A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager)

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Chuck Fager -- Writer, Editor
Updated: 18 hours 4 min ago

The Deaths Of Racism, And Racism In Deaths

Mon, 02/12/2018 - 7:31am

Charlottesville VA – I came here for a panel on Dr. King’s Ill-fated Poor Peoples Campaign of 1968, 50 years past and now aiming to be re-launched.

Charlottesville’s Lee, the (somewhat) hidden monument.

I did my part in the event (having written a book about the 1968 campaign); but I want to admit here that my mind frequently wandered, hankering to head downtown to visit some of Charlottesville’s new & newly-more historic sites while I was nearby.

Two in particular: the shrouded statue of Robert E. Lee, awaiting its fate, and a few blocks away the graffiti wall on the stretch of 4th Street now rechristened “Heather Heyer Way.”

Late that rainy afternoon, the panel finished, and the chance came. My activist photographer friend Laura from Toronto, also a panelist, felt a similar urge, and soon we were in “Emancipation (neé Lee) Park” clicking away. 

The statue’s future is as shrouded as its visage: the city says “Move it!” But the state says, “No!” Perhaps a judge will decide.

And the struggle continues more concretely: several locals told us that the shroud has repeatedly been removed under cover of darkness, leaving some unknown persons’ icon on horseback once more boldly facing the rising sun. These “strippers” remain uncaught, the shroud is quickly remounted; and the cycle goes on.

We had no time to keep vigil to see the next unveiling; daylight was fading, and we wanted to pay respects at the touching Heather Heyer memorial, which feels already timeless though it is entirely of chalk drawn on a brick wall. 

These two sites were impressive enough, but another, unknown to us then, was waiting.

Our gracious hostess Helena, an activist publisher, told us about it: a Confederate cemetery near her house, owned by the University of Virginia.

When we got there a grey morning rain was falling. Helena explained that the cemetery was originally for UVA faculty, and all around us were headstones commemorating the resting places of professors of this & scholars of that.

“Confederate Dead.” “Fate denied them victory. but crowned them with glorious immortality.” A few of the “new” state-supplied headstones for the rebel soldiers.

Then during the Civil War, a sizable chunk of it had been requisitioned by the Confederate army, which set up a field hospital nearby. In its beds — as was true in most such facilities on both sides — disease killed as many or more as formal combat. So the ground here was essentially a mass soldiers’ grave; there were records of the occupants, but their actual locations were hazy.

Here too was the city’s civil war memorial which will likely be left alone, to mark and celebrate the Confederate Dead. (That by the way is fine by me; the bravado of its base inscription rang with an emptiness that ought to be obvious to all but the diminishing ranks of the hard core.)

Still, there were wrinkles even here: Helena pointed out bright, new-looking headstones, dating burials from 1862 to 1865. They not only looked new, but were in fact so, placed by order of the state government, which was funding the refurbishment of such Confederate cemeteries statewide. Further, these new markers do not stand where the soldiers they named yet lie;  but never mind.

Helena then beckoned us through an opening in the low wall, into what seemed an empty field next to the rows of scholars and fighters.

This plot had once been selected to be added to the cemetery (since UVA professors keep stubbornly falling short of immortality, glorious or in). But when archaeologists tested the ground, they discovered that it too was full of graves, unmarked, and previously unknown.

Have you guessed where we’re going with this?
This unmarked and long-forgotten additional cemetery contains the remains of 67 persons of color, many but maybe not all enslaved, who worked for (& likely were owned by) UVA.

Once this fact was verified, the University reacted, with the markers shown here. Note that those listed on the sign Helena is pausing to read (shown below), may include some of those resting here, but that is no more than somewhat educated guesswork, as incomplete as most of the names it records.

We took more pictures, and then went on to join meeting for worship with Charlottesville Quakers. Then I headed home, leaving behind the images of funerary splendor for deceased academics, nameless unmarked grass for their onetime chattels, and continued mawkish attention by the state to those who died to keep them subject to such enforced forgetting.

No wonder Lee’s shroud keeps coming off.  But at least, Heather’s  graffiti is still there.

The post The Deaths Of Racism, And Racism In Deaths appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

Categories: Blogs

Happy Birthday, Langston Hughes–Sing us a bit of your famous Blues!

Thu, 02/01/2018 - 8:45am

From Not Without Laughter, by Langston Hughes

It’s Langston Hughes’s birthday (Feb. 1, 1902- May 22, 1967). Known primarily as a poet, Hughes was a versatile writer: by his mid-twenties he had published challenging essays in national periodicals, and two books of poetry. I’m now reading his first novel, Not Without Laughter, published in 1930, when he was 28.

This passage evokes a domestic scene in a small Kansas city, modeled on Lawrence, where Hughes spent several boyhood years. Hughes was proud of his humble roots, and the creativity it wrung from hardship, like the largely homemade blues songs by the itinerant laborer Jimboy. Here he has returned after a long absence seeking work. In Hughes’s prose, we can hear the poetry woven through it.

Jimboy was home. All the neighborhood could hear his rich low baritone voice giving birth to the blues. On Saturday night he and Annjee went to bed early. On Sunday night Aunt Hager said: “Put that guitar right up, less’n it’s hymns you plans on playin’. An’ I don’t want too much o’ them, ‘larmin’ de white neighbors.”

But this was Monday, and the sun had scarcely fallen below the horizon before the music had begun to float down the alley, over back fences and into kitchen-windows where nice white ladies sedately washed their supper dishes. . . .

Long, lazy length resting on the kitchen-door-sill, back against the jamb, feet in the yard, fingers picking his sweet guitar, left hand holding against its finger-board the back of an old pocket-knife, sliding the knife upward, downward, getting thus weird croons and sighs from the vibrating strings:

O, I left ma mother
An’ I cert’ly can leave you.
Indeed I left ma mother
An’ I cert’ly can leave you,
For I’d leave any woman
That mistreats me like you do. . . .

It was all great fun, and innocent fun except when one stopped to think, as white folks did, that some of the blues lines had, not only double, but triple meanings, and some of the dance steps required very definite movements of the hips. But neither Harriett nor Jimboy soiled their minds by thinking. . . .

“Do you know this one, Annjee?’ calling his wife’s name out of sudden politeness because he had forgotten to eat her food, had hardly looked at her, in fact, since she came home. Now he glanced towards her in the darkness where she sat plump on a kitchen chair in the yard , apart from the others, with her back to the growing corn in the garden. Softly he ran his fingers, light as a breeze, over his guitar strings, imitating the wind rustling through the long leaves of the corn. A rectangle of light from the kitchen-door fell into the yard striking sidewise across the healthy orange-yellow of his skin above the unbuttoned neck of his blue laborer’s shirt. 

“Come on, sing it with us, Annjee,” he said.

“I don’t know it,” Annjee replied, with a lump in her throat, and her eyes on the silhouette of his long, muscular, animal-hard body. She loved Jimboy too much, that’s what was the matter with her! She knew there was nothing between him and her young sister except the love of music, yet he might have dropped the guitar and left Harriett in the yard for a little while to come eat the nice cold slice of ham she had brought him. She hadn’t seen him all day long. When she went to work this morning, he was still in bed–and now the blues claimed him.

In the starry blackness the singing notes of the guitar became a plaintive hum, like a breeze in a grove of palmettos; became a low moan , like the wind in a forest of live-oaks strung with long strands of hanging moss. The voice of Annjee’s golden, handsome husband on the door-step rang high and far away, lonely-like, crying with only the guitar, not his wife, to understand; crying grotesquely, crying absurdly in the summer night:

I got a mule to ride.
I got a mule to ride.
Down in the South somewhere
I got a mule to ride.

Then asking the question as an anxious left-lonesome girl-sweetheart would ask it:

You say you goin’ North
You say you goin’ North
How ‘bout yo’ … lovin’ gal?
You say you goin’ North.

Then sighing in rhythmical despair:

O, don’t you leave me here,
Babe, don’t you leave me here.
Dog-gone yo’ comin’ back!
Said don’t you leave me here.

On and on the song complained, man-verses and woman-verses, to the evening air in stanzas that Jimboy had heard in the pine-woods of Arkansas from the lumber-camp workers; in other stanzas that were desperate and dirty like the weary roads where they were sung; and in still others that the singer created spontaneously in his own mouth then and there:

O, I done made ma bed,
Says I done made ma bed.
Down in some lonesome grave
I done made ma bed.

It closed with a sad eerie twang.

“That’s right decent,” said Hager. “Now I wish you-all’d play some o’ ma pieces like When de Saints Come Marchin’ In or This World Is Not Ma Home–something Christian from de church.”

“Aw, mama, it’s not Sunday yet,” said Harriett.

“Sing Casey Jones,” called old man Tom Johnson. “That’s ma song.”

So the ballad of the immortal engineer with another mama in the Promised Land rang out promptly in the starry darkness, while everybody joined in the choruses.

“Aw, pick it, boy,” yelled the old man. “Can’t nobody play like you.”

And Jimboy remembered when he was a lad in Memphis that W. C. Handy had said: “You ought to make your living out of that, son.” But he hadn’t followed it up–too many things to see, too many places to go, too many other jobs.

“What song do you like, Annjee?” he asked, remembering her presence again. . . .

 

Not Without Laughter is a rich novel, packed with color and insight and compassion. Hughes is frank abut the impact of racism, and the anger many people of color carried because of it. Yet he is also candid about the internal tensions of this community:  lighter vs. darker color discrimination; jagged class distinctions and snobbery; even struggles over religion. 
Yet there is an underlying generosity to his storytelling, a sense of a people being beleaguered but not defeated.

 

Langston Hughes

 

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Categories: Blogs

Some Quick Quaker Responses to the SOTU

Tue, 01/30/2018 - 9:59pm

To respond to the State of the Union address, we’ve invited two special Friendly commentators, who are joining us via our new astral projection uplink. 

First up is our old buddy, Walter Whitman, late of Camden, New Jersey, where he settled once they named a big bridge there after him. Whitman is known as the author of the best-selling pro-marijuana polemic of all time, Leaves of Grass.

Walt — if you don’t mind me calling you that — you’ve hovered over a lot of these talkfests. So tell us: what was your reaction to what you heard tonight?

Whitman: Why sure, Chuck. I even scribbled a few notes; let me check my pockets. Yeah, here they are:

Walt Whitman’s Caution.

TO The States, or any one of them, or any city of
The States,
Resist much, obey little;
Once unquestioning obedience, once fully enslaved;
Once fully enslaved, no nation, state, city, of this earth,
ever afterward resumes its liberty. . . .

Supporters of DACA hold signs in support of DACA, and the rights of undocumented persons at Colorado State University during a rally in the Plaza on Monday. (Forrest Czarnecki | Collegian) My Alma Mater!

To a Certain Cantatrice, a female opera singer

HERE, take this gift!
I was reserving it for some hero, speaker, or General,

One who should serve the good old cause, the great
Idea, the progress and freedom of the race;
Some brave confronter of despots—some daring rebel;
—But I see that what I was reserving, belongs to you
just as much as to any.

Oh, and one more thing:

When liberty goes out of a place, it is not the first to
go, nor the second or third to go,
It waits for all the rest to go—it is the last.

When there are no more memories of heroes and
martyrs,
And when all life, and all the souls of men and women
are discharged from any part of the earth,
Then only shall liberty, or the idea of liberty, be dis-
charged from that part of the earth,
And the infidel come into full possession.

So that’s about it, Chuck: Meet the New Boss; Worse than the Old Boss. (But maybe I borrowed that from somebody; can’t remember Who.)

Chuck: Well thank you, Walt, always good to have you on the show.

Our next analyst is James Richardson, Jr., a Unitarian minister from Brooklyn, New York. Jim, and a fast friend of Progressive Friends. I understand you also wrote something about the SOTU — you guys sure work fast. 

Richardson: Why yes, Chuck, I admit I started on it a few days ago, because there was so much material. And that was a good thing, because it came thick and fast tonight. But there was really nothing new in it.  I even put a retro sort-of title to it, tried to sum it up:

The Tyrant’s Ancient Argument: Or, The Dangers of Thought

Cease your thinking, O ye people! shouts the Tyrant, fierce and loud. 
As, with scornful eye, he glances o’er the slowly moving crowd;

Ye were made for toil and labor — mark your hard and brawny hand!
We are God’s appointed Rulers, to obey is his command!

Cease your thinking, lest ye fancy ye can rule yourselves by thought,

And the world’s fair peace and order be to swift destruction brought;
Lest, seduced by idle dreams, ye may fondly think there be
Minds and souls in those rough bodies, and we’re men as well as he.

