Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Why there must be reparations for the ongoing sufferings of the descendants of enslaved workers in the United States of America

                     Frederick Douglass cast in bronze outside the New York Historical Society,
                                                      Another City Loosing Itself to Greed

Now the white male republican governor rounds on the black woman democratic mayor--baying the old fascist words, "more boots on the ground," more boots to ground the hopeless, the unwanted reminders of apartheid Baltimore, of Maryland's slave owning history, further away from the sun. Frederick Douglass born into slavery along the sandy shores of this state wrote in the mid 1800s of strangled dignities and his refusal to live under the shadow of white institutional hypocrisies. '"Let me be free! Is there any God? Why am I a slave? I will run away. I will not stand it. Get caught or get clear, I'll try it. I had as well die with ague as the fever. I have only one life to lose. I had as well be killed running as die standing..It cannot be that I shall live and die a slave. I will take to the water." A great dignity of word and deed was born in that moment. America has always had the choice to make between boots on the ground and historical understandings, between accumulated wealth and exiled communities. We see it once again. The woman mayor saying, they were 14 and 15 year olds, I was trying to keep from declaring war on our children. The man of power calling for quicker deaths of the unwanted.

Closer to the waters, to the bays where oysters are eaten in the thousands, their shells piling up on the sawdust floors, the others, those who have profited from the misery of others, live. The other side of the tracks, the other side of history.

The Fire This Time

All day I sit here in Melbourne, Australia, watching the sadness of human loss--the earth moves on its own journey, and thousands die. More then a tourist destination, more then the gateway to the conquering of mountains, a home to millions of poor workers who are left with little when the rich trekkers look away.And then Baltimore--one face I saw in my mind, one voice I heard, James Baldwin speaking to the SEEK students in 1969, telling them of the fires that would not stay contained, that through the racially brutalizing skin of America, through the determined and conscious destruction of hope, the fires would come again, our humanity would split open and then he said, looking up at our students, his small body fierce with intensity, you must be there to pick through the ruins and take what you can use to start again in a different way.

Now at 75, I sit and think, we had a chance to listen to the knowledges of the 60s but Reagan and greed and white supremacy turned our hearts into gated cities. Baltimore's Mayor, Ms. Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, tried to have learned from the overly militarized responses of other apartheid American towns and cities. No deaths in the long night when angers too hot to stay beneath the streets marked her city. She will be criticized for being too soft, she will be criticized for her humanity and her understandings of what we have done.


