(Renny Kurshenbaum, Warsaw ghetto resistance fighter, circa 1939 -- more about her below)
Today, April 19, is the 65th anniversary of the beginning of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. That year, too, it began on Passover Eve. This was the largest act of resistance by Jews against the Nazis.
Not long afterward, a Lithuanian Jew named Hirsh Glick, incarcerated in an Estonian concentration camp, wrote a song commemorating the spirit of resistance, Zog Nit Keynmol (which means "Never Say" in Yiddish). It is also known as Song of the Partisans. Glick was killed in 1944, but his song lives on. The final words of the first and last stanzas are Mir zaynen do -- We are here!
Below is a video of the Concerto a Chiari performing Zog Nit Keinmol.
Lyrics (English translation):
Never say this is the final road for you,
Thought leadened skies may cover over days of blue.
As the hour that we longed for is so near.
Our step beats out the message -- we are here!
From lands so green with palms to lands all white with
We shall be coming with our anguish and our woe,
And where a spurt of our blood fell on the earth,
There are courage and our spirit have rebirth.
The early morning sun will brighten our day,
And yesterday with our foe will fade away.
But if the sun delays and in the east remains--
This song as password generations must remain.
This song was written with out blood and not with lead,
It's not a little tune that birds sing overhead,
This song a people sang amid collapsing walls,
With grenades in hands they heeded to the call.
Therefore never say the road now ends for you,
Though leadened skies may cover over days of blue.
As the hour that we longed for is so near,
Our step beats out the message -- we are here!
Lyrics (in original Yiddish):
Zog nit keynmol az du gayst dem letzten veg,
Ven himlen blayene farshteln bloye teg;
Vayl kumen vet noch undzer oysgebenkte shuh,
Es vet a poyk tun undzer trot - mir zaynen do!
Fun grinem palmenland biz land fun vaysen shney,
Mir kumen un mit undzer payn, mit undzer vey;
Un voo gefalen iz a shpritz fun undzer blut,
Shpritzen vet dort undzer gvure, undzer mut.
Es vet di morgenzun bagilden undz dem haynt,
Un der nechten vet farshvinden mitn faynt;
Nor oyb farzamen vet di zun in dem ka-yor,
Vi a parol zol geyn dos leed fun door tzu door.
Geshriben iz dos leed mit blut und nit mit bly,
S'iz nit keyn leedl fun a foygel oyf der fry;
Dos hut a folk tzvishen falendi-ke vent,
Dos leed gezungen mit naganes in di hent.
Zog nit keyn mol az du gayst dem letzten veg,
Ven himlen blayene farshteln bloye teg;
Kumen vet noch undzer oysgebenkte shuh,
Es vet a poyk tun undzer trot -- mir zaynen do!
After the fold, I'll print the story of the uprising, along with historical photos that may be very hard for you to see.
(Walling off the Warsaw ghetto, August 1940)
From Aish HaTorah, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising:
The Warsaw Ghetto originally contained almost 450,000 people. By January of 1943, it was down to roughly 37,000 people. The rest had already been taken away to slave labor or death camps. Word got out that the Germans were going to finish off the ghetto, clean it out. Those half-starved, disease-weakened ghetto inhabitants decided to fight.
(Emaciated Jewish children in the Warsaw ghetto)
(A child dying in the streets of the crowded Warsaw Ghetto)
They had actually been preparing for this, and had convinced the Germans to let them build 631 air-raid shelters. Bombing was going on all around them, and the Germans needed their slave laborers so, to keep them safe from Allied bombings, the Germans had allowed them to do this. Now the people used those very shelters to fight against the Germans.
When the Germans came in to clean out the ghetto, much to their surprise, they were met with resistance.
There were over a thousand fighters, including children. They used pistols and Molotov cocktails against the Nazi weaponry, and they successfully repulsed the Germans.
(Captured during the uprising)
It was a short-lived victory. The Germans returned a short while later. This time they brought major fire power. They started to destroy buildings, bit by bit by bit, knocking everything down. After about a day, they broke into the hospital, shot everyone in their beds, and torched the place. Gradually, they destroyed the entire ghetto.
(A family marching at the head of a column of Jews on their way to be deported during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943)
When the Nazis reached the air-raid shelters, they drilled down, and gassed the people inside. Some fighters escaped to the sewers, and the Germans raised the water levels. The main fighting was over by May 16, 1943.
Most of the remaining Jews were rounded up, but it actually took months and months of combing through the ruins and demolishing the destroyed buildings before the uprising was finally put down.
