John Nichols, a pioneering political blogger, has written the Beat since 1999. His posts have been circulated internationally, quoted in numerous books and mentioned in debates on the floor of Congress.
Nichols writes about politics for The Nation magazine as its Washington correspondent. He is a contributing writer for The Progressive and In These Times and the associate editor of the Capital Times, the daily newspaper in Madison, Wisconsin. His articles have appeared in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune and dozens of other newspapers.
Nichols is a frequent guest on radio and television programs as a commentator on politics and media issues. He was featured in Robert Greenwald’s documentary, “Outfoxed,” and in the documentaries Joan Sekler’s “Unprecedented,” Matt Kohn’s “Call It Democracy” and Robert Pappas’s “Orwell Rolls in his Grave.” The keynote speaker at the 2004 Congress of the International Federation of Journalists in Athens, Nichols has been a featured presenter at conventions, conferences and public forums on media issues sponsored by the Federal Communications Commission, the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Consumers International, the Future of Music Coalition, the AFL-CIO, the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, the Newspaper Guild [CWA] and dozens of other organizations.
Nichols is the author of The Genius of Impeachment (The New Press); a critically acclaimed analysis of the Florida recount fight of 2000, Jews for Buchanan (The New Press); and a best-selling biography of Vice President Dick Cheney, Dick: The Man Who is President (The New Press), which has recently been published in French and Arabic. He edited Against the Beast: A Documentary History of American Opposition to Empire (Nation Books), of which historian Howard Zinn said: “At exactly the time when we need it most, John Nichols gives us a special gift–a collection of writings, speeches, poems, and songs from throughout American history–that reminds us that our revulsion to war and empire has a long and noble tradition in this country.”
With Robert W. McChesney, Nichols has co-authored the books It’s the Media, Stupid! (Seven Stories), Our Media, Not Theirs (Seven Stories), Tragedy and Farce: How the American Media Sell Wars, Spin Elections, and Destroy Democracy (The New Press), The Death and Life of American Journalism (Nation Books) and, most recently, Uprising: How Wisconsin Renewed the Politics of Protest, from Madison to Wall Street (Nation Books). McChesney and Nichols are the co-founders of Free Press, the nation’s media-reform network, which organized the 2003 and 2005 National Conferences on Media Reform.
Of Nichols, author Gore Vidal says: “Of all the giant slayers now afoot in the great American desert, John Nichols’s sword is the sharpest.” (Photo by Robin Holland / Bill Moyers Journal)
PEACEFUL JUSTICE In every region of the country, a movement for a "justice, not vengeance" response to the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon is growing rapidly. Among the first to act were students at Connecticut's Wesleyan University. "People were still crying, but they were also asking, 'What can we do to break the cycle of violence?'" says Sarah Norr, a junior. Wesleyan students who had been mobilizing against sweatshops and World Bank policies joined Arab-American students to create a movement for "peaceful justice." They e-mailed campuses nationwide, created a website (www.peacefuljustice.cjb.net) and tapped into Students Transforming and Resisting Corporations (STARC), Student Peace Action Network (SPAN) and 180/Movement for Democracy and Education networks to organize a "National Student Day of Action" around four principles: unequivocal condemnation of the terrorist attacks, a call for US officials to seek justice rather than revenge in order to avoid loss of more innocent lives and to work toward a lasting peace, resistance to scapegoating of Muslims and Arab-Americans and defense of civil liberties. "Wesleyan really got the ball rolling," says STARC co-founder Terra Lawson-Remer. The September 20 Day of Action saw teach-ins and rallies on 140 campuses. Now, Wesleyan students are working with STARC to take the movement off campus. "The polls say 85 percent of Americans want a war, but when we ask local businesses to put up our signs, we're finding a longing for dialogue," says Norr. "When we say, 'We're all against terrorism; now let's talk about the best way to respond to it,' people don't reject the opportunity, they embrace it."
