Why I Marched

me-w-sign

I am of that age to which some “ladies” don’t generally admit. I am 65 years old and no “lady”. I’ve come a long way from those years when my mother would scold me for unladylike behavior; gum chewing, swearing, wearing mini-skirts, and sloppy bell-bottom pants. I was admonished for any behavior that would have me in motion, speaking my thoughts, and waving my fist in the air. I guess my mother’s wish was that she be the mother of a lady. But that wish came before my dad left her and us. My father left me with the hard fact that it was always a man’s prerogative to leave. I was 16 when I watched my mother dragging home an old typewriter and asking to use my grammar text to practice letter writing – something she did not learn before being taken out of fifth grade to care for her blue-eyed brothers and sisters in the Canadian Maritimes. I fell asleep many nights to the cadence of the old Royal typewriter’s “home row” as mom practiced for the job of receptionist with Los Angeles’ only African-American optometrist at the time. It was a job that would take her from the sweatshops of downtown and provide a sense of dignity she so desperately wanted. It was about that time my mother quit pushing me to be a lady, instead, telling me to stay in school and get a good job so I wouldn’t have to depend on a man to take care of me – “be able to care for yourself.” She was telling me to be, like her, a real woman. I started college in 1969 only to witness events that did not revolve around whether or not I saw myself as a lady. Later, as the only African-American female in my Los Angeles workplace, I was made aware of the prevailing assumptions regarding my collective and gender. Insulting still was the old term “ladylike” often used when I responded with a few well-placed expletives in my defense. I learned that fighting misogynistic attitudes with anger was ‘unladylike’. Eventually, I was able to return the “favors” with a tough, wisecracking demeanor that shielded me in the male-dominated industries in which I worked. It wasn’t long before I realized that being a lady made me vulnerable while being a woman made me strong.

So, on Saturday, January 21st I marched with REAL women who were proud of their pussy-hats. The experience took me back to my days as a student at San Jose State University in northern California when, with my Afro as a halo, I marched against the purveyors of the Vietnam War just as fervently as I marched Saturday against the current war on women. I marched for my older sister who died of breast cancer in 1990 and for the sister of my college roommate who had just succumbed to this dreaded disease; a disease that hunts down women with a criminal, bloodstained accuracy and kills with impunity. But I also marched for the women who voted for Trump and against (in my mind) the best interest of ALL women. I’ve lived long enough to know there is not enough time for blame and finger pointing. The die is cast and everyone, all women and the people we love, will be hurt by the Trump legislation that is coming our way.

 

So, I marched, I yelled until I was dizzy, waved my fists in the air and hugged my history-making girlfriends in wild abandonment of that outdated

moniker; LADY.   I marched as a WOMAN.

Comes the Fate Upon Us: Taking Adversity Seriously

King - 20th cent. martyrs
Martyrs of the 20th century – honored in granite and poetry – Westminster Abbey

December 17, 2016

I’ve just read a summation of our president’s news conference on Russia’s hacking of the election that allowed Donald Trump to steal the election from Hillary Clinton. I saw clips of our beautifully cerebral President Obama thoughtfully picking his way through the minefield of words available for times such as these; words that could highlight injustice in a big and angry way. And for that moment I wanted him to be that angry black man – the idea that so scattered the brains of bigoted whites eight years ago – I wanted Obama to tear away at that inbred institution designed for service to the very few. But he didn’t, and that saddens me. My president’s behavior revived for me the belief that there is some unseen player in presidential politics. One who holds all the rules governing this experiment we call democracy. This is the player who gladly sits sideline whispering, to the one front and center, cautionary tales; this is the preemptive hand upon which are written all the options at a President’s disposal. What were the options facing you Mr. President? Instruct the Electoral College to do the right thing, nullify the elections? Declare Hillary Rodham Clinton president? (Personally, I think your parting tasks to ensure a legacy of courageous decision making should be to put Sec. Clinton on Supreme Court and declare Santa Claus legally, officially, a black man). But no, sadly, you have no legal standing in this case. You may have been besieged by thoughts of a civil war even as you understand fully your duty to ensure a “peaceful and orderly transition”. But, there will be war – an uncivil war – waged by the upcoming Theatre of Thieves – the 21st Century robber-barons. And yes, we will protest even as we hide the sickness that resides in the thought that our beloved President, hands tied by a constitution he has taught, is as helpless as we are  watching further shredding of this democracy.

