Saturday, October 11, 2003

Received the gift of an entire day!

It seems that -- in the confusion of Friday-ness -- I lost David's message on my office voice mail and twisted the dates for the granddaughter's event at the East Bay Center for the Performing Arts. It was not today, after all, but next weekend. You have no idea what a gift it is to learn upon awakening that I had an entire day of not-one-commitment-and-hours-on-end-of-time to squander!

Called the local spa and booked myself a facial. This is my idea of total decadence, and it's about time, too. Signed up for the whole schmear, packs and oils, and aromatherapy and soft music, patting and stroking, and fingers connecting with those little nodes of bad energy that I didn't know were there until probed... It all took one-and-a-half hours of long overdue pampering. Finished it off with a couple of rides on my favorite escalator (Macy's) in the local mall and a great big banana/mango/coconut smoothie.

Stopped in at an outrageously expensive dress shop and tried on two equally outrageously expensive dresses (black and slinky but much too short), just for the hell of it! (That's what happens when you watch two successive re-runs of Sex and the City without pause. It skews your wiring, and you forget that life's expectations of you have been dramatically lowered over the past few years. ) But for a few minutes there, Carrie Bradshaw and "forty-something" Betty weren't all that far apart, and if I squint at just the right angle and the light isn't too bright ... Actually, fading memory combined with increasing myopia serves the illusion fairly well. Did notice when I reached home, though, that my freckles are growing and in some places have united with other freckles in a new pattern that I don't seem to have noticed before.

It's probably good that there's a world to save, or I'd surely get lost in trivial pursuits, and completely lose my sense of purpose.

Stopped in at See's Candy to pick up a cuppla chunks of vanilla walnut fudge, and headed for my apartment -- but not before stopping in at Circuit City for a new jazz CD that I've been wanting (Diana Krall) -- and to Walgreens for a new super promising Sun Block recommended by the "aromatherapist." (Didn't know there were such people or careers.) Every now and again ya just gotta get out in the real world and experience these things. ;-)

Tomorrow I promise to climb back into my harness, knit my brows appropriately, complete my report on the Patriot Act (waiting in my briefcase) so that I can prep my boss for a panel appearance next week. Tonight I'll just get into my peejays and watch Trading Spaces and consider that this day has provided some balance in my often duty-bound life of service. But do you know what? I'd have it no other way.

Friday, October 10, 2003

Stopped by the Marina on the drive home tonight.

Have gotten into the habit of taking one-hour vacations at frequent intervals of late. When I'm lucky, I catch windsurfers out on the bay -- looking like dragonflies skimming the water when they're off in the distance. When close up, the sight of young bronzed bodies pressing against the wind in precarious positions, but never stressing the risk factor that goes with most sports, but instead, always seeming to blend with the environment -- never to compete with it. Windsurfing seems to me to be more closely related to dance. Today there were several beautiful and colorful sails on the water, and it was lovely to add them to the sum of my day and an impossible week as an antidote to the madness. One of the joys of living here on the edge of the continent, at the edge of social and political change, and where the horizon is without end ... where only the Marin Headlands separates us from Japan and the China coast.

Second son, David, called a few moments ago with a reminder that tomorrow his little dancers are in performance at the East Bay Center for the Performing Arts. They're 5 and 7 and are in their third year of dance (if you can imagine). This fall they will begin ballet training after having completed "Dance Explorations" (okay, so that means the Bunny Hop, Ballin' the Jack, and other impressive movement "experiences"). They've had two years of African dance under a wonderful teacher and this year added drumming to their repertoire. They are also students at the Berkeley Arts Magnet School, and are doing marvelously. Tomorrow night we'll gather at the Center for a dinner show in a community of proud kids and parents.

The EBCPA is a 35 year-old institution that is located in the heart of the Iron Triangle in the old downtown part of Richmond. It serves (until recent budget cuts and the elimination of the California Arts Council) about 2100 children in the schools, and an additional number at the center, itself. There are generous scholarships so that no child is left out, and the racial and socio-economic mix is as broad as one would find anywhere on the planet, save maybe the UN, itself. Do explore their web site. Have served on the Board of Directors for many years now, and find it one of the balancing factors in my life, a way to deal with some of the negativity that I can't control.

Which reminds me, tomorrow I'll tell you something about David. And, there's a David Song, too, as I recall. This is Friday, and I'm needing to log off and re-fuel. It's been a devastating week, and I've got wounds to lick!

