Reader’s Forum: Lou Hinman

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Lou Hinman on $2.00 A Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America

I love Kathryn Edin’s book $2.00 a Day. It gives a clear, concise account of the welfare reforms that were produced by the Clinton administration. It shows how the work of academics are used by politicians.

It also gives us a vivid, unforgettable narrative that exposes the human consequences of these reforms.  Poverty has long been hidden in America.  But $2.00 a Day shows us how poverty has become deeper and even more hidden .  Along with the super-rich, along with the growing gap between haves and have-nots, along with the destruction of families and wealth by the bank-fraud of the sub-prime mortgage disaster, there has grown an under-underclass of the super-poor — the destitute who try to survive in the wealthiest country in the history of the world on almost no money at all.

Those of us who have never missed a meal cannot know what this is like the way that the super-poor know it.  But Kathryn Edin makes us look at it.  She makes us look at fellow Americans whose main source of cash is selling their own plasma.  At mothers of children who are forced into prostitution the pay the electrical bill.   At teenagers who submit to sexual abuse to get something to eat.  At young children who say they want to be dead.

What are we going to do about this?  More of the Clintons (or the next generation of Democratic Party triangulators) will not fix this.  The Democratic Party is not reformable.  To  address poverty, super-poverty, the destruction of the middle class, and the future of our children and our children’s children, there must be structural reform of our political process so that all our voices can be heard.

Lou Hinman lives in New York City and is an activist with IndependentVoting.org and the New York City Independence Clubs.

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Reader’s Forum–Dave Franklin and Call Tonight

This is our last Reader’s Forum before we go live tonight at 7 pm EST in conversation with David Daley, the author of RATF**KED: The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America’s Democracy.  All the call in details are below.

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My introduction to independent politics began in 1992 with Dr. Lenora Fulani’s independent Presidential campaign. I worked on the campaign and was asked to run for Congress here in California.  I ran on the “Peace and Freedom” party ticket. This party was basically an old style left party that didn’t do much. They were pretty upset with me for running.  The only thing they liked about me was the fact I was a union members and shop steward. Otherwise, I was persona non grata. Before this, I was a democrat who realized that the party didn’t really respond to  working people’s issues.

Dr. Fulani’s campaign raised the lack of fairness in our elections. Throughout the years I have continued to support independent politics and Independent Voting’s various initiatives.  Here is CA, I have been active with Independent Voice, an association of independent voters focused on moving control of our elections from the political parties to the voters.  We were part of the coalitions that worked to pass nonpartisan elections in 2010 and nonpartisan redistricting reform. There twin reforms have been critical in giving all of CA’s 4.7 million independent voters the opportunity to vote in the primaries, creating more competitive elections and a far more functional state legislature.   It is not sufficient to have fair redistricting unless we have fair elections where all voters can participate.

I found the story of RATF**KED very insightful, but perhaps with too many statistics.

The current use of computer software to create new districts is interesting. The Republican Party’s plan to use redistricting to take over is amazing in that it worked and was successful.Redistricting as a strategy has been around for a long time. Both parties used it to their advantage.It’s only with the invention of new software that has created an easier path for the strategy. It only makes stealing elections and stealing democracy a click or two away. If you can’t win an election outright, then redistrict your way to a win. Corruption still looks like corruption, in both parties.

Our current strategy at Independent Voting looks promising. Organizing independents who are ignored by both parties and the media and working for truly nonpartisan reforms that focus on empowering all voters.

Speaking of strategy, I highly recommend reading the new book, Refinery Town: Big Oil,  Big Money, and the Remaking of an American City, by Steve Early. This is the story of my town where I have lived for almost 40 years. The Green Party came to Richmond California in the early 2000’s. They organized the old fashioned way. Door-to door. Person-by person. The city of 100,000 is one the poorest in the bay area. Also the most diverse. Chevron, on the biggest oil companies has run the town for almost 100 years. The local politicians,mostly democrat’s have been paid off by Chevron for almost the same amount of time.

After 2-3 years of serious grass-roots organizing the Green Party ran a slate for mayor and city council that was elected. The new mayor, Gayle McLaughlin cleaned house and brought new and progressive leadership to our city. It was a deeply entrenched, deeply corrupted city. Bought and paid for by Chevron. Gayle brought in a new police chief from Fargo North Dakota , who also cleaned house. With the city near bankruptcy, she hired an new city manager. Now, 10 years later, Richmond has a experienced a turn-around. Poverty is still here, as is crime. But, now there are serious programs addressing these issues. Chevron is now ponying up it’s fair share to maintain these programs and the city of Richmond. For years they were able to find tax loopholes in the local taxes and exploit them

I am looking forward to our conversation with David Daley tonight.

Dave Franklin lives in CA and is a long time independent activist.

