Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Civil Disobedience

“I became convinced that noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
 Post-Trib photo by Jm Karczewski
NWI Times photo by Sarah Reese
At a sentencing hearing before Judge Jesse Villalpando the “Whiting 41,” who were arrested last May for protesting at the BP Refinery and calling for a switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy, accepted an agreement where they’d each pay a fine of $110 and their cases would be dismissed in six months on the condition that they didn’t commit any new offenses.  Post-Trib reporter Becky Jacobs wrote:
Five at a time they appeared before Judge Jesse Villalpando to accept the agreement, which Villalpando called “outstanding” and “wonderful,” as he commended the defendants for their “good spirit” and jovial atmosphere in the courtroom.
        “The vibe in the courtroom could not be better,” Villalpando said.
Attorney Roy Dominguez, representing most of the defendants, told a crowd outside the courthouse afterwards, “I’m honored to be No. 42."  Demonstrators marched down Hohman Avenue to Hammond’s Federal Plaza, where they delivered a message to Senator Joe Donnelly, calling on him to oppose Donald Trump’s cabinet choices of Exxon Mobil’s Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State and Texas Governor Rick Perry for Energy Secretary. Leading chants of “You can’t drink oil,” Hobart attorney Joe Hiestand said, “I’m so glad to see small-town America doing this.  We can’t leave it to the cities as progressives. We have to do this kind of thing in small-town America.”  Jacobs wrote:
      In front of the federal building, with people inside peeking out the windows at the scene, the group performed a “spill drill.”  People held blue pieces of fabric to represent water, as people holding a pipeline circled the group.  The group put on black garbage bags to represent the oil spilling into the water, representing situations like the March 2014 processing error that dumped gallons of oil into Lake Michigan.
Over the long weekend Toni and I ate at LongHorn Steakhouse before playing bridge at the Hagelbergs with our monthly  group.  I watched magician Aaron Rodgers guide Green Bay to a 34-31 victory over the hated Dallas Cowboys.   We saw “Hidden Figures,” based on a true story about three women who in the early 1960s provided NASA with key mathematical data prior to John Glenn’s orbiting the earth.  Forced to use separate bathrooms and coffee pots, and forbidden to check out books from the white section of a Virginia public library, the women persevered against great odds with dignity.  It is unconscionable that their talents were undervalued and almost forgotten until Margot Lee Shetterly wrote the book upon which the film is based.  Toni is very well-read on the NASA space program but had never heard of Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan or Mary Jackson.  I also found on HBO the Coen Brothers’ satire “A Serious Man” (2009), about a Jewish professor beset with one problem after another. Richard Kind, so good as Larry David’s cousin Andy in “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” plays the pathetic Uncle Arthur.
 Richard Kind
Rep. John Lewis

MSNBC carried 76 year-old civil rights veteran  John Lewis’ Martin Luther King Day speech in Miami sponsored by My Brother’s Keeper, Inc. Beforehand, Republican Senator Marco Rubio said of the Georgia Congressman, We throw the word ‘courage’ around these days very lightly.  You are sitting in the presence of a true American hero.” Miami Herald reporter Patricia Mazzei wrote:
  “Never, ever hate,” Lewis implored the young men of the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project, the mentoring and scholarship program that hosted the breakfast. “The way of love is a better way. The way of peace is a better way.”
  Lewis covered the span of his life as a poor son of an Alabama sharecropper: picking cotton, raising chickens and dreaming of being a minister. His local college wouldn’t accept him because he was black, so he went to school in Nashville, writing to King along the way, who urged him to fight for admission — although he warned that it might cost his family their hard-earned 110 acres. “My mother was so afraid, my father was so afraid, that we could lose the land, our home could be burned or bombed,” Lewis said. “So I continued to study in Nashville.”
  “When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, we have a moral obligation to do something, to say something and not be quiet,” he said. “You must have courage. You must be bold and never, ever give up! When you know that you’re right, be brave.”
above, Cornell West; below, Faisal Kutty
On Martin Luther Day King Cornell West spoke at a Valparaiso University convocation, calling the civil rights leader “a prisoner of hope.”  Also honored for their contributions to diversity were History professor Heath Carter and Muslim law professor Faisal Kutty.  West told NWI Times reporter Jon Scheibel:
  I think it's always important to talk about love and justice, no matter what context, no matter what generation. There's no doubt now we're in the moment of Donald Trump. We need more truth telling, and we need more witness bearing when it comes to justice. We needed it under Obama, we needed it under Bush, we needed it under Reagan. We need it each and every generation. That's how timeless the message of Martin King is, how timeless his life remains.

