Category Archives: history

two pictures, old hope

Images  found this week at the Swarthmore College Peace Collection, now in dim photocopies.  I’ll scan both as soon as I can, and provide substitutes in the meantime:

Stokely Carmichael in Alabama, 1966

Stokely Carmichael in Alabama, 1966

#1: June 30, 1966.  A room at NY Community Church on 35th Street, filled to bursting for a press conference. To the left of the table, a reedy and still-handsome David Dellinger, WWII conscientious objector and staff member at War Resisters League, and Stokely Carmichael, about to become chair of the Student Nonviolence Coordinating Committee (SNCC), looking almost exactly as he does at right.

musteday1Seated just behind Carmichael is pacifist icon A.J. Muste, who had just returned from a visit to Vietnam (looking just as he did in the iconic photo with Dorothy Day, left). Then at the table itself sit Army privates Dennis Mora, James Johnson and Robert Samas, also known as the “Fort Hood Three,” announcing their intention to refuse deployment to Vietnam– flanked by Lincoln Lynch, of the Congress on Racial Equality, and the ubiquitous Staughton Lynd,  co-chair with Muste of the Fort Hood Defense Committee.

In some ways, it’s a picture of the anti-war movement before it fractured into a million little pieces. When the priests, the poets, the politicos and the pranksters who demarcated the movement had yet to manifest themselves, and most simply thought of it as an extension of the struggle for civil rights, three years after the March on Washington.  The letterhead of the Defense Committeee lists, as members and sponsors, such seemingly-disparate pairings a Dorothy Day and Noam Chomsky, both civil rights veteran leader Fred Halstead — soon to run for president on the Socialist Workers Party ballot — and the libertarian journo Nat Hentoff.

This was a moment  just before  Carmichael  went down to Alabama to organize the Lowndes County Freedom Party, whose symbol was a black panther, and long before he came to symbolize Black Power both to SNCC and the FBI;half a year before Muste died at 82, leaving behind a movement already beginning to shred; before the GI antiwar movement had multiplied, until there were imprisoned GIs, more “defense committees” charged with everything from conspiracy to murder, than anyone could count. It’s a serious photo, but somehow hopeful. No one in that room imagined that the war was in some ways just beginning; there’s none of the rage, exhaustion, Dadaist darkness  of even the Chicago Seven protests two years later.

wpaphotoImage #2 was on the cover of WIN Magazine in January 1981. It’s from the November 1980 Women’s Pentagon Action (left). But the image in front of me now is of two college sophomores, not yet nineteen years old, openly grieving after having marched to the Pentagon from Arlington National Cemetery. Ronald Reagan had just been elected, and the next war felt imminent. The crying was part of an innovative, emotionally structured sequence in which the demonstration went through stages, starting with grief and ending with defiance (civil disobedience). One of the girls in that photo is my heart-friend Julia Kay. And two rows behind those two is a girl in braids, looking forlorn and stubborn at the same time.

To my eye, none of those girls looks older than twelve — including the one in the braids. I was only four when those brave boys came forward at Fort Hood, and knew nothing of them when I wept at the Pentagon 15 years later.

Tomorrow is my birthday — god help me, I’ll be forty-seven. (No one told me when I celebrated 40 that it would keep going forward!) But working on this book has brought me closer to that girl in braids than I ever expected.

mille grazie, Shirley de Lucia.

I know it’a been forever since I posted here. I’ve been way too busy not finishing the book, AND completely recreating my other shop, from a blog into an actual online magazine. For which I wrote the “news item” below:

Grazie, Shirley de Lucia.

civicassociationThat’s what I kept thinking last night as I watched TV reports about the Hero of Binghamton — the woman in the small city of Binghamton, New York. She worked as a volunteer, in a center that helped legal immigrants study English and study for their citizenship exams, until one sociopath walked in and shot her in the abdomen on his way to killing more. As Ben Sherwood summarizes in the Huffington Post:

Shirley DeLucia was the 61-year-old receptionist on Friday morning when Jiverly Wong walked through the door. “Hello, how can I help you,” DeLucia asked. The killer pulled his weapon and opened fire, hitting DeLucia in the abdomen. She dropped to the ground while Wong shot the other receptionist. DeLucia played dead while the attacker shot his way through the building. At 10:31 a.m., DeLucia somehow managed to call 911. Police responded within two minutes and found 13 people dead, including the other receptionist. The Binghamton police chief believes DeLucia’s quick thinking and action made a big difference. “She’s a heroine and I believe she saved some lives,” says Chief Joseph Zikusky.

