Sunday, December 28, 2008

Diary of a Heartland Radical: An Explanation

Diary of a Heartland Radical

Harry Targ

I am starting this blog because I am a writer, an academic, and a radical. Ever since my days in journalism school in the early 60s, I’ve had an “I.F. Stone complex,” named for that one-person independent and radical reporter who produced his own weekly newspaper. Over the years, this disease has been compounded by a developing set of complexes: “Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Paul Robeson, and Studs Terkel complexes.”

These complexes are manifested in a variety of ways. They include compulsive desires to:
- write, short, clear, polemical pieces on the state of the world.
-marshal simple but compelling evidence to defend points of view.
-ground contemporary crises and political campaigns in their appropriate historical contexts.
-frame arguments and analyses around the centrality of class, race, and gender.
-emphasize an anti-imperialist outlook.
-include references to musical and textual inspirations from the cultural left
-be read.

These complexes also are driven by the idea that geography and local culture matter to politics and struggles around class, race, and gender. My real and metaphorical “heartland” is physically flat populated by plain folks, rural and urban; filled with tiny farms, huge factories in the fields, and dense cities with communities of people of all races and ethnic backgrounds. My heartland has a radical history that goes back to the underground railroad; Haymarket martyrs in the struggle for the eight-hour day; packinghouse, auto, electronics workers demanding their rights to form unions; anti-war movements initiated on big mid-western university campuses; and more recently an exuberant progressive campaign to elect the first African American mayor in Chicago. The heartland produced proletarian literature, socialist poetry, peoples photographers and painters, and museums of African American and Latino paintings and crafts. This heartland has its political history, style of political struggle, ideological currents, forms of organization, and political possibilities.

Do we need another blogger motivated by an exalted sense of the worthiness of his text, his written style, his theoretical development? Clearly not. Do we need more to read? Of course not. Is there a need for a “heartland” perspective on socialist possibilities? Probably. Does this “Heartland Radical” need to write about the economic and political crises of our time and the movements that can bring about radical change today and tomorrow? Yes.

Maybe in the end what a few students have told me at the end of classes I have taught over the years hold true in this diary: “I don’t necessarily agree with you, but I appreciate getting an alternative point of view.”

Harry Targ
West Lafayette, Indiana