Saturday, June 20, 2009

Describe Your Philosophy Concerning Discipline in Relation to Children’s Behavior

I am spending my summer in Delton, Michigan, serving as a camp counselor for 13-16 year olds at Circle Pines Center Summer Camps. I will return to the Chicago area and return to blogging in Early August. I often call it a 'hippie camp' because of it's emphasis on teaching environmental concern and nonviolence. In my application I was asked to "Describe my Philosophy concerning discipline in relation to children's behavior.' This was my response.


Education and discipline evolves out of what you want society to be, and how you believe is the best way to create the society you believe in. Essentially discipline is a way to educate people into behaving a certain way. A positive disciplining would be one which encourages people, through positive reinforcement, to cooperate. A negative discipline is one which values the punishment more than the rehabilitation.

Fundamentally, there are two ways of raising children. There is the example set in Rousseau's Emile, which encourages children to be unrestrained and develop into social creatures without any societal restraints placed on them. On the other hand is John Stuart Mill's Autobiography, where he describes his childhood, being closely conditioned by his father, reading classic literature, mastering languages and developing according to the path western civilization set out.

I am philosophically more attuned with Rousseau, but we don't live in the wild freedom that would allow us to let children be and develop on their own. Without social or parental guidance, children, would fall under bad influences that would condition and promote the most competitive and destructive qualities into them. It's been said that it takes a village to raise a child, but in a society where there is little community, there is not much of a village to raise a child. Hence why I think it's important for us to cultivate positive cooperative traits in children at the same time we build community and fight for social justice.

Circle pines center is great because offers a combination of Rousseau and Mill's philosophies towards education. It is a place where children can have a safe environment to grow and learn how to help each other instead of tear each other down. However, even in that environment, there can be children who have carried competitive or destructive behavior from the outside world into circle pines. I feel that it is important to confront that behavior, without belittling or dehumanizing the person committing it. I have always felt that rehabilitation is better than punishment. Justice is better than revenge.

In the case of a child acting out in problematic or destructive ways, such as teasing, I would initially attempt to facilitate a way for them to work out any issues they have with others. I would encourage them to put themselves in others shoes and attempt to make them empathetic to the feelings of others. If they continue to act out, I would have them take a time-out to think about what they did and how they can learn from their mistakes. In extreme circumstances, when they are acting in violent ways, I would bring in the appropriate authorities to handle the situation, camp director, parents, etc. In no way should a child be physically hit by a figure of authority. Such violence only reinforces a negative worldview and legitimizes destructive behavior.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Community Organizer? What's That?

Funny story. Do you remember when Sarah Palin spoke at the Republican National Convention, and she attempted to attack Barack Obama by mocking his history as a community organizer? She said something along the lines of, “Community organizer? What's that? I'm the Governor, it's like being a community organizer with actual responsibilities.”

Now, I have several friends who are community organizers who were quite upset about this slur against them. I understood their anger, but I didn't share it, because I figured, hey, this is the enemy, of course she's going to say something stupid like that.

A few days later, I was talking with my mom. My parents are both moderate liberals, so I expected them to be skeptical of Palin, but what my mom said really struck me.

All those years I spent helping with Cub Scouts and this is the thanks I get from her?” I think it was quite illuminating. While my ghetto of left-wing friends thought that Palin was targeting us, millions of people like my mom who volunteer in scouting groups, Red Hat societies, soup kitchens, church groups and school bake sales, felt that they were being mocked for caring about their community. As my mom said, “without community organizers, where would we be?”

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Congress Hotel Strike 6th Anniversary

I was unable to stay long, but June 15th was the 6th anniversary of the Congress Hotel Strike. Denied decent health care and denied wages that match other downtown Chicago hotels, the members of UNITE/HERE Local 1 at the Congress Hotel on Michigan Ave in Chicago went on strike in 2003. Below are a few videos and pictures I took.

The strikers form a picket line outside the hotel everyday. So feel free to stop by and support them, by walking the picket line with them, handing out fliers, or even bringing them some food. This strike needs to be supported by the community. Obama walked the picket line as a presidential candidate and promised to return as president. Hopefully he will follow through on that promise.

The Congress Strike Website



Thoughts on Revolution

Many who consider themselves revolutionaries do so on the basis that they want radical change immediately.

I believe that a true revolutionary wants that radical change as soon as possible, but realizes that it takes time to do so. Instead of burning out in a blaze of glory, revolutionaries need a 'slow burn' in order to build both legal and underground networks and structures. To raise revolutionary levels of consciousness among the public and to raise the level of participation in revolutionary movements.

In essence, revolutionaries need to create a base. To do so, they can use their own propaganda, but ultimately must learn from the natural progressive instincts of the people.

The impatience of many who yearn for revolution leads them to become apocalyptic in their scenarios of the continuation of the capitalist regime, while becoming utopian about their visions of the post-revolutionary society.

True, there is much to worry about in allowing the current state of affairs to continue. Yes, conditions change fast, and it can be tempting to make the revolutionary movement move faster than it is able to. However, the lessons of the great texts of war, Sun Tzu's The Art of War, Mao Zedong's Guerrilla War and Che Guevara's Guerrilla War, all repeat the same theme- only fight when you can win.

On one issue though, there is the fear that waiting will mean no such opportunity to ever have a revolution, because the apocalyptic threat is that real. The issue is of course the environment. Global warming and the threat of nuclear annihilation raise the question, 'will there be a world left for the revolution?' Whether we like it or not, we have no option but to take the slow burn approach since a faster “revolution now” approach will fail.

Is there a need for a leftist revolution now? Yes, but there was a need for one yesterday, the year before, and going back to 1886, 1860, 1776, 1492, etc. It's better to know concretely what we are for, what we are against, and how we are going to get there, than to lash out without strategy.

Many Anarchists turn to propaganda by the deed to move the revolution forward. Propaganda by the deed is a necessary thing, it can inspire many people, but it is best if such militant actions take place as one tactic of many in part of a coordinated movement. Some might complain that this violates individual initiative. But societal change of the kind we want does not just happen by a few small people's will. Imagine a workplace. If you are the only person who goes on strike, then you will be fired and nothing will significantly change. If you take the time to build up your union, and then everyone at work goes on strike at once, the impact will be that much more powerful.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Critique of the Black Block

The Black Block began as a tactic used by anti-nuclear activists in Europe in the 1980's. For all practical purposes, it came to be known in the US with the 'Battle of Seattle' in November 1999 against the World Trade Organization.

Hundreds of black clad Anarchists smashed windows of corporate stores like Starbucks and the Gap. They created barricades in the streets using fire.

Today, the Black Block as a serious tactic is dead.

It could be argued that it worked for a time, raising consciousness of many over issues of sweatshops and corporate control. It set a new standard for militancy in leftist protests.

There can be little serious debate about it's effectiveness in protests today.

Every major demonstration seems to include more young people who wish to live out their fantasies of smashing bourgeois culture by organizing and participating in a block. And every one of those protests is marred by poorly planned militant actions that accomplish little, and dozens of arrests by undercover police which cost the movement money and time.

Even the Battle of Seattle Block deserves some skepticism about it's practicality. Who was more effective in advancing the cause of social justice? The Black Block which caused some property damage? Or the Direct Action Network which organized and shut down the WTO's meeting?

Few American Black Blocks have even matched the militancy of their European or South American cousins. While in Europe fistfights erupt between anarchists and neo-nazi's, and in South America, molotov cocktails are thrown, Black Blocks in the US simply do not have the organization, material supplies, and the guts to even match the politicized soccer riots of Europe.

Then there is the alienation that the Black Block tactic causes between those participating in it and the community. It's not that militancy is naturally alienating to community groups and progressives, it's that Black Blocks have never attempted to reach out to the community. The only thing many ordinary people would know about the Black Block is the chaos they create and the fear they can spread.

I remember at one anti-war rally, a bloc split off from the main march and began to create disruption of Washington DC. There were dumpsters being pushed into the streets, spray paint being left on McDonalds stores, and the police were tailing them. I remember watching a mother and her two kids waiting at the bus stop, terrified of these masked kids. They must have looked like a gang.

Compare that to the Cuban and Chinese revolutions, where the revolutionary armies gained the support of the people by providing medical help, education and policies which improved the lives of community members. Those community members then understood why the guerrilla's were fighting. Likewise the Zapatista's in Mexico, who spent over a decade gaining the trust of the people of Chiapas before launching their rebellion. Try telling that to the impatient kids who make up Black Blocks.

