Everybody Talking Bout Heaven Ain’t Going There

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“Everybody talkin’ ’bout Heaven ain’t going there, Heaven, Heaven. . . .” ~ Christian Hymn
     This is partly a post about my girlhood and partly a post about Senator Sanders.
     When I was a young woman — and it was many and many a year ago — the effort to win civil rights for African Americans and the effort to stop the Viet Nam war overlapped with a general desire on the part of young people to “dismantle the establishment,”  — a vague expression onto which different people projected different meanings.  But whatever it all meant, many of us viewed ourselves as being “in the movement,” a part of “the revolution,” “in the struggle.”
     If you were there, you remember:
     Endless meetings to discuss philosophy and process.  A jargon that developed to identify the in-crowd from the wannabes:  Right on, man.  Righteous.  Fight the power.  Stick it to the man.  As soon as a term became popular, using it was a sign that you weren’t really with it.  Long-haired young men holding those funny square microphones and yelling slogans to crowds waiving signs.  Sit-ins.  Teach-ins.  Debates about whether to keep protesting or to “take the struggle to the man.”
     You probably also remember how so many groups wound up turning on themselves.  The purity tests that were never really articulated but that lurked, just beneath the surface.  The strident belief that the reason we so often failed was because some people weren’t revolutionary/leftist/committed enough.   Late-night sessions that started out with recriminations and wound up listening to music and doing drugs.  Or vice versa.
     The movements and organizations were almost invariably led by young men.  Men gave the speeches, made the decisions, jousted with each other for prominence and control.  Women were allowed to show up for the meetings.  We were expected to make the coffee, run the mimeograph machines, answer the phones.  If someone had to take a paying job to support the movement, it was the women who became waitresses, secretaries, salesclerks.  At times, the men made it explicit:  a woman’s place within the movement was on her back.
     Over time, we began to realize that a lot  #notall of the men were a better at, and far more interested in, sitting around late at night smoking dope and having profound discussions about “the revolution” than they were at, you know, actually bringing about any of the changes that the revolution was supposed to produce.  They scorned the kind of actual, get-your-hands-dirty work that actually made life better, whether it was planting the commune garden, doing the boring organizational work to set up the health food co-op, or learning how to give shots at the free clinic.  They scorned incremental change, anything that involved compromise with the establishment, unpublicized achievements.  It was as if one grand and glorious day The Revolution would happen, we’d all know it, and then everything would be instantly wonderful.   Anything else was a waste of time.
     Some #notall of those guys are in their seventies now, still imagining that talking about a revolution is the same thing as changing the world.  But many of us realized, a long time ago, that there’s a difference between talking about reaching a goal and actually doing the work to achieve something.  Everybody talking bout Heaven ain’t going there because going there requires more than talk.
     And so, it’s not surprising to me that many #notall women my age saw rather quickly through Senator Sanders.  He was, in the 1960s, an angry young revolutionary who eschewed paid work and never accomplished much until he moved to an ultra-white state and — at 40 — ran for mayor of Burlington, then Congressman, and then Senator from Vermont.   He fathered and failed to support a son out of wedlock along the way, wrote sexist bullshit when he was 31, and never really managed to get much done during his 25 years in Congress.   Sanders’ colleagues contrast his Senate record with Elizabeth Warren’s:

Rarely has [Sanders’] thinking translated into actual legislation or left a significant imprint on it, according to Democratic lawmakers and staffers who have worked with him.

Several top Democrats say the difference is a complete contrast to another progressive, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who has had a much clearer impact on the financial and inequality discussions in just the three years she’s been in the Senate.

As for taking on Wall Street, one of the issues Sanders is most identified with on the campaign trail, former Democratic Rep. Barney Frank said Warren’s done much more to protect the landmark Dodd-Frank financial regulation law in the years since its passage.

“She has been more effective at blocking efforts to weaken the bill. [Sanders’]mind-set is that there’ll be a revolution,” said Frank, adding that he doesn’t remember Sanders being involved in any of the affordable housing work he did in the House. “He plants his flag and expects that someday everyone will see he was right.”

***

In the House, leadership aides say Sanders was generally off on his own, essentially ignored by leadership and largely invisible on the floor. In the Senate, where policy discussions are held weekly during conference lunches, Sanders has consistently pushed for more attention to income inequality. Senators and leadership aides say that’s influenced their thinking and, to an extent, their actions.

“On the issues that are his bread and butter issues on the campaign trail, he’s certainly altered the conversation, but in terms of the change and the result, I haven’t seen a lot of it in three years,” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who serves with Sanders on the Budget Committee and has endorsed Clinton, though he also describes himself as a Sanders fan.

