The Birthday Gift

[May 10 is Greta’s (my sister) birthday.  She would be 90 years old this year, but she died almost 10 years ago.  For a time I continued to write her letters.  I had to do this to make peace with myself.  There was so much I still wanted to talk to her about, even if I didn’t get an answer.  There is still so much I want to talk with her about, and I know that will not happen.  I have this picture on my computer desktop.  It gazes out at me and I’m not sure that it comforts me with her permanent presence; or hurts me with the reminder of her absence.  I know I don’t want it to go away.  Maybe sometimes, as I sit at the computer not sure where to begin with what I need to do, I find encouragement in the smile on her face.  Maybe after I hear something new in music, like some of the songs composed and played by Adam and OneLove, I talk to her photo.  And on this May 10, on her 90th birthday, I revisited what I wrote as I was about to have my mitral valve surgery in what I called my Memento 5,  and also what I wrote (along with Diana) about this visit to Schneider Haus and the quilt competition that Diana took part in, to commemorate Greta (you can click the links to find those pieces). Maybe instead of letters, I’ll write poetry now.  LR]

The Birthday Gift 

by Lew Rosenbaum

The photograph gazes at me

from ten years agolew-greta-diana-schneider-haus-kitchener-may-2008

your birthday, Greta,

three of us standing to the side of lilacs

your eyebrows arched slightly, Greta,

eyes glimmer – are they brown?

they must be brown, all our family

has brown eyes – but my memory fails

and what I see could be gray or even

green, but I do catch the interest

as, alert, you look at the camera, not at me

standing by your side, but gaze at the

Josef Schneider Haus docent

she holds the camera and we pose

frozen in time and yet as I look at you

now alive, lips turning up in a sly smile

you betray the disease that robs you

of your humor, your laugh, the glint that

sparkled from those brown/gray/green eyes

the creases in your face melt away

I can hear you chuckle from that photo

you had just turned 80 and you could not

remember the road we had driven

many times before – we got lost on the way

to the Schneider Haus, that frightened you,

but for an instant,

standing next to the lilacs,

Diana laughs and revels in the company

in the symmetry of our mouths

a river of amusement washes over us

the three of us bathe in the pleasure

of the moment, of being alive together

 

My eyes stray from the joy I take

looking at your face to notice your gray hair

short cut, blown in the cool May breeze,

it’s not carefully combed or straight

as you are accustomed to wear it

and your red plaid shirt, the heavy one

you are wearing because it is a cool May day,

it hangs open and to the side, not the

impeccable way you would have worn

this or any other shirt, it’s that disease,

we’ve seen it before, both of us, Greta,

when you showed me how our mother,

our Chana, our Anna, would not, perhaps

could not, keep that neat appearance that

had been her hallmark, and how you

made me see the vacancy where the sentience

had inhabited her dark brown eyes, see the

hairs dangling disheveled from the corona

of braids she still wore when she could.

 

There: a smile threatens to break out on your face,

see the dimple forming in that left cheek

as the lips turn upward ever so slightly?

this is how I used to be, you tell me from the photo

remember me this way, I won’t be able to

hold this attitude much longer, you may not

see me like this again, hold me, hold onto this

moment, my brother, this, my birthday gift to you

 

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Let’s Break Out The Booze!

Let’s Break Out the Booze!

Lew Rosenbaum

[The first version of this was a response to a facebook post about the large number of young people who will never have a job, by a person recalling all the jobs he had over the years and partly what he had learned from them — LR]

The first job I remember was selling Good Humor ice cream in high school — my senior year at Hillhouse High — New Haven, CT. Since I was the new kid on the scene, the

vending-1

Stuck on a lonely corner, I ate more than I sold. No way to make a living.

company gave me a route out to a deserted highway corner, where I pedaled my tricycle style vehicle. Then I sat on the vehicle seat, ringing the handlebar bells, hoping to get cars whizzing past on the way to the beach to stop. They mostly didn’t. I ate more ice-cream than I sold, and gave up after two days.

Off to college, I worked in the University’s employment office 20 hours per week, in exchange for receiving a tuition scholarship, which transmuted to a 40 hour a week summer job. This was Los Angeles, where the pay was $1 an hour at minimum wage (but better than my friend at the University of Arizona, who earned 85 cents an hour). I learned a lot about the demographics of the job market in the LA basin — the significance of the weapons and aircraft industries for example; not so much about the movie industry. And that nobody would hire a typist who could only type 20 words per minute; a typist could get by at 40, was good at 60, and fabulous at 120 words per minute (I hadn’t yet seen an electric typewriter). Mary, the one non-managerial full time permanent employee had a degree in counseling. She survived childhood polio and walked with the assistance of metal crutches. She’d wrap up a day’s work, straightening her desk and heaving herself into walking position, saying, “Another day, another dollar, and that’s about the size of it.” It seemed the music school placed a lot of its students at the employment office for part time jobs like mine — including Bob, a student maybe twice my age, whose bass-baritone voiced often boomed through the office his favorite work-time lyric: “una furtiva lagrima.” I later saw him perform at the Carmel Bach Festival.
While in medical school, I help start an organization called Student Health Organization. One of its goals/projects was to provide health care students with summer “jobs” learning about the delivery of health care to poor people and, in our minds, expecting to change some of those demographics in the long term. We didn’t change demographics, but we set up some significant opportunities in the San Joaquin Valley, San Francisco area, Los Angeles and Ventura Counties. I had jobs all over California in those four summers, learned more than I can say. Five of us, students from LA, Vallejo and Chicago, lived outside Merced for one summer, in Planada, a small town at the foot of Yosemite. Three of us wanted the experience of working in the tomato fields, and were hired on for one day. The field workers were incredibly kind to us: Rather than just making fun of our incompetence, their courtesy and kindness got us through the day, while they tried desperately to figure out why we wanted to subject ourselves to farm labor. We observed at the once a week clinic at the Planada Community Center, where a doctor and nurse

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Workers gathered outside the community center waiting to see the clinic doctor

from the public health department would see farmworker families until there were no more to be seen — sometimes as late as one or two in the morning. There I met Jimmy, in his late 30s or early 40s, a migrant worker from Texas, and his wife Rosa. Jimmy with terrible high blood pressure; the two of them with 13 children; Rosa wanting something to prevent further pregnancy, but some way to do it without letting her husband find out.

