Tuesday, December 1, 2015


The one thing that’s probably obvious here, but I learned long ago — they are not believers, they are not stupid, they even know what they are saying are lies  (although like O.J., they could have created their own internal Stockholm syndrome so they can live with themselves). They are simply sociopathic — it’s all about suckering that idiotic base (who DO believe, apparently), and fooling those amorphous “independents”.  Just get to the finals, then etch-a-sketch the most egregious errors, and hope, with the help of the willing press, nobody remembers.  Just get in that damn White House! And they are sociopathic in the worst way, if there is such a thing as gradations to their toxicity: their lies have dangerous consequences, as witnessed in Colorado, or in Trump’s crowd beatings of BLM folks, and elsewhere, despite their sociopathic denials that they are to blame (put it to the “liberal press conspiracy”, natch). The idiot base doesn’t care about Politifact findings. In fact, they see it as a “winning” virtue for their candidates to NEVER give in, apologize or acknowledge any errors.  Little lies here and there are OK, (IF they are even seen as lies) as long as they are for the “greater good”, which apparently is turn the entire country into Kansas.  Apologies and God knows compromises are seen as weakness — something liberals do.

Saturday, August 8, 2015


Today I'm starting to post excerpts from my upcoming memoirs / how-to-get-started-in-show-biz / and general backstage gossip called Funny is Money. The bulk of the show biz aspect of the book consists of war stories. Most are pretty funny, many are just strange.  The first excerpt is about my encounter with Norman Lear while working as a staff writer/story editor for the sitcom One Day at a Time. I'm thinking of retelling it at some story slam:

Meanwhile, we wrote our first script for One Day at a Time, a story designed to introduce a new friend of Ann’s (naturally played by an actress Lear or one of his minions discovered in a Broadway show).  I don’t remember the precise story line – something about a nosey neighbor - but we thought it was pretty good, and Bensfield and Grant seemed to be okay with it.  But we would soon learn their feeble opinion hardly meant anything.  It was all about what Norman Lear thought about it.
Then came the trek to Norman Lear’s office, and we were to realize that Bensfield and Grant were deferring to Lear, thereby throwing us to not mere wolves, but the biggest in Hollywood at that moment.
This was when our office was located in the Sands Motel on Sunset, if you can believe it. I think some writers from Good Times were also there. Just not enough office space for all of Lear’s show staffs on the main lot. Or at least not for us. We at first occupied a trailer on the back lot of the studio (at least it was a double-wide), but later there was the motel move.
Anyway, the trek to Norman’s office that was to be rather life changing: Norman Lear’s throttling of our script.
Do you know what they say that your worst fears and your fondest dreams will never happen? Well as far as fondest dreams, I may have set a low bar but I eventually did marry Barbara Pariot, and I did put my hand on the Arc de Triomphe. But my worst fear was always something about being exposed as a fraud, by some big shot, and get booted out of show business in some humiliating fashion.
Well, I’m not sure if I was exposed as a fraud, but I certainly got the boom lowered by only the biggest powerhouse in all of television at the time, and possibly all time – Norman Lear.
This was the process: send in two or three week’s worth of scripts to Norman, and then go to a meeting at his office to hear his notes.
So it was eventually our script’s turn. Lear was there with his famous floppy tennis hat. The tape recorder started, and Lear could not wait to rip into our script. He absolutely hated it. He referred to the character we were introducing as a “buttinsky”. He said he found no "endearing moments".  The words and his voice are vivid in my ear to this day near 40 years later. There was nowhere to hide.  Sweat burst from every pore. There was nothing to say. The other guys, probably with the exception of Bensfield, were quick to defend us and even fall on the sword. After all, they had signed off on it – unless they were deliberately throwing us to the big dog. But Lear cut them off, “No, they’re grownups!” It was flabbergasting. It was a young TV writer’s (at least mine and my partner’s) nightmare – times about 100. Because even when you worry about such things, you sort of secretly know they are unlikely to happen. But it happened. The king of television was crashing its wrath down upon me, like Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction.  He as usual had notes on other scripts and story lines too, prompting Bensfield to groan about all the work they had to do, etc. Lear said “Would you really rather be doing anything else (other than work in television?)”. I at least thought, yeah, better would be to be working in television as Norman Lear. And so we staggered out of there with the rest of the guys, and I’m sure they gave us words of encouragement as we made our way back to our trailer/office stuck on the Metromedia lot. I’m not sure what Stein and I spoke about, except I know what was unspoken – we were fucked. Now no nightmare could be ruled out – fired perhaps, career wrecked by Norman Lear, or worse, having to remain on that goddamn show. No, at that moment, we didn’t think it was the greatest place to be working, Mr. Lear.
It did get worse. The next part of the process is for the writer’s secretary, a woman named Pat Fischer, to transcribe the tape into typed pages – lest anybody forgot anything Lear had to say. And the asshole Fischer, smirking, delivered us our copies of the transcript saying “Wow Norman really didn’t like your script.” I wanted to ask her “how did he like your script? Oh, oops, I’m sorry, I forgot, you don’t write scripts - you TYPE scripts for high paid, unionized Emmy winning writers.”
In any case we felt pretty much out of it, ostracized if you will by the sucky show and the decidedly unfunny writers, Perry and Dick, with whom we did not see eye to eye. And who had pretty much thrown us under a bus named Norman Lear.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