That’s the same amount of time Kaine has served with Warren. Kaine said the contrast is clear. She’s influenced the debate “dramatically.”

The Sanders Problem became even more obvious when he sat down with the New York Daily News for an in-depth interview.

It did not go well for the senator from Vermont.

Time and again, when pressed to get beyond his rhetoric on the evils of corporate America and Wall Street, Sanders struggled. Often mightily. (The Daily News published the full transcript of the interview today so you can check it out for yourself.)

Sanders’ basic theory was that, as President, he’d advocate for a change and then large groups of people would show up and force the Republican Congress to vote for Sanders’ position.  Wow!  How come no one ever thought of that before!  I knew guys in the Sixties who had pretty much the same theory except that they weren’t running for President.

Secretary Clinton’s interview was quite different.

[Clinton was asked about her plan to reduce college debt:]  What follows is an extremely detailed back-and-forth about how states and the federal government coordinate college funding, why tuition is increasing across the country, how families receive student aid and what her plan would do to change all this specifically.

And it’s not just that. The transcript shows Clinton going into similar levels of detail about her plans for economic policy, mass incarceration, and banking regulations, among other topics.

That’s nothing new. Clinton has always been a wonk’s wonk, but in this case, she’s also looking to one-up Democratic rival Bernie Sanders, who was tripped up by questions over policy details when he met with the Daily News editorial board earlier this month.

To Clinton’s detractors, the more collegial tone of the questioning here is a giveaway that the editorial board is not feeling the Bern. To Clinton’s defenders, the exchange shows that she’s paid attention to the policy enough to understand—and explain—the reasons behind her plan as well as the specific details behind how it works.

More here.

And, for many women, Senator Sanders’ single-minded focus on class struggle, to the exclusion of intersectional issues such as sexism, reproductive issues, racism, etc. reinforced their memories of those young men in the 1960s who kept saying we had to end the war in Viet Nam FIRST and then, maybe, we might have time to talk about those “less important social issues” that really mattered to women.  Preferably after we legalized pot.  We’ve lived long enough to see that even women with lots of money are subject to sexism and that even well-to-do African American men can’t get cabs and get hassled by the police.  We know enough history to understand that, even as America’s middle class was growing during the 1950s and 1960s, women and people of color suffered.  We understand the class struggle, but we also understand that it’s not the answer to all the problems.  Senator Sanders never seemed to learn, even after months of this criticism.  At the very end of his campaign, he was asked a question about sexism that left him sputtering and mansplaining.

Senator Sanders never seemed to learn, even when it became clear to everyone else, that his campaign was floundering because of its inability to attract the votes of #notall women and people of color.  For years the Left has believed that if someone would only run a “real” populist economic campaign, Democrats would win.  So Sanders offered free college, $15 minimum wage, single-payer health care, etc.  And he lost.  By a large margin. Among Democrats.

From beginning to end, Sanders did well with young voters, white voters, and Dem-leaning independents, while Clinton did better with older voters and dominated among African-Americans. Unabashed populism held little magic beyond his core base of support.

We should at least acknowledge that people are risk-averse. Psychologists tell us that people hate the idea of losing what they have. They hate it more than they like the idea of gaining something new. We celebrated Sanders’ big ideas, like single-payer healthcare, and pointed to polls showing that it’s really popular, at least in the abstract. But when it comes down to it, a policy that takes away people’s crappy insurance policies is a hard sell.

And maybe we shouldn’t spit on “incrementalism.” It got us Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and those have worked out pretty well. It might be easier to grind out progress than it is to foment revolution.

We can’t abandon the left-populist agenda in this new Gilded Age. Most of the policies Sanders championed represent a necessary prescription for runaway inequality. But maybe the problem isn’t Kansas — maybe it isn’t the 99 percent voting against their economic interests — but our embrace of a flawed idea of what motivates people to come out and vote. We should at least consider the possibility.

It’s been clear since  before George Bush stole two elections that you can’t win a national election and, after this primary season it should be clear that you can’t win the Democratic nomination, unless you can appeal to women and people of color.  There are too many of us and too few white men.

In what should have been his concession speech, Sanders, like the out-dated Sixties radical he is, demanded “process” changes: the Democrats must replace convention leaders, adopt open primaries (which studies show actually produce less progressive candidates), and get rid of Superdelegates.  (Notably missing from his list of process reforms was a call to discard caucuses, which everyone recognizes are anti-democratic.  But, then, Sanders did better in caucuses than in primaries.  Which says a lot about his zeal for real change.)  Similarly, Sanders wants changes to the party’s platform, more process that has almost no impact on real people’s real lives.  When was the last time anyone said, “Gee, I’m so glad we made that a plank in the party’s platform; it ended war/fed children/improved education/etc.?”  Never.  Debates over the platform remind me of the endless, and completely wasted, hours spent hammering out Principles of the Revolution, Pagan Ethics Codes, and a zillion corporate mission statements.

