Monthly Archives: October 2016

US Interventionism – War is a Racket

Most decorated Marine Smedley Butler in 1933  

says he was a “gangster for capitalism”


by Heather Gray
October 23, 2016

US Interventionism? Relative to the presidential campaign, little has been mentioned about the disastrous impact of war to include both the devastating human costs or the financial impacts and desires by corporate America in its raw capitalistic decadence. Few Americans will, in fact, “follow the money” to explore who benefits from war. In 1933 Smedley Butler, one of the most decorated Marines in US history, gave a speech about US interventionism. Interventionism, he said, was to serve the interests of corporate America pure and simple. Below is an excerpt from his profound speech. Butler wisely notes that “War is a Racket” and that he was a “gangster for capitalismWhat he said in 1933 applies to today – unfortunately!

Smedley Butler on “Interventionism

Excerpt from a speech delivered in 1933, by Major General Smedley Butler, USMC.

War is just a racket. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of people. Only a small inside group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few at the expense of the masses.

I believe in adequate defense at the coastline and nothing else. If a nation comes over here to fight, then we’ll fight. The trouble with America is that when the dollar only earns 6 percent over here, then it gets restless and goes overseas to get 100 percent. Then the flag follows the dollar and the soldiers follow the flag.

I wouldn’t go to war again as I have done to protect some lousy investment of the bankers. There are only two things we should fight for. One is the defense of our homes and the other is the Bill of Rights. War for any other reason is simply a racket.

There isn’t a trick in the racketeering bag that the military gang is blind to. It has its “finger men” to point out enemies, its “muscle men” to destroy enemies, its “brain men” to plan war preparations, and a “Big Boss” Super-Nationalistic-Capitalism.

It may seem odd for me, a military man to adopt such a comparison. Truthfulness compels me to. I spent thirty- three years and four months in active military service as a member of this country’s most agile military force, the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major-General. And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high class muscle- man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.

I suspected I was just part of a racket at the time. Now I am sure of it. Like all the members of the military profession, I never had a thought of my own until I left the service. My mental faculties remained in suspended animation while I obeyed the orders of higher-ups. This is typical with everyone in the military service.

I helped make Mexico, 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 benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912 (where have I heard that name before?). I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested.

During those years, I had, as the boys in the back room would say, a swell racket. Looking back on it, I feel that I could 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.

About Smedley Butler

Smedley Darlington Butler (July 30, 1881 – June 21, 1940) was a United States Marine Corps major general, the highest rank authorized at that time, and at the time of his death the most decorated Marine in U.S. history. During his 34-year career as a Marine, he participated in military actions in the Philippines, China, in Central America and the Caribbean during the Banana Wars, and France in World War I. Butler is well known for having later become an outspoken critic of U.S. wars and their consequences, as well as exposing the Business Plot, an alleged plan to overthrow the U.S. government.

By the end of his career, Butler had received 16 medals, five for heroism. He is one of 19 men to receive the Medal of Honor twice, one of three to be awarded both the Marine Corps Brevet Medal and the Medal of Honor, and the only Marine to be awarded the Brevet Medal and two Medals of Honor, all for separate actions.

In 1933, he became involved in a controversy known as the Business Plot, when he told a congressional committee that a group of wealthy industrialists were planning a military coup to overthrow Franklin D. Roosevelt, with Butler selected to lead a march of veterans to become dictator, similar to other Fascist regimes at that time. The individuals involved all denied the existence of a plot and the media ridiculed the allegations. A final report by a special House of Representatives Committee confirmed some of Butler’s testimony (Wikipedia).

Smedley’s comments relative to today’s world

What Smedley states applies to today as well. For reflection, below is a chart about the corporate beneficiaries in today’s contemporary fiasco – the Iraq War. Corporate beneficiaries also includes the huge military industrial complex. At the end of this commentary is a chart about the 2015 US discretionary spending that notes there is 54% or $598.5 billion for the military.

Below is a chart about the US discretionary spending in 2015 that is skewed hugely to benefit the military rather than for domestic benefits and advancement.


A Platform for America: The Democracy Charter

By Heather Gray
Link for article:  A Platform for America

On March 2, 2015, I sent out the “Democracy Charter” on the Justice Initiative and have subsequently heard from those who published “The Struggle for a Substantive Democracy” that has as its central focus the “Democracy Charter” by Jack O’Dell. Given the US is now headed into the next presidential election, I thought I would send out again the “Democracy Charter” which to me is an excellent platform for consideration

One of the challenges we have faced in America is that because of the “Cold War” since the 1950s, we have not been able to have a substantive dialogue about economic systems. In the rural and urban South if you critiqued capitalism during this period you could be, and many were, ostracized by family and friends, with threats to lose their jobs, etc. Until just recently, Americans were afraid to openly have a discussion about “what is capitalism?”, “what is socialism”, what is communism?”, “what is a mixed economy?”, “how can the economic system be ‘just’ for all? On and on.

So even and especially when the presidential candidates discuss economics and what’s possible or should happen in America economically, most of us don’t have a clue. Economics is simply not taught in the school systems nor, for the past few decades, has civics been taught in many schools about the framework of America’s democratic system. So most of us are economically and  civically illiterate – it’s been an intentional outcome on the part of the economic and political elite under the influence of neoliberalism, neoconservatism and the influence of Leo Strauss, the godfather of the right-wing. Strauss, from the University of Chicago essentially said that the people can’t handle the truth, they need to be controlled and that’s what his followers have attempted to do.  George W. Bush, in fact, had 20 Straussians in his administration. (Read Jim Lobe’s “Leo Strauss’ Politics of Deception“.) The effect resonates considerably in today’s world.

If some in America want to make it ‘great’ two of the things that should be considered is teaching economics to our children and all of us and about civics and how democracy works. Creating more jobs? All of us need to better understand the various economic systems to effectively know how to do this.

