Wednesday, December 28, 2011

As The Old Year Leaves...

In the year 2010 the careful construction of my life began being dismantled by exterior forces, board by board. The process was painful and disorienting. In the year 2011 I started building a new structure; simpler, more grounded on the earth and much closer to my heart. Now, in the year 2012, I plan to move in and truly make it my home.

I close with a transcendent poem that has always held special meaning for me. It seems particularly relevant now. Sara Teasdale lived from 1884-1933.

May you all keep learning and changing and have a magnificent and meaningful new year!

Leaves

ONE by one, like leaves from a tree,
All my faiths have forsaken me;
But the stars above my head
Burn in white and delicate red, 
And beneath my feet the earth
                           Brings the sturdy grass to birth.
                           I who was content to be
                           But a silken-singing tree,
                           But a rustle of delight
                           In the wistful heart of night--
                           I have lost the leaves that knew
                           Touch of rain and weight of dew.
                           Blinded by a leafy crown
                           I looked neither up nor down--
                           But the little leaves that die
                           Have left me room to see the sky;
                           Now for the first time I know
                           Stars above and earth below.

                             Sara Teasdale

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The People of Broken Glass

When I got into a graduate degree program at UC Berkeley in 1988, I found the proposition of attending a prestigious school quite frightening. I had actually written two of the three required recommendation letters myself. My Alma Mater, Ohio State University, was a totally adequate school but certainly didn't have the status and mystique of Cal Berkeley.

Mostly, I was afraid that the range of my experience growing up and being an adult (I was 37 when I got in to grad school) would not mix well with the pedigreed and polished lives of my classmates. UC Berkeley is a very difficult school to attend for folks who need to work for a living, due to the fact that all the major classes are during the day. Luckily, I was living with a supportive partner and able to take out a small loan, so with the financial aspects taken care of all that remained were the psychological ones.

Of course, once I was established at the school, I connected with others who came from backgrounds more similar to mine. We found each other immediately, with that unspoken radar that seems almost instictive.

And I also socialized with folks from very different backgrounds and perspectives. I remember eating lunch with a woman who had gone to an Ivy League school and was working on her second master's degree, preparing to go on for a doctorate. I thought about how I would love to spend my whole life in school and what it would actually cost to do that.

She was a very sweet person. In my experience, people who come from loving families where there needs are met on many levels usually are. They are like the folks in my workplace who tell me I complain too much. She was effusive, warm, fluffy and soft, a bit like sitting across from a gently purring, contented kitten.

My best friend at school, Shari, who I wound up calling "scary Shari" for reasons I won't go into, had a good luck, fend for yourself background more similar to my own. Sitting across the table from her was a bit like dining with a pile of shards of broken glass.

When I tell friends this analogy, they assume I am being negative and tremendously self-deprecating. To which I can respond, "I'm Jewish and working class and we tend to be like that." But I truly believe that most of the earth-moving, gut-wrenching, creative contributions to society are made from the outside, not from sleepy kittens, but from honest, damaged people of broken glass, the ones with the power to reflect back a brutally accurate image of society at every level. You only have to hold us up to the light for all things to become visible!

Happy, Merry and Peaceful whatever you celebrate, even if it's just a day off work!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Bradley Manning's Struggle

Bradley Manning, the Army private charged with leaking documents to Julian Assange for his web site Wiki Leaks, is in the process of pre-trial hearings to determine whether or not his case will proceed to court martial. If that happens the 24 year old could be sentenced to spend the rest of his life behind bars if those hearings determine he was a traitor releasing information that could compromise the US government.

But to many of us, both straight and gay, Manning along with Assange are heroes. They follow in the whistle-blower tradition of Daniel Ellsberg who has called Bradley Manning a patriot and Julian Assange a hero. 

The conditions under which Manning has been detained have been the subject of worldwide controversy. Extended solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, no access to exercise or any comfort items like pillows or sheets are just bullet points on the list of his inhumane, soul-destroying detention. In part, because of Manning, the world community is reconsidering defining solitary confinement as torture.

Now, Manning's future is on the line and one of the pillars of his defense involve his gay identity. This strategy is to paint him as an "emotionally troubled homosexual of the don't ask, don't tell era." Although much of the leftist media seems to be stumbling over this one, as an open lesbian, I don't find it at all contradictory or politically incorrect.

The truth of our lives as queer folk is that they are more difficult and challenging than the lives of heterosexuals from the gate. We face far greater obstacles when it comes to self-esteem, confidence and interaction in general, whether socially or at work. I am sure that for Manning to reconcile the fact of his otherness in an openly hostile environment like the military, was a soul-wrenching and complicated endeavor. Oppression damages everyone, but it is particularly corrosive to the folks on the receiving end. 

Best of luck Mr. Manning, the thoughts and good will of the many are with you. 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Brothel Hierarchy in the Capitalist Workplace

Is the Oldest Profession a
Prototype for all Others?
The main problem with the employment scene lately has been that decently paid jobs with benefits are rapidly disappearing. But, for the first time ever, the word capitalism is being tossed about in public discourse. People are daring to admit that the capitalist workplace, even when it's functioning perfectly, is quite problematic for many, perhaps even most, of us.

The fact is that when observing the stratified, profit-based workplace, the brothel model fits nicely. All work is, after all, prostitution on some level. Take the library where I am employed. At the bottom rung of the ladder you have street hookers, hourly employees without benefits hired if and when there is demand. They are the "five dollars for a quickie" set. As totally independent practitioners not under the umbrella of the pimps, they are free agents but the trade-off is that they are completely vulnerable to the tides of economic, and personal risk. Their work takes place in the moment and when it's finished there are no future guarantees.

Above them there are those who are offered a certain number of hours per week with benefits. These are the pros who can rent rooms by the hour. The rental of these folks' time involves a modicum of warmth and shelter in exchange for an ongoing financial arrangement.

Proceeding up the food chain, you have lower management, the call gals and guys who live very comfortably in exchange for their favors. In this classification a bit of the pimping of others is a necessary part of the bargain.

As you enter the area of middle management the true pimps emerge. These are people who earn their living off the front line work of others. They no longer need to service the johns at all and are paid only to oversee those who do.

In the rarefied air of the very top level you will find the madams, ironically a mostly male coterie, who own the brothels. They reap the profits by manipulating the pimps who control the entire stable of call girls as well as  room-rental by the hour hookers.

So what is the point of this exercise? Those of us who were not born into the lap of luxury have to sell our labor to survive. There is no need to feel ashamed or guilty because of the simple fact of our role in prostitution. After all, it's a living.

But wouldn't it be wonderful if we could stretch our minds and try to develop a different model for the workplace. A cooperative versus a competitive one, where all workers have inherent value. It has been done before, sometimes with very good results. In any case, as long as were dreaming of rebuilding society, it's at least worth some thought.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Clinton's Speech and LGBT Rights in the USA

Like so many LGBT people in this country and around the world, I was amazed and astounded by Hillary Clinton's speech on international gay rights in Geneva in commemoration of Human Rights Day. To say that "gay rights are human rights, seems like a no-brainer but we live in a world where brains appear to be in short supply. Concepts like equality, dignity, freedom from harassment and violence are simple ones that are rarely applied to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender population.

The basic fact that gayness is not a byproduct of Western culture, but a natural occurrence in every society, (including non-human groupings) is also just plain common sense. But still, we have never heard these truths put forward by a mainstream political representative before.

