Archive for the ‘Racism’ Category

John Buchanan taking on the funeral industry

A friend wrote the other day to ask if my dad had been on the Blacklist.

My friend had been reading about America’s waltz with fascism during the 50s when demagogic politicians and rightwing zealots attempted to ruin the lives of show folk, teachers and other public figures — sometimes with great success– for being a little too free in the Land of the Free. Dad was a professor and locally high-profile lefty political organizer/activist, and my friend figured my father had at some point endured the wrath of the House Un-American Activities Committee and Sen. Joe McCarthy’s merry band of commie hunters. He hadn’t. Dad did have problems with cops and feds later on, but in the 50s he was still in his pre-activism stage, just settling into his new job teaching at Pacoima Junior High in the San Fernando Valley, going to grad school and helping mom raise my sister and me.  The activism that would become central to his life was still a few years off. My buddy’s email got me thinking about my father’s life choice, though. What changed? What inspired this mild-mannered, soft-spoken, Mr. Chips-type academic to become a full-throated crusader for peace and social justice?

The Bandleader and the Bastard

Though dad and I never talked much about his political awakening period, I’m pretty sure it began during the civil rights era. I was about six years old when I began hearing dad talk about the plight of Negroes. Even at my tender age I noticed that TV images of Dixie cops and clan types beating up dark-skinned people would send my father into a funk. He would get very quiet. Then he’d talk to my sister and me about how immoral it was to mistreat people because of their skin color. He told us that we should always stand up to bullies of all kinds, whether they were attacking us or others. To illustrate his point he would often tell us about the time during World War II when he and mom went to see the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra in mom’s hometown, Great Falls, Montana. While the band was playing, someone in the audience yelled “nigger” at Dorsey’s only black musician. Dorsey stopped the orchestra mid-song and the crowd went silent. He called out into the microphone, “You! Hey you. Yeah, you in the yellow tie.” The heckler was trying to scamper away into the crowd but couldn’t get around the throng in front of the bandstand. He finally looked up at Dorsey, who was shaking with anger and pointing down at him like a vengeful god with a trombone. Unfortunately for the yellow-tied bigot, the black trumpeter happened to be a good friend of Dorsey’s and had just returned from duty in the Pacific, where he’d been wounded. According to dad, Dorsey went crazy, yelling into the microphone about his friend’s heroism, then verbally filleting the bigot, whom he called a stupid, un-American bastard. At the end of his rant, Dorsey ordered the guy out of the dance hall and refused to continue the show until he left. Whether for noble cause or the fact that the crowd was ready to jitterbug and had shelled out good money to see Dorsey’s whole show, many in the audience sided with Dorsey, booing and hissing the guy out of the dance hall. The show went on. Though the full meaning of the tale was over my 6-year-old head, I never got tired of it. I loved hearing dad do the Tommy Dorsey parts. “Yeah, you with the yellow tie,” dad’s baritone rumbled, as he pointed at some imaginary racist in the living room. I also got a bang out of hearing dad say the word “bastard,” a word rarely heard in our house–a word I probably assumed meant bad man in a yellow tie. For my sister Pam and me, the story was a great example of someone using his position to stand up to a bully. For dad, who knows? Tommy Dorsey’s wrath might have been an important inspiration. After all, it was the kind of thing dad would soon be doing full time, only on a larger, relentless scale, against bullies ranging from Richard Nixon to the funeral industry. Inspiration or not, by the time the 60s started, dad was taking on the bullies of the world with a vengeance.

