( – promoted by buhdydharma )
We old codgers have to smile at the surprise and near panic on the Left generated by some recently publicized instances of Radical Right hate and violence directed at supporters of the health care bill. Radical Right terrorism is older than the horseless carriage, and so is a media and government response that emphasizes looking the other way.
There’s another thing that’s been around as long as Radical Right violence, and that’s Left Wing courage. If we’re going to do our ideological ancestors proud, people ranging from Eugene Debs to W.E.B. DuBois to Walter Reuther to Martin Luther King, Jr., we need to follow a little four-step plan to counter this hate with the firm love of Leftist solidarity.
Four steps is all it takes, and you can begin today:
1) Know the history.
2) Build your courage.
3) Demand justice.
Details after the break.
Know the history
Understanding the history and, along with it, the psychology of Radical Right hate and violence is essential to the other three elements of a strong and positive response to this terror campaign.
There is no better place to start than Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. Not only will you learn how the Radical Right, sometimes with the acquiescence of the media and government and often with the active cooperation of those two institutions, has served as the shock troops of capitalist plutocrats who felt threatened by workers who wanted to organize or oppressed groups who demanded equal rights. Radical Right violence is not random. It is not perpetrated against “weak” victims. It is a consciously employed tool wielded by powerful elites against groups that threaten their dominance.
Zinn is no doom-and-gloomer. He tells America’s story straight, and a lot of it is ugly: massacres of native peoples; ruthless oppression of the Africans brought here against their will; horrific exploitation of workers; racism, sexism, corruption and the rest. But Zinn manages to find a story of hope in the midst of all that, a tale of people who refuse to be kept down, who manage to fight back against powerful forces with love and genius, who rise above oppression to demand and create progress.
If you can’t get Zinn’s book right away, check out the Zinn Education Project.
Another historian, Richard Hofstadter, provides a window into the minds and hearts of the Radical Right. Hofstadter was a Leftist (one-time Communist) who taught at Columbia in the mid-20th century. In 1964, as the modern Conservative movement was being born with the nomination of Barry Goldwater and the rising activity of terrorist Klan in the South, Hofstadter wrote “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” an essay published in Harper’s. One paragraph can illustrate how applicable it is to today’s circumstances:
The paranoid spokesman sees the fate of conspiracy in apocalyptic terms – he traffics in the birth and death of whole worlds, whole political orders, whole systems of human values. He is always manning the barricades of civilization… he does not see social conflict as something to be mediated and compromised, in the manner of the working politician. Since what is at stake is always a conflict between absolute good and absolute evil, what is necessary is not compromise but the will to fight things out to a finish. Since the enemy is thought of as being totally evil and totally unappeasable, he must be totally eliminated – if not from the world, at least from the theatre of operations to which the paranoid directs his attention. This demand for total triumph leads to the formulation of hopelessly unrealistic goals, and since these goals are not even remotely attainable, failure constantly heightens the paranoid’s sense of frustration. Even partial success leaves him with the same feeling of powerlessness with which he began, and this in turn only strengthens his awareness of the vast and terrifying quality of the enemy he opposes.
How is that Hofstadter knew Glenn Beck so well within a few months of Beck’s birth?
Build Your Courage
Understanding that we face nothing new or unique but instead the same kind of terror that has always confronted the Left when we pushed for progress, we can now turn to building our courage against threats that are indeed real and dangerous.
One thing that can strengthen our resolve is to remember those who have stood up to the Radical Right in times past because they believed the things for which they stood were worth fighting for, sometimes dying for.
One of the beauties of Zinn’s book is that he does his best to focus on the experiences and words not of the famous but of the common people, treated as irrelevant by most historians. When discussing the labor movement of the 30s, Zinn includes an interview of an African American farmer, Nate Shaw, conducted by Theodore Rosengarten and included in Rosengarten’s book All God’s Dangers. Mr. Shaw’s original language is preserved:
And durin of the pressure years, a union begin to operate in this country, called it the Sharecroppers Union–that was a nice name, I thought…and I knowed what was goin on was a turnabout on the southern man, white and coloured; it was somethin unusual. And I heard about it bein a organization for the poor class of people–that’s just what I wanted to get into, too. I wanted to know the secrets of it enough that I could become in the knowledge of it…
Mac Sloane, white man, said, “You stay out of it. These niggers runnin around here carryin on some kind of meetin–you better stay out of it.”
I said to myself, “You a fool if you think you can keep me from joinin.” I went right on and joined it, just as quick as the next meeting come. And he done just the thing to push me into it–gived me order not to. join.
Imagining just for a moment the danger that Mr. Shaw faced in the South that easily lynched black men who stood up for themselves can help give us courage when we remember how much easier our circumstances are.
Historic examples help, but the Left has long had a secret weapon when it came to handling Radical Right terrorism. It’s not better guns. It’s not hiring brass-knuckled thugs. It’s not calling out the National Guard.