Editor's Note: In light of the protests around the country demanding a stop to police brutality and changes to a racist justice system, we are reprinting one of James Baldwin's most famous articles published in The Progressive magazine, from December 1962. (Baldwin later adapted it in his essay collection, The Fire Next Time.Senior editor Matt Rothschild remarked today, "This might be the greatest piece we've ever published."
Dear James:
I have begun this letter five times and torn it up five times. I keep seeing your face, which is also the face of your father and my brother. I have known both of you all your lives and have carried your daddy in my arms and on my shoulders, kissed him and spanked him and watched him learn to walk. I don't know if you have known anybody from that far back, if you have loved anybody that long, first as an infant, then as a child, then as a man. You gain a strange perspective on time and human pain and effort.
Other people cannot see what I see whenever I look into your father's face, for behind your father's face as it is today are all those other faces which were his. Let him laugh and I see a cellar your father does not remember and a house he does not remember and I hear in his present laughter his laughter as a child. Let him curse and I remember his falling down the cellar steps and howling and I remember with pain his tears which my hand or your grandmother's hand so easily wiped away, but no one's hand can wipe away those tears he sheds invisibly today which one hears in his laughter and in his speech and in his songs.
I know what the world has done to my brother and how narrowly he has survived it and I know, which is much worse, and this is the crime of which I accuse my country and my countrymen and for which neither I nor time nor history will ever forgive them, that they have destroyed and are destroying hundreds of thousands of lives and do not know it and do not want to know it. One can be--indeed, one must strive to become--tough and philosophical concerning destruction and death, for this is what most of mankind has been best at since we have heard of war; remember, I said most of mankind, but it is not permissible that the authors of devastation should also be innocent. It is the innocence which constitutes the crime.
Now, my dear namesake, these innocent and well meaning people, your countrymen, have caused you to be born under conditions not far removed from those described for us by Charles Dickens in the London of more than a hundred years ago. I hear the chorus of the innocents screaming, "No, this is not true. How bitter you are," but I am writing this letter to you to try to tell you something about how to handle them, for most of them do not yet really know that you exist. I know the conditions under which you were born for I was there. Your countrymen were not there and haven't made it yet. Your grandmother was also there and no one has ever accused her of being bitter. I suggest that the innocent check with her. She isn't hard to find. Your countrymen don't know that she exists either, though she has been working for them all their lives.
Well, you were born; here you came, something like fifteen years ago, and though your father and mother and grandmother, looking about the streets through which they were carrying you, staring at the walls into which they brought you, had every reason to be heavy-hearted, yet they were not, for here you were, big James, named for me. You were a big baby. I was not. Here you were to be loved. To be loved, baby, hard at once and forever to strengthen you against the loveless world. Remember that. I know how black it looks today for you. It looked black that day too. Yes, we were trembling. We have not stopped trembling yet, but if we had not loved each other, none of us would have survived, and now you must survive because we love you and for the sake of your children and your children's children.
This innocent country set you down in a ghetto in which, in fact, it intended that you should perish. Let me spell out precisely what I mean by that for the heart of the matter is here and the crux of my dispute with my country. You were born where you were born and faced the future that you faced because you were black and for no other reason. The limits to your ambition were thus expected to be settled. You were born into a society which spelled out with brutal clarity and in as many ways as possible that you were a worthless human being. You were not expected to aspire to excellence. You were expected to make peace with mediocrity. Wherever you have turned, James, in your short time on this earth, you have been told where you could go and what you could do and how you could do it, where you could live and whom you could marry.
I know your countrymen do not agree with me here and I hear them. saying, "You exaggerate." They do not know Harlem and I do. So do you. Take no one's word for anything, including mine, but trust your experience. Know whence you came. If you know whence you came, there is really no limit to where you can go. The details and symbols of your life have been deliberately constructed to make you believe what white people say about you. Please try to remember that what they believe, as well as what they do and cause you to endure, does not testify to your inferiority, but to their inhumanity and fear.
Please try to be clear, dear James, through the storm which rages about your youthful head today, about the reality which lies behind the words "acceptance" and "integration." There is no reason for you to try to become like white men and there is no basis whatever for their impertinent assumption that they must accept you. The really terrible thing, old buddy, is that you must accept them, and I mean that very seriously. You must accept them and accept them with love, for these innocent people have no other hope. They are in effect still trapped in a history which they do not understand and until they understand it, they cannot be released from it. They have had to believe for many years, and for innumerable reasons, that black men are inferior to white men.
Many of them indeed know better, but as you will discover, people find it very difficult to act on what they know. To act is to be committed and to be committed is to be in danger. In this case the danger in the minds and hearts of most white Americans is the loss of their identity. Try to imagine how you would feel if you woke up one morning to find the sun shivering and all the stars aflame. You would be frightened because it is out of the order of nature. Any upheaval in the universe is terrifying because it so profoundly attacks one's sense of one's own reality. Well, the black man has functioned in the white man's world as a fixed star, as an immovable pillar, and as he moves out of his place, heaven and earth are shaken to their foundations.
You don't be afraid. I said it was intended that you should perish, in the ghetto, perish by never being allowed to go beyond and behind the white man's definition, by never being allowed to spell your proper name. You have, and many of us have, defeated this intention and by a terrible law, a terrible paradox, those innocents who believed that your imprisonment made them safe are losing their grasp of reality. But these men are your brothers, your lost younger brothers, and if the word "integration" means anything, this is what it means, that we with love shall force our brothers to see themselves as they are, to cease fleeing from reality and begin to change it, for this is your home, my friend. Do not be driven from it. Great men have done great things here and will again and we can make America what America must become.
It will be hard, James, but you come from sturdy peasant stock, men who picked cotton, dammed rivers, built railroads, and in the teeth of the most terrifying odds, achieved an unassailable and monumental dignity. You come from a long line of great poets, some of the greatest poets since Homer. One of them said, "The very time I thought I was lost, my dungeon shook and my chains fell off."
You know and I know that the country is celebrating one hundred years of freedom one hundred years too early. We cannot be free until they are free. God bless you, James, and Godspeed.
Your uncle,

Sunday, April 26, 2015

From Gaza to Us

From my friends in Haifa, calling on us to find a way in our different countries, with our different languages, with our differently desiring bodies to struggle even harder to break through walls.

A message came out of Gaza youth calling upon all people to demand an end to 
the bloodshed and blockade. Listen to the original call in this link and please join
us wherever you are. We will be standing in Haifa and Tel Aviv at 6 p.m. and in Jerusalem
in front of the Prime Minister home at 19:30, this Wednesday, the 29th of April.  
The text of our invitation in 3 languages is here. English at the end. 

as this announcement does not leave you with much time to get organize please
join the Gaza call by sending messages to yours governments wherever you are. 
Letters of protest to the Israeli embassies are also a good idea. 

English after Arabic and Hebrew

شباب غزة ينادون بالتضامن في ظل المعاناة، الدمار واليأس نتيجة للعدوان الأخير الصيف المنصرم، ونتيجة الحصار المستمر على قطاع غزة.

في تاريخ 29.4.15 سيخرخ شباب غزة الى الشوارع، وبواسطة عروض في الشوارع، فنون ومظاهرات، سيُسمِعو أصواتهم عاليا لإنهاء الحصار. انهم يدعون الشعب في إسرائيل وفي كل أنحاء العالم للإنضمام اليهم بمظاهرة تضامنية لإلغاء الحصار.