My First Shameless Plug: Giftrocket

I sent a GiftRocket the other day. I was looking for a gift card to send someone for their birthday, and I wanted it to land in their email. I originally figured I had to send a card from a specific company - Macy's, Old Navy. Ikea. I didn't want to send a "Visa" because that sucks up too much interest or whatever. And I discovered GiftRocket in my searches. It turns out to be a wonderful company. I originally thought I had to specify a store, but really, you can suggest one - but you don't have to, and the recipient doesn't have to use it there. The recipient gets a nice virtual card (you pick the occasion), and can spend the bucks in any way they choose! The value (i.e., money) goes to their bank account or wherever they want. The fee for me was just two bucks for a fifty dollar gift. And it gets to the destination instantly. I love it. I know, I know, "gift cards" are often seen as default gifting, but my recipient was pretty damn happy. I highly recommend. Here's the link: GiftRocket I hope I get one.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Rosa Parks at 100: “The only tired I was, was tired of giving in”

By Robert Illes
It was a rainy afternoon in Montgomery, Alabama.  Metropolitan bus driver James F. Blake pulled the Cleveland Street bus up to the stop, where waited a young black woman. The woman got aboard, and paid her fare. She started to walk up the aisle to have a seat. But that was a violation of the rules. According to an early municipal ordinance, a black person in Montgomery had to leave the bus after paying the fare, then re-enter the bus through the rear entrance.  Of course enforcement of the arcane law was all up to the white bus drivers.
Blake admonished the woman, and made her disembark. She did, but before she could get back aboard, Blake drove off, leaving the woman standing in the rain. She would either have to wait for the next bus, or walk home. There is no indication she was reimbursed for her ten cents fare.
The black woman was one Rosa McCauley Parks. Yes, the Rosa Parks. This incident occurred in 1943, some 12 years before her dramatic ride into history.
Blake, a World War II veteran, was merely doing his job.
Rosa Parks was then about 30 years old. She had been born in poverty in Montgomery, and was well versed in such injustice, especially around buses. And white people. She remembered walking miles to the “negro school” as white kids rode by in buses. In another incident, a ten year old white kid sought to attack her younger brother, but Rosa, brandishing a brick, dissuaded the young racist and he ran off.
In 1932, at age 19, Rosa McCauley married local barber Raymond Parks. He was no mere barber. He was a curious, well educated local activist. He encouraged Rosa to attend college, and become as curious as he was. And after several tries, she registered to vote.
Was the 1943 incident in the rain the culmination of this early education, the impetus that got Rosa involved in the local NAACP? She indeed became secretary of the chapter, and got involved in protests of early civil rights outrages, particularly that of the tragedy of Emmett Till in the summer of 1955. Till, a teenager who had been living in Chicago was visiting family in southern Mississippi when he was accused of flirting with a white woman. Till’s vicious murder and the subsequent trial (and acquittal) of his kidnappers and murderers particularly galvanized Black outrage of Southern injustices, one of the most pivotal moments in the history of the movement.
And a pivotal moment in the life of Rosa Parks, for she was thinking of Emmett Till when she refused to move from her seat on the bus.
The local civil rights activists in Montgomery Alabama, in particular local NAACP chairman, ironically named Nixon, and a new young minister named Martin L. King, had been looking for ways to fight the abuses visited upon Rosa Parks and thousands of other municipal bus riders.  75% of bus ridership were black citizens, yet they had to endure the Jim Crow rules.  Over time in the early 1950’s, two women had refused to give up their seats, but, given their questionable lifestyles, were not considered good candidates for legal remedies that might end the discrimination.
On December 1st, 1955, Rosa Parks, now 42 years of age, had spent the day working as a seamstress at a local department store. She boarded the Cleveland Street bus around 6 PM. She sat in the second row on the right. Next to her, and across the aisle from her, sat three other black passengers. Movable signage in the bus indicated that she was seated in the “colored” section of the bus.
A few minutes later, in front of the Emporium Theatre, the bus stopped and picked up a number of white riders. There were no seats for them in the front, and some were forced to stand.
These white customers standing, while several black folks sat was too much for the driver to abide. So the driver moved the “colored section” sign to one row behind Rosa Parks’ row. He insisted she and the other three black riders relocate, to accommodate the new white customers.
