Tag Archives: schools

Brownies and Legionnaires, by Alyson Ross

10 Aug

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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.

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                                                    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.

*****

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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.”

             

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“Could She Be a Communist?” The San Francisco HUAC Hearings, by Kitty Kroger

18 Jul

Kitty Kroger is the editor of this blog. She is also the author of a novel, Dancing with Mao and Miguel, about the seventies, and lives in Los Angeles.

In 1961 I was a senior at Riverside Polytechnic High School in southern California. I had a first-year speech teacher, not much older than her students, named Miss Singler, who seemed very “radical” to me (whatever that meant). As far as I could tell, she and my chemistry teacher were the only teachers in the whole school who were concerned about the political and social events of the day.

In San Francisco in 1960, Miss Singler had in some way been involved in the HUAC  (1) hearings and the police attack on the steps of City Hall  (2). The whole thing fascinated me. It was the first time I’d ever heard about McCarthyism or demonstrations.

HUAC San Francisco2

I’d led a very sheltered small-town life in Kalispell, Montana until I was 13, and then we moved to a suburban community in California. My parents voted conservatively but rarely discussed politics. I didn’t read the newspaper and had no familiarity with or interest in current events. My thoughts were full of philosophical questions such as Does God exist? and What is the meaning of life? My aspirations and my attention in those days lay in attending a liberal arts college, getting a grounding in the Classics and philosophy, and becoming an “intellectual.”

Miss Singler showed us a film of the police attacks and we all discussed it. (3) We students were indignant and ready to take some action. Miss Singler organized us for an event: the PTA had invited parents to a showing of that same film in the auditorium, with the purpose of revealing how student radicals—most likely communist-infiltrated—were a threat to our innocent children and our democracy.

Finally the day arrived. As I recall, students from our class sat in the very back row. When it came time for questions, we were to speak up. Which we did. I don’t remember the discussion or the outcome. What I do remember is feeling confused. Miss Singler brought out incipient feelings of rebellion and indignation in me at the injustice of the hearings and the police attacks. But I didn’t fully comprehend the issue. And I felt uneasy, mistrustful, of someone who was so critical of society as I had always “known” it. Although I don’t recall hearing anything about communism or McCarthyism in my childhood, somehow I must have absorbed the paranoia of the time. At some point, I finally decided to ask my father about it.

“Dad, do you think Miss Singler might be a communist?”

I find it quite remarkable that, given his conservative background, my father seemed completely indifferent to exploring the politics of Miss Singler. What he said I will never forget:

”Don’t ever say that about anybody!” (4)

Notes:

1.  The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), a committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, investigated allegations of communist activity in the U.S. during the early years of the Cold War (1945-91). Established in 1938, the committee wielded its subpoena power as a weapon and called citizens to testify in high-profile hearings before Congress. This intimidating atmosphere often produced dramatic but questionable revelations about Communists infiltrating American institutions and subversive actions by well-known citizens. HUAC’s controversial tactics contributed to the fear, distrust and repression that existed during the anticommunist hysteria of the 1950s. By the late 1950s and early 1960s, HUAC’s influence was in decline, and in 1969 it was renamed the Committee on Internal Security. Although it ceased issuing subpoenas that year, its operations continued until 1975.  [Source: http://www.history.com/]

2.  Radio reporter Fred Haines describes those events [of May 13, 1960] below:

The “Friends of the Committee” gathered just to the right of this line (the line of students who had been waiting for several hours) . . . . As I watched, (Police Inspector Michael) McGuire opened a way through the center barricade and began to admit the white card holders one at a time; for a moment the waiting crowd paused, and then an angry roar went up. Those in the rear, who were halfway down the stairs and couldn’t see what was going on began to edge forward and in the resulting crush began to press the flimsy saw-horse barricade toward me and the police officers who leaped forward to hold it. Angry cries of “Hold it! Stop pushing!” came from those in front; the barricade held and the police pushed it back to its original position . . . .

