Saturday, December 03, 2005

These are some of my favorite books.

Testament of Youth

Vera Brittain

This is an autobiographical account of a woman coming of age during WWI. I believe it is the only memoir of WWI written by a woman. Also was a Masterpiece Theater series. Available at

The Grimke Sisters from South Carolina

Pioneers for Woman’s Rights and Abolition

Gerda Lerner

Really great account of 2 courageous sisters. Gives you an interesting picture of the pacifist Quakers too. “Reasonable” men can tolerate a lot of horror and violence if they are not personally affected by it. Available at

Black Women in White America

Gerda Lerner

Documentary history of black women in their own words from slavery times through 1971. Available at

America’s Working Women

A Documentary History 1600-present

Edited by Rosalyn Baxandall, Linda Gordon, Susan Reverby

My favorite part of this book is written by Meridel Le Sueur. It’s called “I Was Marching” and was first published in Proletarian Literature in the US in 1935.

It’s an account of a militant Teamsters Strike in Minneapolis in 1934 and how she-a middle class woman unused to being a part of a larger thing-joined the strike. Available at

Tell Me a Riddle

Tillie Olsen

First published in 1962 although written during the depression, this is a working class feminist classic. “I Stand Here Ironing,” is a heart wrenching memoir of the choices a young mother was forced to make when raising her children during the depression. She is ironing and thinking about how these choices affected her eldest daughter. Here’s the last line, “Only help her to know-help make it so there is cause for her to know-that she is more than this dress on the ironing board, helpless before the iron.” Available at


Tillie Olsen

A novel about a poor white family during the depression set in Wyoming in a mining town. It was originally written in the 1920’s but lost for 40 years. Available at


Tillie Olsen

Nonfiction book on why women and the working class don’t write as much as they should. The silences she refers to are not natural welcome silences but, the silences imposed on people “century after century their beings consumed in the hard, everyday essential work of maintaining human life.” Available at

These are some of the books I remember from the class on American Ethnic Groups

The Rise of David Levinsky

Abraham Cahan

Russian Jewish immigrant in NYC. Successful, but not happy.

Available at

The Dollmaker

Harriet Arnow.

They made a TV movie of this with Jane Fonda.

A woman moves to the city from the hills to follow her husband to a factory job.

Big mistake, but the woman is heroic in the way she faces all the trials laid before her. The title comes from the carving she does for a hobby. Available at

The Fortunate Pilgrim

Mario Puzo

Italian immigrants in the US during the depression. Available at

Non Fiction books about Education of the Working Class in America

The Night is Dark and I am Far From Home

Jonathon Kozol

Great book that was blacklisted from Teacher Education classes for years.” School is the ether of our lives by now: the first emaciation along the surgical road that qualifies the young to be effective citizens, alert to need but tempered as to passion, cognizant of horror but well inoculated against vigorous response.”

And “Basic training does not begin in boot camp. It begins in kindergarten. It continues with a vengeance for the subsequent 12 years. Available at

Hidden Injuries of Class

Richard Sennet and Jonathon Cobb

I read this book in college and liked it a lot because it deals with some of the issues working class people have fitting into the middle class world. Two of the things I remember most are that working class fathers use their lives as a warning, not an example. Unlike the lawyers and doctors, they do not want their children to follow in their footsteps. The other thing is that being singled out is uncomfortable for a working class person. Middle class people see themselves as individuals whereas working class people to not like to be seen as better than their peers. So those of us who move into the middle class are “lone, lorn creatures.”

Available at

Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Paola Friere

Philosophy of education and the poor. How the educational system is set up to oppress the poor and to maintain their silence and powerlessness. This is an extremely important book and helps us to understand the world we live in-like why do poor people, working people vote for Bush who is not “robbing us with a six-gun” but “with a fountain pen.”

“But almost always, during the initial stage of struggle, the oppressed instead of striving for liberation tend themselves to become oppressors or ‘sub-oppressors.” …Their ideal is to be men; but for them, to be men is to be oppressors.” This book is something everyone in the country should read and one that we should have a national dialogue about. It is about becoming humanized as opposed to remaining alienated and how important that is to building a new world.

Available at

The Other Side of Western Civilization

I was lucky enough to have gone to college at a time when I could study my history-women and the working class. These are some books about that.

The War on labor and the Left

Patricia Cayo Sexton

The details of the enormous amount of legal and illegal violence used against working people as they have fought to organize and maintain a decent life-through the Reagan/Thatcher 1980’s. Written by the wife of one of my college professors, Brendan Sexton. The Working Class Experience was the name of the class I took with him. There were about 10 students and we had to write a paper on our family. I wrote one about my father’s family. My grandfather was Filipino and my grandmother was Irish, but before WWII my grandfather was deported to the Philippines rather than go to a camp. (It wasn’t just the Japanese who were interned.) They were caught there during the Japanese occupation including my father who was one of their 9 children, 7 born here, 2 in the Philippines one born blind, the other died in infancy. It was a great class. Available at

A Peoples History of the United States

1492 to the Present

Howard Zinn

American history from the point of view of the people, not the hero’s.

Refreshing and should be required reading for middle school/high school students.

Available at

Rebel Voices an IWW Anthology

Joyce Kornbluth

This book tells the history of the Industrial Workers of the World organized in Eugene Debs words, “not to conciliate but to fight the capitalist class.” This book brings the labor movement to life. It is filled with cartoons, songs and stories written by workers-conscious workers. The song, “Solidarity Forever” was written by a Wobbly. Here are some of the lesser sung words, “All the world that’s owned by idel drones, is ours and ours alone. We have laid the wide foundations; buil it skyward stone by stone. It is ours, not to slave in, but to master and to own. While the union makes us strong.” On the masthead of the Solidarity newspaper the letters are formed from tools. Mr. Block, the unconscious worker provides political humor. The union the IWW wanted was one big union. Their demands included: A 4 hour day, Jobs for everyone. Security of income. Abolition of the wage system. Production for use and not for profit. A new social order based on the scientific administration of industry. Abundance for workers, nothing for parasites. On page 346 there is an illustration from the Industrial Pioneer, 1925. It is a plant whose roots are Profits. The plant is War and the fruits are skull. On each skull a word is written: want, disability, pain, death, ruin, debt, honor an glory, taxes, disease, despair, sorrow, insanity. On one side of the plant is a soldier/worker, on the other is a capitalist who is saying, “My good fellow, you will be well paid for your patriotic action in tending this glorious plant. You shall have all the fruit above the ground-I’ll take only the roots.” Pretty relevant today. The IWW was eventually squashed, but they left a legacy for us to study and use. The Allentown Public Library has this book. Mine was given to me by the ex-wob and catholic worker, Tim O’ Brien who I met when I was managing and instant print shop in NJ where he used to come in to copy his medical bills and talk. Available at

