Friday, December 28, 2012

Why I'm a Bad Feminist...

A writer friend said to be a good feminist you just have to love women and show it. Although she is a lesbian, she meant this in a platonic, political sense not in a literal one. And suddenly I realized, ah there's the rub, the defining problem, the friction between me and feminism. Do I love women? That seems like an overly broad question, very much like: Do I love children? or Do I love Jews or Muslims? Do I love African-Americans? Of course the answer to all these questions can only be, I love some of them, feel indifferent to most and despise a handful. It all depends.

When I first identified as a feminist and a lesbian, it was 1970. Women's style included big hair, high heels, an Mrs. degree and almost no job options. The question of breeding was big in a racial sense but in a reproductive sense having children was not viewed as whether or not, simply when. I found women attractive and, for the most part, fabulous. They/we were also more powerless then. I guess the romance of oppression held some validity for me. We had each other's backs, we were fighting for a big slice of what I had yet to recognize as a moldy pie.

I conveniently ignored the "moral majority" women who hated my very existence. I wrote the women who supported the Nazis, the pogroms, fascism in all its forms out of my exclusive distaff cadre. Did I love the wealthy women matrons or high-level managers or princesses who treated me like dirt? In theory, we were all one sisterhood, rising up together to build a new world. Beautiful as this sentiment may be, it was and is not realistic. The fact of a limited degree of shared oppression doth not a kindred soul make. Jews know this, we fight one another like cats and dogs. Thereby the expression, two Jews, three opinions.

Queers know this. When our movement was young, gay men thought nothing of not including lesbians in everything from books to classes to strategy meetings. It wasn't until the AIDS crisis in the eighties that gay men and lesbians came together to fight jointly for anything.

And, believe me, people from all other minority groups know this as well. The powers that be skillfully pit us against each like rats in a cage fighting for crumbs.

I love some individuals and not others. As a leftist politico, I love the ideal of a just and humane society where the basic needs of all are provided for. I love worker's protections and freedom from prejudice. Do I love all other leftists fighting for the same objective? Let's just say I respect our joint struggle as well as each individual's good intentions, if they seem to have them. The same goes for women. My love is not unconditional. I'm a demanding taskmaster, a loose canon, an unreliable narrator, a bad feminist.  

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Guns & Mental Illness

Shooter Adam Lanza
Another mass school shooting by a deranged, well-heeled white adolescent, this time aimed at a younger group of students and everyone is up in arms, so to speak, at the gun laws which allow private citizens to purchase semi-automatic weapons like AK-47's without so much as a background check.

And they are right. The American gun addiction and romance with the second amendment is inexplicable and terrifying to a Jew like me who, as a youngster, never got near a forest let alone a hunting rifle. The other factor that has been ignored or underconsidered in these shootings is how alienation, bullying and mental illness sometimes unite to monstrous ends.

The mentally ill are and have been greatly neglected by our society. Releasing people to the streets on mind-numbing drugs that they have no motivation or desire to take is not an answer. Neither is warehousing drugged patients in understaffed facilities. We need to find other options because this problem is not going away anytime soon

When I worked on the reference desk at San Francisco Public Library, I saw and tried to help a lot of mentally ill people. Many were homeless or lived in SROs (single resident occupancy hotels, one step from the streets). Most of the problematic types admitted to being off their medication. Tourists from Europe would often comment on the pathetic state of affairs on the San Francisco streets. Can't anything more be done for them? was a question we librarians were repeatedly asked.

I don't have any pat answer. This is an issue that is finally beginning to shake our souls.But until we find a pill to correct the hormonal imbalance that produces schizophrenia and other serious mental disorders, we must find a more productive way to care for the most disturbed among us.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Will We Be Ruled Equal?

Well, the US Supreme Court be ruling on our rights again. I am deeply tired of worrying about my legal status in this country. I know that if I, or my partner of 14 years, should die unexpectedly we would be considered nothing more than strangers under the law. Huge taxes would be levied on the surviving partner, taxes from which married couples are exempt. Her family, from which she is estranged, could try to sweep in and grab up all her assets.

Not to formally become partners is our own decision but it is also the result of oppression. Opting for this "domestic partners" contract is a poor substitute for the protections marriage offers.It comes with a  sock-it-to-you bill tax preparers receive for making up two separate returns: one for the federal government and the other for the state. This unjust financial burden has not been one we have wanted to shoulder. My partner and I do not live together either so, although it's no problem for Bill and Hillary, domestic partners must share the same address.

It seems like a no-brainer to me, and to most LGBT folks, that, as citizens we are entitled to equal protection under the law. But what tune will the Supremes sing? They are also going to be issuing a decision on DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act) which has prevented the partners of federal employees from recieving medical benefits of their legally married spouses in the states where same-gender marriage is legal. The range of decisions the court could arrive at are not necessarily all or nothing. They are everywhere along a continuum where the worst-case scenario is that marriage is not a fundamental right for gays and uphold DOMA or they could declare that marriage bans are unconstitutional, marriage is a federal civil right and should be universally applied. In between, and most likely, are a million shades of gray, worth reading about but better left to the lawyers to itemize.

But whatever happens next, I do believe that time is on our side. We are finally seeing a bit of the bend in that long arc of the moral universe. Transgenders and people of indeterminate gender identity already help speed the struggle for equal rights because as people transition from one gender to another, it becomes harder to determine the composition of couples desiring marriage anyway. Confusion is a good thing in this case and, ultimately, gender is none of anyone else's business unless they are planning to engage in physical intimacy. In that situation, hopefully, it can be privately discussed.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Does Hollywood Help Divide the Working Class?

City Versus Country
I watched a movie last night called Breakdown. It was a 1997 film with a theme that was trotted out repeatedly throughout the sixties, seventies and eighties and still circulates today. The plot was a simple thriller about a couple's car breakdown and a wife who mysteriously disappears into the southwest desert cowboy country. The couple has Massachusetts license plates and a new truck. Even though they are deeply in debt and have all sorts of financial troubles, the "red-neck," cowboy types assume them to be rich, snotty, Yankees and display a deep-seated and furiously irrational hatred toward them.

This regional, cultural and trumped-up, different lifestyle hatred has been a staple of Hollywood and the mainstream media for decades now, pretty much since the debut of that pig-squealing masterwork called "Deliverance" where Atlanta city boys get their comeuppance from a bunch of inbred, hillbilly locals. The unspoken moral of both these films is to caution city folk to stay away from the struggling poor from rural areas unless you are willing to risk your life.

Merle Haggard's 1968 song, "Okie From Muskogee," takes up this same theme from the other side and even dives into some old fashioned homophobia and traditional family values. Find lyrics here.

The result continues as a long-standing "culture war" that has divided the working class and kept us from uniting around common interests and goals. There has always been a labor union movement that has, to some limited extent, transcended all this hype and, for a brief window in time, the Civil Rights struggle in the American South did so as well. But, for the most part, the extreme polarization of pseudo-classes, defined by region and lifestyle instead of financial status, has continued unabated until relatively recently.

It has only been the recent American uprisings of the 99% that have threatened this long standing tradition of divide and conquer. And that is why the repression of the movement that called itself Occupy was so immediate and brutal. Remission isn't necessarily death. The discontent and rage that boiled over once has not cooled. Perhaps it's just simmering until the right moment presents itself.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Unions: Safety and Discrimination Protection

The two tragic fires that have killed workers in Bangladesh remind us of labor’s history in the early years of the twentieth century when the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire killed 146 garment workers most of them Jewish and Italian immigrant women.

