One of Cohen’s observations in his book Disloyal about Trump & his early political maneuvers was corroborated by today’s reports of Trump’s taped conversations with Bob Woodward:
Cohen: In those early manifestations of Trump’s aspirations, he revealed an uncanny knack for channeling the fears and resentments of the age . . . .
Just one example was Trump’s call in 1989 for the death penalty for the Central Park Five, a group of black kids convicted of the rape of a white female jogger in Manhattan’s famous park.
The fact that the kids were exonerated years later, when it was proven beyond doubt that they were not guilty, didn’t prompt Trump to back down or admit a mistake; he’d understood instinctively that the racial anxiety and resentments then gripping New York City would provide a potent symbol that he hoped to ride to power.
That was always Trump’s way, learned at the feet of Roy Cohn, his first attack-dog attorney: Never apologize, and never admit to error or weakness. Never. Ever. Not even in the time of Coronavirus, as the world would discover.
Chekhov: “Any idiot can face a crisis; it is this day-to-day living that wears you out.”
Sometime around the late 1980s, I started having two recurring nightmares:
One, I’m maybe at home, or out somewhere, when the sky darkens and a dull roar starts up. It’s a tornado, bearing down on right where I am. I look for shelter, and either there isn’t any, or it’s not enough, and the tornado gets bigger and louder and then its roaring over me; I wake up trembling a with night sweats. Or
Two, I wake up, or at least I think I do, but when I try to move, I can’t. I’m paralyzed, and can’t speak either. Much later I read somewhere that this is a twilight, in-between state, no big deal, which goes away quickly. But I didn’t know that then; I would lie there in growing panic until, miraculously, a hand or a foot responds with a wiggle and then I was okay. But I still worried about if, next time, it could be permanent.
Post Office work is more than drudgery. It’s honest, productive work, an integral part of what keeps our society going.
I kept reminding myself of that. But I often wondered: do many children in the United States daydream about growing up and getting a job as a mail handler?
I doubt it. Maybe a few want to be letter carriers. Or even postal clerks, like an admired parent or role model.
Mailhandlers are semiskilled laborers. Google was unable to find me any history of the job, or craft in postal lingo.
But it looks like it was an example of “occupational segregation,” which was long rampant in the post office, like everywhere else in the U.S. Mail handlers filled a space between carriers on the outside, and clerks on the inside, lower in status than either.
On Google, the mailhandler’s “Functional Purpose” reads “Responsible for loading, unloading, and moving mail by the bulk. Duties may include long periods of standing, walking, pushing, and reaching. Candidates may also handle mail containers weighing up to 70 pounds.”
Was such a space filled originally by Black workers, who were excluded from other crafts? The fact that I can’t find an answer to that query suggests it was.
[Note: This is the second part of a Dog Days series on how early civil rights work and later years in the Postal Service came together for me. The first installment is here.]
For a mail handler, the mail stream is much more like a moving body of water. A lot of it came flowing past us, on conveyor belts. I spent many hours leaning over these conveyor belts, heaving bundles, bags and parcels in one direction or another, usually into big canvas hampers marked with zip codes.
This might sound like the sorting I did at Fairfax Station on Route #77 – but here we come to a key bit of postal wonkery and hierarchy: sorting meant throwing individual pieces of mail into address slots arranged in a delivery route or “scheme.” But tossing a bundle from a conveyor into a hamper marked Zip 22039 (Fairfax Station) was distribution or mail “handling”.
Sorting was clerk or carrier work and was paid more, in part because clerks and carriers had to memorize various long and intricate address schemes. Mail handlers didn’t memorize schemes, just recognized the zip codes they were part of.
I was quite content to be part of this lower order. I also soon noticed that many more mail handlers were black, which was also fine by me. It wouldn’t have surprised me to learn that mail handlers were originally a segregated lower level craft.
How did this come about? Who knew?
I did know the post office was older than the republic; which meant it had evolved through a century of slavery, another century-plus of Jim Crow, had been subject to winds of change, and by 1986 was more multiracial than many other American institutions, at least on the surface.
That was enough for the moment. We weren’t grad students studying postal history, anthropology or sociology; we were workers riding the daily six-million piece stream, helping pour it in at one end, and aim it out the other.