 

*Reminder*

Conference Call with David Daley

Author of RATF**KED

TONIGHT

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Call: 641-715-3605
Pass code: 767775#

 

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Reader’s Forum—Al Bell

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Al Bell at 2017 National Conference of Independents

I was forced several times in reading Ratf**ked, by David Daley, to stop and reread the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution. It contains 52 of the most powerful words in the vast heritage that has brought us to this point in The Great American Experiment. The unprecedented We, the People… leads off this statement of vision, purpose, mission—and that foundation quietly emerges time and again throughout Mr. Daley’s book. It is an echo, as it were, of the point of the whole story.

Ideas generated by the current selection of the Politics4thePeople book club clearly demonstrate the value of exchanging ideas and hearing different voices, a key quality that powers the club. While there have been fewer posts (so far) on this selection than some in the past, their content is highly instructive and provides valuable insights that aid the rest of us in processing what the author is telling us.

Dr. Jessie Fields provided an excellent overview of the essence of the Republican Party’s successful campaign to gerrymander legislative districts at state and federal levels to enable the party and its candidates to select voters rather than the reverse. The responsible perpetrators express pride in what they have done. That mentality is a pathetic distortion of Americanism. It perverts everything we stand for.

Then, comes along Lou Hinman’s pointed commentary that makes explicit what haunts many of us in the independent voting movement: both parties have become cynical masters of political intrigue and gamesmanship by which they collaborate in crowding out any voices they do not wish to hear from We the People. Lou clearly unmasks the mutual game of chicken the major parties play in controlling our political process. As Mr. Daley points out, the Democratic party is belatedly tuning in to the power of Maptitude as a means of unraveling as much of the Republican party’s advantage as possible. The game remains the same; just the actors change.

The bottom line here is that the Democratic and Republican parties, over many years, have jointly shanghaied our democratic republic. While they properly share the blame, the Republican party currently owns the front lines, paid for in cash.

Oh, one more question. Why, exactly, did We the People let them do it? That is a question for another dialogue.

I would be negligent in failing to note the significance of Arizona in this tale of woe as told by the author. Citizens established Arizona’s Redistricting Commission by initiative. State Republican leadership sought to eliminate it via court action and lost at the Supreme Court. More recently, our Republican Legislature enacted laws to seriously impede citizen initiatives and referenda. Citizens are now organizing, seeking to reverse that action. Mr. Daley describes the earlier challenges faced in the Arizona redistricting process with considerable insight. It was not flawless, but it is easy to envision a significantly more political—and Republican dominated—outcome had the Legislature remained in charge of the process. Politics will always be a factor. The real question is, can such deliberations at least avoid political considerations as the sole driver? The Arizona example says yes. So far.

I will come to our author’s defense for focusing on the Republican party in this sense. The GOP has initiated a new level of political weaponry, escalating quickly from muskets to machineguns. Whether Mr. Daley has it right or not about the Democratic party’s leadership default in this case, he reveals the new weapons of political war that currently victimize our nation. That naturally leads to the question of what to do about it.

The author suggests seven strategies to reverse or at least mitigate this cynical onslaught against our electoral processes. They include:

  1. Support Democratic efforts to recapture enough legislative seats by 2020 to enable them to lead a “permanent gerrymandering disarmament plan”. In other words, lead toward the high ground, don’t just recapture lost ground.
  2. Seek establishment of even more independent redistricting committees at state levels than now exist.
  3. Wherever possible, seek initiatives to reverse gerrymandering practices.
  4. Continue to push for Supreme Court decisions that impose controls on gerrymandering and reverse the most egregious cases of it (now an active arena; see the current North Carolina case).
  5. Experiment in at least one state with multi-member districts to defuse the partisan control mechanisms.
  6. Enrage and engage more voters in supporting redistricting reforms to enfranchise voters instead of parties.
  7. Aggressively motivate progressive voters to vote in mid-term elections in contrast to historic minimum turnouts in such elections to wrest control from the Republican vote gathering machine.

None of these is easy, nor are they feasible everywhere. However, chinks in the armor can be achieved one initiative, one state, one city, and one court case at a time. It will take a long time, certainly more than anyone aggrieved by the current system would prefer. Mr. Daley offers ample motivation to start down that path.

Another tactic strikes me as having value in reinforcing his suggestions. It consists of a relentless effort by many of the public interest organizations and their memberships in the U.S. to conduct media, public education, and political campaigns at whatever level or levels they may operate. Campaign messages could make any or all of the following points. It would make sense to target Democratic and Republican transgressions similarly, wherever they occur.

