Two Poems on Independence Day

[I wrote these two poems over the last couple of years and included them in my chapbook, Time’s Arrow. The book is available for $5 plus shipping.  Send me a message if you are interested — Lew Rosenbaum]

Independence Day

i don’t know what to tell you

Cover Time's Arrow

The cover art for the chapbook Time’s Arrow is from a denim construction by Diana Berek

about independence day

here in the you ess of A

my blue-eyed boy

my green haired girl,

independent from whom and for what

surely not from the corporations

for which we slave

or from the overseers who

happily expelled us from our

gainful employment

so we can dance forever

in the graveyard of jobfullness

gnawing on bones scraped

from the dumpster where we

dive and drink the contents of

half empty coke cans

and catch a few winks

before the copper taps us

on the toes and tells us to move on

or chokes us for selling loose squares

what can I tell you about sitting

hat in hand in front of the food emporium

i want to give you good counsel

but all i can think of is to

urge you to take what you need

but I know that while capital

takes what it wants

without a thought

you will wind up in solitary

for dreaming of the steak in the cold case

or even a bag of chicharrones

to munch on

with a cold old English gurgling down the throat

on a hot, windless summer day

the aroma of the barbecue

pulled pork or ribs

smothered in sweet baby ray

streaming from the park

on cool lake breezes

drives you to a frenzy

 

so what can you be independent of

my green eyed boy

my blue haired girl

without taking over the

whole mother fucker

and making it ours

 

Cooperation Day

 

I’m not sure about this independence thing any more.

Independence is overrated.

National or individual I mean.

It’s what I was told I needed to be ever since I was very young.

I wanted to be independent of my parents

I ran away from home as far away as I could get

And now my children, as they too struggle for independence

Come back and back again

And only part of it is because the safety net has shredded

But this independence thing doesn’t even work for nations any more.

You can Brexit as much as you want but you can’t disentangle yourself

From your neighbors

Those who struggled for independence in the hallowed 1960s

Find the tentacles of imperialism bind tighter

Even if they are coated with sugar

And while I sit alone in my apartment

Eating my salad and drinking Dos Equis

I tip my cap to the farm workers of Sinaloa

The Cuauhtemoc brewery workers in Monterrey

The timber workers of the Pacific Northwest,

Maybe they were Wobblies from Everett or Centralia,

Who cut the wood that made my table,

And even more these days

The silicon valley upstarts whose robotics produce everything

Including the Japanese car I drive

The shirt all the way from Cambodia clinging to my back

The lettuce from Salinas

Obliterating jobs, but not the need for real, creative work.

 

Don’t we need a new holiday that celebrates our

Interconnectedness, interdependence?

The way we relate to each other

The way we could take care of each other

Call the day “everybody eats day,”

Call it “Big Rock Candy Mountain Day,”

Call it the day we abolish money and jobs

And celebrate work and contribution

Call it cooperation day.

Book Covers 1.” They Got Us On A Rack”

Book Covers 1. John Edgar Wideman and “They Got Us On A Rack”

In 1984 John Edgar Wideman published Brothers and Keepers, a bestseller memoir and finalist for the National Book Critics Circle award for best book of non-fiction that year.  The book explores how he became an award winning novelist, while his brother wound up serving a life sentence convicted of murder.  I was working at the Midnight Special

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Cover of the first (Avon) edition of Sent For You Yesterday

Bookstore in Santa Monica.  I didn’t read Brothers and Keepers, but I did pick up his novel, published the year before, the third of what is called his “Homewood Books.”  Wideman is known for his experimental writing techniques, and perhaps that is what drew me into Sent For You Yesterday. The use of language, its color and rhythm and musicality.  But what really hit me hard was this passage, early on, when John French waits on a street corner in the Homewood section of Pittsburgh, early on a chilly, damp morning, to be picked up for day labor. I wrote this four years ago about my daughter Courtney, her kids, and Diana and me, how we experience the life we lead mirrors what Wideman wrote many years ago:

How do you write about a life lived intensely, from crisis to crisis. Persistent, determined, bright, Courtney struggled as a single parent with three kids, still struggles. Mostly employed, but never employed enough to get out of debt, pay rent, buy enough food, afford health care.  Mirroring the irregularity of her precarious existence, Courtney shows the heights of creativity necessary to pick her way through the mine-field of poverty, falling into the depths of depression when circumstances gang up around her and block her way.  We’ve been lucky enough to be in a position to help when the depths were deepest; after all part of the joys of family is to alleviate the pain of those close to us.  But the other part that we have had to come to grips with is that we are living the life of a new section of society that is being born.  Yes even us, the old ones, Diana and I.

John Edgar Wideman wrote about it in a novel called Sent For You Yesterday. This is an image which has stayed with me for more than 30 years

wideman-autograph

“They used to put people on wheels and pull them apart. Pull the arms and legs out of the sockets just like a kid do a bug. Boiling people in oil and slamming their heads in a helmet full of spikes, and horses tearing men into four pieces and that wheel with ropes and pulleys stretch a man inch by inch to death. The rack, Albert said . . . They got us on a rack, John French.  They’re gon keep turning till ain’t nothing connected where its supposed to be. Ain’t even gon recognize our ownselves in the mirror.”

Courtney has her own image, a personal one, that comes from the character in the Lil Abner comic strip.  Joe Btfsplk, the world’s worst jinx, the well-meaning character who walks around with a rain cloud over his head.  Ever since I wrote [my poem to Courtney when she turned 21]  “Twenty-one Is,” we’ve been coming to grips with how one’s personal luck fits in the context of the relations of society.  The dialectic of taking responsibility for what is in your power to control, but not accepting guilt for what cards class society deals you.

That’s what John French is trying to negotiate that early morning when he waits on the corner to get a day-labor job as a paper hanger, feeling all the joints in his body aching, and trying to explain that to himself.  It’s the social relations that force him into the back breaking work.  And it’s the social relations that force Courtney into having to move every year or two, to struggle to get adequate care and counseling

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Cover art for this edition is by Romare Bearden

for the kids, to get food stamps when out of work, to avoid on pain of starvation and eviction, going to apply for welfare .  It’s the social relations that bring Diana and me to look at our social security to figure out if we have enough to pay rent this month, or pay the medicare premium.

“They’re gon keep turning till ain’t nothing connected to where it’s supposed to be.” This image split my brain 30 years ago.  How is it that such an image that is so horrible is at the same time so beautiful?  It is a Goya painting in words.  It fascinates. Your eyes keep returning to it.  Your fingers want to touch the blood to see if it is fresh, if it is real.  But it is real, because it captures the essence of what I am feeling each time I pay rent, each time Courtney loses a job. And each time I dream of diamonds out of broken glass, pearls growing around sand grains.

A pandemic makes you look at things differently.  Everything, even the rack they’ve got us on.  Wideman wrote about that too, first in a collection of his short stories. I wrote this four years ago:

In the spring of 1989 John Edgar Wideman read from his short story collection, Fever, at Guild Books. He read from the last story, the title story, held me spellbound. He told us that it would be part of a new novel he was writing, and the fever was a famous plague year in Philadelphia. I have this underlined in my copy of the book: “To explain the fever we need no boatloads of refugees, ragged and wracked with killing fevers, bringing death to our shores. We have bred the affliction within our breasts. . . Fever grows in the secret places of our hearts, planted there when one of us decided to sell one of us to another. The drum must pound ten thousand thousand years to drive that evil away.” It’s an allegorical fever that riddled Philadelphia as the 18th century drew to a close; but one that still stalks our streets.

The novel Wideman was referring to came out a few years later, entitled The Cattle Killing. The plague fever was smallpox. Black Philadelphians in the late 18th century were both accused of being the origin of the disease and being immune to it, and thus were charged with caring for the ill.  Unlike today’s plague of COVID 19, the smallpox is spread by a mosquito.  There is no person to person way to spread the illness.  Like the Philadelphia plague, rumors spread early that Blacks were immune to the disease; however, today’s plague strikes hardest among the poorest, most congested populations, especially Black and Latinx.  That underlined passage rings truer even than it did when I first read it.

