Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Pope, The City of Brotherly Love, and Martial Law

I am not one of those who feverishly blogs, or who holds to a regular schedule of writing and sharing my thoughts.  That's what my private journal is for.  I write publicly when something first unsettles me, moves me, concerns me and I need to spend time exploring it -- and then beyond that, when the exploration leads to something I feel is worth sharing, because it concerns lives beyond my own.  That's why I'm writing today.

It’s been over a week now since the events of the Papal visit and the World Meeting of Families hit Philadelphia.  This is not going to be one of the articles that basks in the afterglow that appeared in the days immediately afterward. I want, instead, to continue the line of discourse that began with the journalists writing, in the lead-up to this experience, who Mayor Nutter said after the event, “scared the hell out of people.”  There is still plenty to be scared about, in my opinion, even as the experience of the ordeal begins to fade.  In fact, I think it is really important to continue this line of discourse before the experience fades too far into the distance.

Don’t misunderstand.  I like some of what this Pope has to say.  I am glad that we have conferences and events coming into Philadelphia.  My hope for this event was that not only would there be a wonderful set of conference activities, but also that the people who came to the city would have lots of opportunity to explore, ride the tour buses, go to some of our museums, eat in our restaurants, enjoy our history, wander our stores, visit our riverfront areas, catch a play from one of our many wonderful theatre companies, or enjoy some live music, or dance.  In other words, I hoped they would have fun discovering on the many ways that Philadelphia is a terrific city.

One of the main reasons that citizens of Philadelphia were given for our city’s aggressive search for larger conferences (and for world class status) was that it would be great for our city.  It would lend a joyful excitement, bring in tourists, bolster our arts community, our hospitality community, and fill our restaurants.

I’m writing this because so few of those hopes were realized.  Much of what is truly wonderful about Philadelphia was impossible for our guests to experience.  They were impossible for those of us who live here to experience.  This event harmed our city’s residents, it harmed our businesses, and the completely inappropriate – and I argue unconstitutional - lockdown was not only deeply damaging to our city, but also deeply disturbing on a constitutional level.

I’m writing this because of the ways in which this conference and this papal visit were used as an excuse to accomplish a militarized takeover of our city.

There are a lot of questions that have not been answered.  For instance, why was such outrageous militarization and security considered necessary?  The reasons offered – “safety” “security” “guards against terrorism” – are hardly sufficient.  All of those concerns have existed in the past when international figures have visited the city, or when large-scale events have been hosted here.  The Pope visited D.C. and NYC, and neither place suffered the extensive military shut down that Philadelphia was subjected to.  Why were there so many branches of the military and so many from various intelligence agencies here?  In a two block walk on Saturday during the Pope's visit, I saw the camouflage-clad National Guard, stationed in twos and threes on every single corner. I was far away from the actual event areas, on a part of South Street that runs from Front Street to about Fourth Street. This military presence existed throughout the city, and not only in the areas where the conference activities were being held, or in the areas where the Pope was conducting his events.   I saw camouflage jeeps and a huge military transport vehicle on otherwise empty streets. Military helicopters continually buzzed overhead.  I saw FBI, Homeland Security, plain clothes intelligence officers (and yes, you are that bad at “blending in”), Border Patrol.  Throughout the city, there were militarized police,  TSA people, NSA people…..so I ask Mayor Nutter, why shouldn’t we be scared shitless?  What the hell was going on?

Because here’s a news flash:  There is a difference between security and militarization. And what we endured was militarization.

And here’s the big question:  who, really, was in charge?  We were told that it was Secret Service.  But we were also told, by Kevin Shelly in his article in the Philly Voice that there were up to SEVENTY agencies taking part in this exercise.  There was a secretly-located MACC (Multiple Agency Command Center), and many other mini-command centers located throughout the city, which, we were told  “…will be used by more than 50 of the more than 70 agencies cooperating in assuring a safe and secure visit for the pope, according to Beach. But it is paid for out of the Secret Service's budget.”  George Orwell couldn’t have imagined it better.  “The center, which goes live at 9 a.m. next Thursday and operates around the clock until at least 4 p.m. Monday, features a banks of chairs -- filled by 90 people per shift around the clock -- and tables, telephones, five projection screens and two mega-screen TVs.”

Additional surveillance equipment had been installed through the city, too.  Streets were cordoned, barricaded, blocked.  Highways were shut down.  The Ben Franklin Bridge connecting the city of Camden across the Delaware River to Philadelphia was closed to automobiles.  Even public transportation was severely curtailed.  Taxis weren’t permitted to run.  Because of all this, schools shut down.  Museums shut down.  Theatres went dark.  The courts closed.  Businesses closed.  Restaurants closed. Stores closed.  The barricades, barriers, and blockades stood as signs of a kind of sinister over-reach on deserted streets.  Except for those tens of thousands of Philadelphia residents who fled….and yes, I think that is an appropriate word……those who stayed were, essentially, trapped.  Yes, you could bike around.  Yes, you could walk.  Yes, some public transportation was functioning.  But it was all under the heavy hand of some shadowy decision-makers who were not answerable to the public.  The Mayor made it clear that he wasn’t running things.  It seems clear that our governor wasn't running things, either.

Jeh Johnson, Secretary of Homeland Security was here.  So was Joseph Clancy, director of the Secret Service.  These were the heads of the agencies, not the directors of the Philadelphia branches of these agencies – this was direct federal level command.  But there were also military commanders here, overseeing a military presence; and to my knowledge, they would not take orders from either the Secret Service or DHS.  What, then, exactly, did this chain of command look like?  Isn’t that something we should have a right to know?  Our city was in the hands of a large number of people whose identities are hard to discern, and not in the hands of our elected officials.

One article revealed that there was something called “Operation Iron Response” that the National Guard put into action in August in preparation for martial law.   Why?  What the hell?

