Basic Income Blues June 2017


Inspired by the North American Basic Income
Guarantee Congress NYC JUNE 2017

I’ve got the Basic Income Blues….
Because in my heart
         I believe all need to feel secure,
                  to have enough to eat, to live, just to be,
Because in my soul, (whatever that is),
         I feel that BIG is a chance to live with hope, able to “speak our own truths” —
without so much fear of poverty, violence, homelessness, and distain.
Because, in my head,
         I know it’s possiblewe can get a BIG, IF we
work together, led by those who need it most,
Stay deeply generous, not tight, in our vision,
Not fearing failure if we don’t get it right the first time.
As Brandy sings, I want a Basic Income “Because I’m Alive.”

 I’ve got the Basic Income Blues….
But now I worry,
         because people with money, high tech status, and so much certainty,
         have “discovered” BIG, want to promote it, to design it,
                  to “own” the brand.
         Already, with hope for funding, the rest of us are obligated:
                  Obligated to please them,
                           obligated to “align with their values,”
                                    to place them in front of the cameras,
                                             to keep criticisms internal and “civil.”
         Because we can’t lose their money

SO I’ve got the blues…
I’ve seen it happen before.
         Seen radical movements, lose themselves in the quest for what’s possible, what’s
         winnable, for what’s fundable, for what seems to work,
                  but doesn’t.
Who’s most hurt then?
         Not the founders, not those who explain it, study it,
                  not the white professionals who discover BIG and “like the idea,”
Rather, the people most hurt are those who absolutely need a Basic Income, now:
         The precariat — our “new dangerous class,”
         People of color, immigrants, those less abled,
         People who hope a BI will change their present and their futures.
                  who want it for themselves, their families, and their communities,
                           who gain strength from imagining it, from working for it,
                                    and who will be most dispirited if we fail…
Let’s not go there…
Those who know poverty, up close and personal, must lead, not just advise,
                  head the table, not just be at it, when decisions are made,
                           when tactics and strategies are determined
                                    when the vision and goals are expanded
         Otherwise, only the form will remain, while the spirit passes away

And that’s a reason to sing the blues


PS I’ve got more to say in a discussion about what’s next for NABIG, about how to proceed, how to organize ourselves, and where we should not go. But that’s for later, based on collective responses to the Congress. But for now, I needed to send this out to my broader world,

THANKS for listening, and responding.


Suezanne Bruce — Basic Income as an Empowerment Tool

This is Suezanne Bruce, of Massachusetts Basic Income Initiative, MBII,  my partner in crime.  We are currently working together to link Massachusetts Basic Income organizing with Survivors Inc.,  the longstanding welfare rights/anti-poverty organization in Boston,  with an effort to create local chapter of the Social Welfare Action Alliance, SWAA (formerly the Bertha Capen Reynolds Society). We are doing outreach, making contacts, and hoping for funding from the Economic Security Project.  The proposal for this funding is below

Proposal to Economic Security Project

UPDATED, MAY 15, 2017

Building an Anti-Poverty Base for The Massachusetts’ Basic Income Initiative (MBII), Under the auspices of Survivors Inc., Boston, sponsor and fiscal agent

Ann Withorn, Director,  Suezanne Bruce Coordinator/Organizer

  Project Narrative

The goal of the Massachusetts’ Basic Initiative (MBII) is to launch an educational and mobilization Initiative that will directly link Basic Income ideas and actions with the ideas and goals of poor peoples’ groups and community organizations in Massachusetts. Thereby we will strengthen networks for BI education and action across community, academic and professional groups.

Our underlying purpose is build support for a Basic Income Movement among those people who will most benefit from BI by developing a model that specifically responds to visions and concerns articulated by people who experience poverty.

The MBII Initiative grows out of earlier efforts to connect supporters of the 30+ years-old Boston’s welfare rights organization, Survivors Inc., with the loosely organized four year-old network of Basic Income Massachusetts adherents. With ESP’s help, the Massachusetts Basic Income Initiative (MBII) will focus on:

1) effectively getting the word out about Basic Income to a wide range of poor people’s groups and their allies in antipoverty, social justice and community organizations. This effort will allow us to open dialogue and create plans for cooperation regarding a range of mutual concerns.  

2) building a base for a Basic Income Movement in Massachusetts through a variety of outreach methods. We will draw initially from the network of Massachusetts social and economic justice organizations that are led by poor people, immigrants and people of color. We will support discussion, based upon the differing experiences of people in such groups, about what a Basic Income Movement should be, and what strategies and tactics should be used to build it. These organizations are full of experienced activists who have been long-time allies of Survivors Inc;

3)sponsoring a set of conversations among low income people from varied backgrounds about “What a Meaningful Basic Income Would Be for Poor People: How much? How Distributed? Anticipated Complications?” We will transcribe, edit and use these conversations as a base for development of a Poor People’s Basic Income Model” by the end of Year One

