The Foundation of the Green New Deal – a quick look at the GNDG Executive Summary

The “Green New Deal” (GND) proposals essentially begin with a relatively conservative proposal by the British Green New Deal Group (GNDG), who launched their “Executive Summary in 2008.  They have produced more current reports and recommendations since then, including language for a Decarbonisation and Economic Strategy Bill in 2019.  Since these reports all focus on British strategy, and on the British political and financial environments, we’ll look only to the first report for now, as a static foundation upon which later GND solutions emerged and developed for the American environment; but the reader should remain aware that the group continues to be responsive to today’s political and global environment for moving Great Britain into a green 21st century.  Their current website is here.

The initial report (followed later by more policy-centered writing) actually focused as much or more on the upcoming climate problem (as seen from 2008) as it did on solutions to that problem.  The report also borrowed a great deal from history, in particular from two specific moments. First, the report borrowed from FDR’s New Deal, when the US government saw the urgency of the situation as an opportunity to make massive change across the board, rather than tinkering at the edges of a problem with incremental modifications.  Second, the report noted WWII, when the British Government, and the British public, came together to meet and defeat the German threat. The sacrifices of not just the men at the fighting lines (and those civilians killed in bombing raids or on ships sunk by German naval and air forces), but by the families back home of their time, work, and property in ensuring that their nation was able to meet the challenge of an existential threat, are taken as a cue that when faced with dire circumstances, we (the British, in this case) can indeed come together, pool resources, and put the interests of nation and community ahead of self interests.  Such moments also show that the individual can see self interests as intersecting with national and community interests.

However, the initial GNDG report, while based on establishing the urgency of the problem, and while illustrating the precedent of massive problems being overcome by the public uniting with the government, also established some initial policy suggestions.  The initial report proposed a climate goal of keeping warming to below 2° C (climate warming increases are relative to mid-19th century average temperature levels; that is, to before the bulk of industrial exhaust was put by corporate industrialization into our atmosphere and water).  The GNDG initially proposed a roughly 40-year project to lower British carbon emissions by 80% of the 1990 levels (by 2050), thereby remaining as a net carbon emitter. As we’ll see when we explore more recent proposals, considering the failure of governments to take climate change seriously and substantially reduce emissions, and the resulting acceleration of the problem, today’s GND proposals call ultimately for achieving complete carbon neutrality.

This point is stressed by the lack of action taken thus far.  As Mark Lymas warned in multiple points in his book, Six Degrees (2008), we are nearing a point when warming is sure to exceed 2°.  If we do exceed that target, then there is the problem of feedbacks, where naturally stored carbon (e.g., CO2 and methane in the soil, in our oceans and under the sea floor, in bogs and marshes and other wetlands, and in forests) is released by that warming; and then the earth itself becomes, thanks to us, the major carbon emitter, rather than industrial processes.  We now have to move to more restrictive policies than would have been necessary had climate security been effectively implemented a decade or two ago, to keep that from happening. If the feedbacks accelerate, then climate warming might not be controlled until it reaches apocalyptic proportions – and then, likely, not at all.

However, from the less dangerous (and more hopeful) view of 2008, even the relatively conservative initial proposal of the GNDG saw that large-scale carbon reduction (to 80% of 1990s levels) would require not just some economic and industrial tinkering, but massive structural change.  The initial GNDG report focused on the banking and financial sector as in particular needing reform for a GND to work. The authors called for structural transformation of the regulation of national and international financial systems, and major changes to the tax structure. They proposed a sustained program of energy conservation and renewable energy strategies, coupled with effective demand management.  They urged banking reform and demergers, to keep banks from being “too big to fail.” They also sought specific targeting of offshore and internet banking and finances for compliance; credit re-regulation, to minimize dangerous credit risks; a program of global debt cancellation; and low interest rates.

The initial report saw the need for a revamping of the jobs sector, to prevent fossil-fuel retirement from causing unemployment, and to shift jobs to a growing green jobs sector; but the initial report was vague on details (reserving that for later reports).  The authors did, however, call for the creation of a “Green Army” of workers to join the green sector. The use of the “army” epithet is appropriate considering the authors’ call for wartime-level consumption changes. The authors optimistically hoped that the British public will take upon themselves the need to sacrifice for the greater good.  This is one of the weaknesses of the initial proposal. The British wartime experience did not involve a public questioning the existence of the Germans, or questioning the threat of the bombs falling upon them; and did not envision an entire media dedicated to convincing deniers of the realities becoming ever more apparent around them that those events were not taking place.  Our 21st century political environment, however, is very different from that of World War Two.

Costs of the project were anticipated at being at least £50 billion per year; today’s estimates make that figure pale in comparison.  Nonetheless, ensuring such a figure for as long as 40 years required serious thought as to funding; and so the authors proposed a large-scale program involving carbon taxes, GND bonds, enforcement fees, green development “savings plans” (albeit, with tax offsets), and other private-sector “Green Banking” drives.  The authors also argued that peak oil would lead to rapidly increasing gas prices, which would “fuel” the revamp to cheaper renewables. This last argument has not for the most part manifested. Peak oil has not yet arrived, and so the geometric increase in petroleum prices predicted by the authors also remains hypothetical.  However, the learning curve on solar and wind technology has lowered renewable prices significantly, and that may in the end produce a similar effect to that looked for by the GNDG.

The authors also proposed the actual physical infrastructural changes needed to conserve energy and transition to green energy.   They called for “Every Building a Power Station,” focused on vastly increasing local production of energy by each home and building.  They looked to smart city development and vastly improved consumption efficiency. They foresaw massive expenditures, from actual power systems (wind turbines and solar), to wires and pipes and green-friendly products to replace those less so.

The financial basis of the authors’ thinking can be found in their proposals for cost-realistic fossil prices (including carbon costs and taxes, etc.) to move the public away from fossil fuels and toward renewables.  They also insisted that all public pensions must be disconnected from funds, stocks, and bonds that are not carbon friendly; and that financial laws should directly incentivize carbon-friendly funds. Similarly, their thoughts on corporate and environmental policy involved proposals for corporate tax enforcement, including of offshore tax havens, and for a separate tax structure for small businesses to enhance local job creation for the Green Army.

Understanding that both changes to the system, as well as any climate change effects experienced would disproportionately hurt the poor and minorities the most, they argued for funding and investment initiatives toward reducing the cost of transformation to those most vulnerable.  Details in this initial report on protecting vulnerable communities were not forthcoming, however. But we do see in this proposal the embryo of the focus on protecting vulnerable communities that is found in the later proposals we’ll explore.

Finally, the authors proposed an international component, which features prominently in every other GND proposal since then.  Their international policies include support for developing economies through massive infrastructural development funds for GND transformation in other nations; intellectual property restrictions eased for poor nations to use transition technology developed in rich counties; and the enforcement of international climate security agreements such as Kyoto and Paris (as well as additional agreements as needed).

This is the initial proposal from 2008, which helped to define policy areas, and start the conversation about achievable goals, and tactics and strategies for meeting those goals, for later GND proposals (including these authors’ later, updated recommendations).  In our next post, we’ll take a look at the Green Party’s proposal (last updated apparently in 2016) for a Green New Deal.

