About four years ago, Sue, some friends and I spent two to three nights a week at a local telephone bank making calls for Barack Obama.  I’ll never forget election night when, after the last call had been made and the telephone center cleaned, a group of us walked to a nearby watering hole.  And damn near couldn’t get in the door as wall-to-wall people boisterously cheered the countdown to his victory.  Strangers hugged and kissed and there were more than a few wet eyes as hope became reality.  We had our first Black president, and one who promised the next four years were going to be different than the previous eight.  We believed we’d finally reached the end of the Reagan Revolution.

Not so.  The war in Afghanistan continues; Iraq is still a mess; innocent until proven guilty doesn’t count for people who the government defines as potential terrorists; indeterminate detention has become part of our daily life.  And all this and more with the president’s tacit (sometimes not so tacit) approval.

Not exactly the change I was hoping for.  Not even close.

I understand the obstacles the president faced.  Blue Dog Democrats who were stalwart against any significant reform.  An opposition party that made it clear from the jump they had only one agenda item—anybody but Obama in 2012.  And stuck to it no matter how many times the president played nicey-nicey.

I’m even aware of the positive changes Obama managed to press through despite opposition from both parties.  He…

Overhauled the food safety system;

Approved the Lily Ledbetter “Equal Pay” for women rule;

Ended “Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell” discrimination in the military;

Passed the Hate Crimes bill in Congress;

Pushed through the Affordable Health Care Act, outlawing denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions, extending until age 26 health care coverage of children under their parents’ plans while adding coverage for around three million more people.(Though a really long spit from Medicare for All, it actually is better than what we had before.)

Expanded the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) health care for children;

Pushed through a $789 economic stimulus bill that saved or created 3 million jobs and began task of repairing the nation’s infrastructure; (Again, way, way too little money to really jump start the economy.)

Established the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and used a recess appointment to keep it on track in the face of GOP attempts to derail it;

Outmaneuvered GOP in naming two members of the National Labor Relations Board blocked by the Republicans in their attempt to shut down the NLRB;

Won two extensions of the debt ceiling and extensions of unemployment compensation in the face of Republican threats to shut down the U.S. government.  (Ask the unemployed how they felt about that one.)

And, in my mind, most importantly, appointed two progressive women to the U.S. Supreme Court including the first Latina.

Sadly, despite the above and more, he hasn’t stopped, or even slowed, the Reagan vision of America.  Nor has he sustained the enthusiasm and hope of his most ardent supporters–young people.  Which leads to the one overriding emotion he has engendered in me.


Gore Vidal once said, We live in a nation that has one political party with two right wings.”  That rings incredibly true.  But given our choices, it’s the Republican wing that scares the hell out of me.

I’ve watched the Supreme Court turn corporations into people, tear the Miranda decision to shreds, permit search and seizures without probable cause and, in general, turn back the clock as if the present and future just don’t matter.  This is what we have now and, with two judges deep into their eighties, I don’t want Mitt Romney picking potential nominees.  Not ever.

Still, I find myself unwilling to put the time and effort into Obama’s re-election and my friends feel the same.  While I’m guessing most progressives will probably drag themselves to the polls and vote, it might not be enough to keep Republican hands off the driving wheels of all three branches.

More fear.  It may all come down to our younger adults.  Will they vote for Obama given their disappointments?   Right now, I ain’t betting rent.

So what’s a progressive to do?  Sit still, vote, and pray that we’re not looking at a Republican horror show at the end of the day?  Drag our asses to the phone banks?  Somehow I don’t think that idea is really gonna be enough this time.  Which leaves progressives with the imperative to talk to those young adults.  Without their willingness to vote for Obama (holding their noses, if need be) we’re gonna be catapulted back in time in ways that will annihilate what little progress we’ve made.

I don’t want corporations to be ”people.” I don’t want a larger net fishing for those who DWB (Drive While Black—and, now Brown as well) I don’t want Arizona to lead the nation into greater and more pervasive racism.  I don’t want the rich to grow richer while the poor grow poorer and the middle class slides down the greased economic pole.  I want to retain all that remains of our civil liberties and the First Amendment.  I don’t want back-alley abortions.

So yeah, I’m gonna vote.  And I’m gonna talk to every young adult I can about voting too.

