Thursday, September 30, 2010

What if They Gave an International March and Nobody Came?

Today is the 26th anniversary of the International March on the United Nations for Lesbian and Gay Freedom! Wait, the what?

On September 30, 1984, a couple hundred people gathered in Dag Hammarskjold Plaza near the United Nations headquarters in New York City after a march uptown from the village. It was the underwhelming culmination of almost a year of organizing. I was one of the core group of four people who tried to pull off this event, and among the lessons I learned from it was that that movie, "Field of Dreams," you know the one, "If You Build It They Will Come"? That movie was full of shit. At the time we were sort of mortified by our failure to achieve a mega-event on the order of the first Lesbian and Gay March on Washington five years before. Living in a sort of haze of magical wishful thinking we couldn't reconcile our determined vision for doing something important with the poorly constructed house of cards that wound up being the fruit of our labors. In the aftermath of the event our personal friendships were tested and we all underwent a period of personal reevaluation which was to change drastically at least my own life trajectory. Now so many years later though, I find myself less embarrassed and ready to restore this forgotten event to the annals of gay liberation history. Perhaps this is because many of the details of that year of organizing have faded, but perhaps it's because with the benefit of historical hindsight, I can be at least a little proud of how we tried to beat the odds of the Reagan years.

1984 was a terrible year. AIDS was a relatively new phenomenon, and had not yet generated the wave of activism that was to revolutionize the way America--and the world--viewed and treated gay people. Papers like The New York Times still refused to use the word "gay," wielding the dismissive "homosexual" with an air of psychoanalytical superiority. The cold war was at its iciest with Reagan joking about how the bombing -- the nuclear obliteration of the Soviet Union -- would begin in five minutes. Furiously grabbing its metaphorical crotch over its succesful if miniature military adventure in Grenada, the revanchism of Reaganism was happily painting over the last remnants of 1960s/1970s liberationist consciousness.

In 1983 my friend David France went to Europe to attend a conference of the Amsterdam and Stockholm-based International Gay Association. As I wrote in the booklet shown below, "In 1983 the International Gay Association of Lesbians/Gay Women and Gay men proclaimed 1984 to be the International Year of Lesbian and Gay Action. 1984 was to be a year for us as lesbians and gays to get together -- to learn, exchange ideas, to communicate, to unite, to fight, to play and to love: to increase our visibility and determination toward our goal of liberation." The IGA proposed that a march be held on the symbol of world solidarity, the United Nations.

David and I knew each other from the Lavender Left, an independent group of lesbian and gay socialists. I was a member of the Revolutionary Socialist League eager for united-front organizing opportunities, and David was well connected to New York's newer generation of lesbian and gay cultural activists. We had worked together in the Christopher Street Liberation Day Committee, trying to push its agenda leftward. (I think it was in 1983 that CSLDC adopted my proposal for that year's pride activities slogan: "Diversity Is Our Strength, Liberation Is Our Fight," which they then proceeded to do their best to keep off official Pride materials.) So after David got excited about the IGA's proposals in the fall of 1983 we established the Lesbian and Gay Organizing Committee for 1984. Doing our best to combat what we saw as a rightward drift of the mainstream gay community, we hoped to show that the progressive wing of the community could build up as well as criticize. Doing the best to get the word out, we organized a planning conference in March of 1984.

The planning conference felt like a great success. We got many of the leading voices in the left-wing of New York's gay community together to brainstorm about the march, and to lay a political basis for our organizing. It felt like we were building a significant basis of unity around ideas far to the left of where previous gay events had gone. It wasn't as large or dramatic a conference as the meetings that lead up to the 1979 march on Washington (MOW), but it wasn't as divisive either. We strove for gender and racial balance: we were excited that these felt like points of unity rather than points of division. We felt like we had made a solid foundation for a march in the fall. And we were gonna ask for the world! Here's the statement we adopted:

Stand Together -- We Are Everywhere

Lesbians and gay males live in every country, within every culture, and under all economic and political systems. We fight for our freedom knowing that none of us can live openly as lesbians and gay males under any system which supports racism, anti-Semitism, sexism, ageism, economic and religious oppression or other forms of domination. As a diverse community of women and men of every race, age, class, and physical ability, having every life philosophy and religious belief, we demand:
* The freedom to live openly as lesbians and gay males from our youth to our old age
* An end to violence by governments and institutions against lesbians and gay males, including torture or incarceration in prisons or mental institutions.
* An end to anti-gay violence on the streets and in our homes.
* An end to all sexual violence...
* The declassification of homosexuality as a disease by WHO
* Equal rights and equal housing and employment...
* Our right to have and keep our children
* Quality health care...
* An end to discrimination in any form against people with AIDS, and increased funding for research and treatment...
* An end to anti-gay immigration laws...
* The right to speak openly about our lives and the right to meet and organize freely with other lesbians and gay males
(slightly edited. --ish)

We made an organizing plan. We began to cast a wide net, sending out a mailing to every national and international lesbian and gay organization and publication we could find. We sought the help and endorsement of numerous left organizations. While eventually the endorsements rolled in -- hundreds of gay groups from the United States and a dozen foreign countries signed up, as did left groups like my own Revolutionary Socialist League, the Freedom Socialist Party, the International Socialists, the International Socialist Organization, the Socialist Party USA, the War Resisters League and others. But shortly after the enthusiasm of the planning conference had died down, we realized that after an initial flurry of interest, all those leading lights of New York's lesbian and gay community were nowhere to be found. People who had dominated the discussion and exercised leadership in crafting what we stood for (Jim Fouratt I'm talking to you) were soon nowhere to be found.

We managed to rent an office space to organize out of: an unrenovated loft between tenants. We sought donations, and got printing help from progressive printers, and free guerrilla typesetting from my job. We bought an answering machine (not as common as you might think back in 1984), although it was a terrible piece of crap that had a precorded message. What we didn't really get was people to help organize or real commitments to participate.

The office turned out to be a sort of travesty. One afternoon after licking some envelopes and making some plans there I found myself napping--on our ragged hand-me-down sofa or single desk and chair I don't recall. I woke up to find our precious new answering machine and small cashbox stolen out from under me. It was far from the vibrant nerve center of an active coalition, it was a temple of wishful thinking and frankly, denial.

As the endorsements rolled in we arranged for speakers at our UN rally. They were an interesting bunch. Sylvia Borren from the IGA. The wonderful Marco Antonio Osorio R., RIP, a dear man from Mexico who became a good friend. Daniel Tsang and Cherrie Moraga. New Alliance Party (in retrospect a creepy cult) political candidate Dennis Serrette. And Sonia Johnson, the radical feminist who burst out of Mormonism to fight for women's equality and run for President that year. We even met with the New York City police department to get our permits and discuss our plans. They asked us how many buses we thought would be arriving. We assured them the answer was many. Looking back I'm sure we revealed our inattention to detail. I remember at the actual march every time a tourist bus drove by I would beckon hopefully to a cop. Of course there were no actual buses to our event. We managed to borrow a flatbed truck with a sound system on it, I think from the NAP if I recall. We made some signs and some banners. David and I, our friend Dean Weeks, and another friend I have somehow blotted out of my mind, sometimes with an occasional other volunteer or two did what we could. I remember us all getting very tense with each other, but we failed to look each other in the eyes and question whether we were actually checking in with reality as we organized.

Shortly before the event another comrade from the Revolutionary Socialist League was delegated to drop in on our organizing activities. Of course our house of cards was plain as day to him. He tried to get the League to back out to avoid the embarrassment he saw coming. I was so integral to the event -- and honestly as deeply responsible for failing to really understand what organizing something like this would take -- I had to fight to stay involved. I told them the RSL just couldn't back out. It was too late.

Honestly I am not sure I have ever seen a photo of this event. Some must exist somewhere. I googled the march, and came up only with our resource booklet preserved carefully in boxes of memorabilia willed to gay archives by dying activists. But the event actually happened. Perhaps that it did was enough for those few people who attended. I wonder if the two guys who actually flew in from Argentina for the event -- Alejandro Kantemiroff I'm so sorry!! -- felt fulfilled or disappointed. It was a truly international event. It was a march and rally. At the UN. But it was very very small. And it slipped out of collective memory and record.

