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The NextDoor social media service could be the core of a new democratic society.

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I’ve written before about how important I think science fiction can be for clarifying the present and guessing the future. I write sci-fi novellas. Both the first one and the second one are posted online and free. I’m thinking up a third.

The Problem with Utopia

Almost all American sci-fi is dystopian, because those are the ugly trends we see. Star Trek is the major exception. All the problems on Earth are solved in Star Trek and they have to go running around outer space to find anything to fix. I like that version of the future and I think that some of today’s trends support it. I particularly like the trend toward more and better information. My sci-fi world tends toward the positive.

But what are the details of a utopian world? That’s what I have to confront in my new novel. The setting is “just after the revolution.” In the first novella, Commissioner Joe Torres gets a minor assignment in a backwoods area. In the second one, he gets a larger assignment, but still not one that is critical. I could go on writing those forever — letting Joe solve the little problems of a new society — but I decided to go toward the heart of the matter.

In the third novel, I intend to have the Commissioner get involved in setting up an ongoing government. The horrible emergencies are in a temporary lull. The family of war, want, and pollution have been traced to their Mama — capitalism — and halted. The oceans aren’t receding, but they’re not overflowing the beaches anymore. An ongoing structure for the new world society still needs to be created. I intend to have Joe Torres get drafted to play a small part in that giant project.

That’s where I ran into all the problems. If Joe has a say-so in building a positive structure that would benefit people and the planet long term, how would he go about it? What structure would he want?

Part of the Answer

I’ve been worrying about this for about a month. Yesterday morning, part of the answer hit me: NextDoor! It’s a social media service organized by neighborhoods. Most of the posts are about lost dogs and lawnmowers for sale. But what a potential it has!

If everybody were computer literate and had a good computer, they could join NextDoor. If the service were run by the people, it could be the basic element of a democratic society. Immediate problems in your neighborhood would be solved on-line. Representatives from your neighborhood would be elected to higher bodies who work on problems affecting larger geographic areas. Specialty committees and interests groups could be created and meet, like the core elements, on-line.

There wouldn’t be a Congress. There would just be a NextDoor group of representatives from all over the world. None of the higher bodies would be able to enact legislation. Their job would be to process problems and propose solutions. The solutions would then be voted on by the people affected.

The fundamental right of initiative, referendum, and recall would operate at every level.

It’s Not Exactly a New Idea!

Except for the computer part, this isn’t exactly new. The Cubans and Venezuelans tried to set up “revolutionary circles” that were to be the fundamental element of their governmental structure. The Russians in 1917 tried to govern through grass roots committees. The Russian word for “committee” is “soviet.” I think computers and social media make success for total democracy more likely.

Up until the time I’m creating with Commissioner Joe Torres, a state has always conformed to the ancient definition: “a body of armed men.” That is, whoever controls the army and the police control just about everything. In Joe Torres’ world, the army and the police are already disbanded.

We can surely do better in our future than we’re doing now!

–Gene Lantz

I’m still on KNON radio 89.3 FM in Dallas at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my shaggy looking personal web site

I feel that I should explain, especially to those people who avoid me. It’s true that I’m incapable of cordial conversation. In no time, I turn almost every conversation into an “ask” for this or that. Sometimes I’m after contributions to the retiree cause, sometimes I want people to come to something, sometimes I ask them to “make a few calls.”

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Here’s my excuse: I have an urgent sense of history unfolding.

We Think We’re in Normal Times

In normal times, things go on pretty much as they have. There are no sharp changes in normal times. We think it’s “just the way things are,” and the inference is that they have always been that way.

But there are no normal times. Nothing is static, everything is constantly changing. When little, barely noticeable, changes start to accumulate, then giant, sudden changes occur. I saw one of those little changes in my e-mail today. It said that Republicans are proposing another $492 million cut in the Social Security Administration’s budget. It’s just one of many relatively “little” changes that undermine the American standard of living. It’s been going on since 1980.

I also saw, today, that the latest Texas Voter Suppression law is going into effect. I saw that President Trump is saber-rattling, again, against North Korea. He added Iran this past week.

These little changes undermining our standard of living and taking away our democracy so that we can’t fight back, are likely to add up to a big change. It’s impossible to predict when, but it’s foolish to ignore the truth that the big change is looming more likely.

Two Big Changes Ahead

If the coalition of big-money funders and ignorant reactionary pawns continues to get its way, America is going fascist. Who would deny that incipient fascism is already upon us? Who would fail to admit the direction they are taking us? Who would fail to notice that fascism, the total extinction of democracy with working people completely under the thumbs of corporate masters, is exactly what they intend?

