Humble Contributions to the Peoples' History

A good novel so captures the imagination that I attempted to put that idea into a sculpture project.

Working with porcelain, I carved the clay into a book and then created a scene from Herman Melville’s literary masterpiece, Moby Dick. As the piece air-dried, I had to fix and fix again the clay cracking along the sides but finally stabilized the splitting. Unfortunately, when it came out of the kiln, the book had nearly broken in two with a quarter-inch gap across the front. A corner had fallen off, and sides had split and warped in several sections. Still, I set to work to see if I could make repairs. With glue, paint and glaze I began the patching process thinking that, in the end, this is not going to work.

Cracks on the Underside

Cracks on the Underside

Well, I’ll leave the question about redemption with you, in either case, the whale and Captain Ahab–or the sculpture.

 

Moby Dick4

Travel has sharpened my awareness of the passage of time, whether observing the erosive forces on the Grand Canyon or the sea carving inlets on the coast of Ireland.

Recording family history has also expanded my perceptions of time: how families have lived out their days in cycles of births, marriages, and passings. Sometimes I cannot tell whether I am in their time or my own as these dimensions seem to meld together.

Whether we wake or we sleep,
Whether we carol or weep,
The Sun with his Planets in chime,
Marketh the going of Time.
~Edward Fitzgerald

Music by Enya

Weekly Writing Challenge: Time Machine

Emergence

For Women who have Resolved to Work for the Common Good of Humanity.

Emergence

The world enclosed and darkened inside my head
Not even dreams materialized as I lie in bed
Discord delivered echoing despair
And yet . . .  guided me to your sheltered lair.

I found you, though you were there all along
You entered into my soul as an enchanting song
With leonine magnificence, so noble, so sublime
Intrepid lover of art, beauty, truth and rhyme.

This miracle then cleansed my mind
Reborn to a new life refined.
I laughed and learned to forgive.
My heart opened­–I began to live.

And yet what you are is an illusion in time.
This noble ideal can only exist in my mind.
Never to feel your warmth that a Lover knows
Or touch the fabric of your roughened clothes.

But how to create harmony again from sighs.
To feel the exhilaration of the highs
And experience truth from melodious lows.
Not to be played out as a duet but as a solo.

Embraced by the power of this measure
Hearing music of souls joined together
Triumphs in splendor as shimmering sounds
With knowledge and passion that knows no bounds.

I arise from this dream and rebirth
Resolved to become a heroine on earth.

I follow Facebook pages for Red Emma’s and Sister Teresa Forcades and was so excited to read their recent joint posting:

Just announced!
Teresa Forcades, radical feminist nun, anti-austerity organizer, and advocate for an autonomous Catalonia

speaking at Red Emma’s the very next day. While I was in Barcelona, Spain, I attended an event, Women, Spirituality and Social Change, and met Sister Teresa (see post here), so to have an opportunity to see her again right in our neighborhood of the world, I wasted no time getting train tickets my son John, who writes for The Industrial Worker, and me to travel to Baltimore.

Red Emmas

Emma Goldman: Courageous Advocate for Worker Rights

Emma Goldman 1886  *Wikipedia

Emma Goldman 1886 *Wikipedia

Red Emma’s, a worker cooperative started in 2004, supports a bookstore, restaurant and community space and is “dedicated to putting principles of solidarity and sustainability into practice in a democratic workplace.” The namesake of the cooperative, Emma Goldman, a political activist known for her promotion of anarchism, is another woman I admire for her progressive views on women’s rights, prison reform, racial equality and right to organize our workplaces. Anarcho-syndicalism best explains my political philosophy where worker solidarity, direct action and worker self-management form the basis for encouraging workers to free themselves from the hierarchical systems of bosses and managers.

