Who will Call the Question?

This Man who is President is breaking all imaginable standards of basic decency, respect and responsibility.
Many of us have known this, been obsessing about it, and been trying to figure out what to do since his ascendence into power. But the Republicans have enabled him at every turn.
Where was the intervention when he spoke so cruelly about immigrants, women, people of color? When he passed rules and regulations that destroy honorable diplomacy? When he bullied and lied every day?
Trump has been dragging the entire country down the proverbial “slippery slope” since his illegitimate electoral “victory” 20 months ago, enabled by cowardly(at best), and collusive (at worst) Republican enablers.
STOP. Enough.
The Republicans in Congress have all the power. The Courts have other judicial restraints. The opposition cannot be “loyal”, even a little bit, for even a minute more.
Congress can meet and censure him. Congress can demand that he resign. A group of Bipartisan leaders can visit him unofficially, and/or with police escort, and demand his resignation. They can declare him unfit for office. Pence can denounce him and call for him resign, or threaten in own resignation.  But this has to stop.
If Republicans at every level don’t demand this now, shame on them.  Same on us all if we allow it to continue as if it is normal.  The world is waiting, and watching. Our children and grandchildren are waiting.
Enough. No excuses.
If we don’t do all we can to stop him now we are ALL guilty.

Ann Withorn, Citizen, Outraged inhabitant of this state, this nation this world. July 2018.

Acting Up, Not Out


On May 3,  I gave this as Keynote Conversation at York University in Toronto http://ppw.info.yorku.ca

Acting Up, Not Out: Facing the Perils and Possibilities of Radical Practice

Kieran Allen, Chair, Co-Animators: Ifrah Ali, John Clarke, Sandy Hudson, David McNally, Petra Molnar, Justin Podur, and Sheila Regehr


1. What can we learn from the history of radical movements, and where do we fit into this history?

2. What constitutes a Radical Practice for us today?

3. Who are we up against, and how do we face the implications of their assumptions and goals?

4. How do we respond to internal disagreements within our movements and still Keep on Keeping on?

5. How can we continue to move and act with radical vision and skills — in the face of these Very Bad times with all their accompanying pressures to settle for “realistic” options?

6. What are Some Radical Specifics for Radical Policy Changes? —–A Working List: Modify and Add to it…
See Ann’s website for more context https://radicalreentry.com

QUESTION ONE: What can we learn from the history of radical movements, and where do we fit into this history?

• We can’t learn without history, AND we must not romanticize it. We do so with real stories, with real people in them. Remember those times when identification with “The Movement” brought out the best in us.

• The Abolitionist Movement was the “touchstone movement” that set the model of bedrock commitment to radical equality. At its best, it exposed white supremacy as profoundly toxic –even if most white Americans didn’t all learn this lesson deeply enough.

• The Abolitionist Movement was inspired and led by people who experienced slavery personally, and who taught others to engage in “the movement” in myriad ways, setting an example for broad-based movements that has not been equaled.

QUESTION TWO: What constitutes Radical Practice for us today

• What is radically wrong must be examined carefully, and collective means for achieving change must be presented openly, without downplaying costs, or denying consequences. Otherwise our Movement should not be trusted.

• Inclusiveness and Openness about methods and standards for Radical Movement Practice are essential, as is a self-aware, committed base. Written expectations are good: “What is to Be Done and How do we know we are doing it?” — but folks must avoid danger of “the form remaining while the spirit passes away.”

• Assumptions of Radical Reformism (Gorz) are essential — failures MUST suggest the next radical change — not de-legitimate radical goals, even as they are subject to constant self-criticism

QUESTION THREE Who and What are we up against? and how do we face the implications of their assumptions and goals?

• The Opposition is composed of real people with fundamentally reactionary values and goals. Acknowledge, don’t dismiss, nor demean their commitment and the seriousness of their cause. Read their literature. Be prepared to expose the dangers, without fear of being “rigid.”

• Trump is NOT a joke, neither are his sycophants, followers and enablers — they knowingly hurt real people every day, and frighten those already in jeopardy.

• We cannot see individual Right-wingers as just “mistaken” or “misled”. Until they publicly apologize, it’s not worth the effort to try to change closed minds. BUT, we must gather evidence and prepare sharp counter arguments.

• White Supremacy blocks people from considering other explanations for what hurts them. We cannot forget this, and must figure out how to talk about and fight it everywhere, all the time

QUESTION FOUR; How do we respond to internal disagreements within our movements and still Keep on Keeping on?

• Don’t deny our disagreements. They are reasonable and should be examined — even if they finally lead to rearrangement of relationships. We can disagree respectfully and part without acrimony or making all “choose sides.”

• Constantly seek new alliances, and forge collaborative relationships, built on explorations of differences and openness about past tensions. The message: we don’t all have to agree but we can’t deny the implications of our arguments

• Remind ourselves of original goals, and specifically ask ourselves if they need rethinking — because of changing circumstances and new members. Anticipate internal change.

QUESTION FIVE: Nothing to IT, but to Do it — How do we continue to move and act with radical vision and skills — in the face of these Very Bad times, with all their accompanying pressures to settle for “realistic” options?

• Know what has changed. Don’t be fooled — keep seeking a wider net of potential comrades. Get to know each other as fellow human beings.

• Assume that leadership and demographics of power within our movement will, and MUST change over time. White people, especially men, must stand aside and assume supporting roles. LBGT presence is a Positive asset, as it lots of variety of cultural inclusion. Accept that this is not temporary, and is substantively essential. Respect and early questioning of past assumptions are our only hope.

