Fri, 25 January 2019
Corporate media absolutely won’t tell you this, but this year’s Los Angeles teachers strike is the latest chapter in the long running struggle against the privatization of public education in the US. With massive public support, 30,000 teachers have voted a settlement that increases their wages a little, brings back nurses, librarians and counselors to each and every one of the city’s 900 schools, caps class sizes and charter school expansion and more. Striking teachers managed to bring issues to the table that were supposed to be impossible to address, like the manipulation of school board real estate, school closings and charter policies to gentrify neighborhoods, among others.
The facts, which again corporate media has no interest in telling you, are that United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), following and improving on the model of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) leading up to their 2012 strike, raised its membership dues a couple years in advance to hire a research team and a cadre of community organizers. These cadre were charged with forging deep and permanent links between teachers and communities across the city in motion for better housing, against mass incarceration, for equitable transit and most especially with organized parents in every corner of the city who aimed to improve the schools. Childrens’ learning conditions after all, are the teachers working conditions. As in Chicago, these deep organizational and personal links with the organized masses provided them with a degree of immunity from the tsunami of lies coming from corporate media before, during and after the strike. UTLA spent extra money, extra staff time and extra care as well cultivating and educating its own members to support the new policies, to ensure every teacher was contacted repeatedly in the year and longer before the strike, provided with the facts and offered opportunities and chances to weigh in and to take ownership of their union at every level.
For a generation now, privatizing the public schools has been the bipartisan project of America’s one percenters. Democrats and Republicans, Donald Trump and Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, celebrities like John Legend and Magic Johnson, conservative and liberal engines of corporate philanthropy including the Gates, Walton, Broad, Heritage, McArthur and other foundations, Fox News and CNN, black and white big city mayors, hucksters like Al Sharpton and Roland Martin, the lords of Silicon Valley, Amazon, and Mark Zuckerberg, the hedge fund boyz, and a gaggle of thousands of big and small time crooks of all colors and descriptions are in on the hustle. Glen Ford explained several years ago how a handful of right wing foundations spent a cool billion or more in the 1990s trying to create an astroturf “movement” for privatizing schools, first through vouchers, then as charter schools, peddling the proposition that getting poor children out of public schools was civil rights movement of the coming new century.
The privatizers’ big breakthrough was the 2002 federal elementary and secondary public school funding act, the No Child Left Behind Act, which among much else, mandated excessive and biased testing and diverted education funding away from schools with low scores to charter schools and contractors of all kinds, giving birth overnight to a galaxy of unregulated profiteers. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina Louisiana authorities closed the entire New Orleans public school system firing thousands of teachers and all employees and went to an all charter system. In New York, Philly, Chicago and dozens of other cities without elected school boards local mayors and state governments closed and privatized thousands of public schools. In the places with elected school boards, laws were passed, even state constitutions amended to allow states to overrule and fire locally elected school boards who didn’t go along on the grounds those school boards were not were not fulfilling their duties. Conveniently the accrediting agencies were privately owned bodies staffed by the Gates, Walton Family, Broad and other pro-privatization foundations. That’s the way it was done in several Atlanta area counties, and hundreds more places besides.
The privatizers’ next and biggest break was the election of President Barack Obama, who elevated Arne Duncan, a hedge fund guy with no public school classroom or administrative experience before he undertook the savage decimation of public education in Chicago, to US Secretary of Education. In April 2009 Obama and Duncan announced their intention to close and privatize 5,000 so-called underperforming public schools, even though public education was supposed to be a local affair not a federal one. Obama utilized a one-time $4 billion dollar windfall appropriated to rebuild schools across the country, to fund Race To The Top, a federal program that awarded competitive grants (as in a race) to school districts based on how many teachers they could fire, how many public schools they could close and privatize. More than a hundred thousand qualified and experienced black teachers alone lost their jobs, among the many other casualties of Race to the Top.