(Jews in the Warsaw ghetto surrender to German stormtroopers; one of the most famous images of World War II)
Although the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was not really very successful, it was the first time in all of German-occupied Europe that there was any organized uprising against the Nazis. Word got out, and it set a climate. And afterwards, there was Jewish resistance in many other places, including some of the camps.
While the Warsaw Ghetto was fighting for its life, the world had called another conference. They met in Bermuda and, again, absolutely nothing was done to help.
(Diary from unknown young woman during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising)
From the Claims Conference website:
The only surviving diary written from inside the Warsaw Ghetto uprising emerged in 2004 from the archives of Beit Lohamei Haghetaot (Ghetto Fighters’ House) in Israel. The six-page diary was written by an unknown young woman, who described the fires raging through the ghetto as the Nazis attempted to control the uprising.
The diary pages are part of a large collection of letters, notes and pages collected after the war by Adolf-Abraham Berman, a survivor of the ghetto and leader of the Jewish Underground who moved to Israel after the war. The museum realized the importance of the diary pages while organizing the Berman archive for release to the public. The writer, whose fate remains unknown, wrote from a basement for nine days, beginning on April 24, 1943, the sixth day of the uprising.
“The ghetto is burning for the fourth day,” she wrote. “You see only chimneys standing and the skeletons of burnt houses. At the first moment, the visions arouse a horrible chill.” She wrote that she was a member of a Jewish youth group, indicating that she was in her late teens or early 20s. “The only thing we are left with is our hiding place,” she wrote in her last entry, on May 2. “Of course this will not be a safe place for very long. We live this day, this hour, this moment.”
(Renny Kurshenbaum while she was a courier for the resistance)
Janet Tiger has written a play about one young woman, Renny Kurshenbaum, who was a resistance fighter, survived the ghetto, escaped from a Nazi death camp, and eventually came to America. She never found her little son, Jurek, though she searched for word of him over sixty years, until her recent death. Renny's biography and genealogy can be found at Renny's Story.
Saturday, April 19, 2008
(Renny Kurshenbaum, Warsaw ghetto resistance fighter, circa 1939 -- more about her below)
I've already referenced the Redstockings group once in my reprinting of their essay The Politics of Housework. Their influence was profound, and in learning about them, you'll find out the roots of some of the different forms of feminism. The theoretical choice to blame men rather than male conditioning or institutions for sexism seems to have originated with the Redstockings -- a choice which I believe failed but is still used as a negative label for all forms of feminism. (Though not mine.)
(Redstockings meet for a consciousness-raising session -- image from an article in Life magazine, An 'Oppressed Majority' Demands Its Rights, by Sara Davidson)
According to Wikipedia, "Redstockings, also known as Redstockings of the Women's Liberation Movement, is a radical feminist group that was most active during the 1970s. The word is a neologism, combining the term bluestocking, a pejorative term for intellectual women, with "red", for its association with the revolutionary left.
"The group was started by Ellen Willis and Shulamith Firestone in February 1969 after the breakup of New York Radical Women. Other early members included Kathie Sarachild, Patricia Mainardi, Barbara Leon, Irene Peslikis, and Alix Kates Shulman. Shulamith Firestone soon split with the group to form New York Radical Feminists along with Anne Koedt. Rita Mae Brown was also briefly a member during 1970. The group was mainly active in New York City, where most of the group's members resided, and later also in Gainesville, Florida. A group called Redstockings West was started in San Francisco in 1969, but was independent of the East Coast group. Redstockings went through several phases of activity and inactivity; they first split up in 1970 and were formally refounded in 1973 by Kathie Sarachild, Carol Hanisch, Patricia Mainardi, and Barbara Leon. (Ellen Willis was involved only peripherally with the reformed group.) In the early 1970s, Redstockings were noted for their 'speakouts' and 'zap actions' (a combination of disruptive protest and street theater) on the issue of abortion rights. Redstockings was one of the influential but short-lived radical feminist groups of the Sixties that produced many of the expressions and actions that have become household words to people in the United States--'Sisterhood is Powerful', 'Consciousness-Raising', 'The Personal is Political', 'The Politics of Housework', 'The Pro-Woman Line', 'The Miss America Protest'.
"More recently, the group leads a project to make available radical feminist papers and original source organizing material building on their concept 'History for Activist Use' through the Women's Liberation Archives for Action, as well as putting out new theory on women's oppression and what to do about it. In 2001, they put out a book called Confronting the Myth of America: Women's Liberation and National Health Care. As of 2006, the group is active and operates a website, though Kathie Sarachild is the only original member still active with the group."