The Art of Activism

The first piece of dad’s activism I remember–helping a black family move into our whites-only neighborhood–was relatively small-scale and personal. For months after the Holmes moved in, it was dad’s job to protect the house from vandals when the family was away. There wasn’t much he could do about the rocks thrown through the Holmes’ front room window during the night, or the cross burned on their lawn one very early morning. But during dad’s watch, just the sight of him sitting on the Holmes’ front porch, grading his students’ papers, was all it took to keep the Bubba brigade off the property. I don’t know how long dad had been at it before I realized that threatening phone calls in the middle of the night and flat tires from tacks and nails scattered on our driveway weren’t part of everyone’s hearth and home, but I gradually came to understand that dad’s dedication to fairness was not shared by everyone. As for the 3 AM phone calls, we discovered that the cardboard stick from a Sugar Daddy sucker made a terrific telephone bell dampener when jammed through the proper hole in the phone’s access plate. My contribution to the struggle, of course, was to eat the Sugar Daddy. Ah, the sacrifices of activism. Sometimes dad’s protests verged on street theater. During his quixotic run for the California Assembly in the mid-60s he delivered a campaign speech at a local shopping center while stomping a bathtub full of grapes. This might have been a fine way to draw attention to the farm workers’ strike and grape boycott raging at the time, but the sight of dad in the tub, wearing his trademark Petrocelli business suit with the pant legs rolled up for the fruit-stomp, did not sit well with my teenaged notion that parents should always strive to be invisible. For weeks after, I was known to my rotten buddies as “Grape.” To dad’s supporters, though, it was a beautiful sight to behold–and it worked. Lots of people gathered to see the lunatic in a bathtub, and wound up learning why they should support Cesar Chavez’ United Farm Workers and stop eating grapes. Dad lost the Assembly race in a rout, of course, but his son’s embarrassment over his father’s unusual forms of activism soon morphed into pride and admiration. His low-key protest of the Vietnam War was particularly memorable. Every day during his lunch hour he would set up a card table full of anti-war literature next to the college flagpole. For that hour he stood silently next to the flagpole wearing an armband featuring the number of GIs killed that week. For two years.

Dad’s Final Years

Dad started in the 60s and never let up. He was still active in the Memorial Society — a consumer activist group — well into his 80s, fighting the good fight against the predatory practices of the funeral industry. A 1992 L.A. Times interview about the Memorial Society found dad in top form.

“You have to look at death as part of life,” Buchanan said. “‘If people looked at it that way, they wouldn’t need the limousines, the caskets and the tons of flowers, the embalming and all the other barbarities that go on at a so-called traditional funeral.’ ‘The hoopla is undignified,’ he said. ‘The other indignity is putting so much emphasis on the body, which is not a person.’ Buchanan has not made the trip to his mother’s gravesite in Spokane, Wash., in years, he said. ‘That grave site does not mean anything,’ he said. ‘What does mean something is that the dead still live in our minds,’ he added.”

“The hoopla is undignified” and “…all the other barbarities…” Dad had a way with words.

*

I’ll never know whether a big band leader’s outburst in the 40s inspired dad to help save the world. But damn, it was inspiring to hear him tell that story. Actually, there wasn’t a lot about John Buchanan that wasn’t inspiring. Though less active, dad still followed the news during his final years. I wish he had been spared America’s rightward drift during the 90s and new millennium and all the intentional unfairness it has thus far meted out. Mercifully, he wasn’t around to see the bully renaissance in full flower. If he were still alive, news of such bad-guy victories as the passage of voter suppression laws and the Citizens United ruling would have put him in a funk. He would have gotten very quiet…for a while.

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[originally published in OpEd News]
Actually, there is no pat meaning or definition for the phrase “family values.” Like obscenity, I guess you just know it when you see it. 

Often used by social conservatives to conjure up a mythical America of yesteryear, the phrase evokes an era when everyone’s lawn was green, thick and well manicured, kids were obedient, and “Lassie” had no genitalia—long before liberals turned us into gay, pot-smoking abortionists, before minorities and women got so noisy and before movie stars said naughty words on screen.

Today many Republicans use the term as a weapon against same-sex marriage, legal abortion, the decriminalization of marijuana and a zillion other issues they find unacceptable.

To clarify our terms, I suggest we define “family values” as “valuing the American family.” “Republicans” will mean “the movers and shakers of today’s dynamic GOP.”

Valuing the Family… the Republican Way

To be fair, I think Republicans do value families — but only their own. Everybody else’s family is either trying to stay in the country illegally, getting rich and lazy on welfare, undeserving of a living wage, a terrorist cell, or immorally trying to become a family while being gay.

