t fit with the narrative of the people who had come out on top in the end.

Eight years after the publication of Raphael’s book, nine years after Rushford began distributing his pamphlet at City Hall, even most people who grew up in Worcester and have lived their entire lives here know little or nothing about this dramatic episode in our history.

When I ask people what they know about Worcester’s history they can list who was born here, but every place had someone famous who was born there.

They mention things that were invented here, but every city has something that was invented there.

They mention the fact that George Washington slept here, but every city and town east of the Appalachians can tell you about when George Washington slept there.

When I ask them why a visitor from Europe or Japan should make a side trip to see Worcester, or whether anything really important ever happened here, they generally never have an answer. Hardly anyone mentions that Worcester was where the first women’s rights convention was held, or that Worcester was where slavery was first abolished in the English-speaking world in 1781.

And hardly anyone knows that Worcester was where events that marked the start of the American Revolution – events arguably at least as important as what happened in Concord in 1775 or in Philidelphia in 1776 - took place.

So why does hardly anyone in Worcester know this history?

And why does it matter?

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Almost all regular people agree: our government isn’t listening to us, and it’s out of control. People are suffering, fear and anger are growing, and there is a great feeling of hopelessness and desperation on the land. Foreclosures are continuing to increase, entire city blocks are being emptied and boarded up, the “recovery” isn’t happening for ordinary people, the foreign wars just go on and on, and our environment is becoming a disaster.

We managed to elect new governments in Massachusetts in 2006 and Washington in 2008 on campaigns of hope and change, but that change isn’t happening.

An overwhelming majority of the people supported a Medicare for All, solution to the health care crisis, but that was never even “allowed on the table” for discussion, and now Medicare is being gutted to pay for the Insurance Reform that we got instead.

Obama came in sounding like the reincarnation of Roosevelt, but gave those same banks - whose money helped elect him - a trillion dollars of public money with no strings attached, and now we’re getting a toothless “bank reform bill” that doesn’t touch their power!

The real unemployment rate is 20% or 25%, and Congress seems unable to reauthorize emergency extensions of unemployment insurance, which will dump 2 million long-term unemployed off the rolls and onto the streets, and in any case every week tens of thousands pass beyond the emergency 99-week limit and fall through the safety net.

We voted to end the wars, but the wars go on and on. We voted for transparency a return to the rule of law, an end to torturing prisoners - but the abuses go on and only get worse. Now Obama is openly ordering “hits” on American citizens abroad, without even a judicial review!

BP cut corners, took huge risks and produced a huge environmental disaster which could destroy the entire Gulf of Mexico, and our well-meaning President of the United States is exposed as powerless to do anything about it, reduced to the humiliation of playing “chief complainer and bottle washer!”

Governor Patrick in the meantime is running for reelection on excuses for why he wasn’t able to do much, blaming the Democratic legislature (!), the public workers, and “the economy”, yet he’s continued giving away money hand over fist to the large corporations. Under his Administration 97% of all corporate requests for tax breaks have been granted, but he can’t find money for teachers, fire, police or health care workers, stimulus money is sitting un-spent and the layoffs and violated union contracts continue!

The final straw for many of us was the Citizens United case the Supreme Court recently decided, which eliminates all limits on how much money a corporation can give to political candidates!

I could go on. The list of outrages against the people and against our democracy seems endless. But the upshot is that an overwhelming majority of ordinary people have concluded that we have lost control of our government, that the situation has become intolerable, and that something dramatic has to be done to take it back.

The best word we have for that kind of change is “revolution”. What stops us is perhaps that we don’t really know what a revolution is, and that the images we have of it scare us away.


So as we celebrate Independence Day this July 4, the importance of learning about, talking about and celebrating the Worcester Revolution of 1774 is not just that it would put Worcester on the map, bring lots of tourists and give us a sense of pride and identity.

It’s also that it would give us a new sense of what is possible, a new sense of what democracy means, a new sense of the possibility the common people can reclaim our governments, our rights and our futures in a peaceful, democratic and dignified way.

Because the story of the Worcester Revolution of 1774 is a story of a time when ordinary people like ourselves, right here in Worcester, in a moment that was eerily like the present, actually did that and changed the world.