We were very young, in our mid-twenties, optimists with no doubts that we could will our march for freedom into being. I'm not sure how exactly we missed the fact that the MOW we hoped to emulate was built by hundreds and thousands of people across the country working furiously to manifest the brave idea of a national lesbian and gay march. We weren't able to motivate a huge number of people to get excited and attend. But we also didn't spend a lot of money. We didn't get paid, we weren't left with massive debts. If we felt when it was over like we were walking away from a trainwreck, in the end the statement we wanted to make got made. We had sent letters to all the world's UN delegations bearing our demands which ended: "The United Nations Organization was formed toward the purpose of ending war and injustice by uniting the nations of the world in cooperation and communication. Now is the time for your country to renew its commitment to justice and human rights by taking action in support of lesbian and gay civil and human rights. We respectfully urge you to do what you can toward this urgent and necessary end."

In 1984 who dared to tell the nations of the world to do those things? Who was brave enough back at the height of the cold war, the era of global repression and dictators, to stand like little Davids against mighty Goliaths and speak for the rights of those who, in many countries, had never had anyone speak for them before? We did. You, 21st-century gay citizens of the world, you're welcome!

Top graphic is the button design produced by the LGOC for the march; it was designed by Joseph Cavalieri. The second graphic is the cover of the resource book distributed at the march to attendees. It listed all the worldwide endorsing organizations, our documents of unity, our message to the UN, and statements of solidarity.

2019 UPDATE: Some amazing footage of this event has surfaced: filmmaker/archivist Jim Hubbard was there and shot some footage now available at his website. I'm shown briefly as well as my friend David France, the RSL contingent and a number of queer activists from the time. The footage shows a small but not actually embarrassing march. Thank you Jim!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Palestine Solidarity Poster Slideshow

Above is an extraordinary slideshow of Palestine solidarity posters from several decades and many many sources. There are posters from Palestinian political factions and worldwide solidarity groups. There's some brilliant graphic design and some beautiful art; I wish I had "still" copies of many of these. Thanks to The Angry Arab for the link.

Update: check out this awesome archive site: The Palestine Poster Project Archives.

In Defense of a Little Ignorance

Yesterday the headlines and my friends' Facebook links were filled with reports of a Pew poll that suggested while Americans might be very religious, their knowledge of religions, even the ones they follow, isn't very deep. Since atheists scored highest on the poll, the New York Times asked the president of American Atheists why this is. He's quoted as smugly responding, “Atheism is an effect of that knowledge, not a lack of knowledge. I gave a Bible to my daughter. That’s how you make atheists.”

I came to religion late in life; well by late I mean while an adult not a child. I had been raised without religion. I knew that my mother had a certain attachment to Catholicism and its ideals, and especially to Jesus, but that she loathed the church establishment itself, and she chose to raise me without any formal religious indoctrination besides letting me play with the creche figurines on Christmas. When I eventually felt a spiritual pull, being an intellectual person I certainly did a lot of reading about religion and made a thorough investigation of the paths I found myself walking down.

I read a lot of books on Neo-Paganism and later, Santeria. I learned all sorts of arcane details, historical tidbits, and history buff that I am, I ate that all up with relish. But what I credit my actual spiritual awakening to was not what I read in books. It was not the intellectual knowledge I was absorbing but the act of having my eyes, my heart, my mind, my soul, if you will, opened up to religious experience. All the books were enlightening and entertaining and all, but they ultimately meant little without the transformational way I came to experience the presence of God, of a deity immanent in nature around us, of spirits, of natural spiritual energies, of powers and happenings outside the mundanity of life and the linear trail of the intellect. I gained knowledge of my faith not by reading about it but by practicing it.

I'm glad I undertook an intellectual investigation and glad I studied the details I did. But that stuff was not necessary to experience the blessings of religion that came to unfold in my life. The most transformational experiences I had--a few while a Neo-Pagan and then ultimately the week-long initiation ceremony into Santeria and the year in white as an Iyawo that followed--were emotional and spiritual experiences that words, that intellect, can't adequately describe. I mean, I could tell you what happened, but that wouldn't be the same thing as allowing you to experience it. I didn't choose a religion because of what I read about it, I choose a religion because of how its practices made me feel. One could have these experiences without reading about them or their origins first.

When I write about my religion I do so to attempt to share an experience, or to offer some information that makes the experience of, say, listening to Afro-Latin jazz more rewarding. But I'm not exactly trying to convince you, dear reader, that I'm right. My faith comes from a personal revelation that changed my worldview and colors every experience in my life. If you haven't had the same experience as me I can neither judge, criticize nor condemn you. And while knowledge of the kings of medieval Yorubaland (today's Nigeria) is an interesting cultural and historical footnote to Santeria it's knowledge that is ultimately irrelevant to practicing the religion and being lucky enough to receive the blessings of the Orishas.

So for once I'm going to defend that majority of religious Americans who don't know all these historical details of Joseph Smith, Martin Luther or Maimonides. These facts could sure enrich the lives of American Christians and Jews as all history enriches our lives and makes us smarter, but they're not details necessary to love God, or to live a good life. And contrary to what the quoted atheist says, a person who feels the spirit can love the blessings of the Bible's Psalms without embracing the admonitions of Leviticus...even I the non-Christian recognize this.

Which is likely to make non-Muslim Americans more tolerant of Muslims, American or not: a history lesson about Muhammad and seventh-century Arabia? Or some emotional understanding of the spiritual humility Muslim believers feel before God? What if people of different religions focused not on the historical record that has divided us into different armed camps but on the common shared drive to find spiritual reverence and meaning in everyday life?

As I see it religions are man-made creations: attempts by different cultures to come up with the best way to experience and love God and the mysteries of life. Between crusades, inquisitions, suicide bombings, ethnic cleansings, 100-year-wars, armadas, slaveocracies and serfdoms people have done some terrible things in the name of those religions: in my opinion misunderstanding those religions. Obviously learning about all those terrible things is an important part of building a better world: I heartily endorse learning.

But there's nothing wrong with knowing only that God is real; that the world around us is alive with spirit; and that each of us has a choice to live our lives righteously, respecting and loving each other as we love ourselves. And so if the Pew poll suggests atheists know more about religion than religious people, so what. It's left out the most important thing that atheists cannot know: what it feels like to believe in God.

(The illustrations above are frames from the Classics Illustrated comic-book version of "The Conquest of Mexico." That's Aztec emperor Moctecuzoma lamenting the bad attitude toward his religion expressed by the Spanish conquistadores.)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Anti-American Art: Now That's What I Call Money, Part 2

Sometime ago I posted some samples of Nicaraguan paper money from the heyday of the Nicaraguan revolution. Those banknotes showing Nicaraguan revolutionary heroes have nothing on these banknotes prepared in the 1960s by South Vietnam's National Liberation Front for use in areas it had liberated from U.S. and puppet rule. As near as I can tell these notes were not actually issued until the mid 1970s when the Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Vietnam was in the process of integrating itself with the north in a new unified Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

Click on the images to see these larger, the detail is really extraordinary. In typical banknote-style engraving the back of the 2-dong note, shown above, reveals an elaborate pastoral scene. In the foreground peasants greet fighters of the NLF -- the socalled Vietcong -- and in the crossroads behind them the fighters raise the NLF flag over two captured American Armed Personnel Carriers (APCs), while a third one burns in a rice paddy by the side of the road. Three Americans with bowed heads are led off as POWs.

The scene on the 5-dong note is even more extraordinary. In the foreground peasants, NLF fighters and militia cheer enthusiastically as four American helicopters are downed in the floodwaters of the Mekong. With bodies of killed American soldiers bobbing in the waters around the crashed copters, a line of POWs is led off in the distance.

It seems remarkable all these many years later, but it really was a nation of determined people like the ones celebrated in these engravings who brought the mightiest military machine on earth to its knees. Has the U.S. recovered from that defeat? The evidence from Iraq and Afghanistan suggests that despite all the barbaric advances in people-killing technology the answer remains a firm and hopeful no.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Lord of the Roads, and of Mondays

Back before I was actually involved with Santeria, I was a Neo-Pagan studying the Yoruba deities that belong to Santeria and feeling a little out of place. I set up altars to my then two favorite orishas, Eleggua and Yemaya, and prayed for their guidance and intervention in my life. I didn't know what I was doing from a "real" Santeria point of view, but my prayers were from the heart, and my love for these divinities was genuine. I found a combination of prayers to Eleggua, the guardian of the crossroads, in Yoruba, Spanish and English, and designed this little placard to place above my altar.

