July 11, 2010

A Red Look At Gender From The WW2 Era

[This piece was written by a gent named William Paul Ryan in the middle of World War 2. This being Fire on the Mountain, you will not likely be surprised to learn that he was a Red. Under the pen name Mike Quin, he was a journalist for the union and left press in the Bay Area during the Depression and up to his death from cancer in 1947, still a young man. Today he is best known for the Mike Quin book on the San Francisco General Strike of 1936, The Big Strike. He also knocked out three pulp mystery novels as Robert Finnegan.

It is a comic version of a Socratic dialog, featuring a couple of Irish working stiffs (seemingly inherited from Finley Peter Dunne), Murphy and O'Brien. As usual in the Mike Quin columns featuring the duo, Murphy the communist has to straighten out O'Brien, who's a bit hard of thinking. What lifts this above most of the O'Brien tales is the author's take on gender relations, a hot subject during the war as women flooded "male" jobs. While things didn't change as smoothly in the post-war period as Comrade Murphy seems to predict, the article adopts a stand that is both materialist and decidedly feminist, going past bourgeois equality to the crucial question--who gets to decide what women will do?]

The Bothersome Sex And O’Brien

Mr. O'Brien chewed the end of his pencil as if it contained the vitamins of thought. "I've got it all worked out but one matter, and that’s a puzzler," he said.

"What are you scribbling down there?" asked Mr. Murphy.

"'Tis a plan for what the world will be like after the war," said O'Brien. "I have everything nicely solved, but I don’t know what to do about the women."

"Why don't you just let them remain women?" asked Murphy.

“Aye, they shall still remain women. That's not the point. But what shall we do with them?"

"You mean you and me?"

"Now, Murphy, why do you insist on confusing things? I mean what will anyone do with them?"

"O'Brien, if you don’t know the answer to that I won’t tell you."

"See here, Murphy. There's no good trying to evade the issue. Here they are in the WAACS and the WAVES and crawling around with welding torches in the shipyards and running the streetcars and driving locomotives and heaven knows what. 'Tis all right for winning the war, but suppose they won’t go back?"

"Back where?"

"Back in the home where they belong."

"Well. O'Brien, if you want to provide a home for a woman, there is nothing to prevent you, unless she doesn’t want you."

"Why must you put it on a personal basis?"

"Because in the past there has been a great lack of men willing or able to provide houses for women and if they didn't go out and work they would starve."

"Aye, but even so, a lot of women who have had a taste of working in the world won't want to be housewives."

"Well, you can’t force a woman to sit home idle if she doesn't want to."

"Well, what are we going to do about it, Murphy?"

"We're not going to do anything, O'Brien."

"And why not? 'Tis a serious problem."

"It isn't up to us, O'Brien. We have nothing to say about it."

"And why not? Isn't this a democracy?"

"'Tis a democracy, indeed, and that’s why we have nothing to say about it. The women will decide for themselves."

"Aye, but they have no right to take away the jobs from the men."

"Jobs don’t belong to men any more that food belongs to men, O'Brien. Women have to eat as well as men and have just as much right to any job they can perform."

"But if a woman can't get a job, she's that much more likely to marry and settle down."

"What do you want to do? Starve women into marrying you?"

"That’s not the point, Murphy. There are just so many jobs and if the women are going to hold a lot of them, then that many men will be unemployed."

"O'Brien, there are so many things in need of doing is this world that there is no decent excuse why we can't organize things so that every human being has the right to work and live, be he man or woman."

"Aye, but if the man works and supports the woman there is no need or sense in her working."

"In the past, O"Brien, we have often had such difficulty earning our bread that we fell into the idea that money was the only reason why anyone worked. And sometimes the jobs were so tough and dull we couldn’t imagine anyone working if they didn’t have to.

"But the fact is, work is as necessary to life as the bread you earn. Leisure is only enjoyable when it is time off from work. And to be doing something interesting and useful in the world is as necessary to the women as it is to the men."

"Then who is going to have the children and bring them up properly, Murphy?"

"In that regard, O’Brien, Nature has provided you with biological protection. You need have no fear that anyone will require you to give birth to a child. That function will remain exclusively with women.”

"And how is she to raise children if she’s out in the world working?"

"In that regard, O'Brien, women have a tougher problem in life than men, and we should have the decency to help them as much as possible, and do everything we can to see that they may have their children, bring them up as they want and still live full and interesting lives. In the past we have taken advantage of their physical differences to elbow them out of life."

"You mean we should have nursery schools and that kind of business, Murphy?"

"All these matters, O'Brien, will be decided by the women for themselves when the war is over. Not by us. They are out from under our thumbs at last and 'tis a very good thing. You should start considering what women are going to do about men."

