Columns

Lift Every Voice and Sing

July 6, 2020 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

I remember days when Mr. Sydney Dawson, one of my two favorite teachers, would raise his baton and we, the Dunbar Junior High Chorus, the best in the city of Tucson, would stand tall and proud and sing the Black National Anthem out loud, ending with:

“Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun
Let us march on ’til victory is won”

That song, one I’ve never heard anyone sing but black people, has kept us afloat, kept us scratching and crawling and marching, pursuing a victory that perpetually has seemed both elusive and out of reach. Much like a fantasy.

And then I look up one day and I hear a man on ESPN say that at all the opening games of the next NFL season, the game will begin with the words “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the opening line of my anthem, and I thought I was in an nonparallel universe. As this seemed so out of sync with reality.

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You Are Already Where You Want to Be: Summer Chronicles 2020 #3

July 6, 2020 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

You already are where you want to be. Forget the story in your head and the world of screens. Wake up at dawn and hit the street early before the masses crowd the sidewalks and go. Anywhere, everywhere, just walk. This is the ritual of the moment.

In my neighborhood, it means learning the landscape of yards — lush green garden boxes, forests of sunflowers, clusters of cacti on the edge of a canyon. Relearn how to look and listen, see the things you never see.

What is most important is what happens to be there at the dead end of the unpaved alley. The old tires stacked next to an abandoned car where an orange cat has discovered his throne. In the midst of an incomprehensible canvas of black spray-painted tags on a cinderblock wall someone has scrawled “Dream Now” in bright silver.

You can hear the flock of green parrots before they appear in the sky above you, their rowdy cacophony of squawks reaching a crescendo as they descend on the top of a big palm tree. The sky is still flat grey and misty with looming clouds, but the birdsong colors the morning, nonetheless. In the distance, the horn of a semi blares on the 94. Somehow, it all goes together despite the discordance.

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Summer of the Black Veil: Summer Chronicles 2020 #2

June 29, 2020 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

It’s the summer of the black veil, and a good number of us are none-too-happy about it. While many understand it as a reasonable public health mandate that serves to protect others, and, in fact, makes it possible for us to be more in the world during a pandemic with less fear of doing potential harm, others see it as an instrument of oppression. Of course, the obvious explanation for this response is the facile politicization of masks in the service of Trumpism, but could there be something deeper going on as well?

If we go back to the 1917 flu pandemic, we know that anti-mask politics in the service of “freedom” were evident then even as many more people died than have at present, so there is a precedent for the current derangement. But perhaps, at another level, the fear of the mask speaks to a profound American aversion to any sort of emblem of isolation.

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Keeping the Legacy Going

June 25, 2020 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

In these times of social distancing and isolating I’ve managed to still find something to celebrate. Like high school graduations.

I take my hat off to a brilliant descendant of mine, Alonzo (A.J.) Morgan, my great-grandson, who just moved his tassel from the right to the left at San Diego’s Lincoln High.

And I’m particularly proud that he’s following my path by accepting an athletic scholarship at my alma mater, the University of Arizona in Tucson, my hometown. Sixty-four years after me.

Different sport, though. I played basketball during my college days and he’s going to make his way on the gridiron.

We, however, both played each other’s sport. I could cut a figure on a football field and he can play some hoops – and we both have played a number of other sports. But we both dedicated time and effort to our favorite sport, the one we wanted to really excel in.

I can’t even begin to express how stoked I am in his decision to go to my school.

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Summer Chronicles 2020 #1: Hope Is in the Streets

June 22, 2020 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

Hope is in the streets. In the midst of a pandemic that brought an economic collapse during which a series of police murders inspired an international wave of protests, a new era is being imagined, one that would rise out of the ashes of a dying, corrupt order. And it’s a beautiful thing.

Yes, the ugliness is still very much with us in all its myriad forms, but amidst the teargas, rubber bullets, fascist tweets, and posturing, the young are demanding the impossible. What is wonderful about this is the fact that they don’t care what those who “know better” are telling them. They don’t care about what’s realistic or likely to move the needle in the November election. And they certainly don’t care whether you approve of their rhetoric and demands.