  1. Depriving any qualified voter from exercising his/her franchise is unconstitutional and cynically anti-American. It is an insult to the very foundation of our nation. It blatantly denigrates the sacrifices of the more than 1.3 million Americans whose lives have been lost in defending our right to self-governance under the Constitution.
  2. Perpetrators of the so-called RedMap system manifest a perverse rejection of the basic premise of our Constitution: that it belongs to all of us. They have a right to their opinions, but they have absolutely no standing to destroy the very foundation that underpins every citizen’s rights, including their own! They do not own our vote; we do. At least, so we thought.
  3. Spending dark money to intimidate candidates, structure legislative districts that cut citizens of any political persuasion out of an effective voice in electing our leaders, and imposing voting districts that advance this mentality, is cowardly behavior. It reflects a pathetic lack of confidence in the legitimacy of their positions and seeks, instead, to avoid challenges by neutering other voices. It is logically incomprehensible and solidly hypocritical for passionate believers in competitive free enterprise concepts, to throw obscene levels of money at arbitrarily suppressing the competition of ideas. There is a name for governance structured this way and democratic republic isn’t one of them.
  4. The RedMap system is a tool for destroying this nation and the governance it so desperately needs in these times of overwhelming division, complexity, rapidity of change, global challenges, uncertainty, technological breakthroughs, and all of their cumulative and profound social and economic implications. Intentional destruction of governance systems for essential dialogue and reasoned negotiation is irredeemably Anti-American.
  5. Disenfranchisement by any means is essentially a form of theft and extortion. It seeks to slice targeted Americans out of the governance process. It is anything but a legitimate source of pride.
  6. We often hear that “all is fair in love and war”. Many would readily add: “and in politics, too.”

No it isn’t.

Of course, politicians and their supporters, past and present, have demonstrated atrocious behaviors in politics. At some level, that will continue by Republicans and Democrats alike (see Mr. Hinman). Still, real American leaders set points beyond which they will not go. The stakes have become so great because of cumulative misfeasance, malfeasance and nonfeasance by both parties that it is time to talk openly and loudly about the price we are paying for their hypocritical behavior. If they will not, we must.

One can say many things about such behavior. It is fundamentally inexcusable. No amount of rationalizing doubletalk can explain it away. Those who perpetrate this approach to our governance structures are exhibiting unpatriotic behavior in the extreme. We must not “give a pass” to those who are numb to the needs of our nation and proud of disenfranchising their fellow citizens by playing clever games. Why would we allow them to hide behind their arrogant defenses? Let’s call them out for behaving as enemies of the people. We the People.

Reinforced by David Daley’s clear documentation, we cannot repeat his message too often and in too many places. Today it is the Republican party. Tomorrow, by its own admission, the Democratic party intends to storm down the same path. Thank you, David Daley, for bringing such a clear picture of this Anti-American swamp to our attention. Now it is up to us.

All of this is enough to make you want to be an independent voter! Hmmm.

Al Bell lives in Peoria, AZ and is an activist with Independent Voters for Arizona.

*Reminder*

Conference Call with David Daley

Author of RATF**KED

Sunday, June 4th at 7 pm EST

Call: 641-715-3605
Pass code: 767775#

 

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Reader’s Forum—Tiani Coleman

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In the book Ratf**ked:  The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America’s Democracy, by David Daley, we get behind-the-scenes insights into how we’ve arrived at such a partisan, polarized Congress, where the American People are its victims.  The book is a piece of investigative journalism, wherein we’re able to witness how the Republicans were able to more than counteract the Democratic wave of 2008; when Obama was elected in 2008, Republicans were afraid that demographic trends, combined with Democratic control of the White House and both chambers of Congress would leave Republicans in the dust.  But Republicans hatched a plan, called REDMAP, that changed everything for at least a decade, if not more.   While all eyes were on Washington, Republicans (through the Republican State Leadership Committee – RSLC) were raising a lot of big money and putting it into relatively inexpensive, targeted state house, senate and governor races, knowing that the Census of 2010 would bring on new redistricting, and if they could get control – at the state level — of redistricting (the reapportionment and drawing of boundaries for U.S. House Districts), they could regain control of Congress.  It worked beyond their wildest dreams, even with unintended consequences.

The book provides example after example, of how this was done.   In PA, for example, in 2008, their U.S. House seats were 12-7 for Democrats.  In 2010, it flipped 12-7 for Republicans, and the Republican majority grew to 13-5 in 2012.  But in 2012, “Obama won 52% of the vote [in PA]; Democratic house candidates won 51 percent of the vote[,but only] . . . 28% of the seats.”  In NC, Democrats entered the 2012 election with 7/13 seats, and even though they won 50.6% of the votes, the Republicans took 9/13 seats, which became 10/13 in 2014.  This was done across the country by using the Voting Rights Act as a reason to pack minorities into the same district.  Some people think that’s just the way it is, with minorities and Democrats in higher population centers, but when you look at the extremely crazy district lines, you recognize that it’s a very deliberate attempt at getting certain political outcomes by compacting the Democrats and spreading Republicans out among many low-Democrat districts.  It gave Democrats some ultra-safe Districts where they wouldn’t have to pay any attention to anyone other than their base, and it usually resulted in some Republican safe Districts, as well as Republican-leaning districts.  No wonder why so many people feel like their vote doesn’t count.  It doesn’t!  If you’re part of a supermajority in a safe district, your vote is being wasted on voting for someone who will win anyway; you can’t use it to try to help someone win in a close race; and if you’re in the minority in a supermajority safe district, your vote will never change the outcome.

