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January 27, 1998


by Townsend Walker

Are you in Alabama and responsible for an organization looking for ways to revitalize itself and get off dead center? Look no further. For the next nine months Alabamians have a rare opportunity, at absolutely no cost to them, to electrify their group with a couple of programs which the Alabama Humanities Foundation (AHF) is making available through its Speakers Bureau for 1997-98. Speaker fees and expenses are paid by the Foundation; all you do it put in a request, provide a meeting place and publicize the events. In fact, the AHF is begging people to apply.

I recommend these two speakers from the AHF Speakers Bureau" to understand the events of our nation today:

1. Professor Glen Feldman at the University of Alabama's Center for Labor Education and Research is prepared to present a program for you on one of the most tumultuous periods in the state's history. He titles his program "Lynching, Populism and the United Mine Workers" and focuses on the United Mine Workers strike in 1894 when Alabamians had to wrestle with the idea of poor whites and blacks cooperating and prospering through a united labor movement. But more than that, he gives you an opportunity to discover the significance of the strike for workers today, and to raise your own questions about how the events today parallel those a hundred years ago. By the way, Professor Feldman has written a fascinating book about a man who had much to do with the shaping of 20th century politics in Alabama: From Demagogue to Dixiecrat: Horace Wilkinson and the Politics of Race -- absorbing.

2. Professor William H. Stewart of the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa is presenting a program titled "All I Know is What I Read in the Newspapers." Using newspapers published in the 1890s, he examines what the press reveals about how much things have changed and how much they remain the same. For example, do Alabamians really have a two-party system or only one party with two faces? To what extent is what really matters buried under the trivia of sports and entertainment? And, is this intentional, with questionable motives driving the process -- a let-them- eat-cake sort of thing?

I have personally taken advantage of the Alabama Humanities Foundation's Speakers Bureau series and know for a fact that it will cost you nothing, and provide you and your organization an excellent opportunity to learn to be challenged, to grow intellectually -- even to be entertained. Call 205-930-0540 or fax 205-930-0986 to take advantage of this opportunity.

For the actual cost of copying and mailing by U.S. Postal Service Express Mail ($8.27 total) I will send you one copy of the following hard-to-find articles: John C. Knowles' study, "The Rockfeller Financial Group"; G. William Domhoff's "Who Rules America?"; and Joan Roelofs' "Foundations and Social Change Organizations: The Mask of Pluralism." Unless you are hopelessly brainwashed by the American media, both local and national, you will emerge from reading these essays by Knowles, Domhoff, and Roelofs with a clearer understanding of why things happen as they do. We hope you will draw others into a discussion of what you discover there and thus cause at least a ripple on the surface of American self-understanding. For this offer, we must have your check for $8.40 no later than February 16, at which time we will make copies of the essays and mail them. (This is not a money-making deal. We multiplied the total number of pages by the photocopying cost per page and added $3.00 for Priority Mail: 108 pages x $0.05 + $3.00 = $8.40) I will enclose with this mailing, at my own expense, a 13-1/2" by 10-1/2" copy of an "Op Art" piece from the December 29, 1997 New York Times, ideal for framing or lamenting. Place it in a conspicuous place in your home or office for the purpose of provoking a discussion and strengthening the movement for universal health care.

I quoted Will Campbell to make the point that we don't have universal health care "because men in authority decided that this was not going to happen." The statement was made this past September on the occasion of Will's visit to the campus of the University of Mississippi in connection with the imminent publication of his latest book, And Also with You -- about "the most hated white man in Mississippi," Duncan Gray, rector at St. Peter's Episcopal Church during the integration of the University. In this regard, I excerpt the following from The Southern Register, published by the University: "Will Campbell has a very gentle and disarming manner, laced with wit, often directed at himself. He employs his age, feigning absent-mindedness to cushion the impact of his bold statements, like this: "I can't remember what your question was, but that's the answer."

ALL in one breath now, in one big improvised chorus:

Question: Why don't we have universal health care?

Will Campbell: Because men in authority decided that this was not going to happen. What was the question?

The word "philanthropy" comes from two Greek words, one meaning "to love" and the other meaning "man." Theoretically, therefore, to be a philanthropist is praiseworthy and a recognition to be aspired to, typically through gifts of money or possessions of one kind or another convertible to money. And so the term is generally construed in the popular mind, making it that much easier for rascals to use philanthropy as a cover for their rascalities -- in Ferdinand Lundberg's words, "transmogrifying themselves into the quintessential cream of humanity." (The possible connection of early Rockfeller philanthropies as a counterbalance to the adverse publicity surrounding the infamous "Ludlow massacre" of 1914 is a case in point.)

Admittedly, real benefits do accrue in many ways to the commonweal -- but at a price and not as innocuously as is commonly thought. A recent article in The Nation (January 12/9) exposes the dark side of philanthropy, especially as practiced through tax-exempt foundations, from which the reader may justifiably infer the threat to democratic governance that philanthropic foundations are. We call your attention to a point scored by author Michael H. Shuman in "Why Progressive Foundations Give too Little to too Many" to justify the charge.

It is positively oxymoronic to expect that in a class struggle "the owners and dispensers of capital (can) really be trusted to finance their own overthrow." We would argue that this is a truism that applies not only to conservative foundations but to those that practice "progressive philanthropy," i.e., foundations supportive of social and economic justice. For example, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, with wealth today in excess of $5 billion, made a great show of sponsoring a nation-wide TV program on health care in 1994, had no intention of presenting universal health care in a favorable light. To do so would have been to undermine the profit motive on which its health care empire rested. Today, the ten biggest foundations have assets in excess of a quarter trillion dollars, more money than they know how to spend, and not one dollar for a universal health care system. The only way to overcome such bribery power is through the power of the people. Unfortunately, a leadership able or willing to weld them into a decisive force is lacking.

On my desk is a copy of the quarterly newsletter, Advances, of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Issue 1, 1997. (I hardly need remind you that this foundation's wealth derives from "the world's greatest health and medical products conglomerate"). The emphasis of the whole issue is on "working with the system to make it better," with this in the opening paragraph: "...The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is continually reviewing and revising its strategies to advance health and health care" -- Foundation Reporter.

On the positive side, Advances does recognizes short-falls under managed care (e.g., "as managed care grows, nurses face job shifts"; "the most vulnerable patients fare worse in HMOs"; "the uninsured a growing problem"). However, among 55 often multi-million dollar grants awarded shortly before the Advances issue, not one recognized the primal need for a fundamental restructuring of the health care system from stern to stern. Implicit in each was the understanding that the system itself, with its broad money-making parameters, must remain intact.

One doesn't have to be real bright to see that this kind of money, multiplied many times over in the hands of a highly organized few, can only be overcome by the concerted action of a mass movement determined that this state of affairs shall not continue -- that democracy will prevail over oligarchy and that one of the first signs of victory will be a universal health care system.

Townsend Walker of Huntsville, Alabama has been activist for universal health care since his retirement twenty-two years ago, and now edits New Vision/New Voices in that connection.

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