Jennie Orvino’s Blog: Piece of Mind
It has been hard for me to think about anything but the testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford at the Judiciary Committee, the partisan, angry reaction of the Supreme Court nominee himself, and the extremely inappropriate sputterings of the Judiciary Committee Chair and certain of his Republican colleagues. I’ve coped mainly by following the comedians. Stephen Colbert, Trevor Noah of The Daily Show and Seth Meyers have been relentlessly funny, as was Saturday Night Live.
Also intense, but heartening, was the confrontation between sexual assault survivors and Senator Jeff Flake in the elevator (“Look at me when I’m speaking to you!”) that may have accounted for the expanded FBI investigation into Dr. Ford’s sexual assault allegation. (I believe you, Christine.)
However…. the reason for today’s post is to recommend highly a 2017 film I’ve seen just recently. Mark Felt –The Man Who Brought Down the White House, starring Liam Neeson and directed by Peter Landesman, is a “biopic thriller” about the source known as “Deep Throat” who gave Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein their inside information on the Nixon/Watergate break-in scandal. Brilliant acting, expert cinematography and high production values combine to make this a fine work of art as well as an important piece of history.
Mark Felt was living with his daughter in my own town, Santa Rosa, CA, when he revealed his identity in a Vanity Fair article in 2005. This was more than 30 years after he “blew the whistle” that helped force President Nixon’s resignation. (“I am not a crook.”)
Can those of you who stream movies see the “DVD extras”? If not, you’re being cheated, because the interview with the director of Mark Felt is full of insight and information. Peter Landesman notes, “Real superheroes are quiet and often unsung. This happens the world over. I wanted Felt to be given his proper place in history as a man trying to find a way to get the truth out. This is a story of self-sacrifice and heroism in the face of massive government corruption.”
I can only wonder about the stories that will be told about 2018 by writers and film directors decades from now.
Last night, our local North Bay Media Channel 22, KRCB TV aired an enlightening one-hour special by renowned travel icon, and darling of PBS pledge drives, Rick Steves. You can see it online and I recommend you do so ASAP.
I’ve enjoyed Steves’ talks in person and have read his terrific book, Travel as a Political Act. Here’s why he produced this special:
“The Story of Fascism in Europe” — while chillingly engaging and thrilling to watch — also has a practical purpose: to help us learn from Europe’s experience and to show how, even today, would-be autocrats follow the same playbook in their attempts to derail democracies. It’s a case study in how fear and angry nationalism can be channeled into evil; and how our freedoms and democracies are not indestructible…in fact, they are fragile.
I was a little sketchy on history following World War I. This program educated me about how Mussolini (striking resemblance to POTUS DJT in some of his facial expressions and body postures) rose to power in Italy, and about the factors that contributed to Hitler’s dictatorship and bloody war-making.
Not just food for thought, a whole banquet.
The whole script is online as well.
Next week I’m traveling to 50th anniversary events celebrating the Milwaukee 14—peace activists who burned draft files in September 1968, stood waiting for arrest, and then orchestrated a political trial to call attention to the atrocities of the Vietnam War. (See my blog post of 8/20/18). I dropped out of graduate school to work on the defense committee for “the 14,” and wrote about those times in my book, Poetry, Politics and Passion. I will be reading from that memoir at a music and poetry tribute on September 23. Below is one of the pieces for that performance.
[September 5, 1995] When the earth’s plates shift and slide, the best place to feel it is lying on a thin foam pad in a two-person tent beside an autumn creek, under California live oaks and fragrant pines. The morning paper’s headline pronounced it a 4.8 quake, and the breakfast chatter among the campers turned to jokes. “Did the earth move for you too?”
Scanning the newspaper below the fold, I felt a seismic tremble in my chest. At bottom right front page was his picture, glasses perched on disheveled gray hair, lips parted in argument. “Radical lawyer, William Moses Kunstler, dead of heart failure at age 76.” Images from another September, 27 years before, rushed back.
