In many indigenous spiritualities, including the indigenous or pagan spirituality of Europe, any tree can be representative of the tree, that is, the World Tree or Cosmic Tree. In numerous religious traditions the World Tree is represented as a colossal tree which supports the heavens, thereby connecting the heavens, the terrestrial world, and, through its roots, the underworld. The Tree of Life, which symbolically represents and connects all forms of creation and is mentioned in the Judeo-Christian Book of Genesis, is an expression of the World Tree.
– Michael J. Bayly Excerprted from “The Prayer Tree” The Wild Reed
September 18, 2017
It’s the birthday today of the late actor Chadwick Boseman, the first since his untimely passing from colon cancer three months and a day ago. He would have been 44.
I’ve also learnt that today, November 29, has been declared Chadwick Boseman Day by whomever it is that proclaims such things. No complaints about it from me, of course, because as both an actor and a human being, Chadwick should be celebrated, for reasons that I highlight here and here.
So today is special: it’s Chadwick’s birthday and Chadwick Boseman Day. To celebrate, I share a lovely clip of Chadwick on Larry King Now in February 2018. It shows a fun and relaxed Chadwick playing along with King’s “If You Only Knew” segment. It’s revealing in a light-hearted and fun way. (I discovered, for instance, that Chadwick and I both wish for the same superhero power!) It's also a little sad . . . when Chadwick is asked where he hopes to be in ten years. It’s a sadness, though, that for me is elipsed by Chadwick’s brilliant and beautiful smile, one that will forever live on in our hearts.
To view Larry King’s full February 12, 2018 interview with Chadwick Boseman, click here.
The title of both the play and the film was the name of a song by Ma Rainey, one that makes obvious allusions to the Black Bottom dance which was a national craze in the 1920s. Ma Rainy’s song, however, is not itself dance music. She was after all, the “Mother of the Blues.”
George C. Wolfe's film adaptation of August Wilson's play Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, which opened in select theaters in October, is being acclaimed by critics, who laud the performances of Davis and Boseman, as well as the costumes and production design.
Following is the film’s official trailer.
As has been previously documented here at The Wild Reed (see here and here), Chadwick Boseman tragically died from colon cancer, three months ago today, during the film’s post-production. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is therefore his final film appearance.
In honor of Chadwick Boseman I share today some of the rave reviews his performance has been garnering from critics.
Viola Davis plays the real-life Ma Rainey, the Georgia singer dubbed the Mother of the Blues. Chadwick Boseman invests body and soul into Levee, the hot-headed trumpeter who dares to lock horns with Ma in a shabby Chicago recording studio where they’re paid to make music the way the white bosses want it. The time is 1927, but the bristling racial tensions feel as timely as ever.
When Chadwick Boseman first appears on screen in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, it feels like a stab in the heart. Boseman’s death in August from colon cancer at the age of 43 still seems that shocking. It’s a sign of his artistry that before long we can put that real-life tragedy aside and see him as Levee, the troubled young musician at the centre of this exciting, trenchant film version of the August Wilson play.
Boseman’s stirring performance is matched by Viola Davis as legendary blues singer Ma Rainey. The story takes place in 1927 on one hot summer afternoon in Chicago, where Ma and her band are recording several songs, including the one that gives the film its title. Davis makes Ma a dynamic force, a blowsy figure with smudged makeup and an insolent glare at the world. She and other members of her band clash with Levee, a trumpeter who is ambitious, arrogant but not necessarily wrong about wanting to bring a livelier, jazz-influenced style to Ma’s old bluesy music. Fierce generational clashes erupt between Levee and the other, older band members. Glynn Turman as Toledo and Colman Domingo as Cutler bring immense naturalness to their roles. But the deeper theme is the oppression black people have experienced throughout history. Wilson is one of the great American playwrights, and one of his gifts was to embody that history in precisely drawn individuals. Ma Rainey may be the film’s title character, but Levee is its focus as he grapples with the past. Boseman soars in the role, which is his most complicated, more nuanced than the iconic T’Challa in Black Panther and other heroic parts he has played, such as the Supreme Court justice in Marshall and Jackie Robinson in 42.
. . . [Boseman’s] performance displays a strong physicality from the start. Levee slides, swaggers and dances around the rehearsal room, proud of his new shoes, bragging about writing his own music and starting his own band. Beneath his smile, he has demons close to the surface. When the other band members accuse him of pandering to the white owner of the studio, he launches into the film’s central monologue. Over five minutes of screen time, Boseman goes from pained to angry and back again as he tells the harrowing story of an event he witnessed as a child and the lessons he learned from his father’s vengeance on the white men behind it. Wolfe varies camera angles and includes reaction shots, but the scene remains unfussy as the words spill out of Levee. A later monologue is even more explosive, as Levee rages at God, pointing a knife toward the heavens and shouting, “Did you turn your back on me?” It’s easy to see this as an Oscar-bait scene, which it probably is, but Boseman deserves the awards buzz. While his delivery is fiery, it is not histrionic. It is piercing.
