My brother dropped me off at the Pittsburgh Greyhound Station an hour before sunrise. The last time I rode the hound in the late 90s, the station at the corner of 11th and Liberty was drab and dirty and poorly lit and depressing, a murder scene from a gritty crime drama. Now it has flat-screen TVs, lots of places to sit, fluorescent lights, air conditioning, no smoking, well-stocked vending machines, Wi-Fi, and it’s mostly clean.
But the Greyhound riders are the same. The occasional old dude with all his belongings in a cardboard box who looks like he just got out of prison is still there, and the rail-thin tweaker lady with the raspy voice who is about to go nuclear because she misplaced her keys is still there. But most Greyhound riders are just average, broke Americans who can’t afford to fly: a mixed crowd of poor folks of all colors, single mothers with their kids who are never not crying or have a cold, old folks, members of the military, college students, foreigners, the Amish, and middle aged white men who are a little off, just weird enough not to have figured out how to pimp their privilege to afford a lifestyle that includes air travel. That’s where I fall in.
Greyhound riders fall under same demographics the Democratic Party loves to make abundant promises to every four years. And this year, the Democratic National Convention had quite possibly the most diverse delegation in history. It’s possible that a few of my fellow bus travelers were delegates trying to save on the exorbitant cost it takes to represent your constituents on the floor.
But nobody on my bus would be at A-list parties or five star hotels in Center City Philadelphia where corporate lobbyists would mix with lawmakers. The DNC’s lifting of the Obama-imposed ban on lobbyist money during the convention would ensure Philadelphia would be filled with high rollers making shady deals on this hot week in July 2016.
The bus made it to Philly on time. I’d only slept two hours the previous night. On the bus, I tried to get a cat nap in, but the news of party chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz resigning had me awake and tapping around for stories. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. Would the convention be contested? Doubtful given the fact that Bernie Sanders had already acknowledged Hillary Clinton as the nominee. Would the streets turn into 1968 in Chicago? It depended upon what kind of civil disobedience the demonstrators had planned and the police response to it. Would cops be shot like in Dallas and Baton Rouge?
As a reader-supported independent writer without access to the convention, I had plenty on my agenda, enough that I wouldn’t get to all of it. Demonstrations included March on the DNC, Shut Down the DNC, March4Bernie, Million Berners March, March for Our Lives, RideDNC, Black DNC Resistance March Against Police Terrorism and State Repression, and Jill Stein Power to the People Rally. I would attend panel discussions at University of Pennsylvania and at PoliticoHub, a Politifact/Billy Penn party, as well as Socialist Convergence, a meeting featuring Jill Stein and other members of the Green Party as well as writer Chris Hedges.
I ate lunch in Chinatown, then walked over to the Municipal Services Building plaza, where hundreds of people were gathering for March4Bernie. Billy Taylor, a local activist who had obtained permits months prior for the convention week for demonstrations in Franklin Delano Roosevelt Park (adjacent to the Wells Fargo Center, venue for the convention), had organized this shindig with a rough start time of 1:00pm.
It was hot, humid, and chaotic. Most of the crowd had phones and cameras and were bumping into each other trying to get shots of a sign here or a costume there, interspersed with media professionals with TV cameras and big puffy microphones. Conservative Evan Dando lookalike fop Tucker Carlson interviewed a guy who thought it was a good idea to bring a live alpaca to Center City Philadelphia. An amplified voice had me looking around for a stage, but it was just random people here and there speaking through megaphones. Philly Public Works guys in yellow fluorescent shirts were unloading barricades out of a truck and stacking them near the “Government of the People” sculpture. Police officers there and elsewhere in the city were exceptionally friendly.
Suddenly the Black Men for Bernie bus rolled up on JFK Boulevard, emblazoned with the image of Bernie Sanders being arrested in Chicago in 1963 at a civil rights demonstration. A fleet of matching SUVs rolled up behind like ducklings following a mother duck. The driver, Black Men for Bernie founder Bruce Carter, lay on the bus’s blaring horn. The crowd goes wild. Black Men for Bernie member Gary Frasier and Billy Taylor stood atop the bus with raised fists. A coffin painted with the letters DNC was lifted up and held up for cheering demonstrators. Rowdy declarations about revolution were barked into a megaphone.
