I was 10 when Martin Luther King was shot. I did not understand or know what racism was. My mother and father were not racist and only accidently racist at times. My mother used terms like "nigga toes" to describe Brazil nuts or using phrases like 'pic a ninny" or “nappy headed”. These were not meant as racist. They were terms of endearment she thought; language based in familiarity. My mother grew up in Baltimore at a time when her experience of the city was very diverse. She always bragged of her birth cities ability to solve problems ahead of the rest of the country. They began integrating the schools starting with first grade back in the 40’s and gradually moved toward integration. It was her view as a child that the city of Baltimore saw the tension coming and did something about it. The city leaders headed off racial troubles that exploded in the rest of the country. I have learned otherwise since, of course. Racism was not in her radar, given a life of struggle and incest by a brutal step-father, racism was not the scary thing in her life. She found peace where she could. My father was born in Hominy, Oklahoma. My maternal grandmother said he was the only example of a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. His people were very prejudice and they didn’t hide it. Racism has entered my life in anecdotal tales in books, movies and family stories. My paternal great grandfather was an Indian agent and laughed as he told tales of cheating the Osage. I experienced ostracism, bullying and physical torture for just being different, but not racism. Growing up, television news always had something about civil rights, women’s rights, ecology, and worker’s rights and for my generation equal rights for gays. In my neck of the woods, mostly a negative view point. I grew up thinking that teens were drunken druggies only thinking of sex who needed to be dragged to church at the first sign of trouble. No, not by my Mother but by the media, any opposing view I learned came from Theology in Catholic school and the most diverse public school in our city, Tulsa Central High School. I did not truly understand the concept of racism until I went to an all-white public school in sixth grade. The other kids kept talking about the "coloreds" that went to my Old Catholic school. I really was surprised that they actually thought there was a difference just because of color. Color(?) like red or blonde or blue eyed or darker tanned skin? I was nick named "whitey" for my very fair Irish skin tone and I suppose looking back at it for having gone to school with those "other" kids. I was such a naive thing I didn't see it as teasing or racism. Perhaps, I rationalized in child-like fashion; they admired me for being able to go to a school that was diverse and know the truth, not what they were being told at home.
I learned as a little girl that good men die. First; Pres. Kennedy, then my Dad, Dr. King, Bobby Kennedy and as a gruesome Greek chorus the deaths of young men in Vietnam. I of course believed it to be this large place, important. My introduction to the larger world was war. I did not know what it was about, but the horror of the scenes in black and white played red in my mind. When President Kennedy was assassinated, the Nuns at our school decided not to tell the children as was done by other schools that day. They felt this was something to be told, shared and mourned by family. I felt a sinking feeling when I was told. This hurt my parents. That is all I knew. My father died in a car wreck in 1967. Cars were not required to have seat belts but GM offered a safety kit. My father, ironically the budding engineer opted not to spend $50.00 for the kit. It would have saved his life.
There were other deaths, little girls, the youngest my age, bombed in a black Baptist church. The constant state of war between Israel and Palestine a constant reminder that the Holocaust didn't culminate in a state of Israel that is best at creating peace. Ten students at Kent state shot down by National Guard, drove the knife to the hilt, so much chaos and pain. I remember the day the Vietnam War ended. My friends who were seniors in high school took out their draft cards and burned them. What a horrible realization that all my young male friends would have died in that war if it hadn’t ended. One Uncle served three tours in Vietnam, need I say more? Another Uncle was in the Air force and had to leave because of a brain tumor, he survived to help veterans.
Every leader, every man I have known who has stepped forward for the people have had an aura of the shadow of death over them, all of them. I wait for men to die or be murdered for speaking out, or being poor and being the ones who go to war. I know this sounds muddled but it has sorted itself out with time and the facts. Women die in wars and fighting for peace, along with their children. We have been at some kind of war all my life. There has never been peace for this country not entirely since World War II. We have been in some state of war, cold or not doesn’t matter what you call it, militarism is killing us.