After dropping out of med school, after Los Angeles public schools told me I was unfit to be a high school teacher in Watts (because I had long hair and a beard), I became a social worker for two years. I was among a group of rogue workers — we called ourselves the Social Welfare Workers Movement, a caucus in the welfare workers union allied with welfare rights organizations. In my office, we gave out too much money (as far as the County was concerned). With a target on my back, assigned from one office to another to separate me from other activists, and then placed under the thumb of a particularly punitive office manager, I finally quit that job having learned a bunch about the way the welfare system works to undermine welfare. One of my coworkers was Dorothy Durem, the widow of the poet Ray Durem, with whom I enjoyed many a lunch hour conversation and who taught me about jicama, chili powder and lime juice. I remember the day she shared this poem with me, perhaps warning me and knowing how well I would relate to it:

Award by Ray Durem (1915-1963)

A Gold Watch to the FBI Man who has followed me for 25 years.

th-2

Ray Durem

Well, old spy
looks like I
led you down some pretty blind alleys,
took you on several trips to Mexico,
fishing in the high Sierras,
jazz at the Philharmonic.
You’ve watched me all your life,
I’ve clothed your wife,
put your two sons through college.
what good has it done?
the sun keeps rising every morning.
ever see me buy an Assistant President?
or close a school?
or lend money to Trujillo?
ever catch me rigging airplane prices?
I bought some after-hours whiskey in L.A.
but the Chief got his pay.
I ain’t killed no Koreans
or fourteen-year-old boys in Mississippi.
neither did I bomb Guatemala,
or lend guns to shoot Algerians.
I admit I took a Negro child
to a white rest room in Texas,
but she was my daughter, only three,
who had to pee.

From there I went to work on a Packard Bell stereo and TV equipment factory assembly line, working on the cabinets, until I sprained my ankle playing basketball and wound up in a cast for over a month. From there to a garment factory as a cutter, making sample books for salesmen. I cut sheer curtain fabric, material for men’s suits, and heavy upholstery fabric into squares; where I started at $1.65 an hour but was soon boosted to $1.85, while the women sewing the sample squares into books, who’d been working for more than a dozen years, were still making $1.80. And then, cutting heavy, “Herculon” upholstery fabric, I sliced the tip off my finger off one morning. The longshore union was organizing warehouse workers, and at their suggestion I found work in a small garment warehouse. There weren’t enough workers to organize in this place; just me, picking uniform shirts and pants to fill orders and bringing the garments to the shipping area, where Roscoe the shipper was probably singing “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” at the top of his voice. He styled himself meaner than a junkyard dog too. A friend got me hired from there into a small print shop, so that I could learn some of that craft, ultimately to help out with some printing operations we had going. My official title was “stripper,” which meant in the printing trade making negatives of art work for offset printing. The negs would then be “stripped” into specified places on a paper or plastic mask, and checked to make sure the opaque blacks were totally opaque. Where dust specks and other white spots marred the negatives, I would apply opaquing fluid. And then, using a carbon arc, expose the plate. At the New Years Eve party for the staff, where alcohol was flowing freely, the boss laid me off. I drank a few more to get thoroughly soused on his dime and then drove home. Safely.

From then on its been bookstores (Midnight Special in Venice and then Santa Monica; Guild in Chicago; and Barnes & Noble in Evanston and Skokie) and two years teaching

Renny Golden with singers in a Latin American, Nueva Trova group I knew in Los Angeles (Erica on left) at Guild Books ca 1988-9

With Renny Golden flanked by performers from the Nueva Trova music group, Sabia, at Guild Books

high school history. A checkered career. After all that, after years of believing that life would finally begin when I could retire, and now eking by on social security, I understand fully when young people wonder about work: “Is that all there is? If that’s all there is, well, let’s keep dancing, break out the booze.” In the voice of Peggy Lee.

Why in an era of abundance, when robotics more and more is creating what we need, should people need to have a j.o.b. When I first quit being a social worker, I could find a job the next day. But that’s not an option for today’s teens or college grads. So its more than an attitude of I don’t want to work; it’s also I can’t find work of any kind, never mind something with a promise of a future. The kind of learning that my jobs have given me is part of socialization — they haven’t been job skills as much as building relationships. Kids are still getting those, although differently than I did. And if they are learning that jobs are not necessary, then they’ve learned a lesson I wish I’d learned much earlier on in life. Maybe they are taking the first step toward finding out that the tyranny of corporate private property, that system that used to dangle the carrot of jobs before our anxious eyes, is not all there is. I’m ready to break out the booze and drink to that!

Happy Birthday Karl — 200 on May 5, 2018!

“The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.”  So wrote Karl Marx in his Theses On Feuerbach, and it remains one of his 185953258most often quoted statements. In fact, Jason Barker quoted it in his “Happy Birthday Karl Marx — You Were Right!” in the April 30, 2018, New York Times. Barker says — appreciates — that Marx seems to be achieving a new level of popularity since the millennium. One illustration of this is a new edition of the Communist Manifesto, issued in April, to commemorate his 200th birthday on May 5, 2018.  Yanis Varoufakis’ introduction to the volume was modified to appear in The Guardian. Varoufakis gets the poetry and the drama right in his introduction.  What he and Barker both get — something that is becoming painfully obvious even to the most recalcitrant believer in “job creation” — is the parallel between the industrial and the microchip revolution, and an inkling about the significance of the latter.  Marshall Berman wrote a review in 1998 of the Verso edition of the Communist Manifesto, published on the 150th anniversary of its first publication, which he concluded by saying:  “At the dawn of the twentieth century, there were workers who were ready to die with the Communist Manifesto. At the dawn of the twenty-first, there may be even more who are ready to live with it.”