Los Angeles had an elected school board, so the Broad Foundation and other charter school entrepreneurs funneled at least $12 million of outside money into school board election campaigns to get a pro-privatization majority, and to install Austin Butner, a guy with no teaching or school administrative experience before his swearing in as chief of the nation’s second largest school system. Butner championed the breakup of Los Angeles United School District into 32 “portfolios” of privately managed entities competing with each other on the free market. The relationship of these portfolios to parents and students would be one of customer service, and the relationship of the entities to teachers would be pretty much peons. Except that unlike teachers, peons and serfs were guaranteed housing and food, however miserable and could not be fired. All this too was left out of the corporate media coverage both inside Los Angeles and around the country.
Los Angeles is not West Virginia, or Oklahoma, or Arizona.
None of this came to pass overnight. Organized teachers in Los Angeles, like those in Chicago, saw the crisis coming years off, and began serious preparations more than two years before strike. That’s what is making the Los Angeles strike’s reach, influence and outcome very different from the relatively spontaneous teacher uprisings in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona and perhaps those looming in Indiana, Virginia or Texas. The power to win, as Jane McAlevey asserts in her book No Shortcuts, is both inside and outside the school workplace. The pro-privatization forces are deeply entrenched, deeply organized and cannot successfully be opposed without deep organizing both in the workplace and in the communities served by the schools.
UTLA realized it was necessary to put forward a vision of caring, empowered and grassroots democratic community schools, in opposition to the pitiless marketplace of charter school competition. They call it the community school, not the charter school. UTLA was able, in the couple years preparation for the strike moment, in cooperation with its community allies, to envision, to develop, to enact and even to tweak elements of its community school model in a few places around the city. This is something impossible to do in spontaneous situations like the teachers strikes of West Virginia, Oklahoma or Arizona.
Without a deeply organized and empowered base inside and outside the school workplace, teachers and the public are vulnerable to corporate media tropes that the crisis is provoked exclusively by one party and the solution is mainly electoral – mainly confronting the Republicans and running for office as or doubling down on support for Democrats. During their strikes ten, twenty, thirty thousand and more teachers and parents mobbed their respective state legislatures, but the results they got were far less definitive, far less sustainable than what the meticulously planned actions of teachers in Chicago and Los Angeles achieved.
In Oklahoma, West Virginia and Arizona many activist parents and teachers emerged from the strike crisis with real and justified questions about the ability of their unions, the only organized and sustainable body with even the potential to reach across all the lines statewide, to lead a struggle to build just and democratic school communities in which teachers can teach, students can learn and communities can prosper. That’s what happens when unions don’t do their jobs, when they don’t undertake long term visioning and deep organizing both inside and outside their scholl workplaces. But contrast, teachers and school community activtists in Chicago and Los Angeles emerged from their strike crises with more of the confidence and resources to plan the next steps. That’s what deep organizing can an do, even in the face of the decades long assault upon public education from the forces of neoliberal capital, which aims to change all relations between people to those of the pitiless marketplace.
For Black Agenda Radio Commentaries, I’m Bruce Dixon. Find us as Black Agenda Radio, and Black Agenda Radio Commentaries on iTunes, Stitcher or wherever you find your podcasts. Most of our work is not audio however, it’s print. If you access the print version of this Black Agenda Radio Commentary for example you will find links to at least a dozen other pieces of our previous material, some audio and some print on the long struggle against the privatization of education, how it affects communities of color in particularly vicious fashion, and how the black and brown faces of politicians, celebrities and so-called journalists are utilized to sell it in black communities. Black Agenda Report, at www.blackagendareport.com has delivered news, commentary and analysis from the black left since October 2006. For the past three years, Google and other corporate social media including Twitter and Facebook have suppressed the appearance of our material in searches and subscriptions because anonymous cowards have accused us of being under hostile foreign influences.
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Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report, and a state committee member of the Georgia Green Party. He lives and works near Marietta GA and can be reached via email at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.
Thu, 17 January 2019
House Democrats’ HR 1 – Faking the Funk on Voting Rights, Spreading Fear and Gunning For the Greens in 2020
House Democrats’ HR 1 – Faking the Funk on Voting Rights, Spreading Fear and Gunning For the Greens in 2020
It’s a brand new year and Democrats running the House of Representatives under Nancy Pelosi, Jim Clyburn and Steny Hoyer need to rebrand themselves in preparation for the 2020 elections. So Team Pelosi has rolled out what they and their far flung chorus of corporate media hacks from MSNBC to so-called “woke” social media are calling their flagship bill for the 116th Congress. To hear them tell it, it’s all about ending corruption in Congress and the White House, about taking the Big Money out of politics, and most of all, it’s about protecting voting rights.
