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The Power of Nonviolence: The Enduring Legacy of Richard Gregg, a biography by John Wooding

john wooding cover

The name, Richard Gregg, his book, The Power of Nonviolence, and the concept of “moral jiu-jitsu,” which Gregg introduced in his writing about Gandhi, have been part of my understanding of nonviolence for decades. But it wasn’t until reading John Wooding’s biography that I knew anything about Richard Gregg, himself.

The son of a Harvard-educated Congregational pastor, educated at Harvard like his siblings, and a graduate of Harvard Law School, Gregg seemed destined to enter the elite world. But after a detour into the labor movement in the 1920s, Gregg discovered Mohandas Gandhi, lived in India for several years to study Gandhian methods, and returned to the USA to write The Power of Nonviolence, first published in 1934. In that work and other books and essays, Gregg “introduced the concept of nonviolent action, stressing the possibilities of training and discipline, of strategy and tactics, and most tellingly, the idea that nonviolent resistance was akin to a military campaign, both physical and spiritual,” Wooding writes.

“No pacifist before him had involved the military metaphor to inform and advocate nonviolent resistance,” according to Wooding. Nonviolent action’s potential came from dramatizing moral, spiritual, and political principles in a “public and collective performance designed to gain the sympathy of opponents and observers.” As the Gandhian movement demonstrated, nonviolence could be an effective approach to ending tyranny.

The book soon “became a training manual and argument for pacifists across the world,” including activists like Bayard Rustin and George Houser, who applied Gandhian methods to the American de-segregation struggle. A decade later, Glenn Smiley would give a copy to the young Martin Luther King, Jr., who had recently assumed leadership of the Montgomery Improvement Association. “Gregg’s impact on King is well known,” says Wooding, “and King’s writing during this period frequently carried very similar themes and perspectives to those laid out by Gregg.” King would write the forward to the third edition of The Power of Nonviolence in 1959. By the next year, The Power of Nonviolence would top SNCC’s reading list, above even King’s Stride Toward Freedom.

As Wooding tells the story, Gregg’s connection to Gandhi goes well beyond the ingredients of nonviolent resistance to include elements of the constructive program, especially voluntary simplicity and living in harmony with nature. “For Gregg, the advocacy of nonviolent resistance to war and social inequality could not be distinguished from the need to create a new social and economic system” in place of industrial capitalism and communism. From that perspective, Gregg helped lay the groundwork for the counterculture of the 1960s and ‘70s, not just the protest movements of the time.

Along the way, Richard Gregg crossed paths with plenty of notable radicals and intellectuals, including Scott and Helen Nearing, Rufus Jones, A.J. Muste, Bob and Marge Swann, Bill Coperthwaite, and W.E.B. Dubois. Gregg would establish connections to Pendle Hill, the Committee for Nonviolent Action, the War Resisters League, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the American Friends Service Committee, and connect with pioneers of organic farming. (There’s even a New Hampshire connection: two of his sisters would settle in South Tamworth, where his brother-in-law ran an innovative woodworking enterprise and Gregg paid frequent visits.)

Gregg would become something of a celebrity in pacifist circles, but those circles were small, indeed. With the exception of family connections, he never went back to the world of Ivy League elites, instead living simply, raising organic vegetables, and scraping by on little income.

How John Wooding came across Gregg’s notebooks in a yurt in eastern Maine helps bring the story to life, as do the author’s reflections on his pacifist father. The book includes a few distractions, and I would have appreciated knowing more about Gregg’s reactions to fascism and global war in the middle part of the century. And there’s little about the actual achievement of Indian independence. But Wooding’s book is a great read, well told and documented. He has helped rescue Richard Gregg’s legacy from relative obscurity and for that I am grateful.

John Wooding, The Power of Nonviolence: The Enduring Legacy of Richard Gregg, Loom Press, 2020

This article was first published in InDepthNH on November 10, 2020.  

ACTIVE WITH THE ACTIVISTS

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When Eleazar Lopez Ayala arrived at the Norris Cotton Federal Building in Manchester on Monday, his family and dozens of local supporters feared they might not see him again.

Threatened with deportation to Honduras, a country he left as a teenager decades ago, Eleazar received a temporary reprieve and left with new hopes that a change in political winds might enable him to remain in New Hampshire with his wife and four children.

The ordeal began three years ago when Eleazar had a flat tire while driving through Deerfield and asked a nearby homeowner to use her phone to call for assistance.  “When they left, the lady called the police,” recalled Eva Castillo of the NH Alliance for Immigrants and Refugees.

The Deerfield police, in turn, called Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the federal agency responsible for detention and deportation of unauthorized immigrants.  Soon Eleazar was in jail, facing deportation for entering the country without a visa and for getting a flat tire in the wrong town.

In the months that followed, Eleazar’s story became a well-known local example of the cruelty of federal immigration policy, under which community members are torn from their families and returned to countries where they may be unsafe.  Honduras, with the world’s third highest homicide rate in 2019, is a case in point.

Even the US State Department says Honduras has a record of “unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings; torture; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; killings of and threats to media members by criminal elements; widespread government corruption; and threats and violence against indigenous, Afro-descendent communities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons.”

Since his time in ICE detention, Eleazar has received support from his local church, members of the Granite State Organizing Project, and a man from Keene who heard the story and donated funds for an immigration lawyer.

He has also had support from participants in the Interfaith Vigil for Immigrant Justice, a group which since 2017 has gathered at the Manchester ICE office every time they knew of immigrants scheduled for appointments with local ICE officials.  Outside the Norris Cotton Federal Building, they have offered prayers and songs, and taken the “Jericho Walk,” seven times around the building calling for the walls of injustice to come tumbling down.

The vigils were suspended in March when ICE stopped requiring immigrants to show up in person due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  But when members heard that Eleazar had been ordered to show up at the ICE office and to bring a one-way plane ticket to Honduras, they mobilized quickly.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

After describing Eleazar’s plight to a group of about 40 people spaced safely in a wide circle in the plaza next to the federal office building, Castillo said, “Let’s pray for a miracle.”

Rev. Sara Rockwell, Rector at Saint Andrews Episcopal Church in Manchester, asked God for comfort and courage for Eleazar and his family.

