Tag Archives: 1970

A Day in the Park with Mary Jane, by Sandra Maxwell

30 Apr

 

Author, historian and teacher, Sandra Maxwell has spent her life attempting to understand the human condition. Urged by many of her teachers to either teach or write, Sandra chose writing because it puts into one place all of the elements she is interested in. She can study history, explore human behavior, and teach — all at the same time.  She lives happily with her husband Robert in a Victorian cottage and gardens in Southern California called “The Havens.”

 

I moved from a small town in Illinois to Los Angeles in 1968.  I was twenty, naïve to a fault and eager for adventure. I found part-time work while pursuing my real passion, writing for television.  The man I worked for was a professional writer. He encouraged me to stand up for my rights and the rights of those around me. He had marched with Martin Luther King in Selma, receiving a broken arm for his dedication to Equal Rights. He had protested against other unjust practices over the years as well.

Armed with a business card he gave me with the name of an attorney who specialized in helping unfortunate protestors who found themselves behind bars, I marched for women’s rights, against the Viet Nam war, against police brutality, and for the legalization of marijuana. Which is what this story is about. Now the saying, “If you remember the 60’s and 70’s, you weren’t really there,” is quite true. But I will nevertheless do my best to relate this little tale.

The sun was bright, the temperature pleasant — in short, another beautiful day in LA.  My husband, our friend Don, and I had spent the night passing joints and talking about the rally today for legalization of marijuana. We were tired but determined to lend our support as we arrived at the rally that was being held in a lovely park in L.A. There were to be speakers and musicians there. I don’t remember who any of them were now. I only know that many were well-known, either in the entertainment industry or as mover and shakers in the current atmosphere of protesting.  I do remember being vigilant about where to sit in case of police intervention. I again checked the leather pouch hung around my waist for that attorney’s business card.

My husband, a musician, wanted to sit close to the stage. I reminded him of the recent demonstration at Venice Beach where someone threw a bottle at a policeman. The “police intervention” from that one act led to bloody beatings and several arrests. We began to search for a tree nearer to the edge of the crowd — just in case.

Our friend, Don, had been quiet until we began our search. A veteran of Viet Nam, he had gotten addicted to amphetamines while on duty over there. All he could think of was his need. All we heard as we tried to find the best spot was how he wished he could find someone selling speed. He’d give anything for some speed. Right now!

I was getting nervous. I took my demonstrating seriously and had an inbred sense of responsibility from growing up in Illinois. All we needed was for a cop to see Don buying drugs and we’d all land in jail for sure. I looked up and took in a sharp breath. The grounds were slightly bowl-shaped and around the rim, shoulder to shoulder, stood L.A.’s finest in riot gear.

“Here! We have to sit here,” Don whispered urgently .

My husband and I turned to Don with puzzled looks.

“Just put the blanket here. I’ll explain after we sit down.”

It was a reasonable spot and under a tree, so we laid the blanket down and settled in for the rally.

Don had a goofy grin on his face as he reached under the blanket. He pulled out a small packet of “whites,” then raised his eyes to the heavens. “Thanks.” Someone had accidentally dropped his stash of speed.

I had to laugh. I couldn’t judge. I wanted to make the world a better place, not persecute people for whatever was currently thought a sin. If history taught me anything it was that perceptions of how to live, and what was wrong or right, changed over time.

Nothing happened to provoke the police that lovely day in the park. It was just a tiny moment in time that hopefully brought a smile to some faces.

It took almost three decades to see marijuana legalized. When the bill passed this last election, all I could think of was the goofy grin on Don’s face that day long ago, in the park, sitting on a blanket, waiting to sign yet another petition.

 

 

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Mas Un Mitote, Part 1, by Miguel Roura

29 Apr

MIGUEL ROURA is a writer/Actor/Producer/Activist and a retired LAUSD English Miguel's JC HeadshotLanguage instructor from Boyle Heights.  Since his earliest days during the Chicano movement as a community organizer and educator to his current involvement with CASA 0101 Theatre, Miguel’s life-work has been to contribute to the betterment of his community.  He’s performed shows such as:  Naked Stage Nights, Awkward, Remember La Causa?, Frida Kahlo Ten Minute Festival (No Me Queda Otra), La Bestia Band Theatre Project, Shakespeare Sonnets Night, and the Fall 2014 production of Julius Caesar.

One Saturday in the summer of 1970, I boarded a Tres Estrellas bus and headed south, down the international highway, taking me on my first in-depth exploration of Mexico.

I was part of a group of 150 Chicano students who rented apartments at La Plaza Tlatelolco while attending classes at UNAM –- La Universidad Autónima de Mexico. I came searching for an identity, encouraged by my Chicano graduate student teachers at UCLA, who nurtured me through the first two years, and by my mother’s prodding that I learn the truth about the land of my ancestors. I remember my high school teacher and mentor, Sal Castro, telling us: “Your people founded highly sophisticated civilizations on this continent centuries before the European stepped on this land.” So this afternoon with this group of young enthusiastic men and women, I loaded my baggage on a  coach that took us from Tijuana to Tenochtitlan.

That first day of travel started off full of excitement as we jockeyed for a seat next to someone with whom to share the experience. Once we sat down and the bus started to roll, the conversation focused on the women on the trip with us. Our bus was all male, another was all female, and the third carried the married and matched couples. After the subject was thoroughly reviewed, we took turns sharing why we came on this trip, what part of Mexico our parents were from, and how much Spanish we actually knew. Most of us, whose parents spoke mainly their native language, had that idioma deleted in school by teachers and deans who strictly enforced English-only policies through corporal punishment. Those kids whose parents were second and third generation at the urging of their counselors took French or Italian as their foreign language requirement in high school. After we drank all the beers that the bus drivers provided and we tired of the talking, we each settled into our seat. Images of people and places floated in and out as I sat by the window contemplating the passing panorama.

