Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Kentucky and West Virginia - "it's like he's in a hole with no way out"

As a sophomore at Harvard, I did strike support - raised food and clothes - for wildcatting Hazard, Kentucky miners and their families. It was the beginning of the student movement; we often had 50 people at our meetings.


The United Mine Workers under John L. Lewis had become a sell-out union, in bed with the coal companies. The poor workers of Appalachia had one thing going for them, solidarity. A few years later in West Virginia, one black worker picketing in front of a mine led to a walkout of 100,000.


Berman Gibson, the leader of the Hazard miners, a burly man and fiery orator (see the Crimson story below, which though pro-company, gives some picture) came to speak at Harvard. His home had been bombed by the FBI (the FBI, despite professionals like Coleen Rowley - see here - has often been used against radical and rank-and-file movements).


The Klan sent organizers once to the coalfields, The miners beat them up and chased them out.


These were isolated rural communities with a deep sense of solidarity (for a sense, see the John Sayles' movie "Matewan" about the 1920s).


There was strike support in Cambridge and New York. But there was little national publicity for a wildcat strike in the coal fields that lasted over a year. The Harvard Crimson story below, however, was written because of our strike support activity/publicity.


Yet John F. Kennedy had run against poverty in Appalachia; it was a central feature of LBJ's war on poverty and of Michael Harrington's The Other America. Bobby Kennedy was moved by hungry black children in Mississippi and Chicano farmworkers. It was an age to do away, at last, with the worst of American poverty.


Yet it was also the time of assassination of Martin Luther King, whose "A Time to Break Silence" was eloquent on how the aggression in Vietnam was also a war on the poor (sucked the resources from LBJ's war on poverty like "some demonic, destructive suction tube," then as today), and Bobby Kennedy.

Martin Luther King was a follower of Jesus, which one cannot say about many...


Yesterday, the New York Times ran a heartbreaking story about Appalachia written commendably by Trip Gabriel (though the end seems, implicitly, to blame the poor). 50 years later, poverty has an even more dead end quality. I know from my friend and student Travis Linger about the chemical dangers in West Virginia (mountain top removal poisons people there, and even "Democrats" like Joe Manchin, minimally do nothing about it and often make it worse...).

But the story of the young homeless man in Twin Branch, West Virginia, saying at thirty, ‘Ain’t that a shame: I’m 30 years old and carrying my life around in a backpack.’ says everything about the America that is Appalachia and coming to be much more widely. "It's like he's in a hole with no way out," his mom says. An image of the cave and being lost in it, even though many of the mines are shut.

And where are Kennedy and King in this grim America?


This is what Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-first Century lays out in numbers. See Paul Krugman, "Why we're in a new gilded age" here.

Lots of white folks - part of what Marx called the reserve army of the unemployed - are in prison in Appalachia...


As someone who half a century ago did strike support for Hazard miners and civil rights, I say: we will not accept continuing impoverishment and hopelessness for poor Americans. Retraining programs and education are a minimum. As compassionate human beings, it is the least we can do to fight this...


"50 Years Into the War on Poverty, Hardship Hits Back

For photos, see here.

TWIN BRANCH, W.Va. — When people visit with friends and neighbors in southern West Virginia, where paved roads give way to dirt before winding steeply up wooded hollows, the talk is often of lives that never got off the ground.

“How’s John boy?” Sabrina Shrader, 30, a former neighbor, asked Marie Bolden one cold winter day at what Ms. Bolden calls her “little shanty by the tracks.”

“He had another seizure the other night,” Ms. Bolden, 50, said of her son, John McCall, a former classmate of Ms. Shrader’s. John got caught up in the dark undertow of drugs that defines life for so many here in McDowell County, almost died of an overdose in 2007, and now lives on disability payments. His brother, Donald, recently released from prison, is unemployed and essentially homeless.

“It’s like he’s in a hole with no way out,” Ms. Bolden said of Donald as she drizzled honey on a homemade biscuit in her tidy kitchen. “The other day he came in and said, ‘Ain’t that a shame: I’m 30 years old and carrying my life around in a backpack.’ It broke my heart.”

PLAY VIDEO here |2:59
The L.B.J. Poverty Tour
Footage from the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library of the President’s “Poverty Tour” through the Appalachian states in 1964.

McDowell County, the poorest in West Virginia, has been emblematic of entrenched American poverty for more than a half-century. John F. Kennedy campaigned here in 1960 and was so appalled that he promised to send help if elected president. His first executive order created the modern food stamp program, whose first recipients were McDowell County residents. When President Lyndon B. Johnson declared “unconditional war on poverty” in 1964, it was the squalor of Appalachia he had in mind. The federal programs that followed — Medicare, Medicaid, free school lunches and others — lifted tens of thousands above a subsistence standard of living.

But a half-century later, with the poverty rate again on the rise, hardship seems merely to have taken on a new face in McDowell County. The economy is declining along with the coal industry, towns are hollowed out as people flee, and communities are scarred by family dissolution, prescription drug abuse and a high rate of imprisonment.

Fifty years after the war on poverty began, its anniversary is being observed with academic conferences and ideological sparring — often focused, explicitly or implicitly, on the “culture” of poor urban residents [a stupid racist focus linked to the impoverishment of rural people as well as urban, whites as well as blacks, Native Americans and Chicanos]. Almost forgotten is how many ways poverty plays out in America, and how much long-term poverty is a rural problem.

Of the 353 most persistently poor counties in the United States — defined by Washington as having had a poverty rate above 20 percent in each of the past three decades — 85 percent are rural. They are clustered in distinct regions: Indian reservations in the West; Hispanic communities in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas; a band across the Deep South and along the Mississippi Delta with a majority black population; and Appalachia, largely white, which has supplied some of America’s iconic imagery of rural poverty since the Depression-era photos of Walker Evans.

McDowell County is in some ways a place truly left behind, from which the educated few have fled, leaving almost no shreds of prosperity. But in a nation with more than 46 million people living below the poverty line — 15 percent of the population — it is also a sobering reminder of how much remains broken, in drearily familiar ways and utterly unexpected ones, 50 years on.

A Scarred Landscape

Much of McDowell County looks like a rural Detroit, with broken windows on shuttered businesses and homes crumbling from neglect. In many places, little seems to have been built or maintained in decades.

Numbers tell the tale as vividly as the scarred landscape. Forty-six percent of children in the county do not live with a biological parent, according to the school district. Their mothers and fathers are in jail, are dead or have left them to be raised by relatives, said Gordon Lambert, president of the McDowell County Commission.

Beginning in the 19th century, the rugged region produced more coal than any other county in West Virginia, but it got almost none of the wealth back as local investment. Of West Virginia’s 55 counties, McDowell has the lowest median household income, $22,000; the worst childhood obesity rate; and the highest teenage birthrate.

It is also reeling from prescription drug abuse. The death rate from overdoses is more than eight times the national average. Of the 115 babies born in 2011 at Welch Community Hospital, over 40 had been exposed to drugs.

