Saturday, April 5, 2014

Occupy… and Defuse Capitalism's Handmaidens

I wrote this article for Csaba Polony's publication, Left Curve, No. 36, 2012 issue.
Occupy… and Defuse Capitalism's Handmaidens 

In 2011, I wrote, "The same ground you walk on, we do too" for Left Curve, No. 35. Download and read it. 

In 2014, after 30 years of publications, Left Curve will print its last issue, No. 38. Order it from Left Curve website, also the archive.

This journal was unique in that it published articles, poems, art and ideas that our culture tends to marginalize as not mainstream enough.  For example, this was one of the few print publications where writers critical of Israel's policies and brutality against the Palestinians (and others who highlighted them) were published.
Csaba Polony's passing is a blow to his family and friends...and also signifies the end of an era. Where else might such ideas and the product of such ideas arise?

A Friend Passes

Csaba Polony, friend, editor and publisher of "Left Curve" journal, and core to San Francisco's North Beach literary crowd and Spec's bar, died mid-March, 2014.
He was diagnosed with stomach cancer in mid-January; 8 weeks later he was gone.
As I write this, it is early April and I'm still "processing" the speed with which my friend left us.
In early December, he reported he was able to sleep even less than usual. I shared a sleeping pill; it didn't help - he said it made him fuzzy the next day.
At his usual winter solstice party, before Christmas, he was his normal party self: a quiet host ensuring his many guests had food - lots of it, including his signature Hungarian goulash - wine, and music. The "usual suspects" sat outside the apartment smoking, talking, sharing poetry, singing, and playing music; inside - the no smoking zone - we ate, drank, talked, and danced. Those of us who frequently contributed articles to Csaba's annual journal, Left Curve, looked forward to another issue. It was, as usual, due out in late April with a publishing party at City Lights in North Beach; after that, those of us who could, crossed Columbus Ave and gathered in Spec's for a drink and more talk.
This year, cancer intervened.
At the first medical visit, Csaba's doc said the preliminary examination indicated an ulcer...or cancer. Then next examine revealed cancer - advanced.
I volunteered to help produce this year's issue of Left Curve. Csaba, meanwhile, worked as hard and as fast on the issue as he could while he could. When he and I talked about it, he'd download as much info as he could to me ...then fatigue would overtake him.
He began chemo. I introduced him to someone who had beaten stage 4 cancer and, 3 years later, was still in remission. We all took heart from this miracle man.
Chemo knocked Csaba sideways.
And chemo is, well, dreadful. I learned, for example, that the person administering the chemo dose must wear gloves; the chemo pill may not touch the skin of a healthy person. (Yet we dose a person already weakened by cancer with this chemical?)
After a week of chemo, Csaba - and his family - elected to forgo that treatment.
Ten days later our friend was dead.
I said goodbye to Csaba about a week before he succumbed. I thanked him for being my friend, for being the one person I knew who understood, and could talk about with honesty and intelligence, the actual experience of being an immigrant to the US.
Csaba was a child of war. His family fled Budapest for the US when he was four. When he was five, his family set up a home in Ohio.
His memorial at the Emerald Tablet in North Beach showed photos of the young Csaba, a lovely lad with white blonde hair.
It would be hard to find someone less likely than Csaba to remain in Ohio and, after college, he moved to the San Francisco Bay Area and attended SFSU and earned a Masters in Fine Arts.
I knew Csaba for 14 years and, each of those years, he traveled back to Budapest during the summer for at least one month.
While I knew my friend never forgot his homeland, it was only when I worked on the production of the last issue of Left Curve, that I discovered how deep was his attachment. More than that, he considered himself far more of an European/Eastern European than an American. Indeed, cultural dislocation was one of the elements that bound us as friends. Our views of our adopted culture were similar and, instinctively, we talked to one another from the point of view of travelers in an alien land, populated with ideas alien to our own - even as our own ideas were our adopted culture. Interestingly, Csaba was a city boy from an historical European city; I am a country girl from an authoritarian British colony yet our views of American culture and society were congruent.
How true that one can take the boy (girl) out of Hungary (South Africa) but one cannot take Hungary (South Africa) out of the boy (girl).
One goodbye story stands out.
Accomplished poet Jack Hirschman and Csaba were friends for at least 40 years. In the last couple of years there had been a period of ...estrangement?... between the two; not uncommon for good friends who are also strong characters. When Csaba was diagnosed, Jack came down with a cold then pneumonia...and, around about the time Csaba was using, then forgoing, chemo treatments, Jack ended up in the ICU for a week. About a week before Csaba died, Jack's wife, a wonderful woman and great poet, Aggie Falk brought Jack and his oxygen tank to Csaba's house, then helped Jack up the steep stairwell and to his friend's bedside. Then Jack, as only Jack could do, paid tribute to his friend and their friendship: he sang. I was not there - alas - but among the songs I heard Jack sang to Csaba, who was semi-conscious and holding Jack's hand, was "Sonny boy."
I cannot think of a more apt, moving, and perfect way to say goodbye to one's friend.
Here's a picture of the Csaba Polony, foreground, and Jack Hirschman, taken on my cell phone, in Spec's in 2013.

