Bernie: Give people good examples of a “political revolution”

Here’s a huge opportunity Bernie’s campaign can either take or lose. Bernie Sanders states that he wants to create a political revolution in order to fight the Billionaire Class and decrease inequality. Hugo Chávez did that in Venezuela. (Do a little research and you will be able to verify that fact using credible sources.) Wouldn’t we expect Bernie to grab this opportunity to counter the lies of the 1% about Chávez, and tell the truth? Tell the truth that such a political/electoral revolution is possible, and here is an example. Political revolutions are happening in Venezuela and much of Latin America. The good news people would love to hear is that we have good examples to learn from, and emulate.

Are they perfect? No. Are they moving in a much better direction than the U.S. government? Yes.

P.S. This serves as another P.S. to my prior “whose side are you on?” blogs about Bernie Sanders’ calling Hugo Chávez of Venezuela a “dead communist dictator” and not retracting the statement.


Whose side are you on, Bernie? P.S. He did mean Chávez

I am adding a P.S. to my prior blog because a number of people have questioned whether Bernie Sanders really meant Hugo Chávez when he said “dead communist dictator.” An excerpt and a link, HERE.

In a statement to the Huffington Post, Sanders spokesman Michael Briggs said that the super PAC was “distorting the record.”

“It is disappointing that Secretary Clinton’s super PAC is spreading disinformation about Bernie,” Briggs said of the Correct the Record memo. “This is exactly the kind of politics that Bernie is trying to change. To equate bringing home heating oil to low-income Vermonters with support for the Chavez government is dishonest.”

To me, the problem with Sanders’ characterization of Chávez is the following. What does it means for Bernie’s stated platform if he falls in line with demonizing Chávez? In fact, Venezuela and other countries in Latin America very likely give us  the best current examples in the world of empowered people and elected officials (however “not perfect”) who are creating new constitutions — with significant changes in the system — and improving most people’s wealth and power dramatically.

Whose side are you on, Bernie?

I just got an email from independent journalist and activist Jonathan Nack, and I was shocked when I read the first paragraph: Bernie Sanders just referred to Hugo Chávez as a “dead communist dictator.”  Jonathan’s entire open letter is below. All I would add, for those who would like to see what Jonathan refers to as a “detailed defense of Pres. Chavez.” is a reference to my blog “Ten Things I Learned from Hugo Chávez” which was recently revised and re-published, this time on the Tikkun Daily Blog, HERE.hugo chavez legacy VA com Roger Harris A Guardian article details the context of Bernie Sander’s statement in the first few  paragraphs, HERE.

All I can think is, “Whose side are you on, Bernie, whose side are you on?” Here’s the letter. Thanks for learning more about hope in Latin America and beyond. — Laura

Dear Senator Bernie Sanders,

I am shocked and I denounce your description of the late President of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, as a “dead communist dictator.” I expect better from you, but perhaps I need to re-evaluate such expectations.

I’m a longtime supporter going back to the days when you were running for re-election as Mayor of Burlington, even though I live in Oakland, California. I’ve made a modest financial contribution to your current campaign and expressed support for your call to build a grassroots movement to take on the power of the Billionaires and their corporations – what you’ve referred to as a “political revolution”. You’ve said that this is what your campaign is about. It was precisely such a stance that got Hugo Chavez elected and re-elected President of Venezuela.

Pres. Chavez was neither a communist nor a dictator. If you don’t know that, you should.

Your use of the term “communist dictator” is code designed to pander to those who favor and justify U.S. intervention in Latin America and the Caribbean, and around the world. U.S. intervention in the politics of other countries, including bloody military interventions, is an absolute disgrace. It has resulted in the needless suffering and death of millions. It resulted in the imposition and maintenance of real military dictatorships throughout Latin Americas and much of the world. Most of these military dictatorships have only been overcome by democratic movements in the last twenty-five years.

It is the shameful history of U.S. intervention and how it is driven by the interests of Billionaires and their corporations that you need to address, not denunciations of those whom rise to leadership in their countries because of their opposition to it.

