Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Activism, Then and Now

I have recently had the pleasure of a conversation with Nikki Giovanni, poet, activist, mother, daughter, black woman. Did I say activist and poet? Professor Giovanni is going to read poetry in our community on Thursday, Apirl 28th, in honor of National Poetry Month. My interview with her covered so much ground that I couldn't put it all in the article I wrote for Laker Weekly on April 22.

Professor Giovanni talked about her continuing activism, which ranges from rights for black women, to rights for all women, to equality. She told me several stories about the Freedom Riders who came down from New York to the Deep South to register blacks to vote.

This got me thinking about my own years of activism. Back "in the day," I was a class A-one protestor. I grew up in California, so I wasn't really involved in the civil rights movement first hand. I listened to Dr. King's speeches and watched the horrors unfold in black and white on nightly television, but these were images. They weren't my reality.

My reality was getting our troops out of what I considered an unjust and illegal war in Vietnam. My high school graduating class was drafted nearly en mass, with over 80% of the boys being called up. The lucky ones came back - or never went because of exemptions. When the draft gave way to the lottery system, I thought my friends were safe. Not so, because my college graduating class got blitzed too.

I counseled young men about legal ways to avoid the lottery or draft. I sat in. I marched. I stood silently to protest Dow Chemical recruiting on my college campus. I spent several nights in jail, arrested for illegal occupation of Federal buildings. Read: I sat in until the police finally decided to roust us from the lobbies of these buildings. I will never forget what it was like to sit in a drunk tank, so crammed in that we had no place for our legs. We had to wrap our arms around them to keep them close to our chests.

I boycotted iceburg lettuce, table grapes and Gallo wine, because these were produced by agribusiness. The workers labored in deplorable conditions: no shade, no fresh water, no toilets. When Cesar Chavez began organizing marches in the Delano Valley for workers' rights, I marched right behind him. It was the first and last time I was interested in unionizing, but the results of our efforts were better working conditions, including such obvious benefits as shaded benches for lunch, fresh water tanks and porta-potties. I still have pellets of buckshot in my butt as a reminder that not everyone thought we were doing the right thing.

That was then.

This is now.

I have lamented in recent years that no one has causes. No one is fired up about inequities. No one gives a damn. The Tea Party has disproved these thoughts.

I do not agree with the Tea Party. I think most of them or their potential candidates are shouting about the wrong things. Birthers? Gimme a break. Obama not qualified to go to an Ivy League school? Neither was W but he went and graduated. Reproductive rights? Keep your paws and laws off my body. Family values? And these are what???

What I would like to see protestors shouting about are the big issues facing our nation's future: What do we do about the failing banking system? How do we begin trimming our national debt, so that my new grandson has something to look forward to? How do we get Congress to stop watching the Home Shopping Network with our government credit cards in hand? How do we face the fact that Social Security wouldn't be in trouble if previous Congresses hadn't borrowed against it without repayment? How do we keep our pledges to our senior citizens for health coverage? How do we help the poor stay well and maybe break the cycle of poverty? How do we put people back to work? And why the hell are the Tea Partiers and the rest of Congress so pissy-scared about raising taxes?

Now if any one of these issues became a rallying cry for the populace, you can count me in. I'll lace up my sneakers, grab a bota bag of water and get back to the front lines. But until that happens, I think we will be putting too much noise in the system worrying over funding Planned Parenthood, public television, the Army sponsoring a NASCAR car, and whether or not Obama was born in the USA.

If people dig hard enough, perhaps they will find that Obama wasn't born anywhere, that he's a vampire and, therefore, immortal. Wouldn't that give the Tea Partiers something to sink their teeth into?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Letter to the Editor

Last week, I was motivated by a series of recent events to write a letter to the editor of the Roanoke Times. Because many of you don't see the Times, I am reprinting it here.

"Hey world, are you listening? Over the past few weeks, both houses of the U.S. Congress, their leaders, and the Executive Branch engaged in an exaggerated game of “school yard bullying.”