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July 9, 2010

A Poem For The Oakland Pigs

At the US Social Forum in Detroit, I had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with a dude by the name of Tim Hall. While we have our political differences, my basic stand is All Respect To Tim. For the last 25 years, he has been the backbone of a small magazine called Struggle.

Its self-description: A quarterly magazine devoted to progressive and revolutionary literature and art expressing the the anti-establishment struggles of the working class and oppressed people in the U.S. and worldwide.

25 years. That's no small feat. Though Sturgeon's Law operates in proletarian literature as in other fields, Struggle includes some damn good stuff . I am reposting this poem by a young California writer from the online content of the Summer-Fall, 2009 issue of Struggle for painfully obvious reasons.

Oakland’s Finest

by Ariono-jovan Labu

Them bastards wasn't hired to handcuff
under isolated overpasses Industrial District,
deep shadows of the docks &
beat the shit outta them like piƱatas.
Wasn't hired to wash away sins
homeless winos late night loitered
in bus bunkers, doorways condemned buildings
with scolding urine. Blackmailing
street walkers on High Street
for blowjobs in the alleys.

Didn't swear an oath to bag D-boys,
confiscate evidence for personal use
plant dope/ dirty pistolas on folks
with a long criminal heritage,
get them violated parole/ probation while
displaying medieval-machisimo arrogance.

Like two weeks gone
they popped a black boy 5 shots
the back no reason to call. Or
a few days ago when they made
more holes than Swiss cheese in
lil' ol' Eloise Johnson. Alleged
she cracked, lost all sanity
& recklessly charged them like some
schizophrenic bull
brandishing a plastic butter knife.

Know dang well them pigs wasn't hired
to fight crimes with crime.

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Oakland Says Guilty! Justice For Oscar Grant!

[The verdict on killer cop Johannes Mehserle is in. An all-white jury in Los Angeles has determined that the act of shooting year-old Oscar Grant in the back while he lay handcuffed and face down on the Oakland BART station platform constituted involuntary manslaughter (an “oopsie” verdict which will give him a maximum of 4 years in the slams). As the verdict approached, Oakland had tensed for a re-run of the rebellion which ripped there after the killing.

An old friend did a quick report on that initial eruption here at FotM and followed up last week with some thoughts on the mood in Oakland as trial summations were delivered. In the middle of last night he sent in the following hasty notes and photos when he got home from the action downtown. But let him tell it:]

By the time I got there late (7:30 pm), the crowd had thinned to 800. Not sure how much more it had been. I expected larger . I think the police buildup and pre-verdict hype I wrote about last week had some, perhaps many, scared. Many of my son's friends (high school age) were told they couldn't go for fear of the violence.

The rally was still on with some speakers, mainly those who walked up to the mike and wanted to say something--the big names musta come and gone before.

I heard Jabari Shaw, president of the Black Student Union at Laney College in Oakland, complement the multi-racial make up of the crowd and declare that we must focus our anger on change to go beyond venting our anger on the businesses in the area, that we need to change the whole damn system.

Bobby Hutton's niece spoke! (Bobby Hutton, or "Lil' Bobby," was the youngest member of the Black Panther Party. He joined soon after the conception of the BPP in 1966 at the age of 16. On April 6, 1968, he was killed by Oakland Police after a firefight. According to witnesses, police shot him more than a dozen times after he had surrendered and had stripped down to his underwear to prove that he was unarmed.)

She talked of the services that the Black Panthers provided, free breakfast programs and daycare for the kids. She said that these services are still needed in our community now, that people are still hungry, but that the BPP had been decimated by the police. And concluded that this legacy of African Americans being murdered by cops was nothing new.

The rally officially ended shortly after 8pm. Many of those left milled around, some moved to an adjacent intersection. Police presence was incredibly large with all streets leading from the intersections cordoned off by police from various jurisdictions--CHP, Hayward, Berkeley, Fremont, Alameda, Oakland, to name a few that I heard of. Reports from people driving on the freeways between 4pm and 5pm were that large convoys of police cars, including armored vehicles of some sorts, went whizzing past everyone, lights blazing. Some of these reportedly had 20 or more vehicles in a group.

Some bottles and cans were thrown towards a line of police. This sent many in the crowd running away, jittery from the pre-verdict, riot-that-will-be-Oakland hype I wrote to you about last week. Some windows were broken, which soon had more in the crowd leaving the area. Police at that point were putting on gas masks and letting people leave the cordoned-off section of downtown but not enter.

At one point about 20 CHP cars came screeching into the area, lights and sirens blazing.The CHP had criss-crossed their side windows with duct tape, presumably to prevent them from being broken.

The crowd by now was getting down to 150 or so, I would estimate. Many wore bandanas over their faces, or Oscar Grant masks.

... At this point I took my boys and myself out of the area. The noose was being tightened and I didn’t have bail money for all of us :)

This Just In:

Taping side windows does not protect windshields!