Eventually I made my way to the real thing, leaving Neo-Paganism behind. I received the beaded necklaces that are the entry into the religion, and eventually the warriors, the physical manifestation of Eleggua, Ogun, Ochosi and Osun. My spiritual altar was set aside; but I still occasionally read this prayer to Eleggua when I refreshed him on Monday mornings. After my actual initiation into the religious a couple years later I replaced this prayer with my ile's Mojuba and set it aside. Eleggua has been very good to me; opening a lot of doors and shutting a few better left passed by. He sits by my front door now and I probably don't offer him the prayers and respect that I should. But I found this homemade prayer card in a stack of things and so what better day that today, a monday, to offer up this prayer again.

To You, Eleggua, Lord of the roads, glorious warrior, immortal Prince, I raise this humble supplication. Keep the evil away from my home; keep my home safe from evil in my absence and when I am present, when I am awake, and when I am sleeping, and accept my daily prayer to the Great Olofi asking eternal blessings for you. Ashe! Open the path before me, Baba. Ago lona! Modupue; thank you for all you've done for me.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Anti-American Art: The Forgotten War, part 2

Still on the subject of the forgotten war, this statue is in Vieng Xay, Lao People's Democratic Republic. It's a monument to the Pathet Lao resistance to the American "Secret War" that dropped huge quantities of bombs on Laos. The statue shows a peasant, a worker, and a soldier standing on a bomb labelled "USA" and looking resolutely forward. It's a little stiff for socialist realism, but certainly doesn't let the US off the hook for its role in trying to return Laos to the stone age. Here's another photo with a different perspective:

(Top photo snagged from "T Lao" blog documenting an Australian's year-long stay in Laos. Second photo snagged from alands763's flickr. Click on the photos to see the statue larger.)

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Solidarity Forever

My friend Jon recently sent me a gift which included this lovely card I thought I would share here. It's a reproduction of a greeting card designed for the UK Labour Party by Walter Crane, and dates back to the very early 20th or late 19th century. With an allegorical angel named Freedom standing by, people -- well, men, anyway -- of all races dance around the globe inscribed "Solidarity of Labour." The workers are labelled as Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe and America, and the further sentiments of "Equality" and "Fraternity" are inscribed on the red banner winding through the piece. Given the often questionable consciousness of the early labor movement regarding colonialism and racism, it's a remarkably progressive statement of solidarity, even if women are somewhat sidelined in this allegorical vision. It's quite a jolly illustation, pre-dating socialist realism but embracing a sort of egalitarian spiritual vision of utopia. Thanks, Jon. Inspiring!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Anti-American Art: The Forgotten War

This is a 1967 poster from ICAIC, the Cuban Institute of Cinemagraphic Art and Industry, promoting a 1967 documentary from Santiago Alvarez entitled "La Guerra Olvidada" or "The Forgotten War." The poster shows an American B-52 bomber pierced by a spear; the film documented the spread of the Vietnam war to Laos, and portrayed the society built by the Pathet Lao insurgents under the American saturation bombing.

The "secret war" in Laos started in 1964, and the Pathet Lao retreated to caves to escape American bombing. Vieng Xai Cave City in northeastern Laos is today a destination for adventure travellers. One travel website reminds visitors to watch out for "leeches and unexploded bombs."

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Is the New Atheism Left-wing?

It's a caricature that religion and religious people are always defenders of the way it is and atheists the brave challengers and visionaries of a new world. Yet I know from my own evolving spirituality that my spiritual and religious views and experience have become the bedrock of my own commitment to social change and justice. I also know that many of the proud atheists I have engaged in conversation with show themselves to be every bit as rigidly fundamentalist as the right-wing religious fundamentalists they claim to oppose. In many cases atheists in their sweeping condemnation of faith find themselves courting national chauvinism, Islamophobia and worse. Of course spirituality, or the lack thereof, is a personal experience: I neither condemn nor advocate any path of belief or the absence thereof but the one someone feels to be right for them. But it is not true that religious equals rightwing and atheist equals leftwing.

I have quoted British socialist Richard Seymour of the Lenin's Tomb blog before. He has just offered up a challenging and thought-provoking essay on this issue in the context of the protests against Pope Benedict's visit to the U.K. Entitled "Papists, secularists and capitalists," it contains ideas, from a left-wing source I find myself in frequent agreement with, I've never really seen written down before. Here's an excerpt:

"From what little I have read and seen on this subject, I suspect that on this issue the 'new atheists' are correct, and that Ratzinger is indeed every bit as indictable as they say he is - just as in general they are correct to charge religion, and not merely its institutions, with promoting patriarchy, oppression and ignorance. On the other hand, that is not all that religion does. I myself have religious friends and comrades who make far better allies of Enlightenment, and of the oppressed and exploited, than a great many of those who claim to be atheists. Religion is not only far from being the major force promoting oppression in this world - for some, it is an inspiration and an alibi in the struggle against it. The diversity of interpretations of religious doctrine, especially on social and political matters, simply does not support any narrow, literalist reading off of prescriptions from texts. I note, with some satisfaction, that for all the theological ignorance of Dawkins et al (an ignorance which, I hasten to add, I share), they are at one with the fundamentalists on the stable meaning of religion and its texts.... Dawkins' own free will still seems to be constrained by his selfish, competitive genes, however. To the imperial chauvinism mentioned above, we could add his intolerance of cultural relation to the Pope's visit, he described his Romanness as the head of the second most evil religion in the world. What, I wonder, might come first? Buddhism? Judaism? Hinduism? Jainism? Zoroastrianism? No? Ah, right - so it'll be Islam again. One form of religious intolerance informs another prejudice, one which is bound up with race-making processes across the 'white' world. Such a ranking of religions according to alleged harm is not really to do with atheism. Far from having an emancipatory, enlightened content, it precisely reinforces a hierarchical ordering of human societies and cultures at the apex of which invariably sits largely bourgeois, largely white, and largely male liberals of no faith, other than in the sanctity of the Holy Profit. For these and other reasons, the 'new atheism' is mainly a reactionary current."

Read the entire essay at Lenin's Tomb. It's a great read.

(Photo is an 18th- or 19th- century headstone in rural northeast Pennsylvania, photographed by me ca. 1992. The clasping hands image was also a socialist icon in the early days of the socialist movement.)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Anti-American Art: UN Dismembership

This stamp was issued by the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1983. It shows a sword with the icon of the Islamic Republic dismembering a hand labelled "Veto" emerging from the United Nations building in New York. Each finger of the clawed hand is named with a country on the Security Council: UK, USA, USSR, France and China. Iran was then defending itself against an invasion by Saddam Hussein's Iraq in a conflict that took hundreds of thousands of lives.

I was unable to figure out which security council veto of which UN resolution this stamp is protesting; the UN security council passed several resolutions urging cessation of hostilities. But I did discover that all the security council nations were involved in arming Iraq, including the United States under President Reagan. It might come as a surprise to anyone naive enough to actually believe the U.S. was twenty years later attacking Iraq for suspected WMD, but the U.S. vetoed numerous resolutions attempting to curb development and use of chemical and nuclear weapons. (The US also vetoed a resolution in 1981 that "Affirms the right of every state to choose its economic and social system in accord with the will of its people, without outside interference in whatever form it takes." Ouch!)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Repeal DADT - Repeal the "Wars on Terror"

Today the motion to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) is supposed to come before the Senate, if the Republicans do not filibuster it. DADT was passed by Congress during the Clinton Administration; originally intended as a vehicle to end discrimination against gay people in the American armed forces, it quickly became the vehicle for witch-hunting gays out of the Army. It's a campaign promise by Obama he has found to be a veritable minefield of opposition. Despite numerous polls suggesting a vast majority of Americans support the repeal of DADT and support gays and lesbians being able to serve in the military, this point of view is not apparently shared by a majority of politicians.

While I need to say that I am of course opposed to DADT, as I am opposed to all discriminatory laws, I need to also say that my heart is not in this fight. It is tragic to see, in this day and age, so many right-wingers question the humanity of gay people. The right-wingers are much more worried about the sensitivities of bigots who might be forced to accept gay people in their midst -- and surprise, we're already there -- than they are about discrimination against an entire group of people. But as gay activist/blogger Michael Petrelis frequently reminds us, the fight against DADT is not taking place in a vacuum. It's taking place in a time when the United States is involved in wars of aggression; wars of aggression that gay Americans should know better than to want to join up and fight in.

