otto's war room banner

otto's war room banner

I was a stringer for the People's Daily World

This is a short story and an excerpt from My Otto Biography which is the name of my autobiography, which is still a work in progress:

By SJ Otto

By the mid 1980s I had a journalism degree and I had landed a newspaper job inOsceola, MO at The St. Clair Courier, a county newspaper covering St. Clair County, MO.[1] It was a very small newspaper. When I first moved there a young man told me I was "starting out at the bottom...the VERY bottom." I agreed and at the time I really didn't care. About a year and a half later I changed jobs and worked for The  Clinton Daily Democrat.[2] It was a bigger newspaper in a bigger Missouri town. It was really a very nice job and at times I whish I still had it. But then things change and I had to move on.
When I was in high school there was an underground hippie oriented newspaper called The Wichita Free Press (KS). I also had read a lot of underground comics, such as Yellow Dog and Zap. So being in an underground publication really appealed to me. I was beginning to write cartoons at that time. We had a local publication we made for our high school called Jotto, a combination of my name and a guy named Jones and I sometimes had cartoons in it. But that wasn't a real publication, because it wasn't even mass produced. My politics at the time were more Yippie or anarchist. Then while attending Friends University (in WichitaKS), I got a cartoon published in the university's fiction journal Nestor's Pocket Companion.[3] That was my first real published cartoon. The publication was primitive and did not have much following outside of the college. Then I attended Kansas University and while I was there I wrote an actual cartoon and article that I got published in a local left-wing underground newspaper, The Public Notice(LawrenceKS).[4] That paper lasted about two years. At about the same time I published a cartoon in the Kaw Valley Comment, a radical leftist newspaper that only lasted one issue.  
By the 1970s I was becoming more political and less of a hippie. It was during my employment at The Clinton Daily Democrat that I started writing for The People's Daily World. By then I had a firm grasp of left-wing politics. I was really more of a Maoist and had little interest in supporting the Soviet Union. The newspaper was actually intended as a publication for the Communist Party USA. I was never a member of that party. I was aware of the many "new communist" parties of the 1960s and 1970s. There was the Communist Workers Party; the Communist Party (Marxist–Leninist), a US party recognized by China; there was the  Progressive Labor Party; and the Revolutionary Communist Party. By the time I stared writing for the PDW, all of those parties were gone except the Revolutionary Communist Party. 
I had been trying to write for the Progressive, Mother Jones and other left-oriented publications. It was hard to break into those markets. I could have tried for the Revolutionary Communist Party's paper Revolutionary Worker, but they didn't seem to have a format that went well with the type of articles I was trying to submit.
So I ended up writing for the PDW and it was a very prestigious paper.
While I never got paid for writing for the PDW. But it did give me some exposure as a writer and I was getting published in a well known leftwing publication. After all this was a publication read by people in the Soviet Union's leadership and Timemagazine's reporters. So I found a certain notoriety from writing there. The CPUSA was the only communist paper that Time magazine and other bourgeois publications ever mentioned. They always referred to that party as "The Communist Party" as if there had never been any others. And while the publication did not have a large readership compared to Mother Jones and such others, it was read from coast to coast in the US. The paper was originally called the Daily Worker. That was way before my time. And if we consider that the other papers (the People's Daily Worldand the People's Weekly World) were merely the continuance of the Daily Worker, I have written along side the likes of  Robert Minor and Fred Ellis(cartoonists), Lester Rodney (sports editor), David KarrRichard WrightJohn L. SpivakPeter FryerWoody Guthrie and Louis Budenz, according to Wikipedia.[5] I had heard from a friend that the paper was available to people in the Soviet Union and was one of the few US publications that was.
Until the fall of the Soviet Union I went by the pen name Mark Milhouse. Milhouse was Richard Nixon's middle name and I guess I saw the name as a parody. After the fall of the Soviet Union I no longer saw any reason to keep using the pen name and reverted to my own name. By the end of the Cold War the paper went weekly and changed its name to the People's Weekly World.
One thing I liked to write about were the various activities I was involved in with local peace activists. One of the first articles I wrote for PDW was a peace march from Noster Park to Whiteman Air Force Base, in Missouri, in April of 1986;