So, this had me wondering: Who commands the National Guard?  What is their function?
There isn’t a simple answer to that, either.  The website for the Guard says, “Many events trigger responses across multiple jurisdictions and different levels of government. The National Guard is exceptionally suited for its Homeland Defense role due to its geographically disperse forces with links to local communities and ties to state and local governments. These relationships allow for rapid and integrated responses in times of emergency. Because of its unique dual constitutional authority, the National Guard serves to bridge the “zone of ambiguity” across State and Federal government boundaries. The National Guard is the only United States military force that operates across both State and Federal responses, leveraging State Active Duty (SAD), Full-Time National Guard Duty (Title 32) and Active Duty (Title 10). While SAD, Title 32 and Title 10 are different statuses and roles, they provide mutually supporting capability. In the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress passed legislation which partially eliminated mutual exclusivity with regard to Chain of Command, allowing specially designated National Guard officers to command forces in both Title 10 and Title 32 statuses – designated as a Dual Status Commanders.”

So the question here is – was this State Active Duty, under the command of the Governor?  Or was this a “federalized” action that might put them under the charge of the Secretary of Defense, or the President?  If, as the mayor’s office keeps saying “The Secret Service is running everything” – wouldn’t that suggest that the entire operation is federally-run?   And, if that is the case, that means that neither our mayor nor our governor had authority.

While we're looking into it, let's ask: Who commands the FBI agents who were everywhere in the streets? And under what authority were they there?  What was their function?  This chart is maddening.
And what exactly were they DOING?     What as their “mission”?  I found this from their website

Since we were told again and again that Homeland Security admitted there were no credible threats to the pope, what the hell were ANY of these people doing, out in the numbers and in the force they were?  Who, by the way, commands the Homeland Security people?

Here are some DHS leadership charts:



And this one, that offers an “About” the DHS folks:  http://www.dhs.gov/about-dhs

This was Jeh Johnson, the head of DHS, who was HERE during Popemania week.  WHY?
Would he outrank the Governor?

How about the Border Patrol people? What borders were they guarding?  What the hell were they doing there?  Are they under the auspices of DHS?....or are they operating under yet another separate chain of command?

And then there was The Coast Guard:

What about all the other plainclothes people?  And what about the other intelligence agents from the various intelligence agencies in Philadelphia or beyond?  Seventy agencies, remember?

It seems to me that with such convoluted leadership chains, such a crowded field of players, a “multi-agency command center’ with FIFTY seats, it is not at all clear who was at the top of the chain of command.  Based on the hours I’ve spent trying to answer that question, the best I can say is that I was able to find no clear chain of command, but feel strongly that neither of our elected officials were in command.

According to the Supreme Court, the term martial law carries no precise meaning (Duncan v. Kahanamoku, 327 U.S. 304, 66 S. Ct. 606, 90 L. Ed. 688 [1946]). However, most declarations of martial law have some common features. Generally, the institution of martial law contemplates some use of military force. To a varying extent, depending on the martial law order, government military personnel have the authority to make and enforce civil and criminal laws. Certain civil liberties may be suspended, such as the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, freedom of association, and freedom of movement. (Italics are mine.) And the writ of Habeas Corpus may be suspended (this writ allows persons who are unlawfully imprisoned to gain freedom through a court proceeding).  (NOTE:  Keep in mind that habeas corpus can be suspended through the National Defense Authorization Act that Obama signed into law in 2011, effectively denying it to American citizens.)

On the national level, Martial Law may be declared by Congress or the president. Under Article I, Section 8, Clause 15, of the Constitution, Congress has the power "[t]o provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress insurrections and repel Invasions." Article II, Section 2, Clause 1, of the Constitution declares that "[t]he President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States."   Neither of these constitutional provisions include direct reference to the declaration of martial law, but the Supreme Court has interpreted both provisions to allow such declaration by either the President or the Congress.

But no such public declaration was made by the President or by Congress.

On the state level, it is the governor who would declare martial within his/her state.  This right is normally granted within the state constitution.

But no such public declaration was made by our governor.

Was this lock-down of Philadelphia a situation of undeclared martial law? Let’s review:  it certainly seemed more than likely that the use of military force was possible, given the high number of military everywhere, and given their martial law exercises conducted only a month before.  The government military personnel were exercising authority to make and enforce civil and criminal laws – something as ridiculous as tackling and arresting a young man for skateboarding in a “forbidden zone” for instance. Our civil liberties were suspended, in that we were NOT free from unwarranted or unreasonable searches and seizures, and since there were checkpoints all over the city.  Freedom of movement was most certainly suspended, given the highway shutdowns, the bridge closure, the militarized “zones” that had been established, the severe limitations on public transportation.

My conclusion?  Yes.  Philadelphia was in a state of undeclared martial law.  

Some journalists have suggested that this was a trial run, of sorts, to see if such a militarized lock-down could succeed.  Given how docile most people were, I would say that it succeeded in a way about which we should all be terrified.  “Sheeple” is the term that comes to mind.

So, another question:  why Philadelphia?  Why not D.C. or NYC, since the Pope visited both of those cities as well?  First, I can’t imagine the New Yorkers putting up with anything remotely like what Philadelphians endured.  Second, D.C. is too filled with power elite; the military work for them.

But Philadelphia.  I have some ideas as to why Philadelphia was chosen.

First: we are a poor city.  In 2014, we were in the top 10 poorest cities.   At that time, we were warned, “Philadelphia's deep-poverty rate "is a tremendous alarm bell of dysfunction and dangerous conditions," said Deborah Weinstein, executive director of the Coalition on Human Needs, a Washington nonprofit.” In the last year, our poverty has only deepened. Also, Philadelphia is one of four of our most segregated cities, both in racial and economic segregation.

Finally, Philly Occupy may no longer be encamped on Dilworth Plaza at our City Hall, but it continues to be an extremely active and engaged organization, calling for actions against foreclosures, against school closings, against police violence. They maintain a presence in our city in dozens of ways.  So let’s put that all together: we have dangerously high levels of poverty, dangerously high levels of racial and economic inequality, and a robust activist network.

A coordinated military exercise, a brand new multi-agency command center, and a testing of the waters of public docility in a city where our country’s continued social and economic misery may well explode into full-blown revolt sounds like pre-emptive planning.  Especially since we are hosting the Democratic Convention in less than a year.

And now, a precedent has been set.  A command center sits in waiting. A full-fledged exercise was carried out, and, I suggest, will be used not only on Philadelphians in the future, this “exercise” could well be used as a blueprint for martial law enactments in other U.S. cities.