Chadwick Boseman gives a moving performance as the fiercely talented but insecure Levee, crucified by a childhood experience of racist violence and dreaming of fronting his own band.
This is Boseman’s final performance on screen, and what a glorious performance to go out on. It is a head-butting confrontation of the galácticos: Davis and Boseman are each the immovable object and irresistible force. Amusingly, both are concerned with their feet. Poor Levee has just blown every cent on a fancy pair of shiny shoes and he is always showing them off, hopping and dancing around like a little kid. Ma Rainey’s feet, on the other hand, are in agony. We see her picking her way down the stairs at her hotel in discomfort, yet her rolling, heavy-set gait is part of what imposes her authority on the room. She gets to wear a pair of comfortable indoor slippers in the studio and doesn’t move anywhere she doesn’t want to.
Levee has, quite without Ma’s permission, prepared an ingenious new version of Black Bottom that downplays her slow, bluesy vocals and gives a more demanding, uptempo orchestration for the boys in the band: Toledo (Glynn Turman), Cutler (Colman Domingo), Slow Drag (Michael Potts) and of course Levee himself with his flashy trumpet. This is with the sneaky connivance of the white manager Irvin (Jeremy Shamos) and studio boss Sturdyvant (Jonny Coyne) who sense this is how to make it a lucrative crossover hit.
Ma furiously rejects the new version, sensing – accurately – that this means getting upstaged and that Levee wants to use her prestige as the launching pad for his own stardom.
. . . So who has the power in this contest of wills? In some ways it is Ma Rainey herself – she is the talent, she must be placated, and everything depends on her – yet the band are bleakly unimpressed about her ability to connect with non-black audiences.
Levee has power of his own with new ideas about music, but it is the duplicitous management who control it, and the tragedy and the violence are ignited by the band’s derision at Levee’s sycophantic attitude to these white chiefs. It triggers Levee’s own memories of racist violence and humiliation – and while others in the band get set-piece speeches, too, there is something a bit contrived in these theatrical arias. But they are delivered with such intensity, and the film has a genuine coup in its final scene, showing how Levee’s talent is to be exploited and the way black culture itself is destined to be appropriated.
Boseman’s face is so open, so transparent, so needy – he is a reed instrument for every painful emotion. It is such a generous performance: the portrayal of a man sacrificed on the altar of his own past.
[Playwright August] Wilson writes characters who reveal themselves in layers, and though the movie gives Levee a cinematic introduction of his own, each scene adds complexity. Boseman strides into the film, lean and restless, unsettled. The confidence and composure of the icons he has played before – Jackie Robinson, Thurgood Marshall, T’Challa – has melted away into a kind of nervous insecurity we’ve never seen in the actor. Levee is hungry, horny; he has much to prove. It’s there in the way he flirts with every pretty young thing – including “Ma’s girl,” Dussie Mae (Taylour Paige) – and it’s there in the way he blows a week’s wages on a pair of new shoes.
Levee prowls the dank room where the band rehearses, preoccupied by a heavy, rusted door on the back wall that becomes a clear symbol for his ambitions: Is it a shortcut or a dead end? The history of modern American music is paved with the appropriation and outright theft of Black culture. That tradition continues today, tracing back at least as far as the moment that Wilson, inspired by the blues, has imagined here.
The playwright conceived Levee as a tragic figure, and real life doubled down. Mighty as Davis’ performance may be, this is Boseman’s movie: Ma Rainey’s name is right there in the title, but Levee’s trying to hijack her show at every turn, so it makes sense that our eyes should be on him as he starts to implode – a star collapsing, leaving it all on the screen. How fortunate that Boseman’s legacy should include this film, an homage to Black art that’s tough enough to confront the costs of making it.
Boseman, evincing the same integrity he clung to his entire career . . . imparts to [the] seething, shattered [Levee] the gift of a broken soul, riven by anger and trauma, and makes him all the more human for it. His final moments of screen time are among his darkest, and also his finest.
And then there’s Boseman. His Levee always seems to have a glint in his eye, so sure is he of himself and his future stardom, and Boseman marries the high-energy flamboyance he brought to playing James Brown in Get On Up with the soulfulness he brought to the MCU’s T’Challa and so many others. It all comes to a head in two searing monologues in which Levee rages at God – a rare sight for a Black man on screen, making it all the more visceral – and Boseman empties the clip in both scenes, eking out every drop of emotion. It’s the finest performance of a career that ended way too soon earlier this year, and it’s simultaneously thrilling and sad to watch him in action here.
