Sam Smith – After we get rid of choke holds and Confederate statues we may find ourselves wondering why life still isn’t what we would like it to be. We have been raised in a society that values regulatory process, legal reform, and procedural improvements. But it is easy in such a world to forget the importance of some basic positive human traits such as cooperation, kindness, and enjoyment of others. You can’t legislate or require such things as they are the product of culture and not the law.

And so we may be left with a gap that law, analysis and procedures have failed to fill, namely how we really feel, act and think about others… and what we can do about it.

I have been aware of this throughout much of my own life thanks to such things as having five siblings who, along with my parents, taught me early that other folks don’t always see things the same way as I do. As time went on I gained four nephews and nieces from Puerto Rico, three from Scotland and would live comfortably for five decades in a Washington that was then a majority black city.

I was also an anthropology major and so came to .understand the immense, largely unspoken, power of culture. As a journalist I have been repeatedly reminded of how often culture doesn’t get reported without an event, action, or official attached to it. Thus, for example, most are not aware that 15% of marriages these days are of mixed ethnicity. Or that race is a cultural rather than a scientific thing. Or that institutions like churches and schools no longer have the moral significance they once had.

We do not need to turn our backs on law and procedures but we need to start talking and thinking more about ways we can, beyond regulation, not just get along but actually enjoy each other.

A good place to start is schools. As these institutions have slipped more towards the standards of our corporatist society, moral and personal issues – enlightened by civics and history – have drifted out of the educational agenda. How many elementary schools, for example, introduce their students to the incredible diversity of human culture? How many help their students work with others? And if competition and corporatism are the values their elders value most, where do kids learn cooperation, mediation and how to get along with those with whom you disagree? If math and spelling can be taught at this stage, why not decency and the celebration of diversity?

Years ago, I was president of a parents association at a public school in DC, about which I later wrote:

|||| A parents bulletin around that time reported 20% of the students to be native Spanish speakers. There were children whose families came from 34 countries and Puerto Rico and about 20% of the school was African American… The ethnic mix was rounded out by a commune of born-again Sikhs who lived nearby.

If all our governmental institutions were run by people as pragmatic, sensitive, intelligent and imaginative as the newly appointed principal, Pat Greer, we would live in a much happier country. For example, when the potentially difficult issue of religious celebration arose, Pat adopted the principle laid down by the theologian Reinhold Niehbur, who said once that you don’t solve the conflict between church and state by doing away with the church. And so the assembly before the year-end vacation included a traditional American Christian segment, a latino Christian portion, a Jewish presentation and, as a climax, a kid from the Sikh commune telling the legend of the sword. Everyone had a good time and Pat and I agreed not to let the ACLU know what we were up to.

I once got a call from Pat saying that she had caught two 8th graders using pot. She explained that she had called the 2nd Police District and asked them to send over an officer but that he was to do nothing but scare the hell out of the kids and then leave. Sounds good to me, I said, but of course those were the 1970s when we still naively thought teachers and principals knew more about educating kids than cops, judges, and the President.

Twenty years later, in a speech to a global cultural diversity conference in Australia, Pat Greer, who is black, explained her approach:

“John Eaton School is child-centered. That means that we value and build on the strengths that each and every child brings to our school and to our classrooms. That is especially important to us in our multicultural environment. Our learning environment builds on the heritage and background of all of our children. The result is that our students are eager, curious students, students who are focused on learning and are responsible for their own learning.”

“At another DC public school a teacher had asked the question, ‘What do people need to get along?’ A student had written, ‘cooperation’ and the teacher had crossed it out and written, ‘rules.’ In a few decades, the whole nation would try to run education that way, with lots of tests to make sure the instructions were being obeyed. But it didn’t work because it lacked the combination that on most days had made John Eaton work: competence, to be sure, but – just as important – cooperation, enthusiasm, and love.

“Our parents, teachers and staff are caring, talented, resourceful and positive role models for our students. And I am a highly visible school principal. I know each student by name and I greet them each morning when they arrive at school, and again when they go home at the end of the day. I talk to my students; I visit their classrooms; and I sometimes work with them in their classrooms. And I welcome them into my office when they want to talk to me. ..”

The curriculum at the school was affected by two impressive biases. One was a prejudice towards writing. The kids were always writing something: diaries, plays, stories, speeches, advertisements. The school clearly understood the shortest route to good writing: do it. The other emphasis was the arts, particularly drama and music, activities that require students to work well with each other. With excellent teachers and adequate time, the kids threw themselves into their projects as though Broadway rather than high school was the next step. The encouragement came right from the top – not only from the principal but from Mr. Urqhart, her administrative assistant, who – dressed in his most colorful suit – would sing a single applause-stirring number in his mellow bass voice in each of the big shows – the only adult permitted to thus intrude.

I became conscious of how serious the dramatic side of Eaton was one day as I was taking a group of 4th graders home from an event. One kid stepped carelessly into the street and a companion called her back, saying, “Be careful, you could ruin your whole life that way.’ Another added, “yeah, or even your career.” Once safely in the car, there commenced the sort of surreal debate that only the young can withstand. The topic (clearly involving the stage rather than the lesser trades) was: what is more important – your life or your career? ||||

There are plenty of police departments that could use someone like Pat Greer. While banning chokeholds is a start, we need to think about ways to reintegrate police into our communities instead of having them consider the neighborhood as a threat. Getting them out of their cars and back onto the streets is one way. Creating neighborhood commissions such as those in DC where the police can discuss problems with real citizens. Adding lawyers and social workers to each police station not just to train officers but to work with them over the problems they run into would also help.

All are partial solutions beyond the law and procedures but part of the complex and universal world of decency and cooperation. We can not just regulate ourselves out of this mess, we must learn how to share our world with others and enjoy what we discover. And if kids can learn how to do it, it’s possible we adults can as well.

