Exposed and Ode to a Shot Glass: Commemorating Billy Watkins

[On July 27, 2014, The Revolutionary Poets Brigade – Chicago held a “bonfire” reading as part of the World Poetry Movement’s readings for peace.  We built a bonfire at promontory point, jutting out into Lake Michigan, the Chicago skyline dramatically draped against the northern horizon.  As the sun went down over the trees to the west, poets and activists read from their work and described the social struggles in which they were engaged.  We asked Billy Watkins to speak about his work with the newspaper The People’s Tribune, and to read some poetry. What follows is the complete transcript of his reading, his last public presentation. As he left promontory point, he was pleased to hear that his, his first public sharing of his own poetry, was an extraordinary success. Now, nearly a year later, we follow this transcript with a new poem about Billy Watkins.– Lew Rosenbaum]

Adam Gottlieb: Next up is going to be Billy Watkins talking about the People’s Tribune. Watkins is a writer for the People’s Tribune and an all around revolutionary. Everyone please give it up for Billy!


20140727_190620Billy Watkins: Thank you, I want to be a part of the circle here, that’s good. I am yeah I am both happy and humbled to be here this afternoon. I’m not a poet. I wanted to get my little piece out of the way so we can get ready for some serious poetry. My day job is, I’m a professor at UIC I’ve been there for 20 years, I’m tired of them, they’re probably tired of me, probably I should re-tire. But at any rate, until that happens, I’m a part of the movement. And right today I’m representing the People’s Tribune. I’m going to pass around [here he hands a stack of People’s Tribune’s to be passed around the listeners], several of us here write for the People’s Tribune and distribute it. I’ve been working for the People’s Tribune for a long time. It’s a newspaper, a community newspaper that is addressing the issues of tyranny, oppression, capitalism, war, we’re trying to respond to every act of tyranny and oppression, and provide a newspaper where the people can inform one another and organize themselves. We’re beyond the time of, we’re at a time in history that you all already know is a very dangerous and menacing time of — the people, the powers that be are marshalling their forces. They’re putting their house in order to do whatever their master plan is. We on the other hand are not as organized, don’t have as many resources, perhaps don’t even understand how serious the threat is. But we’re beginning to understand it.

Last week, with the invasion of Gaza, we understood it even more.

So I want to, I was asked to, I was lured here, because — I’m not a poet — but I love words and I understand the power of words. Was it Shakespeare who said the pen is mightier than the sword? Somebody said it. Whoever said it had a lot of truth to it. And so words are the key to action. Words are inspiring. Words do things to us. We’re moved by words, whether it be in song, in poetry, in prose, whatever. So, I have never, this is the first time I’ve ever shared anything I’ve written in public like this.


I mean I’ve written a couple books, but I’ve not shared – I don’t know if this is poetry or drunken reminiscences – and is there a difference [someone says same thing] – same thing, I’m glad to know that, because at the end of every day I have a little glass of gin and I do a little writing. So this represents the end of every day.

This is a piece that I wrote – I’m probably one of the oldest ones out here, and we’re called together today to talk about war, condemn war, well, I was brought up in the “Cold War.” And I wrote this poem actually last year, and I was thinking about some of the old cold warriors, who helped shape our world, or I should say misshaped our world. So these guys we got today in the Pentagon and launching these adventures, they are poop-butts compared to the people we had in the 1960s. I mean you had some real pros who were assembled by the Kennedy administration to in fact reconfigure the world. So let me just read some of my thoughts, and I call this

Exposed  by Bill Watkins

Divine one, king, emperor, sovereign, his highness, sire, your majesty, landlord, hereditarian bloodline, elected by no one, speak to God

You go by many names,

we know who you are,

we got your number,

we’re on your ass

Democrat, reformer, liberal, progressive, humanitarian, neoliberal, Kennedyite, new dealer, new wheeler,

You go by many names,

we know who you are,

we got your number,

we’re on your ass

Usurper, hater, exploiter, robber baron, expansionist, smooth criminal, imperialist, pig, evil doer, vermin, trickster, wicked one.

