Feeling Half a Bern in Iowa.

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Me and my partner took a weekend trip across the southern border, to escape city winter doldrums and indulge a morbid fascination with the political campaign, one week before the Iowa caucus.

We had a fun time. Saw wild turkeys and pheasants, pine trees encrusted in ice, black Amish buggies and white fields barely discernible from grey sky.

In Mason City, Iowa — a border town, off of Highway 35 ,in the flat central plains — there was little indication of the impending caucuses — one comment about the idiocy of Trump, one massive red lawn sign for Cruz. We joined hundreds congregated at the YMCA on Saturday morning. The contest on their minds was playing out by their youngsters on the basketball courts.

But in Decorah — another border town in the hilly east — the masses gathered at Luther College to see Bernie Sanders.  The crowd was clearly feeling the Bern; loving talk about single payer health care, free tuition, $15 minimum wage, expanding social security, a trillion dollar investment in infrastructure and renewable energy jobs and a promise to transfer priorities from mass incarceration to education.  They also cheered for choice, gay marriage, and equal pay for equal work.

The crowd spanned the age spectrum. The couple in their sixties sitting in front of me shouted out when he talked about people on social security trying to live on 13,000. “That is us!”

Bernie took on his detractors – those who  say he can’t win, and the naysayers who claim he is promising the moon but has no way to pay for it. For the latter he cited polls, for the former he promised to tax billionaires and the banks.

My partner was enthusiastic – picking up a lawn sign. I told him it might have to go on his proverbial side of the lawn — for now.

I felt half a Bern. I didn’t hear anything I did not agree with. I shared the relief expressed in people’s faces as they heard real problems and solutions from a politician who — as he said — thinks Americans like it when you don’t treat them like they are dumb. I was grateful not to be pandered to with patriotic pablum about American exceptionalism – rhetoric that Obama has made his own.
I was glad he mentioned race disparities in unemployment – but wished he had showed more courage with this white Iowa audience to push for police accountability. In a state that increasingly relies on immigrant labor for food processing industries, I wished he would taken  the opportunity to include undocumented people in his calls for equal rights.

Indeed, it was what he did not say that had me holding back.

Other than his vote against the Iraq war, there was no mention in his address about endless wars or military drones, or U.S. bombing hospitals. Indeed his social programs could all be paid for if we chopped the bloated pentagon budget. Why didn’t he say that? I know the weapons manufacturers and military bases in every state are even more capable than big pharma, oil and the NRA,in cowering politicians. But Sanders could role out a plan for turning weapons factories into water filtration and mass- transit manufacturing, without job loss, reversing FDR’s speedy transformation of domestic plants during World WAR II.

From my experience — talking to students and strangers on my 14 month bicycle trip around the U.S.— I found that across the rural/ urban, left/right spectrum people are sick of war. Heck, Obama knows that. “War weariness,” he calls it.
For the current President war-weariness is a problem, but for the next president, with a vision for a sustainable world, it could be a great asset, something to build on.

Hillary Clinton’s attacks on Bernie’s foreign policy acumen should be seen as an opportunity by his campaign, to shout back that with the former Secretary of State, we get more of what the world can not afford – more American super power bullying.

Look, it is not just that I want more. If so, I’d settle for the half glass. Reform is good for real people. But if Bernie’s domestic revolution stops at our borders, I fear it won’t work . We are one small vulnerable planet. The political borders we erect are not just artificial from a moral perspective. They don’t exist economically, climatificially, militarily. The United States has to adopt a global allegiance as we act locally, or we will all go down, destroyed by inequality, endless war,pollution and rising seas.

Let me repeat. Without a global plan, I fear Bernie’s domestic plan will go down as another beautiful list of empty promises. I fear only a fascist could fill the void that disappoint would elicit.
Unlike me, the crowd at Luther College in Decorah were as wildly enthusiastic about their candidate as midwesterners get. The post-rally conversation at the Water Street Cafe and Java coffee shop, were positively giddy. Given the Democratic and Republican alternatives, that is great news. Indeed the supporters of Bernie Sanders are the best part of his campaign.  That is why the corporate -owned media, here in Iowa and nationwide, have accelerated their anti- Sanders vitriol. They know they must put out the  Bernie fire.

As Sander’s said, “this is about more than me and my candidacy.”

Amen to that.


“Be Reasonable. Demand the Impossible Now!”


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On an industrial lane in Burlingame, California, radical songsters from across the planet spent three January days  at the Western Workers Labor Heritage Festival raising a tuneful ruckus.

In California and D.C.,  radical songsters have been singing forward the century-old radical music tradition of the Industrial Workers of the World, fused with more recent peace, Black liberation and feminist movements for nearly four decades. This was my first year attending, as a member of the Twin Cities Labor Chorus . It was heady stuff, singing at the same conference with  troubadours of fame like Pam Parker,  Charlie King,  Avotcja,  Anne Feeny, Francisco Herrera, Dave Lippman, and Robb Johnson.  It was just as thrilling to meet and hear other labor choirs from D.C., Vancouver, San Francisco.

New songs told stories of pipelines overcome, Black Lives that Mattered, and  Trumping dirty politicians. Old tunes retold struggles for bread… and roses too. For three days we sang our fists at the militaristic, capitalistic, racist, sexist, inhumane noise that surrounds us. The tunes made our spirits soar and lodged words in memory. The words changed our brains – giving us reason to hold our heads high and the strength to rise up and speak out.

