Archives for posts with tag: Freedom

My Grandmother’s Radio

My maternal grandmother’s radio was a fascination of my beginning years in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Out of this mysterious box, which was about as big as I was, came “The Lone Ranger Rides Again” and “The Shadow Knows.” I waited every night with bated breath, as if on a magic carpet, to be swept away on some surprise adventure.

Like some creepy Cyclops, the radio had a single eye. It seemed to follow me no matter what corner in our living room I attempted to hide. My gosh, the eye even turned colors!

We were the beneficiaries of this wonderful entertainment because my grandparents were living with us. One day I asked my Mom why they didn’t have a house of their own. After all, I was always told of their business acumen. They had owned a small shoe store. I got a two-word answer. “The Depression.” It was followed by, “They lost everything.”

I grasped the answer easily. I had the evidence in front of me. My grandparents once had a large house on the south side of Waterbury, Connecticut. Now, they lived in one room of our rented apartment in the working class north end. Economics 101. Easy.

 

What I came to know gradually over decades is that both my grandmother and that radio held some other important historical lessons. For more context let’s zoom ahead to 2006.

I was fortunate to be in Oxford, England for a gathering of science educators from all over the world. My wife and I met a Japanese couple whom we exchanged life stories. We were riveted to the woman’s story from her youth.

Tiffany was kept in an interment camp during WWII. She did not dwell on it but the stories made a lasting impact on me. (Don’t miss the impact of the camps on a crew member of the Starship Enterprise https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LeBKBFAPwNc   ) My mind drifted to my grandmother, an immigrant of Italy.

In the early 1940s, I’m told secret service agents visited our home. They confirmed my grandmother’s immigrant status. The agents then proceeded to solder a section of the radio’s dial that could pull in foreign signals. Apparently they were concerned Mussolini’s fascist diatribes would reach our families ears. I can imagine my grandmother’s horror and dismay. Did she feel responsible for the chaos and invasive action of those agents?

What those agents didn’t know was that my grandmother was apolitical. She once implied that the Kaiser (See previous blog.) was the reason she left Italy. That’s it. I don’t recall another political utterance.

The latest immigrant scapegoats are followers of Islam and Mexicans. Protecting them is one aspect of save-guarding the constitutional rights of all of us.

The husband of that Japanese couple is, besides a botanist and educator, an accomplished plant photographer. We received a wonderful gift from him. It was a picture of a series of flowers.

Every time my eyes glance at that photograph, I also see Tiffany and sense some of the indignities experienced in those camps. I see my grandmother. Then the millions trying to escape the ravages of war and climate change from Africa, Syria, and points eastward, come into view.

Can we call ourselves human beings if we just continue with our daily lives in face of these human and environmental disasters? Do we sit idly by while a sad and dangerous character, who wants to promulgate all these, walks the halls of the White House?

That’s the misogynist who says he doesn’t believe in climate change as if science was a belief and not about data and theories that congeal out of that data. Climatologists don’t believe in anthropogenic climate change. They accept the inferences that flow from data. The burning of fossil fuels is causing rapid climate disturbances.

Yet the President of the United States does not believe in climate change. In the background, I hear Pete Seeger singing, “When will they ever learn.”

There are many marches and demonstrations now in our country. It’s not just what people know, it’s how quickly they will come to know and act on that knowledge. Much to do.

Generals, billionaires, along with the Alt-Right, are marching into the administration of our country. Smelling the political air, this essay made its way to the surface.

Running With Iron Heels

This past spring I was camping and hiking in the Taconic range with a good friend. We walked and talked while soaking in the beautiful terrain of those green mountains.

Such excursions are important. They transport us physically. They also transport us mentally. The humdrum of everyday life fades as rolling hills and valleys come into view.

We are lucky in Connecticut. Beautiful, green woodlands, rivers, and an ocean surround us. We can choose the company of beautiful, caring people.

What can slip by almost unnoticed is that others are out there. They have a different view of what surrounds us. They see ugly everywhere.

African Americans are shot down, with regularity, in our streets. Some see injustice, others see genetics. Some see the continuance of hundreds of years of oppression and struggle. Others let fear consume them.

Fossil fuel pipelines ram through lands, from New England to Indian sacred spaces. Some see centuries of stealing land, religious violations, environmental degradation, and fight-back. Others see maintaining a lifestyle. More dangerously, the 0.1% sees major profits threatened with protests of the former.

Bombs are dropped an ocean away. People migrate. Some see state terror, a humanitarian disaster, and struggle. Some hear only “terrorists” and seek revenge.

People see, and maybe feel, these differences. The “others” handle them in different ways. A peek into our family’s 20th century histories may elucidate some of this. Let’s try mine.

In 1907, two sets of people made there way from the Apennine mountain range above Naples, Italy, to the USA. One, the Ciarlone’s, had a business orientation. The other, the Iannielli’s, was among the vast peasantry of those times. In relative order, the Scarpitti’s and Summa’s completed each set of the pairings. Children arrived, eight to be exact, from each pairing. Included among those offspring were my parents.

Why did my grandparents leave their homeland? After all, it’s not an easy do. Ever get that uncomfortable feeling when away from the familiarity of home? That sense of place comes into play. No. Not easy.

