By Richard W. Wise ©2021
Freedom of Speech is not absolute. In the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes: "your freedom to act ends where my nose begins." However, while we applaud the fact that social media platforms have cut off the hate speech and plans of Donald Trump and his insurrectionist allies we have to ask ourselves, are we ready to cede control of our constitutional rights to private media corporations. The answer, I think, is no.
There is good evidence that the insurrectionists who took over our capital on December 6th, planned and communicated their plans on social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Parler. So did the dissidents who overthrew Egyptian dictator, Hosni Mubarak, during the 2011 Arab Spring. The Egyptians did pretty well until the government shut down the internet. How, then, do we make the distinction, support good things and stop bad things from happening and who should have the right to make the choice? The easy answer is the courts, but given the speed of digital communication and the clanking inefficiency of our court system, that's not going to work—at least not in the short term.
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press..." (U. S. Constitution)
Some are arguing that the first amendment states only that Congress shall make no law affecting speech—Twitter, a private company, is not Congress and therefore has the right to deny anyone they choose from access to their platform. I wish it were that simple.
Freedom of speech is meaningless without the right to be heard. In 1750 the population of the original thirteen colonies was a shade over 1.5 million. Any citizen could mount a soapbox on the Boston Common, provided his voice was loud enough and be heard. Today, with a population of 330 million, much more amplification is required and social media has replaced the soapbox. Denial of access is, in a real sense, a defacto denial of the right of free speech itself.
Trump's attempted coup has focused a bright spotlight on a problem not envisioned by our founders. Thus far Twitter, Facebook and other social media companies have bobbed and weaved, claiming they should not be regulated because they are not media, just neutral platforms which allow everyone a megaphone to use to present their opinions and cannot be held responsible for those who use it.
Social media may be technically private but it serves a public function. It is a hybrid, some of both and whether we're talking insurrectionists or freedom fighters, it can be a powerful double-edged sword. As such, it cannot and should not escape regulation for much longer.
WiseGuy: The Author's Blog
By Richard W. Wise ©2021
By Richard W. Wise
©2019. (All rights reserved)
Donald Trump; What Will We Do Without Him?
There is a high probability that the era of Donald Trump will end in January of 2021. The question is, what will we do without him?
Arguably, Trump is the best thing that has ever happened to the progressive movement. He ended the liberal community's long, deep, sleep and the reluctance, often felt by people, to identify themselves as LIBERAL. The energy and outrage generated by The Donald has energized the left to a degree not seen since the early 1970s.
Community organizers have a credo: "Let your adversary do it." If you apply pressure and push your opponent hard enough, he will react badly and that will energize your people and lead to his defeat. With Trump, you needn't push nor pull, just step out of the way and he will trip over himself. For progressives, Trump is truly a gift that keeps on giving.
The Blue Wave:
After Trump's election, "resistance" organizations sprung up like mushrooms on a cow-pie. With 5,800 chapters organized since 2016, Indivisible is among the most visible. The writers of the Indivisible manifesto were congressional insiders with an insider's understanding of how congress can be influenced. They developed a strategy to block Trump from that limited perspective. It is a strategy, they freely admit, based on the success of the Tea Party and purely defensive. What is the goal of the "resistance"? Surely, not simply to slow the rightward drift of American politics. The goal is to bring about positive social change.
The 2018 election flipped the House. The source of that victory was the massive reaction resulting from Trump's own words and actions. The election also shone a bright light on the increasing left/right polarization. We recognize that the Republicans are a major part of the problem, but with the increasing tribalism, the danger is that the organized resistance will come to see the Democrats, electing any Democrat, as the solution. That is the route toward stasis not social change.
If the Democrat's Wall Street wing has its way and the party continues along the path Hilary Clinton followed in 2016, defeat is the probable result or, at best, a victory that fails to move the progressive agenda forward. Simply supporting democrats is not the solution. We must support the right democrats, those who agree with our agenda, and build an organization to hold them accountable after the election.
Indivisible and other similar groups must decide if they are an adjunct to the Democratic Party or are ready to become an ongoing force for change. A successful attack brings with it the responsibility of putting forth a constructive alternative. In short, the resistance strategy must shift from a purely negative and defensive to a positive and aggressive, but focused agenda. The time is now, the question is how?
Physicists tell us that energy is neither created nor destroyed. Organizational energy, however, is finite. It cannot be sustained indefinitely. Even behavior as outrageous as Trump's eventually becomes normalized. Outrage over Trump has arguably peaked. The energy that has fueled the resistance can only decline.
