H2O ManH2O Man's Journal
"When the night has come
and the land is dark
and the moon is the only light you'll see
No I won't be afraid, no I won't be afraid
Just as long as you stand, stand by me."
After attending three board meetings in three different towns in a twenty-four hour period, I needed some time to relax. As I often do, I headed for my pond yesterday afternoon. As I approached its edge, my eyes picked up on a tiny movement .... then another. Seeing two itty-bitty toads, less than a quarter of an inch, making their way out of the pond, and into the big world, brought a big smile to my tired and wrinkled old face.
Ever since I was a wee-little boy, who found some bit of peace and relaxation at the pond on my parenets' property, I have been fascinated by these tiny creatures. In fact, I developed a love for toads of all ages and sizes. In my childhood, living out in "the sticks," toads were rather common to encounter. In recent years, however, due to environmental damage caused by industry, toads are not so common. So I was very happy to have the opportunity to watch these two little fellows making their way to destinations unknown, by way of tiny hops, a brief rest, followed by more hops.
I built a small fire in the stone-lined pit that my sons made for me years ago. As it was quite hot outside, being near the fire wasn't really comfortable. I used some locus bark to rid the area of the many flying insects that would otherwise identify me as a source of nutrition. And, in time, that small fire became a medium-sized one, with plenty of coals for cooking. I wrapped some Idaho potatoes and ears of "salt & pepper" corn in tin foil, and place them in the pit. My teenaged daughters are convinced that with just these two items, their father can create the single greatest meal to be found on the planet. I tend to agree. Decades of experience in cooking in a fire comes in handy, I suppose.
A moment after I sat back to watch the pond as the food cooked, our puppy "Rocky" came running through the tall grass. He prefers running in the grass to following the mowed paths. Rocky's imagination is evident out at the pond: he races around the edge of the water, howls at dragonflies and frogs, and engages in fierce battles with cat-tails. He gets me laughing out loud.
And then, my wife, daughters, oldest son, and a family friend/ school teacher who has attended two of the board meetings come out to the pond. Along with the items needed to eat our meal, they are carrying five guitars, two flutes, and two bongos and two congo drums. The four females inform me that they have formed a "group," and as my son and I tend to the fire, they perform a few songs, including "Stand By Me."
Then we eat. Life is good.
"If the sky that we look upon
should tumble and fall
And the mountains should crumble
to the sea
I won't cry, I won't cry
No I won't shed a tear
Just as long as you stand, stand by me."
Earlier in the week, NYS Governor Andrew Cuomo okayed a "leak" to reporters, indicating that he has decided to allow hydrofracking in the part of the state known as the Southern Tier. I had immediately, after reading this in the NY Times, called Robert's office. He is on a much-needed vacation with his children, and there is no way to contact him until they return. Fair enough, given recent circumstances.
One of the pro-environment, anti-hydrofracking groups that I have worked with in the past couple years has no meaningful response planned. Most of that group's leaders are excited about a new, matching button and yard sign they have made. As the group is primarily composed of what might best be described as "yuppies" -- and I intend no negatives or positives with that word -- and are inexperienced in terms of social-political action.
One of the very few members with previous experience (from the 1960s) suggests that "now is the time" to engage in the tactics of Alinsky. I suggest that Alinsky's tactics are primarily to build a foundation, something we have already accomplished. Now, in my opinion, is the time to build upon that foundation ..... by using the tactics of Gandhi and/or King, to bring about "creative tension." At a special meeting on Wednesday, near Binghamton, he and I will both be trying to convince others to support our different points of view.
At the special town board meeting I attended yesterday, an attorney made a presentation on the legal options that community now has. This attorney and his partner (his wife) are retired from a career in corporate law in Boston; they have created a new legal foundation to fight to protect the environment. They wrote the law enacted by two upstate communities, Middlefield and Drydon, which the gas industry challenged in NYS Supreme Court. (The industry has opted not to appeal the decisions in the cases, which favored the towns' right to protect the environment.)
I spoke briefly at this meeting, about the planned, coordinated injunctions our side will be filing immediately, should Cuomo give the gas industry the "green light" to use the Southern Tier" as a "sacrifice area" for hydrofracking. I recommended -- politely -- that this board not act (or fail to act) in a manner that creates an expensive legal battle for the tax-payers residing there.
In terms of the infamous town of Sidney -- with their notorious Town Supervisor Bob McCarthy, who made national news two years ago, by trying to forcefully remove the burials of Islamic people from a cemetery -- things look grim. Last year, a bi-partisan committee ran two good candidates for town board seats. Both won, removing two toxic "tea party" republicans. However, months after the election, the man died unexpectedly. Two weeks later, the woman's husband died unexpectedly; McCarthy has used the opportunity to bully the widow without mercy or decency, and this week, she resigned.
The town's Democratic Party contacted me. In 48 hours, we have identified two solid candidates for in the fall elections. Both agreed to run, on the condition that my sons and I run their campaigns. We will, of course, be happy to do just that. Still, between now and November, McCarthy will be able to appoint two jackals to fill those seats, and to have five pre-election months to advocate for the gas industry. Clearly, we will target Sidney for legal action.
