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Tom Hayden, SDS and SNCC Alums:
Happy 50th, Port Huron Statement!

Saturday, April 21st, 2012

SDS National Council Meeting, September 1963. Tom Hayden stands at far left.  [Photo by C. Clark Kissinger]


“We are people of this generation, bred in at least modest comfort, housed now in universities, looking uncomfortably to the world we inherit. . . . First, the permeating and victimizing fact of human degradation, symbolized by the Southern struggle against racial bigotry. . . . Second, the enclosing fact of the Cold War, symbolized by the presence of the Bomb. . . . The search for truly democratic alternatives to the present, and a commitment to social experimentation with them, is a worthy and fulfilling human enterprise. . . . If we appear to seek the unattainable, as it has been said, then let it be known that we do so to avoid the unimaginable.”  —opening and closing sentences of the Port Huron Statement (1962)


“The Dead Sea Scrolls of the New Left”

While “the dude,” the amiable stoner played by Jeff Bridges in the Coen brothers’ 1998 film The Big Lebowski, claims authorship of the Port Huron Statement, it is Tom Hayden’s recollection that he was in a jail cell in Albany, Georgia, after a Freedom Ride in 1961 when he composed the initial notes of what turned out to be the historic “living document” whose 50th anniversary was commemorated April 12–13 at NYU’s Tamiment Library and Global Center for Spiritual Life. At the time of the Port Huron gathering in June 1962, Hayden was the editor of the University of Michigan’s student newspaper, and had already published the powerful “A Letter to the New (Young) Left” in The Activist (Oberlin College, Winter 1961).

In our first installment, we presented the remarks of historian Todd Gitlin, president of the Students for a Democratic Society from 1964 to 1965. This second piece is a summary of keynote speaker Tom Hayden’s remarks about the Statement and its relevance today. We were privileged to enjoy a few minutes of quality time with Mr. Hayden after the panel discussion Thursday night. A brief account of our chat with him and some other key participants appears below. (The phrase “Dead Sea Scrolls of the New Left” was Hayden’s in an interview with Democracy Now! the morning of the keynote address.)

The 50th anniversary event was organized, and Hayden was introduced, by Robert “Robbie” Cohen, professor of history and social studies in NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, and author of Freedom’s Orator: Mario Savio and the Radical Legacy of the 1960s (Oxford, 2009). The following remarks by Tom Hayden are a blending of what he said on Thursday night and Friday morning; direct quotations are used only in a few instances; otherwise, we try to convey as accurately as possible the essence of what he said. We hope this bit of editorial license will be permitted. If any participants detect errors, please let us know (“If you see something, say something”).

“This may be our last time together”

Tom Hayden began his remarks by saying our presence here is a sign of group love. “This is a blessed group.” This will be (or may be) the last time we get together to talk about this. (Most of the members of the Students for a Democratic Society, or SDS, who attended the 1962 Port Huron gathering were about 20 at the time. Twenty-year-olds, by the way, could be drafted but could not vote; the national voting age was not lowered to 18 until 1971.)

Hayden spoke about courage, “a renewable resource” that everyone possesses. Often you do something not so much because you decide to be brave but because you can’t leave your friends alone, or you can’t stand what the police or the draft board or other authorities are doing; it strikes you as unjust and you have to put yourself in front of it to make it stop, to protect your friends.

Hayden spoke of Charles “Chuck” McDew III, who was sitting in the audience, a former chairman of SNCC (the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), as “bravery in action.” I owe my life, much of my career to Chuck. (More about Chuck McDew below.)

SNCC wanted as many white college students as possible to come and help in their civil rights movement in part because white college kids getting beaten up would attract news media attention, whereas black protesters getting killed could be (and often was) ignored.

In McComb, Mississippi, SNCC and friends from the North (perhaps after being arrested) were being interrogated by the White Citizens’ Council. We were given the choice to leave the state or go to the dreaded Parchman state penitentiary. We were ashamed later at our choice to leave the state. We went back to Washington and in a meeting at the Justice Department we were told by a deputy attorney general under Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy that SNCC needed to get out of Mississippi. They should leave; they’ll be killed if they stay. Hayden said in effect the man was saying that the United States Constitution does not extend to the state of Mississippi. The U.S. exports democracy abroad but does not protect it at home. The Kennedy Justice Department was not going to run the political risk, stick its neck out to enforce the Constitution and protect the student activists.