Let’s celebrate July 4 with real spirit, but let’s also plan to celebrate Revolution Day on Sept. 6, the way our forbearers used to!

Fathers Day during Hard Times

This Fathers Day comes at a very hard time to be a father, and that can be hard for everyone in the family.

For men, who see our ability to bring home a paycheck as a big part of what makes us a man, of what makes us worthy to belong to a family, not being able to provide for them can be devastating. But we are worth much more than that to our children. This is a good day for us and for our families to reflect on what we’re worth, what we bring, why we’re needed.

Times are hard, and it’s natural to feel that it’s our fault, our personal failure. The “great ones”, the ones who’ve made it and the ones who were “born on third base and think they hit a triple”, are trying to blame this disaster on us and get us blaming ourselves and on each other for it, but it’s really not our fault. When you’re struggling to survive and it’s not working, you have to keep on trying - and to do that well you have to take responsibility for the results you get. But when it’s not working no matter how hard you try because of things beyond your control, there’s nothing to be gained and everything to lose from beating yourself up, drugging yourself and taking it out on your family.

Unemployment levels are higher than at any time since the Great Depression. The De Facto Unemployment Rate (DUFR, calculated by the Center for Working Class Studies, counting the underemployed, everyone who would be working full time if they could but can’t, prisoners and military service personnel) is hovering around 30%. And that’s not Dad’s fault.

Those lucky enough to have jobs are being speeded up, pushed, jerked around and played against each other in a way that we haven’t seen in living memory, and employers are shamelessly using undocumented immigrants (“illegal aliens”) to drive down wages and break our unions. And that’s not Dad’s fault. (Nor is it the fault of the immigrants, many of whom are dads themselves, for that matter! Seriously, which of us wouldn't sneak across a border looking for work if that's what it took to feed our child or give them a good life?)

Nationally 13% of employers cut wages last year and half of them froze pay (which amounts to a pay cut.) Those who’ve lost jobs often go back to work for much lower pay, and many will never get back to where we were. And that’s not Dad’s fault.

Most of us have most of our wealth tied up in our homes, and now nearly half of all homeowners are "under water", and by the dozens every day we're losing them. It's hard to feel like much of a man when one loses the family home and has to take the kids out of their school and go looking for a place to live, and maybe Dad could have done something different; but this is a global catastrophe, and that's not Dad's fault.
For those of us who've built a business, meeting payrolls and bank payments in these times can be a nightmare, and for too many it is ending badly. It's hard to feel like much of a man when you've just lost the business that was to be your legacy to your children, and maybe Dad could have done something different; but this disaster is not Dad's fault.

to Dads need to be Dads, to be part of the family and examples to their children, no matter how hard times get. Children need the example of how a man doesn’t give up, disappear or get hateful even when things look grim. They need to see their Dad go on loving them and their mother, looking out for them and for their mother, no matter how bad things get. They need to see how a man can get really, really angry and still control himself, still not hurt them or their mother.

Being a boy in this world can be confusing even in good times, and it’s more confusing now. Boys aren’t just defective girls. They’re boys, and they grow up to be men, husbands, providers, dads. Only a man can show them how, and the one they’re watching is Dad.

Being a girl in this world can be pretty confusing too, and life gets pretty rough for a girl who doesn’t learn how to pick a good man. The men in her life as she grows up are the ones who show her what a man looks like. And the one she's watching is Dad.

Being a mother is hard in this world. Holding a family together, managing all the conflicts and relationships, helping to earn the money, keeping everyone safe and fed and doing their schoolwork, and keeping track of everyone is too much for one person. Plenty of women do it alone these days, but not many will tell you it’s a good idea. Having a partner who can step in and take charge when Mom’s at her wits ends, going crazy or needing a break is huge. Having a partner to talk things through with, make plans with, take comfort from is huge. Having a partner to get behind closed doors and let it all out with, to cry and love and be loved by, is huge. And the one she needs to be this partner is usually Dad.

And then there are some lessons to learn about life that only a family can teach, and that Dad is needed to help teach.

Lessons about sticking up for each other and looking out for each other and having each other’s backs. It’s the children who learned this from their Dads who are prepared to bring us all together to solve this crisis.

Lessons about doing whatever is needed, no matter the personal cost. Keeping your word, doing your part and coming through. The ones who learned this from Dad are more likely to be the ones you want for your battle-buddies, whatever struggles life brings you.