Cease your thinking, chimes the Rich man, else you’ll soon uneasy grow,
Feeling you must have whatever we your lords and betters do;
I am rich and sleek and happy, my condition’s well enough;
every change my peace endangers, and your grievance is but stuff:

For it makes you fierce and restless, fills your lives with discontent,
Loses present joys in grasping what for you was never meant. . . .
Claiming that mankind are equal, that the bondman should be free,


That the vile, degraded masses all should educated be;
Claiming that the humble labor of the low degraded thrall
Is too worthy, is too noble, to depend on capital.

Cease your thinking, shrieks the Bigot, there’s your Bible, and the creed
To interpret what it tells you, so that all may be agreed;

So that no one thro’ his thinking, daring to dissent from these,
Might blasphemously endanger his salvation and his peace.

Carnal reason’s use is sinful; ‘tis a blind deceitful guide;

I have wondered why ‘twas given us — Satan’s lure is Reason’s pride!
God ordained you Falwell-Graham, who should safely think for you;
Tell you what you must believe in, what you may and may not do.

Chuck: Well, thank you Jim. I guess you’ve shown us again that a man’s Best Friend is His Dog-gerel. (It’s a woman’s Best Friend too, I think.)
Oops — there goes our astral projection uplink, and the password is lost again somewhere in the Akashic records. So I better go look for it. And that’s all from here. Cheer up, folks, there’s no more than seven more of these SOTU’s to get through, max . . .

 

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Categories: Blogs

Quakers Getting on the DOWN Escalator

Mon, 01/29/2018 - 1:46am

Recently I read the amazing account of the Great Black Migration from the South, The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson.

It’s a fine, fine book, and its relevance here is that, paradoxically, until it was well underway, there was no such thing as “The Great Migration”; that is, no one named or organized it, no one “joined” it.

Rather, there were individuals & families fleeing for their own survival: seeking escape from the personal costs of official southern racism, grinding poverty and unrestrained violence. Only after such private decisions were acted on by hundreds of thousands, over  decades, did scholars & writers come along to christen, study and begin to chronicle it.

Yet while “spontaneous” and unorganized, the Great Migration was indeed real and momentous, with national impact that’s still being felt.

A change equally unorganized & unheralded, potentially as momentous at least for us is, I believe, underway in the U. S. liberal Quakerism I discovered in 1965 (after ditching pre-Vatican II Catholicism).

This change does not necessarily involve moving from physical places, but rather from one economic and class location to another.

When I found it, Liberal American Quakerism was a solidly middle class “sub-subculture,” nearly all white, with a heavy academic/educational tinge. (I acronym it “EMCWAQE”–“E” now as in “Ex-,” or as vocalized, “EmQuake.“)

I don’t name EmQuake to flagellate anybody (or myself). After all, everybody & every group is conditioned/limited by its surroundings, so let’s just skip the trendy guilt-trips, which don’t fool anybody anyway, except sometimes us.

However, now in my 53nd year in this group, I see more & more of what’s been well-documented by economists/pollsters, etc. on a broader canvas, namely that these segments (the middle class part of EmQuake) are in a steady slide of downward mobility. We are not leaving our economic & class “homes” voluntarily, but like many of those in the Black Migration, being forced out.

This slide lacks the epic scale and the moments of high drama that Wlkerson’s book captures so well. (I mean, her story had lynch mobs, terrorist sheriffs, and years of field labor under a punishing sun. But who’s going to write an un-put-downable memoir about being stuck with student loan debt for most of their working years?) Besides, in the Great Migration, the pilgrims moved with hopes for improving their situation, which many did.

This reverse follows almost 50 years of post-World War Two expansion of EmQuake jobs, income, and seeming influence. And if current Congressional plans come to pass, this slide will take a DEEP new dive for most of us outside the upper middle.

Besides erosion of income & security, another big manifestation of the decline is loss of TIME: people are working more (both spouses in such households); it takes more concentrated effort to keep households together & kids on track to the higher ed that used to maintain middle class status & income, etc. The “weekend” shrinks, even as ever more is crammed into it.

But as in the Deep South, both this downward economic mobility & the time-crunch are experienced & perceived mainly as individual or single family issues –that’s how we’re taught to think & perceive in these Individual States of America. It’s hard for very many of us to see past this tree to even the edge of the forest, or admit that we’re part of it.

What does this shift from the UP to the DOWN class escalator mean for “voluntary associations” (aka churches)?

That too has been well-documented: it makes their old middle class patterns increasingly squeezed & dysfunctional. Church was once central to many families and their communities.

Now it has to compete with work, school, family pressures, politics, invasive media, plain old fatigue, discrediting scandals, and so forth.
Thus [with some interesting exceptions which we don’t have time for here] church, along with many other former social pillars, is increasingly being marginalized for many.

What’s the remedy here, especially for Meetings & Friends churches? That’s not so easy to see.

I hear a lot about new church marketing plans, ways to tweak & repackage the old patterns to corral more of the Squeezed folks and that magic group of their offspring, The Millennials; but I don’t see many results–the slide continues. And it looks to me particularly serious for EmQuakes: our “secure middleness” is gone-with-the-wind, but it seems still baked into our institutional & cultural Quaker bones. The baking started well before 1945, and I’m not at all sure American Quakerism, especially the liberal branches, has a vision of survival without it.

One suggestion, though: what if we could begin to reimagine EmQuakes as a no-longer “solid” middle class group? I don’t think there’s even a name for this condition yet: “ex-middle class”? “Newly-Almost Poor”? “Sliders”? “The Emerging Precariat.” Other ideas?

By whatever name, though, how do non-prosperous folks “do church” (or meeting)? Are there non-prosperous segments of American Quakerism (past or present) to learn from?

And what about the psychological/emotional work such a rethink would involve? To be sure, EmQuakes have always been “concerned” for the “disadvantaged”; but that whole outlook is 100% philanthropic. that is, it moves socially from “above” [i.e., more affluent/powerful] to “below”: We-the-prosperous, aiding Them-the-deprived (particularly the “deserving poor”).

Again, I’m not interested in flagellating ourselves about that; EmQuakes have done a lot of good work for a lot of people in this mode, Thank Thee Very Much. It is what it is.

Or at least, it was what it was.

Yet the point remains that it’s a huge shock (trauma is a better word) to go from one side of that transaction to the other. And that’s where I think many (most?) of us are headed.

Dealing with the impact (PTSD — Post Traumatic Spiritual Distress) will involve more than economics; it will be a heavy-duty religious task. It means the recalibration of our outlook on both our Religious Society & its work in the world.

As far as I can tell, it doesn’t seem like most EmQuakes are well-prepared for any of this, in which case one would expect a time of confusion, grieving, and internal disorder. Which, if you look beyond the diminishing cozy Quaker bubbles, is already plentiful in U. S. Quakerdom.

Where these musings are pointing is toward internal work: seeking & threshing about “American Quakerism During The Big Slide.”

Such labour is not to be confused with the current thrusts of outward Resistance. That must continue (except for those who have arranged not to get old, disabled, de-careered, or sick); yet this internal work is distinct, with its own imperatives. And, to be plain, its own addition to the Time Squeeze. It might start with discussion & study, as well as learning how to minister to each other through such periods. And recovering a once-vigorous practice of mutual aid.

I realize this is not much of a detailed program. It’s like correctly noticing that a thick fog has descended all around us in an already gloomy forest: knowing that is useful, but doesn’t shed light on the winding path in and through the gloom. But maybe it’s a starting point.

One younger Friend (younger than me, at least) has just published a kind of manifesto for such deliberation: Scot Miller, of upstate Michigan. His book is Gospel of the Absurd.

I’m planning to discuss Scot’s book with him at Spring Friends Meeting here in North Carolina, on Seventh Day (Saturday), Second Month (February) 24, beginning at 10 AM. Y’all come.

Scot argues that the way forward for EmQuakes (tho he has his own peculiar terminology: he calls them/us Christians), is to embrace the slide, embrace the stripping of our liberal dreams of affluence-that-underwrites-influence, turn all that stuff upside down, and replace it.

With what? With the absurd. Or at least practices that sound absurd to the  well-conditioned declining middle class mind. Such as:

With a communal, small-scale, deliberately marginal set of “ministries,” especially alongside those suffering directly from current injustices. (He lives not far from Flint, Michigan, and works often among the many there who are still without safe water). And he wants this all to be regularly marinated in ongoing Bible study and serious accountability to the group. (Serious = their way or the highway.)

If this sounds to you like something close to the Amish, or maybe the Catholic Worker, or various monastic efforts — then you’re on the right track.

Scot himself dresses plain, runs a dairy farm, and hopes to start one such agriculture-based community on his acreage. He’s a hybrid, Quaker and a Brethren church minister, about equally attached and ticked off at both.

Scot Miller at work (holding the books).

And he’s come to this proposed program, both through a turbulent personal journey, and after a tracking his way through seminary. There he tackled a stack of dense theological tomes, on postmodernist, womanist, social gospel, Yoderian, Cone-ian, Hauerwasian, Derridadian & Macintyrian approaches to theology. (But if you don’t know these names, don’t worry).

Do his ideas make any practical sense? Are there additional unconventional approaches we need to articulate and wrestle with? (Other than the fallback, “More of the same”?)

Personally I’m not at all sure his plan will work for Quakers. But I can’t deny we’re in a tough time, in need of some renewal of thought and discernment, and I respect his thinking and determination. Plus, I have friends in the Catholic Worker movement, and the outsized impact of their version of this approach over 85 years is not to be gainsaid.

Yet, could such an approach really get any traction among the hardened individualism and obsession with formal political activity that preoccupy most American Friends today?

Among those who still feel secure, probably not. But for the EmQuakes, Friends who see their future, and that of their children and grandchildren, riding on that escalator — for those of us who are beginning to realize we may be part of another unwilling, gathering “Great” Migration (downward rather than to one of the compass points), it’s worth at least a serious look.

Spring Friends Meeting, Snow Camp, NC. (It won’t be this green yet on February 24.)

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Categories: Blogs

It’s Almost Here: My Recurring Quaker Nightmare-Jan. 27

Fri, 01/26/2018 - 9:25am

Chamomile tea? St. John’s Wort?
Staying up all night?
Nothing seems to work!

I’d even try Kale . . . . (But I did that last year; no luck.)

Watch This Space. The Clock is Ticking . . .

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Categories: Blogs

Oh No! My Quaker Nightmare is Coming Again!

Thu, 01/25/2018 - 11:15am

Yes. I can feel it.

I’ve tried everything. but it keeps coming: January 27.

Watch this space.

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Categories: Blogs

A Year of #45. My Year of Resistance.

Sat, 01/20/2018 - 1:37am

During the past year, resistance took many forms, and cropped up in many places. It was also exhausting and resisters took many hits. And the struggle(s) are far from over.

I tried to do my share. And in an effort to keep up my own spirits, and maybe offer some tidbits of encouragement to others,  I’ve assembled this personal scrapbook. In the age of phone cameras, such documentation has become much easier. If others are moved to share theirs, I look forward to sampling them.

And it all started, of course, before the new year. After November 8, 2016, like many others, I spent many days reenacting this famous painting of “The Scream,” aloud,  silently, and in between. I don’t know if it helped or not. Denial is more than a river in Egypt. But then . . .

A guy had been hauling this trailer-cum-mobile shrine all over the country for months. This night it was parked in Fayetteville.

Also not sure if it helped to drive down to Fayetteville, my old stomping ground, to see the post-victory rally by #45, but I did.  It was the same old incoherent bombast, made even more chilling as the prelude to executive action; but the jabber all boiled down to one word: Trouble.

By early December there seemed a ray of light, at least locally: NC media trumpeted that a deal had been reached between the new governor and the rightwing legislature to repeal the infamous, ruinous transphobic “Bathroom Bill.” The day before I called a transgender friend, told her I was going down to the legislature in Raleigh to watch this happen, and then would drive out to her place so we could have a celebratory lunch. Deal!

I was there in the hall all day, with activists on both sides doing their thing in the balcony between the NC House & Senate chambers. The sun finally sank, and in the darkness at the end of that long day, there was no vote, no repeal. And no victory lunch. 

Some weeks later a fake kind of “repeal”-but-not-really was voted. The new governor declared victory; the legislature declared victory. The local media declared the story over. Transgender folks did not. Still no victory lunch; not even a victory snack.

Soon the inauguration was upon us.
There were tons of great protest signs; this one may be my favorite.

Rather than watch or listen to the ceremony, I drove south again to Fayetteville. While working at a Quaker peace center there near Fort Bragg, I had taken part in dozens, scores of peaceful vigils and protests.

If you can spot my white beard in the second row, the sign I’m holding says, “I Mourn for My country.” It’s still true.