By 1990, when he published his Philadelphia Fire I was a certifiable John Edgar WidemanScreen Shot 2020-05-24 at 12.42.13 AM groupie.  His autograph in my copy reads “You’re a warrior in a good fight. Stay strong.” If the fight he was talking about was spreading new ideas, then Philadelphia Fire is the novel of a warrior in that good fight. My copy of the book is heavily annotated and underlined.  The inside boards of the cover are filled with page numbers — references to themes and concepts that struck me as I was reading.  Here’s what I wrote about the book a few years ago:

The novel is in three parts, each of which has a distinct musical style to the language. The middle section, also, is an autobiographical riff on when the author taught Shakespeare to Black students in the parks in the summer, and the particular play is The Tempest. Who Caliban really is plays an important part of this section and in some way inhabits the rest of the novel.

[After Wideman’s reading at Columbia College] I joined a few Columbia faculty and grad students at dinner with Wideman. One student asked a question about Shakespeare and about Wideman’s use of language, which reminded me of the question asked at Guild. Why Shakespeare in a novel of Black Philadelphia? The answers to both questions broke the boundaries that separates one genre from another and stretched the complaints about cultural appropriation. English, Wideman pointed out, is his language and he has the obligation to make the most of all his heritage, whether it is the language of the streets or the language of the Bard. It’s all his, and his responsibility to stretch that to its limits. I still find Philadelphia Fire the most exciting of John Edgar Wideman’s work because of this use of Shakespeare [and how rap interpenetrates that section] and because of the rhythmic cadences that mark each section – and because of the way his own biography sneaks into places of the novel, not just the teaching segment, but also basketball and his relationship with some of the political forces in Philadelphia. One of the most artful political novels I’ve read.

The fire in Philadelphia that this novel remembers is not the historical Philadelphia of The Cattle Killing.  It is contemporary Philadelphia, just five years from the date of publication, the five year anniversary of when the city fathers dropped a bomb of C4 explosives on the roof of a row house on Osage Avenue, setting a fire that killed 11 of the 13 people living inside and burned an entire neighborhood to the ground. The residents of the building belonged to a group variously described as radical, anarchist, Black, environmentalist, back to nature activists.  May 10, 2020 was the 35th anniversary of an event that is little known outside Philadelphia, but continues to be traumatic in the city.  ‘We have bred the affliction within our breasts,”  Wideman said in The Cattle Killing. You can see it even deeper in this story. A Guardian article brings some of the history up to date.  Some MOVE activists who had been arrested and imprisoned before the attack on Osage Avenue remained incarcerated for over 40 years.  Ramona Africa, the only adult to escape the holocaust alive, was imprisoned.  Five children were incinerated in the blast and the ensuing fire. One child escaped, running naked through a wall of fire into an alley and away. Or so the story of the novel goes.

Birdie_africa-move-bombing-philadelphia

Iconic photo of Birdie Africa, taken by Michael Mally of the Philadelphia Inquirer as the van took the boy to the hospital.

In a sense, the main character of the novel could be the child that got away.  The novelist himself is a main character as well, under the name of Cudjoe (the historical antecedent of this name stems from a leader of the Maroons, enslaved West Africans who escaped into the hills of Jamaica and for more than a century resisted British colonization). Interviewing a woman who had been a MOVE member, Cudjoe searches for the child who escaped.  The name the woman gives him is Simbha Muntu, or “Lion Man.” In real life he was known as Birdie Africa, 13 years old when he got away. The mystery of his getting away is more important than the history, which is recounted in this Philadelphia Inquirer article. A police officer took the boy to a nearby van, which then took him to a hospital, where he stayed while his burns were being treated. His father, Andino Ward, not a member of the MOVE group, reclaimed his son and renamed him Michael Moses Ward. Birdie/Michael died in 2013 on a cruise ship in the Caribbean at 41 years old.

What is it that survived from the wreckage on Osage Avenue?  How did it come about? What are people thinking?  How does it reconcile with the author’s very comfortable life?  Or with his past life in this very city of Philadelphia?  How can we escape our past,

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Rhodes scholar and basketball star John Edgar Wideman on the cover of Look magazine

how do we beat the drums to recover our humanity?  Wideman poses no answers to questions.  Cudjoe has a dream.  He’s at Clark Park near Osage Avenue. “I’m also a witness, upright, floating, somehow staring down at the basketball court, screaming because a boy is lynched from the rim. A kid hanging there with his neck broken and drawers droopy and caked with shit and piss. It’s me and every black boy I’ve ever seen running up and own playing ball . . .”  Wideman was an All Ivy League team basketball player and leading scorer and captain of his University of Pennsylvania basketball team. Could the kid hanging there have been Simbha?

A howl ends the book:  “A mob howling [Cudjoe’s] name. Screaming for blood. Words come to him, cool him, stop him in his tracks. He’d known them all his life.  Never again. Never again. He turns to face whatever it is rumbling across the stones of Independence Square.”

Romare Bearden’s work explodes from the cover of Sent For You Yesterday (see illustration above). In 2018, Wideman published a collection of short stories, American Histories. I wrote this (you can read the whole essay in this blog) about the lens through which to read American Histories last year: “You can discover the key to American Histories, the profoundly dialectical collection of what purports to be short stories by master craftsman John Wideman, on page 206.  ‘Well, Basquiat asks, how does the artist resolve this dilemma, Maestro? This perpetual losing battle, this shifting back and forth, this absence, gap, this oblivion between a reality the senses seize and a reality the imagination seizes.’”  Basquiat, the young and brash artist, interrogates the old master

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John Edgar Wideman

Bearden in an imagined conversation.  They lived a few blocks from each other in Harlem and, as far as anyone knows, never met. That conflict, though, between what is real and what is imagined pulses through American Histories and through all his work; more politically stated, that conflict between what exists and what is possible. I can’t read American Histories without being haunted by the picture of every boy lynched from the rim of the basketball hoop; by the plague that needs no importation of refugees to spread its contagion; by the rack tearing us apart.

“They got us on a rack, John French.  They’re gon keep turning till ain’t nothing connected where its supposed to be.”  That’s still how I experience the world. If there is anything the current plague has shown us, it is that this statement is real.  They don’t care about us.  It remains for us, those whom the system has discarded, mutilated, wiped out of history — it remains for us to imagine and to build what is possible. “The drum must pound ten thousand thousand years to drive that evil away.”  We need to find that howl. We need to pound that drum.  We haven’t got 10,000 years.

Album Covers #1: “Just You Wait!”

Danny Alexander kind of challenged me to write about records which have influenced me — using the record covers.

I want to start with the very first album I got — it was 1957, I was visiting my sister, Greta, in Buena Park, Southern California, for the summer. That was the year that I helped her “fix up” the house she and her husband had just purchased in the Hollywood hills — sand and paint cabinets, clean, clean and clean some more. In Buena Park, though, I had made some friends from neighborhood kids my age: Jeff Jones from the family next door, Pinky and Jim Wilcox from the house down the street, Alan Wiggins also living on that street. We played in the street in front of the houses, went to the boys club together, went together with my sister’s family to Knott’s Berry farm, the alligator farm across the street from Knott’s, and of course to Disneyland which had recently opened up. The summer came to an end, I had to go back to school in New Haven, Connecticut, and given that my sister was moving, the chances of my seeing my new-made friends again was practically nil. The families were not well off in this complex of tract homes — working class folks who were from somewhere in middle America where they had been unable to make a 20140815_165252living. But the kids were sad to see me leave, and in a startling gesture I had no way to anticipate, and even today makes me want to reach out and thank them for their kindness again — they gave me my first LP record, “My Fair Lady.”

It was undoubtedly a record my sister had, undoubtedly one I played over and over again while I was there, knew all the words, copied the accents and dialects as best I could. She most likely suggested this album when they asked what they should get for me. But I couldn’t play it. I did not have a record player at home that would play LPs. We had an old record player that only took 78s. I didn’t tell them that though.

When I moved to southern California in 1960, I moved to go to the University of Southern California. When I moved into the dormitory that fall (Trojan Hall, with a room overlooking Figueroa St. at 36th St.), my sister gave me a table top record player. I set it on my desk, where I did my homework, the desk set into the wall under the window overlooking Figueroa. And of course the first record I played was “My Fair Lady.”