Full disclosure: I spent seven years living in Binghamton, arriving as an undergraduate and staying through most of my first marriage. I spent much of that Friday afternoon glued to TV reports of the standoff. Still-familiar streets, now flooded with SWAT teams: how could this be? I didn’t yet know that those teams had been called in by a daughter of immigrant, perhaps those same Italians that landed in Binghamton straight from Ellis Island in the 1910s, holding flyers handed out at Ellis Island that advertised jobs at Endicott Johnson’s shoe factories. (They said “Which way EJ?”, or so the story goes.) But I wasn’t surprised when I learned that so many lives had been saved by a 61-year-old woman. As de Lucia described Jiverly Wong and his weapons to the 911 operator, she enacted Ernest Hemingway’s maxim about “grace under pressure.” We all wonder if we could do that: I don’t know if she’s proof that we all could, or that it takes a post-menopausal daughter of immigrants to take care of such business.

bingomensclubLearning about de Lucia, I thought of the way my grandmother, Christine Solanto, told me stories of struggling with English when growing up in Connecticut; about the way my immigrant students at La Guardia Community College described their own journeys, as I tried to browbeat them into writing correctly. The Ellis Island experience may have been as distant to de Lucia as to me, but that distance is not very much in one’s heart.It was that immigrant,”which way EJ?” spirit she was honoring as she said hello to people from Russia, from Vietnam, from Haiti who sat in those classrooms and struggled with this weird old-new language called English.

The news also reported last night that de Lucia rolls her eyes when told in the hospital that she’s a hero. But I want her to tell her own story, now. Captain Sullenberger got invited to the White House when he landed that plane safely; President Obama can do no less for a woman, exactly the age of his Secretary of State/former primary opponent, who taught us all this week what courage is really made of.

I wrote thia having cried all Friday afternoon,watching the small town of my college years struck by tragedy. I still don’t know if I was also crying for my youth, or for my tough immigrant grandmother now lost to dementia. But I know I’ll try to live out the rest of my life with a tenth as much grace.

poetry friday a day early

cause that’s how it feels sometimes.




The Author to her Book

Thou ill-form'd offspring of my feeble brain,
Who after birth did'st by my side remain,
Till snatcht from thence by friends, less wise than true,
Who thee abroad expos'd to public view,
Made thee in rags, halting to th' press to trudge,
Where errors were not lessened (all may judge).
At thy return my blushing was not small,
My rambling brat (in print) should mother call.
I cast thee by as one unfit for light,
Thy Visage was so irksome in my sight,
Yet being mine own, at length affection would
Thy blemishes amend, if so I could.
I wash'd thy face, but more defects I saw,
And rubbing off a spot, still made a flaw.
I stretcht thy joints to make thee even feet,
Yet still thou run'st more hobbling than is meet.
In better dress to trim thee was my mind,
But nought save home-spun Cloth, i' th' house I find.
In this array, 'mongst Vulgars mayst thou roam.
In Critics' hands, beware thou dost not come,
And take thy way where yet thou art not known.
If for thy Father askt, say, thou hadst none;
And for thy Mother, she alas is poor,
Which caus'd her thus to send thee out of door.

six years on, we are all conscientious objectors

A month or so since I posted and I’m still speechless. More soon, I promise.
Meanwhile, there are all sorts of important things to say on the sixth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, but for now I think I’ll just let a poet say it, again. In 2003 I quoted Yeats, but now let’s let Edna say it. (Above is one of the guys whose story is still trapping mine. Like LBJ, I seem to be unable to get out of that war.)

Conscientious Objector

I shall die, but that is all that I shall do for Death.

I hear him leading his horse out of the stall;
I hear the clatter on the barn-floor.
He is in haste; he has business in Cuba,
business in the Balkans, many calls to make this morning.
But I will not hold the bridle
while he clinches the girth.
And he may mount by himself:
I will not give him a leg up.

Though he flick my shoulders with his whip,
I will not tell him which way the fox ran.
With his hoof on my breast, I will not tell him where
the black boy hides in the swamp.
I shall die, but that is all that I shall do for Death;
I am not on his pay-roll.

I will not tell him the whereabout of my friends
nor of my enemies either.
Though he promise me much,
I will not map him the route to any man’s door.
Am I a spy in the land of the living,
that I should deliver men to Death?
Brother, the password and the plans of our city
are safe with me; never through me Shall you be overcome.

Edna St. Vincent Millayedna_st_vincent_millay

call it love or call it reason

More flotsam from my life-on-Mars phase:

I didn’t know this video existed, until now. I wish I had a clip of Ochs’ performance at the first Winter Soldier (two years later than this TV appearance) but this is good enough  for now. Knowing that the vets in Detroit heard Ochs’ anthem, just before four days of hearings on war crimes, makes me feel more certain than ever that I chose the right title for the book.

can you hear me major tom?

