National Poetry Month

Today kick’s off National Poetry Month.

Dr. Jessie Fields and Harry Kresky will curate a selection of their favorite political poems for us starting on April 15th.  I hope that you will all join in and share your favorite political poems as well.

Independence Party activists at Harlem Week. Allen Cox (l), Howard Edelbaum, Dr. Jessie Fields and Tom Williams
Independence Party activists at Harlem Week.
Allen Cox (l), Howard Edelbaum, Dr. Jessie Fields and Tom Williams

 

To kick off the month, Jessie Fields,  a poet, physician and independent leader shares a poem that she revisited while reading Revolutionary.

 

 

 

Emily Dickinson    (1830 – 1886)

 I’m ceded — I’ve stopped being Their’s —

The name They dropped upon my face
With water, in the country church
Is finished using, now,
And They can put it with my Dolls,
My childhood, and the string of spools,
I’ve finished threading — too —

Baptized, before, without the choice,
But this time, consciously, of Grace —
Unto supremest name —
Called to my Full — The Crescent dropped —
Existence’s whole Arc, filled up,
With one small Diadem.

My second Rank — too small the first —
Crowned — Crowing — on my Father’s breast —
A half unconscious Queen —
But this time — Adequate — Erect,
With Will to choose, or to reject,
And I choose, just a Crown —

 

Here is what Jessie has to say about this poem:

Soon after reading the novel Revolutionary, I came across this poem by Emily Dickinson and thought it relevant to the difficult choices available to women such as Deborah Samson.  Though Emily Dickinson lived a secluded life in her father’s house in Amherst, Massachusetts, she was a poet of great power and she maintained an active, diverse and intimate correspondence with many friends and relatives.  She sometimes included poems in her letters and the first line of one of her poems reads, “This is my letter to the world that never wrote to me”.

As a student at Bryn Mawr College in 1975 I heard the poet Adrienne Rich (1929 -2012) give a lecture on Emily Dickinson. Included near the end of the lecture which I have lately re-read is the statement, “It is as though the poet’s existence can be put to some use beyond her own survival.” Emily Dickinson’s 1,775 poems were found in a locked trunk in her room shortly after her death. Speaking to her niece Martha in this room in which she wrote and read Dickinson said, “Matty: here’s freedom.”

Here is a short quote from a poem    “For Memory”, from the book A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far by Adrienne Rich

“Freedom. It isn’t once, to walk out under the Milky Way, feeling the rivers of light, the fields of dark—freedom is daily, prose-bound, routine remembering. Putting together, inch by inch the starry worlds. From all the lost collections.”

Questioning the line between history and historical fiction

Dr. Omar Ali
Dr. Omar Ali

Revolutionary by Alex Myers: A Non-Book Review

Omar H. Ali, Ph.D.

Revolutionary by Alex Myers is a gem of a historical novel. It’s the story of a revolutionary woman, Deborah Sampson, an impoverished weaver who sought her independence by pretending to be a man in order to fight in the Revolutionary War (avoiding the plight of most young indentured female servants who after completing the duration of their ‘bond’ were promptly married). In essence, the book is a fictionalized account of the American historical figure, Sampson, who, in disguise and using the name ‘Robert Shurtliff,’ fought for a year and a half in the war. After being given an honorable discharge after she was discovered to be a woman, Sampson married, had children, and continued to live in poverty.

This latest and gripping account of her life is beautifully-written by Myers, a distant relative of Sampson, and who happens to have been the first openly-transgender student at Harvard University. Anyone who is interested in American History, with a particular interest in the Revolutionary era, ought to read this book for an intimate portrayal of the human struggles of the average soldier during the Revolution.

A number of stellar book reviews of Revolutionary have already appeared in print (including in The New York Times), so instead of re-hashing more of the details of the story here, I’d like to take a slightly different approach to doing this book review (a kind of non-book review). I’d like to—very briefly—consider the related questions of What is history? Who determines it? And … Who cares?!

Ok, so I’m a fan of historical novels (among my favorites is the classic Segu by Maryse Condée set on the West African side of the Atlantic in the generation following Sampson’s soldiering in America). Such novels help bring to life what is often undocumented but perhaps experienced and lived. But because such authors take creative license in telling their stories, they are not considered proper History by Historians—thus the term “historical novel.”

Allow me to elaborate. There is a sharp distinction made among most Historians (those who are officially trained as such) between ‘History’ and … everything else! For most Historians, what is considered ‘History’ is that which can be documented based on written records (archival records, such as letters, diaries, travel accounts, business records, legal testimony, and newspaper articles of the period at hand). But what if the written records hardly exist?

This is where historical novels are sooooooo helpful. Such novels fill in the gaps—the emotional-social gaps that are inextricably part of who we are as people, but fleeting when it comes to documentary evidence. As any Historian will say, documents are subject to interpretation. Yes, of course. Such interpretations are based on ‘a close reading’ of primary sources. But as a postmodern H/historian, I question the line between ‘History’ and ‘historical fiction.’

Did Sampson bear a finger injury from cutting wood (as Myers fictitiously writes)? Or did she actually get the injury from a weaving accident? Myers contends that he creates the fictional account of the finger injury by wood-cutting (see his Harvard Book Store talk) in order to paint a scene that speaks to the limitations that Sampson experienced as a woman—that when trying to cut wood, she injured her finger, and was then reprimanded for doing ‘men’s work.’