Of course, the bitter irony of this is that, in spite of all this international posturing, the United States is not a shining example of LGBT freedom or equality. We don't have legal marriage in most states and certainly nothing on a federal level. Obtaining healthcare for partners, death benefits after a partner's demise, freedom from discrimination in jobs and housing, freedom from harassment and violence on the street, freedom to live partnered with a person of a different nationality without IRS interference, all these supposed constitutional protections afforded our heterosexual sisters and brothers are rights we do not yet possess.

Nevertheless, with the true imperialistic aplomb, here is our Secretary of State preaching to the world. It would be preferable for the USA to put its own house in order before detailing and expounding on the untidy habits of others. But maybe this will set a precedent for advancement here at home. We can only hope.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Occupy and the Leadership Conundrum

The fact that the Occupy Movement doesn't have leaders is one of the best things about it as a grassroots movement. It's also something that may prove problematic as it moves forward into a future where the encampments are no longer a mobilization base for struggle. Having some leaders,  a steering committee or something similar, is going to be needed eventually especially if an entity, like a new political party, is going to emerge.

But it's true that the concept of leadership brings with it its own set of problems. When actual people are selected to embody a movement, it evolves from an all-encompassing, nebulous idea to a tangible reality. A leader, even a slate of leaders, cannot possess all qualities the 99%.

They each will have an age, a race, a gender and sexual orientation. The very act of selecting leaders is exclusionary by definition and the one thing the occupy movement has successfully avoided is alienating any one segment of the 99%. Once a leader or group of leaders are elected, appointed, self-selected, drafted, cronyism has the opportunity to germinate. It may be subtle but it appears to be human nature, not just in politics.

Look at the capitalist workplace. Studies have shown that managers tend to employ and surround themselves with people most similar to them. That's how empathy works in this rat-race culture. The more someone's character traits and values match your own, the greater your ability to identify with both their struggles and accomplishments.

Still, while consensus and absolute democracy may work fine in small groups, they can't function on, say, a nationwide scale. Leadership will be a key issue in organizing and one that will have to be grappled with sooner or later unless a truly innovative and radical structure can be formed. I have no idea what that would look like but within an upheaval where everything is new, anything is possible.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Rampant Consumerism Isn't the Answer

Black Friday is now officially over. The expanded celebration of materialist consumption has passed. The new expanded version included not just the 5 am routine but all night sales up to and including Thanksgiving Day.

Frenzied and often near riot conditions are now as commonplace at these sales as they are at team sporting events but do police step in to quell the unbridled fervor of the retail obsessed? No they do not. So while dissent and protest are met with both excessive force by police and condemnation by the media. Fanaticism in sports and shopping is not only welcomed but both cultivated and encouraged. Sports and shopping are "acceptable" ways to channel both energy and frustration providing another true "opiate of the masses."

And what about the big box store workers in this traditional melee? They are expected to work all night instead of having a relaxing holiday with friends and family. In this economy it is not prudent to go against the wishes of management to enjoy a personal celebration. Essentially this puts employees in a coercive situation where they either learn to tolerated working extended hour through the night or wind up with an endless amount of time with no work at all.

But in this dwindling economy retail therapy and wins for the home team just aren't able to fill the same void they used to. Stuff is no longer the powerful tranquilizer that it used to be. There have always been movements that call upon people to live more simply, to consume less and schmooze more. Those of us who have had the privilege to travel in the third world know that poorer people, those without purchasing power are by necessity forced to rearrange their priorities. That altered frame of mind happened here after  9/11. It was an awakening to the fact that many of the things we value most, yet take for granted, are not things at all. They are our friends and families, our communities, our creative and artistic expression, our taking on an active role in building a more equal and just society.

The most intense annual celebration of unrestrained consumerism is coming up in December. But purchasing everything in sight has nothing to do with commemorating the birth of a nice, Jewish boy who was born into poverty. Not only can our society no longer afford our culture of rampant materialism, it hasn't provided us anything more substantial than a transitory desire for objects and a big pile of ecologically devastating trash when they break or become obsolete.

When people who don't have shelter, we must provide it for them. The same applies to food and tending to the medical needs of all. Spending money on a lot of superfluous items can be a temporary high but isn't genuinely fulfilling. Like any other drug, it should be done sparingly and with discretion.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

This is What Authoritarianism Looks Like

The repression is coordinated, systematic. The rulers are small and centralized, often comprising an elite body of the privileged. There is massive and widespread corruption and free speech is actively discouraged, often with inappropriate and disproportionate displays of force. Subjection and submission to authority is its key premise designed to silence all vocal opposition to the status quo.  

Whether or not this repression emanates from the Homeland Security Department or more locally at the city, county and state level, this is authoritarianism we are witnessing in both the highly orchestrated destruction of Occupy encampments throughout the country and the brutal force martialed against unarmed, non-violent demonstrators.Oakland mayor, Jean Quan admitted to being part of a conference call with the mayors of 18 cities. This systematic effort to quash a nacent political movement doesn't have to be federally mandated to qualify as the machinery of organized suppression. Authoritarianism isn't quite fullblown facism but it is a major way station along that slippery slope.

Police brutality is steadily increasing in response to the growing Occupy Movement. The pepper spraying of UC Davis students followed closely on the heels of the baton beatings on the UC Berkeley campus. Countrywide the police response is intensifying in its brutality. The viral video of police pepper spraying young students sitting in a peaceful row on the quad at UC Davis is just another appalling example of this trend. Watching the students with linked arms huddled in the onslaught of this totally unprovoked chemical attack is a radicalizing experience in and of itself. Learning later that those who refused to separated their  were sprayed in their faces and down their throats, causing people to cough up blood and be hospitalized, is simply a horrifying scenario in which Guantanamo Bay comes home to roost.

The footage of this travesty is strangely moving as well. It harkens back to sit ins in the American South during the Freedom Rides when simply by sitting at a lunch counter, protesters were subjected to coffee and food being poured over their heads. They sat still. They endured. And ultimately they triumphed.

In the recent uprisings in Cairo, CS gas, a potent form of teargas that induces vomiting and possible coma with prolonged exposure,  and rubber bullets are the main weapons of choice by the police and military. A number of protesters have lost eyes to rubber bullets, including one man who lost an eye in a battle but returned only to lose the other one in a subsequent street incident.

In the USA, we haven't arrived at that level of repression in this round of protests. I was a student at Ohio State University in 1970 the year the National Guard fired live ammunition at anti-Vietnam war demonstrators killing four. That same year two students were murdered by police in a women's dormitory at Jackson State College in Mississippi. So, not only can it happen here. It has.

After the pepper-spray incident when UC Davis chancellor Linda Katehi walked out to her car, the path was lined with hundreds of silent onlookers bearing witness to one of the many knowing and naive accomplices who are institutionalizing oppression by claiming ignorance or just following orders. Either way, it is our constitutional right to democratic expression of dissent that gets sprayed, beaten and trampled upon.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Unstoppable Power of the Small

The Banquet of Life
The power of the small and numerous over the few and mighty has been the stuff of legend since the Liliputians first organized to overpower Gulliver in 1726. Today this saga is playing at towns and cities everywhere thanks to the Occupy Movement.

This past Wednesday, November 16th a few hundred protesters stormed a Bank of America in the San Francisco Financial District and began their occupation. They even put up a tent. When the police came they arrested 95 people and had to lead them out individually to the cheers of the crowd outside. After all, if you're willing to face arrest why not go out with a bang instead of a whimper.