The other big change that might occur is a defeat of the big money funders and ignorant reactionary pawns. An enlightened and activated populace may yet join together into an irresistible progressive force that will regain the upper hand for democracy and begin a new path to peace and progress.

Pick One

Those with an urgent sense of history know that one of those big changes is coming. You can have one or the other but you can’t have neither. You can’t have “normal times.”

That’s why I ask people to study and to get active in the most meaningful way. That’s why I’m such a pain in the butt.

–Gene Lantz

I’m still on KNON radio 89.3 FM in Dallas every Saturday at 9 Central Time. If you want to know what I really think, check out http://lilleskole.org

 

I have two reasons why we aren’t fit to govern, one reason why we are, and a firm belief as to whether or not we ever will.

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Why Americans Can’t Govern Themselves

The first reason is obvious: Americans aren’t even trying to govern ourselves. In my town, we just finished critical local elections with about 5% turnout of eligible voters. “Eligible voters” is the electorate plus the large percentage who didn’t even register.

The issues were really big and really clear. The establishment was lined up on one side and the people on the other. Everybody had a big stake, but hardly anybody responded.

The other thing against our ability to govern ourselves is the crippling divisions between those few of us who have shown that we give a damn. Example: my group called a rally last Friday, then had to try to reconcile with two other groups calling conflicting activities. We were able to come together with one of them, but the other wouldn’t budge. Here’s a laugh for you, the two groups most divided, most sectarian, least concerned about building a unified movement, were factions of “Indivisible!”

The divided progressive organizations make little effort to work together. They may call for “unity” all the time, and they do, but their idea of “unity” is “everybody follow me!” Very few of our disparate groups have a coherent strategy that makes any sense.

Hardly any of us recognize the central role of the working class in any effort to make progress against the 1%. If we did, we’d be working hard to stop Congress and the State Legislatures from undermining organized labor, but we aren’t.

Why Americans Can Govern Themselves

It’s all relative. I just made a couple of points explaining why the American people can’t govern ourselves, but I didn’t mention that we are far better prepared than the people who are running things now. One could start clicking the days off the calendar before the rich capitalists destroy all of us, including themselves, with their wars and pollution!

So the American people may not be very fit to govern, but we’re miles better than the present rulers!

Who Will Win the Contest?

Our side will win. It’s only a matter of time. Human history can be thought of as a struggle between knowledge and ignorance, between reason and superstition. In the long arc of history, knowledge and reason are the winning side.

In my fifty years of activism, I’ve seen extremely hopeful trends developing. People are better educated,  smarter, and more capable than before. Much more! Major organizations like the AFL-CIO have re-invented themselves and now promote progressive unity. Old divisions like racism and homophobia are much less effective than they were.

Folks worry today that the capitalists will soon choose to govern through fascism rather than the time-honored American method of limited democracy. I’m one of those worried people, but even a dreadful period of fascism would be temporary. The capitalists cannot solve the problems they caused that way or any other way.

Given time, the people will prevail. I just hope we live that long.

–Gene Lantz

I’m still broadcasting on http://www.knon.org/workers-beat/ at 9 Central Time every Saturday. Join me and call in 972-647-1893.

A lot of Republicans in the Texas Legislature and the editors of the Dallas Morning News have teamed up to oppose “straight party ticket” voting.

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By now, everybody in the United States, and especially the Texans, should begin to worry when Republicans talk about “electoral reform.” They’ve already deformed our elections beyond recognition with crazy redistricting, outright voter suppression, and opening the floodgates for big money to buy every candidate.

Now they want Texas to join the states that have already outlawed “straight ticket” voting. I laughed out loud when I read the Dallas editors’ reasons. The main one was that the change wouldn’t make any difference because people could still vote straight ticket, they would just have to put a bunch more marks by each candidate on the ballot.

If it doesn’t make any difference, why do it?

And, anybody could turn the argument right around on the editors. If it’s true that people could still vote straight ticket AFTER this “deform,” then isn’t it also true that they could NOT vote straight ticket NOW? They aren’t offering to give people another choice, they’re offering to take one away!

Straight Ticket Voting Makes Sense

I’m not sure what it’s like in other states, but in Texas we have to elect almost everybody that has anything to do with government, from dogcatcher through all the judges and on up (or down, as the case may be) to the Governor and President. Nobody can keep track of all these candidates — then they throw in a bunch of undecipherable propositions and amendments at the end of the ballot. A person is supposed to have all this clear in his/her head before we enter the voting booth, but everybody knows we can’t.

