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Date: Wed, 20 Dec 2000 21:06:41 -0800
From: "William M. Mandel" <>
Subject: Not Party or Racial Politics, Despite the Opening

Saying No To Power

by William Mandel

A bare majority of whites think Bush won fair and square, according to a CNN/USA Today/ Gallup poll. Virtually no Blacks do (seven percent). As many as four whites out of ten think the electoral system discriminates against Blacks, as do three out of four Blacks. Three out of ten whites think Bush cheated; seven out of ten Blacks do.

This post is directed at that last category, in both races. It is not concerned with reversing the results of the election or with how to win the next one for whatever party or candidate or racial group. It has to do with how the American people, in all its segments individually and jointly, young and old, female and male, home-owners and renters, those who work for wages and salaries and those who are or think of themselves as do the self-employed; well or poorly educated; white, Black, Latino, Asian-American, Native American, the "normal" and the disabled, have learned to defend their own interests in the past century and to gain improvements in their status. That includes staying out and getting out of wars, and attaining necessary objectives outside our country by peaceful means and even when military means are unavoidable.

I have no formula to offer, no organization to join, no place to give money to, only extremely rich experience and thoughts based on that.

In the 1920s I belonged to a children's organization that won the establishment of a cafeteria in a huge public school that had none.

I had the good luck to be in my teens during the Great Depression. Good luck, because the teens are one's time of greatest energy and intellectual curiosity, and also because the circumstances of the day forced people to act and think outside established patterns. As a student, I opposed the bringing of police on campus, demolished the liberal pretensions of the college president who did that, and was expelled for my pains. I helped in labor organization in New York and the industrial cities of Ohio, and listened to the debates over whether unions should support the radical idea of unemployment insurance. I met, on a picket line, the young woman who remains my wife 66 years later. Our daughter was born at the end of that decade.

I also met a white young woman who had initially testified she had been raped by the Scottsboro Boys, and then had the courage to go back to court in that redneck Alabama town to contradict that, thus compelling me to face, for the first time, the use of rape as an allegation to keep African-Americans "in their place."

For one year in that decade, my father took the family to Moscow where he had taken a civil engineering job. This gave me the chance to observe, at first hand, the effort to build a Utopian society, and to read the theories on which it was based.

The forties were a roller-coaster. The knowledge of Russian I had acquired was put to use providing government and press with basic knowledge of the country that, totally contrary to pre-war expectations, had become our most powerful ally against Hitler. A Rockefeller Foundation-funded organization asked me to write a book on that subject. Another book became the second ever used as a text about the Soviet Union in American higher education. The vice-president and a Supreme Court justice came to hear me speak on that at the Brookings Institution in Washington. The Hoover Institution at Stanford University invited me to take a fellowship there at post-doctoral level to pursue further research. Two more children were born.

The Cold War began literally the day World War II ended, according to the Pentagon. Along with our wartime ambassador to Moscow, the vice-president, and others of similar stature, I opposed it. This brought an attack on me personally, as well as others, in Newsweek, before I was thirty. It ended my paid association with higher education for twenty-seven years thereafter. It caused two more books, which I had written on publishers' advances, never to see the light of day. I was dropped by my lecture management, the top such firm in the country, which had people like Eleanor Roosevelt on its roster.

I never permitted these lofty associations to interfere with grassroots activism, sometimes downright physical. In 1949 the extraordinary Renaissance man Paul Robeson, football All-American, baritone called upon for command performances before the crowned heads of Europe, first Black in this century permitted to play Othello opposite a white Desdemona, was prevented by a mob from giving his annual outdoor concert not far from West Point because he, too, vocally opposed the Cold War. I was part of the bodyguard the following week when 2,000 young war veterans protected the crowd of 15,000 that came to hear him, against another mob that stoned us, bloodied my wife, sent hundreds to hospitals and doctors. But that finished, to this day, efforts to prevent expression of dissenting viewpoints by mob violence -- fascism -- except against Blacks and other ethnic minorities. That is one of the things that explains the huge difference between white and Black opinions on the conduct of the recent presidential election.