Yes, tent cities can be dismantled and people can be hurt and arrested. But those facts don't tend to deter folks from exercising their right to free speech. In almost all cases what they accomplish is the polar opposite: a larger more determined army willing to put their own personal safety on the line for a greater cause.

Think of the 1% and their lackeys as a stately group of picnickers settling in on a manicured lawn. A bountiful spread of elegant food is spread out a lovely blanket before them. Then imagine an ant colony beneath that blanket. Once the trail is laid to that food those pesky little creatures keep on coming. You can brush them away, spray them, even crush a few but there are more colonies and nests all over the property. And their communication is sure and fast.

It's true, the 1% retain the option of moving their picnic indoors. But the power of the small can cause significant and perpetual inconvenience and disruption. Because there are always more where we came from. All we have to do is simply keep on coming.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Increased Repression Just Means We're Winning

Meditating in Oakland
The Occupy Oakland camp in Oscar Grant Plaza camp was dismantled by police at 1am Monday morning prompting the immediate resignation of two Jean Quan staffers who disagreed with the decision to dismantle and destroy. They are Dan Seigel, legal adviser and Deputy Mayor Sharon Cornu. Occupiers have fled to Snow Park and re-established a camp there.

Zuccotti Park, also known as Liberty Park, the Wall Street encampment, where the Occupy Movement was born, was attacked Tuesday morning, November15th in much the same way. Today, in the Bay Area Occupy focus is on a strike and teach-in at UC Berkeley. This evening a speech by Robert Reich, professor and people's economist extraordinaire, has been relocated from Wheeler Hall to Sproul Plaza. The topic is class warfare and it is part of the Mario Savio Memorial Lecture series of talks. Supposedly, the Occupy Cal camp will try to reinstate itself there.

The fact that repressive tactics are increasing nationwide signals that we are gaining ground. With or without tarps and tents, this movement has reached a point of no return.Chris Hedges' article, "This is What Revolution Looks Like," is a must read for everyone in this struggle.

One truly amazing part of this heavy-handed approach is not the fact that police defend the interests of the rich and powerful, it is the equanimity of protestors who are being treated to this violence. Bricks, bottles are not being thrown. I haven't even seen a lot of insults hurled. Many people are dragged off to arrest from yoga postures. I have seen people meditating on concrete in the midst of teargas and flashbang grenades. The non-violence is a stirring spectacle for those of us raised on street war.

When I heard Graham Nash and David Crosby singing in Zucotti Park (on video) singing"Teach Your Parents Well," I was genuinely moved. This is the beginning of a protracted struggle. We all are bracing for a sustained fight that must be run like a marathon, not a 50 yard dash. When Che Guevara said, "A true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love," he had it right. Some lessons are never too late for learning.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Police Brutality is Violence

Oakland Police Up to No Good
The Oakland Police Department continues their reign of terror upon demonstrators with the total of moderately to seriously injured folks now at three, two Iraq vets: Scott Olsen and Kayvan Sabehgi  and one videographer, Scott Campbell. The Berkeley Police have joined in the brutality by violently evicting a student group attempting to Occupy U.C. Berkeley. Their tents were trampled and they were forcibly removed from Sproul Plaza.

Meanwhile right-leaning propaganda rags like the San Francisco Chronicle are trying to paint actions like the General Strike Day with the broad brush of  "violence" because a small group of angry protesters broke some things sometime towards midnight on a day when 50,000 to 100,000 people closed big banks and the Port of Oakland without incident.

It is important to note a couple of things about this smear campaign. One, it is being used as an unsuccessful attempt to discredit the entire Occupy Movement. Two, people are justifiably angry at the economic crimes that have been perpetrated upon us. And three, vandalism and violence are not synonymous. While understanding that breaking windows or spray painting on them may not be the best way to win supporters and unite the movement, crimes against property are not equal to the harm the police are inflicting with clubs, teargas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and flash-bang grenades.

The city of Oakland is preparing for another raid on the Occupy Oakland camp. I commend the occupiers for open discussion with various proponents of aggressive action in a serious attempt to resolve differences and stay united. All power to the people!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Occupy Foreclosures!

Winter is coming. The mainstream media is predicting the end of the occupy movement. The tents at Zucotti  Park are covered with snow. Even if folks took shelter inside, I wouldn't see that as the end of anything. It isn't necessary to live outside to build a movement. But it does constitute an opportunity.

The USA is now saturated with foreclosed, bank-owned properties that are just sitting vacant attracting vermin and crime. These residences were stolen by corrupt banksters, often with not even so much as possession of the mortgage note of origin. In cities all over the country the occupiers are trying to take back some of these properties for use by the growing homeless (houseless) population. In Oakland, the cops moved in around midnight on strike day, November 2nd, when a small group entered and attempted to take possession of a warehouse. In San Francisco, some distressed properties in the Tenderloin are being considered for the same thing.

In hard-hit cities like Detroit and Cleveland, homes are being razed en masse or sold for a dollar a piece to anyone willing to take them off the bank's hands. Urban centers are being literally overgrown by vines and weeds. As Robert Frost said, "Something, there is that doesn't  love a wall." Or a ceiling or a floor.

It is too late to give back these homes to the victims of this massive scam. But we are able to do the next best thing. We can provide shelter for those who have none. One of my favorite signs on marches is one that reads, "Robin Hood was Right." But, in this case, giving back doesn't require stealing from anyone, just the repossessing of ill-gotten  loot that was expropriated from its rightful owners.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Personal Take on a General Strike

Coming into Port:
Oakland Strike
The tents in Oscar Grant Plaza are back up and yesterday, at least during the daytime hours, the streets belonged to the people with hardly a cop in sight. I  had the opportunity to march with some peaceful and angry folks who made the big banks shudder and lock their doors and who brought all business at the 5th largest port in the USA, the Port of Oakland to a screeching halt.

The noon march was enthusiastic and militant. Outside of Chase Bank, protesters clogged the street as two people climbed poles and strung a huge banner that said, "Occupy the Banks." Back at the plaza a speakers were speaking from a stage, In the round arena area poets read, rappers rapped, activists acted, union members railed, it was a general free-for-all in the best, most sincere sense of the term. I saw amazing diversity in all the people passing by: old folks with walkers and canes, hip-hoppers from the hood, queers and feminists, teamsters, agricultural workers, teachers and other librarians. Most people were covered with signs or wearing T-shirts that served the same function. I was wearing a great one that I had purchased at the Dia de los Muertos celebration in Fruitvale a few days before. It reads: "We the People are 99%. People Before Profits."

I also noticed that many people, like myself, were there solo. My partner had joined me for the noon march, but ran out of steam early on. Alone, I automatically go into writers mode, which involves finding a central place to sit, taking out a pen and paper and doing some serious observation. The dude behind me had a guitar and was playing and singing, "The Gates of Eden," one of my favorites of the lesser known Bob Dylan songs. I'd grabbed a wonderful gala apple from the food table. Ahh, revolution was in the air and life was good!

For the march out to the port I was planning on the 5 pm shift. The group that left at 4 was huge, it looked like over 5,000 people. By the time 5pm rolled around workers were out of their jobs and our numbers were at least that big, possibly bigger. I waited in front of Walgreen's near the "Queer and Feminist Resistance," banner but none of my friends showed. Instead Vera, a thirty-something woman from Moscow began a conversation with me. She said that nothing comparable to this could happen in Russia where the government suppresses this kind of expression. In spite of all that, she would be returning to her home country next week, loaded with memories.

