returning to the weather underground (sam green and bill siegel, 2002)

I first saw the 2002 documentary The Weather Underground in 2004. At the time, I wrote:

It's a weird time to be watching The Weather Underground, a recent documentary about self-proclaimed Amerikan revolutionaries. It didn't make me want to go out and start a revolution ... But the film did bring to mind some parallels to American life in 2004.

These radicals felt completely alienated from mainstream America, and felt a need to act upon that alienation, in order to end the society they felt was causing such misery across the globe. Whether or not their political analysis was correct, their sense of themselves as separate was shared not just by bomb-throwing radicals but by many of us.

And many of us increasingly feel that way now. George Bush is a divider, not a uniter. And if he gets another four years, some of us are going to feel as alienated from mainstream America as the Weather Underground was in the past.

Well, George Bush did get another four years, and we survived somehow. Then in 2016, we found out there was something worse than Bush the Younger: Donald Trump became president. It's funny, because Trump wasn't quite the warmonger his predecessors had been, and while there has never been a worse president, war was far from the biggest issue.

But in The Weather Underground, various ex-members talked about how their movement petered out when the U.S. finally got out of Vietnam. The war had been the trigger for them, and without it, they were lost, and found themselves questioning what they were doing.

The film is an uneasy look back, using the benefit of hindsight to reject what the Weather Underground was doing. I got the feeling that the film makers wanted that rejection. It is balanced in some ways ... you do hear from members who would "do it again". But you also hear Mark Rudd, who admits to mixed feelings of guilt and shame. And the way Green and Siegel use Todd Gitlin upsets the so-called balance. Gitlin belongs in any study of the Weather Underground ... he had been a president of the Students for a Democratic Society, from which the Weather Underground came, and he is adamant that the Underground was ruinous for the Left. His points are well-taken at first, but he keeps popping up throughout the film, always insisting that the Underground was a bad thing. The way the film is constructed, it's as if Gitlin is called upon whenever the film makers want to take the Underground to task. The result is that the members of the Underground come across as spoiled kids who wouldn't listen to daddy. Which may even be an accurate description, but the use of Gitlin in the film means Green and Siegel side with daddy.

It is entirely possible I bring too much baggage to the film, and I may be unfair to Green and Siegel. Here is Green talking about the film in 2015:


sundown town

Today I learned ... well, it's nothing I didn't already know, so maybe "learned" is the wrong word, but it helped me combine a few things I knew into something I hadn't considered in quite this way before.

I have written before about growing up in Antioch, California, which until my senior year of high school in 1970 had no black people. This fact has been in my mind recently, with the just-finished NFL draft, where Najee Harris was a first-round pick. Harris, who set records playing college ball at Alabama (one of the prime football colleges in the country), went to Antioch High School. He has a chance to be the greatest football player in Antioch High history (an honor that I'm guessing is currently held by Hall of Fame lineman Gino Marchetti). Najee Harris is black. And in 2021, that isn't noteworthy ... Antioch has come a long way in 50 years. Wikipedia informs us that "the city has grown substantially more diverse since the 1990s, with no ethnic group comprising more than one-third of Antioch's population."

Wikipedia describes the Antioch I grew up in as "an all-white sundown town". And it wasn't just blacks who were discriminated against ... a recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle tells the story in its title: "The Bay Area town that drove out its Chinese residents for nearly 100 years."

I knew about sundown towns, and I certainly knew about Antioch's history. But I'd never put those two facts together. If nothing else, it makes my story shorter in the telling: I grew up in Antioch, California, a sundown town.

The city's progress isn't confined to sports. Two of the last three mayors, including current mayor Lamar Thorpe, are black. If I had to guess, I'd say most younger residents of Antioch know little or nothing about its past as a sundown town. I often say I don't recognize Antioch any longer ... it's been 40 years since we last lived there. But I'm mostly thinking about the size of the city. In 1920, around the time my grandparents from Spain moved to Antioch, the population was under 2000. By 1930, when my father was 6 years old, it was up to 3500. And it kept growing ... 11,000 in 1950, three years before I was born, up to 28,000 when I graduated from high school in 1970. The census for that year says that 98.1% of the populace of Antioch was "white" ("white" encompassing lots of groups that have their own categories now, such as Italian-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Portuguese-Americans, and Spanish-Americans). According to that census, there were 42 "Negroes" living in Antioch, and if you asked me at the time, I'd say that overstated the case by around 38 people.

Times change. When we had kids, we moved to Berkeley, partly because we liked the city, but also because we didn't want our kids to grow up in that same racist environment in which we were raised. Our kids were born in 1975 and 1978 ... the 1980 census says there were 615 Black people living in Antioch at the time. I'm glad things have changed in my home town, but I'm even more glad that we got our kids out of there.


guilty guilty guilty

I didn't think it would happen. I'm so glad that the jury came through.

But I don't buy into this "the system works, the American Dream is still possible" crap. If the system worked, George Floyd would be alive. If the system worked, police wouldn't be killing citizens. If the system worked, systemic racism would be part of the past.

Not denying the pleasure those guilty verdicts provide. But it'll take a few hundred more such verdicts before the surface has been even barely scratched.


i read yesterday's news today

There is a very articulate group of people in this country, with plenty of ability to procure publicity for their views, who have consistently refused to cooperate with the mass of the people, whether things were going well or going badly, on the ground that they required more concessions to their point of view before they would admit having what they called "confidence." ...