I'm not trying to chastise those who engage in militant actions, it just seems to me like the Black Block is not effective at all. Effective actions are part of a long term strategy which the Black Block certainly does not have. Effective actions are built on mutual trust which is developed over time through struggle. The planning of many Black Block actions are almost always rushed, with little time spent building trust, thus leaving many opportunities for police infiltration. Even if the planning goes well, once out on the streets, it is ridiculously simple for undercover police to done a black mask, slip into the crowd, and disrupt the action. Effective actions also require a leader, someone who is trusted to make the right decision in a moment of crises. Black Blocks have no leaders, and the result is simply confusion.

I would recommend that instead of wasting time with Black Blocks, that American Anarchists organize in their communities. Help build unions, feed the hungry, create independent non-corporate media. If you build structures like that, the time will come to fight, but it will be with the support of the community.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The State of The Movement and the State

Among the many delusions of the Left in America today, one stands above the rest. Worse than the 9/11 conspiracy theories, more aggravating than primitivists, more annoying than arrogant paper-sellers who are convinced that they alone are the vanguard, more destabilizing to the movement than those who confuse libertinism with Anarchism, more castrating than any other trend, is the belief that a classless society can come about without a socialist state.

In particular this view is espoused most famously by Anarchists. Anarchists with little or no understanding of what they stand for, what they want, the history or philosophy of their movement, or with any experience in a serious campaign with the intent of winning power for the powerless.

In essence anarchists who are unwilling or unable to think through the contradictions in the actions of their own movement. They will tell you they oppose all states, bourgeois or socialist, and will at the same time use the methods of the state- violence- in Black Blocks and Earth Liberation Front actions. They will speak positively of the violence used by the EZLN or the CNT/FAI, but will never stop to think about them as a state.

Anarchists need to ask themselves, “what is the state?” In strictly political science terms, the state is a organized monopoly on the use of legitimate violence. What the violence is used for, who it is used by, how it is used, where and why it is used, is what defines the character of a state. Whether it is a state for the people, or a state for the elite. Today the US government is essentially defending the interests of its dominant class- the bourgeoisie. However, much of the activity that Anarchists participate in could be considered that of a state rival to that of the bourgeoisie's, a state that simply is not in power.

Part of what Anarchists are doing in their condemnation of socialist states is confusing Social Democratic methods- running in elections, reform, policy changes, with the creation of a socialist state. While I feel that at times electoral campaigns and reform can build the movement, it is not the only part of movement building. Many leftist movements around the world have gone from being legal electoral groups to illegal guerrilla groups and back again, depending on the political situation. In Lenin's terms though, the socialist state is one that evolves out of the class struggle. It is not rank opportunists seeking political office, but rather the unions who fight the bosses. That class struggle can take place in the streets, in the workplace, and even in the ballot box.

Another fallacy with their argument is the confusion of short term tactics with long term strategy. It's easy to see why many anarchist make this mistake, they are impatient and want a new society now. It's understandable. However, social change rarely happens overnight, and when it does come swift and fast, it often has roots that go back years. It takes time to build organizations, to change people's minds, to create alternative social structures. There are innumerable obstacles that the opposition will throw up to slow and stop us. Obstacles that will require a progressive state that is fighting for the interests of the people.

I would compare it to anti-sweatshop activists who wear clothes made in sweatshops. They have little choice, there are few clothes not made in sweatshops and you have to wear clothes in public. Hence you make compromises. Same with the food you eat that was likely picked in poor working conditions. I don't want to, but I often have to temporarily accept the world as it is to make it the way I want it to be. Likewise radicals can use a socialist state to push for a classless society.

Another part of the anarchists confusion might be simply semantics. They have retired scary sounding phrases like 'the workers state', 'dictatorship of the proletariet' and 'vanguard' for new ones such as affinity group spokescouncils and bottom-liner that mean very close to the same thing. For example the most famous living Anarchist, Noam Chomsky has stressed that people's movements need to sustain pressure against those in power. Why not call that pressure an incipient state? When a union goes on strike and fights for the rights of all people to have a decent job, many Anarchists support them, but few of them call the action that of an incipient workers state.

Much of Anarchists anti-state stand is sheer hypocrisy or stupidity. If the FBI raids a movement house or infoshop and seized documents, Anarchists and progressive activists would be outraged. However, when animal rights activists raid an animal testing lab and seize documents, no one considers it part of a new state being born in the day to day struggle of the people against exploitation.

Consider this experience. When I was in college I attended the protests in Miami against the Free Trade Area of the Americas. While there I would often help out at the convergence center. I volunteered to be a guard, making sure no cops were allowed in the center. After the protest, there were many people in jail, and there was an effort to raise funds to bail them out. I was sitting out side the convergence center, when I was told by the person coordinating the security for the center that bail money was missing, and that I was not to let anyone in or out, and to search the bags of anyone who passed by. Apparently an impromptu spokescouncil had decided on the draconian patriot act like measures. Yet, no one that I know of from that event referred to the actions of the spokescouncil as a state.

To their credit, these Anarchists are some of the most militant sectors of the progressive movement in the US today. One could call their actions reckless, but one can also call them courageous. The Animal Liberation Front has freed thousands of animals, while the Earth Liberation Front has demonstrated it's anti-car agenda with ferocious militancy. The Black Block has stricken fear in the heart of business districts all over the country.

Outside of their more militant actions, Anarchists in the US have sparked a cultural revolution. They have encouraged rebellion against unjust hierarchy and promoted counter-cultural values with a DIY attitude and punk music. They have lived lives with little compromise, refusing to sell out and get corporate jobs. They have fed the hungry and poor with groups like Food Not Bombs.

After the collapse of bureaucratic socialism in the Soviet Union, and the protests in Seattle against the World Trade Organization, many thought that Anarchist ideas might have some credit. That there might be an opportunity to build a progressive social movement in the US based on Anarchist ideals. Anarchists had been some of the best critics of states which claimed to be run by workers, while actually being run by political party functionaries. Anarchists had been some of the best critics of the false vanguardism of much of the US left, paper sellers who claim to know the correct path towards revolution and yet have little respect among the people they claim to lead.

Which is perhaps why this delusion of theirs is worse than all the others. Because the Anarchist movement in America has so much potential that is being wasted. Once they accept the need for a socialist state to organize against big business, all their other incorrect ideas will become straightened out. They will then stop seeking to drop out of society, and begin to attempt to change it.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Recognizing Politics in Justice

In the April 27, 2009 issue of the Chicago Tribune, Edward Murnane wrote an opinion piece titled 'Taking Politics Out of Justice.' He asked if there was 'a difference between republican justice and Democratic justice,' and not in a leftist way of accusing both parties of being complicit in the exploitation of working people.

Murnane instead suggests that judges should be non-partisan and Murnane scolds 'plantiffs attorney's, organized labor and others who want to exert some control over the courts.'

He ascribes to the conservative idea that there is some form of right and wrong 'above' politics.

I wholeheartedly disagree. Everything is politics. Politics is the who, what, where, why, when, and how of power. There is no 'justice' or 'morals' above or outside of this. There can be different conceptions of justice and morals, however these ideals evolve out of material circumstances, and the different interest groups battle over who will be able to implement their idea of what justice is. These different philosophies battle in the realm of material power, and the winner is declared 'justice.'

As Trotsky discussed in the essay, 'Their Morals and Ours,' the working class has different interests, and thus a different conception of justice, than the elite class.

In terms of judges, there is no way to prevent politics from playing some sort of a role. While we can eliminate the most crass forms of politics, the trading of party favors, the bribes and graft, and the politics without principle, it is absurd to think that a judge can simply enforce the law without letting their political opinions play some role. In which case, we should attempt to have judges sympathetic to labor, civil rights, and democratic and socialist ideals.

On the lower levels of the judicial branch, it is easier for a judge to enforce the law as written. A defendant either murdered someone, sold drugs or they didn't. However, the higher up the judicial ladder one climbs, the more subjective the law becomes. The vaguer and less defined certain laws become.

When political stalemate in the legislative branch prevents movement on important issues, judges are often forced to decide cases without legislative instructions. This can range from sentencing to Constitutional law. In sentencing a liberal judge might give a shorter sentence to a petty working class criminal, or in a murder case a decades long sentence instead of the death penalty. In constitutional law, the liberals on Supreme Court argue over what a document written over 200 years ago has to say about very modern issues, and will have to make arguments about how the constitution can be read in a way to legalize sodomy.