4) collaborating with BIGMinn, to create a model for local BI organizing, for the purpose of learning about their extensive local outreach and organizing efforts. We will share results from our work with poor people’s organizations as a base of support for BI. From this collaboration we will together create a Guide to Grassroots Basic Income Organizing to be shared with other local BI groups. (The base for this joint endeavor comes from the partnership that Ann Withorn and Liane Gale have created thought their continuing co-leadership of the Basic Income Woman Action Group)

Over the year, MBII will use ESP funds primarily to expand the existing informal cohort of current BI advocates and allies in the Boston area into a more recognized source for BI ideas and activity within the Massachusetts economic/social Justice community. Our specific plans include

  • creating an active Advisory Group for MBII, made up of people who have worked with us previously around welfare rights, poverty, social justice and Basic Income concerns. They will respond to and help direct our efforts
  • engaging in outreach to, and engagement with, local poor peoples’ organizations by visiting with members, attending local events, and individual outreach to leadership.
  • sponsoring a set of conversations later in the year, among low income people from varied background about “What a Meaningful Basic Income Would Be for Poor People? We will use these conversations as a base for development of a “Poor Peoples’ Basic Income Model
  • preparing and distributing accessible material for the purpose of connecting BI talk/ideas directly with poor people’s concerns, in the hope to building joint efforts with sister organizations in Boston and across Massachusetts
  • supporting the continuation of Survival Tips and other traditional Survival News activities, through the Poor Peoples United Fund, primarily via an electronic format.
  • underwriting transportation to selected conferences and related BI-related national gatherings (i.e. , the June NABIG Congress in NYC, the June Michigan Welfare Rights Poverty Summit in Detroit, and collaboration with BIMINN, and national Social Welfare Action Alliance (SWAA) gatherings in Rochester NY, among others.

What is unique about our Initiative

Historically, much of Basic Income activity in Massachusetts (as elsewhere in the US) has been focused on developing and explaining the concept, speculating about what it might mean in practice , and reaching out to educated informed audiences, based primarily in universities, professional and civic interest groups. This work has been good. As have the pilot projects and other efforts to create real-world models for UBI.

We hope that our project will serve to further ground Basic Income in the philosophy and goals of US anti-poverty movements, based on conversations and collaboration with existing poor peoples groups in Boston and other areas of Massachusetts. Most specifically we hope that the creation of our “Poor Peoples’ Basic Income Model” will be of assistance to BI organizing throughout NABIG. Especially we hope our work will spur Basic Income advocates to bring more low income people, and anti-poverty activists, into all BI efforts.

Our Approach

in Boston, Basic Income appeals to us today because it is a natural extension of early proposals of the 1960’s National Welfare Rights Organization for a Guaranteed Income for all.  That effort had significant support in Massachusetts especially through local welfare rights groups in Boston, Cambridge and Springfield. For years it was carried forward by the Coalition for Basic Human Needs in Cambridge (CBHN,) a group with which many Survivors Inc. members were long affiliated.

The past work of Survivors inc, and the example of Survival News serve as the base for our approach — grassroots activism, lead by poor women, in coordination with low income and welfare rights groups around the country. The voice and activity should always be democratic, participatory, and representative of the voices and perspectives of people who have current and past experiences of poverty.


We view our request for support from ESP to build a Massachusetts Basic Income Initiative as essentially, an anti-poverty proposal in the fullest sense — and a way to establish a local base for establishing a model for a Basic Income that can help anybody who is currently poor, and also reduce the real and often paralyzing fear of poverty for all in the future. AND we are especially excited by our plans because we believe that any current Basic Income Movement can only succeed  in today’s precarious political economy if it also has significant numbers of poor people meaningfully involved from the beginning — along with other anti-poverty, labor, and community allies.  Otherwise BI is just another interesting policy scheme which will be discussed by policy wonks and academics forever. And, if it ever were to be enacted without such input, the result will likely shortchange the very people who are most deeply connected with poverty.

On the other hand, if all who see the imperative for a Basic Income can fully include, listen to, and take leadership from those who know deep economic/social insecurity and precarity in their own lives and within their communities, we may have a chance “to keep on keeping on.” Besides, if we can all take turns on the soapbox. our work becomes less lonely and more grounded.

Ann Withorn, our Director (un-paid) has engaged in related activity for many years — primarily though speaking at academic and organizationally-sponsored settings and through writing and media opportunities. From the start of her BI involvement in 1988 she has attempted to link the Basic Income and Welfare Rights Movements. Now a Professor emeritus from the College of Public and Community Service at the University of Massachusetts Boston, Professor Withorn plans to play a leadership role in this Initiative based on her 40 years working with her adult students and activists in the Boston-area social justice community. She will also bring years of writing and collaborative experience to the effort, and especially to the production of the “BI Model for Poor People”

Suezanne Bruce, the Initiative’s Coordinator/Organizer, also brings extensive personal and profession experience with realities of poverty and front-line work around economic rights, anti-racism health access, plus experience with criminal justice, substance and domestic abuse and homelessness organizations. Ms. Bruce is well known locally for this work –across a wide range of Boston area community settings. Recently she graduated as a Community Fellow from Tufts University with a Masters in Urban and Environmental Planning, Ms. Bruce brings newly honed research and administrative skills to our Initiative.

