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Marion On June - 28 - 2011

In yesterday’s New York Times, Charles Blow, one of my favourite opinion writers, wrote a brilliant and poignantly evocative exhortation to politicians of all stripes not to forget the poor in all their shenanigans and manouevres.

Blow called upon his own life’s experience, growing up poor and black in rural Louisiana. Blow’s not many years younger than I, and growing up where he did, I’m sure he remembers just as many raggedy, barefoot and hungry poor white kids in his vicinity than not.

The poor are always with us and in the South, they’re juxtaposed, black and white, and never far from each other. I was in elementary school in the Sixties, in a rural four-room schoolhouse off the beaten track yet 65 miles from that civilisation known as Washington DC. I’ll always remember Bascombe and Zady May Darnell, two transplanted Tennessee mountain kids whose father had meandered into the vicinity to work for slave wages on a rich man’s farm nearby.

Bascombe always missed most of September and October. Big for his age, he had to help with the harvest. He was already twelve years old, looked sixteen, and sat in a classroom of third graders. Zady May had already caught up with him. From April until the end of school in June (and throughout most of the summer) the Darnells walked to school barefooted, not just because the weather was fine and the days hot, but also because they got one pair of shoes every two years – Doc Martens – and they were meticulously saved for cold or inclement weather.

Both kids just disappeared after third grade ended and were never seen again.

Yesterday, as well, Senator Bernie Sanders also wrote about the condition of the poor at present in the country. This is what Senator Sanders does best, as the conscience of the Senate. He’s a real socialist, who genuinely believes to each according to his ability and for each according to his need. The government taxes the haves in order to look after the have nots. Only fair.

Two great voices echoing the same message, only to be appropriated by a third, for recognition purposes.

As soon as Blow’s and Senator Sanders’s words were in print, Lady Radical, herself, Katrina vanden Heuvel weighed in on Twitter, exhorting all her followers to “remember the poor.”

That’s it then. Katrina’s done her bit. She’s acknowledged something her class always know, and that’s that the poor are always with us. Yes, let’s remember them. I’m kind and liberal. Now, next question?

Yes, Katrina knows about the poor. She’s read about them; maybe she’s even glimpsed them from a distance as she lives in the upper end of Harlem in a brownstone mansion, but that’s probably as far as it goes. Write about them from time to time, and she’s done her bit, at least enough to justify her Progressive credentials.

Katrina probably knows all the fashionable and au fait parts of London and Paris, but she probably doesn’t know anything about the sink estate high rises in New Addington, Croydon, just south of the Thames (we call them “the projects”) or the fetid banlieux of Paris. She’s probably never ventured into the provincial towns in Britain to view the obese poor trawling through cut price supermarkets for BOGOFS (buy-one-get-one-free) of bags of French fries and tins of baked beans to feed a family for a week.

And in the US, her trips to the South have probably only included the upper end of Atlanta or a fashionable resort in Florida. Going into the mountains of Appalachia would give her nosebleed, and she couldn’t bear the thought of breathing the same air as so many shit-kicking, inbread, banjo-strumming, trailerpark trash-talking Rush listeners, banging Bibles and speaking in tongues, who were probably all neo-Confederate racists. At least, that’s what she’s been told. Besides, she’d probably leave with cooties, if she even understood what they were saying.

It’s better to gaze from afar and opine from the safety of one’s drawing room and ensure any written endeavour gets pride of place in the trust fund gift of a publication bought by Daddy to amuse her and establish her in a topflight career that really took no effort from her at all.

There now. The poor have been suitably acknowledged. Time to move on and continue freedom-fighting at Saks.

Jesus, how I miss Joe Bageant.

38 Responses so far.

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  1. FerraKnows says:

    Hi Marion,

    I’ve taken myself away from the depressing cackle for awhile. But, I must say I really enjoyed this piece--albeit a little late.

  2. Khirad says:

    I know, this may be shallow, but I was intrigued by the Doc Martens detail. While they will last you years (I should know, they’re all I’ve worn devoutly for 15 years-even though I was not pleased when they closed the England plants in ’03), I find it additionally ironic that this one-time symbol of the working class probably couldn’t be afforded by it now, sadly.