The 1950s were the darkest time for freedom in my lifetime. I was subpoenaed by all three committees we jointly label McCarthyism, for my outrageous crime of writing books. Literally. In 1952 it was the U.S. Senate Internal Security (McCarran) Committee, which was horrified by my wartime book, The Soviet Far East and Central Asia. The next year it was Senator Joe McCarthy himself, objecting to that one and to an article of 1944 in an academic journal, the American Sociological Review, originally written at the request of the advisors to the Republican candidate for president. That hearing was broadcast live on national TV, and I am happy to say that the national press, from the New York Times on down, front-paged my testimony and transmitted what the television audience had seen on screen -- that I cut him to pieces. That cost me my job, of course, and we were pretty poor for some time thereafter.

But in 1951 I had taken part in an event that foreshadowed the biggest change brought by the 1960s, one that it is still necessary to nail down, judging by the electoral shenanigans in Florida. I participated in a "pilgrimage" of 500 people, about 50-50 Black and white, to the South, in an attempt to save the lives of the defendants in another mass rape trial of African-Americans. The Scottsboro Case of 1931 had ended years later in victory, when the U.S. Supreme Court found that barring Blacks from juries was illegal. The seven men in the Martinsville Case of 1951 were executed, despite the fact that no white had ever been put to death for that crime in the history of the state of Virginia, where this occurred. But the welcome given us by the local African-American community, and its participation, foreshadowed what would occur a decade later when one of my sons was among those who risked their lives in Mississippi to win Blacks the right to vote.

The 1950s also brought ventures into politics as such. I ran for Congress in New York City in 1950 and 1952 against the Korean War, using that as a means of publicizing information that the mass media would run once -- "objectivity," dontcha know -- and then suppress. But I do have the satisfaction of knowing that I was the first person reported in the public press to have called for the dismissal of Gen. Douglas MacArthur for insubordination that threatened a world nuclear war. He was in fact fired.

Having been New Yorkers most of our lives, we moved to Berkeley in 1957. The following January I began a program on Pacifica Radio that lasted until 1995, in the course of which I re-invented talk radio (I did not know that it had existed on a couple of stations before McCarthy). In 1960, the House Un-American Activities Committee subpoenaed me for its road-show hearing in San Francisco in an effort to get the station, KPFA, to cancel my show, and to intimidate the local public TV station, KQED, where I also had been on for three years, to do likewise. The latter caved in, the former did not. By great good fortune, the hearing coincided with the birth of student activism, provoked by the fact that the committee also subpoenaed a student at the Berkeley campus of the University of California.

My testimony this time became part of folklore. It has been reproduced in six documentary films, one even this year, forty years after the event, and has become pretty much the standard cut used in TV specials seeking to portray the atmosphere of the McCarthy era and, above all, resistance to it. It has also shown up in phonograph records and audio cassettes. (My testimony before McCarthy was performed by an actor in a play thirty-five years later that had a seven-month run in Los Angeles, and also played in McCarthy's home state of Wisconsin.)

For me personally, the HUAC testimony had the pleasant result of winning such popularity among 1960s students that I was incorporated into the Executive Committee of the Free Speech Movement at the University of California. Essentially it was pressure from that movement that won me a teaching appointment in its Sociology Department in 1969. I also taught at San Francisco and San Jose State universities and in the Law School of Golden Gate University.

When President John Kennedy blockaded Cuba in 1962, resulting in the Cuba Missile Crisis, the only time in the four decades of Cold War that nuclear war was an immediate possibility, I was able to present a solution through people with access to his brother, cabinet officer Bobby Kennedy, and to the National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy, that corresponded very closely to the deal actually worked out with the Soviet Union.

The 1970s involved a series of offers of teaching positions by faculty at various places, cancelled by higher-ups but for one short stint at one institution. At another, a department head said he would resign in protest over action taken against me, but I convinced him that his university needed precisely people like him, so he confined himself to taking a sabbatical.