In short, both Withorn and Bruce contribute wide knowledge, varied skills and extensive contacts to the Massachusetts Basic Income Initiative, as do our potential Advisors and community allies. That this combination of people will be actively involved is, in itself, a sign that MBII will interact with more than the set of the “usual suspects” who traditionally define Basic Income efforts.

 Related Sites

FB Woman Action Group

Acting Up, Not Out


On May 3,  I gave this as Keynote Conversation at York University in Toronto

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

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.









Back to (Radical) Basics: Remembering What Matters, Again

Back to (Radical) Basics: Remembering What Matters, Again

UPDATE October 16, 2016

Since February, I’ve pondered the value of this website/ blog. I’ve come to realize that its existence matters more to me than I initially thought it would. I think about what to post, worry about why I avoid posting, go from wanting people to comment to being fearful of feedback.

Mainly, I find myself waking late at night asking what I can say that won’t be obvious, too self-centered, or just confusing. Often I roll over and go back to listening to audiobooks about the Nazis, or slavery, or whatever is so big and so bad that it helps me stop obsessing about the last misinformed and mean-spirited NPR comments I heard from Trump supporter in Atlanta, or DC.

Still, I keep trying to write. I’ve edited my site, and added more people from Face Book and Linked In to a notification list. I’m telling more people about, even if it feels pushy.

Because every time I listen to the news, or read something new, my original hope of engaging with people, as I did so naturally at U.Mass.Boston, wells back up. It’s still hard now not to have everyday contact with a wider community. So much seems to be going on with this crazy election, and in this confusing world. And so much of what is happening hurts so much. It seems so wrong. I know I have to be part of doing something about it. But it’s all so hard.

Just this month, I downloaded “Now,” to my home page. It’s an amazing song written by Canadian singer/songwriter Brandy Moore, who performed it at this Spring’s North American Basic Income Congress. She also has another song “Because I’m alive” that an equally powerful call for a basic income. Her words remind me of original purpose of this website, to “remind myself not to forget what really matters.” Check her out

For me, right now, today, I want to remember five things:

1) History still matters. Getting the story straight still matters. More than ever I find myself wanting to be sure my facts are correct, my arguments are sound, that I’m not just off on another rant, no matter how justified. I have to stop worrying about sounding “boring.” I don’t get to be so contrarian any more, or say something outrageous just for effect. When Trump does his provocative routine, it’s no longer cool to laugh. I wish we could all turn our backs when he talks, shame him, be clear that he is hurting people with his words. He is cruel. Michelle Obama said it loud and clear, Trump’s words “demean us all.”

This is not normal. This is not politics as usual. This is disgraceful. It is intolerable. And it doesn’t matter what party you belong to ― Democrat, Republican, independent ― no woman deserves to be treated this way. None of us deserves this kind of abuse.

And I know it’s a campaign, but this isn’t about politics. It’s about basic human

decency. It’s about right and wrong. And we simply cannot endure this, or expose our children to this any longer ― not for another minute, and let alone for four years. Now is the time for all of us to stand up and say enough is enough. This has got to stop right now.
Because consider this: If all of this is painful to us as grown women, what do you think this is doing to our children? What message are our little girls hearing about who they should look like, how they should act? What lessons are they learning about their value as professionals, as human beings, about their dreams and aspirations? And how is this affecting men and boys in this country? Because I can tell you that the men in my life do not talk about women like this. And I know that my family is not unusual. And to dismiss this as everyday locker-room talk is an insult to decent men everywhere. trump_us_57ffc2b9e4b05eff5582381a

2) NOW is the time to talk about poverty — not just about the plight of the middle class, not only income inequality, not just about insecure jobs going away — but about why poverty is still tolerated, how poverty is still simply wrong, unacceptable and not subject to strategic planning.

Our governor feels “forced” to cut 420,000 state jobs, but not to demand tax

increases. People are protesting, unions are speaking out. layoffs-could-coming massachusetts/DsObNLkrZ7LEG3tbZ0XixL/amp.html?client=safari

Harvard’s William Julius Wilson just got a multi-million grant to study urban poverty in Massachusetts, yet again. People are protesting. How can someone like Wilson look at himself in the mirror and take that money for his Center and his graduate students, in part to establish his “place at the center of the current

policy discussion.” poverty-but-will-learn-anything-new/xVNaXDBC7xaP4hjRBFTegO/story.html

We all have to be focused about this, or we will be back to the newest version of neoliberal global gobble-de-gook. We don’t need to “study poverty no more”; we need to get more money directly to people so they won’t have to wait for bosses, or spouses, or gods, to provide economic security. That will take organizing, led by poor people themselves, and a meaningful Basic Income, plus other social necessities like health care for all, excellent public schools, and accessible housing, clean water and air.

3) NOW is the time to defend the public, the social contract, and to expect responsibility from “government,” with all it’s flaws. When a hurricane hits, when bridges fall down, when underfunded schools “fail”, the answer is more public funding, from more progressive taxing of ourselves. Not more private investment, not more Crowd Sourcing, or another “public-private partnership”.