Atomic Soldiers

American Victims of Nuclear Experiments

Howard L. Rosenberg

This August in my Blog, From the Foot of Mount Olympus, I wrote about dropping the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, “It is more than a war crime; it’s a crime against all life on the planet. We are living with the deadly legacy of those bombs. Our loved ones are dying from it; our planet is dying from it and still people wave the flag. Uncle Sam kicks them in the butt while like a reverse mechanical bank they open their mouths to dispense their hard earned cash so he can use the money to kill them, their loved ones and every good thing on this earth. What kind of a god would bless that kind of behavior? This book tells about how the government used American soldiers as guinea pigs. Another example of how we are just fodder-cannon or otherwise.

Available at

Working Class War

American Combat Soldiers in Vietnam

Christian G. Appy

80% of enlisted men in Vietnam came from poor and working class families. Just a little reminder that a lot of these guys did not want to be there folks.

Available at

Expendable Americans

Paul Brodeur

Tens of thousands of Americans die every year of preventable industrial diseases. Legal murder and no consequences to the industries that profit from it.

Available at

Factories in the Fields

Carey McWilliams

It’s hard to believe that this was published in 1935. Explains why “illegal” workers are needed to maintain the profits of agribusiness. Guess why? All the legal immigrants unionized. Not much has changed since then. Your tax dollars are hard at work maintaining horrible working and living conditions and shooting people coming across the border so we can eat factory food. Available at

The Fabulous ‘50’s

Books that reinforce my theory that our good old days haven’t come yet

Tender Comrades

A Backstory of the Hollywood Blacklist

Patrick Mc Gilligan and Paul Buhle

Interviews with people who were blacklisted during the 50’s. Not just the Hollywood 10. The reason why American movies are so lacking in beauty, skill and content. Available at

Thirty Years of Treason

Excerpts from Hearings before the House Committee on Un-American Activities 1938-1968

Edited by Eric Bentley

In their own words, the testimony of Pete Seeger, Zero Mostel, Joe Papp, Arthur Miller, Jose Ferrer etc. before HUAC. Very limited gang of thugs intimidates creative, intelligent people. How was that allowed to happen? Available at

Naming Names

Victor Navasky

“The blacklist savaged private lives, but the informer’s particular contribution was to pollute the public well, to poison social life in general, to destroy every possibility of a community; for the informer operates on the principle of betrayal and a community survives on the principle of trust.” Available at

The Cold War and the University

Toward an intellectual history of the postwar years.

Contributors: Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Immanuel Wallerstein

Destructiveness of Mc McCarthyism on higher education and despite the many letters to the editor in the Morning Call about leftist professors dominating academia, how its legacy continues to intimidate. Available at

The Cultural Cold War

The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters

Frances Stoner Saunders

Battle for hearts and minds after WWII. The staunchest anti-fascists were communists so after the war in many countries they democratically won political offices in many countries in Europe. Well we can’t have that now, can we? So the CIA created magazines and other cultural institutions and paid many writers and intellectuals who wrote for them. About 10 years ago or so there was an exhibit at the Zoellner called, “Shouts from the Wall” Posters and photographs brought home by veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. In the accompanying book there was a quote from John Sayles, the writer and director, “They fought when they didn’t have to fight, fought when it brought no public glory in their hometowns, fought to put a lie to the cynicism that keeps people in darkness. They won’t go away…And in a world run by cynics, in a time when caring about someone you’ve never met is seen as weakness or treachery, how much strength have we taken from the thought of them…” That is what was destroyed in the cultural cold war-humanity. Available at

And the Saga continues in the 60’s and ‘70’s

Agents of Repression the FBI’s Secret War against the Black Panther Party and the American Indian Movement

Ward Churchill

In this and the Cointelpro Papers Ward Churchill documents the covert war against political activists during the ‘60’s and ‘70’s with great detail and controlled anger. The murders of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, the circumstances behind Leonard Peltiers imprisonment, the murder of the American Indian poet John Trudell’s family are among the many details in this book. Why? Here’s a quote from Dennis Banks reflecting on the second Wounded Knee, “We were prepared for beatings and arrests, time spent in jails and prisons to some degree or another. I guess…you’d have to say we expected death. But somehow, we still didn’t really understand the rules of the game; we weren’t prepared for the magnitude of what happened. Part of that was maybe because we still didn’t really comprehend what the stakes were.” It seems that in the Black Hills, leases for uranium mining were granted to Union Carbide, Chevron, Anaconda, and Kerr-McGee (remember Karen Silkwood) White/Westinghouse among others. This book also makes you realize what Mt. Rushmore is all about. Can you imagine-carving the heads of the conquerors into the sacred Black Hills of the conquered. Civilized?

If you ever get a chance to see the movie, “The Murder of Fred Hampton,” watch it. They were showing it on streaming video on the FSTV site, but I don’t know I they ever got permission to air it. When I was a student in the ‘70’s the group I was in showed this movie at different colleges. It gives you a totally different picture of the Black Panthers. You will conclude from both the book and the movie that “the movement” did not fall apart on its own but was destroyed covertly and overtly. Available at

Link to great article on Columbus originally published in indigenous Thought around the time of the Columbus Quincentenary.

