Tag Archives: inequality in schools

Blasting Caps, Musical Challenges, Women’s Rules, and Vietnam. By Kathy Green

22 Nov

davis mesa 2006.with Chuck

Kathy Green was raised in St. Louis, Missouri. After majoring in geology, she became a National Park Ranger for five years. During that time, she met Chuck Kroger [the editor’s brother], whom she married in 1978. They settled in Telluride, Colorado in 1979, where they co-founded Bone (Back of Nowhere Engineering) Construction company. When Chuck died of pancreatic cancer in 2007, Kathy and co-workers continued the company’s projects. Kathy enjoys hiking, running rivers, making art (including silk dying), and working for environmental and social justice in her region.

 

I went to Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin. There were only about 2000 students. The students and the faculty were liberal. When I arrived, I found out that Joseph McCarthy is from Appleton and is buried in a cemetery there above the Fox River and near our college campus. It had already been popular for students to go out there and have picnics and dance on his grave. I went to some of those parties and had my own personal vendetta to achieve; Joseph McCarthy had called my grandfather a communist on the U.S Senate floor! Our family considered that an honor. It was ironic to end up at a place where I could dance on his grave.

The administration at Lawrence was afraid of us, that we’d have a riot or something. But we weren’t very active. We did a few protests. Jesse Jackson came to speak to us in 1968 about the election when I was still 17. (I couldn’t vote then; the voting age was still 21. By the time I turned 21, the voting age was 18, and by that time my younger brother and cousin were 18. We all voted together for the first time even though I was older. I thought that was unfair.) We had a lot of black activist speakers come to our college; maybe it was an appeasement by the administration for the fact that Appleton had produced Joseph McCarthy. My education about civil rights continued to develop there, due to the civil rights movement and the war injustices. With Vietnam, the black and Hispanic and poor white kids went in first to the military and war. If you were white and rich, you had options. So in a way Vietnam and the draft were also civil rights issues.

We took over the president’s office once—I forget what our demands were, but we won them. Mostly I think the college administration was trying to protect us from overreacting and doing something horrible, resulting in students getting hurt. We students never got real active because the administration caved in on everything.

We were very concerned about the war. It was coming to a climax, the draft was changing—more rich white kids were needed for the war. The poor kids and kids of color were not enough anymore. I was a senior in college when the lottery occurred. Wisconsin was an “18 state.” (18 to 20-year-old kids were allowed to legally drink 3.2 beer) so our college had a bar in the student union that served 3.2 beer. When the lottery happened, we all jammed into Union Bar to see who got what numbers in the lottery. The lottery numbers were by date of birth. My brother and my cousin got horribly low numbers, but the war ended before they were old enough to be drafted. If you stayed in school you were OK but the minute you got out, depending on your birthday, you were going to war. Either you were number 364 and had nothing to worry about or you were number 19 and in trouble. Therefore many of those demonstrations that were occurring at other campuses were more about the war than about social justice.

Vietnam was the war for the my generation and totally affected everybody. People were planning: friends were trying to gain a lot of weight so they’d be disqualified; others were not eating at all so they’d be too thin; some were plotting to go to Canada; lots of lives were on hold and at risk. A little earlier when I was a sophomore, a guy came back to campus who had been a former student at Lawrence, and he had dropped out, been drafted, and was sent to Vietnam. He was older than most of us by five years. He was in a couple of my art classes. Another woman, Jane, who was also in my art classes, would attack him for going to the war. Why did you go? You shouldn’t have gone. She wasn’t at risk. She was from an extremely wealthy family, and had she been a guy and at risk, her family would have figured out a way for her not to go. This guy wasn’t from that kind of family, and when he dropped out of school and was going to get drafted, his family didn’t find him an alternative. He was left in the lurch and had to go. He didn’t start the war. I thought it was strange that some of my privileged classmates couldn’t sort that out. You needed to be attacking the presidents and the senators and some of your dad’s friends, the CEOs of some major companies. They were the ones making the war happen, not the 18 and 20 and 22 year olds that were forced to go and fight and have their lives messed up forever or lose their lives.

We didn’t understand about PTSD although I knew a little because World War II had affected my dad pretty badly. The opposition to the Vietnam War was more than the draft and the impact of having friends and family go to fight in the war. We, most of the students, felt that Vietnam was a war that the U.S. shouldn’t be in. We, the U.S., were doing the wrong thing.

A lot of changes occurred for women students over the time we were at college. The hours of the girls’ dorm were changed; the 10 o’clock curfew was done away with. Girls no longer had to wear dresses all the time—dresses or skirts had been required even in the winter. (If it was below -20 degrees we had been allowed to wear pants under our dresses.) Now we could wear pants any time without dresses over them. Boys were positively affected as well. They had to wear coats and ties to Sunday meals, and girls had to wear heels. Boys and girls both had to dress up for classes. No jeans. The next year all that went away (fall of 1969). No more dress codes. By the time I graduated in 1972, there were even co-ed dorms. There had been a silly rule that when a boy came to visit, you had to keep your door propped open the size of a trashcan. They had these round metal trash cans that were 16 inches in diameter in every dorm room but everybody was running out and buying trashcans that were six inches wide instead. We were bending all those silly rules.

It was ironic that when I was a senior, the incoming freshmen women didn’t understand that just three years earlier they would have had to put on fancy clothes to go to a meal on Sunday. It was amazing that as young, often silly adults, we already had this sense of history and societal change. The social changes paralleled the political changes that were going on. The women’s movement played a large part in the changes that were made.

