Sunday, April 26, 2015

My first great grandchild, Patrick Kayden Hebert is now capable of these morning conversations with his Mommy as you can see ... .

... and I'm serving notice on the nation that I'll give y'all about a dozen years to get your act together enough so that these chats don't have to consist of warnings of how to act should he encounter problems with authority, "keep your hands always in sight!" etc.

At this point in time he's being loved unconditionally, and is interacting with his environment with complete trust and openness.

I'm praying these days that I and others of like mind have done enough world-changing in our time to give him and other like him at least an even shot at success in life.  And, that the social change essential to having that keep pace with climate change and rising sea levels can be sustained.  That's a lot to ask, but ask it I will.  Today's headlines (Ferguson, Baltimore, New York, Cleveland, etc.) would suggest that we have a long way to go before progress is measurable, but I'm optimistic when looking back at past successes I've been witness to over a long lifetime.

Of all of the little boys like him, one or another may have brought into the world with them some of the answers to the unprecedented problems we're facing in the next decade or two.  We know not just who they are, but we cannot afford to not give each the greatest education and opportunity to contribute if we're to save ourselves and our place in the universe.

Wish I could hang around long enough to continue to influence what comes next ... .

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Shienelle Jones of NBC Today Show
Weekend Today Show hits Richmond ...

On Wednesday last, promptly at nine o'clock a 4-person team consisting of producer Caroline Gottlieb and NBC news anchor Shienelle Jones who flew out from NY,  plus a cameraman and audio tech from the local NBC Affiliate in San Francisco arrived at the Visitor Center to spend the day filming my bus tour for airing next Sunday, April 26, sometime between eight and nine o'clock.

It turned out to be a full 8-hour day for what will probably be two minutes of air time, but that's the way of these things.  Before day's end we would film at Lucretia Edwards park as the group boarded the bus for our 2 and-a-half-hour tour; then for a meet-up at the SS Red Oak Victory where we went aboard and -- with a glorious spring day with a cloudless blue sky we walked on the top deck and spoke of the ships history; then I continued the bus tour while the crew headed for the Rosie the Riveter Memorial to cover that moving site; then back to the Visitor Center for viewing of the film and my talk in our little theater.  It would be another adventure to remember. 

Surprise for me was that I had no idea that a Weekend Today Show even existed, or that its news anchor was a lovely young African American journalist, and that it would be she with whom I would interact on camera.

This would be Shienelle's first visit to the West Coast, and from her arrival at the Visitor Center with its sweeping views of the entire San Francisco Bay shoreline; with the grandeur of the Ford Assembly Plant, she was blown away!  From the first moments of the shoot it was clear that this team was totally into their assignment -- and that we would be shown in our best light.

However, had they been present in the hour leading up to this day, it would have been quite a different story:

At about 8:30 -- just a half-hour before I was due to present myself at that Visitor Center to meet with the 22 folks who'd signed up for my bus tour -- I was putting the final touches on my appearance, and, remembering that I needed to apply Polygrip before the lip gloss, and nowhere in sight was my lower denture!

The next 20 minutes were spent frantically searching my bedroom;  on my hands and knees searching under the beds, stripping the blankets and sheets, the pillow cases, dumping wastebaskets as I tried to recall whether I'd thrown anything out; frantically going through pockets of yesterday's uniform and today's bathrobe, all to no avail!  Suddenly that defensive something that kicks in at such times, that provides the resilience -- and that allows you to view yourself in the third person -- and suddenly I was lying on my back on the bedroom rug giggling hysterically as I thought that I might have to call in to explain that the whole thing had to be shelved because Betty couldn't find her teeth!

In the middle of that spasm of laughter my eye caught something lying just under the edge of the bed near the nightstand where there lay a box that was tilted awkwardly.  It was the Walgreens vanilla caramel package with my lower stuck to the bottom! It had fallen from the nightstand where I'd absently set it while watching the Daily Show the night before.  Phew!  That was close.

With what dignity there was left, I finished dressing and headed for my big shoot.  They'd never know, right?  But it was a reminder that Life has a way of humbling the best of us and that the next time I might not be so lucky.