Three of the black passengers briefly protested, but dutifully got up and moved.
Rosa Parks refused. “I thought of Emmett Till, and I knew I could not move. I had had enough. The empowerment I felt covered me like a warm quilt on a winter’s day.” The bus driver gave Parks fair warning, and would call the police otherwise. Rosa Parks said that was his right.
And so the driver and Rosa Parks made their fateful decisions.
Oh, and the driver? James F. Blake – the same driver who had coldly collected Rosa Parks’ fare in 1943, forced her to disembark in the rain, and drove off without her. Parks had vowed never to enter a bus driven by Blake again, and kept to that vow for over 12 years. But on this day, she did not see who was driving.
So perhaps Blake’s earlier asinine behavior had some part in Parks’ defiance. And so goes fate and history. Heroes and villains. Very often it is a villain who strikes the spark in awesome moments in history. And very often a soft spoken, regular citizen is thrust into the role of hero.
Such was the little drama enacted on that bus on that day in that city in 1955.
Rosa Parks was arrested by local officers for violation of the municipal code. She asked them why they were pushing people around. They of course said they were simply enforcing the law. Rosa Parks was resolute, conquering the very real fears that existed in that era, making her small protest more than a little significant and heroic. People died for less in those places in that era.
In Parks, Nixon, King and others had found the case they were looking for: a gentle woman, a good citizen, with a good family being “pushed around” by absurdity of Jim Crow. Eldridge Cleaver put it, “Somewhere in the universe a gear in the machinery had shifted” because of what Rosa Parks did.  Her refusal to move was the catalyst for the first great stride in what we now refer to as the Civil Rights Movement: the Montgomery bus boycott.
Parks was bailed out by Mr. Nixon, and on the days before her brief trial, a meeting was held among activists, including Ralph Abernathy and Martin Luther King. They spread the word that the day of her trial blacks should skip school or work if necessary, or walk, or carpool.
Just stay off the buses.
And they did so. Then it was decided to continue the process. Defying death threats, and the usual intimidations of life in the deep Jim Crow south, the black citizens of Montgomery boycotted the buses for days, weeks, months – a year. Rosa Parks worked as a dispatcher to coordinate carpools and jitney-style cabs (charging only 10 cents – the same as the bus fare). And of course, many opted to walk – some as much as 20 miles to work. But they stayed off the buses.
The Montgomery bus company nearly went bankrupt. In mid December of 1956, the rules were changed. There were no more “colored sections” on Montgomery buses. Other boycotts followed in other cities.
There were beatings and threats. For safety’s sake, Rosa, her husband Ray and mother moved to Detroit, where they had relatives.
Thus emboldened, there was to follow the desegregation of high schools, colleges and lunch counters. There was voter registration. Many of the protestors, marchers and workers and lawyers were white, many were beaten, and many were killed.
But many earned their freedom.
This is what Rosa Parks’ refusal to move wrought. There were, and remain, many agitators in the cause of social justice with more strident attitudes, soaring oratory, and intense focus.
But it also takes people like her - people like us - ordinary citizens, to “shift the machinery”. This is what makes the story of Rosa Parks so heartening, hopeful and significant. Her name has been invoked by no less than Nelson Mandela. Many events are referred to as “a Rosa Parks moment”. 
What is interesting is that, yes, she did work for the NAACP, but her bus ride was unrelated – her moment of protest was undertaken quietly after work as a seamstress and had no clue the infamous driver James Blake would undertake to move the “colored only” sign. It was others who picked up the baton and turned her protest into history. Her very ordinariness is what has made her story so compelling and so mighty.
Parks did not seek the spotlight after her moment in time. She worked for many years in the office of Rep. John Conyers in Michigan. She cared for her husband and her mother who both died of cancer in the 1970’s. She was bestowed great honors over the years and revered as a civil rights icon.
2013 would have been the 100th anniversary of her birth.
Interestingly enough, 2012 would have been the 100th anniversary of the birth of James F. Blake, the Montgomery bus driver who had insisted that Rosa Parks move from her seat. He was the same guy who made her get out of his bus in the rain 12 years before. As often happens in history, evil sets the tone and, ironically, in so doing, sparks an act of courage which eventually rights the wrong forever.
“People think I was tired because I was old,” said Rosa Parks many years later. “I wasn’t old then. And I was no more tired than I was any other time after a long day at work. The only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”

