Family Values and Community Organizers

Circleville Herald, September 8, 2008

Sarah Palin doesn’t believe Barack Obama’s service as a community organizer on the south side of Chicago ( my birth neighborhood) was worth much. In so stating she devalues all of us committed to transcendent faith and values who have given of our time, money, even our lives to right the wrongs of our nation. In righting every wrong we have always faced the opposition of conservatives, tarred as un-American, or un-patriotic, un-Christian, against the free-market, or simply without “family values”.

Harriet Tubman, praised in Mr. Obama’s nomination acceptance speech, was a community organizer, conducting hundreds of ex-slaves’ on their exodus to freedom. James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, three civil rights community organizers murdered in Philadelphia, Mississippi June 1964 were smeared by the state itself and by good southern “Christians” as elitist ,“un-Godly” and of “low morality” for challenging Biblically ordained segregation (Genesis 9:27).

Joe Hill, Big Bill Haywood, Eugene V. Debs, countless other early labor community organizers worked to free my twelve-year-old grandfather from stoking the boilers of Great Lakes freighters, 1912, while millions of workers toiled unlimited hour work weeks in dangerous sweatshops. One hundred and forty-eight died in the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire of 1911, management had chained the exits closed to prevent workers from taking too many breaks. Pressure from organized workers forced politicians to enact the Worker’s Compensation statutes that assisted me when I was burned by molten steel in the mill, 1974. Debs was jailed for three years, for simply speaking against World War 1. Standard American History high school textbooks scarcely mention the beatings, the thuggery, the deaths of hundreds of organizers at the hands of the Pinkertons ( private security squads hired by company owners).

Politicians do right when community organizers force them to do so. Community organizers have been the conscience of our nation.

I have organized against the unjust Vietnam and Iraq Wars. My friends were shot and killed at Kent State in principled opposition to the horror of the U.S. driven Vietnam War. As an emergency physician I organize on behalf of the 100 million worthy Americans abandoned altogether or seriously endangered by our profit-driven healthcare system. I see the faces of these abandoned and endangered ones, they and their children’s faces every day.

Mr. McCain, Mrs. Palin tell us they are against Washington. I have news for them. It is their party that has run Washington for the last 8 years. It is the Republican Party that manipulated our insecurity after 9/11 into backing an unnecessary strike-first war in Iraq while engaging in widespread torture and adopting a U.S. “my way or the highway” foreign policy. Two trillion dollars of our tax money are wasted in Iraq, millions that cannot even be accounted for, given carte blanche to Halliburton ( Dick Cheney’s company) and other private firms. It is the Republican Party that gives your tax money as subsidies to the health insurance and pharmaceutical companies. Review the Medicare Part “D” act. The act actually forbids Medicare from negotiating for drug prices. Medicare HMOs charge taxpayers more than traditional Medicare for the same care. Many Republicans who passed this Medicare “reform” got huge contributions or promises of cushy jobs from the health insurance/pharmaceutical companies.

Mr. McCain’s health care plan will divert even more of your tax money to health insurance company profits. Mr. McCain has promised us a hundred years in Iraq, Iran or wherever he perceives a threat. I worry about a presidential candidate who believes the Vietnam War was a noble or winnable adventure. John’s service was admirable, his mission was not. John’s targets were often in some of the most heavily civilian populated areas of Hanoi. Thousands died.

Family values are more than just parading homey photos of Sarah Palin fishing, holding a rifle or riding an ATV. Family values means more than cute jokes about pit bulls and lipstick. Family values means helping with education, college loans, living wages so that our children have options other than the slick promises of an Army recruiter. Family values means honoring those who have served with real one hundred percent tuition for college, a bill that John McCain opposes. Family values means no one, no one , ever, ever goes without needed health care for lack of money.

We can do better, organize and vote for peace, healthcare, justice.  Right the wrongs.

Brad Cotton

Organizer: Veterans for Peace

Organizer: Physicians for a National Health Program