Largely as a consequence of the drug scourge, a problem widespread in rural America, the incarceration rate in West Virginia is one of the highest in the country.

“Whole families have been wiped out in this county: mother, father, children,” said Sheriff Martin B. West.

“These are good people, good families,” Sheriff West, an evangelical pastor, said of his lifelong neighbors. “But they get involved with drugs, and the next thing you know they’re getting arrested.”

The sheriff’s wife, Georgia Muncy West, has a historical link to the war on poverty. Her parents, Alderson and Chloe Muncy, were the first beneficiaries of the modern food stamp program, traveling to Welch to collect $95 in coupons. Ms. West, one of 15 children, said that unlike many current families, hers remained intact even through the leanest times. She went to work the Monday after she graduated from high school, sent her two children to college and served on the county school board.

As coal mining jobs have declined over half a century, there has been a steady migration away from the mountains. McDowell County’s population is just 21,300, down from 100,000 in the 1950s. Those who stayed did not have the education or skills to leave, or remained fiercely attached to the hollows and homes their families had known for generations.

Alma and Randy McNeely, both 50, tried life in Tennessee. But they returned to McDowell County to be close to their large extended family.

The couple married when they were 16. In a family photo album, Ms. McNeely appears in her white wedding dress as if headed to the junior prom. Turning the album’s pages for a visitor, she apologized for its lack of captions. “Mama couldn’t write, so, you know, there ain’t no names in it,” she said.

Ms. McNeely, whose long, dark hair is gathered behind, is known as Maw for being a surrogate mother to many in Hensley, a dot of a community. Her home is a few small rooms under a metal roof, clinging to a hillside.


John F. Kennedy, then a senator running for president, with miners near Mullens, W.Va., in 1960. Credit Hank Walker/Time Life Pictures, via Getty Images

Her husband worked in sawmills before a back injury in 1990. His disability payments, some $1,700 a month, are the family’s only income.

After marrying, the couple had two children. Their daughter, Angela, gave birth at 14 and was expelled from a Christian school, her mother said. Now, Ms. McNeely is raising Angela’s daughter, Emalee Short, who is 15.

A high school sophomore, Emalee dreams of being a veterinarian or maybe a marine biologist. The house and yard ring with the yelps of a dozen Chihuahuas and other small dogs, some of them strays dropped off by neighbors.

A confident teenager in a “Twilight” T-shirt, Emalee is enrolled in Upward Bound, the federal program that offers Saturday classes and summer school for bright students aspiring to college. “I want to be one of the ones who gets out of here,” she said. “I don’t want people to talk about me” — meaning the recitation of damaged young lives that is a regular part of catching up.

Another photo in the album shows Randy Jr., the McNeelys’ son, known as Little Man. Little Man dropped out of high school six months shy of graduation, “with me sitting here crying,” Ms. McNeely said. He has been in and out of jail but is one of the lucky ones who have found work, at a junkyard run by a family friend.

Although Ms. McNeely encourages her granddaughter to aim for college, which would mean leaving McDowell County, she said that “her other mommy and daddy” — meaning Emalee’s biological parents — “and all her aunts and uncles, they don’t want her to go.”

“They’re scared she’s going to get hurt,” Ms. McNeely said.

Food Stamps and Coal

Many in McDowell County acknowledge that depending on government benefits has become a way of life, passed from generation to generation. Nearly 47 percent of personal income in the county is from Social Security, disability insurance, food stamps and other federal programs.[What do the owners of coal companies which pillaged West Virginia and Kentucky still make?]

Graphic: 50 Years of Poverty

But residents also identify a more insidious cause of the current social unraveling: the disappearance of the only good jobs they ever knew, in coal mining. The county was always poor. Yet family breakup did not become a calamity until the 1990s, after southern West Virginia lost its major mines in the downturn of the American steel industry [i.e. the "Reagan revolution" and moving jobs overseas without government retraining]. The poverty rate, 50 percent in 1960, declined — partly as a result of federal benefits — to 36 percent in 1970 and to 23.5 percent in 1980. But it soared to nearly 38 percent in 1990. For families with children, it now nears 41 percent.

Today, fewer than one in three McDowell County residents are in the labor force. The chief effort to diversify the economy has been building prisons. The most impressive structure on Route 52, the twisting highway into Welch, is a state prison that occupies a former hospital. There is also a new federal prison on a mountaintop. But many residents have been skipped over for the well-paying jobs in corrections: They can’t pass a drug test.

Sheriff West, a former coal miner who presided over a magistrate court before he was elected sheriff in 2012, said the region’s ills traced back to many failures by elected officials, including local politicians who governed by patronage and state leaders in Charleston, the capital, who took the county’s solidly Democratic voters for granted and never courted them with aid [these Democrats truly resemble Republicans, or Republicans these Democrats...].

The sheriff and other members of McDowell County’s small elite are not inclined to debate national poverty policy. They draw conclusions from what is in front of them.

“Our politicians never really did look ahead in this county for when coal wouldn’t be king,” Sheriff West said. “Therefore, we’ve fallen flat on our face.”

Returning for Neighbors

Not everyone with an education and prospects has moved away. McDowell County has a small professional class of people fighting long odds to better a place they love. Florisha McGuire, who grew up in War, which calls itself West Virginia’s southernmost city, returned to become principal of Southside K-8 School.

For Ms. McGuire, 34, the turning point in the town’s recent history was the year she left for college, 1997, when many of the 17-year-olds who stayed behind graduated from beer and marijuana to prescription pill abuse.

Many of the parents of the children in her school today are her former classmates. In some, emaciated bodies and sunken eyes show the ravages of addiction. “I had a boy in here the other day I went to high school with,” she said. “He had lost weight. Teeth missing. You can look at them and go, ‘He’s going to be the next to die.’ ”


Emalee Short played with her dog outside her grandparents’ home in Hensley, W.Va., in long-struggling McDowell County. Credit Travis Dove for The New York Times

Ms. McGuire, who grew up in poverty — her father did not work and died of lung cancer at 49; her mother had married at 16 — was the first in her family to attend college. On her first morning at Concord University in Athens, W.Va., about 50 miles from War, her roommate called her to breakfast. Ms. McGuire replied that she didn’t have the money. She hadn’t realized her scholarship included meals in a dining hall.

“I was as backward as these kids are,” she said in the office of her school, one of few modern buildings in town. “We’re isolated. Part of our culture here is we tend to stick with our own.” In her leaving for college, she said, “you’d think I’d committed a crime.”

As the mother of a 3-year-old girl, she frets that the closest ballet lesson or soccer team is nearly two hours away, over the state line in Bluefield, Va. But she is committed to living and working here. “As God calls preachers to preach, he calls teachers to certain jobs,” she said. “I really believe it is my mission to do this and give these kids a chance.”

Ms. McGuire described War as almost biblically divided between forces of dark and light: between the working blue- and white-collar residents who anchor churches, schools and the city government, and the “pill head” community. As she drove down the main street, past municipal offices with the Ten Commandments painted in front, she pointed out the signs of a once-thriving town sunk into hopelessness. The abandoned American Legion hall. A pharmacy with gates to prevent break-ins. The decrepit War Hotel, its filthy awning calling it “Miner’s City,” where the sheriff’s department has made drug arrests.

