Humble Contributions to the Peoples' History

Posts tagged ‘Politics’

A Moment in Democracy’s History: Bob Edgar Elected to Congress 1974

B Edgar Button

When grew up in Springfield, Pennsylvania, in the 195os and 60s, I was very much aware that the Republican machine ran the politics of the town, as well as the county, going back to the Civil War. My parents were Democrats, and I remember my father remarking how a Democrat didn’t have a chance of being elected to any office in the county. As a teenager I became interested in supporting the Democratic underdogs, and I attended several events for John J. Logue of Swarthmore, who tried to unseat the entrenched Republican congressman in the 7th district. Young and idealistic, I felt betrayed by the democratic process and wondered how the voices of the people could be drowned out by the powerful Delaware County Board of Republican Supervisors, nicknamed the “War Board.”

In 1974 the Republican machine still controlled Delaware County, and the War Board monopolized local politics. The break came when the public became outraged over the Watergate scandal. What fired me up was when President Nixon demanded the resignations of Attorney General Richardson and his deputy William Ruckelshaus. Bob Edgar, a Methodist minister, decided to run for the 7th Congressional seat, and I signed up to join his campaign.

I canvassed with Bob and stood train stations and malls, handing out flyers. His parents lived a few blocks away, and his Dad and I would walk through the neighborhoods of Springfield talking up the cause. I attended strategy meetings with his dedicated campaign staff and spoke to union representatives. Bob had a platform we could believe in:

Bob Edgar Platform

Bob Edgar Platform 2

I wrote several letters to the local newspapers. The first letter was published in The Evening Bulletin, June 15, 1974, Saturday Forum: Bulletin Readers Speak Out. The subject was Church and State: Clergy in politics, in favor and against.

Church and State Letter

The second letter appeared in the Delaware County Daily Times, Friday, July 5, 1974.

Select Man, Not Party

As election night approached, we were still very much uncertain of the outcome. We faced a voter registration of 3:1 in favor of Republicans. The Republican party ran a new candidate, county district attorney Stephen J. McEwen. The G.O.P. had plenty of monitory resources while Bob’s campaign spent only $3,000 on his primary. Even the Associate Director of the Democratic National Committee stated that “the national party does not rate the chances of winning the 7th district seat as high as other districts.”

Edgar Campaign Literature

Undaunted, the campaign soldiers solicited friends, neighbors and family members to help Bob’s campaign. We were determined to keep the momentum going. I signed up to distribute campaign literature outside the polls at the old Central School in Springfield on Election Day. After the polls closed, my job was to call in the voting tallies to the Edgar headquarters.

Bob Edgar Post Card

That evening after the voting was complete, I held my breath as they opened the voting machine and read the numbers. Bob had won with a clear majority. I called in the tallies, and headed over to the headquarters. We were still waiting for final results to come in from the other precincts when Stephen McEwen entered the room with his entourage. I could hardly believe Steve was conceding as we expected a long night of vote counting. The joy of the victory spread through the crowd as we shared that moment of celebration with each other.

Bob passed away on April 23, and his contributions to Common Cause, as well as his accomplishments when serving six terms as a progressive congressman, are being remembered in The New York Times, the Nation and Huffington Post. For me, Bob’s greatest legacy is when he stood with the people of the 7th Congressional District to restore democracy from control of one-party rule.

B Edgar Thank You

Thank you, Bob.

Greek Antifascists bring their Message to Philadelphians

Was only 70 Years Ago . . .


