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Peter Barus: A Talk By Amy Goodman

Sunday, May 29th, 2016

NOTE: Peter is a longtime great friend from rural Vermont. He is an occasional and always welcome visitor at this space. On May 22, he had an opportunity to hear journalist Amy Goodman in Troy, New York. His comments follow, with his permission.

(click to enlarge)

Peter Barus, front row, left, Oct 23, 2002, Mastery Conference, Annandale MN.

Peter Barus, front row, left, Oct 23, 2002, Mastery Conference, Annandale MN.

Peter Barus:
May/22/2016

Amy Goodman spoke last night at the Sanctuary for Independent Media in Troy, NY, a lovely little old converted church. Arriving early, I strolled around the block in this economically by-passed neighborhood of old houses, grand old churches, and grinding poverty. A local church still retains its original Tiffany stained glass windows, and the Troy Music Hall is world-famous for extraordinary acoustics. I found that the Sanctuary for Independent Media is very active in the immediate community. At one end of the block is a little park, with an outdoor stage, built by (and commemorating) local artists, craftspeople and community groups. The back of the stage is a wall of intricate mosaic made by many hands. There was chicken being cooked for the $100 a plate dinner, and while I was standing around, a little car parked, and out stepped Amy, with two or three friends. We all walked around the little park while one of the Sanctuary’s leaders explained the history of this little patch of green in the city. There is a community garden at the other end of the block, and inside the Sanctuary is a 100-watt FM radio station that broadcasts Democracy Now! along with music and community affairs programming.

After supper Amy spoke to a packed house in the high-ceilinged former church. Soon everyone was listening as if sitting across the kitchen table with Amy, as she reported on the 100-city tour she is completing with her book.”Democracy Now!: Twenty Years Covering the Movements Changing America” by Amy Goodman, David Goodman, and Denis Moynihan. Her speech covered almost the last four decades of peace, justice, civil rights action, from an eye-witness perspective only she can provide. The connections, the people and events, touched my own life at more points than I’d ever realized. Her stories are moving and the raw truth of them is immediate and inspiring. They seem to have a common thread, of ordinary people acting in admirable and selfless ways, without a moment’s hesitation, in the face of systematic oppression, violence and injustice. And it seems that this is how human beings normally act in such circumstances – media depictions to the contrary notwithstanding.

One important message is that the media have almost no connection to direct human experience, and politics is covered in proportion to political ad revenues. Punditry demands no actual knowledge of the facts. This is why, for instance, we rarely hear what Sanders actually says, much less in his own voice. Instead we are treated to speculation about violent “followers”. This major Presidential candidate has been “vanished” from the airwaves. The night the Republicans ended up with a “presumptive nominee”, that individual got coverage of an empty podium at one of his mansions, captioned “to speak soon!” while his rivals’ concession speeches, some Hillary sound bites, and zero mention of Sanders droned on. Sanders was at that time addressing an audience of tens of thousands in Arizona, by far the largest actual news event, and the cameras were pointing at an empty platform.

Amy brought stories of a real and very large movement, the same one we are constantly told ended successfully when Obama was elected, It is the current generation’s Civil Rights movement. Occupy Wall Street is part of that, Black Lives Matter is part of that. The many anti-war demonstrations that go almost totally unreported are part of that. The Sanders campaign is part of that. And the real, and unreported, question today is whether the corporate media will manage to keep enough of us distracted, resigned, apathetic and cynical while the forces of blind capitalism complete the looting, militarization and ultimately the destruction of our only planet.

The corporate media are simply ignoring that ubiquitous and vital public conversation. The stakes seem high. As I listened to Amy speak, it became clear that it’s not about choosing “sides” in some mythical epic struggle between good and evil, war and peace, much less “Republicans” and “Democrats”; it’s about discovering one’s own commitment, and whether it is to mere personal avoidance of pain, or to aliveness and possibility for all people, everywhere. To climbing the mythical Ladder of Success, or being of some actual service in making a workable world while we’re in it together.

Amy Goodman is a walking demand that we struggle with this question, for ourselves. Get with “people like us, and not like us,” she says, and express your own experience honestly, and listen honestly to theirs. Instead of accepting the false dichotomies and slogans and polls, endless polls, that pour out of the media echo chamber, take your part in the conversation that matters.

Peter

COMMENT:
from Dick:
Great post from Peter. I most resonate with the last paragraph.

Each time I hear the conversation about who has the power I think back to a thirty years ago talk, about 1987, about “Referent Power” – how much we have, and how ineffectively the left uses it. Referent Power? Here. Scroll down a little ways. Developing positive relationships with someone who sees some things differently is crucial to making positive change. Relationships are not easy. They are crucial.

#1132- Dick Bernard: The Spymasters, and related.

Sunday, May 22nd, 2016

Last night we watched what I’d consider a must-watch two hour special on CBS’ 48 Hours: “The Spymasters: CIA in the Crosshairs“. If you missed it, I think you can watch it on-line here. Ordinarily these are shown free for a very limited amount of time.

Succinctly, we live in a complicated world. The constant effort, on all sides, is to try to reduce everything to the simplest of terms. If you watch this program reflectively, rather than strictly judgmentally, it will cause you to think.

Towards the end of the program we were reminded that in the 15 years since 9-11-01 there have been 45 deaths due to terrorism in the United States (an average of three per year in our population of over 300,000,000); on the other hand, radical Islamic terrorism and its dangers have spread dramatically. We see this, of course, mostly in TV images of ISIS these days. But even here, there are only a limited number of merchants of terror.

Fear of Terror is exploitable, as we see most everyday in our political conversation. It is used to keep people psychologically on edge, by so doing keeping them more susceptible to manipulation.

Back in the winter of 2016, I set about trying to define a bit how the face of war has changed. It exists in this single page graphic: War Deaths U.S.002.

Here is the same data pictorially (click to enlarge).

Human Cost of War001

We are in a time of change, and in my opinion it is change for the better, though we will never rid the planet of evil. And the nature of news – we see it every single day – is to focus on the tragedies, the evil, the polarization of one person, one group, against another.

But a shift is happening.

By no means is it obvious, but it is happening. People of good will, which is the vast majority of us, simply have to take the bait and be, as Gandhi said so clearly, “the change we wish to see in the world”. But to do this we need to change our own behaviors, so easily leveraged by those who seek to elevate war above peace for their own reasons.

For one instance, yesterdays e-mail brought a rather remarkable commentary from a long-time peace activist in Israel, Uri Avnery. Avnery is a 92-year Israeli Jew with credentials. His comments are, I feel, pretty remarkable. You can read that here.