"The group is a strong advocate of consciousness raising and what they refer to as 'The Pro-Woman Line' – the idea that women's submission to male supremacy was a conscious adaptation to their lack of power under patriarchy, rather than internalized 'brainwashing' on the part of women, as was held by some other radical feminist groups. Redstockings holds the view that all men oppress all women as a class and that it is the responsibility of individual men to give up male supremacy, rather than the responsibility of women to change themselves.
"Redstockings relationship to other strands of feminism of the 1970s was complex. Like many other radical feminists, they were critical of liberal feminist groups like the National Organization for Women, whom they viewed as advancing women's liberation only as a type of institutional reform while ignoring the interpersonal power of men over women. The Redstockings were more influenced by Marxism than were other radical feminist groups, however, they nevertheless strongly rejected socialist feminism (which they referred to as 'politico' feminism) as subordinating the issue of women's liberation to class struggle. On the other hand, Redstockings were also against cultural feminism, which in their view substituted the building of a separatist women's culture for political engagement. (In Redstockings' view, most other tendencies of radical feminism, especially after 1975, were expressions of 'cultural feminism'.) Brooke Williams was a member of the group who critiqued this tendency strongly.
"Redstockings were strongly opposed to lesbian separatism, seeing interpersonal relationships with men as an important arena of feminist struggle, and hence seeing separatism as escapist. (Like most radical feminists of the time, Redstockings saw lesbianism primarily as a political identity rather than a fundamental part of personal identity, and therefore analyzed it primarily in political terms.) Redstockings were also opposed to male homosexuality, which they saw as a deeply misogynist rejection of women. Redstockings line on gay men and lesbians is often criticized as homophobic."
Their manifesto is after the fold.
July 7, 1969
1. After centuries of individual and preliminary political struggle, women are uniting to achieve their final liberation from male supremacy. Redstockings is dedicated to building this unity and winning our freedom.
2. Women are an oppressed class. Our oppression is total, affecting every facet of our lives. We are exploited as sex objects, breeders, domestic servants, and cheap labor. We are considered inferior beings, whose only purpose is to enhance men’s lives. Our humanity is denied. Our prescribed behavior is enforced by the threat of physical violence.
Because we have lived so intimately with our oppressors, in isolation from each other, we have been kept from seeing our personal suffering as a political condition. This creates the illusion that a woman’s relationship with her man is a matter of interplay between two unique personalities, and can be worked out individually. In reality, every such relationship is a class relationship, and the conflicts between individual men and women are political conflicts that can only be solved collectively.
3. We identify the agents of our oppression as men. Male supremacy is the oldest, most basic form of domination. All other forms of exploitation and oppression (racism, capitalism, imperialism, etc.) are extensions of male supremacy: men dominate women, a few men dominate the rest. All power structures throughout history have been male-dominated and male-oriented. Men have controlled all political, economic and cultural institutions and backed up this control with physical force. They have used their power to keep women in an inferior position. All men receive economic, sexual, and psychological benefits from male supremacy. All men have oppressed women.
4. Attempts have been made to shift the burden of responsibility from men to institutions or to women themselves. We condemn these arguments as evasions. Institutions alone do not oppress; they are merely tools of the oppressor. To blame institutions implies that men and women are equally victimized, obscures the fact that men benefit from the subordination of women, and gives men the excuse that they are forced to be oppressors. On the contrary, any man is free to renounce his superior position provided that he is willing to be treated like a woman by other men.
We also reject the idea that women consent to or are to blame for their own oppression. Women’s submission is not the result of brainwashing, stupidity, or mental illness but of continual, daily pressure from men. We do not need to change ourselves, but to change men.
The most slanderous evasion of all is that women can oppress men. The basis for this illusion is the isolation of individual relationships from their political context and the tendency of men to see any legitimate challenge to their privileges as persecution.
5. We regard our personal experience, and our feelings about that experience, as the basis for an analysis of our common situation. We cannot rely on existing ideologies as they are all products of male supremacist culture. We question every generalization and accept none that are not confirmed by our experience.
Our chief task at present is to develop female class consciousness through sharing experience and publicly exposing the sexist foundation of all our institutions. Consciousness-raising is not "therapy," which implies the existence of individual solutions and falsely assumes that the male-female relationship is purely personal, but the only method by which we can ensure that our program for liberation is based on the concrete realities of our lives.
