Billionaires Club Targets Illinois Teachers — Howard Ryan in Alternet

Billionaires Target Teachers—and Take the Gloves Off in Illinois

by Howard Ryan | Tue, 12/21/2010 – 3:34pm 

A billionaire gang headed by Bill Gates and Eli Broad wants to convert America’s public schools, with its $600 billion in annual public expenditures according to the Department of Education, into a corporate-owned test-score factory. Their plan faces teacher resistance, and nowhere more so than in Chicago, where a feisty new leadership is making the Chicago Teachers Union among the most effective in the country.

The billionaires have decided to go toe to toe with CTU and with Illinois’s 200,000 unionized teachers. The battleground is the state legislature and a draft bill called the Performance Counts Act. The bill would gut teachers unions, maximize the firing of teachers at will, and ensure that no organized voice remains to advocate for quality public schools. The repercussions for all public employees—and all of organized labor—are clear.

KarenLewisChicago Teachers President Karen Lewis speaks out against the “Performance Counts Act” at a hearing of Illinois’ Special Committee on Education Reform. On her right is Daniel Montgomery, Illinois Federation of Teachers president. Photo: CTU.

Mysterious Group Arrives

Last October, journalists noticed that candidates for Illinois legislative seats were receiving unusually large checks. “It’s not every day that a group almost nobody has ever heard of gives $175,000 to a single state legislative candidate,” remarked an Illinois Times contributor. Another reporter observed that “a national education reform group has quietly dumped more than $600,000 into key Illinois legislative races.” He added that “the source of much of that money is a mystery,” because of the unusual path it took to arrive in Illinois.

The mysterious political action group is called Stand for Children. Based in Portland, Oregon, and with affiliates in seven states, SFC is an enormously well-funded and sophisticated “grassroots” organization whose largest single funder is Bill Gates: he gave the group nearly $3.5 million in 2010.

Originally, SFC did have a strong grassroots orientation, and its focus was demanding better funding for public schools. The organization grew out of a “Stand for Children Day,” a big 1996 rally in Washington, D.C., headed up by Marian Wright Edelman of the Children’s Defense Fund. Civil rights icon Rosa Parks addressed that rally: “If I can sit down for justice, you can stand up for children.”

Edelman’s son Jonah Edelman afterwards established SFC in Portland and mobilized with teachers, the Service Employees union, and community groups to demand adequate funding for Oregon schools. But after a few years, SFC broadened its horizons from simple funding to “reforming education policies and practices.”

The vision it chose, though, is in sync with that of the billionaires and politicians who today are driving school “reform” in America: blaming teachers for educational problems that inevitably result from slashed budgets, unemployment, and poverty; subjecting children to dreary regimens of standardized tests; stripping teachers of job security and tying their pay and future employment to their students’ test scores; and diverting public funds into charter schools and contracting out of services.

Union Smashing

While SFC materials generally avoid the subject of unions, or imply a friendly collaboration with them, SFC is fiercely anti-union, especially when the unions do not endorse its notion of school reform. The group promotes Geoffrey Canada—Harlem education entrepreneur and hero of the documentary movie “Waiting for Superman,” in which teachers unions are the scourge of education. Canada was SFC’s first board chair.

SFC’s legislative achievements include Arizona’s SB 1040, which ties teacher pay partly to student test scores. With its current initiative in Illinois, however, SFC is trying out its most virulent strain of anti-teacher union tactics yet.

House Speaker Mike Madigan has created a Special Committee on Education Reform, two of whose members received contributions from SFC this fall ($50,000 for Keith Farnham of Elgin; $100,000 for Jehan Gordon of Peoria). The committee is considering draft legislation which SFC describes as a “historic opportunity to help Illinois students.” The Performance Counts Act, which is also pushed by another corporate-backed education policy group, Advance Illinois, would “help” students by attacking teachers and their unions:

  • Teachers’ performance evaluations would be closely linked to standardized test scores, an historically poor measure of learning.
  • With a single unsatisfactory evaluation, a tenured teacher could be returned to probationary status or dismissed. A teacher with three unsatisfactory evaluations within a 10-year period would be dismissed and could never teach again in Illinois schools.
  • Unions would be prohibited from bargaining over a broad scope of issues affecting student and teacher welfare—contracting out; layoffs, reductions in force, school closures; class size and class staffing; length of the school day or work day; pilot and experimental school programs; use of technology. Unions could not even bargain over the effects of these policies on members or their students.
  • Teachers’ right to strike would be virtually nonexistent, and an unlawful strike could mean the union’s decertification.

An Irony

Stand for Children claims to offer hope, particularly to poor students and children of color who are widely denied access to quality and equitable education. Ironically, it is the children of poverty who stand most to lose because of SFC and its wealthy backers.

Their agenda defunds public schools, and, as education historian Diane Ravitch points out, the charter school alternatives have a lower commitment than public schools do to serving the neediest students—academic poor performers, students with learning disabilities, or English language learners.

Finally, the billionaires seek to weaken, if not destroy, the organizations that are best equipped to fight for quality public schools. Case in point: CTU is Chicago’s lead organizer against school closures, mass firings of teachers, and slashed school budgets.

Teachers and supporters of public education, beware: the fight in Illinois against the billionaire gang’s initiatives may well be yours in the year to come.

Lennon, Bono, Belafonte — Lessons for Arts And Social Activism — Mark Engler on Alternet

 

December 22, 2010

Cross-posted from the “Arguing the World” blog at Dissent magazine.

Effective celebrity activists use their fame to bring attention and credibility to legitimate representatives of social movements.

That, in a nutshell, is my standard of celebrity activism done right. Ineffective celebrity activists…well, they do all sorts of things wrong. But, most fundamentally, they approach issues without any awareness of or connection to social movements. They might still have noble intentions, but they can end up being a net negative for social change efforts.

Coinciding with the thirtieth anniversary of John Lennon’s death, Bill Easterly has published an interesting article in the Washington Post comparing the ex-Beatle’s antiwar activism with the social engagement of U2’s front man, Bono. Easterly writes:

For so many of my generation, growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, Lennon was a hero, not just for his music but for his fearless activism against the Vietnam War.

Is there a celebrity activist today who matches Lennon’s impact and appeal? The closest counterpart to Lennon now is U2’s Bono, another transcendent musical talent championing another cause: the battle against global poverty. But there is a fundamental difference between Lennon’s activism and Bono’s, and it underscores the sad evolution of celebrity activism in recent years.

Lennon was a rebel. Bono is not.

Given our age of commodified dissent, I’m not interested in trying to determine who counts as truly rebellious and who doesn’t. But I think Easterly makes some important points.

