[sixties-l] Not Party or Racial Politics, Despite the Opening

From: William M. Mandel (wmmmandel@earthlink.net)
Date: 12/21/00

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        A bare majority of whites think Bush won fair and square, according
    to a CNN/USA Today/ Gallup poll. Virtually no Blacks do (seven percent).
    As many as four whites out of ten think the electoral system
    discriminates against Blacks, as do three out of four Blacks. Three out
    of ten whites think Bush cheated; seven out of ten Blacks do.
        This post is directed at that last category, in both races. It is
    not concerned with reversing the results of the election or with how to
    win the next one for whatever party or candidate or racial group. It has
    to do with how the American people, in all its segments individually and
    jointly, young and old, female and male, home-owners and renters, those
    who work for wages and salaries and those who are or think of themselves
    as do the self-employed; well or poorly educated; white, Black, Latino,
    Asian-American, Native American, the "normal" and the disabled, have
    learned to defend their own interests in the past century and to gain
    improvements in their status. That includes staying out and getting out
    of wars, and attaining necessary objectives outside our country by
    peaceful means and even when military means are unavoidable.
        I have no formula to offer, no organization to join, no place to
    give money to, only extremely rich experience and thoughts based on
        In the 1920s I belonged to a children's organization that won the
    establishment of a cafeteria in a huge public school that had none.
        I had the good luck to be in my teens during the Great Depression.
    Good luck, because the teens are one's time of greatest energy and
    intellectual curiosity, and also because the circumstances of the day
    forced people to act and think outside established patterns. As a
    student, I opposed the bringing of police on campus, demolished the
    liberal pretensions of the college president who did that, and was
    expelled for my pains. I helped in labor organization in New York and
    the industrial cities of Ohio, and listened to the debates over whether
    unions should support the radical idea of unemployment insurance. I met,
    on a picket line, the young woman who remains my wife 66 years later.
    Our daughter was born at the end of that decade.
        I also met a white young woman who had initially testified she had
    been raped by the Scottsboro Boys, and then had the courage to go back
    to court in that redneck Alabama town to contradict that, thus
    compelling me to face, for the first time, the use of rape as an
    allegation to keep African-Americans "in their place."
        For one year in that decade, my father took the family to Moscow
    where he had taken a civil engineering job. This gave me the chance to
    observe, at first hand, the effort to build a Utopian society, and to
    read the theories on which it was based.
        The forties were a roller-coaster. The knowledge of Russian I had
    acquired was put to use providing government and press with basic
    knowledge of the country that, totally contrary to pre-war expectations,
    had become our most powerful ally against Hitler. A Rockefeller
    Foundation- funded organization asked me to write a book on that
    subject. Another book became the second ever used as a text about the
    Soviet Union in American higher education. The vice-president and a
    Supreme Court justice came to hear me speak on that at the Brookings
    Institution in Washington. The Hoover Institution at Stanford University
    invited me to take a fellowship there at post-doctoral level to pursue
    further research. Two more children were born.
        The Cold War began literally the day World War II ended, according
    to the Pentagon. Along with our wartime ambassador to Moscow, the
    vice-president, and others of similar stature, I opposed it. This
    brought an attack on me personally, as well as others, in Newsweek,
    before I was thirty. It ended my paid association with higher education
    for twenty-seven years thereafter. It caused two more books, which I had
    written on publishers' advances, never to see the light of day. I was
    dropped by my lecture management, the top such firm in the country,
    which had people like Eleanor Roosevelt on its roster.
        I never permitted these lofty associations to interfere with
    grassroots activism, sometimes downright physical. In 1949 the
    extraordinary Renaissance man Paul Robeson, football All-American,
    baritone called upon for command performances before the crowned heads
    of Europe, first Black in this century permitted to play Othello
    opposite a white Desdemona, was prevented by a mob from giving his
    annual outdoor concert not far from West Point because he, too, vocally
    opposed the Cold War. I was part of the bodyguard the following week
    when 2,000 young war veterans protected the crowd of 15,000 that came to
    hear him, against another mob that stoned us, bloodied my wife, sent
    hundreds to hospitals and doctors. But that finished, to this day,
    efforts to prevent expression of dissenting viewpoints by mob violence
    -- fascism -- except against Blacks and other ethnic minorities. That is
    one of the things that explains the huge difference between white and
    Black opinions on the conduct of the recent presidential election.
