Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Caught sight of three Tibetan lamas on the street today

-- all saffron-robed and humbly sandalled. They were standing in front of the BART station, looking lost. It brought to mind a time when Bill -- a devout student of Tibetan Buddhism and involved in studies at the Padma Ling Center on the borders of the campus. He'd learned that two refugee lamas were visiting from Dharmsala and asked Tarthang Tulku, Rinpoche, if it would be possible for us to take them sight-seeing that weekend. They'd been at the center for several weeks, but had never been outside the ivied walls. Bill had learned that they would be returning to India within 24 hours.

In a rare act of trust Rinpoche agreed and we started to make plans. It was September, and the Rennaisance Faire was in full bloom across the bay in Marin. That would be a wonderful event to share with them. It was colorful and nicely-peopled, and the weather was warm and heavy with approaching autumn.

We drove to Padma Ling at around ten, and picked up our guests (who spoke no English and we spoke no Tibetan). It would be an interesting day.

Before we could take off for the countryside, Bill needed to cash a check at the local supermarket -- a huge bustling Consumer's Co-op in the center of Berkeley. I sat in the car with the two quiet and wide-eyed lamas to wait for him to return.

When I saw how excited they were at the sight of people with heavily-laden shopping carts with all kinds of wonders therein, I decided that we should not wait in the car, but take the opportunity to go inside so that they could experience this thoroughly western Saturday afternoon ritual. We did so, and the first sight my two guests encountered was just inside the doorway -- a display featuring those huge white plastic eggs that held Leggs! They pointed, and I laughed! How on earth could I ever explain what kind of bird produced these strange products, and what on earth did all that have to do with the pictures of women that shown on the cardboard display?

Thought about those dear men today, and wondered where on the planet they are now? I'm sure that they're teaching somewhere in Canada or in Switzerland where many of their brothers are now living.

As I drove on today, I was reminded of just what it as that I missed about not living in Berkeley -- those few short miles away. It's the cosmopolitan character of the city. It really HAS managed to retain that tossed salad kind of lifestyle. There's little self-conscious "pot-melting." Instead, there is a strong value placed on the recognition of differences, and that those differences are presumed to add to the whole. The differences are celebrated! I'd forgotten that, and of how easily my own "differences" slipped into the background until evoked by some cultural trigger.

I met this full-blown later in life, when I became aware of the Hip Hop generation through an exposure to those exciting young people through the Upper Room in Oakland. Rarely did I hear words like "diversity" or "multi-culturalism" during those years. These young internationalists simply assumed those goals of the generations before them had been achieved, and rather than being a hope -- they were by then simply their state of being. I have great hope for the world to be. All one has to do to see it fully formed is to spend an extended period with those now in their 20s and 30s and in the performing arts, especially among the poets.

This weekend I'll attend the Choreographers Festival in San Francisco. I'll see Robert Moses and his dance company and Robert Henry Johnson, and hear the jazz harpist, Destiny, and be reminded that the world may have already been saved -- and that the nightmare of the Middle East is just that, a nightmare from which they will rouse me if only for a few hours.

Photo: Lama Wangdor of Rewalser, India, shown here in front of the cave in which he lived and taught. He escaped from Lhasa when the Dalai Lama left the country. He brought out his mother's ceremonial garments with dzi stones sewn into the hemlines. He sent them to me as a gift years ago; gifts I treasure dearly. He came to this country years later and spent Bill's last days at bedside, then returned to Rewalser. He had a contact telephone from India some time after Bill's death -- to tell me that -- according the the Tibetan Book of the Dead -- Bill had "made it over." Such a dear friend ... .

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Bless Berkeley!

Just about the time that I've begun to think that the entire world has gone dormant, or, that the prevailing wisdom has dropped ten notches -- I re-visit my old home and am regenerated.

Last night three women from Richmond and I drove in to the Jewish Community Center for an evening that promised to be spirit-lifting. The event was entitled: "RECLAIM DEMOCRACY: Acting for Change". After some networking over fresh pizza slices and caesar salad in the courtyard, we moved into the small auditorium to hear speeches by Ronnie Gilbert (peace activist and member of The Weavers) who read from the words of the inspirational Granny D of New Hampshire (who is running for the senate at 94), then sang a topical song for us that was recently written by Holly Near.

Oh, I should mention before going further, that Ronnie was introduced by the evening's moderator, Arlene Blum -- Berkeley climber who led the first all-woman ascent of Annapurna, and who has since led several more.

Patricia Ellsberg, who contributed to the decision to release the Pentagon papers that helped to end the Vietnam War was scheduled to appear, but cancelled with a letter that explained that she and Dan were in Washington, D.C. attending a large gathering of potential whistle blowers. "Since you believe that you won't have a job if the current administration remains in power anyway -- then do it now." Makes sense to us, right?