Poverty is what actually killed my Dad. He wasn't anyone important, just an ordinary nice looking well- spoken fellow. Going to school full time and working two jobs to support a wife and three children, he didn't feel he could afford anything but the basic car after the engine fell out of his very old Chevy. The new car payment was a strain and he was killed going to his second job three days after Christmas for the lack of fifty bucks. He was only 30. Men put their bodies on the line. It is what they do. It is in their DNA to "do" something. Make it right. We all know this; we have all watched men drive themselves to early graves for their families.
Martin Luther King and President Obama put their bodies on the line. I think this has to be recognized. Pres. Obama is catching it from all sides at this time. This cannot be understated. As a white liberal woman, Pres. Obama's election as a black man made me say; "Who knew a black man would be the great white hope?" The fact that he is Pres. is not lost on me. Out of the confusion and grieving of childhood there has been a healing. Perhaps that is all he was meant to do in the grand scheme of things. Many of my friends and I thought “I hope he doesn’t get shot”. A singular accomplishment of one man and the plural achievement of our country may be more important as symbol than substance. He is a good, fallible ordinary man who is just as susceptible to the vagaries of attack, hero worship and the struggle just to get along and make things work. I have no illusions about race in this country, or any ism. Dr. George Henderson of the University of Oklahoma says it is all based in classism. Dr. King was trying to bring attention to poverty before he was killed. This resonates with everyone and more so than ever. People are guilty of being poor. We are told by the leading contender for Pres. at the moment in the Republican Party that if you aren't rich and have a job, it’s your fault. We are also told ad naseum a list of failures for doing what is right or not making it. You have babies because your choice is to do so, you are a "welfare queen" if you ask for help. If you decide to not have children by whatever choice and painstaking decision, go to school have a career, you are a baby killer (even for taking the pill in some circles) For your decision you will be in such deep student debt, which you did in hopes of paying it off with a hard earned good job so you can afford to have children. If you played the free market game and lost it all, again your fault for not being rich enough to survive the thieves in the market, for not making the right investments. I am knocking on the door of retirement, cut off from my field by politics and with credit card debts I can’t pay. I won't bore you with the details, but suffice it to say I am not alone. My generation has had its savings taken at least twice, careers destroyed and cut off. We have re-invented ourselves over and over, started over again and again. As an educated woman my chances of making a decent wage is worse than a guy with no education who has to go to jail every weekend for dui's and a felony record. A man always gets a job before me. You see how it goes. The divisions, I picked for example me against a man. For you it may be color, gender, comparative wealth, man against nature, illegal vs. native, mine above or below yours. Now I sit in a muddled old age (53 feels very old sometimes) wondering what I did wrong after being told all my life I am a loser, not working hard enough. First the message as a teen that I would fall prey to pot and unbridled sex, alcohol, pills and end up a "hippie"; God forbid! As an adult liberal, prochoice, woman who has been on welfare, out of work, or in marriages where I didn't get paid for my labors as a wife and mother vilified by a nasty side of our culture as an elitist for having an education. I chose an education in Theatre and then in Human Relations, hoping I could bring dance, drama and music to those who are troubled. Talking sometimes leaves something to be desired. I didn’t choose a field that would make me money. While I pursued theatre, my Mom kept asking me when I would do something to make money. I feel just as muddled and confused when I was as a little girl. Confused and misinformed by those who are supposed to prepare us. The only ones whose job it is to do so, the news media. Those newspapers my aunt recovered started a healing process in that city that is still ongoing. These types of ordinary acts of integrity, a job well done from ordinary people are what make us great as a country. We are told there is no more of this sort of thing. The media talks as if there is a better class of people who are rich and the “ordinary” unaccomplished unwealthy unpowerful, they feign admiration for being able to survive the degradation’s meted upon them by the powers that be.
