Thursday, January 30, 2014

From the skies to the street

I took a bad fall on the footpath--the Australian word for street-- yesterday. The sudden crashing down, the pain, I could not get up--just as the old adds used to say--managed to call Di to tell her and she came running down the street. Two young women helped me to my feet. My one full breast acted like an air bag in a car, taking the weight of my body. Poor breast. Off to the emergency room for x-rays--bruised ribs, black and blue all down my left side. It all happened so quickly as it does when the feet lag a little behind. One minute upright, the next sprawling in sudden displacement, from the skies to the street, an old woman trying to raise herself, a little in shock, a little in fear and hoping always, that the sky and the street will return to their known places and I to mine.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

"He Was A Friend of Mine": His Head Uplifted, Singing the Hopes of Change

Mike Stein, an old and dear friend, sent me his words for the organizer who gave us so much. I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night and he looked a lot like Pete.

by Mike Stein

I first recall seeing & hearing Pete perform on a grassy patch at my summer Camp in the early 1960’s.  My camp was in the Bear Mountain area, which was near his home in Beacon, NY.  There was nothing formal or official about it.  I didn’t know who he was – at least, I was not conscious of his fame and notoriety.   He might have played for 15 minutes or 2 hours I don’t know.

What I do remember, vividly, was the song "Abiyoyo."  I was delighted by how he danced around in a circle explaining how the son (in the song) made the monster disappear.  This story & song were delightful and all the more memorable because when he was dancing/prancing around as he sang his boot flew off and landed in my lap!!

Then, I recall how my parents had an album about Pete’s 1963 Concert (I think it was at Carnegie Hall), which focused on the Civil Rights Movement.  Clearly, their support for the Civil Rights Movement and their love & respect for Pete and his politics, made this more acceptable for me. 

Then, in 1965 my parents took me to Westbury, Long Island, where Pete was having a concert.   This was something special about this event, which I was unaware of at the time.  I have since learned that this was the first (or one of the first) public concert after he was no longer ‘Blacklisted’.  But, at 15, all I recall is being so excited that I got his autograph on my change holder that was the only thing I had that he could write on.  That same year my parents took me to my first Anti Viet-Nam War Demonstration. Undoubtedly, they established a foundation of values and beliefs that enabled me create the space for the activism and commitment that has been my life.  I must give them full acknowledgement.

I recall the controversy over his singing ‘Waste Deep in the Big Muddy’ on the Smother Brothers Show on CBS in 1968.  Once again, he stuck to his principles and was eventually allowed to sing the song on prime time National TV.

That was the beginning of my love & admiration for Pete. Through the rest of the 1960’s & 1970’s, 80’s, I saw him in Florida with my parents when Daniel was 2 or 3.  I saw him in California with my cousin Barbara and Jim in Berekley ;I remember how the crowd sang the ‘Internationale’ with such gusto.  There were numerous times in the 80’s, 90’s & 2000’s that we saw him in the NYC area.  I made sure that my family went to see him for the 2nd year in a row at the Thanksgiving Concert at Carnegie Hall with Arlo – the last one just 2 months ago.

And, one of the best concerts, was Pete’s 90th Birthday Party at Madison Square Garden, which we not only were able to take both Katie & Daniel but it was extra special because Jake came up from Philadelphia. to go with us too. He got some great pictures that night!   But in his admirable political consistency he refused to do it unless it benefited one of the political causes he believed in.  Thus it became a benefit for the Clearwater Organization.

And, of course, we ,with Maureen, my wonderful and marvelous partner for nearly 40 years, saw him every year for 35+ years at Clearwater, which we attended faithfully.   This was an event that our kids grew up with and we are very thankful that we could expose them, not simply, to the folk music scene but a Music Festival that was fun, safe, progressive and engaging.  We always were glad that this was part of our family’s tradition.

