Saturday, December 7, 2013

Thoughts After Mandela’s Passing

Most of my friends spent part of yesterday remembering Nelson Mandela. Sometime during my early teens he became Uncle Eddie’s new hero. Uncle Eddie called him a man of strength and vision like Dr. King and Kwame Nekruma. Mandela and the anti- apartheid movement was a frequent topic of conversation at his table.
Yesterday I got tidbits of new information. I hadn’t know that it was Maxine Waters who’d led the divestment from South Africa crusade when she was a California Assembly Woman. Or that the CIA had been complicit in Mandela’s arrest and imprisonment, that Miami’s elected officials refused him an official welcome when he visited after his release from prison because he would not renounce Fidel Castro.
Mandela’s first stop on his 1990 US tour was New York. We gave him a tickertape parade. Later that night, I joined the crowd that welcomed him at Yankee Stadium. He was stalwart, upright, like men of granddaddy’s generation, radiant, without a trace of anger. He epitomized grace.
A friend posted a picture on FB from the Atlanta leg of this trip, Mandela visiting my hometown. Winnie, Nelson, Maynard Jackson, Atlanta’s first Black mayor, and Coretta Scott King are standing in the forefront of a crowd, fists raised. This one brought back a flood of memories—growing up in Atlanta, being in the heart of the Civil Rights Movement, the honor of living in same city as Dr. King.
Humanity, inclusiveness, dignity, honor, compassion—Mandela continued King’s leagacy.
A friend summed up best how I feel in her emailed:

just happy to have been alive at the same time as a true human being...sadly, rare.

Saturday, October 5, 2013


Was my incredulous response when I turned on CNN Tuesday morning and saw that the Republicans had shutdown government because they wanted to block The Affordable Care Act. It passed Congress. The Supreme Court upheld it. Some Republicans may not like it but you lost this battle. Holding the economy hostage because you didn’t get your way is infantile. What are you two?

Connecting medical insurance to employment has always been a bad model, even when the economy was booming. Profitable companies have been finding their way around this for years. In the 90s, I began working for Goldman Sachs as a contingent through a temp agency. Lots of large corporate entities, primarily banks and law firms, were staffing some of their departments this way. I had a full time schedule but technically didn’t work for Goldman so we didn’t get benefits. The first Christmas I worked there, all of Goldman’s fulltime staff got a year-end bonus equal to a third of their annual salary. They couldn’t afford to hire us and offer benefits, really? 

Really was my response again when the House of Representatives proposed several piecemeal bills to fund national parks and museums, the NIH, and the city of Washington, D.C. If you’re proposing this does it mean I get to have a piecemeal approach to paying my taxes? Next year when I pay my taxes, can I deduct the percentage the government spends on programs I don’t like from my tax bill?

On Thursday, a friend posted something on FB that mirrored what I had been thinking …
Dear Congress, last year I mismanaged my funds and this year I can’t decide on a budget. Until I come to a unified decision that fits all of my needs and interests, I will have to shut down my checkbook and will no longer to be able to pay my taxes. I’m sure you’ll understand. Thank you so much for setting an example we can all follow.
So let’s talk about that, the example Congress is setting, both Republicans and Democrats. According to the Wall Street Journal, an anonymous White House aide said, “the administration doesn’t care how long the shutdown ends because we’re winning.” What are we teaching our children? That it’s okay to employ blackmail tactics to win. That it doesn’t matter how many lives are negatively impacted as long you win. Is this really the example you want to set for our youth?

Hundreds of thousands of government employees aren’t getting paid, can’t pay their bills, won’t have any discretionary income to pump into an already weak economy. Pre-schoolers can’t go to Head Start Programs, WIC, which provides low-income pregnant women, new mothers and children up to the age of five with healthy food, is not funded, the CDC’s ability to detect and identify disease outbreaks is severely diminished—you don’t care how long this continues, really?

