Texas Longhorns with newborn calf in Bluebonnets

Texas Longhorns with newborn calf in Bluebonnets

Please note I have a new phone number...


Alan Maki

Alan Maki
Doing research at the LBJ Library in Austin, Texas

It's time to claim our Peace Dividend

It's time to claim our Peace Dividend

We need to beat swords into plowshares.

We need to beat swords into plowshares.

A program for real change...


What we need is a "21st Century Full Employment Act for Peace and Prosperity" which would make it a mandatory requirement that the president and Congress attain and maintain full employment.

"Voting is easy and marginally useful, but it is a poor substitute for democracy, which requires direct action by concerned citizens"

- Ben Franklin

Let's talk...

Let's talk...

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

How Can We Change Things?

On my way back from the Cities I stopped to visit with a few friends in Cohasset, a small community just north of Grand Rapids, Minnesota.

As we sat around the kitchen table sipping coffee and eating home-made chocolate cake we gazed out the kitchen onto Pokegama Lake, one of the most polluted lakes in the world. Looking beyond the kitchen through the living room window we could see the smoke from Minnesota Power's Boswell Plant belching its mercury high into the atmosphere.

There were four of us. One young woman works at the White Oaks Casino just up the road, one fellow is retired from Blandin Paper Company, the woman whose kitchen table we were gathered around used to work at a small diner in Grand Rapids.

We talked about our children and our grand children; we talked about the war in Iraq; we talked about jobs and the minimum wage.

We talked about how the Democrats are refusing to move on issues like ending the war in Iraq, and about how everyone wants single-payer, universal health care.

We talked about the closing of the Ford Twin Cities Assembly Plant and what it would mean to the state in terms of jobs and politics.

We talked about the weather, heating bills, and we talked about global warming.

We talked about problems workers in the casinos are experiencing and how patrons get ripped-off by the one-armed bandits.

We talked about how politicians who were just elected in an overwhelming vote against Bush and the Republicans were already moving in the opposite direction we wanted to see them moving in.

We talked about how the word "progressive" was used and abused and distorted by politicians who were more like prostitutes as they pandered for campaign contributions from the insurance, mining, power generating, and forestry industries rather than being servants of the people once elected.

In short, we talked about just about everything under the sun that we couldn't see because it was blocked by a huge cloud filled with mercury coming from the Boswell Plant.

We even talked about my blog. I got all kinds of suggestions from I should include interviews with people, post more about what people can do, post some selected full length newspaper articles with my commentary, invite others with a different viewpoint to respond... all in all everyone liked my blog... the complements were probably more because they just wanted to read an alternative to what the mass media puts out than because it reflects any kind of great ingenuity, creativity, or writing skills.

We talked about a local FM radio station, KAXE (91.7), and how it is becoming more and more of a mouthpiece for the corporate point of view like the rest of public radio... we talked about how the large contributions from Blandin Paper Company and the $40,000.00 dollars a year from the Blandin Foundation and Minnesota Power was buying silence on a number of issues of concern to working people--- from the environment to loss of jobs, and the complete lack of concern on the part of the station concerning single-payer, universal health care and the clouds of mercury we were looking at as we sat and talked sipping our coffee and eating cake around the kitchen table.

We need to create our own media networks using e-mail, blogs, web sites... but the old kitchen table is still the best and most effective, and where it all starts.

We talked about U.S. Congressman Jim Oberstar and how he was all talk and hot air and how his back-room shenanigans were as dirty as the dark blackish-gray, mercury contaminated smoke we were staring at that created such pretty clouds that floated over the state, and probably around the world.

We agreed that the State Representative, Loren Solberg, was a pretty good guy and usually voted in support of issues important to working people; but, everyone thought he could be more aggressive on these issues... especially on single-payer, universal health care; no one really knew for sure what he was going to be supporting in the way of health care reform. No one liked the idea he was pushing for more of the smokestacks like the ones we were gazing at dotting the Iron Range.

I mentioned that I found it ironic that Iron Range legislators would be supporting building more power plants that would provide so few jobs as they remained silent and doing nothing about keeping the Ford Twin Cities Assembly Plant open which provides two thousand jobs now and if placed under public ownership producing environmentally friendly things like electric rail components, wind power generating equipment, and solar devices five times as many jobs could be had... good jobs that pay real living wages with the kinds of benefits working people are entitled to. That there just had to be the political will... fostered by a political movement. Everyone agreed.