Image from the Executive Summary title page, published by the Green New Deal Group, 2008.

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The Climate Crisis and the Green New Deal: An Introduction

And Spark! returns, having gone dark while I was dedicating my time to working full-time for a few campaigns and political efforts.  We’re back to delve into a major issue facing our nation and our world – the Climate Crisis.

Today (Friday, September 20, 2019) began a series of strikes around the world, the Global Climate Strikes (with different events across the globe running over a full week, through September 27).  These strikes, and other actions (e.g., TIME Magazine‘s 9-23-19 special edition on the climate crisis), underline the fact that we are rapidly running out of time to head off a massive climate catastrophe, one which is already taking lives and costing billions of dollars in annual damages, and which will get considerably worse this century even if we do manage to thwart the worst results of human exploitative economies.  In consideration of this problem, and of the notice being brought to it this week, Spark! is undertaking a brief series of posts about the most ambitious set of proposals for handling it, the Green New Deal (GND).  Today we’ll start with just a quick look at the issue, the perceived need for something as ambitious as the GND, and some of the sources available on it which we’ll be exploring further.

Already, at the beginning of this century, climate scientists had established through a wealth of verified scientific research that climate change is taking place, and that it is caused by an outpouring of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses as the specific, verified result of human activities.  Scientists have long since established that the result of climate change will be a long period of considerable warming, as well as other effects (e.g., massive changes to precipitation, and more frequent extremes of weather that will change the face of the planet, the environment in which we live, and even our abilities to grow the food we need to live).  Such changes are already starting to make some parts of our planet uninhabitable, and will increase by many times the numbers of people fleeing these areas to go to other places, like Europe and the United States. The refugee and immigration problems this will bring us here in the United States will make the numbers and problems currently being experienced pale by comparison. Climate change will impact virtually every aspect of human life and public policy.

Over a decade ago, two works in particular helped to bring climate change into focus.  Mark Lynas’s book, Six Degrees: Our Future On a Hotter Planet (National Geographic Society / HarperCollins, 2008), examined existing data and numerous projections, and illustrated six scenarios for what specific increments of warming would look like, starting with the even-then optimistic scenario that climate change would be limited to an increase of 1° Celsius (degrees of warming are relative to average levels of the late-1800s, before industrialization started pouring carbon compounds into the atmosphere), and then detailing what the world would look like in 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6° warming scenarios.  Lynas showed that warming was looking even at the time of writing to proceed to at least 2°, and could possibly get even worse, depending on how quickly and how effectively human policy and global lifestyle changes could reduce emissions and/or begin sequestering enough carbon to reduce warming and other effects. Lynas in particular wrote a great deal about the feedback problems: the Earth has already sequestered massive quantities of carbon which are not currently affecting our climate; and a warmer climate will in various ways bring these carbon stores (whose existence has nothing to do with human activity) into our atmosphere, thereby not just increasing but massively accelerating climate change.  These feedback problems become especially relevant once climate change has reached . Feedback provides an immediate point of urgency: We need to stop warming before it reaches that point, or we risk uncontrolled, accelerated warming to the point where climate change becomes not merely costly and annoying, and deadly mostly to select populations here and there, but literally threatening to our very civilization.

Also in 2008, a British group, the Green New Deal Group, separately established the urgency for rapid and ambitious action.  They produced an Executive Summary of a proposal for massive change, which they based on the New Deal of the 1930s, and also found comparisons to various wartime (World War II) British policies to conserve resources for combating the Axis powers.  The authors argued cogently that, first, we were already (in 2008) at the point where conservative policy adjustment to head off climate change had passed its window for being able to accomplish much. The authors argued that, second, the more immediate and massive change that would be needed would only succeed if the effort were not merely focused on modifications to our industrial processes, power grid, transportation sector or other, more immediate carbon-emitting activities, but involved financial and monetary policies designed to ensure the long-term existence of significant funding for the massive changes needed.  They also argued that, third, both the US in the 1930s, and Great Britain in the 1940s, pursued policies to change consumption habits, along the line of the ambitious changes needed for the GND to work, so that while considerable, such policies are not impossible and certainly not without established precedents.

The Green New Deal Group pushed for rather more radical changes than were argued by Lynas.  However, Lynas also made it very clear in his conclusion (p. 269) that there were literally just a few years left (as of 2008) in which less radical change could have enough effect.  We are now several years past the period during which Lynas’s less radical proposals could seriously be projected to keep the planet from reaching the dangerous threshold of 3° of warming.  We are now threatened with literally apocalyptic changes if we do not make, immediately, very serious changes to our policies and lifestyles.

The continued and escalating urgency of this is demonstrated by a wealth of new efforts, from the Green Party, to the Sunrise Movement, to even (finally, and let us hope not futilely) the latest US Congress.  The next post here on Spark! will go into these in some detail, but in the meantime (if you want to do your homework first), here are some of the sources we’ll be looking at in our next post:

The Green New Deal Group‘s 2008 Executive Summary – arguing to British readers why and how Her Majesty’s Government should adopt a GND

The Green Party‘s 2016 proposal for a GND

The 116th US Congress‘s House Resolution 109, “Recognizing the duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal”

Vox‘s “The Green New Deal, Explained” – a fairly objective look at the proposal, and some of the difficulties (political and otherwise) involved in operating by such a policy

R Street‘s opposition to the GND, “What is the Green New Deal?”, arguing mostly from a libertarian point of view against the policy

The Kamala Harris Campaign‘s “A Climate Plan for the People,” largely in sync with the basic thinking behind HR 109

Many other sources are available, such as Naomi Klein‘s On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal

You may also want to take a look at the Sunrise Movement, which has been pushing the GND to centrist Democrats (like Nancy Pelosi) who have not as yet embraced the principles of radical change across the board

We’ll discuss some of these sources in our next post, here, and in the meantime, you can help the Global Climate Strike by going here to join in.

Image from Global Climate Strike’s website: https://globalclimatestrike.net/big-day-tomorrow/

The Responsibility of Freedom

Bob Dylan finally accepted his Nobel Prize

Quote of the Week:  I think of a hero as someone who understands the degree of responsibility that comes with his freedom. –Bob Dylan

Freedom is not supposed to be easy.  It is not a gift.  Freedom is a responsibility; the responsibility to take part, actively, in the government of man and society, and in the amelioration of the evils and inequalities that surround us.  Freedom is the responsibility to understand what power is, who wields it, and how to take it for yourself and empower yourself and those around you to protect our mutual community, our resources, and our rights.  Freedom does not mean sitting idly by while hoping the government keeps off your back; freedom means being a governing power in and of yourself, being a politician as well as a private citizen, and respecting others’ rights and responsibilities to do the same.  Freedom is work; hard work.  If you think you do not have the time to do this, because you work for a living and have a family to take care of, imagine how you would work for a living and take care of your family if others came and took all your rights away – your rights to do the very things that you say keep you from being an actively engaged citizen.

The increasing divide in our political system is in part a result (among frankly many other things as well) of citizens ceasing to be citizens, preferring simply to be private people with no need to engage politically.  This is in part how we let political parties control our conversation, extremist politicians move us away from the center and from consensus, corporations to take our power and voices away while paying the government for the right to disenfranchise us.