The words of Ruben Salazar crossed my mind: “A Chicano is a Mexican-American with a non-Anglo image of himself….” Looking around the bus, I realized I was part of a new generation seeking to re-define itself. What did I know about myself? Mother from Colima, father from Tabasco, and just like their geography, they were extreme opposites. My parents met, married, and divorced in Tijuana; but they “dropped me” (I was born at Paradise Hospital) in National City, California, ten miles north of the border. They raised me in Tijuana until their divorce when I was five. I went to school, church, and to the bullfights on Sunday; my mother was a big fan of La Fiesta Taurina. When I turned ten, my mother used my dual citizenship to exchange her passport for a residence card. As I grew up, what I knew about Mexico came mainly from her recollections and from the conversations I overheard from her friends over the years. Usually the talk revolved around heartache, tears, and suffering. Through my adolescence I never wanted to accompany my mother when she went to visit her family.

But now I was sojourning with other Chicano activists on this  pilgrimage to the land of the chinampas (floating gardens of Xochimilco in Mexico City). Six hours into our trip, I realized I’d transferred from a luxury Greyhound bus to a transport with no air-conditioning, with one very small and smelly bathroom, and a radio with garbled sounds which gave me a headache. I shared the window with my new camarada, Mangas, a moniker he’d tagged himself: his real name was Richard, a 6’2″ chain-smoking Vietnam vet, who was a little older than most of us. We stared at the scorching, sun-drenched Sonora Desert until it was too dark to see anything. The rocking of the rickety bus lulled me in and out of sleep. Far in the distance a summer storm illuminated the distant mountains with veins of muted thunderbolts.

My mother gave me the thousand dollars I needed for this excursion; money she worked for and saved over the years. In Tijuana she’d been a registered nurse at Salubridad (public health clinics specifically for treating prostitues), caring for fichera (woman who drinks with clients at bars and earns a chip for every drink the man buys, which she later cashes in),  prostitutes, and their clients, mostly American servicemen. When she came to the US in her middle-age years, she did back-aching work: sewing, cleaning, and mopping kitchens and toilets in Brentwood and Bel Air homes.

After ten hours on the road, the driver pulled into the bus station in Culiacan, Sinaloa to refuel and to rest.

 

In high school I had never smoked marijuana. Most of the parties and dances I went to only served beer and sometimes cheap liquor. Moctezuma, our high-school class valedictorian, was the first one I saw take out a joint and fire up. He hung out with college kids and professors, and showed off his high vocabulary, which most of us football players didn’t understand.

But on the first days in the fall of ’68, just before classes started, and the first day I moved into the Brown House, I smoked my first toke. Brown House was a student housing complex right behind fraternity row. The university rented it for ten of the fifty male Chicano special-entry students whom they couldn’t place in the dorms. Toby and I were the first to arrive early that morning. He and I had been members of rival gangs back at Hollenbeck Junior High: him from Primera Flats and me from Tercera. But that was ancient history now.

After choosing my room, making my bed, and reading the first chapters of The Autobiography of Malcolm X in the early afternoon, I took a walk to the patio to stretch out. Toby was lying down in a couch with a headset and a peaceful look. He asked me if I had heard of Hendrix. I said no. He handed me the headset. He lit a joint, took a deep drag, and then handed it to me. I imitated him but instantly choked on the contents, coughing out the smoke which had made my lungs explode. My eyes watered as the spasm subsided. Thereafter, I lay back to hear and feel the electrical impulses that oscillated in my brain and tingled down my body. With that I became a toker.

Being an only child, I was always hungry for friends. Smoking a joint became a gratifying communal experience. Those were the times of sit-ins. teach-ins and love-ins, rallying at Royce Hall and occupying the Administration Building on Mexican Independence Day 1969. Smoking a joint broke down racial, economic and gender barriers. It was cool to do! People got happy when they knew I had joint to share. Scoring an ounce of weed for the ASB president got me many benefits.

End of Part 1/2. To be continued.

Carneys, Cons, and Gangsters: Coney Island 1970-1971, by Marty Bernstein

27 Oct

Coney Island.PostcardOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Marty Bernstein worked in the New York state court system as a civil servant. He was like a round peg in a square hole—a left-wing court officer and clerk. Two years after retiring in 2007, he worked part time at a non-profit for the developmentally disabled. In 2013 he completely retired and now spends vacations in a cooperative community in upstate New York called Spring Glen Meadows, the home of burned-out sixties radicals. He has two adult children and has been married to the same woman for 38 wonderful years. Her name is Patricia Ruggiero Bernstein. He says it has been a great Jewish-Italian combination.

 

I worked at Coney Coney Island.Dragons CaveIsland for two years. It was a seedy place at that time. There were seasonal workers…..I think the Mob was heavily involved. The first year, 1970, I helped runConey Island.Blacula two amusement rides. I would take fares and push buttons to get the ride started. Dragon’s Cave was mainly run by “Sporty.” He was a cheap guy. He would change the outside display but keep the inside ride exactly the same. For example, he had a mannequin of Blacula and would call people to the ride, under the pretext that Blacula was inside. The ride consisted of some cheesy monsters, some of them sinister-looking clowns, who would jump out at you. It wasn’t up to code; there were exposed wires running across the ceiling.

