Dallas Does Progressivism

By David Swanson

This past Saturday, I joined in a protest at a former president’s house, took part in a four-hour progressive politics forum in an enormous theater packed with an enthusiastic crowd, and spoke at a fundraiser for GI resistance in a giant gay cathedral, all in the heart of the hinterlands: Dallas, Texas. All of which is not to say that the United States is a purple country and we should all just get along, but is to say that there is to be found across this nation a crowd much larger and saner and yet even angrier than the deluded corporate pawns and racists shown daily on your television.

On my way to Dallas I stopped in Kansas City and Oklahoma City. In the former I found an active progressive community that had recently delayed and was seeking to block the relocation and expansion of a major weapons factory. It seems the city government in Kansas City has determined that lousy schools and housing, hunger and crime, are no reason not to give $40 million to Honeywell to assist in its production of what it claims are “85 percent of the components that go into a nuclear weapon.” It seems that Harry Truman, who made his name by stopping waste on weaponry, planted a factory back home that now deprives Kansas City of needed funds in order to manufacture the horrific instruments of death thus far used only by Truman. Meanwhile, the existing factory pollutes the land and water while poisoning and killing its employees.

A bunch of us staged a protest outside the factory gates, similar to protests I’ve been part of at similar sites in Nebraska and Tennessee, and the support from people driving by on the road was phenomenal: many more positive reactions than negative. One man who stopped his car at the light told us that his grandmother had died of cancer after making bombs there in the 1960s. Maurice Copeland, who was part of our protest, told me he’d worked at the plant for 32 years. When a car drove out of the gates containing a man and a smiling little girl, Copeland remarked that toxic substances were on the man’s clothes and that he had probably hugged the little girl and possibly killed her. Such occurrences have apparently been part of the Kansas City Plant for decades, with neither the government, nor Honeywell, nor the International Association of Machinists union properly informing workers or the public.

Kansas City’s political life is as deadly as the weapons factory. Rightwing nuts are taking over the Republican Party, while the less crazy Republicans are taking over the Democratic Party. But progressive activists for the popular views that this process excludes are alive and energized. Two men who were part of our protest and who form a group called “The Recipe” wrote a poem that day and performed it the next evening. To follow what’s happening in Kansas City, keep an eye on Tell Somebody, Fightin Cock Flyer, Uncommon Hours, and KKFI.

Oklahoma City, I’ll admit, was a bit more grim. The Democrats aren’t recruiting Republicans there but are, in some cases, hard to distinguish from them. However, I spoke to the Oklahoma County Democratic Party, and they were as informed and eager a bunch of dedicated progressive activists as you’ll find anywhere, just a little more discouraged and debilitated. We drove past a synagogue in Oklahoma City, in front of which a little band of people surrounded by police tape waved posters reading “God Hates Jews.” It turns out that if you observe public places in this part of the country long enough you’ll discover that God hates almost everyone.

Dallas was a different story. Leslie Harris and other activists organized a full day of actions. In the morning, gold star mother Cindy Sheehan, radio host Thom Hartmann, musician David Rovics, and I joined a crowd of concerned citizens to protest George W. Bush outside the gate that the city has installed on the end of his street. At least three-quarters of the responses from those driving or walking by were positive. However, a woman who looked like she might be an immigrant brought Bush’s dogs down the street for a walk, and she struck me as disturbingly healthy looking. It seemed just possible that she was being provided with healthcare, which of course would have constituted a fascistic attack on our nation far outstripping illegal wars, spying, torture, election theft, or political prosecutions.

While Bush himself still failed to come out and meet with Cindy, a good substitute was there in prison garb and giant papier mache head. I couldn’t resist throwing a shoe at him, but when Cindy Sheehan took off her sandal and hurled it, she struck the phony Bush right between the eyes and broke his nose. His reflexes seem to have diminished since his last visit to the nation he destroyed.

The next event of the day was supposed to be a debate between me and some Bush-defender on the topic of whether Bush should be prosecuted for war crimes. Richard Hancock and Rational Radio, AM 1360, promised to air the full debate, to conduct it apart from any crowd, and to allow the League of Women Voters to moderate. The radio station invited the former president himself, the governor, Texas’ senators, the Heritage Foundation, Freedom Works, the American Enterprise Institute, the local Republican Party, and various pundits who have opposed holding Bush accountable for his abuses of power. Pro-immunity pundit Stuart Taylor told the radio station that he would rather not walk into such a “lion’s den.” An AEI spokesperson offered to take part for $100,000. Everyone else flatly refused. I did the radio show without an opponent.

Following the show was the lengthy forum with speakers and performers covering a wide range of political issues. When Rational Radio gets around to posting the videos, I’ll post them at AfterDowningStreet. You might just be amazed that this festival of forward-looking environmentalism, peace, and social justice took place in Dallas.

Next stop, Saturday evening, was a fundraiser for the Under the Hood Café, a coffee shop near Fort Hood offering resources for soldiers who don’t support the current wars of aggression. No blossoming progressive movement can progress without music, so the amazing David Rovics performed at all of Saturday’s events. Victor Agosto, who spoke at the benefit along with me, Cindy, and Thom, refused an illegal order to deploy to Afghanistan, choosing jail time instead. Michael Kern, who also spoke, and who has been central to the work of Under the Hood, credits the cafe with saving him from suicide.

Combined with my observations on Ohio earlier this month, my trip to Texas is a source of encouragement for me, and I hope for you as well. Next stop: New Mexico.

A roadside display in Toledo, Ohio:

David Swanson is the author of the new book “Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union” by Seven Stories Press. You can order it and find out when tour will be in your town: http://davidswanson.org/book.

UPDATE: Bush protest photos.