Barker’s view is clear:  Marx has had “an impact arguably greater and wider than any other philosopher’s before or after him.”  That he calls Marx a philosopher rather than an economist or a sociologist is significant, and not only because Barker himself is a

Karl_Marx_and_his_daughter_Jenny

Marx and his daughter Jenny

professor of philosophy.  You can look at Marx in three different ways, and each of them leads down a different path:  the Marx who elaborated theory;  the Marx who developed doctrine; and the Marx who established a philosophical world view.  It is easy to confuse them, because all aspects of Marx are embedded in all his writings. But there is a reason for looking at these distinct elements of Marx’s work. Both theory and doctrine apply most readily to distinct periods of history.  The historical scientist and the physical scientist have something in common:  their theoretical projections are limited to a context.  Often the context only becomes clear when the boundaries of that milieu have been superseded. In both, problems arise when theories that explain behavior within a certain field of operations are used to explain  behavior on another field.

Philosophy, or world view, has a broader palette.  Philosophy is a method.  Marx, the philosopher, sees the world around us as primary.  (The German philosophers of his era, products of religious narcissism that placed humans at the center of the universe, also placed human thought before the material world). The philosopher investigates the process of change itself.  This outlook is now referred to as “dialectical materialism.”

The important thing here is that Marx did not give succeeding generations a formula, as Barker points out, unless you try to apply the doctrine of, for example, the period of the First International to today. That effort is as useless as the Procrustean bed was — and at least as painful.  Why Marx is ever more relevant is because of the method, the scientific analysis, the tools for assessment and reassessment of the real material world.

Anyone who reads Marx’s masterwork, Capital, as an economic text can draw some important conclusions, but will miss some of the most significant observations and characteristics of the work.  The structure of the books are themselves an exercise in thinking dialectically, interconnected. They are also steeped in the extraordinary literary influence that Marx brings to his subjects. Francis Wheen, in a wonderful little book simply titled Marx’s Das Kapital – A Biography, quotes Marx in a letter to Engels in 1865:  “‘Now, regarding my work, I will tell you the plain truth about it. Whatever shortcomings they may have, the advantage of my writings is that they are an artistic whole.’ It was to poets and novelists, far more than to philosophers and political essayists, that he looked for insights into people’s material motives . . .” The Guardian excerpted part of the book under the title “Poet of Dialectics.”

Metaphor plays such an important part of Marx’s description of economic life — just the concept of “fetishism of commodities” is a perfect example.  But also this whole passage, from the end of Chapter 6, the transition from circulation to production:

This sphere that we are deserting, within whose boundaries the sale and purchase of labour-power goes on, is in fact a very Eden of the innate rights of man. There alone rule Freedom, Equality, Property and Bentham. Freedom, because both buyer and seller of a commodity, say of labour-power, are constrained only by their own free will. They contract as free agents, and the agreement they come to, is but the form in which they give legal expression to their common will. Equality, because each enters into relation with the other, as with a simple owner of commodities, and they exchange equivalent for equivalent. Property, because each disposes only of what is his own. And Bentham, because each looks only to himself. The only force that brings them together and puts them in relation with each other, is the selfishness, the gain and the private interests of each. Each looks to himself only, and no one troubles himself about the rest, and just because they do so, do they all, in accordance with the pre-established harmony of things, or under the auspices of an all-shrewd providence, work together to their mutual advantage, for the common weal and in the interest of all.

On leaving this sphere of simple circulation or of exchange of commodities, which furnishes the “Free-trader Vulgaris” with his views and ideas, and with the standard by which he judges a society based on capital and wages, we think we can perceive a change in the physiognomy of our dramatis personae. He, who before was the money-owner, now strides in front as capitalist; the possessor of labour-power follows as his labourer. The one with an air of importance, smirking, intent on business; the other, timid and holding back, like one who is bringing his own hide to market and has nothing to expect but — a hiding.

Here is the source of the contradiction facing the modern worker, the appearance of equality masking the essence of inequality.

But what of a period of history in which whole groups — increasing numbers — of workers have been eliminated from the process of even receiving a hiding! If we simply dsc_0091take this description and try to apply it to today, it’s inadequate.  It’s not Marx the dialectician that we are working with, when we look to the “point of production” as the essence of the modern human condition.  Marx, the materialist, strides forth and proclaims that the historical development of the realm of circulation of commodities, of the buying and selling of labor power, is undergoing a profound change because of a change in production.  Go back, he tells us, and look at where value comes from, what makes a commodity valuable.  Labor power itself is no longer valuable.  To have value in exchange, a commodity must have a use (even if it is a whimsical use).  When labor power has no use, it is also without exchange value.

Marx the philosopher — the dialectical and historical materialist — is vitally important today: The method, the rigorous science of society, far more than the ability to quote doctrine. Marx was born May 5, 1818,  200 years ago. He wrote in a period of massive upheavals, the victory of the industrial revolution was all around him disrupting society. We are at an even more disruptive period of history, where again “all that is solid melts into air.”  Marx’s method, his science, his philosophy gives us tools to understand the world and to make the leap into a new world where abundance is available to all and where we can make whole our relationship to the earth. You can’t fight in the present new period with the tactics of the past.  The point, after all, is not just to understand the world and watch it go to hell in a hand basket;  the point is to change it.

 

 

 

Chris Mahin writes: The First Labor Day Parade: “Let Labor Unite”

[In the following essay, written for a union newspaper a few years ago, Chris Mahin points out that the labor movement has always championed immigrants’ rights and has been led by immigrants.  Some among the labor movement have even challenged the wage-labor system itself]

 

SEPTEMBER 5, 1882
The First Labor Day parade: “Let Labor Unite”
By Chris Mahin |

The huge procession began with 400 members of Bricklayers Union No. 6, all dressed in white aprons. They were followed by a band and then the members of the Manufacturing Jewelers union. The jewelers marched four abreast, wearing derby hats and dark suits with buttonhole bouquets. They all carried canes resting on their shoulders (similar to the way infantry officers carry swords when on parade.)