The flashy role belongs to Boseman, and he plays Levee with such anger, desperation, glee, and fury that there are times where you have to remind yourself to breathe watching his performance. Levee is an astonishing role because you have a character who thinks he knows the score, but we’re all waiting for the fallout from the harsh lessons he’s about to endure. He has the talent and the bravado, and it simply doesn’t matter because he’s part of a system that won’t accept either because of his Black skin. The levels this role requires are mind-boggling as we’re never allowed to simply dismiss Levee as a hothead or embrace him as misunderstood genius. He’s all of these things, and yet Boseman consistently elicits our sympathy with every gesture and line. In the hands of a lesser actor, Levee’s monologue or outbursts would feel like playing to the rafters of a non-existent auditorium, but Boseman is pitch perfect. It’s an Oscar-worthy performance in what should have been a long career filled with Oscars.
This is undoubtedly Boseman’s show and will likely live on as his greatest work. . . . What makes the movie unbearably heartbreaking is just how well the star fits among the greats, delivering Wilson’s heady words with the electrifying verve of someone you’d think had decades of credits to his name. By the end, we’re left to wonder just how much Boseman and Levee had left to give the world. Here, reality and fiction blend in a way that’s nearly impossible to overlook.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to leave Hollywood studios in flux, there are still key decisions being discussed internally about the Oscars, such as actors’ placements in the acting categories. With six months until the Academy Awards, there are several factors needed in order to set a film up for awards season success. Without events to campaign and (metaphorically) kiss babies, the performances and films will be speaking for themselves.
Like the industry, Oscar predictions are in flux, but the biggest unknown is in the male acting categories, which are showing a real fluidity and will continue to do so throughout the season. One of the major questions regards the late Chadwick Boseman and where Netflix will campaign him for his upcoming work in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. While many pundits and prognosticators assume he will ultimately fall within the supporting actor category, there are rumblings that he could be campaigned as a lead actor. A representative from Netflix did not confirm either scenario, but multiple sources who have seen the film say Boseman is one of the rare cases that straddles the line between lead and supporting. Charles S. Dutton, who was nominated for a Tony award for playing the same role, was cited in supporting, but the late Theresa Merritt, who played Ma Rainey, was also nominated in supporting. We fully expect a Viola Davis best actress push for the title role, but nowadays you never know where the chips may fall.
Critics’ reactions to Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom are starting to trickle in and Chadwick Boseman’s final onscreen performance is being touted as “as invigorating as anticipated.”
That’s good news not only for Boseman’s legacy, but also for the late actor’s Oscar chances, which are high this year since he has not one but two movies for which he could potentially be nominated.
The first is the aforementioned Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, in which he is being campaigned in lead actor by Netflix. Starring opposite Oscar winner Viola Davis, Boseman plays trumpeteer Levee, an enigmatic and ambitious musician.
Some have argued that he may have been better placed in supporting, where he might have more of a chance to win, but Netflix have decided he is best placed in lead since he has a commanding presence in the adaptation about a 1920s blues singer.
It’s a shrewd decision given the fact that the second movie Boseman could be nominated for is also a Netflix movie: Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods. Boseman plays “Stormin’” Norman Earl Holloway, the leader of a squad of Black US Army soldiers during the Vietnam war.
This role is more clearly a supporting one – Boseman appears in flashbacks during the Vietnam War timeline, wherein the present day story follows Delroy Lindo’s character, Paul, travelling back to Vietnam many years later.
The actor, then, could theoretically earn two Oscar nominations this awards season, in the same way Jamie Foxx did back in 2005 when he was nominated in supporting actor for Collateral and won in lead actor for Ray, a biopic of blind singer Ray Charles.
Boseman died in August following a four-year battle with colon cancer.
If he did manage to earn one or even both of those nominations, he would be only the seventh actor to earn a posthumous Oscar nomination. If he were to win, he’d just be the third actor to win posthumously ever.
Chadwick Boseman[’s] performance [is] every bit as virtuosic as [Viola] Davis’s. As the bantamweight challenger to Ma Rainey’s title, Boseman’s Levee is alert, impatient and fleet of foot. Where she finds her power in taking her time, Levee finds his in speed and impulse; having been plucked from the Southern minstrel circuit to achieve stardom in the North (a trajectory that is efficiently covered in an opening montage), Ma Rainey is rightfully suspicious of the White producers eager to exploit her talent and popular appeal; Levee, for his part, is convinced that he can join their game and win it from the inside.
Similar debates – accommodation versus revolution, assimilation versus cultural integrity, theft versus homage – run through Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom like the ostinato of a smoothly traveling bass line.
. . . [Director George] Wolfe keeps the production simple, albeit with attractively rich visual values and gorgeous costumes, allowing the performances to exert their mesmerizing force. And nowhere is that magnetism more palpable than when Davis and Boseman are going toe to toe, their energies repelling one another one moment and fusing the next.