First, he notes that Lennon paid a real price for his antiwar stances. The FBI tracked his activities, and he fought for years with immigration officials in the Nixon administration who were set on deporting him from the United States. Bono, on the other hand, has turned up to dine in the White House, schmoozing with elites even while encouraging them to do more for the poor. In other words, his activism hasn’t cost him much.

To me, this isn’t a problem in and of itself. But it is a symptom of much larger shortcomings in Bono’s approach. Rather than putting his focus on publicizing and legitimizing social movement leaders (those in the Jubilee debt relief movement, for example), Bono has put himself in a leadership role. He acts as a spokesperson, brandishes his supposed expertise, makes demands, negotiates, and accepts compromises. All these are things that should rightly be done by social movements and by representatives accountable to democratic structures within those movements. Ultimately these people should be accountable to those directly affected by the issue at hand. Absent any such structures, Bono has left himself vulnerable to cooptation.

Easterly describes Bono’s model of activism as that of the “celebrity wonk”:

[Lennon] was a moral crusader who challenged leaders whom he thought were doing wrong. Bono, by contrast, has become a sort of celebrity policy expert, supporting specific technical solutions to global poverty. He does not challenge power but rather embraces it; he is more likely to appear in photo ops with international political leaders—or to travel through Africa with a Treasury secretary—than he is to call them out in a meaningful way….

The singer appeared onstage with Bush at the Inter-American Development Bank in Washington in 2002 as the president pledged a $5 billion increase in foreign aid. In May of that year, Bono even toured Africa with Bush’s first Treasury secretary, Paul O’Neill, fully aware that the administration was capitalizing on his celebrity.

“My job is to be used. I am here to be used,” he told the Washington Post. “It’s just, at what price? As I keep saying, I’m not a cheap date.”

While Bono calls global poverty a moral wrong, he does not identify the wrongdoers. Instead, he buys into technocratic illusions about the issue without paying attention to who has power and who lacks it, who oppresses and who is oppressed. He runs with the crowd that believes ending poverty is a matter of technical expertise—doing things such as expanding food yields with nitrogen-fixing leguminous plants or solar-powered drip irrigation.

These are fine moves as far as they go, but why have Bono champion them? The technocratic approach puts him in the position of a wonk, not a dissident; an expert, not a crusader.

In celebrating Lennon, Easterly doesn’t allow for the agency of social movements. Instead he valorizes the figure of the “dissident” who helps to shake things up and discourage “groupthink” among experts. “True dissidents claim no expertise,” he writes; “they offer no 10-point plans to fix a problem. They are most effective when they simply assert that the status quo is morally wrong.”

This is a pretty limited view of how activism functions, as well as of how art can contribute to the creation of critical social consciousness. But, putting that aside, Easterly correctly notes that Lennon was more successful than Bono in using his art (in this case, music) to directly support a cause. He writes, “In 1969 ‘Give Peace a Chance’ became the anthem of the movement after half a million people sung along at a huge demonstration at the Washington Monument…[T]wo more songs released [in 1971]—‘Imagine’ and ‘Happy Xmas (War Is Over)’—expanded his antiwar repertoire.”

While I appreciate Lennon’s artistic contributions, he would still not be my model for celebrity activism. That would be someone like Harry Belafonte, who was a steadfast supporter of the civil rights and anti-apartheid movements, among other causes. Even at the peak of his fame, Belafonte could be relied upon to turn out at rallies and lend his magnetism to events. In just one of many notable instances, he played an important role in bankrolling the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) during 1964’s Freedom Summer in Mississippi. Not only did his funding provide a lifeline for activists in the South, his ongoing presence with the civil rights movement helped make it a fashionable cause for other donors, volunteers, and public figures.

Now in his eighties and less well known than he was in the 1960s, Belafonte nevertheless remains active, advocating for the people of Haiti and speaking at the recent One Nation rally. All this has earned him a page of scorn on David Horowitz’s DiscoverTheNetworks.org, a site dedicated to tracking and defaming the Left.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but looking at Horowitz’s site, I notice that he didn’t make a page for Bono.

South Carolina: Where the Confederacy Lives On

Still Fighting the Civil War in South Carolina

posted on Saturday, 18 December 2010 in the LA Progressive
Ethan J. Kytle and Blain Roberts

 Still Fighting the Civil War in South Carolina Confederate enthusiasts threw a grand ball in Charleston, S.C. to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the state’s secession from the Union. Hundreds of people, many decked out in hoop skirts and militia uniforms, drank mint juleps and danced the night away.  Jeff Antley, who has organized the Secession Gala, states that the event “has nothing to do with slavery.”  He proposes that it is a commemoration of South Carolinians who “stood up for their self-government and their rights under law.”

But local members of the NAACP disagree, and they’ve got professional historians on their side:  It is an undeniable fact that South Carolinians seceded to protect their right to own slaves.  ”This is nothing more than a celebration of slavery,” observes Lonnie Randolph, president of the state NAACP chapter.  He led a downtown march and a candlelight vigil outside the municipal auditorium where the ball was to be held.

Candlelight vigils and costumed waltzes get headlines, but Monday night was just one more showdown in another civil war, one that has raged in Charleston since 1865.

When the city fell to the Union army that year, local freedpeople staged public demonstrations to mark slavery’s end.  Huge crowds of former slaves paraded through city streets, even conducting a mock slave auction and displaying a hearse that proclaimed, “Slavery Is Dead.”  African Americans in Charleston also built a cemetery for Union soldiers who had died as prisoners of war, and they came by the thousands to its dedication.

Meanwhile, white Charlestonians worked to memorialize slavery’s most vocal champion, John C. Calhoun, who had died in 1850.  In 1887, after a 30-year campaign, they installed a monument to Calhoun in Marion Square, the park at the very heart of the city.

Rendered powerless by Jim Crow laws in the 1880s and ’90s, the city’s black residents could do nothing to prevent the memorialization of the man who had worked hard to keep them in chains.  So for decades they subjected the monument to an informal campaign of ridicule and defacement.  Even after the original statue was replaced by a second, which stood atop an enormous column, it continued to be vandalized.

More recently, controversy has swirled around an effort to erect a monument to Denmark Vesey, a free black executed for plotting a slave rebellion in the city in 1822.  Local black activists first proposed the tribute in the 1990s so that the city would acknowledge the centrality of slavery to its past.  They also hoped the Vesey Monument would force Charlestonians to confront the reality that slaves were unhappy, so much so that they might violently rebel.

Resistance to the monument has been formidable.  Local whites have offered the standard litany of excuses about the marginal role, and benign nature, of slavery.  Ground on the memorial was finally broken in February 2010, but only after opponents had prevented the statue’s placement in Marion Square.  The Denmark Vesey Memorial will stand in Hampton Park, far from the Calhoun Monument, far from the city’s historic district, far from the eyes of millions of tourists.

