DO RIGHT BY OUR VETERANS!

By Michael Mottern

It was said to me at the Westside Buffalo New York VFW post where I received my hunting license by the instructors that we remember, above all else, hunter safety at all times and thank our veterans. Because if it wasn’t for them, I would not have the privilege of hunting public lands or freely backpacking around Europe. I get it, veterans have made a large sacrifice for us. But we were also told not to dress or act like militiamen or just shoot at anything. “Maybe you would like to take out your camera and snap a picture of your trophy animal instead…”

At that time in 1996 the NRA was not as taboo or the bankrupted organization that stands today. This is why Social Democrats USA recently passed a resolution for environmentalism, Food Justice and Hunters for Regulation & Environmental Protection. Expanding inclusiveness of the SD USA’s large tent of 99 percenters! This includes veterans rights and conservation.

Before 9/11, I believed the military and even conservatives were in limbo about where the military was going and who can their families rally behind for in support? Since then, there has been a sore feeling due to the continuous,endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (hopefully ended with today’s announced pullout), with the veterans at Walter Reed Hospital being really let down when it comes to their rights as well as their social benefits. Veterans overwhelmingly are the 99% that Occupy Wall Street was talking about and the 47% that the 2012 Mitt Romney presidential campaign, for instance, was disparaging. 

America has been outraged and disgusted at the way this country treats its veterans coming back from war and in the mental health community. We can say for certain that nobody cares more about or provide more money in Congress for Veterans Affairs than socialist senator Bernie Sanders; money for benefits like eyeglasses, dental care, hearing aids, mental health therapy and crisis services He understands that better facilities at VA hospitals would be more appreciated then longer deployments and a back door draft!

This isn’t the only time when service members and veterans men and women were screwed over by the government when it came to social welfare. In Buffalo New York in 1919, unemployed soldiers and sailors took to the streets demanding full employment and siding with the Buffalo Soviet before the police kicked out every protester from Niagara Square, most of whom were former and unemployed disgruntled Army personnel. 

In 1932, Congress during the Great Depression cut off extra bonuses for homeless  World War 1 veterans camping out in Washington DC – the Bonus Army. Instead of giving them coffee and sandwiches, President Herbert Hoover with the help of army officer George Patton expelled, shot and beat thousands of Bonus Marchers and killed and wounded several others. Patton would later say it was the lowest point of his career. In fact, these events were so contentious that the common people were in full support of the veterans and the nation’s politics were ripe for revolt!

It shows you if you leave your veterans behind, the government will eventually have to pay the piper.

Michael Mottern is First Vice-Chair of Social Democrats USA.

ENDORSEMENT: DENNIS KUCINICH FOR MAYOR

By Jason Sibert

It’s hard to find anyone in American politics who has kept to his convictions more than Dennis Kucinich. He reentered public life recently with an announcement of a run for mayor of Cleveland, Ohio.  Kucinich has a long career in public service. He grew up in Cleveland, the son of a truck driver father and a homemaker mother. Kucinich started his political career with a run for Cleveland city council in 1967 which he lost. He won a seat on the council in 1969 and was elected mayor of Cleveland in 1977.  

His tenure as mayor (1977-1979) was considered one of the most tumultuous in the history of the city.  He was the youngest mayor in the history of big city mayors, earning him the name “boy mayor.” During his time in office, Kucinich refused to sell the city’s publicly owned utility, Municipal Light. The Cleveland Mafia plotted to assassinate him in a contract killing, but the plot fell apart when he was hospitalized and missed the Columbus Day Parade. The Cleveland Trust Company, a bank, required the city’s debts to be paid in full, forcing the city into default. The company made the announcement after the news broke that the mayor would not sell the utility. Kucinich was defeated by George Voinovich in his reelection bid in 1979. In 1998, the Cleveland City Council honored him for having the “courage and foresight” to stand up to the banks. Municipal Light saved the city $185 million between 1985 and 1995. Kucinich’s stand for city-owned utilities should be considered a stand for social democracy, or what might be called “sewer socialism.”  

Kucinich later served as an Ohio state senator (1995-1997) and United States Congressman (1997-2013). He’s voiced support for single-payer healthcare and a federal Department of Peace over the years. Kucinich is running for mayor on the establishment of a Cleveland Civic Peace Department which will identify hot spots in the city and intervene before the outbreak of violence.  This Civic Peace Department will create new policies which address crime, both in prevention and rehabilitation, establish and coordinate new community-based violence prevention programs and conflict resolution strategies. The candidate for mayor also wants to work on drug addiction by decriminalizing nonviolent drug crimes and making battling addiction a priority. Social Democrats USA gives an enthusiastic endorsement to Kucinich in his run for mayor.  