So it was my senior year, the last trimester. My girlfriends all told me to take this Early 20th Century Music History class, and that it would be simple and fun with not too much homework. I started the class, and my musical challenge was that I couldn’t tell by listening who we were studying: when played by an orchestra, Beethoven or the Rolling Stones, it was all the same to me. I was like, Oh my God, this will lower my grade average, and what if I want to attend graduate school in a few years? On a long weekend we went on a geology field trip. We were isolated from the rest of the world. When we were in the car, the radio was on and you could hear the news, but much of the time we were cut off. So we were driving home and we heard about Kent State. People had been killed. A huge deal. We were shocked. I arrived back at campus and the next day the administration announced that you could take any class you wanted on a pass-fail basis. The rule had previously been that you had to switch to a pass-fail grade within the first two weeks of a trimester. But I hadn’t realized in time that Bartok, Beethoven, and the Rolling Stones all sounded alike to me and that I shouldn’t be taking this music history class. So despite the horror of Kent State, half-way through the trimester I got to switch to pass-fail. (I was really mad, however, that I hadn’t taken something simple like another math class. But it worked out.)

Flashback to the spring of 1970. I was a sophomore geology major. We took many geology field trips on weekends, especially on long holiday weekends. We’d go someplace and look at rock layers and drive around Lake Ontario, etc. On one field trip we went to an area where they had been blasting, and there were all these blasting caps lying on the ground. The first thing I asked was Are they safe? The tour leader said yes. I think we threw rocks at them just to see, and they didn’t explode.

I thought they were pretty and kind of cool. They were copper things, maybe a half inch or 3/8 inch in diameter, and about three inches long, and they had this piece of colorful braided rope coming out. I recall yellow and red. When there was dynamiting, you’d light the fuse, which is the rope, and it would make the dynamite blow up. Dynamite is dangerous, and we didn’t see any on this trip. but we did see those blasting caps. So I picked up a handful and put them in my pocket. They were intriguing to me on many levels. I thought I might make an art piece out of them.

We returned to school and I kept the blasting caps in my room. I was heading to Germany for a fall school program so I packed my foot locker with things to leave in the basement of the dormitory. I put the blasting caps in there, along with some books and winter clothes, and stored them. I went off to Germany for six months and came home. While I was home in January of 1971, there was a big anarchist explosion in Madison. Since the Lawrence administration was afraid of the students, any time anything would go wrong in Madison and people would get hurt or killed, Lawrence would panic and change things. Just after the Madison explosion, somebody made a threat to our little ROTC program. I heard that the FBI was there looking around Appleton.

I suddenly started to think about those blasting caps in the basement of Ormsby Hall. I went up there in February for an event, telling my parents I needed to go back for a visit because I missed everybody. They bought me a plane ticket. I stayed at Ormsby Hall with my girlfriends who were in school that trimester. I said, Oh, I gotta go down to the luggage room and look in my trunk and retrieve things. So the next morning I went down there early by myself and found the blasting caps, and I put the caps into a paper bag, packed everything back up into the trunk, and went upstairs. I said, I’m going for a walk.

You have to understand that going for a walk in Appleton, Wisconsin in February, it is likely to be cold, although that day I don’t think it was as extreme cold, like -40 degrees, which happened every year. It was probably only -10 or -20: practically mild. I put on my parka and stuffed the bag with the blasting caps into my pocket. I always wore my hiking boots then; it was kind of trendy. I got all bundled up. I went outside and dug around in the snow, found a little rock, and added it to my pocket with the paper bag. My campus is right along the Fox River, which was heavily polluted, so we didn’t hang out by the river much, but the campus is several blocks long, and at each block there’s a bridge across the river. I walked out into the middle of one of the bridges; it was cold and windy and snowing. I got the paper bag out, put the rock in, and crumpled it all up. I decided to use a paper bag instead of plastic because I wanted the caps to erode and go away. I threw it into the river and watched it sink into the water, which for some reason wasn’t frozen. I went back and had some tea with my friends. I told no one.

Years went by and a song came out about Billy Joe throwing something off the Tallahatchie Bridge. I had a different interpretation of that song than anyone else had. Every time I heard that song I got a little nervous and looked around to see if anybody was watching me. More recently I’ve heard of blasting caps blowing up spontaneously and causing damage to people or things. I think, Oh my God, what was I doing with them? I really liked them and during college I was enamored with being a revolutionary. I think we all were. There was some magic in that dream. I had really wanted to make a piece of art with them or to use them. I’ll never know if they were truly dangerous.

I got my first real job as a National Park Service ranger. The feds do an investigation into your background, and I never would have gotten the job if I’d been busted with the blasting caps. It wasn’t illegal to have them; they weren’t a controlled thing. Anybody could buy dynamite at that time; there were no regulations. They are definitely bomb-making materials and that step was not for me. I realized that I wanted to read about revolutionaries but not be one.

***

From 1973 to 1977 women’s issues became much more apparent to me. I was a federal employee in the National Park Service (NPS), where you’re not allowed to be an activist about anything and barely allowed to vote (the latter of which I say partly in jest but not really). It was obvious in my short career as a very young adult, that there was a long ways to go to achieving parity for women. Some of the first black female rangers were my roommates during our various training programs. Even today, the NPS is very much a “Good Old Boys” club and male-dominated. Many of the few female rangers of that era were treated badly by some of the men they worked with or for. Many of the women in administrative jobs were really making the parks run well but getting no credit and being paid at a lower wage level than men with the same jobs. One of my male fellow rangers told me that he was giving an incompetent male a good annual review because he had a family to support. Conversely, he was giving a very competent female ranger he supervised a bad review because she was too assertive and really didn’t need a job. She just needed to get married.

