September 25, 2007

Brecht and Life: Two Poems [updated]

Here for your consideration are two short pieces by the German communist playwright, Bertolt Brecht.

I had been going to include death in the title of this post, because I decided to write it on Sunday, while I was at the memorial service for Annette Rubinstein, a personal hero, but in reading the two pieces, I realized they are really about something else. That something is what my friend Kathy Chamberlain calls the question of "how to be in the world."

I've have posted four pieces here at FotM in recent weeks about Dave Cline who died recently (and there's one more coming, for sure). The first one I crossposted at the left liberal DailyKos site, where several comments referred to this Brecht piece:

In Praise of the Fighters

Those who are weak don't fight.
Those who are stronger might fight
for an hour.
Those who are stronger still might fight
for many years.
The strongest fight
their whole life.
They are the indispensable ones.

That's from the version of The Mother that Brecht did with composer Hans Eisler in 1931.

While it is true, and provides a concise reminder of what we have lost with Dave's death, it also sets the bar a little higher than most of us are going to be able to reach.

So I was very glad that the cover of the little memorial book at Sunday's event for Annette featured another Brecht fragment:

Everything Changes

Everything changes. You can make
A fresh start with your latest breath.
But what has happened has happened. And the water
You once poured into the wine cannot be
Drained off again.

What has happened has happened. The water
You once poured into the wine cannot be
Drained off again, but
Everything changes. You can make
A fresh start with your latest breath.

Annette, who loved Brecht, was particularly partial to this poem, saying that in it Brecht has "succeeded in summing up the law of dialectics."

I don't know about that, but dialectical it is.

Yet as we know from our own experience, and from recent developments in cognition theory, fresh starts aren't always so easy to make.

But it's worth trying. And if it can help us make contributions like Dave and Annette did (and Bill Davis and Gideon Rosenbluth, and other fighters we have lost recently), it's worth trying hard...

UPDATE: I have revised the translation of "Everything Changes" to keep it materialist and not just dialectical.

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September 22, 2007

Black NJ Stands In Solidarity With Jena 6

The case of the Jena 6 has finally been forced to the surface in the political life of the United States. On Thursday, September 20, the media had no choice but report on the arrival of tens of thousands of protesters, almost all African American, in the small, majority-white Louisiana town of Jena (pop. 2971).

Let me underline just how remarkable this is. With no coverage in the mainstream media, no advertising, no celebrity concert, none of it, an army of Black people schlepped hundreds and, in many cases, thousands of miles on very short notice to a rural Louisiana town where six Black youths face the cracker version of justice that not so long ago held unchallenged sway in the South.

Another development brought this home to me the same day—right across the Hudson from me, in Newark, NJ. Folks from the People’s Organization for Progress knew that few from North Jersey would be able to make the long trek to Louisiana, and decided they had to at least call a rally in solidarity with Jena in Newark on Thursday.

Like most POP rallies, it started with a dozen people or so arriving a little early to get things set up and, again as usual, soon grew to 40-45. But it didn’t stop there, as it sometimes does. As lunch hour arrived, and people poured out of the downtown government and business offices, it became clear that many were wearing black. And they flocked to the POP rally, excited to learn that something was going on they could participate in. Hard-hatted workers from a nearby construction site joined the throng.

Then the junior high school classes started to arrive, their teachers seizing the opportunity to teach the history of racism and segregation in real and urgent terms, High school students seemed to find their own way to the rally, without benefit of teachers. The 500 signs that POP had optimistically printed up were gone in the first half hour. Those brought by the NJ section of the National Organization of Women went as well. Labor union contingents showed up with their banners.

Rally organizer Larry Hamm and others who spoke from spoke from the steps of City Hall found themselves addressing a crowd of over 1200 people. And a word about those speakers: organizers gave priority to young men and women who represented their classmates. Politicians and others had to wait their turn.

And politicians there were. Even Newark’s mayor, Corey Booker, felt compelled to show up and try to get his face on the evening news. Appearing at this kind of event, unless his people have organized it, is hardly normal behavior for Booker. This is a man who built his campaign chest from wealthy donors around the country by presenting himself as what we might call “post-Black” and, in particular, by attacking public education and fronting for voucher-promoting school privatizers.

This case has sparked the biggest outpouring of Black concern, anger and protest since Katrina, and it has spread though the Black nation via media like Black talk radio, and through the Internet and the blogosphere. Those black clothes I mentioned that folks were wearing in Newark on Thursday—that happened in cities and towns across the country. We can only count it a loss that there are so few organizations like POP, capable of taking the many thousands who decided to wear black last Thursday and galvanizing them into powerful protest to defend the Jena 6.

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September 19, 2007

Dave Cline Part 4: Good-Bye, Bro...

Dave Clines's remains get cremated tonight, after a viewing and brief memorial service in Jersey City. I'll probably wind up with a bunch of vets from all over sleeping on my floor afterwards. Seems like a lot of people want to come and show their respects

Today I am posting a video of a speech Dave gave during the historic Walkin' To New Orleans protest of veterans and Katrina survivors in the spring of 2006. There are a number of other speeches of Dave's up on YouTube, but this one makes it crystal clear just how much we have lost. Please watch it.