Calhoun’s likeness, standing just a block away from where revelers will celebrate secession Monday night, embodies white Charleston’s preferred method of dealing with its slave past: denial.  Dedicated to a man who called southern slavery “a positive good,” the monument honors Calhoun’s commitment to truth, justice, and the Constitution.  It says nothing about slavery.

Despite the efforts of black Charlestonians and their white allies, slavery has been confined to the margins of the city’s public memory.  The  NAACP protest against the Secession Gala is a bid to bring it front-and-center.

The shelling of Fort Sumter opened a long and painful civil war.  Let’s hope that this latest exchange of salvos—another confrontation with repercussions far beyond Charleston—will instigate a different sort of civil process.  The nation must attend to the pain of its history and the pain that the denial of that history continues to inflict.  For after the band stops playing and the gala ball comes to a close, one fact will remain: Charleston’s protracted civil war is our own.

Ethan J. Kytle and Blain Roberts

Ethan J. Kytle and Blain Roberts teach in the Department of History at California State University, Fresno.  They are writing a book about slavery and public memory in Charleston, South Carolina. E-mail: ekytle@csufresno.edu & broberts@csufresno.edu

Mexican Labor News & Analysis

We received this from the United Electrical Workers International department.  Click Here to read the entire newsletter.

MEXICAN LABOR NEWS AND ANALYSIS

December, 2010,

Vol. 15, No.11

About Mexican Labor News & Analysis

Mexican Labor News and Analysis (MLNA) is produced in collaboration with the Authentic Labor Front, Frente Auténtico del Trabajo (FAT) of Mexico and the United Electrical Workers (UE) of the United States. For many of our stories, we rely on La Jornada’s excellent labor and social movement coverage. We also, of course, look at other Mexican and U.S. media, but most important is the coverage of La Jornada, to which we constantly refer and which we frequently summarize in our articles.

In recognizing our sources, articles by David Bacon and John Ross periodically enliven our pages and less frequently, though no less appreciated, are pieces by Fred Rosen. We also appreciate IRC’s willingness to allow us to include articles by Laura Carlsen, director of the IRC Americas Program in Mexico City and occasionally by other IRC contributors. Most important, our collaborators in the Authentic Labor Front (FAT) keep us updated about the FAT’s organizing campaigns and other activities. The Solidarity Center in Mexico kindly sends us regular mailings dealing with labor unions and other issues. We also receive mailings on important issues from CITTAC in Tijuana, from Enlace, and others. Occasionally some of our readers travel to Mexico and send us reports regarding other developments.

For more Information

For information about submission of articles and all queries contact editor Dan La Botz at the following e-mail address: <mailto:danlabotz@cs.com>danlabotz@cs.com or call (513) 861-8722 The mailing address is: Dan La Botz, Mexican Labor News and Analysis, 3503 Middleton Ave., Cincinnati, OH 45220.

Sign up to receive Mexican Labor News and Analysis on a monthly basis and occasional action alerts at: <_blank>http://four.pairlist.net/mailman/listinfo/ue_international-update

Can you reprint these articles?

Most MLNA articles may be reprinted by other electronic or print media. If the article includes a byline, republication requires the author’s approval. For permission, please contact the author directly. If there is no byline, republication is authorized if the reproduction includes the following paragraph:

“This article was published by Mexican Labor News and Analysis, a monthly collaboration of the Mexico City-based Authentic Labor Front (FAT) and the Pittsburgh-based United Electrical Workers (UE).”

Staff: Editor, Dan La Botz. Managing Editor, Robin Alexander.

IN THIS ISSUE:

* Honda Workers in Mexico Face Repression, Firings – by Huberto Juárez Núñez

* Protest Letter from UAW President Bob King

* MEXICO: Days of Action, 14-19 February 2011

*‘Climate Capitalism’ Won At Cancun – Everyone Else Loses — by <http://www.zcommunications.org/zspace/patrickbond>Patrick Bond

*Wikileaks Reveals Drug War Failing in Mexico

*Mexican Electrical Workers Union Leadership Installed

* Letter from SME General Secretary to all Union, Social and Popular Organizations

* Shoe Workers Fight for their Jobs, as Transnational BATA Secretly Moves Machinery

*Charge of Money Laundering against Miners’ Leader Dismissed

*USW and Mexican Miners Advance Unity Talks

*UNTyPP Demands Resignation of Director of PEMEX

*Doctors in Juárez Strike over Safety, Want Protection from Narcos

*35,000 Health Workers Strike in Veracruz over Wages, Bonuses

*Mexicana Unions Sign Concessionary Contracts

*A Pan-American Nightmare: Rising Violence against Migrants

*The Migrant Hotel – Where Deportees Find Shelter in Mexicali — by David Bacon

*Labor Shorts: Labor Law reform and Minimum Wage

Read more by clicking here.

Poetry Anthology Commemorates the 100th Anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

50th Anniversary Commemoration of the fire

C. C. Marimbo announces the premiere publication of 2011: Walking Through the River of Fire: 100 Years of Triangle Factory Fire

posted by Julia Stein,  Wednesday, December 29, 2010 at 12:55pm

C. C. Marimbo announces the premiere publication of 2011:

Walking Through the River of Fire:  100 Years of Triangle Factory Fire Poems

Edited by Julia Stein with an introduction by Jack Hirschman

On March 25, 1911, a fire swept through the Triangle Shirtwaist Company. The bosses had locked the doors; the fire escapes broke. Within the hour 146 immigrant workers—mostly women–were dead. The Triangle fire galvanized a national social justice movement to protect workers’ health and to build unions.

The anthology of poems is organized to tell the story of the fire chronologically:   the first group of poems deals with the fire itself and those who died, those who survived, and those who witnessed. The next group of poems describes identifying the bodies and the funeral. The third section describes the trial and organizing for new laws to make it safe to work. The last group of poems looks back at the fire years later. These poems tell a dramatic, gripping story in a way that actors or poets can producer readers’ theater or poets’ theater to engage the audience in the Fire.

This book of poetry commemorates the 100th anniversary of this fire that rocked New York. The poetry here remembers this tragedy that it may not be forgotten, that the conditions that caused this conflagration are not recreated, that the event is stamped upon history, that the necessity of unions is remembered, and  that each life lost in the fire is valued.