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‘A Nose Is a Nose …’

June 16, 2020 by Ernie McCray

Ewww!

by Ernie McCray

Lately I’ve found myself saying “Ewww!” a lot.

It began over a week ago on a nice easy summer day.

I was reading a great book and two young friends of ours were painting our hallway.

An odor suddenly enters the room. It’s weak at first, and then it blows me away. I mean it was like a farting contest was going on in my nose between contestants who had trained by eating pots full of spoiled pinto beans.

In those moments I wondered:

“Is there a broken sewer in the neighborhood?”

“Did someone dump a truck load of rotten eggs in the backyard?”

“Is a dinosaur decomposing in the canyon our house is in?”

I thought I heard someone walking in the patio and I almost asked “Hey, is that you, Pepe Le Pew? Pig-Pen?”

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Hey California Democrats in Sacramento! Do the Right Thing and Tax the Billionaires

June 15, 2020 by Jim Miller

California Dems Need to Avoid Catastrophic Cuts to Education and Vital Social Services

By Jim Miller

The COVID-19 crisis and subsequent economic collapse along with the national uprising against police brutality and systemic racism have cast a glaring light on the nature of American inequality on the healthcare, criminal justice, and economic fronts. It has never been clearer that as most Americans struggle, the elite thrive. As a recent Forbes piece put it back in April, “Billionaires are Getting Richer During the COVID-19 Pandemic While Most Americans Suffer”:

According to the Institute for Policy Studies, billionaire wealth has boomed, while over 26 million people have filed for unemployment since mid-March. The percentage of taxes paid by billionaires has fallen 79% since 1980.

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Why I Preach to the Choir

June 10, 2020 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

It’s been said
that I preach to the choir
and I pretty much do
day after day,
hour after hour
as the choir
is composed of
my allies,
those who hear
and understand my cries,
eager to eradicate
our country’s
original and everlasting sin:
racism.
Besides who else am I to
preach to other than them?
Yahoos in Klan robes?
Homophobes?
MAGA folks
who bow to a cretin

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A Voice from the Frontlines of the George Floyd Protests – Interview with Khalid (Paul) Alexander of Pillars of the Community

June 8, 2020 by Jim Miller

Alexander Is the Founder and President of Pillars of the Community

By Jim Miller

As the activism and protests in response to the murder of George Floyd intensified both nationally and locally last week, I thought I would check in with my City College colleague and community activist Khalid (Paul) Alexander, whose work with Pillars of the Community (insert link: https://www.potcsd.org) puts him in the heart of the struggle to break down institutional racism in the criminal justice system and elsewhere in San Diego on a daily basis. Here he speaks to the work of his organization and the deep inequities Pillars of the Community is struggling to address.

Question: Tell me about Pillars of the Community? What kind of organization is it? What inspired you to found it? What kind of work do you do in the community?

Answer: Pillars of the Community is an organization dedicated to advocating for people who are negatively targeted by law enforcement. We do this advocacy through community building and policy work.

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Some Thoughts on the Murder of George Floyd

June 1, 2020 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

Watching Minneapolis burn and the country explode in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by police in the midst of a global pandemic and subsequent economic depression that have both disproportionately harmed black and brown working-class folks was one of those moments that makes America’s brutality painfully clear — yet again.

In the same week that one of the Trump administration’s economic advisors caused a minor uproar by dehumanizingly referring to his fellow Americans as “human capital stock”, we see the President of the United States race past his nanosecond of concern for the Floyd killing to threaten protesters with “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” Welcome to the United States of Disposable People.

Back in 2014 in the wake of the Michael Brown murder, I observed in this space that the dehumanization that makes racist police murders possible is linked to the economic system that reduces people to objects in the marketplace, and I quoted one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s last speeches that questioned our society as “an edifice which produces beggars”:

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It Seems George Floyd May Not Have Died in Vain

June 1, 2020 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

It’s scary looking out on our streets right now as pent up rage is released, causing fires and looting and rubber bullets being shot and tear gas deployed.

But in the scene I see more and more white folks than I’ve ever seen fighting for what is right, joining the struggle for liberty and justice for all, and it’s a pretty sight to see: a sight I’ve dreamed of and lived for all my life.