I am convinced that what we experienced in Philadelphia was an undeclared state of martial law.  If, somehow, it can be proven that this was not the case, I still contend that we came so dangerously close that it is our duty, as citizens, to be sure that it never happens again.  We don’t have the luxury of ignoring this.  It is not hyperbole when I say that to ignore this to is to drive yet another nail into the coffin of democracy in this country.

To those who said, “You will have your city back in a few days.  And meanwhile everyone has been kept safe,” I say: “No. We will never have our city back.”  Once it has been violated in this way we will never again be 'free' -- this knowledge and memory must not simply disappear.  We can't allow ourselves to go back to business as usual without first gathering together to demand that this experience is never again repeated.

And were we kept safe? No, we weren’t.  What is safe about military overreach? What is safe about soldiers in our city streets? Militarized streets are not “safe". They are occupied. We experienced a military occupation during the Papal visit.  There is nothing more dangerous than the precedent that has been set and what that means for genuine freedom. This is Philadelphia, the supposed “cradle of freedom”.  We should never forget our responsibilities, as citizens, in guarding it.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Death is Inevitable. Not Hillary.

I’m thinking about Hillary Clinton lately, never very warmly, I admit.  I’ve spoken for a long time about the many ways in which I feel she is wrong for the presidency.  But, since I can’t get these thoughts to quiet down, I thought I’d write about my current perspective. 

HRC shares one quality with her husband:  they both have enormous egos.  She does not, however, share his charisma, which has helped people forgive his conceit.  Bill Clinton has that bad boy charm that so enthralls America, which allows so many of us to project all sorts of wished-for qualities onto the bad boy:  honesty, honor, decency.  Those qualities don’t have to be there, as Machiavelli so well understood, just so long as they appear to be.   It’s the burning desire to believe that, deep down, all those qualities are there in a misunderstood, but adorable guy that will suffice.  Hillary, alas for her, has no such charm, no such forgiveability.  Her ego is tied to a patrician’s sense of entitlement, where her husband’s is tied to a former white-trash kid’s sense of astonishment. 

She’s a kind of William F. Buckley in a pastel pant suit. 

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t give a damn what she wears, or how her hair looks, or whether or not she should lose weight, get some facial work done…..all the crap that’s written about those things is just that: crap. Misdirection.  Instead, I give a damn about the barely-concealed condescension, the internalized white privilege and her studied noblesse oblige.  Sure, she’s given lots of lip service to the plight of women, and has even raised a hand here and there to offer some limited help.  But her biggest donors are the Wall Street felons, who crashed the economy, and who are still very comfortably sitting atop their personal and corporate piles of fortune, good chunks of which flow freely into the Hillary campaign coffers.  Wall Street doesn’t give a damn about the plight of women, neither in the U.S. nor around the world…..unless of course you are talking about the zeal to lobby for cutting more emergency funds, food stamps or welfare protections – which cause greater suffering when cut to our most vulnerable women and children.   The Clinton Foundation accepts millions – perhaps by now even billions – from countries like Saudi Arabia.  Saudi Arabia, where they systematically abuse, brutalize, beat and oppress women and call it piety.  In the words of Shakespeare, that is some “cruel, irreligious piety” right there.  Money trumps ideals, apparently, when it comes to the Hillary Clinton version of feminism. 

She’s been derided for saying that she and her husband were “dead broke” when they left the White House – so I won’t belabor the ridiculous disconnect between those words and middle-American reality of what “dead broke” really is.  More recently, she’s said that she wants all children, even those little ones in places like Appalachia, to have all the advantages and potentials for success that her grand-daughter Charlotte has.  Give me a break.  In the first few months of life, as more and more research shows, the enormous gap between a child of pampered privilege and wealth like Charlotte and the child of hunger, want and misery becomes indelibly imprinted not only on their bodies and their overall health, but on their minds and their developing intelligence.  Just ask the parents of those children of want.  They know how far-reaching and intractable the misery will be – they’re living it. 

Hillary Rodham was a child of privilege, growing up in a wealthy white suburb of Chicago.  Her daughter was a child of privilege.  Her granddaughter is a child of privilege.  Can members of such a privileged class be effective leaders and advocates of the people?  Yes.  You can’t get more privileged that the Roosevelt family.  But actions, as ever, speak so much louder than words.   There is no credibility in Hillary Clinton’s assertions regarding equality of potential when she has shown herself to be a ferocious advocate for the very forces in this country which destroy that potential.  Her actions belie her rhetoric, and I suspect that will become even more glaring as she attempts to fashion herself – with the help of armies of very expensive PR professionals and campaign operatives – into someone the descamisados can love. 

What we need is a candidate who understands and shares the well-justified anger of the people, and who is committed to serving those people.  We need someone who will do that by making dramatic changes to this neoliberal system of inequality that has increasingly plagued us (with some mighty help from Bill Clinton himself) for decades.  We need NOT talk about “making college more affordable”, but about making public universities free.  We need NOT talk about protecting the “too big to fail”, “too big to jail” Wall Street banksters, but about forgiving all student loan debt, breaking up those banks, bringing those criminals to justice.  We need a return to Glass-Steagall, to pre-Reagan tax structures.  We need to take a long hard look at the far-reaching damages of NAFTA and begin to reverse them, not expand them with a Transatlatic Trade agreement (called “NAFTA on steroids” by some) that puts even more destructive power into the hands of trans-national corporations, and takes even more away from the rights of the people.  We need a minimum wage of at least $15/hour NOW, re-tied it to inflation, so that it never lags so criminally behind again.  We should, in fact, look at the Workers’ Bill of Rights that FDR proposed, but didn’t live to see implemented, and implement a version updated for today’s world.  We need NOT defend the ACA, but replace it with universal healthcare for everyone.  We need to acknowledge the loss of middle-class, well-paying jobs, and the low-wage, precarious service jobs that have replaced them.   We need to stop lying about “jobs returning” and decreasing unemployment.  Those jobs and the unemployment rolls continue to reflect the reality that there is little chance for most Americans to live a stable, middle-class life, no matter how hard they work.  More than half of us live at or near the poverty line.  It’s time to start talking about a guaranteed basic income for all citizens as a replacement to the broken systems of social welfare, since it’s clear that the productivity of American workers has continued to increase the wealth of the business owners, while wages have stagnated.   The idea of sharing in the prosperity lies in a dust bin somewhere in one of the alleys near the halls of the D.C. powerbrokers.  Speaking of those power-brokers, we need to overturn Citizens United, and halt the obscene amounts of money required to mount a successful campaign for political office.  We need to seriously explore the two-party system and ways to open up our election process to multiple parties and candidates.