Left Curve, No. 38, will publish in June. After 30 years, this will be the last issue.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Myriad Faces of... Facebook

There is a lot to say about Facebook. Yes, it is a sign of our times; it can be a time sink; yes, it has Zuckman - what more can be said about Zuckerman? yes, too, Facebook has got more than its share of not-too-smart people trolling around; then again, it has some very cute pictures of cats...and other critters.
And, yes, it has a good number of PC people trying to keep the rest of us in line.

Here's an example:

Here's a sample of what followed:
Now, these days - after going through several iterations of pro- and con-Facebook - my Facebook persona tends towards, first, see if any more pix of my grand kids have been added; if there have, I hover over them, laugh, enjoy, write a comment or two.  This is the Number 1 Best Use of Facebook.

After that, since I'm also attracted by pictures, and if I have the time, I scan recent  pictorial additions. Now and again, and if necessary, I chime in with something.
In the above case of "he's not your dad", etc, I chimed in with:
"C'mon all y'all ... the joke here is that it is SO EASY to divert the issue. Take one serious issue - surveillance - and shove it aside with what is known as "shock doctrine"! The kid - or whoever is the recipient of the shock - is so blown away by the new revelation that the old revelation is minor in comparison. Now that is smart ideology at work!"
Now it is also true that any one person is in the particular "life phase" that s/he is in...and, try as one might, it is difficult to break out, really break out, of that phase (sure, one can pose as in "be a poseur" but, why bother?)
So, if you are a PCing PC'er, be the best PCing PC-er you can be. By all means, correct the folks who find stuff funny that you think is serious and that you think everyone else should find serious too. But, try to do it with the understanding that, one day, you, too, might pass out of the PC phase and find others still in the PC phase to be tedious, humorless, and annoying. Yes, I can pretty much guarantee that you'll be happy you passed out of the PC phase but try look back with compassion, understanding, patience, and, yes, lots of humor and a good dose of chagrin too.

Another thing that might happen after you pass out of the PC phase is that your thinking becomes more nuanced and less rigid; you may find wider understanding of the complexities around you and also deeper enjoyment of life and its oh-so-many-wonderful-possibilities.
Just like the Men's Warehouse, I guarantee it!

One year later...

Yikes! It has been more than a year since my last entry here. So much has changed/so much has stayed the same.
I wonder...should I draw a heavy line to separate this post from the last one, February 19, 2013?

Yes. Let me do that and then begin, again, for April 1, 2014.


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Skirting the real changes necessary to address climate change