So I’ve been of late calling myself “Billy Pilgrim,” when people ask me how I am; digging tenaciously through those mad years we call “the Vietnam era,” which I subtitle as “When Everything Blew Up and Everything Grew.” What, she’s not done yet? Not yet, not when I spent thompsonnearly three weeks with the likes of Hugh Thompson (left) Ron Ridenhour (right) ron5 and the ubiquitous Tod Ensign,  as well a the guy below (hidden three rows behind Jane Fonda) who hasn’t yet talked to me about what I still think of as his proudest hour. (Also buds like Steve Morse, Bill Perry, and Susan Schnall, who’ve given me so much of their time…)  The whole thing makes me weirder than usual. I’m boring to be around: scattered, listening constantly to Hanoi Hannah on Pandora.com to get in the mood, etc. etc.

kerryfonda1

But this week, I realized that Vonnegut is far too noble an antecedent to call on here: better that  TV show “Life on Mars,” (thus the David Bowie above). So now, when people ask me “How’s the book??” I won’t say I’m Billy Pilgrim. This week, at least, I’m Sam Tyler – a 21st-century creature who keeps thinking they’ve moved on, only to be dragged right back to 1973, one more time.

don’t know much bout eco-nomics

My bankruptcy lawyer, among others, is quite aware of my financial illiteracy (something I’m not proud of). Which has likely made it amusing, for the five to ten regular readers of this blog, as I worried about having to get an MBA in order to understand NYC’s then-peaking real estate market. I wanted to simultaneously get a Ph.D. in philosophy, so that I could find a way to articulate that whatever allowed these guys to get away with what they were doing,  it was wrong.

Now, thanks to the invaluable Sullivan, I learn that the degree I was really missing? I could have written their kind of lucrative fictions – but I needed to use advanced mathematics.

I can’t wait for the episode of the show above entitled The Gaussian Copula.

non-state of the union, semi liveblog

You know you’ve spent too much time doing nothing but write when you show up at a party of sorts – the Philadelphia Drinking Liberally, featuring cool folk like Duncan and Jeremy and Roxanne – and end up fading into the background. You know you’re hanging out with bloggers when you realize its been way too long since you posted, so you might as well liveblog a presidential speech.

I wake up to find that my publisher was just like those purple lines of joy we saw dancing at the bottom of the speech. I just posted her love letter here: go click on it, if only for the Jimmy Stewart film clip. Then read below, for my somewhat-snarky-almost-grateful musings.

The group that was clustered at the bar is now all crowding into this conference/semi-banquet room, which was also cold until filled with bodies.

Frankly, it’s been a relief to hear someone reasonable at each press conference- but as I write this I hear that Obama is going to announce *here* that he’s not going to withdraw troops from Iraq as he’d promised. Ouch.

Keith and Rachel trying to figure things out as they go. We’ll see what we think by what’s actually said.

Lots of brass in the  house. Young men in dress uniforms and Purple Hearts, shyly greeting Jane Harman et al.

Jill Biden (god, she *is beautiful)  shaking one of their hands. Someone serving with Beau?

Kirsten Gillibeand looking incredibly short. Rache calling her “Senator from the Lollipop Guild.”

The Cabinet files through: Hilda Solis –  confirmed today! – grinning in the crowd. She and Susan Rice also in the short crowd 😉

This room erupts in applause when Ginzburg shows up – looking pretty healthy, surprisingly.

I personally love the Baltimore-born Italian San Francisco girl at the head of the room, gently clapping as her Prez shakes hands along the way.

To have the Supreme Court clapping for you: I can’t imagine how  that must feel.

Ohhhhh FUCK those lines, like in the debate. NOOOOOOOOOOES!

Peanut gallery (the bloggers): “si se puede!” when he says “We will rebuild.”

Professor Obama: “It is only by understanding how we got to this moment..”

For too many years we ignored crises in:

energy, healthcare

global economy

more debt than ever before

short-term over long-term

‘surplus became an oppty to transfer wealth to the wealthy,” thank you.

Pelosi looking tired/worried now

“begins with jobs,” gets applause. applauds stimpak, are Reeps applauding?

Kerry grins a little much, as if he’d been drinking. McCain absolutely has.

“A proven and effective Inspector General.” That guy, who looks like he’s just been told his wife is pregnant again?

