January was a busy month.
We in LAGAI spent January running from one demonstration to another. Almost made us feel like the revolution was coming. We took over the streets against the genocide in Gaza, and then we marched and dodged tear gas to protest the police murder of Oscar Grant in Oakland, and then we vigiled in Richmond to protest the queer-bashing rape of a young lesbian in the aftermath of Prop. 8. In between we went to meetings about freeing the New Jersey 4 and wore jumpsuits and hoods to remind people about the ongoing torture in Guantánamo and helped set up a carnival booth for people to throw shoes at Bush.
Among the crowds at the Oscar Grant protests, we saw a lot of people we were getting to know from the daily actions about Gaza, and some of those people turned up at the Guantánamo commemoration and the shoe toss.
At the demonstrations in Richmond, there was not so much crossover. Just us and our friends from OLOC and the Committee to Free the NJ4 and a few stray radical feminists. We did see hundreds of diverse people from Richmond, and a lot of dykes who we don’t normally see at demonstrations.
The disconnect was not only in the type of crowds that participated in the Richmond protests. We went from facing riot cops bent on arresting as many young people of color as they could (Oakland) to facing cops bent on containing crowds without having to make a mass arrest (SF) to standing around and listening to cops speak from the loudspeaker. At the two Richmond vigils, the mayor, members of the city council, and the detectives on the Jane Doe rape case were invited speakers. (In fairness, Gayle McLaughlin, the Green mayor of Richmond, also speaks at demonstrations against Chevron.) The cops and the director of the rape crisis center told the crowds how important it is for people to talk to the cops, and Latina lesbians organized people to distribute descriptions of the “criminals”. No one was invited to speak about the reasons that people don’t talk to the cops, or about what a restorative justice approach to queer-bashing and misogynist violence would look like. We didn’t hear all the speakers, but I didn’t hear anyone mention the assault on Gaza or even the Oscar Grant shooting.
When I commented to a friend at the Guantánamo protest that people were making the connections to the violence in Gaza and Oakland but not Richmond, she said, “Well, that’s different because it wasn’t committed by the state.” I thought about that. “True,” I said, “but if it was a racist attack by klan members, no one would say it was just a bad individual act.” My friend is a feminist and quickly agreed. I think even if it had been an attack on a gay man, people might get the connection, but misogyny is so taken for granted that even leftists, even feminists, have trouble seeing the institutional roots of violence against women.
One of the interesting things about the actions in Richmond was that none of them were organized by people from Richmond. The first one, held a couple days after Xmas (and thus a few days before the Oscar Grant shooting), was organized by women from Hand to Hand Kajukenbo, a multicultural women’s self-defense school in Oakland. The second, which was held on January 10, was organized by two African American dykes, one of whom had lived in Richmond at one time. The day of leafletting which apparently led to people in the community deciding to turn in the young men who committed the assault (including the parents of one of the teenagers) was organized by dykes from Antioch, in Central Contra Costa, who had never been in Richmond before.
The women who did this organizing said they were moved to take action because as lesbians of color they identified with the survivor and were frightened by the assault against her. Some were survivors of sexual assault. Several also said that they were inspired by Obama’s victory to step up and take leadership. Mainstream queer and feminist organizations lent support but didn’t play a big role in the organizing, nor did any of the more radical queer or feminist nonprofits. What was cool about the actions was that I’m pretty sure most of the women there had never heard of the Take Back the Night marches of the seventies and eighties. What is disappointing is that I’m pretty sure they still haven’t heard of Take Back the Night. The organizing did not lead to a broader discussion of how to stop misogynist and anti-queer violence. The multi-issue approach of San Francisco Women Against Rape and Bay Solidarity to Free the New Jersey 4 did not find a part to play in the organizing to support Richmond’s Jane Doe.
If anyone from the NJ4 solidarity committee had been invited to speak, they would have pointed out that Jane Doe and the NJ4 are opposite versions of the same story. Jane Doe was one dyke against 4 men. The NJ4 were 4 (actually 7) women against one man. If Jane Doe had not been alone, she might not have been raped, and if she had not, she might be the one in jail now.
The actions in Oakland, which are continuing (even as I write this, we are preparing to go out to a demonstration protesting the granting of bail to ex-BART cop johannes mehserle) were initiated in the first place by people from Grant’s family and friends. Gradually the coordination was taken over by a hastily convened coalition known as CAPE – Coalition Against Police Executions, which drew together people from nonprofits organizing against the prison industrial complex, grassroots police accountability activists, radical anti-racist groups and church leaders. The actions were joined by all types of people, from community members with no particular affiliation to left sectarians of all walks of life. Then there were the anarchist groups determined to start a riot, who came brandishing black bandanas and wordy wisdom about how to trash stuff and not get caught (check out http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2009/01/30/18567024.php).
The coalition began to fray after 100+ were arrested on the first night of breakaway marches/”rioting”. Critical Resistance and other radical groups wanted to add a demand that the charges against all protesters be dropped to the demands calling for prosecution of all the cops who killed Oscar Grant. Some of the more mainstream members of the coalition, religious leaders and such, wouldn’t go for that, being pissed that people trashed local businesses and burned people’s cars. Some people from Critical Resistance and Bay Solidarity felt that calling for state justice department investigations and district attorney prosecutions of police weren’t appropriate restorative justice demands for prison abolitionist groups to sign onto, while other supposed radicals didn’t seem to be bothered by these contradictions. After the second day of demonstrations, where the division between the groups first became detectable, the Oakland Tribune reported, “The [police] chief and department spokesman were ‘incredibly helpful,’ according to CAPE spokesman and Ella Baker Center Executive Director Jakada Imani.”
It has been hard to know just where to stand in all of this. There was a lot of understandable rage being vented at the point-blank shooting of a young man who, by all accounts, was a very sweet hard-working peace-making father of a 4-year-old girl. (Though I have to mention that even if he had been a mean slothful piece of work, it wouldn’t have been okay for the cops to throw him on the ground, step on his neck and shoot him in the back.) There were also a lot of people glomming onto that rage for their own agendas. The chants of “Whose streets? Our Streets!” begged the question of whose streets the streets of Oakland really are, and more generally, of who “owns” a protest. Who has the right to control the tone of an action? The family of Oscar Grant? The self-appointed leadership of the coalition? The Revolutionary Communist Party (subject of an expose in the last issue of UV), who managed to convince the Chronicle reporter they were in charge? No one? Whoever has the rocks in their hands?
