Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Readings--1--Darwish, Luxemburg,Colette--Desire for the Lost, Just and the Flesh of the Word

I want to give you the choice of what you want to read in these postings and so I am creating headings for my passions--the head and heart--trying to keep track. Authors are my fellow sojourners here--I am free to follow my impulses and bring together voices as if they are around me--and I have the time to read which is a gift. My author friends for the next few months will be Mahmoud Darwish, an old friend whose lines carry the breath of loss and the perfume of loves--for his occupied land, for his Arabic language, for the motifs of resistance, for the horse and the well and the star and the beautiful woman; Rosa Luxemburg, her dedication to change, her courage to endure the loss of freedom for a vision of another way to organize human society, every time some one now disparages The Left, I think of these women and men who took rifle butts to the face and bullets to the heart, who refused the unreal comforts of nationalisms; Colette, with the heat of summer in her words, the coolness of her view of family and mothers and fathers, her naked body in all her ages, her mistakes in Vichy France, her questionable wisdoms and her desperate practicalities, her frizzled red hair resting on a pillow as she gathers strength to write once again from her bed, her words rising from the stiffness of her body, the Proustian woman--these three, the exiled Palestinian poet, the closest to me in time, the closest to me in the temper of his songs; the murdered Jewish revolutionary, with her limp and little hat on the European balcony with the male thinkers lined up around her, so sturdy and urgent in her view of what must be done, her letters to her lover whom she cannot quite organize but for whom she longs as she crosses the borders into Poland, into Germany always one step ahead of the national police, so Jewish she is to me, the angel of secularism but with a twist; the French writer with a taste for business and for the flesh, her queer body half naked in the dance halls of France with Missy standing guard for close to ten years, a realist, a sensualist, an explorer of the underworld of touch, sensualists all I see them, here in my study in West Brunswick I dream you all and listen and yearn and wish you the longest of lives in each others dreams. Yesterday, the postman threw a little cardboard box over the gate and Cello called my attention to its arrival--your last to be translated book, Mahmoud, "A River Dies of Thirst," always the beauty so tight in your hand, the color of your taken land, and always the rain of life washes you back into history, back into the every day wonder of courage and light.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Our Monthly Vigil, September 2009

What a vigil it was, our largest yet and with wonderful musical accompaniment, Bonjah. A human rights activist from New Zealand came up to join us and an old friend, Penny, stood with us the steps to join as well. We all missed Alex who is in Israel doing her activist work, but she will see these images and be with us. Hellen, Marg, Geraldine, Sandra, Sivan, Esme, Sue, myself, Penny, just some of the women in the vigil. Remember the first Saturday of every month in front of the old GPO, 12-1.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

I thank Mark Levy for sending out these images from the May 2009 commemoration of the Queens College students of the 1960s who were active in the Civil Rights Movement. see the following entry for more about this time. from "Queens College and The 1960s Civil Rights Movement Project"

Archival Posting 2: Old Comrades Reunited

When I was in New York last year, Mark Levy, a civil rights veteran of the 1960s, was launching a history project to commemorate the Queens College students who had participated in the Civil Rights movement. Two of these students, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, were murdered because of their civil rights activism, along with a young African-American civil rights worker from Mississippi, James Chaney. In May of 2009, these aging comrades marched in the graduation ceremony. Carl Hirsch and I could not be there but Mark sent us our sashes and these images resulted. We all have many love stories in our lives and this is one of mine:
From the Introduction to Sister and Brother: Lesbians and Gay Men Write about Their Lives Together, edited with John Preston. The book is now out of print.
My own relationship with gay men began in 1959 when I found myself on the campus of Queens College, part of the City University of New York. Here in this working-class "Berkeley of the East," I met Carl, the son of a trade unionist who had been purged from the union he had helped to organize in the first wave of red bashing in the 1940s. Tall, broad, with a permanent cowlick over his forehead, Carl was part of a whole family of red diaper babies who still believed in the vision of the International. The group of committed activists gave my own class anger a historical setting; my first date with Carl was to see Lotte Lenya portray Jennie in Brecht and Weill's "Threepenny Opera" in a small Village theater. Afterward we sat in a huge and sparsely populated automate where he explained Brecht's vision of the theater to me, the coffee cups piling up and the ashtray spilling over.

That night we attempted to make love as my mother slept in the next room. I was naked, and Carl was stroking me, when my mother sleepwalked into the room. Carl threw his body over mine, and I said in a stern voice, "Mother, go back to sleep." Obediently, she turned herself around and marched out the way she had come in.

"What will I tell her in the morning?" I wondered out loud to Carl.
"Tell her," he said quietly, "we were trying to find each other."