Our intention in going down to the Deep South was to go to the calcified hard core of the racist unequal society in America and break it open. We thought that if we confronted this racism and entrenched, enforced poverty at its core, if we could break open the nucleus there, we could help break its grip in the North, too, and everywhere else, to make the northern clergy, society, educational institutions and businesses answer, Which side are you on?

“We seek the establishment of a democracy of individual participation . . .”

We were trying to pull together a coalition movement of poor, middle class, white, black, labor, etc. It was hard to do, maybe impossible, and we failed, but it was the right thing to try to do. We failed in part because we did not know all of what we were up against. For one thing, we lacked the support of older people on the left because we never could satisfy them that we were anti-communist enough. We certainly were not pro-Soviet Union, but for us, being anti-communist was not a priority. Racism and poverty in America were priorities; moral values and democracy were more important. We felt we were constantly on trial not only with conservative antagonists but even with older progressives; it was absurd and futile, like Kafka’s The Trial.

Another obstacle that we could never quite see was the invisible collusion of labor and other supposedly democratic organizations with the U.S. government, namely the CIA. This may sound like a conspiracy theory, and maybe it is, but the federal government did not like our aim of de-escalating the cold war. As Hayden wrote in The Nation:

The unmovable obstacle to the coalition we hoped to build with organized labor was the secret pro–cold war element within liberalism, directly and indirectly tied to the CIA, which was fiercely opposed to our break from cold war thinking. On the one hand, the UAW’s Reuther brothers helped fund and provide conference quarters at Port Huron; . . . On the other hand, the right-wing AFL-CIO foreign affairs department carried on the anti-communist crusade with its covert operations. . . . There was no way, in other words, that the New Left could have joined organized labor in 1964–65 around the the Port Huron foreign policy vision, because the AFL-CIO was shackled to the CIA without our knowledge. —Tom Hayden, “Participatory Democracy: From Port Huron to Occupy Wall Street,” The Nation, April 16, 2012

We could not have anticipated the effects of the Vietnam war (which had not escalated into a full-blown war at the time of the Statement) or all the assassinations. I remember coming back on a bus from a Democratic party conference or event in [February] 1965, listening to Fannie Lou Hamer of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, and learning of the assassination of Malcolm X. Some historian should analyze the effect of the assassinations on the New Left (in particular), how demoralizing and disorienting it was to lose these inspiring leaders one after another.

Our movement should be thought of not so much as an organization as an organism, an organism that is constantly adapting to a hostile environment. In this struggle to adapt we kept going back to first principles, the values expressed in the Port Huron Statement. We were learning by doing, by constantly keeping moving, adapting to changing circumstances. “I’m an organizer, but every organization I’ve ever been part of has fallen apart.” (Laughter.)

We were influenced by Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” and Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, The Catcher in the Rye, and the James Dean film Rebel Without a Cause. These were all about young people who felt out of place in the mainstream of American life, who wanted a different kind of life. We grew up feeling maladjusted, wondered if we were crazy. These works told us we were not alone. As we met more people like us at the university, we realized we can’t all be crazy and they can’t lock all of us up. This period around 1960–62 was not “the sixties” as the decade came to be known. My first wife, Casey, who had been a member of an existential Christian group in Austin, said of those early years, “it was a holy time.”

Concerning recent events, Hayden said that he did not predict Occupy Wall Street or anything like it, so he cannot or should not give advice or dispense wisdom about it. Although he finds Occupy Wall Street vital and important, he found the public workers’ protests in Wisconsin (as shown below) more his idea of participatory democracy. In Wisconsin in early 2011, day after day, and weekend after weekend, 75,000 to 100,000 ordinary citizens—teachers, nurses, bus drivers, and other public employees—and their families went out in freezing temperatures to protest Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican state legislators’ attempt to repeal public employees’ rights to collective bargaining. The sign of a movement, said Hayden, is when people in the street are not members of an organization but are acting because they refuse to take any more of unacceptable conditions. One slogan he liked was “BEER, BRATS, CHEESE, UNIONS!” An organization did not make up that sign, he said; that comes from real, daily life. And when they’re out there with thousands of others, they feel they are participating in history. He was at one rally in Madison, and a woman came up to him and asked, “Are you Tom?” Yes, I am. She said, “I’m your cousin.” (Hayden is originally from Wisconsin. There are about eighty of us around the state, he said, and some of us have never met.)