“We pray that your mercy may prevail among those who work at ICE, who may have the leeway, they have the ability to stay this situation, and to grant him reprieve,” she said.

Rev. Jason Wells, Executive Director of the NH Council of Churches, followed, calling attention to the fact that the day was the anniversary of Kristallnacht, the first major Nazi pogrom against Jews in Germany and Austria, a date generally seen as the start of the Holocaust.  No one questioned the relevance of the occasion. 

When Eleazar and his family arrived, Rev. Rockwell led another prayer.  Wheeling his suitcase beside him, Eleazar approached the building, went inside, and quickly returned to wait for the ICE agent.   When he went in again, Maggie Fogarty of the American Friends Service Committee led the vigilers in “We Shall Overcome” followed by a period of silence.   OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Then, the miracle happened.  Eleazar emerged from the building and announced he had been given a temporary reprieve, perhaps due to Hurricane Eta, which has shut down all air travel to Honduras, or perhaps due to the prayers.  He has been given a new date to return to ICE with another plane ticket.

“I feel happier,” he told me. “Because now that they have given me another opportunity.  We have to work on this to see if I can manage to remain here in this country with my family.”

According to Fogarty, the extension will give Eleazar a chance to work with his lawyer to gain more time, perhaps until a new president with a different attitude toward immigrants is inaugurated.  That gives Eleazar hope.

“Hope is the last thing that ends,” he said.

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My latest ‘Active With the Activists” column for InDepthNH, published there on November 5, 2020.

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CONCORD – Alarm bells went off across the country when President Donald Trump began signaling that he might not concede power if he were to lose the election on November 3.

Sparked in part by articles published by George Lakey and Daniel Hunter, who pointed out that in other countries coups have been successfully resisted by mass nonviolent action, groups in New Hampshire started to plan for contingencies.  With analysis and models provided by national projects such as Choose Democracy and Protect the Results, New Hampshire activist groups hatched plans for active resistance should it be called for.

Sure enough, Trump tweeted late on election night, that “they are trying to STEAL the Election” by actually counting votes cast through mailed-in ballots.  “We want all voting to stop,” he ranted, after all voting had in fact stopped but while votes were still being counted.  

Later on Wednesday, as the sun went down over the State House and vote counts in Michigan and Wisconsin were indicating that Joe Biden had probably won, a crowd of nearly  200 people gathered in Concord to “send a clear message that all the votes are counted nationally,” in the words of Asma Elhuni, Movement Politics Director for Rights and Democracy.

Joined by members of 350NH, the NH Youth Movement, and the Manchester, Nashua, and Seacoast chapters of Black Lives Matter, speakers made clear that they were not there just to bid adieu to Donald Trump.

Debbie Opramolla of NH Poor People’s Campaign speaks to the crowd in Concord.

While obviously looking forward to the departure from the White House of a man who has openly given comfort to white supremacists, the speakers, mostly young women of color, delivered emphatic statements that the defense of the interests of Black people, immigrants, workers, and the LGBTQ community can’t be left to Joe Biden and the traditional leaders of the Democratic Party.   

Elhuni, whose organization campaigns on issues such as raising the minimum wage, promoting Medicare for All, and stopping the use of fossil fuels, said they were also there to send “a strong message to our local government that we are going to continue organizing and that they need to listen to the people, and that we are going to continue to demand fair and equitable policies.” Elhuni and other speakers made it clear that whatever the election’s outcome, an end to racism and inequality will require continued vigilance and more.

In the meantime, “we could be dealing with a coup-like situation,” commented Josie Pinto, Political Director for the NH Youth Movement, when the rally ended.  “Today we made it clear that we are going to do everything we can to make sure every vote is counted, that we are watching, and that we are not going anywhere,” Pinto added.

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Plans for additional rallies, tentatively set for Hanover, Manchester, Dover, Laconia, Portsmouth, Keene, Exeter, and Plymouth on Saturday, may be called off if it looks like Trump has lost and is willing to concede defeat.  On the other hand, if Trump follows through on threats to refuse to go along with a peaceful transition in defiance of the will of voters, New Hampshire groups are ready to take to the streets.  

Marchers leave the NHSC

Active with the Activists

This story was first published by InDepthNH on September 26, 2020.

CONCORD – Anguish, anger, frustration, defiance and determination were in the air outside the New Hampshire Supreme Court Friday when more than 200 people, organized by the state’s Black Lives Matter groups, rallied in solidarity with Breonna Taylor and her family and called for New Hampshire residents to address issues close to home.

The demonstration followed the decision of a Kentucky grand jury not to charge the police officers responsible for Taylor’s killing with murder.  One officer was charged with wanton endangerment for shots fired through the wall of Taylor’s apartment.

“You have a woman who was murdered in her own home, and one person gets charged for the bullets that miss her,” said Julian Maduro, one of several speakers who addressed a rally outside the courthouse.  “Now what does that say to every black woman in this country except that you don’t matter, except that a wall means more than your life?”

“Any system that is going to say that a wall matters more than a human being, it needs to fall apart.  It needs to be taken down,” Maduro charged.

Julian Maduro speaks to the crowd gathered Friday at the New Hampshire Supreme Court in Concord.

While most of the rally speakers confessed to being worn out, they showed plenty of energy in their denunciations of systemic racism, their calls for greater respect for Black women, and their urging for their supporters to use their votes to hold public officials accountable.

While the focus was on justice for Breonna Taylor, speakers repeatedly spoke about issues closer to home and organizers passed out black rubber wristbands saying, “NH IS NOT INNOCENT.”

Black Lives Matter organizer Ronelle Tshiela hands out “NH is not innocent” wristbands.

New Hampshire could be “the next hashtag,” warned Ronelle Tshiela, a member of Black Lives Matter Manchester who served on Gov. Chris Sununu’s Commission on Law Enforcement Accountability, Community, and Transparency.

“Tell your neighbors, tell your friends, tell your family that New Hampshire is not innocent, and we need to continue to fight for our lives before somebody else has to do it for us,” Tshiela said.

Following the courthouse steps rally, the crowd followed a “Black Lives Matter” banner down the Supreme Court driveway to Hazen Drive and over to Loudon Road, one of Concord’s busiest commercial zones.  Taking over the eastbound lane, with police cruisers’ lights flashing around them, the marchers chanted Breonna Taylor’s name and waved signs on their way to Keach Park, where they rallied again.