Labor_Day_Parade_New_York_1909_Float_Womens_Auxilliary_Typographical_Union-1EXLG

1909 Labor Day Parade

As the day went on, the parade included contingents from the Manufacturing Shoemakers Union No. 1 (wearing blue badges), and an especially well-received contingent from the Big 6 – Typographical Union No. 6 – whose 700-strong delegation marched with military precision (they had practiced beforehand.) The Friendly Society of Operative Masons marched with their band. They were followed by 250 members of the Clothing Cutters Benevolent and Protective Union, the Dress and Cloak Makers Union, the Decorative Masons, and the Bureau of United Carpenters (who marched with a decorated wagon).
The parade was filled with banners: “Labor Built the Republic – Labor Shall Rule It”; “To the Workers Should Belong the Wealth”; “Down with the Competitive System”; “Down with Convict Contract Labor”; “Down with the Railroad Monopoly”; and “Children in School and Not in Factories,” among others. The members of the Socialist Singing Society carried a red flag with a yellow lyre in its center. The banner which perhaps summed up the entire procession best was carried by members of the American Machinists, Engineers, and Blacksmiths Union (who wore heavy leather aprons and working clothes). It read simply: “Let Labor Unite.”

 

first-labor-day-parade-union-square-nyc-1882

First Labor Day Parade 1882

It was the first Labor Day parade – and it took place on a Tuesday.
Labor Day became official in this country when the U.S. Congress passed a law in 1894 making the first Monday in September a legal holiday. But this holiday was not simply given to the workers of the United States by the government as some act of charity. The tradition of publicly honoring labor’s contribution to society is a custom established by the workers themselves.
The first Labor Day parade in the United States was held in New York City on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 1882. More than 10,000 workers marched. It was organized by the Central Labor Union, a body representing 60 unions and over 80,000 people. The CLU was a secret lodge of the Knights of Labor, the major national union of the time.
To really appreciate the September 1882 labor parade, it’s important to keep in mind the profound changes that this country had gone through in the 17 years before it took place. After the Civil War ended in 1865, the capitalists of the North emerged triumphant. They went on the offensive, bitterly opposing labor’s demands. By the time the depression of 1873 took place, any lingering unity between the different forces which had united in opposition to slavery had been torn apart.
On Saturday, July 21, 1877, 17 workers involved in a nationwide railroad strike were shot dead in Pittsburgh. The next day, the Reverend Henry Ward Beecher, a New York Protestant minister who had been one of the most eloquent orators against slavery, preached these words:

“God had intended the great to be great and the little to be little…The trade unions, originated under the European system, destroy liberty…I do not say that a dollar a day is enough to support a man and five children if he insists on smoking and drinking beer…[b]ut the man who cannot live on bread and water is not fit to live.”

The 1882 labor parade was the culmination of more than ten years of agitating and organizing by dedicated labor activists in New York. These activists were deeply committed to the fight for the eight-hour day and against the repressive tactics of the employers. They also worked closely with the leaders of what were at that time New York’s largest immigrant communities to assist the fight for justice in three countries: Ireland, France and Germany.
The 1882 parade took place in a city which had seen militiamen open fire on Irish-American Catholic demonstrators in 1871; where thousands demonstrated for the eight-hour day in 1872; and where three demonstrations had already taken place in 1882 to demand justice for Ireland in its fight against British rule. (All three demonstrations had been jointly sponsored by labor organizations and organizations fighting for Irish freedom.)
Because the 1882 labor parade was held on a work day, most of the participants had to give up a day’s pay in order to march. (The CLU even levied a fine on non-participants.) In all, the workers involved forfeited about $75,000 in lost wages.
The parade was scheduled to coincide with a national conference of the Knights of Labor being held in New York. This explains why almost the entire national leadership of the Knights of Labor was present on the parade’s reviewing stand in Union Square.

However, the affiliation of these leaders with the Knights of Labor was discreetly hidden from the press that day. (At the time, the Knights of Labor was still a semi-secret society.) For instance, the top leader of the Knights of Labor – “Grand Master Workman” Terence

225px-Terence_v_powderly1

Terence Powderly was Grand Master Workman of the Knights of Labor — but also Mayor of Scranton, PA

Powderly – was introduced only as the mayor of Scranton, Pennsylvania (which he was).
The vibrant character of the labor movement of that time can be seen by looking at three extraordinary people present on the reviewing stand at the 1882 parade:

Patrick Ford was the publisher and editor of the Irish World, a newspaper which strongly supported labor and the fight for Irish freedom. He had been brought to Boston from Ireland in 1842 at the age of seven. Ford had served his printing apprenticeship with newspaper editor William Lloyd Garrison, America’s leading opponent of slavery, before the Civil War. In 1870, Ford founded the Irish World, a newspaper which was regularly suppressed when it was shipped to Ireland.
John Swinton was the chief editorial writer of the New York Sun. Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, he had moved to New York in 1850 and worked as a printer and became an abolitionist. Swinton had been with John Brown when he made his famous raid on Osawatomie, Kansas in 1857. Swinton would go on to start his own pro-labor newspaper in 1883.
Carl Daniel Adolf Douai was the publisher and editor of the New Yorker Volkszeitung, a socialist German-language daily. Douai was a German immigrant who had been threatened with lynching when he spoke out against slavery while publishing in Texas. In 1860, he moved to New York where he became active in socialist, abolitionist, and Republican Party activities.

The presence of these three men on the reviewing stand – and the presence of Irish, French, and German flags (in addition to the U.S. flag) at the picnic which closed the day – illustrates the wide scope of labor’s concerns at that time. These leaders’ involvement with the parade (and the militant banners carried by the marchers) show that from its very beginning, the U.S. labor movement has been about more than just getting its members a few cents more an hour in wages. From its inception, the labor movement in this country has included both native and foreign-born leaders and immigrant workers have always played an important role in the labor movement. From the very beginning, the U.S. labor movement has included elements who have not been afraid to challenge the legitimacy of the wages system itself.
That’s definitely worth remembering this Labor Day.

Jingoism — by Lew Rosenbaum

Jingoismo — Jingoism   by Lew Rosenbaum

[This article appears in the current issue of Contratiempo in Spanish.  Many thanks to Miguel Marzana for asking me to contribute to this important political discussion.  A link to the magazine can be found here; the Spanish translation of the article is on page 21).  

201111 CoverAfter the 2016 elections, it seems that we are in a totally new period of time; and yet there are many elements that are painfully familiar. We have just been through a wrenching election in which many questions were raised about the times we are in, and about the direction we need to go, from going back to making big changes going forward.

