In London, try Spanish

I am currently at work on a peace pamphlet. I plan on making the pamphlet a regular publication as I feel the need to work for peace is as urgent now as it has ever been in my lifetime (though peace is always an urgent matter).

The following piece will appear in the pamphlet. It is written with my city of London, Ontario in mind but I believe the lesson applies anywhere. Depending on where you live, the language could be Arabic or Urdu or Dutch. There is no language that does not deserve study especially if a personal and communal commitment to a plural world is an essential precondition for peace as I believe it is.

In London, try Spanish 

I do not know exactly how many languages are spoken in London. I imagine I could go down to City Hall and receive a good estimate. I also do not know how many different nationalities, ethnicities, religious, and gender groups there are in London either. Again, I know where I could go to begin to find that out. And perhaps I will do this soon as it is an important project as I really want to begin to know my city in ways that can help break my bubble. But in the meantime, I have another project in mind.

Right now I work in Old South so I have the luxury of being able to take a break and go for a cup of coffee (and something sweet) in a number of fine establishments. When I walk into the Fire Roasted on Wortley Road, I often have my choice of free local publications including the bilingual Latino! London, like my childhood community of Montgomery County, Maryland is fortunate to have so many Spanish speakers. Here in London the Spanish speaking community is largely from Columbia or of Columbian decent; where I was raised the population was predominately Salvadoran. Spanish was so commonplace in my community -and it is even more so now- that it was seen as common sense to learn at least some Spanish to be able to communicate. In London, perhaps, this will become conventional wisdom as well.

In the meantime, I have decided that I have a responsibility to pick up Latino! and read it because I want to experience London in a different language. My Spanish is far from perfect so when I encounter words and phrases I do not understand, I consult my dictionary and yes, Google Translate. I also want to hear more spoken Spanish and now I use various tools in order to do so. But my efforts have raised a question: Is it realistic to think that each one of us, especially working adults, can learn to read a Spanish language (or French language) newspaper? I am inclined to think it is not nearly as difficult as one might believe. 

Years ago I was brushing up on my Spanish by consulting the Michel Thomas audio program. Thomas made the point that most English speakers already have a working Spanish vocabulary (French, too) of at least 600-1000 words. The similarities between the two languages are such that an English speaker can pick up a Spanish paper and identify dozens of nouns right off the bat. And while verbs may be more difficult, a pocket guide to Spanish verbs is inexpensive. I have one in front of me as I write this that I purchased for around $5.00: Barron’s Spanish Verbs, edited by Christopher Kendris, Ph.D. It is very easy to use and helps me navigate unfamiliar verb territory and idioms. Fortunately, London Library has the Michel Thomas program in its catalogue. You can listen in your car, something I used to do traveling to and from work. 

I believe that there is an important connection between language literacy and peace. When we rely on others to transmit information to us we are left susceptible to their biases. When we only know of other communities from the words we read or hear about them -someone else’s words- we become vulnerable to sensationalism, exaggeration, and dishonesty. Stereotypes thrive when knowledge is scarce. But if we can go to the source, say, a newspaper or a radio program and try our best to understand what we are reading or hearing, we are making a move towards peace. And the best part is, no one is expecting us to become fluently bilingual, that is, unless we want to make that step ourselves. Even a rudimentary, halting knowledge of Spanish is a step in the direction of cultural understanding that will win a welcome in many circles. 

I recognize that nearly everyone is very busy. I am a father of two children under five years old and I work full-time. My days are filled to the brim and I can appreciate how, in our down time, it can be very challenging to muster up the energy to learn a second (or third) language. But if you feel as I do that peace is the most worthy pursuit in a world rent by conflict, perhaps you will find some time to peruse a Spanish paper over coffee, tea, beer and wine. Or maybe you will download a language study program. As human beings, we are wired for language. It is a cliche that we are social beings, but we are. And maybe one of the most powerful commitments we can make towards the pursuit of peace is the pursuit of foreign language literacy. 

And maybe this has never been more important than it is now. Xenophobia and anxiety over immigration is visible in northern North America; in recent months we have been treated to horror stories about detained and separated families at the U.S.-Mexico border. We have seen children held in prisons in the desert. We have watched European parties and politicians embrace xenophobia and white nationalism while also witnessing the rise of the Alt Right in Canada and the United States. If we take the time to learn another language we can cut through the rumour and innuendo, the distractions and distortions that politicians, journalists, and media personalities use to mislead us. 

Canada is an officially bilingual country where learning French is touted as a social good and a citizen’s educational right. In London, many children attend French immersion and many parents, who do not know French well themselves, enrol their children with great enthusiasm. But since London is also a city with a large Spanish speaking population, why not try Spanish in your own quest for peace? 

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None of the Above No. 9

                                                      None of the Above 

              “I don’t expect to get support.” -Montgomery Brewster

                                                            (Est. 2018)   

                                                London, Ontario, Canada

Downloadable copy: None of the Above No. 9

Issue No. 9                                                                                                            The October Edition       

None of the Above stands athwart history yelling Stop! . . . Drop! and Roll!

        – – – – – – – – – – –

Question:

Can a man be a feminist or is he a feminist ally? 

Quote for the Issue: 

“Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
though I sang in my chains like the sea.” -Dylan Thomas 

People to know: 

Walter Karp (1934-1989) was an American journalist who wrote for Harper’s Magazine for many years. He was an astute critic of American political history whose radical and highly literate examination of American imperialism and political consensus was akin to the criticisms of William Appleman Williams and Noam Chomsky. His books Indispensable Enemies, Liberty Under Siege, and The Politics of War are searing indictments of the hypocrisy of American politicians, their rhetorical cant, and the pretences of Wilsonian liberalism. Karp’s criticism of mainstream journalism as a servile institution is echoed in the media criticisms of Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky. Karp, like the anarchist Paul Goodman and the Catholic liberation theologian Ivan Illich, believed that the public education system was destructive of individual initiative, imagination, and critical thinking but Karp did not believe that a quality education should be reserved for the wealthy elite. 

Some Realities of Self-Reliant Curiosity: Individual and small group teaching  

In my previous essay, I spoke of the benefits of encouraging curiosity and self-reliance and I also mentioned that creating a learning environment where both traits can flourish means embracing a parenting and teaching strategy that is less controlling of the outcome. While this may sound elegant in theory it is reasonable to ask what it might look like in practice. I am prepared to offer several observations of this pedagogical strategy in action.

Over the last five-and-a-half years I have worked in a variety of educational environments in which I have watched students pursue their own curiosity on an individual, small group, and large group basis. These environments have been private homes, public spaces, and in an independent school setting. My experiences are by no means exhaustive and certainly do not run the full gamut of educational and learning cultures. I should add that I did not work in a traditional public school setting during this five year span; the last time I worked in a public school was 2005.