Though many Democratic leaders share the blame in the Great Stacking of the Deck Against American Families, these Democrats tend to be of the sneaky, corporate shill variety who are often at odds with American families’ wishes and their own party’s positions (see Public Option). Republicans, however, are very open about their willingness to throw the American family under the bus in the name of big business, bigotry, big business, bad judgment and big business.

There is really no reason—or enough room on my hard drive—to go into all of the sordid, headline-grabbing family values hypocrisies of such Republican pillars of wholesomeness as Sen. David “Escort Service” Vitter and Sen. Larry “Strokin’ in the Boys Room” Craigs. Though these indiscretions do highlight the dilemma of a party that professes to love America but can’t tolerate how Americans live, they are not the result of official party policy, as far as I know. Rather, it’s the official, loudly-touted policies of today’s lockstep GOP leadership that amply demonstrate the party’s disregard for the majority of American families.

With the possible exception of a proposed Wendell Willkie postage stamp, every major item on the GOP wish list would prove disadvantageous or downright devastating to most American families if ever put into effect.

Here are a few:

Deregulation

As homeless shelters burst at the seams with newly impoverished families, and old folks wonder how on earth they’re going to get through their golden years now that their 401(k) is in tatters and their home is worth borscht, Republicans are clamoring to let the Wall Street robber-barons who drove our economy into a ditch continue to speed along with even fewer rules of the road.

Rather than offering to commit public seppuku for creating the Reagan-Gramm deregulation free-for-all that made the Wall Street greed orgy and collapse possible, Republican enablers like Sen. Mitch McConnell and others call Obama a socialist for wanting more governmental oversight of the industry, whining in chorus that such intrusion into the private sector would kill jobs and stifle innovation.

Yeah, we saw the kind of “innovation” Wall Street is capable of.

By the way, whenever you hear a sentence containing any form of the words “job” and “kill” spoken by a Republican, remember who was steering the ship of state when the jobs began to die. You’ve got to admire Republican testicular strength, though—if nothing else—for even mentioning “deregulation” and “jobs” in the same sentence.

Anti-Unionism

For the last thirty years Americans have watched their wages shrivel while CEOs have increasingly taken home salaries and bonuses that would make the Sultan of Brunei blush. According to a University of California Santa Cruz study, the top 20% of households owned 85% of all privately held wealth in 2007—leaving the rest of us 80% to divvy up the remaining 15%.

Oddly enough, it was also during this time that Republican policies, votes and propaganda made it more difficult for workers to unionize. Organized labor has gone from representing one-third of America’s workforce in 1950 to just 11.9% in 2010. Union membership in the private sector is down to a feeble 6.9%. It’s no coincidence that Americans’ earning power accompanied that decline. Where did America’s middle class go? It committed suicide in the voting booth.

Yet Republicans continue to paint unions as enormously powerful bogeymen and have even ramped up their union bashing. Why? As organizations of and for working Americans, unions tend to favor Democrats. Republicans know if they can get rid of unions completely Democrats will lose the financial support and organizational strengths unions have historically given to Democratic politicians and issues. In the end, Republicans would have the support of Big Business and all the votes corporate money can buy while Democrats would be out on the street with a hurdy-gurdy and a monkey.

Incredibly, Republicans have managed to get a surprising number of American workers—low skilled through professional—to swallow this anti-union codswallop. For these Americans, the image of collective bargaining has morphed from Woody Guthrie rousing a union hall with his guitar into Vito Corleone spraying the room with a sub-machine gun.

Apparently, these Americans have forgotten where living wages, worker safety, tolerable conditions and decent hours came from in the first place. Those who think these advances for American workers and their families came from the goodness of corporate hearts should be made to write “British Petroleum” 100 times on the blackboard, or at the very least, read this little heart-warmer about two high-level Massey Energy executives and their descent into the Upper Big Branch coalmine immediately after the mine’s deadly explosion. Heroic rescue attempt or an attempt to destroy evidence and rescue themselves from criminal indictments and billions in fines and civil judgments?