Magic Carpet Coney Island

 

The Magic Carpet was the second ride. It consisted of little cars that ran on tracks past fun mirrors and ended with the car breaking down and the participants shooting down a slide. In front of the ride was a fat female mannequin, who laughed hysterically to draw people in.

 

The second year, in the summer of 1971, two friends and I started our own business there. It was a refreshment stand; we called it the “watermelon stand.” We paid for private sanitation for our stand. We would supply the stand from vendors, many of Coney Island.Watermelon-popsicleswhom were reputed to be part of the Mob. We’d buy watermelon from one company. The ice guy would bring cut pieces of ice with tongs. We got our candy apples from a man who had a store under the boardwalk that was described as a “little rat hole.” One day my mom was visiting our stand when the candy-apple man came by to sell me some apples. I had decided not to buy from him anymore because he was price-gouging us. When I told him this, he yelled, “If you don’t buy my fucking candy apples, I will burn down your stand!” It scared me so I kept on buying from him.

There were many other concession stands. Our stand didn’t make much money during the week, but we looked forward to weekends and especially holiday weekends, when masses of people would descend on the park. We would buy an entire watermelon for$1.50 . It would then be cut into about 20 semi-circle slices that would sell for30 cents each. Cotton candy cost us ½ cent to make but it cost the buyer $1.00; this was our biggest profit-maker. Popcorn was also profitable.

Once I had to go to the bathroom so I asked someone to take over the stand for me. When I returned I saw him giving someone the incorrect chanConey Island.wonderwheel-spookaramage. It turns out he had consistently been doing this. I gave him hell. Another time a health inspector came by and cited me for uncleanliness. I got a ticket for $35. I had heard that these inspectors accepted bribes so I held out some money. He waved it away. “You’re a nice Jewish boy,” he said. “Put your money away.”

We were excited when buses brought people in because it meant a lot of extra money. But the buses brought in mainly African-Americans, who spent tons of money on rides and games. They slept overnight on the buses, which was sad since there were beach resorts along the Eastern Seaboard that would cost them as much as they were spending at the concessions. (Coney Island, by the 1960’s no longer had overnight accommodations.)

The carneys coaxed people to come in and win a prize. They were often offensive to the unaware public. They would bark, “Imby, come on over here.” (“Imby” stood for imbecile.) The games mainly cheated the people who were playing. For example, one game
involved throwing a basketbalConey Island.Shooting galleryl into a hoop for a prize. The hoop was very small and the backboard tilted towards the crowd. The only way to get the ball into the basket was to throw a net shot. All this for a stuffed animal that probably cost 25 cents.

Another game involved throwing a ball at an Inuit doll wearing a parka made out of animal hair and a hood surrounded by hair. It looked easy but what people didn’t realize was that the dolls were surrounded mainly by air behind their puffed-out hair so it was very hard to knock them over. It took a direct hit. Still another game required throwing a dime onto a “Lucky Strike” square, but what the players didn’t know was that the surface was slippery.

The Balloon Water Race Game provided little gorillas with balloons attached to holes in them. You had to pop the balloon with a squirt gun. The vendor was able to choose who would win by attaching a thinner balloon that would pop first.

In one game the carney had to guess the age or weight of the participant. If he guessed wrong, the player would receive a prize. However, it cost $1 to play and the prize was only a ten-cent plaster statue. In effect, the carney was selling a ten-cent prize for a dollar.

We were paid mainly in singles—about $5 an hour. I’d go home and count the singles, and then we’d divide the “profit” up. I’d be so tired after standing all day that I’d fall asleep in the middle of counting. The next morning I’d wake up and my bed would be covered with singles. One day one of my two partners accused me of hiding money in my underwear. When I went home that day I found singles behind my bed.

One holiday weekend a group of kids sneaked in the back, grabbed a watermelon, and ran away with it. I couldn’t go after them because I was alone in the stand. But I wanted to scare them so I grabbed the long knife that I used to slice the watermelon and waved it in the air.

Coney Island.fortune teller
Next to the refreshment stand was a shack with a tarot card reader who would tell your fortune. (It was illegal to use the words “fortune-teller.”) She was a Roma, called a gypsy at that time. I liked her, but I found out that her method of making money was by seating her patrons on a slanted couch. If she was lucky, a man’s wallet would fall out of his back pocket and she would keep it.

I kept in touch with one of my partners. This summer his son married Maura Roosevelt, the great granddaughter of Franklin D. and Eleanor Roosevelt. Pat and I attended their wedding in New Hampshire.

I’ll always remember this summer job. Despite the craziness, I loved the atmosphere and the carney subculture.

Rallying of the Blinks in a (Short-) Sighted City, by F. Joseph Spieler

22 Jun

Village Voice Logo

The following article is from a 1969 or 1970 issue of the Village Voice and concerns the Blind Power Movement reported on in the prior post written by Lynne Koral. She is the “Lynne” in this article. The article was reprinted in the 1970 issue of the Braille Monitor, the Voice of the National Federation of the Blind. It was digitized by the Internet Archive in 2010 with funding from the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). http://www.archive.org/details/braillemonitorju1970nati

Rallying of the Blinks in a (Short-) Sighted City
F. Joseph Spieler

A rainy day can be a drag for the blind, for the sound of tapping umbrellas is the sound of tapping canes.

“Hey, someone’s coming,” called Pat Logan, as a rapping sound came down the stairs of the elevated subway at 90th Street and Elmhurst Avenue in Queens. “No, it’s just an umbrella.”

“Darn,” she said, and continued her wait with others for more blind people whom she would escort to her home for a meeting of the Blind Power Movement.