Will look up the link for the EBCPA, too, and I do invite you to visit.
Attended the Richmond Chamber/Arts Commission Mixer last evening,

and it took only a few conversations to sense that the chaos of Washington is deeply effecting the local scene. Wondering if that's being reflected across the country? Talked with a number of city officials and staff and picked up what feels like a general deterioration in the ability to plan beyond a few months. For instance, Richmond has adopted a half-year budget. That's unheard of for a city of this size. It is so desperate for sales tax revenue, that little attention is being paid to the negative effects of "big box" retail on small businesses in the city, and it's small business that employs the most workers.

We're at the moment watching WalMart beginning to gather signatures in order to put on the next ballot, something that will make it possible for this national behemoth to override local ordinances against SuperCenters that devote more than a limited amount of space to foods. It's an important matter, since they are known to obliterate other markets from the a wide area. And, since the other chains pay higher wages and have more benefits, the unions are fighting hard to keep them out. Yet, the need for sales tax revenue is so great in these tough economic times, that -- unlike neighboring cities that have used zoning to screen them out -- Richmond appears to be actively wooing them.

The city has seen a 30% layoff in staff and is facing another major cut in January. The promise of WalMart jobs is sweetening the pot for this strapped city, but those who need work most won't be touched since drug-testing will eliminate many at the bottom of the economic ladder. And you have to figure that this city, like many inner cities, is seeing an increase in abuse and addiction due to increasing hopelessness, joblessness, and a failing public school system that's left so many illiterate and ill-equipped for the workforce. The streets are becoming meaner and the murder rate rising with each day. One has to figure that drugs are being used, cynically, as a pacification program since few of the poor have the wherewithal to import narcotics into the urban core. That means that some much higher up are the suppliers; higher ups who are never touched by law enforcement.

With hundreds of thousands of the poor now beginning to reach the lifetime limit (in January) on welfare (Welfare Reform), more and more will fall prey to the underground economy fueled by drugs. It's inevitable. More will become homeless, and still more won't survive at all. It is impossible to build enough prisons to house the "offenders," and we're eons away from treating what's happening on the streets as a crises in public health. This county has about 35 beds available for in-patient drug treatment and thousands in need. The wait for males is many months, and -- to my knowledge -- there are still no treatment facilities for women, though one is on the drawing boards for next year.

Even the "micro" is overwhelming. In fact, it's hard now to get beyond, "Osama bin Who?"

Thursday, October 09, 2003

Heard a very disturbing report today ... .

It appears that the governor-elect is considering cutting back the legislature to part-time as the way to balance off his promises of a rollback of the license taxes and other bold promises. When I asked if this was even within the realm of possibility, I was assured that it is. Hope it's just a trial balloon ... .

The implication here is that the legislature will be reduced to participating in the budget process and little else. It also would mean that the state's power will lie in the hands of the governor and the lobbyists, since term limits have already robbed the legislature of its institutional memory. No one in the Assembly can serve more than six years, a mere interruption in one's career. Can you imagine what it will be like if -- even those terms were shortened so that few will have the ability to take the necessary time out to learn the process of governance? The system will have been gutted for all intents and purposes. One shudders to think of how the power shift to the governor would effect us. I don't think the phrase "power grab" can be over-used at this point.

In California, the initiative process has been creating havoc since Prop. 13.  It changed our ability to fund education from local taxes and distorted the entire tax structure. Since that time a series of state initiatives have carried mandates that leaves less and less revenue in the general fund for the legislature to budget. The realization of this fact helped kill Prop. 53 that would have caused us to take -- off the top -- moneys for roads, bridges and infrastructure, before a dollar could be assigned to health and education. Maybe we're beginning to understand that. Perhaps, next we'll begin to see that we've harmed ourselves with term limits and will repeal that awful ruling. After all, that came into being as a way to rid the legislature of then Speaker, Willie Brown. Willie's doing fine, thank you, as San Francisco's mayor, while we're still stuck with that onerous exit strategy of long ago.

Our office has been quiet today. We're all disbelieving present reality. At some point we must be able to deal with the changing of the guard in Sacramento. It will effect us, surely, but the one we represent is still away (following the bruising last session), and will return on Monday. We'll get a read on the capitol's expectations by the end of the week. Meanwhile, I plan to stay in the micro and avoid any on air encounters with anyone in any office higher than mayor!

Have gotten into the habit of using my remote to zap Ashcroft, Bush, Powell (both), Rumsfeld, and now Schwarzenegger! Maybe I'll have to give up CSpan completely, except for Booknotes.

