Zachary Klein

zachI’ve read a ton of articles about how my hippie-dippy brothers and sisters from the 60s and 70s accomplished “nothing” during our period as activists. How my generation set the stage for right of center (being polite here) administrations and repressive laws. How my generation failed to block Reagan’s revolution. How my generation ultimately opted into the capitalistic status quo—worried only about upward mobility and shekels. These analyses must be true; I’ve seen them on CNN. Problem is, these analyses are bullshit.

Not gonna put lipstick on a pig. We didn’t stop Nixon from gutting Great Society programs. Certainly didn’t stop Reagan from funneling great amounts of wealth from the middle/working/poor classes to the rich and powerful under the guise of “trickle down” economics. Weren’t able to push Clinton toward progressive policies, or stop the upward flow of money under Democratic governance. Couldn’t even slow the egregious wars that occurred after the seventies. Nonetheless, it’s still bullshit…

Because our legacy continues to march on. Women’s equality, LGBT rights recognition, and yes, the anti-war movement. Does anyone actually believe that 30+ percent of the population would have initially objected to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had we not fought against the war in Vietnam? Truth is, the 60s and 70s continued to lay the foundation for today’s real political struggles (and no, I don’t mean the presidential race). Our work and commitment, like all foundations, often goes unnoticed, overshadowed by our “sex, drugs, and rock and roll” reputation.

While my intention is not to pat my generation’s back, I also want to point out that a large number of our children have followed in our footsteps. Not necessarily taking to the streets, but you can find them working in social service agencies or inner city schools, or as medical family practitioners (among others) and exposing the underbelly of intolerance and injustice in books, music, journalism, and art.

And not just our children. Folks fighting today are connected to those who came before. As were we. Each generation does not re-invent the wheel when it comes to the struggle for peoples’ dignity and rights. Or against oppression, wars, and dehumanization.

In truth, people who are currently striving for what we, of the 60s and 70s, believe to be right and true, have built upon our work and burrowed into the heart of our country’s societal madness.

Two issues immediately jump to mind—not including climate change, which our Republican presidential candidates refuse to acknowledge.

#BlackLivesMatter is not simply a response to current conditions, but the next step in a long bloody road that stretches from our birth as a nation to Roberts v. City of Boston (1848), to reconstruction, to the founding of the NAACP, to Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Black Panthers to today. But until recently, the keyword was racism and racism just doesn’t do justice to the brutal, scarring oppression that African-Americans have faced throughout their entire US history. (For an up close and personal, please read Between The World and Me, an extraordinary depiction of present day African-American life by Ta-Nehisi Coates.)

White supremacy, the belief that White people are superior to those of all other races, especially the Black race, and should therefore dominate society, dates back to the 1500s. And yet the United States has made it our own. White supremacy is imbued in our culture, is our culture, and exists inside each and every one of us so called White people.

During my lifetime I’ve seen an expansion of civil rights, an amelioration of discrimination, but until now I hadn’t experienced White people slowly inching toward acknowledgement of White supremacy and how it has affected and contemporaneously affects the lives (and deaths) of people of color–especially African-Americans. I’m beginning to see that today. With shame, it took a drumbeat of police shootings and mass incarcerations to finally slam that reality onto the table. If nothing else, this, in and of itself, is damning evidence of our willful blindness.

Although the Occupy movement is no longer in the streets, its fading light continues to shine on the current, horrific reality beneath the rather bland words of income inequality. Again, if not a direct descendent, a descendent nonetheless of movements whose candles often flicker but will not be extinguished. When a society passes the Robber Baron redline something has to give and it CAN’T be 90% of our country. We now live in a society that rewards a company’s stockholders rather than its workers who are paid so little they often need to supplement their income with food stamps. Please.

We can only hope they have gone too far, or we can be effective enough, to believe in a sleeping giant. If only 60 percent of that 90% actually suffer day-to-day from this “income disparity” (a disproportionate number of sufferers being African-American), that giant has the potential to be awakened by this or the next generation who pick up Occupy’s torch, who itself picked it up from…

And if awakened (admittedly a big ‘if’), woe to those few who have stolen and hoarded our nation’s wealth.

No, it’s not the sixties anymore and it sure ain’t Kansas. I’m no Pollyanna or soothsayer but what I see around me, what I experience coming from this generation, gives me hope. The issues mentioned (and there are many more) represent a frontal assault on the engine that drives this country. And that engine will not go quietly into the night. But “a journey of a thousand mile march begins with a single step,” and we took that step a long time ago.