A movement of mainly high school and college students, it wants to stimulate and serve–at first–the youth of a blind population that numbers 40,000 in the city. Somewhat to the left in individual persuasion, though non-partisan in its goals, it sees itself in confrontation with the stereotype of the blind as sub-human or super-human (“Oh, look at that blind man, how sad and empty his life must be”–“I know this blind girl, it’s fantastic, she plays the piano and 12-string guitar, and she’s only 16!”), with an industrial society that assumes it has less use for the blind than did Homer’s Greece, and with New York’s state and private service organizations, which, after standing pat on their pioneering efforts years ago, have become top-heavy and self-serving bureaucracies that bind the blind to a system that rewards conformity and punishes dissent, but whose greater evil is to effectively segregate its clients from sighted society.

Walking from the subway to the apartment that 20-year-old Pat, a student at New York University, shares with her mother, seven blinks (“that’s our own sub-culture word for ourselves”) talked about President Nixon, the Moratorium, drugs, rock records, and various goings-on at the institutions for the blind. Jerry, a black high school student, talked with a sighted (their word for you) about being blind.

“Maybe I was kind of up tight with you before, but you have to understand that sighted people have so many preconceptions about us that it can get to be a pain in the —.” In addition to being blind, we’re supposed to be emotionally disturbed, too loud, picky, helpless. It always messes them up to find that we’re like them, that we’re involved in the same things they are, have the same bags and hangups–except that we have no vision.”

The last is important, for the lack of vision in the blind does not imply the inability to “see.” Pierre Villey, a blind psychologist, once wrote: “Sight is long-distance touch, with the sensation of color added. Touch is near sight, minus the sensation of color, and with the sense of rugosity added. The two senses give us knowledge of the same order.”

Soon gathered in Pat’s room–any young woman’s room, with the addition of two tape recorders, a television set (“I like to watch Johnny Carson”), and other sound equipment–were sixteen persons involved in pre-meeting pleasantries. After a few minutes, Lynne [Note: See the prior two posts on this blog by the same Lynne Koral. Ed.], a diminutive seventeen-year-old high-schooler, began axing private conversation by calling it “irrelevant,” and the movement’s third meeting began.

Fitfully chaired by Jerry, the gathering sifted legitimate from personal grievances, split into contentious factions, and then unified itself and put a series of goals on Braille.

The agencies for the blind received the heaviest specific criticism. These institutions, of which the largest in this city are the Jewish Guild for the Blind, The Industrial Home for the Blind, and the Lighthouse (the New York Association for the Blind), provide, in part, mobility lessons (how to travel), evaluation programs for students, Braille, typing, sensory training, manual dexterity instruction, home economics, and reader services. Some run “sheltered workshops”–where blind workers make simple handicrafts for varying rates of pay. Some receive money from state agencies–mainly the Rehabilitation and Counseling Service–for mobility lessons and evaluation testing.

The meeting was unanimous in its anger over what it felt is the arbitrariness shown by the agencies in their dealings with clients (the agencies’ word), their closed mouthedness about information (Wesley D. Sprague, executive director of the Lighthouse, when asked recently how many blind workers were employed by his agency, replied with a long and windy discourse on the meaninglessness of statistics), and the narrowness of their job training programs (the Lighthouse, for example, will train people, regardless of talent, for only three jobs–piano tuning, transcription typing, and newstand vending).

The young people made a special point of telling a visitor how they felt about being talked down to, and being “tested, tested, and re-tested.” They said that the agencies’ subtle, invidious message was that the social and vocational freedom of the blind was severely limited and that they were not to forget how dependent they were on agency support.

“Of course,” said Jerry, “they’ll deny everything and call us paranoid when we say that.”

In fact, a sighted executive near the top of one agency’s hierarchy came close to labeling the movement’s sentiments in just that fashion.–“Sure, they think they’re being given a raw deal,” he said, “but they’re just youngsters. Why I remember I rebelled as a kid myself, and in a way it’s good for them.”

Yet a recent study of the blind, “The Making of Blind Men” by Robert A, Scott, discussions with sympathetic professional workers in the agencies, and a talk with William Underwood, an educational specialist for the American Foundation for the Blind, a national consultative agency that carries Helen Keller’s legacy, indicate that Jerry and others in the movement–who, like many blind clients and agency workers, are fearful that full identification will lose them their services and jobs–are neither paranoid nor juvenile.

Scott’s work, published this year by the Russell Sage Foundation, says that self-conceptions of the blind contrast sharply with those held by workers for the blind, who regard blindness as “one of the most severe of all handicaps,” “Socialization” of the agency’s client, a process that Scott describes as learning “the disability of blindness (as a) social role,” depends on “changing his views about his problem. In order to do this, the client’s views about the problem of blindness must be discredited.” The client “is listened to attentively and sympathetically. However, when concrete plans are formulated, the client learns that his personal views are largely ignored.” A blind person who simply asks for help with reading can wind up facing a battery of psychological tests. If he asks for medical aid, he may be asked to involve himself in a long, complex series of tests, training classes, and re-tests.

Blind persons acceptable to the agency, Scott says, “will often find that the intake worker listens attentively to their views but then dismisses them as superficial or inaccurate.” The result of such treatment, Scott says, is that the client’s ability to act and think independently is severely diminished. Because “the workers have a virtual monopoly on the rewards and punishments in the system,” he continues, the client ends up by conforming to the worker’s conception of what a blind person should be.

Underwood agrees. “To get the services of the blind agencies, the blind individual must conform to the system, and let’s face it, blind kids entering high school and college need their services.”

