I sing the body politik…

My parents belonged to this Socialist organization called the Workman’s Circle – circle.org

I wasn’t sure that sharing my political views and values would be interesting or inspiring, or even divisive, but I feel this is something I want to share. I’m fully aware that I may turn some of you off, even piss you off. Know that is not my intent at all. I’ve learned, as I’ll explain later in this post, that some of us won’t want to hear or be persuaded by my views and that’s okay because I’m not here to do that. If anything, I hope it gives pause for thought. And if not, then I hope you’ll read what I have to say, then judge me.

Since the time I was in high school, I always loved to talk politics. I’ve always felt getting involved in politics was an obligation as an American citizen. I also understood that my life and the lives of others were directly affected by politics. Without direct involvement, I wasn’t meeting my obligation as a citizen. I didn’t want to treat politics as a spectator sport.

I’ve always been a liberal Democrat. My mother was a Democrat once she became a naturalized citizen. And no wonder, she was a Socialist in Poland as were most of the Jews there. Because of anti-Semitism, they fought for equality and workers rights, until the war made it a moot point. When refugees came to the US, they brought their convictions with them. My mother was not overtly political, but she had an opinion on which politician was most honest and had a heart for others. She was also a member of a Socialist union here in the US called the Workman’s Circle (in Yiddish, the Aribiters Ring). Both of my parents are buried in the Workman’s Circle Benevolent Society’s section of a large cemetery.

My true political upbringing started with the Vietnam War. I saw the waste of human life the conflict created. It created a great divide across the country. I was also scared that I would be called to service by the draft. It was not until the war was virtually over when my name came up in the lottery. It was 1973 when I was 18 years old. I attended all the anti-war rallies in New York City, manned tables for the Vietnam War Moratorium Committee, argued with John Birch Society members and was called names by conservatives. I felt I earned some grit during those years and it stayed with me ever since.

Memorabilia from the Anti-war era that I have displayed on my wall ( Thank you Andy)

I moved on from being a radical to try and make some small, positive changes in the world instead of just joining protests. One thing I did was volunteer at a NY State mental health institution. I likely mentioned how horrible the conditions were there. I felt I was making some contribution to the residents there. Another contribution I made was supporting a fledgling organic food movement. I helped found an organic food co-op, based on the principles of a true cooperative. Everyone had to work to be a member. We rotated jobs and made sure everyone had a task. We started out in a friend’s basement, buying vegetables and grains in bulk, everyone buying what they needed, and making sure everyone had their fair share. There were 11 of us to start. Gradually we outgrew the basement storehouse because more and more people were joining our buying club. At that point, we all met together and decided to find a small storefront to house our idealistic cooperative. We all pitched in to get the place ready, building shelves, painting, cleaning. It felt communal and we knew we were independent of “The Man”. Power to the People!

The 16th Street Food Co-op in 1976. We worked together to build the storefront. In two years, we grew from 11 of us to 100 members – Bklyner.com, 2012
The food co-op today with over 3000 members – Flatbush Food Co-op

Those experiences set the course for my politics ever since. I was always concerned about fairness and justice. I began to work for Democratic Presidential candidates campaigns among other social causes. Then in 1981, I felt I needed a break from New York City and moved to California. Once landed, I thought I finally landed in friendly territory. I found that I lived among mostly like minded people. There wasn’t the political diversity like New York, but I got comfortable pretty easily. No matter where I worked, I met liberals like myself. The political culture I was living in made the conservative political landscape I experienced in New York all the more farther away.

Trying not to isolate myself completely in my California bubble, I’d listen to Fox News to learn what conservatives were thinking. What I heard was more and more divisive and extreme opinions. I listened to Newt Gingrich and his flaming missives. I noticed the erosion of compromise in Congress. I read an article that introduced me to the beginnings of the great divide we’re experiencing today. It started with Newt Gingrich and his strategy to have Republicans no longer fraternize with Democrats outside of Congress, not even to carpool with them. To follow up on this, read the article in The Atlantic about the background of this movement.

The political divide worried me, but also made me curious not just why this was happening and what was the mindset of conservatives who were supporting this move. I believed we were a country dedicated to compromise as a pillar of our government and here I was seeing it slowly erode. I really wanted to understand the mindset of those who exhibited such staunch emotions, not just conservatives, but liberals too. Then, I stumbled on a book called The Righteous Mind, by John Haidt. The author’s focus is on the psychology of established moral values. Through extensive study, he discovered five moral values that drive our opinions, emotions and affiliations.

Below are the five foundations of Moral Psychology.

  • Care: cherishing and protecting others; opposite of harm
  • Fairness or proportionality: rendering justice according to shared rules; opposite of cheating
  • Loyalty or ingroup: standing with your group, family, nation; opposite of betrayal
  • Authority or respect: submitting to tradition and legitimate authority; opposite of subversion
  • Sanctity or purity: abhorrence for disgusting things, foods, actions; opposite of degradatio
    • Wikipedia – Moral Foundations Theory

Without belaboring the results of his research, I want to mention he spends a good portion of his book on how these foundations overlay across liberals and conservatives. In a nutshell, liberals lead with Caring and Fairness, whereas conservatives lead with Authority, Loyalty, and Sanctity. To get a better picture of how this works, read this article that talks about the divide between liberals and conservatives politically. My point here is that both groups are wired differently and that by considering this, we can at least humanize folks on both ends of the spectrum. What I will say is that the demonizing of people and weaponizing of the media and events by Trump and his minions is unconscionable to me since the sole purpose is to increase our divide even more.