Some characterize the election as the “revolt of the middle class,” while others describe it as the victory of the economic nationalists over the globalists. An accurate description of the changes taking place must recognize that an economic revolution is taking place that has three forms. First, since the late 1970s, with the advent of the widespread use of the microchip, electronic technology has reduced worker participation in production of both manufactures and services. Second, since the end of the WWII, capital has expanded world wide, leaving no corner of the world untouched. Electronics has facilitated this globalization and now characterizes production against which all labor must compete. Third, the effective formation of monopolies by corporate mergers has also globalized with supranational corporate mergers and mergers of corporations with national states. This latter, the merger of the corporations with the state, represents the economic face of fascism, a 21st century form of fascism, that is based in the new economy.

This new economy is not simply a new stage of capitalism. It is the end stage of an economy that is reaching toward a social structure no longer dependent on buying and selling of wage labor. This economy expresses itself as the polarity between wealth and poverty, and the proliferation of that most heinous example of a social organism that cannot provide for its people, homelessness in the midst of massive numbers of empty homes.

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, Republicans and Democrats, need to be evaluated in the context of the economic transformation they must protect.  Trump took advantage of the fact that the electronic revolution has left behind the vast majority of the American people of all nationalities, genders, and ethnicities. Elections are not coups. They actually require people to vote, and thus they require people to be convinced (in this case: about the” other” the bad hombre).

Pointing a finger of accusation at the “electronic revolution” would have led Trump into the predicament of having to tell supporters that “middle class jobs” were never coming back. Instead, he activated his base by taking the divide and conquer path well known in our history. While automation is the major cause of job loss in our country and the world, he chose to aim his fire at undocumented workers (especially from Mexico) and trade alliances (especially NAFTA). His campaign centered on the jingoism of national security, borders and islamophobia. Although he lost the popular vote by some three million votes, his victory in rural areas and especially the Midwestern rust belt gave him the electoral college majority. In other words, he won in the area where he was able to use racism to stoke the fears of a working class left behind. He raised the specter of the “other” eating at the heart of American working class unity and history.

Every day brings new confirmation of how the current administration, regardless of campaign promises or ideological conviction, is bound to long term policies of the government that reflect the direction of the economic revolution. The election campaign did, however, accomplish one important phenomenon: the appeal to racism consolidated a mass base for fascism that allows the new administration to move more quickly. For example, Trump has promised to send the military into Chicago to end violence, while Mayor Emanuel and Police Chief Johnson have genuflected toward Washington, asking instead for more FBI, ATF, and police funding, while ICE swung into action. The previous administration had already swamped municipal police throughout the country with military grade weapons and vehicles. The election has accelerated this direction.

We are in for some difficult times. The fact that the government of both major parties has neglected the people and cannot fulfill its promises only means the discontent will deepen. In the battle between hunger and ideology, the fight for basic survival needs wins.  Still, there is no guarantee that the starving will not turn against their neighbors who are also starving. Those of us involved in struggles for social justice must take every opportunity to bring together the people who now find themselves suffering under an equality of poverty, across all historical divisions. This section of the people holds the promise of reorganizing society for the benefit of all.

 

Isn’t This A Time?

Isn’t This A Time?

by Lew Rosenbaum

This is a time for Big Poems, / roaring up out of sleaze, /

gbrooks

Gwendolyn Brooks

poems from ice, from vomit, and from tainted blood. /

This is the time for stiff or viscous poems. / Big, and big. 

                                                                                        from “Winnie,” by Gwendolyn Brooks

Sure is a lot of sleaze to go around.

Don’t have to look far to see the vomit on the ground.

Not hard to dip your pen in quarts of tainted blood

So easy to pull metaphors from the vocal flood-

Waters pouring from vicious mouths’ roaring sound

Sure is a pile of sleaze to go around.

“Isn’t this a time? A time to try the soul of man?

Isn’t this a terrible time?!”

Dreams are supposed to make the sleaze go away,

Supposed to give you a boat to ride the flood

But I’m tired of praying for a bus bench on the corner,

Some thread to mend the hole that lets the rain in my tent,

Commodity cheese for dinner tonight.

Tired of begging for a library

Where my kids go to school.

Those dreams are small;

Dreams of what used to be.

Microscopic.

This is the time for stiff, viscous visions,

Visions looking forward

For a home for everyone

Food on everyone’s plate

Cops with wooden legs

Schools where children learn what they need

And how they can

Where we the people

End the carmagnole of corporate vampires

And open the hiphop doorway to abundance for all.

I sing no band-aid, dreamy verses.

“Isn’t this a time? A time to free the soul of man?

Isn’t this a wonderful time!”

Good morning revolution.

Yours is a visionary poem big, and big!th-4

The quotations are from a song,

“Wasn’t Tha
t A Time,”

composed and sung by The Weavers

and popularized by Peter, Paul and Mary

Mementos 11: California Family

Mementos 11:  California Family

[I’m preparing for mitral valve surgery November 15, 2016. One of the instructions is to bring mementos with me. The best way to do this without hiring a moving truck (Diana’s suggestion) is to put some of what I would bring with me on this blog. I can then access it on my phone. That is my goal here]

In 2000 and 2009 Diana and I traveled to California to rediscover places that I’d been, california-2000-10uncover links to her family in California, and unearth things we would learn about together.  Mostly this is a montage of photos of those times and something about what made them important to me.

Both times the plan was pretty broad, and covered some of the same routes, the same territory.  The details, however, were different.  This diagram, on the front of my photo book of that trip, gives a sense of the scopes of both trips.

Diana’s cousin Ardis Jackson lived in Sausalito and we arranged on the first trip to stay with her, after we arrived in San Francisco.  Ardis had early in her life studied with Frank Lloyd Wright in Taliesin (Wisconsin) and insisted that we had to see the Marin Civic Center, which he had designed.  We got some insights from her about the building, and about the architect,  that we could not have gotten from any docent.  And we visited Point Reyes on the coast North of San Francisco with her,

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Ardis on the left, with Diana, at Point Reyes

where this picture of her with Diana is taken.

