To read my current
journal, please go to: windchime walker's
THURSDAY, MAY 25, 2000
Each week that I volunteer at the women's and children's shelter is wonderfully different. Today it begins with my watching P.K. decorate a candle for a member of their staff team who is leaving town tomorrow. Now, the word "decorate" doesn't really do justice to the creative magic that P.K. works with such common materials. Starting with candles of different widths (today's being the largest at 4" diameter), she cuts, shapes and attaches original designs made from colored sheets of thin beeswax. Often using images of herbs and flowers, her designs are symbolic creations that reflect the recipient and the occasion. Since L. has lived at the house for a year, her candle is circled by depictions of flowering plants representing the four seasons. The artistic precision that P.K. achieves has often made me wonder if she uses pre-shaped designs. Oh no! Each shape and mark is hand-cut by P.K. with a tiny pottery knife. The dexerity of her beautiful long fingers makes it look easy, but I know there is nothing easy about it! She is simply an artist at her craft.
Next, the youngest child and I play animals and colors out on the front porch. I name an animal and he becomes it. I must admit his monkey is particularly fine! Since Spanish is his primary language, and English is mine, we communicate with signs, sounds and a lot of giggles. Playing with colors and numbers leads to his singing the alphabet song. What an interesting rendition! When his older sisters return from school, they join us on the porch. The eldest remembers our bet from last week. "You win!", she grins, "I love school!"
My goddess-daughter, E.K., returns from an interview at the high school where she hopes to transfer next year. When her mother, P.K., called last week, she was told, "Your daughter has as much chance of transferring here as winning the lottery! We don't take junior transfers." Well, two exceptional application letters written by E.K. and P.K., her school transcripts showing E.K.'s grades up from a "C" average freshman year to honor roll this past semester, plus her serious commitment to and rich experience as a dancer must have changed someone's mind! E.K. announces, "I'm in!", with the biggest grin I've seen on her face since adolescence hit. The school is excellent by all standards, with opportunities in academics and the performing arts. E.K. intends to major in dance and perhaps minor in sociology. It is wonderfully located, less than two miles away. What a change from the all girls suburban Catholic school she's been attending! And what fun to be there today to celebrate with her.
The final gift of the day is a special meal cooked by the youngsters' mother. Last Tuesday, she promised to cook me something from "home" when I returned this week. After 3 hours in the kitchen, we sit down to hot tortas (lentil patties), tomato seasoned rice, homemade salsa, and a macaroni/apple/cheese/celery salad. Yummm!!! Though she and I don't share language, we share something indefinable. Friendship.
How fortunate I am.
FRIDAY, MAY 26, 2000
We begin this sunny day by putting our tandem bike on the back of our car and driving an hour to Geddes Park in Ann Arbor...E.D.'s childhood home and our traditional place to play. Once there we bike along the Huron River, over train tracks right after the Chicago Amtrak speeds by, up a long hill (E.D. calls it "the wall") in an affluent tree-lined neighborhood, to the University of Michigan, across the Diag, through the center of town, ending at JoJo's Juice Joint for lunch. We enjoy spinach pies, fresh carrot/apple juice and people-watching while sitting in the sun at an outside table. Then back to Geddes Park via a different route. Through streets of old houses-turned-into-student-rentals, by the huge U of M hospital complex, down a hill beside Fuller pool (our old swimming spot), beside baseball and soccer fields, over the bridge, and along the Huron River on a shady bicycle path. I bargain to drive home if we go the long way around the river instead of taking the short way back to our car. Happy we did, as we happen on a Canadian goose "day care center" with 3 adult geese watching over 35 fluffy goslings!
At home, there's a notice on the front door that they tried to deliver my scooter today! Back in the car, I drive 40 minutes north to the scooter store. And there she sits in all her "majestic purple" splendor! The salesman disassembles her for transport and easily tucks the five parts into my car. Home again, E.D. manages to get her out of the car and assembled without a problem. Guess what next??!!!
Even though our streets are torn up something fierce with massive sewer pipe replacement, my friend handles gravel, poorly graded curbs and muddy patches with ease. I take sidewalks down to the lake, then happily scoot along beside walkers, joggers, toddlers in strollers, roller bladers and bikers. Boats skim the water as commuters drive home for a long holiday weekend. What fun to be out on my own again, independent as the wind!
And now as my scooter
gets recharged in the garage, I'm taking this tired body to get
recharged with a good night's sleep.
SATURDAY, MAY 27, 2000
After only four and a half hours sleep (too excited about the scooter!), I pick up J.S. in SW Detroit and we drive over the Ambassador Bridge into Canada. We're going to a three-hour presentation/panel discussion called "Confronting Globalization in the Americas", at a union hall on Windsor's east side. It's one of a series of events in preparation for the OAS (Organization of American States) General Assembly meeting in Windsor, ONT June 4-7. A coalition of Canadian groups has worked for a year to organize not only massive protest demonstrations but extensive teach-ins and related cultural activities. Both J.S. and I plan to join the action next weekend.
This morning's attendance is small but committed. Young and old, North and Latin American-born, union workers and artistic activists, Canadian and US...we gather to learn more about the issues behind our planned demonstrations. Issues like globalization and multinational corporations' place in it, effects of NAFTA and so-called "free trade" on the people, extreme disparity in economic distribution between North and Latin America, history/goals/realities of the OAS, Canada's part in it, US dominance and militaristic attitudes/actions in the Americas, trade unions and their unique challenges in different countries, human rights abuses and the OAS's response/nonresponse to them, the particular vulnerability of women and children to conditions of extreme poverty all over the hemisphere, and Ontario's current struggles with the oppressive Harris government.
The presenters--Richard Grimspun of York University, Josephine Grey of LIFT (Low Income Families Together) and the International Committee of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women, Dick Martin, former Canadian Labour Council Secretary Treasurer and current president of the Inter-American Regional Workers Federation--are informed, articulate and passionate. When the floor is opened for questions/discussion, the breadth of experience and educated concerns voiced is exceptional...from university students to welfare moms to teachers struggling with Harris's Ontario government, to my friend J.S., a nun who worked with the poor in Mexico for several decades, to union organizers to a Guatemalan/Canadian worker to longtime international peace activists.
After this introduction I feel much more committed and informed, ready to stand up--well, actually wheel around!--next weekend. I plan to come back on Thursday night and stay for the duration. Happily, J.T., a dear Windsor friend has given J.S. and me keys to her flat, with an open invitation to stay as long as we want. Coincidentally, that same friend is leaving Thursday for two weeks back in the Dominican Republic where she and her co-worker will begin compiling oral histories of the women's groups they helped establish during their 20 years in that country.
I'm pleased that my scooter's
first foray into the world will be as an activist!
SUNDAY, MAY 28, 2000
E.D.'s sick with a flu bug since last night. No appetite. Sleeping off and on all day. Running a fever. Poor sweetie. He so rarely gets sick we're just not used to it when he does. And no appetite? Well, that's the sign of real illness in a man who always asks at the end of lunch what we're going to do for dinner!
Rain all morning and a grey cold afternoon. But as soon as things dried up sufficiently, I was out on the roads again. Every day since picking up my scooter, I've taken a joy ride for an hour or two. The lure of freedom! This scooter takes me places I haven't been in years. Out into our community park by the lake, for one. With windchime walker, I'd drive the 3 blocks down to the park and then stay pretty close to the front entrance, beach and pool area. It took too much energy to venture much farther than that. Well, yesterday I scooted out to the farthest reaches of the park, past the marina to the lakeside gazebo built last year in honor of a deceased sister and brother who were dear neighbors of ours. I'd never seen it before, except at a distance. What a delight to discover it is accessible! As I sat on a bench inside its fresh cedar interior, fog horns announced the passing of two lakers in the channel. Then the sound of honking drew my eyes to an undulating ribbon of Canadian geese flying north. Before it reached the yacht club a mile up the coast, the "ribbon" descended gracefully into the water. What a lovely spot!
Being able to go out on the roads by myself is one of the greatest gifts of using this scooter. It reminds me of how I felt when we first bought my recumbent 3-wheeler in 1996. After years of enjoying solitary long-distance biking and running, the loss of these abilities as the MS progressed was a real challenge. And then E.D. saw this 3 wheeler with a white bucket seat in front of a bike store, a "Joyrider" by Trailmate. The way you could walk right into it without having to lift your leg made him think immediately of me. The day I first tried the bike, we bought it and I rode it right to work at the book store! For years, this bike and I were inseparable. But the past year or two, it had become more of a chore than a delight for me to pedal. And I could no longer go down to the lake because I couldn't manage the hills coming home. However, it didn't feel like a terrible loss because by then E.D. and I had taken to riding a tandem.