I've been reading a novel about the Russian Revolution written shortly after it happened by someone who witnessed it (and later broke from supporting it but that's another story). It's clear that what the Russian revolutionaries led by Lenin had in their favor was their support of peace and their opposition to continuing to fight the tragic and senseless First World War. Rejecting calls for hollow patriotism that benefitted only the top layers of society, the Bolsheviks called for people to recognize the humanity of those on both sides of an arbitrarily drawn battleline. Their commitment to this fundamentally decent point of view gave them the popular support they needed at a crucial time to overthrow the rule of aristocrats, bankers, corporations, and militarists. While what happened thereafter is emminently debatable, it seems that this is a lesson modern Americans -- especially a minority treated as unfairly as gay people -- ought to remember.

While we are a long way in this country from having anything as revolutionarily effective as Lenin's Bolsheviks, we're not a long way from taking a moral stand against the wars that have taken so many innocent lives and trashed the world economy. It is disappointing that the gay community which has mobilized to defend gay veterans kicked out of the army and mobilized to fight DADT has not also mobilized to take a stand for peace.

To all those gay Arabic linguists who were expelled from their service (and there were many including DADT posterboy Dan Choi) I say, use your skills for sowing peace not war. To the pro-gay cultural figures like Lady Gaga who have become spokespeople against DADT I say, use your powers for an even greater good: advocate not only for civil rights for Americans but for the civil rights of people suffering from America's self-centered aggressive military policies. If gay people want to take a step to fight anti-gay bigotry in the Muslim world, take a loud and open stand against the violence that turns so many Muslims against Americans.

Back in the days of the draft there was a profoundly moral choice: conscientious objection. There is no draft today but we still have consciences that should be objecting to what is being done in our names. Gay people have no business fighting wars like this endless so-called War on Terror. Know that even if DADT is repealed, as I hope it is, its effect on injustice is blunted by the gay activist community's failure to connect its issues to the cause of peace.

UPDATE: The bill was filibustered this afternoon by the Republicans plus two Democrats (and a third, Harry Reid, who voted nay for strategic reasons so he could reopen the issue later). Meanwhile, someone in the offices of a Republican Georgia senator has gone on the gay blog Joe.My.God. to post the charming message "All Fags Must Die." Welcome to Amerikkka.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Anti-American Art: Taking the Offensive

Two of a series of stamps issued by the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam) in 1969 marking the previous year's Tet Offensive by the National Liberation Front in South Vietnam. The stamp at left marks the battle of Khe Sanh and shows an NLF (Vietcong) mortar team facing a U.S. soldier in a trench. Hundreds of U.S. soldiers were killed defending Khe Sanh, but thousands of NLF attackers died. The stamp on right shows the unsuccessful attack on the American Embassy in Saigon in the heart of U.S.-controlled territory.

The Tet Offensive was meant to be a general uprising against the U.S. and its puppet regime in the south; while it was a propaganda victory for the NLF, militarily they suffered significant losses, and historians view the Tet Offensive as a moment of transition with the NLF being replaced by the North Vietnamese Army as leader of the fight for liberation of their country.

Click on the image to see it larger.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Don't Believe the Big Lie

There is a disturbing narrative being painted about the so-called Tea Party movement: That it is just a bunch of people outraged about high taxes and government spending. That it is not interested in so-called social-issues conservatism. But do not be fooled, this is a big lie. And the teabagger victories in last week's primary elections reveal the depths of this lie.

As if rushing to its defense, the media has been constantly portraying the Tea Party movement as an economic movement. Official Tea Party spokespeople are constantly quoted saying it's all about government spending, about unemployment, about the size of government. But this is a lie for media consumption. Even when the media notices, as the New York Times did, that the teabaggers and Republicans are all about portraying President Obama as some kind of un-American "other" they fail to identify the underlying truth that is plain to see: the teabaggers are actually motivated above all by social issues chief among them racism, with hatred of gay people bringing up a close second. Apparently deeming the word "racism" uglier than the phenomenon itself, the media have given a free pass to right-wing forces to prettify their message.

But let it be clear: when Sarah Palin and her ilk talk about taking America back, the first thing that needs to be asked is, well, back from whom? The teabaggers of Palin and Glenn Beck believe that the financial crisis was caused by too many mortgages being given to poor black people, and then compounded by "illegal" brown people stealing jobs and social services from "real" Americans. And they believe that the 2008 election was won by Obama because of ACORN (ie, black people) stealing the election. Calling an Obama a socialist, a communist, a Hitler: these are bizarrely social acceptable substitutes for calling him a ni**er. The outrage of the teabaggers, of Palin and Beck is carefully coded hatespeech. It should be a national scandal that a racist movement has crossed over from radical fringe to the mainstream. When they say they're taking it back, they mean from the likes of us.

Upstate NY businessman Carl Paladino just crushed smug Long Island conservative Rick Lazio in the New York State Republican primary for governor. Paladino is renowned for forwarding racist emails to all his friends. Emails like the video showing an African tribal dance labelled "Obama Inauguration Rehearsal." Emails like the fake "motivational" poster labelled "Run ni**ers, run!" Emails like the one showing Obama and his wife Michelle decked out like a pimp and his whore. Echoing the violent thuggishness of f*gbashers and lynchmobs, Paladino has threatened to go to Albany and solve the corruption problems with a baseball bat. Paladino has suggested poor people be sent to prisons where they can be given job training and learn about "hygiene." Oh sure he was sorry that soem people found them offensive. But he found them hilarious! This man's economic platform is irrelevant. He is a stone cold racist running on a platform of taking the state back from the ni**ers and f*gs and not only does everybody know it, but 62% of Republicans voted for this man. Almost 300,000 New Yorkers endorsed his racism or chose to look the other way. And he might win!

In Delaware's primary, the Senate Republican primary for U.S. senator was won by Christine O'Donnell. O'Donnell has been a conservative Christian activist for years, championing among other socially conservative causes the so-called "ex-gay" movement that claims it can "cure" people of homosexuality. Hilariously she has become known as the anti-masturbation candidate, but what she stands for is no joke: she stands for the deprivation of gay people's civil rights. This woman won the primary for the U.S. Senate. This is not batshit crazy Michelle Bachmann winning a congressional election in a gerrymandered suburban congressional district; this is an election for the political elite in this country. And she might win!

Oh Sarah Palin has claimed she is not anti-gay. But she has endorsed all these people who are. The Republicans, right-wing and moderate alike are standing by and cheering these people on. Paladino and O'Donnell are showing the "tea party" for what it is. And that is mortal danger to civil rights and justice. These are the KKK without sheets.

Don't believe the hype. The tea party is only a party for straight, white Amerikkka. For the rest of us it's going to be a wake.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Hamdulillah: Thank God For It

The Narcicyst is an Iraqi exile living in Montreal; this beautifully photographed video is a hip-hop plea for peace and understanding. It's a powerful statement against Islamophobia. Click through to the youtube page for more info about the production of the video and the full lyric sheet. Thanks to the folks at Mochilla for bringing this to my attention.

means to will in God's name, without the ball and the chain a slave falling to claim,
will forever hold inner peace, Wicked streets cripple little being rippling through the middle east
may God bless the dead and gone, forever strong a better song, breaking bitter bonds
for this world, in this spot to this song with these words for hip-hop say
stay humble in rhymes in eyes that hate your hunger
its like a jungle sometimes it makes you wonder

Anti-American Art: Common Cause

This badge from early 1950s China displays the solidarity of the two young Communist nations the People's Republic of China and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. Flags of the two countries wave behind a Chinese soldier bayonetting a little red blob labelled "America." The inscription (which sadly I can't read all of) also mentions America. The Chinese rescued North Korea in the Korean war, sending hundreds and hundreds of thousands of "volunteers" to push back the U.S. counterattack.

Political badges have long been de-rigueur in both countries: small metal pins with Chairman Mao's face on them first made their appearance in the late 1940s, and culminated with the ubiquitous metallic red Mao buttons of the Cultural Revolution. In North Korea, everybody wears small lapel pins with Kim Il Sung's or Kim Jong Il's portrait. Or else.

Friday, September 17, 2010

8, La Botella

I'm not a big fan of ketchup. Nor catsup, in its peculiar alternate spelling, thank you Hunts weirdos. I do like kecap, the sweet Indonesian soy sauce from which ketchup gets its name. But ketchup, meh. It's okay on fries. But I loathe it on hamburgers, where it leeches away all the beefy flavor. And hot dogs? It transforms them into vile sugary meat lollipops. But what comes in a ketchup sized bottle, among other things, that I am totally obsessed with? Hot sauce.