Why America keeps going anyway…x

Sam Smith – I can’t think of a time when so many of America’s huge systems have so collapsed. Our scientists can’t stop a massive pandemic, long functioning major businesses are going into bankruptcy, the rest of the economy is a mess, we have the dumbest and cruelest president in our history, Congress is unproductive, our schools are closed, millions are unemployed, six decades of civil rights efforts are in shambles and the police are seen by millions as the enemy of those they were hired to protect.
And yet we keep struggling along. Obviously it’s not thanks to our massive institutions, our so-called leaders or favored principles like capitalism that keeps us going. No, it something more important, namely us.
Even in good times, we tend to underrate the importance of the ordinary citizens of America in keeping the place of that name going. For example, during political campaigns the needs of small business are rarely addressed but now, for example, we have relearned the importance of restaurants by the damage done to them by both the pandemic and the protests. At the very time that we are reviving the tales and experiences of police brutality, we read stories of police officials urging decency on everyone’s part and see pictures of individual cops hugging demonstrators, as well as officers in New Jersey, carrying a a banner that read “Standing in Solidarity,” and Santa Cruz Chief Andy Mills down on his knee with protesters.
Then there is the pandemic disaster that our scientific experts can’t decode and so has been turned over to thousands of doctors, nurses, and EMTs who have saved untold lives and mitigated illness anyway. Tens of thousands of teachers have gone on line and revamped their curricula. And even some traditional true Christian preachers have ended their silent submission to the noisy faith scammers.
Thanks to the overwhelming influence of the media we have been taught to discount the role of ordinary folk in determining the course of our country, but that doesn’t stop them from doing it. A lot of people are comparing what’s happening now to the 1968 riots that I lived through east of the US Capitol. One of the things I learned then was the strange ambivalence of such times. The slashes of violence mixed indiscriminately with the sparkle of carnival, the smoke of racial war penetrating the tranquility of a white couple’s home four and a half blocks from disaster, our strangely ordinary experiences in an extraordinary situation, — made the disorder a crazy amalgam that took weeks to sort out
I had started a neighborhood newspaper and was part of a small group of blacks and whites who had come together a few months earlier to deal with some of the community’s problems. It was all too little and too late. In the vicinity of nearby H Street some 124 commercial establishments and 52 homes were damaged. Another 21 businesses were damaged further to the south on or near 8th Street.
But even in this chaos, individuals made a difference.. During the riots, black Mayor Walter Washington had been called to the office of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, where he was told to start shooting looters. Mayor Washington refused, saying that “you can replace material goods, but you can’t replace human beings.” Hoover then said, “Well, this conversation is over.” Replied Washington, “That’s all right, I was leaving anyway.”
Not long after the riots it was Easter and three local ministers held a sunrise service outside on a charred 8th Street, refusing what Albert Camus called the sin of despair. The neighborhood had already started rebuilding itself.
Six decades later we have a president who, like Hoover, wants to shoot the looters. And again you have decent souls who know better. We can’t predict the future but we can follow Albert Camus’ advice, avoiding the sin of despair by creating new power thanks to acts and alliances of decency that even bullies can’t overturn. And remembering that regardless of whether we do something or nothing, we are all demonstrating our position and making a difference.

Removing trash in the 1960s

Sam Smith, The Idler, May 1965 -I have been observing the trash collection operation in my Washington DC neighborhood. It is an immensely complicated procedure [including commercial recycling] that I am only beginning to understand, but here’s a preliminary report. My first contact with the removers of waste came shortly after I moved back to Washington last summer. Early one July Monday morning, there was a knock on the back door. Answering it, I found a perspiring trashman who inquired, “You got any beer, buddy?” The question was so matter-of-fact that I immediately went to the refrigerator and broke out a six-pack. As if on signal, a half dozen trashmen appeared in the alley and the cans of Budweiser quickly disappeared. I was thanked in the same casual tone of the original question and that was the end of the incident.

I thereupon determined to become better acquainted with trash collection in order to find out if there were any other civic responsibilities I had overlooked. In this regard, I was eventually aided by receipt of a four page memorandum on keeping my neighborhood clean. I was relieved to discover that nothing was mentioned concerning maintenance of an adequate supply of beer on summer Monday mornings.

What was unusual about this document, however, was the slogan at the bottom of each page: THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY CARES ABOUT YOU. It developed that Marguerite Kelly, Captain of Democratic Precinct 63, was just trying to bring the Great Society to my back door. It was the nicest thing a politician had done since City Councillor Alfred Velucci drove a sweeping machine through the streets of his Cambridge, Mass. ward to dramatize the lack of proper cleaning by the city. Old time ward bosses combined their extralegal operations with a genuine concern for the personal needs of constituents. One’s ward leader was a friend out of court who, because of his willingness to fix tickets or arrange individual relief from bothersome local ordinances, saved the voter the need to have a friend in court. Today we demand that our local politicians not fix tickets or in other ways pervert the steady application of the law. But the cost of such political purity has been a loss of personal concern on the part of lower level political figures.
It was nice to find a precinct leader who wanted to help get rid of any rats in my basement. Even the police around here are interested in sanitation. One day I was visited by a constable who explained that he was afraid the D.C. Health Department would consider the 1954 Chrysler parked in my alley lot – aka Gloria since she was sick transit, a public nuisance. He made it quite clear that he would not report me, but it did appear, since I had Rhode Island license plates and since I obviously wasn’t driving an illegally registered car on the streets of the District, that my car was abandoned, a potential haven for rodents, and thus, a public nuisance. The problem was, he went on, that the health inspectors might come around and issue me a notice directing abatement of the nuisance within five days and he certainly didn’t want that to happen to me. I analyzed his advice carefully, got my car registered in the District and have heard nothing from the D.C. Health Department. The officer had, after all, clearly indicated that rats would not reside in a car that was properly registered.

Local politicians and police do not, however, regularly concern themselves with the trash problem in my alley. This task is left to the Sanitation Division plus a surprisingly large number of private firms and individuals. Besides the regular Monday government pickup, various private trash and garbage trucks frequent the alley to remove the contents of specific cans and boxes. I haven’t quite figured this out but I believe there is a local regulation that prohibits government from encroaching too far on private enterprise and leaves a set percentage of waste for private removal. I also suspect this ordinance specifies that private collections by firms with trucks shall take place only during the hours of midnight to six a.m. Or at least that’s the way it sounds. The individual trash collectors, on the other and, work only during daylight hours. These types push long wagons with two small iron wheels. There is one man who removes only newspapers and empty bottles (no magazines), another cardboard and a third who concentrates on rags.

My greatest admiration is for the newspaper man. I have seen him on several occasions carefully time his arrival in the alley with that of the District truck. Then, for several minutes, massive Federal power and Goldwaterite individualism work happily side by side. After the District trashmen toss the cans up to the truck to be emptied, the waste is sifted for old Washington Post and New York Times, which are then thrown back down to the fellow with the wagon. It’s a smooth operation. The District worker on the truck calls out, “Here you go, paper man,” and then – plop! – a stack of newsprint hits the pavement. For the District’s men, the collection of trash is not just a job; it is an art, a sport and subject for boisterous debate, accompanied by a cacophonous chorus of clashing cans.

The first problem is to back the large sanitation vehicle into the alley. This task is made more difficult by the apparent incapacity of the driver, the one mute member of the team, to move his truck an inch without the best advice of all his compatriots. The result remarkably similar to the sound of a squad of athletes peppering a ball around the infield. Somehow the driver is able to choose among the often conflicting suggestions and steer his grey beast between fence and wall. Then the game begins. The cans are tossed back and forth with precision and grace. Occasionally a container comes back low and outside. The man on the ground grabs for it but misses. A brief, noisy critique is held and they try again.