Until two days ago I'd
forgotten how much I love going off on my own. The tandem is wonderful
but it is definitely a social activity! We've even learned to
carry on animated political discussions while pedalling along.
And now I have silence restored when I need it. As E.D. said this
morning, "Why did it take us so long to get you a scooter?"
I know the answer to that. I was determined to stay on
my feet as long as I could. The fact that I have absolutely no
ambivalence about moving into the world of scooters tells me that
I've made this move at exactly the right time.
MONDAY, MAY 29, 2000
My new scooter has a name. Firefly! Her energy definitely combines fire and air as we fly over earth and beside water.
Today's sun draws us down to the lake. While happily scooting along, I see that new curbs have been installed on one of the countless torn-up streets (sewer pipe replacement) opening onto the lake. They look higher than Firefly's 1" tolerance, but I decide to try it anyway. Whoops! We land on the curb with back wheels off the street and front wheels useless (rear-wheel drive). Rather like a turtle on its back--we can't go forward or backward. As I dismount to see about engaging the freewheel mechanism, two persons stop to help. T., a woman on her bike, and D., a man who parks his car by the median and crosses the street, asking "Can I help?" How kind! By working together, I'm soon off the curb, turned around and merrily going back where I'd come from.
I then turn into our community's lakefront park. What delight! Watching kids play on the beach, sitting in the gazebo beside the fishing folk, eating a gooey grilled cheese sandwich, meeting an old friend with whom I collaborated on a funky art exhibit in 1983 ("Lament for Haircut and Oboe"), watching two kayaks survive big boats passing them in the channel, enjoying the families set up for all-day feasting at picnic tables. I stay most of the afternoon. Actually, the sunburned top of my head now indicates that I may have overstayed, at least out in the sun without a hat!
Firefly is already outfitted in her own uniquely creative way. From the front basket hangs 1) a blue-to-green fabric dreamcatcher created by a Detroit artist friend in the late 80s, 2) a ritual braided headband with purple and black feathers (made by Ruth Barrett, a Diannic priestess I often see at women's music festivals), 3) a marble hanging with the earth painted on it (my dear friend J.P.'s last gift to me before he passed with AIDS in 1994), and, naturally, 4) a set of San Francisco windchimes! Our neighbor J.F. spent the morning creating a caneholder for the back. He then adapted his daughter N.'s pink horn from her first Fisher Price tricycle (she turns 13 tomorrow!) to put on the front. As a final touch, my sweet E.D.--who's feeling well now, thank goddess--added a red strobe bike light for safety. All in all, she's pretty darn spiffy!
It's hard to imagine that last week at this time I'd just come to the conclusion that it was time to start looking into buying a scooter. Monday I spent the day online researching different brands of scooters, discount shopping sites, how to get funding from insurance companies, and what to look for in choosing a scooter. Tuesday, I discovered a local scooter store in the yellow pages, found their prices and service to be the best I'd seen, drove over and tried out 4 scooters, then ordered the Amigo RT in "Majestic Purple". Friday, I picked up Firefly, brought her home, and we took our first ride together.
What changes can occur
in only one week!
TUESDAY, MAY 30, 2000
Hate to sound like a broken record, but...I LOVE LOVE LOVE my scooter!!
Today we go off to do errands for the first time. Riding by the lake, Firefly seems to be the only non-car vehicle around. It is a mile and a half to the high school, bank, market, a few shops. A half hour on Firefly and no pollutants spewed into the environment! I stop at our insurance agent's office to sign and pay for all-risk no-deductible insurance for my new friend. Then to the ATM machine for some cash. Finally to the market for OAS protest demonstration-friendly juices and snacks. Trail mix, Triscuits, bananas, and best of all, Odwalla protein and hi-nutrient juices.
I first discovered Odwalla juices in San Francisco (the company is based in Half Moon Bay south of SF). For four winters I've practically lived on their juices. What a surprise when E. came home one day with a bottle of Odwalla tangerine juice here in Michigan! The company has apparently gone national, and our neighborhood market carries it.
So today I stop by the lake on my way home to savor a delicious carrot juice. How strange to taste San Francisco so tangibly here in Michigan! Strangely wonderful. As if my two lives are melding into one.
Once home, I start making my sign for the OAS protest march on Sunday. For nights I've lain awake trying out different phrases in my mind. Last night it finally came to me: "Global community not global control." I've made many signs in my day and always try to be clear and concise in their wording. Somehow one must manage to say in 6 words or less why you're out there. It can't be anyone else's reason or it runs the risk of sounding like a meaningless cliche. When I find the heart of my sign, I find the heart of my protest. I'd been wondering why I'm going to such effort to be at the OAS demonstrations and teach-ins. Now I know. It is the people.
I think of P., M. and her baby A., and the two little sisters. Up on the mountain above Oaxaca. Living in a tin-covered one-room shack with a dirt floor. No electricity. No plumbing. Water carried every morning from the single well at the top of the mountain. One double bed plus a hammock for the baby. Only one chair that they always insist I sit in. Offering me some of their precious water in a kool-aid mix to celebrate my birthday. My immediate decision to accept and drink it even though I'd been mightily warned about not drinking any of the water without first boiling it. Their gifts when my 2 week stay was up: a small green pottery vase and a beautiful hand-embroidered tablecloth that was stored in the suitcase under the bed (they had no real table). My 50th birthday gift: to be part of a 3 week work/study program for North Americans who wanted to learn about and then live beside the poor in Mexico.
These are the faces that
come to mind when I say, "Global community not global control."
Because it is my support--unwitting or conscious--of globalization
(control by multinational corporations) that continues to keep
my friends in poverty on the top of that mountain, while I unthinkingly
spend $2.99 on a small bottle of juice. May my own mind
and heart be transformed this weekend as I protest the unequal
distribution of wealth between us North Americans and the rest
of the Americas.
WEDNESDAY, MAY 31, 2000
A day totally devoted to preparing for the OAS (Organization of American States) demonstrations and teach-ins. Tomorrow I travel across the Detroit River to Windsor, Ontario where I will probably stay until Tuesday. It feels appropriate that I will spend tomorrow afternoon with a Latin American mother and her children in a US women's shelter before crossing the border into Canada. Invisible casualties of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) and the OAS proposed FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas) that will expand NAFTA to cover the entire hemisphere.
This morning, I complete work on my protest sign. Firefly and I ride the one and a half miles down to Kinkos to have it laminated. Thunderstorms are moving through tonight and we might have a wet weekend. The sign looks well. Besides saying "Global Community not Global Control", it uses my image of different-colored hands reaching together (from my site's Links page), and a white fabric dove made in El Salvador...all on a painted purple background. The other side of the sign is from my Word Art days--"For a non-violent person, the whole world is one family" (Gandhi), with a pen-and-ink drawing of women, men and children from different countries, holding hands. I plan to wire the sign to the front basket of my scooter.
I'll be riding Firefly two miles each way to the teach-ins at the University of Windsor all day and into the evening on Friday. My friend, P.N., is driving me to the panel discussion at the university tomorrow night so we can scout out accessibility. From Saturday on, the action will be a matter of blocks from the flat where J.and I are staying. Oddly enough, small-town Windsor has no convention center large enough to accomodate this OAS General Assembly, so meetings will be held in mammoth tents beside the Detroit River!
Once home again I prepare my snacks (water bottle, trail mix, triscuits and juices) so they'll be easy to carry in Firefly's basket. I've bought enough to share, remembering how much I appreciated a brother protester's shared figs during a San Francisco demonstration and march against the bombing of Iraq in February 1998. One gets mighty hungry and thirsty out there on the street.
And then I go upstairs to my computer room and continue studying issues regarding the OAS, its actions in the Americas, and this weekend's teach-ins and demonstrations. The printed material I picked up at last Saturday's teach-in gave me the OAS Shutdown Coalition website. What a treasure trove of background papers, scheduled events, and general protester's information! I'm not intending to do direct action--civil disobedience that would lead to arrest--but do hope to offer an informed presence of solidarity.
Three phone calls about tomorrow's activities: 1) To confirm my ride to the OAS Shutdown Coalition teach-in with my friend P.N., the grandmother of Windsor activism; 2) To arrange the time for D. (my friend J.'s upstairs neighbor) to come down and help me assemble Firefly and schlep my bags into the flat; 3) To move my 3 hours house duty at the women's shelter forward an hour so I won't be going across the Ambassador Bridge into Canada during rush hour.
After dinner, E.D. disassembles Firefly and puts her in my car. Happily, it is a pretty easy process for persons with average strength. Next, I'll pack up my laptop and get that settled in the car too. I intend to add to my online journal when time allows. Right now, though, the schedule looks pretty tight for the next four days.
What an amazing opportunity!