I thought the e-mail fascinating, and sent it to our near 90-year old friend, who grew up in a largely Catholic town in Nazi Germany and still has many relatives and contacts in her home country.

Her response: “The email on Uri Avery’s Observations gives insights to what is going on in Israel.

I believe it was Bastian, my German relative, who sometime ago remarked about the great number of Jews from Israel that come to Germany, want to live there, and seek German citizenship. Bastian stated also that these new immigrants could not live any longer with what was going on in Israel.

I was doubtful, I thought they may have been drawn by the free education and the lack of inflation that is taking place in Israel.

I went on the internet tonight and checked Jews moving back to Germany and I got quite a choice. To me surprising and interesting.

My niece Manuela … is most outspoken and angry about the fact that Germany is still paying Israel 3 billion a year for the Holocaust. She says, “My generation wasn’t even born when that took place. The young Jews that come here like us, so let it rest. There are enough monuments here — we will never forget.”

Israel should think about what it is doing to the Palestinians. As long as they take the land and freedom from the Palestinians there will never be peace.”

#1129 – Dick Bernard: In Praise of Exasperating People. A Thought for Mother’s Day.

Saturday, May 7th, 2016

Last Sunday I had the honor of saying a few words at the celebration of the life of a friend who I’d known the last seven years of his near 95 years; and later that day more words at a now-annual dinner that wouldn’t exist were it not for him.

(More details on both can be found at A Million Copies, click on Lynn Elling, and, there, click on “celebration” in first paragraph at the top of the page.)

The real problem: how does one condense this guys life as a peacemaker into a few words?

I had four minutes.

At coffee over many days I made a list of experiences I had had with Lynn over the seven years. It became a very long list.

I finally zeroed in on a single vignette from another Memorial service I had attended in Comfrey MN at his request June 23, 2009. And within that visit, a single recollection from the piece of paper he asked me to read at that Memorial about the LST he and his friend, Melvin, had served on for two years in the Pacific in WWII. That summarized Lynn’s life for me.

(LST? Officially, that’s a “Landing Ship Tank”.

In his words, on his piece of paper from which I read, “LST” was a “Large Slow Target”. LST crew would understand…. Somebody in that congregation that day, a man, laughed out loud. He knew….)

As I prepared my list about Lynn, it dawned on me that Lynn was not alone as a positive example in my life.

I began another list, this one of people I’d known at many other points in my life who were in one way or another, like Lynn.

Then I decided to use part of those four minutes to talk about Lynn, the “exasperating” individual. He could be, I said, the kind of individual you saw coming, and ducked across the street to avoid. You knew that he wanted to tell his story, and that the pitch would include something he wanted you to do.

Some folks in the pews chuckled. They understood.

They were there because they knew Lynn.

I mentioned my new list of exasperating people, (the last entry was #27 – there are 14 men, 13 women.) They came from all points in my life. The list could be much longer.

That list is a keeper. You’d be honored if you were on that list!

From that list, last Sunday, I mentioned only Geography Prof. George Kennedy, who, back in about 1960, got very angry at me, calling me “lazy”, and that was for starters.

Well, that is exactly what I was: Lazy.

He knew I had talents I wasn’t using. I never forgot what Prof. Kennedy said, and how he said it. It was very pointed and very personal, and it changed my life.

Too bad I couldn’t tell him that he made a difference for me while he was still alive.

Exasperating people can be very irritating and annoying. That’s what the word means.

But if you take a moment, you can learn something about what you learned from them, about yourself.

Hopefully, I sometimes fill that role, of being “exasperating” to somebody else.

Exasperating. Remember that word…. At times, I fit that word. You?

Happy Mother’s Day May 8, to Mom’s (and all others who in one way or another have filled that oft-times exasperating role).

#1127 – Dick Bernard: May 1, 2016, May Day, World Law Day

Saturday, April 30th, 2016

Tomorrow is May 1. May Day.

Since I was a little kid back in the North Dakota of the early 1940s, I learned there was something special about May 1.

Probably the first actual memory was of May Baskets, which had some significance, though I do not remember exactly why. And there were Maypoles.

(click to enlarge, double click for more detail)

A traveling May Pole in Heart of the Beast Parade, Minneapolis, May 5, 2013

A traveling May Pole in Heart of the Beast Parade, Minneapolis, May 5, 2013

As a lifelong Catholic I remember, for some reason, “Mary, Queen of the May”. And later, when the television age and the Cold War interfaced for me (that was 1956 when we got TV; we almost never were in real movie theaters with news reels) sometimes there would be a short film clip of those awful Communists parading their weapons of war in Red Square in Moscow on May 1…May Day.

May 1 has had a long history. Search the words “May Day”, and here is what you get.

The Wikipedia entry for May Day is most interesting.

May Day has come to be a multi-purpose day, fixed on a particular date (rather than day), and this year, since it falls on a Sunday, it is simpler to celebrate in our U.S. weekend calendar, especially if the weather is nice.

Tomorrow will be the annual May Day “Heart of the Beast” Parade in south Minneapolis, and this year it actually can be on May 1, rather than some other nearby date. Occasionally I’ve marched in that parade as part of a unit; occasionally, I’ve watched it as a spectator. It is a fun day with a 42 year history.

Heart of the Beast May Day Parade May 5, 2013, Minneapolis MN

Heart of the Beast May Day Parade May 5, 2013, Minneapolis MN

Tomorrow, however, Sunday, May 1, 2015, I’ll be heavily involved in two events honoring my friend, Lynn Elling, who died at 94 on February 14. One is a celebration of his life at 3 p.m. at First Universalist Church in Minneapolis (34th and Dupont), and the second, the 4th Annual Lynn and Donna Elling Symposium on World Peace through Law – “World Law Day”, this years event spotlighting solutions to mitigate climate change, presented by J. Drake Hamilton of Fresh Energy.

The date of both events is intentional. May 1 was very significant to Lynn Elling.

He and others invented World Law Day.

“World Law Day” is yet another creative use of May 1.

The first World Law Day celebration was May 1, 1964, in Minneapolis, ten years before the Heart of the Beast Theater marshaled its first May Day parade. The co-founder of the event was Lynn Elling. As described in the brochure for this years World Law Day:

“World Law Day was a creation of Lynn Elling, Martha Platt, Dr. Asher White and others. The first event was May 1, 1964. World Law Day was an adaptation of Law Day, proclaimed by President Eisenhower in 1958, and enacted into U.S. Law in 1961. Law Day was the U.S. “cold war” response to the martial tradition of May 1, May Day, in the Soviet bloc.

The premise was peace through World Law, rather than constant war or threat of war.

Large annual dinners on World Law Day went on for many years in Minnesota and perhaps other places. At some point for one or another unremembered reason, the tradition ended, but Lynn never forgot.

