Friday, December 13, 2013

We The People: Dialogue between Libs and Cons

Yesterday I discussed the frustration of ordinary Americans about a political elite , which, regardless of nominal labels, caters only to its own—which is not 99% of Americans.
As the social critic, George Monbiot, put it so eloquently in the Guardian,
So I don’t blame people for giving up on politics… When a state-corporate nexus of power has bypassed democracy and made a mockery of the voting process, when an unreformed political system ensures that parties can be bought and sold, when politicians [of the main parties] stand and watch as public services are divvied up by a grubby cabal of privateers, what is left of this system that inspires us to participate?’ (Read entire article:
While my conservative friend is more optimistic than I am about political change – if you’re a vegan and you’re offered the most succulent meat dishes in the world you’re still not being offered a choice  you want to eat – I offer our first installment of:   
"We the people" not " Us the Government "

Conservative: Isn't it interesting to watch the disdain the political parties show for each other while the cameras are rolling, yet once they are " off duty” they wine and dine  each other?
 I’ve come to the conclusion that the few hundred elected people have taken advantage of our American competitive spirit. They have perfected the "Divide and Conquer" rules of engagement.
By this I mean we would rather help put a check mark in a D or R column than unite for the greater good of the greatest country on the planet.
 I also was a “win at all costs”  person but once I began discussing with “the enemy," as the elected elite would have me see the other half of my fellow Americans,  the more I came to understand the truth in "We the People."  All of us regular Americans have much more in common than the  elites want us to know.
They constantly and deliberately keep us divided on the following hot topics.
 1. Abortion
Conservative: This is a touchy topic: If you say anything about this you are labeled a “woman-hater” or someone who does not respect a women's body. After speaking to people who have had abortions or have been part of the equation debate, I believe the majority of people believe that it is the women's body and we would rather she have a professional be present in the abortion process instead of it going back to “the coat hanger in the alley method.” So, there is some common ground here rather than the all or nothing perpetuated by radical “pro-life” and “pro-choice” spokespeople, most of whom earn their living by being uncompromising.  Most people also believe that if a child cannot have medication on schools grounds without parental permission than she should not be given guidance to have an abortion by school personnel without parental knowledge.  Here, there is room for compromise, isn’t there?
Liberal: Yes. Can’t argue with my conservative friend here.

Tomorrow’s topic: Gun Ownership

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Can Liberals and Conservatives Find Common Ground?