Much of the time the conveyor mail stream was hypnotically dull. But often enough, intriguing flotsam and jetsam drifted by. It was variegated enough that I soon felt that, although physically walled off from the outside world, much of the rest of America came coursing past me day by day: the mail stream was part of America’s bloodstream.
For instance, I soon felt as if I had seen every kind of catalog American business put out; and new ones kept popping up. One, that only turned up once, stopped me cold: from Massachusetts, it had a phone number in large bold print on the cover:
I couldn’t resist: turning away, out of sight of any nearby supervisor, I flipped a few pages. The number spoke truth: the company bred and sold rats, mice, guinea pigs, hamsters, gerbils, rabbits and other small animals, and shipped them in large quantities for laboratory use. They were packaged to order, in different colors and sizes, with carefully-guarded pedigrees to assure uniformity for experimentation.
Then there was the CIA, whose headquarters at Langley was only six miles away (almost next door to Langley Hill Friends Meeting, where I was a member). It openly sent bundles of thick bulletin-type documents in clear plastic wrapping.
I covertly eyeballed a few through the wrappers. The Agency then operated its own Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS): somewhere it had linguists trained in as many as 80 foreign languages, reading foreign papers, listening to radios and watching TV. These expert readers produced summaries, which were printed and sent out.
By the way, this is no exposé: none of that stuff was secret. You or I could subscribe to, say, the Lithuanian bulletin, and it would be sent openly, like all the issues that came past me.
One other, of many anomalies: we had what were called U-carts, midsize and wheeled, with canvas baskets for bundles and parcels. On a featureless, not terribly busy day, I was tasked with unloading several, and dumping the contents in other sacks.
In one cart I found thick printed documents, something between phone books and very high-end catalogs. I glanced at one, and then looked again: it was the Alumni Directory of the U.S. Air Force Academy. I thumbed a few pages: it was arranged chronologically by class, with brief sketches about each of the grads.
As with the lab rats catalog, I couldn’t resist. But this called for extra precautions. I trundled the U-cart down the wide aisle between other sorting centers and various machines, looking for a spot that was momentarily deserted. Finding one, I leaned away from the aisle, where supervisors might appear, and opened the book–
— But first, some explanation.
My father was a career Air Force officer, mostly a pilot. He started in World War Two, and retired in the early 1960s. I grew up on and around various Air Force bases, in what expanded into a large Catholic family. Nobody recruited me, but I long assumed that I would follow my father into the Air Force.
In 1955, when I turned 13, the Air Force Academy opened, to much publicity. To me, it was the military equivalent of an Ivy League school, and I resolved to go there.
And I almost did.
Why I didn’t is another story (and it’s in my book, Eating Dr. King’s Dinner.) But I was still on that path enough that I joined Air Force ROTC in college, at Colorado State University. That program would have pinned a lieutenant’s bars on my shoulders, and likely shipped me off to pilot’s school, after graduation with my Class of 1964.
But I didn’t do that either: I didn’t finish ROTC, go to pilot’s school, or graduate in 1964 (I did complete my degree, after a couple very busy and distracting activist years.)
If I had gone to the Academy, I would have finished pilot’s school just in time to be assigned to combat in the Vietnam War. Instead, I ended up an antiwar peacenik, a conscientious objector, and a Quaker.
But that again is another story. Instead here I was, almost 25 years later, suddenly able to look down that road not traveled.
How many of us get a chance to do that?
I quickly paged to the Class of 1964. Of course I didn’t know anybody, but I was interested in their thumbnails anyway: most were retired, and now into second careers; real estate seemed to recur. A few were still in, as generals, near the top of their heap but not quite there. Several others were dead: killed in Vietnam, or in training crashes.
The deaths did not surprise me; the Air Force is a war machine. Nor did the real estate; war machines don’t teach much imagination. What was most impressive was my lack of envy. I didn’t hate ROTC, but had felt no regrets when I quit. And none slipped out of the pages I turned at this other end of the passage.
I did miss one thing, though, not mentioned in the sketches: each of my surviving generational peers was getting a generous monthly pension check, while I stood here, in a tattered mail handler’s apron, grimy work gloves shoved in the pocket while holding the book in genuinely calloused laborer’s hands.