Yesterday there was a call in my voice mail waiting for a callback from KQED-FM in San Francisco.  I'm being invited to do an interview sometime this upcoming week for their Forum show with Michael Krasney.           

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Because the subject came up during an interview after my talk last week, I find myself thinking about feminism -- and why my coming to terms with it was so late ...

... but with some background, maybe my case can be made.

When the women's movement began to hit like a juggernaut in the suburbs where I was living in the late 60's through the 80's, it tended to skip our address.

My world was peopled by middle class and upper-middle class wives and mothers of absentee upward-mobile husbands, and the air was filled with bitterness and resentment as the controversial book, "Feminine Mistique" hit the market.  At the time my attitude was much as it is when Rosie the Riveter is mentioned in my world of today.  In my life it was simply a non-issue; a white woman's story having little to do with my life.

Truth was that the oppression I experienced was not coming from the men in my life (father, uncles, husband) who were living under the same oppression as were we.  And ours was from the white world; and mostly from white women.   I'd had little occasion to interact with white men.  Neither did my mother nor my aunts since their roles in life, historically, involved working in private homes and being supervised by white women.   Our uncles and fathers were of the service worker generation with few if any positions open to them above that level, so racism was a strong factor in their lives.  Ever since slavery this had been true.  As women we were aware of the degrading hoops our men were forced to jump through in order to support their families.

This being so, the memory of the Sixties civil rights revolution was marked by black women being sensitive to the plight of black men and at that time there was a resistance to stepping up in front of our men or to compete for power in society where we might be called upon for leadership.

I remember that in the late Sixties while attending a national black power conference in Chicago the opportunity to become a part of a national board upon which I would be the only female -- and that I refused to accept the role while feeling that I was more than qualified to do so.  It was the Black Caucus of the Unitarian Universalist Church, an organization that had gathered together about 500 black intellectuals -- mostly humanists -- from throughout the country to struggle for equality within the predominantly white denomination.  I'd gone there with the full support of my local church which funded my participation though I was one of only 3 black members at the time, I believe.  At the time the conflicting goals of racial integration and black power were under intense scrutiny, and I was right in the middle of the debate.

The second year we came together in Cleveland where the Black Caucus was registered at the same Hilton Hotel as the general annual conference of UU's, but we were not meeting with the full body while making our claims for political and denominational power.  We met separately for several days, with our black men negotiating behind closed doors with the general body and bringing back reports of their progress to our caucus.

At the final plenary session our issues had been successfully negotiated, and our caucus was to open to celebration.  Mind you, black caucus women had participated in few if any of the negotiations up to the time, and were busy doing the behind the scenes "grunt" work and planning the caucus celebration in our self-segregated separate-but-equal hotel suites.

The hour came for our victory party.  We found ourselves sitting in small groups chatting nervously whatever nonsense came to mind as the clock ticked mercilessly on as we anxiously waited for male friends, co-conspirators, and husbands to join us.  I remember the heavy unspoken feelings of embarrassment as the ice melted in the punch, the brie began to melt into formless blobs, and the icing on the brownies grew sticky and stale ... .  Unfortunately, our men had opted for the "white" parties in other places in the hotel where the young white women they'd charmed during the week were waiting.

The evening just before leaving the conference I participated in an encounter group session called by the emotionally-bruised women.  There was a highly volatile confrontation with the men.  It was one of the most intensely-charged meetings I've ever experienced.  I cowered in a dark corner next to my friend, the late Henry Hampton (of Blacksides Productions that produced the highly-acclaimed Eyes on the Prize for PBS) who, along with several other men, shared the outrage of the tearful sistahs.  The men were petulant, defensive in the face of the brutal honesty of the women, and on an ego-centric high from their conquests.  Little of value was achieved that fateful night, and it was a prelude to the many break-ups of relationships and marriages over the following decade.

Long into the years after the women's movement was formed, memories of that evening continued to fester.  I was aware that -- as we'd stood aside to make room for our men to gain their rightful leadership roles in the workplace and in society as-a-whole -- it was often white women who unknowingly stepped into the leadership vacumn we'd deliberately left unfilled.