Wiki Commons

My son, John, and his housemate, Jim, hosted two Antifascist activists from Greece, who were giving a presentation at the Lava Space in Philadelphia on Monday, March 11. John and Jim attend many activist events, and they always invite me to come. I decided to attend this event mostly because of an email I received just a few days ago from a member of my photography class who traveled to the Czech Republic on a family heritage trip. In that email he wrote that he had visited the town of Vrbove and walked the along the streets that were so familiar to his grandmother. He also made a pilgrimage to the town on Lidice, on the outskirts of Prague, to view the memorial there. I hadn’t heard of this town or the Lidice Memorial site so I checked out the details on the web. In 1942 the Nazis marched into Lidice and killed every male over the age of twelve and deported the women and children to the camps. They burned and leveled the village. The Nazis brought on further horrors which I cannot even bear to write about. The Nazis carried out this atrocity as revenge for the assassination of General Heydrich by unknown assailants. This chance intersection with the Lidice Memorial underscored the heroic efforts of the Greek Antifascists.

The Dysfunction of  Scapegoating

When elements of fascism raise the specter of blatant racism, blaming targets of their hate for the economic failures while undermining democracy through brute force and suppression, citizens must take note. The Antifascists remind us that we must be aware of fascist propaganda, which scapegoats on immigrants and multiculturalism, taking advantage of economic crises to fuel the fires of discontent in times of austerity. Without vigilance to these seeds of discontent, the horrors of Lidice could revisit the human race again.

Greece: A Case Study of an Economic Meltdown

Austerity measures in Greece, with the goal of  paying off astronomical debt, have created nationwide protests. Greece is suffering with unemployment at 27%. The Golden Dawn, described by both the media and scholars as fascist and neo-Nazi, won 7% of the seats in parliament and colluded with police to initiate violence against progressive activists and immigrants.

According to a 2012 article in The Guardian,

Golden Dawn is opening branches in towns all over Greece and regularly coming third in national opinion polls. Its black-shirted vigilantes have been beating up immigrants for more than three years, unmolested by the police; lately they’ve taken to attacking Greeks they suspect of being gay or on the left. MPs participate proudly in the violence.


Introductions by Chris

The Greek Antifascist City Tour 2013

Philadelphia was one stop on their scheduled visits to over 25 cities in the US to increase awareness and to raise funds for legal help. Greek activists, Thanasis Xirotsopanos and Vangelis Nanos, spoke to folks at the Lava Space about fascism and resistance in their country. Sofia Papagiannak gave her presentation via the computer as she had to return to Greece. Video footage provided documentation of the Antifascist resistance to the Golden Dawn.


Models of protest activism  ~ Thanasis and Vangelis ~ against the most heinous of political movements

Gun Control: A Citizen Speaks Up, Part 3


Photograph: J. R. Blackwell

On Friday evening, December 14, I went to bed with a migraine as I continued to be haunted by the thought of parents grieving for their children killed at the Sandy Hook School. Gazing at my Christmas tree, I thought about the holidays ahead, the gifts that will remained unopened. A tragedy of this magnitude affects all of us. For me, a debilitating headache; for those families, a debilitating heartache.

The only thing that cures my emotional overload is taking action. I’ve always been a gun-control advocate; now has to be the time to address the injustice of unregulated gun purchases.

One of my friends of Facebook asked: “Those kids, Why little babies?” My response: Because the sale of deadly firearms has been ok with us.

That response triggered a flurry of comments:

“Stop trying to advance your political agenda at the expense of this horrible tragedy. Instead of trying to politicize it.”

But victims of shooting crimes were speaking out that very night against gun violence, and an email from Roxanne Green, whose daughter was killed in the Arizona shooting stated, “I’ve heard a lot of promises from politicians since my daughter was murdered in Tucson, Arizona, including President Obama. But I am still waiting for them to act.” Steven Barton, wrote the same evening of his harrowing experience of being shot during the Batman movie, stating: There was no action taken to make sure that something so horrific never happened again. Washington avoided starting a meaningful dialogue on gun violence, and the costs of that were tragic.

