Monday, June 29, 2020

Monumental Times

   Lin Manuel Miranda told interviewer Lulu Garcia-Navarro we are "living in revolutionary times."
    The creator of Hamilton was on NPR reflecting on the film release of his award winning, historically successful Broadway smash.
     He hit upon a truth. 
     Our American upheaval and reckoning on race is more deeply nuanced than black and white. If I may suggest, a California accent in these days of change bears witness to deep complexity and leads us into a journey of discovery that should bring clarifying discovery to almost every point of view. 
LA Times Photo
         A sunglass wearing work crew removed this statue of an 18th Century Franciscan friar who led the building of the California mission system while the Spanish colonized this part of the US. Junipero Serra founded the San Luis Obispo mission in 1772.
       Three of the giant Sequoia trees in the eastern slope of the Sierras have become nameless. In the Sequoia, King's Canyon and Yosemite National parks, trees named for Robert E. Lee will no longer be identified as such in the parks, in tree census data, records or in publicity.
      I've made repeated visits to the spectacular groves and forests and have wondered how and why the trees were named.
      In unpacking that process we get a tighter view of the history of institutional or systemic racism.
      In 1875 Richard Field, a confederate lieutenant, named a tree after Lee in the Kings Canyon area before the breathtaking land along the King's River was a park.
      It wasn't until 1901 that a tree in Sequoia National Park got tagged the General Lee. John Broder, then the park concessionaire, gave it the name. Broder had confederate leanings and in 1937 formally dedicated the tree in a ceremony sponsored by the Daughters of the Confederacy.

       There was no good reason to name California trees for confederate rebels. There were no Civil War battles in California and the state provided gold to support the Union. California troops battled the confederacy in the New Mexico territory, built forts and military compounds to stop the rebels, and many California men went east to join the Union army.
       Like all things in history, it gets more complicated.

California was anti confederacy, anti slavery and anti-secessionist. 

        Here is where the notion of good guys and bad guys gets educated by fact. California Volunteers, regiments of infantry and cavalry, massacred native peoples in California, Oregon, New Mexico and other western regions to "secure" the land for the Union.
        This brings us back to a reality, that though it is a companion to Black Lives Matter, the genocide of native citizens is the United States' original and continuing sin. 
       The treatment of the sovereign residents is a story of genocide more than 500 years long. It was first practiced by Europeans colonizing the new world. As the American nation rose up, it too engaged in genocide. Millions of native citizens were murdered, killed in battles, slaughtered, poisoned, shoved off their lands, lied to by the government and abused since the age of discovery.
        As slavers stole human beings from Africa and the Caribbean, and forced them into labor, western expansionists, settlers, land developers, and then later, the US Army, railroad developers, and the full federal government continued to deny life, citizenship, and human dignity to first citizens of this land.

        So we circle back the grievance of other skin hues who see this moment in US history to tell the full backstory, and to seek validation and support. 
      The Mission at San Luis Obispo sent the men in orange shirts and sunglasses to move Junipero Serra to the basement. At a time when monuments, statues, memorials and public icons are under attack, the Catholic Church moved the Serra statue for safekeeping because his record and that of the church provides fuel for ire.
     Serra led the 18th century effort of the Catholic Church to build Missions and "convert" Native Americans to Catholicism. The Natives were abused, their own faith systems were banned, customs they had practiced for centuries were stopped, and many died. It was the practice of the Catholic Church where ever they "Missonized."
    The first grievance this nation should address is our atrocious, criminal and barbaric treatment of those who resided here first.
     I suspect most US citizens today are as ignorant as were our ancestors who participated in the murder and abuse of natives centuries ago, that we owe our form of government to the Iroquois. In 1754 Benjamin Franklin, depicted above, began suggesting that the Colonies adopt principles of the Iroquois Confederacy. At the time Iroquois nations came together to form a government based on peace, equity and the power of the "good minds."  Franklin persisted over the years and the Constitution we have owes its birth to the oldest North American system-the Iroquois Confederacy.
     The Cherokee could also have taught us a lesson. They were a matrilineal society and their men were equal. They governed by use of Council Houses, where men and women had equal voice.
      It is hard not to be outraged when one considers the brute force that devastated the first citizens was fueled by the spawn of European Court Society, Trading Companies, and the arrogance of wealth seeking more wealth, usually practiced by white men, insensitive to all views but their own and most certainly ignorant to the value of the cultures they maliciously and deceitfully destroyed.

