Archive for March, 2017

Responsibility : My Journey From “Pro Life” to Abortion on Demand, with No Apologies

March 7, 2017

It costs a dollar to cross

the narrow toll bridge

over the Big Muddy into Bellevue,

most folk headed to the air show at Offut

the rightists were feeling their oats

the doctor gunned down in church,

watch for rooftop snipers

Blue Angels in the sky,

run to Walgreen’s for earplugs, buy ’em all!

bombers lurk on the ground too

They have their Desert Shield and Operation Rescue,

we have our shields of cardboard and cotton sheets

“Welcome, welcome, the clinic stays open!”

we outwomanned and outmanned

we came from everywhere and out of nowhere

Nikki shone: she knew how to fight.

we used sheets, blocked their cameras.

They mumbled rosaries at us, waving pictures

of bloody fetuses

I was born into the quintessential suburban home just outside Independence Missouri. Now the area is densely populated with typical tree lined streets and miles of ranch style houses, but my father built what was one of the first ones, if not the first one, in the eastern suburb of Independence, which also happens to be the home of the Reorganized Latter Day Saints church and, amazingly, the place the Mormons, a competing and much larger church, says will be the place of Christ’s return.

So I am a descendant of devout followers of Joseph Smith, a much more pious version of Donald Trump. In fact, shades of Trump, the reason he was “martyred” was because he ordered the burning down of a newspaper office that was bold enough to tell the truth about him- that he intended to build a theocratic community. An angry mob descended upon the Carthage Illinois jail where he was being held, and he was shot.

Mom always placed a high value on “responsibility”, possibly because our lives were so chaotic, and the general milieu of the anything-goes sixties made her impress this on me.  I most certainly believed in God, and could not fathom why anyone would swear or sin, what with Hell and its Lake of Fire waiting. Yet people all around me did these things, as if there were no eternal consequences!

Dad’s side of the family were hard core RLDS, Mom’s mother died in childbirth and her father ran off during the Depression, leaving Mom to be raised by foster parents. She had me when she was about 23, but by age 27 she was divorced and Mom and I moved to Bossier City Louisiana, where Mom worked as a clerk at Barksdale Air Force Base. General Barksdale was a Confederate who fought at Gettysburg- southern military bases were often named after Confederate officers. My mother was pro integration, which was really radical and she had to keep quiet about it, and I witnessed Jim Crow segregation although I was too young to really process what my mother was telling me about it, except her saying “this will not last”.

Mom was pretty religious, and she took me to a Pentecostal church, where I heard a sermon about the “lake of fire” and was scared out of my wits, so Mom kind of stifled her interest in Pentacostalism and took me to an RLDS church, with a little less fire and brimstone. Since Mom had a relatively high paying government job, she could afford to put me in preschool and kindergarten, and it was there, one day during nap time on my little green cot, I heard the news that JFK had been shot.

Mom met Jerry, my stepdad, who was a charming guy but had little ambition or education, and soon we found ourselves living in the Ozarks of Missouri, and in near third world conditions, which was a constant for many years- Jerry held low paying jobs and put a priority on hunting and fishing. I wrote this poem about our idyllic hill country:

persimmons bend, supple swings,

frogs croak and locusts rub wings.

Dusk settles by firefly light-

Ozark hills are dark at night.

……………………………………….

……………………………………….

The reason right wingers promote “family values” is they seek to roll back the social wage fought for by the working class, so that the ruling class can relieve itself of any responsibility for the precarity endemic in their dog eat dog system, and place the onus on individual households for the success or failure of individual workers’ families, with or without a job. Historically the Church has been capitalism’s handmaiden in this effort (Engels, Fromm).

As the rise of capitalist social relations displaced the power of the Church, the theocrats had no choice but to join the new social system in partnership, or sink into total irrelevance.

The Church was instrumental in aiding capitalism by creating patriarchal norms that placed the onus on heads of married households for the success or failure of the family unit, letting the capitalist exploiters off the hook.

“Religion is concentrated politics”- Stan Goff

Mom had a miscarriage in the summer of 1972, and I wrote this poem about it:

She lost the baby in that cartoon bathroom,

sitting with her head in her hands

wishing she were a seagull.

My chore was to dig a small grave

as I had done many times to bury deer carcasses

but this time to place a coffee can coffin

in the ground.

I tossed the shovel

clatter!

into the bed of that white

trash pickup and the country

music radio played a mournful tune.

We moved alot and I went to many different schools, as a result my math skills were terrible, as well as my social skills. I was bullied, and I fought alot. We ended up in a migrant worker’s shack in a rural Michigan potato field, again with no running water or inside toilet. I skipped school alot, and ran away from home for about a week or so, and upon returning Mom sent me to live with her foster parents back in Independence. After that I became much more of a normal teen except I fell in love with pot and acid, and got kicked out of high school for drugs and fighting. My girlfriend and I made the fateful decision to go to Michigan, as she wanted to escape her abusive father and I felt it was time for a change. When we left the Kansas City area for rural Michigan we did not account for the fact that free birth control was not available in rural Michigan.