NO MORE VICTIMS It is tough to talk peace when your phone lines have been disrupted after a terrorist attack, but the War Resisters League did. Despite phone and Internet troubles at its New York office, the seventy-eight-year-old organization issued a statement within hours of the attack and helped organize a vigil for peace in New York's Union Square. The American Friends Service Committee, while dispatching volunteers to help victims of the World Trade Center attack, launched a "No More Victims" campaign urging Bush to "look for diplomatic means to bring to justice the people who are responsible for this crime against humanity." Peace Action, while continuing its activism against Bush's National Missile Defense plan, made the case for treating the attackers as criminals rather than embarking on military actions. Said Peace Action's Kevin Martin, "A great nation does not punish the innocent to assuage its anguish." New groups such as the Seattle 911 Peace Coalition, as well as old peace and social justice organizations, mobilized to arrange teach-ins and rallies in cities from Boston to San Diego.... After the Mobilization for Global Justice called off planned protests against the IMF and World Bank, coalition partners began organizing marches and rallies in the Washington, DC, area to criticize Bush's handling of the crisis.... An interfaith statement signed by more than 1,500 Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist leaders was delivered to Congress and posted on the websites of the National Council of Churches (www.ncccusa.org) and Sojourners (www.sojo.net). The statement reads, in part, "Those culpable must not escape accountability. But we must not, out of anger and vengeance, indiscriminately retaliate in ways that bring on even more loss of innocent life."
VOICES OF EXPERIENCE Arab-Americans facing threats of violence and discrimination after the attacks found defenders among Japanese-Americans who recalled the abuses they suffered during World War II. "We're seeing a chilling echo of what happened sixty years ago," warned actor George Takei, one of 120,000 Japanese-Americans interned by the US government. Takei damned attackers of Arab-Americans, saying, "The fanatics are no better than the terrorists." The Japanese American Citizens League made common cause with the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee in urging federal action to protect Arab-Americans, Muslims and immigrants. Democratic Representative Mike Honda of California, another former internee, is trying to convince the professional sports leagues to broadcast a statement condemning bigotry toward Arab-Americans. Warning against the "abandonment of our most cherished ideals when blinded by rage," Honda said any US response to the attacks must "make sure that we do not repeat the injustices visited upon one ethnic group in 1941."
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION? Members of Congress have been warned by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to keep mum about what they learn in briefings, the Voice of America was censored and Pentagon aides are restricting the flow of information about US military responses to the September 11 attacks. "I'm having flashbacks to Richard Nixon," says Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. Recalling battles over media access during the Vietnam War, Dalglish says, "Everything tells me this new fight will be the most covert war we have ever seen. If it drags on, as I think it will, we are very likely to see new Pentagon Papers situations where the government tries to prevent citizens from learning what is going on. That's dangerous in a democracy. People need to know whether a war is being pursued justly, or whether it is just cruel annihilation." Dalglish is pushing watchdog groups to reactivate a coalition that pressed for openness during the Gulf War.
Most Americans are probably unaware that "the Dark Ages were not all bad and the Enlightenment not all good." Or that "homosexuality [is] a sin worthy of death." Or that one of the greatest threats to the country is "the Feminization of American Life." Or that we should still be debating the question: "Who Was Right in the War Between the States: the Union or the Confederacy?"
If you are active with the Christian fundamentalist organization American Vision, however, this is mainstream thinking--or, more precisely, the thinking you hope to force down the throat of the mainstream. The Georgia-based group's president, Gary DeMar, preaches about "the necessity of storming the gates of hell" and cleansing public institutions of "secularism, atheism, humanism, and just plain anti-Christian sentiment." He may soon be dispatching a prominent foot soldier to do just that. J. Robert Brame III, American Vision's board secretary, reportedly tops President Bush's list of likely appointees to the National Labor Relations Board, the five-member agency that determines the fate of workers seeking union recognition and helps define how federal law protects women, gays and lesbians, and others seeking representation in the workplace.
Brame, a management lawyer, previously served on the board from 1997 to 2000. Technically appointed by Bill Clinton, he was actually a choice forced upon the former President by Senate Republicans who refused to act on Clinton's appointments unless he gave Brame the job. During those three years, Brame was the most frequent dissenter from the board's pro-labor decisions. He opposed moves to make it easier for temporary workers, graduate students and medical interns and residents to unionize. He was a lonely advocate of steps to limit the ability of unions to use dues money to pay for organizing. Brame even complained about NLRB rulings that "facilitate union organizing in the modern work place."
Brame's record, his association with American Vision and the very real prospect that he could end up chairing a Bush-appointed NLRB majority by the end of the year have energized opponents. Taking the lead is the gay and lesbian labor group Pride at Work, which aims, says interim executive director Marta Ames, "to make enough noise so that Bush decides it's not worth it to appoint someone who is associated with the viewpoint that LGBT people are 'monsters' who should be stoned."
