Ten Years Ago Today or remembering George Bush


The night that George Bush got on TV and declared his and the American media’s war on the Iraqi people-never forget that the original military title for it was Operation Iraqi Liberation, oops-I was ready, well, kind of. I had been meeting with my affinity group for weeks,  as many others had, planning a day long assault on business as usual in downtown San Francisco.

We planned to get up by dawn and fan out all over the downtown preventing traffic from flowing in non-violent direct actions. We had picked our streets, made our signs, and put together the arm tubes that would allow demonstrators to chain themselves together while making it more difficult for police to remove them and break the chain. We had decided who was willing to get arrested and who was not. Having done the arrest thing a few times before, I decided to go back to work that afternoon. Local journalist Henry Norr lost his gig at the Chronicle for attending even though his beat was technology. I’m sure there were others.

We waited for the announcement on TV, about 10 PM on the West Coast, as I remember it, watched as our newsmen glowingly broadcast the beginnings of shock and awe, this all, remember after months of ever increasing marches around the world, everyone of which I partook of in SF. Huge beautiful gatherings full of every nationality, ethnicity, age group, identity group, families of all kinds, dogs, bikes, kids, with fabulous costumes and pithy signage, well, you remember.

Just before leaving for San Francisco that night I typed up a quick note to give to workers stuck in traffic to explain why we were there and to tell their employers why they were tardy (a word that only teachers continue to use which is why I like it). They could fill in their names and it was signed, “Sincerely, your Co-workers and Neighbors.”

It said- “Please excuse (fill in the blank) for tardiness due to our peaceful response to war. We are doing our best to compensate you for the lost time of your employee, student, or co-worker by shortening the length, violence, and economic impact of this illegal war.

We understand that you may agree with our goals but not our tactics. Please believe that we have voted, signed petitions, written letters, marched, attended vigils, and torn our hair out. We have implored our government, the UN, and the Pope. Nothing has worked. We hope this small inconvenience will start a movement that you can join. Check our www.actagainstwar.org for ways to help!”

So in my mid-fifties I set out to spend the night in a warehouse . I took a cushion from my deck knowing I would not sleep anyway but I could, at least, be slightly comfortable among a crowd of excited young people. Of course, I didn’t sleep either but waited for the word to start out in the early dawn.

Our first spot to block was a freeway off-ramp which we somehow managed by making it possible for drivers to see us in time to stop before the end of the ramp. It was near Mission and 13th. Then we moved closer to the downtown where most of the action was.  At one point we took over 8th at Market where Hyde Street leads before it changes. Cars were backed up raring to head out. Some of our group of young people thought they would sit down. I took one look at the cars gunning their engines and talked them out of that so that they could move quickly if some cars refused to stop (I vaguely remember almost getting run over in downtown Oakland during the Stop the Draft demos-of the Vietnam era.) Others decided to pull newspaper stands into the street for protection, destroying some, an action with which I disagreed.

I remember handing out my tardy notices (I had made hundreds and others handed them out also). Most of the responses I got were not negative. However, at one point, while I stood with my arms locked in another’s, a bicycle rider approached and did not stop. He ran into my side and I came very close to hitting him before I was pulled away by a more peaceful person.

Our goal was to shut down the morning rush hour and for many of us that was done, and we headed back to our lives. Others stayed and made a day of it. By that evening there were some testy interactions with drivers and some demonstrators, more arrests, and some vandalism. Overall, I think we did well-maybe if this had happened in many other big cities for many more days, it might have made some difference. I’m not sure what we expected but I know we were not going to let that awful conflagration start without demanding that business as usual should not go on and letting the MSM know how we Americans felt.

I returned to Oakland to attend a meeting on a budding program to support small local business at which I found many city staff who congratulated us for our actions! I had a friend who was a school principal who reported that her secretary who lived in SF had arrived late with a tardy slip! She loved it.

My son was attending Morehouse College in Atlanta at the time and working with his roommates at a local chain restaurant. It was considered a middle class, business lunch type of joint serving “Italian” food. The TV had been on and the roommates watched in horror as the room erupted in applause when Bush declared war. At that point (among other reasons) he decided to get out of Atlanta as soon as he got his diploma.

But Morehouse was offering him a special chance at a good education with other young Black men who were ready to strive together, and he had been nominated as a youth delegate to the UN. They had a worldwide conference coming up in Frankfurt, Germany in a few days. My son had never been to Europe or traveled outside of the US at all. He had grown up listening to me telling the tales of my youth traveling in Italy, Greece, France, and living in Germany after my high school graduation. He was excited and ready to go.

Then his school cancelled their delegation. Other delegations from other colleges would still be going but Morehouse took their strict parenting duties very seriously-they decided it was too dangerous to travel. Not being the strict parenting type myself and wanting very much for my son to have this adventure, this learning experience, I called and talked to everyone. I pleaded and demanded they not miss this chance-to no avail.

My son has yet to visit Europe though he has seen a little of Latin America now. I know it’s a small thing, but for this, I also blame George, for so many opportunities for so many people, not the least of whom are the young of Iraq-a generation for whom, war and destruction has been the heritage we as a people have bequeathed to them.

I apologize that we let this happen. I wish I could offer more to all that still suffer. This is a day of mourning for all of us, for giving up our democratic rights and responsibilities, for the young Americans who still suffer PTSD, domestic violence, lack of resources, and even suicide, I also apologize and mourn. To American Exceptionalism ne Imperialism, I wish we could say, Never Again, humbly and with the full knowledge of our complicity.