With the rise of popular discontent with the Cold War in the 1980s, I was able to use my knowledge of the Soviet Union to serve the citizen-diplomacy movement that then sprang into existence. This took me on joint peace walks from Leningrad to Moscow, then two across the Ukraine including a visit to Chernobyl not long after the nuclear catastrophe, and finally one across immense Kazakstan to the nuclear bomb test site.

At home, my major concern in the 80s was with prisoners. Forty years earlier, when I was at Stanford, a blinded New York veteran of the civil war against fascism in Spain had asked me to visit his son in Soledad, and I got my first notion of the world behind bars. Now two listeners to my radio program, both Black men, sought my help. One, abandoned by his mother in childhood, had become a small-time drug dealer, and, with another, had killed a higher-up and his wife during a brief period when the ghetto thought the way to free itself of drugs was to kill the big dealers. My wife and I visited him for seven years. Hard to believe, but he proved to be a person of particularly fine character and exceptional intelligence. In the long run, the prison system wore down his determination to follow my idea of his going to college behind bars so I could use my academic connections to get him paroled to study for an advanced degree. Truly a Jean Valjean - Javert story. The other man was the rare case of a Black Panther who came from an educated, middle-class family. When the prison authorities sought to frame him for inciting a riot that I knew he had actually prevented from happening, I was able to use my broadcasts to get a member of Congress and others in the state legislature to make inquiries in the Department of Corrections, which totally astonished it. This man did in fact go on to a university after serving nine years.

The 1990s were a wild time of trying to understand what had happened and was happening in the collapsed Soviet Union and the role the United States had played. So in 1998 I visited the place in Siberia my father had worked three-quarters of a century earlier (before the trip on which he took me). That lengthened my stretch of first-hand knowledge of that country to 68 years, longer than anyone else in the 500 years of foreign observation of Russia.

At home I took part in the new "pirate" radio (low-power FM) movement. It was simply that, having been dropped by the station that had carried me for thirty-seven years, due to a new national management that wanted it to follow a particular political line, two stations invited me to broadcast. One of these was Free Radio Berkeley, later put out of business by a federal judge. I had offered to go to jail in a test case, but that became moot. I now broadcast on its successor, Berkeley Liberation Radio, and on a Web station, LuVER.

As people learned of the richness of my life, they asked me to make a book of it. That first happened in 1969, and came from three widely different sources: my colleagues on the editorial board of the monthly of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, an early feminist, and a disabled academic. I did nothing for 15 years, but when it became clear that Ronald Reagan would be re-elected, I felt that my experience could be of use in combatting what he stood for. I asked my radio station for an additional spot, and broadcast my autobiography over a year of weekly half-hour shows in 1984-5.

In the 1990s I felt that my age made it a now-or-never proposition. I was sure that, just as there had been activist generations in the '30s and '60s, another would certainly appear, and I wanted to equip it with whatever I could offer. In a sense, I wrote it for the Seattle generation, although I had no notion of where, when, or what issue would bring it to life.

I call it Saying No To Power, because that summarizes what I am best known for. I used the form of an autobiography because people are always more interested in the story of a human being than in abstract historical fact. When I asked the publisher how he would price it, and he replied: "$18.50", I expressed amazement at the low figure, which I welcomed. He told me he has eight children, knows what it costs to buy textbooks, and wants it used in American History, American Studies, and foreign affairs courses.

So that's what this post is about. You can purchase it from me, at 4500 Gilbert St., Apt. 426, Oakland, CA, 94611, by sending me a check for $23, which includes shipping and tax. That will get you an autographed copy, but it won't reach you before the holiday. Or you can buy it from any bookstore. Simply give them the title, my name, and the publisher: Creative Arts, Berkeley. Wholesalers all over the country have it, and a bookstore can get overnight delivery, so if you order it today or tomorrow, you can have it for Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah.

William Mandel

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