In 2012, after the death of Donna, Lynn asked that World Law Day dinner be reinstated May 1, 2013 at Gandhi Mahal, he and Donna’s favorite restaurant.

At the time he was planning a major trip to Vietnam with his son, Tod, who had been adopted from Vietnam orphanage in the 1970s. Tod and Lynn arrived home only a couple of days before the 2013 event.

2016 is the 4th annual World Law Day, and the 52nd anniversary of the first World Law Day in 1964.”

As Lynn’s long and noteworthy life wound down, he was ever more fond of the mantra that today “is an open moment in history” for the world to get its act together for peace and for justice. His is a noble dream. We can help.

More about Lynn Elling, including his own memories on a 2014 video, here (click on “read more” right below his name.)

World Law Day May 1, 2013, Lynn Elling 2nd from left.

World Law Day May 1, 2013, Lynn Elling 2nd from left.

Lynn Thor Heyerdahl 75001

(More about Thor Heyerdahl here).

#1124 – Dick Bernard: Prince, and Harriet Tubman, Deserving Their Honors.

Friday, April 22nd, 2016
First Avenue, downtown Minneapolis MN, 11 a.m. Sunday April 24, 2016.  It's been a rainy morning in the Twin Cities.

First Avenue, downtown Minneapolis MN, 11 a.m. Sunday April 24, 2016. It’s been a rainy morning in the Twin Cities.

POSTNOTE: April 24, 8 a.m.: This morning a feed from the Washington Post brought this link, of ZZ Topp’s Billy Gibbons on Prince. I found it fascinating, with links to Prince playing.

Yesterday [April 21] I was in the hallway at an elementary school, and a teacher in the student lunchroom held up his cell phone, pointed our way, and said “Prince died”. My daughter, who was with me at the time, looked at her own cell phone and said that the musician, Prince, had just died.

It was one of those moments one doesn’t soon forget. We all have had them.

Prince’s wasn’t my music, but his was an impressive presence in this, his lifelong home state. This mornings Minneapolis Star Tribune devoted the entire front page, and five additional full pages to his “Purple Majesty”. If there is any major league Prince fan out there, make an offer for the front section (even if the offer is only, “I’d like to have it….”)

My only real memory of Prince is seeing Purple Rain in a Duluth movie theatre in 1984, the year it came out. I remember that I liked it.

Prince apparently was 25 when he made the film. It is probably destined to be a blockbuster this time around. Twin Cities area screenings can be viewed here.

On occasion, I’d be in the neighborhood of First Avenue, the club made famous by Prince, which in my day was a somewhat shabby nondescript building across the street from the Greyhound Bus Depot in downtown Minneapolis. Now it’s an iconic place, and the tourist traffic will increase, for sure.

That’s all I really know about Prince.

Other news outlets can fill in the blanks about Prince, who without doubt was a genius with music. I won’t even try. But he seems to have made his mark in the world of music. And he seems to have been a decent guy to boot. Not bad for a life, even if only 57 when it ended.

Then there’s Harriet Tubman.

The front page of yesterday’s Star Tribune headlined “Tubman to make history again in U.S. currency first.”

Ms Tubman was quite a woman who, thankfully, really never did know her “place” back in the day, and lived to tell about it.

I saw a post about Harriet Tubman yesterday which is perhaps a bit off the beaten path for most folks, which I found most interesting. You can read it here. The headline says it well: “Top Seven Ways Harriet Tubman Is The Most Badass Spy Warrior Ever To Be On U.S. Currency….

Who’d ever thought it possible?

All of us owe a great debt to people like Harriet Tubman who took a stand for justice at great personal risk.

COMMENTS:
from Jeff:
On behalf of our daughter, Emily, we went to Paisley Park yesterday. She wasn’t a big fan, but
I think wanted to be part of the larger group honoring him (I would not have gone myself )

I liked Prince’s music. He really was a genius and a musical prodigy. At one time I thought he was full of affectation, that it was a bit of narcissistic celebrity worship that surrounded him and his persona (or various personas).

But in listening to “Purple Rain”… it’s a rock ballad, that blends the soul of R+B with the electric rock and roll of the 1970’s. Much like he was a child of the 70’s and his father a jazz musician and his mother a vocalist in her spare time.

At Paisley park you see Caucasians and African-Americans mingling in respect. His music and his personality actually transcended race, and at this moment in America, we need more of that.

from John (my brother): Interesting personal connection factoid about Prince – a couple of decades ago, he appeared on one of the early MTV Music Video Awards TV shows. Believe it or not, one of his back up dancers at that point was your niece and, our daughter Christi.

Alas, she used up her 15 minutes of fame in about a 10 second segment – which, due to the technological limitations of the time, we recorded on VHS tape, played several times, and then somehow lost it in the dustbin of history.

#1119 – Dick Bernard: The Armenian Genocide, 1915-23

Sunday, April 3rd, 2016

(click to enlarge photos. This post includes two parts, with information from Lou Ann Matossian and Peter Balakian Updated May 9, 2016_

Illustration of Armenian Churches prior to the Armenian Genocide of 1915

Illustration of Armenian Churches prior to the Armenian Genocide of 1915

Whitestone Hill ND July, 2005

Whitestone Hill ND July, 2005

The internet brought an announcement of “A presentation and discussion led by Lou Ann Matossian on “Armenian Genocide Education and the Community.” I went to the presentation at the University of Minnesota last Wednesday evening, and learned a great deal about the delayed but active Minnesota response to the horrible Armenian Genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman Turks during a year beginning in Spring 1915.

Here are some maps relating to the Armenian Genocide from the Genocide Museum in Armenia.

(click to enlarge)

Armenia, as represented in a 1912 public school geography text found at a North Dakota farm in 2015.

Armenia, as represented in a 1912 public school geography text found at a North Dakota farm in 2015.

Ms Matossian’s talk emphasized the relationship of the Armenians to Minnesota and the Congregational Church in particular. You can read, here, the results of extensive research she did of Minnesota newspaper coverage of the Genocide in 1915.

I didn’t know, till Ms Matossian’s talk, of the historical Christian and Minnesota connection with Armenia.

I’ve long been aware of the genocide, but it is like numerous issues: I didn’t give it close attention…Wednesday it came to life.

When I left the gathering, I found myself thinking not only about the Armenian Genocide but other atrocities, including America’s own shameful record with people we in the olden days generically termed as “Indians”: a successful genocide at least from the standpoint of we beneficiaries, the descendants of the ancestors who got the land and won all the rights and privileges, guilt free.

Back home after the session I took out a 1912 public school geography textbook I had found on my ancestral farm in south central North Dakota. Was there anything about Armenia?