   The anger being released now is simple to understand but some of the destruction and vandalism we witness is reminiscent of the Taliban or Isis.
    And there is this-Lana's perspective. She is an artist and when she sees a statue tumble, no matter how nefarious or political was the motive of the creation, she sees a work of art, the effort and creativity of an artisan being destroyed. Rage destroying creativity.
     I see no reason for a statue to a confederate anywhere on public display, but I think those that have been built can be brought down and used as tools of education. They can be retitled, new messaged, repurposed. Perhaps they belong in a museum where the truth is told and where they are not "celebrated."  I like to think how the curators of the National Museum of African American history might be able to repurpose them.

    There is value in memorials, even if we elevate and 
 celebrate other mere mortals, men and women who, as the saying goes, have "feet of clay." No one is without fault, but some have lived lives of historic value.
     There is a point at which we need to think. Before we become like the Taliban, we need reason and rationality of how to proceed. 
   Some are now trying to get the John Wayne Airport renamed! Really. Aren't there real battles to fight?

   What if some unimaginable disruptive change delivers society to the point where violence and war is so disparaged that it was tantamount to being outlawed and banned? Would we-could we, then begin to target other memorials.

    All decent and thinking people need to yell STOP when the legitimate movement of protest and outrage turns from being an assembly for the redress of grievances to mindless and mob driven, hysteric acts of violence or destruction. Good causes can be excessive. 
    We depart from the light when passion overtakes reason. Charles Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities wove a warning when the cries of "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity" became a dreadful cheer of bloodlust and beheadings. 

    There can be no untouchable, PC protected, hands off, "sacred" aspect of our history, or person, group, movement or   politics in this time of reckoning. No one has privilege. All voices should be heard. Grievances need be protested.
     We will not change our history, but we need to know it honestly, all of it, so we can make a future more honest, fair and equitable than our past.

      When Lin Manuel Miranda spoke with Lulu Garcia-Navarro it was a snap shot of the best of who we can be; young American citizens, children of immigrants, bright, creative, exploring the realm of ideas and embracing the American dream.
      " this moment right now, what I'm seeing is the language of revolution everywhere. And so the language of revolution present in this show from 244 years ago is being felt again in this different way by the Black and Brown future of this country reckoning with what we want the future of this country to be going forward."  
        Lin Manuel Miranda to Lulu Garcia-Navarro on NPR June 28, 2020

       Stay safe, take care of each other.

       See you down the trail.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

...we will not look away...

   Bob Dylan's recent and rare interview with historian Douglas Brinkley covers sensitive history and sacred ground and does so at this time when the history we are creating shakes us to the core. 
    The rebellion against racism is global. The outcry about killer police and the culture of inadequate training and profiling is also world wide. It seems people of reason are fed up with the enabling of racist attitude. Non-Black people are the majority of this universal movement. This may be one of those "inflection points in the arc of history."

     "...If you can't speak out against this kind of thing, a crime that's so unjust,
      Your eyes are filled with dead men's dirt, your mind is filled with dust..."

      Dylan wrote the lyrics to the Death of Emmett Till in 1963, 8 years after the bright eyed 14 year old Chicago youth was savaged into a grotesque corpse in the Mississippi delta.

      "...For you let this human race fall down so God-awful low!"

     Years later a white woman admitted she lied about the incident that sent her husband and his half brother into a rage where they grabbed the youth from his uncle's home, beat and mutilated him, shot him in the head and put him in the Tallahatchie River. 
     An all white jury acquitted Roy Bryant and J.W. Millam. A year later the men admitted they killed Till.

    "...This song is just a reminder to remind your fellow man
  That this kind of thing still lives today in that ghost robbed Ku Klux Klan."

    Till's family wanted an open casket. The gruesome truth helped launch what we call the Civil Rights Movement.

    Dylan's song came in the midst of the push for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that outlawed segregation. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibited discrimination in elections. 

     We know those rights did not come without bloodshed, police violence, massive marches and demonstrations. 
     The extension of those freedoms were born of courage and faith.