At the part of the demonstration I was at that first night, a tense stand-off between the cops and a smallish group of protesters at 14th & Broadway, it seemed that the people who were determined to provoke a confrontation with the cops were mainly white, and as that confrontation began to escalate, most of the people of color tried to scatter, saying, “I don’t want to get involved in this.” Clearly, from footage that I saw later, that was not how it was everywhere. But it did make me wonder if the young men of color I saw on TV being led away in cuffs would have ended up that way if some white anarchists from Berkeley hadn’t decided to start setting dumpsters and cop cars on fire. And when it all shakes out, who is going to pay the price? Here’s a blog from a rap website called Ozone about the second night’s march:
“The family of Oscar Grant asked for the rally and march to be peaceful. This was the theme for most of the night. After about an hour of speakers there was a 2 mile march to the DA’s office and then back to City Hall. The march through the streets of Downtown Oakland were full of emotions with people walking with a purpose. We had some Oakland native celebs support the event like Too Short, ZionI, AmpLive, Mark Curry & DaveyD just to name a few out there speaking to the community and Marching. You could hear the marching band for blocks as they kept the rythem of the march. There was a Huge police presence. The Police Chief Gary Gee said he called every available police officer in to work for the event. The organizers of the protest also had there own security for the event to protect the people from being harmed by the police. There was still the super Protester vs. Police stand off with the security between them and the police. Hard core protesters honestly didn’t understand why they were protecting the police!! They started chanting FUCK THE POLICE!!! At that time it was still peaceful…But as time would go on I could see the remaining bunch of protesters just waiting for the right opportunity. I was standing out there just wondering when it was goin to go down. Next a small group started making calls letting others no when the coast was clear. It looked like the groups split up and started running through the streets breaking windows at random. I knew then it was time for me to start walkin back to the Ozone truck…” http://www.ozonemag.com/?p=4469
Some mainstream queer groups have taken up the Oscar Grant issue, seeing it as an opportunity to heal some of the rifts created by the mainstream media and the queer establishment in the wake of the Prop. 8 debacle. Join the Impact, the group that organized the national Day of Action on November 15 and the “Day Without a Gay”, put a call to action on their website which reads, ““This is a national issue. This is a Civil Rights issue. This is a part of our fight against hate. Given the recent bruises our community and our movement has taken from the allegations of non-support by fellow communities working for civil rights, this seems like the right time to stand united against hate crime in any and every form.” Interestingly, support for Richmond Jane Doe does not appear anywhere on JTI’s website, and neither does freeing the NJ4.
Richmond and Oakland are only the most recent casualties of the marginalization of the left in this country. Both cry out for a radical revisioning of “justice,” “community” and safety. So did the two-pronged attack on the NJ7, the murders of Sakia Gunn, Brandon Tina, Gwen Araujo and Matthew Shepherd. Yet this revisioning cannot happen because the issues and the communities are so separated. Andrea Lewis did a good show on KPFA that dealt with the two attacks, but she didn’t have the people talking about Justice for Jane Doe on at the same time as the people talking about Justice for Oscar Grant; she had one bunch and then the other. Recently we saw a movie about Sakia Gunn, an African American lesbian killed by an African American man in Newark. We watched one of her cousins making speeches in the courtroom demanding that this young man be sent to prison for a long time, and we think that tomorrow, he could be the one being sentenced. Hate crime legislation is supposed to make us feel better, because now queer-bashers can be sent to prison for longer, but it doesn’t make us any safer. The day that johannes mehserle was granted $300,000 bond against $3 million bail, police shot “non-lethal” projectiles to disperse nonviolent demonstrators. The problem isn’t that this one cop might be on the street again, it’s that all those cops are on the street.
In the past, protests that erupted over police killings morphed into (unmet) demands for economic justice. That’s what happened just a couple months ago in Greece. But today in Oakland, the demand is that BART fund “healing centers” (not to be confused with health centers) for youth affected by police violence. A San Francisco activist recently wrote that Bay Area unions should be organizing a general strike to protest the Oscar Grant killing. Yes, they should, but what about the fact that the unions haven’t organized a general strike, or even a big march, to protest the governator’s 10% cut to their members’ pay!?!
It’s times like this that makes us painfully aware of the gulf between what we need and what we have. What we need is a multicultural, multigendered, multi-issue movement for social justice, which would organically turn every youth who showed up to express outrage over Oscar Grant into a Palestine solidarity activist and all those Palestine activists into prison abolitionists and feminists. What we have is a market-driven single-issue non-profit establishment that promotes the myths that rape and queer-bashing are isolated acts of deranged individuals, and that we can look for justice from the same institutions that create the injustice.
As we go to press the israeli invasion of and occupation of Gaza continue. This mass murder of a civilian population is heavily subsidized by the u.s. government. The israeli government exercises strict control over the borders and during the height of the invasion refused to allow entry to reporters. A lot of the images seen by the world were provided by al jazeera, which maintains a permanent presence in Gaza. Most of this coverage was not seen by most people in the u.s. The major media outlets were favorable to the invasion. Not even the bombardment of a u.n. operated school was able to persuade the u.s. government to stop the invasion.
Demonstrations on the streets of san francisco brought out thousands of people day after day. Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism (QUIT!) organized a protest at Harvey Milk Plaza in san francisco. A lively gathering of over 150 people, many continuing from the ANSWER march earlier that day, was confronted by zionist counter demonstrators. The counter demonstrators then had to deal with a lively gathering.
For information about future demonstrations go to www.quitpalestine.org (more photos available there), or email email@example.com.
A recent report in Science magazine says that the 460 or more sick and dying California brown pelicans may have been a result of global warming—they stayed too long too far north lulled by warm weather along the Oregon coast and were blasted by an icy storm. “Pelicans fare poorly in subfreezing weather, in part because their feathers aren’t completely water-repellent and they need to dry off on land after diving for fish.” Because they are not adapted for freezing temperatures they were stressed, disoriented, and more susceptible to disease and other toxins when they finally got back to where they would normally be in winter—sunny California and the Baja peninsula.
I was at a conference this week where one of the top scientists from the IPCC report was speaking about global warming and what we should do to try and adapt management of our public lands to meet the challenges. It was a great talk except that he refused to believe that anything will really change to meaningfully reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the next 20 years. “Forget 20% in 2020, its not going to happen.” “Forget about the coal plants, they are going to keep going.” His opinion is we need more big disasters before people really start changing behavior and those disasters will probably come soon and affect the very poorest people like coastal communities in south asia. Under this scenario not only will the climate change already set in motion continue but that the peak will keep getting higher. We are already on course for at least 2 degrees Celsius warming and if we don’t start reducing greenhouse gas emissions we will likely get to 4 degrees by 2100. As Ultraviolet readers know, this isn’t just about a few warmer days in summer, it’s about mega droughts (we are just starting year 3 of drought here in northern California after only a few normal years since the last drought), mega storms, and the fabric of ecosystems unraveling. Like the pelicans, other migratory species are confused by changing climate signals and even local species are blooming or emerging out of sync with their co-evolved species (e.g. butterflies emerging after their host plants have flowered). We cannot resign ourselves to such scenarios and we should not need to wait for more and bigger disasters before we take action. And who gains by the delay? Not surprisingly the same companies that contribute most to global warming.
Last year Exxon-Mobil again made record profits while the economy was tanking and all of the oil companies were expanding their greenwashing media campaigns. The “clean coal” campaigns got a nasty shock when that coal ash containment pond collapsed—not to mention the destruction of the river, the fish and birds. Now that big dirty industries finally have to admit global warming is happening they are trying to pretend it is someone else’s problem. It’s not. Burning oil and gas and coal are forcing climate change and adding more green house gasses to the atmosphere will make the warming greater and the climate changes more severe. No amount of green advertising will change that fact. We need to reassess the real costs of oil and gas and coal before we take it out of the ground.