I’m not going to get into a detailed defense of Pres. Chavez. It is sufficient to say that it is a fact that Hugo Chavez was elected and re-elected President of Venezuela in what international observers, including former President Jimmy Carter, have described as basically free and fair elections. No dictator holds such elections. It is sufficient to say that Pres. Chavez identified himself as a socialist and specifically said that he was not a communist.

I do not rise to defend Pres. Chavez against all criticism. All politicians and political leaders deserve to be criticized for the bad things they say and do, as well as praise for the good, including you.

I am a socialist and a supporter of the Green Party. I stand for social justice, the protection of our environment, and for real democracy. My donation to your campaign and the good things I’ve said and written about you are expressions of my support. This open letter is an expression of my criticisms.

I have defended you against charges that you are not really a socialist, pointing out the fact that there are many types of socialists. Even though I am a more radical socialist than you, I think you have a right to label your politics and that right should be respected, as long as it is within reason. The legacy of Pres. Chavez also deserves that respect.

In general, I think you have failed to articulate foreign policy positions that distinguish you from those of Hillary Clinton, President Barack Obama, or the leadership of the Democratic Party, all of whom are true advocates and instruments of the foreign policies driven by the interests of the Billionaires and their corporations, in other words, U.S. imperialism.

How is it that you attack the Billionaire’s control of domestic policies, but not the interventionist and militarist foreign policies which they also control? How is it that you oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but not other imperialist policies?

My parents taught me to be a critical thinker. Specifically, they taught me to pay attention to what politicians say, but also be aware that they often make promises that they have no intention nor ability to keep. They also taught me to never expect that politicians will do better than what they say they’ll do. With those lessons in mind, I will continue to praise and respond to your call to build a grassroots political movement to take power away from the Billionaires and their corporations, but I have to denounce your support of U.S. imperialism, its wars, both overt and covert, the military industrial complex, the so called “Homeland Security” apparatus, and all interventions in the political affairs of other countries. These foreign policies are driven by the interests of the Billionaires and their corporations, not the interests of our people, nor the people of the world.

Sincerely yours,
Jonathan Nack
Oakland, CA

The text of Bernie Sanders’ fund raising email is below:

I don’t have a Super PAC, Jonathan. I am not going to travel around the country begging millionaires and billionaires for money. That’s just not going to happen.

But the success of our campaign certainly has the billionaires’ attention.

Yesterday, one of Hillary Clinton’s most prominent Super PACs attacked our campaign pretty viciously. They suggested I’d be friendly with Middle East terrorist organizations, and even tried to link me to a dead communist dictator.

It was the kind of onslaught I expected to see from the Koch Brothers or Sheldon Adelson, and it’s the second time a billionaire Super PAC has tried to stop the momentum of the political revolution we’re building together.

They’ll keep trying … unless we make them pay a price for their attacks.

Make the Super PACs pay for attacking us by making a $100 contribution to our campaign today. Let’s send a powerful message that we have had ENOUGH of the billionaire class buying elections.

If we stand together to fight back against these ugly attacks, we can ensure this election is about who has the best ideas, and not who has the biggest donors.

They should not underestimate us.

Bernie Sanders

Venezuela, Equality, and Oil

Recently I was invited to post blogs focusing on Latin America on the Tikkun Daily Blog. My first post is HERE, a slightly revised version of my “Ten Things I Learned from Hugo Chávez.” (NOTE: If you do a quick read of the ten headings, you may be able to spot one “tone-it-down” revision in the Tikkun version as compared to my original, here.)

I was happy to see interest in the post; there were a number of comments last week. Just now I added a comment there that I want to share on this blog too. Here is the comment:

I am adding this comment to my Tikkun Daily blog in order to provide information that gets very little attention, despite the fact that it could be a source of hope for us, given that economic inequality is growing in the United States. I looked for a source that is not likely to be biased toward Venezuela, and found this link and excerpt from the World Bank,

Among the most important programs that oil resources have helped to finance are the broad-based social programs called Misiones. Economic growth and the redistribution of resources associated with these missions have led to an important decline in moderate poverty, from 50% in 1998 to approximately 30% in 2012. Likewise, inequality has decreased, reducing the Gini Index from 0.49 in 1998 to 0.39 in 2012, which is among the lowest in the region.