Amy Goodman from Democracy Now was among the crowd of pro-media at the foot of the bus. The demonstrators chanted her name approvingly. “A-my Good-man *clap clap, clapclapclap*” Moments later, noticing reporters from CNN, the pro-Bernie crowd surrounded them, chanting “Hey Hey! Ho Ho! CNN has got to go!”
These were Bernie’s people. For them, the Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign wasn’t typical bullshit politics, and his rhetoric wasn’t empty marketing promising false hope and change. These people were serious about political revolution, and they were not about to heed lame pleas for unity from a Democratic establishment that had, in their minds, rigged the primary campaign to favor the establishment candidate. Even with Bernie’s recent support of Hillary Clinton, the Berners were not about to let the coronation go without opposition.
Later the crowd would march over four miles down Broad Street toward FDR Park with temperatures in the upper 90s, chanting, beating drums, raising fists. Police would direct traffic and clear the way.
That evening, the scene in FDR Park was like a Grateful Dead show with more police than drugs and more political speeches than music. The mostly white crowd was milling about slowly all around the park, hot and tired from marching. Some had set up tents despite signs prohibiting camping. Police handed out bottles of water beneath a white pop-up tent and engaged in friendly banter with the citizens whenever possible. Other cops held their posts, a pair of officers every 50 yards behind miles of 10 foot high barricades and cement road blocks, preventing anyone without proper credentials from entering the fortress of the Wells Fargo Center.
The rally featured a pro stage set-up with a decent PA and big screens on either side. The speakers represented various interests, all united in a plan to infiltrate the system by getting progressive citizens to run for local office to usurp the greed-heads.
As a nurse from National Nurses United spoke, I was attacked by a swarm of horse flies, who launched their attack from a nearby piles of horseshit. I assumed the piles were shat out strategically, like land mines, by the equine members of the Philadelphia PD and left to sizzle in the hot sun.
At this point, not only the flies but a couple of the hippies were getting to me. Even as a guy who used to drop acid at Dead and Phish shows, my hippy tolerance is not at always at a respectful level. Not for their politics, which I tend to agree with, but for their affect. On a hot day like this, with little sleep? Nope. A tall hairy ginger nothing but a pair of red briefs held a plastic pitchfork and was dancing around, smiling wildly with his bulge bouncing. Nope. I needed a beer at this point, and walked to the nearest bar: a sports bar a mile and a half away, the polar opposite of a leftist political rally.
After a few beers I dragged ass back to the park and soon realized that, despite the organizers hinting at it in the preceding weeks, Bernie Sanders would not be speaking. For the rest of the week, Sanders would keep his speeches on the inside of the Wells Fargo Center.
I took the subway to the AirBnb I was staying at in West Philly near Malcolm X Park. It was a large house owned by an artist in her 50s. I would bunk in a small room with three other guys. I can only assume that my accommodations were slightly less posh than Wolf Blitzer’s, but I was grateful for the window unit air conditioner.
The next day, Philadelphia’s beautiful City Hall was abuzz with demonstrators, reporters from top media outlets, independent bloggers like me, folks in matching T-Shirts from various organizations, and street protest celebrities like Vermin Supreme.
At a fast food place in Center City, I eavesdropped on a table of locals bitching about the “protestors”, a word that has become a mass media epithet for anyone practicing democracy with a street demonstration. “Why are they up here? Nobody around here has anything to do with the convention. Why don’t they go down to where the convention is?”
And they would, once again, go down to where the convention is, in another long hot march down Broad Street, the Greens, the Socialists, the Bernie-or-Busters, the disaffected Democrats pissed off at the DNC insiders and political favoritism, followed by a parade of cameras large and small, flanked by sidewalk music and dance acts performing just for the occasion. The police would once again act with the utmost professionalism, directing traffic away from Broad, following behind the march in squad cars with lights flashing to pace the traffic behind them.
