Sunday, July 15, 2018

"The Invisible Man" - When Hope Turns to Revenge

“When we take away from a man (woman, animal, earth itself) his traditional way of life, his customs, his religion, we had better make certain to replace I with something of value.” Robert Ruark

I keep these words on the wall above my computer so that I can be reminded of them daily to better understand what is happening with me and the world of my experience each day. Every time I experience something or read something I realize that what is happening in my world (beginning with me – a female in a white man’s world, the environment and the endless cycle of war, famine and poverty) is the result of treating this piece of advice as fake news.  I have a great deal of respect for  understanding the teachings of Jesus as a foundation for living to help me understand what it is that  oftentimes robs me of finding the “peace that passeth understanding” that Jesus lived.
 I grew up reading the Bible and believe in the truth and wisdom of these teachings, but I do not discount the teachings of others who have been enlightened, especially by honest observation of the world around them, and have their own parables designed to help me better understand spiritual truths that transcend this physical world, whether of some other faith or simply the playwrights and authors that have shared these ideas in great works of literature and the other arts. Robert Ruark did it in his best-selling book “Something of Value” and as I have delved into the authors from the Harlem Renaissance I am beginning to see how their works illustrate how the African Americans both in the North and the South are still in bondage because of Mr. Roark’s astute prediction. I could also see how all of us (women, indigenous people, immigrants, Asians and on and on) have been affected in the same way.

I just completed the chapter in “The Invisible Man” where the main character goes North with seven letters of introduction to some of the most powerful men on Wall St.  He doesn’t open the letters but believes in the truth of what the President of his all black college in the South has told him is written in the letters. The character believes that he will spend the summer in the North working for men of power who will make it possible for him to return to school in the Fall and redeem himself in order to graduate to follow in the footsteps of the esteemed President.This journey to the North has been the history of the African American in his/her struggle to be free and reap the fruits of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” which is what the North has always meant to the African American.
 What the main character of “The Invisible Man” learns is much the same as the experience of Richard Wright after he moved to Chicago. 

Wright’s autobiography details the truth of his experience there.  His fictional story “Native Son” is a powerful commentary on the situation in the North and gives the reader an understanding about why the Black Power movement and destructive race riots have been centered in the North instead of the South.  “The Invisible Man” like Native Son and Another Country by James Baldwin are other examples of great classics from the Harlem Renaissance.

After arriving in New York and settling in at the Men’s Club (a YMCA), the main character has a lot of time on his hands because despite visiting all but one of the offices of these powerful men, he never meets any but the secretaries and receives the same response from all after the letters, “he will be getting back to you." The character has encounters with owners of restaurants where he is allowed to sit at the counters with other white people but the white owner's stereotypes are all the same. When he finally gets an interview with the last man on the list, he is shocked by the ugly noise being made by a caged, tropical bird living in this resplendent office.  Why is he making such an ugly noise? The character then remembers a visit to one of the museums on the campus of his all black college.

 “I recalled only a few cracked relics from slavery times: an iron pot, an ancient bell, a set of ankle-irons and links of a chain, a primitive loom, a spinning wheel, a gourd for drinking, an ugly ebony African god that seemed to sneer (presented to the school by some traveling millionaire), a leather whip with copper brads, a branding iron with the double letter MM . . .  preferring instead to look at photographs of the early days after the Civil War . . . And I had not looked at these too often.”  As I remembered the metaphor of the beautiful caged bird, I realized why the bird was making such an ugly noise as I connected it to Robert Roark’s prophetic words.  When I finally discovered the contents of the letter along with the main character, I too, lost hope. The letter began “The Robin bearing this letter is a former student. Please hope him to death and keep him running. . .”
After leaving the Wall St. Office with all hope drained from his heart, the main character hears a black man singing a rhyme he remembered from his childhood.

“Ole well they picked poor Robin clean
Ole well they picked poor Robin clean
Well they tied poor Robin to a stump
Lawd, they picked all the feathers round from Robin’s rump
Well, they picked poor Robin clean.”

When the main character returns to his room, he begins to make a new plan – one now based on revenge.



  

Sunday, July 1, 2018

The New Carpetbaggers


“Those who do not learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them.”  This is a quote often put on the wall of my social media pages. One of the things I find most ironic is that whether Democrat, Republican, conservative or liberal posting the quote, all of these are using this quote to take isolated occurrences of an event to prove a point being made by their side to  justify their support of a group of individuals who will make a difference. Most of these quotes usually originate from a site that if one investigates, comes from some group manipulating them to support their cause. I see very little that is original.  From my perspective, all are repeating the errors made over and over in this country, because of the failure of teachers of history and English to do their jobs in preparing students to read in order to understand current events in the context of what has happened in the past – history is not dead and our actions today must be put into a historical context that puts aside the belief that social problems result from the sudden rise to power of some evil entity that a righteous side needs to destroy in order to make society better. This is not the way to preserve freedom; this is the way oligarchs and dictators assume power.

 This is the true cause of the cycle of poverty and war that has robbed this country of the ability to be the true light of freedom for a world in chains - the lack of reading and critical thinking that has created a country where fear and jingoism rule. This makes our whole society vulnerable to those whose only desire is a desire for money and power.  The Founding Fathers who established this so called free country were no more than a group of White Anglo-Saxon Protestant males whose only desire for freedom was freedom from the primogeniture laws that existed in England and the power of the Catholic Church that kept them from having these very things.  A true survey of American history instead of the propaganda of white man’s political history that has been the traditional way of “preserving our heritage” since the inception of this country is what is needed if all of us are going to be able to make sense of what is happening in this country today under the guise of “making America great again.”

Those expounding this belief really mean, from my viewpoint, a return to the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant male rule that has established a country of haves and have nots under its powerful military controlled corpocracy. What we are faced with today is the control of the federal government by one person who has come to power by convincing a group of people that he will return America to its greatness by making America safe from terrorists, restoring God (or the Bible) into the educational system and creating jobs for middle income people to have all of the “things” that are choking the very planet we live on’s ability to sustain life for anyone.  A look at colonialism and empire building that has been at the root of our “greatness” proves that the problems we are facing today are the result of a planet dying and unable to support its people who live there. In addition, the wars and drug empires being built are adding to the problem creating massive numbers of refugees and immigrants coming to this country for refuge and the American dream when our own country can no longer sustain the massive explosion of people and the raping of the environment.
This is the root of the problem and until all sides come together in agreement about this we are truly in danger of allowing another “empire of evil” to take control. This time the empire is the collaboration of the giant Trump Empire with that of Vladimir Putin. This is no different than the alliance between Hitler and Stalin known as the Non-Aggression Pact that gave Hitler the confidence to invade Poland and take over all of Western Europe. His one mistake was believing he had the power to invade Russia as well and, like the Germany of World War I, fight a war on two fronts.
As I read “The Carpetbaggers” by Harold Robbins I am reminded of how the United States power builders after World War I knew what Hitler was doing and how they convinced the United States government to gear up the military industry in preparation for war. This is what truly brought the United States out of the Great Depression. 

The other industry that became powerful in this country was that of Hollywood. The book shows how Hollywood used America’s passion for stories of the Wild West involving the Indian wars that were made popular by Buffalo Bill’s Wild West shows. After the invention of motion pictures, these action packed heroics were made possible by using those Indians who could still ride horses as stunt men for the white faced, white hat heroes making the fortunes. The book also recounts the way women were used in these pictures. Shades of all the scandals that still fill the headlines today.

 As I try to make sense of all of this, I think about all the celebrities who have done no more than make a lot of money in this industry who are taking political stands and who are worshipped by an audience that takes their word as gospel.  And as all these spats and quarrels fill the headlines with drama and judgement, those who are profiting still go on behind the scenes making money and building empires from the “spoils” of this never ending war. This is what I am concerned with and until Americans (especially women) come together to help make sense of this entire situation nothing is going to change. “Those who do not learn the lessons of history are destined to repeat it.”

Monday, June 18, 2018

Juneteenth Observance in Kentucky and The Road to Freedom from Slavery



Juneteenth – The Road to Freedom
Kentucky’s observance of Juneteenth was ordered by proclamation in 2005. Here is the text of the proclamation http://www.nationaljuneteenth.com/Kentucky.html. The following is a history of the story of emancipation and freedom from slavery.  

One of the biggest misconceptions in American history is that the Union fought the Civil War to free the slaves and that Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was issued to free the slaves. This perception has resulted from the failure of education to teach anything but White man’s political history for over a Century in this country.  I wrote my first novel (The Peacemaker) in retirement from 25 years of teaching American history in public schools all over the country in an effort to dispel these myths. This is why I continue writing and teaching and making presentations such as this all over the country in retirement.

What were the real issues in regard to the fighting of the American Civil War? The Civil War was an economic war between two powerful entities that controlled the American economy from the time of the establishment of the United States in 1787. These two entities were the industrial magnets of the North and the plantation owners of the South.  Neither of these entities represented the common man or even those bound by slavery or forced removal from their ancestral lands in order to make room for one of these two economies and thus control the great wealth available for only a few of the ruling members controlling each region.

The rich plantation owners of the Confederacy (10% of the population) were able to convince the poor whites living in the area that their cause to protect their “way of life” was important enough to die to the last man. The industrialists of the North did not succeed in doing so causing great resistance to the War to preserve the Union after two years of nothing but a blood bath with nothing in return. In fact, the Irish-immigrants in the Northern centers soon began to call this War a “rich man’s war, but a poor man’s fight.” They had lost the will to fight and even began to resent the large numbers of African-Americans filling the contraband camps in the North who were not taking part in the fight. Lincoln was running out of both men and materials by September of 1862 as the Union armies fought the invading forces of the South at Antietam Creek outside of Maryland. This one day battle was the bloodiest battle of the Civil War with the Union losses at 12,000 and the Confederate losses at 13,000. The Southern forces were loyal to the last man, but Union troops were not willing to suffer such terrible losses. The Union desperately needed a victory to keep support for the War and Congress was talking about passing a Conscription Act (draft) in order to supply more “cannon fodder.” 

 When the Battle of Antietam ended in a draw with the Confederates simply moving back instead of surrendering, Lincoln decided this was the time for an act that would turn the tide of war with a Confederate surrender, or keep the British and French from coming into the War on the side of the Confederacy and give him the power to conscript Black soldiers into the conflict – this preventing a Conscription Act.  The failure of the Emancipation Act to stop the War led to the passage of the Conscription Act in March of 1863 resulting in three days of Draft Riots in New York City (described in The Peacemaker) during which the African-American population suffered great loss.  The document issued by Abraham Lincoln in September of 1862 was the Act Lincoln chose to accomplish the afore mentioned. That document became known as the Emancipation Proclamation and was the basis of the now nationwide observance of Freedom Day more commonly called Juneteenth.

The Emancipation Proclamation was not an act of Congress; it was an Executive Order. In 1862 the Presidential use of Executive Orders was far more limited than it is today. The power to issue an Executive Order was supposed to be restricted to times of national emergencies when the President had to act swiftly as Commander-in-Chief to protect national security because there was no time for Congress to debate a law. Read the full text of the Proclamation at this link: http://www.historynet.com/emancipation-proclamation-text  The text lists the 10 states covered by the Proclamation.

The actions of these 10 states after the issuing of the Proclamation is what led to freedom of the slaves in those states. The governments of these states kept fighting, therefore the slaves were free but emancipation did not happen until federal troops marched into the states and took control. If the South had surrendered, the slaves would not have been freed there. Lincoln realized after issuing the Proclamation that Congress needed to act to end slavery all together in this country because the slaves in the five Border States as well as the slaves in the District of Columbia were not affected by the Proclamation. Congress had passed the Compensated Emancipation Act in April of 1862. This Act freed all the slaves living in the District of Columbia. Therefore, April 16th is a state holiday celebrated each year in the District of Columbia. Other celebrations commemorating Freedom Day take place in Florida on May 20th, and Puerto Rico on March 22nd. The most common nationwide celebration of freedom is the celebration known as Juneteenth.

The celebration known as Juneteenth is a corruption of the words June and nineteenth. June 19th is the day in 1865 when General Granger marched his federal forces into Galveston, Texas and declared that the slaves were free under the conditions of the Emancipation Proclamation. As the news reached the slave communities, a free Black man who owned property in Galveston donated the property and declared that it be named Emancipation Park where June 19th would be celebrated each year with reading of the documents of freedom (Emancipation Proclamation and eventually the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments), picnics and family reunions. There were street fairs, rodeos and singing of traditional songs of freedom such as “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”- one of the spirituals sung by slaves to pass along information about when a guide for the Underground Railroad such as Harriet Tubman was in the area.

The celebration grew as former slaves moved from the South into urban centers of the North during the 1920’s and 30’s taking the celebration with them. One interesting celebration of Juneteenth takes place in Coahuila, Mexico. The mascogos or Black Seminoles fled to Mexico after the forced removal to the Indian Territory in 1832. Runaway slaves fled to Florida and had married into the Seminole population so after the removal of the Indian population to Oklahoma in 1832, this mixed population fled to Mexico to avoid being put into slavery. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/mascogas.
Since the slaves of the Border States were not freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, Abraham Lincoln realized that the passage of an Amendment to the Constitution would be needed to put an end to slavery the United States once and for all. In January, 1865 the surrender of the South appeared eminent, so Lincoln decided to push Congress into proposing the 13th Amendment to the Constitution that would end slavery. The Amendment did not become law until December of 1865 when the 30 of 36 states ratified the Amendment ending slavery. Lincoln did not live to see that.
 In another paradox of history, Kentucky did not ratify the 13th Amendment. The main reason the amendment passed was because one of the requirements for reentry into the Union for the Confederate States was ratification of the 13th Amendment. Since the slaves in Kentucky had not been freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, it would be 140 years before the celebration became recognized in Kentucky.The movement for a national celebration of Juneteenth began after the Poor People’s March on Washington in August of 1963 when the story of Juneteenth was shared with people from all over the country who converged upon Washington, D.C. The marchers took the celebrations back to their home states and in 1994 Christian leaders from all over the country met in New Orleans , LA to lobby Congress to pass a law to declare Juneteenth as National Independence Day for African-Americans similar to July 4th to allow for time off from work. Congress never enacted such a law, but state lawmakers encouraged their states to either establish Juneteenth as a state holiday or at least a state observance. As of 2012, 41 states and the District of Columbia passed legislation to officially recognize Juneteenth National Independence Day. Kentucky passed a resolution on June 20, 2005 to set the 19th of June of each year to be observed as Juneteenth National Freedom Day.”

Further reading on the historical context in which the Emancipation Proclamation was written can be found in “The Peacemaker,” by Brenda Duffey at http://kentuckywoman.net.  A short story entitled “Juneteenth” that is part of a collection of short stories by Brenda Duffey can be found in “Finding New Pangaea” available on amazon.com.  



Friday, June 8, 2018

What Country and What Leader is This?



“We hear constant complaints that there are no practical people among us, that there are, for instance plenty of politicians and plenty of generals, and that any number of managing directors of various sorts can be turned up at a moment’s notice, but no practical people. At least, everyone complains that there are none. It is even said on certain railroad lines there is no adequate service personnel. It is supposed to be altogether impossible to set up a tolerable administrative staff to manage a steamship company. You hear of trains colliding and bridges collapsing. You read of a train wintering in the middle of a snowfield, the passengers having set out on a trip of a few hours only to spend five days in the snow. They tell of hundreds of tons of merchandise lying rotting for two and three months before being dispatched, while elsewhere, (though this is hard to believe) a certain administrator- that is an inspector of some sort – has administered a punch in the nose to a merchant’s agent who has been pressing him to dispatch the goods, and has moreover justified his administrative action on the ground that he became ‘hot under the collar.’ There are so many posts in government that it is frightening just to think about them; everyone has been in the service, everyone intends to be in the service; so that you would think that from such an abundance of material it would be possible to form a decent administrative staff to manage a steamship line. A very simple answer is sometimes given for this – so simple that one hesitates to believe it.  It is true, we are told, that everyone in the country has served or serves now and that this has been going on for two hundred years on the best German pattern (military control of the economy administered by civil servants), from grandfather to grandson; but the people in the civil service are precisely those who are the most impractical, and it has reached the point where an abstract turn of mind and a lack of practical knowledge have even recently been considered by the civil servants themselves as being of the highest virtues and the best of recommendations. . . There is no doubt that overcaution and a complete lack of initiative have always been regarded in our country as the hallmarks of a practical man – and are so regarded now. But why-if this opinion is to be taken as a disparagement – blame only ourselves? Lack of originality has from the beginning, the world over, always been considered the prime characteristic and the best recommendation of the businesslike, practical man of affairs, and at least ninety percent of mankind (at the very least) has always gone along with that opinion, and only one percent at most, now or in the past has ever thought otherwise.
                Society has always regarded inventors and geniuses at the beginning of their careers – and very often at the end of their careers too – as no better than fools; that is, that is, to be sure, a platitude familiar to everyone. For example, if everyone, for decades put his money into a state savings and loan bank and millions had been invested in it at four percent, then quite obviously when the bank ceased to exist and everyone was left to his own devices, the greater part of these millions would inevitably be lost in frantic speculation and fall into the hands of swindlers – as required, indeed, by decency and propriety. Yes, propriety; for if a proper diffidence and decent lack of originality have, until now, in our society, been by common accord the inalienable qualities of a proper, well-regulated man, then it would be too disrupting, and even indecent to change the state of affairs so suddenly. What tender and devoted mother, for example, would not be horrified and sick with fear if her son or daughter took the slightest step off the beaten path? ‘ No better to be happy and live in comfort without originality.’ And from time immemorial our nurses, as they rock the children, have crooned, ‘Dressed in gold you’ll go your way, and be a general one day.’ So, even to our nannies the rank of general represents the ultimate of ______ bliss, and this has always been the most popular national ideal of gracious felicity. And, indeed, once he has passed his examinations and served his time for thirty-five years, who in our country can fail to become a general eventually, and pile up a tidy sum in the bank? . . . Not to become a general is possible here only for an original man; in other words, a restless and searching man.”

From “The Idiot” by Fyodor Dostoevsky – Russian Author published in 1878.
In 1855 Alexander II began his reign as Tsar of Russia, and presided over a period of political and social reform, notably the emancipation of serfs in 1861 and the lifting of censorship. His successor, Alexander III (1881-1894), pursued a policy of repression and restricted public expenditure, but continued land and labour reforms. This was a period of population growth and significant industrialization; nevertheless Russia remained a largely rural country.
Political movements of the time included the "Populists" (Narodniki), anarchists, and Marxists. A revolutionary organization called "People's Will" (Narodnaya Volya) assassinated Alexander II. Another current of thought was embodied in the Slavophiles, who opposed modernization and Westernization.
Russia continued to expand its empire, occupying the CaucasusTashkent and Samarkand. In foreign affairs, the period began with the conclusion of the Crimean War. Russian policy brought it into conflict with other European powers, in particular Austria-Hungary, as it sought to extend influence over the European portions of the receding Ottoman Empire and regain naval access to the Black Sea. This culminated in a successful war with the Ottoman Empire in 1877–1878, followed by the Treaty of San Stefanoand Congress of Berlin in 1878 by which an independent Bulgaria came into being, and by acquisition of former Ottoman territories in the South Caucasus. Russia joined Germany and Austria-Hungary in the League of the Three Emperors, but friction continued with both partners over Bulgaria, and the alliance with Germany came to an end in 1890. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Russia_(1855%E2%80%9392)
 I read this passage in the book just after someone posted a quote from Dostoevsky which to me was an obvious comparison to Donald Trump. I wanted to post this from the book because I think the continued focus on the problems in this country being due to the personality of one person is dangerous. We need to take a look at historical situations and think for ourselves how this has happened and stop doing the same things over and over until we reach a crisis situation which is where we are today. Arguing and political power struggles as well as alliances with oligarchs or supposed “free” allies (who only ally with us for our military might) is not going to make a difference.


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 http://a.co/iFo6sGe.

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” http://kentuckywoman..net, 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

Provision

                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. https://www.congress.gov/resources/display/content/The+Federalist+Papers

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. https://www.britannica.com/event/Whiskey-Rebellion.

 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. https://answers.yahoo.com/question/index. 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. https://www.britannica.com/event/Plessy-v-Ferguson-1896.

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. http://blackpower.web.unc.edu/2017/04/the-founders-of-the-black-panther-party-huey-p-newton-and-bobby-seale/.
 

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.