All of this becomes more relevant in light of the Sotomayor nomination.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Job Interview Gone Wrong

I had a job interview at a large and prestigious Chicago area University the other day. I had a plan. I've been on a lot of job interviews for a lot of shitty jobs that I didn't really want to have but needed to pay my bills. I'm not even looking for a 'career job,' something that allows me to be involved in practicing progressive politics. I've been applying for 'survival jobs,' being a waiter, cashier, or office assistant.

Sometimes I would actually land an interview. I would show up, only to be told that someone with a college degree, isn't qualified to be a waiter. Apparently my 5 years of customer service experience didn't qualify me to write someone's order down, fill their water, carry a plate across a room, and collect the bill. I would be told that because of the economy being so tight, they could only hire people with so many years of waiter experience.

I have applied for about a dozen different jobs at this University and received form rejection letters for every single one. After the most recent, I snapped, and fired back an e-mail where I told them how qualified I was with my college degree and how they should have the decency to at least meet with me and then send me a personalized rejection letter.

To my surprise, the e-mail was received by a secretary who wrote me back. I was expecting it to bounce from an automated rejection letter account. Instead I was invited to meet a recruiter at the school. I agreed.

I had a plan though. I didn't want him to tell me I wasn't qualified, or that there wasn't the money, to hire me. I remembered an article that was printed in the newsletter of the Illinois chapter of the American Association of University Professors. It printed the salaries of all the presidents of Chicago area colleges. This particular president was one of the highest paid, with a salary in the six digits.

I wanted to challenge this recruiter. I wanted to wait until he told me that because of the economy there wasn't enough room for me at the school. Then I would pull out the article and ask him why the president of the school didn't take a pay cut so I could have a job and afford my expensive cobra health insurance, or my rent, or my grocery bill. I wanted to argue with him over the merits of socialism, and universal employment.

I figured that being a dick got me the interview, I needed to be a dick to get the job. Actually, I wanted this recruiter to feel bad. I wanted him to be unable to sleep at night because the thought of me starving and sleeping in a gutter. I wanted him to feel responsible for creating misery in the world. I wanted this suit wearing, 9-5 office job, shiny shoe mother-fucker to feel my fucking pain. I wanted him to feel guilty for having a steady job while I did not. I wanted him to go home to his step-ford wife in their white picket fence home and to have her to see the depressed look on his face and ask him, 'what's wrong honey?'

I was running late the day of the interview and needed to catch a cab to make it on time. I arrived at the campus five minutes early, paid the taxi driver $20, and then received a cell phone call. It was the secretary, the recruiter was sick and had to cancel. I politely agreed to reschedule the interview. As soon as she hung up, I screamed. I called my roommate and left an expletive laden message about the hypocrisy of it all.

If I, as the jobless interviewee, had gotten sick and canceled an interview, it would be held as a mark against me. Even if they went through the motions, and rescheduled another interview, they would be doubting my ability to be 'reliable.'

It's all fucking bullshit. Our entire society is based on lies. You lie about how much you want the job, while they lie about how much they think you'll fit it, or how they don't have a position for you. Our entire social structure is based on deception and half-truths. You can understand why it makes an honest person like me sick.

If we had a society that guaranteed democratic jobs to all, health care for all, the ability to follow one's personal pursuits without fear of poverty, maybe we could be honest with each other. I would start by telling a couple of people to fuck of, before telling quite a few others how much I love them.

Friday, June 12, 2009

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A Real Analysis of the Economic Collapse

Every night, bourgeois economic analysts on cable TV give their interpretation of why the economy collapsed in the last year. They cite the reliance on credit, American's living beyond their means, credit default swaps, predatory lending, ponzi schemes, the Iraq War, the cost of pensions and health care, and some conservatives have even blamed affirmative action for the recession.

All of these have some truth to them, and certainly within a bourgeois economic context, they make sense. However they all miss the true underlining contradictions within the capitalist system which made the economic collapse inevitable.

To understand why the economy has fallen on hard times, we have to understand the contradiction within a commodity between its use value and its exchange value. In our current economic situation, this is epitomized in the housing bubble. The use value of a commodity such as a house is fairly obvious, people use a house to live in it. However the exchange value of a house is how much you can sell it for. The price can vary based on a number of factors, but the exchange value and the use value are two different aspects of a single object.

In the United States, deregulation of the credit industry allowed many to gain access to credit which they could not afford to repay, as the real wages of the US have slipped as inflation rose and wages stagnated as a response to the shrinking of the labor movement.

These loans were then spent on homes, which gave real estate companies the capital they needed to build homes for people. The problem with credit is that sooner or later the bill collector comes to collect. As this happened, the housing industry was forced into a tailspin.

The current crises in the bourgeoisie system has its roots in the creditization and proletarianization of America. However the spark that ignited the powder keg was the fact that there are more homes built than people who could afford them. There is more supply than demand, thus an imbalance in the market place which leads to retractions. First in the housing and construction industry, who are unable to collect rent money from evicted tenants. Followed by the credit companies which loaned so much money to home owners and home builders who were unable to pay it back. Followed by the businesses which relied on credit spending by consumers.

The banks did not make loans to help people own a home, or to run a business where people could have a job, they made the loans to charge exorbitant interest and make a profit.

So what must we do to get out of this crises? Well, regulation of the credit industry, raising the minimum wage, and public works spending are all nice moderate liberal reforms that would ease the crises, but do nothing to prevent future economic collapses. Some conservatives think that the unregulated market would eventually balance out, they are correct, but they don't take into consideration the human cost. This conservative position does not care how many people lose their jobs, their homes, or their small businesses, in the process of the market restabilizing itself, nor does it prevent future economic collapses.

We must ultimately form new collective and mutual ways of helping each other to live fulfilling lives. While the bourgeois economists such as Holman Jenkins defend bulldozing homes to drive the price of homes up to allow home builders to make a profit, and the dumping of grain into the ocean so that the market price rises, we must object to the domination of the exchange value of commodities, and seek to make the use value the prime objective. We must stand for homes for all, food for all, decent and democratic jobs for all.

The market will not institute these demands. Which is why we must organize so that a democratic government, one run, in Lincoln's words, 'by the people, for the people and of the people,' should plan the economy. This doesn't mean that every little knick knack should be nationalized, but expropriation of banks and major industries by the people would lead to an economic system which is planned for all people's needs. Compare this to the corporations which are run by small and secretive boards of trustees who plan their mammoth economies in an undemocratic fashion and serve only the interests of the rich who are able to buy their way onto these boards.

In many ways, we can build off of what has already been done. The US government has already essentially expropriated several banks, two car manufacturers, and an insurance company. The voting and tax paying citizens of the United States own these companies.

While President Obama stated that the US government will not micromanage GM, we should demand democratic control of these new institutions of democratic governance. Instead of using a Keynesian analysis, that the government should invest in order to revive the private market place, we should be arguing that the government exert democratic control over the companies that it now owns a majority stake in.

We should oppose any and all attempts to privatize or sell off the companies we now own. We should demand free and open elections of the board of trustees of these major industries by American citizens.

For the price of these companies, with the amount of money we payed to these banks, we should be able to elect their board of trustees. We can run candidates for these positions with progressive policies. Imagine a bank that won't give a loan to a company unless it agrees to unionize, or to give control of the company to the workers that keep it running. Imagine a GM that makes high speed railroads and cars powered through alternative clean energy, made out of recycled parts.

There are seeds of the counter-nationalization in all of the newly nationalized companies of course. In order to pay for the stimulus bill, the nationalization of different companies and the bank bailout, the Obama administration is borrowing money from international lenders such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

In the short term, this means that these banks have less capital to invest in third world projects that are desperately needed by the worlds poor. In the long term, these banks will place demands on future loans, which will subvert democratic control of not only the industries we now own, by demanding privatization, but will also undermine democratic control of our government by taking the decision out of the hands of voters and placing it into the hands of bankers.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Show Me the Gay Gene

In the debate over gay rights in America, there are two pole positions. One claims that homosexuality is a choice against the will of God, while another claims that it is a genetic part of who a person is. I feel like both positions are absurd.