The aesthetic part occurs as the trash cans are returned. They are not placed back in their previous tightly bunched arrangement. Rather a free-form sculpture is created throughout the yard, with a can placed on its side at one corner to neatly balance another dropped upside down at the foot of the back steps. The tops are then scattered to coordinate the design and the truck, after considerably more consultation among those involved, moves on.

The enthusiastic chatter never ceases. These are men with a mission and in a city of bland, quiet bureaucrats it is a delight to find individuals who attack their jobs with such verve and volume. The affair reaches a climax when the truck pulls out into the street again. Several of the trashmen have gone ahead to scout for other grounds of combat. The only trouble is that some have gone north and some have gone south and all have decided their location is the most preferable one for the truck to drive to next. The discussion, which previously had been limited to an alley, now expands until it covers several blocks. And the call, “Over here, Joe” is immediately countered by an unseen voice far off in the other direction: “Come on, Joe, I’ve got it here.” Joe, that somber, silent, embattled man in the cab of truck, sticks his head out of the window, looks around briefly, assays the situation in the light of his experience, and turns right. The decision has to be made. And Joe, his ears calloused to the criticisms of his co-workers, is man enough to make it.

The ethnicity that the media ignores

Sam Smith – According to most of the media, Barack Obama and Kamala Harris are black and Naomi Osaka is Asian. Which is, in fact, only half true. Harris’ mother came from India, Barack’s white mother was born in Kansas, and Naomi Osaka’s father is Haitian.
These are just three examples of how a growing biethnic minority in this country remains largely unobserved. Obviously, as in the three cases above, the choice is typically made in part as a personal right, but the fact remains that America’s multiethnicity is growing substantially without much attention.

For example, the Pew Research Center found that intermarriage rose from 3% in 1967 to 17% in 2015. Among blacks it rose to 18%. For Hispanics it was 27%. Among new born babies, the figures varied from 28% in Oklahoma to 4% in New Hampshire. Clearly we will have a substantial number of social and political voices in future generations of a multiethnic nature. By comparison, in the census only 13% list themselves as black, and 18% Hispanic.

If we purport to be trying to improve ethnic relations, it seems odd at best that we ignore those who have dealt with the issue on such a personal basis. I have a number of such friends and they are strong, wise and active. Admittedly, it’s not always so easy for their children. For example, one of them is my godson and when he was a young child of a black father and white mother, he even became a Republican for a while, posting a Dole-Kemp sign in our yard. But moving on to another school, he met some socialists and that all changed.

I understood why Obama ran as a black, but it occurred to me that once elected he might have used his bi-ethnic experiences as a teaching tool for the country. He might have said, “I have lived multiculturalism personally and I can help you do the same.” But there was no support for this sort of thing in the media or politics, because we suffer the illusion that we can end racism without turning the multicultural into a broadly perceived asset. The failure to recognize and honor who have taken the lead illustrates this, They have shown us that multiculturalism is not only livable, it can be lovable as well.

Another way in the neighborhood

Sam Smith – Trying to figure out why the last few months have not been worse for me, I’ve come to realize that living in a Maine rural town has been much closer to what used to be normal for humans than the urban life I lived so long. The most annoying change has been the low contact with others and having to remember not to try to shake hands when you do meet again.

Now more folks are dropping by and our pandemic patio with its six well separated chairs, grill and table are being used more frequently. Furthermore, unlike my historic forebears in these parts, we have fine internet and TV service. I even love Zoom, especially when someone is being boring and I can just sneak off to another site. Couldn’t do that back in real life.

But the other thing this crisis has reminded me of is that I have lived much of my life moving between the local and the national. This has been because, unlike many liberals, I often found the latter choices – especially in Washington – to have become tedious, presumptuous, pompous and ineffective. One of the reasons I moved to Maine eleven years ago from my native city of DC was that I had wearied of verbal abstractions constantly replacing real matter. Over time DC had lost its colorful politicians and now it seemed everyone in power (relentlessly reported by a similarly dull media) just said things that sounded good for a few minutes and then left you back wondering what the hell to do about it. Now I live next to a farm where the only approved BS is that found on the fields.

There had been a lot of local things that kept me busy in DC – like the 1968 riots four blocks from our house, another story for the neighborhood newspaper I had started there with the help of a donation from a local church. And the efforts to do something about it all – such as a neighborhood legal service, local credit union, and places like Friendship House where the middle class would help low income neighbors. We even had a cop in the ‘hood who would go on to be one of the first black police chiefs ink the country.

Later, I became one of the first bunch of elected advisory neighborhood commissioners – a new idea that provided communities with a louder voice – raising the standing of the ‘hood albeit weak in actual power.

But there was in those days as now a strong assumption by liberals that meaningful change was a federal matter.. As I wrote a couple of years ago:

One of the great myths about American politics is that change comes from the top. The truth of the matter is that change typically starts at the bottom and slowly works its way  up to the top… As late as 1992, the one hundred largest localities in America pursued an estimated 1,700 environmental crime prosecutions, more than twice the number of such cases brought by the federal government in the previous decade. As Washington was vainly struggling to get a handle on the tobacco industry, 750 communities passed indoor no-smoking laws. And, more recently, we have had the local drives towards relaxing anti-marijuana laws, permitting gay marriage and the major local and state outcry against the Real ID act.

To take just one current example, improving police behavior and service requires in no small part a change in the relationship between our communities and those patrolling them.

Moving to Maine increased my appreciation of the power of the local. Despite nearly half that time having been under the rule of Donald Trump, my town and state remain sane and decent places and remind me of the Maine official who had grown up in Hungary and once told me that even during the Cold War her town was run democratically.

This isn’t a bad thing to keep in mind as we contemplate the hazard of four more years of Trump terror and tantrums.

I, for example, feel better about the future by reflecting periodically on what the New York state attorney general might have in her files. Or when I see a strong response from governors to some madness at the top. The media, to be sure, does a poor job of reporting non-Washington stories but perhaps if governors and mayors would meet together periodically, the press might notice them more.

In any case if you’re feeling frustrated, angry and frightened because of what is happening nationally it may help to remember, as Fred Rogers might have put it, there’s another way in the neighborhood.  The national story is only one part of our lives.

The Civil War (Cont’d)

 Sam Smith – As noted here before, one can argue that other then ending slavery and secession, the South actually won the Civil War. One need only to consider that it took almost a century for the civil rights movement’s efforts against segregation to begin to be successful.

 As a new reporter covering the Capitol six decades ago, I recall one of my strongest thoughts was how much more southern it all was than I had imagined. Part of this was due to southern pols holding their seats, and thus their power, longer but there was also a deep  southern aura about the place that still sticks with me.

On a more factual basis consider this: if Donald Trump had run for president without the aid of formerly Confederate states, Hillary Clinton would have won by 60 electoral votes. And our regular update of state rankings and actions finds none of the formerly Confederate states in the top ten, but eight in the list of the bottom ten.

