Friday, June 26, 2015

Nonviolence & the Road to Independence

Each year, as fireworks celebrate the Declaration of Independence and people discuss how the United States began, the spotlight normally turns to “revolutionary” leaders and the “armed struggle” waged more than two centuries ago. But as usual, the real story is a bit different. The movement toward independence in the “new world” actually began a decade before the “shot heard round the world” and involved thousands of people. By the time things turned violent, substitute governments and firm alliances were operating in nine colonies.

Early colonial campaigns weren’t mere passive pleading. They were demands, backed by nonviolent actions that forced Britain to change its laws. Through economic boycott and the development of new government structures, John Dickinson wrote in 1767, colonists could pressure parliament by “withholding from Britain all the advantages they get from us.” One pamphlet circulating at the time urged colonists to “bid defiance to tyranny by exposing its impotence.”

Many colonists were already following this advice, refusing to comply with the new Stamp Act, a direct tax on all sorts of licenses, publications and legal papers, by resisting use of the stamps. According to Britain, the duty would be used to finance British troops “protecting” colonists from Indian “hostility” and French expansionism. Resistance began even before the Act was official. This grassroots movement, which essentially nullified the law, involved a massive refusal to import British goods and the beginning of economic self-sufficiency in North America.

The forms of political defiance and direct action included civil disobedience and, in some cases, threats aimed at stamp distributors. No one was killed, but the threats and scattered attacked on property were effective deterrents. By November all the stamp distributors resigned, while ports and newspapers remained open despite the absence of stamps. Debts to British merchants were left unpaid. The Rhode Island Assembly resolved that only colonists could tax colonists. In order to avoid mass prosecution of resisters, however, George Washington advised that colonial courts be closed.

Despite the absence of violence, the threat to British rule was obvious. Power was swiftly being diffused through many substitute governments. Town meetings took to passing laws that were more widely obeyed than British regulations. By early 1768 more than four million pounds was owed to Britain’s merchants, who pressured the King and parliament for action. The Stamp Act was repealed, but Britain simultaneously proclaimed that the right to tax the colonies still and would always exist. What couldn’t be defended on the ground was brandished on paper.

The Townshend Acts, a 1768 attempt by new British Prime Minister Charles Townshend to impose an external levy, met just as much resistance. The new Acts placed a tax on imported goods such as lead, paint, paper, glass, and tea. This time it wasn’t merchants who initiated the campaign but mechanics, artisans and workers. The main method was non-consumption, along with development of economic alternatives along self-sufficient lines. When goods weren’t bought and those on household shelves weren’t used, merchants were forced not to import the boycotted items. Within a year the Massachusetts legislature denounced the law, calling for united action, and Virginia voted for strict non-importation, notifying other colonies of its decision.

Non-importation put a squeeze on British merchants until the Acts died in 1770. But this time Britain was a bit more clever: All taxes - except the duty on tea – were repealed. Falling short of total victory the colonists became divided about the success of their campaign. In the confusion resistance disintegrated as Britain doggedly held onto its right to tax.

Despite the setback colonial fervor persisted in other resistance efforts. The Committees of Correspondence, established years earlier as underground governments, maintained a network for expressions of solidarity, protests, mutual aid, and new ideas. In 1773, Britain provided the catalyst to test these emerging organs of popular power.

The East India Company, an early international monopoly, was in financial trouble. To help the influential business, Britain’s parliament passed an Act controlling prices in order to give East India a colonial monopoly. The law manipulated the market so that even smuggled tea was more expensive. The Boston Tea Party was an early response; Bostonians in Indian garb dumped 342 chests of tea overboard. Britain responded by closing the Port of Boston and increasing repression.

The colonies mobilized, helped by their previous experiences with united action and Paul Revere’s rides to “give you all the news.” Many communities – New York, Philadelphia, Charlestown, Wilmington and Baltimore among them – pledged moral and economic support. Money, rice and sheep flooded into Massachusetts as Britain tried to undermine self-government.

Defying Britain, a Massachusetts Town Meeting resolved to cut off imports and exports, and called again for economic boycott. Revere rode to New York and Philadelphia with news of the Suffolk Resolves, soon adopted by the Continental Congress. All coercive laws were unconstitutional, the Congress had ruled, and are not to be obeyed. People were urged to form their own governments and deny taxes to the so-called “legal” governments in their regions.

Although the Resolves raised the possibility of war, the thrust remained nonviolent – boycott, tax resistance, non-importation (sometimes including slaves), and development of substitute local governments. The Continental Association, formed at the end of 1774, incorporated these approaches and added legal enforcement of “non-intercourse” along the lines used earlier in Virginia.

