Monday, January 17, 2005

Eventful week; mostly interesting and life-affirming.

Midweek I met for lunch with the young women with whom I worked for the past five years. Got all caught up on their lives and the "what next," since three have now left the office that had taken up so much of our lives. One will now join the staff of State Senator Pro Tem Don Perata, and should be a gift to his crew. Another is moving out of politics to do journalism on a larger scale for a major newspaper. The third has continued on in the old office with our best wishes for an expanding future. It was great to see them again. We range in age from 26 to me, and that's a broad slice of womanhood and a tribute to our ability to span the years and continue to learn from one another. It was a good run, and I miss them.

On Friday evening there was an invitation to dinner with my friend's family (son and his lady, daughter and husband and son) at his favorite S.F. restaurant, Tadich in the financial district. After dinner most of us drove out to the Exploratorium for a solo performance by the incomparable Joanna Haigood of Zaccho Dance Theatre. It was an exciting show in this unique setting where she serves as an artist in residence. Introducing this (European) family to one of my favorite African American artists was great. They were spellbound and I was as moved by her grace and choreography as ever I've been.

On Saturday evening I attended the fiftieth birthday party for Melita Sims-Agbabiaka Ph.D., where I'd been asked to say a few words of inspiration during the program at some point in the evening. This is a family of ten siblings who could fill any evening with magic -- they're all teachers and entertainers and as outgoing and loving as any group of people I've ever known. In addition to performances by the adult members of the family, thereis a group called "Prodigy" made up of their children, all under 10. They're dancers and musicians and poets, and all as talented as one can imagine. They'll be appearing in concert later this month (February?) at the Oakland Unitarian-Universalist Church in an evening of music and arts as a benefit for the purpose of re-opening their charter school in Richmond. This would be the Barbara Alexander Academy that I may have talked about way back in the archives. What an honor to be invited to be a part of their celebration to Dr. King's memory in their lovely home with their many friends and supporters. Great evening!

Sunday was a study in contrasts: Friend and I attended a concert in suburban Lafayette that featured the 12-14 musicians of the Gold Coast Chamber Music Group whose artistic director is the daughter of my more-more-more constant friend whose name I'm trying hard not to mention.

My African American world this weekend was heavily marked by the King celebrations. No mention in the suburban sold-out chamber music concert. Should be no surprise, and wasn't. The afternoon was filled with Kreisler, Vivaldi, Bach, Mozart; all totally European. We'd crossed the East Bay Hills to a world transformed totally from the one I'd left less than 40 minutes and 20 miles ago in Richmond. What may have been the greatest surprise was the fact that I didn't even notice it at the time, only now in the writing about it. I've grown accustomed to these huge cultural leaps between short distances in the Bay Area, the state, and the nation.

After the afternoon concert we drove in to meet friends for dinner at a lovely Vietnamese restaurant, La Cheval, in downtown Oakland before attending the 4th annual Martin Luther King Birthday Concert at the Kaiser Convention Center on the shores of Lake Merritt. This was an evening of excerpts from his powerful speeches projected on a huge screen, the Oakland Youth Choir, the Oakland Jazz Choir, the Gospel Hummingbirds Quartet, and the presentation of the Humanitarian of the Year award to a woman whose work has been pivotal in creating services for the homeless and those suffering from HIV-AIDS. The audience and the program was all African American inspired, though performed by an interracial cast that represented the multi-racial multi-cultural makeup of this interesting city. The audience was probably 40% African American and deeply responsive.

This morning I joined with UU minister Rev. Paul Sawyer and a number of other members of the clergy at the East Gate of San Quentin Prison to honor Dr. King's memory by participating in a worship circle in the shadow of Death Row. It was heart-warming and needed to be since the day was gray and cold and the numbers few. There was a drummer, a flutist, a woman dancer, plus about 25 good folks standing witness for what we hope are the many thousands of peace activists and anti-death penalty advocates across the country and the world whom we firmly believe we represent. There were readings and then testimonies from each of us strangers standing closely for warmth and inspiration. There were several sound trucks from the media and lots of cameras manned by silent newsmen. There were interviews by a number of reporters I didn't recognize, but whose newspapers are familiar.

At a point in the proceedings, after the singing of "We Shall Overcome" those ready to commit to the act of civil disobedience lined up at the East Gate behind a string of Tibetan prayer flags, mostly ministers but also including several young men I didn't know plus the graceful dancer who continued to move gracefully as though alone on the planet -- but now behind the string of flags, against the defining East Gate. We knew that there would be a time when those of us who would not want to be arrested would have the opportunity to walk away. There was a short conference on the other side of the gate between guards and other prison personnel. They knew the drill. All had been here before -- Paul and the others for many years since the moratorium on the death penalty was lifted long ago. Being arrested was expected -- invited, and the time had come to get through the inevitable.

I walked up to the gate to where the demonstrators were standing steadfast and whispered into Paul's ear that this time I could not commit. I'd left Dorian at home alone, and there was no way to know how long it would take for the police and the jailkeepers to get through their process. Routine though it was, I'd left her to her own devises for most of the past two days, and though she enjoys the freedom from Mom, this was a day that we needed to be together. Dr. King would understand. Paul understood.

I walked away in the cold gray fog and wondered about Stan "Tookie" William and Kevin Cooper, waiting on Death Row as the next to be exterminated by lethal injection. Everything is in order. Kevin's stay has come to an end, and Stan's appeals have been exhausted. Denied. These deaths will be as inevitable as the fate of today's demonstrators -- being hauled away and released until the next batch of protestors arrive tomorrow morning leading up to the execution on Wednesday. It's so horribly automatic. A kind of macabre dance that has now become completely routinized.

Is the downward spiral of our humanity so ordinary now that we'll stop noticing even the Abu Graib's in our future as we allow the continuing taking of lives in our names? Is not the ignoring of the Geneva Accords and the hardening against those we've dubbed "the enemy" more evidence that we're becoming de-sensitized to the taking of lives -- except for in those in the womb? Is it conceivable that language has become so polluted by rhetorical distortions that the old words have lost their meaning totally? Why the paradox of the "Right To Life" that doesn't extend to those taken in war or in the death chambers of our prisons? Or, that makes foetal life more valued than mother life? How is it that we're on a unprecedented drive to save the 173,000 lives of those crushed by the tsumani yet continue to turn our backs on those over 100,000 civilian deaths we're adding to daily in Iraq? Where can we begin to explore these anomalies without the shouting that keeps us from hearing one another?

We are diminished as a species with each intentional death.

Perhaps I'll join the others who'll gather at the East Gate tomorrow, if only to test my own courage in a place and time where I have some control. Iraq, Indonesia, and even Washington, D.C., are too far away to have an impact. This is a war that I can effect, even if only a little ... .

Maybe I'll provide the tipping point for change

Maybe ... .

When will we begin to notice?

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