How's that Working Out For You?

In order to translate the core assumptions of collective bargaining for Vietnamese undergraduates, I have had to turn my attention to the way democracy is actually practiced in our own country.

Joe quits, I go missing — September 17, 2020

Joe quits, I go missing

Joe wrote this to his various email correspondents:

Friends, comrades, fellow workers,
I am writing this note to all those I have been working with on my various projects up to the present. There are too many just now and I am feeling overwhelmed, probably exacerbated by the COVID restrictions, the wildfire smoke, the continuing crisis in my union, a lack of proper exercise, and the general instability of our world just now (not to mention incipient fascism, impending economic depression, continuing “law enforcement” murders, etc.). 
Therefore, I have decided to take at least a month to radically cut back to these few tasks:
1. Finishing the book with Helena Worthen, (working title: The Fifth Transition: A Strategy for the Contingent Faculty Movement)
2. Keeping up with COCAL UPDATES, the news aggregator I have done for 20 years. (This means reading my email, but deleting lots.)
3. Maintaining the Labor For Bernie Bay Area list and periodic news messages, with my valued partner Larry Hendel.
4. Planning and executing the long-delayed ride around the Bay following the nearly-completed Bay Trail on my bike. This last, of course, depends on both the climate/weather/wildfires cooperating and the reopening post COVID of hotels, campgrounds and eateries. I will be sending out an itinerary to my friends who bicycle with an invitation to join me on all or part of the ride. If you want to get it, just reply to this email.
5. More regular exercise and recreation (yoga, biking, walking, personal bodily and psychological maintenance) and some socializing with old and new friends and family.
I apologize in advance for the inevitable inconvenience this will cause my many “partners in crime”.  What follows is a hopefully-complete list of the projects I will be absent from for this duration. I thank in advance all those who will inevitably have to perform the tasks that I will not for this period.
AFT 2121 Exec Bd rep for retirees Affirmative /Action Task Force and “white guys” affinity group AFT 2121R secretary Informal working group on taxes work on Prop 15, 16 and 22 and candidate campaigns
other ad hoc subgroups in and around Local 2121 and Local 2121 R
Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor (COCAL) International Advisory Committee
New Faculty Majority Board and various subgroups thereof
East Bay Democratic Socialists of America Labor Committee (and the education subcommittee thereof) Emergency Worker Organizing Committee Higher Educators United coalition
Various writing, editing and reviewing projects
Thanks to you all in advance. I am trying today and tomorrow to wrap up the essential loose ends before my partial “exit”. I realize this a largely a problem of my own creation and I am finally deciding to attempt to take some action to correct it. I expect that, when I return, it will be in a better state of mind than when you last encountered me. I certainly hope so. Feel free to share this with relevant folks I may have missed.
In solidarity,

I go missing

It was definitely related to the COVID-19 thingie which has been going on for seven months now, but then the wildfires and the black sky and the evil air were really too much. Of course that’s nothing compared to places where people are actually getting burned up. And it’s nothing compared to Chernobyl (a name that kept coming into my mind as I started to lose it this week) or Sudan, or Katrina (would I have broken through the roof of my house in the 9th ward and waved for someone in a boat or a helicopter to come pick me up?), nothing! Or all those migrants on boats trying to get from Libya to Malta.

Do most kids who try to imagine who they would be in a different time Egypt, the Pharoahs, for example) imagine they were princesses? Or do they picture themselves on an overloaded boat in the Mediterranean?

So I was trying to sew a pair of black linen pants. I ordered the linen from StoneMountain Daughter, 2 yards at $23 per yard, Venice Black. It said “wash cold hang dry,” but nothing I wear doesn’t go through the hot and the dryer at some point, so I always wash cloth before I sew it. It turned out that it sure did have a lot of filler and clogged up the drain, but that was OK.

I cut the pattern and made adjustments. I filled a new bobbin. My sewing machine is my grandmother’s, 1926 or earlier; a Singer, totally good machine but it doesn’t sew backwards. No problem.