This is another example of how the conventional media tends to ignore culture and history in its coverage, ignoring the truth that these factors can influence things as much or more as what some politician said yesterday.

Ironically, one of the reasons that the former Confederacy hasn’t changed more is that as late as World War I some 90% of blacks lived in the south. Thanks to their efforts to get the hell out of there, the figure was only about 54% in the 2000 census. Thus the potential political power of blacks to change things in southern America has actually declined.

As I wrote eight years ago:

[][][][] It has been as bad for the south as for the general population as recent recounted by Jonathan Cohn in the New Republic:

“By nearly every measure, people who live in the blue states are healthier, wealthier, and generally better off than people in the red states… The four states with the highest poverty rates are all red: Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, and Texas. … And the five states with the lowest poverty rates are all blue: New Hampshire, New Jersey, Vermont, Minnesota, and Hawaii. The numbers on infant mortality, life expectancy, teen pregnancy, and obesity break down in similar ways.

“Advocates for the red-state approach to government invoke lofty principles: By resisting federal programs and defying federal laws, they say, they are standing up for liberty. These were the same arguments that the original red-staters made in the 1800s, before the Civil War, and in the 1900s, before the civil rights movement. Now, as then, the liberty the red states seek is the liberty to let a whole class of citizens suffer.

“ Because we tend to view t’he north-south issue primarily in terms of ethnicity we fail to observe a cultural difference of huge import: the south is still trapped in a power system that pits the less successful against each other based on false interpretations of race, religion, and economics. All these interpretations favor power by the few.

“This is one reason why the deadly alliance between the old south and the contemporary predatory capitalism of people like Romney is proving so effective. Both believe in power without limit, integrity, or cooperation. Now, the corporation is treated as a person, the citizen increasingly as just property. If Romney only had the right accent, he would be right at home as governor of Missisippi or as an actor in Gone With the Wind. He evokes power both handsome and horrible.”

The southern view of freedom is what David Hackett Fisher refers to as hegemonic liberty. The website Orcinus notes:

 “Fischer quotes Dr. Samuel Johnson, pondering the cavalier view of freedom. ‘How is it,’ Dr. Johnson asked, ‘that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?’ …

Fischer has an answer. He argues that the cavalier cry against tyranny expressed by Jefferson, Washington, and other Virginians wasn’t the least bit out of character. In fact, it came straight out of their essential conviction that free white men of property are the morally proper holders of all the rights and liberties that matter.

Writes Fisher:

 “Virginian ideas of hegemonic liberty conceived of freedom mainly as the power to rule, and not to be overruled by others. Its opposite was “slavery.”….It never occurred to most Virginia gentlemen that liberty belonged to everyone. It was thought to be the special birthright of free-born Englishmen — a property which set this ‘happy breed’ apart from other mortals, and gave them a right to rule less fortunate people in the world….

“One’s status in Virginia was defined by the liberties one possessed. Men of high estate were thought to have more liberties than others of lesser rank. Servants possessed few liberties; and slaves [and women] had none at all. This libertarian idea had nothing to do with equality. Many years later, John Randolph of Roanoke summarized his ancestral creed in a sentence: ‘I am an aristocrat,’ he declared. ‘I love liberty; I hate equality.’”

To be sure, with time more have been allowed to join the elite, but the principle still lurks deep in much southern politics. Even a poor southern boy like Bill Clinton understood the rules. You play the game to get to the top and then you get to do whatever you want. Power is its own justification.

This view, writes Fisher, differs from the New England one that liberty is defined by the community, or the Quaker perspective that liberty should be reciprocal, or even the libertarianism of the west, which the individual’s power was limited to one’s own choices, not one’s choices over other.

The success of the southern political elite (along with today’s business school elite) has required a consistent development of mistrust amongst the very masses who should be rising up against it.

The Economic History Association reports that “In 1805 there were just over one million slaves worth about $300 million; fifty-five years later there were four million slaves worth close to $3 billion. . . . The value of capital invested in slaves roughly equaled the total value of all farmland and farm buildings in the South.”

History Central adds: “Most Southern white families did not own slaves: only about 384,000 out of 1.6 million did. Of those who did own slaves, most (88%) owned fewer than 20 slaves, and were considered farmers rather than planters. Slaves were concentrated on the large plantations of about 10,000 big planters, on which 50-100 or more slaves worked. About 3,000 of these planters owned more than 100 slaves, and 14 of them owned over 1,000 slaves.

In other words, if you just consider economics, less than one percent of Southern families were truly enjoying the benefits of slavery just as today less than one percent are truly enjoying the benefits of contemporary corrupt capitalism.

As we might ask of today’s middle class supporters of the GOP uncivil war, why did the rest of the whites go along? One of the rarest phenomena in the South – practiced by populists such as Earl Long – was a serious political effort to help poorer whites see what they had in common with blacks and how they were being ripped off by the white elite – while today even liberals prefer to see the GOP base as devils equal to its leadership rather than as misguided victims waiting to be saved.

Key to each period was the myth that the elite was helping everyone preserve their “way of life.” The Southern mythology – celebrated in everything from books to musicals to movies – essentially described a culture that only a few could enjoy just as today the Republicans have not come up with a single program to significantly help their middle class or lower income constituents. The benefits of “free markets” accrue only to campaign contributors…

A century later, with the civil rights movement redefining the Democratic Party from its segregationist southern past, the GOP essentially took over planter politics and has been practicing it ever since.

Today, the GOP has raised planter politics to new levels. There are no ideological gifts to the many, only money and power to the few. And one can draw a direct line from the Civil War of the 1860s to the uncivil wars of today.

As with the southern Democrats of long ago, the GOP is waging class war against the very constituency it pretends to represent and there is hardly anyone around to tell this constituency how they are being ripped off.

Until that happens, until a true populist movement takes form, the Republicans will continue their uncivil war against American democracy, taking apart the very laws and policies that allowed their present constituency to get where they were before the current disaster began. [][][][]

Today, Donald Trump is our leading planter politician, creating his own liberty as the expense of those around him and lying to them in such a manner has to deceive them into thinking he is on their side. The Democrats, on the other hand, have done a lousy job of defending and helping the working class that is Trump’s target compared say to the New Deal and the Great Society. Until they do a better job of helping ordinary citizens our civil war shall continue.

In search of virus sanity

Sam Smith – In my search for virus era sanity I have tried to recall anything that had approached the dysfunction this experience has brought to my normal life. Two thoughts arose. I remembered three decades ago driving by a fast food eatery in my Washington neighborhood and reflecting on my recently discovered cancer. “My life is ruined,” I started thinking but then suddenly said aloud, “No, this is my life.” My approach to the illness totally changed.

The other recollection, two decades earlier, was of the bridge of my Coast Guard cutter in deep night storms as we headed to rescue fishing vessels.  In the total blackness there were three of us – a helmsman, quartermaster and me, the officer on watch – with nothing to say but with a silent common goal: what had to be done.