Freedom means being an adult; taking time out of your busy day to understand that it is up to you – yes, YOU – to make our society better, our government better, our laws better, our corporations better, our community better.  It is a lot of work, and takes time that you could use to relax with your family and friends, and to watch television.  Just imagine how relaxing it is to live in a dictatorship, how relaxing it is to wonder if your neighbor overheard your innocuous snarky comment and is now informing on you to the secret police, how relaxing were the Holocaust and the Soviet purges – mass slaughters that devoured millions of non-political, private people who just wanted to be left alone by their government.  Being an adult is not about relaxing; it is about facing your responsibilities and moving forward.  Freedom expands those responsibilities to include being aware, active, and engaged in politics and in power.

Headline image of Bob Dylan by Getty Images, used in RTE, “Things have changed. Bob Dylan finally accepts Nobel Prize,” updated 3 April 2017.

Resistance Tuesday: March 7, 2017

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While the Trump administration works to divide our nation and to deepen the hatreds and inequalities that further such division, organizations like MoveOn.org are working assiduously to keep that agenda from succeeding.  MoveOn’s program includes the participation in national “Resistance Tuesdays” (also pursued by other organizations as well).  For the many outraged Americans who can only do so much, the idea is to focus the energies of as many resistance members as possible on Tuesdays, a weekday that allows us to visit elected leaders’ offices and to hold public events that can enjoy a brief moment in the spotlight.

This week, I participated in three actions for Resistance Tuesday.  First, I joined a group of MoveOn and Indivisible members, and visited the Detroit Regional Office of Michigan’s Senator Debbie Stabenow.  Terry Campbell, the senator’s regional manager, had a friendly meeting with the roughly 40 or so of us.  We brought with us a flyer of issues to present, calling on the Senator’s help in resisting Trump.  Senator Stabenow has already been at the spearhead of the resistance by Democratic members of the US Congress, so there was no acrimony like that found between many Republican members of Congress and their constituents.

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Terry Campbell (on the left, at the head of the table), Sen. Stabenow’s regional manager, discusses our issues with MoveOn and Indivisible members in the senator’s Detroit office.

Then, I went to Ypsilanti, MI to participate in a Planned Parenthood/ACA support rally at a district office of US Representative Debbie Dingell (MI12-D).  We rallied on the street outside of the office building for about half an hour, while cars driving past us honked their horns in support of our rally.  Dingell’s district office staff invited us up to the office for cookies and lemonade, and to discuss our issues with them.  As with Senator Stabenow, Rep. Dingell has been a key player in supporting the Affordable Care Act and resisting the Republican agenda of repealing it; and she has also been a leading voice on the Hill for defending Planned Parenthood from attacks by conservatives.  Our meeting with the staff was therefore similarly friendly.

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Planned Parenthood supporters rally in front of the Ypsilanti district office of Rep. Debbie Dingell.

Both Stabenow’s and Dingell’s staffs made it abundantly clear that Republicans are not shy about contacting them about concerns and pleas to vote on their side; and that our voices were therefore a vital part of the growing resistance, and a necessary part of the process of pushing Congress away from the extremism of the White House’s agenda.  We were thanked for our activism, and urged to make Resistance Tuesdays a regular moment for contact and action.  The staff members also told us that for our voices have been far more numerous than are the voices of those supporting the regime of hatred and division.  Terry Campbell of Stabenow’s staff said that some 10 resistance calls come in for each call urging support of Trump nominees and initiatives.

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Planned Parenthood supporters enjoying cookies and lemonade while filling out issues cards in the Ypsilanti district office of Rep. Debbie Dingell.

Finally, I drove to Dearborn, MI, where I had worked for the Clinton campaign during last year’s campaign season.  At the Arab American National Museum, speakers from Voters Not Politicians and Count MI Vote held a town hall on redistricting.  The groups are working on fielding a ballot proposal in Michigan to create an independent, nonpartisan redistricting commission to eliminate the state’s outrageously gerrymandered districts.  In the 2016 election, for example, Republicans accounted for 47.6% of the vote, while Democrats accounted for 47.3%; a minuscule advantage showing the state’s roughly even partisan split.  However, 9 of the 14 Representatives elected to Washington were Republicans, versus 5 Democrats.  In the state house in Lansing, a closer split (63 Republicans to 47 Democrats) still shows a much stronger partisan division than is apparent in the actual, counted votes of the state’s citizens.  Both Republicans and Democrats in Lansing have taken advantage of gerrymandering in the past to minimize the votes of the weaker party in the state house, and have redrawn districts to silence opposition and to create primary challenges to strong candidates from the weaker party.

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Michigan citizens attend a town hall with Voters Not Politicians and Count MI Vote in Dearborn.

The two groups holding the town hall argue that voters from neither party can be truly represented as long as gerrymandering continues.  While voters for the weaker party will never get either their candidates nor their issues onto the central stage, voters for the stronger party will also get pushed over in favor of special interests as that party’s candidates will always be confident of re-election.  Candidates and elected officials in states with gerrymandering are universally more responsive to campaign contributions from large, corporate donors; and take only a token interest in hearing even their own party supporters on issues and positions.  Corporate donors have long been opposed to state propositions to eliminate gerrymandering, because they understand clearly that while gerrymandering does not itself cause corporate corruption of politics, it is an environment that openly enables such corruption to flower.  The groups were recruiting volunteers and donors for the upcoming year’s campaign to put their initiative onto the ballot in Michigan.

The day’s activism demonstrates several strengths about the resistance.  First, the three completely different groups of voters participating in three different events (I was the only one in the crowd who attended more than one of these three events), shows us that, with local groups rising all over the state and the nation, resistance support is much stronger than what might be thought by looking at the numbers of any one, single event.  The state of Michigan held far more events this Tuesday than just the three that I attended; and each event had a diverse group of local and regional supporters come to be heard and to learn about how to express their collective voice.  The resistance is strong, is diverse, is everywhere, and is growing.

The second lesson is that, thanks perhaps to groups like Women’s March on Washington, and to Planned Parenthood, women are specifically taking an increasingly dominant role in organizing, leading, and attending these events.  While the agenda of the Trump administration affects all people in the United States, women are specifically impacted even more by so many of the different aspects of Republican plans to infringe on our rights.  From steps to keep refugees out of our country (a group that is predominantly women and mothers with children), to the deportation sweeps and detention actions against immigrants (mothers are being separated from their children and families, particularly the children born here being separated from their mothers who are being detained), to more visibly anti-woman programs like the campaign against Planned Parenthood (whose provision of health care to the poor would be even more necessary if the Republicans succeed in repealing the ACA) and against reproductive rights, women have found that this regime has them directly in their cross-hairs.  Women activists are coming out fighting, pushing their issues onto the central stage, taking seminars on running for office, and constructing a community of non-violent, caring resistance members and actions.  This community is strong, is diverse, is everywhere, and is growing.