Our relationship began with an exchange of intense looks in the County Building elevator on the day he arrived to take over as the Milwaukee 14’s lead attorney, partnering with our respected local lawyer. I ignored rumors that said Kunstler was just that kind of Movement celebrity who had a sweetheart in every city. Even if he did, he was so attentive and present when we were together that I didn’t mind. I remember eyes deep as dreams under his bony brows, a high forehead and receding hairline with gray only in his sideburns, his full lips, and a voice that lavished the New York vowels. He was erudite and literary, full of noir humor just shy of sarcasm; his casual conversation peppered with fuck this and what-the-fuck. My housemates teased me about his name, always saying “Kunt-slur,” never “Bill.” When the legal team came to town, we always stayed up late, strategizing, drinking cheap beer, planning events to raise money for the defense of “the 14” and organizing for their trial.
I visualize clearly my third floor bedroom in the 40’s-built house on 21st Street, not far from Marquette University. My headboard with its curves and vertical bars is positioned against the window at the peak of the eaves. Elms not yet blighted and acorn-rich oaks rustle and let go their leaves. I am lying back on a white chenille bedspread, wearing the sleeveless red outfit that confirmed my identity in the front-page Milwaukee Journal photo of my near arrest. Bill lifts my skirt above my waist and lays his cheek on my belly. For some moments, he strokes the white cotton of my panties, then hooking two fingers under the waistband, slips the garment down and off as easily as a magician pulls a string of scarves from a tea cup. . . No one’s face had been between my legs before.
My scrapbook of memory opens to random clippings: Bill singing on the subway and reciting Chaucer in a Mexican restaurant called The Alamo; a flurry of letter-opening (envelopes with return addresses showing names like H. Rap Brown and Bertrand Russell) and wild tossing of junk mail into his office wastebasket. The time he called me at home in the early spring of 1971. When I told him I was married and had a baby daughter, Bill laughed his show-off’s laugh and teased, “Does she look like me?”
For more than two decades after that, somewhere on radio or television I’d hear news of him still working, still stirring it up. And growing more puzzling, even to his fans, for the controversial figures he defended. Leafing through an anthology of photos by the renowned Annie Liebovitz, I discovered her portrait of him sitting on a bench in Central Park, careless and crumpled as an old professor. When he played the judge in Spike Lee’s 1992 movie, Malcolm X, Bill quipped, “I’m a method actor, you see, although I don’t know what method.”
One obituary labeled William Kunstler “a defender of the despised” who was himself either an egotist whose “political sympathies bordered on the promiscuous” or a charismatic champion of human rights. He may have been both―the embodiment of the intense upheaval of the era, with its paradoxes, shocks and aftershocks.
I am an avid film fan, but much of my watching these days is on TV or computer screen, so my reactions and reviews tend to come later than a film’s release. Such is the case with The Greatest Showman, which I’ve enjoyed several times over the past week, including the excellent “extras” which reveal so much. It’s advertised as a “musical biopic of P.T. Barnum and his creation of the three-ring circus,” but is a fully-realized, beautifully-directed musical spectacle that combines its period setting with the best in costuming, makeup, and choreography.
The film was in my DVD queue because I adore Hugh Jackman, and because I had seen YouTube clips of what became the Oscar-winning best original song of 2018, “This is Me” (music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul). The first video I’m referencing here is an interview with director Michael Gracey and the singer, Keala Settle who performs the song as the Bearded Lady.
The next clip is the lyric video which facilitates sing-alongs for this uplifting anthem for society’s “oddities” and an assertion of identity for all of us.
When the sharpest words wanna cut me down
I’m gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out
I am brave, I am bruised
I am who I’m meant to be, this is me
There are plenty of tangents online once you start investigating The Greatest Showman: for example, this interview with Paul Sparks who plays the curmudgeon newspaper critic in the film.
A couple of the dance numbers, like the rooftop romp with Jackman and Michelle Williams, and the romantic duet between Zach Efron and Zandaya that moves from rolling on the sawdusted floor to flying through the air of the big top, are, well, a cure for cynicism.
OK, it’s a 2017 film, but see it and enjoy it.
September 9, today, is the anniversary of the 1971 prison uprising at Attica Correctional Facility near Buffalo, NY. I was reminded of this in several ways. First, I re-watched the documentary William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe to prepare for attending the reunion of the Milwaukee 14 anti-war activists coming up this month. Kunstler was the lawyer for this group of clergy and lay people who burned draft files in 1968, and also one of the negotiators for the prisoners at Attica. See the film clip here.
