|Yes, You Can Do Something|
|Author of Soul of A Citizen tells how people create change in cynical times.|
|The following article I composed was adapted from an interview and became the cover story for the July 6, 1999 StreetWise.
“How can we comprehend the moral implications of a world in which Nike pays Michael Jordan more to appear in its ads than it pays all the workers at its Indonesian shoe factories combined?”—Paul Loeb, Soul of a Citizen
I showed up for a morning interview with Paul Loeb after plowing through his latest book, Soul Of A Citizen: Living With Conviction In A Cynical Time. The book is “an antidote to the twin scourges of modern life–powerlessness and cynicism”–and has received acclaim from a wide range of activists, including novelist Alice Walker and John Sweeney, president of the AFL/CIO. With slight prompting about parts of the book that stood out, Paul was able to fly off the cuff. An associated scholar at Seattle’s Center for Ethical Leadership and an author, Paul is an engaging, enthusiastic speaker who gets a lot of motivation from the many activists who are used as examples in his book.
One of the many activists on his mind was Rosa Parks, awarded the Congressional Silver Medal of Honor and a subject of a tribute from President Clinton the day before this interview.
Paul Loeb: “I was interested to know what story they portrayed about (Rosa Parks). Hearing her described as suddenly out of nowhere, deciding to take her stand, refusing to move to the back of the bus in Montgomery, Alabama and helping to start the Civil Rights Movement. And what bothered me about that, is that in fact, she didn’t come out of nowhere. She’d been active for about 12 years with the NAACP in Montgomery, Alabama trying to challenge things, working with other people.
“When I look at that what I see is a lesson of you jump in, you persevere, keep working for 12 years, and then finally one of the many things you do works and suddenly history changes.
“But if you just sort of depend on having the courage to miraculously come out of nowhere and take a heroic, courageous stand you might wait forever, so to me Rosa Parks’ story, the real story, (is) you work with other people, you try. It’s an uphill fight, it’s a difficult fight, you have to keep going; you try for 12 years, nothing seems to work, then all of a sudden something does work. That’s an infinitely more powerful story than the media myth that we usually get which says, “She came out of nowhere one day, she just decided to act.” This was a conscious movement.
“The media culture prefers it to be (that) if anyone ever does something, it’s sort of naive, innocent, out of nowhere, and in fact, what that does is that prevents us from trying to consciously act.
“Most people have never heard of Miles Horton, who was the founder of this labor and civil rights center where Rosa Parks and other longtime civil rights activists who’d been continuing long before her (came from)… And so we know, Parks… And this is to take nothing away from her, a wonderful, courageous woman… (but) she doesn’t start out in this impossibly heroic state. She started out just an ordinary person trying to get involved. She is part of a movement and she is part of a movement that continues over time. And we should be able to identify with trying to be part of a movement, and in a way, that’s easier to identify with than just coming out of nowhere, doing something impossibly heroic and suddenly changing history…
“Saul Alinsky did a lot of his work out of Chicago. They called him the godfather of community organizing, and he founded a network of organizations around the country. One of the stories I tell in Soul of A Citizen is in San Antonio, Texas where there’s a woman named Virginia Ramirez, a Latino Woman, a traditional housewife… Her husband has a tiny taxi business, and one day an old woman in her neighborhood dies from the cold. Her house… (is) so run down that the wind will just whip through it every winter. She gets sicker and sicker and finally paramedics carry her out and she dies. They said she’d be alive if someone fixed up her house. Virginia gets really upset about this and she goes to a meeting of COPS (Communities Organized for Public Services) and said, ‘What are you going to do about this? This woman died!’ and they said, ‘What are you going to do about it?’ And Virginia gets really upset and says, ‘I thought you were supposed to help!’ and she storms out. And then a few days later a nun who works with the group knocks on her door. Virginia said, ‘I only let her in because she was a nun.’ So she lets her in and the woman says, ‘What are you so angry about?’ Virginia says, ‘I’m angry because this woman died!’
” ‘And what else?’
” ‘I’m angry that my father picked crops all his life and never got any money and never got any respect. And I’m angry that my kids don’t have a good education. I’m angry that our community is scorned and ignored.’
