Thursday, March 31, 2011

Can We Commandeer This Handbasket?

Happy Birthday Cesar Chavez. You must be restless in your grave today.

Ohio has just rammed through an anti-union bill even more drastic than Wisconsin's. The senate vote was along party line but Republican outnumber Democrats so it was a done deal. The clause that would put striking workers in jail was deleted. Ohioans are pinning their hopes on a November referendum to defeat the measure.

In Michigan governor Rick Snyder is now going after unemployment benefits, hoping to cut them down from 26 weeks to 20.

Governor Paul La Page of Maine is in the process of removing a mural depicting workers from the Labor Department wall.

And in Florida, Governor Rick Scott has proposed the drug testing of all public sector workers.

Alternet's Joshua Holland has uncovered a brutally, naked plan by Republicans to lay-off state and city employees to free up an educated segment of the work force for the private sector. This, they claim, will reduce "labor costs." Of course it will. By eliminating, decent, middle-class jobs and forcing us all to work for peanuts will reduce manufacturing costs and bring the US into line with other struggling third world nations.

And determined Dairyland Dictator Scott Walker has illegally published his new law against collective bargaining, against the instructions of a judge who will be hearing the case, and has tried to implement benefit and pension cuts by trimming their paychecks on his own. Today another judge put an end to his despotism.

So, the gloves are off and all pretense is gone. The choices have been narrowed down to the lowest common denominator. Either we fight back or we get steamrollered into oblivion. April 4th is a day of actions nationwide Check the site: for updates on your area. Organizing is also beginning for a May 1st action in San Francisco in honor of International Workers Day. See you in the streets!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Internet and Sleeping Dogs

Me in My Early Years Online
The problem with the online world is that is has presented us with a way to reconstitute the ghosts of the past. Yes, now we can reconnect with folks we may have gone to college with, known in high school or even grown up with as children. On its face(book), this doesn't seem like such a bad idea. I have both uncovered friends of long ago and been discovered by them. It's a heady reunion at first. We exchange excited emails, reminisce, catch-up. Then the weird part sets in. Email is not like snail mail. It's too fast and easy. My best friend in high school isn't necessarily someone I want to talk to every day, once a week, or even once a month. Why? Other than our past shared experiences, we no longer have anything in common.

This is probably more true for alternative folks than for traditional people. I'm not saying that my old junior high and high school friends weren't fun. We hung out, went to see our favorite bands, skipped school, shoplifted, did drugs together. Good times. But, even then there were red flag warnings letting me know that my life would be different from theirs. They were attracted to guys and I was not. They wanted marriage and children, the whole package. It made me gag. Around 1967, when I was in High School, I saw Gloria Steinem, for the first time ever, on the Phil Donohue Show. She spoke of a new movement called Women's Liberation. It was an aha moment! I thought, oh my god, I'm not alone. The lesbian thing hadn't really hit me yet, but I knew that the idea of subjugating my self, my ideas and personality, to a male was not going to work for me.I'd read all the stupid articles in Seventeen Magazine that talked about how you needed to pretend you were genuinely interested in your guy's football team in order to "catch" him. Why didn't he feign to share my interests as well? Questions like this weren't supposed to be asked.

When I told my high school friends about my feelings, my theories, my new ideas, they listened politely but they weren't driven by the same forces. I became Joan, their odd friend, the "women's libber." When we meet up via the internet they have husbands, ex-husbands, pastors, kids, grandkids, American flags waving from the porches of tidy houses. They might become uneasy when I write about my partner, my politics, my friends, even a book that I'm reading. We exist on different sides of the looking glass. I feel at a loss to explain myself because, the road less traveled is not well documented on television or in magazines.

I still care about my old friends and wish them all the best. But as people grow their paths diverge. I now have renewed respect for sleeping dogs of my history, having acquired a larger perspective regarding what lulled them into slumber in the first place. There are sound and valid reasons for leaving the past behind. That's a lesson I'm still learning.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

100 Year Anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire

Bodies of Some Who Jumped
 March 25, 2011 marks 100 years since 146 young immigrants, mostly girls and women of European-Jewish origin, jumped to their deaths or burned to death at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City. All of the dead were ages 16-23. The factory occupied the eighth through tenth floors of the building, too high for the ladders of the fire-fighters to reach. Most of the dead worked on the ninth floor. A bookkeeper had warned the managers, who worked on the tenth floor, of the danger. They were able to escape via the roof. Those on the eighth floor could head down a stairway that proved to be inaccessible to those above. Women could not access the fire escape because they were locked in. The rationale for this was that it prevented workers from taking unnecessary breaks and pilfering materials!