Anti-Same-Sex Marriage

By attempting to end these families before they’ve even begun, this Republican position affecting a large number of our countrymen and women may be the hands-down champ of blatant, Republican anti-family-ness. Good lord, fellas, I know this issue whips your Tea Party pals into a white-hot lather, but sometimes, reason, fairness and the U.S. Constitution must win over political expedience…mustn’t it…sometimes?

I really don’t think anyone with the power to reason still believes that homosexuality is a lifestyle choice, a  naughty experiment or juicy flaunting of our moral code. No one really thinks that teenagers choose to be slammed into lockers by lettermen clubs, or look happily forward to the day they will tell their parents to “forget about grandchildren from me.”

So, what we have here is a major political party attempting to punish and marginalize a large segment of the American population by trying to prohibit them from doing what comes naturally: fall in love and get married. As gays and lesbians try to lead their lives despite cruel prejudice and religious dogma that holds approximately the same modern relevance as stoning your son to death for being a gluttonous drunkard (Deuteronomy 21:18-21), the Grand Old Party does its level best to keep anti-gay bigotry loud and alive by demanding prior restraint on would-be families with its Marriage Protection Amendment to the Constitution.

Lifting the Assault Weapon Ban

What can anyone say about this Republican wish and its potential effect on American families, other than “Lift the assault weapon ban?

Come November

The Republican Party’s long tradition of siding with big business over the American family continues to chip away at the average American’s earning power and standard of living. However, the damage a Republican controlled Washington could further inflict on American families isn’t limited to economics. When you toss in other family-unfriendly Republican positions on global warming, preemptive and continual war, education, reproductive rights and family planning, and their new jaw-dropper regarding unemployment insurance creating  “lazy” Americans, it’s not too difficult to figure out which party’s policies and worldview promote “family values.”

The truth is, until special interest money is removed from our electoral system, neither party will truly be the champion of the American family. Sadly though, with the Republican majority of the Supreme Court opening the corporate spigots wide with its Citizens United ruling, that heavenly day is likely to be a long, long way down the line.

Forced to choose between the two parties, however, the American family would be wise to go with the Democrats. The Grand Old Party is too darned busy trying to keep people from voting, selling American families to the highest corporate bidders, undermining the Obama presidency at the country’s expense and coming up with new and better ways of converting Americans’ lesser angels of fear and bigotry into political power to even care about how American families are doing.

For a scary trip down the Republican rabbit hole:
2012 Texas Republican Platform: A Frightening Look Inside the New Republican Brain

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Opposition to the planned building of mosques in New York City and Temecula, California has oozed firmly into bigotry territory.  But, don’t worry…it’s just anti-Muslim bigotry.

An ad produced by the National Republican Trust PAC  proclaims the proposed N.Y. City mosque as a “celebration of the murder of 3,000 Americans.”  In a CNN interview, majordomo of the PAC and producer of the ad, Scott Wheeler, confirmed his belief that the people establishing the mosque are doing so to honor the “19 martyrs” who leveled the Trade Center Towers. In other words, Wheeler is saying for all the world to hear that NYC Muslims–some of whom not only lost family and friends in the tragedy, but also put their lives on the line as first responders to the attack–not only condone mass murder, but also hold the 9-11 murderers in the highest esteem.

Meanwhile, 3,000 miles to the left, anti-Muslim bigotry is running full tilt in the rolling hills of Southern California wine country. Muslims in Temecula, CA, who have been saving for over a decade to build a new mosque and community center, are getting the same kind of treatment.

“The Islamic foothold is not strong here, and we really don’t want to see their influence spread,” said Bill Rench, pastor of Temecula’s Calvary Baptist Church. “There is a concern with all the rumors you hear about sleeper cells and all that. Are we supposed to be complacent just because these people say it’s a religion of peace? The two religions mix like oil and water, it would create a confrontational atmosphere,” Rench added.

Sadly, the good reverend is not the only Islamophobe in town. Members of a conservative group called Concerned Community Citizens are circulating a petition to stop the mosque.