"Peace activists, most of them members of religious organizations from Missouriand Kansas, met in WarrensburgMissouri, from April 3-5, for a Faith and Resistance Retreat.
On Sunday afternoon, many of the activists participated in civil disobedience, crossing over onto Whiteman Air Force Base."[6]

As the article went on to say that 76 peace activists had been arrested for trespassing on the base, which housed nuclear weapons. At that time, and to some extent today, there are underground missile silos all around Clinton, MO. They are all surrounded by chain-link fences with barbed-wire along the top. At that time Faith and Resistance was a peace group that brought together political activists over the issues of a US arms build-up; US imperialist wars and related foreign policy; and world hunger. This article and many like it were used to get national attention for our actions, which were largely confined to the mid-west. I had contacts with several peace groups and members of Marxist parties in Kansas CityMO. That included members of the Socialist Workers Party and I had met one member of CPUSA from the Kansas side of Kansas City. I had a few friends there who were from the Socialist Party USA. There was a small group of people from the Communist Revolutionary Party living there, but I never met any of them.
Besides peace activities, I occasionally had an opportunity to cover other issues. For example:

"The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 576 is making a special effort to organize the workers of the Food-4-Less grocery store here. Last week they began a boycott of the store and set up informational picket lines. Workers from other union locals are donating time to picket in front of the store and encouraged people to shop elsewhere."[7]

This took place in May of 1986. When I first moved to ClintonMO, I had no idea I could find as many political things to write about as I eventually did. The town was not very conservative as its counter parts in Kansas. But that didn't mean they were very far to the left. Many of the workers living there were apathetic to politics. But that was better than far to the right as the workers I was used to dealing with inKansas. At least many were open minded to new ideas.


This cartoon was published in Nestor's Pocket Companion.[8]
To see this clearly click on it.



Part 2

I decided to do a review of some of the articles I did for the People's Daily World. I was surprised at how many interesting things happened that I could write about in a small rural part of Missouri.
One thing I was able to do was to expose the oppressive practices of my first boss, when I finally got my first job as a journalist, in the small town of Osceola, MO.[9] The paper I worked for included a chain of small town newspapers running all through the south west corner of Missouri. I have to admit that having this article printed about working abuse at a small town string of newspapers had little, if any, affect on anything. It was interesting to expose the abuses and the abuser. But there was little hope that anything would change after I submitted the article. Still, it gave me a sense that I had gotten a small piece of revenge.
As with the other people who worked at the St. Clair County Publishing Co., we all worked anywhere from 65 to 100 hours for either minimum wage or as in my case, a salary. The salary meant that I would not get any overtime pay even though I worked almost twice what a normal work week would encompass. The real problem was on production day, which started out on Monday and ended late into Tuesday night or even Wednesday morning. Those of us on the skeleton production crew worked straight with less than an hour or two at a time for a break in that whole 70 hour period. I worked as an actual reporter during the majority of the week. But the paper was laid out, along with photos and ads all in a 48 hour period.
Strangely enough, our boss was not doing anything illegal:

"I never got a raise after six months, even though I was promised one, "said Kathy Martin, a former proof reader. "I called the Better Business Bureau and the Hours and Wage Division, and they told me as long as overtime is paid there is nothing they could do."

