Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Adrienne Cecile Rich---Dead at 82

In the Seventies
More Recently
Adrienne Rich, a magnificent poet and ground-breaking feminist died today at 82, She wove her identities of woman, lesbian, a Jew and counterculture spokesperson together into an incredible fabric of words. Rich lit up the seventies with her ground-breaking exploration of women as a class and culture separate from the mainstream. Along with Audre Lorde, Judy Grahn, Chrystos  and others who spoke  out from the newly emerging women's culture.

Her sense of Jewish identity was strong in spite of the fact that only her father was of Jewish descent. Her mother, Helen Elizabeth Jones, was a Southern Protestant and both she and her sister were raised as Christians.

Following her marriage to Alfred Conrad and the birth of three sons, she came out as a lesbian. In 1976 she met Michelle Cliff who became her life-long partner. Cliff, a prominent editor and novelist in her own right, was born in Jamaica . Much of her work explores identity as well, the pain of growing up light-skinned and black in a racially focused, colonial culture.

The couple lived in Santa Cruz. Where Rich occasionally taught writing workshops. The women I know who studied under her described her as a tough task master.

Adrienne Rich's voice was literary and sophisticated yet accessible; passionate and politically attuned but not dogmatic. Her writing plumbed the contradictions of society and the nuances of human nature. A dedicated poet, she wrote prolifically and won prominence and acclaim for her poetic voice. She leaves behind over 25 books of poetry along with several collections of essays and non-fiction. 

As we mourn her passing, we can rest with the certainty that her work will live on. Here is a verse from her poem, "North American Time," written in 1983:

                           I am thinking this is a country
                           where words are stolen out of mouths
                           as bread is stolen out of mouths
                           where poets don't go to jail
                           for being poets, but for being
                           dark-skinned, female, poor.
                           I am writing this in a time
                           when anything we write
                           can be used against those we love
                           where the context is never given
                           though we try to explain, over and over
                           For the sake of poetry at least
                           I need to know these things

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Hate Crimes and LGBT Equality

The Dharun Ravi case of webcam spying on a gay roommate's sexual activiity at Rutgers University is only the latest salvo in the debate over what constitutes a hate crime against an LGBT person. It is a sad commentary on our society that a simple web search of the words gay and hate crime will bring up loads of material that spans a broad reach of time and life experience. From name-calling and bullying to torture and murder, there is ample evidence that being perceived as having a non-heterosexual or gender-nonconforming demeanor is enough to place an individual in mortal danger.

Hatred-spewing politicians have done much to exacerbate this climate of harassment and intimidation. The prohibitions against same-sex marriage are now actively used as a wedge to divide citizens but this issue is only the tip of a very-deep iceberg. Ultimately these political attacks have created a climate where it is always open season on queers. With the added stress of economic recession everyone seems to need a scapegoat and, in our community, they have found it.

As disgusted as I am by the Republican contenders, I have to admit that I find the rationalizations of Democrats like Obama, the most nauseating of all. Little wishy-washy, frightened Barack is still "evolving" on the subject of marriage equality, an evolution that doesn't even keeps pace with geologic time. Speaking to an LGBT audience, he sang the praises of his administration, stressing that LGBT folks can now openly "serve their country." Oh yes, how wonderful! Now only if we had healthcare rights, job protection and protection against housing discrimination, not to mention that old bugaboo about 'till death due us part. These civil rights would certainly be a start, if the dude truly wanted to show that his heart was in the right place.

Unfortunately, Democrats have sold out LGBT rights at every step of the struggle as Frank Rich eloquently outlines in his article, "Whitewashing Gay History" which describes the many ways that self-proclaimed liberals have actively and willingly helped to keep a part of the population subjugated and oppressed.

Long-time activists like myself have real time memories of the ways that this oppression has reared its ugly head among leftists. Advocating open support of queer rights has always been an issue fraught with scary undertones for the heterosexually inclined. I remember the days when, if a straight person dared to express support for gay rights, their proclamation would more often than not begin with, "I'm straight but..." Well now it's past time to get off that straight butt and do something constructive for a segment of the population that does not enjoy equal protection under the law.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The War on Workers Intensifies

As Republican reactionaries wage their battle against the most fundamental of women's rights and Rush Limbaugh flaunts his pathetic ignorance, the war against workers, unions and the most basic of protections such as job security, paid sick time and health benefits continues at every level.

Teachers are the latest public enemy and the drive in New York to evaluate them publicly based on the test scores of their students is gaining momentum. At long last teachers are speaking out and being published in the mainstream media. "Confessions of a 'Bad' Teacher," appeared in the New York Times and "What Value is Added by Publicly Shaming Teachers?" appeared on the Huffington Post.

My own workplace, a large library system in that city by the bay, has joined the trend, shamelessly hammering the relatively few employees who are still working there. Everyone who could retire, has done so and I must add that I am hoping to join them shortly. In the meantime, and it is mean time in every sense of the word, threatening and provocative emails arrive in our inboxes almost weekly, warning us of how we will lose our employment if we conduct any sort of political activity, even on our own time, from work computers.

Oh, did I forget to add that we are in contract negotiations?

The latest threat letter was specifically geared to employees on part-time requisitions (of which I am one) who are seeking extra hours through a substitute-finding database linked to all the Library Branches. I'm not going to bore you to death with direct quotes from this unsavory document but I can sum it up like this: Employees are not permitted to search for extra hours on work time, even during their own breaks. And employees who use any combination of sick leave on their regular work hours when they are scheduled to sub in a given week, will be penalized by not being allowed to use the sub service for time periods ranging from 1 month up to six months.

I am aware that some people, to get more work hours, sometimes schedule themselves for seven days a week of work, followed by another seven. So you can see why someone who is working this way may need to use some sick time to keep going. Oh, did I tell you how much work we have because we are so understaffed? Or how stressed out and crazy members of the public have gotten since the economy went into the toilet.

Well if I didn't, just use your imagination!

(Disclaimer: This entry was written on my own time, at home from my personal computer)