With three days to go until the Trump inauguration, in an essay titled “The Leopard cannot change its spots” Ray Smock wrote:
All through the campaign the word was pivot.  When would Trump pivot from being a mad dog and start acting presidential. The pivot never came. Then once he won the election everyone waited for him to move from campaign mode to that of the leader of the free world, the symbolic and real head of state, the commander in chief, the unifier of the nation. He held a press conference that pissed off the entire nation and most members of his own party and frightened our allies around the world.
He refuses to believe he is not popular. Today he attacked the polls showing him to be the least popular newly elected president in the last half century. He says the polls are rigged. John Lewis, an American icon, says Trump is an illegitimate president and Trump blasts Lewis for his run down district, which includes the wealthiest and most diverse parts of Atlanta, including Emory University. Trump's attack on Lewis unleashed a torrent of Klan tongues including an elected official in Lewis's state of Georgia, who called Lewis "a racist pig" and his word for Democrats was "Demonrats."  This official apparently can't wait for Trump to get into office so he can put on his brown shirt and jackboots.
And everyone is now holding their breath looking for a statesman-like inaugural address that will be filled with vision, humanity, strength, and magnanimity. Is there something wrong with me to think we are expecting too much? Why do I think the speech will be about Him and how HE is misunderstood. Or why to I think He won't lash out at critics? Why do I think his best idea and his boldest vision might be to return Americans to the moon, because that idea worked for Kennedy and seemed really bold more than a half century ago. I am sure he will say somewhere that he plans to make America great again. He could start that process by resigning from office before he does decades of major damage. But that won't happen. He knows he is in over his head but he probably still believes he is right about everything.  Eisenhower once said that "only Americans can hurt America."  Which is another way of saying what Pogo said, We have met the enemy and it is us. We are in for Darth Vader America, not Luke Skywalker's version. We will be at war with ourselves again. It has already started. How long can it stay rhetorical, political, and cultural, without turning to actual war?  

I spoke to Steve McShane’s students about their oral history assignment to interview someone who lived in Northwest Indiana during the 1990s. I went over some dos and don’ts, mentioning mistakes I had made in the past, from pushing the wrong button on my recording device to not getting my interviewee to turn off his television.  I gave everyone copies of Steel Shavings, volume 45, and told them my intention on publishing their articles in a future issue.

At duplicate bridge Charlie Halberstadt told me that Helen Boothe, who plays in our group and must be well into her eighties, is planning to take part in Saturday’s Women’s March.  He assumed she was planning to go to Washington, D.C., like Alissa and some of her friends, but there is a rally scheduled for Valparaiso, which Toni will attend, and my guess is that is where Helen will be. Either way, hat’s off to her.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Out of the Closet

“There’s just some magic in truth and honesty and openness.” Frank Ocean
The Oral History Review put out a special issue entitled “Listening to and Learning from LGBTQ Lives.”  It contains both an article and a book review by former IUN professor Anne Balay.  The article, entitled “Surprised by Activism: The Effects of One Oral History on its Queer Steel-Working Narrators,” mentions how Anne’s book “Steel Closets” empowered some of the steelworkers she interviewed to successfully petition for the United Steelworkers International (USW) to pass a resolution at its constitutional convention condemning workplace harassment based on sexual orientation or gender identity.  Anne also described a book party at her Miller residence (Toni and I attended) and how after a few minutes of initial awkwardness, “the words started flowing”:
  One narrator was standing near the refrigerator in the kitchen just talking, when another narrator with whom he had worked about 30 years before came in.  They looked at each other, said, “You?”  “Yeah.  You?”  And the stories poured out.
  At one point, the doorbell rang.  It was “Bernard.”  When I showed him the book, he hugged it to his chest and breathed. He smiled, sighed, and then he talked to people.  He never put the book down, even while eating.  He talked for a long time to Susan, who is recently out and engaged to my friend Melissa. Susan later told me that she had no idea until then what it meant to be gay – the struggles and the toughness – or why and how my work mattered.
  I wandered out to the back deck to tell the narrator “Harriet” why I had named her after my mother, who died during my last round of edits, and why it had meant so much to me to have her there, in my house, in this world.  Like my mother, she had been raped, and, also like my mother, she had a raspy, sardonic tone of voice and a storytelling style which turned that incident, and the rest of life’s struggle, into an escapade of which she was the hero, though relentlessly self-mockingly so.
  When I walked back into the living room, “Wanda” and “Nate” were deep in conversation.  A 50-something involuntarily retired white bear and a 20-something black stud still in the mill were sharing stories and sharing tears. Hours went by. I could not shut these people up.  “Gail” told my daughter stories she had not told even me; for example, she told about how she welded together the toes of her supervisor’s work boots because, although he let his own boots deteriorate, he forced laborers to get new boots if their steel toes protruded at all.
  Several of my students showed up: queer ones, straight ones, one with a queer steelworker parent, all greatly moved by the stories, the pain, and the laughter.  The air was electric with solidarity and joy.  Everybody exchanged contact information, promised to stay in touch, and said they left feeling lighter and less fearful, not just about work, but about the future.
       above, Haverford photo; below, Anne when woking as an auto mechanic
Reviewing “Bodies of Evidence: The Practice of Queer History” by Nan Alamilla Boyd and Horacio N. Roque Ramírez, Anne concluded:
  Oral history sees itself as carrying the torch of community history and activist scholarship forward, as making history transformative, immediate, and engaged. Bodies of Evidence argues that it does so best when it is collaborative and when it remains theoretically alert to the dialectical nature of collaboration.  We are making ourselves, and making our field, just as much as we are making history.  If and when we do so queerly, we can collect data and allow data to collect us, shape us, shake us up.  The stories and analyses in this important volume often do just that.

