peace door

step inside

Pete Seeger’s Banjo

If there is one thing I am probably the most proud of when it comes to having raised three children, it is Pete Seeger’s banjo.

My sons are considered “millennials,” that recognition-seeking cohort born from apparently non-descript Gen X-ers like me. Like anything we experience today, understanding how we arrived is all the more important. And music is no exception. Like Seeger, my kids grew up with a musicologist of sorts – me. I was no Alan Lomax, but I treated my sons to the folk songs I learned in school, back when music was a part of the curriculum. Cassettes and CD’s of fun folk songs for kids blared through the minivan. “Ridin’ in My Car” by Woody Guthrie was a favorite; “John Henry” was another.

Together my sons and I explored Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Mississippi John Hurt and even Mavis Staples. I introduced them to African Spirituals, protest songs and songs born from the labor movement. With the help of a guitar instructor, who happened to be a world-class folk musician, my sons learned Seeger’s songs like “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” and “If I Had a Hammer” on guitar, banjo and mandolin. They not only knew the lyrics and chords, they understood the historical context in which the songs were written; that those words spoke for the (common) people.

Pete Seeger’s banjo famously has these words printed around its head. I love that my sons can quote it:

This Machine Surrounds Hate and Forces it to Surrender

My sons and I realize the power of music whether in the form of folk, punk, rock, or of other languages. It is has been woven into our spiritual, political and social identity – three areas of ourselves that have been mistakenly pulled apart over the last fifty years.

Folk music is the voice of the people and Pete Seeger embodied it. I hope my sons will always see music as the force it can be for activism and eventual change. And that they will heed Seeger’s instruction in Quite Early Morning:

And so keep on while we live
Until we have no, no more to give
And when these fingers can strum no longer
Hand the old banjo to young ones stronger
And when these fingers can strum no longer
Hand the old banjo to young ones stronger.

AMERICA GONE COUP-COUP

It’s Citizen’s United and “dark money” and public interests groups that are not interested in the public’s interest. It is fake filibustering and gerrymandering that creates an artificially empowered radical minority to win the day. It is off shore tax havens and off shore use of slave-like labor to produce inferior goods that constantly beg for replacement and upgrade. It is constant capitalization of all and anything once sacred like education, medicine, elder care and retirement. It is phony American dreams stashed in a casino that reduces middle class entry into a rigged roulette table. It is fake press and pundits who point out the shiny objects that distract from the real and unfortunate stories. It is the intentional, methodical revocation of freedom of speech and of assembly and of right of privacy. It is militarization of police. It is the shutdown of the federal government by a select few. It is disemployment of hundreds of thousands. It is economic strain, estrangement and collapse. It is disenfranchisement and disillusionment and medicinal prophylactics.

It is disintegration, mutilation, disunification, demoralization, neglect.

America gone coup-coup.

Ludington Ride

sludington
My dreams lay halted
At half night’s calling,
Breathless he rides
Over dark thicket hills.

Handed this passage
In worn reins turning,
Bloodless my hands
Charge soldier’s lives bared.

Dread makes it way
A sullied neck burning,
Furlongs I climb
Gasping each harrowed bend.

Plundering foreign road
Tender mind weary,
Laud now my voice
Warning souls before light.

Scattered in slumber
Fastened eyes quicken,
Do heed my sound
I speak above place.

Danbury smolders
By golden crown’s shillings,
Death musters dawn
Unfurling false might.

Mere cipher nameless
A father’s prize nary,
One barters my hand
Two revered lest I see.

© 2013 by Jennifer M. Ortiz

To learn more about Sybil Ludington’s ride, go to:

http://www.nwhm.org/education-resources/biography/biographies/sibyl-ludington/

MEANINGS IN PROPHETIC VOICES

Dr. Cornel West’s fiery truth saturated the contours of our doubtful and duplicitous culture. The words that surged and spun made us squirm and hope. We exchanged embraces. I spoke with him, intersecting at the art of muckraking.

“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.”

We danced humbly to the moving, pounding poetry of Patti Smith.  My son stood at my side as I bestowed upon him those sacred words whose meanings breathe new life. Art and song and sound form shadows and figures on bedroom walls and highway barricades. She swayed in ragged time and thought; we shouted and grieved.

“From the meek the graces shower, It’s decreed the people rule.”

My hands stretched to Springsteen over seas of burdened shoulders and begging souls.  His eyes told me that if I kept my arms out just a bit longer, he could touch my fingertips. He did. Verses of life caught up in universal threads of love and survival drown out the harsh vision of our near suffocation.

“Well the night’s busting open, these two lanes will take us anywhere”

Throngs of hearts, synced, change me.