Several years ago, John, along with fellow members of the I.W.W.,  paid a pilgrimage to Emma’s final resting place, Forest Home Cemetery, in Forest Park, a suburb of Chicago. Emma had been deported years before her passing, but officials of the immigration office allowed her burial on U.S. soil. Other activists are buried nearby, so she’s in good company. 

kalwaic-R1-030-13A

Teresa Forcades: A Crusader against Austerity and Leader of Protest Movements in Spain

Teresa Forcades at Red Emmas

Teresa Forcades launched a political manifesto to counter austerity measures by the Spanish government. The document calls for an independent Catalonia to carry out a more democratic and progressive agenda, including nationalizing banks and energy corporations and advocating for participatory democracy, ecological restructuring, and decent wages and pensions. Any progressive could support the reforms in this remarkable document. Manifesto

The program began when Professor Navarro from Johns Hopkins University introduced Teresa to the gathering. Teresa discussed many of the points in the Manifesto and the “Indignados” movement in Catalonia and Europe.

Introduction: Prof. Navarro

Introduction: Prof. Navarro

Teresa emphasized four principles necessary for success in making social change.

1. Reactivation from below. Change has to be brought about from the bottom up.

2. Avoid centralized leadership and control. People should not look for a savior. They must work together to foster diversity and unity without uniformity.

3. Stress the urgency. A large percentage of the populations lives in poverty (30% in Catalonia) and a significant number are living at the misery line (12% in Catalonia). The misery line represents the threshold of not even enough money to buy food and shelter.

4. Engage in revolution and do it again. The revolution is not over with a few reforms. Citizens must take part in decision-making. The constitution should be an evolving document as changes are needed for social reform.

discussion

Conversation

After the question and answer discussion, I talked with Teresa and introduced John. I invited her to come to Swarthmore College as I know the students would be inspired by her dedication to social justice. I never expected that Teresa would be visiting in our area, so I have great hopes that we will see each other again in the future.

As the view of the Croagh Patrick came into sight, I could hardly believe that we were going to climb on what looked like a very steep, narrow ridge.

Before I could ponder the climb ahead any further, I saw the ghost ship with sails of human skeletons that haunted the base of the mountain. A famine memorial, the iron ship reminded pilgrims of the tragic stories that unfolded during the years that the potato crops failed and so many were left to starve.

While trekking across Ireland’s mountains, I gained an appreciation and understanding of elevations. Elevation was just a number on a map with no context. Yesterday our climb was 1,000, today, 2,700! I also noted that the weather changes drastically at different elevations, even in the summer time. We started the day with dry conditions, but I could see that mist and clouds covered the summit.

Loose stones of different sizes littered the gullied trail, and every step became a challenge to find secure footings. Some of our group turned back with the warning that the trail would become increasingly more difficult and precariously steep. We tightened our hoods and jackets against the wind, and we had to stop to become fully geared up for the rain to come. As I continued upward, I stopped often to catch my breath. The treacherous climb made me question, “Why am I doing this?” I could be sitting warm and comfortable in the coffee shop below. Yet, the spirit of the mountain kept me going–I would stay on the path that perhaps my ancestors once climbed.

The wind and rain became increasingly intense as we headed up the rocky slope. We couldn’t see anything beyond 20 yards as the summit was completely shrouded in clouds. Maneuvering on the rocks became increasingly painful as my boots would slip on the uneven terrain. I concentrated on the trail, searching for secure footing–only the brown rocks before me were important.

A feeling of relief came over me as the faint outline of the little white chapel at the summit came into view, and I stepped up the pace to secure the protection its walls might offer, only to find the building locked tight. Food and rest, however, offered comfort against the relentless rain, and we ate our sandwiches leaning against the chapel built on a foundation that dates back to St. Patrick’s time.

Chapel at C. Patrick

We packed up for our trip down the other side of the mountain. When I turned the corner away from the church, the wind hit me with such force, it almost knocked me over. The rain and wind tore at my coat as I headed down. Craggy outcroppings of rock distracted me from the storm, as again, I focused on my footing. The clouds embraced our group, and my fellow hikers disappeared from sight.