      And, it seems, we are back to the start, though now everything is accelerated. The 21st century struggle against racism and repression is world wide. 
      People around the globe are demanding better training and less violence from their cops. 
       Too many men and women, black and white are killed by police without cause and for crimes that are minor, not serious and would never carry a death sentence. 
       Whites do not walk out of their homes with the daily fear that accompanies Blacks; will this be a day when a police encounter ends my life?  Being white in America offers a safety. Being Black in America brings jeopardy. Still, all these years later!
       Things must change and the momentum has filled our screens, dominated government attention, and provoked something new and powerful. 
     This has happened more rapidly than any political movement I've witnessed. But the grievances are centuries in the making.
      Something seems different. There is a kind of spiritual momentum. Justice and equality seem to be getting breath, bringing a multitude of races and ethnicities together and into the streets and halls of government with a common purpose.

     But racism does not die and it's congress of dunces do not go easily into the night, here or anywhere in the world.
     Ignorance is a powerful strain in humankind. While some refuse to see and understand, resisting all the while proclaiming they are not racist, others conspire to keep a knee on the neck of equality. We need only look at what Georgia did in their recent primary, suppressing black votes, as they did earlier in electing a racist governor denying hundreds of thousands of votes to a Black woman, the likely winner.
     The Republican strategy of voter suppression is in full overdrive, now trying to eliminate vote by mail, even in the midst of the pandemic. There continues a deliberate attempt to deprive people of the right, because of the color of their skin.
     It is dead wrong, but not surprising as the two most powerful racists in the US are the President and his partner Mitch McConnell.

    People of conscience should note, some of the harshest critics of the racist Trump and McConnell are Republicans, former Republicans now. They are a bit like the Germans who fled as the world watched the rise of a fascist regime.
Those who stay loyal to this President will be marked by history as ignominious fools.

        It is not unreasonable to see the murder of George Floyd as being a galvanizing moment, one death too many. In that way his murder by a dead eyed, trouble making cop captured on video is like the horrible casket photo of Emmett Till. We can not look away from that kind of evil. We can't deny the hatred, the racism, the stupidity, that still exists.
      Those of us who thought the legislative acts of the 1960's fixed the problem, were naive and racist in our way, because we refused to see the truth. 
     Racism is a human stain, it is ours to eliminate. It does not happen with one election, or a congressional action, or better testing of the psychological fitness of cops. 
     My dad used to say, equality cannot be legislated, but discrimination can be outlawed. Real equality is the work of the heart. 

       "...but if all of us folks that thinks alike, if we gave all that we could give,
        We could make this great land of ours a greater place to live.
           from The Death of Emmett Till-  Bob Dylan

beautiful diversion
Jacaranda trees are in bloom on the California central coast

     Take care, stay well.

      See you down the trail.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Days of Hope-Night of the Jackals

    Absorbing the overwhelming passions of life in the US these last days, I stammer to say we appear to be acting in diametrical dramas.
    We are separate realities, multiple players, different scripts desperately grabbing for control of our national soul.
    Our screens reveal who we have become, and who we may yet be. 
    Amidst it all a shroud of echoes hangs like a mist over America.

    The reverberating consequence of centuries hurled into our lives in 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Those minutes of hate blew away the fetters of pretense. Police officer Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd on camera. The days and nights since have forced the US to face its demons, and to acknowledge that racism shelters deep in our history and is the father of malignant offspring. 
   Chauvin is the most recent pestilential hatch to betray his dark perversion. They are amongst us. It is inexcusable. Civilization knows better. Humanity rises above the beasts, but every racist heart is a liege of evil and the pulse of atrocity.

    The world has been watching. Millions abroad have also risen up. As veteran observers note, this is not just a "moment," this is about more than Floyd and the other victims before him, this appears to be an awakening. 
    The diversity of the demonstrators is extraordinary. Race, ethnicity, age, gender, and conviction of belief. We should not be sidetracked by the few; agitators, criminals, troublemakers, looters, idiots, or brutal and bully cops. There are jackals are both sides. They are overwhelmed by those who demand we understand what is systemic racism, and then do something, finally. After centuries. 