Today when I hear even my friends casually complain about inadequate, poorly organized public services, or even “corrupt” politicians and public

servants, I interrupt. I say that we need those programs; we must demand that they are better, not privatize more, not give up on our few legitimate claims to give ourselves what we need. Who else can we make demands of, Wells Fargo? Wikileaks? Social Media? Where else do we still have any social rights, weak as they may seem?

4) NOW is the time to talk about what it means that the proletariat is evolving into a precariat. Guy Standing writes convincingly that the Precariat is the “New Dangerous Class,” (2012), and then goes to demand real changes in a “Precariat Charter” (2014). Especially in light of the popular shifts evidenced by Trump’s ascendance into legitimacy, the success of Brexit’s anti-immigrant logic, and the rise of a nationalist European Right, we must face the reality of a world where the existence of growing Precariat is undeniable. This emerging, disparate precariat grows out of a shrinking already poorly organized proletariat.

And that with an unprotected, fearful precariat it’s every man and woman, for themselves

It’s uncomfortable to move away from the reliable socialist premise that the self-aware proletariat, acting as a working class, is the primary engine for progressive change in history. Sure, class consciousness was never enough — there were always central complexities of race, gender and cultural dynamics at play. But it was central.

The long-clarifying mantra of “no war but the class war,” is more confusing than helpful when people still know that they “work,” but are not sure who their real bosses, not their managers, are. When they still need solidarity but aren’t sure with whom, and against whom?

More than ever, we need a broad-based, movement that allows folks to ponder such things. It must be Left and feminist, Earth-informed, multi-cultural and queer. Of course, people of color and people with deep-in-their-bones awareness of racism, poverty, and social disregard must lead it.

5) Naming what’s really “wrong” really matters — even it rings bad old bells from “Moral Majority,” religionist days. Even if it seems simplistic, or claiming a righteousness that is unknowable, we have to step up. Reverend Barber says, today’s “big issues are not about Left vs. Right, but right vs. Wrong.” Our movement has to be willing to say, loudly, the today’s world hurts too much, too unnecessarily. It’s just wrong and we know it even if we are unclear about what’s right, or even all the reasons why what’s wrong is wrong. We can’t take it any more. We have to do something. Together….

Whew…another sermon, if not a rant, after all. But I could not stop. Please comment, argue back, engage. I feel so alone.

Voting FOR Clinton in 2016

Voting FOR Clinton in 2016
Ann Withorn

I understand why anyone who identifies as “progressive” is unhappy about voting for Hillary Clinton, or having her as President. I will be too. The day after her election I will wake up trying to argue against her oh- so-predictably unsatisfactory positions. BUT I won’t wake up more afraid of the United States of America than I have been in my adult life — as I will if Trump wins, which some polls still suggest he can.

We are a complex nation dedicated to making the capitalist economic and social order seem to work, no matter how much it unnecessarily and cruelly hurts most people in this country. Globally, the U.S. sometimes seems to support justice only when it also helps us, while setting hypocritical standards in other places that we neither meet nor seriously address at home.

But a Trump Presidency would be of a different order of magnitude and import.

Of course, his election would continue to endorse the capitalistic system everywhere. Worse, a Trump Presidency would promote a meaner, more unapologetically cruel capitalism than we have officially defended for more than a century. A Trump administration would try to institute even more xenophobic immigration policies. It would mean tolerating and giving “equal voice” to racist and misogynist words that have been publicly indefensible for 40 years. It would give Presidential power to make our already compromised federal judiciary and “justice system” more dangerous than since FDR.

If Trumps wins the majority of American votes for President, his election will give new legitimacy to the ugliest parts of this society, and tell those already at most risk here never to trust anyone not in their shoes. It will surely make it even scarier to be an immigrant of any status.

Of course, such a scenario will not be caused by one person’s vote for anyone else, nor by anyone not voting. Hillary will probably still win. But no matter how we vote, or where we live, either Clinton or Trump will be next President after November.

So we just have to vote, and to vote for Hillary. And then let the struggle continue.

Maybe Trump won’t do all I fear. I assume he can’t. But electoral approval of what he so openly stands for means taking a very wrong turn, not just more of the same.

We can’t risk it. We must use the one piece of individual civil power we still have to say “No” to Trump. Let us not be so precious and focused on our own correct criticisms, that we forget those people whom we know will be most hurt if Trump somehow rises to legitimacy. For one day, let’s just get over ourselves and our current political failure to create better options.

Let’s vote FOR Hillary. At the least, we will know that — within all the unsatisfactory choices of our own making — we did the one thing we could do to stand against what a Trump victory means.

Then let’s learn from it all and do way better sooner than the next time. Too many people will be hurt if Trump wins. It will be wrong. We know it, and we have to do what we can to stop it. Please.

PS A big reason why I urge this course is because one of the people I most respect, Rev William Barber of North Carolina, was willing to speak at the Democratic Convention. His “endorsement” of Clinton seemed similarly unenthusiastic. But I assume he did so as part of his mission to stress the implications of our choice in the midst of profoundly inadequate circumstances. I’m trying to do so too.

