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Learn to Win

Up to 1973 or so, I didn't know beans about how to fight. I didn't even know who to fight. I had known for several years that American society wasn't working to benefit its members, and I had put in a lot of effort into changing things, as most liberals do. But I hadn't thought of it in terms of fighting because I was slow to realize that there were people on the other side. Those people on the other side, I finally recognized, knew there was a fight and they were fighting hard against people like me.

Even after I realized that someone was intentionally oppressing me and other Americans, it took me a long time to put a name to the situation. It was class struggle. My total immersion in the American religion of anti-communism had kept me in ignorance.

But even after I realized there was a fight and that we are all in it, whether we want to be or not, I still didn't have a clue about what to do about it until I started studying and applying to join the Socialist Workers Party Houston Branch.

SWP'ers knew a lot about fighting. They came to Texas around 1969, I think, and were among the first open socialists since the McCarthy witch hunt had driven CPUSA out of the state. Their first effort was in Austin, naturally, as they were primarily a part of the student anti-war movement. One of their first organizers told me that he was in a home that was machine gunned during those early days. The bullets went right through the wall over his head!

The Ku Klux Klan operated openly in Texas in those days. A picture was published of a robed klansman getting into a Houston Police Car. From 1973, when I joined, to 1976, when I moved to New York, the SWP had one Klan threat after another.

The way the SWP fought to establish itself in Texas was really worth knowing. The most important part of it was keeping their eyes on the prize. The prize is the hearts and minds of the American people. Every tactic they used had to meet that test.

The Way to Win is Often Not to Fight

The SWP did their level best to avoid any confrontations with Klansmen or any kind of anti-communists. They kept their faces to the American public at all times and were never lured into being some kind of "anti-fascists" or "Klan fighters." A lot of young macho men make that mistake, but the SWP didn't.

Instead, we went to the public every time the Klan threatened. We demanded that the City of Houston and other authorities protect our American rights, including the right to hold our events and run in elections. I can't remember a single person ever calling for the eradication of the Klan; we ignored them as much as we humanly could.

Once, a Klansman left a threatening note on the door of the house I lived in. Immediately, we called a news conference. Being a hick from Southeastern Oklahoma and stupid, I told one of the reporters that I slept with a loaded shotgun beside me. It was true, I had borrowed a shotgun. As soon as the reporters left, the Organizer of the Houston Branch pulled me aside to ask if I really had a shotgun. "Get rid of it!" he told me gruffly.

Then he took the time, actually it was a pretty long time, to try to explain to me that we were not afraid of the KKK. Even if we were, we weren't as afraid of the KKK as we were of losing credibility with the American public. My shotgun, especially my telling the reporter about the shotgun, undermined the entire strategy of seeking the acceptance of the public. Our defense, he explained, is that we are a legitimate part of the American people and are entitled to the same protections.

Another time, we used my old pickup truck to carry our mayoral candidate in a Houston parade. Known klansmen started to gather on the sidewalks and follow us. Their goal, I found out later, was to beat us up as soon as we got away from the crowds. But we made no fuss about it. Instead, I stopped every time I saw a friendly face in the crowd. I asked them to ride with us in the back. By the end of the parade, we had 10 or so people in the back of my little truck and the Klansmen were nowhere to be seen! Was it a victory! Heck yes it was a victory, because we had driven our mayoral candidate in the Houston parade, just like every other legitimate candidate.

Somewhere during that time, I learned my favorite quote of all time. It was from something Trotsky wrote about a lecture he was giving during the Russian Revolution:

"It is not sufficient to fight, comrades, it is also necessary to win!"

Fearsome Cats Fight On their Backs

cats fight ontheir bcks

Did you ever wonder why cats fight on their backs?

Some of the SWP'ers used the phrase "defensive formulation" a lot. I finally asked somebody what it was. She told me that our battle for legitimacy and acceptance was more effective if we are seen as defenders, not aggressors. That's why we never attacked the Ku Klux Klan. That's why virtually every public statement I made as a candidate for congress was made in defensive terms.

That's why, when Watergate caused many people to clamor for President Nixon's head, SWP simply filed a lawsuit demanding restoration of their legal rights.

That was my first big assignment. I organized support for the Political Rights Defense Fund, which financed and publicized the SWP's lawsuit. There was no attack against Nixon, but rather a demand for civil liberties. It was one of the most effective, if not the absolutely most effective, responses to Watergate from any political organization in America.

Did you ever wonder why cats fight on their backs? It's because that way they can implement every tooth and every claw.

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