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Friday, January 21, 2005

Sorting through feelings is taking up my entire being right now.

Little time to record anything, or to react except with disbelief ... .

The fears are so close to the surface -- panic, really -- that I've been reluctant to struggle with the words for fear that panic would spill over and trigger hysteria ... .

It's like the feelings I had years ago each time I saw the Doomsday Clock move ever closer to midnight and the end of time for the planet. How have we come to this?

Couldn't bring myself to watch the ceremonies on Wednesday, but had a hard time avoiding it. Coverage was everywhere, including that of the anti-Bush demonstrations. Maybe the fear is becoming so universal that counter-forces will finally emerge to move us back from the edge. There are bits of it forming here and there, but much gets erased with each on-air interview with Bush supporters. How on earth can they not see? The duplicity is so marked. The gross bigotry profoundly expressed in every speech coming from the current administration is stunning; the more so because it is clear that the speechwriters aren't aware of what they're expressing much of the time. It got to me during one of the many quick snatches of Bush's speech wafted by last night when he mentioned "... treatment of minorities." He quite obviously has no idea that -- on the world scale -- whites are far outnumbered, and that this nation has erroneously pluralized the word "minority" in order to avoid accepting that fact. There is no such thing as "85% minority." It's an oxymoron! 85% minority is the majority. The ability to create and control how language is used often determines who controls "truth."

I'm firmly convinced that only impeachment can turn this juggernaut around. There is little chance that we can survive through another four years of wars and more wars building more and more hatred throughout the known world. It cannot wait. Today I will look up former Attorney General Ramsey Clarke's web site and sign the petition demanding impreachment. He said yesterday that there are now 500,000 signatures submitted, but that at least 5 million will be needed to gain the attention of Congress. Today there will be 500,001.

MoveOn.Org sent out an appeal for support to allow us to begin to build upon the national grassroots movement that brought victory so close last November. Eli Pariser and Joan et al are Bay Area people whom I've met. I trust their leadership. Will send off my check today right after my vote for impeachment. I know it all seems meager in contrast to the corporate power we're facing, but, if unified -- this nation's ordinary folks can still come together to save ourselves from total self-destruction. I firmly believe that. But that can happen only if enough of us believe deeply enough to act quickly and often for the change we want to see.

If you're reading this, I'll trust that we're of like mind and that we can together add numbers to Ramsey Clarke's petition.

Hopefully,

Betty

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

First Barbara Lee and now Barbara Boxer, ...

both California women friends to be proud of. We have at least one in the house and one in the senate raising hell and speaking for what I sense is a growing national constituency. Watching Senator Barbara Boxer take on the secretary of state designee this morning gave me hope and swept away much of yesterday's depression.

Having the governor and the supreme court both turn down the final appeal for the man whose life on Death Row ended last night at San Quentin had taken its toll. When my clock radio clicked on this morning to the hearings -- and the now familiar voices started to drone on -- I felt a momentary wave of nausea, then Barbara started her interrogation (and interrogation it was!). Every question that needed asking was asked. The anger and frustration she was feeling was evident in her voice, and she was unapologetic for it. She was expressing what so many of us are feeling. Just got off a letter of support to this tiny warrior, and hope that others are doing the same. The voting has yet to be conducted, and, though the outcome is predictable -- Barbara Boxer will stand her (and our) ground. We (our network) just received a message from her office asking for backup support by email before this afternoon's voting takes place.

How interesting that it is the women in governance who are stepping up to take the heat and lead the way. But it may be more important to note that it is this area of the nation (the San Francisco Bay Area) that continues to lead the way. The truth is that their Progressive constituencies grant them permission to do so. We've have been demanding this kind of leadership from our elected representatives now for several decades. Looking at the political landscape from the inside for all these years makes me aware of how often legislators are trapped by the limitations placed upon them by those who placed them in office. They're often far more willing to grow and change in light of new evidence than the folks back home will allow. Would that other parts of the country could reflect the growth that these good folks experience in office. The political ferment here in our region is visceral and citizen participation as natural as breathing. However, this freedom stops short just outside of the Bay Area boundaries, unfortunately, and much of the rest of the State reflects attitudes found in the newly designated red states.

Having been privileged to have worked in this field for some of the most dynamic leaders and participated in kitchen tables debates with others, I'm more aware than ever just why it is that I'm so reluctant to leave the stage. Still waiting edgily for that tap on the shoulder from my replacement. The Lees and the Boxers and those waiting in the wings to succeed them will continue to lead the way out of the political swampland we find ourselves in -- if there's enough time, that is. They're in training now in the National Womens Political Caucus, in NOW, in NARAL, and in the organization of younger women called EMERGE where the mentoring and coaching is going full steam ahead in preparation for the next decade of leadership. Both Barbaras came out of and are strongly supported by these organizations.

