Saturday, September 20, 2003

 A Song I wrote many years ago ... .

long before I'd learned that the child who lives behind my eyes would always remain to inform the grownup that I would become.

One soft and shining early morn ... I was 6,  I think, and wishing
for a friend ... a small one ... a bit like me
grownups seldom listen
It wasn’t long ... a butterfly came circling my head like a wreath
I held out my hand ... open ... gently
she lit!  I didn’t dare breathe ...
I learned that day as she held me there
with a touch lighter far than a kiss
she could only be held in an open palm
just think of the wonder of this!

My soft and shining early morn I bring back with my strummin’
my fingers bring truth through butterfly strings
truth of being not merely becoming.

One warm blue sunny afternoon with a sky strung with white ribbons
‘twas a listenin’ day ... a glistnin’ day
a day to be glad you’re eleven
to think of the day before you were born
and even the days before then
to wonder at chrysalis ... rings of a tree
spider webs ... seeds on the wind!

My warm blue sunny afternoon I bring back with my strummin’
my fingers bring truth through cloud ribbon strings
truth of being not merely becoming.

In the lavender evenings of the years in between
filled with hope ... filled with joy ... filled with sorrow
Many books I have read ... many folks I have known
would have me believe life’s tomorrow.

Still my butterfly mornings ... my cloud ribbon skies
 I bring back with my strummin',
worn fingers bring truth through still lovin’ strings
truth of being not merely becoming.

Participated two weeks ago in the master planning process of the most recently designated urban national park ... .

Due to the hard work of California Congressman George Miller and the due diligence of a small National Park Service (NPS) team named only a year or so ago, the work of choosing the historic components that best tell the story of the homefront support system created by Henry J. Kaiser is officially underway.

Not sure what you know about the work of the National Park Service, but in at least one of its aspects -- that of park creation -- the American story is told through carefully-selected still-standing "structures." For instance, there is the restoration of the New England mills which produced fabrics that clothed us (until recent times of off-shore manufacturing); the current work of restoring the encampments where the Japanese immigrants Japanese/Americans were interned in that shameful period; and San Francisco's Presidio, with buildings that were constructed before the Civil War are still standing; to name only a few.

Was involved many years ago in the morphing of Fort Mason as one of the symbols of war into what is now a most interesting symbol of peace -- "swords to plowshares" -- where the arts are celebrated in innovative ways through all of its disciplines.

That leads us to this recent 2-day session of meetings to begin the master planning for Rosie The Riveter WWII/Home Front National Historical Park.   Tthe park includes an impressive woman-designed (Cheryl Barton and Susan Schwartzenberg), memorial to the women who served in that war here on the home front. There is Kaiser Shipyard #3 where that horde of migrant workers was brought together to build the ships;, two giant Whirley Cranes (we'll talk about that later), the original Kaiser field hospital, the genesis of the national HMO movement and preventive healthcare; and the Maritime Child Development Centers with 24-hour-a-day childcare that later became the site of a community college, and much more and served as the progenitor for Head Start. All structures that will "tell the story."

Many are now too young to recall, but shortly after the first bombs dropped at Pearl Harbor, Henry J. Kaiser, whose company had by that time completed the construction of Grand Coulee and Hoover Dams, opened the first of the war-created shipyards in Richmond, California; commandeered the railroads and -- in an endless stream of railroad cars -- brought in thousands upon thousands of sharecroppers and tenant farmers from Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana, and Mississippi  to build the victory ships that would supply arms and the stuff of life to the Pacific war theater. In a mass production model called prefabrication borrowed from Henry Ford, he brought people with little or no skills and of all races to become the formidable shipbuilders in the race to win the war against world domination by Fascist forces and stop the Axis in its tracks.

You must remember the context in which all this occurred: These were Blacks and Whites who at the time were not even sharing drinking fountains back in their places of origin. These were men and women who had never shared tools nor been in the same work environments. This was during the time when women were expected to stay at home to bear and rear the children. Yet -- despite inexperience and in many instances -- little or no formal education or prior training -- they completed and launched a ship every five days (747 over the course of the war), working night and day, ceaselessly. A monumental feat deserving of a national park to honor their effort. These were the extraordinary ordinary folks whose contribution to saving of the world will now be celebrated.

This planning session was the second I've participated in, having been named to the team by my office and as liaison from the city as well. There were perhaps 35-40 experts in the room; marine engineers, city planners, architects , historians, developers, National Park Service staff, writers, scientists, and me. My name tag said (not field representative, nor city liaison, nor did it honor the fact that I represent the State of California which holds liens on much of the land that lies beneath the Ford Assembly Plant; an important component of the new national park).  My name tag said simply, "former Rosie." It was an innocent sin of omission. I'm aware that -- in this younger group I'm serving as a kind of icon of an era and valued for my "historic" value. But I was not to be allowed peer status. And, yes, I brought their attention to this oversight when the proper moment came.

Learned during this early planning session how history becomes revisionist.

