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.

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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.

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Reader’s Forum-Who Stole the American Dream?

Today we kick off a series of posts about our current selection written by P4P members.

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Steve Richardson

Who Stole the American Dream?  According to Hedrick Smith, the author, it’s big business owners who decided offense was their best defense against increasing regulation and taxation by the federal government.  A few radical moves by Nixon in the early ‘70s provoked the backlash that created armies of lobbyists in Washington and a relentless push to unburden businesses – at the expense of workers.  It would be decades before the key outcomes – income inequality, partisan gridlock, and dangerous levels of public debt – would become evident.

The timing of our discussion could not be better.  Smith’s book was published four years ago, when the chronic economic and political concerns were hidden by the Great Recession.  Americans are just now coming to the realization we are dealing with systemic challenges.  It is encouraging that voters are looking beyond the political party establishment for solutions.  I would like to think that behind the campaign circus is an awakening – that voters know more than they have been given credit for and they’re exercising the only obvious options.  In that case, there is hope for voters who have basically slept through the burglary of their dream.  As Smith puts it, “Americans will have to come off the sidelines and reengage in direct citizen action in order to reestablish ‘government of the people, by the people, for the people.’”

This syncs with our independent voter message.  He – and we – have many ideas of what could or should be done, but none of them matter until and unless our fellow citizens are ready to take matters into their own hands.  By focusing on specific actors and actions, Smith has made a valuable contribution toward motivating the victims to fight back.  Millions of Americans can relate to the loss of jobs, home equity, and retirement benefits, and Smith builds a strong case that these were not natural “free market” consequences; rather, our economy has been plundered by capitalists who managed to turn Washington into a profit center.

Clearly, we need to get the money out of politics – not by regulating campaign contributions but by closer scrutiny of public policies.  It is remarkable how long we bought the “trickle down” economic theory that what was good for business would be good for workers.  It is now incumbent upon the 99 percent to determine what is good for us.  But we’ve outsourced democracy to two parties that have violated our trust, so the first step is to take back control of our government by changing the way representatives are elected.  Mr. Smith deserves credit for including election reforms in his 10-step plan to “reclaim the dream” (#9 Rebuild the Political Center and #10 Mobilize the Middle Class), but I would have placed them first and second.

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

 

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Reminder: Politics for the People

Conference Call With Hedrick Smith

Sunday, June 19th @ 7 pm EST

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Reader’s Forum: Steve Richardson and Natesha Oliver

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STEVE RICHARDSON

Prior to reading Lisa McGirr’s The War on Alcohol, I thought Prohibition was, as the author described popular notions of the era, “an aberrant moment in the nation’s history, wrongheaded social policy waged by puritanical zealots of a bygone Victorian era, with few lasting consequences.”  I expected a connection with the War on Drugs; it was noted but not explored in any detail.  What surprised me is that the war on alcohol drove millions of voters into the arms of  the Democratic Party and gave FDR’s New Deal a populist, revolutionary energy beyond what may have been justified on economics alone.

I knew Lincoln was a Republican and wondered how the party lost black voters; now I know.  They merged church and state to enforce “good” behavior – a “perfect storm” of ill-conceived public policy that could only lead to punishment of defenseless citizens.  The sad part of this experience is that Republicans seem to have few regrets (else we would not have the ATF, DEA, etc.).  Apparently, they concluded the mistake was overreaching; outright prohibition created a hugely profitable black market.  Today, “sin taxes” regulate the supply of tobacco, alcohol, gambling, and marijuana – splitting profits between government and business.

Democrats are far from blameless in perpetuating these wars.  Evidently, they learned that being the Big Brother of oppressed minorities is a powerful negotiating tool.  Republicans have been remarkably successful in expanding federal police powers (including the recent example of DHS) because Democrats have found limitation more profitable than prevention.  As McGirr explained, law enforcement was a local matter before Prohibition, but it has been a subject of intense interest in Washington ever since.  The lesson of her book is that there were lasting consequences to the 18th Amendment – institutional components of a police state.”

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

 

Natesha Oliver and June Hirsh (R)

Independent Voting activists Natesha Oliver and June Hirsh (r) at the National Conference of Independents, March 2015

NATESHA OLIVER

Just finished reading “Citizen Warriors”, ch.5 of The War on Alcohol by Lisa McGirr.

To be honest, I really don’t know what to say so I will start by saying Lisa McGirr’s account of enforcement during Prohibition by ordinary citizens is eye-opening, it’s like Citizens went on a self aggrandizing mission to “clean up” what they considered problem people.                                                                                                   The reality that Prohibition was spearheaded by the church, more or less, isn’t shocking; Ththe fact that the church aligned their cause with the KKK to enforce the law is shocking…
I have not finished the book yet what I have read affirm my belief that racism still heavily exists in politics because politics was the platform people used to push their superiority agendas, be it the Church or otherwise…     WTH!!”

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

Reminder: P4P Conference Call

with Lisa McGirr

Sunday, April 3rd at 7 pm EST

Call in number (641) 715-3605

Access code 767775#

An independent take on Indispensable Enemies

Our current book club selection was a recommendation from Steve Richardson, a founder of the Virginia Independent Voters Association.  I asked Steve to share some of his thoughts about the book with us.

Steve Richardson, 2013 Anti-Corruption Awards

Steve Richardson, 2013 Anti-Corruption Awards

“Indispensable Enemies helped me see that parties have no more interest in competition than corporations.  Both invest heavily in the illusion of choice to hide their true goal of absolute power.  Duopoly – sharing with just one challenger – is the next best thing.

Karp’s theory turns the Median Voter Theorem upside down.  In our system, electoral competition would force parties toward the middle on most issues.  However, if all choices have been agreed upon by collusion between the parties, we have a “heads politicians win, tails voters lose” situation.  We have seen steady erosion of the average citizen’s interests as the size and scope of government has grown to encompass more and more so-called special interests.  Politicians argue that log-rolling is what makes our system work, but this is just rationalization of what Karp reveals is as systematic deception.

For Independents, this is yet another argument for structural reform – a reason why any bipartisan “solution” leaves foxes in the henhouse and perpetuates the looting.  I don’t advocate accusing anyone of anything.  In fact, as I believe Karp explained, collusive practice is so natural in this environment that most of the people contributing to it are not even aware of the implications of their actions.  I do think we should dissect what is wrong with party politics as a matter of principle and use those arguments repeatedly to promote alternatives.

Our electoral system should not force voters to join any party because parties are factions (ideologically opposite positions) that concentrate power and divide the people.  Especially in today’s complex world, we need a system that facilitates issue-based coalitions that form, reform, and dissolve as needed, with no institutional barriers that protect them as centers of power.”

Steve Richardson

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