And some of my old cronies, along with some new ones, were having  vigil of mourning and protest there, downtown at what is called the Market House, the symbolic center of the city.

You may recall that in Washington, the inaugural crowd was measly, pathetic. But our Fayetteville gathering was dogged and uplifting, as it had been so many times before.

And the next day, I didn’t go to the Women’s March, but it was overwhelming anyway. The reverberations all the way down in Carolina felt almost physical; and the Raleigh parallel gathering was huge too.

Yet, in the midst of the outcry and hullaballoo, I couldn’t help but strike a cautionary note: “In consideration for the families of the victims, I urge mourners to hold off on official memorial services at least until the massacre has actually happened.” I’m not sure it sank in, though.

The iconography of the pussy hat inaugurated something else: the age of weaponized humor. The invaders in the White (supremacy) House produced an ongoing supply of howlers as well as endless lies. Mockery was a form of fightback; satire, the crueler the better, was a survival necessity.

Among the early high/lowlights, for me nothing surpassed the historic Bowling Green Massacre, for which one of the administration’s spokeswoman-of-the-moment Kellyanne Conway will long be remembered.

But with most of this humor, the subtext was anything but funny. “Bowling Green” was one small part in the ongoing assault on immigrants, and Muslims. I soon found myself at the Market House in Fayetteville again, to join a protest organized by local Muslims.

This gathering was remarkable in many ways, one being visual: the group was practically wrapped in American flags, some quite large, most being waved by the Muslims.

I count seven American flags visible in this segment of the American Muslims protesting the administration’s anti-islamic policies. There were many more.

Listening to their impassioned words, I soon understood why: all too many had come to the U.S. from nations with repressive and violent governments. For all its previous failings, for these Muslims, America was a land of more freedom, safety and opportunity than they had known. The newcomers were patriots in training, others were confirmed. The idea that they might be expelled, or turned into scapegoats in their new country evoked cries of patriotism.

Not many days later, I joined a huge crowd in downtown Raleigh, who listened to Rev. William Barber declaring that he was not going to “bow down” to the new rulers’ tactics or repressive goals.

One of these goals was, and is, to restrict voting rights, a process well underway in North Carolina. I brought out an experienced sign for the event, which attracted the attention of many cameras. It also drew a photobomb effort that, once I discovered it, was very welcome.

By March, I was working with some fellow Quakers to get our bearings and talk about resistance, individual and collective. For this we organized an “Emergency Consultation” at Spring Friends Meeting.

There interested Quakers and some others intensively discussed numerous issues and action possibilities. We didn’t make decisions — this was not the start of  new organization, but an event to offer information, encouragement & networking. We also had a bell to ring to wake the countryside, and fine singing to lift the spirit.

In April, Marches for Science coursed through many cities, and the one in Raleigh NC was huge. It too featured a large number of bitingly funny, even prescient signs — who knew the nerds could be so witty?? Yet despite the fine weather and lively speeches, this struggle is ongoing and vast, affecting too many fields of science for a layman to even list.

Great sign, but as we’ve seen very recently, making sh*t up not only can be done in the White (supremacy) House, but even happens in the Oval Office, to the shame of Americans of all persuasions.

 

Some forms of resistance in evidence at the Science March were moving as well as encouraging.

By spring, resistance was not only about big marches, but also about taking citizen concern to members of Congress. I sent dozens of faxes to the two NC Republican senators. I also shared them on social media to broaden their visibility. 

Many other resisters were organizing to descend upon the public meetings of regime-supporting Congressmen & women, a great many of whom did not want to face or hear from their constituents. That was true  of many Members from Carolina, and still is of some. But . . .

A Fax I sent to NC Senator Thom Tillis. he didn’t answer. I shared it widely on social media, where the response indicated it had a wide readership.

One exception, in early May, was Republican Rep. Mark Walker from the Sixth district, in north central NC, an area which includes Spring Friends Meeting and the Snow Camp Outdoor drama, of which we’ll hear more.
Like the other districts, the 6th has been drastically gerrymandered to make Walker’s reelection seemingly safe. So on a May morning he decided to hold a public meeting, and since I had business out that way, I decided to drop in on it — not to speak, since I’m not a resident, but to observe.

Walker at the front, gets the red card treatment for one of his talking points against Obamacare. Waving a red card meant the constituent was not pleased. Maybe the 2018 election in his district will be more interesting than the last few.

The room, at a community college, was nearly full, and most of those present had come to challenge, not to cheer.  A staffer shoved a ticket into my hand when I entered. As I sat down, it was announced that tickets would be drawn from a box to choose questioners.

A refresher for Rep. (ex-Rev.) Walker.

And the first ticket drawn was — mine?? 

Rep. Mark Walker

What? It was true. So I stumbled up to the microphone, trying to think quickly of a question that might get past his well-practiced talking points.

Somehow I succeeded. Walker had previously been a preacher, and so I asked him if he believed in the Ninth of the Ten commandments, the one against “bearing false witness” (i.e., telling lies.) A bit puzzled, he said he did. 

So then I asked what he thought about the tally the Washington Post had been publishing each week since inauguration, tracking and documenting #45’s lies, which were running at about 5 per day. Was he okay with that?

Now Walker was really befuddled. As he stuttered, it appeared he might not be exactly sure what the Washington Post was, and he certainly didn’t know anything about this tally. But after much backing and filling, and under my prodding, he did finally manage to come out more or less foursquare against telling lies, without being more specific. Not his best performance.

Other questions were mostly about health care, aka Obamacare, which he was against. As an accidental resister, I felt afterward that I had done okay that morning.

I had gone into Walker’s district that day not for politics, but to work on the summer productions of the Snow Camp Outdoor Theatre. And that work, beginning in early June, took up most of the rest of the summer.

This Confederate flag, on a pole that is at least 60 feet high, flies freely only a few miles from Snow Camp NC.

While it might not seem like “summer stock” theatre has much to do with resistance, I would contend that this year, these dramas, were very pertinent.

In the year when conflicts over Confederate monuments led to violence, these signs have popped up in the same area as Snow Camp.

For one thing, the two plays we present, The Sword of Peace and Pathway to Freedom, deal with issues that are not just historical,  but very timely: revolution against an oppressive government, and the Underground Railroad and its resistance to slavery. And they also bring into the arena some of the key values of the Quakers who have lived in the region for 300 years, and faced these upheavals directly, not abstractly.

And for another,  these plays bring together an intentionally interracial cast, which has to work together and perform in an area which is host not only to them but to very vocal upholders of the system of slavery and its repressive aftermath.

On a truck bumper, in the same county. The confederate flag on the license plate represents the Sons of Confederate Veterans. The “Feds Out of Dixie” sticker represents something besides nostalgia.

And for a third, the “counter-resistance” represented by the 45 regime is all around in that area. Not that we were subjected to open hostility (that I’m aware of).  But struggles that may be distant for some, are very close by here. and the enthusiastic responses by our audiences suggested repeatedly that the dramas, which were not written with this past year in mid, are nonetheless not merely timely, but even urgent.

Our play “The Sword of Peace” closes with candles being lit one from another, with a plea for an end to “wars and rumors of war.”

 

They are also a lot of work; and I was helping out there all I could. still am (a viable summer drama program requires year-round effort).

Autumn was a slower time for me; I did a spell in the hospital, and discovered something called “post-surgical depression.” (Yes! It’s not just post- for “partum” any more.) But by late November I was back in the saddle, helping to publicize the hearings of the North Carolina Citizens Commission on Torture , which was an outgrowth of an anti-torture group I’ve worked with for more than ten years. 

(NC provided the base for “torture taxi” planes, run by a CIA front not far from Raleigh) that took many people to torture at “black sites.” Guantanamo, and other places, in violation of U.S. and international law. Most were later proven innocent and released. The regime of 45 has made numerous ominous noises about resuming torture.)

There were two other more personal projects underway then. In my career I’ve mostly been a writer. So for me, resistance has involved many writing projects. One that felt urgent recently was the republication of Uncertain Resurrection, a book that first appeared in 1969, which was an account of Dr. King’s ill-fated Poor Peoples Campaign (PPC) in Washington.

2018 will mark the PPC’s 50th anniversary, and NC’s Rev. William Barber as undertaken to revive the PPC this spring and summer. 

My book is one of the only accounts of the 1968 PPC. I hoped that getting it back in print could make it a resource for the new Campaign and for others interested in it. 

The 1968 effort was marred by numerous  mistakes. To be sure, many conditions are different now than in 1968, but there are also parallels. Perhaps by examining the record, organizers of the new PPC could avoid repeating old mistakes, and sidestep some new ones.

Once that book was edited and available, I turned to another. Since 1999, I’ve edited a journal called Quaker Theology. Some might question the relevance of theology to resistance, and regard Quakers, as a small denomination, as of little consequence in the larger struggles we now face.

But of course, as a Quaker I’m biased, and won’t argue that matter here. All I will say is that it’s a matter of faith for me that Quakers have a useful job to do in the larger canvas of social struggle and work for justice, and figuring out how to do that job involves theology among other matters.

But I had fallen behind in putting out the journal since the earthquake of November 2016. So I set out to catch up. And just a week or so ago I finished a double issue of it, with the theme of “Quakers & Resistance.” And whatever one thinks of theology, it turns out that there were (and are) plenty of serious Quakers who have taken their place in resisting injustice, war and racism over more than 350 years; so I had plenty to work with.

My photo of the candles lighting up the room at the conclusion of the Chapel Hill Friends’ Christmas Eve meeting, 2017.

Along the way, I attended a special Christmas eve service at Chapel Hill Friends Meeting. In it the group reenacted a practice that was begun by a group of German Quakers, who lived in bomb-wrecked Berlin after the end of World War Two. With no electricity, they lit their silence based meeting with candles, starting with one, glowing dimly in the dusk, then added to by others, starting more candles from the earlier one, and watching the light grow even as the outer darkness deepened.

No formal prayers are said during this process, though some speak as they light their candle. I have always found this ritual very powerful and it was again that evening.

In the following days, as I finished the writing and editing of the journal issue, I needed a cover. And it didn’t take long to decide to use the photo of those candles. And now it’s done, and getting out.

So this is my review of haphazard resistance in the first year of #45. I don’t think of it as a model,  and I’m sure others did more, on a larger scale. But it is an example, and I think it shows that, the words of Jesus in Luke 10, “the harvest is plentiful”; that is, no matter what our background, skills, or worldly resources or limitations, there is useful resistance work we can do. And in this time, we ought to be doing it.

Closing this first year of the #45 regime doesn’t mean I’m done with resistance. Although I’m feeling my age (now 75), neither the work nor I am finished. In a few hours, I’ll head out to put in an oar on another project, and still others await.

I’m often tired. And yes, I also often get the blues when I ponder how much there is to be done to get us out of this downward spiral. I’ve been at this, in one way and another, for a long time; maybe too long?

But I still remember what Dr. King used to say, quoting a black woman elder: “We got to keep on keepin’ on.”

A mule train from the Poor Peoples Campaign, 1968. Photo by Laura Jones.

 

 

The post A Year of #45. My Year of Resistance. appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

Categories: Blogs

Quaker Theology: Highlights of New Double Issue

Wed, 01/17/2018 - 12:04pm

The new double issue of Quaker Theology is titled “Quakers & Resistance.” It considers highlights (and some lowlights) of Quaker resistance to oppression, both inside and outside the Society of Friends.

For example, it recalls  what happened to Lucretia Mott when she showed up in Richmond, Indiana in 1847, at the time when Indiana Yearly Meeting was gathering. She had traveled by stagecoach from Philadelphia, a bone-rattling journey which took many days. She had barely stepped down from the coach when she was confronted by a committee of elders, who told her to “Go home!”

What did Lucretia do then? You can find out more here.

Not that Philadelphia had been free of troubles.

Benjamin Lay, small person, big ideas. And if that looks like a cave behind him, it is. He lived there, though he was not poor.

This issue also hears directly from Friend Benjamin Lay, who was actually carried out of meetings by constables, called by powerful Philadelphia elders who didn’t want to hear any more of his sermons denouncing slaveholding, which was widely practiced among affluent Quakers. Lucky for the constables, Lay was barely four feet tall, and nonviolent. But not quiet.

No, not quiet at all. We invited him in, here.

Even Quaker artists worked to resist war fever in England during World War One. (Yes, there were some Quaker artists by then.) One was Joseph Southall, who produced drawings for a radical antiwar pamphlet, called “The Ghosts of the Slain.”