I cannot presume in one post to solve this problem of gun violence. I propose a series of questions to consider:

  1. Over thirty Americans are murdered with guns every single day. Our broken laws remain ineffective, and our political leaders have been unable to stop gun violence. What can citizens do to mobilize for gun control?
  2. Has the “right to bear arms” morphed into an American obsession and addiction? Is an accurate interpretation of the Second Amendment entitle citizens to own guns and is this right absolute?
  3. What role has the NRA and other gun lobbyists played in thwarting the “will of the people” to regulate guns, as polls show the Americans support specific policies regulating guns. Why are lobby groups given this power?
  4. Does the American health care system support those afflicted with mental disorders? Is there widespread support to help those with mental disabilities and their families? In what places does our system fall short?
  5. What specific regulations could be passed immediately that most citizens would support?
  6. Would criminalizing verbal threats to life and identifying individuals who display dangerous and violent behaviors, preventing access to firearms be an effective strategy?
  7. We are a world community.  How do we address war and violence sanctioned by the state?
  8. How do we examine our culture to determine how the society encourages violent solutions and reactions?
  9. Why not pass laws that make it illegal not to have guns locked and secured and keys unavailable to anyone but the owner with huge fees and penalties for breaking these laws? Why not mandate that gun owners carry mandatory insurance?
  10. How does the freedom to own guns impose on the freedom from the dangers that guns bring to the public?
  11. How do we educate folks to seek answers to this complex problem.  One Facebook response, the tragedy “had nothing to do with fire arms.” Why are segments of the American population in denial about our gun culture?

We do know that if the current state of gun regulation remains the same, these shootings will continue to happen over and over and over again.

Little Orphan Annie, the Poem Rewritten for the Political Climate Today

Mary Alice Smith, Riley’s inspiration for the poem. Wikipedia

In an earlier post, I described our family’s celebration of Halloween and how my Mother, who was born in Scotland, followed the Celtic Halloween traditions. Our grade school classes also had Halloween celebrations–everyone would dress in costumes and parade around the school grounds, followed by parties in the classrooms. Homeroom mothers would serve cider with orange and chocolate cupcakes.

One year my Mother came up with an idea that I should dress up as “Little Orphan Annie” – not the comic book character, but from the poem by James Whitcomb Riley. Riley based his poem on a real person, Alice Smith, who became orphaned when her father died in the Civil War. Allie, as she was known, came to live with the Riley family, and she would tell stories to the younger children after finishing chores at the end of the day.

For my orphan Annie costume, I wore a dress with an apron and black stockings and carried a dust cloth and broom. I memorized the poem for a classroom presentation; Mom coached me on the proper inflection at the end of each stanza, “and the goblins will get ya if ya don’t watch out!”  On looking back on the poem, I recalled these lines . . .

and cherish them that loves ya, and dry the orphans tears
and help the poor and needy ones that cluster all about,
or the goblins will get ya if ya don’t watch out!!!

In thinking about those words in the poem, I became inspired to rewrite the poem for today’s current political climate just before the 2012 election.

Over the past few months, I have received forwarded emails, not about a particular political issue or articulated argument advocating one position or another, but rather content that focused on rumors and lies with obvious prejudicial biases. In rewriting the poem, I included the lines above, written over a hundred years ago, as they apply today as well.

I guess if I could give a dedication to someone, it would be to those folks forwarding those emails.

The Ghost of Little Orphan Annie on Election Eve

The ghost of orphan Annie has somethin’ strong to say,
Things you might’ve heard before but may have brushed away.
About payin’ those taxes, is that so very bad?
Or are ya worryin’ and fretin’ and makin’ yourself so sad?
For all the roads an’ bridges, schools, an’ parks an’ like
Just let them go to dust?  Well, that would be a fright.
If you’ re complainin’ then finishin’ with a shout
The goblins will get ya if ya don’t watch out!

There’s ways to pull together as Americans will do
But a bake sale to cure a kid with cancer, mumps or flu?
Or how about a doctor for the child ill next door?
Or are ya a listenin’ to that politician’s unrelenting roar.
Now payin’ fair share, that’s not a scary scheme.
Those with more wealth could help, or so it would seem.
So let’s all pitch in together, please, don’t be a lout
Or  the goblins will get ya if ya don’t watch out!!