Daley shows how redistricting has caused the American “middle” to collapse.  The districts are so lopsided that the middle doesn’t matter.  Of all 435 seats in Congress, only a few dozen are competitive.  This means that the only real challenge candidates face happens in the primaries, where ideological partisans fight to convince rancorous partisans that they are the most liberal, in the case of the Democrats, or the most conservative in the case of the Republicans.  So the members of the House have become extremely polarized, only responding to its extremes.  They go in with their minds made up and will only be punished for cooperating amongst competing interests.  The Republican leadership at the time REDMAP was formed seemed to have helped create an uncontrollable monster that ultimately toppled many of them, too.  Moderate Republicans and conservative Democrats are an endangered species now.

Redistricting is currently before the Supreme Court.  In North Carolina, gerrymandered districts were recently struck down for being race-based.  The Supreme Court will soon hear a Wisconsin case to determine if the Court can find a standard to strike down gerrymandered districts for being partisan-based.  With the technology we have at our disposal, it looks like it may be possible to enact a standard, according to an efficiency gap, or deviations between the vote totals and the districts created, as well as showing that the districts created are against all odds that they aren’t a deliberate attempt at getting political, pre-determined results.  If not, we’ve really got to change things so that redistricting can’t continue to destroy our Democracy.  But even if the Court finds a standard, it will help, but won’t completely solve the problem.  While the book showed that moves towards a more independent process, such as independent redistricting commissions, help a little, they still have a lot of partisan interference behind the scenes, and even when they’re caught, the solutions are less than fair.

Larry Lessig is quoted as saying, “political corruption denies a basic equality:  the equality of the citizens.  Once you see equality as the flaw, then it’s obvious what the bugs are.”  I feel like I’m an independent because I finally saw equality – or inequality – as the flaw.  In my opinion, as long as we allow parties to control our elections, and the majority winners to get the spoils of chairmanships, committees, redistricting privileges, multitudes of appointments, fundraising advantages, etc., our government will always be about which party is in power.  The book pointed how the Democrats plan to try to replicate what the Republicans have done, instead of working to change the system!  If we really want to give equality to the citizens, we need to give all voters an equal say in the election process, even when they don’t belong to a party.  This not only means creating districts that are as competitive as possible, but it means having preliminary elections where voters and candidates who are not part of the two major parties aren’t shut out, but have an equal voice and role.  The role of polarization and partisanship could change quite a bit with nonpartisan primaries.

Tiani Xochitl Coleman is a mother of five, a graduate of Cornell Law School, and president of NH Independent Voters.

Tiani recently had an oped published n the Concord Monitor entitled, “Voters shouldn’t ignore what the parties are doing–we need reform”.

*Reminder*

Conference Call with David Daley

Author of RATF**KED

Sunday, June 4th at 7 pm EST

Call: 641-715-3605
Pass code: 767775#

 

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Reader’s Forum–Julie Leak

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After Bernie was out and I expressed support for Jill Stein one of my FB friends responded, “you’re a neophyte, she can’t win.”  We had different definitions of winning.  With regard to gerrymandering I had a basic understanding of the dictionary definition:  the practice of manipulating boundaries to gain a political advantage for a particular party or group.

When I heard we were reading RATF**KED it reminded me of a personal experience.  I was working on the health care issue with a group of activists, Private Health Insurance Must Go.  I had never visited a congressperson (remember, a real neophyte).  By the way, I vote by absentee in North Carolina.  Never expected to be in New York long term and thought my vote counted more down there.  On one occasion while in Raleigh I decided to visit my congressperson, Brad Miller, Democrat, to discuss single payer. He was not available so I spoke with a staff person.  A few years later I returned to visit again and to my surprise was told “he had been gerrymandered out.”  As noted, I understood the basic definition, but it really struck home just what the concept not only meant but how it played out in our political lives.  I don’t know the exact timing but he served from 2003 to 2012 in the 13th congressional district.  Mr. Daley confirms in Chapter 3:  “One by one, white, moderate Southern Democrats were pushed aside and replaced by much more conservative Republicans.  National names including Brad Miller. . .by 2014 all of them either decided not to run again or went down to defeat.”  The racial gerrymandering in North Carolina was described by the court as “almost surgical precision” in the way it discriminated against certain voters.  Needless to say, Ratf**ked has laid this out so even a neophyte can get it!  If it took three decades to implement as noted in the last paragraph; so, for sure I will not be here to see it reversed.  Meanwhile I will learn what I can and do whatever possible in the interim.  I appreciate the book, the opportunity to learn and to have this discussion.

