The Purpose Driven Life

It’s hard to imagine Rick Warren had Ted Kennedy in-mind when he wrote The Purpose Driven Life,* but judging by all that was said at Kennedy’s Saturday funeral, including President Obama’s beautiful remarks, Ted Kennedy’s life seems to have been a case-in-point.**

Of course, Saturday’s most poignant reading of Ted Kennedy’s life, as a man who persevered (in pursuit of good for others), was in Ted Kennedy Jr.’s remarks, regarding walking up a snowy hill.***

“And I was trying to get used to my new artificial leg. And the hill was covered with ice and snow. And it wasn’t easy for me to walk. And the hill was very slick. And as I struggled to walk, I slipped and I fell on the ice. And I started to cry and I said, ‘I can’t do this.’ I said, ‘I’ll never be able to climb up that hill.’

And he lifted me up in his strong, gentle arms and said something I will never forget. He said, ‘I know you can do it. There is nothing that you can’t do. We’re going to climb that hill together, even if it takes us all day.’

“Sure enough, he held me around my waist and we slowly made it to the top. And you know, at age 12 losing your leg pretty much seems like the end of the world. But as I climbed on to his back and we flew down the hill that day, I knew he was right. I knew I was going to be OK.

“You see, my father taught me that even our most profound losses are survivable, and that is — it is what we do with that loss, our ability to transform it into a positive event, that is one of my father’s greatest lessons.”

But Ted Kennedy’s biggest lesson for me, albeit from his funeral, was this reminder: Ted Kennedy led a purpose-driven lifefor the biggest purposes in life: eliminating racism, sexism, and all other forms of injustice.

Though I was raised in a solidly Democratic family (for example, as a 36-year-old with four young children, my father ran for Congress on the Democratic ticket, in an overwhelmingly Republican district), my parents viewed (and, I think, still view), the Kennedy’s with some disapproval.

The Mary Jo Kopechne tragedy left a very bad taste, and, combined with an incident we experienced–when a Democratic-Party rally came to a crashing halt while everyone searched for then-Senate-candidate Bobby Kennedy’s lost (gold) cuff link–I was raised to view the Kennedy’s with some disdain.

But, then, I got to Saturday’s funeral service, albeit via CNN.

Saturday morning’s lesson about perseverance–in pursuit of a purpose beyond oneself, and, yes, even beyond one’s family–is exactly the lesson my sometimes-Kennedy-disapproving parents taught every day, including, I’m sure, on the day that gold cuff link was lost, and on the day Mary Jo Kopechne died.

I’ve tried to take their lesson to-heart. Truthfully, some days, it’s hard, especially when it’s a day at the end-of August.

But, this end-of-August day, and whether you liked and admired Ted Kennedy, or not, take-to-heart his last lesson for his children and for the rest-of-us: the purpose-driven life matters.

I close with the words of Wordsworth (a favorite of my father), said by the President Saturday:

“As tempted more; more able to endure,

” As more exposed to suffering and distress;

“Thence, also, more alive to tenderness.”






The not-so-invisible empire: Part 2: Roger Simon nails-it.

Good morning,

Here’s Roger Simon in today’s Chicago Sun-Times*:

“To compete with the huge health care industry, you have to be huge yourself or you get steamrolled. That’s why a public option would work and a system of smaller health care ‘coops’ almost certainly would not.

“In general, the health care industry wants health care reform and for a very simple reason: It would mean 47 million new customers, many of them young and healthy.

“But the industry does not want a public option as a part of that reform, because a public option would be large enough to negotiate with private insurers, pharmaceutical companies, hospitals and doctors for lower costs.”

Why is Simon making this point: Exactly for the same reason I wrote my blog yesterday, recommending the President take-up the James-Carville/Huey-Long playbook.

That is, Simon is wondering whether the President has the “guts,” (Simon, again), to push for the public option, which, as Simon also points-out, the President knowsand has said–is the way to create competition with the empire otherwise known as the” health-insurance industry.”