Her friends were also no shows. As we marched together toward the port, she asked me if I'd like some wine...turned out that the huge coffee cup with a cover and sip hole on top was full of red wine. "I drink about a bottle a day," she confessed. "I don't know if I have a problem or not."

"Blame it on the economy," I said. I have felt that the alcohol industry has been making a killing during the recession. She handed me the cup and we passed it back and forth like a joint as we marched through the West Oakland neighborhoods at sunset.

Vera is an artist who was passing out postcards of her work. The acrylic painting shows a woman in a skirt that looks like a lotus sending beams of light from the chakra points on her body. On the back of the card in stead of her name she had hand-written the figure 99% in red magic marker. "Don't you want to put your name on your art?" I'd asked her.

"No, I know that I painted it, and that's all that matters," she answered. Next to her painting is a quote, "We can do no great things, only small things with great love." --Mother Teresa

Best wishes, Vera, on your return to Russia, your art and your life!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Militarization of the Police

Police Riot in Oakland 10/25/2011
I watched Michael Moore's rousing and informative speech at Occupy Oakland Wednesday afternoon. Not only is the encampment reforming and blossoming, according to Moore and the enthusiastic crowd we have reached the end of apathy and despair. But we are in the throes of something else, totally predictable but frightening and potentially devastating nonetheless: the militarization of the police.

Moore mentioned this specifically in his speech. This situation in the USA has developed and worsened in the years since anti Vietnam war protests . When I was a protester at Ohio State University in the early seventies, the National Guard served alongside the police in order to "keep the peace." Yes, the tanks, or "armored personnel carriers rolled down High Street and we carried signs like" Welcome to Prague," referring to 1968 when the Soviet tanks rolled into that city to crush the people's movement that included more freedom of speech, ability to travel and access to information from independent media sources.

In those days, the US Military functioned as the military and the police played a subservient, more localized role. Today, the police function like a mercenary army organized to keep the people in line. The fact that the rate of incarceration in the USA exceeds that of all other countries in the civilized world is no accident. And here in the San Francisco Bay Area, the fact that even the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) police are murdering citizens (Oscar Grant at Fruitvale station, Charles Hill near Civic Center), is a new low in the annals of law enforcement.

The governors, mayors, police departments and transit agencies now possess the ability to band together in order to determine the freedom, or lack thereof, of a city's citizens. This was readily apparent on the night of Wednesday, October 25th at around 11pm when, on rumors of an impending police raid of the Occupy SF camp, the authorities closed the two downtown Oakland BART stations along with the Embarcadero station, where the encampment was located solely to prevent citizens from getting there to provide support for the occupiers. Fortunately, Mayor Ed Lee changed his mind and the raid of the SF camp was called off.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Then They Fight You...

"First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." Mahatma Gandhi
Here in Oakland the fighting stage is definitely underway. It began with the early morning police raid of the Occupy Oakland camp, with rampaging blue meanies demonstrating the use of excessive force by dismantling, steamrollering and making off with tents, food, equipment, personal effects and medical supplies leaving the occupiers homeless and Oscar Grant Plaza under military siege and in ruins.

At 4 pm Tuesday, around a thousand 99 per-centers who were enraged at the abridgment of free speech rights, gathered in front of the Oakland Main Library on 14th Street where the head librarian, Carmen Martinez, refused to close down for the protest as the police department requested. Librarians, like other public sector workers, remember all those threatened closings, reduction in hours and and cuts in pay, health benefits and pensions. Go librarians, my people of the book!

Now, Oscar Grant Plaza has been fenced off and drenched it with chemicals in order to "grow new grass." The police in their true colors have delivered excessive violence and brutality with their barrage of rubber bullets, flash bang grenades and massive clouds of tear gas. And the mainstream media is not far behind with a propaganda war of its own bringing the staples of fear and intimidation directed at the occupiers and all the 99 percent. Funny though, how the ridicule has diminished.

So we are officially in the fight portion of Gandhi's formula.Yesterday, a canister hit and injured an American veteran of the Iraq war, Scott Olsen of Daly City. He is now in Highland Hospital in critical but stable condition suffering swelling of the brain. Ironic, to survive combat only to come home to this.

This brutal response is echoing around the country in San Jose, Denver, Chicago and cities too numerous to mention, the class war is on. Now Occupy San Francisco is issuing ultimatums to the protesters in Justin Herman Plaza. SF Mayor, Ed Lee like Oakland Mayor Jean Quan before him has now issued an edict declaring food, rats and self-government are keeping these sacred "public" parks from being used by the people. Gosh, it's almost like this is a coordinated effort or something. So what are the protesters and the 99 percent, chopped liver? Who exactly are the people anyway?

We must find our footing under stress. With any new movement there will be growing pains. In an increasing repressive society we will make sacrifices and there will inevitably be casualties. We must run this like a marathon, not a fifty yard dash. As we used to say in the lesbian community of the old days, "we ain't got it easy but we got it."

Monday, October 24, 2011

A Peaceful Yet Militant Strategy

Occupy Oakland March, Saturday October 22, 2011
 Occupy Oakland held its first rally and march this past Saturday. The speakers ran the gamut from Union members (teachers and longshore workers) to anti-racism activists. The day was hot and beautiful the mood was both militant and festive, angry yet peaceful. The march was spirited and long, winding through downtown and under the freeway underpass where the acoustics for chanting and yelling were spectacular. The main chant was, "Banks got bailed out, we got sold out!"

The mood of this emerging movement is inclusive and democratic with a definite pacifist bent. When the several hundred of us marched past Chase bank on Lakeshore Avenue the crowd crossed the lanes of oncoming traffic and poured into the bank's open door. The small space filled up with protesters wall to wall. Some protesters threw deposits slips up into the air and they rained down like confetti. Aside from that action and a table being accidentally overturned, the mood stayed controlled and overwhelmingly peaceful. This phenomenon is both amazing and unique to someone who protested in an earlier, more abrasively militant era. Clearly, this movement is unfolding in its own unique way.

In the seventies, we were furious. The Vietnam War had a mandatory draft and it was dragging on endlessly bringing with it death and destruction. Images of napalmed children filled the airwaves.We had witnessed the assassinations of our most beloved leaders, the ordeal of the freedom riders, the brutallity directed toward those who sat in at segregated lunch counters in the American South. We were more jaded than this new generation, even though we were young. So, it was a combination of factors. The end result being that we were mad as hell and we let our anger control us.

This group led by the Occupy Oakland folks have an air of both determination and  about them. It shows in their genuine effort to maintain cool heads and stay focused. Even in instances of extreme police provocation, they do not resort to what the angry demeanor that the media inaccurately labels "violence."

I know that this may not always be the case, but for now, it's a powerful position, a brand new face on an age-old tactic.When the Occupyers first began their protest I thought here we go reinventing the wheel. But that old wheel is flat-sided and hasn't served anyone for a long time. Perhaps this wheel can transport us to a different place...somewhere we've always wanted to go, but have never been.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Police are "Cleaning Up" at the Occupiers Expense

Police at Occupy San Francisco
Police departments throughout the US are getting a workout, enlarging their paychecks by putting in overtime and making their presence as the strong arm of the establishment felt. And this development is not due to a renewed war on crime, which has mysteriously fallen a bit in the ravages of this depression. No, the boys in blue are out in force, trying out new toys like pepper spray, zip-tie handcuffs and orange "kettling" nets as well as relying on reliable old traditions like beating and unwarranted mass arrests. All because the Occupy Together, Occupy Wall Street, movement that has taken a foothold in thousands of cities across the world.

