Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Where's Denny Crane when we need him

The Boston Legal TV show began winding up last week just as a pre-trial hearing took place at Seattle Municipal Court for 23 citizens who were arrested at Nickelsville back in October. Those folks opted not to leave the West Marginal Way site as a sign of civil disobedience when the police told people living there (residentially challenged, a new term I just found) that they couldn't campout.
You can read the jist of the homeless problem on some of my previous posts and on some of other blogs that I hope to link too sometime this century. Anyway, I showed up at the court to lend moral support to Andrea Bauer and Steve Hoffman, two of the people arrested at Nicklesville that day. Andrea and Steve represent the Freedom Socialist Party, one of many organizations that's stepping up big time for people who sometimes have trouble fighting for themselves.
Andrea, Steve and the other Nickelsville defendants went out in the corrider to plan their next move as the rest of us sat watching the other court cases. Some of it was tedious, and we almost wished that BL's outrageous Denny Crane would make an appearance to liven things up.
But there was one case that stood out. A young woman was brought into court, wearing orange prison garb, and her hands tied behind her back. I wondered if she had just killed 15 people. It turns out the women, who looked about 21, was involved in a hit-and-run accident (apparently no one was hurt); she has a drinking problem and no way to pay damages on the other car.
The judge, Judith Hightower, said that the court would work with the girl if she gets a job (I assume that's after she got released) and she started with restitution for the car. I had two thoughts: 1) this poor girl probably ain't going to find a job and 2) if she had a rich daddy, she sure as hell wouldn't be getting dragged into court tied up like Bobby Seale at the Chicago 7 trials. It is indeed a classist society.
When the Nickelsville people returned it was decided that they'd be heading to court on March 10 at 9 AM. It sounds like they're ready to fight the system and Andrea says, that why'll many of these people were strangers, they're starting to bond, kinda like a sports team.
Hightower, the judge hearing the case, is the same judge who told the city a couple of years ago that she wasn't going to prosecute anymore people who were brought in for sleeping on the street if the shelters are full. The judge, a small black woman, with short hair, probably in her late `50's, seemed pretty lay back as well. She said if anyone wanted to film the trial just let the lawyers know. Apparently, there's at least one Nickelsville documentary being made.
Let the games begin.

The above YouTube has some really cool stuff that was mostly filmed by Revel and Alex from Real Change unless otherwise noted. There's stuff from all over the country if you click on to the little boxes underneath.

Monday, December 1, 2008

A Personal History

On December 1 2008, my father would have been 95 years old. Even though he’s now been dead more than half of my life he’s still the best person I've ever met. I’ve been thinking about how much 20th century history my dad actually lived through.

My dad was an altar boy growing up. He never would have said anything if a priest touched him inappropriately but he remembered being on the altar a few times when the priest was too drunk to serve Mass. He remember leaning on one priest so he didn’t tip over.

He quit high school during the Depression to go to work in the mills to help support his family. These were changing times in Rhode Island where he grew up. The unions were becoming a force in the mills and Irish, Italian and Polish immigrants were literally taking control of the state, voting straight Democratic tickets of course and going to Catholic Church every Sunday. The Republican White Anglo-Saxon Protestants (called WASPs) who owned the mills, the media and the banks were losing power.

My dad probably thought at one point that he’d never leave Rhode Island. But most able-bodied males went into the service when World War II started. My father traveled to places like Guam, New Guinea and even briefly Hawaii. I guess I’m my father’s son, the thing that most impressed my dad about New Guinea was that women didn’t wear tops on the beach. Looking back, I would have liked to have asked more about his travels. But when you’re a teenager you know everything, and then when you get older there’s so much you want to learn.

My dad was stationed in Washington D.C. for much of the War and said he looked liked Radar from MASH then- he was a clerk also, relatively short, wearing green fatigues and glasses. Sundays were the soldiers’ day off. My dad never forgot riding on the bus; there were no problems when the bus was in Washington, but as soon as it reached the Virginia state line; the blacks (most of them soldiers in uniform) had to go to the back of the bus.

When my dad grew up in RI there weren’t many blacks living there and he didn’t think much about black people. But he thought it was the damndest thing that black soldiers, who were defending their country, had to move to the back of the bus. I’m sure my dad had more empathy for black people when he saw signs in front of stores in Virginia saying, ``no dogs, Yankees or (insert `n’) word allowed. And that was the pecking order. My dad was below a dog but above a black. The greatest irony is that the part of Virginia just outside of DC is a fairly wealthy area now; what some commentators call the most ``liberal or Democratic’’ part of the state. My dad went back to school on the GI Bill and got a college degree in accounting. That’s something W wanted to cut out, even though HIS father and a lot of influential Americans went to college on the GI Bill.

I’ve been reading Tom Brokaw’s book about the 1960’s where Bill Clinton said you can tell a lot about people by how they felt about the `60’s. My dad liked the `60’s. He liked the military also because it had been a good experience for him, but at parties he liked to hang out with my younger cousins. He said that the younger generation coming up was less hypocritical than his generation. It particularly bothered him that his generation considered it so terrible if a man and woman lived together without being married.

Even when my dad died it was an historic time. He died walking outside in the blizzard of 1978, the worst snow storm to hit the Northeast in 100 years. My mom and I had to go to the hospital to identify his body and got stranded there. It was over a week before we had a funeral.

Of course, my memories of my father are more personal. He told me to never use the `n' word, the `f' word, and go to church every Sunday. Well I never use the `n' word. And he taught me how to drink while we watched Johnny Carson monologues on television. ``Hey son, I'll open another can of Narragansett if you share it with me.'' I won't get a better offer all day.