As this brief review suggests, the movement for US independence emerged from the grassroots, from people in neighborhoods and communities, colonists who made personal commitments and participated in hunger strikes, non-consumption and other heroic acts of resistance. It was an enormous and sustained struggle, one of many nonviolent campaigns that have profoundly influenced world history, although “official” accounts rarely give them recognition.

Civil resistance – also known as “nonviolent action” or “people power” – has proven effective, though not always successful on its own, in many colonial rebellions, struggles for labor, civil and women’s rights, campaigns to resist genocide and dictatorship, and other battles for independence and freedom. Indian nationalists used it in their struggle against British domination, various European countries used it to resist Nazi occupation, dissidents in Communist-ruled countries used it to increase freedom – and ultimately end dictatorships in Poland, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. "Arab Spring" uprisings in the Mid-East and North Africa used the same tactics.

These movements weren’t passive or submissive, and most of the people involved weren’t pacifists, saints or natural leaders. They were ordinary people in extraordinary situations, using diverse methods – from protests and vigils to the creation of parallel or “de facto” governments – to challenge and ultimately overturn illegitimate authority. In the American colonies two centuries ago, people were well on their way to winning the War of Independence before the shooting even started. There are clearly lessons here for the domestic and global struggles we face today.

Happy Independence Day!

To learn more about recent nonviolent struggles and the potential of civil resistance, consult the work of Gene Sharp, founder of the Albert Einstein Institution, author of Waging Nonviolent Struggle and other books.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Why Jane Sanders Left Burlington College

Audio Special: BC Then and Now
(Aired April 29, 2016 on WOMM-FM at the college)

Years after Jane Sanders unexpectedly left Burlington College, the reasons for her departure remain a closely-held secret. According to Sanders, the decision to resign the presidency in September 2011 was the result of differences with the trustees over the college’s direction and future.

A press release issued by the school at the time revealed little, mainly that she would step down on Oct. 14, and gave no further explanation. It was later revealed that she received a $200,000 severance package. In the years since most Board members have declined to comment. A new article in the weekly Seven Days explores the issue and whether it could affect Bernie Sanders presidential ambitions. But there is more to the story.
Jane Sanders was Burlington College president for seven years. But the $10 million purchase of property owned by the Catholic Diocese in 2010, combined with rising tuition and difficulties expanding enrollment, intensified financial, management and academic pressures at the school.
A few months before her departure, when the school gathered to honor the 34 members of its 2011 graduating class at the new campus, Sanders revealed that the man who brokered the land deal with the Roman Catholic Diocese was real estate mogul Antonio Pomerleau. In fact, Sanders claimed that Pomerleau was the only person who could have done it. 

A prominent local Catholic, Pomerleau had been a prime target of Bernie Sanders’ political attacks when he first became Burlington mayor. But things changed over the years. Pomerleau and the Sanders family eventually became friends. “He understands relationships,” Sanders said of Pomerleau at the graduation ceremonies. “Not just ‘who you know,’ but an understanding that leads to a reputation, and to trust.”

As a result of more than two dozen lawsuits, the Catholic Diocese was on the hook for $17.65 million in settlements. Its property initially went on the market for $12.5 million. Pomerleau provided a $500,000 loan to the college to help close the deal. The final price was $10 million, an amount that some developers considered high. According to a source at the People's United Bank, Sanders persuaded bank officials that she could raise the money, but didn't provide the names of potential donors.

Sanders, wife of the famous senator who is currently running for president, had hoped to continue as college president until 2016. But negotiations over a new contract stalled as doubts emerged about her plans and fundraising. In August 2011, the board voted to negotiate an early exit package.

Details of the special meeting of the Board of Trustees at which the agreement was finally reached have never been revealed. But the agenda did indicate that the trustees had gathered at the Sheraton specifically to discuss the “removal of the president.” During the session lawyers for Sanders and the college evidently reached a settlement that included her resignation in three weeks, the title of President Emeritus and a year-long-paid sabbatical.

The offcial announcement of Sanders' departure claimed that the purchase of the college’s new campus created opportunities to “significantly grow the student body and fully realize the expansion of academic programs." But her plan to double enrollment before the end of the decade would be tough to achieve, and millions of dollars would be needed to complete the new campus renovations. Neither goal proved to be reachable.

Prior to becoming the school's president in 2004, Sanders had worked as campaign manager for her husband. Her credentials also included a stint running Goddard College and almost a decade as head of youth services for Burlington, mainly during the Sanders administration.

In 2005 she said that increasing student numbers was vital because tuition dollars would help pay for the overall plan she was developing. As it turned out, tuition dollars rose but the number of students didn’t. The college was also mindful of its mission to stay small, she claimed. In 2006, however, she announced a $6 million expansion plan. The initial idea was to build a three-story structure next to the school's building on North Avenue.