In the fascinating short booklet “The Struggle for a Substantive Democracy” that they also note is “An Organizing Framework, and Study Guide for Activists”in addition to offering “The Democracy Charter” as a model they offer an excellent background to America’s history that includes: Session 1: “An Introduction to Theory”; Session 2: “The Atlantic Revolutions”, “Reconstruction”, “The Guilded Age”; Session 3: “The 1930s”, “The Civil Rights Movement”,  “The Post Civil Rights Movement”; Appendix: Race and Class in the U.S. Labor Movement (by Harry Targ); Session 4: “The Democracy Charter and the Struggle for Democracy”.  (If you want to order one or more of the  “The Struggle for a Substantive Democracy” booklets contact Janet Tucker

The 2010 Democracy Charter below developed by the esteemed activist Jack O’Dell begins by referring to three significant progressive movements throughout the world in 1955 (the Bandung Conference in Indonesia; the Congress of the People in Kliptown, South Africa; and the Montgomery Bus Boycott in the United States). As Jack wisely states, all these were “seminal” events in their own right.

Now in 2016, the 61rst anniversary of these three groundbreaking events, the Democracy Charter, written by Jack in 2010, is all the more relevant to today’s world. This is the case as we witness a continued erosion of collective and democratic principles in America along with increased privatization of our resources and infrastructure. As he notes in the Charter introduction, the Cold War had a profound effect on all of us in America and around the world. It was effective in stopping many of us from having serious dialogue about where we needed to go in terms of creating a society that is just, democratic and healthy for us all. That needs to change and seemingly is changing with the response, for one, to brutal killings of Blacks by the police in the U.S;  the recent Chicago election that challenged the corporate model in Chicago’s city politics;  the advent and strengthening of urban agriculture and, therefore, local naturally grown healthy food as a challenge to corporate agribusiness; and other countless examples we are witnessing around the country. The people are, as always, arising to the challenges!!

But what is also encouraging, from the past, is the fact that even in spite of the Cold War intimidation, the events in Indonesia, South Africa and the United States took place in 1955, at the height of the Cold War, and still people would not be curtailed from making strides and having their voices heard. As Jack states, these events in 1955 “carry the fundamental lesson: even in the darkest periods, the people have the power to create the light that illuminates our path to more hopeful times.”

Jack offers 13 recommendations in the Charter. They are as follows, all of which are expounded upon in the Charter:

I. A national commitment to end homelessness during this next decade
II. Commitment to an economy of full employment, at socially useful jobs, and a livable wage as public policy   
III. The right to an environment free of bigotry, violence, and intolerance as an expression of our nation’s irreversible commitment to human rights, including full recognition of reproductive rights and the rights of gays and lesbians  
IV.  The doors of learning open to all, from early childhood education through college, as a public trust and another dimension of human rights  
V. A new foreign and military policy as an expression of our nation’s character  
VI. Universal health insurance coverage (single-payer model)
VII. A Social Security system with firm and undiminished integrity
VIII. A farm economy restructured to rest on family and cooperative enterprise
IX. A prison system accountable to the public for fulfilling its charge as a center for rehabilitation
X. Restoration, preservation, and protection of the quality of our natural environment as a vital social inheritance for future generations to use and enjoy
XI. Expanded public ownership and management of resources strategic to the health of our nation’s economy
XII. Statehood for the District of Columbia as the centerpiece of commitment to long-overdue electoral reform.
XIII. The air waves maintained as national public property

In 2009, a few of us around the country had periodic calls with Jack to discuss these recommendations.  The Democracy Charter offered then, as it does now, an excellent opportunity, as it provides a concrete framework for organizing and advancing justice and equity in America.