To maintain a high level of participation, to keep an organization growing, activists must focus on issues that members see as having a specific payoff for them personally. It must win or become irrelevant. Therefore, it must focus on fights it can win. For local groups that means local issues. Why, because they are both immediate and winnable. And, by the way, there is no reason why an achievable local issue cannot also be national. This is the basis for coalition building. Activists must, however, pick their fights carefully.
Stasis is dangerous. To take another analogy from Physics, a body at rest tends to stay at rest. A movementmust keep moving or die. Lack of focus is just as dangerous. We all support health care reform, but what specific reforms are we proposing? An organization must carefully define its issues and focus its efforts on achieving a specific result.
Name a case where significant social change has happened without the concentrated power of large numbers of people? To be effective, organizations must be able to mobilize large numbers and tactically deploy those numbers. Therefore, issues must be developed with an eye to power building.
The Current Situation and How We Got Here:
The 1970s was the decade when the democratic coalition began to come apart. Actually, the first half of the decade was the high tide for progressives. It was Richard Nixon who signed into law many extensions of regulatory policy, created the EPA (1970), OSHA (1970), the Consumer Product Safety Commission (1972). Nixon even supported a guaranteed national income for the poor. The current Wall Street wing of the democratic party is sharply to the right of Republicans of the Nixon era.
The decline of one of the bulwarks of the Democratic party, the unions, began in the mid 1970's. 1975-1980 saw a precipitous fall in union membership. This translated into major cutbacks in union financial support for democratic candidates. In search of cash, Bill Clinton started the New Democrats which moved the party toward business in an effort to fill re-election war chests.
During the early 1970's, labor PACs outspent business PACs by a wide margin. In the mid part of the decade, half of all Senate incumbent's campaign funds came from labor. By the end of the decade, union membership was in decline and political contributions had dropped by 30%.
Though out most of the decade of the 70s, I was a community organizer working in the Alinsky tradition. In 1974-75 I involved in an organizing effort in Boston to end the practice of redlining urban neighborhoods. The Boston group successfully sought a statewide regulation requiring disclosure of Savings Banks' mortgage lending patterns and initiated a program to move neighborhood customer deposits into banks that pledged to lend in their neighborhoods.
Boston was part of a coalition made up of 40 urban neighborhood groups known as National People's Action (NPA). NPA mobilized and secured the passage of the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act of 1975 and the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) of 1977. The passage of this legislation was a major victory for people power, it was also just about the last one.
The success of these People's initiatives brought about a massive reaction from the right. Business was quick to launch a counter attack. There were five hundred corporations with lobbying offices in Washington in 1968. By 1982 that number had grown to twenty-five hundred. Corporate PACs grew from under 300 in the mid 1970s to more than 1200 by 1980.
Carls Walker, a Republican political operative and American Bankers Association chief lobbyist looked on in horror as National People's Action successfully deployed a mass power strategy to pass both the National Disclosure (HMDA) and the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) despite aggressive lobbying by banking interests.
Walker took notes. He formed The American Council for Capital Formation (ACCF) as an business lobby umbrella group. ACCF embraced grass roots mobilization and adopted the mass power tactics similar to those used by National People's Action to win the CRA fight. Walker concentrated on building organizations that coupled money with organizational tactics, mobilizing its membership to fight legislation perceived as anti-business. ACCF brought business owners to Washington to meet directly with their House and Senate members with devastating effect.
The Wall Street takeover of the Democratic Party began in the Clinton years. Democrats became "New Democrats" to tap into the money stream. Today, the mainstream Democratic party is really little different from the Republican party often supporting a solid big-money centered agenda.
The mainstream party has, thus far, resisted anything like the Sanders agenda. The reason is clear, money. Traditional Democrats are just a beholding to big money interests as Republicans. Obviously, this has affected the Democratic platform. In a new poll (January, 2019), 54% of democrats reject a progressive agenda in favor of a more "moderate" course.
Tilting at Windmills:
As stated, Trump's election set off a massive reaction. Seizing the opportunity, outraged activists mobilized thousands of supporters virtually overnight. Newly minted leaders began organizing against the Trump/Republican agenda. Unfortunately, like Cervantes' confused hero, Don Quixote, these well-meaning, but inexperienced activists, lowered their lances and charged forward attempting to tackle every issue under the sun.