So when the inevitable happened, she became pregnant, I hatched the idea of joining the Army and having them pay for the baby, as abortion was out of the question; Laura was raised Southern Baptist, and I was nominally a baptized RLDS, this was a few years before the church liberalized and became a proponent of choice, which I found a little shocking, but chalked it up to the rivalry with the mainline Mormon church.

Viet Nam Syndrome

Momma didn’t want me to join the Army
but Daddy said he’d sign for me cuz I was only 17
and he already had reservations about Momma
making me into a sissy cuz she argued to let me stay home
I didn’t like hunting cuz that 30 ought six
had a kick that hurt my skinny shoulder
and it was boring and cold
compared to fishing and frogging
Daddy was a janitor at the college and it was special
when he brought home treats from the vending machines
food that was expired, you took your chances with salmonella
if you ate a sandwich with meat, but
30 years later I wondered
if Fredy Perlman had bought a sandwich out of one of those machines
if our lives had crossed in some small way
It dcesn’t matter if he did or not
I know, my heart knows he did
Red headed stepchild on a Greyhound, heading for Detroit
20 dollars in my pocket, left the woods behind
Four Mile Road was 20 miles outside of Kalamazoo
our biggest fun was throwing dead raccoons and stringers of dead fish
down on passing cars from atop the big hill
and hearing the cars swerve and rumble to a stop, gravel flying
as we ran into the woods laughing
but I was headed for the Army now
skinny legs with holes in the knees of my jeans
going commando, wearing no underwear
I figured I’d buy some when I got to the city
somebody asked me “who’d you kill?”
I said “Nobody, I just knocked up my high school girlfriend
and we were going to do the right thing cuz we didn’t believe in abortion and we
were gonna sneak off and get married
and the army would pay for the kid.
and he said “well the Army is the place the judge sends you”.
When I got to Detroit, I was the only white
in a sea of Black faces, and all the stores were boarded up
due to the rebellions.
except Walgreens, which sold no underwear.
They put me up for the night in a crummy hotel
and the minutes turned to hours, my humiliation
approached glacially,
knowing I faced the Guantlet in the morning
where they strip you down to your shorts- which I didn’t have-
and you get a series of shots with hand held “guns”
Sure enough, morning brought my fears to light
and I went through the Gauntlet stark naked.
Someone asked me if I was an “exhibitionist”
and I said no, I just didn’t have any underwear
after the shots were done we were herded into a room,
me still naked and everyone else still in their skivvies,
and we took the oath to defend the US Constitution from all enemies
foreign and domestic, my right hand held up in solemnity
but all I could think of was my nakedness

Fast forwarding a few years, I had 3 kids, all boys, by the time I was 22. We moved to Iowa in 1982 and I recall going to a pro life rally in Des Moines. I saw a Black man with a NARAL button, and could not fathom how anyone could be for abortion. My wife and I loved our children dearly, even though none were “planned”, and could not imagine the mindset that could’ve justified truncating their very existence in the womb.

I went to college on the GI Bill, and in one class a pro choice speaker visited, and I asked her how, if it is alive one minute and the next it is dead, how is that unlike murder? She refused to even acknowledge me, and kept reading from her prepared speech. I concluded from this that I had won the argument and this sustained my pro life (which I now call “forced pregnancy advocate”) beliefs for another dozen years.

In late 1994, my first marriage was over (she left me for a “fatter, dumber version ” of myself but that is another story!) and I was about to marry a second time, when I met the Marxists on a Firestone picket line. I was immediately taken with Marxism, but   still harbored backward views on affirmative action and abortion.

After awhile I understood that affirmative action was merely a way of clawing back some of the stolen wealth of the  workers, upsetting the employers’ holy notions of “supply and demand”; POC are paid less because they are POC, as women are paid less because they are women.  Class struggle is the only recourse.

When I began to think about things politically, I skipped right over the petit bourgeois justification for abortion, which is “What about my career?”, and went straight to the revolutionary socialist position. As with affirmative action, so what if a white person doesn’t get to be a boss? Being a boss should never be our goal. So with abortion- so what if my conception is that the fetus is “alive”- what is life worth with the boot of patriarchal oppression upon woman’s neck, forcing her into unwanted pregnancy , denying her equal footing with men to struggle politically for her rights?

My third wife has a degree in mathematics and computer science, but was forced by her overbearing Catholic husband (his nickname on the job was “the preacher”) to stay on the farm instead of pursuing a teaching career or going with one of the many big companies who tried to recruit her. She left him after 17 years, the same length as my first marriage, mainly because he railed at her about an abortion she’d had at 17 and how she needed to repent. A wayward boy had knocked her up in the back seat of a car at a drive in, while others looked on and laughed, and he committed suicide 3 months later. Her parents raced her to an abortion clinic. Fast forward 25 years, her uber religious mother and overbearing father are watching a tv evangelist telling her she is going to hell, but my passive wife did not stand up and say “how dare you sit there and listen to that man say these things?”. No, she is of the Bible Belt, as I am, where shame rules, where women are to be silent in the face of outrage.

