Friday, March 21, 2014

Patrolling the Swamp

“Get up, get out, get away from these liars
‘Cause they don’t get your soul or your fire

Take my hand, knot your fingers through mine

And we’ll walk from this dark room for the last time.”
         “Open Your Eyes,” Snow Patrol

“Open Your Eyes” was on the alternative rock Irish band Snow Patrol’s 2006 album “Eyes Open.”  Also on that CD was “Chasing Cars,” which contains the line, “If I just lay here, would you lie with me and just forget the world?”

Referring to the Kankakee Marsh, Jeff Manes wrote: It was a good day to patrol the swamp.  I scared up about 50 wood ducks. On the way back, in the same spot, I walked up on three deer. Quite a sight watching them gracefully bound away in a foot or two of water. Had another adult bald eagle fly by me about tree top high. Countless sandhill cranes chortled high in the sky and quite a few mallards floated along in the river. I 
could hear the call and pound of a pileated woodpecker, but didn't see him.”
                                                                   photo by Jeff Manes

Manes continued: What I didn't expect to see was a fellow human being about 2 miles into my trek along the levee. We conversed, him sitting on the Porter County bank and I standing on the Jasper County bank. He said his name was Moe Terpstra, . . . [who, after Jeff introduced himself, commented] ‘I read all your articles in the Gary Post. I saved the one you did on Fuzz Campbell. Grew up with him.’  It's funny, 150 years ago I might have bumped into a Potawatomi. In the year of our Lord 2014, it's a Dutchman. But Moe was a friendly sort, glad to have met him along our river.”
Traces magazine published photos of Indiana State prison in Michigan City daing from the 1930s.  Years earlier, a streetcar line went by the institution, and tourists could take photos of prisoners in their striped outfits.  During the 1970s IU Northwest offered classes there.  A prison guard was in Anne Balay’s Gender Studies class last summer.

The “Steel Closets” chapter on the United Steelworkers of America (USW) and LGBTs was the most difficult for Anne Balay to write. A staunch union supporter, she discovered that many narrators felt alienated from the USW for not protecting them from harassment.  In those rare cases where one of them filed a grievance, the union allegedly did little or nothing to help them.  Furthermore, several felt that filing a complaint, in Balay’s words, was “tantamount to painting a target on themselves.”

Why is this the case?  On the defensive for the past 30 years, the USW has chosen its battles carefully and avoided potentially divisive issues.  As Balay concluded, “When the economy is bad and jobs are scarce, the union wants economic issues to trump all others.”  After significant numbers of women hired in following a 1974 Consent Decree, a Women’s Caucus fought hard to end sexual harassment, arguing that such a climate caused friction among workers.  Restructuring and downsizing of the labor force, however, drastically reduced the number of women because, due to seniority regulations, the last hired were the first laid off.  No LGBT caucus has emerged to challenge the status quo. 

Why haven’t LGBT steelworkers organized?  When African Americans and women faced opposition they, unlike LGBTs, could visually identity allies.  Furthermore, so long as steelworkers stay closeted, they are part, in Anne’s words, of “a community that feels rewarding – almost like a family” – albeit one that might ostracize a member who challenges its tenets.  Why alienate people you depend upon to stay safe on a dangerous job?  Anne asks: “Why would they trade that bond for an imaginary identification with fellow queers who they can’t necessarily relate to and might not even like?”

As I neared completion of my NWI Times “Steel Closets” review, I sent it to Robert Blaskiewicz for his comments; he in turn requested contact info on Anne Balay for a profile to accompany it.

Despite awakening to find snow on the ground, the temp approached 60 by noon, so I traded a winter coat for a sweater.  With IUN cafeteria closed Fridays, Beth LaDuke and I patronized Subway on Grant Street; a glass partition separated customers from employees.  A fellow in front of us was wearing an East Chicago Central lanyard, so I introduced myself as the father of teacher David Lane.  He was Terence Hill, vice president of the E.C. School City Board of Trustees and knew Dave well.  His daughter Tanika was one of Dave’s student and now a teacher herself.
School City Board of Trustees and knew Dave well.
At Gardner Center for a reception for Wirt Emerson Academy featuring artwork, a jazz band, a strings orchestra, plus drama and dance performances, I praised Corey Hagelberg for the flyer he put together, employing art pieces by three of Deb Weiss’s students, and told him I saw his mixed media assemblage (above) that Gregg Hertslieb put on Facebook.  A tall, long-legged violinist was wearing a Cougars volleyball sweater with the name Hightower on the back.  Jim Spicer, a Wisconsin fan, had on a Badger sweater.  Karren Lee filled me in on a trip she and Pat took to Cuba.  The people were delightful, she said, but the food left something to be desired for vegetarians.  They flew from Toronto; coming back through Tampa, American customs agents gave them a hard time.  How stupid! 
Prior to the concert I met music teacher Rovelli Grig (above), who mentioned that the strings orchestra will be traveling to China for three concerts.  They were tremendous, performing two numbers by Antonio Vivaldi and two Chinese compositions, including “Jasmine Flower.”  During the concert an obnoxious guy was speaking loudly nearby.  Grig tapped him on the shoulder at one point, but the guy continued to yap away almost as loudly as before.

Upcoming events at Gardner Center include a live appearance for a dance by the Crawpuppies, documentary on the Talking Heads, and Henry Farag’s musical, “The Signal: A Rhapsody.”  I hope to attend all three.

1 comment:

  1. not to be an instigator...but, after thirty odd years of union membership as near as i can tell unions ALWAYS want economic issues to trump all others. i am in the "industrial wing" of an old afl craft union mired in a sam gompers' worldview cannot accept that most skill had been eroded into the commodity called work by technology and places the "sanctity of the contract" before any sort of advocacy for workers' rights. the "official" labor movement has become a business that sells industrial peace in contract sized bites and maintains cash flow through dues and insurance co-pays. they are violently anti "right to work" because that legislation directly impacts one of their main revenue sources. if i opt out of paying dues while they're still obligated to represent me there goes the business ( and i wonder what would happen to my insurance co-pay if i did...exactly how much would that suddenly rise?). my union has had a number of ULPs for "failure to represent" filed on it with the neutered NLRB recently. one would expect little to come of these but it is representative of unions' failure as a whole to act as advocates. the Wagner Act took unions off the street where they were at least marginally effective vehicles for the expression of workers' needs and desires and turned them into bureaucratic functionaries within the institutions of government. the syndicalism of the IWW was ( and is ) probably misses the spirit however.