Marching on Loudon Road to Keach Park in Concord.

The Commission’s recommendations for data collection and investigation of police misconduct are steps in the right direction, she said, but faulted the group for failure to address qualified immunity for police officers and training in the use of “no knock” warrants like the one employed by the Louisville police who killed Taylor in her own apartment.

While we were marching in Concord, a Black friend driving home in another part of the state was stopped by a police officer on dubious grounds. He let her drive away, but followed her home, leaving her frightened and angry.

A moment of silence was held for Breonna Taylor Friday at the Black Lives Matter rally in Concord.

“Every Black woman here knows it could have just as easily been us.  It’s terrifying,” Samantha Searles said on the steps of the Supreme Court.

“We talk about staying woke.  A lot.  But we really do mean it.  Because of people like Breonna who don’t get the opportunity to wake up like we all did this morning.  Think about that when you wake up tomorrow.  It’s not just a hashtag.  While you are awake you had better work, so we don’t have to do this again.” 

Active with the Activists

Kent Street Coalition

It almost felt like normal times at the State House this morning. With the Senate about to convene, there were a dozen members of the Kent Street Coalition, with signs and a “Sununu Veto Graveyard” depicting the 79 bills vetoed by Governor Chris Sununu in the past two years. The occasion was known as Veto Override Day, when legislators have a chance to undo vetoes with votes by two-thirds majorities in both the House and Senate.

The day’s agendas included consideration of 22 vetoed bills, including ones to raise the state’s minimum wage, create a family and medical leave insurance program, strengthen the net metering policies for solar and wind energy development, expand tenant rights, protect reproductive rights, add protections for workers, implement voting reforms, and more. The governor set a record last year with 57 vetoes, only two of which were overridden.

House Bill 731, which would re-establish the state’s minimum wage and raise it in two steps to $12 an hour by 2023 drew support from members of the NH Alliance for a Moral Economy, who mustered outside the House of Representatives session at the Whittemore Arena in Durham. Rev. Gail Kinney called the issue of wages a matter of “morality and immorality.”

Standing outside the arena, where UNH athletes Rev. Gail Kinneyplay hockey but today a meeting place where the nearly 400 House members could safely spread out and debate Sununu’s vetoes, Kinney called on the governor and legislators to “face the facts” of a labor market in which workers can be paid as little as $7.25 an hour, the federal minimum.

“No full time worker in the state of NH who makes $7.25 an hour or $8.25 an hour or even 9 dollars an hour can afford a roof over his or her head, or food on the table, and they can’t care for or clothe a child on that kind of wage,” Kinney said, adding that in some areas of the state it would take twice that wage or even three times that wage for workers to get by.

“We know that when workers are condemned to a life of poverty and constant economic anxiety the entire community fabric suffers,” she added. “Smart employers know too, that if they pay enough they can attract good workers and those workers will stay with them. A decent wage is a good business investment.”

Kinney’s perspective was later echoed by Dan Feltes, the Senate Majority Leader who is also the Democratic candidate for governor. Speaking at a Sen. Dan Feltesnews conference by the State House steps, Senator Feltes noted that workers in restaurants and grocery stores are the ones suffering from low wages and blasted the governor for twice vetoing bills that would raise pay at the bottom end of the labor market. “At the same time giving himself a $31,000 pay raise, he vetoes a minimum wage increase for our frontline workers.”

115,000 workers would benefit from a higher minimum wage, according to Feltes.

Sununu has said raising the minimum wage would be “dumb” and “disastrous,” Feltes said, “just like when he called paid family leave ‘a vacation.’”

“He can’t help but insult hard working Granite Staters,” charged Feltes, one of the legislature’s prime sponsors of the family leave proposal.

Speaking to the Moral Economy group, M.K. Guilfoyle, a Dover resident, gave personal testimony about family leave. She explained that at age 22 she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, requiring her to get intensive therapy. Her parents exhausted their own sick leave and vacation time to care for her, she explained. Family Medical Leave Insurance, like the program vetoed last year and this year by Governor Sununu, would have eased the burden on her family and made it easier for her to re-enter the workforce when she regained her health.

“What happened to the moral compass of the governor?” Rev. Kinney asked.

“Sununu presents himself as a moderate, but if you just take one look at the range of bills he has vetoed, many of which had bipartisan support, it is not a moderate record,” commented Louise Spencer, co-founder of the Kent Street Coalition.

“The governor didn’t come across the aisle” to talk with legislators, who work hard to craft bills. Instead of working with them to make the bills better, she said, Sununu just used his veto power to block anything he didn’t like.

Vetoes can be appropriate from Spencer’s perspective, but legislators deserve some deference as the body closest to the people who elected them. “A few vetoes are understandable, but when you are looking at 79 vetoes that is not giving deference to the duly elected legislature of the people.”

When the House and Senate sessions ended, all of the governor’s vetoes had been sustained. Expect the minimum wage, family leave, and energy policy to be debated from now until election day. Regardless of how the election turns out, the issues will be back in 2021, and so will members of the Kent Street Coalition and the NH Alliance for a Moral Economy.

Sununu Veto Graveyard

This article was first published in InDepthNH on July 27, 2020. 

Two years after Martin Luther King’s birthday was first observed as a national holiday in 1986 and most other states going along, New Hampshire was a holdout. With the state legislature rejecting bills to establish a state holiday named for Dr. King session after session, local school boards, which controlled their own calendars, were starting to localize the issue. For Vanessa Johnson, a proposal to put King Day on the calendar for school holidays was not a surprising way for her tenure to begin. She was not only the first Black person elected to the school board; she was also the daughter of Lionel W. Johnson, the city’s most prominent civil rights activist.

But the proposal’s passage caught the editors of the city’s newspaper by surprise. Accustomed to dominating local politics even more than they did at the state level, the Manchester Union Leader’s publisher and editorial page director teamed up with a conservative member of the school board to push a proposal to rescind the school holiday. In the next few weeks, a series of editorials, some on the front page, labelled King a “political demagogue,” argued that the school board’s move was “undemocratic and improper,” blasted King for associations with people identified as Communists, and asserted that King’s role in the movement against the U.S. war in Vietnam rendered him undeserving of honor denied to other important historic figures.

