Greece Frightenin’ from the Free Press

I have been expressing these same sentiments about the whole Greek Crisis since I sat watching it on my friends Muffy and Bob’s couch in the UK.   Grayson Lookner says it so well in this column and throws in a nice history lesson to boot.   Enjoy.

7/30/2015 11:18:00 AM

Grayson Lookner: Greece Frightenin

  by Grayson Lookner

As I’ve watched events unfold in Greece, I can’t help but ask myself one question: “Who won the Second World War?”
Ancient Greece was where the seeds of modern democracy were planted. A system of democracy and free markets supposedly prevailed in the West following WWII. Following the collapse of the USSR, it seems as if the last 25 years have pitted the free market and democracy against each other instead of their being the two “hand maidens of liberty” as one person claimed in a response to my last column. 
By the time WWII came around, Greece was actually a monarchy. When the Axis forces occupied Greece in 1941, the king fled and proclaimed a government in exile. This vacuum of power set the stage for the Greek civil war that would erupt in the months directly following the war. 
During the war, and this was the case in much of the rest of Europe, including Spain, the left unified in Greece as an anti-fascist force. When Nazi Germany finally surrendered and the Allies occupied Greece, the leftist parties attempted to rise to power with the backing of Stalin and the USSR.
During the war, the USSR was our best friend by virtue of being the enemy of our mutual enemy. With the death of Hitler and the mad rush of the victors to claim the spoils of war for themselves in the forms of Nazi territory and scientific knowledge (and Nazi scientists themselves), the USSR immediately became the West’s primary existential threat and driving force of the cold war right up until 1989. Although, judging from his recent actions, it seems Putin may not accept this telling of history. 
Greece was the first theater of the cold war fought via proxy by the two world superpowers. Ultimately the Greek left – which had so valiantly fought against Hitler just a few years before -was defeated by the ally-backed centrist government. It seems that cooler heads prevailed, and Greece benefited greatly from the $13 billion of US aid that was allocated by the Marshall plan to rebuild Europe. Modern Germany and the entire Eurozone project would not have been possible were it not for this aid that was given by America, which in today’s dollars would amount to somewhere in the vicinity of $169 billion, indexed to inflation, by my sloppy calculations. (Incidentally, this amount is similar to the amount spent by the Federal Reserve in its own bailout to prop up global capitalism after the meltdown of 2008, according to a September 2011 Forbes article. That’s approximately $2,000 for every man, woman, and child on the planet to be spent on supporting banks across the world and hedging shady derivatives deals, etc.)
The societies of Western Europe that emerged post-war that were enabled by US assistance were remarkably civil, stable, and democratic. They all had a vital public sector characterized by socialized medicine, free or cheap education, public ownership of utilities, adequate pensions, extensive public transportation systems, etc. These public services were not viewed as privileges to be made available to a lazy and unmotivated population that didn’t want to nor was expected to work; but as the bedrock foundations of modern, civilized democracies that enabled a free market to exist.

In countries where these social services still exist, such as in France, the UK, the “social democracies” of Norway, Denmark, and Sweden – and ironically in Germany itself – the quality of life is high and civil unrest is low. In countries where these guarantees don’t exist, such as in much of the third world and increasingly in America itself, quality of life for most people is low and there is increasing social strife.
Why would anyone want anything other than to live in a stable, civil country with a high quality of life? What happened? What changed?
Naomi Klein, a Canadian author, brilliantly outlines the march of neoliberalism (i.e. “globalization”) from the 1960s onward in her 2007 book “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.” In the book she demonstrates how the explicit aim of globalization is to turn over infrastructure and social capital that was built by the public to private hands by creating and profiting from a series of mostly manufactured crises. 
Throughout the world, countries have been systematically forced to auction off their once publicly owned utility companies, hospitals, shipping ports, and other public resources for pennies on the dollar to wealthy foreign investors the likes of Goldman Sachs. These investors in turn use what were previously considered the bedrock foundations of a civilized state to extract more wealth from the general population without investing any of it back into the public. The rich get richer, and the poor get used up until they have nothing left to give. The globalists then move on to the next national project to exploit, and they inch closer and closer to home with each passing year. 
Greece will essentially become a third-world country because of the measures being imposed by the EU and the IMF. The British newspaper “The Guardian” said that with the austerity demands of its creditors Greece is essentially being forced to choose between being executed and committing suicide. In their recent emergency referendum, the people of Greece, in an uproar of democratic fervor, cried “No!” to the EU deal. Unfortunately, it was more of a symbolic vote than anything. Tsipras, the charismatic leader of Greece’s leftist Syriza party, has accepted another deal that requires draconian cuts and will reshape Greece for decades to come. He has said that he has no choice. He has a choice; Greece could leave the Eurozone. That is a frightening prospect for many as it harkens the impending demise of neoliberalism across the globe. 
Is there anything that can be done to stem the juggernaut of privatization? According to my respondent from last week’s column, a responsible critic is supposed to propose solutions and not just identify problems. Yes, fortunately, there is. The best thing we can do is to not fall for and be manipulated by the manufactured crises of the world’s disaster capitalists. The boy has cried wolf for too long now. Next time they sound the alarm, don’t listen, don’t react, don’t stoke the flames. It is easy to tell the difference between a real disaster and a media-manufactured one. 
Grayson Lookner grew up in Camden and now lives in Portland.