For those want to learn more about Jack O’Dell
please go to this Monthly Review articleThe Jack O’Dell Story
(2010 Revision) 
2010 marked the fifty-fifth anniversary of three significant events in the post World War II period. It is the anniversary year of the Bandung conference, held in Indonesia in 1955; the Congress of the People, held in Kliptown, South Africa; and the Montgomery bus boycott in Alabama.
Each of these was a seminal event in its own right. The Bandung Conference gave birth to the Non-Aligned Movement and established the prospect that the struggle to abolish colonialism would be victorious. The meeting in Kliptown, South Africa, adopted a Freedom Charter to guide the movement to abolish apartheid at a time when the apartheid system was being tightened by repressive measures. And the Montgomery bus boycott shifted the center of grassroots mass action to the Southern heartland of segregation and set into motion an example that would inspire the freedom movement across the country in our struggle to abolish institutional racism.
Each of these events, in one way or another, has informed our activism in the movement, whatever the moment we entered into involvement. Because these events in 1955 occurred at the height of the Cold War abroad and Cold War McCarthyism at home, they carry the fundamental lesson: even in the darkest periods, the people have the power to create the light that illuminates our path to more hopeful times.
Today these events remind us of the achievements that have been made, as well as the unfinished agenda of concerns that continue to challenge us. Today, even as the world observes, in memory, the ending of the Second World War and the victory over Fascism, we are all at the same time witness to the martyrdom of the cities of Iraq by an unjustified, unprovoked U.S.-led military invasion of that small country. We are all witness to the tragedy of the growing impoverishment taking place in our own country among the unemployed, the homeless, those trying desperately to hang onto their jobs with little or no hope. We are all witness to the breaking up of the sense of community that so many feel. Our movement strains to keep up the creative energy of protest against these injustices, often even in the face of assaults on the right to peacefully assemble, frustration with the election process, and other experiences. These add up to “a long train of abuses” that have become part of everyday life.
One of the most common questions often expressed in conversation is, “What do we do now?” One step we could take, which holds the potential for fundamental changes in our country, would be to take a page from the South African experience in their long struggle to abolish apartheid. In 1955, after many months of organizing and public meetings across the country, a grassroots Congress of the People was elected, and it assembled in an area outside Johannesburg. It proclaimed and adopted a Freedom Charter that served and inspired sustained mass mobilization for a South Africa beyond apartheid.
A similar act of realignment and purpose for our country, in the conditions prevailing here, would be the adoption of a “Democracy Charter” as the vision of the America we hope to create. Such a vision, born of experience, would embody the hopes and possibilities of this age in human history. A Democracy Charter would be designed to unite our movement and involve ever-broader sections of the population in the struggle to achieve what we are for, as our efforts to overcome continue to remove obstacles, injustices, and deprivations. It would be an intentional source of energy and shared responsibility and enlightenment for rebuilding the sense of community that empowers us to take on with confidence the challenges that we will overcome.
The Democracy Charter would have as its central purpose bringing into the national dialogue the millions in our country who now feel disenfranchised and disrespected, or otherwise ignored. This involvement will give all of us a confident new identity, as social change agents.
The time is ripe for us, the People of the United States, in all our multicultural diversity and breadth of experience, to adopt a Democracy Charter that brings together as part of a shared vision all of the dimensions of the civilizational crisis that are now being actively addressed, on a limited scale, by one or another organization.
The essential purpose of such a charter is the expansion of democracy and fundamental human rights in our country. Therefore, the historical point of reference of the Democracy Charter is our nation’s Bill of Rights and the subsequent Amendments, won over generations of struggle to enshrine them in the U.S. Constitution. In the U.S. American experience, unyielding resistance to any and all efforts to weaken the Bill of Rights is an essential condition for the transition from formal democracy to a society of substantive democracy. At the very heart of the unfolding struggle for substantive democracy today are the issues of race, class, and gender, in relation to power and decision-making. This has been the fundamental reality since the birth of this Republic.
To briefly review this historical point, the U.S. was the first of a number of communities of European settler colonialism in the hemisphere of the Americas to break with its “mother” country. The architects of the new state then rapidly proceeded to structure their own “made in U.S.A.” mechanisms of exploitation and wealth accumulation.
During the first century following its Declaration of Independence, this structure put into place and rested upon four pillars:
First, the seizure of lands held by Native Americans and the privatization of this property, accompanied by the dismantling of the centuries-old social organization of these original inhabitants;  
Second, the consolidation and expansion of the system of enslavement of Africans, as an economic institution inherited from years of British rule and codified into law in the new U.S. Constitution (a kind of affirmative action to the benefit of the slave owners);  
Third, the military seizure and annexation, in the War of 1846-1848, of a land area amounting to one third of the Mexican Republic; and  
Fourth, the exploitation of a wage-labor working class among the new immigrant population brought in primarily from northern Europe, with the notable exception of Chinese workers, who were admitted for long enough to help complete the railroad to the West Coast, then denied further entry through the Chinese Exclusion Act passed by Congress.  
The position of women in this paradigm is self-evident, especially since they were denied the formal democratic right to vote until 1919. These historical circumstances, taken together with the success of the American Revolution itself in breaking free of the British Empire, provided both the material conditions and the political power base for the economic royalists of the new republic to shape and promote the ideology of “American exceptionalism” as a major component in U.S. culture. Further, the much-valued achievements of formal democracy as exemplified by the Bill of Rights reveal their limitations in daily life experience. Consequently the need is urgent to take up the banner of struggle for substantive democracy and empower this process.
Thirteen Primary Items
The following points suggest primary items for inclusion in a proposed Democracy Charter.
I. A national commitment to end homelessness during this next decade
Eighty percent of the homeless are women and people of color, more often than not, families with children. Twelve million people pay more than fifty percent of their monthly income for either rent or mortgage, often for substandard housing — such is the shortage of affordable housing. Relief to these twelve million and the uncounted numbers of homeless beyond them would also create jobs and the basis for expanding job skills training in the construction and other industries.
Rising unemployment and the millions of families made economically insecure by the subprime mortgage racket may prove to be a set of circumstances of long-term duration. Democracy, in this instance, requires the emergence of nonviolent organized mass actions to stop the evictions, neighborhood by neighborhood, and enable people to stay in their homes while new mortgage terms are negotiated. This is the indispensable ingredient in this situation. Such community activity should be accompanied by full use of the Legal Services Corporation, which is legally required to assist homeowners in preventing evictions but should also be empowered to bring class action suits against those insurance, bank, and real estate corporations that have created this subprime problem.
II. A national commitment to an economy of full employment, at socially useful jobs, and a livable wage as public policy
In the late 1970s, Congress passed the Humphrey-Hawkins bill, which set a national goal of full employment: the maximum allowable unemployment was to be 4 percent. Even this goal has largely been ignored as public policy and rarely achieved; and 4 percent unemployment is still too high. Yet in some of our largest urban centers, for example, unemployment among African American men is over 40 percent. Official propaganda in times of recession praising a “jobless recovery” is a cover-up for long-term depression and stagnation as the economic reality. The Humphrey-Hawkins Bill must be revived as an indispensable standard point of reference in gaining an accurate measurement of the real state of the economy. It should be applied across the board to measure unemployment among women heads of households and the real conditions of communities of color.
Democracy in the workplace is an essential part of the effort at rebuilding our communities that have in so many places been shattered by plant closings, unemployment, wage stagnation, and wage cuts. Workers are entitled to have a voice in determining their working conditions, health and safety, and hours on the job as well as determining their share of the profits derived from their labor. These standards are an indispensable part of a robust democracy.
