Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Chicano Anti-Vietnam War Protest That Time Forgot

This dramatic photo shows an LAPD officer aiming into the Silver Dollar Bar where reporter Rubén Salazar was killed.

We tend to put a pretty white on the Anti-War Movement of the ‘60’s and ‘70’s.  Whether we conjure images of student and hippy protestors, older Ban the Bomb demonstrators out for a new round of activism, the ladies of the Another Mother for Peace crowd, or the respectable middle class that began to turn out with the Moratorium, the faces we imagine are uniformly white ones.

Even the demons ratable contributions to the movement by people of color like Martin Luther King’s firmly stated opposition to the War in Vietnam tend to be obscured because we compartmentalize him with Civil Rights and non-violence.  The rising militancy of all kinds of minority and disadvantaged groups in the late ‘60’s is viewed as something apart from the anti-war movement.

But out west the Chicano Moratorium put a Brown face on war protest.  The Chicano Moratorium had its roots in East Los Angeles high schools where students organized walk out protests to the war and military recruiting on campus in 1968.  The students quickly drew the support of the Brown Berets, a militant Chicano—Mexican-American—movement modeled on the Black Panthers.  The Brown Berets were part of an early, loose coalition of such organizations that included Puerto Rican Young Lords in Chicago and New York, the American Indian Movement (AIM), and attempts to organize working class white kids by Rising Up Angry in Chicago and the White Panthers in Detroit.

By 1969 the L.A. students and the Berets had organized the National Chicano Moratorium Committee (NCMC).  Soon groups from throughout the West were joining or lending their support, including Crusade for Justice, led by Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales which was headquartered in Denver and active in Chicago as well.  A national organizing conference was held in early December at the Crusade’s Denver office which issued calls for demonstrations against the war and for a national Chicano youth conference the following May.

The first demonstration under the Chicano Moratorium banner was held in East L.A. on December 20 and attracted over 1,000 marchers.  A second demonstration on February 28, 1970 drew more than three times that number despite a pouring rain storm.  A local PBS documentary about that demonstration was used to spread word about the movement and organize new affiliates.

At the May youth conference Moratorium Co-Chair Rosalio Muno presented the resolution that called for a National Chicano Moratorium March in East L.A. for August 29 with supporting demonstrations in other cities.  On that date there were more than 20 demonstrations, most with at least a thousand participants in cities including Houston, Albuquerque, Chicago, Denver, Fresno, San Francisco, San Diego, Oakland, Oxnard, San Fernando, San Pedro and Douglas, Arizona.

Of course the largest demonstration of all was in Los Angeles where participants from as far away as New York City, Mexico, and Puerto Rico joined local activists.  An estimated 30,000 marchers set off that day on a march from Belvedere Park to Laguna Park where a stage and speakers’ platform had been erected for a rally.  

Shortly after leading elements of the march were settling down in front of the stage, Los Angeles police (LAPD), which had a history of attacks on the Chicano community, began dropping tear gas from helicopters and moving into the park with batons swinging.  They claimed that a robbery of a nearby liquor store had been committed by demonstrators.  March monitors and parade marshals resisted the move into the park but the marchers were soon forced back out onto the parade route, Whittier Boulevard and into the surrounding neighborhood.

Demonstrators began throwing tear gas grenades back at the police and some broke away overturning cars and allegedly setting fire to businesses.  Street fighting continued for more than an hour.  When it was over scores were injured, over 150 were arrested, and four were dead.  The dead were Gustav Montag, Lyn Ward, José Diaz and Rubén Salazar.

Montag, a Sephardic Jewish activist marching in support of the Chicano movement was deliberately targeted by police in an ally confrontation when officers armed with rifles opened fire on him at short range when he allegedly picked up something to throw at them. 

The death of Salazar, probably Los Angeles’ best know Mexican-American journalist drew the greatest public attention.  He was a 42 year old award winning reporter and columnist for the Los Angeles Times and News Director at the Spanish language T.V. station KMEX who had served as a war correspondent in Vietnam.  Since returning stateside he had covered the growing Chicano movement and on rampant police brutality in Los Angeles.