The NPS is much more militaristic than I had realized from the outside. The military aspects partially come from the U.S. Cavalry running the parks until the National Park Service was set up 50 years after the first national park. I learned a lot about the military by working for the NPS. One odd thing was that there were all-black Cavalry groups that were major caretakers of some of the parks before the NPS existed. The role and importance of those early black soldier caretakers are only now being recognized and celebrated in the 2000s. Today the NPS has new programs to attract both more diverse visitors and employees. Women of any color are being treated somewhat better today.

When I think back on it, I would say that in my high school and certainly my college years, I was the most conscious of the civil rights movement and the war in Vietnam. After I went to work, I became more conscious of women’s rights and inequities. Flash forward: for 35 years, I have lived in a small remote Colorado mountain resort town and worked in construction. Our town was very lily white when we moved here. Our Hispanic population has increased a lot and we have to face and deal with discrimination and racial issues now. In the resort era of this town, women have played a major role in leadership, especially in government/elected positions. Today, I often wear a dress over my jeans (but by choice). I am used to being a female working in a “male” job—after 40 years.

I really wish I had those blasting caps – I would put them in one of my mixed media groutless mosaic art pieces.  The blasting caps were both very visually interesting and would convey an implied message – like blow up the dams on rivers – which the government is actually doing more and more – it is how you remove dams and restore habitat and bring back fish like salmon.

 

Advertisements

White Owl Cigars and Racial Tension: Hauler on a Tobacco Farm, by Marty Bernstein

2 Oct

Marty today
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 coope
rative 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.

In the summer of 1965 when I was fourteen and in junior high school, my family moved to Springfield, MassacWhite Owl Cigars with Owlhusetts from Long Island, New York. In the summer I got a job on a tobacco farm in the Connecticut Valley. It was called a shade tobacco industry. They made tobacco for the outside of White Owl cigars. The farm was owned by the Hathaway-Stene Tobacco Company.

Young boys and girls woulMarty Circa 1965d be hired to work there every summer. There was a hierarchy by height that determined what work one would do. Shorter boys were pickers because it was a handicap to be tall when picking. (Harder to stoop.) The foreman was my gym teacher, Mr. Gallucci, whom I liked. He would take us on a school bus out to the field.tobacco shed.little girls

I wasn’t a picker but a hauler. I would pull a metal framed canvas bin, about the size of a drawer in a chest of drawers with a loop in one end, down the rows to pick up the leaves. I would take them to a large shed, where all the girls worked “sewing” the leaves and hanging them to dry and age.

I had come from a lily-white, middle-class suburb on Long Island. When I got to the fields, there were both black and white boys, many of them working class. I had never been around black kids before. There was a lot of hostility and racism towards them. Although I never heard the white boys use the n-word, they called the black kids “Cottonbolls.” One time it came to blows between the two groups, and I assisted in stopping the fight. I hung out more frequently with the black kids than with the white ones.

White Owl Cigars ad with father reading to 2 kids                                                  White Owl Cigars ad with father and kid in car

All the kids came from Springfield. They went to fairly segregated schools but ironically they all played ball together at the ball park, where they seemed to get along fine. At that time the schools were de facto segregated but not by law. The junior high schools were neighborhood schools. When I attended junior high school there were no Jews in the area. The principal told me that I wasn’t allowed to be in the academic program, although I loved school and had always gotten good grades. My dad thought that the principal was an anti-Semite.White Owl Cigars ad with Jesse Owens

The four senior high schools were not neighborhood schools. They were arranged by type and were segregated by placing kids in the school deemed appropriate. The top school that was overwhelmingly white was called Classical High School. Its focus was the liberal arts. Timothy Leary had graduated from there.

The next one was the Technical High School. It had a mixture of white and Black and Puerto Rican. The third was Commerce High School, which was mainly black and Puerto Rican. The Trade High School was overwhelmingly Black and Latino. The next year I went into the Classical High School, where all the classes were academic anyway. In high school I attended weekly silent vigils against the war in Vietnam. I believe it was organized by a church group like the Quakers or Unitariatobacco drying in shedns. Also the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.

At the tobacco field we earned $1.10 per hour, less than minimum wage. I remember I made $44 a week. There were poor sanitary conditions in the fields. Wooden barrels on little trailers would come around bringing us drinking water. (Apparently the barrels had formerly held wine. We could smell the residue.) We had to relieve ourselves in the fieldfield workers in tobacco farms. There were two groups: day and migrant. The migrant workers—Puerto Ricans—were kept separate from us.

 

I was glad to have this job. First of all, it gave me some spending money. Also, it was my first significant experience with racism. And I got the chance to understand manual labor and appreciate the manual laborers.

Surfer Dudes, Teeny-boppers, and TJs. By Maria

16 Aug

Maria is currently involved with the Alternatives to Violence Project, which works within State Prisons, and Homeboy Industries, which encourages young people to transform their lives for a more purposeful and successful experience.

I recall the days in the early ‘60s when the high school in the San Gabriel Valley [near Los Angeles] where I taught was filled with young white surfer dudes—long, blond hair, sun-tanned football physiques—and  teeny-bopper girls who swarmed around them.

Then came the influx of “TJ”s (degrading slang for Mexican immigrants) with their plaid shirts, striped pants and “broken English”—or  “Spanglish,” as they called it.

