“The best way to fight racism is with solidarity,” Bobby Seale
Jim Sweeney,“Conservation Mike” Echterling, Stacey Clayton, Tom “Coyote” Larson, Silas Sconiers; photo by Jeff Manes
Jeff Manes introduced his column about Silas Sconiers with a plea for solidarity by former Black Panther Bobby Seale. Under the heading “Man wants public fishing spot for Gary,” Jeff wrote: “As a last resort, after years of being ignored, Sconiers has filed a civil rights complaint regarding the fact there is no public access on Gary’s lakeshore for anglers.” Supporting him are three Izaak Walton League of America chapters and Lake County Fish and Game stalwart Mike Echterling known as “Watchdog of the Little Cal.” Growing up at Gary Small Farms, Sconiers took a homemade boat up and down the Little Calumet River, swam at Lake Etta and Lake Sandy Jo, and caught perch with his dad off Buffington Harbor until it became off limits in 1967. Sconiers told Jeff: “I want an equal opportunity for the citizens of Gary, the only city in the United States and Canada on the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway system without a public access fishing spot. The city of Gary has 22 miles of lakefront. It makes no sense that we don’t have access.” The paper left out some of Sconiers’ more radical comments, Manes claimed.
While I was in California, several reporters left messages requesting an interview. Two got my name from historian Paul O’Hara, whose Gary book is more well-known than mine but deals with outsiders’ perceptions rather than residents’ opinions on contemporary developments under Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson. Mary Wisniewski of Reuters asked her thoughtful questions. She had visited the city, spoken with the Mayor and seemed interested in taking a historical perspective rather than the all too common negative approach. On the other hand, someone from National Review wants to write about the city’s decline, how it got there and what, if anything can be done to fix it. I’ll meet with her at the end of the month but am not confident about finding her amenable to my liberal views.
For a paper about the District 31 Women’s Caucus (of steelworkers) during the years 1977-1982 Julia Berkowitz has read my Traces article on the Caucus as well as my account in “Gary’s First Hundred years.” I dug out the 1996 International Oral History Association conference Proceedings for a paper I delivered in Goteborg. A union electrician and Illinois Chicago Circle MA candidate, Julia seems like a diligent scholar.
Nephew Bob posted the “gunslinger” photo I took of him in front of the “Mane Street Hotel and Bath House in Pioneertown, CA, the site of Cracker Campout 9. I commented: “Glad you kept your gun holstered Saturday night.” Brendan Ruff asked whether he had seen Camper von Beethoven. Bob replied that he miss the main show but enjoyed some of them jamming with other groups.
Ray Smock shared this entry: “Tuesday, Sept. 17 is Constitution Day and I decided the Preamble to the U. S. Constitution, written 226 years ago, needs a little tweaking. I changed just one word and added 6 more. ‘We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure global tranquility, promote the general welfare of the planet, provide for the common defense against environmental destruction, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.’” I was tempted to take his Preamble, revised for the twenty-first century and beyond, to IUN’s Constitution Day program sponsored by Ellen Szarleta’s Center for Urban and Regional Excellence and entitled “The Post-Obama Constitution: Views on the Affordable Care Act.”
Political Scientist Marie Eisenstein did a credible job summarizing the opinions of the litigants and the opposing views of the Supreme Court justices, in particular Chief Justice John Roberts, who based his majority opinion finding the law constitutional on the federal government’s taxing power rather than the commerce clause. As expected, Jean Poulard excoriated Obamacare and dwelled on personal anecdotes contrasting health care in France versus our allegedly superior system. The third panelist, student Todd McNeeley, lit into Poulard (yeah!) and wished Obamacare had gone even further. When the moderator solicited questions from the audience, I asked Marie to comment on the rash of recent 5-4 court decisions, including, lamentably, the weakening of the Voting Rights Act, and whether Chief Justice Roberts broke with the reactionaries to salvage the court’s reputation and possibly his own legacy. She agreed that political considerations enter into decisions but declined to speculate on Roberts’ motivations. For some reason Poulard injected that there were five Catholics, four Jews, and no Protestants on the high bench. Taking issue with his claim that private charity could take care of 45 million uninsured Americans, Anne Balay argued that it was outrageous that poor people are denied decent medical care. Backing her up, a Nursing faculty claimed that the U.S. ranks thirty-third per capita in life expectancy, behind even Costa Rica and Chile and about even with Cuba and Colombia. I received a “We the People” t-shirt for staying for the entire session.