I feel so privileged to be able to attend this protest in the
place of my Latin American sisters and brothers. May their voices
FRIDAY, JUNE 3, 2000
It is the youth who are
leading us here in Windsor, Ontario. Specifically the OAS Shutdown
Coalition. These university students--and experienced activists
as old as 36--put on a wonderful teach-in last night at the University
of Windsor CAW (Canadian Auto Workers) Student Center. From all
over Ontario, Quebec, and the US, clear-thinking, informed, committed,
creative young women and men are showing us new ways of organizing
protest demonstrations. No "leaders", consensual process,
panel discussions instead of presentations, inclusive of all and
respectful of diverse backgrounds and experience, a mixture of
well-researched critical analysis and creative modes of expression
(giant puppets, street theater, music), sophisticated use of the
web for disseminating information and calling folks together.
surprising to us older activists, they maintain it is important to have fun even as you try to effect change!
As in countries all over the world, the students are now at the heart of the effort. It started long before Seattle--as we saw in a stunning slide show of activist efforts since the late 1970s--but November 30, 1999 will go down in North American her/history as the defining moment of a new wave of activism. The amazing thing is that these are young people who have only known the excesses of a culture devoted to the material gods. Yet, it is their voices who are crying "No more capitalism!" What hope we white-haired activists felt last night as we were taught by this new generation of activists who have learned so well from our mistakes and our successes. Because in Windsor, as in Seattle and Washington, DC, the older, more established groups--including labour in this heavily unionized auto town--are working together with the OAS Shutdown Group to education and coordinate the people's response to the far-reaching threats of globalization.
My day yesterday started with a phone call from my sister activist, J.S. She warned me of problems folks were already having trying to get across the border from Detroit into Windsor. Apparently a local radio station's van had been strip searched, with the customs officials even bothering to take apart each piece of their equipment. I mentioned my plan to say I was going to a retreat near Kingsville on Lake Erie--where I actually will be going next weekend--and to hide my sign under my scooter in the trunk. J.S. recommended I leave the sign at home because it would surely catch me in a lie if they found it. Much as I resisted her suggestion--after all, I love that sign on which I worked for two days--it became clear that my getting into Canada was more important than having a nifty sign! So I brought it to the women's shelter where some of Detroit's activists might use it for their own protest demonstration on Sunday (they're planning a direct action to shut down the border). The fear that nagged at me all day offered a small taste of how it must feel for my sisters and brothers in such countries as Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, Nigaragua, Guatemala, Haiti and Cuba when they are forced to come into the USA illegally. For one thing, my gastro-intestinal tract was not a stable companion. Besides, I had little appetite.
After all that, I whizzed through Canadian customs like any other day! A cosmic joke or something, I guess. But last night I did hear of a USA affinity group--folks who have prepared to do direct action together--who indeed were turned back at the border yesterday. I suspect if I'd let my vanity about the sign run the show, I probably would have encountered that hard-nosed border patrol who would have taken my car apart and found it. Ah, the learnings, the learnings!
So today I'll ride my purple scooter, Firefly, the two miles to the university for an all day teach-in, again coodinated by the OAS Shutdown Coalition. And in case I was still fretful about not having a sign, there will be sign-making opportunities, as well as giant puppet-making too. Tonight we'll all go to the university's Moot Court building to hear Canada's famous activist, Maude Barlow, and Tony Clarke. Then tomorrow everything moves downtown to the Capitol Theater. Another all day teach-in that will include street theater, art exhibits, and who-knows-what-all.
I don't know when I'll be able to add to the journal, but I'll do my best. Today, my inability to sleep (too excited!) led me to get up around 4 AM, so I've had plenty of exra time! Hope this isn't a habit, though, as I'm going to need sleep to keep up a pretty intense pace the next five days. It's now 6 AM and I think I'll crawl back into bed for another couple hours.
Home again (to my friend's flat) after a 13 hour day. My mind and heart are so full of the power of people's stories, huge amounts of information, diverse critical analyses, and courageous individuals...that, tired as I am, I can't imagine sleeping just yet. Actually, after 5 hours of panel discussions I did take a nap on a couch in the student center hallway. Of course, even as I slept I was hearing the direct action training role play going on down the hall ("What is your name? Address? Date of birth? What are you doing here? etc., etc.") To be part of this event is beyond describing in words. I feel wrung out like a sweaty bandana. Especially from the stories.
The power in one man's voice as he read aloud in Spanish a poem he wrote honoring his brother who was tortured and savagely killed by the paramilitary in Guatemala. The tears glistening in the eyes of another man, a native of Stoney Point, ONT, as he described the murder of his native activist brother, Dudley George, by Ontario Provincial Police. The calm-voiced young refugee who told through an interpreter of the 10-month student strike he helped lead at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. His words: "The struggle never ends." The 70+ woman activist professor from Massachusetts who said to me at lunch, "People ask how I can keep doing what I do, and I say how could I do otherwise? It's who I am." When I asked how long she's been an activist, she said, "Since I was 12." At that age she was already working: "I come from a very poor family." Her first action was a union uprising at a Pennsylvania mill near where she lived. She did admit to getting more tired these days. "After Windsor", she said, "I'm taking the rest of the month off!" Our conversation was cut short when the young men in her affinity group (whom she had driven the 12 hours from Massachusetts to Windsor) started pouring into her car. "Sorry, but I've got to go help cook dinner." The OAS Shutdown Coalition not only organized the teach-in, direct action training, and puppet-making, but worked with Food Not Bombs to serve a free hot vegan lunch and dinner to everyone in the courtyard outside the student center today!
Well, I think it's now
time for bed. Tomorrow is another huge day with a teach-in from
10 AM to 8 PM at the Capitol Theater downtown. I suspect our numbers
will swell as anticipation rises for Sunday and Noam Chomsky's
talk, followed by our massive rally and march as the OAS delegates
prepare to open their general assembly. What a hope-filled time!
It's hard to remember how despairing and isolated I have sometimes
felt as an activist in the past. This is a new moment in her/history.
How grateful I am to be part of it.
MONDAY, JUNE 5, 2000
The people united
will never be defeated.
The people united
will never be defeated.
La lucha. The struggle. The struggle for justice, economic reform, human rights, and the people's voice to be heard. That is what we are involved in here in Windsor, Ontario as the OAS (Organization of American States) General Assembly convened yesterday. Thousands of student protesters, aging activists and union workers took to the streets in marches and rallies, direct action and solidarity support. Outnumbered dramatically by 1000s of Windsor police, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), and Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) in full riot gear, the protesters (to my knowledge) remained non-violent...even in the face of pepper spray attacks by the police. Two young women were pepper-sprayed directly in their mouths as they tried to hang a banner on the security fence surrounding the 6-block OAS meeting site. 41 student activists were arrested, only 20 of whom were undertaking direct action (trying to block a bus believed to be carrying OAS delegates into the meetings). The others were picked up arbitrarily, some believe because of camera surveillance that had identified certain students as known activists. One such occurrence happened as my friend P.N. and I were outside the Capitol Theater late Saturday afternoon.
We had just finished attending an all-day teach-in sponsored by the CLC (Canadian Labour Council). We'd heard the voices of women from Peru, Columbia, Mexico and the Caribbean, seen Zapateatro, a guerilla theatre troupe show images of the Mexican government's violence against the Maya people of Chiapas, experienced panel discussions on the economic disparities in the Americas, the role of multinational corporations in the OAS and its decisions, the growing movements of global resistance.
As we walked outside at about 6 PM, P.N. and I were delighted to find our student activist friends from the OAS Shutdown Coalition milling about as they ate the free dinner (prepared by Food Not Bombs) being served in an orderly fashion from huge pots on the sidewalk. There was an air of excitement and anticipation of tomorrow, Sunday, when all our preparations would turn to the streets. Of course, we also noticed the helicoptors overhead, ranks of riot-geared police across the street, at nearby street corners, cruising in open-backed trucks and standing on rooftops. By then, though, this show of force was becoming familiar to us all. How quickly one becomes used to living in a police state!
Suddenly the mood changed.
A young man who had helped me out on several
occasions was scooped up and carried away in a police car, arrested for juggling in the street. "Police state, police state" chanted the crowd. Someone beside me said he was actually picked up because the brown Suburban at the corner was taking digital photos of everyone in the crowd and matching them up with "criminal" records. Apparently, he had been released from jail at an earlier protest under a probation agreement that he not participate in any demonstration for a year.