The first requirement for raising class consciousness is honesty, in private and in public, with ourselves and other women.
6. We identify with all women. We define our best interest as that of the poorest, most brutally exploited woman.
We repudiate all economic, racial, educational or status priveleges that divide us from other women. We are determined to recognize and eliminate any prejudices we may hold against other women.
We are committed to achieving internal democracy. We will do whatever is necessary to ensure that every woman in our movement has an equal chance to participate, assume responsibility, and develop her political potential.
7. We call on all our sisters to unite with us in struggle.
We call on all men to give up their male privileges and support women’s liberation in the interest of our humanity and their own.
In fighting for our liberation we will always take the side of the women against their oppressors. We will not ask what is "revolutionary" or "reformist," only what is good for women.
The time for individual skirmishes has passed. This time we are going all the way.
Friday, April 18, 2008
BROADCAST 18 APRIL 2008: ENVIRONMENTAL RACISM, BILLY COLLINS, CORRECTING TYPOS, JEOPARDY, AND A JOKE
Billy Collin's poem "Some Days" has been set to animation by Julian Grey of Headgear and posted at YouTube. Watch it below.
Pretty good joke from this week's Prairie Home Companion:
Wife: Can we tap the neighbor's maple tree?
Husband: Well, I think we should ask first?
Wife: No, I mean syruptitiously.
John Gabriel's Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory
The Typo Eradication Advancement League (TEAL) has an online source for you to join them in their quest to clean up America's grammar, spelling and punctuation errors in print. You can follow the 2008 Typo Hunt Across America, clicking on a city and then reading the blog about their efforts in that locale. For those of us still literate, it's a gratifying read.
I got notified yesterday that I successfully passed the online test to become a Jeopardy contestant this spring. I have been invited to attend the in-person contestant search in Dallas in May. Since I cannot travel, I can't pursue this further -- mostly, I just wanted to see if I could pass that online test, which was duly difficult. Nice to know.
(Willow Rosenthal at City Slicker Farms)
In an Earth Island Journal interview with Willow Rosenthal, the meaning and practice of working against environmental racism in this country are outlined. The introduction reads:
'The west side of Oakland, California is not known for its gardens and green spaces. Site of the sprawling Port of Oakland, the neighborhood is surrounded by the warehouses, rail yards, and truck depots that are vital to the workings of the global economy. The area is also home to some 30,000 people, 70 percent of whom live below the poverty line. It is because of these challenges – not in spite of them – that Willow Rosenthal adopted West Oakland as the home for her innovate non-profit organization City Slicker Farms. In just a few years, Rosenthal and a dedicated band of neighborhood residents and volunteers have transformed five formerly vacant lots into thriving gardens filled with annual vegetable crops, fruit trees, beehives, and chicken coops. In the process, Rosenthal has distinguished herself as pioneer in a growing urban farming movement.'
Later on in the interview, Willow states:
'In the African-American community, I hear people say: “My aunt just died of cancer. My uncle was diagnosed with cancer. My grandmother had cancer, and my mother has breast cancer.” And the next thing people say is, “I think it’s because of the chemicals.” There’s this perception, maybe, that the environmental movement is very white, and that people of color don’t understand what’s going on, and that’s absolutely not true. People of all different walks of life are very capable of understanding what’s being done to them, and what’s happening to them. And they see that our environment is completely inundated with toxins, and that in low-income communities there are more, because people aren’t as able to fight against industries that are polluting.'
She talks about the impact the U.S. Farm Bill has on food prices. Our government's subsidy of certain (lobbyist-driven) crops means the cost of what Michael Pollan would call "not real food" is very cheap, and their preponderance in the American diet is what actually accounts for our lousy nutrition and health issues related to what we eat. But those decisions are more driven by economics than by character or taste.
Ms. Rosenthal explains how their farm stand in West Oakland works:
'We have a farm stand, and it’s by donation only. We have customers from all different economic backgrounds, and we offer three different price categories. The first one is called “Free Spirit,” and if you look at that column on the price board, it’s all a row of zeros. Our next price category is “Penny Pincher,” and we have an explanation that says, “You’re waiting for your check to come in. You may have something, but not a lot.” And that’s essentially conventional food prices – 89 cents for a bunch of greens or something. The other column says, “Sugarmomma/daddy,” and that is for those who have enough to pay a little more and help subsidize someone else who can’t pay.
Q: Do you feel folks are fair and honest?