Oh God I love hot sauce. Let's start with the rich orangey red garlicky goodness of Sriracha. Which turns out to be a not particularly traditional American melting pot sauce inspired by Asia but realized in Asia-America. Then there's Kutbil-Ik Mayan hot sauce from El Yucateco. An unlovely brown, made from unbelievably hot habanero peppers, it burns so good.

Tabasco sauce? It tastes like slightly tangy vinegar to me. Pleasant, but not even slightly hot. Trappy's Indi-Pep with its hint of Caribbean flavor? Getting closer. Matouk's sauces, rich with tropical fruits and habaneros? It even comes in ketchup-sized bottles; delicious.

At my Santeria Ita almost fourteen years ago, the life divination new initiates into the religion receive during the week-long initiation ceremony, I received a letter that said I should avoid red foods. The people around me gasped and I am thinking, I am so off the hook for ketchup! Chango himself, kabiosile, would prefer I stay away from it. At first I was somewhat concerned that my love of hot sauce would suffer from this proscription. Salsa verde to the rescue. Green hot sauce turns out to be richer in flavor and variety than I ever dreamed: Indonesian green hot sauce. Mexican green hot sauce. Homemade sauce of tomatillos, cilantro and serranos. And, thank you Caribbean, for yellow hot sauce. All that 'Badian hot sauce with scotch bonnets and mustard? Mmmmm.

My kitchen is full of hot sauces for cooking. My table is full of hot sauces for condiments. Returning from vacations my travel bags are full of hot sauce souvenirs. Heck there was an after-work social function today that happened to showcase Latin food in the neighborhood of my office and I bought a bottle of hot sauce there.

I don't think Gil Scott-Heron wrote his classic song "The Bottle" about hot sauce. "And don't you think it's a crime, when time after time, people in the bottle". Oh man, no crime when that bottle is full of hot sauce. That's the taste of life!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Anti-American Art: Poor Broken Bird

From 1964 comes this Cuban stamp marking the anniversary of the victory at Playa Giron (Bay of Pigs). Everybody knew--and knows--that the "Cuban exiles" defeated in their attempt to invade Cuba and defeat the revolution were recruited, funded, armed, and organized by the American CIA on the orders of President Kennedy. Everyone also knows the Cuban people defeated them.

The stamp shows an eagle, with eyes x-ed out and with a target on its breast, falling from the sky.

"Poor Broken Bird" is also apparently what I said, probably about 1964, when seeing a roasted turkey set on a table for Thanksgiving dinner. We didn't have turkey again til I was a teenager. And the U.S. has not tried to invade Cuba again.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Gingrich: Mau Mau Obama Threatens White Plantation Owners

Serial adulterer and African history expert (for realz!) Newt Gingrich has been making headlines lately. First he inserted himself into the debate over the downtown NYC Islamic Community Center. Now, in an interview with a neo-con magazine Gingrich has made a barely decipherable pseudo-academic attack on President Obama. As the Huffington Post reports: "What if [Obama] is so outside our comprehension, that only if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior, can you begin to piece together [his actions]?" Gingrich asked. "That is the most accurate, predictive model for his behavior. This is a person who is fundamentally out of touch with how the world works, who happened to have played a wonderful con, as a result of which he is now president." If the actual words Gingrich has uttered are absolutely meaningless, they're clearly chockablock with coded meaning.

Without actually calling Obama a spear-chucker, he has simultaneously slandered Obama's nationality (a sop to the racist psychosis now afflicting vast numbers of white Americans), summoned up the memory of the Mau-Mau rebels whose memory in popular white legend is all about violence, and somehow bizarrely suggested that being against colonialism is a bad thing. Unless he is saying that Obama wants to hack at people dressed like Colonials with machetes, which is, come to think of it, possibly what he meant to imply. Run, teabagger, run!

If you watch the videos of teabaggers at their rallies scratching their heads to repeat the inanities they've heard on Fox News or to repeat the bizarre credos of Glenn Beck, you can see exactly who this would appeal to. A pseudo-intellectual who wouldn't dream of using the N word but is looking for a material basis for the tightening of his anus when he thinks about black people would love this bit of academic-sounding blather. It's because of his Kenyan anti-colonial behavior, doctor! These are the people who needed "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" to validate their innate hatred of The Jews. They felt it, but lacked the words to talk about it in polite society. How are Gingrich's remarks not a scandal for alleged moderate Republicans? Because if Obama's presidency has done anything in its almost two years, it's revealed the virulence of the racist gangrene that infects white Americans.

For the benefit of Mr. Gingrich, here is the video "Blak Iz Blak", as performed by the Mau Mau. Ok these are not Kenyans, they're actors from Spike Lee's satirical masterpiece "Bamboozled":

Above is the full version of the song; below is the clip that actually appeared in the film. Both are bitterly funny.

They are coming to get you, Newt!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Anti-American Art: Giant of Industry

An interesting comparison to the North Korean "Take That" scenario is this cover of a 1958 edition of the Chinese satirical journal "Manhua." It shows a gargantuan Chinese worker, his medallioned chest, miner's lamp, and giant power drill evoking a soldier's pose and military garb, smirking down at a hook-nosed American soldier, whose tiny rifle and cringing posture is dwarfed by the Chinese giant of industry.

Speaking of economic miracles, the People's Republic of China recently became the world's second largest economy. I saw a fascinating chart recently that was sort of shocking to those of us in the West who think the world revolves around us: it showed that the Chinese economy has always been one of largest in the world. Kind of obvious, isn't it?

Monday, September 13, 2010


I love this photo, but it's a mystery. It's from my Grandmother's box of family photos, but nothing is written on the back. I'm guessing late 1940s to 1950s; and the landscape suggests California. It's not a picture of my grandmother Dorothy, though the shape of the face is definitely Scott. Gramma Dorothy had a taste for fast cars: in the 1960s she drove across the country in her bright red Karmann Ghia. But I'm guessing this is Aunt Fran who seems to have led the relocation of the unmarried Scott sisters to California. I don't know what kind of car that is but it sure is cool. This coming from a lifelong non-driver. The rolling hills here look ripe for development; I wonder if this was indeed Marin county in a wilder time. Oh for a convertible, a dirt road, a driving scarf, and an empty, rolling landscape. Vrooom!

This photo enlarges nicely. Click on the photo to see it bigger.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Anti-American Art: Comrades

"Comrades at the battle front are waiting for us!" is the title of this painting depicted on a 1993 souvenir sheet (a kind of large collectible postage stamp) marking the "40th Anniversary of Victory in the Great Fatherland Liberation War" (what we in the U.S. call the Korean War). A young Kim Il Sung, current ruler Kim Jong Il's dad, is shown riding a tank as it crosses a river at the head of a relief column of North Korean soldiers heading to the front. The painting is clearly reminiscent of Soviet heroic art from the Great Patriotic War (what we call WWII).

Who won the Korean war? Well it was a draw, with victory claimed by both sides, and fair enough, because the North Koreans, backed by China, prevented the new American superpower from turning back the Communist tide, and the Americans, backed by a wide coalition of anti-Communist nations, drew a line in the proverbial sand. Safe to say the millions and millions of civilians in both North and South who were killed by all sides were not among the winners.

Click on the image to see it larger.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Dies Irae

My friend Jim lived uptown, and I lived in Brooklyn. We'd meet up midway between us, often at the World Trade Center. Jim had an entirely questionable fetish for Marvin the Martian and underneath the WTC plaza, near the massive banks of escalators going down to the Path trains was a shop that sold cartoon trinkets like Marvin the Martian figurines. So stopping there was always a plus for him, before walking to Chinatown for lunch or hopping on a Path train to visit a mall in Jersey. I remember seeing a poster for the Windows on the World restaurant, thinking that it would be an awesome place to get a meal. Somehow we never made it there, until, well, it stopped being there; returned to an ethereal spot of empty sky.

On Tuesday, September 11, I walked a couple short blocks from my apartment in Brooklyn to the school where I was going to cast votes in an election primary. God what a beautiful day. Blue sky, warm but not hot. It wasn't a presidential year--that had been a disaster the previous fall--and I don't even remember who I was voting for. I got to the school when I noticed a small handful of people standing on the corner. I asked them what was going on. Prospect Heights wasn't called that for nothing; one of the highest spots in Brooklyn. They pointed and plain as day you could see the twin towers of the World Trade Center. Funny thing, there was smoke coming out of one of them. "It's on fire," someone said. If there was anything in their voice it was doubt and confusion. Such a thing was hard to fathom. How would the fire trucks spray water up so high? "Oh wow my wife works there. I hope she's ok," said a man nervously. Others muttered reassuringly. I went into the school. Turnout was light, of course. When I got out of the school the people were still on the corner. I looked up at the smoke. Strange, I thought.

