Heartening Visit to Texas, Home of the Original Bush Whoppers
By Bernard Weiner, The
There's something happening here
What it is ain't exactly clear
There's a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware
I think it's time we stop, children, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down.
(from "For What It's Worth," by Stephen Stills, 1966)
HOUSTON - Those lines from the '60s anthem, as popularized
by the band Buffalo Springfield, have been running around
my brain ever since I got to Texas on this abbreviated speaking
tour. Something indeed is happening here in this country,
and this city is a good example.
I'm here to give an address to ROADwomen (River Oaks Area
Democratic Women), the prestigious organization of Democratic
activists that provides a moral compass for many progressive
voters in the Lone Star State. The day before, William Rivers
Pitt, that sterling writer/editor from Truthout (and author
of The Greatest Sedition is Silence, recently released,
and The War on Iraq, with Scott Ritter), was in town
speaking at another event. The day before that, Dennis Kucinich
was in Houston, running from meeting to meeting to stir up
support for his progressive campaign.
Pitt, Kucinich - two of my heroes in the struggle - and
me, representing The Crisis Papers, all in the same Texas
city at the same time. (The New York Times' Paul Krugman,
perhaps America's most important columnist, is due shortly.)
Something's going on here, and though it's still not clear
what, the haze is lifting more and more each day.
Texas isn't exactly Democrat country. It's easy being liberal
or progressive in San Francisco, where I live. Not in Texas,
except maybe in Austin and parts of Houston. This is Bush-family
country (one flies into George Bush Intercontinental Airport),
and Democrats are the despised, humiliated enemy in most of
No wonder Tom Delay and Karl Rove are trying to crush them,
destroy even their limited effectiveness. Looks bad to have
Democrats standing up to the Bush machine in the family's
home state. So the Republican plan to railroad an illegal
pro-GOP redistricting plan through the Texas legislature is
moving ahead full-speed, even though the Democratic Senators
carried on a daring campaign to stop the move, by twice fleeing
the state in order to deny the GOP a quorum to pass it. (The
issue then will move back into the courts, to settle the legality
of the Republican takeover; similar things are happening in
California with regard to the recall.)
The Democrats I met here on my brief, three-day stay are
quite aware of the forces they're up against. They realize
things have changed muchly since the heady days when Democrat
Ann Richards - she of the brilliant fresh mouth - was governor.
The Democrats now definitely are in the minority, and are
treated roughly by their Republican opponents.
But the glorious thing is that the Dems, including those
I ran into, are still kicking and fighting - with fellow Texans
Molly Ivins and Jim Hightower as wonderful role models - even
though it's often a losing battle. They're battling on issues
ranging from the Iraq war to school textbooks (denuded of
references to geologic evolution: "millions of years ago"
becomes "many years ago"), from redistricting proposals to
pollution-control. I stand in admiration and awe for their
courage and tenacity.
I got to meet such ROAD activists as Dalia Stokes and Charlcye
Sells - and fellow troublemakers Charlotte Coffelt, Muffie
Moroney, Bobbie Bayless, James Sells, Stan Merriman, and a
host of others - and they are bright, determined beacons of
light in the dark Republican wilderness that is contemporary
There's battle lines being drawn
Nobody's right if everybody's wrong
Young people speaking their minds
Getting so much resistance from behind
I think it's time we stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down
What a field-day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly say, hooray for our side
It's time we stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down
William Rivers Pitt and I bumped into each other in the
lobby of KPFT, the admirable Pacifica radio station in Houston.
The two of us had communicated via email for a long time,
and finally got to put faces to names. Pitt was being interviewed
prior to his presentation that evening at an activists' gathering
at a local restaurant; I was being interviewed in another
studio, by Pokey Anderson, a political-savvy woman with a
wealth of vital information at her fingertips.
That evening, I got to see Pitt in action. The place was
packed with mainly young activist types. Pitt, dressed in
black, swigged beers and smoked cigarettes onstage as he lit
into the Bush Administration for its many crimes and misdemeanors.
His approach was a cross between tough political discourse,
prosecutorial anger, and stand-up comedy. This guy was GOOD!
And he dealt felicitously with the shouted-out comments from
the boisterous crowd.