 But there are three times that I recall most of all.  When I was in DC in 1971 at an anti-war protest I was on a corner with a huge number of people and I saw Pete crossing the street with his banjo across his back.  I screamed out “Pete!” and although he looked over I was simply ‘a face in the crowd’it was so uplifting for me to see him there.   Then, at Clearwater, in 1987 I was carrying Daniel and ran into to Pete walking around the Festival.  He was gracious enough to pose for a picture with my holding Daniel. Then, in 1999, when Daniel was accepted to attend Camp Rising Sun we went to a small celebration for Pete’s 80th Birthday.  We knew that Pete had been a camper there in the 1930’s because Daniel’s saw Pete in a video promoting the Camp.  So, we went to talk with him.  And he was very helpful in providing some perspective about what the Camp was like. And, again, he was gracious and posed for a picture of the three of us.  This time, Daniel was about as tall as Pete!! I will treasure these pictures.

I will always treasure those memories.  Not because I always agree with everything he said or was involved in but because he was such an accessible person who was never interested in personal ego boosting fame but was committed to changing the world through his craft.  He has impacted more people than he probably ever knew.

In the film done as a biography titled “The Power of Song” I recall being struck how his son described that Pete was so often not home as both his financial commitments and political engagement kept him away from the home.  I realized then how much Toshi was the backbone of that family without whom Pete could never have done what he did.  Her story needs to be told with the compassion of her involvement.  I can only say that, I can understand how hard that must have been for Toshi and the kids, but I am glad that Pete was able to be shared with the world around him.

Rest in Peace;  because we will continue to sing your songs and keep the spirit and dedication to peace, ending racism, saving the planet, keeping the Hudson River safe & clean.  As he said on an interview that I heard today on WNYC from 2 years ago:  He was asked about his involvement with the Communist Party and he replied by explaining the impact of Khrushchev’s revelations about the horrors and excesses of the Stalin era.  But he explained that in the context of how our ancestors were “communist” as the cavemen were communal in how they made decisions, hunted and shared food.  And he described how even though lots of people left the Communist Party after those revelations, that there are many people working towards democratic Socialism.  So, even at 92 years old he maintained a clear, conscious & optimistic  progressive perspective and commitment.

His life was exemplary and I hope I can continue through my own involvement and commitment to progressive change.

In admiration of a long life that had a profound impact on my own,
Mike Stein
January 18, 2014

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Saturn is low in the night sky...

So many big things tear at me, the silences that condemn so many to sufferings we could not bear on our own bodies or on those we love and then some days of small beauties, pleasures of friends, coming to stay at our home as a way of respite, cleaning the small pond so the goldfish who ask for so little have clean habitat, their red-orange flashes part of  our morning light here. Oli, our friend for 8 years now, rests on our couch, with Cello stretched out by her side, Di does her embroidery and I cheer  on both women in the Australian final tennis match. Then, just before the planet quietly moves ahead on its own line of journey, I go up to the small deck that overlooks the rooftops of West Brunswick and beyond and first find Saturn with my naked eye and then with the good binoculars. Quietly my vision climbs the night sky and then the white roundish shape with the line through it that is one of Saturn's rings wavers into view. How immense, how far from this world of ours but now part of the intimacy of this day. Help us, dear deep wonders of the galaxy before we fall too far away.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Crawling through a muddy tunnel seeking treatment

From The Age, Melbourne's major newspaper, January 18, 2004, "Egypt Upheaval Plunges Gaza into Nightmare of Isolation and Darkness" by Middle East correspondent, Ruth Pollard:

...Sameeha, 25, whose honeymoon was thwarted by Egypt's border closures, is hoping to complete her PhD abroad. Again, this will involve a struggle with borders.
   Her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and as the disease progressed she became increasingly worried she was not getting the best car from Gaza's a;ready overstretched medical facilities. She applied for a permit to travel to a hospital in Israel but was rejected.
    Determined to stay alive for her family, she made her way through one of the hundreds of tunnels then operating between Gaza and Egypt to seek better treatment in Cairo.
   "'She crawled all the way from Gaza to Egypt, through a small tunnel, on her hands and knees through the mud, " Sameeha says.
    ""I remember my brother, who took her through the tunnel, coming back completely covered in mud and I thought, 'What had my my mother gone through?"