In this brief talk, his voice ravaged by days of chanting and cadences while we marched, Dave give a matter of fact recounting of how the March came to be. In a few short minutes, he shows the depth of political understanding and grasp of how a movement has to address everyday folks that he had developed oin decades of struggle. Watching, we can understand how he did so much to build the vets and military families component, the spearhead, of the anti-war movement. He shows in practical terms the real ties that exist between the anti-war movement and other struggles, like the Black movement in the South, and how those ties can be built on if people only show a willingness to do the work. And his delight at the end, where he shows what he learned in the meetings we held with Black churches every night along the march route--man, Dave never stopped learning...

Gordon Soderberg, a New Orleans-based vet who was on the March the whole way, shot this footage and quicly cut and posted it on YouTube at my request. Gordon pointed out to me in an email that this was the only speech Dave gave in the whole week of the March:

David did not do long speeches. He was always direct and to the point. This was his only speech in public during the March. I was at every stop except at the churches, Stan Goff and Ward Reilly would be able to confirm. During the planning of the march David stated the this was for IVAW members to lead and find their public voices. VVAW and VFP were there for support and transportation not the limelight.
And this highlights still another important role Walkin' to New Orleans played. It was, to that time, the largest gathering where Iraq War vets came together for more than a few hours at a demonstration or meeting. The bonding that went on as we moved through the shattered Gulf Coast was an important step in the evolution of Iraq Veterans Against the War.

[For those, like me, who are reading everything we can in order to, at one and the same time, come to grips with Dave's death and seal the lessons we learned from him in our brains, here are a couple of links you might want to track down.
  • One of IVAW's founders, Mike Hoffman, pays a moving tribute to Dave's role as midwife to the IVAW at the organization's website.
  • Dave's hometown paper, the Jersey Journal, published a respectful obituary.
And to learn more about Marchin' To New Orleans, and Dave's role in it, you could do worse than look at "Spearpoint," the summation by Stan Goff. Dave and Stan were the two who did the most to make it happen.
If you have other links to suggest, please post them in the comments.]

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September 18, 2007

Dave Cline, Part 3: The First Memorial

[photo by celticshel]

Friends, comrades and those who who may never have known Dave Cline, but want to pay tribute to a great fighter for peace, freedom and justice, can attend Dave's viewing and memorial service in Jersey City, NJ:
Tuesday, September 18, 2007 Viewing 6 pm-9 pm
Wednesday, September 19, 2007 Viewing 2 pm-4 pm, 6 pm-8 pm
Memorial Service 8 pm - 9 pm

Mc Laughlin Funeral Home
625 Pavonia Ave
Jersey City, NJ 07306
(201) 798-8700
This is far from the last memorial for Dave , to be sure.

More significant, it's not the first. That took place in Washington, DC on Sunday morning, as members of Iraq Veterans Against the War, Veterans For Peace and VVAW were released from the DC jails after their arrests in the Die-In protest at the Capitol steps on September 15.

Vietnam-era vet and longstanding friend of Dave's Pat McCann tells the story:
200+ of us got arrested beginning at 4pm EST on the US Capitol steps. 192 of us were booked at a US Capitol Police station in SE. Most of us spent 3-5 hours in handcuffs on the buses, then 9 - 10 hours in processing lockup. As I write, my wrists are still swollen and numb from the plastic handcuffs (which many of us eventually found our way out of). Who cares, I'm pumped! They have picked up a rock, only to drop it on their own foot. Like the youth of Soweto in 1976, we have only been emboldened by the experience!

We raised hell in that lockup! We criticized ourselves for being too cooperative when busted, and made immediate steps to correct that early mistake. Our militance rose decibels by the hour. When they told us to be silent, we laughed and chanted. When they told us to sit, we stood.

After we were busted, IVAW went through the crowd raising $100 bail for each of their members who were arrested. Half of the national leadership of both IVAW and VFP were still in lockup at 4 this morning, 12 hours after we were busted.

I have never experienced such a learning curve in my life as I did these past 15 hours. We militantly resisted the police, strategized, and built community. We know now what we will do the next time we are busted in a mass way. We will develop mass responses from those who weren't busted to support those who were. Today was historical, and we have every intention of spreading our experience. 2006 was a year where mobilization turned to resistance; 2007 is the year to deepen the resistance! As a first step, we need to develop nationwide reports of what went down in the US Capitol Police processing center in SE DC.

Dave Cline, past president of VFP (2001 - 2007) and national organizer for VVAW, passed, the night before our night in lockup. As I head down with others to the Vietnam Memorial Wall to hold the first of what will be many memorials to him, I can think of no one who has contributed more to the US movement for peace. Dave, we know that you are proud of us for wasting no time to fill the tremendous void that you and Bill Davis have left! We miss you so much, but are so happy at where you helped to bring us in our movement.

Letting it go here; the tears flow again. As Rev. Yearwood of the Hip-Hop Caucus said yesterday, "Let's go get them."

Nuff luv and respect to all, P-Mac

This photo, by longtime vet activist Bill Perry, shows the gathering at the Wall that the freed protesters and their supporters held in Dave Cline's honor.

