Imagine: If Mayor De Blasio Really Was a Socialist

Friday, February 21st, 2014

For a lot of people lately “socialism” is not a dirty word.  Trying to smear New York City mayor Bill de Blasio by falsely calling him a socialist did not hurt his campaign one bit.  In fact his support continued to grow and he won by a landslide.

Proving that socialism can win in America, a young woman socialist candidate, Kshama Sawant, just got elected to the City Council in Seattle, defeating a longtime Democrat,  garnering  lots of union and community support.  A 2012 national Pew poll showed 49% of people under the age of  29 had a favorable reaction to the word “socialism” and the two most looked up words in the Merriam-Webster online dictionary last year were the words socialism and capitalism.   And no wonder, real wages haven’t gone up in 40 years. Since the crash of 2008, the current great recession holds out few promises.  As Pope Francis recently wrote, unfettered capitalism is a “new tyranny” that has created a “throwaway culture that discards young people as well as its older people.”
Imagine if Bill de Blasio was really a socialist and came into office with socialist goals. What might he do as Mayor of New York City?   He has one potent weapon to wield: the bully pulpit of which Theodore Roosevelt spoke.  He could mount that pulpit to rally public support to fight for socially progressive measures.

Socialist Mayor de Blasio could continue to emphasize that he is telling a tale of two cities, one of the 99%, the other of the ruling 1%.  (It is actually much less, more like 1/10th of l%).  Here we are talking about the finance, real estate, and insurance interests that really run our town where 50,000 persons make more than a half a million dollars a year and 60,000 persons, mostly children, are homeless on any given night.  He could be a tribune of and for the people.  What agenda might he advance?  Here are some possibilites:

* Launch a mass action campaign for single payer health care, free for everyone, recognizing health as a human right.

*Put the City’s resources on the side of the poorest workers, like those in the food chain and garment shops and demand a $15 an hour minimum wage, sick days, pensions and vacations with pay.

*Find or build housing for every homeless person.

*Support tenants defending rent controls and small businesses that need this as well.

*End the illegal stop and frisk practice of the Police Department by withdrawing Bloomberg’s appeal and abiding by Judge Scheinlin’s decision that 600,000 persons a year, mostly young people of color, had their 4th and l4th amendment rights violated.

*Dismantle the police state surveillance of New Yorkers.  Take the street cameras down.  Get out of the mosques and Muslim communities.  Stop police collaboration with and office sharing with Wall Street bankers.  Get the police out of our grassroots political organizations. Allow for street protests without pens and nets and videotaping of activists.  Apologize for collaboration with the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security in raiding and breaking up the Occupy Wall Street encampment.   Restore the Handschu consent decree limiting
how police can spy on New Yorkers.

* Prosecute the banksters who crashed the economy in 2008 and then got bailed out with our money.

*Work to implement a municipal tax code that eliminates all regressive taxes like the sales tax.  Replace them with taxes on Wall Street financial transactions and support higher corporate taxes.

*March on picket lines with teachers and students to roll back cuts to education financing and tuition.

*Declare New York City a “Demilitarized Zone” within the USA where the peace movement is encouraged in its opposition to our country’s illegal, immoral, and obscenely expensive and seemingly endless wars abroad.

*Make education and actions about human- caused climate change the number one priority which if not controlled will doom us.

Michael Moore, echoing FDR, proposed a second Bill of Rights in our visionary new book “Imagine: Living in a Socialist USA.”  Moore wrote of the goals that might guide a socialist mayor: “That every American has a human right to employment, to health care, and a free and full education; to breathe clean air, drink clean water, and eat safe food; and to be cared for with dignity and respect in their old age.” Socialism has a tradition in America.  Our most famous thinker, Albert Einstein, was a socialist.   Martin Luther King said that “If we are going to achieve real equality, the United States will have to adopt a modified form of socialism.”

Mayor DeBlasio, as you take office, we remind you of the song of another socialist,  John Lennon, who wrote in “Imagine”  that “You may say I’m a dreamer/But I’m not the only one/I hope someday you’ll join us/And the world will live as one.”  Mr. Mayor, this expresses the desires of humanity since the days of the prophets.  The majority of the people who elected you would be for it.  Do you dare?

By Cliff Conner and Michael Steven Smith.   Conner is on the faculty of the School of Professional Studies of the City University of New York Graduate Center, where he teaches history.  Smith is the co-host of the radio show Law and Disorder and on the Board of the Center for Constitutional Rights.  Both contributed to and Smith co-edited with Frances Goldin and Debby Smith the forthcoming book “Imagine: Living in a Socialist USA” to be published by Harper Collins on January 22, 2014.