Nevertheless, Venezuela’s development continues to face important challenges, especially at a time when a contraction was recorded in international oil prices. Its economy is highly vulnerable to fluctuations in oil prices since it represents over 96% of the country’s exports and generates nearly half of fiscal income.

Yes, Venezuela should not be so dependent on oil exports, and they are trying to diversify. Still, it’s a good question to ask, “Why have oil prices plummeted?” It’s primarily because of “fracking” in the U.S. Fracking uses a lot of a truly precious resource, water. It might make sense as a last resort, after we’ve done everything we can to decrease our use of non-renewable energy such as oil, and to increase our use of renewable energy. Meanwhile fracking has adversely affected not only Venezuela but many other aspects of the world economy.

Leaders, PART II: Memorial Day Thoughts on the Military

“Those who love peace must learn to organize as effectively as those who love war.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Wars never solve anything, and the people who send you there, don’t go there.” Harry Wells, my dad.

“Yes, before 9/11 happened, I counseled high school graduates in Detroit to join the military. You should have seen how changed they were when they came back. They were more organized, disciplined, and confident.” Lenore, my college friend.

“I joined a different army. I joined the one with the condos and the private rooms.” Goldie Hawn, playing the lead in the film Private Benjamin.

* * *

Today is Memorial Day, the perfect day to post the blog I started a few days ago.

In my recent blog about leaders (HERE), I mentioned my own shaky relationship with hierarchy, and talked about two well-known leaders in the world, Fidel Castro of Cuba and Hugo Chávez of Venezuela. It’s impossible for me to think of their huge achievements (see “Notes” section below for details), and not acknowledge that they came from the military — one of the most hierarchical institutions in existence.

I find myself wishing — in social movements, political campaigns, the Green Party, the community house in which I live, as well as the world and myself — that we had more discipline, organization, dedication and commitment. I wish we could count on ourselves and each other to do what needs to be done. I wish we allowed ourselves fewer excuses. I wish we had more confidence to move forward, and less resistance that causes us to hold back. I wish we would follow rules when those rules would get us what we really want.

In other words, I wish we who love peace would learn to organize as effectively as those who love war. I wish we would learn the good things people learn in the military.

The military I mean is a different military from the one that sends people like my dad to wars that “never solve anything.” Dad was in the Air Force because he loved flying. Then he was in World War II and the Korean War. It was late 2001 after the U.S. military went to Afghanistan that my daughter asked him what he thought about the war. I started backing out of the room because I always thought he was gung-ho whatever the military did. I was shocked — and relieved — to hear his answer.

Also in late 2001, I was shocked in an opposite way to learn that my peaceful friend Lenore had counseled kids to go to the military. But it was a different military, and she was counseling people with few options. They lacked the money and/or educational background needed to go to college, and Detroit lacked job opportunities even then.

It was a different military during the years before 9/11. TV recruitment ads showed benefits like traveling, learning new skills, and higher education after your military stint. It has been documented that after 9/11 recruitment ads began to show combat, not before. The kids my friend counseled returned from the military not having been in combat. They returned not with the post-traumatic stress disorder of many of today’s vets. They returned more organized, disciplined, and confident.

They had been trained to follow orders, yes, but they also were trained to know how strong they could be. We can’t forget how important the soldiers themselves were in ending the fiasco in Vietnam, as seen in the documentary Sir! No Sir! They had the same mission as those of us demonstrating against war. We were all serving our country.

As to leaders, I wish all of ours had the dedication and commitment shown by Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez. We could use leaders who persevere in the face of enormous hostility, and do whatever they can do, while fostering people’s participation, to create a better life for people and the earth.

That’s what I wish on this Memorial Day. That’s what I would celebrate as worthy gifts from the military, a different military, one with a mission to train people to truly protect life on earth.

* * *

NOTES on the achievements of Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez

Fidel Castro — working with many other soldiers and with the crucial support of civilians — led a successful revolution against Fulgencio Batista’s military dictatorship, a dictatorship in which 10,000 to 20,000 people were killed from 1952 to 1959. Fidel followed up that feat by continuing the revolution for more than 55 years, with improved healthcare and education, despite the active hostility of Cuba’s neighbor, the United States of America, the greatest military and economic super-power the world has ever known.