    • kesmarn says:

      I don’t think that comment is shallow at all, Khirad. Because it shows that you’re aware of what working class people face when it comes to deciding where their dollars go. That signifies.

  3. SueInCa says:

    I think what is so disturbing now is that the ranks of the poor are increasing way faster than ever before. This country has not recovered from 2008. If we had, there would be jobs and people would not be still on UI. I am beginning to believe we were never meant to recover.

    Until this country stands up and admits what is going on, it will never be rectified.

    • whatsthatsound says:

      Very true, Sue. A permanent class of malnourished, chronically unemployed is forming before our very eyes. “It can’t happen here” is happening here. By design. It’s what the Republicans are trying to achieve.

      • SueInCa says:

        And without my melatonin that is what would keep me awake at night. It is scary and it seems no one is paying attention but I see you are WTS. I feel better now. Sometimes I just want to walk outside on the sidewalk and scream “I am mad as hell and I can’t take it anymore”. I see our country regressing back to the time when the people struggled for every step forward and I feel helpless to change it.

        • whatsthatsound says:

          I know the feeling, Sue. Of all the advanced economies of the world, the American one most closely resembles that of the kleptocracies and banana republics of this world. In Japan, where I live, the under-top-ten percent of the country hold twice as much of the country’s assets as in the U.S. I’m pretty sure that throughout most of Europe, you’ll find similar numbers. People in most countries WANT to belong to societies where fairness and concern prevail. Of course they do! What is wrong with us that so many of us want to live in a Neo-Darwinian dystopia of winner take all?

          • choicelady says:

            In 1973 Richard Barnet and Ronald Muller wrote “Global Reach” projecting what America would become in 20 years. Virtually every item became fact. The most powerful chapter was “The Latinamericanization of the United States.” THAT was prescient beyond belief.

            I am currently reading, albeit slowly, “Rebirth of a Nation, 1877-1920” that reviews the post-Civil War mindset that war was regnerative and thus the triumph of the union opened the door to massive opportunity for personal regneration as well. Evidence of that “rebirth” lay for some in massive accumulation as evidence of personal superiority. One could easily be reading about today.

            These are VERY Protestant concepts rejected by most mainline and progressive Protestant denominations. Why? We are the folks who brought about cultural genocide through missionary work AND Prohibition. Both of these were manifestations of spiritual renewal, and both were disasters for the people upon whom we inflicted them.

            We learned humility. We grew up. We are penitential for the hubris that underpinned such massive stupidity as to think we were superior to anyone.

            Today’s Pentecostal and fundamentalist faiths walk those same paths of immoral ideas of superiority coupled with the religiously vacant materialism of the neo-cons. Together their quest for domination comes out the same -- Ayn Rand Social Darwinism. Embedded inequality. Class warfare.

            There is NO appealing to their moral sense. They have none. Equality for them means a loss -- loss of material wealth, loss of power, loss of status. No -- they do NOT wish to be like Europe or Japan -- they wish to dominate both of those areas and all the wealth therein.

            The rest of us can just fend for the scraps.

            If we were worthy, we’d be rich, with or without God on our side. Equality for the super-rich undermines their vision of the natural order of God and Mammon. Inequality is essential. Equality is not to be contemplated, period.

            • whatsthatsound says:

              wow, so they literally believe the saying, “devil take the hindmost” even if the hindmost is 98% of the world.

  4. choicelady says:

    I seem to be the one siding with Marion most of the time. I have no idea if KVH is a good or bad person, and I do agree it’s better she says “remember the poor and DO something about it” rather than not.

    Here, however, I part company with most and do agree with Marion: two years ago at some progressive national conference (I cannot even recall the name) it was set at the Shoreham Hotel at $250 per room. I paid it -- I’m OK financially -- but HONESTLY the Shoreham???? The vast majority of people at that conference were snots. They all bashed Obama (this was June of his first year in office 2009) and nobody had anything new under the sun to say about what to DO save for Jerrold Nadler on prosecuting Bush et al. for torture. Many workshops and plenaries, and nothing. Zip, nada, zilch. And KVH was by far the most UNenlightening.