Let me be clear, I am 110% on the side of the queers, gays, bisexuals, lesbians, feminists, kinksters, trans, and others who are fighting for their rights in a society that often does not tolerate them, let alone accept them.

That said, I feel like the debate over whether homosexuality is a choice or a gene, is a false one. I have yet to see any irrefutable evidence of a 'gay gene,' and yet I feel like the term 'choice' is a loaded one to describe homosexuality.

Christian fundamentalists have chosen the word 'choice' to describe homosexual activity because they hope to marginalize homosexuals by depicting them as deciding to do something immoral. They could choose to follow in the path of Jesus, but instead they have chosen to sin.

This is an absurd argument on so many levels. First of all, there is no god. Second of all, if there were a god, we have to ask, what makes his opinion on what is moral and immoral any better than anybody else's? Third of all, Homosexuality is embedded much deeper into a person than a choice.

The word 'choice' implies a certain frivolous attitude towards the path one takes. As though you could go either way. Even tough decisions, are still things that people are able to go one way or the other on, thus making them difficult. When eating at a restaurant, you could choose one of several choices. Homosexuality is not something people are able to give up so easily.

Which is why I think that Homosexuality is something that is conditioned, akin to how a fetish or musical taste is formed. I just don't see the evidence for how it could be any thing else. Show me the gay gene.

Many in the gay rights movement have argued for the existence of the 'gay gene', in the hope that it would be an excellent argument against the Christian fundamentalist attacks. I'm skeptical. If there were a 'gay gene', Christian Fundamentalists and Homophobes of all stripes would claim it as a mutant gene, and turn to eugenics to stamp it out.

Many trans-people have made similar arguments about a 'gay gene', claiming that the are a woman born in a man's body, etc. I find it hard to believe that there is a gene which predetermines a persons love of feminine make-up. I feel that there is a big difference between a person's sex (whether they have a vagina or a penis) and their gender (style of dress, way of acting feminine or masculine), and that sex is something that genes determine, but gender is much more socially constructed, and thanks to the trans movement, often socially deconstructed. Again though, if there were a 'trans gene', opponents of the trans movement would attempt to use Eugenics to wipe it out.

This use of the 'gay gene' argument reflects, in my view, a fear of fighting the hard fight. Instead of fighting for their right to do what they please as consensual adults, they hide behind an argument that makes no claim on morals. While this might seem to some as a nihilistic and thus atheist argument, I feel like it's avoiding the real fight.

Similar to the legal fight over privacy. I feel like the fundamental issue is that homosexual activity is something that occurs between consenting adults and cause no more harm than any number of legal consensual activities. Yet in many pivotal gay rights court cases, the argument was not made in terms of equal protection of the law, or consent, but was made on the basis of privacy. The implied subtext of this argument to many Americans is that if you have nothing to hide, why do you need such privacy?

While I understand why many homosexuals want and need privacy, to protect themselves from bigots, if the gay rights movement is serious it will turn the legal argument away from privacy and towards equal rights.

Some say that it doesn't matter if homosexual activities are genetic or a choice, either way we should stand for gay rights. I agree, but I feel like that sentiment is not understanding what is at stake if there is a gay gene. If there is a gay gene, what happens to consent?

How can a person make decisions about who or what they would like to have relations with if there is a gene that determines what our sexual preferences are? We are also missing another important point, if there is a 'gay gene' and a 'straight gene' then what hope do we have of creating a society that is gender queer with a fluid sexuality?

Sexual preference is socially conditioned, and through struggle we can create the conditions for a queer society.

One of the major ways this struggle has been taking place is in the debate over gay marriage. I feel that the Legalization of Gay Marriage will fundamentally alter sexuality and marriage in America. Many liberals scoff at this idea. They argue 'what does allowing gay couples to get married do to my marriage?' They point to the many ways marriage is already undermined by adultery and divorce.

Yes, the institution of marriage, as understood in the biblical and feudal sense, has been undermined by the creation of the no fault divorce. A major step forward for the women's rights movement and for all those who oppose domestic slavery. While gay marriage may not impact individual marriages by much, the legalization of gay marriage will fundamentally change the legal structure of marriage and the psychology of Americans who think about marriage. It will take more steps away from the feudal and biblical definitions of marriage, and towards an understanding of marriage based on mutual aid and Enlightenment ideals.

With Gay Marriage legalized, many will come out of the closet, many will grow up to be confident in their sexuality, assured that they can be themselves and make their own choices without facing undue consequences. This is a great thing, but it is only the start. There is much work to be done to legitimize alternative sexualities. There will be struggles over the queering of schools, unions, churches, cooperatives and corporations.

Now that the California Supreme Court has ruled in favor of proposition 8, the anti-gay marriage referendum, the gay rights movement has decided to take its fight to the streets. Instead of trying to convince legislators or judges, the gay rights movement in California will attempt to convince their fellow citizens, their neighbors, family and friends. Groups like the Courage Campaign and Equality California are preparing to bring pro-gay marriage referendums to the ballot. This will require courage and audacity. It will require reaching outside of gay ghettos like Castro street and Boystown and convincing many who voted for prop 8 to change their mind and their vote. It can be done. It will be done.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Nurture is a Part of Nature

In the May 2, 2009 issue of the Chicago Sun-Times, James Wilson wrote the article “How Genes Shape our Political Choices.” He offer little solid irrefutable evidence in his tirade which claims that our political consciousness is essentially genetically predetermined.

Wilson discusses tests that geneticists use to determine whether a personality trait is passed on through genes. One such test involves comparing adopted children to their foster parents and their biological parents. Another entails comparing identical twins to fraternal twins and non-twin siblings. The idea is that the more people with similar genes share similar traits, the more likely it is that such traits are passed down through genes.

Wilson cites a study by John Alford, Carolyn Funk, and John Hibbling, which uses the twin test, in order to determine whether political choices are genetic. While the study concludes that party affiliation is not genetic, the study claims that political attitudes on issues such as civic duty, the death penalty, and pacifism, are passed through genes.

Here is the thing though, the Alford, Funk and Hibbling study was published in 2005. Wilson writes this article in 2009. He doesn't mention it, but he is trying to counter a new study which refutes the evidence in the 2005 report. Elizabeth Suhay, Nathan Kalmoe, and Christa McDermott recently published a study which fundamentally throws the 2005 study into question, by pointing out that the twin studies led to inaccurate results because twins often share an environment so much, that studies like Alford, Funk and Hibbling's, inflate the results of shared traits among twins. The 2009 study places more emphasis on environmental factors playing a role in the development of political opinions.

Wilson doesn't even intellectually engage with the new study, but simply smears people who believe that social conditioning plays a part in developing a persons attitudes. Wilson calls them 'activists in denial', and then goes on to make essentially the same arguments of the social conditionists. Wilson claims, “When campus protests and attacks on university administrators began in the late 1960's, it was not because a biological upheaval had increased the number of radicals; it was because such people encountered events (the war in Vietnam, the struggle over civil rights) and group pressures that induced them to take strong actions.”

What is at stake in this debate is how we understand free will, the ability to change attitudes and routines, and whether we are able to create our own destiny, or are locked in a genetic predestination.

In essence, Wilson, the Ronald Reagan professor of Public Policy at Pepperdine Univeristy, is promoting a favorite myth of white supremacists. In fact, the study he cites, has been featured on racist websites like American Renaissance.

Wilson states that “the anti-gene claim is ultimately an ill-starred effort to preserve the myth that, because the environment can explain everything, political causes that attempt to alter the environment can bring about whatever their leaders desire.” Wilson sounds like so many bourgeois apologists who state that human nature is violent and creates leaders and slaves. How many times have you heard that “socialism is a nice idea, but it would never work because it is against human nature.” The argument Wilson makes encourages people to give up on attempts to change the world for the better.

I want to clarify a few things about Wilson's misrepresentations of the social conditionists arguments though. Except for Christian fundamentalists who don't believe in evolution, no one is claiming that genetics don't play a large part in determining human behavior.

I think there is a meta-structure is in our genes for certain human traits, but not for the specific choices people make. For example, genes for sexual desire, not for sexual preference; genes that allow one to grow legs and have the ability to run, but not a gene to be a world class Olympic runner, genes to be able to understand and speak a language, but not a specific language. In the case of political views, we are born with the ability to be rational, but we are not born with predetermined positions on issues. If we were, then I would like to know where the pacifist gene is, and how we could breed the entire human race with it.

