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Are you sure we’ll have an election in November, 2020?

Most American activists, including me, are working on the elections. We have no experience in any political environment that does not include regular, orderly, elections. We have always lived under a partial democracy. Many Americans believe they live in a democracy that is much more complete than it actually is. In general, we believe in democracy, we think we have it, and we expect it to continue.

People in other countries could tell us a thing or two. Historians could tell us a thing or two. Democracy is not a permanent form of government. In other countries, democracy isn’t taken for granted. Sometimes it is stronger, sometimes it is weaker, and sometimes it is gone!

Democracy Is Diminished

Democracy in the United States is diminishing, and has been diminishing for several decades. The Trump administration has accelerated the rate of diminishing democracy. Just look at some news articles from this week:

John Bachtel wrote a very good summary of the ways that the Trump Administration has recently increased its stranglehold on what remains of our legal system. See “Surging Authoritarianism…” The short version is that Trump has consolidated his hold over the entire Republican Party and the legal system. As I write this, he is busy purging everybody in government who might disagree with him about anything.

The slogan that was so important to millions of American activists, “No one is above the law,” would draw cynical laughter today.

The other recent article of great importance came from the Associated Press on March 3: “U.S. Plans Shift in Focus of Military.” Defense Secretary Mark Esper says specifically that the United States is planning for a war with China! A clipping is on my Facebook Page.

How Democracy Gets Cancelled

Despots never tell us that they intend to destroy democracy. Instead, they tell us that they have to “temporarily” suspend elections or some other aspect of democracy because of a crisis. The crisis, likely as not, is one that they created.

Mr Trump might use war with China. He might use the Covid-19 worldwide health crisis. Somebody might blow up an American building in the scenario that worked so well for George Bush. It wouldn’t be hard for Trump to find or create his “crisis” since he already controls so much of government and public life.

How Democracy Gets Saved

America’s partial democracy came from the British. The Revolutionary War and, more importantly, the Civil War, improved it. Hundreds of actions for civil rights and women’s rights improved it even more. When I was a young man, it was reasonable to expect that democracy in America would continue to improve far into the future. Then came Reagan, union busting, gerrymandering, voter suppression, and repeal of democratic rights we had thought were unassailable.

Democracy was won in wars, in strikes, in demonstrations, and in all forms of political action carried out by progressive people. Democracy will be defended in America the same way, but it’s going to take some serious informing and organizing to win.

What Can You Do?

At the individual level, there’s not a lot you can do beyond complaining. But if you join progressive organizations: unions, civil rights groups, women’s rights groups, and progressive political organizations, then together, we have a chance. But it will not be easy.

-Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” program every Saturday at 9 AM Central Time. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site

Book Review:

Gao Xingjian, “Soul Mountain.” English translation published by Perennial (Harper Collins) New York, 2001

You finally complete the 500 pages and you wonder why it is written mostly in second person. You wonder why it won the Nobel Prize. You assume it may be because the Nobel judges are eager to encourage dissent in China. You wonder if it might have been more poetry than prose. You wonder if it would have worked out if you had been able to read it aloud to the woman.

She said she didn’t want to hear it read aloud. She thinks it would be pretentious. You wonder if you only wanted to read it aloud because you are pretentious. Or is the book itself pretentious? Is it pretentious to think about being pretentious?

You say that she would have enjoyed it as a romantic experience. She says you have no idea what women might enjoy. Men only exploit women and never care what they want.

You say that women are not that different from men. She says they are different and that you are chauvinistic to say there is no difference. You challenge her to define chauvinism. She says she does not need to define it because you are before her and you are the finest example of chauvinism.

You say she is acting silly. You try to embrace her.

She warms a little. She says maybe you aren’t chauvinistic. Maybe you are only patronizing.

You say that you have wondered all over China and investigated many ancient cultural ideas. You say that you discover a great deal of Chinese culture and that it is in this book.

She says it only shows what a hopeless idealist you are. You aren’t even slightly interested in the real world, she says.

What is real, you ask her.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON radio’s “Workers Beat” every Saturday at 9AM Central Time. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site

Movie Review: “Harriet,” Directed by Kasi Lemmons, 125 minutes

If you study Harriet Tubman’s life and accomplishments, you’ll wonder how the film makers thought they could cram it all into a mere two hour movie. I heard a radio review with the director, who said that she wanted to make sure that people didn’t see the film as a mere biopic.

It is a biopic, though, complete with those little written sub-headings that show the times and places where important events took place. There was probably no other way to do it, because Harriet Tubman was not a one-time heroine. Her personal exploits in saving people from slavery and in actually ending slavery spanned decades in time and hundreds of miles in distance.