Are ya balkin’ to give to causes that benefit us all?
Or is money is better spent for merchants at the mall?
With the social security Grandma can live her own
Rather than in your basement without a telephone.
And those that will follow you, fond an’ dear,
Take care of them, please, an’ dry the orphan’s tear
An’ help the poor an’ needy ones that cluster all about,
Or the goblins will get ya if ya don’t watch out!!!

So who are the goblins, do they hide in the night?
They’re just right in front of ya, in your plain sight!
They tell ya that science is not on your side.
They tell ya not to worry, take your car for ride.
They point to your working pal as stealing your dough.
When its unregulated Wall Street that’s really the foe.
They make up a story so you’ll hate those abroad,
Those many poor souls, also victims of fraud.
Think: is it your anger what this is all about?
Then the goblins have got ya, ya didn’t watch out!!!!

Drawing Inspiration from the I.W.W. and the Free Speech Fights 1908-1917

The working conditions at the turn of the century placed workers under incredible hardships as they faced both health and safety risks on the job. At that time, half of all worker deaths occurred in two industries—coal mining and railroading. Around 1900 between 25-35,000 deaths and one million injuries per year occurred on industrial jobs. In the Pacific states a lumberyard or camp worker earned on the average 14 cents an hour with working hours averaging 61 per week. Employees had to sign a contract to waive all rights to damages in case of injury or death. Migratory workers depended on hopping on freight cars to follow employment opportunities across. Railroads estimated that 500,000 hoboes at any given time were attempting to board the trains. Migrant workers made up a large percentage of the 24,000 trespassers who were killed and 25,00 injured on the railway lines just from 1901 to 1904.

Understanding that the root of this misery rested in the capitalist system, workers established a new kind of labor union.  The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) believed in organizing all workers. Ahead of their time, the Wobblies refused to accept the society’s racial, ethnic and class prejudices and welcomed the most dispossessed into their ranks. They possessed a revolutionary spirit which provided the catalyst to create greater democracy through worker participation.

The I.W.W. organized the free speech initiatives to prove that direct action was the mechanism to stand up to the Establishment on labor rights. The system threw every weapon at the I.W.W., and the courts, police, newspapers, even encouraging mob rule. The politicians and industrialists formed alliances to protect their business interests and profits.

The public sometimes becomes confused with the rhetoric and propaganda of I.W.W. opponents who claimed that the organization despised the Constitution and rejected traditional American values and ideals. To understand this criticism it is important to differentiate between economic and political systems. Capitalism is an economic system, and the U.S. Constitution provides no support for any economic system. The I.W.W. rejected the elitist business interests of the capitalistic class in favor of workers. Elites labeled the I.W.W. unpatriotic because the membership refused to fight against their fellow workers in other countries. Translated: the I.W.W. is a bastion of democratic principles and follows an ethical philosophy of the highest calling: to join in solidarity with all workers and put an end to war.



Stop SOPA: Protecting our Rights Online

Join the Day of Protest: January 18, 2010

Contact your Representatives:

Stop SOPA Protest Nationally


The freedom, innovation, and economic opportunity that the Internet enables is in jeopardy. Congress is considering legislation that will dramatically change your Internet experience and put an end to reddit and many other sites you use everyday. Internet experts, organizations, companies, entrepreneurs, legal experts, journalists, and individuals have repeatedly expressed how dangerous this bill is. If we do nothing, Congress will likely pass the Protect IP Act (in the Senate) or the Stop Online Piracy Act (in the House), and then the President will probably sign it into law. There are powerful forces trying to censor the Internet, and a few months ago many people thought this legislation would surely pass. However, there’s a new hope that we can defeat this dangerous legislation.

Holiday Giving: Charity for US Children?

It’s Down to Having a Pencil and Pad of Paper

Yesterday the mail brought the usual Christmas catalogues, including one from World Vision Gift Catalog. The catalog reads that “85% of every gift goes to program helping children and families overcome poverty in nearly 100 countries.” Throughout the pages, smiling and sometimes sad faces of third-world children tug at prospective donor heartstrings. This organization specialized in donations of chickens, ducks, rabbits and other animals in addition mosquito netting and medicines.