It’s both exhilarating and deeply upsetting, watching two actors at the height of their powers, but knowing that this is the final screen appearance of Boseman, who died in August. He might have been best known for playing a superhero in Black Panther, but the effortlessness with which he inhabits Levee reminds viewers of just how profound and still-untapped his talents were. (His most stirring speech, an angry argument with God, can't help but carry a tragic double meaning here.) There aren’t enough words to describe just how breathtaking Davis's performance is as Ma Rainey. When it comes to Boseman’s, on the other hand, only one seems to suffice: Damn, damn, damn.
Aware of all of this, I realized I needed to be in nature today as I always find this experience to be grounding and reenergizing. And so with my friend Adnan I visited what I call the Prayer Tree, located by Minnehaha Creek in south Minneapolis.
Adnan currently has things happening in his personal life that are causing much upheaval and stress, and during our time immersed in nature this afternoon, he seemed to retreat within himself, to be spirited away on some deep level. I asked him later what had happened, and he responded that standing by the flowing water and among the trees had somehow made everything he’s going through “more real.”
Yes, I said, nature will do that.
And what feeling did this greater awareness make you feel, I asked.
A feeling of uncertainty, Adnan replied.
We talked some more about this but there really wasn’t much I could do. As my work in chaplaincy has taught me, I can’t “fix” things for others; I can’t make their pain, problems, and, yes, uncertainty go away. But I can listen, validate, humanize, and make them feel not so alone in their experience of being overwhelmed. And so that’s what I did. And I hope that it made a difference, that it planted a seed, perhaps; a seed of hope and resilience within and for my friend.
This evening I share some photos from today, and from a couple of weeks ago when I spent time with another friend, my buddy Raul, by Lake of the Isles in south Minneapolis. There are also some photos taken in my garden and one in my friend Brigid’s garden. Oh, and there’s a photo of a neighbor’s unused garage doors! It’s a strange collection of images, to be sure. But I think they all come together thematically so as to create a sense of continuity, perhaps even wholeness.
Accompanying this collection of images are some words of insight and wisdom – some musings – on the seasons of both autumn and winter; seasons that, in the north, often blend together in this month of November.
Transformation is the business of winter. In Gaelic mythology, the hag deity known as the Cailleach takes human form at Samhain to rule the winter months, bringing with her winds and wild weather. Her very steps change the land: the mountains of Scotland were formed when she dropped rocks from her basket, and she carries a hammer for forming valleys. A touch of her staff is enough to freeze the ground. Yet the Cailleach is thought to be the mother of the gods, the gruff, cold originator of all things. Her reign lasts only until the beginning of May, when Brighde takes over and the Cailleach turns to stone. In some versions of the mythology, the Cailleach and Brighde are two faces of the same goddess: youth and vitality for summer, age and wisdom for winter.
As we so often find in ancient folklore, the Cailleach offers us a cyclical metaphor for life, one in which the energies of spring arrive again and again, nurtured by the deep retreat of winter.
We are no longer accustomed to thinking in this way. Instead we are in the habit of imagining our lives to be linear, a long march from birth to death in which we mass our powers, only to surrender them again, all the while slowly losing our youthful beauty. This is a brutal untruth. Life meanders like a path through the woods. We have seasons when we flourish and seasons when the leaves fall from us, revealing our bare bones. Given time, they grow again.
As you stand in the woods, reflect on your life. Ponder the part of your life that feels satisfying and rewarding: the dimension of it that is like the plentitude and fullness of an autumn harvest, the part that is mellow and fulfilling. Now look at the last of the leaves hangng on the branches. Watch as one falls . . . and as you watch, become aware of a part of your life that is also hanging on a branch, about to break free and fall to the ground. See what it is that you need to let go of, what can no longer be a part of your life. Take time to be with this.
What does it feel like to be there among the beauty of the trees with their fallen leaves on the ground? Is it consoling? Does it hurt? Is it helpful? Is it challenging? Does it encourage you?
The tree is waiting. It has everything ready. Its fallen leaves are mulching the forest floor, and its roots are drawing up the extra winter moisture, providing a firm anchor against seasonal storms. Its ripe cones and nuts are providing essential food in this scarce time for mice and squirrels, and its bark is hosting hibernating insects and providing a source of nourishment for hungry deer. It is far from dead. It is in fact the life and soul of the wood. It’s just getting on with it quietly. It will not burst into life in the spring. It will just put on a new coat and face the world again.
Trees have learned to live large, despite constraints. They have all kinds of rich relationships, too, with the birds and insects and other beings that seek out their branches and nest in their hollowed trucks. “I like trees because they seem more resigned to the way they have to live than other things do,” writes Willa Cather.
In a world of restless motion, trees restore us to stillness and calm. Entering a forest is like entering a cathedral. And vise versa. Gothic cathedrals, with their lofty, ribbed vaults, recall the leafy roofs and towering trucks of the sacred groves where humans first worshipped. In both places, we stand in awe.