With a motion to reverse course on its agenda, the school board agreed to hold a public hearing and vote again. The Union Leader used its editorial page much as advocacy groups now use their web sites and social media, informing readers about the time and place of the hearing, providing talking points, and listing the names and phone numbers of school board members. Despite their efforts, the motion for reconsideration was defeated. Martin Luther King Day would be a school holiday in Manchester. The Union Leader then stepped up its efforts to keep the Granite State free from a state holiday honoring Dr. King. In that, they were successful for another decade.

At the time of the Manchester school board kerfuffle, I was the American Friends Service Committee’s New Hampshire Program Director and served as communications coordinator of a new, concerted effort to win passage of a state holiday named for Dr. King. It became my daily practice to stop at a local newsstand each morning and peek at the Manchester paper. Without needing to buy a copy, I could scan the front and the editorial page, which was always printed at the front of the second section. But when they ran editorials blasting the King Day proposals, I purchased the paper so I could clip and file them.

My file soon became quite thick. From early October 1988 and late May 1991, the Union Leader and its Sunday edition, the NH Sunday News, published 100 editorials, op-ed columns, and editorial cartoons dealing in some way with Martin Luther King and why New Hampshire should not have holidays named for him. Most of the editorials were the work of Jim Finnegan, the chief editorial writer. Out of Finnegan’s 70 signed columns opposing King Day, more than half dealt largely with Dr. King’s anti-war stance.

Five of the editorials from the period were signed by Nackey Loeb, the paper’s publisher, who had been at the paper’s helm since the death of her husband, William Loeb, in 1981.

If you don’t remember William Loeb, think of Donald Trump with a daily newspaper instead of a Twitter account. Loeb’s editorials, often on the front page, used capital letters for emphasis and were known for the insulting nicknames he gave his political foes, of whom there were many. His views hewed to the far-right, for example defending Senator Joseph McCarthy and enforcing ax-the-tax politics. For Loeb, the newspaper was a bully pulpit with the emphasis on bully. With New Hampshire playing its historic role as home of the first-in-the-nation presidential primary, William Loeb’s politics exerted an influence far beyond what might be expected from the daily paper of a small New England city.

Nackey Loeb seemed to work in her late husband’snackey loeb political godmother shadow from the time she assumed control. But that shadow has been removed thanks to Meg Heckman’s new biography, Political Godmother: Nackey Scripps Loeb and the Newspaper that Shook the Republican Party. After a close study of the Union Leader in the years of Nackey Loeb’s leadership, including some 1600 editorials that appeared over her name, Heckman concludes that while the wife may have been less prone to use of personal insults than the husband, her politics were every bit as right wing.

“Inflammatory editorials had been William Loeb’s main calling card,” Heckman writes, “so comparisons between his work and hers were incessant. Nackey explained repeatedly that although she had a different voice and style, she shared her late husband’s archconservative views. ‘Somebody once said he used a sword and I used a needle,’ she said in an interview. ‘But we were both aiming for the same target.’“ Her “public debut” as a right-wing pundit, according to Heckman, was a 1954 defense of Senator Joseph McCarthy from an attack by her newspaper publisher brother, Charles E. Scripps.

After becoming the Union Leader’s publisher, says Heckman, Mrs. Loeb initially copied her husband’s style, but later she developed her own, with her needle poking at taxes, big government, communism, homosexuality, feminism, the United Nations, and of course, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and any effort to give him special honor.

One front-page editorial, dated January 18, 1988, begins, “The celebration of Martin Luther King Day by many in this country strikes us a discrimination just as bad as that which made a black lady sit in the back of a bus.” With the usual Nackey - Day of Discriminationmix of all-caps and regular type, Nackey Loeb asserted that King had been trained by the Highland (sic) Folk School, knowingly accepted funds from the Communist Party, and incited violence. His holiday, she said, “was foisted on us by a loud gaggle of black extremists, bleeding-heart liberals who want us to be forever ashamed, and vote-seeking politicians.”

The paper’s opposition to the King holiday should not be separated from its hostility to civil rights and active defense of segregation. An important element often left out of treatments of the Union Leader but revealed by Heckman is the long connection between the Loebs and the Citizens Council, a white supremacist group formed after the US Supreme Court decreed school desegregation illegal in Brown vs Board of Education. Their relationship, which lasted into the 1980s, apparently began when the Union Leader published a cartoon drawn by Nackey Loeb decrying the use of federal troops to protect the Little Rock Nine, black students who enrolled in the previously all-white Little Rock High School. Her cartoon was reprinted in The Citizen, the magazine published by the Citizens Council. They printed it again in 1972, when William Loeb spoke at their leadership training institute, and again in 1981 with a tribute to William Loeb when the publisher died.

As late as 1983, The Citizen published a story praising Nackey Loeb, which drew an appreciative letter to the editor from the Union Leader’s new publisher. Heckman found appreciative letters to Nackey Loeb dated 1987 from the Council of Conservative Citizens, an offshoot of the Citizens Council formed two years earlier (and which still exists).

Heckman sees the Loebs’ alliance with white supremacists as part of a strategy to build their national influence on the GOP right flank. Loeb did serve as chairman of the Coordinating Committee for Fundamental American Freedoms, a lobbying group created by the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission to block civil rights legislation and nationalize support for Jim Crow. Calling white supremacy “a southern cause,” Heckman writes, “William Loeb saw supporting segregationists as a strategic move that might benefit conservatives” by driving away African Americans and turning the GOP into “the white man’s party.” As vile as that sounds, it might be too kind.

New Hampshire in the 1960s was not the bastion of civil rights we might wish to remember. Housing segregation was openly practiced and the state’s grand hotels openly barred Blacks and Jews from staying there. Segregation had a defender running the state’s dominant newspaper.