In other election news in the state of Ohio, Nina Turner ran for the Democratic nomination for Congress in the state’s 11th Congressional district. She was defeated by centrist Shontel Brown who was backed by the Democratic establishment, including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  Turner built a national profile working on Bernie Sanders’ campaigns for president in 2016 and 2020 and was backed by members of “the squad.”  Turner served on the Cleveland City Council and in the Ohio Senate. She stood for Medicare for all, criminal justice reform, expanded public education, the Green New Deal, affordable housing, and a living wage.

She began the race with a 30-point lead in the polls and her opponent has been under investigation for ethics violations. With all that plus the energy of the progressive movement behind her, why did Nina Turner lose? First, as Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ryan Grim pointed out, this was an open primary, so Republicans could vote – and apparently did – for the more conservative Shontel Brown  Secondly, the Young Turks, a progressive talk show, said in a recent broadcast that big money interests moved in an gave Brown an advantage, which I don’t doubt is the truth. Of course, this is a case in point on why we need campaign finance reform, a key point in Sanders’ runs for the presidency. Progressives have shown their ability to organize in recent years in certain political races. However, perhaps we need to organize more!

Jason Sibert is the Executive Director of the Peace Economy Project .

IN MEMORIAM: MARGO HALL-O’KANE

By Patty Friend

Margo Hall-O’Kane, beloved wife, daughter, sister, cousin and friend passed away on May 3, 2021. She died peacefully, in her sleep. The profound nature of her loss – to her family, friends and community to which she gave her heart, soul and amazing energy – is indescribable.

Margo was a member of SDUSA back in the 80’s, 90’s and early 2000’s. She worked then for the AFL-CIO’s Department of Organizing, and before that for the Seafarers International Union (SIU) – her father’s and brother’s union. During all of that time, over the course of 30 years, she worked on union and other political organizing campaigns, from Maine to Texas, Detroit, NYC and more. She was also a labor lobbyist,  mentored many younger women in the movement, and trained a whole generation of organizers.

She was one of the great organizers. Not only was she a hard worker, skilled professional and loyal, generous spirit, she was a natural-born leader. Her energy and warmth lit up the room, along with her contagious laugh. She had a mind like a steel trap. We met in 1986 when I worked for the NYC Central Labor Council and she was with the SIU.

With all her virtues, she had a wicked temper. You did not want to be on the wrong side of her anger, where she would ‘lay you out in lavender’ as she would say. But she rarely carried a grudged or stayed angry for long. She was demanding of those she loved and motivated them to do their best. People of all ages were crazy about her, At her funeral were senior citizens, teenagers and everybody in between. One of her youngest friends, a 9-year-old boy, said, “I really loved her…my life will never be the same.”

Margo and her brother Max grew up in a Labor home. Her father was Paul Hull, the President and amazing leader of the SIU, and their mother, Rose, was an organizer in her own right. The entire family gave their hearts and souls to the American Labor Movement and the Democratic Party. Many of our older members will remember hearing about or even attending Frontlash training conferences at Piney Point, the SIU’s training institute, and have fond memories spending time with Paul Hull. In 1996, she married Raymond O’Kane, a dedicated trade unionist who worked as the Human Resources Director of the Consortium for Worker Education in NYC, where he made an invaluable contribution to staff and workers throughout New York.

After she retired from the AFL-CIO, she became a full-time resident at Smallwood, a lovely hamlet in the Catskills. As a community activist there, she devoted her time to helping battered women and abused and homeless animals. In addition ,she helped raise funds to the local fire department. As one woman from Smallwood said to me, “Smallwood has suffered a deep loss.”

Margo lived with an enormous amount of pain all over her body, and apart from her doctors, no one knew how debilitating and destructive her chronic pain was. She didn’t want to be a ‘complainer’ or let the pain defeat her. Eventually, something did defeat her: cancer. It started as a ‘freckle’ in her left eye, which traveled to her liver and lungs, and then everywhere else. Fortunately, in the end she had hospice care at home. Raymond, helped by her medical professionals and great friend Stephanie Donahue (whose husband and in-laws also died of cancer), was with her all the way. And the rest of us got to be with her every day until she passed.

In the last four months of her life, she was as sharp and as aware as she ever had been during her organizing career. It was not easy loving her or being loved by her, but it was so rich.  All of us who knew her and loved her were better off for having her in our lives.  She has passed away, but she will always be with us, because a spirit like hers is just too big, too robust and too loving to die.