Seen at a Trump rally – Daily Koz, 2018

So where am I currently in politics? I am voting my moral values. I think these last three years have seen a depletion of trust, stability, and decency. Many of us can’t recognize the country we grew up in. I feel we survived Nixon, yet this is the biggest test we, as citizens of the world’s greatest democracy, must overcome. Interestingly enough, my foreign friends and family have said to me that we’ll get through this like we have before. I’m trying to believe they’re right.

Getting back to my liberal roots, I am a bit less radical than in my past but no less concerned about how people will be affected if Trump is re-elected. I strongly believe in a social democracy much like other countries who focus on their people, knowing that is what makes a country great. The upcoming election is our opportunity to reverse the damages that have been done to our democracy and to right many wrongs, in my humble opinion. I believe it’s all about numbers now. I have been following the candidates from the beginning and wish there was one person who had the social responsibility of Sanders, the compassion of Biden, the smarts of Warren, the articulation of Buttegieg, and the practicality of Klobuchar. To this moment I’m still struggling with my choice though whomever is the final candidate, I will support wholeheartedly. I will eventually have selected who fits closest to my own values.

I have two hopes for this election. The first is that whoever reaches the top will look beyond the tumult of the primaries and commit his or her focus to include all of the people and talent available to them, and unify the party’s left, right, and center, urban, suburban, and rural, black, white, Latino, Asian across all economic levels. There is an anecdote that, if Abraham Lincoln were to run for President now, he would likely lose. He was not charismatic, a mediocre communicator, and not a favorite of his own party. Yet he won and became one of our greatest Presidents. His success is due in part to his decision to create a team of rivals. He brought people into his cabinet who were opposed to his platform so that he can get early dissent and see all sides of an issue in order to make the best decisions. (I recommend reading the book A Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin.) I see rivals in the Democratic primary candidates. They are contentious, don’t agree on many points, and certainly don’t support each other. Read this article by Thomas Friedman where I got the idea about the Team of Rivals.

The second hope is that every eligible voter supports whoever the final nominee is and get out the vote! It’s about numbers and there are more Democrats than Republicans and every vote counts. My fear is that we won’t learn from the last election and voters stay home in protest against the candidate they did not choose. This time is different and I’m optimistic.

More to come…

13 thoughts on “I sing the body politik…

  1. Hesh, as you know I grew up with a framed picture of Barry Goldwater in the kitchen; xmas gifts for my radical John Birch mother consisting of a poster of William Buckley and (get ready) dart board with RFK’s face. This toxic stew was my pablum! Alas, dear friend you beckoned me to come visit the Land Of Fruit and Honey after which I flew back to Houston, Texas, backed my bags and never looked back. What we have today is far worse. Deep inhale, slow exhale….
    Love your guts,


  2. Thank you Harry. You focus on what is most important and that is values. You live your life by the best values possible – compassion, understanding, uplifting others, making this world a better place and love. Indeed politics should emerge from our values. We need to reclaim that voice of sensibility and reason in all political realms. People can certainly disagree on political views but as you discuss, dialogue should be respectful and not demean any human being. We all have a lot to learn and Harry I am so grateful for your perspective and always reminding us of what really matters in life. Sending love.


  3. Harry, love your posts. I am testing the comments section to see if I can post and have it not disappear! So many of my views were framed by the Vietnam War and the protests of that era. In my older age, I have learned to be more of a “happy warrior”, being an activist but not staying angry all the time which works for some but is corrosive to me.


  4. Well said my friend….well said. Your words are inspirational. Thank you for having the courage to share your thoughts and perspective.


  5. Harry, when you’re right, you’re right. And I have to say you’re right. From the “Republican” member of Men’s Weekend — the guy whose parents weren’t Communists or Socialist Workers.


  6. Another wise post, Harry. You eloquently capture the call to and challenges of being politically involved in these surreal times.

    I hope that whomever becomes the Democratic nominee can unite our disparate factions, as you outline here, something which today feels so out of reach.

    Thank you for your thoughtful and educated perspectives and for the hope and optimism you continue to make your calling card. You inspire me every day!


  7. Dearest Hesh,
    So many shared memories and values. As always, thank you for sharing and we are certainly in agreement on the upcoming election. Oh, and by the way, that is me in the co-op photo. Love you


  8. Thanks for your post. Your parents and my dad would have liked each other. As kids, we were dispatched into Safeway to turn the jars of Knott’s Berry Farm products backward to make them harder to find since the brand was owned by the John Birch Society. Thanks for continuing to care and to agitate. It’s more important now than ever.


  9. Thank you Harry. I always cherish to read your perspectives, please continue to share it with us. As I am so far away, can’t even visit you – this is the only window I have, to be part of your world and learn from you.


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