One woman who holds a responsible position at the Lighthouse, afraid that the use of even her first name would lead to her detection and firing, confirmed Scott’s description in detail. “The thing I absolutely can’t stand is the way they pretend to like blind people–the hypocrisy is sad, it’s sickening.” She recalled an incident in which some blinks, after meeting at the Lighthouse with a psychologist, asked the doctor out for a drink at a nearby bar. Some staff people heard about it and, horrified at the possibilities, rounded up the imbibers into cabs and sent them home.

But beyond the textbook understanding and occasional good intentions of agency staff lies the fact that a small, intelligent, energetic, and growing Blind Power Movement has entered what social scientists anesthetizingly refer to as “the revolution of rising expectations.” The foremost of their goals is “the education of the public to break down stereotypes about the blind, with particular emphasis on the consideration of individual intelligence and talent by educators, employers, and blind agencies.

Second is “increased and diversified job placement, with research into new areas where blind people can find challenging and stimulating work.” (Perhaps nothing gives the young blind the sense of paternalistic manipulation as much as the agencies’ vocational training classes, such as those run by the Lighthouse.)

The Blind Power Movement makes several other demands:

–A large increase in the number of blind staff workers in the agencies. (The movement members and their staff sympathizers speak of agencies’ systematic placing in middle-management jobs of blind Uncle Tom workers who dead-end any innovative and experimental impulses among the clients. One revealing figure is that only one blind person sits on the Lighthouse’s thirty-eight-man board of directors. Imagine all but one of the board of directors of the NAACP in 1969 being white.)

–“Expansion of self-help programs tied to public schooling to eliminate the need for special schools for the blind, which tend to reinforce the segregation of the blind.”

–The creation of “instruction groups in which blind instructors would teach parents how to provide their blind offspring with more mobility–and hence independence–at an earlier age.”

–Tutoring in such special areas as science and math so they may achieve competitive status with sighted students.

The movement is not heady. As well as taking on the agencies–which in the public image have halos around their offices–there is the problem of what Richard Adcock, a seventeen-year-old who attends Grover Cleveland High, calls the “unorganized blind”–those frightened of losing their agency’s services if they join the movement, those who are unaware of the movement (publicity and meetings pose special problems for the blind), and those who feel they can do it on their own.

Joseph Ciccone is one who would like to do it alone. Though he earned a B.A. degree in economics from City College in 1967, he has, at twenty-five, been trained as a piano tuner. He has also taught himself electronics, holds a general-class ham license, and is attempting to start a business as a free-lance recording technician, using his own impressive equipment. “It’s not easy, you always have to fight against the same thing–‘a blind recording technician?'” Though his own experience with blind agencies would have enabled him to write much of Scott’s criticism, Ciccone feels that energy on behalf of the blind should be directed at prying open the job market. Unable to get a job in his academic field, he qualified himself for work as a radio announcer and studio technician–but not one station in this city’s progressive media consented to offer him even a tryout. “It was always ‘we can’t hire blind people’ or ‘we’ll put you on our list and get back to you before not too long,’ but they never did.”

He wishes the movement well but is pessimistic. “Numbers,” he says, “that’s the whole thing about organizing the blind–the numbers aren’t there.”

But the movement doesn’t think so. Its activists say the meetings–which are open to sighted people–are drawing a growing membership, and that they are earning sympathy and tacit support from progressive agency workers. “What we need now,” said Pat Logan, “is publicity, publicity, publicity.”

*************

Editor’s note:  If you are interested in the response of the president of the National Federation of the Blind to this Voice article, then read on. The Village Voice article was reprinted the same year, 1970, in the Braille Monitor, the organ of the NFB, as part of an article by its president, Kenneth Jernigan.

“BLIND POWER”–DIALOGUE AT A DISTANCE
by Kenneth Jernigan, President, National Federation of the Blind

Recently Mike Ewart of Maryland sent me an article from “The Village Voice,” an underground newspaper published in Greenwich Village, New York. Not only did I find the article interesting but I wondered whether these people were part of our movement and what they were really doing to improve the condition of the blind.

Then follows the Village Voice article printed above. Following the article Mr. Jernigan informs the readers of the Braille Monitor what he did next:

After reading this article I wrote to Bill Dwyer, President of our New York affiliate, The Empire State Association of the Blind, and to Sam Wolff, President of the Triboro Chapter of the Empire State Association of the Blind:

April 3, 1970

Mr. William Dwyer
94 Third Avenue
Rensselaer, New York 12144

Dear Bill:

I am sending the enclosed article to you and Sam Wolff to ask whether you know anything about this “Blind Power” group. If they are any good, we ought to get hold of them and bring them into the movement. Maybe they are in the movement. If so, I have never heard of them.

Sam, do you know these people? Can you get in touch with them and see what they are like?

Cordially,

Kenneth Jernigan, President
National Federation of the Blind

Then Mr. Jernigan writes:

Almost immediately I received a response from Sam Wolff, who said in part:

“This is in response to yours of April 3rd regarding the blind power movement; I have just gotten off the telephone with the party I believe is their leader. She is intelligent, young, and one of the people who I have placed two years ago; she called to tell me of a job opening for another blind person in the hospital where she works. The young lady and her group have little liking for “talk” or organizations. It is unfortunate that their opinion of the Triboro Chapter is one of “all talk and no action,” and this group feels similarly to the ESAB Inc. and the New York State Commission for the Blind as well. The blind power movement is a revolt against apathy and inactivity.

“I happen to have good dialogue with some of the people in the blind power movement, but they want no part of the … much talk and no accomplishment.”

