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Democracy’s Last Stand:
The Rule of the Non-Voting Majority and Where It Has Led Us

by Stephen Wing
(published on Reader Supported News, Oct. 15, 2020)

Not voting because the system is corrupt? I'm afraid you have it backward. The system is corrupt because of people not voting. Non-voters are the majority. They decide every election. Not voting is a vote for the way things are. The rich, white and powerful are targeting your right to vote because they know your vote counts, whether you believe it or not.

Not voting because you don't like the candidates? Politics is a game of strategy, not a morality contest. Vote for the candidate who can be most useful to your strategic goals, which means one who can realistically win. Churchgoing fundamentalists gleefully vote for the most immoral candidate in U.S. history to advance their agenda.

Not voting because the issues in campaign ads don't affect you? Those are not the real issues. The Republicans carefully hide their true agenda – to roll back every law and regulation that limits their wealth and power. Your vote is all that stands in the way of their dream of a democracy-free America.

Not voting because Netflix and iTunes and ESPN take up all your time? Life is not a spectator sport. We’ve all grown up taking for granted Social Security, unemployment, food stamps, worker safety, consumer protection, public schools, minimum wage, environmental regulations, and so much more. But these were all victories won by voting, and every one of them can be taken away.

Not voting because one vote won't make much difference either way? Democracy starts long before Election Day. Join a campaign – any campaign – and amplify your voice by persuading others to vote your way. If you can't support any of the candidates, join one of the progressive organizations campaigning just to get out the vote. (See links below.)

Not voting because the candidates you vote for disappoint you when they win? Democracy doesn’t end after Election Day. The right-wing extremists never let up the pressure on the people they elect. Vote to elect strategically useful candidates – then keep up the pressure through letters and phone calls, marches and demonstrations.

Not voting because you refuse to take sides in a power struggle between Tweedledum and Tweedledee? In 2020, not voting is a vote for a one-party authoritarian state. Obviously we can't rely on corporate Democrats to push through a Green New Deal or Medicare for All, cut the military budget, end police impunity or dark money PACs. But if the Republicans win, all of these possibilities are off the table, probably for good, and we’ll be fighting to save what little freedom we have left.

Not voting? Donald Trump appreciates your support!

Despite their moral shortcomings, for the most part the Democrats have played the game called “democracy.” But the Republicans are playing a completely different game, with no rules at all except to win at any cost. Their entire strategy consists of lies, gerrymandering, voter suppression, intimidation, and more lies. False allegations of cheating by Democrats are the key to the Republican plan to win by cheating.

These allegations will rise to a crescendo on Election Night because of uncounted absentee ballots. I am a Bernie supporter, but have no problem settling for Joe Biden when the alternative is Donald Trump. Only a landslide Biden victory on Nov. 3 can head off post-election mayhem in the streets and in the courts. This is why voting early, whether in person (prudently masked) or absentee, is the most strategic choice.

Even more important than defeating Trump is to flip the six seats the Democrats need to take back the Senate. If Biden becomes our next President, we’ll need a progressive majority in Congress to hold him to his campaign promises. And if Trump claws his way into the White House for a second term, taking away his majority in the Senate is a must. With both houses of Congress standing solidly in opposition, the Republican roll-back of democracy might conceivably be stopped.

For one thing, a Democratic majority in Congress is our only hope of overturning the decisions of a right-wing Supreme Court. And Donald Trump could at last be held accountable for his mounting list of high crimes and misdemeanors. The next time Trump is impeached, he could face an actual trial. President Pence would not be much of an improvement, but he would enter the Oval Office on notice that he too will be held accountable to the rule of law. 

Senate candidates who need support to challenge Republican incumbents are Mark Kelly in Arizona, John Hickenlooper in Colorado, Theresa Greenfield in Iowa, Barbara Bollier in Kansas, Amy McGrath in Kentucky (facing Mitch McConnell), Sara Gideon in Maine (facing Susan Collins), Steve Bullock in Montana, Cal Cunningham in N.C., and Jaime Harrison in S.C. (facing Lindsay Graham). Georgia has two: Jon Ossoff (facing David Perdue) and Raphael Warnock (the most progressive of a long list seeking Kelly Loeffler’s seat in a special election.) All are easy to find on the internet. You do not have to live in their state to support them with your time and/or money.