As the street disturbances wound down police fired teargas canisters from their shotguns directly into the Silver Dollar Bar where Sanchez had taken refuge.  He was sitting at the bar, sipping a cold beer.  The teargas round was not the usual anti-personnel canister, but round designed to pierce walls in barricade situations.  Sanchez was hit in the head and died instantly.  Some believe he was intentionally targeted.  Others believe he was just unlucky.

As the prominent Chicana poet Alurista observed after the fact, “The police called it a people's riot; the people called it a police riot.”

A Federal Attorney brought charges against the police officer that fired the fatal round at Sanchez, but they were dropped after President Richard Nixon fired him.

Tensions in L.A.  remained high.  Over the following year there were numerous demonstrations and school walk-outs.  Arrests were common and beatings of Chicano suspects routine.  The offices of the Chicano Moratorium were marked for harassment. In November 9 activists were arrested as they left the Moratorium office.  By December it was closed.

Demonstrations continued in Los Angeles and around the West, but the Chicano Moratorium faded away over the next year or two, most of its leaders join the ranks of La Raza and other groups.

Eventually Laguna Park, site of the rally, was re-named by the city for Rubén Salazar.  The United States Postal Service even included him in a 2005 set of stamps honoring American journalists.   But outside of L.A and the Latino community, Salazar is largely forgotten and the other dead sunk in even greater anonymity.
Lest we believe that the tensions between the police and Latino residents is a thing of the distant past, the events of August 29, 1970 were echoed on May Day 2007 when a huge crowd of immigration reform marchers were attacked by the LAPD with rubber bullets, tear gas and batons.  Despite the orderly nature of the crowd, which was quite festive and included many children, police charged the rally inside McArthur Park because some on the edge had been blocking the street.  Dozens were injured. 

And police once again seemed to specifically target the press who were documenting the abuse.  Sanjukta Paul, a female National Lawyer's Guild observer, was severely beaten.  Reporters Christina Gonzalez of KTTV Fox 11 News,  Pedro Sevcec of  Telemundo’s National Evening, local CBS reporter Mark Coogan and his cameraman Carl Stein, Patricia Nazario of KPCC, KABC-TV reporter Sid Garcia, and Patti Ballaz, a camerawoman for KTTV were all injured by police.  Garcia was struck by a rubber bullet.

Despite this footage of the attack made national news.  The city launched investigations and at least one high ranking officer was relieved of command.

But it’s funny—the more things change the more they stay the same.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Here’s a Toast to the Autocrat of the Breakfast Table

Despite his many accomplishments, Oliver Wendell Homes, Sr. is best remembered today as the father of the great Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., he of the impressive mustachio and beneficiary of a bestselling fictionalized biography and an even more fanciful MGM movie.  The father, who evidently did not engage a good press agent, would probably have been both proud and amused.

The senior Holmes was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts on August 29, 1809. Like his nearly exactly contemporary, Ralph Waldo Emerson he was the son of noted liberal minister and a descendent of poet Anne Bradstreet.  Unlike Emerson, he felt no call to the ministry.   

Instead he studied medicine at Harvard and launched a highly successful practice.  The high regard for his professional abilities was demonstrated when he was appointed to Harvard’s chair of anatomy and physiology. 
Holmes’ intellect, however, was broader than the sciences.  He was a revered wit and wide ranging conversationalist. He pursued literature as a second career.  In 1857 he co-founded The Atlantic Monthly with James Russell Lowell.  His literary output was marked by amazing versatility.  A collection of his humorous essays The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table was published to great success in 1858.  Among his contributions to the American language was Boston Brahmins to describe the largely Unitarian elite like himself who dominated the Hub City both culturally and politically. 

He also wrote novels, which were contemporarily popular but are now largely forgotten and scholarly biography.  Holmes’ biography of Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1885 is a classic of the genre. 

Over his long life he frequently contributed poetry newspapers and journals, which led to his greatest public acclaim.  His work ranged from the whimsical, The Deacon’s Masterpiece or the Wonderful One-Hoss Shay, to transcendental musings, The Chambered Nautilus, to the unabashedly patriotic, Old Ironsides.  The latter poem was credited with saving the famous frigate U.S.S. Constitution from the scrap yard.  It floats today in Boston Harbor, a tribute to the power of Holmes’s words. 

