Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Framing issues... Framing ideas... Framing solutions to our problems

Alan Maki's Blog on the official Barack Obama Campaign Web Site:


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Frank Marshall Davis Roundtable for Change

My good friend Sam Webb has published a very important piece of work. I am posting it below followed by a quote from Franklin D. Roosevelt and something of mine published in the Madison, Wisconsin "Capital Times."

As you will probably note, Sam Webb emphasized the positive with the Obama campaign to the exclusion of the negatives and the requirements for uniting people for change.

I share Webb's confidence that Obama is going to win; and, I share Webb's enthusiasm for dumping the Republicans.

I don't just think Obama is going to win... I think Barack Obama is going to win in a great big landslide simply because the American people are just so darn fed up with Bush and the Republicans.

I also think that those who are counseling us to "hold back until after the Election" are dead wrong; Barack Obama, the community organizer, understands and appreciates the fact that "out of sight is out of mind." Barack Obama, the community organizer, understands that during an Election is the perfect time to "make political hay" in bringing concerns forward. We shouldn't be timid; we for sure shouldn't be holding back in our thoughts or our actions. In fact, with-holding our thoughts and opinions and suppressing our actions at this crucial time can only be to the benefit of John McCain.

People, working people, are fed up for a reason... actually a whole lot of reasons which Webb didn't get around to mentioning and I do in my follow-up letter to the Madison, Wisconsin "Capital Times" and in my previous commentary on this blog which I re-publish below... followed by what I think are some good suggestions for action which anyone can participate in.

But, whether or not this Obama victory benefits working people and the working class is another matter; as Carl Winter, who Webb quotes so often, drew our attention to while he was the Editor of the Daily World... the newspaper that replaced the Daily Worker and the Worker which Frank Marshall Davis read and circulated among his friends and fellow activists.

Here is Sam Webb's excellent article in the People's Weekly World. For some reason Webb has had a lot of difficulty grappling with the Obama campaign; I don't know why:

Elections ’08: embracing the moment

Author: Sam Webb

People's Weekly World Newspaper, 08/01/08 13:46

The expected presidential nomination of Barack Obama is a path breaking and historic achievement from many standpoints, not least the struggle for equality and against racism. Obama’s nomination leaves an enduring mark on every aspect of our nation’s culture – a culture steeped both in racism and anti-racism.

Eugene Robinson, a columnist for the Washington Post, had this to say:

“A young, black, first-term senator—a man whose father was from Kenya, whose mother was from Kansas and whose name sounds as if it might have come from the roster of Guantanamo detainees—has won the marathon of primaries and caucuses to become the presumptive presidential nominee of the Democratic Party. To reach this point, he had to do more than outduel the party’s most powerful and resourceful political machine. He also had to defy, and ultimately defeat, 389 years of history.”

The breaking of this barrier says much about the candidate but it also speaks volumes about the American people. While it augurs well for our country’s future, it must be very disconcerting for the ruling class – that class which has been the main architect and beneficiary of racism for nearly four centuries.

People crossed racial and gender barriers in numbers that many of us didn’t think possible only a few months ago. Some said an Obama nomination was impossible, that it would never happen, and that white voters would never pull the lever for a Black presidential candidate. But the primaries proved that the doubters were wrong.

Breaking barriers

The Clinton campaign also broke barriers. Her concession speech was stirring as well as profound in many ways. While we had disagreements (and stated them) with the racist text/subtext in her campaign, it is also true that she captured the imagination of millions of women who in their own lives encounter gender barriers and oppression in the home, work and community. I am not sure if we have taken full measure.

Her candidacy dissolved male supremacist notions disfiguring the thinking of men and plowed away barriers preventing women from playing a full and equal role in every aspect of social life. The struggle for full equality of women won’t necessarily be easy going forward, but Clinton’s campaign did take the fight to higher ground.

Decent and democratic minded people are rightfully celebrating the breaking of these barriers. Imagine how enthused the depression-era communists – those who gave their lives to Black/white unity and equality at a time of legalized segregation and lynching with impunity — would be about these turn of events.