Then came wonderful, humble, and delightfully wide-eyed (at her success) Joan Blades, co-founder of
What an inspiration! What started as a plea for some sanity during the Clinton impeachment craziness with a single paragraph to her family and mail list of about 100, total, turned out to have a response of 100,000 in just a couple of weeks. "The rest is history," as we say. Joan announced that MoveOn has registered over 400,000 non-voting citizens in the swing states. It has raised over 2.3 million dollars online, with the average contribution being $35. Now THAT's grass roots!

Farai Chideya, founder of and author of Color of Our Future, plus her latest book, Trust, followed. Farai is a Zimbabwean-American Stanford Fellow, former White House correspondent, CNN journalist, spoke about the "100 million missing voters," those who have stopped dreaming the dream of democracy. "We must begin to dream it back into being, or democracy will surely perish." We've met before and it was great to renew and catch up.

Re-connected with a number of acquaintances from my life as a university spouse, and it felt good. I'd not seen some of these friends for almost twenty years, though it surely didn't feel that long. Another incarnation ... .

On the drive home, we got busy planning a youth candidate's night, and a Sunday Salon featuring some of the women we'd just been inspired by. This may be the way to break through what I perceive as a kind of urban isolationism that prevails in Richmond. It's peculiar and disturbing, especially in times such as this when the whole is threatened by the disunity and alienation of its parts. Berkeley and Richmond are a mere 4 miles apart in physical distance, but light years apart in political activism and a world view. Maybe that's more closely related to Berkeley's being a university town than anything else. Richmond may be far more like its nearby coastal neighbors that have yet to put down permanent roots to look beyond their own borders and their generically-scarred shopping centers.

But Richmond can be far more than that. Unlike the bordering extensions that have incorporated into townlets, it has a rich history and a colorful past. Richmond has been here for a very long time, but seems to have reached a kind of "old age" without ever going through the process of maturation. It's a strange thing ... .

But now it's morning and I'm off to re-live World War II yet another day at the National Park Service office, and that could get to be less and less satisfying when the present is so compelling and the future is so uncertain ... .

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Harry Who?

Cleaning out my files this morning I ran across this exchange and decided to share them here. This is the kind of entry that humanizes history in ways that nothing else can -- and should be shared.

For many years I've been participating in Seniornet, an online community that brought together seniors from all over the country. It was created by San Francisco's Mary Furlong, it started out as a master's thesis, I believe. In the early nineties it took on a life of its own that changed lives and deepened the meaning of friendships in unexpected ways.

In those early days, the only elders online were those who were savvy enough, and brave enough, to enter the cyberworld of the young. There were many retired professionals who'd been introduced to this brave new world through their work. There were also those who were dragged into cyberspace by their children as a way to keep us current with the accellerating rate of change lest we be lost along the way. It was also a given that we be able to afford the hardware required to enter the "Gates of Progress." I recall a post one day when a member of Seniornet announced proudly that she'd just "blown the estate on a brand new Power PC, and the kids would just have to make it on their own!"

There were some unexpected consequences that I'm sure addled almost anyone who chose to enter in to this new forum. Little did we dream of where it would take us, or that at some time in the future would rival political powers by creating this crazy and wonderful invisible though powerful new system that could challenge regimes and blunt the ability to wage wars. I truly believe that we are seeing the creation of the balancing international world power that may well rival even that of what we now refer to as "The First World."

But I digress.

Subject: Harry Who?
Date: Sat. Aug 9, 2003 1:59 PM
From: CBreaux
Msgld: <>

Yesterday I attended the American City Planners Association's annual conference in downtown Oakland, Californa. I was covering two workshops for our office -- one on "The Criminal Justice System" and the other, "Environmental Injustice." During the course of his presentation, the first presenter used an old device to involve his audience. He tossed out a purely rhetorical question, "who among you can name the most powerful union force in the State of California?" Since I was sitting close to the front of the room -- hand raised and waving -- he called on me. With all of the confidence of my impressive name tag (Field Rep for Assemblywoman Loni Hancock), and as Michael Jordan might wave others away to sink his famous air-bourne rim shot from 80 feet out -- I shouted out, "Har-ry Bridges!" Our leader looked stunned. Unknowing. So did everybody in the room. Talk about yer old lady response! I laughed at myself all the way home!

What he was fishing for was, of course, the prison guards union of the California criminal justice system. Nothing I could have said would have dated me more. Those folks didn't even know who Harry Bridges was! I'd have done better had I thought to mention Cesar Chavez! That would at least have come from a later period in history, right?

