What we Democrats lack is thugs. We’ve got everything else we need. There are plenty of us and the technology is fine. Money? No problem. Issues? Don’t even start. On paper, we win. On the streets, not so much. What we need is muscle. Seasoned, scared, hardened, tough, ruthless.
Back then there was a fight. The core of the Democratic Party was guys who came straight from union halls, organizers, vets of hardass negotiations, people who’d as soon be on a picket line as have lunch. Our side was the black and white survivors of the civil rights battles… which were actual physical battles. We were the generation of Jews who had to go to court for the simple right to buy a house or be admitted to a college. The scary women who marched, lobbied, and sat-in for Title IX and legal abortion and equal pay were also canvassing and precinct-walking for Democratic candidates.
Blood and pain and fear teach lessons about politics we have lost. These days I’m afraid not enough Democrats have ever had to be stitched up after a demonstration. I can tell you that in 1970 opposing the war in Vietnam, a political act, was very likely to give one intimate experience with being clubbed and gassed. People went to jail for conscience. Democrats took risks. And not
at all insignificantly, trying to stop that stupid war took a non-stop ten years and trained a generation how to organize.
The Free Speech Movement at Berkeley was inspired by the terrifying 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer, and there were dozens of other angry campus uprisings in the year following. And do not mistake the non-violence of the men and women who trained and worked through the 60s with Martin King and SNCC for timidity. They were fighters, as were Cezar Chavez’ United Farmer Workers who trained and supported scores of political players. The United Auto Workers were the Party in the Michigan of my teens and twenties. Those Dems were tough, physically and emotionally. We’re wimps. Not by comparison. We’re just wimps. They were Seal Team 6; we’re boy scouts. We think it’s a big deal if we do some canvassing every four years, donate a few bucks.
When just a couple of months ago Congressional Dems had a shit-disturbing, outraging, pro-gun-control sit-in on the floor of the House — a sit-in!! — who instigated it? Nancy Pelosi (bless her heart)? Nope, John Lewis, saintly concussed vet of Selma.
And it was also John Lewis and the wonderfully predictable Barbara Lee who set the path for dozens of Dems to boycott Trump’s anointment. Then on the very next day! came the stunning Women’s Marches, all over, in unsettling numbers, joyful, salted with political and entertainment celebrities. Many more humans than had attended the inauguration.
It’s a start. The old guy skeptic in me wants to remind that anti-Vietnam war marches on DC began in 1965…. And shamefully the war went on for ten more years. I know from my own life what a high a good demonstration can be. It’s a start. But then…
Remember ACORN? The nominally non-partisan and actually uber-progressive political movement that enraged the Reeps two years ago? I was around when ACORN was formed as a welfare rights campaign in Arkansas, organized by an Alinsky-inspired, SDS troublemaker named Wade Rathke. Republicans hated and killed ACORN because it worked. And it worked because it was confrontational and mean. Not at all by-the-way, the Right tarred Obama with Saul Alinsky for the same reason: Alinsky was a political street fighter and he made life miserable for slum lords. I lived and worked in Chicago then and I remember.
Same page: the big city political machines, Democrats by and large. Chicago, Philadelphia, New York. St Louis. Yeah, yeah, I know: racist and crooked, but these reviled outfits worked 24/7, delivered for their citizens, and were really no more corrupt than our entire money-drenched, DC Village-based system is now.
So what’s the path now? Because they aren’t gonna quit because we march. Ask John Lewis. Well, let a thousand flowers bloom. Personally I love the Planned Parenthood model. They have a clear and resonant issue, they have a natural constituency, local and nationally active, sophisticated leadership. They do politics as if lives depended on it, and when the times come they vote. That’s it. Attention must be paid. Because fear.
I want thugs again. I want men and women who approach politics as if their lives depended on it, the same way they approached civil rights, and labor organizing, and campus freedom, and welfare rights, and resisting war and the draft. I don’t want to sign a petition or call my Tea Party member of Congress, or stand around the federal building with a burning candle. I want the Panthers, and Occupy, and Black Lives Matter and the angry queens of Stonewall. I want the Bernie People to stay pissed off and active. Active! I want to measure my effectiveness by the way I used to, by assuming that at every political meeting there may be an undercover cop taking names. By going to any march reflexively carrying a wet handkerchief for tear gas. I want to need a phone number for the National Lawyers Guild when I attend a demonstration. I want to stand in a crowd that’s angry, not bewildered. I want to try to levitate the goddamn Pentagon again.
I want the motherfuckers to be afraid of us.