Finally, individual voices of constituents are consistently held by elected officials to be a strong factor when they can be heard in groups.  A single voter acting alone can have their issues recorded for their member of Congress if they bother to call, and those issues are tallied so that members of Congress do see what issues are important to the constituents who call or write or visit.  However, groups showing up en masse can put an agenda directly in the face of elected officials, who have little choice but to respond and to try to show their responsiveness on those issues.  Conservative citizens’ groups were created by and shaped the Tea Party during the last eight years of Republican obstruction of the Obama administration; and the new progressive resistance is coming out in numbers that are simply unprecedented, and make the Tea Party pale by comparison.  These groups are strong, are diverse, are everywhere, and are growing.

What can you do?  Get on Facebook, or Twitter, and find a local Women’s March, Indivisible, or other group.  Or go to MoveOn.org, or Planned Parenthood, or to any other citizens’ groups working for the resistance.  Check out The Resistance Calendar for events in your area (or national events that you can travel to if you are able).  And keep calling, emailing, and visiting your members of Congress, putting your issues onto their agenda.  Actions like these are why the resistance is strong, is diverse, is everywhere, and is growing.

Headline image (Senator Stabenow’s Regional Manager in Detroit, Terry Campbell, sits in the front row, second from the left), shared with the author by an unknown MoveOn volunteer, taken on her cell phone, and used with her permission.   All other photographs ©2017, Sparkpolitical.

A Brief Thought from Today’s Resistance

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Today, Trump supporters in Michigan rallied at the state capital in Lansing, bringing with them cranes and trucks with professional Trump campaign signage – leading one to wonder, “Just which side is paying people to protest, precisely?”  Indications of professional political campaign financing to the conservatives notwithstanding, resistance organizers all around Michigan organized a counter-march, in effect protesting against the counter-protesters protesting against our protest.  Joe Montgomery of Ypsilanti was one such organizer, posting a page onto Facebook inviting people to march at the capital building, while other organizers created events at other Michigan cities as well.  My wife and I chose to join the capital protest.  Having several signs from previous protest actions, rallies, and marches, we found the signs we wanted, and drove to Lansing.

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While the Trump supporters, with their seemingly well-financed materials, gathered by the capital building, we of the Resistance rallied first at Wentworth Park, just a few blocks away.  We chanted as we gathered enough of a crowd to make an impact; then at noon, we marched to the capital building to launch our peaceful protest of the support rally.

Upon arriving at the capital building, we noticed people wearing and carrying Confederate battle-flag apparel and other materials; and contrarily flying the American flag as well (not apparently aware of the opposition of those two flags during the war in which both were flown, nor of the opposition of the ideas that those flags stood for).  Mr. Montgomery also noted that one of the leaders of the support rally offered a Nazi “heil” salute at one point.  While the regime’s speakers used megaphones from the side of the building to argue in favor of their doctrine of hatred and fear, we stood by the street and chanted the normal chants becoming ever more familiar to the Resistance.

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The Trump supporters hurled insults at our crowd; while our marchers for the most part resisted the temptation to engage the other side (I saw only one marcher attempt a conversation with a Trump supporter; Trump supporters’ insults were generally ignored or laughed off as not being worth the time to recognize or requiring any response).  Trump supporters called the marchers “snowflakes,” “losers,” and “cockroaches.”  One Trump supporter walking past me called the marcher next to me a “whore.”  This was a divide not just of politics; but of style of engagement and hostility.  The Republicans were openly aggressive, hostile, unfriendly, and they directed their opposition not towards our positions but toward a simple adolescent recourse to personal invective; while our side deployed maturity, relevance on specific issues, and overt friendliness and positivity.

Many of our resisters noted further that while many of our signs argued for policy positions, very few of the Trump supporters’ signs did (most of the supporters carrying signs held only the standard-issue Trump-Pence campaign signs left over from last year).  Another demonstrable difference between our two crowds was the expected ethnic difference; with our crowd’s great cultural diversity offsetting the depressingly homogeneous whiteness of the predominantly middle-aged and older supporters of Trump.  In short, then, our crowd had not just a language and issues advantage; and not just an advantage of positivism over negativism; we also had the ethnic advantage, and the advantage of diversity of ages participating, young and middle-aged and old alike.

After sharing the space to the side of the capital building for about 15 minutes or so, Mr. Montgomery suggested we rally right on the front steps of the capital (some of our marchers later claimed to have earlier chased off the Trump supporters from those front steps).  We marched around to the front steps, and there rallied where each marcher who wanted to speak to the crowd could.  There, we were rallied by the improvised remarks of representatives of Women’s March and Planned Parenthood supporters, activists from By Any Means Necessary, students fearful of the regime’s implications on their education, immigrants fearful for the safety of their families, gay and transgender and cisgender and other people of all sorts of cultural identities fearful of the whitewashing over of their society by the hatred of the new administration and its supporters.  Activists who had helped to fight against deportation sweeps and actions by state police and ICE agents spoke out about keeping our eyes open and actively standing in the way of the administration’s extremist agenda.

As with so many actions of the past two months, we of the Resistance showed each other great love and care for each other, regardless of our disjointed agenda of a thousand different issues.  We applauded each other, hugged each other, and promised each other to stay networked in as we continue to form our twenty-first century resistance, a resistance (like that of the Arab Spring and in so many other places) that is enabled by today’s technology to develop with a power and speed unimaginable to resistance efforts of previous centuries.  And the millennials who are even more plugged in to this technology are ever more the driving force of the Resistance.

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All photographs ©2017, Sparkpolitical.  With special thanks to Joe Montgomery.

The DNC Election, and the Big Tent

Dems fear divisions will persist after DNC chair election

With Tom Perez’s narrow, second-ballot victory over progressive rival Keith Ellison for the chair of the Democratic National Committee this week, many on the left and center of American politics are revisiting last year’s primary win by Hillary Clinton over Democratic Socialist Senator Bernie Sanders.  The same hostility between certain factions of leftist and centrist politics in the United States is being repeated and expressed in similar terms as the continuing armchair quarterbacking of last year’s election.  This hostility means one thing only: a victory for the other side, for the Republicans under the guidance of Donald Trump, who want to destroy unions, fire workers, concentrate wealth, allow small businesses to be swallowed up by large corporations, and pursue an agenda of hatred and divisiveness not seen in this country since before the 1960s.

The United States is not a parliamentary democracy, but a presidential one; and while political parties are never mentioned in the Constitution, the methodologies devised for selecting national leaders, presidential and congressional, promote the existence of two large parties.  In some ways, some of the framers of the Constitution imagined not two but several or numerous “factions” (political parties); but this vision was intended to place the decision of the president’s election in the hands of the House of Representatives, rather than in the hands of the popular electorate.  And with the House controlled by a majority, that majority would be expected (the original framers imagined further) to elect a president friendly to that majority – the largest “faction,” or political party.

But the transformation of presidential elections into a popular vote at each state level, and the states’ collation into the Electoral College, puts power squarely into the hands of any political party that establishes itself as a “big tent,” as opposed to the multitude of smaller, competing parties found in modern European parliamentary democracies.  And ultimately, the only way to combat a “big tent” party is to form an opposing “big tent.” Hence the perpetuation of the domination of American politics by two parties.