Certainly our genetics provide for us to be impact by social circumstances in different ways, thus leading to the development of political perspectives in individuals. An African-American is going to be raised to understand the history of African-American's, and to have a different perspective on politics than someone raised in a white family in America.

We are like Pavlov's dog or Skinner's rodents. We have a genetic need to eat to survive, however our salivating at the sound of a bell is taught to us. Our political views are conditioned into us by our role in society.

However, human society is something that has its roots in evolution. The overwhelming majority of evidence supports Darwin's theory of natural selection. However, a question not answered by many conservative corporate social Darwinists is “who is fittest to survive- the individual, or the group that works together and supports each other?” Russian Anarchist Petter Kropotkin had an answer to that question, and in his book “Mutual Aid: a Factor in Evolution,” he showed how the society that supports it's members will be “the strongest to survive” over the powerful individual.

What Kropotkin showed through science is something which Rousseau showed through philosophy, that mankind is not naturally vindictive. That we are born free and equal, and that contrary to Wilson's claims, socialism is a part of human nature.

Every time you share a meal with a friends, every time you fix a friends car or bike, every time you take care of a sick child, every time you pay taxes towards a local school, that is mutual aid, a part of human nature. It is in our own interest to help others. That is why we have hospitals, and seek cures for diseases, and help those who are sick. That is why we educate our young and socialize with others, telling them our thoughts and ideas and sharing our experiences. Because on one hand we can get sick and will need help, and on the other we might need that person who is sick for some other task in society. Essentially, our nurturing aspects, are a fundamental part of our nature. They are an evolutionary tool for survival.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Oppose Secession

Now that President Obama is pushing a major federal level public works program, many conservatives are aghast. Texas Governor Rick Perry has even suggested that states that are opposed to a federal spending package should consider secession from the union.

The absurdity of Rick Perry talking about that is obvious. This is a Governor who has taken federal stimulus money for a range of projects. The coded racism in Perry's secession talk is obvious to anyone who knows the least bit of American history.

What worries me isn't Rick Perry's grandstanding for his conservative base. What worries me is that a number of liberals are willing to let Southern Conservative states secede.

I feel like this is the height of ignorance in terms of American history and philosophy, as well as the height of callousness for all those who live in the states that would potentially secede.

The liberals who say, “let them leave. We don't like their politics. Without them holding us back we could legalize gay marriage,” are ignoring what would happen in those states that secede. Prayer is the schools would be the tip of the iceberg. There would be culls against homosexuals, segregation would be reinstated, unions outlawed, and Mexicans deported. The states that secede would begin to build power in power to rival the liberal union. They would set their ultimate goal on the destruction of enlightenment ideals upheld in the Northern states.

There are some liberals who even argue that we should have let the South secede in the 1860's, “get rid of those conservative Southerners and slavery was going to fade away anyway. Who are we to oppose state's rights?”

This is a dangerous illusion. Yes slavery was on it's way out, but it was because of the sustained effort of a coalition of abolitionists and northern business interests. The abolitionists who appealed to a moral righteousness that all men be treated equal, and the capitalist class which felt that it had to unfairly compete with a system that did not have labor costs, united to elect a President who campaigned on limiting the expansion of slavery to new states in the union.

States rights is a smokescreen to the fundamental issue of slavery. States rights was the ideological and legal justification for the lucrative process of exploitation of man against man.

Every crises in the union from 1776 until 1860 revolved around slavery. The debates at the constitutional convention over the number of representatives from each state were deadlocked until Slave states were allowed to count slaves as population in census taking, while depriving them of the right to vote.

After a controversy which threatened to tear the country apart, the 1819 Missouri compromise established the rules to maintain an equal balance of slave states and free states, thus preventing the Senate from ever passing a law which would outlaw slavery throughout the union. The compromise of 1850 and the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act continued this equation.

The election of Lincoln changed all this. Lincoln was a moderate in the Republican party. He did not believe in equality between Black and white, he did not want to abolish slavery in the states where it existed. Lincoln did want to stop slavery's spread to new states. The slave states knew that if Lincoln allowed a majority of free states to exist in Congress, it was only a matter of time before Congress abolished slavery on a federal level in all the states.

So the slave states attacked the union. The Southern slave state rebelled against the principles of the US constitution as outlined in the Federalist papers. The slave states decided that their profit from the institution of slavery was more important than the stirring words of the Declaration of Independence that “All Men Are created Equal.”

The fact that Lincoln pursued the war against the slave states, to preserve the union, ranks him as one of the great figures of Western civilization. While he was an ideological moderate, the material circumstances mandated that the barbaric practice of slavery would be abolished. As long as he wanted to maintain the union, he was forced to follow a more progressive stance. While he began the war attempting to keep the pro-union slave states in the union, by the end of the war Lincoln had abolished slavery in the rebel states with the Emancipation Proclamation and laid the stage for the ultimate abolition. In the ensuing reconstruction, the Radical Republicans enacted constitutional amendments which abolished slavery, and gave the franchise to Blacks.

All such claims of states rights and talk of secession today should be considered in light of the history of civil war. Nothing good or progressive can come of allowing conservative states to leave the union. It would be a victory for reaction and lay the stage for future left-wing defeats.

In many ways, Obama's federal stimulus spending package represents a step towards a greater progressive federal government to counter the reactionary policies carried out in many states. Progressive should oppose states which not not accept federal money for housing, welfare and health care. They should fight to force those states to take the money and use it for the betterment of their citizens. Allowing states to refuse the money, or worse to secede, would be allowing them to encourage poverty, allowing them to condemn women to a life of domestic servitude, it would be allowing them to deny civil liberties and civil rights to millions of American's.

Progressive should also use federal funds as a Trojan Horse to force progressive change. You want fed money? You have to legalize gay marriage. You want a new highway? You have to expand health care to cover the uninsured.

The union of the states is not perfect, it is no socialist state, it is not seeking the ownership of the means of production by those who work them. However, to allow conservatives to dissolve the union, is to disavow one of the few advantages American progressives have. Allowing secession is to abolish our ability to help our fellow citizens who are 'behind enemy lines.'

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Thoughts on Conservative Linguistics

Have you ever thought about how absurd certain conservative phrases are? Consider 'Reverse Racism.' Many conservatives rail against a perceived bias against white people which they call 'Reverse Racism.' This is an odd title for something they intend to smear and associate with racism. Because, really, lets' think about this, what's the reverse of racism? Anti-Racism. Maybe if the conservatives could spell out a complete sentence they could argue that 'affirmative action is racism that reverses the victim.' Except that their speaking abilities are about as thorough as their analysis of the issue is.

The same thing applies to conservatives use of the phrase 'Politically Correct.' They continually assert how much that want to be 'Politically Incorrect,' that political correctness stifles their views and prevents them from voicing their opinion. This is odd to me. I would assume one wants to be correct about things. Could you imagine a reporter who reports a story, and insists on being 'Journalistically Incorrect' because 'Journalistic Correctness' prevents him from reporting the story the way he wanted to? It's absurd.

There are facts in politics, and one should strive to be correct about those facts. If these conservatives wanted to argue that what many consider politically correct was actually not correct, and then if these conservatives outlined what they considered to be politically correct, that would at least follow a linguistic logic, even if the conservatives views continued to be incorrect, false and factually inaccurate.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Purpose of this Blog

You might have noticed that I have redesigned this blog. I have made it three columns instead of two. I think this warrants an explanation of my current thoughts on the purpose and direction of the Infamous Scribbler Blog.

I am not interested in reposting other people's content. I am interested in creating original news and analysis. Often my view is not represented in the media. Even liberal commentators don't posses my political scientist perspective, and the theoretical understanding to back up their positions on the issues.

When it comes to news, I want to report on items that I have first hand experience of. Don't expect me to repost stories, unless I have significant commentary about them.

I want this site to be a central spot for my writings, pictures and videos throughout the years. My views often change over the years. It happens as you learn more, and gain different perspectives. What hasn't changed is my radical left wing perspective. Now by radical I mean in the original latin sense, which means root. I like to find the root issues and root causes of conflicts. I feel like many issues are analyzed in a superficial way. I am not interested in the superficial.

I will post some media reviews, but with a political perspective. I like analyzing the political and social aspects of movies and music. I am a fan of heavy metal, punk rock, and all kinds of political music, folk, hip-hop, etc.