As I crossed the street out of view of the Manhattan sky I heard loud gasps behind me. Two women had moved their hands to their faces. I walked on, a little more confused, but I didn't want to be late for work. I walked around the corner to the diner to pick up coffee and a roll. I could see smoke drifting in the sky, but couldn't see the towers. When I got to the diner I said to the lady who made me coffee every morning, "Hey look. The World Trade Center is on fire." "Really?" You couldn't really see it from inside. She kinda scrunched down so she could see the sky. "Oh my God, what happened?" She quickly turned on the radio.

I had two more blocks til I reached the subway. At Flatbush Avenue there was a crowd looking across to Manhattan. Hey wait, now there was smoke coming from both towers. That made no sense at all. "What happened?" I asked. "Two small planes crashed into the towers," someone told me. "Somebody must have gone crazy at Newark and got their directions wrong and sent planes into the buildings!" somebody speculated. There was a lot of smoke. You could see a thin line of fire, even at that distance. I didn't want to be late for work so I went down into the subway.

As the train rolled over the Manhattan bridge the motorman or conductor made an announcement. "The World Trade Center is on fire." There were loud cries in the car and people rushed to the windows on the left side of the train. It was a crazy sight. "What happened?" No one could figure it out. The train crossed the bridge and plunged back into the darkness underground.

At Times Square I got out. I came up that secret back stairway by the recruiting center. There was nobody on the street. It was weird. The huge jumbotrons had these strange pictures I didn't understand. It looked like smoke pouring off cascading dust and rubble like liquid. I couldn't make sense of what I was seeing. I looked downtown. I saw some smoke, high in the sky. But you could never see the towers from Times Square. I walked the two blocks to work.

I took the elevator up and somebody ran by me, crying. The floor was strangely empty, its energy electric and off-center. I found my boss and some coworkers huddled around a television in a conference room. "The first tower fell!" someone said. "People were jumping!" said another. "Did they say what happened? Somebody in Brooklyn said a flight controller had freaked out." I wanted to know. "Terrorists," somebody said. Somebody ran into the conference room. "There are more planes. Another one hit the Pentagon. They say some are heading this way. They don't know how many more there are. We have to get out of here."

We all paused; picturing the canyons of Times Square beckoning like a giant target to all comers. Even indoors I found myself wanting to look up to scour the sky for approaching danger. I wanted to duck. I went to find one of my coworkers; she was gone already or hadn't come in. My boss rushed by me saying "Oh my God the second tower fell. We have to get out of here. Come to our place." My boss lived near Union Square. It seemed like a very good suggestion. The streets were no longer empty; we met up with his partner on a corner and walked down to the apartment they shared. Although I know for days and days later I had trouble getting television and radio reception, they had cable, and we watched the unfolding story on the television unable to speak much. The towers were gone; it seemed like building after building was being consumed by a huge fire.

I realized I had to go home. The subways had been turned off. We imagined the two subway lines that passed under the towers turned to caverns of rubble. There was no choice but walking. All of Manhattan was emptying out. By the time I reached the Manhattan Bridge I was part of a long column of tired, silent people trudging home. The further south we all walked the more the air was acrid with burning. Some people had congealed smoke on their upper lips. Huge columns of smoke pulsed into the sky below us, but none of us stopped to stare at them. The people were silent but the air was filled with the screams of sirens and the whirl of flashing lights. So many sirens. At the foot of the bridge volunteers had amassed with paper cups from the Red Cross full of fresh, cool, water. When a woman handed me a cup I started to cry. I still have that cup. (The photo above is not my cup. My cup is in a paper bag with newspapers from the days that followed that I can't bear to consider looking at but can't bear to consider throwing away either. This cup photo is from somebody's flickr.) After downing that impossibly delicious liquid, I hung onto that cup across the bridge; and I didn't look back.

Somewhere in downtown Brooklyn the crowd thinned. The streets were oddly calm, no sirens, no rushing about. Somebody said that the subway under Flatbush Avenue was running again, and I went underground and rode the last way home. Once home I checked in with friends and family. Jim was okay, but two of his coworkers had been at a conference at Windows on the World and they were missing. David was okay, but he had watched the whole day from his roof in the East Village. He described roofs full of clots of people all screaming as the towers twisted and fell. I reassured my mom I was okay. Strangely (we had not actually talked in over a decade), I even got email from my father.

In the morning the air smelled of fire. You could see smoke from my tiny bathroom window. A pillar of smoke where you could previously see silver towers. Crazily I went into work. Which was a mess. My department head's brother who worked in the towers was missing. Coworkers were xeroxing flyers with his face on it and dividing up into squads to scour the hospitals. An IT's guys fiancee who worked across the street from the towers had somehow died at her desk. Nobody was working. There was a lot of crying. In the early afternoon all of us who had made the futile attempt to carry on with normality called it a day. We all realized the utter impossibility of faking it, and stayed home til the next Monday.

I remember that week through a daze of tears. What had happened? It made no sense. The papers were filled with unbelievable photos and accounts of what had happened; details burned into my memory that writers had to get off their chests that now we know are better left unspelled out. You'd look at the photos with the tiny falling people, or the ones with figures peering out from the wreckage high in the sky, trying to make out the expression on a tiny doomed face. And then of course you'd cry. I'd be trying to watch TV, the antenna positioned weirdly to get the one channel that worked. I'd start crying. Alone with my thoughts, I'd start crying. I walked over to Park Slope. At the firehouse there the sidewalk was filled with candles and flowers. The air there was so thick with spirits and grief it vibrated; it was like walking through waves. I cried, and turned back. At a local Presbyterian church there was a service, I went in just in time for its ending. I stood by the door, my lips and eyes quivering with coming tears, as a procession of black women dressed as though it were Sunday walked by me, shaking my hands with the softest palms and fingers I have ever felt, sharing a state of grace that brings me back to those tears even in memory. Few words needed to be shared. We all knew what it was about.

Out and about everywhere you went were walls of photos. Faces of the missing, the lost. People were not yet ready to believe all these faces had just vanished into smoke. I went to Union Square in Manhattan. It was filled with candles and flowers and signs and love. And unlike the belligerent voices threatening from the airwaves it was filled with calls for peace. I have never seen it so beautiful. It was such a healing place. I passed by there and paused often til one night they carted it all away. You couldn't go downtown. There was still a pillar of fire. And a terrible chemical-tainted stench. And now metal fences and bars.

I wondered where I would meet up with Jim. Ironically at some point I saw a post-911 photo of the basement of the World Trade Center. It was after the fires had been extinguished but before the ruins were demolished and the pit was cleared out. There was a photo of that underground lobby and the banks of escalators. They were still there. Dead still and empty; dust-covered. But not crushed. Not damaged; somehow the collapsing towers had missed them. They looked pretty much like Jim could have been standing there next to his favorite store window waiting for me to show up.

Months later, before he moved out of town, when meeting up with Jim in the Village, I'd find him stopping and staring into the sky with a puzzled look on his face. "I'm trying to remember," he'd say, "if I could see them from here. Now that they're gone, I can't seem to figure out where they were." And although he had seen the pillars of smoke on his trip home from work and in the days that followed, he had seen the burning towers only on TV. To him, one minute they were there in the background, and then in another, they weren't. Me, I remember details about the streets around the World Trade Center that I realize I'm not sure where they were; even today I can't really register the changed landscape downtown with the one in my memory.

In the days and weeks and months that followed gradually the posters were all taken down. After months of ritually retelling our survival stories, we eventually tired of them. The intimacy felt by strangers on the street eventually faded back into the anonymity favored by us city dwellers. While now "911" tumbles easily off the lips, for at least a year the people I knew just referred to it as The Day, or The Events. To name it seemed casually obscene. To turn what we had been through into a jingoism-tinged catchphrase was unthinkable.

There are those who curl their lips when recalling that day, snarling out vengeance. "Never forget. Never forgive." It's still stencilled on firetrucks and police cars and pickup trucks. Me I don't like those words. Oh I know the terrorists who committed this horrible crime could just have easily been aiming at me. I'm well aware of God's grace and there but for where I might be going. But I'm tired of the rage of 911; tired of that day of wrath, and as tired of the hatred it has spawned as of the hatred that spawned it. I'm tired of seeing American flags pasted and painted on any possible flat space as some kind of chest-thumping passive-aggressive dare. I'm tired of the crimes committed in the name of that Day.