A few days after the Triangle fire in 1911 Yiddish poet Morris Rosenfeld published in Yiddish his “Memorial to Triangle Fire Victims” on the front page of the Jewish Daily Forward. After a few years American poets forgot about the fire, forgetting for 55 years. When editor Julia Stein was a young poet in 1980 writing poetry about her grandmother’s generation of immigrant garment workers, she first wrote about the Triangle Factory fire inspired by Morris Rosenfeld’s poem.  Then through the work of literary critics Janet Zandy and Karen Kovacik, Stein discovered a new post-1980s generation of poets writing about the Triangle fire. These new Triangle poets are Chris Lllewellyn (1981); Mary Fell (1984); Hilton Obenzinger (1989); Carol Tarlen (1996),  Ruth Daigon (2001);  and Alice Rogoff (2010).

Some of these poets’ Triangle poetry won major poetry prizes: Llewellyn’s book won the Whitman Award for Poetry while Mary Fell’s won the National Poetry Series. These poets attack the sweatshop, recapture the lives of immigrant women and of women workers, and inscribe workers’ lives and tragedies into literature. These poets have reacted to the post-1980 growing inequality in the United States with their Triangle fire poetry. The poems here are only a small selection of 100 years of literature about Triangle fire: a growing body of poetry, novels, dramas, and performance pieces. This small group of American poets is  producing a new American poetry:  public, historical, and engaged with society.

Walking Through the River of Fire:  100 Years of Triangle Fire poetry

36 pages, hand-sewn limited edition,

$

For further information:  Randy Fingland, CC. Marimbo

What Can We Learn From Finland About Education? — The Hechinger Report

December 9, 2010

What can we learn from Finland?: A Q&A with Dr. Pasi Sahlberg

By Hechinger Report

Pasi Sahlberg 

Justin Snider of The Hechinger Report sat down today with Dr. Pasi Sahlberg, Director General of the Centre for International Mobility and Cooperation in Finland’s Ministry of Education and Culture. An edited version of their conversation follows.

Sahlberg, who has trained teachers, coached schools and advised policymakers in more than 40 countries, is also a former Washington-based World Bank education specialist. Earlier this week, Finland was once again among the top-scoring nations on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), an exam given to 15-year-olds around the world. U.S. students were in the middle of the pack for science and literacy but below average in mathematics.

The Hechinger Report: Two Million Minutes, a recent documentary by Bob Compton, reveals that American students spend significantly less time learning than their counterparts in India and China. But in your work, you’ve indicated that increasing instructional time isn’t necessarily a good idea. Why?

Sahlberg: There’s no evidence globally that doing more of the same [instructionally] will improve results. An equally relevant argument would be, let’s try to do less. Increasing time comes from the old industrial mindset. The important thing is ensuring school is a place where students can discover who they are and what they can do. It’s not about the amount of teaching and learning.

The Hechinger Report: Given your reservations about things like standardized testing, choice and competition, I’m wondering how you’re received in the U.S. Are you loved by teachers but loathed by some reformers?

Sahlberg: The reception has been very positive everywhere. The thing is that everyone has exactly the same goal – good schools for all – but there are disagreements on how to get there. What I want to do is challenge people to see that things can be done differently. In Finland, we’ve gone from having a very poor system in the 1970s to what the recent McKinsey report called the only excellent system in the world.

The Hechinger Report: How did Finland do it?

Sahlberg: Most educational ideas that we are employing are initially from the U.S. They’re American innovations done in a Finnish way. You know, in the United States, there are more than enough ideas, there’s superior knowledge about educational change and you speak a language that has global reach. If you want to learn something from Finland, it’s the implementation of ideas. It’s looking at education as nation-building. We have very carefully kept the business of education in the hands of educators. It’s practically impossible to become a superintendent without also being a former teacher. … If you have people [in leadership positions] with no background in teaching, they’ll never have the type of communication they need.

The Hechinger Report: So what do you make of the recent trend in the U.S. of hiring non-educators to run large urban school systems?

Sahlberg: This is a very alien idea to Finns. … You know, a former head coach of the Chicago Blackhawks was Finnish, and when he returned to Finland, he was appointed director of one of the largest theaters – a completely different field. He left after one year. There was no buy-in.

The Hechinger Report: What are your thoughts on the use of value-added data to measure teacher performance, which is quite popular in the U.S. at the moment?

Sahlberg: It’s very difficult to use this data to say anything about the effectiveness of teachers. If you tried to do this in my country, Finnish teachers would probably go on strike and wouldn’t return until this crazy idea went away. Finns don’t believe you can reliably measure the essence of learning. You know, one big difference in thinking about education and the whole discourse is that in the U.S. it’s based on a belief in competition. In my country, we are in education because we believe in cooperation and sharing. Cooperation is a core starting point for growth.

The Hechinger Report: Waiting for “Superman” put pressure on teachers’ unions in the U.S. And they’ve also come under criticism from some experts, reformers and the Obama administration. But others, like Linda Darling-Hammond of Stanford, have pointed out that top-performing countries such as Finland have strong teachers’ unions. So what do you make of teachers’ unions in the U.S.?

Sahlberg: In Finland, unions aren’t an obstacle. Ninety-eight percent of teachers are unionized. And this is very important to the success of our system. I wouldn’t buy the argument that unions are a problem.

New Legislation to Base Evaluation on “Performance” of Teachers

[I guess perform is a good word here.  Like actors perform, trying to make you believe that what you see on stage or screen is real.  Performance is measured by how the students also “perform” — on the high stakes tests which permeate the school year.  Like the actors at the front of the classroom, the students perform in a way to convince you that what they have done in the past period of time is learn.  All the world’s a stage, and all the teachers and students merely actors, and so forth.  In the article in Substance News that follows, George Schmidt traces the source of this new bill  to the Billionaire Boys Club that is set on transforming education into a privatized fiefdom.  Significantly, as the article also shows, City Clerk of Chicago  Miguel del Valle is the first mayoral candidate to speak against this “reform.”  Del Valle was a consistent participant in the movement to elect Harold Washington mayor in Chicago and, as State Senator in 1988, was a architect of the legislation that created the elected local school councils. And guess what?  There is no room for elected local school councils in the privatized fiefdom of the Billionaire Boys Club.  Del Valle’s press release can be found on the Substance News site at the end of the article. — Lew Rosenbaum]

substance: defending the public schools for over 30 years

Opposes ‘scapegoating’ Chicago teachers… Miguel Del Valle becomes first Chicago mayoral candidate to oppose the ‘Performance Counts’ legislation funded in Illinois by the ‘Billionaire Boys Club

George N. Schmidt – December 22, 2010

Chicago City Clerk and mayoral candidate Miguel DelValle has become the first Chicago mayoral candidate to firmly oppose the so-called ‘Performance Counts Act.’ The proposed

Chicago City Clerk Miguel Del Valle (above right) became the first mayoral candidate to reject the union busting legislation funded by corporate school reformers for Illinois. Above, Del Valle answering a question during the mayoral forum sponsored by the Chicago Teachers Union on December 16, 2010, the first day of the two days of hearings on the plutocrats' latest attack on public school teachers in the name of corporate "reform." Seated beside Del Valle above is Carol Moseley Braun, also a candidate for mayor who took part in the December 16 CTU forum. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.

legislation was pushed into the lame duck legislative session in Springfield after House Speaker Michael Madigan created a thing called the ‘School Reform Committee’ to fast track the legislation between now and January 6, 2011. Madigan’s enthusiasm for the latest iteration of corporate “school reform” came after a group called “Stand for Children”, based in Oregon, funneled more than $600,000 into the recent election campaigns between October 1, 2010 and November 2, 2010 (election day).