We need to finally, once and for all, acknowledge just how sick this country is in terms of its racism, homophobia, misogyny.  We have to call a halt on the so-called "war on drugs" and realize that it was another way to maintain and institutionalize a new Jim Crow.  We have to stop our war on black men, shut down our for-profit prisons, demilitarize our police forces.  

We need to stop the international wars and occupations and drastically reduce military spending, and acknowledge that they are destroying our country.  We need to shut down, once and for all, the disastrous Patriot Act, as well as the NSA over-reach (and the over-reach of all the intelligence agencies), and acknowledge that they are destroying our rights.  Those trillions of dollars could be used to rebuild the country – not just the crumbling infrastructure, but the antiquated public transportation systems, the ruined public education system, the hollowed-out arts funding, scientific and medical research, a shift to solar power…..the list of areas of American life in need of money and attention goes on and on. 

The media is reporting that Hillary will announce her determination to seize the presidency today – although I’m sure she won’t put it quite that way in her carefully orchestrated performance.  Maybe, Evita-like, she’ll even find a balcony from which to address the shirtless crowd:

            It won’t be easy.  You’ll think it strange
            When I try to explain how I feel
            That I still need your love after all that I’ve done….
            You won’t believe me….*

No.  No, we won’t. At least I pray that we don't.  The many citizens who are furious at the lack of a real conversation and the apparent anointing of this candidacy without a legitimate field of choice, those who want a robust and on-going debate of the issues, need to seize control of the process, demand our voices be heard and our needs addressed.  We need to demand more of….what’s that word?.....democracy? 

*Lyrics from "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina" by Andrew Lloyd Webber.  

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Kathryn Knott is Our Child

Kathryn Knott is the 24-year-old young woman who, along with companions Philip Williams, 24, and Kevin Harrigan, 26, has been charged with the brutal beating of two young gay men in Philadelphia on September 11, 2014.  The three were part of a much larger group of party-goers (accounts have the swarm numbering somewhere between ten and fifteen) who witnesses say surrounded the young men, intimidating them, calling out homophobic slurs and ultimately beating them so badly that they had to be rushed to a hospital.  There was so much blood at the scene, one of the policemen said he thought someone had been shot.  One of the men still has his jaw wired shut, and suffered multiple broken bones in his face.  I think it’s safe to say that these young men, the victims of this crime, will never be the same again; not only are the physical injuries likely to be permanent, but the emotional scares of such trauma are lifelong. 

Only these three members of the group have been charged so far, and there is no word yet whether the rest of this swarm will be arrested.  The three have been charged with two counts each of aggravated assault, simple assault, conspiracy and reckless endangerment.  They have not been charged with a hate crime, despite the number of witnesses who heard homophobic slurs being screamed while the beatings went on.  Pennsylvania does not include LGBT attacks in its hate crime laws, something that members of our State legislature have been trying to change for several years.  It’s because of our lax laws in this area that many of us here in Philadelphia harbor a hope that the U.S. Attorney will become involved, and will levy hate crime charges at the federal level against these people.  This is likely a fear of the attorneys for the trio, since they are relentless in their refutation that this attack was motivated by homophobia.  They are claiming that their clients acted in “self defense”, a claim both sadly typical and absolutely despicable.  While self-defense is a ludicrous claim, these people did act in defense of a reprehensible system of prejudice and hatred.

The Twitter feed of Kathryn Knott has been widely shared, in the Twittersphere, on Facebook and elsewhere.  The comments and photos show a young woman whose homophobic comments are rampant, whose habits of rabid consumerism and entitlement are unapologetic, and whose love of excessive drinking seems out of control. 

She is my child.  No, I am not her biological mother.  I believe that my own beloved children are far and away more decent, loving, caring and responsible young adults.  But, don’t we all want to believe that of our children?  The reality is that Kathryn Knott is OUR child.  She is the poster child of the kind of people born and raised in America.  Fired in the kiln of inequality, elitism, prejudice, consumerism and fear, she is just what America’s schools, media and values create.  I’m sure she’ll have a book deal shortly.  It won’t be long before she’s an anchor on Fox News. 

I’m not blaming the schools.  I’m an educator who has been tirelessly (well, okay, sometimes I get damned tired) fighting to get rid of the corporatism that’s taken over our system of education.  But it is precisely this value system that has found its way into our schools which carries some of the guilt.  Many of the dozen or so party-goers who were involved in this crime are graduates of the same Catholic high school, Archbishop Wood, in Bucks County, PA.  Many have rushed to condemn the school for what is assumed to be homophobic teaching; the school rushed just as quickly to distance itself from the event, going so far as terminating the employment of one of the young men of the group, who was a part-time coach for the school.  They were quick to say – probably through the diocese PR offices – that their values would never endorse such violence and hatred.  I call bullshit.  Not on the Catholic school separately – but on this school as an example of the kinds of misinformation, half-truths and fear of the “other” that far too many of our schools couch in their curriculum.   I can hear the screams as I write this. So let me expand my point: our schools are in disarray, they are far and away one of the best examples of the gap between the haves and have nots in our country.  Schools teach little beyond conformity, fear and obedience to power.  Educators who valiantly try to do more have a hard time of it.  