Sunday, December 30, 2012


By Robert Illes
King Arthur: Now stand aside, worthy adversary. 

Black Knight: 'Tis but a scratch. 
King Arthur: A scratch? Your arm's off. 
Black Knight: No it isn't. 
King Arthur: What's that, then? 
Black Knight: [after a pause] I've had worse. 
King Arthur: You liar. 
Black Knight: Come on ya pansy

  November 7th, 2012 – What a relief – in fact, a great pleasure – it is now to watch and/or listen to Mitt Romney, Rush Limbaugh, John Boehner and Fox News. After all this was the day after November 6, 2012 – the date of what was about as crushing a victory for Democrats as could have only been fantasized on November 5th via pre-legal pot (in certain states). In fact for a party of the right, it is ironic how wrong the Republicans and their flacks could be. There was no Dick Morris/George Will/Karl Rove predicted Romney landslide, there was no recapture of the Senate.  Mitch McConnell’s silly determination to make Obama a one term President (and 300 filibusters in support of same) ultimately floundered like a turtle on its back.  Trump birtherism was just stupid hairism.
Now, the day after their mighty and sweeping fail, these once fearsome and forever disgusting sociopaths elicited no fear.  The junk yard dog has lost his teeth.  The mean nun had her knuckles rapped by the Archbishop. Mighty Casey had struck out and languished weeping at his locker. Gandhi was prime minister, and the British Empire was sent home.  There was justice in the world.  Shane had gunned down Jack Wilson and the Rykers. There would be peace in the valley.
They were instantly irrelevant and silly. Karl Rove’s blown $300 million dollars, and stunning melt down on network TV when it was clear the computer network that was supposed to flip the Ohio vote didn’t were awesome to watch.  Whatever attempts ten Republican governors and their crony secretaries of state in ten “battleground” states made to suppress the vote, or flip the vote, or rig the outcome, all failed dismally. 
The Koch Brothers, Dick Armey, Foster Friese (please, with that name!), Morty S. (aka Sheldon) Adelson were not, after all, a league of supermen, and Citizens United was not the invincible Mr. Corporation; he may be human but he was human after all.
So let O’Reilly blab, and Hannity shriek about the war on Christmas.  It’s over. Go home and talk to your family.
At least that was the thinking on November 7th.  Surely they would take this all in, and seriously reflect on how far from reality the Tea Party and Norquist balloons had taken them.
But as the weeks unfolded since 11/6, it was clear defeat was hard to swallow. And that’s to be understood. Well, understood up to a point.
Indeed, initially there was some concession only of their “tone” being reason for defeat, not their policy – how stupid was it that Murdock and Akin blabbed about their feelings about rape and abortion (the very same policy as Paul Ryan – but he was wise enough to count that among his lies by not even mentioning it, rather than lying about it).  Clint Eastwood and the chair was no help.  And it was ceded, nobody liked that guy Romney anyway or his wicked wife anyway.  But for those things, the Republican Party was alive and well. Obama caught a few lucky breaks. Denial. And hey, what mandate? Boehner, failed vice presidential candidate and Ayn Rand denier Paul Ryan and Republican flacks floated a freshly concocted Frank Luntz explanation: no mandate for Obama because, after all, the American public returned the Republican house to power (minus a dozen seats or so, of course) – proof they want divided government! Denial. And, of course, disingenuous since gerrymandering in 2011 had a lot to do with protecting Republican districts.
And before the inkavote ink had dried, there was Romney doubling down on his meme of the Obama having sewed up the freeloaders and takers.  (The sweet irony would come later, when, after straggling precincts had finally tallied their votes, Romney’s popular vote total will stand, in history, at no less than 47%). Denial.
Okay, I’m an empathetic liberal. Sure there’ll be a period of denial, and then that would be followed by anger. Check. Negotiation. Check. And acceptance… no. No acceptance. Back to anger. Back to  denial.
Remember the Black Knight bit from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. “Just a scratch!” There is obviously something beyond denial which that knight possessed, and now seems to have overtaken the Republicans at least in this lame duck period.  It could be called many things, but we all recognize it: delusion.
[King Arthur has just cut the Black Knight's last leg off] 