Union Mourners
 As a result of the fire deaths, the factory owners were charged with manslaughter but the jury, which deliberated for less than two hours, found them not guilty. Twenty-three individual suits were filed by family members of the dead. In the end, the families were awarded just 75 dollars per life lost. After the incident, the Triangle Waist Company fell into financial decline and eventually locked its doors for good.

The movement to protect workers spread like wildfire after that disaster. Trade unions formed and membership in them grew to unprecedented levels. This union movement peaked during the 1940's, an era when strikes protesting working conditions closed down both factories and entire cities. In the US in 1945, 35.5% of workers were represented by unions. Since that time membership has steadily declined along with wages and protections.

Today working people are facing a concerted right-wing effort to drive the nail into the coffin of those hard-won rights and protections. Many, like the Triangle workers who gave their their lives. The sacrifice of so many must not be forgotten. It's a struggle as crucial and relevant today as it was 100 years ago.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The High Cost of Being an Artist

Parents are notorious at discouraging children from undertaking any risky venture that involves creativity. Yet when a child of the upper-middle class says Mom, Dad, I want to be a poet, a novelist, a musician or a painter, Mom and Dad are likely to say, "It's going to be an uphill climb dear, but we'll support you."  Even as they stress the idea of having something else to fall back upon, they will often demonstrate their support by offering tuition to good colleges, introduction to friends in that field or just plain encouragement.

On the other hand, when a child of the working-class expresses the same sentiment, Mom, Dad, Auntie, Gramma or Guardian are likely to say, "Just get yourself a frickin' job!" only a slight paraphrase of what my father said to me!

Now, as the Republicans agressively move to defund National Public Radio we must consider the prohibitively high cost of art and what a bleak society we would live in without it.

Artists catapult society in new and innovative directions but too often the necessity of economic survival precludes and obliterates the desire to contribute something beautiful, thought-provoking or gut-wrenching to a regimented world. And that is not only sad on an individual level, it is everyone's loss.

Visualize for a moment, a universe where people are paid to contribute art, writing, music, theater and dance. In Cuba they called them "cultural workers" and they were educators as well, teaching people to think of a larger life beyond the boundaries of humdrum daily existence. A place where people don't have to be retired, disabled, sick or financial daredevils in order to reach for their dreams.

It is a world worth imagining. 

Friday, March 18, 2011

Zero Tolerance for Intolerance

A handful of high-profile, media "progressives," John Stewart and Stephen Colbert leading the pack, have been promoting a harmful ideology that proposes that any display of anger, passion or deep emotional engagement in political struggle is out of control, unbecoming, and essentially wrong. In their own words, it is "insane."This fallacy, illustrated by the Stewart/Colbert "rally to restore sanity" equates T-(yranny) Party wackos like Glen Beck and Sarah Palin and their impaired followers with leftist activists who are speaking out for the fair treatment workers, immigrants, LGBT, people of color, the disabled etc. and equates them with right-wingers who want to curb or eliminate civil rights.

In the LGBT community this tactic is obvious and particularly destructive, especially with the burgeoning renaissance of the "culture war." Obviously, queers are still a hot button hate issue for many in this country. Denying us access to marriage, medical coverage and an end to job discrimination on an across the board federal level is still a distant dream. The recent decision by the US Supreme Court that defended the rights Fred Phelps to allow his hateful army of imbeciles to bring their disgusting signs to funerals of gay people is an interesting example.  While I acknowledge that the erosion of the right of free speech is a slippery slope, I do wonder what the decision might have been if the roles were reversed and queers were seeking the right to harass and intimidate them. Although these Baptist Bullies have the right to appear with their signs, their ignorance should not be accepted on any level or equated with our protests on the other side. There should be zero tolerance for intolerance. Free speech is one issue, but the war against LGBT folks, women immigrants, people of color, the working class is real and tangible and should not be "tolerated" on any level.

Obama, who has recently stirred a bit from his long, winter's nap, in eliminating Don't Ask Don't tell and instructing his administration's justice department to cease its defense of the Defense of Marriage Act. We know that the amount of ambivalence with which he approaches the LGBT rights struggle is considerable. His erratic belief system that supports civil unions, but not marriage, hospital visitation but not full health insurance for partners, opens a window on his contradictory and muddled thinking. Is he in the process of re-evaluating his personal web of sophistry. A little dose of equality is like being declared partially dead. Either you are or you are not. At this point we have to put our faith in that long arc of the universe which will eventually be bending in our direction. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Nuclear Workers in Japan Face the Greatest Danger

Nuclear Power Plant Workers
Like many of you, I've spent a large part of the last few days watching the Japanese disaster unfold. The accuracy of the picture we are getting has been called into question by some in the nuclear field as in this article by Ron Freeman, an engineer trained in Nuclear Physics. Rachel Maddow has also made reference to previous inaccurate reporting and cover-ups by the Japanese government regarding past nuclear incidents.