I love the beauty of life’s last dance with the above ground realm at this time of year, as each being turns inward, towards the darkness and the sweet embrace of quietude. How I love these golden displays, this fire that burns bright in yellows, oranges and reds, before descending to feed the ground below, turning to compost, dark matter, feeding and holding the seeds, the future.
And as winter takes hold of the land, if you listen, if you watch, you will feel, hear, sense the seeds, as they dream into being, held by their elders, nourished by their homeland. Dreaming, stretching, reaching tenderly, powerfully; growing into medicine, food, beauty and life.
Take a moment to listen on those darkening days, to feel the beauty, the becoming, being whispered upon the land. Use this as a mirror for your own soul, your own inner landscape. If you feel into the darkness, when all around you feels lost; if you listen deeply enough, compassionately, you will notice the seeds inside yourself, learning, stretching, growing; wanting to rewild the concrete, birthing your medicine, for you.
Knowing who we are and what we alone have to offer is essential to living our lives fully and well. But in a world that seeks our conformity more that it desires our gifts, we often must struggle to be true to ourselves. . . . We often neglect to develop our innate and unique talents, and the larger world suffers from that self-neglect. Rather, we shape ourselves to fit the world as we see it to be, or as we are told it is, hoping to ensure our welcome and sense of purpose that way.
But nature wants us to mix it up. . . . Being open to our true nature – what we emerged from Earth for – is ultimately an act of faith. . . . Nature is purposeful. The Earth needs your gifts.
Above: U.S. Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota). Both women are outspoken progressives within the Democratic party and both experienced landslide victories in the 2020 U.S. general election. (Photo: Getty Images/Saul Loeb/AFP)
It’s well documented that in congressional districts across the United States, it was the progressive agenda – climate, healthcare, racial justice, and addressing income inequality and corporate power – that mobilized the Democratic party’s base and catalyzed Joe Biden’s victory. This agenda also ensured that numerous progressive Democratic candidates won their races, often by impressive margins. Yet moderates (or centrists) of the party have been quick to blame this same progressive agenda for their dismal showing in the election, as most of them lost their races or just scraped through. “Never Trumper” Republicans, such as John Kasich, who had attached themselves to the Biden-Harris ticket, have also been vocal in their criticism of progressives and the progressive agenda, claiming that “the far left . . . almost cost [Biden] this election.”
What are we to make of all of this? And how are progressives responding to the accusations being hurled against them?
Let’s start with some facts. The Fox News exit polls showed that, overwhelmingly, Medicare for All, government-provided health insurance, was popular with the American people. Florida, the same state which we lost in the presidential, voted for a $15 minimum wage, so, obviously, increased working wages is popular with the America people. Overwhelmingly, people showed a transition to a green economy, clean tech jobs, is popular with the American people. Free public college is popular with the American people. So the policies that we are advocating are not just for deeply blue districts. They are policies that will help people in the Midwest, in the South, across this country. . . . They’re popular policies, and they’re the correct policies.
. . . I believe we have to take the fight to the Senate. We have to have bold policies that are popular, and make it very clear that Mitch McConnell either has to do what the American people want or he is the person standing in the way. And if we are accommodationists and incrementalists and aren’t taking a bold agenda in the fight to the Senate, then we’re going to let down a lot of people, and we’re not going to be on the side of progress. I also think it’s bad politics.
. . . I don’t believe Joe Biden would have been president if it weren’t for the Black Lives Matter movement and George Floyd. Look at the turnout in Philadelphia, in Atlanta, in Milwaukee. I mean, Donald Trump had high turnout; we had even higher turnout. That started because of the Black Lives Matter movement. That started because of these people organizing. So, to blame the Black Lives Matter movement or activists, when, in my view, those are the – that is the mobilization that put Biden into the White House, is just flat-out wrong. I mean, I don’t see what data they’re looking at.
A memo to the Democratic Party from four progressive organizations outlines how through a number of unforced errors in an attempt to appeal to conservatives and moderates rather than the more forward-looking Democratic base, the party allowed the loss of a number of congressional seats – and now risks further alienating the racial justice organizers and working-class voters who helped deliver President-elect Joe Biden's victory.
The accusations set off a fierce debate between progressives including Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and their centrist counterparts, with progressives attempting to redirect Democratic leaders’ attention away from broadly popular proposals and toward the party’s lack of organization and willingness to play into Republican attacks aimed at dividing and conquering.
“There is no denying Republicans levied salient rhetorical attacks against Democrats, but these will continue to happen as they do every cycle,” reads the memo unveiled on Tuesday. “We cannot let Republican narratives drive our party away from Democrats’ core base of support: young people, Black, Brown, working class,and social movements who are the present and future of the party.”