The washed and dried linen, it turned out, was very hairy. It stuck in the bobbin. Also, I had the wrong thread. But nevertheless. I sewed. Tuesday, Wednesday. The problem with black is that with a hazy sky, there’s not enough light to really see what you’re doing. Also, I’m 76 years old and my eyesight is not magnificent. Also, I’m sewing with black thread on black linen. Furthermore, one thing I like to do with pants and many other items is French seams — you first sew it one way, then you reverse it and sew the seam the other way so that the raw edge is inside. That helps if you intend to put it all in the wash some day. But which is the right side and which is the wrong side? And I also like inseam pockets, which requires a certain amount of thinking ahead.

So a pair of pants that should have taken an hour to cut and an hour to sew were well into 6 hours this afternoon of the second day. And I began to have thoughts like this:

If I were the Queen of England, I wouldn’t be doing this. I would have someone else do it for me.

If I were the Queen of England, or maybe what if I am actually the Queen of England, and they haven’t notified me?

Or maybe I’m just Meghan married to Henry, right, and they haven’t notified me?

That’s Trump, who is messing with the Post Office, and he’s doing it again, that’s why I haven’t gotten my notification.

At this point I began to have a little critical distance on my thought process.

But still, given the pandemic and the wildfires, it didn’t seem altogether like such a terrible idea. So I went with it. What’s the problem, here? Mistaken identity!! They think I’m Helena Worthen trying to sew a pair of linen pants, and having to take out a whole goddamn seam that I sewed back to front or back to back, but actually I’m British royalty.

Who can I tell about this? Who can I confide in? Who can I trust? Not Joe. He wouldn’t want to be married to British Royalty. He didn’t even want to be married to someone who owns a house!! (He has calmed down about that.) So who can I tell about who I truly am, but just haven’t been notified? Can I tell the kids? The son in LA wouldn’t care; sounds like more responsibility, actually. Daughter might want more details if it involves dragons. Grandkids might enjoy it — but practically speaking, what does it involve? Any nice property? How far away? Does it have internet?

So actually, if I’m here in Berkeley on day two of trying to sew a pair of black linen pants while I’m actually British Royalty gone missing, it’s just one step from mistaken identity to joining the Witness Protection Service and really go missing. In fact, if I remember correctly, WPS comes with a ticket out of California to some Dream Vacation Location like Chicago where there are no wildfires, yet. The house two down from us in Chicago, on Flournoy, for example, was definitely a Witness Protection housing joint. I explored it one late afternoon while it was still under construction — five stories, huge master bedroom and big bathroom, deep garage for multiple vehicles. When they finished the construction it got locked up tight, no more exploring, you couldn’t see in anywhere, tight as a drum. No windows into the garage. A camera looking at me.

Then two giant tractor trailer trucks arrived with furniture from Marshall Fields and it all got loaded in in one day, everything from sofas to drapes to light fixtures. Then it shut back down again for a couple of months until Columbus Day when there was an Italian-American festival on the street and a big family came out and sat on the steps and everyone waved. They didn’t mingle, though. Then they went back in and locked the doors.

That’s the life for me.

Permanent crises — September 10, 2020

Permanent crises

Not good. This is what the sky looked like at 10 am Wednesday the 9th.

Chernobyl, volcanos, etc.

Sunday it was up over 100 degrees. I could not think. Brains are protein and cook. It was too hot to wear a metal necklace. Many things that needed doing did not get done. Then this morning it was cold. I had to turn the furnace on and put on warm socks.

Went outside to pick up newspaper and looked back in

Meanwhile in Rochester, New York, a mentally ill Black man ran down the street naked. He was grabbed by cops who hooded him with a “spit hood” like in the Abu Graib photos, and killed him. After that, protestors kneeled naked in the street (the photos show Black and white people) and the Chief of police resigned, as did the next in command. The Mayor supported the protests.

Both the climate crisis and the mounting protests are apparently permanent things that we live with now. And then there’s COVID-19. The fires will burn as long as there’s fuel, the protests will continue until we either win or lose, and COVID will eventually reach everyone unless everyone quarantines so that it has no place to jump. Our granddaughter who is living in a sorority house at San Diego State has tested positive, by the way — so has her whole house, and so has her boyfriend’s fraternity.