At this juncture, scientists are hoping for something less horrific than the Chernobyl incident. It's important to note that, while vast numbers of people are being negatively impacted by the present situation, it is the nuclear plant employees who are in the greatest danger.Their jobs will likely cost many of them their lives. Although we aren't sure exactly what is actually happening in Japan, or even whether or not the news reports are reliable, we do know that a simliar scenario is entirely possible in California where we have the same deadly combination of nuclear power plants, earthquake fault and tsunami potential.

The only optimistic note is that perhaps this disastrous event will mark the beginning of the end of the nuclear industry.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Fascism or Nuclear Holocaust?

Maybe we'll have both...Between Walker's walking all over the rights of the people of Wisconsin and the danger of meltdowns from Japan's earthquake and tsunami-damaged nuclear reactors, we are being Fukushima'd up down and sideways. Tractors driven by agricultural workers and the largest crowd ever, estimated at 180,000 protesters, descended on the Capitol in Madison and filled the rotunda. Deafening cries of "Shame! Shame! echoed throughout the building as Walker overrode the democratic process entirely to sign his "budget repair bill" into law. This demonstration was the first since that travesty of justice. Protesters were joined by the 14 renegade Democratic senators who had returned home in the misplaced hope that they could negotiate with the Dairyland Dictator. The well-mannered and patient demonstrators sang a few choruses of "We Shall Overcome."

Friday, March 11, 2011

Passing and Presumption of Identity

Much has been written about the phenomenon of "passing" although that term is not often used. Recently, I've been reading some fiction where the protagonist (male, in these three instances) is a working-class person trying to pass as upper-middle class, or even as part of the aristocracy. These protagonists are sometimes psychotic, "The Talented Mr. Ripley," by Patricia Highsmith but mostly they are just regular schmucks struggling to get by: "The Secret History," by Donna Tartt and "Old School," Tobias Wolff.

Although in the above cases, "passing" requires a web of falsifications, the most common form of it doesn't take any effort whatsoever. In every day life, people tend to assume that the folks they interact with are just like themselves. So, since the majority of people are straight, are brought up in the Christian tradition, aspire to be perceived as young etc...all these labels will be automatically attributed to you, if you simply keep your mouth shut.

Working as a librarian, the assumption of a Christian background and identity is a constant one. Many people use the library simply for its computers and a myriad of folks want to read one book only and that book is The New Testament.

Queers have made a ritual of passing for centuries, sometimes for the sake of security or financial gain, other times for the simple sake of expediency. Coming out is still fraught with problems although the legal protections are greater now than ever before.

Even in the bad, old days, I made a point of coming out as gay at work. Not in the interview, mind you, but afterwards in order to be able to converse about something other than the weather. I paid a high price for this as I can attribute the loss of 3 jobs to some aspect of homophobia. However, it was more commonly a hassle rather than a danger. I had a co-worker who was quite dense. She was someone I had to come out to repeatedly because she just couldn't seem to remember that I was a lesbian. This would not have been bad, in and of itself, except that when I least expected it, I would be subjected to a diatribe against some flaw or failing she attached to lesbian/gay culture. I finally learned to just cut her off and say, "Pat, I'm the wrong person to try and get support for your feelings on this issue."

As an older person, I find being called, "young lady" offensive. I have lived and worked hard for these wrinkles, this perspective, this overview of the human condition that can only be derived from experience. I'd rather just be an old crone until I engage in the ultimate passing. Passing away.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

An Injury to One...

"This is our Moment, Everybody up off the Couch Now!" is a quote from Michael Moore on Democracy Now where he appeared today speaking out against the abhorrent tactics used by Wisconsin governor Scott Walker to railroad through his controversial "budget repair bill." Moore galvanized both Madison and the country with his moving speech on Saturday railing against the ever-unfolding damage done to working Americans as a result of the Wall Street meltdown of 2008. But yesterday evening, March 9th, Scott Walker trampled our rights further by reworking his bill stripping workers of collective bargaining rights. He divided the old bill into two smaller parts that required only a simple majority, instead of a quorum, to pass. With the Democratic 14 still out of state, it took only minutes to pass this totalitarian, draconian piece of pseudo-legislation with only one dissenting vote.  So, T(yranny) Party faithful, Walker pulled a fast one on the people of Wisconsin and the people of the USA. While the legality of his move remains to be decided in a court of law, the ramifications of his undemocratic action are already underway.