The surfers would stand sullenly against the wall at the foot of the main staircase during “passing period,” watching the “TJs” pass by on their way to classes, their eyes downcast, trembling a bit as they avoided the intimidating glares of the much larger Anglos.

A few of us staff grew increasingly concerned for their safety and established a meeting place in the neighborhood which became known as “Bienvenidos Community Center.” There issues pertaining to the Spanish-speaking community were discussed and ways of integrating them into the local high school environment were launched. Among these ways was the creation of a new staff position—home/school coordinator—and a school club called TOHMAS (To Help Mexican-American Students).

Later a mural was painted on the wall of the school at the point of greatest tension, depicting the value of the Mexican culture and providing a sense of pride to these “new arrivals” who struggled so in this middle-class white school. A  school club called UMAS (United Mexican-American Students) was formed to offer a venue for students (both white and Latino) to come together to gain a better understanding of the positive attributes of each culture.Maria.UMAS

Meanwhile, in the neighborhoods surrounding the school, gangs began to appear, and tensions at school ramped up. One day a popular young Mexican-American boy was shot and killed, and the Bienvenidos Center was re-named in his memory.

Cultural conflicts also arose between white school authorities and Mexican-American students. For example, whites looked up when spoken to while Mexican-Americans looked down out of respect. Teachers took this as a sign of disrespect. Whites took pride in wearing their shirts neatly tucked in, while the style preferred by Mexican-Americans was to have their shirts highly starched and hung outside their pants. Teachers were told to enforce the dress code: “shirts tucked in.” They would send students outside the classroom to tuck in their shirts. To Mexican-American students, this was an affront to their choice of dress, and a personal embarrassment.

Moreover, Mexican-American students were counseled against enrolling in college prep classes. Boys were instructed to take shop classes; girls were encouraged to learn secretarial and homemaking skills. Later these students would attend East Los Angeles Community College rather than UCLA, largely due to their lack of the requisite preparation in higher math, science, and critical thinking.

As the school population turned increasingly Latin, a demand for the hiring of Latino staff emerged. Along with this came a more balanced and equitable attention to both cultural groups. With decreasing white enrollment and increasing Latino enrollment, the tables were turned a little. Football became less significant. Our school suddenly jumped to prominence in soccer. Stellar soccer players materialized.

Our school mascot  had always been the Aztecs. The student chosen to represent the Aztecs at the time (he actually had familial Aztec roots) was not permitted by the administration to  perform authentic dances in “full Aztec regalia.”  Apparently it projected an inappropriate image of the school.

The highlight of my tenure at this school came in the early ‘70s. At a school assembly one day, César Chavez walked out onto the stage, accompanied by leaping, screaming, and arm-flailing of the Latino students. Tears of joy ran down some of our faces–both students and staff–as we finally hailed with grateful pride  our multicultural, neighborhood school.

Cesar Chavez

Brownies and Legionnaires, by Alyson Ross

10 Aug

DSC03887 - Copy

When Alyson Ross was in her 20s and 30s, she wrote short stories for confession magazines and others of that ilk. For a 10,000-word story, she would receive three cents a word ($300). She jokes that as a Catholic she had to go to confession so she thought she should write confession stories. Alyson taught English and ESL for 27 years at East Los Angeles Community College. She has been retired over 20 years and is still writing, including working on a long, fictionalized family saga. She has traveled to 35 countries so far.

                       

Of the dozen or so Civil Rights marches in the San Gabriel Valley [Los Angeles metro area] that I went on, the most memorable was the first. In the early 60s, many suburban cities had unwritten covenants preventing people of color from buying or renting a house or an apartment. We were marching to persuade people to end this practice.

A week before one of the demonstrations, the local American Legion post presented my daughter’s newly formed Brownie troop, of which I was a parent leader, with an American flag. As the legionnaire marched up the aisle, I noticed that he was so tipsy that he almost dropped the flag. After presenting the flag and leading us in the Pledge of Allegiance, he spoke a few words, some of them slightly slurred, about how proud we should be as Americans.

On the morning of the Civil Rights march, the leader told us to avoid eye contact with people who would heckle us and under no circumstances to shout anything back at them. As the march proceeded, several bystanders joined us. And as we were warned, so did the hecklers, running along beside us and repeatedly shouting things like ”Are you walking with them or sleeping with them?” After hearing this taunt dozens of times, I could no longer restrain myself. I turned to the heckler next to me and shouted “Both!” To my amazement I found myself looking straight into the eyes of the legionnaire who a week earlier had presented my daughter’s Brownie troop with the American flag.

IMG_0060 - Copy

                                                    Alyson (right) and her writing group

When we lived in Douglas, Arizona in first grade, there were only two non-Mexican students, a girl named Donna and myself, who were white. The other school kids lived in poor houses. Since my name was French—Balliot—the teacher thought I was a minority too, so she would talk louder to me. I was able to observe the cruelty of the teachers towards the students.

*****

In fourth grade history class in Los Angeles we read that slaves were well-treated, spent their time singing and dancing, etc. I told the teacher that wasn’t true but she replied, “The textbook says so.”

*****

One afternoon our neighbor, Mrs. Jones, came crying to our house. She had seen a black woman with two daughters on the streetcar and told the woman that her girls were the cutest pickaninnies she’d ever seen.  The woman had then said “something very cruel” to Mrs. Jones, causing her tears. My mother sympathized with Mrs. Jones. They both wondered why the black woman had been offended.

Even as a nine-year-old, I knew that word was an insult.