We're finally seeing the positive effects of female influence in high places, and it makes me hopeful. And, for the moment I'm skipping over the scariness of the image of the other image of "women in high places," that embodied by The Ice Queen, Dr. Rice! Transforming female energy into more power while holding fast to the qualities that separate us from our brothers will be the challenge of our time. Good governance probably requires a proper balance between our Yang and Ying, and will take awhile to achieve -- at least until our numbers increase in the Halls of Congress. Meanwhile, our two courageous Barbaras from home will have to do -- and we'll keep enabling them to the extent that we can for as long as we can.

Now to watch the rest of the proceedings.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

I'm tired. Rarely true for me, but today I'm feeling spent; used up. Old.

Maybe it has to do with waking to the sounds of the confirmation hearings of Condoleeza Rice, Ice Queen of Empire. I suddenly felt ancient and impotent. One would have to wonder where this jog in the road toward full equality hit the fatal destructive speed bump. Shouldn't I be feeling victorious? Shouldn't this be the crowning reward for all the years of working toward seeing an African American woman in this position of supreme power? What went wrong? Why do I want to climb back into bed and pull the blankets over my head? Is what I'm feeling shame? Defeat? That this travesty should be taking place on the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King adds a note of particularly cruel irony.

Is it possible that -- by the time we African Americans reached the rarified air of the halls of power and all that implies -- we've become hopelessly corrupted by a political system so distorted that even hatred of black/brown skin is less important than out-of-control greed for power and promise of financial gain? What happened that the "water is being carried" by black conservatives for white power brokers on so many fronts? A new form of slavery to the Right? What are the payoffs for them?

What has been gained by Chairman Michael Powell (FCC), Secretary Colin Powell (now thinly-masked displacement for non-comforming to policy); soon-to-be-gone Regent Ward Connerly who has single-handedly fought affirmative action for years resulting in a dramatic loss of enrollees in the universities; Justice Clarence Thomas whose record on the court is an embarrassment to African American Progressives everywhere; and now Armstrong Williams who was an apologist and staffer for the infamous racist Senator Jesse Helms for years and clerk for Justice Thomas -- and now openly admits to taking $250,000 of public funds for lobbying the No Child Left Behind legislation to Black families. What's happened to us? The numbers of sepia turncoats grow with each day as the rewards accumulate from corporate interests and political muscle.

With governmental and corporate control now firmly in the hands of White male Republican conservatives, the voices of African Americans that would serve to balance these opportunistic ones are absent from the debate. Rep. John Conyers, Maxine Waters, and many others are speaking out but not being given the coverage that might balance the impression that we've all sold out and that the civil rights struggles have been lost. Without looking closely at the reality being lived out in the inner cities, one might believe that we have overcome. Not so. I shudder at the thought that anyone would believe the huge numbers of folks now firmly dependent upon the underground economy fueled by the drug trades. And there is apparently no attempt being made to change this reality. The destruction of the safety net and system of public education that helped to lift the willing and able out of poverty is now almost complete.

I live where there is clear evidence that little is being done to stem the tide of the greatest warehousing of non-white Americans in history; the march of young black males into either the armed forces (by coercion and lack of opportunity in the public sector), or, into the prison systems -- both state and federal.

It matters little that Condoleeza Rice et al can now dine with the president while listening to Mozart -- while many of those they represent are passionately belting out gospel music while having to settle for fewer meals under fewer roofs while cowering from the all too common deaths by street violence.

At an earlier time there was an attempt at thinning out those deemed defectives through Eugenics. The same ends are now being achieved by channeling those seen as less than human into wars and prisons through policies produced by an interracial body of policymakers. I suppose that denotes a kind of progress, but does it indicate that the nation is reaching for the same stars Jefferson, Madison, Adams, and Franklin aspired to, or have we misplaced the moral compass in our time? Somewhere there was a fork in the road; one that Dr. King perceived, and surely sacrificed his life for in the effort to change the destructive course followed by the nation that he so loved.

I worry now about that "road not taken..." .

Do you suppose it's too late to make the corrections and turn the Ship of State about? We may have to sail into the wind for a while, but surely there is the will and the desire to save ourselves, our children, and a world of people who until very recent history, aspired to be just like us.

Today -- as many of those of us living under the power and the will of these strange leaders -- are fearful as they whose countries we are pillaging and occupying so ruthlessly.

We need now to grow beyond our racial prejudices for an entirely new set of reasons. Evil has no skin color. Ignorance and blind ambition come with no credentials that would insure fairness or compassion. Both Dr. King and Malcolm X arrived at those conclusions before facing extermination. Maybe that's the legacy that needs our attention and dedication if we're to survive this period of fascistic peril.


Now it's back to the East Gate at San Quentin for a day of hope with other lovers as we await tonight's execution. Perhaps we'll find that this new governor will grant us a pause while the prisoner's brain-damage (not allowed presentation during his trial) is reconsidered. I've little hope of this happening, but maybe there are some voices that the governor will hear. Maybe the moratorium will begin to gain support soon. Surely this is an issue that is gaining ground since Barry Schect's Innocence Project has so successfully freed so many who were wrongly imprisoned. Could be; if enough of us are paying attention, and care enough to enable the best in us to surface and prevail.

Amen ... .

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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