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Saturday, December 04, 2004


Just returned from a meeting of the UULM

(Unitarian-Universalist Legislative Ministry). As a UU of longstanding, I'm nonetheless in a constant state of displacement due to a restlessness that's followed me from church to church since moving away from Mt. Diablo UU church in Walnut Creek many years ago. The denomination has always been tantalizing in the possibilities it presents and in the openness I've always found there.

My social activism was born there, and I've been out "in the world" spinning around in the wake of the years of experiencing whatever it was that got unleashed in that original congregational affiliation. There are still remnants of the passion shared with my UU friends of long ago, and I guess that I'll always measure the boundaries of new alliances against those with whom the joy and pain of growth was shared. Despite all, I tend to operate as a circle of one much of the time.

Was invited by one of those dear friends to attend tonight's meeting in the hope, of course, that I might find it a base from which to do my work. There was much to build upon, but I was (again) one of only two African Americans in the room -- and the other, a gentleman, was silent all evening.

This group is doing great work on the Gay marriage issue where UUs are playing a leadership role, nationally. I'm so proud of that work. There was talk of taking on children's health as a secondary campaign, not by providing leadership as much as by working collaboratively with existing efforts. There will be some groundwork done on the next great world issue -- that of water -- which looms large on the horizon but has not yet bubbled up to the surface of our consciousness. A worthy agenda.
But I was torn.

After spending yesterday in the conference on The African American Male,etc., hosted by Barbara Lee et al, it was difficult to make the leap to these more universal themes. Am still caught up in the urgency of the plight of young black males and the great chasm that lies between the black and white communities as represented by my experiences over these two days. One might well have been on separate planets...the concerns were so different, and finding the places where they intersect is difficult to discern.

I never know quite why, but I find myself close to tears when the dilemma is this striking. I so wanted to be able to tap into the energy of tonight's meeting -- and did voice my concerns -- but as it has been on other occasions, at other times -- those concerns tend to bear little relevance to the subject at hand. There's that huge gulf that I'm aware is there -- and that in the past has been dependent upon how successful one is at playing the "guilt" card. It's not about that. It shouldn't be.

But I find myself wanting to add another category for activism -- a kind of cleaning up of the anomalies in governance, some corner of the room where implementation and accountability is monitored. Example:

There was a time when I first went to work for the state when a huge amount of matching federal dollars had to be returned to the feds because they had not been expended in the time allotted. There was a program involving free health services for all school children who qualified for the free lunch programs. Not nearly enough children were enrolled to justify continuation of the program so it was failing to fulfill its mission. Then it was discovered that the application form was made up of 25 pages of questions to be filled out by the parents. This, in a community with an extremely high rate of illiteracy; a community with a large immigrant spanish-speaking population; and a Laotion refugee community consisting of five language groups most of whom were not literate in their own language. Someone worked hard to design something so draconian.

It takes little imagination see that this was a cynical way of offering much-needed health services without actually granting them to anyone. The chance that the parents from these communities could complete such a form was next to nil, and some healthy cynicism on the part of a few alert bureaucrats eventually caught the problem and change occurred that got things back on track and the services rendered. There are times when even that which is legislated meets with defeat at staff level. Tragic.

Then there's the duplicity of legislation like the current un- and under-funded "No Child Left Behind" bill. One of California Rep. George Miller's greatest disappointments in the last congressional session was seeing the erosion in Head Start and watching the "No Child" bill that he co-authored go unfunded for the most part. As is so often the case, testing without the resources to attain the goals is a cruel hoax played on educators and children who must live by them. Here in West County, the attainment of those test scores frustrates good teachers and dooms a great many children to continuing poverty as a result of low expectations and lack of financial resources. It's heartbreaking to witness, and appears to have placed the final nail in the coffin of our once-great system of public education.

Having well-informed legislative watchpersons catching these anomalies can bring miracles. They can re-shape legislation to actually serve the powerless for whom they were originally intended.