Capitalism actively condones the murder of dispensable commodities like people who provide unskilled or semi-skilled labor. Now even the sweatshops of China are moving to even cheaper, less-regulated Bangladesh. American companies like Wal-Mart and Apple have increasingly relied on cheap third-world labor to produce their products as wages plummet and safety regulations evaporate in the United States, our country will once again look like a more desirable sweatshop location for vulture capitalists of all stripes.

With the active collusion of some large city mayors like Rahm Emanuel (Chicago) and Cory Booker (Newark) both labor union power and membership are diminishing. Unions have become an endangered species and will soon go the way of the dodo.

Yes, labor unions fight for the safety concerns of workers. These are paramount. Without your life, a job isn't worth much. But they also fight for job security and retention. The “employment at will” doctrine that is applied in the United States means any worker can be terminated for any reason whatsoever, whether or not it is job related.

If I had been unable to seek out union jobs, I could easily have been a street person instead of a retired homeowner. As a political activist and openly lesbian worker, I have been fired from employment in at least three instances where I was dismissed with the comment, “Your work is fine, you just don’t fit in.” Eating and having shelter are very important factors for a decent quality of life. They are necessary for both those who fit in as well as those who do not. It makes me angry and sad to think that LGBT young people today, who are lacking family emotional and financial support, cannot keep themselves out of poverty.

We desperately need international guidelines concerning workers’ safety. We also need non-discrimination laws to protect the livelihoods of non-traditional employees. Our lives and our jobs should not be too much to ask. We must resuscitate the unions before it is too late. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Tis the Season to be Wary...

Whose Salvation?
Unfortunately, Thanksgiving came early this year forcing us all to endure an extra week of the season to be jolly. I'm not a grinch or a scrooge, just a naturally critical California Buddhist, Jew, atheist with a strong vein of analytical doubt running through my belief system. Lights are pretty, trees are nice, crafts fairs can be fun, creches a bit much but the overtone of rampant materialism is more than a bit nauseating.

It is important to note as well that many organizations that are part and parcel of this holiday season are not what they seem. The Salvation Army with its bell-ringing and donation kettles is a blatantly homophobic organization. Here is an article from Huffington Post where a Salvation Army spokesman sounds off in favor of the death penalty for LGBT folks because that is "in scripture." It is imperative to consider how your money will be used if and when you make the decision to donate it.

Traditionally, the Xmas season is one that non-Christians recognize as the most difficult of the year. It is a time when the predominant culture runs roughshod over all non or different believers in the name of peace on earth and goodwill towards men. Here it is only late November and I have already been wished a Merry Christmas by a good-hearted but somewhat limited soul.

In short, I do wish I could put myself in a state of suspended animation until December 26th but instead I will brace myself for this seasonal onslaught of pseudo-merriment and try to keep in mind that the balance of power in this country has shifted and the straight, white, male, upper-crust Christians are not necessarily winning!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Is Cruelty to Workers Behind Workplace Violence?

Another workplace shooting took place in Fresno on November 5th at a chicken processing plant. Three workers were killed and two were injured by a fellow employee with a handgun. According to filmmaker Emil Chiaberi, this pattern of workplace violence has roots in the way employees are treated in this country.

Chiaberi's 2010 film, “Murder by Proxy: How America went Postal,” sheds both light and heat on the phenomena of workplace murders. Beginning with the Royal Oak Post Office massacre of 1991, which caused the expression “going postal” to become a part of American slang, through other workplace attacks, Chiaberi chronicles a history of employee abuse that drives some beyond the limits of sanity to commit appalling and desperate acts.

There is no excuse for these crimes and Chiaberi does not try to present one. But there are reasons and, through interviews, he explains the history of cruelty to workers that is characteristic of the US Postal Service as well as many other working-class jobs.

Since the mid-eighties no workplace protections have been instituted for workers. The climate we now inhabit is overtly hostile to those that make the machine of service or manufacturing run. The post office is a hotbed of extreme stress and discontent for many reasons. Workers are required to keep up with sorting machines, the pace of which are inhuman. Those who deliver mail have speed and safety issues combined. The job requires little skill or training but has good benefits and pays well. In other words, there’s more where you came from is a prevailing mantra.

Workplace scapegoating seems to be a particularly prevalent problem in the postal service and other low-skill level jobs. This is not explained in the film, I assume, because it is not completely understood. But scapegoating, when it works, tends to do two things. One, frighten other workers because the same thing could happen to them. And two, unify folks against a common enemy, the workplace scapegoat.

But many of the workers interviewed see through this ruse and understand the common enemy is their systematic and continual dehumanization. One shooter skipped shooting a boss who simply asked him how his recent eye surgery went.

The fact that workers are people has escaped those who advocate for the business owners and managers. With anti-union politicians like Wisconsin’s governor Scott Walker leading the charge, worker protection is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. Films like “Murder by Proxy,” may not change that but at least they can serve as a warning of what may be in store for our increasingly income-skewed society where production and service workers are belittled and their fundamental humanity ignored.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Breathe Easier and Fight Harder!

 Keep on Keepin' On
Today I have been pleasantly surprised by the American people. Not only has the Romney threat been eviscerated but many other positive things transpired. California's Measure 32, the big-buisness attempt to thwart union power has been defeated. Maine and Maryland have voted FOR same-sex marriage rights, this popular vote marking a first in the string of 33 state defeats. And Minnesotans have voted down an amendment to preserve marriage bigotry.

The pro-rape philosophers Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock each lost their races: Todd Akin to Claire McCaskill and Richard Mourdock to Joe Donelly. Ah yes, the lord works in mysterious ways!

Elizabeth Warren defeated incumbent Scott Brown in Massasschussets and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin won to become the first openly gay member of the Senate. Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan, Colorado and even Virginia all stood up against Romney's war on the 47 percent.

Marijuana has been legalized in Colorado and Washington.

I understand that these results mean that we progressives have our work cut out for us. But now at least we can breathe a bit easier as we push into high gear with our committment to build a more democratic and egalitarian society!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Romney: The Scariest Thing This Halloween

Yes, I know that Obama has been a war-monger who has curtailed civil liberties and protections for everyone and yes, I would rather see a third party offer a true choice for all Americans. A Romney presidency would privatize life here in the USA and survival or the fittest would be our new national slogan. But as horrible as his “leadership” would be for immigrants, women, working and poor people in general, but it would be absolutely devastating to the well-being of LGBT Americans.

Romney has stated that the right to hospital visitation by a significant other would be up-for-grabs on a state-by-state basis under his administration. There would be more incidents like the Florida case where in April of 2010, Janice Langbehn was denied access to her dying partner of the past 18 years, Lisa Marie Pond.

Mitt has stated he will enshrine a marriage equals one man and one woman clause in the US Constitution and do everything in his power to take away same-gender marriage rights in those few states that have them.

He will ensure that the children of LGBT couples are discriminated against by noting on their birth certificates by striking out the words mother and father and writing in parent one and parent two. He resisted the printing out of gender-neutral birth certificates because this would be “detrimental to the family unit.” What would become of these “detrimental” families and their children is anybody’s guess but certainly not his concern.

When it comes to the issue of bullying in schools, Romney has opposed any administration-based efforts to oppose this practice or even to educate people about homophobia and gender-based bigotry.

Queer folks will need to kiss goodbye any hope of ending immigration and green card discrimination, housing discrimination, discrimination in access to “public” facilities, job discrimination and any other kind of anti-gay prejudice you can think of because Romney would try to take this country back to the days when gay sex itself was illegal.