“Virginia starts being involved in this group. At first she is very hesitant. She timidly takes one step then another. The first time she speaks at a meeting she can barely get the words out. Then she gets a little more confident and then she feels, ‘I’m just telling a story about the community.’ Then she ends up speaking at a city council meeting. She ends up testifying before Congress on this wonderful Job Training Bill that they developed. And what she says is, ‘Everything I learned, I learned from the University of COPS.’
“What’s interesting is that COPS isn’t like UIC, or Northwestern, it’s not like Loyola; it’s not a college, it’s a community group. But what she means by that is that it functions to teach her what it meant to be involved, to teach her what her voice was.
“By being involved it gave her the strength and it gave her the voice and that allowed her to act. She got something profound from being involved. One of the lessons of Soul Of A Citizen is that you get so much back when you’re involved in community and you take a stand. Even if it’s difficult and even if you’re frustrated. You need patience to be able to act. You need patience and you need community. Virginia was isolated at first. Only when she joined a community group did she get something done.
“You never know what the ripple effect is. There’s a friend of mine who in the early ’60s was in this very lonely vigil against the nuclear arms race and nuclear testing. There was less than 100 women in the rain in D.C. with their kids. They just felt pitiful. They were like, ‘Here you are. Nobody is obviously listening. None of this is going to make any difference. Why are we even doing this?’ Their kids were crying and they wanted to go home. A few years later she’s at a very big rally. Benjamin Spock, the baby doctor who died last year, is speaking. His presence is a wonderful addition, because every kid in the ’50s and ’60s was raised on Spock’s books. He’s a major national figure who starts speaking out on public issues and has a huge impact. And he talks about how he got involved. He says, ‘Well here’s the issues and this is why I started speaking about them.’ Then he says, ‘What really got me was that one day in Washington D.C., I was walking down the street and I saw this little raggedy group in the rain, and the ink on the signs was running and they’re dealing with their kids, and I thought, if they care this much to be involved with this, I ought to go check it out. I ought to take it seriously.’ And so my friend was watching this and realizing that in this moment of apparent powerlessness, she is making a difference. Her actions were actually mattering, and what a wonderful feeling, because you don’t always know that until later.
“The cynicism says you can’t make a difference, don’t even try. Just give up. Watch TV, shop at the mall and buy as many things as you can. If you don’t like it, too bad, because that’s the way the world is. We’re really told that consistently. It’s historically false. If I look at any of the great struggles in this country, to abolish slavery or get women the vote, to fight for the 8-hour day, the Civil Rights Movement… the Anti-Vietnam War Movement… in every case it was frustrating. It often took years and years and years, but it worked. It may not have achieved every final measure of justice, but it certainly changed society. When I hear people say you can’t do anything, what they’re really doing is accepting what they’re being told, and that’s very convenient for the powers that be, because if people are all passive, nothing will happen.
“There’s another person I write about, Hazel Wolf, who is 101 years old. She wanted to play basketball when she was 11 years old. She said, ‘I want to play basketball.’ The coach said, ‘Girls can’t,’ and she said, ‘Of course we can’t, because you never give us any balls or hoops. Give us that and we’ll play basketball.’ He kind of looked dumbfounded and he says, ‘Alright, if you can raise the teams by this afternoon, you can play.’ And she did. And then she goes on in the 1930s (to fight) for organizing unions. She helps push through one of the first pension systems that became a model for social security, and that’s a good thing because she was a secretary her whole life and never made any money and she’s been living on social security for almost 40 years. She would be in the streets if people had not pushed through social security. One of the lessons of Soul Of A Citizen is that you not only get back in sort of an emotional way, but sometimes in a very practical way. Especially if you stick around long enough that you can see the benefits of the things you fight for. In her case, that’s been critical and I don’t know what she’d be doing otherwise. In the last 40 years she’s been working on environmental issues and building coalitions of environmental justice in low-income communities and Native American tribes, again, very far-sighted stuff. When I ask her how does she keep going, she says, ‘You do what you can, and then you do some more. You can’t do everything, but you can do what you can and then you can do something else and then you can do something else. That you can do your entire life.’
“Basically she’s saying, ‘You don’t have to take on everything’ but, if you start, and whatever it is you care about–homelessness, violence in the streets–you do something and then you continue on and you just learn a step at a time as you go, and if you keep on long enough, you can look back over a life of 30, 40, 50, 60 years of involvement and feel like, ‘Yes, I’ve done something.’ “
OOrah! You Devil Dogs! Marine Corps!