As a youngster, I asked that question. My maternal grandmother gave me a hint with a wonderful Italian inflection and waving an open hand in the air. It consisted of two words. “The Kaiser!”

That two-word answer and the move across the big pond took a bit of time to grasp in any full way. My experiences on the home front during the U.S. War in Vietnam helped. (For more on those experiences see

https://www.createspace.com/4330714

 

Later I got an assist from famed biologist Stephen Jay Gould. Here’s what I learned.

Before World War I (1914-1918), Vernon L. Kellogg was an entomologist (insects) at Stanford University, California, a pacifist; he became an official in Belgian relief work. In this capacity, he somehow ended up being among the German high command, including the Kaiser. Wilhelm II was the last Emperor (Kaiser) of Germany and King of Prussia (Parts of Germany and much land heading eastward).

Many of the German officers were involved in higher education before the war. They saw the war as a natural outgrowth of human behavior. These officers saw natural selection, a la Charles Darwin and evolution, as dictating violent competition among peoples.

The group of people representing the highest evolutionary stage, in their minds Germans, would prevail. Kellogg was so sufficiently horrified that he abandoned pacifism and supported the war against Germany as the only way, in his considered opinion, to stop them.

What Kellogg stumbled on here is one of the best examples of the perversion of evolutionary theory. It resulted in a crude form of social Darwinism. In other words, war erupts from our DNA.

We now know that redivision of the world for colonial plunder was a driving force for both sides of those wretched trenches. In other words follow the money, or better, the profits. When normal politics could not settle differences, war followed.

History had more to unfold, especially in Germany. In the years following World War I, much of the above crude social Darwinism became incorporated into Nazi ideology with a vengeance. That ideology, mixed with racism, ran amuck with extreme nationalism.

The Nazi Party actually started in the mountains of Germany in the 1920s. They nurtured a crude form of nationalism born of the disaster of WWI, social Darwinism, and with a questing religious fervor. The crash of 1929, unemployment and disgust with “big” government brought them into the cities and looking for a savior. They found Adolf Hitler and bankers willing to solve problems with an iron heel. WWII followed.

 

There is a fundamental difference in the mindset of the groupings of people mentioned at the beginning of this writing. Some hope to peacefully and thoughtfully grabble with war, racism, environmental degradation, and the injustice of it all. Others? They run with iron heels.

Politically, one outlook says let’s protest nonviolently, dialogue, and peacefully negotiate. The others say let’s protest violently, take people off voter roles, and stomp on those fighting injustice with that iron heel, including the use police/military force.

The iron heels, the fascist axis that took state power in Germany, Italy, and Japan in the 1920s and 1930s, were defeated in WWII. Its cost was 60 million lives and many fragmented ones. But hints that the outlook guiding those iron heel states had penetrated the USA were around us. The twin ideological weapons of fascism were at work.

The Soviet Union, an ally and friend during WWII, quickly became labeled an enemy, then later an evil empire. Anyone remotely associated with the recent ally was considered part of the “red menace” and a spy. U.S. State institutions pursued communists with a vengeance as well as others interested in peace and social justice.

Japanese living in the USA, and Japanese Americans, were treated differently from German and Italian immigrants. Internment camps were set up. (Don’t miss this! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LeBKBFAPwNc ) African Americans remained under intense segregation, with lynchings and other violence visited upon them.

 

Let’s go back to bucolic Connecticut. We bathe in the suave of greenness. We need the caressing arms of nature. We need the company of caring people. The point here is that we can’t get lost in it.

We have to engage other outlooks. Some don’t want the iron heel approach to solve problems but don’t see the danger. We need to revisit the 1920s and 1930s, and shake out the causes, and lessons, of WWII.

There is hope all around us. We do have to take the time to see it. I met a welder recently who had drawn healthy lessons from her work experiences. She adamantly opposed Trump.

A fisherman once told me, “they make you not want to care.” This woman went in the opposite direction. She cares. My hiking friend ventured to Ohio to block Trump mania. We have to find bits of caring among our people and help develop a willingness to fight for caring core values.

We are going to need to put that caring into action. Too many times we didn’t do that when the Obama Administration, and also peoples’ movements, made forward-looking decisions e.g. halting the X-L Pipeline. When that same administration brought backward proposals to the table, as they did in Libya, Syria and elsewhere, a confusion and paralysis followed.

Ask yourself, “What do I care about?” Then ask yourself, “How do I show it?” It means getting outside of our comfort zone.

Here’s two ways. Go out and talk to those who did not vote, those who voted for Trump, and those coming of voting age. Use history, especially intertwined with personal stories, in a calm explanatory way. Then gather with like-minded friends and those who are learning.

We need to walk the talk.

P.S. My Grandmother (Scarpitti/Ciarlone) didn’t totally escape the discrimination meted out during WWII. More on that with the next blog.

My latest book, HURRY DOWN GUNNTOWN (May 2015 https://www.createspace.com/5385780) involves a specific fight to save land. But there is a broader theme that connects it to colonial days of yore. In just a thousand words, let’s explore the theme of freedom and human dignity in a historical context that connects these struggles to the USA today.