Mr. President: Take-on the big guys, and share their wealth.

I’m reminded of the words of the British feminst-anarchist, Kate Sharpley:

“We have nothing to lose but our chains.” *

Kate Sharpley continues:

strong>”We are striving to bring about a condition of society in which there shall be neither slave nor master, neither poor nor rich, where all shall be able to satisfy their human desires, in a word we are striving for FREEDOM (sic). **



* “An Address To The Army,” The Sheffield Anarchist, July 19, 1891.

With a nod to James Carville, a refresher from the Huey Long playbook

In T. Harry Williams’ Pulitzer-Prize winning biography of Louisiana Governor Huey Long,* Williams describes how Long came to power: how Long came to be in the position–among other great things–to provide free textbooks to public school children, eliminate the poll tax, and build roads to reach needy families in isolated bayou settlements.

Basically, the bottom-line is, minute-one, Huey took on the big guys.

Minute-one, Huey took on Standard Oil.

Long was a 25-year-old back-country-Louisiana lawyer, just elected to the State’s Public Service Commission, who thought that Standard Oil, “the invisible Empire (sic),”** should be taxed as a public utility.

Though Long was unsuccessful while a Commissioner, less than a decade later, when he was Louisiana’s Governor, he succeeded.

And what did Long do with that tax money? Well, he used it to pay for those free textbooks for Louisiana’s schoolchildren.

But this was just for starters. A few years later, during the depths of the Great Depression, when Long was a U.S. Senator, he proposed the “share our wealth” program. Check-it-out: it’s amazing, and, boy, could we use it now.

“In a national radio address on February 23, 1934, Huey Long unveiled his ‘Share Our Wealth’ plan, (also known as Huey Long’s “Share the Wealth” plan), a program designed to provide a decent standard of living to all Americans by spreading the nation’s wealth among the people.

“Long proposed capping personal fortunes at $50 million each, (roughly $750 million in today’s dollars), through a restructured, progressive federal tax code and sharing the resulting revenue with the public through government benefits and public works.

“[The] Share Our Wealth Proposal:

“Cap personal fortunes at $50 million each (equivalent to about $750 million today)

“Limit annual income to one million dollars each (about $12 million today)

“Limit inheritances to five million dollars each (about $60 million today)

“Guarantee every family an annual income of $2,000 (or one-third the national average)

“Free college education and vocational training

“Old-age pensions for all persons over 60

“Veterans benefits and healthcare

“A 30 hour work week

“A four week vacation for every worker”***

In my (play)book, Huey Long is the original “speak-truth-to-power”**** guy.

I think we need a very big dose of his medicine right about now.

I was reminded of the ever-so-important, Huey-Long chapter of American history when I read James Carville’s Sunday comments about passing a (meaningful) “healthcare reform” bill in our lifetimes.

“’What about this?,’ Carville said Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union, ‘Suppose they pass a House bill that can get 56 Senate Democrats.’

“Then, Carville suggested, instead of using reconciliation, a special budgetary maneuver in Senate procedure that frustrates GOP attempts to mount a filibuster, Democrats should call for a vote.

‘And make [Republicans] filibuster it. But [do this] the old kinda way…they filibuster it and [then] make’em go three weeks and all night and (Democrats) will be there the whole time.

Then, you say, ‘They’re the people that stopped it. We had a majority of Democrats. We had a good bill. They stopped it.’”*****

Perhaps, the health care coop approach, the alternative to the “public option” apparently now under consideration by the President’s counselors, is the best way to provide comprehensive, affordable health care to all. I leave that to others to evaluate.

But, in any event, what playbook should the President be reading, right-about-now?

If we the people, and not the not-so-invisible empire of health insurers, big drug companies, large hospital chains, etc., (see Bob Herbert in today’s The New York Times on this point******), are to get the (health-care) change we can believe in, what should the President do now?

I think the President should take-up the strategy of the Louisiana-duo, right-about-now.