My father had been a used book dealer back in the early 1930s. As a child I watched my father build bookcases out of oak for the books that remained from the shop that had closed as the depression hit its depth. There was something seriously valuable about these old books is the message that wafted across these musty volumes. Wanting to be like my father, I sought out used book stores from my first visit to Los Angeles in 1953. I don’t know what it was that attracted me to George Bernard Shaw — I don’t remember any volumes of Shaw in his collection — but going into downtown LA and searching the shelves of the Goodwill and the Salvation Army stores, I found old GBS titles which I brought home. Even more, I actually read them. I don’t know if Pygmaiion was one of the plays I read then; but I do know that I knew the myth from my reading of Greek mythology, the fantasy stories that I loved. So I was just ready for loving “My Fair Lady” when it hit the musical stage.

In these years my mother encouraged my interest in the theater by taking me to plays in the local Schubert theater. New Haven was a major place shows on their way to Broadway to “try out.” I don’t remember much, except I saw some amazing actors in plays by . . . Shaw and Bertolt Brecht. And by the time I got to college, I had come to understand that both Shaw and Brecht represented artists who fused their politics with their art. Neither of them were satisfied with the status quo, both wanted a new society. While I didn’t understand the differences between them, I understood that one thing that united them was an understanding of class.

george-bernard-shaw

George Bernard Shaw

No matter what Lerner and Loewe did to transform “My Fair Lady” into a simple love story, for me the question of “other” was always the most important thing in the story. The class representation in language, the idea that the upper class had the right to mold the people of the lower classes the way they wanted, the concept that workers could not think for themselves — all of this was very prominent for me in this play and even the musical. And the idea of Eliza standing up for herself, not just an object of these two wealthy men! And isn’t that what we are struggling with today, in a much more exaggerated form, perhaps even a qualitatively different form? In the 1950s, Lerner and Loewe could satirize the British caste system implying it didn’t exist in the US. In 2020, in the midst of a pandemic, and despite reports that the virus does not discriminate, we know that it ravages “othered” communities; we know that the well heeled have better access to necessary health care. We know that COVID is spreading rapidly among communities where the poorer dialects of English are spoken. The class character of who gets hit by the virus most is clearer and clearer. And the resistance to a system that allows this is growing too. Because unlike the 1950s, those of us in that class have no choice any more. We have learned that the Henry Higginses of our world do not care about us.

So I would like to join Eliza in a chorus that I think is what our own ruling class is most afraid of: “Just you wait Henry Higgins, just you wait. You’ll be sorry but your tears will be too late.”

Earth Day at 50 — Lenin at 150

“He gave imagination to the writers
His every word became poetry”

by Lew Rosenbaum

On this day, April 22, 2020, perhaps millions of people are celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of Earth Day.  In 1969 then Senator Gaylord Nelson, an environmentalist, called for a national day of teach-ins on the environment for the spring of the following year.  He proposed April 22 as a day when most students would be most likely to participate.  An advertising man suggested that “Earth Day” might be a more broadly appealing name than a day of teach-ins.  And so “Earth Day” was born.  Nelson himself repudiated the idea that the choice of April 22 was a communist plot.  The John Birch Society, among others, had insinuated that the choice of April 22 was driven by the fact that date in 1970 coincided with the 100th anniversary of Vladimir Ilich Ulianov’s (Lenin) birthday.  Nelson quipped that the Birch Society knew more about Lenin than he did;  nevertheless, young people of 1970 knew more about Lenin than he did too.

At the time of the first Earth Day I was 27 and had come rather late to reading the works of the great Bolshevik.  Just a few years later, talking with my niece Ronni, a high school activist organizer working on Earth Day, I asked with a wry smile whether she knew that April 22 was also Lenin’s birthday.  She replied, with the characteristic twinkle in her eye, that was why the date was chosen.

Lenin lives

“Lenin lived, Lenin lives, Lenin shall live forever” V. Mayakovsky

So maybe both stories are true.  Maybe Lenin’s birthday had nothing to do with the choice of April 22; maybe it had everything to do with that choice.  A Talmudic fight about that is really not the point.  The point is the perseverance of Lenin’s influence, even though now, in 2020, when everyone is talking about the 50th Earth Day, little attention is being paid to Lenin’s 150th birthday, which is today.  Here is evidence of that perseverance:  “Lenin in Urdu: His Every Word Became Poetry.” This is one of a number of essays intended to celebrate the 150th anniversary of his birth.  It is a short review essay of writers in Urdu who have celebrated Lenin.  People who saw him as the embodiment of revolution.  In no small part is this due to the fact that, after the seizure of power by the Bolsheviks in 1917, Lenin was the main force within the Russian Communist Party who understood and fought for at first a minority position:  that what was then called the “national question” was the main form that the fight for socialism was taking, the liberation of the colonial countries from imperialism.

Well of course Lenin is remembered in many more places than in the Urdu language.  Bertolt Brecht wrote numerous poems that refer to Lenin.  One that is a bridge from the peoples of the East is this one:

The Carpet Weavers of Kuyan-Bulak Honour Lenin

Often he was honoured and profusely
The Comrade Lenin. Busts there are and statues.
Cities were named after him and children.
Speeches are made in numerous languages
Rallies there are and demonstrations
From Shanghai to Chicago, in honour of Lenin.
But thus they honoured him
The carpet weavers of Kuyan-Bulak
A small village in southern Turkistan:

Twenty carpet weavers stand there in the evening
Shivering with fever, in front of their humble loom.
Fever runs riot: the railway station
Teeming with buzzing mosquitoes – a thick cloud
Arising from the swamp behind the old camel cemetery.
But the train, which
Once in two weeks brings water and smoke, brings
Also the news one day
That the day for honouring Lenin lies ahead
And so decide the people of Kuyan-Bulak
Carpet weavers, poor folk
That for the Comrade Lenin also in their village

lenin-iqbal

Left – V. I. Lenin; Right – Urdu poet Mohammad Iqbal

A gypsum bust would be installed.
But as the money is collected for the bust
All of them stand
Trembling with fever and contribute
Their hard earned kopecks with wobbling hands.
And the Red Army soldier Stepa Jamal, who
Carefully counts and meticulously watches,
Sees the readiness, to honour Lenin, and is filled with joy.
But he also sees the uncertain hands.
And all of a sudden he makes a proposal
To buy petroleum with the money collected for the bust
In order to pour it on the swamp behind the camel cemetery
From where the mosquitoes come, which
Cause the fever
Thus to combat the fever in Kuyan-Bulak, and indeed
To honour the late, but
Not to be forgotten
Comrade Lenin.

This was agreed to. On the day of paying respect to
Lenin they carried
Their battered buckets, filled with black petroleum
One behind the other
Over there and spread it on the swamp.

So they benefited themselves, in paying homage to Lenin and
Paid homage to him, in that they benefited themselves and had
Therefore understood him well.

                        2

We have heard how the Kuyan-Bulak folk
Paid their respect to Lenin. As now in the evening
The petroleum had been bought and discharged over the swamp
Stood up a man in the assembly, and he demanded
That a commemoration stone be erected at the railway Station
Reporting these events, containing
The altered plan and the exchange
Instead of Lenin’s bust the fever eradicating petroleum barrel,
And all this in honour of Lenin
And they did that too
And mounted the slab.

(Note: Kuyan-Bulak is the railway station of Ferghana in Uzbekistan. The Slab had the text: ‘In this place there should have been a memorial to Lenin, but instead of the memorial, petroleum was brought and poured over the swamp. Thus Kuyan-Bulak, in memory of Lenin and in his Name smothered malaria’. Translator.)

The Jamaica Peace Council, an organization of Jamaicans at home and abroad, published in April 2019 this poem by Langston Hughes:

Lenin

Lenin walks around the world.

Frontiers cannot bar him.

Neither barracks nor barricades impede.

Nor does barbed wire scar him.

Lenin walks around the world.

Black, brown, and white receive him.

Language is no barrier.

The strangest tongues believe him.

Lenin walks around the world.

The sun sets like a scar.

Between the darkness and the dawn

There rises a red star.

As explanation, the author on the site writes:

The poem uses the figure of Vladimir Lenin as a stand-in for the march of social equality across the world, the hope of racial and economic harmony in the world.