You are known by many names,

we know who you are,

we got your number,

we’re on your ass

Liar, cheater, misleader, fool, hurter, killer, wannabe thriller

we know who you are,

we got your number,

we’re on your ass.

Reagan, Clinton, Eisenhower, Truman, Wilson, Obama, and yes Jimmy Carter, the peanut man.

You are known by many names,

we know who you are,

we got your number,

we’re on your ass

Stockman, Plockman, Foreman, Hockman, Gates, Vrydolyak, Cheney, Kennedy Fukuyama , Rumsfeld, McGeorge

“What mother would name her child McGeorge” Bundy

Bundy — what mother would name her child McGeorge?

You go by many names,

we know who you are,

we got your number,

we’re on your ass

Wallace, Bilbo, Maddox, Stennis, Connor,

You go by many names,

we know who you are,

we got your number,

we’re on your ass

Mortgage man, rent man, landlord man, police man, collector man, bag man, dope man,repo man, hit man, alder man

You go by many names,

we know who you are,

we got your number,

we’re on your ass

Faker, false prophet, apostate, revisionist, snake man, god man, obeah man, con man, trick man, lowdown man

You go by many names,

we know who you are.

Just a quickie now, I want to read something from one of my favorite people, V.I.Lenin, and its a passage from one of my th-2favorite books, entitled What Is To Be Done.

It’s just one paragraph. It’s a paragraph that I love because it speaks to me. Speaks to those of us in the movement, and we are trying to grow the movement, and we want to do the right thing. We are faced with all kinds of tricksters and hypocrites and we are surrounded by all kinds of buffoons and people who would have us misstep.

“We are marching in a compact group along a precipitous and difficult path, firmly holding each other by the hand. We are surrounded on all sides by enemies, and we have to advance almost constantly under their fire. We have combined, by a freely adopted decision, for the purpose of fighting the enemy, and not of retreating into the neighbouring marsh, the inhabitants of which, from the very outset, have reproached us with having separated ourselves into an exclusive group and with having chosen the path of struggle instead of the path of conciliation. And now some among us begin to cry out: Let us go into the marsh! And when we begin to shame them, they retort: What backward people you are! Are you not ashamed to deny us the liberty to invite you to take a better road! Oh, yes, gentlemen! You are free not only to invite us, but to go yourselves wherever you will, even into the marsh. In fact, we think that the marsh is your proper place, and we are prepared to render you every assistance to get there. Only let go of our hands, don’t clutch at us and don’t besmirch the grand word freedom, for we too are “free” to go where we please, free to fight not only against the marsh, but also against those who are turning towards the marsh!”

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

Ode to a Shot Glass by Lew Rosenbaum

The five inch high shot glass has a map of Arkansas

Printed on the side. Arkansas emblazoned in red letters

Along its northern border, while a yellow scroll at the southernshot glass (1)

Proclaims in red letters “The Natural State.” An hour ago

It was filled with vodka, smooth tasting Stolichnaya. I bought the Stoli

For ideological reasons: I thought it would best

Help me think of my comrade, Billy Watkins, writing what he called

His musings, his drunken reverie before going to bed,

Writing what he said he didn’t know if it was poetry or

Just drunken reminiscences, or is there any difference he said,

In that last public appearance, that night when we read poetry

Around the bonfire;

When we assured him there was no difference;

At promontory point, when he told us he had never read his poetry –

But is it poetry, he wondered, when he told us

He’d been writing for forty years, thrown most of it away,

I don’t know whether it’s any good, he said.

I’m a professor in my day job, I’m tired of them, some of them would be happy

If I RE-tired, his resonant voice breaking, his breathing labored,

He read his litany of scurrilous scourges of the working class,

And without being asked, we joined him in his chorus

“You go by many names, we know who you are,

We got your number, we’re on your ass.”


A week later, he would never write another line.


This is Billy’s glass. He collected it on one of his many journeys.

I chose this among the offerings at the service that

Celebrated his life, a generous selection his widow Mary

And his son Will prepared – I cringe at using the word “widow” –

I took this, not some exotic instrument from West Africa,

Some multicolored Asian textile, some Olmec sculpture:

No, this proletarian relic from the North American South,

Slavery’s home, and the key to American liberation,

And pouring a libation to fill this vessel, I think of Billy, late at night,

Chasing down his rage at the white architects of Black education,

Sharpening his view of Black protest thought,

Vilifying the corporate transformation of education.

