Here I sit ... properly uniformed and more than an hour too early to leave
for the Rockridge Library ... .
At two o'clock I'm scheduled to speak before an audience of the San Francisco Bay Area's activist feminists. I need to climb into my Rosie the Riveter persona and talk about the role of women of color on the home front during WWII. Me. Betty the file clerk who never saw a ship!
In order to prepare for today as well as the next several weeks of role-playing, I've been reading feminist literature well into the night (Emily Yellin, Gretchen Lemke-Santangelo, Karen Anderson). Somewhere along the line I've come to the conclusion that -- whether or not I felt worthy of the attention -- a soapbox has been created upon which I now stand. I can turn away, or, I can use the power to make a statement for at least some of us. It's all so subjective. There is no way to speak for a generation. And -- I have the uncomfortable feeling that I'm only here by default -- having outlived most of those other voices.
It brought to mind something I'd not thought about in years:
It was in the Sixties. The drums of the coming Civil Rights Movement were easily heard by those who knew what to listen for. The McCarthy Un-American Activities Committee was meeting in San Francisco. There were demonstrations everywhere and the one on Cadillac Row was most often in the news. There were many African Americans seen on the daily television news.
We were living then in the suburbs (all-white) and I found myself -- in my liberal Unitarian- Universalist community -- being constantly asked to explain it all. At first it puzzled me. I knew no more than what I read in the daily newspapers; as they did.
One day I drove to the church office to talk with Rev. Aron Gilmartin (my dear friend) to tell him that I was planning to go to San Francisco that day to join the demonstrators. I feared that I might be arrested and that my children and my family wouldn't know where I was. When he asked for my reason I found myself saying, " ... I live out here miles from the scene of the action. I'm being asked everyday for explanations about what's happening by my white suburban friends. If it it I who is being asked the questions, then it is I who must go there and find the answers. This may be the role of a middle-class suburban black citizen. I'm living among those who hold the power to bring the changes being demanded by those who are demonstrating. I need to become informed. No one is going to cede power to a guy with a brick in his hand.
Maybe that's what today is about. My role on the home front effort was barely minimal. Filing change of address cards and collecting dues in a powerless Jim Crow union hall may have been most forgettable - but even there I was an unknowing witness to history being made.
Today the more memorable (white) "Rosies" who actually wielded the rivet guns that built the ships are rare and in many cases, no longer able to participate in such events.
If it is I who hold the power of the soap box -- then (maybe) it is I who should voice that history for those no longer able to; warts and all.
We were a heroic generation of women; and maybe not always for the reasons that history has assigned to us.
Rose this morning after a sleepless night fully intending to go back to re-read some of the lines in those marvelous books that I'd highlighted so carefully in preparation.
Instead I came into my den -- turned on my computer -- clicked into one of my favorite sites -- online Solitaire -- and have been playing for all of the hours since!
Now it's nearing one o'clock and I'm back at my keyboard gathering my thoughts -- and feeling overwhelmed but ready to set out into another rainy day ...
Maybe all I need to do is tap into whatever is waiting behind my eyes ...
then I'll listen for the music ... .
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
I really shouldn't wait so long to post ... so much is happening in my life right now ...
The effects of the AP (Associated Press) Rosie coverage are sweeping across the country as newspapers pick up the stories in their own time and as space permits. The interviews were done many months ago -- some time last summer -- but almost every day there is another article published somewhere that brings more attention to our work. It begins to appear that Rosie the Riveter is enjoying a revival and I'm being swept along with her. That, combined with the Martin Luther King holidays and Black History Month, has created a demand that has catapulted me into competition with Brittany Spears for news space! You simply wouldn't believe ... .
Last week it was an "at home" interview for a television series on East Bay Area black pioneers (complete with a lead story and photos in the local press), and on the coming Saturday I am the speaker for the Black History Month program for the National Organization for Women (NOW) and a sponsoring group of six other women's groups including the Association of University Women; the National Women's History Project; Women of Color; etc., which has me hopelessly intimidated. I've been interviewed by Women'sRadio.com; will serve on a panel at the Oakland Museum on the subject of the role of African American women in WWII on February 25th; and I'm the luncheon speaker for the West County Welfare Department at the end of February. In addition I'll be speaking for the spring luncheon of the Association of University of California retirees in mid-March and as the Women's History Month lecturer for the US Department of Agriculture as well. A formidable list of activities and one which has my children and grandchildren shaking their heads in utter disbelief.
Next week I'll travel with two other members of our staff to the Grand Canyon for a two-week training course for the National Park Service. I've never seen the Grand Canyon so it's thrilling to anticipate. However, I found myself resistant at first on the basis that -- as a taxpayer -- I strongly objected to having my tax dollars used for such a silly purpose. After all, what in the world could possibly justify someone my age being trained for anything? I'm at the far end of a long career and have received such an extended stay already that any more can hardly be justified. It was humbling to hear these words, "...it works in more ways than one, Betty. Perhaps students might benefit through interactions with you." Another way to give back? For whatever reason, it felt comforting and most flattering to hear those words and no further urging was needed. My son, Bob, has agreed to come up from San Juan Bautista to stay in my apartment to be near Dorian, and I'm free to go. I've never been away from her for so long. So I'll fly out on the morning of February 11th and will report when I get back on the 23rd.
A sobering development: Received a call at my desk this afternoon from a member of staff from the Oakland Museum who was calling to complete plans for the public event on February 25th. She was asking if I would be willing to do a promo for a local television channel -- but mostly she was calling to let me know that I am the only panelist scheduled to appear on February 25th as of today. She wanted me to suggest another women of color (or two) who might appear on stage with me to talk about the war years. It sounded strange. I'd naturally assumed that the panel would consist of several women ... then it came. "We had two other women scheduled but they both died since the invitation was extended some months ago."
How bewildering ... .
Women of the period of WWII are dying off now which makes me, officially, a survivor. That's a new thought. I guess I've never really thought of the word in connection with myself. I'm becoming increasingly aware that death extends no special privileges to minor celebrity nor to good works. That, along with the billions of departed souls over time, I, too, am inexorably tied to this cosmic waltz and payment may soon be exacted for having participated in the dance.
Tonight I'm feeling quite vulnerable ... and old ...
but I can still hear the music ... .
Photo: Crossing the bridge at Selma, Alabama, and Rosa Parks on that fateful afternoon that launched the Montgomery bus boycott.