Holmes died on October 7, 1894 in Boston at the age 84.

He is best remembered today for Old Ironsides, but his wit is best displayed in another poem.

The Deacon’s Masterpiece or the Wonderful One-Hoss Shay

Have you heard of the wonderful one-hoss shay,
That was built in such a logical way
It ran a hundred years to a day,
And then of a sudden it — ah, but stay,
I’ll tell you what happened without delay,
Scaring the parson into fits,
Frightening people out of their wits, –
Have you ever heard of that, I say?

Seventeen hundred and fifty-five.
Georgius Secundus was then alive, –
Snuffy old drone from the German hive.
That was the year when Lisbon-town
Saw the earth open and gulp her down,
And Braddock’s army was done so brown,
Left without a scalp to its crown.
It was on that terrible Earthquake-day
That the Deacon finished the one-hoss shay.

Now in building of shaises, I tell you what,
There is always a weakest spot, –
In hub, tire, felloe, in spring or thill,
In pannel or crossbar, or floor, or sill,
In screw, bolt, throughbrace, — lurking still,
Find it somewhere you must and will, –
Above or below, or within or without, –
And that’s the reason, beyond a doubt,
That a chaise breaks down, but doesn’t wear out.

But the Deacon swore (as deacons do,
With an "I dew vum," or an "I tell yeou")
He would build one shay to beat the taown
‘n’ the keounty ‘n’ all the kentry raoun’;
It should be so built that it couldn’ break daown:
"Fer," said the Deacon, "’t's mighty plain
Thut the weakes’ place mus’ stan’ the strain;
‘n’ the way t’ fix it, uz I maintain, is only jest
‘T’ make that place uz strong uz the rest."

So the Deacon inquired of the village folk
Where he could find the strongest oak,
That couldn’t be split nor bent nor broke, –
That was for spokes and floor and sills;
He sent for lancewood to make the thills;
The crossbars were ash, from the the straightest trees
The pannels of whitewood, that cuts like cheese,
But lasts like iron for things like these;

The hubs of logs from the "Settler’s ellum," –
Last of its timber, — they couldn’t sell ‘em,
Never no axe had seen their chips,
And the wedges flew from between their lips,
Their blunt ends frizzled like celery-tips;
Step and prop-iron, bolt and screw,
Spring, tire, axle, and linchpin too,
Steel of the finest, bright and blue;
Throughbrace bison-skin, thick and wide;
Boot, top, dasher, from tough old hide
Found in the pit when the tanner died.
That was the way he "put her through,"
"There!" said the Deacon, "naow she’ll dew!"

Do! I tell you, I rather guess
She was a wonder, and nothing less!
Colts grew horses, beards turned gray,
Deacon and deaconess dropped away,
Children and grandchildren — where were they?
But there stood the stout old one-hoss shay
As fresh as on Lisbon-earthquake-day!

EIGHTEEN HUNDRED; — it came and found
The Deacon’s masterpiece strong and sound.
Eighteen hindred increased by ten; –
"Hahnsum kerridge" they called it then.
Eighteen hundred and twenty came; –
Running as usual; much the same.
Thirty and forty at last arive,
And then come fifty and FIFTY-FIVE.

Little of of all we value here
Wakes on the morn of its hundredth year
Without both feeling and looking queer.
In fact, there’s nothing that keeps its youth,
So far as I know, but a tree and truth.
(This is a moral that runs at large;
Take it. — You’re welcome. — No extra charge.)

FIRST OF NOVEMBER, — the Earthquake-day, –
There are traces of age in the one-hoss shay,
A general flavor of mild decay,
But nothing local, as one may say.
There couldn’t be, — for the Deacon’s art
Had made it so like in every part
That there wasn’t a chance for one to start.

For the wheels were just as strong as the thills
And the floor was just as strong as the sills,
And the panels just as strong as the floor,
And the whippletree neither less or more,
And the back-crossbar as strong as the fore,
And the spring and axle and hub encore.
And yet, as a whole, it is past a doubt
In another hour it will be worn out!