By mid-day I was hot, tired, and red with sunburn. I lay low in a coffee shop, got an iced tea and recharged my phone. I decided I wouldn’t go to FDR Park to see Jill Stein speak in the muggy, horse fly ridden environment. Instead I would go to the more comfortable PoliticoHub for opening night of the convention.
I walked over to 2000 Market Street at around 5:30pm. A swank office building with an outdoor plaza with big screens and fountains, and mean looking security at the front desk undergoing their hell week. I went around to the wrong side and security followed me. A pleasant young lady in her 20s wearing a Politico T-shirt politely directed me to the entrance at the other side.
At the desk were a few young liberals. I inquired whether the event was open to the general public. “At 7 o’clock” was the reply. Alicia Keys was playing a piano, so the early part of the event was invite-only.
I found another coffee shop. I called home and caught up on the news. Then outside, a rainstorm of epic proportions not seen since the time of Noah flooded the Philly Streets. I was stranded inside with a barista who was freestyle rapping and was horrible at it.
An hour and a half later the rain died down enough for me to walk back to 2000 Market. At that point I was damp, wearing a T-shirt full of holes and visible sweat stains, and tan shorts with ink and coffee stains, smelling like a bum from walking around all day in the oppressive heat, unkempt hair wild with humidity, and a loaded backpack. Just the kinda guy you want in a party full of political bloggers and media professionals who actually get paid for their work, waiters carrying around hors d’oeuvres, free drinks, white couches, and – I’m not kidding – an oxygen bar.
I had sympathy for the kid at the gate as he hesitated when he saw me. “Have you RSVPed?”
“Do you have a business card?”
I had one for a home-baked bagel business I’d started back in Oklahoma.
“You can sign in here.”
I took the elevator up to where the party was. Men were dressed in suits and ties, women in dresses and heels. All clean and with nice hair, suggesting they hadn’t been out in the sun all day, and they’d slept in a hotel room in Center City rather than an uncomfortable bunk in the hood. Shit, they may have taken Uber to the party, like a bunch of high rollers! None of them looked like a Greyhound rider.
At another desk I had my bag searched in exchange for an “Attendee” badge.
“I feel like I’m under dressed,” I said to the man at the desk.
“That’s okay,” he said, a bit uncomfortably.
Despite smelling like a homeless hippy walking a wet dog, they let me in.
Boy did I get side looks, bemused smirks, and whispering as I lurked around the alien environment like Captain Kirk from the Starship Scumbag who just landed on the planet of a more advanced civilization. An old lady stood near me for a second, then said “Disgusting!” before walking away.
I didn’t blame these people. It was their party, and despite smelling like a homeless hippy walking a wet dog, they let me in. God bless them. And who the hell was I? None of them knew what a Sloover was or what planet I came from. I had nothing but gratitude for the bartender: a kind, kind man. When I asked for Crown Royal with ice, he filled it to the top of a 12 ounce glass. I say again, God bless these liberals.
This was, for the most part, Hillary’s crowd. If they had been for Bernie, they were now following along with his directive to support Clinton.
I stood watching the opening night speeches on the big screen, behind the small stage with the piano Alicia Keys had just played. The anxiety in the viewing room about the behavior of the rowdy Bernie delegates was palpable. The Republicans were supposed to have the loose cannon and the raucous convention. The party goers cheered for Sarah Silverman’s comment that the Bernie delegates were “being ridiculous”.
The Politico crowd certainly wasn’t the rowdy leftists shouting through megaphones at City Hall. They were straight out of Phil Ochs’ “Love Me I’m a Liberal”.
I was thankful to be there and not in the hot, wet, FDR Park. I laughed at Franken and Silverman’s bit. Along with my fellow party goers, I wondered at the naiveté of the Bernie or Busters. Though I smelled that way, I didn’t feel 100% aligned with the Outsiders at the time.
Bernie Balboa and His Pesky, Chanting Delegates
When my schedule allowed, I went walking around the route of PolitcalFest, a DNC sponsored event at various historical sites in Philadelphia, featuring lots of exhibits and distractions for tourists in town. I saw a glass Ben Franklin drank from when he wasn’t busy doing everything, an exhibit on photojournalist Neil Benson, and Joe Frazier’s boxing gloves.
