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It is eerily fitting that George McGovern’s passing has occurred in the final heat of a furious election campaign, precariously balanced between the Republocrats and the Democlicans, a tweedle dum/ tweedle dee choice between two corporately owned political parties. No matter how much the corporate media tries to fan the public pulse with staged debates and constant reporting on polls and money raised in this manufactured horse race, it’s apparent that on issues of corporate welfare, empowering the rich, labor rights, immigration, terrorism, the vast military-industry complex, war and peace, energy policy , poverty, and the rape of the earth, there’s merely, at best, a dime’s worth of difference between the two. Indeed, there are third party candidates, from the Green Party, Libertarian Party, Justice Party and others who have radically different ideas from those we are hearing from Obamney/Rombama, but the corporate dominated media is having none of that and refuses to carry these other views .
The significance of George McGovern’s failed campaign for the Presidency in 1972 is that it was born on the wings of a vast grassroots conspiracy, assiduously phoning, canvassing, going door to door, running slates of delegates to the Democratic convention, before there was an internet. It was the last gasp of a democratic political process in the US. The campaign to take over the Democratic Party by women, youth, gays, blacks, liberals, and other progressive Americans, started in 1968 with Eugene McCarthy’s candidacy to end the war in Vietnam. That effort ended in the furious assault on our young people at Mayor Daley’s Chicago Democratic convention. Here we witnessed on television the ugly police brutality against students and youth protesting the war in Vietnam and the fixed rules of the convention that favored those in power and ignored the results of that year’s grassroots primary campaign for Gene McCarthy, and later, Bobby Kennedy, cruelly assassinated while campaigning in LA, having entered the race after Johnson announced he wouldn’t run for a second term.
With renewed determination, across the country we formed the New Democratic Coalition in 1968 and vowed change the rules of the party and to capture the nomination in 1972 for a peace candidate that would finally end the war in Vietnam and address issues of civil rights, poverty, human rights, true national security—the liberal progressive agenda. George McGovern announced as our candidate, supporting the reform of the Convention rules and all of our issues. I went up and down my block in Massapequa, Long Island, with an army of suburban housewives, students, commuting husbands, canvassing my neighbors and making sure those who supported our platform came out to vote in the Democratic primary. In 1970 we had primaries for local candidates and actually sent Allard Lowenstein, the brilliant progressive leader who enrolled Eugene McCarthy to challenge Lyndon Johnson in the 1968 Democratic primaries, to Congress from Long Island. These efforts took place all over America and when I moved to Maryland in 1970, I continued my door to door work for McGovern in Potomac. The establishment media rarely reported on our work. They kept predicting that Edmund Muskie would be the nominee and gave virtually no press coverage to McGovern or our campaign. What a great surprise when our elected delegates showed up at the Miami Convention in 1972—the sixties manifest in all its glory, with youth, women, blacks, Hispanics, gays, a broad swath of progressive America—and we nominated George McGovern! The energy was electric as movie stars mingled with peace activists, civil rights workers, women’s libbers, the gay community, and every other shade and stripe of 1960s protesters. And we proved the political process worked! We actually captured the nomination!! What an awful letdown to see how the establishment fought back. They never wrote about McGovern’s forward looking platform for peace and prosperity. They hounded him daily for having appointed Missouri Senator Thomas Eagleton to run as his Vice President who was later discovered to have been hospitalized for manic-depression many years earlier. McGovern replaced him on the ticket with Sargent Shriver, Kennedy’s brother-in-law, but the press was relentlessly opposed to his platform and instead of talking about his WWII fighter pilot record, his outstanding values and creative ideas for ending poverty in America and ending the Vietnam War, they tarred him as a “hippie” with all the rest of his supporters and he won only Massachusetts and Washington, DC in the election.
The establishment has closed ranks ever since. There has never been such an open, democratically conducted nomination process as we enjoyed from 1968 to 1972, and which resulted in a true people’s choice when George McGovern was nominated. Today we have carefully staged-managed events, designed not to upset any of the corporate sponsors, filtered through the corporate media, leaving Americans in the dark. George McGovern’s nomination was a shining moment for a democratic political process and also, sadly, a signal to the enemies of democracy to close ranks and do everything in their power to never allow it to happen again.
Alice Slater is a founder of Abolition 2000, working for a treaty to ban nuclear weapons.