Juliette Leak lives in Manhattan and describes herself  as “an Independent finding her voice”.  She is active with the New York City Independence Clubs.

 

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*Reminder*

Conference Call with David Daley

Author of RATF**KED

Sunday, June 4th at 7 pm EST

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Pass code: 767775#

Reader’s Forum–Natesha Oliver

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Natesha Oliver on Primary Day in Missouri

 

Ratf**ked by David Daley is a “in Your face” hard reality about a major aspect of our political process. Drawing district lines seems to be just as important as voting itself or should I say the understanding of and the careful watching of how district lines are drawn should be just as important as the discussion of how we vote.

When I first heard the term “redistricting” I was in Mississippi and naturally assumed the issue stemmed from stopping the African American vote. I don’t doubt there was a time when that was probably the case but now it looks pretty damn clear that it’s not about stopping a race of people, although it is still about maintaining political control for a small group of people.

Just because Republicans got more brazen in their “unethical, dont understand how its not criminal” strategizing doesn’t negate the fact that both parties play this type of “game”.

Reading this book is infuriating!!! And I’m not talking about the need to vent type of thing, I’m talking about how can our Government continue to operate with impunity when it come to holding these Parties/Elected officials fully accountable?

It’s a dead democracy when those entrusted to uphold the moral sanctity, if You will, of politics are the very ones breaking the freaking laws of democracy.  The parties keep “isms” afloat just enough to keep Americans targeting one another instead of them, the parties.

To hear it from people participating in the ratfucking process like it’s just business, blows My mind. What parties do and the money they spend to ensure they keep an upper hand is ridiculous, it’s like witnessing a bunch of undisciplined children with no regard of how their actions actually affect life and considering we live in a “better You then Me” type of culture, Americans have to take some responsibility in the decaying of our electoral process and our democracy.

Money may be a factor yet if there was no one to “buy off” then would money be an issue?

Parties are the demise of good government, maybe it hasn’t always been the case but there can be no argument that that is the case now, and Party supporters at some point have to reevaluate the role they play in this demise when they continue to allow their Party to operate without being checked.

America has got to be more than it’s Parties and Americans have got to be more than party pawns.

Natesha Oliver is the founder of MIST, Missouri Independents Stand Together. She lives in Kansas City.

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*Reminder*

Conference Call with David Daley

Author of RATF**KED

Sunday, June 4th at 7 pm EST

Call: 641-715-3605
Pass code: 767775#

Reader’s Forum–Lou Hinman

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In Ratf**ked, David Daley tells, in vivid and painful detail, how the Republican Party, planning for the reapportionment that would follow the 2010 census, hatched a plan that would give them a crucial edge in the state legislatures that would carry out the redistricting.  They were so successful that they were able to control the gerrymandering of enough congressional districts to create a very probable Republican congressional majority until the 2020 census.

Gerrymandering was not new.  Almost from the beginning of two-party politics in the United States, gerrymandering has been used by both parties to make particular districts uncompetitive (“safe,” that is, for one of the parties or the other).  What was new was the novel idea of targeting particular state legislatures, and well laid plans to get a very slim party majority in them in advance of redistricting.

It may well be that the Republicans violated the gentlemen’s agreement with the Democrats about how this game was supposed to be played.  However, I feel that Ratf**ked makes too much of the Machiavellian ruthlessness of the Republicans, and is correspondingly too soft on the Democrats.  To me, it defies belief that Democrats were just too innocent to know how bad the Republicans were, or that they simply got caught napping.

Here’s why.

The Democratic Party’s calling card is that they are “the party of the common man.”  But since their main allegiance is to the shared control of the political process, they are careful not to get too strong.  If they were to get too strong, a few embarrassing questions could be asked about why they are not more effective in serving “the common man.”  If those mean and nasty Republicans get too strong – well, what can you do, they just don’t play fair!  (For more on this neglected subject, be sure to read Indispensable Enemies by Walter Karp.)

Not getting too strong demands, above all, not mobilizing their base.  So for example, when the Tea Party was busy organizing “town meetings” to oppose Obamacare, you might have thought the Democratic Party would have organized a few of the 38 million people who had no health insurance into town meetings of their own.  Of course, they did nothing of the kind.  For the Democratic Party, the mobilization of it’s base is to be avoided like the plague, because they may not be able to control it.

Similarly, if the Democratic Party were to get into a brawl with the Republicans over gerrymandering, it would weaken the Democratic machine in at least two ways.  First, they might actually win!  This would put pressure on them to use their increased power on behalf of “the common people” they are supposed to represent.  Second, even if they didn’t win it would turn over the rock under which gerrymandering and other manipulations by the two political machines thrive – about which the less said the better!

Finally, the Democratic Party is plenty ruthless when it comes to attacking insurgents in their own party (ask Jesse Jackson and Bernie Sanders) or independents (ask Lenora Fulani).