Intelligent Entertaining Fiction

My Year of Meats

Ruth Ozeki

A divorced unemployed documentary film maker gets an offer to make commercials for American beef for the Japanese market. Funny, enlightening political and everything works out in the end. Available at

He, She, It

Marge Piercy

A science fiction book that may very well predict our future if we don’t do something about it soon. The Glop-where the poor live; Feelies: Porn that stimulates the nerve endings in your brain, highly addictive; Secskin: what you wear to protect your body whenever you go outdoors-watch out for organ pirates. The writer is a feminist and the author of the novel Vida-a fictionalized account of a member of the Weather Underground among many other books. Working class background. Available at

Hard Time

Sara Paretsky

VI Warshowsky goes to prison to investigate the murder of a female prisoner.

Terrifying. I cried my eyes out. Available at

Howard Fasts Historical Novels

Working class writer still living but writing in a more popular style now.

These are early books. He is also the author of the book, Spartacus which the Kirk Douglas movie was based on. Dalton Trumbo, the blacklisted writer first worked again on this movie at Kirk Douglas’ insistence.

The Proud and the Free

The American Revolution though the eyes of the men who didn’t have horses or uniforms including the revolt of the Pennsylvania Line, the squashing of the revolt, the executions of the leaders. Available at

Freedom Road

The story of the beginning of a new society after the civil war told through the eyes of a freed slave who goes through a painful educational process and a major transformation until the betrayal of reconstruction when the Federal troops are pulled out of the south and the Klan is allowed to rise. They made a TV movie of this in the ‘80’s with Mohammad Ali and Kris Kristofferson, but the book is better. Available at

The American

The story of John Peter Altgelt the governor of Illinois who pardoned the Haymarket martyrs who were hung during the fight for the 8 hour day. Available at

Art and Culture

Decade of Protest

Political Posters from the US, Vietnam, Cuba 1965-1975

Smart Art Press

There are some really hard hitting posters here. From the US: A photograph of dead Vietnamese people in the middle of a dirt road with the words, Q. And babies? A. And babies. A drawing of a Vietnamese with the statue of liberty being rammed down his throat and the word EAT. 2 Photographs. One with a lighter and a whie child’s hand. Would you burn a child. Then a photograph of a woman holding a child burned by napalm, Vietnamese of course., and the words, When necessary. And many more.For those who are too young to remember Vietnam it will give you a different more serious picture of the ant-war movement. No hippies. It reminds me of the Brecht Poem “To Posterity” or “To Those Born Later, “…hatred even of meanness contorts the features. Anger, even against injustice makes the voice hoarse. Oh we who wanted to prepare the ground for friendliness could not ourselves be friendly. But you, when the time comes at last and man is helper to man think of us with forbearance.” Available at

The Forgotten Ones

Milton Rogovin

Photographs of families in Buffalo by the optometrist who turned photographer after he was blacklisted by HUAC. Kind of a less alienated, more tender Diane Arbus. People like this are never photographed and never seen in this way. It’s kind of what Tillie Olsen says in “Silences” about writing. We never see ourselves in print, in art, in photographs. This is a beautiful book because Rogovin returns to his subjects year after year so you can see them age and grow. I just happened to be in Washington DC, picked up a newspaper and saw an article about this and that’s how I found it. Available at


Young Lords Party

The Young Lords Party and Michael Abramson

Originally published by MacGraw-Hill ISBN 07-000158-8

I confess that I “borrowed” this book years ago and “forgot” to return it. It’s got a tom of photographs including some of Felipe Luciano, Pablo Guzman and Juan Gonzalez-all respectable journalists now-as young Young Lords. Here are some quotes, “We believe that a man’s and a woman’s most precious possession is life. We should therefore live our lives so that we are no consumed by the anguish of long years of purposeless existence, or the shame of a trivial and cowardly past, so that we may say when we die: We give our energies to the most noble cause in the world-the struggle for the liberation of the human race.” “The reason why you study history is ‘cause your gonna make history. The reason you study the past is ‘cause you’re concerned about making a new life, not making the same mistakes that our people did before us.” Available at

Images of American Radicalism

Paul Buhle and Edmund B. Sullivan

Introduction: Howard Fast

Priceless images-like a valentine with a woman in a slinky white gown winking and the text is: “I’m a socialist. Will you be one? Free drinks, free money, free love.” There is so much in this book. Pictures of people you may have heard of but never seen like Louise Bryant and John Reed from Warren Beatty’s movie, “Red’s” A picture of Meridel Le Seuer who wrote the strike story in America’s Working Women that I mention above. Pictures of buttons-Mayday 1925, a Karl Marx Pin (an enamled red flag.) for .25. The Pyramid of Capitalism like a wedding cake. The bottom layer is the workers:We work for all, we feed all-Second layer the rich-We eat for you. Third layer the cops and army-We shoot at you. Fourth layer the church- we fool you Top layer Kings, Queens- we rule you. Too much to mention. Also shows the multinational character of American radicalism. Available at

Alternative Media


Monthy Review



Bring them Home Now

FAIR-Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting

Free Speech TV Dishnet channel 9415

Democracy Now

Independent Media Center


Organized by area. There is a Philly Indymedia and anyone can post articles, pictures etc. I posted an article on Nader here that The Morning Call chose not to publish as a letter to the editor that was picked up by another Pro-Nader site who also linked to my Blog.

More Novels

Anything by Roger L. Simon (Moses Wine, ex-Berkely radical turned private detective. The Big Fix was made into a movie with Richard Dreyfus and Susan Anspach.) Walter Mosely-Easy Rawlins ex-factory worker turned private detective in post war LA-Devil in a Blue Dress was made into a movie with Denzel Washington; Anything by Joan Didion especially Democracy and Miami.

Great Source for out of print and sometimes inexpensive used books.


Diana Balot Frank

Wednesday, November 30, 2005


I was walking to the march site, for what turned out to be one of the biggest anti-war demonstrations to date. She was sitting on the grass on the mall in Washington with a hand lettered sign that said, “My husband is fighting for your right to protest.” How did she come to that conclusion I wondered? Doesn’t having a loved one in the path of such danger make a person go beyond the political rhetoric and try to find the real reason for things?