Between 2013 and 2016, my work was principally in the humanities and included tutoring and teaching English, composition, grammar, history, and social studies (media, political science, sociology). The principal setting was private homes with individual students and very small groups of 3-4 members. My work was structured around reading and writing assignments, Socratic discussions, and tutoring relationships which involved working with students on how to diagram sentences, conjugate verbs, interpret written passages, and construct expository essays and produce creative writing. Individual and small group work was always discussion-driven and I relied on a high level of personal commitment from my students: they were expected to read, write, and study independently. I did not prepare quizzes or tests and my efforts were concentrated on written assignments and verbal exercises (discussions), much the way a humanities seminar course is prepared at a university.

Results were varied but what was consistent from the beginning was that I had to adjust my expectations about the quality of the work I was to receive. My initial assumption was that the high level of curiosity that I witnessed in nearly all of my students would be followed by a strong work ethic. This was not the case. What I did witness was a learning curve, that is, a movement over time toward a greater commitment to reading, writing, discussion. Initially, nearly every one of my students delivered what I would call the bare minimum: they did no more than I asked and sometimes barely that. If I assigned a certain number of pages of reading they would read only what I assigned and sometimes less. If I gave them a writing assignment they would return a very short composition: a “paragraph,” for instance, would be two or three sentences at most.

When it was time to discuss what my students had been reading nearly all of them were unprepared to offer ideas and opinions. When I would ask opinion questions I almost always encountered a reluctance to offer a viewpoint because the student either believed that they had not understood what they had read or they did not have any interest in offering their perspective. To cope with their silence I would then ask them what I took to be basic questions about the plot or subject of a story or an essay. Even this exercise was difficult because there was an element of what I will call “personal accountability” in it. In many cases, my expectations intimated my students and while I recognized then that it would take time for a relationship to develop, I was struck by an across-the-board reluctance to hold their curiosity accountable to me. Curiosity was, I believe, associated with a form of free play and when I attempted to bridge the gap between “play” and “work” I encountered opposition.

I think it is important to reflect on this for a moment. In my experience in different educational settings, including work as a high school and middle school teacher in Colorado and Maryland and as a graduate teaching assistant in two Canadian universities, I recall that my teaching colleagues, professors, and fellow graduate students believed that a highly structured system that incorporated a forced accountability mechanism was the best way to receive quality work and a studious commitment. There was a general assumption that self-reliance was not really an option until a student was demonstrably an adult. In the universities, undergraduates were presumed to be incapable of a more free-form, open-ended model of classroom participation. In middle school and high school environments the same logic applied. Self-reliance was generally not presumed to be a character trait that most students had and it was not expected, at least in my experience, that undergraduates would have this trait unless they opted for specialized training in a field of their choice and were seeking a post-graduate education.

Looking back, I can understand why this perspective among the educators that I knew would be the case. Most of the students I saw at the university level were quiet and unaccustomed to the Socratic question-based method that I used to conduct tutorials. When I opted to utilize seminar-style discussions that were question-driven, they were unprepared at first. There were many sessions where I could barely elicit a response from the class in much the same way that when I introduced the Socratic method in middle school and high school classrooms I was initially met with confusion. But over time attitudes and responses changed and performance shifted. Nevertheless, there was an initial struggle in nearly every instance.

To encourage curiosity and self-reliance does require, I believe, a great deal of patience. It also goes against the grain of many traditional educational models and by “traditional” I mean the “sit and listen,” complete nightly homework, “don’t leave your seat” approach I received in my own public school education. Now I know very well that this approach is changing in many school systems and project-based learning is becoming far more common than it was when I was a student and teacher. Still, I would wager that many of us remain uncomfortable with a hands-off approach that may lead to considerable initial floundering. I am very familiar with the feeling that students (and teachers) must use each moment “productively.” I am also familiar with the assumption that if a student does not initially like something, they will not work at it unless made to do so. I am not saying these assumptions are wrong, only that they are incomplete. There will be an initial adjustment for nearly every student and educator especially since a hands-off approach can very quickly lead to what appears to be “free play.”

The transition from thinking about learning-as-work to learning-as-play is not something that is often discussed outside of Montessori or early childhood learning environments. Play is certainly not a word that many educators that I have known would feel comfortable using in talking about the activities and projects that are being undertaken in their primary or secondary school classrooms. I suspect that play is still seen by many parents and adults as the opposite of work, that is, once a child has graduated from kindergarten. But this does not mean that play and work are opposites.

One student of mine could spend hours every day working with LEGO and then explain with professional fluency many architectural details in his projects. When he built a structure or a “scenario,” he took pains to detail to me his choice of decor, his concern for historical accuracy, even his choice of weaponry and why he had purchased certain LEGO sets. None of this work was asked of him, he did all of it by his own volition.

I had another student who would spend hours looking up information on the internet. In 2014, she became fascinated by the Winter Olympics and began telling me about what cities were vying for future Olympic games. She dutifully followed the medal count in the newspaper and watched and listened to coverage attentively each day. This interest in the Olympics sparked a passion for world geography and we used to talk at length about why certain nations historically perform better in specific athletic events and how climate encouraged different forms of training. Again, this was a passion my student developed independently and she volunteered information without any prompting. She was justifiably proud of what she committed to memory and of her meticulous attention to detail.

These are but two anecdotal examples and yet I would argue that they are not atypical of the behavior and habits of young people. I had another student who hated reading and loathed having to complete assignments on time. Seldom could I get her to do anything but very rudimentary reading and writing. But if I asked her about her studies of animals she could tell me a great deal about zoology and it was evident that she spent a considerable portion of her time observing animals; one advantage she had was living on four acres in the country with easy access to a creek, woods, and Lake Erie and I tried to incorporate this into her work. She also could spend hours drawing and studying Manga techniques. Again, when the work she was doing was seen primarily as a form of leisure she would approach it with gusto but I had to be very careful about how I tried to incorporate her interests into our time together. I did not want to be seen as attempting to hijack her efforts.

Encouraging self-reliant curiosity can be a very delicate process. Often students enter into a relationship with their teachers with a healthy suspicion that adults, perhaps any adult, will trivialize their efforts and dismiss their passions. Again, I do not want to overgeneralize but in my experience, this has been a real concern that I have consistently encountered. I suspect that one way that adults and teachers can overcome this initial suspicion is to tame their own suspicion that students if given greater latitude, will opt solely for play. Many students assume that this is what adults and teachers expect of them and this reinforces once more the artificial barrier between work and play. It is my belief that parents and teachers need to make a more critical appraisal of the boundary between these two categories in their own lives. In other words, do we really believe that work is only what we do not like or are compelled to do and play is merely what involves leisure? Is pleasure synonymous with leisure? When did we learn that?

Some of what we are reading/interested in reading

Simulacra and Simulation -Jean Baudrillard
The Critique of Pure Reason -Immanuel Kant
Orality and Literacy -Walter Ong
The Book of the City of Ladies -Christine de Pizan
The Idea of a Theatre -Francis Fergusson 

One PPG Place

In 1994, my great uncle took me at my request to walk around downtown
because I wanted to see the tallest buildings in the city. 

He knew that I loved skyscrapers and he was proud of the cityscape.
For a once booming burgh grown so small over more than three decades;
for a city in haemorrhage of mills and opportunities, it still gave good face.