Southall didn’t have to worry about meeting elders, though. Instead, government censorship of what were deemed unpatriotic publications was a very real threat. How did he get around it? Find out here.  And this is a hint:

But resistance isn’t only a western Quaker thing. Half a world away from England, in Korea, Friend Ham Sok Hon’s “spiritual journey,” which included demands for basic human rights, took him into prisons run first by the Imperial Japanese, then by the North Korean Communists, and then by South Korean dictators. It also left him religiously homeless, til he found the small Meeting in Seoul.

Why is he now hailed as the “Korean Gandhi”? We’ve got the beginnings of an answer.

And have you ever heard of the “Questing Beast?” Friend Chel Avery  reports that “

The Questing Beast is a minor character from the legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Think about the peace testimony as I describe her to you.
 She had the head of a serpent, the body of a lizard, the haunches of a lion, and the feet of a deer. And wherever she went, she made a noise in her belly like thirtycouple of hounds questing.

The Peace Testimony?? What? No, wait! Chel can explain; better check it out. (I mean —“thirty couple of hounds questing”?? –it could apply to some committee meetings I’ve been through . . .)

And speaking of Quaker women on a quest, Marion Anderson (not the famous Black opera singer, but a Quaker from Michigan) followed her quest to end the Vietnam War right into the heart of the Pentagon one day in 1970:

I entered the Pentagon. “Where are the Joint Chiefs of Staff meeting?” I asked the first officer I saw.

    “They are in the E Ring, but I don’t know the room number,” he responded, pointing.

    I walked on, carrying my . . . box of copies of We  Have Not Shaken Hands With The Troops; We Have Led Them.

    As I continued down the corridors past one guard after another, I kept asking where the Joint Chiefs were meeting. Of course, I had no picture ID around my neck like everyone else in this area, but the box of literature I was carrying probably obscured this fact.

    The people I asked kept getting higher in rank . . . .  Finally a general gave me the precise number of the room where the Joint Chiefs’ meeting was taking place.

I walked by a bored Black guard, past a blond secretary, and a general sitting in an anteroom at his desk, and then there I was, in the meeting of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. . . .

And then what happened? Find out here.

To learn about resistance, of course, Friends don’t need to dwell exclusively among Quakers.  We also consider two such “testimonies.” One is by Larry Derfner, who grew up in California, then moved to Israel. An outspoken eft-liberal, he has spoken out against the Occupation there for years, even as the political climate there has gotten steadily more repressive. In a striking memoir, No Country for Jewish Liberals, he wonders aloud:

“So how do I live with this – being a liberal, a believer in equality, in a country that is not only far less liberal and equitable than the one I left, but that is decisively illiberal and inequitable, that’s running the world’s last colonial military dictatorship, and, worst of all, that offers slim hope of ever changing?

How? His answer is here:.

And then  an equally eloquent but very different testimony comes from Clare Hanrahan in her memoir, The Half Life of  A Free Radical.

Clare grew up Catholic in segregated Memphis, lost two brothers to the Vietnam War, and now continues her witness, which included six months in a federal pen after nonviolent civil disobedience, from Asheville NC. 

These are only eight of twenty-one wide-ranging and mind-stretching articles and essays in this new double issue. It’s meant to begin making the long and rich heritage of Quaker resistance more accessible in today’s tumultuous and, many feel, desperate worldly situation.

Yes that’s theology.  (And by the way, it does this without a single mention of — well, The One That Everyone Talks About all the time these days.)

The issue is available in three forms. On Amazon, in paperback or Kindle; and online here, no charge.

Since 1999.

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Categories: Blogs

From “Quakers & Resistance” — Tom Fox Paid the Price

Fri, 01/12/2018 - 7:51am

From the Introduction to: Tom Fox Was My Friend. Yours, Too.

Chuck Fager

I

John Stephens, Quaker House intern, computer artist. he designed our Sergeant Abe , “The Honest Recruiter” character in the summer of 2005.

            John Stephens called me with the news: Tom Fox and three other members of the Christian peacemaker Teams’ group (CPT) in Baghdad had been kidnaped. It was just after Thanksgiving, late November, 2005.

Sgt. Abe turned up nationwide, and was banned in at least one school. Many young people were helped by his carefully accurate materials. A few years later, the army put out their version, “Sgt. Star. (Not nearly as cool.)

            That summer of 2005 John had been an intern at Quaker House in Fayetteville, North Carolina, where I was Director. When he applied for an internship, I asked him for a letter of reference; the reference came by email from Tom Fox, in Baghdad.

            John described in his application essay how he knew Tom, from work in a market that became part of Whole Foods. I had met Tom at Langley Hill Friends meeting in McLean, Virginia, where we were both members. I didn’t know him especially well, but his children were the same ages as my younger two, and the four of them grew up in that meeting, conspiring to torment a generation of First Day School teachers, on many a First Day morning. Tom was also very kind to me at some moments of personal need.

            Tom’s path to Iraq and a lonely death there was straightforward. We talked about it in August, 2005 when I saw him for the final time.

            It was at the annual sessions of Baltimore Yearly Meeting, our regional Quaker conference, in Harrisonburg Virginia.

            Spiritually, Baltimore Yearly Meeting had long been home to both of us. The body operates three summer camps, and Tom had been active with them, serving as cook at one.

He had also been a “Friendly Adult Presence” (or FAP) with the yearly meeting’s youth group, even filling in as interim youth staffperson for a period. At the yearly meeting sessions, he frequently worked with the children’s program. Indeed, if it had not been for his leading toward CPT and Iraq, any biography of Tom would have been much more about youth work than peace witness as such.

            When we met in Harrisonburg in 2005, Tom was between tours in Iraq, and we shared a meal and did some catching up.

            We talked first about kids, as older dads will do. His Andrew and Kassie, my Guli and Asa, are in their mid to late thirties now, scattered across the continent, but still in touch. In the early 2000s, our sons started a Quaker Hip Hop group called the Friendly Gangstaz Committee. The band caused quite a stir in our small, staid Quaker world, with its startling, shouted renditions of well-worn hymns like “Simple Gifts.” Tom and I chuckled ruefully about that.

            We also talked about work. From that same faith community, Tom and I had traveled somewhat parallel paths, trying to be true to the meaning of texts like, “Blessed are the peacemakers,”(Matthew 5:9) and “seek peace and pursue it.” (Proverbs 34:14)

            How do you “pursue peace” in a violent world? My own seeking had led, after a series of conventional jobs, to Fayetteville and Quaker House, a long-standing peace project hard by Fort Bragg, one of the largest U.S. military bases.

Tom in high school, Chattanooga, Tennessee, 1969. For young men like him in those years, the next stop was the military draft, and for many, combat in Vietnam. Tom had little money, but he was a fine clarinetist: he auditioned for the Marine band that played at the White House, and got in. The band was a non-combat unit. He sometimes came to Friends meeting in his uniform.

            Tom had grown up in Chattanooga, Tennessee, then did twenty years in the Marine Corps band in Washington DC, playing bass clarinet – about as unmilitary a soldier as one could feature. He began attending Friends meetings during this time.

After the Marine band, he became a baker and assistant manager at a growing health food supermarket, where he met John Stephens. Tom was good at all this, and his bosses wanted him to move up in management.

            But Tom heard a “different drummer,” especially after September 11, 2001. With at least two wars on, he felt called to “pursue peace” in a concrete way. After much prayer and reflection, he joined the Christian Peacemaker Teams.

            CPT sets out to bring the “weapons of the spirit” into the front lines of conflict, places where death and life are but a hair’s breadth apart. Tom’s first assignment took him to Iraq. For a respite, he visited the Occupied Territories of Palestine.

            Work in Iraq was dangerous, in a region where conflicts  seem hopelessly intractable. Tom stuck with it. Then, as the Iraq occupation shifted from the foolish illusion of “Mission Accomplished” presidential boasting to the grinding facts of guerrilla and civil war, he headed back there.

The four hostages, from Left; James Loney, Harmeet Sooden, Tom Fox & Norman Kember.

            After Tom was kidnaped, along with Canadians James Loney and Harmeet Sooden, and British pacifist Norman Kember, conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh sneered that “part of me likes this,” because, “I like any time a bunch of leftist feel-good hand-wringers are shown reality.”

            What’s striking in this comment is not only the mean-spiritedness, but also the ignorance. Tom certainly knew the reality of Baghdad’s dangers, firsthand. He had talked frankly about them over our last August supper. Tom was calm but clear about it: kidnaping, torture, murder were daily fare on all sides there.

Tom, seen in a video released by his captors, early on in their captivity. In later videos he looked more haggard and drawn.

            How could he be so offhand about it? I don’t know, except to say: that was Tom.

            Illusions? Not in CPT. It was a CPT team, after all, that brought the first reports about the toerture and abuse at Abu Ghraib prison to reporter Seymour Hersh. They had also seen other unarmed humanitarian workers in Iraq kidnaped and some killed.

            But there’s more to it than simply experience. The Christian Peacemaker Teams take their identity seriously. Their namesake, after all, was another unarmed troublemaker in an occupied country, who was tortured and then suffered a gruesome public execution. One other phrase that comes to mind is Matthew 10:24: “The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord.”

II

            But such quotations roll too easily off the tongue. When John Stephens called about the kidnaping, I wanted Tom and his colleagues released, safely, and NOW. But what, John and I asked each other, could we do to help free them?

            John was calling from home in Virginia, where he does web work as a  consultant. We kept returning to this question over the next few days – and we were not the only ones – intensity was rising as a deadline for the captives’ execution approached.

            Experts in crisis situations advised informally that the best approach was to raise the prisoners’ public profile, and seek as much public outcry for their safety as possible. That would raise the political cost to the kidnapers of harming or killing them. There were no guarantees, we understood that. But it was an alternative to blind panic or paralysis.

            Talking this over with John on the evening of December 1, an idea surfaced: what about creating a website and an online petition calling for their release? John’s experience as a webweaver, and such is the accessibility of the internet that within only two hours, he had a site, www.freethecaptivesnow.org up and running, with a petition and links to public statements calling for the release of the four captives.

John Stephens designed and uploaded this banner and website in two hours aiming to join with an extraordinary international campaign to head off the hostages execution in early December, 2005, and then work for their release.

            For the first several days of December, there was a growing international chorus of such statements, even from very militant Muslim groups, supporting the CPT workers and their release. Our online petition, along with another, soon gathered more than 50,000 signatures from around the world. There were vigils and rallies. While we were terrified for our friends, the swelling response made this an exciting period.

            The deadline passed, but a video showed they were still alive.  After December 8, when a second deadline for executing Tom and the others passed without killings, momentum shifted.

The flurry of statements died down; news reports dwindled and became routine. From Baghdad there was ominous silence about our friends, amid the noise and cries of ongoing civil war. For John and me, at our website, frantic effort to beat a deadline was replaced by keeping a vigil.

            Every night for the next thirteen weeks, either John or I would scan dozens of wire service reports for news of Tom and the others, and post what we found: with only a few exceptions, the news was “no news,” which we hoped was “good news.” The exceptions were when gloomy videos of the four appeared – and then, on March 7, 2006 a video of just three – minus Tom.

            On March 10, 2006 came the dispatch we dreaded most: confirmation of Tom’s murder. (We were told that early reports  he had been tortured were not confirmed by a later autopsy.) The only relief from this loss appeared on March 23, when the other three captives were freed by British commandos.

            Who killed Tom? And why?

            Few other than the ones who pulled the trigger know the truth, and one wonders how much even they understand. Speculation abounds, of course, with many of my more left-leaning friends imagining a CIA-sponsored conspiracy to silence these noisy pacifist dissenters. Yet from the reading and interviews I have done, the most likely guess seems much more mundanely sordid: it was probably all about money.

            The videos showing Tom and the others were issued by a previously unknown group, “The Swords of Righteousness Brigades.” This name is very likely a fake, a cover for a criminal gang, which simply kidnaped them for ransom. There was, as John and I learned while keeping our vigil, a sizable kidnaping industry in Iraq. Many Iraqis have been thus abducted for profit, as well as citizens of numerous other countries.

            James Loney felt the ransom was wanted to help finance the guerilla insurgency. Many other observers feel that while the kidnapers are Muslims, and many have likely suffered from the invasion and occupation, these crimes appear to be only loosely connected to religious or political grievances. Rather, they are more a specimen of organized crime gangs mushrooming in a devastated and lawless society.

            From this “profit-seeking” perspective, taking CPT team members was not a particularly good “investment”– the group has pledged not to pay, and not to ask anyone else to. Moreover, none of the four had a personal fortune to plunder. But the gang likely figured that regardless of such brave declarations, given enough pressure, someone would eventually cave in and pay. (Harmeet Sooden later told a New Zealand press conference that he suspected a ransom had been paid for him and the other survivors, despite vehement government denials.)