Let’s Get It Together: A Memo to Socialist Alternative, the ISO, the Green Party, and Everyone Else about Bernie Sanders

Posted on 2015-07-14 by COMMUNIQUENEWENGLAND

[This is a bit wordy and dense but well worth the time it takes to read it.    Dear Fellow Greens, let us seriously consider taking the strategic suggestions to heart and offering a sanctuary for all the soon-to-be-disenchanted left-leaning Democrats out there—B.]

If we quit the Race to the Correct Position, cool off and shut up a little bit, we might actually get something done
By Jay Monaco
(Author’s Note: I am a dues-paying member of Socialist Alternative in good standing, but the following represents my own views, and my own views alone. It should not be interpreted to reflect the opinion of any SA branch, nor CAJE, nor the other members of the Communique Collective. It is not intended to be a challenge to democratic centralism or even to indicate the beginnings of a military coup. It has not been vetted, edited, or endorsed by anyone, which is how I prefer it.)
There is a prevailing notion on the Left today that a substantive intramural debate is underway between the parties and factions as to how best to deal with the frustrating Bernie Sanders campaign and how to address the swelling ranks of his supporters. This is, at best, an illusion. At worst, it’s a self-deception. The truth is, nobody is talking in any practical way about how to deal with the Sanders campaign or how to address his supporters.
Are we going to get serious? Do we want to?
What’s actually the plan? Does anybody know?
On one end of the spectrum, the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) have joined the bandwagon wholesale. Their general position seems to be that there are some positive things about the Sanders campaign, some positive things are better than no positive things (the usual), so let’s chalk it up to a win. We deserve to feel good sometimes. Don’t fight it. We’re gonna realign it all, man! Feel the Bern!
I mean, okay. It’s certainly tempting, but at the end of the day, the Power of Positive Thinking isn’t usually considered a legitimate political outlook or strategy.
The parties further to the left have primarily taken an absolutist approach of opposition. The campaign is bourgeois sheepdogging, Bernie’s an imperialist capitalist shill, elections suck, and Bernie’s supporters are a bunch of idiots, PERIOD. End of discussion, we win the socialism.
On closer examination, pretty much everybody agrees about the sheepdogging aspect, and most of us also agree that Bernie is a – de facto if not de jure – imperialist capitalist shill. The rest of the Leftist Champion approach actually boils down to the antithesis of strategy, a hollow declaration of dialectical superiority and a return to normal operations, whatever those might (or might not) be. This approach could even be made more palatable were it coupled with an alternative path forward rather than an embrace of crypto-elite obscurity, but it never is.
Somewhere tumbling about in the middle lie Socialist Alternative (SA), the International Socialist Organization (ISO), and the Greens. For those keeping score, that’s the two big Trotskyist groups aligned with the Green Party, a confusing, occasionally anti-capitalist party whose organizational acumen grants them name recognition even if nobody comprehends what exactly they’re all about.
All three of these groups should be commended for the adoption of nuanced positions on the Sanders campaign. After all, like most political matters that involve breathing people rather than mere ideas, this is a nuanced issue. There’s a lot of gray here. Any practical strategy that is to lead to tangible long-term results requires grappling with that nuance. Nuance on the left is usually a sign we are doing something right.
What has thus far proven difficult for each of these three groups is defining this middle ground, carving and claiming a particular slice of it. It started on May 5, with the ISO’s Ashley Smith penning “The Problem with Bernie Sanders.” The piece represents a concise, compelling, and effective summary of Sanders’ deficiencies, his betrayal of the version of left-wing politics that he himself espoused for decades, and makes the case that some of the end results of this campaign could be very damaging to the broader left if not mitigated. Her position (and by extension that of the ISO) differs from the dismissive purists in the sense that there is an acknowledgement that the electoral arena must not be abandoned, a recognition that some form of positive alternative strategy is needed, and no counterproductive desire to scorn Sanders’ supporters as feeble lost lambs.
This was followed, on May 9, by the Socialist Alternative position, delivered via Philip Locker, which was met with much more criticism than the ISO’s – even, in some cases, from SA members themselves. With no disrespect intended toward Comrade Locker, the critics can perhaps be forgiven for finding it confusing; the piece begins with effusive praise for many of Sanders’ policies, lightly criticizes others, denounces Sanders’ run as a Democrat while expressing a bizarre hope that he will change his mind about running as an independent after dropping out of the primary. After noting that Sanders is, theoretically at least, the furthest to the left of any national politician in at least a couple of generations, there’s a bit of a tenuous jump ostensibly connecting this notion with the importance of building mass movements, then suggesting that, for some reason, as long as Bernie isn’t going to win the nomination, he should be supported.
Yeah, there’s no two ways about it – it’s confusing. The party members’ complaint about the statement’s lack of clarity is justified. That said, the distillation of his view by those outside the party as an echoing of the DSA’s position is unfair. While it’s true that he does at times paint a rosy picture of the Senator from Vermont, the position he states is far from unqualified support. In character, it would not be properly described as blindly optimistic so much as cautiously, strategically aspirational. This aspect is most effectively stated in the statement’s final section, in which Locker calls attention to the fact that there is much opportunity in the present moment, opportunity which should not be wasted, and we should take advantage of the positive aspects of the campaign, mitigating the negative through sympathetic engagement with Sanders supporters.
You’re not alone if you detect a difference in tone but not much of one in substance. To satiate the masses demanding more of this (no), Locker and Todd Cretien of the ISO issued new dueling statements together. This serves to clarify the primary difference between the two parties as one of approach. The ISO adopts a negative (insofar as it is primarily denunciatory) focus on Bernie’s politics, the futile, dangerous, traitorous endeavor that is running within the Democratic Party, and they want to talk with Sanders supporters. SA, in contrast, adopts a positive approach focusing on Sanders’ best policy proposals, while also rejecting his politics, and they want to talk with Sanders supporters.
There’s a joke out there among the socialists that the difference between the two is actually that SA’s statement ends in a semi-colon and the ISO’s ends in a period. Sure, leftists aren’t known for making great jokes, but it’s not all that far off. One thing both have in common? Neither of them proposes anything more specific than “engaging with the Sanders people.”
Here’s the kicker – nobody actually cares about any of this. Yes, we care. I guess it’s cool that somebody does. But as virtually all the different parties to this “debate” have pointed out in one context or another, the left is tiny and weak. I would respectfully posit that we will remain so if we use ourselves as a barometer for the things the working class cares about or, even worse, if we insist on berating ordinary people for caring about the wrong things.
I mean, come on, how is this a debate? The only leftist actors actually attempting to answer the question at all are the Trots and Greens in the middle. But not only do these groups not truly seem to disagree on any major points, so much as tone, one more cheerful than the other, but there seems to be some hesitation in terms of moving on from the tonal discussion to anything specific. There are no real tactics being defined here, and surely no strategy.
This fact is underscored by the two most recent salvos in this riveting contest: the Green Party’s Howie Hawkins’ “Bernie Sanders is no Eugene Debs” on May 26 (appearing in the Socialist Worker, an ISO publication), followed after a bit of a delay by SA’s Bryan Koulouris on July 7 (“A Response to Howie Hawkins: How to Win Sanders Supporters to Independent Working Class Politics”). Both pieces are, in fairness, at least attempts at clearly-defined proposals, even if both fall short.