I stood with my camera beside One PPG Place and looked straight up at the sky,
measuring vertices of steel, glass; the way the clouds moved across the building’s frons. 

It was a castle of corporate monies, big investment, forward thinking;
hieratic and hydroponic. The Golden Triangle.

My self at thirty-nine trills:
Who was Joe Hill.
See the arterial grease that was grist in Homestead across the Monongahela.
(Yes, you can see it.)
Or, if you will, a Ukrainian Church and Sunday afternoon beer
at a bar watching Bradshaw or Big Ben.

If I had asked -had I known- was that August Wilson
reading his way up to the top steeple, flagpole dancing like a commodity stock
so the auteur could spy the Homestead streets from above where his Troy Maxson would
eventually collect waste, I don’t know what my uncle would have said. 

It is a shame we cannot wake the dead.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Content by Jeremy Nathan Marks

A Great Law of Peace

A Great Law of Peace 

If you have ever wanted to know what peace treaties look like, or how they are assembled, one of the first things you will learn is that every word, phrase, paragraph, and page of those treaty documents is carefully -painstakingly- drawn up, debated, discussed, and argued. Treaties often take months, if not years, to be drafted . . . and that does not even guarantee that they will be ratified!

To be a peacemaker means to be a diplomat. Peacemakers learn the tool of diplomacy such as compromise, patience, and a lawyer’s sensitivity to language and its meanings. But being a peacemaker means something else: Leadership. To make peace means to lead.

When I was growing up, one of the messages I absorbed from the culture to which I was assimilated was that leaders were warriors. I am a child of the 1980s, a time of action heroes like Rambo and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator. I learned via film, television, and the playground that a leader was a warrior and a commander: leaders led through physical strength and daring. Leaders also fought and seemed to relish being bloodied. I grew up admiring the military service of members of my family as well as the workplace colleagues of my father who wore military uniforms and were decorated. 

Despite my background, I have never identified with this specific model of leadership; perhaps this is why I decided to become a teacher and a Socratic discussion facilitator. I also have a long standing attraction to the philosophy of nonviolence and the value of conflict mediation. My personal heroes have often been people who made peace rather than won glory on the battlefield. 

In my home and classroom, I like to carefully observe the mood of my daughters and my students. When watching my four month old and my almost four year old, it is not terribly difficult to discern their mind frame. However, in the classroom, this can be less apparent because children and young adults -especially boys- learn to mask their emotions for self-protection. I have noticed that boys, in particular, prefer not to debate, discuss, and compromise; often they see these things as a poor substitute for action. What I try to convey to them, as well as to any recalcitrant student, is that debate and discussion -even compromise- are actually forms of action; they are tools that we can use to build the cultures that we prefer.

Children and young adults enjoy being builders and our Canadian cultures prize people who create, who are makers and inventors. It is not a stretch to say that in standard Canadian history there is a marked preference for people known as doers. But what is doing? It is creating homes, schools, governing institutions, businesses, civic spaces that reflect what we, as citizens, value. In the classroom, but also in the home, a similar doing is possible. 

To build at home and in school, we need to find shared aims and shared goals. To find these shared perspectives we need to get along with one another and to communicate. How do we do it? Well, I believe that the Six Nations of the Haudenosaunee, neighbours of ours here in Southern Ontario, have provided a model. When they came together, perhaps as early as nine hundred years ago, they realized that a single arrow could be broken with ease but that five arrows, forged together with fire, were unbreakable. They realized that as a family bound by ties of kinship, united by a shared love of peace, they were strong and could build an enduring community, a civilization that would survive. Peace would mean prosperity; peace would come of kinship. The agreement they reached came to be known as The Great Law of Peace. It likely predates England’s Magna Carta; it certainly predates the British North America Act and the United States Constitution. 

A Great Law of Peace can be established in our homes and in our classrooms if we decide that our children and our students can be counted on to negotiate one with us. I am trying this in my own home and classroom; I am learning what my daughters and my students believe is their -and our- common interest. I am learning what they believe peace to be, and how it can be sustained. I am learning how they feel that peace allows them to flourish. The beautiful thing is, this move towards peace comes right from the soil around us and from a rich history that has shaped the land where we live. My daughters and my students are learning that the recipe for peace is truly homegrown. 

This essay originally appeared here: http://childreach.on.ca/blog/a-great-law-of-peace/

 

None of the Above No. 8

                                                      None of the Above 

              “I don’t expect to get support.” -Montgomery Brewster

                                                            (Est. 2018)   

                                                London, Ontario, Canada

Downloadable copy here: None of the Above No. 8

Issue No. 8                                                                                                            The October Edition       

None of the Above knows that we all have to pay our dues. The question is, is it true that we all actually do pay them?

        – – – – – – – – – – –

Question:

Which is more important, freedom of expression or occupational freedom? Are they the same thing? 

Quote for the Issue: 

“The people, held down by the education inculcated into them, awash with prejudices, are obliged to make considerable effort to raise themselves to consciousness. Now, even when they pull it off, far from letting themselves be swept along by a justified wrath, they abide by the principle of least resistance: they seek out and stick to the path that looks to them the shortest and least fraught with difficulties.”  -Emile Pouget (from Direct Action)

People to know: 

I.F. Stone (1907-1989) was a pioneering journalist and writer who was one of the leading newspaper reporters in the United States during the Second World War and early postwar period. In the early 1950s, he was blacklisted for his alleged Soviet sympathies, an allegation that sprang up again after his death but has never been proved. During the 1930s, Stone was a left-wing critic of Stalinist Russia and in the post-war period was a powerful critic of both American foreign policy and Cold War power politics. In 1953 he founded I.F. Stone’s Weekly, an investigative sheet which covered high-level politics and foreign policy for more than three decades. In the last years of his life, Stone taught himself ancient Greek and read Plato and other Greek philosophers in the original before writing The Trial of Socrates. He periodically published his columns in book form in such works as In A Time of TormentThe Haunted Fifties, and The Truman Era. He also published his own study of the Kent State killings in 1971.

Self-reliance and Curiosity: A Joint Imperative 

If you read the business press, watch television, or listen to the radio it is hard to escape the message that the labor markets of tomorrow will be shaped not by full-time employment but by the “gig economy.” In many labor market, this already is the case. For those who are able to fork over the cash necessary to attend university and post-graduate institutions, there is a growing recognition that outside of the STEM fields, full-time employment prospects will be spotty for professionals. Whether this job market prediction proves accurate or not it seems reasonable for students to make a form of Pascal’s wager: Bet on the worst, that is, uncertain, non-gainful employment shaping the new reality.

If you have children or are now of child-bearing/child-rearing age, it seems reasonable to consider what forms of preparation you can take to prepare your child/children for the working world. Perhaps the best solution is actually a joint imperative: teach self-reliance and nurture rigorous curiosity.