9:20 update: Lecture re “if we don’t get lending restarted”

new lending fund – auto loans, student loans, etc

Won’t help speculators, will help others struggling w/declining home values……

When we learn a major bank has serious problems,we hold accountable, fix them. Is he talking receivership w.o talking recerivership?

Joe Lieberman sucks on a sour lemon.

“..private jet. Those days are over.” easy applaue line.

McCain voters happier than Obama voters? (from the lines….)

My job is to solve the problem. Thats what this is about. Not helping banks but helping people.  Trickle-down theory of bank fixes.

What exactly i this reform u speak of? I know, I know, this is a night for big concepts…..

Eric Cantor’s forced smile: what he been smoking?

Civil war railroads, public high schools, GI Bill – big government you can believe in?

Govt catalyzed private enterprise. Three areas: energy, healthcare, education.

Energy: Van Jones approach? Camera goes to Steven Chu when Obama mentions how much further along China is on this stuff.

Double supply of renewable energy, research, power lines. – clean energy! market-based cap on pollution..

re-tooled auto industry. “the nation that invented the auto cannot walk away from it.” how???

healthcare: The real issue here. Can’t afford to put healthcare reform on hold. Applauds S-CHIP. Now on to electronic health records, etc. Curing cancer. Where’s the word universal health care?

“quality healthcare for every American” = universal? Mandate, as Ezra says Obama finally accepts?

“Will not wait another week.” Better mean it.

Education: more charter schools. at least one yr of higher ed for every American. (Now? On top of what we have, or?)

by 2020 America will once again have highest proportion of college graduates in the world

If you’re volunteering or serving your country, we’ll make sure u get thry college

Hatch-Kennedy National Service Act?

“No substitute for a parent.” Lindsey Graham playing with his hair obviously needed one.

“The deficit e inherited” gets applause, but what now?

$2 trillion in savings over the next decade. Payments to large agribusiness, no-bid contracts in Iraq, cold war weapons systems we don’t use. Ending  tax breaks for corps that ship jobs overseas.

McConnell and Hoyer lean in as if they’re buds.

When he talks abt including both wars in the budget, both line go up and up.

The men in uniform, many with gray hair and tons of medeals, lean forward as people applaud. Then they applaud, too.

Obama does a coin pose.

expanded health care for vets.

Closing of Gitmo, “swift and certain justice.” But what of Bagram? Still, no-torture pledge is worth something.

Closing phrases. diplomacy, envoys, forge alliances, incl G-20 on trade etc.

Now the poster children: Leonard Abess, bank prez who gave  his bonus to employees, Greensberg, KS (new green town post-tornado), and Ty’Sheoma Bethea, girl from SC school who wrote to Congress. She smiles when he quotes her saying “We are not quitters.” This feels like that pre-election movie from October. Camera on Sully Sullenberger.

“We must show them we are equal to the task before us. ” Knows everyone loves this country and wants it to succeed. (really?)

“This was the time.” Reminiscent of South Carolina speech. Totally jazzed and relaxed at the same time.

now time to make the long, wearying trek back to  Nofeast Philly…..

my only valentine’s day poem

cummingsI loved this poem long before the author became one of my book’s guys (“i sing of olaf,” The Enormous Room et al.). I once asked my students, as their midterm, to explain to me how someone can write a love poem without ever using the word. Can you tell me?

somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
any experience,your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look will easily unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully,mysteriously)her first rose

or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully ,suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;
nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility:whose texture
compels me with the color of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens;only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands

hearting Keith Olbermann one more time

Before it gets too old:  Paul Schindler at Gay City News (one of the hardest-working and most brilliant journos I know) sends this report from the weekend’s Human Rights Campaign dinner, where Keith Olbermann (above) schooled the lawmakers in the room:

In an evening when the governor of New Jersey made his most forceful statement to date in support of marriage equality, the new Senate majority leader in New York State pledged to make gay marriage a reality here, and New York City’s mayor once again promised to lobby the Legislature in Albany to help get that done, the crowd’s heart at the February 7 Human Rights Campaign gala in Manhattan’s Hilton Hotel, it seemed, belonged to a cable television political commentator.

In honoring Keith Olbermann, host of MSNBC’s nightly “Countdown,” with its Ally for Equality Award, HRC took particular note of a “Special Comment” he made about California’s Proposition 8 six days after the election. As Olbermann was poised to take the stage Saturday evening, a clip from that “Special Comment” was replayed to a hearty standing ovation.

The rest of the piece is a must-read: Schindler explains the complexities of gay and progressive  politics with his usual elegance. He also includes video of Majority Leader Malcolm Smith wading into those complexities.