Twenty and Eight Wandering Jews.

(Photo by Steve Villano, at The National Memorial for Peace & Justice, Montgomery, Ala.)

Jews traveling through the States of the Old Confederacy to work for human rights and learn first-hand about the continuing struggle for Civil Rights and the centuries long Holocaust against Black people—millions of whom were kidnapped, shackled in heavy irons and died the bottom of the Atlantic ocean, enroute to being enslaved in America—is nothing new.

While many fellow Jews over the last century sacrificed much, including their livelihoods and their lives, to stand up against White Supremacy and injustice, we, as Jews—with clear exceptions like the Rabbis who marched with Dr. King, or civil rights activists like Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman– didn’t do enough to fight the brutalization of Black Americans as much as we like to tell ourselves that we did.

Many social activist Jews saw the White Supremacist terror against Black Americans as a replication of the Nazi terror vs. the Jews.  Yet, others choose silence as a way of staying “safe,” particularly large numbers of Southern Jews, or the “good Jews,” as Mississippi’s racist Senator Theodore Bilbo called them, who joined the “White Citizens Councils” for self-protection, and anonymity.

Jews like me, are, after all, White-skinned.  Hitler’s biggest and deadliest lie was that we were a separate, inferior race—a murderous myth which Hitler and the Nazis concocted to separate us from other Caucasians, making us more suitable for extermination, as he noted in Mein Kampf, indigenous people and Blacks were in America.    Whoopi Goldberg was right, despite being wrongly attacked for her honesty.  We were, and are White. To buy into the “Jews as a separate race” fiction, is to swallow Hitler’s elemental lie. We are a people, a civilization, a culture, a religion—but not a race.

In fact, as Professor James Whitman writes in “Hitler’s American Model,” and Isabelle Wilkerson reiterates in “Caste,” Hitler was furious that the Jim Crow laws of some 30 US States—upon which the Nuremberg Laws were based—didn’t go far enough, because they only applied to Blacks, not Jews.    It was easier for Jews to hide in plain sight among American White Supremacists, for our own safety, because we were White, like they were.  Until, of course, they discovered we were different; we were Jews, as Leo Frank found out in Georgia, in 1915.

So, in the week before the 55th Anniversary of the Assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, more than two dozen Jews from Santa Rosa, California’s Congregation Shomrei Torah, including our Louisville, Kentucky-born Rabbi, George Gittleman, followed in the footsteps of the Freedom Riders, and John Lewis and marchers from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery, and walked through the hallways of the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, where Dr. King was gunned down and died. 

We walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge—named for a Confederate soldier who killed Blacks and US Government soldiers—passing the very spot where John Lewis, and dozens of other men, women and children as young as 11 years old were beaten nearly to death 58 years ago, their blood running down into the dark Alabama River below.

We ran our hands over the big thick stones on the sides of Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church, remembering that just a few feet behind them, in a basement level Ladies Lounge, four little Black girls, ages 14, 14, 14 & 11, were giggling and getting ready to go upstairs to pray on that Youth Sunday 60 years ago, when they were blown to bits by killer KKK bombers.  The big, thick church stones that still stand, couldn’t cradle those babies, just like the massive girders of the World Trade Center that are no more, couldn’t protect nearly 3,000 other humans against mass murder.

We were left numb by the Equal Justice Initiative’s Legacy Museum and Lynching Memorial in Montgomery, where huge steel slabs hung like human beings from trees, remembering the thousands of Black men, women and children lynched by lawless vigilantes and law enforcement officials in counties and states throughout the South and Midwest.  I was overcome with grief, and my mind fled to Jerusalem 32 years earlier, when I first visited Yad Vashem, Israel’s Memorial to the Six Million, and walked through the darkened entryway where one-million tiny lights flashed to commemorate the one million children murdered by the Nazis.   The feeling of the unimaginable slaughter of humanity was precisely the same.

I could barely speak for the remainder of the day.  The rhythm of the Paul Simon song, “Hearts & Bones,” haunted me, and my own new lyrics to his masterpiece wrote themselves.  With proper attribution and gratitude to singer/songwriter Paul Simon, my thoughts are below:

Twenty and Eight Wandering Jews.

   (An adaptation of Paul Simon’s “Hearts & Bones.”)