Early in the Movement, as white women began to crash through the glass ceiling, black women were hired to take care of the newly-abandoned households and children in order to enable former housewives to take their places around corporate boardroom tables, so there was a lag between white and black women's ability to access economic and political power.  It was eventually noticed  that black women were slow to enter the Movement and that far fewer were hired into domestic roles, as those roles were gradually and systematically taken over by undocumented immigrant women who were willing to work for less in exchange for the promise of eventual sponsorship by their employers. Despite the fact that this was a different cohort of black women, this meant that the low-skilled jobs previously filled by poorly-educated black women were no longer available with huge economic impacts to their families and communities; effecting all black lives.  Black women, in general, were again pushed to the bottom rung of the economic ladder for reasons beyond their control.

Today, with such a high percentage of black males being caught up in the underground economy fueled by the drug trade and imprisonment (and those not being claimed by Kardashian women), they are far less likely to be candidates for marriage.  Black women have had to achieve financial independence through continuing education and greater job opportunities.  Many have successfully done that, are becoming accomplished in every field, and are single mothers by choice in order to live a more complete life. 

The case for a delayed entry into Feminism may be the main reason that I'm so turned off by the identification of my role in the home front story as a "Rosie the Riveter."  I believe that there is still some residual pain that has persisted into these years, and that continues to prevent a full-fledged alignment with the cause of women's equality though, intellectually, I see the need for achieving those rights in order to have a more fully balanced society.

As long as white women are seen as the generic woman and all the rest of us continue to be seen as "somethin' else", my personal view of that reality will probably remain unresolved.

Monday, April 06, 2015

During the Q&A on Saturday, a visitor asked if the warfare currently underway in the Middle East doesn't take priority on our list of things needing direct action?

Without hesitation my response was, "no, climate change must be acknowledged and accepted before anything else can be addressed."

I found myself wondering on the short drive back to my apartment if this is what I truly believe?

It was then that I realized how enured I've become to the horrific violence we're living with every day, and how desensitized I'm becoming.  Maybe we all are falling victim to an acceptance of a level of inhumanity that not too long ago would have been unthinkable.

Not only on "the dark continent of Africa," but in our own streets against the homeless; against young black and brown men by police who have become our para-military forces; on television in a constant stream of crime shows; stories of unsolved "cold" cases; an airliner with a young depressive at the controls crashing into an Alpine mountainside; helpless young people gunned down on a faraway college campus; young women being kidnapped and sold into sex trafficking never to return; so much, so awful, so endless ... .

Is this the way of the world that has always been and that we're only now -- through the insistence of technology -- unable to escape knowing about?  Are we being de-civilized at an accelerated rate?

... then I found myself admitting that the foreground of my life; and maybe all of our lives, doesn't reflect that reality at all.  That my days are made up of good friends doing great things, kind thoughts and pleasurable prospects ... while in the background there is world misery that is almost too much to incorporate without being threatened with the onset of soul-searing depression of the kind that shared the controls with that young mentally disturbed pilot!

Maybe it's the result of the fact that in ancient times only the catastrophic (earthquakes, wild fires, and other natural disasters) would extend beyond the borders of our villages until a crier from the other side of the mountain brought news weeks and maybe months after the fact.  We were protected by the isolation of the times in which we were living.  That no longer is possible.  If ISIS invades Syria within hours we have not only a count of the casualties, but the most horrific details of the actual methods used to vanquish their perceived enemies.

... and the most dire of all fates tends to pale in comparison with the immediate dangers -- that most dire threat of all would be the now-impending destruction of the planet due to man's effect upon the living environment, and the destructive denial by a few of the most powerful among us who fail to see any way to profit from planetary protection.  Until they can decide among themselves just who can lay claim to the Sun, itself, we may have to stand by helpless against their all-consuming greed.
How does one mere mortal attempt to balance all that without losing any sense of control over even one's own destiny?

This is a time when I'm so aware that there is but one Life, and that we're all sharing it. 

Sunday, April 05, 2015

As if having the Secretary of the Interior Jewell pay us a surprise visit last week weren't quite enough ...

... The Today Show announced through our superintendent that their crew would be visiting on Wednesday, April 15, to film my next public bus tour! 