You will not find me blogging about the minutiae of my day, or about my sex life. Celebrity gossip is not something you will find here, and I hold little interest in sports. I do have an interest in computers and the politics of technology, particularly linux and other open source software.

I have other social media sites, such as facebook, myspace, twitter, etc. I use those to keep in touch with friends and bands, but I want this to be my main site for sharing my original content.

I don't expect people to agree with everything I say, and I look forward to hosting engaging and thought provoking conversations about our disagreements. If anyone disputes the accuracy of any facts on this site, please send me an e-mail or post a comment and I will take a look at the factoid and determine if a correction needs to be made or not. I take my journalist responsibility to tell the facts very seriously. I also take my responsibility to tell the proper context of the facts very seriously.

I do have a google ads account, and a google shopping cart for donations. If you enjoy the content I provide, think about making a donation so I can buy things such as digital cameras, video cameras, and maybe devote more time to this blog. I will not change my content to please advertisers though. It's an issue of integrity, journalists and bloggers should not be at the mercy of the market, but should share information with the people to help them make educated decisions about thier lives. Bloggers should play a part in creating community and building a grassroots democratic movement for justice.

I wouldn't mind making a few dollars from this site, but I'm not holding my breath. There are far to many pinko commies stealing online content and not paying for it. And I'm one of them.

Updates from the Geoghegan for Congress Campaign

I wanted to write more updates as the campaign progressed but I was busy on the campaign, and since the campaign I have been busy working on a couple of different projects. This is a general overview of my perspective on a very unusual race. All views contained are mine alone, and do not represent any official views of anyone from the Geoghegan campaign.


I met Rahm Emmanuel once. It was early in 2003, I was a freshman at DePaul University and eager to get involved in progressive politics. I had taken part in a few anti-war protests, and was asked to represent students at a constituent meeting between Lincoln Park Neighbors for Peace and the newly elected representative of the 5th Congressional district of Illinois, Rahm Emmanuel. The previous congressman, Rod Blagovejich had voted to authorize the Bush administration to invade Iraq and we wanted to meet with the new congressman to push him in a more dovish position. I knew little about Rahm except that he was involved with the Clinton administration.

Our group of 15 or so peace activists met with Rahm, and told him about our objections to the war. I talked about the need to develop green energy so we wouldn't need oil and thus could avert the war. When Rahm talked, he kept dancing around the morality of the war, instead he made excuses for why his predecessor voted in favor of the war (to send the issue to the UN where they could pressure Saddam Hussein to disarm) and criticizing the unilateral approach to the war, discussing how it was alienating America's European allies. He did not seem willing to do much to prevent the pre-emptive invasion that came soon after our meeting. As we left, I shook Rahm's hand, noticing the missing ring finger, and handed him a button I had that said, “Support the Troops, Bring Them Home Now.” I asked him to wear it some place public, as far as I know he never has.

In the years since that meeting, we would find out much more about Emmanuel's stand on issues of war and peace. He was one of the most right-wing hawks in the Democratic party, actively leading and rounding up votes to continue funding the war. He would get involved in Democratic party primaries, supporting hawkish, pro-free trade candidates against grassroots, better established candidates. His office became a target of anti-war protesters on many occasions.

Which is why many people, myself included, were disappointed when in November 2008, President-elect Obama promoted Emmanuel to be White House Chief of Staff.

However this created an opportunity to replace Emmanuel in the special election that would take place for Rahm's House seat with a progressive voice to fight for working people and peace.

The 5th district has a long history of being represented by the right wing of the liberal party. The first representative for the district was Stephen Douglas, essentially a pro-slavery Republican. More recently the district was represented by Dan Rostenkowski, a machine Democrat who would be convicted of corruption charges. Rostenkowski was so bad that a Republican replaced him, serving for a single term. The district was represented by the now infamously corrupt Rod Blagojevich and the hawkish Rahm Emmanuel.

In December of 2008, I stopped in my local library and bought some used books for a dollar each. One was Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil. Like Dostovesky, I don't agree with much of Nietzsche's philosophy, but I do enjoy his dark and bleak writing style. The other book was “Which Side Are You On? Standing Up for Labor When Labor is on it's Back,” by Tom Geoghegan. I had never heard of Geoghegan, but the book certainly looked interesting to me.

I breezed through Which Side Are You On? quickly, while I have barely started Beyond Good and Evil. I enjoyed Geoghegan's dark self-deprecating humor, and his devotion to helping working people, no matter the odds. Originally from Ohio, Geoghegan is a Harvard educated lawyer who became a labor lawyer, representing unions and working people against greedy corporations. He worked for the Mineworkers in their Washington DC office, before moving to Chicago to fight alongside a grassroots faction of the steelworkers union. He partnered with Leon Despres, the famous progressive Chicago Alderman who was often the sole left-wing dissident on the city council to oppose the first Mayor Daley. Geoghegan had fought against corruption in the Teamsters and was someone I was surprised I had never heard of before.

I googled his name, and found David Sirota's article praising Geoghegan's idea on amending the civil rights code to protect union activists. I also found rumors that Geoghegan was pondering a run for Congress in the special election for Rahm Emmanuel's seat.

The next day I traveled downtown to Geoghegan's office, took the elevator up to his office and rang the bell at the receptionists desk in the lobby. An office assistant came out and asked if he could help me. I ask him if Tom was in, showed him my copy of Tom's book and said that I wanted an autograph.

Tom came around the corner and signed my book, with the comment, “Stay on the Left Side.” I had planned on asking him about his plans for Congress, but before I could ask him about it, he asked me to collect signatures to get his name on the ballot. I told him of course I would.

For two weeks in January, in often sub-zero weather, I collected signatures on street corners and in front of el stations. I met a lot of interesting people doing it. I would often use a short quick line to catch peoples attention, “Sign to get an anti-war democrat on the ballot.” “Support a pro-gay-marriage democrat, please sign.”

Most people would just walk past you. I found that 15-20 signatures an hour was about average. What frustrated me that most was the people who you could tell from the way they dressed, that they considered themselves pretty liberal. They had their iPod, black frame glasses, Obama button on a laptop purse, and maybe a streak or two of died hair. Yet they would ignore you, look straight ahead and walk past you as if you were a homeless person asking for change. I know this isn't very polite, but I would try to guilt them as they ignored me. I would give my pitch to sign, and if they kept walking I would sometimes add, “well maybe you want your friends to lose their legs in Iraq,” or “Maybe you are rich and don't have to worry about collecting social security one day.”

Some of my friends admitted to me that when they ignore strangers on the street. I told them that how else are we supposed to create community if we don't talk to strangers. I mean I was spending 8, sometimes more hours a day in sub-zero weather, and these people wanted to pretend they care about these issues? I could get pretty angry at people who acted that way. If you care about the issues, you will do what it takes to make a difference, and I'm not that sympathetic to people who complain about the roadblocks in their way. Yes there are plenty, so are you going to use that as an excuse to taking action, or are you going to overcome them?

I would occasionally get a right-wing nut. One Republican told me that Iraq would make a great place to vacation. Another told me that more people die in car accidents every year than die in the Iraq war. I replied that people should ride bikes. I even had some ultra-leftists criticize me. One of my queer friends told me they wouldn't sign the petition because they were against the gay marriage as they saw it as assimilating into the state. I spoke with many people who were hesitant because they didn't know the candidate well enough. I would tell them that this was not an endorsement, that they could vote for whoever they wanted when the actual election happened.

What made collecting signatures worth while though was the support I did get. People would buy me coffee and food. I had several great conversations with people who were excited just to meet someone who was fighting for progressive change.

We collected a total of three thousand signatures, we needed about one thousand for ballot access. I was twenty signatures away from having collected the most signatures. After we secured Tom's place on the ballot, we began to move into the field office on West Irving Park rd. It was pretty hectic, trying to get the internet running, calling volunteers to come to the open house, and even renting a u-haul to move a couch into the office.

One of the sad things about the new office was the previous tenants. They were a husband and wife couple who had run a small real estate office for several years before the economy took a nose dive. I couldn't help but feel bad for them. They stopped by twice, and they were excited to see someone in the space, and they agreed with what the campaign stood for, but they would seem a little lost. Like they didn't know what to do now. I couldn't help but feel bad for them. They were the epitome of why we were working for this campaign.