But I didn’t see a pair of gloves worn by my favorite Philadelphian, Rocky Balboa.
Rocky was the tale of a washed-up boxer who gets a freak chance to fight the heavyweight champion of the world, Apollo Creed. To Creed, the fight is nothing but a spectacle, a chance to wrap himself in an American flag, polish his image, and showcase his talent to his admirers.
But Rocky takes the fight seriously. He eats raw eggs, punches raw meat, jogs up the stairs of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and transforms a timid little pet shop gal into a sultry sex kitten.
In the final scene, Rocky, expected to go along with the program, instead goes the distance with the champ in a brutal, bloody contest. Rocky loses in a split decision, and there ain’t gonna be no rematch. But it doesn’t matter, because Rocky went the distance with the champ. Adrian!
The only thing missing about that classic flick is a scene that should have been tacked on at the end, where political expert and comic genius Seth Meyers scolds the crowd for chanting “Rocky! Rocky!” when it was clearly Apollo Creed’s night.
How dare they screw up pageantry with their annoying politics! say the pearl-clutching liberal elite. Some took to the internet to publicly read from a “get off my lawn” old-people script, once exclusively the script of conservatives. (Then again, so was idolizing Ronald Reagan up until eight years ago.) Those Bernie delegates are naïve children! they proclaimed. They don’t know how politics works!
We’ve heard it throughout the campaign, often from the Clinton camp: a Bernie supporter is a young, naïve idealist who doesn’t know how anything works. They just want free stuff and they think Bernie is Santa Claus, (Hanukkah Harry?). A young woman only supports Bernie to score the “Bernie Bros”, a group of male Bernie supporters we just made up to suggest that everyone not supporting Hillary is a misogynist. And how dare these idealistic young women question Hillary Clinton about the 1994 crime bill or her ties to Big Oil? They deserve a public scolding!
Then those Bernie-loving whipper-snappers had the nerve to go out there on the convention floor as delegates, throwing temper tantrums because they didn’t get the candidate they wanted. They’re used to sitting around at their parent’s house smoking the strong newfangled marijuanas and playing the Pokemon, and now that they’ve gotten a taste of American politics, they can’t handle it. American politics is like whiskey. It’s for tough old people with burly chests who swear and growl and stuff.
Skirmishes and protests on the convention floor are nothing new, but they haven’t gone on in a while. People are shocked this year because we’ve been trained to think of conventions as awards shows or infomercials rather than events where actual politics happens.
In 1972 my girlfriend’s mother, Linda Fry, was a Democratic delegate supporting Shirley Chisolm, the first black woman to run for president in a major political party. Linda was 19 at the time she attended the Democratic Convention in Miami. When the party chair from Allegheny County PA, Gene Koontz, urged her to cast her vote for the chosen candidate, George McGovern, Linda spoke up.
“I said ‘You didn’t pay my way down here, and you’re not my father, and this is how I’m going to vote.’ Well he did not like that one bit. He wasn’t used to being spoken to that way. Especially by a 19 year old girl.”
Late Night host Seth Meyers would not approve!
Late Night was once a television program hosted by David Letterman. It’s now hosted by Seth Meyers. I realize the fact that Donald Trump is a major party candidate is thee major travesty in America going on right now. Anyway.
Tuesday morning at Reading Terminal Market, across Arch Street from the Pennsylvania Convention Center where the delegates were meeting, I spoke to two 19 year old delegates: Sawyer Neale of Pennsylvania and Nathan Sidell of Alaska. Both of these kids had such kooky naïve radical ideas like continuing to work in the Democratic Party to transform it by supporting progressive candidates at the grassroots level, and supporting Hillary Clinton now that she is the nominee.
Sawyer Neale was a ball of energy, and I worried the iced coffee I bought him would send him climbing the walls. The youngest delegate from the state of Pennsylvania, he wore a suit and carried a pocket Constitution that his grandfather had given him. Later when he saw Khizr Khan hold up a pocket Constitution to implore Donald Trump to read it, Sawyer would lift his copy in solidarity.