TITLE: Can Liberals and Conservatives Find Common Ground?
 It is no secret that most Americans are disillusioned with Washington D.C. and our politicians. Citizens of all political persuasions increasingly understand that few actually represent them. Being an unabashed liberal, I used to get very annoyed when I’d watch conservatives fall for politicians crying “We must outlaw abortion” and “No gay marriage.” That was the red meat thrown to the base but politicians had no intention of ever actually winning those battles. If they managed to completely outlaw abortion  and make sure that same sex alliances became unconstitutional or illegal or whatever, what then would the “professionals” do for fundraising? How would they get their social conservatives/evangelicals out to vote? Couldn’t conservatives see that they were being manipulated by cynical politicians? Then  politicians and their consultants would have to concoct some other outrage to stir up their constituents and that takes time, energy and lots of propaganda. Why do that when you can do it the lazy way -- with the same old same old social issues.  
But gradually it dawned on me that liberal politicians do the same thing to us. Not only regarding gay and abortion rights – “Both  in danger! Must be protected!” – but in areas that actually mean something to us economically. In 2008, Obama courted unions with card check and pretty speeches about the sanctity of unions.  “Card check” was dropped the day after his election win. And as far as him speaking out on behalf of collective bargaining, please. Richard Nixon was more pro-labor.  Go down the list – the environment, single payer, liveable wage, fair trade agreements, bringing back a manufacturing base, ending the wars, cutting back on a bloated military, closing Guantanamo Bay, reining in Wall Street and jailing financial wrong doers. (A black kid who holds up a 7-11 for $500 gets years in prison. A bankster fraudster who siphons off billions and creates untold damage?  Probably a promotion.)  We liberals, just like “those” conservatives, get lots of lip service, lots of promises – Just elect a Republican/Democratic congress/president and your bucket list will be granted -- but absolutely NO action.
Who are the dumb ones here?
Not the consultants and politicians who manipulate us with shorthand talking points so that we will consider those who disagree with us on the right to be in-bred Neanderthals who barely have brains enough to be able to breathe let alone form a coherent thought beyond “Keep women barefoot and pregnant!” and “Ban all religions save Christianity!” or those who caricature the left as aged hippies who spend all our time smoking dope and contemplating our communist/socialist navels--that is when we’re not driving our Lexuses and drinking our lattes and looking up new  words to label as politically incorrect.
So long as we ordinary citizens are fighting among ourselves our masters can do anything they want. It has been ever thus. What power if all sides could come together on things about which we agree, rather than automatically going to our opposite corners the moment words such as “abortion,” “unions,” or “patriots” are mentioned. How the Masters of the Universe must laugh at us for being so incredibly malleable and predictable.  Hardly seems like a worthy endeavor it’s so easy.
Recently, I have been talking with a few people who are seeking ways to bridge the gaps between tea partiers, say, and Occupy Wall Streeters, to find common ground and go around the mainstream politicians, media and professional manipulators.
I’m not so sanguine. I look at groups like Third Way, No Labels, etc. and they are just another bunch of rich people telling us that what is good for us is cutting taxes, entitlements, increasing our military and for the middle class to learn to do with less. (Notice who sits on these boards. Notice who pontificates on these issues in the media.  I’ll bet nobody in that elite group earns less in a week than I earn in a year.) I believe that left and right CAN agree on many problems—bring our troops home and quit being the world’s policeman, quit spying,  quit blowing up innocents with drones, reward good work with good wages, lower college costs, provide better public education, etc.
Most of us ordinary folk can agree on the problem. My concern is that we’ll never be able to agree on the solutions because we look at the world so very differently.
Liberals believe: I am my brothers’ keeper.
Conservatives believe: I am MY keeper.
Can we find some common ground?
In the next several posts I will present various ideas written by someone from an opposite political persuasion, along with my comments, and see if there are areas upon which we can find agreement.
I hope we are all pleasantly surprised.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Do Kids Who Kill Their Abusers EVER Forgive Themselves?