I recently sent an earlier version of this: “to friends who I know aren’t planning to vote for Clinton… because I want to make my case to you first, not really to change your minds but because I want you to understand why I must, for almost the first time, really disagree with you about something really serious. Please comment if I might seem to mischaracterize or denigrate a decision not to vote for Hillary. Please give me fairer words, because you are my comrades and I expect to go back to agreeing with you about almost everything the day after the election. So give me the editorial advice that will keep us together. But still need to speak to whomever might listen. ” I have tried to include their wise counsel in this version September 28

“The South, My South”

“The South, My South”
Thoughts generated by Charlotte events, by Black Lives Matter, and by Reverend William Barber
Fall 2016.

I learned early and have never really stopped believing that white people who grow up in the South are less different from black people who grew up there than they are from both white and black people who grow up in the rest of the US.

Maybe I’m wrong in terms of how it works nationally for Black people. And surely, especially in the age of Trump, how this plays out is changing. But, in my experience, white and black southern people can never not notice race, never deny that their racial identity matters, for worse and for better.

Every white southern person still knows that she or he is white and that that makes a big difference. Some even consciously admit that they directly benefit from that whiteness; others feel that that their whiteness matters less than before, while still others imagine that they now suffer more from it due to political correctness, and Affirmative Action. But every southern white person recognizes that their white identity is a key “social fact” that determines much of who they are. That’s just how it is.

White people don’t talk about it among ourselves so much, for good reasons. For many of us, whether in all-white settings and in mixed race environments, our whiteness is not “brought up”, but it is always there. For white people who are immigrants, and/or new to the South, it is different. And of course, southern black people are always aware, for basic, life-protecting reasons.

Black Southerners know even more intensely that being black is critical for them. And that exploring what it means in their individual case, and for their family and community, is essential, even if they, as a friend once declared, are “…sometimes tired of being Black. Of course I’m proud now, and aware now of all the complexities. But still it gets tiring. Not just the “two-ness” Dubois talked about, but just the day-to-day awareness of it all.”

Sometimes I think that this has changed a lot since I left the South almost fifty years ago, but then I look at voting patterns, and social/surveys of political attitudes and I don’t see it. I speak with my sister, now in North Carolina, and it still seems that race matters there in different ways than it does here. A white friend’s daughter who lived in Atlanta for two years before moving back to Massachusetts, feels it.

So when I read news from Charlotte, Charleston, New Orleans and Florida, I know exactly why “Black Lives Matter” is still a more radical statement in the South than it is elsewhere. Just maybe not as different as I once would have thought.

Here when white people object to the phrase it is mostly because they want to assert that “ALL lives Matter.” In the South I fear that it is still true that for many white people, the underlying objection stems from an almost-conscious understanding that somehow

“White Lives Matter, and so do Black Lives.” But the voice is a white voice. The first perspective is White. The legitimate speaker about whose lives matter is, first and foremost, a white voice, not a black voice.

It all makes me listen with awe to Reverend William Barber, whose North Carolina based “Moral Mondays Movement” is so inspiring. He and the work he is doing around the US gives me hope. And his September 23 NYTimes Op-Ed statement about the Charlotte situation was so on target. See what you think:

” Why We Are Protesting in Charlotte
By WILLIAM BARBER ISEPT. 23, 2016 Charlotte, N.C.

Since a police officer shot and killed Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte, N.C., on Tuesday afternoon, the ensuing protests have dominated national news. Provocateurs who attacked police officers and looted stores made headlines. Gov. Pat McCrory declared a state of emergency, and the National Guard joined police officers in riot gear, making the Queen City look like a war zone.

Speaking on the campaign trail in Pittsburgh on Thursday, Donald J. Trump offered a grave assessment: “Our country looks bad to the world, especially when we are supposed to be the world’s leader. How can we lead when we can’t even control our own cities?” Mr. Trump seems to want Americans to believe, as Representative Robert Pittenger, a Republican whose district includes areas in Charlotte, told the BBC, that black protesters in the city “hate white people because white people are successful and they’re not.”

But Charlotte’s protests are not black people versus white people. They are not black people versus the police. The protesters are black, white and brown people, crying out against police brutality and systemic violence. If we can see them through the tear gas, they show us a way forward to peace with justice.

On Thursday, I joined 50 Charlotte-area clergy members who were on the streets this week. Yes, a few dozen provocateurs did damage property and throw objects at the police, after being provoked by the officers’ tear gas, rubber bullets and military-style maneuvers. But as we saw, thousands more have peacefully demonstrated against the institutional violence in their communities.

That systemic violence, which rarely makes headlines, creates the daily traumatic stress that puts our communities on edge, affecting both those of us who live

there and outside observers who often denounce “black-on-black” crime. We cannot have a grown-up conversation about race in America until we acknowledge the violent conditions engendered by government policy and police practice.

