Where I Come From

(L)The (very) late Sammie Abdullah Abbott and (R) Reginald Booker, local activist (C: 1974)

This election year has been, to say the least, strange. Odd. Unnerving. Mostly, though, unruly. The destruction of the already-shaky GOP by Donald Trump, which should be greeted with joy by Democrats, instead has set them atrembling because there is this notion that Trump could perhaps actually win and plunge the nation (and the world) into an apocalypse while simultaneously destroying all the progress of the left accomplished over the past 150 years.

Over on the other side, meanwhile, the Democrats are turning on each other because a self-proclaimed (Democratic) socialist has made an amazingly strong run at the nomination against the pre-presumed nominee, and now is being demonized by the center-left the way said presumed (for eight years) candidate was vilified by Republicans for the past 23 years.

Oddly, the GOP suddenly is moving to embrace the presumptee (oh hell, let’s use names: Hillary Clinton) as the potential savior of conservatism because she is, of all the candidates, at least according to several Republican strategists, “most like George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.” It’s one thing to be damned by faint praise. This is more like saying she resembles the antichrist, and that’s better than the candidate they’re stuck with.

Wow, right?

Mathematically, it seems that socialist guy, named Bernie Sanders, cannot very likely win the Democratic nomination, but he has vowed to take his case all the way to the July convention, and this is seen as some sort of monstrous wrong. The same people who say he cannot possibly win also vilify him and insist that his very running, at this point, constitutes an “attack” on Hillary Clinton, who very likely will be our next president (and for the record, if it does, quite logically, come down to her vs. Trump, then I may be crazy, but I ain’t dumb. At that point I’m with her.

Would I rather have Bernie as the nominee? Yes. Does it worry me much that I might not get my way? No. Why? Because, you see, what Bernie Sanders is doing by running for president is giving birth to a movement, what he has called, not unrightly, a “revolution,” something that will turn establishment politics on its ear.

That dumping of the status quo would be more clear and immediate if he were to win the election, but he doesn’t need to be president to win his battle, to champion his cause.

That is because his cause is not his alone, but that of millions of Americans who are waking up to the fact that while everyone hates politics and politicos, trusts none of them, is disgusted with Congress (and has been since as long as I have conscious memories), up until now they have taken what they were offered, pulled the lever, then gone home to piss and moan about it. How is that different from “Trumpeters”? Intelligence, I’m afraid, or as the PC would put it, “low information voters.” Or maybe not. Maybe some of them are just waiting it out. We’ll see.

Why even our current president, one of the finer examples of the genre, has come under fire from former supporters for not having done “enough.” Never mind that We, the People, gave him one of the most incompetent and hateful Congresses in the history of the Republic to work with (or against).

While I am one of President Obama’s greatest admirers, I admire him with some qualifications. I don’t condemn him when he doesn’t do something as I would have done it, but there are a lot of cases where he could have done something different without the help of Congress, and so, in my eyes, he is not only not perfect — but merely great — but he has become pretty much an establishment politician, because, perhaps, he has found it is the only way he could get anything done.

Because of his race. Let the record show that I firmly believe that to be the case.

Now comes Bernard Sanders, of Vermont, by way of Brooklyn, to blow up the party that lies, at this point, just left of center. Oh dear god no, he means it and he seems to have almost the means to pull it off. No! No! No! We had this one all figured out, and this…this…commie — well, okay, socialist — comes along and ruins the party. Literally.

Thank god.

Sanders, as we all know, is somewhat Jewish. Like a little bit pregnant. And amazingly, most Jewish people I know are profoundly disturbed by his very presence in the race, not because he is a Jew, though they will use that as an argument against him, but because he is not the pre-determined candidate.

Democracy? Democrat? Hello?

Ah, no, fuck that, we had this thing under control and now there will be riots in Philadelphia, and blood will run in the streets. Anyone here old enough to recall the Democratic convention held in Chicago in 1968? Now there was a holy mess, and it was all because the presumptive nominee ran into a challenger. Well, yes, some people do remember, and apparently they still suffer from PTSD because of it, and blame that disturbance (actually it was a police riot) for Richard Nixon winning the general election, and see the same thing playing out all over again.

Except this is not 1968, and this is also not a battle between different varieties of establishment politicians. And Sanders supporters are not hippies. And it will be Philadelphia, not Chicago. Okay, the police problem could be about the same in either city in any given year, but the fact is, this is not that.

