The Ballad of Ken and Emily: 34 Years Later

Thirty-four years ago today I met Emily. The next day she met my family at the Passover Seder. We’ve been together ever since. Thirty-four is my lucky number. Long story, perhaps for another time. For now, the number merely needs to be celebrated along with the joy that has filled my life because of Emily’s constant presence all these years. We’ve both grown, matured, evolved, celebrated and mourned milestones, confronted near death, nurtured our shared experiences, and maintained our individual identities.

I told her as soon as I realized that our bond was serious (which was about a day after we met) that in any healthy relationship there was a Me and a You and an Us. I said that out of fear that our rapidly escalating closeness was going to drown out the time and space I needed to be the Me who first captured her love, and who I needed to keep my own sanity (always a challenge for me). Fortunately, Emily embraced the concept. She had her own Me that she didn’t want to lose, and that I didn’t want her to lose.

That formula worked: Me + You + Us = Long, happy life together. As a former math major, I can attest to its accuracy.

How did it all begin? I thought you’d never ask. It all began with a “Once upon a time.”

 

“The Ballad of Ken and Emily”

Once upon a time in the little town of Lansing

While others were making love or together gaily dancing

A young man sat at home so no one else would notice

Contemplating loneliness while sitting in the lotus

 

Why am I alone again he asked the mystic candle

This solitary feeling is more than I can handle

I think sometimes that loneliness is how my life is fated

He closed his eyes, said “Om,” then sadly meditated

 

A ring disturbed his vacuously comfortable feeling

He gathered up his body parts; his mind fell from the feeling

To bring his brain in focus he gently massaged his head

He lifted the receiver and this is what he said

 

“Hello”; nothing too heavy, then again he had no knowledge

 Of who or what was calling, had it ever gone to college

Could it grasp elusive concepts, could it deal in abstracts

Was it grounded in simplicity or could it handle facts

 

Could it tear apart an engine without getting its hands dirty

Was its age preadolescent or was it over thirty

Was it male, female, or neuter, had it ever read Thoreau

As yet he had no answers so that’s why he said hello

 

“Is Mary there?” it asked him, and he knew it was a she

The voice pitch was the clincher, there was no discrepancy

But regardless of the gender the answer was the same

“She isn’t home,” he answered. “By the way, what is your name?”

 

“I thought you’d never ask,” she said. “I’m Emily. You’re Ken?”

Her accuracy stunned him. “Will you run that by again?”

“It’s not so complicated; I’m a friend of Mary, too

We work in the same agency, she told me about you

 

“And if you aren’t busy will you listen to my plight

I want to talk to anyone; it’s been a crazy night

I know that I can trust you and I needn’t feel wary

Because Mary is a friend of mine and you’re a friend of Mary.”

 

He listened to her story, this is what she had to say:

“My lights went out, my TV blew, the old man left today

Not that I mind his absence, he was getting in my hair

He offered little substance, his demands were most unfair

 

“And I don’t mind the lack of lights although I have no matches

I feel secure, the doors are sealed with padlocks, chains, and latches

But without my TV I feel nauseous in my stomach

From missing General Hospital, and, worse, the Unknown Comic

 

“And now that I’ve informed you of my tale of despair

I feel a whole lot better, not superb, mind you, but fair

You’ve allowed me to release the thoughts that cluttered up my mind

I hardly even know you but your ear has been most kind

 

“I never could have hoped for such a thorough mind unclogging

I’d merely called my friend to ask if she would join me jogging

But now I’ll let you go because my tale of woe is through

I’m sure you’re very busy and you’ve other things to do”

 

It’s moment such as these that often change the course of history

The reason is so obvious it needn’t be a mystery

For though she was correct, he had no time for acts extraneous

He also knew reality is that which is spontaneous

 

“Pray tell,” he said, “don’t go. Where do you live and is it far?

I’d like to know you better but, alas, I have no car

And although I’m normally a pretty hyperactive fellow

I don’t feel quite like jogging for my yoga’s left me mellow”

 

“I live,” she said, “on Elvin Court, a residential street

That leads to a dead end by where the Army Reserves meet

And I know where you live, with my friend Mary on Jerome

I’ve visited her often in the comfort of her home

 

“The walk is most refreshing; it will not leave you exhausted

And it isn’t far enough for you to fear being accosted

I’d love for you to join me so to lighten up my mood.”

“I’ll be right there,” he said. “I’ll bring the weed and you the food.”

