Readers write back about Ari Berman’s coverage of the Democratic National Committee, Eugene Richards’ photojournalism and William Johnson’s coverage of the Teamsters.



Wickliffe, Ohio

A response to Eugene Richards’s July 10 photo essay, “War Is Personal–III“: My 20-year-old son is over there. Last week he was driving behind a vehicle that was hit by an IED. All three of the marines were killed. Another marine, in his unit, was killed. I saw a picture of my son on his unit’s website. They were paying tribute to the marine from his unit who was killed. You will never know the pain this causes me–to look at my beautiful son, and how lost and alone he looks in this picture. There are many other marines around him listening to whoever is speaking. But he stuck out because of his posture. I only knew it was him because I could see his name on his shirt. I could not see all of his face, but I could see enough to break my heart.

I hated this war before it started, because I knew it was an illegal war of aggression. When my son joined the Marines I pleaded with him to change his mind. (His father and I are both former marines.) This is something he has always wanted to do. I am certain he wishes he had never joined. I spoke with him last Saturday. He forced himself to laugh if I tried to cheer him up by saying something amusing. He is a big kid–muscular. He was a four-year letter man in high school football. He used to be very laid back and easy-going. I know just by speaking with him and seeing his picture that he has changed. The beautiful young man I love so much has been changed by the callous greed and lies of a President who has no regard for the military. Who makes war just because he can. Who lied us into a war the Nuremberg Tribunal would have found punishable.

This President and his Administration do not care about all Americans–only those with the biggest bank accounts. They send other people’s children to do something they would never send their own to do. I pray for my son daily, as I do for all our kids. I hope when this is all over that Bush and Cheney and all responsible for this tragedy will stand trial in a world court. They have ruined a generation of young people with their lies.



Washington, DC

Unfortunately, Ari Berman’s July 17/24 “Where’s the Plan, Democrats?” fails to tell the whole story about the Democratic National Committee’s overall plans for the 2006 elections and our readiness to take back the Congress while winning down-ballot races and attending to the urgently needed job of rebuilding and strengthening our party’s infrastructure. Here are the facts.

Contrary to Berman’s implication, the DNC has a sound plan for 2006 that contemplates the investment of unprecedented resources. For the 2006 races the DNC will spend upward of $11 million in hard money (we can no longer raise soft money) helping to elect Democrats at every level, across America. We will spend roughly ten times what the DNC was able to do with hard money four years ago, when it spent $1.6 million for coordinated campaigns.

What Berman did not tell readers is that he requested to see our 2006 political plan. We declined his request. As we explained to Berman, we won’t allow any reporter to review and publish our 2006 campaign strategy five months before election day, freely sharing our playbook with Karl Rove and the Republican Party. That’s not because we don’t have a plan; it’s because we want to win.

Berman cites blind quotes about hopes that the DNC would take the lead in a field organization. What Berman failed to tell Nation readers is that, in fact, we have always intended to play this role and are doing so partly out of concern that the 2006 Democratic efforts not repeat the mistakes of 2002, when too great an emphasis was placed solely on television advertising. In 1998 and 2002 millions were spent almost exclusively on television advertising. Looking at the results, most would conclude that the strategy didn’t work. We agree that we cannot make those same mistakes again, and we will not.

Beyond the focus on House and Senate races contemplated by our 2006 plan, the DNC is also investing to win critical governor and state legislative races. We need look no further than the recent Supreme Court decision in the Texas redistricting case upholding the bulk of Tom DeLay’s redistricting plan, which shifted six Texas seats to Republicans, to explain why these investments are indispensable: We must insure Democratic majorities in statehouses across the country to prevent future efforts by Republicans to redraw lines in order to increase their Congressional representation. Not to mention the many state and local issues decided by state legislatures that have a direct impact on Americans’ daily lives.

At the same time we invest in winning critical national, state and local races in 2006, we will not waver in our determination to rebuild the infrastructure of the party for the long term. Already our party-building investments have resulted in important early victories. Equally important, these early investments take us out of the old trap and old thinking that dictate that we wait until six weeks before election day to activate field operations. Our early investments in mobilization and organizing will insure that our state and local infrastructures are robust every year, all year long.