*****

DSC03895                             DSC03888 - Copy

Alyson’s 80th birthday party                      Birthday present for Alyson

 *****

When I taught vocabulary-building at East Los Angeles College in the ’70s, my students and I marched and rallied against the administration. We were teaching in old, decrepit World War II bungalows while the administration had suites. Every Tuesday at noon there was a vigil at the administration building protesting the war.

*******

My daughter, who was attending Pomona College, got sick on the day of a peace march and couldn’t participate. She gave her sandals to a friend to wear so she could say her sandals had “walked the course.”

             

How the War in Vietnam Politicized Me, by Paul Krehbiel

29 Jun

Paul Krehbiel is the author of Shades of Justice, a coming-of-age memoir set in the 1960s. It is available at autumnleafpress.com. Paul lives in Pasadena, California, and has been a labor activist and organizer most of his life.

In the early 1960s I was in junior and senior high school in a suburb of Buffalo, populated by a mixture of white-collar professionals and blue-collar workers.  Our community was virtually all white. I played sports, did art, hung out with my friends, went to parties, and spent time with my girlfriend. My neighborhood had a bully, who was a couple of years older, and who tormented my peers and me. I was aware of the civil rights movement, especially the sit-ins and marches in the south, and was sympathetic. The disparities in wealth in Buffalo were very clear, with the Black community depressed, and many white communities – but not all — living comfortably.  I wondered why bad people existed, why we had racism, and why there were rich and poor people.

VietnamWarGIsInWater

The war in Vietnam was heating up by 1966, the year I turned 18 and graduated from high school. I registered for the draft, as required by law, but started thinking, wasn’t there some way to resolve disputes without going to war. These thoughts deepened when a guy I knew in high school, who was a year older, came back from Vietnam paralyzed from the waist down and in a wheelchair for life. Suddenly, wars weren’t just some event in my history book from the past. I realized that I could be drafted and sent to Vietnam whether I wanted it or not, and be forced to kill people I didn’t know and had nothing against, or be killed or injured myself. I had to find out more about the war so I could decide what to do if I was drafted.

I grew up in what seemed like a typical family. My dad worked in a small surveying business started by his dad, and my mom worked in our home taking care of my two younger brothers and me. When I raised these social justice questions with my parents, they didn’t know the answers, or the responses they gave seemed unsatisfactory. My dad said that the government knew more about these things, and if called to serve in war, we had to do it. He had served in WWII, and I knew the Nazis had to be stopped. But, Vietnam seemed different. How was a small, poor country on the other side of the globe a threat to us or anyone else?

I went to a community college in Clearwater, Florida to major in art, and to get out of Buffalo’s cold winters. There I saw the starkness of racism. Blacks were segregated in poor housing and neighborhoods, and I saw a shantytown in a nearby rural area of collapsing shacks and mud roads. At the first dance of the semester, I danced with a Black student, and the white students near us stopped dancing, formed a circle around us, and glared. One angry white student asked me if I wanted to start a race riot. It was tense.

I saw scenes on the TV news or in magazines of dead Vietnamese women and babies on the ground lying in pools of blood, and turned strongly against the war. I saw the war as a crime of murder against both Vietnamese and the young American men forced to fight.  In 1967 I made a pen and ink drawing for an art class to protest the war. I drew an ornately carved coffin with a flag draped over it, next to an Army recruiting sign. The sign read: “Join the Army, a Proud Future Could be Yours.” I put a line through “Proud” and wrote “Dead.”

Vietnam-JoinTheArmy

I knew that I would not go to Vietnam, and decided to go to Canada.  Some people said that if I refused to be drafted I should accept the punishment of breaking the law and go to prison. But, why should I go to prison, I responded. I had done nothing wrong. The government leaders who launched the war in Vietnam should go to prison.

I applied and was accepted at the Ontario College of Art in Toronto, and began there in the fall of 1967. I hadn’t been drafted yet and hadn’t broken any laws, so I came back to Buffalo on weekends to see my girlfriend, and to work in the summers. I had one job in an auto parts factory where the working conditions were bad. I got active in the union, which was the beginning of my lifelong involvement in the labor movement. In 1968, I supported two war resisters who took sanctuary in the Buffalo Unitarian Church, and I went to Chicago in August to protest the war outside the Democratic National Convention.

 

DraftEvasionTorontoI spent a year and a half in Canada. In the fall of 1968, I was working in a metal fabricating plant making furniture. While operating a punch press machine, I lost two fingers in an industrial accident. The machine had jammed and the safety guard was defective. It was difficult studying sculpture with missing fingers, so I returned to the US and contacted my draft board. I was classified medically unfit for military duty.

I had friends who were students at the University of Buffalo, so I began sitting in on classes. There was a very active anti-war movement on campus, along with other social justice causes. In January 1969, I attended night school and became heavily involved in the Buffalo Draft Resistance Union, and later in Students for a Democratic Society. I attended and helped plan anti-war demonstrations and other political activities on campus, and switched my major to Philosophy. The Philosophy Department was a home for left-wing students, teaching assistants, and some full-time faculty. I started reading Marx in my classes.  By the end of the spring semester, I was a socialist.

Blind Power, by Lynne Koral, Part 2 of 2

17 Jun

Lynne Koral

Lynne Koral is the owner of Koraling Genius Consultants, www.koralinggenius.blogspot.com, and has lived in Anchorage, Alaska for almost 22 years. She has a Masters in Social Work and in Public Administration and Policy Analysis. Disability issues have occupied her all her life. She is blind. You can read part 1 in the prior post.