Finally. After centuries of supremacists perpetrating horrible unforgiveable crimes against black humanity, with very little outrage expressed by their communities, they’ve now seen something that’s cut through their compliance with how the country has treated black people, and this has bothered them deeply.

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It’s Way Past Time to Honor the Golden Rule

May 28, 2020 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

I’ve been getting a few memes on my Facebook feed kind of around the theme that “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.”

Such a sentiment makes me shudder as people right now, who are way overburdened with a situation brought on by a deadly virus, are dying left and right all around us and all around the world.

I’m not religious but I was raised in a home with people who were religious to the bone, two of the truest Christians I’ve ever known: my mother, a soulful gospel piano playing woman who played for our church’s choir, and her father, my grandfather, a man who had sailed several seas and honored his Lord as easily as he breathed.

But their faith was reflected, less on cutesy Bible verses and the like, and more on just being respectful of their fellow human beings and giving way more than they received.

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Remember the Dead this Memorial Day – and Fight for the Living

May 25, 2020 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

This Memorial Day it’s time we properly mourn the dead. In the midst of a pandemic that the President has told us is a war against an “invisible enemy,” we are, as of this writing, closing in on 100,000 American dead. But as we mourn the scores of our fellow Americans, who the President has called “warriors” in this grand battle, we need to also remember that most of them didn’t have to die.

Rather than inevitable losses, the tens of thousands of our fellow citizens who have passed in only a few months are unnecessary casualties. As the New York Times reported last week:

If the United States had begun imposing social distancing measures one week earlier than it did in March, about 36,000 fewer people would have died in the coronavirus outbreak, according to new estimates from Columbia University disease modelers.

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Time to Make Our Nation True to its Colors

May 19, 2020 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

Oh, these hair-raising
misguided
shortsighted
folks
waving their
red, white, and blue flags
and wearing their red, white, and blue
caps and hats,
and red, white and blue
tennis shoes,
on the news,
unmasked and
confused and unglued,
packing heat,
singing the blues
because they can’t
do whatever
they want to do,

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The ‘Screen New Deal’? Disaster Capitalism Eyes the Education World in the Midst of the COVID-19 Crisis

May 18, 2020 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

Very hard times are here for our schools and colleges. As expected, the California budget is a train wreck and social services and education will be losing billions of dollars for the coming year at least. To make matters worse, the Republicans in Congress want to starve the states in the midst of the building COVID-19 depression, but that’s just fine with the lords of the tech world. They’ll be turning lemons into extremely profitable lemonade in short order if they have their way.

In fact, NYU Business Professor Scott Galloway predicts in a New York Magazine interview that “the coming disruption” in higher education will enable a handful of elite cyborg universities to monopolize education as the top tier universities prosper and grow by offering vastly expanded online options under their brand, while “second tier colleges” slowly perish.

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Oh, to be Out and About Again      

May 14, 2020 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

Oh, I want so
to be out and about again,
to just grab a hold
of my children and grandchildren
and great-grandchildren
and friends
and hug them
for eternity,
or at least
until my arms fall limp.

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Empowering America to Death

May 11, 2020 by Jim Miller

The American Legislative Exchange Council’s Agenda is on Full Display

It’s easy to stay outraged these days, whether it’s reading about the COVID-19-infected leader of the “ReOpen NC” protests whining about her “rights” being violated by quarantine, the “COVID Mary” of Louisville being arrested after going to the grocery store while knowingly infected, or the knucklehead owner of the Orange County bar who defied state pandemic restrictions, opened up, and told the TV news that everyone would be OK because, “on a sunny day like this, I don’t feel like anybody’s at risk.”

At present, it appears there is an endless well of dangerous idiocy.

And when you watch the Trump Administration ignoring their own guidelines as White House aides get sick and the national response slides into a chaotic patchwork quilt of ineffective policies, one might just conclude that we are dealing with a tragic case of national incompetence.

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‘Moments With My Mom’

May 6, 2020 by Ernie McCray

By Ernie McCray

My mother has been on my mind, ever so vividly, lately. I can see her in moments in our lives.

Moments where she’s waving goodbye to me as I take off for school or play, against a background of clothes to be washed and hung up to dry; dishes to be washed and dried; floors to be washed and dried.

