Thursday, May 06, 2004

Am experiencing a growing concern ...

about my growing inability to cope with the day-to-day headlines and growing hysteria around the Middle East. I tend to use this journal as an escape from the fear that is beginning to make my breathing shallow and my attention span determined by how quickly I can flip the remote between horrors.

A few minutes ago I sat here to begin to catch up with myself and to try to recapture some of the biographical themes that I found in that Bancroft Library video. It is not to be.

Phone rang and it was a long distance call from Rev. Paul Sawyer, UU minister of long acquaintance and with whom I've worked on many occasions. He's been pastoring the UU church in Pasadena, I believe, for the past 15 or so years, having been associated before that time with the Fellowship of Unitarian-Universalists in Berkeley. It was through Paul that I met and associated with, if only peripherally, with author Ken Kesey et al many years ago. We shared the experience at Asilomar that Tom Wolfe wrote about in the Electric Acid Koolaid Test. Paul is seeking a post at Starr King School for the Ministry (of the Graduate Theological Union) and called to ask for a letter of reference. Glad to oblige.

That call started a train of thought that has blocked out all else over the past hour.

Me: "What are you doing these dreadful days, Paul?"
Paul: "Trying to pull together some kind of response to the happenings in Iraq, but such outrage really demands more than the usual actions such as letters to the ... signing petitions ... etc., but it may well be time to take to the streets (again!)."
Me: "Isn't it wonderful, what MoveOn is accomplishing by way of unifying the voices of the electorate?"
Paul: "Yes, but it isn't enough."
Me: "But, of course I know that. But it's a beginning place, isn't it?"
Paul: "Of course it is, but with Kerry doing the predictable campaign waltz of shifting to the Center when he should be solidifying his base on the Left is tragic and may just lose the momentum he gathered during the primaries."
Me: "But what do we do...?"

And that's where I've been since we cradled the phones.

We probably need a controlled and peaceful revolution like that of the Sixties. That brought us Civil Rights as well as a withdrawal from Vietnam and brought down a corrupt presidency. Why should we be hesitant to use the streets now? The threat to our existence on the planet is greater than in all of history. The total destruction of the world may be at hand. Orwell's 1984 was an accurate predicter of the present -- with the signs leading up to his "future" well-marked. Whatever are we waiting for? The rest of the world is now under the empirical control of our nation -- for good or evil. Should the current trends prevail, we may be doomed -- taking everyone else with us. That means your children, my children, and theirs. How can we not act? Why do I feel this paralysis? What savior are we non-believers waiting for?

I've now lived long enough to have seen the rate of change accellerate from generations measured in half-century cycles to today when they're measured by five years or less. That increases the sensitivity factor so much that -- as with MoveOn -- the effects are almost instantly measurable. We have new organizing tools and a new generation of thinkers and activists to use them. This world is not the one I thought we were creating, but somewhere in the mix that world must still exist. Paul Sawyer, Aron Gilmartin, and millions of others -- together -- bending in the direction of constructive change helped to give that world life. The counteracting forces have all but obliterated the humane governance we worked hard to produce. It may not be too late to salvage something of worth from those efforts.

Paul has a boat moored at the Berkeley Marina and will be coming north in July with his Susan. If the world is still whole, we'll spend time together and try to blow on the embers of the past in hope of finding some new pathways for the future. We've lots of friends in common and some are still around, probably as frightened and immobilized as we. Wonder what would happen if we came together to provide some moral guidance to those new to social action as we knew it? We may have passed the torch, but was it well lit?

Kesey died a year or so ago. Would love to have had the chance to sit with those two again. I've met a number of original thinkers over my lifetime, and these two may top that list. It will be great to see Paul again.

Now back to the Great Escape known as Fleshing Out The Proposal for the Convention Center. Meeting Jennifer for a two hour session this afternoon and I'm late. The world will just have to take care of itself until I get back. And, yes, I realize that I'm avoiding the radio or television and have been for days. Have lost my status as a news junkie, a sure symptom of my paralyzing and growing fear of knowing. The feeling of helplessness grows in direct proportion to the exposure to the media.

November can't come too soon!