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December 19, 2016

It seems clear to me today – December 19, 2016 – that we are moving towards that southern economic doctrine of low wages, no unions and little concern for the environment. A southern doctrine that addresses ideas like diversity and the need for common courtesy (erroneously referred to as political correctness) as frivolous, white-power killing, sentimentality. This new “strategy” will ensure that those who live in poverty and those refugees whose fate lies in the kindness of strangers remain 2nd and 3rd class citizens (if they are allowed to remain at all). It will ensure that those who, by nature, have to work outside their small circle of cultural acceptance live in fear. Fear of a capriciously dispatched army who will bend and convert non-believers to their will. This doctrine resides in the barren drought-stricken stretch of community where women know their place, little girls don’t appear too smart and all females understand the ugly consequences of striving to be richer than a man. It is a place where the aims of decent men and the female pantsuit are outlawed.

It is time, now that the Electoral College has affrimed its predilection for inertia, to take Trump seriously and not literally, as Christy Wampole of the New York Times suggests in her piece, How to Live Without Irony (For Real this Time) Yes, we now have a president who can’t spell, who tweets his thin-skinned pain like a hurt child, who has grabbed women by their genitals because he could. Now, according to Wampole, we should be seriously prepared “for a new, expressive austerity.” I agree. It was easy to sit on our self-righteous liberal laurels and ignore the suffering of the “uneducated deplorable” citizens. We are all guilty, in some form or another, of this class combat. And these self-righteous thoughts may still be the palliative we use to soothe the cuts of loss. I know I sleep better knowing I am right; that the best candidate did not win. And, God help me, I have to catch myself, feeling happy for the sure to come ‘I told you so’s”. The low-income, less educated worker, the praise-worthy military and its veterans who will stand and die for the next war to come in spite of GOP continued resistance to Veterans Bills and continued funding, all will suffer (much more than I will) for their willingness to trust a different voice – as long as that voice promised personal well being and for some, as long as that voice as male and white. I have to acknowledge and take serious the ‘trust’ his voters have. I agree with Wampole when she says “this president-elect, seems incapable of laughter…[embodies] the thirst for profit …apocalypse fetishism, joyless ideology, and even cruelty. [His] is a punitive seriousness, a burn-it-all-down ethics that favors revenge over reconciliation.” That said, we must never normalize his brand of seriousness. We must never forget this man is a dangerous buffoon who takes money and retaliation seriously. His hollow promises, laughter and smiles are simply means to an end. As decent human beings, we must take the high road as we struggle to soften the blow Trumps tactics will surely have on those who simply wanted to “shake things up.”  God help us.

 

So, this evening, my second glass of wine has sufficiently lubricated the hinges on the doors to my big, rusted political heart and I find myself returning to a line in Homer’s Odyssey, a scene really, where Polyphemus, blinded and bested by an arrogant, boasting Odysseus, stands huge upon an outcropping, breaking off mountain-tops and hurling boulders and curses in the direction of Odysseus’ retreating ship. And, for the moment, we are Polyphemus, blinded and outwitted by our lack of seriousness and the arrogant tools of injustice. The line that haunts me? “Now comes the weird upon [us].”

 

 

THE PERILS OF BEING THE BEST

Rainbow Little Torch

I’ve been running for my dream
That started well before
The public even knew
There was someone to adore

I was swimming for my dream
Well before I was born
Who knew the heights that I would reach
The laurels my head adorn

I’ve been throwing at my dream
As you watched and tisked disdain
“She’s so big and unbecoming”
As if my goals were your domain

I’ve been fencing with my dreams
Assault by angulation
Beautiful balestra in hijab
Avoiding fearful imagination

I’ve been balancing all my dreams
On rings and bars and mats
Long before you got off your couch
To write uncharitable scat

Don’t shower me with bloodless praise
“I’m the greatest in the land”
And in ultimate compliment say,
I “compete just like a man.”