Another mission of mine was to reconnect with Raymond Boyington, my closest friend in high school.  We had maintained a correspondence for a while as we went our separate collegiate ways and for a short time after.  But we lost touch with each other even, as it turns out, living in the same city for a time (Los Angeles) without knowing it.  In the early days of the internet is was possible to find an address and phone number for a friend free of charge — more convenient than, say, going to the public library and combing through volume after volume of telephone directories in the hopes of finding the person one is searching for.  And that internet search is how I found out that Ray was living in San Francisco, and we made arrangements to meet and have dinner in his San Francisco apartment. This copy of

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Lew and Ray, in Ray’s SF apartment

Ray’s photo comes from that visit (my only photo of that is underexposed by poor lighting and no flash).

Nine years later Ray had moved with his partner, Jack, from the high rent district to Richmond, having bought something they thought would be affordable.  The foreclosure crisis had hit, the economy was on the skids, and, as we drove around San Francisco, Ray pointed to office and residential high rises in the city that were virtually empty because no one could afford them.  Now Jack was facing a crisis of his own, as a city employee who had been fired, which had repercussions for them: Keeping their Richmond home was problematic and at the same time the housing environment made it unsaleable.

After leaving San Francisco, Diana and I went South to Santa Cruz, where my friend from undergraduate school at USC now lived.  He had gone on to UCLA Medical School, graduated and become a psychiatrist. Our efforts to keep in touch had been much more regular — he and his wife, Jill, had been to visit us in Chicago on an almost annual basis; and while I lived in Los Angeles, I had visited his home in Lomita while he did his residency at Harbor General Hospital.  I had also made the trek to Santa Cruz to visit with him, but this was the first time traveling there with Diana.  Bill and Jill had planned an intensive couple of days with us, but the centerpiece was the visit to the Steinbeck House and Steinbeck Museum in Salinas.  The

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The upper photo at the Harmons’ home (with daughter Meggin);  the lower photo with Diana, Jill and Meggin in front of the Steinbeck Home, where we had lunch.

very term “Steinbeck Country” evokes memories and emotions that come from the short time I’ve spent in The Valley — not so much the Salinas Valley, but mostly the great San Joaquin, and the places in between.  The smells of Cannery Row are gone forever in Monterey, but the ghosts of the smells still haunt the place, make you wonder about the gentry having dinner in the high priced restaurants along the way.

We are also delighted that the Museum had an exhibit of the photos of Tina Modotti, who had been so much a part of the revolutionary artistic ferment of Mexico in the 1920s, joined the Communist Party of Mexico, and who later participated in the the Spanish Civil War. She had come to Mexico with her photographer friend Edward Weston, but soon struck out on her own.   (The novel, Tinisima, by Mexican author Elena Poniatowska paints a vivid portrait of her and of the period, and is available in a number of English and Spanish editions.)

From Santa Cruz we headed South through Salinas and through the Los Padres National Forest West of the San Joaquin — mostly oak woodland and chaparral country — to “the 198,” the highway that traverses the Valley from the Los Padres to the foothills of Sequoia National Forest.  The 198 leads through Hanford, which california-2000-4at one time had held a large Chinese community, immigrants who had worked building the railroads and were farmers bought property here until the “exclusion acts” recognized that capital no longer needed to exploit their labor.  They had found a kind of refuge in Hanford, with a vibrant commercial district called China Alley. What I knew about this place came from a Los Angeles Times article I’d read many years earlier. You know how some piece of trivia sticks in your mind and memory, every once in a while pricking you as if it were a sliver?  A high level delegation from the only recently recognized People’s Republic Of China were in California, and one of the places they wanted to go was China Alley in Hanford, where a world class restaurant was reputed to be serving their world class cuisine, perhaps “the legendary Imperial Dynasty Restaurant” mentioned here. We were hoping to get to our campground cabin in General Grant Grove up in Kings Canyon, so as we drove into Hanford it was late afternoon, not quite the dinner hour, and no bustling commercial district greeted us.  We had a meal in the one restaurant that was open — there did not seem to be any other place to eat anyway.  Like most rainbows, there was no pot of gold at the end of this one.  But there was a China Alley, and I know that it was not simply a figment of my imagination that I read about in in the Los Angeles Times.

The next time through the Valley, 2009, our route was different leading to Sequoia, taking us out of the mountains and into Bakersfield, looking for a different cuisine, but with a similar result.  When I was in medical school and involved in the Student Health Project, a meeting was called for students in San Francisco and Los Angeles, and the location was half way between in Fresno.  I rode up to Fresno with one of the physician mentors of the Project, Don Weston.  We left late in the afternoon, as classes ended, and 2 hours later made our way off the highway toward the east side of Bakersfield.  Don told us that whenever he traveled through the Valley he’d stop for dinner at one of the Basque hotels in Bakersfield.  Bakersfield boasts the second largest number of immigrants in the U.S. from Basque Spain (second to Boise, Idaho).  The immigrants came in the second half of the 19th century, after the gold rush, settling in the fertile foothills on the east side of the Valley, where herding was  temperate, sheltered from the intense summer heat.  They specialized here, as they had in Basque country, in herding sheep for the woolen industry and for food.  And so hotels were established in Bakersfield to cater to this group of workers, who would come in for several days (or longer during shearing season), stay at the hotel and eat the boarders’ food provided.

california-2000-5Don introduced us to a sumptuous family style meal, with one course after another rolling out, beginning with cabbage soup, beans, and thin sliced pickled tongue, and leading through a cornucopia entrees and side dishes to dessert. When Diana and I came off the highway of out Sequoia, we found our way to the Basque section of town, only to find it as closed up as Hanford’s Chinatown had been 9 years earlier.  The restaurant I had been to was probably Noriega’s, but it could have been Woolgrowers too.  But they were not open. And we made our way to one close to the highway that was a poor representation of what I was looking for.  Both Woolgrowers and Noriega’s are still around though, and next year, when I go to visit in California, I want to go there to celebrate!

