Spirituality and the Political World (Guest Post)

alanBy Alan Levin

If one seeks inner peace, tranquility and serenity, all relationships are a challenge. When we look at how even a personal relationship founded in love can be at times so difficult, it is easy to see why our community, national and international relationships (which are essentially what politics is about) border on insanity. Yet, we are inevitably involved in these relationships.

I’ve been told many times by people on a spiritual path that they will no longer pay attention to politics; “There’s too much fear and anger; it’s too disturbing and unproductive.” Yet, before long I always hear those same people complain or express their anger at what is going on. It’s only natural to feel the distress at injustice, the oppression of one people by another, the destruction of the natural balance with Mother Earth. These people are, after all, our brothers and sisters; Mother Earth is our mother. As Bernie Sanders says, “We hurt when they hurt.” There is no escaping it, least of all through spiritual awareness which makes us even more sensitive to our interconnectedness.

The pain we feel is the calling of attention to problems that won’t go away by ignoring them, nor by wringing our hands. The pain calls us to heal and to act. To act wisely, yes. To act with compassion, yes. To act with awareness of the ultimate peace that abides at all times throughout all this, yes. Truly, it is from that peace that right action flows.

Being honest here, the recent events in Baton Rouge, in Minnesota and in Dallas had me floored, disheartened and feeling hopeless. I still feel a deep heaviness in my heart, even more so by the divisive reactions to the events that seem to be escalating. For myself, I have found that meditation and related spiritual practices allow me to return to the deeper truths, to regenerate my body and mind, and to reconnect with that eternal optimistic Spirit that creates and affirms life.

I really don’t have the answers to our collective problems. But I do know that for me, as a White male, I need to stand in solidarity with those whose peace of mind, in fact their lives, are threatened every day because of the color of their skin. I need to do my part to help end the fear and racism with which we all have been infected. I need to, as Clarissa Pinkola Estes says so movingly, wisely and eloquently, “mend the part of the world that is within my reach.”

Please read Ms. Estes’ very inspiring and wise words below.
Thank you for doing your part

in and for peace,


(P.S. I am open to and appreciate your own thoughts and feelings. If you would like more information on groups and books that offer perspective on integrating spirituality and the political world, I would be happy to share that with you.)

We Were Made For These Times

Clarissa Pinkola Estes

My friends, do not lose heart. We were made for these times. I have heard from so many recently who are deeply and properly bewildered. They are concerned about the state of affairs in our world now. Ours is a time of almost daily astonishment and often righteous rage over the latest degradations of what matters most to civilized, visionary people.

You are right in your assessments. The lustre and hubris some have aspired to while endorsing acts so heinous against children, elders, everyday people, the poor, the unguarded, the helpless, is breathtaking. Yet, I urge you, ask you, gentle you, to please not spend your spirit dry by bewailing these difficult times. Especially do not lose hope. Most particularly because, the fact is that we were made for these times. Yes. For years, we have been learning, practicing, been in training for and just waiting to meet on this exact plain of engagement.

I grew up on the Great Lakes and recognize a seaworthy vessel when I see one. Regarding awakened souls, there have never been more able vessels in the waters than there are right now across the world. And they are fully provisioned and able to signal one another as never before in the history of humankind.

Look out over the prow; there are millions of boats of righteous souls on the waters with you. Even though your veneers may shiver from every wave in this stormy roil, I assure you that the long timbers composing your prow and rudder come from a greater forest. That long-grained lumber is known to withstand storms, to hold together, to hold its own, and to advance, regardless.

In any dark time, there is a tendency to veer toward fainting over how much is wrong or unmended in the world. Do not focus on that. There is a tendency, too, to fall into being weakened by dwelling on what is outside your reach, by what cannot yet be. Do not focus there. That is spending the wind without raising the sails.

We are needed, that is all we can know. And though we meet resistance, we more so will meet great souls who will hail us, love us and guide us, and we will know them when they appear. Didn’t you say you were a believer? Didn’t you say you pledged to listen to a voice greater? Didn’t you ask for grace? Don’t you remember that to be in grace means to submit to the voice greater?

Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good.

What is needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts, adding, adding to, adding more, continuing. We know that it does not take everyone on Earth to bring justice and peace, but only a small, determined group who will not give up during the first, second, or hundredth gale.