Anyone who is concerned about violence in Charlotte should note that no one declared a state of emergency when the city’s schools were resegregated, creating a school-to-prison pipeline for thousands of poor African-American children. Few voiced outrage over the damage caused when half a million North Carolinians were denied health insurance because the Legislature refused to expand Medicaid. When Charlotte’s poor black neighborhoods were afflicted with disproportionate law enforcement during the war on drugs, condemning a whole generation to bad credit and a lack of job opportunities, our elected representatives didn’t call it violence. When immigration officers raid homes and snatch undocumented children from bus stops, they don’t call it violence. But all of these policies and practices do violence to the lives of thousands of Charlotte residents.
As a pastor and an organizer, I do not condone violent protest. But I must join the Charlotte demonstrators in condemning the systemic violence that threatened Mr. Scott’s body long before an officer decided to use lethal force against him. And I must condemn the militarization of Charlotte by the authorities who do not want to address the fundamental concerns of protesters. For black lives to matter in encounters with the police, they must also matter in public policy.

The North Carolina N.A.A.C.P. has called for full transparency in the Scott case, including a Justice Department investigation. There are still many unanswered questions, which is why we demand that the governor release video from body cameras recording the shooting. And we want accountability for officers who did not have their body cameras on when they confronted Mr. Scott while he was waiting for his son to get off the school bus.

Our protests are about more than the Scott case. Every child on that bus — every person in Mr. Scott’s neighborhood — is subject to systemic violence every day, violence that will only increase if Mr. Trump and others continue to exploit the specter of violent protests for political gain.

We have seen this before. After the civil rights movement pushed this nation to face its institutionalized racism, we made significant efforts to address inequality through the war on poverty. We did not lose that war because we lacked resources or met insurmountable obstacles. We lost it because Richard M. Nixon’s “Southern strategy” played on white fears about black power by promising to “restore order” without addressing the root causes of unrest.

In the Scriptures, the prophet Jeremiah denounces false prophets for crying “peace, peace when there is no peace.” We cannot condemn the violence of a small minority of protesters without also condemning the overwhelming violence that millions suffer every day.

Instead, let’s look again at the vast, diverse majority of the protesters. This is what democracy looks like. We cannot let politicians use the protests as an excuse to back reactionary “law and order” measures. Instead, we must march and vote together for policies that will lift up the whole and ensure the justice that makes true peace possible.”


William Barber II, president of the North Carolina N.A.A.C.P., is a founder of the “Moral Monday” movement and the author of “The Third Reconstruction.”

The Harvest is Past

“The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved”
So lamented Jeremiah.

I understand. And it is now Fall, here.
This blog has come into being slowly, because I remain unsure of what I want to do with it, much less how to present it with ease. I still know that I want to communicate and share ideas with others beyond my known circle. Facebook does not work for me as a means for this, although
that is supposed to be its purpose. But no matter how hard I try, its form does not satisfy. It seems random, without form or direction. Somehow I want more control in creating a context for what I say, and what sayings I pass on, where conversations lead.
But time is passing, and my website and my blog have not saved me. Both are, in today’s parlance, “underutilized.”
These days, before rising I read e-mails and forward content to people in my contact list–often with a short subject line about what I value, or what’s wrong, or absurd, about them. The resulting e-conversations way stay in my mailboxes for a long time.
Of course I miss teaching, with its scheduled topics and soon-familiar community of learners. My office provided this in a even less structured, but satisfying way. But now CPCS is gone.
That harvest is also past.
So I’m starting again. Below I post something I recently wrote for the twentieth anniversary of Welfare Reform (remember its name is “The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act”? ) for Boston’s Poor People United Fund, alongside pieces by James Jennings and Georgia Mattison. Next I am posting excerpts from some of the emails relating to the election and poverty that I’ve been sharing,
I hope the this will bring me back into the conversations and actions that matter most today.

Please comment

Keeping on Keeping On Twenty Years after Welfare Reform

Ann Withorn
Throughout the 1990’s, most anti-poverty and welfare rights activists fought “welfare

reform,” hard. Professional advocates wrote position papers. Clergy, poverty lawyers, Head Start parents and labor leaders spoke out. We held forums, meetings, speak-outs and rallies. We testified at legislative hearings in Massachusetts and in Congress.

The energy was intense. And the messages stayed clear: “welfare reform would hurt poor women, and their children….It should not be passed: it was wrong.” We argued fiercely against new Reformers’ revised contentions that income benefits should not subsidize “workforce participation;” nor was education and training “cost effective.” Instead, the goal of Welfare Reformers was to make benefits harder and harder to get, to cut the rolls, and simply to impose time limits on any eligibility — 2 years (in Massachusetts) or 5 years federally. They argued that only their approach could end insidious “welfare seeking behaviors.” After all, if there was no meaningful welfare to seek, then the problem would be solved, right? Especially after the Feds turned it into over state block grants, with loose oversight.

Activists insisted instead that “all mothers worked”; that the circumstance facing poor women were complex and individualized. Income maintenance as provided under the Social Security Act, had become a Welfare Right. And, besides, we all knew that available jobs alone were unlikely to provide adequate wages or time to nurture children well.