Self-reliance and curiosity are partners: a curious person does not have the luxury of waiting for others to satisfy their curiosity; if they want to know they have to go and find. The search for satisfactory answers also demands a persistent self-discipline, a type of grit which teaches the seeker to neither give up nor remain satisfied with conventional explanations. Curiosity is also deeply personal and is driven by the personal prerogative, a fact evident in matters as diverse as the search for truth in science, morality, faith, education, and politics. Curiosity is also a recognition of necessity: when a curious person discovers what they do not know they become better equipped to discover what others do not know either. This is how human knowledge is advanced. As Thomas Edison once said: ‘Necessity is the mother of invention.’

When thinking about how to encourage curiosity in children what we are actually contemplating is how to move children toward asking questions that we as parents and educators cannot necessarily answer. When thinking about how to motivate children to become self-reliant we are training ourselves not to rush in to solve problems for them. While this might appear to be a disengaged form of parenting or neglectful form of teaching it is actually two steps towards a partnership with our children. Here an example will be useful.

The world-renowned linguist Professor Noam Chomsky was fortunate to have been raised in a home where his father was a renowned scholar of medieval Hebrew. When he was only twelve years old Chomsky read the proofs of his father’s book on Hebrew grammar. In this case, his father had prepared him for the task of proofreading and understanding a high-level work of scholarship by teaching his son Hebrew from an early age and encouraging his son’s budding curiosity in linguistics. Chomsky’s parents also decided that beginning at the age of two, their son would attend a progressive school in the city of Philadelphia which allowed their son to explore his intellectual curiosity in a responsive and accommodating environment. Young Chomsky was encouraged both at school and at home to read, think, question, and experiment. He lived in a home where intellectual topics were a part of daily conversation and it was assumed that his growing mind required ample opportunities to ask pertinent and pressing questions demanding the attention of adults. During the summer and over extended holidays, Chomsky was sent to New York to stay with relatives who were very involved in the Eastern European Jewish intellectual community and his visits including being a participant and observer of advanced intellectual discourse. As Chomsky and others have noted, this upbringing prepared him intellectually and personally to take full advantage of the educational and professional opportunities that became available to him when he enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania. Self-reliance, curiosity, and independence of mind were ingrained in the young man well before he matriculated.

Before we assume that because Noam Chomsky is an exceptional person the example I have provided is largely an unrealistic one, I would like to draw attention to what Chomsky and other educators have suggested which is that the habits of self-reliance and curiosity can be encouraged, taught, and modeled. The point is not that all students should expect to become world class intellectuals but rather that self-reliance and curiosity can prepare them to seize opportunities to advance their education and life plans. But this is not all. A self-reliant, curious young adult will also be better prepared to seek mentors and find opportunities for apprenticeship. Self-reliance and curiosity encourage poise, maturity, and patience all of which are valuable skills that create opportunities and open doors.

As parents, educators, and students we are all going to have to be creative in our response to what has been called “the Brave New World of Work.” Curiosity and the ability to be and to remain curious is and will be a requirement for personal success and long-term professional survival.

Some of what we are reading/interested in reading

The Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy -Yves Engler
Democracy Matters -Cornel West
To Jerusalem and Back -Saul Bellow
Towards a Jewish Theology of Liberation -Marc H. Ellis
The Trial of Socrates -I.F. Stone 

Lady Lustitia (it turns out) 

-for Aretha Franklin & Angela Davis 

It turns out that I should read everything into music- 

That piano intro into Think . . .
it’s just the footfalls of four youths
an afternoon before they were shot down
in the Algiers Motel in the hometown of 

The Queen of Soul.

Those rising horns in Sweet Sweet Baby . . .
three hundred and fifty years of tidal Mississippi
rising to raise a gin fan and Huck’s raft
plus the flotsam rope they cut for some boys from Scottsboro

All thrown off a Tallahatchie Bridge to go down to the Gulf. 

Let it all wash out among the hulls 
of sunken ships and blown well heads spewing
the blackest crude onto those white sands
of a Riviera in Mississippi where they wouldn’t serve 

The Queen of Soul. 

The backbeat to The Weight . . .
well, shit . . . 
It turns out that the weight itself was something
some Canadian of Mohawk blood
channelled like another black man felt the Wabash Cannonball
thumping through his pulmonary until he just had to become 

A Pullman Porter.
A communist.
One among countless standing with patches
behind a hammer and a hoe. 

All of them
and how many women
how many?
now soundtracking the debutante balls
on countless new plantations
from Oakland in Michigan
to Sunflower County
and the precincts of starvation wage
trash collectors in Shelby
that’s Memphis, baby 

Rock steady. 

The Queen was there,
is there,
must always be where mourners
and eye-of-the-needle transponders
move like Miss Angela herself
through the halls of blind Lady Lustitia; 
how long she gon’ wait? 

You listening?
The Queen ain’t done preaching. 

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Content by Jeremy Nathan Marks

Don’t make a fetish of the “rule of law”

I agree with the late Howard Zinn that it is short-sighted to make a fetish of the “rule of law” when so often laws are unjust. It is people who matter and people have to act to elect legislatures that will make laws reflective of their collective sense of justice. As a small-d democrat, I return again and again to the idea that it is the people, not an unelected elite who must determine, ultimately, what is just. There are many dangers in this, of course. But there are many dangerous in fealty to law simply because it is law or precedent. There are many dangers in deferring one’s own independent judgment to judges simply because they attended elite law schools, hold high office, and have the right friends. The fact is, if you want power you need to have the right friends. . . But that can be a good thing if you choose to be an activist.

https://progressive.org/…/howard-zinn-despair-supreme-court/

A small-d democrat

As a small d-democrat, my faith in the people is not an abstraction. I am Jewish and I know what happens when mob psychology takes over. I am an American and I know about slavery, lynchings, the conquest and genocide of indigenous peoples. As a student of history I am very aware of the passions of people and how collective hysteria can sweep across regions; I have read about the “burned out districts” of the Great Awakening, for instance.

But I remain a small-d democrat because I believe in solidarity, in the ability of persons of conscience to build organizations, institutions, and movements capable of resisting evil and battling injustice. A small-d democrat is someone who looks to people of conscience and looks to be a person of conscience as well. I look to join with others, to know my neighbours, to try and live justly, and with fairness and equality foremost in my mind. The work of building a just society stems from individual conscience and the creation of community. I do not need elites to do that nor do I need to wait for others to do that work for me. That is my task.

For the record

None of the Above, with its cheeky humour (at times), is not a cynical sheet. I write from the perspective that party politics and elite institutions have become corrupted, that they lack the moral mandate to govern. I also write from the perspective that nation states are not motivated by moral considerations and therefore institutional parties and politicians deserve skepticism rather than faith. I place my faith in the work of individuals and organizations to build coalitions and forge solidarity; I imagine a political system that can be influenced and reshaped by those efforts.

As the turn toward the far right seems to be growing around the world allow me to go on the record as saying that I am utterly opposed to it. I am opposed to sitting on the sidelines and watching and thinking that what happens to “the system” does not matter. I have long been a skeptic of NAFTA, the IMF, the WTO, the World Bank, NATO but I am not a nihilist. I am not someone who believes that burning everything down is the way to move forward.

So, my writing and the opinions that I share are driven by a desire for a constructive reshaping of institutional and political life and I will not -I will never- cast my lot with those who believe that tearing things down and scapegoating citizens, especially minorities of all kinds and women, is an answer.