• Keep track of ourselves, our tensions, our changes. Create the primary material for future history. Keep on Keeping On


Don’t shy away from proposing because they seem “impossible;” or it is not clear how to fund them. Of course, we will need more Public money — So What? AND be open for Critical Questioning from within.   KEEP CORRECTING, AND ADDING TO THE LIST, BUT STAY THINKING BIG
  •  Universal non-categorical Basic Income for All
  • Free Higher Education and a Student Loan Debt Jubilee
  • National Service for All — beyond military service, all non-profit community, educational and social service — with equivalent national benefits for two years before or after high school equivalency
  • Health Care for All — keep expanding the vision of “public”, and lowering regard for “private”
  • Open Immigration — why boundaries?
  • End Mass Incarceration, the criminalization of poverty and the Prison Industrial Complex
  • End Disability exceptionalism which relegates people with disabilities to a side issue
  • Gender Parity in leadership — Exceptions are not Allowed, otherwise we never get there
  • Universal environmental protections


Freedom is always, and exclusively, freedom for the ones who think differently.”―Rosa Luxemburg

“To be truly radical is to make hope possible rather than despair convincing”
― Raymond Williams

“Next time, ask: What’s the worst that will happen? Then push yourself a little further than you dare. Once you start to speak, people will yell at you. They will interrupt you, put you down and suggest it’s personal. And the world won’t end.
And the speaking will get easier and easier. And you will find you have fallen in love with your own vision, which you may never have realized you had. And you will lose some friends and lovers, and realize you don’t miss them. And new ones will find you and cherish you. And at last you’ll know with surpassing certainty that only one thing is more frightening than speaking your truth.
And that is not speaking.”— Audre Lorde

Fascism on our Doorstep? Crazy to think so? even if it may not be true (yet)…

Timothy Snyder is a Yale historian whose writing about Fascism and authoritarianism in Europe has reinforced my long-held defense of a state, with publically recognized rules, as essential for protecting ourselves in the worst of times. Without an identifiable public state system of some sort, it is harder for anyone to claim rights, name wrongs, and build movements for economic or social justice.

In Bloodlands: the Holocaust as History and Warning, (2016), Snyder offers a telling analysis of how this works. I draw upon his thinking when I challenge my more anarchist comrades’  blanket denunciations of “the state” or the “welfare systems.” I use his historical analysis of how the rendering of Jews as “stateless” allowed Nazis in Eastern Europe to destroy people much more efficiently and quickly than they were able to do in Germany,.  I cite him when I argue that many refugees in the US today are especially vulnerable because they often cannot claim any “rights of citizenship;” anywhere.  We can’t even deport people back to “failed states” that will not  or cannot claim to protect them.

Because I find his writing so powerful, I sometimes call myself a “Timothy Snyder groupie.” I try to hear him whenever he speaks locally, or on NPR, or anywhere on the web. I read what he writes, and am increasingly comforted by how he too fears so many of the same things I do.  And he seems increasingly willing to speak out.

Snyder sees the deep, radical danger posed by Trumpism — not just because of his particular fixations regarding health care, reform, or “Islamic terrorism”, or Russia, or whatever else he decides is “bad” on this day. . Snyder too is willing to label Trump’s whole approach to governing,  and to the state he now controls, as incipiently “fascist”. He sees it as coming out of the same cesspool of white supremacy, nationalism, and misogyny that has been present since the founding of this nation.. He is even willing to suggests possibilities that may not work out.

We should all listen, hard.  .

Please read this interview, share it if you will, and tell me what you think.

If We Don’t Act Now, Fascism Will Be on Our Doorstep, Yale Historian Timothy Snyder warns;

By Steven Rosenfeld / AlterNet 3/ 7/2017

How close is President Donald Trump to following the path blazed by last century’s tyrants? Could American democracy be replaced with totalitarian rule? There’s enough resemblance that Yale historian Timothy Snyder, who studies fascist and communist regime change and totalitarian rule, has written a book warning about the threat and offering lessons for resistance and survival. The author of On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century talked to AlterNet’s Steven Rosenfeld.

Steven Rosenfeld: Three weeks ago, you said that the country has perhaps a year ‘to defend American democracy.’ You said what happens in the next few weeks is crucial. Are you more concerned than ever that our political culture and institutions are evolving toward fascism, resembling key aspects of the early 20th-century European regimes you’ve studied?

Timothy Snyder: Let me answer you in three parts. The first thing is that the 20 lessons that I wrote, I wrote on November 15th. The book, On Tyranny, was done by Christmas. Which means if people read it now, and people are reading it, and it’s describing the world they are in, that means I’ve successfully made predictions based on history. We’re going to talk about what is going to come, but I want to point out that timeline—it was basically completely blind. But the book does describe what is going on now.

The year figure is there because we have to recognize that things move fast. Nazi Germany took about a year. Hungary took about two and a half years. Poland got rid of the top-level judiciary within a year. It’s a rough historical guess, but the point is because there is an outside limit, you therefore have to act now. You have to get started early. It’s just very practical advice. It’s the meta-advice of the past: That things slip out of reach for you, psychologically very quickly, and then legally almost as quickly. It’s hard for people to act when they feel other people won’t act. It’s hard for people to act when they feel like they have to break the law to do so. So it is important to get out in front before people face those psychological and legal barriers.

Am I more worried now? I realize that was your question. No, I’m exactly as worried as I was before, in November. I think that the people who inhabit the White House inhabit a different ideological world in which they would like for the United States not to be the constitutional system that it now is. I was concerned about that in November. I’m concerned about it now. Nothing that has happened since has changed the way I see things.