Lessons about how loving means sharing and giving and being of service to each other. The children who learned this from their Dads will be better prepared for working together to build a better world out of the wreckage.

So it’s really hard when Dad can’t bring home a paycheck, or when he comes home feeling angry, powerless, exhausted or insecure. None of us are perfect, and Dad’s made his share of mistakes, but he’s trying, God knows he’s trying. And he’s still needed, more than ever.

This is a good time to give him your appreciation.

And Dads, this is a good time to allow yourself to take it in.

Letter to the Delegates

(Letter to the Delegates to the Democratic Convention in Worcester, June, 2010, submitted to InCity Times)

Dear Democratic Delegates:

There’s an old saying which fits the moment: "Words butter no parsnips."

During the Special Senate Election this past January I went door to door asking my neighbors to vote for Martha Coakley – the same neighbors I had asked in December for their vote for Mike Capuano, and in October for their vote for our new Mayor, Joe O’Brien. I took my time and really listened to what they were saying, and by January the ones who hadn’t gotten sick of me were getting used to talking to me. By the morning of Jan. 19, I knew that Coakley would carry my precinct – she did, barely – but would lose the election, because so many Democrats and former Democrats were planning to vote for Scott Brown.

Then on election night I spoke to every Democratic Party officeholder, official and activist I recognized at what was supposed to be the victory party at Jose Murphy’s, and asked them why they thought this rout happened. One after another they answered “bad candidate”, “bad campaign” or both. Then I asked what the way forward was. Their answers: “better candidate” or “better campaign!” (One young officeholder answered “Organize. Organize, organize, organize!” Which turns out to be Patrick’s strategy.) When I then asked them if they thought that maybe there was something deeper going on, most simply said “no.”

But what I was hearing from my neighbors was a different story, and near the top of their list of complaints was that “the Democrats” (by which they never seemed to mean themselves) were out of touch. The responses I was getting from the insiders at Jose Murphy’s proved their point! They were indeed clueless – and still are as far as I can tell.

Voters talked more about Obama and Patrick than about Coakley. About the absurdity of a health care bill that forced them to buy insurance they can't afford, with deductibles so high they couldn’t afford to use it. About the pain of unemployment (some have been out of work for over a year) and loss of benefits, collapsing house values and their unforgotten anger over the bailouts.

They talked about voting for change - the change Patrick and Obama promised - that wasn’t happening.

Some made excuses for Brown and used Republican talking points about “illegal immigrants”, but others were up front about just wanting this election to be a wakeup call for “the Democrats”. (The State AFL/CIO’s exit poll confirmed that 47% of votes for union households had gone for Scott Brown - vs. 44% for Coakley - and that their main complaint about the health bill was that it didn’t include a public option!)

Several days later Obama proved he had totally misread their wakeup call, by announcing a freeze on new discretionary spending - which had been a Republican demand for a decade!

So what has Patrick done since then? Mostly words as far as I can see, little stuff around the edges, and more excuses. He is claiming the “economic recovery” – which my neighbors aren’t seeing and don’t believe in. (As one of them put it, she’s “waiting for the other shoe to drop” on that one.) In the meantime he signed an Ed Reform bill which is a direct and outrageous attack on the hard-won right of public workers – a foundation of the Democratic Party - to collective bargaining, and he’s been bragging about how mercifully he’s been at gutting local aid and state services, at the same time that he’s continuing to give away tens of millions to the corporations, and he’s being unaccountably slow to spend the Federal stimulus funds.

His strategy for re-election, from yesterday’s T&G: “… 21,700 community organizers by Election Day… each one … responsible for 50 people.”

My neighbors will be unimpressed.

What we need from you, dear delegates, is that you put Patrick on notice that this is the Democratic Party, not some corporate insiders club, and that you – we – expect action and results now, on jobs, housing, healthcare. And we want tax money collected from those who can still afford to pay, the wealthy and the corporations, to keep our schools, public services and fire stations open, no excuses.

In the meantime, for those of you who aren’t familiar with parsnips, they are sweet, tasty when baked and buttered, nutritious and cheap – good food for a depression. You won’t find them at Shaw’s, but Price Rite carries them.