Lou Hinman lives in New York City and is an activist with IndependentVoting.org and the New York City Independence Clubs.

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*Reminder*

Conference Call with David Daley

Author of RATF**KED

Sunday, June 4th at 7 pm EST

Call: 641-715-3605
Pass code: 767775#

Reader’s Forum–Harriet Hoffman

TERRIBLE VIRTUE

A Novel by Ellen Feldman

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Harriet Hoffman at an informational picket protesting the privatization and undermining of public housing in NYC.

Margaret Sanger was not just a fighter for access to birth control and the founder of Planned Parenthood.  She was a political maverick who defied all kinds of cultural norms at great personal cost and was attacked as much for her personal lifestyle decisions as for the courageous campaign she led to provide birth control information for poor women.  As a political activist and mother of two children, I deeply felt the emotional pain and the social cost of her refusal to abide by the rules of the time, especially her decision to reject the expectations of traditional motherhood.

Actually universal access to birth control information took a very long time to be accepted in the U.S.  Before the sexual revolution in the mid-1960s there was little talk about birth control.  Those of us who were adolescents in the late fifties and early sixties can certainly remember what that was like.  “Nice” girls didn’t have sex and certainly didn’t tell anyone if they did; abortions were illegal until 1973 when Roe vs. Wade was decided; and you usually had to either get married or put your child up for adoption if you got pregnant.  In fact sex education in schools was practically nonexistent until about 20 years ago.

Sadly, this is a very timely book.  It is one hundred years since Margaret Sanger and her sister Ethel Byrne, and Fania Mindell opened the first birth control clinic in the U.S. in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, NY, and today Planned Parenthood is under serious attack. Sanger chose Brownsville for her clinic because it was home to poor women whose lives and health were being negatively impacted by their lack of knowledge and access to birth control. While the attacks on Planned Parenthood today are focused on abortion, most people are unaware that Planned Parenthood is the largest provider of low cost health care and birth control in the U.S.  An estimated one in five women in the U.S. today has visited a Planned Parenthood health center at least once in her life.  Without Planned Parenthood it is young and low income women and men who will likely be the ones to lose needed health services.

Harriet Hoffman is a consultant specializing in grant writing and helping people maximize their Medicare and social security benefits.  She is the coordinator of the popular monthly independent volunteer gathering, Talkin’ Independence, a program of IndependentVoting.org and the New York City Independence Clubs.

 

 

A Letter to Margaret Sanger

From Juliana Francisco

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Juliana marching in the 2016 African American Day Parade, Harlem

Thank you, Mrs. Sanger.

I’m learning your story now and I need to thank you for everything you did. I wanted to let you know that your courage and determination has inspired me and that you have saved so many women that you will never know – myself included.

I also need to apologize to you. I judged you before I even learned your story. I demanded perfection from you because of my anger at society – and at myself. I went into the reading expecting to thump my nose up at this outdated woman who fought for women only like herself and ignored the plight of other less fortunate women but I was wrong. As I read on I found a sister.

Growing up I was a little woman rebel too. I was raised in a conservative Catholic household in a society which largely was not as progressive as it pretended. As hard as it must have been for you to have an openly atheist father and be teased as the devil’s children I think in a way it was a blessing. You were taught to question society early. As a little girl, I was not encouraged to question society or the church. When I look back on my earliest years, I feel intense heartache because I believed in everything I was told I should be as a girl and what they were projecting for me to be as a woman.

I had a much smaller family than you – it was just my mom, my two brothers and myself. My mom was always there for us and I praise her for all the sacrifices and hardships she endured to raise us. I no longer blame her for what she couldn’t control. In the last months of your mother’s life you tried to get her to confess her regrets. “I wanted her to say that if she’d had her choice, as the women on the hill did, if my father believed in French letters as fervently as he did in the single tax and socialism, she would not have spent her life populating the world and cleaning up after it.” [page 15] When your mother finally passed away, as you, your siblings and your father stood around mourning you compared it to vultures around carrion. This visual shook me and I openly wept on the subway. I understand now that my mother, even though she was so encouraging of me and so loving, was not taught to question her society or the church, which gave comfort and meaning to her sacrifice. She was only doing what she thought was best for me. I’ve made peace now but as a teen when I finally started questioning everything I was furious with her. Anger born out of insecurity. I was desperately lonely at that age and I wanted someone, anyone to love me – to “fix” me. But I, like you, never wanted to marry. I knew it was a trap. As much as I longed to be loved, I knew I would just end up forced to have children and abandon all my hopes and dreams and passion because of what was expected of me as a woman – something I was ardently rebelling against. I was also angry at myself for being born and preventing my mother from living the life she wanted – or at least the life I decided she must have wanted.