SR: Let’s talk about how this evolution takes place. You’ve written about how ‘post-truth is pre-fascism.’ You talk about leaders ignoring facts, law and history. How far along this progression are we? I’m wondering where you might see things going next.

TS: That’s tough because what history does is give you a whole bunch of cases where democratic republics beco regimes; sometimes fascist regimes, sometimes communist regimes. It doesn’t give you one storyline: A, B, C, D. It gives you a bunch of clusters of A, and a bunch of clusters of C. But factuality is really important and more important than people realize, because it’s the substructure of regime change.

We think about democracy, and that’s the word that Americans love to use, democracy, and that’s how we characterize our sem. But if democracy just means going to vote, it’s pretty meaningless. Russia has democracy in that sense. Most authoritarian regimes have democracy in that sense. Nazi Germany had democracy in that sense, even after the system had fundamentally changed.

Democracy only has substance if there’s the rule of law. That is, if people believe that the votes are going to be counted and they are counted. If they believe that there’s a judiciary out there that will make sense of things if there’s some challenge. If there isn’t rule of law, people will be afraid to vote the way they want to vote. They’ll vote for their own safety as opposed to their convictions. So the thing we call democracy depends on the rule of law. And the things we call the rule of law depends upon trust. Law functions 99 percent of the time automatically. It functions because we think it’s out there. And that, in turn, depends on the sense of truth. So there’s a mechanism here. You can get right to heart of the matter if you can convince people that there is no truth. Which is why the stuff that we characterize as post-modern and might dismiss is actually really, really essential.

The second thing about ‘post-truth is pre-fascism’ is I’m trying to get people’s attention, because that is actually how fascism works. Fascism says, disregard the evidence of your senses, disregard observation, embolden deeds that can’t be proven, don’t have faith in god but have faith in leaders, take part in collective myth of an organic national unity, and so forth. Fascism was precisely about setting the whole Enlightenment aside and then selling what sort of myths emerged. Now those [national] myths are pretty unpredictable, and contingent on different nations and different leaders and so on, but to just set facts aside is actually the fastest catalyst. So that part concerns me a lot.

Where we’re going? The classic thing to watch out for is the shift from one governing strategy to another. In the U.S. system, the typical governing strategy is you more or less have to follow your constituents with legislation because of the election cycle. That’s one pulse of politics. The other pulse of politics is emergency. There’s some kind of terrorist attack and then the leader tries to suspend basic constitutional rights. And then we get on a different rhythm, where the rhythm is not one electoral cycle to the next but one emergency to the next. That’s how regime changes take place. It’s a classic way since the Reichstag fire [when the Nazis burned their nation’s capitol building and blamed communist arsonists].

So in terms of what might happen next, or what people could look out for, some kind of event that the government claims is a terrorist incident, would be something to be prepared for. That’s why it’s one of the lessons in the book.SR: You have talked before about that kind of emergency justification—and even with Vladimir Putin in Russia. Is that what you think would happen here? Because with the exception of the judiciary, a lot of American institutions, like Congress, are not really resisting. They’re going along.TS: They’re going along… but my own intuition would be the emergency situation arises because going along isn’t going to be enough. Paradoxically, Congress is going along and is going to pass a bunch of stuff, which is not actually very popular. Right? It’s not going to be so popular to have millions of people lose health insurance, which is what’s going to happen. The ironic things about the Republican Congress is now it has the ability to do everything it wants to do, but none of what it wants to do is that popular. Except with the few big lobbies, of course. The freedom the Republicans have is the freedom to impose their agenda on down.

The same thing goes with Mr. Trump. The things that he might do that some people would like, like building a wall or driving all the immigrants out, those things are going to be difficult or slow. In the case of the wall, I personally don’t believe it will ever happen. It’s going to be very slow. So my suspicion is that it is much easier to have a dramatic negative event, than have a dramatic positive event. That is one of the reasons I am concerned about the Reichstag fire scenario. The other reason is that we are being mentally prepared for it by all the talk about terrorism and by the Muslim ban. Very often when leaders repeat things over and over they are preparing you for when that meme actually emerges in reality.

SR: I want to change the topic slightly. You cite many examples from Germany in 1933, the year Hitler consolidated power. So what did ordinary Germans miss that’s relevant for ordinary Americans now? I know some of this is the blurring of facts. But when I have talked to Holocaust survivors, they often say, nobody ever thought things would be that bad, or nobody thought he Germans would go as far as they did.

TS: The German Jews then, and people now, don’t understand how quick their neighbors will change; don’t understand how quickly society can change. They don’t understand the fact that a life that’s been predictable for a long time, doesn’t mean that it will be predictable tomorrow. And people like to think that their experience is exceptional. German Jews might have thought, ‘Well, there were pogroms [ethnic cleansing] in Russia, but surely nothing like that could happen here.’ That’s what many German Jews thought. So one issue is people need to realize how quickly things can change.

The second thing that German Jews were not aware of, or Germans were not aware of, was how new media can quickly change conversations. In that way, it’s not exactly the same, but radio at that time often ended up being a channel for propaganda. There are parallels with the internet now, where there were hopes that it would be [primarily] enlightening. But in fact, it turns out that with presidential tweets, or with bots, or isolated habits of viewing, it isn’t necessarily enlightening. It’s the opposite. A lot of us were blindsided by the internet in much the same way that people could be blindsided by radio in the 1930s.But here’s the other view. The one that we have that German Jews didn’t have in 1933 is we have their experience. That’s the premise of the whole book; the premise is that the 20th century showed us what can happen, and there’s lots of wonderful scholarship by German historians and others, which breaks down what can happen and how. And so, one of the first things that we should be doing is taking advantage of the one opportunity that we really have that they didn’t, which is to learn from that history. And that’s the premise of the book.