Black Knight: All right, we'll call it a draw. 
King Arthur: [Preparing to leave] Come, Patsy. 
[King Arthur and Patsy ride off] 
Black Knight: [calling after King Arthur] Oh, oh, I see! Running away, eh? You yellow bastards! Come back here and take what's coming to you! I'll bite your legs off! 

There is a meme in some religions and 12 step groups that says “act as if…” Usually, it’s for the goodness of well being and self esteem, and grounded in reality. Act as if you are brave. Act as if you are happy.
But it’s difficult in an election to act as if you won, when you got shellacked.
And so the headless, legless Republican knight trudges on. Boehner demands concessions from a President in this so-called “fiscal cliff” debate, “concessions” for stuff roundly rejected by the voting public.  John McCain and three luckless sidekicks decided to go after Susan Rice, the well respected Ambassador to the United Nations, because her name was floated to replace Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. Rice was blasted as being, basically, stupid for her dumb ass comments on Meet the Press and other “Sunday shows” – as if these shows are sanctioned by some government agency – about the attacks on the Benghazi consulate on September 11.  They took the baseless attacks on Rice a step further – not only should she be kicked to the curb, but instead, the newly re-elected President was advised by this committee of losers - even before he nominated anybody - to pick Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts (the same guy these same folks allowed to be “swift boated” in 2004 during his failed Presidential run).
The curious side effect of Kerry’s resignation, of course, would be that his Massachusetts senate seat would become vacant and perhaps would almost certainly be an opening for a comeback of Scott Brown who had been handed his butt in the recent election by Elizabeth Warren. Could it be that Machiavellian? Well, oddly, three of the four Senators who trashed Rice – McCain, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Susan Collins of Maine – actively campaigned for Brown. Hmmm.
They lost, remember, and yet deign to call the shots. Denial or delusion? Do they look pathetic, stupid, weird, crazy? Yes, but as G. Gordon Liddy once said, “The trick is not minding.”
And so, regardless of the way America is “trending”, the Republican governors in the aforementioned “swing states” are feverishly concocting anti-abortion, pro-gun, anti-union stripping bills in the dead of night.  As we debate the fiscal cliff and murders in Connecticut, they are quietly knitting in the basement as it were (these people do not sleep), trying, in the case of Pennsylvania and Ohio, to weave a new way of counting electoral votes, based on congressional districts won, so that their states are no longer “winner take all”.  Thumbing their nose, as they have all year, at the bloody battle for voting rights, young punk secretaries of state like John Husted of Ohio desperately connive to stop the wrong people from voting – not with firebombs or beatings, but with bureaucratic morass and long lines.  And since the wrong people succeeded in voting anyway, on November 6, he and others like him will see what he can do about blunting the full force of those damn votes.
The Republicans seem to have an issue with “majority rule”.  In the Senate, they routinely filibuster to stop the majority from ruling. In the general electorate, they must plot to enable their victories even with fewer votes than the other guy gets.  They have their sociopathy covered: Democratic victory didn’t count anyway, it was stolen, you know, by Acorn.  Or there was de facto bribery – so many giveaways were offered up to brown people, naturally they would happily stand in line for 10 hours. Curses! Foiled!  All that Citizens United money down the drain!
For now.
And so there is a quest for Holy Grail of winning by other means.  Bush did ascend to the Presidency despite losing popular AND electorate votes via the Supreme Court in 2000, but that well cannot be expected to quench ever again.  But as their patriotic duty, they must find other ways - so convinced are they of the value of their policies that they must not allow the electorate to hurt itself, lest those policies don’t get enacted? Certainly the simplest thing to do is to act as if, and hope wimpy Dems cave.  Declare victory, and DON’T depart the field.
And then there are the methods of cheating.  But till they take hold, they flail and hope enough are convinced that they DIDN’T really lose. That they are still relevant, dammit. It’s Obama who’s doing nothing about the “fiscal cliff”. He’ll have to try harder because even though he won, big, he’s out of touch with the American people, he doesn’t have a mandate, he’s still a Muslim communist, we really won and we hold all the cards.
The Republicans have truly become the vaunted Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  They have lost a stunning election, and declaring it was “just a scratch!” The knight’s other arm went. Then his legs. But he remained breathtakingly defiant.  In denial. deluded. Here is full Monty Python clip: 

