Jun 172017

  by Bill Onasch

Viewing the Summit From Below

Unfortunately, the Peoples Summit that attracted 4,000 to Chicago’s McCormick Place didn’t fit in to either my financial or time budget. My comments rely on their website, media stories and some participant accounts. Those sources seem to describe an event with a populist bent.

That term is a much abused one today, often used to label such odious demagogues as Trump and Le Pen. The tradition of American populism is far different. In the late nineteenth century it was a mass movement of farmers and workers with a radical anti-establishment program. The populist People’s Party had considerable success at the polls, electing Governors in nine states, Senators in five, and more than forty seats in the House.

But this impressive challenge to the official ruling class parties was short-lived. Their demise was engineered by William Jennings Bryan. Today Bryan is probably most memorialized as a Christian Fundamentalist who battled Clarence Darrow in the Scopes “Monkey” trial over the science of natural selection. But he was no loony. He ran for President three times, served as Secretary of State and was considered the greatest orator of his day. Bryan’s Cross of Gold speech at their 1896 convention convinced the Democrats to cynically adopt the same monetary scheme promoted by the People’s Party–and the populists soon accepted Bryan’s offer to “fuse” with the Democrats. They became the first major victims to voluntarily march in to what became—and remains–an internment camp for so many progressive movements.

The McCormick Place Summit was a proverbial Big Tent gathering not only in numbers but also political orientation. There were many activists in various movements that I respect–as well as opportunists like MoveOn.org who bird-dog their causes. The Democratic Socialists of America were as welcome as the Progressive Democrats of America. And, of course, there was Our Revolution—a 501(c)(4) wing of the “Bernie” family of groups promoting “political revolution” through the Democrats.

The Call for what they modestly proclaimed to be “a historic convening of organizations and individuals committed to social, racial, and economic justice” was chock full of demands and concepts, many that the WIR and most of our readers would agree with. Big name artists like Joan Baez and Danny Glover were on hand. There were 117 advertised speakers–three of whom were highlighted.

Naomi Klein

I admire much of the writings and activism of the Canadian-American dual citizen Naomi Klein. But I am disappointed that she still supports “lesser evil” candidates in both countries. I haven’t yet read her just released book, No Is Not Enough, but Monthly Review Editor John Bellamy Foster concludes an extensive review,

There is much to admire here, as in all of Klein’s work. But No Is Not Enough is distinct from her other books in that it is less about movement politics and actual grass roots resistance than it is in developing a new progressive Democratic Party politics. For this reason, the Leap she envisions is not high and far enough. It stops short of directly challenging capitalism itself or advocating a socialism for the twenty-first century. It is true that No Is Not Enough. But a new Yes, needs to offer much more.”

RoseAnn DeMoro

Not mentioned in the Summit bio of RoseAnn DeMoro is where I first met the executive director of the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United—the Labor Party Advocates/Labor Party project. Prior to the death of Tony Mazzocchi, the nurses played a prominent role in that effort. They were also one of only two unions to endorse Ralph Nader’s impressive 2000 presidential campaign.

The NNU remains one of the most progressive, adversarial unions and are active participants in movements for single-payer health care, Black Lives Matter, immigrant rights, antiwar, and climate justice. But their Labor Party history doesn’t fit in to their current political strategy of supporting revolution within the bosses’ Democrats.

Bernie Sanders

The Keynote Address was delivered by he who was known to the assembled thousands as simply “Bernie.” The sometimes “socialist” Senator from Vermont hailed purported gains in congressional support for a progressive agenda. But this is more sizzle than sustenance. There are more co-sponsors of a mild-mannered single-payer bill–that will go nowhere during this Congress. House Minority Leader Pelosi recently assured Fight for 15 activists that if the Democrats win back Congress and the White House they could expect a 15 dollar minimum wage in only seven years. More Democrats against the TransPacific Partnership means little since TPP was killed by Trump.

But Senator Sanders also gave a blistering critique of his adopted party,

The current model and the current strategy of the Democratic party is an absolute failure,’ Sanders said. ‘The Democratic party needs fundamental change. What it needs is to open up its doors to working people, and young people, and older people who are prepared to fight for social and economic justice.”

The Berniecrat attempt to win the DNC Chair failed but both sides tried to be good sports. For a while, new Chair Tom Perez and Bernie went on a joint unity tour. The latest strategy in “political revolution” is to try to win state and local party chair positions and to also elect “revolutionary” candidates to office on the same levels.

Senator Sanders also declared he was “delighted” with the election showing of the British Labor Party. But the Corbyn socialist wing is rejuvenating a long debilitated working class party. The Berniecrats promise to transform one of the twin historic parties of capital—that earlier in history even served the slave owners. Regardless of their intentions and other good works, repeating this oft-tried but proven impossible mission will only result in delay, diversion, and demoralization.

An Infernal Inferno

The early video from London on the BBC was eerily similar to black-and-white film that survived the first deliberate fire-storm bombing of working class neighborhoods in Hamburg by British and American planes in 1943. While presumably the result of accidental cause, and limited to one structure, the rapid upward spread of super-heated flames that engulfed the 24-floor Grenfell Tower in the borough of Kensington & Chelsea used the same thermal dynamics deliberately utilized by “strategic bombing.”

Courageous firefighters—who could do little to extinguish the flames–risked their lives to lead many residents through the dark smoke-filled building to safety. Those continuing to search for the bodies of those who couldn’t make it out remain at risk from structural collapse. The fire was so intense that it may have destroyed DNA needed to identify many of the victims.

Grenfell Tower was not one of the high rise luxury condo buildings that sprouted during the reign of the Iron Lady Thatcher. It was one of the many public housing projects accommodating poor working class families, many of them second or third generations of those from former colonies of the Empire who relocated to Britain when that was still possible. But the management of public Grenfell had been contracted out to a private sector company. They have rightly become a target of criminal investigation.

Writing in the Guardian, David Lammy, the Labor MP for Tottenham, said that arrests and prosecutions should follow the deadly blaze. “Don’t let them tell you it’s a tragedy. It’s not a tragedy – it’s a monstrous crime. Corporate manslaughter. They were warned by the residents that there was an obvious risk of catastrophe. They looked the other way,” he wrote.

Affordable housing remains an urgent need in Britain—and in the USA. But the forces of austerity and privatization trying to do affordability on the cheap inevitably lead to fire-traps like Grenfell Tower. The Labor MP is right to demand justice for corporate manslaughter. But the indictment needs to be broadened to include the ruling capitalist class as a whole—on both sides of the Atlantic–who find such disasters to be acceptable risks in squeezing enhanced profits wherever they can.

That’s all for this week.

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