Sawyer got into politics at age 16, two years before he was eligible to vote, to participate in actions opposing Voter ID laws. He was excited to have met PA Governor Tom Wolfe the previous day and was blown away by Cory Booker’s speech the previous night. Sawyer would appear in several Eastern PA newspapers, and on NBC Nightly News and the BBC. I asked him when he was going to run for office. He said he wanted to complete his education first before deciding.
Sawyer hooked me up with Nathan Sidell, Bernie delegate from Alaska. Nathan is a college student majoring in International Business and Arabic Language. He plans on pursuing a career in the military, and hopes to pay off his student loans sooner rather than later, a feat becoming more and more difficult for young Americans.
“Last week I took out student loans for this upcoming semester,” Nathan explained to me. “And it’s unbelievable. My annual percentage rate for my student loans is at 10.3%. Can you imagine paying 10.3% on a mortgage? It’s absurd. These are loans given to 18, 19 year old college students. I’m different and I know what I want to do in my career path. But just to except to throw all these students who don’t really know what they’re doing into massive, crushing amounts of debt that can only build up. At 10.3%? I can’t pay off my student loans immediately. It’s just ridiculous. And Bernie has been the fiercest advocate against this. And that’s why I gravitated towards him.”
So far the sensationalist media narrative about young, naïve Bernie supporters is not panning out. Certainly he doesn’t know how the primary process works, right?
“Clinton did get more delegates unfortunately,” said Nathan. “We’re casting our votes tonight in the roll call. She has more, so she’ll end up winning and being the nominee. It takes a lot for Bernie to endorse Clinton, someone who he’s been criticizing adamantly on the campaign trail. I think that shows a lot of character for Bernie to do that.”
But certainly there were those people chanting, making a ruckus, engaging in shenanigans on the convention floor, just begging for a scolding from our nation’s top comedians. So I spoke to a few older, seasoned delegates to explain what was going on.
I met Steve Todd of Dauphin County, PA in the bar of the Doubletree Hotel where many of the delegates were staying. Steve had worked on the Democratic committee in his county for decades, and characterized Bernie Sanders bid as “the most grassroots campaign I’d ever seen.”
When asked about Sarah Silverman’s statement on the chanting delegates being ridiculous, Steve said, “I think she’s ridiculous. I’m not a Bernie-or-Buster but I don’t take away anything from any of those folks. It’s usually top-down. The fact that this campaign came the other way, with all the people we didn’t even know… I’ve met more people on this campaign than probably all the other campaigns I worked for, combined. And because of that, it’s not a matter of ‘Oh. Our guy didn’t make it? Well, no problem. We’ll just back the other guy who made it.’ I have a lot of dear friends who are Hillary backers, and I respect them. I started telling them a year ago, ‘Guys, this isn’t gonna be like another primary. You don’t understand. These people are coming out of the woodwork to help on a campaign, who never voted, never belonged to a political party, don’t know what a delegate is. They want Bernie. They don’t want Thee Democrat.’ By and large, Berners don’t really care about parties. A lot of them really despise both parties. And I say, rightfully so. Both parties have earned it.”
“Why in god’s name did we come here and spend $2100 bucks for a hotel room if it’s not to lobby for our candidate?” – Steve Todd, Bernie delegate from Pennsylvania
If Steve had any pearls, he wasn’t clutching them from his vantage point on the convention floor. “I think this is tame. When somebody says something we don’t like, yeah we stand up with our ‘No TPP’ signs and shout them down and say ‘Bernie, Bernie’. Oh well! Why in god’s name did we come here and spend $2100 bucks for a hotel room if it’s not to lobby for our candidate?”
Justin Baird, a 53 year old Seattle bartender and Bernie delegate, got into politics in the mid-80s after an existential period of partying and severe depression after having been diagnosed with HIV. At the time, little was offered in the way of treatment, and an HIV diagnosis was the same as a death sentence. Justin was given 6 months to live. When he realized he fell into the medical category given to HIV patients, “elite controller”, meaning for whatever genetic reason he wouldn’t die from the virus, he decided to use his time to get into politics and try to make a difference.