The “worst” of our schools – often the inner city schools in the poorest neighborhoods – offer little beyond the warehousing of students, exhausted and heart-broken teachers, a paucity of support, programs or hope. Far too often they are part of the school-to-prison pipeline that is big business in America.  The “best” of our schools – often the very expensive private schools – are filled with a majority of white, upper-middle-class children – and their concerns have more to do with pure academic achievement and the pipeline to which they belong – that pipeline of moving elite children through their privileged childhoods into elite universities and, ultimately, into their pampered and privileged adulthoods.  Aside from a few school programs that provide such children opportunities to “volunteer” or “explore” the lives of the less blessed, there is little discussion about the overall system of inequality that maintains America’s growing number of needy human beings.  I am NOT saying that children from more privileged backgrounds don’t work hard, don’t have stress and worry about their futures, or that the parents of such children are horrible, spoiled, wicked people.  What I am saying is that there are many children outside that circle of privilege who work hard under much more difficult conditions, whose stresses include dangerous neighborhoods, exposure to crime and misery, homelessness, food insecurity.  They will have little chance to see the full flower of success, despite their effort and potential.  There are children whose “differences” – whether they are learning differences, physical handicaps, or racial/religious/sexual orientation differences – cause them to be seen and treated as outsiders – often unwanted, reviled outsiders – by those who are in positions of greater privilege.   These differences are often carried through life as well, labeling, restricting, intimidating innocent people whose “crime” is simply being who they are, or being born where they were born.  Children excluded from the circle of privilege are too often judged and blamed by those inside as being somehow lesser than, deserving of contempt and ridicule. 

Our schools don’t do enough to shine a light on the severe damage caused by such inequalities, or on the ways in which we ostracize “others”.  There is little discussion about the kind of cruelties that move through social relationships in our communities.  And lest anyone think that I am saying that schools have the lion’s share of responsibility in helping our youth understand these things – I am NOT.  I am saying that as part of the larger system, our schools are not functioning in a way that includes anywhere near enough learning about diversity, about community, about issues of inequality.  Extending that thought is the sad truth that the equality gap makes is fully impossible to have schools which ARE diverse, which provide opportunities equally.  The mere fact that our kids have to “learn” about diversity means that our equality issues continue to be systemic and unchanging.  So, you have a school like Archbishop Wood, in a primarily white area in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where students are not exposed to a larger world, or to larger truths beyond their own kinds of lives. They live in a bubble.  The values taught include the harsh, often ill-informed judgments about those who are different from them  – and all you have to do is read some of the speeches of Rick Santorum to know that there is a disturbing amount of classism, as well as homophobia and anti-gay teaching that goes on in Catholic schools, all in the name of religion.  And, again, lest anyone think this is Catholic-bashing, I will say that I was raised as an Episcopalian – a denomination proud of its anti-war, progressive stances, which has been all but torn apart in the last decade over issues about ordination of homosexuals in the Episcopal church.  Christianity in general does a pretty rotten job here. 

Given the age of these three individuals, I would guess (but haven’t yet confirmed) that they have also graduated from college.  So, let’s expand this discussion just a bit to include the kind of job universities do these days in teaching more than what is “marketable” or “practical” as measured by a business-only culture.  It is unlikely that many of our college-age children are regularly challenged to explore issues of ethics, of courtesy, or of morality in the larger sense -- not in today’s university classroom.   The kinds of subjects which require such exploration – largely the Liberal Arts, the Humanities, the Arts, the Social Sciences – are devalued in what Henry Giroux has termed the Neoliberal University.  The percentage of students majoring in such studies continues to plummet, while the majority of students jam themselves into classes to study marketing, business, PR, advertising, finance. 

What hope is there that their childhood value systems will be challenged, or that their horizons will be broadened by a rigorous, exploratory university experience? 
As someone who has dedicated much of my life to teaching at the university level, and who has witnessed corporate dementia taking over what used to be an institution of “higher learning”, I must be excused if I laugh sadly and disdainfully at my own question.  Graduates of our universities are not more fully developed humans; too often they are simply more indebted, more frightened, older but no wiser. 

I repeat my point, Kathryn Knott and her two male compatriots are products of the typical American schooling system. 

What about the media?  What values are being hammered into our children from the time they are sitting, watching cartoons in their footy pajamas?  Look at the commercials their wide and innocent eyes are absorbing.  Look at the shows they are watching. Just look at the kinds of people being venerated and admired: the Kim Kardashian of the day, the Hollywood ‘stars’, the billionaire over-consumers.  Where are the decent, heroic, sensible people?  Sit and think – really think – about the messages that are filling their immature minds. 

Is it any wonder that Kathryn Knott’s Twitter feed is filled with messages about shopping and spending too much (sometimes complete with photos of her purchases), or about drinking too much and being hungover again and again, or complaining about being annoyed and inconvenienced when mom and dad give her a check instead of cash?  The narrowness of a life built on consumerism, hedonism and intense dislike of the “other” is not the exception in America.  It IS life in America. 

Who among us has not absorbed messages of prejudice or fear, messages of consumerism, a value system so skewed that those most successful are often the country’s most outrageous yet celebrated socio- and psychopaths? 

Now to the obvious question:  what about family, about parents?  Shouldn’t they bear the largest portion of responsibility for creating such children?  Of course there is family responsibility.  But what can American parents give beyond their own rarely examined values?  If these young people are in their mid-twenties, that puts most of their parents in their mid-40s, born just before the Reagan revolution, a time when any remnants of our older, more socially conscious values were shredded.  Communism “lost” with the breakup of the Soviet Union, and these parents watched, as youths themselves, as capitalism was declared the winner, the ONLY way of life for the world.  They watched as Reagan destroyed unions, as Thatcherism burned its way through the UK economic system.  In 2014, we see the dire results of their actions.  But during the years when those 40-something parents were raising these 20-something children, unfettered-capitalism-all-the-time was the biggest, best and noisiest party in town.  Such parents might be suffering a hangover of their own right about now, but it is too late to impact the ways in which their children were raised. 

Kathryn Knott is a blonde, blue-eyed poster child for all of it. She is the product of our deeply unequal society, our deeply polarized society – a society kept simultaneously in a constant state of war-readiness and fear, yet encouraged endlessly  to “go shopping”.  This is the world that Edward Bernays, nephew of Sigmund Freud and “father of American PR” helped to create.  He almost single-handedly helped to turn America from a “needs-based” to a “wants-based” society, working with Madison Avenue to turn active, thinking citizens into passive, mindless consumers.  He simultaneously worked with the Pentagon and military-industrial powers to create fear and consent for the many wars of aggression fought to expand American and corporate empire around the world.  His methods on both counts are still used today – because they continue to be wildly successful.  Americans are terrified, manic mall-shoppers, taking occasional breaks to gulp down our anesthetizing substance of choice whenever we can. 

It’s not at all surprising that a night out for such typical young Americans as Kathryn and her friends included new clothes, expensive food, copious alcohol, and some near-ecstatic frenzied violence directed at people who were unlike them.  It pretty much sums up the worst of what we are as a society.