March, 1780. A British secret agent slips into the Naugatuck Valley of Connecticut. He recruits a Tory gang to raid the home of a privateer hired by the revolutionary government. After the raid, they make their way into the Gunntown neighborhood of Waterbury. By happenstance, they kidnap a young colonial because he recognizes members of the gang. Rebel trackers are on their trail. The chase is joined.

What possibly could any of this have to do with a 20th/21st century struggle to preserve land? Further, what could it possibly have in common with other environmental battles e.g. fossil fuel pollution, gas pipelines, climate change? Plenty. Here are the connections.

Why would any commoners be so committed as to change their daily routine instantly, leave their families, and join the chase of a dangerous Tory gang that terrorized a family in Bethany, Connecticut? Actually, before April of 1775 and events at Lexington and Concord, they probably wouldn’t have been moved by it. Many were loyalists, particularly in the Gunntown neighborhood of Waterbury. Blacksmiths for example, depended on trade with the mother country for metals.

On the other hand, Revolutionaries were talking about freeing the slaves. This was a direct threat to slave owning families like the Scovills and the Gunns of Waterbury. They remained loyal to the Crown.
There were other events that shook the everyday life of commoners. The British burned Danbury in April of 1777. This was getting close to “home.” These events were augmented by onerous British policies like the impressment of colonists into the Royal British navy. This was an instant involuntary military draft. Young people were grabbed, literally off the streets, and sent for years to serve British imperial interests. (For a cinematic representation of this policy, see the old film Mutiny On The Bounty, 1962).
The list of grievances had been growing during the revolutionary period well before the outbreak of hostilities. An armed struggle ensued. The raid of the Dayton house in Bethany, and the subsequent kidnapping of a young colonial in Gunntown, were symptoms of the intense civil strife within the colonies, especially in border states like Connecticut.

The pursuing of the Tory gang and freeing of the kidnapped boy became a defense of the revolution itself. It was the sloughing off of the tyrannical British King and being ruled from afar. It was a struggle for freedom and human dignity.

But just as the revolution began well before the war for independence, the struggle for freedom and human dignity continued after the victory at Yorktown in 1783. The revolutionary government declared that there would be no king what-so-ever. There were revolutionary repercussions throughout the world.

Was that the end of the struggle for freedom and human dignity? Not by a long shot. Slavery was still intact. Within the bowels of the antislavery movement came the abolitionists. They pursued, not only freedom for the slaves, but equal rights for all. The 1840s and 1850s saw this revolutionary movement gain steam. After the Civil War, it found further expression in the many freed slaves occupying state legislatures in the South.
In the late 1870s, reaction again gained the upper hand. The KKK terrorized African Americans. Lynchings became commonplace. Even during this retrograde period, strivings for freedom burst forth in the form of the women’s movement for the vote. None other than Fredrick Douglass, eminent abolitionist and freedom fighter, saw the potential of this movement for human dignity of all people. The women’s right to vote was won in 1920.
Labor unions burst on the scene in a big way in the 1920s and 1930s. By the 1950s, a third of workers belonged to a union. Due to unionization, workers prospered. Many working families transitioned from rental property to single family homes. Their children now had some access to higher education.

But progress is not a pure enterprise. The lynchings and separation of African Americans and whites continued in the south. Both black and white realized no one could live in freedom and human dignity while these conditions prevailed. It took the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s to begin applying a turniquet to the abuses. The “whites only signs” came tumbling down.

As in the previous two centuries, freedom and human rights movements continued to burst forth in new ways. The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 added a new dimension to peace strivings. The U.S. War in Vietnam spawned the peace movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s. The production and wanton use of chemicals gave birth to a reinvigorated green movement in the 1950s and 1960s. It helped give a deeper grasp of the situation when agent orange and napalm were used by the USA in Vietnam. Connections were being made.

Society, like nature, did not remain static. As throughout the Cold War, the Reagan Administration attacked unions in the 1980s. Membership plummeted. Attacks on the environment, ranging from fossil fuel hunting in the USA and abroad, escalated. War became a permanent feature of US policy. In the new millennia, Black males, hunted on our streets by racist police, has spawned the Black Lives Matter movement. Fast food workers are striking for better wages.

Just as there were those loyal to the Crown during the revolutionary period of the late 1700s, we have those loyal to the high priests of profit today. Let’s go right back to Connecticut. In May 2015, the state passed legislation for five dirty fossil fuel (gas) pipelines to be rammed through the state. Incredibly, a new dirty fossil fuel (gas) power plant is OK’d by the CT Siting Council for the Oxford/Naugatuck/Middlebury border. In response, CT has its own climate march on Sunday, May 31st. Will it and other actions be enough to reverse the pipeline and power plant decisions?

Climate change grudgingly became recognized as a threat, as over 400,000 marched and flooded NYC streets in 2014. It included many unions, peace, green, and social justice groups. Is the fight for freedom and human dignity reaching a new level? Are we entering a new revolutionary period? Are we already there?
Now it’s your turn. What is your answer to the questions of the previous two paragraphs? Are we there yet?