Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Two Lesbian Sites of Remembrance in the Early 1980s

The sweetness of the archives. Here, a lesbian summer afternoon in P'town, Massachusetts, four friends smiling, leaning into each other on the beach of Herring Cove one day in the early 1980s. Deborah Edel, Naomi H. and Paula Grant with Naomi's beloved dog Lulu and me behind the camera. Paula so kindly sent me this moment, discovered as she was scanning her photos to preserve them. The quiet image speaks so to me of joy, of bodies still whole, of love and friendships that enabled love, the sand and the sea and the sun, the ancient sites of gatherings. I think of the hefty novels written by men of note of their gay youths, of their adventures in the street that the whole world should know of, of Proust and Edmund White, of Kerouac and Ginsberg, the chronicles of male communities taking their place in the literary sun which shines so plentiful on their wanderings, yes, yes, but here I offer you this lesbian moment of the last century where it now looks as if all stood still, to allow me to capture for you now, for me now, a different body, the pure joy of hands and toes deep in warm sands, while we talked of such things as lesbian archives, where we just laughed at our own communities of persistence. Remembrance, remembrance, your gift of another time in this time helps me live. We were happy, not for always, but at this tender moment. I feel in the enormity of age now, of my body's travails, that I still have the strength to embrace my friends and lift them high, Deborah's bent knees, her so familiar bowed head, her cap, Naomi, reaching toward her Lulu, Paula so beautiful and so attentive, and lift them above the ebb and flow of time, an offering to the sun--women doing the unallowed, the judged, the perverse and laughing, loving, so.

Here Paula Grant has captured a moment in the life of the Lesbian Herstory Archives in the early 1980s when it lived in apartment 13A at 215, West 92nd street in New York, during one of our At Home events, where lesbian cultural workers presented their work. The hands of the great poet and activist, Audre Lorde, embrace the younger poet, Andrea C., as they listen intently to the work of another woman.  Paula, as a member of the archives collective, had to stand aside to allow crowd to take over the apartment, but she always had her camera, knowing the wonder of what we were all doing-- readers, listeners, archives volunteers --in that so public private space where lesbians found a home for their imaginings, where touch gave strength for so much more.

Monday, August 15, 2011

"Selfish Opportunism"--Or Failed National Vision

Of course, the torrent of social anger outpaces my hands on the keys, but like many of you, I have been running from one virtual street to another, trying to touch in some way the human stuff that is refusing to stay put. On Rothschild Blvd in Tel Aviv, on streets whose names I do not know in the North of Syria, in Camden Town and down Tottenham Court Road, many different kinds of people are calling out failed nationalisms and failed economic systems. We label some of these disturbances, these refusals of business as usual, as more moral then others, reflecting our own yearnings for retribution. I have been listening now for two weeks to the words coming from the powers that be--a little less sure of that "be" now--in London. I think of America in the late 60s, of Watts and Detroit, Philadelphia and New York, class and race screaming in the streets of the cities while the money grows in the pockets of those who already have too much, who run their streets, Wall and otherwise, with a greed that has brought a good part of the Western world to its knees, I hear Cameron's words, evict, evict, evict as if the exile does not already exist. I think of the world of endless war that the young men wearing balaclavas have grown up into, of an entertainment world based on virtual high power guns and endless rounds of ammunition to be emptied into ghostly bodies, I think of consumerism madness, of brand names more important then vitamins--the rich boasting of the cars, watches, hand bags, shoes, houses that leap over the definitions of bigness, of high rise apartments or town house duplex's, vacations from power in other power places--the country homes in Tuscany, by beaches taken out of the public domain because wealth lives there, I think of the corruption of the Murdochs, so recently in that same London town, the streets he runs and how he does not care--that is the kindest thing I can say--if his so-called fair and balanced Fox Propaganda channel brings America to its knees, mired in fear and ignorance, as long as his son does not loose his inheritance. Let the football fans patrol the streets, I remember hearing in a street interview in London, one bleary -eyed night--yes now bring on the vigilantes and skin heads, the anti multiculturalists and the white supremacists--they'll make our streets safe. I see that chiseled face of the Muslim grieving father, calling for calm, for a return to some kind street we can all live on. Selfish opportunism the leader said, after he returned from his vacation. Selfish opportunism of the poor and the angry and the young--so easily led by their hungers for things beyond their reach like libraries and schools and sports centers and respect--not even counting the ipads, and iphones and Addidas sneakers--good for running away from the police in that oh so old silent movie farce--the coppers big and slow with arms raised and faces red, the robbers, swift and sassy, around and around they go. Lost souls all while the Others, too far above the ground, too deep into unquestioned legacies, too invested in another kind of mayhem, deliver their opinions which is the same thing as verdicts for the powerful--Evict! Evict! Evict!