Mr. Jernigan continues: 

I replied as follows:

April 13, 1970

Mr. Sam Wolff, President
Triboro Chapter of the ESAB
11 Park Place
New York, New York 10007

Dear Sam:

If the members of the blind power movement, as they call themselves, are really interested in action, then they should join the Triboro Chapter and, thereby, the Empire State Association and the NFB. Otherwise, regardless of their protestations, they will do more talking than acting, or they will waste their effort in an isolated, fragmentary demonstration, which will end up by doing more harm than good.

One of the most tiresome aspects of the so called “power” movements (whether black, blind, student, or something else) is their seeming arrogance, apparently based on lack of historical knowledge. As Roy Wilkins of the NAACP put it, there were people working to achieve civil rights (and with some effectiveness) before 1954. Otherwise, the first desegregation decisions of the Supreme Court would not have occurred in that year. These things did not happen by accident.

Likewise, the difference between the condition of the blind now and in 1940 when the National Federation of the Blind came into being is profound. Such rehabilitation as now exists (and it is considerable); Aid payments and exempt earnings; and the whole range of improved public attitudes, can all in substantial measure, be traced to the “action” of the organized blind movement, including the “action” of the Empire State Association of the Blind. Even so, many of the agencies for the blind have made real contributions, and some of them are working as constructively and progressively as could be hoped. While we are on the subject, Robert Scott is not a complete paragon of virtue but has some of the grossest misconceptions I have ever met. Things are just not as simple as the “blind power” group would apparently like to have them. However that may be, the real hope for the future of the blind lies in the organized blind movement–the National Federation of the Blind.

It is true that organizations often flounder, that we very often bicker, that local chapters some times do not even have enough talent among their membership to carry on a meaningful or worthwhile meeting. It is true that, despite all of our efforts, more blind people are rehabilitated than employed and that more of the unemployed are living on starvation welfare checks than adequate grants. It is true that most of the comparatively few blind persons who have been successful still think they are superior to the rest of the blind and feel that they made it on their own and that they want to identify and associate with the sighted–except, of course, when they deign to do something “to be of help to other blind persons since I don’t really need anything myself and there is nothing the organization can do for me.” In fact, if all of these things were not true, we would not have the pressing need which we have to build and strengthen our organization. The very fact that so many blind persons are inactive and apparently more interested in recreation and talking than in political action, that they submit to custodialism with seeming gratitude, that they want the emphasis to be on coffee and cake (very often provided by somebody else) at their local meetings—-this fact illustrates and emphasizes the need.

All of the idealism, brains, courage, objection to hypocrisy, and just plain guts do not reside in that segment of the population under thirty. No age group has a corner on these virtues, and it constitutes arrogance and hypocrisy to delude oneself into believing that such is the case. The so called “power” movements often emphasize “rights” to the exclusion of responsibility and, in childlike innocence, blandly ignore long-range consequences, thus doing more to damage than help the cause they profess to support.

Yes, we need action and not just talk, and the NFB is where the action is. If the disability bill passes (with 180 million dollars in the pockets of blind persons the first year) it will be the organized blind who bring it about–the sheltered shopworkers, the welfare recipients, the unemployed, the uneducated–the people who, despite all odds, had the courage and the sense to stick together and work for a goal. If (and it will come) the climate of public opinion changes so that the average blind person can be judged on his individual merit, can be accepted for what he is instead of being victimized by prejudice and discrimination, it will be the organized blind (with all their shortcomings) who bring it about. It will not be the individual “successful” blind person, who thinks he is too good to associate with the rest of us; it will not be the agency for the blind; and it will not be the small, snobbish, elite groups, who think they are too good to associate with their intellectual inferiors, who think they are above going to a routine chapter meeting and helping to plan a Christmas party or talk about the humdrum details of here and now.

We need the members of this “blind power” group in New York City, as we need all blind persons in our movement–the old and the young, the stupid and the wise, the employed and the unemployed, the rich and the poor; but we need them with some humility. They should realize that they (all of them) have benefited tremendously by the efforts of the organized blind movement, even if they have never heard of it. The job opportunities and the social climate are better today than they were a generation ago because of what has already been done, and the blind of our day have some responsibility and obligation to make it still better for themselves and the coming generation. However, they also have the obligation to be grateful for what they have already received from those who have been on the firing line before them.

I hope you will contact your friend who is in the blind power movement and read her this letter. She may not like it, but perhaps it will cause her to do some thinking. The NFB is on the move, and we need all active blind persons of good will to join in the battle. Tell her that if the organization (whether at local, state, or national level) is not what she would have it be, she should join and make it better, not simply gripe about it from the outside.

Cordially,

Kenneth Jernigan, President
National Federation of the Blind

August in Laguna Park: The Chicano Moratorium, Part 2 By Roselva Rushton Ungar

27 May

Part 2 of 2

When we finally made it back [to the park], I pulled into the driveway closest to the first aid station. Marilyn got out to get the injured, while I waited with the car. An officer came up and ordered me out. I explained that I was waiting to take the wounded to a hospital. He shouted, “This is for police cars only; now get out!” I backed up onto Eastern Avenue from where I was able to see what was happening. I saw two young people shoved into a police car. Near the gym, an officer was dragging a young man by his long hair and thrusting him against a car. He could not have gotten into the park by this time unless he had been in the building. I had not seen policemen enter the park buildings before.