Saturday, September 15, 2012


of Schwerner, Chaney, Goodman and Hursted

Civil rights workers Mickey Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman were released from the Philadelphia (Mississippi) jail by deputy sheriff Cecil Price around 10:30 PM the night of June 21st, 1964 after being held five or six hours.  What they didn’t know is that Price had set them up for an ambush further up lonely Route 19 as they headed back to Meridian.

Few things have changed since the recent political conventions. Romney continues opening his mouth with two results: the lies are coming out and the foot is going in.  The feverish attempt to make some political hay out of the recent Cairo and Benghazi embassy attacks - and resultant murder of American diplomats - landed in the same ballpark as some of the greater presidential campaign horrors of all time – right up there with daddy George Romney’s own “I was brainwashed” 45 years ago.  The difference between father and son gaffes, are, of course, senior Romney was telling the truth. Son Romney, as usual, lied.
The reason for the flailing and unpresidential remarks on an international event that was still breaking is blatant: after the Democratic convention, aided by a stirring string of oratories by Bill Clinton, Michelle Obama, Julian Castro, Sandra Fluke, Jennifer Granholm, John Lewis, John Kerry and my personal favorite, Deval Patrick, President Barack Obama emerged as the clear favorite in all polls, in all polls within polls, in all swing states. “Democrats need to grow a backbone! “said Patrick. “… I will not stand by while Barack Obama is bullied out of the White House,” He continued with rising passion. “We can’t let SuperPacs tell us who is going to be our next President, or congressman. We’re Americans. We make our own decisions.”

At an earlier campaign stop, Barack Obama said, in response to the crowd: “Don’t boo. Vote!”

Mickey Schwerner and Andrew Goodman had come from New York to join the Freedom Summer project, specifically designed to help black Mississippi citizens register to vote. James Chaney was a CORE activist from Meridian. Deputy Price again pulled them over, but this time had two carfuls of local Klansmen with him. The three workers were placed in the back of the police car. One of the Klansmen, James Jordan, got into the passenger seat. They drove a few miles to a small side road. 

Nobody, it seems, really likes Mitt Romney, or wants him to be President.  He’s proven to be beyond mendacious, devoid of specific ideas. Similarly mendacious and ill equipped for the job is his running mate, Paul Ryan a virtual “mini Mitt”. His campaign and his super rich pals Adelson, Koch and Rove et al. have spent tens of millions of Citizens United bucks in ten swing states, saturating their airwaves with advertisements, yet he’s only lost ground.  He is losing in polls on likability, foreign policy, and trust. He is losing heavily with women, and Latinos, yet is doubling down with the anti-women warriors and anti-immigrant stalwarts at the extreme of the Tea Party.  And a recent poll among blacks shows him trailing Obama 94% to 0.


