This essay, from the July 17, 1948, issue of The Nation, is a special selection from The Nation Digital Archive. If you want to read everything The Nation has ever published on the Democratic Party, click here for information on how to acquire individual access to the Archive--an electronic database of every Nation article since 1865.
It's great that attention has been paid to progressives like Illinois' Barack Obama, South Dakota's Stephanie Herseth, and Pennsylvania's Allyson Schwartz and Lois Murphy and Oklahoma's Kalyn Free. All these newcomers to the national stage herald a fresh populism should a Democratic tide sweep over America in November.
And in my city of New York there's Frank Barbaro, who's running for a house seat from Southern Brooklyn and Staten Island, New York City's closest thing to a red state. Barbaro, 76, is an unheralded star, a genuine working-class folk hero who deserves far more attention from the media than his candidacy has received thus far.
The 13th district isn't exactly fertile territory for a 76-year-old Democratic candidate. In normal times, the 13th--composed largely of middle and working-class Italian-Americans--is a safe Republican seat having elected Republicans to the House at every opportunity since Reagan's 1980 presidential landslide. The demographics are gradually shifting though as African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans now constitute twenty-six percent of the electorate, with the area's Hispanic population growing considerably.
Barbaro, the son of Italian immigrants, lives in Bensonhurst smack in the middle of the 13th, where he opened a law practice. Despite the district's conservative leanings, the very progressive Barbaro has a serious shot thanks, in large part, to a stellar resume and a patriot's background. He joined the Navy after graduating from high school, and held jobs as an ironworker, cab driver and butcher. From 1952 to 1967, Barbaro worked as a longshoreman on the waterfront in Brooklyn, and his time on the piers profoundly shaped his philosophy. "My fifteen years on the waterfront were the foundry of my ideology," Barbaro said in an interview last week.
He started at a time when McCarthyism was in the ascendance, and anti-communists were purging the ranks of unions of suspected subversives. Brooklyn's docks were run by the mob, and the conditions were horrendous. Barbaro encountered "a total, utter disregard for workers," and decided to stand for social justice. Enduring threats against him and his friends, Barbaro expressed his outrage at his coworkers' exposure to dangerous asbestos levels in the ships and the constant hazardous waterfront tasks and mob intimidation of the AFL-CIO. One time, "4,000 pounds of concrete came pouring down on [Barbaro and his fellow workers]," and Barbaro spearheaded a spontaneous walkout, telling his bosses: "We're not gonna work like animals."
By the late sixties, Barbaro had become a firm believer in the power of organizing. He eventually entered politics and served in the New York Assembly, where he championed important pro-labor and tenants rights legislation. While an assemblyman, Barbaro led a rent strike in the city, and when he was later elevated to the state Supreme Court Justice, he wrote opinions that he proudly recalled safeguarded due process rights for the accused. But it was on the waterfront where he sunk his progressive roots, learning the "absolute necessity of building a people's movement--to be a countervailing force" to corporations.
Now Barbaro faces a four-term Republican incumbent, Vito Fossella, who Barbaro calls "a total political opportunist" who has ignored his constituents and instead done the bidding of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. Fossella has indeed amassed a shameful record. He turned his back on Staten Island's veterans, supporting Bush's 2003 budget that cut veterans benefits by $14 billion. He voted against putting more cops on the beat, and supported Bush's massive tax giveaways to corporate America. "Vito is silent," thundered Barbaro at his announcement rally, when it comes to ensuring that New York firefighters and other first responders have "functioning radios" and the equipment "to fight bio-terrorism, [and] dirty bombs."
Barbaro believes that local interests--from Staten Island's Advance newspaper to the borough's business community and even some Republicans--are tired of Fossella's incompetence and inability to assist his district. "If you don't want to work, get out of the way," Barbaro has said. One of his slogans is: "Veto Vito!"
Above all, Barbaro takes the fight for social and economic justice as a lifelong task, and he's running at age 76 because he wants to give Staten Island and Brooklyn's residents their fair shake, and to send a wake-up call to the country.
"Large monies are essential to run campaigns" nowadays, "and the Democratic Party has moved to the right" in recent years, Barbaro argues. "If you stay in the middle you really don't stand for anything." If Barbaro defeats Fossella, he intends to fight "without fear" for unabashed progressive values and goals: healthcare for all; union power; tax justice so corporations pay their fair share; and a full, independent investigation into the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal. "[I will fight to] redefine the "mission and philosophy of the Democratic Party," he promises. One of his first orders of business will be to gather grassroots progressives and union organizers to figure out better ways of spreading the populist agenda across America.