One of the organizers of the Wisconsin pro-union demonstrations was a former SDS member, Paul Booth, who had been at Port Huron in 1962. Just as he was back then, at Madison he was again acting as a field marshal, getting people making sure people had transportation and signs, etc. Though he was at Port Huron in 1962, he was later kicked out of SDS because he was not radical enough.



A few random snippets:

Hayden said that at some point around 1962 or 1963, some official in the Kennedy administration offered him a job with the Peace Corps, or in a Peace Corps–like agency, that would have taken him to South America. He was not sure if the administration was trying to arrange a meet-up with Che Guevara (joke) or possibly just to get him out of the country for a few years.

At the five-day Port Huron meeting in June 1962, when the SDS members were working long hours discussing and revising the draft of the Statement (of which Hayden had written the original draft), Hayden kept himself awake by sitting in a doorway with a toothbrush in his shirt pocket, and whenever someone stepped over him on the way to the bathroom, he would sit up a little and brush his teeth to keep himself awake a while longer.

Through a connection with one of our fellow SDS members’ parents, we were able to get to the White House to give a copy of the Statement to Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., the historian and special assistant to President Kennedy (1961–63). Did JFK read the part about de-escalating the cold war?

As an indicator of how influential, or dangerous, the Port Huron Statement has been perceived to be, the conservative jurist Robert H. Bork in his book Slouching Towards Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and American Decline, describes the Statement as “disastrous,” an “ominous document” and “a guide to today’s cultural and political debacles.”

“ ‘Mickey, I’ve just seen the next Lenin,’ Dick Flacks, the Jewish son of CP [Communist Party] members, exulted to his wife, a fellow child of Jewish Party members, after he first met Tom Hayden—who himself came from a thoroughly unradical Irish Catholic family,” according to historian Michael Kazin in American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation (p. 231).

A talk with Tom Hayden and other participants

After the initial waves of old friends and admirers and well-wishers, we got to talk with Mr. Hayden for a few minutes. We found him calm, kindly, tolerant, almost Zen-like, interested, still passionate but disciplined, focused. We talked some about the composition of the Statement, and told him about Levees Not War, mainly a conjunction of infrastructure, anti-war, and environment. Ever think of those three things together? All the time, he said with a smile, in all seriousness. Yes, this is someone who sees the interrelationships of things. He said he was in New Orleans just the week before and enjoyed it. Picking up on some things he had said in his remarks, we asked about the composition of the Port Huron Statement, and the positioning of the values section in the front, and who had contributed to the economics chapters (e.g., figures on income inequality, allocations for defense spending). He said much of the material on economics came from Robb Burlage. I don’t really remember how the values section came to be moved up to the front; I guess it was a group decision, after discussion. It just kind of came out where it came out, maybe about the fifth section, and someone suggested we move it to the front, which seemed like a good idea.

Chuck McDew told us that when he was chairman of SNCC (1961–64), one of his organizers was arrested in Baton Rouge for addressing students at Southern University about registering to vote. McDew went to Baton Rouge with $10,000 in cash to pay the organizer’s bail. McDew himself was arrested on spurious charges and spent many months in jail in Baton Rouge and more months at Angola state penitentiary. After that experience, he said, he wanted to leave the United States altogether.

Robb Burlage, who was editor of the student newspaper of the University of Texas at the time of the Port Huron meeting in June 1962, on Thursday evening made one of the most remarkable comments: We in the SDS (and the progressive movement generally in the 1960s) did not take responsibility, or prepare well enough, for “the craziness” that the 60s veered off into in the 1970s. There was so much to work on and there was only so much that could be accomplished in that brief period in history when the conditions were ripe, but looking back on it over the years it’s clear that we did not do enough to prepare for our accomplishments to last, to cultivate relationships with younger waves of students and activists.

Historian Michael Kazin addresses the shortcoming in his recent book American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation:

Contemptuous of liberals, they failed to build durable interclass, interracial coalitions that might have sustained the new age of reform led by John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson and prevented or delayed the rise of the New Right. Disenchanted with old formulas for remaking American society, they gave little thought to devising new ones. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, frustration at the lack of an alternative led an aggressive minority in the movement to take up one variety of Leninist dogma or another, while other activists sought to refashion a liberalism cleansed of Cold War hypocrisies. Neither project was successful. Soon, for the first time in over 150 years, no American radical movement survived that was worthy of the name.