Maybe you think I’m being a little too schmaltzy here. Guilty. But in my defense, I ask you to imagine Sound of Music part 11.  After the Von Trapp family escapes fascism, they meet the Freedom Singers, wobblies,  and other occupelistas from across the world to build that other world that is possible — in seven-part harmony.

Wouldn’t you be a little emotional too?

Organizers had figured this was to be their last gathering, as too many of them were dying or getting too old to travel.  There were many tunes offered up to the memory of those who have passed. But on the last day a small cadre of  labor organizers in their 20s announced their intention to start planning for next year, to continue the tradition of–  being reasonable and demanding the impossible, now. 



Emancipation not Deportation! Minneapolis organizing to stop the raids.



I just came back from a meeting that should not be — a meeting to plan how to protect the human rights of immigrants in the United States.

The January 9 Assemblea de Derechos Civiles meeting held at the Church of the Incarnation in South Minneapolis, had a feeling of urgency as community gathered to talk about a new round of raids being carried out by Homeland Security, targeting recent refugees from Central America who have fled escalating violence in their countries.

The bulk of the raids have been in Georgia, Texas and North Carolina, but participants at the Minneapolis meeting spoke of their local experiences with deportations, detentions, and raids.  One mother spent 18 months separated from her children.  A teacher broke down in tears relating the deportation of one of his student’s parents. A woman talked of a 3AM visit from men in uniform carrying guns, looking for someone she did not know. They surrounded her house, blocking every possible exit as though her home was the site of a major crime scene. And in a way it was —  officers, participating in the crime of U.S. immigration policies that terrorize and criminalize people for seeking a better life.

The meeting leader told of talking with a refugee who looked hungry. She asked her if she needed food. The woman replied she has lost her appetite, because everyone she loves has disappeared.  The woman’s story, and those of other Central Americans, reminded her of  Anne Frank.

Raids like those currently being carried out by Homeland Security are meant to instill a sense of fear in an entire community. There are names for governments that use such tactics.  Democracy is not one of them.

The Assemblea has an ambitious agenda. They are involved in a coalition working to expand access to drivers licenses to undocumented immigrants in Minnesota. They are joining organizations across the country to demand that President Obama stop the raids currently separating families. They plan to confront Presidential candidates when they visit Minnesota, and the Mayor and city council to demand non-compliance with the raids in Minneapolis.They are organizing know-your-Rights events in area churches and a mobilization of people of faith.

It’s an ambitious agenda indeed, but even if none of it got done, the meeting would be worthwhile. Some people leaving the January 9, 2016, reunion at Incarnation Church still felt preocupado (fearful), but most left feeling fortalecida, (fortified) bienvenido, (welcome) agradecido, (grateful) sorprendido, (surprised) at the soldiarity, inspirado, y con esperanza, inspired and hopeful.

Not what Homeland Security had in mind.

Next meeting, Saturday January 16,  at 5pm at Incarnation Church, 38th and Pleasant Ave S.


Hey, Bundy boys, I’m mad at the Feds about land rights too.



The Bundy boys and their ilk holding a federal outpost in Oregon hostage, are right about one thing.  When it comes to land and the U.S. government there is a long history of criminal injustice. The Bundy boys are using their guns to demand reparations to a couple ranchers and a free-up of federal land.

I’m using my blog to make some demands about land and reparations too.  My demands are in bold, pistol-punching italics. 

  1. For wars,  massacres, poisoned blankets,  forced marches on tear- filled trails,  broken treaties,  Homestead acting and Dawes allotting, I demnd  Land Reparations to Native Americans. Start by returning the Oregon Malheur Wildlife refuge, currently occupied by those gun-toting thugs, to the Paiute people.
  2.  For three hundred years of stealing African American labor I demand, Pay up on those  forty acres and a mule!    
  3. For those government land give aways to corporations, from railway tycoons to airport franchises, sport stadiums and malls; for bailing banks that foreclose on homeowners, I demand we Tax corporations and billionaires who have profited from these federal subsidies, to pay for demands 1 and 2. 
  4. I demand the military/ industrial complex turn over the millions of acres of land and hundreds of bases, transforming that land  for people, plants, and animals, not bombers!  As for the estimated 1,000 U.S. military bases outside the U.S. borders occupied by the U.S. military, I demand we give bread, not bombs to the world. When it comes to land use anywhere, we must put food first.  
  5. Remembering  80 years of Asian exclusion, internment camps, land restrictions.  and seeing history being repeated, as stolen Cuban land is used to intern people without trials or convictions, I demand we end the historic cycle of demonizing races and religions to deny land and rights, and Give back Guantanamo! 
  6. To reverse the long history of informal empire, gunboat diplomacy and unequal exchange in Latin America that robs our southern neighbors of their land, their  labor, and their right to stay home, I demand:  We end the current raid on Central American refugees in North Carolina, Georgia and Texas.   Make deportation, not migration, the crime. Institute fair, not “free” trade.  Provide legalization for 10 million undocumented immigrants.

Yes, those guys with guns in Oregon are right. We need to drastically rethink and redo how the United States distributes and controls the use of land within and outside of its borders.


Related post: Child refugees of U.S. foreign policy.  http://turtleroad.org/2015/11/03/child-refugees-of-u-s-foreign-policy/