Most of us believe that the taking of a human life is the ultimate act of horror-- at least those who prosecute such crimes assert this to be true. (Never mind about war, death by law enforcement, make-my-day and other self-defense shootings, or about all the indirect deaths resulting from everything from lack of health care to the obliteration of pension funds. Those deaths are “acceptable”. )
As involved as I’ve been in parricide cases over the last two decades, I’ve been struck by the unforgiving nature of prosecutors and courts over the issue of abuse. “That’s no excuse for murder,” as if we don’t make excuses every day in every way for all matter of different issues. But here, only here in the criminal justice system, there is no excuse.
I disagree. But I am very conflicted about the attitude of the children themselves who actually commit these acts. Soon after the parricides, they are so ravaged and damaged that their souls are numb. As far as emotions, they have spent a lifetime suppressing them in order to survive. Can they even distinguish or actually understand  anger, fear, happiness, or frustration? In addition, most are very young when they kill; they do not have any of the wisdom and perspective that come with age. They look little deeper than relief that the monster is gone and that they are safe. The rest is a blur.     
But as they mature, I’ve noticed a metamorphosis that strikes me more as self-flagellation and hatred than maturity. They call it perspective.
As “Kevin,” who killed both parents, wrote:
“… I struggle to explain to myself who they were, especially my mom. Quite simply, they were flawed people with their own pain and demons and without the knowledge in how to deal with them. I have no doubt that my mom was mentally ill; her instability and actions make that clear in my mind… I don’t understand how my mom could be so hateful at times towards me or how (my father) could hurt me like he did…
 But my parents were not all bad. I can’t claim that there weren’t good times or times when natural affection eluded them. There were times my mom expressed love as best as she was able and times when (my dad) was kind. I loved him and I loved my mom. I deeply desired for them to love me back and I tried dearly to earn those fleeting expressions of love from my mother.
Those times of love made things worse for me though. If I could condemn them as pure evil then everything made sense. If they were never kind or loving then the problem could be them. But I was a child. I did not understand that my parents were people. I did not understand shades of grey or mental illness. People are complex beings and that complexity only added confusion and a chaotic mix of emotions to my immature mind…
I still cannot understand why they were the way they were or why I responded the way I did. Whenever I try to make sense of it in my mind I just end up confused and depressed. It’s sad that things ended up this way, that they could not get the help and healing that they so badly needed and that they needlessly lived their lives in misery. It’s sad that I only added to and compounded everybody’s misery.”
Reading those words, I feel an undercurrent of disquiet over Kevin’s remorse, his struggle to forgive, his willingness to provide his molesters with excuses. They were simply mentally ill, complex, flawed people who expressed love as best they could.  
I don’t know how to feel about that. Even Satan  comes wrapped in the garb of an angel. Kevin’s parents physically, sexually and emotionally raped him from the time he was born. Do they bear some responsibility or is mental illness a legitimate explanation?
Is this simply another form of the Stockholm Syndrome? Do these child survivors assimilate all the attitudes, hatreds and rationalizations of their captors so thoroughly that they become cheerleaders for their barbarism? Aren’t all the Kevins out there so reasonable, so understanding, so forgiving, so reluctant to label their tormentors that they contort themselves like Cirque do Soleil performers in order to excuse them?
Isn’t it odd that survivors seldom extend such compassion toward themselves?
Unlike the child they tortured, Kevin’s parents were grown, intelligent people –- older than Kevin is now. Supposedly they would have enjoyed the perspective on life, the wisdom that Kevin has developed with age. If his parents were mentally ill, they were not psychotic or schizophrenic. They were accomplished, intelligent “professionals” who could function successfully in society, but somehow their sickness only manifested behind closed doors? They were not operating in the same universe as that tiny sponge of a brain that was struggling to make sense of being slapped and screamed at and anally raped while other children his age were learning to count to 5 and  “share” snacks with fellow toddlers.  
I don’t know what to make of it all. I’ve also never taken another person’s physical life and Kevin leapt across a huge chasm when he pulled the trigger. He chose to make himself an outcast, to commit that deed which causes so much of society to label him a pariah. Or did Kevin really “choose” anything? Did he simply act on instinct, with the sole purpose of ending more pain?

I don’t know. I find it all so incredibly sad, but particularly because, while Kevin ended one kind of pain, he heaped upon himself so much more.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

PBS Community Voices: Why I was Put on This Planet

 For Juvenile Advocate, The Job Is 'Why I Was Put On This Planet'

Jacob Ind was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder in 1994. A juvenile at the time, he was sentenced to life in prison without parole. Meeting Ind altered the life of Mary Ellen Johnson.
Community Voices: Mary Ellen Johnson of the Pendulum Foundation interviewed by her brother Victor
“I couldn’t get Jacob out of my mind,” Mary Ellen Johnson said. “Eventually, I ended up working with his defense as an investigator.” In that role, Johnson interviewed Ind several times. As she wrote in a letter to then Governor Ritter, "the thought of a life without parole sentence never entered my mind. Of course I was not only wrong, but frighteningly naive."
Ind’s case received wide press coverage, even national attention. The details of the case are both captured in a PBS Frontline investigation “When Kids Get Life” and as part of a 2013 documentary, Lost For Life.

