All Hands on Deck at The People’s Summit

The People's Summit
Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) spoke and then posed for this photograph with the over 5,000 leaders, organizers, activists, and followers at the 2017 People’s Summit in Chicago.

You cannot build a movement for the common people if you hold the common people in contempt. — Thomas Frank at the 2017 People’s Summit

Chicago, IL — This past weekend Jered Weber and I attended the 2nd annual People’s Summit. The first one in 2016, was held shortly after Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), went from a little known and self-described democratic socialist to the brink of the Democratic Party nomination. Taking on Hillary Clinton (D-NY), former First Lady, Senator and Secretary of State in the first Obama administration, who had nearly every endorsement from Democratic elected officials and party leaders, as well as the support of corporate America, Sanders received 46% of the primary vote.

Assembling a coalition of millennials who had previously helped put then-Senator Obama over the top in the 2008 presidential primary and general election, progressives, independents, and populists, Sanders shocked the country, especially the donor and billionaire class by proving that in the Age of Citizens United, there was another way forward. There was another way to run a viable national campaign without having to offer fealty to the Super PACS, corporate lobbyists, and special interests holding the country back in the 20th century.

And what was remarkable to so many who flocked to the campaign, new and old, of all different generations and backgrounds, was that it was the ideas and message that mattered. It was the positivity of the campaign and its focus on the issues, and it was the remarkable consistency and authenticity of the candidate throughout the years.

Sanders repeatedly explained that when the people come together in common effort, they win. It was never about him, it was about a “future to believe in.” And we now know it was never about him because the campaign never ended, because ultimately, it was more of a movement than a campaign to begin with.

And that is where the People’s Summit comes in.

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The People’s Summit is first and foremost, an Ideas Summit.

Not just ideas for the future of the country, but also ideas on how to fundamentally improve and outright save our democracy. Those critical of the People’s Summit only needed to give these ideas attention at the Center for American Progress and perhaps they would not have to get mad that not everyone is falling in line and “uniting.” Before moving on to an analogy for what to think about the People’s Summit, let me just say that no matter which route one prefers to moving this country forward, there is no need to come together on the issues, on party unity, or anything other than basic civility and decency because we still have three years to go. In other words–see you in 2020.

Bubbles need to be pierced, and introspection and national conversations must continue en masse.

Now onto how to think about the People’s Summit in terms of what it means for the future.

Each year movement conservatism (or what passes as that these days) has its annual ideas conference called the Conservative Political Action Conference, put on by the American Conservative Union. Think of it as a “State of the Movement” address to conservatives from all across the country. Upcoming elected officials and advocates often get heavily promoted and featured at the conference. In addition to think tanks like the Heritage Foundation and others, CPAC gathers all of the various grassroots conservative groups and organizations from around the country. Not being included almost serves as a statement that one is not “conservative” enough or not a “true conservative.”

CPAC operates very much like an ideas and state of the movement arm of the major American political party on the right–the Republican Party.

In 2003, recognizing the power think tanks, ideas conferences and so forth had in propelling the conservative movement to electoral victories through its political arm–the Republican Party, John Podesta founded the Center for American Progress, which is both a think tank and has an annual conference. There is no mystery that the annual CAP conference and its ideas are heavily attached to the Democratic Party. But while the Democratic Party was slow to jump on the think tank bandwagon and invest heavily in the think tank model in comparison to the GOP, its adoption of that model and investment in it represent the final shunning of its historical roots as the FDR “party of the people.” Consider this, CAP founder Podesta was national Chair of the Clinton campaign, Chief of Staff to President Bill Clinton, and later counselor to President Barack Obama, made several versions of this sentiment throughout the 2016 election cycle:

For every working class voter we lose, we’ll pick up 2 or 3 professional class voters.

That’s the thing with the establishment or corporate Dems. I’m not much of an ideologue, I have a governing and leadership philosophy yes, but at the end of the day I have a healthy respect for facts. A respect that is lacking in so many political leaders and those who cover and follow our nation’s politics today. I’m fine with compromising. All democracies and constitutional systems require it. However, what incentive do people who do not like to compromise their belief systems have to follow a strategy that not only is not their views in key areas, but also does not and has not won? I submit these simple truths about where the party stands in terms of electoral strategy:

And I direct these six points of logic to the failed Podesta mentality from above and a similar mentality echoed by (permanent) Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), which stated that “for every working class vote we lose, we’ll pick up 2-3 moderate Republican voters.”