In this era of hyper-nostalgia when all rights of women, religious and anti-religious minorities and immigrants are at stake it is important to draw the line somewhere. Yes, I know that the Obama administration is problematic in a multitude of ways, but the election of Mitt Romney would be an absolute nightmare.

Now as we are witnessing the effects of climate change first hand, we have a presidential candidate who has proposed to end FEMA funding too. Romney is a walking nightmare. I lived through the oppression of the fifties and have zero desire to repeat that experience now!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Queer/Straight Friendship: Overcoming Barriers

Friendship Involves Risk
I am active in the progressive, the lesbian, and the more generally LGBT communities, so I've spent a good deal of time pondering the risks and rewards of moving in the larger sphere versus those of staying within my own group.

Growing up in an almost exclusively Jewish environment, I was continually warned of the dangers of the outside world, yet I consciously chose to leave its security and insularity to take my chances with the outside world. As a lifelong out lesbian, my choice to reach out to a broader coalition comes from this same motivation.

But being out and actively participating in "straight" groups and organizations does take more effort and a thicker skin than that of just sticking with queer alliances. Coming out becomes a chore that must be done repeatedly and even when its not fraught with danger, it can still be exhausting. We still live in a world where orientation and gender identification are automatically assumed to go just one direction and gender outlaws are still outside the lines

Stereotyping happens automatically and it is negative even when the stereotypical qualities sound positive in and of themselves. Growing up I often heard the sentiment repeated that "Jews are smart." I tried, and sometimes successfully utilized, this stereotype to my advantage. As a lesbian who leans toward, what popular culture terms "mannish," I have also used this image presentation to lure employers to believe that looking more like a male gives me a better grasp of math, science and spacial interpretation. Did this deception help me land my first job as a drafting technician? I'll never really know theory was just like the philosophy of Aikido, which works by turning the force that someone is coming at you against them.

However, this type of manipulation obscures individuals and serves to perpetuate inaccurate categorization. The only thing that call change these misperceptions is an interchange that includes honesty and self disclosure; in other words, friendship. And real friendship involves trust, and trust, persistence and work.
By far the most inhibiting factor in queer/straight friendship, after the initial period of breaking down stereotypes, is fear. It can be the fear of sexual attraction or sexual misunderstandings or simply the straight person's fearof being mistakenly perceived as gay. As long as homophobia has the potential to damage lives, it will retain the potential to instill great fear.

Some fears have validity in the world and are grounded in reality. Much the same as with racial identity, there are genuine differences between a person who has had to think of orientation almost continually at all times and in every aspect of their lives and someone who has never had to give it a second thought.

The key to overcoming any kind of prejudice is both risk as well as communication. The process of reaching out is never easy but, no matter what the outcome, it is well worth the trouble. Yes, we must fight for equal civil rights for everyone but we must also learn to personally cross the bridges that divide us. Because, until we make these journeys, there is no hope of building a genuine revolution.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Endangered Species: Workers with Pensions

A Nearly Extinct Animal
Employees with pensions are not quite dinosaurs yet, we are probably more in the category of the spotted owl. Our rapidly diminishing group now consists almost entirely of unionized public sector employees, working people who earned all kinds of benefits for simply doing their jobs over a long period of time and then, obligingly, getting old.

I think of my pension as an inheritance of sorts, a kind of consolation prize when friends talk about their windfalls from dead relatives. It may not be much, but it arrives each month without any effort on my part allowing me to sit and my computer and feel like a paid writer.

Sunday, I was chatting with a realtor at a Berkeley street fair who appeared to be around my age. Her reaction to my obvious delight at being retired was one I have encountered often. It involves an enthusiastic proclamation of job love coupled with a desire to work until reaching death's door. I have no reason not to believe her. I know Ruth Bader Ginsburg of the Supreme Court feels this way as well. Republicans and some Democrats have even kicked around raising the retirement age so folks can enjoy their jobs well into their dotage. 

But many working-class folks have stressful, demeaning jobs that, as the body ages, wring the very life and spirit from them. It is not a blessing to be forced to perform this type of work until 70 years of age. Part of the conundrum professors and doctors, lawyers and CEOs face is that the simple fact of admitting that work is a moderately unpleasant chore for the majority of workers underlines a hard truth of capitalism:  in order for some people to excel at fulfilling and meaningful work, many others have to service them and their needs. They used to need to make the goods as well but this is less of an issue now that the manufacturing industry is drying up.

I am extremely grateful that I snagged one of the last working-class gems of a bygone era but also very depressed that the welfare of the generations behind me will be left up to chance. Those with prudent and frugal relatives or prominent families may have something to fall back on. But regular working people's options are being sharply reigned in by feeding frenzy of plutocratic capitalism. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Newsflash! Lesbians are Women

In this day and age the title of this post seems ridiculous to have to justify. Of course lesbians are women. You would think this bit of information is quite obvious but, reading the articles about women and their/our issues, this point gets lost. It would be impossible to itemize the deluge of writing about "women's issues," that pours out from keyboard across the country, which excludes queer women, placing us outside their purview.

As a current example, examine the sections of that ever-popular leftist online news source, The Huffington Post which, quite recently, added the section, "Gay Voices." They had a "Women" category but everybody knows that "women's issues" involve men: dating them, marrying them, making babies with them, looking attractive for them, conversing with them, you get my drift. Articles about females very rarely include any references to those of that gender who are queer. In "Gay Voices" finally we see some articles about lesbians specifically. We take it for granted that those could never be applicable to any kind of universal human condition. After all what could we possibly extrapolate from a bunch of queers about life in the USA?

Alternet approaches the situation a bit differently. Under their Rights category they have separate sections for Civil Liberties and Gender. Queer rights pieces can and do occupy either of these classifications. But when the article is specifically about "women" the issues of lesbians are not dealt with. Smaller online news sites don't have categories at all. But that decision, which, depending on how it's approached, can be viewed either as a glaring absence or a window onto a less discriminatory future, doesn't seem to help much with inclusivity.

The film industry has a similar take. In "Women's Films," that particular genre that feature a group of women, the writers will sometimes install a token dyke, much in the same way they insert a woman of color. But you can be assured that the lesbian's character development and personal issues will get short shrift compared to the other characters in these movies.

What the world has yet to come to terms with is that lesbians are women. Perhaps the fear of the queer that was instilled in my generation will be carried within each member until death. But, on the bright side, there are girls being born every minute. Hopefully they will grow up in a society with fewer limitations on all their decisions including those regarding gender.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Where the Sustainability Movement Falters...

Of late, I have been participating in a resilience circle. These groups are organized offshoots of the "sustainability" movement whose goal is to create a local, independent economy which can but does not necessarily use currency as a standard of exchange. Theirs is a noble and idealistic vision. But alone, it is not viable for scattered people and communities. The struggle is as unattainable as trying to bring socialism in one fragment of a country in a rabidly capitalist world.

We dare not underestimate the raw power of capital and its well-armed defenders. The magnitude of the force and repression unleashed against the Occupy Movement, particularly in the United States, is just one small example of what we're up against. This once sleeping dog will not settle back into slumber without a fight. People who desire a more humane and interractive world have to actively battle for it on many fronts. The economic struggle is significant, the environmental struggle absolutely critical but these two alone are not enough.

It is imperative that we also organize ourselves against the hatred that is tossed out for our consumption, like a wad of raw meat in order to divert the attention of the underclass and manipulate us into taking out our frustration on one another.