'Yes, I feel that they are, because they see what we are doing. The interesting thing is that people don’t like to take handouts. So for the most part, even people who are in the first category will give whatever change they’ve got. Or they’ll say, “I’ll catch you next time.” Which is kind of going back to the old days when people had kind of a line of credit at the local store with the grocer.
'We don’t recommend this strategy in areas where people are middle-income. We’re doing this because of the conditions we are in, because we want to make sure that the folks who really need this food are able to get it. This organic movement is wonderful, but it’s still leaving out people who are at the bottom economically. So I really want to see more – not just lip service paid to the idea of equity – but more actual commitments financially and in terms of resources.'
Giving poor people decent food in a dignified manner: This is revolutionary.
(The Farmstand at City Slicker Farms)
Image is "Sampler" available from Northland Poster Collective
One of the poems offered by The Writer's Almanac this week was Fix, by Alicia Ostriker (below). I found it fascinating because it was a great decription of the trio of so-called privilege -- race, class, and gender -- but at the end, she claims we don't know what is wrong. I think we DO know what is wrong, we simply want it to be something else.
by Alicia Suskin Ostriker, from No Heaven. © University of Pittsburgh Press, 2005
The puzzled ones, the Americans, go through their lives
Buying what they are told to buy,
Pursuing their love affairs with the automobile,
Baseball and football, romance and beauty,
Enthusiastic as trained seals, going into debt, struggling —
True believers in liberty, and also security,
And of course sex — cheating on each other
For the most part only a little, mostly avoiding violence
Except at a vast blue distance, as between bombsight and earth,
Or on the violent screen, which they adore.
Those who are not Americans think Americans are happy
Because they are so filthy rich, but not so.
They are mostly puzzled and at a loss
As if someone pulled the floor out from under them,
They'd like to believe in God, or something, and they do try.
You can see it in their white faces at the supermarket and the gas station
— Not the immigrant faces, they know what they want,
Not the blacks, whose faces are hurt and proud —
The white faces, lipsticked, shaven, we do try
To keep smiling, for when we're smiling, the whole world
Smiles with us, but we feel we've lost
That loving feeling. Clouds ride by above us,
Rivers flow, toilets work, traffic lights work, barring floods, fires
And earthquakes, houses and streets appear stable
So what is it, this moon-shaped blankness?
What the hell is it? America is perplexed.
We would fix it if we knew what was broken.
Thursday, April 17, 2008
I have this giant cache of LOLHumor pix sitting, waiting for the weekly installment, and nothing else ready for a post. So I'm going to give you all a second batch this week -- those of you who hate this, just ignore it. Those of you who can't get enough, consider it a bit of Aries excess (you know how we have to overlook that).
As usual, the ones up top are by the irrepressible little gator. See you all Saturday.
Riffs on metaphysics and spirituality:
Riffs on pop music:
Riffs on television, movies and theater:
AND Two riffs on the same photo:
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
(Waves, by Berenice Abbott, 1958-1960)
This post is dedicated to the artesian well which was La Chola.
In the mid to late 1980s, I participated in a series of national workshops for a group of peer counselors working on reclaiming Southern identity and pride. This was NOT a white supremacy driven agenda; it was open to all Southerners and emphasized the need for us to acknowledge and clean up the parts of our identity which were oppressive, all of it. I learned tons at these workshops, and it was instrumental in me becoming able to return to the South to be an effective activist in place, a radical anti-racism, anti-classism, lesbian-feminist back at home where I was not preaching to the choir.
Still, after three years, the attendance at these workshops was grossly imbalanced with regard to race and to people who were currently involved in extended family life. (Well-mixed in every other regard.) Those attending were all white except for one or maybe two brave souls. That year, our leader and the woman who founded the idea of these workshops, Nancy Kline, gave us a talk which I will recreate as well as my imperfect memory will allow:
"Several thousand years ago, human beings developed technology and agriculture in a particular way in one part of the world to such an extent that they accumulated a surplus. With this surplus, they did lots of things we can admire, like ensuring longer and healthier lives for their citizens, offering more education to their children, fostering art and thinking and spirituality. But they also began moving out of their native territories to exploit the resources and people of other regions, and with them they carried their belief system, their ways of organizing society and culture, which they forced by any means necessary on those who lived in the territories they came to occupy.
"One of their beliefs was that only people who resembled them were actual human beings. In particular, they meant people who had light-colored skin. Anyone with darker-colored skin was declared not human, but instead some kind of animal. And animals, they believed, were put on earth by god to serve human beings.