Moments when she’d hug me, fighting back tears brought on by the sheer energy required to raise a son alone, a Howard University graduate of the Class of ’31, working her fingers to the bone as a janitress at the Mountain States Telephone Company, cutting hair and selling Avon products and doing tax returns and a ton of odd jobs on the side.

Moments when, because of her heavy load, she’d say to me, shaking her head and chuckling, “Sometimes you got to laugh to keep from crying” and the next thing I knew we’d be slapping our knees and rolling on the floor doubled up, grabbing our bellies – overcoming, momentarily, the “race cards” the country had dealt us openly and hatefully and not the least bit regretfully.

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Calling on My Fellow Citizens to Help Us All Keep Safe

May 5, 2020 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

If I have expertise
in anything
it’s kicking back,
chilling,
being at ease.
Why not,
since stress,
can buckle your knees.
But now
after maintaining
my cool
for 82
revolutions
around the sun,
I’ve become kind of an edgy
son-of-a-gun

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‘Stay Classy San Diego’ and Other Sordid Tales of the Pandemic

May 4, 2020 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

The lunacy just keeps coming with the President’s corporate-funded brown shirts staging armed astroturf protests in Michigan and unarmed displays of batshit crazy elsewhere across the country, angrily agitating for an end to state governments’ oppressive attempts to keep more people from dying. Doug Porter ably outlined some of the key aspects of these festivals of hysteria and hate last week in his blog , [Ed.: here on the OB Rag as well] but I think what we are seeing is a phenomenon that is both a transparent bit of obscene political theatre and a manifestation of a much deeper pathology.

Back in the beginning of 2018, I observed in this space that the previous year had been a time of “generalized rage,” as Noam Chomsky aptly puts it. For Chomsky, the collapse of belief in American institutions of all sorts has produced a nihilistic disillusionment that has led to a generalized rage that effectively erodes all the bonds of solidarity

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My Son’s Music Plays On in My Heart and Soul

April 28, 2020 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

I’ve been thinking of my son, Guy, my second child to depart this earth before me.

We had so many memories, running the gamut of father and son relationships but my thoughts have mostly been about some of our really special moments: going at each other on the basketball court, one of our favorite things to do; hiking along the Junipero Serra Trail on some incredibly beautiful days when the sky was clear and blue; a road trip to Sedona, the Grand Canyon, and Vegas on a Spring Break; lounging along the shore in Rosarito Beach for a week; him singing and playing guitar at my 50th birthday celebration…

And when I think of his fine musicianship I’ll always remember his graduation in 1977 from John Muir Alternative School, a K-12 school I helped create with some incredibly innovative educators who were absolutely great.

So much happened on the campus that year, students feeling their oats, enjoying freedoms not many students ever achieve,

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Republicans to America: Go Back to Work and Die

April 27, 2020 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

The battle is on in earnest. Last week, Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell said it out loud: drop dead blue states. More specifically, McConnell took a strong stand against providing any more financial relief to devastated states and local governments in the midst of a pandemic that has caused the biggest economic downturn since the Great Depression. Instead, the Senate leader suggested, states should just consider bankruptcy.

In a moment of remarkable candor, McConnell outlined his view on a rightwing radio show. As the New York Times reported :

“I think this whole business of additional assistance for state and local governments needs to be thoroughly evaluated,” Mr. McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, said in an interview with the conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt. “There’s not going to be any desire on the Republican side to bail out state pensions by borrowing money from future generations.”

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Still Dreaming After All These Years

April 24, 2020 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

I had a pretty nice birthday, the other day, my 82nd such day.

I got the day going up on my feet, getting down to a funky beat. I posted it on Facebook for my friends to see, hopefully, as a treat.

Later I celebrated on Zoom with family and friends, got some reading and love making in, greased on some shrimp and grits and lost my soul to a moist super delicious vanilla pound cake.

But, hey, it wasn’t all happy and gay because I clicked on my TV, feeling a need for a brief summary of what’s going on with the coronavirus, and the first images I happened to see was a bunch of European American “patriots” waving “Old Glory” like crazy.

I mean it was a sight to see: grossly misguided misfits open carrying automatic weapons, all pissed off that they’re being told what to do to lessen their chances of losing their lives to a deadly disease. “Don’t tell us to stay off the street! This is the Land of the Free!”