  1. There are not enough professional class voters to form the consensus.
  2. The ones who realigned from the GOP to the Democratic Party did so years ago.
  3. The ones still in the GOP are rich and unpersuadable.
  4. Working class voters are more numerous and more diverse than ever.
  5. Some of them are even organized already, through this thing called collective bargaining.
  6. You can’t build a party of the people if you have contempt for the people. You have to talk directly to the people about the issues, all the people.

Please note that when I say the working class I always mean that anyone who has to work for a living to keep existing. Many choose to work for a living and that is great, but their livelihood does not necessarily depend on it, and they likely have multiple streams of passive income.

Speaking of passive income, George Soros, a major funder of CAP and constant boogeyman that the right wing media likes to use to discredit policy agenda and goals, is not too different from the Koch brothers or any other member of the billionaire class engaged in electoral politics in the Citizens United age if one does not personally agree with George Soros. And that is the problem.

Neither party is seriously committed to taking on big, unaccountable, but organized money in politics.

If you are super-rich in America, or anyone really who can sit on their hands making millions in passive income revenue streams, and if your preferred party (whether Dems or GOP) does not win, you always have the other major party to protect your interests for the most part, with only a few exceptions.

It’s the same model. Controlled by the donor class, and dependent on the labor of others to keep itself in power both politically and economically.

And this is where the People’s Summit comes in. Ideas and voices, organizers and activists, leaders and followers that were shunned or not invited to CAP.

I would argue the People’s Summit is an ideas conference, that allows for networking, learning, and updating on the “state of the movement”, similar to CPAC. As of now, it is without a political party attached to it, but I have no doubt, shall a viable third party arise in the next few years, it will be called the People’s Party and it will have started and spear-headed by the 5,000 or so people that have attended the Summit, and those that followed along online, etc.

The central organizing goal of the movement, like the Republican Party, the last third party to replace a major party before in the 1850’s with slavery, is the biggest moral issue of our time — economic inequality and the forces that continue to make it worse, organized big money in politics and legalized bribery and corruption.

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A Future Beyond Party Labels and Endless Partisan and Media Sensationalism. A Future that is not just Resistance, but Beyond Resistance

In the weeks to come, this website will be recommitting itself to trying to churn out regular content the best we can. Apologies if we miss the mark on that front, as we all have busy lives in addition to written commentary, podcasting, etc.

This weekend the third season of the Agreeing Loudly podcast will be on just one topic and prompt: the Third Party option.

In addition, I’m hoping to finish up three articles in a “state of” series on the nation, the Democratic Party, and the Republican Party.

Bernie Poll
While we will never know for sure if “Bernie Would Have Won” — what we do know is that he is easily the most popular politician in America. And while there are loud voices among those 20% of self-identified Democrats that do not like him, especially in the media, corporate America, and on the Twitter-verse, the facts are that the “BernieBro” or lack of diversity myths do not hold up to scrutiny.

If this coalition translated to the electoral college, which I understand is a big leap of logic this far out, but bear with me here, if that DID happen, you would not just see a Sanders victory over the most unpopular presidential candidate of all time (candidate Trump) but you could possibly see the first genuine popular vote AND electoral college landslide since 1988 (and to a lesser extent 2008).

 

My Constructive Criticism of the Summit.

First of all, folks at the summit of all stripes were amazingly self-reflective of what could have gone better not just for the movement, but also for the 2016 Sanders campaign for President.

My two points for potential improvements to next years Summit.

  1. Get a vets or foreign policy-focused speaker to talk about and call for a national “Peace and Security” movement. There are massive levels of economic implications to our #ForeverWar policy that tie into the larger issues presented by the movement. The social and economic costs in caring for our veterans and veterans issues have been some of the best policy work that Senator Sanders has done, so it only makes sense to feature this going forward.
  2. Reach out to Republicans concerned with the direction of their party, big money in politics, and the growing, unsustainable levels of economic inequality. Perhaps this one will be more controversial, but if we’re truly to talk to everyone, we have to mean it. And we see evidence every day, not so much amongst Republican political leaders but we do see it amongst the rank and file and they are growing uncomfortable with the Trump-led GOP. The GOP is dominated by the interests of the donor and billionaire class even more so than the Democrats most years, and disillusioned Republicans becoming former Republicans would be a key feature of any future coalition, especially in current red to light-red states.

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The participants were divided on the question of a Third Party movement, but were engaged, passionate, and committed to the future no matter what — it’s an “All Hands on Deck” strategy for saving democracy for all and creating a 21st century economy that works for the many and not just the few. 