"Thousands of years pass. Slowly, the colonizers develop a view of animals that is not quite so predatory and cruel. They also come to believe, as a culture and within their institutions, that these other people are not in fact animals, but a version of human being: Not a full human being like white people, but worthy of more respect than a mere animal.
"Another several centuries pass. The colonizers painfully come to understand that these other, non-white people are actually entirely human, to exactly the same extent they are. But, they explain, these other human beings have not had the advantages of civilization to develop fully. They are as children, and must be treated with the benevolent control we exercise over children.
"More time passes. Now, within the lifetimes of most of us in this room, many of us have broken through to understanding that people of color are identical to us in all human regards. They have gone on being human beings for the past several thousand years, although we have excluded them, their beliefs and thought systems and culture, from any of our most powerful institutions and ways of doing things. We say to them, We were wrong. Our ancestors were wrong. We want you to forgive us. We want you to come be with us. Come join our universities, our governments, our organizations, all of which were created without your input in any meaningful way. And we don't understand why they don't accept our invitation -- why they insist we have not actually made room for them. We want them with us in our comfortable spaces, why do they not give us credit for our best intentions?"
After she finished this talk, we broke into small groups for a while to deal with the overwhelming grief that seized us. The scenario she outlined also applies to class and to gender. People who are involved in recovery programs understand that just deciding to stop drinking is not enough -- you have to recreate your entire identity, you have to "work the steps", and one of those steps is amends (where it will do no harm to make amends). But the first step is to give up control.
For the rest of that workshop, we pushed each other to give up control and comfort. We brainstormed, based on our limited comprehension of non-white culture, what we could change about our ways of doing things that might eliminate barriers. A lot of the answers came from white poor and working class people. We realized in order to open the doors to people of color who believed in the principles we followed, we had to open the doors to every person of color, their families and friends, without limitation. We had to step away from all the ways we thought we knew how to do things and face the void of not knowing what was going to happen next. And, as a group, we made the choice to do that.
We stopped the practice of a workshop consisting of a talking head at the front of the room and silent deference from all the listeners. We created multiple, concurrent leaders who were in constant call and response with everyone on the room. We made meals and singing together the focus of our gatherings, instead of "teaching". We scheduled the workshop on a major holiday when working people could afford to take time off. We did massive fundraising so the sliding scale attendance fee began at zero. We agreed to do all the work of maintaining the workshop facility -- cooking, cleaning, etc. -- ourselves, not just to reduce costs but also to ensure we worked together, which is the best kind of learning. We said any family member or friend is welcome, no matter what.
Our choices caused major ripples in the parent organization, most of which were negative. We stood our ground and said "Let's just see what happens." The following year, 40% of those who attended were people of color. We had newborn babies and folks in their 80s. We had loud, disruptive, messy sessions that seemed to reach no resolution. We got over our cheap selves. We had glorious food, and singing that never stopped. We had the time of our lives. And we, all of us, got a taste of what we had missed our entire lives.
Within six weeks, Nancy Kline was removed from leadership in that organization and banned from all its activities. One of the charges laid against her was racism, though no one could ever explain how she had been racist. Virtually every one of us who had been to those workshops also left the organization. We went out elsewhere and continued to build on what we had learned.
(From Unlearning Racism by Ricky Sherover-Marcuse)
We have to unclench our tight white fingers from holding onto the reins, even if (as women, as queers, as po' white trash) we've only got a partial grip on those reins.
Sharon Bridgforth in one of her plays retold a true story about a place in (I believe) Louisiana where white people had invaded and laid claim to land which had belonged to native people for time immemorial, introducing slavery and other subjugation. One day a small group of the enslaved went door to door, shucking and jiving in rags and smiles, offering to "clean the guns" of white folks for a pittance. The armaments of household after household were delivered into the arms of those "just trying to make a livin' here". Once the community was disarmed, the rightful inhabitants rose up and killed the invaders.
When this was performed, the audience always cheered. We love the story of Nat Turner, of St. John's, of the Amistad, of Harriet Tubman, because they are about resistance which succeeds, if only temporarily. But they are small islands in a sea of misery. We know what happens when the imperalists re-arm and return.
The Akmamu of St. John's ran from the allied forces of three European nations (England, France and Denmark) until there was no more land, at Ram Head Point. They jumped into the ocean and drowned rather than return to slavery, throwing their children in first.