Now I’d heard that Ireland is a magical place, and on this trip a number of coincidences and unusual experiences came our way, and this was one of those times. As I walked in the fog, I heard an Irish flute playing a whistling melody. I stopped and scanned the landscape. Where was the music coming from? Did such a clear melody arise from the rocks­–those crevices of torment serving as apertures for the wind–or was it a leprechaun? With music filtering from the clouds, Irish mythology became reality as the sacred mountain shared its magic with another pilgrim.

St. Patrick

Road Trip begins at Newport News, Virginia

Newport News is one of the cities that makes up the metropolitan region in Southeastern Virginia and the starting place for our trip. We’re skipping the popular vacation spots in the area, such as Williamsburg, Jamestown, and the adventure parks, and instead opting to visit the lesser known regions further north along the Chesapeake Bay.

We’ve visited other small towns in the South,

Berlin, Maryland
Tangier Island, Virginia
Beaufort, North Carolina
Charles City, Virginia

in past journeys and have not been disappointed. Small towns retain the flavor of a by-gone era, as visitors experience an authentic working community. Most of the towns have historic main street districts with parks and libraries within easy walking distance of the shopping districts. You might find a gazebo, an old-time movie theater or general store along their business thoroughfares. Restaurants and coffee shops have their own unique personalities, offering dishes with a local flavor. Residents own many of the smaller shops, where you can find one-of-kind objects. Rehabbed buildings and warehouses sometimes house art and craft galleries, and often communities establish an art center near the center of town.

What I’ve Noticed about Main Street, America          

IMG_5990In the smaller towns across America, Main Street is surprisingly similar, with even the name “Main Street” being the same in many communities. Other common names for streets are Second, Third and so on. Often the names of trees serve as street names, such as Oak, Pine or Maple.

The street itself serves as an anchor to the sidewalk and then the buildings, which line up next to each other and on either side of the street. Usually the smaller store fronts are not as wide as they are deep. Sometimes you can find an old railroad station, the tracks and engines now gone, and the building converted into a museum, shop or visitor center.

In the play Our Town, the author, Thornton Wilder, describes in the opening scene what could be almost any town in America in the 1920s:

Well, I’d better show you how our town lies. Up here-is Main Street. Way back there is the railway station; tracks go that way. Polish Town’s across the tracks, and some Canuck families. Over there is the Congregational Church; across the street’s the Presbyterian. Methodist and Unitarian are over there. Baptist is down in the holla’ by the river. Catholic Church is over beyond the tracks. Here’s the Town Hall and Post Office combined; jail’s in the basement. Along here’s a row of stores. Hitching posts and horse blocks in front of them. First automobile’s going to come along in about five years-belonged to Banker Cartwright, our richest citizen . . . lives in the big white house up on the hill. Here’s the grocery store and here’s Mr. Morgan’s drugstore.

Jail at Mathews

Jail at Mathews

Elements of Main Street stand as symbols of American values and a sentimental view on the way of life from the past. Main Street, U.S.A., is Disney’s recreation of small town America. Walt Disney summarized his vision with this nostalgic view,

For those of us who remember the carefree time it recreates, Main Street will bring back happy memories. For younger visitors, it is an adventure in turning back the calendar to the days of their grandfather’s youth.

Dark Side of Main Street

In literature authors have written about small-town America and often criticizing their social and political mores. Sinclair Lewis published a satirical novel, Main Street, in 1921, dismantling the myth of small-town wholesomeness while mocking traditional values.

Main Street was not an inclusive space for African-Americans during the Jim Crow era. The website, The Myths of Main Street, reminded me of the bleak and oppressive atmosphere that anyone of color endured during that time.

Main Street Today

For now, my sister Jean and I are just tourists winding our way through these southern towns. Reading about the history of main street has certainly given me material to think about as we travel. Main streets have made somewhat of a comeback since the 1960s when malls began to take over the commercial enterprise of these towns, while main streets deteriorated and, sometimes, disappeared. Hopefully, these historic downtowns will win out against the larger corporations, which engulf so many of our small businesses. Locally run businesses ensure that community members make the decisions that will influence their lives in their towns.