We were able to get everything up and running and were soon using our database of registered voters to create call lists and walk lists. We had volunteers coming in everyday to help out, and those of us who were paid staff would hand them a list of voters to call and a phone script to use. On weekends and days where the weather was nicer, (as in the temperature was in the 20's) we would have walk lists for volunteers to canvass neighborhoods. We had literature printed on glossy paper.

I feel like our volunteers were among the most dedicated of the campaigns in the special election. These were movement people. We had grandmothers who “went clean for Gene” in '68 and we had punk rock Obama organizers. We had union organizers who came in on their day off, even though their union endorsed another candidate, and we had retired lawyers. We had mothers that would bring their toddlers into the office to watch while they called voters. One of our volunteers told me that he had health insurance today thanks to Tom Geoghegan. This volunteer worked at an airline that fired him and a few hundred other employees, telling them that their health care cost so much that the company couldn't afford to keep them. Geoghegan was able to find out that this was illegal, companies aren't allowed to fire people because of the cost of their health care. Geoghegan took the company to court and won, securing jobs for all of the fired workers.

To illustrate how dedicated our volunteers were, I find this story revealing. My roommate's union endorsed another candidate because as a state Rep, this other candidate had sponsored a bill that helped them. So my roommate went with his union to volunteer for this other candidate one Saturday. The candidate gave an expletive laced speech to rally the group to canvass for him, and they were given walk lists and sent out to knock on doors. My roommate figured that he would be out for most of the day knocking on doors. After a half-hour of knocking on doors, he finished the walk-list that he had and went back to the campaign office to grab some more walk-lists. When he got there, he was told that he was done for the day. He asked if they had more walk lists, and the office staff was like “no, your done!”

At the Geoghegan office, we kept our volunteers on the phone, or in the street as long and as often as we could. We had one volunteer, a young computer programmer who used linux on his laptop, who came in every night after work for a month to make phone calls and help with data entry. We didn't have the number of endorsements or volunteers that other campaigns had, so we needed to motivate our volunteers every time they came in, and keep them fired up and willing to come back as soon as they could.

Tom Geoghegan is a super nice guy. He was a bit on the awkward and nerdy side, and a devout Catholic. Tom was easily the most progressive candidate in this race. He was a real policy wonk, in a system which values smooth talkers over good ideas. Tom was an idealist in a system that views a political campaign as a capital start up venture to begin a career/business in politics. Tom would have brought his legal expertise to Congress to focus on the important issues.

Our campaign focused on the stuff Tom had been working on for decades. Our campaign was the first in the race to stand in favor of universal, single payer health care, and we would offer an argument about how it would help the economy by easing the burden of health care off of employers and allow the government to subsidize employees health. Tom Geoghegan was also one of the few Democrats you will hear say that he was not just in favor of 'saving' social security, but actually wanted to increase social security benefits, and turn it into a genuine state guaranteed pension. Geoghegan also opposed the bank bailout from the left. In his view we should be providing relief for working people, instead of wall street executives. Geoghegan wanted to strengthen anti-ursury laws. Geoghegan would talk about ways to take over the current banks, and force them to lend on the people's terms, or how to create new better banks that would represent the interest of working people.

Geoghegan was an early opponent of war in Iraq, and was skeptical of plans to expand the war in Afghanistan. While his position on Palestine was not as left as mine is, he was still the best candidate in this race on the issue. In an early candidate forum, every single other candidate stood in favor of increasing military aid to Israel, Geoghegan was the only one who was skeptical about how much more military aid Israel needed. Geoghegan was also very strongly in favor of gun control, as he had fought lawsuits against gun manufacturers.

The campaign strategy was pretty straightforward. We were going to contact the people who were reliable Democratic voters and who Geoghegan's message of economic security should have resonated with. This meant calling regular Democratic primary voters who were about 50 years old and older in the Western, more blue collar, part of the district. One of the interesting parts of the campaign was that we became so popular with bloggers. There were candidates like John Fritchey who ran his own blog, yet Tom, who is a little more old school with his technology usage, became really popular among progressive bloggers. I feel it is because bloggers follow the issues real closely, and are generally speaking, more progressive and more knowledgeable about the intricacies of policy issues than an average voter. However, bloggers can help create a buzz around a candidate, can help fund raise, but few of the bloggers who wrote about Tom lived in the district.

We had some positive media coverage early in the campaign. Thomas Frank wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal which praised Geoghegan, calling him an unrepentant New Dealer. The Nation magazine endorsed Tom, as he had written articles for them. We also secured the endorsements of several progressive groups including the Greater Chicago Caucus, Progressive Democrats of America, and Teamsters Local 743 (a reform led local). Tom support for Universal Single Payer Health Care secured the endorsements of the California Nurses Association and Dr. Quentin Young. The GCC was later able to have immigrant rights activist Jorge Mujica endorse Geoghegan. Geoghegan was endorsed by the Students for a New American Politics Political Action Committee, who paid for several interns and one staffer to work on our campaign. I helped coordinate the interns every day.

There were several candidate forums throughout the campaign. The first was at DePaul. The forum was just for the democratic contenders. In such a heavily Democratic district as the 5th, it was highly unlikely that any other party would win the election. Many of the later forums would become bogged down with all 20-some candidates from the three parties (Democrat, Green, Republican), giving few of them any time to deliver a serious response.

The forums were an opportunity to gauge the different candidates.

Fritchey came off as a tough talking politician. John Fritchey had a reputation as someone who fought against Governor Blagojevich, and was seen by many as a progressive reformer. However in the course of the election, many began to perceive him as more of a machine candidate. Many unions backed him, and in Springfield he sponsored a bill against puppy mills, but he also sponsored a bill requiring a moment of silence at the beginning of school, a step away from school prayer. Fritchey almost secured the nomination of the Democratic party committeemen, but Alderman O'Connor, Daley's right hand man, skimmed enough votes from him that the party was not able to meet the required votes for a candidate and was unable to endorse a candidate. This threw the election into an open race, and a dozen different candidates ran in the Democratic primary.

Sara Feigenholtz had a lot of money, but had no energy at the forums. I found her strategy to be condescending as well. It boiled down to 'I'm a woman, women will vote for me.' SEIU was the only union to endorse her.

Paul Brayar, as far as I could tell, had no positions on the issues except to bash the other candidates. Victor Forys though, I kind of liked. He was a Polish doctor, who focused his strategy on winning over Polish voters in the Western end of the district. Chicago has the second largest population of Polish people in the world, after Warsaw, and Forys thought that in a race split so many different ways he would be able to carry the district.

Charlie Whelan was arguably the most conservative of the candidates. A University of Chicago economist, Whelan opposed the Employee Free Choice Act. Whelan lived close to DePaul's campus, where I received my BA. If Whelan was elected, I was planning on organizing rallies outside his home to pressure him into supporting EFCA. Several articles on the race would group Tom Geoghegan and Charlie Whelan together as policy wonks. This made little sense to many of us on the campaign, as the two were very different policy wise.

Jan Donnateli was an Air Force veteran and union member who became involved in politics with the Obama campaign for president. Many progressives were excited by her, but I was disappointed by her performances at the forums, where she would speak out against the fight for universal single payer health care.

I was skeptical of Mike Quigley's reformer status. Quigley had cut his teeth in politics by working for Bernard Hansen, one of the Chicago alderman who was allies with “fast” Eddie Vrdolyak, the leader of the white machine opposition to Chicago's first Black Mayor, Harold Washington. While in the county board, Quigley did promote several progressive causes, environmental issues, gay rights, and public transit. However, Quigley was better known as the opposition to Todd Stoger on the Cook County Board. What did this opposition take the form of? Opposing tax hikes.

While I feel there is much to be critical of Todd Stroger in the County Board, I feel that many voters in the 5th district liked Quigley for essentially Republican reasons. Stroger is a powerful Black politician who has been labeled by his critics as a 'tax and spend liberal.' Many of Strogers toughest critics on the county board are quite conservative. Tony Peraica is an out and out Republican, and Forest Claypool is not only the former chief of staff for Mayor Daley but is also a fan of free market fundamentalist Ayn Rand. Many point to perceived patronage with Stroger, considering his dad was the former Cook County Board president and the circumstances that Todd Stroger was appointed were suspicious. I would like it if many of Stroger's critics were critical of another son of a powerful Chicago politician.

With the Geoghegan campaign, we would often run into voters who would ask Tom about the county board. Tom had filed several suits against Todd Stroger, including one to open more voting places along the lakefront, where Stroger opponent Claypool was strong.