Whatever freedom we have and our right to protest was not fought for by a military force halfway across the world. Those rights were fought for right here on our soil by people who were not wearing a military uniform, but were still shot at and sometimes killed by people in uniform while they were fighting for the right to organize, the right to vote, the right to be treated like human beings, the right to try and stop illegal and immoral wars that our government was waging in our name.

There are few monuments to people like us. They don’t stand in every public park or in center city squares. A holiday like Labor Day doesn’t quite memorialize the sacrifices made to win decent working conditions and the 8 hour day. Mayday doesn’t exist in the country in which it originated. International Woman’s Day is not celebrated here although the event that it commemorates, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire where over 140 women died many by being forced to jump from the building where the exits were locked to keep them in occurred in NYC.

The celebration of the history of resistance of the multinational American working class would bring to light not only our strength, resilience and creativity but would also expose the illegal and violent tactics of the capitalist class that continues to grow wealthy on the sweat of workers here and all over the world.

We need a cultural revolution in America; a revolution during which we rediscover our past and ourselves. Individually, we need to come to the conclusion that we have a right and responsibility to be aware and to participate as much as possible in this democracy. As a class, we need to fight for the right to have time to participate, for a right is not a right if you cannot use it because you are working 2 jobs just to make ends meet.

The words of Eugene V. Debs are as relevant today as they were when he first uttered them, “I don't want you to follow me or anyone else. If you are looking for a Moses to lead you out of the capitalist wilderness you will stay right where you are. I would not lead you into this promised land if I could, because if I could lead you in, someone else could lead you out."

And From the preamble to the constitution of the United Mineworkers of America, “Step by step the longest march can be won, can be won. Many stones can form an arch, singly none, singly none. And by union what we will can be accomplished still. Drops of water turn a mill, singly none, singly none.

Only when we organize and fight for our rights to healthcare, education, housing, the rights of the planet on which we depend for our survival will we become human beings and not just superfluous objects of capitalism. The technology that increased productivity was paid for with our labor. We deserve a share of the profit including leisure time without worrying how we will pay the bills.


Thursday, August 11, 2005

Unfinished thoughts of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

It has been 60 years since the government of the United States dropped not one but 2 Atomic bombs on Japanese civilians. It has been 35 years since I was a 16 year old catholic school girl reading John Hersey’s Hiroshima as a history class assignment. Even before I read the book, I did not think for one second that the bombings were justified. Why should civilians pay for the mistakes of their leaders? It was 1970 and Richard Nixon was president. I certainly did not want to have to pay for his.

What mystifies me today is not that pundits are still wailing that the bombing saved lives, “both Japanese and American,” but that anyone still publishes this nonsense and even more mystifying that anyone believes it.

Nuclear power knows no boundaries. The air, oceans and earth contain it deadly legacy. Our bones, our blood our genes carry it as well.

The atomic bomb did not appear and disappear over the days of August 6-8 1945. During its development American soldiers were sacrificed, not by an enemy outside our borders but to the craving for power and domination within. In his book,’ Atomic Soldiers American Victims of Nuclear Experiments,” published by Beacon Press in 1980, Howard L. Rosenberg writes about the American soldiers who were used as physical and psychological guinea pigs for the promoters of nuclear power. The legacy of human devastation these madmen left behind is the same as the one for the soldiers exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam and the vaccines, depleted uranium and other toxins during the first and current Gulf Wars: Sounds like a personal problem to me soldier. Evidence, what evidence? At times the men who were victims of these experiments were not even believed by their own families. It wasn’t until after their deaths when some enterprising young journalist or lawyer came knocking at the families door that they realized the crazy man was telling the truth.

This is not to deny the fact that dropping this type of weapon on anyone-even people who are considered “the enemy” is anything less than a war crime. It is more than a war crime; it’s a crime against all life on the planet. We are living with the deadly legacy of those bombs. Our loved ones are dying from it; our planet is dying from it and still people wave the flag. Uncle Sam kicks them in the butt while like a reverse mechanical bank they open their mouths to dispense their hard earned cash so he can use the money to kill them, their loved ones and every good thing on this earth. What kind of a god would bless that kind of behavior?

Wednesday, July 20, 2005


In a cage with

Walls too slick and high to scale.

Nothing to do but run head on into them.

Run arms outstretched pounding my body into them.

Run sideways into them bruising my body black.

Run backwards into them hoping I will break my spine

Into a million shards so it will crash to the floor

With what used to be my heart.

The sun invisible in the blue summer sky.

The smell of the warm earth,

The water rushing over rocks,

The beaded mermaid arms outstretched,

The fractured brilliance of a cosmic egg,

The memory of crickets fleeing my step in high grass,

The sweat of babies,

The sheen of a Japanese beetle,

The taste of honey

Flicker across my senses.

Memories of the world that was.

Don’t touch me my rage will engulf you.

Don’t come near me my rage will hurl you across the room.

Don’t listen to me my rage will fuse your ears shut.

Don’t look at me my rage will turn you to stone.

Spinning at the speed of sound until I ignite

Leaving nothing behind but the stench of defeat and a pile of slimy ash.

Saturday, April 02, 2005


"What is life? Did you read about it in a magazine? Silent lies, never giving you what you need," wrote Laura Nyro in "To a Child."

Due to my husband's illness I've been thinking a lot about life lately. Actually we were both thinking about it for a at least a year before we knew he was sick. We were talking about what to do with the rest of our lives now that things were relatively settled and the kids were grown up.

One of the things we were thinking about was "living up to your potential." I didn't have a burning desire to be a buyer that's for sure, but there aren't too many classified ads for "Angry Female Poet. Sharp tongue, endless pool of rage from which to draw. Great pay and benefits."

When I think of wasted potential I don't think of someone standing on the corner with a sign that say's, "will work for food. " I think of Marlon Brando or Orson Welles. I guess it's not really wasted potential it's more like the seed get's planted and as it's growing someone puts an invisible box over it so instead of growing straight and true and strong the limbs are constricted and distorted. What should be reaching for the sky turns and twists and strangles itself. Besides before Barry's illness, we didn't have it so bad. My job is not terrible. Sometimes it's even fun. But in the back of my mind and in the front of my mind too, there's always this nagging feeling that I should be doing more.