When coal was king, there were two movie theaters and a high school, now closed. “Everybody worked,” Ms. McGuire said.

She turned up Shaft Hollow, where many people live in poorly built houses once owned by a coal company, their roofs sagging and the porches without railings. At the foot of Shop Hollow, a homemade sign advertised Hillbilly Fried Chicken. Another pointed the way to the True Light Church of God in Jesus Name. “This is one of the most country places, but I love these people,” Ms. McGuire said. She said it was a bastion of Pentecostal faith, where families are strict and their children well behaved.

She and others who seek to lift McDowell County have attracted some outside allies. Reconnecting McDowell, led by the American Federation of Teachers union, is working to turn schools into community centers offering health care, adult literacy classes and other services. Its leaders hope to convert an abandoned furniture store in Welch to apartments in order to attract teachers.

“Someone from Indiana or Pennsylvania, they’re not going to come to McDowell County and live in a house trailer on top of a mountain,” said Bob Brown, a union official.

Another group, the West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition, is working to create a home visitation service to teach new parents the skills of child-rearing.

Sabrina Shrader, the former neighbor of Marie Bolden in Twin Branch, has spoken on behalf of the group to the State Legislature and appeared before a United States Senate committee last year. Ms. Shrader, who spent part of her youth in a battered women’s shelter with her mother, earned a college degree in social work.

“It’s important we care about places like this,” she said. “There are kids and families who want to succeed. They want life to be better, but they don’t know how.”


Harvard Crimson
Kentucky Coal Dispute Still Bitter
Desperate Strike Brings Violence
By JOSEPH M. RUSSIN, April 13, 1963

They have a saying in eastern Kentucky-- "Wait 'till the bushes grow green." It is a password, an admonition, and a desperate expression of hope among coal miners fighting for a lost propsperity. For in summer, when the bushes are green, a man can hide with a rifle, and in the rolling hills of Kentucky, a rifle has often had a persuasive effect on coal operators.

Trapped by circumstances they only dimly understand, the miners take a very simple view of their situation One grizzled old miner put it this way at a meeting of strikers: "I'll tell you something boys, and I'm gonna tell you the truth now. There will be blood coming from the mines--not coal--unless we get a union contract. And if you try to get by my picket line you're gonna smell copper and lead, copper and lead."

Last fall roving bands of pickets, protesting starvation wages and the failure of operators to contribute to the United Mine Workers welfare fund, forced most of the mines in eastern Kentucky to close. For three months a state of war existed between the operators and the miners. Then winter, a disastrous flood, and a series of apparent agreements forced a temporary truce. The hills are turning green again, however; prepartions for a renewed struggle are proceding rapidly.

There are no picket lines in eastern Kentucky today. The miners have agreed to suspend open protests until the National Labor Relations Board rules on an injunction request by the mine operators this Monday. But the tension continues. Every week several mines are blown up, and just recently a coal operator's home in Hazard, Ky., was dynamited.

Rumors spread quickly and are embellished extensively in these small coal towns, adding to the atmosphere of distrust and fear. A new man in town is immediately suspected. For instance, during my visit I was widely thought to be a Communist, a Teamster organizer, a management spy, and a conspirator with the strikers.

Perhaps because of these rumors, or maybe because someone thought I knew too much, a sniper took a few rifle shots at me on a moonless night last week. Rolling into a ditch, I crawled to the safety of a tree. The incident was a good warning, and a powerful indication of the seriousness of the situation and the bitterness of the struggle.

Industry Depression

No amount of dynamiting and shooting, however, can win the battle. The striking miners feel oppressed by rich, selfish operators, but the operators, while not poor, are faced with a diminishing market for their coal. A dozen years ago eastern Kentucky enjoyed reasonable prosperity. Now, with heavy competition from oil and the large, highly mechanized coal mines, the operators of the small mines are squeezed; the Kentucky miners have been forced into poverty by the depression in the industry.

In 1950 John L. Lewis and the United Mine Workers, realizing that automation in the mines would be the only way to allow coal to compete with other fuels, signed the National Bituminous Coal Agreement with the large coal producers. The agreement permitted the mine owners to mechinize, but at the same time attempted to force them to share the difficulties which the transition period caused the miners. A minimum wage of $24.25 for an eight hour shift and a 40 cents per ton royalty payment to the union welfare fund were essential parts of the contract.

Owners of large northern mines with wide coal seams who had sufficient capital, found it relatively easy to install heavy machinery and pay their miners the union scale. In eastern Kentucky, however, where the coal rarely comes in veins more than two and a half feet wide, the immediate need for machinery was not clear. Finding it impossible to agree to the United Mine Worker's terms, most of the operators of the rail mines (mines which deliver coal directly to a railroad loading station or tipple) sub-leased their coal rights to smaller operators, often union miners. These men set up small, one-tunnel mines producing from 50-150 tons per day of coal and employing usually no more than a dozen men. Coal was taken by truck from the mine to the railroad loading tipple, which was normally owned by the man who leased the rights to the mine.

Sweetheart Agreement

Working with little or no equipment, the truck mines soon found that they could not pay union wages and still compete with the mechanized mines. While these operators usually signed a UMW contract, the union consented to a "sweetheart agreement," that essentially allowed the operator to pay what he could for wages as long as he paid the 40 cents per ton royalty. But as the market and price for coal dropped, the "sweetheart agreements" turned sour. Deterioration in wages was accepted by the men as long as they retained their welfare benefits. About two years ago, however, the smaller operators began defaulting on their royalty payments.

By last fall practically no truck mine was contributing to the welfare fund and the fund suddenly revoked the welfare cards of all miners working in non-royalty-paying mines. Loss of the cards meant the end of free hospital care, an extremely important benefit for miners. The UMW's Miners Memorial Hospital Association had built four modern hospitals in eastern Kentucky which provided free care for the miners and their families. Access to these hospitals was forbidden to men without the cards. Shortly after withdrawing the welfare cards the fund announced that it was closing the hospitals as of July 1, 1963.

These actions provided the catalyst that released all the accumulated bitterness of the past decade in violent protest. Deciding the union had let them down, the men organized a wildcat strike against both the UMW and the operators. Bands of pickets descended on mines throughout the territory demanding that the men working inside join the fight. Most came willingly, but others, thinking that nothing could be done, were convinced only by threats of violence. Picketers were shot, mines dynamited, homes blown-up, and cold fear swept Floyd and Perry counties.

One truck mine operator in Floyd County described the closing of his mine: "They all came up the gulch, about 200 of them, yelling about how they were going to blow up the mine if I didn't shut down." As the picketers approached, he took his rifle and climbed on top of a hill looking over the valley and told the men to stop where they were. "The next man that takes a step," he shouted, "well right there you'll find him." His men, worried about personal attacks, walked off the job the next day, however.