Workers in agriculture and domestic service are an integral part of the working class community, and that reality must be respected in the making of public policy.
Today, the many grassroots state and local movements are the standard bearers setting the pace for the demand for jobs for all who seek them. Recognition of workers’ inalienable right to self-organization is one way of guaranteeing that the struggle for these goals is sustained.
III. The right to an environment free of bigotry, violence, and intolerance as an expression of our nation’s irreversible commitment to human rights, including full recognition of reproductive rights and the rights of gays and lesbians.
The twentieth century has witnessed landmark Supreme Court decisions, including Roe vs. Wade (1973), affirming the reproductive rights of women, and Brown vs. Board of Education (1954), affirming the right of African American children to equal access to education in the public schools, free of state-imposed racial segregation.
Despite the significant contributions these decisions have made to the moral progress of the nation, they continue to be the subject of sustained attack in a variety of forms, primarily coming from the conservative right, some groups striving to assert biblical support for their positions. This is often combined with relentless organized efforts to consign gays and lesbians to an outcast status in U.S. society, in violation of their basic human rights.
None of this is acceptable to a society committed to preserving and improving its democracy.
A principled defense and active protection of the entire fabric of human rights as an indivisible whole is the real basis for guaranteeing respect for all.
IV. The doors of learning open to all, from early childhood education through college, as a public trust and another dimension of human rights
This is for our time the next step in the “Economic Bill of Rights” proposed by President Roosevelt in 1944 as public policy, but abandoned after his death and the deliberate creation of Cold War politics.
The National Education Association estimated in 2002 that the nation’s public schools could be put into Grade A physical condition for an investment of about 380 billion dollars. Our nation spent almost half that amount on the war on Iraq in its first year, and the accumulated cost is still rising, quite aside from the moral deficit it so markedly represents. The quality of our public school educational system is not a “states’ rights” issue. It is an issue of paramount importance in shaping the quality of life and character of the United States as a democracy. All of us have a stake in putting an end to the common experience we share that every time there is an economic crisis and budget cuts are called for, the first things scrapped in our public schools are art, music, recreational sports, and field trips. These are character-building school subjects and are among the essentials of a quality education.
As for post-secondary education, we must never forget that tens of thousands of our young people who volunteer for the Armed Forces are not seeking an opportunity to go to war or be trained to kill. They are looking for an opportunity to go to college and improve their lives. This is an investment in our nation’s future.
A public education system that prepared youngsters to begin formal learning, then supported them as far as their ability and inclination took them, would strengthen our country’s economic position and civil society.
A major contribution towards substantive democracy would be for the U.S. to become officially bilingual, as a nation, in English and Spanish. As one benefit, national bilingualism would greatly enrich our knowledge of the hemisphere in which we live and help us “overcome” much of the national chauvinism which weakens the democratic character of U.S. life.
V. A new foreign and military policy as an expression of our nation’s character
This means a foreign policy of peace, cooperation with our neighbors throughout the hemisphere of the Americas, and mutual respect that guarantees the future of the planet as our shared home. The “Superpower” or “Lone Superpower” rhetoric of the Cold War is without merit as an operational concept in the conduct of foreign policy. It promotes racism and national arrogance, accompanied by a false sense of national security. It helps institutionalize bloated, wasteful military budgets as normal; pollutes and distorts the practices of government diplomacy; and predictably depletes our reserves of moral capital in the world.
Nothing underscores the latter cluster of circumstances more clearly than the role played by the U.S. in denying the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people over decades, and the U.S.-led or -sponsored military aggression in Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, and Colombia today. These harsh truths have been amply documented, as has the record of calculated deception of the public here at home which usually accompanies these activities — regardless of which “major political party” is in power. This abuse of power constitutes a monumental example of unaccountable government. Public awareness of U.S. overseas activities — both corporate and political — and their effects has been steadily growing. This is evidenced in our country’s very active anti-war movement, which is increasingly putting emphasis on creating a peace culture, as an antidote to the war culture so pervasive in the U.S.
Nevertheless, foreign and military policy is an area of the people’s business that requires a quantum leap in public awareness and involvement, in order that a progressive content be given to our relations with the rest of the world. Experience has shown that such a transformation is not only a moral imperative; it is absolutely essential to improving conditions here at home.
A new foreign and military policy means a new kind of defense budget, one in harmony with other domestic goals, not one designed to enrich the biggest corporate “defense” contractors and their stockholders, while the public pays the bill. A new foreign and military policy also means that no longer will the U.S. government produce, use, or sell weapons — such as land mines, cluster bombs, depleted uranium shells, or Agent Orange — that destroy the environment in which living beings have to survive. The Vietnamese people are still suffering from the catastrophic effects of these weapons used against them.
A new foreign and military policy means getting our representatives in Congress to undertake the closing of all of the estimated 700 US military bases now operating on foreign soil — and to secure the closing of these bases “with all deliberate speed.” In this regard, particular attention should be given to restoring to the peoples of the islands of Guam (South Pacific) and Diego Garcia (Indian Ocean) the right to return to their traditional lands, from which they were forcibly removed to make way for the construction of military bases. This aggressive militarism is one of the new forms in which the old colonialism is being revived. Our movement has significant expertise in the area of developing more principled foreign policy, as represented, for example, by the work over many decades carried out by the American Friends Service Committee.
Since our nation led the world into the era of nuclear weapons, we should lead the world by example out of that era by renouncing the possession of nuclear weapons and taking concrete steps to eliminate the U.S. stockpile of nuclear weapons, as a matter of principle. The continued production of these weapons of terror is neither morally justified nor socially useful economic activity. It contributes to neither the real wealth nor the well-being of society, while it uses up nonrenewable resources that could otherwise benefit our country. Further, the use of these terrible weapons inflicts long-term damage on other countries and on our ability to function as a member of the worldwide community of nations. We, the people of the United States, can end this!
In recent years, important developments on the world scene have marked the emergence of a very active leadership and initiatives for peace and democracy coming from our neighbors in the southern hemisphere. The international conference on racism in Durban, the World Social Forum held in central Africa (2006), and the world conference on climate change hosted by Bolivia in 2010 exemplify such initiatives. This emerging leadership draws together centers of mass activity representing the voices of indigenous peoples, nations, and communities that have suffered severely from both colonialism and the newer forms of corporate exploitation. It has taken up the challenge of linking the struggle for democracy with the struggle for the preservation of our common home, the planet Earth. This points in a new direction that is absolutely essential for this period in history. It demonstrates a social consciousness that embraces the challenges of our time, and our struggle for a robust democracy in the United States will be greatly enhanced by our relation to these currents of thought and action.
VI. Universal health insurance coverage (single-payer model)
The cost of worker contributions to health care premiums in industry-sponsored plans has tripled since 1988. That tens of millions of people have either no health insurance at all or inadequate insurance to cover catastrophic illness is well known. In recent years, lack of adequate health insurance has become a major source of family financial insecurity, often leading to bankruptcy. As a nation, we in America spend $400 billion a year on health insurance paperwork, much of it designed to eliminate patients from eligibility for benefits. At this writing, health care costs are rising three times as fast as wages. An estimated 100,000 people die every year from illnesses contracted while in the hospital as patients, and the US has the lowest life expectancy of any of the wealthy industrialized countries in the Western world.