Party Polarity Is On the Grow

The growing polarity between the two capitalist parties makes them more distinct than ever before. When I was a kid, I used to hear people say that they couldn’t tell the difference between the two capitalist parties. Nobody says that now.

For working families, the Democrats’ party platforms sound like Hollywood dreams, and the Republican party platforms come straight from the hallways of Hell.

Like the “local control” issue, the “straight ticket” issue is a smoke screen to hide the intentions of big money as they rob the workers and deform our democracy in order to undermine our ability to fight back.

–Gene Lantz

Find me Saturdays at 9 Central Time at http://knon.org

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In all the struggles of American history, all our victories have been temporary. We need a workers’ political program for permanent change. I’d like to see it come from organized labor, and soon. Instead of vaguely advocating for it, I decided to write down what I would consider the elements of a good program.

Goal of the Party

The goal of a workers’ political party is conclusive victory for workers’ rights and democracy. For members to vary from our goal, even for candidates and office holders, is grounds for expulsion.

Activities

Strategies for achieving our goal begin with a careful analysis of each existing situation. For the last few centuries, the overall worldwide situation has been characterized by domination by the propertied people of the industrialized nations. Peace, even between the major nations, is always uneasy because they are economic competitors.

Who Is With Us?

Against all of the owners and employers are the working class of the world and an undetermined and shifting section of the unstable “in between” class of small businesspersons, professionals, and other “go-betweens” who tend to change allegiances according to which of the two main classes is winning. Members of the Party remain scrupulously aware of who are likely to be supporters and who are likely to be enemies of progress.

All of the non-propertied people are oppressed, but not equally; nor do all of the oppressed have the same resources and capabilities; consequently, strategies are tailored for different groups.

Philosophy

Members of the Party have no time nor taste for fantasies, superstitions, fetishes, and vague feelings. Our activities are guided toward understanding each situation and developing tactics for strengthening our side and undermining the other. We are aware that everything is in constant change. We employ a conscious study of history, but do not consider history an overly strict guideline.

Necessity

The current economic system, while far better than its predecessors, no longer benefits the  people. Instead, it threatens the destruction of our planet.

Democracy

The Party practices internal democracy. Democracy is the only governance that works with volunteers, and it is the absolutely necessary precedent for a victorious new order.

Bernie Sanders, “Our Revolution—A Future to Believe In.” St Martin’s Press ebook, September 26, 2016. Available from Amazon Books and on Kindle

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S’Wonderful, S’Marvelous!

This must-read book details two important political contributions:

  1. A blow-by-blow account of the miraculous Bernie presidential campaign
  2. Detailed explanation of legislation needed to rescue and advance the people of our nation

The account of the campaign answers the question about how they managed to get so far toward the Democratic Party nomination when they started with virtually nothing and refused to sell out to big contributors. Most of America and even Bernie seem to be surprised at how well people responded to a truthful, direct, approach to America’s actual needs. It’s an inspiring story that needs to be studied.

Part Two, “An Agenda for a New America: How We Transform Our Country” details the problems we face and proposes practical solutions in the form of legislation needed. In many cases, Bernie Sanders had already proposed proper legislation in Congress. In general, his proposals are designed to:

  • Restore and advance democracy
  • Remedy injustices, including racial injustices
  • Restore equality
  • Fix the economy

But It’s No Good

The big problem with Bernie’s wonderful book is the last line, “September 26, 2016.” He completed the book before Donald Trump’s upset victory for the presidency and before Republicans completed their take-over of all three branches of the federal government plus the majority of state governments.

So what do you do with wonderful proposals for legislation when progressive legislation has almost no possibility of passage? What do you do with an inspirational story of a hopeful electoral campaign when our foundation of democracy is crumbling?

Apparently, Bernie thought, on September 26, 2016, what most Americans thought – that the Democrats would have a big victory on November 8. The glaring fact that they didn’t, and the anti-democratic trends already underway, put new perspective on politics in 2017. Bernie’s thoughts of September 2016 are certainly good to know, and actually kind of miraculous to behold, but not much actual use, are they?

We’re going to have to do some thinking of our own.