It’s HR 1, a 571 page monstrosity, actually a sleazy ghetto ice cream truckload of empty promises Democrats wouldn’t keep even if they had the power, and which they refused to put forward when they DID have the power. In typical Democrat fashion HR 1 also contains a couple of serious threats against American left dissenters in general and the Green Party in particular which Democrats might just be able to carry out if they seek and secure the support of a modest number of House and Senate Republicans. As of our publication date HR 1 does not yet appear on the official House web site, but we read the version on the web site of its sponsor, Congressman John Sarbanes of Maryland. You can also find it at the Brennan Center for Justice.
HR 1 pretends to be a voting rights bill, but is in fact a sleazy ghetto ice cream truckload of empty campaign promises intended to rebrand Democrats as the party of voting rights, despite their dismal non-record of struggle to protect or expand these rights. They are all commonsense measures Nancy P, who has been part of House Democrat leadership since the 1990s, and has led Democrats in the House since 2003, could have tried to put into law at any time, many times over the past twenty-five and more years. But they didn’t.
Here’s HR 1’s list of what ought to be real and significant voting rights reforms. But again, coming from Nancy P and the House Dems at the beginning of the 2020 campaign season they are obviously no more than empty and cynical campaign promises:
All these proposals are pretty much borrowed or stolen from the actual left, some of which are captive constituencies allowed to ride in the Democratic party’s trunk and let out to vote every two years. Since Congress has maintained a minimum re-election rate around 90% for decades, hearing stuff like this from top Democratic party leaders is only great good news till you look at their history on voting rights. When you do that the music pretty much stops, because the history of the last 25 years clearly indicates that Democrats in Congress have no such intention.
House Democrats, along with Democrats in the Senate and, Democrats in the Clinton and Obama Justice Departments, and Democrats in the White House have pretty much stood by idly the past quarter century while Republicans on the state level and in the judiciary have painstakingly assembled and implemented bit by bit what is now a vast panoply of administrative tactics, state laws and court rulings aimed at minimizing, intimidating and blocking and suppressing the anti-Republican vote. The sudden Democrat conversion to make themselves ardent protectors of the right to vote comes conveniently at the start of the 2020 election season, when they control ONLY the House of Representatives. Though the Senate, the White House, much of the federal court and a majority of the Supreme Court are in Republican hands today, but when Democrats DID the power to actually advance these reforms they DID next to nothing. So it’s really hard for any sober and sentient being to take this stuff seriously coming from Nancy P and the gang of 200 and something.
HR 1 is also the House Democrat bid to rebrand themselves into crusaders against big money in politics and corruption in public office.
Given that most owe their own careers to the generosity of Big Oil, Big Real Estate, Big Agriculture, Big Chemical and Pharma, the banksters who crashed the economy in 2007-2008, the hedge fund boyz, Amazon, Silicon Valley, Wal-Mart, the charter school sugar daddies, privatizers, payday lenders, and the galaxy of contractors of the Pentagon, the “intelligence community,” Homeland Security and the probation and private prison industries, this is either a sudden and shocking transformation or empty and cynical 2020 campaign rhetoric. Go figger.
But again we can’t look away from the source and timing. It’s Nancy P and the House Dems and it’s the kickoff of the 2020 campaign season.? Here’s HR 1’S list of anti-corruption and taking the money out of politics reforms. Given their record, can anyone really believe these are any more than hollow and empty campaign promises? These newly converted reformers say they want to
As with HR1’s voting rights proposals, all of its ethics and campaign funding stuff with two huge exceptions we will examine in a moment, it would be great good news if Democrats were even half serious about enacting it into law. But of course they are not.
Republicans run the Senate and the White House. Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell has already pledged the entire package of HR 1 is dead on arrival, and right now even that arrival is uncertain since Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer has not even bothered to introduce a matching bill in that chamber. Essentially Schumer is not even signing on to this load of cynical promises. Not yet anyway. But if the stench of cynicism is strong enough to make a vulture like Chuck Schumer hesitate, that really says something.