So one might ask, why is this man still smirking? Does he seriously expect to win?

Yeah.  They can cheat.  They can prevent Democrats from voting, especially those 94 to 0 black people in places like Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Richmond, Miami and Cleveland.

Here is John Lewis from the Democratic national convention:

"My dear friends, your vote is precious, almost sacred. It is the most powerful, nonviolent tool we have to create a more perfect union. Not too long ago, people stood in unmovable lines. They had to pass a so-called literacy test, pay a poll tax. On one occasion, a man was asked to count the number of bubbles in a bar of soap. On another occasion, one was asked to count the jelly beans in a jar—all to keep them from casting their ballots. Today it is unbelievable that there are Republican officials still trying to stop some people from voting.  They are changing the rules, cutting polling hours and imposing requirements intended to suppress the vote.”

Did you read that? “The most powerful nonviolent tool we have to create a more perfect union.”  The vote is sacred, yet at this vaunted Democratic convention, Lewis was pretty much the only one to underscore its being threatened. Obama made a passing mention. Bill Clinton, in his 45 minutes of captivation, did not.

The cars stopped on the lonely road. Schwerner, who had the specific hit ordered on him by Grand Dragon Sam Bowers of the local Klan, was pulled from the car first. Wayne Roberts put his left hand on Schwerner’s shoulder and shot him in the heart with a gun in his right. Goodman was the next to be pulled out of the car and shot dead. Chaney, the black man, was saved for last. He ran, but they caught him. He was beaten ferociously, then shot three times. The bodies were loaded into their station wagon. They were taken to a friendly farm, and buried at the site of a dam. They were covered with tons of dirt. This got the attention of the FBI. Informants cracked, and a semblance of justice was served. But this event led to the Voting Rights act of 1965, and Mississippi was led into the 20th century.

“Don’t boo. Vote,” said Barack Obama at a campaign rally. That’s right, the polls can be bubbling over with optimism, but will mean nothing if people don’t show up to vote.  And they will mean nothing if people show up to vote, and can’t.

And so we come to Mitt and mini-Mitt’s last chance to win in 2012: stopping enough potential Democratic voters from voter. Or make it incredibly confusing just to register. Secretary of State John Hursted, born two years after the 1965 Voting Rights Act was signed into law, is typical of the gaggle of Republican Secretaries of State in key swing states doing his best to thwart Democratic voting in Ohio. Many of the voters targeted for the infamous “Voter I.D.” laws and who will be most injured by the limitation of early voting days will be the elderly, the young, and minorities – mostly black (read likely Democratic voters).  The Voter I.D. seems reasonable, and indeed such a law challenged in Indiana was upheld in 2008 – by Antonin Scalia and the Supreme Court.  But the requirement to get this ID is often daunting, requiring birth certificates that are long lost, travel to department of motor vehicles offices (whose hours have often been cut back, oddly enough), and the like.  Hursted, executing a law passed by the legislature, says it’s all about combating “voter fraud”. But a guy in Philadelphia (not Mississippi, Pennsylvania this time) let the cat out of the voter suppression bag:  Pennsylvania's House Majority Leader, Mike Turzai: “(Legislation requiring) Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done!”

Similarly, Mississippi Senator Theodore Bilbo, in 1944, declared "If the poll tax bill passes, the next step will be an effort to remove the registration qualification, the educational qualification of Negroes. If that is done we will have no way of preventing the Negroes from voting."

“On another occasion, a man was asked to count the number of jelly beans in a jar,” said John Lewis. And he would know.

Lewis was a civil rights hero long before he came into Congress. He was beaten and bloodied throughout the south, working with Martin Luther King and others, in his efforts to register mostly black voters.  He and his coworkers were so thwarted by Sheriff Jim Clark in the city of Selma, Alabama that he sought help from the greater civil rights movement. And so a protest march was organized to go from Selma to Montgomery. Part of that involved crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

On March 7, 1965—a day that would become known as "Bloody Sunday”– Lewis and others led over 600 marchers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. They were met by police and state troopers. When the marchers stopped to pray, the police and mounted troopers charged the demonstrators, beating them with night sticks. A national television network broke away from presenting “Judgment at Nuremberg” (just to add to the irony), and broadcast the melee live before 60 million viewers.