Second, I became aware of the nationwide prison strike that began August 21 and was to continue through today. The demands of this current-day action, listed on the website of Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, are uncannily similar to the demands of the prisoners at Attica 47 years ago: an end to prison slavery and fair compensation for work; access to education and the ability to receive Pell Grants; an end to the censorship of reading material; denial of rehabilitation services; denial voting rights, excessive use of solitary confinement and more.
39 people were killed during the brutal crackdown at Attica that Kunstler and others had sought to avoid—29 inmates and 10 hostages (originally reported killed by inmates, but later proved to be killed by the bullets of the National Guard and police.) The videos I reference here are graphic and heartbreaking, including footage I had never seen of surrendering inmates stripped naked, forced to crawl through the mud of the yard amidst the dead bodies of their fellows and then run a gauntlet of guards who beat them and yelled “white power!”
I don’t need to say that a majority of those killed and incarcerated were African American, and like today, many of them were involved in political movements of the era. (See interview with former prisoner, in “Attica Uprising 40 years later” by The Nation.)
The U.S. prison population has grown to 6.9 million people either in prison, on parole, or on probation. Anniversaries are often a time of reflection, and I’ll admit, this is not a celebratory occasion. Hopefully, with reportage and communication better now than decades ago, those folks who read my blog will make the connection between the prisoners of Attica and those of today.
I’ve always disliked the fact that Jeff Bezos chose the name Amazon for his new online source for buying books (Remember that? It was 1994). I felt it profaned the mythological tribe of fierce warrior women, or even the name of the great South American river. I also worked for a women’s newspaper called Amazon during the 1970s in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and was poetry editor for Amazon Quarterly, a feminist journal of the same era.
In recent years, I’ve had other reasons to be ambivalent about the company, which helped drive many local bookstores out of business, and grew to be a monopoly whose tentacles reached almost daily into our lives. (See article “Amazon Doesn’t just Want to Dominate the Market, It Wants to Become the Market”)
From ordering toys my grandson wanted, costumes for dance, or music I couldn’t find elsewhere, and as a source for books (including several of my own), I have been a somewhat cautious customer. In 2017, I so much wanted to watch “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” that I subscribed to Amazon Prime for only a month so I could binge-watch that amazing comedy.
But I think I’ve come to the end of my Amazon.com affair. It’s not just that it has become the second publicly traded company to hit $1 trillion in market value, and that Jeff Bezos is the richest man in the world (increasing by $250 million a day). It’s that with so much incomprehensible wealth, the behemoth enterprise pays its warehouse workers so little they need to apply for federal health care aid and food stamps. And there have been ongoing strikes worldwide. In an interview with Amy Goodman, James Bloodworth, describes his time working undercover as a “picker” in an Amazon order fulfillment center, where he found workers were urinating in bottles because they were discouraged from taking bathroom breaks for efficiency’s sake.
This week Bernie Sanders is partnering with prominent House progressive Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) on the Stop Bad Employers by Zeroing Out Subsidies (Stop BEZOS) Act, which would enact a tax on large corporations equal to the federal benefits their low-wage employees receive in order to make ends meet. This would apply not only to Amazon, in spite of the acronym, but also such companies as Walmart and others whose low pay makes it necessary for employees to apply for government aid. The Sanders bill would require that the government be paid back for subsidizing these companies’ huge profits.
Wouldn’t it be easier, and better for the economy, to raise the wages of those who made Amazon great? Something to think about when you’re about to hit that “order with one click” button.
In mid-September I will travel to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for the 50-year reunion of faith-based, anti-war activists known as the Milwaukee 14. This group of clergy and lay people, following the example of Catholic pacifist priests Dan and Phil Berrigan and their cohorts in Catonsville, Maryland some months earlier, burned draft files with homemade napalm and stood praying, singing, and waiting to be arrested. This act of civil disobedience on September 24, 1968, was one of many direct actions by people of conscience against the American war in Vietnam.
As a fresh college graduate, I had arrived in town a few weeks earlier to attend the University of Wisconsin on a three-year fellowship in English. Amidst circumstances I chronicle in my memoir, Poetry, Politics and Passion, I dropped out of graduate school to be part of the Milwaukee 14 defense committee and to work on a newspaper called The Catholic Radical. These are the credentials for my invitation to the events of the Milwaukee14 Today weekend.