Yorktown

Our first stop on this road trip was the hamlet of Yorktown, famous for the battle that brought the American Revolutionary War to end when the British commander, Cornwallis, surrendered to George Washington on October 19, 1781. The Yorktown Battlefield Visitor Center is just off of Highway 17. Visitors can drive through the battlefields, watch a film and tour historic houses. We could have spent an entire day there.

Swan Tavern Antiques

Swan Tavern Antiques

The revolutionary war battles took a toll on Yorktown, leaving all but 70 buildings standing. In 1814 a fire swept through Main Street and the waterfront area. Union forces added to the destruction during the Civil War. Today the population stands at about 200. We wandered down Main Street and into an 18th century building, Swan Tavern Antiques, where ten rooms were decorated with furniture and accessories from that era.

Churches have an important place in small towns, and no better example the Grace Church, which has been used by worshipers for over 300 years. Originally an Anglican church, the building survived the Revolutionary War, Civil War and that 1814 fire. After the walls were rebuilt in 1848, the congregation renamed the church.

Grace Church

Grace Church

We strolled along the Waterfront Landing, which followed the York River. In late April, pirate reenactors, representing seafaring life in the late 17th and 18th centuries, invade Yorktown and set up an encampment. Might be worth returning to sing with the pirates.

Gloucester County

We returned to Route 17, crossing over the George P. Coleman Memorial Bridge toward Gloucester County, which is important for its farm and fishing industries. The county is nicknamed the “Daffodil Capital of the World” and holds a festival in April with parades and shows. Gloucester has a visitor center on Main Street and has a self-guided tour of important buildings.

Mathews County

Mathews Visitor Center

Mathews Visitor Center

From Gloucester, we drove north on John Clayton Memorial Highway into Mathews County. Intersected by three tidal rivers, the county has over 200 miles of shoreline. Route 14 goes through downtown Mathews, where we found the Mathews County Visitor and Information Center, once Sibley’s General Store, and now selling guide books, maps, and local crafts. A small museum in the back of the store holds historical memorabilia of the county.

Mathews Visitor Center Inside

The Inn at Tabbs Creek

Post Office at Susan, VA

Post Office at Susan, VA

Heading south from Mathews on New Point Comfort Road, we continued down the peninsula, missing our turnoff but finding this example of one of the small post offices that dot the landscape of the area. We missed the turn because we were not expecting that Turpine Lane was a dirt road, which we now observed were indicated with blue signs and not the usual green street signs.

Inn

I selected the Inn at Tabbs Creek as our accommodations for the night because of their ecological sensitivity, excellent breakfast choices and amenities, including bicycles and kayaks. Their description of their freshly brewed organic coffee, eggs and vegetables had me looking forward to breakfast there for days ahead of time. The inn stood at the end of a row of tall cedars that flanked the driveway. After settling into our cozy room, we strolled around the main house, investigating the outbuildings and enjoying the views of the bay.

We returned to Mathews for dinner at Southwind Pizza, which came highly recommend by the locals and lived up to its claim, “casual dining at its best.” Their squash soup was the best we’ve ever tasted. Jean’s scallops were excellent, and I thoroughly enjoyed the Mediterranean platter.

With just a little daylight left we drove down to New Point Comfort Lighthouse, the third oldest on the bay and commissioned by Thomas Jefferson in 1804. A hurricane in the 1930s separated the lighthouse from the mainland. Even from a walkway, which was the only structure in this remote location, the lighthouse was still a good distance away. I took the photograph below with the maximum setting on my zoom lens.

IMG_6018

Back at the inn, the wind howled throughout the night, and we woke up to a 20 degree temperature drop. Bundling up with hats and scarves, we rushed over to the main house for a delicious breakfast: french toast with strawberries casserole and an egg and cheese strata, biscuit, fresh fruit and French-pressed coffee.

After packing up, we drove north to Gwynn’s Island, a small triangle of land on the mouth of the Pianktank River. A marina sat on the other side of the bridge, and we followed the road that ran along the bay, offering wide views of the water. The island was quiet as the summer tourist season was still months away and most of the cottages were empty. We stopped at a beach near the end of the road to take a look around. An abandoned shack faced the bay, and we wondered about the story of this little house. Towering pines in the distance swayed in the wind.