To be sure, Myers skillfully builds on the scholarship of the late Alfred Young, in his book Masquerade: The Life and Times of Deborah Sampson (published in 2004), which parses Sampson’s own brief account of her life (which apparently has many tall tales) with what ‘really’ happened. Myers also draws on a number of primary sources beyond Sampson’s own account, including letters and journals of soldiers who fought in the Revolutionary War.

So, what is history? If we are to understand history as the seamless process of ordinary (and sometimes extraordinary) collective human activity in creating and re-creating culture and society, then there is much (a very big understatement) left out of textbooks, monographs, and academic journal articles of our libraries, bookstores, and available online. History (without the capital ‘H’) is indeed the stuff of ordinary people (you and me); it is also about the non-ordinary among us (the generals, kings, and presidents). But to be more precise, history—as in, discernible historical change (social and political revolutions)—is the interplay of the powerless and the powerful.

This is one way of thinking about history. There are other ways … indeed many other ways, if we are to follow postmodernism and its commitment to multiple (indeed limitless) perspectives and ways of seeing and being.

Until the last several decades, much of what has been regarded as History in the United States in our K-12 public education system, at universities, in the media, and society at large has been based on the perspectives of those in power. Since the 1960s, however, with the transformative power of the Civil Rights movement and other related social and political movements, there has been a shift towards what is called ‘social history’—the history of those ‘below’: ordinary people, poor and working-class people, women, and people of color. Such approaches to historical writing, which more fully embrace oral histories and the use of material culture, for instance, in writing histories, has given us a wealth of insight into the past. Ultimately, however, such histories are written by people who are living in a particular moment in history, and view ‘the past’ through those lenses. Black History, Women’s History, Labor History, and all other kinds of sub-genres of history, complicate the traditional white, male, heteronormative (a fancy word for ‘straight’), and middle to upper-class perspective of our nation’s history. But they remain human accounts, subject to interpretation … subject to history.

This is where the why we should care about history comes in. We make it. So as you read this, and as we discuss the book, let’s think about how we’re making history together. We’ll let the historians and historical-fiction writers of the future play with our words and come up with their own stories.

 

Omar H. Ali is an independent political movement-builder and historian. He received his Ph.D. in History from Columbia University and is an Associate Professor at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where he received the 2014 Teaching Excellence Award for his unconventional approach to teaching history—which involves much philosophizing and plenty of play!

Alex Myers on Revolutionary

Here is a short video of Alex Myers talking about Revolutionary.   I think you will really enjoy hearing Alex speak about his journey to create a fictionalized look at the life of Deborah Samson.

Give it a look.

Alex Myers on Revolutionary

 

Our conversation with Alex is Sunday, April 13th at 7 pm.  Shoot me a note about your thoughts as you are reading the book.

A Look at Book Clubs Across America

I got a call this morning from John Opdycke, a Politics for the People book club member asking me if I had read James Atlas’ op-ed on Book Clubs in the New York Times Sunday Review.  I eagerly opened up my Kindle to Really? You’re Not in a Book Club?, which I have included below for your reading pleasure.

Atlas estimates as many as five million Americans are members of a book club.  Two points he make stand out for me—-

“Reading is a solitary act, an experience of interiority. To read a book is to burst the confines of one’s consciousness and enter another world. What happens when you read a book in the company of others? You enter its world together but see it in your own way; and it’s through sharing those differences of perception that the book group acquires its emotional power.

He goes on to say toward the end of the piece that “In the end, book groups are about community. ”

I agree! For me, here at Politics for the People, our book club is definitely about creating and nurturing a community of independents.  We’ve been able to tackle some “tough reads” in the political realm together that would be very difficult to digest/read on our own. Our discussions and posts create new insights and give meaning to our selections for me.

Thrilled to be among the legions of book clubs in all our diversity!

A reminder about our current selection—Revolutionary by Alex Myers.  Our book club call with Alex will be on Sunday, April 13th at 7 pm.  Let me know your thoughts as you are reading….

SundayReview|OPINION

Really? You’re Not in a Book Club?

By JAMES ATLAS

MARCH 22, 2014

 
A book club meets in Fall River, Wis., at the home of Sara Uttech.CreditDarren Hauck for The New York Times
 “WHAT’S your book group reading?” I say to a friend encountered on the street. Not: “Are you in a book group?” I have no idea whether Clara is in a book group. We’ve never talked about it. All the same, I just know. Why? Because it’s a safe assumption to make these days.

By some estimates, five million Americans gather every few weeks in someone’s living room or in a bar or bookstore or local library to discuss the finer points of “Middlemarch” or “The Brothers Karamazov.” (A perfect number is hard to pin down because some people belong to two or three clubs, and of course, there’s no central registry of members.) Among them is Clara, whose book group even has a name: the Oracles. They’re reading “The Flamethrowers,” by Rachel Kushner.

I used to think that the popularity of this institution was a quirk of life in New York, like restaurants where you can get a reservation only by calling a month in advance or parties where every single person you meet is smarter than you are. But the book-club boom is nationwide. Should you live in the Miami area, you can hang with “Book Babes”; in San Francisco, drop in at “The Mind-Benders Book Club.”