Though I call politics a game, it is a deadly serious one. Its casualties include 215,000 lives lost to COVID-19 and countless victims of racist police violence. The moral stakes are high: not just our country’s future, but the future of the entire planet. Ask the families who have lost their homes to wildfires in California and hurricanes in Louisiana, or the refugees fleeing drought in Central America.

The Republicans have known for decades that they would eventually become a minority. Their long-term game plan for minority rule depends on winning this election, and they will do whatever it takes. If they succeed, they will do whatever it takes to permanently lock in their victory. If you think racist violence, economic inequality and planetary ecocide are bad now, trust me, you do not want to see a country under permanent Republican “law and order.” Trump's threats to lock up his political opponents could become a grim reality.

True, under Democrats and Republicans alike, we have long been ruled by a white, male minority – the "One Percent." Conservative billionaires, neoliberal neocons, and multinational corporations have invested heavily in both parties for years. We owe moral allegiance to neither party. But from a strategic standpoint they are not identical.

Today's Republicans are a coalition of extremists. The fundamentalist fanatics who lust for their own version of Sharia Law. The fossil-fuel profiteers who are addicted to burning carbon. The gun-toting whites who cling to our racist past. The ultrawealthy who resent paying any taxes at all to support public infrastructure, schools, the disabled, the elderly. Their right-wing extremist goals are unpopular, so their campaign ads focus on misrepresenting their opponents as left-wing extremists.

This gives the Democrats no choice but to appeal to the rest of us, with a little push from Bernie. That means embracing diversity, protecting the middle class, expanding affordable health care, welcoming immigrants, keeping abortion legal, purging racist cops, defending the right to vote, and most importantly, cutting the feedback loops that feed climate change. These goals are not extreme, as Trump wants his devotees to believe. They represent the vital needs of the vast majority – the 99 Percent.

The One Percent has more dollars to promote its agenda than we do. But we have more votes. The one thing the 99 Percent has never tried is 100 percent voter turnout. In 2020, the alternatives are so stark and the stakes so high that even the non-voting majority might turn out to vote. And if they keep turning out in every election to come, things might start to change. We won’t know if we don’t try.

Voting Democrats into power isn't the solution, only a strategy. Democrats gave us the New Deal, the Voting Rights Act, legalized abortion and gay marriage, but it was Richard Nixon who gave us the E.P.A. In every case it was not the politicians who made it happen but people voting, boycotting, marching, filing lawsuits.

Whether the corporate Democrats keep their promises after Election Day is up to us. Instead of settling back on the couch expecting Presiden Biden to magically turn into Bernie, we need to turn up the pressure. This is a strategic opportunity to take over the Democratic Party for the working and middle classes, just as right-wing extremists have taken over the G.O.P. for the One Percent.

If the Republicans have their way, we are now in the final round of the game. The trophy they are salivating over is a chance to roll back all the gains democracy has made since the New Deal of the 1930s – maybe all the way back to 1868 and the 14th Amendment, which guarantees due process and equal protection under the law. This is the legal basis for all civil rights legislation. If we don't vote massively and decisively for democracy in 2020, we may not get another chance.

The only way we can protect the freedom we still have is to step into the game. All of us. Now. There is no neutral place to stand on the sidelines and watch. Nor is there any guarantee that we can win – but the only alternative is to concede defeat. By not voting, for example. Or by casting a nobly symbolic vote for the Greens. It’s democracy’s last stand in the U.S.A. If we choose not to participate, fascism American-style wins without a fight. Checkmate!

Thanks for doing whatever you can do.

Further Reading

Link #1: How Trump plans to use Election Night uncertainty to claim victory, Barton Gellman in The Atlantic:

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/11/what-if-trump-refuses-concede/616424/

Link #2: How Trump can lose both the popular and electoral votes and still Constitutionally win re-election, Thom Hartmann at Buzzflash:

https://buzzflash.com/articles/worst-fear-trump-constitutionally-could-remain-president-even-if-he-loses-popular-and-electoral-vote-thom-hartmann-explains

Link #3: How a right-wing coup could legally establish minority rule in the United States, Matthew Yglesias at Vox:

https://readersupportednews.org/opinion2/277-75/65295-focus-minority-rule-in-america

Link #4: How Amy Coney Barrett's nomination signals the intent to overrule democracy in 2020 and beyond, an interview with Lisa Graves by Bill Moyers:

https://readersupportednews.org/news-section2/318-66/65596-will-amy-coney-barrett-stand-by-her-man-hes-betting-a-second-term-on-it

Progressive organizations campaigning for maximum voter turnout:

MoveOn:  https://act.moveon.org/survey/mobilizetowin?source=dailykos

Sierra Club:  https://www.sierraclubindependentaction.org/

Daily Kos:  https://www.dailykos.com/gotv?pm_source=DSK_House_1&pm_medium=web&pm_campaign=ad-gotv-540x324-B1

Swing Left:  https://swingleft.org/take-action?s=u

Turnout2020:  https://turnout2020.org/

Another one focused on stopping voter suppression:  https://protectthevote.net

And another recruiting poll workers for election day:  https://www.powerthepolls.org

 

 

The World as We Know It

by Stephen Wing — August 6, 2020

(published on Gloria Tatum's blog Streets of Atlanta)

It was the end of the world as we knew it: August 6, 1945.

A child born on that day would turn 75 this month, so most of us now alive grew up not in the world that ended that day, but in the strange new world that dawned in its place. The world we know, the one we regard as normal and strive in our myriad ways to transform into a better one, lives in the shadow cast by the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. To us, of course, the shadow appears to be ordinary sunlight, because we never knew a world without it.

But when the world changed forever 75 years ago, most people were acutely aware of it— even the children. Friends only a few years older than me have vivid memories of hiding under their school desks, drilling for an atomic bomb attack. One friend, Garrick Beck, began his recent memoir with a scene from his childhood in the 1950s, when drills were conducted for the entire city of New York. His parents were among the few who refused to obey the injunction to stay indoors. Instead they joined a gathering of protesters outside City Hall, organized by the co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement, Dorothy Day.

It was only the world that had changed, however; one thing remained dangerously unchanged. In 1946, Albert Einstein warned, "The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe." It was obvious to Dorothy Day and a growing number of resisters that hiding under a desk or inside their houses was no defense against such a catastrophe. But those in power on both sides of the Cold War continued to believe that atomic war was just a logical extension of the mode of thinking that had led from war to war to war for so many centuries.

The ideological divide between East and West was superficial compared to the deepening divide between these leaders and vast numbers of ordinary citizens on both sides of the Cold War whose mode of thinking was radically transformed by the Bomb. The world had changed, and they knew it. For five decades after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the protests grew bigger and bigger, spreading to every continent, culminating with a gathering a million strong in New York City on June 12, 1982, during the United Nations' Second Special Session on Disarmament. Hundreds of people joined the Great Peace March from Los Angeles to Washington in 1986. Others walked across Europe to Moscow. People protested at the Nevada Test Site, camped on the tracks at the Rocky Flats bomb-trigger plant, sailed to the South Pacific on the Greenpeace vessel Rainbow Warrior to block French weapons tests.

The Plowshares movement, heir to the Catholic Worker legacy, has carried out 100 nonviolent break-ins at U.S. nuclear weapons facilities since 1980, symbolically transforming "swords into plowshares." The 100th action took place here in Georgia on April 4, 2018, at Kings Bay Naval Base, home to the East Coast fleet of Trident submarines. Seven Catholic activists await sentencing as I write. It was no accident that they planned their action for the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King was an early opponent of the nuclear arms race, joining African-American activists such as W.E.B. DuBois, Paul Robeson, Bayard Rustin, and a host of lesser-known names.

Unlike their white counterparts, these activists of color recognized in the bombing of Japanese civilians a racial element which they found wearily familiar. As Dr. Vincent Intondi documents in his illuminating book African-Americans Against the Bomb, their struggle was not only against Jim Crow segregation and systemic racism at home, but against the European colonial powers who then occupied most of Africa. The pattern of racist violence was part of the world they knew, integral to that mode of thinking which refused to change in the light of the Bomb— a pattern that continued as U.S. war planners debated the use of nuclear weapons against Korea and Vietnam, and France detonated its early weapons tests in colonial Algeria. In support of the African struggle for independence, Bayard Rustin organized an international group of protesters who attempted to occupy the testing zone in the Sahara Desert.

Sen. Joe McCarthy used the nuclear issue to split the civil rights movement in the 1950s, when anyone who dared to oppose nuclear holocaust was therefore a Communist. But in the 1960s, after winning the Nobel Peace Prize for his leadership in the civil rights movement, Dr. King himself re-connected the dots by declaring that racial equality had not one opponent but three: the "giant triplets" of racism, materialism, and militarism. In the 1970s, President Carter's U.N. ambassador Andrew Young, a protegé of Dr. King, vigorously opposed the ongoing French nuclear tests in the Sahara. In 1988 another King protegé, Jesse Jackson, made nuclear disarmament the centerpiece of his second campaign for the presidency, winning seven Democratic primaries and four caucuses to come in second in the race to succeed Ronald Reagan.