    My problem with faux socialism is that it retains a power base that pisses me off. It’s all paternalism, hierarchical, and we, brilliant NYT-reading progressives, have ALL the answers for the Great Unwashed -- you know, people living on the side of the Appalachians playing banjos or being Black somewhere untenable in urban scenes. And it all comes out of the coastal cities where we flourish and drink good wine.

    KVH was NOT responsible for the worst experience t this conference -- three people who sat at my lunch table and never once introduced themselves (the two of us already there tried to introduce ourselves but were ignored) or made eye contact. Pity -- I run public policy for a huge progressive faith organization, the largest progressive lobby presence in CA, and the woman I was sitting with was a staffer for the leader, Raul Grijalva, of the Progressive Caucus in Congress. But we were not cool enough I guess -- we were beneath notice.

    Why does this matter? Because if we do not start talking with one another and learning from one another, we are doomed. And that means paying VERY close attention to Bascombe and Zady Mae and especially to the demonstrators in Madison, WI and other parts of the Midwest (you know -- “fly over country”.) There is amazing stuff going on in America, but if all you read is the stuff in the last Nation on how to fix America, you won’t learn it at all. That was the most tired and shopworn list of actions -- save for the state bank proposal that we are already doing here in CA -- I’ve seen since the LAST tired and shopworn list of actions.

    I agree with those who don’t really care if KVH shops at up-scale stores, but I do worry that as in the post-Vietnam period the progressive/liberal groups splintered over ego, money, prestige, honor, and I see it all happening over and over today.

    And somewhere in all that, those who are in need and who “get it” are not being heard. A wise woman told me once that yes, sometimes those in fragile places need someone to speak for them. But it is vastly more important that they SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES.

    My heroines: Lois Gibbs from Love Canal, NY. Paggy Say from Batavia, NY. Erin Brokovitch, CA; Sharon Hanshaw, Coastal Women for Change, Biloxi, MS; Diana Spatz, LIFETIME, Alameda, CA; Patricia Flaherty, Mission Hill, MA; Tammy Johnson, Oakland, CA.

    All of these women and all men and women who come up out of nowhere -- these are all poor and working class women -- to stand for something amazing, these are the real voices that matter. They speak loudly, clearly, and powerfully for something different, led from the ground up and with real understanding of the problems AND the solutions.

    My question -- is anyone listening?

    • whatsthatsound says:

      c-lady, I understand all that you are saying, but still frankly don’t see how any of that “agrees” with this piece we are commenting on. The whole point of the article seems to be that,

      a.) the author knows poor people, and
      b.) the person she is writing about doesn’t, nor does she care about them, reaaally.
      Oh, and c.) she has never been to the poor neighborhoods of Paris, London or her home city, New York, and wouldn’t be caught dead there, although no evidence for this is shown.

      Marion doesn’t stop at criticizing the subjects of her articles; she maligns and trashes them. In most cases, their most egregious offense seems to be some critical (NOT maligning) comments they have made about the president at some point.

      I spend, some would say waste, a lot of time criticizing many of Marion’s posts, and this is the reason. I just don’t think it is responsible writing to set out to flay the people we write about.

      • choicelady says:

        Hi WTS. I guess I don’t disagree, but I DO see Marion’s fury at the self-appointed mouthpieces who talk a good game but don’t listen a good deal. KVH is probably NOT Marion’s central focus. KVH is probably more a stand-in. But she and I and many others are just fed up with the armchair critics who in fact do NOT know poor people, do not understand serious issues, but who tell us all what to do, think, believe, care about.

        I’d give a great deal to hear the voices of rank and file people rather than the same talking heads we always hear, KVH as one of them.

        I know JoAnn Wypijewski, whom KVH replaced at the Nation. We’re from the same city, and she and I worked on a BBC documentary once in which the issues of deindustrialization of that city arose. She was adamant that the largest steel mill had closed because its focus of production had been war materiel. She was wrong. I told her repeatedly that the reasons for the plant shutdown had nothing to do with the end of Vietnam -- she was FURIOUS I would not support her contention. I don’t know what she wound up saying (I never could view the finished documentary in which I appeared -- different VHS frequencies), but she would NOT let me, an expert on the subject, tell her anything because it interfered with her hypothesis.