Barbaro is running not just on the Democratic ticket but also on the Working Families Party line, which sees in Barbaro an exemplary vessel for its core mission "to inject the concerns of working-class, middle-class, and poor people into the public debate." Dan Cantor at WFP explained Barbaro's appeal: "If Paul Wellstone was a 78 year old Italian from Brooklyn, his name would be Frank Barbaro."
A bold and passionate advocate, Barbaro says "my greatest accomplishment is my belief in America and belief in economic and social justice and my belief in staying the course. [I have] unwavering confidence in the American people that they will, in the end, do what is right for America."
To wage this tough fight for Congress, Barbaro needs progressives to rally to his cause. Click here if you want to support a lifelong fighter for liberal values and a man who never forgot his working-class roots and make a contribution today. With your assistance, Barbaro could launch a movement that will sweep George Bush and Vito Fossella ou
My recent weblog about progressive victories worth celebrating seemed to touch a chord. After asking Nation magazine and website readers to nominate their favorite piece of recent political good news, I was thrilled to receive scores of replies. Some of my favorites are published below.
We'd like to continue highlighting good news in this space. So please click here to send your nomination. I'll be publishing more reader responses in the weeks ahead.
Bruce Bennett,Sausalito, CA
As a former EPA librarian who was kicked out of my position because I had the temerity to criticize Bush on global warmimg I would like to mention two recent votes in Congress. One was to deny drilling and "exploration" of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska for at least a year. The Bushies want to exploit this wilderness and will continue to represent their oil business backers but the vote demonstrated that they will have an uphill time of it. The second was the vote to deny funds for the Forest Service to build logging roads in the Tongass National Forest of Alaska. I was once fortunate to live in Juneau and Sitka, AK and I can tell you from personal experience how glorious that region is. I was delighted to hear of the vote because the three "representatives" of Alaska in Congress are shills for the forest products industry. Despite their best efforts to clearcut these great forests the other members of Congress saw it otherwise.
Tom Lowe, El Sobrante CA
The Canadian Election is good news for the US. On Monday Canadian voters held back a neo-republican Conservative Party, which as recently as last weekend seemed able to gain control of Parliment; and, in the view of most post election comments, made a left leaning coatition the way to run the country. We Yanks should be so lucky in November!
Lyn Wall, Houston, Texas
I'd like to nominate Air America Radio as great political news. I stream it over the internet all day because I can't get it in Houston, and I'm not alone. It has helped me find other sources and like-minded people and confirmed my sense that something is terrribly wrong with mainstream media.
Richard J. Bourgeois, Ishpeming, MI
This is in response to your "Good Things in Bad Times" article. Today, in Marquette, Michigan, a small town of 25,000 in upper michigan, a small peace and justice group (fourteen adults and three children) marched for the first time (anywhere) in the July Fourth parade. The theme of the parade was "land of the free and home of the brave". Two peace group marchers carried the local homemade peace and justice banner showing pine trees, water and a peace dove, other marchers carried two US flags, and three blue and white peace flags, and all marchers wore colored lettered signs in front and back such as--"peace is patriotic , dissent is patriotic, bring the troops home, no blood for oil, war is not the answer, money for jobs and education not war." The march was over one half a mile and mostly applause and approval was heard. Although the peace marchers did not expect to win first place in the parade competition, they hoped that by marching and standing up for peace and free speech that they truly can promote "good things" (peace and justice) in bad times. Hopefully this is happening thoughout the USA.
Michael Westmoreland-White, Louisville, KY
Another sign of political good news. People of faith are refusing to let the Religious Right claim a monopoly on faith and spirituality, consigning the rest of us to the "secular left." Faithful America, for instance, is a new organization of left-of-center Christians (and smaller numbers of Jews and Muslims) which has only been around a month, but has already gathered 100,000 members and aired a commercial on Al-Jazeera TV apologizing for the Abu-Ghraib tortures. Click here for information on the group
Anonymous, Brick, NJ
The best news I heard this week was the head of the Southern Baptist church denouncing the Bush-Cheney campaign letter calling for his churches to send the campaign church member lists, share contact information for at least one other conservative church and to throw Bushie parties high and low, on campaign deadline, no less. And this relatively resounding denounciation came from the man who INVITED Bush to speak at the Southern Baptist national convention (which I thought was an abuse of principles of church/state separation). He was lured to the fire and he got burned. I could have told him, don't go dancing with the devil.
