Get Mad as Hell!
After reading “Indignez-vous!” by Stéphane Hessel [March 7/14], I was compelled to order his French original online. Looking at his photograph, I would never have guessed at his incredible depth and understanding of the world’s unceasing shortcomings. He looks embittered and hardened by his life’s experiences. Obviously, looks are deceiving. His life’s experiences have propelled the man to surpass himself time and time again. The “fight” has not gone out of him at the ripe old age of 93, which makes him practically a superhero. He should be the kind of man youth read about in comic books, admirable in his very tenacity to continue the fight for the universally oppressed. Thank you for making me aware that hope is still alive.
MAXINE de VILLEFRANCHE
I was happy for, and envious of, the French, who have a person with the stature of Stéphane Hessel to call for outrage over the present course of government and to hark back to the Resistance and its members’ vision for society. Where are the American statesmen—in government and public service—who truly have the common good as their vision? Where are the large figures who will denounce our elected officials who serve the corporations and banks? Our middle-class and poorer citizens are bearing the brunt of taxes; who is there to represent us? Where are our statesmen who will sound the cry “No taxation without representation!”? It certainly applies today as much if not more than 235 years ago.
JOHN R. WYSKIEL
We Shall Overcome
Mount Pleasant, S.C.
Contrary to Gary Younge’s “Selling History Short in Mississippi,” the fiftieth anniversary reunion of the Freedom Riders is neither about Governor Haley Barbour nor about people with similar mindsets—those who would rewrite history, losing the truth in the editing [“Beneath the Radar,” March 7/14]. It is about a group of people and their supporters who set in motion, against all odds, a movement that changed the country. When the Freedom Rides began in 1961, Ross Barnett was the governor of Mississippi and John Patterson, the governor of Alabama. Both championed an oppressive way of life for people of color; we confronted them directly on their turf.
Freedom Riders (the term was used interchangeably with “Freedom Fighters” by locals) were divided into two groups—those who rode the buses and the citizens of Alabama, New Orleans, Mississippi and other places who supported, trained and protected the riders. It was the latter group who did whatever they could to assist the riders viciously beaten in Birmingham and Montgomery. People by the hundreds faced angry mobs in Montgomery the night before and the day the riders left for Jackson. It was this latter group who sent riders from Nashville and New Orleans to join the rides in Montgomery. It was this latter group, in New Orleans, who provided training and support for about 40 percent of the riders who went to jail in Jackson. In addition to celebrating the event, the reunion of the Freedom Riders should also be about telling the whole story of the Freedom Rides.
I understand why people might not agree to attend a reception sponsored by Mississippi’s Governor Barbour; however, I do think we should celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Freedom Rides in Jackson. We need to bring the focus back to Mississippi and let the local people who played a role in the Freedom Rides (and their children) speak.
Our actions in 1961 motivated further actions that exposed and brought down many racial barriers and promoted the emergence of new leaders; they also resulted in great suffering and the deaths of many, such as Medgar Evers, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Mickey Schwerner and George Raymond, to name a few. I owe it to them to return to Mississippi for this reunion. I owe it to many whose names your readers will recognize who continued the struggle—Fannie Lou Hamer, Annie Devine, Victoria Gray, Amzie Moore, C.C. Bryant, the Rev. Clinton Collier, C.O. Chinn, the Castles of New Orleans, again to name a few.
More than that, I owe it to all those people and their children and grandchildren in Mississippi, Alabama and New Orleans who provided support and protection to those who continued the work in Mississippi through the 1964 Freedom Summer and continue the work to this day. I owe it to these people to go back to Mississippi to say to their families, Thank you. I need to let them and the world know that there would not have been a successful Freedom Ride or a successful Freedom Summer without their support and sacrifice. I also want to stand with them and say to the world that the fight is not over. We fought it yesterday, we are fighting it today and we will fight it tomorrow. Failing to support the fiftieth anniversary reunion of Freedom Riders in Mississippi and giving the local people their place in history would most certainly be “Selling History Short in Mississippi”!
A Friend to Public Sector Workers
Jane McAlevey’s “Labor’s Last Stand” [March 7/14] misrepresents my actions as former Clark County [Nevada] manager and my sentiments toward public sector unions. Specifically, she states that in 2003, I “aligned with the Chamber of Commerce and the Nevada Taxpayers Union” to blast “public workers for earning more than their private sector counterparts. With a Democrat as the messenger, liberals were confused.” Here are the facts:
I never endorsed any report by the Chamber or the Taxpayers Union, and I never “blasted” public employees for making more than the private sector or questioned their collective-bargaining rights. Rather, my position was that by refusing to compromise on wages and benefits when Clark County’s population and service needs were increasing sharply, union leaders jeopardized the county’s ability to fulfill its core mandate: delivering essential services.
In 2003 our employees were receiving pay increases double the rate of inflation and far ahead of growth in the CPI, making them among the highest paid in the nation, though we ranked at the bottom in number of public employees per capita. We were falling below acceptable levels for critical services. Since labor made up most of our spending, and we lacked authority to raise revenues, payroll reductions were unavoidable. But the unions’ unwillingness to make any concessions led to service cutbacks and, ultimately, to layoffs.
I believe the majority of unionized public sector employees understand the need to compromise. Their leaders, unfortunately, are often less practical even when revenues are down, debt is up and demand for services is unrelenting. This hardnosed tack puts their own membership and vulnerable populations at risk and has cost the unions the broad public support they used to enjoy. Rather than dig in their heels, I would suggest—as I have for years—that they learn to be more flexible.
New York City
Thom Reilly’s “facts” don’t add up. When I arrived in Nevada in early 2004, the Democratic county manager was almost daily attacking the wages of the workers. In the many news articles from that time in which Reilly is quoted blasting public employee wages for being out of line with those of the private sector, he never chose to distance himself from the attacks officially launched by the Chamber of Commerce, the Nevada Taxpayers Union or the bruising Review Journal cartoons that ridiculed the Clark County workers.
In the April 5, 2005, issue of In Business Las Vegas, Reilly states, “There isn’t any justification for government workers getting higher cost-of-living increases than what everyone else gets out there.” In the May 12, 2004, coverage of the county executive making his case to gut workers’ wages and benefits, the reporter states, “Reilly and Finance Director George Stevens returned to well-traveled ground while describing the long-term financial situation of the county to the commission. The pair have argued that the growth in rank-and-file salaries has exceeded the wage growth in the private sector and inflation, and has undermined the ability to create new positions to serve the rapidly growing county population.”
Reilly’s letter to the editor underscores many of the points I make in my article about the attack on government workers. Far from jeopardizing the county’s “ability to deliver essential services,” as Reilly claims, the government workers in Nevada in fact offered up many ideas of ways to alter the revenue stream and dedicated hundreds of thousands of dollars to defend against potentially devastating cuts to needed government services. Perhaps most insidious, Reilly raises the false choice of “needed services versus workers.” The problem with Reilly’s narrative, then and now, is that liberals have accepted this antiworker logic rather than outright rejecting the idea that we have only two choices: either destroy some of the few remaining decent middle-class jobs left in America—especially for African-Americans and women, who hold a disproportionately high number of government jobs—or defend needed services. It’s a choice invented by corporate America and its neoliberal allies, who seek to distract us from the many real choices we have as a nation—starting with taxing the rich and corporations.