You can see parts of two maps from that book, above and below, which say a great deal. No question that there was a place called Armenia, more a question about its status, then, as a distinct state.

The wikipedia entry about Armenia gave further help. From the article: “Armenia became the first state in the world to adopt Christianity as its official religion. In between the late 3rd century to early years of the 4th century, the state became the first Christian nation. The official date of state adoption of Christianity is 301 AD”.

A good general reference about the Armenian Genocide may be this one

The website of the St. Sahag Armenian Ch. in St. Paul gives some basics of the genocide.

*

April 14, 2016, I attended a second most enlightening talk about the Armenian genocide, by Prof. Peter Balakian of Colgate University. (Subsequent to the session, I learned that Balakian won a 2016 Pulitzer Prize.)

The photo which leads this post, of Armenian Churches existing, later destroyed, at the time of the genocide is from Balakian’s presentation.

Some comments which supplement Dr. Matossian’s:

Polish Jewish lawyer Raphael Lemkin in Totally Unofficial defined the word genocide based on what happened in Christian Armenia, then part of the Ottoman Empire.

Hitler used societies tendency to historical amnesia about the Armenian genocide to at least partially justify what he felt was the political low risk of eliminating the Jews: “after all, who today remembers the extermination of the Armenians.”

Balakian divided genocide into two general categories: “Barbarism” is the killing of people; “Vandalism” is the destruction of an entire culture, things like differing religious beliefs, churches, art and the like.

He further differentiated between destruction of cultures in the times of territorial expansion, more or less before 1900, and what he called the “modern modality”. I could see his point; however, indiscriminate destruction of some “other” is destruction nonetheless, regardless of rationale.

I found myself thinking about the possibility that the internet in particular has created a new, equally evil, post-modern modality. In this modern day, we don’t kill people physically, we assassinate them, particularly leaders at times of elections, such as the period we are now in. This is an enhanced form of “cyber-bullying”. “Truth” in this post-modern modality is completely irrelevant. The target lives, physically, but is nonetheless the motive is to destroy the target.

I had come into Prof. Balakian’s session early, and even preceding me, in the back row, were seated two women who very much fit the appearance of Muslims. They sat there quietly. The room filled, and I heard one man, in some apparent official capacity, come past me right before the event started and say: “I think I see trouble in the back row”. (It is hardly a risk to infer that he was referring to the women I reference.)

When I left, the two women were still there. There had been no incidents of any kind. But I did notice.

There exists, I think, a great opportunity for dialogue. I wish those two women, and that man, and others, could come together, just to talk.

*

Wherever there are people, there are opportunities for genocide in the hands of evil. Rwanda and Darfur are but two examples in recent history. But we need look no further than some of the present political rhetoric of U.S. Presidential politics where deliberate ginning up of hatred for others who are somehow different is effective. We have to be constantly vigilant and outspoken within our own circles in American society. The spectre of evil is always there.

The essential conversation continues: for more about Armenian Genocide, see April 14th program announcement here, the website of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies.

*

How bad was the Armenian Genocide?

I always try to put events in some sort of context, to try to better understand what led to/results from such events.

Of course, a post like this hardly is a pin-prick on a piece of paper about our awful history as supposedly civilized people.

“Our”, here, largely means those descended from European colonizers.

See this data set about the bitter fruits of people against people, generally, in the last 150 years.

The 150 years between 1860 and 2010 seem to be the deadliest era in human caused death and destruction from war. The Armenian genocide comes at about mid-point in this deadly era. It is one of many tragedies.

In the case of Armenia and the Ottoman Turks, the ancient and deadly Christian Crusades to control the Holy Land may well serve as a prelude – I’ve heard it argued that the Crusades essentially “birthed” the Ottoman Turks*.

The arbitrary carving up of the Middle East as spoils to the European victors in WWI is a postlude, which very significantly contributes to the chaos in the Middle East up to the present day (ISIS and the now global “war on terror”).

Scroll down in the above referenced data set to the “1.5” in the left hand column. You’ll find reference to the estimated 1.5 million Armenian deaths between 1915 and 1923, the “First Genocide of the 20th Century committed by the Ottoman Government on Armenian Civilians.” Scroll down a bit further, to .75 (750,000) Greek deaths in the same time period for the same reason, and .275 (275,000) Assyrian deaths in Mesopotamia (now the general area of Iraq and Syria – places like Mosul, now ISIS territory.)

And there is more perspective in the chart: scroll up to the second entry in Genocides, and there is the estimate of 55 million deaths of native people in the Americas due to conquest and colonization between 1492 and 1691. As is noted there, there are wildly disparate estimates of the actual death toll then, 8.4 to 138 million, the actual number “which might actually never be determined”.

This genocide came at the hands of my people, white Europeans, in all the assorted ways we have heard from one time to another, the history slanted towards the winners, of course.

*

About 35 miles from that south central ND farm in which I found the old geography book with the maps shown here, is the Whitestone Hill Battlefield at which a large number of peaceful Indians on their annual buffalo hunt were massacred by American military in 1863. Twenty soldiers died; it is impossible to find a definitive number from among the several thousand Indians who were there*. The official story is vague.

I have visited that site often (two photos above and below), and today, as always since the early 1900s, the visible monument there is to the soldiers who died, with scarce evidence of a much later, very simple unadorned stone monument to the Indians who were on their annual buffalo hunt, killed in the deadly skirmish.

I mention this fact as Ms Matossian noted that today there are no apparent monuments in Turkey to the victims of the Armenian Genocide.

Minnesota Gov. Alexander Ramsey, in 1862 officially called for either moving out or exterminating the Sioux Indians from Minnesota – a statement repudiated by Ramsey’s successor, Gov. Mark Dayton, in 2013. It is common to dehumanize the adversary. In such situations, this scenario is common.

One of my first Minnesota relatives, Samuel Collette, was part of Henry Hastings Sibley’s Minnesota unit in the 1863 war, reaching what was to become Bismarck ND in August 1863, “mission accomplished”. Their unit wasn’t at Whitestone Hill but that was only an accident of history. Nebraska and Iowa were at Whitestone.

*

If I am correct, that 1860-2010 was a particularly gruesome “round” of people destroying other people; can I hope that the next 150 years, from 2010-2160, can be, truly, a time of awakening that we are all family, together, on an ever more fragile earth.

We all need each other.

Portion of N. Africa and Middle East region, 1912 Geography Textbook

Portion of N. Africa and Middle East region, 1912 Geography Textbook

Whitestone ND Monument July 2005

Whitestone ND Monument July 2005

* – The “elephant in the room” in much of global history is the unholy alliance of organized religion and temporal power. There is plenty of blame to go around. A winner in one round becomes the loser in another, and on we go.