Both devote the vast majority of their collective many thousands of words to subjects on which they entirely agree, whether they’ll admit it or not. At times, it seems unclear as to whether they even realize this is the case. Each of the writers uses an ostensibly competing aspect of the early 20th-century Socialist Party USA, of which Eugene Debs was a member, to illustrate, as though in unison, the agreed-upon importance of an independent workers’ party. Both of them, vehemently and enthusiastically, consider the Democratic Party to be the graveyard of social movements. Both agree that there needs to be a “Plan B” for when Bernie drops out of the race. Both agree that Jill Stein, the Green Party’s nominee for president, has a major role to play in all of this. Both agree that the approach toward Sanders supporters should avoid condescension. Both agree that the present moment is an important opportunity for the left to seize.
Perhaps the most significant development to be found here is the fact that both, each after their own fashion, seem to agree that we need to be organized, politically realistic, and even (gasp) politically savvy.
If you searches hard enough, of course, you can discover a few emergent differences worth noting, although a few of them might actually be based in misunderstanding rather than legitimate disagreement. When Hawkins writes, “Unfortunately, too many self-professed socialists in the U.S. have abandoned the socialist principle of independent political action. They argue instead that whether or not to support a Democrat or an independent candidate is a question of tactics, not principle,” he sounds as though he is arguing with the DSA, despite calling out Socialist Alternative by name. Whatever the deficiencies in the SA position’s clarity, it is sufficiently clear that they have indicated no such thing.
From here, Hawkins launches into an exploration of the heroic Debs and his maintenance of principles rooted in strategy throughout his participation in electoral politics. Debs’ denunciations of the major parties sound nearly identical to our “two wings of a single Corporate Party” mantra, and his approach by running with the Socialist Party was sound and admirable. To this point, however, Koulouris points out that the SPUSA of Debs’ era was itself the kind of inconsistently leftist party prone to damaging compromise that Hawkins decries. So is, it’s worth noting, Hawkins’ own Green Party. In fact, the SPUSA was something of a left-leaning umbrella sheltering everyone from left-liberals to ultra-leftists. Many people held dual membership in SPUSA and either more radical parties or even, yes, the Democratic Party.
Koulouris does not suggest, as DSA members might, that the Democratic Party can itself be transformed into such a wide left-leaning canopy, but he does effectively demonstrate that Debs’ independent party membership is itself more of a gray area than some of us would like to admit. He points out that the “party also did not emerge ‘fully-formed’ as a working-class organization…it came about through splits in populist and progressive movements that consisted of farmers and small business owners alongside working-class people.” It is here, in particular, that Koulouris and SA have the edge and perhaps come closest to the heart of the matter. Their focus on Bernie’s best policies, the things even more of us agree upon, enables greater flexibility to “address consciousness as it actually exists rather than as we wish it would be.”
As I previously stated, both pieces are strongest in the sense that they aspire toward actually playing the game of politics. Things like analysis, intentional planning, competent organization, and even something as lowly as cleverness are required, not merely for victory, nor even merely for our advance, but perhaps it is required if we are to have so much as any hope of avoiding outright extinction.
Their mutual recognition that the current position of the left is one of marginalization, weakness, and diminutive numbers does not lead them fully to the question nobody is answering. That’s why, at long last, this is still not a debate. Posed seriously, the question is: What must we do to become less marginalized, more strong, and greater in number? The follow-up: How do we do those things?
Both Hawkins and Koulouris dance around the problem. While others outside of this exchange have suggested Bernie’s claim to be a socialist to be an important step toward normalizing the word in our cultural discourse, Hawkins is correct from a political perspective in recognizing the flip side, the harm inherent to confusing people as to what socialism truly is. He is practical about this, putting it forward as a necessary key component in any interaction with supporters who might be confused about the word’s meaning.
He is also correct, from the position of political reality, to scoff at the insistence held by Koulouris and others at SA that Bernie could be persuaded to run as an independent after the primary. “How can it be ruled out that if Sanders comes under intense pressure from his supporters he could be pushed further than he currently intends?” Koulouris asks. As though anticipating the question, Hawkins had previously written, “By trying to get Democratic politicians to say and do what the left wants them to say and do, the left has been engaged in a pathetic and hopeless attempt at political ventriloquism.”
With more refreshing political realism, Hawkins goes on to point out that such an independent campaign is not even logistically possible. Several states ban candidates from appearing on the ballot as an independent after running in the primary of a major party. In the states that remain, an effort would need to be started now to ensure a ballot line. No one is doing this, Sanders least of all. Hawkins here presents his party’s candidate, Jill Stein, as a central component of the political path forward, pointing out that efforts based exclusively around someone running in the democratic party might be hindering Stein – who is actually going to run as an independent candidate in this universe – in her efforts to marshal volunteers to gather the signatures required to get on the ballot.
Koulouris counters with tepid support for Stein’s candidacy, but a disinclination toward diverting time and resources to the Greens’ ballot drive when the Sanders campaign is garnering so much more attention than Stein and the Greens can hope for. Here, finally, we arrive at the closest thing to a brass tacks discussion. Here at last is a political disagreement. In dispute is which has greater strategic value, a ballot line for the kind of independent left party that both claim to be of central importance, or communicating with people where they are – in this case, as distasteful as it may seem, around a democratic primary campaign.
The possibility explored by neither as they talk past one another is that both might be important, and with the right plan and effective implementation, both might be doable.
Further along these lines, Hawkins teeters between the brilliant and the obtuse:
“Some argue that we should just build movements outside the electoral arena for now, and that when they get big enough, an independent left party will emerge from them. Social movements making demands on the system are simply lobbying the Democrats in the absence of an independent left electoral alternative. An independent left party is needed so the Democrats are forced to respond to movement demands or lose votes to the left. Movements ebb and flow. A party is needed to keep activists organized and engaged during the downturns in social movements and provide organized support and perspectives when movements expand.”
Not only is no one arguing any such thing, but we have again the mistaken assumption of a zero-sum situation. Building non-electoral movements – recent examples being the nationwide minimum wage fight, Black Lives Matter, even Occupy to a certain degree – have, at this point, sufficiently demonstrated themselves to work a tremendous effect. Those socialists, in SA or otherwise, who advocate for issue-based mobilization, are not doing so instead of trying to form a party, or because they don’t want to form a party.
Sometimes, to be honest, I think it’s because they don’t know how. Hawkins, to be sure, has more electoral experience than virtually anyone on the Left besides Stein. He has undoubtedly been exposed to the finer points of the broader politics game, but little of this is apparent from the argument presented in his piece. I do look forward to hearing more from him on the subject.
Both Koulouris and Hawkins wrote at length about the SPUSA of a hundred years ago, but neither gets into the weeds of how we might replicate that relative success. The fact is, if we quit the Race for the Correct Position, maybe cool off and shut up a little, maybe even kinda get our act together, we can effectively reach out to Sanders supporters, lay the preliminary foundation for the long process of building that party we all say we want, get Jill Stein on all 50 state ballots so the Left is at least tacitly represented in the Big Vote, and maintain our ideological purity.
In other words, we’d better be careful or we might risk actually being able to get something done. And while I, sadly, have no magical formula to hawk here today, I do have some specific strategic and tactical proposals I would present for consideration and (actual) debate.
Selectiveness, Precision, and Clarity in Communication

