Saturday, April 29, 2006

Barbara Becnel; first woman governor of the nation's largest state -- California?

maybe, and -- in the best of all worlds -- hope reigns! There appears to be a growing leadership vacuum, and surely this is a woman worthy of serious consideration -- one who will force the much-needed debate on our system of justice and capital punishment over the next few weeks leading to the June primary. Can't recall ever being stopped by the quoted odds of chances of victory -- and this isn't the time to start.

Last night I ventured in to Berkeley to hear my friend give a presentation at the Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian-Universalists. In the audience were a number of familiar faces -- those with whom I'd stood on vigil at the gates of San Quentin in the eerie days and hours before an execution -- over many years.

I recalled that UUs were almost always strongly represented in most of the causes I've supported over time, and that is true across the nation. Have always suspected that I could go to any part of the country, visit the local UU church or fellowship and start a conversation with anyone -- starting in the middle of the fourth paragraph and leaving out all the indefinite articles! Have wondered from time to time whether there is something we've learned through UUism or whether the power lies in the kinds of individuals who are attracted to the denomination? The percentage of UUs working hard in support of equal rights, human rights, fair wages, single-sex marriage, reforms in campaign financing, world peace, etc., far outstrips almost any other denomination. When combined with the Ethical Culturists, the American Friends Service Committee, the Humanists, ACLU, and the United Methodists -- there are probably enough of us to shape almost any progressive political endeavor, and often do, by sheer strength of our convictions and the determination to act on them.

Sitting in that modest sanctuary with the others last night -- listening to Barbara make her presentation that included a description of the last day and hours spent in the death chamber as a witness to Stanley Tookie Williams' execution -- gave some sense of what I've missed by going it alone over recent years. Seeing Ann Fagin Ginger, a noted authority on the United Nations, international law, and longtime head of the Berkeley Peace Commission -- stirred those embers of days of Berkeley activism -- and reminded me to make those re-connections soon. Amplifying my voice by working more closely with others is surely something to reactivate. Living in Richmond has served to dull some political nerve endings that may have some life left in them.

Barbara has asked that I do some writing for her campaign. We'll meet again later this week to talk about that. If we're going to get the debate on the moratorium up and running through her campaign -- the time is now. There is less than a month-and-a-half left in which to move the issue into front and center of the debates. She has never even paused in her efforts to stop state sanctioned killing. It is I who slackened of late. It is I who needs now to get out of my paper hat and back to work.

All three candidates (the governor, Steve Westley, and Phil Angelides) are committed to continuing the death penalty in this state. None will even allow for reconsideration of a moratorium though there are several bills waiting to be heard in the legislature. In the event that Barbara picks up a significant number of votes in the June primary -- she will have placed the issue squarely into the debates. In the event of a close election, if a significant number of voters who are calling for a moritorium or for abolition were to vote for her -- this would represent a solid block of potential votes any contender will need in order to insure victory in November. Her candidacy may not seek the governorship as much as it is a plea for the hearts of those who aspire to lead us.

I've been hoping that Angelides would relent and tap into the growing restlessness in this state and nation around the question of the death penalty. Maybe, together, we can help him to shift to a new position. We need to convince him that there is a large and growing constituency for abolition. I know that his position is bolstered by the other two candidates, and a reluctance to break ranks in the middle of a campaign. He told me at the meeting in Mendocino that he stands alone in his family. His wife and daughters are staunchly opposed to capital punishment. Interesting?

Judge Foley has postponed from May to August the decision to rule on the unusual cruelty aspect of death by lethal injection; so that judgement will fall within the timespan of a lively and contentious political campaign for the office of governor. That should justify an open discussion before the statewide electorate. Barbara will be the instrument for that discussion and I will support her in that effort.

The media is ignoring her presence in the race. She's a courageous woman whose persistence, passion, and sheer power of intellect will serve the cause well. She will travel to Soweto after the primary to scatter Stan's ashes there as promised. Meanwhile, his cause and that of others, as well as our collective consciences will be well served by her run in the primary.

This morning (quite early) we talked briefly by phone. She was on the freeway on her way to appear on a panel on street violence at Oakland's city hall. She will attend the Democratic Convention where she will bring her cause to the table. I no longer hold delegate status in the 14th Assembly district so can't be of much help there -- but next week we'll confer and maybe, together with enlightened friends (you?), -- we can make a statement that will be heard 'roun' the world.

Wish us well. Do take the time to respond to this entry ... would appreciate hearing from you in these troubled times.

Photo: For additional information go to or send an email to We'll need volunteers throughout the state. Join us in this important struggle to bring to a halt this barbaric practice of killing in our names. It's quite possible that these are the first steps in bringing a reconsideration of preemptive war and the possibility of peace in our day, or that of our children.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Log jam ... !