Since then Johnson has been an advocate of juvenile offenders. Through thePendulum Foundation, a nonprofit established in 2001 to advocate for juveniles serving life without parole, she has worked to change sentencing laws.
It has become a newfound purpose in life, a passion for Johnson.
“What I’ve thought about this, I believe we all have a destiny,” Johnson said. “When I look at his [Jacob Ind’s] face, or I see the faces of these other kids, and I see the pain that they’ve gone through, then I think ‘well, I have to do this.’ This is part of why I was put on this planet.”
"Some of them have been in prison since before the Internet and cellphones and all of that."
It’s a difficult proposition; it was also the farthest thing from her mind, being involved with prison.
“Because to me, I can’t think of anything worse than being locked in a cage or childhood abuse," Johnson said. "Having my own children, it’s absolutely too painful, and yet for some reason the Universe or God is saying ‘I’m going to put this abused child in front of you and what are you going to do about him?'”
The Supreme Court of the United States struck down mandatory life sentences without parole as unconstitutional in the 2012 case of Miller v. Alabama [.pdf]. Johnson notes that it was a big victory, but not hers. It was work of the brilliant lawyers and a victory for all advocacy organizations.
There are still many juveniles in prison, Johnson thinks that some have been there for 20 years or more. Johnson says the longer they have the been there, the more difficult it is for them to get along once they are out. In Colorado, juveniles can serve no more than 40 years without parole, according to the Pendulum Foundation.
She is working toward legislation to offer them a second chance.
“Some of these kids have been inside since they were 15 and 16-years-old,” Johnson said. “I wanted to get that legislation passed, and more than that, we want to get them ready to reintegrate into society. Some of them have been in prison since before the Internet and cellphones and all of that.”
Working toward that goal means also working with the system, to develop programs to help the juveniles prepare to be outside the prison walls. It’s Mary Ellen Johnson’s hope that it will lead to something more for both Pendulum and the inmates.
“After they start coming out, I want to turn over the Pendulum Foundation to them and have them advocate on behalf of those that are still inside and on behalf of juveniles everywhere,” Johnson said.
Editor's Note: This story is part of KUNC's Community Voices Project, it comes from an interview recorded and submitted by Mary Ellen Johnson and her brother, Victor Louis.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Real Psychopaths