A system in which the government paid expenses necessary to cure illnesses and injuries and also took responsibility for promoting practices that help maintain good health would improve our country’s international standing in measures of life expectancy and productivity. It would also remove the unfairness and pathology of a health care system in which prices are based upon satisfying corporate greed and the concerns of private investors, while the quality of care is based upon the patient’s ability to pay.
The United States has an outstanding tradition of public service institutions. These are represented, in part, by the public land-grant colleges authorized by Congress at the end of the Civil War; the system of public health clinics, whose professionals provide inoculations for communicable diseases like diphtheria and measles; the neighborhood public libraries all across the country that are centers for quiet reading and relaxation and often provide space for community meetings; and our outstanding National Parks Service, which has recently celebrated its centennial year. These are among the precedents that give us full confidence in the advocacy of a universal health insurance system, single-payer model.
VII. A Social Security system with firm and undiminished integrity
Our present Social Security system is both a shared commitment to contribute during our employed years and a universal benefit we share in our retirement years. It is our nation’s premier anti-poverty program, protecting more young people as beneficiaries than does current “welfare,” in its “reformed” state. Without Social Security, half of all women over 65 would fall into poverty. One major way to strengthen this important institution, put in place during the years of Roosevelt’s New Deal, would be to tighten federal regulatory control so that the Social Security Trust Fund could not be raided to finance “off-budget” wars. (Yearly surpluses in the Trust Fund were used by President Lyndon Johnson, for instance, to finance the early years of the war in Vietnam.)
VIII.    A farm economy restructured to rest on family and cooperative enterprise
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is a major problem area needing restructuring for the renewal of our democracy. In the early decades of the 20th century, family farming was the major form of property ownership among Americans, including African Americans in the South. Today, African Americans own less than 2 percent of farms. Millions of people in our country are skilled, professional farmers. They should not be subjected to the greed and unbridled power of the corporate monopolies in agriculture and the retail market. Everyone will benefit if the traditional family farm, cooperatives, and the new urban community food gardens and farmers markets become once again the primary source of food production.
IX. A prison system accountable to the public for fulfilling its charge as a center for rehabilitation
The responsibility of the penal system is to guide the rehabilitation of incarcerated people so that, with the help of families, neighbors, and social service agencies, they can renew their place in the community. The existence of a “prison-industrial complex” in our country is a fundamental violation of the social purpose of the prison system in a democratic society. As for the operation of U.S. prisons in other countries, this is an affront to the sovereignty of such countries and a disgrace to our own. All such institutions should be permanently closed as a matter of public policy, and the penal system should be redesigned to carry out its social purpose.
X. Restoration, preservation, and protection of the quality of our natural environment as a vital social inheritance for future generations to use and enjoy
Reversing the present pattern of pollution and degradation requires promoting and expanding community activities, as well as public works projects, that encourage a culture of social responsibility towards keeping our rivers, lakes, parks, and other environmental gifts in healthy condition.
Our country has a long-term interest in becoming one of the leaders in worldwide efforts to stop contributing to global warming and to protect from harm our common home, this planet.
XI. Expanded public ownership and management of resources strategic to the health of our nation’s economy
Such strategic resources include oil, gas, and other sources of energy, as well as public transportation. Stricter federal and state regulation against pollution and mismanagement would accompany the growth in public ownership. Louisiana, with its “cancer alley” created by the reckless disregard of the petrochemical industry for public health concerns, makes the case for public ownership and accountability. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) offers one model even as it currently undergoes steady attack from the coal-power lobby.
XII. Statehood for the District of Columbia as the centerpiece of commitment to long-overdue electoral reform
The guarantee that every vote will be counted is an inseparable part of the right to vote. The assault on the voting system itself, which we and the world witnessed in Florida, Ohio, and other states in two successive Presidential elections, is now recognized as a nationwide problem of scandalous proportions. Because this problem remains unrepaired, we face yet another Congressional election in which defects in the voting process could determine the results. As long as we allow this situation to continue, our elections are far less representative of democracy than those held in most Western industrialized countries. The absence of voting members of the Senate and House of Representatives for the citizens of the nation’s capital is a conspicuous example of this lack of democracy. The principle of fair voter access and accurate, accountable vote tabulation should be visibly maintained, and should be reinforced by the introduction of asystem of proportional representation in all elections where applicable.
XIII. The air waves maintained as national public property
We affirm this principle upon which the Federal Communications Commission was founded, as a regulatory agency, during the New Deal period: “The air waves are the property of the American people.” The democracy that this principle embodies has been hijacked and distorted by the hucksters of marketplace television and the demagogues of hate-radio. The consolidation of corporate power in these areas — together with their counterpart, the film industry — denies the public’s right to be informed, limits public access to a violence-free culture, and confines the exercise of artistic creativity.
The media must be responsible to their audience, not to advertisers or powerful pressure groups. We affirm the principle of public airwave ownership as indispensable to the struggle for achievement of a substantive democracy in our country, especially in this age of global communications and the bright possibilities they offer.
Towards the Second Reconstruction
The electoral coalition which brought victory to the American people in the election of President Barack Obama has the capacity to become a Movement, and indeed it has a mandate of history to do so. What the people of the United States, in a clear majority, elected was not only an affirmation of our best hopes for the future: it is important to note that it also closed the door, momentarily, to a bid for power by a much darker spirit in the American experience. This magnificent moment is ours to preserve and extend, but it will not remain so without our concerted and sustained attention and social change activism guided by both past and present experiences.
These thirteen points, with the abbreviated comments that accompany them, are meant essentially as a framework for incorporating other vital issues of concern to such a Charter. There is no order of priority herein, but an attempt to present a picture that will enable us to view these vital issues as a body in their interconnectedness, rather than just separately. To further elaborate and project remedies applicable is the purpose for movement-building, as a sustaining force.
The Charter proposal is designed to acknowledge and enhance the effective work that is already being done in many areas of Movement activity. When harnessed to the grassroots organizing tradition, the Democracy Charter can bring new energy that is transformational in its possibilities for social change in our nation. It must become a full part of the “good news” that involves and inspires our artists, poets, and creators in all cultural media to give of their talents spreading this message of hope and new possibilities.
Because of its perspective of emphasis on our Movement’s goals and objectives, the Charter is an invitation that seeks to engage a different kind of national conversation — one that is positive and purposeful in the sharing of experiences and free of the tone that too often discourages participation. This is a great moment for all of us, as we confidently take up the challenge to create a vision, shared with the people all around us, that embodies “Freedom from Fear” and expands the Movement/community, built by the people all around us, as they actively embrace the ideas of the Charter they have created and proceed to translate these hope into constructive actions.
The common ingredients in all this liberating work are integrity and love.
The Democracy Charter seeks to penetrate the depths of what Dr. Martin Luther King more than forty years ago called “the deeper malady that afflicts the American spirit, of which Vietnam is but a symptom” (Riverside Church speech, April 4, 1967). This malady which Dr. King identified has become in our lifetime a contagion the symptoms of which are all around us.
Recognizing and accepting this challenge is the key to the success of all of our collective efforts to transform our nation into a peaceful, socially conscious democracy.
 In this spirit, we shall overcome!
J. H. O’Dell
Revised May 2010