            But if the kidnapers were after money, why kill Tom? There are a number of hypotheses:

Longtime relief worker Margaret Hassan, a good friend of the CPT tea members, was kidnaped in Baghdad in October 2004. Here she pleads for her life in a hostage video. She was murdered a few weeks later. Numerous humanitarian workers in Iraq were kidnapped, and several more were also killed.

            One, to show the friends and supporters of the other three that the kidnapers meant business. Some other hostage killings – for instance, that of longtime relief worker Margaret Hassan, an Iraqi citizen originally from Ireland – were evidently staged to show recalcitrant governments that ransom demands were truly life and death matters.

            Or two: because Tom was an American, and as a veteran had a US military ID card, he was a certified “enemy,” and one for whom the US government would not pay. That made him disposable.

            Or three: if the kidnapers couldn’t get ransom from Tom’s family or government, maybe they recouped something by selling Tom to another Iraqi insurgent gang, one willing to pay for the privilege of shooting a military-identified American. (It is all-too easy to imagine their derision at his protests that he was a musician, not a fighter.)

            Again, no one knows, but these are plausible explanations for the inexplicable.

            With Tom’s death and the freeing of Jim Loney, Norman Kember and Harmeet Sooden, our www.freethecaptivesnow.org website morphed into a memorial and an archive, and we wound down our nightly vigil. I felt more than a little guilty about moving on, as the daily discipline of focusing on Iraq’s ongoing agony had hammered home in cruel detail how many thousands more men and women there were being kidnaped, held, tortured, and some killed, by factions from all sides, amid a bloody confusion of agendas.

Before his first tour in Iraq, Tom lived for several months in a small cottage next to Hopewell Friends meeting, near Winchester, Virginia. After his death I visited Hopewell, and found his name still pinned to a bedroom door. Inside was this bookshelf, with only the Bible and the Quran as bookends left of the many books Tom had once kept there.

            With Tom gone, and the other CPTers free, I felt I was abandoning the legions of suffering Iraqis, as I returned to some semblance of everyday routine. It was comforting to read cite this verse from the Qur’an, Surra 4:110: “And whoever does evil or wrongs himself but afterwards seeks Allah’s forgiveness, he will find Allah Oft-forgiving, Most merciful.”

III

Younger Friends plant a Japanese maple in Tom’s memory near Hopewell Meeting.

            Yet Tom’s story does not stop there. In the founding saga from which his CPT team took its marching orders, death was a tragedy, but not the end of the drama. Further, Tom was a Quaker, and in this tradition, “be patterns, be examples,” and “let your life preach” are among our oldest and most venerable mandates. Moreover, in our yearly meeting, I had worked on religious education, particularly for adults.

            To  this end, I compiled and published a small book, Tom Fox Was My Friend. Yours, Too. It was a memorial and a tribute, meant primarily for study and reflection. I believe Tom would recognize and approve such a project. Indeed, for the epigraph of his blog-journal, Tom used a paraphrase of the quote from which these mottos are taken.

            In the book’s pages, various persons reflected on passages from Tom’s writings, or their memories and impressions of him, and offer comments on the patterns and examples of this remarkable, foreshortened life.

            The views and affiliations there were diverse, and a few entries were unfriendly, even harsh. The latter were included because what they express may be hard to read but are also part of the story, and the teaching. Hearing and learning even from the scoffers is part of our calling. (The book was reissued recently, and is available here.)

            Easy or not, I regarded it all as a prod to this process which is as religious as it is pedagogical. Tom alluded to this in a sermon to a Mennonite congregation between trips to the Middle East: “We did a lot of listening in Iraq with CPT, and the stories we heard were not always easy to hear.”

            “Walk cheerfully” is another Quaker motto. Tom was a naturally cheerful person. But even he had to struggle to maintain this outlook in Iraq. On August 30, 2005 he was struck by a quote from Elizabeth Blackwell: “I must have something in life which will fill this vacuum and prevent this sad wearing away of the heart.”

“This was the quote today in my planner,” Tom wrote, “as I considered the tragedies both great and small, personal and global we are all dealing with. . . . The only ‘something in my life’ I can hold onto is to do what little I can to bring about the creation of the Peaceable Realm of God. It is my sense that such a realm will always have natural disasters. It is the ‘man-made’ disasters that we are called upon to bring to an end.”

            Tom sought to hold on to hope wherever he was. This was a difficult task in the regions where he chose to work. Of one rare encouraging incident, in Palestine, he recalled,

“Here was a seed that can take root. Here were people working through their anger and coming out the other side committed to peace. Here were people listening to their hearts and listening to each other. Here a tiny part of the Peaceable Realm was created. Here was the justice of God taking shape.”

            Can that also happen here?

 

 

This true story is excerpted from the new double issue of Quaker Theology.  More information about the issue is here.

 

 

 

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Categories: Blogs

A Vietnam Era Underground Railroad Conductor “Takes It To Jesus”

Thu, 01/11/2018 - 7:11am

From “Quakers & Resistance” — by Ken Maher

Editor’s Note: This excerpt is from a newly-published, double issue of Quaker Theology, #30 & #31,  on “Quakers & Resistance.”

Ken Maher now lives in Rochester, New York. He may be unique among living American Quakers as the father of seven and grandfather of seventeen (and still counting), not to mention his longtime support of Friends for a Pro-Life Peace Testimony. His blessings also include a Roman Catholic wife and Quaker meetings that have tolerated his quirky Friendship for 50 years, including serving Rochester Meeting as Clerk.

Ken Maher, in disguise as a respectable, indeed natty paterfamilias.

Ken is a product of Friends World College and spent ten years teaching English as a Second Language in Kisii, Kenya; Cuernavaca, Mexico; Humacao, Puerto Rico; Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; El Paso, Texas; and Tyson’s Corner, Virginia.

In this episode, though, he was making waves closer to home, during the unpopular Vietnam War, when thousands of young American men were fleeing the military draft, even wanting to leave the country. . . .

Ken: In the late 1960s, I underwent what might be described as a born-again experience. At meeting for worship every First Day and at many other times during the week, I found myself thinking such remarkable sentiments as “Jesus saves” and “Jesus is the answer” and “Give it to Jesus.”

I didn’t often verbalize these thoughts, because Jesus was my little secret. Another member of the Buffalo New York Meeting had given me Jesus as a gift.

He told me that, in case I happened to know anyone involved in the new Underground Railroad, we might want to call this serendipitous, fly-by-night network of Quaker meeting houses and other more or less subversive waystations by the acronym JESUS.

That is, “Just Escape from Servitude in the United States.”

During the Vietnam War, the meeting house in Buffalo served as headquarters for the Western New York Draft Counseling Center, which operated probably 50-80 hours a week during the height of the war.

Upstairs, the meeting house resident couple opened their home as a commune to assorted bohemian types, myself among them. Soon after moving into the meeting house in the fall of 1968, I was asked to take responsibility for the increasing numbers of young men who showed up at the meeting house door looking for a friendly face.

These were not the young men looking for draft counseling.

I was to take care of the growing numbers who came unsolicited seeking help to emigrate to Canada.

Although many of the draft counselors and many of the members of Buffalo Meeting were sympathetic to these young men who wanted to leave the States, working with them in the Draft Counseling Center could have seriously jeopardized both the Draft Counseling Center itself and the Buffalo Friends Meeting that housed its endeavors.

Editor’s Note: this manual was an underground bestseller. I had a copy, which I studied and considered carefully.

So I was given a list of people in the Buffalo area who had offered to help young men escape the draft. And that was the beginning of the Underground Railroad station that operated unofficially in the Buffalo Friends meeting house at 72 North Parade Avenue.

Our station was directly affiliated with the Toronto AntiDraft Programme (TADP), run by Bill Spira and Naomi Wall.

TADP’s non-luxurious office on Spadina Ave.

And we soon became incredibly well organized for an operation such as ours that was run by a bunch of “commsymphippie-pinkofaggotfreaks.”

The Canadian government had a very clear and detailed immigration policy at that time, based on a point system. Anyone who wished to emigrate to Canada had to achieve a certain minimum number of points based on education, profession, family members living in Canada, and other criteria.

addition to providing food, temporary housing, and often substitute parenting for our guests, my job was to make sure that we sent to the border only those young men who had enough points to guarantee their admission.

To this end, we offered quite a makeover service. We provided haircuts for the long-haired hippie types, straight-looking clothes, and a packed suitcase for those who showed up with no luggage.

We had a $500 revolving cash fund, which Canadian Immigration considered enough to live on while resettling in Canada. This money was returned to the driver after passing the Immigration interview and was then available for the next emigrant.

Nancy Pocock, a Canadian Quaker legend. She and her husband John helped thousands of refugees and emigrants before, during and after the Vietnam War.

Through the Toronto Friends Meeting and the TADP, we arranged for a job offer, worth ten points (or ten percent) of required Immigration Department points, for almost every emigrant. Our most vigorous supporters in the Toronto Meeting were the late John and Nancy Pocock.

We had personal letters of reference sent to the meeting house from sympathetic clergy, teachers, and employers associated with our guests. And all of these documents, along with the money and the revolving clothes closet, were gathered in the suitcase that we handed over with each young man to the volunteer driver. Our drivers were nuns and priests and other clergy and ordinary citizens who looked as straight as the most prominent Quaker of the day, Richard Nixon.

The Toronto Anti-Draft Programme helped us keep track of the changing Immigration Department shifts at the four US-Canada bridges in the Buffalo area. TADP kept records of Immigration officers who gave our young men a hard time, and we avoided using those bridges on their shifts, especially for those young men with only a marginal number of points who would thus need to rely on the discretionary ten points that the Immigration officer personally controlled.

How did those heading for Canada know to come to the meeting house door? Well, a number of young men were sent to us from Toronto, because it was necessary to apply for landed immigrant status at a border or at a point of disembarkation.

But instead of being told to follow the drinking gourd, most of those who arrived at the Buffalo meeting house said that they had been told by someone in the peace movement something to the effect that they could find Friends in the telephone book of any big city.

And once they had found Friends in one city, they were referred to other Friends along their route north. So I heard stories of men moving from one meeting house to another to get to Buffalo. Unlike the Underground Railroad of slavery days, however, the stations along the Vietnam era railroad were much more loosely connected, largely because of the very real threat of infiltration and prosecution.

When I obtained my FBI file after the Freedom of Information Act was passed, all my fears were confirmed and in fact multiplied. Almost all of my antiwar activity was documented with a lot of hearsay records that could only have been provided by agents who had actually known me personally.

We were rather sure at the time that all the phone lines into the meeting house were tapped, and the later evidence confirmed those fears.

Who were these young men going to Canada? At first when Canada was accepting only those avoiding the draft, they were largely college-educated, middle class whites with great futures if they could stay away from Vietnam. Then Canada decided to open its borders as well to military men who were absent without leave, and the whole picture changed.

We were suddenly flooded with younger men, some of whom were not white, most of whom had barely a high school education and were much harder to place because of their general lack of education and needed job skills. I remember one of them, a young farm boy from Kansas, who actually told me that all he ever wanted was 40 acres and a mule, and he was sorry that he would have to go to Canada to get it.

In the late summer of 1969, we had a report from TADP that one of the young men we had helped and who had stayed with us in Buffalo for about a week reported a very suspicious incident when he arrived in Toronto. When he came out of the Canadian Immigration Office after his interview, he recognized a car and its driver sitting outside the office. He told TADP that he had seen the same car and driver over a week earlier outside the Syracuse Peace Center and again outside the safe house he had stayed at in Syracuse, New York, over 100 miles from Buffalo.

Somehow, the unidentified driver of that car from Syracuse had known where and when the young man was crossing into Canada.

That was the end of my being a conductor in Buffalo. I handed over my contact list of drivers and safe houses, the suitcase, and the money to one of my most supportive drivers, a suburban homemaker, and left town for a few months.

Later that fall, TADP sent me to Detroit to set up another Underground Railroad station there. Both of these stations continued operating to some degree until supply and demand allowed them to be laid down.

And that is the story of how I worked for Jesus during the Vietnam War.

 

 

 

 

This true story is excerpted from the new double issue of Quaker Theology.  More information about the issue is here.

 

The post A Vietnam Era Underground Railroad Conductor “Takes It To Jesus” appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

Categories: Blogs

Resistance In Review-From Israel to Asheville

Wed, 01/10/2018 - 7:01am

No Country for Jewish Liberals, Larry Derfner. Just World Publishing. 268 pages.

The Half Life of a Free Radical. Clare Hanrahan, Celtic Wordcraft. 292 pages.

Reviewed by Chuck Fager

[Editor’s Note: In light of the news that the government of Israel has banned staffers from the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) from entry, due to their support for the Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS) campaign, this review becomes even more timely.