Now an important part of this whole story to realize is that being arrested for what is called "direct action", or civil disobedience, is to be arrested for a nonviolent act like sitting down in a street to block traffic...as we saw 1000s of folks doing in Seattle and DC. It is based on the tradition of resistance of Gandhi in India, and Martin Luther King, Jr. in the US., among others. Direct action is not a spontaneous action, rather one that is carefully planned and involves extensive training. Individuals do not engage in direct action by themselves. Affinity groups are formed--often months ahead of a planned action--to study the issues and determine how they can best work together and support one another. A medic is trained on how to respond to pepper-spray, tear gas and beatings. A legal support person learns how to offer appropriate help when his/her sisters or brothers are arrested. A communications liason assures that all parties stay closely connected and informed during the actions.
In Windsor, not only were there 3 days and nights of teach-ins to study the OAS and its role in the Americas, but extensive direct action trainings as well. Each affinity group had a representative at the Spokes Council gatherings that convened at least once a day (twice yesterday). Each affinity group on the street had a person with a walkie-talkie and map to keep in touch with what was happening with all other affinity groups. Yesterday, my "affinity friend", M. M., and I happened upon an affinity group's meeting on the streets, as they were trying to determine what to do next. I was so impressed with their respectful consensus approach. Not until everyone was comfortable with the decision did they proceed.
This is clearly no rule by anarchy, as some would have us believe.
Perhaps the most powerful
moment came yesterday afternoon during the CAW (Canadian Auto
Workers)-organized rally at the OAS meeting site security fence
by the river. There were 3 so-called "heads" to the
resistance "dragon" in Windsor yesterday: 1) CAW bus
loads of perhaps 1000 union workers and leaders from around the
province of Ontario who arrived that day for a massive march and
rally; 2) Human Rights activists who were attending a morning
panel discussion with Noam Chomsky and Latin American speakers
that was put on at the Capitol Theater by the liberal COC (Maude
Barlow and Tony Clarke's Council of Canadians); 3) the OAS Shutdown
Coalition, made up predominantly--though not exclusively--of university
students and men and women in their 20s to 30s, some of them local
and many from other parts of Ontario, Quebec and the US. Each
group--certainly with its own agenda and
preferred means of expression--had been working together for months to insure that the protest demonstrations presented a united front.
I had been at the Capitol Theater since 10 AM Sunday for the panel discussion involving Noam Chomsky and Latin American speakers. It was so well organized that each person on the stage and in the audience was given a set of headphones through which interpretations of English-to-Spanish or Spanish-to-English were simultaneously broadcast, so that the presenters could speak in their preferred language. As wonderful as it was, by 12:30 PM I could no longer take in another word of information. Since Thursday evening, I'd attended at least 18 hours of teach-ins, meetings and panel discussions! I was ready to take my scooter out on the road. The CAW rally and march was to have started at the Windsor City Hall plaza at noon. When the Human Rights panel discussion ended about 12:30 PM, those folks would walk a block to Ouelette Avenue and join the CAW march to assemble for another rally at the river. Of course, as had been happening all week, the panel discussion got started late, so things were backed up a bit. When I left the Capitol Theater at 12:30 PM, two speakers still needed to present, and then there would be questions/comments from the floor.
The morning that had begun
with a gray chill had turned into a perfect sunny
afternoon. When I approached the City Hall plaza, for as far as I could see were crowds of men, women and children in union t-shirts and jackets, with Local number banners flying in the breeze. I scooted up closer to the podium in time to hear the final two speakers. I'm finding my scooter seems to part the waters in large gatherings of people! Then they announced the start of the march and invited women and children to lead the parade. Another moment of mad scooting back to the street, and we were off. Very soon, I found a sister in a wheelchair--M. from Toronto--and we wheeled together down the streets of Windsor. Cameras of all kinds were everywhere, from handheld video to press-held multi-lens to shoulder-held cameras with TV call letters on the side. M. and I seemed to be a favorite target.
On our march to the river, we passed 3 blocks of Ontario Provincial Police in riot gear standing shoulder-to-shoulder inside the fenced-in OAS delegates area. Once outside he highly-guarded entrance, my friends and I happily connected and stood to the side of the roped-off-and-CAW-marshall-protected rally podium. Perhaps 20 minutes into the speeches, I heard voices rising in the crowd and saw the giant puppets moving through to the front, carried by the OAS Shutdown folks. It was then that the two young women were pepper-sprayed trying to hang a banner on the fence. A policeman came over to me (there were some stationed at the rally too), leaned down and said, "I think you'd better go under the rope there in case things go bad." I asked what he meant and he answered, "The crowd might start shoving back from the fence and you could be caught." So the CAW marshalls held up the ropes and I scooted up to the front of the podium. The best seat in town!
The CAW leader spoke warning words into the microphone, saying that the union people were down here for a non-violent rally and didn't appreciate the students coming in and disrupting things. Then a spokeswoman for the students came up to the mic and said, "We're all here for the same purpose. We're non-violent too and need to work together." Things were feeling very tense. And then Marion, the rally moderator (a member of my Windsor women's book group) did the most inspired thing. She called on Michael St. George, an Afro-Canadian drummer/poet to perform. Well, he literally saved the day! Not only with his drumming, inviting us to clap together, and reciting his political rap poetry...but by his peacemaking words and presence. The rally continued with one voice. In fact, at its conclusion, we were all encouraged to stand with the young people in solidarity as they performed whatever actions were planned.
So for the next several hours, my friends and I--and finally just M. M. and I on feet and scooter, and P.N.--followed the young people around the 6-block compound. We saw kids and even a journalist with blistered-red faces who had been pepper-sprayed. We saw 100s of riot-geared police in formation on most street corners. We heard the whup-whup-whup of helicoptors always overhead. We saw press and media running here and there trying to follow the action. Because the Shutdown folks were smart. They dispersed like swarms of flees (Naomi Klein's metaphor from Latin America), making it hard for the police to know what to expect.
For instance, P.N. on her bike heard from a Windsor friend that a group of perhaps 20 young people were being held handcuffed outside the vacant Canadian Tire building ( a temporary holding area for arrested protesters)...and that they had all been pepper-sprayed. As she told the Shutdown folks who were gathered in the 100s by the riverfront, M.M. and I walked and scooted the 2 blocks to offer support. How the faces on those kids seemed to light up as we shouted encouragement to them, and started protest chants and songs! By the time the 100s of young protesters had reached the holding area, the police were quickly moving the arrested students inside the building. But not before they saw they were not alone!
My personal high moment of the entire week came next. The Shutdown students with their giant puppets then mounted a march to the river where the CAW rally had been held hours before. By now it was close to 5 PM. It was clear that this was the final action of the day, so the police blocked traffic so we could march in the streets. M.M. and I, who had been hanging back to support the students but not be arrested ourselves, decided to join their march. By happenstance, we were beside two young women who were drumming on large water containers hung around their necks, with whistles in their mouth. I too had a whistle that I'd used liberally at the earlier rally and march. This time, the 3 of us set up a whistle/drum rhythm that electrified the marchers and those watching from the sidewalks. That was a precious time indeed; one I'll remember all my life.
When we reached the river, the crowd just hung together for awhile, sitting down, writing slogans with sidewalk chalk, and drinking any water that was available. It was then that I realized my scooter's former name, Firefly, no longer fit. She had become La Lucha. A member of the struggle.
So today La Lucha rests
while I do my part to witness to what has happened here in Windsor,
Ontario. As the multinational corporation-dominated OAS delegates
meet behind fenced-in barricades, protected by 1000s of police...the
people have united, never to be defeated.
TUESDAY, JUNE 6, 2000
Home again. I must say I'm experiencing a dose of culture shock. As though I've traveled to another country (I did), been changed on a deep level (I was), and then returned to a place that seems the same as it was five days ago (it is). Only five days ago! So much has happened within and around me in five days. Every part of my being has been touched. My mind...packed with more new information than anytime since grad school 34 years ago. My heart...torn wide open by story after story of peoples' lives in all parts of the Americas, as well as the pepper-spraying and arrests of my sister and brother protesters on Sunday. My body...exulting in the refound freedom of going where I want to go when I want to go on my glorious scooter, La Lucha. My spirit...deeply grateful for such a tangible sense of community with sisters and brothers all over the Americas, and specifically with the inspiring young and committed older activists I was in solidarity with these past five days. The faces of my unofficial affinity group, P.N., J.S. and M.M., come immediately to mind.
It will take time to assimilate what has happened. For now, all I know is that I am changed. How that change will manifest itself, or even what it means, I can't say. But my gratitude doesn't need any answers. It just is.
Last night was my final
act of protest. A fitting one. A non-candlelight vigil.
"Non-candlelight" because it was such an evening of wind, rain and chilling cold that no candle would have stayed lit. Nonetheless, 40 hardy folks covered in ponchos and rain gear gathered in a circle beside the river. A circle on the grass in front of that ever-guarded security fence. Watched over by 8 police assigned to protect the OAS delegates from this prayerful group of nuns, priests, pagans, atheists, factory workers, Marxists, USA activists, teachers, Central American refugees, disabled, high school students and grandparents. Because absolutely nothing else was going on, we were surrounded by dozens of TV cameras, radio microphones, and press photographers. Strange.