Division is nothing new in this political age. Like the rest of the country, there was a split in views at the Summit. Progressives and populists committed to taking on the corporate state are divided on how best to achieve the desired results of taking on big money in politics and tackling the moral issue of our time–the highest levels of economic inequality in a century. 

My unscientific observations of the sentiments is that the People’s Summit activists, organizers, leaders, and followers prefer starting a vital third party movement in this country. This is a sentiment I agree with more and more each day. However, for the time being, reforming the Democratic Party by taking it over seems to be the immediate goal and interest. A goal that has seen mixed results, winning some small battles early on, but losing the more high-profile battles like the DNC Chair election, California Democratic Party Chair election, etc. What is clear though is the ideas and message is winning over public opinion in America at-large. Significant portions of the speech last Saturday highlighted that.

And what is vitally true, is that we have now reached a 1955 William F. Buckley moment for progressives that this website had called for in 2015 and 2016 throughout the Presidential campaign as all of us ranted and raved about how badly the Democratic Party was going to bottom out in the coming years.

Progressives and populists have finally come to terms with the failure of the current model of the Democratic Party, and from this day forward–everyone knows that change will not come from the Democratic Party, change can only be brought to the Democratic Party. And the more and more party leadership grasps onto and protects their hold on power, even in the name of electoral viability (which is a ridiculous reason when you’ve lost nearly every election), the more and more power the movement, independent of any party control–will be. One way or another, the neoliberal and professional class consensus is over. And thank God for that.

I do not say these things lightly. After all, I am a member of the professional class in this country, but I also think that the younger cohorts of the professional class (Gen X and millennials, those under 45 or so) have far more in common (because of issues with student debt, broader acceptance of diversity, etc.) with the concerns of the working class (now more diverse than at any time in American history) than the concerns of the professional class consensus, whose obsession with incrementalism, education and innovation as a key to mitigating inequality (when in reality, it’s rationalizing it), and insistence that all problems can be solved from Harvard or Yale yard, Wall Street or Silicon Valley, New York City, Chicago, or Los Angeles, or by lawyers or financial service professionals, etc.

If the leadership of the party would rather go down on the Titanic, so long as they have a first class seat, then so be it. The overriding focus of the People’s Summit was not to re-litigate the 2016 election, but to move beyond just merely resisting what the Trump administration is doing, because guess what? That only goes so far, both in practical day-to-day terms and in electoral terms.

Folks, the only way out of this is to win elections, and to win elections you need a party willing to adopt a better message. A message capable of capturing a large majority of the nation and turning out and inspiring more voters than at any other point in modern U.S. history, because there are significant obstacles in gerrymandering and voter suppression to overcome.

The ideas and message of the folks who attended the People’s Summit were not welcome at the CAP conference this year, so we took them to our own conference, in the same state where the last successful third party movement in America took off from, Illinois.

The Republican Party was founded as an abolitionist party to end the immoral practice of slavery in this country. Similarly, if neither major party takes seriously the issue of big money in politics and the fact that we are in a 2nd Gilded Age, then it is highly likely that the movement makes a clean break. But as of now, in practical terms, the prevailing consensus was that there is not enough time for 2018, and undecided about 2020.

One of the conference speakers Thomas Frank (writer, historian, and co-founder of the Baffler), put it best at the end of his most recent book “Listen, Liberal!” which was written almost as if he already knew the 2016 electoral result, even though it was published in the summer.

Direct solutions are off the table for the moment… Democrats have no interest in reforming themselves in a more egalitarian way. There is little the rest of us can do, given the current legal arrangements of this country, to a build a vital third-party movement or to revive organized labor, the one social movement that is committed by its nature to pushing back against the inequality trend.

What we can do is strip away the Democrats’ precious sense of their own moral probity–to make liberals live without the comforting knowledge that righteousness is always on their side. It is that sensibility, after all, that prevents so many good-hearted rank-and-file Democrats from understanding how starkly and how deliberately their political leaders contradict their values. Once that contradiction has been made manifest–once that smooth, seamless sense of liberal virtue has been cracked, anything becomes possible. The course of the party and the course of the country can both be changed, but only after we understand that the problem is us.

