Tag Archive for history

Resist! A Premonition

by Carol McMillan

Do you remember what you felt the week before the 2016 presidential election? As an ardent Bernie Sanders supporter, I still nursed some anger at the Democratic National Committee and the media, feeling they hadn’t given him the coverage they’d given Hillary Clinton, but, still, we were about to elect the first woman president. An historic moment! A glass ceiling hung poised above us all, waiting to be massively shattered. I remember watching the CBS pundits, running their predictive pointers across a red, blue, and purple map of the country, explaining all the possibilities that might be foreseen if this state went red or another went blue. His final words had been “Only a miracle could turn enough states red for a Republican victory.” Hillary’s landslide was assured; even the most unfavorable polls said so.

I joined my friends in planning parties to celebrate Hillary Rodham Clinton’s election as the first woman president of the United States of America. Three of us had even reserved a cabin on Orcas Island for our women’s victory weekend. Champagne, chocolate, beach walks, and companionship beckoned from our future.

I just want to take this moment to apologize for what happened next. It was my fault. Yes, honestly, it was all my fault! Let me explain.

On the night of November 5th, three days before the presidential election, I went to sleep in a familiar universe. I turned the heat down to sixty-two, took my evening vitamins, flossed my teeth, puffed my pillows, and snuggled down under my comforter. The cat jumped onto my bed as I turned out the light, curling his body into its usual position against my legs. Sleep came easily.

Three hours later I awoke from a soul-freezing nightmare. In my detailed and vivid dream, I sat at a long utilitarian table in an institutional green room. A group of us were awaiting the first deliveries of ballots that we could begin counting. A friend came rushing in from outside, visibly upset. “More Republican ballots are coming in than Democratic!”

Not believing her for a minute, I hurried out to the loading docks where ballots were arriving in large, flat white bags of heavy plastic, sorted by party. My stomach suddenly filled with icy lead, freezing me in place, as I realized that she was correct: more Republican votes were pouring into that small-town vote-counting place than Democratic.

The terror I felt jolted me into instant consciousness. The dream made no sense; everyone knew Hillary would win, but the vivid dream felt precognitively real. I feared that it foretold an unforeseen slip into an alternative universe, previously unknown and somehow malevolent.

For the next three days, I did everything possible to dispel the outcome predicted by that dream. How could I re-route the Universe, steer it away from that terrifying course? The man who originally seemed only to be a bad campaign joke, could not possibly take over the governance of my country! Everyone else seemed to continue as usual, confident of Hillary’s victory, unaware of the bifurcation of universes that I feared lay just ahead.

On the afternoon of the election, I felt even more certain that my dream had been an inexplicable premonition. Frantically, I pulled up every irrational superstition I could think of in an attempt to derail an unimaginable future.

If I wear different shoes this won’t come true.

If I don’t go to Leah’s to watch the returns this won’t come true.

If I don’t bring the bottle of my favorite port to her house this won’t come true.

History may record that the Earth changed course because

I did wear the shoes and

I did go to Leah’s and

I did bring the port.

Undoubtedly, the election of the forty-fifth president was entirely my fault: I had been warned. Megalomania has not been one of my usual faults but it continues to lurk here just below my consciousness.

This morning, as my first waking sensation, an inky sense of wrongness creeps into my consciousness. Reaching to snuggle my cat, I seek to retreat. If something so malevolent lurks in the waking world I will choose sleep. But my efforts defy me; consciousness is sending out a tentacle, ensnaring my thoughts, sucking them out into dawn. The man who ran a campaign based on anger and bigotry, despite everyone’s predictions to the contrary, has been elected president, and it is my fault.

So, I write this as an apology. My only sustaining consolation is that my friends have fallen into this alternative universe with me. If you are willing to forgive me, we will lock arms and wrestle this cosmic alligator back onto an appropriate track. Anyone know where to find a wormhole we might use to reboot reality?