Twenty and Eight wandering Jews,

Searching for answers in all of this news;

Atlanta, Montgomery;

Birmingham, Memphis;

River of Blood, off the old Selma Bridge.

On the first leg of a journey

That started centuries ago;

The arc of a tragedy,

Tornadoes twisting in the heavy air.

Human beings, treated like they’re owned;

Hearts & bones,

Hearts & bones,

Hearts & bones.

Thinking back to Race history and more,

Looking back at the lynchings ignored.

Children were murdered,

The act was outrageous,

The hate was contagious,

It burned through the land…

These events surely have an effect

On what’s happening in Nashville today;

The arc of a long, Lost Cause,

Stripped of its’ red-stained gauze.

Hate like lightning,

Striking ‘til it moans…

Hearts & bones,

Hearts & bones.

No, No, No;

We say, “Why?”

Why were these human souls

Murdered for the color of their skin?

Tell me, “Why?”

“Why won’t you love me for who I am, where I am?

They said: 

“Cause that’s not the way the world is, maybe;

Jews know how the world is, baby.”

Twenty and eight wandering Jews,

Returned to our everyday lives;

To protest injustice,

Work for equality,

And speculate who’s being damaged the most…

Over time, we’ll determine

If reparations will be a “reward”,

For babies blasted mere minutes

Before they’ve sung for the Lord…

You take two humans

And force them into chains—

Hope cannot be restrained…

Hearts and bones,

Tikkun Olam;

Hearts and bones,

Tikkun Olam.

A Cuomo Campaigns Against Justice in Israel & the U.S.

(Former NYS Governor Andrew Cuomo on his Podcast, stating that the prosecutor in Alec Baldwin’s case was motivated by politics and a quest for fame. Cuomo has also attacked the NYS Attorney General’s Sexual Harassment findings against him, and the Manhattan DA’s case against Donald Trump as politically motivated. He has also recently sided with BiBi Netanyahu in his attempt to cripple Israel’s Judiciary, and supports the extreme Right Wing government of Israel which has brought the country to the brink of Civil War.)

Andrew Cuomo continues to search for new ways to disgrace himself.

Earlier this month, he announced he was forming a group to support the Fundamentalist government of Israel, at the very time his old friend, BiBi Netanyahu, was pushing to strip the Israeli Judiciary of it’s power (BiBi is under investigation for bribery and other crimes).  Tone deaf to the legitimate voices of deep concern in Israel and the United States about Israel’s ability to stay away from becoming a complete theocratic and autocratic state—like many of its’ Arab neighbors– Cuomo has chosen to side with the bullying Bibi, whose alleged crimes of corruption make Spiro Agnew look like a harmless hub-cap thief. 

Cuomo has chosen to demonstrate his incredibly poor judgment toward the most extremist  government in Israel’s 75 year history at the very time hundreds of thousands of Israeli  Jews are demonstrating in the streets of Tel Aviv, against the suspension of human and civil rights in the country for which they have fought and bled.  In fact, large numbers of members of Israel’s armed forces, are refusing to support Bibi’s anti-democratic dictates, causing the Israeli Defense minister, Yoav Gallant, to demand that Netanyahu stop moving to undermine the judicial system, since his actions are harming the pivotal Mid-East country’s national defense.

Defense Minister Gallant said in a televised speech in Israel:  “ The rift within our society is widening and penetrating the Israel Defense Forces.  The schisms have caused a clear and immediate and tangible danger to the security of the state.”

Netanyahu fired Defense Minister Gallant, and removed him from his Cabinet on Sunday, March 26th, setting off massive civil unrest throughout the country.

But all that seems to matter to Andrew Cuomo anymore is desperately clinging on to what he sees as the shards of his shattered political career. 

Otherwise, he’d be dismayed by Netanyahu’s dictatorial actions, and the growing Apartheid movement in Israel, where top-ranking extreme Right Wing government officials have declared that “Palestinians are non-existent.”  That’s the same pre-genocidal language used by Hitler in Mein Kampf against the Jews,  that threatens Jew-on-Jew violence, according to Israel’s own President, Isaac Herzog.