** – A well researched article about the battle from the North Dakota Historical Society is “The Battle of Whitestone Hill“, by Clair Jacobson, North Dakota History Journal of the Northern Plains, Vol 44, No. 3 Summer, 1977.

COMMENTS:
from Larry:
Thanks, Dick – excellent, informative article. I particularly saved this line: The “elephant in the room” in much of global history is the unholy alliance of organized religion and temporal power. That is SO true!

from David: Nice piece. There are so many important events in history that we have, at best, a dim memory of hearing about them.

from Flo: I remember praying rosaries for the starving Armenians, and being reminded of their plight when we fussed over the food served us at home [1950s]. I don’t remember any conversations about just who the Armenians were or why they needed our prayers. Do you?

from Bill: Great article, Dick. There was a secretary at 3M that was the daughter of a survivor of the Armenian genocide. The world has never been able to get the Turks to acknowledge their role in this genocide.The USA has stopped doing so since we depend on our military bases in Turkey. I did read once that the Turks hated the Armenians for siding with Russia when Russia was attacking Turkey some years before World War I.

FOR THOSE INTERESTED.
I enjoy international topics, and often write my own impressions on international happenings.
Jan. 1, 2015, I posted a blog about the 70th anniversary of the United Nations here.. Much to my surprise, by the end of 2015 I had posted 55 commentaries about international issues. They are all linked at the post.

International related posts at this space since Jan. 1, 2016:
1. Jan. 22, 2016: Global Climate Issue
2. Feb. 14, 2016: Lynn Elling, Warrior for Peace
3. Feb. 29, 2016: The 3rd (12th) anniversary of the Haiti coup, Feb. 29, 2004.
4. Mar. 4, 2016: Green Card Voices
5. Mar. 6, 2016: Welcoming Refugees
6. Mar. 12, 2016: Canada PM Justin Trudeau visits the White House
7. Mar. 20, 2016. The 13th anniversary of the Iraq War.
8. Mar. 22, 2016 The Two Wolves…President Obama Visits Cuba
9. Mar. 23, 2016 The Two Wolves, Deux. Brussels

#1115 – Dick Bernard: A Sad First Day of Spring, 13 years ago. The Day the Bombs Fell on Baghdad.

Sunday, March 20th, 2016

A few days ago a good friend, Barry, sent some of his friends, including myself, a brief e-mail: “This week on March 20 marks the 13th anniversary of our invasion of Iraq. I encourage you all to send of letters to the editor and remind folks what a fiasco that was and continues to be. I have attached my own short article [see end of this post].”

Barry has far more than “paid his dues”: he’s a Vietnam vet who knew people whose names are on the memorial wall. He has walked the talk for peace, visibly and publicly for years. A thirteenth anniversary is an anniversary easily overlooked. I’m glad Barry reminded me.

March 20, 2003 (it was a Thursday) began our invasion of Iraq. Some would correctly contend that March 20 was simply a continuation of the brief Gulf War of early 1991. I still have the letter some anonymous GI wrote from the front at the end of that War. (Back then letters to GIs were encouraged, and my “pen pal” then, must have passed my letter to him along to someone somewhere in Iraq. The letter, 25 years ago, says it all about the reality of peace through war.)

(click to enlarge)

Letter from Iraq Mar 9 1991

Letter from Iraq Mar 9 1991

A dozen years after this lonely GI wrote from the Iraq desert came what we witnessed between March 20 and May 1, 2003: what was called “Shock and Awe”.

On May 1, 2003, President George Bush gave his celebratory and still controversial Mission Accomplished speech on the USS Abraham Lincoln. We were led to believe that the Iraq War was over 40 days after it started; all that remained, we were told, were the candy and the flowers, the gifts to and from Iraqis for bringing “democracy” to Iraq….

Mission Accomplished, indeed.

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I have my old e-mails from that awful time in history, Spring 2003, including a halfsheet post sent to friends on March 19, 2003 (#1 below).

And for some weeks now I have been putting together a single sheet of paper which I call “The Human Cost of War For The United States”. I wasn’t planning to roll out either one in connection with today, but Barry’s reminder is sadly appropriate.

I’d encourage Barry and everyone to print out those sheets and discuss their application to today.
1. The E-mail of March 19, 2003 (one half page): E-Mail March 19, 2003001 (At the time I wrote this, I was quite new to the Peace and Justice movement, and not a leader in any sense of the word: just a concerned citizen who routinely participated in protests.)
2. U.S. War Deaths from Civil War through March, 2016 (one page): War Deaths U.S.002
and
3. Here is a much longer piece of additional data for those with an interest: World and Historical Deaths from War and other anthropogenic disasters here. (The key columns are the first one, and the columns which give duration of the particular catastrophe.)

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While, I realize that this topic of war is subject to endless argument, here are a few thoughts to help stir up conversations wherever you are….
4. Essentially war has ceased to be a cause of American deaths; and while we are “armed and dangerous” to an extreme degree, the amount of killing at our hands out in the world is proportionally very low compared with even our recent past (2003-2008). We are still, however, extremely comfortable with violence and too many reverence what they feel is our “power” and past “might” and glory. The slogan, “making America great again” celebrates the glory of War, of dominance.
5. The Iraq War turned out to be ruinous and near catastrophic in many ways for our country, not even to mention Iraq and the Middle East. We didn’t think, 13 years ago, that we were building ISIS from the ground up.
6. Back then in 2003 the word “Drones” was not part of the conversation – the way to go was to “bomb the hell out of ’em”, give ’em “Shock and Awe”; now Drones preoccupy. Drones will not disappear. Back in 2011 I encouraged my own peace movement to enter into a constructive conversation about Drones, generally. I don’t recall much buy-in for the conversation at the time, or since. John Rash in yesterdays Minneapolis Star Tribune called attention to a new film about the ethical aspects of Drones. I suspect we’ll take in that movie. I continue to support the idea of deep conversation and action to at minimum regulate the use of Drones in War.
7. Far too many in our American society are pre-occupied with protecting an obsession with our sacred guns, and similar. Paradoxically, we now directly kill far more of our own citizens by firearms, than we kill faceless others by bombs, but we seem to refuse to deal with this domestic issue.