And yet, Kazin goes on to say, “the New Left articulated a critique of everyday life which was in time taken up by millions. . . . [By the 1980s] Tens of millions of Americans, perhaps even a majority, had come to reject racial and sexual discrimination, to question the need for and morality of military intervention abroad, and to worry that industrial growth might be imperiling the future of life on earth. Neither the power nor the influence of the radicals who had helped promote these changes were what they had desired. But their message had certainly been received.” (American Dreamers, pp. 212–13)

As the 1960s went on and the Vietnam war and racial tensions escalated (among other pressures), some of the early, Port Huron–era SDS members were found by younger students to not be radical enough for what the times called for. Some, like Paul Booth, mentioned above, were kicked out. (For more about this, read Todd Gitlin’s The Sixties and The Whole World Is Watching, and Kirkpatrick Sale’s SDS.)

Burlage told us that when he was the editor of the University of Texas newspaper, his father got threatening, hate phone calls demanding that his son stop writing pro-integration, pro–civil rights editorials. His father shielded him from these messages at the time, and only told him later.

Further Reading, Viewing

Tom Hayden on Democracy Now! with Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, on participatory democracy from Port Huron to Occupy Wall Street (April 13, 2012).

Tom Hayden, “Participatory Democracy: From Port Huron to Occupy Wall Street,” The Nation, April 16, 2012

Tom Hayden and Dick Flacks, “The Port Huron Statement at 40,” The Nation, August 5, 2002.

PDF scan of the original draft of the 1962 Port Huron Statement, as distributed by Alan Haber to the attendees at the SDS Northeast Regional Conference, April 23, 2006

For the final, published Port Huron Statement (online), click here.

Tom Hayden, The Port Huron Statement: The Visionary Call of the 1960s Revolution and Writings for a Democratic Society: The Tom Hayden Reader (includes excerpts from the Port Huron Statement).

Todd Gitlin, The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage and The Whole World Is Watching: Mass Media in the Making and Unmaking of the New Left.

Kirkpatrick Sale, SDS.

Charles M. Payne, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle.

Faith S. Holsaert et al., Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts by Women in SNCC.

Michael Kazin, American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation.

Read Levees Not War on these related issues:

Occupy Wall Street, 2011

NYPD Occupies Zuccotti Park; OWS Evicted in Night Raid

Occupying Wall Street with Nurses, Teachers, Transit Workers, and the Rest of America’s Middle Class

Wisconsin Pro-Union Demonstrations, 2011

Tyranny Disguised as Fiscal Discipline

Disaster Capitalism Will Solve U.S. Budget Deficit? Ask New Orleans and Wisconsin

“Shock Doctrine” in Wisconsin

In Wisconsin, as in Egypt, “This Is What Democracy Looks Like”

Civil Rights

How the World Has—and Has Not—Changed in 50 Years

“There Is a Creative Force in This Universe” : The Poor People’s Campaign, 40 Years before Occupy Wall Street

Rev. King and Gun Violence: “Study War No More”

“Declaration of Independence from the War in Vietnam”

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: January 15, 1929–April 4, 1968

Nuclear Weapons, Energy

Hiroshima, 65 Years On: “Countdown to Zero”

Nagasaki, Not Forgotten

Jim Bohlen, a Greenpeace Founder, Dies

Framing the Case for Infrastructure Investment, Taxing the Rich

Tuesday, February 7th, 2012

Attn.: Pro-Infrastructure Activists and Democratic Strategists:

In a Feb. 4 letter to the editor of the New York Times, Rick Stone of Madison, Wisc., makes a point that more of us should heed:

If the wealthy knew with certainty that their increased taxes would make the roads they drive safer, resistance might be less. Yet higher taxes have generally not been framed as such, but rather as a fairness issue—that you make too much, so we’ll take some of yours to give to others.

He is responding to an op-ed piece by Cornell University economics professor Robert H. Frank titled “Higher Taxes Help the Richest, Too,” a somewhat abstruse argument that takes about 900 words to make a rather simple point about why the wealthy resist tax increases. Still, we agree with the basic point, perhaps best summarized in the final sentence, “when the anti-tax wealthy make campaign contributions, they are buying only the deeper potholes and dirtier air that inevitably result when tax revenue is low.”