We know, every one of us, what we face when we decide to stand down the forces arrayed against us. We will lose friends and family, at least temporarily. (See you on the other side.) We will gather at the ship's rail at night, trying to remember constellations and stars because we have no compass. We will find the distrust embedded in our culture to be actual chains of iron that clank when we walk or dance. The more damaged among us will savage the weak or distracted.
But we are at that next step, that next leap of consciousness. If "they" are not sending us their manuscripts, if they are not sharing their thinking free of charge, if they are not sitting home in silence until we need our lawns moved or concrete poured or chickens cut into pieces for frying, if they are not forgiving us our trespasses -- what more of a sign do you fucking want? We have to go meet them, listen to them without interruption or apologia, and be the ones to turn around ten thousands years of error.
Let's do it with honor. Let's go.
(Icaros Flight, linoleum print by Haya Weisshaus)
WAITING FOR ICARUS
by Muriel Rukeyser, from The Collected Poems of Muriel Rukeyser. © International Creative Management, Inc
He said he would be back and we'd drink wine together
He said that everything would be better than before
He said we were on the edge of a new relation
He said he would never again cringe before his father
He said that he was going to invent full-time
He said he loved me that going into me
He said was going into the world and the sky
He said all the buckles were very firm
He said the wax was the best wax
He said Wait for me here on the beach
He said Just don't cry
I remember the gulls and the waves
I remember the islands going dark on the sea
I remember the girls laughing
I remember they said he only wanted to get away from me
I remember mother saying : Inventors are like poets,
a trashy lot
I remember she told me those who try out inventions are worse
I remember she added: Women who love such are the
Worst of all
I have been waiting all day, or perhaps longer.
I would have liked to try those wings myself.
It would have been better than this.
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
(Adrienne Booth, Sever Hall, Harvard, 2000)
My friend Adrienne Booth is currently working on a master's in Media Arts and Computer Science at New Mexico Highlands University. She's also taking a graduate level course in the Geology Department on mining and environmental policy (very relevant to her interests in natural and cultural resources interpretation/environmental education). After a field trip taken by the class earlier this month, she asked for time to speak to her classmates about something which had occurred. Her talk, and the class's response to it, is after the fold. Feel free to comment as if to Adrienne, because she'll be reading what you have to say.
This talk is a variation on something that I presented at the Texas Parks and Wildlife Managing Parks Operations training course.
Let me begin by sharing some photographs with you.
(A baseball player)
(An old woman)
(A smiling young stewardess)
(A child on a city sidewalk, wearing purple pants and cowboy boots)
(A woman on a horse)
I’ll tell you more about the photos after you all have a chance to look at them, and while you’re looking at them, I am going to continue talking.
There was a movie that was in the theaters a couple years ago -- it’s a story about two people who meet and fall in love while working at a summer job in the Rockies. Time passes, and one of them ends up being brutally murdered, beaten to death with a tire iron; his grief-stricken lover travels to ask permission to bury that person’s ashes at the place where they met and fell in love, but the person’s father refuses his request.
Can anyone tell me the name of that film?
The movie is Brokeback Mountain, and I bring up now because there were some folks on the field trip who were making jokes about it – “heh heh” sort of innuendoes, just casual banter among friends; I guess the opportunity was too good to pass up, when the bus drove past a dude ranch in Cerrillos called The Broken Saddle….
I think the people cracking those jokes felt okay doing so, because they figured that nobody on the bus, or at least no one within hearing distance, was gay. Would you crack jokes using the “N” word, if you were sitting next to an African-American person? Would you make snide innuendos about “wetbacks” if you were sitting next to a Mexican-American person? Would you make innuendoes about homosexuality if you knew that you were sitting next to a gay person?
But the more important question, and a main point of this presentation, is this:
If the assumptions and implications behind what you are saying are offensive, is it okay to say those things at all? And especially in a college setting that is supposed to be a safe and supportive learning environment, is it okay to say things that are based on hateful stereotypes, and to say things that are potentially threatening to your classmates and to others in the university community, and indeed in the community at large? Please understand: your words may not just be rude or “politically incorrect” -- they can cause people to feel threatened and vulnerable. Why, as a civil person and educated human being, would you permit yourself to think in such stereotypical terms, much less open your mouth to say something so stupid and offensive?
Sometimes we avoid saying offensive things around individuals of a particular group, because we think we can tell who people “are” based on superficial characteristics. But gay people, in particular, often try hard to blend in and be invisible, despite the prevalent stereotypes about flamboyant gays. (And this is true for members of other marginalized groups as well; fear is a powerful motivator to encourage you to assimilate and “blend in.”) I don’t know about you, but I’ve heard about Matthew Shepard, and about Brandon Teena (who is the main character in the film Boys Don’t Cry), and I saw what happened to Jack in Brokeback Mountain -- and I, personally, have been harassed at various times in my life, mainly by macho but insecure and immature heterosexual men. Fear motivates me to be quiet, and to blend in as best I can.