Though Hughes didn’t identify as a communist and claimed to have never read Marxist texts at his congressional trial led by the infamous “Red Scare” Senator Joseph McCarthy, his poem describes an awakening in the world among oppressed people of the world for justice.

And of course there is the series of four poems, written from 1920 to 1924, by Vladimir

6db237f41c1e158fcfea5dd94c890250a6244359

V. Mayakovsky

Mayakovsky that celebrated the life of Lenin and commemorated his death. “The time has come,” Mayakovsky wrote:

I begin

the story of Lenin

Not

because the grief

is on the wane,

but because

the bitter anguish

of that moment

has become

a clear-cut,

weighed and fathomed pain.

Time,

speed on,

spread Lenin’s slogans in your whirl!

Not for us

to drown in tears

whatever happens.

There’s no one

more alive

than Lenin in the world,

our strength,

our wisdom,

surest of our weapons.

Poetry, then, is a way into understanding the international reverence for V. I. Lenin, and why he might have been on the minds of the young people in 1970, as perhaps they enjoyed a private joke behind the scenes at the expense of their elders who serendipitously chose April 22, 1970 to launch Earth Day.

Chances are, though, they didn’t know who Lenin really was.  They probably didn’t know that he was a Latin scholar, and that his first introduction to revolutionary writing was through the Russian novelist Chernyshevsky.  They probably had never read the essays he wrote about Tolstoy, a novelist whose writing he loved, but whose worship of Russian mysticism he detested: He could never understand how the revolutionary and the reactionary could coexist in one man.  He read widely in Russian literature (Pushkin, Turgenev, Dostoyevsky, Gogol).  All of this and more was reviewed in The Guardian (“How Lenin’s Love of Literature Shaped the Revolution”) in 2017, as a way into looking at Lenin’s contribution to the Russian revolution and to the thinking of revolutionaries generally.

Lenin spent two decades building the foundation for the revolutionary organization capable of toppling the czar and establishing socialism in Russia.  At numerous points in that two decades he found himself in the minority among the revolutionaries.  Often he found himself in a small organization of exiles.  What he did in that twenty years was write furiously.  He wrote about the kind of tasks that were necessary (revolutionaries did not agree on those tasks; they did not agree on what forces in society were revolutionary; they did not agree on what role they should play as World War I got underway). He wrote about the ideological, organizational, and tactical building blocks necessary for the kind of political party he thought was necessary.  Some of these contributed some ideas particular to the revolutionary situation in Russia, ideas that he began to formulate when exiled early in his career to Siberia; when he researched and wrote a book that chronicled the Development of Capitalism in Russia. Here he maintained that despite the minuscule size of the Russian industrial working class, capitalism was already developing in Russia. Despite the general consensus that the Russian peasants were a monolithic class, Lenin described the stratification of peasantry into a wealthy section, a middle section, and the great mass of the peasantry at the level of an agricultural working class and serf.

He wrote the fourth book about the foundation of the necessary political party in 1908, and it was published in Russia in 1909. Here he defended the philosophical principles or world view of dialectical and historical materialism (Materialism and Empiriocriticism). It’s really in this book that he expounds on his idea of Marxism as a method as well as a theory and a doctrine.

Lenin in Russia in 1897 to 1917 faced a situation unlike in Germany, England, or the United States.  In those other countries the industrial revolution was well underway, appeared even complete.  Russia was in the beginning throes of the industrial revolution, much of the country enthralled to the big banks of Europe.  Lenin needed to devise a theory of the Russian revolution.  He did that in his description of the relationship of the various classes in Russia, the role of the working class and the peasantry, and the development of the national question in the Russian empire and beyond.  He did that by describing the objective reality the revolutionary classes faced and the role of the revolutionary organizations.  What is most significant about Lenin is his capacity to describe the reality he faced and the new ideas necessary for the new situation of his time and place.  He was a scientist.

What can we learn from Lenin’s experience on his 150th birthday?  In the 1970s, when I read Lenin I read him as the ideologue that I was.  What is to be Done?, State and Revolution, Left Wing Communism an Infantile Disorder, and Imperialism the Highest Stage of Capitalism were the four books of my Talmud. I do not intend here to dismiss them as unimportant.  No, there are important lessons to be learned from all of them.  But the way we read them is important, especially when we realize we are no longer dealing with a revolution in the midst of industrialization. The great Russian political revolution was part of the 19th to 20th century economic industrial revolution. In fact, the ensuing liberation struggles of the colonies, the struggles that Lenin foresaw as the great movement of the 20th century, pulled those peoples into the orbit of industry and a connection to the capitalist world order, either through a bourgeois or a socialist revolution.  But that era is over.

A new economic revolution is underway.  And there are new Lenins walking the streets of our world, applying their understanding of the real world to develop a theory of today’s revolutionary times.  In 1917 — and from 1917 through the 1960s and the first Earth Day — history has witnessed the completion of the replacement of agricultural private property by industrial-financial private property. Today we are witnessing the demise of capitalism that exists on the exploitation of labor.  That seems counterintuitive, when we see people living in the streets and workers unable to buy the basic necessities of life.  But the robotization of contemporary life points to the end of wage labor.  If labor is excluded from the production of the means of survival, then there is no longer a way to measure the value in exchange of the means of survival. As long as money is the means of exchange, those expelled from the employer-employee relationship have no way to purchase the means of survival. The Lenin’s of our day must be developing a theory of the revolution of the end of the market and the end of private property under new conditions, when the way to resolve the problems we face must mean distribution without money.

On this Earth Day and this 150th birthday of Lenin, it’s time to recognize that the inspiration that Lenin gave to the poets in Urdu, the Russian poets, to Langston Hughes is real and deserving of reverence. We need to cultivate the Lenins of our times. Without discounting his numerous contributions, what we need to revere is Lenin’s scientific outlook and his willingness to find new solutions to solve new problems.

At The Junction — Lew Rosenbaum

[This is the first poem in my new chapbook, “Time’s Arrow.”  Being the January selection, I suppose it is appropriate for a December 31 post.  Each poem in the chapbook is linked to a month; but not all months are represented, and some months have more than one poem. — LR]

At The Junction

by Lew Rosenbaum

Janus

the two faced god

sits at the junction of before and afterjanus

he can’t fully give up the past and

won’t commit to the future

two faced meaning a liar?

perhaps he is telling tales that never were

or forecasts he knows will never come to pass

the counsel for what they call the political class

facing back he is gray-bearded but

looks forward without hair on his chin

this has always been the fascination

the disambiguation

the what’s-in-it-for-me kid

the facialization of January

a hell of a cold welcome for the baby new year

cold as hell

but out of the hell hole heat of the past year

with its wars and famine and

apocalyptic horsemen

hope springs eternal — again —

that this external new year will see no more war

not even bake sales this year for the pentagon

two faced Janus is a dreamer

when we need visionaries

dreaming of what was

trying to bring back

when the good times rolled

those ozzie and harriet days

when america was america

the america that never was for langston hughes

but janus can’t grasp the dialectic

it’s either yesterday or tomorrow

yet there is no tomorrow without yesterday

and if he’s not aiming for all those yesterdays

he’s telling us to close the door

build a wall

dig a moat

between yesterday and today

preserve our purity

the baby has no clothes

but the emperor with all his fascist robes

is naked in his vulturosity

what is my point anyway?

tomorrow is a new year

how new can it be

when we drag our ropa vieja with us

and they don’t fit, never will again,

don’t look back

something may be gaining on us

you can’t fool me

that by adding one day after another

something new strides forth

all those screams and fireworks and horns at midnight

full of sound and ecstasy that signify nothing

but another drunk corporatico plodding in snow

when the day breaks

protecting his stranglehold on his privates property,

the edifice of his wealth and the military that guards it,

the public display of his masturbo-obscenity

so what compels us to ask

what really is new under the sun?

what makes today different from any other

liturgical day

 

either the iron heel of robotofetishism

or the unheard-of abundance of all of us or none

everything or nothing

when the wretched of the earth arise

because we must and because we can

Married to the Revolution by Lew Rosenbaum

Married to the Revolution

 Remembering 41st And Central 50 Years Later

by Lew Rosenbaum

Fifty years ago, December 4, 1969, a Thursday — the same day Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were assassinated by the Chicago Police —  I was making plans in Los Angeles to take my girl friend Pam to San Francisco.  We were co-workers in the welfare department in Pasadena, California.  Tall, slim, with short blond hair and an engaging smile, she and I shared union and social justice interests. And let’s be honest:  Girl friend? we were just beginning to date, and I was looking forward to getting to know Pam better than casual or business conversation in the work environment would allow.