Everyone participating in the discussion so far agrees that we should be attending Sanders events and talking with supporters. But what is our overall objective? If we’re serious about this, we shouldn’t be trying to convert the hopeful enthusiasts of relatively compassionate Keynesian capitalism into born-again Marxists. Not overnight, at least.
What I mean to say is, do we want people to listen to what we are saying? Do we want our words to be heard, much less considered? If so, we need to be deliberate. Hawkins and the ISO folks provide few specifics in this regard beyond the need to tell people that the democratic party is bad for the working class. Koulouris, on the other hand, wants to talk to them about a $15 minimum wage, a “massive jobs program”, socialized medicine, and rejecting austerity, with simultaneously presented demands that Bernie be better about police brutality and Israel and refuse to endorse Hillary.
Neither approach is sufficient. The SA approach guarantees that the audience will be confused, while the Green/ISO approach guarantees the audience will be bummed out. We’ve got to do better than that. And if it seems like I’m sounding an awful lot like mainstream political strategists with regard to “messaging,” that’s because I am. I don’t apologize. There are plenty of political tactics and methods which are inherently immoral or unjust, but most are simply tools, neutral but for the hand that wieldeth them.
I’m not talking about deceiving anyone. It’s just a matter of identifying the best way for our message to be heard and to have maximum impact. Since people don’t like to feel stupid or condescended to, we must not take a dismissive approach to their enthusiasm for Sanders. Since people don’t like it when their bubbles get popped, we can’t show up shouting about how evil the Democratic Party is or rail about how Bernie supports Israeli apartheid. Personally, these facts are of crucial importance, but it’s not about me. Our audience will hear these words and promptly tune out the rest.
In fact, because people tend to resent the feeling of being told what to do, we shouldn’t even be shaming people who want to vote for a Democrat in November ’16. “Vote your conscience,” we should tell them. “Only you can decide what’s right in the ballot booth. Just remember that real power, real democracy, and real freedom can only come from the people and the streets.”
Again, I’m not suggesting we obscure or withhold information – far from it. Whenever we encounter responsive people, we will be asked questions, and we will answer them simply and honestly – about Bernie’s foreign policy, the evil democrats, Marxism, whatever. We just have to see this more as relationship-building and less as preaching a sermon.
“Bernie’s a great guy,” should be our approach. “Aren’t we all grateful we have someone running in the primary to say all these wonderful things and advocate for all these popular social programs and key society-transforming reforms? It’s too bad he’s not going to win, though, and the other democrats are just going to preserve the status quo. We don’t want all this to die, though, right? We need a real, lasting movement to carry this on. Isn’t that what you want?”
It’s not a sales pitch for Sham-Wow or anything, nor is it a script to be copied verbatim, but it’s the kind of communicative attitude that will make people like us without realizing it – and consequently interested in what we have to say. Koulouris is right to suggest we need to discuss specific policy movements and working class causes, but we can’t rattle off 27 of them and expect anyone to walk away remembering any of it. Let’s pick three. Minimum wage is pretty good, an especially strong choice due to the recent successes in cities and states nationwide. Universal Basic Income might be an even better choice, given that it’s a more radical and destabilizing reform – and also because it is actually a much more popular notion than many people realize. What about talking to them about a support system for workers who don’t have the benefit of unions – which is most of them – a system that leads toward more easy unionization and democratization of the workplace? Rent control? Public internet? Child allowances?
We can legitimately argue what our talking points should ultimately be. In fact, that’s precisely the kind of debate I wish we were already having. It doesn’t ultimately matter which of our awesome policy proposals we choose, nor are we bound by those that Sanders is supporting. The key is to pick a small number of easily digestible concepts and present them simply, as though each were common sense (which they are, more or less).
We can’t try to be the evangelists of socialist conversion, and that’s an approach that rarely works in the long run, anyway. What we want to be is the people they remember when they’re in despair because the ride is over and Bernie’s with Hillary and the world is crashing down.
Maybe We Can Cooperate

