Sunday, August 24, 2008

Nothing to lose but walls

Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell underneath
And spills the upper boulders in the sun.
--Robert Frost

We used to see and hear the stories on TV, black and white back in the early sixties, of people trying to climb the Berlin Wall and being shot down, of others tunneling under, and we cheered them on. To us in our middle class neighborhoods these scenes were cruel aspects of some life far away from us, while we lived in freedom in America.

The Diary of Anne Frank, televised version, ended with that creepy up and down siren that lived on in the imagination afterward, even though that detail was actually a fiction. All of us little white children could never have imagined the horrors even in our own country of segregationist policies that kept some people out of the halls of power. Until they too showed up on that little screen in the living room, most of us were excruciatingly naïve. We had not yet comprehended our own shame, far less that of others, far less that of governments.

Oh, it was all in the Bible, those verses that we memorized and sought to practice against reprimands from our parents. But we had very little other context than our own back yards, the swing sets, the doll houses, the teeny little green rubber soldiers that engaged in make believe battles on the sidewalk or on the living room rug. A lot of us had fathers who were soldiers in World War II.

Across the street from where I was a new little house went up next to the giant oak tree and a family moved in with a couple of girls around my age and their little brother. Their father was a “Mason,” or so my mother told me with a touch of disdain in her voice. I never was sure what that meant or why it angered her. Maybe she was jealous.

But clearly it was some kind of distaste which was not even something described in the Ten Commandments, to my knowledge. I wanted her to be friends with the mother because one of those girls and I hit it off over making mud pies together. Before we moved away from there when I was twelve that family was already in another new house, bigger and better, around the block from us, and my first real friendship with someone outside the family had vanished into thin air. I never really knew what had happened. My first best friend had to be substituted for by some girls at school who were, presumably, of the right sort of Christian like us.

Where do those kinds of wall come from, the ones that prevent people from speaking their minds and honestly working out their problems, leaving some things unsaid with the blessing of humane acceptance? Those subtle walls known as prejudices slowly build over time into physical structures, separating us from the benefit of alternatives to our own rigid thinking. In the U.S. we now have the highest rate of incarceration in the world, and are building actual physical walls on our southern border.

Now, nearly half a century later than making my first solid friendship, everything on the computer screen is in color and you will not be able to watch TV next year if you have not yet made some adjustments for high definition. Oh yeah, it is all still about money. Some of us have access to information, political power, education and jobs and others do not.

And now we have businesses such as Boeing, a corporation which is a member of Dwight D. Eisenhauer's predicted military-industrial complex, benefiting from the current rage in building walls to keep people from crossing borders to our south, just like Israel has around Palestine. Here we have the effects of so-called “free trade” at work, along with climate change. Well, you know, it is all for our safety against terrorism (one of those “isms” in the same class as racism). And building walls provides Americans with jobs, not to mention gives some specific contractors access to government handouts. Who gives a deflated dollar if it hurts them there foreigners or does virtually no real good for us? For the most part it is kept totally out of our eyesight anyway, since the corporately owned media will not let us know what we are doing as a nation. And that keeps us innocent of any crime as individuals, at least in our imaginations.. It is all the property of the Homeland Security office or some foreign state that we underwrite. None of us need get our own hands dirty if we don't want to. It is just the way things are. We gotta have walls.

During my last couple of years in high school I lived in a southern state, not the Deep South, but close enough. We were some of the first students to go to the now desegregated school. The town was still divided, as it probably remains to this day, into black and white neighborhoods. Moving back to St. Louis again not long after graduation-- and even up until today-- our neighborhoods are still generally ethnically divided. People say that they want to live by people who are like them, but that is not the whole story and we know it, everyone who has half a brain. Yeah, we still have these walls, which we work together to maintain, despite those noble words of Robert Frost. If only they could tumble down so readily among us creatures so easily divided by hierarchical heritage with our fearful brains and hairless bodies hiding under clothes. Each of us insists we are some special breed because of the small piece of land upon which we were bred by circumstance outside of our command. Sometimes I feel lucky to be able to answer the eternally famous St. Louis question, “Where did you go to school?” with two words, ”Not here.”

Because I don't fit in anywhere. Because I started out working in the trenches with the least among us and did so for years and years, and I always wanted to learn something new. So I found out at a young age what dying was like, what a corpse actually looks like, how people are terrified by death and work like hell to bring someone back, rarely entertaining the idea that for some it might actually be an improvement over what they are experiencing on this plane.

And I went from hospitals to homes and usually made friends with the “lower class” workers and patients because they were more like me in many ways, despite some advantages that I have benefited from. In my own early life there had been violence, a lesson that imprints itself indelibly on the organism's physical body forever after, leaving trust of others always in question. Besides that I was “shy,” a quiet person who didn't talk excessively like most “leaders” do, so I became an astonishingly good observer, since that was my job, and also my lifestyle.

Politics are everywhere and nearly always involve dirt. When they sink to violence we might consider them animal, but the truth is that no other species is as self destructive as we are to ourselves. When Mr. Gorbachev “tore down those walls'” in 1989 as leader of the Soviet Union he was just a few years past the Chernobyl incident in the Ukraine. Reagan may have taken credit for it but internal pressure was probably more likely the cause of democratic moves in Eastern Europe.

Perhaps I have spent most of my life looking for something that will always remain totally inexplicable and elusive. We apparently cannot escape the despicable ways that humans beings behave so that we find lasting peace.

But this week I was given renewed hope by a small band of international human rights workers who sailed on a couple of fishing vessels into Gaza, opening the Palestinian citizens there to outsiders for the first time in forty-one years. The Free Gaza Movement had arrived.

On Saturday, August 23, two boats landed on the beach where they were welcomed by enthusiastic Palestinians, who have been blockaded into their small borders by the Israelis since 1967. Perhaps facing the devastation of ensuing global climate disruption will bring us forward into a new era of peace, working together for our common interests.

We really don't have much to lose in hoping.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Voting tech article link still alive

Amazingly a commentary of mine that was published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in April is still available via a live link.

Welcome to my new blog!

This morning I woke up on the couch after going to bed early. It was now 4 a.m. I have been agonizing about the Write Now blog, because we decided to make it private, and I also said that I would set one up for the people who want to be more public.

After breakfast I went to the computer & set one up just for myself, because I realized that sharing a blog was making me overly conscious of the group's needs instead of my own.