I'm trying desperately hard to not allow myself to even think about what lies ahead, and today is Easter Sunday and I've no exciting plans to take up my thoughts and calm the anxiety so my mind is now leaping ahead with a noticeable tightening of every nerve and sinew in my body!

There are ten days until that happens, but by the time our park visitors begin to gather at our front doorway to board the bus on that morning -- I may be ready for the Looney Bin!

One would think that all of this would be routine by now, after all it's been almost two years since the governmental shutdown happened, and the public exposure that has become such a major part of my daily existence.  But for reasons I cannot explain, I'm suddenly feeling crowded and vulnerable ... and there's that familiar sense of unworthiness... this, even at a time when I'm feeling so effective in my presentations, and deeply aware that I'm doing good work that is being recognized widely.

I suspect that -- as I feel the now familiar surge of adrenaline each time upon entering the little theater and that rush of whatever-it-is that brings such closeness between me and those faces that makes for such a feeling of intimacy and that graces the room with each experience -- so it will be as we board the bus for our tour of those scattered park sites.  So it will be, hopefully, when those cameras are rolling ...

Will let you know when it will be shown.  And, as is customary, that crew will spend 4 hours with us to capture 3 minutes of air time!  So why should this seem any more than what we've been through before with these media teams?  Since the next week is National Parks Week, it's probably safe to assume that it is for this that this piece is being produced, and then life will return to whatever we deem is our new normal.

What more can lie ahead?

We keep "max-ing" out!

Monday, March 30, 2015

The question comes up occasionally during the Q&A, and I don't think that it's being answered as completely as it should be ... .

"You are obviously well-educated, Betty, what college did you attend?"  Usually asked by someone who then goes on to add, "... your vocabulary certainly reveals that."

There is usually a pause of a few seconds as I weigh just how to respond, and it may interest you to know that there is some discomfort -- uncertainty -- an awareness of what I've always seen as a deficit in my education.  My education didn't extend beyond high school, so to answer with what feels to me as a reminder that I'm among the unwashed ... .

It occurs to me that what we have here is a lack of complexity that doesn't allow the truth to be revealed; my answer should be nuanced.  It is this:

My education took place when the California public school system was the envy of the known world. This would have been prior to the enactment of Proposition 13 which started the dismantling of that system.

Also, because there were so few African Americans living in the State or the Greater Bay Area before WWII, there were few reasons to have anything but a great general education for everyone, so I escaped the handicap of being squashed under the crushing weight of low expectations that now becomes the fate of disadvantaged children of color.  For whatever it was worth, I was receiving the same training into the same culture as those around me.

Not only were my influences Jack London, Mark Twain, Willa Cather, the Bronte Sisters, Rudyard Kipling, Louisa Mae Alcott and Edna St. Vincent Millay, Alfred Noyes, James Whitcomb Riley,  and Eugene O'Neill, but by fifth grade I was singing the operatic works of Giuseppe Verdi, and Sibelius's Finlandia with our glee club!

Richard Wright's Native Son and the poems of Langston Hughes, James Weldon Johnson, and Gwendolyn Brooks I would not be exposed to until young adulthood. By then my racial designation would have become hyphenated by the experiences of WWII on the Home Front and the Civil Rights Revolution of the Sixties.  Before then I was simply a youngster being educated to the majority culture.

Of course, one might say that I was missing the black artists, authors, and scholars, and that is true. But I was being educated for the state and nation I was growing up in, and being acculturated at the same time -- which would serve me well over time.  The fact that, eventually, I would be exposed, in depth, to both black and white cultures has been a gift to be cherished.  Maybe that would be the ideal for us all.

In high school we performed Maxwell Anderson's Winterset in my junior year drama class, and I read and analyzed Shakespeare in English Lit as a senior.  The training received in Mr. Bill McLaughlin's public speaking class is still with me in our little theater every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.  "Stand straight with weight on front foot -- take a deep breath, and start the first word on an exhale, etc."  The ability to analyze material, debate issues, and defend my positions was nurtured by what happened in that exciting class where kids could differ and grow.  Where questioning was encouraged, and cynicism rewarded if rational.