This came up because our book has now been in the hands of Pluto Press for 6 months and there’s been various kinds of COVID-related postponements and promises. Joe said, “Things are pretty unstable and so it’s hard to plan.” He was referring, it turns out, to his bike ride around the Bay. I thought he was referring to the book. But “unstable” also meant, at least at the start of our conversation, the weather and the political moment. On the contrary. They are neither of them unstable. Permanent continuous variation is stable. The climate crisis is permanent. We are in it. The political moment, related to our human use of each other and our planet, is permanent, too. Our vulnerability to pandemics is permanent.

Permanent, but also rising: the climate crisis and the political conflict are getting more intense. They will not be settled by the election. Best case scenario, we will win and then the climate change will continue and the protests will pause briefly and then swing back up. Worst case, etc etc. the same, but with no pause.

If I did a 360 degree circle around my friends, I’d say staying in touch is the main thing that is going on. And hoping. And reading the news, which comes in increasingly incomprehensible (or too comprehensible) chunks. A very weird ad in the SF Chronicle, apparently purchased by an elderly couple who live around here, urges people to refrain from using the post office during the run up to the election, so that ballots can go through, and also that we should raise an army of volunteer mail sorters.

We’re preparing a reading group plan for DSA about organizing in the 1930s; a friend of mine asked, “Why not Germany in the 1930s?”

But there is still food:

The above, first steamed together then served with rice, and then spun up as soup the next day with salt and cream, makes a great meal.

Thinking about who is on which side, as these protests spread. How about the sufferers? The detained immigrant families, the men and women in prison? Are they part of the protests? Certainly — suffering is protest that is below one’s ability to express it or act upon it.

It was Wednesday so we showed up at 6 pm for The Wave. It was so dark that people arrived with flashlights and iphones burning. It must have lightened up a bit for this picture. Note down jackets, two days after we were boiling hot.

Wildfires, protests — September 1, 2020

Wildfires, protests

Since I wrote last, wildfires have started. Wildfire season used to be October, by the way, not August. We actually didn’t used to call it wildfire season.

The coastal mountains near Santa Cruz — where we were last time I wrote — started burning, not because the electricity-bearing PG&E utility wires blew down and sparked fires, but because of dry lightning that came from the edge a giant storm out in the Pacific. That fruit stand, Swanton’s, that I showed in my last post, gets its strawberries from fields that workers tried to save from smoke damage by covering them with tarps. There were also fires to the north, same cause. That meant that the air in the Bay Area went dark and stinky. We were all checking several times a day to see how bad it was.

We spent two days in the mountains south of Tahoe. This is what the Central Valley looked like coming down out of the mountains: Pink with smoke.

There are also the battles in Portland, Oregon between protestors and federal police. This has been going on for weeks now. Then a Black man named Jacob Blake was shot in the back by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, leaving him paralyzed and prompting mass demonstrations. In the midst of one of these, a white 17-year old name Kyle Rittenhouse, carrying a long gun, ran through the crowd shooting and killed two people and wounded others.

My original question was, would we be able to deal with the climate crisis without shifting to an authoritarian regime? Could we get there and still be a democracy? The answer so far appears to be no, but what we’re seeing may just be what the path ahead looks like, with the outcome still undecided. Bernie didn’t get the nomination, which would have given us a legitimate way to make the necessary changes. Instead, Biden did, and he won’t do what’s necessary unless he’s pushed, so the pressure to change the way this country works has moved, as they say, “down-ballot,” meaning to local races, or within the Biden campaign to fighting for issues on the Party platform, appointments, etc.

Many people, myself included, believe it goes without saying that Trump if he is defeated will not leave the Presidency voluntarily; that he will dispute the election in every way possible. Therefore, on the path from here to there, there are going to be protests, disturbances in the streets, more shootings, more gatherings of protestors on both sides and battles in key cities, as the sides gather their forces. Down-ballot in the electoral process means city councils, regional agencies, courts, etc. Down-ballot in the streets means more demonstrations and counter-demonstrations.