I asked him if he was part of the Tuesday night Bernie delegate walk-out:
I was. I had been a voice of calm and generally asked people to pick their battles and make sure that they don’t scream into an empty room. Mindful that what conventions are, are a four day commercial. They’re designed by the parties to show you that we’re going to unify the country. So what they really, really want is unity. So I asked people to keep that in mind.
Now, it’s obvious that we’ve got people in the movement who are saying, “Hey! We were never Dems to begin with. We came into this because of Bernie.”
There was an opportunity there that I think was missed. And that has to do with how you present this theater.
What we had on night one was a very carefully orchestrated evening of “Let’s honor Senator Sanders. But let’s have every conversation end with, ‘…we have this other person as president.’” That isn’t honoring [Senator Sanders].
Now, we get the reality. Clinton is gonna be the nominee. That’s great but let’s pretend that there’s actually a process called a vote that’s gonna happen Tuesday morning.
That didn’t resonate well. Why did we spend thousands of dollars to come here for you to tell us it’s a foregone conclusion? [Even if] we may be foolish for thinking there’s any chance.
I believe if they had been more accommodating at honoring both candidates… and they’d been sort of doing it, but at the same time being openly hostile on the floor between the camps… All that does is aggravate every wing of the Bernie movement, especially the ones who said “Well maybe there was a chance I would stay in this fight, but everyone here is treating me so poorly, so screw that.” So then floor shouts started to happen. They got tired of having the “Bernie Night” be a commercial for someone else.
I asked Justin about what he thought about some of those heartbroken Berners deciding to vote Green. He answered that Jill Stein was not an electable option “until you work the long-game to change state laws in 37 states that literally keep third parties away.”
The Long Game
Wednesday morning I went to a panel discussion at the University of Pennsylvania on the Flint Water Crisis. The overarching theme was the absolute necessity of the elimination of short-term thinking in order to implement the long-term programs needed to rebuild and sustain our crumbling infrastructure.
Congressman Dan Kildee, representing the district in Michigan where Flint sits, spoke about specific challenges having to do with the EPA. He wants to see legislation requiring the EPA to go public should lead levels reach a certain parts-per-billion measure of toxicity. And he wants to lower the EPA 15 parts-per-billion action level now considered toxic. Lowering the action level, he suggested, would force government to act as more affluent communities would discover that their drinking water also contained lead. Kildee acknowledged the racial and socioeconomic element in how quickly government responds to crises.
Kildee also wants the wall between state and federal government to come down when it comes to federal government aiding in local, struggling communities with tiny governments trying to maintain infrastructure originally built for a larger population, such as Flint. All this, he said, requires the government to change its short-term thinking, to orient its planning and legislation beyond the next year, and the next election.
Dr. Marilyn Howarth, from the Penn Center for Excellence in Environmental Toxicology, spoke about the work she was doing in delivering the benefits of research to legislators and to the community. She stressed that a long-term model of planning needs to be applied not only to infrastructure but to housing as well, as much of the lead poisoning in children comes from the millions of homes still containing lead paint.
Along with Guardian writer Oliver Milman, Howarth spoke of poor water testing methods in cities around the country, Philadelphia being one of the worst. Filters containing possible lead build-up are sometimes removed before testing, which lowers the parts-per-billion results. Water is even flushed before testing, which also shows lower lead levels in the results than the actual levels a household would be consuming. While sipping tap water from the bathroom of my AirBnb, I took comfort in knowing that I was immersing myself in the issue.
That was funny you guys.
Milman pointed out a lateral problem of short-term thinking in journalism – shooting for headlines and “sexy” stories, ie Trump’s latest outrageous statement, rather than digging into problems such as infrastructure that would keep the public out of the dark.
After the panel at UPenn, I took the bus back to Center City for PoliticoHub, where they were also holding panel discussions that day. The first panel on economic policy featured heavyweights like Alan Kruger, Neera Tanden, and former Secretary of the Treasury Larry Summers.