Republicans and Democrats both, in order to win and to compete with each other, and especially in order specifically to get presidents elected, must be “big tents” that bring in a multitude of often disparate and competing interests.  These interests create a constant push and pull within both parties.  Both parties find themselves torn between, on the one hand, internal struggles for the helm of the “big tent,” and for the opportunity to set priorities for the rest of the occupants of the tent; and on the other hand, the external struggle with the other party and for those voters whose interests put them in the middle or are attracted by different positions to both parties simultaneously.

The Democratic Party’s “big tent” includes many gun-owners (roughly a third of self-identifying Democrats, according to a 2006 Gallup poll); the party includes religious conservatives who are opposed to abortion; the party includes fiscal conservatives unconvinced about the need to spend taxes on social supports.  A traditional demographic of the party during twentieth century was union voters; and these voters are hardly progressive in any real sense, often (even if quietly, and while denying that they do) expressing racism, sexism, homophobia, religious bigotry, and other “traditional values.”  Many of these “traditional Democrats” voted for Trump and other Republican candidates last year, and many of them had, as former Democrats, voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012.  The Democratic Party is losing elections ever more as it becomes less of a big tent, losing moderates and conservatives who have until now been suspicious of the Republicans to those very same Republicans.

During last year’s election, and again during this year’s battle for the DNC chair, the “Big Tent” saw continued struggles for partisan identity between those conservatives remaining (many frightened of the openly antidemocratic  – small “d” – promises and actions of the Trump Republicans), with the moderates and progressives wanting to push the right-centrist Democratic Party of the Obama era more to the left.  The struggle between Bernie and Hillary was one between those more hopeful of the Democratic Socialist vision, and others finding enough promise and realism for positive reform and governance from Hillary’s urge for the tent to be “Stronger Together.”  It was also a struggle between those who managed to buy from Republican detractors the message that Bernie’s promise was substantially contrary to that of Hillary’s, and those who had already followed both politicians long enough to know that there was in fact little sunlight between them – particularly when looking at their mutual voting records, in which they voted together roughly 97% of the time.  The battle for the primary ended with a newly energized Bernie “revolution,” shocked that a candidate almost identical to their own and who then embraced their very platform, had defeated their seemingly unconquerable hero – a hero who was losing the fight for the party’s popular vote long before the issue of superdelegates seemed to throw party contrivance and conspiracy into the light as the “reason” why Bernie lost.

In three key states – Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Ohio – Green Party candidate Jill Stein captured key progressive votes.  In each of these states, progressives tossed their votes out on Stein as a protest of the Hillary campaign’s win in the primary, angrily rejecting both their own platform (embraced by both the DNC and by Hillary Clinton’s campaign specifically) and their former candidate, Bernie (who also endorsed Hillary and spent the general campaign fighting for her election).  Stein votes in each of these three states were greater than the Trump campaign’s minuscule margin of victory over Hillary.  Had these progressives voted for the candidate who had embraced their very platform, and who was endorsed by their previous candidate, Clinton would have won those states, and the general election as well – and we would today be having an existentially different conversation about American politics than the one we are having now.

The battle for the DNC has dug up all of the hostilities from last year’s battles, as progressives fought for Rep. Keith Ellison (MN5-D) to be the new chair.  Ellison promised a progressive reshaping of the Democratic Party, attracting the praise of Bernie Sanders and his “revolutionaries” of last year.  And that promise resonated with enough of the ranking members of the DNC (the people who get to vote for chair and vice-chairs, elections closed to the general voters of the Democratic Party) that it took two votes for the chair to be decided.  Tom Perez, the Latino Secretary of Labor under President Obama, was also able to form a large base of diverse Democrats, by urging greater activism among the youth and for social and racial justice; moving donation drives to small-money donors rather than large, corporate-friendly donors; working more with state parties to  develop a 50-states strategy; forming a permanent organizing campaign; and other DNC means of supporting local and state parties’ fights for the upcoming elections of the next two years.  This powerful program, hardly an embrace of party conservatism, won over the admittedly moderate heads of the DNC, an election that nonetheless felt to many “revolutionaries” as another spit in the face by a party that they see as being insufficiently progressive and insufficiently “Democratic.”  Mutterings that, “Democrats are going to keep losing elections,” were heard across the social media as progressives felt shut out and rejected.

Those expressing such mutterings chose to ignore, or to see as a token attempt to sweeten the defeat of progressives, the election of Ellison to the Deputy Chair position.  This slate gives the highest powers of the DNC to a Latino and to a black Muslim, an indicator of the ethnic diversity around which the Democratic Party hopes to rally its forces.  Yet however much a token that Ellison’s deputy chair position seems to appear to progressives, the fact remains that the DNC has inherited from the campaigns of last year an agenda comprised of unimpeachably progressive values and goals.  Furthermore, the DNC is ultimately not a grassroots organizing agency or an ideological demagogue; but instead is a means of supporting the state Democratic parties and is a strategic planner for national resources utilization.  Individual state parties, and their committees, candidates, and elected leaders, will determine how progressive (or not) the Democrats are going into this year’s local elections and next year’s state and congressional elections.  Progressives should be encouraged by the power emanating from such mechanisms as the Indivisible movement, the Women’s March movement (which continues to organize and conduct protests, rallies, and other events), and other grassroots forces.  These forces can, if they do not give up their power, drive the state Democratic parties to retain their new-found progressivism, and put progressive issues and positions on the ballots and into public debates this year and next.  The DNC’s seemingly progressive agenda suggests that, although the DNC will also probably protect those conservative Democrats fighting to keep their seats in the many states that went for Trump, the DNC will likely empower the progressives and moderates in some local and state campaigns.

Headline image, of Rep. Keith Ellison, and Labor Secretary Tom Perez, posted in The Hill, 2/24/27.

Scenes From The #ResistanceRecess

My latest pièce de résistance against the new administration has been work with NDAPL (No Dakota Access Pipeline) on a petition drive.  The Standing Rock Sioux tribal leaders are continuing their struggle against the construction of the DAPL, especially since the Trump administration has ordered that the pipeline construction be continued.  However, the vast plethora of attacks made by the administration upon our civil liberties, upon the free press, and upon constitutional norms of government, have diverted much of what little national attention had managed to trickle over to Standing Rock.

Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts has posted a bill (S. 65, and HR 371), “To address financial conflicts of interest of the President and Vice President.”  In concert with this bill, Roxanne Saxton of Michigan put up a petition through MoveOn.org, calling on Congress to “Require President Trump to provide the audit trail of papers proving he is no longer involved in any way, shape, or form with the Dakota Access Pipeline.”

In very little time, the petition accumulated over 230,000 signatures nation-wide.  Then volunteers and organizers like myself who signed the petition began a drive to visit every single member of Congress, Senators and Representatives alike, and present them with a full list of their constituents who signed the petition, together with the petition language and a summary of the campaign (numbers and so forth).

Michigan has 16 members of Congress (MoC’s, as they are increasingly being called, as groups like Indivisible and others make resistance plans around contacting these key elected leaders).  Our Great Lakes State has 14 US Representatives (5 Democrats, and 9 Republicans); and both of our US Senators (Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters) are Democrats.  Recent events have put Republican MoC’s under considerable pressure to face their increasingly disgruntled consituents; and many have gone “missing,” ignoring invitations and pleas to hold town halls or public events at which they might have to explain their acquiescence to increasingly unpopular Trump administration initiatives.