Sleep well, my dear sister and comrade and enjoy your future. And as I always said to her, “I love you forever.”

Patty Friend is the National Chair of Social Democrats USA.

ANNOUNCEMENT: CONVENTION!!

Social Democrats USA is holding its national convention in Buffalo, New York on Friday September 24 through Sunday 26, 2021.

LOCATION: EUGENE V. DEBS HALL, 483 Peckham Street, Buffalo, NY 14206

INVITED GUEST SPEAKER: INDIA WALTON, DEMOCRATIC NOMINEE FOR MAYOR.

HOPE TO SEE YOU THERE, COMRADES!!

More details to follow…

BOOK REVIEW–> Socialist Awakening: What’s Different Now About the Left, by John Judis. Columbia Global Reports, 2020. 127 pages.

By Jason Sibert

The new book by John Judis gives anyone on the center-left a lot of food for thought. He worked as a journalist for years, well-known for his regular dispatches for James Weinstein’s In These Times newspaper. He was the co-author, along with Ruy Teixeira, of “The Emerging Democratic Majority (2002),” a book that was partially prophetic, as the Democratic candidate has won the popular vote in every presidential election with the exception of one since 1992. In the one exception, in 2004, nearly half of the country voted for Democrat John Kerry. However, this doesn’t translate into a majority in a gerrymandered House and a Senate that give sparsely populated states two senators just like heavily populated states. This book also didn’t take into account the voter suppression we see going on around the country. It was also written before the rise of the populist left and the populist right in various industrial democracies.

He has penned, or co-penned, nine books. He was active in a New Left organization Students for a Democratic Society in the 1960’s. Judis exited the organization when the influence of Maoists and Marxist/Leninists surged and joined a breakoff organization, New America Movement. The NAM, started in 1971, merged with the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee to form Democratic Socialists of America in 1982. Judis was the founding editor of “Socialist Revolution,” later named “Socialist Review” and “Radical Society.”

“Socialist Awakening” covers the reemergence of socialist ideas, particularly among the young, in western democracies around the world. These movements are a reaction by young people to their dissatisfaction with the current economy, economies based on what we call Reaganism here in the United States and Thatcherism in the United Kingdom and in the rest of Europe. Center-left parties adapted themselves to this trend in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Here in the U.S. we saw the rise of President Bill Clinton’s New Democrats (President Barack Obama was of the same school) and people in the United Kingdom saw the rise of Tony Blair and New Labor. Other center-left parties went through similar makeovers in other countries. I was a Clintonite in the 90’s and for years after that before reading Lane Kenworthy’s “Social Democratic America.”

This new book covers the history of socialism in the U.S., including interesting content on figures like Eugene Debs, Norman Thomas, and Bernie Sanders. It also covers socialism in other countries. This is a very enjoyable feature of Judis’ work. I found this history on the Labor Party in the U.K. to be very interesting. The populist left has different manifestations all over the world – the Bernie Sanders faction in the U.S. Democratic Party, the Jeremy Corbyn faction in the U.K. Labor Party, and the Jean-Luc Melenchon’s Left Party in France. We’ve also seen more center-left voters moving to the Left Party in Germany or to the Greens. Right wing politics has seen a similar shakeup with the rise of Trump, Marine LePen and the National Front in France, and Nigel Farage in the UK.

The growing power of these populist movements also has ramifications in the pursuit of a world defined by international law and peace. The main audience for the populist left are those with some education (an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree in the U.S.) who are working in positions that don’t require a degree – the Starbucks  barista with a BA (bachelor of arts) . Many felt they would have meaningful work but have seen their dreams dashed. They might have found that meaningful work in the past in a world where technology did not do so much of the work formerly done by college graduates. The main audience for the populist right are members of the dominant ethic group (whites in the U.S.)  that have a high school diploma or maybe some college and have seen their dreams dashed by stagnant wages and benefits in the private sector. In the past, they would have had quality wages and benefits due to the power that labor unions had, a little-mentioned fact in the media. These voters are drawn to demagogic appeals based on race, gender, and sexual identity and preference. These movements also attract fans of 1930’s era fascism. These voters are also scared at becoming a racial minority, something that will happen to whites in the U.S. eventually.