At the war's end, and within only a few weeks (under prior agreement with the government), every one of the temporary war housing structures where African Americans had been assigned, were demolished. The discovery that -- along with the rest -- Ku Klux Klansmen had arrived and the occasional cross-burning was not uncommon. The "auxiliary"(segregated) union hall (Boilermakers A-36) was razed, in the expectation I suppose, that now that the war was over those black folks would just go home. Not so. Didn't happen. You can't go home again, at least not to a hostile south and dead end living. You put down your tools, picked up whatever it would take to earn your way, and went on living -- in place.

In the new plan before us, the planning team was taken on a bus tour of the buildings that will be restored as elements in the park. They're on scattered sites throughout the western part of the city. One of two housing complexes that has been preserved, Atchison and Nystrom Villages.  They consist of modest bungalows, mostly duplexes and triplexes that were constructed "for white workers only." In many cases, the descendants of those workers still inhabit those homes. They're now historic landmarks and are on the national registry as such.

Since we're "telling the story of America through structures," how in the world do we tell this one? And in looking around the room, I realized that it was only a question for me. It held no meaning for anyone else.

No one in the room realizes that the story of Rosie the Riveter is a white woman's story.  I, and women of color will not be represented by this park as proposed.  Many of the sites names in the legislation I remember as places of racial segregation -- and as such -- they may be enshrined by a generation that has forgotten that history.

There is no way to explain the continuing presence of the 40% African American presence in this city's population without including their role in World War II. There continues to be a custodial attitude toward this segment of the population, with outsiders unaware of the miracle of those folks who dropped their hoes and picked up welding torches to help to save the world from the enemy. Even their grandchildren have lost the sense of mission and worthiness without those markers of achievement and "membership" in the effort to save the world.

And, yes, I did tell them. And, I have no idea what they'll do with the information, but I did feel a sense of having communicated those thoughts effectively to well-meaning professionals who didn't know what in hell to do the information.

I was a Rosie who never saw a ship during that time. The little union hall that I worked in as a young file clerk has long since been destroyed.  It was far enough away from the shipyards to have gotten lost over time as memories dimmed. My memory has either censored all relationship to the period, or I never felt a part of the war effort at all. I did not arrive west at the start of the war. Having grown up in the Bay Area, I was an anomaly.

My family had come from New Orleans at the end of World War I to join my grandfather who preceded them. My maternal ancestors had originally immigrated to the Americas in 1631 from France by way of Nova Scotia and Maryland. My father's people arrived before the Louisiana Purchase, also from France. And on both sides, were the ancestors who had come in the early 1600s as chattel, in the Middle Passage, untraceable through the dark curtain of slavery.

I am a part of the story now being told , and I will do everything that I can to restore the missing chapters ... but the challenge is daunting, indeed.

Friday, September 19, 2003

Neglected to mention that there is no way for the Clark Ridge crew to know of my decision to testify on their behalf at next week's hearing at the Planning Commission... . 

Not unless they've read it here, that is. That's still a secret twixt me and thee! The gift was simply thoughtfulness on their part, and deeply appreciated in these cruel times. Just one those senseless acts of kindness... .
Received today a lovely framed photograph from my trail guides from the Clark Ridge climb... .

It showed us standing -- six adults (and one infant asleep in a backpack) standing abreast in front of that handsome old cypress high atop the ridge. Nicest thing was that the person who sent it to me said, "...we've named the old log where you stopped to recover from the difficult ascent -- "Betty's Rest" What a lovely tribute!

They couldn't have known that Monday is my birthday, and that this gift marks the day in a rather remarkable way.

What a climb!
Planning Commission meeting went well (boring, but productive) in the way of most such gatherings ... . 

The council chamber was filled with folks living in the immediate vicinity of the proposed 300+ upscale housing development. Only thing exceptional about this was that -- unlike many of the areas in our district -- there are more experts per acre than one might expect to find anywhere else on the planet. There were scientists, attorneys, geologists, hydrologists, planners, teachers, contractors, Greens and Sierra Club members; all folks who have chosen to live in a fairly rustic rural/urban community where open space is still open and wildlife still range free. Much of the land lies in an unincorporated area that borders the East Bay Regional Park District-owned high ridge that lies within city limits. This is a formidable group with the strength to take on the unsuspecting developers.

In preparation for this hearing on the EIR, last month I drove out and took a hike up a long and steep trail with about six others that led to the crest that sketches the horizon at the uppermost edge of the hills that separate sky from land high over the San Francisco Bay Area. Magnificent! The most incredible vista one can imagine. It was on a day when only the familiar finger of fog that creeps through the Golden Gate interrupted the endless stretch of blue sky... .

It was a steady upward climb (luckily, I'd been warned to wear proper hiking boots) that led past slide areas, wetlands (identifiable by what grew there), gigantic trees (one 150-year old cypress -- listed in the national tree register but unmarked for saving on the EIR). It would take twelve humans standing shoulder to shoulder to encircle its trunk. There were boggy places that will surely become ponds at the first autumn rain, and signs everywhere of hidden wildlife -- with hawks soaring high overhead.