One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times. The light of the soul throws sparks, can send up flares, builds signal fires, causes proper matters to catch fire. To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times like these – to be fierce and to show mercy toward others; both are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity.

Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it. If you would help to calm the tumult, this is one of the strongest things you can do.

There will always be times when you feel discouraged. I too have felt despair many times in my life, but I do not keep a chair for it. I will not entertain it. It is not allowed to eat from my plate.

The reason is this: In my uttermost bones I know something, as do you. It is that there can be no despair when you remember why you came to Earth, who you serve, and who sent you here. The good words we say and the good deeds we do are not ours. They are the words and deeds of the One who brought us here. In that spirit, I hope you will write this on your wall: When a great ship is in harbor and moored, it is safe, there can be no doubt. But that is not what great ships are built for.

By Clarissa Pinkola Estes

American poet, post-trauma specialist and Jungian psychoanalyst, author of Women Who Run With the Wolves.

Reader’s Comments

dialogRe: Wade’s Bio

I am 63. I was 19 when I started going to same sex dances at Alternative Futures Commune. I read your bio and unbeknownst to me, I discovered you’ve been behind or integral to most of the stuff I have been involved with all of my life: Network Against Psychiatric Assult, Madness Network News, Other Avenues Food Store, The Tenderloin Times, etc.

Just sayin’.
Best wishes

–Dennis Conkin


My friend…he has and continues to change the world…one conversation at a time.

–Charla Doughty


Impressive credentials, sir!

–Rene Burke Ellis


Re: I Love Donald Trump

I think this is the best thing you’ve written. Thanks.

–Nedi Safa


Excellent piece, Wade. I’m proposing that the “our revolution” movement, following up on the Bernie political revolution, include a spiritual openness that speaks directly to your concerns for compassion towards all.

–Alan Levin


Re: Birthday Reflections: 2016

Thanks for sharing — your dream and your frustration. I support the former and somewhat understand the latter.

The one suggestion I have is as follows:

Create an online ‘community of interest’.
Initial members = those you know and have communicated with in the past.
Each is encouraged to invite others to join.
All are encouraged to share ideas and respond to ideas.
Separate action groups can be formed as ideas gain traction.
Engages the introverts who are not face-to-face oriented.
Engages the young who are online oriented.
Has national reach potential – with local action groups as useful.

I have run a modest version of this for 13 years and have found it personally effective and rewarding.

Happy to share ideas on this.

–Larry Walker


Thanks Wade for sharing from your heart and soul. Jan and I would like to get together again sometime. Have you tried the Green Party? Jill Stein presents a real altrnative to the two war candidates. The lack of community in SF is tragic.

Talk with you soon.
David Hartsouugh


Re: Class Myopia

I think you are really onto something very important, Wade. Myself, I pride myself as class-conscous, but I think I too, as low on the class totem pole as I am (or was? I am not sure), I was still looking down at certain people.

As regards Trump, I see lots of prestigious people getting all excited about the GOP establishment to some extent turning on Trump, but they don’t seem to see how few Trump supporters really give a shit about what they think. Nobody wants to be condescended to.

–Ted Chabasinski


Sad story …! On point:

The Original Underclass

–Yahya Abdal-Aziz


I think you have made important points. If the interests of working people were really paid attention to by the existing “major” parties, someone like Trump would get no attention.hadn’t thought much about this “upward mobility” stuff before. I’m glad to be in this discussion…. We see this elitism on the left within its own organizations as well. For all the talk of “the one percent,” it is the well-off people who dominate our organizations.

I have seen that talking about classism seems almost banned on the left, especially by the people who have a lot of class privilege. They are very good at dishing it out, but when they are criticized, they almost go berserk.

I too used to think talking about class was pretty far out and sounded sectarian. Not any more. If we don’t deal with it in our own organizations, how can we say we are trying to create a more democratic society?