Seriously, SA, the ISO, and the Greens should work together during this election cycle. We all agree that the Sanders campaign is an opportunity to reach more people than would otherwise be possible, and we also agree that Jill Stein’s candidacy is a net positive and should be supported. Working together, in whatever fashion or form that takes, we can track Sanders campaign events, ensure there is representation from the true left, and we can collectively determine where greater focus must be allocated toward pushing Stein’s line on the ballot.
Ideally, we’d go even further than this and embark upon some actual collaboration, where we meet together, plan together, form committees together, and resemble something of a unified effort. Maybe that’s too much of a stretch. Cooperation, however, manifested in a looser affiliation, affinity, affection, and broadly common goal, should be feasible.
If even this basic level of unity is not possible or desirable, at the very least we should coordinate with one another, communicate regularly, keep all the sister parties generally informed of one another’s activities and endeavors.
How else can a true independent workers’ party begin? Surely, we all realize that there are national media cameras at these things. If we put on a good enough show, they’re gonna eventually have to talk about us, which will boost our collective position considerably.
Get Their Names!

It’s important to recognize that party-building and political organization goes well beyond the warm and fuzzies of speaking truth to fellow people into the much less sexy realm of data collection. Besides straight cash, the biggest operational advantage the major parties have on us is their voter databases. They know who everyone is, where they are, how they vote, and how to get hold of them. Just as we lack access to their millions (billions, really), we cannot expect such a resource to fall into our laps any time in the foreseeable future.
One advantage of being in our insignificant little position politically is that we’re not even trying to reach the broad voting population. That’s years away. What we need to do is figure out who our people are, the ones who are sympathetic but don’t know it or haven’t yet made the leap or, maybe, nobody’s talked to them yet. For the next six months, all of our people will be at Sanders rallies.
It’s important to maintain perspective with regard to Sanders supporters and their willingness to leave the two-party system. I would estimate, optimistically, that 75% of Bernie supporters will happily, or at least quite willingly, vote for whomever the democratic nominee turns out to be. But the other 25%? Those are our people. We need to go and meet them, we need their names, email addresses, contact info, etc. I’m not talking about recruiting people into one party or another. If any of us find new members organically at Sanders events, that’s great, but if we’re showing up just to try to swell the ranks of our particular sect, we’re wasting our time.
It is here, as many other areas, in which cooperation becomes especially important. Let’s worry about who wins which recruits further down the line. For now, let’s share the contact info we get. Let’s experiment with ways we can communicate with the people we identify, be it through a Facebook group or an email list or some other more effective medium.
When the day comes, and it will, when our people experience crisis as Bernie drops out, we not only want the disappointed masses to know how to find us, we want to know how to find them.
Party building. It’s worth a shot
Tangible Resources