And it’s not just a big-city thing: In the event that you find yourself in Waco, Tex., check out “A Good Book and a Glass of Wine,” which has 21 members (women only) and is always looking for new ones. All you have to do is go online.

You can find book clubs that appeal to gender- and sexual-preference constituencies (“The Queer Lady and Lesbian Book Club”); African-Americans (“Sassy Sistahs Book Club”); the young (“The Stamford 20s/30s Book Club”) and the old (every town seems to have a senior citizens club); proponents of porn (“The Smutty Book Club”); and fans of a single author (“The Roberto Bolaño Book Club”). All that’s missing, as far as I can tell, are book clubs officially organized by class: There seem to be no 1 percenter book clubs.

Since we live in a world where you don’t have to actually “be” anywhere, it’s not surprising that virtual clubs have lately appeared on the Internet. ZolaBooks bills itself as a “social eBook retailer” that connects readers; Goodreads gives members the opportunity to read a book together, install books they’ve read on their “shelves” or find “friends” with whom to share discoveries. (I just joined and have “no friends,” according to the site.)

Or you can navigate to lists like — useful this winter — “Best Books to Read When the Snow Is Falling.” These sites aren’t just for oddball bibliophiles: Goodreads claims to have 25 million members and was sold to Amazon last year for a number rumored at $150 million or above.

Some book groups merge the virtual and the “offline community,” as Nora Grenfell, the social marketing manager at the digital media news site Mashable, calls its estimated 34 million monthly unique visitors. The site’s Mashable book club started out as an informal, internal group that met at its offices in the Flatiron district, but after members began to write about it online, followers asked if they could participate. Thus was born MashableReads, a monthly gathering for a small number of invited members joined by a guest writer. So far writers like Ishmael Beah, Malcolm Gladwell and Chang-rae Lee have appeared. Mashable followers can participate in the discussion on Twitter.

But the most prevalent way of conducting a book club is still in someone’s living room. The basic ritual is the same all over: A small group gets together every few weeks to discuss a pre-assigned title; to eat, whether that means noshing on cheese and crackers accompanied by a glass of wine or a four-course dinner; and to gossip in a dedicated way. It may be social, but it’s also serious; members devote long hours over many weeks to getting to the last page. For most of them, it’s all about the book.

Reading is a solitary act, an experience of interiority. To read a book is to burst the confines of one’s consciousness and enter another world. What happens when you read a book in the company of others? You enter its world together but see it in your own way; and it’s through sharing those differences of perception that the book group acquires its emotional power.

“There’s a way of interacting through books that you don’t get through any ordinary transaction in life,” suggests Robin Marantz Henig, a journalist who is in three book groups: a women’s group, a couples’ group and a coed and intergenerational group with her daughter, an editor at The New York Times. “It’s like sitting around gossiping about people, only you’re gossiping about characters in fiction, which is more meaningful.”

In book clubs, things can get intense. “We had the most incredible discussion of art, and beauty, and loving something bigger than ourselves,” says Tracy Trivas, whose Los Angeles group often finds itself grappling with “giant issues about the inner life.” When they read aloud a passage from Colum McCann’s novel “Transatlantic” — the scene where Lily, an Irish immigrant, reflects on a painting she’s received from her husband — “half the women had tears in their eyes.”

Ms. Trivas represents a new phenomenon: the professional book group facilitator. A writer with a master’s degree in English literature from Middlebury, she presides over three adult groups, for which she charges up to $300 per session. She also runs a group for children, who nestle under a tree with their parents and read books like “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”

“They felt empowered sharing their opinion of the book,” she told me. “I asked them who they would rather have a play date with: Veruca Salt or Augustus Gloop. And if they could make up a different ending.”

We’re also beginning to see authors themselves taking on the role of facilitator. Established writers like Alexandra Styron command $400 to show up and talk about their own books — and that’s after the commission given to Book the Writer, an agency founded recently by the novelist Jean Hanff Korelitz. Authorial proximity has its drawbacks. “No one tells the truth when the author is present,” says a book grouper who has witnessed this phenomenon. “No one is going to insult the author when he’s two feet away from them.”

But there are good things about these home visits, too: They’re a new source of income for writers, and they offer insights into the book that come straight from the source. Book groups are like friendships: Some coalesce and die out in a few years, others last a lifetime. Susan Shapiro, an artist whose group has just celebrated its 40th anniversary, recalls that it started with “young moms in the park who wanted to have more to talk about than kids in the sandbox.”

Members have come and gone — “no one has died” — but the format remains the same: “We take turns leading the discussion, and two members have to read a book before it can be adopted. Some do scholarly research, others are more informal. We have an easy flow of ideas.”

I heard about a group that had been around even longer. Founded in 1971 by a group of Ivy League graduates, it has been meeting once a month ever since. The passage of 43 years has had inevitable consequences. On the positive side, members of the group can claim to have read all the books and not be exaggerating; on the negative, encroaching senility; a death or two; an acrimonious divorce that had the couple fighting over who would get to stay in the group. One experiment that failed was calling in “professional help,” a group leader to set the course. “That didn’t work out at all,” said one male member. “The men didn’t like being told what to think.”