The weekend is now a blur.  Events which were about to happen may have shoved them into a permanent background. Probably they were nothing memorable anyway. I reconnected with a good friend from high school, then practicing optometry in Berkeley. Never saw him again. I tried to meet up with a friend who I’d last seen interning with the San Francisco Mime Troop.  That went nowhere. But I do know we left San Francisco Sunday afternoon in my VW bus, arriving in Los Angeles past midnight, early Monday morning.  I dropped her off at her apartment in Highland Park about 1 A.M. and went to mine, a small bungalow up 87 stairs from Isabel Terrace in the Cypress Park neighborhood.

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41st and Central was destroyed by the SWAT assault.

Then came the phone call that woke me up at about 5 A.M, Monday December 8. Marie Branch, a nurse who coordinated the Black Panthers’ Free Clinic, called me up.  I had come to meet and work with her through activity with the Friends of the Panthers in L.A. She told me that police had massed around the Panther headquarters on Central at 41st St and had attacked it with tear gas and bullets in a shootout that lasted four hours.  Marie wanted to see if I could rouse some of my medical student friends and have them put on their white jackets and offer a “medical presence”  as witnesses. Her team hoped we would provide an incentive for the police to withdraw.  

Within a matter of minutes I was dressed and out the door to pick up Pam as well as two students from the dormitory, Gordon and John.  Gordon had been an SDS member in college and wore his impetuosity on his sleeve; John was an older student, originally from Canada, and politically more mature than most of his U.S. counterparts. Conversation in the car circled around the events four days earlier in Chicago.  We found our way to what was then Santa Barbara Ave. (now renamed for Martin Luther King Jr. and 2 blocks north of 41st) and Central and discovered that Central was blocked by the police.  We turned one block west and again headed south, finding all streets to Central blocked by the police.  Frustrated and foolhardy, Gordon stuck his head out the window and shouted a derisive comment about the pigs (most likely “Off the Pigs”; we didn’t as much say “Fuck the Pigs” back in that day, Fuck 12 was unknown).  In a matter of minutes we were pulled over, spread-eagled against the car and searched.  Once the cops realized they only had some stupid white kids on their hands, they let us go with a warning.  Dawn had come and they had more important work to do than detain us.

We continued to Vernon Avenue, a few blocks south, parked and walked to the corner of Vernon and Central.  The canisters being fired near the headquarters boomed and the acrid smell of tear gas spread and lingered over our intersection.  The Monday morning crowd gathered on the street to catch a bus for work or just to watch and listen and cough in the fumes. From out of tight lipped mouths on taut and fearful faces grumbled and tumbled angry sounds about the occupying police. On the southwest corner of the intersection, in the parking lot of a fast food joint, a man in a brown suit and tie stood on a milk crate and soap-boxed to a crowd that gathered around him.  This street-corner sermonizer preached the gospel of stopping the police invasions of the community, and his instant parishioners nodded their heads in agreement. 

At 8:30 I walked to a nearby phone booth and called the welfare office.  I told my employer the story that Pam and I had concocted.  My van had broken down in San Luis Obispo on the way from the Bay Area, and we couldn’t get it fixed at night on a Sunday.  I said it was being repaired now and we should be on the road in an hour or so and in the office in the afternoon.  When I got back to the corner the cops were forcing their way through the crowd, beating the suited orator, handcuffing him and throwing him to a police vehicle.  Someone from the ACLU was also there to observe and asked us to testify

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LAPD arresting two BPP members after the shootout.  5000 rounds of ammunition were used during the raid.

on the orator’s behalf in court, and we agreed. By about 10 the crowd had mostly dispersed. The smell of tear gas still hung heavy over the corner, and the memory of what we had experienced still seared our brains. The gassing had forced out all the Panthers in the headquarters;  the police had riddled the body of Panther Party member Roland Freeman with bullets, but he survived. And the four of us headed back north, Gordon and John to class, Pam and I to work.

That night, Monday, the Friends of the Panthers called for a rally on Wednesday on the steps of city hall.  I wrote a leaflet explaining what happened and advertising the rally, printed it up and passed it out at work, an informational leaflet sponsored by Local 535 of the Social Workers Union.  My office manager, Esther Matthews, called me in to warn me:  under no circumstances was I to miss work or I would be terminated.  When I got off work I called a friend from medical school who had graduated and was a resident at County Hospital.  I guessed he would be at the rally, and I was right.  Neal offered to meet me there and give me a medical excuse I could take to Matthews.  It was a little more difficult than I thought, because in only two days 5,000 people showed up for the rally. 

580a74f3b947e.image

Dec. 11, 1969 on the steps of City Hall, Los Angeles.

But when I found Neal, he turned a gleeful smile in my direction and handed me the excuse.  

 

The story of the shootout is told here (the original article is from the Los Angeles Times) from within the Panther offices, fortified by the efforts of Vietnam War Vet and Panther leader Geronimo Pratt, and defended by youthful Party members until they ran out of ammunition and were suffocated by tear gas.  The SWAT assault on the headquarters begin at 4 AM and ended some four hours later. Reneé “Peaches” Moore, one of the two women in the building, led the defenders out under a white flag. After the events of December 4 in Chicago, the Panthers expected the LAPD to do something similar in Los Angeles.  They had prepared themselves, but they had no way to anticipate the assault of hundreds of police and the deployment of a Defense Department authorized tank. On their part, the cops rethought what kind of nine-lives-of-a-black-pantheroperation they were dealing with and sent their SWAT division for training with the army.  

Wayne Pharr, 19 years old on that day in 1969, was among the first to fire his weapon at the invading SWAT team and drive them out of the building.  In 2014, the Chicago Review Press imprint, Lawrence Hill Books published Pharr’s Nine Lives of a Black Panther which documents the history of the Los Angeles Panthers. Pharr died in September, 2014, at 64 years of age.  This obituary also contains a trailer to the documentary, “41st and Central,” that features a number of the surviving Panthers including Pharr, Pratt, and Freeman.

One more thing about December 4 and Fred Hampton.  These attacks were coordinated nationally against an organization the FBI deemed the greatest threat in the US.  Fred Hampton, who had built a coalition with Appalachian whites as well as Puerto Ricans in Chicago, explains why. “We say primarily that the priority of this struggle is class. That Marx and Lenin and Che Guevara and Mao Tse-Tung, and anybody else who ever said or knew or practiced anything about revolution, always said that a revolution is a class struggle.”  And then, “We might not be back. I might be in jail. I might be anywhere. But when I leave, you’ll remember I said, with the last words on my lips, that I am a revolutionary. And you’re going to have to keep on saying that. You’re going to have to say that I am a proletariat; I am the people.”

On a personal note: later on in the week, when I asked Pam to go out to dinner, she told me that we should stop seeing each other.  She said she’d learned something she hadn’t realized before this weekend: that I was already married.  “Married,” she said, “to the revolution.”

That Muddy Waters Green Chevy Van by Austin Long-Scott

[A few weeks ago a friend posted a notice that Gospel record store Reid’s Records in Berkeley was going to close the next weekend.  Poking around the internet, I came up with this article in Berkeleyside.  The dates seemed to be fuzzy, and the notice I got was a week later than one closing date I had seen.  And then, today, in preparing this post, I found on Reid’s FB page that Diara is planning to be open Saturday, November 2.  So you can still check Reid’s out.  But also, when I shared this with friends in Oakland, Austin responded with this gem.  LR] 

That Muddy Waters Green Chevy Van

by Austin Long-Scott

I didn’t know about Reid’s but the article made me nostalgic because It connected me to

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I never was a gospel fan, maybe that’s why I ignored Reid’s even though I used to ride my bicycle along Sacramento Street right past their 3101 address.

memories I hadn’t thought about in decades. In my 20s and 30s I hung out in record stores, from small independents like Reid’s and El Cerrito’s Down Home Records to big independents like Berkeley’s Amoeba and chains like the then-new Tower Records. I was a traveling national reporter in the 60s and 70s and I had favorite record stores in half the states. No matter what was going right — or wrong — with an assignment, I always enjoyed a visit to a local record store. And yes, it was partly the joy of reading the album covers. I never was a gospel fan, maybe that’s why I ignored Reid’s even though I used to ride my bicycle along Sacramento Street right past their 3101 address. Blues and jazz and rock were more my taste. So I followed tiny used record stores like Grooveyard as they moved from one storefront to another, because I knew the owner, who was also the only employee, loved Abdullah Ibrahim and I might find a rare album of his in one of Grooveyard’s record bins.