Hundreds of thousands of Conservative and Reform Jews across the United States—and our Congregations– are reassessing our life-long support of Israel, since it has fallen from being a democratic hope in a global region of autocracy—a commitment to democracy, inclusion and human rights made to the United Nations and the United States at Israel’s founding 75 years ago—into a dark pit of fascism and totalitarianism against it’s own Israeli-born Arabs, Palestinians, women, the LGBTQ community, the rule of law,  and progressive Jews in Israel and worldwide.

 By siding with Bibi and the theocratic extremists now in charge of Israel, Andrew Cuomo has abandoned most American Jews, and the fundamental principles of universal human rights, which Israel pledged to uphold in its founding charter.  His father, Mario Cuomo, an admirer of Shimon Peres, and one of the most enlightened American political leaders of our time, would be appalled over his son’s abandonment of support for the rule of law in Israel and the United States.

I had the honor of working with Mario Cuomo, and of meeting both Peres and Yitzhak Rabin in Israel in 1992, three years before Rabin was assassinated by the very same extreme Right Wing fanatics—followers of the racist and convicted terrorist Rabbi Meir Kahane—who have now seized power in Israel.  Tragically, those are the kind of totalitarians Andrew Cuomo has thrown his support behind. 

But Andrews’s attacks on the rule of law, for purely political purposes, aren’t limited to Israel.  They’ve expanded to include his own perceived political enemies in this country—prosecutors; a target of Cuomo-as-victim, since a prosecutorial investigation by NYS’ Attorney General Tish James uncovered damaging findings about Cuomo’s behavior as Governor, in the areas of sexual harassment and abuse. 

 This week, as Trump whipped up his White Supremacist wackos in Waco, Texas, in attacks on Manhattan’s Black District Attorney, Andrew Cuomo was hustling for headlines again, maligning Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg’s Grand Jury investigation into Trump’s crimes as  “political”–on the day after Bragg got a Trump-inspired death threat.  Great timing, Andrew. 

Mario Cuomo’s mantra and his great integrity, which attracted many of us who worked with him to work with him, and which we respected greatly , was “The law is the law.”  It was a standard he lived by, and a legal and moral value he applied uniformly.

 Unfortunately, his oldest son—a lawyer, and one-time Attorney General of New York State—has twisted his father’s teachings into being:   “the law is whatever the leader says it is, and everyone else should hold the leader’s coat,” consistent with the actions of Bibi Netanyahu , Donald Trump, and Andrew Cuomo himself.

This cheapened version of a Cuomo just can’t let go of the fact that the NYS AG–a post he once held when he crafted strong anti-sexual harassment laws–investigated the credible sexual harassment complaints against him by 12 women, whose rights the State Attorney General is sworn to protect.  The fact that there was credible evidence against Governor Andrew Cuomo is why Cuomo is no longer Governor. He alone is responsible for wrecking his own public service career.

 Cuomo, like the other self-professed “victims” Bibi Netanyahu and Donald Trump whom he is abandoning his upright upbringing to defend,  refuses to accept responsibility for any of his actions.  He blames the women who filed sexual harassment complaints against him; the prosecutors & investigators; the media; and, even “wokeness”—a nonsensical fiction championed by Trump, Ron DeSantis, and other Far-Right extremists;  Christian Nationalists who trample on Jewish teaching that life begins at birth;  White Supremacists opposed to teaching about slavery and US racial history; and other anti-government troglodytes hell-bent against law enforcement—like the January 6th insurrectionists, and the last criminal cult from Waco, 30 years ago. 

Cuomo even once had the audacity to blame his sexualized, groping actions on his Italian heritage, until many of us in the Italian-American community demanded that he stop spreading ethnic slurs about us, and man-up for his own individual unacceptable behavior.

 Sadly, Andrew Cuomo cannot control his craven craving for public attention or to stay relevant.  With $10 million of campaign contributions in the bank, and a wealth of skills, talent and media access, there are dozens of ways and urgent issues on which Andrew Cuomo can make the world better, and increase his relevancy.

 He can fight to protect Women’s Reproductive Freedom; lead the effort to make voting rights 100% universal; be a powerful voice on behalf of the LGBTQ community and protecting the human rights of Trans people; battle against the unconstitutional banning of books, and the fundamental right of parents to have our children and grandchildren learn a complete, uncensored history of the United States, and the responsibilities of citizenship. He can continue the good work he started nearly 40 years ago on homelessness, or focus on growing food insecurity.   Instead, he wallows in playing the victim, and bellows his blubbering whines in a blustery voice, just like Bibi and Trump. 

