Democratic Underground  
A Heartening Visit to Texas, Home of the Original Bush Whoppers
September 24, 2003
By Bernard Weiner, The Crisis Papers

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 the state.

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 Texas politics.

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 Crisis Papers

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