Monday, September 26, 2016

Charlotte Burning

The black woman from Mississippi is testifying.

“The deputy took me into a cell and then got two black prisoners and ordered them to beat me. All because I wanted to register to vote.”

The men she is testifying to are the credentials committee of the 1964 Democratic convention. LBJ is desperate to advance civil rights and still hold together his coalition of southern democrats. The woman testifying is trying to get blacks seated in the all-white Mississippi delegation. Mississippi and the neighboring southern states are not happy. 

Johnson strikes a compromise to give the Mississippi blacks one black delegate, but even that is too much for Mississippi and Alabama. They walk out of the convention. Johnson holds the south together by bullying, force of will and an appeal to common decency and secures the nomination to run against Barry Goldwater. (Scenes from “All the Way,” a riveting docudrama.)

Most of us remember Johnson not only because of the Vietnam War (his Waterloo), but also for his remarkable legislative legacy: the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, Medicare, Medicaid. 

But how many white folks have repressed their memories of Freedom Summer, when CORE and SNCC organized a voter registration drive in Mississippi. Those three boys whose bodies were found in an earthen dam, boys the ages of our college student children, were among the volunteers that summer. A white deputy sheriff arrested them for speeding and held them until 10:30 so he could let his white supremacist friends know when they would be released.

A lot of people died that summer. A lot of churches were burned. All to get a few new black voters registered. It was the beginning of epochal change, but it was only the beginning, and for too many it was the bloody end.

I was nineteen that summer. On my way back to Duke University, where some of my friends were members of CORE and rode with the Freedom Riders. I knew what was happening, but I didn’t feel it. It was almost as if by growing up at a southern country club, where only men could be members and the only blacks in sight were wearing waiter’s jackets or carrying golf bags, I had been inoculated against a harsh reaction to racial prejudice. Like a flu shot: you might get a little queasy when some old fat white guy in plaid pants started telling racial jokes, but you didn’t have to get up to throw up.

For me, that came later. My inoculation wore off in law school and I had to get out of there. When I moved to Los Angeles, I wasn’t running away from the blacks, I was running away from the whites. I still don’t like to go back there. Even mild exposure to that kind of prejudice makes me ill.

If that’s my reaction, as a privileged white man, think what the reaction of a black man or woman must be. 

You are black and you live in a community where the police harass you with impunity. They murder your friends. You may not remember Freedom Summer, but you don’t have to, you are re-living it. The fear is passed along almost as part of your DNA. Don’t talk back to the man. Don’t make eye contact. Step off the sidewalk when he is coming. Remember Emmet Till.

It’s easy for whites to condemn black violence. After all, civil order is the bedrock of democracy. But if you put yourself in their shoes, if you think back honestly to the way they were treated in the old south, the way they are treated even today in many parts of the country, if you consider that the terror of that treatment must live inside them like a vicious parasite, is it any surprise that Ferguson erupted in violence? Is it any surprise that Charlotte is burning?

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Where to Watch the War

War is coming. The Donald says so. Any war he starts will be over before you can spread out a picnic blanket and take out your binoculars. He loves winning. Hates losing. Hates it. He’ll wave to his people and say, “Get ‘em out of here,” and that will be that.

We’re already at war with ISIS and several other acronyms that are too hard to remember. Those wars are far away and are being conducted by losers, except for Donald’s pal Vladimir, who isn’t exactly a winner but I wouldn’t call him a loser, at least not to his face, as I’m not ready to be disappeared. Those acronym wars are not really worth watching. They’re depressing, really. Here we are, the mightiest nation in the the world, the biggest badass history has ever seen, and we’re chasing around the desert after people dressed like Aladdin. Kind of like that time we chased around the jungle after people wearing black pajamas.

But war is coming to our shores. I can feel the drumbeat. The cable news talks about it all the time. The people, especially the white men in our country, are mad as hell and they’re not going to take it anymore. Who can blame them? They had the power. They had the privilege. Now a bunch of definitely not white men and women—women, for gods sake!—have knocked them off their mountaintop or, in the case of Appalachia, mud hill, and they mean to get those bastards. I think spiking their enemies’ food with oxycontin may be their strategy.

It’s not just the bigots and misogynists who will be taking to the barricades. Remember Occupy Wall Street? (Barely, you say. Wasn’t that a bunch of hippies having a block party?) Remember Ferguson? And Flint? There are a bunch of pissed off people on both sides of the political spectrum. They can’t agree on much except being mad at the way they’re being treated.

It used to be that we worked out our differences through politics. We elected our avatars and they went to the game and fought for us and sometimes they won and sometimes they lost but usually there were scores on both sides. Now the political game has ground to a halt. The Senate has been in full stop for years. The only thing the House votes on is repealing Obamacare.

You know what happens when the political process breaks down: Revolution, baby. Bring it on you lily-livered [fill in the blank for the group you hate].

It would be funny, if it weren’t. 

Anyway, what I’m wondering is where to watch the carnage unfold. I want to be close enough to see, but also safe. I think being mobile would be good. I live in Palo Alto, so I can put my house on Airbnb as a dormitory for the cyber warriors. I’m pretty sure cyber war will be involved in this one.

Also, I don’t know where to put my savings to keep them safe. Gold is the traditional haven, but I hate the gold standard—so delusionally primitive. I just can’t make myself go there. Maybe canned goods and shotgun shells, just in case things really get bad. But all that won’t fit in a backpack, and I don't want to dig a bunker in the Rockies. Wouldn’t be able to see a thing from there.

It’s a dilemma. I’ll figure it out, though. I’m determined not to miss the end of our civilization. I’ve still got a couple of months to make a plan.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Put on Your Red Dress, Baby!

You know those maps of the U.S. that show by state our politics, our weight and our drug habits? 

Why is the stuff that’s bad (at least to me, in the case of politics) always red?

Red is my favorite color. I love red sports cars. Now I feel like Rush Limbaugh is riding shotgun.

Is there anything hotter than a woman in a red dress? OMG, am I lusting after Ann Coulter?

“Red, the blood of angry men.”

Well, that fits.

But seriously, blue is cool. As in not warm. Not passionate. Not on fire. I’m a non-beef-eating liberal. Does that mean I don’t have the juice? I don’t wear eyeshades and earplugs to bed, I’ll tell you that.

I want to be red. I want to be hot. I just don’t want to have to move back to Tennessee and vote for Trump to do it.

It’s a dilemma. Hot or cool?

To go back to the Les Miz lyrics:

Who am I? I’m sissy blue.