Stand for Children, which only opened its Illinois office in December 2010, contributed $100,000 each in October 2010 to two Democratic legislators who are now on Madigan’s “school reform committee” — Jehan Gordon of Peoria and Keith Farnham. The group’s funding comes almost exclusively from some of the wealthiest people in the USA, although it claims to have a “grass roots” base, and the money that was poured into Illinois politics in October 2010 came from “Stand for Children” offices in Oregon and Massachusetts. When Substance tried to located the Illinois Stand for Children during the first week of December 2010, directory assistance said the group had no phone number in Chicago or Springfield. It is a “501c4” group, meaning it can distribute money without having to reveal the source of its dollars.

 

Like “Advance Illinois,” which reportedly drafted the proposed act with Stand for Children, Stand for Children claims to be a non-partisan group that’s only interested in what’s best for children. But its ability to make campaign contributions far above anything ordinary teachers might make (Stand for Children was the largest contributor to the re-election campaigns of Jehan Gordon and Keith Farnham) stems from the fact that its money — like the money behind Advance Illinois — comes from millionaires and billionaires.

 

Michael Madigan’s hastily formed “school reform” committee, which held hearings in Aurora Illinois on December 16 and December 17, 2010, featured “reform” groups, which are massively funded by corporations and foundations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. “Advance Illinois” and “Stand for Children” were given preferential treatment during the hearings by both the Democratic co-chair (Linda Chapa La Via) and the Republican co-chair (Roger Eddy), while actual grass roots local groups were snubbed and members of the committee (such as Karen Yarbrough) were allowed to launch into teacher bashing and union busting tirades during the hearings.

Chicago City Clerk Miguel Del Valle was interviewed following the Chicago Teachers Union mayoral forum by Steinmetz High School student reporters (left to right) From left, Steinmetz Star reporters: Eunice Dimas, Regina Crawford, Alyssa Sanchez, and Danielle Brumley. The reporters are from the Steinmetz Star, and award winning school newspaper from Steinmetz, a general public high school on Chicago's northwest side. Substance photo by Sharon Schmidt.

Advance Illinois director Robin Steans (the millionaire sister of State Senator Heather Steans) gave the primary testimony on behalf of the bill on both days of the hearings. On the second day of the hearings, she was aided in her testimony by R. Eden Martin, who has been trying to force the privatization of Chicago’s public schools from his position as chairman of the education committee of the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago.  Read the rest of this story and Del Valle’s statement by clicking this link.

Tribute to Poet and Activist Dennis Brutus by Beverly Bell — published on CommonDreams.org

[As the article below says, Dennis Brutus died a year ago.  Clicking on the Dennis Brutus link here and in the story below leads to a Monthly Review obituary and linked videos of Dennis.  I strongly urge readers to follow those links.  If you knew Dennis, it will bring back extraordinary memories.  If you did not, it will give you an inkling of the influence of the man in his time — Lew Rosenbaum]
Published on Monday, December 27, 2010 by CommonDreams.org

This week we depart from Haiti to visit the native son of another country with a deep history of oppression and resistance: South Africa. The luminary Dennis Brutus – freedom fighter, economic and environmental justice activist, professor, and poet – died last year on December 26. We republish this eulogy because of the transcendent lessons Dennis’ life offers to Haiti, the U.S., and all places where people seek greater justice and humaneness.

How does one pay tribute to Dennis Brutus? To do so appropriately would take a short book or a very long poem. Someone should attempt the feat, both because Dennis deserves it and because it would help spread the power of his life, work, and words. And spread is what Dennis’ life, work, and words must continue to do, for in them lie the essentials for a more just, nurturing, equitable, and environmentally sustainable world.

The Dalai Lama is reported to have said, “Let your life be your message.” Dennis’ was, in the humility with which he carried himself, the kindness with which he treated others, and the wisdom and clarity of those words. His message, and his life, lay also in the strength of his convictions and the energy with which he worked for them, whether the cause be liberation from oppressive regimes; reparations to victims of Apartheid from corporations that made profits off the system; the dissolution of the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and World Trade Organization; or control over corporations creating climate change.

I met Dennis in the early 80’s when we were both fighting the Duvalier dictatorship in Haiti, during which time he was also fighting for his own political asylum from South Africa. Our collaboration deepened in the 90’s through the global boycott of the World Bank, and through our joint engagement with the Center for Economic Justice. Though reaching the Center’s board meetings in the remote city of Albuquerque required many hours of travel, and though he often had meetings or presentations in other countries on the front and back ends, and though his participation was often for no more than a day, still he came, for Dennis was faithful to whatever he committed to. The same was true of the World Bank boycott: Dennis appeared for most any workshop, presentation, or meeting we requested, raising high the flag with all his strength and brilliance.

He lobbied us all to involve ourselves, to turn out, to unite our voice and strength, to do more than we were already doing. The man was tireless and fearless, and gently urged us to be, too.

He always showed up with his most pressing passions and politically urgent campaigns. I recall running a workshop on strategies to challenge the World Bank’s power in a church in Washington during a week of protests. Making a cameo appearance, Dennis asked for the floor and proceeded to make a long appeal for everyone to join him at another gathering on another topic in another country, many months out. As he went on about that gathering, a woman hissed at me that the speaker was off-message and that I should cut him off. I was polite while denying her request, but what I really wanted to say was, “Do you have any idea who is speaking? You should just feel honored. Listen very carefully to what he has to say.”

The schedule he kept was remarkable for anyone of any age or state of health, but I never heard him complain or make excuses. On he plugged even after he had surpassed 80, when his health had diminished, when his itinerary exhausted him, when his memory had wandered. I ran into him at the World Social Forum in Mumbai in one of his final years when he was clearly weary of body and mind. After sharing a big hug, he said, “I must go now because I have a meeting. I can’t remember with whom, or where it is, but I know I have one.” And off he went through the throngs, tenacity and a fierce commitment to obligation trumping all personal challenges.