I saw two policemen rush across the street toward a man who had been pushed  down on the sidewalk by another cop. He jammed his club with great force into the man’s groin from the rear. The people standing around yelled, “Leave him alone.” The wounded man dragged himself into a nearby house while several policemen ran after him and forced the door open. I was just opposite where this was happening. I think an officer on my side of the street must have been upset that I witnessed this brutality because he shouted at me, “Get out!”  I pretended that he was ordering me to get out of the middle of the street, so I backed into an empty space just behind where I had double-parked. Worried that Marilyn hadn’t yet returned, I got out of the car to see what was holding her up. The same officer screamed, “Get back in the car!” I complied, heart in mouth.  Marilyn returned but with only one fellow. The rest had already managed to leave because it had taken us so long. The doctor escorted the wounded youth to my car and asked me to check Belvedere Park nearby for any lost or hurt people before leaving the east side of town.ChicanoMoratorium.BrownBerets

Leaving was very difficult; officers would not allow us down the side streets. We didn’t want to attempt Whittier Boulevard where confrontations were still taking place. We drove many blocks in a round-about way, seeing fires, smoke, broken glass, people distraught and bewildered. Police cars, sirens blaring, raced by. Marilyn screamed as a speeding police car came straight at us. Terrified, I pulled over to the curb just in time. By now I was very anxious to get out of the battle zone. We deposited the wounded man at White Memorial Hospital, then drove by Belvedere Park. No one needed us there. Mission accomplished, we wanted to quickly get away from the eerie unreality of it all.

It became apparent that battle lines were drawn between the sheriff deputies and the young people of the march. Later we learned that the melee had started with an altercation at a liquor store at the back of the park. Why couldn’t a small detachment of police have tactically and rapidly settled whatever problem had existed at the liquor store across the street from the park? Why couldn’t that have been contained so as not to disturb the anti-war rally in the park? It looked suspiciously like an excuse to break up the rally.

ChicanoMoratorium.PoliceAttack

What a contrast to the festive spirit before the police swept everyone out of the park, gassing and clubbing as they moved in. Such hostility this creates in the community! Whatever wrong-doing may have occurred before the police arrived was nothing compared to the violence that occurred after their invasion. The very presence of the police provokes this community, but when they come in the hundreds and bear down on innocent people enjoying freedom of speech in the park, hatred and resistance is aroused. Must any small insult become a challenge or excuse to beat and gas hundreds of people? The people must be subdued because they are unfriendly? What arrogance!

The police in the barrio do not provide the community service and protection they do in middle-class communities. They are an invading enemy out to terrorize and subject the people. They set off the violence that occurs when people who still have spirit and dreams are thwarted and driven to despair. The armed might of society is saying, You may not get together in the spirit of your own culture and aspirations. You may not question sending your young sons to die in Viet Nam for a country that gives you the least education, the poorest jobs, the worst places to live, strips you of your culture, your language, and prevents you from expressing yourselves collectively in your own communities.

Had the dignity and pride of being Latino or Chicano been allowed expression in the park and on the march, a constructive unity and dialogue about the war and solving the pressing problems of the barrio might have emerged, this free speech being the highest form of patriotism. Had this occurred, it is inconceivable that people, at the crest of their celebration of unity would have gone about burning and looting Whittier Avenue. The sheriffs drove them in rage from the park onto the streets. Many like ourselves scurried to find shelter and others, especially youths, gave vent to their wrath by retaliating.

When I got home and turned on the TV, I saw the war zone where I had been. I heard that a  driver, trying to cross the barricades as we were, was shot. That was when I began to shake. While in the midst of the destruction I had no such reaction; I was bent on a task. I understood now how soldiers in battle focus in the same way.

Altogether three people were killed that day.ChicanoMoratorium.LATimes

Ruben Salazar was a reporter for the Los Angeles Times and Spanish Television News Director, and a two-time winner of the Greater Los Angeles Press Club Award, along with other prizes. He was the first Mexican American journalist to cover the Chicano community from the mainstream media. He had come that day, with the L.A. Times photographer, to observe. After the rioting, he and the photographer went to rest at the Silver Dollar Bar on Whittier Avenue. A sheriff standing in the doorway shot a ten-inch gas projectile into the bar, which fatally struck Ruben Salazar in the head. That day there would be no respected, honorable Latino reporter writing about what really happened.

To this day many believe that his death was the premeditated assassination of a prominent, vocal member of the Chicano community. Ruben Salazar had written many articles critical of the government’s treatment of Chicanos, having come into conflict with the police during the 1968 East Los Angeles walk-outs protesting unequal treatment of students in the Los Angeles schools. According to FBI reports, the L.A. police considered him to be a dangerous radical. Why would an officer shoot into a peaceful bar if his mission were to stop violence along the street? There would be many questions, but no one there that day will ever forget—or forgive.

After that August 29th of 1970 Laguna Park was renamed Salazar Park.

August in Laguna Park: The Chicano Moratorium, by Roselva Rushton Ungar, Part 1 of 2

24 May

ChicanoMoratorium.Poster

Roselva Rushton Ungar is a retired teacher, 86  years old. She is currently writing a memoir. She has authored a history of union organizing in the early childhood/Head Start field and written extensively on educational issues such as bilingual education, scripted reading programs, and high-stakes testing. Born in Detroit, she grew up in Russia and returned to the U.S. for college. She helped build the Early Childhood Federation, Local 1475 AFT. Most of her adult life has been spent organizing around social justice issues such as campus free speech, civil and women’s rights, defense of immigrants, and a sustainable planet.