The Clinton Administration’s Historic and Significant Outreach to Black Farmers


By Heather Gray
October 8, 2016

Bill Clinton Appoints Mike Espy as Secretary of Agriculture – December 24, 1992
(Getty Images)

For some reason there seems to be an assumption that whatever Bill Clinton did during his administration might reflect on a Hillary Clinton presidency. Along this line, regarding Bill Clinton, much has been criticized about NAFTA, as well as welfare programs and the like. This comparative analysis is likely uncalled for but if it is to be done then we need to look at, among other things, the Clinton administration’s USDA and its impact on Black Farmers. Never in the history of the United States have we witnessed anything like this. In other words, some 130 years after the creation of the Department of Agriculture in 1862, finally there were significant efforts under Clinton to assist Black farmers. It was historic!

The following is a brief swath of history regarding Black farmers; their struggles; and what happened during the Clinton years.
The US Department of Agriculture was created on May 15, 1862 by Abraham Lincoln. This was one year after 7 southern states had seceded in January 1861 to form the “Confederate States of America” and after the Civil War had officially started in April 1861. It is highly unlikely that Lincoln would have been able to create the Department of Agriculture had the Southern legislators not left due to the secession. Unlike Lincoln, the southern legislator’s interest was not of creating an abundance of small independent and skilled white farmers, but rather the extension of slavery and plantations into the western states (see appendix “a”).
Fast forward to the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 and the Freedman’s Bureau after the Civil War in 1865 during the “Reconstruction Era” (1865-1877) that assisted freed Blacks in acquiring land. Congress, however, did not specify that the Bureau assist freed slaves in purchasing the legendary “40 Acres and a Mule” or acquire “free” land as it had offered white farmers with the 1862 Homestead Act. Rather, the Freedman’s Bureau assisted black farmers in purchasing small acreage, as in 10 to 15 acres. Nevertheless, by 1910 there was a peak of land ownership for blacks.  Collectively, blacks owned 15 million acres of land of which 218,000 black farmers were full or part owners. This was a remarkable achievement by the Black community.
Fast forward again to the 1930’s and Roosevelt’s New Deal administration which gave birth to Secretary of Agriculture Henry Wallace’s “New Deal” agriculture policies. During and after the 1932 depression, farmers struggled, and the New Deal’s USDA initiatives offered them program payments to help them stay in business. But the white plantation owners in the South, with representation in Congress, would not allow payments to go directly to black tenant or sharecropper farmers – rather they insisted the money go first to the white plantation owners who would then distribute the money to the black farmers who were farming on the white-owned land. As one can imagine, fraud persisted and on the whole the black farmers were locked out of receiving benefits from the USDA. This southern white attitude referred to above is forever known as the “plantation mindset” and while there are any number of definitions of it, on the whole it is known for its “racism, egocentrism, arrogance and greed” (see appendix “b”). So, even in spite of some of the progressive New Deal policies, little changed for the advancement of black farmers.
Fast forward once again to the 1960’s civil rights movement. In the South, it was often the independent black farmers who assisted the civil rights activists with resources and a land base to launch and maintain movement activities. The USDA employees and Congressional representatives throughout the region struck back against these farmers, as did the local bankers. Blacks began to lose a significant amount of land holdings, market opportunities and income overall.  Many were forced out of the South (see Pete Daniel’s “Dispossession: Discrimination against African American Farmers in the Age of Civil Rights“).
However, the 1964 Civil Rights Act was significant in influencing government behavior and Black farm groups did not loose sight of this. For example, Title VI of the Civil Rights act states: No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”(Department of Labor) This, of course, applied to USDA programs.
In the 1960s, as a result and the Civil Rights legislation, coupled with black land loss, the black community in the South reacted to the hypocrisy and injustice of the USDA and southern bankers discriminatory actions. Many organizations were spawned to stop this land loss and assist farmers struggling against the USDA, the local bankers and, on a more positive proactive note, to assist these farmers with production and marketing opportunities.
John Zippert and Estelle Witherspoon in Alabama –
founding members of the Federation (1970s)