–Ted Chabasinksi


unless by progressive you mean Hillary and the democratic party i can’t accept your characterization fully… progressives have been working for single payer and many of the benefits that cohere with that view but they haven’t, until Bernie, really had a platform. those with the platform have ranged from middle or moderate to extreme right so though we’ve worked on working class issues we haven’t been heard… business-as-usual has created alienation & that trump captures, part of it, Bernie another part. True, progressives I know, including me, rarely attempt to bridge the gap with right wing workers but we support left workers, unions etc;

–Tom Ferguson


Interesting Wade. As you know, I read your emails, but rarely reply. This one calls me to respond: “But his [Donald J. Trump’s] performance has provided a great service. He has helped expose how progressives have ignored, disrespected, and failed to address legitimate concerns felt by white poor and working class people who suffer immensely from economic injustice. ”

This, I believe, is NOT TRUE. “Progressives have not ignored, disrespected… etc.”

College graduates, at least those of us who are women, ARE THE WORKING CLASS. We have, for the most part, failed to achieve our highest possible potential, only because we are female (and hold up half the world? Pretty heavy burden, eh?) Not that we haven’t tried, and still are moving forward. Our daughters and granddaughters do indeed have more options than we ‘baby boomers’ did, and we’re not about to stop now.

I am feeling sad to find you on the side of the white male power structure Wade. Donald Trump is a buffoon.


Re: “The Original Underclass”

This point, of elitism among liberals, needs to be talked about a lot more. Thanks for discussing it.


i definitely agree, in fact it’s imperative. ego’s been running things for a long time. if that doesn’t change we’re going to have to leave the experiment with consciousness to some other galaxy. my guru in this area is eckhart tolle (as you know Wade). I dabble in a combination of tolle’s idea of becoming present by suspending or observing mind chatter, and chomsky’s idea of activism – the latter enhanced in effectiveness by the former… but I also am interested in pursuing music as a means to fun, yes, but also to presence. The liberals that appear on TV, aside from Bernie who is still quite marginalized, and a few uneven personalities on MSNBC, seem more like republican-lite to me, like Hillary. And yes, poor whites don’t see much addressing of their lives… the TPP , NAFTA etc; have impacted working people big time and all i see is more of the same in the mainstream… thus trump’s appeal, false of course but all there is, like brexit, to many.

–Tom Ferguson


Re: Hillary, Be Vulnerable and Be Positive

Great post, Wade, as usual, I hope she reads & heeds!

–Joyce Beattie

Beyond the American Dream: A Good Life is Good Enough

good lifeThe economists Robert J. Gordon and William D. Nordhaus believe the American Dream is dead.

Marianne Cooper reports, “Belief in the American dream is wavering.“ Americans used to believe they would “get ahead.” Now they are “more concerned with just holding on to what they have.”

If Gordon, Nordhaus, and Cooper are right, that may be a good thing.

Nordhaus is former president of the American Economic Association, a pioneer in climate change research, and an economist at Yale University. Gordon is an economist at Northwestern University and author of The Rise and Fall of American Growth (Princeton University Press), which Nordhaus considers to be a “magnificent book” and a “landmark study.”

In his review of Gordon’s book, Nordhaus reports that Gordon analyzes how for three million years, the quality of life for each generation was only slightly better than the previous one.

Those three million years, it seems to me, nurtured in human beings a set of values, a deep-seated “human nature.” Greed and the lust for power over other humans were rare. Cooperation and compassion were common. Idiosyncrasies were accepted. “Deviants” were not excluded.

Then from 1870 to 1970, the “special century,” economic productivity was dramatically boosted by a series of “once only” technological inventions, such as electricity, telephones, and automobiles.

Those changes, it seems to me, fostered a new culture, the American Dream, that was antithetical to human nature. The drive to “get ahead” — to be more successful financially than other people — fueled the new social system, which has been rooted in rankism. “What’s in it for me” became the dominant theme.

Gordon “argues that the innovations of today are much narrower and contribute much less to improvements in living standards than did the innovations of [that] special century” and any similar discoveries are highly unlikely in the future.

In “The Downsizing of the American Dream,” Cooper reports that between 1986 and 2011, the percentage of Americans polled by Pew who said the American Dream was “very alive” decreased by about half, and the share that felt it was “not really alive” more than doubled. Only about 50 percent said they felt that the American dream was “somewhat alive.”

Majorities of Americans think their situation will get worse in the future. 82% feel strongly that “financial stability” is more important than “moving up the income ladder.” Fewer Americans believe they have achieved the American Dream (31%), fewer believe they ever will (37%), and more believe they never will (27%).

The loss of faith in the American Dream could provide the opportunity for a new vision: the good life is good enough.