Bob Graf, one of the “14” writes: “Fifty years later, we are engaged in some of the same struggles, and we are in need of this same moral courage. This celebration will remember the past but focus on how we can bring the spirit of 1968 and nonviolent direct action to current national crises.”
The impetus for writing today is the death of David McReynolds, so righteously reported on Democracy Now. I urge you to watch all parts of that show including interviews with people who knew him well and his own interview with Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez. In Union Square in New York City on November 6, 1965, McReynolds was one of five men who participated in the first of many public draft card burnings. This was right after U.S. law made such actions a felony, punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment.
With only “volunteers” now in our fighting forces, young people are not as directly confronted with the choice to kill or not for their country’s wars. But in the mid 1960s, it was a decision required of every male once he turned 18. I was engaged to be married to a young man who destroyed his draft card, refused induction, and was sentenced to 18 months in Federal Prison in 1967. I’ll tell some of that story in my next blog.
Here is a quote from David McReynolds (1929-2018). His life may not be lauded, nor perhaps his death even noted, in our local newspaper, but I stand to honor him and the activism he continued for his entire life.
“Those of us in our 80’s … are needed, not to complain but to resist, to use the wisdom we have gained, often at a steep price, to stand for sanity in our world, and for a sense of compassion in our relationships.”
This morning I’ve been brainstorming slogans for signs to bring to Courthouse Square tomorrow for the nationwide protest of the Trump administration’s inhumane policies regarding asylum seekers and immigrants, especially the tearing away of children from their parents. The pain and trauma is unbearable, as the world has witnessed through clandestine recordings of boys and girls crying inconsolably for “mamá” and “papi.”
One Honduran man—Marco Antonio Munoz, age 39—took his own life in a Texas jail cell after being separated from his wife and 3-year-old son. “The guy lost his shit,” commented a border patrol agent, in a cavalier manner reminiscent of the “tender age” detention center guard who said of the chorus of wailing children in his charge, “We have an orchestra here. All we need is a conductor.” I could almost hear his smirk. (See Democracy Now’s interview with a youth care worker who quit his job at Southwest Key’s Estrella del Norte shelter for unaccompanied minors and separated children).
Yesterday, nearly 600 women, including one of my most admired actresses Susan Sarandon, were arrested in a Senate office in the Department of Justice in a demonstration denouncing the immoral “zero tolerance” border policy. Contrary to the Republican blather, immigration is not illegal (duh, we are all immigrants here); accepting and giving proper hearing to migrants fleeing violence and requesting asylum is part of U.S. law; and there is a (deliberately underfunded and understaffed) process to conduct it. My fellow humans are NOT an “infestation.”
I can’t even begin to speak about our so-called president’s disgusting language. Or understand why his partner-in-cruelty chose to wear a jacket imprinted with I don’t really care, do u? when she visited a child detention warehouse at the Texas border. Incomprehensible…as is just about everything that has happened this week, and just about every day since the presidential election of 2016.
Language counts. Trump’s non-stop denigration of the press may have influenced the white man who shot up the Capital Gazette yesterday in Annapolis, Maryland and killed 5 newspaper employees. Perhaps the U.S. will soon become as dangerous for journalists as Mexico or Colombia. But that’s another blog.
Here’s some language I’m considering for my protest signs: STOP DETENTION OF REFUGEE FAMILIES; WE DO CARE, DO U?; HUMANITY HAS NO BORDERS; SEEKING ASYLUM IS A LEGAL RIGHT; WRONG IN THE FORTIES, WRONG NOW. (Thanks to Brian Boldt for the last one).
There are “Families Belong Together” marches and rallies all over the Bay Area on Saturday, June 30. I’m going to the one in downtown Santa Rosa from 10 a.m. to 12:30. Maybe I’ll see you there.
With all due respect to T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land,” February has been “the cruelest month” (so far this year). I could start with the Florida high school shooting on love’s feast day. I could go on with the evil, bigoted Attorney General’s lawsuit attack on California and his insanely cruel crackdown on undocumented residents. I could note the close-to-home upshot of 16 years (and counting) of the U.S. undeclared war in Afghanistan—the murder in Yountville of three care-giving women by a “product” of military marksmanship training and victim of post-traumatic stress.