Yes, I envied them those checks; but that was all. I pushed the U-cart back to the conveyor belt, and dropped the book in its proper mailbag.
The retired could do something they wanted to do; I knew what I wanted to do, yet had to punch the clock and pursue it on the side. A job was better than no job; but I often felt hemmed in, and stifled.
Still, that was the Post Office way: in Merrifield it sometimes seemed that all of us in the laboring crafts led double lives. This ambivalence moved a writer in Ebony magazine to note a saying that while such jobs were stable and paid comparatively well, “the post office has often been called ‘the graveyard of Negro talent.’”
Yet another historian argued that “when unionized blue and white-collar employment was becoming a stepping stone to a middle-class lifestyle, autoworkers and meat-packers, nurses and postal workers, displaced the ‘talented tenth’ as agents of Black community advancement.”
And now it’s time for an apology: In Part One I promised to tell about the double life here. Except I ran out of time and space. But fear not: more on my ambivalence and double life in the next part.
In my experience, the work of overcoming racism and its sordid history has many aspects, and can be pursued in many ways. Some are loud and disruptive. Others are calmly persuasive. Different strokes for different folks.
Here I want to pay tribute to a current worker, a friend of mine, and fellow Quaker, Ron Osborne. On August 17, he appeared at the meeting of the Alamance County board of Commissioners, to do one small piece of this work, namely moving the tall Confederate monument from its longtime site in front of the old county courthouse in downtown Graham, the county seat.
Outside the building there were some noisy protesters, who could be heard in the background. Ron spoke quietly but clearly, The Commission sets aside up to 30 minutes for general public comments, in 3-minute segments. Ron made his three minutes count.
The Commission at this point has taken no steps toward moving the monument. But this work continues.
Ronald Osborne: I have lived in North Carolina all my life and in Alamance County for over 35 years.
My family first settled in North Carolina in the 1660s. Part of my property has been continuously owned by my family since the 1750s. My direct ancestor was a neighbor and acquaintance of the Regulator Herman Husband. Their names even appear together on some deeds. Another ancestor made muskets used at [the 1781 Revolutionary War Battle of] Guilford Courthouse [in Greensboro].
My grandfather’s grandfather fought for the Confederacy, was captured at the Battle of Chancellorsville and wounded at Spotsylvania. My grandmother’s great grandfather fought at the Battles of New Bern and Kinston.
My wife’s grandmother’s great uncle was killed at the Battle of the Crater in Petersburg. Our ancestors were also involved in other battles, including Gettysburg.
I share these scraps of family background to convey to you that I have a deep appreciation and awareness of History. My sons and I are Civil War reenactors, and I’m familiar with the inscription on the Court Square monument which appears to pay homage to those, like my ancestors, who served in the Confederacy.
I must tell you that the simple presence of this statue in the courthouse square, a place which should promote and guarantee justice for all, which should be a place which represents all citizens equally, is as much a divisive symbol of the injustices inflicted on many of our citizens, as it is a reminder of any gallantry and sacrifices of my, and perhaps your, ancestors.
History tells us that those who dedicated this monument were the very citizens who lynched Officer Wyatt Outlaw in the same square. They enshrined this statue not just as a memorial, but as a veiled threat, set in stone, to all people of color to know and keep their places as second-class citizens.
You, our elected leaders have been confronted with a choice: Do you accept as your legacy the defense of a symbol of our checkered history, where both you and our county are known for refusing to acknowledge our known shortcomings of the past? Or do you embrace this opportunity to seek our community’s redemption, to improve our reputation, improve our economy, and demonstrate that we are a county welcoming and fair to all?
Move the statue away from our house that aspires to Justice. Demonstrate that “blue lives as well as black lives matter by memorializing the travesty our community visited upon Officer Wyatt Outlaw and other citizens of color. Be known through posterity as the leaders who embraced an opportunity for positive change. For if you don’t, future leaders surely will, robbing you of this momentous honor that could have been yours.
The time I spent in the civil rights struggle for Black voting rights in 1965 was a very important part of my life.
And the time I spent working for the Postal Service (USPS), beginning twenty years later in 1985, was important too.