Part 2

One of the early activities I was involved in was a fundraiser for muscular dystrophy, where we read poetry and sang songs by Rob and Gretchen, folksingers who seem to have disappeared from the face of the earth. I met a lot of blind kids on school buses, at school, and in recreation programs. As blind people we began to have issues. I joined the disability-rights movement with my friends Pat and Caryn. In 1969 we formed the Blind Power Movement. We were in a recreation program through the Lighthouse (New York Association for the Blind). Later we became more aware of some of our grievances against this organization. We wrote signs such as “Bread Not Breadcrumbs” and picketed in front of the building. We were asking for education of the parents of disabled kids and better treatment as blind kids. They had rules such as we couldn’t be friends with the counselors. We felt that the rules were condescending, judgmental, and arbitrary. Also, teachers had told us we couldn’t get jobs, that we were psychologically damaged; they were  constantly assessing us with all kinds of written and psychological tests.

At a park we met a journalist who wrote a fantastic article in the Village Voice about our group and our goals; it was reprinted in the Braille Monitor, the paper of the National Federation of the Blind. They only reprinted the article because they wanted us to be subsumed under their group and not go off on our own. [Note: I unearthed this Village Voice article from 1970 called “Rallying of the Blinks in a (Short-) Sighted City” by F. Joseph Spieler. Look for it in the next blog post. Ed.]

Caryn and I played violin, and I played piano too. Pat, Caryn, and I formed a musical group called “The Peace Sign.” We sang original songs.

In 1972 there was a class of kung fu for six blind students, taught by Ron Rosen, who wanted to prove that blind kids could do this. He taught us how to use our other senses. I enjoyed the discipline.

I also took a childcare class for infants. One of the Braille teachers taught a class in her home for five or six of us including Pat, Caryn, and David, my boyfriend. We wanted to be as normal as anyone else so we jumped at the chance to take this class.

In 1973 I went to Europe with David, who would later become the father of my baby. He was also blind. We were gone for 3 ½ weeks. Upon arriving in Amsterdam, we stayed at a youth hostel. We got lost and met a journalist named Ronald Sweering. He introduced us to other people, and we stayed at his house for a day or two.

We also visited the guide-dog school there. We met other blind people at an agency for the blind and visited their library. It was at that time that I realized that the Nederländers were more advanced in their equipment for the blind than the U.S. was, and they had accessible (to the blind) guilder notes; i.e., the notes had embossed dots on them. It was awesome! Traveling is so much fun because you get an enlarged view of the world. For example, you see that the U.S. is not the best country in the world in every way. I got to experience food I’d never eaten before like couscous. We tried all their food such as brotje (a little sandwich). It surprised us that they ate dinner at 10 pm in the summer.

The Watergate Hearings were going on at the time. We were able to get impressions about John Dean and Jeb McGruder9 from people from around the world who were staying at the youth hostel.  I remember sitting in the youth hostel and listening to Radio Free Europe and Voice of America.

Watergate figures

The Anne Frank house was impressive. The steps were so narrow, you had to put your feet sideways. In Holland we got a sense of how empty some places were because of the effects of World War II and the German occupation. The aura was so different from the U.S. Just walking on the cobblestone streets, there was a sense of the difference of it all.

Anne Frank house

Anne Frank house

On the tram we held onto the leather hand stirrups. We had large framed backpacks which turned out to be a mistake because we couldn’t hear what was behind us. We hung out with other visually impaired. When we were at Ronald’s house we met other Nederländers who were smoking pot—legally.

Then we went to Paris and England. We met and stayed with people in both places. It was the first time I had gone through customs, and we flew first class on KLM for $223 round trip. We brought tulips and chocolate back with us. I loved this trip. I regret that I haven’t done more traveling abroad although I’ve certainly done my share of domestic travel..

in 1973, a while after we arrived home,  I moved in with David, and we were together for two and a half years. We were young and idealistic. Neither of us wanted to get married; it was bourgeois, we thought. We listened to a lot of Latin American and Puerto Rican music. I got pregnant sometime in March of the same year. I was determined to read everything I could about pregnancy and childbirth. With my Optacon (optical to tactile converter) I read “Six Practical Lessons for an Easier Childbirth” by Elisabeth Bing, and of course  I read Dr. Spock.

Optacon

I never liked milk but was drinking two to three classes a day. I learned about Lamaze and the Bradley Method11, rooming in (where the baby stays with the mother). My parents wanted me to have an abortion; they were afraid they would have to raise my child. Not so!

I loved being pregnant, partly because I was warm all winter. The baby’s first kick from inside the womb was a thrilling experience. I was in two improvisational theater classes while pregnant and shortly thereafter with someone who was in a feminist improvisational group called “It’s All Right to be a Woman Theater” and part of the Pennywhistlers10. I remember their music from the album “A Cool Day and Crooked Corn.”

Pennywhistlers

Pennywhistlers

PennywhistlersCoolDay

A Cool Day and Crooked Corn

It's All Right to be Woman Theater
While pregnant, I also took a jujitsu class in New York at the women’s center. There I got to know several lesbian women for the first time. That’s where I became introduced to the Radical Lesbians and Lesbian Feminist Liberation in New York in the 1970s.

During my second trimester I went to California to get my first guide dog. I also took Lamaze classes and sought out the services of a nurse midwife. I was in labor for about 36 hours, and never did get the urge to push. I was given Pitocin [to induce labor], and finally they had to break the bag of waters. I was so glad to just have a healthy baby, a son I named Dimas. They were, as usual, not sure what to do about a blind new mother. I did have rooming in. I breast fed, but Dimas was a little jaundiced at first. He grew very fast though. We had a visiting nurse service. I learned how to hold him and support his head. He breast-fed very well.