Oh, and of course, the aftermath wouldn’t be complete without lawyering up.  Enter the expensive attorneys, the endless denial and disavowal of accusations made against the accused, and I predict, a legal defense that attempts to paint these three as “misunderstood”, “innocent”, “normal kids” – kids whose lives are too valuable to be ruined by harsh punishment. They are martyrs to a value system that few can bear to look straight in the eye, which is precisely why it hasn’t been furiously dismantled.

If we steel ourselves and look long and hard, it is impossible to misunderstand just who these young adults are, and what shaped and created them.  They are not innocent, but neither are we.  The horrifying fact that they are “normal kids” is all the proof we need. 

Monday, June 9, 2014

Life with the Lost Boys

I begin with a warning.  This writing pulsates with hostility for which I do not apologize.  I started with a desire to acknowledge the recent discussions of the ways in which women in 2014 are still harassed, disrespected, molested, raped, and generally brutalized. The #YesAllWomen movement has raised these issues powerfully and revealed what most women already know, but seldom descry so loudly – that this abuse of women remains widespread, constant and socially condoned.   The personal exploration this invited was one that has brought me to a place of long-held anger, and some of the things I have to say are not befitting of the socially-accepted “nice” girl image we women are taught to maintain.   In some places, you may feel that I am painting with too sweeping a stroke, making the reviled “broad generalization”.  That’s your prerogative. 

I remember the first time I became aware of the brutal male treatment of females. It was way back in Paxon Hollow Junior High School, a suburban school in Marple Township, Pennsylvania.  Every morning, the boys would line up at the entrance door and yell out their “grades” for the girls’ attractiveness as we entered.  They would also yell out why the girl got a “low” grade:  “Fat butt!”, “Moustache and body hair!”, “Flat chested!”  or “Falsies!”

None of the adults tried to put an end to this.  Not the teachers, not the vice-principal, not the principal.  No one suggested to these boys that such behavior was unacceptable. 

This caused more anxiety and humiliation than I could bear at age twelve,  because although I was gifted academically, and considered intellectually “advanced”, I was painfully shy and timid, and extremely introverted.  I walked the circumference of the school every single morning and entered through the gym doors in the back, which were always open because of the early-morning practice sessions of whatever sport was in season.  After this went on for a while, my gym teacher, Miss Kostenbader, pulled me aside one day to question me about it.  I told her the reason, and she was incensed.  She tried to make an issue of it, in order to put an end to it.  But Miss Kostenbader had no influence.  She was not a “gym-teacher-cutie”.  She was what one of the male gym teachers called a “She-Man Jock” – which was reason enough for her voice on this matter to be entirely ignored.  It showed me something more disturbing than the freedom of those boys to humiliate the girls on a daily basis.  It showed me that even adult women had no voice or power that wasn’t gifted to them by men, and only then if those men deemed the woman “worthy” by their own standards of measurement. 

Thinking about this episode in my young life, I then traced back the way this message -- about the importance of beauty and appeal -- existed much earlier.  Even when I was in elementary school, my parents were approached about how “cute” I was, and told that they should “model me” because there was lots of money to be had.  At our swim club in the summer I was badgered because I wouldn’t join the yearly “beauty contest”. 

My father didn’t understand my reticence, and asked  “Why? Are you afraid you won’t win?” 

It was beyond my ability to articulate at that time, and clearly beyond his ability to comprehend, that my refusal had something to do with my innate sense of dignity rather than a fear of failing to meet some external standard of beauty.

Women move through this atmosphere, enduring this message from cradle to coffin. And far too many men feel that it is their inalienable right to remind us of just how well or poorly we are doing adhering to their standards of attractiveness, or to their demands for our acquiescence to their attentions. 

#YesAllWomen has shown us that this is still widespread and sadly pervasive even in 2014. 

I married relatively young, but that didn’t stop the inappropriate attention of other men.  At first, I was stunned at how there was a continued kind of “tree pissing” activity that went on – how men at parties, even at family events, would place their hands on me, or stand too close, and how my husband either would, through body language, lay claim to me, or how he wouldn’t.  I began to realize that there was a kind of wolf-pack activity that went on in public situations….an alpha-male contest that took place constantly.  This went on even as we got older, and as my husband started practicing law.  At cocktail parties, bench bar conferences, other social/professional events, while he was still a young associate, some of the partners of his firm, or elders in the legal community, would behave inappropriately – putting their arm around me, or doing that thing that men do – sliding the palm of their hand all the way down a woman’s back while talking and acting as if they are doing nothing out of the ordinary.  I began to notice that my husband’s “claiming” behaviors altered, depending on how much more “senior” the lawyer who was groping me was.  I honestly don’t think that he was conscious of the way in which the alpha-male/wolf pack behavior was operating.  But I did take notice that his anger about the situation would sometimes, then, be aimed at me, as if I weren’t the one who had personally endured the disrespect, but I had somehow brought dishonor to him.  He began to be more controlling about what dress I wore, or how much makeup I was wearing.  Being in public, then, even as a married woman, didn’t guarantee protection or respect; in fact, it was fraught with the complications of the never-ending male territorial struggle that extends to a woman’s body as terrain.   

During the years when I was working from home, raising two children and running our household, I was also constantly fending off the attention of plumbers, electricians, carpenters, landscapers, roofers.  Please don’t misunderstand.  I write this, not as an indication that I was some sort of femme fatale who had a kind of irresistible allure to all men.  I write this to say that no matter what the conditions, no matter what the circumstance, women are not safe from the unwanted attentions of men, even in their own homes.  Even when they are the “boss” paying the invoice.   The term “entitlement” has entered our vocabulary, and has clarified my thoughts on this matter.  Why does a total stranger, called to a home by a woman in the midst of a plumbing crisis, a woman who is simultaneously dealing with two sick children, wearing old jeans and a t-shirt, no make-up and probably some mismatched pair of 1980-style slouch socks, feel that he has the right to be “flirtatious”, or to say inappropriate things like, “I bet when you dress up, you are really hot.” 

This is a business transaction, and I’m writing the check, you asshat.  So, fix my fucking plumbing, buddy, and get the hell out.