Soberness in politics is essential, but it should be combined with passion, hope, excitement and images of a just and peaceful future. If we are going to err with respect to the significance of the moment and the potential of the coming elections, it is better to err on the side of passion and hope.

Anti-racism at a new level

Most, I suspect, underestimated the growth of anti-racist feeling among white people to one degree or another. Consider this statement by Loree Suggs, executive secretary of the Cleveland building trades, in reference to Obama:

“Go back to your locals. Now is the time to unite. We cannot let any bias or racial thoughts get in the way. If your members have any problem with racial bias, tell them to get over it for all time, but especially now for this election, get over it. We must put Barack Obama in the White House and, if we don’t, we are in deep trouble.”

This may not be typical of changing sentiments of white people in general and white unionists in particular, but it isn’t atypical either. Mass thinking is changing. Again, to quote Robinson,

“[T]he amazing thing isn’t that there were instances of overt, old style racism during the campaign, it’s that there were so few. The amazing thing is that so many Americans have been willing to accept – or, indeed, reject – Obama based on his qualifications and his ideas, not on his race. I’ll never forget visiting Iowa in December and witnessing all white-crowds file into high school gymnasiums to take the measure of a black man – and, ultimately, decide that he was someone who expressed their hopes and dreams.”

While I don’t think that we have fully digested the political meaning of this turn of events, we can still say that the readiness of so many white voters to cast their ballot for an African American candidate in the presidential primaries gives confidence that the struggle against racism in its ideological and material forms can proceed on higher ground and in a bolder fashion.

Beware of rigid concepts

Tightly sealed political categories in this moment are not useful. It is said, for example, that Obama is a centrist or, worse still, a bourgeois politician. But aren’t categories of this kind, even if they capture some aspects of reality, too closed to be useful in a dynamic situation?

Political categories should allow for complexity, contradictions, transitions and new experience. If this is true in general then it is even truer at this moment when politics are fluid and social actors (individuals and social groups) are in motion?

Isn’t it possible for a social group or an individual to occupy more than one political space? Isn’t there something to be said for Italian Communist Antonio Gramsci’s concept of “contradictory consciousness?” Shouldn’t we think twice before embracing cut and dried assessments of social actors that not only fail to capture complexity of their politics, but also impede our political imagination to creatively elaborate strategic and tactical positions?

Assessments of candidates should be informed by their political formation and sensibilities, the movement that has sprung up around a candidacy and the overall context of these elections, including the presence of a powerful right-wing attack machine. Rather than pigeonholing Obama, for example, as a centrist or bourgeois politician, it may be more useful to characterize him as a potentially transformative political figure, much like Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Martin Luther King, Jr. were. None of them were revolutionaries, but they each had a keen appreciation of the moment in which they lived, they each interacted with the larger movement of their time and they each understood the necessity of expanding and giving new content to democracy and citizenship rights, albeit in the context of their times.

It isn’t ordained that Obama will fit into this category, either, but it is also far too early to foreclose that possibility. Life and struggle will decide.

Appreciating political realities

There is a tendency – especially among some on the progressive and left part of the political spectrum — to nitpick every single position of this or that candidate, including Obama. Some people on the left were apoplectic over Obama’s speeches to AIPAC and a Cuban American group in Miami. It is true that there is much in each speech that the left would disagree with, but at the same time we should look for positive openings that the speeches offer, if not now, then in the event of an Obama presidency. Unfortunately, looking for openings, by the way, isn’t something that the left is skillful at doing, especially in the electoral arena.

There should be an appreciation of this broad popular movement that has arisen around Obama’s candidacy. It has diverse currents and trends, including sections of the ruling class – all of which have to be taken into account. This campaign is also up against a very powerful right-wing attack machine – not to mention powerful and reactionary corporate interests.

What is more, to win, the campaign has to reach out to independents and disaffected Republicans. Without winning a section of them, a landslide victory is improbable.