The reading experience — let’s admit it — is less pure in the mature atmosphere of Book Club World than it was in the intellectually heady days of college. Diversions from the matter at hand are inevitable. When you have 10 lively people in a room and a good meal on the table, it’s sometimes hard to remember why you’re there. “It’s all about the dinner,” says the novelist Sally Koslow, a member of a Manhattan group.

My own group is highly disciplined, and we talk about the work under discussion with admirable fervor, but we do like to eat. Our meetings remind me of a restaurant I pass on the Connecticut Turnpike that has a sign out front saying FOOD and BOOKS. The gossip-prone among us are kept in line by the presence of our kindly but firm moderator, Ilja Wachs, a professor of comparative literature at Sarah Lawrence whose enthusiasm for the classics is infectious. By the end of one meeting, I had gone from resisting “The Mill on the Floss,” which I associated with seventh grade, to admiring it as a grim study in thwarted passion. (Maybe if I hadn’t skimmed the last chapter on my iPhone while riding the crosstown bus to the meeting I would have figured this out for myself.)

Surely I’m not alone in my dereliction. I was chastened by a stern directive I came across from the head of “The Sweetness: Astoria Book Club”: “Please make sure to read the book! Even if you hate it and have to choke it down, we’d love to hear about why you hated it.”

This is a perfectly reasonable request, but not always easy to fulfill. One thing that’s rarely talked about is how time-consuming book groups are. (One group I heard about, discouraged by the time commitment of big novels, has taken to reading poetry.) Mine has a penchant for plump Victorian novels like “Nicholas Nickleby” that were serialized. Everyone in 19th-century London read these novels. “Great Expectations” was their “House of Cards.”

It’s harder now, given the pace of modern life, but we hunger for it more. In the end, book groups are about community. The success of the One City, One Book initiatives in Chicago, Seattle and smaller towns across the country, where everyone is encouraged to read the same book, reflects the longing to share. So does Oprah; her book club binds together a nation disparate in its customs, classes, religions and ethnicities by putting it in front of the TV and telling it what to read.

We  spend our days at airports or commuting to work; our children come and go; our friends climb up and down the social ladder; we change jobs and move house. No one knows their neighbor.

But a lot of us are reading “The Goldfinch.”

James Atlas is a contributing opinion writer and author of “Bellow: A Biography.”

New Book Club Selection – Revolutionary by Alex Myers

I’m delighted to announce the next P4P Book Club selection is Revolutionary by Alex Myers.  We will be reading the book throughout the next several weeks, culminating with a book club call with the author on Sunday, April 13th at 7 pm EST.

This book is the first time Politics for the People will be reading an historical novel and I think you are going to really enjoy this gem.

RevolutionaryAlexMyersBookCover

Here is a description of the book from Alex Myers’ website:

“In 1782, during the final clashes of the Revolutionary War, one of our young nation’s most valiant and beloved soldiers was, secretly, a woman.

When Deborah Samson disguised herself as a man and joined the Continental Army, she wasn’t just fighting for America’s independence—she was fighting for her own.

Revolutionary, Alex Myers’s richly imagined and meticulously researched debut novel, brings the true story of Deborah’s struggle against a rigid colonial society back to life—and with it the courage, hope, fear, and heartbreak that shaped her journey through a country’s violent birth.

After years as an indentured servant in a sleepy Massachusetts town, chafing under the oppressive norms of colonial America, Deborah can’t contain her discontent any longer. When a sudden crisis forces her hand, she decides to finally make her escape. Embracing the peril and promise of the unknown, she cuts her hair, binds her chest, and, stealing clothes from a neighbor, rechristens herself Robert Shurtliff. It’s a desperate, dangerous, and complicated deception, and becomes only more so when, as Robert, she enlists in the Continental Army.

What follows is an inspiring, one-of-a-kind journey through an America torn apart by war: brutal winters and lethal battlefields, the trauma of combat and the cruelty of betrayal, the joy of true love and the tragedy of heartbreak. In his brilliant Revolutionary, Myers, who himself is a descendant of the historical Deborah, takes full advantage of this real-life heroine’s unique voice to celebrate the struggles for freedom, large and small, like never before.”

You can purchase a copy of Revolutionary on Amazon (used start at $9.55) or you local bookstore.

We will be discussing our selection in a Politics for the People conference call on Sunday, April 13, 2014.  Happy reading and stay tuned for upcoming posts about the book and its author, or better yet, send me your thoughts and questions.

Indispensable Enemies Call this evening at 7 pm EST

Reminder–our book club discussion of Indispensable Enemies: The Politics of Misrule in America is tonight at 7 pm EST.

The call in number for the conference call is 805 399-1200 and the access code is 767775#. 

Hope you will join in the conversation, bring your thoughts and questions.  If you have not had the opportunity to read the book, take a look at some of our posts and please do call in.

Karp’s take on the restoration of self government

Anthony Del Signore

Anthony Del Signore has just started an internship with the NYC Independence Party and IndependentVoting.org.  Anthony is a political science student at PACE University. He has been reading Indispensable Enemies and wrote a post looking at the last chapter of the book.