If I hear any more about this proposal to cut back on the time of the legislative sessions, I'll let you know. Hope it's only a rumor, but then I recall a time when I heard the possibility of our electing the Terminator was "only a rumor," too.
Just didn't have the heart to write anything yesterday ... .

The election took its toll, and a kind of numbness has set in. Will probably crash out of this in a few days, and be ready to react. For the moment, though, the lack of feeling is a blessing. Some of this comes from the deep sense of the "too late-ness" for me. After a long life of watching the pendulum swing left to right -- then right to left -- I should be finding comfort in the knowledge that this, too, shall pass. But this is different. There is little or no chance that I have enough time to see history self-correct.

There's another disturbing factor. Over the past several decades, that pendulum has failed to reach the left side -- but has swung right to middle-left, from right to right-left, center to right, and finally, right. The Left side of the national debate has all but disappeared. It would have completely disappeared except for the fact that a great influence in our lives is the Bay Areas' and the country's very first public network, Pacifica Radio, which surely has influenced the political climate of the San Francisco Bay Area and all of the 9 counties that make it up. We totally rejected the recall. Arnold did not win the north coast, but was resoundingly defeated here. The statistics are dramatic. Speaking "truth to power" has kept us in balance, and given us a sense of connectedness to others of like mind.

One might wonder why this huge state doesn't divide into two? The southern end of the state is the most populous and therefore has the greatest representation in the legislature. All of the celebrity representatives have come from that part of the state where star power counts. When I think about it, there should have been little surprise in the outcome on Tuesday. After all, they've sent to Washington, song and dance man, George Murphy, Sonny Bono, Ronald Reagan, among others, and now The Terminator.

The maps in today's newspapers shows that the Bay Area and all of the northern coast voted solidly against the recall. This would explain the optimism we were all feeling in the days leading to election day. We've never seen greater participation. In the office where I did phone-banking on election day, people were lined up waiting for a turn at the phones. There were many volunteers doing poll watching and driving folks to the polls. We were ecstatic at the turnout which was unprecedented (80% in San Francisco!). We were surrounded by a world of people who shared our concerns and our enthusiasm for the process.

On election day I went from the phone banking to city hall. As a member of the Arts Commission, I needed to participate in the presentation of our annual report at the regular meeting of the city council. That was at 7:30. Drove home immediately afterward to find the vote count well underway and concession speeches already being made. I was in shock! How could this be? Slowly undressed and climbed into bed without watching the painful process unfolding to a national audience that vacillated between shock, ridicule, and disbelief .

The words playing against the back of my closed eyelids as I fell off to sleep were, "...and California was to serve as the bulwark of resistance to the president's re-election campaign."
Dropped off to a troubled sleep after a brief cry. Just too tired to spend any more energy on "the world."

Today I go back to dealing with the micro. The macro will have to take care of itself. So today it's the Barbara Alexander Academy project, and tonight the Arts Commission and Chamber of Commerce Mixer at the Convention Center. Will reel in my vulnerability and resist the temptation to watch the political carnage that is bound to take place as the process of transition begins. State Treasurer, Secretary of State, and Senator Pro Tem John Burton are probably salivating at the thought of peeling back the state of the state to this neophyte cocky governor-designate. Would love to be a fly on the wall in the Capitol over the next week or so. Watch for some dramatic back-peddling as Ahnold begins to see what he's stepped into. It will be sobering. But maybe not nearly as sobering as the pictures in my head right now as life continues to rival the most bizarre of scenarios.

Having put my worry into words, ... feeling better. Short of joining some movement to divide the state just below Big Sur (couldn't bear to give that up), there's little that I can think of to do.


Tuesday, October 07, 2003


It's been a full day starting with voting before heading for my office, meeting with a member of the Contra Costa County Board of Education at the site of what may become the new Barbara Alexander Academy (next fall), then to stop off for a short visit with a friend from my youth -- Jackie. That was the best part of the day, by far.

We quickly picked up where we left off some years ago with scarcely a breath between sentences. I'd forwarded the link to my blog a few days ago, and learned that she'd been up well past midnight going over the words and remembering. Out came the albums and into the past we quickly found ourselves. I'm so hopeful that she and others who are still in the area will make themselves available to be interviewed for this important oral history. She agreed that it should happen, and maybe we can try at some time in the near future -- to get together in a group and reminisce with a tape recorder and video camera in the room. That thought came to me as I drove to the Democratic headquarters a few miles away.