Second, Republicans are not about to give up voter caging, mass purges of young and minority voters, state voter ID laws, lightning round redistricting and the panoply of anti-democratic gerrymandering and other devices they have erected the last 20 years to give them more state and federal legislative seats with millions fewer votes than Democrats.
Third, it’s an old and established fact that the stock market portfolios of House and Senate members have routinely outperformed those of top professional money managers for decades. And why wouldn’t they? It's members members of Congress along with top executive appointees who regulate the very “industries,” if you can call some of them that, in which they invest. Uber, Google, Monsanto and Amazon, just to name a few, powered up entire multibillion dollar business models which were transparently illegal, but attracted lots of well-connected investors. After the first few tens of billions rolled in they purchased enough politicians to legalize their previously illegal business models.
Congress is where the capitalist predators must come to get all kinds of laws and regulations changed in their favor, so members of Congress are in the ultimate spot to receive and to benefit from insider tips. In the 2012 election cycle, the House and Senate DID pass a partial ban on stock market insider trading by members of Congress. But the next year they quietly repealed it on a Friday afternoon voice vote in the House which blurred greasy individual fingerprints. There were 30 seconds of debate. In the Senate the vote to repeal was unanimous. Democratic President Barack Obama quickly and quietly signed it into law. Thanks to Kevin Zeese at PopularResistance.Org for pointing that one out to me. Good catch, comrade.
These newly converted get-the-big-money-outa-politics crusaders are the same House Democrats who did that. They are the same crew who in 2017 responded to Trump’s record breaking military budget, roughly the next nine countries combined spend on their weapons of war and mass destruction, all of it paid for with funds taken away from education, infrastructure, a just transition to a clean energy economy, raising social security, free college tuition and Medicare For All, all the stuff the American people need right here at home. The same House Democrats who back HR 1 today increased Trumps military budget by about $60 billion dollars, an increase as large as the entire yearlly militaryy budget of Russia. Why?
House and Senate Democrats did this in an attempt to outbid Trump and the Republicans for the allegiance of those military contractor contributors. That’s why we at Black Agenda Report often call “the Resistance” “the Assistance.’
But hey, now the 2020 election season has begun. Democrats all wanna knock out Trump, so the Resistance more accurately the Assistance imagines that tens of millions of us are so really, really thirsty we are ready to believe or pretend to believe the Democrat wing of America’s corporate government party have now morphed into crusaders against corruption and big money in politics, and justice everywhere. Yeah. Good to know.
There are only 2 pieces of HR 1 which are NOT empty 2020 campaign promises, and which have a reasonable change of becoming law. Really, really BAD law.
HR 1 has twenty-five or thirty components, all neatly packaged to be lifted out of the 571 page thing and introduced as standalone bills. HR 1 is dead on arrival outside the House. That’s done. Only two of its provisions have even the faintest chance of attracting a few House and Senate Republicans and thus making it to the president’s desk to signed into law.
HR 1 is the 2020 election season’s brightly painted ghetto ice cream truck. It’s on your Facebook pages, Instagram and other social media feeds, even in some of your more “woke” churches. It's blasting loud music about voting rights, protecting the vote, ballots by mail, getting the money out of political campaigns, and reforming the corrupt ethics of Congress and the Whtie House. But none of that stuff will pass while Republicans run the Senate, while Trump is in the White House, and even if they’re out of office, none of it will pass while Democrats are on the corporate tit themselves. If Democrats do take the White House in 2020 you won’t see that sleazy ghetto ice cream truck or hear HR 1’s voting rights and anti-corruption promises any more either. Bet on that.
HR 1 is not designed to deliver protection for voting rights. It's not intended to take big money out of politics, or safeguard the public interest against official corruption. The only so-called reforms HR 1 can actually deliver are officially manufactured fear of the manufactured threats posed by Americans in America working for change, Americans working to save themselves, their children, their grandchildren and the planet itself from capitalist robbery, genocide and ecocide, along with even more voter suppression through the removal of all voter choices outside the two capitalist parties.
