Jennie Orvino’s Blog: Piece of Mind
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.
Seven months ago, I wrote in this space about “daring” to use GoFundMe to help pay for my participation in a ballroom dance competition on the Big Island of Hawaii from January 24-28. This heartfelt and enthusiastic campaign inspired more than 60 people to support my dance adventure with money and services, and has generated $3,291 to date—more than 40% of the cost. This delighted and surprised me.
But what surprised me even more was how the Hularama 2018 experience exceeded my imagining of how good it could be. My intention to remain calm and confident during the “heats” (90-second dance performances) was fulfilled. I did not suffer dry-mouth nervousness, but only a sense of anticipation and excitement. I was able to “will those all those stomach butterflies to fly in formation” —as a spoken word artist I know described it. And in the Full Bronze All Around medal competition, Zach and I placed 4th—quite respectable considering the talented dancers on the floor with us.
I succeed in my other intention: to meet and dance with as many new people as possible. If I saw a leader who inspired me, whether amateur or pro, I asked him to dance. In turn, I was asked to dance by cohorts from other Arthur Murray Bay Area studios, and a wonderful gentleman from Osaka, Japan, whose extraordinary mixed-age team occupied the table next to ours. I think my tally of outreach dances numbered about 15, definitely a record!
The camaraderie I enjoyed with our Santa Rosa contingent—students, instructors and support staff—was doubly poignant since it was my last opportunity to spend quality time with my teachers for over 5 years, Zach and Julie Marie Crawford. The couple has moved on to a new studio and new life together at Arthur Murray Albuquerque. In my goodbye to Zach, I said, “Thank you for changing my life.” He replied, “Thank you for being open to it.”
At the event, I enjoyed formal dinners, an evening of student solos, club dance competitions and professional comps that were nothing short of awe-inspiring. The Friday night luau, with its world-champion fire dancer and bottomless Mai-Tais and Blue Lavas, unfolded in tropical warmth that was not just weather, but also the expressed affection of a community that has embraced me for who I am. On that occasion, under the almost full moon, I said out-loud, “I am right now living my dream!!”
This Dream-Come-True awareness stayed with me throughout the dance competition and into the following vacation week on Maui. With two of my oldest and dearest friends, I spent hours lazing on Kihei beaches, eating great food, drinking locally-brewed beer, enjoying art exhibits and conversation. A whale-watch cruise blessed with an array of waving flukes, breaching, and fin slapping by a pod of frisky humpbacks topped off my charmed trip.
I had planned for, visualized, saved and trained for this Hawaiian adventure for two years and pitched it to others as a once-in-a-lifetime event. And while I continue to savor and “bask in the afterglow” through telling stories and sorting my photographs, there is a fanned flame inside me persistently burning: what’s next?
Impeach Trump! A December 15 interview with constitutional attorney John Bonifaz provided plenty of reasons to support the growing case for impeaching the current POTUS. The comment I have received most from folks to whom I expressed this opinion has been: “But then we get Pence.”
My answer is, first, VP Pence and his family is not exploiting the presidency for immense personal financial gain (nor do we pay for security and luxury lodging for Pence’s sons to travel the world conducting business for the family empire). Second, Pence, while a religious conservative, is not mentally ill, a pathological liar disconnected from objective reality, or accused by many women of sexual assault (as far we know).
While cabinet posts, heads of agencies and judgeships would still be a very serious issues and worthy of maximum resistance, I do not think Pence would run the presidency via Tweet storm, bathrobe-clad in the wee hours, nor would he publicly insult and demean female senators as DJT has recently done to Kirsten Gillibrand and Elizabeth Warren.
Bonifaz described the case for impeachment, ranging from lawlessness and corruption to abuse of power in elaboration of the following points. I encourage you to read the whole interview.
— Violations of the anti-corruption provisions of the constitution—the Foreign Emoluments Clause and the Domestic Emoluments Clause. This president is taking illegal payments and benefits from foreign governments and from the state governments around the country, as well as from the federal government.
—Obstruction of justice (the first article of impeachment against Richard Nixon). When he didn’t get a pledge of loyalty from FBI Director Richard Comey, Trump fired him for not letting go, as he put it, of the Flynn investigation and “this Russia thing.”
—Potential collusion with the Russian government, to violate federal campaign finance laws and other federal laws and to interfere with our elections.
—Abuse of the pardon power (it is NOT unlimited) by pardoning former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, essentially undermining the due process rights of the thousands of people who were impacted by Arpaio’s illegal actions.
—Giving aid and comfort to neo-Nazis and white supremacists, not just what the president said after the Charlottesville tragedy, but also his tweeting out recently of anti-Muslim—inflammatory, and falsely-identified videos.
—Recklessly threatening nuclear war. Trump’s wanton disregard for the established norms and for essentially putting millions of lives at stake, threatening in reality, the world, is an impeachable offense.
— Bonifaz concluded: “This president has talked about how he would like to see the Justice Department prosecute Hillary Clinton and other political adversaries. This attempted misuse of the Justice Department to prosecute political adversaries would be another impeachable offense worthy of investigation.”
