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Shirley Sherrod, Howard Zinn & American Life

Throwing Another Employee AwayThe late historian Howard Zinn didn’t write biographies of great industrialists such as John D. Rockefeller or Andrew Carnegie, the richest and most successful men of their time. He wrote about those who worked for them in Ludlow, Colorado, or the Homestead steel works outside Pittsburgh. He wrote about the original populations in Haiti, Massachusetts, the Carolinas and the Great Plains, and the slaves and immigrants who displaced them.

He wrote about how mine owners and steel mill operators played the race card and the immigrant card. If one group of immigrant workers wouldn’t work for a pittance, the next one would; if they wouldn’t, there were always the "freed" blacks who would work for less. That applied in the fields and farms; meat packing; Ford Motor plants; Carnegie steel mills; Rockefeller coal and silver mines; and Marshall Fields, Kress and Newberry department stores.

Ms. Sherrod and her family lived that life, the kind described in Mississippi Burning and In the Heat of the Night. She knew what George Bush meant when he honestly described himself as working for "the haves and the have mores". Bob Herbert describes Ms. Sherrod and her recognition that it is the "have less" and the "have nots" who built this country, who are taken advantage of by the haves, who still pit the middle against itself, hoping to be the sole winner:

The point that Ms. Sherrod was making as she talked in her speech about the white farmer who had come to her for help was that we are all being sold a tragic bill of goods by the powerful forces that insist on pitting blacks, whites and other ethnic groups against one another.

Ms. Sherrod came to the realization, as she witnessed the plight of poverty-stricken white farmers in the South more than two decades ago, that the essential issue in this country “is really about those who have versus those who don’t.”

She explained how the wealthier classes have benefited from whites and blacks constantly being at each other’s throats, and how rampant racism has insidiously kept so many struggling whites from recognizing those many things they and their families have in common with economically struggling blacks, Hispanics and so on.

“It’s sad that we don’t have a roomful of whites and blacks here tonight,” she said, “because we have to overcome the divisions that we have.”

There is no way we’ll overcome those divisions if people who should know better keep bowing before and kowtowing to the toxic agenda of those on the right whose overriding goal is to foment hostility and hate.

Those "who should know better", would that include Mr. Obama?

I agree with Mr. Herbert, though he left out why those on the right foment "hostility and hate". It is for immediate political advantage; it is also to secure something else: power and money. That’s one more reason we should be more concerned about the rapidly growing income and wealth disparity in America. Climbing since the days of Ronald Reagan, that disparity widened enormously under Bush and isn’t slowing down. Its pace is acclerated by efforts to cut income taxes on the wealthy, to exempt them from inheritance tax, and to keep low taxes on unearned investment income.

Gandhi’s response, when asked what he thought of Western civilization, applies equally to a progressive America: "It would be a good idea."

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