It’s not denial. I’m just selective about the reality I accept. ~ Bill Watterson


I originally planned for this week to be an interview with Norman Mailer in Provincetown, but at the last minute, he called to reschedule. When I asked why, he simply grumbled angrily. The only word I actually understood was Capote and it was said with clear hostility.

Then I understood why he was fucking with me. I had interviewed Truman before him. Damn lucky I haven’t yet done Gore Vidal or Norman would have refused my call. Okay, I get it, though I really won’t be pleased if he bails on me again. Hell, I have a DEAD PEOPLE INTERVIEW series to write.

So I was at loss for this week’s post until I began thinking about how many progressive petitions, donation requests, and single issue emails had flooded my inbox—this week, last week, doubtless next week and forever.. I’ve posted about this before in 2011,(http://zacharykleinonline.com/personal-experience/love-me-im-a-liberal/), but after re-reading the column, I’ve come to a less humorous conclusion.

Fact is, I am bombarded by many decent organizations that care deeply about their particular cause. And,rightly so. But now I’ve got some serious questions—and complaints—about this “single issue” notion of change.

I hang with enough progressives in both my real and virtual life to realize there’s a great deal of antipathy about talking to people who disagree with our progressive programs and ideas. Personally, I think this is foolish. Of course, I’d love to change some hearts and minds, although I’m not optimistic about it. I do, however, think I can better understand how conservatives think about the society and world in which we live. And make no mistake, there’s a huge difference between honest conservatives and the right-wing jihadists who populate Congress and the Supreme Court. True conservatives aren’t about hating government per se. Though they do dislike much of the way our government functions.

Sound familiar, progressives? We dislike much of the way government functions.

Another group that progressives often shun is the 30 to 40 percent of the population that doesn’t bother to vote. This significant percentage includes many blue collar workers, working poor, and poor people—people who are alienated, apathetic, and flat out wary of a government whose programs seemed designed to aid everyone but them. (More about this later.)

And finally, if the emails I receive (DemandProgress.Org, Organic Consumers Organization, Ourfuture.org, ProgressivesUnited, Environmental Working Group, UsAction/TrueMajority, ActBlue, Democracy for America, 350.org etc, etc., etc.) are accurate, progressives aren’t even talking to each other! The problem isn’t the organizations’ causes—most are fighting for real and positive change—but rather their apparent willingness to go it alone. Maybe it’s because they fear that the amount of contributors and resources are too small to share. Or, perhaps the attitude is akin to the myth of individualism I wrote about in last week’s column on detective fiction (http://zacharykleinonline.com/writing/detective-fiction-an-american-myth/).

Most of my progressive friends laugh out loud when I bring up Jesse Jackson. They call him a self-aggrandizing publicity hound willing to go anywhere to garner television appearances or newspaper coverage. I don’t think Jackson is funny at all. Never did. Does he have an ego? Yes. Who doesn’t? His willingness to work with any progressive action, be it unrelenting opposition to racist behavior, unswerving commitment to striking workers, or belief in economic justice, gay rights, and a healthy environment is unquestionable—whatever one thinks of the person.

What makes Jesse Jackson even more important to me was his efforts to build the Rainbow Coalition. While that attempt fizzled, I believe it was the road-map for creating a true progressive political party.

I know. At best the most lasting effect that third parties made in American politics was to have their ideas and issues co-opted by a majority party in diluted form. Yes, there was Robert M. La Follette, Eugene Victor “Gene” Debs, and Norman Thomas all third party candidates, but never a lasting legacy of a national progressive party.

That was then, this is now. Never in my lifetime have I seen dysfunction equal to our present political system. Never have seen the money spent on buying an election as I do now. And never imagined I’d be living in a country that has one right-of-center party and one that’s even further in that direction. Truth is, our political choices have boiled down to ugly or uglier.

Jackson’s road-map is an incredible opportunity to actually create a progressive party with national staying power. But—and there’s always a but—we have to begin by talking to each other to find the common causes that will bind us into an honest coalition. Whether it’s Save the Wolves or Occupy Wall Street, we must find ways to form alliances and commitments where the whole really is greater than the sum of its parts.