Lewis's skull was fractured, but he escaped across the bridge, to a church in Selma. President Lyndon Johnson was moved to act.

John Hursted of Ohio, 2012, no doubt following orders (no pun intended vis a vis the just mentioned Judgment at Nuremberg) first got attention as part of this disturbing widespread voter suppression scheme when he agreed to allow Republican leaning counties to have early voting, and extended voting hours, but not the Democratic leading counties. Since this seemed an even more direct partisan scheme than Turzai of Pennsylvania copped to, Hursted was quickly compelled to correct this. He did; he simply cut back extended weekday voting for everybody, such a non partisan guy he is. But he still was determined to roll back the 3 day voting prior to Election Day. That would include the African-American church tradition of “take your souls to the polls” the Sunday before election day. Meanwhile, two Montgomery (not Alabama, Ohio this time) County officials voted to allow their voters to vote on weekends, since that wasn’t specifically precluded from Husted’s order.  Hursted, ever the dutiful martinet, said they were violating his memo, and told them to stop interfering with his efforts. They refused, and, after a “hearing”, were fired.  

And as for the rollback of voting the three days before election day, a federal judge said nonsense, that’s worked fine the last few years, rescind that order. Former Republican Senator Mike DeWine, now state attorney general, was determined to appeal this ruling. And Hursted refused to rescind it, in defiance of the judge. The judge slapped him back, and Hursted suddenly agreed to comply.

Such is the determination in this Koch Brothers / ALEC world to put a big thumb on the playing field (as if unlimited campaign contributions was not enough). But as Reverend Al Sharpton says while everybody thought the south’s Jim Crow was gone, but he has re-emerged albeit in disguise, gussied up as Jameson T. Crow, Esq. But with the same results as his ancestor.  This time it’s Voter ID’s not jelly beans.

President Johnson spoke to a joint session of congress to present the Voting Rights act of 1965: “Even if we pass this bill, the battle will not be over. What happened in Selma is part of a far larger movement which reaches into every section and state of America. It is the effort of American Negroes to secure for themselves the full blessings of American life. Their cause must be our cause, too, because it is not just Negroes but really it is all of us who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome.”

Johnson purposefully used the civil rights movement anthem of “we shall overcome”.  No doubt that was also the moment Richard Nixon hit upon the Southern Strategy for 1968. But that’s another story.
This voting rights act was not just the culmination of efforts of Lewis, and King, and so many others, and the martyring of the three civil rights workers, but also the millions who gave their lives in World War II. And the culmination hasn’t culminated. The voter suppression is rampant in the United States this year. Ohio is burning, but so is Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Indiana, Virginia, Michigan. Colorado. Young white guy John Hursted perhaps should read some history, for he is taking on a rather awesome responsibility to nullify all that people fought and died for.

John Lewis, seeing a new battle in 2012 after hoping it had been won in the 60’s – like all the other battles being refought on other fronts this year: "I've seen this before. I've lived this before. Too many people struggled, suffered and died to make it possible for every American to exercise their right to vote. We have come too far together to ever turn back. So we must not be silent. We must stand up, speak up and speak out. We must march to the polls like never before."

Patricia Carroll, the black CNN camera person who had peanuts thrown at her at the Tampa Republican Convention, said: "I can't change these people's hearts and minds. This should be a wake-up call to black people.  We were living in euphoria for a while. People think we've gone further than we have."

What we risk is the election of Grover Norquist’s dream generic president: one who has digits that can work a pen and sign what is placed in front of him by a Republican dominated congress. Is that focused greed goal worth trampling on the graves of Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman, who died defending our right to vote?   

Oh you bet it is. 

 “Agitate!” said Frederick Douglass, when asked by a young man about what to do to make the society a better place. “Agitate! Agitate! Agitate!”

Douglass was one of the first black fighters for civil rights, including voting rights – in the 19th century.  Apparently, it doesn’t end.