After Wisconsin, I had hoped the blue meanies had changed their ways and would fight with other workers for their own interests like health benefits and pensions. But I was naive. The police are paid to defend the interests of the 1%, not the 99%. That is part of what keeps the engine of capitalism oiled and running. The Occupy Together crowd are now coming to this realization as well.

Occupy San Francisco's tents, food and supplies were taken by the SFPD last Sunday after "curfew." This confiscation was the second one since the encampment began. The rationale for this dismantling and expropriating equipment is that the "parks must remain safe for everyone." Except, of course, the people exercising their freedom of speech by camping there.

In Oakland, mayor Jean Quan is taking a more tolerant approach for the time being. She, and the government forces behind her, are allowing Occupy Oakland to remain. It's numbers are growing however, and when the occupiers tried to expand onto the adjoining concrete plaza, they were rebuffed by police. It was more of the same story when they tried to take over Snow Park as a second site due to overcrowding.

Some journalists are already setting the stage for a showdown between cops and city government officials and the occupiers by circulating stories about the protest bringing rats and dirt to downtown Oakland. Rats have always resided in Oakland and, yes, they do come out at night to scavenge the debris left by humans. Like all wildlife, they share our space. No-one was worried about rats when homeless people slept among them quietly.

The important thing to remember is that it is only a matter of time until the powers that be will try to sweep our public spaces clean of occupiers. That is when we must all converge to defend the right to speak out against economic injustice in the name of the 99 percent.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Marching, Rallying and Striking in Oakland

The weather was beautiful today, Saturday October 15th, conclusively proving that god is squarely on the right side of this new movement. A few thousand people gathered at Laney college for a 1pm rally where two moveon.org facilitators introduced singers and speakers, one of whom was Oakland mayor Jean Quan. So for now, with the blessings of mayor and reluctant cooperation of the Oakland Police, the occupation and marching are sanctioned activities.

People were enthusiastic but subdued. I think this was partially due to the fact that the rally began on a low note. The first speaker started it off with an attempt to take a census of the crowd's mood. He asked questions like: "Who here is unemployed? Who is working less hours than they'd like? Who lost their homes to foreclosure? Whose mortgages are underwater? These just weren't the kind of questions that would make people cheer. Even I had trouble responding to this. He could have framed it more like this: Who here is angry? Who thinks the bankers threw us under the bus? Who wants the rich to pay their share? Something more outer directed and unifying.

The rally ran a bit too  long and the group was so antsy to march, the last couple of speakers were interrupted with the chant, "March!, March! and had to give in to their prepared material and lead the march out into the street.

The mood was oddly tranquil. In spite of a marching band that played "The Internationale" as we walked along, most people were fairly quiet. In Chinatown a chant of "We are the 99%," broke out and lasted a while but determined silence was more the order of the day.

The Occupy Oakland encampment in Frank Ogawa (Oscar Grant) Plaza is an amazing sight to behold. There are more than 100 tents spread over the entire park with wooden boards and pallets used as makeshift walkways. There is a large food preparation area where garden burgers, rice and beans and veggies were cooking and good smells wafting everywhere. The ambience was somewhere between a music festival and a refugee camp. The tent city included a library tent, a kids play tent, an arts and craft tent and some other impromptu structures for meetings and socializing. The stage arena area had a huge sign that said, "General Strike" and people were filling the concrete risers.

Although this arena area is used for the occupiers daily 7pm meetings, the rally was held from a truck in the adjoining mall-like space. There was no way that the more mainstream elements were about to allow a sign calling for a General Strike to be the backdrop of their rally.

I say their because the split was evident. There were the occupiers who are attempting to build an alternate society and then there was the cheering section for the Democratic Party that was
focused on making nicey, nicey with politicians attempting to get them to do right by the 99%, those of us reeling from the economic beating administered by the banksters and their friends

The idea of a General Strike is an interesting one. Although I think it's too soon to haul out big guns like that it should always be simmering on the back burner. A strike is the people's nuclear option. It is a bell that cannot be un-rung. This movement is a baby that has just been born. First, let's see whether or not she can thrive. Only time will tell what will happen next.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Occupying Berkeley

Occupy Berkeley Rally
I have so far attended two meetings of the newly emerging Occupy Berkeley group which has taken up residence in front of the Bank of America building on Shattuck Avenue in the city where the Free Speech Movement was born. Over one hundred people were present at the first meeting at noon this past Saturday and, appropriately, a pow wow for Indigenous Peoples' Day was taking place a few blocks away in Martin Luther King Park in front of Berkeley City Hall.

The group was a welcome mix of young folks and seasoned boomers, students, unemployed, union and non-union workers. Everything was structured democratically, so much so that it became a bit laborious. The people's mike, the crowd repeating line by line what is being said by the speaker, worked as far as getting the word out, and really drove home a feeling of commonality and understanding, but also made everything take much longer.

The goal of every decision is to achieve consensus. Any person can block a proposal by crossing their arms over their chest. Then the individual has the opportunity to speak out against the issue. I know from my political salad days that consensus is a laudable but extremely difficult goal to achieve. Yet, the fact that these gatherings don't feel at all like the protests of the seventies, is a positive development, like the old saying, "mental illness is doing the same things over and over and expecting different results."

At a six p.m. organizing meeting the next day, Sunday, the process worked better. Around 20 people were in attendance. An agenda was adopted that included committee reports and security shifts to protect occupiers from vigilantes as well as the police. Supporters who are not occupiers, like myself, can plug in by donating all kinds of supplies, doing outreach and just showing up to express solidarity.

Occupy Oakland is kicking off in Frank Ogawa Plaza at 4 p.m. today, Columbus Day. This Saturday, October 15th in Oakland there will be international marches entitled "Jobs Not Cuts."

I was reading today that a military commander in Iran is labeling the Occupy Together protests spreading throughout the United States as the beginning of an "American Spring." Considering it is already October, I would call them the beginning of an "American Fall," which considering the depths to which this country has sunk, sounds fine to me!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Mass Arrests and Free Speech

Occupy Wall Street
Protesters on Bridge
The main feature that distinguishes a democracy from a totalitarian regime is freedom of speech. The first amendment guarantees our right to demonstrate and protest against what we perceive as wrongs against us. This includes the crazy dude with the sign warning about the fast-approaching world's end as well as the 700 Occupy Wall Street protesters who were systematically handcuffed with those plastic, twist-tie restraints and detained for hours.

Of course this action, along with the macing of peaceful, women demonstrators was blatantly illegal and designed for one purpose only: to frighten people and quell dissent. If the cops can make ordinary folks afraid to even stand on the sidewalk watching or holding a sign, they have succeeded in suppressing or at the very least, putting a damper on free speech.

Those affected by these actions have expressed no desire to cease and desist, but those who watch them on TV from home may feel otherwise. They may feel like the risk is not worth the reward. And when the media all but boycotts the protest it is hard to justify that something is being accomplished. But it is. A movement is being born and although birth can be a painful process, it is usually worth it.

In April of 1992 the Rodney King verdict came down and there were riots in the streets of  Los Angeles. In San Francisco some windows were broken and a police motorcycle was burned but, other than that, the protests were basically peaceful. The week after the primary demonstration there was a protest in the Mission District. Before any illegal action could even cross the minds of demonstrators, all of them were rounded up, manacled with twist-tie handcuffs, and hauled off in buses to Santa Rita jail. They were set free on their own recognizance the following day. My partner was among them.