Some Positive Suggestions

Rather than leave off on such a negative note, let me make a couple of general proposals that might be helpful in 2017

  1. Electoral politics is not the only form of struggle. The most important power that working people have is our ability to withhold our economic cooperation. It is essential, therefore, to dedicate ourselves to organizing workers – to vote, yes, but to work together in other ways too.
  2. We may think that history only repeats itself, but it doesn’t. Bernie Sanders (and also Donald Trump) campaigned on the idea of re-setting the calendar to some earlier date, but we can’t go backward even if we tried. We have an entirely new situation that needs entirely new proposals. For example, we don’t need to fix the Electoral College or even the electoral system as it exists. We need direct participation in government decisions, and for the first time in human history, direct participation is now possible!
  3. Economies can’t be re-set to earlier times. Sanders, and other writers, seem to want to move us backward to pre-Reagan days. Trump apparently wants us some time before the Civil War. We actually need proposals that account for our present situation and then advance into a better future. For example, if certain financial institutions are “too big to fail,” Bernie Sanders suggests that they are “too big to exist” and need to be downsized to the levels of the 1990s. With our present technological abilities, we don’t need them in the downsized version either. If they are “too big to fail,” certain banks and insurance companies need to be taken over and run for the public good.

We must be grateful to Bernie Sanders and others who have taught us so much. A great future awaits!

–Gene Lantz

Hear “Workers Beat” on KNON radio, 89.3FM and knon.org every Saturday at 9 CST

Click here if you want to know what I really think

I’ve known a few union staffers and a few union officers. I’ve also known exes.

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Union Officers are elected and sworn in. Staffers are just hired.

The exes might tell you that their union job worked them to death, made them travel a lot more than they wanted to, and wasn’t even close to their ideal of fighting for social justice. Union staffers and even union officers will almost certainly tell you that union members don’t appreciate them. It’s almost impossible to help one union member without making another one furious. A wise old Chairman of my local used to say, “If you helped one member and only made two angry, then you’ve had a good day.”

Union staff members, like first-year school teachers, get their romantic notions crushed pretty early in the game. A novice history teacher might really want to teach American history as it really happened, but he/she better not say so in the classroom! A union staffer may really want to encourage the members to agitate for militant action, but he/she better keep quiet about it unless his/her boss wants it done.

Union staffers pretty much check their own principles and ideals at the door when they hire in, just as anybody does when they go to work for somebody else. Maybe more so, because unions are by nature political and political people really have to be careful what they say!

What About Me?

I’ve never had a union job. I’ve been elected to office many times, and I eagerly accept any assignment having to do with communications — webmaster, editor, etc. But when I write for union publication, I’m writing for the union’s needs, not necessarily my own. I have this blog for my own opinions, but the opinions I write for my union local leaders is supposed to be theirs.

What’s The Best Course of Action?

If you want to join in the great strength and potential of the union movement, I recommend getting a union job, then prove your value through union activism and take office or committee assignments. If you can’t get a union job, try getting a job that could be unionized. Whenever young people ask me about working for a union, I tell them they would probably make a bigger social justice contribution by hiring on at Walmart!

–Gene Lantz

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Working Americans have always fought the bosses. We’ve won a few battles and lost many, but we always fought on.

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The closest we ever came to a “cease fire” in America’s class war came between 1947 and 1972, “The American Century.” During those few years, the United States had so much economic domination over the rest of the post-war world that they were able to buy off militant workers and collaborationist leaders. Unionists regularly received 3% annual raises and steady improvements in their benefits packages, including retirement. Non-union people got their improvements, but only as a result of the unions.

Then Came International Competition

After 1972, when President Nixon was obliged to change the worldwide monetary agreement set up after the great war, the bosses returned to business as usual. Their usual business is screwing their workers whether they are organized into unions or not. From those days forward, bosses in every capitalist country have been getting government handouts for themselves and austerity for everybody else.

They would like to continue that, but, as I said, we’ve always fought them. We’ve never won a decisive victory and, for the most part, never even thought about a decisive victory. Our battles have been over immediate objectives such as a pay raise for a limited number of workers or voting rights.

Our Victories Have Been Temporary

Even when we win, our victories are temporary because the bosses are still in power and, sooner or later, will try to reverse our successes. Thus, for example, we won the Voting Rights Act and then lived to see it gutted by the Supreme Court. We fought to see our American standard of living rise to the highest in the world, then saw it fall ignominiously.

The trends on our side of the class war are getting hopeful. Just on the wages front, for example, we aren’t just fighting a few scattered battles over peanuts here and there, we are engaged today in a nationwide battle to raise the minimum wage to a respectable figure. The Fight for Fifteen can involve everybody, and actually does involve quite a few of us.

Things Are Looking Up

On the political side, millions were drawn into action by the Bernie Sanders campaign, and I do not believe it is over. Instead, we are on our way toward a working people’s political party that would give us a real choice in elections. I don’t know if that is what Bernie Sanders intends, but I think the momentum of his followers is going that way. Union leadership is better integrated, more militant, and far more progressive than it has been since 1947.

Most exciting of all, I believe that Americans are better informed, more capable, more connected, and more sophisticated than ever in history before.

–Gene Lantz

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