Monday, May 03, 2004

Jennifer and I met with City Manager Leveron Bryant this morning ...

to discuss the possibility of our taking over the management of the Convention Center in the downtown civic center. For a long time I've been wanting to find my place in the world of arts & culture in a really productive way. The need it great and the opportunity presented by this budget crisis is unprecedented.

Like many inner cities throughout the nation, Richmond has an abandoned core of historic buildings that have been empty and rotting away for 30 years. They're owned by the Redevelopment Agency and border on the most poverty-stricken area of the city. It is also probably 80-90% African-American with a Latino in-migration creeping into view.

The area is not unlike Port Washington where a crime and drug-infested area has been razed and reconfigured as an Arts & Entertainment district with the arts used as an economic engine for positive change. There is significant interest among funders in the area to work with us to create our own version of that model.

Wrote a paper describing the vision that I've been carrying around in my head for the past several years and passed it along to targeted movers and shakers in the city -- so much so that I'm now hearing pieces of it pop up from the mouths of others who have no idea of the genesis, but have bought into the dream. That's exciting!

Both Jennifer and I are members of the Arts Commission and she's also now a member of the Contra Costa County Arts Commission as well. We've been lobbying and schmoozin' with anyone we thought we could light a fire under and it's finally blossomed into reality after more than year of priming the pump.

I believe that my best and most convincing argument has been this, "...can you imagine what it has cost this city to allow this entire district of historic buildings to lie fallow for all these years? Has anyone taken the time to total up the losses in taxes and fear and poor image? If we could put a dollar figure on that, I can't imagine how the city can afford NOT to do what I'm asking."

Thirty years ago the redevelopment agency saw fit to leave the center of the city (civic center, etc.) and build a brand new shopping mall on the absolute edge of the border that abuts the city of Pinole. In so doing, it left behind only tiny marginal businesses and a few county and federal buildings. The downtown therefore dies at five o'clock and weekends, leaving the community with little life. Meanwhile, Pinole developed ITS shopping center just across the freeway on the same border leaving Richmond's mall to slowly die, robbing the general fund of sales taxes with which to fund city services.

My interest in this and and my work with the new national park are related. That shoreline park is a mere two miles from the historic (and abandoned) downtown. To now begin the process of developing that area as an Arts & Entertainment district will allow the city to draw tourists into the heart of the city from the shoreline, bringing their sales tax change with them.

I see art galleries, jazz clubs, blues houses, shops, cafes, restaurants, etc., with the Convention Center as the beginning piece. There is in this district the 38 year-old East Bay Center for the Performing Arts (on whose board I've served for years), the marvelous full service Richmond Arts Center (ceramic, painting, jewelry, textile studios plus exhibit spaces), plus NIAD -- the National Institute for Artists with Disabilities. Those are the building blocks upon which we will begin to flesh out the vision. The Richmond civic television station is also located in the convention center, and there is a huge public square (lawned) in front of those buildings upon which outdoor festivals and artist vendors can exhibit and sell their wares.

The Rosie Memorial National Park is a 10-year project. Ours will take at least that long, so all I can do is lay down the initial tiles in this mosaic and leave the full development to Jennifer and whoever we can train to pick up the reins later on. I'm probably good for another year or two, but that's enough time to pass the torch and see that it's properly lit.

Our meeting with the city manager was wonderful! We have the go-ahead to proceed with the final plans. Jennifer and I will be working over the next few weeks to flesh out the proposal that we presented to him and to pull together a realistic budget for the city council to pass on. However, we have the original buy-in from the manager and will work now on the PowerPoint presentation for the Council's budget workshop in about 30-45 days from now -- with his total support.

Incidentally, Jennifer and I are now partners in a consulting firm called, "About Face Consulting." She's phenomenal. We have complementary skills. She's closer to the age of my late eldest son than to me, and that's wonderful. I get lots of energy from her incredibly facile mind and she is able and more than willing to absorb what she can from my years of experience. We're one strong team, and I'm looking forward to the next two or three years of learning. Our primary love is the performing arts and she's had lots of experience to draw from.

Life keeps unfolding ...

Wish me luck!