About 3,000, “The biggest crowd ever to address climate change in San Francisco”  according to emcee for event organizers Sierra Club and,  gathered in Justin Herman Plaza on Sunday, February 17th.
Unlike the 40,000 hardy souls gathered in wintery Washington, DC on the same day for the same demands (no Keystone XL/tar sands; no fracking; cut carbon emissions, divest public money from fossil fuels) sunlight streaming between skyscrapers warmed us in San Francisco.
Marchers gathering on the corner of Steuart and Market Streets
to march around the block that houses the
state department’s regional offices in San Francisco.
(Photo: Susan Galleymore)
Circle dancing to the beat of Native drums warmed us too. Indeed, the presence of descendants of Native people indigenous to the bay area signals a change from the usual political gatherings. So novel is this addition of Native people to predominantly Anglo liberal and progressive local politics that the aroma accompanying the ritual burning of sage is still acceptable. (If the Native presence continues at these events – and I sincerely hope it does – I predict that delicately worded requests will soon circulate requesting organizers ban sage to accommodate the chemically sensitive. How that clash of cultures plays out will speak volumes about inclusion, power, and empowerment.)
On this early spring day, speakers included fresh voices and faces including youth, residents of the city of Richmond, and San Francisco Supervisor John Avalos who described his resolution to divest the San Francisco Employees Retirement System (SFERS) from leading fossil fuel giants Exxon, BP, Shell, and Chevron.
Divestment is a “great idea” but not addressed is how retirement funds make up the losses when an approximately $1 billion investment is pulled from these highly profitable companies.
Justin Herman Plaza on the Embarcadero.
(Photo: Susan Galleymore)

For fewer dollars building up in already strapped retirement funds mean fewer dollars for retirees, while barely affecting fossil fuel giants’ bottom line: $137 billion in profit goes a long way to reduce short-term corporate loss.
Among the questions not addressed by the push for “sustainable living” in the 21st century is what it actually means...and how it effectively addresses climate change.
The romantic view of sustainability predominates: the young and middle-aged, the healthy and able-bodied, the well-off, those living close to work, grocery stores, and shopping malls -- can buy and ride bicycles, grow vegetables, raise backyard chickens, turn down  thermostats, perhaps take buses (if one has the time to wait).
But, even if 25 percent – about 2 million people – of the Bay Area’s population did all of these things (a welcome even vitally necessary but highly unlikely scenario) it would not much diminish climate change.
The American People are woefully unprepared for the changes genuine “sustainable living” will impose on America and the American “lifestyle.” Indeed, “sustainable living” is profoundly un-American for, realistically, it means Americans “divest” from capitalism and that means major changes not only in material wealth but in the American worldview, culture, and identity.

In theory, I’m all for sustainable living and already live as sustainably as I can: I gave up my hurry-hurry, commute-centric, money-making career in favor of a simpler, shopping-free, more humane bike-centric life - despite a much diminished income.
But I’m aware that I can do so because the system of capitalism is still firmly in place and I can eke out a “sustainable” existence in the shadow of the American Way of Life. I cannot nor can any one of us sustain ourselves – never mind our families – on what is grown on condo patios, back yards, community gardens, on tiny amounts of wind- and solar-generated energy, and on bicycling, recycling and reusing.
While I heartily endorse Avalos’ resolution, it behooves him to explain that ritual and symbolism – divestment, political protests and gatherings, even blockading routes to and from tar sands areas – do not address the fundamental conundrum: sustainability versus capitalism...with capitalism requiring endless growth
As much as some well-intentioned people desire to have both, the two are incompatible.

In America, so far, there exists no vernacular to communicate the fundamental and interlocking changes that are required – demanded! – to reduce the perils climate change brings to people all over the planet.
Those who present themselves as leaders during this new moment must not only understand, integrate, and communicate a holistic picture about what sustaining life really means they must also acknowledge that what is necessary is not only divesting from but also doing away with the war, defense and homeland security industries that are the backbone of our economy, and nuclear energy and weaponry, and Wall Street, and the corporate model, and lobbying and lobbyists, and Congressional and corporate corruption....
For, “everything” is connected – and fundamental change includes re-ordering the American psyche.

The lovely spring weather allowed like-minded people and their colorful banners to reconnect after a cool winter and, as we celebrated in the plaza, hundreds of pedestrians and cyclists looked on and cars, trucks, and buses sped along the Embarcadero.
What would it really take to get those drivers and passengers out of their cars and engaged in step one: divesting from fossil fuels...and car culture?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

May Day in Occupy Oakland: Let a million seeds sprout

What was Oakland’s muddy “Lake Quan” as Occupy went into winter hibernation has resurged as a sea of green. Green grass, that is.
After Mayor Quan and OPD evicted the Occupy encampment at Frank Ogawa Plaza late last year, stating the occupation encouraged rats and other creatures and destroyed the lawn, city officials ran water sprinklers for days to flood the park and discourage re-occupation.