If he were writing tonight, it would be a line straight from

Little Rock, the home of Orval Faubus and Bill Clinton,

To Charleston, where the first shots of the civil war were fired

And where nine were murdered in

Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

And, tossing off the last of the clear, fiery liquid in this glass,

He’d scribble another line to assure the enemies of his class,

We’re on your fascist ass.


Rest well, beloved comrade. We’re on their ass too

Events This Week: (There are a lot more than these . . .)

Some events this week:

Global Climate Convergence is moderating a national 10 day series of actions intended to connect the environmental movement of survival with the movements for economic survival.  For the entire calendar of events please check the following site:
Some of the Chicago highlights include:

  • April 22 Earth Day march assembles 4:30 PM at Thompson Center; march 5:15 PM
  • April 25 Critical Mass Bike Ride begins at Daley Plaza 5:30 PM
  • April 26 Environmental Justice March 10:30 AM at East 106th St & State Line Ave

April 23:  The Chicago Board of Education meets to review school turnarounds and charter schools.  125 S. Clark.  The Board meets at 10 AM but people begin gathering around 8 AM.

April 26 Workers United celebrates Earth Day with presentations by local labor leaders as well as music and other entertainment  Workers United Hall, 333 S Ashland. See:

April 25 and 26 the Guild Complex presents “Voices of Protest,” with a film screening and reading by two exiled Middle Eastern poets:  see

May Day celebrations include the annual gathering at Haymarket Square where this year a representative of French labor will dedicate a plaque to be affixed to the monument.

At 3 PM the annual May Day March for Immigrant Rights steps off from Haymarket Square, Desplaines and Randolph.  Destination is the ICE headquarters on Congress. See:

Earth Day to May Day! Presented by Workers United April 26

Global Climate Convergence:  Earth Day to May Day Celebration at Workers United Union Hall




May Day Celebration and March for Immigrants’ Rights: Stop Deportations!

125 years ago, the international workers’ movement declared our own holiday — May 1st. Workers the world over have been marching as one on this day, continuing the struggle for justice, the right to organize, the right to jobs for all at a living wage. The power of the May Day tradition is ever more important in this age of corporate globalization.

This year’s commemorative plaque will be placed on the Haymarket Memorial by the French General Confederation of Labor (CGT). After our ceremony, we’ll join the annual march for Immigration Justice.

The annual May Day immigrants’ rights march steps off from Haymarket Square May 1 at 3 PM.

May Day

The Guild Complex Presents Voices of Protest: Screening and Reading


This is an extraordinary event of tremendous consequence!



Glenwood Ave. Arts Fest, Occupy, and MORE! Events

This weekend, August 16, 17 and 18: Glenwood Avenue Arts Fest:GAAF2008_1sm

Lew Rosenbaum will be exhibiting (as usual) at the Glenwood Avenue Arts Fest with a wide variety of books. Features this year include remaindered copies of the acclaimed autobiographical Black Radical by Nelson Peery; Heartfire, he recently issued dynamite second volume of poetry by the Revolutionary Poets Brigade; and selected works of fiction by Barbara Kingsolver, Jose Saramago, Jorge Amado and many others.  We’ll of course have copies of the Chicago Labor Trail Map that offers a self guided tour to places of interest in working class history. And we have limited numbers of copies of the important books on education in a time of austerity, written by Bill Watkins, Willie Baptist and Todd Price.

Diana Berek will also be displaying her art work in the adjoining booth, along with colleagues from the Greater Northside Artists Revolutionary collective (GNAR).  The tents will be located just south of Morse on Glenwood.

The Glenwood Avenue Arts Fest (GAAF) is a free, weekend-long arts festival that features 100+ artists, open studios, and live entertainment on three outdoor stages.  Experience art of all disciplines, music, theater, food and drink on the cobblestone streets of the Glenwood Avenue Arts District in Chicago’s historic Rogers Park neighborhood.