Last December someone new joined the bidding for oil and gas leases in Utah on public lands, not to drill them but to save them. Some of these parcels are near national parks and other special places. Ok, so he really didn’t have the money to pay for the leases he won and he bid up some other leases so that companies paid more for them (but not more than they were willing to pay!). He was arrested and charges are still pending. So why do it? Because, like with so many other issues, playing by the rules wasn’t working. Conservationists had been trying to get the government to back off on leasing these and other parcels by working through the system – a few were saved but others were still on the block. Even Robert Redford appealed to have these areas saved but the Bush administration had other palms to grease—or oil – with more giveaways to industry. Some conservation groups even filed a lawsuit and got a stay of the leases—but not until after the auction took place. So Tim DeChristopher tried it another way with some creative non-violent monkey wrenching and the media loved it. No matter which of these parcels ultimately get drilled or saved the issue of oil and gas drilling on our public lands is back in the spotlight. And when I say “our” I mean all of ours—these lands belong to the public not to the oil companies or mining companies or grazing interests and we need to reassert our rights to determine how they are used. And if they are drilled or mined or grazed we need to make sure the public is getting a fair return for the use of those lands—we certainly aren’t now.
So what can we do as queers? Ultraviolet readers already know that we can’t just sit back and expect the new administration to do the right thing for health care or gay rights or the environment. Bidding for oil leases is one a nice example of a small action that can have big impacts. Just as with health care and other civil rights issues, we need new ideas for more and more creative non-violent actions to raise the debate to protect what we can of our ecosystem.
KPFA is taking Women’s Magazine, the only hour of feminist/womanist programming on its airwaves, off the air until May, or possibly permanently. For the last four years, WM has run three Mondays a month. It is produced by a multiracial, multigenerational collective of disabled and able-bodied, lesbian, bi and straight women, and has created a forum for voices and issues never before heard on KPFA. Past shows can be heard on the archives at www.kpfa.org/womensmagazine.
Please call program manager Sasha Lilley at 510-848-6767 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org and let her know you value women-oriented programming.
Cadillac Records (review by Chaya) This movie tells a slice of the history of blues and rock-‘n-roll via the tumultuous lives of Chess Records recording artists Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Chuck Berry, Etta James and others in Chicago in the 1950s. The movie is very choppy and the sexism gets tedious, but the music is fun and it’s entertaining.
MILK (review by Chaya and Deni): We’re mystified why this formulaic biopic of Harvey Milk is considered so great. Yes, Sean Penn was excellent but the writing was weak, the direction was ordinary and it was boring at times. We agree with Vern, that all the supporting characters were just archetypes, and the racist portrayal of Harvey’s lover, Jack, was insulting. But even worse was the way Harvey was given sole credit for the Coors boycott and fighting the Briggs initiative (and everything else that happened in the 1970s). All this and he never had a political discussion with anyone – it just sprang from his head! Surely director Gus Van Sant could have made an edgier film and gone past the cult of the individual. Where was the lesbian/gay movement? While it’s good that this history is being presented to new generations, Rob Epstein’s 1984 documentary The Times of Harvey Milk (narrated by that other Harvey – Fierstein) is vastly superior. (And let’s not forget we’re still waiting for Sean Penn’s apology for the “Sean Hannity, the butt boy of Rupert Murdoch” comment at the wrap of the “MILK” filming.) Boo.
Doubt (review by Chaya): No doubt about it (hahaha) the Catholic church must hate this movie, a case study of a priest suspected of molesting boys at a Catholic school in the Bronx in the 1960s. Directed and written by John Patrick Shanley based on his award-winning play, Doubt successfully makes the transition from the stage to film. It takes on issues of race, class, and gay identity while focusing on the hierarchy, sexism and authority of the church (Shanley himself was kicked out of Catholic school as a boy). It features a literate script and fine acting by Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams and Viola Davis. Neither Streep as the hardboiled mother superior or Hoffman as the easy-going, charismatic priest she suspects and sets out to trap are simple, 2-dimensional characters, which greatly heightens the drama. As an inexperienced nun who teaches at the school, Amy Adams’ character functions as a pivot point in the struggle between Streep and Hoffman. The object of the priest’s special interest is the school’s first black student who, according to his mother (played searingly by Viola Davis), is beaten regularly by his father because the boy is “that way.” The mother’s main interest is in getting her son to the end of the school year so he can go on to high school and beyond, and she’s willing to have her son pay a high price for it. The ‘doubt’ of the title concerns faith, duty, and personal will, and exists on many levels for the characters. See it.
Slumdog Millionaire (review by Deni): This is the story of a poor boy from Mumbai who makes it to the top on a quiz show. His horrendous life experiences are what give him the knowledge to win. Somewhat oddly called the “feel good movie of the year,” it’s gotten tremendously high ratings and acclaim. We basically liked the movie and more-or-less responded to the (quite literally) rags to riches fairy tale that it is, though we did feel that the romance was too unbelievable even for a fairy tale, and it should have been more tightly edited.
But we became interested in questions that have been raised about whether the film was racist or inappropriate. Does it glamorize one success story and ignore the needs and struggles for concrete change for India’s poor, and especially poor children? How do we respond to movies of the U.S. that focus on one poor person making it to the top compared to this tale out of India? Is there an effect on the cultural and racial connotations of the movie when it’s taken out of the hands of its Indian author and reframed by a white director (Danny Boyle)?
Of the two most interesting links we found dealing with these questions, one was an AlJazeera video on You Tube that examined children actually living the life the film portrayed, without the Hollywood/Bollywood ending: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C5dfAhEBeGE
Another was a blog subtitled An Academic View of India, which critiqued topics ranging from the film’s acting to its presentation of Indian mores and values: http://vikramvgarg.wordpress.com/2008/12/29/movie-review-slumdog-millionaire/
The movie is worth seeing – let us know what you think.
The Wrestler (review by Chaya) Pro wrestling is not exactly an interest of mine, so I was amazed to find this movie about a down-and-out aging wrestler was engaging enough to keep me interested. The cinematography was as gritty as the story. Yes, it is an acting tour-de-force by Hollywood “bad boy” Mickey Rourke who reinvents himself as pro wrestler Randy “The Ram” Robinson. Randy is still barely eking out a living decades after his big success on the pro wrestling circuit. But then comes a heart attack, and Randy’s doctor tells him he has to quit the physical abuse of wrestling. He tries to remake his life, working at a deli counter, pursuing a relationship with a stripper (the always wonderful Marisa Tomei) and trying to reconnect with the daughter he abandoned years ago, but fails at all of it. You think all of this is leading up to a typical Hollywood Rocky-type ending, but director Darren Aronofsky gives that a bit of a twist. It’s a slightly oddball movie but better than a lot of what else is out there.
Revolutionary Road (review by Deni and Chaya): We couldn’t stand this movie. As Sean Burns of the Philadelphia Weekly said, “Kate and Leo [DiCaprio] just stand around shouting the subtext at one another, mired in that typical Mendes swamp of gloss wherein every shot looks like a picture from a coffee-table book.” Kate Winslet’s usually excellent acting was annoyingly self-conscious here, though it’s difficult to separate that from the trite dialog. Not even an authentic exploration of 1950s angst. Don’t bother seeing it.