In late October, with all the mines in Floyd County idle, the major operators--the men who controlled the tipples and the leases--formed a "paper" company which subtracted the royalty, social security and unemployment compensation deductions automatically when the truck mine owners sold their coal at the tipples. Negotiation on wages was left unsettled, but there seemed to be hope that a satisfactory agreement would be reached quickly. In the meantime the mines set their own wages. Although royalties are now being paid in Floyd County, no general wage agreement has been reached; the discontent continues. Many men have gone back to work in order to sustain some kind of living, even though meager. Should enough financial support develop for another prolonged strike, they would unhesitatingly walk off again.

Lee Howell, a short, bulky man, is the leaders of the Floyd county strikers. Firmly convinced that the operators could pay higher wages and that there is enough work in the mines for all the unemployed men in the county, he sees the current struggle as a case of the "big fellow" trying to "get the poor man." The last time he worked in a mine was July, 1962, when he received $23 for three days work. A good union man, he refused to continue under such conditions.

Possessing only an eighth-grade education and wide experience as a laborer, Howell does not realize the complexities of the problem he is attempting to solve: B. F. Reed, the chief coal operator, "should be run out of the county;" the solution of the thirties a strong union, "would solve all this, and that's the truth." He refuses to admit that lack of demand for coal must result in fewer jobs and lower wages.

And he is pathetically ill-equipped to handle the tremendous task of leadership he has assumed. Writing a letter is a difficult task, and he has little idea of what legal means are open to him. He is unguarded in his speech and sometimes reckless in his actions. At the present time he is under several thousand dollars worth of peace bonds on charges ranging from "banding together" to threatening bodily injury with a deadly weapon.

Means Business

But if Howell is not a sophisticated labor leader, he is a dedicated man and a man who is affected deeply by the hardship of his fellows. He refuses to resign his men to a life existing on government subsidies, and he will not tolerate injustices. While opposing violence in principle, he is not afraid to use it. "They're gonna have to see we mean business--and we do, buddy; I'm the man that can see this through." And he thinks his strike is a crucial one for all unions. "If we lose here, they all will go down."

To establish any bargaining position, Howell will once again have to close all the mines in Floyd County. This may not prove easy. Men now working for about $15 dollars a day are afraid that joining a strike will endanger their jobs, and others feel the situation is hopeless. Bernard Howell, president of the UMW local, is one of the men with the later view. Although he worked with Lee to organize the wildcat pickets last fall "because our union let us down," he now thinks it impossible to support another non-union strike. Even if money for a strike could be obtained, Bernard has little faith it could "break the power of the big operators." Tired of fighting what he thinks is a losing battle, he plans to resign his union post and leave Kentucky. "In the end you'll end up working the operator's way," he said bitterly, "or you won't work at all."

As Lee Howell sees it, his only chance of combating this despondency and supporting a strike is inducing the Teamsters to organize the county. Practically every miner in McDowell watched Dave Brinkley's report on Jimmy Hoffa and his union, and to them Hoffa looks like the messiah. "Jimmy could do it," was the general opinion. "He's tough--if we get him in here that will fix things up in short order." Tough men themselves, these miners are convinced Hoffa will understand them and their problem. But a Teamster representative recently studied the situation and reported that it was almost hopeless. The Union has no plans now to intervene.

Perhaps the most hated man in Floyd County is B.F. Reed, the largest operator. To the discontented miners Reed symbolizes the wealth and arrogance of the operators, the fat cat who starves babies. But Reed is not an orge; like Howell and his followers, he is a man held prisoner by circumstances and by his own views. And Reed firmly believes that he is doing all he can to alleviate an intolerable situation.

Maximum Jobs

When the UMW produced its 1950 wage contract, Reed decided he could not meet its terms. Closing his rail mines, he leased his land to truck operators, thinking this would be the best way to produce the maximum amount of coal and jobs. The truck mines, he explains, while not able to pay union wages, "do provide a living for men who otherwise would not have a job." In fact, he is certain that a man shovelling coal in a truck mine is earning better wages than unskilled or semi-skilled workers in other industries.

A self-made man who started out shovelling coal himself, Reed has little patience for "failures." If a man works hard and spends his money wisely, Reed maintains, he will make something of himself. He suggested that about 90 per cent of the unemployed men in the county were "unemployable"--men who couldn't act responsibly or were too unskilled to work. "The poor," Reed feels, "would be poor anywhere."

And he has no use for men like Lee Howell; he will not even talk to him. Howell is a trouble maker, upsetting the normal course of events. "This county would be a lot better off without him in it," because Howell attempts to "set class against class." As far as Reed is concerned, Floyd County should "stop pitying itself and start working together."

There is a huge gap of communication between Reed and his miners. Reed believes, for instance, that every man in his mines is earning at least a living wage--a figure which he sets at $3,000 a year. He cannot believe that Howell has a large box full of pay statements which tell a tale of incredibly low wages. Before leaving their jobs last fall men were drawing around $10 a day, and not working five days a week. And I found few men now working who averaged much more than $12 a day, except in the largest truck mines. Because Reed does not know how desperate the situation is for many miners, he cannot understand their bitterness.

Views Close

The antipathy and lack of understanding that exists between Reed and Howell is tragic, because their views on what should be done are very close. Both accept the fact that payment by tonnage--rather than by hours--is the correct way to run a truck mine. Both maintain that the inefficient truck mines should close, although Reed thinks they will close themselves and Howell feels they should be forcibly shut down. Howell would be willing to settle for a guarantee of around $18-20 a day; Reed would quickly accept $15. And Reed is willing to pay the royalities even though he thinks them "oppressive." While he doesn't think the hospitals need be so elaborate ("This is not Miami Beach"), he recognizes how essential they are to the miner. Unfortunately, neither of them knows each other's thoughts. They rely on rumors for information about each other and therefore grow increasingly alienated.

Meanwhile McDowell waits... and waits. Men sit all day on porches doing nothing, hardly even talking. Lethargy pervades the town and seems to affect everyone in it. Howell tries to keep up enthusiasm with his claim that "if I can get someone to scotch for me we're gonna win," but to many this talk is losing its inspirational effect. The strikers are already deeply in debt for last fall's pickets, and this debt weighs heavily on them.

Further south, in Perry Country, the atmosphere is somewhat different, and the issues are even more confused. Hazard, the country seat, has just recovered from the worst flood since the 1860s, and now it fearfully awaits the return of the fury of the pickets. (McDowell also suffered heavy floods, but destruction was less severe.)

In Floyd country the welfare royalties are being paid and the method of mine ownership is clear. B.F. Reed may be rich, but his money now comes from banking and other investments rather than from coal exlusively. Perry Country is almost entirely non-union, and the operators have used a maze of dodging techniques to avoid signing a contract. In many cases a mine has been organized, only to have ownership transferred or a new "paper" company set up to run the mine without union restrictions. Because of greater injustices and higher unemployment, the picketing was more violent and tempers are quicker than in Floyd country. And the publicity given the town has brought in outsiders who are always distrusted by the mountain people of Kentucky.