Our system of term limits has created the Third House in the legislature. There's the Senate, The Assembly, and The Lobbyists. And at any one time at least one-third of the legislature is in the hands of newly-elected well-intentioned leaders who must spend their first year in the capitol locating the restrooms and raising funds for their next campaign! A great deal of legislation is being drafted by that Third House and simply delivered for passage. Having the denomination represented in the Third House will help until we can get the electorate to revisit the entire concept of term limits. But that's a debate for another time ... maybe a good reason to join the UULM, right?

Tennyrate, I'm exploring the web site (http://www.uulmca.org) with an eye toward at least participating online while I figure out how I might become involved without losing my own focus in the micro.

Been a busy weekend.

Dorian and I attended NIAD's annual art show and reception this afternoon where we bought some beautiful gifts for the holidays. Picked up some cards that she designed from block print patterns. Tomorrow we'll do the same at the Richmond Art Center.

It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas!

Photo: Dorian's lovely beaded mosaic abstract. It's about 3'x4' and is quite beautiful. Unfortunately I can't afford to buy them all. This one will probably be bought soon by someone familiar with "Outsider Art." There is a growing clientele for this work. The gallery pays 50% of the sale to the artist -- and Dorrie is becoming a saleable artist.

What a pleasant surprise ...

to check into my pages this morning and find that the Google Adsense team has pulled the inappropriate ad and replaced it with clickable ones that are far more fitting.

Been thinking about the potential we have here of broadening the concept of what it means to age without withdrawing from the world. I'm sure that I'm far from alone in remaining contemporary and involved and continuing to have an impact on the status quo. I suspect that the major difference may be that many women who've defied time in much the same way have done so by claiming to be younger than their driver's license admits. A nip and a tuck here and there, and ''voila!" instant youth retention! In that way, younger women lose the opportunity to learn that aging can be as fascinating a time of life as any other -- and that vitality doesn't necessarily disappear when your first social security check arrives. Dementia isn't necessarily the natural result of accumulating years, but is an anomoly of our times for reasons unknown. That's unfortunate for those who follow us, and who need to know that.

The advantages that continuing to grow and evolve intellectually are that one's spirituality and perspective can grow as well, with a deepening of everything one has been all along -- only now everything is the more precious as we face our mortality and the acceptance of the fact that life is finite. The sense of urgency sharpens the edge of existence and makes poetic those things that were at one time merely ordinary. How I wish I'd known that when it was still years ahead -- I had no recognizable models in my own life.

And, I'm still loving and being loved, wearing black lace lingerie, reading Vogue and Elle -- still reading the New Yorker right along with Arandahti Roy, Noam Chomsky, and The Nation. I'm also slowly experiencing the graying of hair and the crumpling of skin -- with those strange little age spots on my cheeks that I'm told were always there but are only now rising to visibility. It feels strange to look into the mirror to watch my mother brushing her teeth! My muscle tone has only recently begun to soften but my body retains its youthfulness, probably from jumping in and out of my car (surely not from formal exercise though I keep promising myself that I'll join a yoga class, soon).

The only time I'm really aware of the changes are those times when I see photos of myself taken ten or so years ago. The changes are profound, though they surely don't feel so. Working with my wedding pictures recently (I was a little over fifty) -- trying to put them into my blog -- I was moved by how young "she" appeared. Funny, but it really does feel like "someone I once knew." But we share great memories, and somewhere inside she still exists and moves into the forefront to take over "the bod" at a few strains of an old song or when I find myself in "woman" rather than "mother" or "public servant" mode. That complexity is shared by us all, I'm sure, but the awareness of it may be unique to fewer of us.

I will probably never be accused of living "the unexamined life."

And I'm certainly not alone. There are probably as many versions of eldering as there are of adolescense or forty-something-itis. Despite all attempts at ghetto-izing this stage in life into age-specific lobbies, communities, and services, some of us insist upon the right to contribute the fruits of our maturity into the mix; to remain in the mainstream of life in the work force where and when possible -- while being the patrons of the arts and sciences and the tutors and mentors of the young.

There are those of us who will continue until we're all used up -- and then we'll donate our remains to science labs so that nothing is left to bury or incinerate!

And what a way to go!