And Thomas Brinson, of VFP Chapter 138, Long Island, who spent the night in jail with Pat and took part in the Sunday morning memorial, was moved to write this afterwards:


The circle of us war veterans and supporters
Stood solemn in tattered grief in a circle on the dewy lawn
Opposite the poignant point of the long and deep black stone V
Marking all the lost veterans from one other distant unnecessary war

Most of us had just been released from fourteen-and-a-half hours
Of bureaucratic harassment by storm trooper US Capitol Police
For exercising the rights that many of us once ideally had thought
We were fighting to preserve in far-off foreign places such as the
Rock Pile, Anbar Province, Central Highlands, Tora Boro, Iron Triangle
Where Dave, our just passed brother yesterday morning,
Had brutally fought and been mortally wounded forty years ago

We were each sharing our tearful remembrances of Dave,
Valiant Veteran Activist, each of us touched in our own way
By memories of his tireless service to all victims of war anywhere
When a portly US Park Ranger told us we were unauthorized to do so
Since we were conducting an illegal political rally
Because one of us was carrying a Veterans For Peace flag
We respected her instructions to move away from the Wall
To finished our impromptu memorial service for Dave

As we finished our somber file along the Wall of engraved stone
Each of us touching a name as Dave had sung about
In his raspy, tear-seasoned voice while in East New Orleans
On the Veterans and Survivors Gulf Coast March he had organized
High-booted motorcycle cops confronted us and sternly ordered
We fold up the Veterans For Peace flag or be again arrested

I broke away from the group engaging the just-following-orders cops
Looked up at the three-warrior statue of us in our long-ago lost youth
Followed their heart-stricken gaze of bewildered grief at all our names
Saluted Dave, the latest addition to that black corridor of needless death
Thanked him for clearing away the stormy skies with his strong spirit
As he finally escaped the emaciated hull of his skin-and-bones body
So we his brothers and sisters could march in the bright sunlight
Of a new day for the never-ending struggle for peace with justice

September 17, 2007
Long Beach, NY

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September 17, 2007

Remembering Dave Cline: Part 2

This blog is going to be all Dave Cline for a while. I start by posting the incredibly moving tribute to Dave by Nancy and Charlie Lessin, co-founders of Military Families Speak Out. This puts meat on the bones of what I started to lay out here at FotM on Saturday when I heard the news of Dave's death:

Dave Cline will someday, in a better world, stand recognized as one of the great figures in the history of the United States since the Second World War.
The next two posts will highlight the first memorial to Dave--one so steeped in the struggle to end the occupation of Iraq Dave would have laughed--and one on an aspect of his life that has not been commented much so far, the time he spent as a militant rank and file union activist, who helped lead the "Battle of the Bulk" wildcat strike against the U.S. Postal Service in the late '70s.

A Death in the Family

We received word early on the morning of September 15th that Dave Cline had passed away at his home in Jersey City, New Jersey the night before. We are saddened beyond words to lose this extraordinary hero, warrior for peace, and friend.

We first met Dave before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, in January, 2003, when the drumbeats for war were getting deafening. Dave was the president of Veterans For Peace, and he invited Military Families Speak Out to march with the Veterans For Peace contingent in a national demonstration in Washington, D.C. opposing a U.S. invasion of Iraq.

MFSO had formed just two months before, in November, 2002. We were at that time a small group of military families with loved ones already on their way to the Persian Gulf, or being prepared in various ways for deployment. The Veterans For Peace contingent included Vietnam Veterans and Veterans from other conflicts. They had signs calling out President Bush and Vice President Cheney as chicken-hawks who had never served in combat but were all too happy to send our children, our loved ones and another generation into a war on false pretences.

As we marched, Dave led us in cadence that spoke to us in a very special way:




Military Families Speak Out and Veterans For Peace became a family that January, and we have never been apart since. For this, we have Dave Cline to thank.

Dave brought Military Families Speak Out into the planning for a Veterans For Peace event in Washington, DC called “Operation Dire Distress”, to take place at the end of March, 2003. As it turned out, Operation Dire Distress took place about a week and a half after the bombs began dropping on Baghdad. Operation Dire Distress ended up being the first national event protesting the U.S. invasion of Iraq. While many other groups seemed to suffer a set-back in organizing once hostilities began, Operation Dire Distress helped Veterans For Peace, Vietnam Veterans Against the War and Military Families Speak Out move forward strategically and together, without missing a beat, to build our voices as Veterans and Military Families speaking out to separate “support for our troops” from “support for the war,” and to urge an end to a war we had hoped would never have started.

Dave Cline’s phone number was entered in our ‘speed dials;’ and his counsel, advice, vision and strategic sense helped MFSO grow during those first months of hostilities and beyond. On July 2, 2003, when George Bush uttered his infamous “Bring ‘em on!” in response to a reporter’s question about the presence of an armed Iraqi resistance, we were on the phone with Dave Cline in a heartbeat. With Dave and others we formulated a response, a campaign to challenge Bush’s statement and the U.S. military occupation of Iraq. As George Bush was saying “Bring ‘em on,” we said, “Bring ‘em home!” Out of these conversations grew the Bring Them Home NOW! campaign in August, 2003. This campaign planted a pole for the peace/anti-war movement and the country as a whole; as the months and years went by, more and more have moved to this position.