"Gays and lesbians, women, people of color and young people are harassed on the job all the time, and that harassment becomes vicious when we're trying to organize into unions," says Sarah Luthens, a Seattle union organizer active with the Out Front Labor Coalition. "To think that someone like Brame would be in a position to decide whether that harassment represents a violation of labor laws that are already too weak is horrifying."
CIVIL RIGHTS REFORM As House Republican leaders thwarted debate on the tepid Shays-Meehan campaign finance reform bill, the NAACP convention chose a radically different course by endorsing full public financing of campaigns. Noting that 95 percent of campaign contributions in excess of $200 come from white givers, the NAACP resolution declared that the current system "unfairly dilutes the political strength of African-Americans in participating in political parties, elections and the passage of legislation." Says Georgia NAACP state conference president Walter Butler, "We know that [campaign finance reform] is a civil rights issue that should be dealt with as other civil rights issues in the past." The NAACP vote came as Congressional Black Caucus members were questioning, and in some cases opposing, milder reforms. "There's a lot of skepticism, a lot of fear that campaign finance reform, if it's done wrong, could end up hurting black candidates," says Fannie Lou Hamer Project executive director Stephanie Wilson. "We've spent a lot of time arguing that only with public financing can African-American candidates really break through the barriers." In North Carolina the National Voting Rights Institute has sued the state on behalf of the NAACP and other groups, arguing that costly campaigns serve as a "poll tax," violating constitutional guarantees that economic status should not serve as a barrier to political participation.... An assist for the new drive comes from Adonal Foyle, center for the NBA's Golden State Warriors. Foyle founded Democracy Matters, whose fifteen coordinators will build support on college campuses for public financing. Foyle argues that if players had to buy their way into the NBA, people wouldn't take it seriously. Yet "that's what has happened in politics."
MASSACHUSETTS MISCHIEF Massachusetts voters in 1998 overwhelmingly endorsed a Clean Elections initiative designed to flush special-interest money out of politics. But public financing only functions when legislators allocate the money for it. The Massachusetts Senate did that by a 36-2 vote, but powerful House Speaker Thomas Finneran is balking, even as 2002 races for governor and other posts get under way. "I used to think Massachusetts was an initiative state before I met the Massachusetts legislature," says David Donnelly, of Massachusetts Voters for Clean Elections, which has been organizing protests and rallies. Outside Boston's historic Faneuil Hall, former Attorney General Scott Harshbarger, who now heads Common Cause, urged legislators to "remember they were elected by the people, not by Tom Finneran." US Representative Marty Meehan said, "When I see Democrats playing games at the State House, I say that's the best weapon they can give the Republicans for the next election."
ALTERNATIVE POLITICS Campaign finance reform isn't the only electoral change on the agenda this summer. By a 10-1 vote the San Francisco Board of Supervisors set a March 2002 referendum on adopting instant-runoff voting (IRV) for local posts. IRV, devised as an alternative to winner-take-all elections, allows voters to rank candidates for an office. If a first-choice candidate is eliminated, the vote automatically transfers to the second choice. A San Francisco win "could put instant-runoff voting on the radar across the country," says Rob Richie of the Center for Voting and Democracy. Vermont, Alaska and New Mexico are also considering IRV proposals.... Another alternative, cumulative voting, under which voters apportion their votes among candidates, has earned enthusiastic support from an Illinois task force chaired by former GOP Governor Jim Edgar and former Democratic Representative (and federal judge) Abner Mikva. The state once had a cumulative system, but it was scrapped twenty-one years ago as part of a move to downsize the legislature. Since the change, Illinois has witnessed dramatic declines in the number of contested legislative races and in voter turnout.
RELIGIOUS LEFT The Unitarian Universalist Association's new president, William Sinkford, left no doubt about what his promise of "radical fellowship" would mean for the 220,000-member denomination. "During my presidency, our Unitarian Universalist voice will support racial justice and gender justice and equal rights for our bisexual, gay, lesbian and transgender brothers and sisters," Sinkford announced in a speech following his election as the predominantly white religious group's first African-American leader. "We will speak for responsible stewardship of the environment. And we will work to redress the economic injustices that plague our society." The denomination's Cleveland general assembly voted to make economic globalization a primary issue for 1,050 UU congregations, following an appeal from Chuck Collins of United for a Fair Economy and strong support from the convention's large youth caucus. With Congress expected to act this year on granting President Bush fast-track authority to negotiate a Free Trade Agreement of the Americas, Unitarian Universalists for a Just Economic Community is gearing up a grassroots education and lobbying push to challenge trade policies that Collins says "are about profits, not values."