We really loved this movie, but my movie buddy and I love history and the civil rights movement. We think of the American Civil War not as a meaningless tragedy as it is usually portrayed, but as a giant leap forward for all of us. Those who agree are really going to like “Harriet.”

So get comfortable for a long and edifying experience when you go to this one. It’s worth it.

You can listen to an opera about Tubman on Youtube: https://youtu.be/0wpqiyA1nHE

The 1978 TV mini-series, :A woman Called Moses,” can be bought on-line:https://app.pureflix.com/videos/253311526823/watch

The theme song with animated video is on Youtube: https://youtu.be/2bl3KJgWQKk

The Wikipedia version of Harriet Tubman’s life is at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harriet_Tubman

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” program every Saturday at 9AM Central Time. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site

What Do You Have to Lose?

Today, while Corporate America, dark money, and an even darker government are trying to destroy the United Auto Workers, it would be good to consider what it means for all of us. To do that, look back in American history to a time before the UAW became the first great success of the Committee for Industrial Organization.

In 1935, nearly all American unions were weak. They were divided by craft. Only the most elite and skillful, nearly all white men, were even considered for union membership. The few unionized African Americans were isolated in segregated unions. White and black unions in the same workplace even scabbed on each other! The many child laborers, of course, had no union representation at all.

Color and gender lines were broken once and forever in the union. The UAW organized industrially. That is, everybody who worked in the industry was a candidate for membership. Their anti-discrimination pattern and their militant action were followed in the great upsurge that followed, and working people in America gained unprecedented power.

The UAW never limited itself to contract battles. They threw themselves into the political fight against the fascism that was growing in America and around the world. In the 1960s, the UAW organized its retirees into a national organization that fought for, and won, Medicare and Medicaid!

The explosion of worker power went far beyond improving wages and benefits. America’s civil rights also surged forward, and the UAW was more than just a great example to follow.

The UAW supported the civil rights movement. If you have looked at photos and videos of the American civil rights movement that began in 1954, you may wonder who was that white man in the front ranks? He was the President of the United Auto Workers! The first version of Dr King’s “I Have A Dream” speech was written in his Detroit office, which was in the UAW’s Solidarity House. The United Farm Workers’ first big contribution was $10,000 delivered to Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta in California by UAW Representative Pancho Medrano of Dallas, Texas!

Before the UAW, most American workers were no better off than day laborers. Corporate America has never forgiven the union for its part in bringing dignity into our workplaces. They would like nothing better than to destroy the UAW and the entire American labor movement. That’s why we have to fight!

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON radio’s “Workers Beat” at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. They podcast on http://knon.org. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site

Movie Review: “Red Joan,” Directed by Trevor Nunn, 1 hour, 50 Minutes

What a relief it was to see “Red Joan” during its third, and probably last, week at the Magnolia in Dallas! So many movies lately are just blather! We had endured “A Long Days Journey Into Night,” then endured only the first few minutes of “Booksmart” and “Wine Country” — both exercises in idiocy, so my movie buddy and I were starting to feel that the movies are becoming hopeless.

Then we were rescued by Dame Judi Dench and her new movie about an 80-something woman in England who was arrested for having been a spy when she was a 20-something. An actress new to us, Sophie Cookson, gets most of the movie as the conflicted younger woman.

The title character makes it clear that pre-war England was quite different from modern times, and that’s one of the main strengths of the movie. As the younger character goes through a complicated love life, changing politics, and a role in the creation of the atomic bomb, the audience really does get an opportunity to stop and think.

One gets a chance to speculate on the personalities involved. One gets a chance to learn something and to be affected by something. Thank goodness!

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” radio program, 89.3FM in Dallas, every Saturday at 9 AM Central Time. If you are curious about what I really think, see my personal web site.

TV review: “The Society,” Created by Christopher Keyser and streaming on Netflix

In Sci-Fi Drama, Young Women Run Things

We like “The Society” and hope it gets a 2nd season. You can recap season one on the Netflix Web Site. In a nutshell, the senior class of an affluent high school finds itself living in a new world with no parents, no anybody else, and no way out of their little town. How can they survive?

How Could It Be?

There is very little point in worrying about how this magic could possibly have happened. Sci-Fi TV series’ sometimes drag out the explanation over many seasons, and some of them never come up with it. I’ll propose my own just for the purpose of telling why I think the program is worthwhile.

I think that benign aliens from a superior planet have deliberately displaced this group just to see what they will do. The aliens might be trying to decide whether or not to help the earthlings, or maybe they are evaluating annihilation. Anyway, it’s an experiment.