Dave Cline continued to be a large part of the heart and soul of the movement to end the war in Iraq. He supported Military Families Speak Out in more ways than we can ever express. On the painful first anniversary of this unjust and unjustifiable war, VFP, MFSO and others went to Fayetteville, North Carolina to hold a “Support Our Troops – Bring Them Home NOW” rally. Dave’s new set of cadences included a special one for Military Families Speak Out:


With all due respect to those who have led cadence during demonstrations over the years and across the country, no one could do it quite like Dave. His voice would echo in our ears; now and for all time it will echo in our hearts.

In July, 2004 at the Veterans For Peace Conference in Boston, Massachusetts we stood proudly with Dave Cline and other members of Veterans For Peace and Military Families Speak Out as the eight founding members of a new organization – Iraq Veterans Against the War – held their first press conference. Dave was there at the beginning of that organization as well, and shared advice, counsel, vision and strategic planning with IVAW as it grew into the powerful organization it is today.

There is so much that Dave Cline helped to accomplish, building the movement for peace and justice over the years, across the country and around the world. We are so thankful that Dave Cline came into our lives when he did. His wit and wisdom helped guide the formation of Military Families Speak Out and our growth from 2 military families in November, 2002 to almost 3,700 today. We thank Dave for the inspiration, guidance and love that he gave to us, and to so many others.

Rest in Peace, Dave Cline!
With Gratitude and Love - In Peace and Solidarity,

Nancy Lessin and Charley Richardson
Co-founders, Military Families Speak Out
September 16, 2007

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September 15, 2007

Dave Cline Is Dead

Dave Cline died last night at his home in Jersey City, NJ.

In one sense it comes as no surprise to those of us who have worked closely with Dave in recent years. He had lived for two decades with a severely compromised immune system and had recently been battling both Hepatitis C and the Veterans Administration health care system, which did a shitty job of treating it.

Stan Goff reached me first with the news, crying at the loss. I have been surrounded by death recently--Stans's call came while I was sitting in a memorial service for an old friend, longtime fighter for socialism and Black liberation Vicki Garvin.

The news hasn't really sunk in yet, and I have no idea how it will hit when it does, or how hard.

But I do want to say a few things right now to set some context for what will surely be a great outpouring of sorrow and memory in weeks to come.

Dave Cline will someday, in a better world, stand recognized as one of the great figures in the history of the United States since the Second World War. After a tour in Vietnam as a grunt, where he was shot and shot at others, he returned to become an early member and leader of Vietnam Veterans Against the War.

Through tireless organizing and dramatic events like Operation Dewey Canyon III, where hundreds of vets threw their medals on the Capitol steps, and the Winter Soldier Hearings into war crimes committed during the occupation of Vietnam, VVAW did much to finally doom the U.S. government's murderous assault on the heroic people of Vietnam.

I have here on my desk a 1969 flier from SDS (the original one, not version 2.0) on the GI Revolt. It's an interview with Dave and another vet, fresh out of uniform and into the anti-war struggle. I am reminded by it to recommend that everyone reading this check out the recent documentary "Sir, No Sir!" Dave is featured in it as a young vet and as a present-day fighter against the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

And this last role is where Dave truly became great. He stayed active in VVAW right up to the present day, but also joined another organization called Veterans For Peace, which united vets from all eras in an essentially pacifist oppostion to war, military recruitng, US aggression abroad and the neglect of those who had served in the armed forces.

Dave Cline was in his first term as president of Vets For Peace when the attack on the World Trade Center took place. He helped guide the small group through a period of war fever and jingoism in this country and growing concern as the Bush/Cheney regime prepared to attack Iraq--and did. Dave presided over the rapid, severalfold growth of VFP and its conversion into a dynamic and leading force against the war. He helped forge a tight alliance with Military Families Speak Out and birth the Bring Them Home Now! campaign. The handful of young men and women just back from Iraq who initiated Iraq Veterans Against the War consulted with Dave on a near-daily basis and grew to become the most dynamic element in the alliance.

This alliance has played the role of spearhead in the movement to end the war in Iraq and bring the troops home now. Without a sharp point, capable of cutting through defenses, a spear is just a fat stick, but without the weight of the spear, the whole anti-war movement, behind it, the spearhead lacks real momentum. Just weeks ago I was discussing with him the role this force could play in the Iraq Moratorium project.

Dave was the leader of this informal but vital alliance of forces with roots in the "military community" or, it would be more accurate to say, he gave it leadership. He could play this role because of his long experience, and because of how he had summed up and internalized that esxperience. That was in no small part a matter of style. Dave could be contentious but he had also become genuinely humble and thoughtful, always trying to avoid repeating mistakes he had made earlier in the struggle and also to help others avoid those mistakes or sum them up quickly and move on.

One instance where the breadth of his contribution can be seen most clearly is in the historic "Walkin' To New Orleans" march of veterans and survivors of Hurricane Katrina from Mobile to New Orleans last year on the fourth anniversary of the invasion. The conception of the march, linking the horrors of the war with the horrors of Katrina and concretely working to bring the struggle of Black people in the South closer to heart of the anti-war movement--that was Dave's. And, with Stan Goff and a handful of others, he saw to the planning and execution of the march as well.