My friend J. brought the events of the weekend all together in her reflections on the people of the Americas. J.S. who has spent more than two decades working and living among the poor of Mexico. A nun committed to social justice in every action of her life.
J.S. spoke of the tree of death with its roots of economic exploitation, its trunk of alienation and its branches of unfair banks, landlords and corporate control. Then the tree of life with its roots of peace, its trunk of community and its branches of good health care, education, economic reform and human rights. Guess to which tree she likened the OAS, WTO, NAFTA and the proposed FTAA!
J.S. then shared the story of a woman who was part of her base community in Juarez. How one day this quiet woman came to their circle and said, "I've just been to the radio station to complain about the fire hazard here in our colonia (neighborhood)." Apparently there was a 2-story pile of crushed cars from the US close to their houses. Copper was being burned off those junk cars to be used elsewhere. Beside that pile was one, and soon two, huge storage tanks of butane gas. And nearby were stacks of oil-covered telephone poles lying on the ground. One day those telephone piles burst into flame. The old US fire engine barely managed to put out the fire in time to save the butane storage tanks from exploding. Such an explosion would have destroyed their neighborhood.
After her complaint to the radio station, nothing changed. So the women agreed to go to the TV staton that allowed people to make public complaints for a half-hour period once a week. They left the colonia at 4:30 AM the morning of the show to get a good place in line. Once there, they discovered the man who owned the TV station also owned the storage tanks of butane gas. They were not allowed on the program.
The women did not give up. They composed a letter and asked J.S. to drive them to the owner's home. Protected by a guard and enclosed by a high security fence--much like the OAS delegates in Windsor?--the owner's mansion seemed like a fortress. One of their members, a woman in her 70s, said, "Give me the letter. I'll take it to the guard." She proudly walked over to the guardhouse and said in a loud voice, "See that the Señor receives this letter!"
For months they heard nothing. Then while J.S. was home in the US for a visit, the women gathered with other women and proceeded to organize a human blockade of the entrance to the crushed cars and butane storage tanks.
After a while they noticed the pile of junk cars gradually getting smaller and smaller, until one day it was completely gone. The storage tanks of butane gas remained, but the crushed cars were gone.
J.S. reminded us chilled folks standing in that circle in front of police guards and security fences and off-limits meetings of powerful men, that such a victory as her women experienced has happened here as well. Even as we stand before evidence of the tree of death in multinational corporate control of the OAS, even as we live in a police state surrounded by riot gear and fences, even as our young protesters are pepper-sprayed and arrested...even so, we must celebrate the strength of our community, the trunk of the tree of life. For as long as sisters and brothers stand together to insist that all peoples of the Americas--and the world--have a voice in decisions that affect all of our lives and the life of our planet, we have won a victory. And victory deserves celebration.
So a dozen of us old activists
did just that. We walked, biked and scooted up to a Windsor coffee
house to share one last night of hot drinks and warm conversation.
Celebrating community and commitment and especially the art of
acting on one's beliefs.
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 7, 2000
The following is a copy of the response I sent a friend today after receiving her email with the subject, "Your optimism". She was writing after having read my journal entries regarding my participation in the protest demonstrations at the OAS general assembly in Windsor, Ontario.
Of course, there is more than one way to look at things. After 20+ hours of hearing the truth spoken by sisters and brothers from the south, academics like Noam Chomskey in the north, critical analysts like Maude Barlow and Tony Clarke in Canada, and personal stories from all parts of the Americas, I would hardly call myself optimistic. I am a hope-filled realist. And one who has come from places of deep despair over the situation in today's world. But staying in that negative place makes me sick, so I choose to go elsewhere. I go to the faces, hearts, minds and commitment of the youth I was with this weekend. Of course, they are a small minority. That is not the point. They are here in this place and time and their numbers are growing. I find that inspiring!
So what if the media and press ignored our demonstrations and teach-ins! Of course, we know who is behind their choices of what is the news-that-is-fit-to-print/show. The very multinational corporations who control the OAS. What was significant about Windsor, ONT and this OAS meeting was its mammoth pre-emptive police and security presence. Hey, our numbers may be small, but somebody's scared of us!
I never expect my protesting to change a thing in the world's way of doing business, or of using weapons. I do it because if I don't, I betray my very be-ing. I act because I have to act, not because I want to act. If I stay at home, moaning and groaning about the state of the world--which I have done many times in my life--I might as well just give it up.
The hope I feel is not an external thing. It has nothing to do with the way world events seem to be proceeding. My feelings of hope are not the same as optimism. To me, optimism is looking at the bright side of things. After all I saw and learned and experienced these past five days, I'd be a fool to just see the silver lining to those big black clouds of globalization and ever-increasing control by multinational corporations.
My hope is within. It springs from a deep knowing that whatever happens, there is a strong community of solidarity that is now touchng the generations that follow. Until recently, protest demonstrations that I attended were more and more gray-headed and smaller and smaller in numbers. I was afraid we were a dying breed. Well, now I know the struggle will continue beyond our lifetimes. It will never die. Even in North America, the land of the "free".
Now that is cause to rejoice!
Thanks, R., for your words that triggered this passionate response. And my scooter's new name? La Lucha? It means "the struggle" in Spanish. It is the word our sisters and brothers to the south use to describe their never-ending work for justice, freedom and the equal distribution of resources. The name Firefly was nice, but ended up being too lightweight to describe the power of this machine that carried me into the heart of the struggle on her purple back.
love and blessing
THURSDAY, JUNE 8, 2000
And now for something completely different...(to quote Monty Python)
I had the opportunity today to walk in a world I've never before entered. My friend D.T., a storyteller, was receiving the Innovator of the Year award at the annual luncheon meeting of the Greater Detroit chapter of NAWBO (National Association of Women Business Owners). I wanted to be there to support and celebrate her.
D.T. and I first met in 1969 while working together in the Pediatric unit of Detroit General Hospital downtown, she as playroom coordinator and I as volunteer. Our friendship has weathered many changes. Together we've planted seeds of dreams, watered and then celebrated their sprouting in different seasons of our lives.
I remember D.T.'s gift as storyteller first appearing in her work as a Sunday School teacher in her church. At her annual Christmas party she would entertain us with Bible stories, using a felt-board. In 1990, when she received such a positive response to her storytelling in a hospital talent show, D.T. began to explore the idea of storytelling as a profession. For the past 8 years, D.T. has been totally committed to her identity and business as storyteller. With creative self-discipline, she has honed her skills, developed her special niche (African stories, in keeping with her heritage), and joined professional organizations that offer opportunities for growth.
D.T. has only been a member of NAWBO for two and a half years, but has obviously made her mark among these women. Women of high purpose, dedication, daring and resourcefulness. It's no easy task to make it as a woman business owner in this time and place. I found myself admiring every woman I met. Businesses as diverse as event planning, computer training for tots, corporate law, customer relations training, busing inner city folks to suburban jobs, balloons, European import/export, graphic art, motivational speakers, CPAs, and so many more. That room was electric with ideas, high energy and especially networking! And they chose my friend D.T. as Innovator of the Year. Wow!!!
So together we celebrate
this season of harvest. May the fruits of her labor continue to
multiply. How proud I am to be D.T.'s friend.
FRIDAY, JUNE 9, 2000
In a couple hours, I'm off to Canada again...this time to sing! 27 women will gather for the weekend on the shores of Lake Erie, near Kingsville, Ontario. We will sing with one of the most transformative agents in our world today, Carolyn McDade. For decades, she has been the voice of women, justice and the planet. Her songs soar and dip on wings held aloft by searing truth and gentle love. Since 1993 I've been privileged to sing in perhaps nine different circles with Carolyn, from the shores of Lake Erie in Canada to the inner city of Detroit, the mountains of Pennsylvania to the desert in New Mexico. I never return home the same.
This weekend I expect the water energy of tears to companion me as I sing. So much has come into my mind and heart these past weeks of learning and struggle. So much needs to be expressed before I can begin to assimilate it. For me, singing is the purest way to express what words cannot.
I will return on Sunday,
washed clean and ready to keep on keepin' on.
SUNDAY, JUNE 11, 2000
Unending waves slap slap the shore. Birds sing in towering maple, oak and willow trees. Sun spreads fingers of light through lacy branches onto green green grass. Herons slowly flap their "dark and shaggy wings" (from a song of Carolyn McDade's) in flight over the lake, from east to west, then west to east. Women's voices soar and dip in song. We sit in a circle, surrounded on three sides by open windows overlooking the blue horizon of Lake Erie to the south. We move outside onto the attached wooden balcony, heads thrust up to see a Baltimore Oriole's golden plumage and hear its vibrant song.