I find it every day. I remember in a sort of blossoming of the past many occasions of doing the right thing. Ordinary men and women doing a small part to correct the injustices they see in their lives. The mix raced couple that was my brother’s god parents. Married by a priest at a very small wedding, no license; the priest was an anarchist to many in this country. I was astonished at such a stupid law and fearful for them getting in trouble for breaking it. My granddaughters now bear the pride and burden of being of mixed race in a country that still finds it necessary to discriminate. I know many gay couples. For them to have the same excuses thrown in their faces as were mixed race couples is again astonishing. Do we never learn?
I turned on the TV, on the morning, after Occupy the Planet, on a main stream (msm) channel. I half hoped to see some intelligent reporting, NBC perhaps. I saw a baby chimpanzee spinning like a top, four "reporters" giggling about it sitting on a sofa oblivious-to-the world like easily entertained children. I thought; "that about sums it up". So, I re watch Keith Olberman’s Countdown, where he calls for insurrection in the streets, not the only one to do so in recent years but the one I watched. This ordinary guy, who would probably rather be watching baseball and enjoying his card collection is enraged at the injustice and not afraid to say it. I imagine so many of the folks I admire in journalism sitting like I am in front of a computer trying to make sense enough of the mess out there to help even one person find something in the information that
will make a difference. Clarion call takes on new meaning in a world of spinning chimpanzees.
So many put their bodies on the line, every lone person who says “No” to being cheated in the bank line, or at the cable company, quietly and firmly refusing to be taken advantage for their creed, religion, sex, gender or income. How many of us are having to go over every statement and receipt for mistakes? Making sure we haven't been nickelled and dimed again. How do we check the
receipt of a society and the constant cheating of livelihoods, of homes, of jobs, education and environmental resources? How do we become that other part of government checks and balances? All the usual methods don’t seem to have any effect. The Executive checks and balances the legislative and judicial, the Legislative checks and balances the executive and judicial, the Judicial checks the executive and legislative; a trinity of ethics keeping the three legged stool of government up right. The fourth estate, Journalism; watching the entire triumvirate, reporting to the people so we can take action. We are the real homeland security, we the people are the fifth column. We are the bosses of the whole thing. We forget this. Look at what Rupert Murdoch said when he was asked about his knowledge of the phone hacking. He said his company was too big for him to follow everything. He got lazy or lied, one or the other, or both. Corporate CEO's claiming ignorance of fraud and robbery of the companies they were head of. We the people are the CEO's. The ones who aren't worn out running around trying to survive day to day couldn't pay attention, those who could and had the luxury of paying attention got lazy. Pure and simple. I feel an obligation to be a witness to our history, learn the past and keep the informers of that history honest.
The horizontal leaderless approach of the Occupy movement is hard for people used to one leader are finding it hard to grasp. This model has been nurtured by the movements worldwide. The Chinese, contrary to popular myth are protesting. They go out in small groups, grab attention, get arrested and then another group steps forward. No one knows who the Leader is. There are no leaders, the group leads itself. There is a process in place that the group follows, but not a single leader. This is very wise given a worldwide history of leaders of social movements being singled out and killed. Often it will be at a time when the leader has taken on a mythos of almost divinity. I believe the Democratic Party and large parts of this country have never recovered or healed from the deaths of three of its very visible leaders in the 60's. The continued killing and imprisonment of democratic leaders keeps that fear fresh.
If there is any "party" involved with the Occupy it is independents. The independent spirit of occupy, the horizontal, "no stars" style is very much needed in a polarized and frightened population. The election of Pres. Obama and the memorialization of Dr. King is actually the end of an era of the LEADER. Almost as if the pure symbolic act of a mixed race person, who considers himself a black man, finally being in the halls of power is the culmination of a fight for the top of the mountain. Now, the rest of us must follow that trail blazed to the top as well. Not in money, but in character and rEvolution.