Contradictions R Us

Design by Rha Bowden, "Co-Exist"

Design by Rha Bowden, “Co-Exist”

It’s head exploding time in these United States and maybe in Venezuela, too. As Rachel Maddow declared it’s another day “in which all of this news does not seem possible.” I started writing about about the various and opposing views of Hugo Chavez who just died and whose legacy is being discussed on the social media and the MSM (mainstream media), but social media, as usual, is more interesting and more nuanced.

But only just. Being “friends” with so many folks on the Left or at least left of center, wherever the hell that is now in times of challenging women’s right to birth control and the right to vote for folks who waited for hundreds of years before even getting to register, I have read a lot of tributes on my news feed. Then a bunch of disagreements started to pop up and as one wag, radio critic, Matthew Lasar wrote, “Hugo Chavez was a wonderful monster who destroyed and saved Venezuela, which will never recover from his life/death.”

Now I am not, I repeat, not, an expert on Hugo Chavez but I did admire his chutzpah and his ability to completely change the conversation in Venezuela and around the world. As the first person of Native and African origins to be elected in his country, he gave the populace who looked like him a reason to hope.

He told the world that the most valuable resources of his county, oil, belonged not to international corporations, but to the people of that country. He thumbed his nose at baseball owners who were used to running a plantation system where young players were treated as commodities not people.

He also shut down newspapers and went after opposition press. He spent his country’s wealth on literacy and health clinics AND goodies for his friends and family(so they say). For Americans, for whom the MSM’s version of a dictator or strong man who terrorized the (wealthy) newspaper owners who fomented  (funded) a failed coup against him, he wast billed as both scary and a clown. Well, if the first image didn’t work to belittle him, the other surely would do the trick.

For many of us regular viewers of the MSM who don’t read the Nation as often as we watch cable news but hated Bush-he was a breath of fresh air. When he told the UN, “Yesterday, the devil came here. Right here. Right here. And it smells of sulfur still today.” Well, Mastercard, that really was priceless.

Now that he is gone, no matter what he did or did not do, many of us fear for his countrymen and for the help he lent to other countries. But we have enough problems dealing with our own politicians and the policies of two parties beholden to corporate CEOS and their boards.

Now along comes Rand Paul and more head exploding politics, personalities, and contradictions. I listened to part of his filibuster against possible murderous drone strikes in the US on KPFA. Rand Paul on KPFA should have been enough to hurl me into migraine territory much less the fact that I found myself nodding along with him.

When I later caught Lawrence O’Donnell on MSNBC haranguing against Paul’s long speech and describing him as a mad man, I got more confused and bewildered. Then O’Donnell asked his guests to join him in berating the “stark raving mad” Paul; but they declined and went on to talking about the president giving out his secret list of terrorists who may be killed (Ryan Grim, HuffPo) and bringing attention to the use of drones (EJ Dionne). Then we got to hear Republicans like John McCain and Lindsey Graham denouncing Paul for implying this president was that horrible??

At that point I had to finish eating my whole day’s ration of chocolate before my brain shut down. This morning I read that Eugene Robinson agreed with Rand Paul and almost went into a coma writing it (I’m only imagining that).

At least Eric Holder has now stated that no, we won’t be doing that unless of course there’s a little caveat to that statement like, unless necessary. I never even got the wonderfulness of drone attacks in other countries against people without my grocery-store-surfing-third-world-exploiting-talents-and passport-owning-non-burka-wearing-music-downloading rights who might be attending a wedding with the wrong entourage, never mind the bad bridesmaids dresses. I never really felt good as an American about our apparently god-given technologic advances that are making this all possible.

It seems that now some Americans are waking up to a few of these new threats. Back to facebook and twitter, and tumblr, and whatever else they invented last night that I haven’t found out about yet, there’s Bradley Manning and Aaron Swartz, and, oh for those of us in the Bay, KPFA’s contradictions could fill, well, many a book-as they already have.

One thing I want to know though. If we voters elected Barack Obama, he of the brightest smile since JFK, and of the drones, and the I-could-cut-a-little-out-of-your-social-security-checks for the sake of the deficit which happened because people are out of work , which happened because the investment bankers ponzied us all out of a living, not our greedy grannies and grandpas buying their cat food; if we (yes, this is the definition of a run-on sentence) could vote for him because we recognized the scariness of the other guy or just because the other guy wore mom-jeans, then why can’t we learn to live with the contradictions??

I, for one, maybe you for another, don’t want to be caught using all my energy hating a president the way I did in the 60’s who turns out to have been probably the best one in my lifetime. After all, LBJ gave us Medicare and food stamps, and the Voting Rights Act which we may now be losing.

I don’t want to be in long arguments against a now dead president of a country I have never visited.

I don’t want either to read about my mayor (you knew I’d get around to that) and wonder  if she were either a head breaking, proponent of police violence or a criminal-coddling-cry- baby-liberal, neither of which comes close to the person I know who has ably engineered a budget that has maintained our libraries, youth and senior services through a deep Recession.

What’s my point-ferkrissakes-how would I know while my head explodes?!The only guess I have would be that these are tough, volatile times. They come close to the polarization of the 60’s which means I am now too old to be trusted anyway. Sometimes I don’t trust myself so I have to back up, study a little more, write it all out or paint it or whatever works and then be responsible for what I say, write, and do, how I am in the world.

I need to figure out how to live with the contradictions of loving my president while fearing his power, his mentors, and his isolation from people like me. I need a place to mourn the loss of a charismatic leader who spit in the eye of the world’s most powerful states. I need to listen to my enemies and, more importantly, resist the need to have enemies and the desire to have heroes.

By the way, Happy International Women’s Day!