Saturday, June 12, 2004

Having ODd' on memorializing of a leader of whom I find little to admire,

Ronald Reagan is not high on my list of national heroes. Tonight I'm off with friend, Ann, to Yoshi's, a great jazz venue in Oakland (dinner before) to hear Freddie Cole, brother of the late Nat. The distraction will serve me well.

Have had Bobby on my mind for a couple of weeks. Made several calls that give me a cheerful Bob voice from his answering machine, but with no response. I'm assuming that he's working some children's summer camp, or is preparing to leave soon to do so. It's that time of year. We get out of touch from time to time, and it's worrisome... .

This must be my week for chewing on the old, the unfinished, the unresolved. Am wakeful at night and listening for I know not what ... something not yet formed. An event waiting to happen? Not sure. There's just this sense of the impending ...

An evening of good music will help to nail some of that down, I believe.

It could simply be the effects of the constant drumbeat of death we've been exposed to all week. It was impossible to escape. In order to do so I found myself out on the highway more often and spending more time with Dorrie doing inconsequential errands.

Yesterday on one of our trips we happened upon a 13 acre grass fire that provided much excitement for an hour or so. Since it was only a block or so away from our home and accompanied by a stiff wind, there was the sense of danger. Had forgotten about the fury of nature and of how close to disaster we are much of the time. Coupled with the sounds of death and interment we'd left at home; eulogies and flyovers; this became more ominous than exciting after a while. Felt some relief when the police moved us on and closed off the streets.

Tomorrow we're adding another blog (link is listed) where photographs can bring the text to life. That is, when I figure out just how to upload photographs. Have never taken the time to really learn about the wonders here at my fingertips on any given day, but will explore some of that over the next few days.

Meanwhile, Dorian is out doing laps in the pool and I'm about to check out some fine jazz -- a treat I've not experienced for far too long.

More to come ... .

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Interesting twist on political philosophies.

Learned long ago from a master, the late UU minister, Aron Gilmartin of the Mt. Diablo Unitarian-Universalist church, all that I needed in order to succeed as an organizer activist. "Three things must never be forgotten, (1) "always make others look good," (2) "great things can happen if you don't care who gets the credit, and, (3) the best leadership is when that leadership is invisible to those being led."

An article prominently displayed in today's West County Times served as a reminder of these important truisms. There is a photograph of my legislator announcing a request for a formal state audit of the city's finances. Granted, there's a horrendous budget deficit of a projected 28 Million dollars (or more), but I suspect that at closer observation we'll find less malfeasance than mismanagement. In a state that has projected an even larger deficit, this is hardly surprising. City and county treasuries have been raided to satisfy state needs for many years. As in the innocent early days of my little store's struggling recovery, it was clear that -- as long as there was sufficient money in the pipeline -- one could move it around to cover the gaping holes. When things grew tight, disaster reigned! The state and city seen in microcosm. Bigger budgets, bigger deficits.

Over the past years of observing from an official position, it's been clear that most people at these lower levels of government are doing their level best to be competent. Most are people of integrity, and are making the best decisions they can under their particular circumstances. On occasion this turns out to be unreliable as a measure of intent, but for the most part I've found it so.

Ours is a majority minority city council with an African American mayor. Few of us have generations in public service to fall back on. All those at higher governmental levels are white and years ahead of the game. Political sophistication comes with experience, a rare asset not easily come by until the last fifty years. That's but a brief moment in time when viewed from a historical perspective.

Spring circa 1979:

After the heady victory of the re-naming of Grove Street to Martin Luther King Way (a move later adopted by the city of Oakland by ordinance), I started to immediately plan for the redevelopment of the 3000 block of Sacramento Street. It would take learning the political process well enough to move boards and commissions. It would take hiring myself out to a city hall position with Councilman Don Jelinek. With the assistance of a city-hired contract consultant, I'd need to create a Housing Development Corporation so that it was not something that I was doing to but with the community. That meant learning just what a HDC was -- along with other novices from the neighborhood. Then I'd need to not place myself in a position of obvious leadership. It would be important to begin to create strength toward social change in the community and that could not be done if I simply tried to drag others along. It would be important to move from the ranks and not try to be a drum major. Gil's formula was not only workable, but proved to be critical to all of the successes that followed. It took hard work to be what I wanted to see in the community, but in time it became second nature.

After several years of hard work and despite the occasional setback, we were finally at the point where the site had been secured (Berkeley put 8.5 million dollars into the project plus additional tax credits from the state), the architect chosen, the plans drawn, fancy cardboard model created, and -- ego began to rear its ugly head. I'd done such a good job of deflecting credit that I was beginning to feel burnout from lack of appreciation. Weird!

