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Friday, May 06, 2005

Been thinking about audacity -- and "speaking only in declarative sentences ...

and realizing that there is some need to re-state context here. There may be readers who haven't the foggiest notion that the voice being expressed here is that of a descendant of a slave great-grandmother -- the loving grandmother who raised my mother and whom I knew into my own adulthood. She, Leontine Breaux Allen, was born in 1846 and died in 1948 -- in her 102nd year. At the time of her death I was 27 years-old and the mother of 3 of what would become my family of 4 children. My mother, Lottie Allen Charbonnet, lived from 1894 until 1995, after celebrating her 101st birthday. I will celebrate my own active still productive 84 years on the planet in September of this year. We've, collectively, seen an awful lot of life. For me slavery, Jim Crow, blatant racism, are not abstractions -- but major influences in the life filled with the effects of this country's greatest unfulfilled promises. These pages may be a statement of what the costs to the spirit may have been, but I cannot be the judge of that. You must be.

But -- I do get to speak in declarative sentences!

I make no pretense at objectivity nor do I make any attempt at bending truth to serve some prescribed goals. There's no one left to impress. I've outlived all of the naysayers in my life and can speak freely without fear of retribution or loss of status in the family or in the greater society.

The experiences here have been highly colored by the events lived as a black woman in a world twisted by racism and political expediency. Having survived all of that through the powers of disassociation, I suppose, in these later years I find myself still sitting on a reservoir of justifiable anger, but with the ability to stand outside myself and witness my own process. That's come with age and no small amount of quiet self-confidence, fiercely fought for and eventually won. That's taken a long lifetime, some pain and, at times, tragic heartbreak. But as the song says, "I'm still here!"

Hopefully, there are lessons here to my progeny to add to those of our ancestors who've trodden these boards before I entered stage left in 1921. Having lived at a time bracketed by slavery, Jim Crow, the Great Depression, World War II, the smug Fifties and the turbulent Sixties of the Civil Rights revolution -- the assassinations of two Kennedys and one King, on into the Human Potential Movement of the 70-80s and beyond into the crossing into another century and the Information Age -- I get to leave my own roadmap through that wilderness into the now. I lived all of those periods as an open vessel; deeply and with passion.

No life has been identical to mine.

No other lives have been identical to anyone else's.

We're one-of-a-kind people, each with a story worth telling.

These writings are simply a record of time as I lived it, or, at least as read by the events that drew me in and shaped the world in which I move.

So saying ... she wrote on ... .


Photo: My mother, Lottie Allen Charbonnet, at the age of 95 dancing at a luau on a holiday in Hawaii. A few weeks after my father, Dorson Louis Charbonnet, died -- we sent her off-shore for the first time in her life to see the world. She'd spent many years caretaking and it was time. A niece, Victoria Balugo Jones, accompanied her on the great adventure. This was a far cry from Welcome Post Office, St. James Parish, Louisiana! She lived another 6 years. This is surely a fine example of the irrepressible Creole spirit.


Thursday, May 05, 2005

Mysterious workings of the mind ...

I'm utterly fascinated by what happens when the mind is free and unencumbered by the need to be objective or even fair. That last post reached far back into the subconscious to dredge up thoughts long-thought dead or at least consigned to the memory box marked "insignificant."

Not needing as much sleep as when I was younger, I've gotten into the habit of setting my little bedside radio to Air America and dropping off at some point without turning it off. I'm sure that my mind continues to pick up words and phrases long after real consciousness has settled on "dim." It was probably for this reason that I wasn't aware until last night that yesterday was the anniversary of the Ohio National Guard's attack on the student demonstrators at Kent State that resulted in death for several. I must surely have heard some reference to that during the night before. This would surely account for the mindset when I wrote the last entry.