In addition, I would add to the above list: bragging about sexually assaulting women. First Donald J. Trump acknowledged the audio-taped evidence as “locker room talk,” and then denied its authenticity. Remember when President Bill Clinton was impeached … not for having oral sex with a White House intern but for lying about it?
RECOMMENDATION: Brave New Films, a non-partisan non-profit founded by Robert Greenwald and whose work I have been following since the Iraq invasion in 2003, has produced “16 Women and Donald Trump.” (a video of just over 3 minutes you can see here) It reminded me a lot of the testimony against Bill Cosby in the ABC special from 2009, where more than 55 women gave what I consider credible and strikingly similar testimony.
During years of office jobs, I saved one-side-used copy paper destined for the waste bin and sliced stacks into 8-1/2 x 11 sheets for a copious supply of “scratch” paper. I use these for grocery lists, menus, chores to do, websites to remember, factoids from public affairs radio programming like Democracy Now, and Richard Wolff’s Economic Update, and miscellaneous information like: Omission Gluten Free Beer – IPA 6.7%, Pale Ale 5.8%
Bless the inventors of post-it notes, especially the 3×3 size. Post-its can go up on a white board, stick to the front of almost anything, and allow me to organize and re-prioritize tasks without having to rewrite a list entirely. Yes, I am low tech in this regard. Right now, I have post-its on my computer screen listing who I need to email, a couple of passwords (dangerous?), links I need to follow up on, a NetFlix recommendation, and a TED talk that conductor Mei-Ann Chen said was an inspiration.
“Under 100 people worldwide (mostly Americans) have more wealth than the remaining 3.5 billion people in the world.”
“Plant garlic, make salmon salad, eggs and potatoes tomorrow”
“Unions are there to make sure you get what you earn; pensions are deferred payment for what you earned.”
Book Timothy Snyder — On Tyranny: 26 Lessons from the Twentieth Century
Get from Library DVD Borgen (3 Seasons) “the Danish West Wing” (I did and it is spectacular).
I started this post a while ago and put it aside for more urgent matters, but in this season of “making a list and checking it twice” it feels appropriate. We all have to figure out some way to organize our lives, remember things amidst media assaults from all sides, learn and grow.
Lately, I’ve added items of self-care: call Colleen for walk; yoga and stretching 9-10; ankle exercises. I added to my screen saver the word “breathe.”
What do you do to stay on top of your tasks and responsibilities? How to do make sure you take care of yourself?
Sexuality educator Remi Newman, a friend and collaborator of mine (we co-produced Steamy Sonoma County erotic literary salons a few years ago) has published “Me Too, but…” at The Good Men Project website. In the article, she explains that she agrees with the intent of the MeToo campaign, but is seeing too much “male bashing” instead of a recognition that “we are all socialized by a dysfunctional society that shames us for being sexual and deprives many of us of the most basic love and affection.”
My blog entry of Nov. 26 garnered more comments than usual. Following weeks of daily accusations of sexual harassment against political leaders and celebrities, I’m beginning to feel a little queasy.* I lament the apparent loss of hard-won openness about healthy sex and intimacy—which I celebrate in my poetry and for which people like the late Joani Blank of Good Vibrations and educators like Carol Queen have tirelessly advocated. I don’t want to see sensual/sexual expression, (hugging, flirting, honest expressions of desire and passion) relegated to the shadows and labeled “dirty.”
In her article, Newman quotes Jason Weston, executive director of the Human Awareness Institute (hai.org):
Every human life is a precious gift, an incredible opportunity for love, vibrance, connection, contribution. Our sexuality is one of the deepest, most vulnerable, most connecting aspects of being human. In our culture, this deep, vulnerable, intimate part of ourselves is often assaulted, belittled, and shamed. This robs us of our sense of safety, willingness to be truly intimate…Healing one’s body image and sexuality are key components of opening up a tremendous inner strength, self-love, and acceptance of healthy sexuality in others. It also connects us to a deep source of vulnerability and compassion, which makes us safer to be with others, and much less likely to trample someone else’s boundaries. So it becomes a stepping stone to a sane and empowered culture.”
(see Weston’s entire post here)
I was introduced to the Human Awareness Institute (HAI) in September 1995 when I attended a workshop at Harbin Hot Springs. From that day forward, I have been involved with HAI, as a participant in the “Love, Intimacy and Sexuality” weekends, and as part of the community—serving for 3 years as an assistant and continuing to attend their events. The communication tools I acquired, the extraordinary people I met, and the information about all aspects of sex (Sacred Energy Exchange) that I received truly transformed my life.
In her piece, Newman declares, “We must break the silence about incest, sexual abuse, assault and harassment..” and yet, “We are all victims of a world that devalues human sexuality and twists and perverts it and provides us with little to no instruction or guidance on how to manage this incredibly powerful and beautiful force.”
Just as I have always struggled in my literary oeuvre to separate erotica from degrading and exploitative pornography, I want to propose separating dehumanizing sexual crimes from the open expression of the fundamental passion and affirming life force we have named S-E-X.