SR: All of your book’s lessons are very personal: Don’t obey in advance. Believe in truth. Stand out. Defend institutions. Be calm but as courageous as you can be. Yet the change or oppression that you are talking about is systemic and institutional. What do you say to people who say, ‘I’ll try, but I may not have the power here.’ There’s that cliche, tilting at windmills. …

TS: Well, if everyone tilted against a windmill, the windmill would fall down, right? Party of the tragedy of Don Quixote is he’s tilting against the wrong thing. So that’s not our problem. We’re pretty sure what the problem is. But he was also alone except for his faithful companion. We’re not really alone. There are millions and millions of people who are looking for that thing to do. Just by sheer math, if everyone does a little thing, it will make a difference. And much of what I am recommending is—you’re right, they are things that people can do, but they also involve some kind of engagement. Whether it’s the small talk [with those you disagree with] or whether it’s the corporeal politics. And that little bit of engagement helps you realize that what you are doing has a kind of sense, even if it doesn’t immediately change the order.

And finally, a lot of the political theory that I am calling upon, which comes from the anti-Nazis and the anti-communists, makes the point that even though you don’t realize it, your own example matters a whole lot, whether it’s positively or negatively. There are times, and this is one of those times, where small gestures, or their absence, can make a huge difference. So the things that might not have mattered a year ago do matter now. The basic thing is we are making a difference whether we realize it or not, and the basic question is whether it is positive or negative.

Let me put it a different way. Except for really dramatic moments, most of the time authoritarianism depends on some kind of cycle involving a popular consent of some form. It really does matter how we behave. The danger is [if] we say, ‘Well, we don’t see how it matters, and so therefore we are going to just table the whole question.’ If we do that, then we start to slide along and start doing the things that the authorities expect of us. Which is why lesson number one is: Don’t obey in advance. You have to set the table differently. You have to say, ‘This is a situation in which I need to think for myself about all of the things that I am going to do and not just punt. Not just wait. Nor just see how things seems to me. Because if you do that, then you change and you actually become part of the regime change toward authoritarianism.’

SR: You cite in the book something I read in high school: Eugene Ionesco’s existential play about fascism, Rhinoceros, where people talk about their colleagues at work, in academia, saying stuff like, ‘Come on, I don’t agree with everything, but give him a chance.’ Ionesco’s point is that people join an unthinking herd before they know it.

What would you suggest people do, when they run into others who fall on this spectrum?

TS: There are a few questions here. One is how to keep yourself going. Another is how to energize other people who agree with you. And the third thing is not quite Rhinoceros stuff, but how to catch people who are slipping. Like that CNN coverage last week of the speech to Congress, where one of the CNN commentators said, ‘Oh, now this is presidential.’ That was a Rhinoceros moment, because there was nothing presidential—it was atrocious to parade the victims of crimes committed by one ethnicity. That was atrocious and there’s nothing presidential about it.

Catching Rhinoceros moments is one thing. I think it’s really important to think about. The example that Ionesco gives is people saying, ‘Yeah, on one hand, with the Jews, maybe they are right.’ With Trump, people will say something like, ‘Yeah, but on taxes, maybe he’s right.’ And the thing to catch is, ‘Yeah, but are you in favor of regime change? Are you in favor of the end of the American way of democracy and fair play?’ Because that’s what’s really at stake.

With people all the way over at the end of the spectrum who are now confident about Trump—that’s a different subject. I think it’s important to maintain impossible human relations across that divide, because some of those people are going to change their minds. It’s harsh. But some will change their minds, and if they have no one to talk to, it will be much harder for them to change their minds. At different points on the spectrum, you have to think in different ways. My own major concern right now is with self-confidence and the energy of the people who do have the deep—and, I think incorrect—conviction that something has gone wildly wrong.

SR: The people who have the conviction that something has gone wildly wrong—that can describe Trump supporters and Trump opponents.

TS: That’s a good point. So much of this is personal. In the book, I don’t actually mention anybody’s name, except the thinkers who I admire. So much of this is personal that people think, ‘Well, if you say anything critical, it is about you as a person, and how you don’t like anything about someone who likes Trump.’ That’s a way for there to be no political discussion.

I think it’s useful, even though you will never win the argument, when you are talking about people who support to the administration, to stay at the level of the Constitution. To stay at the level of freedom, or stay at the level of basic issues, like, is global warming really going to be so great, when the entire Pentagon says that it is a national security threat? Or, is it really such a good idea to treat Muslims like this? Or, is it really going to be so good when millions of people lose health insurance?

Keep it at the level of issues as much as possible, because what I’ve found is the pattern that people shift to is, ‘Why are you going to be so hard on this guy? Give him a chance.’ But the issues of what’s constitutional, what is actually American, and what’s going to be a policy that they are going to be proud of a year from now—keep the conversation closest to the Constitution. It’s easiest to be dismissed when it’s personal. And fundamentally, this is the trick. It isn’t personal. It doesn’t matter who’s in charge. What matters is the system, which people of very different convictions take for granted, is now under threat.

SR: You have said that the Muslims are being targeted as the Jews were targeted in Germany. But out here in California, it also feels like the deportation machinery is getting ready for undocumented immigrants. On Monday, Reuters reported that Homeland Security officials said they might separate mothers from kids when making arrests. Germany did that as it rounded up Jews. Don’t they face just as grave a threat?