The reason being that -- on the summer following that awful event in Ohio -- I (and co-incidentally, my son, Bob) spent a week at mountain campgrounds in Colorado Springs with the Intercontinental Conference of several hundred Liberal Religious Youth; a group largely sprinkled with members of the SDS. A number of those college students had been involved in the demonstrations at Kent State. Bob and I met without being aware that I'd been invited as one of five workshop leaders from the artist community. He'd arrived from the Monterey Peninsula where he'd been visiting with our mutual friend, poet, Ric Masten and his family. Ric had also been invited to lead a workshop. It was a week I'll never forget. I felt privileged then. I feel privileged still to have been included in the history being made by the youth of the time. Though I must admit to some feeling of awkwardness around my having spilled over from my own generation into that of my teenaged son. I can recall the embarrassment that I felt when we discovered one another in the crowd on that first evening. We've never really discussed it. We shared the same convictions about the anti-war movement, and had certainly collided at other times while acting upon them. Perhaps this was no different, but I wonder now in looking back.

The meeting was held at Colorado Springs because it was the site of a major speech by President Richard Nixon, and the students were planning disruptive demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience at the Air Force Academy where that speech would be delivered. We were in the thick of the Vietnam War, and protests were mounting. These student activists were battle weary from having also been in the bloody street struggles against the Chicago police -- struggles that resulted in the arrest of the Chicago 8 and the wildly theatrical trials that followed. This was the Chicago National Democratic Convention during the summer before the spring of the Kent State's tragedy.

Those stirring 'roun the campfire conversations were heavily sprinkled with references to the Illuminati, the Skull & Bones Society, the annual arcane Bohemian Grove celebrations, the Tri-lateral Commission, etc., and had not yet reached the time when the Evangelical Southern Baptist takeover of the Republican party or the domestic terrorism from the Far Right -- before the smoldering hate-inspired militia movement had come into being. This was long before Iran-Contra, the Salvadoran-Guatamalan or Nicaraguan takeovers, the assassination of Allende in Chile, or the invasion of Panama to seize Manuel Noriega, and Watergate. This was long before Timothy McVey and the bombing of the federal building in Tulsa. It was before disaffected militarily-trained young white Nazis had surfaced in numbers large enough to cause concern. And this was long before September 11th, and the changing face of terrorism to that of the middle easterner.

Yesterday's post was heavily laced with Vietnam era paranoia, admittedly. But it may be speaking to a time when the seeds were being planted for all that has followed. Perhaps it was this that my active mind was trying to weave together into some kind of logical pattern ... I don't know. I'm aware of the continuum, the clear progression from then to now.

What is clear is that nothing is wasted. Experiences long dormant continue to claim their portion of the cortex and can wreak havoc if not recognized for what they are. Sometimes they're cautionary and, at some subconscious level, move us back from the edges where danger lurks. Sometimes they distort meanings and create disembodied fear that can't be identified or related to anything or anyone with reasonable accuracy, but account for edginess and sadness that defies understanding. Strange ... .

This morning I heard a long discussion on Democracy Now about the takeover of the Republican party by the Christian Evangelical Movement. The voices were those of two members of the protestant clergy; religious conservatives who share the concerns of the rest of us about the power being wielded by the forces now controlling the legislative process. I began to realize how intertwined were my thoughts yesterday with those being expressed this morning. There is a relationship that I haven't quite figured out yet, but I will. It's all of a piece.

The return to power of the cast of characters who brought us the Central and South American undeclared wars and the Iran-Contra scandals is frightening. The coming together of the names that figured so heavily in times past with the awful events of the present is sobering. To see Watergate figures now popping up as pundits (Liddy, North, etc) is more than disconcerting; it's ludicrous! To have Wolfowitz, Negreponte, Ashcroft, Rumsfeld, now buffered by the likes of Zel Miller, Frist and DeLay et al has got to be upsetting to those of us who've lived through the previous crimes and realize that there isn't the time for us to do it all over again. To watch the effects of their work upon a nation's electorate who has either forgotten or has never known this history that we're now re-living is the most troubling of all.

The new coalitions formed for the purpose of deconstructing this government's processes and procedures -- including the Constitution and Bill of Rights -- threatens our continuing existence as a nation. They have the power to destroy the underpinnings of democracy, itself, robbing the world of one of the most successful models for governance in modern history. We now sit at the pinnacle of that power -- and its misuse is catastrophic under present leadership.