In other words, Know your place.

And no, I don’t mean “your place” in the patriarchal socio-economic hierarchy of money and status and power.  I mean know that you have no right to make personal comments or overtures of any kind to a woman you do not know.  Didn’t anyone teach you that you should respect a woman the way you would want your mother or sister or daughter respected?  Know your place.  That place is one of a stranger who should practice courtesy and respect and deference to another human being; it is what we should all practice in regard to each other.  There are levels of intimacy which have to be earned, and you haven’t made it through the first gate.  In fact, you are in the far distant field, so much an outsider that you are barely visible.  Know your place.

And yet, as women, we often don’t even register the inappropriate behavior; or, if we feel it, we don’t reveal our anger.  Instead we smile that perfunctory smile all women know.  We change the subject, as many times as is necessary, since most men don’t “get” that we are not willing to entertain the conversation they want to initiate.  We endure the unwanted, untoward, inappropriate.  We endure the public bullying.  That gauntlet we junior high school girls had to pass each morning at Paxon Hollow Junior High is exactly what we endure for the remainder of our lives, walking past a construction site, or any gathering of men – whether it’s at the office coffee maker or at a train station or bus stop.  The menace grows with the men who follow us, verbally harass us, try to paw at us, or threaten us with attack or rape. 

Some of the more radical feminists of the second wave claimed that all men are inherently rapists.  Ti-Grace Atkinson once wrote that marriage is nothing more than accepting a permanent relationship with your rapist.   I understand her point more and more as the years go on.  It’s not only about the physical act of rape.  It’s about our rape culture which sees everything you are, everything sacrosanct about your self, your being, as that which can and should be plundered.  It’s the way those in positions of dominance treat everything and everyone who comes within their reach.  It’s suggested that this is the permeation of capitalist values, or as some would now call it, neoliberalism, or free market fundamentalism.  Everything is commodity, everything is there to be pillaged.  It begins with the patriarchy, which has found its full flower in the vicious brutality of unchecked capitalism. 

It’s there, at the very earliest stages of our culture.  For instance, the Iliad begins with Achilles storming off the field of battle, not because of a dispute about a war that raged senselessly for ten years, but about Agamemnon’s claim of Briseus, the woman Achilles saw as his rightful war booty. 

Does this behavior, this objectification and commodification of women, have its roots in the earliest stages of the hetero-patriarchy, or as a friend of mine recently suggested, the kyriarchy (meaning a social system or set of connecting social systems built around domination, oppression, and submission)?

If so, then we have to address the socio-cultural issues of these entrenched values of domination, oppression and submission in a larger sense in order to begin to successfully undo the treatment women in 2014 still endure.  We have to dismantle and rebuild our socio-economic systems entirely.  I’ll use the term hetero-kyriarchy here, to indicate that the issue is with straight men, largely, who see it not only as their right to abuse women, but also to abuse men whose sexual orientation is not the same as their own.  (That extends, sadly, to the male-identified women who absorb and imitate those values.  You know who they are.) 

Or, I wonder, do the roots of this behavior go even deeper than a socio-economic system?  Is it possible, with the patriarchal cultures that gained dominance through their wars, their weapons, that the primordial roots of male behavior were given free rein?  In other words, is it possible that this is inherent nature, encoded somehow in the hetero-male dna?

If that is the case, then we have to acknowledge something even more dire.  We can no longer allow the heterosexual male a place in the halls of power -- not in the legislature, or in the gleaming towers of finance, or in the rooms where war and peace are measured and weighed, or in the palaces of commerce.  If the primordial hunger of the hetero-male is for domination, oppression and submission, then they can’t be trusted to share governance over a society of peace, shared prosperity, social good, high culture.  Consider this.  We see evidence of what I’m saying in the ways in which women’s bodies are treated as male territory by (primarily male) lawmakers and judges, even sometimes by doctors themselves. We see a rampant disrespect for the earth, for all forms of life by corporations run by these men – a rape of our environment and of nature.  We see the actions of the plundering culture in the behaviors of Wall Street, again largely run by this same sort of men.  It exists in the domination practiced through imperialism and colonization, through these endless, devastating wars.

I can hear the yowls of protest even as I type this.  The cry of “not all men are like this” rings through the air.  I know; yes, that’s true.  But far too many are like this. So even though there are “good guys” out there (I even know a few), I suggest that these “good guys” in a patriarchal/kyriarchal/capitalist world are as weak, powerless and without effect as the liberals and progressives of both genders are in our current society.  Without clear identity, sinking into the shadows, lacking a powerful narrative or plan, you guys may as well not exist at all for all the good you do to redeem your gender or help the rest of us save our world.

So, what is to be done?  I admit:  my personal response to these issues has been somewhat unusual.  I’ve entirely withdrawn.  This year marks the tenth anniversary of the night that I decided to go solitary, and to, essentially, marry myself.  I even performed a private ceremony.  It was sometime around the Summer Solstice of 2004.

Yes, I have been happily man-free for nearly ten years.  Women have been doing this for centuries.  In the Middle Ages, aristocratic women would retire to abbeys after their children had grown, to live out their years in peace.  Eleanor of Aquitaine did it; in fact, many of the Plantagenet women did it.  And can you blame them, given the brutality of the Plantagenet men?

It wasn’t as if I didn’t try to find a healthy and positive relationship.  When my marriage ended, I attempted to date, even had two “long-term” relationships which I ultimately ended.  But it hasn’t been until this decade of my life, where I have chosen to be a renunciate of the so-called “romantic relationship”, that I feel as though I belong fully and completely to myself.  During this time, I’ve shepherded both my beloved children into their successful adulthood years.  I’ve completed an additional graduate degree.  I’ve taught Humanities courses to thousands of undergraduate students.  I’ve grown my arts organization (Hidden River Arts) so that it now includes live arts events, cultural outreach programs, workshops, classes, tutorials, and an independent small press.  I’ve written and published a collection of short stories. I’ve completed the first of a trilogy of historical novels and “roughed out” the other two parts. I’ve written a contemporary novel, and am half-way through completion of a suspense novel and another novel of historical fiction. I’ve started a second collection of short stories. I’ve revised two full-length plays and written a new one; I’ve written three short plays.  And yes, they’ve all been performed.  I’ve written two short screenplays which have become short films.   I’ve been working on a documentary and companion book, both of which should be finished within the next few months. I’ve traveled the country giving lectures, readings, screenings, conducting interviews.  I’ve formed wonderful, creative, productive, joyful friendships with truly magnificent people.  I’ve moved from the suburbs back into the city, where I’m enjoying the vibrancy, the energy, the opportunities of the arts, culture and society.  Life is very good. 