The 12th annual Fest will take place the weekend of August 16-18, 2013. Mark your calendars! Join us at the fest launch party, the Friday Night Cobblestone Jam, on Friday from 6pm to 10pm and the artists’ market on Saturday and Sunday afternoons from Noon to 9:00pm.

Wednesday, August 21:  Unfurling #8 with Dan Tucker at Spontaneous Interventions

Daniel Tucker will share some gems from the Never The Same archives, which document social, public and political art in Chicago. Unfurlings are show-n-tell events that Never The Same uses to highlight portions of their collections. In this instance, Tucker will share materials, selected specifically for Spontaneous Interventions, that show ways artists in Chicago have dealt with the politics of public space over the last 15 years.

Chicago Cultural Center  78 E Washington 5:30 to 7

For more information, visit and

Saturday August 24: Occupy Rogers Park Presents a Teach In: Understanding the History and Role of The State:

And no, we aren’t talking Illinois here.
Not really sure what people mean when they are talking about fascism? Curious about the historical emergence of governments? Not sure what governments are like outside of the United States? Join us for some opportunities to learn from one another! This is the first in a five part series.  We’ll be meeting August 24th, September 7th, September 21st, October 5th, and October 19th at the Rogers Park Public Library (in the conference room on the second floor) from 2:30-4:30pm. (The conference room is accessible)

ClickHandlerWith failures in our justice system, like the Zimmerman trial; with violations of our privacy, like the NSA and CIA collecting information from our emails and phone calls; and with abuse of police authority, like stop-and-frisk and targeting of activists, one has to step back and consider the true motivations of our government. This series is designed as a discussion forum to facilitate understanding of political ‘isms’ like socialsim, communism, fascism, and anarchism; to explore the history and origins of the state; to compare the nature of state power in the US to that of state power abroad; and to examine how our government impacts our daily lives.

Monday August 26: Political Repression, Here and Now

Michael Deutsch and Flint Taylor from the People’s Law Office and Dennis Cunningham, special guest and a founder of the People’s Law Office, will talk on surveillance, unjust imprisonment, criminalizing of environmental activists, indefinite detention, Guantanamo, voting rights, internet spying, drone killings and important human rights violations taking place, not yesterday, but here and now, in our own time, in the era of Obama.
What will be next?
What are you going to do about it?

Monday, August 26, 7 PM   Heartland Cafe  7000 N Glenwood

August 28:  Education Under Attack!! School Boycott

No more school closings, budget cuts and sabotage of our neighborhood schools! Join together with 25 other cities on August 28th! We want an elected school board! We want Arne Duncan to resign! We want real school improvement! Meet at 125 S. Clark at 10am on August 28. If you need to ride a bus, call (773) 548-7500. Public Education is Under Attack!

Nelson Peery: Celebrating 70 Years of Revolutionary Struggle

Nelson Peery, author of Black Radical, Black Fire and The Future is Up To Us, turns ninety this month.  Nelson is one of my mentors, a person who I first met some 43 years ago in East Los Angeles.  He had come to bring greetings from the workers of Watts, California to the workers in East Los Angeles, besieged by the police while protesting the Vietnam War.  His message of class unity across the class divide, and in particular the message of the strategic unity of Chicano and African-American workers, struck home even at that time  in my unsophisticated mind.

In the intervening years I’ve had the opportunity to work in various collectives in which Nelson’s insights were crucial, no insight more than the future really is up to us to create, not to wait for some great leader to give us the answers and to follow.  This is a time for new ideas that match the new conditions and new times in which we live, and all of us have a part in contributing to it.

It is in this spirit that I take great pleasure in helping to prepare for the celebration of Nelson Peery’s birthday, an important event in which editors of the newspapers that Nelson has helped to found and contribute to over the years will engage in a kind of “fireside chat” with him about his years in the movement and what that has meant.  Please join me on

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Celebrating 70 Years of Revolutionary Struggle

5PM to 8 PM

Workers United Hall

333 S Ashland Ave

for dinner, poetry, and conversation

presented by the League of Revolutionaries for a New America

Donation $10 — Tickets (or reservations) Available by e-mailing me at

Nelson90-ColorWeb final flyer


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