TS: With the Muslims, the resemblance to anti-Semitic policy in Germany in ’33 is that if you can pick some group and make them stand in for some international threat, then you can change domestic politics, because domestic politics then is no longer about compromises and competing interests, domestic politics is about who inside the society should actually be seen and outside the society. Once you get the wedge in with the first group, them you essentially win. It could be the Muslims. It could be somebody else, is the point. The political logic is basically the same.

With undocumented immigrants, I think the logic might be a little bit different. I think the goal might be to get us used to seeing a certain kind of police power. And getting us used to seeing things happening to people in public. And then if we get used to that, then we might be more willing for the dial to turn a little bit further. It’s too soon for me to speculate confidently about all of this.

I think you’re right though, it could be the Muslims, but it doesn’t have to be the Muslims. The crucial thing is to get some kind of in [political opening] where people go along with or accept stigmatization. And the logic is there’s always some kind of threat that comes from beyond the country. And that we can fix that threat on a group of people inside the country. And if you go along with this, what else are you agreeing to go along with?

SR: To go back to your book, what you’re saying is that people should be vigilant, should know their values and participate at some level with making those values known, because that is what ordinary people can do.

TS: Yes. The point of the book is [that] we are facing a real crisis and a real moment of choice. The possibilities are much darker than Americans are used to considering. But at the same time, what we can do is much more important than we realize. The regime will only change if the gamble of the people in the White House is right: That many of us despise many others of us and that most of us are indifferent. If it turns out that there are emotions and values that are more numerous and more vibrant than indifference and hatred, things are going to be okay. That depends on us. That depends on us making certain realizations. It depends on us acting fast. In that sense it’s a test, not just collectively. Maybe there’s no such thing as a collective test. But it is a test for us individually.

Most Americans who haven’t been abroad haven’t been faced by something like this. And hopefully they won’t be faced with it again. But we are faced with it as citizens and as individuals. And I think, five or 10 years from now, no matter how things turn out, we’ll ask ourselves—or our children will ask us—how we behaved in 2017.









Trying to Keep on Top of the Craziness

The barrage of stories from the first month of Trump’s Reign of Reaction has been intense.  I wake up ready to respond to the latest outrage.  But before I can compose myself, others have done so, with more clarity than I can muster.  For example, just last week, I was ready to write a broiling post entitled:  Republicans to Elizabeth Warren: “Shut Up, Girlie. We don’t even want to hear your shrill voice”: Our response:”We are women, Hear us Roar.”  But by then Maureen Dowd, Michelle Alexander,  or Gail Collins, and lots of others had already roared. So who was I to think my voice was so special?

Still, I guilt trip myself: why did I miss a meeting, or a resistance conference call: “How can I not be there? Will I miss a crucial act in the Seizure of Power? Or the chance to hear the One Good Idea that will show us the way to act, or at least to think?  I, who declare myself to be “Radically Reentering”? I obsess. I forward enough emails for my friends to block me.  I irritate my loved ones — one of whom said quietly to me “Mom, I read the news too.” I don’t write in my blog often because it seems too public, unpolished, and since I am so hyped up, I may have to apologize within a day for what I said, or didn’t say.

I remember being this worked up 45 years ago. As a budding historian I had never thought this county could launch a revolution from the Left, although as a White Southerner I was always ready for any  Rightwing rebellion.  But then, on a Movement bus to hear some Black Panthers speak out against the War, and racism, and “Amerika”,  I heard myself say: “maybe we will have a Revolution, because I just can’t take it anymore.”

Luckily, I figured out quickly how foolish, and self-absorbed, this was.  “We” had no plan, no strategy, no sense even of who constituted our “we” — and certainly we had no analysis of who would be the losers if we radicals were wrong in declaring that the Time was Now. We white radicals had no ideas about how to get out of the way so that those who would be most in danger in any revolution could take leadership. We simply were not the ones to lead any revolution in this so badly compromised USA.  We shouldn’t try to do so; we couldn’t do so, and if we tried, we would fuck up and others who were poorer and darker would pay the price for our arrogance.

SO I kept trying:  trying to live with a sense of purpose, to teach, write and act as part of the Resistance.  To be someone who never expected or wanted to fit in.  Sure , because I was a white, heterosexual and married, I was able to find a base within a public university in a Northern state and city.  So I was able to be ok.   I tried to stay oppositional in words, if not always in deeds. But this was seldom more than an internally generated necessity.  I had no community demanding radical resistance from me, no one to really hold me to account.

But that doesn’t feel true now.

These are crazy-making times.  I have no excuses.  Even more, I have deep obligations to resist to a point of intensity that makes others uncomfortable, or to avoid me. I don’t know what this means, really.  But I have to keep at it, with help from my friends and those who must insist.  Exactly because I know that the Forces of Reaction will win a lot more before they can be pushed back, I have to keep at it, in any way this poor 70 year old mind and body can manage.

On Being a White Eastern Intellectual — But hopefully not an Elitist one

On Being a White Eastern Intellectual — But, hopefully, NOT an Elitist one

Ann Withorn, December 2, 2016   http://www.Radicalreentry.com

Last night I attended a Radcliffe talk by Jacob Hacker about “American Amnesia.” I wanted to hear a noted liberal ivy-league intellectual discuss our political situation. Although prepared to be made uncomfortable by the precious surroundings, and to be critical of the expected prideful expertise of the speaker and audience, it seemed worthwhile.

It was.

Hacker’s talk was non-pretentious, and as infused with unease about how he too had not really anticipated the election, and how unsure he is about how to respond as everybody else is. No arrogance. Just trying to think out loud, building on his latest book and life’s work. He set an example for how all of us should be reacting to the debacle.