When the Wobblies (the Industrial Workers of the World) faced company thugs or state militias, they sang one of Joe Hill’s songs (thanks cruz!).
The Civil Rights movement, tied so closely to the African American church, often used adapted hymns to create solidarity and calm as marchers faced police attack dogs, clubs and fire hoses.
We are not afraid.
We are not afraid.
We are not afraid, today.
O deep in my heart.
We shall overcome.
When workers trying to form unions faced the threat of beatings by company-hired thugs, they sang songs by troubadours like Woody Guthrie.
There once was a union maid, she never was afraid
Of goons and ginks and company finks and the deputy sheriffs who made the raid.
She went to the union hall when a meeting it was called,
And when the Legion boys come ’round
She always stood her ground.
Oh, you can’t scare me, I’m sticking to the union,
I’m sticking to the union, I’m sticking to the union.
Oh, you can’t scare me, I’m sticking to the union,
I’m sticking to the union ’til the day I die.
We are members of a movement marked by courage not fear, by love not hate, by solidarity not selfishness. The great hymns of the Left are a record of that.
We old-timers have to chuckle when we hear someone express confidence that the Radical Right’s threats and violence will be punished swiftly and severely under America’s system of justice. If it is, it will indeed be something new.
As your study of history will show you, American law enforcement, especially the FBI, have been collaborators with the Radical Right in their war against the Left.
In the 1910s and 1920s, while Ku Klux Klanners were conducting pogroms against African American communities from Oconee, Florida to Tulsa, Oklahoma, J. Edgar Hoover looked the other way and focused instead on conducting his own terror campaign against Leftists.
In the 1930s, while the Black Legion wore skull and bones insignia on their shirts to brag about how many Communists and labor organizers they had killed, the FBI was busy chasing Pretty Boy Floyd and John Dillinger.
In the 1960s, Hoover found it impossible to find evidence to prosecute the Birmingham church bombers. He was too busy trying to destroy Martin Luther King, Jr., even to the point of encouraging him to commit suicide.
In the 1990s, the FBI botched the investigation of the Olympic Park bombing, taking seven years to finally capture the bomber, Eric Rudolph, after attempting to pin the terrorist act on an innocent security guard.
Less dramatic but just as informative is a video from one of the public forums held in August by Democratic Party Senator Claire McCaskill. McCaskill’s regularly scheduled forum drew supportive constituents and Radical Right Tea Partiers. An African American women attended and brought with her a poster of Rosa Parks. At one point during the meeting, a white Tea Partier snatched the woman’s poster, and when the woman attempted to retrieve it, it was the black woman who was roughly escorted out by four policemen. Listen to the entire video to remind yourself of what happened. Claire McCaskill’s reaction is disappointing.
Do not assume that law enforcement will investigate threats or even prosecute actual attacks.
We must demand justice, not assume it will be delivered.
We must monitor activities of law enforcement.
We must receive promises of arrest and prosecution with the skepticism they deserve and follow up to see if the promises have been fulfilled.
History teaches us that media and government often collaborate with the Radical Right in its efforts to terrorize the Left. We would be foolish to rely on anyone but ourselves for protection against these threats.
The Radical Right does not have the courage and commitment of the Left. Many are hirelings. Others are authoritarian bullies who turn and run in the face of firm opposition. They do have one strength that is now sorely lacking on the Left: organization.
The Radical Right has a network of well-funded organizations that support their terrorist activities, not surprising considering that their efforts are directed at preserving the power of capitalist plutocrats. They have fundamentalist white churches, astroturf groups like the Tea Partiers, mainstream media, but especially the Murdoch empire, veterans’ organizations like the American Legion and VFW, business organizations like the Chamber of Commerce in addition to ultra-right groups that openly advocate violence against the Left and oppressed groups.
In times past, the Left relied heavily upon the labor movement. It was organized, well-funded and tough since it had to win battles with its own muscle and determination. Now unions are much weaker, but they still are the place to start in any effort to organize a counterweight to Radical Right terrorism. Leftist media and organizations from the antiwar, civil rights, civil liberties, feminist, gay equality and radical Left movements are also important. Increasing threats of violence from the Radical Right offer us an incentive and opportunity to put differences aside and unite for our common defense on a broad front.
Our Movement Is Worth Defending
Why not give in? These people and their organizations are dangerous. The forces behind them are powerful. Is it worth the very real danger we face to confront and defeat this threat?
Our dream of a better America is worth it. In fact, it is the very power of that dream that motivates the Radical Right and their sponsors to try to destroy it with hate and violence.
Many have expressed that dream beautifully, but none more powerfully than Langston Hughes:
I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek–
And finding only the same old stupid plan.
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak…
O, let America be America again–
The land that never has been yet–
And yet must be–the land where every man if free.
The land that’s mine–the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME–
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.