Yesterday a coworker told me about an internet news article about the soldiers who were caught tring to smuggle cocaine in from Columbia. I said, "So what's new. They've been doing that for years." Here's a quote from Alfred W. McCoy's book, "The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia" which I read when I was in college in the 1970's: "After a decade of American military intervention Southeast Asia has become the source of 70% of the world's illicit opium and the major supplier of raw materials for America's booming heroin market." What he was objecting to was not so much the smuggling but a bit of information in the article that said that the US government has given 3 billion dollars in military aid to the government of Columbia. "We" were "helping" other countries while Social Security is going down the tubes. My response was that "we" don't help anyone. Our tax dollars are at work around the world and at home screwing us and people just like us. I sent him the link to Columbia Solidarity Campaign where you can see whose freedom your tax dollars are maintaining and expanding by paying for killing union organizers at Coke plants.

I have an image in my mind of the American Working Man as an old fashioned iron mechanical bank. The smiling worker with an American Flag in his hand is bending over. Behind him stands Uncle Sam. Everytime Uncle Sam kicks the worker in the butt, he waves the flag and opens his mouth to DISPENSE a coin.

Jonathon Kozol in his book, "The Night is Dark and I Am far From Home," writes, "It is our lot to live within a world of pain. Much of that pain is now the economic bedrock of our own material advantage. It is essential...that we do not recognize the evil that we live by...if we do..we might grow up to understand we do not need to race and run forever...We might grow up instead to feel enraged about sick people, dead black infants, napalm, war wonder what kind of government it is to which we hold allegience...We might grow up to be brave and subversive human beings."

What if you did grow up subversive and even a lttle brave? Then what?

There's that Lao Tze quote, "To know and not to act is not to know." Although I know a lot of things about "our" government and I do participate in small ways in democratic resistance verbally, in writing and by going to demonstrations, I have always felt that I don't know enough to go further. I don't mean that I'm not a college professor. I didn't want to be that or a labor lawyer which is why I was a Labor Studies major at Livingston College in Piscataway, NJ for only one semester. They are both legitimate and necessary occupations, but not for me. I mean that I can't get to the next step until I pick up the right concept. The key to the next door. What is it?

The phrase, "living up to your potential" has the hollow clang of individualism attached to it. One of the passages in Kozol's book that I really don't like is, "The New Left will to have 'no leaders' is often, in my judgement, less an evidence of faith in democratic process than a disguised form of the fear to be one." This is totally opposite to what Eugene Debs said, "I am not a... leader. I don't want you to follow me or anything else. If you are looking for a Moses to lead you out of the... wilderness, you will stay right where you are. I would not lead you into this promised land if I could, because if I could lead you in, someone else could lead you out." This is pretty important. Maybe this is at the heart of the cultural revolution that is really needed in this country.

Friends that I have spoken to in recent months have mentioned how much humbler they've become as they've gotten older. I'm not sure that humble is the right word to use. The emphasis that our society places on the importance of the individual is a major problem.

First:capitalist society cares nothing for the individual, it's all just words.
Second: human beings need each other. No one person can live by his own labor alone.
Third: it's not individuals who move the world forward, it's groups of people.
Fourth: We are as individual as snowflakes. So what? That and 5 cents won't get you anywhere.

In the movie about the Flint sit down strike, "With Babies and Banners," I remember one of the women saying, "We weren't individuals anymore. We had the union." In Stan Goff's book, "Full Spectrum Disorder," he talks about reading Marx, "Society does not consist of individuals," and being blown away by that concept, "You can't burrow down into your little niche and look down on anyyone, because we are all in this system together." That's not becoming more humble, that's becoming more conscious.

I have grown attached to the ant as a symbol. I have 2 ant pins that I wear when I'm feeling powerful. I like Laura Nyro and Diane Arbus and Joan Didion. I like shellfish and summer tomatoes even though I'm slightly allergic to both. I like shoes-I LOVE shoes!-and pins and the color green. I sing Barbra Streisand songs in the car when I'm driving in bad weather because you have to concentrate to hit the high notes and it makes me less frightened. I like to cook. I like the city better than the country. I love Brie. None of these things will help me change the world, but they might make things more fun for the other ants.

Life will never "give you what you need." You have to demand what you need whether it's pushing for more visibility for awareness of cancer and it's causes; the lack of coordination of patient care in the for-profit health care industry; industry and war as cancer promoting entities, war, the destruction of the human spirit-whatever. You have a lot more leverage when you're standing with a hundred or a thousand or a million people than when you standing there all smily and cute and pretty and smelling nice and wearing your cute new shoes all by yourself.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

The Five Hardest Things

Let’s just say you’re like me-you just turned 50. The kids are grown and not in the federal penitentiary, you’re relatively debt free. All the issues you had with your parents and all the mistakes they made raising you are resolved for the most part. You may not be in love with your job, but you can tolerate it most of the time.

All the petty jealousy’s and power struggles that occurred early in your relationship have been resolved and even though there are certain acts and words and phrases that can still push your buttons for the most part you rarely have a fight and when you do it lasts for minutes, not hours.

You’re beginning to think about retirement, maybe starting a business. You’re starting to do the household chores during the week so you can spend the weekends walking in the woods or birding.

Then you find out your husband, partner, the love of your life has lung cancer.

There’s a television commercial for an SUV, I can’t remember which one. The driver takes the vehicle to the edge of a cliff. He stands at the end of the earth and there is nothing there but darkness and stars. I’m at the edge of that cliff, but there are no stars. The first hardest thing is realizing that you have no future.

Try to imagine it. You have built a life. Two weeks after you turned 20 you met a male person you could have a conversation with who wasn’t gay. Somehow you swallowed a barbed hook that’s still pulls at your stomach, heart and head. He tried to break up with you twice but you wouldn’t let him. Well, once you wouldn’t let him quoting from his very own Little Red Book, the second time he changed his mind. You got married and had babies. You worked hard and had fights and made love all over the place. Making up for a lack of experience you explored “The Joy of Sex” bending down the corners of the pages so you could “practice.” You christened every room in every apartment and every piece of furniture in every room, the stairs, and the floors. When you went on vacation the first thing you would do when you got on the highway (since the car seat was facing backwards in tback seat) was whip out his penis and start your trip with a bang while passing truck drivers got a birds eye view. You made love in the woods up against the trees, under the bushes at the Wolverton Inn, giggling as people walked by. In front of a giant mirror in a room over a drag show in New Hope.