The operators and representatives of the business community consider the picketers to be "renegades," "bandits," and "racketeers." They suspect Communist agitation from outsiders, although they think the miners themselves "aren't smart enough to be Communists." To the business community the picketers are irresponsible, men who couldn't be employed. "This is hardly a strike," said one operator, "because the men involved haven't left their jobs--they didn't have any to start with. No one would want to hire these trouble-makers."

Berman Gibson, the leader of the pickets, smiles at these charges. His grin is a confident one, the smile of a man who is sure of victory. A big swarthy man who is gentle with his family but a powerful demagogic speaker with great charisma at miner's meetings, Gibson is actively preparing for a show-down battle this spring. He "knows these operators can pay the money," and several observers agree with him, as many of the mines in Perry country are mechanized.

Unlike Howell, who feels the need of union support and blames the UMW for "letting us down," Gibson thinks he must organize the country without the UMW and then let the UMW assume control. "If the UMW authorized this strike they would be too deep in law suits," Gibson says.

"We have to do it for them." Counting on donations from other unions and individuals for support, Gibson intends to revive the roving pickets of last fall if he wins the injunction case Monday. These pickets, he claims privately will be peaceful, but at meetings he is far more sympathetic to those who advocate violence if necessary. And violence may be needed just to coerce miners now working to join the protest. Many distrust Gibson or feel he cannot win. Gibson knows this, retorting that "we have some of the yellowest men in the world in this country."

There is considerable doubt that Gibson could successfully conduct a country-wide strike. Many of his followers are retired miners, and splits have occured among the striking group. Last week there was considerable speculation that Gibson had lost control to another man who feels some of Gibson's intimates are too prone to violence. But he refuses to admit the possibility of defeat for the strikers. "We can't lose any more than we have already. We'll starve it out if necessary."

Contrasting sharply with the unhappiness and poverty in Hazard and McDowell is nearby Wheelwright, Ky., and perhaps this contrast is a stimulus to the agitation. Wheelwright is owned by Inland Steel, which operates a large, highly mechanized rail mine. Inland miners work under a UMW contract and live in a town benevolently managed by Inland. Except for the fact that a private company rather than a State is the economic planner, Wheelwright closely resembles a model for a socialist city. Comfortable houses are rented to the miners at rates (about $25 a month) which do not even cover maintenance. The company runs stores which compete favorably with others in the area and provides various civic services.

Inland's mines are dramatically different from the truck operations. Safety measures which smaller mines cannot afford have taken much of the danger out of mining, and huge machines eliminate the physical exhaustion. In a typical truck mine a man crawls into a low tunnel supported by timbers, blasts his coal with dynamite, and shovels it out onto carts by hand. There is always the danger of heavy chunks of shale falling on a man from the mine ceiling. The work is tough, grimy, and hazardous. At Inland's mine the roof is supported by long bolts, and the coal is blasted with compressed air. A 35 foot long machine with a giant sword cuts the coal, and another monster resembling a dinosaur, the joy loader, scoops it up and transfers it to a cart. Conveyer belts carry the coal to the tipple for processing. Three strong men in an unmechanized mine can load a ton and a half in 15 minutes; one man with a joy loader handles two tons in 15 seconds.

The coal seams at Inland's mines are similar to those in the truck mines. They are more productive because Inland decided about eight years ago that the only way to compete was to mechanize. That decision has caused the work force to shrink by almost 90 per cent, but the company has let natural attrition rather than firing take care of the depletion. Operators of the truck mines note that Inland was able to mechanize because it was assured a market--Inland's steel plants--and because the company had large capital resources. Regardless of the reasons, though, Inland is now competing directly with the truck mines, as only two-thirds of its production goes to company steel plants. Without mechanizing themselves, the small mines will be forced to maintain low8Inland Steel

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Poem: Ice

a boy

beats on an icy

pond with a


dislodging the

winter moon

on a hillside

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Rodolfo Acuna on the history of Chicano studies

The University of Denver has serious programs to recruit Chicanas and Chicanos but is less developed in Chicano studies (located in the Southwest, this could be a natural and important focus of the University). That creating such programs has always been a struggle was made clear recently in a talk about the early 1970s at Cal State Northridge by Rodolfo Acuna. Suppressed or forgotten histories, ones submerged in amnesias (about ethnic cleansing toward Native Americans or the central role of black Patriots in the Revolutionary War and afterwards) or seeking to be returned to "amnesia" as in the vicious attack on Chicano studies in high schools in Tucson, always have difficulty making themselves heard, as Rodolfo underlines.


Going to the Edge
Over the Cliff

Rodolfo F. Acuña

Prepared for April 14, 2014

I guess I am the ghost of Chicana/o studies past of this panel, so I will take the liberty of a a ghost and not recount forty-five years of war stories; instead I will concentrate on how and why Chicana/o Studies at CSUN [Cal State University Northridge] has survived. The answer revolves around students, who are the heart of the department. One must always remember that the academy rejects new innovations and races much the same as our bodies reject heart or other transplants. Without the students’ radical presence the transplant would have never survived.

Our story begins with first wave of students who deserve most of the credit, beginning with the takeover of the administration building by the Black Student Union [November 4, 1968] through the entrance of our first class of about 275 Latino students in the fall of 1969. Without them the transplant would have failed.

The late sixties were different times. Mexican Americans were a small regional minority who were not known by academicians who had a difficult time distinguishing between a taco and a burrito. Most colleges and universities were intent on building Harvards of the West – which meant avoiding intellectual incest and hiring faculty members from other regions -- preferably from Ivy League schools. The problem was that these professors although they knew about the African-American movement knew very little about Mexicans who many considered foreigners. In contrast to today, the Mexican American numbers were not visible. This lack of historical context was a barrier that we had to overcome because outside a handful of white faculty there was little internal support for lo mexicano.

The presence of a strong militant black population was invaluable to passing most of our curricular proposals, and pushing for the effective outreach of Mexican American students. I relied on this momentum to increase during the fall 69. However, the BSU had suffered as a result of November 4 [see here] - and most of its militant leadership was standing trial for kidnaping and related charges [the San Fernando Valley 19]. I learned from Bill Burwell that black students would not be taking part in campus politics, and unlike Archie Chapman and the more militant BSU sector, would deal independently with the administration. Although I did not agree with this decision, it was as don Corleone would say a smart move.

However, without student militancy Chicano Studies was dead in the water. The momentum was not there; in the fall of 1969 we numbered less than 275 students most of whom were first time college students. Fortunately some leadership entered from the community colleges. So I decided that we had to roll the dice and hope our numbers came up. In brief consultation with some faculty and students it was decided that MEChA would fill the void left by the BSU. We would act in concert with the SDS but promote our issues and make our decisions in the context of our priorities. We would not negotiate with the administration, and we would break impasses by packing their meetings. The department almost always had students and community leaders on negotiating teams. Often the irrational was our greatest ally.

