Thursday, February 23, 2006

So much to write about -- so little time ... .

First let me tell you that the film -- "Farallon Light" -- arrived yesterday -- two copies on DVD as promised. The images are clear but there's a red cast to the film. The narration is clear. No scratches are visible. The woman at the film library that processed it told me that they'd used a kind of gel that helped to mend the flaws created by time and overuse. I could hear every word. The music, however, sounds garbled and my voice is "trembly" and "wavy" with the lyrics almost impossible to understand. But -- all-in-all -- it's a beautiful documentary that I'm very proud to have been a part of. I know what I'm singing about -- and because I do -- I just fill in the inaudible and slushy parts for myself. What a wonderful thing to finally own... .

And, today I drove to Mare Island in Vallejo to serve on a panel with two others in a three-program, three-day observance of Black History Week for the U.S. Forest Service. It went extremely well, I think. I was second on the program, following a very informative presentation on the Buffalo Soldiers by a National Parks Ranger; and followed by Daphne Muse, poet and historian faculty member from U.C. Berkeley and Mills College, author of several books that includes a beautiful collection of poems for children written by black poets; She is also an authority on the late Ms. Rosa Parks who spent a week as a guest in her home in Oakland at one time. Wonderful stories ... told well.

Am becoming more comfortable with my role as a speaker at such events -- and also with my status as an elder with a history to share. As I grow older and wiser (yes), I'm finding that my story is fairly universal, and that others tend to recognize themselves in them.

Today was a very good day.

Tomorrow I'll attend a workshop on economic development opportunities opening up in Richmond. It will bring State Treasurer Phil Angelides, CalPERS investors, and his staff together with those seeking state funding for worthy projects. The Park will play a role in the historic preservation of some of the structures now dormant by partnering with local non-profits. That will end in the early afternoon and I will head immediately for Mendocino and a weekend of quiet and reflection. First, though, I will again see Angelides at a Saturday morning breakfast fundraiser in nearby Fort Bragg. We're in the beginning phases of the governor's race in the California Primary and Angelides is one of three prominent candidates (the others being present governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and former EBay executive Steve Westley). There's one more name -- not yet announced -- that I will support through the primary, but that news must wait until after the weekend. She will announce in the next few days. Suffices to say that we spent the afternoon -- after the Mare Island gig -- sipping tea at the Point Richmond Starbucks and talking strategy ... .

Stay tuned.

Photo: Speaking on the subject of African American Homefront workers during World War II -- before U.S. Forest Service employees as one of 3 panelists.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

And they said we couldn't do it ... who's smilin' now?

After months and years of braving the cold and the jeers of the non-believers, word came last night after a 24-hour postponement that the anesthesiologists slated to assist in the execution by lethal injection had resisted the call in the final hours and refused to participate in the killing of another human being. There was not enough time to find replacements and the entire question of death by lethal injection is now up for re-examination. The next state execution cannot be carried out until May, at the earliest. The moratorium bills may have been heard by that time, and the debate is now fully on.

Strange that it was only yesterday -- after months and years of trying to form my thoughts into words -- that it all came together. I've always felt that I was rambling when a mike was pushed into my face and I was expected to deliver some rational defense of my position on the death penalty. I knew it was wrong -- and heaven knows there were enough generic cliché-riddled statements to borrow from, but I couldn't seem to find my own words and thoughts that were succinct and true for me. On Monday I did. I opened my mouth and they fell out as clear as a bell.

Newsman: "What about the families of the victims? Don't they have a right to closure? Wouldn't you want vengeance, too?"

Me: "Of course I would. I'm as human as they with the same wish to have the offender torn limb from limb in the event that a member of my family had been similarly brutally murdered. But I'd be fortunate if I lived in a society that would protect me from myself -- and my immediate demand for retribution which is little more than a permanent answer to a very emotional but temporary state of being. When sanity returned I'd know that nothing would bring my dear one back to me -- and that widening the field of violence would serve no one, but would only increase the hatred in the world and make us all less safe. Lock the offender away for life to protect us all from further harm. That would suffice. To participate in the killing serves no purpose save vengeance -- and we've surely evolved beyond that."

Tomorrow I'm one of the speakers at the Forest Service Black History Celebration at Mare Island. Will take along my little DVD and wing it -- as always -- depending upon the ability to pick up signals of interest and acceptance from the assembled group. It will be great to not be distracted by the death penalty question.

This evening I'll meet with Barbara Becnel to talk about the newly-discovered evidence that appears to support the innocence of the late Stanley "Tookie" Williams, executed by the state in December. We'll have dinner and catch up on events. She's been to Venezuela for a world conference since last we talked. I've not actually seen her for more than a year. Only since Stan's death have we again been in direct contact.

Now I'm off to pick up Dorian at NIAD and then back home to wash blue jeans and match socks or plan to stay in bed next week for want of clean clothing!