We are given all kinds of targets to keep us busy with hatred and suspicion: immigrants, people of color, women, LGBT folks, Muslims, Jews, atheists and agnostics, even the nebulous category, "intellectuals." To ignore organized prejudice when it rears its ugly head is a huge omission that will defeat our struggle.

I used to mollify myself by calling up that myth, made popular in the book and movie "Exodus," that the people of Denmark all wore yellow stars so the Nazi couldn't pick out and round up Danish Jews. It is a noble, heart-warming story but, like many stories, it is fiction. Nonetheless, we will all have to emulate this fictitious example of our higher nature on the streets and in our communities as certain groups are singled out for mistreatment both by law as well as by lack of legal protection.

Examples of organized lawlessness include the fact African-Americans have served as a kind of shooting gallery for police of late making it clear that some people are more expendable than others. Lack of legal protection has splintered immigrant families, singled out LGBT people for all kinds of discrimination. Laws against rights have prevented many couples from marrying and are now beginning to target women's control of their/our own bodies. Workers, now desperate for jobs, are losing benefits, pensions job security and any control over the conditions in which they work.

No one person can change these terrible injustices alone. We must have an agenda, a complete program that includes both the environment and its people. Doing so requires a discipline, an inclusion and a unity that we didn't have in the seventies when we tried so hard to change the world. We can and must learn from these mistakes. We may not have a second chance.  

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Indigenous Identity and Elizabeth Warren

Cherokee NC--West of Asheville
One of the big controversies now circling around this upcoming election is from Massachussets where Scott Brown is trying to smear working people's financial advocate and Harvard Law School professor, Elizabeth Warren. The big reveal is simply the fact that she has listed her racial identiy as Native American and claims a grandmother of Cherokee/Delaware descent. Warren was born in Oklahoma, a place with a very large indigenous population.

Native American ancestry is pervasive in this country and is, probably more than other ethnicities, a complicated business. Tribes, who sometimes share profits from gambling enterprises and other financial stipends, have a convoluted system of "enrollment" which involves things like percentage of native blood and other markers for inclusion.

As a full-blooded, not quite passing, member of the Russian-Jewish tribe, I have attended many pow-wows and other indigenous gatherings. At these events it is impossible not to notice the large number of people of all colors who identify themselves as having native ancestry. While some folks resemble relatives of the chief with the feathered headdress on the US nickel, many more do not.

When I was a young person in the feminist movement, we talked a lot about race. Ther was one woman, my age, who identified herself as Native American. She had pale skin and light brown hair and looked like any other WASP to me. I asked her about her identity one day after a meeting. She said simply, "I grew up on a reservation in North Dakota." I realized then that when it comes to racial identity, visual perception is only a small piece of a much larger story.

The toll of passing should not be underestimated. In accounts of Jews in Europe during the Nazi era, many who later suffered the greatest amount of psychological damage were those who "successfully" passed for Aryan. With the definition of Jewish descent consisting of only grandparent, I'm sure that Jewish faces were not readily apparent. The entire concept of "race" in modern society is no more than a social construct, albeit an extremely powerful one.

Elizabeth Warren's work in setting up the Consumer Financial Protection Agency has been dedicated to helping families decimated by foreclosures and unemployment has been absolutely stellar. She stands up to the hegemony of big business with a clearly populist voice. As far as her ethnic ancestry is concerned I need only to quote Rhett Butler, "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn."

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Class Consciousness and Pride

Mitt Romney's obnoxious plutocratic ramblings combined with the one year birthday of the Occupy Movement have got me ruminating about rising class consciousness in America, specifically my own. 

I was raised to believe that ours is a classless society and anyone at all can make it here with a little elbow grease and some sturdy bootstraps. My father was a salesman and my mother, a secretary. I knew that my family was deeply in debt because whenever they gave me a credit card to buy clothes, it would get repossessed by the cashier. 

Yes, like most Americans,  my family spent a lot of time worrying about money and how they would pay their bills. But we lived with most of the trappings of middle class society: a mortgaged house, financed cars, a refrigerator full of food and a large wardrobe of second-hand and bargain basement clothing. Looking back on it now, I see a lower middle class (upper working-class?) family that had bought into the American dream at the expense of their own personal peace of mind.

The upper middle class kids at school did not accept me or my group of friends but, with my rebellious nature, I perceived that as a badge of honor. It's only recently that I have begun to explore the feelings of inferiority that I've harbored and internalized. 

In personal terms, coming to terms with class and vowing to fight for equality for all is a positive thing. It is true that the early acquiring of awareness sometimes translates into resentment of those whose situation was cushier, more supportive, different. In any movement for liberation, a degree of hostility always plays a role in the early stages of consciousness.I experienced this both as an activist in the women's movement and the LGBT movement. Awakening is often born with pain. Later, realization dawns that feelings of inferiority do not indicate actual inferiority. Hopefully then it becomes possible to move on. 

The scars of our early lives follow us everywhere. Sometimes, when I'm depressed, I believe that part of me still lives in high school. The trick is to acknowledge those feelings when they arise, let them wash over me, and then to let them go. Or let them provide the impetus to do something even more productive like write about them. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Chicago Teachers Strike Hope in the Hearts of Workers

Chicago Teachers
and Supporters
Who would have the chutzpah to go out on strike in a vicious anti-worker climate like this? The answer, has now been made loud and clear as the Chicago Teachers with support from their union and a large percentage of parents in their districts is out on strike for a third day.

Wages are not even their main grievance. They are protesting the pressure to teach solely to obtain test scores rather than overall education. Teaching has become a humiliation fest for those educators in the most difficult schools where getting students to memorize answers and inane details of a culturally insensitive exam has become increasingly irrelevant. One of the latest techniques in New York City has been to publish the names of teachers along with their test scores in the paper.

Other issues of concern include unwieldy class size, lack of job security (teachers have been turned into temp workers), the rising cost of health care and the attempted privatization of the US education system by the spread of charter schools that employ young, non-certified idealists for a couple of years until they are burned out and move on to their "real" careers.

Obama, contrary to Romney's statements, has not expressed support for the strike and, in past speeches, has echoed the prevailing opinion that teachers' concern for these issues along with fair pay, job security, healthcare and pension benefits is nothing but selfish blather. Perpetuating this attitude of bullying and mistreating teachers is his former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel. Now, as the mayor of Chicago, Emanuel has been a driving force behind the vilification of unions and the teachers they represent.

A system that treats its teachers as no more than machine parts, a collection of implements of instruction that can be used and discarded, will not encourage a generation to engage in critical thinking and analysis. It will only serve to create a minimally literate underclass and deepen the ever-widening abyss of economic inequality.

So onward Chicago teachers! We wish you the best and are inspired by your determination.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Obama Shines With More Promises

Obama's Many
My Grandma used to say, "If wishes were horses than beggars would ride." With the advent of cars that slogan became dated, but even so, her point was evident. Obama's words shone with promise last night, a good start, but unfortunately given the nature of capitalism they are no more than words.

I was pleased to see him mobilizing the 99% and holding the line on continued tax cuts for the wealthy. He mentioned scapegoating with a list that included immigrants and even gays and I love the way many speakers have quoted Romney's brilliant statement about if you need money to start a business, just ask your parents. 