The broader movement should give some wiggle room to this path-breaking candidacy. Obama is not running for city council in Berkeley or a safe congressional seat. Instead he is running for the highest national office in 50 states and in every region of the country.

Being right in the right way

Communists and others on the left can and should differ with Obama and other Democratic candidates. But the more important question is how we do it. Carl Winter, a former national leader of the Communist Party, said to me on more than one occasion: “It is not enough to be right, but you have to be right in the right way.” By which I understood Carl to mean that Communists, in advancing our views, have to be not only respectful of other people’s opinions and circumstances, but also to present them in a way that deepens people’s understanding, confidence and unity in the context of our strategic objective.

In order to advance one iota of a pro-people’s agenda, the people’s movement has to elect Obama and to enlarge the Democratic Party majorities in Congress. Without that everything else is wishful thinking.

However the focus in these elections should neither be solely on the candidate nor solely on the movement, but rather on the interactions and connections between the two. We should accent dynamics, fluidity and possibilities of the political process rather than dwelling on this or that shortcoming of either the candidate or the broader movement. If the latter consumes us, if it becomes the main thing, we will miss the forest for the trees.

Sam Webb is chairman of the Communist Party USA. This article is based on excerpts from his latest report on the 2008 elections. For more information: www.cpusa.org.

This appeared in the writings of a professor who trains community activists:

Obama can certainly learn valuable lessons from
President Franklin Roosevelt, who recognized that his
ability to push New Deal legislation through Congress
depended on the pressure generated by protestors and
organizers. He once told a group of activists who sought
his support for legislation, "You've convinced me. Now
go out and make me do it."

As depression conditions worsened, and as grassroots
worker and community protests escalated throughout the
country, Roosevelt became more vocal, using his bully
pulpit-in speeches and radio addresses-to promote New
Deal ideas. Labor and community organizers felt
confident in proclaiming, "FDR wants you to join the
union." With Roosevelt setting the tone, and with allies
in Congress like Senator Robert Wagner, grassroots
activists won legislation guaranteeing workers' right to
organize, the minimum wage, family assistance for
mothers, and the 40-hour week.

The entire article is an excellent read:


My own letter published in the Madison, Wisconsin "Capital Times" is more specific and raises specific points we need to discuss because I am sure Barack Obama, as Sam Webb has suggested, shares many things in common with President Franklin D. Roosevelt; and, one of those things is that even though he may personally agree with much of what we are talking about when we talk about the kind of change we need in this country, there are also very powerful financial forces, many of us call it the "military-financial-industrial complex," in opposition to moving our country in a more progressive direction... and, Sam Webb's article alludes to these problems; that is, a lot of big-businesses are banking that they will be able to exert greater influence and pressure over Barack Obama than can, we--- the people. This is why Frank Marshall Davis always tried to make working people fully aware of the class struggle--- bankers, industrialists, war-profiteers on one side; working people determined to create a better life on the other side.

Keep in mind, this statement by President Franklin D. Roosevelt is of utmost importance:

"You've convinced me. Now go out and make me do it."

We are not in a situation where we have the ability to whisper in Obama's ear our concerns. Barack Obama needs to be able to tell his big-business backers, "Hey, fellas; look here, I got all these people out here yelling and demonstrating and raising heck about their problems... I can't just ignore all these people... I have to discuss with them how we are going to solve their problems."

Unlike President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Barak Obama the community organizer, understands we have a job to do in mobilizing grassroots working class activists; and because he received guidance from Frank Marshall Davis he will understand that he has a job to do right now--- get elected President of the United States--- and Obama will understand, that as working people who are suffering the consequences of a rotten capitalist system on the skids to oblivion, we aren't willing to go down with the sinking ship.

Here is my letter published in the Madison, Wisconsin "Capital Times":

Obama needs to offer solutions to get working-class votes

Link to article in Capital Times I responded to:


Link to my Letter to the Editor:


Alan Maki: Obama needs to offer solutions to get working-class votes

Alan Maki — 7/17/2008

Dear Editor:

I agree with the AFL-CIO's Richard Trumka that "labor must battle racism"; however, I don't think racism is the main obstacle to Obama getting the votes of working people.