Earlier in his letter, Rick Stone cites the “behavioral economics concept of loss aversion—the idea that people strongly prefer avoiding losses to acquiring gains.” The impulse to avoid losses can best be countered by showing what the tax increases could make possible. And then—he doesn’t say this, exactly, but we do—change the discourse from a scarcity and austerity framework to a maldistribution-of-wealth argument.

Naomi Klein on The Rachel Maddow Show in October praised the genius of the “We Are the 99%” slogan and said the Occupy Wall Street activists were smart to take the protest to “the source of maximal abundance,” to put the lie to the discourse of scarcity. “It’s not a scarcity problem,” she said, “it’s a distribution problem.”

Mr. Stone of Madison is not talking specifically about reinforced levees or expanded public transportation, but his point applies there as well. When we push for raising taxes on the under-taxed Upper 1 or 2 Percent (and we do); when we try to generate support for what even sympathetic politicians timidly call “revenue increases,” we must show specific examples of what the revenues would pay for: stronger levees, repaired roads, expanded rail service, schools and post offices that are allowed to remain open, and so on.

We agree that arguments for higher taxes should be framed in terms of what they would make possible—that is why we are calling attention to this letter—but if Mr. Stone is saying that calls for higher taxes should not be framed as a fairness issue, then we disagree. He’s probably right that the benefits to the public (including the wealthy) should be at the forefront, but fairness should certainly be part of the argument.

What Would George Lakoff Say?

We have quoted before the advice given to us by U.C. Berkeley linguist and political analyst George Lakoff. He said that in promoting investment in infrastructure and other public goods, Democrats should not try to imitate Republican appeals to self-interest (and certainly not appeals to fear), but rather should argue for doing what is morally right. People will warm to the moral argument if it is presented simply and directly. It is right and fair for a government to collect some portion of people’s income to pay for the building of schools and roads and for monitoring food safety, etc. As we wrote in a piece on the social contract posted in Sept. 2009:

He said the moral appeal is always the best. It’s honest and it is more persuasive. Democrats and progressives, he said, always fall for the “Enlightenment fallacy,” the naïve belief that if you simply present the facts, people will see the light and support your cause. Not so simple. . . . Democrats should never try to imitate Republican appeals—it’s never believable. Instead, use the moral argument (the golden rule)—It’s the right thing to do. Expanding health care coverage, protecting our cities from hurricanes with reinforced flood protection is the right thing to do, morally and ecologically. 

Lakoff said Democrats and progressives are never persuasive with the appeal to self-interest—they can’t compete on that turf with Republicans. Part of the weakness of the self-interest approach is that it is fragmented, does not show how the various parts are connected, and therefore lacks a cohesiveness and persuasive force because it. To be persuasive, what we must do is show how seemingly disparate phenomena are related. Show, for instance, how the nation’s dependence on oil and the ravaging of the wetlands are connected; how the 10,000+ miles of oil and gas canals through the Louisiana wetlands destroy the storm-surge buffer that protects us from hurricanes, while the carbon emissions aggravate global warming, which intensifies hurricanes and raises sea levels, and so on. [Continue reading here.]


Thanks to Rick Stone of Madison for taking the time to write the letter, and our best wishes for the people of Wisconsin—especially the embattled public employees and union members there. We stand with Wisconsin.

See also “Public Works in a Time of Job-Killing Scrooges

The Social Contract, Explained by Elizabeth Warren, Paul Krugman, and Robert Kuttner

Tyranny Disguised as Fiscal Discipline

Republican War on Working Families

‘Shock Doctrine’ in Wisconsin

In Wisconsin, as in Egypt, ‘This Is What Democracy Looks Like’



Disaster Capitalism Will Solve U.S. Budget Deficit?
Ask New Orleans and Wisconsin

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

David in our Berkeley bureau, whose last dispatch was about global warming and extreme weather (May 24), observes that the G.O.P. hard-liners insisting on reducing the deficit only by cutting Medicare and privatizing other “common good” safety net programs are simply employing the same old deadly “disaster capitalism” techniques that were revealed by Naomi Klein in her powerful 2007 book The Shock Doctrine:

Truly, an insane situation, but not without precedent. I’ve been rereading Naomi Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine, and this is pure simple disaster capitalism following the template: use the bludgeon of national debt to create a crisis, erase progressive history and shred the social safety net, then firebomb the populace with austerity to remake the world for elites and the investor class. It’s quite extraordinary how out in the open this is, but how little it’s talked about. That’s what Obama and the Democrats should be trumpeting about the right wing extremists, who must be taking huge amounts of hidden money from people like the Kochs and FreedomWorks, Rove’s machines, Rupert Murdoch of Fox News, and other sources (and who knows what other hidden promises have been made to them to make even previously reasonable people turn 180 on their own positions). But of course, the Dems wouldn’t utter these words because of their timidity about being called “liberal” or inciting “class war.”

The shock doctrine can be summarized as the deliberate exploitation of the public’s disorientation after a crisis (natural disaster, political upheaval, or economic turmoil) to push through free-market economic shock therapy disguised as “reforms.” The traumatized public is too concerned with basic survival to notice what “the authorities” are doing.

Naomi Klein traced the shock doctrine’s use by U.S. conservative economic advisers and policymakers—always closely linked to profit-ready corporate interests—from the U.S.-supported coup that overthrew Argentina’s Salvador Allende in 1973 to the (Iraq) Coalition Provisional Authority’s efforts to “corporatize and privatize state-owned enterprises” after the U.S. invasion in 2003 to the privatization of formerly public institutions of housing and health care in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 (among a dozen or more other grim “success stories”).

The shock doctrine is alive and well in the U.S.A. Paul Krugman pointed out in February that Wisconsin governor Scott Walker was using shock doctrine methods in stripping away labor unions’ collective bargaining rights in the name of fiscal discipline. Now, when Walker took office on Jan. 3, Wisconsin had no budget crisis. But there was a big deficit after his first legislative priority as governor: giving Wisconsin corporations some $140 million in tax breaks.

What’s happening in Wisconsin is . . . a power grab—an attempt to exploit the fiscal crisis to destroy the last major counterweight to the political power of corporations and the wealthy. And the power grab goes beyond union-busting. The bill in question is 144 pages long, and there are some extraordinary things hidden deep inside.

Shock Therapy by Flood, Eviction and Taser

Most odious to us is the shock doctrine’s use after Hurricane Katrina with the demolition of undamaged, structurally sound housing projects in New Orleans and the shifting of the city’s over-stressed, under-funded public school system to a charter schools model, though as usual without adequate funding. The demolition of the New Orleans housing projects, at a time when displaced, returning residents could least afford the rising rents and housing prices, was an acceleration of a scheme long planned by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. (See “Homeless for the Holidays: Who Would Jesus Evict?”) It has been alleged, quite credibly, that the destruction of the housing projects was part of a deliberate policy to shift the city’s population back toward a whiter complexion. As Naomi Klein wrote in “Shock and Tasers in New Orleans” at the time of the evictions and demolitions:

Readers of my book The Shock Doctrine know that one of the most shameless examples of disaster capitalism has been the attempt to exploit the disastrous flooding of New Orleans to close down that city’s public housing projects, some of the only affordable units in the city. Most of the buildings sustained minimal flood damage, but they happen to occupy valuable land that make for perfect condo developments and hotels.

The final showdown over New Orleans public housing is playing out in dramatic fashion right now. The conflict is a classic example of the ‘triple shock’ formula at the core of the doctrine.

First came the shock of the original disaster: the flood and the traumatic evacuation. Next came the ‘economic shock therapy’: using the window of opportunity opened up by the first shock to push through a rapid-fire attack on the city’s public services and spaces, most notably its homes, schools and hospitals.

Now we see that as residents of New Orleans try to resist these attacks, they are being met with a third shock: the shock of the police baton and the Taser gun, used on the bodies of protestors outside New Orleans City Hall yesterday [12/21/07].



Perhaps the most notorious and lethal application of disaster capitalism in New Orleans has been the closure of Charity Hospital, which was only superficially damaged by the storm (the basement flooded), so that LSU could build a new Medical Center complex several blocks from the still sturdy mid-1930s building on Tulane Avenue. Charity was long the central trauma unit in the city and the surrounding area. For watchers of HBO’s excellent series Treme, set in post-Katrina New Orleans, disaster capitalism is embodied by the opportunistic characters Nelson Hidalgo, a carpetbagger from Dallas, and C. J. Ligouri, a native New Orleanian who helps guide Hidalgo through the city’s byzantine business and political relationships. See the sharp and spicy comments at the Back of Town blog to which (we’re happy to disclose) quite a few of our friends contribute.