That fall there were several conflicts with the student senate and the dean of students. It paid off because the administration feared another November 4. Each victory added to our presence. This and outside militancy further established our credentials among the left sector of the faculty. We also built alliances with the American Federation of Teachers who needed our votes in committees. The administration was put on notice that we would go to the edge of the cliff, and if need be go over the cliff. My own feeling was that we had nothing to lose – remaining insignificant and weak was no way to live. I was 35 and could always sell used cars.

In the meantime, I discouraged any type of relationship with administrators. You can’t eat with them and then shit on their plate. The one time this was breached was when I suddenly and unexpectedly left for Mexico for five months. The vice-president took advantage of the inexperience of the chair and had him sign away our rights to establish an education program. When I came back I found the department in disarray and in conjunction with Jorge Garcia and Gerald Reséndez, we put it back on track.

The students had acquired a militant reputation, and after the burning of the Chicana/o House were at the front of the protest line. They were united but many had become disheartened by our loss of momentum in the spring of 1971. There were also too many drugs, which was facilitated by the structure of the dorms. MEChA, however, soon regained its edge. Meanwhile, the leadership had noticeably shifted to the Chicanas. The retention was higher among women than for males, most coming better prepared for college. They were a stabilizing force; they began programs like the day care center that helped socialize incoming Chicanas.

There are so many events that merit telling but 30 minutes ain’t much time. Without a doubt, the project that institutionalized Chicana/o Studies was a Ford Foundation Grant of $347,000. Prior to this I had resisted taking grants; I was wary of them because of my experiences with the War on Poverty. In fact we had torpedoed efforts to bring in outside (soft) money by other departments. They were Trojan Horses that lessened our control, and the need for the institution to negotiate with us. Grants bring in soft money that only makes the university rich.

We, however, decided to break this boycott of outside funds. Ford asked us to come up with a program, we did not solicit it, so we dictated the terms. We could go to the edge and over the cliff. Our goal was to produce jobs for our graduates that would motivate them to take CHS classes and establish the viability of the area of study. Next we exploited the status of CSUN as a teacher training institution.

In order to maximize the impact of the grant, we designed it to benefit the student. It was based on student stipends not frills for the university. One hundred and fifty students would be granted stipends of $1000 a year for two years, divided into three overlapping cycles.[At that time, this covered most of tuition; the inflation of campus price, student debt-slavery, and attempt to destroy public universities has all occurred since]. This number would be supplemented by another 150 students receiving financial aid. They would be grouped in a special program and all would be Ford Fellows. CSUN got 10 percent in administrative costs (it usually gets 40 percent), which wa refunded to OCT (Operation Chicano Teacher). The instructors, classrooms, and supplies were paid by the university.

The program generated student enrollment, and CHS in turn got a larger budget and faculty positions paid out of hard money. There was no release time, and indeed some of us taught an extra class to get students under the wire before the Ryan Act kicked in. It forced other departments to deal with us in committees and at the bargaining table. We got one extension of $150,000, and in toto graduated over 250 Chicana/o teachers – impacting the diversity of the teaching pool in Ventura County and the San Fernando Valley.

Things were also changing university-wide. A sudden decline in white enrollment made our students more attractive to other departments who now tolerated our students because they needed them to survive. The narrative of white faulty changed, and they popularized a counter-narrative that said that they did not hire Latinos because of CHS.

Meanwhile, nothing is free. Before the last extension I was contacted by Ralph Bohrson, a representative of the Ford Foundation, who wanted me to go to New Mexico where Ford was in a fight with Reis López Tijerina. They wanted me to go on a speaking tour to counter Reis’ influence – I refused and I later learned through Abel Amaya [Abel was one of my first students at the Graduate School of International Studies at the University of Denver] that this field agent and his allies led the opposition to a renewal of Operation Chicano Teacher because, according to Amaya, “it did not fall within its paradigm.” Other offers of funding also came from a representative of LEA:Local Enforcement Agency which after some debate we rejected.

In a nutshell, in order to plant a new area of study as foreign as Chicana/o Studies, you have to be prepared to go to the edge of the mountain and if need be over the cliff. You are playing for keeps.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Hotel Bauen workers' cooperative under threat

Minsun Ji, a longstanding organizer of day laborers and my student, is writing on cooperatives as an alternative to current predation (that to be a sociopath is often to have the characteristics of a CEO is one of the worst things about a contemporary capitalism which is intolerant of a decent lifestyle for all, which needs not just to deny a safety net to workers but to impoverish the middle class as well). Minsun is currently in Argentina and ran across the case of Hotel Bauen workers, who have successfully operated the hotel for 11 years but are now faced with eviction. The capitalists who did not repay loans and shut the building down have no decent claim on it. An international campaign is being mounted on the cooperative's behalf. I hope you will join.


"Hi Alan

Hope you are well.

I am currently in Buenos Aires, to interview worker owned cooperatives, recuperated worker cooperatives, labor unions and community organizations to learn about their social movement.

Can you please help circulate this petition widely to your network? Hotel BAUEN workers are facing another eviction notice after operating the hotel for the past 11 years and they are launching an international campaign to get support. Thank you very much.



"In support of the self-managed workers of the Hotel BAUEN (Buenos Aires, Argentina)

Tuesday, April 15 and Wednesday, April 16, 2014
International days of solidarity with Hotel BAUEN

We invite you to include your name in the worldwide petition being gathered on behalf of the self-managed workers of the Hotel BAUEN, located in downtown Buenos Aires, Argentina. Click here to include your name in the petition: Collection of signatures in solidarity with the workers of the Hotel BAUEN Managed by Marcelo Vieta (University of Toronto) marcelo.vieta [at] utoronto.ca Survey

The workers of the Hotel BAUEN, after 11 years of successfully self-managing the hotel as a worker-recuperated enterprise (empresa recuperada por sus trabajadores), face permanent eviction next week. Numerous workers’ organizations, social movements, and people in solidarity with the Hotel BAUEN workers from around the world are expressing their solidarity with the workers.

Hotel BAUEN is one of the most emblematic worker-recuperated businesses in Argentina. Closed by its owners as part of a fraudulent scheme that left its workers out on the street at the end of 2001, the 20-story building located in downtown Buenos Aires was asset stripped and abandoned by its owners for more than a year before a group of former workers occupied the space on March 21, 2003. Thus began a process of 11 years of self-management that has created 130 jobs and made major investments in repairing the hotel’s infrastructure problems, all with very little external financing.

Hotel BAUEN, which was once a symbol of the corruption of power in Argentina, has now become a meeting place for social movements, unions, and workers’ organizations. Over the past decade, the hotel has hosted hundreds of organizing conferences and debates, as well as academic and cultural events.

Hotel BAUEN is not just an emblem of self-management. It is also a symbol for the collective memory of the collusion and corruption between economic power and the genocidal dictatorship that ruled and bloodied Argentina between 1976 to 1983. Hotel BAUEN was constructed in preparation for the soccer World Cup in 1978 and financed with loans from the national bank (BANADE) that were never repaid. Because of this outstanding debt, the state of Argentina could choose to recover the property of the hotel on behalf of its workers. Instead, although the debt has – still, to date – never been repaid by former owners, the courts have ruled that the company Mercoteles (a continuation of the original owners) is the owner of the building, effectively ordering the eviction of the worker cooperative. The worker cooperative in Hotel BAUEN has since appealed the ruling, but their lawsuit was rejected at all levels of the Argentine justice system.