Hired at about the same salary as her predecessor, President Sanders received salary bumps for the next five years, ultimately topping $150,000 in 2009. During the same period tuition rose by more than $5,000 while enrollment dipped to 156 students.

By 2008, students and faculty were openly expressing frustration, especially after the dismissal of popular literature professor Genese Grill. Students, faculty and staff said that the environment at the school had become toxic and disruptive. In interviews, many blamed Sanders and decried what was described as a “crisis of leadership." More than two dozen faculty and staff left the school during her tenure, according to then-Student Government President Joshua Lambert.

The American Association of University Professors, which became aware of the problem, noted that Burlington College lacked a grievance policy for faculty, an omission considered “quite unusual.” At the time Robert Kreiser, program officer in AAUP’s department of academic freedom, tenure and governance, told Seven Days, “A faculty member should have the right to speak out about actions and policies at his or her own college.” He offered to help Sanders draft a new policy but she declined.

Once word circulated that Sanders would be leaving, bitterness and hope resurfaced in emails and website comments

The Board of Trustees consistently declined to comment, in part due to confidentiality rules. But its official announcement did claim that Sanders would “consult with the college” on fundraising and other issues as the board developed “an interim leadership plan” and searched for a new president. Sanders promised to remain “involved with the college forever.” Neither she nor the college followed through on that plan.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Will Sanders' BFF Democrat stick with him?

In 1984 Peter Welch was already a fan and urged Mayor Bernie Sanders to seek higher office

It should come as no shock that Vermont's leading Democrats are lining up with Hillary Clinton for president, despite the emergence of Bernie Sanders as a contender. The list of prominent Clinton backers in Vermont so far includes Governor Peter Shumlin, Sen. Patrick Leahy, former governor (and 2004 presidential candidate) Howard Dean, and Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger, whom Sanders endorsed in 2012.

Welch to Sanders: "Perhaps another day."

In a way, it's understandable. For decades Sanders was a thorn in the party's side. In 1974, he ran against Leahy as a Liberty Union candidate, in the race that first put the young Chittenden County prosecutor in the Senate. In 1981, Sanders defeated a five-term incumbent Democratic mayor, Gordon Paquette, ushering in almost 30 years of Progressive-led government. 

In 1986, he ran against Vermont's first female governor, Democrat Madeleine Kunin. 

After Sanders entered Congress, he and top Democrats did find a way to co-exist, developed mutual respect, and sometimes collaborated on projects.  But one leading Vermont Democrat is absent from the Clinton list -- and maintained a cordial, supportive relationship with Sanders from the start -- Rep. Peter Welch. 

In 1984, Sanders was in his second term as mayor and thinking about another run for governor; he had run as a third party candidate in 1972 and 1976. Welch had become a state senator. But Sanders decided to stand aside and consolidate locally. On April 3, 1984, shortly after the local Progressive coalition made gains in City Council races, Welch, who lived on the other side of the state, sent a hand-written note of congratulations and urged Sanders on.

"Congratulations on your recent victories. Perhaps your opponents have come to the reluctant conclusion that the politics of obstruction doesn't work," Welch wrote. "While I understand your recent decision," he continued, referring to the decision not to run for governor, "many had looked forward to your campaign. Perhaps another day."

A few days later, Sanders wrote back, recapping the local victories and telegraphing his plan to focus on education as a priority. "I am sure we will be talking," he concluded.

Vermont's Mt. Rushmore - Welch, Sanders and Leahy

In 1990, Sanders helped convince Welch to run for governor -- instead of the US House of Representatives. Sanders wanted to make a second bid for the office, having come close in 1988. Sanders won, launching a three-decade congressional career. Welch lost and returned to the state senate. But the two remained allies. When Sanders became a US Senator in 2006, Welch succeeded him in the US House.

Leahy endorsed Clinton more than a year ago, long before she officially announced. According to NBC, at least 29 out of the 44 sitting Democratic senators have already endorsed Clinton in some form. Asked recently about his presidential preference, however, Welch said it's still too early to choose between Clinton and Sanders. But he spoke glowingly about Sanders' courage and looked forward to the debates. Perhaps that other day he wrote about is still ahead.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Presidential Death Match: Past Hits & Misses

Films and TV programs mentioned: For a Few Barrels More, Post-Millennium Man, The Mild Bunch, You Go, Girl!, Wesley Clark's Full Mental Jacket, Terminator 4: The Last Action Mayor, There Will Be God, The Rad Couple II, Return of the Candidate, Being Mike Huckabee, and Mission Improbable