But the two experiences were very different, so different I couldn’t imagine they would ever intersect.
Why should they? One was a social movement, shaking things up, demanding change for justice and facing violent, even murderous opposition. The other was the nation’s oldest public utility, which when working well was a nearly invisible pillar of American normality, stability and placid routine.
But now, in late summer 2020, they’ve abruptly come together; collided, really. Saving our voting rights today, this year, means saving the USPS. Who would have thought?
This is a confluence that’s not easy to sort out. I invite you to come along as I try to process it. I hope doing so can be a small diversion in these Dog Days, but will also encourage you to join the rising movement to defend the postal service, and our voting rights, by whatever sort of ”good trouble” you are able to make.
If I believed I was a prophet, I’d say that after three years of agony, a breakthrough in SAYMA’s logjam/paralysis is in sight.
It will soon be a month since the summer representative meeting of Southern Appalachian Yearly Meeting & Association, or SAYMA. Held by Zoom on July 20, its major business item was the first reading of SAYMA’s delayed budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year. Our account of it is here.
On that budget, the key item was a proposed $2500 for the Uplifting Racial Justice Committee (URJ), headed by Sharon Smith. The Committee had taken $16000 from SAYMA last year. It had demanded $20,000 from this new budget, and a pledge of $10,000 more annually in perpetuity.
There was plenty of murmured unease and even opposition to this demand, and in fact to the activity of URJ and the consistently antagonistic and disruptive behavior of Smith. At least two SAYMA meetings had already sent in minutes opposing any future funding for it, and many individuals had quietly expressed similar sentiments.
Meanwhile, Smith had a claque of supporters who continually repeated her claim that any and all questioning and opposition to her “anti-racist ministry” was “white supremacy/Quaker racism” and nothing else.
Any experienced Quaker Clerk in such a situation would see that there was no unity on this budget item in the body, which means the body doesn’t approve it. It seems clear that SAYMA’s officers do see that, but most have been so fearful of open conflict and/or intimidated by Smith’s cries of “racism” and violent tantrums that they have ducked and dodged every occasion to make an actual stand. Continue reading SAYMA: The Gravy Train Is Lurching toward a Stop→
The point, to reiterate, was that lots of academic & private polling research, plus my own movement experience, confirms the idea that nonviolent protests move public opinion in a progressive direction, while violent demonstrations nudge it toward the reactionary right, often with tragic and lasting outcomes.
I didn’t expect to have corroboration so soon. But by sundown there was a raft of it, starting with a brand new Reuters/Ipsos poll with all the data one might need.
First, the new poll. The big number in it was the trend in public support for the latest round of protests. Here’s the summary:
The poll follows a series of late-night clashes between protesters and federal police in Portland, Oregon, where demonstrators have held nightly anti-racism rallies. Trump sent federal police into the city despite the mayor’s objections to deal with what he called “anarchists and agitators,” and he has sent others to Seattle, Chicago, Kansas City and Albuquerque.
According to the poll, 52% of American adults say they are sympathetic to those who are still gathering to protest the police treatment of minorities, especially African Americans,about 12 percentage points lower than a similar poll that ran in mid-June.[Emphasis added.]
Twelve per cent. That’s a big drop. And 52 percent is perilously close (within any reasonable margin for error) to tipping over into majority public dislike of the protests.
And there’s another drop to take note of: The percentage of those who are unhappy with Trump’s response to the recent protests has dropped from 58 per cent to 54. Ipsos puts this another way:
. . . [A] majority of Americans remain unhappy with the way [Trump] has responded. The poll showed 54% of Americans disapprove of Trump’s handling of the protests, which is only a slight improvement from a similar poll that ran in mid-June when 58% disapproved.
Another way to slice it is that Trump appears to be reclaiming some Republicans whose support he was losing as the early rounds of protests crested. There the increase Ipsos found, is substantial:
The rise in support comes primarily from Republicans who have backed the president in greater numbers as the protests rage across the country: 78% said they approved of Trump’s response to the demonstrations in the latest poll, up from 67% in mid-June. Nearly nine out of 10 Democrats say they do not like the way Trump is dealing with the protests, and that has not changed over since June.