None of the Above No. 7

                                                      None of the Above

              “I don’t expect to get support.” -Montgomery Brewster

                                                            (Est. 2018)   

                                               London, Ontario, Canada

Download copy here: None of the Above No. 7

Issue No. 7                                                                                                            The October Edition 

None of the Above does not want to help you raise your children or give you professional advice. But we do have opinions about both which we will share with you over coffee, tea, wine, beer or a libation of your choice.  

– – – – – – – – – – –

Question:

Are you inclined to believe a woman when she says that she was assaulted? Or are you likely to begin from a place of doubt? 

Quote of the Issue:

“It is the office of a true teacher to show us that God is, not was; that He speaketh, not spake. The true Christianity -a faith like Christ’s in the infinitude of man, -is lost.”  -Ralph Waldo Emerson, speaking at Harvard Divinity School in 1838

People to know: 

Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919) was a Polish Marxist writer, philosopher, and anti-war activist who, along with Karl Liebknecht was responsible for the Spartacist Uprising in post-WWI German which led to her execution by the German Government. Luxemburg rejected Bolshevism and was skeptical of the Bolshevik view that a vanguard party was required for successful socialist revolution. She held that spontaneous action, supported by party organization, was required and as such valued the consciousness of the working class while rejecting the idea that socialist revolution would come out of a prior plan or under the direction of party intellectuals. Luxemburg best known work is The Accumulation of Capital.

– – – – – – – – – – –

I am a feminist 

I am a feminist. I have been a feminist for years. I am not frightened by criticisms of male privilege nor am I frightened by criticisms of white male privilege. In the wake of recent events, I think it is very important that white men of middle class upbringing come forward and say these things. 

I am not looking to receive any credit for acknowledging what I believe is obvious: as a white male of middle class background I have been treated to opportunities and advantages most others have not. I have had connections made for me and been virtually guaranteed access to institutions that certify my membership in the middle class. I did not earn these privileges but was born with them. Yes, I worked and I work now. Yes, I believe in the value of merit and I try and assess the value of ideas, institutions, and products on whether they possess any merit. By merit, I mean whether the ideas are based on verifiable claims; whether the institutions deliver on their promises and operate in a manner consistent with their claims and with the values an open society is supposed to value; products, whether or not they are made in conditions that are fair to workers and whether their materials are extracted in a manner that is consistent with sound ecological practice. I have criteria that I can check and I can weigh my opinions against the facts. Yes, I believe in facts. No, I do not believe that I live in a post-truth society (or world). 

But as a feminist -an intersectional feminist at that- I also recognize that there are divides which run deeper than gender and race. There is also class. If you are of a privileged class you are not necessarily going to stand in solidarity with members of your own gender or race or religious group if your economic interests don’t require you to do so. This is not universally the case; exceptions are made all the time in the form of social movements. Some critics claim that cross-class alliances and voting is irrational and goes against self interest. I am not quick to make such claims. 

I believe that class matters as much as race and gender do. I am familiar with the work of theorists like bell hooks who have shown that historically white women do not side with black women or other women of color. Studies on this subject abound in no small part because of her pathbreaking research which is evidenced in such book as Ain’t I A Woman? Similarly, white middle class liberals may not understand or express solidarity with displaced coal miners in West Virginia, a subject of much discussion in the wake of the 2016 presidential election. Not all whites stand on the same side in the battle of the classes just as not all women stand on the same side in the battle for gender equality. I think the recent divide over the nomination -and now confirmation- of Judge Kavanaugh offers some indication of this. 

I am a feminist because I am also a staunch advocate of equality. Equality is a much misunderstood and even maligned word. The spectre of radical equality haunts certain rhetorical corners of the American (and Canadian) political culture. Radical equality, itself a redundant phrase, has been suggested to be some kind of Soviet-style state socialist command of the economy, seizure of private property, and quota system denying hardworking people the chance for upward mobility. Equality, as I understand and employ the term, means that the legal, political, economic, and educational systems should not favour anyone on the basis of any arbitrarily chosen features or attributes. A society committed to equality is, in broad strokes, a society that does not believe that your race, gender, social class (or national origin) should entitle you to protections against the competitive hard work of upward mobility and survival. A society committed to equality means that everyone should be allowed to compete in a marketplace and civil society which considers that there are class, gender, and racial privileges but which does not accept these privileges as final, does not facilitate those privileges, and is committed to combatting them. I want to live in that society.

As a feminist, I believe that the battle for equality is not about dividing women from men, the cisgendered from the transgendered, the middle class from the working class, the elites from the poor. I believe that the battle for equality is about constructing a society that is dedicated to the principal that any individual should have a chance to gainful employment, a decent education, and the ability to protect their person, their loved ones, their home. As a feminist I am also a civil libertarian, a libertarian socialist, a champion of equality, a champion of the conservation of our planet. 

I am sharing these brief thoughts because I fear that in the coming days not enough people of my perspective and privilege (and gender) will come forward and say that the fight for a just society depends upon a movement that is plural, a movement where there is no color bar, class bar, gender bar, age bar, or set of religious restrictions. That movement is my movement. I am making this moment my moment.

Some of what we are reading/interested in reading:

Language and Politics -C.P. Otero, ed.
The Ugly Canadian -Yves Engler
Language and Thought -Noam Chomsky
The Zapatista Reader -Tom Hayden, ed.
Towards A New Cold War -Noam Chomsky
I Married A Communist -Philip Roth
Madness & Civilization -Michel Foucault 

Brown recluse 

Every word she says
about dining under the hibiscus
and a flying roach
landing in her soup 

Is technically true.

Or having her house guest bitten
by a brown recluse
until he couldn’t see how she
played him for a sap 

When for the same personal cost
he could have walked maybe two blocks 

And checked in at the Westin.

(Poem originally appeared in New Reader Magazine no. 3)

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

       

      Content by Jeremy Nathan Marks

None of the Above No. 6

                                                        None of the Above

                  “I don’t expect to get support.” -Montgomery Brewster

                                                              (Est. 2018)   

                                                London, Ontario, Canada

Download copy here: None of the Above Issue No. 6  

Issue No. 6                                                                                                The September Edition      

None of the Above says ‘Yes!’ to life by saying ‘No!’ to oppression . . . .

Question:

Is friendship the basis of true equality?

Quote of the Issue:

‘For all human servitude is involved in the relation of the worker to production, and all the types of servitude are only modifications or consequences of this relation.’ -Karl Marx (from The Economic and Political Manuscripts)

People to know:

James Hal Cone (1936-2018) was a Protestant theologian who taught for nearly fifty years at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. Cone was a pioneer in the field of Black Liberation Theology and his writings were influential in mainstreaming the concepts of liberation theology, with its Latin American and Catholic origins, into Protestant and English-speaking circles in the United States. Cone was a close friend and associate of Dr. Cornel West and journalist Chris Hedges and an outspoken critic of white supremacy in traditional Protestant theology. His critique of Reinhold Niebuhr remains one of the most prominent and compelling examinations of Niebuhr’s failure to address white supremacy, racism, lynching, and the sins of apartheid in his voluminous writings on American theological practice. Cone authored many books including Black Liberation Theology, God of the Oppressed, The Spirituals and the Blues, and The Cross and the Lynching Tree.

