They cry wolf too many times

When I was in high school in Virginia in the mid 1960's, the civil rights movement was raging all around us. The KKK murders of three young civil rights activists, Michael Schwerner; James Chaney and Andrew Goodman, compelled many of my generation into action. For me that meant joining a "Summer Project" in Southside, Virginia, to help register people to vote.

That was the first time I was called an outside agitator and a communist. The man who was yelling at me was spitting mad. How dare I come into his county and stir up trouble. I was 17 and had little idea what an outside agitator or a communist was. The guy, a local storeowner, was cursing and name-calling because I was tearing down "Never" posters put up by the KKK, meaning "never" to integration or African American voting.

I can't help but remember those times today as the movement for labor rights is building all around the country. In Madison, Wisconsin; in Indianapolis, Indiana; in Columbus, Ohio, the ultra right is once again yelling "outside agitator" and "communist." And for the same reasons.

Only today the methods are a lot more sophisticated. Today billionaires, company PACs and their political, mostly Republican, servants can buy whole networks and set up phony Astroturf tea bag organizations to do the name calling. Still, the idea is to spread fear and guilt by association. In this case, "union thug" is often added to the mix, much as Black nationalist revolutionary was often added back in the day. Just as the name-calling then had no real effect on the civil rights movement, so too, today it has little effect on the labor movement. Of course, the name-calling is not mostly to scare those already in motion, but to provoke fear in the general public, to try and scare people out of support for the demands and actions of the movement. So it's no surprise that they are at it again.

Andrew Breitbart: remember him? The right-wing blogger who trashed ACORN and then slimed Shirley Sherrod at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Lately he's been going after Planned Parenthood. Well now he's also turned his greasy rightwing eye on the Communist Party.

On March 15, the Communist Party USA held a streaming videoconference on the labor upsurge in Wisconsin and across the country. Brietbart's Big Government blog copied the video stream of part of it and put it on the web here. Of course their intent is to try and scare people with the idea that if the Communists support workers' rights and democracy, then the unions and other organizations involved must be communists also: guilt by association.

A friend of mine at the AFL-CIO saw the Big Government video and called me to laugh about it. "Ooooh - we're just trembling in our boots," he said, "that is when we're not laughing out loud." He then told me to look here and here. In the second link they want to connect us to the Democratic party as fellow revolutionaries. How silly! The video selection shows me saying I'm surprised at the radicalization of the Democratic legislators in Wisconsin and Indiana. It might scare the rightwing, but I was also amazed that one of the Republican senators voted against Walkers union-busting bill - talk about radicalization.

Anyway, Breitbart's video continues the right-wing tradition of slime and scare. High tech, but slime nonetheless. The redbaiting of the civil rights movement did little but help move a lot of concerned young people like me into motion.

It taught a lot of serious activists what communists and socialists are all about. It helped move a generation to the left. If the racist and bigots were so upset by folks who were throwing themselves into the fight for civil right, then we wanted to know more about them. We didn't trust their lies, even after years of anti-communist propaganda and rhetoric. Today it has the same effect. Many are surprised to find out that the communists are fully engaged in the nationwide fight for labor rights and democracy. Now they can see in action what we are really about. Now they want to know more.

As to the outside agitator issue, that's another laugh out loud moment. Republican right-wingers funded by the Koch brothers of California and big business are going to call us outsiders. There are no outsiders. Maybe the right hasn't figured it out yet but the struggle of labor rights and economic justice is global now. As more and more people watch struggles unfold in Egypt, and Libya, and in Yemen and Wisconsin and in England, they find new meaning in "Workers and oppressed people of the world, unite!"

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  • Scott,

    Thanks for this incisive piece. Exposing anticommunism is crucial in these intense struggles. I am disappointed with the title used by the PW. Predators, such as wolves, being vilified has to be rejected. They are a part of the ecosystem. We have to see these animals as other beings with a right to live and carry out their life histories.

    It is particularly heinous that this title would be called on now. The political right wants to loosen protection of wolves. It is aprt of their attack on the environment. Please read the letter below by Defenders of Wildlife and act.