Che and Waltz With Bashir: We weren’t able to see either one before press time. Che got very mixed reviews, Waltz With Bashir’s were more positive. Anyone out there want to comment?
Wendy and Lucy: We wanted to see this one, but Sparky said absolutely no upsetting dog movies.
Leonard Peltier attacked: On January 21, Democracy Now reported that “Native American activist Leonard Peltier has reportedly been severely beaten shortly after his transfer to a new prison. According to Peltier’s defense committee, Peltier was attacked by other prisoners after he was put into general population. Peltier’s sister, Betty Peltier-Solano, says she believes the attack could have been encouraged by prison officials seeking to discredit Peltier as he comes up for parole. Peltier suffers from diabetes. After the attack, he was put into solitary confinement. February 6 will mark thirty-three years since Peltier’s arrest. The Philadelphia Independent Media Center website at http://phillyimc.org/en/leonard-peltier-update-dont-stop-calling has updates and contact information if you want to write to prison officials. (For more info on Leonard Peltier see this issue of Out of Time.)
Mini Quiz: What do Queen Elizabeth, Barack Obama and the Pope have in common? If you said they all have their own YouTube channels, you’re right! The Vatican says YouTube will give it “better control over the pope’s Internet image.” Why do they need better control? Because current internet offerings of the pope include videos of a (fake) pope dancing and juggling, and images of the real current pope altered to show him dressed as a superhero, Darth Vader and Yoda. Not to mention the church’s double whammy: it got legitimately criticized for reinstating holocaust deniers, while at the same time it was itself called a holocaust denier and terrorist for criticizing Israel’s actions in Gaza. Tough times for the Catholic church! (see review of Doubt, above).
Come Out Come Out: Which Hollywood stars did not want to be connected to Zionist diamond millionaire/West Bank settlement developer/Southern Africa exploiter Lev Leviev and wanted their photos removed from his website? Possibilities include Salma Hayek, Sharon Stone, Whitney Houston, Halle Berry, Drew Barrymore, Brooke Shields, Andie Macdowell, and Lucy Liu. When Adalah-NY/Coalition for Justice in the Middle East and Jews Against the Occupation-NYC contacted these stars and told them of Leviev’s involvement in rights abuses in Palestine and Southern Africa, representatives of four of them told Adalah-NY that they had contacted Leviev to have the stars’ photos removed. The Mocha Column wishes the four would take the next step: identify themselves and come out publicly against Israeli atrocities.
And hey to Susan Sarandon, who’s also a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. Despite protests, she appeared at Leviev’s jewelry store gala in 2007 and as late as July ‘08 had not yet repudiated him. UNICEF itself cut all ties to Leviev due to his settlement construction. Come ON, Susan, let’s get those progressive politics back in gear!
La Lucha Continua: January 31 was the 20th anniversary of Stop AIDS Now Or Else’s blockade of the Golden Gate Bridge. SANOE also disrupted the SF Opera opening in 1989 to protest lack of interest in fighting AIDS. Kudos to the immigrant community for its recent protest at the SF Ballet gala season opener, to protest immigration policies, remind Obama of his commitment to allow undocumented immigrants to earn legal status, and to call for a moratorium on immigration raids.
The Scales of Justice: First, the Supreme Court ruled on January 14 that evidence obtained after illegal searches or arrests based on simple police mistakes can be used to prosecute criminal defendants (come on – if you watch tv cop shows you probably know that “fruit” (evidence) from the “poisonous tree” of an illegal search is tainted). Then, a California Appeals Court in Riverside ruled on January 26 that a Christian high school as a private, religious organization had the right to expel lesbian students. What’s next – the courts legalize the selling and plundering of Boy Scout forestlands to further their proto-fascist anti-gay, anti-atheist, all-American organization?
WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF SPARKY SPARKY SPARKY WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF
The evil dave kears has finally resigned. He is retiring in march from his job mucking up the Alameda County Medical Center ( ACMC). He sent out a memo in his usual triple-speak platitudes now so familiar to health care activists:
It is with some trepidation and great appreciation for the opportunity that this County has afforded me that I inform you that I will retire from my position as Health Care Services Agency Director effective March 20, 2009. Upon my retirement, my employment with the County will have spanned over 36 years with almost 23 years of that as the Health Care Services Agency Director. I love this County, its diverse and vibrant population, its commitment to responsive and just government, and its willingness to come together when the problems and disaster we face are at their worst.
When I read this resignation memo sent to the board of stupervisors a week ago, I got a “little throw-up in my mouth,” a saying borrowed from Tiffany which aptly describes the unmitigated hypocrisy of the situation. It is after all the evil dave kears who is probably the one person most responsible for the mess at the medical center, operating continuously out of the public eye pushing his own agenda. And he has the nerve to speak of just government and praise the “diverse and vibrant” people of Alameda County!
Over the last ten years he has pushed the idea that the medical center should not actually deliver services but rather contract them out. He convinced the board of stupes that the county would save money if they scaled back their services to a minimum. By law the county hospital is the last resort safety net for people without health insurance. This can be interpreted to mean doing the least possible. The evil dave kears has always wanted a scaled back minimalist hospital with an ER and a small complement of hospital beds. He has lobbied for all the rest of daily regular care to be pushed more and more into the private sector. Of course this is gleefully received by the private doctors’ offices, etc. Unlike more future thinking counties such as Santa Clara and San Mateo, Alameda County did not apply for then-available matching grants to rebuild the medical center to really accommodate the ever increasing tide of uninsured people this corrupt capitalist society produces.
The health care activists, SEIU unions, The Bella Vista Neighbors, Vote Health and the beloved PUSH (People United to Save Health care) fought long and hard over the years to beat back these myopic polices. When kears wanted to rebuild the clinic building to a measly 3 stories and an ER in keeping with his philosophy, the activists were able to get the all important 5 story building built. To this day the unions and community groups have pressed the medical center to look at services which bring in revenue, such as specialty clinics, acute rehabilitation services done at Fairmont, geriatric services (which could rejuvenate the ailing Fairmont campus), and a wealth of translation services which bring in whole communities. There has never been the will to create a good functional full service county hospital because of the lack of vision and will by the evil dave kears and the board of stupes.
Events have a way of coming full spiral. Against the will of the people, the County set up today’s onerous Hospital Authority with its own board of trustees to run the hospital with the idea that the board of stupes could wash their hands of the administration of the medical center and that the medical center would be accountable for its own budget. Never mind that the money for the hospital comes from the county revenues, but still the board of stupes and the evil dave kears persist in thinking that the medical center should be financially solvent MAGICALLY off the backs of sick uninsured people. We fought hard and lost against the creation of the hospital authority and it has proved every bit as useless as we thought it would be. It is run by trustees appointed by particular stupervisors who thus owe their jobs to those stupes. They have been disorganized spineless and unable to demand what the medical center is due. In an ironic trick of fate the bush regime in the last several years has passed a set of rules narrowing the definition of a public hospital. Is seems that the Alameda County Medical Center with its Hospital authority governance structure no longer qualifies as a public hospital as defined by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). This ruling went into affect several years ago but a waiver was obtained to exempt the medical center. This exemption is due to run out in April. If this status of public hospital is lost the medical center will lose $100 million of revenue immediately.
