Thom Hartmann: Helping you win the water cooler wars, Thom Hartmann here with you. And here we have Max Baucus thanking Liz Fowler who is on his staff, she’s his chief legal, chief health counsel, chief health lawyer. She wrote the 87 page white paper which became the basis of virtually all of the various forms of what we now refer to as Obamacare. And it turns out that she used to be the Vice President of WellPoint and probably some day soon will go back to a similar job.
How do we deal with the crisis of this rotting corruption in our government where the laws are being written by the lobbyists or by the big corporations, the politicians are by and large on the take, the interests of the people are, to paraphrase Grover Cleveland, trammeled under the iron heel of capital and left far behind. And you know how do we do it?
Voting is not enough. Taking back our government is not enough. It’s always been about movement politics. It’s always been about getting active on the ground. It’s always been about groups of people, you know the old Margaret Meade quote, it’s always been about small groups of people getting together and creating change. And then of course mythologies emerge around that that tend to be hierarchical. You know metaphors or myths but the reality is that, no it wasn’t one brave person who stepped forward, it was a lot of average people who stepped forward.
One of the best tellers of this story, and one of the best books of this story is Paul Rogat Loeb. Paul’s book, new and revised edition just out now is "Soul of a Citizen: Living With Conviction in Challenging Times". And Paul, an old and dear friend, and one of the most brilliant writers on earth today, Paul welcome to the show.
Paul Loeb: Very glad to be here.
Thom Hartmann: Great to have you here with us Paul. And thanks for all the fine times we’ve spent together over the years. “Soul of a Citizen.” Let’s just tell the story of Rosa Parks. I think it’s one of the best stories in your book and it’s one of the stories that is least understood by Americans. Both because of the details of the story itself but most importantly because of the larger metaphor that it implies.
Paul Loeb: Exactly. I mean, what happened is I was on a CNN show and I’m sitting in a studio in Atlanta, Parks is coming in via a remote, and I’m done with my segment.
Thom Hartmann: Rosa Parks.
Paul Loeb: Rosa Parks, yes.
Thom Hartmann: This was when she was still alive.
Paul Loeb: So I don’t get to meet her but I’m so excited and then they basically say “Rosa Parks one day started the Civil Rights movement.” And I’m just groaning because if you know the story, she had been active at that point for a dozen years. She was a secretary and the mentor to the youth section of the local NAACP. She was a long term activist. And it got me thinking about the way we present our heroes. Because if you don’t know the story of Rosa Parks, who do you know the story of?
Thom Hartmann: Right.
Paul Loeb: So the image was this lone activist, acting almost accidentally, the image of her feet hurting, and then suddenly everything changes. And of course it’s nonsense because…
Thom Hartmann: If I may just pause you here for a moment. For our listeners who may not know what you’re talking about, Rosa Parks is the woman who, according to lore, was the woman who said, who sat in the front of the bus that was reserved for white people and said you know my feet hurt, I’m not gonna get up and walk to the back of the bus, into the part reserved for African Americans, tough luck. Got arrested for it and you know, and the rest is history as they say. And that was the story that CNN was promulgating, the day back, it must have been well over a decade ago that you and Rosa Parks were both on CNN.
Paul Loeb: Right. And so what happens is that basically they make it sound as if she’s completely on her own. The reality is that there’s a whole community that she herself has helped create. And so, for instance, there’s a guy named Edie Nixon who’s a union organizer, he’s the head of a local, in Montgomery, the NAACP chapter. He’s the one who gets a young and very reluctant Martin Luther King involved. And we think of King as sort of leaping into involvement but at that point King is saying I’m new here, I’m just out of divinity school, I’m young, people don’t know me, he’s hesitant.
And we think that these people, our heroes, leap instantly to the fray. But they don’t, and so what I’m suggesting is that if you strip out the idea of community and you rely on this sort of lone hero, you’re never gonna get anything done.
Thom Hartmann: Right, and the rare individual who decides that they’re gonna be the lone hero and goes off on their own to do something very often, well not very often, but may well do the wrong thing, might do something stupid, or what most commonly happens is gets ignored.
Paul Loeb: And the thing is, is to be effective you need this community as of course in the "Soul of a Citizen". The other part that really disturbed me is the idea of this being an unconscious action because Parks had taken training sessions at the Labor and Civil Rights Center Highlander School the summer before her arrest and so was very consciously launching a movement.
And what I always say is I use the phrase that Jim Wallis of Sojourners who said hope is believing in spite of the evidence and then watching the evidence change. And I love that because it’s the leap of faith that allows us to move mountains and it’s essential to change.
At the same time you also need the practical. You need to figure out who your allies are, who are the obstacles, how do you tell the story, what are you gonna do, what’s your campaign. These very, very practical things. You don’t need all the answers to them but you at least need to be thinking about them.
And when Rosa Parks was taking that stand on the bus she obviously couldn’t know, have anticipated how it would have turned out because you never can. At the same time she knew she was launching a strategic…
Thom Hartmann: She had a sense of where it was going. Paul we have less than a minute. The Tea Party Movement, Rick Santelli or whatever his name was, on CNBC said we need a tea party. Apparently that was planned and staged, a lot of planning went into the Tea Party Movement. Hundreds or tens of millions of dollars certainly have gone into promoting it and making it happen. It’s being controlled behind the scenes by billionaires and right wing corporations. What’s happening on the left?
Paul Loeb: I think what’s happening on the left is we’ve spent way too much time behind our computers. I have a whole section in “Soul of a Citizen” now on virtual activism and it’s a great tool. I mean it allows us to connect, to mobilize through these wonderful things. But at some point you’ve got to get out from behind the computers. And the right has done that this past year and we haven’t.
We have to be in the role of, if you look at the Civil Rights Movement. Basically Kennedy and Johnson were putting the brakes on the movement, were hesitant, and the movement then pushed…
Thom Hartmann: And yet when we show up, I mean there were 25 thousand people marching for gay rights in Washington DC, it didn’t even get covered. 10 thousand tea partiers show up it was two days of coverage on the networks.
Paul Loeb: And we just have, we have to persist and we have to be able to essentially push the elected leaders from the base to be able to do what’s right.
Thom Hartmann: Absolutely. And we’re the base and we need to get active and we need to participate with these organizations that are out there. Paul Loeb, SoulofaCitizen.org is the website. His new book, or new and revised, “Soul of a Citizen.” Thanks Paul.
Paul Loeb: My pleasure.
Transcribed by Suzanne Roberts, Portland Psychology Clinic.