سنقف في دوار النساء بالاسود, شارع الكرم ملتقى جادة الكرمل, لإسماع بعض ما لدينا:
الحروب على غزة ليست جزء من القدر!
يكفي الحصار على غزة!
لا للجولة القادمة من الحرب والقتل!
الأمل لمستقبل أفضل هو السلاح لمكافحة العنف! بطالة، فقدان لابناء العائلة، شعور بالاختناق وعدم القدرة - هذا هو المطلوب لتضعضع الأوضاع وخلق جو متطرّف أكثر من اليوم.

* تنظم المظاهرة ناشطات نسويات

צעירי עזה קוראים ליום סולידריות בצל הסבל, ההרס והייאוש כתוצאה מהמלחמה האחרונה בקיץ, והמצור המתמשך על רצועת עזה.

בתאריך 29.4.15 צעירים בעזה ייצאו לרחובות, ובעזרת מופעי רחוב, אומנות והפגנות, ישמיעו את קולם בקריאה לסיום המצור. הם מזמינים אנשים בישראל ומסביב לעולם להצטרף אליהם בפעולות מחאה בקריאה להסרת המצור.

נעמוד בכיכר נשים בשחור, רחוב הגפן פינת שדרות בן גוריון, כדי להגיד:
המלחמות בעזה אינן גזירת גורל!
די למצור על עזה!
לא לסבב הבא של מלחמה והרג!!
תקווה לעתיד טוב יותר היא הנשק היעיל ביותר נגד אלימות! אבטלה, אבדן בני משפחה, תחושת מחנק וחוסר אונים- זהו המתכון להידרדרות לקיצוניות חמורה ומסוכנת הרבה יותר מעכשיו.

* ההפגנה מאורגנת על ידי פעילות פמיניסטיות חיפאיות.

The young people in Gaza are calling out for a day of solidarity with the suffering, the destruction, and the despair that have resulted from last summer's war, and with the continual siege on Gaza.

On April 29, 2015, the young people of Gaza will go out to the streets and call for the end of the siege via street performances, art, and protests. They are inviting the people in Israel and all over the world to join their actions with similar calls to end the siege.

we will stand in Women in Black Sq. Hagefen st. and Ben Gurion blv. to say:
The wars in Gaza are not inevitable!
End the siege on Gaza!
No to the next cycle of war and death!
Hope for a better future is the best weapon against violence! Unemployment, bereavement, a feeling of suffocation, and hopelessness- that is the path to deterioration to dangerous extremism!

* the demonstration is organized by Haifa feminist activists

Thursday, April 23, 2015

When Friends Visit...

                                              Marina and Jeanine in our lounge room

When friends visit, when they interrupt all, scrape the time and money together, and fly for almost 23 hours to reach us, our hearts, our lives, are never the same. Lady Di and I have known Jeanine Olsen for 17 years, since 1998, when I was a guest artist at the Chicago Art Institute and Jeanine was my keeper for our time there. A short time later, we shared 13A, together for a few months until Jeanine found her New York feet. Marina we met some years later on our visits back to the old country, as my New York now seems. How often we said, come visit us, knowing that it is only our younger friends now who can make the journey, but more, knowing the deep pleasure they both brought to our lives, their art, their politics, their histories, their sense of play. And for two weeks, in February, we shared our lives once again, this time in the southern hemisphere.
                                                 Jeanine and a new friend

                                                          The Crew, in Aierey's Inlet along the Great Ocean Road

                       Lady Di, Wearing her Warratah Mombai Shirt, Sharing our Garden

I will return again when I can. Thank you all. Sometime soon it maybe only through images I will find you. But now these words come--our house sings with the markings of Jeanine and Marina, with the ideas and books they left open for me to find--Hilton Als' "White Girls," a copy of  "The Brooklyn Rail," an alternate art and culture newspaper and the name K.Sue Park  in whose work I have found a brilliant reopening of the history and relevance of the indigenous displacements of America's first people and this history's shadow in the settlements of Israel, how frontiers are not the places we thought  them to be but the calculated face of national wars on its own unwanted nations.
 From a vast height, I look down at our friends and Lady Di taking in the Southern Ocean with its                                                                       AntArtic messages

For three days, they left us, flying into the continent's center, Alice Springs, that other frontier town, and going down the long red road that leads to Uluru, the first Australian's sacred place where the largest stone monolith on this planet tells its story of creation. Jeanine later sends us an image of her raised fist silhouetted against its glowing orange skin.

Sturdy dear younger friends, who walk paths of thought and creation new to me, who once when I needed their arms to make it up a sandy slope, loaned me their strength and when I said, I feel safe with you both, Jeanine said, you should. Aging and distance can often feel like the same creature.

                 In the kiosk at the end of St Kilda's Pier with Cello firmly in Marina's lap

                                          At our dining room table with books I wanted them to see including                                                                     "Haifa Fragments" by khulud khamis, my gift to them

17 years ago along Chicago's Lake, we met an artist whose hand I will always hold.