Solomon dedicated to political activism, progressive values
Originally published by the Marin Independent Journal on Monday May 7
By Richard Halstead - Marin Independent Journal
About 25 years ago, West Marin resident Norman Solomon obtained his FBI file by filing a Freedom of Information request.
Solomon, 60, discovered the FBI began keeping tabs on him in 1966 when he picketed for the desegregation of a Maryland apartment complex at age 14.
"I certainly saw the routine racism of the mid-1960s," said Solomon, noting that the apartment building was in a suburb that was only a half-hour drive from the White House. "At a human level, it began to tear at me. That brought me to the picket line that was my first of many."
Solomon, who has dedicated his life to political activism — opposing war, nuclear proliferation, nuclear power plants and environmental degradation — is one of a dozen candidates competing in the June 5 primary for the new 2nd District congressional seat.
Solomon grew up in the suburbs outside of Washington D.C. His parents, who were raised in poverty during the 1930s in Brooklyn, entered the middle class as mid-level civil servants. Both worked as economists employed by the federal government.
Solomon said his parents were "Adlai Stevenson liberals. The American Civil Liberties Union newsletter was on the coffee table." His mother, the more politically active of the two, participated in the League of Women Voters and walked precincts for the Democratic Party.
"I guess that was role model for me," he said.
Solomon attended Reed College in Portland, Ore. in 1970 but only for about a month.
"The Vietnam War was raging," Solomon said. "I found political activity much more compelling than sitting in the classroom. I went to just a lot of anti-war demonstrations in the late '60s and early '70s."
His parents were not enthusiastic.
"My parents thought I should be a lawyer," Solomon said. "They thought I should be defending other people not going pro se, which is what I did; I represented myself."
In 1972 when he and other protesters tried to blockade the Republican National Convention in Miami Beach, Solomon was Maced and sent to jail for four days.
"I studied nonviolence and practiced it," Solomon said. "We were inspired by the civil rights movement and brought that to the anti-war and anti-nuclear movement."
In the late 1970s, Solomon was sent to jail again, this time for 40 days, for repeatedly protesting for the closure of the Trojan Nuclear Plant, near Rainier, Ore., and mounting a nonviolent blockade of a train carrying nuclear warheads to Bangor, Wash.
"I learned a lot inside jail," Solomon said. "It looks different from in there."
During the 1970s, Solomon also began doing freelance reporting for the Pacific News Service and became an associate of the Center for Investigative Reporting in Berkeley. Articles Solomon wrote for The Progressive and The Nation, chronicling the exposure of members of the U.S. military to radiation during bomb tests, led to the writing of the first of his 12 books. In partnership with Harvey Wasserman, Solomon wrote "Killing Our Own: The Disaster of America's Experience with Atomic Radiation."
After Ronald Reagan's election as president in the 1980s, Solomon and Anthony Guarisco, founder of the International Alliance of Atomic Veterans, traveled to Moscow where they organized a sit-in at the U.S. Embassy calling for the U.S. to join the Soviet Union in a halt to tests of nuclear bombs.
"I've worked extensively with veterans who were exposed to nuclear weapons tests," Solomon said. "They have the most clear-eyed understanding of what nuclear weapons mean for humanity."
Also during the 1980s, Solomon helped Jeff Cohen found the media watchdog group Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting. In 1992, Solomon and Cohen began writing a syndicated column on media and politics. Cohen bowed out after about six years, but Solomon continued writing the column until 2009.
Solomon's other books include: "War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death," "The Habits of Highly Deceptive Media" and "War Made Easy."
In 1997, Solomon founded the Institute for Public Accuracy, a liberal think tank whose objective is to help progressive thinkers gain more currency in the mainstream media. Solomon served as the institute's executive director until last year when he launched his congressional campaign.
"In a sense, I ran a small business for 13 years," Solomon said. "Our budget reached almost half a million dollars a year. We had four employees. We had the usual challenges and headaches of a small enterprise. I learned a lot in that process."
As director of the institute, Solomon for the first time in his life earned a middle class income.
"For the first half or so of my adult life, I lived very close to the poverty line," Solomon said. "I wanted to write and speak and organize. That was my priority. Earning money was not a priority."
Solomon published "Target Iraq: What the News Media Didn't Tell You," prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 and made three trips to Iraq, one accompanied by actor Sean Penn, in an effort to head off the war. Solomon said that as the drum beat for war in Iraq grew louder, many liberal Democrats failed to speak out, just as they did initially during the Vietnam War.
Solomon said, "I understand the truth of the AIDS activist slogan that was adopted in the late 1980s: silence equals death."
If elected to Congress, Solomon said his first priority would be to boost public investment in green jobs, education, housing, infrastructure, health care, public transportation, environmental protection and retirement security while cutting military spending, imposing a transaction tax on Wall Street, plugging tax loopholes for corporations and ending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy.
Contact Richard Halstead via e-mail at email@example.com