Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Chauffeurs, Torture and Other Material Conditions at the End of Empire

Somehow, Velvet has become a mouthy socialist.  I was a bit dismayed when he started going to John Jay College of Criminal Justice, a CUNY college that is an easy commute from Buzz Kill's apartment, because it seemed like an unlikely fit for Velvet considering his history up at Tree Hugger U, but it was his only option.  John Jay was the only school in town that would accept Velvet with his grades.  As it happened, John Jay was trying to expand their enrollment of liberal arts majors and were delighted to welcome Velvet as a history major.  At least I think he was a history major.  It's been some time since Velvet started his seventh semester as a freshman at John Jay College, and truthfully, I can't remember what his major was then.  He's a history major now, though, and although many of his classmates are training for specialized careers in criminal justice - with majors like forensic science and emergency services - many of the professors are mouthy socialists.  Actually, I don't know what they'd call themselves if they were describing themselves, but when Velvet talks about school, his professors often sound like mouthy socialists to me.  I've done enough listening to Pinko and Woody that I know socialism when I hear it even if nobody says the S word.

Overall, though, I suspect John Jay is reformist.  They are providing the space for Left Forum, however, and while some lefties think Left Forum is an entirely reformist conference that isn't anywhere near radical enough, the name of this year's conference is: No Justice, No Peace: Confronting the Crisis of Capitalism and Democracy.
Not that Velvet has any intention of going to Left Forum even though he could get in free.  Pinko has been trying to talk him into it, and when Pinko is talking Velvet seems interested, but when Velvet is with Cupcake, he doesn't seem to remember that Left Forum even exists.  Naturally, Pinko is going.  He loves those kind of talks.  I think they're okay, but mostly, I'd rather send money so I can comfortably stay home in my pajamas.  I enjoy the parties down at the Solidarity Center, and I'm very excited to have seen Lynne Stewart across the room on New Year's Eve.  I love it that Pinko loves those talks, though, and that he's accurate with the glue sticks when he hangs out at the center making posters, and he's an energetic, enthusiastic helper at rallies and marches.

Sometimes, at family dinners, I feel a little bad for Cupcake because her political awareness is still emerging.  Her parents came over from Hungary and Romania years ago and take a dim view of communism because of Stalin, I think.  It's a common point of view, and her father actually believes that Wall Street creates jobs.  He's a nice man and a hard worker.  He just reminds me of Sabrina's dad, Thomas Fairchild, the chauffeur who is resigned and realistic about his station in life, played by John Williams in the original screen version of Sabrina.  As someone who rubbed shoulders with One Percenters on a daily basis, Thomas Fairchild has a very different perspective on rich people than Cupcake's dad who has been influenced by what he hears on CNN and other capitalist, corporate media outlets.


In any case, Cupcake's political opinions have stimulated a couple of animated discussions wherein Pinko, Velvet and I proceeded to jump all over her.  We didn't make her cry, though, which counts for something.  Even I had to say something when she said that she wanted to vote for Hillary because Hillary is a woman.  Cupcake is tired of patriarchy and hasn't realized that a woman can be as much a tool of the patriarchy as the Pope.  Or Henry Kissinger.
I'm not sure Cupcake really knows who Henry Kissinger is.  Margaret Thatcher either.

Velvet applied to John Jay College in the first place because that's where Cupcake was studying to be a coroner.  I don't think she's planning to be a coroner anymore, but I lost track of her studies once she got her certificate from Swedish Massage school.  It worked out, though, because Cupcake functions as Velvet's administrative assistant.  She makes sure he registers, does his assignments, buys him a tie to wear for his final presentation - that sort of thing.  I haven't seen Velvet without Cupcake for a couple of months.

They're in a bit of a struggle right now because Cupcake has a tendency to micromanage Velvet, probably as a result of her anxieties.  She still doesn't like to take public transportation, but I believe she can handle the bus.  Velvet's grandmother, my former mother-in-law Vagina Dentata, rarely ever took the subway herself.   One of the resentments I carried throughout my marriage was having to dig through the sofa cushions for bus change while she charged the car service to the business.  She often wore a chartreuse mink coat at the time which made it even worse - especially since Velvet was still in a stroller.  You'd think a man would tell his mother to take the bus and put his wife and child in a car service - but Buzz Kill never seemed to have the gumption to tell his mother any such thing.
That's one of the reasons we got divorced.

And it's a good thing we got divorced or else I'd have never run off to Burning Man to get Pinko.  I only mention my earlier resentments about taxis and car services because I figure Cupcake's habits and anxieties probably seem perfectly normal to Velvet whose father is anxious and grandma never rode the subway.  She's 89 now, living in a nice nursing home near Columbia University.  Here she is 20 years ago or so:


I shudder to think of trying to discuss politics with Vagina Dentata or Buzz Kill.  They both voted for Bloomberg and consider themselves Democrats.  I wonder if that's a peculiar breed of Democrat - a Bloomberg Democrat.  Kind of like a Rockefeller Republican, or those Reagan Republicans who are Democrats now because regular Republicans lean too heavily toward Christo-Fascism.  Pinko's dad is one of those kind of Democrats, a Reagan Democrat.  Pinko himself voted for Reagan, and if I'm not mistaken, Woody Konopelli voted for Richard Nixon, although he's somewhat embarrassed to admit it.