This man was so strong he could have crushed you, could have snapped your neck with practically no effort, but he used his strength to hug you, to hold you, to love you more than anyone else in the whole world had ever loved you. You were safer than you’d ever been and that made you feel free. He used his strength to work hard and fix cars and build bookcases and put up sheet rock and change light fixtures and change babies and help you wallpaper.

All those things he would do, but he would also read you poetry even if you don’t like the kind that rhymes. He would talk to you about politics and literature and how to make wine. He would make you breakfast and goat curry even though you don’t like goat curry. He would argue with you about the nature of World War II for 13 years and then admit that you were right.

Now when he lays there drifting in and out of sleep saying that he’s too tired to think, dragging himself down the stairs to drink a milkshake laced with Prosure you find it hard to take a breath. You wish you were the one who was sick and when he says, “No, you don’t wish that honey,” it hurts so much your head could explode all over the walls. Someone who saved your life, who helped make your life, who held you up through years of depression and mental pain is suffering more than he ever has in his life. To not be able to fix this by sheer force of will; to not be able to meld your body into his and drag him through this is the way you’ve always done everything-together- is intolerable. The second hardest thing is being powerless.

<>We live in a time when “family values” are trumpeted to justify oppression and robbery.
We have something called the Family Leave Act that is supposed to cover situations like this. When a family member is seriously ill you are supposed to be able to take time off to care for them. Unfortunately the act doesn’t say what you’re supposed to do for money. If you’re lucky, the person who gets sick is a teacher who has 45 sick days instead of 7 like you do, so for 45 days he gets full salary. After that it’s 50 percent on short term disability. So instead of being supportive and nurturing, you get to worry about money and paperwork and picking up all the slack of the household shores while working full time. He wants you to be with him and you can’t. Financial and time pressure, these are the third hardest things.

Once if you had a bad day at work or your kids screwed up again you could come home and blow of steam. You could go out to dinner or go for a walk or have a few glasses of wine and tumble into bed to release the tension. Now there’s no one to talk to rant at or run away with. There is no fun. No fun in June, July, August, September, November, December, January, now it’s February. There was only worry-wondering what the problem was, what it would mean. Then there was the discovery; the worst possible discovery. Now there’s limbo – suspended animation with no end in sight. The first deadline is 2 weeks away. A CT scan. Did it work? If the answer is yes, “prophylactic cranial radiation,” then a month or 2 later, another CT scan. Repeat, repeat, repeat. If the answer is no…Uncertainty, this is the fourth hardest thing.

People ask you how you are. They tell you they are praying for you even though you don’t believe in prayer or god. They tell you they were so sorry to hear about it. You wonder if they really mean it or are secretly glad that something came to break that bond that no one else seemed to have. You went everywhere together-meetings, movies, walking the dog, to the supermarket, flea-marketing. You didn’t want to go anywhere alone. Not you and not him. “Come with me,” he would say. “Take a ride with me.” And even if you were in the middle of cleaning the house or weren’t planning on going out you would change your clothes-“Do I have to wear a bra?” and comb your hair and go because he wanted you to go with him.

People ask you how you are and you say “OK.” You have to go to work and you have to do your job and you have to pay bills and do the laundry and go to the store. You have to get up every morning and get through every second of every day. You cry in the shower and you cry in the car and you cry in the middle of the night. All your memories play in your head when you’re alone. You wish you had made him buy a video camera so you could have captured his smile, his walk, and the way he crossed his legs and held his pipe. Panic overcomes you in the middle of the day when he used to call to see if you needed anything from the supermarket or what you wanted for dinner. There are days when he never calls. The days after chemotherapy when he lays on the couch all day too weak to pick up the phone you realize that this could be the way your life is from now on: no one calling for any reason at all. How do you express these feelings to a stranger? Who can listen to this tidal wave of pain?

What if someone shows up in your inbox one day with a message that he heard about your husband being sick and to let him know how things are going? What if it’s someone you haven’t seen in 12 years but you can talk to like you just saw him yesterday? What if it’s someone you’ve known for 30 years who loves you? What if one day you send a small message back-“I’m scared,” you say because you are terrified and alone. And he answers back, “Call me, anytime.” I suppose you should say, “No thank you, that wouldn’t be proper.” I suppose you should shred your brain, your body and your heart with your nails; beat your head against the wall until you can’t think anymore; cry every night until your eyes are purple slits and your head throbs. I suppose you should enshrine your loneliness in a near-crypt, surrounded with bouquets of lilies.

To have the chance to be human again, to have fun again, to love again. That is the fifth hardest thing.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Living in America

The chipmunk on the wall
is staring at me
aggressively shaking it’s tail.
I am the interloper.

All winter and spring
it has gone unmolested,
foraging for food,
digging tunnels
jumping over the walls

Now, almost summer
it encounters me,
sitting on the patio, feet up
senses swimming in the sounds and smells
of almost summer in America,

Knowing that on this day
so beautiful, yellow-green
and full of sweet life
everywhere in the world
people just like me
scream and die
scream and live.
Shocked by electricity

I accept the pleasure this day offers me.
I will hold it in a drawer in my memory.
Someday, in the midst of terror,
the drawer will fly open, wide
taking me back to this day
of almost summer in America.

A Circumstantial Education

I was encouraged to explore, to read, to question.
I was encouraged to explore, to read, to question, and to come to conclusions.
I was encouraged to explore, to read, to question, and to come to the conclusion that this was the best of all possible worlds and I was lucky to have been born at a time so free from the disease and hardship that was a mere generation away.
I was encouraged to explore, to read, to question, and to come to the conclusion that this was the best of all possible worlds and I was lucky to have been born at a time so free from the disease and hardship that was mere generation away and to have the opportunity to be anything I wanted to be regardless of class, race or sex. Bzzzzz.