Friday, December 03, 2004

Great day!

Attended a conference today in Oakland on "The State of the African American Male," subtitled: What is happening with ex-felons re-entering the community, and how can we improve the transition? The event was hosted by Rep. Barbara Lee (CA-9) supported by Rep. Danny Davis (Il-07) and Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee of Texas. The keynoter was Oakland Black Panther co-founder, Bobby Seale. It was held at Laney Community College in downtown Oakland and drew a large number of young black men, community program directors and staffs, Oakland's mayor, Jerry Brown and California State Senator, Pro Tem, Don Perata. Big stuff.

Learned that, nationwide, 900,000 black males are incarcerated -- more of its people are in prisons in the USA than any other country in the world. It was interest to me that there was no mention of the growing number of women now doing time. There are -- by far -- more black people in the prisons of the nation than in colleges and universities. In fact, County Supervisor Keith Carson had just returned from a meeting at UCBerkeley where he learned that in this year 2004, only 6 black students have enrolled in the graduate schools. That's almost unbelievable, and a sad commentary on the state of educational opportunities for non-whites.

Will write more about this later, but having left early and before the keynote address was given -- I feel that I missed most of the substantive material and heard only that which was ceremonial. There was much filming of the event and -- having access to Barbara's office through old friendships, I'll be able to have access to what was missed.

Of interest was the fact that both Mayor Brown and Senator Perata spoke their few words of greeting and congratulations then slipped immediately out of the nearest exit when that was done. How often I've seen this happen? The emotional and highly-charged testimonies that come out of these breakout sessions rarely reach the ears of the powerful who might be able to effect meaningful change. Those making the pleas for that change end up speaking to each other. At least those members of the Congressional Black Caucus remained, and the work would carry on, but they, too, may be speaking only to one another in the context of Washington, D.C. Makes one wonder ... .

What was I doing there? All a part of climbing back in the saddle, I suppose. The subject has been important to me for a very long time -- and if all goes as expected -- I may be in a position to bring some new energy to the subject in a few months. It feels familiar -- and in a good way.

Maybe it's a little like riding that proverbial bicycle -- once learned ... .

No problem.

This is hysterical!

While exploring some of the features of this blogging phenomenon, a few days ago I discovered something called Google Adsense. What's that" (I asked myself)? Oh, turned out to be a program whereby one can sign up to be a more formal "publisher" and allow for the addition of ads that "are relevant to your content." Aha! There's the rub. Followed the directions, created the proper codes and copied and pasted into the template as directed, and waited to see what would happen.

In theory, each time someone clicks on the ad there is a deposit to an online account. When said account warrants it, a check is forwarded for the advertising privileges I've allowed. Nice arrangement.

There was a judgement made somewhere in cyberspace by a Google panel that determined that the content of my blog was acceptable and that there is a market for advertising here. So what would be relevant, I ask myself? Dental adhesives, adult diapers? Perhaps retirement plans for reverse mortgages? Mobil home sites and used RVs? How would these young advertising panelists see my age group? The defaults would surely give me an idea of how seniors are seen by advertisers. Might learn something here.

Then I looked in this morning: Would you believe a talking Ronald Reagan doll? If anyone really seriously read my writings, they would have surely known that I'm far from a Reagan follower, and that my political leanings are not in keeping with our former late president. To the contrary, I was one of those in the streets during the People's Park demonstrations years ago when he was governor of California and I was a youngish community activist. His helicopters were overhead spraying us with tear gas while my folks were singing Kumbaya and tossing flowers!

However, I choose to let it be. To keep the ad and watch closely at what is chosen for my site. It will be interesting to watch (in the site reports) to see if, indeed, there is actually interest in the man -- and if a Ronald Reagan bobbing-head-doll actually is of interest to us. This should be important information for the advertiser, as well, right? The thing that we will never know, though, is just how many people who visit here will click on the ad simply to see what's underneath? Oh, the wonders of technology!

So much to learn and so little time ... .

Click away, friends. I'll let you know when and if I can retire on my earnings!

Betty -- checking out the economics of marketing and media!