Author’s Bio: CAROL MCMILLAN, until the past few years, had mostly published in academic journals. But moving to Bellingham has brought her poetry and memoir writing out of the closet; she has now been published in several anthologies. Carol is the author of one book, White Water, Red Walls, chronicling in poetry, photographs, and paintings her rafting trip down the Grand Canyon. She is currently working on a memoir of her experiences during the 1960’s in the San Francisco Bay Area.

And To the Republic For Which She Sits

by Laura Kalpakian

I was part of the Hell No We Won’t Go generation, 1968 when our resistance was focused on forcing the government to end the Vietnam War. We certainly did not invent mass protest, the proverbial petition in boots, but with television, our mass protests spilled into tidy American homes. That was new. In the decades since then, my generation has often been portrayed as comic, tie-dyes, feathers, flowers, stony smiles and peace signs, and our serious efforts antic undertakings. One era’s hard-won conviction is another era’s easy assumption.

And then in January 2017, the notion of a “petition in boots” (as someone smarter than I coined it) took on new meaning. In the weeks since the Women’s March, the impetus—the need, the obligation—for mass protest has become an unrelenting, an almost daily urgency.   I thought such social unrest, such a sense of political emergency as I experienced in my youth would not happen again in my lifetime. But fifty years later, here we are. And by we, I mean not just the graybeards and the grandmothers of 1968, but to quote Elwood of the Blues Brothers: “You. Me. Them.”

As a young person in DC for the 1969 Moratorium March a phalanx of my amigos and I all crashed at a friend’s apartment the night before. With us was the sister of a German friend who was visiting her brother. The morning of the March I was surprised to see her applying foundation makeup, heavily, as if for a party. She must have sensed my prissy disapproval because she tossed me the bottle and said, “Here. You’ll need it. When they gas you, the makeup helps to protect your skin.”

The prospect of gas was never far off. We knew that. As we made our way to the March we walked by government buildings sandbagged against us, prepared for an assault, and National Guardsmen behind those sandbags with rifles and bayonets. A sobering sight. And yet most of the Guardsmen were young people, like us, and several surreptitiously flashed the peace sign.

We were 250,000 strong that day. More than anyone had reckoned on. Certainly more than that pig Nixon had reckoned on, though in calling out the sandbags and the National Guard he knew we were dead serious.   Six months later four protesters were dead. Killed in May, 1970 by the Guard at Kent State and more at Jackson State. Four months later Bobby Seale, a defendant in the Chicago Seven trial, was bound and gagged in the courtroom. At the order of the judge. The Republic stood imperiled, and the rights Americans relied on eroding.

I remember being deep in the crowd the day of the ‘69 Moratorium March, looking up to a platform. Joan Baez sang. Inspiring speakers rallied us. “If Nixon wants to know how to move soldiers peacefully out of ‘Nam,” one guy memorably called out to rousing cheers, “he should ask us!” In fact, aside from brief skirmishes, 250,000 of us did move peacefully into and later out of the city.

However, the image I remember best was wordless. Not far from my cadre of friends a woman had spread a blanket on the grass. She had a couple of little kids with her, a preschooler and a five year old. Other than her children, she was alone, no other adult family members. I was astonished that a mother would bring her little children to a march where there was a threat of violence, of gas, where protesters were surrounded by guys with guns. And yet, she sat there, amid the restless crowd, calmly slathering peanut butter on white bread, handing out sandwiches. The kids sat, cross-legged in front of her, munching, listening. She was an ordinary looking woman, perhaps thirty-five, no outlandish clothes, no feathers or flowers in her hair, no love beads. At odds with the rousing rhetoric, she exuded serenity. Her image seared into memory.

Last month my daughter-in-law took my little grand-daughter to the Women’s March. I was proud of them; I was also glad there was no threat of gas, no armed National Guard. This is not to say there won’t be. Perils lie ahead, of that I am certain. Even so I take heart from the remembered image of that mother at the 1969 Moratorium March. The simplicity of her sitting on the blanket—amid the raucous, impassioned outcry, while the crowd surged and shouted and the National Guard stood armed—calmly handing out sandwiches to her children seemed like an emblem. To me she represented confidence, not simply in the justice of our cause, but confidence in the Republic itself.   That confidence in the republic spurs us now, 2017 to put our boots back on, our petitions into our feet, marching now. You. Me. Them.   In fact, with Elwood and Jake of the Blues Brothers, we might all say, “We’re putting the band back together.”