Writing in 1964, while Congress was debating the Civil Rights Act barring discrimination in public accommodations, William Loeb published an editorial titled, “Trouble Where Now There is None.” Starting on page one, with the mix of all-caps and normal type, the publisher asserted that passage of the Civil Rights Act “WILL PRACTICALLY MEAN THE END OF THE TOURIST BUSINESS IN THE WHITE MOUNTAINS, LAKES REGION AND BEACHES,” since no innkeeper would be able to deny service to Blacks. In other words, segregation Loeb Trouble Where Now there is Nonewas a northern practice and its defense was a northern cause, too.

After Manchester’s adoption of a school holiday in honor of Dr. King in 1988, attention returned to the State House while a succession of other districts added the King holiday to their school calendars. A 1989 bill to establish MLK Day in place of Fast Day, an anachronistic holiday supposedly honoring a colonial era governor, was the first to draw a large crowd of supporters to the State House. In addition to civil rights groups like the NAACP, the proposal drew support from the NH AFL-CIO, the NH Council of Churches, the state’s largest teachers and public employee unions, and Digital Equipment Corporation, then the state’s largest manufacturing employer. With the Union Leader still in opposition as well as Governor Judd Gregg, the King Day bill failed just as previous proposals had going back to 1979. It would take another decade before New Hampshire would name a day for Martin Luther King, Jr. It was the last state to do so. (Background and a chronology of the 20-year campaign for MLK Day in New Hampshire can be found here.)

In the Union Leader’s heyday, it was the state’s only morning newspaper and the only one which circulated statewide, factors which made it possible for the Loebs’ editorial opinions to have such influence. As broadcast media grew in importance, as regional dailies shifted to morning distribution, and as the internet made it possible for readers to get news from anywhere and everywhere, the Union Leader’s influence waned.

But it could be said that the Loeb style of inflammatory editorializing coupled with white supremacist advocacy lived on, well after Nackey Loeb died and passed control of the paper to Joe McQuaid, the son of one of her husband’s top associates. As Meg Heckman describes, Nackey Loeb deserves credit – or blame – for the rise of Patrick Buchanan as an electoral force, first encouraging him to challenge an incumbent president after George H. W. Bush signed the 1991 Civil Rights Act. After losing to Bush in 1992, Buchanan ran again four years later, still with the strong backing of Nackey Loeb. Buchanan’s campaigns will be remembered for nativist, homophobic, and “America First” stances consistent with those of the Loebs and later with Donald Trump.

“Nackey didn’t create right-wing populism,” writes Meg Heckman, “but she played a crucial role in amplifying aspects of its message and connecting its adherents, hinting at the power and divisive rhetoric that results when fellow travelers find new ways to interact with each other.”

“Her sprawling audience of malcontents helps explain the deep roots of the antiestablishment enthusiasm that propelled Trump to the White House,” she adds.

As for Donald Trump, whose racist, megalomaniacal approach has William Loeb as a progenitor, he is out of favor at the Manchester daily. Pat Buchanan’s Trumpist editorials still occupy prominent real estate on the op-ed page, but the current leadership of the Union Leader favors anti-Trump conservative voices such as Mona Charen, George Will, and Jennifer Horn, a former state GOP chairwoman in the leadership of the anti-Trump Lincoln Project. The days of page one editorials using ALL CAPS for emphasis are gone. If you want that style of rhetoric, you’ll be better off on Twitter.

Meg Heckman, Political Godmother: Nackey Scripps Loeb and the Newspaper that Shook the Republican Party, Potomac Books, 2020.  See more here.

A review of Let Them Eat Tweets: How the Right Rules in an Age of Extreme Inequality, by Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson, Liveright Publishing, 2020.

This was posted first at InDepthNH, a great place to find news and commentary about New Hampshire. 

Members of the Lincoln Project, out to save the Republican Party from Trumpism, should look deeper than the current president’s failings, too numerous to count. For that matter, Democrats and their allies, out to stave off authoritarianism, should look beyond Trump and the next election as well. As Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson see it, Trumpism sits on top of a deepening alignment between the nation’s economic elite and the Republican Party. It is that alignment which threatens democracy and which commands our attention, they argue in their latest book, Let Them Eat Tweets: How the Right Rules in a Age of Extreme Inequality.

The clever title is no doubt intended to grab attention, but as they say right up front, the book is not primarily about Donald Trump’s style of communication. The book is about the modern Republican Party, which in dogged pursuit of an unpopular agenda serving the interests of large corporations and the wealthy overclass has maneuvered itself into a position where it has no choice but to follow a path hostile to majoritarian governance.

They call it “plutocratic populism,” bolstered by the “3 R’s,” resentment, racialization, and rigging.

Let Them Eat Tweets - coverAs Hacker and Pierson see it, the new perils facing our always imperfect democracy stem from “the Conservative Dilemma.” If conservatism can be understood largely as defense of entrenched economic interests, conservative parties face a perpetual problem if they want to win support from voters whose interests don’t align with the upper class. As the franchise expanded, the dilemma grew larger. And as our society has become ever more unequal in recent decades, defenders of the upper class faced a bigger challenge. Had they followed the example of British conservatives, they would have moderated their policies to bring more voters into the fold. Instead, Republicans have time after time stuck with the wealthy and adopted politics rooted in social division, especially racism, to reach for a majority.

It wasn’t always this way. As Hacker and Pierson explain, Richard Nixon’s infamous “southern strategy” mobilized the forces of racist white backlash to flip southern states from the Democratic to the Republican camp. But Nixon also expanded Social Security, supported a guaranteed family income, established the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, and created the Environmental Protection Agency. “In other words,” the authors say, “Nixon paired resentment and reassurance, employing ‘dog whistle’ racial appeals but also affirming the New Deal’s commitments to a strong welfare state and federal support for organized labor.”

Post-Nixon, the GOP put the welfare state on its enemies list. Instead of a Nixonian party “that moved left on economics while moving right on race,” the conservatives forgot about the interests of those Nixon had termed “the forgotten Americans.”

The rise of plutocracy is better documented elsewhere, for example in Nancy McLean’s Democracy in Chains, focused on the influence of James Buchanan; Jane Mayer’s Dark Money, examining the Koch network; Dollarocracy, John Nichols’ and Robert McChesney’s look at the impact of the Citizens United ruling; and Hedrick Smith’s Who Stole the American Dream, which traces the rise of the “bosses’ revolt” to Lewis Powell’s 1971 memo recommending a multi-faceted influence operation led by big business to counter rising popular demands.