When pushed about why he had not spoken about race and whiteness, he responded simply that he “should have.” He explained how in his book he had discussed race, while acknowledging that he had not spoken nor written more about the “predatory state” and its targeted “disproportionate impacts” on people of color. No shillyshallying.

Hacker answered another question doubting whether “bipartisanship” is possible now, with a thoughtful analysis of how sharpening party alignments make compromise was far less useful to either party anymore. Especially, he speculated, this happens because Republicans have seemingly almost given up on both governing and government. The only question he flubbed was from a local public university professor who asked about possibilities for re-activated progressive social movements. He did not deny their potential role, but just seemed unconnected from such close-to-the-ground possibilities.

Through the long Q&A, Hacker listened respectfully, picking up on on aspects of questions about which he felt able to comment. But he did not feel called upon to present himself as expert on everything. This is usually difficult for a Yale professor at Harvard to do.

It was impressive, enlightening, and informed by the presence of a room full of smart, critically inclined people who self-identified as students, academics or “members of the public”. Lots were women; fewer were obviously “of color.” But all were engaged and paying attention.

I have to admit I felt comfortable there. And then I felt equally uncomfortable with the realization that, as much as I have long tried to run away from it, I am a white Eastern Intellectual. I don’t think I am an Elitist, but I do value serious learning and a “life of the mind,” even as that life remains so distanced from so many people.

Throughout much of my post-Harvard, public university-based life of social activism, I disparaged the whole academic milieu that helped me grow up to comprehend and to achieve. I scorned the we-know-betterist pretentiousness of Harvard. This Fall, when the Kennedy School received a multi-million dollar grant to study poverty, I was outraged. Just because they are at Harvard, who do they think they are to supersede all the already existing excellent research of my friends and colleagues at U.Mass.Boston, and elsewhere in the City? Not to mention to ignore the longstanding and already deep knowledge about poverty embodied in all sorts of Boston people?

But after last night, I must argue for hard thinking, for deep historical knowledge, and for all sorts of “data”, regardless of the source, as our best hope for confronting Trumpism. AND I must acknowledge that hard thinking, historical awareness and important research often do occur within universities — especially in those with the funding and conglomerate of expertise that places like Harvard and Yale exemplify. Yes, the environment there is often disrespectful to those who are not “deeply connected.” But not always. And even so, I am wrong to deny how much can be learned there, protected by the privilege of achievement.

Maybe my best hope today is that my post-Harvard life has taught me how much more and different intelligence can be found beyond the white eastern intellectual redoubt. This are things I know that many people still in such places do not. I know, as my wonderful Detroit husband George always says, that “their shit doesn’t smell like ice cream, either.” I know, for example, that poor women have insights and theories drawn from their lives that must be heard, and that many workers (especially union members) are able to examine what it hurting them in complex, excruciating detail. And, especially, I know that the direct perspectives of Black and brown people are essential to any way out of our current mess.

Maybe now that the times demand radical realignments of all sorts, I can help more that I have heretofore tried to translate across boundaries. It must be possible to overcome the inherent limits of it all: from the whiteness, the undeserved privilege, and from all the other protections of class and educational advantage. Such “social capital” is only valuable when it proves worthy of being useful. But maybe it is time for me and others like me to try harder.

We cannot pretend to be “elite”, much less to have any natural claim to leadership. But neither can we deny that we may have useful information and tools to share, when asked — if we can do so with humility and in anticipation of being corrected. All the time.

Please see below for some historical background for this post. It’s also on my website



Published: Thursday, April 23, 1970

To the Editors of the CRIMSON:

I am leaving graduate school. I am leaving because I do not think history is a “business” as Professor Bailyn has said it is. I am leaving because all intellectual enthusiasm is being drained out of me by studying for generals and writing and thinking to please others. I am leaving because I am horrified when Professor Handlin suggests “ranking” our class from one to fifteen as an alternative to grades. I am leaving because Roman history means nothing to me and I can think of better ways to discipline my mind. I am leaving because I am already “withdrawn” from a Department which Professor Bailyn describes as “senior faculty.” I am leaving because I cannot associate with a faculty which can criticize someone for having “too much imagination and not enough tough-mindedness.” Spare me from the tough-minded of this world.

I am leaving because I do not wish to be in the ambiguous position of earning a Harvard Ph.D. in order to prove to people that a Harvard Ph.D. means nothing. I am leaving because the History Department “Revolution” last year has been ignored: all that has happened has been the appointment of a graduate student advisor, the establishment of an “auditory” student-faculty committee, the promise of a History Center in the Yard, and the promise of a paper justifying Department policies. I am leaving because the best teacher in the Department, Professor Bailys, admits that he envies a scholar who can work without ever teaching. I am leaving because I do not want a degree which is, as Professor Freidel says, simply a “union card” which allows me to teach in an “acceptable” school. Spare me from the “acceptable” schools of this world.

I am leaving because I do not believe a “relevancy crisis” is sophomoric but that it is something which one should have every day of one’s life. I am leaving because one professor’s opposition was enough to prevent me from transferring from History into American Civ. I am leaving because I do not think that one should necessarily be polite to the Visiting Professor Links who identify with and justify the Woodrow Wilsons of this world. I am leaving because I deny the elitism which Harvard represents and, even worse, in which people at Harvard believe. I am leaving because Professor May says that studying history means that one must constantly discipline oneself to do what one does not want to do. Spare us all from the discipline of Dean May’s world.