A weekend in Ontario with Carolyn McDade from Cape Cod and my Detroit area chorus, Notable Women. 27 women join in life and song, justice and solidarity, laughter and tears. We share many stories during the weekend. The OAS and our protest demonstrations last weekend. South Africa and the courageous women who burned their passes in the 1950s (leading to our singing "Liyasizwa"). We hear a teacher's frustration and request for ideas to better engage her university class during these we-want-to-be-outside spring days. She also shares a story of her young daughter, a story that tickles our collective funny bone.
J.G. often brings her daughter to our monthly rehearsals. We usually have child care, but this particular Sunday afternoon our helper was unable to be there. J.G. sat in the back row so she could keep an eye on her 4-year old who was playing nearby. We were singing, "I am looking for a healing, I long to heal" from a song by Carolyn McDade that repeats chant-like, spiralling deeper and deeper. J.G. looked up to see her daughter purposefully walking back and forth behind the chorus chairs. She was walking in a unusual way, totally on her heels. It soon dawned on J.G. that her daughter was acting out this "heeling" song!
As I wrote on Friday, I never leave one of Carolyn's retreats unchanged. What is it about singing that opens up any blocked or otherwise inaccessible parts of my heart? For me, there is no more effective way to touch my deepest places than through song, particularly this kind of singing. Women in a circle. Singing within, above, below, around the words and music in front of us. Allowing ourselves to be totally vulnerable and open to whatever comes. Tears often accompany our singing; they certainly did for me. Tears I had held in a deep inner well since last weekend. I had heard so many stories of pain and injustice from our sisters and brothers to the south, as well as from marginalized people here in the USA and Canada. I had seen young people willing to put their lives on the line in Windsor, ONT last Sunday; young people pepper-sprayed and treated like criminals. So much that I had not cried over at the time. Well, in this safe, protected circle of women who share the struggles for justice and right, I let myself feel all that last weekend had touched in me. Luckily I thought to bring a box of tissues! And I wasn't the only one using them. Seems to me, at one time or another, singing one song or another, each woman in that circle let flow the healing water energy of tears.
Singing with Carolyn McDade is about so much more than music. As she says, "I am about cultural transformation." Three threads run through her work as artist, activist and woman: 1) personal integrity; 2) social vision; 3) planetary wholeness.
How I resonate with her way of being in the world!
I return renewed, ready to continue walking this unmarked path, experiencing life's grand adventure. Love and gratitude to Carolyn McDade and my singing sisters sets me to singing the chorus from her song, "Gratitude":
Blessed the heron flying
in the wind
Blessed the waters that rise and fall to rise again
Blessed the generations struggling to be free
For deep though the sorrow
Shining in the soul
Life lays a wing shaggy and whole
MONDAY, JUNE 12, 2000
Whew! I just went through an unexpected emotional release. Unexpected, because I hadn't let myself feel--really feel--something that had happened a month ago. Actually one month ago tonight. So when it got triggered, that sadness sprang out of the darkness like a snake attacking an unsuspecting frog.
On April 21, I returned home to Michigan after being in San Francisco since December 27. During those winter months, I sang every Thursday night with the Lesbian/Gay Chorus of San Francisco, as I had for two winters previously. Singing with this chorus is a legacy from my friend, J.P., who sang with them until AIDS robbed him of his strength and gave him a chronic cough. He passed on November 30, 1994. I feel deeply connected to this group.
In past years, I have always performed in our Spring Concert. One year it was "Carmina Burana"; another was world music with children's songs lightening the mix. This year we put together a wonderful program of popular, retro and gay-friendly songs. "Begin the Beguine". "The Age of Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In". "Time Warp". "Ain't No Mountain". "Heat Wave". "One Voice", composed for the GALA 2000 (the international Gay And Lesbian Association of Choruses) celebration to be held in San Jose in July.
For four months--including a weekend retreat in April--we polished these and other songs in preparation for the Spring Concert to be held the weekend of May 12-13. Only problem was, all along I knew I would not be with them to perform. We had a couple of earlier gigs that I enjoyed immensely--the Academy of Friends and the Widow Norton's remembrance at Colma Cemetery (a SF gay icon!). I told myself that was enough, and that I really just loved singing with the group every week. I didn't need to perform too. At least that's what I told myself...and believed until tonight.
Tonight I watched a video of the concert. I had received it in the mail today from P.M., my dear friend and sister second soprano. Not only did I insist on watching it straight through, but with the sound up high and my own voice singing along at full volume. My dear husband, who is extremely sound-sensitive, was literally driven from the house for close to two and a half hours. And you know, I hardly noticed at all. It was as if I were there in the Mission Dolores High School auditorium, singing with my sisters and brothers, loving every minute of it. E.D.'s expressions of frustration were ignored, until he finally lost it altogether. As is my pattern, I withdrew upstairs to sit in my candle-lit room, with incense from SF burning, hugging a Pacific ocean stone to my chest.
When E.D. came upstairs to apologize, I burst into tears. What a surprise! It finally dawned on me just how much I had missed not being in that concert. Why had I not let myself acknowledge these feelings at the time? If I had, things wouldn't have gone so weird here tonight. Once he knew what was going on, E.D. was deeply understanding.
Ah well. The chorus really
did put on a terrific concert! Next year I'll arrange my schedule
so I'll be there singing with them too.
TUESDAY, JUNE 13, 2000
I was reminded of that bumper sticker as I sat in front of a Detroit seniors' highrise apartment house today getting signatures on a ballot initiative petition. In the last year, Detroit has opened two mammoth casinos on the west side of downtown. And now the powers-that-be are pushing to build three more casinos on the riverfront. L.F., a friend who has lived in downtown Detroit for 40 years, is part of a citizens' group effort to protect the waterfront from this kind of development. They need 5000 signatures by June 19 in order to put an initiative on November's ballot that will give the people a voice in how they want their riverfront used. I offered to help.
What a delightful job! For two and a half hours I met and talked with a wonderful mix of people. I will not soon forget Mr. H., who graduated from Columbia University in 1954. At that time he was the only black student in the undergraduate school. As a member of the elite Ivy League, Columbia was proud of its tea clubs. Mr. H., who had never before drunk tea, spent weeks practicing holding a tea saucer between his second and third fingers as the Columbia tea drinkers did. He was so proud when a fellow student complimented him on his technique! He spoke of going on to get two masters degrees, one in political science from Detroit's Wayne State University, and the other in hospital administration from the University of Michigan. He also spoke of the effects of racism on his career. Mr. H. is a lifelong atheist, whose current hobby is arguing religion with other residents in the building. Honest, forthright, intelligent, amusing. Mr. H. is very much his own person!
I got 33 signatures on
the petition, which pleased L.F. no end. It's going to be a push
to obtain the 5000 signatures needed, but, no matter what, we
are raising important issues and providing an opportunity for
public discussion. Even more than the outcome, the process is
beneficial in letting people voice their opinions. Especially
these often-ignored elders, the holders of our culture's living
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 14, 2000
What a lovely day. E.D. and I decide to celebrate my birthday two days early. The sun is shining, it's warm, and we're both feeling good. So we drive the hour into downtown Ann Arbor, our traditional "play place". I take the wheel of my perky red car going out, and E. returns the favor coming home. We bring along my Amigo scooter instead of the tandem bike (our usual mode of getting around Ann Arbor). It is our first outing together with La Lucha.
By now, E.D. is getting quite proficient at disassembling and assembling the scooter. It breaks down into 5 pieces, the heaviest of which is 40 lbs. We store the parts in the trunk and back seat of my 4-door Neon, with plenty of room to spare. The whole process takes no more than five minutes. Very well designed.
Once in Ann Arbor, we walk/scoot to the University of Michigan League, knowing it is accessible. I can already see that using a scooter makes one think ahead about such things. We enjoy a delicious lunch--vegetable plate for me and roast beef sandwich for E.D. As we eat in this dining room that stirs so many memories, E.D.--who was born and spent his early years in Ann Arbor--recalls a birthday party his mother put on for him here when he was young. I'm reminded of my first experiences of the campus in the late 60s, soon after E.D. and I married. Protest demonstrations against the Vietnam war in the Diag. Flowing Indian skirts, flowered shirts and long hair. Peace signs painted on buildings and sidewalks. Guitars and lingering whiffs of weed. Students sitting cross-legged in the grass discussing significant issues. Nowadays, students rarely seem to have the time to "hang out" anywhere. They pass us on the run, burdened with backpacks, cell phones to their ears.