It’s not about AFSC, but the first author here, larry Derfner, is an Israeli citizen, a proud Zionist Jew, but one who also supports BDS. 

It makes me wonder: if Derfner travels outside Israel, will he too be banned from returning?  (Besides AFSC, the Israeli government has also banned members of Jewish Voice for Peace from entry.) How much more authoritarian will his government become in the quest to crush the BDS challenge? As you’ll see below, these are not academic questions, but very much alive, even for those on the Israeli side of their divided land.

This review is from a new, double issue of Quaker Theology, #30 & #31, which has just been published. Its theme is “Quakers & Resistance.”

Neither of these authors is Quaker; but their broad and very different experience of resistance should be of great interest to many, both Friends and others. More on this issue of Quaker Theology here.]

These two autobiographical memoirs should be much more different. But once I pulled them from a stack of books by my recliner, I was soon struck by a kind of spiritual resonance and counterpoint between them, across seemingly vast gaps of culture and personality. Neither is by or about a Quaker. But if they are not both closely relevant to Quaker life and concerns, especially in the U.S. in 2018, then very little else is either.

Clare Hanrahan was raised Irish Catholic in segregation-era Memphis, Tennessee; her father was an alcoholic lawyer. Larry Derfner came from working-middle class LA, the son of an immigrant communist-turned liquor store owner who had escaped (but just barely) the Holocaust.

One parallel between these authors is that despite living in segregated neighborhoods, both had plenty of youthful cross-racial interactions; Clare’s parents were “Catholic liberals” who helped desegregate their parish church.

Larry Derfner

Derfner says that in all his childhood years, in and around his father’s liquor stores, he never heard an anti-semitic slur from the many black customers.

Both were also marked by the Vietnam War. Clare was the more scarred: she lost two brothers, twins Tommy & Danny, who came back from ‘Nam loaded down with trauma, Agent Orange and alienation that took them to isolation and early, lonely deaths. At the time they signed up, younger sister Clare had been an enthusiastic war supporter. These personal losses and the hard learning they put her through shook her permanently out of any tolerance for war, especially the ongoing American imperial variety.

Derfner took a very different, but quite familiar path:

“I was 100% against the Vietnam War, as fervently as anyone,” he writes, “and when I turned 18 it seemed by happy coincidence that my political principles and my self-interest – staying the hell out of the army – went hand in hand. And since I didn’t feel any responsibility to go to prison for years, or become a medic, or serve in a hospital . . . I went out to beat the draft, which I never had any doubt I could do.”

And indeed he did, by managing to hike his weight just over the upper limit.

It took Derfner another decade of growing up, and exposure to the agony of veterans he hadn’t known in his salad days, before

“I realized that what I’d done when I was 18 was shameful. I should have gone to jail, or been a medic or done something to pay my dues to the country I lived in, and to prove that I really was acting on principle, instead of skipping off to find myself, or whatever it was I’d been doing.”

It wasn’t entirely the impact of war, but both Clare & Larry soon became emigres, even refugees, from this homeland: Clare was a domestic nomad, and wandered for years mainly across the Southeast, before settling in the city-from-another-planet of Asheville, North Carolina. A mere 504 miles east of Memphis, on the map a straight shot up Interstate 40, in many ways Asheville is several universes removed from her childhood homeland.

Derfner upped sticks in 1985, and went from California to Israel, not from any Zionist fervor but for a reporting job, an adventure and, eventually a family. He found all four, and stayed; though his fervor took a contrarian direction.

Clare worked for many years with the homeless, and has long been a stalwart of antiwar protests. She spent six months in the Alderson, West Virginia federal women’s prison after one act of antiwar civil disobedience.

Just this past year she was part of a weeks-long, 200-plus mile trek, legal but arduous, to highlight and protest the plans for a gas pipeline which is tracked to cross much of the southeast. Clare sees environmental destruction as part and parcel of the cost of burgeoning militarism. She has long kept her income below the taxable level, to deprive the war machine of her few dollars.

Larry took a careerist path, and soon became a prominent journalist and columnist in Israel. Although he abhors the Israeli occupation, he is fiercely proud of having served his stint in the Israeli army; it was, he now believes, what a real man and citizen does. He lost jobs because of his outspoken opposition to the occupation, but found others.

He and his family have long lived in Modi’in, a showcase middle-class town midway between Jerusalem & Tel Aviv. It has, among other amenities, clear views of occupied Palestinian territory, which is:

A checkpoint on Route 443

“on the other side of the pre-occupation border a few hundred yards away, past the army checkpoint on Route 443, the Modi’-to-Jerusalem highway. This highway runs through the West Bank but is off limits to Palestinians. It is often referred to, imprecisely but fairly enough, as one of our occupation’s many ‘apartheid roads.’”

In 2010, the Israeli Supreme Court said this exclusion was illegal; the ruling made no difference.

Despite all this, and Derfner’s fervent hatred of both the Occupation and the dominant rightwing politics that sustains it, he has come to love his life in Israel, not only for himself, but for his sons. Although not religious, he feels keenly his Jewish identity and, is proud that his family has come to be in a Jewish setting.

A few years back, Clare found her way into an Asheville subsidized senior housing project, in a venerable high-rise building, once given over to luxury tenants.

Clare in the terrace garden at her building.

Since then, she spent much of several years on this autobiography, between activist and community work. Her hope was to come to terms with a tangled and tragic family history, and put it in its context of a racist, war-mad American culture.

But this is not a book of theory or ideology; she lived out and through these issues, and paid plenty of dues along the way.

Her book concludes with the death of her mother, which brings a kind of completeness to it. Yet she has had many other adventures – for instance, peace work among Catholic and Protestant militants at the peak of the bloody “Troubles” of Northern Ireland – which aren’t mentioned here, but could fill at least another volume; let’s hope she gets to that.

There’s a paradoxical character to Clare’s present situation: she clearly loves Asheville, and its strong bohemian/resistance culture; yet she is still appalled by where her native country is going. And she can’t really escape the fallout from the system, which despite the mountain city’s charms, lingers only barely below the radar. As she tells of one not unusual incident:

“Recently, as I went to Asheville’s Pritchard Park to give more thought to this book, the space was almost fully occupied by homeless women and men. . . .They were taking up nearly all the available benches. I raised their ire when I tapped a man sprawled out on a bench and asked if he would sit up so I could share the bench. He angrily complied, accusing me of having no compassion for people without homes. . . .

‘We have to find some way to share this space,’ I countered. So I sat reading amid their taunts as one after another approached me, first with a challenging posture, then sitting down and opening up with their story of woe, so similar to the stories I had heard in Memphis, in St. Petersburg, and in Alderson, Federal Prison. . . .

I didn’t dare engage the angry Iraq veteran who railed aloud about fighting the war to secure our ‘so-called liberties,’ only to become another homeless person . . . . I’m a veteran,’ he asserted. ‘Hell if I’m going to give up my bench.’

. . . As I pedaled home, I stopped to greet some friends living in the nearby Vanderbilt senior housing. Both are Viet Nam war veterans. One, an Apache raised out west on a reservation, wore a T-shirt with the slogan, “Fighting Terrorism Since 1492.” The other, a West Virginia musician . . . wore his “Bronze Star” Viet Nam veteran hat. ‘We’re still suffering from that Viet Nam War,’ he said. Oh yes. Yes we are.”

Wars, past, present and future, are also dominant in Larry Derfner’s life as among Israelis; yet the wars are now strangely in the background. In Israel, he grimly laments,

“We are in a post-political era in this country. The central, overriding political fact of national life, the occupation, is no longer a subject for discussion. As far as the public and the major parties are concerned, it’s settled (in more ways than one).”

Derfner abhors the occupation. But he sees that Israeli public opinion, left to right, appears to have accepted it.

“The 2015 election campaign matched the pattern of contemporary Israeli political life,” he writes. “The only change is in the hardening of the status quo: the country gets more paranoid, more racist, more aggressive.”

Derfner is, if possible more opposed to the occupation now than ever before. He even supports the BDS (Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions) movement (which is still politically toxic in Israel, and to many Zionist groups in the U. S.), as a possible way of building international pressure (he refers to as the South African approach) which could someday breach the solid internal support for the occupation. Yet he is able to ask:

“So how do I live with this – being a liberal, a believer in equality, in a country that is not only far less liberal and equitable than the one I left, but that is decisively illiberal and inequitable, that’s running the world’s last colonial military dictatorship, and, worst of all, that offers slim hope of ever changing? I live with this by keeping hope alive . . . .”

But if Derfner is settled in Israel, he’s still unsettled. One way for him to “keep hope alive” is to hedge his bets:

“I have been not so subtly indoctrinating my sons to leave the country sometime after they finish the army. They have American passports, and I mean to see if I can get them European ones, too. And this is strictly because of the political situation here . . . .”

That “political situation” has taken on a distinctly populist edge: there are many poor immigrant Jews from Africa and other areas, who are solid supporters of the farthest right elements of Israeli politics.

As Derfner powerfully puts it,

“the mindset here is very much like that in red-state America. I think of Israel as a small, Hebrew-speaking Texas, with Tel Aviv the country’s answer to Austin. Like Israel, Texas used to be split between its liberal and hardass wings, but in recent decades the hardasses have taken over completely there, too.”

This comparison was written before the 2016 U. S. election; it’s even more trenchant now. And it brings back the image of Clare Hanrahan having to struggle and negotiate to find a place to sit in a public park, packed full of those who are discarded and “disappeared” in plain sight by our own society. Could even Asheville, North Carolina’s Austin, be joining what seems to be emerging as an American version of Derfner’s Israel?

The haunting phrase is Derfner’s: “the country gets more paranoid, more racist, more aggressive.” He wrote it of his adopted Israel. But is it now true of this country too?

If so, these two memoirs may become more than gripping personal stories; they could turn into poignant memorials to the loss of something crucial  – and reminders of the haunting question that Derfner grapples with in his last few pages: in these increasingly parallel settings, how do you “keep hope alive”?

 

This review is excerpted from the new double issue of Quaker Theology.  More information about the issue is here.

 

 

 

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Categories: Blogs

Gone & Almost Forgotten: the “Peace Movement”

Tue, 01/09/2018 - 1:30pm
Hello, America, it’s 2018. Do you know where your war machine is at work? Practically everywhere.

The other day I saw a chart from Brown University that maps the 70+ countries where the U.S. has “War on Terror” military operations going on (there are likely more, where the secrecy level is higher). And it set me to remembering.

That’s an awesome number: seventy-plus countries we’re at war in. Even on a small scale, which it appears they are mostly — it adds up.

“Adds Up” in lots of ways. Many of these “operations” use drones, and pile up unnamed, uncounted & unknown (to us) civilian casualties.

The Faceless Face of Modern U.S. War.

Acknowledged government figures for civilian deaths are contradicted by credible independent estimates that are much higher. And of course there’s the money, about a trillion a year, and going up.

All this is happening now, and what set me to remembering was the recent deep plunge in temperature here in North Carolina and along the East coast. It brought back another chilly January, in 2007, when there was a big antiwar rally in Washington.

As many as several hundred thousand showed up for it, well-bundled up. That included me and a bunch of my friends. We even filled a bus for it in Fayetteville, NC, where I was working at Quaker House, a peace project near Fort Bragg.
The march had the usual psychological effect on me: a boost in enthusiasm and hope. It lifted my spirit to see the national mall crowded and dotted with signs for an end to the wars.

The bus from Fayetteville, January 27, 2007: DC or Bust. (Or was it DC AND Bust?

But this high soon faded. As it turned out, there was good reason for that: the wars went on, and spread, and got more secret.

Along with all that there was another depressing fact: 2007 was when what we used to call the “peace movement” disappeared.  The January 2007 rally wasn’t the beginning of a big new push, but instead, its last hurrah. Then the mass peace movement was over, as an active public force, and has been gone for now eleven years and counting.

Not that there’s no one working to end the wars, and war: you could make an impressive list of small projects here and there.

One of the many continuing projects . . .

But still. Was there a “peace candidate” in the last big election? If so, I didn’t notice. Was there a movement demanding a peace candidate? I must have missed that one too.

True, there have been big rallies in recent times. The women’s march; awesome indeed. And even the March for Science; amazing.

So, what happened to peace? Where did its “movement” go? What could bring it back? Would we even want it back now? What’s the alternative?

It may sound strange to young ears today, but the first half of the 2000s were marked by numerous big peace rallies, the largest rallies ever. They thundered around the world before the Iraq invasion was loosed in March 2003. Then huge followup rallies happened again, more than once.

The 2007 rally was organized by “United for Peace & Justice”, or UFPJ, a lefty umbrella coalition. UFPJ had organized some of the biggest U.S. rallies of those years. January 2007 was UFPJ’s last stand too.