“Historic voter turnout by Black voters, Native voters, Latino voters, and young voters ensured victory for President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris,” the groups added. “Scapegoating progressives and Black activists for their demands and messaging is not the lesson to be learned here. It was their organizing efforts, energy, and calls for change needed in their communities that drove up voter turnout.”
Centrists in recent days have zeroed in on the rallying cry to “defund the police,” which came out of the racial justice uprising that began in May, and the term “socialism” as reasons behind their own losses and near-losses.
“Not a single Democrat – progressive or otherwise – argued that Democrats should run primarily on these themes,” the memo reads. “Moreover, these attacks will never go away, nor will demands for reform from social movements. The attacks are designed to stoke racial resentment, which is core to the GOP’s election strategy. Our party should not feed into it.”
The current anxiety about the phrase “defund the police” follows earlier Republican attacks in recent years regarding the Black Lives Matter movement and protests by Colin Kaepernick and other Black athletes, which Democrats distanced themselves from. Allowing the GOP to construct a narrative around “defund the police” – instead of reframing the debate around the specifics of the idea as outlined in the BREATHE Act, such as abolishing the Pentagon program which allows local law enforcement agencies to obtain military equipment – will only “demobilize our own base,” the memo suggests.
. . . The memo emphasizes the material damage that can be done in future elections if centrist Democrats don’t put to rest the notion that progressives and their demands are to blame for centrists’ own losses — even as progressives themselves were successful after embracing policies like Medicare for All.
The evident defeat of Donald Trump would not have been possible without the grassroots activism and hard work of countless progressives. Now, on vital issues – climate, healthcare, income inequality, militarism, the prison-industrial complex, corporate power and so much more – it’s time to engage with the battle that must happen inside the Democratic Party.
The realpolitik rationales for the left to make nice with the incoming Democratic president are bogus. All too many progressives gave the benefit of doubts to Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, making it easier for them to service corporate America while leaving working-class Americans in the lurch. Two years later, in 1994 and 2010, Republicans came roaring back and took control of Congress.
From the outset, progressive organizations and individuals (whether they consider themselves to be “activists” or not) should confront Biden and other elected Democrats about profound matters. Officeholders are supposed to work for the public interest. And if they’re serving Wall Street instead of Main Street, we should show that we’re ready, willing and able to “primary” them.
Progressives would be wise to quickly follow up on Biden’s victory with a combative approach toward corporate Democrats. Powerful party leaders have already signaled their intentions to aggressively marginalize progressives.
. . . Biden almost lost this election. And while the Biden campaign poured in vast financial resources and vague flowery messaging that pandered to white suburban voters, relatively little was focused on those who most made it possible to overcome Trump’s election-night lead—people of color and the young. Constrained by his decades-long political mentality and record, Biden did not energize working-class voters as he lip-sunk populist tunes in unconvincing performances.
That's the kind of neoliberal approach that Bernie Sanders and so many of his supporters were warning about in 2016 and again this year. Both times there was a huge failure of the Democratic nominee to make a convincing case as an advocate for working people against the forces of wealthy avarice and corporate greed.
In fact, Clinton and Biden reeked of coziness with economic elites throughout their political careers. To many people, Clinton came off as a fake when she tried to sound populist, claiming to represent the little people against corporate giants. And to those who actually knew much about Biden's political record, his similar claims also were apt to seem phony.
It's clear from polling that Biden gained a large proportion of his votes due to animosity toward his opponent rather than enthusiasm for Biden. He hasn't inspired the Democratic base, and his appeal had much more to do with opposing the evils of Trumpism than embracing his own political approach.
More than ever, merely being anti-Trump or anti-Republican isn't going to move Democrats and the country in the vital directions we need. Without a strong progressive program as a rudder, the Biden presidency will be awash in much the same old rhetorical froth and status-quo positions that have so often caused Democratic incumbents to founder, bringing on GOP electoral triumphs.
There needs to be a strong opposition to corporatist moderates within the Democratic party, smug blowhards which they too often are, who'd now brush over the fact that in the final analysis the party has failed miserably. The election of 2020 has been a repudiation of both parties. The election of Biden has been more than anything else the rejection of a madman, and the abysmal showing of Democrats in the House and Senate races should bring with it the sober sounding of an alarm, not the self-satisfied clinking of champagne flutes.
Yes, we dodged a disaster. But more potential disasters are coming around the corner. Many mini-Trumps are lining up even now for 2022 and 2024. This is not a time to relax or go back to the conditions that paved the way for them to begin with. We need to give people more than a reality devoid of Trump. We need to give them a genuine alternative not only to his mendacity, but to the chronic despair that, under Democrats, as well as Republicans, became a feature of their daily lives.
Thankfully, we won a battle for the soul of our nation. But there are more ahead. Now a battle will rage for the soul of the Democratic Party. And well it should. It's been needing to happen for a very long time.