But, my friends, it is my belief that ... the mass of the American people do have confidence in themselves -- have confidence in their ability, with the aid of Government, to solve their own problems.

It is because you are not satisfied, and I am not satisfied, with the progress that we have made in finally solving our business and agricultural and social problems that I believe the great majority of you want your own Government to keep on trying to solve them. In simple frankness and in simple honesty, I need all the help I can get -- and I see signs of getting more help in the future from many who have fought against progress with tooth and nail in the past.

-- President Roosevelt, Fireside Chat, June 24, 1938


see ya later, alligator

I am not a fan of the Democratic Party, although I am inspired by some Democrats (like our Representative, Barbara Lee). I've said for some time now that I can't wait to complain about Joe Biden and the Democrats. But that can wait.

My first vote in a presidential election came in 1972, when I voted for George McGovern. These were formative years for me, and so I thought, with some reason, that Richard Nixon was the worst president in my lifetime. Later, friends who came of age a bit later than me tried to convince me that Ronald Reagan was, if not the worst, then at least the one who created the most damage. George W. Bush was hopeless. But I still held out for the nefarious Tricky Dick.

And then came Donald Trump. Four years later, it's no contest. That man was not just the worst president in my lifetime ... he is the worst president of all time.

And so, on this day when Joe Biden will become President of the United States, I am happy. It won't last long ... the further we get from the Trump Era, the more distant his perfidies become, the more I'll find myself frustrated with the Biden administration. But hey, give the man his honeymoon. We all need to take the time to breathe a sigh of relief.


19 years

19th birthday

Five years ago, I wrote, "Who the hell does anything for fourteen years?"

Substitute "nineteen" for "fourteen" and you see where we are today.

Every time this blog's anniversary comes around, I question why I am still doing it. No one blogs anymore. But then, no one uses a desktop computer anymore. I'm old, so I use things that once gave me comfort.

A year ago, the coronavirus hadn't even been given the name COVID-19. We barely knew it existed. Welcome to 2020 and beyond.

One thing surprises me about the 2021 version of January 6. I am, if not ecstatic, at least relieved that the Democrats have beaten down the Republicans. I don't often have many nice things to say about the Democratic Party, and I look forward to disagreeing with them for the foreseeable future. But Donald Trump, and what he showed us about the essence of the Republican Party, was enough to make me appreciate the beatdown, even if it came from Democrats.

But in 2021 America, Life Goes On means waking up to headlines like "Jacob Blake Shooting: No Charges Against Officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin".

So sure, I'll pretend for a few days that things are only going to get better. But I don't really believe it.

Last year at this time, I posted a video for the song that was #1 the day this blog was born. I don't know why, but it still feels appropriate. A song that gets stuck in your head, from a band that no one admits to liking, a band that nonetheless is still around ... they even released a version of "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" in 2020. So here they are again ... remember, if you do something twice, you've established a tradition. This is how I remind me of what I really am.

As I type, this video has almost 500 million views.


ok, maybe it wasn't my fault

Yesterday, in a self-pitying post, I blamed myself for how fucked up this country is. This morning, writing in advance of any final vote tallies but with the sense that Biden will be the next President and the Senate will remain Republican, I see where the real blame lies. 

It depresses me that this quote is still relevant, almost 50 years after Hunter S. Thompson wrote it. I'd love to get to the point when it was no longer timely to post this, which I have done many times over the years. I don't think I'll live that long.

“This maybe the year when we finally come face to face with ourselves; finally just lay back and say it—that we are really just a nation of 220 million used car salesmen with all the money we need to buy guns, and no qualms at all about killing anybody else in the world who tries to make us uncomfortable.”

As I write this, while he is trailing in the actual vote count with 86% of votes counted, Trump has received more than 66 million votes. That's 66 million Americans and counting who think we need four more years of this man. Those aren't people who looked at our country in 2016 and thought the businessman was the right choice to make our country great again. No, these are people with four years of evidence of how the businessman runs the country, and they said yep, that's what I want.


because you're different

This will be short. Talking about today, Election Day, is best done before we hear anything. I blame myself for everything, no matter how it turns out. I talk a big game about taking care of the underprivileged, but in my darkest heart I am still that childish fearful anarchist who anticipated the social apocalypse. Reading about the possibility of right-wing fascist racists taking to the streets if their guy loses, I am not like those reasonable folks who say they go low, we go high. If Trump wins, I hope the streets burn. I'm an old retired guy married to a fine woman who made sure we were taken care of in our dotage. I'm not going to be the one setting the fires ... hell, I've barely been out of the house for months. But I am so dumb that I romanticize destruction. Blame me when it all goes to hell.


the demand for abolition

It’s been four years since I first protested during “The Star-Spangled Banner.” At the time, my protest was tethered to my understanding that something was not right. I saw the bodies of Black people left dead in the streets. I saw them left dead in their cars. I saw them left dead in their backyards. I saw Black death all around me at the hands of the police. I saw little to no accountability for police officers who had murdered them. It is not a matter of bad apples spoiling the bunch but interlocking systems that are rotten to their core.

And systemic problems demand systemic solutions....

Reform, at its core, preserves, enhances, and further entrenches policing and prisons into the United States’ social order. Abolition is the only way to secure a future beyond anti-Black institutions of social control, violence, and premature death.

-- Colin Kaepernick, "The Demand for Abolition"