The article I wrote was a general piece on various abusive jobs that people took in the small rural area because Missouri was in the midst of a recession. There was high unemployment, and that led to the rural people taking minimum wage jobs that were hazardous, such as a fireworks plant where employees were expected to drill directly into gun powder filled tubes.
I was often surprised that the People's Daily World allowed me to post articles that were mostly about a suffering population and the depression of the rural economy. I have to admit they allowed me to focus on my own the problems I saw as important. I posted another article about the rural economy, where local companies were laying people off. There was also a lot of graft, where a company, Schreiver Foods, had come into town, set up a factory using a generous supply of industrial revenue bonds, then left before the town could collect any taxes them. They abandoned workers and that led to religious leaders in the area questioning the morality of allowing companies to simply abandon their employees. A Ministerial Alliance took action, such as holding a candle light vigil.[10] And once again I was able to choose the subject I wanted to write about with no interference from the paper.  
At times I got to cover some very interesting political events in Kansas City, a major US city that is located about an hour and a half drive from ClintonMO, which was where I lived after I left the newspaper office in Osceola. On one such occasion I went to hear a representative of the African National Congress at the University of Missouri at Kansas City (UMKC).[11] Shuping Coapoge, an ANC Representative, talked of the need for the US to apply stronger sanctions and work for a total isolation of the apartheid government of South Africa. He was addressing mostly political activists and not US officials who could hardly show any interest in stopping the apartheid government. Those were the President Ronald Reagan years and for me and all left-wing political activists those were very difficult years. Reagan was possibly the worst president the US has ever had and yet he is still popular among many people who are or were old enough to have lived under him. Not only was he popular among the US right-wing, but a lot of politically obtuse adults liked his authoritarian leadership. As much as we hear about the American people's love of freedom, there is a very strong love of fascist like leadership by many of those same adults.
Other issues of the time included the Sandinista government which was widely supported by US political activists on the left while Reagan attempted to overthrow that government. This was an issue I was very interested in. I wrote an article on a group of people who put out a newspaper version of the Voice of Nicaragua Radio, translated into English.[12] Today Nicaraguan periodicals can be accessed on line, but in the 1980s, such first hand news accounts were hard to come by.
It was about 1992, that I took a trip to El Salvador and Nicaragua. The El Salvador trip was through a sister city program and Nicaragua was through Witness for Peace. It was a great trip and the first time I had gone to a third world country, other than Mexico.
When I cam back I wrote news articles for the People's Weekly World, which is what they called it by then. Also, I started using my real name.
While in El Salvador we went to the city of La Bermuda. The war was over and I was meeting with a lot of members of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN). A lot of them were planning on something similar to what happened inZimbabwe with the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) party having won an election and that party and its leader Robert Mugabe, ended up running the country. There were to be elections and the FMLN did take part, but they did win after I left. FMLN members had high hopes. Julio Hernández, of the FMLN Electoral Strategy Committee, told me of their plans to gain political power through elections. At the time he thought the FMLN needed to create a more inclusive party. He wanted to slow down all the efforts of parties to polarize.

"People have no desire for the same old political party," Hernández said. "It 's a very common opinion that all political parties are corrupt and that once in they only enrich themselves."[13] 

He warned that opposition politicians were already studying the FMLN leaders to see what it would cost to win them over or buy them off.
Years later much of that party has been accused of selling out. Even though the FMLN has won elections recently, and way later than they planned, many poor and working people don't really feel a lot has been won by working for the FMLN. The FMLN did win a lot of seats
On Sunday, March 15, 2009 an FMLN candidate, Mauricio Funes was elected President of El Salvador.
I had made agreements to try and keep in touch with some FMLN members, but that never panned out. unlike the internet today, it was hard to stay in tough with activist in El Salvador.

The FMLN and the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) are the two dominant political parties in El Salvador today. Since 2000, the FMLN has gone back and forth with ARENA in controlling the largest number of Legislative Assembly seats. The FMLN has controlled the mayor's offices in many of the large cities of El Salvador since 1997, including the capital, San Salvador, and the neighboring city Santa Tecla. The FMLN mayor of San Salvador, was Violeta Menijvar, the first female mayor of San Salvador, who was elected in a narrow victory in 2006. The FMLN mayor of Santa Tecla was Oscar Ortiz, who served in that position since 2000.
In the legislative elections, held on March 16, 2003, the FMLN won 34% of the popular vote and 31 out of 84 seats in the legislative Assembly of El Salvador, becoming the political party with the most assembly members. The FMLN's candidate in the March 21, 2004 presidential election Schafik Handal. won 35.6% of the vote, but was defeated by Antonio Saca of ARENA.
In March 12, 2006, the FMLN won 39.7% of the popular vote and 32 out of 84 legislative assembly seats. The FMLN also retained the mayor's seats in the largest cities of El SalvadorSan Salvador and Santa Telca and hundreds of other municipalities. Two months before the elections of 2009, however, the FMLN lost the mayoralty of San Salvador.
So what have the FMLN actually done for people in this last decade and a half? Not much. It seems they have not created the revolution many of us had hoped for during the 1980s. As with the Sandinistas today and much of the leadership in Latin America, they have played the role  of a social democratic party.