At one point, he asked the audience how many were aware
of PNAC, the Project for the New American Century. Nearly
every hand in the place was raised. I was overjoyed to see
that these Houstonites were hip to this too-little-known dirty
secret in the Republican Party, and how they reacted quickly
to Pitt's generalized comments about the organization of extreme
neoconservatives. But I also was wondering how my speech would
be received the following evening, since PNAC was the main
topic I was talking about and I didn't want to bore folks
with information with which they already were familiar.
But I had no need to worry. Though a good many in the packed
ROADwomen audience had heard of the neo-conservative movement
and PNAC, many had not - and, besides, I was filling in a
lot of the blanks by quoting directly from PNAC documents.
[To read the full speech, click
here.] The audience seemed to be truly interested in the
heavy material I was laying on them - as well as in the final,
more hopeful part of my talk, about the things we all could
do to ensure Bush's defeat in 2004 - and the Q&A session that
followed was filled with intelligent queries and commentary.
I left heartened by the possibility that even in Texas, Bush
was vulnerable. (At dinner later, I was told about the Republican
couple at a recent precinct polling place who announced out
of the blue as they were exiting that they had voted for the
GOP presidential candidate for the past 21 years but would
not be voting for Bush in 2004.)
Which reminded me of the recent letter from a Kansas reader
to The Crisis Papers, and to recent letters to the editor
of the Idaho Statesman. These are two conservative-leaning
states from the GOP side of the ledger, but the anger toward
and suspicion of Bush are palpable and, one can hope, indicative
of his vulnerability in those states as well.
Here's the Kansas letter:
"Here in conservative Wichita, the local
ABC affiliate today polled its viewers as to whether Bush
was on the right track in his handling of Iraq, or was leading
us in the wrong direction. The results:
Based on last night's speech, do you believe President
Bush is on track with his policy toward Iraq? Yes 39.7 %,
No 60.3 %.
It isn't scientific, but results like that in
Kansas are significant." (Jerry Policoff)
And here are excerpts from a sampling of Idaho Statesman
letters-to-the-editor from September 11, 2003:
"For two years, the Bush Administration has
exploited the attacks of September 11, 2001, to further
its political agenda.
Just six weeks after Sept. 11, Bush described
the war on terrorism as 'very long struggle against evil,'
then declared: 'Now, there's another front on the war, as
well, and that's our economy.' He then advanced a proposal
to cut taxes for the wealthiest Americans...Regime change
should begin at home." (Donald Kern, Boise)
"...I felt bitter to read that Bush opened
several airports in those post-crash days to allow wealthy
Saudis - including the relatives of Osama bin Laden - to
fly out of the country. Some people spent the aftermath
of 9/11 at Ground Zero, comforting victims, looking for
bodies, trying to restore order amid the chaos and carnage.
They must feel bitter to read that, several days
after the crash, the Bush administration gave false assurances
about the air quality at the crash site. According to a
recent Environmental Protection Agency report, the agency
did not have enough information to determine whether conditions
at Ground Zero posed a health risk. Bush told the EPA to
report it was safe to breathe the air, even though the EPA
had no basis for saying so.
After 9/11, many people sought reasssurance and
wanted a hero. Some made Bush that hero. But the real heroes
risked their life at Ground Zero. Bush betrayed those heroes
by putting their lives at risk with false information."
(Peggy Jenkins, Deary)
"The legislation euphemistically referred
to the 'the Patriot Act' would be better dubbed 'Operation
Eroding Freedom.'...That Ashcroft chose not to allow 'the
people' to attend his speaking tour suggests a misguided
ego (or insecurity) not seen since Joseph McCarthy....I
cll upon all citizens of Idaho to reject this thinly disguised
over-reaching of power." (Deanna C. Davis, Nampa)
"The Boise City Council will hold a public
meeting on a resolution to "choose" not to implement certain
powers granted by the unquestionably fascist Patriot Act...Tell
them you want your constitutional rights back. Reject fascism
in America." (Robert Blurton, Boise)
In sum, all across the country, people are speaking their
minds, and what they have to say, more and more, does not
offer support for the extremist policies of Bush&Co. It's
time to take the country back in 2004. That means educating
ourselves and then taking action. Everybody look what's going
down, and then organize, Organize, ORGANIZE!
Bernard Weiner, Ph.D., has taught American government &
international relations at Western Washington University and
San Diego State University. A former writer-editor with the
San Francisco Chronicle for nearly 20 years, he currently
is co-editor of the progressive website The