Grasping The Opportunity Within This Crisis

Jan 6, 2017

My guest today is Joe Libertelli a long-time grassroots progressive activist.

Joan Brunwasser: Welcome to OpEdNews, Joe. You wrote a headliner article, The Opportunity in this Crisis . It’s quite a comprehensive piece and clearly took a lot of time and effort. Why did you write it?

Joe Libertelli: Ha – well, most of the ideas in the article have been percolating in my mind and among my activist friends for many years, but I suppose I will have to thank the – alleged – election of Donald Trump for forcing my writing hand!

JB: First things first. Why do you say “alleged” when referring to the recent election?

JL: Well, since 2004, I have been involved with what is called the “Election Integrity” movement, which has uncovered some strong evidence that the so-called “official” vote totals have been doctored electronically by those with access – which are the Republican-supporting electronic voting companies. In 2004, there was a pronounced “red shift” – a phrase borrowed from physics, but which we use to describe the unexplained change in the Republican (red) direction from the exit polls (which prior to 2004 had always been extremely accurate) to the so-called official results. The 2016 presidential election fits this pattern. Thus, in addition to the fact that Mr. Trump lost the popular vote by nearly three million – despite all the well known voter suppression techniques employed by Republicans nationally – there is much evidence that he did not fairly win the Electoral College tally either.

I came to be involved with the Election Integrity movement in an odd way. In 2004, one of my best friends, a guy I met in 7th grade Spanish class, Steve Freeman, was stunned by the shift from the presidential exit poll predictions to the supposed official result. Based on his understanding of what exit polls are, Steve, who has a PhD in Business Systems from MIT and is quite fluent with numbers, thought that such a shift was not at all likely. Searching the web, he found the work of Jonathan Simon, who had captured the unadjusted exit polls online on election eve. Steve crunched the numbers, saw that the chances for such a shift were WAY beyond the expected margin of error, and became convinced that fraud had occurred. Having just helped another friend, Tim Carpenter, start Progressive Democrats of America (largely from the energy of the Kucinich primary campaign), I was able to work with PDA to help Steve publicize a monograph on the subject that became quite widely distributed, and which eventually became the basis for his book, “Was the 2004 Presidential Election Stolen?” Bobby Kennedy Jr. went into the issues and quoted Steve here.

JB: Exit polls are considered to be the gold standard for evaluating elections worldwide. How is it that what works well everywhere else is so off here?

JL: Well, basically, people in the Election Integrity movement believe the exit polls are right and the official results are wrong. In 2006 or so, Steve Freeman debated Warren Mitofsky, essentially the founder of exit polling, at the Philadelphia Statistical Society (keep them in mind for a really HOT date!) on the topic of Steve’s book. Rather than challenging Steve, Mitofsky used his time to defend the science of exit polling! More recently, Jonathan Simon, author of Code Red: Computerized Election Fraud (2014) has explained that because of the consistent “red shift” between exit polls and so-called actual results, pollsters have actually begun fudging their data in an attempt at accurate prediction. But, to answer your question, we believe the votes have been consistently altered – “hacked” – in favor of Republicans since 2004.

JB: You mentioned before that not only were the election results falsely skewed but also the Electoral College voting. What did you meant by that? Tell us more, please.

JL: Oh – no, it’s the same thing – I just meant that if the official vote count has been altered to the point where the wrong person is said to have won a given state, then, obviously, the electoral votes will be incorrectly awarded – and, when this happens enough, it can change the election results.

JB: Got it. Let’s get back to your piece, The Opportunity in this Crisis. As a long-time progressive, one might expect to find you in the doldrums following this election. But that doesn’t seem to be true. I’m sure many of our readers will be interested to hear why you’re not.

JL: I acknowledge that there is good reason to mourn. I have friends who are climate change activists. One has long advocated a revenue-neutral carbon tax, and is simply terrified that Trump will take us in the exact wrong direction and that, for example, the rate of methane hydrate released from permafrost will accelerate, exacerbating already declining albedo effect, etc., and that uncontrolled warming is now inevitable. That may be true. And I have other friends who are equally justifiably horrified and outraged by continued unnecessary police violence, disproportionately levied against the poor and non straight white populations that will no longer have the potential to be held in check by the US Justice Department. And I have other friends – and students at UDC Clarke School of Law – who are terrified by the prospect of mass deportations. All of these concerns – and many more – are valid and warranted by what Trump says he stands for and by the kind of team he has been assembling.