The following weekend I was so angry at this flagrant violation of the law (as well as the King verdict) that I showed up with her in Dolores Park for another rally. It was a long day in early May. After the rally the group began marching down Market Street towards downtown SF. Just past the Castro District, in front of Safeway, the cops moved in and surrounded us. They didn't say a word and they didn't have that fancy orange mesh for in those days either. They just locked arms in a big circle and began cuffing our hands behind our backs and loading us into buses. There were over 350 of us so it took a while.

We were then bused to an empty warehouse that had been set up with makeshift pens constructed with police barricades. There was a port-a-potty and a water dispensers with paper cups and a very dirty concrete floor. They took identification information and fingerprinted us and kept us there for around eight hours. At approximately 3:30 am they began releasing us in small groups.

Needless to say, this police action was totally illegal. Both my partner and I joined a class action suit that netted us around one-hundred dollars per hour for our time served. Supposedly, as part of our settlement, they destroyed the records as well. It still stands as the best money I've ever earned, but that's beside the point. Free speech and dissent are the basic elements of a democracy. They are not bargaining chips to be traded away in the name of "law and order."

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Heterosexism vs Good Medicine

Apples and Oranges?
We are not all the same. As members of various groups and identities, we are all different. As a child I was culturally confused by this frame of reference. Growing up equal worth was confused with sameness, especially in terms of color and ethnicity. Blacks are the same as whites, Jews are the same as Gentiles. But the existence of divergent cultural norms and styles should not imply better or less than or negate the existence of genuine differences.

I am a writer now so I can't continue believing in didactic shorthand for the sake of simplicity any longer. While I recognize that each individual is as different as one snowflake from the next, there are shared values that groups possess. Women tend to be more emotionally attuned than men. Jews are more often secular and left-leaning due to a history of persecution in Russia and Germany. And LGBT folks of my generation (boomers) created a culture that tended to be progressive and based on the notion of chosen, not biological, "family." Fear of lesbians is still palpable in the fifity, and sixty-something folks of my generation. And, in a very real sense, queer, although equal to is not the same as straight.

In my recent search for medical providers a weird dynamic has emerged. I find that the men who are not assholes seem more capable of caring behavior toward females than heterosexist staight women. I'm not using the word homophobic because these are not women who would deride a lesbian on the street. They are simply women who do not want to be confronted with any indication that they might also harbor to many feelings of tenderness toward women who are not their daughters and that all of our sexualities fall on a continuum rather than into a category.

This situation often leaves me looking for male medical providers rather than deal with a nervous and uncaring stance from a female doctor, nurse, chiropractor or acupuncturist. It's a strange position for a lifelong feminist. Between me and my most recent acupuncturist there was a cultural gap you could drive a truck through. And I liked her. She is a mom who immediately showed me photos of her grown children. A woman who took on her husband's name. It was uncomfortable because the fact that she was totally unfamiliar with lesbian culture meant that there were no easy bridges between us.

Medical providers, even alternative ones are in the position of being required to physically interact with clients. It is imperative that either they are comfortable with touching people of all genders and orientations or they only treat certain groups.

That decision, when it comes to equal rights, opens up an abyss-sized slippery slope.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Monday, September 26, 2011

Nurses On Strike and Wall Street Occupation

Nurses Demanding
Sick Time in Oakland
The California Nurses Association planned a one-day strike for Thursday September 22nd to protest understaffing and a proposal from Sutter Medical that nurses no longer be given paid sick time. I can't even begin to compete verbally with an irony like this one. AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka addressed their rally. While Kaiser let the nurses return to work Friday, Sutter Health claimed that their contracted "replacement workers," i.e. scabs, required a full week of work. Cosequently they locked out employees for that period, an action that was clearly intended as a punitive measure.

Under the watch of the scab nurses a patient died. Now, death happens quite a bit in hospitals, in spite of the best of care. The possiblilty of negligence exists as well, even for union workers. But this death has become a political football. The now unabashedly, right-wing San Francisco Chronicle implies that those nasty nurses left their posts. But it is more likely that vindictive management hired incompetent (and amoral) nurses to fill in for the locked out ones!

In other news the Wall Street occupation continues in spite of the mass arrests and sadistic, unwarranted use of mace and pepper spray. It's so good to see large numbers of young folks out in the streets again. Nurses and occupiers, keep on keepin' on. Your success is our success.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Fifties Mentality in the USA Today

Commercials that interview housewives about the efficacy of cleaning products, smiling excessively made-up women going on about their husbands and children, political figureheads, even constructive, liberals like Elizabeth Warren talking about "American families" ad infinitum and the frightening predominance of religious doctrine in political discourse, even progressive political discourse and political landscape, all these factors point to a resurgence of nineteen-fifties-style values in twenty-first century America.

The question I keep asking myself is why is this happening now? In the USA of the nineteen fifties the world was settling in after World War II. and by 1953 the Korean War had also ended. The boys were home and they needed the jobs that women had taken during the war so a publicity campaign was conducted to acculturate women to their new lives as mothers and housewives. Many men had the income capability to support a stay-at-home wife.

We are now in another time of reduced job opportunities. Millions of folks have lost their homes and their assets have diminished greatly. This, in turn, produces great stress causing an increase in substance abuse, domestic violence, child abuse, elder abuse and economic crime in general; the whole grim package. Part of the fifties resurgence is nostalgia for what was considered a safer, simpler time although, those of us who lived through it, know the fallacy of this kind of thinking.

The lion's share of this mentality is pro-active brain-washing. Don't focus on the money you no longer have or the health problems you may have developed as a result, but instead color your hair, find a spouse, have a baby, go to church and pray for things to get better! What a drag all those heavy thoughts can be!

So, in essence, we are stuck in the nouveau fifties: which means the glorification and idealization of the unexamined life. Instead of fighting back against the Wall Street banksters, the true criminals, we being encouraged to breed like a bunch of fluffy bunnies. But the fluffier the trappings, the more we should worry about the content of the message.

Yet, we must remember that just as dawn follows the longest night, the era that follows the fifties is the sixties. I'm already getting my protest signs ready and airing out my tie-dyed shirts!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Heterosexuals and Committment

I don't see any problems here!
The latest news out of New York State: town clerks are resigning rather than sign same-gender marriage certificates. At least three town clerks have actually tendered their resignations rather than do the part of their job that requires signing the marriage certificate. Laura Fortusky, clerk of Barker in Broome County was the first.Ruth Sheldon in upstate Oswego County grabbed the number two spot, and now Rose Marie Belforti, the town clerk for the small town of Ledyard has declared that she will not sign the marriage document allowing Katie Carmichael and Deirdre DiBiaggio to tie the knot.

Even worse, a right-wing organization with the positively Orwellian moniker "New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms" is offering free legal support for Belforti and other poor town clerks forced into defending some of those pesky constitutional freedoms that keep getting in the way of other folks rights to bigotry and intolerance. Clearly, people have a right to be fascists on a personal level, but in a job the question of upholding the law comes into play and in New York State, same-sex marriage is the law.

The fervent fanaticism of anti-gay religious zealots is problematic for LGBT folks in the US. Studies have shown that queer-hating straight folk feel far more passionately about anti-gay bigotry than queer positive straight folks feel about equality. This simple fact could prove problematic as LGBT civil rights are eaten away by the T(tyranny) Party and right wing sympathizers. 