Learned almost as soon as I arrived that there is an unprecedented number of Californians making their way to the polling places. This morning I had to stand in line for the first time in memory before casting my ballot. It feels hopeful. As I worked from the call sheets over the next several hours, was further heartened by the number of people who told me that they'd already voted. "Long lines at the voting polls!" is what the radio is blaring even as I write!

In our usual way, maybe California is reacting to the ridicule that's been heaped on us by the rest of the country, the insult of the last presidential election (Democrats outnumber others by a long way), and just doing what we do best, lead the way into the future! (Don't I wish!)

Came home to grab a bite then off to an award ceremony as a member of the Arts Commission (at city hall) at seven o'clock. It's just as well. The wait between now and the time that the polls close will be unbearable. When I get back the vote count will have begun. Will watch the returns on my computer (Secretary of State's website - it's public so you can use it, too), but will have my television tuned to the coverage on the Comedy Channel (seriously). The Daily Show cast is doing a Special that will help to celebrate if all goes well, and make defeat bearable -- if it doesn't.

Let us pray!

Monday, October 06, 2003

As you may be aware ...,

we're on the eve of the big special election, and everyone I know is working madly to bring in the vote. We share a sense of real desperation with a touch of disbelief that the governor we elected only last November may be ousted in favor of a neophyte body builder! Something has gone terribly wrong with the process, and no one seems to understand just why. It's pretty frightening.

Find myself wondering why those 15 women waited so long to come forward? And, these are legitimate charges by credible women, but we've grown so accustomed to these last minute hit pieces that cynicism kicks in and makes some doubt the validity of the complaints. Not so with those I work with, because we are just familiar enough with some of the sources of news, that we know these particular reports are legitimate. But we've certainly seen the times when they weren't, and that they emanated from all camps, liberal and conservative. It's the nature of the political process in these times of mass media and deep pockets.

Tomorrow we'll walk precincts and do the phone-banking, help to get voters to the polling places and do anything and everything humanly possible to stop the recall. I admit that -- to some extent -- I find the ritual exciting and usually relish this exercise in democracy. This time it's different. I'm running scared. Despite my feeling that those polls cannot be right because not one person that I know has been polled. No one has asked my intentions. Maybe there are millions like me out there who have not been counted and who will be the no voters. But then I worry about the more than one million who had already voted before the disclosures of the gross sexual misbehaviors of Mr. Schwarzenegger had been revealed by the L.A. Times. I cannot believe that most women voters won't be turned off by those charges, but in the few interviews I've seen on the tube in the last hour, many are accepting his denials that this is no more than "puke politics!" (his words). What an un-statesman-like praise that is! He should fire his PR firm, or they should muzzle him! What a horror show this has become.

I'm persuaded by Greg Palast's last column that links Arnold with Enron and Ken Lay. It sounds reasonable. The story is that there were several meetings earlier in the year when the pending court case in which Governor Gray Davis and Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamente are suing in the name of the state in order to recover $9 billion dollars in energy overcharges. It appears that the vanity recall initiated by Darrel Issa afforded the opportunity to insert Arnold into the ballot process, crowd Issa out, and try to capture the state house and kill the lawsuit at the same time.

There are some problems with that for me, I'm not sure that -- even if their ploy is successful and Arnold makes it into the Capitol -- he's faced with a Democratic administration -- from top to bottom -- both houses (Assembly and Senate) -- so how that could possibly be managed is a mystery to me. However, the present administration in Washington (where this is assumed to be coming from) hasn't got all that great a record on exit strategies, or follow up plans. The only one they've pulled off successfully was the seating of the president, but that took the Supreme Court to accomplish!

On Wednesday I'll try to get back into my "past lives," but over the next 48 hours I'm expecting to be preoccupied with the immediacy of this $70 million dollar recall election in a state that's already facing a $9 billion dollar shortfall in the coming year. The lion's share of our staff time was taken up with the budget only a few months ago. We're still smarting from the pressure of that. The new budget process will begin in only a few months. In order to keep on top of that, I'm sure that the governor's staff is deep in the preliminary stages of planning even as the state struggles with this untimely election. The budget must be in place in early spring. The effects of this craziness will be profound, and the voters have no idea of just how devastating this additional loss can be in a time of a national crisis in the economy.