But, at the same time, there are other, more hopeful trends. We can’t forget the Bernie Sanders campaign and what a triumph it was! Sanders – and all of us who helped build the progressive movement for decades – all but won the Democratic primaries. That a septuagenarian transplanted NY socialist Jew from Vermont captured the hearts and minds of so many millions of our youth – because of his progressive message – is about the most heartening thing I have witnessed in my political life, which will soon be entering its fifth decade. There is every indication that if people had any idea of how well he was going to do, hundreds of thousands more would have supported him – people who supported Hillary because they believed she was more electable. And he would have run away with the primaries and been president now (as amazing, frankly, as that sounds). So, first of all, we can’t forget that, and the opportunity to build upon it.

Secondly, we can’t forget that the long-term demographic trends are on our side. Young people, overall, supported Bernie and Hillary. And, while I am a white man, I rejoice in the fact that America is becoming more black and brown. The Republicans realize this and have committed to, essentially, cheating to maintain power. We need to view all their conniving, their myriad techniques of voter suppression, the election theft, as transparently desperate acts – and acts that authentic conservatives would not support.

Sen. Bernie Sanders
Sen. Bernie Sanders
(image by Phil Roeder)
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Also, as a result of the mainstream Democratic Party’s dramatic failure in this election, I believe that the time is ripe for progressives to take over the Democratic Party. In the process, we have the opportunity to redefine the Party message so that it appeals, as Bernie did, to a substantial fraction of Trump’s support – who mainly voted for him to detonate the system and not because they loved Trump or his shape-shifting agenda. Many of those Trump voters who lean Libertarian can be attracted – people for whom the war on drugs and civil forfeiture laws, and wars of imperialism, and corporate globalization are all anathema – just to name a few examples. While I do not believe Donald Trump actually won the election fairly, I do believe he got tens of millions of votes – including millions from those who repudiated Hillary Clinton‘s neoliberalism but who could have supported someone with Bernie Sanders‘ authentically progressive politics.

I could go on – and did in my article! But, in short, there are many reasons to hope, and many, many opportunities for organizing. We progressives are really quite strong. There are millions of us. If we can figure out how to pick up our game as activists just a few percent, we can really turn this thing around. Not before more great damage is done, perhaps, but it can be turned around.

JB: You make many valid points, Joe. And I like the way you think. It’s thrilling to contemplate progressives taking over the Democratic Party. But it doesn’t seem that the party stalwarts learned any lessons from this election or are seriously considering handing over the reins of leadership. On the contrary; They seem to be stubbornly hanging onto the same agenda and the same cast of characters as before. How does change come about? Is this the opportunity you refer to in your article?

JL: You’re quite right! The party leadership will not hand over power to progressives – we have to be fully aware of that. I am reminded of the Frederick Douglass quote about “power concedes nothing without a demand.” The party will have to be taken from them, as there is way too big a difference between the corporate liberals who have long controlled the Democratic Party, and the progressives. There is too much at stake – not the least of which is money.

Think about health care, for example, with corporate liberals creating this better-than-before-but-still-bizarre Obamacare system, as opposed to a much more straightforward Single-Payer system. The big difference is that in the former, the insurance companies are cut in and run the show – and that’s quite OK from a liberal standpoint. Single Payer systems are simpler, less bureaucratic, ultimately less expensive – and if implemented in the US would, no doubt, lead to future Tea Party-er signs along the lines of “Hands-Off My Healthcare!” The same can be said of cap and trade vs. carbon tax. Ditto with our economic (globalization) and military (imperialist) foreign policy – the liberal agenda cuts the corporations in, while the progressive agenda does not. Thus, there is too much at stake for a willing transition.

So, the taking over of the Democratic Party by progressives is the kind of thing that can only happen if progressives actually organize and generate the political “force” – which is, of course, much, much easier said than done.

I would argue that part of the problem for progressives is that even THEY don’t understand the important differences between them and liberals – leading to progressives supporting liberals in office and being disappointed. Part of my article gets into clarifying the differences – and doing so in a way that allows progressives to make common cause with other conservatives (and I say other conservatives, because progressives ARE ecological and, to some extent, even cultural conservatives – at least, for example, when supporting small towns and traditional cultures against predation by Walmart, globalization, etc.).

As far as things that need to be done, there are myriad ways to go – and that’s part of the problem. Do we rally around a Bernie-like candidate in 2020? Bernie-like Senate and House candidates in 2018? Every one of a dozen – actually many more than a dozen – national progressive/liberal organization is clamoring for support. The way such organizations are funded – via mostly liberal foundations – pits them against one another.

But while part of the task is intellectual, and part involves national strategies, I think that much of what needs to be done is very local and quite hands-on. As a former Green Movement activist from the ’80s (who opposed the creation of the Green Party, I would add), I understand and embrace the wisdom of the “act locally” mandate. One aspect of this surfaces in resentment in having to get into a car to go to an environmental or political meeting miles and miles away from home or work. At a certain level, that’s nuts – and the tragedy is that in most urban and suburban neighborhoods, critical mass for an effective local progressive “micro-group” does exist, but the people just do not know each other. This is why in my paper I provide a link to a Progressive? Prove it! petition urging the national progressive groups (and liberal groups who like to call themselves “progressive”) to commit to sharing their contact information within a given local voting precinct with all the members of each other’s lists. If we were to do that, (and yes, we would probably have to “demand” this kind of cooperation from our own organizations!) we would have the makings of tens of thousands of micro grassroots groups which could dig in, utilizing materials provided for them by the national groups, and really organize for long term change.

While the creation of such groups would be extremely important in red and purple states, one of the many projects that such groups could undertake in already-blue states like Maryland where I live, is to run authentically progressive candidates for Democratic Party County Central Committee posts, which are relatively easy to win, and which can then serve as the basis for transforming the party as a whole. If and when enough of us do this, we can tip the balance of power within the Democratic Party, redefine the party along more progressive populist lines, and, eventually, win national primary and general elections.

If this sounds “ambitious” well, that’s because it IS ambitious. But you didn’t think taking over an elite-dominated institution like the Democratic Party, with billions of dollars at stake, would be easy, did you? The “revolution” will neither be televised nor be effectuated purely over the internet – it will have to be done door to door, neighbor to neighbor – but a little information boost gleaned from the national lists could certainly help greatly!

JB: This all sounds ambitious but this might be precisely the time to dig in in a major way. Anything you’d like to add before we wrap this up?

JL: Well, I thank you, Joan, and OpEdNews for the opportunity to share my article and some thoughts. While I’ve tried to sketch out some big and small picture strategic opportunities – and reasons for hope – there are many, many more ways people can make a difference.

I became an activist during the South African Apartheid era. I was active in my campus “divestiture” movement, which many thought was pointless. History proved otherwise. About ten years after my second arrest at the South African Embassy in DC, my public interest law school was actually invited to hold an event there by the Mandela administration! What a mind-boggling transition to be there, inside as a welcomed guest!

Also early on in my career as an activist, particularly when Ronald Reagan was elected president, the nuclear arms race seemed destined to kill us all – and while it still might, it’s not quite the same kind of threat it once was. Reagan’s election catalyzed a hugely powerful multi-million person anti-arms race and Nuclear Freeze movement that I believe signaled to the Soviet people that Americans and the West, generally, were not out to kill them. This, no doubt, undermined the fear used by the Soviet military-industrial complex to control the Soviet people. Thus, while we have yet to earn a place in the “official” histories, I think that the peace movement materially helped Gorbachev win support for Glasnost and ease the way to the end of the Cold War.

Today, climate change and several flavors of worldwide fascism loom. The world’s economy is seen my many as fragile and susceptible to disruption. Some say that modern civilization will inevitably succumb to one or more of the many threats. And it might.

Moon Rise behind the San Gorgonio Pass Wind Farm
Moon Rise behind the San Gorgonio Pass Wind Farm
(image by ‘Caveman Chuck’ Coker)
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And yet, while it’s true historically that no civilization endures indefinitely, there are all sorts of positive trends too – from the dropping costs of solar and wind power, to the spread of appreciation for diversity, to the increasing adoption of organic agriculture and vegetarianism, to the youthful support for Bernie and much more. There are so many trends and countertrends that even the world’s most sophisticated supercomputer models cannot accurately predict the outcome. And so, I think that anyone who tells you that we are definitely lost or definitely saved is either mistaken or trying to manipulate you. For all we know, the possibility of a just and ecologically sustainable future still hangs in the balance. And, for all we know, we can, as individuals, and through collective action, affect that balance and make a decisive difference. We cannot know for sure – we just have to decide how we want to live our lives.

I think I recall that Karl Marx believed that humans are a “species being” – meaning that we have an innate affinity for one another and a desire to work together and to help one another. My understanding is that modern biology confirms this. I have personally found that trying to make a difference feels better than watching TV or spending more time on social media. So, whether people dig in because they realize intellectually that their actions might well make a difference, or because it simply feels good, or both, I hope – and I expect – more people will choose action, more action and more intelligent action. Individually and together, our power is great. And it may well be enough.

JB: Thanks for talking with me, Joe. I enjoyed this so much! Wouldn’t it be marvelous if your “roll up your sleeves and jump in” attitude is contagious, leading to a tsunami of activism?


Joe’s recent OpEdNews piece: The Opportunity in this Crisis 12.23.2016

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