The Carpet Bagger's Journal — moving from NYC to Mississippi

July 27, 2016

Breaking Glass and Other Unladylike Activities

Pardon my silence, gentle readers, over the last two weeks. Apart from the horrible shooting of innocent civilians and police officers in Louisiana, about which I will have much more to say later, I have been glued to the television watching a barrier  to women’s progress drop — why others seem to care less, I cannot say.  All I know is that whether you adore or loathe Madam Clinton, that barrier got busted last night, and I feel like a huge burden has been lifted off of me that the women in my family have carried for generations.  I suspect the women in your family have been carrying it, too.

window glass

It’s not corny. It’s not something to take for granted. It’s really important.

My family’s women fought for the right to vote.  They have been involved in politics in material ways since then.  One of my grandmothers joined the League of Women Voters pretty much as soon as it was opened and organized for the Democrats.  My other grandmother joined the Communist Party when she was young, attended meetings (really quite possibly) in the same place Arthur Miller did.  The women in my family never devoted much energy to Junior League-approved activities.  Multiple generations of them (before me) were bad cooks. They never did more sewing than the socially acceptable minimum, probably dating back to the reign of Queen Neb in Ireland. They wanted something more public to do, always.more engaged with the world outside, but that world dismissed their efforts.

Survival for these women was always precarious, as they couldn’t run their own lives as much as they ought to have been able to do, and it was always by grit that they pulled themselves out, not ladylike graciousness.  Let me give you some examples from my past:

Sfearthquake3b

My great-grandmother walked out of this mess with a chest of drawers strapped to her back and toddlers clinging to her skirts.

One of my great-grandmothers lived in San Francisco in 1906.  She had a drunk for a husband and several small children. When the quake hit, her house stood, but her husband was trapped under rubble in some bar.  She assumed he must be dead.  As the fire approached her block of the city, she had to flee.  She took a chest of drawers, some of her husband’s belts, filled the chest of drawers with all the valuables she could stuff into it, strapped it shut with one belt, strapped it on her back with two others, and she told her children to cling to her skirts while they walked away from the fire, the billowing smoke close behind them, the sound of windows exploding in the heat shattering, the dust of the rubble in their nostrils. She managed to walk the little family to a patch of land they owned far outside of town.  She managed to get a house up.  She managed to get a job as the post mistress, though this was a novelty at the time, a woman touching others’ letters. She put money aside to build a church in the country town near the house was.  Meanwhile, her husband eventually showed up, temporarily sober, and eventually disappeared again for years and years, to show up periodically. She didn’t legally own the land or the house.  She couldn’t preach or even read a Bible passage in the church.  She couldn’t have risen in the ranks of her profession.  She didn’t own her own life, really, but she had built it out of the ashes of disaster.

lower-east-side-history

My widowed great-grandmother, saddled with six kids, made it out of this squalor and sent all her children to college.

Another example: Another one of my great-grandmothers was on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, married young to a door-to-door salesman at about that time.  They had six kids, one right after the other.  She did work with artificial flowers for a factory at home as she watched them in a tenement apartment. When the youngest child was two and the oldest child was only ten, my great-grandfather stepped on a rusty nail while making his rounds and died of tetanus the next day.  There was no social security back then, and no life insurance.  By the absolutely mammoth grit of that woman, she worked herself harder than a human being ought to work in order to send all six of those children to college.  She made every activity into a lesson.  Counting blocks on the bus was a math lesson.  Family meetings were run by Roberts rules of order as a civics lesson. All six of those children went to college. A couple of them became millionaires. She never lived in anything bigger than an apartment in a city. She poured all her resources into others, except for her truly indomitable strength.  I remember her staring at me when I was a toddler, beaming with pride.  She did not suffer weaklings well.  In the bitterness of her hard life, she could be cruel. In me, she saw a future of strong women.  That, she liked. She needed someone to win the fights she had not been able to win, to carry on a struggle that stemmed class struggle and the double indemnity of being born female and poor.

Nobody tells these stories to children, I think.  They don’t want to frighten them.  Grandmas are supposed to bake things. They are supposed to sing songs with little girls and braid hair. But that’s not the truth, really. The truth is that life is always tough as a mother in one way or another, and the women have to dig deep into the dirt, drill into the concrete, to make sure they can withstand it all.  You probably have no idea of the struggle behind you.  It’s not ladylike to talk about such things.  I’ve had to piece together the real story of my family in tiny scraps. You weren’t told the war stories of your foremothers.  You don’t even bear their family names.  But believe me, this is your story, too.  You probably don’t know half the hell you’ve made it out of, because you were clinging to somebody else’s skirts while you walked along slowly singing the alphabet, unconscious of the disaster you just barely eluded.

