Archive | Class War

1990s Oregon campaigns anticipated Trump’s politics of division


Arlene Stein, Rutgers University

The white working class surprised many pundits and social scientists by supporting Donald Trump, leading some to describe the election results as a “whitelash.”

The fact that the president-elect successfully mobilized this population was far from inevitable. After all, a fair number of Trump supporters once voted for Obama. A good many of them, when questioned, explained that they “didn’t really like either candidate,” or that they “wanted a change.” History certainly shows us that populist fervor can shift left and right.

Consider Oregon. That Portlandia-style bastion of crunchy granola togetherness also has a long history of racism, such as early 20th-century laws which permitted blacks to pass through towns but required them to leave by sundown. More recently, anti-government militia groups have consolidated their influence there. Many of its residents share a great deal in common with other Americans who live outside of cities: Their lives are more precarious today than they were even a few decades ago.

Twenty years ago, I interviewed dozens of residents of a small town that had been swept up in a local populist rebellion, part of a statewide campaign against gay rights that predicted Trump’s politics of division. Timber communities like Cottage Grove, in the middle of the state, became laboratories for a right-wing populism that appealed to nostalgia, exploited people’s fears and distrust of elites, and turned neighbors against one another. But it also gave rise to a progressive populism, at least for a while.

Economic anxieties make people more susceptible to political messaging that exploits social divisions, promising simple solutions to complex problems. But the experience of Oregon shows that the appeal of reactionary populism ebbs and flows, and can be mitigated by grassroots political organizing.

A populist campaign

As I describe in my book, the lumber industry in the Pacific Northwest once created jobs that were secure, unionized and paid enough to support a family. A sense of economic security made rural Oregon a pretty live-and-let-live sort of place.

Mill worker in Riddle, Oregon, May 15, 2008.
REUTERS/Richard Clement

But in the 1980s, automation, tougher environmental regulations and a sluggish national housing market, coupled with globalization, led to the collapse of the timber industry. While the city of Portland enjoyed a high-tech fueled upswing, middle-aged men and women in rural Oregon were forced to settle for low-paying service sector jobs, or leave their hometowns in search of work. People started camping in vans, thrift stores cropped up everywhere and evangelical Protestantism became a refuge.

Oregon Citizens Alliance founder Lon Mabon holds up a draft of ‘The Family Act’ in Brooks, Oregon, Thursday, June 6, 1996, a measure that would bar same-sex marriages.
AP Photo/Shane Young

The following decade, an organization called the Oregon Citizens Alliance sponsored a series of ballot measures that promised to turn back the clock. It managed to convince many Oregonians that by fighting gay rights they could take a stand against the “elites” who were eroding their small-town values, and restore the “natural” dichotomy of the sexes.

Though few area residents had ever met an openly gay person, this issue had surprising resonance. Families stopped their kids from playing with those whose parents were on the opposite side of the issue. Fistfights broke out at the high school. Practically overnight, the question of whether gays and lesbians should be recognized in the law, and given legal protections, became a central way small communities defined themselves.

The campaign offered a space where people could openly voice prejudices against sexual minorities, people of color and elites. By asserting their superiority over these groups, they could feel powerful, at least for a moment.

The campaigns did little to address the material insecurities they faced, however. When I questioned them, supporters of the anti-gay measures admitted as much. They weren’t certain that outlawing gay rights would address their problems, but they were willing to see whether it could. Though the ballot measures passed in rural Oregon, they failed statewide, and were ultimately declared unconstitutional.

Organizing for human dignity

Meanwhile, an organization called the Rural Organizing Project appeared on the scene.

The Rural Organizing Project reached back into the tradition of progressive populism, which had been a formidable influence in late 19th-century America. It brought together conservative Christians, loggers, people of color, laborers, office workers and farm workers, fostering relationships among people who hardly knew one another, though they often lived in the same small communities. And it challenged the belief that “white working-class” people march in lockstep.

