Saturday, June 21, 2014

Thanks Mike for a great comment!

Recently, reader Mike provided me with one of the more thoughtful comments I have ever read in response to the post Is the new Democratic Party's Populism fake?. His comment showed up a couple of days after the original post so most may may have missed it.  Here it is on the front page.

Of course, my opinion of Mike's post might have been colored by the initial flattery but the real reason is that I have been thinking for a long time about how folks with Progressive ideas just got more done back in 1880s to 1940s.  My start came when I discovered in 1981 my grandfather's reading list from the 1920-30s.  He had subscribed to the Appeal to Reason and its later version, The American Freeman.  (For example, Upton Sinclair's novel The Jungle was first published as a serial in the Appeal to Reason, between February 25, 1905 and November 4, 1905.)  He also bought as many Little Blue Books as he could afford.

This is how my grandfather educated himself about his new country.  This was a man who had four years of elementary education and had taught himself English as a third language.  If this is how he came to understand USA, then I wanted to read his source material too.  Besides, how hard could those books and magazines be?  It turned out that this material was FAR more difficult than anything I had read as a university student.  I read it pretty diligently for about three years before I felt truly comfortable absorbing the printed matter my grandfather read from cover to cover when it would show up in the mail.

So while I totally agree with Mike's conclusions below, I must insist that he also include the sheer intellectualism that informed the Populists-Progressives when he discusses how they were different than folks today.  These people may have been primitive in their organizing methods, but they were successful because of the clarity of their insights.  They inform my worldview down to this day—mostly because I have not seen anything that remotely competes with it.  To recreate that sort of thinking is why I bother to post every day.

And with that friendly amendment, here's Mike

Mike June 4, 2014 at 9:49:00 AM CDT

You and Tony have done excellent work here for years.

But for years I've wondered, and heard others wonder--what does it take to move the American people into action. The people seem to move as a herd of deer, when caught in the field by the shining light, staring while being put in the sights, then running blindly when the shot is fired, one way or another wherever safety is perceived, adjusting blindly again as the next shot comes.

And yet, we are not dumb animals--we are being actively misled by controlling interests, and as long as we can carve out an existence of sorts, we allow ourselves the luxury of apathy and maybe find a voice of simple cynicism in place of taking action against these well-insulated and well-protected controllers.

I also wonder if we are really that different from our great-grandfathers of the Populist movement era--I think they as humans had the very same characteristics and would have loved to have had the luxury to be apathetic...but were just living closer to the edge of survival, in an era without fallback comforts. When they got hurt or sick--they died. When they got old--they died. When they lost their farm--they died.

So, maybe that is why they became more easily convinced than modern folks to join the Populist movement, to join Unions, to dump out their milk in protests, to set up tent camps when the Wobblies called a strike, and come back for more when the Pinkertons finished crushing it. They found their voice when no one else was speaking the truth, to organize a local union when no one else was standing up, to write up their economic/political concerns and drive around to every farm in the region to create a voting block.

In our times, we have been blessed with comforts for a couple generations, enough time to have lost track of even our family history of these times...and also there have been generations of ways to divide and confuse issues, to keep people from taking stands against the mismanagement of the economy and environment. To the point where once again the fears of death again are real for us--from mother nature's droughts and severe storms, from unemployment leaving us homeless and starving, from malaise causing our children to give up on life--where people again are finally saying 'enough, what can I do to change this?'

But these people will still need to find common cause to join a Populist movement to push back against these controlling interests. They need to not expect perfection in all things, but to expect progressive movement in key areas--in banking, in energy, in food, in water, in air (and if more can be agreed upon, so be it). And in the process of achieving movement there, won't some of the other issues that currently distract us start to drift away?

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