So all this I just told you — that’s why I don’t care whether you love Hillary Clinton or you hate her. What happened last night in Philadelphia matters to those rugged women behind you that got the short end of every stick. When they announced her nomination, my lungs filled with new air.  I stood taller. I felt different, a difference that I am certain will be permanent.  If you are a woman, and you don’t love what happened last night, I declare you blind.  I declare you unpatriotic.  I declare you so frigging privileged you have no idea what a spoiled brat you really are.

Gentle readers, I tell you — register to vote. Be brave. Take a deep breath.  The air is different today.  You can breathe deeply today.  You have no idea how much oxygen is left for you to take in.

 

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May 30, 2011

Voter ID as the new expression of racism in Mississippi

What the cops used to do in Mississippi voters of color -- now the Republicans want to institute an ID requirement in the same spirit of oppression.

It’s a crime today in Mississippi to do what the cops in this photo are doing — preventing a black man from registering to vote.  However, the Republican establishment of Mississippi, given their fear of a black activist voting population, want to make it effectively harder to vote in the State of Mississippi.  The Republicans are trying to introduce voter ID measures in the state that are unAmerican and anti-human-rights.

How can it be that in a country that requires ID to drive and to purchase alcohol that providing ID would be anti-democracy?  Imagine for a moment that the white men in this photo holding the black man in submission let go of him.  Let’s say they let him register to vote, get to a polling place.  Then, looking him square in the eye, filled with the implicit threat of their hatred of his rights, they demand to see his ID before he casts his ballot.  In a small town, one perhaps like the one in Mississippi where the prom is still segregated, voter ID is a deterrent for the people of color of the community the way that these cops holding this man back from registering to vote was a deterrent in the early 1960s.  Fair-minded people ought to be outraged at the very suggestion of a voter ID bill by Republicans, who desperately would like the black population of Mississippi to stay home on the first Tuesday of November.

The Republicans claim their concern is for voter fraud, but they re not concerned about fraud at all — the only game-changing  frauds are in the GOP, given the low, low turnout for most elections.  In many of districts in Mississippi, the majority of adult citizens are black.  This is a consequence of slavery and generations of share cropping.  In some districts, the percentage of people of color is above eighty percent.  Yet the majority of eligible persons are not voting.  The Democrats bear some responsibility for this — in some cases they have failed to inspire a turnout.  However, no one will doubt that the majority of people of color, were they to vote in the State of Mississippi, would not vote for candidates like Haley Barbour, who is the darling of white racists and a former presidential hopeful for the Republicans.  They would vote for Democrats.  Yes, an election where less than half of the people who might have voted actually vote is fundamentally fraudulent.  This by itself is not the fault of any one political party, but an initiative to limit access in even the slightest way to the ballot should shock the sensibility of any American.

Ironically, often the Republicans run in Mississippi on the notion that government needs to get out of our lives,  that regulations are unAmerican.  The gun laws in this state, for instance, are so very lax that I don’t even need to have a permit to own one on my own land.  I could own an arsenal without showing ID, one that would make David Koresh look like he was unarmed.  That’s the way Republicans want it.  However, if they get squeamish at the idea of voting without ID, I wonder who they think they are fooling.  Frankly, their work reminds me, particularly given Mississippi’s very libertarian gun laws, of the revolt to racist thinking that inspired  Malcom X to write his  famous speech “The Ballot or the Bullet.” Is that a choice for any  citizens in the 21st century?  Have we overcome so little in Mississippi  since this photograph was taken about 40 years ago?  Republicans just want these cops in this photo to look the black voter in the eye, check ID — intimidate — and keep this  man and  his family away from the polling places.

They disgust me.

March 19, 2011

Health Care Is a Right in Mississippi — why the Affordable Care Act Matters Around Here

When I was an activist with ACT UP in New York, we would often chant, “Health care is a right!” while picketing government official‘s fundraisers who refused to help men and women dying of AIDS or even acknowledge them with a comment more civilized than “good riddance.”  The thought that health care might indeed be a government-acknowledged right, not just a universal necessity, was relatively new in American discourse.