The Barricade back and the crowd quiet, McGuire suddenly noticed that the white card holders, who were still filing through, included in their number some students–he lunged forward and grabbed one of them roughly. The student wrenched himself free, shouting angrily, “I’ve got a white card!” McGuire taken aback, let go and seized another by the lapels of his jacket–the young man thrust a 35mm camera in McGuire’s face and tripped the shutter. Again McGuire let go, and several students managed to slip into the Chambers.

. . . Already the singing was beginning again . . . There was only one last move; the picket monitors and others began passing the word to sit down on the floor . . . .

Four or five minutes had passed since the doors were closed on the expectant crowd, and the crisis was safely over. I supposed that the police might begin wholesale arrests shortly, but the possible eruption of violence had been neatly averted, with the vast majority of the crowd safely self-immobilized on the floor . . . .

Moments later, an attorney who was representing two of the witnesses made his way across the rotunda and arrived behind the barricades just in time to see McGuire opening one of the hydrants. He ran over to the officer shouting, “You can’t do this to these kids.” McGuire shrugged him off. An officer behind the center barricade picked up the nozzle of one of the fire hoses which had been unrolled from the floor and pointed it at several students sitting just beyond the barricade. “You want some of this?” he shouted. “Well you’re going to get it.” One of the young men waved at him and kept on singing. A trickle dripped from the nozzle, a spurt, bubbly with air–and then the hose stiffened with the full pressure of the water, which blasted into the group of seated demonstrators.

The rotunda seemed to erupt. The singing broke up into one gigantic horrified scream. People fled past me as I ran forward, trying to see what was going on; a huge sheet of spray, glancing off one granite pillar, flashed through the air in front of me, and I retreated . . . .

For the first time I had a moment to think, to take stock of the situation . . . . during the past few minutes they’d dumped thousands of gallons of water inside a public building, causing several thousand dollars worth of damage (not counting whatever human injury there had been). And they had accomplished nothing. Perhaps 50 people of the 200 had fled . . .  . now they had 150 people wet, angry, and injured, most of whom were rooted to the spot and determined to make as much noise as ever before. (Free Speech Movement Archives. http://www.fsm-a.org/stacks/AP_files/APHUAC60.html)

Police violence during the “riot”… resulted in the arrest of 68 persons. [Source:  Alice Huberman and  Jim Prickett (Free Speech Movement Archives. http://www.fsm-a.org/stacks/AP_files/APHUAC60.html)

3.  Operation Abolition. The House Committee on Un-American Activities labeled the demonstrations “Communist inspired” and proceeded to produce the now famed film, Operation Abolition, which purported to give the facts about the events in San Francisco. This film was shown throughout the country during 1960 and 1961, and actually turned into the opposite of what the makers intended; the student movement used it quite successfully to educate people about repression. The Northern California ACLU produced a film called Operation Correction, which discussed falsehoods in the first film. Scenes from the hearings and protest were later featured in the award-winning 1990 documentary Berkeley in the Sixties. [Source:  Alice Huberman and  Jim Prickett (http://www.fsm-a.org); Wikipedia]

4.  FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, who is certainly in a better position than anyone else to know the truth about all Communist Party operations in this country, has prepared an official report on the riots entitled “Communist Targets— Youth.” The report was released by the House Committee on Un-American Activities in July 1960. Five pages of this 10-page report are devoted to factual material on exactly how the Communist Party planned and carried out the San Francisco demonstrations and riots, including the dates and places of party meetings, decisions made at them, subsequent actions taken, and the names of Communist Party members and officials involved. This factual data is preceded by this statement:

It is vitally important to set the record straight on the extent to which Communists were responsible for the disgraceful and riotous conditions which prevailed during the HCUA hearings.

HUAC.J.Edgar

Toward the end of his report, Mr. Hoover summarized the Communists’ role in the riots in these words:

The Communists demonstrated in San Francisco just how powerful a weapon Communist infiltration is. They revealed how it is possible for only a few Communist agitators, using mob psychology, to turn peaceful demonstrations into riots.

Months later, after certain sources had given nationwide circulation to the claim that the riots were not Communist-inspired, Mr. Hoover addressed the American Legion convention in Miami (October 18, 1960) and reiterated his statement concerning Communist responsibility for the riots:

The diabolical influence of Communism on youth was manifested in the anti-American student demonstrations in Tokyo. It further was in evidence this year in Communist-inspired riots in San Francisco, where students were duped into disgraceful demonstrations against a Congressional committee.