The Gentrified Revolution

For all of Bernie Sanders’s rhetoric about the ills of income inequality and class warfare, in Los Angeles his message was most popular in gentrifying precincts. Dissecting the spacial aspects of why his presidential campaign failed offers important lessons as the movement he inspired looks to the future.

by Allan Branstiter

LA County

The Los Angeles Times published a fascinating and telling interactive map displaying how each of LA’s precincts voted during the Democratic Primary on June 7th. My first impression of the map was that of shock—Hillary Clinton absolutely dominated Bernie Sanders throughout the Los Angeles County. The map basically depicts a sea of blue swamping little boroughs of pinko insurgency.

Aside from the degree of Clinton’s victory in Los Angeles, a close look of the precinct results offers progressives a few important lessons as they plan for the future.

Progressives Still Need to Engage Racial Injustice

If you want to make a Sanders supporter bristle, just talk about the fact that the core of his support tends to be comfortable, highly educated, and white. While Sanders made several important (albeit uncomfortable) overtures towards racial injustice and won the support of high-profile African-American intellectuals and activists like Killer Mike and Ta-Nehisi Coates, black and brown folks still voted largely for Clinton. This holds true in LA, where Clinton did very well South Central cities like Compton, Carson, Inglewood, and West Adams.

Southcentral

White Sanders supporters have been struggling for months to understand why their message of economic and social justice is not resonating in non-white communities. While I have a few theories, I certainly don’t claim to have the answers to this problem; however, I am certain that Bernie and the vast majority of his supporters failed to engage racial problems in a way that convince minorities that they saw their issues (poverty, discrimination, segregation, crime, mass incarceration) as more than abstract political issues. White liberals are adept at talking about racial justice, but they’re not very good at engaging racial injustice.

This map can help us explore this issue from the perspective of racial spaces, and how the old adage “Pay attention to what white folks do, not what they say” might help nurture a truly biracial progressive movement in the future.

 

Sanders Won the Gentrification Vote

The second thing about this map was the fact that Sander’s core of support roughly mapped out the gentrified/gentrifying areas of Los Angeles. This is important to understand because—despite what well-meaning realtors, developers, independent book shop owners, and young urban professional sincerely believes—gentrification is economic and racial violence.

Sadly, where we see concentrations of Sanders supporters on this map, we also see areas of intensifying economic and geographic displacement on the ground. For example, check out the South Beach area:

SouthBeach

Lakewood and Long Beach (located southern of Signal Hill on the map) serve as somewhat affordable bedroom communities for white middle class entertainment, tech, and corporate professionals working north in Downtown and West LA. With this population comes good public services and commercial development. On June 7th, these communities were either evenly contested, with the trendier parts of town going for Sanders.

To the north and east are the communities of Carson and Compton, where precincts went solidly for Clinton. The fact that they are also largely African-American, poor, and neglected is a result of decades of urban redlining, economic predation, and systematic racism. In the past Long Beach and Lakewood worked endlessly to keep surrounding blacks out of their suburbs, but today the area is losing African-American residents due to poor economic opportunities, rising costs, crime, and persistent neglect. In their place are thousands of house flippers, land developers, and white middle class “settlers.”

The browns and blacks who remain face an increasingly precarious housing market, low paying service jobs, and heavy policing. Sure, they have a Trader Joe’s now, but their overall quality of life is stagnating. Considering these facts, it should come as no surprise that poor non-whites did not embrace the enthusiasm for Sanders displayed by their well-meaning but ultimately aloof white neighbors.

The South Beach phenomenon can be seen elsewhere in Los Angeles. For example, Sanders had a lot of support along the I-10 corridor in West LA, where a growing tech sector in “Silcon Beach” (Venice Beach) and the extension of the Metro Expo Line from Downtown to Santa Monica have fueled the displacement of poor Hispanics and blacks in the area:

WestLA

Then there’s ground-zero of LA gentrification—Silver Lake, Echo Park, Highland Park, and Eagle Rock are all hotly developing boroughs with large white populations that voted for Sanders. In fact, one of the most notorious instances of racial displacement occurred in Elysian Park when Chavez Ravine (a Hispanic community) was forcefully emptied and bulldozed to make way for Dodger Stadium:

SilverLake

Long story short, if we’re going to talk about why Sanders did poorly among racial minorities, we need to discuss the failings of white liberalism. We should first begin by dispelling the ideal that all forms of racism—be it segregation, discrimination, neglect, or gentrification—are implicitly motivated by racial malevolence. We need to acknowledge the fact that good “woke” people who espouse even the most inclusive notions of racial justice can also unthinkingly sustain a system of racial inequality. Doing so might alleviate the burden of whiteness felt by white Sanders supporters, and hasten the arrival of a more inclusive and productive progressive movement.