However, a year ago this week, I watched the congressional roll call on CSPAN on the vote for The Affordable Care Act, sometimes called pejoratively Obamacare, as if “care” were somehow a dirty word, and I remembered my dozens of friends who died from AIDS in the 1980s, sweet, young  gay men who might have been by now honest bankers, elected officials, scientists on the way  to important discoveries, and tenured faculty members.  I cried imagining how different their lives would have been if only there had been such a bill in place for them when they were in crisis.

But this isn’t New York — this is Mississippi, where I live now.  ACT UP is a distant memory.  The people around here, not activists, not fabulous urban gay men in the big Northeastern Cities, but ordinary working folks with families — they are the ones who are being told by the new Republican congress that the Affordable Healthcare Act is unnecessary, an invasion of their privacy and a stripping of their freedoms.  Can this be so?

Not according to a Mississippian named Kelly, who was kind enough to show me a  photo of her lovely family and  to allow me to tell a bit of their story in relation to this wonderful piece of landmark legislation.  Let me share with you Kelly’s family photograph right here  — a shout out to the Jacobs family, who are — Chase, Graham, Paul, the one the folks lovingly call “Mamasita,” Jennifer, and  Kelly herself :

The Jacobs family needs the Affordable Care Act passed by congress last year -- don't we all?

This typical, American heartland, apple pie family has benefited, Kelly tells me, from the Affordable Care Act in the following ways:

  • First, Paul, the fifty-something guy in the beige hat and sun glasses wearing a pretty hip t-shirt for a guy his age — he works full-time and has insurance, but he suffers from Lupus, which if untreated might end his life.  The so-called Obamacare has made him able to stay active and working because he has not had the Lupus called a “pre-existing condition” by an insurance company, and as such, he can afford medication and doctor’s visits that might otherwise be out of reach.
  • The despised Obamacare has also allowed him to have the kind of humane security we all need — to know that if we ever need to or want to leave a job, we can take our insurance with us or find other insurance in a manner that we can afford, even if we have suffered in that job change a drop in income.  This goes for Jenny and Kelly, too, of course.
  • Mamista, the lady next to Paul who looks beamingly proud of her tribe, holding the family kitty cat, she is still covered under her Medicare benefits — despite the rumors to the contrary fueled by insurance company activists, who see this law as a loss in profits, nothing at all has been taken away from her, and she has the peace of mind of knowing that these people who are literally surrounding her in love, her support group through her golden years, won’t have to give up their own health to take care of her in years to come.
  • Chase and Graham, both college students at the top of the photo, looking young and rowdy — their momma doesn’t have to worry — they can be covered on her insurance because the Affordable Care Act makes it so they can stay on her insurance until they are 26 , whether or not they are in school.  That means that the Jacobs family, which is doubtless making significant sacrifices to have two sons in college right now — Kelly didn’t tell me this, but that’s surely only because people from down here in Mississippi are a whole lot less whiny than they are in Brooklyn where I used to whine — they can better afford to pay tuition and college-related expenses and don’t have to worry about Chase breaking his arm on the hockey team (honestly, I don’t know if Chase plays hockey) or Graham slipping on an icy stairwell and hurting his knee because GOD FORBID these things should happen, they can see a doctor and get treated as needed.
  • Jenny is able to know that she can work freelance if she wants to and still buy into a community pool insurance, a whole lot cheaper than trying to buy insurance as an individual in the pre-ACA days, where a woman of childbearing years might as well have tried to insure a luxury yacht moored in pirate-infested waters near Somalia as buy herself some regular, don’t-make-me-lose-my-home-and-car-if-I-need-an-MRI health insurance.

Many people on the Left were hoping for a single-payer plan in the mix  of Obamacare — I know I was.  Many people on the Right have not fully absorbed the idea that — chant it with me — health care is a right, health care is a right — but ALL of us benefit from a healthy America, one where people don’ t go to the emergency room with a stroke because they didn’t have insurance to afford, say, cholesterol drugs.  We were the only developed country on the planet that had no particular governmental plan to handle this universal need, and now we do.

It is an important part of our evolution as a nation that Americans can get treated for ailments without losing the family farm now, and we have the Obama administration and the Democrats in Congress (like my rep, who is just fabulous, The Hon. Bennie Thompson, D-MS) to thank for it.