     We are adding chapters to an old discussion.
   A vintage photo of my late brothers, John and Jim.
  John, a charismatic psychologist/counselor was also a political radical, my good friend and best debating partner. He was SDS and on the front line of 60' and 70's politics. Protest, like that we are seeing now, was to him only a beginning. He wanted fundamental systemic change and reasoned if the system does not respond, if change does not occur, then a little revolution, even violence, was in order. He was confident he was purely Jeffersonian. 
     Being a couple of years his elder and working as a reporter, striving for objectivity and balance, I was a perfect foil, arguing that political change, the ballot box was the best route. He had little patience, citing the years of racism and economic exploitation and the privilege of the upper class and of late, their penchant for the profits of war.
     His milieu was the underground, striking at and undermining an indifferent ruling culture.
     50 years later I still argue for change through the electoral process and in legislation, but my patience is gone. I understand brother John's warrior soul. 

    From abroad we are viewed as a failed nation. We have lost credibility and impunity. Great American leaders question aloud if the American experiment has failed. I cannot recall American military leaders speaking out thusly, speaking against the character and leadership of a sitting US President. 
    We are in deep water and troubled seas.

    It does not help that a racist, spiritually crippled and inept man sits in the White House. George Will calls him a "malignant buffoon." He is a malignancy indeed who empowers a generation of racists, supremacists, and a dangerous species of losers and malcontents, some of whom are bad cops, all of whom have no place in the 21st century.
    We are better than Trump. The majority of US voters voted against him, in part in fear of exactly what we are living through. 
     He's been a bully on twitter and in his self loving rallies, now he is a bully using police and military powers. His comments on the day of Floyd's memorial service may be the most distasteful and appalling in Presidential history. There were echoes, a warning.

     After Trump finished his dark inaugural address George W. Bush whispered to Hillary Clinton "That was some weird shit."

    In our debates my brother always challenged, "...have you seen enough change, has it gotten better?"
      "It's a long process. There have been improvements, "I'd say.
     If black or brown or a woman, or an Asian, or native citizen, I would have had a different sense of timing and patience. White privilege had me in blinders.
     I suspect of a lot of us have caught up with my brother's urgency and zeal. 

a portent?
     Most US citizens don't know what happened a century ago. Aside from the Spanish Influenza pandemic, the US lived through a period of bombings, mostly by anarchists. The root was economic inequality, and the efforts of workers to organize. There was a wide gulf in wealth, wages, living and working conditions.
     The LA Times was destroyed in a 1910 blast with immense legal and political fall out. 
      It was a time of division and working people were trying to even the playing field. The Attorney General responded by trying to kill the movement and labor organizations. What followed was a series of bombings that shook the nation. Political and national leaders were targets of mail bombs. Buildings were bombed. There was fear. 

      The situation has echoed several times in our history including during those turbulent 60's and 70's, the back drop of my brotherly debates.  
       Once, John was willing to give "the system a try."

     He "got clean for Gene" peace candidate Eugene McCarthy for whom he campaigned and worked as a body guard and driver for one of McCarthy's leading spokesmen, actor Paul Newman.
    But as 1968 played out, he found himself back on the other side of the police lines in Chicago at the Democrat national convention, where the "police rioted," as a presidential commission later reported.
    The Trump and Barr ordered rush at peaceful demonstrators at the White House was reminiscent of 1968. At our station in life we've see things a time or two. 

     In 1968 a prophet of peace and change and a man who practiced non-violence was gunned down. Martin Luther King Jr was killed by a racist. The US exploded and cities burned. Months later Robert Kennedy, arguing for a new way, for racial justice, was gunned down. There was more violence.
     All these years later it is still dangerous to be black in America. Inequalities and disadvantages and risks that are seeded in slavery, remain. The political system that I argued was a place for change is presently inhabited by a racist, fascist in the White House and pandering sycophants and racists in his party. 
experiment on
     Police officers take a knee with protestors, military heroes warn us about the danger of the president, while some bad cops brutalize for no good reason and some troublemakers try to ruin a movement for change. We are talking about American values and the use of Presidential power. It seems the lobby for litigating justice and prosecuting racism has been emboldened. 
    The American experiment is not over, but it's noisy, ugly and may get worse here in the lab.

  A democratic republic can be messy, it was intended to that way. More voices can drive us to reason. Participation is essential.
  The US is not perfection, it remains a work in progress, an experiment. Change is the life blood, the hope of our days. 

   See you down the trail.