When we were lucky, Dennis had the time and inclination for a story. The narrative was always marked by his beautiful verbiage, exquisite oration, enlivened eyes, and -if a good story- delight, or -if one of injustice- calm. My favorite stories were of his and his comrades’ fierce fights against Apartheid. So much courage and creativity they bespoke. He found humor in unexpected places, and always understated his own suffering.

There was the tale of attempting to flee guards as he was being transported from one prison to another, jumping out of the police car at a red light and setting off in a dash. “That was when I learned what a through-and-through wound was,” he said of the bullet which pierced his chest and went out his back. He told of lying on the ground bleeding, “in the shadow of the Anglo American Corporation, appropriately enough,” waiting for the ambulance. When a whites-only ambulance arrived by mistake, he was not allowed in it and had to lie on the verge of death for another long period awaiting a second ambulance, this one for so-called coloreds.

He told of his comrades’ breaking into the hospital to free him after the shooting, as he barely survived on life support, and of his stealthily writing on his hand, “Abort mission,” sure that he would die in the attempted rescue. He told of being under house arrest with guards parked in front of his home around the clock, while he climbed out the side window to attend political meetings.

During one of his narrations in my living room, I noticed that the self-deprecating chortle that usually punctuated his stories had vanished. Dennis was quietly crying. A tear ran down his nose and hung at the tip, where it remained throughout the rest of his tale of horror and brutality. Like Dennis’ life, the sadness and frustration behind that tear never stopped his truth-telling.

Poems were easy to get from him, whether he read them during a public presentation or shared them in a calm moment. Whenever Dennis had a new book (he published 13), he carried copies around and freely gave them out, after adding a warm inscription in his exquisite calligraphy. Dennis was perhaps most full in his poems, which merged the personal and the political, which never denied the existence of tyranny but always brought his breath of hope that the world can be different – if we organize to make it so.

It is perhaps easiest to remember Dennis the fighter, but I was always equally impressed with Dennis the human being. No matter how ugly the political fight, Dennis’ anger remained streamlined on the unjust systems and policies, not wasted on the individuals behind them. He kept his eyes on the prize: the principles at play.

The same was true with his approach to social movements. When comrades and allies around him made errors, when internal politics divided, his response always shone like a beacon. He seemed to know better than most that we are all limited and imperfect, and that the benefit of the doubt or the possibility of change is a grace we need for humanity to continue to evolve. Or perhaps it was simpler: perhaps he believed that he was no one’s judge. Or maybe he just knew that the world was harsh enough already, as he expressed in his poem “Somehow We Survive”:

All our land is scarred with terror
rendered unlovely and unlovable
sundered are we and all our passionate surrender
but somehow
tenderness survives.

Dennis wrote his own simple obituary in 2009 as he discussed the 1960 Sharpeville massacre. “I was committed to the struggle and I would if necessary die in the cause of liberation: ‘Freedom or death.’ It was a very simple resolve.”[1] He did indeed die in the cause of liberation, though fortunately not violently or prematurely. Every single thing that Dennis did was in the cause of liberation.

I would say I will miss Dennis, but he’s not going anywhere. He’s in all of us who care profoundly for justice, humanity, and the planet.

Beverly Bell has worked with Haitian social movements for over 30 years.  She is also author of the book Walking on Fire: Haitian Women’s Stories of Survival and Resistance.  She coordinates Other Worlds, www.otherworldsarepossible.org, which promotes social and economic alternatives. She is also associate fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies.

Who Killed The Disneyland Dream? by Frank Rich in the New York Times

[The key in this story, I think, is the cultural shift in the last 50 years.  The subtext, explored only superficially, is the economic shift in the last 50 years. The economics of the fifties allowed for an expansive view of what was possible.  The economics of today, bred by the decline of the value of labor power, leads inescapably to the conclusion that people are superfluous.  Under those conditions, how is it possible to have access to a “frontierland” or a “tomorrowland,” even granting that those entities are worth achieving.  There are a number of barely spoken problems with this story, primarily that, except for noting the lack of black faces in Disneyland Dream, Frank Rich nearly ignores the civil rights context in which the trip to Disneyland took place, ignores the conditions of life that made Langston Hughes write “life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.”  That contradictory moment both undermines his argument and confirms it — the Civil Rights movement, an outgrowth both of the post war economic revolution and the post war consciousness that black GIs brought back home with them from the fight against European fascism, could not have developed without the hope to escape the desperate economic and political conditions that African Americans found themselves in.

I don’t share Rich’s admiration for Sorensen or for Holbrooke.  Both are enmeshed in the reprehensible imperial designs of post war America. One can quibble with a bit of Rich’s understanding of history too.  He alludes to the bathrooms in fantasyland, marked “prince” and “princess.”  From this he concludes that America of the fifties guaranteed people the dream of becoming royalty.  This of course flies in the face of the constitution itself, which denies royalty any place in America.  But then again, how can one quibble with the de facto royalty that made up the corporate capitalist class then, even more now, and the imperial reach of the government of, for and by the corporations?

Barry Blitt

One can quibble some about his ending as well.  The important thing is to recognize the direction of the shift that is taking place.  Too many of us still believe in the possibility of becoming Bill Gates.  That is one reason why polls showed the numbers supporting the tax cuts for the wealthy.  Surely a good number of folks saw the inevitable “compromise” on the horizon and opted for tax cuts for all versus no tax cuts at all.  But the numbers are diminishing, the ground is being cut out from the center and indeed the center cannot hold. This is not a question about the excesses of the financial markets and their greedy manipulators.  This is a crisis in the system of capitalism itself.

In 1957 I lived in Connecticut, like Barstow, the maker of Disneyland Dream.  I didn’t enter the contest his family did, did not praise the magic of “Scotch Tape,” did not get a free trip to Disneyland.  Instead, my father took an unpaid vacation from his job and paid for 3 tickets on one of those TWA planes with a refueling stop in St Louis to get us to visit my sister who lived in Buena Park, California, a stone’s throw from Anaheim and Disneyland itself.  I still remember the “prince” and “princess” bathrooms, which my family saw with a kind of amusement more than aspiration.  The ride I remember today more than any other is the mad tea party ride, an Alice in Wonderland metaphor, cups swirling so rapidly the centrifugal force drove me against the side of the cup, my head hanging over the side, unable to bring myself in until the ride stopped.  Capitalism’s had us on a whirl like that for the last 30 years, through dem0cratic and republican administrations.  The ride is coming to an end.  What replaces that ride depends on the riders;  either the riders replace the corporate control with a cooperative society, or those controlling the switches will find a worse game in which we may be allowed to be pawns — Lew Rosenbaum]

Op-Ed Columnist

Who Killed the Disneyland Dream?