We can steadily do a bit better, but we don’t have to run like mad in the rat race to keep ahead of the Jones.

By assuring that all Americans can find a meaningful, living-wage job, we could help transform this nation into a compassionate community dedicated to the common good of the Earth Community.

Rather than living in a dream, obsessing about the future, and being materialistic and selfish, Americans could recover their true, deep nature and more fully become real, present, spiritual, and compassionate.

Left Ideology and the Non-profit Industrial Complex (Guest Post)

DanBy Dan Nissenbaum,  Brattleboro, VT

Wade, thanks for getting into the (what-should-be-obvious) hugely important issue of the divide between those with a college degree and those without. This is as easily discrete and tangible, and definable, as the difference between blacks and whites (in fact – much easier to define). Yet it gets much less attention than the racial and gender divide. Identity politics is a failure, though it probably wouldn’t be if citizens groups and cooperative community movement were a focus of the left (which, obviously, they are not – they were crushed by the non-profit industrial complex which rose from the cultural shifts of the 1960’s and have led directly to the Hillary Clinton brand of feminism). I am glad you are addressing this issue.

My sense is that cooperatively owned organizations had quite an impetus in the 1960’s. I have no doubt they grew from similar movements in the 1930’s and 1880’s that I know little about.

Organizations focusing on their identity as citizens’ groups and on the time of their membership, rather than the money of the membership (though funded by small dues) – the union model, or at least the best of what the union model can and should be, a model that can work for tenants and consumers, not just working people – are the antithesis of the non-profit model.

The model of social change shifted to divert our community involvement into paying individuals to “do the work for us” in non-profit organizations that grew to be funded and supported not by the time and dues of members, but by grants from wealthy individuals, investment funds, and government, with almost all actual work done by paid, full-time individuals siloing the issues into single-issue politics.

That is exactly what we see today. There’s no discussion today of cutting the work week down to 20 hours, which would actually give people time to be involved in their community, in politics, with their family, and to take care of their health. There’s few organizations able to shift their focus and work on radical platforms that embrace many issues, not just the single issue of the non-profit.

Instead, the impetus to gain a college education (and beyond), and establish a career, goes unquestioned and is considered a necessity for those who wish to engage in the non-profit industry. Within most non-profits, the degree is a requirement. Some social-justice-focused non-profits attempt to involve “the base” by bringing on a handful of folks without degrees, but it’s rarely discussed with the weight of importance given to ensuring that those hired are diverse in terms of gender and race.

Note that there are essentially no non-profit organizations devoted to challenging the privilege of a college education (and beyond). Instead, those same non-profits which dominate our political landscape are composed of people who have those very degrees, and I am convinced that there is a disproportionate number who have degrees from the better colleges and universities.

I think the reality of the nature of work life today is very different from what has become a mythology – that the most privileged and desired jobs are jobs in the corporate world, or in technology or business. I think reality has changed. In this day and age, I think the most desirable jobs are those in the non-profit complex. Nobody wants to fight with their heart and soul for the privilege of working in a cubicle or for a huge corporation for their entire adult working life paying off heavy debt from technical or professional training, unable to spend much time with their family or in their community. Instead, people want to engage in service.

There is a common idea on the left that you can’t expect the corporate media to challenge its own existence. I think the same dynamics are in play with the non-profit industrial complex.
The reason that the obvious and critical divide between those with a college degree and those without is, simply, a non-issue on the left, just as the issue of a 20-hour work week is a non-issue, is because the moral arbiters of the left – those funded and supported within the non-profit industrial complex – themselves benefit quite highly from those degrees. They may challenge racism and sexism to some effect, but they do not challenge their own privilege within the non-profit system.

Slavoj Zizek points out that as severe as racism and sexism are in our culture, opposing racism and sexism is something universally supported on paper by almost every CEO of almost every major corporation in the world. I think it will remain “on paper” until the “undiscussable” privilege of the non-proifit industrial complex itself is put on the table.

Wade’s Bio

WadeBorn in Little Rock in 1944 and raised in Dallas, Wade Hudson moved to Berkeley in 1962 to attend the University of California. He soon became immersed in most of the movements associated with that era, including the civil rights, human potential, counter culture, peace, student, black liberation, cooperative, women’s liberation, sexual freedom, and environmental movements.