        The 1950s were the darkest time for freedom in my lifetime. I was
    subpoenaed by all three committees we jointly label McCarthyism, for my
    outrageous crime of writing books. Literally. In 1952 it was the U.S.
    Senate Internal Security (McCarran) Committee, which was horrified by my
    wartime book, The Soviet Far East and Central Asia. The next year it was
    Senator Joe McCarthy himself, objecting to that one and to an article of
    1944 in an academic journal, the American Sociological Review,
    originally written at the request of the advisors to the Republican
    candidate for president. That hearing was broadcast live on national TV,
    and I am happy to say that the national press, from the New York Times
    on down, front-paged my testimony and transmitted what the television
    audience had seen on screen -- that I cut him to pieces. That cost me my
    job, of course, and we were pretty poor for some time thereafter.
        But in 1951 I had taken part in an event that foreshadowed the
    biggest change brought by the 1960s, one that it is still necessary to
    nail down, judging by the electoral shenanigans in Florida. I
    participated in a "pilgrimage" of 500 people, about 50-50 Black and
    white, to the South, in an attempt to save the lives of the defendants
    in another mass rape trial of African-Americans. The Scottsboro Case of
    1931 had ended years later in victory, when the U.S. Supreme Court found
    that barring Blacks from juries was illegal. The seven men in the
    Martinsville Case of 1951 were executed, despite the fact that no white
    had ever been put to death for that crime in the history of the state of
    Virginia, where this occurred. But the welcome given us by the local
    African-American community, and its participation, foreshadowed what
    would occur a decade later when one of my sons was among those who
    risked their lives in Mississippi to win Blacks the right to vote.
        The 1950s also brought ventures into politics as such. I ran for
    Congress in New York City in 1950 and 1952 against the Korean War, using
    that as a means of publicizing information that the mass media would run
    once -- "objectivity," dontcha know -- and then suppress. But I do have
    the satisfaction of knowing that I was the first person reported in the
    public press to have called for the dismissal of Gen. Douglas MacArthur
    for insubordination that threatened a world nuclear war. He was in fact
        Having been New Yorkers most of our lives, we moved to Berkeley in
    1957. The following January I began a program on Pacifica Radio that
    lasted until 1995, in the course of which I re-invented talk radio (I
    did not know that it had existed on a couple of stations before
    McCarthy). In 1960, the House Un-American Activities Committee
    subpoenaed me for its road-show hearing in San Francisco in an effort to
    get the station, KPFA, to cancel my show, and to intimidate the local
    public TV station, KQED, where I also had been on for three years, to do
    likewise. The latter caved in, the former did not. By great good
    fortune, the hearing coincided with the birth of student activism,
    provoked by the fact that the committee also subpoenaed a student at the
    Berkeley campus of the University of California.
        My testimony this time became part of folklore. It has been
    reproduced in six documentary films, one even this year, forty years
    after the event, and has become pretty much the standard cut used in TV
    specials seeking to portray the atmosphere of the McCarthy era and,
    above all, resistance to it. It has also shown up in phonograph records
    and audio cassettes. (My testimony before McCarthy was performed by an
    actor in a play thirty-five years later that had a seven-month run in
    Los Angeles, and also played in McCarthy's home state of Wisconsin.)
        For me personally, the HUAC testimony had the pleasant result of
    winning such popularity among 1960s students that I was incorporated
    into the Executive Committee of the Free Speech Movement at the
    University of California. Essentially it was pressure from that movement
    that won me a teaching appointment in its Sociology Department in 1969.
    I also taught at San Francisco and San Jose State universities and in
    the Law School of Golden Gate University.
        When President John Kennedy blockaded Cuba in 1962, resulting in the
    Cuba Missile Crisis, the only time in the four decades of Cold War that
    nuclear war was an immediate possibility, I was able to present a
    solution through people with access to his brother, cabinet officer
    Bobby Kennedy, and to the National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy, that
    corresponded very closely to the deal actually worked out with the
    Soviet Union.
        The 1970s involved a series of offers of teaching positions by
    faculty at various places, cancelled by higher-ups but for one short
    stint at one institution. At another, a department head said he would
    resign in protest over action taken against me, but I convinced him that
    his university needed precisely people like him, so he confined himself
    to taking a sabbatical.