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8. I abhor war. Nonetheless I believe “war” will never be archaic. All we need to do is look at history (see the depressing data I linked in #3 above. There is always a new rogue, sometimes of our own making, who has fantasies of being in control. It never works, long term…but there are always the dreamers….
9. The ever-increasing wealth gap is a huge problem in all developed countries, but most of all in our own. This seeming out of control gap births conflict. The poor, and those for whom reasonable success is elusive, do not want to be rich; but they do wish to be able to survive with dignity. A saying I once heard applies: in the long run, even the selfish will pay for their own selfishness. It’s just a matter of time.
10. The United Nations is regularly vilified, even by the left, and, yes, the UN needs reform, but without the United Nations this world be in much worse shape. In many ways, the UN or its related organizations help keep an otherwise unstable human world from repeating the 20th century legacy of death and destruction especially before 1945.
11. As individuals or small groups we may seem to have little power, but as Margaret Mead so famously observed, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world, indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”
12. Conversely, those who believe that they can take a pass on electing competent leaders at all levels of government, or even take a pass on voting at all, are foolish and short-sighted.

I could go on and on and on and on.

Have a good conversation. And have a great Spring.

Comments welcome, and will be printed unless there is a specific request not to print:
dick_bernardATmsnDOTcom.

*

Barry’s submission to the Minneapolis Star Tribune:
Thirteenth Anniversary of Iraq Invasion

On the thirteenth anniversary of the US most recent invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq, let us reflect on its costs. Just a few of which are: Thousands of US lives lost, Trillions of US dollars spent, anywhere from a Few Hundred Thousand to over a Million Iraqi civilians dead, totally destabilized the region, exploded sectarian tensions and led directly to the rising of Isis. Not to mention of course, it was all based on lies.

Let us remember too who voted for and supported this disaster, Hillary Clinton, while Bernie Sanders spoke out strongly against it. Do we really need another War President?

To Barry: Personally I strongly support Hillary Clinton for President. She has the experience to deal with the many great complexities the next President will have to confront in this nation, and in our world.

Your friend, in deep respect,
Dick Bernard

Viking News, Valley City (ND) State Teachers College, May 24, 1961

Viking News, Valley City (ND) State Teachers College, May 24, 1961

COMMENTS:
from Norm: Thanks Dick for your blog this morning. We are not reminded enough. And thanks for including your Collegiate Press piece. A wonderful second sentence.

I’m reading The Obama Doctrine by Jeffrey Goldberg in the current, April 2016, of The Atlantic which I was surprised the whole article came up online [You can read it] here.

I marked two paragraphs because they say so much for what Obama is about. Here they are:

The Atlantic April 2016
This was the moment the president believes he finally broke with what he calls, derisively, the “Washington playbook.”

“Where am I controversial? When it comes to the use of military power,” he said. “That is the source of the controversy. There’s a playbook in Washington that presidents are supposed to follow. It’s a playbook that comes out of the foreign-policy establishment. And the playbook prescribes responses to different events, and these responses tend to be militarized responses. Where America is directly threatened, the playbook works. But the playbook can also be a trap that can lead to bad decisions. In the midst of an international challenge like Syria, you get judged harshly if you don’t follow the playbook, even if there are good reasons why it does not apply.”
===================================================
I first spoke with Obama about foreign policy when he was a U.S. senator, in 2006. At the time, I was familiar mainly with the text of a speech he had delivered four years earlier, at a Chicago antiwar rally. It was an unusual speech for an antiwar rally in that it was not antiwar; Obama, who was then an Illinois state senator, argued only against one specific and, at the time, still theoretical, war. “I suffer no illusions about Saddam Hussein,” he said. “He is a brutal man. A ruthless man … But I also know that Saddam poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States or to his neighbors.” He added, “I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaeda.”

from Jim: I read your post with interest. You conclude with your support for Hilary Clinton. She of course voted for the invasion of Iraq. She was part of the debacle in Libya. She has come out against the Pacific trade deal, negotiated by the Obama administration and which I support. Mrs Clinton is an astute politician. Like her husband, she collects thousands for making speeches. When you review her tax returns, about the only charity she regularly contributes to is the Clinton foundation. At the caucuses, I supported Bernie Sanders. I sent $50 each to Bernie and Governor Kasich.

Response from Dick: Thanks for the comment.

To piggyback on your comment a bit: Hillary Clinton was, of course, U.S. Senator from New York at the time of 9-11-01. New York City was the epicenter of 9-11-01. I was always troubled by the fact that 94% of Americans de facto wanted war against somebody after 9-11-01. It was probably even higher in New York. That is a strong wind to buck.

The rest is part of the dilemma of decision making faced by an individual representing a powerful country in an extremely complex world. (BTW, if I could afford to have my own Foundation, I guess I’d be inclined to give preference to it in my donations). And as Secretary of State, representing one of 193 countries in the world, albeit the most powerful, there is not a single simple decision.

She has been under relentless attack for 25 years, and I think she’s more than capable of the position of President of the United States; still the Left piles on. I like Bernie, too, and he’s running a strong campaign, as Hillary did against Barack Obama in 2008 – up to almost the Democratic Convention.

Kasich? I think the more we learn about him, the less likeable he’ll be….

from Stephen: I really try to get along with everyone, peace at home and all that. Some times I can get so angry at even friends and family. Some one I love said to me peace through strength. It just took the wind out of my sails. I just said “ya”. If this e-mail had been in my head I would of said,”Strength maybe War no. Thanks for all you’ve done and do.

Love not War, Stephen

from Barry: I respect your opinion but I believe very strongly that there is the possibility for real change with Bernie (as I did with Obama) if for no other reason than getting corporate money out of our politics. Bernie has also already pushed Hillary to the left on many issues. He has been at this longer than Hillary and has been a voice for reason right along. He speaks his truth whatever it is even though it may not be popular or win him votes.

I read in Friday’s StarTribune Obama stating about Bernies authenticity that “folks say that Bush was authentic too, but authenticity does not make a good President.” Well I don’t know about you but it is certainly a quality I admire. Plus what does that say about Obama? Also he said that at “some point Bernie needs to step aside.” Well it seems to me that the race is not over yet

Your friend.

Response from Dick: Many thanks. The only reason I made the entry about politics, is in response to your comment about politics. I happen to like Bernie Sanders a lot, but I think if he gets the nomination (which is very unlikely) he’ll have as much chance as right winger Barry Goldwater had in 1964.

Most of what I have to say about Hillary is in response to Jim’s comment above.

As it happened, yesterday afternoon I watched her deal with the Libya issue in a one-on-one Town Hall Forum in Springfield IL, at the old state Capitol building. In Libya, she said, credibly, that among the many dilemmas she faced was the need to listen to concerns of allied nations, such as Europe and Egypt, who needed to have something done. And, of course, Libya’s leader, Qaddafi, had never been a knight in shining armor. Etc. She did well in her response.

At these high levels, every decision is wrong, from somebody’s point of view. This was Obama’s reality, too, and I think he knew it well on entering office. The best we can do is select someone who helps to make our nation and world a better place. I think that happened with Obama, and it will happen with Clinton.