IMG_6045

Shack on Gwynn’s Island

As I was researching the history of the island, I found a newspaper article that recounted a story about an African-American woman’s experience of moving to this community in 2009. She did not stay long because of harassment that both she and her children experienced in their short time there. The Gwynn Island Museum, housed in the former school building, holds the history of the island, including pictures of African-American families who worked on the island in the fishing industries. Between 1910-1920 all the families left the island, most likely because they feared for their safety. Difficult to believe that only several years ago, that a similar history would repeat itself in the land of the free.

The Northern Neck . . .

“a place heaven and earth never agreed better to frame man’s habitation.”
                                                                               Captain John Smith, 1608 

From Mathews, we headed north along Route 3, crossing over the Rappahannock River. Virginia’s rivers, such as the Rappahannock, used to freeze over entirely during winters of the late 1800s and early 1900s. The Chesapeake Bay would also have ice flows that were a hazard to navigation. If global warming has been happening slowly, generations are gone now to tell us what the weather was like a hundred years ago.

This area is well-known for its water views of the Chesapeake Bay, creeks and rivers. Making a left turn at the town of White Stone, we drove only a few miles before arriving in Irvington. A thriving town at the turn of the 20th Century, Irvington served as a port for steamboats. About 600 steamboats worked the waters along the Chesapeake Bay. In the summer of 1917, a fire destroyed many of the buildings, and the Steamboat Era came to an end. The Steamboat Museum houses memories and memorabilia from that time, but it was closed when we arrived.

Kilmarnock

Named for a Scottish town in East Ayrshire, Kilmarnock was once called “The Crossroads.” Towns often sprung up at intersections of transportation routes and grew according to the level of commerce that supported the community.

Downtown Kilmarnock

Downtown Kilmarnock

Before exploring the downtown, we stepped into then Kilmarnock Antique Gallery holding 22,000 square feet of antiques and deserving of its honor: voted number one by Pleasant Living Magazine. Most of the structures on Main Street were brick, and housed a variety of boutiques, galleries and restaurants. 

Leaving Main Street

The story of small towns in America is still unfolding as townsfolk adapt to changes, both economic and social. Community members continue to work together to preserve the architecture and ambiance of a former time while struggling with the prejudices that, even to this day, rain on the American parade down Main Street.

main street 3

Philadelphia, 10th and Market Streets

Activists teamed up with retail and fast food workers to campaign for a $15 minimum wage by standing together at a rally on Market Street. I came into Philly to support this initiative because I participated in the Swarthmore College Living Wage and Democracy’s campaign to raise the base wage, and documented that effort here.  That campaign resulted in a wage increase for the lowest-paid employees at the College.

Many corporations that pay poverty wages compensate their CEO’s hundreds of times larger than their workers. For more information, check out this article, “466 Hours of Worker Overtime Equals One Hour of CEO Pay.”

Rally participants broke into groups to distribute red flowers to female workers at four different locations including McDonalds, Starbucks, Burger King and CVS.  Most folks who passed by the demonstration responded positively, and drivers honked their horns in support.

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Links:

15 Now.org

Activists in Philadelphia Join Nationwide Protest of Low Minimum Wage

On International Women’s Day, Street Actions in Philly for Living Wage

 

Living Wage Lament

Rich folks have the money,
they also have control
poor folks have no money
we’re even in the hole.

We represent diversity
but we are not you’re cream
cause your diversity comes packaged
in a sales pitch lean and mean.

You keep you billon dollars
safely in the bank
no way in hell can touch it
for us who have no rank.

The future is what you talk ’bout
as if that’s all that matters,
you forget the present d’termines
who’ll remain in tatters.

We try and try to tell you
but you got blinders on.
for you can’t see or hear us
‘fraid you’re sense’s gone.

Those who toil and work
are different kind of folks
and never in a billion years
will you remove our yokes.

So it’s up to us to do it
for we must seek the prize
to get equal pay and benefits
and open people’ s eyes.

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