With the state of the Democratic Party opposition, upcoming midterms and the 2020 presidential race in the news with some regularity, it dawned on me that I’d not yet written about a very interesting gathering that took place in Petaluma a few months back at which the need for electoral change was much discussed.
On April 8, 2018 former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, now a UC Berkeley professor and co-founder of Inequality Media, sat down with former Rep. Lynn Woolsey at the Petaluma Veterans Memorial to discuss elections, inequality, racism and much more. Reich argued forcefully that we could begin addressing runaway growth in inequality by taxing the wealthy. Selling a few copies of Reich’s new book, The Common Good, was also on the agenda.
This event had the feel of an amiable conversation between friends, in front of four hundred members of the extended family. Relief from the day-to-day reality that we all live in Trump TV land was in demand, and Woolsey and Reich provided it. It was an almost entirely caucasian audience. At 50, I was among the youngest present.
Read on for a few notes from the event, plus the full video, filmed for Copperfield’s Books and LiteracyWorks by Petaluma Community Access.
Sheryl Cotleur of Copperfield’s Books introduced the pair, noting that Woolsey remained a beloved figure in the region.
“She spoke to many issues, not just of local concern, but of nation concern and for the common good. One such issue was her unceasing effort to end the war in Iraq.”
Woolsey spoke out against the Iraq War from the floor of the House of Representatives over four hundred times.
On April 8 she began by asking Robert Reich what happened to the common good.
Surveying the crowd, Reich quoted the text from the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”
“How did that turn into such hatefulness? The only people in this country who have any standing to be anti-immigrant are Native Americans.”
“The racism and xenophobia of today are not new. What’s new, I think, is that over the past thirty years, the typical American has not had a raise. People have been working harder and harder for less and less, adjusted for inflation. What this means is that people are afraid and angry.”
“Even in 2015, before anybody heard of any of the politicians who were actually running, except for Hillary Clinton, I was out in several of the red states, talking to people about their lives and their economic prospects, and I asked people who they were thinking about voting for.”
Reich kept hearing that people were trying to decide between Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.
“They were on opposite ends of the spectrum. How could you even say these two names in the same sentence?” he wondered.
“What I got back from many people was the same thing: “Well, we don’t know much about them, but they’re going to shake things up. The game is rigged against us. The professional politicians, the establishment has not delivered. In fact, if anything, they’re corrupt.”
Inevitably the conversation turned to future elections and who might run enter the 2020 presidential race. Lynn Woolsey had a familiar face in mind.
“I’m going to support Joe Biden as long as he’s in the race, and that’s because I want somebody of his caliber running in the primaries to keep the Democratic discussion honest. I don’t think this country is going to vote for a minority for a while, or a woman, so we Democrats have to get smart and find a talented white guy – I’m pointing at you, Mr. Secretary – that the country loves.”
Reich was thinking along very different lines, first tossing the names of two prominent and popular ladies out there as possibilities. Both had recently been in the news.
“If we’re not going to nominate Michelle Obama or Oprah Winfrey – and I think either of them would be pretty damned good – if we’re not, then I think we have to look for somebody who is under age fifty.”
[Big round of applause]
“Believe it or not, there are some people out there who are under age fifty. I’ve met a few of them. I say this because we’re just getting – and I’m looking at all of you [in the Petaluma audience] I’ve got to watch myself very carefully – but I think we’re getting a little long in the tooth.”
“I think we’ve got to understand that the energy and the promise and hope in the future is with a new generation.”
About the video: Copperfield’s Books and LiteracyWorks presents a conversation between Robert Reich and Lynn Woolsey, recorded at the Petaluma Veteran’s Memorial Building. Reich is Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and the author of the new book, The Common Good. Lynn Woolsey is the beloved former U.S. Representative for the 6th District of California. Reich and Woolsey were introduced by Literacy Works Executive Director Paul Heavenridge.