In 1967, Wade received a Bachelor of Sciences with a Field Major in Social Sciences (and a concentration on political science and psychology) and entered the Pacific School of Religion (also in Berkeley), planning to work with the Methodist Church as an organizer of “communities of faith, love, and action.” While a student there, he helped organize the New Seminary Movement.

During those years, Wade was employed as a paperboy, short-order cook, bicycle messenger, store clerk, psychiatric orderly, hospital orderly, and church counselor.

In 1969, Wade moved to San Francisco, worked as an Intern Minister at Glide Church, intiated the Alternative Futures Community, and made a life-long commitment to community organizing rooted in “the integration of the personal and the political.”

Throughout the 1970s and most of the 1980s, he initiated a number of grassroots organizations, including the Network Against Psychiatric Assault, Muni Coalition, Bay Area Transit Coalition, District Eleven Residents Association, Bay Area Committee for Alternatives to Psychiatry, Tenderloin Self-Help Center, Tenderloin Jobs Coalition, and the 509 Cultural Center. He also volunteered with Madness Network News, San Francisco Community Congress, and other community-based projects, and co-edited the Madness Network News Reader (Glide Publications).

During those years, Wade was employed as a Mental Health Counselor at Marin Crisis Clinic, Coordinator at Outer Sunset Community Food Store, Staff at Campaign Against More Prisons, Manager at South of Market Food Co-op, Co-Editor at The Tenderloin Times, Resident Manager at Aarti Housing Cooperative, and part-time Cab Driver at Yellow Cab Cooperative. He also served on the Boards of Directors for Baker Places, Westside Community Mental Health, and Regional Young Adult Project, and served on the District Five Mental Health Advisory Board, San Francisco Mental Health Advisory Board, and Vanguard Public Foundation’s Community Board.

In 1988, Wade moved to Washington, DC, where he conducted research on national economic policy and worked part-time at SANE/Freeze (telefundraiser) and the Center for the Study of Psychiatry (research assistant).

In 1989, he moved back to San Francisco, worked as a part-time cab-driver, founded the Solutions to Poverty Workshop that developed a ten-point program for ending poverty, and organized the Campaign to Abolish Poverty, which persuaded Congressman Ron Dellums to introduce the Living Wage Jobs For All Act. Wade then wrote Economic Security for All: How to End Poverty in the United States and organized the Economic Security Project, which opened the Internet Learning Center as a place for low-income people to improve their computer skills. He also served on the national governing board for the Alliance for Democracy and initiated the San Francisco Progressive Challenge, which supported the Progressive Challenge organized by the Institute of Policy Studies.

In early 2000, Wade moved to a cabin in the Santa Cruz mountains, where he took a partial sabbatical from activism, brainstormed with friends and associates about possibilities for new political projects, and volunteered as Co-editor of Inlet.org, a progressive web portal. In mid-2000, he obtained his taxi medallion and became co-owner of Yellow Cab Cooperative, which appeared to provide him with his own economic security.

In March and April 2003, during the U.S. invasion of Baghdad, Wade served with the Iraq Peace Team, a project of Voices in the Wilderness. His Baghdad Journal was widely circulated on the Internet and used by high school teachers. Upon his return, Wade self-published a small book, Promoting the General Welfare: A Campaign for American Values.

In early 2004, he moved back to San Francisco and initiated the Toward Peace website, the Strategy Workshop to explore how the progressive movement might be more effective, and the Reaching Beyond the Choir Project. In late 2004, with Michael Larsen, he initiated the Progressive Resource Catalog. In 2007, he self-published Global Transformation: Strategy for Action.

In 2008, Wade volunteered for Barack Obama’s campaign and communicated extensively with the national office concerning post-election possibilities and co-convened with Roma Guy the Post-Election Workshop, hoping in vain that the Obama campaign would morph into a national grassroots organization.

In 2009, Roma Guy and Wade co-convened the first Compassionate Politics Workshop. In late 2010, he joined the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples and initiated a blog, Wade’s Weekly. In early 2011, he helped convene the Second Compassionate Politics Workshop. In 2012, while immersed in Occupy San Francisco, he organized the Occupy Be the Change Caucus and the next year initiated the Holistic Three-Fold Path Workshop and created the short-lived Reform-Wall-Street.org website.

In 2013 he launched Wade’s Wire and took a nine-month road trip to write his autobiography, My Search for Deep Community, which he self-published the next year.