For Black Agenda Radio, I’m Bruce Dixon. Find us on the web at www.blackagendareport.com, the only place where you can guarantee you’re getting fresh weekly news, commentary and analysis from the black left every week, which we’ve have delivered since 2006, by hitting the subscribe button. Google suppresses our appearance in search results, Facebook limits the appearance of our material in your news feeds, and other corporate social media contraptions do the same. But email still flows direct from us to you, so if you visit us at www.blackagendareport.com on your computer or mobile device and you hit that subscribe button you can be certain you will receive our free weekly newsletter containing descriptions of and links to all our weekly published print and audio content for your reading, listening, viewing and especially sharing convenience. Share our newsletter on your favorite social media, and forward the email to family, colleagues, friends and enemies. You can find our audio labeled as Black Agenda Radio, and as Black Agenda Radio Commentaries on iTunes, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts. If you catch us on any of these especially iTunes, please leave a comment and review, because that helps new people find us.
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Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report, and a member of the state committee of the Georgia Green Party. He can be contacted directly via email at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.
Fri, 11 January 2019
There’s a lot of talk lately about the Green New Deal. The phrase was first used in the US by Howie Hawkins , the Green party candidate for governor in New York state in 2010, 2014 and 2018.
Howie says he stole it from the European Greens who’d been intrigued by the old American New Deal of the 1930s under Franklin Roosevelt. European Greens wanted to regulate the banking sector, something we can't seem to do here. They wanted to raise wages, to shorten working weeks, to stimulate the econony with massive infrastructure upgrades and repair, and to pay for the whole thing with higher taxes on the rich, all of that straight out of the playbook of the 1930s, plus putting the economies of their countries on a path to zero emisions . Their vision included giving away, not selling but giving away the new green technologies enabling such a transition to the global south as reparations. Altogether it was a really ambitious and humane extension upon the old New Deal.
Howie Hawkins stole the slogan and the idea back from the European Greens. Some American Greens said that’s Democrat stuff, Howie, you don’t want that, to which he replied that it ws stuff rank and file Democrats still wanted but that Democratic politicians being who and what they are, had never been willing or able to deliver. There was a wealth of reputable studies asserting that given the political will, it should be possible to get the US economy to zero emissions by 2030, so that became the package upon which Hawkins based his 2010 NY gubernatorial campaign. Economic human rights, guaranteed jobs at living wages, decent housing for all, Medicare for All , curbing military spending, and an absolute ban on fracking, which all the corporate funded environmental organizations in 2010, in the Obama era were saying was “the bridge to the future .”
When Howie Hawkins was polling at 15% in 2014, Democrats put Zephyr Teachout in the governor’s race to bring him back down to 5%, but the fracking ban and some other elements of the Green New Deal were also borrowed by some Democratic politicians. Eventually New York adopted a statewide fracking ban.
Howie Hawkins was part of the team which adapted the Green New Deal proposals to the campaign of Jill Stein, the Green Party’s presidential candidate in 2012 and 2016. Stein was able to get on the ballot in all but three states, and although she was banned from the debates and most corporate media coverage, her campaign did more to popularize the notion of a Green New Deal than anything that happened before. Insurgent Democrat congressional campaigns all over the country were mouthing the words “Green New Deal,” and though nearly all of them who had actual opposition from established Democrats lost except Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and a couple others, the notion in some form or other is now part of the political language.
At the very least, even in the mouths of Democrats the Green New Deal includes Medicare For All, a living wage, raising taxes on wealthy individuals and corporations, and increased spending on infrastructure and education. Most Democrats, even the so-called progressive ones, as we noted last year in Black Agenda Report refuse even to mention the military, or the US overseas empire, as if those things don’t exist. They’re all over the map too on the green part of the Green New Deal as well, with many supporting fracking bans and others not. But that too is to be expected. Democrats are not so much united around policy positions as they are united behind their presidential candidates, or their president, when they have one in the White House or against the president when a Republican occupies that office.
When Greens talk about a Green New Deal they include jobs and affordable housing for everybody, words you scarcely hear out of any Democrats’ mouths. Greens support a national fracking ban and placing the economy on a transition to zero emissions in the short run by leaving the oil, coal and gas deposits in the ground, finding other ways to generate the power we need, and guaranteeing the jobs of people in the transition, also something you don’t hear from Democrats. Greens also support drastic cuts in the military budget, the cessation of support for apartheid Israel, closing the empire of a thousand US military base s around the world and more.