The Roots of Academic Freedom

Saturday, August 3rd, 2013


The Roots of Academic Freedom By Michael Steven Smith

Priests of Our Democracy: The Supreme Court, Academic Freedom, and the Anti- Communist Purge
by Marjorie Heins

New York University Press, 2013, 384 pages, $35 hardback.

PRIESTS OF OUR Democracy: The Supreme Court, Academic Freedom, and the Anti- Communist Purge is a smart, well-crafted insightful book by an especially qualified author. Marjorie Heins is an unrepentant six- ties radical out of SDS who went on to get a Harvard Law School degree and became a litigator, a law professor, an historian and a constitutional scholar.

Academic freedom was not gained along with the Bill of Rights just after the American Revolution, as most people think. It was not initially protected by the First Amendment, took a beating in the radical 1930s and during the Cold War, made some big gains in the sixties under the Warren Supreme Court, but still remains a fragile freedom in the wake of 9/11.

The kernel of Heins’ book tells the story of the investigations and purges of Communist Party members and sympathiz- ers who taught in the public high schools and colleges in New York City in the thir- ties and again in the ’50s and ’60s, and the Supreme Court decisions that resulted. It weaves together beautifully told personal stories with legal and political history. But it starts in the 1890s at the University of Wisconsin where I went to college and law school, and finishes with a chapter on post 9/11 developments.

I grew up in the fifties in Fox Point, Wisconsin, a little Republican village equi- distant from Joe McCarthy’s home town Appleton, and Madison where the University of Wisconsin was founded. Madison was an island of freedom in the ’50s and ’60s com- pared to Fox Point, or for that matter New York City.

In 1957 when McCarthyism had spread fear across the nation, my high school history teacher invited me and my friend Sue over to the room he rented in a local home. He made us promise not to tell anybody what he was about to show us. Then he reached under his bed and pulled out …. a Pete Seeger album.

Meanwhile at that time the headquarters of the “Joe Must Go” campaign was located at the University of Wisconsin, even as some 380 New York City teachers had been fired from their positions.

Origins of a Principle

University of Wisconsin Professor Richard Ely, a Christian socialist and social reformer, won in 1894 the first great victory for academic freedom over corporate influ- enced politicians who tried to silence him, falsely accusing him of pressuring a local printer to use union labor exclusively.

University President Benjamin Andrews came to Ely’s defense, telling the Board of Regents that firing Ely would be “a great blow at freedom of university teaching in general and at the development of political economy in particular.” The Regents issued a report which ended in words so inspiring that a plaque quoting them is displayed on the main liberal arts building at the top of the highest hill on campus, proclaiming:

“Whatever may be the limitations which trammel inquiry elsewhere we believe that the great State University of Wisconsin should ever encourage that continual and fearless sifting and winnowing (more…)

The Eviction from Zuccoti Park

Monday, November 28th, 2011

I went over to Liberty Square at 3:30 this morning and saw the endgame.  Broadway and Church Streets were blocked.  The subway entances were closed. The place was ringed by hundreds of cops manning metal fences that were set up in a block from the park, encircling it, so I couldn’t get near.  But I could see.  The place was ablaze under Kleig lights.  Huge white garbage trucks  with signs on their sides stating “clean up after your dog”  were pulling up and loading up.  They carted off the 5000 book library, along  the tents and the personal belongs of the people they had driven out.  Some stayed and fought and some 70 got arrested.  I read that ultimately water canons were used a la Bull Connor.

I spoke with several occupiers who had been driven out.  One was a young man from South Carolina, who was  broke and alone with no place to go.  He said his name was Colin Lauf, pointing out the irony of his name to me. 

The decision to crush OWS must have been made in coordination with the White House.  Five other occupations have recently been dispersed.   The cops in New York jointly man a command center on lower Broadway along with executives from Wall street. There they monitor thousands of cameras.  Some are  trained on Liberty Park.  They have face recognition computers and they had undercover cops pretending to be occupiers inside.  They must have mapped out who was there and where.  They had hundreds of names and dossiers from the one thousand arrests they had already made. 

The phenomenon of OWS was dangerous to the powers that be, too popular, growing rapidly in an increasingly radical direction, aimed ultimately at private property and its owners, hugely democratic, building alternative institutions, sketching a vision of a new society, having the frightening potential to “bring about a new world from the ashes of the old.”  Bloomberg is asserting this morning on New York One that “the decision was ultimately mine” and not doubt it was, but he did it in consultation with other elites, for them and for him.  They could not let live an encampment on the doorstep of their emcampment, a symbolic occupation of Wall St. which was more than symbolic, which was threatening to them in an existential way. 

Clearly this is a defeat for us.  But the movement is underway and has not been defeated.   It will morph and regather. Already this morning people are gather nine blocks north in Foley Square. There will be new forms of organization, there already are.   The national conversation has begun.  We will make the most of it.

Michael Smith