As though that don’t just beat all, the board of stupes and the board of trustees had a joint meeting in December in which they allowed as how they had a problem with the hospital authority and maybe they should quick bring it back under the umbrella of the county so as not lose big money. As the World Turns!
There are several options.
1. Get another extension on the federal ruling or get the ruling modified to include the medical center as it is now. This has no guarantees as the Obama. administration is overwhelmed with many pressing needs so might not get to this one
2. The legislation that created the hospital authority could be changed to give it taxing authority so it could raise it own revenues, similar to Eden Hospital, which is a township hospital able to tax (hard to imagine this and it would not be feasible before April).
3. The third option and the one most favored by activists is to dissolve the hospital authority which the county has the authority to bring it back under the county and form a health commission similar to the one set up in San Francisco where the SF General hospital is run by people who actually know about administering a county hospital.
The next problem brought on by the evil dave kears is the matter of the so-called debt owed by the medical center growing exponentially. The county hospital was in severe financial straits so Measure A was passed which gave dedicated money through raising the sales tax to fund the hospital. The county had to keep its own county hospital afloat for a time, so after measure A was passed the county began to exact this so-called loan. The first year it was $10 million dollars plus 8 million in interest, then $15 million plus 8 million in interest and next year it goes up to a whopping $20 million plus 8 million in interest, leaving only $70 million for uninsured health care in a time when the need is growing alarmingly as people lose their jobs. Since Measure A was passed the hospital has been able to balance its budget if you subtract the enormous debt repayment. Some think that evil dave kears’s overwhelming support for measure a was a way to get more money into the county coffers. What is even more outrageous is that in 1992 the county took money earmarked for the medical center to keep the sheriff’s department afloat and that money was never returned.
SEIU and the community activist demand that the Hospital Authority be brought back under the county auspices and the so-called debt be stopped immediately so that the hospital can get to business of making a good full service hospital. It must rebuild the main hospital building at Highland and make a plan for the Fairmont campus rebuild. The hospital needs to be encouraged to expand services which might actually thrive such as the specialty clinics and acute rehab. They must stop cutting back HIV services and translation services now and need to hold a Beilensen public hearing as is required by law when cuts in services are proposed.
The devastating legacy of the evil dave kears needs to be evaluated and a nationwide search needs to be someone who could bring something new to the table. A rumor which is true to the stagnant uncaring form of the county is that dave kears has hand picked his own successor.
We need to continue fighting. With the correct kind of governance structure, supportive “ just government” and the money from Measure A, Alameda County Medical Center could expand and do well and be the full service county hospital that is needed in this community.
HEALTH CARE IS A HUMAN RIGHT!
Bank of America acquired the ‘troubled’ Merrill Lynch brokerage on January 1 for $19.4 billion and then started squawking about Merrill’s 4th-quarter losses and $4 billion end-of-the-year bonuses paid to Merrill executives. In response, former Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain said BofA knew before the merger closed, so put up and shut up (could it possibly be true that the chief execs wanted to pay themselves off before the deal closed?). And shareholders are suing BofA over why it failed to disclose the Merrill losses before a vote on the acquisition took place.
Meanwhile, Merrill’s $15.4 billion fourth-quarter loss forced BofA to seek additional federal bailout money, which it just got to the tune of $20 billion in capital and $118 billion in asset guarantees.
But Thain is a humble guy (for a greedy pig). In reference to the recent million-dollar renovation of his Manhattan office that included antiques such as a $35,115 commode with legs and $1,405 trash can, he now says spending so much was “a mistake in the light of the world we live in today.” Sparky says, “geez, they make me go in the back yard without any equipment at all.” Thain was fired on January 22 (Sparky still has her job as our companion dog). In 2007, Thain made $83 million. He has graciously agreed to pay for his office renovation himself.
So does this all reflect badly on BofA CEO Kenneth Lewis? Will he get the next golden parachute paid for by the bailout courtesy of you and me? A new AP study of banks receiving federal bailout money found that nearly 9 out of 10 of the most senior executives from 2006 (including top executives whose banks made the riskiest loans while 100,000 bank employees were laid off) are still on the job. The foxes are still guarding the henhouse, but we have every confidence that they will reform the henhouse system right away.
And where does President Obama sit on all of this? While decrying the “lack of accountability and transparency in how we are managing some of these programs to stabilize the financial system” he has put the foxes in charge. But to cover all bets, he and Michelle have hired Thain’s decorator, Michael Smith, to re-do the residential quarters of the White House. They may be able to get a good deal on a used commode if they need one.
Martin Delaney was an AIDS activist, the founder of Project Inform, a thorn in the side of the Government, an HIV treatment smuggler, a disreputable associate of the bad boys of Level 242, the creator of a cuddly corporate mascot (we still can’t talk about this), but more than anything else he was an inspiration with a wicked sense of humor and a talent for spurring people onto activism.
Delaney died on Jan 23, 2009 at 63. He was killed by liver cancer, brought on by Hepatitis B, the disease that first brought him to California from Chicago in 1978 for an experimental treatment. The treatment worked and cleared the disease, but the damage had been done, although he lived far longer than he would have otherwise. It is entirely possible that early experience with an experimental treatment gave him a foundation of hope when everything else looked damned to failure in the early days of HIV.
In 1985 Delaney founded Project Inform in a dingy Market St. office. PI became the leading HIV/AIDS information and advocacy organization in the country, known for both effective activism and treatment information. When he was not trying to figure out how to get experimental AIDS treatments into the country (i.e. smuggle them in) he was making sure that information about those treatments and how they worked was available. One of Delaney’s crucial achievements were “Parallel Track” trials, which were a way for people with HIV to access experimental drugs as they were undergoing trials, an unprecedented opening of access to drugs for people with HIV.
Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, recently lauded Delaney saying, “Marty had the ability to interact with both strength and grace with the scientific community and keep them focused on what was important for people with HIV.” And when that did not work he either threatened to sic AIDS activists on uncooperative countries, companies or corporate officials, or he simply went around them. This happened with Compound Q. Q was an ultimately unsuccessful treatment, but one that needed testing. No one else would do it, so Delaney, Ponzi and others put together a rigorous and controversial trail to either test its efficacy or force an official trial of the substance.
The list of other achievements is long. PI started the first ever community based research study. It opened the first AIDS treatment hotline and started the first treatment information hotlines. It got treatment activists and researchers in the same room to open detailed discussion about where to go in AIDS research. It was the first AIDS activist group to meet with the FDA. Delaney was also board president of the Foundation for AIDS and Immune Research and was most extremely proud of his work on the Fair Pricing Coalition, a coalition of HIV/AIDS activists who work on drug pricing issues.
Most important Martin Delaney was an inspiration to misbehave. As part of the first wave of AIDS activism he was crucial in helping people realize they were people with AIDS, not AIDS victims or AIDS patients.
