by Thomas Bias, National Secretary, Labor Fightback Network
August 28, 2018
Fifty years ago today I turned my back and walked away from the Democratic party. From that day to this I have never looked back.
Like so many college freshmen in New England, I put on my high-top boots and a warm cap and went up to New Hampshire during the early weeks of 1968. I rang doorbells campaigning for Senator Eugene McCarthy for President in small towns and was impressed by how much the people that I met were dissatisfied with President Johnson and wanted change. And they weren’t happy with the Vietnam war, either. For myself, I was giving the system “one more chance,” and after the results of the New Hampshire primary, I was optimistic.
On August 28, 1968, at the Democratic convention, the platform committee debated a plank concerning the Vietnam war. Both were compromises, but it was understood that the majority report stood for a pro-war position, and the minority report for an anti-war position. After speeches for each position, ending with Senator Wayne Morse’s passionate speech for the minority report, the voting began. The votes came in, back and forth, for the different positions until Gov. John Connally of Texas, still a Democrat, brought his delegation in lockstep behind the majority report. The minority report was defeated. I said to all who had been listening to the radio in the Baltimore City Hospitals lab where I had a summer job, “I gave the system one more chance. That’s it!”
I had a date with a student nurse that night. I told her my thought that I had given the system one more chance, and it had proved itself not to work. I was concluding that revolution was necessary. She didn’t agree with me, but we had a good time that evening anyway. I took her home to Hampton House, the student nurses’ residence hall at Johns Hopkins Hospital (I was a good boy) and went home to find my mother pacing the floor—not about me. She said, “Do you know what’s going on in Chicago right now?” I didn’t. She told me what Mayor Daley’s cops were doing to kids who looked a lot like me in Grant Park. She was furious. She swore that she would never vote for Humphrey after this. She was a Republican, but she was against the war and didn’t much like Nixon.
That solidified it. I understood what the Democratic party was in its heart of hearts, and that it was not a party of peace and justice. Nothing I have seen in the half century since has convinced me that the Democratic party can make the change that our country—and our world—needs. We need to mean it when we sing Ralph Chaplin’s words from 103 years ago:
“In our hands is placed a power greater than their hoarded gold,
Greater than the might of armies magnified a thousand-fold.
We can bring to birth a new world from the ashes of the old,
For the Union makes us strong.”
Yes. Think about what those words mean. Act on them!