And so, sadly, I find myself at odds with a lot of my dearest friends, who all fear and loathe Bernie Sanders for ever having gotten this idea in his head to run for president, even though his mission is actually far more grand and earth-shaking than that, and does not require that he brutally steal away the nomination from Hillary Clinton — although he will likely do his best to do that, because the farther he can get, and the farther left he can push the Democratic platform, the farther along the revolution will be when it actually starts.

What? It hasn’t started yet? Well yes, it actually has, the fuse is lit, but that happened in 1960, or at least that’s where I came in. You see, I was radicalized in 1960 by leaders of the UFW and the US Civil Rights Movement. From the age of 15 I have been a trouble maker, maybe earlier, but in an organized and methodical way since June of 1960.

See that photo up at the top? The one of Sammie Abbott and Reginald Booker? Testifying before a House Committee against a freeway that would have run, six lanes wide, through three of the oldest, most communitarian socialist neighborhoods in the Washington DC area? That’s right, them, up there. Sammie Abdullah Abbott (who was an Arab, not a Jew, but a Semite none the less) who resembled in many ways Bernie Sanders, and Reginald Booker, president of an organization known as (brace yourselves) Niggers, Inc., with whom Abbott had made common cause to prevent the de-homing of thousands of people in Abbott’s home city (and to a great extent mine as well) and the Brookland and Woodside communities, displacing, oddly enough, mostly black residents.

Abbott on this North Central Freeway business: “”The whites in the suburbs wanted convenient ways to get downtown, and it was the blacks in the District whose neighborhoods would be torn down for road construction, who’d suffer. I coined the slogan, `No white men’s roads through black men’s homes.’ It was economically and racially biased and I couldn’t stand it.”

That movement became huge, went nationwide, and affected cities all over the US. But mainly it killed the North Central Freeway, and some very fine communities were saved.

This was nothing new for Sam Abbott, whose life had been all about championing ordinary people.

“”I’m a perpetually mad person. I hate injustice. As far as I’m concerned, I’m living to fight injustice. I’m living to fight the goddamned thing. I’m too mad to sleep.”

That’s where he lost me, at being “too mad to sleep.” I’ve always been able to sleep just fine, but when I wake up, after the cat and dog have been tended to and the birds (and squirrels) fed, it has been working to “fight the goddamned thing.” That’s how the UFW got me, how the Civil Rights Movement got me, how the Southern Poverty Law Center got me, how the volunteer fire and rescue service got me, how Sam Abbott himself got me.

Like Sam Abbott, “I took the Declaration of Independence literally. I took seriously that all men are created equal.”

That has made me the black sheep of my extended family. I wear that fleece with fierce pride.

I could say more. A lot more. I could probably never shut up. But I will…for now, anyway, because perhaps you can understand the kinship I feel with Bernie Sanders and other old school communitarian, Democratic socialists (and yes, Sam Abbott was a socialist), and with all those movements mentioned above, including the one I was finally asked to leave, Col. Hassan’s Black Man’s Volunteer Army of Liberation — by the Colonel himself — for being “too militant.”

The revolution in this nation started some 240 years ago this coming July, and it has never fully realized itself, because it’s the kind of revolution that does not end; it just takes breaks.

Break time is over, people. We need a paradigm shift, and we have someone like Sammie Abbott, though not nearly as pissed off. “If not now,” to borrow from the Rev. Jesse Jackson, “when?” There is nothing to fear here but change, and it is the mark of conservatism and inertia (the same damn things, by the way) to fear change.

To those of you upset by my insistence that this crazy idea embodied in this crazy man Bernie sanders is not only viable but right, I apologize. I may be too far into this leftist thing to come back into the comfortable fold and return to taking baby steps.

But do not worry. If (okay, when) Hillary Clinton is declared the Democratic nominee for president, I will cast my vote for her, warts and all (her warts, not mine) and then promptly return to the front lines of the revolution.

I hope to see some of you there.




Writer, activist, novelist, sixth generation DC, local historian-storyteller, and 1:1 patient care technician five days a week.

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AJ Calhoun

AJ Calhoun

Writer, activist, novelist, sixth generation DC, local historian-storyteller, and 1:1 patient care technician five days a week.

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