“Human dignity” groups cropped up throughout the state, dedicated to the principle that targeting the “other” would not alleviate their problems. They trained people in the techniques of democratic process and small-group consensus, and changed the public conversation – at least for a while.

Twenty-odd years on, the majority of Oregonians may have voted for Clinton but most of the state’s rural citizens chose Trump in November.

Decades of neoliberal policies have eroded the economic power of vast numbers of Americans and failed to protect them from insecurity. Calls to deport illegal immigrants and build a wall around Mexico appeal to those who feel excluded by the current economic order, and who wish to address the corrosive affects of globalization.

“We’ve lost ground during the past 20 years, but without dialogue and a place for people to confront extremism, we’d be a lot worse off,” Kelley Weigel, executive director of the Western States Center, a Portland-based organization dedicated to progressive community organizing, told me recently. “The Rural Organizing Project and groups like it are critical to our collective future.”

Resisting the politics of division

While racism and sexism have deep roots in this country, labor unions, grassroots progressive organizations and the Democratic Party have, at times, enabled people to better understand the structural sources of their insecurity.

A recent study of 16 European nations found that a college education and union membership help inoculate workers against the far right’s message that immigrants, or racial and sexual minorities, are stealing our jobs.

“We’ve had a number of wins, which have resulted in cities and states passing policies that increased the minimum wage, offered paid sick leave, expanded public education, and protections for same-sex marriage,” says Weigel. But many of the organizations that could counter the appeal of right-wing populism are today struggling.

In the post-World War II era, one in three American workers belonged to a union. In today’s “gig economy,” only one in 10 does. During the past three decades, as the share of the work force in a union fell sharply, inequality in hourly wages increased by over 40 percent. If his nominees for secretary of education and transportation are any indication, Trump’s administration will be staunchly anti-union. And the Democratic Party, a potential bulwark against reactionary populism, has yet to put forth a viable national plan to alleviate economic inequality.

In this climate, the politics of division will continue to be an ever-present threat. Positioning the white working class as inevitably racist and sexist, however, may play into the very divisions that Trump’s campaign so effectively exploited. As Oregon’s story shows, organizations can help people understand the real sources of their insecurity, and challenge them to acknowledge their own racial privilege.

The Conversation

Arlene Stein, Professor of Sociology, Rutgers University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Big Pharma flooded West Virginia with painkillers

OxyContin...oxycodone. Most widely abused prescription type drug in USA. Handle with Care. Macro Mondays.

Just trying to be helpful, in that way Big Pharma always is?

Follow the pills and you’ll find the overdose deaths.

The trail of painkillers leads to West Virginia’s southern coalfields, to places like Kermit, population 392. There, out-of-state drug companies shipped nearly 9 million highly addictive — and potentially lethal — hydrocodone pills over two years to a single pharmacy in the Mingo County town.

Rural and poor, Mingo County has the fourth-highest prescription opioid death rate of any county in the United States.

The trail also weaves through Wyoming County, where shipments of OxyContin have doubled, and the county’s overdose death rate leads the nation. One mom-and-pop pharmacy in Oceana received 600 times as many oxycodone pills as the Rite Aid drugstore just eight blocks away.

In six years, drug wholesalers showered the state with 780 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills, while 1,728 West Virginians fatally overdosed on those two painkillers, a Sunday Gazette-Mail investigation found.

This has been going on as long as I can remember. In the 1970s, I remember reading that pharma manufacturers were dumping Quaaludes far in excess of the prescriptions that were being written.

No, I don’t trust them at all.