The people who died that day weren't special. They were just regular people going on with their lives. Some were working, some were travelling. Some were just passing by. Some were selflessly doing some very dangerous jobs. But there aren't none of us better than any of the rest. And no amount of killing other regular people thousands of miles away is gonna bring them back or make meaning out of a senseless loss. That "two wrongs don't make a right" cliche? It's actually pretty wise.

It's not my religion, but the hymn "Day of Wrath" resonates:

Worthless are my prayers and sighing,
yet, good Lord, in grace complying,
rescue me from fires undying!
While the wicked are confounded,
doomed to flames of woe unbounded
call me with thy saints surrounded.
Low I kneel, with heart submission,
see, like ashes, my contrition;
help me in my last condition.
Ah ! that day of tears and mourning !
From the dust of earth returning
man for judgment must prepare him;
Spare, O God, in mercy spare him !

It's time for a season of mercy.

Friday, September 10, 2010

What Nine Years Have Wrought

Here's a headline that puts tomorrow's ninth anniversary of September 11 in some perspective:

U.S. Soldiers Allegedly Killed Afghan Civilians, Kept Body Parts As Trophies

"A dozen U.S. soldiers are charged with organizing a secret 'kill team' which allegedly murdered Afghan civilians at random and cut fingers and other body parts from corpses as trophies. Charging documents released Wednesday shed new light on the cases against 12 soldiers who served a year in southern Afghanistan with a Stryker infantry brigade. The most serious accusations involve five soldiers -- Calvin Gibbs, Adam Winfield, Jeremy Mortlock, Andrew Holmes and Michael Wagnon II -- who are said to have slain three Afghans earlier this year. According to reports, those men would likely be charged with premeditated murder, but may face additional charges relating to obstructing justice, possessing human body parts and retaining mortar rounds for personal use..."

This is Afghanistan they're talking about. You know, the good war, the one supposed to be preventing actual terrorists (as opposed to Saddam's imaginary ones) from attacking the U.S. I wonder who's winning that war? Because it sure looks like it's become a war of terrorist vs. terrorist to me.

Speaking of terrorists, a crazed anti-gay pastor of a microchurch in Florida may or may not have cancelled his plans to burn some holy Qurans to celebrate the anniversary of 911. The crazed anti-gay inbred morons of the Westboro Baptist Church may join in. Meanwhile, Muslim houses of worship in Tennessee and New York State have been targeted by bigots and arsonists. The proposed Islamic community center in downtown Manhattan continues to be attacked by right-wing Republicans, Zionists, and the odd liberal or two. Or three. People in government are actually suggesting Muslim Americans should be deprived of their rights.

All this hate against Muslims. Go on any blog to any discussion of Muslims, mosques or Islam and you'll find commenter after commenter reciting similarly worded tirades about Muslims overrunning Europe, inflicting Sharia law on civil societies, now setting their sights on our shores. Read these comments, these blogs, these news stories. Respectable news organizations ponder American anxiety over Muslims. Change Muslims to Jews. Change Mosque to Synagogue. Change Islam to Judaism. Do you not feel a chill down your spine?

What kind of country is this one becoming? What nation is in the throes of its birth? Who are these people who believe all Muslims share in the collective guilt of September 11? Who are these people who allow that insinuation, whose silence becomes acquiescence? Among the silent are allegedly progressive politicians. They know that the leaders of the Cordoba House initiative have nothing to do with terrorists, no specific links to Al Qaeda, well, as far as they know. But in their silence, or in their weak assertion that perhaps the proposed community center is legally right but morally unwise, they reveal a corruption in their hearts. They're willing to sacrifice Muslims on an altar of intolerance. The Carl Paladinos, Rick Lazios, and Sarah Palins of this world, these are the would-be Goebbelses and Himmlers of our time just waiting for their chance. And those who remain silent while Muslims are dehumanized and demonized and presumed guilty by association, they are the Good Germans who could have said something, but didn't. Nevermind the fact that many of those killed on 911 were Muslims. Nevermind that the biggest victims of Al Qaeda worldwide have been Muslims. Nevermind that Muslims aren't one monolithic mass. Nevermind that most of the tens (hundreds?) of thousands of people killed in the American wars of this new millennium have been Muslims.

"I just have to commit one act and the Americans will destroy themselves..." --Osama bin Laden

Who is winning this war that began on that beautiful and sad morning nine years ago? I don't think it's the good guys. It's another war that needs to end before the cancerous malignant rot at its core metastasizes. So who is profaning the memory of all those innocent people who died on September 11, 2001? It's not the people building mosques.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Anti-American Art: ...and THAT...and THAT...and THAT!

It's a familiar tableau on North Korean posters and stamps, what I call the "Take That!" scenario: a heroic individual or group of individuals, usually well-muscled and steely-eyed, force a nasty American into a corner, where he cringes and cowers. We see it again and again as a central device in Korean propaganda, and today here's a three-fer showing the development of our submissive G.I.

Above is the earliest appearance of "Take That!" on North Korean stamp, from a series issued in 1959 to mark the Day of Struggle Against the U.S. Occupation of South Korea. Here a wave of construction and development rises in North Korea: across the DMZ (symbolized by the little wooden sign) an American soldier with a giant honker seems to be alarmed, and a South Korean hand dripping manacles reaches up rather pathetically for the hope represented by North Korea. It's ironic to compare the two Koreas today, but back then North Korea really was the economic development miracle of the peninsula, and this little allegory conveys it perfectly.

The stamp issued for 1960's same "Day of Struggle" commemoration offers up a bizarre little comic-book styled version of "Take That." Healthy and robust Korean workers, portrayed naturalistically if idealistically, are clubbing the crap out of a chubby little cartoon American, again with a giant nose.

Finally, in an elegantly-engraved vignette on this stamp from 1966, commemmorating the "Reunification Campaign," a determined, head-banded worker prepares his giant iron hammer for a second blow against an American G.I., rendered helpless as his rifle falls aside and his helmet cracks from the first blow. Our hero is egged on by crowds of demonstrators, and just in case, a tank.

Nearly sixty years after the end of the Korean War, some 28,500 U.S. forces remain in South Korea.

Take that!

Click on all of these images to see them up close. Having always seen these as tiny little postage-stamp sized subjects, it's revelatory to see them enlarged.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Echoes of a Past Life - Different Paths to Liberation

This year I committed to posting something at The Cahokian every day. I think the first day I missed all year was over this past labor day weekend when I found myself away from the computer for a whole day with no post-dated entries lined up. The world did not end! But I've enjoyed how keeping up this blog has forced me not only to respond thoughtfully to current events but to reassess my own point of view as it has evolved over the course of my life. The "Echoes of a Past Life" series has been great for fishing out things I've written at other times that still contain relevant ideas even if their subject matter is occasionally dated. But in truth as I go over past writings for consideration here, I often find things that I no longer agree with. Especially in my most political period, I certainly had a knack for black-and-white absolutes that boxed some of my arguments in curious little k-holes of sectarian dogma. Of course I blame my youth. And bad company. Many of my old pontifications will not see the light of day here.

There is a developing consistency to much of my old writing, though, and as I moved away from political activism along a spiritual journey and then to what I hope is a more holistic and balanced middle age, I think I identified some important issues, and evolved a kind of personal belief system based on integrating my socialist idealism, spiritual yearnings, and the practicalities of 21st-century realities.

Over the past two years I've been wrestling with discomfort over the state of American politics. I enthusiastically voted for Obama, and I believe that was the correct thing to do; I am without buyer's remorse despite some deepening criticism. I have watched the gay and progressive communities become adversarial with Obama in a way that strikes me as unproductive; and I've struggled to refine an argument over why this is so. I really hate most of Obama's foreign policy; but I also hate what I see as knee-jerk stupidity behind a lot of criticism of Obama. All Presidents, it might be said, have in their job description the need uphold American imperialism; I'm not sure how anyone expected that to be different. I'm really not much of a Democrat to begin with but I defend my frequent voting for them. In reading left-wing blogs I find myself reminded of the obvious: voting solves little, and in many ways the Democrats are tweedle-dum to the Republicans' tweedle-dee. And yet there is my vote, which I spent without regret. In reading gay blogs, I find myself reminded of something else obvious: third parties in U.S. elections are largely for suckers. They're not a real solution right now. Not until something gives, though I'm not exactly sure what that something is.