I remember my friends who died of AIDS fighting for an evolution in our thinking about healthcare with a particular wistfulness this week, but I am glad that the law that has come about does not just benefit an urban gay male population — rather it is for every one of us, whoever we are, whether we would have picketed as I did or not.

Chant it again, and call your Senators and remind them — health care is a right, health care is a right.

October 14, 2010

Ole Missed Opportunities — why voters should re-elect Childers, then dump him in two years

 

this man's staff is incompetent, or he is

 

The voters of the first district of Mississippi should re-elect Travis W. Childers (D-MS) to Congress on November 2, and on November 3, the local Democratic Party should start looking for someone to back against him in a primary, since he is bad for the Party.  He had an opportunity to make fellow and sister Democrats running locally matter in this election, and he kept the opportunity all to himself — stupidly, since the resulting political commerce, with every Democrat within a hundred miles owing him a favor would have made him a State Party Chairman with presidential potential.

Out of a combined sentiment that this election matters and a possible nostalgia, Bill Clinton chose to stump for Childers today in Oxford at the Ole Miss Grove of football mania fame.  He gave a speech far more humble than he needed to as a former President, and his Good Ol’ Boy charm remained intact despite looking tired.  He spoke to the people at Ole Miss the way one speaks to a Rotary Club luncheon if one is running for City Council — unpretentiously, with clear facts and figures related to fiscal issues that should make any — fill in the blank here — Democrat a desirable candidate.  He spoke in football metaphors and down home vernacular, in that Clintonian way that he does so masterfully — where we see that Bubba, or “Brother Bill,” as State Attorney General Jim Hood called him at the rally, is a genius.

Before Bill Clinton got there, the mayor of Oxford, the State Attorney General, a minister, and a very good Gospel Choir, took up perhaps fifteen minutes of a two-hour tardiness not uncommon when ex-Presidents go on the campaign trail for candidates.  What was glaringly obvious was that there was a crowd, for once, of thousands gathered in Mississippi, and there was an empty space of one hour and forty-five minutes when politicians could have addressed them.

Why weren’t the candidates of the Democratic party invited to speak, even under a “time permitting” invitation?  The crowd was restless.  Delays in such situations are predictable.  So why were there no other speakers invited?

Only two answers are possible, both of them quite plausible:

1) His campaign staff was incompetent.  If I were the candidate, I certainly should choose to fire them.  They could have made him bigger locally than he currently is, and his campaign communications director is the rudest woman I have ever met in politics.  She should be fired before the sun goes down tonight.  Understand that campaign communications directors are supposed to smile and nod at everyone, even when they think they are crazy, and they are there to promote the campaign’s agenda to the electorate.  She was snotty to me in a surprising way when I asked her for the campaign manager’s name — some kind of rookie since Joel Coon abandoned him — and she did not offer her own.   I wish I could type it here.  I also wish that I could think of a more sophisticated  word than the one that comes to mind to describe her — I only think of something that one might have drunk on a now-defunct airline — TWA tea.  She’s a rude cup of that kind of tea, and she has no business working in politics in any quarter.

2) Travis W. Childers is only interested in the good of Travis W. Childers, not the good of his electorate, and not the good of his party.  I have read that he said he had an “obamatross” hanging around his neck.  I somehow doubt he said it — it’s a bit cleverer than I imagine him to be, quite frankly, so I don’t think he said that.  “Let them eat cake” is more probable, as he voted against the Health Care Bill, and he did so in order to be reelected here.  He is probably not on the best of terms with the rest of the Mississippi Democratic Party.  He is short-sighted, because he could have, by sharing the limelight just a little bit, made a good number of friends here today, even among his enemies in the Party and his frenemies in the Party. A man that short-sighted is probably myopic because of an enlarged ego.

In either case, Bill Clinton is right.  The Democrats need not to give up this seat in Congress.  However, I have to believe that there are nicer, smarter and more forward-thinking Democrats in the Oxford area, and I believe that one of them needs to run against him in a primary in 2012.

Ex-Presidents carry a cachet with them.  This election is a tough one for Democrats.  Hoarding the wealth is a recipe for defeat.  Bill Clinton is eloquent and makes me proud to be a Democrat in Mississippi.  Childers should be ashamed of the way he played politics today and owes his Party an apology.

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