 

And that’s the way it started, that was how it all began

With a brief phone conversation ‘tween a woman and a man

And a TV that malfunctioned and a bulb that wouldn’t light

And a three-block walk to Elvin on a cool and starry night

 

And a bottle of Chablis and some good homegrown Lansing Green

And a love-at-first-sight evening like the world has never seen

And no one would believe it for they had no way of knowing

That thirty-four years could transpire and their love would still be growing

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Inspiration at Capitol in Lansing

I didn’t really want to go to Lansing today. Gas prices are outrageous. I feel like we’re enriching the oil companies for the right to express our First Amendment freedoms.

But you can’t get lost in convoluted thinking like that. This is the system we have. It’s the system we’re trying to change. And we can’t do it if we don’t speak out. By ourselves. Together as one.

Besides, mass expressions of freedom are exhilarating. Whether I’m at the podium or in the crowd, I come alive in the presence of friends, comrades, fellow patriots.

Does my one voice make a difference? If you ever look in the mirror it does, because every day you, and only you, have to answer to your own action, or inaction. Are you willing to see the United States become a third world country? Or did you say, “I count.”

Today in Lansing, under sunny skies, cool breeze blowing, flags and signs waving, over 5,000 patriots said “We count” as they came to protest Governor Rick Snyder’s plan to cut programs for seniors, children, education, the environment, and others to give 87% tax cuts to corporations; while also creating a state-appointed, unelected “emergency financial manager” with the power to arbitrarily void union contracts at the city, county, and state level.

A sign caught my eye as I approached the Capitol before the rally: “Walk like an Egyptian.” We’re now getting our inspiration from a former dictatorship. How sad.

“They’re making Michigan a no-fly zone,” someone said, a reference to one response some politicians have suggested we take toward Libya.

I spoke to three students from Adrian College, two women who had been to demonstrations before and a man who was at his first. “They’re addictive,” I told him. One of the women held a sign that said, “Fucking Democracy. How Does That Work?” I told her to not count on the sign making TV news. “I don’t care,” she said. “I love democracy.”

The format of the event today alternated between first songs and speeches and then visits to representatives inside the Capitol. Here are snippets from the speakers from round 1:

  •  A teacher from Hamtramck led the crowd in “God Bless America” and a Marine veteran did the same with the Pledge of Allegiance. The formal rally wasn’t more than five minutes old and I was already shedding tears.
  •  Bob King, recently elected president of the UAW, was the first speaker. He urged us to connect the events here with what has been happening in Wisconsin, and to unite against the attacks on the middle class and on democracy. “The middle class is the best investment our country can make,” he said, “Instead, our representatives are reverse Robin Hoods, cutting our pensions and giving $2 billion for the rich, robbing $500 per student from public schools.”
  •  Cindy Roper, director of Clean Water Action, noted that 75% of the budget for environmental protection has been eliminated, along with food safety inspectors.
  •  My friend David Hecker, president of AFT-Michigan, said, “This is our house. This is our state. You can’t cut your way out of a financial hole. We must invest to bring families back to the middle class.” The 86% tax cuts given to corporations came with “no quid pro quo, no guarantees. So they go into corporate profits.”
  •  Yesterday State Senate minority leader Gretchen Whitmer and State House minority leader Rick Hammel introduced an amendment to the Michigan constitution to add one sentence that would allow Michigan’s public employees to join unions and bargain collectively. “We didn’t start the fight but we don’t plan to lose it,” Whitmer said. Hammel, a UAW member himself, added, “We expected the budget process to be bi-partisan but we were wrong. Thirty-six anti-labor bills have been introduced in the two houses in two weeks.”
  •  Amy Woodard, president of the child care providers union, lamented cuts to her members but promised, “We’re not going anywhere.”
  •  Bob King came on again to explain the plan for direct action, nonviolent, peaceful action inside the Capitol. He cautioned that authorities often hire agents provocateur to provoke violence that they can then use as an excuse to use excess force. “If someone tries to provoke violence,” he urged, “take their pictures with your phone.”

The first phase of the rally came to an end after only forty minutes. Some folks went inside the Capitol to talk to their representatives. I walked around looking for familiar faces (found some) and reading the signs. “What would Jesus cut” waved prominently. “The only dictatorship I want to live in is Mom and Dad,” read another. The atmosphere was one of joy, with a steady bongo beat.