That’s not a really unusual explanation. In “2001, a Space Odyssey,” for example, (the book, not the movie, heaven knows what the movie means) aliens are leading the earthlings forward over centuries of development. In “Star Trek,” the Vulcans have evaluated us and decided to help. In “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” the aliens are just giving us one last chance.

Watch and Learn

That brings me to why I think the series is worthwhile: we, you and I, are the aliens.We’re watching these yuppie teen-agers to see what humans will do when they collectively have to find a way to survive. Will they create Shangri-La or will they degenerate like the boys in “Lord of the Flies?” I love the former and hate the latter, just so you’ll know where I’m coming from.

It doesn’t take the more serious youngsters long to realize that they need some kind of governance. They inventory the non-perishable food available, they take note of their lack of medicines and medical expertise, they run head on into a number of social problems. Almost everybody is in love. Somebody gets pregnant, somebody else is a psychopath. I especially like that they added a psychopath into the mix, because no matter what positive steps the rest of them may take, he will never go along.

It is worthwhile to speculate about the very nature of humanity. Can we possibly put aside our more basic urges to strive for a real solution? Are we intelligent enough to recognize the need for collectivity? Will they survive like the English colonists at Jamestown, or disappear like the earlier ones at Roanoke?

So far, three potential teen leaders have come forward. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that all of them are female. Nothing else would make sense.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” program 89.3 FM in Dallas at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. If you are curious as to what I really think, check out my personal web site

It makes sense that everybody who works would want to study successes and failures of those who struggle to make things better for our side. But do we?

Author Eric Blanc talked about the recent wave of successful school employees’ strikes to a small group gathered at Alliance/AFT (school employees) union hall on April 30, 2019.

Blanc, Eric, ‘Red State Revolt. The Teachers’ Strikes and Working-Class Politics.” Verso, London, 2019

The book is available on Amazon and elsewhere on-line. Blanc said that all money gained from book sales will go to “the national strike fund.” Apparently, he’s not just reporting on developments in the working class; he’s pulling for us!

The strike wave actually began a few years back with the Chicago Teachers, but the West Virginia wildcat strike of 2018 was the immediate inspiration for the successes that followed. Blanc emphasized that strikes in the American labor movement had become quite rare, and successes were threatened with extinction before a small group, Blanc mentioned that there were two or three of them, started things moving.

Another important aspect of the school employees’ strikes was the high degree of unity showed between different job groups, different ethnicities, and different communities. Blanc said that it is no coincidence that the other two industries that had large numbers on strike in 2018 were health care and hotels.

What’s the connection?

Women.

In all three industries, women dominate. “Really, these strikes were led by women,” Blanc said. It makes perfect sense. Women, especially women of color, are also winning elections right and left!

What Were the Main Issues?

Blanc said that none of the strikes were about wages. They were about changing the national dialog, created by the dark money manipulators, that schools are failing and the solution is privatization. There was never any evidence to support the idea, but it was the only thing being said prior to the strikes. Blanc said, “The reality is that privatizing is being tried and it isn’t working. All it does is hurt workers and students.”

Teachers struck against privatizing. They struck against divisive school policies such as merit pay. They struck in order to be able to teach instead of spending their entire day filling out forms. They struck over class sizes.

“You Can’t Do It Here”

Just about all I’ve heard here in Texas since the West Virginia strike is that such an activity would be impossible in Texas. Blanc pointed out that West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Arizona are just as Republican-dominated as Texas. School strikes were just as illegal in West Virginia as they are in Texas. The way to keep from getting fired for striking, all seasoned unionists know, is to win the strike.

What’s Next?

Blanc wound up his opening remarks by pointing out that the strike wave is continuing. He said that there will be one-day walkouts in South Carolina and North Carolina. Tennessee and Oregon may have actions coming up. “That should give us hope in our opportunity to seize this moment.”

Who Is Learning These Lessons?

Only 18 of us gathered to hear Eric Blanc. I was the only one from the private sector. Virtually all of the questions thrown at Eric Blanc were about obstacles that school employees had faced and how the Texas situation might compare. I was almost last when I asked how we can get the entire labor movement to realize that the school employees won because they curried broad-based support.

Blanc responded that other kinds of workers could develop broad support for strikes and other progressive activities. “The majority of the workplaces have a relationship with the public that can be leveraged, but it’s not being leveraged right now.”

When somebody finds a winning combination, it makes sense that the rest of us would study their tactics. We might start by reading Eric Blanc’s book.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON radio’s “Workers Beat” program at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site