Saturday, September 06, 2008

Reminders of days gone past ...

This past week of back-to-back political conventions were reminders of one of the greatest of adventures as lived in summer of 1972. I was one of those relatively few citizens lucky enough to have been chosen by my congressional district to represent them as a McGovern delegate to the Democratic Convention at Miami Beach.

Lay awake last night remembering and thinking silently in the dark that -- on the day of my birth -- I may have been granted more life to live than almost anyone I know.

Reading back through these entries accumulated over many years -- re-visiting the archives though only rarely -- it's hard to escape that notion ... and to not feel more than a little guilty at the embarrassment of riches even after factoring in a fair share of hard places and emotional down times that had to be lived through along the way ... .

Photo: top right is a photo with Alaska's Senator Mike Gravell (yes, one of this year's presidential candidates) who figured with Daniel Ellsberg and the Beacon Press in the release of the Pentagon Papers -- but that would come sometime later.

Lower photo: photographed sitting in the California delegation during one of the floor sessions.
Met today with the "Uppity Ladies" of the International Red Hat Society. What a hoot!

They arrived in full regalia (meaning purple-garbed and red-hatted) ready for an official Betty-led walking tour of the Rosie the Riveter Memorial in Marina Bay Park. I loved it!

There were three veteran "Rosie's" among them, plus one very interested young man who happened by and joined the party. There were also two women I've known for many years from Seniornet, an online AOL cyberspace community each had wandered into years ago. For Liz and Dee and me it was particularly meaningful. I knew them far better as virtual friends -- and by their user-names, but this was so much better. Learned today that Liz had worked for the Key System rail lines during the war. They'd both materialized into live bodies when we joined others from nearby communities for lunch from time to time, but we've not been in touch for a very long time.

90 year-old Julia had worked for 30 years in the defense industry in a sub-contracting firm in Stockton, California. Her work had to do with electrical wiring of the vessels that were later brought to Richmond's Kaiser Permanente shipyards for assembly. She told her story proudly about having worked on 100 PT boats, one of which carried President John F. Kennedy into battle. She was a delight and was as animated in the telling of her stories as anyone could have been at half her age. She's in this photo in the grandest red hat of them all (seen here at the far left). Her little stories enlivened the walking tour considerably.

The most exciting aspect of these experiences at the Memorial is when an invisible light turns on behind aging faces and frail and halting "Rosies" remember and are young again and re-living those days when the world needed them and when they'd responded and proven their worth as workers. Young again for just this single moment in time ... They'd "done it!" And someone has finally remembered ... .

Re-living those years with my contemporaries carries a special pleasure, and though I'm doing far less interpreting now than before, I thoroughly enjoy doing so when someone makes the request for me as guide. I'm far more involved these days in public speaking and field work, with occasional writing and committee work, but these human contacts with the women of my era are the most rewarding.

My favorite moment in today's experience was when a 4 year-old "pink hatter," who came along with her grandmother and who'd hung in as much as she could during the more formal parts of the guided tour. (She was far more interested in the countless geese who own those greens.) As we gathered at one of the picnic tables after walking the time-line -- for a short summary lecture, she stood by very quietly. I'd forgotten that Emily was there, actually. As we ended the question and answer period she came up beside me and said quietly and very seriously, " sure tell a good story."

Not sure anything can top that, folks!
So many loose ends to tie up ... so little time ... .

If you've been left wondering what in the world happened to the Eugene O'Neill/Paul Robeson issues; most of that has been accomplished and accounted for:

Managed to get Jesse Douglas Allen-Taylor of the Berkeley Daily Planet to write a great prologue to be read from the stage before the opening of the curtain for act one (hopefully) and also inserted into the program for the audience to have and to hold. Would copy it here, but have a feeling that the content should be held until after the performances. I'm totally satisfied with the way it all came out. As planned, there will be a facilitated Q&A at the end of each of the 3 performances that will allow audiences to debrief and exhale before leaving the theater. In that way, O'Neill's work will have accomplished what it was meant to accomplish -- a deeper understanding of a troubled time in the not too distant past. It will also offer a chance to measure social change between the way life has evolved since 1924 when "Chillun" was premiered on Broadway to threats of violence, and life today as lived in Danville, California.

How I'd love to be able to post here a brief but critical email exchange between the play's director and the author of the prologue described above. It struck straight at the heart of the debate when the director questioned the writer about his comment about this being a "flawed script" as compared with merely a troubling play. The director expressed a deeply sincere interest in their expressed differences. What followed was priceless and struck at the heart of those questions about racial intermarriage that have escaped expression except when approached through the arts where troubling truths can become accessible. When I can get their permission to do so, I'll post it here. I suspect that we're somewhere in the middle of this conversation, but it probably can't be hurried for the sake of coherence. Life unfolds as it will and there remains much to tell in this story.

The intention was always to use this controversial play of "All God's Chillun Got Wings" as a way into conversations on race that I'm increasingly convinced we're ready for. That was not merely my concern but was the shared goal of the committee, the director, the cast, and me. I feel affirmed in that belief.

My work with the O'Neill committee is now complete, I believe, and today I'm back to leading a Saturday morning tour for the Uppity Ladies from the Red Hatters Society at the Rosie the Riveter Memorial in Marina Bay Park.

Since my last entry -- and at their invitation -- I've met with the Koshland Fellows of Hunters Point in San Francisco to talk about their plans to create the Hunter's Point Wayside Walkway that will begin the telling of the story of Hunter's Point shipyard's role in World War II. What an evening it was! This group of remarkable young woman leaders were excited about bringing their history into the growing story of the great mobilization of those times and are using the model provided by what we've done in Richmond in our Bayside Trail markers documenting that history. I brought along a copy of "Lost Conversations" which was well received, and presented the Betty version of the story of the home front to an appreciative audience of activist women.

Richmond's scattered park sites are providing the national story in microcosm, and the rest of the Bay Area is now taking note and adding their voices. Bechtel Corporation's MarinShip from across the Bay is participating in the 2nd Annual Home Front Festival the weekend of October 5th in Richmond. April Harris, Ph.D. of Santa Rosa Community College has begun the work of documenting that history with a group of excited residents of that community and other educators. Those untold stories will now get an airing and what has until now simply been "the past" will be moving into a revered place as "history" as this park and a relatively young city slowly but surely comes to life.

Photos: 3 of the 9 Bayside Trail markers that ring the shoreline in Richmond from Ford Point to Shimada Park. Together they tell the story of the homefront. It was a project of the Richmond Redevelopment Agency and was the result of over a yearlong study led by historian, Donna Graves, that created the concept and saw it through to completion. I served on that advisory committee and am pictured here with Antonio Medrano, with one of the 18' markers. We're currently in the process of doing a similar installation for the "under redevelopment" Macdonald Avenue -- the "old main street' of the city.