Not sure why, but I do have a feeling that -- just maybe -- the polls are skewed by the media, and that the vote will be closer than expected. I cannot believe California will not turn back the recall. But, either way, look for this to eventually be settled in the courts. We may not have the outcome for many days. And, it wouldn't surprise me to learn that many of those who voted absentee early will be sorry that they did so.

Now I'm off to do some phone-banking tonight, and probably won't write again until after this agony is past.

Vote no on the Recall!

No on Prop. 54!

No on Prop. 53!

If you need an explanation, send me an email.

Sunday, October 05, 2003

After a long and lazy Saturday ... .

enjoyed a fine dinner at a local Cantonese restaurant with a cousin and dear friend, Doug Allen. We've forged a deep and warm cross-generational friendship that seems to enrich us both each time we connect.

Doug is one of many writers in our family. He is a reporter and columnist for the Berkeley Daily Planet at the moment, but in the past has written for the San Jose Mercury News, the Metro Papers, the East Bay Express, and more. He has served as literary critic for a number of publishers from time to time, and is deep in the writing of his first novel. We talked about that a bit last night and I will be one of his readers, before he submits his manuscript to a publisher.

He brought along a copy of a document that I've been wanting to have for my family archives for ages. I'd seen it about a year ago at a family reunion and coveted it ever since.

It's a letter written in response to an inquiry from (cousin) Ivy Y. Lewis, another of our family elders. At that time Ivy was compiling a wealth of materials left by her father (and my first husband's uncle):

July 27, 1977
Dear Mrs. Lewis:

By California law, each California County has issued a biennial publication, the Great Register of Voters. You may be interested to know that Edward West Parker is listed in the 1872 Great Register of San Francisco County Voters as having registered to vote on April 15, 1870, the very first day of registration under the 15th amendment to the U.S. Constitution. He listed his occupation as a boot maker; his birthplace as Virginia; and his residence as 786 Harrison Street. He gave his age as 54 on that date of registration.

You may be interested to know that my card catalog was published a few months ago in three volumes. Copies have been presented both to the East Bay Negro Historical Society, Oakland, and the African American Historical Society, San Francisco, in case you may wish to see it.

Some years ago, Mr. Williams L. Patterson told me that he had seen several copies of the San Francisco Elevator (1860s - 1880s) which were then held by local relatives of his. It occurs to me that these copies should be carefully indexed for the historical information contained in them. If you learn of the whereabouts of these papers and can secure permission to index them, I certainly would be most interested in so doing.

With best wishes,

Sincerely yours,

James Abajian

If you can imagine -- after looking at the dates on these yellowed pages -- that this was not very long after the State of California was chartered and entered the union, it may give you some sense of how hard it was for some of us to relate to the great consternation that accompanied the passage of the Voter's Rights legislation some 60 years later!

After returning from dinner, Doug and I talked late into the night. He'd brought along another photograph that showed about 18 lovely, animated young women in their early twenties. It was taken at some social event of a club I once belonged to, as did his mother, Maybelle. It was known as "The Women" (Inspired by the old classic film). It reminded me of something I wrote about a few days ago -- about my world prior to World War II -- and the social context in which we lived. There I was in this photograph standing at the far right end of the group, and for a moment I recognized (viscerally) the young Betty of that first oral history interview. This was she, and she seems very far away now. So much life has been lived. So many bridges crossed. So much pain endured. And so much joy, overall... .

During our conversation, I realized that our childhood and youth had been not unlike that of any other immigrant groups. The Portuguese, Italians, Irish, etc., whose families had come from other forms of oppression, from other corners of the world. Many of our families had escaped the pain of slavery and Jim Crow by moving west, and many of us were the first generation to grow up in a place where racial segregation didn't yet have a firm footing. Like some of our offspring today who take civil rights for granted for the most part, we reveled in our youth with as much pride and abandon as any other youngsters of any other ethnic background.

The children of that pioneer Black population might have made a fascinating study of the kind of world African Americans would have produced for themselves, were the chains of racial prejudice not used to suppress and deny the natural upward spiral enjoyed by most other groups of immigrants in the general population. This may have been an important opportunity missed. We've begun to die off now, and there aren't too many of my generation still around to work with, but what few there are should by all means be recorded for the sake of history. And, like many other pre-World War II Californians, we too are waiting for all you strangers to go home! (Said with a smile, of course.)

...Which reminds me to stop now and place a call to an old friend, Jackie, whom I've allowed to get away -- in the busyness of everyday life. I'll arrange a time this afternoon to visit. I'll take along my photo of "The Women," and watch her face light up!

More later.