By this age, I was suffocating under all the pressures and expectations of “womanhood”. I didn’t want to end up like all the women I knew – imprisoned at home, caring for 2 or 3 or 5 children, married to a husband that was always cheating and never there. I wanted to travel and have adventures and create art and change the world and I knew that the women in my life must have felt the same way when they were my age only to be imprisoned by husbands and children and “womanhood”. At the same time, I had internalized so much shame and misogyny. At some level, I must have still believed in everything my upbringing taught me a woman should be. I was terribly lonely and depressed at that age. As uncomfortable as it is for me to admit now, I think a way I elevated myself over my peers, whom I still resented for their taunting and for not liking me, was that I was “pure”. I was a virgin and I wasn’t having children in high school like some of the other girls. I’m so embarrassed by this now. Sure, I had begun questioning society, the church, and gender roles but I couldn’t bring myself to reject the patriarchal myth of “virginity” and “purity” because, in a way, it made me feel some self-worth at a time when I felt completely worthless.

However, you saved me, Margaret. Planned Parenthood was the catalyst that helped me unlearn all the bullshit I was taught. I still remember it – I was around 15 and was learning about politics. Unfortunately, the men in power nowadays don’t really care about women’s rights, just like when they were indifferent when you were alive, but I digress. I was learning that Planned Parenthood was under attack but I didn’t even know what Planned Parenthood was. I went to their website and, of course, I was scandalized! Sexual health?! They’re encouraging promiscuity?? In teenagers?!?!

As I kept reading I LEARNED SO MUCH! I never had sex education in school and my mom never spoke to me about sex. Planned Parenthood taught me everything about women’s health from condoms, to birth control, to body image. This sent me on an internet rabbit hole where I learned about feminism and woman’s rights. This will sound dramatic (I was 15 after all) but I felt like Giordano Bruno pulling up the curtain of the perceived end of the universe and soaring into the limitless universe in front of him. Suddenly nothing was sacred and my possibilities were infinite and no longer confined to my gender. I didn’t have to be a wife or a mother, pure or refined, sexy or pretty, or anything I was taught. I didn’t have all the answers at the time and I still don’t but I was finally unlearning what I was taught. I have you to thank for this. All your hard work and determination paid off. It WAS worth it! How sad it is that you would never live to truly see what you left behind.

I feel a deep kinship with you while reading your story. Like you I grew up very poor. I was teased for showing up with holes in my clothes and for wearing the same clothes from last year which I had already outgrown. I remember missing meals and coming home from school to find the lights turned off and the threat of eviction was always present. I’ll never forget it and you never forgot what it was like to be poor either. You fought hard for poor women, even the ones who didn’t look like you. When the wealthy suffragettes you were trying to bring onto the cause disparaged poor women for having so many children and implied they were daft for not caring about suffrage because of the other pressing issues in their lives you stood up for poor women and you never backed down.

I admit, without doing my research I thought you were like those wealthy suffragettes who didn’t care for the poor or for women of color and for that I apologize. You did fight for all women. You opened clinics in Harlem to help poor black women and in Brownsville to help the poor Jewish women and anyone who came by asking for help. My obsession with knowing and being right and demanding perfection from myself and my predecessors in the fight for social justice led me to disparage you and I was also influenced by the propaganda machine against you. People still twist your legacy and say you wanted to exterminate African-Americans and Jewish people through birth control and without doing my research I believed this. It was easy for me to believe this because, in my opinion, middle-class white feminism still doesn’t listen to poor women or women of color. Younger intersectional feminists and womanists are frequently ignored by them and I think we vilify one another. It’s complicated but at any rate I’m glad I learned the real Margaret Sanger. You weren’t perfect, you hurt your children and Bill but you had good intentions and I at least think you did the right thing. I’m not excusing everything. I’m still upset that you left your children suddenly without even saying goodbye but as an activist I understand your single-minded drive for your cause.

Reading your story has given me so much perspective about the fight for women’s rights and what it means to be an activist who courageously goes against society and the law even if it means going to prison like you, and Ethel did. As I mentioned I am an activist. I work for structural political reform to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard. I’ve always cared deeply for social justice and women’s rights and I think fixing the political system is the best way for me to help the cause. As I’m writing this a racist, sexist president is being sworn in who’s vice president and cabinet members openly oppose women’s rights, gay rights, racial equality etc. I, however, am not despairing. I know that the work I’m doing is important because it will ensure that the people are heard and not the special interests. My activism is how I express my love for humanity and how I can help others. I don’t know what these next four years will be like but I do know that I will work hard for what I believe in and to help others. I’m reminded of you when Anita Block asked you to step in and lecture a crowd on the ballot for women and you didn’t feel you were an authority on this issue or that you knew enough to do so. Instead you spoke about women’s health and taught what every woman should know. This is so inspiring. I’m still developing my voice as an activist and will always be. It really struck me that instead of going through the motions and lecturing about something you didn’t really get you spoke from the heart and lectured about something you were so passionate about. You didn’t need to be perfect. The work you did transcended any of that.