Made a call to my old (now rarely visited) UU church in Walnut Creek for a chat with Gil. "I've done such a great job of subtle leadership that no one knows the tremendous thing I've accomplished. What do I do now? I'm feeling in need of a standing ovation, and I can't get one without destroying all I've worked so hard to create! I can't steal the credit now, but I need confirmation of my worth."

Gil and I decided that it would be safe for me to return to Walnut Creek (psychologically 1000 miles away from Berkeley) to do a Sunday service where I would share the story out of hearing range of South Berkeley. On that Sunday I borrowed the large artist's renderings of the site, the table model of our 41-unit development, and set up impressive wall and table displays at the front of the sanctuary. I stood in the pulpit and told the story of "Betty's 500' Project" to this collection of old friends and colleagues and got my standing ovation as promised.

A few weeks later Mayor Loni Hancock (yes, the same legislator for whom I most recently worked), joined by members of the Berkeley city council, and -- a number of my suburban friends drove in to join with the South Berkeley community for the ground-breaking. I learned that day that -- despite my really carefully managed "invisible" leadership, many knew and respected that invisibility but tempered it with secret shared smiles. I felt more than adequately rewarded without sacrificing anything. The momentary lapse into ego-gratification didn't last. In fact, the successes of having honestly faced it and found a remedy helped me to move on. I learned that the rewards were often silent but rarely unnoticed, and my confidence in my own abilities soared and strengthed future efforts. Those rewards were not dissipated by vanity, surprisingly enough.

Today, June 2004

The West County Times article announcing Loni's request for a state audit of the city's books flies in the face of everything I believe about political leadership. The audit promises to be embarrassing to her local constituents (quite possibly a politically costly move). If I've read the signs correctly over the years, the problems will prove to be the result of mismanagement with a smattering of corruption. It will undercut leadership in that many will see the failures (rampant in many cities and states at the moment) as race-related rather than the result of the continuing effects of state and federal budget cuts and the residual structural problems related to Prop. 13. There is a lot to be corrected and some painful steps to be taken before financial stability returns to Richmond, but it would strengthen our state and federal politicians were they to apply their considerable power to bolstering the efforts of local leaders to help themselves to help their people. At this point we're seeing little that would suggest that kind of sensitivity.

It's also true that "invisible" leadership is antithetical to political leadership when the level is beyond that of the community. Higher office -- especially given term limits -- demands so much involvement in the process to continue one's tenure in office. Upon election, one must begin to create the next pathway to continuing power. "Visibility" is mandatory for survival in the political arena. To think otherwise is naive,I'm sure. I suppose that any aspirations I may have had for seeking public office were made untenable because of the experience of having the Gilmartin paradigm in my book of strategies.

I'd have had it no other way... .

Photo: I'm at the far right with then Berkeley mayor, Loni Hancock and city councilwoman (white-haired) Maudelle Shirek next to her. The others are community residents who lived within my proverbial "500 Feet," called South Berkeley.

Monday, June 07, 2004

I've developed an informal style of writing ...

that allows me to skip back and forth in time fairly easily. Today I'm finding the present so compelling that moving back is less natural than before. Maybe some retracing of steps would help. Stopping to read back a few weeks may be in order. I've avoided doing that but choose to risk the possibility that I'm repeating myself on occasion by just plugging ahead. In the interest of continuing to simply stay with answering the dictates of my mind -- and going wherever memory takes me -- I'm hoping that I'm being coherent.

There are lots of feelings coming up around the weekend events. I'm sensing a burning undercurrent of anger, but have little sense of what it means. Of this much I'm sure, it rises from an "American" place and not from blackness. My outrage bears no color or age or race or gender. It simply IS. And now it's compounded by the knowledge that there is little I can contribute to change at this point in my life; a new feeling for me. Feeling disempowered is an unfamiliar state of being. Even when faced with the insurmountable, I don't recall feeling so helpless in times past. There was always the sense of unseen others sharing my concerns and acting in concert with my efforts. That seems to be diminishing. Feeling much more alone now. Stepping off the stage when I resigned from my state position has set new patterns that I'm not yet comfortable with. Haven't really identified the other cast members in this new production (smile).