ON THE EVE OF CELEBRATING INDEPENDENCE DAY: FREEDOM

“Freedom’s name is mighty sweet, and one day soon we are gonna meet. Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on…”

 – Keep Your Eyes on the Prize by Alice Wine

When I think of freedom, I am drawn into the words and music that speak truth to the American experience. They are written by humble hands. “Keep your eyes on the prize” is more than a lure to tangible reward. It is a phrase that reflects movement and motion within a perpetually evolving path to freedom; to democracy. Our “prize” has always been about self-realization within a social organism – family, community, nation, and world. It reaches beyond electoral democracy because that has been taken. It transcends the notion of the “American Dream” because this has deluded our human dignity.

“Freedom’s name is mighty sweet…” gives us pause, but also a gentle warning. The name of freedom can be draped in war, safety and individualism. Its name has been tarnished with cracks in liberty and frays in our social fabric.

One bright sunny morning, in the shadow of the steeple

By the relief office, I saw my people

As they stood hungry, I stood there wondering

If this land was made for you and me.

            –This Land is Your Land by Woody Guthrie

This verse is often forgotten when we use the song as an anthem of American greatness. Guthrie, however, wrote the lyrics in response to “God Bless America,” a song that was deemed a polemic on American exceptionalism. By contrast, his lyrics reflect the American ideal as tested by the reality of its inequality. “In the shadow of the steeple” goes to the stark hypocrisy of a nationalized identity. The lyric reveals the distorted tendencies when Christian works are proclaimed the foundation of our body politic. All the while, the “people” stand hungry just beyond its sacred texts in which Jesus implores humanity to “feed the hungry.” Guthrie castigates the idea of a country “blessed by God.” He questions the façade of America that is bedazzled with the illusion that we are self-made.

Kris Kristofferson wrote, “freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose..”  Perhaps this is our national “freedom.” We settle for freedom at its least. We scrape for hope in its absent shadow.

Yes, freedom’s name is mighty sweet when spoken by its captors.  But the songs of the people speak to its unchanging essence.

 

ON MARRIAGE EQUALITY: A MOTHER’S NATURE

As the Supreme Court recently took up California’s Prop 8 case, I couldn’t help but reflect on my own path to viewing marriage equality as a civil right.

I admit that for years I was indifferent. My church was famously opposed to it. But I felt I needed to have a deeper understanding of its implications before rendering a stance either way. The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) further confused my quest because it resulted from Congressional bipartisan support during the (seemingly Democratic) Clinton administration. I began to feel secure with a pro-civil union attitude that evenly negotiated two sides of the question.

But as Prop 8 was passed and then overturned, it was revealed that the Mormon church– and to a lesser extent, the Catholic church – played a significant role in funding the anti-equality effort. That was a significant turning point for me. I felt those institutions had no right to interfere in the political and personal will of the electorate. They could enforce their own doctrine in the confines of their religious education programs or pulpits. It was the covert manner in which they funneled money that subverted the communities of members/parishioners they represent.  After all, citizens were voting for a legal contract to be recognized between two loving and committed adults.

Then it came home. When I became aware that I was the parent of a gay son, the lens through which I saw the world changed. I knew socially he would face discrimination in some forms. But I did not believe he and his eventual partner should be deemed less than deserving of the nearly 2,000 legal rights and benefits afforded to heterosexual couples. In his eyes, I saw clearly the dignity entitled to all humans.

I believe that marriage equality, along with legally recognizing LGBTQ as a protected population, is a civil right. As a mother, I won’t accept anything less. As citizens of what is considered the freest country in the world, we shouldn’t settle for less.

PICKING UP AN OLD FRIEND.

Man, life got ahead of me. Or am I just too fixated on getting ahead?

But, I neglected her, my guitar – got too busy contemplating and arrogantly prognosticating. I should have been living alongside her timeless pulses. So with nimble fingers and quiet grace, I bring her back into the light. We tune and I offer a song.

I’m rock, blues, Carter and Cotton. And from that hollowed beauty of her fine woods, she dances within the restless night of my ceaseless soul. Curves and contours meld with mine. I am confined to our renewed solitude.

“Freight Train” to warm up. “Ventura” to savor.

My confidant, friend;  we vanish together.

WAR IS A THIEF

American foreign policy: “the creation and/or maintenance of a country’s power and influence through military force.”

On the tenth anniversary of the United States’ pre-emptive, unprovoked assault on Iraq, we have to face how these endless wars define our nation. We can choose to believe the official justification of “spreading democracy” (an oxymoron since true democracy is not inserted, but rather rises from the people – the demos) or we can face the difficult truth of what these “wars” truly reflect: imperialism.

Foreign policy, as stated above, is actually the definition of imperialism by the Dictionary of Human Geography. But imperialism doesn’t end there. We feel it economically as well. Monopolies, corporate strongholds on legislators and global conquests all mimic imperialism. The toll of imperialism and its “wars” – militarily or otherwise – subverts the common good. While the demos, deemed as political or economic collateral, are fed the entrails.