And Happy Veterans Day in advance to those who served and a special tribute to those who organize for peace, to honor the sacrifice of the those who gave the ultimate sacrifice by working to make sure we learn from the futility and waste of the past and create a better future moving forwards.
And a shout to two of my favorite Marines:
Gen. David M. Shoup.
“I believe that if we had and would keep our dirty, bloody, dollar-soaked fingers out of the business of these nations so full of depressed, exploited people, they will arrive at a solution of their own — and if unfortunately their revolution must be of the violent type because the “haves” refuse to share with the “have-nots” by any peaceful method, at least what they get will be their own, and not the American style, which they don’t want and above all don’t want crammed down their throats by Americans. “
Gen. Smedley D. Butler
“I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.” — From “War Is A Racket” by Gen. Smedley D. Butler
Gen. Smedley Butler – Almighty Wiki
The Illinois Democratic candidates for governor speak about both their experience and platform at this forum hosted by Our Revolution Illinois/Chicago. Candidates include: Daniel Biss, Bob Daiber, Tio Hardiman, Chris Kennedy, Alex Paterakis, Ameya Pawar, and J.B. Pritzker. Since this event, Ameya Pawar suspended his campaign.
I’ve watched this twice, so far, and given it a lot of thought. I am putting this out there with an invitation for feedback.
Congratulations! I’m sharing some info from my Obama alumni association:
Open enrollment for affordable health coverage has started – go to HealthCare.gov to sign up. You must sign up by December 15. Coverage could be more affordable than you think. 8 out of 10 people can find a plan for under $75.
- There are big changes this year.
- The enrollment period is half as long as in previous years and there’s only one deadline, so you must take action by December 15 or risk not having coverage in 2018 and having to pay a penalty.
- The administration has made other changes which will make it harder for people to get the information they need to get and stay covered.
- In person assistance funding has been cut by 40% and advertising has been cut by 90%. HHS regional staff have even been told they cannot help get the word out about Open Enrollment.
That means it’s up to all of us to get the facts out. Here’s what we need people to know:
You must take action to sign up for coverage by December 15 for 2018 coverage, and because of financial help, most people can find a plan for $50 to $100 per month.
There is a lot of confusion that we need to cut through. The best way to do that is to talk about the facts.
For the uninsured, that means making sure people know that coverage is more affordable than they think.
- You can even apply on your smart-phone. It only takes about 10 minutes to submit an application.
- An Out of Pocket Cost estimator will help you estimate your total costs for the year including premiums, deductibles, and co-pays.
- There are Doctor and Prescription Drug Lookup tools so you can find out which plans cover your doctors and prescriptions.
For those who already have coverage through HealthCare.gov, they need to know that they should come back and shop because plans and prices change every year and there might be a more affordable plan that meets their needs.
- Did your job, family, or health status change? You should come back to HealthCare.gov to shop and make sure you’re enrolled in right plan.
- It pays to shop – when you’re buying a car you shop around–you should do the same with health insurance.
- Even if none of your information has changed, you may still be able to get a better deal. Marketplace consumers have the option to switch plans annually. This means that during Open Enrollment you can check to see if there is a plan offered this year that saves you more money, offers you more services, or includes more doctors
5 Facts About Signing Up For Coverage at HealthCare.gov
#1: Sign up by December 15. Open Enrollment starts on November 1 but you must take action by December 15, no matter if this is your first time getting covered or if you are returning to shop and save. Beat the rush and sign up early.
#2: Coverage could be cheaper than you think. Last year, 8 in 10 people qualified for financial help to make their monthly premiums more affordable. In fact, most people found plans available between $50 to $100 per month.
#3: Shop and save. If you had coverage through HealthCare.gov for 2017, you should come back to update your information and compare your options for 2018. Every year, plans and prices change, you could save money by switching to a new plan that still meets your needs.
#4: Those who choose to go without health insurance may have to pay a penalty. There is a minimum penalty of $695 for not having health insurance.
#5: Free help is available. If you have questions about signing up or want to talk through your options with a trained professional, free help is just a call or quick away. Call 1-800-318-2596, visit localhelp.healthcare.gov or make a one-on-one appointment now.