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?