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San Diegans to Unite in Virtual Climate Uprising on 50th Anniversary of Earth Day – Wed., April 22

April 20, 2020 by Jim Miller

Wednesday, April 22nd from 12 noon to 7 pm

By Jim Miller

This week is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. The first Earth Day in 1970 was born after United States Senator Gaylord Nelson witnessed the horrible damage caused by a massive oil spill in Santa Barbara and was moved to try to harness the energy of the student movements of the sixties by creating what he called “a national teach-in” on the environment.

Consequently, on April 22nd of 1970, 20 million Americans took part in the first Earth Day with groups that had been separately fighting for clean air and water, wildlife protections, and a host of other environmental causes coming together to make a national statement.

In the wake of the first Earth Day, the United States saw the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air and Water Acts as well as the Endangered Species Act.

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Thanks, I Needed That (Remembering My First Born)

April 13, 2020 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

My acupuncturist, a lovely person and practitioner, just brought into the world a little girl. I emailed her:

“Oh, Julia,
what a beautiful
baby Olivia is.
Like her mom,
the woman
with needles
that heal,
the woman with
such a soft heart
(better to mother with),
the woman who plays Miles
for me
as I relax
head down
to the music
and the treatment
that soothes me
and eases
my mind.
Enjoy this bundle of joy.|

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Looking for Light at the End of the Tunnel

April 10, 2020 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

Wow, what a trip this coronavirus thing has been. I mean one moment you’re going about your day, maybe checking out a movie or two, dining with friends, getting a round of golf in…

Then the next day you’re living under a mandate where you’re to cover your mouth and stay in your house and if you do go out into the streets don’t come near to anybody.

It’s like you’re in a dark tunnel wondering if you’ll ever see the light of day again.

There’s something déjà vu about it for me as I’ve had feelings like I’m feeling now before. Nothing, of course, on the level of dealing with a pandemic disease, but an experience, never-the-less, of having my life changed, seemingly out of the blue. In a moment in time when my life was hunky-dory fine.

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The Radical Uncertainty of Now: Love in the Time of Pandemic

April 6, 2020 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

When everything is disrupted and normal routine falls apart, sometimes we are able to see things more clearly. In the midst of this pandemic, what I am reminded of is the fundamentally transitory nature of everything that is. Of course, at base, what a plague rudely brings to the forefront of one’s consciousness is that death is our final appointment. No matter what we do, however much money we make or recognition we receive, in the end, we are just dust.

Ancient wisdom traditions have known this for a long time. As one Buddhist formulation puts it:

I am subject to aging. There is no way to avoid aging.

I am subject to ill health. There is no way to avoid illness.

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Time for Us to Change

April 3, 2020 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

Out of fear
and despair
there are folks
on their knees
in prayer,
pleading for a return
to normalcy
when this nightmarish
coronavirus
health scare
allows us to breathe
more easily –

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On the Corner of Rhythm and Rhyme

March 31, 2020 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

To ease my mind in my isolation from humankind, I’ve been basking in memories of better times in my life and I don’t recall ever having more fun than I had at the San Diego Fringe Festival in 2014 – narrating “On the Corner of Rhythm and Rhyme” as a brilliant company of tap dancers, the California Rhythm Project, brought my words to life as they danced to my vocalizing and, in-between some lines, tapped to music, then back to my poetry, in an urban streetscape setting, kicking it off with:

There’s a corner
unlike any other corner
you could ever
conceive in your mind.
The Corner of Rhythm and Rhyme.
And it’s just that, rhythm and rhyme,
big time,
cuz, when your feet
step on the concrete
on the Corner of Rhythm and Rhyme,

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In the Midst of this Disastrous Failure of Public Policy – ‘There Should Be Shame’

March 30, 2020 by Jim Miller

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez is Right

By Jim Miller

Last week in the lead up to the passage of the massive stimulus bill by Congress, I argued that “Whichever package emerges today from the Congress will not be nearly enough to help the majority of Americans weather this crisis. Trump’s hesitance to use the tools of government to take more effective collective action is a predictable product of thirty years of rightwing ideological assault against not just ‘big government,’ but the government period.”

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