One problem with the populist right is that it is incompatible with internationalism in any form. This form of populism could lead to a less stable and more war-prone world.  While Judis gives credence to the populist left for raising the issue of inequality, he feels that socialist and social-democratic parties need to discover a respect for the concept of the nation-state. No doubt, democracies are moving away from Reaganism and Thatcherism and to economies with more state involvement. Judis feels that our country’s future will look different than its past in terms of socialism, or I really prefer to use the term social democracy, which amounts to a mixed economy; if I may borrow a term for the 1980’s era Social Democratic Party in the U.K., a Labor Party breakoff group. The young, who make up a good deal of Sanders’ following, do not associate the word socialism with revolutionary Communism, like many in older generations. Future politicians will be able to run under the banner of socialist or social democrat and not be associated with Communism.

Immigration,as Judis points out, drives support for the populist right. He feels the nation-state has the right to control immigration and brings up the issue of employers using low-skilled immigrants to undercut the labor of workers who have lived in a particular nation-state. This is a real problem for the populist left, as it sometimes sees the immigration laws of that nation-state as illegitimate. This allows the populist right to stir up fear around the issue. Judis feels that the Left needs to move away from views on immigration that are defined by few if any means of regulation in the area, or the idea that once one sets foot on U.S. soil, they are legal. This doesn’t mean that the left needs to engage in racism light to try and capture populist right votes. In 1977, President Carter advocated an immigration policy that legalized those in the country illegally, made it illegal to hire illegal immigrants, and supported the enforcement of immigration laws on the border. None other than President Ronald Reagan signed the Immigration Control and Reform Act of 1986 where these ideas became a reality. President George HW Bush legalized even more illegal immigrants. Keep in mind, companies who hire illegal immigrants do so to avoid following labor laws, undercutting the power of workers already here. I remember a news story in the last year about a Walmart store that hired illegal immigrants. Of course, the store wasn’t following labor law. A 90’s Clinton administration committee, chaired by Barbara Jordan, the first female African-American congresswoman, echoed a similar set of policies. The commission supported the government setting a number on the immigrants our country admits per year.

The Left’s immigration policy should stress that those here illegally are not hardcore criminals, like murders or rapists. Those who entered the country illegally should pay fines and do community service – that’s all. Some on the populist right claim immigrants don’t want to assimilate. However, wave after wave of immigrants have assimilated into our culture. Social democrats should mention this fact. Social democrats must also support the right for people to apply for refugee status, a right under international law. The populist right demagogues refugees – we should not.

According to Judis, the Left should move away from slogans like “abolish the police” or “abolish prisons. How could we have arrested Derek Chauvin and imprisoned him if there were not police or prisons? Social democrats should work on taking on the prison-industrial complex. Journalist Eric Schlosser thoughtful piece, “The Prison-Industrial Complex” (The Atlantic, December 1998) pointed out that. many of the people in our jails are not hardcore criminals.  We imprison more people than the People’s Republic of China with all of its ‘ideological criminals’. If one is sent to prison for petty crime, they often find it hard to find work in the regular economy upon release. Then they return to more petty crime! There’s an endless cycle that costs the taxpayer lots of money. However, there’s money to be made in constructing prisons and running them if we’re talking about a private prison company. Congressmen and congresswomen looking to create jobs in their districts sometimes look to prisons. There’s also a class connection to petty crime, as those involved in petty crime are usually poor. Lifting people out of poverty would be a great way to combat petty crime! Recent laws legalizing marijuana are positive as far as petty crime is concerned. It must be added that the Clinton administration’s crime policy federalized certain petty crimes, increasing the prison population..

The Left, he argues, should return to some sort of economic nationalism, or the idea that we produce more of what we consume here in the U.S., an idea associated with the Democrats in the Reaganite 1980’s.  In the Covid-19 pandemic, we found out how dangerous it was to not be able to manufacture ventilators and other essential items here in the U.S. Social democrats should work to relocate manufacturing essential to our security within America’s borders, and becoming less dependent on China would be good considering current geopolitical tensions,. Of course, this would create jobs. Hillary Clinton carried 30 percent of the white working class in 2016, but Joe Biden carried 35 percent of the white working class in 2020, an improvement. If the Democratic Party could carry 40 percent of the white working class and add this to their current coalition of educated professionals, minorities, and union members, the party would have a winning coalition.

This carries over into the struggle for a world defined by international law and peace. Trump’s foreign policy was defined by alienating our country from allies as well as from foes. We could easily return to that policy in the future, if someone similar wins the presidency. The various nation-states of the have much in the way of dangerous weaponry. Spreading more geopolitical tensions around the world increases the likelihood that these weapons will be deployed.. Social democrats must campaign hard for a more orderly international system and the positive outcomes it produces for the security of people in our country. It is essential that we find a form of internationalism that works for our future. Otherwise, our future looks pretty scary!

Jason Sibert is the Executive Director of the Peace Economy Project in St. Louis.