Condolences can be sent to email@example.com or 1375 Mission St., San Francisco, CA 94103.
There is no doubt about it, organized labor is facing the most favorable administration it has seen in the past 30 years. Barack Obama and the democratic party have promised to pass and sign the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). Among other things, EFCA will make union organizing easier by requiring that employers recognize unions that submit signatures of a majority of the workers, without requiring an NLRB election. Obama has also nominated Hilda Solis to be secretary of labor. Her parents were immigrants and labor activists and she has been strongly supportive of labor and environmental issues both as a california legislator and a congressperson.
In other good news, the federal bureau of labor statistics (bls) announced a growth in union density in 2008. Unions had a gain of over 400,000 members, despite the virulently anti-union actions of the bush administration. The bls estimated that 16.1 million workers, 12.4 percent of the workforce, belong to unions, and unions represent another 1.7 million workers who are not members. Mike Hall proclaimed, on the AFL-CIO blog, “When people can join unions, they do.”
So, after Labor poured unprecedented money and people into the electing the democrats, what could possibly happen to rain on labor’s parade?
Maybe a big nasty highly publicized fight in one of the largest unions in California?
As January ended, officers from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) completed a take over of United Healthcare Workers West (UHW), formerly SEIU Local 250. In a dispute that goes back over a year (see Tory’s article in the November issue), last year SEIU president andy stern, and the international executive board (IEB) decided that 65,000 long-term care workers in UHW were to be merged into local 6434, headed by Tyrone Freeman to form United Long Term Care Workers. (In August, Local 6434 was placed under trusteeship, and Freeman was later expelled from the SEIU, and ordered to pay back $1.1 million that he embezzled.)
The UHW opposed the transfer of more than one-third of its membership into the new local, and union funds were placed into a non-profit account to fight this move. Stern then threatened to place UHW under trusteeship, and in the fall of 2008, appointed former labor secretary ray marshall to decide on trusteeship and the related issues. Before the decision was announced, the IEB secretly rented office space in Alameda and Los Angeles and sent over 100 staffers to California. You can watch a video of some workers from Oakland’s summit medical center confronting staffers at the Alameda office at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sk06bbiDygw&feature=channel_page.
Marshall’s decision came out on January 26. He said that although UHW president sal roselli had improperly moved the union funds, at this point it did not justify trusteeship. He also said that the long-term care workers could be moved into the new local. The UHW leadership polled over 5000 shop stewards during the preceding weekend, and decided that they would accept certain portions of the decision but that they would not accept the movement of the long-term care workers without a democratic vote. (For an in depth discussion of the composition of the SEIU IEB, see the recent article by Steve Early in CounterPunch, available at: http://www.counterpunch.org/early01052009.html)
Trusteeship is a mechanism by which a higher level organization (such as an international union, or the california superintendent of schools) can take over a local organization, and run it directly. As with the Oakland unified school district’s trusteeship, that is finally coming to an end, the “trustee” has complete power, and the members, including elected members of the governing board, have absolutely no say. The United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) used trusteeship in 1986 to end the hard-fought strike by local P-9 against Hormel, over the objections of the local union.
The IEB took over the UHW on January 27, and appointed as trustees stern loyalists dave regan and eliseo medina, neither of whom has ever been a rank and file worker represented by the UHW or SEIU. Roselli and over 100 other officers resigned from the SEIU, and announced that they were going to start the National Union of Healthcare Workers. The last of the UHW physical offices was yielded to the IEB representatives on Friday, January 30, despite attempts by members to hold onto the building.
As we have said before it is hard for us in LAGAI to see sal roselli as suddenly the champion of union democracy. We remember the way the UHW (then local 250) worked out deals over the heads of the stewards and other representatives in union negotiations with nursing homes and hospitals. We remember when roselli and others in the SEIU put a competing initiative on the ballot to defeat single-payer health care. We also remember over a decade of bitter battles between the California Nurses Association (CNA) and the SEIU, that compromised labor negotiations on both sides.
Stern’s administration and the reorganization of the SEIU has brought roselli and the UHW into alliance with the CNA. In a recent article reporting on the trusteeship, CNA president Roseanne De Moro said, “We see SEIU as a management surveillance team. They will do anything. There is no bar that is too low for them to go to get dues. It’s all dues chasing”. DeMoro said, that stern was acting like a corporation in making a “hostile takeover of a smaller business in his model. Workers are objects of trade; he is outsourcing representation in call centers and sees no contradiction between workers’ needs and corporate demands.”
Shop stewards and other activists in locals such as 1021 (which represents public sector workers including some health care workers) have asked their leaders to explain what is going on with UHW and the IEB. So far, they have gotten no response.
Eighty years ago, when the stock market crashed, it took a number of American Federation of Labor (AFL) unions with it. The depression brought a new union movement, the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), who organized broad industrial unions. Rank and file activists, including members of the Communist Party and other left groups, poured themselves into forming the CIO using tactics such as sit-in strikes, mass marches, civil disobedience and corporate campaigns. Unions were formed in auto, chemical, steel and other manufacturing sectors, agriculture, mines, garment, ship-building, food processing, local government, retail, shipping and transportation.
In 1935 the National Labor Relations Act (Wagner Act) was passed, establishing a new legal framework for unions. It created the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that would hold representation elections to determine whether workers at a specific workplace wanted to be represented by a union. It prohibited employers from engaging in “unfair labor practices,” such as firing workers who were organizing unions.
At the end of World War II, over five million people participated in strikes to regain economic ground they had lost to the wage and price controls during the war. (Surprisingly, the controls had only successfully controlled wages, while prices and profits continued to rise.) This led to the Taft-Hartley Act, which limited union activities, prohibited closed shops, jurisdictional strikes, sympathy strikes and secondary boycotts, required that unions provide 60 day notice of intent to strike, required union leaders to sign oaths that they were not communists, and made unions potentially liable for “unfair labor practices.” Taft-Hartley also codified a u.s. supreme kkourt decision that permitted employers to “talk to” (read pressure) their employees to reject the union during NLRB-supervised elections.
One effect of this legislation, as well as subsequent modifications such as the Landrum-Griffin Act, is to establish a union bureaucracy that is separate from the membership, looks a lot more like a corporation than a people’s organization, and holds certain financial powers and legal responsibilities. The requirement to hold NLRB-supervised elections was meant to prevent “company unions,” and “sweetheart deals,” such as existed at the Birdseye plant I worked at where we made less money than the non-union plant down the road, the teamster union office was in the plant, the general manager was the union president, and the floor ladies (supervisors) were the shop stewards. However, the NLRB process (which obviously had not prevented the sweetheart deal at Birdseye) has become so difficult that it can take years to hold an election (during which time union activists are typically harassed and fired), and several years after a union victory to get the employer to bargain a contract. One power the NLRB (ab)uses is to decide which workers are included in the bargaining unit (and therefore the election). This can completely skew the results.
The EFCA is an attempt to go around the NLRB election problem by requiring employers to recognize and bargain with a union that has the signatures of over 50 percent of the workers, without holding an election. Interestingly, both roselli and stern have pushed “card check” as an organizing method.