The crowd thinned out during this time as participants drifted away to grab a quick lunch. I took the opportunity to move my car from one side of the street in a “two hours free parking” zone to the other so I wouldn’t get ticketed. I convinced myself that I was safe from ticketing and returned to the rally. On my way back I stopped for coffee. In a packed restaurant I sat next to Bob and Karen, a couple who had come in from Kalamazoo. Bob told me that during the Vietnam War he had been a test case as a professor. “They didn’t draft professors at the time, 1968. My draft board needed another body so they drafted me. I didn’t take it seriously. I thought they were mistaken. But the draft board said, ‘It isn’t a mistake. There was nothing I could do. After that teachers were drafted routinely.”

Back at the Capitol, the grounds were packed again. If some folks from the morning had left and not come back, others had just arrived. “America the Beautiful” started phase 2. Other speakers:

  • AFSCME member Herbert Sanders observed the mosaic of Americans in the crowd: retirees, teachers, children, workers, small business owners, and others. “This isn’t a union fight. This is about what’s civil and what’s right,” he said. Meanwhile inside the Capitol there is “a breeding nest of union busting, oppression, injustice, and the stripping away of the core fabric of our American democracy. We refuse to accept the notion that there is a Constitution but it is not applicable to us. We won’t allow someone to dictate when dictatorships are falling all over the world.”
  •  Detroit City Councilperson Joanne Watson, in possibly the most stirring speech of the afternoon, said, “We are not slaves. We are not victims. We are standing on hallowed ground. Somebody died for us to be here today. We will not allow anybody to put a foot on our necks. Wake up, Michigan. This is our time. The world is watching to see how much Michigan takes. When we fight, when we stand up, when we organize, we win. We are in it to win it.”
  •  A business owner from Traverse City said, “Where are my tax breaks. Trickle down crap is over.”
  •  Jeff Breslin, president of the Michigan Nurses Association, shouted the MNA slogan, “Some cuts will never heal,” as he called attention to education cuts and democratic rights usurped.
  •  Randall Anthony, of the NAACP, called attention to everyone who was suckered into voting for candidates who lied to get their votes and said, “We can’t continue to vote wrong and expect folks we elect to do it right.” He urged everyone to go back to their local communities and organize and to not “get comfortable with the agony.”

And there were a few others. All were inspiring. All spoke to the inequity that is calling for “shared sacrifice” that in fact is being borne by seniors, children, students, workers, retirees on fixed incomes but never the millionaires. This is a class war, many noted through speeches and signs.

I had to take off after the second round of speeches came to an end. A third round was scheduled to begin at 4:30. As I am writing, word has it that some folks are talking about remaining inside the Capitol after hours, what we in the business call “civil disobedience.” If it happens, I am confident it will be peaceful.

For reports better than mine and for lots of photos, go to dailykos.com.

And, no, I didn’t get a ticket. Positive thinking paid off.

Interview Tomorrow Morning on WMBR in Boston

If you’re not sleeping late tomorrow morning, Sunday March 13, you can catch me on “Radio With a View” at 10:30 a.m. on WMBR 88.1 FM in Boston. The show streams live online. The show also will be archived and accessible for two weeks at the station website. You can get in by clicking on “archive” and going to “Radio With a View” for that date. Host Marc Stern is professor of history and chair of the history department at Bentley University. He also is a long-time participant in noncommercial radio in Connecticut and New York. For the past 16 years he has hosted “Radio With a View.”

We’ll be talking about the Voices from the Underground Series, media freeks from the Vietnam era and now, generational commonalities and differences and reasons why, differences between web and print rabble rousing, the meaning of hard copy, and more. We’ll get esoteric at times, concrete at others, depending on how we’re both feeling on a Sunday morning. I’m looking forward to it. I hope you will be, too.

Don’t miss it.

And if you have your own thoughts, feel free to write to me at ken@voicesfromtheunderground.com.

Last Thursday’s event (March 3) at Everybody Reads bookstore in Lansing, by the way, was a great success. My thanks to Scott Harris, owner of ER, for hosting the event, and my friend Bill Castanier, who organized the event, as well as the editors and publisher at MSU Press who came to cheer me on. It was a great thrill to see old friends from back when whom I hadn’t seen in many years. One wrote to me the next day,

Being with you at Everybody Reads was a deep treat. I felt about half my age, thank you very much. You did it by your vivacious spirit, as well as reminding me of those “OLD DAYS.” Here is the place in this paragraph where I’d like to be able to print a smiley face. I wish we could place that caption amongst the other “LETTERS” on this “typewriter.” It was so great to see and hear you. I look forward eagerly to seeing you again. Best of everything to you and your sweet wife.”

Another wrote,

It was likewise great to see you and share your glow. Research can be very very lonely and you wonder if anyone really gives a darn about what you’re doing….and then you find ppl in a room who are there because they care… It’s awesome when that happens. 