The juxtaposition of the sight of those 10,000 markers of dead youngsters (18-22) sacrificed on the beaches of Normandy -- being threaded through with the barrage of coverage on the life, death, and times of former President Ronald Reagan brought things to the surface that I'd thought were safely buried. Within a few hours (as the archival footage became available), they were gradually crowded off the screen. The Reagan coverage was so disproportionate -- so overdone -- that my anger eventually forced me away from the television set and out into the sunlight of the day. Dorian and I drove down to the marina to watch the windsurfers -- always comforting.

Was reminded that the entire Reagan administration -- those still living -- are now back in the seats of power. This time with another empty suit sitting at the top of the pyramid. Why haven't we seen this and found ways to prevent it from happening? Cheney, Negriponte, Ashcroft, Rumsfeld, North, Powell, Wolfowitz, et al, who brought us the death squads of Guatemala and El Salvador, the takeover in Nicaragua, the revolutions in Haiti, the invasion of Graneda and the killing of over 5000 innocents in Panama while capturing our former CIA asset, Manuel Noriega, and ultimately, Iran-Contra and the dramatic return of hostages as act three in the Reagan inauguration ceremony! Have we really forgotten all that?

Listening and watching the re-writing of history all weekend while realizing that no one under 20 has any idea of all that went before. Knowing that the times have eliminated all semblance of a free press and that we're being fed propaganda that can only be diluted if we have access to the Internet and through it the world press. And, that many who will vote in November still have no access to this wealth of information for economic reasons over which they have no control. And for those who do have access and control but have been dumbed down by a failing system of public education, so can't analyze the information that they do get. Such a complex set of issues ... .

Reagan's death came, mercifully for the administration, at a time when leadership has great need for deflecting the public's attention from the mounting problems in Iraq, several critical criminal investigations, charges of graft and corporate malfeasance, shouts of (what I suspect are inflated)tremendous job creation numbers, resignations in the C.I.A. top echelon, rebellion among moderate Republicans, queries about the disclosing of the identity of a member of the CIA leading right to the doors of the vice-president, and poll numbers that would (with all things being equal) predict disaster for a second term of office. We're going to be buried under Reagan nostalgia in every waking hour for as long as the corporate media can prolong it.

The dissenting voices are beginning to be heard today and that sound may grow in days ahead. This may provide balance, and herald the re-birth of the opposition. Maybe it will lend some strength to the effort to take back the airways by rescuing the FCC from Chairman Michael Powell et al, and the break the stranglehold that the pharmaceutical companies have on the FDA. Just maybe. The rape of Social Security and Medicare systems are now a fait accompli.

Meanwhile, I'm off to pick up my artist daughter from NIAD. She's working on a new 4'x 8' canvas that is so lovely! All brightly-painted butterflies and rainbows ... I'll shut down these background (samsara) voices until later. Really want to talk more about the merchant years, when I can quiet these voices enough to think more clearly.

Sunday, June 06, 2004

Another strange day ...

Yesterday I drove out to the Richmond shoreline to participate in the grand opening of the Rosie National Park Interim Reception Center. It was a glorious day. I'd watched the early morning MSNBC D-Day 60th Anniversary coverage for a while before leaving home. Actually, quite by accident saw the interview, and "that Betty" making a few comments that had been edited well from the larger piece and that conveyed an honest account of my feelings. Hadn't thought to tape it, but I'm guessing that the NPS has recorded it and will pass along a copy if requested.

When I arrived at the scene of the celebration, I found myself unable to sit in the seats of honor that were obviously set aside for the Rosies. Stood apart, though not consciously rejecting the party -- there was a residual sense of not having been "invited." And surely not to THIS party, but to the original effort many years before. How crazy is that?

There were surely a number of African Americans in that mix of women of the homefront wars, and some most surely bore the names of those little cards I filed in the "auxiliary" union hall day after boring day. They were here being celebrated deservedly, but for some reason I still felt no part of that. Still couldn't accept a role in the proceedings, and this despite the fact that I'd just seen myself on national television as a spokesperson only a hour before! Surely, I had "overcome."

I watched Mary "Peace" Head, an African American who'd been among the shipbuilders of the time, as she was being interviewed live for the nation by MSNBC's James Hattori (same James). She was dressed in overalls topped by a bright bandana and sequin-trimmed accessories. It was she who eventually made the trip to Washington, D.C., two weeks ago to the reception at the White House. She received a bouquet from Mayor Irma Anderson this morning in honor of having represented Richmond at that event. Mary is much-loved in this community and it was right that she be chosen for the honor. Me? I felt nothing. James had his arms around her and she was speaking halting words of pride. What on earth made me hold myself apart from all of this? Why am I still angry?