Americans love to label people – He’s “borderline,” “OCD,” “autistic,” “a jock,” ”a metrosexual”… She’s a “sex addict,” “chocaholic, “a Barbie,”  “narcissist,”  “tea partier,” “socialist”… You get the idea.
One of the labels  most commonly used  when referring to criminals is “psychopath.”  After nailing a conviction, prosecutors pontificate that the public is now safe because they’ve locked away this “dangerous psychopath” who will kill, rob, rape, ingest drugs, assault your grandmother, jaywalk, if allowed to roam free. Once incarcerated, corrections officials mutter darkly about the cons who manipulate their poor, homely female visitors – generally obese bleached blondes with stressed faces and beaten-down postures which shout, “Victim! Take advantage of me!” And did I mention stupid? Too stupid to realize that they are being controlled by some sweet-talking bad boy who will bleed them of their meager cache of money, bully them over the phone, and juggle visits between them and all the other ignorant honeys they’ve managed to ensnare.  
Oh, yeah. These guys are up to no good. They have no conscience. They don’t care who they hurt. They never take responsibility for their actions. They always blame someone else. They’re incapable of love or loyalty. They put on one face to the public; another in private. If you could see them behind bars, after they remove their masks, you’d understand that these are monsters masquerading as men.
I agree that prison holds some psychopaths, perhaps in larger measure than the general population.
If you exempt the halls of congress and our corporate boardrooms, that is.
There, I believe, psychopathy reigns supreme.
Four percent of CEOs are psychopaths, as compared to one percent of regular Americans. Judging by what we’re seeing unfolding on 24 hour news, I’d say those numbers are waaay off.
I’d say we are being ruled by monsters.
Let’s begin with the talking heads, who falsely label themselves as investigative journalists or reporters but who are actually the cleaner fish that remove bacteria from their killer whale hosts. These faux newscasters ask nothing, no matter what the ostensible subject, more substantive than, “How will this play in the polls?” “Will this adversely affect their chances in 2016?” “Will Christie/Hillary/Dog the Bounty Hunter run for president?”
In our ethnocentric world – no, let’s narrow that down even further, in our Washington-beltway world -- there is no cause and effect between policies and consequences because, of course, our pundits have only the vaguest clue of what a policy is. Rather, their raison d’etre is to quiver excitedly over the latest shooting or shutdown or scandal, or to forcefully parrot their handlers’ talking points—as if their sincere expressions and elevated voices are a substitute for their actual goal, which is to keep the camera focused on them.  (If MSNBC’s Alex Witt doesn’t wipe that perpetual smirk off  her vacuous face or Chris Matthews continues asking questions that he never allows anyone to answer--Ok, Chris just skip the guests and book yourself since you only care about hearing your own voice and opinions--I will lose my mind. )
If MSNBC or Fox News or CNN’s pretty people can’t ask about or explain  the economic/domestic/foreign policies of our increasingly demented democracy in sound bytes more complicated than “Ugh! good!” “Yuck! Bad!”, or somehow relate it all back to Ted Cruz’s physical resemblance to Joe McCarthy, they can’t be bothered. I understand. To do otherwise would take effort or research or actual reporting and who wants to do that? These people are being paid big bucks to look good and to be able to schmooze with the people they are supposed to cover in order to maintain “access.” Oh, the horror if they were shunned!
 Well, access isn’t news. It’s propaganda.
Months ago, watching a news-fo-tainment show where everyone was lamenting the death of the middle class while simultaneously cussing union pensions, I thought, There’s not one of you gasbags who doesn’t make more in a day than a blue collar worker in a year. Yet you regurgigate corporate lies about fat pensions breaking cities when 5 minutes of research would show there IS no cause and effect. But hey!  Truth doesn’t matter when platitudes or so-called “conventional wisdom” will do.
Every day we, the common folk, the peasants, are told, in overt ways and subtle, that the elite are elite because they DESERVE it. They ARE the best and brightest. Remember, as the Ted Cruzes  are so quick to remind us, every last one of them, from the military generals who lie about Iranian nuclear capabilities to the stock market analysts who enjoy the same stock-picking success as monkeys, have college degrees. The majority from Ivy league universities.
I believe it. Which, for those of us who still retain the ability to think, can only lead to one conclusion: our education system IS broken.
If this is the best America has to offer, if these are the people running our country, let’s take a step back. They are doing a shit job, as is inevitable when it comes to psychopaths. Devoid of empathy and dismissive of the existence of others, psychopaths are incapable of treating any human being as if  he or she is anything other than a cardboard cutout. So, of course these wunderkinds will be astounded when their projections, or lack thereof, are proven wrong.   For all the trillions the CIA, NSA and the rest of our nation’s security apparatus have spent, have they EVER been right about anything? Has any of our meddling made us safer or are all these international crises the inevitable consequence of our too-slick Machiavellian manipulations? Yes, our CEOs are smart enough to make millions for themselves but they aren’t smart enough to keep our economy humming along for anyone but them. Why? Because they don’t care. And, have you noticed that, when financial fraud is uncovered, these Masters of the Universe can’t even seem to find their private bathroom? “I had no idea what my CFO was doing.” “I didn’t attend those meetings.” “How can I be held accountable for the actions of others?”
Okay, let’s get this straight. We need to pay you big bucks because you are the only people who can run these companies but once you’re put in charge of those companies you know less than the janitor who cleans your office? And are more clueless about policies and procedures than the hot dog vendor outside your building?
As I listen to the bubble-headed anchors and to the smug zillionaire CEOs and the clueless “statesmen” who would cut your heart out for another two minutes in front of the camera, I am struck by one thing.
How stupid they all are. How childish. How hollow. How lacking.
In other words, psychopaths.
Psychopaths do not think like you and me. They may mimic us in their emotions, but at their core they are sawdust. They are ambitious only for themselves. Their hearts have been devoured by a yawning emptiness or they never had hearts in the first place. They will do what has to be done to further their needs, wants and desires without a thought to those they inconvenience or brutalize or annihilate. They feel no one else’s pain. They care about no one but themselves,
If you cut them, unlike Iago, they will not bleed.
Psychopaths will not hesitate to kill, to destroy, to take down one person, a company, an entire nation, if it so satiates their whim or furthers their ambition. Or fattens their portfolios. Or pumps their resumes. Or earns them a guest spot on a late night show. Or a better seat next to another well-manicured psychopath at a state dinner.
Just because all the pretty people are dressed in expensive suits or designer dresses rather than prison greens, doesn’t make them any less dangerous.
In fact they are more so.
THESE psychopaths hold our fate in their hands—and we should be VERY afraid.
Listen closely. Can’t you hear it?
I can.
Louder with each passing day, each passing scandal, each indignity to we, the people.

What you are hearing is the death throes of all that is good about America.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Why Don't YOU Face the Consequences of YOUR Acts?

The other evening I had a leisurely dinner with one of my friends, an enlightened prosecutor who always helps me balance my tendency to over-empathize with Colorado’s criminal element.