In the fourth grade John F. Kennedy is killed. In the eighth grade Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy are killed. I sit at my bent plywood and Formica desk unmoved while others sob watching the black & white TV. Even the nun’s are crying. We read “The Diary of Anne Frank” in the seventh grade. What a tragedy! Such a young girl! How poignant! Later I find out about Goodman and Shwerner and Chaney and Medgar Evers and Fred Hampton and Mark Clark. Later I find out how hard it is to accomplish something good when powerful people don’t want things to change. Reading alone in my bittersweet orange room with it’s flowered curtains and fishmobiles hanging from the ceiling, I am beginning to not understand how Hitler, charismatic as he may have been, did what he did all by himself. Bzzzzz.

I ask the librarian in my high school for a map of Vietnam and she says, “You girls should be thinking about parties and dances. You should be having fun, not worrying about things like war.” I am angry with her for not understanding: this is my party, this is my dance. In the Museum of Modern Art there is a poster that is a photograph of a pile of dead Vietnamese bodies. The caption asks, “And babies too?” and answers, “And babies, too.” I come to the conclusion that “Never again!” really means never again in exactly the same place in exactly the same way. Bzzzzz.

I pull down the cardboard box in my closet with old issues of my “Catholic Child’s Treasure Box.” Laura Nyro is singing, “Buy and Sell” on my pink and purple record player. I turn to the story of Wupsy the Guardian Angel and Sonny John the African pagan baby that is his first charge. The head angel tells Wupsy not to stop Sonny John from getting too close to the open fire. Sonny falls into the fire and is badly burned, but because his mother Ntaka Ntaka thinks he is going to die, she allows him to be baptized so he will go to heaven. Bzzzzz.

I explore the public library for things that I should read. I find “Treblinka”, “While 6 Million Died”, “Who Financed Hitler”, “The Crime and Punishment of IG Farbin”, “Blowback”, “Wanted, The Search for Nazi’s in America”, “The Deputy”, “They Fought Back”, “The Wall”, “Fascism and Social Revolution”, “You Can’t Go Home Again.” I question the role of German capital in the rise of the National Socialist Movement. I question the role of International capital in the rise of the National Socialist Movement. Standing in the stacks, my arms piled high with evidence. I question the role of Social Democrats in their capitulation to the National Socialist Movement. This is an old argument. Communists know one truth, Social Democrats another. The issue is in the past, but not in the past. Read Bogdan Denitch on Kosovo. Read Michael Parenti on Kosovo. Draw your own conclusions. I question the role of the US government in the aftermath of the National Socialist Movement. In 1995 Serge Stetkievich, an engineer at the company where I work, sees me reading Christopher Simpson’s “Blowback”, points to a picture of a Nazi in the book and says “I worked with him after the war.” My stomach feels odd. I look at him. “ We had no choice,” he says, “It was them or ….” He stops after seeing the look on my face. I come to the conclusion that Hitler did not accomplish the murder of 14 million people all by himself. Bzzzzz.

I question the role of the American Communist Party in encouraging unions to make “no strike deals” during WWII when American capital is making money hand over fist as they have in every war since the Civil War. “After the Soviet Union was invaded we had to support the war to save the Soviet Union! Communists were among the first to fight fascism in Spain. We had to continue the fight!” Yes, the fight against fascism but separate from Capital. What is Fascism but the skeleton of Capital? Underneath the fat of war boom and the fancy clothing of electoral politics the bones are the same. Oops! Here comes Joe Mc Carthy and HUAC. Hello, Film Noir. So long, film rouge. Goodbye, Ethel. Goodbye, Julius. Bzzzzz.

I explore the thoughts of other people.
“Those students don’t know how good they have it.”
“They wouldn’t be able to demonstrate if they lived in Russia!”
“They’re supposed to getting an education, not demonstrating, having sex and taking drugs!”
“Communists are torturers!”
“Hitler was a mad man!”
“Quadaffi is a terrorist!”
“Saddam Hussein is another Hitler!”
“Milosovic is another Hitler!”
What was Truman? What was Johnson? What was Nixon? What is Kissinger? What is Bush? What is Carter? What is Clinton?
“The Viet Cong are Communists. We have to save those people from Communism!”
In James Michener's book, “Kent State,” parents of some of the students on the campus say that if their sons and daughters were throwing rocks and bottles at the National Guard, they SHOULD HAVE BEEN SHOT. How many tons of bombs, naplam, agent orange dropped to save these people from Communism and to save them for what? Bzzzzz.

I return to college. My husband wants me to be a teacher. I explore Paolo Freire and Jonathon Kozol. I read in “The Pedagogy of the Oppressed,” “with the establishment of the relationship of oppression, violence has already begun. Never in history has violence been initiated by the oppressed. How could they be the initiators, if they themselves are the result of the violence…there would be no oppressed had there been no prior situation of violence to establish their subjugation.” If you teach this way no pair of Nike’s, no designer jeans will satisfy. I can’t take the loyalty oath. I can’t lead the pledge of allegiance. Who will hire me? I decide I can’t be a teacher. Bzzzzz.

I have a class called, “The Philosophy of Peace.” We have to write a peace plan. We have to divide and share the world’s resources. The instructor is a Catholic into liberation theology. He infuriates me. Is that what he thinks is causing the problems of the world? No one has come up with a fair enough PLAN! I do a slide show with my term paper. I show the “plans” that have been trampled in the dirt, buried under the bodies that fell on top of them. He has never seen these things before. I want to scream. Bzzzzz.

Preparing for the Columbus Quincentennary I read about the conquistadors slow cooking a Native American over a fire pit. They tell him not to worry for he will soon be in heaven. “Are their Spaniards in heaven?” he asks. “Yes, of course, many Spaniards,” the soldier answers. “Then I don’t want to go to heaven,” says the Indian. Bzzzzz.