Part 3

Along with the People's Weekly World I also wrote an article for The Wichita Eagle,[14] on their travel page. The information I had seem good enough to them that I was able to put a large article together. I put a little about the politics in it, but I had to mostly focus on what it was like in El Salvador's peasant communities. I had written an article about developing solidarity ties with El Salvador. The article was called "Solidarity with El Salvador enters a new stage."[15] I wrote:

"This is an exciting time to go to El Salvador. The war seems over. I was told by most people I met that no one in that country wants to return to war. We now are in a new phase of solidarity work. Rather than focusing only on the military aspect, we can now directly aid popular organizations in Central America. By doing this we also strengthen ourselves."

It seemed like a good idea. And there still is a Committee In Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES) which works on that issue explicitly. But keeping in contact with people in the third world used to be real hard before the internet. It just wasn't practical. I never heard from the friends I made in El Salvador. So over time this idea just didn't work.
Today we have the internet and I can stay in touch with all kinds of political parties from all over the world. That wasn't possible until after about 2005, when I started to make use of the internet and learned what we could do with it. Today I am in contact with several Maoist and other left political parties from nearly every country in the world. There are some really good things about modern computer technology.
It was about 1991 that the abortion wars started to heat up in Wichita. The Anti-abortion crowd was made up of cult-like religious people. The way they talked everything was in "us vs. them" and it was the Christians vs. Satan. We were all considered Satanists. Most of us were atheists. But they considered all of us to be "dupes of Satan."
The anti (short for anti-abortionists) crowd, as we called them, wanted to make abortion completely illegal and they wanted to put Dr. George Tiller on trial and executed as a war criminal for performing abortions.
Dr. Tiller was shot twice. The first time he was wounded in his arms. So I wrote an article about that for the People's Weekly World:

"Pro-choice activists have perfected methods to protect the clinics and their patients. In response, anti-abortion activists, consisting mostly of rightwing fundamentalist Christians and some activists from the local Catholic Church, have focused on harassing doctors at their homes. Tactics have included picketing outside doctors' home, harassing family members at their jobs and sending letters to friends and family members of the doctors."[16]

And for the next 10 years, I was deeply involved in the defense of abortion. In 1991 the "Summer of Mercy" was staged in Wichita. I was living in the town of Hutchinson at the time. I couldn't really do anything in response to that. Also the local pro-choice groups had told their constituents not to come to that. They wanted everything to be controlled by local people and they wanted to let the police handle everything. That was a mistake.
Anti-abortion activist from all over the US came to take part in this action. The police were not well equipped or trained to deal with this kind of protests. These people decided they were going to shut down Wichita's three main abortion clinics and they did.  
After it was all over I came to Wichita to talk to Peggy Jarman, spokesperson for the Pro-Choice Action League.

"We have an anti-choice president, governor and mayor," she said. "Gov. Joan Finney spoke at an Operation Rescue rally, although she later said she does not condone breaking the law. And the Justice Department's brief support of the demonstrations has led many here be believe the Bush administration is not willing to see the laws enforced when the laws are not in Bush's political interests."[17]