The framework of labor laws and anti-labor NLRB and kkkourt decisions make it virtually impossible for rank and file activists to actually control their unions. The recent consolidations of unions has led to “locals” of over 100,000 members (such as Roselli’s 150,000 member UHW). While it is no doubt possible for 100,000 members to “vote”, it is virtually impossible for a workplace or group of workers to challenge the leadership for control, or even get autonomy over their affairs.
It remains to be seen whether the new union announced by the UHW leaders will have any impact. Labor law makes it very difficult to decertify a union, and union members who sign decertification petitions realize that the resulting election may lead to a non-union workplace. The CNA already has an affiliate that is organizing non-RN health care workers (Caregivers and Healthcare Employees Union). The former UHW leaders did not indicate whether they will seek to affiliate their new union with the AFL-CIO or the Change to Win Federation, formed by stern and company. They also did not indicate whether their break with the SEIU will lead them to support single-payer health care.
While labor’s managers jockey for power, health care workers are facing layoffs and furloughs, speed up and back injuries, new (MRSA) and old (TB) infectious disease hazards, and an increasingly dysfunctional health care system. In 1968, my mother, who had been a communist/CIO organizer in the 30’s, said that we need to start a whole new labor movement. Does anyone really think that either stern or roselli is heading in that direction?
So, I’m driving to the East Bay back for my first day of work after spending 15 days in Cuba. On the approach to the bay bridge: wells fargo, sprint, yahoo and enjoy coke. The latest news on 94.1, Oscar Grant murdered by OPD, Jane Doe gang raped in Richmond etc. Just for one minute (or more) I wanted to be on the bus driving through a small village and see “viva la revolucion,” “volveran the Cuban Five,” etc. some political statement with a famous Cuban person either quoting or supporting an idea for the people. I don’t believe I saw one corporate advertisement (maybe Havana Rum, but there aren’t any blatant forms of advertisement). Also all while we drove through Cuba and when I had to get the crown on my tooth repaired for free, I just kept thinking is there a way to take the best of both of these systems and make some type of super country?
So, for the record, Cuba is not the place to go for fine dining, five star hotels, “customer first” and all the other western capitalist values that extend even in third world countries. However, before I get to the real Cuba experience I’ll start with how the whole trip even happened. During my Monday night afro-Cuban drum class, my teacher kept mentioning that she was taking a group of women to Cuba. A trip to Cuba, that sounds cool… hanging with 30 other people, not being able to speak Spanish past a few phrases and familiar words not that appealing. After she would mention the trip she would say, “I might have room for another traveler.” Finally, around the first of November, I’m like what the heck, I’m going. Our group had their final meeting in December. Luckily I knew other women from various drumming experiences however I was still very apprehensive about traveling in a group. Some of that came true as during the meeting we spent way more time than I would have liked talking about exchanging money. I initially had some issue with all the talk about money; however upon further review Cuba is basically a cash economy so credit cards, especially American-based companies, could not be used so one needed to know how much money to bring and conversion rates - we just spent a lot of time talking about it. However, after the meeting, some of my tension eased as many of the e-mails that circulated were about where to buy various over-the-counter medical items that were not readily available to most Cuban people.
December 20th arrives. I can’t find my camera battery charger. I practically lose my mind. I get to airport and brace myself to be around 30 people for the next 15 days. Everyone is naturally filled with only excitement. Warm greetings start to flow and a little of my apprehension lifts, not to mention the flight to San Diego is pretty short and sweet and during the flight people come together to sing happy birthday to the cute flight attendant. We have a short wait in San Diego as women from Seattle and Southern California arrive (the people from Seattle looked relieved there was a possibility that there flight wouldn’t be able to leave based on a massive snow storm-I thought it was a good sign they made it). We’re all together for the first time on a bus to Tijuana. Four hours in the Tijuana airport was a drag but also an opportunity to get to know a few people and additionally my first experience with realizing that not knowing Spanish well was going to be an issue. Finally we’re on the plane to Monterrey, Mexico around 6 pm. A 2 and 1/2 hour flight. Then a brief stop in Monterrey and off to Cuba another 2 and 1/2 hour flight (it seemed a little longer than 2 and 1/2 hours because this little boy kept kicking my seat and I didn’t sleep very well, I also was having a lot of not very nice thoughts about that I might do to this little boy if I could practice free will). With all the time changes we arrive in Cuba around 5 am. The first I notice is people smoking in the airport and lots of beautiful shades of brown people talking really fast Spanish. I also had the feeling they knew we were from the u.s. Also we meet for the fist time our very handsome bus driver Rogelio and our very handy and trusty tour guide Elio. Rogelio, for the record, would be a walking, talking Cuban tourism advertisement if he lived in the u.s. Rogelio would be your man, tall, brown with beautiful light brown eyes and not just a pretty face. Example, at the end of the trip I had a button from our NJ4 support work with Rosa Parks’s booking photo and the phrase “ride or die.” He immediately knew who Rosa Parks was, identified the black civil right movement and continued race struggles in the u.s., and thanked me profusely for the button. Elio just plain knew how to get shit done in country where its not that simple to make things happen. Perhaps it matters if you come with lots of cash; however I wasn’t completely convinced that money alone makes Cubans respond.
The parking lot at the airport provided an example that Cubans don’t throw away stuff, at least not cars. It wasn’t a full parking lot like airports in the us but there were enough cars to show that new car dealerships were not in abundance in this country. So I’m in Cuba and to be honest, as my journal reflects, I had a pronounced adjustment period. I was now in a country where I could not speak the language or communicate even at a basic level, the food was not comforting me, and I began to be unsure about being in a group of 30. It hit me relatively hard about how much I rely on and enjoy communicating, eating familiar foods, time alone with myself and time with loved ones. All of these things were not happening during my first 3 days in Habana. The air conditions were much worst than most large cities in the us, pretty smoggy with clear air pollution. The air was muggy not really too hot but heavy with some rain. We had drum lessons at the hotel with pleasant and knowledgeable teachers but it was all a blur. Two events I will recount, the first was a showing of painting by another woman american drummer (see the born to drum postcards) who is quite talented. Music and food was available but I didn’t like that people stood outside, why didn’t they come in? There wasn’t much room but it was a gallery open to public or not? The other event was going to an Orisha celebration. Side note but important was driving around in this huge bus through the narrow streets of Habana. More narrower than any I can think of in the us with the exception of small alleys in San Francisco (think of the smallest alley). So, like for me initially its like the 70’s phrase “here come the bus.” Then I’m thinking that the Cubans are thinking we’re all the greedy us tourists. But maybe I’m trippin’ because people are just smiling and waving. For me, it was initially was a mixed bag and took some getting used to. So like this night we’re in our big-ass bus driving through alleys in Habana and suddenly we stop and it’s like we can’t go any further because our bus is too damn big to fit down anymore alleys. So we walk several blocks to an apartment. We start piling into this house and immediately we fill it up. I’m kinda’ tall so I see over everyone and the bata teacher from the hotel is playing with two other men, everyone’s in white, there’s a guy who clearly has position in the celebration/ceremony as everyone is on bended knee when they approach him. It was all too voyeur-like. I was really at my limit emotionally. I begin to have issues with our big ass bus, the people I’m on the trip with, because I’m not hearing anyone’s process (not that I’m listening) because I’m having my own wondering if it was so right (or arrogant) of me to think it would be ok to be in a country where I can’t speak the language, I’m all “observing” the culture and not sure if I’m being mindful or disrespectful and I’m just over being able to see shit because I got money.