 It’s an enormous tragedy that a human being like Andrew Cuomo, with so many gifts and blessings, has forgotten the sound lessons his father taught him, as well as the oft-repeated advice of Mario Cuomo’s spiritual muse, Teilhard de Chardin:  “All that is necessary to achieve happiness in this life is to be part of something bigger than oneself.”

White Supremacists, Goddamn; Find Another Country To Be Part Of…

Nearly 60 years ago, two Civil Rights activists–singer and songwriter Phil Ochs, and classically trained singer, composer and pianist Nina Simone–wrote and performed two of the most powerful songs of that period: Och’s “Here’s To The State of Mississippi”, and Simone’s “Mississippi, Goddamn.”

 Ochs, a white folk-singer and activist from Far Rockaway, NY, volunteered for the Mississippi Caravan of Music in conjunction with Freedom Summer of 1964, the campaign to register Black Voters in Mississippi. During that summer, three civil rights workers — James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were beaten and shot to death by local Mississippi police officers working in kahoots with the KKK.

 Ochs was so outraged by their murders and decades of butchering of Blacks in Mississippi by White Supremacists, that one of his most controversial lyrics still stings us today:  “Mississippi Find Yourself Another Country To Be Part Of.”

 The unrelenting violent attacks against Black communities and children as young as the four, 14-year old Black girls blown to bits in the September, 1963, Sunday-school bombing at Birmingham, Alabama’s 16th Street Baptist church, coupled with the assassination of Civil Rights leader Medgar Evers in the driveway of his home in Jackson, Mississippi, pushed many performers—like Ochs and Nina Simone—to sharpen their music into tools for justice and Civil Rights.

Simone, an international sensation across several musical genres, born into a poor, North Carolina Black family, told PBS that her historic protest song “Mississippi, Goddamn,” simply “erupted” out of her in under an hour, in 1964.  Her lyrics quickly became a Civil Rights anthem, and many Southern States banned her and her music:

“Alabama’s gotten me so upset

Tennessee made me lose my rest

And Everybody knows about Mississippi, Goddamn.”

Simone told the Black Journal, “an artist’s duty is to reflect the times.  That to me is my duty.  And, at this crucial time in our lives, when everything is so desperate—when everyday is a matter of survival—I don’t think you can help but be involved.”

While Nina Simone came right at racists with everything she had, Ochs switched the narrative on the KKK, White Supremacists, and public officials who claimed that America could only be great as a White man’s country

 In fact, in Mississippi’s Secession Document of 1861, when it joined the Confederacy and declared war upon the United States Government, its’ governing beliefs were stated clearly: “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery—the greatest material interest of the world.”  The Mississippi of the 1960’s, it seemed, was still stuck in a 100 year old time warp.

Among the fiercest fighters to save the Union, after their emancipation in 1863, were freed Black slaves.   They believed, with a religious fervor, that “all men were created equal,” and battled brilliantly to protect their right to live free in America, where their families were born, and their ancestors buried.  That was the kind of country they wanted.

So, Ochs expertly flipped the story, and sang about expelling the White Supremacists, whose acts of hate and racial murder were crimes against the US, and humanity.   The illegal, bloody, armed insurrection against the United States Government was crushed—at the cost of Americans killing Americans by the hundreds of thousands– and the Confederacy’s dream of an all-White country with an enslaved Black population was dumped on history’s trash heap.

The leaders of the first failed coup to overturn democracy in the US were only saved from execution for treason by blanket pardons granted by the Tennessee Segregationist Andrew Johnson.   Now, 100 years later, Phil Ochs was offering an alternative to the White Supremacists: You want to secede?  Go!  We want you out of this Democracy, which you tried to destroy.

Earlier this month, in March, 2023, multiple national news outlets reported the beheading and dismembering of Rasheem Carter, a 20-year old Black man in Mississippi, who went missing last year. When his brutalized body was found, the local Sheriff’s Department said that “no foul play” was involved in Carter’s death—sounding as callous about Black lives as Mississippi public officials of 60 years ago. If Phil Ochs, or Nina Simone, were writing their songs of outrage today, their words would spare no one.  This adaptation of “Here’s to the State of Mississippi,” has meaning well beyond one State’s borders:

Here’s to the state of racist child killers,

For underneath their faces, the devil draws no lines,

If you drag their muddy mem’ries, nameless bodies you will find.