Every four years it's the same sad mixture of sequels and remakes, worn-out story lines and stale formulas known collectively as Presidential Death Match programming. In 2004, for example, you may not have heard but George Bush and Charlton Heston were slated to team up for Fistful of Mullah II: The Arms Race, a sequel to Bush’s 2000 hit, A Fistful of Mullah. The new story line was expected to revolve around bringing compassion back into the death business. But Heston died in pre-production and a more powerful premise emerged. The result:

For a Few Barrels More   The Man with No Scruples (Bush) is back in this epic western sequel, set in an atmosphere of global war and domestic division. The Man prevails by ignoring the problems, preferring to search for illusive (aka non-existent) enemies, the Evildoers, foes so insane they reject his offer to surrender their oil reserves and get off the planet. (AMC, in technicolor)

Post-Millennium Man  Howard Dean leads a cyber-crusade to save the Democratic Party, driven underground by the masters of the Matrix. In an early scene, Al Gore reprises his role as the Chosen One (now in exile) from the sci fi hit Millennium Man, uniting with Bill Bradley and other survivors of the 2000 electoral apocalypse. There were strong early reviews, but hostile notices from Iowa set the stage for a meltdown. (Sci Fi, mini-series)

The Mild Bunch   Battle-scarred congressional vets – John Kerry, Dick Gephardt, and Joe Lieberman – are joined by a gung-ho rookie, the glib and glamorous John Edwards. Their mission: save their party from Howard Dean, here cast in the role of a renegade general who has created his own insurgent army, the Deaniacs. In an early episode, Gephardt sings Yesterday, exposing the depth of his disillusionment as he confesses to being “nostalgic for Ronald Reagan.” In their Iowa caper, he is the first casualty. Once Dean is vanquished, however, the bunch promptly turns on one another. (Spike)

You Go, Girl!  A short-lived Carol Mosley Braun vehicle, based on Working Girl. In this comedy-drama, Braun makes a bold, occasionally refreshing play to break the glass ceiling. She can’t close the deal but does manage a partial redemption. (Lifetime)

And a late entry: Wesley Clark’s Full Mental Jacket  A cautionary anti-war tale about the rise of rebellious general. After leading the attack on Yugoslavia and pimping for Team Bush, the general has second thoughts, becomes a Democrat, and immediately runs for President. With cameos by Michael Moore and George McGovern as progressive camouflage. Industry talk said that it was actually a Clinton production. (Cinemax)

In 2008 there were more memorable hits and misses... 

Terminator 4: The Last Action Mayor (from 9/11 Productions)  Rudy Giuliani attempts to bull his way into the nomination by scaring the public as often as possible and bypassing the early primaries. Unfortunately, he doesn’t send a duplicate Rudy back from the future to warn him that it won’t work. (Fox)

There Will Be God   Mitt Romney plays a no-nonsense manager with religious baggage, unnervingly confident and yet undone by his chameleon past. We keep waiting for the real Mitt to show up, but in the end even he can’t find himself. (HBO)

The Rad Couple II, starring Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul. It’s become a genre over the decades, usually based on the feisty outsider story line. In 2000, Kucinich teamed up with Al Sharpton for the first installment of the franchise – buddy-pols on the road to nowhere. Forced to work together, two very different candidates find common ground as they take on their toughest case – saving the country’s soul. Kucinich and Sharpton were amusing and passionate, but the reviews were skeptical. The ratings were abysmal. (ABC)

But the best comeback vehicle may have been Return of the Candidate  A lightweight in the 2004 season, John Edwards exceeds expectations, yet can’t overcome his image as a southern fried Robert Redford. The reality TV follow up gets a little too real. (Sundance)

Best mini-series? Being Mike Huckabee   Based on a Jerzy Kosinski book and a Peter Sellers movie, a spaced-out oddball keeps getting listened to because people think he’s pleasant and has some down-home wisdom. He actually knows very little and has a mean streak; But he really likes being on TV. The joke gets old and people stop watching. (VH1)

This season they’re bringing Magical Mike back, this time with a quirky Charlie Kaufman script; various people go through a portal into Huckabee's head, then get dumped on a dirt road in rural Arkansas.

And finally, who can forget that 2000 cult hit...? 

Mission Improbable   Produced by Oddball Enterprises in association with a consortium of casino owners and the World Wrestling Federation. To save the world, a team of decorated misfits wages psychological warfare on the major political parties. The problem: they can't stop trashing each other. Ross Perot makes a guest appearance as the cranky team leader who gives incomprehensible assignments and can't help upstaging his own men. (CBS)

So, stay tuned. The new season is just getting started.