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Today was an important planning session for the new national park.

Leading up to this series of meetings has been a major public relations campaign. In addition to the local park staff, several NPR people from the regional office in Denver also attended and conducted a series of small workshops. It was well planned and executed. In all, there have been five such meeting held this week in the attempt at involving the community in the process. The last is taking place tonight at the Civic Center.

I learned from the park superintendent that during an interview on NPR - twice yesterday there was coverage on my experiences of the war years working in that small auxiliary union hall. My name wasn't used, but during her interview, she'd provided the reporter with the story as taken from my oral history from the Bancroft Library.

Would like to have heard it and there's a chance that this will be possible. She told me that there is a service that is able to retrieve such pieces and that she will try to get a copy.

What is most interesting about this is:

Though I've never been asked to tone down my criticism of the trials lived by non-whites in those times -- and I surely don't imply that there has been anything but encouragement for me to be as outspoken as I dare -- there is a subtlety that continues to concern me. Whenever Boilermakers A-36 is referred to by me (my place of employment) I use the words "Jim Crow union auxiliary." When the NPS refers to it, it comes out "she worked for one of the parallel unions." The use of such language suggests an alternative equally empowered organization. It was not that. The auxiliary was created because white workers refused to belong to unions to which blacks were also members. The auxiliary had little or no power of its own and none in the context of the larger body. It was a facade that kept membership records as required by the Kaiser Corporation but had little or no power to act on complaints or grievances. It was a false front "Jim Crow" union where all members carried cards with "helper" or "trainee" behind their names. There was no opportunity for advancement into journeyman status, or to compete with whites for union jobs when the war ended; a crippling practice with echoes into our times, I firmly believe.

And you know what? To object to the softening of the language sounds so much like nit-picking that it's hard to force the correction. Yet, it's in just this way that history becomes revisionist and made less honest to those who might benefit by being allowed to re-visit those times armed with the knowledge of later gains in human relations and civil rights.

Felt that again today when I realized that -- over the national public radio network the softened version had described my homefront experience, and I felt disappointed at our continuing inability to confront our reality and learn from the past without shame.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Met last night with the consulting team

that now makes up my public life so-to-speak. We're submitting a grant that will enable us to create a youth-oriented program component related to the upcoming Centennial year. It's disappointing to see how low on the city's priority list is this 100 year celebration. The opportunities it provides as a marketing tool are being squandered, or so it seems. The city's preoccupation with the mounting financial crises and job losses that resulted in huge cutbacks in city services has cut into all attempts to embrace this important benchmark in urban life.

The mayor has formed a committee to do the planning (two months before the onset), and I'm not on it. Put out enough hints that I'd love to be, but am of the growing opinion that the things I'd like to contribute may be better served by being handled independent of other efforts.

This morning a call came from the park superintendent asking if I'd be willing to appear before the city council tomorrow night at their regular meeting -- to promote a series of public meetings being held this week in the region. They will be the next in the master planning process that will complete the Rosie the Riveter Historical National Park over the next decade. I will do this as a volunteer (having completed my contract with the NPS).

The next few months will involve working with others to bring to life our youth program; will meet (at her invitation) with the Executive Director of the Main Street Initiative to talk about her organization's role in the Centennial (she's been named to the mayor's committee), and about my visions for an Arts & Entertainment District in the old downtown. That's been lying dormant for a while now, and it pleases me to have that dream being revived by others.

It appears that -- despite the disintegration of the nation as I would wish it to be -- life does go on. I'm less frightened of approaching fascism (yes!), and strangely enough -- am beginning to watch for the signs of the pendulum beginning to return to a new place of temporary rest on the Left. With the government in the hands of extremists and with the fate of our future now lying far beyond our city boundaries, pulling back feels right and wise. My life won't last long enough for there to be any impact from my efforts in the short term. That's freeing, actually. I'm free to skip the long term goals and leave the global stuff to others.

So I'll join with others in rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic -- and remind myself that the whole of life and the new directions of change are made up of those tiny atoms of dailyness lived out by billions of folks just like me.

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