“The first priority should be a decade-long, one to two trillion dollar investment in renewing the country. That will, if it earns five or ten percent, and the government captures twenty five percent of it, that is more than enough to cover the zero real interest rate debt and pay for itself.” – Larry Summers
Tanden pointed out that Hillary Clinton spoke out against short-termism in corporate culture and government, and that she expects a Clinton presidency to focus on the much-needed infrastructure rebuilding covered earlier at the Flint panel.
Summers made his case for the long game:
It is insanity that we can borrow money for 30 years at 2.3% in a currency that we print ourselves, that our real interest rate is zero, and that we have the lowest public investment rate since the Second World War. And that if you subtract appreciation and you look at net investment it is, to the nearest round number, zero. That is insanity. You see it in Kennedy airport. You see it in paint peeling off schools across the country. You see it in potholes in this city. You see it in community colleges not doing the job that they should for millions of Americans. You see it in a country that has all the top high tech companies not being in the top dozen in terms of broadband access. So the first priority should be a decade-long, one to two trillion dollar investment in renewing the country. That will, if it earns five or ten percent, and the government captures twenty five percent of it, that is more than enough to cover the zero real interest rate debt and pay for itself. It will put workers, disproportionately the workers who have been more hurt, back to work. And, for those like Michael who are worried about burdens on our children, I’m here to tell you that deferred maintenance and deferred renewal is just as much a debt, as the issuance of treasury debt, except that one compounds at 10 or 20 percent a year, not at one to three percent.
There are a lot of stupid whores in Washington, only taking corporate money to enact policy that benefits big business interests while mouthing weak, illogical, anti-scientific, anti-intellectual arguments to support their positions. But there are a lot of brilliant people too, like Larry Summers, though firmly embedded in the Establishment, who obviously has ideas about how to put lots of citizens back to work. And there are people like Congressman Kildee, who are sincerely dedicated to serving their communities by trying to fix problems with intelligent legislation.
It’s clear though, for brilliant minds and dedicated hearts to serve the public, we need to dissolve the distraction of big money in politics. For delegate Steve Todd, that’s top priority:
You can think what you want about abortion, Iraq, healthcare, pick an issue. It does not matter. If you do not meet the criteria of the people who fund both broken, corrupt parties, your issue is going nowhere. You will either hire a top lobbyist to sit down with Governor Whatshisname and present a handsome check to his next reelection effort, or you won’t get anything done. Those are the two choices in America and over 90% of us can’t afford to play the game.
Wednesday night I went to Socialist Convergence at the Friends Center on Cherry Street. There I saw top members of the Green Party speak including Jill Stein, as well as writer Chris Hedges. The room was hot and crowded and smelled like hippies. On the whole the evening was a refreshing critique of our current economic/power system.
Hedges railed against Bernie Sanders for failing to dramatically walking out of the convention and start a third party. Hedges said reform within the Democratic Party is impossible and nothing short of a revolution will change anything.
I’ve been following greens and socialists and anarchists for years, and I’ve read these eloquent, intelligent, spot-on, blistering speeches and essays about the horrors of the power apparatus. And after decades of reading stuff like this, I’m feeling a John Belushi from Animal House moment. Not at the end of the “Let’s do it!” speech, where everybody gets up and follows him, but the part in the middle where he runs out of the room yelling “Oooohhhhh!!” and nobody follows him.
Let me illustrate…
At one point early in the evening, before the rock stars Stein and Hedges arrived, a young woman in a Bernie Sanders T Shirt stood up to ask a question of the Green Party members on the panel. She was from West Virginia where recent flooding devastated communities and was made worse by mountain top removal. She said that, because of Bernie Sanders, and his campaign and encouragement to continue his political revolution, she and her friend were going to run for office. They had already been successful in supporting a resolution opposing mountain top removal in the state. Her question: Does the Green Party offer any support for people like me who would like to run for office at the local level? The answer, essentially: “We’re working on it.”
When there’s no practical action, criticism of the power apparatus amounts to a bunch of people farting in a hot room.