In 2014, he was elected President of the Western Park Residents Association, where he lives, and served one year.

In 2015, the emergence of Uber wiped out his retirement plan, forcing him to shift to working full-time in order to save money for his old age. And in an unsuccessful attempt to support the development of a unified taxi-community alliance to defend the taxi industry, he created the TaxiTalk,info website and published a newsletter for drivers to distribute to their passengers.

Now he largely only has time to drive taxi, take care of his health, and squeeze out a few hours a week to write material for Wade’s Wire and Wade’s Weekly.

As he wrote for Birthday Reflections, 2016:

On my 72nd birthday, my path forward is unclear. I know what I want but I don’t know how to get there.

I want to participate in a holistic, powerful, democratic, inclusive, multi-issue, nonviolent, national organization that:

  • Is dedicated to steadily transforming this nation and its social system into a compassionate community dedicated to the common good of the Earth Community.
  • Builds momentum with evolutionary revolution by backing progressive positions that already have the support of a majority of Americans.
  • Grows a network of small groups of individuals who share that commitment and explicitly support one another in their efforts to become better, more effective human beings.
  • Encourages members to engage in active listening, appreciative inquiry, and respectful, non-dogmatic, non-ideological dialog.

Poor Whites and Donald Trump

I just posted “Poor Whites and Donald Trump” to Wade’s WeeklyIt begins:

Since 1990, earnings for men without a college degree have fallen 13 percent. During the same time period, median household income increased by 2 percent.

Middle-aged American whites without a college education are the only age-and-ethnic group that is dying at higher rates than they were 15 years ago.

White men without a college degree are more likely to say the country’s best days are over and hard work no longer guarantees success.

Whites with a high-school education or less are reporting more pain, taking more opioid painkillers, abusing alcohol more, and killing themselves more.

So it’s not surprising that non-college-educated whites favor Trump over Clinton by a margin of 65% to 25%. Their condition has not improved under eight years of President Obama. Why should they trust Clinton to do better?

Progressive activists often take a symbolic stand, engage in moral witness, or cast a protest vote against the rigged system? Why shouldn’t poor whites do the same?

Granted, Trump is not proposing measures that will benefit the poor directly and immediately. But when white liberals support progressive taxation, they vote against their economic self-interest. Why shouldn’t poor whites take a stand on principle and try to shake up Washington?

Those thoughts have prompted me to look more closely at the divide between those with and those without a college degree. I recently took note, for example, of a public radio report about resentful female prison inmates without a college degree attacking inmates who have a degree. And I’ve reflected on my own “white trash” roots and my experiences living and working with low-income communities.

This nation’s prospects for fundamental social transformation will be enhanced if we build a broad coalition that includes poor white people (most of whom have no college degree). But middle-class attitudes of superiority and their disparaging opinions about poor whites aggravate the class divide.

In her poignant, personal essay, “Fences: A Brexit Diary,” in the New York Review of Books, Zadie Smith wrote:
One useful consequence [of the Trump campaign is] to finally and openly reveal a deep fracture in [American] society that has been [decades] in the making. [Those gaps] are real and need to be confronted by all of us….The left is thoroughly ashamed of [the poor]…. We have a history of ridiculing the poor… for “shafting themselves,” for “voting against their interests [or not voting at all]” …The majority of those [“uneducated” voters] who [support Trump do] so out of anger and hurt and disappointment…. [They are not] in any way exceptional in having low motives…. We might…ask ourselves what kind of attitudes have allowed a different class of people to discreetly maneuver, behind the scenes, to ensure that “them” and “us” never actually meet anywhere but in symbol. Wealthy [America], whether red or blue, has always been able to pick and choose the nature of its multicultural and cross-class relations, to lecture the rest of the country on its narrow-mindedness while simultaneously fencing off its own discreet advantages.
With those thoughts in mind, I’ve recently posted to Wade’s Wire:
To read more, click here.


Against Rankism: Dignity for All

rankThe term “rankism” was coined by physicist, educator, and citizen diplomat Robert W. Fuller, author of Somebodies and Nobodies: Overcoming the Abuse of Rank (2003).

Fuller defines rankism as “abusive, discriminatory, or exploitative behavior towards people because of their rank in a particular hierarchy,” and argues that rank-based abuse underlies many other phenomena such as bullying, racism, hazing, ageism, sexism, and homophobia.