Talking past each other, we asked what would happen during the next recession, while others asked how quickly we could cut welfare rolls. . We published endless Fact Sheets, proving that the welfare reform proposals were racist in intent, and effect — because poverty was so racialized — even though more white people would actually be hurt. We tried to get folks to see

that at some point in most lives, bad things happen: a worker could lose a job, a father would disappear; life could just become too hard for anyone to manage. Drink and drugs could make it all worse. And it might not be temporary. Children always needed so much. We thought most people would make the connections, if only we warned them often enough. But we were wrong. After 1996, we had to acknowledge how the depth of public fear of “dependence” was reinforced by the real stigma of living on welfare. Or how most working people needed to accept the slogan justifying Reform that “any job is a good job” — because it meant you are a “hardworking person who never asked for a handout or help from anybody.” We also missed the shallowness of the support for welfare among white non- poor liberals. They were tired. Once welfare reform was passed, with bi- partisan support, then “welfare as we knew it,” in Clinton’s infamous words “was ended.” Poof, gone. No more fussing. Conservatives mostly just expressed quiet, not gloating, relief. A lot of liberals, and social workers soon urged making the best of a bad situation, helping everyone find a job as soon as possible, or if that failed, to find ways to get a child, or even a parent, labeled “disabled” and therefore still qualified for something. Some concerned businessmen received incentives to get people “job ready,” and to initiate programs aimed at the now inevitable “transition from welfare to work” –regardless of what that work might mean for already demanding lives.

Too many non-poor activists warned too frightfully of immediate deathly results. Most poor people, especially Black and Latino people, knew instead that hard lives would be even harder, with fewer options, and less hope. And fewer people would notice, much less care.
The hard evidence” is still coming in, but it seems clear that more women simply wrote off public help as a viable option. They took bad jobs with little security, stayed with dangerous men or relied on families which had failed them in the past. More mothers gave up on that college degree or that hope for whatever had seemed possible before.

It didn’t happen overnight, but more and more people started to expect less, to work off the books more, thereby become less visible, less able to make demands.
Obama, sadly, didn’t really help. The 2008 Great Recession, yielded no calls even to rethink welfare reform, much less to reweave the safety net for all. For eight years he didn’t blame or demonize poor people, but chose not to take up poverty as his cause; he soon joined the Clintons in safer concern for the plight of the “middle class.”

So what now? I miss Kip’s indefatigable energy that led me to join her in getting arrested and jailed in protest of Massachusetts’ 1997 imposition of Time Limits. Today, Rev. William Barber’s “Moral Revival” inspires me to join a new Movement beyond electoral limitations. Barber offers the same hope that Kip did: that if we build a movement, not about Left vs. Right, but about Right vs. Wrong,” then we may be able “rediscover poverty as the central moral and political issue facing us all.”

So, “to keep on keeping on” today, twenty years after Welfare Deform, means that our only hope is still “not to mourn, but to organize.” But I also wonder more than I ever did: Can we? Will we? Who is the “we?” And How? For all our sakes, let’s keep talking.

For the Poor People’s United Fund of Boston September 2016




A Well-Intentioned Change Has Made A Problem Worse.

Thoughts after reading Nicholas Kristof’s “Why I Was Wrong about  Welfare Reform”  Published in The New York Times.
“Not well intentioned”, and twenty years is a lot of years and a lot of pain, but ok, Kristof. What are you going to do about this change of heart now, besides write your column?
I have a few ideas.
Tell Hillary, Bill, and other Dems to come up with something better, maybe with a Universal Basic Income at its core, instead of any conditional, categorical parsing out of economic rights?
Openly critique the whole neoliberal anti-social agenda of criminal justice reform, work requirements, time limits and income caps for everything public which is left, like food stamps, public housing, student debt relief, etc. etc?  It’s all of part of twenty years of “bipartisanship”. Say it’s “enough” to anyone anywhere who listens to you.
Support and promote national and local poor people’s movements, like the new Poor People’s Campaign. They are folks who have kept the faith for welfare rights and human rights, while so many professionalist allies moved on.
Hear from and publicize the voices of the individuals and groups from all sorts of places who so strongly opposed “welfare reform” in the 1990’s. We knew then even more than you know now. Get our voices re-heard with the respect we were never accorded then.
For once, I’m willing to say “we told you so”.
– Ann
Replies are still welcomed, don’t forget to also check out my last article and join in the discussion, both links bellow!

My Woman Problem

Please folks, talk to me. Is this reasonable? Does anyone else feel this way? Help me clarify here. This Blog is now open for immediate comments, without my mediation.   Do it.  Also, below is another site that seems to contradict much of what I am saying here.  But if it is after the conventions, and Hillary is the nominee, I guess these thoughts will allow me to keep going.

My Woman Problem

I just read two fine books, Subversive Southerner: Anne Braden and the Struggle for Racial Justice in the Cold War South and Ella Baker: Community Organizer of the Civil Rights Movement. Both women inspire me and remind me of autobiographies of other radical women who do the same: Bertha Capen Reynolds, An Uncharted Journey, Gerda Lerner, Fireweed: A Political Autobiography, Emma Goldman, Living My Life, Heda Margolius Kovaly, Under a Cruel Star, and Maya Angelou, I know Why the Caged Bird Sings. I admire strong, brave women wherever they are: — whether they are the “Mother Heroes” of welfare rights, women trade unionists, or other strong radical women activists around the world and through history. This is real, at the heart of who I am and hope to be.