James Hal Cone: Do we bleed for others?

There is an American catechism. It goes something like this:

The United States is not an empire.
This is the land of opportunity.
We judge people by the content of their character, not the color of their skin.
We are a shining city on a hill.
We are -and have always been- a beacon of freedom for the world.
If our country has erred, its errors were well-intentioned.
Anyone can be successful if he is willing to work.
Private property is the basis of personal liberty.
Our destiny is manifest.

If you believe the above, what I am about to say will likely annoy you. But I would like to ask one question of everyone: How many of these catechistic statements do you truly accept? Any, all, or none?

One more question: Do you believe that human liberation will come about by reform or revolution?

Reverend-Doctor James Hal Cone was born in the small hamlet of Fordyce, Arkansas in that Depression summer of 1936. FDR was on the ballot and our country was about to decide if Roosevelt’s New Deal “revolution” should continue or be dropped into the dustbin. When Cone turned three months old, the voters said: “Let the revolution continue!” Perhaps no one group said this more completely than the white voters of Cone’s native South.

Southern whites said, yes, the bankers and financiers of Wall Street should not find favour in Washington. It was time for the wealthy to share their wealth and help make “every man a king,” as Mr. Kingfish himself, Louisiana Senator Huey Long had said.

Which men should be made kings? Not every man. White men.
This was no secret. Men meant white men. People meant white people. Everyone in the South knew this: Cone’s parents, Southern sheriffs, Congressmen, businessman, farmers, Senators, Governors. The president knew it, too.

FDR’s wife, Eleanor, kept pushing her husband to stand up to the Southern Barons who dominated the United States Congress; those men who held the legislative keys to FDR’s political kingdom. Mrs. Roosevelt said: “Push an anti-lynching law! You will never be more popular and with more political capital than you have right now! You won all but two states! The Congress is now filled with liberals!” But FDR did not act.

Lynching, like Jim Crow, continued.

In the late 1960s, when James Hal Cone was a newly minted Ph.D. in theology, having completed his studies at the prestigious Northwestern University, Catholic (and some Protestant) theologians across Latin America were in ferment. They began standing up and declaring that human liberation would not -could not- come from prayer alone. Priests had to go into favelas and barrios, slums and minifundias and preach the Gospel of liberating the mind, the soul, the spirit and the belly. They had to bring the practical program of socialism into their parishes. They would agitate for land reform, milk for children, public education, democratic elections, widely available health care, social citizenship. They would -their Church would- stand on the side of the poor, the oppressed. They would oppose the oligarchs, the dictators, the absentee landlords, and traditional tycoon patriarchs.

The liberationists declared that Jesus was, first and foremost, a liberator of the poor. He was present among the poor. That old line about the rich man, the camel and the eye of the needle? That was merely cute and quaint poetry: That was the real deal.

Cone took note.

At that time, in these United States, young men like Stokely Carmichael and H. Rap Brown were coming forward from within the ranks of the student and nonviolent Civil Rights movements and saying it was time for black people to get theirs, too. If that meant a confrontation with whites in power, so be it. If that meant offending the sensibilities of politicians and good liberal allies, they would do that, too. If that meant saying that the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King was an illusion, that the United States was not a place of brotherhood; Carmichael and Brown would not hesitate to proclaim it.

Cone was listening.
And then, in the midst of urban riots that burned down black neighborhoods in Los Angeles, Detroit, Newark, Cleveland, Harlem and in countless other cities and towns, leaders like Dr. King, Malcolm X., and Bobby Kennedy were taken down by bullets.

Cone was watching.

In the midst of all of this turmoil which, some thought, was insurrection, Dr. Cone molded his ministry.

In 1969, a new movement dawned. A theological movement; a fraternal turning toward the same horizons drawing many black activists.

That year, Dr. Cone made his declaration: In America, there would be liberation theology, too. Black Liberation Theology.

His book, Black Theology and Black Power, was a manifesto that made it clear how black power and the liberation of the human spirit were both responsibilities of the American theologian. He pointed an accusing finger at the greatest American theologian of the day, Reinhold Niebuhr, a darling of the political establishment and declared that Dr. Niebuhr has been derelict in his ministerial and scholarly duties. American theologians had not accounted for the role of American Christianity in endorsing American slavery and Jim Crow.

But there was more.

Cone believed that at the heart of the Christian Gospels was a divine commitment by God to alleviate the suffering of the poor. Jesus, Cone claimed, was the symbol of God’s identification with the poor, the condemned, the despised and the forsaken. The Gospels reported that Jesus built his ministry among society’s outcasts and that society would be judged not by its wealth or its monuments, but the condition of its outcast. In 1969, the outcasts of the United States were the poor, the black, the brown and American women. (Later, Cone would amend his work and include the LGBTQ community.)

In 1970, Cone took a further step with A Black Theology of Liberation and then five years later, crowned this period of his work with his opus, God of the Oppressed. No theologian before him had taken the suffering of the American poor and people of color and made it the cornerstone of their theology. Why was this? Cone asked. Because American theologians were predominantly white. White theologians reflected the faith of white America and white Americans embraced the great American catechism: the United States was and is and always has been a beacon to the world.

Not so, said Cone. Not so at all.

Go down to the Mississippi Delta and visit Emmet Till’s watery grave. Visit the driveway of the Evers’ home in Jackson where Mr. Medgar Evers -a military veteran- was taken out by an assassin’s bullet coming home late from work (his wife and children watching). Follow the cause of Ida B. Wells as she fought to make lynching of black men illegal. Stand on the front porch of a Fordyce, Arkansas home alongside Dr. Cone’s father as he is prepared to fend off the Klan with a gun. Walk with Dr. King through Cicero, Illinois and take a stone to your temple as whites tell you to go back to the jungle. Watch the good people of liberal Boston, Massachusetts fly Nazi flags because they don’t want their children bussed into classes with blacks.

And if that is not enough, go and have a look at the images of children running down a country road in Vietnam, covered in napalm.

The spirit of Jesus, Cone said, was alive and well in the tiny rural churches of the Black Belt south where folks came to pray and be lifted up from the indignity of their second-class condition. They came together in a place where they didn’t have to answer to “boy,” “uncle” or “auntie” or accept being called by their first name no matter how old they were.

Sunday morning was when Jesus would come down and visit the churches as the congregants sang their spirituals. The word of the Lord would remind the congregation that their savior died to identify with them: the poor, the illiterate, the humble, the “criminal” and the outcast. And woe to any nation -any empire- no matter how great! For no nation, no empire that ignored God’s word and treated its own people as lowly subjects could ever be pleasing to God. And lest we, the non-initiated, think that he, James Cone -or the Black Church- was pushing a philosophy of quietism, of pie-in-the-sky piety, we should not forget that it was the Black Church that stirred the slave rebellions, the Underground Railroad, the anti-lynching campaigns, radical labor movements, anti-share cropping movements and led the Civil Rights struggles of mid-twentieth century America. That spirit, that clear-eyed appraisal of the value of the human person was fully at home in the bosom of the Black Church. Just listen to the spirituals! Cone said. Go have a drink at the roadhouses and juke joints on Saturday night as singers sang and shouted the blues! In their poetry, symbolism and innuendo were unmistakeable messages of resistance. Messages of transformation.