But what can the Democrats do, besides play a good verbal game, that can actually change working people's lives for the better. Obama could have instituted a single-payer health care system instead of making deals with big pharma to fund the insurance companies. He could have sent corporate criminals to jail and closed Guantanamo. Not issuing death warrants for Americans abroad to be assassinated without trial would have been a nice touch. And forcing banks to modify home loans instead of going full speed ahead with foreclosures could have saved a lot of heartache.

Yes, it matters who is selected for the Supreme Court. It matters that  people of color are not deterred from voting, immigrants be treated fairly and queer folks be accepted as full citizens. But as long as the destruction of unions and middle-class jobs is allowed to proceed unimpeded, as long as corporations are people and our country is committed to endless and ever-increasing warfare, the unobstructed economic down-slide of the US into a third world economy will continue.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Romney/Ryan and the Republican Reichstag

An Earlier Convention
The video clips I saw from the Republican Convention were absolutely terrifying. Well, Clint Eastwood interviewing an empty chair was laden with unintentional humor and pathos, but nonetheless the speeches and the audience comprised a scene reminiscent of Germany in 1933. 

Yes, the Democrats are hypocrites too and are unapologetically leading this country into financial ruin (witness Jerry Brown's recent "pension reform" proposal), but the gathering storm of Fascism in the Republican repertoire is absolutely appalling. To hear them champion equality and freedom while trumpeting the "sanctity" of marriage made every Jewish hair on my body vibrate with racial memory. 

How far would a Romney/Ryan administration go to remove the civil rights of LGBT folks? Make same-sex marriage illegal, ensure job and housing discrimination in the name of "religious freedom?" Possibly work toward re-criminalizing same sex pairings altogether? 

We know about the economic consequences of an administration that wants to remove medicare, social security, pensions and all other Roosevelt-era protections of our feeble "safety net." Yes, and also rescind a woman's right to decide what happens to her body. These are all grave and serious concerns. Still these genuine threats pale in the face of the open advocacy of dehumanizing a minority faction of the population. Economic devastation creates the perfect environment for the bacteria of hatred to thrive.

So, hang on to your seats because here we go on to Charlotte with the Democrats. Yes, that's North Carolina, a state which, by a sweeping vote in May of this year, made same-gender marriage and partnership illegal. Could you imagine the Democrats holding their convention in Alabama or Mississippi in the early sixties, before the Civil Rights Act abolished the Jim Crow laws?

Neither can I.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Do Managers Merit Admiration?

"Look at me, you fools!"
As I settle into a retired, more gratifying lifestyle, I am in a perpetual state of disbelief. I've never been in a situation where I am not working and not looking for a job. The fact that I never have to return to my workplace of nearly eighteen years seems totally unbelievable.

In my last year at work, the environment deteriorated completely. The element of forced scheduling and overwork certainly  were contributing factors but these alone do not explain how the relationships between my own immediate superiors and myself eroded so rapidly and thoroughly.

I have come to realize that when the iron fists emerges from the velvet glove all the veneer of civility falls away. As a worker, I lost my subtlety as well. No longer could I go through the motions of a devoted employee when we were under such blatant attack. The glue that held the precarious employer/employee relationship together in the past was gone. A huge component of that glue consists of the qualities of admiration and emulation which management types rely onto do their dirty work. No matter how bitter the pills are, that underlings are expected to swallow, many swallow them readily because, someday they would like to be the ones distributing them. When it is clear that a worker holds no desire to climb that ladder they are on, management has no more carrot. They are left only with the stick.

 I admire and wish to emulate many people. Among them are writers, artists, musicians and political activists. I admire all kinds of scientists, doctors, professors and intellectuals putting forth interesting hypotheses and theories. You know, people who actually accomplish something. They do not have to achieve mainstream "success" to earn my admiration, only to be engaged in worthwhile pursuits.

I have zero admiration for people whose main goal is to get others to perform tasks for them. Managers are no more than puppeteers who reap the rewards of manipulation and deception while profiting off the labor of others, an inherently repellent idea whose time has come and gone.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Do Negative Experiences Build Character?

The other day I was indulging one of my favorite downscale diversions, watching Judge Judy. A twenty-four year old woman whose dog had been killed by another dog was telling her tale of woe. Without wavering she described the death of her dog as the most painful experience of her young life. I both pitied and envied her.

Now, don't get me wrong, I love animals. When I was a teenager my cat, Saka died of poisoning. We found her in the backyard with her eyes open, forever staring into space. I was devastated. By the time I was twenty-four I'd also experienced the death of my mother, the suicide of my grandmother, dealing with the juvenile court system, alcoholism, mental illness, a whole raft of issues that for me and my friends were just par for the course. Would Saka's death have been my most painful experience? I doubt it would even make the top five.

Do I think that people with more difficult lives are better people? Au contraire ma chere. I actually kind of lean in the opposite direction but would be last to apportion blame. When I first had the opportunity to get to know "rich" people (who were actually upper middle class) I found them very nice...hard to get to know at first, but sweet, soft and fluffy compared to the razor-edged folks I was accustomed to.They might offer to do things for you like picking you up at the hospital after you had your impacted wisdom teeth removed. Their parents had often, but not always, modeled caring behavior for them. It was such an unusual experience for me, to feel nutured and appreciated.

My hard-scrabble friends' support was there but erratic. It was more dependent on the convergence of many factors, the ebb and flow of their personal lives. Sometimes they were pillars of support, sometimes they couldn't be found. Do they have more character? I'm not even sure what that means. They may have more resilience and stamina and now, as a writer, I can definitively state that they have more material.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Pussy Riot, Teachers, Workers and Repression

Repression in Russia is all over the news after Putin and his goons conspired to sentence the feminist punk band Pussy Riot to two years incarceration over an anti-establishment video that took place in an Orthodox church. There is outrage everywhere, including from Madonna who had supported the band's politics with a washable tattoo, visible on her back when she removed her shirt on stage. Lack of free speech is a travesty but hearing Amy Goodman repeatedly say, "Pussy Riot," with a little Mona Lisa smile, was priceless. 

Perhaps it is time to take the advice of their innovative name and think in terms of a pussy riot here, to defend the incredible, shrinking specter of women's rights. It would be open to pussies of all genders, of course. 

So much depressing and scary news, it's hard to know where to begin. In New York City only 55% of teachers were granted tenure after their probation. The NYTimes is writing about an upcoming movie that targets that newly much-vilified enemy of capitalism...The Teacher's Union. It's called "Won't Back Down," and sounds absolutely appalling.

And the Caterpillar workers in Illinois accepted a contract that was unacceptable even to the Union leadership. It included a six-year wage freeze, increased payments for health care and reduction of pensions. In the new anti-worker environment people are understandably frightened for their jobs. The entire state of Illinois, where the Caterpillar workers are, is talking pension reduction for all civil service employees. 

So, as bad as Obama may be, we can only hope that the R&R ticket of Ayn Rand fanatics doesn't get into office and do away with Medicare and Social Security.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Beauty, Humor and Healthy Pessimism

David Rakoff
David Rakoff has died at 47. The gay essayist, comic, avowed pessimist and self-proclaimed neurotic Jew has crossed over to the other side. His book of essays, "Half Empty," extolled the virtues of a realistic, pessimistic attitude when looking at the world.

The cause of his death was a tumor caused by radiation treatments he had for lymphoma when he was 22. Like any logical realist, his own demise was an option he was prepared to accept with the same humor and grace he used to write about his cancer.