Author’s Bio: One of the original Founding Mothers of Red Wheelbarrow Writers, Laura Kalpakian was nominated for the prestigious International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award for American Cookery. She won a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, a Pushcart Prize, the Pacific Northwest Booksellers’ Award (twice), the Anahid Award for an American writer of Armenian descent, the PEN West Award, and the Stand International Short Fiction Competition. She has had residencies at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Montalvo Center for the Arts, and Hawthornden Castle in Scotland. She is the author of thirteen novels and over a hundred stories published in collections, anthologies, literary journals and magazines in the USA and the UK.

 

Waltzing My Piano

by Jean Waight

An old envelope fell out of the piano bench the other day, and I asked Bill about tossing it out. But its scratch marks held details of his 1989 trip to collect what is now our good, heavy, rather old upright piano. The trip was a December adventure, and a leap of faith, since a piano is a formidable opponent for someone going alone, with a not-good back, the six hundred twenty miles to Redding, California.

The seller wasn’t there at the appointed time. No one had cell phones in those days, and Bill was left to wonder and linger over a long breakfast until, 90 minutes late, the fellow pulled up, having finally made his way through fog-obstructed traffic.

A professional mover, he waved away Bill’s help. Actually asked him to stay out of the way. He had a solid block constructed of layers of sheet plywood, about 15 X 15 inches square and about nine inches high. Onto this block he set the piano on its side, and from there choreographed a dance of tips and pivots. In about five minutes he had the piano down from his truck and into the back of Bill’s rented trailer.

Now, no one is going to confuse a neat, five-minute piano-moving trick with the long slog we face as we do the work of, among other things, defending our open and welcoming society. But what I take from the piano mover is this hope: that when I’m trying to move a seemingly immovable hulk of problems, distrust, and ill-feeling, and I’m straining, that there may be a better way.

One way my piano surely becomes harder to move is if I fail to recognize all my allies in changing the public stories we hear, especially unexpected allies. Often enough I have used the simplified term “The Christian Right.” But this term doesn’t seem as meaningful as I thought before I saw Danny Westneat’s January 29 column (Seattle Times). From his column I learned how distraught the workers have been at Washington state’s largest refugee resettlement program, a charity of a coalition of mostly evangelical churches identifying conservative. They take large exception to the Administration’s assertion that immigrants have been coming in unvetted. And they love the immigrants they’ve been able to help, most definitely including the Muslims. Seeing this gave me goosebumps of joy.

One way my piano may be easier to move is if I can make music as well as generate sweat. We are not just in a historical moment that we can resolve in the near term. While our current crises are a special class of danger and damage, I think we are all recognizing that we’re in the midst of an upheaval that’s already been going on for decades and now shows no signs of resolving into peace in my lifetime, or maybe yours. So why not build our resilience with joys as well as activism? Joyful activism, if we can manage that. Continue to make music. And in writing my lyrics, I’d like to try this: using words like gains and setbacks instead of wins and losses—I think that will send the message to my bones that this effort is going to take endurance. And that my emotional ups and downs can be smoothed by letting go of winning. This isn’t a sport to me, anyway. Nor a war.

The late Hugh Prather once spoke of a growing family whose strength lies in their gentleness and whose message is not so much in their words as in their treatment of others. I hope to carry that thought with me, at least in my better moments, whether I’m pushing or waltzing.

Author’s Bio: 

Jean Waight, formerly with Group Health Cooperative’s Communications and Community Relations department, is a Bellingham writer of memoir, short fiction, and essays. Her work has appeared in the Red Wheelbarrow Writers anthology Memory into Memoir, in “Cirque: A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim,” and in the sociological journal, “Research in Social Stratification and Mobility.” More blogposts are on GreenTeaSympathy.blogspot.com.