Hugo Chávez was elected president of Venezuela in 1998, breaking through a 40-year fixed two-party system. The Chávez government created a new bottom-up constitution, improved healthcare and education, increased participation in the government, and reduced inequality of wealth. He also led the way in strengthening regional cooperation in South America and beyond. Fifteen years ago, I never thought I would feel great support for a place where a government combined forces with the oil industry, the church, and . . . the military.

Leaders: Do we need them? Thinking about Fidel and Hugo

All my life I have had a problem with leaders. I think the main reason I line up with the movement, whatever you call it (more in a minute, in the next paragraph), is my deep distrust and antipathy toward hierarchies, and toward most of the leaders that top those hierarchies. That antipathy, plus a love for things working well — the solid, practical things of our lives and the less tangible things of our spirits — keep me active.

To describe the “movement” that I feel aligned with: it is a movement toward a world where decisions and choices are made by people at the closest level to themselves as possible. And I don’t mean rugged individualism. The “people” I’m talking about include individuals as well as families, communities, and regions. People power vs. concentrated power. Real democracy vs. de facto oligarchy.

I wonder, however, whether leaders just might be necessary, or at least very useful. I am reading a book about Cuba that was recommended to me, and I highly recommend it to you. One evening our Eco Cuba Network tour of 16 people met with the author at the Hotel Presidente (and he managed to ruffle the feathers of many of us!). The book is Cuban Revelations: Behind the Scenes in Havana (hardcover published in 2013; paperback in 2015 with a brief update about normalization of relations with the U.S.). The author is Marc Frank, a U.S.-born journalist who has lived in Cuba more than 20 years. I’m loving his book.

My favorite part so far is the two-page section entitled “Hugo Chávez” on page 24 and 25 of the paperback version. Hugo Chávez was a breath of fresh air not only for me and others who were inspired by the 2003 documentary film The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, but also for Fidel Castro almost 10 years earlier.

It was 1994, and Cuba was struggling during the “special period” after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Hugo Chávez had just been released from prison after a failed coup attempt two years earlier. (To learn more about Hugo Chávez, see my blog from two years ago when, so sadly, he passed. For a very quick read, just read the 10 headers. HERE.)

Marc Frank wrote, “According to my sources, the two men talked day and night on that first visit by Chávez to Havana . . . When the two men appeared in public, it was to heap praise upon one another, and scorn on the Americas Summit and the U.S.-proposed trade agreement. I had never seen him so happy and content. The Cuban leader acted like a giddy child in Chávez’s company as they inaugurated a statue of Simón Bolívar on Presidente Boulevard in Vedado, and then went on to Havana University. There Chávez delivered a televised speech, endlessly praising Castro in Cuba, trashing U.S. trade plans, and predicting that the two countries would join ‘as one river flowing toward better future for the region.’ ”

Two strong leaders, visionaries, revolutionaries.

When people say that leaders are always power-mad, and that there are no good politicians, I say no, there are some who are the “real deal.” Not sold out. To believe there are no good people in the world of politics is to discount people power, i.e. the power of people who want to serve in the world, who want to make a difference, contribute to the public good, do what they can. When I think about my own life, I know that at times I have shown courage, but so many times I have backed away, into what? Comfort, going along to get along? Don’t worry, I’m not blaming myself (not too much!). I’m just sayin’ what’s true about so many of us. Good people, sure, but held back.

There’s a wonderful interview of Hugo Chávez by Larry King in which Hugo says that personally he’d rather have been a baseball player, and play in Yankee Stadium! The whole interview is amazing, and remarkable how Larry King could not actually hear what Chávez was saying, even about undisputed facts. The link is HERE. The baseball bit is near the end, at minute 22:30.

Fidel and Hugo are definitely not perfect — and who is? Nevertheless, it seems to me they were born to take the positions they took in the world. They did what they were led to do. Followed their hearts; committed themselves to a better world. They would not stop.

* * *

This blog about leaders will be continued in the future; there’s a lot more to say. Your comments are welcome.