After lunch, we cut through the Nichols Arcade on our way to the Campus Bike Shop, where E.D.'s Dad bought him his first bike in the late 1930s. I want to see about getting a light for the front of La Lucha. The store is vacant! Another sign of time passing. We go across the street to a newer store, where the owner and his assistant spend a half hour trying to adapt a halogen bicycle light to fit onto my scooter. It just won't work. Probably the Amigo folks make one specifically for my scooter. I'll check into it.
Then over to Liberty Street for another shock. The beautiful art deco marquee and entrance to the Michigan Theater no longer exists. Though the theater is still in use, its entrance is boarded up, obviously undergoing renovations. So this is what happens when you turn 58!
Next on our "birthday" agenda is picking out a gift at my favorite store. Even though shopping is low on my list of enjoyable activities, I like this store with its clothing, jewelry and handmade crafts from such countries as Guatemala, India and Indonesia. It doesn't take long to outfit La Lucha with a stunning silver, black and aqua V-shaped beaded necklace from Bali. It fits on the front of the basket, above R.'s blue-and-green dream catcher, J.P.'s hanging marble painted like the earth, and R.B.'s ritual headpiece woven with purple-and-black feathers. Quite elegant, if I do say so myself.
A blueberry cheesecake
ice cream to cap off our celebration, then home by 5 PM. What
a perfect birthday! And a lot of its perfection was that E.D.
and I were able to go for an extended walk--all right, a scoot--together
for the first time in years. And what fun to hear him say, "Gosh,
I remember when you always had to ask me to slow down. Now, it's
my turn to ask you. Hey, slow down, will ya?"
THURSDAY, JUNE 15, 2000
Just when I think I know what will happen next, life never fails to shuffle the cards and turn up an unexpected ace. So it was today.
I go to the women's shelter, looking forward to spending time with my friends, the Spanish-speaking woman and children to whom I've grown so attached in the past 5 weeks. But J. and F. are the only guests there. Within minutes they tell me that E. and the kids have left. Gone back home to the man who blackened her eye and caused her to come to us in the first place. My heart drops. I was afraid this would happen. But what else could we expect? It would have taken amazing support for her to choose otherwise, support she did not have. Little English. Questionable papers. No educational training, even back home. 3 young children to raise. How do such women do it alone?
It is a quiet day on house duty. L., a homeless woman, is in the basement doing her laundry. J. offers to supervise since I can't really be running up and down the stairs. F. soon goes off with friends. I sit in the dining room, reading a book of short stories. There are not even many phone calls to answer. J. pours me an iced tea and sits down across from me at the table. I've known J. since she first came to live at the shelter a year ago, but this is the first time we've really talked. What an interesting woman! We discuss her gifts of premonition, gifts she has had since she was a baby, gifts her mother instructed her not to use. She opens up as she sees that I believe her and value these gifts. Our conversation is interrupted when my friend, P.K., arrives home from her part time job. Then her daughter, E.K., (my goddess daughter) returns from a friend's graduation. And then the doorbell rings and 11 college students appear with their teacher, arms full of grocery bags of food.
An "Environmental Movements and Social Change" class from Antioch College is in Detroit for 4 days, staying here at the shelter and spending time with activists, community organizers and environmentalists. Though their days are packed, these young men and women offer to cook dinner last night. Vegan and non-vegan vegetarian lasagna with garlic bread and fresh salad!
I'd intended to leave at 5 PM, so as to attend a free open-air jazz concert not far from my home, but these young people are so interesting, and their energy so ebullient that I stay for dinner instead.
Antioch is one of a handful of American colleges where classroom studies on campus are only half of its undergraduate program. Each student also completes 5 "co-ops"--generally 4 months--in a national or international work/study program of their choosing. I eat dinner with two young women, one of whom recently returned from a co-op at a monastery in India studying Buddhism, while the other will be going there next fall. A gentle-spirited young man tells of having to cut short his last co-op on a Native American reservation in Arizona after breaking his back climbing a cliff. He is healing amazingly well after only three months. We might be fortunate to see more of him as he is so taken with Detroit and our women's shelter that he wants to see about spending a co-op here with us. Actually, it's not unusual for this shelter to host students from around the world. And it is always a gift. Another young woman is doing environmental work in West Virgina, her home state. I also meet a young man from Oregon who was part of the WTO protest demonstrations in Seattle. This group of 11 students comes from across the country, and seems to see the world as a global classroom.
As at the OAS teach-ins
and demonstrations, I am inspired and encouraged to see this new
generation of engaged and engaging individuals. In fact, we connect
so well that I'm returning tomorrow night after my goddess-daughter,
E.K.'s, ballet recital. We're going to take over the living room
and have a drum jam! E.J., our drumming-sister, has agreed
to join us and bring her collection of drums and percussion instruments.
What a fabulous way to celebrate a 58th birthday...to drum with
dear friends and with young folks 35-40 years one's junior!
FRIDAY, JUNE 16, 2000
A lovely birthday. A mix
of sun and clouds. Warm temperatures. Time with my sweetie. Time
sitting out back. A visit by a red-headed woodpecker. My bare
feet in mossy earth. A live wire sets off sparks in our neighbor's
backyard. Detroit Edison comes quickly. Our power goes off. I
ride my scooter for a couple hours. Return home to power still
off. In a phone call with my mother, she says how happy she is
with her life as it is (in a nursing facility). Power returns
after 5 hours. I drive to meet my friend, P.K., at the women's
shelter. We share homemade pizza in the car for dinner. Next is
her daughter's (my goddess-daughter's) ballet recital at Wayne
State University. 16-year-old E.K.'s dancing is superb. The tiny
tutu-clad preschoolers make everyone smile. My beloved Spanish-speaking
family from the shelter shows up. We meet the husband who gave
her the black eye. He smiles warmly and thanks us for caring for
his wife and kids. A spectacular peach-and-purple sunset greets
us as we leave the auditorium. Back at the shelter, I drum with
my old friends, P.K. and E.J., and my new friends from Antioch
College. Return home before midnight. Perfection.
SATURDAY, JUNE 17, 2000
As E.D. and I return home from dinner at a local restaurant--he on his bike, I on La Lucha, my Amigo scooter--I'm reminded of all the times we've taken this route, and all the different modes of locomotion we've used.
Soon after we moved into our house 29 years ago, we got into the habit of walking a 3-mile "big C(ircle)" after dinner every night. We even made up an acronym to better remember the streets between what is called "The Hill" (our community hub of shops, restaurants, library and now-closed movie theater) and our street. We repeated it tonight. "Mary Martin loves kissing military men like sailors, crude though very kissable." Muir, Mapleton, Lothrop and so on.
In the late 70s, I became a serious runner. Serious as in training to run marathons (26.2 miles). E.D. was also a runner--he'd actually introduced me to the sport in the late 60s--but his thing was to run 6 miles on the high school track. I'd join him there, but preferred to run through neighborhoods and beside the lake. 10-15 miles around and around a quarter mile track can drive one to distraction. I developed many routes, each a different mileage, to stave off a sense of sameness. One of my runs took me along the street we travelled tonight.
Mixed in with running was long distance biking. In 1975, E.D. and I, along with B.M., a 12-year old neighbor boy, participated in a 200-mile biking weekend in Canada called the Mile Eater. Never has it seemed farther from Sarnia (across the Blue Water Bridge from Port Huron, Michigan) to Stratford, Ontario and back. And never has the cool concrete floor of a hockey rink felt better to backs curled over like fishing hooks! For years my training bike route included this same stretch of road where Mary Martin loves kissing military men.
Came the time that 2-wheeled bikes and my diagnosis of chronic progressive MS were no longer compatible. Soon after I'd retired my trusty white CCM, E.D. found a recumbent 3-wheeler that suited me quite well. Not only could I sit comfortably in a bucket seat and pedal with my legs stretched in front of me, but I could get on and off the bike without having to lift my leg. So I was back on the road again, often biking the mile and a half to my job at the book store.
Then four years ago we tried a tandem bike. After the first terrifying ride, we developed ways to use my capacity to pedal while depending on E.D. for balance-keeping and help with my mounting and dismounting. Again we were biking together the same stretch of road we'd walked 25 years before.
So this is the story of
a stretch of road, two sets of legs, and numerous wheeled conveyances.
And a story of gratitude for a partner whose resilience and inventiveness
help keep me out on that road.
SUNDAY, JUNE 18, 2000
From 2-6:30 PM today I am on the road with La Lucha! We probably travel 7-8 miles together. From my home down a winding residential street, stopping every so often to smell the roses...literally. Riding a scooter in my neighborhood is such a gentle experience. On sidewalks. Beside trees and flowers. Passing strollers with little ones at my eye level. Friendly folks smile and bikers sometimes wave. Yesterday a serious biker even yelled, "Hey, sister!", as he passed. Almost as if he knew I was a true biking sister not that many years ago!