I'll probably spend lots of drive time trying to figure out the code; the mind-messages that may make sense of what's spewing from my fingertips ... matching some of what is stored in muscle memory to those wisps of thoughts that defy logic and solutions -- but that stubbornly refuse to die.

...and though I'm tempted to delete yesterday's writings, I choose rather to let it stand and try to understand it against the background of what the next few weeks will bring. I'm beginning to look for the prophetic in the mundane ... an intriguing pastime that waxes and wanes as my personal life becomes more or less complex. This involuntary re-playing of old tapes that have been archived somewhere in memory will continue to spillover into the now, I suspect. The fight to not get blindsided by them may become more and more critical as the years pile on and fears of approaching dementia begin to stir. I find myself wondering about the inevitability of that -- as do most who've lived into these advanced years.

So far that fear amounts to little more than, "...now where in hell did I leave my keys?"

As I said, it appears that little is ever wasted.



Wednesday, May 04, 2005


There it was, hiding behind that Paul Miller entry ...

The thing that's been troubling me for a very long time. It has to do with education in the abstract; what's happened to it, and of what that foretells about the future. Maybe what we have here is one of those assessments only available to those of us who've lived long enough to begin to connect the dots. Wonder if anyone will listen...? Those younger are busy creating those dots, which is as it should be, maybe.

If we really do understand that the nation's takeover began many years ago in a successful campaign that only now is unfolding in such broad strokes that few can deny its existence. If we now understand that it was a bold 30-year conspiracy with many players and hidden networks that became cross-generational and international. To this Fox Network-defiled mind, I've begun to see the Bohemian Grove gathering, the Tri-Lateral Commission, the Illuminati, and the Skull and Bones as one huge centuries-spanning conspiracy with a single common denominator -- white European descendant males! How's that for paranoia? Suddenly everything I've ever heard about such conspiratorial enterprises has melded into one giant mosiac with no international boundaries and a single goal; world domination by any means necessary.

The problem foreseen by the white elite in this country -- the singlemost powerful on the planet -- was that it was fast becoming one in which the European ruling class would be soon replaced by a society in which majority status would be lost to the "unwashed." It was only a matter of time. At least three irreversible factors were operating. Each spelled the eventual elimination of white dominance. One was the burgeoning immigration of Third World peoples flooding our shores and crossing our borders; another was dreaded mescegination, and the third was the birth of equal opportunity for non-whites in education and in the promise of access to the workplace. All threatened the continuance of white dominance. The militias and super-Christian preservationists were ham-fisted in their response to what they saw as a "white holocaust," while those in positions of unprecedented wealth and political power were clever and brilliantly manipulative with the ability to set in motion long range remedies to the threatened loss of control of the nation and, ultimately, the world. Control of the earth's resources was unquestionably the key; and for the moment, petroleum is king.

In this country, I was first aware of the assault upon public instruction under the administration of Ronald Reagan who gave the first signs by the attempt to abolish the Office of Education. Someone foresaw empowerment of the underclass as threatening to the existing political power structure. We, the people, should have seen it coming. But we felt protected by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, didn't we, without fear that these institutional powers could ever be eroded from within. How foolishly trusting. How naive, as time would soon prove.

The Right To Life movement never targeted black or brown abortion clinics as far as I know, in fact, many black women on welfare were undergoing mandatory tubal ligations at a time when Planned Parenthood was in constant threat of outright assassinations and bombings. Those most active among the Right to Lifers were and are white males, if you'll notice. White women are being forced to carry to term those precious little lives that will be sorely needed in the struggle to continue world dominance while black and brown babies are facing lifetimes of poverty and starvation from societal negligence. White women are being seen as little more than incubators for the next generation of rulers. It's a frightening step back into history to a time when women were little more than powerless possessions in a male-dominated world of empire builders. To their credit, many women are working hard to save themselves from such a fate. The current attempts at seating anti-abortion federal judges signals a reversal of Roe v. Wade and a return to women as chattel -- or to an American version of a pschological wearing of the burkah.