So here we are, caught in the middle of this standoff, waiting for someone to blink. Didn’t their mamas teach them, you can’t always get what you want?  I want my representatives to stand for my interests but equally as important is electing people who know how and when to compromise. We really need to a better job of choosing who represents us.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Reflections on Trayvon

When I turned on Meet the Press Sunday morning and learned that George Zimmerman had been acquitted, I flashed back to Charles Gordon’s Pulitzer Prize Winning play, No Place to Be Somebody. Shit that was more than 40 years ago and America is still no place to be for young black men.

I was enraged but not surprised. I’d stopped watching the trail. I saw where it was going. This was an all female jury so maybe they could relate to a mother losing her son. But this was a jury of Zimmerman’s peer. No one selected represented Trayvon’s world. These women son’s weren’t constantly being harassed.

Self-defense? Give me a break. George wasn’t the one being stalked by a vigilante that night. Zimmerman feared for his life? Why? Wasn’t he the one with a gun? And why was he following Trayvon.

My immediate reaction was it was time to get the fuck up, think Douglas Turner Ward’s play Day of Absence. My closest girlfriend accepted a job in London because she feared for her son’s life. But most African-Americans have neither the desire nor the means to leave the country to protect their children. And why should this be necessary? This is their home.

I signed the petition asking the Department of Justice to bring civil rights charges against Zimmerman but I don’t expect it will happen. I want justice for Trayvon but what I want more is for this to stop. I want it to stop being, open season on Black asses. It’s not just Black male youth who are harassed. After Giuliani became mayor of New York, in my neighborhood all Black people were being stopped, without provocation, by police demanding ID.

Sunday morning, a friend who posted on FB this morning commented, “I need to be at the upcoming 50th Anniversary March on Washington, August 28th and reacquaint myself with social protest.” It made me think of other ways we implemented social change in the 60s. I’m thinking boycott. Those of use who don’t live in Florida can choose not to spend our money in that state. There are other beautiful places we can vacation. Let’s not attend or plan any conventions in the Sunshine State or any state with these repressive stand your ground laws. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Guatemala: A Feast for Senses

Years ago a musician friend told me she creates best when all her senses are satisfied. I knew it was true but hadn’t consciously thought about the relationship between sensual stimulation and creativity. This was the reason New York energized me, the reason it was a creative hub. In NY all of your senses are aroused.

Until I moved to San Miguel I’d gravitated to sensual explosion, cities like New Orleans and New York. In SM I learned that my senses could be aroused from a much lower decimal—the colored facades and mountain vistas, the scents of ripen fruits and chicharrĂ³n, the bells that rung constantly. When I arrived in 2005, ravished raw by Hurricane Katrina, I made the transition from “I want to kill that FEMA bitch,” to a Zen like calm just by inhaling the panoramic view from my roof garden, instant peace, tranquility.

There is nothing subtle about the sensual stimulation in Guatemala. It is a visual explosion of textiles, ruins and landscapes. Their mostly hand-loomed cloth is everywhere; vibrant colors, intricately woven and embroidered that impart spirituality not found in machine made goods. Women’s clothing adds to this visual symphony. They still wear native dress; have not traded their huipils for Aeropostale tee shirts.

It was not only the Mayan ruins—Tikal, a city surrounded by jungle that was abandoned by the Mayans over 1,000 years, and Quirigua with it’s carved monuments of Mayan history—that intrigued me. I was equally as captivated by the remnants of Santo Domingo convent that have been incorporated into a magnificent hotel. Casa Santo Domingo needs to be experienced during the day so you can explore the grounds, see the museums, study the Santos but also at night when the grounds are illuminated by at least 500 votive candles.

Nature’s beauty surrounded us on this trip. Our hotel outside Flores, Villa Maya, was housed inside a 67-acre wildlife preserve. We arrived at Livingston by boat through the jungle-lined shores of the Rio Dulce Canyon. The sun dropping behind the mountains in Pana, the shorelines of the villages as we crossed Lake Atitlan, the volcanoes surrounding Antigua—all were spectacular.

I probably won’t do a Guatemala survey trip again but I know I’ll return to the Panajachel and Antigua. This might be a good place to study Spanish. They both offer cheap intensive classes, 4 one-on-one hours a day, with the option to intensify this experience by living with a family. From both I can easily reach Chichicastenango again, the largest market in Latin America.