Am experiencing an unfamiliar problem and it's affecting my ability to write. Too much input, too little time. No way to assimilate those thoughts that are obviously screaming more loudly as the result of the past week's experiences. Sleep doesn't come easily -- though my need for sleep is actually less these days. Have no idea whether I'm less tired or simply afraid to waste time being unconscious and unaware when the value of time has increased so noticeably in these later years. The sense of urgency that comes as a natural consequence of aging, waxes and wanes, but is more acute as the days shorten.

I'm also struggling with the feeling of being out of step on some important issues, and with the sense that I, alone, know. That is so dangerous to my sense of propriety that -- rather than that awareness coming with a proud sense of possessing some superior knowledge and therefore privilege -- I'm left feeling conflicted; feeling a disconnect with others whom I respect -- and ... old. That, because I know this cannot be true. Despite all, the feeling persists and a sense of increasing isolation comes with it.

Case in point: The immigrant question may be the most troubling. I know that I'm not a racist but that's what nearly all racists convince themselves of. None but the most evil would own such biases, surely not willingly. But I truly believe that we're in the wrong conversation. We've allowed questionable political forces to frame the debate and they've done it to their advantage.

I felt it so strongly the other evening while watching the president repeating ad nauseum, "...they do the work no American wants to do!" I thought of the countless times I've heard that phrase over the past months and years. The real truth is that no one should be asked to " the work no American wants to do" surely not at slave wages. The question is less about immigration than it's about the need to pay a living wage to all workers. That's the conversation we need to be having. How long since we've seen a rise in the minimum wage?

The fact that illegal immigrants are being shamelessly exploited by corporate interests by forcing wages down for everyone is rarely discussed. Those workers are only trying to better their own lives but in the process are benefitting by white racism, innocently. The debate should not be brown against black but both against corporate exploitation!

The displacement of service workers is no longer a part of the conversation, and should be. No more pump jockeys at gas stations; no newspaper delivery boys; no elevator attendants and fewer non-skilled jobs across the board. Called Earthlink Help Desk a week ago and the techie I spoke with was in India! We've out-sourced many jobs to other countries and in-sourced more and more to those who can get past the barriers at the borders in a quest for economic salvation. And all to the advantage of corporate interests and at the cost to non-skilled and low-skilled poor whites and people of color who are being robbed by a broken system of public education and little or no health care.

Homelessness is growing exponentially. People where I live are doubling and tripling up in modest structures designed for a single family. Many are invisible because they're living in outbuildings and garages. They have no legal addresses (therefore are disenfranchised) because their makeshift "homes" are most often illegal and in violation of city codes. They are in no position to complain about roof leaks or faulty plumbing, or lack of heat, and ... .

Learned this morning that 70% of young black males are now high school dropouts. That 70% are either incarcerated or on parole by the time they're thirty. That means that we've substituted prisons for institutions for learning in the lives of the young, black, brown, and under-educated. In California 50% of students of color (both boys and girls) are "... pushed out of the public school system by the ninth grade." It's disgraceful! Small wonder that I can't sleep.

How many of these (do you suppose) would have been the gas station attendants, the janitors, nurses aides, phone operators, artists and musicians, bank tellers, elevator operators, bus boys,gardeners, red caps and barbers and cosmeticians, of another day? What ever happened to vocational training and the jobs that went with them in the crafts and service industries? And -- if we were providing preparations for such jobs would our schools be educating kids for a world that no longer exists? Isn't that another of the conversations we ought to be having?

Is the only answer warehousing our young in prisons where they're asked to provide slave labor to corporations who pay them little or nothing for their labor making furniture or assembling widgets -- (the new form of "rehabilitiative" prison practices). It's ironic that some of that work provides training of a sort, but upon release former inmates are confronted with prohibitions in those same industries that -- bans that prevent employment due to having been convicted of a felony and having served prison time; the classic "catch 22."

We're in the wrong conversation ... but how on earth do we change our course when the media and the forces that control it holds us to this mantra that eats away at our sanity and leaves us with the choice of either joining their conversation or run the risk of being branded racist -- UnAmerican -- and even more tragic than that; old!

No one can possibly survive in this country on what "guest workers" must settle for in order for the machine of American industry to continue to serve our collective needs. The costs to the rest of us are a persistently rising poverty level for the least able among us, a large section of the population subsisting on the ill-gotten gains from the underground economy fueled by the drug trade, and a bloated upper class now obscenely wealthy and powerful.

We must bear the costs of healthcare for those who cannot possibly take care of themselves as they continue to crowd the emergency rooms across the country or have no healthcare at all or suffer in silence until easily-preventable diseases bring death. And, at a time when so many of the middleclass can no longer afford health care services even for their own families. There is constant threat of deportation and the disintegration of families as children born in this country (Americans by birth) face the possibility of losing parents through discovery of their status as illegals. Who would wish that on anyone? Who but the wealthiest and least caring would see such lives as livable, or, that anyone should deserve such a fate? What kind of arrogance requires that anyone be relegated to lives of such desperation? And -- all for the purpose of allowing us to continue to live beyond our means in a collapsing world economy?