Hell, there's so much more I could say about Dave, now the floodgates are open, about his revolutionary stance until the day he died, of the arrogance of the young Dave and the kindness of the older one, concerning the drinking and the clay feet, about the music.

But I will close by underlining my basic point: Dave Cline made a substantial difference in the world. He did it by struggling against oppression and militarism; he did it by drawing lessons from earlier battles and by living those lessons, so he, and all who worked with him, could fight better in the new struggles history presented us with.

Call it wisdom. Call it leadership. We have suffered a great loss, and those who feel that loss are just going to have to step up and try to fill the hole.

[UPDATE: More Dave Cline memories:

Remembering Dave Cline, Part 2 (a moving tribute by Nancy and Charlie Richardson of Military Families Speak Out)

Dave Cline, Part 3: The First Memorial

Dave Cline, Part 4: Goodbye, Bro... ( a short talk by Dave in NOLA, more memories and some links)

Fire on the Mountain also carried a series of four articles on Dave's activism as a militant labor rank and filer, especially in the major wildcat strike in The NJ Bulk Mail Center of the US Postal Service in 1978. The first, Dave Cline: Rank & File Rebel, Introduction, contains links to the other three parts.]

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September 12, 2007

Well, if He really likes it....

Found at a Korean-run shop in China, according to the folks who run the website.

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September 9, 2007

The Katrina Anniversary & The Memory Hole

[I had intended this blog post to be a short introduction to a video from New Orleans, offered here as a reminder for you FotM readers of what we are losing down the memory hole. As I wrote, it expanded and grew angrier, and became, I hope, a reminder that, well, reminders aren't enough. So I want to encourage everyone reading this, in the strongest possible terms, to check out the article "Join the Fight on the Second Anniversary of Katrina" posted at the website of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization / OrganizaciĆ³n Socialista del Camino para la Libertad. It focuses not on lessons, but on the practical tasks Katrina and its aftermath put before the Left today.]

Today, only two lousy years later, it takes an actual mental effort to recall what a massive impact the devastation and death in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast had--or seemed to have--on the consciousness and the consciences of the people of this country.

People from coast to coast were stunned, and mobilized themselves to help. Comparisons with the 9/11 attacks were commonplace. Even that little toad George W. Bush had to speak about poverty and the legacy of racism! The cover of America the Beautiful, the City on the Hill, was not merely twitched back but torn right off.

In those horrifying days, some of us lamented the inability of the weak, divided Left in this country to respond with program beyond issuing fliers that pointed out the fairly obvious workings of racism and capitalism in the catastrophe. We hoped against hope that the shock was so great that many white folks would not drift quietly back into the fog of privilege.

We all know how things turned out.

Katrina did serve as a wakeup call, a kind of national-scale DWB (Driving While Black) incident for some Black professionals and youth who had been lured by the system's okey-doke. But the ability of the Black nation and of Black elected officials and their allies to deal with the disaster, let alone use it as springboard to advance the struggle, was just not there.

The Left, eager to criticize the criminal ineptitude and conscious racist neglect displayed by the Bush administration, did not cover itself with glory in terms of practical organizing. After the waters receded, the bodies were picked up and the teevee cameras had moved on, the white blindspot of too many in this country kept them from seeing what has been going on since. The ethnic cleansing of NOLA. The warehousing of many of the displaced in toxic "refugee camps." The failure to come to grips with the poverty, the racism, the environmental causes, the governmental neglect--everything we all saw in that uncovered moment.

Sure, two weeks ago we saw broadcasts and articles and photo ops on the 2nd anniversary, but I was struck by how much the sense that Katrina was a moment of historic change has eroded. In two lousy years. Contrast that with the bright line ---that was then, this is now--drawn between the world before 9/11 and the present day. You'll get plenty more of that as the anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks engulfs us (and is trotted out by the administration to justify continuing the unjust and unjustifiable occupation of Iraq).

Apologies. I hadn't planned to post a rant, just a short introduction to a video, by Sess 4-5 (featuring L.O.G.), a NOLA native who uses images not of the flooding but of the subsequent struggle, in his conscious rap "The Black Man." (The project setting and collective spirit are reminiscent of the video by Glaswegian hiphoppers Steg G and the Freestyle Master that I blogged here in May.)

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September 8, 2007

Big Luciano is Gone: Opera Singer for the Masses

I have to confess to a ridiculous degree of sadness over the death of Luciano Pavarotti—“Big Luciano,” as the Italians call him. As an avid opera fan—indeed I sometimes feel like an opera queen trapped in a woman’s body—I noted that Luciano, over the 30 years I’ve been listening to him, has given me more sheer joy and pleasure than some men I’ve known a lot better….

But it’s difficult when there’s no real political or intellectual rationale for this emotion I’m feeling over the death of a stranger. Pavarotti was not the left-leaning son of Spanish anti-Fascists like fellow tenor Jose Carreras, or the all-round singer, director, conductor, disciplined musician that Placido Domingo is, or a premature anti-fascist like the brilliant conductor Arturo Toscanini. But he was born with one of the most beautiful voices of the 20th century. As a Marxist, I view this voice, like all great talent, as an expression of our “species being” or human capacity; its beauty is a sort of spiritual experience for me.

And more than any other artist of his time, Pavarotti made opera alive and accessible to the masses.