We are moving into the age of community, group, and horizontal consensus. This frightens many. They see chaos can only come from so many voices. I watched a general assembly in New York on Global rEvolution live streaming. I am not thoroughly familiar with the process but I have used very similar approaches in groups in therapy sessions. There is a moderator who keeps people on task, focused on the decisions at hand. There is a "stack " similar to an agenda, but in the stack it is shuffled to make sure that it does not become "white male" dominated. The stack makes sure that no more than two of the same sex, color and I would include age speak. The speaking turn is shuffled. This keeps people also on topic. They get a minute and a half to speak their piece. There are hand signals of fingers up waving to approve, fingers down wiggling to say nay, straight out to show the need for more discussion Patience is very important. More than likely your thought will be expressed at some point by someone else. I don't have all the process down yet. Zucotti Park attendees responded as if they were in my head. No one was shouting, no tallied votes. Questions were asked and answered respectfully. It was out in the open. This makes me wonder why the Police have felt the need to pretend they don’t know what OccupyWS will do at any moment. There are no committees’ behind closed doors. No pandering or favor to get in "working groups". If that is your interest you just join the medical group, the media group or food group and the issues tied to those. For too long now we have watched the Republican party pull us to the right and then off a cliff. The Democrats have hidden, talked to softly and have "respected the views" of the right leaning increasingly ideological fellow citizens out of fear of being murdered to put it bluntly. They will fight but not to the death.
Don’t' make waves has been the mantra I have heard all my life from the left. Make your view known but don't rabble rouse, don't take a position, don’t back an issue. Have a personal view but we will not put our collective spine together and risk our bodies, but we will applaud loudly and take the credit if you accomplish something on your lonesome. This runs from the halls of Congress to the tiniest caucus. The Left has pushed leaders to the front and then said; "let us know how it goes" and run back into their shells. While the right pick conundrum after useless conundrum to bully us with. Taking the money and singing Glory Halleluiah all the way to the bank. It is about time we have a true independent movement in the country. Independent voters are not uneducated or low information. Not unlike atheists who often know the bible and theology better, independents know the politics of the country and often know the history better. They are independent sometimes around a single issue but lacking, or rather being prevented from forming a cohesive leadership under one banner they splinter much to the delight of the two party systems. What we have needed in politics has been an umpire system. We thought the checks and balances were that. Our politics has lacked an umpire third party that can come in and call the game for "rain". Traditionally the independent parties would splinter, live abolish and then eventually is adopted by the two big players. We can’t wait for the two parties to co-opt or adopt the position of the middle. Occupy has been warned of being co-opted, and other activist progressive groups warned away. It’s an old tactic. The Banks and big corporations co-opted the finances of the world and this country. We are joining forces, all the issues have followed the money and we all met at the same cross roads. We have had the storms of division just about tear this country apart. Just about tear the world apart, with America as leader taking over the mythos of empire.
Voices on the left are marginalized and silenced. The only strong Independent voice I have ever known in Sen. Bernie Sanders is faltering from being the proverbial baby that King Solomon threatened to cleave in two to settle the battle between two women. How many know of his true filibuster for twenty four hours railing against the limb chewing killing machine of the system we are chained to.
Our republic is on life support. Our Democracy is like an old car. Its smoking, tires are bald, the carburetor is on its last leg. It is a great old car. It got us so far for so long. It would be a waste to give it an ignominious death and throw it in a junk yard. We need it. It’s our only vehicle at the moment. So we must fix it. Refurbish it, replace the engine with a clean energy engine, get it rolling down the road, paint it and she will roll a lot longer over hauled with all the history and love put into her.
In the short term Occupy has brought the conversation to the vampirism of finance and the bigger issue of environmental resource destruction. Our political arguments, the fight for money and position, the suffering in poverty, all the problems we are struggling with will mean nothing without facing a changing planet that we are pushing over the brink. We will be too busy surviving nature’s forces. As the financial sector and those 1300 big corporations are trying to buy their way out of dealing with climate change they are making climate change worse. They know it just as the cigarette industry knew their product killed people. The CEOs of these 1300 can’t play stupid while telling us they are the smartest people on the planet. If we as a people can’t educate ourselves in time we better start figuring out how to survive. There is a saying by H.G Wells; “Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe." I hope love, intelligence and pragmatism win.