Ten Things I Learned from Hugo Chávez

I like to gather signs of hope that things really can change for the better in a major way. With that in mind, I keep the website as my home page. On the afternoon of March 5, 2013, I had to catch my breath when I saw the headline, “President Hugo Chávez has Died.” Almost ten years ago, inspired by the documentary The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, I started learning as much as I could about Venezuela and Hugo Chávez. I participated in “reality tours” and political delegations to show solidarity, and to bring the lessons back home. Here are some things I learned.

1. Keep Smiling. Hugo Chávez’ charisma and popularity was based on his speaking to – and acting on – the needs of the people, who could see he was one of them. Also, Chávez had a huge smile he gave generously, lifting spirits in the struggle. Sure, we can’t smile all the time, and Hugo Chávez didn’t either, but I learned that when we do smile, we give a renewable source of energy that can light up the place.

2. 1% Lies are Enormous. The 1%, along with their military-industrial-media complex, uses the approach “by any lies necessary” to counter the power of good examples that can inspire hope and action in the rest of us. As a result of these enormous lies, Americans who know almost nothing about current affairs in Latin America believe the lie that Hugo Chávez was a dictator. In fact, Chávez was a democratically elected president, elected by a wide margin after running as an outsider in Venezuela’s fixed two-party system. His first acts as president were to wipe out illiteracy, establish healthcare clinics in the poorest barrios, and create a brand new constitution based on citizen input and participatory democracy. I wish our democratically elected presidents and governors would strive to empower us with better education, healthcare for all, and new rules to improve our democracy.

3. Attacks by the 1% can Strengthen the 99%. Whether you call it the backfire effect or political jujitsu, one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned from Venezuela is this: the force the opposition uses against us, the people, can be used as a catalyst that helps us increase our power. Here are three examples during Chávez’ presidency. The 2002 military coup was turned away not by Chávez himself – he was in captivity on an island – but by a mass protest of people in the capital city of Caracas. That military coup backfired and so the 1% tried an economic coup later that year, with an oil company lockout. Although nationalized almost 30 years earlier, the oil company had benefited only the ruling oligarchy while the vast majority of people lived in poverty. In a stunning backfire despite great odds, workers and the Chávez government learned to run the oil company, and in effect, the old 1% managers fired themselves and the people got control. The third attempt was in 2004 when the 1% used the recall powers in the new constitution. In this electoral battle, Chávez supporters organized barrios and pueblos across the nation to get out the “NO!” vote, and the recall was defeated. As a result, the 1% became weaker; and the 99% became stronger and more organized. Backfire!

4. Learn from History. Hugo Chávez taught history in the military, and in the process learned what had worked and what had not worked in people’s struggles in Latin America and beyond. He studied nonviolent movements by reading Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, and Gandhi, and he was influenced by liberation theology. A new approach to land redistribution was something I learned about firsthand on the Day of Indigenous Resistance (formerly known as Columbus Day). On that day, our Global Exchange reality tour reached a remote area of Venezuela via three different aircraft: presidential jet (without the president on board), prop plane, and helicopter. Chávez arrived shortly after we did, and was greeted by hundreds of campesinos and our group of a dozen “estadounidenses” (U.S. Americans). It was apparent that he had learned from history: if you simply redistribute land in order to solve the vast inequality of wealth, people might not be able to hang onto the land. Instead, Venezuela’s new plans included these elements: distribute unused government land first before unused private land; give farmers access to credit, equipment, and agricultural training to lay the groundwork for success; prioritize farming cooperatives to help ensure stability over time; and grant temporary use of land leading to permanent ownership after the farmers succeeded in making the land productive. On the return trip to Caracas, Chávez was aboard the presidential jet. There he was, big as life, beaming at everyone.

5. Empower your People, and your Peers, Connect with Everyone. Chávez said that to get people out of poverty, “Give them power.” He also knew it was important to empower peers – heads-of-state across the continent and even across the world. He learned from history that a single country, attempting to strengthen its own sovereignty at the expense of the interests of a super-power, is in a much better position when in partnership with other countries also standing strong. Chávez worked diligently with other South and Central American presidents to fulfill liberator Simon Bolivar’s dream of a united Latin America. They built alliances for trade, finance, telecommunications, culture, and governance. Chávez’ approach seemed to be: connect with everyone, even those who oppose you, because there may be a time when their rarely given support could help your mission. When Colombia acted in ways that harmed the region, Chávez initiated meetings to address the matter, and to maintain a working relationship for future times when Colombia would stand with Latin America. Chávez also connected with other heads-of-state around the world, including those in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), and he was willing to meet with American presidents from Clinton, to Bush, to Obama.