  Since I read those words I have not been able to get out of my mind or heart the image of a woman with cancer needing treatment being turned away at the border to a country that boasts always of its medical excellence, its brain power, its "civilized" self, a woman forced to crawl on her knees because young soldiers at a border judged her not worthy of treatment. I read these words as a breast cancer survivor who received excellent treatment in New York City and that is why I can write these words, ten year later. Now I must do something. First by letting you and others know and then trying to organize breast cancer survivors to take action against an occupation that forces desperate women to crawl through the mud of heartless states.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Heat and The Cold

The heat rolls in and does not leave. We live in caves--where ever there is the flow of cool air. Public spaces become private homes. Fires burn, feeding on the wind and paddock grasses; gum trees burst, their heated oils joining the frenzied winds. At times, I think I am seeing the future of our planet, the future we have won for our planet, fire and heat and human withdrawal because our skins too pop in this other world of earth. Life has brought me to this desert-sea land to peer into the future of our selfishness. This is the searing heat of Australia now, an unnatural natural destruction of human habitat.

In my cave, I watch the news and see another climate, the coldness of the Tony Abott's refugee policy. Small wooden boats, worn with survival use, first waved off from sleek Australian navy vessels, we see the camouflaged arms of the well helmeted soldiers waving off the floundering boat. Then we see the boat attached by rope to the prow of the expensive, totally modern war ship being towed back into Indonesian waters where the rope will be cut, leaving the people's fate in another nation's waters. Despair has been lassoed, no human touch except rejection and force, Australia has become the nation that tows people away from hope and calls it a military operation, thus ensuring that no details will be formally given, that silence will please the Australian people so they do not have to feel guilt about their government's actions. Silence in the service of national security. The language of war is used against "the people smugglers" by the nation of people towers. And no where do we hear the voices of the women, men, children on the boats or see their faces or hear their cries. That hearing, seeing would endanger the security of Australia says the government.

Fires kill and so does the coldness of the collective human heart. We allow wars, cheer them on, we call economic exploitation the working of the free market and then we black out the results of our inhumanities. Tow them, bury them, cage them, forget them. So many "thems" and someday as the planet gives in to its own sufferings, we too will be them, and the stars will not write an elegy for us.

Mercredi 15 janvier 2014

Le chaud et le froid


La chaleur s’engouffre et ne s’en va pas. Nous vivons dans des caves – où il y a toujours la circulation d’air frais. Les espaces publics deviennent des maisons privées. Le feu brûle, se nourrissant du vent et d’enclos d’herbes ; les gommiers éclatent, leurs huiles chauffées se joignant aux vents déchaînés. Parfois je pense voir le futur de notre planète, le futur que nous avons obtenu pour notre planète, du feu et de la chaleur et un retrait humain parce que nos peaux aussi éclatent dans cet autre monde de terre. La vie m’a amené dans ce pays de déserts et de mer pour scruter l’avenir de notre égoïsme. Ceci est la chaleur marquée au fer rouge de l’Australie maintenant, une destruction naturelle non naturelle de l’habitat humain.

Dans ma cave, je regarde les nouvelles et je vois un autre climat, la froideur de la politique des réfugiés de Tony Abott (Premier ministre d’Australie). De petits bateaux en bois, usés par l’utilisation de survie, d’abord écartés de vaisseaux rutilants de la marine australienne, on voit les armes camouflées de soldats bien casqués écartant le bateau pataugeant péniblement. Ensuite, on voit que le bateau est attaché par une corde à la proue du bateau de guerre coûteux et totalement moderne est tiré de retour dans les eaux indonésiennes où la corde sera coupée, abandonnant le sort des gens dans les eaux d’une autre nation. Le désespoir a été pris au lasso, aucune note humaine, excepté le rejet et la force. L’Australie est devenue un pays qui remorque les gens hors de l’espoir et qui appelle cela une opération militaire, assurant ainsi qu’aucun détail ne sera donné officiellement, que le silence plaira au peuple australien de sorte qu’il ne doit pas se sentir coupable des actions du gouvernement. Le silence au service de la sécurité nationale. Le langage de guerre est utilisé contre « des trafiquants de personnes » par la nation de tours des gens. Et on n’entend nulle part les voix des femmes, des hommes, des enfants sur les bateaux ou on ne voit nulle part leurs visages ou on n’entend nulle part leurs cris. Les entendre, les voir mettrait en danger la sécurité de l’Australie, dit le gouvernement.