Trumka recently eloquently rattled off the list of problems working people are experiencing. The problem Obama is having convincing workers to vote for him is that he has not put forward one single solution to any of the problems Trumka listed: "when it comes to protecting jobs, when it comes to protecting pensions, when it comes to health care, child care, pay equity for women, Social Security, Medicare, seeing to it that people can afford to go to college and buy a home -- and restoring the right to collective bargaining ..."

Until Obama clearly brings forward real solutions to the problems of working people he is going to have a very difficult time getting our votes -- and this has nothing to do with racism.

For some reason, Trumka conveniently made no mention of the need to end this war for oil in Iraq. Why not? We cannot have an economy of guns and butter.

Trumka also failed to note the other twin evil of racism: anti-communism.

Anyone who looks at the conservative and right-wing bloggers supporting John McCain sees that the attacks on Obama are both racist and anti-communist.

These attacks center around Frank Marshall Davis, the deceased black journalist and Communist Party member who Obama says was his "mentor." Apparently Joe McCarthy has risen from the grave and intends to go goose-stepping backward over the dead body of one of this country's most courageous working-class journalists.

Richard Trumka had better concern himself with both racism and anti-communism, pernicious forms of hate and bigotry which feed on each other and spell a doomsday scenario for progressive working-class politics.

Alan L. Maki

Midwest Casino Workers Organizing Council

Warroad, Minn.

In another article of mine published in a variety of publications around the country, and previously in one of my blog postings on this site, I referred to some specific issues:

It is up to working people to clearly chart the course for progressive change and to unite for change behind the agenda we articulate. We need to make politicians understand that they work for us, not the other way around.

Several very basic changes come to mind that I think about:

1.)In the area of health care we need single-payer universal health care which will be a stepping stone to get us to socialized health care. Obama’s idea of health care “reform” leaves much to be desired; he wants to leave the profit gouging insurance companies, HMO’s, doctors and the pharmaceutical industry in control when most of us know this is what is wrong with the system--- profits come before people; and, it should be the other way around.

2.)We need a minimum wage that is a real living wage. Any job that an employer needs done should provide the worker doing that job a real living wage. The way to arrive at what the minimum wage should be is to use the statistics and calculations of the United States Department of Labor and the Bureau of Labor Statistics based on real cost of living factors rather than having some politicians pull a miserly figure out of their hat at election time. If employers don’t like this let them do the work themselves; with the robbery at the pumps it won’t be long before it won’t pay to go to work anyways. What’s Obama’s stand on the minimum wage? I don’t know. It doesn’t really matter. We need to seize the initiative and make it clear to him the change we want.

3.)We need to end this dirty war for oil in Iraq; it’s a war that was based upon lies and deceit right from the beginning and it has taken a terrible toll, not only on the people in Iraq, but on us here, too--- to the point where we can say that every bomb dropped and every bullet fired is destroying our society, too. We can’t have a foreign policy which sees wars as solutions to complex problems. As far as I can see Obama doesn’t really offer much change in this area either so we are going to have to take the initiative in charting a course for change as we expect things to be and make our voices heard.

4.)We need to make it clear that in any program aimed at “greening” America through massive government subsidies to business and industry, that what taxpayers finance, taxpayers should own--- including the profits.

5.)Public ownership of the St. Paul Ford Twin Cities Assembly Plant needs to be considered. Saving two-thousand jobs is a major priority for Minnesotans in this election.

In the end, we should see ourselves and our unity as the surge for change, and stop waiting for Obama or any other politicians to explain what kind of change they are for.

Change should be about solving real problems. The people experiencing these problems, you and me, should be able to articulate the solutions… this is what real change is about.

In a democracy people are supposed to be active participants in movements for social change, not mere cheerleaders clapping and waving placards for politicians mouthing hollow, meaningless platitudes about “change.”

“Yes we can” bring about “change” if we get together where we work and in our communities.