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July 7, 2010

The Two Things You Never, Ever Want To Hear About A Protest [Updated]

In thinking about the United States Social Forum (about which I am quite positive, incidentally, as the FotM piece I wrote on it reflects), I was reminded that I have intended to write this point up for a good long time. That's because left groups have been making and publicizing bullshit smiley-face summations of their demonstrations, forums, conferences, campaigns, etc. for a good long time.

So here’s a quick translation of the two lines I most dread seeing in any sum-up.

1. "It was small but spirited." Translation: It was small.

2. "It was good that we did it." Translation: Boy, that sure burned a lot of resources for not much return.

Don't even get me started on inflated crowd counts.

Yes, sometimes things are small and have good spirit. Yes, sometimes it's worth having put a lot of energy into something with little evident payoff. But it is never good to lie to ourselves and to the people we work with.

I will close with a quote from Amilcar Cabral, the great Guinean revolutionary and agronomist, but not before urging you, dear reader, to chip in your thoughts and pet peeves in this department.

Tell No Lies...Claim No Easy Victories.


[For those who don't usually read comments on blogs, Isaac S's stands out, and in worthy company.]

You also never want to hear a weather report in the context of a demonstration or meeting:

"Despite the threat of rain, a small but spirited crowd..."

"Even though it was a beautiful day outside, the room was nearly packed to hear...."

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July 5, 2010

A Rare Musical Gem: The Miners' Strike

Hah, the old dog/new tricks paradigm takes a hit!

I'm practically a textbook model of what yer blunter geeks call a "Flashing 12" but I just managed (with considerable help from my technologically epter roomie, admittedly) to compose and post a YouTube video.

It is a wonderful tune by a Brit named Pete Fowler, released as a single in 1975 on the Oval Records label. "The Miners' Strike" pays tribute to the 1974 coalfields strike of the National Union of Mineworkers. It lasted 4 weeks and toppled the Tory Party government of Edward Heath. The Labour government elected in its stead settled quickly with the miners, who won 35% pay increases.

I learned about the song when Robert Christgau, the dude some bozo painted a target on by calling him "the dean of American rock critics," wrote an article in the old Village Voice about it. You can read it here and will perhaps understand why I hied my 25 year old ass posthaste to Bleeker Bob's shop where Christgau had left a bunch of them.

I bought it, played it, loved it and contacted Christgau and purchased the last 25 from the hundred he had dragged home from the UK! Most have gone over the years but I still have a few, and Dave Lippman cut me an MP3 from one. Using that, iMovie and some photos I swiped online, I was able to knock this sucker together.

I hope you like it and am looking forward to my next two YouTube projects, the Earth Island Orchestra, a splendid jazz/world music outfit out of Detroit, circa 1990 or so, and the mysterious Aberdeen Street Band, whose remarkable b-side, "Every Time My Mother Calls,) I'm Stoned," is a) just as good as the title suggests and b) so far below the radar that even Comrade Google draws a blank...

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July 2, 2010

Only In Cali, Where We Riot, Not Rally

[I just got a heads-up from an old friend in Oakland, California. The city seems ready to pop if the verdict on the BART pig who shot Oscar Grant in the back, Johannes Mehserle, is a rerun of the Rodney King verdict or a slap on the wrist. Here is a quick note from the same guy who provided Fire on the Mountain with a first hand report from inside the emergency room at Oakland General in January, 2009, when Oscar Grant was brought in, still alive.]

Well, the press and assorted authorities have been pre-hyping the Meserle/Oscar Grant (who really is on trial at times is hard to tell) jury verdict so much that even those that weren't thinking of hitting the streets will probably be there to see what all the fuss is about.

Oakland Police have been doing special tactical training along with police from other jurisdictions in preparations for the presumed riots. That’s been going on the past few weeks. Budget cuts in Oakland may force the layoff of 80-200 officers over the next year so you know they are using this as a way to thwart that attempt to balance the budget.

The Alameda County Deputies who provide security for all things County (including Highland Hospital) have been dressed in their "Battle Blue" uniforms rather than their usual grey (they dress in blue when they have to go out on the street or are deployed for special events.

There’s lots of hype here on the trial. Recent graffiti along sidewalks saying "Meserle Must Die" amongst other things got top billing in the news.

Small businesses that were trashed by brain-dead anarchist rioters last time (African American women’s boutique, progressive silk screeners, etc.) are posting Justice for Oscar Grant posters in their windows, hoping that will keep the rocks and skateboards from smashing their windows this time. (Indeed, many of the owners are sympathetic to the police brutality issues, when they are asked about it.)

Today is rebuttal on the closing arguments down in LA, where the trial was moved, with jury instructions to follow. Many think the decision will come quick - possibly late Friday.

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