A recent, similar bill in Michigan, not only strips bargaining rights but makes it legal for the governor or his designated representatives to appoint an "emergency financial manager" who would have nearly unlimited financial power over decisions ranging from workers' contracts to the running of school districts and the removal of elected city officials.

Even my home state, Ohio, has passed a union-busting bill that eliminated the ability of public sector workers to bargain for health care, pay raises and seniority issues, plus mandates a fine or jail time for workers who go out on strike.

All this is happening under the auspices of "budget repair." While there is an unhealthy dose of  Naomi Klein's "Shock Doctrine" philosophy in this strategy, eliminating the power of unions is a major, financial stepping stone to defeating Obama in 2012. After the inappropriately named, Citizens United decision, (stating that for purposes of political fundraising, corporations can be perceived as individuals thereby giving them license to buy government elections) the unions are the last source of significant amounts of capital available to the left.

Since these developments, the State House in Madison has been flooded with people who are resuming their campout. Saturday, the agricultural workers will be riding their tractors into Madison and I'm betting that they will have lots of company. Those of us in the rest of the country need to get off our butts as well and make our presence known in our respective states and cities. This is our moment, there may not be another. See you in the streets!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

More Than Half the Sky

Women Holding up the Sky
When I was coming of age there were many jobs that were unthinkable for women to hold. My best friend wanted to be a disc jockey, although we'd never heard of a female disc jockey. A prominent newscaster stated publicly that witnessing a woman read the news would be just like listening to nursery rhymes. It was rare to hear of a woman doctor or lawyer. Now the law and medical school enrollments of women top the 50% mark.

Of course, women still earn less than men (about 77 cents to the dollar). In some Muslim countries, like Iran, women, by law, inherit half of what their brothers do and when it comes to testimony in a court of law, it takes two women to equal one man. Yesterday in Abidjan, on the Ivory Coast, seven women were killed when their protest was fired upon with live ammunition. From denial of the right to an education, "bride-burning," genital mutilation, flogging, stoning and enforced confinement in the home, women's suffering in the world is clear, our lot is still not an easy one.

Back here in the States feminism ranges from the ridiculous to the sublime. In the ridiculous category, there seem to be an new crop of television ads that feature only women talking about some aspect of washing clothes, vacuuming or some other facet of house cleaning. The strange addition of the title Ms. as a selection in multiple choice paperwork totally defeats the purpose of using it at all. The original intent was to utilize it as an all-purpose prefix before a woman's name. Universal and non-marriage specific the way that Mr. is, not as a third category for feminists.

But here as well, the stakes are high. Domestic violence is a deadly problem. The economic subjugation and deprivation of women takes a tremendous toll on single mothers trying to raise children. And stereotyping and and job discrimination is no laughing matter even in positions far below the proverbial "glass ceiling"  world of the management elite. 

The new generation of American feminists is quite different than the one I grew up with. Just yesterday I was reading a lesbian news blog, that is a well researched and serious endeavor. The desciption reads, " A gay girl's view on the world." It's ironic, that when I was 19, I was already demanding to be called a "woman." Girl was considered derogatory and belittling. I guess that's a sign of improvement, though. In the Germany of the thirties, I probably wouldn't have referred to myself as a Hebe or a Yid, but now I might, in jest. The moral here is that when you can relax a bit about your identity, it signifies that things have improved.

So keep on keepin' on girls, gals, babes and women. Whatever you call yourselves, I celebrate our day with the pride of being one of your number!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Egyptian Women Plan March for International Women's Day

Egyptian Women in Tahrir Square
In Egypt, where hijab is not required and interaction of the sexes is permitted, women play a larger role in society than in many other Muslim countries where women are not permitted to work along side of men or be on the street alone: (Afghanistan, Pakistan) or drive a car (Saudi Arabia).

Egyptian women were both visible and active in the taking back of Tahrir Square and, hopefully will continue to participate in re-establishing the new government. But Egyptian Women are still wary of the prospect of inclusion. Being a woman in Egypt is fraught with difficulty. Female mutilation, called circumcision is still prevalent there. According to the New York Times, 42% of Egyptian women are illiterate and almost no women are political leaders. (in Parliament women hold 8 seats out of 454). Women are routinely grabbed and subjected to unwanted touching on the streets of Cairo causing wealthier women to avoid walking downtown altogether. Women were respected and treated as equals in the euphoria and power of radiating from the uprising but the moment but it wasn't long after Mubarak resigned that the old reality began to set in. CBS Foreign Correspondent, Lara Login was set upon, stripped, punched, pinched and beaten with sticks by a rowdy mob of Egyptian men. Newspapers around the world reported that she underwent a brutal and sustained sexual assault before being rescued by a group of women and 20 Egyptian soldiers.