While I am no longer “religious”, and have managed to alienate most of my family with my irreverent humor (I figure if you can’t joke with your family about religion, who can you safely do it with? This turned out to be a bad calculation!), when I think of the darkest times in my life when I was truly wronged and betrayed by others, I note one thing of huge significance: I still live by the Biblical “Golden Rule”. That is, I would not have done those things to another person if the shoe had been on the other foot, if that makes sense. So I still manage to take some psychic comfort from my early religious exposure, also, Biblical allusions abound in my poetry. They don’t call it “the wisdom of the ages” for nothing; simply for artistic reasons I like to invoke Scripture, to add heft and “spiritual” authority to a piece.

I made my way to Bellevue Nebraska, to a clinic defense shortly after the murder of Dr.Tiller, and it was the most intense direct action event I’d ever been involved in. I wrote a poem about it, but left out a line about Catholic nuns swaggering down the street twirling their rosaries like Bloods or Crips, it was surreal. The other side, Operation Rescue, had people who had actually done violence and bombings before, so there was a real risk to personal safety I had not felt even on the most raucous picket line.

The action was called by NOW, and there were three communist groups there, the Socialist Worker’s Party, World Can’t Wait, and a smaller Maoist group. We massively outnumbered the collection of misfits Operation Rescue could muster- they had about 50 or less, we had six times that. One older woman on our side, an SWP comrade from New York, wondered aloud how anybody could possibly be against abortion? I said “I know how, I used to be against it”. “What made you change?”, she asked. “I became a Marxist, you guys did it, I started reading your books!”.

There was a young nurse, only 21 years old, who had flown by herself from New York and displayed amazing  organizing skills. I marveled at this woman- when I was 21 I was working on a railroad track gang swinging an eight pound hammer from sunup to sundown and trying to feed five people; politics was some distant realm, on TV.  Here she was, young, smart and organizing the hell out of things. Her name was Nikki, and she began directing us to “get some sheets”. We used sheets to protect the incoming patients from seeing the signs showing bloody fetuses, and our chants drowned out the other side’s as we walked the patients in to the building shielding them. Like a general in a war zone, Nikki changed tactics as the situation progressed, ordering, politely, some of us to spread out down the street to stop the antis from misdirecting patients to their phony “clinic”.

Nikki admonished me for wearing a red t-shirt, as it would give a sniper something to key on. “Watch for snipers on top of those buildings”, she calmly intoned. As I learned about who our opposition was, it was apparent that the people who were taking pictures of us to spread around on their internet web of zealots were quite dangerous and had been involved with bombings of clinics, and no doubt were in the loop on the murder of Dr. Tiller. It was chilling to say the least.

They had vowed to close the clinic, and not only did they fail but were humiliated by our superior numbers. Dr. Carharrt, who had taken over Tiller’s duties, thanked us and gave us tee shirts with his slogan “Trust Women” on the front and “this clinic stays open!” on the back.  He had been harassed and had several horses killed by arsonists at his farm, but he refused to be cowed by the theocrats.

It was an inspiring day, but we know the fight will continue and only intensify. A future of glorious struggle lies before us, and there are no guarantees of victory, but what an honor to fight back and win a battle!

This is our time, embrace the struggle, fight for the rights of working class women and all oppressed peoples!

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Miscarriage

March 7, 2017

She lost the baby in that cartoon bathroom

sitting with her head in her hands,

wishing she were a seagull.

Now my chore,like many times before

was to dig a hole where I’d bury deer carcasses

only this time it was to place a coffee can coffin

in the ground, and when it was done

I tossed the shovel

clatter! into the bed of that white

trash pickup truck

and that country western radio

played a mournful tune

 

 

A Covenant

March 3, 2017

 

If one manages to keep a covenant

who is keeping score but God?

Grandma kept the ghost family alive

even when real ones were dead-in-life,

the two young mothers were best friends

had a kid each by the same father, my son.

Year after year they sent newspaper clippings

of the boys’s athletic triumphs to Grandma

whilst their father lay in prison or a psych ward

crippled by schizophrenia

one day grandma  called

to see about Russell and tell him of her doings

she wasn’t my relative, just my first ex wife’s mother

I said “I’m so glad you called, I was fixin’ to call you

to get ahold of your daughter and tell her Russell needs his mother”.

She said “they don’t talk to me, after Dad died there was a big fight over inheritance and..”

I said “welcome to my world, my kids don’t talk to me either, except Russ, he needs me”.

She said she had been afraid to call, afraid I’d be mean and hang up.

But she’s been praying for Russ every day..

I said “no no, it’s okay really, call anytime”.