I am leaving because the more I learn of what Harvard does in the community, and to its students and employees and of what it means throughout the world, the more ashamed I am of getting a Harvard degree. I am leaving because it is embarrassing to hear a Department Chairman admitting frankly that “I think you are being victimized, but there is nothing I can do about it.” I am leaving even though I respect and appreciate the sincere professional concern which Professors Buck and Freidel have shown me. I am leaving because Professor Heimert-my last, best hope-does not think I should study popular literature either. I am leaving because when I look around I am afraid of what Harvard Graduate School does to people’s souls. I am leaving because I am already so estranged from the Department that I cannot tell any one of them that I am going before I write this letter. I am leaving because I want to teach in junior or community colleges where a Harvard Ph.D. could create an additional barrier between students and myself. I am leaving because Professor May thinks America was imperialist for only a three-year period and because Professor Handlin thinks black people are only another ethnic group. I am leaving because “preserving the amenities” at Harvard means denying any chance for change. Spare us from the “amenities” of any world.

I am leaving because graduate school is making me forget why I ever wanted to learn American History. I am leaving even though Professor Fleming can ask fascinating questions of history. I am leaving because Professor Bailyn says “the Loyalists, we…” I am leaving because studying for generals proved to me that I could pass them but that in the process my mind might be permanently numbed. I am leaving because I have not been learning anything I wanted to learn or could not learn on my own. I am leaving and sending this letter to lots of people in the hopes that it might articulate some feelings others share. I am leaving although it might seem to prove some people right: in fact it does not. I am leaving because I finally realized that it is not great tragedy not to acquire a Harvard Ph.D. I am leaving because I hope to find a better way of learning and teaching and maybe even of living. In the end, I am leaving because I am tired of being told not to be so idealistic about my education. Somebody once said: “the call to abandon illusions about our condition is a call to abandon a condition which requires illusions.” Spare me.

Whitelash in the White House

Last Wednesday I was rude with a good friend, someone whom I always knew was not a Clinton supporter, nor a Democrat and is a radical critic of our electoral process. But when we spoke on the phone, I just could not listen to her say that she was “glad Hillary didn’t win, not that she supported Trump, but…..” At that point, I couldn’t listen, I cut our conversation off.

Now I feel bad about being so rigid and disrespectful. Here I what I wrote to apologize.

“I AM deeply frightened by Trump, and fearful that so many people will ignore his racist, misogynist, xenophobic demagoguery. I grew up with people like him and still have almost panic reactions to his style and message. I couldn’t talk on Wednesday, but four days after the election, I now understand why you can say that you are glad Clinton didn’t win. While I can’t quite go there, I do find myself feeling relieved that I don’t have to seem to defend her kind of white neoliberal we-know-betterism any more.

I felt much better last Wednesday night after marching around with more than a thousand young, black, brown and angry people in downtown Boston chanting “He’s not MY President”. No one was calling FOR Hillary. Just for something better.  

Now, as bad as Trump and the Republicans are, at least we can just organize against them–if they don’t arrest, silence or deport us first. We can now make clear demands and plans for more truly radical change that don’t have to be vetted by mainstream Democrats. We don’t have to seem to support the worst parts of Hillary, or even Obama, any more. That’s over”

Now, one week further on, I am now feeling both worse and better.

I feel worse because now that Trump is President-elect, the good citizenry is being admonished “not to judge him by what he said during the campaign, but to give him a chance.” Some are taking heart from his 90 minutes with Obama, or because he is talking about the parts of Obamacare he can live with. He said a few good words about Clinton, and taken the most anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant material off his website. Yet he has also appointed Steve Bannon of Breibart to be his Alt-Right Man in the White House. Others insist that his white working class supporters didn’t really agree with him, they just were in pain and trusted him as “a business man, who wouldn’t be trapped by all the political correctness.”

At best, Trump voters heard what he said, but think “he didn’t really mean it,” Pardon me, what part of voting FOR him to be President didn’t they hear? Maybe he will have to “face reality and realize he has to govern,” as one friend hopes.I try not to scream, “but Trump doesn’t want to govern, he wants to rule.” Unless checked, he will do all he can to derail hope for positive governing — for protecting, much less advancing social rights.         When Trump says, “You know what I mean,” we do, and it’s not good.

 I feel worse too because I can’t help but think about Hitler. About how he never won the popular vote. About how the German establishment thought they could control him, that he would have to come around. But he didn’t; he moved on and over them. He felt no obligations to respect traditional processes, except for the sake of temporary appearances. He gave permission to his followers to say and do whatever was disruptive, whatever was somehow justified as necessary, and never really condemned them until it served his political purposes. He moved on to build a “national community,” through his programs of “strength through joy.”

People who knew what was happening were afraid. Jews and non-Jewish socialists left if they could. Other non-Jews engaged in what they called “inner migration” trying to stay out of public life. It sort of worked for awhile, until in six years, it didn’t work at all.

I feel worse when I remember the brief hopes of post-Civil War Radical Reconstruction, hopes that so many black (and some white) people tried to realize until they were betrayed by growing Northern opposition and indifference in the face of murderous white violence. Finally their best efforts came to be scorned within most mainstream and popular history for almost a century. W.E.B.DuBois’ assessment forces itself back on us: “One reads the truer deeper facts of Reconstruction with a great despair. It is at once so simple and human, and yet so futile…The unending tragedy of Reconstruction is the utter inability of the American mind to grasp its real significance, its national and world-wide implications”.

As I face the failure of Southern and other states even to adopt the simple Medicaid extension options offered by Obamacare, I must recall Dubois’ rueful observation that

 ‘The South, after the war, presented the greatest opportunity for a real national labor movement which the nation ever saw or is likely to see…Yet the labor movement, with but few exceptions, never realized the situation. It never had the intelligence or knowledge, as a whole, to see in black slavery and Reconstruction, the kernel and meaning of the labor movement in the United States. When white laborers were convinced that the degradation of Negro labor was more fundamental than the uplift of white labor, the end was in sight… Let that stand as Reconstruction’s epitaph.