Once again, function obliterated emotion, reflection, dreams, habit, and history. The only thing that mattered was what you did now.

We are in such a moment now in which our normal lives are involuntarily suspended as we share what is probably the most extraordinary period of our lifetimes. Never have we had to face not just a critical health crisis, and to do so during a time when the economy is collapsing and our democratic government is being dictatorized,

Even by disease standards, it is an extraordinary moment. The Huffington Post, for example, reports that “Vaccine expert Dr. Peter Hotez predicted the coronavirus will continue to plague the United States ‘for years and years, even after vaccines are out and we get people vaccinated.’”

And the past suggests we’re in for change in many ways. Writing in Rolling Stone, Wade Davis notes  that

“Pandemics and plagues have a way of shifting the course of history, and not always in a manner immediately evident to the survivors. In the 14th Century, the Black Death killed close to half of Europe’s population. A scarcity of labor led to increased wages. Rising expectations culminated in the Peasants Revolt of 1381, an inflection point that marked the beginning of the end of the feudal order that had dominated medieval Europe for a thousand years. The COVID pandemic will be remembered as such a moment in history, a seminal event whose significance will unfold only in the wake of the crisis.”

And bad times are not always as bad as they seem.  For example, dinosaurs survived on the earth 27 times as long as humans have been here, so we may still have a few million years ahead of us. And after telling someone that I felt these days like I was living in the 19th century, I later thought I better check on something. Sure enough, life expectancy in 1860 was 39 and in 1920 it was 53.

Still, there are things we can learn from the past. For example, the pace of social activity was much milder thanks to things like no cars, television or cellphones. Living in rural Maine, I have been struck by how painlessly less dramatic the virus has been to my lifestyle than, say, if I was still in Washington.  In fact, musing about a workable Covid era lifestyle I found myself thinking of  running an Internet Service out of a farm, offering gigabytes and egg bites at the same time.

We are in a period in which imagination and creativity will have higher value.  And a period full of pain and misery. As citizens we can’t change virus story except to wear our masks and keep our distance, but we can end the Trump virus by electing a new president.

Our job is not to solve our health problem but to give serious assistance to those with the skill to do so and to end the assault on their efforts. Whether we succeed or become one of the victims, we can not foretell but even if we are among of the latter, we can at least have done something to prevent others from joining us. And chances are, it didn’t happen, as in 1860, when we were only 39 years old.



The fading of community

Sam Smith – After three and a half years of turning our country over to a manic narcissist it may be time to rediscover the advantages of sharing one’s goals, concerns and ideas with rational others. Of all the changes that have occurred in America in recent years, one of the least noted has been the decline of community. We have in many ways become three hundred and thirty million individuals taught to pursue our own purposes, the virtues we believe they contain and to share these primarily with those who have in common our color, our culture, our employment and our education. We have developed not only identity politics but identity living.

The factors causing this change are numerous; As America has become more urbanized, those who live in a recognizable community have declined, offering much less joint substance. Fewer neighborhoods offer moral and social support thanks in part to the decline of local groups that brought residents together. Churches have drifted away from being not only religious but also neighborhood institutions, illustrated in my former home of DC by their role as meeting places for various causes in the 1960s.

There was also in activism in of that time a broad sense that to win you not only had to assemble the convinced but convince the unassembled. Instead of identity politics leading the way, you sought ways to identify with those who didn’t look or talk like you but who nonetheless were potential allies. This was not so much a moral choice as a pragmatic one because we wanted not only to be right but to win. Change demands not just one’s virtue but the pragmatic application of arguments and actions in its behalf. Today we find, for example, Internet havens of own niches and many who hardly break out into the larger worlds.

I discovered community early in part because I went to a Quaker high school in Philadelphia. Although Quakerism may seem just an esoteric religion to many, it in fact has a strong pragmatic side. For example, unlike most religions that put virtue ahead of action, the Quakers were more like existentialists – emphasizing actions reflecting their virtues. Thus the Quaker meeting that ran my school had come out against slavery in 1688.
The Quakers also believed in reciprocal liberty, the idea that if I am to have my freedom you have to have yours even if I don’t agree with all of it. Thus the Quakers got along with other cultures – such as Pennsylvania Germans – far better than say, New England pilgrims worked with other religious groups.

As described in Four British Folkways in America

The founders of Pennsylvania were a different group of Englishmen…. Their idea of liberty was not the same as that which came to other parts of British America. The most important of these differences had to do with religious freedom-“liberty of conscience,” William Penn called it. This was not the conventional Protestant idea of liberty to do only that which is right. The Quakers believed that liberty of conscience extended even to ideas that they believed to be wrong. Their idea of “soul freedom” protected every Christian conscience.

I have found some of this spirit in Maine, where I moved full time eleven years ago in part because DC was becoming a increasingly simplistic haven for power over decency and status over friendliness. Maine, where I had gone many summers, was infinitely more communal even if I was “from away.” Folks respected one another and treated them fairly. For example, I came to realize that you couldn’t do business without an anecdote, a simple tale to connect you with someone personally as well as to transact with them. I also realized that speaking truthfully was important. Bulls in the barn and field were the only creatures generally allowed to spread BS.
Community builds trust, mutual reliance, understanding and sympathy of others, as well collective power. We don’t have to agree on everything, just discover what it is we have in common.

When I think of communities of which I have been a part, happy visions come to mind. Although most of my writing and work have involved larger issues, I have refused to turn my back on the local and communal. It leads me to wiser places on the larger subject. Thus, I do a Facebook page for my current Maine neighborhood that has over 550 readers. I was an elected advisory neighbhood commissioner in DC. When I think back to my days as operations officer aboard a Coast Guard cutter I’m reminded of how a sense of community among those 50 guys helped get our work done well. And when I went out for lunch from my Dupont Circle office of over 20 years, even the street panhandlers were friendly.

In politics more than almost any place else we need to rediscover the virtue of community. The color of your skin or the nature of your politics will not do the job by itself. Just consider the numbers. For example, blacks, latinos and working class whites are a majority of our population, but despite the problems they have in common you’d never know it.

When I think of those who have helped create my passions and values, I find myself quickly leaving my own identity and reflecting on those with whom I worked and enjoyed things including black urban activists and white Maine farmers as well as roommates with all sorts of different stories and neighbors who were also close friends.

Good politics is like that as well. Keep and celebrate your own identity for sure. But share it with others for common goals, such as the new shared national identity we desperately need.

Some good news hidden in the virus crisis

Sam Smith – Even in the worst of times, some good news may be hidden in the disaster. In the case of the current virus, we can find an example in an unlikely place: money

The virus has removed some of the fiction from our monetary mythology. We have discovered – at least temporarily – that our vaunted system (aka capitalism) under which Elon Musk has over $70 billion in net worth while more than a half million of his fellow citizens are homeless won’t get us through this crisis. And so we’ve done some things in the name of a real life emergency that we’ve long declined to go for in theory.