The Reid’s article was framed to bring up how people work hard to build nests and a community based on shared interests grows up around the nests. And then things change and the nests they worked so hard to build slowly become unimportant to the community and then the community disappears. I’ve often remarked on how strange it is

Reids-plaque-1

The Reid’s article was framed to bring up how people work hard to build nests. . .

that human beings seek stability in a world that is ceaselessly changing. Capitalism speeds up change, of course, because change opens new opportunities for exploitation, which is the most cherished American freedom, the freedom to exploit.

And those thoughts took me to neighborhoods and gentrification. Not just the black working class Oakland that is being driven out by the flood of high rise luxury condos going up in the heart of the city, attracting Silicon Valley professionals with money to burn, driving rents sky high and smothering the nests that gave so many people so much pleasure in their heyday. There’s a 5-minute talking blues about Oakland’s after hours, mellow, down home juke joints of the 1980s that would come alive around 2am and go until 5 or 6am. It’s titled “Three Sisters,” by blues guitarist Frank Goldwasser on his “Bluju” album. When I was first getting to know San Francisco I paid attention to the Fillmore where black folks were being pushed out and the blues clubs were closing. I’ve never lived in San Francisco but I’ve studied it and the gentrification of the Fillmore was as real to me then as the gentrification of Oakland is now.

And those memories took me into memories of Chicago, where I was born. I didn’t grow up in Chicago, but back when I was a reporter I used to get to Chicago at least a couple of times a year and I alway took time to take pictures of those South and West side murals painted on crumbling slum building walls. Most of those are gone now. I was still doing that when the Wall of Respect and the Wall of Truth disappeared. And remembering that led me to a happier memory — the time a reporting assignment in Chicago led me to happen by a used car lot with a big sign that read “Drexel Chevrolet.” I suddenly remembered that my late father bought his first Chevy in 1948 from Drexel Chevrolet. So I stopped to take a look. As I stepped onto the lot a salesman left the office and headed in my direction. By the time he reached me I had spotted a 1967 Chevy van among the used

IChevy Van MG_6517

This is the body style of the van in Drexel Chevrolet; and it was the same color green without the white accents.

vehicles for sale. I happened to be in the market for a used van, so when the salesman greeted me I asked about it. He described it as having belonged to Muddy Waters.

Yeah, sure, I thought. I told him I wanted to look around and when he went back to his office I opened the door of the Chevy van. It was filthy inside. The floor was littered with greasy engine parts, cigarette butts, a few reefer remnants and quite a few used rubbers. When I rummaged through the glove box I found the original metal owners’ plate. It said this van had been sold to McKinley Morganfield.

Holy shit!! I thought. I jumped out of the van and headed for the nearest pay phone. I dialed information and asked for the number of McKinley Morganfield. It was listed. I dialed it. A woman answered the phone. I asked to speak to Muddy Waters. “He’s not home right now,” the woman said. “I’m his wife. Can I help you?” By the time we finished talking I had a complete history of how troublesome that van had been and why he traded it in at Drexel Chevrolet for a new station wagon. I used to go see Muddy Waters every time he performed in D.C., so I knew I had to have it. The salesman and I agreed on a price, I put a down payment on it, caught my scheduled flight back to D.C. and arranged another assignment in Chicago so I could drive it back home. I kept that van for 2 years and drove it from D.C. to California and back. Small stuff was always going wrong — door handles, window cranks, instruments, dashboard switches. But the big stuff, engine, driveline, cooling system, electrical wiring, all held together.

muddywaters

Muddy Waters

It Is Difficult (Though Not Impossible) To Misuse Garlic

It Is Difficult (Though Not Impossible) To Misuse Garlic

by Lew Rosenbaum

In the spring of 1965 I moved into my own apartment.  Located on the corner of Zonal Ave. and Soto St. in Boyle Heights, Los Angeles, it had once been a physician’s office in Hollywood.  The office had been sold, cut in half, and one half moved to the site i moved into.  The bottom floor was occupied by a family with small children.  The top floor was accessible easiest by a flimsy, rickety outside staircase, which opened into the living room.  Three of us — Steve, Art, and I — occupied the apartment.  The digs were cheap — we split the $70 rent, Art paying the least because he got the least cubby-hole for a bedroom. The landlord, whom we knew as Don Julio, lived next door, and behind his casita he raised vegetables, chickens, and I think a goat. On the occasion of moving into a place with my own kitchen, my sister Greta gave me a cookbook — actually a pamphlet from Jay Rosenberg, a philosophy student at Reed College, called The Impoverished

You Can Never Have Enough Garlic

Weatherbeaten, food-stained, but unbowed, the  Rosenberg manifesto continues to enlighten

Student’s Book of Cookery, Drinkery and Housekeepery.  From Jay Rosenberg I learned important life lessons:  The proportion of water to rice that makes good RICE; the role of spices in transforming cheap eats; and that it is difficult (though not impossible) to misuse garlic.

Rosenberg categorizes impoverished students into two groups: the merely impoverished and the really poor.  He wrote the cookbook for the first group, not the second (who could not afford to buy a cookbook, or even food).  I actually belonged to the latter group, and, having been gifted the cookbook, have spent the rest of my cooking life learning to adapt its methods  to various cuisines, heavily seasoning what is obtainable cheap.  Or free.  I will not regale you with my methods of obtaining fresh meat for free.  Use your imagination. No it wasn’t from Don Julio’s yard. 

I spent the summer of 1966 in Planada, a small town East of Merced, with five other students. We were on a fellowship designed by the Student Health Project — Margie and Effie, two nursing students from Vallejo, CA and Chicago, IL, respectively; Dave, a dental student from UCLA; and Dale and I, both from USC Medical School. We were documenting health care delivery to San Joaquin Valley farmworkers. The three men rented a small house for the summer and shared cooking responsibilities.  Because chicken was cheap (remember: I was a really impoverished student) — 19 cents a pound on sale — that’s what we had when it was my turn to cook.  Relying on the Rosenberg manifesto, I stocked the kitchen with garlic, rosemary,  paprika, and tarragon.  From there I launched my varied chicken recipes from the pages of that amazing tome, to the surprise and delight of my roommates. It was difficult to use too much garlic. 

A few years later I explored the “Drinkery” part of the cookbook.  That section gives directions for making your own beer.  This was long before yuppie beer-making kits and fancy equipment. Once again my sister Greta indulged me, allowing me to use her basement to store a large plastic trash can within which the various beer condiments — sugar, malt, hops, yeast — were allowed to ferment for the prescribed time after which, with the assistance of a plastic tube, I siphoned the liquid into bottles I had assembled for the purpose.  Then with a bottle-capper and fresh bottle caps, I finished off the process.  To this day, my niece Ronni and a number of my friends — those who are still alive from that time — whenever we see each other we recall those halcyon days of drinking the magnificent home brew. It gets better with every remembrance. Perhaps I need to say here, brewed without garlic. 

The other evening, after dinner, a friend was telling what repetitive task she zones out on.  When I mentioned I meditate while washing dishes, she invited me over (please come frequently).  I might have said the same thing about cooking.  Chopping vegetables.  Slicing meat. It’s almost ritualistic.  Forget the almost.  This is especially true about my approach to Chinese style cooking. Eating in Chinatown, Los Angeles, is where I developed my respect for this cuisine.  My lab partners at USC,  Ed and Sam, would frequent Chung Mei for late night rice porridge — congee is what it is called on most Chinese menus, but we knew it as “juk,” a Cantonese variant. Then there was Green Leaves, a restaurant just down the hill from where I lived in Chinatown, and where my wife Lee and I would have dinner frequently. We came in so often, and always asked the waiter to hold the MSG, sugar, and salt, that he would chuckle as he approached us to take our order. “I know: No msg, no sugar, no salt, no taste.” One shop in Chinatown sold kitchen utensils and other goods made in the People’s Republic of China (every other place only dealt in Taiwanese or Hong Kong commodities).  Along with my long gone Mao jacket, here I purchased a prize:  a wooden handled, Chinese cleaver. I named it Eldridge and it accompanied me when I moved to Chicago. 