On May Day 2012 the grass is back!
As does much of what happens in the lives of human beings and their communities, this story has complexities.
Frank Ogawa Plaza has been renamed (unofficially and by popular usage) Oscar Grant Plaza in memory of a young Oakland father shot to death on the BART platform in that city on the first day of 2009.
Judging by the uneven quality of the Grant Plaza’s new grass it is not the usual citified seeded lawn. Instead, it’s the au natural tough stuff that resurges anytime seeds take the opportunity to sprout, to thrive, and to prosper the way our natural world can prosper!
It’s a good metaphor for Oakland…and for Occupy!

Thousands rallied at the intersection of 14th and Broadway in the evening of May Day to celebrate the spring forward of Occupy across our nation and our planet. It had been a long, warm afternoon milling around and occasionally dodging scores of well-organized police in and around Oscar Grant Plaza (despite mainstream press accounts, there was just not as much violence as described: read my blog account that shows a lot more pix).
A Maypole or two appeared. One of them, bedecked with dark green ribbon, attracted a group of the often-criticized Black Bloc-ers, some carrying make-shift shields, who danced around the pole and weaved the ribbons...then they turned around and danced in the opposite direction and un-weaved the ribbons.
A recyclable Maypole weaved by self-described anarchists!
Another metaphor for Oakland (“what ye anarchists weave, so shall ye have the opportunity to un-weave”)?

Oakland is a special city, a reflection of humanity that reprises many ordinary people’s lives: diverse, outspoken, hospitable although burdened with social and financial obligations, and longing for responsible freedom.
It also has far too many of a far too little heard segment of a growing population: mothers whose sons have been shot to death by Oakland police officers.
A handful of these mothers, and an uncle, addressed the rally.
As a former “military mom” who faced the potential death or injury of a beloved son in war I can only imagine the nightmarish rage one carries after a child is shot to death by those hired to serve and protect.

Yet, reflecting other human qualities, the City of Oakland also presents its fair share of NIMBY: “not in my backyard”.
As a media person and self-appointed “culture critique-r”, I tend to mingle in crowds and talk to a range of people. Yesterday, I encountered multiple episodes of NIMBY-ism.
One occurred as OPD closed in on the crowd and pressed it into the intersection of 14th and Broadway from three directions. An elderly man approached to warn we’d better go home. Then he asked where I was from. I told him I live about a mile away in another city. (In fact, before engineering an estuary, my city was a peninsula that jutted off the Oakland Hills and into SF Bay.) He launched into what seems to be a consensus among Oaklanders and reiterated by Mayor Quan: “they” (Occupiers) come from out of town to make trouble in “our” town and “we” must pay the financial burdens -- extra security, damage to local business, etc.
I heard the same complaint on the re-routed bus as I returned to the plaza for the 6pm rally. Three passengers near me kvetched about Occupy: “don’t see the point”: “messes things up for all of us”: and “they come from out of town, don’t even live in Oakland!”
We engaged an energetic debate for a couple of minutes: only one woman was willing, grudgingly, to concede “it takes a village” to create change.
For Occupy is not only about Oakland. It’s about ordinary people, here, there and everywhere, evaluating the quality of our lives and finding them out of whack; it’s about ordinary people agreeing to risk raising our voices in the fast disappearing public commons; it’s about all of us striving to improve things for all of us while we still can.
It’s about bringing us together, not about dividing us.
And it’s about not demonizing any groups, especially those on the frontlines, until they’ve unequivocally showed us that they’ll always be against us.
Just as segments of the anti-war community tend to demonize military recruiters, for example, Occupiers tend to demonize police.
Indeed, an Oakland man addressed the rally last night and urged the crowd of several thousand to “oink” and send a message to “the pigs” that make up OPD.
I don’t oink…not as a member of an already emotional crowd.
For history teaches very clearly what can happen when emotional crowds lose their bearings.
This man is angry – righteously so: his nephew was murdered by police in a public place.
We, the 99% have a long way to go. We must keep our bearings as we head into Occupy 2012.
Meanwhile, let a million blades of grass bloom: unseeded, uncitified, uncultivated…in Oakland, and around the world.
Viva Occupy!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Occupy Oakland - May Day 2012

What was muddy "Lake Quan" at the beginning of winter 2011 is, on May Day 2012, green grass!