Sure, Pavarotti got careless and self-indulgent as celebrity and wealth corrupted his artistry. But anyone who tries to dismiss his fame as a product of hype is just plain hatin’. People are not so stupid as to make this man a gigantic global pop star for over 30 years for no reason.

Check this out—two masters, in the twilight of their careers, performing their totally different schticks together and making it work. It’s a duet by Luciano Pavarotti and James Brown! The concert is a benefit for Angolan refugees in Pavarotti’s home town of Modena, Italy, in 2002.

I’m no music critic but when I’ve tried to describe Pavarotti's voice, the images that came to me were red wine and honey. (I later read actual music critics who described it that way.) It was rich and full-bodied and smooth and sweet and deeply colored—ruby, golden. You couldn’t confuse it with any other voice. And the way he married the words and the melody was incomparable, sustaining the meaning of the phrases and the lines while uttering each sound perfectly.

And the other thing, if you ever heard Luciano Pavarotti live, is that you really felt he wanted you—personally-- to have a great time. He wanted you to share the joy that he took in using his beautiful voice. I think this quality is what pulled people in. You can feel it too from the videos of performances, especially in the early live operas that PBS stations are showing this week, from before he became grossly fat . He was never slim but he had the grace of a former soccer player, a compelling physical presence with plenty of stage business, a light comic touch and timing, a melting smile, and those big, warm brown eyes. Nice-looking, not extraordinary, in a very Italian way.

On the weight thing, by the way, I kinda subscribe to the hypothesis put forward by Fritz Perls, the founder of gestalt therapy, in Ego, Hunger and Aggression. He posits that opera singers may tend to over-eat out of some self-protective impulse to replenish and repair. Because they give so much of themselves orally, they tend to take in too much orally.

For me, the emotional intensity around opera and Pavarotti has to do with the records my mother played and the stories she told us about my grandfather the chef, serving the legendary tenor Enrico Caruso at the Waldorf and catching opera from the cheap seats. (I don’t know if it’s really true that once, when Caruso hit the high note, it shattered the flask of olive oil in my grandfather’s back pocket that he had filched from the restaurant—but it’s a great story.) And then the many seasons beginning in the '80s when my mother and sisters and friends got subscriptions to the Met together.

My mother died over a year ago and the times when I hear something and think I need to call her are less frequent. But it happened when I heard, on the 7 a.m. news, that Pavarotti had died. My sister heard it at the same time and called me 30 second later, and we spoke about him several times throughout the day.

When we heard Pavarotti and his homegirl, the soprano Mirella Freni. perform La Boheme in the mid ‘80s at the Metropolitan Opera, I felt that I had experienced perfect beauty and could die happily at that moment. (Pavarotti and Freni grew up together in Modena and, because their mothers worked in the cigar factory which turned their milk sour, they were actually breast-fed by the same wet nurse.)

I was also present at what I think turned out to be Pavarotti’s last good Met performance, (since the 2004 Toscas didn’t work out too well) in Aida in 2000. It was the his last show of the season, and he’d received poor reviews for the previous ones—not in good voice, lumbering around the stage virtually held up by two chorus members because his legs were so stiff. But he somehow got it together for this last performance. He stood on his own two feet and though the high notes were muted, that beautiful legato line was mostly sustained and there were glimmers of the maestro in his prime.

Grazie, Luciano. Non ci scordiamo di te.

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September 6, 2007

Bill Davis, ¡Presente! [Updated]

Memorial Day, Chicago, 2006

Too much death. I just yesterday posted an announcement of Vicki Garvin's memorial service in NYC, Saturday week. Now comes the bad news about Bill Davis, a guy I've known since the '70s. My bud Sully from Chicago had hipped me the day he was suddenly rushed to the hospital last week, with a weird lung infection--he was slapped on a ventilator and they tried to stabilize him for an emergency lung transplant. Yesterday he died.

I saw Bill just two months ago as he escorted a delegation of Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange, on a tour sponsored by Vietnam Veterans Against the War and Veterans For Peace, to the UFPJ national assembly in Chicago. We barely got to speak.

As in the cases of Vicki and Gideon Rosenbluth, I can't get myself focused to assemble the tribute Bill deserves, but I am certain others who knew him better and and are better writers will, and I will link to them here.

In some ways, Bill's death hits hardest, because unlike Gideon and Vicki he was my age, pushing 60. When Vicki and Gideon died, some of us who had known them since we were in our 20s shared the grim jest that now we are becoming, by attrition, what they had been for us--elders. That's a hard enough prospect to come to grips with, without Bill's reminding us that one of the things that elders do is die.

Still, it is not his death that I will be thinking on in coming days, but his life. A Vietnam vet, he became part of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, the spearhead of the anti-war movement that did so much to end the US occupation of the South of Vietnam. He spent his life thereafter building and supporting a whole range of struggles. He was a union activist and eventually local president of Auto Mechanics Union Local 701 in Chicago, and never ceased to play a central role in VVAW and veterans organizing. When the rulers of this country chose to use 9/11 as an excuse for unjustifiable, criminal--and doomed--acts of imperial aggression, he spoke out loud and clear, drawing on his own life experience to mobilize protest.