I’m not saying that this is every woman’s best choice, but it has certainly been a good choice for me.  I’m an artist, a writer, an educator, an activist. And this is the first time in my life that I’ve been able to be those things without any pushback from some guy telling me that I’m not giving him enough time or energy.  It’s been my experience that the men with whom I enter into long-term relationships all have the same things in common: a genuine alpha-male profile with entrenched narcissism and self-absorption, and a side order of dictatorial tendencies.  They are charming and romantic and exciting, until they don’t get their way.  Then they became bullies and wardens.  Their needs were more important than mine.  Their schedule more important than mine.  Their work certainly more important than mine. Their bank accounts were bigger, which was offered as proof of all those other assertions. 

I wondered: was I just attracted to the wrong sort of man? The alpha-male of the neoliberal capitalist world is hardly the most enlightened choice. Maybe the fault was with me.  But, I don’t think so. I scanned back over the other men I had dated after my divorce.

They were Peter Pan’s Lost Boys.  All of them. 

There was the one who brought his ten-year-old son on our dates, and talked about how his “other girlfriends” couldn’t stand the fact that his ex-wife lived in a cottage on his property, and vacationed with him.  Another who ripped my blouse and whipped out his penis at the end of our “date”, and said, “Wouldn’t it feel good if you sucked this?”  A third who showed up for a dinner date dressed in the sweaty t-shirt and shorts he wore when he mowed the lawn, who proceeded to get stinking drunk as he told me how much he couldn’t stand shiksas like his ex-wife and was happy to finally be dating a Jewish woman – completely oblivious to the fact that I was raised as an Episcopalian. 

There were those who wanted a harem of women in competition with each other over that golden male attention.  Those who thought buying a woman a cup of coffee entitled them to sex.  Those who assessed your weight and age, out loud, despite the fact that they were paunchy, slovenly and at least a decade older than you.  Or, on the other hand, those who wanted to immediately plan a life together.  (Sometimes during the initial exchange of emails.)  Those who assessed the size and status of your home, the value of your job, even the model of your car.

Not a worthy man among them, in my opinion.  So, okay.  I’ll admit that my idea of a worthy man these days is Liam Neeson, as Rob Roy.  Unless you’re exceptionally good at fighting with medieval weaponry and look hot in a kilt, that’s hard to live up to.  But these guys? It doesn’t matter how old they are.  Far too many are pathetic cases of arrested development, stuck in some adolescent stage where navel-gazing, self-importance, tantrums and frat boy behavior seem perfectly acceptable to them.  In fact, they are damned happy with themselves. 

These Lost Boys try to wow you with their income, their professional position, their new Mercedes (or their Harley and its straight pipes), their ability to bench press some ridiculous amount of weight, their summer share in Antigua.    They never wake up to the fact that acquisition is not the same as achievement. That material success is not the same as maturity.  That wealth is not the same as wisdom.  In fact, it’s been my experience that these things are actual deterrents to real growth.

Pull the lens back further and you realize:  These men don’t know their place because they don’t know themselves.  They mistake all the things our culture has told them give them privilege, their heterosexual male-ness, their assets and acquisitions,  for the stuff of real value. Yes, this is a culture that provides men with far too much entitlement; but it is also a culture which has denied them a working knowledge of their souls.  It is that combination which is truly deadly.

So, even when they aren’t following you down the street, cat-calling, or groping you in an elevator, or saying “Smile, honey!” as you walk down your block, the Lost Boys are behaving like boy-savages, ravaging our society. They veer from one pursuit to another, never satiated or satisfied, never recognizing limits, or understanding that there is a soul’s hunger beneath the faux-hunger created by Madison Avenue or Wall Street.  A growing need for ever-more high-risk behaviors characterizes the “dominant” men of our culture; and our culture rewards their actions by protecting them from the ruinous consequences of their behavior, “externalizing” the cost of it onto those less powerful. On a personal level,  it's been my experience that, when you attempt to enter into actual relationship with men who operate within this value system, their callous risks and endless demands threaten to overwhelm your life.   

For years, I’ve been convinced that the karmic reason so many marriages of my generation failed was so that a whole generation of second wave feminist- enlightened women could raise their sons free of the daily Lost Boy influence.  But I wonder, now that our sons are young adults:  have we succeeded?   I hope that we have, but remain unconvinced.

Reading the #YesAllWomen stories, seeing the way that campus rape is rampant (and oh so protected), hearing the stories of my female students, watching how women are still portrayed in movies, tv shows, talk shows, commercials, print ads – I’m feeling as though my generation of women may have failed. 

Or, perhaps “failed” is too strong a word.  Obviously, it takes many generations of effort to change a deeply entrenched acculturated “reality”.  We’re talking about something older than the works of Homer, for God’s sake.  We’ll continue to work toward goals of equality, of respect and courtesy, of safety. But, if #YesAllWomen is any indication, we're not going to be so polite about asking for those things.  Really pissed off, determined women are rising around the world, not only to push back against the physical brutalities we endure at the hands of men, but to fight against the corporatization of our larger lives, against the pervasive war-mongering that ruins our economies, our cities, our children’s safety. In other words, we fight against the wide-spread suffering caused by the hetero-kyriarchy in the broadest sense.  There are signs of progress.  But we have a long, long way to go; we can’t stop now. Neither should we worry about modulating our tone.  The generations of frustrated, angry women who are out of all patience – from grandmothers to middle school girls -  have to come together to demand more sovereignty over themselves and their lives, to refuse to endure these miserable conditions for one more moment.  Whether it is the continued brutality of a hetero-kyriarchal culture, or a more deeply ingrained core hetero-male behavior, we need to see this Lost Boy behavior and the culture that encourages it for every horrible thing it is, identify everywhere it is, and continue to shine a harsh light, exposing it in all its many forms until we can overcome its pervasive existence.