Finally, former Tennessee state party chair Randy Button is simply incorrect. The DNC has been and will continue to be supportive of efforts in Tennessee, just as the DNC will continue its work to unify the entire Democratic Party and insure that Democrats have the resources to present our alternative agenda to the American people.

Here at the DNC, we know we do not have the luxury of either/or choices, for our party or for our nation. We know we need plans and strategies for November and for the long haul–and we have them. Over the months ahead, we will be working hard with our state parties, the DSCC, DCCC, DLCC and DGA to excite and activate the electorate and see to it that Democrats are elected up and down the ballot all across America. And at the same time, we will continue the important party-building work Governor Dean promised when elected the party’s chair. We know we cannot skimp on either of these efforts, and we do not intend to.

Executive director
Democratic National Committee


Washington, DC

William Johnson has written a reckless, politically timed attack on Jim Hoffa’s administration, coming as our Teamsters Union approached its convention at the end of June, the prelude to the membership’s direct election of top officers this fall [“Teamsters: Changing to Win?” June 12]. The Teamsters are uniquely positioned as North America’s strongest transportation union to organize and dominate the new global transportation models. Johnson ignores the fact that this is precisely the focus of Teamster organizing: our core industries in the transport sector, including freight integrators, airlines, ports and rail; and drivers in related industries such as school bus, airport shuttle, sanitation and laundry. For example, we have won campaigns at more than eighty-five locations of DHL delivery and sort operations–bringing nearly 3,000 new Teamsters into the union in this one campaign alone.

Our union is focusing on long-term strategic campaigns aimed at winning fair union recognition processes and neutrality agreements from employers. Today, any union that relies only on NLRB elections is doomed to fail. And anyone, like Johnson, who relies on NLRB statistics to determine organizing activity or success is either attempting to manipulate the numbers or is simply uninformed. For example, the airline industry and public sector workers–where Teamsters have a powerful presence and have organized thousands of workers recently–are not covered by the NLRB and are not reflected in numbers the author cites.

Jim Hoffa had the vision to convene the first-ever special convention in 2002 to insure that the Teamsters had the resources to organize new members. As a result, there are now more than 400 professional organizers in the union. We have trained thousands of rank-and-file Teamsters who are participating in our campaigns. Our members get it: In a recent poll, they ranked organizing as our number-one priority.

The Hoffa administration is determined to mount major strategic campaigns in core Teamster industries regardless of our critics. Recently, hundreds of school bus drivers in Iowa City and Baltimore fought courageously and won Teamster representation. These men and women demanded respect for themselves and safe conditions for the children they transport. It was a tough fight, especially because corporate management had found an accomplice in its vicious campaign to confuse and demoralize the workers: TDU and its website.

Johnson’s commentary mimics the unionbusters’ approach: Find an atypical bad example or statistic, obscure the truth and destroy people’s hopes that progress can be made.

Director of organizing
International Brotherhood of Teamsters


Brooklyn, NY

Since he doesn’t offer any corrections or dispute any of my statistics, I’m not sure which “atypical bad example or statistic” Jeff Farmer is talking about. Contrary to his claims, I did not rely solely on NLRB statistics to document the many failures of Teamsters president James Hoffa’s leadership. I used the Teamsters’ own membership reports to the Labor Department to document the union’s loss of 150,000 members since Hoffa’s 2001 re-election.

Unable to find fault with the facts of the case, Farmer then claims that my article “mimics the unionbusters’ approach.” To Farmer, apparently, a critique of Hoffa is equivalent to an attack on organized labor. The many rank-and-file Teamsters I spoke with who are frustrated and disgusted with Hoffa’s leadership see things a bit differently. To them, the Hoffa administration’s abysmal record (not just on organizing new members but on winning good contracts, rooting out internal corruption and developing rank-and-file leaders) reflects one of organized labor’s biggest problems–corrupt, incompetent leaders unaccountable to their members. Farmer’s attacks on rank-and-file Teamster reformers and those who support them won’t change that fact.

Labor Notes


In Ruth Conniff’s June 26 “How to Build a Farm Team,” Sheila Stubbs is not the first (but she is currently the only) African-American to serve on the Dane County board in Wisconsin.

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