As far as canvassing and calls, I’m not sure.  Probably depends upon how much more frightened I am as we approach November.

And I’m plenty scared now.

“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” Alice Walker


Frigging Politics

“Just when I try to get out, they pull me back in.”

I didn’t want to write about politics or Obama again.  At least, not right now.  Jah Energy (not an oil company, but my community softball team named after the Jamaican god), has a one-or-done playoff game tonight.  I’ve been trying like a dog to edit my second Matt Jacob book (Two Way Toll) so it can be formatted for multi-digital platforms, and am gathering materials for a photo shoot of the digital cover for Still Among The Living.

I really didn’t want to write about politics.  But after the last couple of weeks watching congressional bozos on both sides of the aisle make jackasses out of themselves, and seeing our country slide into a sinkhole so deep it may be impossible to climb out, I just can’t help it.  Sorry.

I feel like Peter Finch in the movie Network when he stuck his head out the window and screamed, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

My rage primarily has to do with the debt ceiling deal that President Obama blessed, albeit with some verbal regret over the absolute refusal to implement a truly fair progressive income tax that might help people who are just barely getting by. Problem is, verbal regret doesn’t cut it for those already bent over a chair and are now gonna be bending even lower.  Nine percent unemployment, my ass.  Those are only the people they count.  If it ain’t double that number, feel free to shoot me.  It doesn’t take a weatherman to know what programs and which people are going to get fucked by the newly agreed upon debt reductions.

We are already living in an era when the differential in wealth between Whites and people of color is the greatest it has been since the Civil War.  We’re eyeballing folks who have saved for a lifetime only to lose their houses due to mortgage manipulation (aka fraud) by banks.  Banks our president was more than willing to rescue and are now making more money than ever before.  We’re back to robber baron times.

And I haven’t yet mentioned two wars that nobody wants other than the congressional jackasses.   And the President.

I know the excuses since I’ve used them myself: The Republicans burned down the house then gave the key to the Black guy. Obama never really had a real majority because of the Blue Dog Democratic Senators.  President Obama believes in bi-partisan politics as the best way for a country to be run. The Republicans have never totally refused to work with a sitting Democratic president before, and are doing it now because he is Black.

I know the hopes: During his fifth year, he’ll be able to be himself and do what he’d hoped to do during the first four.  Roosevelt’s first term was less than stellar as well.  If President Obama is somehow able to forge an “adult” dialogue with and between members of Congress, it will be a huge achievement.

I know the accomplishments:  His support of gays in the military.  He forced health insurance companies to accept people with pre-existing conditions.  He jammed through coverage for millions and millions of people who had no health insurance whatsoever.  After eight years of neglect, the Justice Department and EEOC are again enforcing employment discrimination laws.  The administration continues to deescalate marijuana interdiction and raids, eliminate mandatory sentencing for first-time drug abusers and simple possession, and dramatically increase the amount of cocaine possessed that leads to a jail sentence.

And there have been more accomplishments:  (See  But these accomplishments have mostly come through Executive Orders and not “adult” discussions with, or bills passed, by Congress.  How many times do you need to be hit in the head with a baseball bat before you change your tactics.  Even if it’s just to give the other guy a noogie.

The bottom line is this:  President Obama is certainly better than the Republican nominee who will stuff the Supreme Court with lunks only too happy to off a woman’s right to choose and add to the already ugly list of draconian decisions.  So I will hold my nose and vote for him again.  But it’s gonna hurt.

Fact is: Progressives, and our organizers, have to make some serious decisions for the long term.  Actually, we have to make some decisions, period. First we need to form a coalition between all the liberal groups out there.  And if petition signing is any indication, there are quite a few.  Then, that coalition has to decide whether to spend its time, money, and effort to try to take over the Democratic Party.

And I don’t mean doing what the Tea Party is doing–getting enough votes to hold the rest of the party hostage. (Though that might be a good start.)  I mean turning the Democratic Party into a full-bore progressive party that doesn’t give a shit about moderates who are really Republicans in Democratic colors.  This has been the cry from Democratic Socialists for generations, and for generations it just hasn’t succeeded.  But it is one of the options.