The right-wing economic agenda was disturbingly successful, setting off organized labor’s decline, stagnation of wages for most working Americans, the rise of financial services sector, and the now irrefutable chasm between the ultra-rich and everyone else. Republicans embraced plutocracy and haven’t looked back. By the second decade of the 21st century, “the growing resource and power gap between the rich and the rest – and the divergent interests and commitments that came with it – would put the GOP in a tightening vise.” As the plutocrat lobby pushed Republicans further into the realm of unpopular policies (very few people really support tax cuts for the ultra-rich, for example), Republicans waded deeper into the politics of racism and resentment in order to have any hopes of winning elections. That, in turn, meant tightening their bonds with white evangelicals, the firearms lobby, and a network of right-wing media organizations, all of which depended on racism to mobilize outrage among white voters whose class interests were of no interest to the party.

Of interest is that Trump, who boasted, “I’m really rich” on the campaign trails, did not run on a plutocratic agenda in 2016. On health care, he said, “I’m going to take care of everybody.” He said he wouldn’t cut Medicare or Medicaid. He pledged to bring back industrial jobs lost to the dynamics of capitalist globalization and technological change. And, of course, he pledged to “drain the swamp.” Once in office, though, the plutocrats took over, with Mike Pence serving as the essential liaison with both the social right and the Koch-funded network on the economic right. Trump’s cabinet would soon resemble an elite club, populated with the likes of Betsy DeVos, Wilbur Ross, and Steve Mnuchin, joined by a swampful of corporate lobbyists.

“What the Republican establishment wanted to do,” write Hacker and Pierson, ”was not in doubt. Over the prior two decades, since Gingrich led the GOP’s takeover of Congress in 1994, the party had pushed a consistent, albeit ever more aggressive, policy agenda design to advance plutocratic interests. Republican leaders sought to sharply cut taxes on the wealthy and corporations, roll back expensive social welfare programs and remove irksome environmental and consumer regulations. And they sought to install judges who would extend and protect those achievements.”

The final point deserves emphasis. Protection of an undemocratic agenda has relied on support from the branch of government least under the influence of voters, the judiciary. It is there where the conservatives have stealthily organized to win appointments for jurists embracing a “judicial philosophy that combines a retreat of the state on economics and the advancement of the state to protect and sometimes enforce the views of religious conservatives.”

“The fundamental problem is now familiar,” write Hacker and Pierson. “The Republican Party is ever more committed to the narrow and unpopular priorities of corporations and the superrich. It is ever more dependent on radical surrogate groups to mobilize voters its economic policies do not help. And among those voters, it is ever more reliant on a demographic group in relative decline: older whites without a college degree living outside urban areas, particularly older white men.”

“None of these trends is sustainable,” they state. “Or at least none is sustainable in the context of free and fair elections and majority rule,” which explains why Republicans have become so committed to gerrymandering and voter suppression.

Arguing with backing from historical examples and public opinion surveys, the two political scientists carefully lay out their case and in conclusion, provide advice on saving Republicanism from plutocracy. “The core challenge,” they say, “is finding a path that brings the conservative party into the democratic fold and encourages it to stay there.” Step One would be a decisive defeat for Trumpism, not just Trump. Step Two would be an aggressive campaign that deals reversals to the plutocrats, rejects ethnonationalism, and addresses the economic interests of the non-plutocrat majority.

For the Democrats, that doesn’t just mean capturing some “can’t we all just get along” place in the shifting center, but actually taking progressive stands on issues like taxes, wages, health, education, and combating racism. It may not be an easy lift, but it’s no doubt the essential one.

This article was published first on the website of the American Friends Service Committee’s New Hampshire Program on June 16, 2020. 

From what I heard later, my hiring in 1981 as the program coordinator for AFSC’s New Hampshire Program was not a sure thing. I was pretty well known already in the circles traveled by Quakers in New Hampshire due to my work with the Clamshell Alliance and the “No Nukes” movement. I had done some research for the NH Program on organizing possibilities relative to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, a major industrial facility that overhauled nuclear submarines. When draft registration was reinstated by Jimmy Carter in 1980, I had participated in AFSC-sponsored draft counselor training and actions at post offices. But some people thought I might not be the right person for the job.

One factor affecting my reputation was an incident from the conclusion of the 1977 occupation of the Seabrook nuclear power plant construction site. More than 1,400 people had been arrested and sent to National Guard Armories scattered across southeastern New Hampshire. I was one of a couple hundred people held at the Concord Armory, my first trip to that city.

Refusing to pay bail until we were assured that everyone would be released on their own recognizance (a promise to show up in court for arraignment), we were in a principled stand-off for nearly two weeks with the state’s ultra-right wing and ultra-pro nuke governor, Meldrim Thomson. 

Finally, at the end of the second week of incarceration in the armories, the Clamshell lawyers reached a deal with the state. If everyone who was still being held would agree to accept a finding of guilty without going through arraignment and trial, we would be released without bail and able to appeal our convictions to the Superior Court, where we would get a trial by jury. It wasn’t a bad deal, but the idea that we would be marched in and out of the court and be found guilty without trial struck me as a “kangaroo court.” So, I decided to fashion a kangaroo outfit out of what little resources I had at the armory.  

First, I put my long hair up in pigtails to represent ears. I made a sock puppet baby kangaroo and stuffed it in a pouch made with a bandana sewed onto my t-shirt. Suitably kangaroo’d up, with my hands curled in front of my chest, I hopped up to the doorway of the Hampton District Court. “You’ll have to leave the kangaroo outside,” said the police officer guarding the door, with a straight face and his finger pointed at my pouch. With a sad look, I passed the sock puppet to an affinity group member outside and hopped into the court, where I was found guilty and entered my appeal.

Four years later, that was about the only thing AFSC people outside New Hampshire knew about me.  Some of them suspected I might not have the proper demeanor to represent the Service Committee.

In my first week on the job, we heard that the U.S. Air Force would be shipping military planes to Saudi Arabia from Pease Air Force Base in Portsmouth, and that Vice President George H. W. Bush was going to drive down from his summer home in Kennebunkport, Maine, to see them off. Since a call for an end to arms sales to the Middle East was on the AFSC agenda, I organized a demonstration at the entrance to the base. When the vice president drove in, we were there with signs that said, “Stop Middle East Arms Sales” and made it into local news coverage. Doubts about my suitability for employment with AFSC began to fade.  