No, I don’t mean pamphlets about the dangers of the two-party system. I mean cash money, I mean people, and I mean food and supplies. I’m not trying to be flippant. We’re all limited on the Left, and I know that, but I also know neither SA, nor ISO, nor especially the Greens, are broke. Everybody has some money, it’s just a matter of it being spent where it can do the most good. Funds for printing original, creative, carefully-worded and visually appealing literature – preferably kept to one page – would go a long way if executed properly. Cash can do many things, of course, whether it’s purchasing food or coffee for groups of people we wish to reach, social media advertising, even to seed the kind of grass roots local initiatives that are likely to boost our credibility while at the same time, perhaps, likely to outlast the Sanders campaign and provide us a bridge to our post-crisis efforts.
All three parties have people, and we need them – dedicated, committed people who will sign up to cover events and follow through so that we have a substantial and noticeable presence, especially the larger ones. One of the strengths of the Left is precisely this relatively high level of commitment among party members. Between our organizations, we can find plenty of people willing to do the work. We just have to be organized and aware enough to get people where they are most needed.
Perhaps I’m biased, but New Hampshire itself provides the perfect example. Because of the first in the nation primary, a substantial percentage of the events Sanders holds in the entirety of his campaign will be held here. The state is geographically small and easy to cover, especially considering the fact that most of the events are held in the southern part of the state. Get up here. Get the money here. Everybody – SA, ISO, Greens, and anybody else who wants in.
* * *
Everything we seek to accomplish, from educating working people, to building the strength of organized labor, to running independent campaigns, to taking advantage of the campaigns of others depends upon action. We need not hesitate. Yes, we will screw up. Mistakes encountered through tangible efforts are inevitable – but preferable to paralytic inaction without missteps. This will be a learning process for all of us, but it’s a process that can’t begin until we stop talking and actually try things. We definitely don’t have anything to lose.
Few things, after all, are as likely to draw people into a movement, to gain their confidence and enthusiasm, than seeing that movement do things. At the end of the day, it’s up to us to be that movement, the one that does things – or, at the very least, tries.

Never on a Sunday

Watching politics from this side of the Atlantic has been interesting. I spent a day walking around the Yorkshire Lancashire countryside with farmers (thanks to my super hostess Muffy and her friend Abby who arranged the day.) One in-town dairy farm (more about that later) and one hillside beef and mutton farm. Speaking with these third and fourth generation farmers confirmed my belief that small scale farms face similar hurdles and concerns around the world. It seems the same in Yorkshire Lancashire as it is in Chalatenango and Maine.   
As I told you earlier I met Boris Johnson. When he becomes Prime Minister I will be able to say I have shaken hands with a President (Jimmy Carter) and a PM.   


But the most “fun” I have had was watching the returns of the Greek referendum yesterday. We turned on the TV after all of our “4th of July on the 5th” party had gone and the apartment was cleaned up. I was very excited that the Greek people said a loud and resounding NO to the oligarchs and are willing to go it on their own terms. They know that either way their economy is in trouble and they want to have more control over the kind of trouble it will be. I am reminded of the old film “Never on a Sunday” about a free spirited woman in Greece who is pounced upon by an Englishman who wants to “reform” her. She said no thank you and continues her loose and happy life-style as he slinks off into the sunset. Watch the film and see if you think it is a good metaphor for what is happening in the European Union and the Grexit (Greek Exit) as it is tagged over here. I am sad that they allowed the EU bullies to shove the finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, out of his post. But proud of him that he is enough of a statesman to realize it is best for the country to get out of the way and let the PM negotiate whatever solution he can with the EU banksters.

Watching the impeachment proceedings against our Governor has made me wish I could be in two places at once. But I can’t. It was nice of the Brits to have lovely weather for me and a nice political crisis to watch while I am here.

Update:  Well the Greeks blinked.  So sad.  But the investigation of our Governor seems to be proceeding apace so that is good.  And the Yorkshire Lancashire mix up, well, I’m sorry about that.

Political Nerd Trifecta

I can’t stop grinning. If ever I have had a glimpse of political nerd nirvana it was today. Here’s the run down:
1)Went with my BFF to see the Magna Carta exhibition at the British Library. Wonderful! This year is the 800th anniversary of this ground-breaking document. The exhibit gives a great, detailed history of the document that is, after all, credited with being the foundation of democracies around the world. It was inspired by what passed for a populist uprising in those days. The Barons were sick and tired of King John taxing them to death to pay for ill advised wars. (Something of a familiar ring? We just need the uprising now.) This includes our own, somewhat tattered, democracy back across the pond in the good old U S of A. In fact, in the exhibit was Thomas Jefferson’s own copy of the Declaration of Independence and an original of our Bill of Rights. The main themes of the Magna Carta, that have carried on down through the ages, are the idea that no person can be deprived of liberty or property without due recourse to the law including a jury of their peers. Freedom of the Press and habeas corpus were also credited as ideas that came from the subsequent versions of the charter.