Margaret Montgomery, New York, NY
According to a front page New York Times article on July 5 by William L. Hamilton, 71 Bantu refugees from Somalia are living out "Hard-Won American Dreams" in Tucson, as "part of the most ambitious relocation of political refugees by the United States in recent history." Through the support of the International Rescue Committee in Tuscon and local business, educational, and social services, these determined Bantu families have overcome the traumas of their past: tribal warfare, low-caste status, denial of education, years in refugee camps, and sudden relocation to our Southwest. In light of the current desperate situation in the Sudan, it is heartening to remember that the West can and does take action every day to save lives, alleviate suffering, and help a 15-year-old Somalian toward his dreams of becoming a doctor.
Anselmo Liano, Miami Springs, Fl
Don't forget the unsuccessful attempt by Bush's Department of Labor to rewrite the overtime rules in such a manner that it would have denied overtime compensation to millions who need it the most: America's besieged middle class. Luckily Congress stopped this piece of legislation crafted by Bush's crony capitalist buddies.
Alice Bentley, San Francisco, CA
When Dick Cheney was at a Yankees baseball game, his picture was put up on the big screen while the song, "God Bless America" was being sung during the 7th inning stretch...he was soundly booedand his picture was removed right away. Also, my granddaughter recently attended a minor league baseball game in Altoona PA where his image was also booed.
Shari Schartman-Walczak, State College, PA
Thanks for your great article on the "good news." Here's one more item regarding stem cell research: The Chicago Sun-Times reported on July 5 that "Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Republican supporter of embryonic stem cell research, said Sunday there is wide support in the Senate to ease the Bush Administration's restrictive policy."
David Hazen, Eugene, OR
Sales of the automotive monstrosity, the Hummer H2, have fallen twenty-four per cent in the first four months of this year. I can think of no better index of an improving planet.
Recently in this space I asked Nation readers to join a grassroots campaign organized by supporters of Democratic Presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich to let the Democratic Party Platform Committee know that millions of loyal Democrats are seeking a coherent and responsible exit strategy from Iraq. And today, at the end of the committee's meeting in Miami, the Democratic Party adopted an amendment to its national platform declaring its intention to reduce US military presence in Iraq and to push for a greater role for NATO and other nations. Click here to read more about this modest victory.
When Howard Dean's outsider campaign for Democratic presidential nomination began to take off year ago, Ralph Nader was at least somewhat enthusiastic about the enterprise, going so far as to suggest that the Vermont governor's challenge to the party establishment was in many senses an amplification of his own condemnations of Democratic drift away from core principles. For his part, candidate Dean was far more generous than most Democrats when it came to praising Nader's 40 year record of talking on established interests. The former Vermont governor actually moved from his old centrist positions toward what could be described as "Naderite" stances on issues such as free trade and regulating corporate power. And he reached out with some success to activists who had backed Nader's 2000 presidential campaign --especially on the nation's campuses.
There was even talk among Dean backers that, if their candidate secured the Democratic nomination, Nader might decide against making a third bid for the presidency in 2004.
But that was then, and this is the now where Dean is an enthusiastic campaigner for soon-to-be-nominated Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, while Nader is mounting an independent challenge to both Kerry and Republican President George W. Bush. And, as Friday's debate between Dean and Nader on National Public Radio's "Justice Talking" program illustrated, the two mavericks are no longer winking at one another.
Have you heard about the recent arson at the WomanCare clinic in Lake Fort Worth, FL? A vicious fire attack destroyed the facility on July 2nd. This is the kind of home-grown American terrorism that doesn't get a whole lot of attention. The Concord Feminist Health Center in New Hampshire--which suffered an arson attack itself in 2000--is organizing a campaign asking people to send donations to help the clinic get back on its feet. It's critical to let those on the frontlines of care know that they have support and that the pro-choice movement won't let the anti-choicers win a war of attrition through violence.
To contribute, please make out a check of whatever amount is affordable to "WCWP Women's Relief Fund" and mail it to: WomanCare of West Palm, 1622 North Federal Highway, West Palm Beach FL 33460. And click here and here to keep up with the latest developments in the fight for reproductive freedom in the US.
My Response to the Platform CommitteeBy Tom Hayden
Dear Madame Chair and Members,
I write as a supporter of Senator John Kerry, a former member of the Democratic Platform Committee, a former California legislator, the author of books on inner cities and global poverty, and as a longtime activist in peace and social justice movements.
At the risk of bringing too much clarity to the overheated discussion about whether Arizona Senator John McCain really was John Kerry's "first choice" for the number two spot on the Democratic ticket, it is appropriate to recall a June 11 statement issued by the Arizona senator's office.
"Senator McCain categorically states that he has not been offered the vice presidency by any one," said Mark Salter, the senator's chief of staff.