We would plan events for Tom Geoghegan to attend in order to reach out and meet voters. We would have coffees at supporters homes, bring him to fundraisers held by veterans groups, attend neighborhood groups meetings, and union meetings.

At the Geoghegan field office we would often discuss President Obama, and the need to support him, yet push him further to the Left. We would often tell the story of how when FDR was elected, he met with a group of progressives who told him about all the things they wanted him to do. He nodded his head and told them, “I agree with you, now go out there and make me do it.” We would often compare ourselves to the radical republicans of Lincoln's time, who would push for abolition of slavery and civil rights laws during reconstruction.

I felt that our mailers were the best of the different campaigns. One of them was split down the middle and showed a fat cat CEO in his suit on one side, and an older couple looking at their bills around the dinner table on the other side. In big bold letters the mailer asked, “Which Side Are You On?” Another showed a nurse and stated, “We Value Hard Work.” Compared to the Stroger bashing and mudslinging at candidates of most other mail literature, ours seemed more like a culture jam than junk mail. Fritchey had a mailer which showed him putting mustard on his hot dog, to prove how honest he was, to admit to eating a hot dog in a non-Chicago style. Fiegenholtz's literature talked about her immigrant mother. O'Connor's mailer showed him shaking hands with a Republican Presiden.

In our phone calls to voters, we spoke with many undecided voters. There were so many candidates, and so little time to get to know them all, that many voters waited until the last week to decided who they supported. We would sometimes call supporters of other candidates. Usually they were polite and said they liked Tom but would be supporting another candidate. The exception was O'Connor supporters. They were the rudest people we would speak with. I realize that in an election with so many candidates, voters were getting lots of phone calls, but O'Connor supporters would shout at me on the phone that since they went to high school with O'Connor and knew his family they were voting for him. Well, I could tell you some stories about people I went to high school with, and why I wouldn't vote for them.

One of the things that was difficult for me to get used to was playing the chess game of politics. There were groups that endorsed us, such as the taxi union, that had disagreements within their ranks. I was often told about the different reasons why different unions didn't endorse Geoghegan, arguably the most pro-union candidate in the race. It was also difficult in the sense that non-profit groups couldn't endorse candidates, and each non-profit group had it's own policy on how far of a distance they kept from the election. Some would invite candidates to speak at their meetings, while others would tell us that candidates could not step foot on their property.

Then there was the drama between our campaign and Democracy for America. The political action group was founded by Howard Dean after he lost his bid for President. It was intended to be a type group that would mobilize grassroots support for progressive candidates. They have a democratic structure so that local groups can vote to decide which candidates they will endorse. In our race, the north side Chicago group voted and while Tom Geoghegan had more votes than his nearest competitor, Quigley, he did not have the required number for an endorsement. DFA decided to open the endorsement up to a nationwide online vote. Geoghegan won the endorsement. This was exciting news and we expected support from the group. Howard Dean's brother, Jim Dean, led DFA and flew to Chicago and met with Tom. I remember sitting in the field office as they met, and as Dean left he waved at the staff, thanked us for our work contacting voters commenting, “that's what most of this business is.” I thought it was odd that he called it a business. As though I were working on the campaign to get a promotion instead of fighting for a cause greater than myself.

There were rumors that Jim Dean had met with North Side DFA members who were backing Quigley and Dean told them that he considered Geoghegan a spoiler to Quigley. However, according to Charles Chamberlain, the national political director of DFA, this was simply not true. DFA raised a significant amount of money for Geoghegan. I think this rumor highlights some of the confusion and misinformation in the election.

One of the funnier moments for me in the campaign was when the former representative of the district, Rostenkowski, was quoted in the news saying that he felt that the loss of the machine in supporting candidates was a negative thing since the machine protected candidates from the voters, that a large part of the job of being a representative was fighting your own constituents. Democracy indeed.

On election day the office was packed. We had volunteers wall to wall all day, making phone calls, poll watching, and knocking on doors. The results were ultimately disappointing to us. Quigley won with 26% of the vote, while Geoghegan received 6%.

I think the results illuminated how wrong many predictions on the race were. Many predicted that since Feigenholtz had the most money she would carry the day. At the Geoghegan office, we knew that in such a bizarre race, with so many candidates, such little time, expected low voter turn out, and with different candidates splitting the votes of different constituencies in so many different ways, making a prediction was a total crapshoot. It was interesting to see Forys do better than many predicted, but that was because English speaking analysts were not reading all the Polish language media that Forys focused on.

How did Tom view the campaign loss? At an election night party he explained that he saw the campaign as a step in the right direction. He viewed it as the first post-financial meltdown campaign and felt that he raised several important progressive issues such as health care, social security, and interest rate caps.

I'm mixed about the success of the campaign. While 6% in six weeks isn't bad, we should have done much better. I am often asked 'what went wrong?' In a sense it's a bizarre question. The campaign's defeat seems like a car crash. I was driving along and then I woke up and my car was totaled. I feel like we had great ideas that were not executed in time. We started off with an appeal towards liberal intellectuals and bloggers, and I feel like we didn't do enough to build on that appeal. We attempted to reach out to voters who are usually a base for the Chicago Democratic party machine. Those voters didn't know who Tom was. If we had more time and more staff we could have executed the strategy, but special elections like this one favor established candidates. Politicians who are already elected have a shorter start up time to get a campaign rolling. They already have their political organization. We had to create or organization from the ground up in six weeks, while many of these other candidates had years of building their organizations, before they were even elected.

I was disappointed with the results of the general election. It was obvious that whoever the Democratic nominee was going to win the general election. What was disappointing was how well the Republican candidate, Rosa Pulido did. Pulido is a Latina and a member of the Illinois chapter of the Minutemen, a racist anti-immigrant group. The Green Party candidate, Matt Reichel, had good anti-war positions, but was young and lacked experience. Nonetheless, it was disappointing that he was unable to get more votes than Pulido in such a liberal district.

I do want to comment on a blog post by Thomas Bowen, Quigley's campaign manager. He wrote his blog after the primary election but before the general election. Bowen speculates why Quigley won while Geoghegan lost. He critiques the Geoghegan campaign, saying that Geoghegan did not build up a strong coalition of progressive groups, and that Quigley had spent years building a progressive coalition.

On one hand, we have to ask why would Bowen write this article when he did? To alienate the left of the party? He had already won the primary, and was on his way to an easy victory in the general, wouldn't Bowen want to heal the party after a divisive primary election?

Then we have to look at the source of the article. Before he was Quigley's campaign manager, Bowen managed Bill Fosters 2008 campaign in the 14th Illinois Congressional District. Foster is a millionaire thanks to a lighting company he founded, and was able to outspend a true progressive in John Laesch to win the Democratic primary. Laesch was a grassroots candidate, a veteran and a carpenter who won 40% of the vote in his 2006 race for congress against Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert. Foster spent over 2 million dollars of his own money to defeat Laesch in the primary, by only 400 votes.

If this is Bowen's idea of “building coalitions, surpassing countless hurdles, and finding a way to win” then I wonder what that says about how progressive Bowen and Quigley are. I wonder what this says about Bowen's ability to forge a winning campaign when he is only able to win by 400 votes after spending two million dollars?

Some of my friends from the Geoghegan campaign have been quite critical of the piece, and upset at Bowen for his criticism of the Geoghegan campaign. I am willing to be optimistic about Bowen though. Maybe he really has turned a corner since the Foster campaign. Maybe he is more interested in grassroots campaigning and progressive coalition building than we thought. Perhaps we can count on Bowen's support in a primary challenge to corporate democrat, and free trade supporter Illinois Congress-woman Melissa Bean? Maybe a true Democrat can count on Bowen's support against Republican opportunist and Employee Free Choice opponent Arlen Specter?

Some have wondered what the Geoghegan campaign should do after the election. Jesse Greenberg pointed out that the Geoghegan campaign hasn't turned into a post-election progressive hub. Tom has his law practice, where he can work on labor and public interest issues, but what about continuing the campaign into forming a political action committee that would support progressive candidates? What about forming a non-profit that would organize the community around progressive issues?

David Sirota has suggested that supporting longshot left-wing campaigns such as Geoghegan's are worth it because they lay the stage for future leftist victories. While I agree, I'm not sure what specific ways the people who worked on the Geoghegan campaign will do that. What I am certain of is that we will continue to fight the good fight for progressive change.

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