Like Jewish tribal affiliate and fellow cancer survivor, Barbara Ehrenreich who wrote "Bright Sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America," he espoused a realistic, rather than a sugar-coated view of life. Of late, psychologists and psychiatrists are arriving at the conclusion that this attitude is healthier for many people than a sunny-bunny perspective that leaves sick and depressed people saddled with guilt and blame for their own illnesses.

Like Rakoff and Ehrenreich, I too, am a cancer survivor. After my Clark's level 4 melanoma diagnosis in 1991 I contemplated for the first time the fact that my life might be concluding shortly. As a terminal Jew, healthly skepicism, i.e. pessimism was always been my modus operandi anyway.

But surprisingly, I actually came away from my cancer experience with a lot of practical and positive resolutions that a cheerier person may not have adopted. I made a list of concrete proposals to change my life just in case I survived the ordeal. That was nearly 21 years ago, so I was one of the lucky ones.

I promised myself that I would write and try to get my work published, that I would hold world travel and language learning as life priorities and that I wouldn't be consumed by the workaday rat race. Four years after my diagnosis, I took a part-time job and have never worked full-time for the capitalism dream-shredding machine again. Yet my overall, dark-sided nature has remained fundamentally unchanged, although in many ways I have definitely mellowed with my(unanticipated) advancing age.

True creativity is not born of sunshine and lollipops, it is a survival mechanism that comes from profound inner struggle mixed with existential angst and humor. Farewell David Rakoff, we will miss you and we will bear in mind that we are all coming up right behind you!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

In Mexico Sitting and Relaxing is Legal

Plaza in Tlaquepaque
I came back to news of San Francisco's enforcement of the new sit/lie ordinance that makes hanging out on public sidewalks against the law. Not only is this not the case in Mexico, sitting and relaxing are actually encouraged in public spaces such as the beautiful old colonial-style plazas that grace almost every city and town.

There are benches everywhere, much like the ones that were removed from Civic Center Plaza in the mid-nineties when I worked at the nearby Public Library. Yes, in sleazier towns there are occasional scruffy guys or borrachos (drunks) but the night markets don't sell alcohol and the problem is nearly non-existent compared to this country.

Public spaces are for the people and they come alive at night with stands selling tacos, pozole, tamales, homemade potato chips, even hamburgers. The people are so friendly it made me a bit embarrassed for our country of rush and bother. I am trying to be more Mexican now in my new retired state. To me that means more conscious of others and more aware of myself as a member of a community that transcends ethnicity, race and gender identity.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Passing as a Man in the Guadalajara Bus Station...

 A Female Man in Guadalajara
Yes, there are queers in Mexico, one woman bus driver was butch as all get-out, but in general women tend toward ultra-femme. Gay men, of course, are more visible. This must be the reason that I was so often addressed as senor. Deb and I decided to make the best of it and try to pass as a heterosexual couple. It worked as long as I didn't speak. My voice is not exactly in the male range.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

On Vacation

                            Lavenderjoan is on vacation and will return to blog again in August.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Travel as Buddhist Practice

Ajijic Seen From Lake Chapala
I'm in the process of packing for 3 weeks of travel in Mexico with Deborah. Since I'm putting everything in a backpack that I have to carry, my decision are made almost exclusively by weight. It's a challenging prospect due to the fact that we will be at in a range of climates from 7,000 feet above sea (sunny and comfortably temperate) to absolute sea level which, in July, will be steaming. I'm taking lots of soap so I can wash and rewash the clothes that I'll be sick to death of by the end of the trip. 

Packing is one of the hardest things about travel. Once we leave, we will have next to nothing and will, judging by our past performance, get used to it. It will be as though we never had any other life but the one of motion. Travel is one of the few genuinely Buddhist experiences. You are in the moment because there is nowhere else to be. Taking in the world and meeting basic needs of food and shelter are the goals that take up all the available space. It is a freeing feeling.

When I was young, following the death of my mother in 1973, I took the money from her life insurance, a friend and we went to Europe to bum around indefinitely. Our venture, meant to last at least a year, ended in eight months, not because we ran out of money (hostels and train travel were dirt cheap then) but because, even at 23, we ran out of stamina and patience with nomadic life. In the long run, there is an isolating quality to observing other's lives from the outside.

But, in the short run, I am really looking forward to a few weeks of suspended reality. Especially because, as a newly retired person, I haven't yet defined the parameters of what that day to day reality will actually look like.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

A Rapidly Warming World

Fires, soaring temperatures, fierce storms; we are now experiencing first-hand the effects of global warming, that some euphemistically term, climate change. To say many people are without power takes on a quite literal meaning. What will this mean for the future? The diminishing population of endangered insects, like honey-bees, will mean that plants that rely on pollination will not produce fruit.

Other factors will impact the food supply. New wetland and marsh in once fertile fields and drought in once temperate areas will not bode well for feeding the population of the future.

It's a scary prospect because we can't expatriate from the earth as easily as we can from an individual country. Can and will industrialized countries commodify the universe? WalMart is probably laying the foundation for WalMars as we speak. For all we know, the one percent may be working on a Titanic-sized space station with condos aboard as Newt Gingrich plans for life on the moon.

How will this all play out? Will the entire exercise of politics become superfluous and unnecessary. It all remains to be seen but, indisputably, we do live in challenging times.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The "Empire of Consumption"

I saw Chris Hedges speak last night and the "empire of consumption" was the phrase he used to refer to what this society has become.Was it always this apparent or have things changed drastically? The commercialization of society has never seemed more obvious and obnoxious than it is today. He observes that it is a progression that has happened over time.But this out-of control growth was years in the making and, like any malignant tumor, it will destroy the host organism.

Of course, for many years the Gay Pride Parade has been used as a vehicle for advertising, some of its biggest sponsors being alcohol companies. This is not subtle irony. The fact that alcoholism is a big problem in the LGBT community only makes the strategy more blatant and obscene. What a fertile field for new consumers! And what a sad commentary on queer liberation for those of us who remember the early marches to the aptly named, Marx Meadow in Golden Gate Park.

Materialism and privatization are the mantras of the 21st century. An Ayn Rand-style, libertarian world is barreling down upon us inch by inch. It is one where the corporations and the 1% are in the driver's seat and the rest of us are under the wheels. No sector is immune. The final steps involve the destruction of labor unions so that workers are easily exploitable, cheap and plentiful. The education system is being replaced by a network of charter schools where teachers are expendable and students, taught to perform like trained seals on exams but not to employ critical thinking skills, must pay to attend. Libraries, hospitals, the postal service and prisons are all being targeted for privatization in the new survival of the wealthiest economy.

Chain stores and chain restaurants are rapidly replacing the mom 'n pop genre. The internet provides competition for almost every market excepting only those like food, medical care and hairdressing. The trades that require the physical presence of our bodies. Everything else is up for grabs. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

Is Resentment of Privilege Inevitable?

Where the Rubber
Hits the Road
Now that our society seems to have fully incorporated the one percent/ninety-nine percent concept into our socioeconomic discourse, right-wing conservatives are busy impugning that all this negative attention the one percent are receiving is simply the jealousy and resentment of the "deservedly" unsuccessful, or less successful, underclass.

With all their money behind them, they are getting some traction with this approach. As for myself, in my sixth decade, I am trying to make peace with my life decisions, opportunities and lack thereof. Lately I've been thinking a lot about whether or not my political positions are motivated by these types of unsavory and destructive emotions.