Yes. We're being seduced into the wrong conversations, as we are about the need to drill in Anwar while failing to mention the need to conserve (junk the SUVs!) or R&D of alternative energies; and about that issue that's allowing for the surveilance of US citizens in the name of National Security ... all wrong conversations.

I'm thinking that -- come November -- if we play our cards right, maybe we'll get to frame the debate again. Do you suppose?

(Think I'll click into and pledge my $15/month as requested in today's plea for support.)

Photo: Taken in front of the slave quarters at Arlington House, the ancestral home of General Robert E. Lee. Our National Park Service guide was a well-informed young woman whose very existence in this position would argue against the enslavement of any American over another. This setting was strangely sanitized and bereft of any signs of the lives lived within those brick walls. Found myself over these past days wondering if we're now seeing slavery reconfigured (as is torture) but still destructive of families -- parent's ever-constant threat of separation from children -- forced to live substandard lives of desparation -- for beyond the ability to overcome, ever. The new face of slavery in our time?

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Sanctuary ...

Woke on Thursday morning with just a touch of vertigo -- shortness of breath -- and with a feeling of unease that persisted well into the day. My work was being effected by the pressure of suddenly becoming "visible" in new ways and at odd times.

Yesterday I'd fulfilled an obligation to a family member to be her guest at an event in Berkeley -- as one of three women being presented to an audience of about 100. I love Berkeley, and despite the fact that celebrity fatigue was becoming a problem, it felt right to allow others the chance to draw from this font of whatever-the hell-this-is -- as well. It seemed as if I owed something to those in whose estimation I'd justifiably acquired this new status -- and maybe it was pay off time.

It was a lovely party at the North Berkeley Senior Center -- a favorite gathering place -- but was stretched out over more hours than my stamina could handle. Arrived at the appointed hour of 1:15 with an ending time of 4:30. The time would be shared by a "Reading and Book Signing by the author, Jerri Lange;" "An Accomplished Jazz Pianist, Marysa Kenyatta;", and "Our National Guest of Honor, Betty Reid Soskin." Those words were followed by the increasingly mystifying "Cultural Anthropologist and Writer," that continue to give me a feeling of over-the-topness. After all, this blog is my only writing (except for work-related pieces), and I'm not too sure what a cultural anthropologist is.

Turned out to be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel's back, and I vowed on the drive home that day to flee the field and head for sanctuary. I would pack my overnighter and head for Mendocino early tomorrow. After all, Dorian is now fairly well-adjusted to living on her own again and David can be depended upon to monitor that part of my life. Mendocino is where I would be able to slow the world enough to climb off for at least a weekend and get myself back into my box without all the strings hanging outside blowing in the winds of confusion!

It was a strange drive. Unlike other times when I see the changes in weather patterns, wildflowers along the roadside, new growth of bright greens -- the various shades of new and old foliage, and the dramatic changing effects upon the landscape that form this beautiful drive north -- this time I'd find myself using the tripmeter to furiously push forward into the miles. I was measuring the 3-and-a-half hour drive into how many cd's it would take to get me there -- and as fast as I'd pass signage that indicated how far to the next town -- I'd set the tripmeter back to zero and chew up the miles as fast as my little red Beamer could do so. Caught myself careening around at 80 mph at times and had to consciously lighten my foot on the gas pedal each time the speedometer would climb as if on its own.

This trip that I usually enjoy so much had been reduced to little more than directional signs -- San Rafael, Novato, Petaluma, Santa Rosa, Windsor, Geyserville, Cloverdale, Philo, Booneville, Navarro -- and with a sudden exhale Route 128 gave way to the merge with Coast Highway #1 and it felt as if -- just as I did that final ascent to the top of the grade -- at the entrance to that scenic wonder where the Navarro River meets the ocean -- it was as if I'd experienced some kind of "pushing of an invisible re-set button, and perspective re-asserted itself with a vengeance! Everything began to fall into place again -- the seascape in its vastness exposed the fact that I'd been living in the foreground of my life over the past weeks and that this had narrowed my sense of both my self and the world.

Tonight I would see stars again in that immense universe; stars that are normally lost to me under too-bright urban skies. Today there would be the ocean crashing against the western wall of the continent -- my north Pacific Coastline! Mendocino is where I still experience all that, and where fear and trembling is diminished to its rightful place in the panoply of important and unimportant factors in my life. For the next 48 hours there would be no search helicopters circling menacingly overhead nor police sirens blaring nor gunshots in the night -- in a cacaphony of the sounds of city life that I've incorporated so totally that I'm only aware of them now in the stillness of this environment -- in this absence of 21st century street sounds that masquerades as peace.

... As does war in our time ... .

Photo: The view from his livingroom -- an 80-degree sweeping panorama of vast ocean interrupted by nothing unless one's eyes can reach to the shoreline of Japan ... .