Diana and I, still in 2000, then went on to General Grant Grove.  Much of my camping and hiking life in California was spent in Sequoia National Park and Forest, and in Kings Canyon as well.  But this was the first time for me staying in Kings Canyon — we didn’t have with us the equipment that would have made camping pleasant, so we rented a cabin for a couple of days.  I was horrified by how breathless I was on a short walk in that altitude, more than a mile high.  I knew then that any dreams I had of reaching Emerald Lake again were now pure fantasy, that I could only get to places this high up on wheels.  Nevertheless the magic of the big trees dwarfing us reasserted its hold on me.  To this day, california-2000-6the image of me with my neck craned to look upward into the boughs of sequoias 100 feet and more above me contrasts with that of Diana, examining the tiny flowers in the undergrowth by the paths on which we were walking. The exception to this was, on the way out of the Forest and onto the Valley floor, still about 3,500 feet up, Diana and I stopped to look at the middle fork of the Kaweah River.  Here I delighted to find a snow plant, one of my favorite discoveries in the mountains many years earlier. The snow plant is not a fungus, as I thought.  Instead, it’s related to manzanita and azalea except that it has no chlorophyll and therefore lives by absorbing food from fungus in the ground that gets its nutrients from the surrounding pine trees.  Its above ground flowering stalk grows from these underground fungal mycelia as the snows thaw in late spring.

california-2000-7From here in to Los Angeles (there are a number of extraordinary murals in the small town of Exeter that are worth stopping to see; especially since you have to drive slowly anyway, because I am convinced that most of the town revenue comes from speeding tickets), where we visited friends and comrades, caught up with Diana’s relatives, and paid homage to the Watts Towers, and I made my first visit to the “Great Wall of Los Angeles.”

While I lived in Los Angeles, I wrote about the mythic Watts Towers and its creator Simon (“Sam”) Rodia in an essay that has long gone missing — unless I am merely making it up, which could be the case.  In any event, there is an official web site for the Towers and much more on the web now, so I’m not going to write that here. But the Towers continue to be one of the most spellbinding places I’ve been, where I always want to return.  And the fact that Diana and I stumbled across similar places in Wisconsin (Dickeyville, Prairie Moon and Grandview, Nick Engelbert home in Hollandale are places we’ve been) only makes the Towers more wondrous.

california-2000-8In a way, the Great Wall is the painterly comparative to the Towers.  Judy Baca, founder of the Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC) in Venice, CA., began this project in collaboration with L.A. youth in 1974.  Over the next 5 summers many youth participated in its production, and extended the length of the mural to over 2,700 feet.  The ongoing process of restoration and extending the historical work through the end of the twentieth century — originally entitled “History of California,”  it only covered the time through the 1950s — has included more than 400 young people in the process, some the sons and daughters of the youth who originally worked on the mural.  It’s an unknown history, a history from the bottom, it’s our history.  And that’s why standing on the side of the Tujunga Wash and looking down the dry flood control channel to the wall on the other side, what really grabbed my eyes and my heart was the smiling, determined and encouraging visage of Paul Robeson.  And then there was the sheer enormity of it!

Nine years passed, another trip to California, and this time on the advice of Susan california-2009-2Martinez we had one major objective in San Francisco — to see the hidden mural of Diego Rivera on a campus of the City College of San Francisco.  Coming in to the Bay Area this time we were picked up by Ray Boyington.  We stayed with him and Jack while on our various rounds, but as much as we appreciated the hospitality, we were much more delighted with their companionship around and about — in the first place Clarion and

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Ray and Jack, outside the taqueria where we had lunch

Balmy Alleys, both filled with colorful murals with Susan Martinez, who joined us for this excursion.  Then Ray drove us by way of Twin Peaks, overlooking San Francisco, to Chinatown and North Beach.  Diana and I walked around for a couple of hours while Ray went home, and then returned with Jack to join us with Diana’s cousins for dinner in Chinatown.

The trip to the theatre building where the mural is displayed was another issue.  In 2009, with the economic plight that the schools found themselves in after the economic meltdown, the building was only open by appointment (!) so we had to arrange to have it open.  Thanks to Susan, I  had made the connection and so we anticipated no problem except that the building was locked when we got there (we had difficulty enough finding the building in the first place).  Phone calls went unanswered, and Ray, Diana and I stood stymied outsidecalifornia-2009-4 the building perhaps for half an hour, while another couple, coincidentally up from Los Angeles, joined us to attempt to see the mural.  Finally the person came to let us in.  The panel shown here, the tree of liberty, really struck home with me.  John Brown’s fight against slavery has been for me a beacon in American history; his son Owen lived and was buried in the foothills above Altadena near Los Angeles; and in 2010 I made a special trip to visit his farm in upstate New York.  And Old Brown is the centerpiece of a panel that uses the famous words of Thomas Jefferson about the tree of liberty, something that Diego

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At Twin Peaks, Diana and Ray with San Francisco at their feet. One of my favorite photos.

Rivera latched onto, and even more to what the figure of Brown represented.

After renting a car in Oakland Diana and I drove to Santa Cruz where we stayed with Bill and Meggin. We convinced Bill to drive back with us to San Francisco the following night to a screening of the Red Poet, a documentary about the life of San Francisco poet Jack Hirschman.  I think he enjoyed himself — at least he had the good manners not to say no — but it was a great time for Diana and me to see Jack again and to hook up with some of the wonderful poets in the San Francisco scene that I have known.  Any thoughts going back to those days bring me to the time Sue Ying and I caught up with Jack in his haunt, the Café Trieste, and we wandered about North Beach, Hirschman’s booming voice singing out “Jackie and Susie and Lewie”!  Standing outside the place where the film had been shown, walking over to the car to head south, we had a chance to talk with Sarah Menefee, our dear friend and comrade poet, and embrace one last time before leaving.

Then, after lunch in Santa Cruz with the Harmons, it was off again to the Sierras, this

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Lunch with the Harmons at the Santa Cruz pier

time through Merced.  I knew this route well, having lived in Planada 7 miles East of Merced for one summer.  The towns along the way are etched in my memory, Los Banos, Dos Palos, El Nido (nothing more than a gas station) and Merced; and when we got to Merced we called Sal Sandoval, a physician friend who practices in Merced.  Some years ago we realized we had an acquaintance in common, a woman I had known from that summer in Planada.  At that time Flora Martinez lived in the labor camp for the workers of the Del Monte peach orchard.  The camp was an all year camp, permanent dwellings rather than simply for the migrant labor force. They were brick dwellings to, not the ramshackle clapboard that most camps were made of.  And they had trees and some residents had planted flowers.