The New York Greens even have a state level climate bill with multiple legislative sponsors which would commit local governments, along with the state’s agricultural, energy, transportation and other sectors to specific goals on the road to zero emissions. If other Green parties on the state level are even minimally serious about pushing a Green New Deal, this is something we should expect to see them emulate and imitate in other states. It's how we raise the bar.
I’m in Georgia, and we expect to have a Georgia Green Climate Bill ready to walk the legislature with this session. We’ll be inviting legislators to sponsor and introduce it, or to borrow or steal provisions from it as they choose. When our party achieves ballot access for 2020 our state legislative candidates will be running on its provisions, including a statewide fracking ban and a bar imported fracked gas, job guarantees for displaced people in the energy sector, and the creation of milestone targets for sectors of our state’s economy on the road to zero emissions by 2030. State level action like this is a vitally important part of building the constituency for and the sense of possibility around a Green New Deal and a just transition.
The Green New Deal and the 116th Congress
The plan for engineering whatever parts of the Green New Deal might have been possible through the Democrat controlled House hinged upon the hopes of some that a sufficient fraction of the House Progressive Caucus might be mobilized to impress Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her leadership team. That didn’t work out. Ocasio-Cortez led a sit-in outisde Pelosi’s office which got lots of press but seems not to have moved the speaker.
Ocasio-Cortez asked for a special committee, a House Select Committee, to draft the Green New Deal legislation, a way of getting around the entrenched committee system of the House, and that members of congress in hock to energy companies not be allowed to serve on the committee. Pelosi refused the ban on members who took oil, gas and nuke money, then decided against creation of the select committee altogether. No surprise there.
The US custom, in the legislatures of all the state and both houses of congress, is that Democrats and Republicans select as their party legislative leaders those members who are most successful in garnering big donations from wealthy individuals and corporations. Those wealthy corporations include the insurance industry, Big Pharma and private hospitals, so we can’t expect corporate Democrats to ever support Medicare For All.
Even Bernie Sanders has felt the need to to deviate from the Medicare For All bill that has been in the Congress more than a decade now, and introduce his own which makes space for private insurers. It’s a marked retreat from his previous advocacy of simply lowering the Medicare age to include everybody, but such is the price for being included in the Democratic party heirarchy, and being permitted to run in Democratic primaries as a presidential candidate.
Our place as Greens, as leftists generally then, is not to whine about how the Democrats stole our Green New Deal slogan and slapped it onto their half-assed efforts to appear responsive to the looming crises around us. What we did is we managed to raise the bar, and we have to find ways to do that constantly and consistently, again and again. If we can’t do that, it’s time for us all to go home and watch Netflix.
For Black Agenda Radio, I’m Bruce Dixon.
Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report and a state committee member of the GA Green Party. he can be reached via email at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.
Thu, 3 January 2019
If anybody else had written it, the first hundred pages of Michelle Obama’s book “Becoming” would stand as a brief, but warm and fuzzy memoir of growing up on the black south side of Chicago. But Michelle Obama is NOT anybody else. She’s the wife of Barack Obama, the first black president, with all the weight and responsibility that carries.
You’d think the former first lady would seize the opportunity presented by her best selling memoir to educate her audience not just to the fact that people growing up on the south side frequently come from loving two parent families, that they grow up in cramped apartments, that they have aunties who give piano lessons, uncles who love jazz, that some of them get good grades, attend magnet high schools, end up in ivy league universities and Harvard Law School, but educate them just a little about the political realities governing the place she grew up.
Michelle Obama doesn’t do that. She tells us her loving and hard working father worked for the city’s water department, and that he was a Democratic precinct captain but she never connects the two. Every Chicagoan knows that water department employees and tens of thousands of other city and county workers, for decades before the seventies and decades afterward are obliged to walk the precincts election day and deliver assigned quotas of votes for what Chicagoans call the Machine. That’s what precinct captains and their helpers are. The captains who fail to deliver their quota lose those city jobs and are replaced with others who can deliver the vote. For forty-five out of fifty-five years Chicago was ruled by one or another mayor named Richard Daley, and deploying an army of patronage workers like Michelle’s father was how they and their stooges stayed in office. Little Michelle Robinson wouldn’t have known that, but by the time one becomes an adult in Chicago these facts are well known.