They have it right: speak truth to power; force power to the table; force power to deal-the-deck on the table, not underneath it; and accept nothing less than what the people need.

For the only change that matters in this “healthcare reform” discussion is guaranteeing that every sick person gets affordable and good healthcare when she needs it.

And, as Huey Long proved, the only way this will happen is by forcing a (very) public discussion with the powerful, forcing them to share their wealth.

So, let’s do as the Rajin’ Cajun and his mentor suggest: force the powerful to be visible and accountable, so that their means can be used for our ends.



*Williams, T. Harry. Huey Long, Alfred A. Knopf, 1969. ttp://







For a terrific piece on the importance of Huey Long to today’s policymakers, read this:

Valerie Jarrett on (and in) the Promised Land

In his 1991 blockbuster, The Promised Land: The Great Black Migration and How it Changed America,* Nicholas Lemann tells the story of how and why black Mississippi became black Chicago, the place those fleeing sharecroppers thought would be “the promised land.”

In the book, Lemann features the story of Ruby Daniels Haynes, formerly of Clarksdale, Mississippi, who lived in the Robert Taylor Homes, the South-Side Chicago public housing project named for Valerie Jarrett’s grandfather. In no way, did Chicago turn-out to be the promised land for Ms. Haynes and her family.

Instead, according to Valerie, black Chicago had to wait for the 1983 election of Harold Washington, the first African-American Mayor of Chicago, for the “transformation” it first sought so many years before, when so many took the train to South-Side Chicago from downtown Clarksdale and other Mississippi Delta towns.

Here’s Valerie in last Sunday’s New York Times: “Living through the transformation of the city (Chicago, when Harold Washington was Mayor)–maybe we gained our confidence having lived through those days.”**

But black Chicago isn’t transformed: it still suffers from profound racial segregation, soul-starving poverty, frightening school drop-out and unemployment rates, and the malefactors that it did when when Ruby Haynes moved here over 75 years ago; when Valerie’s grandfather protested Chicago’s racial segregation over 60 years ago; when the first Mayor Daley built the Robert Taylor Homes over 50 years ago; when Harold Washington was elected over 25 years ago; and when, over 15 years ago, our second Mayor Daley began the process of tearing-down “Robert Taylor.”

Today, hundreds of thousands of Chicago’s descendants of those Mississippi sharecroppers suffer from far too many of the same ills their great-great-grandparents suffered-from, back in the Delta: too little education, too few jobs, social isolation, and communities bereft of basic services.

Alas, the almost half-century-old lyrics, “A change is gonna come,” of Clarksdale-born singer, Sam Cooke,*** still have currency.

And, as if we needed any further proof, right now we have yet another “teachable moment.”****

Of course, Valerie is right in a very fundamental way: Harold Washington, Dr. King, (and many others of their generation of African-American leaders), moved mountains to create America’s basic legal infrastructure for racial equality.

An important result is that Valerie, and many others of her African-American-generation, are great successes; they were able to obtain the education, the expertise, and the “confidence” they needed to succeed. But, a city transformed, a “promised land,” if-you-will?

I think, only for some–for the most part, for those with the very greatest intellect, or born to privilege, or with an “Ivy League” education, or with the good fortune to have very good friends in very high places.

To this point, and in this week when Judge Sonia Sotomayor is well-on-her-way to being confirmed as the next Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, take note of these comments by Roger Simon, Chief Political Columnist of Politico, and another native Chicago South-Sider:*****

“No diversity at all with Sotomayor”

“Aside from intelligence and experience, we are told that one of the best things Sonia Sotomayor will bring to the Supreme Court is diversity.

“To which I say: baloney. She brings no diversity at all.

“I offer the following as proof. Here are the justices of the Supreme Court and the law schools they went to: John Roberts, Harvard; John Paul Stevens, Northwestern; Antonin Scalia, Harvard; Anthony Kennedy, Harvard; Clarence Thomas, Yale; Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Columbia; Stephen Breyer, Harvard; Samuel Alito, Yale; David Souter, who just retired, Harvard; [and] Sonia Sotomayor…Yale.