[Editor’s Note: “The Chicano Moratorium, formally known as the National Chicano Moratorium Committee, was a movement of Chicano anti-war activists that built a broad-based coalition of Mexican-American groups to organize opposition to the Vietnam War. Led by activists from local colleges and members of the “Brown Berets”, a group with roots in the high school student movement that staged walkouts in 1968, the coalition peaked with an August 29, 1970 march in East Los Angeles that drew 30,000 demonstrators…. Laguna Park is now Ruben F. Salazar Park.”   Source: Wikipedia]

Part 1 of 2

It was August 29, 1970, a warm, sunny day in Laguna Park. Birds had taken refuge in the trees, waiting for scraps from family picnic baskets. Free sandwiches were provided by “green power,” a youth environmental group. A couple of booths had literature. An anti-war march scheduled for Whittier Boulevard was to end at the park. I was with several teacher friends from eastside Head Start schools, who’d decided to go directly there for a pleasant afternoon and to support the community in which we worked. Ominously, some UCLA medical students were staffing a first-aid center at the park building.

We sat down on the grass near the front and listened to music and a Puerto Rican drum group, watched children in traditional costumes dancing folklorico. Hot dogs were passed out, cakes and Kool-Aid. The park was crowded; people sat very close to each other. Children, babies, elderly people—everyone in a happy picnic spirit, festive and relaxed. We were all watching the program, applauding and occasionally shouting Viva la raza!

The march of mostly young Chicanos protesting the war joined us at the park chanting Raza Si, Guerra No as they entered, bringing the crowd to over 30,000. Many of these people had been activated by the “blowouts,” when Lincoln High School students walked out in 1968 led by Salvador (Sal) Castro. The year before there had been Viet Nam Moratoriums all over the country and a National Student Strike to stop the war, but not much had been organized against the war on the east side of Los Angeles. These were patriotic people who had sent their sons off to the armed services as a matter of course. But as it became clear that proportionately much higher numbers of Latinos were coming back in coffins or badly injured, it was time for them to speak out.

Speeches from the stage expressed community outrage. Rosalio Muñoz, UCLA student organizer and co-chair of the event, was speaking when we heard people behind us turning to look at a disturbance. People stood up to see better. The platform speaker and monitors told us to stay seated and not leave, No se vayan.

Within seconds, I heard the cries, La jura, la policía. The police are coming. Bottles sailed through the air. People stampeded toward the platform. A monitor urged us to go home.  I headed in the direction of Whittier Boulevard but was jammed up against the platform and the buses parked along the street. In the center of the park was a wide clearing; people ran and walked toward the periphery at Eastern Avenue.

Buses pulled out. I headed toward Whittier Boulevard when I saw a woman and a small boy crying. A man said she’d been maced after getting off the bus. He held one arm and I took the other to guide the woman and child to the first-aid center. There I helped her wash out her eyes with a hose and tried to reassure her in Spanish. Inside the center several young men were being treated for wounds. An ambulance finally came but took only wounded officers.

Many others arrived with stinging eyes and bloody heads so I stayed to help. As I worked there at the hose, the police sprayed us with more tear gas! It stung my eyes and face and made me dizzy. I washed my eyes out; fortunately only a small amount had landed on me. Gas was directed at the park center, which served as a first-aid station. Both doors were clouded with gas, sprayed from the ball park and from the patio on the opposite side. Some men from Physicians for Social Responsibility tried to go collect the lost and injured, but the gas was too strong.

A young man with a badly bloodied head, which a doctor had bandaged, urged me to call his family to come pick him up. I started for the office where there was a phone, but the police had closed off the park around us and there was violence along the edge. In the next room I saw lost children and mothers, who had somehow ended up here rather than being swept out of the park, looking for their families,.

I offered to bring my station wagon close to the park as soon as possible to evacuate some of the wounded. A young doctor, who appeared to be in charge, sent me with a young woman Marilyn, who had been working with the medical group, to get my car. We started out on foot, only to run into two police officers who waved their clubs and shouted, ”Out of the park.” I explained that we needed to get my car to carry out the wounded. “Not through here!” he admonished. “That way.” He pointed toward the corner of Eastern and Whittier. That was not the direction I needed to go to get my vehicle, but there was no arguing with an angry bully waving his club and holding a tear gas canister. My companion Marilyn ran back to the center to get armbands to show that we were a medical team. I walked slowly in the direction indicated, hoping she would be able to catch up with me.

While I delayed, I saw four policemen roughly shoving a man who was staggering and obviously unable to see where he was going. “He’s been gassed,” I said. “Let me take him to the first aid station.” They ignored me and continued shoving him. I was scared and thought, Why are they doing this? It was a contemptible way to treat a human being, whether guilty of anything or not. He was young, Latino and completely helpless, at the mercy of four strong policemen who continued to push him toward Eastern Avenue. Why weren’t they knocking me around? Was it because I was an older white woman?

We walked a few blocks to the car, seeing hundreds of mostly sheriff deputies around the park, at corners and blockading the streets. We decided to drive a block south of the park, but because of traffic problems, blockades, and difficulty getting back across the freeway, it took 45 minutes to return. As we drove we saw people standing along Whittier looking grim and angry at the invading police; store windows were smashed and angry youths ran to escape. Someone screamed at us, Get out of here, so we realized we had better identify ourselves. Two white faces probably looked like intruders in this barrio under siege. Without stopping, I had Marilyn quickly remove my first-aid book, which had a large red cross on the cover, from the glove compartment and place it on my front windshield. I drove as fast as I safely could through the threatening crowd, then stopped a moment to fasten one of the armbands to the car’s antenna. As we neared the park, we were detained by officers at each corner and forced to turn back and seek another route. In some cases, we were able to talk our way through the blockades. Driving down a side street we encountered a young man with an army armband directing traffic. He escorted our wagon along the block near a burning car. Just in time we were shunted off into an alley as the car exploded with a terrific blast. Fragments flew everywhere. People came running out of their homes toward the alley as other popping sounds occurred; whether guns or other explosions, no one knew. We had to get out of there and back to the park.
[To be continued….]