In 1977 when my son was almost three years old, David and I split up. He moved to Los Angeles and I followed so that my son would be close to his dad. But David left Los Angeles six weeks later. I didn’t want to return to New York; David and I were no longer close and he had been fooling around. So I stayed and attended LA City College. But I was depressed and lonely.  Until third grade my son was in cooperative daycare centers in the Echo Park area of Los Angeles called Playgroup and De Colores.

In the late ‘70s I took a class at Cal State Northridge on black literature. We read the Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman by Ernest Gaines and Roots. I was the only white person in the class.

I met my friend Caryl in 1980. “You looked like an interesting person,” she told me later. There are three types of lesbians: the born again, the life-long, and the lesbian come-latelies.  I belonged to the latter type. But I had always been attracted to women to some extent. (As well as to guys.) Throughout the 1970s, I had been somewhat confused about my sexuality.

From my experiences in the 1960s and 1970s, I learned a lot about human interaction, and about respect and dignity for all people. I never understood why certain people who themselves were disenfranchised would disenfranchise others who were different or “the other.” I am now married, but I have always been a free-spirit. I hope to keep learning and growing as the years pass on.

[Note: You can read more about these blind issues at Lynne’s blog: www.koralinggenius.blogspot.com.]

Notes

1.   John Dean served as White House Counsel to United States President Richard Nixon from 1970 until 1973. He became deeply involved in events leading up to the Watergate burglaries and the subsequent Watergate scandal cover-up. Jeb McGruder was Deputy Director of Richard Nixon’s Committee to Re-Elect the President who pled guilty to conspiracy and served time in a federal prison as a result of his participation in the Watergate affair. The Watergate scandal was a political scandal that occurred in the United States as a result of the June 17, 1972 break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washington, D.C., and the Nixon administration’s attempted cover-up of its involvement. The scandal eventually led to the resignation of President Nixon. (Source: Wikipedia.org)

2.  The Pennywhistlers were an American singing group founded by folklorist and singer Ethel Raim and popular during the 1960s folk music revival. They specialized in Eastern European choral music. They toured throughout the 1960s, appearing at the Sing Out! hootenanny at Carnegie Hall, the Fox Hollow Festival, and the Mariposa Folk Festival, among others. They shared the bill with performers such as Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Reverend Gary Davis, Leonard Cohen, and many others. (Source: Wikipedia.org)

3.  The Bradley Method of natural childbirth, also known as “husband-coached childbirth,” is a method of natural childbirth developed in 1947 by Robert A. Bradley, M.D. (1917–98) and popularized by his book Husband-Coached Childbirth, first published in 1965. The Bradley Method emphasizes that birth is a natural process: mothers are encouraged to trust their body and focus on diet and exercise throughout pregnancy; and it teaches couples to manage labor through deep breathing and the support of a partner or labor coach. (Source: Wikipedia.org)

Blind Power, by Lynne Koral, Part 1 of 2

12 Jun

Lynne Koral

Lynne Koral is the owner of Koraling Genius Consultants, http://www.koralinggenius.blogspot.com, and has lived in Anchorage, Alaska for almost 22 years. She has a Masters in Social Work and in Public Administration and Policy Analysis. Disability issues have occupied her all her life. She is blind.

Part 1

I was a premature twin; my brother was brain-damaged and I became blind after a few months. Doctors aren’t sure why this happens; perhaps it’s because of receiving too much oxygen as a preemie or the use of the wrong kind of lighting. From my birth in 1952 until the early 70s I lived in Queens, New York. My parents were progressives. They met at a folkdance group and both went to Camp Wochica1 in New York. The International Workers Order (IWO)2 sponsored it. My grandpa was secretary of the Jamaica Branch.

 I was bussed to an all-white elementary school (PS179) but there was one African American, who was also blind. It was very difficult for her because she was scapegoated, but it was the only school in the borough that had a braille class. Her brother was gay and committed suicide. The choir sang a Negro Spiritual and her mom wouldn’t let her attend the performance. That was in 1962, before the Civil Rights Movement really took off.

Boycotts of de facto segregated institutions were common. I remember that some of us boycotted junior high school to protest discrimination.3

Grover Cleveland High School in Queens was integrated; there were Puerto Ricans, African Americans, and whites. There was also a lot of unrest. Black students had meetings and teach-ins. Some white teachers were part of SNCC4. I was in Honors English in 1968. My teacher, Mrs. Bruno, was involved in the civil rights struggle. My parents and aunts and I went to anti-war demonstrations.

I was often scared in high school because of the anger of some of the African Americans. People were always talking about the issues of the time. I was riveted to WBAI [listener-sponsored Pacifica Radio], listening to accounts of Selma; Montgomery; Martin Luther King; Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney.5

Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney

Julius Lester6  had a show on WBAI and I listened to his folk music. I loved folk music since childhood. My parents took me to concerts: I met Pete Seeger and Freddie Hellerman at one of them. Around 1972 during the time of the Democratic National Convention (George McGovern won the Democratic nomination and later ran against Nixon),  I went to  concerts with friends and heard Tom Paxton, Phil Ochs (at a Washington, D.C. anti-war demo), Harry Chapin in Central Park, and Arlo Guthrie, among others. I attended the Sloop Clearwater Revival7 to protest the pollution of the Hudson River.