Mass meetings were organized to wrestle with a grab bag of issues; health care, immigration, LGBT, climate change, local elections, gun control, immigration, etcetera, often all at once. As a result, much of the initial energy was dissipated rather than concentrated. People will attend only so many rallies on so many issues, particularly when these actions produce no measurable result.
I personally watched one Northeastern resistance group whittle an initial army of supporters down to platoon size as the group attempted to take on every issue in sight allowing more focused interest groups to peel off member after member. Fortunately, Trump and the Republicans actions proved so outrageous that progressive groups of all stripes rallied at the midterms and boosted the Democrats to a stunning victory.
"The price of freedom is eternal vigilance."
The defeat of Donald Trump is barely a beginning. Trump's exit will not change the basic trajectory of our politics. As angry as he makes us, it is important to understand that Trump is not a cause, he is merely a personification, luckily, an inept manifestation of an organized movement, funded by big money interests, dedicated to building an American plutocracy.
In the post Citizens United world, many politicians, both republican and democrat, under increasing financial pressure, have been lured by the siren song of the big money. Money power must be counterbalanced by people power to keep our erstwhile allies honest.
Keeping em' honest requires constant vigilance and that in turn requires a strategy that will build and maintain the power of the organization. Progressives must organize and build independent, issue based, community organizations with specific forward-looking agendas and demand that politicians support those agendas.
Hilary's shopworn talking points have little or nothing to say to the working and middle classes. Sanders platform does and recent polling shows that more and more rank and file democrats are open to what our Wall Street brethren call 'radical change.'
What should that agenda include? Building a broad-based organization requires supporting specific issues that originate from and directly impact the membership. The agenda should include short as well as long term objectives. Objectives must be achievable, Issues must be winnable. Organizational power is built on success. Activists must ask themselves, what can be done on the local and statewide level that will move our agenda ahead?
On the national level, a February, 2019 Kaiser poll suggests 57% of American citizens support expanded Medicare. A 2018 poll conducted by The Washington Post, found that 52% including three quarters of all Democrats and just over half of independents support single payer health care. Another poll by the Pew Research Group found that a majority of Americans say government has a responsibility to "ensure health care for all." This includes 83% of all those who self-identify or lean towards being Democrats. Properly framed, healthcare reform is a winnable national issue that could energize both democrats and independents during the coming presidential election season.
Climate change is, without question, the overarching issue of our time. The survival of civilization is at stake. We are the first generation to feel its effects and the last that can do anything about it. With the roll out of the Green New Deal proposal we have already been given a preview of the Republican response. Still, the issue is gaining traction and promises to be a centerpiece of the Democratic presidential debate. A generation ago the issue could have been addressed with minimal pain. At this late date, whatever the solutions proposed, the economic pain will be considerable.
In the near term, A Democratic House, a Republican Senate and Trump is unfortunately a recipe for total legislative gridlock on the national level. The next two years promises to be a legislative wasteland. Given that fact, immediate work should, perhaps, focus on winnable local and statewide issues.
Moderates versus progressives: the foment within the Democratic party has already begun as one democrat after another declares their candidacy for president. The possibility of independent and/or third-party candidates will only add to the chaos. We are about to witness a great debate, a battle for the soul of the Democratic party and perhaps for the soul of America. It is much needed and will be exciting, but it is impossible, at this time, to see how it will all shake out.
This discussion began with the assertion that Donald Trump's reign would likely be over in 2020. This will not be easy. Our antiquated Electoral College system works for the Republicans. Despite everything that Trump has done, 41% of the electorate will almost certainly vote to reelect him. It also assumes that the Democrats, themselves, do not self-destruct. Unity or fragmentation. Will the Wall Street and progressive wings of the party reach accommodation? We can only hope that out of this clash of personalities, consensus will emerge, but that is largely out of our hands.
Community groups must not allow themselves to be swept into the vortex. As difficult as it may seem, officially, the organization must wait at the sidelines. It is the Issues not personalities that are most important. Let the politicians sort themselves out. Progressive people's organizations must take the opportunity to build a solid, well defined agenda.
Building organization and winning are two sides of the same coin, part of the same dynamic. Power is required to win and winning is a necessary condition for building power. Unfortunately winning is not sufficient and may, at times, be counterproductive. If an organization's goal is too focused on electing politician A, his election victory may very well mean the end of the organization.