It matters little how multiracial or multicultural this nation becomes, the white "majority" will continue to see power to rule as its rightful legacy, and all others as less than equal by right of inheritance from the founding slave-owner fathers. They've created God in their own image and claim rights to all that flows from their creation. It's a complete bastardization of Christianity. And -- it's a cynical misuse of teachings that should have continued to nurture peace and love in the world for at least another half-century.

Thirty years out we're seeing massive disenfranchisement of non-white voters, funneling of young non-whites into the armed forces by virtue of lack of opportunity in the country's economic system; one in 3 black or brown men living behind bars in the greatest incarceration rates in the nation's history; the closing of the doors to higher education by pricing it beyond the reach of all but the offspring of the elite, and, by deconstruction of the system of public education that insures that only the elite will be capable of ruling. Many Black and Brown youngsters are winnowed out of the system through tracking by the time they reach upper middle school. In the state of California 49% of Black and Brown students drop out by the tenth grade. Despite desparate attempts at salvation by many highly motivated teachers and administrators, they're already lost to the deadly competitive underground economy fueled by drugs, untargeted rage, resulting in senseless death on the streets. They're as often as not slain by little more than ignorance and/or lack of opportunity for anything resembling the good life.

I strongly believe that the deconstruction of the nation's public schools in favor of privatization has guaranteed that white dominance will be assured throughout most of the next 50 years, at least, unless those proverbial dots begin to come together in ways that the mainstream can see their meanings and begin to stop the cabal in its tracks. The privatization of prisons has turned them into schools for crime and people banks in which to deposit all those we've failed to educate or socialize into the mainstream.

The battle over illegal immigration at our southern borders while no attention is paid to the northern borders is clear evidence that there's a major skin color problem here. Why are not the Minute Men militias gathering along the Canadian border?

I have a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach that suggests that -- down deep -- I'm already convinced that it's too late to stop the juggernaut. There are so many fronts to be fought on simultaneously that the chance of winning back the country seems slight, indeed. Do we hit the streets to stop the war? Which war? Is there a chance in hell that joining the next march to Sacramento to challenge a corrupt governor's school budget cuts will make a difference? What about dealing with the micro? Is the macro simply too huge to take on without first creating enough man- and womanpower to assure success? And what will be the cost of waiting for some right time?

I don't have nearly enough understanding of the worldwide implications of what I seem to be culling from the almost hourly barrage of incoming news reports, but it's more and more difficult to find a local response to events that are so far beyond me. The temptation is to allow my mind to go numb and busy myself with what I can manage -- like can I really afford to continue to run my car on gasoline that's now hit $2.67/gallon? Or, why on earth did that wild-eyed young woman flee from her impending wedding? And, will West Wing and Judging Amy continue into the fall season and what on earth will happen to poor weird embattled Michael Jackson? And, will that obviously mentally-challenged young female soldier at Abu Graib really be forced to take the fall for higher ups who surely are culpable for the inhuman torture of prisoners? ...and why are there not women in the streets in protest?

Is the answer continuing to work through MoveOn and People for the American Way and reading TruthOut and Alternet, continuing to support the Southern Poverty Law Center and the ACLU? Watching for signs of other like-minded folks to link to in order to continue to mount the challenge that may turn things back on course? Do I keep drawing spiritual sustenance from those whom I continue to admire as the selfless heroes who still have the power to stop us in our tracks by their courage and derring-do? There are those stalwarts like Medea Benjamin of Code Pink, and Pacifica's Amy Goodman, attorney and political activist Van Jones; cartoonist, Aaron Magruder; Paul Miller aka DJ Spooky who is using the arts to create revolution; columnists, NY Times' Frank Rich and the Berkeley Daily Planet's Jesse Douglas Allen-Taylor whose incisive writings stir action in others? They've all learned to magnify their voices through their ability to inspire others.

Sounds pretty depressing, right? I know. It all feels so hopeless -- and my inability to watch the smirky arrogant faces of Carl Rove, George W. Bush, Rumsfeld, et al, is beginning to rob me of any sense of control. How on earth can I find any pathways toward action if I can't even bring myself to see or listen to the voices that are ruling the day? They've seized the media and rule the legislative process by blurring the lines between all avenues to power.