First of November, fifty-five!
This morning the parson takes a drive.
Now, small boys get out of the way!
Here comes the wonderful one-hoss shay,
Drawn by a rat-tailed, ewe-necked bay.

"Huddup!" said the parson. — Off went they.
The parson was working his Sunday’s text, –
Had got to fifthly, and stopped perplexed
At what the — Moses — was coming next.
All at once the horse stood still,
Close by the meet’n'-house on the hill.
First a shiver, and then a thrill,
Then something decidedly like a spill, –
And the parson was sitting upon a rock,
At half past nine by the meet’n'-house clock, –
Just the hour of the earthquake shock!

What do you think the parson found,
When he got up and stared around?
The poor old chaise in a heap or mound,
As if it had been to the mill and ground!
You see, of course, if you’re not a dunce,
How it went to pieces all at once, –
All at once, and nothing first, –
Just as bubbles do when they burst.

End of the wonderful one-hoss shay.
Logic is logic. That’s all I say.

Note:  Adapted from the Biographical Notes accompanying Patrick Murfin’s reader’s theater piece Four Hundred Years of Unitarian and Universalist Biography—From John Milton to Sylvia Plath.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

As Good as His Speech Was, The March on Washington Was Bigger Than Martin Luther King

Hurricane Irene rained on the parade.  Rained it out, if fact.  The dedication of the new Martin Luther King Memorial on the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C. today on the anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom had to be postponed.  As many as 250,000 people were expected to attend the event, which happens to be about the same number who participated in the original event.

Like a lot of people, I was glued to the television for the beginning-to-end coverage provided by CBS News.  I was a 14 year old in Cheyenne, Wyoming at the time.  I was both thrilled and awestruck.  Listening to Dr. King’s I Have a Dream Speech literally changed my life.

Media coverage of the widely anticipated dedication naturally harkened to that day and March.  But to hear them tell it, it was a virtual one man show.  The truth is broader and perhaps even more inspiring.

The march originally was the brainchild of an elder of both the Labor and Civil Rights movements.  A. Philip Randolph, President of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and of the Negro American Labor Council as well as a Vice President of the AFL-CIO modeled his call for a march on Washington on a similar event he had planned back in 1941 to force President Franklin D. Roosevelt to open up employment in the burgeoning defense industry to Blacks.  Just the threat of thousands of Negros descending on the Capital had been enough to cause the President to establish the Committee on Fair Employment Practice and bar discriminatory hiring in the defense industry.  Randolph wanted to bring similar pressure on President John F. Kennedy and Congress to move on stalled civil rights legislation, but also to bring up new issues of jobs and economic opportunity that had been overshadowed by the tumultuous battle for civil rights in the South. 

Randolph brought together the leaders of all of the largest national civil rights organizations including James Farmer, President of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE); John Lewis, President of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC); Roy Wilkins, President  National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); Whitney Young, President of the National Urban League; and Dr. King, President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to form a coalition to sponsor the march.  It was no small feat because of turf wars, ideological differences, and egos.

In addition Randolph sought support from the Labor movement, most significantly from Walter Reuther, President of the United Auto Workers (UAW).  The White dominated craft unions of the AFL, however, were notable for their absence.  

Bayard Rustin of the pacifist Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) and the organizer of the 1947 Journey of Reconciliation, an early forerunner of the Freedom Rides that was meant to test a Supreme Court ruling that banned racial discrimination in interstate travel, was tapped to coordinate volunteers and logistics, recruit marchers from across the country and attend to all of the other details of the march while Randolph pulled together political, labor and religious support for the march. 

Other than being a star speaker that day and helping to turn out SCLC members, King was not heavily involved in the planning or management of the event.  