If we can do that, we might begin engaging those with whom we share some values (e.g., civil libertarian conservatives), and the alienated, apathetic folks who have simply given up on government. The prospect of reaching out with policies and programs that can truly mean something to those who have lost faith in politics is in our hands. These people are our constituency and, unless we make a concerted effort to create a party that speaks to them—we might as well kiss our political asses goodbye. Because if we’ve learned anything over the past fifty years it’s that Republicans and Democrats are only going to work for the rich and powerful.

“As individual fingers we can easily be broken, but all together we make a mighty fist.”  Sitting Bull


I mean, come on! Did we honestly believe we had any real privacy since J. Edgar first came to power in 1919, led the Palmer Raids and named future Supreme Court justice Felix Frankfurter “the most dangerous man in the United States” for, among other things, founding the ACLU?

Did we honestly believe we had any real privacy after we learned the FBI spied on Dr. King and every other civil rights leader and follower? Infiltrated virtually every Vietnam anti-war organization? Photographed people who attended any other type demonstration? Or, collected personal data on those who protested military and corporate recruitment on college campuses?

Those of us who requested our personal files through the Freedom of Information Act and noticed the multiple redactions certainly knew privacy’s limitations.

It’s never been just Spy vs. Spy; it’s always been spy on all of us.

And even more so after the Internet jumped out to meet us and we climbed right aboard. Where the information superhighway allows data to streak throughout the world and where countries’ boundaries are virtually meaningless. Sure, there were encryptions designed to keep your stuff private, but we all knew they were a joke. Easily broken, even the most sophisticated programs. Still, we sent (and send) emails to each other detailing the most private parts of our lives. We open accounts in banks without walls. We use credit cards to buy shit from stores we’ve never seen and don’t even exist in the “real” world.

Then along came social media and we all announced to our “friends” and anyone else who really wanted to know, what we ate, drank, what music we listened to along with our personal politics, opinions, and attitudes.

And people are getting upset because their calls are being recorded, our privacy invaded? We gave our privacy away decades ago but now we’re shocked? Puh-lease.

Where was all that shock when we allowed the government to pass the Patriot Act? We volunteered to forego our civil liberties in the name of security. Or, the awe when the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act passed—fully equipped with its own secret court?

Secret fucking courts! That’s not what I believe democracy or patriotism is about.

Yes, we’ve been told that these more recent anti-democratic policies begun by President Bush after 9/11 and reauthorized multiple times since have thwarted a number of terrorist plots. Can anyone reading this post name or describe any of these plots? I mean, if they were thwarted, what possible harm would be caused by publicly telling us about them now? Unless of course it’s bullshit.

You all know the list of anti-democratic freedoms we have relinquished in the name of terror since 9/11 and the only reason the shit’s hit the fan now is we’ve discovered the scale to which Big Brother has applied the laws to which we quietly acquiesced.

Did anyone actually believe that Verizon and other telephone and internet carriers would refuse to bend over the chair when the government came calling? This angst and dram is a piss-poor excuse for our refusal to allow these un-American acts to pass and wend their way throughout our society, institutions, and mentality.

So what is going to be done about the fact that we’ve delivered our phone calls (and now the newest travesty, our DNA) into the hands of Big Brother? The ACLU will bring its lawsuits, maybe a few members of Congress will bitch and moan, and the media will express outrage as long as it garners viewers. In other words, nothing.

So let’s make a deal. Collect whatever the fuck you want, whenever you want, but unless the government can prove that any information it has will directly place a person in danger, all their records ought to be available to the public. Completely available. If our government wants to know all about me, then I want to know about each and every part of what they are doing. What’s good for the goose…

I know the naysayers will argue the government would be unable to conduct its business if everybody knew everything. But we did just fine after Daniel Ellsberg released the Pentagon Papers, Woodward and Bernstein exposed Watergate, when Seymour Hersh disclosed the C.I.A.’s massive domestic spying. In fact, many would argue that we did better.

But we learned nothing. Actually, that’s not true. We learned to genuflect to a government (and I mean every administration I’ve lived through) and passively allow them to do it to us all over–again and again. This isn’t what I thought the phrase “what goes around, comes around” meant.

So, let’s demand the release of every government document that does not put a human life in direct danger. And, if it’s found that someone held back information when nobody was in harm’s way, well, then it’s time to open the jail cell doors.

I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.