        That is what I mean: truth means less -- even to the Left -- than real evidence, real issues. When that happens, issues get distorted. We fight the wrong battles. We become fixated on our own hype and learn little or nothing from others. I long ago discovered I can be very wrong about things, and I trust those INSIDE the issues about which I care to tell me the truth to keep me focused.

        The Progressive statement to communities of color, to the poor, to those battling major forces is: you know what you REALLY should do…

        What the statement should be I think is: what do you need, and how can I (we) help?

        When you don’t live within those communities, as KVH and others do NOT, the real issues can be lost, over-ridden, distorted, irrelevant to solutions that really help. We can’t even tell their stories correctly.

        I think that is why I see merit in Marion’s anger. She is saying what I feel -- if you don’t begin with really knowing people, don’t mix in and tell them what to do. Odds are, you will get it wrong, and you will probably make it worse.

        And Marion’s anger therefore to me makes sense. On that she and I agree.

        • whatsthatsound says:

          Hi c-lady. Fair enough, and there is certainly justification for the anger. But anger can be expressed in positive ways, or in ways that merely add to the Anger Bank.
          When you write,

          “the real issues can be lost, over-ridden, distorted, irrelevant to solutions that really help. We can’t even tell their stories correctly.” I feel that you may as well be writing about Marion’s typical pieces.

          Me, being far from perfect, am more likely to close my mind rather than open it when I see someone being trashed unfairly.

    • bito says:


      My heroines: Lois Gibbs from Love Canal, NY. Paggy Say from Batavia, NY. Erin Brokovitch, CA; Sharon Hanshaw, Coastal Women for Change, Biloxi, MS; Diana Spatz, LIFETIME, Alameda, CA; Patricia Flaherty, Mission Hill, MA; Tammy Johnson, Oakland, CA.

      But who gives their voices an ability to be heard but places like The Nation? I look at the all the authors there not just KVH and she offers space for many quality writers. John Nichols has written dozens of articles on Wisconsin and given voice to the voiceless on his pages as have others on their pages.

      I agree with k’es, it’s a diversion from the real needs to condemn these people for their “impurity” and not fighting the real fight. Does the right spend their time calling out Beck, and Limbaugh? Why do we condemn our voices. They are not the only voices Dems listen to are they?

      To quote from Bob Cesca on Netroots Nation:

      I seriously doubt the Obama campaign is nervous — clearly because the Netroots Nation crowd is not the base. Progressive bloggers aren’t the base. The people who knocked on doors and “spit on envelopes” were predominantly first-time volunteers. Ordinary Americans who don’t know (or care) who Markos or Jane or Atrios or Greenwald are. They’re people who will now qualify for Medicaid due to the president’s healthcare reform bill. They’re people who received the president’s middle class tax cut in the stimulus.

      They’re people who will probably return to the campaign as volunteers in 2012.


      It’s not talkers and bloggers that will GOTV, it’s people in their precincts/wards/locals that will get the work done.

      (and I know I have been to only 1000th of conventions/conferences as you have, but I had to get a cheap room on the outskirts of town to be able to afford them. Motel 6 and a lot of walking :-) )

      • choicelady says:

        LOL!!! The problem with the Shoreham location? Nothing cheap was nearby, and no real public transit. I’m a Motel 6 kind of person (well, I like Red Roof better) -- this was a HUGE commitment of time and money, and it purely sucked. Not doing THAT again.

        When a movement finally becomes so big and overwhelming that it cannot be denied, yes, the Nation will cover it. But they don’t cull the interesting things in process. Nobody cares. Rachel has been told -- L. O’Donnell has been told -- time and again about thing they ought to be covering that are simply ignored. They pick their “talking head” and that’s that. Period.

        Lois Gibbs, Peggy Say, and Erin Brokovich got attention, but none of the other women I’ve mentioned (and one other who cannot be named -- she lives under cover) get NO attention for the work they do which is and was path breaking.

