Thursday, October 20, 2011


"Spoken Word" artists, Dick Gregory and Mort Sahl

Although he is best known as a Punk Rock icon, Jello Biafra's "spoken word" career is best understood as part of a direct lineage from Lenny Bruce, Mort Sahl and Dick Gregory. All three were stand up night club comedians in the 1950s who, as they moved into the tumult of the 1960s, stopped telling jokes and started, in Sahl's case, coming on stage with that day's newspaper and reading the news. If you want an introduction to Biafra's spoken word catalog I recommend the 2001 release, Become the Media, a 3-CD set offered at a single disc price.

While Biafra doesn't own a computer and doesn't use email (except through his record label, Alternative Tentacles), he has taken to the internet in the form of a video journal called "WWJD" which is posted to Youtube. His recent monologue on then Occupy Wall Street movement is alternately scatter shot and insightful.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

#Occupy Wall Street....

"The basic movement that says to each person: You are, I am a worthwhile person. I am one of the 99% that are the backbone of and reason America got this far. Why do I have to, beg for a job, beg that I can be seen for a medical condition, beg a politician for some little relief from the inexorable tightening of the screws that go on day after day, year after year, and never lets up? Why do the 1% have to keep grabbing more and more and stealing from the rest of us? Why must this theft continue? Why do I have to have my dignity, self worth violated over and over?" - BeeDeeS

Everyday I read more and more reports that point to the leaderless character of the #OWS movement and it's lack of a clear concise agenda as the primary strengths of the incipient movement. And the argument is not without merit - don't allow any organization to lay claim to leadership because, the second you do, you immediately limit the scope and appeal of the movement.

But there will come a moment when that will have to change, when this movement will have to move pass the simple expression of built up frustration and outrage over the past 3 decades of economic inequities and proceed toward some actual specific action.

It will not be a "revolution." Not in the same sense as those that spread across the Arab Spring. Barack Obama and John Boehner will not flee the Capitol and be discovered by an angry mob hiding in the break room of a Walmart.

I see posts on Facebook by people who, when I tell them they need to vote to stop a return of a Republican White House, tell me I'm wrong and that instead we have to "tear the whole thing down."

So.... This means what? That we shut down every public assistance office, every library, every public school? That we shut down all public utilities, all public transportation, all government services, all government agencies?

The fire hydrants in my neighborhood have been broken for a while; the sewage system in Indianapolis is about 100 years old and in need of some serious repair. Three times in the past week I've woken up, turned the faucet, and nothing has come out.

This is what we need to do, rather than re-elect Barack Obama?

No water, no electricity, no heat, no traffic lights, no police, no fire, no emergency services? Do these people really think a world in which a call to 911 is answered by a recording that says "The number you have dialed is no longer in service" is better?

No banks, no money, no prescription medicine, no salt trucks and road plows after a snow storm. Power to the people. Right on.

At the same time, the #OWS movement fills me with real hope.

I read recently someone who argued that the New Deal ended on May 8, 1970 in lower Manhattan, the day of the "Hard Hat Riots."

The riot started about noon when about 200 construction workers mobilized by the New York State AFL-CIO attacked about 1,000 high school and college students and others protesting the Kent State shootings, the American invasion of Cambodia and the Vietnam War near the intersection of Wall Street and Broad Street.

A left political movement that is on the other side of the working class is a non sequitur and has zero potential for growth or success.

But fast forward forty-one years to October 5, 2011 and the statement issued by Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO President:

"Occupy Wall Street has captured the imagination and passion of millions of Americans who have lost hope that our nation's policymakers are speaking for them. We support the protesters in their determination to hold Wall Street accountable and create good jobs. We are proud that today on Wall Street, bus drivers, painters, nurses and utility workers are joining students and homeowners, the unemployed and the underemployed to call for fundamental change. Across America, working people are turning out with their friends and neighbors in parks, congregations and union halls to express their frustration – and anger -- about our country's staggering wealth gap, the lack of work for people who want to work and the corrupting of our politics by business and financial elites. The people who do the work to keep our great country running are being robbed not only of income, but of a voice. It is time for all of us—the 99 percent—to be heard.

We will open our union halls and community centers as well as our arms and our hearts to those with the courage to stand up and demand a better America."

Is that the spark that ignites the return of the New Deal? I'd sure like to think so, but, at the same time, I see a whole lot of Ron Paul supporters involved in these protests. Perhaps this represents a teaching opportunity. Perhaps a Ron Paul supporter marching on Wall Street presents a case study in a critical pedagogy of economics that challenge the assumptions of libertarian economics.

I will hope for as long as I can possibly hope.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Einstein on memory beach....

Washed up on the beach
A sorry sight
His unruly
mushroom cloud
of white hair
Flattened against his skull
His spectacles
Knocked off by a wave
Staggers to his feet
Laying there for a moment on the sand
He almost looks like a young man again

My father's mother's second husband
Was a kind man
They lived in West Philadelphia
Girard Avenue
I would spend a week or two living with them
in the summers
at the end of the 1950s

I don't know if we have any photos of Albert
I haven't seen any for many, many years
and in my mind's eye he looks like
Albert Einstein
I imagine
I am remembering the mustache
and filling in the blanks.