As we neared the higher elevations, my guides pointed out the city of Petaluma, a city that lies many miles away to the west, between the bay, the Coast Range hills, and the Pacific.  On a clear day the Sierra Nevada mountains are visible to the east.  At the top I learned that this trail (as we entered East Bay Park's Ridge Trail) is the beginning point of one that wends its way from here at the top of the world all the way to the city of Pleasanton -- more than 30 miles away and a three day leisurely walk that looks down on the entire San Pablo and San Francisco Bays; the five bridges that span them, and all of the connecting cities and towns.

Recalled that one of my dear friends, one of those who traveled to Georgia to protest at the gates of the infamous School for the Americas had recently taken that walk while escorting two of the nuns who'd been arrested there for committing daring acts of civil disobedience. Together they chose to take the three days prior to incarceration at Santa Rita (in Pleasanton) to walk from the city of Berkeley -- in meditation -- along that ridge all the way to prison. This is a privileged woman of principle who had traveled south to join the protest, was not arrested, but -- because of her strong commitment to the cause of freedom and need to act against the violence of the world -- did the trek with her dear friends.

I thought of Marilyn on my own walk that day and wondered if I had the courage to follow my conscience that far? Maybe ...

Last night I thought of my friend, as we sat listening to the deliberations of the Commission, and knew that -- were the vote taken (no quorum present so it was postponed until next week), I would have testified against the development. That ridge must be kept open for everyone and not privatized for only those who would claim the views as their own simply because their incomes would allow them to. No contest.

In the process of leveling and grading, the proposed construction will bury five creeks(!), eliminate mature trees, destroy habitat, hide slide areas from unsuspecting new landowners, and close off what no human should keep from public use.

The necessary state angle? And there must be one in order for me to interfere with what is clearly a city matter -- will be the relationship between the many groups I meet with below at sea level (Rheem Creek, Cerritos, Friends of the Five Creeks, the Urban Creeks Council, Friends of Baxter Creek, etc.,) where the work of daylighting is being carried out daily by diligent non profits and dedicated volunteers. It is as though no one below is aware that, up at the source where those wetlands feed into the watershed, ...far below as the creeks flow into the bay, they might simply die of thirst and lose the ability to serve as habitat for wildlife. This is larger than any city. This is a state matter because it crosses boundaries and effects the greater public good.

This also keeps any future Marilyns from being closed off from the magnificence of that heavenly ridge trail ... .She and I will talk about all that on the drive next Wednesday to attend a meeting of NOIT (Not In Our Town) in the Diablo valley at the eastern end of our  Assembly district. These are the times when I realize how frequently my decisions are based on the personal rather the public considerations. Maybe that's not such an unusual thing -- only rarely recognized and owned.

Such is the life of an aging but still effective public servant.

Thursday, September 18, 2003

What a wondrous discovery is this ... . !

My Mac has been the recipient of my almost daily chronicles for a number of years, and, leading the very busy life that I do -- I asked my little magic box for little more than to gather up the thoughts and -- when appropriate, hold them for me a day or so. But I discovered over time that the process really was a way of allowing me to "empty" my mind in preparation for tomorrow's "deposits." Lacking the discipline to actually apply myself to keeping a journal, I rarely would keep those thoughts longer than it took to write them down, so had few ways to measure the steady progression toward my goals -- even the immediate ones. Wasteful and mindless, I think.

I am an elder. Working in as a field representative for a member of the 14th Assembly District of the California State legislature.  I fully enjoy being a "conduit for power" to those who -- often have little and expect less. Am far enough up the political ladder to touch the sources of power, but as a "lowly" rep, bear none of the responsibility of office. Great place to be, actually, and far more free to act on my political impulses than those who were actually elected to wear the mantle.

Since our assembly district encompasses parts of two counties and about 9 cities, there's a wide variety of opportunities to impact much of what takes place within it.

My work involves environmental and watershed issues; the developmentally and physically disabled communities; master planning for a new urban national park; the redevelopment of a 2-mile major urban corridor that involves a new civic center, a proposed arts & entertainment district, assisting in the reconfiguration of what was a three-story former hospital that is being converted into a human resources center, etc. It's an exciting and fulfilling way to spend a life that I'm figuring is now at the short end.  However, retirement remains distant despite advancing years.

After I've had a chance to read through entries by others and become accustomed to this format, I'm looking forward to exchanging experiences with you.

I'm off now to attend a meeting of the Planning Commission in support of a group of environmentalists who are seeking to halt a huge housing development that will take over the highest ridge in the hills above us; fill in four or five creeks and flatten known slide areas in a geologically fragile high wetlands. It's a city and not a state problem, so my role will not be giving testimony in the hope of challenging the environmental impact report (EIR), but simply to sit next to those who are giving testimony in order to imply state support. (Clever, right?)

Stay tuned.

(and hello!)

Photo:  Governor Pete Wilson's wife, Gail, doing the presentation at the "Women of the Year" ceremony before the California State Legislature.  I was an honoree in 1996.