They looked good. Clearly being a revolutionary helps to tone the skin and keep you looking young. If you’re on the fence, come over to the left side. There’s plenty of work to do. Witness what’s happening in Wisconsin and related Republican-infested states.

I also was honored by the appearance of former students from when I taught at Lansing Community College. One student wrote me afterward,

I was deeply affected by the talk Thursday night, for a few reasons: As you spoke, I reflected on what my life was like from age 18-21 and it was fairly average, unlike yours. I don’t know how you perceive your history, but I saw the events as somewhat rare and exceptional opportunities to be a part of history, and very hard won personal victories you achieved that many people won’t encounter by virtue of the circumstances and the karma they’re experiencing this time around in life. (That’s not a commentary on their efficacy or willingness, just on what might be available to them right now.)

The others in the room also made the aura that evening especially powerful. In a sense, I felt like I was sitting with some very old souls who were placed in this time and space together to do something special as a team, and a silent blood-bond existed there. (Sounds corny—sorry, but I was quite moved, choked up.) I think you all earned your angel wings early in life.

Selling and signing books was nice but seeing everyone, getting to tell stories I had never told before, and then receiving comments like these were the highpoints.

As I gathered up books and flyers at the end of the evening, Scott invited me back after volume 2 comes out. Look forward to seeing folks again at that time. More later.

“At the Dark End” Casts New Light on Civil Rights Movement Roots

In this post, I’m plugging 1) what sounds like an exciting interview about the Civil Rights Movement and 2) WBAI, which needs your help.

On Thursday, March 10, 1:00-2:00 p.m., “Woman, Body, and Soul,” on WBAI 99.5 FM, will have a special program for anyone interested in the Civil Rights Movement. Special guest hosts Maretta Short and Fran Luck will interview Danielle L. McGuire, author of At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape and Resistance—A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to Black Power.  This groundbreaking work offers a new perspective on the Civil Rights Movement and how it began—by putting front and center the struggle of Black communities against the routine and ritualistic rape of Southern Black women by white men.

The story begins in 1944 with the gang rape of Recy Taylor—forced into a car with six white men, all well known in the small town of Abbeville, Alabama. The case is nonetheless thrown out of court for “lack of evidence,” as was par for the course in the Southern white justice system. But the fight for justice didn’t stop there. Although her attackers had threatened to kill her if she told anybody, Recy Taylor and her network of supporters told everybody. When the NAACP heard about what had happened, they sent their “best organizer”—a young woman named Rosa Parks. McGuire characterizes Rosa Parks with a new, vibrant, and more militant identity and reveals her as one of a core of radical activists who cut their teeth on the fight for justice for Recy Taylor in the 1940s.
 
The network formed out of this fight wound up becoming the foundation of what would later become the Montgomery Bus Boycott—which was founded and organized by one of the most militant political organizations of the time: the Women’s Political Council. The WPC’s struggle put them on the same page as men in the fight for justice and equality—and sparked the beginning of the civil rights movement.

At the Dark End of the Street reveals how Southern white law makers blatantly refused to enforce their own laws when it came to white men who routinely sexually harassed, kidnapped, and gang raped Black women with impunity—while that same system and its terroristic extensions such as the Ku Klux Klan went into overkill when Black men were falsely accused of raping white women—as in the Scottsboro case. It shines new light on the workings of the sexual caste system and its function—to terrorize Black people into submission and reinforce Jim Crow. Most of all it shows how the persistence and organizing skills of people who had been humiliated and disenfranchised for centuries—and who had few resources—were able to mount a fight for justice that changed America and the world.

WBAI is listener-supported, noncommercial radio broadcasting to New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. It is part of the Pacifica Radio Network. WBAI badly needs our financial support to continue broadcasting an alternative to the corporate media. Please consider going to www.wbai.org and contributing whatever amount you can to help keep alternative radio alive.

Three Stories about Tomorrow’s Event

Many thanks to Lansing’s online City Pulse and Mittenlit for three articles about tomorrow’s event at Everybody Reads Bookstore in Lansing.

The City Pulse article is here. Thanks to journalist Kurt Anthony Krug.

The two Mittenlit articles are here and an earlier piece here. Thanks to journalist Bill Castanier, who also was the major force behind organizing the event.

Interview airing at 7 p.m. tonight on 88.9 FM in Lansing. Berl Schwartz conducted the interview this afternoon.

Look forward to seeing Lansing friends tomorrow.