A Few Words From Ed Asner

( – promoted by ek hornbeck)

I may have mentioned my activist brother.  The reason I know he’s more activist than I is that I never get mail like this from Ed Asner-

Democratic Socialists of America Fund

Dear friend,

If you at all like me, you have been angry for much of the last decade.  Angry about the stolen election of 2000 and  then the sequel in 2004 – and even angrier with what Republicans did while controlling all three branches of government until the Democrats took Congress back in 2006.  And I am angry at the situation in Washington that still makes it very difficult to pass even moderate reforms.

I am still angry about war powers granted to a president without real debate, and angrier about the rush to war to protect us from non-existent weapons of mass destruction and ongoing occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan that seem like they will never end.  And I am angry that no one in power seems willing to hold those who were responsible for implementing a program of torture to account.

I remain angry  about billions of dollars in tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, passed with the express purpose of preventing a future administration, like the one we have just elected, from implementing spending programs that might actually help alleviate poverty, pay for a national health care program, or respond to a hurricane.

Like you, I worked to ensure that the 2008 election brought us the change that this country and the world need.  And I am sure we share a great sense of satisfaction at the election of Barack Obama and the thrashing Republicans took at the polls.  But there is another thing I know for sure and that I hope you agree with me on: we won’t get all the reforms we need if we simply let the new bunch in power follow the path of least resistance- no matter how pleased we remain by their win.

I bet by now you think I am writing you because I am running for office or supporting a candidate or even a new party, but I am not.  This is about what to do between elections, regardless of who is in office.

I belong to an organization that helps me channel my anger about the frustrations of political activity into effective work for real change: the Democratic Socialists of America Fund.  I would like to tell you a little bit about what we believe and what we do.  And I’m hoping you will join our proud ranks.

Socialists.  What exactly does that mean?  It means we think our economic system places too much power in the hands of too few people.  It means we believe that this power must be challenged if humankind is to truly move forward.  It means we want a world where ordinary men and women control their own destinies.

It means we are following in the footsteps of Martin Luther King, Suasan B. Anthony, Albert Einstein, Eugene V. Debs, Mother Jones, and a host of others who fought for change to make America a better place.  It means shared values: justice and equality; peace and understanding; tolerance; and brotherhood and sisterhood.

The conventional wisdom remains to be “sensible” and “pragmatic,” to trim our sails and take what we can get.  We must, we are told, support legislation that barely makes a difference and that we are stuck with candidates who offend the least, “because that is the best we can do.”  And now, after the worst financial crisis in 80 years, even all-too-modest efforts to tax the rich and generate good jobs the Right labels socialism.

Well the one thing, really the only thing we should have learned from the Right is this: If we keep lowering our sights, how will we keep our eyes on the prize?

I for one feel it’s time to stand up, especially in the midst of the economic crisis, and say what we really believe.  To say that the “free market” emperor has no clothes.  To talk plainly about redistributing wealth and power.  To shout that military solutions to diplomatic crises make our country less secure.  It’s time to revive that old slogan:”Be Reasonable – Demand the Impossible!”

Consider the impoverished debates that still pass for political dialog, the meager defonitions of what’s “possible” in today’s America:

  • Just a few months ago, during the stimulus bill debate, how many in Congress argued that the problem with the bill was that it was not big enough, didn’t create enough jobs, and threw resources away with more tax cuts for corporate America?  Did you hear anyone say that it was time to rebalance our economy so that it was based on productive investments instead of financial speculation?  And with all the money we are throwing at the banks, why not just nationalize at least one?
  • Will America ever join the rest of the civilized world and pass a national health care system?  The present “liberal” health care proposal is to mandate coverage and even tax healthcare benefits.  But what about the unemployed?  And what about the administrative chaos of the insurance industry, bloated pharmaceutical profits, and high tech toys that give us the most expensive, but by no means best, health care in the world?  We maintain that only a truly public national health care program can provide the universal quality care that is every American’s right!  Our brothers and sisters in Canada’s socialist New Democratic Party pioneered a single-payer system that today provides better care, for less money, to every Canadian citizen.  Why not here?
  • Remember the “debate” over the war in Iraq?  Millions demonstrated, but far too many of our political leaders chose to duck the issue.  Even now, very few have actually said that they were wrong.  Will anybody take responsibility for the lies or acknowledge the racism of the detentions?  And will any in the upper echelons ever be prosecuted for the prisoner abuse and torture that flowed from the political climate they created?  The debate over our renewed commitment to Afghanistan has, sadly, not been much more serious.  With the Cold War over for two decades, who is talking about closing all those foreign bases?  We believe that Americans deserve real security and that we can have that without giving up our civil liberties or wasting billions upon billions in unnecessary expenditures at the Pentagon.
  • It was just a few years ago that the “wonders of modern capitalism” were being shouted from the rooftops.  Then the stock market and housing bubbles burst and we discovered how corporations were cooking the books.  And now we are faced with an economic collapse directly linked to the excesses of bankers, financiers, and mortgage brokers and an economy in which rampantfinancial speculation crowded out investments that could have provided good jobs and sustainable growth.  And it’s still a scandal that most of the things corporations do are perfectly legal.  Giving millions of dollars to elected officials – perfectly legal.  Undermining unions – perfectly legal.  Moving jobs, destroying communities – perfectly legal.  Extorting subsidies from local governments – perfectly legal.  Driving down wages for middle- and low-income workers, likw Wal-Mart does – perfectly legal.  We say it’s time to make these things perfectly illegal!

Perhaps you think me too optimistic, too utopian.  Fine ideas you say, but not possible, especially with the Republicans still trying to repeal most of the twentieth century and too many Democratic “moderates” afraid of far-reaching reforms.

Of course “utopian” is what they once called the 8-hour day.  And women’s sufferage.  And the minimum wage.  And civil rights.  And they told us we would never end the war in Vietnam.  They will always tell us that.  The problem is too many of us are still listening to them.

That is precisely why the DSA Fund is so important today.  We never forget that “conventional wisdom” was first the idea of a wild-eyed radical.  Society needs radicals –  the Kings and the Anthonys, the Mother Joneses, the Michael Harringtons, and more.  Otherwise, it stagnates.

What the DSA Fund wants to do for America is what radicals have always done at their best: broaden the debate, expand the options, and thereby change political possibility itself.  And we offer something more: we bring these ideas together around a far-reaching vision of a better world.

I don’t believe we can build a strong Left in America around a laundry list of demands or slick policy proposals.  If it is to gain allegiance and commitment, the Left must offer a coherent and positive set of values and programs – in short, a vision.  We are up to that challenge!

Our vision is rooted in the enduring values of democracy, equality, and community.  We believe that men and women can and should bring institutions under democratic control and enjoy full participation in every sphere of life.  Every day, many of this country’s most important decisions are made not in the legislatures but in corporate boardrooms.  That must end.

We also believe that everyone must have an opportunity to develop their abilities to the fullest and the right to share in the wealth they help create.  For starters, that means we must provide everyone the decent housing, health care, and education this country can so easily afford.

Finally, we believe the common good represents more than the sum of hundreds of millions of individual interests.  Only by working together can we maintain the vital spaces – parks, libraries, museums, meeting halls, stadiums, schools – that make public life possible.  Only together can we truly be free.

Don’t think, however, that our commitment to radical social change leaves us above the fray.  On the contrary, it demands – and shapes – our active involvement in the daily struggle to organize for change.  It is the struggle to achieve change that builds solidarity, radicalizes people, and changes power relations.  Our strategy centers on forming and supporting coalitions among the cnstituencies for social change, building toward a majoritarian movement that can democratically transform American society.

Thousands of us work in every progressive movement: the union movement, the Africa-American and Latino movements, the woman’s movement, the peace movement, community groups throughout the land – indeed, wherepeople struggle against injustice.

Let me give you just a couple of examples of what I mean.

In Michigan, our members have been the key players in forming coalitions that have passed living wage ordinances in five counties in the Detroit area.  And our young people were the organizers of a campaign at Wayne State University that resulted in effective anti-sweatshop purchasing regulations.

It’s been our members in Southern California who have worked to bring Mexican and American workers victimized by globalizing American coroprations together to demand jobs for all.