This past week, (Sunday, February 19 through Sunday, February 26) was a scheduled recess for both houses, and MoC’s from both parties came home to hold public events or to visit key places in their states and districts.  Our petition campaign’s national leadership sought to exploit the opportunity, and to put copies of the petition, with constituents’ signatures and comments from the online petition, directly in the hands of all of the country’s MoC’s or their respective staffs by the end of the recess week.

Considering that 6 of Michigan’s 7 Democratic MoC’s are co-sponsors of the Warren bill, the Democrats were very friendly to this petition; while the Republicans are less comfortable with the implications of calling on investigations of their party’s president and vice-president.  Democratic officials have not been as eager to avoid public appearances during the recess as have the Republicans; and here in Michigan we were able to make direct contact with several Democratic MoC’s, such as Rep’s Sander Levin (MI09-D) and Brenda Lawrence (MI14-D), both of whom thanked our volunteers for our efforts and asked us to keep fighting.  While Republican staffers receiving the petition for their bosses have not generally been unfriendly in Michigan (and some have contacted our campaign with further questions and requesting electronic copies to back up their paper copies received in person), we were unable to make direct contact with any of the Republican Representatives of our state.

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A supportive crowd at Brenda Lawrence’s Town Hall at her Detroit office, 2/24/17, listens to a panel member discussing immigration law.  Rep. Lawrence is at the podium on the right. Photo ©Sparkpolitical, 2017.

Public rallies and town halls by Levin and Lawrence (some attended by other members of the Michigan Democratic delegation, such as Rep. John Conyers (MI13-D), Dean of the House of Representatives, who attended the Lawrence town hall) were scenes of public gratitude to their Democratic officials, in open contrast to the many angry crowds haunting the Republicans around the state and the nation.  At the Lawrence town hall, which I attended, for example, only one member of the audience showed visible (and relatively well-behaved) opposition as a Trump supporter; while applause was loud and energetic from the rest of the room for Lawrence’s support for immigrants fearing the new sweeps and deportation drives of ICE and the CBP, and for her presence at Detroit Metro Airport last month during the protest of the travel ban on Muslims.

On the other hand, Michigan Republicans like David Trott have become notorious for avoiding their own constituents.  While we were (optimistically) hoping to be able to catch at least one or two of them at their offices or during some public event or other, these officials have continued to avoid the public.  However, the Jackson office of Rep. Tim Walberg (MI07-R), whose constituents have created a “Where’s Walberg?” site for their missing representative, contacted our campaign and informed us that his office was going to address the questions raised in the comments column of the signatures print-out.  Other questions were asked of our volunteers by Republican staffers seeking more information about the petition, so they were not all immediately dismissive or unfriendly.

Now that Michigan’s petition effort is virtually complete (current projections are that all packets will have been delivered by Monday, Feb. 27), the Michigan volunteers are ready to move on to our next battle of resistance, either against the state administration of Governor Snyder, or against the national administration of President Trump.

Headline image, Danee Kaplan delivering our petition to Mitzi, Kalamazoo office staffer for Rep. Fred Upton (MI06-R).  With special thanks to Danee Kaplan for authorizing use of this photo.

The Way to Fight in Our Struggle Ahead

Lansing Protest 3

The following is my commentary on means of taking on the new administration, based on bullet-points suggested by Bernice A. King, daughter of Dr. Martin Luther and Coretta Scott King.

1. Don’t Use His Name: this is a regime, and he is not acting alone.

Not only does Trump have an administration of like-minded people helping him (and in cases like Steve Bannon, actually helping to shape his own thoughts and actions), but he is also acting in concert with the Republicans in Congress and the Republican administrations of some 33 state governments.  Even before the confirmation of the Secretary of Education (Betsy DeVos), and of the new head of the EPA (Scott Pruitt), Republicans in the House prepared bills to abolish both agencies, in keeping with the Trump campaign promise to eliminate them.  Were a magical force to suddenly lift Trump away today, the intent, force, and mechanism for executing these actions would remain unhindered.  This is not about one man in one office.  This is about a mentality held by an entire political party, and endorsed by a significant minority of Americans, the people who voted for him.  Trump is in many ways more a response to conditions in our political and economic system than a singular phenomenon that he has imposed all by himself upon an entire, 230-year-old, Constitutionally protected political system.  Don’t focus upon the removal of Trump, but for a greater victory in the fight against the ideology of our opponents, and in the fight for the support of those who decided to vote for them.

2. Do not argue with those who support him–it doesn’t work.

There is a core of supporters of the new administration who are, and will always remain, both ideologically attached to their choices and unable to accept arguments that are based on indisputable facts (which they do, in fact, dispute in favor of preferred, unverified, misstatements and untruths).  However, this is a strategy that needs to be used with caution.  There were many people who voted for the Republicans (and for Trump specifically) who have in the past voted Democrat (and for Obama), and who are just finding their way to the dark side in their perception (real or not) of changing realities that inhibit their freedom of action.  The Hillary campaign was often criticized after the electoral defeat for not speaking out to the many former Democratic voters who chose to vote for Trump and other Republicans, and for neither answering their questions nor fighting for their vote.  This is about the hearts and minds of the people, and Trump voters are a strong but rather less cohesive group of the people than we often like to perceive them to be.  We need to talk to the ones who are only just barely Trump voters, who found their way to the Republicans through a path of desperation, rather than strong-hearted enthusiasm, and who do stop when presented with a factual argument to at least consider the other side.  Shutting people like them out of our political conversation and consideration is partly how we got here in the first place.

3. Focus on his policies, not his appearance or mental state.

Since there is a clear lack of maturity and social responsibility on one side, we need to continue to be the adult in the conversation.  Remember your umbrage at Trump’s characterizations during the campaign of opposing candidates based on their appearances?  It is easy to call the other side out for being hypocrites.  It is harder to not be a hypocrite yourself.  If a man or woman should be respected for the work they do and not for their appearance, then that goes both ways: we should deplore the Republicans not for their appearance but for the lack of qualifications of their candidates; for the threats that their policies pose to our democracy, diversity, and national security; for the continued contempt that they heap upon ethics rules to distance politicians from private business and the conflicted interests that ensue from such connections; for their suspicion and hatred for fellow Americans and for those choosing to become fellow Americans.  We must choose to be bigger than that, and not just leftist versions of the “deplorables.”

4. Keep your message positive; they want the country to be angry and fearful because this is the soil from which their darkest policies will grow.

Many people voted Republican last year because they were angry and afraid.  Instead of fighting back with more anger and fear, emotions which distance all sides from using rational arguments and facts, and which enable “us” vs. “them” schema which replace positive policies with blame games and punitive sanctions, we should employ positive messages about how we the people are really going to “make America great again.”  We represent greater numbers, more unified than ever; but we lost massively in the recent elections and we need to win even greater numbers before we can see any measurable degree of victory.  We do that by attracting people to our side, not by repelling people from us or by helping our opponents to solidify as we do so.  Be the reason why others should join us, and not the reason why they do not.