It was shortly after that, that more vocal pro-choice groups began to show up inWichita. I covered a rally where about 6,000 to 10,000 people showed up at PriceWoodard Park in Wichita. The crowd carried signs that read "Abort Randall Terry (an anti-abortion activist and leader of Operation Rescue)," and "Catholics for choice."[18]
But shortly after I interviewed her, a new group formed calling itself Freedom of Choice Action League (FOCAL). This group was way more vocal and militant than the Pro-Choice Action League. FOCAL believed in getting in the antis people's face. They believed in vocally challenging them every time they showed up for an anti-abortion rally or when they showed up to our women's clinic on North Market Street in Wichita. We were hard on them and the Pro-Choice Action League did not approve of that. They preferred that their clinic defenders remain silent when they worked on the grounds. Despite being told to just ignore them, the anti side kept up a barrage of constant taunts. The antis did not like coming to the clinic guarded by FOCAL. At our clinic the taunts were returned and the antis hated coming their and taking the abuse.
One of my last articles was about a rally that the antis had that failed. They called for a "Lifeweek" of closing down the abortion clinics in Wichita. They wanted a rerun of the "Summer of Mercy." It fizzled and fewer than expected people came. While FOCAL couldn't really take all the credit, my article focused on FOCAL's role in stopping them and discouraging them.[19]   
One of the last articles I wrote was about right-wing Republican stealth candidates who used a lot of dirty tricks, mostly organizing and using churches, to take control of the Kansas Government. They succeeded.[20] They have been winning elections ever since. These activists were before the Tea Party. They were a little different also. They were mostly evangelicals who organized in certain churches in Wichita. They have been winning elections in Kansas since that time, although the Tea Party Republicans now dominate and they are slightly different.   
For several years I got real cheap bundles of the People's Weekly World and put them in Libraries. But one day I got caught and was told I had to go through some board (a form of censorship for our Wichita Public Libraries) to explain the news paper. I really didn't want to support a pro-soviet party, so I just gave up and quit. That was the whole idea behind the board and their policy—to keep people like me from putting such newspapers into the library.
Then about a year later I wanted to put in a May Day ad for my new book, War on Drugs /War on People.
I was told I couldn't do that because they had a lot of older Marxist who opposed challenging the war on drugs. So that was the last of my days as a stringer. I don't regret working for them, because it gave me an outlet for my writing. I never felt I had to agree with all the publications I work for. I often wrote for publications I didn't agree with.
Today we have Marxist and Maoist blogs more in tune with what I want to write about. Since computers I have my own Marxist blog where I can still write about the progressive things going on in town as well as things going on in the rest of the world.
Today the party behind the People's Weekly World, the Communist Party USA is a mere shell of its former self. The party goes clear back to the 1919 and was the main communist party for many years. But then came the split between the Soviet Union and China. Then there was the New Left movements from the 1960s and the new communist parties of the 1970s. Then came the fall of the Soviet Union and a factional split after that. Today the party mostly supports Democratic candidates for office. Their newspaper still covers Marxism, but as with most formerly pro-Soviet groups, they have lost a lot of ground. They paper is now on-line and called People's World.
So today I write mainly for my blog. It seems that Maoism has grown a lot in the last 10 years and it seems to be spreading today, while the formally pro-Soviet parties are still trying to find their own relevance.

The end.




[1] This was a small county in West Missouri, with a population of about 9,805. It was a weekly newspaper.
[2] This town was the country seat for Henry County and had a population of about 9,008. The paper was a small daily. It covered small town news exclusively
[3] Nestor's Pocket Companion. Illustrated, no 3, pp. 3-4.
[4] The Public Notice newspaper and leftovers from a file found in their abandoned office, https://lawrencekansas1970s.wordpress.com/public-notice/
[5] Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daily_Worker
[6] "76 peace activists arrested in Missouri," People's Daily World, (April 18), 1986, p. 3-D.
[7] Mark Milhouse, "Grocery workers fight for union,"People's Daily World, (May 14, 1986), P. 4-D.
[8] Nestor's Pocket Companion, Ibid.
[9] Mark Milhouse, "Missouri Farm Crisis hurting small towns," People's Daily World, (May 15, 1986).
[10] Mark Milhouse, "Plant closing will hurt rural town economy," People's Daily World, (January 7, 1987), p. 5-A.
[11] Mark Milhouse, "ANC leader: end policy of constructive engagement," People's Daily World, (April 1, 1987).
[12] Mark Milhouse, "Newsletter reports  on Nicaragua," People's Daily World, (September, 19, 1987).
[13] Steven Otto, "FMLN looks to coming electoral victories," People's Weekly World, (February 6, 1993),
[14] Steve Otto, "A visit to a sister city in El Salvador," Travel, The Wichita Eagle,(February 21, 1993), PP. 1D, 5D.
[15] Steve Otto, Solidrity with El Salvador enters a new stage," People's Weekly World, (July 3, 1993), p. 18.
[16] Steve Otto, "Shooting of doctors sparks defense of abortion rights," People's Weekly World, (September 11, 1993), p. 10.
[17] Steve Otto, "'Operation Rescue' galvanizes pro-choice forces," People's Weekly World, (August 24,1991) p. 4.
[18] Steve Otto, "Choice supporters rally, assail Operation Rescue," People's Weekly World, (August 31, 1991), p. 7.
[19] Steve Otto, "Anti-Choice forces soundly defeated," People's Weekly World, (August 15, 1992) p. 10.
[20] Steve Otto, "Right wing runs stealth candidates in Kansas," People's Weekly World, (November 5, 1994).

No comments: