Seize the Radical Moment

Brandon, Fla.

Re Timothy Patrick McCarthy and John McMillian’s “America’s Radical Roots” [May 31]: I understand that progressive social programs had their roots in radicalism. However, it is difficult to be overly enthusiastic about what this means in today’s America.

In the 1930s we had the New Deal and a strong feeling of radicalism and class identity among the working class. The influence of unions and their effect on government was much different. “Socialism” was not a bad word. In the ’60s Jim Crow was viewed (at least by the sane) as a system so outdated that radical change had to come.

Fast-forward to today. Any radicalism is pre-empted by right-wing media, particularly Fox, corporate-backed network news and AM talk-radio. There is virtually no advocacy or reporting of anything radical or progressive. Combine this with the disproportionate coverage of Tea Party rantings at “town hall” meetings, and public opinion has been swayed rightward.

The authors say they wish to “bring about a more charitable perception of radicalism.” They provide past examples: the American Revolution, the abolition of slavery, public education. But it is difficult for this longtime Nation reader to feel their optimism or to hope that we, as a nation, will be radicalized again anytime soon. Only a monumental event could spark radical action.

The “radicalism” of today is this new wave of right-wing Tea Partyers financed by Astroturfers—the wealthy and corporations. They had their monumental event—the election of an African-American president. That rallied their masses.

Unfortunately we on the left have not rallied our masses to push this president to take up progressive causes, as radicals did in FDR’s time, when they made him promote their agenda. Will we progressives have our monumental event? And will it be enough to rally our masses? I hope our country survives until then.


Coming Soon to a Shelter Near You


Katha Pollitt asks “What Ever Happened to Welfare Mothers?” [May 31]. Nearly uncountable numbers of poor families double or triple up with friends or relatives or are stranded in shelters for homeless families. If the “welfare mothers” have not lost their children to foster care (so are no longer “families”), and if they have “maxed out” the lifetime PRWORA [Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996] benefits that accompanied the low-paid jobs that enabled them to meet the work requirement, homeless shelters are lifesaving.

These families are now joined in the shelters by those whose landlords’ mortgages have been foreclosed. Tenants typically don’t know of the foreclosure until a utility company arrives to cut off service or a bank rep comes to “secure” the property. The low-paid jobs “welfare mothers” may have found in the early days of PRWORA have vanished, many to unemployed workers who move back to parents’ basements when their unemployment benefits are exhausted.

If things proceed as they did in the 1980s, when the masses of Ronald Reagan’s “new poor” exploded, we can next expect the “basement dwellers,” followed by people from suburbia with foreclosures of their own. They will compete for precious shelter beds with the post-PRWORA families stranded for lack of affordable housing. The Homeless Prevention and Rapid Rehousing programs funded by the Recovery Act bring promise if—a big if—rents can match the very low wages of post-PRWORA families.

ALICE SKIRTZ, casework supervisor
Family Shelter Partnership

‘Race’ to the Top?


I was amused by the letters in the May 31 issue praising Obama for labeling himself “black” on the Census form. I don’t care what color he chooses to call himself. What I do care about is that we now have so-called healthcare reform without a public option and, thus, no way to control insurance premiums; financial reform that lacks any means to rein in the “too big to fail” banks and other institutions, like Goldman Sachs; and increasing numbers of troops in Afghanistan. And until the BP oil spill, Obama favored offshore drilling. I don’t care what race a president “chooses,” but he or she must bring about sorely needed progressive change.


‘Get Over It: Write White’

New York City

In “Not-Black by Default” [May 10] Patricia J. Williams describes the baroque maneuvers of white colleagues in naming their race on questionnaires. When sophisticated white people use the fact that “racial categories are socially constructed” to avoid listing themselves as “white” on Census and other forms, when they play games with Crayola “buff-beige” self-designations, they are sabotaging the remedies designed to counter our very real privileges as white people. The social construction of race is not an illusion: it is how racism works. Denial does not make it go away. When Williams’s colleague explains his refusal to write “white,” saying, “We’re never going to get past all this, unless we resist the usual categories,” he is substituting his wishful good intentions for actions that facilitate change.

Liberals and leftists may reject being in the same racial category as the purveyors of slavery and worldwide white supremacy, but we need not identify with white oppressors to recognize that we are daily privileged by the structure of racism. Try flipping Williams’s description of the ways that “to be visibly black in this culture is to feel race every day,” because “social constructions have walls.” We too are labeled every day as white, but we can be blissfully unaware of the process because for us it is benign.

As a white Jew I emphatically do not identify with the white Europeans who perpetuate worldwide anti-Semitism and racism, but I recognize that in the world of government forms, racial categories are not a matter of psychological self-identification or individual creativity; they are categories with social consequences. We need to get over it: write “white,” and then make sure that the data are used to undermine the privileges that we yearn so deeply to deny.


Sales Alert! Not Chic, St. Francis de

Portland, Ore.

I don’t begrudge puzzlers their fun with the Chic Sale potty humor [“Letters,” June 21], but I submit the following as a more probable explanation of the first part of clue 9, Puzzle 1588, “Sales decoration of old.” Frank Lewis used “Sales,” not “Sale,” and “decoration of old” is accounted for more clearly. The heraldic emblem (“decoration of old”) of St. Francis de Sales contains a prominent crescent moon, like those used on the classic outhouse door.



In “Central Europe’s Right-Wing Populism,” by Paul Hockenos (May 24), a typo gave the Fidesz party’s years in power as 1982–2002 rather than 1998–2002. Our apologies to the author.