Parting Shot—Clinton Won the Rich and Older People Vote

As a true blue leftist with significant disdain for the outsized influence of wealthy people in the Democratic politics, I should also point out that Clinton won overwhelmingly in the enclaves of ca$h money in LA. Brentwood. Beverly Hills. Pacific Palisades. Westwood. Pasadena. All went for Clinton. Clinton also did well among older Democrats in the ‘burbs: Covina, Beverlywood, Studio City, Encino and the Valley more generally. On the other hand, Sanders did well in Hollywood, where he gummed up traffic and wooed the starry-eyed youths living along Sunset Strip.

In Our Post-Factual World, Kayfabe is King

by Carson Starkey

Nation_of_Domination
“By Any Means Necessary”

At some point in the not-so-distant future, The Nation of Domination will “interrupt” a Donald Trump rally/speech. They will appear suddenly in a doorway, bathed in spotlights, wielding baseball bats, chains, and tire irons. They will begin marching towards the main stage, advancing on scattered groups of terrified, hysterical, elderly white Fox News viewers to the sounds of NWA’s “Fuck Tha’ Police.” Images of Barack Obama transforming into Malcolm X will adorn the venue’s Jumbotrons.

Moments before The Nation can reach Trump’s podium to complete their attack on freedom and destroy America, Shawn Michaels, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Chuck Norris, and Hulk Hogan will emerge from behind a curtain on the stage. They will be armed with American flags and steel chairs emblazoned with “Made in America,” as well as the United Steelworkers logo. Their spotlights will be larger. They will be surrounded by pyrotechnics while Bruce Springsteen’s immortal “Born in the USA” seizes control of the sound system, drowning out the evil, morally deficient, food stamp-encouraging hippity hop jungle music of the savage, unpatriotic attackers. Michaels, Austin, Norris, and Hogan will dispatch every member of The Nation with a combination of their signature finishers, and blows leveled with their white nationalist accouterments.

After Hogan levels Farooq/Ron Simmons with a dose of freedom, “Barack Obama” (played by Jay Pharoah) and “Hillary Clinton” (played by Kate McKinnon) will descend from the rafters, screaming “DEATH TO AMERICA!” The Illegitimate Kenyan Pretender and the Chief Feminazi Conspirator of Benghazi will attempt to aid their subversive nonwhite comrades.

Before Obama Hussein and Jane Fonda Clinton can enslave Real America, “George W. Bush” (played by George W. Bush) and “Dick Cheney” (played by Dick Cheney) will emerge from a previously undetected space beneath the stage. Bush-Cheney will overwhelm Obama-Clinton with respect for traditional values, devotion to capitalism, and freedom. Bush and Cheney will incapacitate Obama with a double vertical suplex through a table. America’s greatest cowboy hat-bedecked duo will complete their triumph with a double powerbomb of Clinton from atop of the main stage, onto a conveniently placed stack of Rachel Maddow books.

America’s glorious heroes will embrace. The crowd will shriek “TRUMP, TRUMP, TRUMP!” Trump will raise his hands high in victory, humbled by the show of conservative solidarity, and ready to win a general election.

Get used to saying “President Trump,” an America without social insurance, and seeing a whole lot more of Vince McMahon for the next eight years.

Kleiner Mann Joe Blue Collar, Was Nun?: The Way Forward for Those Who Don’t Care About The Heritage Foundation’s Agenda

By Carson Starkey

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Darren McCollester | Getty Images

Hans Fallada’s “Little Man, What Now?” was first published in 1932. Johannes Pinneberg, the protagonist, faces constant economic anxieties, petty humiliations, and social disillusionment in post-World War One Germany. He travels through a broad range of emotions, but most of all, he feels disconnected and abandoned…abandoned by faceless, uncaring “leaders.” As he sees it, somebody should be looking out for him. He doesn’t hold grandiose, sophisticated ideas about public policy, history, economics, or politics. He wants a steady job, a place to live free from his repulsive mother-in-law, affordable healthcare for his wife Emma, and food for his son Horst. He’s not angry about socialism, trade unionism, or fascism. He’s angry that self-declared “serious” people in government can’t or won’t protect him from avoidable misery. A fair number of scholars assert that the book acts a broad explanation for the future political success of fascism in Germany. Johannes Blue Collar wasn’t obsessed with waging expensive, seemingly endless warfare or subjugating everyone that disagreed with him politically. He just wanted to pay his bills and maintain some measure of human dignity. Of course that was true in 1932. It has been true throughout the course of human history. It’s true today. Which brings us to Joe Blue Collar in contemporary America and his broad interest in, if not sympathy with, Donald Trump.