Phil Ochs Washington DC

Washington, D.C. demo with Phil Ochs

Tom Paxton

Tom Paxton

Pete Seeger

My friend Caryn was introduced to me by our Braille teacher because she had only recently become totally blind. The school thought it would be useful for her to meet me. She wrote a satirical song about George Wallace,  and I put music to a couple of her poems, which included one about me. We are still good friends.

My older friend Pat was the one who turned me on to good books and early demonstrations, to Julius Lester and WBAI. We used to eat chicken and drink sodas in her bedroom.

In 1968 when I was about sixteen I was sent for nine weeks to a progressive “work camp” called Twin Link Camp8. The older kids—from 14 to 17—had the job of maintaining the camp. I was Jewish but there were all kinds of religious views there including atheists. We learned about conflict, struggle, class, and race, and had constant meetings. We were assigned roles; some would be working class for a day, others middle class, then switch roles. Morris Eisenstein from Brooklyn was the camp leader. He was autocratic, dictatorial, authoritarian. (I didn’t like him.) However, he was an effective leader. My parents didn’t like his attitude towards my twin brother Steven, who suffered from mental disorders. I learned the lesson that just because you are left-wing doesn’t mean you are nice.

At the camp we put on a play by Clifford Odets called “Waiting for Lefty” and also a Brecht play. We wrote songs. We learned about Sacco and Vanzetti9, whom I’d never heard of before. It was also the first time I met Native Americans: an Apache named Gil Gutierrez and a Choctaw or Chickasaw woman named Suzanne Heard. When I got back home, I was spouting camp rhetoric.

[To be continued]

Notes

1.  Wo-Chi-Ca (Workers Children’s Camp). This interracial, co-educational summer vacation camp was situated in Port Murray, New Jersey. Founded in 1934, it closed in the early 1950s, partially as a result of McCarthyism. It was one of many Communist camps (twenty-seven were run at one time in New York state alone). In 1943 black children made up 20% of the residents. Paul Robeson, Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie visited or worked at the camp during its existence. (Source: Wikipedia.org)

2.  The International Workers Order was a Communist Party-affiliated insurance, mutual benefit and fraternal organization founded in 1930 and disbanded in 1954. At its height in the years immediately following World War II, the IWO had almost 200,000 members and provided low-cost health and life insurance, medical and dental clinics, and supported foreign-language newspapers, cultural and educational activities. The organization also operated a summer camp and cemeteries for its members. The IWO also ran a Jewish summer camp, Camp Kinderland and the racially integrated camp Wo-Chi-Ca. While the leadership of IWO sections were members of the Communist Party, most of the IWO’s rank-and-file members were not party members. The U.S. Attorney General placed the IWO on its list of subversive organizations in 1947. (Source: Wikipedia)

3.  Boycott of junior high school to protest discrimination….those active in the New York City’s school integration battle of the 1950s and 1960 also exposed the limits of the city’s racial liberal image. The school integration movement exposed how those who ran the school system, those who lived in predominantly white neighborhoods and many of the members of the city’s liberal community opposed attempts at city-wide integration. New York’s failure to respond to the problems of its minority populations revealed the limits of its liberal reputation. (Source: Clarence Taylor, Professor of History at Baruch College and the Graduate Center, CUNY, http://www.nyc.gov/html/cchr/justice/downloads/pdf/civil_rights_movement_in_nyc.pdf)

4.   The Student Nonviolent Coordination Committee (SNCC) was one of the organizations of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. It had projects in Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas, and Maryland, and played a major role in the sit-ins and freedom rides, a leading role in the 1963 March on Washington, Mississippi Freedom Summer, and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party over the next few years. It organized voter registration drives all over the South.. In the later 1960s, led by fiery leaders such as Stokely Carmichael, SNCC focused on black power, and then protested against the Vietnam War. It passed out of existence in the 1970s. (Source: Wikipedia.org)

5.   Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney were murdered in Mississippi on June 21, 1964.  During the summer of 1964, they volunteered for Freedom Summer, a voter registration drive for African-Americans. On June 21, 1964, a County Deputy stopped the trio on traffic charges. They were jailed briefly and then released. But as they drove away, as many as 22 members of the Ku Klux Klan stopped the car, gunned down all three and buried their bodies, which were discovered 44 days later after an informant tipped off the FBI. (Source: Carl Ballard, PBS NEWSHOUR)

6.  Julius Lester is an American author of books for children and adults, and taught for 32 years at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He is also a photographer, as well as a musician who recorded two albums of folk music and original songs. (Source: http://members.authorsguild.net/juliuslester/)

7.  The Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, Inc. is an organization based in Beacon, New York that seeks to protect the Hudson River and surrounding wetlands and waterways. (Source: Wikipedia.org)

8.  Twin Link Camp.Twin Link Camp (later Camp Hurley) was a summer camp in the Catskills purchased In 1958 by the community center of a New York City public housing project. It closed in 1987. The center that purchased it was  loosely modeled on the settlement house concept; it networked with many of the large social movements of the era, exposing young people to numerous civil rights and peace marches. Its political motto was “Think globally, act locally.” [Source: Issues in Teaching and Learning, Volume IV, online]

9.  Sacco and Vanzetti were suspected anarchists who were convicted of murdering two men during a 1920 armed robbery of a shoe factory in Massachusetts. After a controversial trial and a series of appeals, the two Italian immigrants were executed on August 23, 1927. Since their deaths, critical opinion has overwhelmingly felt that the two men were convicted largely on their anarchist political beliefs and unjustly executed. (Source: Wikipedia.org)