And I can still hear those oratorios screamed in the thin treble-clef voices of children before the little silver pitch pipe and waving baton of full-bosomed and bespectacled Mrs. Edith Reiniger whose great passion for Giuseppe Verdi's il Trovatore fed our little souls.  No I've been working on the railroad or My Darling Clementine for us!

... and at this point it matters not that throughout my childhood and into my adult years I still remember that California was first settled by Father Wanna-pera Serra!  (How on earth did that young teacher ever get out of school without learning how to pronounce Junipero?)  But nothing's perfect, right? ...  not even the greatest educational system in the world in its day. 

"I didn't go to college," then is probably only half true.  The fact of when I was educated says it all, I think.  I'm guessing that those students who shared those years with me received what would be seen today as at least two years of learning in any community college or higher.

This all happened, of course, before the systematic dismantling of public education began in this country, and before charter schools would be even dreamed of.  And those, you remember, were the years of the Great Depression, the Works Progress Administration (WPA), joblessness and bread lines, and my mother turning up at "Sally Ann's" (the Salvation Army store) early on Thursday mornings when the trucks were unloaded -- to get first crack at whatever books (for 25 cents) were among those discarded by the "Haves".

"I didn't go to college," are words that simply don't cover my educational experience.

Not even close.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

I don't think we're in Kansas anymore, Toto ... .

... and the Yellow Brick Road looks unexpectedly familiar.  Though there have been rough places and demons to do battle with along the way -- little here is surprising.  And I blush to admit that so unashamedly.  It's not that I don't see the specialness of it all, it's just that the miraculous aspect of everyday life is something I'm tapping into more and more these days, with a growing sense of wonder that we tend to walk through the miracles each and every day without fully appreciating this life as it unfolds before us in whatever ways it expresses itself.

Wish I could figure out how to share the great video piece that ran throughout the Department of Interior on their weekly "This week at Interior March 27, 2015" but you can access it on YouTube.com if you wish.  I can't figure out a way to link it, or, to even fix it so that you can copy and paste, and today is Sunday and I'm at home without the benefit of being able to have our graphics person, Luther Bailey, walk me through it.

Suffices to say that last week's visit to Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park of not only the Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, but Jon Jarvis, National Director of the National Park Service, and, regional director Chris Lehnertz, as well, spent Thursday afternoon with us, and a warmer more congenial group I've rarely experienced.  What a time!  Sally Jewell is someone I'd find it very easy to love.  What a charismatic and lovely woman is she!

That they were truly impressed by what we're building here was clearly obvious.  That we're layering back in the nuances and complexities of the Era of WWII at a time when those lives and times are so often compacted into bumper stickers is being appreciated by Washington.  It is clear that those whose work guides our ability to do that are fully aware of our challenges and small victories.  I don't think I've ever felt so affirmed.  So surrounded by enablers.  We all did.  

The day ended with a quick drive home to change out of uniform and into more glamorous civvies to attend a reception at Alumna House on the UC Berkeley Campus -- held in honor of the dignitaries gathered here for consideration of plans for the upcoming National Park Service Centennial year 2016, and to tackle the vitally important environmental questions that are before us as a nation and a world.

... it was during the reception in that lovely tree-shaded gracefully designed building that I felt the first pangs of being completely awestruck by the unexpected turn my life has taken in recent weeks.  Upon arrival I entered the room where there was not a single familiar face.  Having outlived most of my contemporaries, I'm now facing a re-peopled world.  I'd arrived far too early and before the others came.   But standing nearby was the UC Board of Regents Chair, Janet Napolitano, and just beyond, historian Douglas Brinkley.

The world of the Academy was alien to me, but reminiscent of the years spent as a faculty wife, Mrs. Dr. William F Soskin, Ph.D., research psychologist connected with Tolman Hall on this very campus.  I'd never quite fit into that Betty's shoes, and the ten years we spent together hardly made a dent in that insecurity, though they brought new opportunities for learning previously not open to me, and re-cast my known world with new friends and possibilities.  It was those years that launched political Betty.

This time I'm the grownup!  These are the kids.  I've attained an eminence over the years through  unsubscribed and unintentional ways but it doesn't really matter at this point.

The game's almost over ... and just when I'm finally beginning to understand the rules of engagement ... .

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