Once reached, the goal, is often the death nell of the organization that fought for it. Why? Because victory creates a vacuum. The more focused the organization is on the candidate, the more dangerous such a victory can be. The election is seen as the solution. "It's over! We won, our candidate will deal with it." Without people power to keep the pressure on, the newly elected official is easily diverted by the siren song of the Washington plutocracy.
Social change is the goal. Building people power through viable community organizations is the method. In the near term, to secure the organization's long-term power, the effort must be focused on issues not personalities and those issues must reflect the will of the people and be winnable. Leaders must keep their eyes on the prize, sift through the political rhetoric and build people power. Progressive organizations must develop a positive, well-defined long term agenda and achievable short-term objectives and demand candidates and elected officials, of whichever wing of whatever party, respond to and support it.
# # #
Richard W. Wise is a writer. He recently settled in Charlottesville, Virginia. Though the decade of the 70s, he was a professional community organizer working in the Alinsky tradition. He directed organizing projects in Providence, Rhode Island, Boston and New Bedford, Massachusetts. Mr. Wise taught Community Organization at Boston University and was a Site Trainer for the New England Training Center for Community Organizers (NETTCO). Richard Wise's novel, Redlined, a thriller and novelized version of a community organizing battle in Boston, is scheduled for publication in October.
"Redlined" by Richard W. Wise, is a gripping suspense thriller that approaches its subject on the many levels of city politics, big money power brokers, banks, cultural institutions such as the Catholic Church in an old Boston neighborhood, and most importantly, what happens at the human level of family, friends and neighbors trying to protect their dreams. As an Alinsky-trained community organizer, the author is well-suited to tell this tale based on true events and well-researched details that make this novel exciting to read.
When "redlining," the betrayal of a community of homeowners and small business enterprises to make way for high-end development, threatens to overwhelm Boston's Jamaica Plain in 1974, community organizer and Marine combat veteran Jedediah Flynt steps in to turn the tide in favor of the people who live there; people who have been increasingly discouraged about their investments in a place they know of as home.
As the neighborhood housing market crashes and the quality of life deteriorates in Jamaica Plain, abandoned buildings are mysteriously being burned down as though in some systematic plan. Flynt, and his dedicated young organizer, Sandy Morgan, set up a watch on nearby empty buildings in an attempt to stop the destruction, or at least to determine what nefarious plot is afoot. But the investigation turns tragic when Sandy, in the midst of an arson in progress, is killed in the building fire. The incident mobilizes Flynt to swear he will find those responsible and avenge Morgan's death. It is with the inspired aid of another young woman, Alex Jordan, newly hired for research, that Flynt goes deep into a true-life conspiracy to ruin the lives of those who live in Jamaica Plain. The conspirators involved will stop at nothing, including murder, and Flynt will also need to rely on ex-Marine buddies to get the job done.
"Redlined" creates a wonderful look at the history of community organizing in all its early development. Much of the suspense in the first chapters of the novel outline the strategies and tactics meant to preserve the rights and lifetime investments of homeowners and businesses. They are all unwittingly pit against an elaborate web of corruption involving the greed, ambition and indifference of politicians, bureaucrats, elitist bankers, high ranking Catholic clergy, well-heeled grifters and the Chinese Triad. But Flynt and other lead organizers use the law, the solidarity of the people to act together, and the news media to expose the truth. Hope and social justice among the entire neighborhood will not be crushed.
But with every new accomplishment, every new insight, the forces of evil become increasingly aware they have underestimated the talents of Flynt and Jordan. In one move after another, including some daring espionage, Flynt gets closer and closer to who killed Sandy. Before their huge investments and reputations are damaged any further, the forces of evil narrow their sights on the problem and the showdown must come. Much like a chess game where the player who knows in advance what move to make next, "Redlined" maintains an edge of realism that will keep you guessing until the very end, and wondering with insider savvy, about the world at large.
Richard W. Wise is the author of two previous books, bestseller "Secrets of the Gem Trade: The Connoisseur's Guide to Precious Gemstones" (2003 with a second edition published in 2016) and "The French Blue," a historical novel (2010) and winner of a 2011 International Book Award in Historical Fiction.