Maybe I come closer to representing the unfinished agenda -- around the continuing scourge of racism and the need for our nation addressing that. I will settle for no less. I'm still unable to utter the words "..with freedom and justice for all" when reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Nor can I say, " ...under God." I continue to expect full justice under the law as promised by our founding documents. I cringe when I hear a repeat of those damning words, "...with all deliberate speed" in reference to the Supreme Court decision that granted Brown vs. the Board of Education, bringing a never-fully realized equity in education. The only time the court's decision was not made an immediate mandate was in that instance; and even the conversations around such things has now been stifled while we're asked, again, to fight and die for the purpose of exporting our imperfect "democracy" abroad.

Two incidents of note from the celebration: A uniformed National Park Service staffer came up and introduced himself with, "'re Betty Reid, aren't you? You may not remember me, but I was a part of the student group who worked with you to change the name of Grove Street in Berkeley many years ago." And the other: "My name is Tucker. I knew you from the Mt. Diablo Unitarian Church years ago when Aron Gilmartin was the pastor. This (NPS ranger) is my daughter who now is working here with the Rosie project." Two Betty Reids from two different lives, and neither was the one standing here "not" celebrating the Good War.

Today I've been watching the incredible (over-used word that fits this time) coverage of the Anniversary of Normandy. Sat spellbound for hours. Interwoven were pieces on President Reagan's death and observances happening all over the country. It all felt terribly far away. I'm learning so much that I'd not known about the war. Must have sleepwalked through much of it, or, was too young and apolitical at the time to know how to feel. Now I'm seeing the drama in some new ways, but also seeing how we've glorified this horrific failure in the settling of conflicts among men (and I do believe it's a male thing). The heroism cannot be denied, and the selflessness of those young people is almost more than one can comprehend. The sight of those 10,000 white marble crosses brings tears, but the waste in human life brings rage to those tears and they burn my cheeks as they fall unresisted.

The drama of the national flags waving from the tall backdrops as planes flew overhead spewing colored smoke as they passed -- while the allied armed forces marched below against the blue seas of the Normandy coast -- bigger than Spielberg! All very stirring, but also very European. This did not represent todays world, nor did it echo today's conflicts. Europeans remain the generic people and all others remain exotic. Few black faces among the veterans. Since the armed forces were not yet integrated, most black soldiers and seaman were in the Quartermasters and Messmen's Corps, supplying arms and rations to those at the front. There were notable exceptions, certainly, 11th Tank Battallion and the heroic Tuskeegee Airmen being a case in point, but their's were segregated units that fought as exceptions to the rule, and as in the nation's prior wars, were often led by white commanding officers. My maternal greatgrandfather, Sgt. George Allen, fought for the Colored Troops of Louisiana in the Civil War. He was a cook behind the lines. On the other hand, a (white) paternal ancestor, a Charbonnet also from Louisiana, was a general on the side of the confederacy in that war to end slavery. Small wonder that my memory bank is scrambled. It could hardly be otherwise. The internal war still rages unabated.

The MiddleEast doesn't exist this day of celebration. Iraq has dropped from the headlines while we glorify the victory of the last war that we believe was victorious. None have been that decisive since. All thought of the world's active resistance to our current occupation of another land is set aside, at least for today.

The idealist that I continue to be demands that our nation be more than our current adventurism would suggest that we've become. Guess I'll never really be a Rosie, if being so means giving up of the right to demand honorable leadership and respect for the rights of other nations to follow their own pathways to freedom as they define it.

Pretty arrogant words, those, but as true as I can utter them. They're merely words. The feelings are something else. My heart aches for all those lost on foreign shores and for my contemporaries who've had to live with the awful memories of the hell that visited those bloody beaches 60 years ago. Such valor can only be imagined. It's beyond my ability to fully grasp the depth of survivor's guilt they've suffered all these years.

But -- this is all made the more awful if there is doubt that the ultimate sacrifice asked of young people was/is based upon false information; for personal or corporate financial gain; is without reference to the value of life in the abstract, or because of religious beliefs that may or may not be universally shared.

Kept wondering as I watched if it was possible for our president to sit in the shadow of those thousands of grave markers under which lie the young people of another era -- between the ages of 18 and 22 -- and not have some notion of the tragedy his war has heaped upon a new generation of kids? Could he not have been moved? Is it cynical to suspect that he may have compartmentalized the entire scene and walked away untouched? Or, will today's experience effect change in how he views the losses in human life that this adventure in Empire building is costing us all?

Salvation thy name is diversity!

So many questions...

So little time...

So close to the edge of existence... .