War is a thief of democracy. Elections are paraded as symbols of a system “brought to the people.” Absent, however, are the will and the voice of the masses imperiled by war’s destructive path. Invasion pursued by the state, corporation or global financial institutions are inherently antidemocratic. Just as global profits are gained by the exploitation of labor, so are the spoils of war. Imperialism imposes, destroys and takes. It is non-empathetic; it is psychopathic by nature.

World War II was the last defensive war America fought. Subsequent military action, as implemented by noble soldiers, has stolen lives, families and communities. War has ripped the fabric of true democracy – one that is engaged and enacted by the populous.

War is a thief.

ROSA PARKS AND THE PROXIMITY OF CHANGE

If there is to be peace in the world,
There must be peace in the nations.

If there is to be peace in the nations,
There must be peace in the cities.

If there is to be peace in the cities,
There must be peace between neighbors.

–Lao Tzu

Rosa Parks was born one hundred years ago. For many, she is the seamstress who refused to move to the back of a Montgomery, Alabama bus in order for a white passenger to sit. For those who experienced or have studied the Civil Right’s Movement, it is understood to have been more than a spontaneous act. It was planned by a woman who made a conscious decision to make a difference.

The platform for her action could have been on a larger scale – storming the state capital or finding another way to “capture the hearts and minds of America.” But, quietly, and without fanfare, she chose to stay within her town, her neighborhood. She chose a bus in her city.

And that’s where it starts. Changes to our cities, states, nation and world start in the places closest to us. They ripple into wider open spaces occupied by the marginalized and oppressed. Martin Luther King, whose leadership role was born from Parks’ rebellion, famously said, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” The illusionary global community creates a seeming infinity of problems. As an invention of commerce, it is at times overwhelming – especially to younger generations who are “connected” across oceans, time zones and cultures.

Recently, I attended a forum on the history of the women’s movement in Portland, Oregon. The panelists were four women who did not necessarily know one another, but were individually pivotal within a larger collective. A twenty-something male college student stood up to comment. His tone was somewhat frazzled and defeated. “How can we make any difference when we are up against so much and there are so many problems in the world?” he asked. “I don’t know where to start.”

As the panelists recalled having similar thoughts some forty years prior, I couldn’t help but think the swath of millennial’s whose paradigm consists of information overload and non-stop technology. Yes, things are different. We cannot evoke change and reform like the tactics of our parents and grandparents in the 60s and 70s. The media is different. Politics are more complex. Taking it to the streets makes a statement, but it does not necessarily provoke sustained movements like those in the past.

Then it hit me: the singular thread woven through such movements as Civil Rights, Women’s Suffrage, and the Abolitionist is locale. Every movement began in a single street or city. And then it spread. Those seeds of change, like in cycles of nature, were planted and then dispersed in order to begin again. To use Web jargon, it is iteration at its best.

Neighborhoods, cities, and yes, buses, might seem mundane against the backdrop of glorified global revolution as lit up by media graphics. But, from Rosa Parks to Elizabeth Cady Stanton to William Lloyd Garrison, change has always started with a single decision; an act of conscience. Those are the miniscule sparks that have begun every revolution.

Triple

Awake at 2:48 a.m.

Dog sleeps at my feet,
Twitching and trembling
House stirs in
Rhythm with the rise and
Fall of quiet breathing
Minds move in vivid thought
Fantastic interpretation
The world shifts and sighs
I lay here in darkness
Children are born
Elders pass
Mothers mourn
Leaders decide
Citizens cry
I join in its raveling
I am awake.

White Wall

Soft light sheath pours over
Insidious rises and recesses;
Swiftly, I am absorbed into its
Hypnotic crevices. The wall is an
Oxymoron: sturdy enough to
Hold up the others, yet frail
Against angry fists. It divides,
Creates rooms and passages.
It waits with me, understanding
Weary frustrations dipped
In time. The wall stands unchanged
Through movement it patiently
Remains despite revolving minutes
And colors. Speaking through echo,
Its chamber-like stance wisely
Reduces diatribe into
Mere murmur.

Anticipating Your Arrival

The train station sits at the end of town,
Past the rescue mission, just a block from
Renovated buildings housing high-end
Boutiques and cleverly packaged foods.
We walk into the hollow terminal.
Shiny floors reflect enormous doorway
Arches. We hug and wave goodbye as the
Porter awaits your bag.
Leaving for months at a time.
For now, you will be back in a matter of days.
On your back, you carry that banjo while those
Nearby look curiously at an instrument they’ve
Seen only old country legends play.
You pay no mind. Your independence
Has preceded you most of your life.
The big city neither intimidates nor
Overwhelms, as you choose not to judge.
You have devoured succulent
Words of master poets and aging
Musicians. You walk with their wisdom.
Juxtaposed colors and sounds of the city
Make for a stunning mosaic, built upon the
Whispers of time you so acutely tune.
The rails take you to a town,
Anticipating your arrival.

Copyright © Jennifer M Ortiz. All rights reserved worldwide.

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