6. Missions, not Wars. Ten years ago if anyone had told me I would have great enthusiasm for a place where these elements combined forces: government, military, religion, and the oil industry, I would have said, “No way!” But there I was, participating in political delegations to Venezuela as often as my budget would allow. The Bolivarian “missions” were programs focused on literacy, healthcare, food, housing, agriculture, cooperatives, and much more. It struck me that the word “mission” made sense, since it was used in all of those arenas: government, military, industry, and religion. I thought, the U.S. doesn’t use “mission” like that, and so what word do we use? Then I realized, it’s “war” – the war on drugs, war on poverty, war on terror. After the Venezuelan oligarchy running the national oil company essentially fired themselves, those earnings were available to benefit all of Venezuela, and the power of the missions increased. The strength of Chávez’ presidency, whether in the streets or in foreign policy, was based on the Bolivarian missions, not on military might.

7. Ideas not Ideology. The goal of the Bolivarian Revolution is to create “socialism of the 21st century.” Chávez and the people at the base (“el base” is the Spanish term for grassroots) aimed to implement that through participatory democracy, operating in what they referred to as “el proceso” rather than by a fixed, top-down plan laid out for the next 5 or 10 years. Significantly, the oil industry had already been nationalized in 1976 but the profits benefited very few Venezuelans. When Chávez became president, his administration did not immediately implement programs to redistribute land and nationalize the means of production across the board. Instead, Venezuela moved steadily toward nationalizing industries when it became possible; toward expropriating abandoned factories for workers to start up production; and toward creating cooperatives – while prioritizing industries essential for all Venezuelans and helping the new entities to succeed by giving them government contracts.

8. Paso a Paso, Step by Step, It All Contributes. In political delegations with the Task Force on the Americas, other participants and I often met with activists who had been organizing for 40 years or more. We asked them how on earth they managed to keep going all that time when the system seemed irretrievably locked into a two-party system with an entrenched oligarchy. The activists smiled and shrugged, “Hay que luchar, paso a paso” – “You have to struggle, step by step.” During all my travels to see firsthand what was happening in Latin America, I gained a new appreciation of history and how you’re never sure what’s going to happen, but when you are committed you can keep moving forward. It becomes clear that everything we’re doing now will be of use once there’s a crack in the seemingly impenetrable system. That crack happened in Venezuela; Chávez was elected; and the country began to turn away from concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the 1%, toward a sharing of wealth and power in the hands of the 99%.

9. Sometimes Loudmouths are Necessary. If someone had given me the decision about whether or not Chávez should refer to President Bush as the “devil” in a United Nations speech, I probably would have said “no,” but I would have been wrong. I’ll never forget that particular U.N. speech, or the news clip I saw online of a Fox TV reporter saying, “I don’t know what was more disturbing, his blasphemous remarks…. or the amount of applause he got when he finished.” Considering the problems Latin America faced as the “backyard” of the United States, the biggest economic and military super-power the world has ever known, I could see the need to have someone courageous enough to roar, so that others could at least peep.

10. You Don’t have to be Perfect. There were any number of things Chavez said and actions he tried that could be criticized as going too far or not far enough, and yet he never stopped moving toward his mission of a better world. Of the many things Hugo Chávez tried in his life, the one that catapulted him into folk hero status in his country in 1992 was his 90-second speech in which he took responsibility for a military coup attempt that had failed, “por ahora” – for now. The next day the words “por ahora” were written on walls all over the place. Later Hugo Chávez would spend time with Fidel Castro, and together they would agree that the way to go in Latin America was no longer armed revolution. Venezuela is changing through a combination of elements: a strong social movement with people taking to the streets; an electoral revolution including former non-voters like the young and the impoverished taking to the voting booths; local movements building healthier communities; and an unwavering commitment to create a better world.

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