In 2020, against a backdrop of white supremacist ranting from the White House and a backward slide into school re-segregation and legalized lynching, people of all races have once again crowded into the streets to demand justice for African-Americans. And like the Black activists who protested the Bomb in the 1950s, this new generation too has been branded with the all-purpose slur of "Marxism."

But as the Kings Bay Plowshares 7 prophetically remind us, racism is still inextricably linked to militarism and materialism. Militarism in the U.S. can only reach its goal of global domination on behalf of the corporate elite if We the People are divided against ourselves along the traditional lines of color and class. Materialism, meanwhile, is driving the destabilization of the planetary climate, benefitting no one except the same corporate elite. Which leads directly back to racism: people of color around the globe are the primary victims of climate change as floods, droughts, and superstorms besiege the former colonies of Europe, spawning war, malnutrition, and crowds of homeless refugees.

By luck or grace, Einstein's "unparalleled catastrophe" has not yet come to pass— though we continue to drift in that direction. The world as we knew it on August 5, 1945, has been swept three generations into the past, and most of us today are only dimly aware that we live under the daily threat of nuclear holocaust. Yet this new world we've grown accustomed to quietly smolders with the fallout of 2,056 nuclear bomb tests conducted by eight nations, over 500 of them in the open atmosphere, many in the territory of indigenous nations. France's open-air testing continued until 1974, China's until 1980. Each of us carries particles of this experiment in mass irradiation in our bones and tissues. No one knows whether it plays a role in the worldwide cancer pandemic, because everyone on Earth is an experimental subject; there is no control population.

Meanwhile, President Trump has announced his desire to resume testing nuclear weapons. The United States is one of the eight nuclear-armed nations that never ratified the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1996. Under Trump and his two predecessors in the White House, the Pentagon has abandoned the strategy of nuclear deterrence to surround both Russia and China with first-strike weapons systems. Arms treaties negotiated by Democratic and Republican administrations alike have been scrapped rather than re-negotiated amid mutual accusations of cheating by Russia, China, and the United States. The current Pentagon budget includes billions of dollars to upgrade and replace our nuclear arsenal and its delivery systems, including a new class of Trident submarines to be deployed at Kings Bay. North Korea and Iran are regarded as mad power-mongers for wishing to defend themselves against the world's most aggressive military power.

The famous "doomsday clock" of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, which has tracked the danger of nuclear holocaust since 1947, has never been closer to "midnight"— the end of the world as we know it, and very possibly the end of our knowing anything at all. The world, of course, would continue in some form without us. But the "nuclear winter" which is expected to result from multiple detonations of warheads with many times the explosive power of the original Bomb would certainly accelerate the rate of mass extinction now caused by climate change and habitat encroachment.

So it's time once again for the human species to invoke our most precious and dangerous gift: the ability to change the world as we know it. Humans have engineered the insanity of the Bomb, and twice unleashed its destructive power on innocent humans— not to force the Japanese to surrender, as the history written by the victors would have us believe, but to demonstrate to our next and future enemies exactly who we are as a nation. And humans have engineered a carbon-based global economy which today is systematically demolishing the stable climate that has enabled human civilization to develop over the millennia.

But humans have also engineered a system of majority governance based on voting. At a special United Nations conference in July of 2017, using a system of “one nation, one vote,” the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was approved by 122 of the 124 participating nations. The treaty prohibits the development, testing, production, stockpiling, stationing, transfer, use or threat of nuclear weapons, much as previous treaties have banned land mines, cluster munitions, biological and chemical weapons. When ratified by the legislatures of 50 nations, using the same system of majority voting, it will become binding as international law. To date, 44 nations have ratified it.

Sadly, the world’s nuclear-armed nations, including the United States, refused to participate in this exercise of global democracy. Here in the U.S.A., the birthplace of modern democracy, the true potential of using our votes to change the world remains untested, because a clear majority of eligible voters do not believe it can work, and the actual wishes of the majority thus remain unknown. Chances are, I suspect, that most of us would prefer to disarm the nuclear powers and re-direct their military budgets to other priorities. A 100% voter turnout this November might be our last chance to reverse the current drift toward catastrophe.

Humans possess the divine ability to change the world . . . but it only works if we know it.