Only a month ago our members in Atlanta pulled together an anti-forclosure coalition that has begun going after the banks; in just a couple weeks, they brought more than a hundred people to a demonstration at Wachovia that has already led that bank to request a meeting with the coalition.

And we are beginning to develop a new project on restructuring the economy so that the financial sector invests in the production of useful goods, such as alternative energy and mass transit.  Only by doing so can we avoid another jobless recovery and create productive jobs that pay good wages.

I hope you will join us in our efforts.  Your contribution of $20, $35, $50, $100, or more will make you a card-carrying democratic socialist.  And it will make us a little bit stronger, better able to speak truth and expand the debate.  And, what’s more, because we are not organized as a political party, your contribution can be tax deductable.  Every cent above the $35 basic contribution is tax deductable!

We seek nothing less than the freeing of the human mind and spirit through the radical restructuring of our economic, social, and political institutions.  It is not work for the timid or faint of heart.  My friend and DSA Fund’s founding chair Michael Harrington said it well:

We live today in the most radical of times.  Those who lose heart on the very eve of a new generation of change should remember that socialism is not a matter of a political victory on this or that day, or even this or that decade.  It is a moral and intellectual reformation, the creation of a new civilization.  Humanity is fighting at this very moment over the content of that new civilization, and that struggle will go on beyond the lifetime of every one of us.

I am proud to be part of that struggle – how could I not be?  Won’t you please join us?

In solidarity,

Edward Asner

Now coming from a bloggy perspective, this 4 page letter may seem a little creaky, old fashioned, and linkless.  Likewise the advocacy impresses me no more than that of Alan Khazei

I don’t find it very astounding.  I’m involved with at least 3 community service programs that are about that size or larger not counting my membership in the Illuminati by virtue of my Masonic connections.

But I did spend a couple of hours typing it up for you because I wanted you to see that there are other people out there, lots of them, that feel the the same way as we do about the direction of our country.

I’m not advocating you join the DSA Fund, I think buhdy could use the money more and I certainly know I could.  Nor am I necessarily suggesting that it’s time for a third party movement, though it could be as soon as 2012 if the Republicans continue to self destruct at their present rate.

What I am saying is that there are plenty of progressive people who think the current system is dysfunctional and are committed to real change, the kind you can believe in and not mere “hope”.


Skip to comment form

  1. And he hates spunk.

    • Edger on July 15, 2009 at 01:24

    well known high profile people like Asner step up and say this publicly the harder it becomes for the media to ignore it or marginalize it, too….

    Great letter, ek.

    I didn’t know Ed was your brother? 😉

  2. of the Screen Actors’ Guild (SAG).

    But unlike some other union leaders, he walks the walk when it comes to promoting social and economic equality.

    Good on ya, Ed.

  3. despite any criticism that could be made.


  4. Awesome letter!

    Now that is change I can believe in and work for.

    Bookmarked until I have $.

    The website could use some help.

  5. and I think Sanders is great (surprised he’s not mentioned here)

    • TomP on July 15, 2009 at 16:49

    The difference between what is right and what passes for “better Democrats’ on dkos.  

  6. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/D

  7. who know how dysfunctional and socked in this one party system is would form a viable coalition and quit thinking that the Democrats are going to ride to the rescue. Independents make up a huge portion of the voters. They must not think either party is valid. As it stands now no matter what third party or group you are in your choice is still dictated to the big joke of a machine, that currently calls itself a democracy.

    There are also a large amount of people who just don’t vote they see no difference in whether they do or don’t. Surely the time is ripe, both parties have a vested interest in maintaining and ‘moving forward’ with the same agenda. Our history has had political party’s that have played out, and died off, and been replaced. I think what holds back any progress along these lines is the total grip of money. Our information, our educations everything is controlled by the too big to fall. They aren’t too big to fall in fact they are too big and unwieldy not to topple.      

  8. e k, for sharing this with us.  I am going to post it to all my friends.  I mean he really sums it up.  What more can be said.

    Thanks again.

    • zett on July 16, 2009 at 07:53

    I always wanted to be a card carrying socialist.

Comments have been disabled.