After convention, Barry paints a vision in Green
Wednesday, 01 August 2012 10:53

CCBC prof touts alternative to major parties

by John G. Bailey

    With the airwaves quickly filling up with dueling Democratic and Republican ads, as happens every four years, the absence of alternative voices offering a range of ideas beyond Choice One or Choice Two can be discouraging.
    Retired CCBC Dundalk professor Bill Barry and the Green Party have a different vision with possibilities rarely heard by candidates of the major parties.

    Barry ran unsuccessfully for  Baltimore City council in  2011 as a Green Party candidate [see Eagle, Oct. 26, 2011.] He attended (but was not a delegate to) the Green Party’s 2012 national convention, held in Baltimore last month,  which nominated Jill Stein of Massachusetts as its presidential candidate and Cheri Honkala as her running mate.
    A resident of northeast Baltimore, Barry has strong ties with the greater Dundalk area from his 15 years as a full time labor studies teacher at the Community College of Baltimore County from 1997 until his retirement from the full-time faculty this year. He  continues to teach as an adjunct faculty member.
    He also taught labor-related courses for several years at the career development center at the Sparrows Point steel complex.  
    Barry describes seeing the decline in good-paying manufacturing jobs and the concomitant rise of low-paying, service sector jobs, the deepening social divisions within the community, the crumbling infrastructure and inadequate schools while billions get diverted to overseas war that he says benefit no one — and he says he gets angry.
    “My wife says that I could be Howard Beale in [the movie] Network screaming, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it anymore!”
    The site of a man at a traffic light with a sign reading “Homeless Veteran” epitomized for Barry all the problems and neglect that characterize the community. “There’s no excuse for that.”
    The Dundalk area does not suffer these afflictions alone. “Dundalk is a microcosm for the nation,” says Barry.
    He identifies a deep and pervasive sense of powerlessness among area residents, which manifests itself in a general resignation and acceptance of the status quo as the chief obstacle to real change for the better.
    “People are living in a gated community of the mind. They are conditioned to lower their expectations. A social change is needed, a willingness to expect and demand more. People should feel entitled.”
    “The problem is that the normal solutions, like loyally returning Democrats to office, is not working, and people are not aware of an alternative. This is where the Green Party gets involved.”
    “The Democratic Party doesn’t do anything for the working people,” he claims. The local dynasties made up of elected incumbents that effectively lock out alternative ideas with lifelong tenures; the “O’Malley-mandering” of electoral districts that diffuses local power; the high bar that prevents third parties from getting on the ballot — these are all characteristics of one-party dominance, Democrat or Republican, in any state, according to Barry. 
    A popular sense of resignation and entrenched power help explain why the Green Party has not yet fielded a candidate in the 6th Legislative District.
    “Thinking Green is not enough,” Barry says. “There’s no substitute for going door-to-door talking to people, changing people’s minds.”
    But running for office  is a tremendous effort that requires a lot of people. In his run for council seat, Barry learned the importance of dedicated staff and volunteers.
    Barry describes a Green Party motivated by vision — the sum of possibilities for change, unfettered by conventional assumptions about the way things are. Political vision often embraces unfashionable ideas.
    For Greens, robust government spending on the public good is no sin. Funding for universal healthcare and affordable education should be seen as investments, not expenses. There are real, long term costs to not allocating resources for basic needs.  
    The dismal prospects for steel at Sparrows Point were not inevitable consequences of world forces beyond Americans’ control, he says.
    “The U.S. is the only major economic power that does not have a manufacturing policy,” Barry notes, something that would limit steel imports and ensure self-reliance.
    This has fostered a bottom-line mentality and a series of owners at Sparrows Point motivated by what Barry calls “strip-and-flip” strategies, which have left  retirees without pensions. He also  blames former owners’ failure to invest in innovations for the industry’s current woes.
    According to Barry, low-wage, insecure jobs don’t have to characterize low-skill work in the growing service sector.  As a labor historian, Barry says that the manufacturing jobs of yesteryear, now sought after in nostalgia, were once the fast-food and Wal-Mart jobs of their time before the acceptance of collective bargaining. “Unionization is the key,” he opines.
    But his support for all things union is hardly unconditional. He blames the declines in organized labor over the past generation in part on a union leadership that “prefers to go along to get along with the Democratic Party while unionism is being eradicated.”
    Barry’s retirement from full-time teaching will allow him to focus on the opening of a labor history museum in Dundalk, a longtime goal. During his long association with employees at Sparrows Point, he has accumulated 140 hours of taped interviews with steelworkers, and a list of people he has yet to talk with. He also has two rooms full of displays. He is currently in the process of establishing the future museum as a non-profit entity.      
    Volunteer help is needed. Those interested in assisting in the creation of a labor history museum can contact Barry at bbarry@ccbcmd.edu.
Editor’s note:  Local resident Leo Dymowski is running for the 2nd District U.S. House of Representatives seat as the Libertarian Party nominee. The Libertarians and the Greens, along with the Constitution Party, are mounting a petition drive to have their candidates included on the November general election ballot. (See Talk of the Town, page 2).