I recognize this guy.  I’ve been working around him ever since the 1960s.

I hope the next progressive candidate learns the lessons of the Sanders campaign.  But that will involve shutting up and listening and not lecturing people.

(To be fair, I’ve spent long hours sitting in feminist and Pagan meetings discussing process until I wanted to poke out my eyeballs.  But like a number of women my age, I lost patience decades ago with Senator Sanders’ style of white, male, purity politics where the revolution is always just around the corner and will arrive just as soon as we throw all of our support behind this next guy who imagines himself the Next Great Man of History.)

 

Picture found here.

Postscript:  There probably was a time, likely in early to mid-April and certainly pre-the problems in Nevada, when Senator Sanders had some leverage and bargaining power.  That would have been the time for him to go to Secretary Clinton with a clear ask — agree to ban fracking,  or to put Elizabeth Warren on your cabinet, or whatever — in exchange for him dropping out and throwing his support to her.  But, like the old Sixties radical he is, that wasn’t pure enough.  That would have involved compromise, incremental change, and putting his ego second.  So it didn’t happen.  Now, it’s clear she can win without him and his leverage is getting less and less by the day.
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28 responses to “Everybody Talking Bout Heaven Ain’t Going There

  1. Bravo, Hecate!! Loved this essay – thank you! It reminded me of the 1970 “Goodbye to all that,” which I also loved.

  2. Right on, woman!! (I was there, and I remember 🙂 )

  3. Excellent essay! I too remember the Sixties and “chicks up front” . . . when the march was about to confront the law. Otherwise it was just as you say.

  4. I hope she throws him to the wolves at this point. He hasn’t conceded, hasn’t endorsed, hasn’t made any kind of concession to the fact that the rest of the world is moving on w/o him with HRC as the presumptive nominee. I hope she gives him all the lip service women have been getting from old white men for centuries and then lets him sit with twiddling thumbs wondering where he went wrong.

  5. Sounds like you went to the same useless meetings I did. Radical feminist meetings weren’t much better. You have to work for change, not just demand it. I keep waiting for Bernie to grow up, but it seems unlikely at his age.

  6. You are a brilliant writer. It’s a damn shame it has failed to see the forest for the trees. Often brilliant minds are their own worst enemies. Allow me to use a metaphor: two different minds that resemble peg boards, both with round holes, square holes, rectangular holes, and triangular holes, with their respective pieces that fit these holes.

    One pegboard is the size of Delaware, the other the size of Texas. Pretend that each represents differing intellect; Delaware is an average I.Q., Texas is pure genius.

    Now you would think that Texas would far surpass Delaware in any intellectual challenge. Remember, however, that Texas has far more holes to fill with their respective shapes. These vast differences can often hinder the genius. After all, the genius has so much more to work with, true, but that in and of itself can be a hindrance. The less gifted mind can often reach the same logical conclusions as the gifted mind, only requiring more time to do so. Often times the gifted mind arrives at the same conclusion as the less gifted, often around the same time frame. The reason is that the gifted has many more holes to fill…

    This has been a round-about way of suggesting that you might want to step outside the box. Just one point: the “system” from which you argue, this government, has been around for about 240 years, sufficient time for the politicians to hone their craft. Consequently, things have exponentially gotten worse.

    Perhaps it is time to step out of this quagmire and recognize battles cannot be won in this kind of terrain. Choose a different battlefield. Bring the opponent into a strange environment, one with which he is less familiar.

    Most importantly: recognize that NO ONE has the right to rule over others. Too, no one can possibly be free under a government. Government and freedom are an oxymoron, water and oil. They just don’t mix.

    God speed…

    Bill

  7. I learned something by reading this. Thank you for sharing your history. I hear a beautiful and powerful voice in your words.

  8. Pingback: Link love | Grumpy Rumblings (of the formerly untenured)

  9. Thanks for this perspective. I wasn’t there (quite) so this was educational. I wish more women of your generation had blogs!

  10. This post was completely over my head. I wasn’t alive in those days, and I have never — so far as I know — been a woman. That’s why I turned to a friend of mine to help me understand it, someone who is probably a little bit your senior (mid-20s during the thick of it), a woman, and a Pagan. She’s also a self-described anarchist and stalwart supporter of Senator Sanders.

    I didn’t ask for permission to share her response here, but what I will say is that this is only the second thing she says she’s read that gives her hope that Clinton won’t ruin the Earth and its people. She said that her concern with is that Clinton is “committing crimes against the future,” not that she’s broken any laws, but that reading this makes her think that perhaps it’s possible she could eventually bring herself to cast a Clinton vote.

    The other observation that I think is worth sharing is that she feels that Clinton’s supporters will, after electing her, “smugly go home and ignore what that will mean until the next campaign” in four years. That is something I feel most Americans who bother to vote tend to do.

    I appreciate this history. Some things can only really be learned by people who were there, and now I’ve gotten two excellent perspectives.

    • As in most discussions that are written, a major element is always omitted because it’s politically incorrect and forbidden to discuss for fear of reprisals and including murder: The Kosher Mafia that controls our Media and even determines what’s in our History books.

  11. Wow! As a white male (I had no choice in the matter, as far as I know) who also participated in the ‘revolutionary’ movement during the 60’s and 70’s (I’m well past the allotted three score and ten) I can only remark that as much as I agree with your observations of ‘how it was’, I also note that your anti-male bias is showing. We weren’t all like those you describe. Many of us young white males saw the so-called leaders for what they were; mere rabble-rousers who, not unlike the trump, were only enamored with their own image and we often called them out.

    As for myself, I too attended meetings and rallies, aka Marches, but for the most part I kept my head down and participated mainly by helping other young men – of all colors – to move on through on their way to Canada.

    I have enjoyed reading your blog for quite some time and I generally agree with and applaud your observations and your writing style, but sometimes you tend to paint with too broad a brush.

    Just sayin’…

  12. Martin, I did say #notall. 😉

    • So you did – I reckon I missed it initially because it was so completely overwhelmed by the rest of your blast.

  13. TP Ward, Thanks for the comments. My one big hope is that, due to Sanders, Warren, and Clinton, people understand the need to stay involved past the presidential election. I’ve blogged before about the fact that any individual can have much more impact on local elections than presidential ones. Also wrote about this for Witches & Pagans.

  14. Kelly, Thanks! Me, too.

  15. Great piece. As a too-young-white-male, I can’t speak from any kind of experience, but it is largely what I heard before from many older-not-white-males. A lot of it is history repeating itself. With the prerequisite #notall, there are many, many white male Bernie supporters who do a lot more posting on social media complaining and conspiracy theorizing than getting in the trenches. My gut tells me that they’ll never get involved in the nitty gritty, and never, ever push for any small, but meaningful change. It is total revolution now, or bust, for many of them.

  16. Very good essay. I think most Democrats agree with what Sanders supports – “free college (“public,” not “free.”), $15 minimum wage, single-payer health care, etc.” I certainly do. But I think Hillary Clinton is far more likely to accomplish things like that, simply because her focus is on getting things done, not talking about it.

  17. “I recognize this guy. I’ve been working around him ever since the 1960s.”
    Too true. Make it the 1970s too — but I didn’t have the patience to stand and listen.

  18. Cleverly written, but highly suspect essay.Prejudice against a seminal figure in these ugly political times,is hardly designed to unite against Trump.

  19. Gosh, the left sure knows how to eat its own. I guess we should all just go home and watch TV now, since Bernie isn’t Elizabeth and some of his supporters are assholes. My wife of 45 years and I came out of that 60s movement and recognize the sexist-power-freak-blowhards the writer describes. There were many then who were only “radicals” to end the war/draft and for instant gratification and “free love,” disappearing as soon as they got jobs. But there were also many who have continued and are genuinely still fighting actively for positive change now. Whatever his faults, Bernie and his gang are doing something now that desperately needs doing. Tearing him down and dismissing his followers is a stupid, cynical, short-term tactic that will surely come back to bite us all in the end. His young supporters have it way harder than my generation did, and they’re not getting the kinds of jobs that would make them shut up and go away any time soon. In short, it’s not him who’s trying my patience.

    • Just because Bernie can talk a good game does not mean he can follow through with substantive action that actually changes things — which I think is the writer’s point here.

      He’s a candidate for president, not sainthood, and his record and actions need to be scrutinized in that light. His pointing out problems and inequality doesn’t get anything actually done, and he is kind of light on the details of practical solutions.

      He’s had 30 years in the Senate, without any kind of revolutionary effect. His fiery rhetoric has driven the campaign conversation to the left, which is good, but fiery rhetoric does not make change, as those of us who were around back in the 60s and 70s learned well.

      His young supporters need practical solutions, not rhetoric.

      Tearing him down? No, she’s just removing a halo that seems to be blinding people to the realities of his record — which is underwhelming.

  20. There are many things I like about the issues Bernie Sanders insist on. The complete lack of a path to achieve them, combined with the disingenuous claim that college and healthcare would be ‘free’, and the constant finger pointing and political purity test, reminds me too of these old in your face talkers, that never really achieved anything.

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