Congress introduces legislation to destroy Social Security

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In December, 2015 just ahead of the Iowa caucuses, then-candidate Donald Trump stood up at a town hall and reassured a concerned AARP Iowa member that they “were not taking their Social Security.” In fact, throughout the campaign all he would say is that there was “waste, fraud and abuse” inside the Social Security and Medicare… Continue Reading →

The battle for Social Security and Medicare begins today


It seems that I spend years of my life fighting to protect Social Security and Medicare, and here we are again as the GOP unleashes their new plan. From Josh Marshall:

Unlike the Bush-era plan to partially phase out Social Security and replace it with private investment accounts, this plan takes a different approach. Through a variety of mechanisms, this plan simply cuts benefits and introduces means testing. To look at specific cuts, changes in eligibility and so forth look at pages 2 and 3 on this official Social Security Administration scoring document analyzing the plan. The benefit cuts appear to hit everyone but are weighted toward more affluent recipients.


The plan with this new GOP bill is to proactively solve this problem entirely with cuts and really big cuts. Out over 75 years, the GOP proposal has the Trust Fund growing substantially out into the infinite horizon. In other words, a lot of the cuts are more than are necessary to pay for all benefits even if you leave the ‘cap’ in place.

I will say that this new bill is different and I think not as bad (extremely low bar) as the partial phase out of Social Security which President Bush tried to push in 2005. Because you have the same essential mechanisms in place. This is a huge benefit cut. Benefits could later be raised again if there was the political will to do so. The means testing component probably does more to endanger the future of the program in political terms.

The last day of session before Christmas break, and a Friday afternoon? Let’s not forget that every single House member is up for reelection in 2018, and none of them ran on cutting Social Security.

So I think something else is happening. This looks like a Trojan horse, used to manufacture a new “emergency” in Social Security funding. Polls and focus groups always show the same thing: No one will consider any kind of reform or privatization unless they think it’s the only way to save it.

You can see where that sense of crisis is useful. Remember, the goal has always been to get that money into private accounts, where Wall Street makes money and charges us hefty fees.

Make sure you call your reps Monday and tell them no.

Reporter discovers wi-fi named ‘n*gger genocide’ at Texas A&M white nationalist event

Jeff Paul, a reporter for CBS affiliate KTVK in Dallas, attended a white nationalist event at Texas A&M this week and found a disturbing name when he tried to connect to wi-fi. On Tuesday, white nationalist Richard Spencer spoke at the university after being invited by former student Preston Wiginton. Texas A&M officials have made it… Continue Reading →

Paul Ryan: Giving children free lunch at school gives them an ’empty soul’

They're coming for it.

Continuing his holy war against government assistance, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan declared during a conservative PAC speech that giving children free meals deprives them of something vital – their souls. Ryan was speaking before the Conservative Political Action Conference when he made his uneducated opinion on social welfare programs, specifically referring to free school… Continue Reading →

Chuck Schumer to GOP: If you repeal Obamacare, you’re on your own

Schumer, Cuomo Call On Feds to Close Terror Gap

Greg Sargent, who blogs for the Post and who, by the way, is a really good reporter, talks to Chuck Schumer about Obamacare repeal:

The emerging GOP plan to repeal Obamacare on a delayed schedule — and then maybe kinda sorta replace it later — has raised a big question: Will Democrats help Republicans pass a replacement that is far less generous and comprehensive than the health law is, allowing Republicans an escape from the political fallout from repeal?

In an interview with me, Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer answered this question with a resounding No. Under no circumstances, he vowed, would Democrats throw Republicans such a political lifeline.

“We’re not going to do a replacement,” Schumer said of the Senate Democratic caucus. “If they repeal without a replacement, they will own it. Democrats will not then step up to the plate and come up with a half-baked solution that we will partially own. It’s all theirs.”

[…] Asked directly if Democrats would refuse to support anything that falls significantly short of the ACA in terms of expanding social welfare, Schumer said: “The odds, after they repeal without any replacement, of us sitting at the table to do something that will chop one arm off instead of two is very small.”

Good. Dems are going to the mattresses. Let’s see if they stick to their guns this time. Because this will be a real disaster, no matter what.

Muslim ‘terrorist’ at OSU

2016 Ohio State University attack

Imagine what it’s like for Muslims in this country now. I knew it was something like this:

An apparent attack at Ohio State University on Monday morning has left at least ten people injured after Abdul Razak Ali Artan struck them with his car and slashed them with a knife.