*NOTE: I found the firing of Garrison Keillor by NPR distressing because his transgression was minor, accidental and per his story, apologized for and forgiven at the time it occurred; also observed not to be a pattern of behavior. As I said in my last post, I don’t want Al Franken to resign. So, I have my own prejudices, conflicts, nuances of judgment and situational ethics.
As I hiked with a new, politically-aware friend, I asked if she had ever been sexually* harassed. We were talking about Donald Trump being elected in spite of his own words on the Access Hollywood tapes, of Arnold Schwartzenegger becoming governor in spite of being accused of groping (“The Grope-inator”) by several women and the revelation of his affair and illegitimate child with his housekeeper/mistress.
We discussed degrees of transgression: comedic, sophomoric photos and butt clasping (Al Franken) vs. molesting teen girls, stalking them and being banished from shopping malls because of it (Roy Moore).
My friend remembered the following from her early twenties: in San Francisco on a packed cable car, a young man of her own age put his knee between her legs from behind; an older gentleman, a neighbor, touched and held her breast as she prepared something in his kitchen. In the first case, she said nothing (“What could I do?) in the second case, she told the man, “I have to leave now.” No scolding, no confronting, no confiding in others. “I just avoided him for some time after that,” she said.
My stories are similar. I was also in my early twenties when, as I walked down a Minneapolis street, a passing male stranger reached out and grabbed my breast—a brief, yet shocking touch, the first time I had experienced anything like that. I stopped and turned as he advanced quickly down the block without a backward glance. A few years later, a doctor fondled my breast when I went to a free clinic for a gynecological exam. I remember saying, “Don’t you ever do that again!” and the doc laughed in response. When I left the clinic, I could have reported him, but didn’t.
My friend and I did not define our experiences as sexual violence, but they were disturbing enough that we couldn’t forget them. We concluded that every woman has probably been touched inappropriately against her will. Some of us remember being verbally assaulted by (cliché alert) construction workers, especially during the bra-less Sixties and Seventies. And every man has done something stupid, insensitive, sexist, boorish, cruel, or has committed an act he regrets and feels remorse about.
But why didn’t we say anything? We weren’t aspiring young women in the entertainment world or nurturing media careers where powerful men like Harvey Weinstein and Charlie Rose were allowed by the “system of fraternity” to keep their “open secrets.” Why didn’t we say anything at the time?
My answer to that question stems from an experience of just five or so years ago. I was standing near the coffee machine in the break room at my workplace when one of our male volunteers passed by and squeezed my breast. There was no mistaking what happened.
I said nothing in the moment (although I wished I’d responded immediately with, “WTF are you doing?!”). His unexpected move surprised and embarrassed me. I felt angry and shaky, but I took no action and avoided the person as much as possible for many months. I never spoke about it with him privately, which would have been the mature thing to do, and I didn’t tell anyone else at the office.
If confronting even such a mild transgression was so difficult (my self-image as an articulate feminist had shrunk to thimble-size), what must it be like for women who face criminal harassment and power plays with sex as the weapon?
I welcome your comments.
*In a radio interview, I heard a female activist say to use the word “sexually” was inaccurate. “There’s nothing sexual about it for the victim.” We all know that gender-based harassment is about power, an imbalance of it, threats, and fear.
It was a week before the Wine Country Fires devastated huge swaths of our northern California home turf that Lee Merschon contacted Burners Without Borders, an international relief group, to offer storage container living units (which he had designed for use on the playa at Burning Man) as housing for disaster evacuees.
Perhaps Merschon and his wife who live in Redondo Beach were thinking of the hurricanes that ravaged parts of Texas and Florida. But it was Carmen Mauk of Burners Without Borders and whose home burned down in the Santa Rosa fires who facilitated getting those containers, fitted out like tiny homes, trucked from “Black Rock City” to a commercial property in Santa Rosa.
About 75 people can be accommodated at “Oasis Village.” CannaCraft founder Dennis Hunter, who donated the space, said it would be “a respite and transitional location where people stay until they find a more permanent option.”
As reported in the Press Democrat and in a KTVU news video ,the windowless containers are each 40 feet long, 8 feet wide and 9 feet tall, painted with abstract swirls, and have small separate living spaces with locking doors. The “village” has a communal kitchen, showers, bathrooms, and also adjacent space for additional evacuees to park their RVs. Residents will have the much-needed opportunity to interact and share support and information with their fellows.
I love the fact that the people from the Burning Man community and CannaCraft “a family-owned, sustainably farmed, seed-to-shelf Northern California cannabis producer and distributor” came up with and executed this plan in just a few days.
As evidenced by the numerous fire relief benefits being produced by local theater groups, dance studios, poets, musicians of all kinds, and performance venues throughout Sonoma and Napa counties, it is obvious that culture as well as wine and natural beauty is what makes our region so special.
IMHO, it is the innovative heart and loving, generous nature of our creative artists and pot cultivators and ingesters (as medicine and for pleasure) that earn them the title of “second responders.” *
*My thanks to Kristen Madsen, Director of Creative Sonoma, for her Oct. 25 email titled “Artists Are Second Responders.”