For example, the $600 a week unemployment aid and the $2400 stimulus check. Or the protection for renters in danger of being evicted.

Also striking has been the increase in national debt which has occurred with surprisingly little controversy and without the past-projected inflation.

We are now seeking pragmatic solutions in a time when economic theory won’t keep us going.

What’s interesting is whether we’ll learn from this or, in better times, just go back to old ways. My hope – perhaps naïve – is that we can ditch such phrases as capitalism and socialism and begin to treat our economic problems the way we’re doing now – seeking pragmatic solutions to real issues.

Here are a few examples of things we might consider:

  • ·        Redefining our budgets so they reflect the difference between operating and capital debt, the latter having a much more productive effect on the economy – a fact we generally ignore. We could help recover from the virus and its economic effects by a massive program of rebuilding deteriorating structures like bridges. And by making distinctions between types of capital expenses. For example, a bus that helps revive an urban area for a decade or more is far more valuable than a tank that is blown up in six months.
  • ·       Guaranteed income: It work recently with the unemployed. Let’s broaden its use.
  • ·        A shorter work week
  • ·        Cooperatives
  • ·        State banks that help their communities rather than just making money off of them.
  • ·        Postal banking: Big banks often refuse to open branches in poor or minority areas, and the few banks still around shutter thanks to industry consolidation and online banking.
  • ·        Credit unions
  • ·        Time dollars, described in the book Time Dollars: A Currency for the 90’s by Edgar Cahn and Jonathan Rowe, operate like a blood bank. People help others in their community and get credits in a computer data base that they can draw upon in times of need.
  • ·        Corporate codetermination. Wikipedia describes how it works in Germany: “The law allows workers to elect representatives (usually trade union representatives) for almost half of the supervisory board of directors. … It applies to public and private companies, so long as there are over 2,000 employees. For companies with 500–2,000 employees, one third of the supervisory board must be elected.”

And that’s just for starters. The point is that there is a wealth of solutions waiting for us to give them a try. The trick is to forget the theory stuff and experiment with such ideas.

The virus has gotten us started on this. Let’s take it from there,

The ethnic thing we don’t talk about

Sam Smith – Perhaps the most undiscussed aspect of multiculturalism is its positive effects on everyone. I’m as guilty as others in this regard, letting it slip thanks to the effort required to deal with  the discriminatory ways  in which it presently functions in our society.

But if we are to create a truly positive multicultural society, we not only need to undo the evil that exists but appreciate and enjoy the benefits that result.

For example, we do a lousy job of introducing children to the multicultural character of the land they are going to live in. And as we get older, we tend to define it by its unresolved problems rather than its advantages.

For instance, as a high school jazz musician in the 1950s I was already impressed by black  culture. The civil rights movement came to me not just as a moral challenge but as logical fairness for those who had placed so many songs in my heart.

Living as a minority white in Washington DC for over half my life, I was blessed to enjoy the pleasures of multiculturalism but now find myself concerned by some of the tone of the current ethnic debate that is far stronger on condemnation than it is on resolution. There is little sense of what Martin Luther King described as “I have a dream that one day right there in Alabama little black boys and little black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”

I’m familiar with the more pessimistic view. In the mid 1960s, I was working for the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, handling public relations for its local director, Marion Barry, when national leader Stokely Carmichael showed up at one of our meetings in a church basement and announced that whites were no longer welcomed in the civil rights movement.  But I soon got involved in the anti-freeway movement and the fight for DC statehood –  both cross-ethnic efforts and the latter led by Julius Hobson, perhaps the most underrated civil rights leader of the 20th century.  When I hear today’s activists bad mouthing whites collectively I recall Stokely Carmichael and how lucky I was to have run into a different approach.

And all this happened while I was still in my 20s. This young white guy had turned into an activist thanks to cultural experiences as well as pursuing laws and logic. Black culture was worth preserving not just because it was fair and decent but because it had added a lot to my own life.

This is just one fellow’s story. Part of the wonder of multiculturalism is that everyone’s story is different. And part of the secret of making it work is not just the right laws, protests and name calling but friendly gatherings, discovering what you have in common, thoughtful sharing and appreciation of what others are saying and doing. We shall know we have succeeded at multiculturalism when collectively we recognize that it is not only decent but it’s made life a lot better.

Easing multi-ethnic conflict by creating multi-ethnic alliances

Sam Smith – One of the great problems with the way that we approach ethnic discrimination is that we rarely discuss cures other than the condemnation of its examples. The media, for example, seldom discusses solutions. This approach is in full swing right now as can be seen in how little real police reform is being discussed and proposed. Doing away with choke holds won’t come close to solving all the problems. We seem to assume that identifying evil is its cure, which is sadly not the case.

One major exception has been Rev William Barber II who started Moral Mondays in North Carolina in 2013 and has since revived the Poor People’s Campaign.. As historian Timothy Tyson put it, Barber is “the most important progressive political leader in this state in generations,” saying that he “built a statewide interracial fusion political coalition that has not been seriously attempted since 1900.”

In order to have a well working multi ethnic society we need to discuss how to design it. Just attacking racism won’t create its alternative. Here are a few excerpts from an interview Chris Hayes did with Rev. Barber a year ago:

Rev Barber: We commissioned a study called the … Souls of Poor Folk, Auditing America 50 Years After the Poor People’s Campaign. Two or three things came up. Number one, we removed poverty out of the political discourse, worst thing we could have ever done, and race as moral issues. So you go through 26 presidential election debates in 2016, not one of them was on poverty. Not one whole debate was on poverty even though 43.5 percent of your people live in poverty and low wealth.

Number two, not one of them is about voter suppression and gerrymandering and restoring the Voting Rights Act, even though in 2016, you have less voting rights than you had in 1965 when the Voting Rights was passed on August the 6th.

That kind of anemic, weak political debate and discourse keeps us in a rut. It’s not honest… Most time if you talk about poverty, people say, “Well, there are more black people in poverty.” That’s not true. There’s more of a concentration of poverty among black people, but in raw numbers, there’s more white people in poverty.

And here’s the ugliness we’ve got to show people. The very people who engage in racist voter suppression and gerrymandering today, when they get that power, guess how they use it? To hurt mostly white people. There are 40 million more poor and low-wealth white people than there are black. People get power using race, then use the power to hurt in raw numbers. Why? Because if you take those former Confederate states, you get close to 170 electoral votes. If you can just control the 13 former Confederate states, you get 31 percent of the United States House of Representatives, and 26 members of the United States Senate.

… If I could put a pin that’s one of the mistakes that I believe of how the health care piece has been pushed. We haven’t rolled it out in the South and shown people in the South how it impacts them, and that’s why you can get a state like North Carolina blocking 500,000 people getting health care, and 346,000 of them are white. And yet people think that it’s primarily going to just minorities.