Once again I would note what President Franklin D. Roosevelt told a group of leaders from the Communist Party USA and the Unemployed Councils during his meeting with them:

"You've convinced me. Now go out and make me do it."

Of course, President Franklin D. Roosevelt was referring to Social Security.

I am confident that we will be seeing Sam Webb elaborating on the class struggle aspect of the 2008 Elections as we go along.

I do think that this posting from another blog, in the best traditions of community organizing, is the direction we need to be moving in very quickly if we intend to build a bridge to the Obama Administration:

Help Make A Grassroots Movement Grow... Starting a grassroots movement for change is as easy as 1, 2, 3, 4...

1. Get your friends and neighbors together around the kitchen table.

2. Discuss the problem.

3. Make up some signs saying:

"We are fed up!"

"Stop the robbery at the pumps!"

"No more wars for oil!"

"Tax oil company profits to pay for health care, education, housing!"

"Boycott Mobil/Exxon/Esso!"

4. Head out with your signs for your neighborhood Mobil/Exxon/Esso gas station/convenience store.

The time has come to serve notice on the oil companies that we are fed up with the robbery at the pumps and we aren't going to take it any more.





One little raindrop doesn't amount to much... but, let it pour and all those little raindrops sure add up... talk to your family, friends, fellow workers and neighbors.

Whenever possible purchase Citgo gas and oil products.

The time has come to consider public ownership and nationalization of the oil industry.

Let's talk about the politics and economics of livelihood.

Some people have intentionally mis-stated my motives in stating my views so openly on these issues.

The right-wing has been pounding away on my blog here for weeks now. Others, who I consider friends, think I should keep my thoughts to myself until after the Election. In all candor, I don't think suppressing ideas is what is called for. I am not going to be bullied from the right; and I am not going to be bullied into silence by those who call themselves "liberals," "progressives," or "left."

As Bob Dylan sang, "The times they are a changin'"... but, the answers, my friends are not blowin' in the wind... we need open dialogue, discussion and debate.

I would encourage everyone to go out and get the two books by Frank Marshall Davis, "Livin' the Blues" and "The Writings of Frank Marshall Davis" from your local public library... and begin a Frank Marshall Davis Roundtable for Change in your neighborhood.This doesn't have to be anything elaborate... sitting on lawn chairs out in the back-yard or gathering in a local coffee shop or restaurant. Think of the Frank Marshall Davis Roundtable for Change as an alternative to the big-business "think-tanks" like the Heritage Foundation or the Cato Institute or RAND... as working people and community activists and labor and community organizers we need our own think tanks.

In his recent book, "The Age of Turbulence," Alan Greenspan repeatedly points out how important his weekly get-to-gethers with the thoroughly reactionary Ayn Rand were to shaping his thinking, his outlook and developing a strategy for American business to dominate the world. We see, and are experiencing, where we are at today as a result of letting the Alan Greenspans of the country do our thinking for us.

In view of the attacks from the right-wing we shouldn't cower or with-hold our thoughts; as President Franklin D. Roosevelt stated on numerous occassions, and as his wife--- the heroic Eleanor Roosevelt--- continued to say in response to right-wing racist and anti-communist attacks long after President Roosevelt's death:

"We have nothing to fear, but fear itself..."

Madame Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins, a close friend of labor leader Harry Bridges and the first woman secretary ever appointed to such a high-level government position--- appointed Secretary of Labor by President Roosevelt--- was even more forceful in her response to the never-ending, vicious, right-wing attacks emanating from big-business circles, calling Frances Perkin's advocacy of social programs like Social Security and socialized health care "straight from the pages of the Communist Manifesto;" Madame Secretary Perkins courageously responded to these vicious right-wing attacks hurled at her from the likes of the American Medical Association and the Nazi sympathizers like Henry Ford, "I would much rather see these programs as legislation helping people rather than remaining as words on the pages of a pamphlet."

Alan L. Maki

Initiator of the Frank Marshall Davis Roundtable for Change