    Despite all of our hard work in opposition to the elimination of federal protections for wolves – opposition that stopped the last, “lame duck” Congress from removing federal protections for wolves in the Northern Rockies – it is clear that congressional leadership now intends to include similar language in the current budget bill that funds the government to the end of September.

    This is shameful. Not only do these provisions substitute politics for science in the protection of endangered species, but they also have NOTHING to do with the federal budget!

    Tell Congress to leave our wolves alone. Send your message now.

    The language being considered removes federal protections from wolves (“delists” wolves from the endangered species list) not only in Idaho and Montana... but also in states like Oregon and Washington where the wolf population is only now beginning to get a toehold.

    PLEASE immediately email or phone your two senators and member of the House of Representatives at (202)224-3121.

    Tell them that it is outrageous that the 2011 budget bill includes a provision that puts politics above science in the protection of endangered species, and demand that they eliminate the non-budget wolf provision from that bill.

    I can’t overemphasize how difficult this fight is. The fact that our opposition has buried this provision in a gigantic, “must-pass” bill funding the government makes it VERY hard to reach. But we have to try. Please help -- it is essential that we make our voices heard.

    I care about the future of our wolves and I know you do too. Please take a moment right now and lend your voice to our fight to protect these magnificent animals.

    With Gratitude,

    Rodger Schlickeisen
    Defenders of Wildlife

    Posted by Len Yannieli, 04/13/2011 6:03pm (5 years ago)

  • Very nice Scott. Love the way you started, with your own experience; how you showed how you came to question and to show how the Communists are seen today, especially in relation to the labor movement. I like how you made the connections between the civil rights movement then, and the labor movement today. And, how you made it global; the whole world is watching and find new meaning in "workers and oppressed people of the world unite." Great article, Scott. Great work. Have a great conference Saturday, I'll be watching Sam's opening.
    Comradely, Carole

    Posted by Carole Marks, 04/13/2011 5:09pm (5 years ago)

  • The truth shall make us free.

    Posted by ismael, 04/12/2011 4:47pm (5 years ago)

  • I, too, became a Marxist after being called one so many times by the KKK and the White Citizens Council when I was working on voter registration drives in Mississippi.

    If I had not been so accused, I probably never would have begun reading Marx, Engels and Lenin. I certainly would never have visited the CPUSA bookstore in Cleveland, Ohio, where the manager, Connie Bart let me read books in the store when I didn't have enough money to buy them.

    Given our similar history Scott, the bright side I see in your story is that many more folks may begin to explore Communism as a viable alternative to the status quo. After all, if someone calls you a name, it's only logical you would want to find out what that name means. I'm praying it will mean many more will join our ranks.

    Posted by Paul White, 04/11/2011 11:38am (5 years ago)

  • @chris e Yeah, a lot of the comments are things like, "If the communists call me, I'm going to get my guns," etc etc blah blah blah. They think they can shoot people through the telephone.

    The capitalist system is doomed. They know it and it scares them. That's why they sound hysterical.

    Posted by Trailer Trash, 04/11/2011 10:03am (5 years ago)

  • Among the delightful quips from readers of the blogs Scott Marshall refers to:

    “If they are coming to Texas, I better LOCK N LOAD. Come on down you mo-fos....and ‘meet my little friend.’”

    “The Dem’s crossing the ‘thin red line’, come on, they need to step up to the thin red line, put on their blind folds, smoke their last doobie or cigarette and then face the firing squad, simple as that.”

    The ultraright is undermining the electoral system and rule of law (e.g. in Wisconsin), uses illegal and unethical methods to silence opposition (“journalists” James O’Keefe and Andrew Breitbart) and frequently threatens violence against people who oppose them (see above).

    Communists want peace, jobs, universal healthcare, a green economy, LGBT and women’s rights, and an end to racism. The GOP, the super-rich, and their Teabagger “useful idiot” followers want the opposite.

    What’s the truly violent, undemocratic ideology at work here?

    “First they came for the Communists…”

    Posted by chris e., 04/11/2011 2:19am (5 years ago)

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