        Whole movements such as the drive for health care reform were ignored -- if it’s not single payer, we who supported it were “sell outs”. So we were not worth covering. THAT is what is wickedly dangerous. Some people decide what is “politically correct” and then we who disagree are labeled as ignorant, naive, or worse, and simply dismissed.

        And it’s starting to make me very cranky. I know the good work people are doing, the differences they are making, but I’m also seeing how peripheralized they can become with a magazine such as the Nation deciding who’s in, who’s out. BIG loss, IMHO.

        And the bed at the Shoreham was not even comfortable. Do you know what I’ve found with pricey accommodations? They give more than you want and less than you need. One place I stayed (it was paid for by the people who asked me to talk) was SO glitzy I never COULD figure out how to turn on the bathroom light. Had to get dressed via the nightlight. Now that’s just dumb.

        Motel 6 gives you straight up stuff. My kinda place. A good lesson and template for a whole lot of things.

        • Sabreen60 says:

          C’lady: “And it’s starting to make me very cranky.”

          It’s start to make a lot of people cranky. More and more “pragmatic” liberal blogs are sprouting up everyday. Many liberals have grown tired of this “purity” test that we must pass. Too many good people who are working in the trenches to improve conditions for the poor and middle class are simply ignored. The PL could be such a positive influence if they covered many of the really great things that are occurring in states, instead of spending so much time of the GD “public option”.

  5. ADONAI says:

    America has forgotten the poor. I grew up on the side of one of those mountains in Appalachia. Even picked me a banjo or two. A beautiful instrument. Had days where the decision was eating or heating the house.

    We don’t need the attention. We don’t need the approval. We just need yo to get your shit together.

  6. bito says:

    I do have one question on KVH’s tweet. What did the whole tweet say, was it in part to a link to Mr.Blow’s, Senator Sanders or a Nation article?

  7. agrippa says:

    What else is she supposed to do?
    KVH writes well of conditions in this country; it is the task which she as given herself. Not many others are doing as much.
    She could have decided to become someone like Mother Theresa; but, she chose to be a writer.

    She is doing her job.

  8. Buddy McCue says:

    I must have missed what Katrina Vanden Huevel’s great crime was here. Was it that she said “remember the poor?”

    Even if every one of your assumptions about her personal beliefs and feelings were 100% correct, would she be so wrong to say “remember the poor?” What would you rather her say, “forget the poor?”

    Lord knows I don’t come from a privileged background, but I’ve heard KVH speak in interviews, and I’ve read her articles in The Nation, and I like what she has to say. She seems to have her heart in the right place, and she seems to want to try to do the right thing.

    Sometimes people are born to privilege. It happens. Sometimes I do feel resentment, to be honest. I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t. But when people ARE born to privilege, what should they do? One path they can take is the path of a man like George W. Bush, who failed upward over and over again, using his family connections, until he was handed the top position of the land. All the while, he never saw the need to educate himself, or to see past the small-minded politics of the Far Right.

    Katrina Vanden Huevel has not done that. She chose an entirely different path. Frankly, even though I have been poor and lived in a trailer myself, and have had family members who can’t read very well (and I even play the banjo,) I just can’t feel disgusted with her.

    • kesmarn says:

      Buddy, I think getting 9 thumbs up (which, btw, would make for an interesting pair of hands) on a comment is possibly a new record!

    • bito says:

      Well said Buddy and you maybe surprised, I don’t always agree with everything I read by KVH or even in the Nation, but she has taken her wealth and has kept The Nation alive and offered a place for many serious writers on the left to publish her work. I wish I had her money and hope I would follow in her footsteps to attempt to do good for many.

    • kesmarn says:

      Thanks, Buddy, for your calm, measured and truly human reaction to the fierce anger that sears through this piece.

      One of the privileged Kennedy daughters did the most beautiful and sensitive documentary film on life in Appalachia that will ever be produced. She didn’t decide ahead of time that she had no credibility because of her wealth. Thank goodness.