2)The second great event of my day was something that just came along serendipitously. As we pulled into London yesterday on the train I noticed a poster for the annual “State of London Debate.” An event where the Mayor of London gets up on stage with a presenter from LBC (Leading Britain’s Conversation, a radio station) and debates the state of the city. Mostly taking questions from the audience. The tickets were free and, other than having to get myself from one side of London to the other on the underground, it looked like a great evenings entertainment. And it was! Boris Johnson (the Mayor) and Nick Ferrari (the presenter) were obviously old pals and they gave the audience at the Indigo at the O2 a great show! The questions from the audience seemed to be mostly about transportation issues. Taxis versus Uber. New Underground lines. Where to expand the airport. But the Mayor came across as a (somewhat) populist, free-market conservative if there is such a thing. I sat next to a very nice woman from the East End who filled me in on all the details of a city that she professed to love very much. The audience was lively and held the Mayor’s feet to the fire a couple of times mostly on housing issues. A good time was had by all. But wait, that is not the kicker of the evening. I got on “the tube” to go home and was talking to another really nice woman about the evening when she said “there he is now.” I turned around and there was Mr. Johnson himself riding the Underground on his way home. “A man of the people.” My new companion said. He held court a bit with his handlers surrounding him and lo and behold got off at my stop. Well, you know me I could not miss that opportunity. “Mr. Johnson.” quoth I. He turned. “I came all the way from the states to hear you tonite.” He shook my hand. “You’re joking.” He said. “Yes.” said I “but I really enjoyed the evening.” “Thanks,” He said “Where are you from in the States?” “Maine.” “Oh, that’s beautiful.” said one of his handlers. “Yes, it is. Anyhow really enjoyed the evening.” “So glad.” He said, put on his bike helmet and was off. 

3)Came back to my beautiful little hotel in Kensington and turned on my computer to see that Jill Stein of the Green Party announced her entry into the Presidential race for 2016 yesterday. A truly populist candidate taking NO CORPORATE MONEY!!!! My day was complete.   

Is Populism Making a Comeback

Several years ago I started writing this blog and decided to call it The Populist Farmer in honor of a movement from over a century ago that I thought had a lot of things right.   They were against big monopolies and for the small farmer.   A stance that I spend a lot of  time in Augusta supporting.  They were among the first national movements to recognize the leadership and contributions of women.   Definitely ahead of their time.

Well it seems that the big pols have figured out that this is a good frame on which to hang all their garbage.  In an attempt to once again bamboozle the electorate.   Don’t be fooled folks,  the closest thing we have to a populist in the race for the White House right  now is Bernie Sanders.   But stay tuned, Jill Stein is about to throw her hat in the ring.

In the meantime read this nice little piece that appeared in YES! Magazine recently.

Is Populism Making a Comeback? What You Need to Know About Its History—And Its Future

The 19th century populists gave us co-ops and workers’ rights. Here’s how we can build on their work to solve 21st century problems.

Fran Korten posted June 02, 2015

You may have noticed. In our political discourse, suddenly the term “populism” is everywhere.

In April, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid joined 5,000 other political leaders in a call to make “big, bold, economic-populist ideas” the center of the 2016 presidential campaign. Outlets as disparate as The New York Times, The Nation, Time, and Fox News apply the label to politicians across the political spectrum.

Elizabeth Warren, known for her fiery critiques of Wall Street, is termed a populist. Hillary Clinton has a new-found interest in economic populism; Bernie Sanders has long worn the label. Even right-wing firebrand Ted Cruz gets the label, and Bobby Jindal applies it to himself. As Robert Borosage, head of the Campaign for America’s Future, put it, “We live in a populist moment.”

The term populist harkens back to the movement that formed in the 1880s in response to the extremes of wealth and power in the Gilded Age. As Lawrence Goodwyn describes in his book The Populist Moment, farmers found themselves in perpetual debt at the hands of local merchants and corporate monopolies. Many lost their land. They decried the concentrated wealth of the banks and big business and advocated policies that favored working people over the elites. Millions were attracted by the idea of forming cooperatives where they could buy goods and sell their produce at fair prices.

By 1892, the movement had broadened to include urban workers and became the People’s Party. At their founding convention, they enthusiastically embraced a platform that included a progressive income tax, the secret ballot, direct election of senators, the right of citizens to create initiatives and referenda, shorter hours for workers, antitrust legislation, postal savings banks, and shifting the power to create money from bankers to government.
In the 1896 presidential race, the People’s Party made common cause with William Jennings Bryan, the Democratic nominee. Bryan was defeated, and it looked like the populists had lost.

In fact, their ideas were only beginning to take hold. The next three decades saw much of their 1892 platform enacted. Their hope for cooperatives flowered in much of the Midwest. But they didn’t get everything they hoped for and they didn’t break the bankers’ hold on creating money.

Since the heyday of populism, many of its policies have been watered down and the flood of money in politics has eviscerated the effects of others. Now, the concentration of wealth and power is much like that of the Gilded Age. Americans are again awash in debt.

So we should not be surprised that populist ideas are making a comeback. We hear those ideas in the Occupy movement’s demands to rein in Wall Street and rectify our country’s extreme inequality. We see them in the grassroots opposition to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that allows corporations to spend at will on our political process. And they are echoed by the millions mobilizing for a $15-an-hour minimum wage. The dangers of concentrated wealth and power have once again captured the public imagination.

The prospect of enacting a populist agenda is daunting. The power of Wall Street banks, giant oil companies, big pharma, and big ag seems overwhelming.

But the original populists also faced daunting challenges—cotton monopolies, Standard Oil, the railroads, and a financial system rigged against them. They came together, learned the issues, and shaped the nation. Now it is our turn to advance the populist call for economic fairness, real democracy, and a dignified life for all.

Fran Korten wrote this article for Make It Right, the Summer 2015 issue of YES! Magazine. Fran is publisher of YES! Magazine.