 I was on their planning committee then. We met shortly after the Democrats had just won big in the November 2006  off-year election, giving them control of both houses of Congress starting in early 2007.

We thought this was the chance to pressure them to rein in (or better, stop) the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and (secretly) elsewhere. Then maybe Congress could call to account some of the officials involved. I was thinking of those who ordered the Iraq invasion under false pretenses, and those connected to war crimes, vast war profiteering & corruption, and the undermining of civil liberties here at home.

A billboard that only existed in my mind, alas. Have Cheney or Bush repented yet?

That was for starters; I had quite a list, and wasn’t alone in that.

So I was all for the march. I urged that we hold the rally shortly after the new year, to lay out our demands before Congress got seriously down to work.

“That way,” I said, “the Democrats won’t have sold us out yet, so people will still be hopeful and energized.”

Was I cynical? Yep. But not wrong:

I had guessed right about the timing, in two ways: one, people were still hopeful in January, which boosted rally turnout.

And two, sure enough, once Congress got going, the Democrats swiftly sold out all the main things we had rallied for: accountability (“Impeachment is off the table,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi);

2007: The Speaker speaks.

there were no serious investigations of war crimes or corruption; impunity for torturers continued, and they voted for all the bloated war spending bills (“gotta support the troops”), etc.

Peace folks’ morale plummeted as quickly. We felt this in spades in mid-March, when it came time for our fourth annual peace rally in Fayetteville, to mark the launching of the Iraq invasion.

Promoting our local rally while in DC.

We did, I think it can fairly be said, a great job of planning this Fayetteville rally: we assembled a bunch of eloquently angry antiwar Iraq veterans.

We brought in well-known activist singer Holly Near; there were numerous excellent speakers; great signs and banners.


The only thing the Fayetteville rally lacked was people; the turnout was pathetic. It was the last of our four such annual rallies; we knew a flop when we had to face up to one.

Fayetteville peace rally March 17, 2007. The empty seats tell the story.

At Quaker House, we still kept busy. Being close to Fort Bragg, a major war center, we had plenty to work on locally.

But we were largely on our own there; and didn’t fit into a larger “peace movement” after that, because — well, there wasn’t any.

What happened to it? I have some suspicions.
A big one was that our “theory” of the mass peace movement was discredited, especially among us, the rank and file. That theory was a variant on what most of us middle class movement folk had picked up in and around school: the U.S. is a democracy. If the government goes wrong, the people can rise up and put peaceful pressure on it and push it into changing course. Public pressure, plus elections, can fix what’s wrong.

That theory had seemed to work in the 1960s, the heyday of the civil rights movement: marches, protests, eloquence and nonviolent suffering yielded the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts, and these made an actual difference in many peoples’ lives. They didn’t solve all our racial issues, but supported a belief in “progress.”

But the 2000s version of that theory was a bust: we held even bigger marches and rallies, and heard a decent sampling of eloquence — and all were simply ignored by a U. S. regime bent on big war, come hell or high water. They weren’t mere militarists: their goals were messianic.

Some of us kept hope alive in the first years of the “Iraqistan” debacle by telling ourselves — “Yes, but — those are war-mongering Republicans. If we can replace them with Democrats, people we like, we can turn this around.”

It didn’t happen, of course. In 2004, the war-mongers won (or stole, take your pick) the presidential race. Progressive folk were left in shock, and many sought therapy in order to cope. #Metoo.

Then the 2007 Congress turned out to be, as far as the wars were concerned, pretty much a fraud. Faced with the wars the Republican regime enjoyed so much, the promises of Democratic backbone turned into a plate of tepid spaghetti.

Shortly after the 2007 disappointments, most of our attention was diverted by the spectacle of the 2008 election, which seemed to offer hope in the meteoric rise of an articulate, seemingly progressive African-American candidate. Who could resist that?

The Obama years did bring some signs of progress. He ratcheted down the Iraq war; “Don’t Ask, Don’t tell” was dumped, transgender folks were allowed to stay in the military openly. What was there to protest en masse? We began hearing more about drones, but the reports were scattered and easy to ignore. No group, no issue seemed to gain purchase, except the shining moment of Occupy Wall Street.

Yet that, like Alice’s Cheshire Cat, soon vanished, leaving only a 99% shaped grin.

As for the overall worldwide picture, it soon became clear, to those who could bear to look, that war-making hadn’t really decreased. Instead, it had been growing, but in a widely dispersed way, with most operations kept on a relatively small scale, and almost all wrapped in thick curtains of secrecy.

At the same time, Obama repeatedly upheld the impunity of torturers and other likely war criminals. He prosecuted leakers much more aggressively than had his disgraced predecessor. His war record, while still being assayed, is painfully, bewilderingly mixed, with the balance tilting right into the sprawl of 70-plus interlinked mini-wars we now see on the Brown University chart.

Furthermore, this approach was reinforced by technical difficulties for journalists. How do you report on drone wars where missiles land thousands of miles away from where the controllers press the electronic triggers? How do reporters coherently track combat in 70-plus countries? (For that matter, how much real control is wielded by the Pentagon, and the burgeoning spy agencies?)

Underlying it all, for many former movement folk, there was deepening war fatigue and discouragement. How do you mobilize hundreds of thousands to protest wars in places most participants can’t even name? And how hard is it to face the reality that the war machine largely runs itself, and that even people you want to like in the White House can hardly slow its lethal momentum?

And how do we face the fact that our lingering 1960s view of movement-reformed democracy doesn’t seem to work anymore. Not up against this war machine.

Confronted with all these questions, the broad public reaction is to turn away. “Thank you for your service — and now I have to get to the mall, or class, or work, or soccer practice.” If the appeal is phrased just right, I might write a check. And there’s always the next election to obsess about.

If I had a “To-Do” list that would cut through this thick fog of ennui and denial, I’d be happy to share it. And I have written about work that seems meaningful in this setting.

These very real billboards, sponsored by North Carolina’s large banks, blanketed the state in the late 2000s.

But I don’t know how the mass peace movement can be revived. I’m not even sure anymore if that would be a good idea; though admittedly, I miss it.

So here I’m left to grapple with the realization that as 2018 begins, the American generation that’s on the cusp of puberty is living in a society with 70-plus ongoing wars, and a “peace movement” that’s no more real to them than unicorns or Hogwarts, and maybe less so than Harry Potter’s alma mater.

Maybe Dumbledore has a suggestion?

“The truth is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with caution.” Dumbledore

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Categories: Blogs

How I Got so Lucky – A True Christmas Story

Sun, 12/24/2017 - 3:30pm

 

I

Brooklyn, December 1967

I knew it was going to be another tough day at the Welfare Department when I saw the woman having an epileptic seizure in the Intake room. She was on her back, eyes rolling, jerking and thrashing, head thumping on the cement floor.

A security guard ran over and straddled her, trying to hold her down. Her arm whipped up and knocked off his black billed hat. Reaching back, he pulled out his billy club.

God, I thought, I hope he’s not going to hit her!

He wasn’t, but it was almost as bad. He tried to push the club between her teeth, to keep her from biting off her tongue, which could kill her. The jerking and thumping of her head made this almost impossible, though, and the club whacked repeatedly against her chin and face. Finally he got the club between her lips, and her movements seemed to slow down.

I couldn’t watch anymore. I turned back to the doorway and headed upstairs to the unit, where my desk sat in the second row from the back, the fourth desk over.

It was a freezing cold December in 1967, and there was no doubt about what I wanted for Christmas: Two things: a revolution; and then, a telephone for Mrs. Lee.

Actually, the telephone would probably have to come first, but that’s not how I felt–and I’m getting ahead of myself.

II

Every day in my job at the New York City Welfare Department, I saw dozens of good reasons for revolution: sad and desperate people trooping in and out of the Intake room, looking for help, begging for help, screaming for help. And every day, I watched the system fail them, giving them no help, or the wrong kind of help, or help that just wasn’t enough.

Even worse was the fact that I was part of this system, a caseworker giving out the help  that was no real help. Day by day, I grew more convinced that somehow the whole thing, both the welfare system and the social order that created it, was rotten and needed to be overthrown and replaced.

That wasn’t all. Outside our big welfare center in downtown Brooklyn, the radios and TV echoed with endless reports of war, war in Vietnam, and something like war in the cities, riots and threats of riots and more and more crime.

I was against the war, of course, and doing what little seemed possible to protest and stop it. Lots of others were too. But none of it was working. The war ground on, getting bigger and bloodier each week. And nobody seemed to know what to do about the riots or the crime.

To stop all this, it seemed increasingly clear, would take more than protest. It would take a revolution. I hoped it would be nonviolent, but a revolution just the same, to end the war, the riots and the welfare system too.

Unfortunately, the revolution showed few signs of happening anytime soon. And in the meantime, I had work to do. My supervisor, Mr. Cliff, wouldn’t let me forget it. “Stats, Fager,” he kept repeating. “Let’s get those stats done.” There were big year-end reports due shortly, he said, and he needed reports on my stats to get them done on time.

“Stats” was shorthand for “statutory visits,” a visit to a welfare household that was required by law. Some households, mostly those with children, were supposed to get “stat” visits every three months. Others, mainly old people, got them every six months. With the end of the year looming,  Mr. Cliff was nagging me to finish up a big backlog of “stats” in my caseload.

The details about “stat” visits, who got them and when, were still a little vague in my mind. I’d only been there since late summer.

“Don’t let it get you,” Mr. Dunbar in the basement training section had told me, “it takes two years to really learn this job.”

How true that was. Even after five months, I was also a little vague about how many and what kind of people were my responsibility.

“There are close to a million people on welfare in New York City,” Mr Dunbar had informed us when I started, “and for each one there’s a case file, a folder in a file drawer.”

Mr. Dunbar, a large black man who always had an unlit cigar in his mouth, seemed pleased by this information. It made me more than a little nervous. Sure enough, by the wall not far from our rows of desks stood a long bank of filing cabinets. In one of them was a drawer full of these files, almost a hundred of them, which were mine. My caseload. 

Some of the files were thin, others fat, and growing fatter each month. The actual number of files changed often and mysteriously. Files came in from the steady stream of newcomers applying for welfare, or when welfare workers quit, as they often did, and their cases were reshuffled among the rest of us. Cases and files were also sent out to other offices, or given to the new workers who came into the basement training rooms every week.

Some of these file changes I knew about; others I didn’t. Each day was a scramble to keep up with the most urgent demands from Mr. Cliff or the clients in the noisy intake room downstairs. In this scramble, I had heard workers in the unit behind mine murmuring about “getting their caseload in order,” and it was just now dawning on me what this meant. They were getting rid of all the fat files–ones for families with children and all their needs and problems – and replacing them with the skinny ones of old people.

This winnowing was a shrewd career move, I was beginning to realize. For one thing, it cut the number of “stat” visits in half. And old people were usually embarrassed about being on welfare in the first place, so they hardly ever asked for any special help. Special help meant more work.

“In fact,” Mr. Dunbar had told us with a grin, “the Welfare Department has a separate category for the elderly, called ‘Old Age Assistance,’ so they can say ‘I’m not on welfare, I’m on Assistance.’”

He snickered, then took out his cigar and studied it. “It’s all the same welfare money, folks; but it lets them hang on to some sense of dignity.”

Yeah, I thought, a bogus sense. But was that better than none at all?

What all this meant was that those with their caseloads “in order” didn’t have to scramble much. In fact, as far as I could see they barely did any work. It also meant that many of the toughest cases were shuffled off on the likes of me, new workers who hardly knew what we were doing. So those families with the most needs usually got the worst service. The better I understood this, the more it made me hate the whole system, and yearn for that revolution.

III

But knowing all this didn’t change the fact that I had “stats” to take care of, and a deadline to meet, and Mr. Cliff riding me to get them done. When I got upstairs he gave me a list of names, and another reminder that the clock was ticking.

That was how I came to notice Mrs. Lee; her name was on the list. She was easy to miss: her file was one of the skinny old age ones; she hadn’t called or come in to ask for anything, and hadn’t had a “stat” since before I was hired. She also lived a long way from most of my other cases, really in another part of Brooklyn. Which meant a special trip.

Looking over her file, I grumbled to myself. Might as well get it out of the way. I bundled up, stuck a notebook in my coat pocket, and headed downstairs.

On the way out to the subway I stuck my head in the door of Intake. The woman who had had the seizure was gone, but there was a shiny spot on the floor where someone had mopped up  after her. The security guard was standing by the Intake desk, chatting with the pretty but harried-looking woman behind it. His hat was back on, the billy club wedged under his armpit. I turned and pushed out into the frigid wind.