I called Anne to congratulate her on the article and for including a description of the gathering at her house.  She replied that she almost didn’t include those paragraphs.  One thing so refreshing about her pursuit of insights as an oral historian is that she doesn’t worry about conforming to how others go about their task, yet is open to ways to improve how she does practices the craft.




When I was auditing Anne’s Gender Studies course, a student told me she was bisexual.  I replied that I was questioning (the Q in LGBTQ).  In a sense the answer was misleading since I was not questioning my sexual orientation or gender identity but rather my previous views and misconceptions about gay, lesbian, and transgender people.  I learned more in that class than any I ever had as a student. More than anyone since historians William H. Harbaugh and H. Samuel Merrill, she turned me on to new perspectives.

I learned from OHR editor Kathryn L. Nasstrom that Oral History Association executive director Cliff Kuhn (above) passed away of a heart attack at age 63.  He taught at Georgia State, was a big supporter of the Southern Labor History Archives, and author of Contesting the New South Order: The 1914-1915 Strike at Atlanta’s Fulton Mills” (2001).  I loved talking with him at conferences, and he was keenly interested in my oral history interviews with steelworkers. Especially memorable was his introduction for speaker Studs Terkel at an OHA meeting some 20 years ago in Milwaukee.  Married with two sons, Cliff evidently loved to cook and play charades.
 Sandro Portelli


In the Oral History Review I found a reference to a 1970s UCLA Gay Student Union publication called the Gayzette and frequent mention of the world’s preeminent oral historian Alessando Portelli, who believed that orality worked as a methodology for marginalized groups and always involved taking sides.  In “What Makes Queer Oral History Different” authors Kevin P. Murphy, Jennifer L. Pierce, and Jason Ruiz used this sexually suggestive quote by the Italian sage: “There seems to be a fear that once the floodgates of orality opened, writing (and rationality along with it) will be swept out as if by a spontaneous, uncontrollable mass of fluid, amorphous material.”  I first met Portelli at a Labor Studies conference in Youngstown, Ohio, where he revealed that his first impression of America, doing research in Appalachian coal country, was of all the roadkill.  At International Oral History Association conference sessions he famously doodled on scraps of paper, souvenirs much prized by his devotees.


Among the performers profiled in Kathleen B. Casey’s “The Prettiest Girl on the Stage Is a Man: Race and Gender Benders in American Vaudeville” (2015) is Julian Eltinge (1881-1941), who began impersonating females on stage around age ten.  He starred on Broadway in various musicals, billing himself simply as “Eltinge,” and performed in 1906 at the Palace Theater in London for King Edward VII, who presented him with a white bulldog. In his vaudeville act Eltinge often removed his wig at the end of the show, surprising many in the audience.  While he adopted a hyper-masculine veneer offstage, many contemporaries suspected he was gay.  In one of his monologues, about a comic who flopped, Lenny Bruce employed a line about the house manager saying: “I believe Julian Eltinge left a wig here in the closet many years ago.”

A package came from Jim Satkoski in California – four CDs by the Head and the Heart (THATH) of live concerts.  He’d learned over the holidays that I was into them and wrote that he saw the Seattle group on Austin City Limits in 2014.  The CD of THATH’s concert at DAR Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., leads off the “Cats and Dogs.” Its chorus goes:
          Cats and dogs and rooster calls
Telephones and pay phone stalls
They take away (la la la la)
The lonely days (la la la la)
Now

At bridge Chuck Tomes asked how were things at IUN. I told him about a huge IU grant to, among other things, digitize our audio tapes, including many interviews I conducted with Gary mayor Richard Hatcher. Judy Selund mentioned that her Monday bridge partner was 97 and the sharpest player in the room.  The woman recently lamented that she’d given up driving.