What to Chant at the Demonstration

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The women and occasional men who are going to the march in Washington on Saturday will be a diverse group. In the old days when you went to a march everyone was agreed about why they were marching. Chanting was easy. Hey hey, ho ho, (whatever you hate) has got to go. This Saturday we will be marching for many different reasons, because everything is a mess and we hate it all. That makes it hard to pick a good chant.

Pete Seeger, rest his soul, will not be there to lead us in song. Will there be drummers? I hope so. Marching goes better with rhythm. Will there be stilt walkers dressed up as Abraham Lincoln, young women dressed as the Statue of Liberty? That would be nice, too. But mostly there will be two or three hundred thousand women, marching for a mile and a half because they’re fed up.

The organizers of the event have warned us that people from the alt-right plan to infiltrate the march and try to provoke us into doing stupid stuff, breaking windows, maybe, or sticking our tongues out at cops. Some say, be careful what you chant. Bad guys will try to get us to chant offensive or illegal things and then put pictures of it up on YouTube to show how degenerate the Left is. I can’t think who they mean to show this to. Those who think the Left is degenerate are going to think that anyway, and the rest of us know better. Hey hey, ho ho, Breitbart News has got to go.

We could all sing the Star-Spangled Banner, but the tune is hard to sing, requiring enormous vocal range, and as a march tune it isn’t stirring. When some of us hear it we think of Francis Scott Key in the middle of the Patapsco River watching Fort McHenry under rocket attack, and we want to weep. Others think of sporting events. It doesn’t inspire us to march, not without a marching band. The Marseillaise works better as an inspirational marching song, good rhythm, plenty of blood and guts, but we aren’t French, so that’s no good.

Some say we should remain silent, like the protesting Turks. It’s hard to keep your energy up for a mile and a half in silence. I don’t see that happening.

The most satisfying noise I personally have ever made at a march, and I think they’re still doing it, was just to holler. Someone would  start by calling “aaah” at top volume and others would answer in thirds or fifths, until a great roaring harmonic tone echoed from the office buildings, shaking us from our toes to the roots of our hair, louder and louder until windows flew open all up and down the street and office workers leaned out to join the call. We are here. We are of one mind, if only until the song ends.

Going Back to Washington, Fifty Years Later

Washington.

I used to live there, or near there, in the years before the Metro was built. In my mind it was my town, although I had no feel for politics, or indeed any sense at all, being young. But one could get on a bus in those days and roam all over the city, taking in the passing scenery, observing the people on the street. The view was exciting. You can’t see anything worth looking at out of the window of a subway train.

keybridge1The family home at that time was in Arlington, a house my parents rented from some army colonel who had been posted to Panama for a year. (Every year we rented a different colonel’s house.) I would get on the bus and ride to work in the city, passing the most amazing and seductive things. A used car lot full of strange European cars: a pale gray Opel, a huge black Mercedes sedan whose thick passenger-side windows were pocked with bullet holes, a tiny blue-green Morris Minor that I coveted. If I ever got hold of some money and learned to drive, that Morris would be mine. Or the Mercedes. You had to admit it had cachet.

Just over the Key Bridge was a grain factory belonging to the Washington Milling Company. They had posted a sign just outside the factory: “The objectionable odors you may notice in this area do not originate in our plant.” Where, then, did the smell come from? I never knew. In fact I don’t remember it smelling all that bad, but I can’t forget the sign.

One morning I saw, standing on a corner, a tall man in a floor-length black cape, a broad-brimmed black hat, and a long red scarf. I was thrilled and intrigued. You must remember that this was the early sixties. People didn’t dress funny. Come to find out he was only the doorman at a night club, not the actual Shadow. What the nightclub was doing open at eight-thirty in the morning is another of the secret mysteries of D.C.

My job in those days was as a library clerk at the Washington Post. Politics were talked in the library by people much more knowledgeable than me. A friend made me read the Post’s  copy of the Autobiography of Lincoln Steffens, in the hope that it would raise my consciousness. It sort of did. After a year at the Post I was fired for conspicuous lethargy.

Time went on and I married a newspaper man, my college sweetheart, to our subsequent chagrin and distress. When we left Washington we were still in love, I think. John Kennedy was president. The highest ambition of a number of people I knew was to be invited to dinner at the White House. I still didn’t understand politics.

The nature of politics is slowly becoming clear to me. The only reason I seem to have anymore for going back to Washington is to scream at the government, which one is better off doing in a large group of like-minded people. If you do it by yourself you attract unwelcome attention.

It’s not the same city. It’s full of cops and bollards now because of terrorism. Everyone rides the Metro. If you want to dine at Trump’s White House, I don’t want to know you.

We will go to D. C. next Saturday and scream at the government, if only to vent our frustration. I will breathe the air of a place where I was once young and silly. Maybe I’ll cry a little.

Meanwhile I’m going back and reading the Autobiography of Lincoln Steffens again.

What to Wear to the Demonstration: Revolutionary Headgear

The day after the inauguration, American women are going to Washington to make their voices heard. Exactly what we’re going to try to communicate I’m not sure, except to say that we are watching and listening, and we aren’t about to put up with nazis, fascists, racists, thieves, Russian agents, and enemies of women running around the White House for the next four years. Any time the new authorities get out of line they can expect us to hit the streets. We’re here, we’re sore, and we’re not going away.