Chapter 14 – The Restoration of Self-Government

“Augmenting the Foundations of Liberty”

“Throughout the majority of Walter Karp’s book Indispensable Enemies, the means, structures, and powers of the two major political parties take center-stage in a scathing repudiation of the status quo. Chapter 14, “The Restoration of Self-Government,” on the other hand, takes a much different tone. This tone is hopeful that party collusion, municipal annexation, and ever-powerful party stalwarts can be revolutionarily usurped through an augmentation of liberty and self-governance.  But these ideas are not novel or never heard of before. Karp takes his blueprint from our Founding Fathers, who wrote extensively on the merits of localized self-governance.

To structure his chapter, Karp relies on Thomas Jefferson’s two “fundamental means” to restore self-governance. First, local self-government must be extended to every member of the Republic. Second, “republican education” (or in this sense, a sort of civic engagement experience in which each individual can think for him or herself how to secure freedom). Working in conjunction, they would stem the tide of rapid municipal annexation and bring autonomy not only to the political life of the present, but the political life of the future.

The question Karp strives to answer first and foremost, is, are local assemblies the strength of a free nation? He states:

“… [A] mass of citizens with no direct share in power, no local assemblies, no local political arenas, is easy for political usurpers to control” (pg. 304).

This statement actually has two meanings. The phrase “political usurper” can mean the dominant party bosses of either the Democrat or Republican parties. Or it can mean a “restoration of what has been deliberately destroyed” by a thoughtful and engaged local citizenry (pg. 304).

In 2014, we see both meanings in action. In ever increasing numbers, America is becoming centralized and urbanized politically. More than 50% of Americans live in cities. Now, towns are merging with others to ensure financial survival because of a shift from the industrial economy to the emerging “silicon valley” economy. This is securing party control in state elections as the electorate turns into an “urban mass” disinterested in politics. On the other hand, we are beginning to see pockets of independent, localized movements, able to come together because of the internet. The rise of the Tea Party movement, Occupy Wall Street, and many localized chapters that I am sure many of you are familiar with are only known because of the internet.

Karp goes on to describe invisible “lines” that are drawn seemingly arbitrarily to separate townships from cities and stifle political action at the individual level. To combat this, every citizen should belong to a community which has relevant political power. This community should have localized authority which can speak on behalf of its citizens. Karp carefully states that this does not mean towns cannot merge for financial reasons. However, they should not merge for political ones. I have always been a proponent of the local community boards in New York City having actual power to influence change. A localized approach would give them that power. But, for people to become civically engaged, according to Karp, they have to be taught how to do so. This is where republican education comes into play.

Republican education, at its core, is a study of political history and a dismantling of the education bureaucracy. According to Karp, this is a revolutionary change in teaching from his time or even today. For example, he equates contemporary history lessons to the obliteration of political history. In essence, Karp argues the political “oligarchs” are fastening a message which keeps students disinterested in individual thinking and ensures division so that the parties can further ensure security once these students mature. How this can be changed is through localized control of education. One can only assume that Karp would not be thrilled with such measures as New York State Regents exams and Common Core which standardize requirements for proficiency in a number of subjects for wide swaths of students. However, in conjunction with newly established ward governments, Karp believes the educational pursuits of trade would give way to a more enriching educational experience.

While this may be true, the reality of 2014 is that education is still merely a “vocational training camp.” With higher education being the business that it is, this trend does not seem to be dissipating. Parents and students alike are staring at tuition bills calculating how much they need to make in salary once they or their children graduate to merely get by. Fields once thought to be bastions of security, such as law, are becoming perilous career choices. With localized education, perhaps some of these problems may be solved. However, in an ever-expanding globalized economy, is this solution even viable? Perhaps a more enriching experience can be gained on the internet where thinkers of all stripes can lay their own foundations at very inexpensive rates. Perhaps this is the future of republican education. This blog is a testament to that.

More than ever Karp’s vision in “The Restoration of Self-Government” is gaining traction. The idea that closed primaries are a detriment to our democracy and that funds should not be allocated to those closed primaries is something many people are beginning to understand and agree with. We are at the precipice of political reform. While all of his visions may not come to fruition, a step in the right direction is something he would be proud of.”

I am looking forward to our conversation on Sunday at 7 pm EST.  The call in number for the conference call is 805 399-1200 and the access code is 767775#. 

Dr. Jessie Fields took a look at Chapter One–The Foundations of Party Power.

Dr. Jessie Fields at the 2012 IP NYC Spring Chair Reception
Dr. Jessie Fields at the 2012 IP NYC Spring Chair Reception

“The two parties function in symbiosis.

In the first chapter of Indispensable Enemies Walter Karp debunks the assumption that the two party’s main principal of action is to win elections and that parties operate as instruments of representative government. He gives many examples that occur primarily between the years 1900 and 1970 of party leaders running weak opposition against each other, sabotaging insurgents of their own party or supporting the other party’s candidate to maintain control of the party organization. Karp describes the power of the parties: “When a party organization is in control, its leaders do not merely put up candidates for elective office, they control what a substantial number of these men do once elected. Such a party does not merely “manage the succession to power”, it has power and it wields power.”

He highlights century long statewide two party relationships in which one party dominates statewide and another controls certain urban areas with little change in the relative status of the two parties in each state despite enormous social and cultural changes in the society as a whole.