It’s not time to panic. But what’s important here is the trend, and it’s in the direction of Trump’s strategy: paint the protests as domestic terrorism, fan the flames of hysteria, turn up the media echo chamber volume to full blast, and build the image as the savior of [racist white] suburbia.
Trump: it’s ridiculous, they [Biden & Democrats] want to abolish, and really hurt the suburbs, because under their plan, they will, under a plan that’s very much agreed to by them, they want to make it worse, they don’t mind if low income housing is built in a neighborhood, in a beautiful suburb of Iowa, but a beautiful suburb anywhere in the country, they want low, and this has been going on for years, Obama made it much worse, and now they want Cory Booker to run that program, Cory Booker of New Jersey to run that program, and make it many times worse than it is right now. People have gone to the suburbs, they want the beautiful homes, they don’t have to have a low income housing development built in their community, which is going to reduce, which has reduced the prices of their homes, and also increased crime substantially. [Emphasis added.]
As one analyst said, this effusion turns his racist dog whistles into train whistles. I would add, foghorns.
The Iowa rant, if typically rambling, was not at all incoherent: it aims to reassemble and harden the racist suburban base Trump plundered in 2016. And I hate to say it, but the poll suggests he’s making some headway with that. And do I think protesters need to take this into account? You bet.
One other meaningful tidbit from this busy day; The Minneapolis police department said they’re closing in on a suspect who was the “umbrella Man” who broke windows in protests there on May 27, clearly “lighting the match” of fiery protests later. The New York Times has an affidavit police filed for a search warrant:
“Erika Christensen, an arson investigator with the Minneapolis police, wrote in the affidavit that the vandalism ‘created an atmosphere of hostility and tension’ two days after Mr. Floyd’s death. It unleashed a chain reaction of arson and looting in the Twin Cities, she wrote, after protests had been relatively peaceful.
‘In a short time after the front windows are broken out in The AutoZone, looting started, the affidavit said, noting that the AutoZone store burned down later that day. ‘This was the first fire that set off a string of fires and looting throughout the precinct and the rest of the city.’”
They allege that the suspect is associated with white supremacy groups and racist prison gangs. The Washington Post had a video clip of the suspect, showing other protesters pleading with him to stop, unsuccessfully.
Unless the Minneapolis cops are completely wrong, this disclosure cements the case that Umbrella Man was no more than a provocateur, who fully achieved his goal of undermining peaceful protests and touching off violence.
And if that happened in Minneapolis, my sense is that it has happened elsewhere. The conclusion that strict nonviolent tactics is the best defense against such subversion is plain.
Is help on the way? There’s an outfit in DC called the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, and it has published the title & an abstract of a new monograph which addresses this head on: “Agents Provocateurs, Violent Flanks, and Nonviolent Movements: A Historical and Strategic Perspective.” The abstract sounds totally on point:
“When the adversary of a civil resistance movement sends infiltrators to join the movement, what do these covert operators do, and what impact do they have? Furthermore, how can civil resistance organizers respond creatively and strategically?”
Yes how? In Minneapolis, the video shows two other protesters appealing to Umbrella Man to stop breaking windows. He ignored them, kept swinging the sledgehammer, then walked away. Peaceful protesters need help on this.
Unfortunately only the paper’s title & abstract are online; the actual paper is “forthcoming.” Better get the lead out, folks: it’s burn-the-midnight-courthouse—err, oil time.
Nevertheless. Most of the protests have been peaceful, and many have been quite imaginative. Such creativity is an important tactical resource. (Looking at you, Wall of Moms.)
One of the less useful of the recent media tempests involved a report about the fate of David Shor, a somewhat lefty data analyst.
Shor had tweeted a summary of a paper by Princeton scholar Omar Wasow. Wasow argued that his research on 12 years of Black-led protests, particularly in election years, moved public opinion in a progressive direction, whereas those marked by violence to property and persons moved the needle toward support for reactionaries, helping bring Nixon, Reagan et al to power. In his own words:
Evaluating black-led protests between 1960 and 1972, I find nonviolent activism, particularly when met with state or vigilante repression, drove media coverage, framing, Congressional speech and public opinion on civil rights. Counties proximate to nonviolent protests saw presidential Democratic vote share among whites increase 1.3-1.6%.