Perhaps the answer is to take another drive out into the wildflowers bursting into bloom along the creekbeds and leave world-saving to those better equipped to deal with it... .

Maybe I just need a shot of whatever-it-is-that-deadens pain... .

Maybe I've earned that right.

Perhaps that's the privilege of age, and has always been. Recognition that the work will never be done before it's time to leave is -- maybe -- what creates the grand design of civilization by leaving tracks to follow and then making a timely stage exit into the unknown. None of us gets to ring down the final curtain or declare the game over ...

unless ...

we've been convinced of the certainty of and the need to work diligently to fulfill a biblical prophecy known as -- "The Rapture" --, or,

can control the dropping of the next nuclear bomb
.


And when did I earn the right to speak only in declarative sentences? When I crossed the Rubicon of Old Ladydom and ...

if I can't do it now -- then when?

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

DJ Spooky AKA Paul Miller, an encore ...

Miller was the subject of an NPR interview with Michael Krasner this morning. Happened to catch it just as it was beginning and was again struck by the sheer brilliance of this young intellectual. Arrived at my destination before the program ended and sat in my car to hear it out. Discovered that he's on the faculty of the European University in Switzerland; that he has just released a new compact disc; and that he is appearing at Stanford this week, and elsewhere in San Francisco. His writings are profound and his influences about as eclectic as any I've ever known. He quotes from Robert Frost, Marcel Duchamp, Marshall McLuhan, Fifty Cent and Coltrane and the Beatles without pausing for breath. His is an amazing grasp of modern culture, and his use of metaphor is astounding.

It's been a while since I've visited his web site but I plan to do so just as soon as I figure out whether or not I'm up to understanding his use of language and the complexity of his ideas. It's not unlike those evenings of listening to Bill's friends from the university spouting emerging theories of physics or the esoterica of Tibetan Buddhist practices. I hear Miller with the same excitement that I felt then, the excitement that comes with discovery. It's not that he uses jargon or idiomatic speech. It's that there's a weakening grasp on my own language in a rapidly-changing world. His is the language of twenty years from now. Mine is from yesterday. I didn't imagine that I would ever need another.

I've not seen him picked by Charlie Rose yet up for an evening around that table, but expect to soon. This is the undisputed voice of the future.

Mark these words.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Great tour ... next stop the Galapagos Islands ...

Beautiful day on San Francisco Bay. The Delphinus (the Dolphin) was a sleek small boat that plies the waters on guided tours of the Pacific from Alaska to the Galapagos, year round. And what wouldn't I give for that trip to the magical land of the great stone heads, monstrous sea turtles, and wildlife found nowhere else on earth? Ronn Patterson, our skipper and owner of the charter service turned out to be a fascinating man who is an expert on whales. Look him up on the net. His resume is amazing. Sitting right behind him watching him expertly cut through the waters of what turned out to be a very shallow bay (12 feet for the most part with some places no more than five) was great. The channel deepeners are at work constantly keeping the lanes open for sailing. Listening in on his conversations with other guests made me want to sign up for the next trip. Maybe I could get used to the retirement thing, if I could spend the time traveling with these folks. Maybe that's for the second half of Octogenaria.

Among the guests was Steve Gilford, historian, author, filmmaker, with a long list of fine publications about Kaiser Permanente and the work of Henry J. We'd met before when I was working with the National Park Service last winter on that brief consultancy. It was Steve who did the research that turned up the fact that Kaiser had built and launched 17 ships, nationwide, that were named for African Americans of note. Three of those were built here in Richmond, the S.S. Robert S. Abbott, publisher of the Chicago Defender; the S.S. John Hope, a nationally-known educator; and the S.S. George Washington Carver.