Likewise, U.Mass.Boston women students from many backgrounds whom I worked with always inhabited a “judgment free zone” in my heart. They wanted to learn with me, a self identified white radical atheist socialist feminist troublemaker. It was enough for me to love them from the beginning. without denying or trading on any privileges. These undeniable social facts about me simply needed to be acknowledged, challenged and used collectively to support students’ learning and life goals.

But in my political work away from U.Mass I held back from many white women, especially middle class suburban Christian women, including mainstream white feminists. I tried, but didn’t give them much wiggle room to meet the unstated but rigorous standards of acceptability required to become eligible as “potential comrades” — a cohort I so proudly claimed to seek.

I was not so tough on white men. After all, what could I expect? If they tried to be good guys I was open to working with them, in spite of themselves. Sometimes it didn’t work, but then I never minded an open conflict.

But I was not interested in trying to do political work with well meaning, seemingly comfortable white women who hadn’t been victimized by abuse or violence or something else, or who weren’t angry about it if they had suffered. At best, they were in denial. I wasn’t rude but I wasn’t interested. With N.O.W. types, or social workers, or other helping professionals trying to do good, I was especially bored. I simply wrote them off.

In 1970’s feminist criticism-self-criticism sessions I had owned up to this problem. Later, women in other settings criticized me for it. One League of Women Voters member even said she was afraid of me. I said I was sorry, and tried harder not to let my disinterest show. But it remained.

After all, I got class and economic injustice. There is a ruling class who steal and rule with no constraints — it takes a movement of all to fight them. And I always try to name and fight white racism as the toxic “disease of the public mind” that has infected white people in the US, It has killed, harmed and disregarded people of color, thereby fatally undermining whatever exceptional “greatness” this country could ever claim. I could be forceful, funny, moving and even humble when opposing such things.

Of course, I knew how unfairly and disrespectfully this men’s world treats all women, not only the poor and dark skinned women with whom I sought solidarity. But somehow my feelings about feminism remained a guilty problematic. Was it because I never really felt the same uncomplicated commitment to the cause? Why did I support the Equal Rights Amendment but without the passion it deserved? I wanted women’s leadership but why was I not as forceful in demanding it as I was in fighting cutbacks? Or, especially, why didn’t I try harder to support women, as women, when they got power at U.Mass. or locally? How could this be?

The answer, I guess, once again comes back to the personal. In 1970, I went with a friend to an organizing meeting of Bread and Roses, the radical women’s collective which launched Socialist Feminism in Boston. I left impressed by the women, the movement and the language. But still, my first response was, “I guess I can be a feminist — so long as I don’t have to love my Mother.”

After years of therapy I thought I understood. But now, for all my feminist talk and writing, why do I still allow this justifiable fear of the one mean woman who so un-lovingly raised me to block relationships with so many individual feminists, and even to the feminist movement as whole? I too easily find fault with bourgeois white professional women colleagues who earnestly “try to make a difference.” I once wrote a review where I called Eleanor Roosevelt a “sheltered pickle.” I distrust their words and deeds in ways that I never hold back from white leftists or African American and other non-white activists.

I hid my disregard for mainstream feminists behind solid class and anti-racist arguments. After all, so many feminists were so white, so privileged, so clueless that it was easy to withhold full support. Didn’t it makes sense to avoid working with white, middle class, straight Christian feminists given how their unacknowledged investment in their own privilege deliberately marginalized the voices of women of color, poor and working class women, and lesbian/bisexual/transgender women? Besides, women in power do not necessarily further any women’s interests and fact can be instrumental to women’s subjugation

But I do know that’s not the whole story. Somehow I just keep finding it hard to fully engage, to see women who present themselves first as feminists to be natural allies.

I now recognize my attitudes as an understandable over-reaction to my own Southern Baptist Mommy Dearest, yet it hurts to watch myself holding back. Must I still believe that dressing up for a non-radical women’s fundraiser to nicely celebrate “women’s progress” means joining Mother’s team, becoming a “good girl”?

I don’t feel that about other mainstream events to promote Healthy Boston or Community Arts, for example . I pick and choose, rationally knowing that there are lots of reasons to join with decent people, even if they don’t agree with all my politics, and aren’t comfortable being radical. It’s ok

After all, what’s the harm in voting for Bernie, while contemplating actually supporting Hillary as the Democratic nominee exactly because she would be the first woman President? She is, of course, the archetypal flawed, white neoliberal. She’s so proud of herself, so sure she knows better.. She still defends welfare reform; she thinks America is great, but can be greater. And I know I will be not-so-secretly proud when she wipes the floor in a debate with the Donald.

There, I’ve said it. It worries me that I even think this way about Hillary and the whole mainstream feminist project. I don’t have to like her, but, somehow I’m not proud of myself anymore for putting her down because she and her proud feminist supporters just assume I will, because she will be the first woman President of this this messed up country of ours. Oh dear……