To my mind, irankism helps to fuel “the system” and may in fact be the system’s primary driving force.

In the following talk, Fuller considers rankism’s evolutionary roots and asserts that we can overcome it by affirming “dignity for all.”

National Organizing: Lessons from the Founders?

constituionAs I reflect on the possibility of a new national coalition forming, I read “The Revolution: Treason and Rescue,” a review of The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, 1783–1789 by Pulitzer winner Joseph J. Ellis, written by Susan Dunn for The New York Review of Books.

I was struck by certain parallels between the fragmentation of the post-revolutionary government under the Articles of Confederation and the current fragmentation of the progressive movement. It also seems that some of the principles the Founders employed to forge a united government might help unify progressives.

As Ellis and Dunn tell the story, after winning the war against Britain, the thirteen new states were fiercely independent and resisted a strong, consolidated union. In response Alexander Hamilton, aide-de-camp for General George Washington, drafted in 1783 “‘a generic blueprint’ for what would become the Constitution.” By 1786, Washington, John Jay, and James Madison had endorsed Hamilton’s proposal.

Hamilton then got the Continental Congress to endorse a “‘future Convention’ that would forgo incremental adjustments and instead tackle at once all the problems plaguing the confederation.”

Hamilton, Jay, and Madison then persuaded Washington to “retract his promise ‘never more to meddle in public matters.’ and attend the convention,” thereby giving the Convention credibility.

The four were determined to “replace, and not just revise, the Articles of Confederation.”

After almost four months of intense negotiations, the Constitution was drafted and signed, later to be ratified by the states.

The question of state’s sovereignty was left ambiguous, “based on two principles: ‘that any legitimate government must rest on a popular foundation and that popular majorities cannot be trusted to act responsibly’—’a paradox,’ Ellis judges, ‘that has aged remarkably well.’”

Thus, the Constitution established representative democracy, not direct democracy, and included “checks-and-balances” to assure stability.

Whether a new national coalition might learn from that experience is an intriguing question.

“Hillbilly Elegy” Author Discusses Trump

hillbillyToday Terri Gross, “Fresh Air” host, conducted a 36-minute interview with J.D. Vance, author of the best-seller, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis.

Though Vance is no fan of Donald Trump and will never vote for him, having been born and raised in rural Ohio and Kentucky and still very much involved with his white friends and family there, Vance has an interesting take on the source of Trump’s support.

One story in particular is revealing. Concerning his grandmother, he reported:

She loved Tiger Woods. And the reason she liked Tiger Woods is because she saw him as an outsider that was shaking up a rich man’s game. And there was this really interesting moment where after he won – and the Masters always has this ceremonial winner’s dinner to celebrate the victor. One of the golfers said something to the effect of, what are we going to have at the winner’s dinner – fried chicken and watermelon, which, of course, was this extraordinarily nasty racist comment.

But it struck me at that moment, one, that that fried chicken and watermelon was almost the cultural food of my people, and my grandma just got so viscerally angry. And she said, those a-holes, they’re never going to let people like us be part of their crowd. And the sense that she had was they both looked down on the black people who were outsiders and the poor, white people who are outsiders. And she really saw the similarities. And that was the first real exposure that she felt some sort of kinship to people who looked very different from her but ultimately were similar in a lot of ways.

That story reminds me of how when I’d visit my father in Texas, the only political conversation we could have was about our shared anger at “the Rockefellers” and other “Yankee” elitists.

As Vance wrote, “I may be white, but I do not identify with the WASPs of the Northeast. Instead, I identify with the millions of working-class white Americans of Scots-Irish descent who have no college degree. To these folks, poverty’s the family tradition.”

In the interview, Vance said:

They’ve grown up with a certain resentment at rich people. But it also means that, for them, the upward mobility that a lot of folks experienced right after World War II was their first real taste of economic optimism, and I think that’s something that really gave them a lot of hope. And ultimately, as I write later in the book, that hope didn’t really materialize.

In describing an encounter with the courts, Vance said:

The honest truth is that I didn’t care at all about lying because I remember sitting in that courtroom and feeling in some ways that I was on the wrong side of an invisible line because the lawyers and the judge – they all talked a certain way. They all wore certain clothes. And I felt like they were outsiders.