What has been most intriguing, in my view anyway, about the rise of Trumpism (broad, detail-free populist declarations about making America great) are the reactions among Establishment or respectable conservatives. “Establishment conservatives” has come to mean Republican Party voters that favor millionaire welfare checks, eternal warfare with Muslims, and racial segregation without the burden of supporting a politically inexperienced, orange-skinned, toupee-adorned grifter who plies shoddy products at Macy’s. Now that Trump is going to be the Republican presidential nominee, respectable conservatives are melting down in highly public, Mel Gibson-esque spectacles that reveal the ugly yet honest ideological foundations of American conservatism. Respectable, establishment conservatives claim to care about intellectually serious matters like Supreme Court nominees, small government, or fiscal restraint…although no evidence exists to support the contention that those same conservatives have ever worried about such matters in the past three quarters of a century, unless we mean preserving low tax rates for rich people or criminalizing the existence of non-white people. No, what rankles self-proclaimed grown-up conservatives about Trump is that he’s giving away the inside game by verifying an uncomfortable suspicion that Heritage Foundation “scholars” have always attempted to suppress during campaigns. That is, most self-proclaimed conservative voters don’t care about the Ayn Rand agenda. While abolishing taxation, dissolving social insurance, and building Pax Americana are important causes to people who work at The Wall Street Journal, all that Jane or Joe Blue Collar care about relates to making financial ends meet. Which makes conservative aristocrats angry bordering on hysterical.

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Millennials Will Destroy Everything You Love: Socialists of Fortune

Millennials were the chosen generation. It was said that they would destroy the old social order, not join it. They were to bring equality to the world, not leave it in darkness. This is Part One of one Millennial’s cynical take of the Leftist potential of his generation.

by Allan Branstiter

Group of young people using laptop and plotting the destruction of your hopes and dreams.
Group of Millennials using laptop and plotting the destruction of your hopes and dreams.

It’s 2016 and the importance of the Millennial vote in this election cycle has been the subject of many discussion, especially as it relates to the rise of Bernie Sanders. Pundits have pointed to Sanders’s strong support among Millennials to explain how a self-identified democratic socialist from a state of little consequence could emerge as a  legitimate threat to Hillary Clinton’s coronation as the Democratic presidential candidate. Prior to last year, most Americans knew Sanders as the crazy socialist who sometimes appeared on the Sunday morning political shows to decry the Democratic party’s failure to take legislation far enough to the left. How could this pinko, they think to themselves, challenge THE MOST POWERFUL POLITICAL MACHINE IN AMERICA for the presidency?

Their answer? Those dang moon-bat lefty Millennials are embracing socialism as their preferred alternative to the excesses of modern American capitalism. To many, our generation is seen as either refreshing upstarts who are injecting much needed energy into a tired political process, or ungrateful usurpers who do not appreciate the meaning of fortitude and hard work. I’m here to tell you that Millennials are neither the spiritual saviors of the American left, nor are they fully opposed to capitalism or social inequality. As a result, Democrats should not take their support for granted, and Republicans should not discount the appeal of conservatism among Millennials.

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Episode 23: Taylor Swift and Caucuses

 

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Chaos! Agreeing Loudly soldiers on with just one regular, can Pat Meacham carry the show as fill-in host with two guests? And what a terrible time to bring on Carson Starkey and Troy Olson, right after Bernie Sanders has a crushing loss in Nevada.

Together, Pat, Carson, and Troy embark on a savage journey into the heart of the American Dream and in pursuit of peak satire. Two beers later, they begin to prepare the country for the inevitable general election matchup (Clinton vs. Trump) this fall.

Along the way, a Kayne West vs. Taylor Swift debate (because of course), a back and forth on the dismal present and near future of the Democratic Party, distinctions between different cohorts of Millennialism, and how little we all know about modern popular music. You can listen to this episode of “Agreeing Loudly” on Libsyn OR Download the episode On iTunes.