5. No more helpless or hopeless talk.

We can do this.  We do have the numbers, and a more unified force than ever.  However, this is going to be a long war, not a short battle.  This year, there will be local elections throughout the country, for mayors and city council-members, for county administrators, and there will be a few special elections here and there to replace the occasional death, resignation, etc., of local, state, or even national officials.  In 2018, many governors and other state legislators come up for election; as well as all of our US Representatives, and one third of our US Senators (the so-called “Class I” senatorial seats come up for re-election in 2018).  We can start working now to put local, and then state, and finally some national representatives into power who are fighting for us rather than against us.  Before any of that happens, though, we will lose battles.  Despite a seemingly overwhelming outpouring of public outcry after the election, the simple fact is that for now, the Republicans rule the House, the Senate, and the Oval Office.  They will get their nominees through, perhaps all of them, and if not, then virtually all of them.  This does not mean we should not fight tooth and nail for each appointment, make them fight back to win them.  We need to get right in their faces, every single day, and make them fight back for the things they think they can just go ahead and realize without difficulty.  The media has already noted that the administration is having one of the hardest battles getting their appointments through in recent history, requiring for the first time ever a vice-presidential tie-breaking vote in the US Senate to put an appointment through.  That sends the administration, and people on our side, and perhaps most importantly, people torn between the two forces, a strong signal that this administration does not by any means represent the people fully, no matter what the electoral results were.  We need to keep pushing that, every day.  Call your senators, regardless of whether you share their party or views.  Call your representatives.  Make calls as often as possible, every week or even every day if you can.  Be specific, be frequent, and be heard.  Find out what local elections you have coming up in your area, and involve yourself.  Remember that some 90% of American law happens at state and local levels.  These things affect you directly.  Start fighting now to win them back.  Ultimately, we can win some local elections this year; win some state and national seats back in 2018; and start building a greater movement for 2020.  This is doable; but only if we actually set out and do it.  Have faith, have purpose, and fight.

6. Support artists and the arts.

This is one of those areas that Republicans love to target.  Art represents a minuscule proportion of public funds, but they reserve a disproportionate share of their ire towards such things.  Artists are by their nature independent, self-thinking, and often pioneers working outside of established norms.  Republicans hate it when we spend money on cultural venues that are sometimes unfriendly to them (which is really, from their political perspective, just plain common sense).  For all of these reasons, art is a good way to fight back.  In fact, until we actually start winning elections, it is one of our few principle weapons.  We are fighting the cultural battle in comedy, in music, in theater, and in all other cultural venues; pushing our message of diversity and unity forward, convincing the people consuming culture of our righteousness in the battle.  And this has worked strategically for some time.  The progressive move of television and movies toward normalizing multi-cultural families, homosexuality, and other social realities unappreciated by the Republicans, has helped shape younger generations’ acceptance of them as normal.  Cultural warfare does work; and as our principle weapon open to us, must be openly embraced and utilized to its full measure.

7. Be careful not to spread fake news. Check it before you post it!

The information superhighway is often difficult to navigate, giving us access greater than ever imagined to articles, arguments, films and video, etc.  This also, however, has decidedly moved our information sources from those easily subject to vetting and even peer review, to new sources completely unchecked by any standards.  New internet media can “cite” whatever other “sources” they want, propose any theory they want, present any misstatements or untruths they want.  Many Americans who have had little or no actual training in verifying sources simply do not understand what the difference is between a racist hate site that demonstrates how some ethnic group is taking over or unfairly uses the system against us, and a site like the New York Times or CNN or a peer-reviewed scientific or academic journal, when all of these can be easily accessed just by clicking on a link.  All of these seem to be some person expressing some idea; and thereby ends the distinction between “fact” and “opinion,” and between the scientific value of a theory ( a verified explanation of observations, that has passed the test of independent experimentation) and the public’s use of the word “theory” to mean a simple, unverified guess.  To fight against this trend, we have started to employ the expression “fake news.”  This term was used originally to describe certain sites deliberately providing arguments and information they know to be false, on purpose, often as a deliberate parody of extremism.  The term then was generalized to be simply a synonym for propaganda, for biased media that may well be believed by those generating it, and presented not to deceive but to argue a point, but not objectively fair or accurate.  Now the expression has been co-opted by the administration’s information warfare staff as a means of combating against actual, vetted news sources like the Times, Washington Post, and CNN.  While it is true that some of these sources show a liberal bias (the Times being one of the most recognized targets of this accusation), they have also been critical of all parties and all candidates, and they are useful sources of verified information unlike sites like Steve Bannon’s infamous Breitbart News site.  But there are many, many “fake news” and propaganda outlets on the left, as well as on the right.  Beware of what you cite when you make arguments and cite sources.  Beware of what you believe before you pour your outrage all over the internet and invalidate the actual arguments that we on the left can make about the new administration.

8. Take care of yourselves!

Do not let yourself get swallowed by “resistance fatigue.”  As we fight, do make sure that your physical, mental, and social health are not impaired.  Spend time with your family, sharing activities besides fighting.  Pet your cat, take your dog for a nice, long walk.  Swim, run, work out.  Enjoy a nice meal without focusing on whatever the administration did today that angers you so.  Take time away from the fight to make sure you are okay; because we do need you to come back reinvigorated and ready for more.  At night, before you go to sleep, if you are thinking about what is happening politically, remember all that we have going for us, and focus on our positive forces instead of on the negative actions of the other side.  Go to sleep thinking, “We can do this.”

9. Resist!

Call and visit your public officials, both elected and appointed.  Organize – call your friends, ask your family to help, find your allies in your social circle, and move them towards doing more.  Join mass forces in the street as absolutely often as you can.  If you can, donate to groups on our side, fighting the good fight.  Online petitions frankly do little; they are mostly just means of getting you to a donations page.  Click if you like; but “slacktivism” will not accomplish much.  Our government needs to see us out there and fighting en masse; the thing that terrifies them the most is the possibility of losing the next election.  “Clickers” are often not voters; so be a regular and visible threat of actual electoral change.

Headline image, ©2016, Sparkpolitical.

Scenes From the Resistance in Michigan

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Yesterday, Women’s March On Washington – Michigan participated in a mass protest with other groups, at the Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW), against the recent Trump executive order banning Muslim entry into the US from Muslim nations which do not have Trump businesses operating there.  Having worked with WMW on the march on DC on January 21, 2017, the day after inauguration day, I have been following WMW’s chapter in Michigan and joined in the protest under their Facebook page for the protest. Many other groups not affiliated with WMW, in particular local Muslim groups and local resistance organs like MoveOn, Democracy For America, unions, etc., also participated.  By some estimates, participation was roughly 5,000, at the McNamara Terminal.  Protesters held positions on both the terminal’s upper (Departures) level, and on the lower (Arrivals) level.  Those pictures, video, and verbal descriptions of the lower level that I have encountered indicate that the majority of the protest was there.  Originally, WMW told its participants to go to Departures on the upper level, so that is where my party went.