My first destination is the office supply store to pick up sheets of letter size labels to create a bumper sticker for La Lucha ("come visit me at www.windchimewalker.com"). Next, over to a coffeehouse for a coconut toffee bar and iced passionfruit/green tea. I sit outside, enjoying a table of 3 generations nearby--a 3 month old sleeping infant in her/his mother's lap, with grandmother and perhaps great-aunt or friend in animated conversation. Then I scoot up to E.D.'s office where he's writing at the computer. We visit in the tiny courtyard beside the bubbling fountain we added two years ago. The healing energies of running water (my interpretation!). And next, I go three doors away to pick up my beloved Odwalla juices at the market before it closes. As I leave, a woman smiles and compliments La Lucha. "The Cadillac of scooters!", she says.
The lake. Cloud banks range like mountains on the horizon. Sail boats and a laker painted brilliant by the sun. The day is exceptionally clear, with Canada so visible across the lake. I stop in a driveway to soak up the view. A car soon pulls in and the driver (a man) says, "I saw you riding earlier and just wanted to be sure you haven't run out of electricity." My experiences with "strangers" (is there such a thing?) since becoming disabled consistently touches me. My final stop is our community's lakefront park. I scoot out to the end of the boat pier--a place I have not been able to go for years--and sit comfortably in La Lucha.
I listen to waves beat against the dock, watch starlings, gulls and Canadian geese swoop and dive over the water, and remember my summers growing up on the Chesapeake Bay. The sailboats with their full white mainsails and rainbow-colored spinnakers awaken body-memories of the feel of spray on my sunburned face, bare feet propped against the cockpit as we heeled, gunwales underwater. Harem, our wooden 29' Chesapeake Cruisekin, on which we'd take 2-week cruises every July. "Gunk-holing", Dad called it. We'd set down anchor late afternoons in deserted coves where horseshoe crabs roamed the beaches. My two sisters and I would take soapy baths on the rubber raft behind the stern. Play with paper dolls on the deck. Lead cheers. Giggle as Dad sang "Stormy Weather" and played the ukelele in his always-clowning way. Mom's "boat potatoes" (canned small white potatoes browned over the sterno in butter). My older sister and I slept in the two very small bunks in the narrow pointed bow, speaking or not, depending on the events of the day. We'd dress up in our best shorts, halter tops and sandals to go to church every Sunday--sometimes riding in the back of a pick-up truck from the nearest boatyard. The stress of "coming about" when mild-mannered Dad became Captain Ahab. Phosphorus trails in the water at night. Black skies crowded with shooting stars.
Look at how accessible
my world is becoming thanks to La Lucha, my scooter! Access to
the past as well as to the present.
MONDAY, JUNE 19, 2000
One year ago this week, I bought a matronly swim suit and drove down to our community pool to start taking my first water aerobics class. I got there early so I'd have plenty of time to get acclimated to the water. After being a swim instructor, synchronized swimmer and lifeguard in my younger years, I assumed I could still swim. It had been years--not to mention the chronically progressing MS--since I'd even dipped my big toe in anything larger than a hot tub. What a surprise! My legs were barely able to kick and my arms couldn't really keep me afloat.
But I figured water aerobics should be OK. After all, wouldn't we be standing in armpit-deep water? Shortly before class, one last trip to the restroom seemed like a good idea. My foot slipped climbing out of the pool. I fell...hard! Before I knew what was happening, a lifeguard had my head in her hands and was applying pressure to a nasty gash above my eye. EMS came with sirens blaring. They wanted to take me to the hospital. I refused. The pool was emptied for 4 hours to "decontaminate" it. Not a fun occasion for anyone concerned, least of all me. That fall actually laid me low for a number of weeks. The gash healed, leaving another in my collection of distinguished scars, but the cracked/bruised sternum was truly painful. I did not put on my bathing suit again that summer.
So this beautiful summer morning, I bring out the same matronly swim suit, put it on, and scoot down to the park. This time I take advantage of the disabled chair lift that gently twists me into the water. With La Lucha parked beside the lift, there doesn't seem to be any risk. I ask for a kick board to give me some sense of security, and join 20 women, mostly elders, gathered around a young lifeguard. It's her first time teaching the class and she admits to being nervous. She's not the only one who's nervous. I tell her that I'm disabled and will adapt the exercises to my own needs and abilities. She's most encouraging.
The first exercise is to jog forwards in the water to one end of the pool, and then jog backwards on the return. I hang onto the kick board and slowly walk forwards part of the way, turn around and go forwards coming back. This continues for quite awhile. I'm working hard, but certainly can't keep up. Don't even try. I stay close to the side of the pool, keeping to my own pace.
A woman comes up to me
with a frown on her face. "We're having a class here, so
you'd better go over there (an area set off by a buoyed line)."
I say, "I am in this class too."
"Well, we're going to run you down."
"I'm disabled and am doing what I can do."
"You better watch out then or you're going to get hit."
"You had better watch out for me!"
As she moves away, I hear, "I guess we'd better all watch out."
"A little sensitivity would be nice," is my parting remark.
I am irritated by this exchange, and find myself mulling it over as class continues. She keeps herself as far away from me as possible. This is my first experience encountering such insensitivity since becoming disabled. But it doesn't stop me from keeping at it. The exercises are tough for me. Many of them I can hardly do at all, but I keep adapting and doing what I can. I make it through the entire hour! And, as if to counteract that woman's remarks, I end up talking with a young woman about her friend with MS whom she's been encouraging to come to class for 14 years. Her friend was diagnosed in 1988, as was I, and is also in a scooter. I tell her how much I'd love to have another differently-abled sister in the class. And to tell her friend it is truly do-able, if you keep following your body's lead.
After class, the old "nice
girl" inner critic begins to lecture me about my frank responses
to the first woman. But the longer I sit with it, the more pleased
I become. I stood up for my right to be where I am, doing things
exactly as I do them. No apologies, no excuses. I am reminded
of my feelings the first year I used a walker in San Francisco.
How uncomfortable I was taking up more than my "share"
of time and space getting on and off buses and the BART. So today
I claim the right to take up whatever space and time
I need. More a rite of passage than a water aerobics class!
TUESDAY, JUNE 20, 2000
Tomorrow morning around 11 AM, I will turn my red car in a southwesterly direction and head down to Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana and the National Women's Music Festival. I first attended this icon of women's culture in 1995, the year after I discovered the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival (or it discovered me!). This will be my 4th National festival.
Like most festivals of its kind, National offers a professional setting for women's music and performers. This year's line-up includes Holly Near, Linda Tillery and the Cultural Heritage Choir (Oakland, CA), singer/songwriter Lucie Blue Tremblay (Quebec), Zoë Lewis and her Rubber Band (Provincetown, MA), Toshie Reagon and her sister musicians (she used to be with Sweet Honey in the Rock), Suzanne Westenhoefer (well-known lesbian comedian), among others. The Festival Chorus will rehearse 2 hours Thursday-Sunday, then perform on Sunday afternoon (I'm excited about singing with them). There are 100s of workshops from "Using Sex Toys" to "Computer Hardware" to "Writing Mystery Novels" to "Ritual Celebration of the Summer Solstice" to "Caring for Aging Parents". Videos and open mics and drum jams and AA meetings. 50 artists and craftswomen have booths at the marketplace (where I buy most of my clothes). Keynote talks are given by significant women--my most memorable being Judy Chicago three years ago. And the Day Stage and Night Stage Thursday-Saturday. Many women attend National year after year--this is its 26th year!--so it feels like coming home to a community I know and love.
Ball State University is truly accessible, so La Lucha and I should have a ball. I remember last year when I attended with my windchime walker. She was wonderful when events were in the main dorm, but venturing to other campus buildings proved a challenge. Either I had to ask one of the always-gracious Access Central women to push me in a wheelchair, or to arrange for a ride in one of the shuttle vans. It was pretty tough to be spontaneous! This year I'm looking forward to scooting to late night drum jams, Day and Night Stage performances, and farflung workshops whenever I please. And La Lucha and I will share an air-conditioned handicap accessible dorm room where we can both get the overnight recharging we need.
The festival ends about 4 PM Sunday, and I've arranged to spend that night on campus. It's a 6-hour drive, plus the hour added when I change time zones from Central back to Eastern. What a delight it will be to participate in Sunday's events without having that long drive staring me in the face! Monday morning I can get a leisurely start, enjoy Indiana and Michigan's rolling countryside, and arrive home before dinner. I will be laptopless, so my journal will be quiet until Tuesday.
Have a glorious Summer
Solstice (Midsummer in Sweden). May this longest day illuminate
our world and our hearts.
©2000 Patricia Lay-Dorsey.
Please use with attribution.