The other is to throw the full weight of the progressive coalition behind a third party, something that has been tried in past and usually, if successful at all, created a nudge for change and then disappeared.  Neither strategy has kicked ass, but the past need not define the future.

In either case, or perhaps the third option, is that we actually mobilize our constituency.  We may talk politics more than many, but usually it’s shaking our heads over a beer.  “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore” means DOING SOMETHING.  Actions, instead of whining. Message to self, maybe something more than just signing petitions (see my 3/21/11 post LOVE ME, I’M A LIBERAL).

We also ought to redefine our constituency.  We typically try to politicize the voting public.  I believe our real goal has to be engaging the forty plus percent of the population who doesn’t vote, maybe has never voted.  Unless we appeal to these folks, they never will vote and we’ll never have a real progressive government.

“Don’t make me repeat myself.” ~ History

(Might want to laugh or cry at:

The Obama Conundrum

Years ago I remember a debate published between Michael Harrington and Christopher Lasch in The New York Review of Books about the efficacy of working inside the “system” or outside it to create social change.  (I might be wrong about the publication—it was a long time ago.)

Since that read, this debate has been a major part of my life as well as my political thinking.  Although my stint in Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) was obviously a “within,” the program I helped developed was not–and, by design. The People’s School, a storefront project that worked with high-school dropouts to eighty year olds, staffed by volunteers, had nothing to do with the Chicago school system.  “Inside” or “out?” Both, really.  VISTA paid my salary.

I was offered a job in Boston at Project Place, which, at the time, was a worker run collective where paid workers and volunteers made collective decisions about defining and running our different projects.  And there were many: a counseling center, 24/7 telephone emergency hotline, runaway houses, legal aid, ambulance, and more.  All the services were free, which meant private and public fundraising.  “Inside” or “out?”  Also both.

I’ve always leaned toward  the “outside” argument and lived much of my life as an “outsider.”  Never felt easy in schools and have no high-school or college diplomas to show for that discomfort–though I attended both, even graduate school, for at least a while.

This headset continued when I decided to write detective fiction.  My main character, Matt Jacob, is definitely a person who works outside any system.  And while he is an exaggeration, the apple never falls far from the tree.  When Random House systematically tried to censure my work (another story for another time) I picked up my fourth book and lawyered out of my contract.  In fact, if it weren’t for the radical changes in publishing and the ability to totally control all aspects of my writing and (soon to be) E-books, I’d a never returned.

But for me, one of the largest outside/inside issue has been the ballot box.  I just could never buy the “better of two evils,” argument as an inducement to the polls.  Since 1972 and George McGovern I’ve never voted in another federal election.  Until 2008 when I not only voted, but worked for the Obama campaign.

Some of it was purely personal.  My father owned a tavern in a small town when I was growing up.  At that time, when a Black person walked into the bar and was served, immediately upon his departure, whoever was bartending had to make a show of breaking his glass.  Not because my father personally disliked Black people; he campaigned among this friends and voted for Obama in 2008.  If the glass had remained intact he would have been out of business the next day.  Literally.

So for me, the notion of a progressive Black having an opportunity to actually win the presidency was right up there with smashing the Berlin wall.

I knew Obama had emerged from Chicago politics and all that implies. But after Bush’s eight years, two wars, the disgusting Patriot Act, and a myriad of other repressive measures, I thought the country was ready for significant change and believed he thought the same.  He was going to be a difference maker.

I was wrong.  Although the Obama administration has accomplished things I believe in—a terribly flawed but better than nothing health care law, abolished Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, non-enforcement of The Defense of Marriage Act, some Wall Street and credit reforms, he simply hasn’t hurdled my “pass/fail” process of looking at life.

We now have three wars.  One without any discussion of an “end game.”  Guantanamo remains open and people held captive without any hope of due process.  And most importantly the nation’s wealth is still shoveled to the rich while the poor and middle class have their services and safety nets dismantled.

I understand that the first two years of his administration was hampered by “Blue Dog Democrats”.  I also understand that the Republicans now control the House.  But maybe it’s time for Barak Obama to read that debate between Michael Harrington and Christopher Lasch.  Despite being president, maybe it’s time to work “outside” the world of political compromise because leading from behind the pack and acquiescing to right wing blackmail just isn’t working.

Maybe it’s time to stop thinking about 2012.

The Firesign Theatre