The day before the protest, when the ban was announced, WMWM posted the protest almost immediately, and in no time at all a couple thousand people indicated interest or intent in going.  I used my personal contacts from the Hillary Clinton campaign, and my network of personal friends and family, to form a team of about 12 people to join the protest; and numerous other campaign staff and other associates also went.  Unlike my group, most of those who I know that went, and who did not come with me, went to the lower level protest.

On the day of the protest, my wife and I hosted a preparation party to make signs and to fortify ourselves for the Michigan cold with some of my wife’s awesome cupcakes, veggies, and snacks.  I met some great new friends who wanted to get more involved in the resistance, and who came with some of my other friends.  After making signs, we divided our group into two car-loads, and off we went.

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Then, we hustled off to the airport, only a few minutes away in normal traffic from my house.  Quickly, we found ourselves in a massive parking lot on the roads heading in, as so many other people were all heading to the airport to join the protest at the same time.  We could see signs in lots of the cars around us, WMW “pussy hats,” and other paraphernalia indicating that most of the jam was protesters, not people trying to catch a flight.  The normally 10-minutes’ drive to the airport from my house took roughly an hour; and about a mile from the terminal, people were walking past us on the sidewalk, some towing luggage, some carrying protest signs.  We did at least have lots of time to wave and exchange thumbs up with other cars of protesters, and to enjoy the many signs that we all just started hanging out of our cars or putting in the window.

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Once we got to the airport, the police were having a hell of a time keeping things from inhibiting airport operations, so we had to get out of the truck quickly while police were yelling for us to keep going.  Our two vehicles got divided, and our twelve people found different spots in which to protest. My carload (after my wife dropped us off to circle around and find parking) joined a long line of newly arriving protesters, all of whom got cheered and “high-fived” by those already there, as we walked past a fence acting as the outer perimeter of the protest area.  Sadly, my wife never was able to make it in; she found some other protesters who needed a ride back out, and helped them out; and then tried to circle back in.  By the time she made it to the parking lot, it was more than another hour later; and the police were no longer letting people park – they were trying to break things up, as the permit for the protest had expired (we had a two-hour protest permit).  She circled back one more time, and picked us up about an hour or so after the protest was supposed to have ended, although the protesters were still there in force.  My party, both cars, found their way out (much easier at least than coming in), and went back to my house to share pizza, stories of the resistance, and friendship.

Some of my pictures from the upper-level protest:

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All images ©2017, Sparkpolitical.

 

A Letter to Benjamin Netanyahu

I have written the following letter to the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, who on several occasions has offered praise to Donald J. Trump, in view of the dangers that Trump poses to the Jewish community of the US and to other minorities here, most especially our Muslim brothers and sisters.

Dear Mr. Prime Minister:

I am writing to you as an American Jew, about the grave dangers threatening my country, the United States.  As the leader of a consistent ally of the US, you hold great influence with the new leaders of my country, and I urge you to employ that influence effectively to protect fellow Jews and one of Israel’s closest friends among the international community.

The United States is facing a tough struggle for the next four years, and we badly need your help.  The specter of fascism has taken hold, and Jews as well as other minorities in the US are under a grave threat, not dissimilar to the threat posing us in Germany in the 1930s.

Mr. Prime Minister, you have expressed praise for Donald Trump, and previously you spoke unkindly of President Obama during his administration.  Both of these stances, I am sorry to say, have undermined the safety of Jews in the US and elsewhere.  I cannot image that you are unaware of the great support Trump has received from Nazi groups in the US and other nations, from the KKK, and from other antisemitic and fascist groups here and worldwide.  The new president has received “Heil Trump” salutes; and language recalling and celebrating the Nazis of the 1930s has been spray-painted on temples, mosques, churches, and other potential targets.

It would be easy in normal years to dismiss these atrocities, and to presume that these people have misunderstood Trump’s message or that these people do not represent what Trump is attempting to accomplish.  But Trump’s appointment of a leading American white nationalist and anti-Semite, Steve Bannon, to the position of Chief Strategist, signals clearly that the harmony between Trump and the Nazis is neither imagined nor unintended.  In the wake first of the election in November, and more recently of the preparations for and festivities of the inauguration, Jewish communities across the US suffered bomb-threats, swastika paintings, and other acts of intimidation, intended to keep Jews here fearful, obedient, and quiet.

As if that weren’t enough, Steve Bannon has been further elevated by a change to our National Security Council, whereby this white nationalist and anti-Semite has a key role in constructing our country’s security policy – policy which is going to closely affect your nation as well.  This change also included the shocking removal from the council of the Director for National Intelligence and of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the US Armed Forces.  Our intelligence and military chiefs no longer have a right to sit on the key venue for crafting our country’s security policy; but our country’s leading architect of racist and antisemitic propaganda has a leading voice on that body.  Sir, as a Jew, if that does not chill you to the very bone, then I think you need to re-examine your Jewishness, and to take a closer look at Adolf Hitler’s shifting of Nazi Party members into Germany’s security mechanisms in the early 1930s.

Recently, on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the US government under Trump spoke about the “innocent victims,” while failing to mention Jews in any way.  Nazis and other groups applauded this statement loudly, revitalizing their movement to destroy Jews and other minority groups.  On this very same day, Trump proclaimed a ban on Muslim entry into the US from several Muslim states where Trump has no personal business interests (we can presume, so that his personal business interests would be less threatened by the inevitable attacks that such an act will provoke).  Trump’s ban is a clear reminder to many Jews like me of the policies of the US toward Jewish refugees prior to World War II, turning back many seeking refuge from Nazi terror – many of whom were shortly to perish in the camps.  Sir, as Jews, it is fundamentally imperative for us to embrace those seeking refuge from the political and theocratic extremists of the Middle East (such as ISIS, al-Qaeda, and similar groups).  Innocent people need protection just like we did in the 1930s, and which some like me fear even Jews in the US may need over the next few years.

And where are we to go if the US treks its current path toward fascism ever further?  As long as Israel promotes the settlement of areas of the West Bank and the Golan Heights, we can’t look to your state, either, if it destabilizes regional security with policies such as this.  As an American Jew, I live in a nation built on an idea – attacked as it is by Trump and those supporting him – that all peoples can live together and build a greater community.  That idea has worked for almost 250 years, even if now it seems shaken by those who want to erase the progress of history.  Israel, too, to be a democratic state, must embrace and empower both the minorities within your borders, and the Palestinians seeking to build their own nation-state in the West Bank.  A two-state solution is necessary to the security of Jews in Israel (and may even become necessary to the Jews of the US if we need to seek a haven from American fascism).

Sir, I urge you strenuously, with both the knowledge of history, and the close reading of the events of the past few years, to cease advocating or expressing support for Trump, and to act like a leader of Jews, concerned about the lives of Jews abroad.  The US has not yet become the Third Reich; but we have taken, and are continuing to take, ever more rapidly, the first steps down that road.  We need leaders like you, who have power and influence and who know how to wield them, to help stand in the way and to provide a guiding light for a better way, a way of embracing fellow communities, before that light is extinguished by the darkness of Trump, his Nazi supporters, and those like them.

Thank you.

Sincerely,

Paul Rincon