In a free moment last November -- while eating a bagel I happened upon a log of the Kaiser launchings in the archives. In so doing, I discovered that there were actually several more that had escaped Gilford's scrutiny. There were three named for historically black colleges -- Fisk, Talledega, and Xavier. In addition I made the most exciting discovery -- that here in Richmond, at a time when racial segregation was for me a tragic and dismal fact of life, there was a ship named for the legendary black hero, Toussaint L'Overture -- the brilliant military strategist who, at the end of the 18th century led his people in a struggle that wrested Haiti from the control of the French in a bloody revolution. He was known as the black Napoleon. Oh to have been in the room when that decision was made! And where are the archives that would hold the documentation for that decision? What an intriguing story to explore, right?

I sent Gilford the new information so that he might add it to his research. I wondered how he'd missed it, and were there others that I'd missed? Then it dawned. Just as I had no knowledge of at least half of those named on his list because they were obviously named by whites and little known among western blacks, he would not have known some of those so honored because he was not black. For him those three colleges could easily escape notice, and unless one had some familiarity with Haitian history -- L'Ouverture also might easily be overlooked.

We'd not seen one another since that exchange of emails, so the chance to chat was a wonderful gift. We had a long talk over a picnic lunch at the end of the bay tour, and I learned a lot about Henry J. Kaiser that I'd not known previously.

Someone earlier in the day had asked whether I thought that Henry J was a racist? My answer was "no." He was an industrialist charged with the building of a great fleet of ships in order to fight a cruel war that threatened us all. He was not charged with conducting a social experiment. Much of what he created in the process brought enormous social change and altered lifelong attitudes -- and probably contributed to the Civil Rights struggles of the Sixties, but that was incidental to ship-building. He needed hands -- any kinds of hands -- and there wasn't the time or the energy to change public policy or to legislate morality during the course of the war. He took many thousands of poor people from the southern states who hadn't yet shared drinking fountains, restrooms, lunch counters, or cemetary space -- brought them to Richmond by any means possible, and molded them into a virtual army of homefront workers who met the goals of turning out a completed sea-ready ship every 4-5 days, over 700 in all. Had we not been totally consumed by working around the clock in a kind of perpetual motion machine to supply the needs of the South Pacific, we might have killed each other!

I was working in that Jim Crow union hall filing cards at a time that has since been romanticized as the time when those on the home front set aside their racism for the good of the nation. Not so. There were lessons to be learned then as there are now, and only by being honest about where we've been and what we've lived can we begin to realize the promises of this nation or make democracy worthy of exportation to others. The fact that African Americans were working, fighting, and dying in defense of rights we would not realize for another 20 years must never be forgotten. That fact lifts the level of our patriotism ever higher, and places even greater demands for some expression of appreciation for debts unpaid for far too long. It was not only the Civil War that needs that conversation about reparations. There is the granting of psychological "reparations" from WWII that may hold the key to the nation's eventual gaining of racial peace and harmony. I can judge this by the close-to-the-surface anger that still rises when I remember. Most of those memories are dying now, with those who lived them. Perhaps this new park will become the repository for the entire untold story -- the story that will keep us aware of the great human drama that was lived out here and that provided the impetus for the great social movements that played out in Selma, Montgomery, at the Lincoln Memorial when Dr. King stirred the nation's conscience, and that changed history.

Maybe that fact, alone, is justification for finally accepting the designation of being a "Rosie." I'm one of the carriers of that history, and this alone may be the real reason why spending this last part of my work life with the Park Service is important. Maybe such conversations in a natural setting without microphones or portfolios are far more important than might appear on the surface.

While representing the state I'd participated in several of the planning sessions with historians, architechs, engineers, designers, and park staff from other parts of the country. This was during the earliest stages of envisioning the completed Rosie the Riveter national park and moving it toward its eventual formation. My voice (small though it may be) has already helped to shape some of the attitudinal stuff -- break the stereotypes, and less in formal pronouncements or diatribes over race relations than casually over bagels and apple danishes shared during breaks.

Maybe this is one of the ways that the world gets changed, ultimately ... in tiny increments in many places by ordinary people like me -- being what we want to see in the world.

Maybe it's a bit more than simply having known Mable Kuss.

... and I'm sure it is on my more confident days.

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