As word spread, it became apparent that the march was going to turn into the largest event of its kind in history.  The media began to pay attention.  On the day of the march, buses poured into the city from sleepy Mississippi towns and from gritty industrial hubs like Detroit and Chicago.  Trains from Boston, New York, and Philadelphia were jammed.  Thousands of local Washington residents swelled the throng.  Organizers put the crowd at more than 300,000.  The National Park Service, in charge because the speakers’ platform was erected at the Lincoln Memorial, said 200,000.  Whatever was the case, crowds filled the Mall far passed the Washington Monument.  About 80% of the marchers were Black, the rest mainly white.  Marchers included many celebrities including actors like Sidney Poitier, Harry Bellefonte, and Charlton Heston—yes that Charlton Heston.  

It was a Wednesday afternoon but the three major broadcast networks broke away from their usual programming of afternoon soap operas to cover the swelling crowd and speeches live.  

Marian Anderson, who had sung on the same steps at the invitation of Eleanor Roosevelt after she was denied use of the Daughters of the American Revolution Constitution Hall in 1939, opened the program with the National Anthem.  Several other performers took to the stage over the course of the program, perhaps most notably Peter, Paul and Mary, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, and Mahalia Jackson. 

The Catholic Archbishop of Washington, Patrick O’Boyle led the invocation.  Other religious leaders on the program included Dr. Eugene Blake on behalf of the Protestant National Council of Churches and two leading Rabbis. 

After Randolph’s opening remarks each of the major civil rights leaders took the stage in turn. Floyd McKissick had to read the remarks of CORE’s James Farmer, who was in a Louisiana jail. The youngest leader, John Lewis of the militant SNCC, excoriated the Kennedy Administration for not acting to protect Civil Rights workers who were under regular and violent attack across the South.  Randolph and others who were trying to flatter and coax the President into action forced Lewis to strike the most inflammatory portions of his speech, but what was left was still plenty critical.  

Slain NAACP organizer Medgar Evers’s wife Myrlie was on the announced program to lead a Tribute to Negro Women, but did not appear.  In the end the only woman to speak was jazz singer Josephine Baker who wore her World War II Free French uniform emblazoned with her medal of the Légion d'honneur. 
It all led up the last major address—the highly anticipated speech of Dr. King.  If civil rights veterans knew what to expect from the notoriously eloquent leader, millions of Americans viewing at home were in for an eye opening experience.  The speech, built to the thundering crescendo:

Let freedom ring. And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring—when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children—black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics—will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!
The nation, or most of it was awestruck and impressed.  That speech, along with the continued televised violence against Blacks struggling for equal access to public accommodation and the vote, helped set the stage for the major civil rights legislation enacted in the next three years.  

The run-up to this year’s original dedication date coincided with a two week campaign of civil disobedience at the White House where hundreds of volunteers have so far chained themselves to the cast iron fence surrounding the grounds.  The planned two weeks of demonstrations is the largest and most sustained action of civil disobedience ever at the Executive Mansion.  The protestors are demanding that President Obama refuse to authorize construction of a new pipeline that is supposed to carry heavy slurry of petroleum extracted from Tar Sands deposits in the arboreal forests of Alberta, Canada.  The American portion of the pipe line would enter the U.S.  in North Dakota run all the way to Port Arthur, Texas.

To say that the issue was obscure to most Americans before the civil disobedience began is no exaggeration.
Many of the participants have cited Dr. King and his campaign of  non-violent confrontation of Southern segregation  as inspiration for their action.  Cornel West, perhaps the nation’s most high profile Black  public intellectual,  used the New York Times Op-Ed  page  to say that Dr. King didn’t need a stone monument, but can best be honored by a new mass movement against the oligarchy that oppressing and impoverishing so many.  He even dared to use the word “revolutionary.”

Dr. King has been “white washed” into an apostle of non-violence and little else.  That’s because his commitment to economic equality and justice is too dangerous to remember  and the mass movement he was part of too threatening to be allowed to replicate. 

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Dog Day Mornin’

Warning!  Civilians clear the area.  Poetry impending.

Dog Day Mornin’

Nuthin’ sadder than a dog behind a rolled up window
            yearnin’ for head-out-the window
            flap eared, jowl shakin’,
            spit splatterin’, shiny bug-eyed glee.

In a basement dungeon on a Glory-be mornin’
            Feelin’ like that forlorn pup.

Patrick  Murfin