“That’s diversity?

“True, there is one justice not from an Ivy League school. But Northwestern is the only private school in the Big Ten.

“This is not change we can believe in.”******

In 1983, when Harold Washington gave his first mayoral inaugural address, I sat nearby and heard him say:

“Business as usual will not be accepted by the people of this city; business as usual will not be accepted by this chief executive of this great city.”*******

But, tragically, 26 years later that’s just what we still have: business as usual, a city and a country in which far too few reach the promised land, and in which most of the rest don’t even have a shot. Exhibit A: when Skip-Gates-Harvard-Professor is arrested, he goes to the White House for a beer with the President.

What about the millions of other African-American men who have been arrested for disorderly conduct in ambiguous circumstances, or who may been the victims of racial profiling? Where are they having a beer tonight?

They, too, deserve to reach the promised land; they, too, deserve to have a great education and the confidence Valerie spoke-of; they, too, deserve the opportunity to have as friends those who can help them achieve great things; indeed, they, too, deserve to have a beer with the President.

When asked about Skip Gates’ White House visit tonight, Robert Gibbs said: “There’s no formal agenda other than cold beer.” ********

In my view, that’s not good enough for tonight, tomorrow night, or any other night after that. There is just so much to talk about and even more to do.

*Lemann, Nicholas, The Promised Land, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1991.

**The New York Times, Sunday, July 26, 2009,

***Cooke, Sam, “A Change is Gonna Come,” from the album, “Ain’t that Good News,” RCA Victor, 1964

*****At, Simon’s bio says his South Side neighborhood was a place “…where politics was a constant sport.” Harold Washington was fond of quoting yet another South-Sider, Finley Peter Dunne, “Politics ain’t beanbag.” Also at http://www.politics/


******** “A cold one on Obama: Will it cool racial flap?” Chicago Sun-Times, July 29, 2009

“SiveSiftings: Rebecca Sive Talks Back,” by Rebecca Sive

Welcome to “SiveSiftings: Rebecca Sive Talks Back.”

SiveSiftings will highlight significant organizing opportunities and policy changes, big ideas, innovative strategies, and tactics and connections that can advance equality and social justice.

SiveSiftings will cover the views of opinion leaders, the actions of technology inventors and public officials, and the grass-roots activities of community organizers and neighborhood leaders.

SiveSiftings will come in the form of musings, strongly-worded opinions, interviews with thought leaders and public figures, to-do lists, manifestos and action proposals.

This is the second edition of SiveSiftings. I first wrote SiveSiftings for my high school newspaper. At that time, I was motivated to share my thoughts about the matter of race, just as I will in this second edition.

Several years before I started writing that high-school column, I had started taking the New York subway. Diversity and differences of all kinds were all around me. I found that I was endlessly curious about the communities my fellow and sister subway-riders came from, were going-to, the kinds of lives they lived, the opportunities they had, and, most of all, about what the other girls on the subway thought lay ahead for them.

The news of that subway-riding and revolutionary era–news from Mississippi and Alabama, Newark, Detroit and Chicago–put my subway-riding observations in a larger context. I realized there were sky-high–and subway-tunnel deep–impediments to equality for too many in the crowds of subway-riders around me. And so I moved to Chicago and started a lifetime’s work of community organizing and social justice advocacy.

Today, at another time of great American revolution, I write SiveSiftings again because, once again, faint hearts and meek actions won’t suffice. Once again, we must look, listen, learn, and then act courageously and forcefully.

I write from Chicago, where I’ve been inspired by Dr. King, Saul Alinsky, Jane Addams and many others; where there is still so much to learn, and still so much to do, even though we have inspired our gifted new President.

I hope you’ll take a look at my Blogroll and Resources list, subscribe to SiveSiftings, and e-mail me about topics I should discuss and people I should interview. And do tell me what’s on your social-change to-do list. I’m confident we can figure this out together.

Rebecca Sive