If you watched the news, you saw a succession of primarily guys in ties pointing the finger of blame at “the other side,” because the other side didn’t like what their side was advocating for budget reform. Forget the details. They were bad enough, but the name calling and blamesmanship were down-right embarrassing.

If one more guy in a tie had yapped about speaking for the people, I would have run screaming from the room. None were speaking for me.

Hey world, did you learn a lesson? Even with the egregious behavior of our elected officials, we actually got a negotiated agreement on the current year’s budget. If no one likes it, it must be all right.

Hey world, did you notice? Even with all the bad behavior, no one drew a gun. No one tried to overthrow our government. No one walked out on the negotiations.

Hey Wisconsin, did you learn a lesson?"

I might add that democracy is messy, but I wouldn't trade it for any other system in the world today. Tomorrow, maybe, but not today.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Spam Filter

Forget how much money I won today. Forget how many lost bank accounts await processing as soon as I turn over my personal bank information.

No, my spam filter today gave me the chance to write a quick blog entry. I know there are two groups of dates waiting to meet me: hot Asians and big and beautiful women.

Next, I was offered many different items for my body. I need new bras, according to one spam-o-gram, followed immediately in the list by a company offering discreet prosthetic boobs. Which was it: new boobs for a non-cancer sufferer or new bras? Make up your mind.

Now, I need to lose weight and there's a spam-o-gram that will help. (I do need the lose some winter weight, but I'll do it my way, thank you very much.)

Don't forget the government loans waiting for me, the new mortgages already pre-appoved (addressed to applcant), and a plea from a friend who was robbed in England just this weekend. Hmm, I had dinner with him on Friday and he didn't say anything about going to England...

I can watch videos on my new satellite TV hook up, if I could only get a direct line of sight to any satellite.

Then there were the spam-o-grams for class action suits against my bad hip replacement (don't have a hip replacement; don't need one); my terrible traffic accident (didn't have one); mesotheoloma (didn't work with asbestos); and for lung cancer because I was a long term smoker (one cigarette at age thirteen does not a long term smoker make).

There were more, but you get the idea. I know if I wanted to weave a short story around a day's worth of spam, no one would believe me.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Wishes for a Child New Born

Terry and I are blessed. Our first grandchild has made his way into the world on his own terms. Howard Marshall Eriksen was scheduled to arrive by C-section on March 22, but when our daughter Aleta went into labor on Sunday, March 20, the doctors decided the kid was ready. So, on his own terms, Howie arrived.

Mother and child are doing fine. Dad Neal is, too. All three are sleep-deprived. The doctors decided that Howie should eat every two hours around the clock. That meant someone had to bring the baby to Aleta so she could feed him. Neal's mother Mary lives nearby and stepped in to help. Aleta says Howie is a lazy eater and sometimes falls asleep at the breast. She has discovered breast-feeding is not for the faint of heart.

Now that we have a grandchild, I made a few wishes for his future.

1. I wish Howie live in a world where we no longer judge people by the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, their religion. Peel off the external trappings like skin and clothing, and we are all the same. I hope Howie is able to see the worth of each individual, not some external symbol someone says we must fear.
2. I wish Howie live in a world without war. Probably not possible, but if he follows my first wish then he has a chance to live out my second wish.
3. I wish Howie live in a world where rich and poor become closer together. If we can mitigate the broad discrepancies between wealth and lack of wealth, maybe the world can live in peace.
4. I wish Howie live in a world that can feed its population. Without enough food and water for all, wishes one, two and three aren't likely to come to fruition.
5. I wish Howie to have the love of family. That's pretty much a no-brainer. He has that and always will. It will give him strength and a sense of well-being.
6. I wish Howie live up to his potential. No matter what that potential may be, Howie should have the chance to be his best. Maybe that's a president of the U.S. Maybe it's as an educator. Maybe it's as a laborer. I wish he have the choice and that he have the courage to live out his potential.

I have other wishes, but these will do for now.