Leaders of the town’s Muslim community are surprised by the level of opposition to the center, telling the L.A. Times that their current makeshift mosque and community center — a converted industrial warehouse — has been in town for more than a decade and members always have felt welcome in the community. “Our children go to the same schools their children go to. We shop at the same stores where they shop,” said the mosque’s Imam Mahamoud Harmoush. “All of a sudden our neighbors wake up and they’re opposed to us building the Islamic center there, the mosque. I hope it’s a small group,” he said.

Imam Harmoush will find out how large the group is at next week’s planned protest in front of his current mosque/warehouse. According to Temecula Valley News, an e-mail blast was sent out last week by a local “conservative coalition,” announcing that a one-hour “singing – praying – patriotic rally” would be held and that participants should “bring” their Bibles, flags, signs, dogs and singing voices to the rally. The email explained that singing voices would be needed because “Muslim women are forbidden to sing.”  Why the dogs? You guessed it — Muslims “hate dogs.” If these concerned citizens could only find some singing dogs they might be able to frighten Temecula’s Muslims into abandoning the mosque altogether. “If we see so much as a shovel at that site…we un-muzzle the hounds!”

Zero Tolerance of Intolerance

Planned Temecula mosque

The words “ignorance” and “lack of understanding” have popped up in a number of articles about opposition to the planned mosques. Conspicuously absent are words like “bigotry,” “scapegoating” and “hateful.”

To their credit, major networks are refusing to run Wheeler’s ad condemning the New York mosque on the grounds that it is offensive, and the Temecula Interfaith Council, a group of local religious leaders, has endorsed the proposed Temecula mosque, saying “It’s important for people to see our neighbors, and for them to be part of our community,”

As admirable as the networks’ refusal is, their characterization of Wheeler’s ad as “offensive” should also have included the words “stupid, “hateful” and “dangerous.” The Interfaith Council’s similarly welcome-but-tepid endorsement of the Temecula mosque  is sorely lacking a stinging repudiation of the bigotry spewed by fellow minister Rench and the singing dog-wranglers.  “The Islamic foothold is not strong here, and we really don’t want to see their influence spread” sounds like Rench is defending his community from an outbreak of malaria rather than a faith practiced by 6 million Americans – the vast majority of whom are as peaceful as the vast majority of Baptists. His “oil and water” line is frighteningly reminiscent of the old “birds of a feather” mantra howled by 60s era segregationists. Poisonous statements like these should be attacked mercilessly at every opportunity.

Reactions to the 9-11 tragedy in particular and Muslim extremism in general have led to a dangerous new tolerance of intolerance. Though most Americans would find Rev. Rench’s remarks to be out of line if he were talking about, say, a Jewish community center, many are giving him a pass because, after all, it was a group of Muslims who caused 9-11.

Therein lies the danger. That a Christian leader is attempting to drive a faith-based wedge between Americans is sad enough, but worse is his implicit belief that he can make anti-Islamic statements with impunity and by extension, question the peacefulness and motives of the 150 to 200 families that have been quietly practicing their faith in Temecula for years.

Are Rench’s parishioners OK with his views? How about the op/ed pages of the local press? What about his church’s governing body? How do Temeculans feel about it?

Or is it now OK to make public statements disparaging entire groups because of the actions of a few of their members?  Is it now acceptable to bash the whole of American Mohammedanism because a group of Muslim zealots believed mass murder was their ticket to glorious eternity? If so, let’s tar Protestants for their witch-burning indiscretion years ago and the anti-Constitutional stance on gays currently taken by many in their number. While we’re at it, let’s pillory Catholics for their pedophile priests and the Inquisition.

Pastor Rench and Scott Wheeler’s widely disseminated us-against-them remarks are not only divisive, unfair and decidedly un-American, they also play directly into the hands of Muslim extremists looking to paint all Americans as crusading anti-Islamists.

Rest assured that comments like his are being played over and over in the world’s madrassas. Who knows? Rench’s “oil and water” reference alone might have been good for two or three Al-Qaeda recruitments today.

It’s time to call this anti-Muslim crap what it is…plain old, unadulterated hate.

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