Oakland's grass is back (photo: Susan Galleymore)

It lives! Oakland's grass re-surges after being drowned out last year. 

Late last year, Mayor Quan and OPD evicted the Occupy encampment at Oscar Grant Plaza (saying Occupiers encouraged rats and other creatures) then destroyed what was left of the grass.
City of Oakland's Dept Public Works ran sprinklers for days and flooded the park to discourage re-occupation. (See post below for pix of what became known as muddy "Lake Quan").
Today, May Day 2012, the grass is back! Judging by its uneven quality it's not your typical citified seeded lawn grass but the au natural variety that shoots up anytime a chance exists to grow, to thrive, to reproduce, and to prosper!
A great metaphor for Occupy Oakland!

Black Bloc-ers round the May pole outside Oakland City Hall. 

Anarchy...and recycling the Maypole

This is the first view of the day of a Maypole, this one bedecked with dark green ribbon. Here, a group of Black Bloc-ers dance around the pole and weave the ribbons...then they turn around and go in the opposite direction and un-weave the ribbons.
A recyclable Maypole!
Another great metaphor for Oakland ("what ye Anarchists weave, so shall ye have the opportunity to un-weave")?
This particular Maypole appeared throughout the day around Oscar Grant Plaza -- then re-appeared for the the evening rally having been carried (and weaved/unweaved?) along the march route from the Court House to 14th and Broadway and the plaza.

Views of OPD

Shortly after I arrived at 14th and Broadway at noon  two flash bangs exploded on Broadway, north of 14th and, by the sound of it, close to 15th or 16th. By the time I arrived at 15th, OPD (and friends? - there were lots of 'em) was firmly lined across 14th. The standoff continued for sometime then, as people drifted away, the cops dispersed too.
About 12:30 or so, a group of about six, one of them a woman carrying a mic and accompanied by what looked like independent media assistants all loudly urged a man and a woman away from the group: "get the fuck out of here...go, get the fuck out of here!" Not sure what to make of it - other than this couple had violated some code of behavior and were personae non grata. The cowed couple seemed to agree as they put up little resistance to their unceremonious ejection. No police involved.

About 1:38p a call went up that OPD was massing behind City Hall.  A group of about a dozen young men dressed in black with masks marched over yelling, among other phrases, "Anarchy is total freedom" and aligned in front of what turned out to be about two dozen police.
They stood around until, about ten minutes later, a group of about 60 to 80 arrived carrying a banner: "No Borders. No Stayaway Orders." This group circled City Hall several times until, at about 2:15p another couple of flash bangs exploded, this time on 14th near Clay.
About 99% of the crowd surged over to 14th/Clay.
I did not see who exploded the flashbangs although by all accounts (and a variety of mainstream media) it was the police -- apparently to thwart threats of violence against them. 
OPD began congregating on each street leading to the intersection at 14th and Broadway. At first they stood about a block away ...then incrementally, each batch came closer and closer.

Looking east down 14th


 Coming down 14th from west


Looking south, police come down Broadway toward intersection


Leading up to the arrest of yet another peaceful meditator, this time in the intersection of 14th and Broadway 


OPD - and colleagues from surrounding cities - close in on the intersection......then they pack up and leave - at least for a while...

The APC is going...

...and the APC leaves!

Street scenes and signs of the times

Early Birds can pay an extra 18.5 percent tax on $6.75 to park near downtown Oakland. A good example of what Occupy is about - egregious taxes for the many into the pocket of the few.

"Coffee, not Cops" - sign carried through the streets on May Day 2012.

Symbolic barricade on Broadway near 14th.

"Dignity and Resistance, May Day." Group of students gathered for the evening rally.

OPD guarding the entrance to City Hall, May Day 2012.

Several thousand gathered at the intersection of 14th and Broadway for an evening rally.

Yet another message to the once-"radical" and "revolutionary" Jean Quan, now Mayor Quan.

Moon over the Tribune.

(All photos by Susan Galleymore, Occupy Oakland, May Day 2012. Rights reserved.)

Read another blog post on Occupy Oakland, May Day 2012.