Artan was shot dead by police shortly after the attack began at approximately 9:52 a.m., director of public service Monica Moll said at a afternoon press conference. Artan aimed his Honda Civic at a group of pedestrains, jumping the curb, and colliding with them. Artan then exited the vehicle and began slashing pedestrians. By 9:53 a.m. — less than one minute following the start of the attack — responding officer Alan Horujko shot and killed Artan. No other people are suspected in the attack.

University police tweeted about 10 a.m. to “run, hide, fight,” a common mantra printed on safety pamphlets for evading an active shooter. Police lifted a shelter in place at about 11:30 a.m. All classes were canceled for the day for the campus’s 60,000 enrolled students.

Artan described himself as a pious and scared Muslim in an interview with the Ohio State student newspaper in August.

“I wanted to pray in the open, but I was scared with everything going on in the media,” he told The Lantern after transfering from Columbus State Community College. “I’m a Muslim, it’s not what the media portrays me to be. If people look at me, a Muslim praying, I don’t know what they’re going to think, what’s going to happen. But, I don’t blame them. It’s the media that put that picture in their heads so they’re going to just have it and it, it’s going to make them feel uncomfortable. I was kind of scared right now. But I just did it. I relied on God. I went over to the corner and just prayed.”

NBC News’s Pete Williams reported on-air that Artan made a Facebook post lamenting the treatment of Muslims worldwide just before the attack on Monday morning. “I am sick and tired of seeing [Muslims] killed & tortured EVERYWHERE. … I can’t take it anymore,” the posting read, according to ABC News. “America! Stop interfering with other countries … [if] you want us Muslims to stop carrying [out] lone wolf attacks.”

NBC News reports Artan was born in Somalia and moved to Pakistan with his family in 2007. Artan came to the United States as a legal permanent resident in 2014.

If only the Indians hadn’t been so nice to the Puritans

An interview with one of my friends:

LaPena notes that the whole image of Native people and settlers breaking bread together is especially fraught in California, where Americans more than once took advantage of native ceremonies to commit unspeakable acts. On one occasion in 19th Century California, says LaPena, Americans came to a roundhouse — a large, partly earth sheltered traditional building used for cultural events — while a ceremony of gratitude was in progress. “They sealed the roundhouse door shut with a cross-beam,” says LaPena, “covered the outside walls with tar, and set it on fire. The people inside were burned to death; women, children, old people.”

That could make it hard to want to sit down to a Thanksgiving dinner even a century and a half later, not to mention the orgy of shopping that comes after. “The idea that Thanksgiving is followed by Black Friday shopping is a problem,” says LaPena. “By encouraging buying more and more things, the holiday promotes a consumerism that is very dangerous.”

But LaPena, who I quoted in August about the potential upsides of the invasive weed star thistle, is adept at finding glimmers of hope in even the bleakest situations. Though she makes it clear that the holiday’s horrifying historical context never strays far from her mind, she finds a commonality between the official intent of Thanksgiving and a core tenet of her culture.

“I don’t want to deprive my children of an opportunity to learn the importance of giving thanks,” says LaPena. “We need to give thanks for the acorn. We need to give thanks for the seaweed. We need to give thanks for everything Earth Mother provides us.”

Williams and her family celebrate Thanksgiving as well, but this year she says she’s lost any enthusiasm for the holiday. She compared the burial desecrations that started in 1621 — and the deadly European epidemics that preceded them by five years — to this year’s Presidential election.

“Back then we extended welcome to the settlers, and they turned around and deprived us of everything,” Williams says. “We lost everything. And this year, with all that we stand to lose now that Donald Trump has been elected, it just feels like 1621 all over again.”

“I’m having a real hard time with white people this Thanksgiving,” Williams adds. “I bought the food, because of our kids. They asked me ‘are we having Thanksgiving this year?’ I told them that we can have the dinner, but I’m not feeling particularly thankful.”

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