#1109 – Dick Bernard: Leap Year, Feb. 29, 2004. Haiti revisited.

Monday, February 29th, 2016

December 6-13, 2003, I made my first visit to Haiti. There were a half-dozen of us in a group led by Paul Miller. I knew little about Haiti. We spent our time in Port-au-Prince visiting assorted persons, idealists all, enthusiasts for democracy, who were allied with the cause of then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

There was a sense of tension, though not worrisome, when we arrived.

Storm clouds intensified during the last days of our visit. At least one person we had met had been killed a day or two after we met him at a school; we had possibly heard the gunshots as we drove in the vicinity of the Presidential Palace.

But all in all it was a great learning week, about the Haiti and Haitians we hadn’t known before.

Towards the end I asked our host if I could get some Haitian money to take home with me, and he accommodated me with 100 newly minted Haitian 10-Gourdes notes (approx value, to my recollection, $20 or so.) Then and now these notes represent the optimism of a nation about to celebrate its bicentennial of freedom; of breaking the chains of slavery.

(click to enlarge)

10 Gourdes notes, Haiti, December, 2003

10 Gourdes notes, Haiti, December, 2003

Back home, we watched those storm clouds build quickly, and early in the morning of February 29, 2004, leap day, 12 years ago today, President Aristide and family were spirited out of Haiti to the Central African Republic, very certainly the victims of a coup orchestrated by the United State Government with the active support of the French and Canadian governments as well.

People we met had fled, been imprisoned, or killed. And it was our own countries doing.

I remember hearing at the time that the timing of the coup was deliberate.

Haiti had just celebrated the bicentennial of its Declaration of Independence from France; and in this case, Feb. 29, 2004, it would be difficult to annually remember the destruction of Haiti’s experiment with democracy during the years of Aristide.

Now it’s twelve years later, and while I still have an interest in Haiti, I don’t follow it daily, as I did then.

But sometimes it is good to review the past, and to see what was gained, or lost in the time after we squelched democracy in our little neighbor just east of Florida.

For those interested, I offer a few personal and very modest attempts at the U.S.-Haiti history over the past few years.

My offerings about Haiti (all accessible here). Putting “Haiti” in the searchbox at this blog will find additional articles.

It is my hope that we always remember Haiti, still impoverished; still dominated by our government (which is, by the way, not simply a person…but rather an entire institution with a very long history of keeping Haiti as a subordinate state.

For me, back in my advocacy years for Haiti, this included a single anonymous person at the Haiti desk at the State Department; some invisible functionaries at U.S. Agency for International Development and Department of Defense; the public but very shadowy National Endowment for Democracy and its Republican and Democrat arms, etc.) Even the United Nations was complicit. Of course, the U.S. is the dominant state within the United Nations.

Haiti remains one of the poorest and by extension most oppressed countries in the world. Once in awhile it deserves a spotlight, and a look back.

My summary: Haiti is still very poor. The reflex response of Americans seems to be “it’s the Haitians problem”. It is a simple response, from my own experience, that’s not at all a merited response.

We created and we sustain what we see, there, today.

I like the phrase I heard back then, “Start Seeing Haiti”.

#1099 – Dick Bernard – Hawaii, more history with the U.S. than we think….

Wednesday, January 20th, 2016

Previous posts at January 6 and January 11. Other posts will follow.

New Years Eve we were seasoned veterans of the Big Island. It was our 12th day at the Kaawihae Village house…and there was a New Years Eve party, with real Hawaiians there!

New Years Eve 2015 Kawaihae HI

New Years Eve 2015 Kawaihae HI

It was a relief to find that real Hawaiians were just folks, like Cathy and I. We all acted our age; quite a few celebrated New Years when Los Angeles did (two hours earlier) and bid aloha.

Very unusual for me, I stayed up till midnight, the real midnight, but not long after.

2016 was here.

I have a long time interest in geography – it was my major in college. Even so, it is always interesting to match up preconceptions with realities, physical, human, etc. For starters, the island of Hawaii is not flat, like a regular map suggests. Sure, we know the highest mountain in the world is there (if measured from base to top, Mauna Loa is over 30,000 feet), but even above sea level it is just a few hundred feet less than Pike’s Peak, but not a dramatic sight from anywhere within the roughly 30-50 mile radius of the Big Island.

Basically, Mauna Loa and its twin Mauna Kea are the island of Hawaii.

Big Island of Hawaii

Big Island of Hawaii

For some reason, Hawaii feels and even sounds like a foreign country, even though it is every bit as American as anywhere else in the U.S.

A poster at the Army Museum at Waikiki Beach summarized the U.S.-Hawaii history as follows:

At the Army Museum on Waikiki, Honolulu, Dec 19, 2015

At the Army Museum on Waikiki, Honolulu, Dec 19, 2015

Succinctly, Hawaii has been in the U.S. sphere for many years.

118 years ago, in the early summer of 1898, my grandfather Bernard and his fellow soldiers likely arrived at what is now Hickam Field at Pearl Harbor as their ship likely refueled enroute to Manila and the Spanish-American War [see end note]. They were there before Hawaii was formally annexed by the U.S.

This happened a few months after their miserable troop ship steamed out of Pearl Harbor. And that was quite a long time ago. A sketch history of Hawaii is here.

Henry Bernard, upper left, at Presidio San Francisco, Summer 1898; his future wife's cousin, Alfred Collette, is at lower right.

Henry Bernard, upper left, at Presidio San Francisco, Summer 1898; his future wife’s cousin, Alfred Collette, is at lower right.

Sadly, 43 years later, Grandpa’s youngest son, Frank, went down with the Arizona at Pearl Harbor….

At the gathering on Dec. 31 were many nice people, including an announced candidate for the Hawaii State Senate, by all appearances a very capable guy.

He and his family were neat people: his district would be fortunate to have him again as their Senator.

But that is ahead.

Back home I got to thinking about a photo I’ve long had, which I hadn’t paid much attention to.

Josie (Bernard) Whittaker and group at Hilo HI May 2, 1969

Josie (Bernard) Whittaker and group at Hilo HI May 2, 1969

That’s my Aunt Josie, Grandpa and Grandma’s daughter, and Dad and his brother Frank’s sister….

She’d beat me to Hilo 47 years ago.

Josie was part of the Los Angeles deaf community, and my guess is that everyone in the photograph was deaf, part of a tour group to Hawaii.

Aloha. Mahalo.