By FRANK RICH
Published: December 25, 2010 in the New York Times

OF the many notable Americans we lost in 2010, three leap out as paragons of a certain optimistic American spirit that we also seemed to lose this year. Two you know: Theodore Sorensen, the speechwriter present at the creation of J.F.K.’s clarion call to “ask what you can do for your country,” and Richard Holbrooke, the diplomat who brought peace to the killing fields of Bosnia in the 1990s. Holbrooke, who was my friend, came of age in the Kennedy years and exemplified its can-do idealism. He gave his life to the proposition that there was nothing an American couldn’t accomplish if he marshaled his energy and talents. His premature death — while heroically bearing the crushing burdens of Afghanistan and Pakistan — is tragic in more ways than many Americans yet realize.

Damon Winter/The New York Times

Frank Rich

But a third representative American optimist who died this year, at age 91, is a Connecticut man who was not a player in great events and whom I’d never heard of until I read his Times obituary: Robbins Barstow, an amateur filmmaker who for decades recorded his family’s doings in home movies of such novelty and quality that one of them, the 30-minute “Disneyland Dream,” was admitted to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress two years ago. That rare honor elevates Barstow’s filmmaking to a pantheon otherwise restricted mostly to Hollywood classics, from “Citizen Kane” to “Star Wars.”

“Disneyland Dream” was made in the summer of 1956, shortly before the dawn of the Kennedy era. You can watch it on line at archive.org or on YouTube. Its narrative is simple. The young Barstow family of Wethersfield, Conn. — Robbins; his wife, Meg; and their three children aged 4 to 11 — enter a nationwide contest to win a free trip to Disneyland, then just a year old. The contest was sponsored by 3M, which asked contestants to submit imaginative encomiums to the wonders of its signature product. Danny, the 4-year-old, comes up with the winning testimonial, emblazoned on poster board: “I like ‘Scotch’ brand cellophane tape because when some things tear then I can just use it.”

Soon enough, the entire neighborhood is cheering the Barstows as they embark on their first visit to the golden land of Anaheim, Calif. As narrated by Robbins Barstow (he added his voiceover soundtrack to the silent Kodachrome film in 1995), every aspect of this pilgrimage is a joy, from the “giant TWA Super Constellation” propeller plane (seating 64) that crosses the country in a single day (with a refueling stop in St. Louis) to the home-made Davy Crockett jackets the family wears en route.

To watch “Disneyland Dream” now as a boomer inevitably sets off pangs of longing for a vanished childhood fantasyland: not just Walt Disney’s then-novel theme park but all the sunny idylls of 1950s pop culture. As it happens, Disney’s Davy Crockett, the actor Fess Parker, also died this year. So did Barbara Billingsley, matriarch of the sitcom “Leave It to Beaver,” whose fictional family, the Cleavers, first appeared in 1957 and could have lived next door to the Barstows. But the real power of this film is more subtle and pertinent than nostalgia.

Read the rest of this story on the New York Times web site.

Holiday Greetings from Chicago Labor & Arts Festival

 

The “liner notes”  below tells you how this year-end playlist came to be —  the you-tube compilation matches  (as much as possible) a selection on a CD. Warning — none of these are “holiday” songs. The seed for these may have been planted many years ago when I heard Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee sing “trouble in mind, lord I’m blue, but I won’t be blue alway.  The sun’s gonna shine in my back door some day.”  When you read the liner notes below, you’ll see also that a Nelson Peery tells a memorable story in his Black Fire which placed this idea, generally of a “promised land,”  in a different context. In some way I’ve been chasing that sun, that promised land, for the last 45 years or so.

There are some differences between the you-tube compilation and the holiday mix disc.  The disc has a piece by Ali Hassan Kuban, “Ya Nasma Yah Halina”;  also the Joe Cocker version of “Living in the Promiseland” and the Patti LaBelle version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”  The you-tube includes  addtional versions of “Guantanamera,” “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “bonus tracks” by Curtis Mayfield and Sister Rosetta Tharp not on the disc.

The sun is gonna shine in our back doors some day!  Let’s get busy!

Lew Rosenbaum

Click the titles to find the you-tube selections:

1. Midnight Train to Georgia, Gladys Knight & the Pips

2. Pastures of Plenty/This Land is Your Land, Lila Downs

3. Guantanamera, Celia Cruz and the Fania All Stars (Zaire)Guantanamera, Compay Segundo and
Buena Vista Social Club
,

4. One Nation Under a Groove, Parliament Funkadelic
5. Big Rock Candy Mountain, Harry McClintock
6. Somewhere Over the Rainbow, Judy Garland;
Somewhere Over the Rainbow Sarah Vaughan
7. Somewhere (There’s a Place for Us) (West Side Story Original Cast Album)

8. Living in the Promiseland, Willie Nelson
9. Feelin’ Good, Nina Simone
10. Land of Hope and Dreams (Barcelona),  Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
11. I’ll Take You There (Staples Singers) ;   Mavis Staples, Central Park, NY
12.  If I Should Fall Behind, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

Bonus tracks —

13. People Get Ready, Curtis Mayfield
14. Trouble in Mind, Sister Rosetta Tharp

The Holiday disc playlist is here:Holiday mix playlist

 

*                             *                                *

In the summer of 1993 Nelson Peery gave me the manuscript of his Black Fire to read.   Among the many memorable passages, this one has lingered with me for 17 years: Peery has returned to Minnesota from hoboing across country, returned to high school, graduated, and enlisted in the army.  It was 1942, and he was headed to Fort Huachuca.

“I’m only eighteen, but I know you, America.  You whore mother of democracy, you who strangle the dreams you’ve birthed.  I know your wheat fields and copper mines and hobo jungles.  I’ve left sweat on your prairies and, as an eagle, perched on the pinnacle of your Rocky Mountains, I’ve seen your splendid beauty from Kansas to Oregon.  Grant me one wish.  Be more good than beautiful.  Show me yams and cotton and steel and coal unstained by corruption and tears.  You would be a gentle thing without your thugs and lynch mobs. Some day I’ll tear out your claws, come close, and love you.”

He speaks to me of the “promised land” betrayed and of fighting for the fulfillment of the promise.  With “promised land” in mind I put together this collection of music.  While they refer to the strangling of dreams, these selections in their own ways strive toward achieving the promise.  Some are explicit, some are not.  Without a doubt, I have projected images I have built while listening to these songs.

What is “the promised land”?  I think I remember my mother singing the chorus to “Swing Low Sweet Chariot,” which became for me the archetypal longing for the way out. For the poverty stricken seeking a new life, it can mean the place of voluntary exile, the place with streets paved with gold, and that is the back story of “Midnight Train to Georgia.” The protagonist of this narrative could not make it in LA (“he wanted to be a star, but he didn’t make it very far”).  People I knew in the projects of L.A. and the fields of the San Joaquin Valley came to California to make it.  They sent money “home.”  As long as they stayed in the “golden state,” they never considered it home, yearned to take their own midnight train to Arkansas or Michoacan or wherever they came from.