Just this past Friday, my partner and I went to see a couple of films at the San Francisco LGBT Film Festival that were on the subject of specific lesbians of our generation who achieved recognition in progressive politics. One film was about Charlotte Bunch who started out in the seventies as a lesbian feminist activist and wound up a career academic (without advanced degrees) who worked with international organizations advancing women's rights in mostly third world settings.

The second film was about Ellen Ratner, someone whose work I was not familiar with. She is a liberal radio broadcaster (she claims the only one) for the rabidly conservative Fox network. Ratner is my age and actually attended the same junior high and high school that I did although I never spoke with her. She inhabited a wealthy world that did not intersect with mine in any way (neighborhood, friendship circles, activities, interests).

This documentary, "Ellen Ratner: "A Force of Nature," was produced by Barbara Kopple filmmaker of "Harlan County, USA," the award-winning chronicle of a coal miners' strike in a rural Appalachian town. Clearly, this film was a challenge for Koppel. Unlike the Kentucky coal miners, Ratner is an heiress from a real estate dynasty. (this information is from other research, it is not in the film). I understand that in these times particularly, depicting an eccentric, essentially kind-hearted, but massively privileged, liberal who made good is not easy. None of her homes or living arrangements were shown. The segment of Ratner, a boss in her workplace, trying to get a black woman underling to say she liked Ellen as a person, made me cringe. But more safely, Koppel filmed Ratner almost exclusively on a philanthropic mission in Africa. The only outright allusion to the wealth of her family was the fact that she bought her wife, a former Air Force pilot, her own airplane as a gift. It was a sweet gesture but certainly not one that many other folks could duplicate.

So am I resentful of people, even those who are speaking up for lesbian rights, who have benefitted from so much more opportunity and privilege? And, if I am, is that wrong? I am aware that when I am feeling good about myself and my life, my negative feelings toward others disappear. As a nominal Buddhist, I know not only that those feelings are counterproductive, but also that having access to money and things doesn't necessarily make a person happy. On the other hand,  not having any access, i.e.: living on the street and starving, can truly make a person miserable. To some degree, I also believe, even though this sounds really corny, that experiencing struggle tends to build character and resourcefulness.

I do often wonder who I would have been and what I could have done if I'd come from a background where financial stress did not play such a starring role. But truly, that's as hard to imagine as who I'd be if I'd been born African-American, straight or even gentile. I'm not sure of what that person would have been like, only that she (or he) would have been someone else.

So, do I covet Ellen Ratner's cushy life and experience? Absolutely not! Do I resent people who have had access to more power, privilege and opportunity? Well, not in theory, but my honest final answer would have to be that it depends on which moment you ask me.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Friend Selection: Do I Know Too Many Jews?

Birds of a Feather?
I have been thinking a lot lately about the process of selecting friends. I don't know if I'm good at it, I think for the large part, I let them select me. Still, when I view them as a group there are some common themes. Yes, I do know a lot of Jews, tons of childless people, a good number of queers and an overwhelming amount of civil-service workers. Throw in a handful of starving artists as well. Almost all of my friends seem to be from lower middle class or working class families, who have backgrounds somewhat similar to mine.

Obviously, I never set out with a set of guidelines for friends, the results just evolved. It all seems random like it just happened. Friendship, like lovership is surrounded by an aura, a mystique. But clearly, the people we gather around us are folks we are drawn to for a myriad of reasons.

The Jewish dynamic can be a bit unsettling. I grew up in a neighborhood near Cleveland that was about 85% Jewish. This did not evolve through cliquishness, but was a natural consequence of "gentleman's agreements" that limited the places Jews were permitted to live. I despised the insular nature of this singular, ethnic community and couldn't wait for the time when I would try my luck in the, reputedly quite Anti-Semitic world. So why, in adulthood, do I return to my roots so often in the friendship realm?

The Jews who made up my world left deep marks on my psyche. Not just because of history and sad tales of persecution but due to cultural styles, modes of expression, ways of looking at life and both interpreting and expressing it to others. In later life, I was forced to come to the conclusion that, in spite of my best efforts, I am a terminal Jew. People of all ethnicities who appreciate my humor, my observations, my glass half-empty perspective gravitate towards me. Those who find it annoying, overly analytical or too negative head for the door.

Oppression has a language all its own. It's not a upbeat idiom but we learn it by heart when we are young.The more oppressed people are the thornier and more difficult they tend to be. Not because they are inherently inferior, but because they are more damaged. I don't think this is, in and of itself, a bad thing. Would you choose to eat bland food at every meal? Many Americans do.

The upside to a heritage of oppression is that we need each other more. This explanation applies to differences in gender orientation and socioeconomic class as well. The class thing is especially difficult to sort out. I tend to experience more working class people as more open, less what we used to call, snotty. When I worked at the San Francisco Water Department I would get into conversations about everything from laundry detergent to unrequited love.The topics were not necessarily deeply introspective but there was a free-flowing exchange of information that was not coated with suspicion and trepidation.

At the Main Library, people with master's degrees were circumspect. You were expected to keep your mouth shut and climb, baby, climb. In the striving class, to expose yourself is to give weapons to the potential enemy. The "appropriate" subjects of conversation are based upon work. Unless you found someone you could really trust you did not talk about real life experience. I found the walls that co-workers intentionally placed between one another jarring and upsetting. I was never acceptable in the upper middle-class world that I had worked so diligently to enter. My role was that of the square peg being relentlessly hammered into a round hole. Fortunately for me, those corners never got shaved off or worn down. I must be made of harder material than I'd previously imagined!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The World on Tuesdays

Things happen every day in the world that working people know nothing about. For example, now that I have been retired a couple of weeks I've discovered that my town, Berkeley, has a big farmer's market on Tuesday afternoons. Seventeen years of missed Tuesdays, can I really account for that? Clearly, many folks fill cafes and stores every week day. They must be either unemployed or work odd hours.

Tuesdays are full of other wonders as well. Elections invariably take place on them. Yesterday was an example of this phenomenon. The despicable Scott Walker won out easily over the recall efforts thereby demonstrating the devastating impact of Citizens United and just what money can purchase in our increasingly no-holds barred plutocratic society. The corporations and the 1% outspent the now-decimated unions and progressive groups seven to one. The senate Republicans also managed to block the Paycheck Fairness Act a followup bill to the Lily Ledbetter legislation that would mandate equal pay for women.

It's hard to know what will come next. The repression against the 99% has been largely successful. There seems to be only a small percentage of Americans who are capable of independent thought. The splintering of the various subgroups and caucuses is evident to those of us who are still active. Old prejudices keep rearing their ugly heads. I have every intention to keep on keepin' on but, as you can probably deduce, I am quite depressed at this juncture.

On another subject,  retirement is solidifying as a reality for me now. Sunday, the Emu, better known as my somewhat domesticated partner Deborah, threw me a retirement party with fabulous cuisine and even more fabulous friends. Thirty-two people of all genders and orientations filled the tiny cottage and yard. The one thing they all have in common is that they live large, not in the sense of consuming material goods, but in the sense that they all have hearts and minds that stretch far beyond the limits of a circumscribed life that revolves around the nuclear family. The second thing they all had in common was that they are my friends, a simple fact that makes me eternally grateful. I want to thank all of them for their warm wishes and support!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The War on Queers

More and more crazy pastors, ministers, even Louis Farrakhan are no longer satisfied with simple ostracism and condemnation of LGBTs and are now advocating internment in concentration camps and even the death penalty for non-gender conforming people in the USA. Like the war on women, the war on queers has been, of late, consumed with renewed vehemence and vigor. So much so that even prominent progressive theorists like Chris Hedges, are writing about that war.