In the mean time, I am considering engaging in another hunger strike, this time to focus on Andrew Cuomo. My wife is strongly opposed to the proposition, due to her concerns about my health. (I spent over an hour in an MRI tube earlier this week -- I became convinced that they'd have to do a C-section to get me out.)
The last one, in January, did take a toll. But I believe that I'm better prepared to do one now, at least in terms of publicity, etc. My health ain't the best, and I'd surely prefer to sit and watch my pond, rather than sit outside the state capital in Albany. But making matching buttons and lawn signs just doesn't cut it. Nor does debating possible tactics in endless meetings.
Obviously, I'm leaning towards started my Capital Hunger Strike. Next weekend, my older daughter graduates, and after that, I should have some free time on my hands. One of the factors in making my decision will be potential support. I don't think that many of the local pro-environment, anti-hydrofracking folks will be willing to join me -- one elderly woman, a retired school teacher who has since earned her PhD -- has expressed interest. But that isn't the primary form of support I'm looking for. Rather, I'd like to think that there are folks ..... both locally and even across the country -- who would support me, by way of doing things like lobbying Cuomo's office, and contacting various media sources.
And that's why I'm writing this: to ask if you would be willing to support me on this? Thank you for your consideration.
"Rainy day, dream away
Ah, let the sun take a holiday
Flowers bathe and I see the children play
Lay back and groove on a rainy day ....
Rainy day, rain all day
Ain't no use in gettin' uptight
Just let it groove its own way
Let it drain your worries away
Lay back and groove on a rainy day ....."
-- Jimi Hendrix; Rainy Day, Dream Away
Actually, for part of the morning, I wasn't watching "children play" ..... though I did go on a walk with a couple of my dogs. And they found the rain and mud delightful to play in. As we are expecting a storm, I clipped enough roses and other flowers to fill three vases. But that's beside the point .....
One of my favorite hobbies on rainy days is to read. And I have four new books that I'm currently reading. The first is Douglas Brinkley's new book, "Cronkite." Any mainstream journalist who enjoyed a friendship with Abbie Hoffman -- and appreciated that Abbie was serious about what he did -- is okay by me. It's obvious that there isn't currently a mainstream journalist of Walter Cronkite's stature, and that's a shame. While it is well and good that there are more television news resources than ABC, CBS, and NBC, there should be more respectable journalists, from a variety of backgrounds and viewpoints, than there currently are. And while Douglas Brinkley isn't among my favorite authors, the book is well worth reading.
The second one I bought was Arthur Mercante's 2006 "Inside the Ropes." Mercante was an outstanding boxing referee, who was the "third man" in the ring for more championship fights than anyone else. He was the ref in "The Fight of the Century," between two undefeated heavyweight champions, Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali. Years ago, when my boys were 7 and 4, we had the chance to meet Arthur at the International Boxing Hall of Fame. I have a copy of a regional news station's film of Mercante playing with the boys.
The third book is one my wife bought for me this past weekend. It's Edward Klein's 2009 "Ted Kennedy: The Dream That Never Died." Klein, a foreign news editor for Newsweek (he also worked/wrote for The New York Times Magazine, Vanity Fair, and Parade), has authored a series of cheesy "Kennedy books." Although I wouldn't waste a penny on one myself, I am glad that it was at least on "the stacks," and reduced in price by 88%.
The last is my favorite of the four: it's Robert Caro's "Lyndon Johnson: The Passage of Power." This is the fourth in his series on LBJ; originally, he planned to complete the task in four books, but this 700+ page volume is focused primarily on Johnson's vice presidency and early presidency. Thus, he will produce a fifth book.
After reading the 2002 "Master of the Senate -- the third book -- I've had the opportunity to communicate with Caro. Like him, I find LBJ fascinating and repulsive, frequently at the same time. He is, in my opinion, the second strangest man to hold that office, closely following Richard Nixon. The "presidential" section of my library has the most books by/about John Kennedy, then LBJ, and then Nixon. My father thought Johnson would have been second in greatness to only FDR, but for the Vietnam War. But, of course, Vietnam was real, and thousands of people died or where injured, due to LBJ's policies.
The book is valuable because it documents, better than any previous book on the topic, how as Vice President, Johnson attempted a grab for an unconstitutional amount of power. The one area where I strongly disagree with the author, is his claim that no other VP had had such powers. The facts is that Nixon, under Ike, actually was running the US policy on Cuba and Central America. Johnson was seeking to continue in similar tradition. Luckily, however, JFK limited LBJ's attempts to influence either foreign or domestic policy. This was good, at very least in the case of Johnson's advocacy of a vicious military strike on Cuba during the missile crisis.
Times change. The Office of the Vice President is no longer what it was in 1960. When the VP is a person of the quality of an Al Gore or Joe Biden, there can be advantages in having a capable person from that office. But, when it is a Dick Cheney, the reasons the Founding Fathers purposely limited the power of the office are clear.
I definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in that era's curious history.