These students were stooges of a sinister technique stimulated by clever Communist propagandists who remained quietly concealed in the background. These master technicians of conspiracy had planned for some time to use California college students as a “front” for their nefarious operations. This outburst was typical of these cunning conspirators who constantly play active, behind-the-scenes roles in fomenting civic unrest in every conceivable area of our society.

Still later, in his year-end report to the Attorney General of the United States, submitted on December 22, 1960, Mr. Hoover stated that in the future:

the Communists hope to repeat the success which they achieved on the West Coast last May in spearheading mob demonstrations by college students and other young people against a Committee of Congress.

Finally, on March 6, 1961, in an appearance before a House Appropriations Subcommittee, Mr. Hoover testified as follows concerning the San Francisco riots:

A most significant single factor surrounding the mob demonstration was the Communist infiltration of student and youth groups engaged in protest demonstrations against this congressional committee. Through this infiltration, Communists revealed how it is possible for only a few Communist agitators, using mob psychology, to convert peaceful demonstrations into riots.

The success of the party’s strategy was vividly demonstrated by the violence which erupted at the San Francisco City Hall where the committee hearings were held. The San Francisco debacle was not an accident. It was the result of minute and skillful planning, direction, and exploitation by a handful of dedicated, fanatical, hardcore members of the Communist Party, U.S.A.

One of the targets of the Communist Party is to step up its infiltration of youth organizations and the demonstration at San Francisco which occurred last year was typical of their efforts.

[Source: California Digital Library (http://www.cdlib.org)]

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)

 

“Do Not Fold, Spindle, or Mutilate,” by Mona Field

8 Jun

Mona Field began her career in education at Evans Adult School in Los Angeles teaching English as a Second Language,  then transitioned to what became a quarter century of teaching sociology and political science at Glendale Community College. She has been active in her union, the American Federation of Teachers, and is currently serving in her fourth term as an elected member of the Los Angeles Community College District Board of Trustees, representing over four million people. She hopes she has remained faithful to the values of her youth, and she treasures the lifelong friendships that came from her early activism. (Mona is the daughter of Helen Colton, whose blog post was run earlier on this site.)


In 1962 I was only nine. I remember walking precincts with my mother to support Pat Brown for governor of California. A year later someone came into my elementary school class and said, “They shot the president.” It was Thanksgiving vacation—I watched TV for days. I remember Oswald, the funeral procession, Jackie and her hat.

I was a bit of a pink diaper baby on my father’s side. I say “a bit” because my father was only briefly in the Communist Party. Before they divorced in the mid-60s, my mom used to say that he was “too lazy to sell party newspapers,” as if that’s why he left the party. I still remember every May Day my Dad would say, “Drop tools, comrades! All out for May Day!”

Dad was a screenwriter and supported the Hollywood 10. He had a contract with Columbia pictures and was active in the founding of the Writers Guild. He lost his job; I’m guessing he was blacklisted. Later he free-lanced, and when he couldn’t sell any more scripts, he left the industry and became a small businessman selling precious metals.

Mom was an individualist, too much so to join the CP or any other group. She wrote articles on sexuality and women’s issues for the New York Times and for women’s magazines like Redbook and McCall’s, most of which are no longer published. Mom was ahead of her time. She gave up a career for her children but continued to free-lance. Two of her books are The Joy of Touch and Sex After the Sexual Revolution. [Editor’s note: See a prior post on this site by Mona’s mom, Helen Colton.]

Dad took us to “Love-Ins” at Griffith Park in the mid-60s. On June 23, 1967 he and my step-mom took me to an anti-war rally in Century City at the Century Plaza Hotel where President Johnson was speaking. There I witnessed for the first time the use of tear gas and batons against demonstrators. I was 13.

In Hollywood High School from 1967 to 1968  I went on the bus to San Francisco peace marches. I was 15 or 16 by then. Once someone from the Grateful Dead sat next to me on the bus. I also participated in a women’s group on campus. A woman named Lisa recruited me to many other activities as well. Her parents were Maoists. To this day she’s still a friend.