As with Bill, so with his wife Joan, who I hope will derive some comfort from the outpouring of love and respect for Bill I expect in coming days. Last year, when the new SDS held its inaugural convention in Chicago, and some impoverished student types I know wanted to go but couldn't afford accommodations, I called Bill and Joan with little notice. No problem.

All of those who came forward and fought for another world in the upsurges of the '60s and '70s and still hold the values of those days I count as my sisters and brothers, but there should be a special place in all of our hearts for people, like Bill Davis, who never ceased to build resistance and struggle.

Veterans Day, Chicago, 1977


Vietnam Veterans Against the War has put up a memorial guestbook at the VVAW website. Those who knew Bill, in particular, should go and put down a word or two in his memory.


The Chicago Sun-Times today, Sunday, September 9, carried a very positive and moving obituary for Bill.

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September 5, 2007

Remembering Vicki Garvin

I miss Vicki Garvin.

Like Gideon Rosenbluth, who also died this summer, Vicki was both friend and inspiration. She lived her whole adult life fighting for revolutionary change. I tried to write a piece about her, but had trouble assembling the words. Those who wish to remember her in company with other friends or to learn more about her would do well to attend this memorial service at the House of the Lord Church in Brooklyn on Saturday, September 15.

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September 3, 2007

Iraq Moratorium "Empty Call"? Not Really

[Last week a post on this site got a comment from anonymous, which I copy here:

So... is this Iraq Moratorium thing gonna jump off in a few weeks or is it another empty call for "local actions everywhere"?

Are there any meetings or public forums scheduled in the New York area? I have not seen anything about it other then the website and some emails.
This is a legitimate question, considering that one of the early proposals for the Iraq Moratorium was floated on this site.

What follows is a short overview of ongoing activity that was sent to me and other folks working on the project a week ago or so. So, "empty?" No. What it will be remains to be seen--- on September 21, and October 19, and November 16 and...]

Wind In Our Sails

This is just a quick post to spread the word on a slew of what seem to be very positive straws in the wind that've blown our way lately. If you visit the website regularly, you'll have seen some of this.

(So it's a little long...You can't skim?)

On the cultural front:

The Dreamtime Circus, based in Northern California, is planning a free Moratorium Day public performance on September 21 prior to their tour of South Asia.

On the labor front:

Via Mike Eisenscher, USLAW has printed up and is distributing Moratorium stickers!

Please share this announcement with others. Apologies for duplicates.
Order your stickers for the Iraq Moratorium!

USLAW has endorsed and encourages all affiliates, members and supporters to participate in the Iraq Moratorium, which begins on Friday, September 21st and repeats on the 3rd Friday of each month thereafter.

On each Iraq Moratorium day, all those who oppose the war and occupation in Iraq are asked to take some action to give evidence to that opposition. This could be wearing an armband, button or sticker to work, calling or writing members of Congress, attending a vigil, rally or other demonstration, participating in a sit-in in a Congressional office, or any other action designed to communicate your desire to end the military occupation of Iraq now and bring all the troops safely and rapidly home.

The objective is to get a growing number of the 70% of the population that opposes the war but have yet to demonstrate their feelings to break with business as usual to show their opposition to the war.

In support of the Moratorium, USLAW is making available two stickers that can be ordered in quantity and distributed to be worn on Moratorium days or to promote the Moratorium. Please order some and ask coworkers to wear them on Moratorium Day.

Please place your orders early. Order extras for coworkers, colleagues, friends and family.

On the labor front, part 2:

The Los Angeles Central Labor Council issued the following statement (Moratorium content in red):

The LA County Federation of Labor passed this resolution at its Delegate meeting on Monday, August 20, 2007.

Resolution on Fall Anti-war Activities

Whereas , the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor has expressed its opposition to the ongoing occupation in Iraq and military operations in Afghanistan; and

Whereas, these conflicts continue unabated, and over 3700 US troops and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians and fighters opposed to the occupation have lost their lives, and countless others have been wounded, and

Whereas, the costs of the war, both in its operation and expected costs in healthcare and benefits for returning troops is projected to be over 1 trillion dollars, while other pressing human needs at home such as healthcare, education, housing, and disaster recovery (such as Katrina) are neglected and under funded, and

Whereas, major labor leaders have recently condemned the actions of the Iraqi Oil Minister in declaring public trade unions illegal, adding to the attacks on workers in that country,

Whereas, President Bush and the Congress continue to fund the war despite the fact that over 60% of the American public feels we should bring our troops home from Iraq, and

Whereas, several national, regional, and local organizations are calling for a variety of anti-war campaigns, educational programs, and mobilization efforts this fall, designed to put more pressure on the administration to end these conflicts,

Therefore, let it be resolved that the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor renew its call for the immediate beginning of the withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, and

Resolved, that the Federation promote and endorse fall anti-war activities, specifically the September 15th, September 29th, and October 27th national, regional and local mobilizations, and the September 22-29 Tent-Cities at the Westwood and Downtown Federal Buildings; and

Resolved , that the Federation will encourage its affiliates and members to break their daily routine and to take some action to end the war, such as organizing programs in their workplaces or union halls, the wearing of armbands, and other forms of participation in the Iraq Moratorium, beginning on September 21, 2007, and continuing on the third Friday of each subsequent month.