Karp examines how party politics divides the residents of the states and the country pitting one community against another. “Persuading one segment of the citizenry to blame another segment for its troubles is a constant practice of party organizations.”

His examples of how the parties respond to insurgents and independent grassroots movements seem very relevant today. Especially here in New York City where Adolfo Carrion the former Democrat and Bronx Borough President who worked in the Obama administration and who became an independent and ran for Mayor, was shut out of the debates and almost all media coverage.

I am tempted to ask what Karp would make of today’s extreme partisanship in Congress and the various states and the development of the independent movement and the fight for structural political reform such as nonpartisan elections and redistricting reform. He died in 1989 just a year after Dr. Lenora Fulani’s historic presidential run in which she focused a spotlight on two party corruption of our electoral process. Our movement can learn a great deal from Walter Karp’s writings and I believe he would be thrilled at our growth.”

—Jessie Fields

REMINDER:

Join the Indispensable Enemies Conversation on Sunday, February 9th at 7 pm EST.

The call in number for our book club conference call is 805 399-1200 and the access code is 767775#.  I look forward to our conversation.

Foundations of Party Power

Dr. Jessie Fields took a look at Chapter One–The Foundations of Party Power.

Dr. Jessie Fields at the 2012 IP NYC Spring Chair Reception
Dr. Jessie Fields at the 2012 IP NYC Spring Chair Reception

“The two parties function in symbiosis.

In the first chapter of Indispensable Enemies Walter Karp debunks the assumption that the two party’s main principal of action is to win elections and that parties operate as instruments of representative government. He gives many examples that occur primarily between the years 1900 and 1970 of party leaders running weak opposition against each other, sabotaging insurgents of their own party or supporting the other party’s candidate to maintain control of the party organization. Karp describes the power of the parties: “When a party organization is in control, its leaders do not merely put up candidates for elective office, they control what a substantial number of these men do once elected. Such a party does not merely “manage the succession to power”, it has power and it wields power.”

He highlights century long statewide two party relationships in which one party dominates statewide and another controls certain urban areas with little change in the relative status of the two parties in each state despite enormous social and cultural changes in the society as a whole.

Karp examines how party politics divides the residents of the states and the country pitting one community against another. “Persuading one segment of the citizenry to blame another segment for its troubles is a constant practice of party organizations.”

His examples of how the parties respond to insurgents and independent grassroots movements seem very relevant today. Especially here in New York City where Adolfo Carrion the former Democrat and Bronx Borough President who worked in the Obama administration and who became an independent and ran for Mayor, was shut out of the debates and almost all media coverage.

I am tempted to ask what Karp would make of today’s extreme partisanship in Congress and the various states and the development of the independent movement and the fight for structural political reform such as nonpartisan elections and redistricting reform. He died in 1989 just a year after Dr. Lenora Fulani’s historic presidential run in which she focused a spotlight on two party corruption of our electoral process. Our movement can learn a great deal from Walter Karp’s writings and I believe he would be thrilled at our growth.”

—Jessie Fields

REMINDER:

Join the Indispensable Enemies Conversation on Sunday, February 9th at 7 pm EST.

The call in number for our book club conference call is 805 399-1200 and the access code is 767775#.  I look forward to our conversation.

Partisanship As Usual

This last week, Michael Hardy the General Counsel and Executive Vice President of the National Action Network authored an editorial on the Huffington Post entitled “Partisanship as Usual.”   In the piece, Michael outlines efforts underway to update and fix the Voting Rights Act of 1965; reports on the work of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration; and explores ways that the election process could be opened to allow greater participation.  He quotes Jackie Salit, the President of IndependentVoting.org  and explores the question she raises—Is out democracy for everyone?  In our current selection, Indispensable Enemies, Walter Karp exposes ways our democracy is structured to be fundamentally for the parties and not the people.

Give Michael’s piece  a read, I think you will enjoy it—

Attorney Michael A. Hardy at the 2013 Anti-Corruption Awards
Michael A. Hardy
2013 Anti-Corruption Awards

Michael A. Hardy

General Counsel,

Executive Vice President, National Action Network

Partisanship as Usual

Posted: 01/27-2014  The word coming out of the nation’s capital is that President Obama will focus part of his upcoming State of Union address on income inequality and economic opportunity for those not included in the top 1 percent. This is, of course, good news for the struggling middle class and the working poor. However, because it is an election year, most people understand that by and large all that will really come out of Washington is the usual partisan bickering and failure to move forward on major pieces of legislation.

It was a bit of a bright spot that just before the Martin L. King, Jr. holiday the U.S. House of Representatives introduced a bipartisan bill titled the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014. The bill is aimed at fixing the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which suffered as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder. In Shelby, the Court struck down section 4 of the VRA thereby leaving the VRA’s section 5 preclearance mechanisms empty.

While the bill has bipartisan support, it will nevertheless be a struggle to get it through the Congress. As the mid-term elections approach, the House of Representatives, controlled by the Republicans, will be completely focused on trying to maintain that control. Therefore, the nations’ voters will have to engage in some well-designed and coordinated activism to move the bill forward. Protecting the rights of voters and ensuring the right of every eligible voter to vote should be a continued priority for our democracy.