Whoa, the corridors of power have hid a thousand crimes,

The calendar is lyin’ if it reads the present time.

Whoa, here’s to the land you’ve torn out the heart of,

White Supremacists find another country to be part of.

And here’s to the mouthpieces of racist child killers,

Who say that folks with conscience, they just don’t understand,

As they tremble in the shadow of MAGA Nazis and the Klan.

The sweating of their souls can’t wash the blood from off their hands,

They smile and shrug their shoulders at the dying of a child;

Oh, here’s to the land you’ve torn out the heart of,

White Supremacists find another country to be part of.

And here’s to the homes of racist child killers

Where they’re teaching all their children that they don’t have to care.

All the rudiments of hatred are present everywhere,

And every single family is a factory of despair;

There’s nobody learning such a foreign word as fair.

Oh, here’s to the land you’ve torn out the heart of,

White Supremacists find another country to be part of.

And here’s to the Christian schools grooming Black child killers;

Their books don’t mention slavery, or race, or crimes of hate.

To rule the pure White world, was their Jesus-given fate.

The massacres of Wilmington and Greenwood, never did take place;

How could they if there’s no such thing as crimes against a race?

Oh, here’s to the land you’ve torn out the heart of,

White Supremacists find another country to be part of.

And here’s to the apologists of all these racist killers;

Who cover up their hearts as they crawl into the courts,

They’re guarding all the bastions of their phony legal forts;

Oh, justice is a stranger if it’s non-whites who report,

When the Black man is accused, the trial is always short.

Oh, here’s to the land you’ve torn out the heart of,

Mississippi, Goddamn, find another country to be part of.

And here’s to bogus governments of racist killers;

In the swamp that they created, they’re always bogging down,

And criminals are smirking as they hold Black babies down;

And they hope that no one sees the sights, and no one hears the sounds,

And the speeches of their leaders are the rants of evil clowns.

Oh, here’s to the land you’ve torn out the heart of,

White Supremacists find another country to be part of.

Jack Smith & The Blacksmiths.

Special Counsel Jack Smith, and the prosecutorial blacksmiths–Alvin Bragg, Tish James, and FaniWillis, have forged an evidentiary chain of steel around Donald Trump…and he knows it. Which is why hes using his tested trope of squealing racism so loudly. He knows hes facing jail.)

Jack Smith & the Blacksmiths

Are driving Trump beserk.

An Irish cop and 3 Black prosecutors,

Hammering handcuffs for the Jerk.

Alvin Bragg, Tish James,

Fani Get Your Gun;

Trump is a goner,

Lifelong crime spree, DONE.

Hush Money for Stormy,

Tax & Insurance fraud galore;

Georgia’s got the tapes on Don,

Begging for 11, 800 “Voates”, or more.

Jack Smith & the Blacksmiths,

Zeroing in on January Sixth,

Conspiracy, Sedition & the sins of Iago,

Flushing top secrets down the bowels of Mar-A-Lago.

Jack Smith, Blacksmiths, forging chains of steel;

Justice grinding the grifter under its relentless wheel.

Lies stacked on lies, abuse on abuse;

No place to hide, no whining Trump excuse.

Witnesses, evidence, indictments all to come;

Pay no attention to his hysterical screaming–

Convict and incarcerate

The flatulent, racist bum.

Jack Smith & the Blacksmiths,

Building an airtight, iron cell;

For his crimes against Democracy,

Let Trump burn in Dante’s darkest circle of hell.

Dread Scott Adams Shoots Himself.

(A 4chan image of a hateful, White Supremacist version of Scott Adams’ “Dilbert.”)

Dread Scott Adams

Took a gun,

To give his career a shot,

Plus forty-one.

And when Dread Scott

Felt Dilbert wasn’t red, white and true–

He gave his creation,


“White Power,” said he,

“Give me a Q.”

That’s too Queer!

Will 4chan Nazis do?

Always separate, NEVER Equal,

Dread Scott said.