Introduction and Attempts to Get Beer Sponsors: 0:00-3:57

Millennial Musings: A Different Take for the Nevada Youth Vote 3:57-12:00

Sports Round Up: “Whistle Sports” 12:15-24:47

Pop Goes the Culture: T-Swift, Kayne West, and We’re Old 24:47-40:47

Political Parrots: Nevada Caucus, SC Primary, and the Inevitable 40:47-1:16:25

“Agreeing Loudly” & Other Articles to Check Out 1:16:26-1:19:25

Songs for the American Working Class

by Allan Branstiter and Carson Starkey

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It’s that time of the month. Bills are coming in the mail. Paycheck’s still a week or more away. Management won’t get off your back. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Landlord keeps getting on you about your dog. Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Donald Trump are the favored Republican nominees for president, and one Democratic candidate president made more giving one speech to Goldman Sachs than you’ve made in a decade.

Don’t worry, we’ve got your back. While we may not have the money or the machine on our side, we have the music. So here’s a list of songs to get you through your day. Let the melancholy, exuberant, repressed and empowered voices of these singers remind you it’s a privilege to be working-class.

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“It Was A Good Day” by Ice Cube (1993) – This song is simple enough; it’s about a good day in South Central Los Angeles. And as any working class American can tell you, sometimes the pleasures of good day are all you can hope for and more.

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“Factory” by Bruce Springsteen (1978) – The most culturally relevant rock hero in the world today wrote this at the height of stagflation, oil embargoes, and deindustrialization. America’s blue collar working populace, which bestrode the planet unchallenged in its productivity and prosperity for a generation after World War Two, was under ferocious attack from ultra-conservative elected officials, investment bankers, and industry owners who used racial bigotry as a vile, divisive wedge when they saw their opportunity to shatter both the consensus of progressive policy outcomes as well as the spirit of political consensus among ordinary people. “Factory” and the overall album “Darkeness on the Edge of Town” came from a place of sadness, anger, and anxiety about the future we non-millionaires faced (and continue to face) in a brave new world dominated by ferocious culture war distractions and wage slavery.

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“Hard Time Come Again No More” by Stephen Foster (1854) – I’m going WAY into the deep cuts here, but I’m going to start with the Father of American Music, Stephen Foster. “Hard Times Come Again No More” is a parlor song that was extremely popular among Civil War soldiers, who satirized it as “Hard Tack Come Again No More.” Although it had an international audience and was printed as piano sheet music for middle class families, the song is a story of sadness and poverty, with images of cabins, lost comrades, and toil. One of America’s original working-class songs, it has been covered by Springsteen, Dolly Parton, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, and a slew of others.

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“Maggie’s Farm” by Bob Dylan (1965) – Dylan’s early counterculture war cry makes you remember why you’re in love with political music. Maybe your parents played Dylan in the car or in the house as white noise, and you never bothered to listen to the lyrics until you found yourself questioning the wisdom of unpleasant drudgery that otherwise “respectable” adults assured you would build character while they always disappeared during the heavy lifting. At some point, we all decided that we didn’t want to endure any more unfairness, or work for Maggie’s parents.

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“Big Bad John” by Jimmy Dean (1961) – I love this old country song for its story-telling qualities. This song hearkens back to a day, our folk heroes were working people: Paul Bunyan, Calamity Jane, Joe Magarac, Casey Jones, Pecos Bill, and John Henry. “Big Bad John” is a story from that mold: a transient worker on the edges of society, whose strength not only killed a man, but saved his fellow miners. Absent from this story are the mining companies and managers, as Jimmy Dean focuses on miners toiling in “that worthless pit.” What else needs to be said other than “At the Bottom of this Mine Lays a Big Big Man, Big John.”

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“Chain Gang” by Sam Cooke (1960) – We can level a fair amount of criticism at popular music/musicians/record labels for giving excessive air time to the working songs of mostly white men. Sam Cooke, for all of his substantial crossover appeal to white people, blazed trails singing about the Civil Rights Movement and about an institution that had been used/still is associated with demoralizing poor black people. Sure, there aren’t explicit references to black people swinging hammers in the song, but the cultural references were clear then and now.

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“Fancy” by Bobbie Gentry (1970) – No, this isn’t Iggy Azalea’s terrible song. Bobbie Gentry wrote “Fancy” in 1969, and it was famously covered by Reba McEntire in 1990. “Fancy” is in many ways a problematic song since it approaches prostitution as both redemptive and exploitative. Fancy’s ma’s words betray the extreme precariousness of their situation as she tells her “Your Pa’s runned off and I’m real sick and the baby’s gonna starve to death” and urges he to “Just be nice to the gentlemen, Fancy, and they’ll be nice to you.” Despite the fact that she was completely dependent on men for a living, Fancy never loses her determination to be true to herself, escape her dependent state, and her pride. Gentry argued that this song was her strongest statement for women’s lib, and she supported women’s equality, equal pay, and abortion rights (no small thing for a woman from Chickasaw County, Mississippi in the 1960s). “Fancy” still confounds us to this day, but the tone of the song never betrays an underlying truth—the powerless are not inevitably doomed to their powerlessness forever.