Feeling helpless and distressed myself, I decided to go back to the moment in 2003 when the George W. Bush administration invaded Iraq with “shock and awe” in spite of record world-wide pre-war protests. I started to host gatherings at my home to watch political films and share a meal with like-minded members of my community. I called them “Peace Potlucks” and continued these sharings for years until attendance began to wane.
Perhaps it was because Obama had been elected that I could only get one person to respond to a film exploring the official policy of torture, which clearly showed that the Abu Ghraib human rights abuse scandal was only the tip of the iceberg. Compassion fatigue? Or the “audacity of hope” in the changes that started to take place, in spite of fierce Republican opposition?
On a daily basis in the news, we see Federal reversals of almost everything good that was accomplished between 2008 and 2016. I felt I had to do something. However small.
I recently received (as a thank-you gift for a donation to community-powered radio KPFA) a French-made film called Trumping Democracy. I decided to revive my Peace Potlucks and sent an invitation to my email list for potluck, film screening and conversation. At first I received eight responses; after a second email, RSVPs doubled. People do want to do something, however small.
In preparing this blog entry, I took my first ever look at Wikipedia’s entry on “Abu Ghraib Torture and Prison Abuse” and was shocked and sickened to see photos I’d never seen before. Photos that made it easier to understand how war culture makes its participants depraved, callous and un-empathetic, sort of like Donald J. Trump. He who thinks torture is a good idea, that kindergarten teachers should be armed, that lifetime presidential terms which are now possible in China might be “worth a shot,” that death penalty for drug dealers would solve our opioid crisis. Does that apply to the makers of OxyContin? (See weekend demonstrations at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.)
Things pile up. Yesterday I recalled my Grandmother’s saying, “Someone got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning!” That’s what it felt like I’d done, starting with a body chill from cold and gloomy weather, compounded by the daily Trump-punch of headlines: new nuclear arms race begins, POTUS talks steel tariffs, markets dive; students absent as local schools under threat; 150 arrested in immigration sweep, families torn apart; White House communications director, former model with no prior political experience, admits telling “white lies” for President and resigns.
And from the sublime to the ridiculous: Department of Housing and Urban Development head Ben Carson spent $165,000 in furniture for his Washington headquarters, including $31,000 for a dining set in his office. A HUD whistleblower was demoted after she refused to authorize more than the $5,000 furniture limit. Then…here’s me beginning 2018 with a $6/month raise in my Social Security check and an $8/month raise in my Kaiser Medicare supplement insurance bill.
I decided to take a walk—as fast as I could stride for as long as I could—bundled up for a mix of drizzle and sun, hoping to see a rainbow.
Finding an anecdote to discouragement and confusion when a day seems to start off wrong and won’t self correct is a primary survival skill I’ve been working on since “coming down” from the exhilaration of my Hawaii dance competition/tropical vacation experience. With 2018 already into its third month, the question of what’s next? looms.
Let’s assume that eating well, exercising and getting a reasonable amount of sleep is the baseline for well-being. Here’s what I’ve done to improve my outlook: I ventured out to a salsa club for a late night of live music to test my following and connection skills. I attended an Argentine tango workshop to experience new teachers and a new community of dancers. I “gave back to the source of my good” (a prosperity principle) by donating to community-sponsored media and supported a cause I believe in. I reviewed my own history, through sorting photographs and journaling, to discover what has inspired my aliveness in the past.
What I learned is that I am happiest when feeding my inner artist by going on “artist dates” (see Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way). Last weekend, I treated myself to 6th Street Playhouse’s extraordinary production of Equus. Delicious! Perfectly aligned with my quest, a dear friend has instigated the Artistic Women’s Eclectic Salon on Monday Evenings (A.W.E.S.O.M.E.) to offer hours of space and materials at her home for collage- and jewelry-making, painting, drawing, sewing, polishing stones…in other words, exploring all manner of art. We’ll be imitating The Great Mother by acts of creation.
Adding one small step in my commitment to resist (#Not Normal), I have invited my email list to a Peace Potluck and Movie Night at my home. Reviving an activity I started back in 2003 with the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, I will be showing, for as many folks as fit in my living room, a Cinema Libre Studio film, Trumping Democracy: Real Money, Fake News, Your Data.
It seems this morning I got up on the right side of the bed.