Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Death penalty meeting-June 23/ People Power Pushed the New Deal

The Baltimore Coalition Against the Death Penalty will meet on Tuesday, June 23, at 7 pm in the offices of the AFSC at 4806 York Rd in Baltimore.
The primary topic will be the planned forum on Troy Davis (on Georgia's death row) and the current status of the death penalty in MD.
The forum is to be held Tuesday, July 14, 09, at 7 pm in the Church Hall of the First Unitarian Church downtown.  (The church hall is on Charles St, 1/2 north of Franklin St.)
Please join us in organizing the activities to make the forum a success.
Terry Fitzgerald

People Power Pushed the New Deal


by Sarah Anderson

YES! Magazine Summer 2009: The New Economy



Roosevelt didn't come up with all those progressive programs on his own.


Farmers crowd around the auctioneer at a foreclosure

sale in Nebraska Farmers crowd around the auctioneer at

a foreclosure sale in Nebraska, intimidating potential

bidders so they can buy the farm for a low price. Farms

bought at such "penny auctions" were returned to their

owners. During the Great Depression, my grandfather ran

a butter creamery in rural Minnesota. Growing up, I

heard how a group of farmers stormed in one day and

threatened to burn the place down if he didn't stop

production. I had no idea who those farmers were or why

they had done that--it was just a colorful story.


Now I know that they were with the Farmers' Holiday

Association, a protest movement that flourished in the

Midwest in 1932 and 1933. They were best known for

organizing "penny auctions," where hundreds of farmers

would show up at a foreclosure sale, intimidate

potential bidders, buy the farm themselves for a

pittance, and return it to the original owner.


The action in my grandfather's creamery was part of a

withholding strike. By choking off delivery and

processing of food, the Farmers' Holiday Association

aimed to boost pressure for legislation to ensure that

farmers would make a reasonable profit for their goods.

Prices were so low that farmers were dumping milk and

burning corn for fuel or leaving it in the field.


The Farmers' Holiday Association never got the

legislation it wanted, but its direct actions lit a

fire under politicians. Several governors and then

Congress passed moratoriums on farm foreclosures.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, telling advisors

that he feared an "agrarian revolution," rushed through

reforms that helped millions of farmers stay on their

land. These new policies regulated how much land was

planted or kept in reserve. Although it was eventually

replaced by the massive subsidies that today favor

large agribusiness and encourage overproduction,

Roosevelt's original program supported some of the most

prosperous and stable decades for U.S. farmers.


This is just one example of how strong grassroots

organizing during the last severe U.S. economic crisis

was key in pushing some of that era's most important

progressive reforms. Social Security is another such case.


The Depression had been particularly tough on the

elderly, millions of whom lost their pensions in the

stock crash and had few options for employment.

Roosevelt, however, felt the nation was not ready for a

costly and logistically challenging pension program.


Then a retired California doctor named Francis E.

Townsend wrote to the editor of his local paper,

proposing a pension system that would also stimulate

the economy by offering $200 per month to every citizen

over 60, on the condition that they spend the entire

amount within 30 days. The idea spread like wildfire.

Thousands of Townsend Clubs around the country wrote

millions of letters to the President and Congress

demanding the pension system Townsend suggested.


Roosevelt, reportedly concerned that Townsend might

join with populist Louisiana Senator Huey Long to

challenge him in the 1936 election, eventually changed

his position. Although he rejected the details of the

Townsend Plan, Roosevelt pushed through legislation in

1935 that created Social Security, still one of the

country's most important anti-poverty programs.


Seventy-five years later, these stories offer important

lessons for a country again mired in economic crisis.

Neither the Farmers' Holiday Association nor the

Townsend Clubs got exactly what they wanted. But their

bold demands and action moved the policy debate much

further than it would have gone had these social

movements not existed.


Like President Barack Obama, Roosevelt was an extremely

popular leader, particularly among the disadvantaged

who saw him as their champion. But it wasn't enough to

have a generally good guy in the White House. Likewise

today, our chances of achieving real change have more

to do with the power of social movements than with the

occupant of the Oval Office. Obama has opened some

doors of opportunity, but to go beyond economic

recovery to a more just and sustainable economy, we'll

need to follow in the footsteps of Depression-era

activists and organize around bold ideas.


Sarah Anderson wrote this article as part of The New

Economy, the Summer 2009 issue of YES! Magazine. Sarah

directs the Global Economy Project at the Institute for

Policy Studies.   YES! Magazine encourages you

to make free use of this article by taking these easy

steps. http://yesmagazine.org/article.asp?ID=3502




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