Luckily, we left Habana like in the next day or two and started along the countryside. Our bus stopped looking so g-damn big as we stopped and met a family in Matanzas that were just pure lovely people. Not to mention that the entire family including the elder matriarch (who never tells her exact age and will dance in a minute) were talented drummers and dancers. I began not to feel so much like a us tour/consumer of all that is available and really just came to terms with the other women after we took a group photo. I really began to bond with the group after we stopped at a beach outside Cienfuegos. It was really beautiful I won’t try to describe it and even photos really can’t do it that much justice. There were reefs and caves everywhere and initial silence from the group let me know others were beginning to feel the “magic” as well. Then someone started singing the gospel song “wade in the water,” other group members quickly joined in then one, two and finally a third women jumped in the water. I suddenly realize this might not be so bad. The women on this trip appear respectful to each other and the Cuban culture. They are smart, sweet, beautiful and are probably as or more apprehensive than me to join in. Then I just had to let it go and enjoy the experience. A change finally came. I finally begin to get with the idea that I was traveling in Cuba with 30 other women, we were having fun and it is safe to say was becoming like a little “magical”. Cienfuegos changed me. I don’t know if it was the women playing the piano in the Moorish restaurant, singing happy birthday to one of the group members, staying at a really nice hotel (the best one out of all the hotel on the trip), the improved food with the better hotel, sitting around having dinner then turning the dining hall out with the electric slide or finally, on the patio telling dirty lesbian jokes. I joined the team, big-ass bus and all. The next morning it gets even more fun as a troupe of women, yes women (there aren’t that many in Cuba), bata players that could not only play the bata they were really beautiful and sweet and don’t forget fierce. Then we get to Camaguey. It got even better.
We took lesson from the National (like government sanctioned) Cuban troupe of Camaguey. You knew they were good as we saw 2 of their performances that were no joke. Professional, polished and pretty and to top it off they were our drum teachers for 3 days. The nicest group of people I believe I have met in some time. Just plan nice. No other way to say it. I kept trying to find some reason not to like these people and for a moment one night I did when their trusted leader came to our hotel to do a conference. Ok, for the record it was night time, our days were always filled with lots of activity. So I get myself a Cuban coffee (quite strong maybe 5 expresso shots-us style) and I’m sitting in the back honestly falling asleep at various intervals; also he’s being translated for all us non-Spanish speakers and while awake from one of my nods I hear something like the African culture in the us was killed and mutilated there’s nothing left. Again we are told, “we’re the lost people” (black Americans). I awoke instantly as did many of the other women. We gave valid examples of many ways African culture has survived one could eve say thrived. It was quite controversial and just to make peace with myself and continue the journey I believe that 2 things can be equally true. English colonization was much different from Spanish. Fortunately for Cubans the Spanish did not enforce brutal tactics that directly stole every part of identity in most of the Africans that landed in the us. I believe the English did not break spirit or the normal human desire to be free and connect to ancestors. The connection to ancestors will always remind one of where they come from no matter what attempts are made to disconnect. Many of the women who took this trip are testament to this reality and to the reality that we know who we are. Finally, one cannot discount that Cubans are speaking Spanish not African. There were plenty of brutalities enforced on Africans that remained in Cuba it was just done with different tactics. Spanish colonizers simply allowed Africans to maintain a slight bit more of identity mainly as Africans were surely not Spanish and families were not disconnected. Anyways, that was the only time I found the Camaguey troupe to be less than anything but nice and pretty. Every last one of them (ask Madison). The Camaguey leg was by far the best for me based on the fabulous troupe, Ami’s birthday celebration, the bicycle tour, breaking my crown and going to a Cuban dentist and most of all I was over my us guilt stuff, was pretty comfortable on our big ass bus and with the community I was making with the other 30 travelers.
We’re half way done with the trip as we head to Santiago de Cuba. Nice place. It was a crossroad for our trip in that we arrived there late in the evening stayed one night. Then were on our way to Baracoa. Then likewise on the return back to Habana. We got into the hotel, stayed one night, then were on a flight back to Habana. During our one night we had a brief tour of the various monuments revolution square, San Juan Hill (f-in’ big deal) etc. Then off to Baracoa an eastern coastal beach town. Second best hotel on the tour, Porto Santo. One downside, it really sucked to see a landmark for Columbus on the far end of the hotel. Then the name Port and saint and Columbus (just a little, no a lot of throw-up in my mouth). We quickly did a ceremony if nothing else to cleanse ourselves (it helped with the throw-up). Also it was close to the new year and most traveling agreed to start the new year off right. The ceremony was quite touching. I couldn’t help myself, about half way through our days in Baracoa, I felt myself slowly returning to thoughts of my life in the us. However, I quickly reminded myself to savor the last few days of my trip to Cuba and be present with my new found friends until the end of the trip. The drumming in Baracoa, the trip we took out to visit a small family compound that was sustaining themselves quite well (thank you very much mother earth), the Yumuri River were the highlights of Baracoa. I can’t forget the very vigorous hike myself and about 7 other women took on new years day. We were told it was a waist deep walk across the Guaba river. They didn’t mention there was lots of rain this last season and the river reflected this along with a nice current going down stream. A few close calls but we all made it back safely and it was a great opportunity for me to get to know the women from Seattle who sat in the front of the bus, stayed together, were friendly enough but had their buckeye thing going on and I wasn’t all that sure they were open to outsiders. They were quite warm, friendly and open (that’s what I get for thinking).
I could go on and on about the events, “magical” moments of the trip. Please don’t let me forget Carolina. She’s a shot callin’ big ballin’ beautiful Cuban queen. She is smart, devoted, and passionate about Cuba and anything you wanted to know or get in Cuba, she’s your woman. She is one special lady and I can’t wait to see her later this year at drum camp. I will never forget the self-sustaining small communities throughout Cuba, the need for the Yumuri people to have a generator (stay tuned for more info on a fundraiser in April) and Cuba itself maintaining and sustaining and basically refusing to get caught up in us bull$hit. Ok, I have a challenge for Obama: “RETURN THE CUBAN FIVE.” First Guantanamo, now let those men get free.
I was hoping that others I travel with would share their thoughts (it’s quite therapeutic and helped me tremendously with my transition back to my life in the us). One of my travel mates wrote a poem; however UV has a strong position about poems-you have to be dead to get one published! Fortunately, she is still with us but I want to mention the poem was inspired after she had a reading from a Bablowo, as she put it “it was right on”
I’ve been trying for several days to figure out an ending to this writing and so first I will start with some of the responses I heard from friends and family about the trip, “what a thoughtful and well planned out trip”, “they really took care of you,” “you stayed busy with some cool activities.” And finally, thank you to Carolyn and as Liz said it quite eloquently, “I would travel anywhere with this group.”