Just goes to show how a little reading can influence your political development.  Pinko got Velvet A People's History of Empire last Christmas, but I suspect Velvet was well on his way to being a mouthy socialist before he looked at that book.


My own political awareness has evolved to the point where I at least recognize the inherent problems of referencing Martin Luther King's "Rioting is the language of the unheard," quote when I'm going on about gaining weight as a result of indulging my sweet tooth while processing the state of the world.  I'm very glad that the conditions in my own life are such that a pint of Rocky Road will make it easier to carry on - as opposed to living with material conditions where setting things on fire seems like the most logical course of action.  And truly - middle America never, ever heard of Freddie Gray or Mike Brown until a small group of determined local residents started raising hell.

It still sucks that Middle America is so quick to shout about a damaged corporate outlet like CVS while remaining comfortably content about cops routinely killing unarmed, brown men, women and children. But at least I am just as comfortable sitting here in my lovely little home playing video games on a computer made in a factory where there could easily have been worker suicides.  One of those buildings in China, surrounded by barbed wire like a prison - those places where Mitt Romney tried to say the jobs were so good the barbed wire and other security measures were necessary to keep locals from storming the factory.

I suppose the contrast in material conditions are part of the reason why many activists say that white people can only be allies in the #BlackLivesMatter movement.  We can be great allies, but when the rubber hits the road - privileged whites don't have the same experience in the US, particularly with regard to law enforcement.  We can stand in solidarity, but we can't commiserate.  Pinko wouldn't even lay on the ground with his brown comrades at the Die-Ins, but we could both sing "I Can't Breathe," a song the Peace Poets composed in memory of Eric Garner, when we were out in the street with friends.  Here's some folks in London singing that song:



Luke Nephew, one of the Peace Poets, is credited for writing the song that we sung one night in the winter over in Staten Island at the little shrine Eric Garner's friends and family erected at the spot where he was killed.  Here's some guys singing it in Cleveland at a memorial for Tamir Rice:


I remember all the people
these police killed
I can feel their spirits
They're with us still

It's hard to believe that so many literate, generally nice people aren't aware of the conditions of life that confront their neighbors a few miles away - especially since I know about this stuff.  I figure that if I know about something, it has to be common knowledge since I don't go out of my way to find any information - except about little kids, standardized testing, the Play Deficit and other topics relevant to my chosen field.  I like learning about that stuff.  I don't like learning about how Witness Against Torture sang the song I just referenced at the DC police headquarters to mark the anniversary of opening day at Guantanamo - but even that information is pretty easy to find by doing a simple search on the internet:  Fighting Racism and Torture from Fergunson to Guantanamo, Jeremy Varon, January 2015


All you have to do is stop playing video games for a minute to look briefly at current events and you'll find out all sorts of things just by clicking on a few links.  As much as all those Teajadists make my head explode, at least they read some shit on the internet.  The trouble is that the shit they read is published by folks like Alex Jones, and they honestly believe that the military is invading Texas, of all places (Scott Eric Kauffman, Salon, May 5).

But really, at least they're reading.  It's become rare in these United States here at the end of empire.






5 comments:

Comrade Kevin said...

I think that everyone's attention is so divided these days that there isn't much in the way of solidarity. But I know I'm not the first to say this.

That said, I was raised by a father who voted for Reagan twice and believes in that mythology of St. Ronnie. And he voted for Nixon twice, too, and always apologizes for that Watergate business.

But my mother is a liberal Democrat, which makes their marriage very odd in some ways. Back when the Obama glow was present, I did some work for his campaign and got two tickets to see him speak. Mom jumped at the chance when I offered the opportunity.

I took a course on Josef Stalin when I was in undergrad. The teacher who used the classroom before us always said how she could never understand why someone would teach a class on such an evil man. But as you've described, she grew up in Soviet-dominated Eastern Europe and associates Communism with human rights abuses and authoritarianism.

Woody (Tokin Librul/Rogue Scholar/ Helluvafella!) said...

Just FYI:
John Jay, the historical character, the first Supreme Court Chief Justice, was a stone elitist who (notoriously) held the opinion that the country should be ruled and governed by its "ownbers," by whom he meant himself and his aristocratic pals...

Oso said...

very good post, i enjoyed it. i never voted for president until 2004 when Peace and Freedom made Leonard Peltier their candidate. first time someone i liked was running.

Mary Kathryn Simon said...

most intelligent current events writing ive seen in ages.
muchas! Gracias!


intelliwench said...

Very late to the party here, but I think the fact that so many of us can avoid seeing and knowing the reality of daily life for our brown-skinned fellow beings is proof of how very segregated our country still is.

(And speaking of parties, I was recruited by the CWP when I lived in Baltimore . . . but I thought them asking for 10% of my income was a bit more than I was willing to sacrifice on my minimum-wage salary. Plus it struck me as too much like tithing. )

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