BP Spill: Mega-disaster, or mega-crime?

(Published in InCity Times, c. 6/6/10)

Was the Hurricane Katrina disaster natural or man-made? And if man-made, was it negligence, stupidity or a crime? Most of us have thought and argued about whether people in and out of government should have faced criminal charges for deliberately failing to protect or evacuate the people of New Orleans. Hurricanes happen, but the death and destruction was arguably mostly man-made, and much of the negligence was arguably deliberate "benign neglect" in Nixon's famous phrase.

So how about the Deepwater Horizon oil "spill" now underway in the Gulf of Mexico? BP has been fibbing about the size of this mega-disaster, and their ability to stop it appears doubtful. It may already be the second largest spill in history, with no end in sight. The oil appears to be shooting from multiple vents, moving below as well as on the surface. It could well destroy all the fisheries, natural habitats and tourist industries along thousands of miles of Gulf coast, and it will probably enter the Gulf Stream, which will bring it into the New England fishing grounds within months. It’s a freakin’ calamity!

Was this disaster natural or man-made? That’s a no brainer; of course it was man-made. God didn’t drill those holes into the floor of the Gulf! Even if a hurricane or lightning strike had set it off, it would have been a man-made disaster.

We learned today that BP “upper management” was overheard saying that they were “taking shortcuts” by injecting salt water instead of drilling mud into the well before capping it. Routine negligence or stupidity? Normal corporate decision-making? Or criminal behavior?

A bigger question is why was there so little regulation of these rigs. A government inspector might have discovered in time that the manual shutdown mechanisms on this rig were out of order - one key switch was found to have had a dead battery! Where were they? It turns out that in 1999 BP filed a ludicrous environmental impact statement saying that the risks were minimal for drilling in this area, on the basis of which they were exempted from a full environmental report requirement and were allowed to be mostly self-regulating. Was this a failure of a normal system of oversight? Or could it be seen as part of a criminal conspiracy to legalize the kind of criminal behavior that led to this disaster?

And then, why were there no automatic acoustically-activated “blowout preventers” such as other nations require? They cost about $500,000 each, and it turns out that the oil industry lobbied vigorously and successfully against a requirement that they be installed on all wells. Our democracy at work? Or a criminal conspiracy between the oil corporations, the Congress and the regulators?

But wait! There's more! An even bigger issue is why are we allowing deep-sea drilling at all? Scientists have been warning for years that it is an invitation to disaster, but all our efforts to stop it have been overwhelmed by the power of corporate lobbying. Even if we are able to put strong regulations into place, even if we are able to re-impose the kind of safeguards that might have prevented this spill, there are so many of these wells, and hundreds more every year, that more disasters are bound to happen! (Not to mention that each off-shore well contributes massive amounts of oil and heavy-metal pollution over its lifetime!)

Now Obama has authorized drilling Arctic wells, wells which will be under sea ice in the winter where it would be impossible to do anything at all about a blowout until the summer thaw! And just days before this disaster Obama gave the oil industry permission for drilling off the Atlantic Coast, something which environmentalists have been fighting for a decade! Why? Is Obama so spineless that he can’t stand up to the oil interests? Is it that Congress is so addicted to oil money that Obama has no political cover for standing up to Big Oil? Or is Obama himself so beholden to corporate contributions that he has become a mere golden-tongued sock-puppet?

The biggest question, which the Gulf oil spill is rubbing our faces in, is whether our entire political and economic system become one great criminal conspiracy. And then the next question is whether we still have the power to change it. The only way to find that out is to try. Starting with no more supporting of candidates, no matter how reasonable-sounding, who take the corporations' money and do their building.

Here in Massachusetts, we are facing another mind-numbing gubernatorial campaign between multi-millionares over how to give away more tax money to the corporations while shutting down city and state services and blaming the unions or undocumented immigrants. Luckily they don’t have the ability to produce an environmental mega-disaster like the one in the Gulf, but they probably would if they could! Witness the Cape Wind project, where pandering to corporate greed has turned a great idea into a massive swindle!

We simply have to stop electing the kind of politicians who can’t tell right from wrong, who live in a world where greed is good and normal, and who place the interests of their contributors above those of the people. When they masquerade as Democrats we should hoot them off the stage!