Protester-initiated violence, by contrast, helped move news agendas, frames, elite discourse and public concern toward “social control.” In 1968 . . . I find violent protests likely caused a 1.6-7.9% shift among whites towards Republicans and tipped the election.
Shor’s tweet provoked a storm of online denunciation of its purported racism, and in a few days Shor was fired from his job at Civis Analytics, a Chicago-based “data science software and consultancy company,“ for somewhat lefty clients.
I mention it not to rehash the cliched debate about cancel culture. Instead, I want to say a few things about Omar Wasow’s overall thesis, that violence in protests helps reactionary politics, while nonviolent direct action boosts progressives.
First, I strongly agree with Wasow’s main point. My conviction is not based on academic research, though; it comes out of fifty-plus years of surviving the ’60s and their aftermath, under the heels of Nixon, Reagan, two Bushes, and the Orange Menace.
Oh—and second, if it’s not permitted for a lefty progressive to say such a thing, so shoot me. Though that would be a waste of ammunition, given my age and retired status.
Third, and most important, there are others who also agree with Wasow, and are acting vigorously on that conviction, but with very different and anti-progressive ends in view. Also with far more clout than I’ll ever have.
A vivid glimpse of that reality is what moved me to write this post. It came in the latest edition of “The Righting,” an email newsletter that brings “Top news headlines from the Far Right for the rest of us.”
The rightwing media this letter aggregates rant about many issues and topics.
Yet the current issue is essentially focused on just one: how violent protests are terrorism unleashed, that are burning up the cities, threatening the country. They must be stopped, and only harsh repression by their preferred leader can save us.
Looking this over, and remembering the Shor & Wasow hoo-haw, it suddenly hit me: the far right totally believes both of them: they’re convinced violent protests can move the needle.
And they’re desperate to move the needle. All the credible polls are showing Trump lagging Biden, many by huge numbers. Some foolish pundits are already announcing that it’s all over, and trotting out their pet names for a Biden cabinet.
But it’s not over yet. And every urban nightscape that is lit up with flames and resounds with gunfire presents a chance for them to stop the Trumpist slide. Maybe their only chance. Will the violent protests give it to them?
Americans are not overall a radical, or even radical-leaning people. They want some peace, quiet, a real crusade against the pandemic, a way for families out of the new depression, open and SAFE schools, and action on police misconduct and the racism behind it.
Violence in the cities threatens the positive momentum that has been built up on all these matters since George Floyd’s murder. And putting up with or excusing it is no better. Here I am following the words and example of those who have been most honored this month: C. T. Vivian, John Lewis, and both Martin Luther and Coretta Scott King.
This appeal is particularly aimed at “my people,” the liberal Quakers and those of similar outlook, who have largely stuck with this heritage during my lifetime, I know it’s tempting to rationalize or give into the rage that’s loose. The sight of unidentified federal stormtroopers snatching mostly peaceful protesters off the streets is enough to send most of us over the edge.
But resist that impulse, Friends. As the old freedom song says, “keep your eyes on the prize.” Advocate for, plan, and carry out protests and actions that are strictly nonviolent.
It’s not only safer. It’s both strategically and tactically smarter. And the stakes could hardly be higher. If Americans become desperate for safety, many can be persuaded they will only get that from the right, and they can and will turn that way — it’s happened often before.
The far right knows this. So they are all out for the opposite to happen. Don’t fall into the trap.
Yesterday I published what I thought was a mildly-worded post stating my preference for not renaming the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama.
In saying that, I was following what I believed was the stated view of the late Rep. John Lewis, whose passing is being marked across the country this week — just as I had actually marched behind him across the Pettus Bridge on the historic march to Montgomery in 1965.
But to judge by some of the comments the post evoked, saying this was tantamount to admitting that I had really been an undercover Ku Klux Klansman & hardcore white supremacist back then and all along.
Unless, many said, I demanded that the bridge be renamed for Lewis, right now, I was unmasking myself as a stone racist and a supporter of every evil up to and including the Nazi holocaust.
Good grief. Shaking my head, I asked, almost in despair: “WWJD”??