Stephen Wing serves as a member of the board of Nuclear Watch South.

 

Exploring the Legacy of the Atomic Age on the Savannah River Watershed 

by Stephen Wing

(published in the Lake Claire Clarion, April 2020)

To commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Atomic Age, in March of 2015 Nuclear Watch South launched the Source-to-Sea Savannah River Pilgrimage. Its purpose was to highlight the many toxic and radioactive threats to the river, designated the third most polluted in the nation. Veteran paddlers Bob Brooksher and Jesse Steele joined NWS board member (and Jesse's mother) Joanne Steele to journey by kayak from the river's western headwaters in the Georgia mountains all the way to Tybee Island. They were accompanied by Riverdog, Bob's companion on many previous adventures. 

During high school and college, back in the 20th century, I visited the Boundary Waters Canoe Area every summer to paddle and portage the beautiful glacier-carved lakes on the Canadian border. That experience of untouched wilderness still feeds my commitment as an environmentalist and a board member with Nuclear Watch South. So the Savannah River pilgimage called to me from a deep place inside. Unfortunately at the time I was working full-time and could not participate.

This year I got my chance. In March, marking the 75th anniversary, the pilgrims returned to the Savannah River watershed to complete their pilgrimage, navigating from its eastern headwaters in South Carolina until they intersected their earlier route. Since I had retired at the beginning of the year, I eagerly signed up.

The trip brought back blissful memories, such as the thrill of hearing a loon's cry as we set up our first camp. I had no idea these iconic northern birds wintered down south. But in other ways this was a new experience. I’m 63 now and woefully out of shape, and found paddling a kayak much harder work than traveling by canoe. Instead of portaging on foot, we loaded the boats on a trailer and drove to our next "put-in." And though we saw some beautiful scenery, skyscapes, and wildlife, South Carolina is far more civilized than the pristine North Woods. We visited islands strewn with litter, surfed the wakes of motorboats, and passed miles of luxurious lake houses and mansions with fancy boathouses and docks.

The Savannah is formed by the confluence of Georgia's Chattooga/Tugaloo River system and S.C.'s Seneca River. Both tributaries have been dammed to form chains of man-made lakes and provide hydroelectric power. On the Georgia side is Plant Vogtle, near Augusta, where two nuclear reactors now under construction – the only remnant of the much-hyped "nuclear renaissance" – are slated to join two existing reactors in a poor, majority-black community. Directly across the river is the 310-square-mile Savannah River Site, a Cold War nuclear weapons plant that is now a hopelessly contaminated nuclear waste dump. These toxic impacts were addressed by the 2015 pilgrimage. (Watch an 8-minute musical video documentary here.)

On the South Carolina side is Oconee Nuclear Station, where three reactors sit at the southern end of Lake Keowee. At the lake's northern end, an earthen dam holds back the waters of Lake Jocassee. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission estimates the chances of an earthquake dislodging the dam at 1 in 256. Duke Power claims to have re-engineered the site to channel flood waters away from the backup safety equipment. But if they have underestimated, the resulting tsunami would mean a triple meltdown and catastrophic radiological releases from the spent fuel rods stored there in pools of water (as at every other nuclear plant).

The Fukushima disaster in Japan on March 11,  2011, is still spewing radioactive poison nine years later – despite the Japanese government's assurances that the area is safe enough to host some of this summer's Olympic events. But if the pools storing the plant's spent fuel rods had been breached, the disaster would have been exponentially worse.

Our pilgrimage was timed to reach Clemson University on March 11 to observe Fukushima Day with a public event co-sponsored by the Foothills Sierra Club. The university rowing teams were out in force for spring practice as we arrived. That night we screened an excellent documentary called Containment (available on Amazon Prime) about the dangers of nuclear waste, the lack of long-term solutions, and the failure of even short-term proposals for interim storage. Our message was well-received, except for one gentleman who seemed offended to learn that his community might conceivably share the fate of Fukushima. 

This discussion was the climax of our journey, as the next day we reached the point where the two tributaries once met, now in the middle of Lake Hartwell, and headed for shore. The work of exposing the past, present and future legacy of nuclear contamination must continue for literally tens of thousands of years, but I was grateful that I had survived the rigors of the pilgrimage. Riverdog, on the other hand, was ready for more.

 

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One thought ever at the fore ––
That in the Divine Ship, the World, breasting Time and Space,
All Peoples of the globe together sail, sail the same voyage,
Are bound to the same destination.

Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

 

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