It was in this light, that we saw a second bright spot during the past week when the Presidential Commission on Election Administration released its report. Who can forget the long lines and hassles that many voters had to endure while trying to exercise it constitutional franchise as citizens. Casting your vote and accessing your voting poll in any election should be easy. It should not take all day and voters should not have to climb hurdles and other obstacles to register to vote and locate their proper voting locations.

In this regard the Presidential Commission made several findings and recommendations to improve “the American voter’s experience and promote confidence in the administration of U.S. elections.” Among those recommendations were calls for expansion of online voter registration; expansion of the period for voting before the traditional Election Day; better management of polling sites and continued improvement in voting technology. This is why many cheered last term’s Supreme Court ruling in Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, Inc. The Court ruled that Arizona’s evidence of citizenship requirement could not be used to prevent or declare invalid registrations through the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) of 1993 registration forms. The Court ruled that the form required the voter to certify under penalty of perjury that he or she is, in fact, a citizen. It did not require further documented proof to validate the registration. The state is free, of course, to prosecute any voter who falsely asserts citizenship.

Voting and protecting voter enfranchisement are essential to a democracy. In America, we need to continue in every way to provide unfettered the right of our citizens to participate and vote in every election and particularly in our national elections. Most voting surveys demonstrate that during the off presidential election years, mid-term elections, the actual percentage of voting age turnout hovers just under 40 percent. This is significant and the argument can be made that this level of turnout is what contributes to the partisan divide that has plagued our democracy for decades. It also makes it easier to construct barriers to the voting franchise. These are among the motivations for some, like Ohio State Representative and chair of Ohio’s Legislative Black Caucus Alicia Reece (D) to call for a state constitutional amendment — a Voters’ Bill of Rights — which would preserve a 35 day early voting period, prescribe extended hours for early voting, develop online voter registration and allow a voter to cast a provisional ballot anywhere in the correct county.

It also suggests that as a nation, we not only have to better administer our elections, but open the electoral process to greater participation. This includes the call by some for non-partisan primaries. We can have well run elections, but if the process excludes a great percentage of eligible voters who cannot vote in closed primaries and therefore cannot have a voice in the candidates that appear on the general election ballot, it dampens the voters’ desire to vote in mid-term elections. Jackie Salit, author of Independents Rising and president of Independentvoting.org has argued that in order for a democracy to thrive, the opportunity for the American people to speak must be present. The people speak through their right to vote. Salit asks: Do you believe our democracy is for everyone? She believes the answer to that question should be an unequivocal yes. Clearly, if democracy means anything it must mean that every voter has the right to meaningful participation in the voting process. If we hope to have a government that is not bogged down in partisan bickering, and looks to the well-being of the nation, then perhaps the choice of general election candidates should not be solely a partisan activity.

Michael A. Hardy, Esq. is General Counsel and Executive Vice-President to National Action Network (NAN). He has been involved in many of this nation’s highest profiled cases involving violations of civil or human rights. He continues to supervise National Action Network’s crisis unit and hosts a monthly free legal clinic at NAN New York City’s House of Justice.

Elizabeth Cole

Elizabeth Cole (pictured above) is an intern with the New York City Independence Party.  She graduated in May from Florida State University and joined the campaign team for Adolfo Carrion’s independent campaign for Mayor.  I asked Elizabeth to share her views of Chapter 2 of Indispensable Enemies, which is entitled “The System of Collusion.”

Here is Elizabeth’s review:

The System of Collusion left me rather skeptical. For one, words like collusion always arouse my sense of doubt, as it is one of those fancy terms utilized by conspiracy theorists with the hope of being taken seriously.  After all, The System of Collusion is suggesting that the Democratic and Republican parties are in cahoots to keep each other a part of this “single ruling oligarchy” through a type of symbiotic relationship that discourages electoral participation and believes in losing elections in order to stay in power.  Karp openly acknowledges the oddity of this particular theory. In fact, he even answers the glaring question, why haven’t we noticed this pattern? His response is simple and straight forward: “without opposition, collusion ceases to be obvious.” This is a pill I find easy to swallow, as it doesn’t take a philosopher to know that, currently, we live in a time where the game of politics resembles more of a seesaw than a tug-o-war. We move between one party and the other hoping a term booted from office will teach them a lesson, and then we re-elect them again only to find that nothing changes. Of course in smaller areas, where parties have firm control, it is more of a seesaw between candidates of the same party and, again, little changes. As a result, we become a frustrated population with more bark than bite; admiring our right to vote but rarely practicing it, voicing our frustration with the lack of changes in our lives, but never acting to remedy them. And worse of all, the blame is placed on us. As Karp very eloquently puts it:

“…legislators betray their constituents at the behest of their party bosses, and this betrayal too       is attributed to rural prejudice, for, according to the prevailing party myth, it cannot be laid at the feet of party bosses, since their one alleged motive is to court their local voters.” (pg. 37)

Karp raises a strong point here, which is that our votes are supposed to be earned, our presence at the voting booth respectfully feared. But the reality today is different, isn’t it? Democrats and Republicans have their laundry list of issues, and when nothing is done about them while in office, the parties simply blame each other and most every politician gets re-elected for another term. We can’t switch parties, can we? We would run the risk of finding ourselves supporting a party whose values we don’t agree with, so we stick to our own even if our representatives have stopped trying to win our votes through their actions in office. And this is exactly what Karp says the parties want because now they no longer need us. Minority and majority party bosses in each district or state sit comfortably knowing their position is safe, with the minority party receiving patronage and the majority party gaining control – all for successfully ignoring the needs of wants of their constituents.