One page in particular was disturbing:

Urgently needed

clothing, and more for 

kids in America


school supplies 

for U.S. classrooms

It’s not that I didn’t know this was the case, it was the context of being included with children in under-priviledged nations. The United States’ GDP is the largest in the world, signficantly larger than China, Japan, India and Germany, at at figure of


and we can’t support our children with school supplies and clothes?

Where is all that wealth going and why do our children have to depend on charity? The problem lies in wealth inequality.

In 2007 the richest 1% of the American population owned 34.6% of the country’s total wealth, and the next 19% owned 50.5%. Thus, the top 20% of Americans owned 85% of the country’s wealth and the bottom 80% of the population owned 15%.    Wikipedia

The richest Americans control most of the wealth and add on top of that their financial privilege of supporting candidates that further their own interests rather than the common good where every citizen benefits.  How can our $35 contribution to a political candidate match the thousands that someone with wealth can give to the candidate of their choice?

As long as the current distribution system and campaign financing remain as policy, looks as if we will have to rely on charity, pleading for money for even basic school supplies for America’s children. I guess that’s the great equalizer with developing nations, we can all grovel now.

Sunday Afternoon at Occupy Philly

November 13, 2011

On a pleasant fall afternoon, Nada Alwali, journalist, writer and researcher from Bahrain, and Holly Phares, Choir Director at Tabernacle United, participated in the afternoon program at Occupy Philly.

Nada Alwadi ~ Inspiring Words to the Activists

Musical Interlude led by Holly Phares

Support Occupy Philly!

Women and the Arab Awakening

Discussion and Presentations at International House Philadelphia

Carole Parker Introduces Program

Sami Krait, International House Resident

On November 11, 2011, The International House of Philadelphia, a residential community for international students and sponsor of multicultural programs, featured two guest lecturers who spoke on “Women and the Arab Spring.” In the Spring of 2011 the international community was spellbound by the courageous actions of the people of the Middle East and their determination to bring democratic reforms to their nations. On a personal note, I was so inspired that I made a video as a tribute to all people through human history who have fought for their freedom against oppression. Video is here under FREEDOM.

Sahar Khamis

In her presentation Sahar Khamis, professor of Communications at the University of Maryland, spoke about how the “Arab Spring” was actually an “Arab Awakening” and how women played a significant role in the Egyptian protests. While acknowledging the important role of social media as a tool that allowed the democracy movements to proceed more quickly, the success of the protests could be attributed to prior organization and to the people willing to come together to demonstrate in solidarity for democratic reforms.

Nada Alwadi

Nada Alwadi, independent journalist, writer and researcher, spoke on “Women in Bahrain.” Nada introduced the heroines of the Bahraini protests. Citizens of their country who were just doing their jobs were imprisoned and tortured.  The Bahraini authorities targeted two unionists, Jaleela Al Salman, Vice President of the Bahrain Society of Teachers and Rula AlSafar, President of the Bahrain Nursing Society, both of whom spent months in jail and are scheduled to go to trial. Authorities also arrested Ayat al_Qurmezi for reciting her poem about injustices in Bahrain at one of the protests. Nahad al-Shirawi treated injured protestors. A photograph in a hospital room showed Nahad grieving over the loss of a patient. She was later arrested for “grief without a permit.”

This site has more information about women’s role in the uprisings, which continue until this day.