Student comments from Anne Balay’s summer Gender Studies class, with one exception, were raves. Typical was this paean: “She’s brilliant – best professor I ever had! She’s an asset to this university.” The lone dissenter thought her “bizarre” and the course “WEIRD!” Of course, her detractors seized on past such comments while ignoring the majority. I wish there were more solidarity among the faculty or a union to fight for her. Anne recently appeared on Steve Walsh’s Lakeshore radio show, discussing “Steel Closets.” Steve, a former steelworker, got what she was saying about the mill being a homophobic workplace. Anne wrote: “Local media, regular blue-collar guys, merchants at corner stores, students of all ages and races, total strangers, EVERYONE in the region accepts and supports my out, proud, queer, perverted self. They're fine with it -- they like it -- EXCEPT the sophisticated academics with whom I work. Lesson: that's how the world changes, mate. . . from the bottom. I love the bottom.”
At the Archives Tuesday Frederic and Blandine filled me in on recent visits the Majestic Star casino and St. Hegwig’s Church, where, though unbelievers, they will attend mass Sunday. The congregation includes African Americans from the neighborhood and Polish suburbanites who remain loyal to their old church. Samuel Love’s parents, who lived and worked in Gary, had them to dinner. I took them bowling at Cressmoor Lanes. A class act as always, owner Jim Fowble helped them select balls and described several alleys in Gary that were popular when he was young. We got off to slow starts, but I bowled above average and they each broke one hundred. Blandine even picked up a split and accepted high fives from us. We had a great time.
After two weeks I have the highest number of points in my football pool, finishing second and then third. Unfortunately only first place pays. Again, I’d have won had the Giants prevailed over Denver. I should have known Peyton Manning would best little brother Eli.
Archives volunteer Dave Mergl gave me five shirts and a pristine winter coat he purchased from Goodwill but never wore. His wife had accused him of being a pack rat and demanded that he get shed part of his extensive wardrobe.
I sat in on Nicole Anslover’s Sixties class, the topic being the last months of the Kennedy administration and then LBJ and the Great Society. Nicole has a real knack for involving virtually all two-dozen students in her class. I only opened my mouth once, when JFK’s Berlin speech was being discussed. I interjected that Democratic officeholders’ biggest fear in 1963 was that they’d be accused of being soft on communism – incidentally why we got further involved in Vietnam against the President’s better judgment - and that going to the Berlin Wall was a way of demonstrating his anti-communist credentials. Three students were old enough to recall JFK’s death, including Marla Gee, who remembered I was from Philadelphia from the time I spoke in Jonathan’s class about Vivian Carter. One guy was a student at Andrean and recalled many people sobbing; a former steelworker never forgot a co-worker saying something to the effect that “it’s about time somebody shot him.”
When Nicole’s class was discussing LBJ’s War on Poverty I wanted to mention how Operation Head Start, the Job Corps, and the Upward Bound Program for poor college-bound students were attempts to redress unequal educational opportunities. The Job Corps was a chance for kids I taught at Boys Village of Maryland to learn a trade after they turned 16. In the summer of 1968 an Upward Bound softball team beat the Wobblies (composed of History grad students) for the league championship. Nicole ended the class with the Martin Luther King quote about the War on Poverty being lost in the jungles of Vietnam. At one point Nicole quipped that she usually isn’t so effusive in praising Johnson. When a student mentioned the famed Johnson Treatment of bullying others by looming above them at close range, she joked that she really didn’t have the size to demonstrate the move. LBJ’s utopian agenda – declaring war not only on poverty but disease, discrimination, and, of course, “aggression” in Vietnam seems an over-reach today at a time when Congress balks at everything the President attempts to do.
Michael Bayer passed along a Bruce Springsteen quote from the Michigan AFL-CIO. Kelly Mangan commented: “The only Boss worth listening to.” As the Wobbly song put it, Solidarity Forever.”
Not much word on how Brady is doing at IU, but he changed his Facebook photo to one Alex Joss took of him.
At bowling Frank Shufran brought me some green tomatoes, and the Engineers faced the Town Drunks. Teammate John quipped that in his younger years the term would have applied to him. His nickname then was Otis, after the town drunk on “The Andy Griffith Show.”
Wednesday night’s thunder and lightning storm was quite spectacular, Frederic and Blandine reported from high atop a sand dune in Miller. It reminded me of out first night at 9649 Maple Place. Marianne and Missy Brush lost power and received a scary flash flood alert on their phone.