"The gays" are all outraged about Obama failing to make good on his many campaign promises. I liked the campaign promises, yet I am not outraged about the pace of their realization; actually I see some evidence of progress. And the lesson so many of the outraged gays are drawing about Obama is to look for somebody else in whom to place some kind of touching blind faith, be it Hillary Clinton, Rachel Maddow, Alan Grayson, or some other loud individual talking an attractive game. I find myself wondering about all these contradictions. And I think what I've come to is the sense that the struggle for social justice is something influenced by electoral politics but largely outside it. Real, actual liberation just isn't going to come from legislation, or be handed down from a presidential savior. Right now I'd rather a Democrat was appointing people to the Supreme Court rather than a crazy old war criminal or a deranged narcissistic teabagger from Alaska. Right now I'd rather a Democratic congress is passing tepid reforms beholden to lobbyists and corporations rather than a Republican one stocking henhouses with foxes. Which is not to say that being beholden to various profit-making exploitation machines is a excusable, it's not. But it's the way it is right now. And I find completely repugnant the avowed leftists who gaze admiringly at the teabaggers, jealous over their ability to "do something."

There is a prize out there, and we do well to keep our eyes upon it. But to reach out for that prize requires living in the world as it actually is.

The electoral political game is gonna go on with or without "us," and there's no equivalent of the Bolshevik Party with a perfect program and actually winning support in the professional political leagues of this game. There's only people like you and me, some of us arguing for a point of view, for a set of values, setting forth ideas that might take root. Or might not.

This is all by way of introducing a letter I found in my files that I wrote to the editor of a gay magazine in New York City in 1990. I don't really remember the original article that provoked this letter (though its title makes me smile), but I'm finding that this letter, written long after I'd broken from the dogmas of Leninism, gets to something that I still think is exactly the point: there are many lanes leading to liberation, but not all of them will get there; indeed not all of us will get there together. This is slightly edited, and there's that transitional pseudonym that only pissed off my grandmother. I do not believe that Outweek printed this response.

(Photo probably from The Village Voice showing me, center, sitting at a Lesbian and Gays for Jackson campaign table in 1988).


Letter to Gabriel Rotello, editor in chief of Outweek Magazine
June 28, 1990
by Ian Daniels Horst

I'm writing to reply to your recent Commentary column in the July 4, 1990 issue ("Mao Zedong, Gay Leaders and Me") because I was frankly touched by what you had to say. Having paid some dues over the years in the lesbian and gay movement I thought I'd pass on a few of the lessons I've drawn from both participating in and observing the progress of our movement.

I was very active in the late '70s and early '80s in the left and in the left-wing of the gay movement in Chicago and New York. I was a member of everything from Trotskyist sects to left gay groups like Lavender Left and CRASH (that's Lesbian and Gay Coalition against Racism, Ant-Semitism, Sexism and Heterosexism in case you're no archivist...). I've been active in a zillion single-issue coalitions, including helping to spearhead a left/progressive intervention into the Heritage of Pride's predecessor, the Christopher Street Liberation Day Committee, in 1982. I was one of the four people who barely pulled off the best-forgotten International March on the United Nations for Lesbian and Gay Freedom in 1984. The only thing I've really worked in since 1986 was Jesse Jackson's presidential campaign. I like ACT-UP and Queer Nation but don't participate other than going to the marches and demonstrations.

So much of your Commentary seemed familiar to me. I wished you had been freer in your identification of these self-proclaimed leaders of the lesbian and gay community. Are they the same ones I've known over the years? Are they the same who like to turn gay politics into an exercise in self-aggrandizement? The ones who grandstand at conference after conference, never to be seen at marches or demonstrations on the street?

I believe the lesbian and gay movement has come a long way. But I believe we owe this progress not to those same old tired individuals and cliches, but to those who fight because their lives depend on it: that portion of our community that has created the groundswell known as ACT-UP and its offshoots.

The problem is this: Political thought and the ability to analyze ideas and formulate a series of responses and actions based on these ideas is anathema to our passive, TV-dominated culture. The result of this is leaders who know what to say (rather than do) to make people follow them, and followers who respond not to different strategies for change, but to people who present the right personality and rhetorical stance. It means people of diverse and sometimes divergent agendas are wrongly assumed to be all part of the same happy movement family. The end result of all this is not progress.

Let me give a non-gay example I think might better explain my point. When Nelson Mandela visited New York City, anyone with a head on his shoulders was jubilant over his visit, and offered Mandela a hero's welcome.

When I was waiting in the crowd for Mandela to arrive at his tickertape parade, I noticed something fascinating about the souvenirs being hawked to my fellow onlookers. All the souvenirs were designed to reflect people's respect for the man and to suggest agreement with his goal of liberation. But some of the souvenirs were black, green and gold; some red, black and green; and some red, yellow and green. Now most people might think these colors all stand for the same anti-racist and black-empowering ideals, and all were equally accepted by the crowd as such. But in fact, in Africa, home to these different sets of symbolic colors, each set of colors stands for competing strategies -- and in some cases violenting conflicting ones -- for change and liberation. The black, green and gold are the colors of Mandela's African National Congress, of course. The red, black and green are the colors of the Pan African Congress, an organization at odds with the ANC. The final set of colors derive from Ethiopia, the colors of the corrupt and oppresssive Emperor Haile Selassie, and by extension the colors of the Rastafarian religious movement. And if Selassie was a freedom fighter back in the 1930s, by the time of his overthrow he was putting people with ideas similar to those of the ANC and the PAC in jail.

The point here is not a lesson in obscure African politics, but rather its reflection in how Americans have been disarmed politically. Mandela is a hero, there is no doubt. But did the masses of people honoring him at that tickertape parade stop to question whether his road to freedom was the best one? Are we capable of understanding that among equally anti-racist forces there might be democrats, communists and monarchists? The answer is not important here, but the failure to ask that question is why New York black community politics are so full of people who are able to cast Korean grocery-store owners as the main enemy, rather than the fundamentally racist economic and political system. It's the same reason why working-class people can be rallied around anti-Semitism and, to bring this back around to your experience of the gay leadership retreat, the same reason these "leaders" can spend their time savaging each other over the "politically correct" while utterly failing to challenge the real problems faced by lesbians and gays of all races.

The lesbian and gay movement has made the necessary and positive step of acknowledging the critical important of fighting racism and fighting sexism. It is and always be a constant struggle for us. But there are people who cloak themselves in those words we all want to hear, and turn around and commit our movement to a path that doesn't get at the fundamentals of why the oppression of lesbians and gays exists. It's an utterly stupid waste for a bunch of gay leaders -- all of whom profess commitment to issues of fighting racism, sexism and homophobia -- to go off into the woods and save each other to prove who's the most correct. The correctness of political ideas is shown not by one's ability to recite the right litanies without getting any of the words wrong, but by the test of political struggle against our enemies. The fact that these viciously self=hating individuals would rather engage in such a destructive, unproductive orgy of self righteousness rather than in a thoughtful discussion of how to win our freedom -- let alone go out into the streets -- shows a hell of a lot about their priorities. It suggests agendas that relegate our fight as gay people for a life of pride and freedom to something of lesser importance.

One left group I was in put out a leaflet in the '60s with my favorite headline ever. Direct at some striking workers or other it read, "Don't beg, take it, it's yours." AIDS has taught us a hard lesson. It has proved to us who are our friends and who are our enemies. Its awesome revelations have drawn a vibrant new generation of lesbians and gays to political struggle. From Burroughs Wellcome and the chemical companies and the subjugation of science to profit, to the hateful role of so much of organized religion, to the intertwining of racism, sexism and anti-gay bigotry, to the very failure fo what passes for democracy to protect us, now stunningly exposed are the connections of our oppression to the very essence of the (yes!) capitalist system. Do we face the truth, and take what is ours? Do we follow our hearts in the joy of our own empowerment? Do we rejoice in our diversity as black, white, yellow, brown, males and females sharing that special common burden and gift of queerness? Or do we walk that same tired old path of begging and respectability, watching our "leaders" get government jobs and our brothers and sisters slashed bloody in the street?

Gabriel, the reason why ACT-UP can fill you with pride and why gay leaders can drive you to drink is simple: it's the juxtaposition of two very real and very different programs for our future. It's the excitement of possibility versus authoritarianism and containment; the heartfelt desires of people uniting on common ground versus a bunch of hacks interested in maintaining their control over those people. What this community must welcome, as we welcome our own diversity, is the realization that there are different paths for our liberaton, and that some of them are dead ends.