L-R Marwan Kreidy, Mrs. Baraka, Nada Alwadi, Sahar Khamis,/ /,Sally Baraka, Nabil Baraka, Sami Krait

Working for Democracy in Bahrain: John’s Interview with Journalist, Nada Alwadi

Nada Alwadi

Photo: J. R. Blackwell

John’s Thesis on Bahrain

Severals month ago my son, John, selected a topic for his master’s thesis, “Bahrain, Migrant Workers and the Popular Revolt for Democracy.”  As a world history major, John choose Bahrain, an island monarchy in the Persian Gulf, because of the intersection of  global and labor issues against the backdrop of an ongoing revolt on repression of democracy. So I couldn’t believe his good luck when Swarthmore College anounced that Nada Alwadi, Bahrainian journalist and founder of the Bahrain Press Association, was scheduled as a speaker on November 8. Nada Alwadi had been a reporter for Alwasat, the most popular newspaper in Bahrain. After contacting the Peace and Conflict Studies Department at Swarthmore, they told me there was an opening in her schedule for noon time. We made the arrangements to have Nada come to our home for lunch and an interview.

Recent History and Controversies in Bahrain

In the Spring of 2011 Nada reported on the pro-democracy protests that shook that nation. A land bridge between Saudi Arabia and Bahrain allowed the king of Saudi Arabia to march his troops into Bahrain to quell the uprising and bolster support for the monarchy of Al-Khalifi. Since that time, activists, journalists, doctors and nurses have been arrested by the authorities. One further complication is the issue of migrant workers in Bahrain, which make up 75 percent of the population. Some of these “workers” are from Pakistan and other countries, and they fill positions in the army and police force. In essence Bahrain is hiring mercenaries to keep the revolting citizenry in check. Despite the oppression that protestors face, the people of Bahrain continue to fight for democratic reforms.

Nada’s Story

In April of 2011 the authorities detained Nada, and she was forced to sign a statement saying that she would not write on or engage in any political activities. Then they fired from her job. Nada is currently living in Washington, D.C. and is on a speaking tour explaining how the on-going protests in her country help to build democratic process in the Middle East.

Nada wore a button expressing solidarity with all of her fellow Bahrainians, “No, Shia, no Sunni. Just Bahraini!” dispelling the myth that these sectarian camps are pitted against each other.

Photo: J. R. Blackwell

What We Can Do To Help

Due to the publicity from human rights organizations and several U.S. Senators, the sale of $53 million in arms sales to Bahrain has been blocked temporarily.  The approval of the arms sales depends on a review of the findings of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, which is supposed to make its decision by November 23, 2011. The objectivity of this organization, given that it was established by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa by his royal decree, is in serious question.

For me personally, I object to selling weapons to any country.  Why can’t the US sell materials and goods that would help the infrastructure of that nation? Please email the President and Hillary Clinton and ask them to block this sale.

John Finishes his Thesis, December 2012

John’s submitted his thesis, How Statescraft employed by the al-Khalifa Monarchy Obstructs Democratic Reform in order to Maintain Regime Stability in Bahrain: A Historical Review, in December of 2012.

John’s thesis examines how the monarchial regime of the al-Khalifa dynasty of Bahrain has skillfully tailored the tools of statecraft, both in international diplomacy and domestic policy, for one primary objective: to restrain attempts for democratic reform in order to sustain the regime’s wealth and power. The al-Khalifa regime has shaped statecraft policies into a unique set in order to limit democratic initiatives. The monarchy blurs the lines between at democratization as contrasted with taking a few steps toward liberalization in order to address the nation’s continuing unrest. The regime exacerbates the Sunni-Shi`a divide by hiring Sunni foreigners to serve in the security forces and deliberately stokes sectarian conflict by blaming Iran for inciting the Shi`i population. The regime encourages the hiring of migrant workers, which benefits the monarchy’s wealth and fosters competition for jobs between groups of workers; at the same time, the regime denies migrants steps toward citizenship. Through its foreign relations polices, the monarchy prudently balances its relationships with the United States and Saudi Arabia for the primary purpose of maintaining power. Unique circumstances, as revealed by Bahrain’s history, have influenced the al-Khalifa’s governance of the nation. These factors include: US military base on Bahrain’s land, a Sunni minority ruling a Shi`i majority, a well-educated citizenry willing to protest for democratization and labor rights, dwindling oil resources, and a geopolitical position between two rival regional powers, Saudi Arabia and Iran.

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