Tyranny Disguised as Fiscal Discipline

Sunday, March 13th, 2011


“. . . to secure these rights [including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness], governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. . . . whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it . . .”

“In every stage of these oppressions we have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms: our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.”Declaration of Independence


On the night of Weds. March 9, after weeks of massive opposition rallies and national attention, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker and his Republican allies in the state senate pulled a legislative maneuver to pass a bill that strips the state’s public workers of the right of collective bargaining. Wisconsin’s teachers, police officers, firefighters, and other public workers had held and cherished the right to bargain for improved working conditions since 1959. These workers agreed to the fiscal remedies Walker sought, but refused to surrender their right to collective bargaining. He forced his bill through anyway, by trickery. Ironically, it was on another March 9 that Congress passed the first piece of FDR’s New Deal legislation, the Emergency Banking Act of 1933.

There was no fiscal crisis in Wisconsin when Walker took office on Jan. 3. But there was a big deficit after his first legislative priority as governor, to give Wisconsin corporations some $140 million in tax breaks.

What makes Walker’s action most reprehensible is his absolute refusal to meet with his opponents or to listen to the tens of thousands of people in the streets objecting to his scheme for “fiscal repair.” Collective bargaining is a right that would only be taken away by a tyrant, and only by force and deception. (Former labor secretary Robert Reich calls it a coup d’etat.) In Walker’s refusal to meet with or listen to the people he was elected to govern, he violates the very principles of representative government.

“Conservative” Is Not the Word for Someone Like Scott Walker

In the fall of 2009 as the Tea Party movement was growing louder and more raucous, we posted a piece titled “Are ‘Conservatives’ Conservative? Are They Even American?” The obviously provocative title irritated a number of our gentle readers—ungentled them, you might say. We said the question was asked not about ordinary citizens, with whose distress we largely sympathize, but about “the elites, the elected officials who until recently held the White House and majorities in Congress, certain corporate executives and right-wing think tankers and pundits who identify themselves as conservatives.” (more…)

Republican War on Working Families

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

It’s Not Only in Wisconsin, America

This TV ad is being launched today in Wisconsin against Gov. Scott Walker and the Republicans. Please help Democracy for America spread the word by clicking here to contribute. Thank you.

“Shock Doctrine” in Wisconsin

Monday, February 28th, 2011

First, a few notes about Wisconsin:

•  Speaking with Rachel Maddow, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett observes that when Gov. Scott Walker spoke last week with the “fake David Koch,” he made no mention of a “fiscal crisis” that he claims compels him to strip public workers of collective bargaining rights, but spoke only of union-busting strategy and tactics.

•  Also on Rachel Maddow, Eugene Robinson points out that the “fiscal crisis” argument for revoking collective bargaining rights falls apart when you look at Texas. The Lone Star State has no collective bargaining rights for workers, practically no unions, and a $27 billion deficit. Why would revoking collective bargaining help Wisconsin if it doesn’t help the Lone Star State?

•  See below: video of American Federation of Teachers’ Local 212 marches in Milwaukee and Madison on Feb. 24, 26.

Disaster Capitalism in the Heartland

Leave it to Paul Krugman to notice that what Gov. Scott Walker is trying to do in Wisconsin is precisely what Naomi Klein described in her best-selling book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Briefly, the shock doctrine is the use of crises and public disorientation (as by a natural disaster, political upheaval, or economic crisis) to push through free-market economic shock therapy disguised as “reforms.” The traumatized public is too concerned with basic survival to notice what “the authorities” are doing. (The book is Excellent, Highly Recommended.)

Naomi Klein opens with the (Iraq) Coalition Provisional Authority’s opportunistic attempts to “corporatize and privatize state-owned enterprises” and “wean [Iraqis] from the idea the state supports everything” (in American viceroy L. Paul Bremer’s words) in Baghdad in 2003. She then explains that the shock doctrine has been used, very deliberately, after the U.S.-supported coup that overthrew Argentina’s Salvador Allende in 1973 up to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina with the privatization of formerly public institutions of housing and health care in New Orleans (shutting down public housing projects, Charity Hospital), etc.