As we were discussing my friend, Jacob Ind, who killed his abusive parents and has served 20 years of a life sentence, I said, “Jacob was incarcerated at the same age as your son is today. In fact, Jacob was even younger. He was barely 15 at the time of his arrest.”

My friend actually turned pale. She was terrified at the implication. One slip, one mistake, one tragedy, one stupid impulsive decision that went awry, and her baby could die behind bars. (Each of us could be behind bars because of our youthful indiscretions. Including every person on the law enforcement side of the equation.) My friend’s son is no different from other teens and while he might conceivably look like an adult, he certainly doesn’t act like one.  No child does. Today we know more about brain development and the pendulum is swinging away from draconian juvenile sentences but Jacob and all the other youths serving life are still serving out those  brutal sentences. And some of those prosecutors who so gleefully prosecuted Jacob and the others were parents of teens at the time they decided to file adult charges. Really, you see how spacey and impulsive and nonsensical your child can be, bemoan his or her ridiculous choices, but you can somehow put that aside and say, “In my case I’m dealing with a kid; in your case we’re dealing with a monster.”

Or maybe they’re just thinking that because they’re prosecutors and wield power within the system that they can broker back door bargains when their kids get in trouble – which has happened and which has been done.

For the rest of us, too bad.

Whenever we run a bill, there’s always that prosecutor who testifies and in solemn tones relays the horrific crime committed by a particular teen. The prosecutors only choose to detail the most horrific crimes, not those that are really questionable and where legislators might wonder, “Now, why is this kid serving life?” In some cases, the speakers even pass around gruesome photos. One year, El Paso County’s prosecutor read from the police reports detailing Jacob’s crime. I often think of this woman, her voice trembling with indignation for the poor victims, and I wonder, Who spoke for Jacob? Where were you when Jacob was being raped by his mother and step-father, when his soul was being murdered? Who fought for him? Who tried to rescue him from the demons who were his parents? Who actually cared about this kid?

My friend the prosecutor suggested that prosecutors should be required to visit the jails and prisons into which they consign the guilty. I was actually surprised that prosecutors are so disconnected from the results of their actions that they have no idea to what happens following a guilty verdict. In the past I’ve suggested to those charged with considering clemency or to those who determined the fate of young men like Jacob to actually go and meet these “murderers.” Reporters do it all the time and almost all have come away with favorable opinions. Why don’t you look at what has become of the young man or woman you sentenced to death behind bars these many years later? Or who you pretend to be considering for clemency?

The reaction is one of horror. “It wouldn’t be fair,” they say. “To whom?” I wonder.

It’s not only those like Jacob who should face the consequences of their actions.     

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Quit Being Distracted by Race!

Recently I had lunch with two African American friends. We were discussing some of the inequalities with which they daily grapple, as well as the shameful history of race in America. We talked about lynchings, judicial injustices, and the current attacks on voting rights, civil rights and worker’s rights.

Why have African Americans been treated so horrendously? What is wrong with us as a nation that we can so willfully and deliberately subjugate an entire people?
t was only later that I realized my friends’ stories have much in common with MY history. I am the child of a blue collar union man with ancestors who toiled in coal mines and factories and on railroads, organized on behalf of labor, and were beaten and cheated out of their wages, who lived brutal, impoverished, unforgiving lives. In some cases we Irish were treated worse than our black brothers and sisters. After all, masters paid a lot of money to buy a prime piece of property, making slaves far more valuable than some Mick who would work for as little as a loaf of bread to feed his starving family.

And there were so many of us! And we were just such… just so… sub-human.   

It’s often said that an African American can never hide the color of his skin; that makes his or her plight unique. But it was once a truism that you could spot an Irishman just by his simian characteristics, not to mention his plant-like intelligence.  And who would EVER have mistaken a coal miner for a bank president, even if that miner managed to wash away all the dust of the mines from his face?  Cheap clothes, bodies bent and misshapen from decades of hard labor, dirt that can never completely be removed from under the fingernails or the cracks in our hands. One glance and you know. Our legacy is also written on our bodies.   

