Tag Archives: National Day Labor Organizing Network

Doris Kearns Goodwin, Presidents, Modern Communications, and History

9781416547860_p0_v4_s260x420New Orleans   Over the last five or six months since I’ve added to my daily chores serving as the station manager at our 29-year old 100,000 watt radio station, KABF/Fm 88.3, broadcasting from Little Rock, every Friday either when I’m there or by patching in via telephone, I do an  interview show from 9:00 to 9:30 AM, we call “Wade’s World.” This last Friday was a special doubleheader starting with Chris Newman, the legal director for the National Day Labor Organizing Network (NDLON) and then a special second feature where I got to interview Doris Kearns Goodwin, the well regarded, Pulitzer Prize winning historian on the occasion of her new book, The Bully Pulpit:  Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism.

            Goodwin was an easy interview, gracious, knowledgeable, and experienced.   The one thing I’ve learned doing these interviews is a simple lesson:  it’s easy to get people to talk, but it’s hard to get them to stop talking.   Goodwin was a pro, and practiced at both speech and silence, ending her comments and then patiently waiting for the next question.   Praise the lord!

            The most interesting – and genuine – exchange we had in my view was towards the end when somehow some question, probably about timing, provoked a response from her about how much she enjoyed spending time with her subjects through their letters, journals, and diary entries, compared to what other historians would have in the future with essentially the ephemera of modern communications dominated by the internet with emails, Facebook, and the like.   I had then commented that even at the Presidential level it was hard to imagine in the wake of the NSA revelations and everything else we know about the internet that there won’t be a copy of every such communication available at some point in the future.   She had then commented something to the effect that that was a good point and she hadn’t thought about that, but of course it would all be out there.   The next day reading an interview she had given earlier to the Wall Street Journal, she had been even more emphatic, saying, “With email and Facebook I don’t know what kind of material we’ll have 200 years from now.”

            How quaint a quote, so gracefully shrouded in the 7 years she has spent with subjects and events 100 years ago.  In truth even now, much less 200 years from now, I think historians trying to do any kind of a thorough job will be inundated with information almost too voluminous to imagine!

            Email, as so many must realize by now, doesn’t disappear when we press “send,” it simply goes onto a permanent digital signature on your computer and an untold number of others, as do all of your postings on a website, Facebook or Twitter account.  Pressing “delete” simply moves such messages elsewhere.  I’ve never really looked at it all, but my computer guy for years, Mark Madere, has most of my email in folders by years and quarters.   Moving to a new server I watched it strain for days to move 65000+ messages from the last year or more.   And, that’s little me, not a super-whoop like a President.   Even ignoring Nixon and his tapes and their impact on his terms and legacy or the amount of video now available as well, you can read about supposedly secure Presidential communications from protected tents now.   A senior American diplomat was quoted in the New York Times saying, “We do operate with the awareness that anything we do on a cellphone or Blackberry is probably being read by someone somewhere or lots of somewheres.”   And, that means even as there might be a discard program somewhere in the White House, there is likely to be a message saved somewhere else on another device.   Even as his Blackberry comment is becoming antiquated and he really means email, the tasks for historians trying to tell the “rest of the story” will only become harder and harder.

            For a storyteller like Goodwin, the notion that historians now and even in the next few years could be buried by big data and forced to weave their narratives not just from interviews and public documents but from fancy searches of emails and algorithms that measure time spent, keywords, and tens of other factors to try to get to the root of what was really happening and how an actor might have been a piece in the play, must seem like a different world indeed.   The time is clearly coming when newspapers will be even less than the first draft of history, and history’s like Goodwin’s will be more on the order of a better second draft, with the final chapters that piece the real history together more likely only coming once ALL of the information becomes available for the future historian who will then have the skills to pull all of the loose ends and millions of pieces of information together to tell the stories that Goodwin narrates so well.



Immigration Reform Strategy Still Hoping for Obama

immigration_reform_320New Orleans Sixty odd folks ranging from business, labor,, and even some advocates met with President Obama to talk about a new plan for immigration reform in the troubled political environment we now face and in the still painful wake of last year’s loss of the DREAM Act.  A tongue in cheek tweet from an official at NDLON, the National Day Labor Organizing Network asked if the meeting were a “campaign rally.”

Today’s New York Times reported on a covey of Congress folks who were pressuring the President to use various executive powers to establish a goal line, Hail Mary defense for the millions of families and young people caught in the current immigration crises.   Spokes people for the White House jumped all over themselves to disabuse people of the notion that Obama would do diddle for immigration reform.  They argued that he promised nothing and would do nothing that seemed to be an end around on Congress.  These statements were deflating in a “what is it about ‘no,’ you don’t understand?” way.

Listening to a National Immigration Forum conference call among the activists yesterday afternoon, the only real evidence of progress continue to be in the fights, some successful like the victory by CASA de Maryland, in winning and fighting for mini-DREAM benefits for immigrant children for instate tuition.  Disappointingly, too many other speakers continued to assert that the best strategy was for Obama to “fix” the situations through executive orders, once again arguing for political tactics that Obama himself seems to be expressly rejecting.

It’s not that it is impossible to imagine such a strategy being successful, but it is difficult to envision how it might come to pass without much, much stronger local organizing calling the question district by district, city by city, and battleground by battleground.  I would have thought that the one thing that we would have learned in the most painful way, like a tattoo on our arms for a girlfriend long gone, is that any strategy that relied on the President to make a goal line stand or come through with a game changing ;play was bound to lead to even more heartbreak.

Surely we have learned by now that Obama responds to pressure not appeals. When his feet are held to the fire, he bends with the wind like a willow.  When sweet reason, tears of sorrow, or knees bent to the beg, Obama responds with…well, he doesn’t respond at all.

Immigration reform isn’t hopeless.  Strong local work is proving victories are still possible!  But, nothing is going to happen in Washington or the White House.  The whole fight is now in the streets of the city and the labor needs of the countryside.  If we are willing and able to do the work, something might happen.  If it’s all about hope, then welcome back to another room in Heartbreak Hotel.