My children are teenagers now. I explore what happened in Italy after 1945 with American tax dollars, covert aid and approval. I read William Blum. I explore what happened in Germany after 1945 with American tax dollars, covert aid and approval. I read William Blum. I explore what happened in Indonesia in 1965 with American tax dollars and direct aid and approval. I read William Blum. My head fills with truths until I can’t hold it up any longer. It grows like a baloon, but it is as heavy as stone. It flops down. I try to pick it up. It flops to the side. It will not stand straight on my neck. I am officially a freak. Bzzzzz.

I march. I rally. I speak. I read. I write. Does it make me happy? Does it make me rich? I search for truth like a blind man reading in stone that’s been worn down by time. Like Anthony Newly and Leslie Bricusse with no star to guide me and no one beside me, I go on my way and after the day the darkness will hide me. Every bookeverypoemeverymovieeverypicture of the crimes of my country is in my head. The pile is bigger than 14 million. All colors, all races, all sexes, all ages across time. There is one thing in common, the color of our blood. That is a fact. There is no denying it. Bzzzzz.

I don’t want to lose this anger. ‘Reconciliation’ is a word that makes me want to vomit an ocean of blood. “Conflict resolution” is a phrase that makes me want to step on the heads of the snakes that hiss it. I sit in my living room so I can see all the colors that surround me. It is the color of acorn squash. The stairway wall is paprika. The dining room is gazpacho green. Nina Simone is singing “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” on the CD player. I explored, I read, I questioned and I came to the conclusion that everything that happens today is directly related to what happened yesterday. I am lucky to have been born at a time when people were turning the world on it’s head and shaking out the dirty secrets for all to share and see so I could run and pick them up, hold them in my hands and let them burn like fire in my pockets until I find their truths.

Sunday, January 23, 2005


I am a zombie during the day.
The tasks laid before me are the pegs I use
to pull myself through time.
There is no purpose to what I do.
There is no reason for doing it.
It is not done with thought or with pleasure.
It is a necessity to keep the mortgage paid and food in the refrigerator.

Outside I am starting to shrivel from lack of life.
Inside I am rotting.
Invisible maggots eat at my veins and flesh-maggots of boredom and self induced paralysis,
Contained by the skin they rumble and squirm unseen
slowly, relentlessly devouring me.

I look for a purpose. I look for a reason to be. I find only emptiness.

I watch the sky for a sign of change.
Clouds move swiftly past my eyes.
Thin straight clouds. Puffy cottony clouds.
Clouds that look like eyes that have been crying all night.
Clouds that look like mist.
Underneath there are glimpses of blue.
In the distance there are hills still red and green and gold with autumn leaves.
But houses are swallowing them up. Green lawns. Beige aluminum siding. Perfectly shaped trees.
I listen for the sound of change on the wind, but there is only empty, hollow wailing.

Grayness is a mist over everyday.
All colors are shaded, less brilliant.
The air has no odor.
The birds sing as if on cue.
It’s as if a protective dome was already over us
and everything is already artificial.
Is that a lemon or an illusion of a lemon?
Is that a piece of chicken or a memory of a piece of chicken?
My eyes slide sideways from person to person
to see if anyone else is thinking these thoughts,
but their faces betray nothing unusual.
Only the grayness is real.
I try to grab it, but it eludes my touch.

My nerve endings wave in the air-
thin, pale pink tentacles
waiting to catch the slightest scent
but nothing passes by.

The absence of the hint of change is frightening.
It is also the absence of hope.
Silence rings like a death knoll.
Like the footsteps of a behemoth.
Like a million soldiers marching.
Like a tidal wave crashing over the earth

Nowhere to hide.
No safety. No disguise.
I cannot wear my disguise anyway.
It doesn’t fit.
Whatever mask I wear doesn’t matter,
because I cannot disguise my eyes.
What I know
blazes like neon, squeaking out of the cracks between my closed lids.
My mouth cannot smile at the things said as jokes.
My mouth cannot make small talk.
My mouth can only utter the monosyllables:
“No, no more. Stop. Stop.

Which little country
will be today’s Guernica?
And which will be tomorrows?
Whose children and old people will be laying in the street in shreds ?
Whose fathers and son’s will be turned into killers?
Whose daughters will be raped?
Whose mothers will turn to stone?
Whose lands will be made inhabitable?
Whose water will be polluted?
For centuries. For Centuries. FOR CENTURIES.
What year is this? In what country do I live?

I know, I know it all and yet I do nothing.

If I walk outside the sun shines on me, not knowing I am guilty.
The breeze touches my face gently, not knowing I am guilty.
If it rains on me I go inside.
If it’s cold, I turn up the heat.
If it’s hot, I turn on the air conditioner.
If I’m hungry, or even if I’m not-I eat.
What will it be today?
Spaghetti? Salmon? A sirloin steak?
Or is it breakfast still- a bagel, some oatmeal, pineapple yogurt?
There are no floods here. No tornado’s. We’re too far inland for a hurricane.

This is how I know there is no god.

In the evening the moon sits high above the city trees
with one bright star below and to the left.
What does it mean? What does it mean?
I cannot hear. I cannot smell. I cannot taste.

If I could eat the moon
it would taste cool and sharp.
My tongue would slide along one whole shiny side and then dig sharply in
and scoop out
a tiny,tingly piece
of cream.
And the cream would
Slide down my throat
like liquid ice
and line my belly with sparkle.

If I could lick the stars
they would taste crisp and sweet.
Their sugary coating would come off on my tongue.
I would leave them sticky and wet
and giggling as I passed by
tickling their sweet star stomachs with my tongue.

If I could hold the ocean in my arms
singing it to sleep with a muses ancient song,
I would cradle it like an infant newly born
and sing my sorrow for its injuries.
For years and years, I would sing,
voice high and soft and voice low and deep
and voice velvet with sorrow and voice silvery with light.
Rocking gently back and forth dipping my fingers
in the water of its mouth,
stroking its limbs and singing.

If I could find comfort in this world,
I would let the air undress me
and caress the soft flesh of inner arms.
I would let it whisper in my hair, breathe in my neck,
flutter around my lips like a million butterflies.
I would stand perfectly still on the top of an empty hill
arms outstretched and let it flow and swirl and stream
and glide under, around through me.
Then exhausted, I would lay down in the grass and sleep.