First Lady Once Removed

NYT 7:23:16 Lauren Tamaki
nyt 7/23/17 Lauren Tamaki

 

The door to my 10th grade English classroom was flung open with more than a little purpose on the afternoon of October 24, 2003. Irritated, after a long day of teaching, I looked up to see two stocky men, strangers, each with a curly black cord snaking from a right ear to God knows where. Fear replaced irritation as my heart leapt, scared by the suddenness of their movement and the no-nonsense look on the faces of the United States Secret Service. My high school was being “swept” in preparation the arrival of Senator Clinton. The three students in the room, frozen by a situation they had only witnessed in movies, looked at me in surprise, happy to be getting out of their current assignment. I told the agents we needed to stay put to finish our work. The looks of the agents softened as they gave us a nod before closing the door and moving down the hallway to “sweep” the remainder of our school.

 

Senator Clinton was due to speak within the hour in the high school atrium to award the our school district a federal grant to equip district school busses with diesel emissions reduction systems. I waited with my students in the hallway behind the stage with hopes of meeting the Senator and former First Lady.  I moved closer in an attempt to hear my students converse with Senator Clinton. She look up at me and smiled. I offered my hand and introduced myself. I noticed a twinkle in her eye, a softening humility of the often beleaguered former First Lady who had been so hated by so many – even some from her own party. Initially, my feelings were mixed regarding Hillary Clinton. I had friends who resented her for not ditching her husband in the face of his infidelity. There were those who could not separate the president’s personal faults from the actions of his wife. I heard the degrading comments referencing Senator Clinton’s political aspirations; “too ambitious,” some said. But I know a woman’s ambitions are not judged the same as a man’s. Like Sophocles’s Antigone, Clinton’s drive comes from a place that is feared by her opponents. Hillary Clinton has long embodied the power of one who prefers reality to dreams. And, when her First-Lady reality punctured the dreams of those Americans used to seeing women behave a certain way, the ground was in place for all manner of campaigns to bring down Hillary Clinton. She’s a woman who will not be held in place by the principles of double standards revered by the political, nattering, nabobs who slink about, reading and seeing only that which justifies their point of view.

 

There is an aura that surrounds Hillary Clinton. And maybe, my end-of-the-day fatigue made me more prone to awe. But, once in the Senator’s presence, I would have signed on for whatever job she gave me. Such was the strength of the power she conveyed and shared with those working with her. The idea of Hillary Clinton as a natural politician provokes fear.  That a person can go into a building full of people and by her mere presence win hearts and minds, is frightening indeed, especially to the more artificially programmed politician who will spend untold public dollars to find the smoking gun that will close the circuit on her power source.

Later, when I related my experience to others I was reminded of how awe can be inspired not necessarily by decency but the simple power of prominence. I should say here that I was no stranger to being in the presence of prominent people. I have met my share of the famous and infamous. The names that remain in my memory are there for having shown a certain unpracticed humility that overrode all the accolades and awards. It is a power that comes from knowing oneself and an understanding of human nature in general. The venerated journalist, Walter Cronkite displayed the same humble power as he shook hands while walking through the hallway of my first post-college job at CBS Radio in San Francisco. I often thought that, as a naïve twenty-three-year-old I was blinded by the bright light of Cronkite’s accomplishments but the longer I live; I know what can and what cannot be faked. There are times when humility has to live along side of ambition – times when humility seems practiced to veil naked drives for power. But ambition, for women as for men, is not necessarily a bad thing. I believe it is this ambition that Secretary of State Clinton’s detractors cannot abide.

Still holding my hand, Senator Clinton thanked me for teaching, saying that so many of our country’s teachers could be successful in many other professions – but instead they come to the classroom. Intrigued, I wondered how this woman, whom I had never met, could presume to know me? Now, 13 years older and wiser, I understand (like Clinton) more about human nature. Senator Clinton’s acknowledgment of a certain nobility in one’s desire to teach made me glad, all over again, for my decision to leave California. And there will be those who say that all Senator Clinton represented for me that day in 2003 was a simple affirmation of my own life choices. But, as Antigone infers, there are two laws: man’s law and the law of nature. And one is more infinitely worth fighting for.