In the meantime I have to ask, aren’t these mathematically impossible presidential campaigns and declarative speeches just as sensationalist as Trump’s trolling of America? Aren’t these tactics just as short-term in vision as a corporate board room trying to increase the value of shares in the stock market? As with Occupy Wall Street, I’m on board with the Greens’ general assessment about the way things are, and the way things ought to be, but what’s the next step? What specific things do we need to do to get there?
Criticism is healthy. Socialism in its essence is a critique of capitalism. But when there’s no practical action, criticism of the power apparatus amounts to a bunch of people farting in a hot room.
Bernie Sanders has gone beyond speeches and is now encouraging people to run for office in their community, to occupy seats of power, to actually build something new. Why waste time revolting against a system that’s already crumbling under its own weight? The Bernie Sanders movement is beginning to answer the essential question: After you overthrow the system, what do you replace it with?
Instead of leading his supporters out of the Democratic National Convention like the pied piper, which is what Hedges would have liked, Sanders stayed in to work on what he said was important all along – the platform that he calls the most progressive in Democratic Party history. And part of the deal was campaigning for Hillary Clinton. It may very well be humiliating for him, and it wouldn’t be shocking if Clinton very shamelessly abandons the progressive parts of the DNC platform. Sanders certainly has supporters angry at him now, accusing him of selling out. But as he’s said from the beginning, it’s not about him becoming president, it’s about the issues that effect all of us.
It’s hard to tell where Hillary Clinton stands in all of this. She’s brilliant, and qualified, and hasn’t played any dirtier at the twisted game of politics than most of former presidents have. And nobody is going to convince me that she’ll be just as bad as or worse than Donald Trump, who hasn’t the ability to complete a thought let alone conceive of the long term vision we need for the health of the country and the planet. But I can’t ignore her support for war in Iraq when it was so blatantly obvious to millions it was an illegal war, for welfare reform, for the crime bill, for the short sighted overthrow of Kaddafi, the Wall Street coziness, her fracking advocacy, right up to her recent vocal opposition to the TPP while all of her delegates vote in favor of the TPP at the platform committee meetings.
The media may not press her on these issues, but there is now a mass movement who will. And I don’t think they’ll just disappear like the anti-war movement did when Obama took office in 2009.
And while I did ride the Greyhound back to Tulsa with a new respect for progressive and even establishment Democrats working within the machine, please forgive me for not joining in the liberal chorus scolding Bernie delegates about their behavior on the floor of the Wells Fargo Center.
For a strong democracy, we absolutely need the outsiders, the agitators, the demonstrators to shake up the system — not only to demand elected officials to act, but to FORCE them to act.
“Republicans fall in line, and Democrats fall in love and they get heartbroken and they leave.” – Justin Baird, Bernie delegate from Seattle
With Bernie Sanders’ plan of progressive infiltration into public office from the local level on up, the outsiders who really are the 99%, may even start to gain access to the party inside.
“We have begun the long and arduous process of transforming America, a fight that will continue tomorrow, next week, next year and into the future.” – Bernie Sanders
I asked Justin Baird, the delegate from Seattle, if he thought the above statement was true, if the Bernie Sanders movement has truly inspired new participation in politics by young people:
I hope so. The problem is, I’ve seen movements – but never nearly as intense as this, never – I’ve seen movements get people fired up. Then they walk, they quit. They come back and the rules are always as before because they didn’t stick around and change the rules.
And we’re hoping we can retain them. Because that’s the problem with progressives. Republicans fall in line, and Democrats fall in love and they get heartbroken and they leave. Now, while they’re gone, the rules of the poker game and the potluck are made by the people who stayed behind. And you come back later, you didn’t have any effect on those rules, so you’re playing by their rules again. If you stay, like I’m doing, you’re stinking up the room with your presence all the time. You and that old lady in the room are going to be the ones barking at people and they’re going to have to deal with you. You know? Cause that’s democracy.
We’ve gotten a few more people engaged now and still people are going through some real depressed moments and wondering what the fuck to do. People are running for office, not sure, you know, ‘What am I doing? I feel dirty that I’m in this machine.’ But we’re supporting each other. You gotta stay with it.
Because they don’t want you in here… you gotta stay with it.