        With the rise of popular discontent with the Cold War in the 1980s,
    I was able to use my knowledge of the Soviet Union to serve the
    citizen-diplomacy movement that then sprang into existence. This took me
    on joint peace walks from Leningrad to Moscow, then two across the
    Ukraine including a visit to Chernobyl not long after the nuclear
    catastrophe, and finally one across immense Kazakstan to the nuclear
    bomb test site.
        At home, my major concern in the 80s was with prisoners. Forty years
    earlier, when I was at Stanford, a blinded New York veteran of the civil
    war against fascism in Spain had asked me to visit his son in Soledad,
    and I got my first notion of the world behind bars. Now two listeners to
    my radio program, both Black men, sought my help. One, abandoned by his
    mother in childhood, had become a small-time drug dealer, and, with
    another, had killed a higher-up and his wife during a brief period when
    the ghetto thought the way to free itself of drugs was to kill the big
    dealers. My wife and I visited him for seven years. Hard to believe, but
    he proved to be a person of particularly fine character and exceptional
    intelligence. In the long run, the prison system wore down his
    determination to follow my idea of his going to college behind bars so I
    could use my academic connections to get him paroled to study for an
    advanced degree. Truly a Jean Valjean - Javert story. The other man was
    the rare case of a Black Panther who came from an educated, middle-class
    family. When the prison authorities sought to frame him for inciting a
    riot that I knew he had actually prevented from happening, I was able to
    use my broadcasts to get a member of Congress and others in the state
    legislature to make inquiries in the Department of Corrections, which
    totally astonished it. This man did in fact go on to a university after
    serving nine years.
        The 1990s were a wild time of trying to understand what had happened
    and was happening in the collapsed Soviet Union and the role the United
    States had played. So in 1998 I visited the place in Siberia my father
    had worked three-quarters of a century earlier (before the trip on which
    we took me). That lengthened my stretch of first-hand knowledge of that
    country to 68 years, longer than anyone else in the 500 years of foreign
    observation of Russia.
        At home I took part in the new "pirate" radio (low-power FM)
    movement. It was simply that, having been dropped by the station that
    had carried me for thirty-seven years, due to a new national management
    that wanted it to follow a particular political line, two stations
    invited me to broadcast. One of these was Free Radio Berkeley, later put
    out of business  by a federal judge. I had offered to go to jail in a
    test case, but that became moot. I now broadcast on its successor,
    Berkeley Liberation Radio, and on a Web station, LuVER.
        As people learned of the richness of my life, they asked me to make
    a book of it. That first happened in 1969, and came from three widely
    different sources: my colleagues on the editorial board of the monthly
    of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, an early feminist,
    and a disabled academic. I did nothing for 15 years, but when it became
    clear that Ronald Reagan would be re-elected, I felt that my experience
    could be of use in combatting what he stood for. I asked my radio
    station for an additional spot, and broadcast my autobiography over a
    year of weekly half-hour shows in 1984-5.
        In the 1990s I felt that my age made it a now-or-never proposition.
    I was sure that, just as there had been activist generations in the '30s
    and '60s, another would certainly appear, and I wanted to equip it with
    whatever I could offer. In a sense, I wrote it for the Seattle
    generation, although I had no notion of where, when, or what issue would
    bring it to life.
        I call it Saying No To Power, because that summarizes what I am best
    known for. I used the form of an autobiography because people are always
    more interested in the story of a human being than in abstract
    historical fact. When I asked the publisher how he would price it, and
    he replied: "$18.50", I expressed amazement at the low figure, which I
    welcomed. He told me he has eight children, knows what it costs to buy
    textbooks, and wants it used in American History, American Studies, and
    foreign affairs courses.
        So that's what this post is about. You can purchase it from me, at
    4500 Gilbert St., Apt. 426, Oakland, CA, 94611, by sending me a check
    for $23, which includes shipping and tax. That will get you an
    autographed copy, but it won't reach you before the holiday. Or you can
    buy it from any bookstore. Simply give them the title, my name, and the
    publisher: Creative Arts, Berkeley. Wholesalers all over the country
    have it, and a bookstore can get overnight delivery, so if you order it
    today or tomorrow, you can have it for Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah.
    William Mandel

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