Since Chile in the 1970s, Krugman writes, “right-wing ideologues have exploited crises to push through an agenda that has nothing to do with resolving those crises, and everything to do with imposing their vision of a harsher, more unequal, less democratic society.”

Now, he says, the same methods are being used in Wisconsin:

What’s happening in Wisconsin is . . . a power grab — an attempt to exploit the fiscal crisis to destroy the last major counterweight to the political power of corporations and the wealthy. And the power grab goes beyond union-busting. The bill in question is 144 pages long, and there are some extraordinary things hidden deep inside.

For example, the bill includes language that would allow officials appointed by the governor to make sweeping cuts in health coverage for low-income families without having to go through the normal legislative process.


In Wisconsin, as in Egypt, “This Is What Democracy Looks Like”

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

“Dr. King’s last act on earth, marching in Memphis, Tenn., was about workers’ rights to collective bargaining and rights to dues checkoff. You cannot remove the roof for the wealthy and remove the floor for the poor.”

Rev. Jesse Jackson Jr. (shown at right holding first-grader Emily Anne)


We spoke today with Kevin, a teacher and union member in Milwaukee, about his up-close-and-personal view of the protests in Madison against Wisconsin governor Scott Walker’s bill to take away union members’ right to collective bargaining. (Kevin is a cousin of one of our writers; see his YouTube video below.)

Scott Walker, a former Milwaukee County Executive who took office Jan. 3, has given the state legislature a “budget repair” bill that would force most public employees to pay higher portions of health care and retirement benefits and eliminate their right to collective bargaining, a right that Wisconsin state workers won in 1959. (This after giving corporations in Wisconsin a tax break that reduced state revenues by $100+ million.) Walker insists he is trying to balance the state budget; union members see the bill as union-busting plain and simple. Union members have generally agreed to significant financial concessions but refuse to surrender the hard-won right to collective bargaining. Walker insists there will be no negotiating: it’s all or nothing.

(Walker’s gubernatorial campaign received contributions from the billionaire right-wing activist Koch brothers. The Kochs also gave $1 million to the Republican Governors Association, which gave substantially to Walker’s campaign.)

As many as 80,000 protesters marched in the state capitol of Madison on Saturday—cheerfully, peacefully, and determinedly—to stop Walker’s bill. Many signs reflect the recent struggles for freedom in Egypt, Tunisia, and elsewhere in the Middle East.

Kevin says that Walker’s bill is clearly seen by the public as a partisan issue. Democrats and union members are pretty much unanimous against the bill, and even moderate Republicans in Wisconsin see Walker’s all-or-nothing push as extreme, with potentially disastrous consequences. “This is not about money at all; this is about our basic right to have a voice in our workplace, a right we’ve had in Wisconsin since 1959” with the passage of a law guaranteeing public workers’ right to collective bargaining. (See Rachel Maddow’s great summary of how Wisconsin has been at the forefront of workers’ rights for many decades.) Teachers are back at work this week, he says. He is teaching his class—“the students come first”—but then he’ shuttling back to Madison to join in the protests.

It’s a family affair—Kevin and his wife Kelly and their children Joe and Emily are part of the movement—and people of all backgrounds are joining in to defend their rights and their fellow citizens’ rights to bargain collectively, to have a say in the conditions of their workplace. They go first to the capitol to get charged up, then walk around outside to join in the chanting. It’s a festive, positive atmosphere. He writes:

There are some very cool videos of the protests at defendwisconsin.org . . .  I’m making another starring Emily titled “This is What Democracy Looks Like.” Emily picked out the music and knows all the protest shouts: “Walker is a weasel not a badger,” “Union busting, that’s disgusting,” “Forward, not backward” . . . and of course, “Tell me what democracy looks like—This is what democracy looks like!”

Joe thinks it’s cool people are really nice and hand out free food. My union had a ton of stuff left over from a campus event so I put 7 platters of bakery into my van and we all passed it out to hungry protesters. People from all over the world are calling the pizza shop that’s 100 yds from the capitol [Ian’s Pizza on State Street] and ordering pizzas to be taken up to the kids occupying the capitol each night. It’s wonderful. Now dem legislators in Indiana have fled to Illinois as well. The showdown is ON!

This is a national fight that Wisconsin is at the very front of—we will not be silenced!