They were the people that I was taught, in some way, to mistrust and to fear. They were rich people – whether they were actually rich – they seemed rich to me. And I noticed that in this little courtroom, all of the people who were subjected to the court system were like me. They were white people. They didn’t wear that nice of clothes.

They were obviously very poor, both in the way that they talked and the way that they conducted themselves. And when I was asked to lie to that judge, frankly, I didn’t feel bad at all because I knew that it was something that was necessary to protect my family and to protect myself.

And it’s really interesting, looking back, that I didn’t, you know – I’m a member of the bar now – that I didn’t feel at all guilty about lying to a judge. And a big part of it is just because I felt like – look, my people are here. And they’re being subjected to this system. These people are over there. And they’re administering this system. And it’s fine to tell a little white lie to them. And that’s, of course, a little ironic because I was there, theoretically, because of my own protection.

But it was pretty clear to me, both in my exposure to the courthouse and my exposure to the child welfare bureaucracy, that the folks who were involved in our lives were outsiders. And what was most important was to push them out as quickly as possible.

As Gross led the interview toward a discussion of the Presidential election, Vance said, “I saw a statistic a few weeks ago that in the Ohio county where I grew up, Butler County, deaths from drug overdoses actually outnumber deaths from natural causes…. And it’s just an extraordinarily terrible thing that’s happened to these communities.”

Vance argues that white poor people and working-class whites share a belief that the country is headed in the wrong direction, which breeds frustration at political elites. So Trump:

is in some ways a pain reliever. He’s someone who makes people feel a little bit better about their problems [because he] is recognizing some legitimate problems….

They don’t think that this guy is going to solve all their problems. They just think he’s at least trying and he’s saying things, primarily to the elites, that they wish they could say themselves. So it’s really interesting. There’s a recognition that Trump isn’t going to solve a lot of these problems, but he’s, at the end of the day, the only person really trying to tap into this frustration….

I certainly understand why a lot of folks are surprised [that an ostentatious billionaire can relate to those people]. I think a big part of it is just the way that Donald Trump conducts himself. A lot of people feel that you can’t trust anything Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama say, not because they necessarily lied a lot but because they sound so filtered and they sound so rehearsed. Donald Trump, if nothing else, is relatable to the average working-class American because he speaks off the cuff. He’s clearly unfiltered and unrehearsed.

And there is something relatable about that, even if, you know, half of the things that he says don’t make any sense or a quarter of the things that he says are offensive. There’s something to be said about relatability. And it’s not, you know – there’s been a lot written about how elite political conversation is not emotionally relatable to big chunks of the country. I think that in a lot of ways, Trump is just the first person to tap into that sense of disconnect in the way that he conducts himself with politics….

So I think that there are obviously a lot of things that are relatable about Hillary and Bill Clinton. But fundamentally, they’ve surrounded themselves by very elite people who went to very elite universities. And because of that, both in the way they conduct themselves and the things they seem to care about – they just seem very different from the people that I grew up around. And that makes it very hard for me to feel that Clinton – Hillary or Bill Clinton are very relatable.

That interview and yesterday’s with the author of White Trash strike me as incredibly important. If we are to build a powerful popular movement, our chances will be enhanced if we learn to set aside our harsh judgments.  Trump supporters are neither “ignorant” nor “indoctrinated.” In fact, we share with them a conviction that “the system is rigged” and an impatience with the incredibly slow pace of incremental progress envisioned by Obama, Clinton, and the Democrats.

Surely we can aim higher than that. If we do, we could find many more allies in rural America.

Newshour Interviews “White Trash” Author

isenbergOn the August 16 PBS Newshour, Jeffrey Brown interviewed Nancy Isenberg, author of White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America.

Isenberg argues that “upward mobility” in America has largely been a myth. During the colonial period, the Founders advocated “horizontal mobility” by allowing the poor to migrate westward to the frontier. And in recent decades, we have more “class-zoned neighborhoods” than upward mobility.

When Brown asked her how we could lessen class divisions, she recommended setting aside the myths, confront the reality of class oppression, and think more deeply about how it affects who we are and how “we judge people by the way they’re dressed, by the way they talk, by the unwritten codes of class behavior.”

To see the video, listen to the audio, or read the transcript, click here.