Le feu tue et il en va de même pour la froideur du cœur humain collectif.  Nous permettons les guerres, nous les acclamons, nous appelons l’exploitation économique, le fonctionnement du marché libre et ensuite nous faisons le black-out des résultats de notre inhumanité. Attachez-les, enterrez-les, encagez-les, oubliez-les. Tant de « eux » et un de ces jours alors que la planète cède à ses propres souffrances, nous aussi serons eux, et les étoiles n’écriront pas d’élégies pour nous.    

 Translated by Edith Rubenstein

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Maddy and Me

Here we are in a new year, with  Maddy, a wonderful young woman whom I have come to know over my years here and who is now a neighbor. We met the other morning in Gilpin Park filled with its gum trees and gullahs, gray and pink crested parrots who graze the dry grasslands. Maddy has undertaken to work out with me and coach me in the ways of boxing at pads. My boxing name is Stocky Jo which I am. When Maddy told some of her friends she was boxing with me, they couldn't believe it, she said. I answered, because I am an old Bronx fem. No, she said. Because you are 73.

Monday, January 6, 2014

How To Help in this New Year

How histories never remain silent. As I write of the suffering in Gaza, as I suggest ways to help, I remember how the US government in the 50s and before had a long list of subversive organizations and the people who supported them. I am sure they still do. Here in Melbourne, Australia, the right wing government of Tony Abbot is talking about making support of the economic boycott of Israel a crime. To all who have the desire to know and the courage to read, I thank you for not being afraid.

From the Middle East Children's Alliance:

Dear Friends,
We're sure you as horrified as we are by the pictures and stories coming from Gaza as the combination of cold weather and years of an Israeli blockade have resulted in tens of injuries, untold property damage, and the death of a child. It means so much that, with your support, we can act quickly to provide families with aid. Below is a short update from Gaza. But we are writing to you again because we must do so much more. 

We are also organizing with our partners in Lebanon about how we can continue to help Palestinian and Syrian refugees there during this harsh winter.

Many thanks,
All of us at MECA

It is still very cold in Gaza. Winter is always harder when poor families cannot afford good shelter, clothes, blankets or heat. But, now, in this disastrous cold and wet weather and ongoing blockade, the suffering of families is so much worse. We continue to suffer from the Israeli occupation in other ways too - earlier today a 24-year-old was shot and killed in northern Gaza.

As I travel all over Gaza distributing MECA's aid, I visit families who have fled to relatives or school buildings since their homes have been destroyed by rain and sewage. And I visit families still living inside houses with rain pouring in from damaged roofs and windows, and sewage covering the floors.

In just the past three days, I have been working with a team of volunteers to distribute clothing, socks, thermal underwear and plastic sheets for roofs to more that 250 families in the most devastated areas of Gaza. It is hard work but it is heartening to see the impact we are making and the way that communities in Gaza are coming together to help each other during this latest crisis.

But the weather is supposed to get even colder, with more heavy rain to come.

Please make a special contribution now. There are still hundreds of families in need of basic necessities.

From Gaza with love,
Mona El-Farra

MECA Director of Gaza Projects

P.S. Right now, we are desperate to meet people’s immediate needs for warmth and shelter.  But soon we will begin to see a health crisis from the freezing temperatures and the exposure to sewage.  Please, send the most generous contribution you can now. Thank you.

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