Finally Resolved, that the Federation will publish this resolution and circulate it to its affiliates and members through its various communication vehicles, and send copies to other county federations, the CA State Federation and the AFL-CIO, urging them to adopt similar motions.

and the large and powerful LA teachers union followed suit (excerpt):

At its Board Meeting on Thursday, August 23, the Board of Directors of
United Teachers Los Angeles passed the following resolution:

Support for Fall Anti-War Activities

Moved, that UTLA renew its call for the immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, and

Further moved, that UTLA promote and endorse fall anti-war activities, specifically the September 15th, September 29th, and October 27th national, regional and local mobilizations, the ILWU (San Francisco) sponsored Labor and the War Conference on October 20, and the September 22-29 Tent-Cities at the Westwood and Downtown Federal Buildings; and

Further moved, that UTLA will publicize the Iraq Moratorium to our members, giving them opportunities to break their daily routine and take some action to end the war, beginning on September 21, 2007, and continuing on the third Friday of each subsequent month.

Finally moved, that UTLA will publish this resolution and circulate it to its affiliates and members through its various communication vehicles, and to inform our Congressional Delegation of this resolution, encouraging them to vote against further allocations of funding for the Iraq occupation, except for the safe and immediate removal of our troops there.

On Left websites:

The influential CommonDreams carried this on Friday.

Blogger lao hong han is trying some shit-stirring in the anti-war movement and left blogosphere.

And if you add this Technorati link to your bookmarks, you can check our growing blogosphere presence daily.

In the media:

Eric See was interviewed on a Harrisburg, PA radio station recently.

Out among the masses:

Paul K reports from the road in Northern CA:
Our trip across California has been tremendous. I've talked to scores of people in towns and villages up the coast of California (we're almost to Oregon) about the IM -- peace and justice organization activists, bookstore, cafe and inn owners and others (several were flying peace flags in front of their businesses) and many say they will try to do something on IM days, beginning Sept. 21. I got their names and numbers and will follow-up with them when I get home.

Out among the masses, part 2:
A bit of explanation--this next exchange is excerpted from a DailyKos thread entitled "I joined a union today" which blogger lao hong han used to plug the LA CLC resolution:

1. Hey, I've worked union and I've worked not-union--and believe me, union is better. (h/t Sophie Tucker)

And my union good news for the week is that the LA Central Labor Council has backed the Iraq Moratorium, calling on locals and members to take steps like "organizing programs in their workplaces or union halls, the wearing of armbands, and other forms of participation."

by lao hong han on Fri Aug 24, 2007 at 07:34:47 PM EDT

2. That's great that they're backing it!


"I believe that ignorance is the root of all evil. And that no one knows the truth." - Molly Ivins

littlesky on Fri Aug 24, 2007 at 07:40:15 PM EDT

3. joined the Iraq Moratorium? Way cool!!!!

littlesky and I came up with our Iraq Moratorium idea. She has a big front porch so we're going to hang signs on it that say, "Mission Accomplished!" and "Oh yeah?"

After the (s)election in 2000, we posted signs there that had the popular vote totals. :)

Turn the Mountain West blue! Support Gary Trauner (WY-AL) for Congress!

by kainah on Fri Aug 24, 2007 at 07:43:37 PM EDT

4. Excellent! That's the whole idea of the Moratorium--do something where you are, with others or by yer own self. But littlesky, and presumably the porch, are in WV, right? How come you've got "Turn the Mountain West blue!" as your sig?

Iraq Moratorium! Sign On Now!

by lao hong han on Fri Aug 24, 2007 at 08:06:44 PM EDT

5. She's visiting from WY

Go Gary Trauner! :)

"I believe that ignorance is the root of all evil. And that no one knows the truth." - Molly Ivins

by littlesky on Fri Aug 24, 2007 at 08:09:28 PM EDT

6. back in Laramie for Iraq Moratorium they will be displaying our peace group's IRAQ WALL at our regular, going-on-five-years Friday protest.

Turn the Mountain West blue! Support Gary Trauner (WY-AL) for Congress!

by kainah on Fri Aug 24, 2007 at 08:28:00 PM EDT

[Just to sum up, two sibs, littlesky based somewhere in WV and kainah in Laramie, WY have 1. heard of the Moratorium 2. are excited that the labor movement is aboard, and 3. have already made their plans for September 21!]

Local Mobilizing, part 1:
Some SDSers in NYC have taken the initiative to call a city-wide planning meeting for the 21st next week, to draw in all sorts of forces. They will need help with outreach.

Local Organizing, part 2:
The early birds in Sewanee, TN, did it again! Third Friday in August--and they doubled their July numbers!

And Saving The Best For Last:

Check out Moratorio Irak!

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September 1, 2007

A New One On Me

Maybe I'm just late to the picnic again, but here's a tune I found last night by one of this country's best songwriters, Tom Russell. I wanted to pair it up with another tune by an Anglo living in Aztlan, James McMurtry's "Safe Side," but I couldn't find it on YouTube.


Shoulda thought to look for this cut by Molotov. I've had the tune, "Frijolero," for a while but now find out it's got a cool video too. (Note to impatient Anglo types: it is bilingual, don't check out after 30 seconds.)

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