In the intervening years of betrayal, I changed the cleaver’s name to Kathleen and began to fear that the wooden handle was disintegrating. My good friend and spiritual advisor, pastor Barry, accompanied me to Chicago’s Chinatown in search of another cleaver.  After weighing all options, the most important of which was “How much does it cost”? followed by “Does it feel balanced when I hold it?” I found one, obtained an ecclesiastical blessing on the implement and whatever it participated in making, and have made it my favorite for slicing garlic and everything else.  The ritual — remember the ritual? — a bowl for every vegetable or meat to be cut: mushrooms, bok choy, bitter melon, onion, red bell pepper, lap cheung (Chinese sausage), you name it. When it comes to garlic, I take a bulb, smash it with the cleaver on the top to separate the cloves, and then take a quarter of the bulb.  Then I look at what is before me and probably add another two cloves. Hold the cloves on the cutting board with one hand, slice the garlic fine with the cleaver with the other, then holding the cleaver with both hands mince the garlic.  You can never have too much garlic. 

Today I’m making a pork based chili verde. It’s going to cook all day, the flavors slowly melding together.  I didn’t get poblano peppers, so it won’t be really green.  I’m starting with a little more than a pound of pork stew meat.  I’m used to slicing the meat into smaller sections that make them easier to sauté, as in Chinese cooking, and so that’s the way I start.  (I don’t deny it. As I cut the chunks of meat I think of all the metaphors that pork or pig calls up, what does the pork represent in political and police culture.  I kind of revel in the thought of pork barrel. Maybe I wield Kathleen and think I hear the Black Panther slogan, “Off the pig.”). Then I brown the pieces in a “Dutch oven”  coated inside with olive oil.   After ten or so minutes, as the meat browns on all sides, I add a can of pinto beans (for this amount of meat, a 30 ounce can will be sufficient).  While they are simmering, I take four tomatillos, of course take the papery covering off, then wash, quarter them and then cut the quarters once or twice more. Putting the tomatillos in the pot, I turn to cut an onion in half, core the end out and peel that half (the other half goes in a container in the refrigerator). Dicing the onion makes me cry, even though I’ve run cold water over it.  Perhaps in spite of myself, I’m thinking of the porker in the White House who praised in a speech last night the “heroes of ICE and the Border Patrol” which by itself is enough to make me sob.

Now I slice a green pepper in half and put one half in the refrigerator for another recipe.  I take the stem and seeds out of the half that I am holding, slice the pepper lengthwise into about 6 or 8 pieces, and then cut each into half inch sections.  Add the onion and the pepper to the beans and pork, add generous amounts of black pepper, cilantro (fresh, diced is best; dried is OK too), and cumin (both ground and whole seed — a generous amount). One whole seeded jalapeño is good; one-half jalapeño with seeds still in if you want a kick, something like what happens when the white house takes away your food stamp benefits.  Not really, the jalapeño tastes good, the government action is in bad taste.

Now is when I pick up the garlic bulb.  And the thought shatters my mind: how do I protect myself, my friends, from all these vampires clutching at my pocketbook, taking away my medical care, pricing me out of my home.  There isn’t enough garlic I can wear, give to all my friends, that will drive them away, is there?  Have I got enough with six large cloves? I still have my first cookbook, weather beaten, acid stained, falling apart though it may be.  Nah!  Add another couple or three or more.  Especially when you are fighting vampires, you can never use too much garlic.

Poetry for April 10: Zapata/Huerta

Poems for April 10:  Assassination of Zapata and Birth of Huerta

One hundred years ago today, April 10, 1919, government assassins murdered Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata.  Here is what Eduardo Galeano wrote about this in his epic Century of the Wind (the third volume of his Memory of Fire trilogy).  Read a review of Century of the Wind here:

1919 Cuautla

This Man Taught Them That Life Is Not Only

Fear of Suffering and Hope of Death

It had to be done by treachery.  Shamming friendship, a government officer leads emiliano-zapata-claudio-osoriohim into the trap. A thousand soldiers are waiting, a thousand rifles tumble him from his horse.

Afterward they haul him to Cuautla and exhibit him face up.

Campesinos from everywhere flock there for the silent march-past, which lasts several days. Approaching the body, they remove their sombreros, look attentively, and shake their heads.  No one believes it.  There’s a wart missing, a scar too many;  that suit isn’t his; this face swollen by so many bullets could be anybody’s.

The campesinos talk in slow whispers, peeling off words like grains of corn:

“They say he went with a compadre to Arabia.”

“Hell, Zapata doesn’t chicken out.”

  He’s been seen on Quilamula heights.”

“I know he’s sleeping in a cave in Cerro Prieto.”

“Last night his horse was drinking in the river.”

The Morelos campesinos don’t now believe, nor will they ever believe, that Emiliano Zapata could have committed the infamy of dying and leaving them all alone.

Ballad of the Death of Zapata

Little star in the night

that rides the sky like a witch,9781568584461

where is our chief Zapata

who was the scourge of the rich?

 

Little flower of the fields

and valley of Morelos,

if they ask for Zapata,

say he’s gone to try on halos.

 

Little bubbling brook,

what did that carnation say to you?

It says that our chief didn’t die.

that Zapata’s on his way to you.

(from Vicente Mendoza, El Corrido Mexicano, Mexico City, FCE, 1976]

 

***************************

Born April 10, 1930:  Dolores Huerta, a “Civil Rights icon,” a living legend and labor activist, this interview was conducted with her in 2017.

Here are the lyrics of the “Corrido de Dolores Huerta” and here is the version with Los Lobos.

En Dawson, Nuevo Mexico
El diez de abril
Nació Dolores HuertaBUSD-Teach-In-with-Dolores-Huerta-0241
Nadie se lo imaginaba
Que ella iría encabezar
Parte del gran movimiento

En Stockton, California
Donde ella se crió
Empezo a ver la injusticia
Que el campesino ha sufrido
Sin la representación
Que una unión le daría

Me acuerdo que allá en Delano
El sesenta y dos
Se asoció con César Chávez
Y entre él y la Dolores
Formularon una unión
Que llegó a cambiar las leyes
Su sentir de mujer
Dirigió por buen camino
Del mejor porvenir
Al humilde campesino
Su sentir de mujer
Le prestó a la unión la fuerza
Te has ganado la flor
De la paz, Dolores Huerta

Después que organizaron
La gente en la unión
Imponieron una huelga
Para hablar de los contratos
También para nagociar
Apuntaron a la Huerta

César Chávez les decía
“Vamos a ganar
Esta huelga sin violencia
La revolución social
Hay que ganarla con la paz
Derramar sangre no es ciencia”https---images.genius.com-ca0eb33dffb6f8ce0110898e1d2158e6.500x500x1

Y un día en Arizona
La gente decía
“Ay Dolores, no se puede!”
La Dolores les contesta
“Esto será nuestro grito
Sí se puede! Sí se puede!”
Su sentir de mujer
Dirigió por buen camino
Del mejor porvenir
Al humilde campesino
Su sentir de mujer
Le prestó a la unión la fuerza
Te has ganado la flor
De la paz, Dolores Huerta

Chicago Elections 2019 — The Aftermath

[This article was written for the People’s Tribune Chicago Area Facebook Page.

The People’s Tribune encourages reproduction of articles so long as you credit the source. Copyright © 2019 People’s Tribune. Visit us at http://peoplestribune.org Please donate whatever you can to the People’s Tribune! We are supported by reader donations. We get no grants, have no paid staff and have no advertisements. Donate via PayPal at peoplestribune.org or send to PT, PO Box 3524, Chicago, IL 60654-3524.]