Salter issued that firm denial after the Associated Press was checking out the last of the rumors that Kerry, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, had offered McCain, a Republican senator whose disdain for President Bush has been well documented, a place on the ticket that will seek to remove Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney from the White House.
With just a few days to go before the Democratic Party's Platform Committee convenes in Miami on July 9th and 10th, supporters of Democratic Presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich are gearing up to give the committee a political earful.
Readers of The Nation should join them in signing a petition demanding that the Party's platform acknowledge that millions of loyal Democrats seek a coherent and responsible exit strategy from Iraq. (Click here to sign on.) Hundreds of Kucinich campaigners and political allies will also push hard to strengthen the platform language on healthcare and fair trade.
I think it's shameful that the current 16,000-word document fails to even acknowledge existing divisions among Democrats on future policy toward Iraq. How can Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who chairs the platform drafting committee, say that the party is not divided about whether to stay the course? Does she read the polls? The latest New York Times/CBS News poll shows that by a margin of 56 percent to 38 percent, people who call themselves Democrats say our troops should "leave Iraq as soon as possible, even if Iraq is not completely stable" rather than "stay in Iraq as long as it takes to make sure Iraq is a stable democracy." And what about the several state Democratic parties which have called on the national party to support the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq? In the Senate, Robert Byrd has been an eloquent advocate of an exit strategy, one that is "orderly and astute, else more of our men and women will follow the fate of Tennyson's doomed light brigade." Representative Jim McDermott and much of the Congressional Black Caucus have also called for a clear and coherent roadmap for US withdrawal.
And, in a strategically-savvy Open Letter to the Platform Committee, Tom Hayden--former member of the committee and a former California legislator, writes: "We progressives are not the happy campers that certain self-selected spokesmen describe in the New York Times. Our surface acceptance of the Party's current direction arises from deference to our respected nominee and our common loathing of the Bush Administration. We are loyal to our partisan objective of defeating Bush, but loyal as well to those principles which we believe are shared by a majority of Democrats and Americans." (Click here for the full text of the letter.)
Let's hope that the platform folks listen to Hayden's good advice. It points the way to way to winning the election. Wouldn't the Democratic Party be a stronger--even a more unified--party if it acknowledged its differences? Disagreement will not weaken the urgency millions feel about defeating George Bush in November. And, besides, pretending that differences don't exist won't make it so. Honest debate could be an electoral asset for the Democrats, particularly since it's something these incompetents in the White House seem incapable of allowing.There might even be a rallying cry in this--how about "Honesty in Differences, Unity in Beating Bush."
Right now, it's critical that Platform Committee Chairwoman Stephanie TubbsJones hear from as many good Democratic voices as possible. Click here for contact info and tell her ASAP that it's important that she and the Committee listen to the concerns and values of many Democratic voters.
Never let it be said that John Kerry rushes to judgement. Four months after just about every other Democrat had decided a Kerry-Edwards ticket was the best bet for the party, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee has accepted the conventional wisdom and named North Carolina Senator John Edwards as his vice presidential running mate.
From that January night when Kerry and Edwards topped Howard Dean in the Iowa caucuses -- effectively ending the Vermont governor's chances of securing the Democratic nomination -- there was talk about how Kerry and Edwards would be the best combination for the party. Kerry was always seen as the ticket topper. While Edwards was a better campaigner, Kerry had the organization and the money that would allow him to prevail in the primaries. And so he did. But as soon as Edwards folded his campaign in early March, after Kerry swept the Super Tuesday primaries, the question became: When are these two guys going to get together.
Why, then, did it take four months to close the deal? Why didn't Kerry name his running mate in the spring, as some aides suggested he might, in order to mount a two-man challenge to the Bush-Cheney ticket during the critical months of late spring and early summer?
Thanks to the Bush Administration, tens of thousands of women serving abroad in the US military are being denied their freedoms, even as they are asked to fight to defend ours.
As NARAL points out on its very useful website, American servicewomen and female military dependents are currently banned from accessing abortion services--even when using their own money--at US military medical facilities overseas. They don't even have the same right Medicaid recipients do to public support in cases of rape or incest.
Senators Barbara Boxer and Olympia Snowe have proposed a provision in the Defense Authorization Act that seeks to rectify at least part of these deplorable, and probably unconstitutional, conditions by allowing servicewomen who are victims of rape to receive abortion care. Given recent reports that sexual-assault cases are on the rise in the military, this is a particularly important time to demand that all women in the military be granted the same reproductive rights as their civilian counterparts.