IV

Two transfers later, I still had to walk several blocks to find Mrs. Lee’s place. Ice crunched under my shoes, and my nose ran. Finally I found her number, painted by a small door in what looked like an empty building.

I knocked. And knocked again. And again. Then I heard some shuffling behind it, and a muffled dog’s bark.

The door opened a crack. “What?” someone muttered.

I identified myself, and the door opened a bit more. An old woman with stringy white hair squinted at me, hesitated, then let me in.

I followed her as she limped slowly down a flight of darkened stairs. With every step an unpleasant smell got stronger. At the bottom I stepped on something soft, which turned out to be a carpet of newspapers. There were stacks of old newspapers everywhere, like an indoor hedge. A bare light bulb hung from the low ceiling, with an electrical cord running from a socket above it to an old radio on a table. The smell was overwhelming. A small ragged dog barked feebly at me, then cowered in a corner.

Mrs. Lee wore an old housecoat. She led me to a small table covered with yellowing newspapers and envelopes. Opening a drawer in the table, she took out several aged pairs of glasses, the rims folded up against the lenses. Then she fumbled for a sheaf of envelopes.

She knew the drill with welfare workers. We were supposed to check her receipts for what the handbook called “FRO,” or Food, Rent and Other, to make sure she wasn’t spending her tiny checks on some wild luxuries. She put three of the pairs of glasses together, in a kind of optical sandwich, and held the lot up to one eye, trying to read the envelopes through them.

My god, I thought, she’s essentially blind.

She was also barely able to walk, bent with arthritis and bad knees. She explained that a “nice man” at the corner market delivered groceries to her once a week.

Yeah, I thought, and I’ll bet that nice man charges double for them too, since she can’t even read the receipt. But that couldn’t be helped.

She also kept her dog with her all the time. This wasn’t only a matter of her game legs. She had been mugged by some young toughs in her changing neighborhood, and was afraid to go out. So she almost never left her tiny, dark warren.

That explained the odor, and maybe some of the newspapers. The dog relieved itself on them, and she put them in the trash, at least the ones she could see.

After putting the envelopes and glasses away, her hand moved into a pocket of her housecoat, and came out with a small bag. But then she stopped and gave me a defensive look.  “I know I shouldn’t,” she said, “but it’s my one pleasure.”

I glanced at the bag. It was cloth, with an image of a bugler on the side. Tobacco. Her other hand came up with a packet of cigarette papers. She rolled her own. I shrugged at her. Hand-rolled cigarettes were not exactly extravagances, and I knew Bugler was the cheapest kind of tobacco. She rolled one, and lit up.

Then we were supposed to talk about any special needs she had, which I might – emphasis on the “might” – be able to get for her from the Welfare Department. Money for anything special meant filling out numerous forms and getting extra approval, sometimes several approvals.

But before getting to that, I had to ask how in God’s name she had ended up here, alone in a dark smelly basement. Though I couldn’t exactly ask it that way.

Her story was simple: she had come from Ireland as a girl, never married, and worked as a maid and then in similar jobs after that. Jobs, it turned out, that weren’t covered by Social Security. When she was too old and crippled to work anymore, she was left with nothing– nothing, that is, except Old Age Assistance. That, and the illusion that it wasn’t welfare, because unlike these young bums who were taking over the neighborhood, she had worked all her life.

Looking around the room again, I asked if she’d thought about applying for a space in one of the city’s old age homes.

She drew back, and shuddered. “No!” she almost shouted. “I worked in those places. I know what goes on there. Never!”

She stubbed out her cigarette, and told me about one place she had worked, which took the wet sheets from under incontinent patients, hung them on a line to dry, and then put them back on the beds, stiff and unwashed. She shuddered again and repeated, “Never.”

Wait a minute, I was about to say reassuringly, they’re much better places now. But the words stuck in my throat. I’d never been to one. How did I know they were any better now? “Well,” I said instead, “what, if anything, do you need?”

She started to shrug, but then looked thoughtful. After a long moment, in almost a little-girl voice, she said, “What I’d really like is a Victrola. To play my records on, you know. Just hymns and things.”

A “Victrola” I thought. A record player? “Can’t you get hymns on your radio?” I wondered aloud.

She looked apologetic again. “I can’t tune it,” she confessed. “It gives me a shock when I touch it.”

I turned and took a closer look. The case on the radio had cracked and fallen off; behind the dials I glimpsed old tubes, orange spots glowing within them.

“How–?” I started to ask.

“I turn it on and off with the light switch,” she said.

Now it was my turn to sigh. I couldn’t recall any mention of record players, or Victrolas, on the lists of special needs to fill out forms for.

“Oh,” she said, brightening, “and a telephone too. It would be so good to have a telephone. So I could call for help, you know.”

That was different. Telephone service was on the list. But it was tough to get it, requiring many forms and multiple levels of approvals, and with restrictions about long distance charges. I’d never tried to get one; I really didn’t even know how. But it made sense. “I’ll see what I can do,” I said.

V

Revolution. The word kept echoing in my mind back through the cold wind to the subway, and then the two transfers. That’s what was needed for a society that could treat people like Mrs. Lee so badly. Tear it down, start all over again. I didn’t know how or when it might come, or what it would look like, and still hoped it would be nonviolent. But it had to happen.

Back at the office, though, the Intake room was still crowded and noisy, with the security guard keeping a wary eye on the scene. Upstairs, Mr. Cliff was waiting, waving a list of the unfinished reports still to be written up from my other stat visits. So the revolution again had to be pushed to the back of my mind while I sat at the office dictating machine and tried to make sense of my notes from other visits. There were so many, and it seemed like each one had several forms to be filled out as well.

At five o-clock, I was grateful to escape into the icy December darkness, and turned away from the subway toward the department stores a few blocks away. I was behind on Christmas shopping, and there were only a few days left. I went into E.J. Korvette’s, a big discount place that was the Wal-Mart of those days.

Not sure what I was looking for, I wandered from one department to another, and soon was passing the pipe tobacco section.

I hate smoking, always have; but something drew me to the counter. There were large brightly colored round canisters of pipe tobacco on shelves behind it. “Do you have Bugler?” I asked.

The clerk smirked. Most tobacco fans think of Bugler as little more than shredded cardboard. But what did I care? He stooped down behind the counter and came up with the blue labeled canister. The price was ridiculously cheap. “I’ll take it,” I said. “Oh– and a couple packets of cigarette papers.”

From there, it was just a few steps to the electronics department, and a compact-sized AM radio. It took a little longer to settle on a small kid’s record player, with an arm you moved by hand. The real find was in the 99 cent record bin: an album of hymns by Tennessee Ernie Ford.

The whole haul didn’t cost much over twenty dollars. After that, the rest of my shopping came easily.

VI

Christmas morning was still bitter cold, and subway trains were few and far between. It took a long time to get from home to that street, and I stood shivering for what seemed like an hour, pounding on Mrs. Lee’s door.

She was, of course, overwhelmed. I even brought a flashlight so she could turn off the light while I unplugged and replaced the dangerous old radio. Fortunately there was another plug for the “Victrola.” When Tennessee Ernie Ford launched into “The Old Rugged Cross,” she started to cry.

I felt a little uncomfortable. I was no philanthropist, and not good at emotional scenes. Anyway, this was so much less than she needed. But her gratitude seemed bottomless.

We sat listening to the hymns for a few minutes, while I tried to figure out a polite way to tell her I had to get back for Christmas dinner or something.

Abruptly she stood up. “Wait here,” she said, and padded off into the gloom of her small bedroom. I heard her rustling papers and moving things.

“Do you need any help?” I called.

But then she came shuffling back, with something in her hands. She handed it to me. It was dark and heavy. I lifted it into the dim light.

It was a horseshoe. A real horseshoe. Its bottom was worn and smoothed by many thousands of loping paces on the cobblestones of New York, or Dublin, or who knew what other city.

“It’s for good luck,” she said. “I’ve had it for a long time, but it’s for you now.” She took it back for a moment, hefting it in her wrinkled hands. “Be sure to hang it with the ends up,” she cautioned, “so the luck don’t fall out.”

I thanked her, and a few minutes later was walking back toward the subway, feeling the horseshoe’s weight in my coat pocket, and running fingers over its weathered surfaces.

VII

Sure, the good deed lifted my spirits for awhile. But that euphoria was soon banished by Mr. Cliff’s demand to finish the remaining stat visits, get those reports done, and file all the various papers associated with them. Besides, outside the office, Christmas had barely interrupted the reports of war and more war that filled the radios and TVs.

Then on New Year’s Eve, in the middle of the night, an apartment building full of welfare families caught fire. The blaze started in an illegal garment factory in the back of the first floor, probably a spark from a frayed electrical wire on some old piece of equipment. Flames raced through the piles of fabric, and by the time the screaming fire trucks got there, twelve people, mostly children, had burned to death.

I walked past the building two days later, on the way to a stat visit. It was still near-zero in New York, and all up the front of its several stories, water from the firemen’s hoses had frozen on contact or halfway down, and turned the whole blackened frame into a massive, surrealistic, eerily beautiful ice sculpture.

Back at the office, the image haunted me, especially after someone from the unit whose clients lived in the building said they couldn’t find out who owned it. Like most slum housing, its real owners hid behind shell corporations, collecting the city’s checks but ignoring its safety codes.

Again the word welled up in my throat: revolution! Hunt down the slumlords who get rich while children burn in their lousy tenements. There’s got to be a better way to take care of people. Not that I knew what that better way was, or how to make it happen.

Then for some reason I remembered: Mrs. Lee. If I couldn’t get her a revolution, maybe I could get her a telephone. Then, if one of her handrolled cigarettes ignited a pile of newspapers, at least she could call for help. She’d have a chance, anyway.

But how to do that? First I had to figure out all the forms and procedures, and then get them done.

This wasn’t easy, especially since there were still some leftover reports from the late December stats that Mr. Cliff was hounding me for. It took several more days to catch up and get him off my back enough to start work on it.

But eventually I did, and some older workers helped me sort out what had to be done. Let’s see: three copies of this form, four copies of that one, and two each of several others. This one had to be signed by two supervisors, that one by three, and all of them filed here and there. Then there was the phone company to deal with, and their paperwork too.

All right. After several tries, all the papers were in proper order, and filled out correctly.

Even so, Mr. Cliff was not very anxious to sign them and start the process. A phone was a lot to ask; there was high potential for abuse he said, long distance calls to Timbuktu and who knew where else, all charged to the taxpayers. I patiently explained that Mrs. Lee was all alone in the world; she had no one to call, except maybe an ambulance.

After letting the forms sit on his desk for a couple more days, Mr. Cliff gave me a weary look and signed, and I was off to the races. With his John Henry, the signatures of the other supervisors, at levels above him, weren’t so hard to get.

Of course, copies of all the finished paperwork had to go into Mrs. Lee’s file; nothing would stick unless it was all in there. I came back from the last supervisor’s office feeling triumphant, and headed for the filing cabinet.

But her file was gone. I searched the drawer, then searched again. It wasn’t there.

Mr. Cliff shook his head. He wasn’t sure what had happened. Maybe it was transferred to some other office; she did live a long way away. Or – wait a minute – maybe they took it to training, for a new caseworker.

I raced down the stairs to the training room. Mr. Dunbar gave me a bored look and another shrug. “Often enough,” he said, “I just pull a batch of files from here and there for new trainees.”

He took the unlit cigar from his mouth and studied it. The chewed end looked slimy and disgusting. “And a week later I couldn’t tell you where they came from or where they’d gone, once the trainees go upstairs to their units.” He bit down on the cigar again.

I never saw Mrs. Lee’s file, or Mrs. Lee, again. The completed paperwork for her telephone sat on my desk until I quit, a couple months later. What happened to her I can only guess, and to tell the truth, I’d rather not think about it in any detail. It always brings back memories of that ice-covered burned-out slum apartment house, and the grinding war outside. And all that gets me thinking about revolution again, while I still have no better idea what it would look like or when it might come.

But even so, I feel as if I owe Mrs. Lee a lot. Fifty years later, that old horseshoe is still hanging over the door of my office, with the ends up as instructed. And just the fact that I’m writing this story, so many years later, proves there was plenty of good luck left in it.

I just hope there was still some left over for her, too. Sometimes I think that canister of Bugler tobacco, and Tennessee Ernie Ford was enough.

But I really know it wasn’t.

She also needed a telephone. At least until the revolution.

  If you enjoyed this story, please share it with others. There’s more stories by Chuck here:

 

 

This collection of nineteen Quaker short stories, Posies for Peg,  is available on Amazon and Kindle. It makes a fine gift.

Copyright © Chuck Fager

 

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