With Black Lives Matter in the midst of an unprecedented moment, now is the perfect time to read “The Movement Action Plan” — a model for understanding the long arc of movements.

[This article was originally published at Waging Violence on June 22, 2020] 

When Claudette Colvin, a Black teenager from Montgomery, Alabama, was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a city bus, few people paid attention. A few months later, when Rosa Parks was arrested for the same act, it touched off a yearlong bus boycott and ignited a movement.

When Seymour Hersh revealed the details of the My Lai Massacre in 1969, it touched off Congressional investigations but not mass action. When President Nixon announced that U.S. troops had invaded Cambodia the following spring, college campuses, including Kent State, erupted in protest.

The partial meltdown of the Enrico Fermi nuclear reactor in Michigan in 1966 captured little public concern or attention. A decade later, the partial meltdown at Three Mile Island in 1979 sparked demonstrations, songs, legislation and a reversal of Wall Street’s bullish attitude toward nuclear power. (The coincidental release of a major Hollywood film, “The China Syndrome,” was an unexpected factor.)

When news came out that Ahmaud Arbery had been killed by vigilantes in Georgia, it touched off waves of outrage — like, sadly, many other incidents of police violence before it. But just two months later, when videos of George Floyd being murdered by Minneapolis police went viral, that outrage grew into something completely unprecedented for the Black Lives Matter movement.

According to a recent New York Times story, demonstrations have taken place in 2,000 cities and towns, with hundreds of thousands of participants. That’s probably an understatement, and it doesn’t even count demonstrations in Mexico, Britain, Australia and elsewhere. Meanwhile, legislation to restrain police violence is advancing across the country, as are calls to divest from policing and reinvest in communities.

While it can’t be predicted exactly which outrages spark major uprisings and fuel social movements, the mere fact that some do reflects a pattern described 40 years ago by activist and author Bill Moyer in a newsprint pamphlet called “The Movement Action Plan.” It’s especially worth reading, or re-reading, now.

Moyer was a community organizer active in the 1960s and 70s, working for fair housing with the American Friends Service Committee in Chicago. He helped organize the Poor People’s Campaign in 1968, and later joined the Movement for a New Society in Philadelphia, which developed skills to help movements for peace, equality and environmentalist goals.

After years of deeply analyzing social movements, Moyer identified a particular set of stages that successful ones go through. The first stage, which Moyer called “Normal Times,” is characterized by the public being unaware of the issues and supporting power holders. Then comes Stage Two, as opposition groups form and begin to “Prove the Failure of Official Institutions.” In Stage Three, “Ripening Conditions” lead to significant public opposition to power holder policies — but not yet a majority. Stage Four is when movements “Take Off” — and that’s what we’re currently seeing with Black Lives Matter.

During the earlier phases, issues like police violence and militarism might get the attention of researchers, politicians and what Moyer calls “professional opposition organizations,” but he says those groups are too wedded to the stability of their own institutions to instigate and lead massive social uprisings.

Then comes a “trigger event,” like the videotaped murder of George Floyd. “During these times,” write Mark and Paul Engler in their invaluable book, “This Is an Uprising,” “new participants are inspired to join in their first demonstrations, and groups that had previously been building slowly find themselves amid a tempest, surrounded by a rush of urgent activity.”

Trigger events make an issue impossible to deny and, as Moyer explained, set off “a profound sense of moral outrage within a majority of the general citizenry.” Sufficiently triggered, the public responds, for example, by joining demonstrations for the first time. These trigger events also act like “a trumpet’s call to action for the new wave of local movement opposition groups that built up around the country during the previous stage.”

Together with JoAnn McAllister, Marylou Finley, and Steven Soifer, Moyer expanded on his previous work with a book titled “Doing Democracy: the MAP Model for Organizing Social Movements,” published nearly 20 years ago. The George Floyd murder, of course, was hardly the first time that police brutality against African Americans was revealed, but otherwise Moyer’s words aptly describe the current “Take Off” moment.

In what could be a description of Donald Trump’s reaction to recent protests, Moyer says that during the “Take Off” phase, “Powerholders take a hard line in defending their policies and criticize the new movement, describing it as radical, dangerous, communist-inspired, violent, led by outsiders and irresponsible.”

Moyer has warnings for movement organizers, though. There’s a danger that activists, especially those who have been drawn into dramatic demonstrations for the first time, will confuse public attention with victory. Failure to win changes quickly can lead to burnout, frustration, and resignation, or lead activists to take paths which might feel more “radical,” but can be counter-productive.

It’s worth noting that Moyer developed the “Movement Action Plan” after he gave a presentation to members of the Clamshell Alliance in 1978. The “Clams” had just pulled off a historic occupation at the construction site for a nuclear power plant in the small seaside town of Seabrook, New Hampshire. More than 1,400 people (me among them) were arrested and packed off to National Guard armories scattered across the state and held there for nearly two weeks. The size of themovement action plan 1987 demonstration, its nonviolent discipline and the standoff with the state’s rabidly pro-nuclear governor earned considerable attention — as did the movement’s claims that nuclear power was too risky, too expensive, and unnecessary as long as the sun was shining and the wind was blowing.

As the Englers noted in their book, the No Nukes movement “had created a model whirlwind: In the wake of the Clamshell actions, hundreds of new grassroots groups formed around the country. The Seabrook protest inspired further occupations of places such as the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant in California. Moreover, the organization’s methods — its affinity groups, spokescouncils, consensus projects and focus on militant nonviolent blockades — would ultimately become an influential template for direct action in the United States.”

Yet, instead of finding an upbeat band of organizers ready for the next step in the campaign to shut down nuclear power for good, Moyer saw something else entirely. As he later wrote, he was “shocked when the Clamshell activists arrived with heads bowed” and were “dispirited and depressed, saying their efforts had been in vain” because their short-term goal had not yet been achieved.