Despite my relatively youthful appearance and carefully chosen style of dress and ability to talk the talk (most of the time), my frame of reference rises right out of my personal history. Ain't a whole lot to do about that, I suppose, but laugh!


Betty of Berkeley
"Women in Progress!"

Some online reponses:

Subject: Remembering Harry Bridges: a vignette
Date: Sat, Aug 9, 2003, 3:12 PM
From: InSoMannyWords
Msgld: <>

Betty, if it's any comfort to you, I haven't forgotten Harry Bridges either, and he's vivid in my mind. I knew him slightly when he lived in the Haight-Ashbury, and I met him socially at my cousin's house, but then I met him in a professional capacity many years later (and many years ago). He made an appointment in the Kaiser-Permanente urology clinic in San Francisco. He was elderly at the time, and he kept apologizing for taking up so much time when there were others in great need of care. He was physically a tiny guy, not at all the man of muscle one would expect for the leader of the longshoremen.

Anyhow I reminded him that he was the last that should apologize for taking up time since in Kaiser-Permanente he was very much the VIP. Shortly after World War II there was a big question whether KPMG (Kaiser Permanente Medical Group) could survive as a peacetime deliverer of health care and make money as a prepay deliverer of health care. Harry brought the longshoremen in, and then it was an avalanche for other unions and organizations, but he was the first. I told him that he was a big hero to me and my partners. He thanked me, but then reminded me that his days as heroic figure were long over to the younger longshoremen who by then considered him an old fuddy-duddy, but what a guy! And like all great men, as pleasant (and as modest) as they come.

Subject: Re: Harry Who???
Date: Sat. Aug 9, 2003 4:05 PM
From: SaJanina
Msgld: <>

Betty before I got the name, I thought of him, and of his strength ....and then realized you had written his name! I knew him...he was a relative of my next door neighbor and when he would come to visit I would sit with them in the living room in awe. Those were such exciting evenings.

His daughter and I became friends ...she died about ten years ago, after him, of breast cancer that wasn't found until it was too late ...leaving an eight year old boy.

I didn't know him during the time of his great triumphs ... I only knew him in his old age ...and through my beloved neighbors. Without my neighbors I might not have known of his courage and spirit.

He was skinny and smoked like crazy. He was something else! I am so glad that you've reminded me of the kind of fighter he was ... He was an absolutely incredible man. PBS did a very fine documentary about him about five years ago..I would love to see it again was beautiful

SaJanina, happy for the memories.

Subject: Re: Harry Who???
Date: Sat, Aug 9, 2003 4:50
From: CBreaux
Msgld: <

Aha! Manny, Saj! I wasn't so wrong or out of date after all; just out of context. The name Harry Bridges should be held up as heroic and well-remembered (as, obviously, he is) on the short list of strong union organizers. I'm sure that Saul Alinsky and Cesar Chavez followed closely in his footsteps, but it was Bridges who created the mold. We all had to be pretty young at the time of his reign, but we remember. That's comforting.

The humor was not lost, however, because on a scale of relevance -- I wasn't even in the ballpark in that young crowd.

Wonder how those giants would be addressing the current conditions? Wish we could revive their attitudes, if not their work. I work fairly closely with Labor (AFL-CIO, CTA, and SIEU) here in my county, and there are times when I have the sense that - for the sake of "jobs, jobs, jobs" -- many would accept a contract to manufacture guillotines! And I'm a champion of the labor movement. The prison guards are a union, the union that achieved a $20,000/year raise at a time when the state budget deficit is at 38 billion, and when we're quite literally grabbing crutches from the lame and eliminating food for guide dogs.

Where's Harry when we need him? Wonder if we could make a list of outstanding union leaders currently functioning? Surely they'll surface during this recall of our governow. I know at least two whom I'd certainly put on such a list. The State AFL-CIO leadership has taken a strong no-recall position. I'm not all that sure about the membership, though. It's hard to keep a clear sense of who the players are and of what they bring to the table, isn't it?

The Avatar who lived and worked among us as Harry Bridges so long ago surely left his mark, and those of us who still remember have created for him -- immortality.


Note: I'm wondering how much important and humanizing history is imbedded in these exchanges that are accessible only through these intimate-though-abstract online conversations among peers of our generation? I've never met SaJanina, though we've been sharing the past this way for many years. She's an artist/anthropologist and lives a portion of each year among the Maroons in Surinam. She is at other times a resident of Upstate New York. Manny is a San Francisco retired urologist and creator of crossword puzzles for the New York Times. He's since emerged into my "real life" as a friend and occasional co-participant in an inner-circle of local folks who met online years ago and now meet for lunch from time to time.