Defeating Trump is a really important popular victory. A great many people did not vote for Joe Biden, they voted against Trump, because they recognize the tremendous threat that he represents. And the fact that the movements that are behind so much of that political victory are not able to even just take a moment and feel that victory, because they are already under attack by the Democratic establishment, as it seeks once again to abdicate all responsibility for ending us in the mess that we are in, is really its own kind of crime. People should not have to be fighting off these attacks. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez should not have to be on Twitter all day, making the point that it is not the fault of Democratic Socialists that the Democratic party has underperformed in the way that it has.
Biden was a risky candidate for the same reasons Hillary Clinton was a risky candidate. He was risky because of his swampy record, because he had so little to offer so many people in such deep crisis. It seems he has secured an electoral victory by the skin of his teeth but it was a high risk gamble from the start. And not only is the Left not to blame. We are largely responsible for the success that has taken place.
. . . This [election] should have been a sweep. It should have been the sweep that we were promised. And the fact is, the Democratic leadership bungled it up on every single front. It wasn’t just a mistake. They did not want to offer people what they needed. They are much more interested in appeasing the donor class than they are in meeting the needs of their constituents, who need them now more than ever.
There is some indication that the corporate centrists at the top of the Democratic Party realize the urgency of the moment, at least in word, if not deed. Biden has made vague gestures at an FDR-style presidency, and even Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, the quintessential Wall Street Democrat, is talking about the need for an ambitious agenda surpassing past Democratic efforts.
It is now incontrovertible that, despite an alliance with plutocratic bigots like John Kasich during the campaign, Biden received a smaller share of the Republican vote this year than Hillary Clinton did in 2016. And, due to the Democrats’ failure to make a robust economic pitch countering Trump’s, Biden lost a chunk of voters from key groups of the former Obama coalition to the GOP, including some African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans, LGBTQ voters and even Muslims, as well as lower- and middle-income households. But what put Biden over the top was the tireless work of grassroots progressive groups in key states and cities, and massive turnout by young people, particularly young people of color.
In other words, political success for the Democratic Party lies not in continuing to appeal to the Republican voters they’ve imagined in their heads, but by constructing a popular, bread-and-butter agenda that works for a broad swath of Americans, and by exciting their base. Stopping a far-right comeback in the years ahead means getting Democratic voters to turn out in similar numbers in the 2022 midterms, without the threat of Trump to motivate them.
In 2010, after failing to sufficiently respond to the pain felt around the country, Democrats spent the run-up to the midterms hectoring voters for not being more enthusiastic. “You can’t shape your future if you don’t participate,” Obama told voters, while Biden hit the trail and lectured their “base constituency to stop whining and get out there and look at the alternatives.” They were rewarded with a drubbing at the ballot box.
This approach didn’t cut it then, and it certainly won’t cut it this time. The party barely scraped through this year’s election under historically favorable conditions. To avoid this fate, Democrats will have to give voters something to actually turn out for. Even with an obstructionist Congress, there is more than enough President-elect Biden can do if he has the courage and the political will. The moment is his, to seize or squander.
The established and conventional line about Centrism and Centrist is that they are committed to incremental change. A movement that gained prominence in the 1990s as a vehicle to win elections against an established Conservative majority, has evolved into an entire worldview of its own. Like all ideologies, what this belief system is varies depending on the context and what is required of it in a given historical moment. However, it rests on two abiding bedrock principles above all others – that “moderate” market-based policies actually work and that any attempt to stray from them to the Left will invariably lose.
Ironically, this Centrist ideology has its roots in fighting off a Conservative Reaction to Liberal principles gaining traction from the 1950s onward. The rise of Reagan was a direct response to progressive social movements and cultural changes combined with increased pessimism regarding the ability of once accepted Liberal orthodoxy to provide for basic economic wellbeing. A decade later, Clinton won and continued to win politically by presenting a softer and kinder version of this neoliberal pro-market orthodoxy against seemingly “out of touch” Republic zealots.
The crimes and misdemeanors of this morally compromised “winning” strategy were multiple. It was an embrace and a willingness to take even further mass incarceration of minorities, the War on Drugs, US militarism with bloated defense budgets, and a refusal to even consider the merits of any ideas that had the stench of being “too left-wing”. When Clinton declared that “The era of big government is over”, he was proclaiming the defeat of progressive change for a generation, if not permanently.
This position of triumphant surrender has crystallized into a dangerous force of reaction. Two decades ago, there may have been credible arguments that such Centrism was the only bulwark the nation had against a full-scale hyper-capitalist and retrogressive Republican majority. Fast forward to the present, and the exact opposite is true. They are now the very thing helping to keep the Far Right, ironically, alive and well.