’m not the first to say that America is more about the quest for cheap labor than it is about race. I truly believe that. It’s about class. It’s about money – how to make my millions and make sure you don’t. I’m worth every cent, even if my money is all inherited, but you, well, really, if you were meant to be rich you would be, wouldn’t you? And if you get ten cents more an hour that means I could somewhere, somehow lose my entire fortune, doesn’t it? So, don’t give an inch. They’ll want it all, those lazy, ungrateful, sniveling  bastards.

In grainy photos, I’ve seen the bitter fruit of lynchings. But those of us who tried to organize, who demonstrated for better working conditions, have also been hanged. And assassinated. And machine-gunned in our tents.  And clubbed in our hobo camps. And convicted by kangaroo courts and trundled off to have our necks officially and legally broken or our bodies officially and legally riddled with bullets.

America has no time or patience for people like us.

Labor’s history is all but forgotten. You don’t care. Unions are old fashioned. We don’t need them anymore. (As middle class wages plummet, income inequality grows and we quietly suffer our terminations or our part-time jobs because our plight must be our personal failing, right?) How stupid we are, far dumber than our ancestors, who understood that the only power a poor man has is the power of the many.

You have no idea that the only reason you have your health insurance and your eight hour work days – rapidly ratcheting up to 10 and 12 hour days, but who dares complain?  -- and your child labor laws isn’t because the rich and the government think you’re so very special. It’s because people were willing to go hungry, and watch their babies starve or die from preventable diseases, and live in shacks or hovels or out under the elements, or to endure beatings and torture and death so that someday they just might be able to afford edible food and the tiniest home and an endurable life. Not just for them. But for their brothers and sisters. Their neighbors. People they’d never met. Their descendants, who neither know nor care, but are pissing that blood-won legacy away every second, every minute, every hour of every day.  

Here are some of the people you would disdain if you actually knew their names, and who made it possible for you to enjoy even the faintest echo of the American dream. (Listen intently because even that echo is nearly gone.)

Jack Kehoe and The Molly Maguires: Twenty hanged, probably on trumped up charges, and on the testimony of one Pinkerton spy, James McParlan, whose name should be more synonymous with “treason” than Benedict Arnold’s. What were the Mollies, those insubordinate Irishmen working in Pennsylvania’s anthracite coal fields, seeking? To live just a wee bit better than animals. “Black Jack” Kehoe, (masterfully portrayed by Sean Connery in the 1970 film, The Molly Maguires), “King of The Mollies,” was recently posthumously pardoned.

Alan Parsons and The Haymarket Massacre: Workers were striking for an 8 hour day and the equivalent of $40 a day in current wages.  Someone, probably an undercover police officer, tossed a bomb into the middle of a Chicago labor demonstration. Seven police officers and at least four civilians died. Albert Parsons, a fiery anarchist leader, was put on trial for his beliefs and radical ideas, rather than anything he actually did.
At his trial, Parsons said:
“(The prosecution), whose obligation it is to the people to obey the law and preserve order – I charge upon them… a willful, a malicious, a purposed violation of every law which guarantees every right to every American citizen.  They have violated free speech. In the prosecution of this case they have violated a free press. They have violated the right of public assembly. Yea, they have even violated and denounced the right of self-defense. I charge the crime home to them. These great blood-bought rights, for which our forefathers spent centuries of struggle, it is attempted to run them like rats into a hole by the prosecution in this case. Why, gentlemen, law is upon trial; government is upon trial, indeed. Yea, they are themselves guilty of the precise thing of which they accuse me. They say that I am an Anarchist and refuse to respect the law. “By their works ye shall know them,” and out of their own mouths they stand condemned. They are the real Anarchists.”   (

Parsons was hanged, of course.

We must never forget: The Ludlow Massacre, right here in Colorado, when the Colorado Militia opened their machine guns upon striking coal miners killing dozens, including women and children. The Pullman Strike, Matewan, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory.  The IWW.  Big Bill Haywood, Joe Hill, Eugene V Debs, Mother Jones, John L Lewis.  Thousands, millions of others, who died in order for YOU to live better than they did.

We, of all colors and ethnicities, must continue this quest together.

As Eugene Debs said before being convicted for uttering the treasonous belief that poor boys should not be forced to die in wars (WWI) instigated by and for the rich:
“Years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element, I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.”