Mixing colors?

“You outta your head?”

“Right, so right,”

Elon Musk cheered.

“I know Apartheid

And you’ve got it here!”

“Black people are a hate group,”

Dread Scott Adams said,

Forgetting who kept whom in chains,

And whipped and hung them dead.

But he’d been fact-phobic before,

This cartoon of a troll;

Like when he questioned if 6 million,

Was the true Holocaust death toll.

A hypnotist by hobby,

A COVID cure-kook by dark;

Dread Scott Adams made millions off

His culture war of snark.

“It’s OK to be hateful,”

Dread Scott Adams said, certain he was right.

“And, I’m Trumpy-enough to believe,

“It’s OK to be brain-dead blight.”

So, Dread Scott Adams ran away,

From cities much too dark,

To “get the hell away from Blacks,”

And, sharpen his biased bark.

He found a pleasant little town,

A thousand miles from home,

Where Blacks were no where to be found,

And Whites were free to roam.

Yet, Dread Scott Adams

Could not flee the demons in his mind,

To kill them he entranced himself,

And made his vision, blind.

When Harry Met Jimmy…

((President Jimmy Carter convenes the opening meeting of the first Presidential Commission on Hunger in 1978. Harry Chapin, who persuaded Carter to create the first—and only—Hunger Commission of it’s kind in US History, is the bushy haired guy pictured in the top right of the photo. Bess Myerson, former NYC Commissioner of Cultural Affairs, who never attended another meeting, is seated in the white jacket, in the center of the photo.)

As former President Jimmy Carter has been quietly been teaching all of us a daily  lesson on the dignity of dying after living a deeply purposeful and humanitarian life, many of us have been reexamining our own lives.

I was never a Carter fan.  I thought he was too conservative; too much of an incrementalist; not the kind of tough, crusading advocate for justice, human rights and the law that many of us Democratic activists craved, following the terrible and corrupt times of Richard Nixon, Spiro Agnew and Watergate.   Foreshadowing Elizabeth Warren by some 40 years, we wanted fundamental change. 

Post-presidency, Carter would grow into a towering international human rights leader, and as a Jew uncomfortable with Israel’s lurch into right-wing fundamentalism, I applauded his early and courageous conclusion that the Israeli government’s deprivation of equal rights for Arab-born Israelis and Palestinians, amounted to Apartheid. Other Jews condemned Carter for his candor.

But, back in 1974, Democrats, across the country swept into near veto-proof power in Congress in the mid-term elections, adding 49 new seats in the House, giving them a commanding 291-seat majority; in the Senate, Democrats picked up 4 seats, producing a filibuster-proof majority of 61.  With the rise of progressivism in Congress , we did not want a milquetoast candidate for President in 1976, even if the candidate were a Washington outsider with a winning smile who promised he’d never lie to us.

Many of us in the progressive wing of the Democratic Party wanted a tough champion like Senator Fred Harris of Oklahoma, or Rep. Mo Udall from Arizona to lead the Democratic National ticket in 1976.   We wanted a presidential candidate who would represent the growing sense of urgency among our rank-and-file to bring about sweeping change.  To us, Jimmy Carter was just far too cautious.

We weren’t alone.  Even singer/songwriter Harry Chapin, who persuaded Jimmy Carter to create the nation’s first and only Hunger Commission and served on that unique Commission from 1978-1980, had his doubts.   Chapin was a delegate to the 1976 Democratic National Convention for the fiery liberal and environmental advocate Rep. Mo Udall, who advocated breaking up Big Oil and enacting National Health Insurance. Udall finished second to Jimmy Carter in six presidential primaries.

Just this week, I uncovered notes from an interview I did five years ago with a leading social activist of our time Bill Ayers, a former Catholic priest in the great social justice tradition of Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, and the Berrigans.  Ayers, a NYC-area radio DJ and an authentic “radical priest”, co-founded World Hunger Year (WHY) with Harry Chapin in 1975.   It was the team of Bill Ayres, Harry and Sandy Chapin and former Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, which brought the idea of creating the very first US Hunger Commission to newly-elected President Carter.