On March 21, 2014, while the self-managed workers of Hotel BAUEN celebrated 11 years since the recuperation of the hotel, the court renewed the eviction order against the cooperative. The workers, along with many social organizations, are committed to resisting the order in the hopes that they will find a definitive solution that recognizes their work, investments, and the social, economic and cultural role of a self-managed enterprise, instead of rewarding corrupt businesspeople complicit with the the military dictatorship.

The signatures in the petition represent those who stand in solidarity with the workers of Hotel BAUEN. They represent a call for a solution that will permit the workers of Hotel BAUEN to continue self-managing the hotel as an example to the world.

Click here to include your name in the petition: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/R7HGGT8

To send an email of support to the Hotel BAUEN workers: prensabauen@gmail.com or andres.ruggeri@gmail.com

On behalf of the Hotel BAUEN workers,

Andrés Ruggeri, Professor and Director of the Open Faculty Program, Faculty of Philosophy and Letters, University of Buenos Aires

Marcelo Vieta, Assistant Professor, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto (effective July 1, 2014)"

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Phil Woods' poem about John and Condi Rice

The Humphrey Institute at the University of Minnesota is paying Condi Rice a large sum of money to speak Wednesday night (April 17). See here. Students for a Democratic Society and others asked for brief time to speak: to raise uncomfortable questions about aggression against and occupation of Iraq (lately, the Shiite government has legislation to force marriage on 9 year olds...) and particularly torture. One would think this would be easy for the Institute to grant as a matter of honor, free speech (as when Bush came to the University of Denver this summer) being an often invoked University ideal. But Universities raise money from the powerful and are reluctant to have the criminality of government speakers confronted by questions. Protestors (and audiences), they require, should be silent at glossy University events.

But SDS and other believers in law and democracy are protesting from below.

University administrations are, at least partially an important component of the war complex - what I have called the military-industrial-Congressional-think tank-intelligence-University administrations and favored scholars, satellite foreign militaries like Egypt's (it receives over a billion dollars a year to purchase US weaponry), major US foundations complex. The phrase is ungainly and my awareness of different aspects of it - and hence, the length of it - is growing. President Eisenhower gestured at it in his Farewell Address about the military-industrial complex (actually the military-industrial-congressional complex in his draft, but he thought that might be too frightening for his audience and so crossed the third branch of it out in the final speech).

But resistance to cries for war and attempts to paint torture (100 were murdered in American custody according to Pentagon statistics) as "not so bad" - the Bush administration attacked this centerpiece of international law and the Obama administration has done nothing to obey its treaty obligations under the Convention against Torture and even hold hearings (each power is supposed to bring its own torturers to justice first and quickly; the international community has been taking steps since 2008 which is why Condi can go to Minnesota and Rutgers, but not abroad. See here.


Here is Phil's poem on the complexities of dealing with the Klan for many black Southerners including ministers in Birmingham like John Rice and the curious denials of his daughter:


I met her father once.
He'd come up from Birmingham
after the church bombing
to be a Dean at DU.
He drove out to Commerce City--
the suburb next to the stinky
oil refineries
where half the fathers
were long haul truckers
& gone most of the time
to talk to my class
about the Civil Rights Movement.
His face was full of lines
aged in from a lifetime of wariness.
He slept with one eye open.
Growing up black in the Deep South
will do that.

He said something like:
“Yes, we loved Martin;
we followed him,
but most of us
kept shot guns
under our beds.
You don't let people
shoot up your house
without a fight.”

Non-violence, yes, but
practical too.

His daughter
told The New Yorker
she owed the Movement
All her success
was entirely
her own doing.
(I liked her father better.)

Now Condi
gets $150,000
to tell college students
what the Civil Rights
Movement was all about.

She doesn't get
put on trial
like Goring
before his suicide
& her pal,
the football fan,
he's exhibiting his paintings
instead of wearing
an orange jump suit
for unspeakable crimes.

Such is life
in the last days
of the Republic.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Aurora pickets for immigrant rights: Rob Prince on Latinos and his grandmother

Being on a picket line is good for the soul, as my friend Rob Prince's powerful account of demonstrating at the "Aurora Processing Center" indicates (like the Bush "Clean Skies Program" or "Enhanced Interrogations" or the name of companies which engage in backing dictatorships and slaughtering innocents like Xe Corporation, formerly Blackwater, or Consolidated Systems Inc which manufactured every tear gas canister used by Mubarak undergirded by American "aid" against Arab Spring in Egypt). Not honesty and straightforwardness but bizarre euphemisms for criminality is characteristic of government under the latest, increasingly authoritarian and militarist with some parliamentary and rights-oriented remnants capitalism. In addition, America is an empire in decline...). Rob speaks of his family's immigration to the United States, his aunt and uncle being forced to return to Europe on "eugenic" grounds (even the FDR administration would turn away Jews from Europe, so that Hitler could say: "You see, America doesn't want them, either." (see Katherine Ann Porter, Ship of Fools).


My anarchist grandparents emigrated from Prylucki in the Ukraine (the ghetto), his fleeing prompted by organizing in the tsarist army in 1898, four years before the first Russian peasant revolt in the lead up to the 1905 Revolution, and being betrayed. Their names were often anglicized (as with indigenous people, the "superior" race had a hard time with names and often decreed them). But Sofie and JJ Cohen were not, as Rob's were, detained or sent back for an eye infection (the master race is often excessively concerned with "healthy bodies," displaying "Aryan" or "Nordic" children as supposed examples).


Today's wall against immigrants - except for indigenous Americans, this is a land of immigrants spouting false patriotism and nativism - is a silly creation of the Republicans, catered to by the Democrats, to shovel money to the .001%, harm most of us, and get people to blame immigrants (I first saw Obama debate Hillary, defending immigrants against the charge of stealing black teenage jobs - I thought he might get shot for saying such true things...- and Hillary reading from the script of the rich about meeting an unemployed black construction worker in Atlanta who said "that job was taken by a Mexican" and "that job..." (Obama has, except for the dreamers, thus far done a very bad job as President on this issue; people are today picketing outside the White House...).


In my book Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy?, I begin from a citation from Jefferson about the so-called Alien and Sedition Act (1798) which made it a capital crime to criticize the President (except for a shining moment of advocacy of the Declaration of Independence, the bizarrely reactionary John Adams): "Now that an Alien Act has targeted the immigrant, the citizen had better not be too confident, for already has a Sedition Act marked him for its prey." The Sedition Act sought to suppress a second party, the Democratic-Republicans of whom Jefferson and Madison were the leaders; Jefferson won the elation of 1800 and, thus, created a two party democracy as against single party rule. These were pretty high stakes.

The Alien Act target Scottish and Irish editors of pro-Jefferson newspapers. Oh, those immigrants...