      I know I’ve said this before, but if we exhaust all our time and emotional energy being furious with Kucinich, vanden Huevel, Olbermann, Maher and their ilk, we’re going to lose the next election. They are not the “enemy.” I’ll say it again: They do not matter.

      This is a distraction. And not an elevating one. The assumptions about the rural Southern poor are cruel and don’t need to be repeated. (And — by the way — it’s “inbred,” not “inbread.”)

      I’m not saying that we all have to be Mary Sunshine all the time, but a post that — just once — didn’t indulge in rage and sarcasm would be such a breath of fresh air. The world of chronic fury is not a healthy place to live in.

      It doesn’t produce hope or change.

      • Khirad says:

        For the record, I am pretty pissed with Kucinich right now. Or should I say, Bashar’s newest prop?

        But it’s really more disappointment. No, I save my real ire for the GOP and such.

        • kesmarn says:

          I’m pretty unhappy with Kucinich, too, Khirad, but you can hardly imagine how little weight his opinion carries even in this state. He’s become something of a joke in these parts.

          If we’re going to pay attention to loonies, maybe Bachmann deserves a little more of our mental energy, as you implied. Because the religious right thinks she’s just precious! :roll:

          • AlphaBitch says:

            hey Kes -- maybe Kucinich’s toupee is on too tight??? Always gives me a headache….

            • kesmarn says:

              AB, he always was a little eccentric — shall we say? But lately, he’s really lost it.

              Wouldn’t it be something if that was his real hair?

      • bito says:

        Here is my problem with this group:

        Kucinich, vanden Huevel, Olbermann, Maher and their ilk,

        Does everyone on the left consider them oracles and take every word or action as set in stone? I seem to have the ability to at times agree with and disagree with them and I highly doubt if I am an exception. Shockingly, I have even disagreed with Rachel! 😉 Are any of these people like the nameless billionaires sitting on the Board of Directors or CEO’s of Fortune 200 companies trying to warp the elections/legislation for their personal benefit, to add another 100 million to their paycheck? Should I condemn them for not “giving enough” when I have no idea how much they give?

        As to their personal lives. What do I know about it at all? How can I possibly know? I have helped put on fund raisers for a local Habitat for Humanity and drank, danced and served some very wealthy people at them. Was I supposed to ask them their total in their savings account, the size of their house, the car they drove before I took the very generous donation? Was I supposed to turn down the 5 dollar donation from the local fry cook? I had/have no ability to look into one’s heart, however I can see their actions.

        Yes, a distraction from the real problems, k’es.

        • kesmarn says:

          Pardon my 2 a.m. fog-brain, b’ito and friends. Just home from work and the fatigue factor is working its anti-magic.

          But I didn’t want to wrap up the day without saying that I feel the same way, b’ito and Buddy — namely that people on the left are (imho) just not as “lemming-ish” as people on the right. I don’t hear many folks quoting Rachel or Keith verbatim, the way the righties do when they get their daily script from Limbaugh or Hannity. Oh sure, we listen to what they say — the lefty pudnuts — but then we read, research and decide for ourselves whether we buy it.

          Also I think we tend to recognize that people are people — pretty much — regardless of income. There are rich jerks and poor jerks. There are brilliant and compassionate rich folks and brilliant and compassionate poor folks. I don’t think it’s wise to idealize or demonize either extreme on the scale. “They” are no different than “us.”

          Like ideas, humans need to be taken one at a time. The notion that “they’re all alike” is the first step off the cliff of non-critical thinking.

        • Buddy McCue says:

          I consider myself “on the Left,” and I sure don’t consider any of the aforementioned figures to be oracles.

          I don’t consider anyone an oracle. To be honest, I don’t envy anyone who does feel that kind of hero-worship for a public figure. Nobody’s that good. Nobody’s right all the time.

    • whatsthatsound says:

      Way to go, Buddy! I myself was about to point out that with all the “probably”s in this article I could build a bridge somewhere.

      When you have to use that many “probably”s to describe a person, it’s a good sign that you don’t know a ding durn thing about them.

  9. agrippa says:


    hear hear
    100% agree

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