For example, the Federation of Southern Cooperatives (Federation) was created in 1967 to assist Black farmers and rural communities in holding on to the land and utilizing cooperatives as a means of locally controlled sustainable economic development. The Emergency Land Fund (ELF) was created in 1972 to research the causes of black land loss and to develop and implement strategies to stem the tide. In 1985, the Federation and the ELF merged to become the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund. Other black organizations in the south joined the struggle and eventually coalitions developed to pressure both Congress and the USDA for change and equity, however neither Congress nor the USDA were as responsive as they could have or should have been.

There was an Office of Civil Rights at USDA thanks to the civil rights legislation, but in the early 1980s Reagan abolished it and it is said that under Reagan complaints from Black farmers were thrown in the trash.
Ralph Paige, Jerry Pennick & Ben Burkett of the
Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund (1980s)

Not to be deterred, however, the Federation’s staff member Jerry Pennick wrote an article in 1988 calling for a “Minority Farmer’s Rights Act” be passed by Congress that would offer federal monies for outreach and technical assistance to Black farmers. A coalition of organizations rallied around the call and eventually Congress agreed and the “Minority Farmers Rights Act” became Section 2501 of the 1990 Farm Bill. Although research has proven that 2501 has been effective, it has never been adequately funded and eventually the program has strayed away from its original intent to focus on farmers of color and those institutions and organizations of color that have a proven record of working on their behalf.

The Clinton administration overall, however, brought hope for a better future for Black farmers. And it was under Clinton, for the first time, that a president appointed someone black as the Secretary of Agriculture.  This was Mike Espy from Mississippi.
In the 1980s Espy had represented Mississippi’s 3rd Congressional District. He was the first African-American to represent Mississippi in Congress since Reconstruction.
Clinton and Espy had known each other through southern Delta development initiatives and became friends. While in Congress Espy wrote and had passed legislation to develop the “Lower Mississippi Delta Development Agency ” that addressed poverty in the region. Reagan signed it into law. Clinton became president of the commission that was developed as a result of the legislation. This, for one, gave Clinton a unique insight into some of the struggles experienced by Black farmers.
However, If there was anyone who helped launch programs to assist black farmers and end the more than a century of discrimination at USDA, it was Mike Espy. I am told, right at the beginning of his term as Secretary, Espy held a meeting with the USDA staff in DC and essentially said that “we are going to deal with this racism both within the USDA and the discriminatory services to black farmers”. At the USDA then, it was Espy who set the wheels in motion for what would be an historic USDA eight years under Clinton to address the discrimination that minorities had experienced both as farmers and as staff at the USDA.
It is important to note that there is a distinction to be made between the political appointees, such as the Secretary being appointed by the President, and the permanent staff members in the government. These entrenched USDA staff members, who were of a plantation culture within the USDA, went after Espy with a vengeance and with bogus charges that were, after a few years, renounced by the federal court. I am also told that some of these USDA staff told Espy, “It took us 2 years to get rid of you. We didn’t think it would take us that long!
But prior to him being ousted from USDA, Espy had begun significant efforts to change the USDA culture. Espy wisely knew that it there was going to be anything effectively done to assist black farmers there needed to be incontrovertible proof from the USDA itself about its discriminatory policies and its impact.
K. Rashid Nuri in Atlanta (2010) (Photo credit: Jim Alexander)

Espy had wisely placed on his staff K. Rashid Nuri as his Deputy Administrator for Management of the “Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service” (ASCS) and the USDA’s “Foreign Agricultural Service”. It is important to note that the ASCS later became the Farm Service Agency (FSA).

Rashid Nuri is black with a Harvard degree in political science, an MA from the University of Massachusetts in soil science, along with extensive international agricultural work in Africa and Asia. He was likely among the most qualified of the entire USDA staff (see appendix “c”).