"Wise (The French Blue) highlights a predatory housing practice—redlining—in this taut thriller set in 1974 Boston. Sandy Morgan, a neighborhood organizer working for the Jamaica Plain Social Action Committee, was helping to investigate a series of suspicious fires in abandoned properties in the area, until she was killed in an explosion caused by an arsonist in yet another vacant building. Morgan's death leads her boss, Jedediah Flynt, who's wracked with guilt, to redouble his efforts to find the people behind the arsons. Flynt is convinced that powerful people, who consider the neighborhood "too risky to do business with," have redlined it, choking off mortgages and insurance money. That policy "sets the stage for slumlords buying cheap for cash, racial steering and housing abandonment." Influential forces in the city oppose Flynt's idealistic crusade, and Morgan's successor, attractive Harvard student Alex Jordan, also winds up in jeopardy. Wise combines an accessible explanation of the nature and impact of redlining with a page-turning narrative. Fans of suspense fiction with a social conscience will be pleased." Publisher's Weekly
Murder, Redlining, and the Fight for Jamaica Plain
Kenneth Reardon reviews "Redlined: A novel of Boston" by Richard W. Wise. Brunswick House Press, June 2020, 338 pp., $14.75 (Paperback).
By Kenneth M. Reardon -
June 29, 2020
"An organizer, eager to discover who is responsible for the destruction of her Boston neighborhood of Jamaica Plain, stakes out a vacant building that arsonists are expected to hit. Shortly after 2 a.m., a car stops and its passengers enter the structure. Minutes later they return to the vehicle and speed off into the night. Curious as to what took place inside the building, community organizer Sandy Morgan enters one of its open apartments. Within moments, the arsonists' timer triggers a violent blast that hurls her body against a brick wall, killing her instantly.
With a deep understanding that's largely based upon his experience working as a community organizer in Boston's Jamaica Plain neighborhood, Richard W. Wise tells a powerful story of the urban development wars that took place at a time when powerful developers, financiers, politicians, and nonprofit leaders promoting upscale place-making in pursuit of "trickle-down benefits" were pitted against poor and working-class residents struggling to preserve their neighborhoods. In the first few pages of Redlined: A Novel of Boston, Wise seizes the attention of readers eager to know who caused Sandy Morgan's death. He then quickly exposes them to an epic battle over the future of American cities being waged in low-income communities throughout the U.S. during the last quarter of the 20th century.
This semi-autobiographical novel describes how a small group of community activists, working through their churches, compelled the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to require banks to disclose where they were making loans. The clear pattern of discrimination revealed by the data subsequently helps this network of faith-based organizations negotiate a major reinvestment agreement with local lenders.
The book is set in the early 1970s when state and federal transportation officials proposed the construction of a new highway to ease the commute of South Shore residents traveling into downtown Boston. During the land acquisition phase of the Southwest Expressway Project, which featured the widespread use of eminent domain, an unlikely coalition of neighborhood activists, historic preservationists, urban environmentalists, and mass transit advocates came together to defeat the initiative, placing the future of the neighborhoods located along its right-of-way up for grabs. Wise focuses Redlined on the fierce struggle that took place over Jamaica Plain's redevelopment. Here, a large number of vacant lots and abandoned buildings remained following the cancellation of the highway project, which discouraged local lenders from providing mortgages in the area, in turn causing real estate values to plummet and many property owners to abandon the community.
In Redlined, powerful real estate interests with extensive financial and political ties quietly assemble land within Jamaica Plain for a mega-project, using campaign donations, charitable gifts, and illegal bribes to secure the support of local officials—and threats of violence and arson to encourage residents to abandon the neighborhood. Early in the story, readers are introduced to a determined group of citizens who mobilize to challenge these efforts. Along the way, Wise exposes readers to municipal officials committed to the machine politics of the James Michael Curley era, religious leaders more interested in their Swiss bank accounts than in saving souls, and Vietnam vets willing to operate outside of the law to defend their neighborhood. While some readers may find Wise's characters and rapidly changing subplots challenging to follow, few readers familiar with the rough and tumble nature of urban development in Boston and its tribal-like municipal politics will be among them.
Redlined: A Novel of Boston would be a great addition to the summer reading list of anyone interested in Boston's social history or the struggles of citizen organizations resisting displacement and gentrification—problems that have gotten significantly worse in recent years despite the passage of the Fair Housing, Home Mortgage Disclosure, and Community Reinvestment acts. It is an informative but exciting whodunit thriller that tells a compelling story, with a few creative liberties, of how a small group of Jamaica Plain residents prevented an expressway from destroying their community, pioneered anti-redlining policies that stabilized their neighborhood, and converted the Southwest Expressway's right-of-way into verdant and heavily-used greenway that transformed Jamaica Plain into one of Boston' premier, and increasingly exclusive, neighborhoods— something Wise and his organizing colleagues might have found difficult to imagine in 1975.