Chicago Elections 2019:  The Runoffs –The Aftermath

Lew Rosenbaum

We said the November midterm elections were a wave of resistance. February 26 was just a prologue to what happened in the runoffs April 2. Here is a summary:

5th Ward: Incumbent Leslie Hairston leads Activist William Calloway by about 150 votes

dyett-main

Jeanette Beatrice Taylor-Azeez (20th Ward)

(Calloway was the young man who made sure that the Laquan McDonald video was made public).  Until the mail ballots are counted, this is considered too close to call. Even if Calloway loses, it speaks to the direction, the possibility of organization around the issues that formed the basis of the Calloway campaign.

15th Ward: Incumbent Ray Lopez beat Rafa Yanez by 20 percentage points (Yanez was backed by unions and had a pretty good program).

20th Ward: Activist Jeanette Beatrice Taylor-Azeez won handily!!! This is very big. Taylor was not only a hunger striker to keep open a school in her neighborhood, but she has been a grass roots activist for 20 years. Working class forces who have been unable to get their demands met for their basic rights, like fully funded public schools, are taking those demands into the electoral arena.

25-sigcho-lopez

Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th Ward)

25th Ward: Byron Sigcho-Lopez beat Alex Acevedo!!! Byron has been a public schools activist for many years, a researcher who exposed the corruption in the UNO Charter School network, and is now director of the Pilsen Alliance.  He embraced the five-point program of the Puerto Rican Concerned Voters, a program that calls for basic rights like housing and health care.  He has also supported the People’s Tribune.

30th Ward: Incumbent Ariel Reboyras turned back the challenge of Jessica Gutierrez, only winning by only 300 votes, 4 percentage points (Reboyras is a Rahm shill who supports the cops; Gutierrez is the daughter of former congressman Luis Gutierrez.)

33rd Ward: Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez leads incumbent Deb Mell by 65 votes with all precincts counted. Mail ballots will determine the winner. This will be very big if she wins — Rossana is a declared member of DSA and her words have been highly publicized, opposing the Chicago machine, supporting housing for all. The Mell family has run this ward for 40 years.

40th Ward: Activist Andre Vasquez soundly defeated long time incumbent Pat O’Connor!!! This is likely the most important race in the city. O’Connor has been in office

40-vasquez

Andre Vasquez (40th Ward)

since 1983, was part of the bloc that prevented Harold Washington from getting work done — the Vrdolyak 29 — and is one of the most powerful aldermen. Vasquez also has the flair of hip-hop performer, because he was one;  and he comes right out of the working class, bringing his personal struggles for housing and education to the electoral arena. He is a DSA member. He was endorsed by United Working Families and Reclaim Chicago.

46th Ward: Incumbent James Cappleman leads Marianne Lalonde by the slimmest margin, only 23 votes. Awaiting the mail ballots to determine the outcome. If Lalonde can make up the difference, this will be almost as big as ousting O’Connor, because Cappleman was appointed to chair the Zoning Committee instead of disgraced alderman Danny Solis. Lalonde is a scientist (literally) with roots in community organizations.  Just taking Cappleman down would be a big win.

47th Ward: Matt Martin soundly defeated Rahm surrogate Michael Negron. Martin was backed by a number of progressives and the United Working Families, and his opponent was a supporter of the cops.

ax224_77e0_9-e1548619332497

Maria Hadden (49th Ward)

In other words, joining the victories from the February 26 election Daniel La Spata (1),(Sue Garza (10), Mike Rodriguez(22), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa(35),  and Hadden (49)) we have definite victories in 20, 25, 40 and 47; too close to call in 33 and 46; and a remarkable showing in 5. (A quick note that we did not mention Mike Rodriguez earlier. Former staffer for retiring alderman Rick Munoz, Rodriguez was tapped to run by Munoz and was also endorsed by United Working Families.

The characteristic of this election is that a large number of the “ins” were turned out.  In some cases, the incumbents faced challenges like they had never faced before. People are dissatisfied with what government has been able to do for them.  To the extent they still think that they can find some redress in the electoral offices, they came to the polls to express that dissatisfaction. That necessarily is disrupting the political stranglehold the Democratic Party has had on Chicago.  This is not simply an ideological battle for an abstract “socialist” idea.  It is a life and death fight carried out for the right to housing, health care, education. It swarms from the polarization of wealth and poverty, that arises from jobs being automated out of existence forever. The old ability of the “Democratic Party machine” to mobilize voters is dissipating, while organizations like United Working Families is staking a claim for the allegiance of workers. Ten of the UWF endorsees are now on City Council, if Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez wins her seat, and that includes the 5 people who are members of the Democratic Socialists of America.

We can’t forget, however, the losses. In the general election John Arena lost his seat on the basis of some overt racist/anti-working class propaganda about his support of affordable housing;  also in the general election corrupt and indicted alderman Ed Burke won re-election with some 54% of the vote. (This could be considered something of a victory since he nearly was forced into a runoff by Tanya Patino, a good candidate, the first time he has faced a challenger since dinosaurs roamed the earth.  But he won.)

And then there is the mayoral election itself.  The landslide victory of Lori Lightfoot (she won every ward and all but 20 of the 2029 precincts in the city) confirms the conclusion that this was a vote against the “ins.”  Lightfoot was able to project herself as an outsider ready to drain the corrupt swamp, at the same time that she had been a Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointee and a high paid lawyer with a “silk stocking” law firm;  while Preckwinkle ran a campaign that emphasized her experience and demonstrated ability to do the job.  It didn’t help that doing the job meant defending two of the most corrupt Chicago politicians and a very unpopular, regressive tax.

The most consistent opinion in the general election at the grass roots was against Bill Daley, scion of the Daley dynasty. There was very little enthusiasm for anyone. Once the runoff campaign began, the inevitability of an African-American woman mayor dawned not only on the electorate, but on the makers and shakers of Chicago politics.  Public worker unions wound up contributing over $4 million to the Preckwinkle campaign (public worker contracts are coming up in a number of bargaining units; pensions are a big shadow over the Chicago budget).  The building trades unions contributed over $500,000 to the Lightfoot campaign (at stake are union construction jobs at the airport expansion).

Meanwhile a mixture of Democratic Party functionaries endorsed each candidate.  One Rahm functionary after another came down on the side of Lightfoot. In the down ballot races, Rahm’s Chicago Forward PAC contributed to all of his incumbent friends and non-incumbent allies running in open races.  With all the money in the election, the turnout was barely more than 30% of the electorate.  And despite the machine money (Union money and boots on the ground), the weakness of the machine was everywhere evident. One significant exception was the failure to oust incumbents on the South and West sides, long the base of support of the Party machine.

One last way to look at this mayoral election:  the precincts that voted against Harold Washington in 1983, that is, that voted for a Republican rather than a Black Democrat, voted in this election for Lori Lightfoot, some in the highest percentages in the city. That is food for thought about what they expect from this candidate.

The tremendous advances that we’ve seen in this election should only whet our appetite, not satisfy us or make us complacent.  In fact, for all that was accomplished, here are a couple of sobering thoughts.

First of all, again about the election turnout.  What do the majority of Chicagoans think about these candidates?  Does the electorate think that voting makes a difference?   In some wards, the cynicism was rife.  But how can you blame people whose votes are taken for granted and whose elected representatives don’t bother to represent? The signs are there that a sleeping giant is awakening, how quickly we don’t know, but direction is more important than speed.

Second, even though we can toss O’Connor overboard onto the trash heap of history, even if we can get rid of Hairston, Cappleman and Mell, even if in Wards 1, 5, 10, 15, 20, 22, 25, 33, 40, 46 and 47 the winners are ready to fight for a program of the working class, that still leaves a 80% of councilmen in place; council members who graze in the pastures of wealth.  It will be an uphill battle for the working class, and we’d best remember, happy as we are about where we win,  that the victory is less in the seats captured than in forming ourselves into a battle-ready contingent for future encounters.

We won a lot in this election cycle including the runoffs, we have a potential network of grass roots activists developing across this city. We need to celebrate and lick our wounds and get busy. We especially won the right and responsibility to up our game and keep fighting together for that which did energize the electorate:  the right to housing, education,  police accountability and an end to violence, and all the basic needs of the people.

Now comes the real work.