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“Union Burying Ground” by Woody Guthrie (1976) – Towering hero to Springsteen, Dylan, and Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie’s anthems defined, and continue to define, the language of American workers seeking better wages, safer workplaces, and a fairer society for actual wealth creators.

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“Lord Have Mercy on the Working Man” by Travis Tritt (1992) – The Tritt Kickers raise a fair point of frustration. Why is the rich man always dancing while the poor man pays the band? And why is it that when Big Gummit’ needs a dime (for unwinnable wars, or for tax cuts that exclusively benefit millionaires), they just help themselves to the little people’s pockets?

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“Rain On The Scarecrow” by John Mellencamp (1985) – A lot of Mellencamp songs come in mind for this list, but I want to go with the less obvious “Rain On The Scarecrow” solely because of the three farmers at the beginning of the music video. For all the strengths of “Jack & Diane,” “Pink Houses,” and “Small Town,” none of Mellencamp’s songs capture the plight of the Farm Crisis like these guys:

“Well, all the government wants to talk about is they wanna keep givin’ more loans, that’s all. Seems like that’s all they’ve got in their head. We don’t need another loan, we need a good price. . . . Just another farm loan, that’s another payment we gotta make and we can’t afford to do that. . . . I think the politicians are playing games with us, you know. It don’t cost them anything to change a rule, you know, and embargo another country. . . . All they want is cheap food and I can see that, but they don’t take the farmer into consideration at all. . . . Just sick of working ten or twelve hours a day or more and just breakin’ even if you lucky, if you’re real good. . . . If I knew what it was gonna be like when I got out of high school, I probably wouldn’t of done it. You wanna buy a far?”

If you don’t have people like this in your life, I feel sorry for you. Today’s liberals are making a mistake when they underestimate the intelligence and legitimate anger of the rural working folk. It’s no wonder we’ve lost them to the Cruzes and Palins of the world.

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“Last Fair Deal Gone Down” by Robert Johnson/Performed by Keb’ Mo’ (1996) – Blues legend Robert Johnson originally recorded this song in 1936, and it has been covered by the likes of Eric Clapton, Todd Rundgren, and Beck. If it’s not sacrilegious to say so, I prefer Keb’ Mo’s fusion of New Orleans jazz and Delta blues in his 1996 cover of the song. This song has a little bit of everything: reassurances to a penny-pinched spouse, a terrible boss, and the road home. “If you cry ‘bout a nickel, you’ll die ‘bout a dime.”

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“Paying the Cost to be the Boss” by B.B. King (1968) – Hating the grind of a nine-to-five job is understandable. The pay is usually not commensurate with the grief. The leadership doesn’t have your best interests in mind. The one redeeming quality of working for a living is that you retain some measure of independence, and that independence stems from claiming or controlling your wages. You can tell other people who disagree with your decisions that you earn and pay the bills. Another reminder that working people don’t need high-falutin’ titles or lifestyle morality lectures.

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“One Piece At A Time” by Johnny Cash (1976) – There’s nothing like stealing from your boss with the help of your friends. More light-hearted than Johnny Paycheck “Take this Job and Shove It” and a million times less racist than any of Merle Haggard’s songs, Johnny Cash’s “One Piece At A Time” is my choice for the best country music working man song of the 1970s.

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“Song of the South” by Alabama (1989)  There once was a time when country music had a lefty bent, thanks to the legacy of farm socialism and populism. Sure, so much of it had neo-Confederate overtones and overly simplistic memories of FDR’s alphabet soup of agricultural agencies, but the key message here still rings true: life is better when land and wealth is distributed more equally. If only we could resurrect that message without all the old racism and sexism. Country hasn’t been the same since the height of Alabama and Garth Brooks’s popularity.

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“Solidarity Forever” by Ralph Chaplin (1915)/Performed by Pete Seeger (1955) – The single most famous song of the American labor movement. Required at any left-of-center political event because of its eternally relevant lyrics. If you’re not singing this song on Labor Day, you’re doing it wrong. Full stop.