At the behest of Espy, Nuri launched the disparity study of minority farmers to then begin the process of serious change and opportunities for “just” treatment of black farmers and other farmers of color. Apart from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in the past decades, a serious look at disparity treatment of minority farmers by the USDA had never been conducted by the USDA itself.
For this purpose, Nuri hired “J. D. Miller and Associates” in Atlanta, Georgia to conduct the study. In his introduction to the final report, Miller stated: “This study constitutes the most comprehensive to date of minority and female participation in FSA programs.” In a 2013 report from the “Congressional Research Service” it was noted:
In 1994, the USDA commissioned D. J. Miller & Associates, a consulting firm, to analyze the treatment of minorities and women in Farm Service Agency (FSA) programs and payments. The study examined conditions from 1990 to 1995 and looked primarily at crop payments and disaster payment programs and Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) loans. The final report found that from 1990 to 1995, minority participation in FSA programs was very low and minorities received less than their fair share of USDA money for crop payments, disaster payments, and loans.
According to the commissioned study, few appeals were made by minority complainants because of the slowness of the process, the lack of confidence in the decision makers, the lack of knowledge about the rules, and the significant bureaucracy involved in the process. Other findings showed that (1) the largest USDA loans (top 1%) went to corporations (65%) and white male farmers (25%); (2) loans to black males averaged $4,000 (or 25%) less than those given to white males; and (3) 97% of disaster payments went to white farmers, while less than 1% went to black farmers. The study reported that the reasons for discrepancies in treatment between black and white farmers could not be easily determined due to “gross deficiencies” in USDA data collection and handling.
In other words, the USDA studied itself and found itself to be guilty of discrimination!
In the meantime, while the USDA staff had forced Espy out of the USDA, not to be deterred Clinton appointed Dan Glickman as Secretary of Agriculture to replace Espy. Thanks to the Miller report and its disparity study findings, Glickman virtually had no alternative but to start holding hearings across the country to learn directly from minority farmers about the discrimination they had experienced vis-a-vis the USDA. He also:
“ordered a suspension of government farm foreclosures across the country pending the outcome of an investigation into racial discrimination in the agency’s loan program and later announced the appointment of a USDA Civil Rights Task Force. On February 28, 1997, the Civil Rights Task Force recommended 92 changes to address racial bias at the USDA, as part of a USDA Civil Rights Action Plan.” (Congressional Research Service
So the efforts to change the USDA culture and policies began in earnest.
In addition, under Espy as well as Glickman there was a deliberate effort to recruit African-Americans in key positions within the USDA.
Pearlie Reid

For example, the head of Clinton’s USDA National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) was Pearlie Reid, who was black and also from Arkansas. Research across the South conducted by the Federation indicated that the USDA’s NRCS program under Reid was the least racist and most beneficial for the black farming community.

Throughout the Clinton presidency there were numerous civil rights gatherings and other activities aimed at moving the USDA toward equity and fairness. Examples of this include the Civil Rights Task Force and its reports. Of course these efforts were also prodded along by continuous pressure from community-based organizations like the Federation and others (see appendix “d”).
Finally and importantly, it was under the Clinton presidency, in 1998, that the largest lawsuit against the US government was filed (Pigford v Glickman) on behalf of Black farmers. It was filed under the auspices of the “Black Farmers & Agriculturalists Association”. The Obama administration then oversaw and helped to launch the second phase of the Pigford lawsuit for late filers:
The lawsuit was settled on April 14, 1999, by Judge Paul L. Friedman of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. To date, almost $1 billion has been paid or credited to more than 13,300 farmers under the settlement’s consent decree, under what is reportedly the largest civil rights settlement to date. As another 70,000 farmers had filed late and not had their claims heard, the 2008 Farm Billprovided for additional claims to be heard. In December 2010, Congress appropriated $1.2 billion for what is called Pigford II, settlement for the second part of the case (Wikipedia).
Under Clinton there was also a successful class action lawsuit by black USDA staff for the discrimination they had experienced at USDA. Also, following the black farmer class action lawsuit there were lawsuits filed by Native American farmers, Latino farmers and women farmers against the USDA.
There have been complaints about the Pigford lawsuit – it’s not perfect – but without a doubt it has sent a message to the USDA, Congress and the country overall regarding the need for change and demands for justice within the system.
To repeat, the Clinton era was historic in that it was the first administration to begin a process to address more than a century of discrimination against African-Americans by the USDA, Congress and local communities. This was a huge and politically risky move that is still bearing fruit. It also shows the importance of organized resistance at the grassroot level. But as they say in Southern Africa: “a luta continua” – “the struggle continues!”

Note: An expression of thanks to Jerry Pennick for his advice and edits.

a. In 1862 Congress passed the Morrill Land Grant Act that created the 1862 Land Grant Colleges to train white farmers. In 1890 Congress enacted  a second Morrill Land Grant Act targeted at the former Confederate States resulted in Land Grant Colleges for blacks.

This act required each state to show that race was not an admissions criterion, or else to designate a separate land-grant institution for persons of color. Among the seventy colleges and universities which eventually evolved from the Morrill Acts are several of today’s historically Black colleges and universities.

Later on, other colleges such as the University of the District of Columbia and the “1994 land-grant colleges” for Native Americans were also awarded cash by Congress in lieu of land to achieve “land-grant” status. (Wikipedia)

b. For those wanting more background information about the “plantation mindset” read W. J. Cash’s “The Mind of the South“.

c. Rashid Nuri now lives in Atlanta and has played a leading role in urban agriculture in Atlanta with reverberations in the region and the country. He is the founder of the
Truly Living Well Center for Natural Urban Agriculture“.

d. Others from the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund engaged in the USDA’s civil rights meetings and activities were former Executive Director Ralph Paige and Director of Operations John Zippert. Others in the South central to organizing efforts with the USDA under Clinton were Calvin King of the Arkansas Land and Farm Development Corporation; Gary Grant of the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association; John Boyd of the National Black Farmers Association; Stephon Bowens and Savi Horne of the North Carolina Association of Black Lawyers & Land Loss Prevention Project; Eddie Carthan of the Mississippi Family Farmers Association; Willard Tillman of the Oklahoma Black Historical Research Project; Georgia Good of the Rural Advancement Fund; Edward Cline of the Texas Landowners Association; Hezakeiah Gibson of the United Farmers USA.”There were many others in the South and around the country who helped as well during this period including the National Family Farm Coalition, the Rural Coalition and the Farmers Legal Action Group


Heather Gray is a writer and radio producer in Atlanta, Georgia and has also lived in
Canada, Australia, Singapore, briefly in the Philippines and has traveled in southern
Africa. For 24 years she has worked in support of Black farmer issues and in cooperative
economic development in the rural South. She directed the non-violent program for Mrs. Coretta Scott KIng in the 1980s. She holds degrees in anthropology and sociology.