It is fitting, then, that the phase following “Take-Off” in Moyer’s MAP is called “Perception of Failure.” It is a time in the movement when activists who have deepened their understanding of the problem at hand, including “the agonizing suffering of the victims” and the complicity of those in power, sink into despair when change is not immediate. Moyer wants them to know they’re probably winning and that they need to keep up the pressure for change.

It’s at this point where another element of Moyer’s analysis bears examination. Activists fit into four roles, he says, all of which are needed for success: citizen, rebel, change agent and reformer. Those who fill the four roles can be effective or ineffective. For example, ineffective change agents might advance agendas that are too tepid or too moyer - 4 roles (2)moyer - 4 roles (3)

bold. Reformers from the world of “professional opposition organizations” can find the rebels just as problematic as the powerholders do and try to maintain control over movement dynamics. Citizens can be naïve about the forces resisting change or subservient to the powers that be. And rebels can be so programmed to rebel that they disrupt the very processes they helped to instigate. Those he calls “negative rebels” may even see the growth of popular support for activist goals as an indicator that the movement has grown too comfortable with the status quo rather than as proof of progress.

As movements pass through the phases from “Normalcy” to “Success” (and “Continued Struggle”), the relationships between people in the different roles shift. For example, no one pays much attention to the change agents before the take-off phase, but after the rebels have gotten attention from powerholders and the general public, their function rises in significance. Of course, some people may be adept at playing multiple roles, while others stay put in just one.

I have some quibbles with Moyer’s plan, though they are relatively minor. He terms Stage Six as gaining “majority public opinion,” as if we live in a society in which the majority actually rules. While change may be driven in part by public opinion, there is no magic to topping 50 percent in a poll. When the numerical minority still has its hands on the levers of power, for example via the dynamics of our money-drenched election system, movements can’t rely just on majority support.

Despite that, Moyer’s advice for Stage Six is still worth heeding. While powerholders may come calling, movement activists should still be more attentive to reaching and activating more people through strategic campaigns that weaken the forces propping up an unjust status quo. Nonviolent protest can still be effective but can’t be relied upon as the major driver of change.

Interestingly, Moyer refers to the occurrence of “re-trigger events,” which “touch off a replay of the take-off stage.” That’s a pretty good description of the resurgence of Black Lives Matter protests, nearly six years after Ferguson police killed Michael Brown. The fact that Black communities and allies have been through this before and have developed agendas for change is one reason why the movement is progressing so quickly this time from Stage Four to Six.

Ultimately, the protest is not the movement. To succeed, movements need research, training, organization, communications strategies, resources like money and staff, and a spirit to press on even in the face of setbacks, repression and backlash. However, without the pressure and attention generated by protest, movements may get stuck in slow motion when the crises we face demand something more dramatic.

This was first published in the Concord Monitor.

Reflecting on the life of her mother, Barbara Berwick says, “It seemed she would consider first what she thought was right. Then she would think about how reality might arrange itself around what was right.”

It was that spirit that made Barbara’s mom, Lois Booth, at once the most idealistic and the most practical person I’ve ever known.

Her study of the horrors of the first world war turned Lois into a pacifist by her high school days. With her husband Don, Lois joined a sprawling community of conscientious objectors and social reformers who tried to organize their lives around creation of a world free from war and violence. It was a vision they took seriously and applied to daily life as well as political causes from the 1940s to the twenty-first century.

For Lois, much of her idealism was applied to the matter of raising a family. As she put it in a letter, written around 1960, “We continue to be fully occupied with the basic problems of making a living and caring for our children.” (She had six) That meant attention to food, cooking, education, and complementing Don’s home construction business by becoming a realtor.

Years before the Woodstock generation was “going back to the land,” Lois was studying the methods of organic food production. “She read everything she could about it, and she had legendary success. At the height she had at least a couple acres of amazing gardens, and all sorts of natural tricks to grow beautiful vegetables and fruits,” says Barbara.

It wasn’t just food production that put Lois ahead of her times, Barbara recalls. “I always felt she sort of ‘invented’ things that now are commonplace,” things like health foods, natural childbirth, and recycling.” Don later became the Concord area’s premiere builder of passive solar houses, pioneering designs to minimize the use of fossil fuels and nuclear-derived electricity.

But Lois always felt the tension between attention to family and attention to the world. “I often question whether it is right to spend so much time and energy on our personal problems with the world almost on fire around us,” she wrote in the early 1960s.

Although she was part of a Women for Peace group in Concord that protested atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons, led a study group on Vietnam in 1965, and leafletted high school students about the draft in 1968, Lois’ career as a peace activist didn’t take off until her kids were grown and gone from her Canterbury home. But even there, her focus was as practical as it was visionary.

In 1975, Lois was one of several New Hampshire Quakers who turned their attention to establishment of a local branch of the American Friends Service Committee, which at the time had staffed offices in the other five New England states but no such presence in New Hampshire. When Marge Swann, the AFSC’s regional director, suggested that local fundraising would help make it possible, Lois turned her attention to that most practical and under-appreciated of volunteer activities.

Devoted to public education, it was Lois who started up a local AFSC newsletter, Quaker Witness. If people only knew the dangers posed by nuclear weapons, she believed, surely they would want to take action to control and eliminate them. When others, including her husband Don after he retired from building solar houses, spent hours on the street holding signs and banners, Lois was more likely to be found at a desk producing leaflets, writing newsletters, and organizing conferences, without neglecting the importance of those fundraising appeals.

Not only was Lois central to the birth of the New Hampshire AFSC office, she played an equally important role in the birth of the organization now known as NH Peace Action, which grew out of the “Nuclear Freeze” movement of the early 1980s. As the anchor of the Peace Action board and a nearly full-time volunteer in its Concord office, Lois helped keep the peace movement on course through several presidential administrations, a number of military misadventures, and a succession of young staff members.

While she also served on Peace Action’s national board and regional AFSC committees, Lois never lost her focus on educating and organizing Canterbury neighbors. Neither did she fail to give attention to individuals who needed a warm place to stay, needed a good meal, and needed her love.

Lois Booth, who died on September 13 at the age of 97, opened her home and her heart to those who yearned for peace. She believed that if something was right, it must be possible. In a world that’s still on fire, her spirit lives on.

For more about Lois Booth, go to http://www.loisbooth.wordpress.com.