Obama's inner FDR

In 1940 the government started spending money like crazy creating jobs to make weapons but the jobs being created were not open to black Americans. FDR did not want to fight segregationist Southern congressmen and refused to act. A. Philip Randolph, the leader the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters began to organize a march on Washington to demand that the government forbid employment discrimination. Randolph credibly threatened to bring 150,000 demonstrators to the Capitol and eventually FDR gave in:

The President sent a message to a young lawyer on his staff, Joseph L. Rauh, Jr. "We need an Executive Order for Fair Employment Practices Commission and we need it in a few hours." It became the famous Executive Order 8802. As Rauh worked to meet his deadline he coined a phrase that was to become one of the most powerful and familiar in American life. "No discrimination on the grounds of race, color, creed or national origin." The march was cancelled. [from here]

The interaction of Roosevelt and Randolph is the absolute opposite of how today's "left" has interacted with President Obama. Not only was Randolph able to credibly threaten a major mobilization, thanks to decades of organizing work, but he was able to use the President's own ideals to popularize his demands.

Today we call on President Roosevelt, a great humanitarian and idealist, to . . . free American Negro citizens of the stigma, humiliation and insult of discrimination and Jim-Crowism in Government departments and national defense.

Randolph was an adult, playing hardball politics with an ally who was under intense pressure to do the wrong thing. Today, I guess, our "progressives" would have credibly threatened to bring a few hundred people to DC, called the President a whore and a coward, and sulked when things didn't work out as they wanted.

The year that FDR took office, "workers alliance" groups physically blocked evictions all over America. A million and a half workers were on strike in 1934, the West Coast was essentially in insurrection with San Francisco paralyzed by a general strike. A teamsters strike in Minneapolis was won after a pitched battle with police and giant protests. More than 400,000 textile workers on the east coast went on strike and 13 people died in violent protests before FDR sent in mediators. The sharecroppers union spread through the rural south, fighting evictions. By 1936 workers in the industrial northeast were closing factories with "sit-down" strikes. All of this labor agitation required labor organizers who risked their lives - and often lost their lives.

In 1936 there were forty-eight sitdown strikes. In 1937 there were 477: electrical workers in St. Louis; shirt workers in Pulaski, Tennessee; broom workers in Pueblo, Colorado; trash collectors in Bridgeport, Connecticut; gravediggers in New Jersey; seventeen blind workers at the New York Guild for the Jewish Blind; prisoners in an Illinois penitentiary; and even thirty members of a National Guard Company who had served in the Fisher Body sit-down, and now sat down themselves because they had not been paid.

That quote above is from some centrist. You see in the old days, the "left" had a theory that nobody is given power, they have to take it. So when they got rid of Hoover, who sent the army in for wholesale slaughter of protesters, they took advantage of the opening and organized. FDR did not organize the CIO himself. He never lead a strike. Never walked a picket line. In response to a weak law which said that workers had the right to join unions but had absolutely no enforcement, John L. Lewis of the United Mine Workers (UMW) denounced the President as weak - sorry, started a massive organizing drive, telling workers "The President wants you to join the union." As the UMW grew, Lewis did not worry that the President was favoring other unions more, instead he used the UMW to help fund and organize the United Auto Workers and United Steel Workers. So Lewis' strategy was "use the popularity of the President to build the union". The strategy of the unions and left wing movements in general was to directly confront employers instead of complaining that the President was not confronting employers for them. When a similar dynamic began to develop in Wisconsin, our "left" leaders tried very hard to refocus attention on the absence of the President from the picket line.

The huge wave of union organizing in the first 4 years of FDR's tenure helped produce the electoral wins of 1934 and 1936 when the Democrats solidly took control of Congress and were able to push additional labor legislation past bitter opposition from the courts. Imagine the difference in political considerations when the President sits down to negotiate with the Chamber of Commerce if there is a viable workers movement that is building power and alliances as opposed to our current situation where the "left" consists of people who work full time to market the idea that the President is weak and corrupt or cowardly.Some Democratic Party "progressive" from California told me recently that the President was "failing to lead" and I wondered what Victor Reuther or John L. Lewis or A. Philip Randolph would have thought of someone so weak and irresponsible.

Look, at one time leftists would write like this:

Any revolutionary change must be preceded by a passive, affirmative, non-challenging attitude toward change among the mass of our people. They must feel so frustrated, so defeated, so lost, so futureless in the prevailing system that they are willing to let go of the past and change the future. This acceptance is the reformation essential to any revolution. To bring on this reformation requires that the organizer work inside the system, among not only the middle class but the 40 per cent of American families – more than seventy million people – whose income range from $5,000 to $10,000 a year [in 1971]. They cannot be dismissed by labeling them blue collar or hard hat. They will not continue to be relatively passive and slightly challenging. If we fail to communicate with them, if we don't encourage them to form alliances with us, they will move to the right. Maybe they will anyway, but let's not let it happen by default.

But this is not for our advanced progressive theoretical ideology experts. The nation needs us to explain what Obama should do, not, you know, do something. We can also write about how stupid crackers are. By the way, that speech above is from Saul Alinsky. God knows that at one time "progressives" in America were kind of uneducated about the importance of "calling out" Presidents and they did all sorts of unnecessary, dangerous stuff. SNCC volunteers in Greenwood read this in the New York Times from a local

We killed 2 month old indian babies to take this country and now they want us to give it away to the niggers

Taking my country back, for sure. Some things don't change. Lyndon Johnson did not come out and register voters. Not a single one. What he did was send a guy from the Justice department to tell the SNCC volunteers that they could not imagine how dangerous it was going to be for them. Too bad David Sirota was not around to call him out. That would have saved a lot of work and danger for the civil rights movement.

Where was Glenn Greenwald to lecture LBJ on the rule of law that we always have previously respected in this country except when we didn't?

This is what Randolph said in his call for the march.

An "all-out" thundering march on Washington, ending in a monster and huge demonstration at Lincoln's Monument will shake up white America. It will shake up official Washington. It will give encouragement to our white friends to fight all the harder by our side, with us, for our righteous cause. It will gain respect for the Negro people. It will create a new sense of self-respect among Negroes.


Today we call on President Roosevelt, a great humanitarian and idealist, to . . . free American Negro citizens of the stigma, humiliation and insult of discrimination and Jim-Crowism in Government departments and national defense.

Today we still have leaders who care about porters - for example, Professor Cornel West, self-proclaimed spokesman for the poor, cares that a mere hotel porter got a ticket to the inauguration and he didn't. It's hard to imagine the distance between Randolph and West was traveled in just 70 years.

Where's Obama's inner FDR? Working hard, hoping and praying that someone will come to help him so he doesn't have to carry the whole weight by himself.

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