If you look at what Reconstruction was about, it was about policy. And they were able to find the linkage to show poor white people, their connection to black people, and black people their connection to white people, and how the persons that were the ones that were pushing the racism, pushing the division were actually hurting everybody. And so, you have to learn in this season to do that same kind of moral fusion.

Sam Smith – Fifteen years ago I took part in one of the most remarkable one day conferences I have ever attended. It was designed to bring progressives of different ilks together to agree on a common program. Here’s my report from the time:

In 1995, as an active member of the Green Politics Network, I joined a number of other Greens in hosting a conference of third party activists. Over a hundred showed up, ranging from one of the founders of the ancient American Labor Party to Greens, Libertarians, Perot backers, and Democratic Socialists of America. It was a recklessly dangerous idea for a Washington weekend, but Green activists John Rensenbrink, Linda Martin and Tony Affigne seemed to know what they were doing and I was happy to go along.

We established two basic rules:

o We would only discuss issues on which we might find some agreement.

o We would reach that agreement by consensus.

We broke the body into tables of ten or so, each dealing with a different topic. All policies that were proposed were written on newsprint posters. Then participants were given three color stick-on dots with their names on them. Everyone then went up to the board and placed their dots on their favorite issues (cumulative voting style, so that all three dots could, if desired, be placed on one issue). After the vote, those with only their dots on a particular issue were allowed to move them to their second choice (a la instant run-off voting) and so forth until a clear consensus of three issues emerged. This scheme not only produced a consensus, but one that was physical and visual as well as intellectual and was fun to watch.

When the various groups produced their recommendations, they were turned over to what was known as a “fishbowl negotiation.” Each small group selected a representative to negotiate for it with representatives of all the other tables. The representatives sat in a circle with those they represented behind them. Anyone could stop their representative and request a small group conference but only the representative could speak in the larger assembly. It worked remarkably well.

The small group that had the most difficulty with such techniques was comprised mainly of Marxists who had selected economics as their area of concern. One result, ironically, was that the weakest section of the final statement was that dealing with economics. On the other hand, the libertarians came to the organizers at one point and offered to leave the meeting so a full consensus could be maintained. We encouraged them to stick around, changing our own rules to accept several levels of consensus.

Despite the wide range of views present, despite the near total absence of Robert’s Rules of Order, the final document, with full consensus, called for nothing less than a major transformation. The group unanimously agreed to support proportional representation, campaign finance reform “to provide a level playing field in elections;” initiative, referendum and recall; better ballot access; the end of corporate welfare; strong environmental policies; sexual and reproductive freedom; an end to the war on drugs and treatment of addiction as a health matter rather than as a crime; a dramatic cut in military expenditures; workplace democracy and the maximum empowerment of people in their communities “consistent with fairness, social responsibilities and human rights.”

Not bad for a group ranging from one of the founders of the ancient American Labor Party to Greens, Libertarians, Perot backers and Democratic Socialists of America. It shouldn’t have worked at all, but because the rules we had used felt fair to those present, it did. By ignoring topics of obvious disagreement, we even surprised ourselves with the level of consensus.

We had also discovered the possibility of a political transformation, of moving beyond left and right. We understood that these were different times — not the thirties, not the sixties — times that required different imaginations and different risks. We had reached out and had found that we were not alone.

I have since repeatedly had the dream that national leaders of the black, latino, women’s, labor and youth communities would come together for similar discussions. You can’t create a working multi-cultural society if you don’t even sit down and talk with each other.

Confront the strong; convert the weak

Sam Smith – One of the problems I have with activism these days is that we seem to have lost both the capacity and desire to convert the weak. Too often there is a style I’ve come to think of as evangelical liberalism in which organizers and those who agree with them will be saved, but the rest will just go to hell.

Philosophy aside, this is not particularly good activism or politics. It eliminates large numbers of people whose misplaced positions and priorities are often the direct result of false propaganda by the powerful and fears for which the system provides no solution. For example, as noted here before, the currently widely used term “white privilege” can’t be expected to be received well by poor whites who number twice as many as poor blacks. And there is little sense, as Martin Luther King wanted us to hope, that some day our enemies might be our friends.

A handy alternative approach is to confront the strong for their evils, but convert the weak they have falsely convinced. One reason the latter have been fooled, for example, is because the percent of workers who belong to a labor union that might educate them towards more progressive views is one third what it was in the 1950s. In terms of influence, there is no equivalent powerful alternative to the lies and misdirection of a Donald Trump.

The decline of community is another factor working against us. There are too many who live in too small worlds that work against understanding a more decent and collective approach.

At the same time, broad as our current problems are, we tend to ignore the fact that we have made considerable progress in recent decades thanks in part to the changed minds of Americans who once favored segregation and other forms of ethnic bias. One small example from Black Demographics:

“Of the 100 largest cities in the country, 39 have had elected black mayors. In 2018, 57.1% of black mayors served in cities (over 40,000) that did not have a black majority population…. Perhaps the introduction and prevalence of the Black mayor has helped America become more comfortable with Black politicians in positions of major leadership. In 2018 there were about 32 Black Mayors of cities with populations of more than 40,000 according to our estimates.”

Or consider this story from Associated Press: “More Americans than in 2015 say police in most communities are more likely to use deadly force against a Black person than a white person, 61% today compared with 49% in 2015. Only about a third of Americans say the race of a person does not make a difference in the use of deadly force, compared with roughly half in 2015. And 65% say that police officers who cause injury or death in the course of their job are treated too leniently by the justice system, compared with 41% in 2015.”

And a recent Slate story by Priya Satia tells the tale of a a police officer in British India who “quit after five years out of a deep sense of shame, evident in his first published piece, in which the narrator, a police officer in Burma, is quietly complicit in the execution of a colonial subject… A dog is the only being that acknowledges the prisoner’s humanity, jumping up to lick his face, to the crowd’s horror.”

That police officer was a guy named George Orwell who went on to write 1984.

The point is that people do change for the better and successful activism is based on this assumption and the skills with which to achieve it.

I attribute evangelical liberalism in part to the fact that liberals are much much better educated and better off financially than was the case, say, in the New Deal or Great Society.

Take for example the case of Frances Perkins, the Roosevelt labor secretary who during her term of office, championed many aspects of the New Deal, including the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Public Works Administration, its successor the Federal Works Agency, and the labor portion of the National Industrial Recovery Act. With The Social Security Act she established unemployment benefits, pensions for the many uncovered elderly Americans, and welfare for the poorest Americans. She pushed to reduce workplace accidents and helped craft laws against child labor. Through the Fair Labor Standards Act, she established the first minimum wage and overtime laws for American workers, and defined the standard 40-hour work week. She formed governmental policy for working with labor unions and helped to alleviate strikes by way of the United States Conciliation Service.