I am an American. I am a son of the upper middle class. I am Caucasian. And not only that, I am Jewish. I did not grow up worshipping Jesus or attending Church.
What I did grow up with were all of the various privileges of my gender, skin tone and my class position. I am one of those folks those on the political right would like to say is a bleeding heart; that I am a “snowflake,” someone who prefers to bite the hand that feeds him rather than reckons with the divine blessings of my country which bestowed upon me the many privileges I enjoy.

Truth is, I know about my privilege. I just want that privilege shared.

It would be easy for me to tell you that because I am a socialist, I love James Hal Cone and the liberation theologians because of their devastating rejoinder to capitalism. That I can read Cone for his critique of the powers that be without reckoning with the spiritualism at the heart of his philosophy.

As a Socialist and as a non-Christian, I might seem open to the accusation that I am simply calling on allies wherever I can find them.

But that just isn’t so.

I consider Dr. Cone a mentor because he left behind a body of work and an example of someone whose ministry was to go to the vulnerable and offer hope, protection, and solidarity. He wrote from the position that life mattered more than wealth. That position comports not only with my socialism but with my Judaism.

As Jews, we are taught to “choose life!” Our actions, our practices, our rituals are all supposed to be subordinate to the imperative to choose life. This is where Dr. Cone’s identification with the oppressed and my commitment to life connect and flourish.
My politics are, foremost, a spiritual politics. They are a politics of embodiment. I identify, as Dr. Cone did, with the suffering man and woman on the Cross. Whether that cross is real or metaphorical, suffering is not. I am driven by a revulsion to the omnipresent mantras of Do for yourself! Find your brand! Me! Me! Social media; self-promotion; market ingenuity!

When Dr. Cone died in April, nearly fifty years to the day Dr. King was taken away, I found myself drawn back to that troubled era when American leaders bled in public. Dr. King, Bobby Kennedy, JFK, Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, Fred Hampton; they all actually bled in public.

It is a startling thing to be reminded that there is red blood -King Crimson- running through our veins. It is a startling thing to be reminded that the plans of a lifetime: estates, bequests, legacies . . . can all end up in probate.

If we live without concern for the poor, the vulnerable, the outcast, the detested and yes, the “criminal,” then we fail to recognize our common blood. We, that is, Jew, Gentile, Muslim, Buddhist, Atheist, Pietist, Woman, Man, Zhim, Abortionist, Prohibitionist, all should be measured by whether we have actually bled for others. That should form the contours of our national catechism.

Some of what we are reading/interested in reading

The USA Trilogy -John Dos Passos
The Iron Heel -Jack London
Iron City -Lloyd L. Brown
Riot -William E. Trautmann
The Bridge of San Luis Rey -Thornton Wilder
The German Ideology -Karl Marx
The Right to Useful Unemployment -Ivan Illich

Postgraduate blues

Let us drink
whatever we can find

And toast the roaches in the walls
cots tossed in the halls
and doors so broke
no one bothers to try the lock

Let us drink
to grease stains on the stove
and tobacco stink in the paint

To cat piss and rat bites
and rent that doesn’t reflect
either of these things

Let us drink
to the fact
that this
is only a stage
on our journey
to having what it is
our daddies do.

(This poem appears in New Reader Magazine Vol. 1, No. 3)

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Content by Jeremy Nathan Marks

None of the Above No. 5

The print version of None of the Above is out and available (free of charge). You can download the PDF here: None of the Above Issue No. 5

Issue No. 5                                                                                                     The September Edition

None of the Above is an attempt to remember things that we’ve forgotten, namely that we can be free. . . .

Question:

How much does your knowledge of Marx and Marxism come from either secondhand accounts or hearsay?

Quote of the Issue:

“Difference is not the opposite of harmony but its condition.” -Regis Debray

People to know:

Regis Debray (1940- ) is a French philosopher who gained international attention in 1967 when he published Revolution in the Revolution? an analysis of the overthrow of the Batista Regime in Cuba. Debray went to Bolivia to make contact with Che Guevara and was jailed by the Bolivian Government on the pretext that his book was an incitement to revolt and that he was part of Guevara’s guerrilla foco. Debray is a graduate of the famed École Normale Supérieure, an institution that has produced such luminaries as Simone de Beauvoir, Raymond Aron, Michel Foucault and Jean-Paul Sartre. Debray lived in Chile from 1970-73, writing an account of the rise of Salvador Allende and the Popular Unity Coalition. He returned to France after the 11 September 1973 coup that saw General Augusto Pinochet overthrow the democratically elected Allende regime. Debray served as French President François Mitterrand’s chief adviser on foreign affairs during the 1980s and remains an active writer and teacher.

We must go where Bobby Kennedy went

This was a spring of solemn anniversaries. April 4th marked the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and June 6th was fifty years since Senator Robert Kennedy’s death. In 1968, over a span of only sixty days, the United States lost two of its staunchest and most well-known advocates for the poor, peace, and racial justice.

In the course of a brief political career, Robert Kennedy transformed himself from a symbol of privilege and political royalty into an incipient champion of the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized. When he died, Kennedy left many people wondering whether he could have been elected president and what another Kennedy presidency might have meant for Civil Rights, social justice and of course, the war in Vietnam. Those who knew him best believe that he would have been a transformational president and speculated that his unique appeal to black and white voters might have helped prevent the racial polarization which has characterized the United States since 1968.

The role of anti-poverty champion and peace candidate was a surprising change in identity for Kennedy. Early in his career, Kennedy was a staunch anti-Communist and a ruthless political operative. In the early 1950s, he served as Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy’s legal counsel as he pursued alleged communist subversives in the federal government. McCarthy’s investigations were characterized by being long on accusation and innuendo and short on evidence, an approach which led to his censure by the Senate in 1954. Kennedy, a Democrat, shared McCarthy’s staunch anti-Communism and never publicly broke with him.

Kennedy was also an advocate of counter-insurgency and backed a program to militarize the police forces of Latin American countries, an initiative which led to foundation of the School of the Americas, an incubator for the rise of far-right fascism across Central America and which bolstered the Latin American Dirty Wars of the 1970s-1980s. While serving as his brother’s most trusted presidential aid, Kennedy also supported Operation Phoenix, the targeting of Fidel Castro for assassination.