Invariably the question came up, as it usually does now-a-days: How can we change any of this? The comment was made, "Look at this, we are four people sitting here talking; what can we do?" Another said, "Look at all the people in this country who came out and demonstrated against this war in Iraq even starting... Bush went ahead with the war anyways and all the elected Democrats went someplace to hide... now we got this mess... our kids dying, Iraqis dying... there is no end in sight."

Another comment was made: "We work our butts off to get the vote out for these Democrats and what do we get for it? A kick in the ass. We send our people to a convention to support single-payer, universal health care... the convention by a great big majority endorses single-payer... and now the DFL is going to turn its back on the decision of the convention... the real voice of the grassroots... that's us... I knew this was going to happen when they shoved through the endorsements of Klobuchar and Hatch... worthless hot air... the two of 'em; all they care about is themselves... When is the DFL going to stop going backwards?... If it isn't doing nothing to stop Bush with his war in Iraq, they are caving in to the insurance companies on health care."

I think this is very typical of the discussions taking place around the kitchen tables all across Minnesota, and probably the rest of the country.

We can't let Bush and the corporations beat us down into thinking we are powerless, because we are not; and we can't let the Democrats slide. As long as we are discussing these issues we empower ourselves and those we associate with... one little snowflake doesn't amount to much, but let it snow for a few hours and those little snowflakes can pile up quickly. What we have to do is make sure the snow doesn't just melt away and disappear... come spring we want to pop up everywhere like dandelions on a warm spring day.

There is a kind of formula for social change... the Red Finns of the Iron Range really had this formula worked out well.

They started around the kitchen tables... took their discussions out into the mines and the communities... and from there they made a historic break through and organized the unions on the Range.

But, the Red Finns didn't just talk. They read and they studied. They were "Red" Finns because they were Marxists... they studied Marx, they studied Lenin... they studied the writings of William Z. Foster and Earl Browder. They read the Tyomies and the Daily Worker... they listened to Roosevelt on the radio. When they gathered around their kitchen tables they discussed what they were reading and listening to on the radio.

Out of the discussions around the kitchen tables these discussions carried over into the mines and the lumber camps and while feeding and milking the cows.

Out of the discussions leaflets were drafted and discussed again and revised around the kitchen tables until everyone was satisfied the leaflet should be distributed to friends, neighbors, and fellow workers.

From the discussions generated from the leaflets petitions were drafted to public officials. Meetings were held, organizations formed--- some of the organizations were established to attain short term goals, others like the unions and the Communist Party were set up to stay over the long haul. Gathering places, halls, camps like Mesaba Co-op Park were built. Co-op stores were established that sold everything from coal to gas to food and clothing. Some remarkable achievements came out of the small gatherings around the kitchen tables in the homes of working people.

When public officials ignored the petitions and tried to brush the people off they started running for public office themselves... electing mayors and city council members, county commissioners and state legislators... eventually building the Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party into a powerful force for social change that elected two governors, congressmen, and United States Senators.

Today the corporations have grown and become more powerful... the only thing that means is that more discussions have to take place around our kitchen tables.

We also need to become better educated and more actively involved.

We can:

Write letters to the editors;

Participate in vigils and demonstrations against this dirty war in Iraq;

Organize petition campaigns in support of single-payer, universal health care;

Write and distribute leaflets;

Read, read, and read some more.

Keep in mind... Out of sight, really is out of mind... the politicians want us to keep our mouths shut... remember what they told the Dixie Chicks--- "shut up and sing." Well, the Dixie Chicks didn't take this advice and neither should any of us.

The Red Finns had a very simple formula for achieving social change that worked really well... it went like this: discussion, education, organization, unity, action; this is a good well tested formula that always works if we remember that it takes a struggle to win.

I look forward to many more discussions around the kitchen tables as I travel across Minnesota.

Together, we can change things; together, we can win.

A comment: I really think the time has come for a state-wide gathering of liberals, progressives, socialists, and communists so we can begin coordinating our efforts more effectively.

Don't forget to mark your calendars:
For the Labor and Sustainability Conference coming up January 19 and 20 at the UAW Hall across from the Ford Twin Cities Assembly Plant in St. Paul... the Conference is free and open to all... there will be speakers, workshops, discussions, a dance, lunch, dinner. I will be posting the leaflet later this week.

Tomorrow I think I will publish an article about developments in Venezuela... as you probably heard, Hugo Chavez has declared that Venezuela is now on the socialist road, and there will be no turning back.