Name any leading Democrat in the past fifty years who came close that.

In fact, the Perkins model offers a hint of what black, latino and white liberals could be doing together now. With the economic chaos that awaits the end of our lockdown, we will need to be redefining how money is created and used, instituting reforms such as a guaranteed income and more cooperatives, and providing decent places and programs for those most hardly hit by the current disaster. This provides an opportunity for progressives of all ethnicities to join in a cause of substance, and blacks and latinos could lead..

In the end, the best way to get a real progressive national movement is to confront the powerful but convert the weak


Sam Smith –The House passage of a DC statehood bill brings to mind that fifty years ago this month, I wrote an essay explaining for the first time how DC could become a state without a constitutional amendment. The plan was to reduce the size of the federal district created in the Constitution and to let the remainder become a state. This was not a novelty; after all back in 1846, Alexandria Virginia had been dropped from the federal district to satisfy that town’s pro-slavery agenda.

The total reaction to my article was that a reader sent me five dollars, asking that it be contributed to the cause if it ever got going. I thought, well there’s another one down the drain.

Then four months later, I was invited to a meeting to discuss the candidacy of Julius Hobson for non-voting delegate to Congress, a token that the federal government had thrown our way to help calm the city down.

We met in a barren church basement hall on East Capitol Street. Just a few of us, our chairs pulled in a small circle. After a while, Julius asked on what platform we thought he should run. Someone in the room mentioned the article I had written about statehood.. Julius listened, we discussed it for a few minutes and then he said, “That’s what I’m going to run on.”

Julius Hobson is probably the most underrated civil rights leader of recent time – another example of how colonies like DC not only lack power but respect for their stories.

Throughout the years of Washington’s awakening, no one individual had changed the course and the psychology of DC more than Hobson. In a city where it could be said that never had so many sold out for so little, Hobson refused to compromise. Even prospect of an early death from multiple myeloma failed to chasten the man. He described the conversation he would have with the Lord, if there turned out to be one, as Hobson presenting a bill of particulars on behalf of the oppressed people still back on earth. And he concluded, “That’s what I’d have to say to the Maker. And if the Maker doesn’t like it, to hell with him.”

Between 1960 and 1964, Julius Hobson had run more than 80 picket lines on approximately 120 retail stores in downtown DC, resulting in employment for some 5,000 blacks. He initiated campaigns that resulted in the first hiring of black bus drivers, black auto salesmen and dairy employees and directed anti-discrimination efforts against the public utilities, private apartment buildings, the Washington Hospital Center, and private business schools. In 1967, Julius Hobson won a suit that outlawed the existing rigid school track system, teacher segregation and differential distribution of budgets, books and supplies.

Our meeting in the church basement led to the creation of the DC Statehood Party which would elect a member to the city council and/or school board for 25 years. And it’s only taken a half century for the issue to come to the national fore. The current Senate clearly won’t approve it, but a Biden victory in the fall combined with a Democratic Senate could create a new state in a matter of months.


Sam Smith – In the summer of 1960, a local Washington movement formed to end the policy of segregation at Glen Echo Amusement Park. Howard University students, members of the Bannockburn community, the local NAACP, Cedar Lane Unitarian Church and the Wheaton-Kensington Democratic Club, all picketed the park on a daily basis, as well as petitioned the Montgomery County Council, (because public school buses were bringing white kids to Glen Echo to swim and taking black Montgomery County kids to the D.C.’s Francis Pool for swimming lessons.) There was a legal battle as well, which went all the way to the Supreme Court.

Your editor was a reporter for WWDC and Deadline Washington News Service at the time. In August 1960 I wrote in a letter:

“Have been covering some of the anti-segregation demonstrations around the Washington area. The results here have been hopeful. Good police work has kept violence to a minimum although the presence of neo-Nazi Lincoln Rockwell and his “troopers” doesn’t make the situation any simpler. Quite a few lunch counters have been desegregated. Glen Echo Amusement Park is resisting despite a month of picketing and a Bethesda theater is also refusing to back down.”

In February 1960, four black college students had sat down at a white-only Woolworths lunch counter in Greensboro, NC. Within two weeks, there were sit-ins in fifteen cities in five southern states and within two months they had spread to fifty four cities in nine states. In April the leaders of these protests had come together, heard a moving sermon by Martin Luther King Jr. and formed the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee.

The summer I first worked for WWDC I had covered the passage of the first civil rights legislation in Congress since 1875. Now it was getting serious. By the end of June, I was covering the desegregation of lunch counters in Northern Virginia after sit-ins by groups led a Howard Divinity School student, Lawrence Harvey. Harvey [see pix] then took his troops to Glen Echo.

Although I saved few recordings from that period — tape was expensive and usually recycled — I still have the raw sounds I made that day. On it a guard and Harvey confront each other:

Are you white or colored?
Am I white or colored?
That’s correct. That’s what I want to know. Can I ask your race?
My race. I belong to the human race.
All right. This park is segregated.
I don’t understand what you mean.
It’s strictly for white people
It’s strictly for white persons?
Uh-hum. It has been for years. . .
You’re telling me that because my skin is black I can not come into your park?
Not because your skin is black. I asked you what your race was.
I would like to know why I can not come into your park.
Because the park is segregated. It is private property.
Just what class of people do you allow to come in here.
White people
So you’re saying you exclude the American Negro.
That’s right.
Who is a citizen of the United States.
That’s right.
I see.

As a biracial group marched outside with picket signs, Harvey led a group inside to sit-in at the restaurant and mount the carousel horses. The case ended up in court and less than a year later, the park opened for all.


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The Confederacy lives on

Sam Smith – The removal of Confederate statues is another reminder of a thesis I’ve pretty much kept to myself, namely that the South lost slavery and the right of succession thanks to the Civil War, but it won a lot of other things, such as the right to segregation and disproportionate control over Congress.
For example those more than 700 statues were mainly built not in the wake of the war but during the period of southern white supremacy from the 1920s to the 1960s, the so-called Jim Crow era. When I graduated from college in 1959 and went to Washington as a radio reporter, I was surprised to discover the power of Dixicrat members of Congress at the time reflected by even some of my northern friends who had come to work on the Hill developing southern accents. It became quickly clear that the south ran the place.
Thanks to the civil rights movement, we no longer talk about the confederacy save as history, but the north-south conflict can still be  found if you look closely. Take the 2016 election. Eliminate the count in the former confederacy and Hillary Clinton would have won by 35 electoral votes.
Undernews keeps a record of good and bad things happening by state and right now there isn’t a single former Confederate state in the top half of the union.
Sure, there’s been a lot of progress in the south, but we should recognize – as demonstrated by Georgia’s recent effort to suppress the black vote – that the issues that brought on the Civil War and the Jim Crow era haven’t left us yet.