In 1959, as he assumed the role of campaign manager in Jack’s successful 1bid for the presidency, Robert was known for his ruthlessness and not for any concern for liberal causes. At the height of the campaign, in October 1960, Kennedy excoriated an aide who recommended that his brother phone Coretta Scott King to offer assistance after her husband, Martin, was jailed in Georgia for an alleged driver’s license violation. King was being held incommunicado and had been transferred to an unknown location outside of Atlanta. His family and associates feared the worst, knowing fully well how southern law enforcement allowed vigilantes to kill civil rights workers. Candidate Kennedy intervened, phoning Mrs. King and pledging his help a decision which led Robert to place a call to a Georgia judge who subsequently ordered Dr. King’s release. The intervention of the Kennedy campaign was decisive in shifting many African American voters to support the Democratic ticket but left Robert worrying that acting on King’s behalf would cost his brother the South and the election.

Robert Kennedy’s political career was, initially, marked by both caution and conservatism. As Attorney General, he often urged civil rights activists to avoid challenging the status quo. This was never more apparent than during the 1961 Freedom Rides when he urged the Riders to allow for a “cooling off period” after their bus was bombed in Anniston, Alabama and they were attacked by a Birmingham mob. Kennedy’s handling of civil rights led to strong criticism not only from activists in the field but also leading African American artists and intellectuals like Lorraine Hansberry and James Baldwin. At the time of his brother’s murder in November 1963, Robert Kennedy was not viewed as a Civil Rights champion.

In hindsight it was the assassination of President Kennedy which marked a turning point in Robert’s life. In many ways there were two Robert Kennedys: a political operative who thought primarily in terms of winning and there was the mourner, a man devastated by personal loss. It was RFK-the-mourner who would go on to become a champion of social justice and social change.

In the days, months, and years following his brother’s murder, Kennedy underwent a transformation that stunned many who knew him. He ceased to be the feared fixer and emerged as an almost fringe political figure who courted the support of the marginal, the poor, and the dispossessed leading to his alienation from the institutional Democratic Party. The Robert Kennedy elected to the Senate from New York in 1964, largely on the strength of his family name and the memory of his fallen brother, was not the man who ran for president four years later.

Between 1965 and 1968, a “new” Kennedy emerged and this man made fighting poverty, racism, and violence his cause. He became a champion of Caesar Chavez and Chicano farm workers trying to form a farm worker’s union in California; he spoke out for impoverished Native Americans on isolated and destitute reservations; he fought to bring businesses, job training, and redevelopment to the Bedford Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn. In 1967, Kennedy traveled to the Mississippi Delta and visited the tar paper homes of sharecroppers where he learned, to his horror, that starving families were actually ineligible for the federal Food Stamp program. On the floor of the Senate he attacked welfare laws which penalized families for having a male breadwinner in the home while also condemning President Johnson’s War on Poverty for not going far enough.

A celebrity by virtue of being a Kennedy, Robert used his notoriety and position in the Senate to draw attention to grotesque disparities of wealth and poverty that segregated rich from poor, white from black and brown, even white from white. He spoke at length to audiences across the country about the pockets of poverty and destitution he had found in urban and rural scenes and increasingly identified himself with those victimized by institutional racism and the color bar. Kennedy championed socio-economic equality, racial justice, and called for gainful employment-for-all and a fair and living wage.

In March 1968, upon announcing his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for president, Kennedy emerged as an outspoke and vituperative critic of the Vietnam War. He condemned the brutalization of American soldiers in the jungles of Vietnam while deploring the horrors perpetrated against the Vietnamese people. He decried the disproportion of minority draftees doing the fighting and dying in Vietnam while middle class white students earned deferments to attend universities and post-graduate institutions. His transformation from Cold Warrior to social justice champion was so complete that when he was killed, former Freedom Rider and Civil Rights Activist John Lewis, a man who had roundly criticized Kennedy in the past, said that Kennedy was, for him, the last remaining national leader he believed could (and would) carry on the radical work of Dr. King.

How did this happen? How did a man who had been dismissed by Civil Rights activists as insensitive, ignorant, and out of touch, a man associated with wealth and privilege and ruthlessness, become the candidate of the dispossessed?

The answer is subtle and perhaps obvious: Robert Kennedy suffered and by his suffering he embraced the suffering of others. He saw those blighted by racism, hunger, sexism, violence, impoverishment, imprisonment, unemployment and personal misfortune and identified with them. He went to where they lived and bore witness to their lives. He felt their pain through a tremendous capacity for empathy. And it was this empathy which was on full display the night that Dr. King was killed and Kennedy delivered a spontaneous eulogy to a predominately black audience in downtown Indianapolis, Indiana. That night he broke his public silence about his own brother’s murder in surprising fashion: “I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man.” For many who witnessed these remarks -members of the press corps, campaign workers, those in the audience- it was a stunning admission.

A mere two months later after he, too, had been killed, Kennedy’s body was taken by train from his funeral service in Manhattan to Washington, D.C. for burial beside his brother. For the duration of that 220 mile journey, thousands of people of all colors and classes stood vigil beside the train tracks. It was noted at the time that no elected official since Abraham Lincoln had drawn such a tribute.

Kennedy’s life offers a lesson: identification with the suffering of others leads to reciprocated concern. If we reach out to others they will, in time, reach out to us. There is such a thing as a common humanity, a bond that transcends race, class, sexuality, political and religion. But to experience this bond we must be sincere in our efforts to relate to others; we must identify and bear witness to their while being willing to see and to understand the roots and sources of that pain. What Robert Kennedy’s life taught is that no matter our wealth, power, privilege or race, the common thread of human suffering binds us all.

Lady Lustitia (it turns out)

-for Aretha Franklin & Angela Davis

It turns out that I should read everything into music-

That piano intro into Think . . .
it’s just the footfalls of four youths
an afternoon before they were shot down
in the Algiers Motel in the hometown of

The Queen of Soul.

Those rising horns in Sweet Sweet Baby . . .
three hundred and fifty years of tidal Mississippi
rising to raise a gin fan and Huck’s raft
plus the flotsam rope they cut for some boys from Scottsboro

All thrown off a Tallahatchie Bridge to go down to the Gulf.

Let it all wash out among the hulls
of sunken ships and blown well heads spewing
the blackest crude onto those white sands
of a Riviera in Mississippi where they wouldn’t serve

The Queen of Soul.

The backbeat to The Weight . . .
well, shit . . .
It turns out that the weight itself was something
some Canadian of Mohawk blood
channelled like another black man felt the Wabash Cannonball
thumping through his pulmonary until he just had to become

A Pullman Porter.
A communist.
One among countless standing with patches
behind a hammer and a hoe.

All of them
and how many women
how many?
now soundtracking the debutante balls
on countless new plantations
from Oakland in Michigan
to Sunflower County
and the precincts of starvation wage
trash collectors in Shelby
that’s Memphis, baby

Rock steady.

The Queen was there,
is there,
must always be where mourners
and eye-of-the-needle transponders
move like Miss Angela herself
through the halls of blind Lady Lustitia;
how long she gon’ wait?

You listening?
The Queen ain’t done preaching.

(This poem appears in the fall edition of Rat’s Ass Review)

Some of what we are reading/interested in reading

Rise and Fall of the Third Reich -William L. Shirer
Ain’t I A Woman? -bell hooks
Revolution in the Revolution? -Regis Debray

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Content by Jeremy Nathan Marks