It is a relatively new and welcome development to have heterosexuals write seriously about the Queer Struggle. One that signifies we are finally making it into the main stream of civil rights ideology. Bullying, suicide, gay parenting issues and all kinds of job discrimination cases are more in the news spotlight than ever before. They are not happening more often than before but are now receiving more critical attention.

Obama's "evolution" on same-sex marriage is part of the reason for both the push for civil rights and the backlash against it. But the biggest reason for this outbreak of culture war vituperation is the same one we saw in Germany in the thirties. The tanking economy along with rising prices (food, gas, sales tax) is a pressure-cooker for hatred of all sorts. When folks in desperation turn to their twisted notion God, he tends to tell them lies about who the real enemy is. The more "Christian" our country becomes, the more fear and hate its citizens seem to want to perpetrate.

As harassment of LGBT folks in small town and rural USA becomes more open and explicit, ordinary life becomes more difficult. Yes, there are places like New York City and San Francisco and other urban centers where things are relatively unchanged. As Reverend Otis Moss III does quite eloquently in this sermon, it is imperative that we expose and fight against what is happening to our people and get the word out that non-gender conforming and gay people are neither the enemy nor the ones who have brought our country to the brink of financial ruin.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Dehumanization in the Capitalist Workplace

Along with the relatively recent rebirth of a movement against economic injustice has come not only questioning not only of the great wealth divide but also the structure of the capitalist workplace itself. As jobs disappear many are re-examining the hierarchy of the American labor force and formulating ways to make it more just and humane.

Marxist economist Richard Wolff points out that financial transactions don’t work within the family unit because they promote greed and discord, so why would anyone expect these same skewed priorities to function any differently in the workplace?

Capitalism requires all workplace interactions at work to have, at their foundation, the profit motive that requires the maximum accumulation of capital is the goal of any endeavor. In a service industry such as a hospital, library or school, this goal translates to servicing the greatest number of people with the lowest amount of expenditure. This is effected by a work speed up requiring more desk hours, patients and ever-increasing class sizes. In order to enforce this speed-up, the pressure is applied to middle management.

This group consists of folks who are offered extra goodies in exchange for extracting the maximum amount of monetary value from the effort of each worker, like squeezing as much juice as possible from an orange. There are always people willing to control others in return for their own personal comfort but no matter how you slice it, this process is inherently unpleasant. 

In the workplace it is commonly accomplished in one of two ways: manipulation or intimidation. Most often, it winds up being a combination of both. Manipulation includes not only the concept of worker discipline, but the more pleasant aspects of a worker/manager relationship as well. For example, praise for work is included here. While, in some cases, this may be genuine, it also serves the function of motivating the worker to continue to work hard. Intimidation is the method that is more fundamental to the manager/worker relationship. Every interaction at work harbors veiled threats to the survival of the worker because, at any moment, his position could be terminated. In the private sector, where the“employment at will” doctrine prevails, job insecurity creates perpetual stress. It is only with the advent of union protection that working people were granted a bit of relief from this sword of Damocles. 

In an inauthentic, contrived, highly-pressurized environment like the capitalist workplace, collateral damage is everywhere. In public sector work, managers are trained to distance themselves from treating and even perceiving their subordinates as human beings. Training workshops are instituted to instruct them not to engage their underlings in genuine conversations about the actual concerns in their lives. Any opening that might let friendship in must be slammed shut. This would interfere with the credo of putting production first and foremost. A philosophy where suppressing anything close to emotional intimacy is an absolute necessity.

For starters, we can begin rethinking and reworking ideas that have ceased to function properly and replace them with a more beneficial and productive vision. We all deserve something better. How can we create a cooperative workplace? Is there a way to pay people for creative contributions to society, not just wage slavery? A cooperative model would be a good starting point. Those who have a say in their lives at work will be more likely to pull together for a common goal. In a world where everyone can earn compensation for some kind of contribution, there would be no need for every exchange to be predatory or adversarial.

Alliances are stronger than hierarchies. Subordination only breeds varying degrees of resentment.. We are all tired of the tired old degrading capitalist model that is now longer functioning. Instead of begging for a piece of the pie, now is the time to throw out the moldy mess and begin to bake something entirely new.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Sexism Must Die!

It's undeniable that the Republicans are waging war against women. But just how are women faring in other political communities, for example that of the 99%? Has sexism been defeated in the sixty plus years since the emergence of second-wave feminism, dated roughly from the popularization of Simone De Beauvoir's book, "The Second Sex," first published in 1949, but translated into English and read widely for the first time in the fifties.

I wish I could report back that the Occupy Movement is free of sexist bias, but honestly, I can't. It is undeniable that many young women, as well as young gender non-specific types, are stepping up with competence and assuming power, but an alarming crisis of self-esteem and bias still persists in the meetings I have attended. Women are still hesitant to speak up and will undercut their statements with phrases like,"I don't know that much about this but..." There is often a preponderance of males in meetings and when it comes to stepping up to summarize goals and lead groups, men still dominate the proceedings.

A Workers Assembly meeting I attended this weekend was about two thirds male to one third female in composition. This probably occurred because union membership is skewed to favor higher paid, better jobs, which are primarily held by males. This is not to imply that women are silent at these gatherings. Women my age (fifties and sixties), for the most part, don't seem to have problems speaking out. Some younger women are taking leadership as well. But more pervasive overall patterns of discrimination and even self-suppression are apparent and more difficult to erase.

Last night I attended a second small meeting of an Occupy spin off that was a small group of boomer males with only a couple of women. A very articulate woman took notes at the last meeting and she was drafted again, somewhat against her will, as note-taker at this one. Of course, that was after all the males refused to volunteer and their gazes turned toward me. I replied, just as the men had, that I didn't have a laptop or know stenography either! I didn't address the gender bias because I was caught off-guard. I thought we dealt with this in the sixties when we women walked out of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) because we didn't want to be secretaries and coffee fetchers.

I guess the more things change, the more they stay the same. The fact of the matter remains; this prejudiced behavior is unacceptable and it will only serve to undermine our movement. At this point I'm trying to pull together a presentation of sexism and homophobia that both young and old can understand. The very lifeblood of our movement depends upon it!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

State by State Civil Rights?

Women Worked Long and Hard
Yes, I am glad that our frightened, ultra-cautious, politically pandering president gave a grudging nod to same-sex marriage after a swift one to the behind by butt-kicker, Joe Biden. But I am not happy with the sentence he used to qualify his decision, the one relating to Sasha and Malia friends who have very nice, acceptable queer parents. Civil rights should not be dependent on niceness or acceptability. Even the craziest and nastiest minority members deserve to be treated as human beings.

Same-sex marriage rights, or other civil rights for minorities have and will continue to lose when put up for a vote by the majority. The pitches for these votes repeatedly call upon representing "the will of the people." But exactly who are the people? I have always been deluded into believing that I am one of them.

Women did not win suffrage by a majority vote. It was through prolonged political struggle. Not until 1920 did the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution pass giving over one half of the population the right to determine their own destinies through the ballot box. The first stirrings of that movement occurred as far back as the 1820's, one-hundred years earlier.

So many of us will not live to see victory for LGBT civil rights. By victory, I mean full federal constitutional protections on every level, from health care, to job discrimination, to immigration, inheritance, tax law, everything that heterosexuals take for granted. These rights extend far beyond the simple concept of marriage. They are the building blocks that could help create a foundation of a fair and equal society, at least on paper.