Harry Chapin’s family—with ancestors like his grandfather Kenneth Burke, the literary giant and semanticist, and his great-aunt Dorothy Day, who founded the Catholic Workers movement, was far more radical on social issues than many fans of his music, and more of an ardent advocate for change than Jimmy Carter.  He was determined to “do something” with his life, and eager to use his celebrity to alleviate hunger and suffering.

In an April, 2018, interview with Bill Ayres, Harry’s hunger-fighting partner told me that:
            “ What he didn’t like about Carter for one thing, was that he stacked the Pres. Hunger Commission with a whole bunch of people who were not the people who were going to solve hunger.  But, the people that were on from the Congress were people we knew—Leahy, being the primary one, Rick Nolan (from Minnesota), the other Dem; Ben Gilman, the Republican, and Bob Dole.  Dole grew up in Kansas during the Great Depression, when farmers were losing their farms.  We (WHY Hunger) honored him and Senator George McGovern one night.  He told me that “my Republican friends have never forgiven me for allowing food stamps to be free.”

Among the Commission members for whom Chapin had little patience was it’s Chair, former Xerox Corporation Chairman Sol Linowitz who, Harry believed, was watering down this historic Hunger Commission’s final report and only paying “lip service” to the underlying causes of hunger.  Chapin and two other progressive members of the Commission—Senator Leahy and Rep. Nolan—were frequent dissenters on key sections of the Presidential Hunger Commission Report.

In one notable dissent of the report, published 43 years ago next month, Harry and his two colleagues protested:
            “The most glaring issue not addressed is the most important—the interrelationships between our economic and governmental policies and hunger…”
                                    “ The magnitude and entrenched nature of the hunger problem demand that an intensified program of action be undertaken now, not tomorrow, or 5 years from now.  Only through expeditious action emanating from the highest levels of policymaking can we hope to map out an integrated program identifying the near-term, intermediate and long-range components of a comprehensive strategy to alleviate hunger…Poverty, not hunger, constitutes the central strand in the web of underdevelopment.”

Many of the Commission’s corporate members were not willing to push the envelope that far, nor did they share Harry’s single-mindedness of purpose for immediate action.

  Bill Ayres described it this way:
  “Harry never missed a meeting. (Despite a crushing performance schedule).  I went to some of meetings with him.  I listened.  A whole bunch of people that Carter had chosen.  Some good, some not so good.  Bess Myerson never came. Congressional guys were good.”

By the summer of 1980, after the final Hunger Commission report was published and put on a shelf, and Jimmy Carter’s attempt to rescue the hostages in Iran failed, Chapin began to get disillusioned.  He saw Reagan as an uncaring & opportunistic charlatan, and Carter as a decent and well-meaning human being, but an ineffective public official.  Harry was passionate about federal action on poverty as essential to tackling world hunger, and became frustrated by the lack of urgency coming from others.

Bill Ayres summed it up well: 
             “Yes.  And part of that was– let’s go to Washington and shake the tree!  So the presidential hunger commission was a real breakthrough.  Nobody had done that before.   Again, that was Sandy’s idea.  And it was a Presidential Commission on WORLD Hunger, so it was not Domestic Hunger so much.  The Commission’s work went from1978-1980, when they finished their work and put out a document.  The document didn’t go anyplace because Reagan got elected.
“  Harry and I watched the 1980 election results together and we cried, and I said, “Shit.  3 years down the drain.”  But he didn’t see it that way.  He said, “Nope.  We got to get back again and fight the bastards some more!” He wasn’t giving up.”

Harry Chapin never did give up; nor did Bill Ayres, the Chapin family, WHY Hunger, or any of the Harry Chapin Food Banks around the country.  Some 45 years after the creation of the only Presidential Hunger Commission in US history, and nearly five decades after the creation of WHY Hunger, the work of fighting hunger, poverty and powerlessness envisioned by Harry and Sandy Chapin and Bill Ayres continues, assisting thousands of families struggling to survive, and increasing food security for millions more.  

Carter and Chapin came from dramatically different families, cultures and backgrounds, with sharply different personalities and approaches to social and political change.  Yet, their lives’ work and legacies are linked:  through the Chapins’ reducing food insecurity and empowering the hungry, and, through Jimmy Carter’s “Habitat for Humanity,” provided housing security for many of this country’s most vulnerable. 

Harry and Jimmy: a powerful, and unlikely, ticket for long-term, structural change.