All night we talked until the Queens sky turned orange with the new day; I still wanted Carl to make love to me, but I already knew that my womanness was not a softness that he sought.

We kept our erotic searchings to ourselves while Carl and the others continued my cultural and political education; songs and voices filled my heart--Martha Schlamme, her voice heavy with European history, singing "Peat Bog Soldiers"; Pete Seeger, his head held high, singing "The Banks are Made of Marble"; Odetta, like a reincarnation of Paul Robeson, making us believe in an international community of peace. We organized, petitioned, rode buses to Washington, picketed the Flushing, Queens Woolworth for its discriminatory racial policies, rode Freedom buses to Baltimore and attempted to integrate restaurants and luncheonettes. We refused to take shelter during air-raid drills and had our college IDs confiscated by the campus police; we shut down the school to protest the Vietnam War.

I am still inspired and haunted by the memories of that time; by the maliciousness of the McCarthy era; by the courage of the then young people like Paul Robeson Jr. and Jo-Anne Grant, who were called before the House Un-American Activities Committee because of their unauthorized travel to China; by our insistence to support them, to be present in that hearing room that really was a courtroom, a conviction chamber. And while Carl and I did these actions together, while he taught me about the long tradition of radical protest in this country, we both went our separate ways in the night, to differently fleshed worlds.

In 1963, I left this country to travel in Europe with my woman lover. When I returned, things had changed. My friends interpreted my going as a betrayal of Carl; male homosexuality was easier for them to understand than my lesbianism, I suspect. I became more and more involved in Greenwich Village bar life, while continuing my own involvement in the Civil Rights movement. Carl want away to graduate school; we wrote each other long letters giving each the courage to explore our queerness. Carl was looking for a home with an older man. I wanted sex, street wanderings. I found the Gay Liberation movement. This past year [1994] once again I was in Washington, along with thousands of other gay and lesbian people, demonstrating for a more compassionate, inclusive American society. As I marched in the Lesbian Herstory Archives contingent down a long wide avenue, Carl jumped out of the crowd and ran over to me. Still large, still in his suspenders and a white shirt, he hugged me and I thumped his chest. Through all the emotional commotion of our reunion, we never missed a step as a whole nation of lesbian and gay people walked into history.

And here we are again, old friends, bodies marked by the passing of the years, but know that the songs once sung in the name of another social vision many years ago still sing within us.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Palestine/Israel: The Village of Bi'lin

<>. <>. The first is a link to a blog kept going by the people of Bil'in, a Palestinian village that faces the Israeli Defense Force over a barbed wire barrier to keep Palestinian farmers from their lands, their olive groves and farmland. The second is a you tube link to a non-violent protest by the children of Bi'lin, chanting, "We Want to Sleep," as they march towards the barrier. These strange mix of letters, making no traditional sense, now carry us into the daily lives of those who others want to suffer in silence. Look and you will see soldiers with heavy guns and full military gear gather to ponder how to silence the children--then these young men--it seems like young men--pull together to move the barbed wire fence so they can arrest and carry over to the Israeli side, a 14 year old resident of Bi'lin.

In recent months, the IDF has been using night raids into the village to punish the non-violent citizens by arresting village leaders and activists. In the cover of night they come to break a people's spirit and no one sees other then the soldier and his targets. We must see, my Jewish eyes must see beyond the night, beyond the barrier, beyond the settlers' rage at the sheer survival of the hated--how did we come to this? I know as more and more push through the silences, Israel will have to rethink its human face--but how much more will be asked of the people of Bi'lin, of the Bedouins of the Negev, of Gaza, of the West Bank, of East Jerusalem? While the cafes flourish, the universities preach excellence, tourists come from all over, while the economy keeps many pleased, while Israelis can go and come as they please, bath in the seas, walk in the desert, stand on mountain tops, take pride in their children's futures, those behind the wall pull life from the hardest places. What kind of Jew am I? Like so many others, one that cannot live in silence at such inhumanity.

I know I had said I would put my writings on the site, but I have decided that there is no separation between this struggle and all of my life.

Thank You

It is late here, the first day of spring with the warmest August since weather has been recorded on this continent--remember for those of you from my New York days, this is the end of our winter. More about geography later but now I only want to thank those of you who have responded to my words--Stephanie, Judith, Lee, Esther, Pattie and Shebar. Simply, you give me life, both as a writer and as the holder of other lives. I think this journal is my book, unfolding like a scroll, the present and the past, fading photographs of what has been my life, trying desperately to hold on, to honor, the tints of life before the shadows come. You give me joy, and I am so grateful.