In Los Angeles, I worked, as an SDS organizer, to organize or more aptly, accompany immigrant women in the garment industry and radical farmworkers in Delano (H/t Victor, Enrique and Epifanio, and Staughton Lynd). Today campus workers often speak Spanish and anyone who is not working to become bilingual is losing out. There were huge protests for human rights and decency on May 1, 2011 in Denver. But such divisions are, as Marx said of the English workers who looked down on the Irish (half the work force), "the secret of the impotence of the English working class, despite its high level of organization." (letter to Meyer and Vogt, 1870). And they are cultivated by the elite "through press, pulpit and comic paper." See Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy?, ch. 4.


My mother Emma was an admirer of Paul Robeson and an early IQ tester; with Rob, I have long fought the eugenics movement. The rationale for IQ testing - a great industry - is little more significant than calling the prison for immigrants a "processing center." "Intelligence" is defined circularly as "what IQ tests test." The result is a rationalization of class, status, gender hierarchies, most fiercely directed at immigrants, blacks and chicanos, and indigenous people. See my Democratic Individuality, ch. 10).


It was wonderful that Rob's grandmother met him on the picket line. This is true, in spirit, for all Jews who fight against oppression - and especially against an Israeli regime which treats the Palestinians, the indigenous people, as exiles and forbidden immigrants in their own land (the same has long been true for indigenous people in America). To oppose racism and fight for equality and decency is the true heritage of those who have gone before...

There are many significances, many stories to be learned, from standing up. Rob's essay (from his blog) is a particularly moving one.


"Bring Them Home – Immigration Rights Monthly Protest At the Aurora Processing Center
by Rob Prince

Such a strange title for what amounts to a high security prison for undocumented immigrants being "processed" ...ie kicked out of the country,"the Aurora Processing Center." It is a fortress with high walls, barbed wire, an enormous facility a medieval dungeon in the 21st Century. But I have passed it many times driving down Peoria Street in Aurora and not even noticed it as it sits a block off of a main thoroughfare. If you didn't know what was going on there, it would not be illogical to think it a meat processing center. After all what is a "processing center?"But this processing center processes people and kicks them out of the country. It breaks up families and crushes souls.Colorado "processing center" in Aurora has one of the oppressive records in the country and this country's president has expelled more immigrants from these United States than anyone in his position in the past. A sorry record indeed and one that continues full steam.

There were about fifty of us out there protesting the treatment of undocumented residents of the United States. One of my daughters, Molly, had asked if I would go with her to the monthly protest meeting - first Monday of each month - at the Aurora Processing Center. A Jewish social justice group (finally!) in Denver, Bend The Arc, is also involved. Many present themselves or family members had been arrested by immigration and are facing deportation. One who had spent eight months inside the Aurora Processing Center was a woman named Kelly. She had been stopped for driving without a license and, her papers not in order, sent to the processing center for deportation. That she was able to get out of the center and remain in the country she credits to the immigration rights movement in Denver that helped her. But it would not have happened unless, as Kelly put it, she "came out of the shadows and into the light, to leave behind the fear"...go public and fight openly for her rights.

Molly had gone to these demonstrations several times before and it was about time that I joined in too. Immigration is a personal issue for me several generations removed. It is both a part of both the heritage of this country and of my own family. Along with many of their relatives, all of my grandparents immigrated to this country from what is today Lithuania, Poland and Belarus in the early years of the 20th century. My maternal grandmother, Sarah Magaziner (name changed to Magazine in the 1930s) was denied entry on her first try as a result of a minor eye infection. For that, - a woman who spoke seven languages fluently (Polish, Russian, Lithuanian, German, Yiddish, Swedish and Hebrew) - eight if English is thrown in - and who had the voice of an opera singer, the daughter of a long line of rabbis and fisherman on the Niemen River - was deemed "eugenically unfit" and sent back to Europe from Ellis Island in New York Harbor.

Sarah Wishejsky - in Bialystok, Poland, shortly before her marriage to Julius Magaziner. She was considered eugenically unfit at Ellis Island and sent back to Europe. He started a grand family pacifist tradition as he was a draft dodger from the Russian Army who escaped to the United States rather than spend twenty years in the army of a country which had organized pogroms (a nice word for massacres) of Russian and Ukrainian Jews.

She found refuge with a relative in Sweden. A few years later, she tried again, but this time her ship landed in Montreal from where she took a train down to New York City. While the Ellis Island entry to New York was as heavily guarded as the Mexican-U.S. border today (actually it is much worse today), there were no customs officers that greeted the trains from Canada to New York. So she slipped in, an illegal, undocumented woman from Bialystok, Poland with her two sons (one of whom died). One who survived, who made both journeys, was my Uncle Lou. Grandma Sarah would have fourteen pregnancies of which seven survived - my uncles Lou, Joe, Hymie, Ira, and Willie, my Aunt Mal (b. Molly changed her name to Malvina because it sounded more exotic as an adult) and the youngest and most pampered of the lot, my mother, Beatrice Magazine, called Beattie by her siblings and friends.

While anti-Semitism is still alive and well in some quarters here in the USA it is nowhere near as virulent today here as it was a century ago. Still it seems to have a life of its own just down the road from us in Colorado Springs both in its born-again mega-churches and as it has been revealed, there is no small dose of it at the U.S. Air Force Academy as well. There are several bigoted "Christian identity" churches in northern Colorado near the Wyoming state line.

For all that, there is very little blatant anti-Semitism in the state and the Jewish Community here - especially in Denver and Boulder has thrived and made its mark. Although there are always demons in the shadows, being a Jew in the United States today is not so hard as it was a century ago when the Prenskys, Magaziners, Wishejskys and Dubinskys - my relatives on both sides - landed in New York City.

Of course they came green off the boat a century ago...and culturally and religiously I suppose - it feels even longer than that. But it isn't - just two generations. Jews in the early 20th century were in the forefront of immigration rights, civil rights movements in part because it has always been an integral part of Jewish heritage - Israel aside - in part because of the very real discrimination my relatives, ancestors suffered, here in the USA and in Europe. But then as things happen and time goes by and prosperity set in, memories of past injustices seem to fade. We tend to forget the thorny path on which our ancestors walked.

But I can't seem to forget. I looked at these young Mexican mothers this evening fighting for their human rights to stay, live and participate in this country, fighting for their children, their husbands, brothers and sisters and I see my grandmother Sarah clinging to my Uncle Lou being forced back to Europe...from whence they made the journey "across the pond" a second and more successful time. I see this highly cultured and beautiful woman, daughter of a rabbi cursed as eugenically unfit, a subhuman by an Ellis Island immigration officer. Grandma Sarah, whose picture I carry in my wallet, speaks to me in her voice of broken English mixed with Yiddish saying..."Robinu, why did you wait so long to join them on this picket line..I've been waiting for you."

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Poem: Carmelites

a noose of rain

Dachau is but a nest of stones and Carmelite

the barracks are no more

the town has festivals

the brookstills outside the wire

the bridge babbles the crematorium

the hangman says

the earth does not reek

the town is not


there is no

Fleisch in the smoke