La professoressa left Melbourne town at 2 this morning to meet with feminist human rights activists in Malaysia so now it is just Cello and me and friends who drop in. Cello sits patiently and waits for me to finish my so slow translation of  Collodi's  Le avventure di Pinocchio and if this is the last book I read in my life, I will not be sad. Here the story teller lets us know something about poverty: "E Pinocchio, che pure era un ragazzo allegro, divenne triste anche lui: perche la miseria, quando 'e miseria davvero, la capiscono tutti: anche i ragazzi." Forgive me all who know Italian: My version-- "And Pinocchio, who was usually a happy boy, even he became sad: because Misery--[here there is no real English translation but you will know this in your bones if you have ever been evicted]--, when it is truly Misery, all understand it, even the children."

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Walk

For my dear buba mara in Belgrade who always tells me to walk, you must walk. And for my friends who will never see my streets here and know me only as the Upper NYC Broadway girl. As I write this, take you on my tour, I hold in my heart all that is happening to our human selves on other streets on this day.
Before we start, here is a visit to CERES, an environmentally friendly, organic, hippy like center that is filled with free roaming chickens, home made bread, large vegetables lovingly grown, old clothes and young families buying their weekly supply of healthy food. Here we are only a few k from the city center and there is room to play in the dirt. I always feel a little sad here, as if I am too old for such innocence. I know though I am in Melbourne for sure when we spend a morning here trying not to look too middle class.
My walk this morning goes along the tram tracks, past the green of the municipal golf course heading towards the Royal Zoo. The sky opens up here and I walk with a longer stride. 
Thwat goes the club and I keep my eyes open for a wayward ball but never have I seen one. Parrots I see in the elegant gums and wattle birds and Willie Wag Tails, perky blue white birds with stiff tails that never stop wagging. Nothing fancy on this walk--but the big sky with the city in the distance and the ever present railroad crossings. We live between two of these 19th century dividing transport lines and thus know of barricades.
Cello does not accompany me on this walk--he finds the thawck of the balls, the clamor of the trams a bit too much for his lower to the ground perspective. I walk and think and think, I pass an old woman with her head covered and her shoes worn foraging for wild grasses along the train tracks. I pass a sign

about a loss.  Somewhere out there in this green sward before the rush of city streets is Splotch and I hope nightfall finds him safe. Those of you who know me from my Broadway walks, down past Murray's and the City Diner, down past Barnes and Nobles and Zabar's will understand how sometimes I just stop and wonder where I am, a little like Splotch perhaps. I have much to think of these days and where I walk seems of less importance, I live in the acres of my thoughts, wondering how I will manage the journey ahead.
Just to reassure you there is a city at the end of my walk. Lonsdale Street with a passing tram, a little street art in the center and rain slicking the streets. From my bedroom in our house I can hear the trams bringing people home for work and I am comforted by that urban sound of transport, of our movable human dreams moving through the night.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Glowing Sky

When I ended my last entry with the image of a Brunswick sky just after a storm has passed by, I had not seen the flames shooting out of London streets. The glow on the horizon heralds a new day, a change of climate, a coming night. I worry now about what happens, what history has shown me happens, when economic collapse based on the greed of the ruling classes, the corporate classes, forces states to care less for the needs of their populations, as we saw happening when we were in London just a few months, when fear sets in--of the loss of jobs, homes, safeties of all kinds and those doing it hard start looking for the scapegoats, the ones they can most easily reach --the migrants, the faces that represent "mulitculturalism," the faces that contradict the national self image so carefully preserved, I worry that the right wing, buillding on its religiousity, its rhetoric of us and them, will convince the majority that this is the time for bigger police forces, more jails, more crack downs on dissent, a big state with teeth and no patience. Fascism is waiting in the wings, I fear.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Tent 1948

We stand in the cold rain, Sandra, Esme, Geraldine, Hellen, Alex and I, in Melbourne on these worn steps, protesting Israel's occupation and the use of terror to subdue citizens
while across the globe, Israelis of all backgrounds, set up their tents in the heat of summer, in the heat of conviction that social justice issues must be on their national agenda, not just walls and armies and public relations campaigns. A relative of a dear friend of mine from my old building on Broadway in New York, writes on August 2: Batsheva writes: Tens of thousands of young people--marching in the streets, calling for change--calling for social justice and a welfare state--we hadn't seen anything like that since Sabra and Shatila in 1982. This protest which began barely two weeks ago when a young woman named Daphne Leef put up a tent at the edge of Rothschild Blvd near the Habima Theater and sent out a Facebook message calling on friends to join her--has grown into a very powerful, nation-wide phenomenon...
I have never seen anything like what I saw there. Tent after tent, stretching on both sides of the Blvd., from Habima Square and almost reaching Allenby Street, endless signs, a free first aid center provided by Rabbis for Human Rights, free clothing for the taking, art courses, yoga, free food and water, signs against Bibi and the tycoons, young individuals, couples, families camping out, tents where writers tell stories to children, music everywhere, lectures, a "Revolutionary Theater" which shows Michale Moore's "Capitalism--A Love Story" every night...This really is a revolt of the young, the highly educated middle class which if it sounds familiar is the same profile as the core of the protesters in Tahrir Square in Cairo..the Arab Spring and what is happening in the sweltering summer heat of Tel Aviv.
Another voice from the tent city, Abir Kopty writing on August 6, 2011: If you are Palestinian, it will be difficult to identify with Tel Aviv's tent city on Rothschild Blvd until you reach Tent 1948...Tent 1948's main message is that social justice should be for all. It brings together Jewish and Palestinian citizens who believe in shared sovereignty in the state for all its citizens...The existence of Tent 1948 in the encampment constitutes a challenge to people taking part in the July 14 movement. In the first few days, the tent was attacked by a group of right wing activists, who beat activists in the tent and broke down the Palestinian flag of the tent. Some of the leaders of the July 14 movement have said clearly that raising core issues related to the Palestinian community in Israel or the occupation will make the struggle 'loose momentum." They often said the struggle is social, not political, as if there was a difference...Yet on has to admit, something is happening, Israelis are awakening. There is a process: people are coming together, discussing issues. The General Assembly of the encampment decided on Friday that it will not accept any racist messages among its participants. Even to Tent 1948 many Israelis arrived, read the flyers, listened to what tent 1948 represented and discussed calmly. Perhaps if I was a Jewish Israeli I would be proud of the July 14th movement. But I am not a Jew, not a Zionist, I am Palestinian.