Ali Hassan Kuban’s character in the song, “Ya Nasma Yah Halina,” yearns to return to his homeland, now a place of desire after the disappointment of Cairo.  In a real sense, the exile’s fantasy about the new land disappears in the longing for home, the cultural context from which the emigrant left.  The same contradiction is seen in two other of the selections on this mix:  Lila Downs version of “Pastures of Plenty/This Land is Your Land” (where the narrator interrogates the protagonist about the conditions of his/her migration) and the dance sequence “Somewhere.”   The tension of “Somewhere” is accompanied elsewhere in West Side Story by the tension between longing to return and the perceived material advantages of the place of exile (see “America”).

I love the reinterpretation of these Guthrie songs by Lila Downs – the energy she gives to these revisits the immigrant experience.  What was an internal migration is brought to the global context today.   She turns the ironic pastures of plenty (for whom?) into a demand that they become plentiful for all.  After a central section in which she repeats that “this land is your land is my land is your land”  (you’d better not forget it) her voice strikes like a hammer, that these pastures must always be free. It is my country, after all.  Freedom is a key to the promise of her song, a material freedom that flows from access to my plentiful pasture land.

Like the previous  songs, “Guantanamera” celebrates the potential of “my nation.”  “Yo soy un hombre sincero” sings the narrator of this selection, whose ideal campesina identifies “con los pobres de la tierra” — with the poor of the earth —  and sings about her beautiful Cuba, like Guthrie’s view of the United States.  But  Guthrie and Jose Marti both find their nations lacking at the same time: be more good than beautiful might be something they would say.

Lighten up, you might say here.  Lighten up, don’t be so serious.  Of course these are serious things.  But just as the protagonists in these first four songs celebrate when they can, perhaps those celebrations are the germ of the future promised land.  Curtis Mayfield would say “It’s All Right to Have a Good Time.”  In the next selection Funkadelic puts it this way: in “One Nation Under a Groove,” the song insists “nothing can stop us now.”  “Feet don’t fail me now” could be a call to display dancing prowess – and it could be urging “us” not to stop wherever we are going, wherever we are dancing our way to.

Well then, where are we going? We’re not going where we came from, though that has some elements of what we dream of (going home).  Harry McClintock cranks out the classic utopian theme in “Big Rock Candy Mountain,” which necessarily transposes our own present experience to the future. Home is where you get thrown in jail, can’t even bum a cigarette, and so forth.  Imagine cigarette trees, jails you walk out of as soon as you walk in, policemen with wooden legs. From the dreams of the hobo emerge what the new world might be like.  We can laugh at some of these projections; but as with all humor, it has a sharp edge that bears listening more carefully.

Somewhere Over the Rainbow” has a more literal imagined future (though we know that Dorothy fell into a magical Oz).  Frank Baum’s original story criticized the monetary system of the late 1800s and celebrated the populist revolts. The film version brought the critique into dust-bowl era Kansas, where flim-flam artists like the wizard, venal power brokers like the witch were easily identified.

Somewhere,” the ballet sequence from West Side Story, brings the story to the 1950’s streets of New York, and posits two working class kids, members of different gangs (Puerto Rican and Anglo) who fall in love, yearn to end the killing, get caught up in it anyway, and dream of “a place for us.”  Listening to the nightly news in communities fraught with death and destruction today is not much different from the yearning in this song.  The lovers sing to each other, somewhere there’s got to be a place we can be free from violence, free to make a place for ourselves (more than an undercurrent is the failed dreams of immigrants to inner city New York).  “Hold my hand and I’ll take you there . . .”   Somewhere . . .

Joe Cocker and Willie Nelson in these two versions of “Living in the Promiseland”  again raise a contradictory phenomenon.  A call to the nation to live up to its (neglected) promise.  “our dreams are made of steel.” ”There’s room for everyone, livin’ in the promiseland.”  “The prayer of every man is to know how freedom feels.”   The voices are wistful, a dream unrealized (Give us your tired and we will make them strong.)   Again, to know how freedom feels!

Nina Simone sings “Feeling Good”.  “It’s a new dawn, a new day, it’s a new life for me.” Sleep in peace when day is done.  Descriptions of the natural world hearken back to the bluebirds over the rainbow.  “Freedom is what I mean.”  It is a cry of defiance but also a cry of accomplishment, of realization, of experiencing what the new world, the promised land would be. This theme of freedom is a distinct promise. It echoes to me, from more than 50 years ago, watching on TV when the southern cop, confronted by the children fighting for civil rights in the face of fire hoses and attack dogs, asked what do you people want?   To whom a lone child replies “feedum.”

“You don’t know where you’re going, but you know you won’t be coming back…Meet me in the land of hope and dreams.”   The idea for this mix germinated the first time I heard Willie Nelson sing “Living in the Promiseland,” because I connected immediately with Bruce Springsteen’s “Land of Hope and Dreams.” Springsteen tells us who will be accepted into this promised land.  Sinners, whores, gamblers, the outcasts of society are welcome.  No dreams will be thwarted here.  This is a kin to Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready,” where the train to the land of hope and dreams requires no ticket, just get on board.

The Staple Singers  will take us there, “I know a place,  there ain’t nobody cryin’, ain’t nobody worried, ain’t no smiling faces lyin to the races.”  Mavis calls out “help me,” because she can’t do it alone, even if she can lead. “I’ll Take You There”  but “You got to help me”  and her ecstasy communicates the joyful future. If the “I’ll take you there” from West Side Story is hopeful but nebulous, Mavis Staples is definitive, certain.  You can believe she knows where she is going.

“I’ll wait for you, and if I fall behind wait for me.”   Bruce Springsteen returns with the E-Street Band to make sure we know if we fall behind, they’ll wait for us (if we wait for them).  “There’s a beautiful river in the valley ahead” sings Clarence Clemmons after his saxophone solo and each band member takes his/her turn pledging their commitment to each other in reaching the promised land. For me the Nils Lofgren/Patti Scialfa duet at the center of this performance also centers the meaning of the song, in its crystalline beauty. Hearing this live at the United Center years ago was, I think, one of the defining moments of my musical experience.  The sheer emotional joy of the vision of the land of hope and dreams, the recognition of the fear that I cannot make it by myself, but the knowledge I have others I can rely on.

This is not intended as an exhaustive compilation of music.  It is severely limited by my own musical experience, but it is greatly enriched by conversations with Diana, and with the encyclopedic e-mail friendship collectively known as “Strat.”