I think my biggest takeaway from your story is to stop adhering to the illusion of perfection. I will never be perfect and I mustn’t let the fear of making mistakes stop me from my activism or from living my life. So once again, I thank you, Mrs. Sanger, for the wonderful work you did. Thank you for educating me and inspiring me. I celebrate your life and all that you accomplished. Tomorrow I will be marching with hundreds of thousands of people around the country who are swearing to uphold women’s rights in the face of adversity and you are a tremendous reason we can do this today. It’s now up to us to continue your legacy and fight for your cause and I’m proud to be there in your honor.

Juliana Francisco lives in Brooklyn and is an activist with IndependentVoting.org and the New York City Independence Clubs.  

 

Politics for the People Conference Call

With Ellen Feldman

TOMORROW

Sunday, January 22nd at 7 pm EST

Call In Number: 641 715-3605

Access code 767775#

Readers’ Forum–Steve Richardson & Lou Hinman

STEVE RICHARDSON

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I finished the book last night.  Honestly, it was not my type of book.  I rarely read novels and found the quasi-biography and this author’s style awkward.  I could not even remember who Sanger was, so I did learn some ugly truths about the history of contraception.  I could have learned more from a brief article, but this book was written for people who already knew her public story.  I may be reading too much into the story but should get an interesting reaction from Ms. Feldman, either way.

Terrible Virtue is an intriguing title that isn’t really explained in the quote of Margaret Sanger or by the author.  Most readers, myself included, are probably grateful for the deeds that ultimately led to reproductive freedom for women in the U.S. and wondered what was terrible about them.  The answer comes in the form of letters/testimonials by Sanger’s family and friends.  They paid the price by loving someone who could not love them the way they wanted and probably deserved to be loved.  Over and over, Margaret made the choices that contraception would make possible for all women.  It did not paint a pretty picture; it made her appear selfish.  But it did keep her from falling into the traps that had kept virtually all women in misery until she made rebellion her singular goal.

Sanger indulged what ambitious men learned long ago – that great achievements require indifference to expectations, especially those of loved ones.  History is not made by people who cling to comfort and sentiment.  Anyone moved by friends’ ordinary concerns cannot hope to withstand extraordinary challenges from enemies.  This does not mean there are no feelings; it means there are many choices to be made and those choices have consequences.  Margaret Sanger was willing to endure the judgment and disappointment of those she loved to pursue a worthy objective.  Feldman’s book reminds us that heroes are not always seen that way by those who were sacrificed on their journey.        

 

Steve Richardson is a founding member of the Virginia Independent Voters Association and serves on IndependentVoting.org’s national Election Reform Committee.

***

LOU HINMAN

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Terrible Virtue, by Ellen Feldman, is the story of Margaret Sanger, and her pivotal role in the long struggle to make birth control accessible and legal in the United States.

I remember that Lisa McGirr’s book The War on Alcohol (a Politics for the People selection two years ago) exposed how Prohibition was aimed at denying alcohol consumption to poor people, and the rapid influx of working class “foreigners” into American cities.  At the same time, the discriminatory enforcement of the Volstead Act allowed the well-to-do to go on consuming alcohol.  McGirr showed how the 18th Amendment was only possible because the development of democracy was subverted and held back at a time of rapid social change and economic growth, and how it’s overthrow was made possible by the rapid enfranchisement of new working-class voters during the 1920’s and the building of a new electoral coalition.

The struggle for reproductive rights (although not over even now) overlapped the struggle against Prohibition, and involved the same underlying issue.  The rich and the well-to-do had access to birth control, but poor people did not.  Margaret Sanger opened the first birth control clinic in American in 1916.  In 1921 (the year after the Prohibition became law) she founded the American Birth Control League, which later became the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

One of the virtues of Feldman’s book is its account of the appalling oppression of poor and working class women without access to birth control.  I have to confess that as a political activist who came of age at about the time that Margaret Sander passed away in 1966, I never thought much about this.

Another important virtue is Feldman’s moving account of Margaret Sanger’s development as a rebel.  Her rebellion was rooted, not in ideology, but in her hatred of oppression, and her fellowship with other working-class women – her sisters.  As she developed as an agitator and organizer, and as support for her work grew, she came to know many wealthy and influential people.  But she never let herself be deflected from her goal, and used her privileged social location to broaden the base of support for her cause.

Another virtue of Ms. Feldman’s book is that she depicts the personal conflicts and sacrifices Margaret Sanger endured in becoming a leader.

Lou Hinman lives in New York City and is an activist with IndependentVoting.org and the New York City Independence Clubs.

Politics for the People Conference Call

With Ellen Feldman

Sunday, January 22nd at 7 pm EST

Call In Number: 641 715-3605

Access code 767775#

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