Photo: This is a typical press conference at the East Gate of San Quentin. These women are a part of the larger group just off camera. All of the networks, channels, radio stations are present and hoping for news -- someone being arrested in an act of civil disobedience. One of these women crossed the line and was taken away a few minutes after this photo was taken. The woman in the white coat is a local physician.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

A time of contrasts ... One-Star Betty in the Five-Star Ritz Carleton Laguna San Niguel ... .

About ten days ago I received a call from the daughter of a dear friend announcing that her mother's 80th birthday was in the offing and would
I like to fly down for the big weekend family gathering as her guest? "Of course," says I, never dreaming of what was ahead. Travel arrangement arrived by email a few days later that had me scheduled to leave on Friday on the 2:50 pm Southwest Airlines plane due at John Wayne Airport in Orange County an hour and twenty minutes later. All went as scheduled.

About 45 minutes after a very surprised Charlotte (she didn't have a clue) arrived with Susan to pick me up and I found myself entering wonderland; the RitzCarleton San Niguel on the beach in Laguna Hills! The next two days were straight out of Paris Hilton country, with opulence and luxury of a kind this little ole lady hadn't witnessed except as shown from a movie screen in a movie starring the dazzling Charlize Theron. All that was missing was the proverbial red carpet. They probably keep that rolled up until Nicole Kidman's arrival is anticipated.

Fancy dinner in "The Grill" was followed later by "tapas" and desserts served on the fourth floor, only accessible for we who held keys that were slipped into a slot in the elevator floor indicator to be delivered -- with crystal chandelier even in the elevator -- to heaven where they keep chocolates and custards and toffee and, coffees and exotic teas, a fireplace to gather 'round, and flowers everywhere .

After several hours of playing "Dorothy" without Toto, after taking a shower and slipping into a luxurious white robe and slippers (hotel provided, of course); and falling into a bed (one of two) high enough to require a step stool then dropping into a down-covered mattress and drawing up an exquisite pure white down-filled douvet -- leaning against five (counted them!) five pillows of differing softness, we watched "Rent" on the large flat-screen television on the wall.

Read through the brochure supplied by the beauty salon on the first floor -- my hosts invited us to get a massage or a facial if we wished. The brochure listed the only facial that interested me ("immediate differences noted') at the cost of $200. Now that's decadent! Just reading the words was sobering enough to get me back in line. I suspect that this could cause a complete breakdown in one's value structure -- a week or so of such exposure to the good life and I might begin to see all this as an entitlements and begin to be concerned about "the little people."

But it wasn't to be. After the festivities with this wonderful family of warm and loving friends, I boarded my plane for the return to the Oakland Airport on Sunday -- miraculously remembered where I'd left my car parked in Economy Parking far from the terminal -- and drove home. (Almost fainted when the parking attendant presented the $48 parking tab!) After I reminded myself that I'd seen a brochure that gave the starting costs per room at the hotel as $892/rm/per day -- and this because it was off-season --, I figured I was about as lucky as anyone could be. It didn't take long to reach my modest little condo on the northern end of Richmond, and to remember that I'd promised to drive to San Quentin tomorrow for another round of protests against this third execution in as many months.

Read Nadine's email report on her trip to New Orleans with Downs Memorial Church group and was so proud of my young friend and the others who'd spent several weeks helping to de-construct homes no longer livable in an environment of death and decay. Everything fell into line again. Having contributed modestly to her travel expenses (only $2 more than my parking tab), this felt really good to me, as if I, too, had helped in some small way. It's all relative.

I'd had a weekend glimpse of another lifestyle. Spent some time learning about the exciting work being done by the young family whose guest I'd been -- unimaginably futuristic projects involving the design, engineering, and construction of towns -- quite literally. Experimental small cities situated in previously uninhabited areas where training scenarios, re-enactments, problem-solving laboratories for all kinds of enterprises are tested and carried out. It was a glimpse of tomorrow, and I was jealous of their ability to extend into time in ways no longer open to me. I could understand that the economic structure of their lives was far beyond what I have the ability to imagine. I was grateful for their having included me in their wonderland -- at least for a time.

But yesterday found me back at the Gates with the others; predominantly Unitarian-Universalists from social action groups -- and it felt right. Learned that my friend, Barbara Becnel was expected to join the demonstration later in the evening but I wouldn't wait for her. I'm just not capable of being that close to the actual execution in the cold dark night. Much prefer doing my protesting in the full light of day, when the helicopters aren't droning overhead in the blackness -- trying to drown out the speaker's bull horns. And when I won't have to hike the two or more miles on that desolate road to the East Gate. The prison places barriers along both sides of the road for that distance to make the trek as forbidding as possible -- no sidewalks and no street lighting -- only flashlights, if you remembered to bring one along. Then there's the awful walk back in the blackness, when you know that the awesome deed has been done and that none of your protests effected the killing ... .

No, it's far better at noontime when there are only the news trucks to contend with and the knowledge that, again, you may show up on the eleven o'clock news, an hour before another life will be taken in your name.