Again, my Southern roots leave me looking at election-result maps and feeling again the ways that so many white people still don’t connect. The Confederacy has risen again, as my mother always believed it should.

I feel worse when my longtime co-author and forever brave comrade, Diane Dujon, cries on the phone because we have “gone back to the Fifties,” (as I note sadly “and it is the 1850’s).” She moans that she just “doesn’t know what to do.” And neither, really, do I.

It hurts when a Muslim friend reports from Pakistan:

“I checked with some of my Muslim friends in the US, they are terrified. Those with young kids are wondering how they can gather up the courage to send their children to school this morning. I haven’t spoken to my sister yet, haven’t had the heart to. She is a speech therapist in the Detroit school system and has been told by children as young as 5 that they think she is going to kill them because she wears a head scarf.”

As I watch Democracy Now and hear about all the incidences of abuse and attacks on Muslim neighborhoods and children, I wonder how to join with some kind of US Muslim protection efforts that I don’t even know how to find. I suggest to friend that we create “Women’s Watch Society” to oversee “every step he takes, every move he makes”. But it is not enough.

I do keep trying to feel better, because Donald Trump did not win the national popular vote. Most voters did not vote for him. Clinton won, in spite of herself. But she lost in our inadequate civic construct of an “electoral college,” mainly because of herself.

Now few seem to want to look backward, but rather to look forward. It’s too tiring, too much a return to acrimony. Only those who truly wanted Hillary herself seem to find comfort in looking back: What could have been done to tip enough votes back into a win? A bigger turnout? Fewer third party votes? Even more support from black and Latino people? These interesting questions seem strangely irrelevant already.

Looking forward to a Trump administration is hard, even for those who actually supported him and for Republicans who find themselves now accepting him. What does anybody on his side want that doesn’t ideologically contradict somebody else with an equally important claim on his Presidency? Most anything he proposes will actually take more public spending — more government. In the past war justified this. Maybe he will try it, but probably not right away.

I don’t really see The Donald immediately whipping up major domestic pogroms or an actual violent crusade against presumed “radical Islamic terrorists.” And I doubt that Trumpists can even cost out, much less enact, the whole set of reactionary changes to which they have already committed themselves.

It is up to leftist/progressives forces to try to deconstruct the weaknesses of Trump/Republican plans, and to keep exposing all his Alt-Right appointments. We must be prepared, whatever that means, to fight them back, specific issue by specific issue.

I hope the Trumpists fail and look as dangerous as they are. But I fear that, rather, the Big Lie will grow, and keep actual Trump supporters and wanna-be winners from noticing how much more is being robbed from all of us his phony “successful” businessman’s scam proceeds. I know that the white people (and they are almost all white, whether they deny that that matters or not) who voted for him, will pay dearly too. It is sad, but I cannot feel empathy. They know what they voted for, no pulling the wool over anybody’s eyes.

 Is it possible for things to be better for progressives? Can or should a multi-hued coalition of folks refuse to shore up a bankrupt Democratic Party, but instead seek to build a massive majority movement?  Maybe.

It is good that lots of folks are talking this way. It’s up to those of us who knew what was wrong with Hillary, and with mainstream neoliberal politics, to articulate something different. We certainly failed by letting Hillary try have “her turn” this year. Maybe we can still create a genuinely radical movement, if we don’t get stuck on who the next President will be — and white people move out of the limelight.

Veterans of ’60’s/’70’s and even ’80’s activism should now try “not to speak until spoken to” by the new base of a healthy movement. Those who will be most hurt by a triumphant Trump agenda must lead; white people should be there, we just must learn to follow with integrity.

I do believe that others will decide to ask us about what our experiences might mean for today. Good white activists whose time has come and is now passing, will be asked for our reactions, and maybe our advice, and surely for our support. We do have helpful things to say about what won’t work. But, even for this, we have to wait for the right time.

This is all ok with me. Since I hear few ideas that sound fresh or convincing from last century’s cohort, it does not seem too hard. Let’s let others ask us to react to their ideas and plans, and then give our response with respect and honor.

How about it?


ANN Withorn, radicalreentry.com



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Radical ReEntry Enters the Blogosphere

Dear readers, I urge you to explore some of the material published on my website before you jump into this blog, Doing so should give you a sense of who I am and where I’m coming from. I hope the stuff I have presented as “data” from my life as an educator, speaker, writer and activist engages you. Get to know me and my ideas a little first, then you can introduce yourself and we can talk. I look forward to it…..

What’s Going On?

I’ve long feared the American Rightwing, being acutely aware of how real, scary and cruel it can be.  It represents an unbroken stream of thought, speech and action extending from the “Slave Power” of John C Calhoun, through the violent illogic of post-Reconstruction “Redeemers,”  and into the political powerhouse of Dixiecrats transformed into Conservatives/Republicans who embody a tradition of home-grown fascism.  No joke.

Now a large subset of the polity, the Right has morphed into a cross-class, white people’s movement that undermines any original Constitutional promise to “promote the general welfare.”

It has pushed back even 1950’s-style commitments to public investment in infrastructure, schools, higher education, etc, etc. Eliciting memories of the same decade’s Red Scare, today’s Right demands exclusion: by walling off the border, denying opportunities, incarcerating more people of color, and punishing more immigrants, women, LGBTQ people who are just trying to live full lives. It is scary.

Continue reading Radical ReEntry Enters the Blogosphere