. . . The facts clearly and totally contradict claims the Left was to blame for Democratic defeats [in the 2020 general election]. Progressive policies such as “Medicaid for All” and raising the minimum wage are popular among both self-proclaimed Democrats and Republicans. They also consistently win when put on the ballot as referendums. In this election, progressives were the only candidates from the Centre to the Left who consistently won and the DSA claimed victory for 26 out of the 30 races they ran in. Further, it was high profile Centrists such as Amy McGrath in Kentucky and Jamie Harrison in South Carolina who went down to defeat despite massive war chests and DNC support. Meanwhile, progressives held strong across the board, even in swing districts in places like Oregon and California.
Perhaps ironically, it is Georgia that will ultimately deliver Biden the Presidency given that it serves as a playbook for how to actually bring down Trumpism. Rather than seek out the false mirage of “moderate Republican” voters or the fickle allegiance of middle to upper class “suburban” voters, activists on the ground inspired by Stacey Abrams sought to mobilize the real “silent majority” – a diverse cross-section of working-class and poor traditionally non-voters. They also put on the ballot a progressive candidate for Senate, Reverend Raphael Warnock, who offered the opportunity to bring real change if elected. And in one of the few real Left-wing upsets of the night, Georgia looks close to going Blue for the first time in a generation and even possibly bring two new Democratic Senators to Washington.
Over the past decade, as inequality has grown and the system has been revealed as corrupt and rigged for the rich, Centrists have told anyone who would listen that basic reforms such as single-payer healthcare or a reduced Defence budget or defunding the police were politically impossible and mere fantasies policy-wise. Even more worrying, by attacking movements like “defund the police,” they are giving in to the racist politics of Trump and seeking to gain political advantage by blaming non-whites for fighting for their lives and rights.
Centrists have positioned themselves as a “sensible” political oasis that can stave off the forces of Right and Left-wing extremism. In reality, their fear of progress is grounded in their concern that they will lose massive amounts of corporate funding. In the best of times, this would be a callous unwillingness to do any more than lip service to fighting economic, social, and political injustice. In our current era of Far-Right populism, it is a dangerous force aiding and abetting, however inadvertently, the rise of 21st-century fascism in the US and around the world.
There is an autopsy that clearly has to get done. You know, you’ll hear from people who will say, “Oh, it was the talk of socialism, and it was this, and it was that.” But many of the places that we lost seats in or Biden didn’t do so well in were places where Obama won, and they threw so much at him. I mean, he was [said to be] a secret Muslim, who was a socialist, who was going to destroy this country. But [in] places like Florida, [he] did really well. And that was because he believed, as an organizer, in investing in a ground game, having conversations, not shying away from the power of relation[ship]-building.
And we’ve seen that with candidates like Katie Porter, who [are in] swing districts. Katie’s race was the last to be called in 2018, and she’s done really well this time, because she understands her district, she puts in work, she has real conversations with real people about what’s really important to them. And so, I don’t know, I think people will make excuses about why we lost. But I think it always comes down to building trust, building relationships, and having conversations about what really matters to people and not buying into the narratives about what people care about, but actually asking them.
– Rep. Ilhan Omar Quoted in “What Happened?” The Intercept
November 6, 2020
The Democrats are struggling in these places for the same reason they’re beginning to get successfully primaried from the left, at the local, state, and federal level, in the urban centers they’ve ruled forever. They have not learned the lesson of why Bernie Sanders was such a force in the last two primaries even if he ultimately came up short, or the lesson of why Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez resonates with so many people. They have not even learned the lesson of why conservative Democrats who run as far away from the national party as possible are often successful. People do not like them, and more often than not elections between Democrats and Republicans are decided based not on who has the better vision for America, but on who has a worse reputation in that particular place at that particular moment.
Opening image: U.S. Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota). Both women are outspoken progressives within the Democratic party and both experienced landslide victories in the 2020 U.S. general election. (Photo: Getty Images/Saul Loeb/AFP)
I established The Wild Reed in 2006 as a sign of solidarity with all who are dedicated to living lives of integrity – though, in particular, with gay people seeking to be true to both the gift of their sexuality and their Catholic faith. The Wild Reed's original by-line read, “Thoughts and reflections from a progressive, gay, Catholic perspective.” As you can see, it reads differently now. This is because my journey has, in many ways, taken me beyond, or perhaps better still, deeper into the realities that the words “progressive,” “gay,” and “Catholic” seek to describe.
Even though reeds can symbolize frailty, they may also represent the strength found in flexibility. Popular wisdom says that the green reed which bends in the wind is stronger than the mighty oak which breaks in a storm. Tall green reeds are associated with water, fertility, abundance, wealth, and rebirth. The sound of a reed pipe is often considered the voice of a soul pining for God or a lost love.
On September 24, 2012,Michael BaylyofCatholics for Marriage Equality MNwas interviewed by Suzanne Linton of Our World Today about same-sex relationships and why Catholics can vote 'no' on the proposed Minnesota anti-marriage equality amendment.
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