"No soldier ever won a war by dying for his country." -- attributed to General George Patton
While I'm not entirely pleased by yesterday's events in Wisconsin, I'm also not entirely disappointed. I refuse to accept the mainstream definitions, presented by the media, of what constitutes "victory" or "defeat." A number of times, over my years on this forum, I've quoted from Sean Wilentz's 2005 classic, "The Rise of American Democracy: From Jefferson to Lincoln," which I will paraphrase from again -- because it is important. At least, I think it is very important."
On the first page of the book's preface, the author provides accurate definitions of two dynamics, which have been closely associated with socio-political struggle since the days of our Founding Fathers. The word "republic" comes from "res publica," meaning "public thing"; it means government by the elite. And "democracy," coming from "demos krateo," or "rule of the people," means just that: socio-political power to the people.
In this context, I view events in Wisconsin as largely positive. It would have been huge to beat this fellow Walker, and the lose is significant. Still, the effort by the grass roots -- including unions and school teachers -- laid a large rock for a foundation-stone for us to build upon. These people caught the public's eye and imagination ..... and I dare say, the eye of the 1& that rules the political and economic system of the nation. ( Those that rule in politics and economics have a disproportionate influence on all sociological dynamics as well.)
As a registered democrat who has long worked for the party at the grass roots' level, and who also inhabits the Democratic Left (which is not limited to the left-wing of the Democratic Party), I'm actually encouraged by Wisconsin. One of the major influences on my socio-political thinking was Minister Malcolm X. And, before connecting Malcolm and Wisconsin, let me again note that besides reading almost every book written by or specifically about Malcolm, and many others that include him, I've also had the extreme pleasure of a 40-year friendship with a man who was good friends with both Malcolm and Martin Luther King, Jr. And that friendship allows me to place certain things in a unique context.
In his years in the Nation of Islam, Malcolm generally avoided "politics." That was NOI policy, and for most of his career in the group, he believed it to be correct. Malcolm notably spoke of state and national politicians as "foxes and wolves" (democrats and republicans) that played a game to control and exploit the public. He spoke of them as being "in cahoots" with the other party, and always working to enrich -- often violently -- the common person.
By the time he would become separated with the NOI, he often blurred the lines on things political. And after the NOI divorced him, Malcolm became very political, indeed, although always as a black, Islamic victim of the American socio-political ruling class. Thus, for example, he had a close association with Rep. Adam Clayton Powell. He was also friends with Percy Sutton and Charlie Rangel. And he was an important supporter of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party -- and any DUer not familiar with the MFDP should take the time to learn about it. The MFDP didn't "win" in 1964, by the news media's definition. But, like the grass roots in Wisconsin, they laid a powerful foundation stone.
Malcolm, of course, did not limit either his friendships with, or support for, those in politics that were registered in the Democratic Party. He had ties to many others in the Democratic Left in this country, and "leftists" abroad. This, of course, was why Malcolm was viewed as much more dangerous to the powers-that-be after he left the NOI. But that's another topic, to discuss at another time.
Now, because I have never believed in sitting back to admire what was accomplished in the past for too long, I think that there is no good reason to waste any opportunity that the Wisconsin events create for us today and tomorrow. Because any time we allow an opportunity to pass by, we do lose .... we lose that opportunity, and every potential it holds. And while we may encounter some future opportunity that looks, feels, sounds, smells, and/or tastes the same, it really ain't the same opportunity, at all. This brings us to -- to borrow a book title from Rev. King -- "where do we go from here?"
Grass roots organizing is essential. This includes building and strengthening linkages with other groups in our community, our local area, and state- and nation-wide. That's a given: we have the opportunity to grow the movement towards democracy.
In the context of those groups that I am currently working in/with -- which include a few pro-environment/ anti-hydrofracking organizations, the county Democratic Party, a regional bi-partison socio-political group, and a congressional campaign -- I continue to put emphasis on "doing." Too frequently, in my opinion, people who I am associated with are taking extended breaks: some are advocating the "not now" approach, choosing to have little parties to celebrate past efforts; some don't want to "make waves"; etc, etc. Now, I don't want people to "burn out" -- although I fail to see how or why people do, at this point in time. I suspect that subscribing to the mainstream definitions or "winning and losing" plays a big part, and that my not accepting those very definitions from being imposed on my thinking helps me to prevent ever "burning out." I believe that "burning out" causes us to lose valuable opportunities, just as fear and self-doubt do.
I will add that I do believe in making social/political activism "fun." Hence, I'm getting ready to -- what else? -- walk out to my pond with dogs, and with a spiral notebook and pen. On Friday, my oldest son and I are getting out a number of letters-to-the-editors of local and regional newspapers. Hardly a huge task or contribution to the democratic movement, but a sincere effort to make people think ..... for LTTE can actual make people think. And we must change the way people think, before we can expect them to change the way they act. Both Martin and Malcolm understood this to be true.
A final note: I have learned not to wear a brightly-colored bandana out at the pond. My son had loaned me one, and a humming bird thought my decorated skull was a promising flower.
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