Seems like a simple enough concept. But for me it led to more questions. In an age where we seem to be louder than ever and our recent presidential elections received over 50% voter participation, surely it can no longer be all that simple. With all the political chaos this country has experienced in the past two-decades, is it possible that this system of collusion described by Karp has maintained itself since he wrote this book back in the seventies? At first glance, it would appear not. Changing opinions and raised voices has even lead to changes within the parties. We have the Tea Party springing up from the Republican side, blue-dog Democrats tried to give a more conservative spin to the party, and libertarians taking seats in office as well as making headlines. But if we take a step back and forget what we have been bombarded with by the media, things begin to look a little different.  For all the fuss, our problems have remained consistently the same; with schools still failing to perform, incarceration rates remaining the highest in the world, and a plethora of other smaller and larger issues our government has no incentive to actually tackle. Because however angry or frustrated we become, we have been told that these are our only two options. It won’t matter if a Democrat loses or a Republican loses, because at this rate, minority or majority party both will remain in power.

Thanks Elizabeth.  

Our conference call discussion of Indispensable Enemies will be on Sunday, February 9th at 7 pm EST.  

The call in number is 805 399-1200 and the access code is 767775#.  I look forward to our conversation.

A Review of Chapter Two—The System of Collusion

Elizabeth Cole

Elizabeth Cole (pictured above) is an intern with the New York City Independence Party.  She graduated in May from Florida State University and joined the campaign team for Adolfo Carrion’s independent campaign for Mayor.  I asked Elizabeth to share her views of Chapter 2 of Indispensable Enemies, which is entitled “The System of Collusion.”

Here is Elizabeth’s review:

The System of Collusion left me rather skeptical. For one, words like collusion always arouse my sense of doubt, as it is one of those fancy terms utilized by conspiracy theorists with the hope of being taken seriously.  After all, The System of Collusion is suggesting that the Democratic and Republican parties are in cahoots to keep each other a part of this “single ruling oligarchy” through a type of symbiotic relationship that discourages electoral participation and believes in losing elections in order to stay in power.  Karp openly acknowledges the oddity of this particular theory. In fact, he even answers the glaring question, why haven’t we noticed this pattern? His response is simple and straight forward: “without opposition, collusion ceases to be obvious.” This is a pill I find easy to swallow, as it doesn’t take a philosopher to know that, currently, we live in a time where the game of politics resembles more of a seesaw than a tug-o-war. We move between one party and the other hoping a term booted from office will teach them a lesson, and then we re-elect them again only to find that nothing changes. Of course in smaller areas, where parties have firm control, it is more of a seesaw between candidates of the same party and, again, little changes. As a result, we become a frustrated population with more bark than bite; admiring our right to vote but rarely practicing it, voicing our frustration with the lack of changes in our lives, but never acting to remedy them. And worse of all, the blame is placed on us. As Karp very eloquently puts it:

“…legislators betray their constituents at the behest of their party bosses, and this betrayal too       is attributed to rural prejudice, for, according to the prevailing party myth, it cannot be laid at the feet of party bosses, since their one alleged motive is to court their local voters.” (pg. 37)

Karp raises a strong point here, which is that our votes are supposed to be earned, our presence at the voting booth respectfully feared. But the reality today is different, isn’t it? Democrats and Republicans have their laundry list of issues, and when nothing is done about them while in office, the parties simply blame each other and most every politician gets re-elected for another term. We can’t switch parties, can we? We would run the risk of finding ourselves supporting a party whose values we don’t agree with, so we stick to our own even if our representatives have stopped trying to win our votes through their actions in office. And this is exactly what Karp says the parties want because now they no longer need us. Minority and majority party bosses in each district or state sit comfortably knowing their position is safe, with the minority party receiving patronage and the majority party gaining control – all for successfully ignoring the needs of wants of their constituents.

Seems like a simple enough concept. But for me it led to more questions. In an age where we seem to be louder than ever and our recent presidential elections received over 50% voter participation, surely it can no longer be all that simple. With all the political chaos this country has experienced in the past two-decades, is it possible that this system of collusion described by Karp has maintained itself since he wrote this book back in the seventies? At first glance, it would appear not. Changing opinions and raised voices has even lead to changes within the parties. We have the Tea Party springing up from the Republican side, blue-dog Democrats tried to give a more conservative spin to the party, and libertarians taking seats in office as well as making headlines. But if we take a step back and forget what we have been bombarded with by the media, things begin to look a little different.  For all the fuss, our problems have remained consistently the same; with schools still failing to perform, incarceration rates remaining the highest in the world, and a plethora of other smaller and larger issues our government has no incentive to actually tackle. Because however angry or frustrated we become, we have been told that these are our only two options. It won’t matter if a Democrat loses or a Republican loses, because at this rate, minority or majority party both will remain in power.

Thanks Elizabeth.  

Our conference call discussion of Indispensable Enemies will be on Sunday, February 9th at 7 pm EST.  

The call in number is 805 399-1200 and the access code is 767775#.  I look forward to our conversation.

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