We queers are in the cross-hairs of the Perry-Bachmann crusaders. The GOP is successfully delaying the emergence of a military free from Don't Ask, Don't Tell. DOMA is still a federal law. Same-sex marriage nationally is a distant dream. We, as LGBTs have no federal protection against job or housing discrimination. And now that corporations are officially people, I don't see things improving anytime soon. 

Will our rights be eaten away slowly like the gradual implementation of the Nuremburg Laws? Are we now the proverbial lobsters in a pot who don't notice the water getting hotter and hotter? But most of all I wonder: Will there be enough straight people to defend our basic right to exist as it deteriorates before our eyes? I hope I never have to witness the answer to this question but, nonetheless, it's a crucial one to be asking. 

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Ten Years Later--September 11th, 2001

Mark Bingham-
Gay Hero of Flight 93
It's hard to believe that it's been ten long years since September 11th 2001, a fateful day that forever altered the political landscape of this country. Early that Tuesday morning I was awoken by a telephone call from a friend who said, "They just attacked the World Trade Center turn on your TV." This was an incomprehensible statement to me then. First of all I had no concept of a "they" that would fit into this scenario and the idea of attack seemed foreign as well.

But I did turn on my television. My automatic response was to get dressed and head in to work. This was because I was used to working for the Chronicle and that's what we did when something momentous, like an earthquake, happened. We went in to work. But by then, I was working at a public library and librarians, as helpful as we may be, are not considered "first-responders." But my place of work was closed for the day and I wound up returning home.

Like many people, I remained glued to my television for days. Taking in the personal accounts. Reveling in the heroic story of Mark Bingham, an openly gay man who initiated a passenger rebellion on flight 93, preventing it from hitting the Pentagon, but losing his own life (and the lives of everyone aboard) in the process.

It is undeniable that this country was permanently altered as a result of that horrific event. Yes, the loss of life on such a large scale was a terrible tragedy. But sadder still is the fact that this event has been and is repeatedly used as an excuse to justify the elimination of democratic and civil rights on a wide variety of fronts from the "Patriot Act" to Guantanamo. All things considered, it is a day to mourn.

The tragic bombing in Oklahoma City did not make the world afraid of crazed, white-male right wing fanatics as well it should have considering what transpired in January of this year in Tucson Arizona where Gabrielle Giffords was wounded along with 19 others. Only six people died in that incident but the profile of Jared Loughner is strikingly similar to that of Timothy McVeigh. Compare that to the fear of the American Muslim Community that has become a firestorm of hatred in the USA today.

Many friends of mine believe that right-wing elements had a hand in what transpired that Tuesday morning in New York City.I can't claim any inside knowledge of this but I will say that considering the liberties they have taken with our civil rights since, I wouldn't put it past them.

However it came to pass, it is a fact that this event has been and will continue to be used to undermine our rights and freedoms on all fronts. This reality combined with the grief over lives lost that day, deserve our deepest grief as well as our incisive, compassionate and rational attention.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Labor Day and Nothing to Celebrate

Harry Bridges Addresses a Crowd in
Civic Center, San Francisco, 1947.
Labor Day is here again, that weak, diluted step-child of May Day has fallen upon us once more bringing with it nothing but bad news.

In the USA today, the creation of new jobs has ceased, wages are reaching new lows, health benefits are disappearing and pensions are being taken away, barely a creature is stirring. The concept of populism has been radically redefined to mean working and poor people who have been persuaded to fight against their own interests.

I've also been thinking about issues of work destiny, the trajectory to which we each inherit. The fact is, I was born and raised to be a worker, not an owner or an entrepreneur. It was a given, unspoken, yet understood, even when my mother said, unconvincingly, that I could do whatever work I chose, the implication was always working for some firm or corporation.

The truth that I was groomed for my destiny came to me in my twenties when I was shooting the breeze with a friend whose family was, what was then called, "nouveau riche." Their money came from a chain of stores in New York. One day when we were talking about work, she told me several ideas that were knocking around in her brain: a pick-up and delivery service for disabled people, a chain of organic markets, a referral switchboard for therapists, things on that order. I was floored, amazed. She was truly a self-starter, a go-getter someone who would manage the teaming hordes one day. I, on the other hand, was a lackey, a prole, a terminal working stiff, someone who was continually told that I had no leadership qualities. As Bob Marley sang: "They take the chains off your body and put the chains on your mind."

For me, the die had been cast. I wasn't interested (or psychologically able) to start and run my own business. It was all I could do to just show up for work each day!

I have made the most of being a worker, taking advantage of CETA in the seventies and securing a public sector job with health benefits and pension in the eighties that I still have to this day. I represent a dying breed, the last remnants of the stable, American working class. Newer generations of workers now are expected to be satisfied with low wages, few benefits and some kind of 401K plan instead of a pension. It is both an impossibility and a disgrace.

The only way to "celebrate" labor day is to take back the jobs, salaries and benefits that we have been robbed of. Short of that, we can only mourn.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Freedom From Religion: It's a Godsend!

Ad Placed by Atheists on City Buses in Des Moines, Iowa
According to a study at the University of Minnesota, atheists are a group of people in America that are hated more than both LGBTs (lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders) and Muslims. Still, in spite of this social disapproval, the numbers of atheists and agnostics are growing fast, especially among the young. This is a really good sign when it comes to the prospect of political organizing.

In the seventies Gallup and the survey mavens studied what factors would determine social activism on campus and the only reliable correlation wound up being that those who checked off the no preference box under religion (on the university application form) were the most likely to end up participating in protests. Perhaps this means that folks who are not waiting for pie in the sky when they die might actually want to eat now and even make room for others at the table.

The truth is that many humans can possess a moral compass without the threat of hellfire, damnation or any other punishment that big, old, bearded white dude in the sky can dream up. Responsible communities can be built, movements started, corrupt governments overthrown independent of the Big Boy. That's how the concept of "secular humanism" was born.

Mindful godlessness can defeat the right wing theocrats in many ways. For one, it presents no inherent argument against women determining their own biological destinies by retaining decision-making power in reproduction. Freedom to determine what to do with your own body is a direct consequence of this.The same applies to the shunning or looking down upon LGBT folks. When all humans have value all can be respected. Those convoluted and contrived bible mantras can get flushed down the toilet of history to be replaced by the doctrine of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. An axiom long forgotten by the purveyors of prophesy. Who, at its American lowest common denominator seem to include some of the most dogmatic, inhumane and rigid people on this planet.

In some ways the gay stereotype and that of the aethist intersect. The word, "intellectual," is often the first one to be trotted out. This in and of itself speaks volumes. Following it are adjectives like childless, artistic and that catch all demonizer, "liberal."

Those of us of little faith have no use for the rabid American jingoism that, of late, passes for patriotism. We are too busy trying to build a meaningful life and a progressive movement to spend more time than necessary on our knees. Genuine compassion, empathy and goodwill are feelings more likely to arise out of discerning observation of the human condition than didactic instruction. And these qualities are more apt to flourish in an atmosphere of human love and understanding than one of superhuman threat and fear.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Great Computer of Life

Another coworker have retired last week. They are leaving like rats on a sinking ship; to get away from the seriously understaffed library system and our incredible, shrinking paychecks as well as to pursue goals outside of the stifling work environment.

Attempting to live in the world of work and the larger world outside it has placed me squarely in the category of employees with a "bad attitude." After all a librarian, who is a closet writer, is not devoting one-hundred percent of her precious creative energy to her job.