I don't want to hide anything for the sake of tactics and I will not accept crumbs. I want to speak about historical justice, I want to speak about the occupation, I want to speak about discrimination and racism, I want to put everything on the table, and I want to speak about them in the heart of Tel Aviv. Social justice can't be divided or categorized. If it is not justice to all, including Palestinians, then it is a fake justice, an elite justice, or justice for Jews only exactly as the Israeli democracy functions 'for Jews only.' July 14 is a great opportunity for Israelis to refuse to allow their state to continue to drown into an apartheid regime. 

From the plazas of Spain, through Tahrir Square to the Boulevards of Tel Aviv, and all the brave places in between, in the heat and in the cold, people are history makers, society changers, shape shifters of huge proportions even in the face of tanks and bullets, smashed homes and police arms bulging with the muscles of the state around their necks, the kicks of armored boots tearing into their sides--what will be left standing we do not know--already the Israeli police have dismantled the tents in the poorest parts of Tel Aviv, where migrant workers live and single mothers--the less nationally valued lives--but chants are rising above walls, above boundaries, above preached hatreds, "We're Not Puppets of Our Government," "The Workers are Worth More," "Mubarak, Assad, Netanyahu Must Go," "Tahrir is Here," "We Want a Revolution, We Want Hope." I know that societies often run in fear of their own courage, but we have seen people talking, making the streets their universities, their newspapers, their UNs. It is in all our hands now, as it was in America on the march from Selma to Montgomery or on the brutal steps of segregated high schools or in front of padlocked voting centers--the people who knew what it was to live lives that their own nation never saw kept coming. Here  I am, at 71, seeing the hope coming slowly over the horizons of our changing times.

Monday, August 1, 2011

For Rosa Luxemburg, for All of Us

When Julie R. Enszer wrote to me of her about her planned collection of Jewish lesbian poetry to be called, "Milk and Honey: A Celebration of Jewish Lesbian Poetry," I had an immediate reaction-- as I seem to do. I could not accept the title of the proposed anthology--a sugared reference to the state of Israel--which is anything but milk and honey these days--and I had been reading Rosa's letters from prison as well as an early biography of her where there are photographs of her, standing in large meetings on European terraces surrounded by the serious men of the Left and there she is, the only woman, wearing her 19th century looking hat, short and persistent. My homage to her fierce courage, to her refusal to accept the structures of war dependent nationalisms:

                                                    "Words to the Woman in the Hat"

Rosa, 10 steps and you reach the wall,
Orchids blossom in the strength of your desire
To see beyond the final No
Of a state enamored with a war.
Perfumes overcome exclusions,
Hints of life become huge things,
The flutter of a wing, the bellow of a bull,
Sunlight given to you only on the slant
Kisses your body into being.
I come to you, Jewish woman to Jewish woman,
Hair and hip, mouths in love with thought,
To touch your body with my own
Before the rifle thrust that ends your dreaming
Of the end of nations.
I come from a land of walls.
Come, mount me,
We have skies of work to do.
How Jewish are we? How queer we we?
My breast and belly, my thighs and mouth, my open hand wide
        against your pleasure
Will take on histories, will buck against the soldiers at the borders.
Not  milk and honey, that would be a phony sweetness in such
         times as these
Not milk and honey, Rosa, this you knew--rather, a fierce want
        that breaks the normal, the national,
How Jewish are we? How queer are we? Enough to refuse.

From "Milk and Honey: A Celebration of Jewish Lesbian Poetry," edited by Julie R. Enszer ( Spain: A Mid Summer Night's Press, 2011). Other included poets: Ellen Bass, Marilyn Hacker, Elana Dylewomon, Leslea Newman, Achy Obejas, Melanie Kaye-Kantowitz, Julie herself and 20 more women speaking their mind. A very small book, that fits in the palm of your hand..