We are Winning

  There is a famous quote from Gandhi that goes: First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win. Well, I am here today to tell you good people that we are winning.

When the Maine State Legislature considers and the Agriculture committee passes several bills that reinforce the rights of farmers to sell their goods face-to-face with their patrons. We are winning.

When Joel Salatin, a hero of the food sovereignty movement, flies in from Virginia for the day to testify to our Legislators in favor of a state constitutional amendment establishing the people’s inalienable right to food. We are winning.

When 13 towns, and counting, in the state have passed the Local Food and Community Self-Governance Ordinance. Reinforcing the right of people to participate in traditional food-ways. We are winning.

When the average age of farmers in Maine continues to fall and farmers from around the country are moving to Maine because of the great work they see us doing to rebuild the local food infrastructure. We are winning.

When two of the largest employers in central Maine, Fedco and Johnny’s, are organic seed companies. We are winning.

When the number of food cooperatives in the state more than doubles in less than five years. We are winning.

When we succeed in shortening the food chain because of a four times increase in the number of farmers markets, the rapid growth of the Community Supported Agriculture movement, food hubs and wonderful distributors like Crown of Maine Organic Cooperative. We are winning.

When the FDA becomes so concerned about the local food rights movement in our state that they not only send Mr. Monsanto himself, Michael Taylor, to speak to farmers in Maine but they also open a third field office in a state of 1.3 million people. We are winning.

When national organizations like National Family Farm Coalition, The Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund, Food and Water Watch and the Organic Consumers Association are so impressed with the progress we are making in Maine that they offer logistical and financial help to further our work. We are winning.

When the national headquarters for the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association is in our state. We are winning.

When John Oliver spends a whole segment of Last Week Tonite excoriating the way contract chicken farmers are used and abused by the big poultry processing companies like Tyson. And his New York City audience reacts with horror. We are winning.

When Neil Young records a whole album of pro-farmer, anti-Monsanto songs, “The Monsanto Years”. We are winning.

When the deal to buy Syngenta, a deal that would have further consolidated the ownership of the world’s seed-stock into Monsanto’s hands, falls through. We are winning.

We are blessed to be living in a state with a strong agricultural tradition supported by the 11,000 members of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association and small, nimble non-profits like Food for Maine’s Future and Local Food Rules. A state that may well be one of the climate change winners as far as access to water and arable land goes. A state with a long, and recent, tradition of activism, self-governance, and self-sufficiency.

We are winning folks.   


Down in the Papaya Republic

  We have been working very, very hard in the Maine State Legislature this session to get some good, local-food-rights bills passed.   Several have been proposed and finally on Tuesday we had some good news.  Three of those bills were voted out of committee Ought to Pass.   The following is a transcript of the testimony I presented about these bills and the Right to Food constitutional amendment that had been proposed.   It is a personal story that seemed to touch many in the audience.   I fed the papaya and the cheese puffs to the committee afterwards.

“Good afternoon Senator Edgecomb, Representative Hickman and distinguished members of the committee.   As you all know by now I am Betsy Garrold from Knox and I represent Food for Maine’s Future, Local Food Rules and The Farm-to-Consumer Defense Fund.  I come here today to speak in favor of this afternoon’s collection of local food bills.

Today I am going to tell you a story.   I brought props.   In the early 1990’s I was a Lieutenant in the United States Public Health Service stationed in a place we fondly called the Papaya Republic.   The Republic of the Marshall Islands is a small nation in the middle of the Pacific.   A tropical paradise filled with coconut, banana, papaya, breadfruit, and pandanus trees; a lagoon teaming with fish; small family gardens scattered here and there around the island.

While I was there I helped the World Health Organization conduct a childhood nutrition survey that revealed that thirty percent of our children were stunted and underweight.    In other words chronically malnourished.   This was not a huge surprise but it lent us weight as we worked to start several programs to combat that blight.   I ran kitchen garden programs with the horticulture students at the college at which I taught.    I wrote a white paper for the Nitijela (the local legislature) on the need to foster breastfeeding.   This lead to National Breastfeeding Week with educational programs and celebrations across the islands.   I filmed, with the Peace Corp volunteers on the island, an educational video about breastfeeding and child-spacing.   But my favorite programs was childhood nutrition education in the elementary schools around the nation.

I would go into elementary classrooms and hold up two things.   In one hand a papaya.  Fresh whole, local food.   Not shipped in on barges.   Growing in the sunshine and ocean breezes.   In the other hand I would hold up a shiny package of cheese puffs.   Definitely not healthy and having been shipped in from the mainland United States on a huge container ship.  I would say to the children,  “Which is healthier for you?   Which is better food?”  

Invariably they would choose the cheese puffs.   But their reasoning was based on different causes then you might think.   They thought that anything that came in a shiny package from the store, and had come over the ocean from the United States must be better for you.    Must be nutritious and healthy.   Shiny packages can never steer you wrong, right?

This always lead to a lively discussion about whole foods versus processed foods.   Local food versus imported food.   Fruit versus cheesy puffs.   By the end of the hour when I opened both packages, cutting open the papaya and opening the bag of puffs the children usually made the right choice and went for the papaya first.

So what is my point?   I would like the committee vote for local food versus manufactured, over- proceed food.    Whole food versus junk food.    I would like the committee to vote the way the school children in the Marshall’s finally did.   Supporting our local, healthy food producers and farmers with their vote for these bills that support the work they do to feed us all.

Thank you for your time.”


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