I am beginning to think of this problem in computer terms. Real life: our health, those we love, our ambitions, dreams and deepest desires are an integral part of our operating system. Without them, the system will not boot up at all.

Employment, as gainful as it may be, is just a money-generating program that runs on that system. Even if it is uninstalled completely, the computer will still run. True, you may have to locate another application to fill this function since the accumulation of money does help the system run faster and more smoothly. Loss of home or health insurance can cause the system to crash, but with some tweaking it is still possible to get it up and running again.

The recession/depression has turned many of us into "bad machines" that can no longer run as efficiently as we used to. This can be a cause for worry but it is also an opportunity to try to connect differently. We must network in different ways, some of them actual not virtual.

I have just tuned up my old computer by deleting a lot of unused programs. The most important step I took was in stopping a script from running over and over, slowing down my progress and bringing my system to a standstill. My script had something to do with self-esteem being connected to financial status.

As soon as I found the way to stop that message from repeating, my computer began humming once again. It has now recovered and is running like a new machine!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Free Speech vs Public Transit in San Francisco

Can one hundred people shut down the public transportation system in a major city? When the city is San Francisco and the system is BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) the answer is a resounding yes. As a working commuter, an advocate of free speech, a person opposed to assassinations by BART police, and a proud survivor of the social protest movements of the seventies and eighties, the kind of power that a small, dedicated group of protestors weilded this evening was astounding

The fact is BART police, hand-in-hand with the SFPD brought the traffic in San Francisco to a standstill all because of a handful of vocal folks with signs. The protest was called because the original demonstration against the BART police murder of Charles Hill in the Civic Center BART station on July 3rd, 2011. Hill was a forty-five year old mentally impaired individual. On New Year's Day of 2009, BART police officer Johannes Meserle shot and killed Oscar Grant at the Fruitvale BART station. With this kind of a track record, it's easy to pinpoint why those trigger happy boys in blue are having so many problems in the Bay Area.

As we look at the events today it is imperative to remember a few things:

First of all, people have the right not to get shot in a public transit station just because they're mentally ill, black or a bit mentally off. This, you would think, goes without saying.

Second, when methods of communication media are tampered with by authorities this smacks of totalitarianism. Iran, Egypt, China, all other speech-supressed nations come into focus.

Third, it is a total overreaction to mobilize as many law-enforcement officers as protestors to try to attempt to abrogate a simple protest, i.e.: freedom of speech in action.

Yes, people were protesting the BART shootings as well as the intentional wireless disruption to prevent organizing.

Whatever emotions these activities bring up is a separate issue. Shutting down the BART system along with the MUNI bus and trolley lines is not only an uncalled for overreaction by the authorities, it is also a breach of the U.S. Constitution.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Verizon Workers Strike to Retain Pensions and Healthcare

Verizon Workers Fighting
to Keep Their Benefits
Striking Verizon employees are trying to hold the line against the erosion of their healthcare and benefits. Theirs is the latest battlefield in the class war being waged against the American working people. Verizon corporate management is trying to ride Scott Walker's coattails to obliterate unions and the middle-class working conditions that they provide. It's all part of the great race to the bottom, fueled by right-wing fervor and Obama administration supported downgrades and take-aways.

Further complicating matters in the Verizon situation, the wireless workers are all non-union while the old land based phone service workers are with the CWA (Communication Workers of America). So pitting the two factions against each other is a made for management dream with the wireless workers representing the "future" of the private sector.

Verizon management is pleading poverty and income losses in the land line segment of their business, a ploy that president of the AFL-CIO Richard Trumka has called a "smokescreen."It is evident now to almost everyone that the lowest echelons of society are paying for the lavish lifestyles of the wealthy. Management now has now been given a green light to erode all the gains of the past and chalk it up to the crash and burn economy, another demon of their own creation.

We can see even mainstream economists such as Robert Reich and Paul Krugman openly acknowledging that the American working people have been taken hostage and because our president has paid their ransom, we have lost.

The media is running with the ball, saying the Verizon strike has gotten ugly. As though bringing in scab workers to undermine collective bargaining power and steal people's jobs is not a violent and provocative move, in and of itself. Yes, people are angry. Confrontational behavior is the rule, not the exception under these circumstances and it is understandable considering that folks' livelihoods and survival are on the line.

Verizon workers may be in for the long haul and we can only hope that they will be successful in their struggle.

Friday, August 5, 2011

When Businesses Answered Phones, and Dinosaurs Roamed the Earth!

A Woman of Another Era
Answering a Telephone
I've been too depressed to blog much lately. The atrocious debt ceiling sell out, the stock market crash, the continued attacks on workers rights, immigrant rights, LGBT rights, all these things have been weighing on me making it difficult to sit at the keyboard to write anything.

I've also been dealing with some health issues; not the life-threatening kind but the exhausting kind that require a complex orchestration of  faxes from my primary care provider along  with a highly complex choreography of appointments with specialists. A total production that is not getting rave reviews from the critics.

I have joked that I have a managed care health insurance plan, as long as I play the role of manager. Getting a medical problem that requires specialists treated is every bit as consuming as trying to fight identity theft, foreclosure or anything else requiring a strictly synchonized string of telephone calls.

As a boomer, I can remember a prehistoric time before answering machines, when a person could call offices during business hours and actually speak to a human being. In the eighties and nineties this feat was still possible. With the coming of the aughts and the great recession on its heels, it is now officially impossible to make phone calls directly to human beings, no matter what time of the day they are placed.

Now I understand why folks abrasively answer their cell phones at the most inopportune moments and we are all forced to listen to the intimate psychological details of their relationships on public transportation, in waiting rooms and at the supermarket. I haven't sunk to that level yet, but, in order to get my medical problem resolved, I am slowly coming to terms with the fact that this rudeness is what I may have to resort to.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Will the Sky Fall With the Debt Ceiling?

Are these the final moments of our financial lives before the US plunges into default? The media certainly has whipped up a frenzy of emotion around the debt ceiling crisis. I am not an economist. When the economy fell over a cliff in 2008, I didn't believe it would affect me at all. I wasn't a Wall Street investor. I'd owned my home for nearly 20 years. But I was wrong on that one. It turned out that because I have a public sector job with a pension, I was not safe. Nobody is.

The irony is that most middle and working class folks have already lost so much that, emotionally, it's getting hard to rise to the bait of these trumped-up crises. It begs the question: How much worse can it get? Unfortunately, as someone who has traveled quite a bit in the third world, I know that answer and it isn't pretty. The upside is that people do set priorities differently when their lives aren't centered on money and things. When relationships assume greater importance than material objects, it's like seeing the whole forest instead of just your personal tree.

On the other hand, I don't want to romanticize poverty. Having shelter, food, clothing and access to decent medical care are concrete conditions whose importance can't be overstated. With or without the debt ceiling fiasco the powers that be are already reaching into our pockets and helping themselves. On a personal level, my medical co-pays have doubled in the past year. Transportation costs are skyrocketing. You can literally take a bus from one end of Costa Rica to the other for what it costs to get across the bay on BART.

To add insult to injury, Obama's alternative to stave off US default in the face of Republican intransigence involved raising the age that people can get medicare from 65 to 67. Those extra two years of health care denial would make the 3,000 plus people who died on September 11, 2001 seem like just a drop in the bucket. Homeless, throw-away people litter the streets of San Francisco. Will the sky fall if the debt ceiling is not raised?

The truth is it is already lying in pieces all around us.