But today I want to use that fear for a higher purpose, as an educational tool, which I why I am sharing these stories with you.
I’d like you to think about the photographs I passed around the room. There’s a baseball player; an old woman; a smiling young stewardess; a child on a city sidewalk, wearing purple pants and cowboy boots; a woman on a horse.
The people in those photos are incredibly important to me.
(Adrienne's grandfather, Michal "Mike" Pankiewicz, 1932)
The baseball player is my grandfather, Mike Pankiewicz. He was born in Russia and came to the United States as a child. He learned English as a second language, and he self-consciously spoke with a slight Polish accent all of his adult life. He taught me how to catch, throw, and hit a baseball.
(Adrienne's grandmother, Bernice Pankiewicz)
The woman is my grandmother, and in the photo she is 61 years old, which is just 12 years older than I am right now. She worked as a seamstress, and in the photo, with hands that are deformed from illness, she is threading a needle.
(Adrienne's mother, M.J. Panke, as stewardess for Northwest Airlines, late 1950s)
The stewardess is my mom -- and that photo was taken right before she was forced to give up her job with Northwest Airlines because she was pregnant with me.
(Adrienne at age five, early 1960s, Chicago)
The child is me, in front of a tiny, old apartment where my family lived, in Chicago. My grandmother made the shirt and the pants I am wearing in the photo, and she made many of my other clothes when I was growing up.
(Adrienne's partner, Marsha Rippetoe)
The woman on the horse is my partner, Marsha. I couldn’t be attending graduate school here at Highlands if it wasn’t for her support, emotionally and financially. Among other things, she is a breast cancer survivor, and she has taught me a lot about toughness and perseverance. She can’t be with me here in New Mexico, although we both want her to be here, because she is back in Texas caring for her elderly mother.
I can tell you a bunch of facts: That my ethnic heritage on my mother’s side is Polish; that my grandfather worked as a laborer in a steel mill; that I have to this day never met my father; that I played intercollegiate fast-pitch softball; that I was the first person in my immediate family to complete college, and that I graduated from Harvard with honors -- and yes, I can tell you that I am gay -- but without me sharing these photographs with you and explaining them, or telling you about my fears and dreams, you don’t really know me. And if you allow yourself to see only a stereotype when you hear the word “Harvard,” or any other word associated with me, you don’t see the person that is me.
On the bus the other day, Professor Lindline mentioned the anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. If you wonder what all this has to do with studying Geology, think about this: the Civil Rights movement served as a seed to raise public consciousness about many social issues, not just race. If you are a woman, or if you are Hispanic, Native American, or a member of any other group that historically experienced discrimination in the U.S., you can in large part thank Dr. King for the opportunity to study at a public university and the opportunity to compete successfully for jobs in your chosen field. But stereotypes persist, and the trivialization and marginalization they support is harmful to all of us, individually and collectively.
Whether in economics (as we’ve seen in our studies of mining towns), in biotic systems, in professional work groups or in other human communities, diversity is not just a “good” thing, it’s critically important to survival and success.
I ask you to have the maturity to get beyond stereotyped assumptions.
How will you ever learn about our common humanity and the ways we can work together, if your words and actions scare people away and make them hide their true selves from you? In your words and actions, respect and nurture diversity.
Adrienne wants me to let you know let that: "1) it's a small class (12 people), and it's mixed undergrad and grad students; 2) my Geology professor was incredibly supportive, and gladly allowed me class time to do the presentation; and 3) the class burst into applause at the end of the talk; at least one person cried, and a number of people came up and hugged me afterwards; one woman said I was brave, and a number of folks thanked me for doing the presentation. One of the guys who made the Brokeback Mountain comments came up to me, hugged me, and apologized; the other person wasn't in class that day.
"And the class doesn't know it yet, but I am going to use the Broken Saddle 'dude ranch' as a featured example in my final project: The entire class will be doing short presentations on issues surrounding the proposed oil & gas drilling in the Galisteo Basin, and I will be discussing its impact on tourism (which is a very big economic driver in New Mexico); after the field trip, I went back the next day and took photos and interviewed the owner of the Broken Saddle, who is vehemently opposed to the drilling."