Theory of Social Change As Elitist As It Is Inaccurate

Lets not try to rewrite history. LBJ was both a war criminal and a moral midget compared to Martin Luther King, who had the courage to oppose his war.

LBJ killed over a million innocent children with this undeclared imperialist war that had no purpose or goals except to fill a power vacuum left by the French.

I spent countless hours organizing to oppose LBJ’s war. I’m not about to let any warmonger president off the hook, then or now.

Roger Baker

Neither Hillary or LBJ should get a pass on their wars. She voted to authorize the debacle we are now in and recently voted the wrong way on the Iran resolution. At least, Edwards apologized for his Iraq war vote and Obama voted in opposition. I was arrested with other women for “hexing” the LBJ library before it’s inauguration, saying “The blood of the Vietnamese people will haunt you forever.” There was a large antiwar demonstration at the library inauguration and about 60 local activists were served with papers “enjoining” from getting close to the dignitaries to voice that sentiment. Roger has been succinct here in his response and I will try to be as well. I understand that LBJ passed significant domestic legislation, but the war escalated dramatically on his watch. A progressive domestic agenda doesn’t cancel out imperialism. I think that the message from Ehrenreich is this: you have to organize a movement independent of partisan politics that can hold whoever is in office accountable.

Alice Embree

A youngster’s perspective:
I wasn’t around for the civil rights and anti war movements. But as the son of an activist and a student of history, I figured I would throw my two euro’s in (as the american dollar isn’t quite worth even throwing away lately). I find it interesting that as this country ages, It looks upon itself with rose colored glasses. The age of yesteryear was so much prettier. But from what I can see the pages of history were written in just as much blood and shit as the ones being written today. LBJ being thrown into the media spotlight this past week is a perfect example of this.

LBJ was a business man. He knew how to read the bottom line. He had a war on the poor half a world away, and at the same time a growing revolt here at home. It didn’t take a great civil rights leader to recognize that in order to maintain control of both fronts, he had to make some concessions here at home. Besides, as history has proven, you can easily reverse the rights you give to the people by taking them away somewhere else when they aren’t paying attention (and this country has a bad case of ADD). Do the poor of today really have more rights than the poor 30 years ago? Sure LBJ passed legislation that gave voting rights to more people. Did we already forget about Florida and Ohio in 2000 and 2004?

The comments Hillary made weren’t racist. They proved at least one of two points. Hillary (and the Media) is completely out of touch with reality or she is trying to rewrite history. I think both. She is out of touch. She asks us to look at her record as a person who has created change. The only real change she made was putting another Republican in a Senate seat, herself. She is trying to rewrite history; if the american people truly took a look at her record. They would strip her of her clothing and see, that although she may be of feminine gender, she is truly a member of the boys club. After watching her on Meet the Press a week ago, I am curious whether she may have a blue dress with some of Bush’s DNA on it (or would it be Cheney’s).

One last thought on the civil rights movement and LBJ. There were leadership vacuums that took place with the assassinations of Martin Luther King and the Kennedy’s (and many many of the grass roots organizers as well). What vacuum was created by LBJ’s Death?

Jesse James Retherford

Hillary’s Real MLK Problem
By Barbara Ehrenreich
Posted January 15, 2008

At first I took it as another, yawn, white rip-off of black culture and creativity: the Rolling Stones appropriating the Bo Diddley beat, Bo Derek sporting corn rows, and now Hillary giving Lyndon Baines Johnson credit for the voting rights act of 1965. If you had to give this honor to a white guy, LBJ was an odd choice, since he’d spent the 1964 Democratic convention scheming to prevent the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party from taking any Dixiecrat seats. By Clinton’s standards, maybe Richard Nixon should be credited with the legalization of abortion in 1972.

But Clinton’s LBJ remark reveals something more worrisome than racial tone-deafness – a theory of social change that’s as elitist as it is inaccurate. Black civil rights weren’t won by suited men (or women) sitting at desks. They were won by a mass movement of millions who marched, sat in at lunch counters, endured jailings, and took bullets and beatings for the right to vote and move freely about. Some were students and pastors; many were dirt-poor farmers and urban workers. No one has ever attempted to list all their names.

There’s a problem too, of course, with the conventional abbreviation of the Civil Rights Movement into two names – Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks. What about Fannie Lou Hamer, who led the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party’s delegation to the 19464 convention? What about Ella Baker, Fred Hampton, Stokely Carmichael and hundreds of other leaders? The Great Person theory of history may simplify textbook-writing, but leaves us with no clue as to how change actually happens.

Women’s rights, for example, weren’t brokered by Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem over tea. As Steinem would be the first to acknowledge, the feminist movement of the 70s took root around kitchen tables and coffee tables, ignited by hundreds of thousands of now-anonymous women who were sick of being called “honey” at work and excluded from “men’s” jobs. Media stars like Friedan and Steinem did a brilliant job of proselytizing, but it took an army of unsung heroines to stage the protests, organize the conferences, hand out the fliers, and spread the word to their neighbors and co-workers.

“Change” is this year’s Democratic battle cry, but if you don’t know how it happens, you’re not likely to make it happen yourself. A case in point is Clinton’s 1993 “health reform” plan. She didn’t do any “listening tour” for that, no televised town meetings with heart-rending grassroots testimonies. Instead, she gathered up a cadre of wonks for months of closed-door meetings, some so secretive that the participants themselves were barred from bringing in pencils or pens. According to David Corn of The Nation, when Clinton was told that 70 percent of Americans polled favored a single-payer system at the time, she responded sarcastically with, “Now tell me something interesting.”

She could have gone about things differently, in a way that wouldn’t have left 47 million Americans uninsured today. She could have started by realizing that no real change would come about without a mobilization of the ordinary people who wanted it. Instead of sequestering herself with economists and business consultants, she might have met with representatives of nurses’ organizations, doctors’ groups, health workers’ unions, and patient advocates. Then she could have gone to the public and said: I’m working for a major change in the way we do things and it’s going to run into heavy resistance, so I’ll need your support in every possible way.

But she did it her way, and ended up with a 1300 page plan that no one, on either side of the aisle, liked or could even comprehend – proving that historical change isn’t made by the smartest girl in the room, even if she shares a bed with the president. Similarly, she ignored the anti-war movement of this decade and alienated untold numbers of Democratic voters, feminists included.

I’d like to think that Obama, with his community organizing experience and insistence on firing people up, gets it a little better. But whoever is elected president this year, there won’t be any real change in a progressive direction without a mass social movement to bring it about – either by holding the president accountable or by holding his or her feet to the fire. And a mass social movement doesn’t begin at the top. It begins right now, with you.


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