End Note: In a rather quick review of the literature on the internet, I don’t find any specific information about the troop ships going from Presidio San Francisco to Manila in 1898, except that the trip was well over a month in duration; and I had previously heard that they stopped at Honolulu enroute. Folks I talked with in Honolulu were short of specifics, though one man at the Army Museum was sure that the fueling station would have been where Hickam Field now is. A research task for another time.

#1098 – Dick Bernard: Martin Luther King Day

Monday, January 18th, 2016

Today is Martin Luther King Day (his birthday January 15, 1929, death April 4, 1968.) The Minneapolis Star Tribune headlines, at page two, “MLK Day to feature conflict and celebration”.

We Americans love conflict, winners, celebration….

It would be interesting to hear Dr. King himself report on this day, in 2016. He’s no longer with us. As I opined earlier, on a great Christmas homily I heard in Hawaii Dec. 25, we need to “get to work, actively, in our own spaces and places to make our community, our world, a better place for everyone”.

Personally, I think Dr. King would be encouraged by the slow but inexorable progress made since his life so tragically and prematurely ended in 1968. But that’s just my personal opinion.

My philosophy has been shaped by many years of experience, where incremental change, often very slow, sometimes going backwards, was a daily reality. If one could stick with it, be persistent, and looked at change over five years, or ten, or more, there was, really, great progress. As I suggested, Jan. 6, “…its best that we nudge ourselves off of our sense of hopelessness or dependence on whatever it is that holds us back…We are, each of us, responsible….”

Yesterday, President Obama, our first African-American President, spoke of the latest accomplishment in improvement of Iran-American relationships. To me, that is a very big deal (albeit very frightening for those whose narrative is the need for endless conflict, mistrust and suspicion).

So it goes with the merchants of doom, for whom only complete dominance of some enemy will keep us safe (an “enemy” being essential to keeping us in line). Negotiations, unless a total “win”, is a sign of weakness, they say.

The argument of negotiations versus war can continue without me.

For this particular day I’ll provide a link to Dr. King’s famous 1967 speech about the Vietnam War, then in its ascendancy. Perhaps there is something to learn about today, there.

Finally, this from my friend Madeline, today, which is appropriate as well:

MLK and Realistic Radicalism

Rev. David Breeden, Senior Minister
Sunday, January 17, 2016

Nowadays Martin Luther King, Jr., day is a national holiday. Once, MLK was “the most hated man in America.” Is the sea-change because his ideas have been accepted by mainstream America or because he is safely dead?

podcast/assembly-mlk-and-realistic-radicalism/

Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals has been used by many groups, including civil rights movement, tea party, occupy movements, black lives matters, and perhaps by the current Republican candidates. Rules_for_Radicals*

Large numbers of whites think that black lives matters tactics are inappropriate/counterproductive; blacks think they are necessary. It’s an example of “white privilege.” Whites don’t think they have to be disruptive to change things; while blacks know they need to.

Peace,
Madeline

* – Dick Bernard: Alinsky was a very important part of my training when I became a teacher union representative in 1972. The podcast linked above is excellent listening. Alinsky’s constituents were the powerless in Chicago, people like the folks who cleaned toilets in airports. Alinsky was essential training as teachers moved from being powerless to having some share in decision making power. It was a very uncomfortable transition for both sides, teachers and school boards, and we both made mistakes, sometimes serious, but progress happened, and continues to happen, where people learned to work together. Both sides benefited, and continue to benefit.

Ironically, at the beginning of my career, my organization was subjected to Alinsky’s tactics by a competing organization: it made us very uncomfortable. It took a while for us to effectively counter them. They work.

During the ascendancy of the Newt Gingrich years, especially, I saw abundant evidence that the radical right had learned and applied aggressively the same rules for radicals. It still does….

POSTNOTE February 4, 2016: Further Reflections on Saul Alinsky by Dick Bernard

It should have been obvious to me, but wasn’t, that most people, even political types, were only vaguely aware, if aware at all, of Saul Alinsky.

Perhaps the following might be helpful to supplement the excellent sermon linked above:

I became a full-time teacher union organizer in March, 1972. It was an emergency appointment, for six months, in one of Minnesota’s largest school districts, Anoka-Hennepin, in northwest suburban Minneapolis. A few months earlier Minnesota teachers had been given the statutory right to collectively bargain with their employer. 1972-73 was to be our very first contract which included a grievance procedure ending in arbitration. It was a heady, very nervous time. We were all learning as we went along.

In the early fall I went to a training at the National Education Association in Washington D.C. which included an introduction to the tactics of someone named Saul Alinsky, who I’d never heard of before. (His principles – the ones I and others learned – are in the previously referenced link, above). It wasn’t until years later that I learned that the famous Alinsky had died just three months after I began my staff career, which ultimately spanned 27 years.

We were taught the tactics because, at the time, teachers had little power when it came to negotiations. Yes, bigger districts did enter into negotiations of a sort, and there was some kind of grievance procedure, but in the end, all the ultimate power was invested in the school board and its administration. As suggested above, it was a heady but uncertain time. We had to learn what to do with power; management had to learn how to share a little of its power. It wasn’t always easy.

We had another complicating factor: at the time, there were two competing teacher unions in Minnesota: the Education Association (mine), and the Federation of Teachers (AFL-CIO).

The Federation had learned the same tactics we had, but because we were by far the largest union in the school district, we became a target of the Federation. We, not the school district, were in the Federations “bullseye”. And in this new arena, we were an obvious, and juicy, and vulnerable target for a takeover through a bargaining election.

We “dodged the bullet” the first time around: neither side was yet up to speed about this competing union business. We made mistakes; so did the Federation….

The second time around, in the spring of 1974, the Federation got sufficient cards to call for an election, and went on campaign against us with the election scheduled, if I recall correctly, for the month of April. They were “Alinsky’ing” us to our ultimate death – they figured. And we were nervous too.

But at some point we frantic folks in the bullseye took a timeout.

I can remember when it happened; I cannot recall under what circumstances we changed course. I think it was local thinking, not anything else.

We had just been bombarded with another bunch of paper (no e-mails or such in those days), and someone, and then collectively, came to the realization that we were, after all, the union to which most of the teachers belonged, and that had to mean something.

At that moment we made a crucial decision, to stop being defensive, and to go on the offensive.

Everything changed. The election came, and we won approximately 60-40%. This was 1974, and was the last serious challenge the local ever faced.

This was no act of genius; really it was an act of near desperation. And we were fed up with being attacked for doing the best we could under difficult circumstances.

I think of this turnaround often when I see Alinsky tactics being the crucial organizing tactics of the Tea Party and the earlier Newt Gingrich revolution. It is a good time to relearn the old lesson I learned in the spring of 1974.

I note that I previously have written about Saul Alinsky on this page. If you wish, look here.