, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A Gatling-type gun: “M61A1 20mm Vulcan Cannon at the National Museum of the United States Air Force“. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail (August 1963) warning about the dangers of “white moderates” fits Bernie Sanders’ hypocrisy over militarism and the military industrial complex, which he pretends to oppose. When peace activists took action against Burlington’s Gatling Gun factory, not only did Mayor Bernie not support them, he oversaw their arrest. This included an Assistant Treasurer-accountant in his office named Barr Swennerfelt, who was one of the only women in his administration, and who he apparently fired. When questioned about his inconsistency, Bernie said there’s no administration who talks about peace more than his. [1]

Martin Luther Kings Letter from a Birmingham Jail addressed gradualism espoused by “white moderates” vs the need for civil disobedience. Its ideas are easily applied to Bernie Sander’s argument that the Gatling Gun factory was a US Congressional issue (gradualism of white moderates) vs peace activists who practiced civil disobedience, because they felt that massacres of civilians in El Salvador by these horrendous weapons, meant that stopping the gun factory couldn’t wait: “The letter responded to several criticisms made by the “A Call for Unity” clergymen, who agreed that social injustices existed but argued that the battle against racial segregation should be fought solely in the courts, not the streets… Against the clergymen’s assertion that demonstrations could be illegal, King argued that not only was civil disobedience justified in the face of unjust laws, but it was necessary and even patriotic: ‘The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws…” [2]

A Sanders campaign surrogate has tried to spin Dr. King’s letter to make Sanders look good, when in fact it does the opposite. There is a stunning resemblance between Bernie Sanders and the behavior that King criticized. Dr. King said: “First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is… the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action”… who lives by the myth of time; and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.“[3]

Murray Bookchin (1986) observed:
not a single member of Sanders’ kitchen cabinet appeared at this nationally famous trial, which placed American foreign policy on indictment. The occupation was organized entirely by peace activists, many of whom are bitterly hostile to the mayor because he has obdurately opposed their modest actions against the GE Gatling (“Vulcan”) gun plant in Burlington, even to the point of opposing their efforts to reconvert it to peacetime uses. It remains ironical, in fact, that one of the occupations’s main organizers, city accountant Barr Swennerfelt, was fired by Sanders because of her actions and arrests around the Gatling-gun plant.” [4]

Martin Luther King’s warnings about white moderates and gradualism very much describe Bernie Sanders. Bernie criticized, oversaw the arrest of, and by some accounts fired his assistant treasurerer who was protesting the insanely murderous Gatling guns being made at the Burlington GE factory, which were used to massacre peasants in El Salvador. His treasurer, a Quaker, felt that the Salvadorean people being massacred by these fearsome weapons couldn’t wait, just like Dr. King felt that African Americans couldn’t wait on integration.

Bernie said that he wasn’t going to make workers lose their jobs. But, it wasn’t just the workers. GE paid a lot of property tax to Burlington. And, Mayor Bernie was suddenly well off for the time and place, and for the first time in his life. He wasn’t about to let go of that, it seems, over a question of ethics. He made a little over $30,000 as Mayor of tiny Burlington, which had a population of a little over 30,000 people. His salary in today’s dollars would be approximately $100,000. Bernie is just a politician, but worse than that – he has constantly portrayed himself and been portrayed as something he is not. The same argument can be made about his record on gun safety. Furthermore, it remains incomprehensible that he seems to have supported Castro, Ortega, visited the USSR, criticized US foreign policy, all while supporting the weapons factory, and the more recent basing of F-35 bombers in Vermont (which can carry nuclear weapons).

Murray Bookchin (1986) wrote regarding Mayor Bernie Sanders, who was already middle-aged, in his 40s: “To dwell heavily on his well-known paranoia and suspicious reclusiveness beclouds the more important fact that he is a centralist, who is more committed to accumulating power in the mayor’s office than giving it to the people.” He points to Bernie’s “commitment to thirties’ belief in technological progress, businesslike efficiency, and a naive adherence to the benefits of “growth.” The logic of all these ideas is that democratic practice is seen as secondary to a full belly, the earthy proletariat tends to be eulogized over the “effete” intellectuals, and environmental, feminist, and communitarian issues are regarded as “petit-bourgeois” frivolities by comparison with the material needs of “working people.” [5]

Importantly, Bookchin also notes: “Sanders’ denunciations of American foreign policy, which seem to escalate whenever he runs for public office, can barely be regarded as more fiery than those of any liberal Democrat. These “national” statements by a local official tend to lose their credibility when Sanders refuses to call for shutting down or even phasing out nuclear power plants nationally, with the excuse that he is running for statewide, not national, office. Sanders’ Johnny-come-lately demand that Vermont’s Vernon reactor should be “phased out” in three years — this, after a militant movement (the Green Mountain Alliance) emerged following the Chernobyl meltdown demanding its immediate shutdown — seems less believable than ever.” [4] Currently, Bernie Sanders is not calling for shutting down US nuclear power stations, only to stop relicensing, but they’ve all been relicensed or shut down.

A reporter pointed out to Bernie Sanders: “Since the former assistant city Treasurer [Barr Swennerfelt] got out of jail, she’s expressed some sense of, having had time, I guess a lot of time to reflect about things, that there may have been a contradiction on your part, as someone, as she said who talks a lot about peace and justice and yet not supporting someone who acts on it.” His response was essentially that no one talks about peace more than he does. [1]

Bernie went to Nicaragua to meet up with Ortega. In stark contrast, the late Bishop Hicks went on a church fact-finding mission in El Salvador, where he met with frightened peasants who had taken refuge in the grounds of Archbiship Romero’s former office and where the military shot randomly from helicopters into the trees where the refugeed-peasants were hiding. [6] Were these machine guns made in Burlington?

Much more recently, the Gatlin gun factory moved from Burlington to another Vermont town.
[1] See one minute to the end: https://www.cctv.org/watch-tv/programs/sanders-press-conference-street-repaving-and-barr-swennerfelt-leaving-treasurers-o
[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Letter_from_Birmingham_Jail
[3] “Letter from Birmingham Jail” by Martin Luther King, Jr., August 1963
[4] Murray Bookchin, “Response” (1986)
Socialist Review 90 (November-December 1986), pp. 56-69
[5] Murray Bookchin, “The Bernie Sanders Paradox: When Socialism Grows Old”
Socialist Review 90 (November-December 1986), pp. 62-66 https://archive.li/yVAtA
[6] Bishop Kenneth Hicks June 24,2012 -“Where is Something That Won’t Let Go, and How Do I Find It?”. https://vimeo.com/44710670