Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Black Boy, Racism and Gentrification

I first read Black Boy in the 1960's during the height of the Civil Rights Movement. The book had a strong impact on my southern perspective of the plight of the "Negro" (term used in the 60's) living under the Jim Crow System of racial segregation. The landscape of the South during this time was filled with Jewish and other white organizers riding into the South in buses as part of the Freedom Rides or taking part in the civil disobedient sit-ins or defending those arrested for this behavior. The nation watched in horror as the living situation of the Negro in the South came to light with reports of murders, lynchings, bombings, dogs and water hoses taking up the major part of the nightly news reports - along with Vietnam. As a college student and Young Democrat at the time majoring in social studies and English, I became a fierce supporter of the work of Martin Luther King, Jr., CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) and the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). Therefore, this raw portrayal of a young Negro's experience with the Jim Crow System had a profound impact upon me.

Two episodes in the book stayed with me from the time in my late teens and early twenties until the age of 71 when I decided to pick up the book and read it again. Both episodes involved the breaking of the law. The first was the conspiracy between Richard Wright and a Jewish man who worked in the same facility where Wright worked as a janitor and errand boy. Part of Wright's job was to run errands for the white workers in order to get tips that supplemented a less than adequate food budget for the family of four he supported. One of these errands was to pick up books at the library. The white bosses would send a note along with their library card requesting Wright be allowed to pick up books for them. It was against the law for colored people to have a library card. Having a library card was a crime punishable by a beating at best. Wright had a thirst for knowledge and did everything he could to find material to read. He reported to work early each morning so he could read the daily newspaper provided on loan  to him by a Negro friend who sold them out front.

One day, Wright read about a writer named H.L. Mencken and he became interested in reading some of the author's books. How could he get them? That's when he approached a Jewish man who sent him to the library on a regular basis and asked if he could use his card to check out some books by the author. The Jewish boss had no idea who Mencken was and, he noted, his card was already full.
The man suggested that he would use his wife's library card and send a note to the library with his card asking that Wright check out some books by Mencken for him.What an elaborate and dangerous scheme to be allowed to check out a book! Thinking about how much I loved books and how important the Portland Library was to a poor Southern "white" girl, I was filled with disgust. This, more than anything, stirred my passions about the plight of the Negro living under such a system.

The second episode also involved the breaking of the law. This time, Wright was working taking tickets at a movie theater. He had decided he was going to leave the South and move North, but at the rate he was saving money for a minimum stake, he figured it would take years that he didn't have. The law he broke this time was indeed a criminal act. He worked a system to cheat the movie theater owner with two other employees. He would skim tickets off the top and give back for resale to the girl at the ticket booth when the theater was full and then the three would split the profits. This was working and helping, but Wright lived in fear of getting caught before he had enough saved. That's when he broke into a store and stole some dry goods and resold them to get the rest of the money. Once again, I understood how this unjust system nurtured the development of criminal behavior in people desperate for a chance to live free in a society that was supposed to be free. Another story came to my mind. I never met this uncle, my father's half brother, because he died in prison. He was sentenced to jail for stealing a loaf of bread. I remembered the story of Jon Val John in "Les Miserables" and once again my passions were stirred.

 I eventually became a school teacher and social worker choosing to work with the least fortunate and being a champion for their cause. After 25 years of  teaching in the public school system, I, too, became a writer and in 2014 moved back into my old neighborhood to be part of the revitalization of the community - the Portland Renaissance. I never realized how connected I was with Richard Wright who had become a successful author and part of the Harlem Renaissance of the late 20's and 30's until I once again read "Black Boy." It is my intention to read the book to a group of middle school students this summer at the Portland Community Center in an effort to bring back respect for the Library and reading and critical thinking in the community. The book has changed since the time it was originally written in 1945. A second part was added in later editions  when the name "Black Boy" was changed to "Black Boy/American Hunger."

Part I of the book is the part that I intend to read to the students at the Center. It covers Wright's life from his earliest memories at the age of 4 or 5 (1913)  until he makes the desperate move to the Promised Land - the North and Chicago- in 1927. In Part II "The Horror and the Glory" Wright recounts his experiences living in the South Side of Chicago - the Black Belt - and observes the behavior of the oppressed people living there. His prophetic and insightful observances from the period of the Great Depression until the beginning of World War II have deepened my awareness of the sprouts of illiteracy, violence and intolerance that still thrive in the rotten soil poisoned by
 racial, religious and ethnic groups that have never come together in unity and whose perspective is colored by ingrained attitudes propagated by the society that has never been truly "united" since its inception.

At the end of the book Wright relates his experience with fellow Negroes who are members of the Communist Party in Chicago working in the trade unions to improve the plight of the working man. 
He begins to be labeled as dangerous to the Party even among the Negroes that he thought shared the same goals as he.

 "During the following days I learned through discreet questioning that I had seemed a fantastic element to the black Communists. I was shocked to hear that I, who had been only to grammar school had been classified as an intellectual. What was an intellectual? I had never heard the word used in the sense that it applied to me. . . I learned to my dismay, that the black Communists had commented upon my clean shoes, my clean shirt, and the tie I had worn. Above all, my manner of speech had seemed an alien thing to them. 'He talks like a book,' I heard one of them say. And that was enough to condemn me forever as bourgeois."

As I read this, I thought about the word gentrification as it applies to the controversy over acceptance of programs intended to revitalize the community in Portland. What's wrong with gentrification if it means better jobs, better schools and a dignified way of life for all in the community regardless of "race, color, or creed?" Shouldn't all who live here look at what our common goals are to work together for a better community and environment and embrace those that offer potential toward this end instead of the constant focus on who's different and who's not based upon superficial judgments in regard to speech, clothing and "right" and "wrong" ways of thinking? My mind began to race with trying to put all this into some kind of perspective for me and what I am doing in Portland. I found my answers in the last part of the book.

"Yes, the whites were as miserable as their black victims, I thought. If this country can't find its way to a human path, if it can't inform conduct with a deep sense of life (all lives matter, my thoughts), then all of us, black as well as white are going down the same drain . . . I picked up a pencil and held it over a white sheet of paper, but my feelings stood in the way of my words. Well, I would wait, day and night until I knew what to say. Humbly now, with no vaulting dream of achieving a vast unity, I wanted to try to build a bridge of words between me and that world outside, that world that was so distant and elusive that it seemed unreal. I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo, and if an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march to fight, to create a sense of hunger for the life that gnaws in us all, to keep alive in our hearts a sense of the inexpressibly human."

In these words I found the meaning of gentrification. The artists and writers who were part of the Harlem Renaissance of the late 20's and early 30's have built bridges of words, paintings and music that the writers, poets, artists and musicians living in Portland during its Renaissance can use to span the vast water of segregation that still exists in this country to bring us to that realization of a life full of expression of that which is "inexpressibly human" in us all. I cannot wait to read "Native Son."

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Musings of a Seventy-one Year Old Teacher After Reading "The Art of Loading Brush" #4

The Order of Loving Care

Wendell Berry’s discussion of The Order of Loving is Care is based on this economic principle – “. . . the human economy is dependent upon and limited by the natural world (not Wall St.), which is limited, in time, upon human cherishing, forbearance and skill.” This principle is what I attempted to explain in “The Peacemaker.”  Ayowentah (Hiawatha) promoted the principles of peace when he restored the five – and eventually six tribes that became part of the Iroquois Confederacy - to peace and prosperity that lasted for over 300 years. That prosperous culture fell apart and the nation that was built upon its ashes became strong by violating this basic law. At the beginning of the 21st Century we are faced with decline and unless we go back to practicing the idea that agrarianism is the only way to restore our land, we will continue in this decline of never ending war and military and corporate control all over the planet – led by the United States.  We are now at a point where our entire society has lost sight of this and the decline became critical with the decline of agrarianism and the rise of agribusiness in the 1960’s.

The rise of imperialism at the end of the 19th Century was the result of the United States reaching the point where the land that it controlled could no longer feed the industrial economy. That’s when we began to join with the major European powers in pursing the riches of undeveloped lands in the South Pacific and Asia as well as Africa. We know the history – World War I and World War II. After these wars the United States emerged as one of two superpowers who had control of the means to destroy the world so a “cold war” with conventional hot spots all over the world began. That war still continues today and the reason is simple, two superpowers looking to control lands and resources. The social and government philosophies have little to do with it. It’s about control. As these wars continue the environment continues to decline and unless we begin to restore a local economy based on neighborly love and attentiveness to the local landscape, suffering, poor health, lack of education and violence will continue.

Mr. Berry writes of a few farmers around Port William in rural Kentucky who are still practicing agrarian farming techniques. Many of these remain because of the influence of the Amish who still understand agrarian practices and whose community not only prospers but is non-violent. The Amish believe in community and that the Gospel teaches neighborly love because no one can prosper if there are those who suffer lack. Even when violence touched their community in an Amish school in 2006, the Amish astounded the rest of society with their willingness to forgive and to offer the same support to the family of the perpetrator as well as the families who suffered the loss of loved ones.  The Gospel is adhered to strictly according to their interpretations and the Amish believe that if they can’t forgive, they cannot be forgiven.  This story is found in the book Amish Grace

Some of the techniques copied from the Amish as well as a few others who still give attention to the landscape to learn how to farm are annual planting so that the grasses might thatch over the ground to protect from soil erosion, and two story agriculture on lands that are full of rolling hills such as Kentucky. In Kentucky this means planting grass on the lower level of a hill – white grass and blue grass go well together - and planting fruit and nut trees on the second level. All of these practices stem from a spiritual belief expressed by William Blake in the 16th Century – “Everything that lives is holy and every particle of dust breathes its joy.”  No culture understood this better than that of the Iroquois Confederacy who lived and roamed the Eastern Woodlands for centuries developing a paradise that the Anglo-Saxon war machine saw as unlimited wealth for first the coffers of those kings in power in Europe. When the oligarchy that formed the United States’ “democratic republic” came to power after the American Revolution, they continued these practices under the guise of Manifest Destiny.

As the United States began to push into those lands and force these inhabitants out of the country or onto reservations, the care of the land based on the order of living things began its decline. That is chronicled in “The Peacemaker”, but Mr. Berry cites the story of a group of Eastern people living in the Wisconsin Territory after the Revolutionary War. Mr. Berry read about this group in 1994 and relates their story in “The Art of Loading Brush.” The Menominee people who had been living in these forests for hundreds of years were pushed onto a 235,000 acre reservation of which 220,000 was forest land. The Menominee understood that the land around the forest could be no healthier than the woods around it. Therefore, they had a cultural imperative to save it while developing a sustainable logging economy.
Using the techniques described in The Art of Loading Brush and continuous logging for 148 years, the Menominee control a forest that is still believed to contain a billion and a half board feet of standing timber which is the same number of board feet that existed in 1854. (1854 plus 148 is 1994, the date of this reference). The laws that control this operation are the same ones passed down to their culture from the days of The Peacemaker. These are: The Law of Fullness, (to retain fullness those who take the forest must give the land the loving care it needs so that nature can renew),The Law Diversity - one crop planting destroys and taking all the trees at once destroys,) and the Law of Frugality – take only what is needed. The forest still contains hemlock and cedar trees 350 years old; the average age of the maple trees is 140-180 years. Mr. Berry compares that to the state of the forests in Kentucky which in 1994 had been under the control of the United States for 219 years (1994-219 is 1775). This is a striking example of what we have done to the land under our stewardship and the time has come to revert this destructive behavior because if the land goes so go the humans. Consider the human condition in America today, it is as sick and violent as the land we have created.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Musings of a Seventy-one Year Old Teacher upon Reading "The Art of Loading Brush" #3

The Presence of Nature in the Natural World

This section of Wendell Berry’s book digs deep into English literature to find writings from the 12th Century that describe the relationship of humans to the natural world in regard to wisdom about how to relate to the natural world that we are a part of and interdependent upon to survive.  Every one of these natural relationships has been destroyed with the coming of militarism and a competitive, destructive  industrialism that has pushed us to the brink  Thus, the problem. As I read this section, I couldn’t help but think of the parallels between the wisdom of English scholars, and spiritual leaders and those of the “The Peacemaker.”  In fact, the theme of “The Peacemaker” is that the problems of 21st Century Society have been spawned by the violation of this basis relationship of humans to the natural world that sustains us resulting in its decline and the decline of the society built upon it unless the relationship is returned to its proper balance. The following quotes are ones that resonated with me about ways of thinking and acting that need to be put back into our education and work ethics.

·         Who or what is right? “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity and beauty of the biotic community.  It is wrong if it tends otherwise.”
·       What is human goodness? “Human goodness comes from the practice of human virtues – chastity, temperance, generosity, and humility. 
·      What are the laws that govern the human economy? Law of Frugality - there is no waste. Law of Fertility - Humans borrow from nature's creation upon the condition of payment in full. Don’t destroy the ability of the earth to continue to create. Industrialism is the opposite of this. Cut down the forests to make fields to plow which eventually creates a desert. The Dust Bowl of the 30’s is a prime example of this and the Law of Diversity – Single crop planting (wheat and corn) only destroys the economic and ecological health of the natural world.
  • ·         When does the economy become too big – over inflation?  “There can be no economy larger than its own sources and supports (what is available locally).”
  • ·         What do I grow on my land? What are the resources? “Farming should fit the land.”
  • ·         What makes a good neighborhood? “A good neighborhood is one that is an economic asset to all its members “– those who live there – not investors.
  • ·         What is charity to Nature? “Her charity is to need charity.” What goes around comes around.
  • ·         What type of farming is best suited to Kentucky? “Kentucky is not a plain; it is made up of rolling hills. The best type of farming is two-story farming. The lower level should be grass and the upper one filled with fruit and nut trees.”
  • ·         What is the definition of economy? “(Economy is) the management and care of the given means of life. “
  • ·         Where are the teachers and books about farming? “We learn to farm properly only under the instruction of nature.”
  • ·         Why are humans and other sentient beings interdependent? “Communal life (especially for humans) is a necessity because we cannot survive on our own like plants, but plants also need our “waste products” to survive.”
  •       How do we manage self-interest and ego in humans? Self- interest and ego are dissolved through imagination, sympathy and charity. Then, the ego can see other points of view.
  •          What do humans need to do to preserve the integrity of nature? “The integrity of the natural world depends upon the maintenance of humans who practice their own integrity by the practice of the virtues.”
  •       What is the difference between industrial politicians and industrial conservationists? “Industrial politicians ignore everything that can be ignored; mainly the whole outdoors. Industrial conservationists ignore everything but the wilderness. Give us our wild lands, but do as you will with the rest.”
  •       These lessons were derived from a book Wendell Berry read that came from the 13th Century. The name of the book was “The Pliant of Nature” by Allanus De Insulis. In the book the author recounts the history of our thought about the natural world as well as the history of the conservation laws that rule our relationship with the natural world. The story is a metaphorical one that recounts his (the author’s) encounter with a female spirit that speaks to him as Mother Nature. By learning from her the truth of nature and natural laws the author finds wisdom as she dissolves into the horizon where the division between Heaven and Earth disappear. This, most certainly, is what those who control the planet using industrial economies must learn in order to continue the process of creation and re-creation of life.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Musings of a Seventy-one Year Old History Teacher Inspired by "The Art of Loading Brush." #2


                Chapter 2 of "The Art of Loading Brush" is a letter to scientists that includes economic as well as technological sciences. In the letter, Mr. Berry points out the failure of economists and scientists to create a better tomorrow because of two major fallacies:
  • ·         Exploiting the producers (farmers) by destroying the local farmers who have a relationship with the land and creating agribusinesses that use machines to overproduce in order to sell as cheaply to the consumer as possible with little return to the farmer or the land.
  • ·         Growing one crop exclusively so that when overproduction occurs resulting in surpluses the farmer is left without income. Mr. Berry calls this lack of diversity.

In addition to this, Mr. Berry points out the fallacy in believing that any entity or group can ignore the past as an indicator of the present (the future of past events and behavior) to focus on well-controlled studies that predict a better tomorrow. In terms of the basis of any economic system (the production of food, clothing and shelter) the focus needs to be on the present and what local resources are available at this time for this production. This includes not only the water, soil, weather, air, and sunlight but also the living creatures including those we call our neighbors who rely on the same “raw materials.”

As rural communities decline and become no more than bedroom communities for farmers who have left farming to become blue collar workers, children have lost sight of this dependence on nature and how it functions in their very survival. Mr. Berry says, “I wish its children (rural America) might be taught thoroughly and honestly, its (local natural history), and its history is part of American history.” According to Mr. Berry, this is where change in education should begin. The new system would be based on the idea of “provision” which is at the heart of what Mr. Berry believes is agrarianism. Provision, as defined by Mr. Berry is, “caring properly for the good you have (now), including your own life.” Provision is “now oriented” and diverse. Mr. Berry cites the old adage, “don’t put all your eggs in one basket,” and says that answers don’t come from the future.  We need to study the past and present as the future of the past.

Therefore, Mr. Berry suggests that these are the solutions to the challenges that face the myriad of domestic problems facing the country today.
  • ·         Realize our dependence upon nature and the natural world instead of science and technology. This realization would bring about voluntary stewardship of the land and the environment around us.
  • ·         Realizing that the success of the American economy is dependent upon the local economies of farming, ranching, forestry, and fishing and mining.
  • ·         Realizing that the national economy is made up of local economies that are complete and self-sustaining – not dependent upon what happens globally.

·         In terms of production and waste, we must realize that production itself must not reduce productivity – no overproduction and no waste.
My own contribution to this would be that this is the kind of “nationalism” needed in the United States, not the jingoist, competitive, military dependent nationalism in operation under the current Administration. In regard to making statements about the current Administration, we all need to realize that what has happened recently is not the result of the actions of a particular political party that is “wrong;” according to provision this is what has happened as a result of past mistakes and that’s where we need to focus to make the changes that will benefit us today and lead to a sustainable way of life for all.  

How does agrarianism fit into this? Mr. Berry states that agrarianism is the practice that has resulted from a “primal wish for a home” that results in putting the highest value on the care of the land. In terms of provision, we must ask ourselves how much can we ask of this land, this farm without a diminishing response?

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Musings of a Seventy-year Old History Teacher - about The Art of Loading Brush #1

In the midst of all the controversy and loud discussion about safety and gun rights, I started reading "The Art of Loading Brush" by Kentucky poet and essayist Wendell Berry. I have only read a few pages but the book has been written to begin a conversation about agrarian culture, especially in the South, its beginnings, its relationship to racism and perceptions outside the South and how a dialogue based on local, neighborly economic systems and changing the pursuit of one's life work from job to vocation can make significant strides in reversing an out of control military as well as a materialistic, corporate controlled economy that is at the root of the continual destruction of our physical environment as well as the peaceful, social fabric in this country  So far, and I have only started, the book seems to be in line with what I attempted to write about when I wrote “The Peacemaker” and its sequel “New Pangaea – An Evolution into the Fifth World.”
Berry begins the book with a series of quotes and assessments of the misperceptions prevalent in American society based on the loss of any basic knowledge of agrarian society due to the rise of urban economies based on accumulation of money and wealth from a job as opposed to a vocation. As I read these initial quotes and intellectual musings I thought of how Hitler rose to power by shutting down institutions of learning and muting the voices and writings of the intellectuals attempting  to get the people of Germany to remember. Hitler captured the youth of Germany with his propaganda about Aryan superiority and the need for “lebensraum” all the while burning books and sending those intellectuals to concentration camps along with the Jewish population. So much of that is happening in our society today. I read with horror President Trump’s appointment of the new CIA director who has been shown to support water boarding and other tortures while interrogating our “enemies.”
Although I have great compassion for the trauma of high school students rising to action against a fear for their safety in school, I am hesitant to think they should label themselves as leaders and voices of the future when they are so disconnected from their past and rely on social media and peers to move through this trauma instead of looking for the causes of this disease that is sweeping our nation and cannot be cured simply by getting rid of the National Rifle Association and its control over our legislators preventing sensible gun control. As leaders and parents of those killed at  Columbine and Newton have discovered over the years, the cures lie in the creation of a school culture and climate that promotes values of dialogue based on reading and critical thinking, accountability for actions, respect for all living beings and the value of life in general. Addressing these issues in their microcosm of society would send a larger message to society as a whole and after graduation from high school they can be the leaders of a new revolution of meaningful change.
Therefore, I offer some quotes and assessments of our society presented at the beginning of “The Art of Learning Brush” for you to think about as I have done so over the past twenty-four hours that have not been free of noise and conflict from neighbors living in the apartment across the hall from me and, in conjunction with the school walk-outs have prompted me to share these thoughts with you as our nation and families continue facing violence and loss on a daily basis.
·         “You had to be here then to be able to don’t see it and don’t hear it (anymore) now. But I was there then, and I don’t see it now . . .” Ernest J. Gaines, “A Gathering of Old Men.”
·         “We are responsible for what we remember.”  Professor John Lukas talking with students at the University of Louisville, March 9, 2011.
·         “Whatever agrarianism is, it is too important to be a movement. Movements leave little room or dissent.” Wendell Berry
·         Leaders of movements have tunnel vision- their ideas are right and the others are wrong. They leave no room for debate to come together to create meaningful solutions.  Wendell Berry.
·         Agrarianism is about home, field, garden, stable, prairie, forest, tribe, village . . . and cottage rather than castle. It is not about money, it is about culture and how that culture sustains itself with its relationship to land and community. No public conversation about this exists now nor has it existed for the last 60 or 70 years.  Wendell Berry. Therefore, if our young are to know about this, they will have to read and study history and relearn these relationships. Brenda Duffey.
·         Our language needs to develop into a local, neighborly language that speaks about a vocation instead of a job and a local instead of global economy. Wendell Berry. This means we need to initiate programs and methods of food production and jobs that begin within individual neighborhoods and communities and neighbors need to come together for the good of the neighborhood first. Brenda Duffey.
·         “. . . it has now been a long time since an agrarian or any advocate for the good and economic and ecological health of rural America could be listened to or understood or represented by either of the political parties.” Wendell Berry.
I intend to do a series of blogs as I read “The Art of Loading Brush” to share with you my thoughts, my remembering and stimulate your thoughts and remembering as well that you might like to share with me.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

A Well Regulated Militia and The Federalist Papers

“A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” Amendment 2

As I listened to the debate about what the Founding Fathers meant about a well-regulated militia between history teachers and the representative of the National Rifle Association on CNN’s Town Hall last night, I thought I needed to offer something that might give an understanding of what The Founding Fathers meant in adding the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution by using the material I read in The Original Argument which was a complete compilation of The Federalist Papers written under a pseudonym by three of the Founding Fathers.

These papers were written over a period of time as essays to justify the need to have a central, federal government that would have sovereignty over the states in order to create a national economy and a “national police force” (military) that would protect the country from the threats that existed by foreign nations as well as insurrections like the Whiskey Rebellion that occurred during George Washington’s administration. In addition there was a need to have a militia that could support the new settlers in the Northwest Territory against Indian uprisings with arms being supplied by our enemy Great Britain.

 Groups supporting the opinions of the essays were called Federalists. Those opposed were called Anti-Federalists – thus setting the stage for the development of political parties in this country – something George Washington warned about in his Farewell Address. Despite these brilliant, convincing arguments, the Founding Fathers were well-aware of the abuses of the absolute monarchies in England that had used their power and control to deny individual citizens their inalienable rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Therefore, they were cautious about surrendering power to a central government.

It is ironic that when the Constitution was written speaking about these inalienable rights, the only people that had these rights were the White Anglo-Saxon Christian males who owned property and could vote. It has taken a long time for the other disenfranchised groups to secure these rights for themselves but the way it has been done is through a Living Constitution that can be amended and the power of a non-political judicial branch of government that can strike down laws that deny people their basic rights and declare them null and void. Such was the case with the Brown vs. the Board of Education decision that declared the separate but equal segregation laws of Plessy vs. Ferguson null and void.

The Constitution itself was structured in such a way to spread the powers of this central government over three branches with each branch having a power that would keep each of the three branches check. But that was not enough for the people in 1791. These men knew only too well how the abusive monarchs of England had abused their powers to deny Englishmen certain rights and despite the explanation of a need for a central government the states were unwilling to ratify the Constitution without a set of amendments known as The Bill of Rights – the first ten amendments that became part of the Constitution. Our history is one in which groups denied these rights and full participation in society have used these ten amendments to incorporate all of the various ethnic and cultural groups that make up our society into full participation. Perhaps the last group of people that will come under the protection of the “right to bear arms” is the African-American black living in urban ghettoes across the nation and subject to abuse by the police force that protects them. The Black Panther Movement of the 1970’s is a good example of this.

The men who met in Independence Hall in 1787 went to revise the first form of government established after the Revolution the “Articles of Confederation,” which by the way, was based on the Constitution of the Iroquois Confederacy which was destroyed during and after the American Revolution. As they met, the consensus of the Founding Fathers was that the loose league of friendship of 13 sovereign states was not working.

The economy was failing because each state wanted its own currency. Next, there were violent protests like the Whiskey Rebellion that needed addressing. In addition, the new government needed to get rid of the Native American uprisings in the Northwest Territory that were being supported by the British supplying the “terrorist” Indians with guns. The British were supplying the Indians with guns to maintain control of their forts along the Great Lakes which gave them control of vital transportation into the interior of the country. The settlers needed to have their Kentucky long rifles and weapons to use against the Indians in order to settle the land that the United States said, for some reason, belonged to them after the Revolution. So, these Founding Fathers went to Philadelphia to come up with a government that would establish a national economic system and a national army. Neither of these were popular among the Sons of Liberty who had just fought a war to be free of the abuses of an absolute monarch. So, the meetings were held in secret throughout the summer of 1787. Neither was the absured notion that African-American slaves should have the right to bear arms or any of the rights eventually listed in the Bill of Rights considered.

After the Constitution was written that established a federal government that would control the money and have a standing army, the Founding Fathers set about “selling” the idea of federalism to the governments of the 13 sovereign states. Three-fourths of the states had to ratify or approve the Constitution before the new government could proceed. That’s why Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay wrote a series of articles that became known as “The Federalist Papers” under the pseudonym Publius. This debate over a strong central government versus a government of loosely connected sovereign states led to the development of political parties and ultimately to Civil War. 

The Federalist Papers which I read in a book entitled “The Original Argument” set forth all the reasons why the new United States should surrender power to a central government. The arguments were highly contested and even led to several duals between men like Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton. The bottom line soon became apparent. Before any approval of a Constitution that would give sanction to a central government certain rights had to be guaranteed in the Constitution. These rights were listed in the first ten amendments to the Constitution and became known as the Bill of Rights. Amendment 2 was the protection of the individual citizen to bear arms in order to protect themselves against a government that had federal forts and arsenals of weapons that could easily be used against them.  

So, today, we have Amendment 2 still in operation which, if interpreted as I interpret its meaning, assault rifles are certainly allowed to private citizens to protect citizens from the abusive military. That also means citizens have the means to nuclear weapons and dirty bombs of all types. That’s how powerful our military has become. What should be done about Amendment 2 then? To what extent should the government or even private citizens have access to weapons whose only reason for existence is to kill? Kill whom? Only those the government deems our enemies or perhaps the emissaries of the government who have used these weapons against Native Americans, African Americans, and women for centuries?

As an added note, private citizens in this country are protected by the second Amendment to the Constitution from a powerful military. What about the third world countries that do not have that protection and where citizens face the daily terror of weapons manufactured and supplied by the United States to governments that dole out the weapons at will to all kinds of corrupt and hateful organizations?  The people of these countries live with endless war and death and must flee to other countries that will allow them to enter in order to find security. I find it ironic that our country now sees these refugees as “terrorists” and wants to treat them in many ways like the Native Americans were treated in the 19th Century. Build walls (forts) to keep them out and continue to fuel hate and fear while supplying the hate groups with weapons forged in the United States and supplied to these corrupt factions all over the globe. Some of them even end up back in the United States and when used to massacre our citizens the public outrage begins.

Therefore, the debate that is centered around the 2nd Amendment should start to address the issue of how do we regulate this military that has made the United States a super power with the weapons of mass destruction powerful enough to destroy our planet and in the name of the second amendment people having access to all the methods of making and using any or all of these? Yes, we need to discuss the many complex problems surrounding those to whom no access to these weapons (people like Hitler or the Ku Klux Klan for example) as well as others who are mentally disturbed and amenable to using anything to kill when aroused, but there first needs to be an examination of our own attitudes about the military and the continual idea that having super weapons is the way to make a country strong and that those who disagree with us in any way are the enemy.


Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Pochantas - The First Allegation of Sexual Assault

I did not sleep last night because of the events of the past week. All week I have been sharing Native Hope posts about the tragedy of the indigenous people of North America destroyed by American militarism and what that means for the struggling cultures that remain. On Sunday evening I watched the movie "Wind River"- a fictional account of what is happening to the indigenous youth on 21st Century reservations who are struggling with the impact of poverty, loss of identity, drug use, suicide and sexual abuse at levels far greater than any minority group in this country. I was stunned that this movie has received such little attention from the Hollywood promoters. Once again, my anger rose just like the first time I saw the movie "Billy Jack" in the 1970's when Hollywood and the national media were at last giving some attention to this Scarlet Letter of American history. Once again, however, these stories have been buried behind sensational headlines that are politically motivated by members of both of the two political parties in order to use the indigenous people to gain power, (Navajo Code Talkers - watch Wind Talkers or the story of Ira Hayes or Jim Thorpe) or take away more lands and pass their agendas (Keystone Pipeline, Dakota Access Pipeline or the Tar Sands Pipeline) under the guise of creating jobs and growing the American economy to keep their careers despite the vast needs of indigenous people.

 The latest in these events is the whirlwind of media attention given to Elizabeth Warren who was "racially slurred" when President Trump referred to her as Pocahantas. The honoring of the Navajo Code Talkers would probably have received about ten seconds of air time on the national news if this had not occurred at the ceremony honoring them. It is also ironic that all this resulted from the President's use of the name of one of the greatest indigenous American females in North American history to "slur" Elizabeth Warren. From what I know, this was no slur against Elizabeth Warren only the latest in the demeaning of indigenous leaders in American history and relegating them to a status like that of Mickey Mouse in order to demean someone. In light of what I have studied and learned about Pochantas over the years, I find it ironic that the President chose this name given his history of allegations of sexual misconduct and misuse of power in regard to women. In addition, the media blowing this up into a political discussion under the guise of a "racial slur" against Elizabeth Warren without regard for the actual person slurred, Pocahantas, is outrageous to me. I feel compelled to get up in the wee hours of the morning and try to put some words to why I find this so disgusting.

In the farming culture of many of the tribes of the Eastern Woodlands culture, women played a very powerful role. The societies were matrilineal which meant that all property and other wealth were controlled by the female side of the family tree. These woodland cultures did not believe in ownership of property but in rights to the property by a tribe or group based on land stewardship. So long as the tribes fulfilled these duties, however, the land belonged to the tribe that maintained and farmed it and all wealth resulting from that was controlled by the female matriarchs or Klan mothers. The chiefs who attended the council meetings and made treaties were under the control of these Klan mothers who appointed them to office and removed them if they violated the peace covenants. These women also had absolute veto over war, therefore, they were extremely powerful with a great deal of status. The Powhatan tribe of the Eastern Alqonquin Indians is the tribe that was living around the settlement that became the Jamestown Colony in the early 17th Century.  The Chief of this tribe was named Powhatan but he had a daughter that we know from historical accounts was an Indian princess. In that role, Pochahantas probably traveled with her father on delegations to meet with and negotiate with the European settlers who were ensconced at the all male colony of Jamestown.

What we know about these settlers is that they had a less than sterling record in England. King James I had sent Captain John Smith on a mission to the New World to establish a colony there in order to find a way to fill England's coffers the way the Spanish had done with their colonies in Mexico. No one wanted to go on this mission, so he emptied the jails of the bothersome criminals and sent them off to explore and settle the New World for England and the King. The colony struggled and almost did not survive due to the fighting and general behavior of these criminals. Enter Powhatan with his lovely 15 year old daughter at his side bringing food and pipes filled with tobacco to seal covenants of peace. The story of what happened to Pochahantas has been so skewed and twisted, especially by Walt Disney, that any attempt to ferret the truth of her experience could be only allegations that would not stand a chance of being believed in today's court of justice. From the fragments of what has been passed down in history along with the myth about the saving of John Smith I have pieced together what I believe to be the first allegation of sexual assault by men of power in American history.

What do we know? We know that Pochahantas was kidnapped and that after her return to her father and tribe, she interceded for John Smith and saved his life. From that story, most of the people I know who even know about Pochahantas associate her with a romantic involvement with John Smith and there the story ends in American history as told by Hollywood. Here is what I think. I think when Pochahantas was kidnapped by whatever villian living at Jamestown, she was most likely raped and not just by one man. Captain Smith, being the civilized leader, probably took her back to her father and when faced with death Pochahantas interceded on his behalf. What happened to Pochahantas after that or as a newsman from the 70's might have said, what is the "rest of the story?" Enter John Rolfe.

John Rolfe was an English gentleman who ended up in Jamestown with John Smith and learned of a desirable drug being smoked by the Indians, called tobacco. Tobacco was in high demand in England and John Rolfe needed land to grow this "cash crop" that sealed the success of the Jamestown Colony leading to the settlement of the colony of Virginia. How to get the land needed without military force? Marry the Indian princess who controlled that land and that is exactly what John Rolfe did. After their marriage, he took "Rebecca" to England and there the couple lived very well on the profits from Rolfe's investments in the New World. What happened after she was taken to England has been lost in American history. Perhaps there might be some of her British descendants who may come to the United States with claims to land in Virginia that is part of their heritage. Who knows? How could any of this be proven in a court of law?

All any DNA test would prove would be that a person has the DNA from the tribes of the Eastern Woodlands people. That would only confirm what many people already know (and I am one of them) from stories that have been passed down in their families about their ethnicity. The faces and voices of these people (especially the females) have been lost and identifying a specific one would take years of research to put a name to these people and finding evidence that would be accepted in a court of law would be next to impossible. Maybe someone might find a piece of clothing that belonged to Pochahantas that could be DNA tested to find out who her assailants were? Or why don't we just accept the truth of the story as it relates to what we know about the treatment of all females in America and stop degrading, exploiting and demeaning any of them in our history and stand together once and for all? We do make up the majority in this country. It will be interesting to see how the women of Alabama vote on December 12th.