The other three quarters of her book, in which she meets her husband and he pursues a political career, is pretty unremarkable. She meets her husband to be at work, they get to know each other, they marry, he settles on a political career. He spends a few years as a state senator, is elected US senator from Illinois. They have children, and Barack Obama is elected president. She describes some key members of her husband’s political team, and her own support staff. She fulfills the duties of first lady, but is relieved when it’s time to campaign for a second term. She travels, she meets lots of people. She climbs into the limo with Trump’s wife for their inauguration, and the book ends where it began, some time in 2017.
Michelle Obama has lots of stories, but few if any lessons, and when it comes to her husband’s career, some of the stories aren’t even true. She depicts her husband’s path up to his run for president in 2007 as kind of aimless happenstance. She claims the notion of running for president didn’t surface till other people brought it up after Barack Obama’s “...there is no black America, there is no white America...” speech at the 2004 Democratic convention. This is wildly implausible.
I was one of the three field organizers at Project VOTE Illinois in 1992, and Barack Obama was our state director. Michelle Obama devotes a couple pages to Project VOTE in her memoir. After we registered more than 100,000 new voters and chased them out to the polls that November, the talk around Barack was that he would be running for the first open state senate seat on that part of the south side, the first open congressional seat on the south side, followed by a run for statewide office and a run for national office. As political organizers who’d had a hand in multiple Chicago mayoral campaigns and voter registration drives for 15 years by then, such a career arc seemed entirely plausible to us. That was around the Xmas holiday of 1992. If I heard it, then so did Michelle Obama. It’s not exactly the sort of plan one keeps from the wife.
Despite what Michelle Obama says in her book, by the time a politician is invited to deliver the keynote at the Democratic party’s national convention, as Barack was in 2004, one is firmly on the short list of that party’s prospects for the next presidential election.
Michelle Obama remembers that her feelings were hurt when Congressman Bobby Rush called her husband an “educated fool” in 1999 or early 2000. But she omits entirely the political context of Barack Obama’s 2000 run for Congress against Rush, the only electoral contest he managed to lose. By then, the Daley Machine had ruled Chicago for decades despite a fairly robust, longstanding and widespread political opposition. But that opposition didn’t have a mayoral candidate for 1999. Bobby Rush stepped forward to be the opposition’s mayoral candidate that year, even though he knew he couldn’t win. Obama’s primary election run against Congressman Rush the following year was widely perceived in Chicago as payback, a gesture of Daley’s displeasure against Bobby Rush. In return for his losing run though, Barack Obama was well rewarded indeed. His state senate district was redrawn to shed most of its ghetto precincts and replace them with some of the wealthiest areas in the city, really some of the wealthiest in the nation, making it easier to raise far more money when he chose to run for higher office.
“As the White House's resident advocate for healthy eating and exercise, Ms. Obama has leveraged her image as a priceless asset to Wal-Mart, endorsing its drive to penetrate new urban markets , crush competition, and gobble up even more public tax breaks and subsidies. But in the real world, more urban Wal-Marts, and giving more public subsidies and market share to the amoral company that already accounts for 27 cents of every dollar spent on groceries in this country is not so much the solution to urban “food deserts” as it is the solution to Wal-Mart's problem of how to raise that 27 cents to 30, 40 or 50 cents of every grocery dollar in its corporate coffers. That's the problem Michelle Obama is helping solve, not the problem of accessing decent food at reasonable prices.“
Michelle Obama is obviously an intelligent and well educated woman. But her education seems to have taught her faith and unquestioning acceptance of the power of elites, and how that power is wielded rather than to look for ways to put that power in the hands of the kind of ordinary people among whom she was raised. For the Michelle Obamas of this world, the sky is the limit, as far as personal ambition goes. But she freely manufactures excuses for her lack of faith in any uplift by collective effort. “Bitterness,” she says, and “cranky mistrust” of whites, are as much to blame for lack of black progress than anything which originates from above.
This serves to insulate the former first lady from the world the rest of us live and struggle in. It makes her not a very interesting person, with a memoir that should have ended after the first hundred or so pages. I’d give her book one star out of four.