I had two circles of friends—political and social. I was student body secretary, on the Honor Society, and editor of the school paper. But I was also in a Marxist study group.  I led a sit-in on campus in the principal’s office; we demanded that a Black Panther be permitted to speak at an assembly. My political friends and I wore buttons, and lots of us carried around the Little Red Book and quoted from it. About the time of Kent State (Spring 1970) we had a rally where we sat in again at the principal’s office.  I remember reporters asking me: Who put you up to this? Years later we realized that informers and police had probably infiltrated our groups.

I graduated from high school at 16. During  my senior year I had to choose a college. At the University of California in Berkeley, the radicals had a slogan: Don’t fold, spindle, or mutilate 1. It was a critique of the UC bureaucracy and became a slogan of the Free Speech Movement. So I didn’t apply to Berkeley because its image was of bureaucracy and lack of concern about the individual.

I applied to Stanford instead. In addition, I needed a backup college, according to my counselor. I wasn’t sure why she insisted on this because at the time people weren’t listing backups as they do today. But I chose a backup—Immaculate Heart College here in Los Angeles, which I visited and liked. Stanford rejected me so I ended up at Immaculate Heart. Years later that same counselor told me that I’d been blackballed at Stanford; the principal of  my high school was a Stanford alumnus.

I had mixed feelings about attending Immaculate Heart but was later grateful that I did because it offered small, seminar-style, personal classes. In addition, the classes focused on process and not content; in the future many of my life skills came from that approach to learning. Finally, a friend lived on Vendome Street in Silverlake (Los Angeles), and through her I met the Food Conspiracy2 people.

Notes

  1. “Do not fold, spindle, or mutilate”  is a phrase adopted by the counter-culture of the 1960s.  It referred to a punch card but became a symbol of alienation and more generally of anxiety about technology.  Punch cards were developed to tabulate the 1890 U.S. Census and later served in the development of computer technology.  Through them, data was inputted into a mainframe computer in the 1950s and 1960s. Punching a set of these cards (called IBM cards) was  tedious and time-consuming.]
  2. The Echo Park/Silverlake Food Conspiracy was an impromptu food coop run by mostly activists from the 60s. It offered weekly political discussion groups as well as cheap groceries from 1969 through about 1980.

Sal Castro: an Obituary, by Kitty Kroger

27 May

Sal Castro 1

Sal Castro, a lifelong educator and a leader in the 1968 “blowouts” that occurred in Eastside Los Angeles schools, died of cancer on April 15, 2013 at 79 years of age. More than 1000 people gathered to eulogize him. In 1963 while teaching at Belmont High School Castro got into trouble for supporting Latino students who wanted to run for student body offices. When they gave their campaign speeches, they were disciplined for speaking Spanish, and when Castro defended them, the school district transferred him to another Eastside school, Lincoln High School in Lincoln Heights.

Although he was “given” five different courses in five different buildings, he still managed to sponsor students in a variety of events. He also helped them organize protests over unequal learning conditions for minorities. Students were demanding curricular and textbook changes which would reflect their history and culture. Bilingual education was also a key demand. They also called for more Mexican American administrators and teachers. And they wanted the counselors to stop shunting them into the Industrial Arts Program and discouraging them from college prep classes and professional careers.

Furthermore, students were affected by the high minority death toll in the Vietnam War and the Chicano Civil Rights movement. When the students walked out, Castro joined them. This walkout spread to Roosevelt, Wilson, Garfield, and Belmont and became known as the “Chicano blowouts.” (Chicano was a relatively new term at that time.) The protests lasted a week.

Sal Castro 3Sal Castro 2

Castro was arrested and charged with disrupting schools and disturbing the peace. He was indicted on 30 counts and removed from Lincoln High School. Although the State Supreme Court dismissed the charges, the Los Angeles Unified School District punitively relocated him to three different high schools before returning him to Belmont in 1973.

Castro retired in 2003 after 42 years as a classroom teacher and has since been recognized by numerous agencies and organizations. On the Belmont campus a middle school was named after him.

Sal Castro is a fine example of the best that came out of the sixties and seventies.