Flora was one of a number of volunteers who helped out at the clinic and with the head start kids and other community activities, people I got to know that summer as we went our way in the Valley that summer.  Dora Bustos, who worked despite the difficulties she had walking, Vera Salcido, whose laughing countenance would bring brightness to anyone; Sarah Gracia, always gentle and kind;  all patient with us as we were more than anything under foot that season.  And of course the Rosales family, Hector, 19 years old and working with us every day, and his father, brother and sisters who worked in the fields, the family that invited us in to their household to share a meal after the long day’s work.  The memories of how we learned flood back.  So I had asked Sal to see if we could take Flora, Sal and his wife Gloria out to dinner, and he said he had arranged it.

Lew & Diana with community activist Flora Martinez, Planada, Ca. 7/16/09

Lew, Diana and Flora, it’s 8:45 and time to leave.

We met Sal and Gloria at their home and drove with them to Flora’s house, no longer in the camp.  And we were surprised by the fact that she had prepared dinner for us — it would have been an insult to insist at that point to take her out to dinner.  We were so flattered, and so we stayed and talked and I’m sure we made no sense, whatever it was we talked about, but the welcoming smile on her face remains with me.

I told her about a poetry book I’d read that mentioned the camp that we knew back then as the “Red Camp,” or “Montgomery Camp,” where many of the migrants lived who came up for the season in Planada.  Later, on the trip through Los Angeles, I stopped at Tia Chucha Café Cultural and ordered two copies of the book, one for Flora and another for Sal, when-living-was-a-labor-camp by Diane Garcia.  I wrote this letter to her when we got home, received a gracious letter in response and heard, through Sal, that the book was appreciated.  She was still active in community affairs even into her 90s. I was sad to hear a few years ago that Flora passed away.

We reached Los Angeles after a day trip to Giant Forest Village and the fruitless quest for a Basque restaurant, stopping first at Tia Chucha.  I’d known Luis Rodriguez since he was just out of high school, we worked together at the Guild Complex, but we’d never read poetry together.  This night at Tia Chucha we did read together in the open mic.  Then on to stay with Margie Ghiz, our good friend and comrade from the Midnight Special, who invited some bookstore people over for breakfast so we could catch up.

Outside Tia Chucha Centro Cultural Luis & Lew and Adam Leipzig and Lori Zimmermann, Sylmar, Ca. 7/17/09

Outside Tia Chucha with Luis Rodriguez, Adam Leipzig and Lori Zimmerman

The Midnight Special Gang for brunch at Margie's: Jim Grizzell, Frank Curtis, Lew, Lorraine Suzuki, Lisa Hartouni, and, standing in back, Margie Ghiz

Margie Ghiz in the back with Marcus Lopez; Jim Grizzell and Frank Curtis sit on my right, Lorraine Suzuki and Lisa Hartouni to my left.

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Ed Wong was one of my lab partners at medical school.  Susan and Ed were gracious enough to put us up for the night and to make an amazing dinner for us.

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Nancy Shinno and I were in the same class in medical school. This is Nancy and her daughter, Tomoko.  The last evening in Los Angeles was a dinner at a favorite Chinese sea food restaurant, the ABC, on Ord Street in Chinatown.

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Diana and artist Adrian Wong-Shue at dinner the last night.

When I worked at Midnight Special in 1983, we moved the store from Venice to Santa Monica.  Shortly after the store moved, Sue Ying curated an art show there — I think it may be the only one I ever helped hang.   The artist was Jamaican born Adrian Wong-Shue. The pieces were modestly priced for the most part (my budget could not afford any of it) and there were some pieces that I really liked.  The prices on these were far above the rest of the work on display, and I could see no relation between price, complexity, size or any rational reason I could give.  Finally curiosity got the best of me and I asked what led him to price these pieces as high as they are.  With the hint of a smile on his lips, he said there are some paintings he just doesn’t want to sell.

Our paths did not cross again until some years later I spotted a sign indicating he was having a show on Michigan Avenue in Chicago.  When I got to the gallery, I found he had been there for the opening, but that had been a month or so earlier.  And then a mutual friend of ours came through Chicago and mentioned he had been asking about me.  And so we got in touch again.  He was still working in Los Angeles, and obviously very successful.  And in 2009, on my way to California, I made sure to contact him to see if we could connect.  The day that we stayed with Nancy Shinno and Patrick Burrows, I arranged for us to go see Adrian at his studio, and for Lorraine Suzuki and Nancy’s daughter Tomoko to meet us there.  I didn’t realize we were actually crowding into his home.

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Outside Wong-Shue’s studio:  Lorraine Suzuki and Diana in front, me, Nancy Shinno, Patrick Burrows and Adrian Wong-Shue in the back.  Tomoko took the photo.

Adrian showed us the work he had been doing and told us about how that first exhibit at Midnight Special took place.  Without a car and living in the Rampart district of Los Angeles where the rent was inexpensive for a living/work space, he went to school in Santa Monica at Antioch (where he also worked as a security guard).  He tried, as a student, to get galleries to take his work.  They refused.  He’d call making believe that he was an agent.  They still refused.  Everywhere he was refused, until finally a gallery on La Cienega (kind of the gallery row of Los Angeles) agreed to look at his work.  He gathered material into a portfolio, dragged it on public transportation from central LA to the west side, not an easy trek, and got to the front door of the gallery.  He rang the buzzer, the gallery owner looked at him, and told him no.

These were the circumstances under which he met Sue Ying, who told him without question he should display his work at Midnight Special.  Sue had met him because he was in a group of expatriates from the Caribbean, many of them students of the revolutionary process going on at that time, the University at Kingston, Jamaica being a center, with a peak developing in Guyana.

At dinner at the ABC Seafood Restaurant in L.A.’s Chinatown that night, the last night of the 2009 trip, the conversation was wide ranging about art, politics and life.  Standing outside the restaurant and bidding farewell, Adrian hinted again at a smile as he insisted that I have a talent of having a wonderful array of friends.  Diana and I knew we had been through an amazing 10 days.  The people we know make such a special, caring family.  It’s really important to understand that about the human family, “los pobres de la tierra” as José Marti calls us.