Now a coalition is planning a Million Women's March for Tuesday, March 8, International Women's Day. It includes the country's most recognized and outspoken feminist, Nawal el Saadawi a physician, professor and outspoken author of more than 50 books. She will turn 80 in October of this year and claims she has been ostracized from Egyptian politics her entire life due to her uncompromising stand on the position of women.

Admittedly, women, here in the USA as well as those around the globe, still have a long way to go before we see parity in both pay and political representation. Let's commemorate this International Women's Day as just one more step in the fight for freedom from suffering inflicted because of gender and to affirm the right of every person to exercise the full range of their human potential. 

Friday, March 4, 2011

Who's Going to Jail Now?

Democratic Headquarters?
To the chagrin of impassioned activists in Columbus Ohio, Kasich's anti-worker bill passed Wednesday in the State Senate, 17 to 16. To become law, Senate bill 5 still has to clear the Ohio Statehouse where Republicans hold a majority (59-40).Aside from all of its other attacks on workers bargaining rights, benefits and pensions, the proposed bill makes going out on strike a crime punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or up to 30 days in jail!

AND speaking of misguided, T-(otalitarian) Party mishegoss, Scott Walker's latest prank, aside from blanketing Wisconsin workers with layoff notices, is signing an order declaring that if the missing senators don't return by 4 pm today, they will be declared in contempt of court and face possible arrest. So, if we don't get our butts in gear to stop this tsunami of tsupidity we may alll meet in "the place where there is no darkness," that Orwell alluded to.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Lori Berenson and Peruvian Anger

Berenson and Salvador
Today the NYTimes published an interesting and extensive article on the saga of leftist activist, Lori Berenson who has just been released from prison in Peru after 15 years of incarceration. She was convicted because her involvement with the revolutionary group, Tupac Amaru, although it was never clear exactly what she did with them beyond renting an apartment for some group members. She is now required to live in Lima, under supervised parole conditions, until 2015. At that point she will be forced to leave Peru and never return. While in prison, she met and married a fellow inmate and was allowed conjugal visits. In 2009, Berenson gave birth to her son Salvador. Women prisoners in Peru are allowed to care for their children up until the age of 3.

My S.O. (significant other) and I visited Peru this past summer. In Lima we stayed in the bustling, affluent and cosmopolitan district of Miraflores where Berenson's parent's pay for the apartment where she and her son, Salvador, reside. Upon moving into her place she was barraged with the rage of her neighbors who spit at her and shouted "terrorist." They protested her presence publicly and, as a result, she was unceremoniously returned to jail. And it was a fact that every person my S.O. and I spoke with in that country which included cab drivers, artists, store clerks, hotel employees, students, indigenous people and union members felt strong opposition to Lori Berenson and her struggle. Even when we pointed out that her intentions were good but she was a probably quite naive, they were unmoved by her plight.

The reasons we could deduce for this residual anger and resentment involve the bombings, oppression and general hardship that the Peruvian people endured in the 1980's. The fear, death and destruction of that era was considerable and those who were older haven't yet recovered. The wounds are still bloody and the scars are deep. I'm convinced that Berenson, who is said to speak Spanish with a Peruvian accent now, will never attain any degree of acceptance there.

The gist of what Peruvians said about her was, why doesn't she fix things in her own country before coming here and screwing around with ours? We took that advice to heart, and although we photographed and cheered many marches and demonstrations in that very activist country, we were cautious about joining the militants in their ranks. There is certainly much here in the USA that desperately needs our resources and attention.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Wisconsin Capitol Ordered Re-opened to All/Librarians March

Librarians on the March
A Wisconsin judge today ordered that the Madison Capitol be reopened to folks without ID as it is a public building today Tuesday, March 1st in response to a restraining order.State officials have not yet begun complying. A plan to clear out the protesters to clean the building was partially successful on Sunday but those who didn't leave voluntarily were allowed to staty overnight. Police have been standing in solidarity with pro-union activists as part of a united front. In the small city that had been created in Madison there was no incidence of theft or crime, according to Amy Goodman of "Democracy Now." A group of librarians joined the protest in solidarity (see photo at left).

Five-thousand people gathered at the Statehouse in Columbus Ohio to protest a similar bill proposed by Governor Kasich.