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Being women, however, we are aware that what we wear to this shindig matters. A movement is afoot to knit pink hats with cat ears, on the theory that a sea of women wearing pink hats with cat ears will demonstrate seriousness of purpose, the solidarity of sisterhood. There are knitting patterns for these hats—pussy hats, they call them—online. Not to be outdone by the other sisters I knitted myself one.

Plenty of precedents exist for revolutionary hats. Who can forget the broad black brimmer of the IRA? Or the black beret of the Irish provos. To say nothing of Che Guevara. We think of the French resistance fighters as wearing black berets. The Black Panthers wore them. They were dignified and a little scary. If a million women showed up on the Mall wearing black berets all Washington would tremble before us.

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A prime example of the revolutionary hat was  the liberty cap, adorned with a tricolor cockade, worn during the French revolution. In such a hat you were one of the people, a citizen, and if you were lucky it helped you keep your head on your shoulders. What do you think Madame Defarge was knitting as she sat in front of the guillotine? (Hint: it was not a pussy hat.)

libertycap

If the D. C. cops show up in riot gear, unlikely in the face of a parade of grannies like me, but not unheard of, you may want to be wearing a bicycle helmet, according to an interesting site I came across from some anarchists across the pond. The anarchists are in favor of hats with brims or peaks that can be pulled down over one’s eyes when the government comes to take pictures, to foil their face-recognition software and keep you off their enemies list. Similarly, a scarf may be wrapped around the lower face. Scarves are also good for tear gas. I had my picture taken by government agents at a peace march during the Bush administration. It made me mad, if you want to know. Now I’m sufficiently radicalized to enjoy marching down the streets of Washington and screaming at the government. Bastards.

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But not in a pussy hat. I finished the pink hat today and tried it on. It was not threatening. It was ridiculous looking. The ears aren’t even cat ears. They are the ears of a pig. It is, in fact, a piggy hat.

 

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So I’m going to wear a black beret. See you in Washington. Right on, and all that stuff.

What’s Worth Writing About

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Anything?

Followers of this blog may have noticed that I haven’t posted to it in some weeks. I wasn’t sick, particularly, although I had one of those colds where you have to cough all the time in order to keep breathing. I wasn’t depressed, although my beloved mother-in-law just died and I heard from a respected agent that she thought my latest offering had no discernible plot. I wasn’t too busy to write, although it seemed as if I were doing things all the time, I forget what. I had people over for Thanksgiving. That was fun, but nothing to write about.

I just didn’t feel like putting finger to keyboard.

I still don’t. I know, these are the times that try men’s souls, I should write a protest column. But I wouldn’t know what to say. Others have said it better than I can. The enormity of these outrages has passed beyond my powers of expression, even counting the bad words. I’m going to Washington next month with the other enraged women and I don’t even know what slogan to put on my button. I can’t believe we still have to protest this shit. (Maybe that’s my slogan.)

Personally, our lives are good. We’re having house guests for Christmas. That will be fun, but not something I particularly want to write about. The neighbors seem happy. Nothing to complain about there. If there were, I wouldn’t write about it anyway, because I won’t violate people’s privacy and I detest drama.

Maybe that’s what’s wrong with my book, lack of drama. I have put it aside for awhile to be looked at later. Meanwhile I found another one on an old thumb drive, something, I think, that failed to interest my last agent. Called Broken Sister, it’s all about a mysterious adoptee returning to the town of her birth. The first few chapters struck me as being really good, right up to the part where I revealed the murder. Maybe it doesn’t need a murder. Not every story is a murder mystery. Maybe I’ll cut it down to the place where I still liked it and take it in a completely different direction. After Christmas, when I get time.

Speaking Truth to Unpleasantness

I’m reading another how-to book to energize my writing career. YOUR BOOK, YOUR BRAND by publicist Dana Kaye advises us to brand ourselves, first of all by analyzing our work and figuring out who we are as writers, then to identify our target audience, and then to polish up our brand and put it out there on social media and in other public places where our particular audience can find it and be impressed.

This is great advice. For me, it’s easier said than done.  My work is all over the map in terms of theme, historical period, characters. What all of it is is quirky with a buried edge of cynicism. And funny. So I guess that’s me as a writer. I try to look at things clearly and describe them accurately, so that even my cozies aren’t as cozy as they might be, and this is offensive to some.

Only my intimates know the worst about me, how I curse like a sailor’s parrot, how I can carry a grudge for sixty years. (Don’t get me started about my orthodontist, may he rot.) I’ve always known that my public utterances might gain or lose readers for me, and as a result I’ve tried to be careful. Maybe this is a mistake. I’m a deeply political person. Maybe I should acknowledge that.

When I was twenty-two I was a union organizer. I worked as a clerk-bookkeeper for AT&T, when it was the only telephone company. Being something of an idealist, I took on the position of shop steward in an office full of meek clerks, thinking I could work to uphold the rights and dignity of the working man (or, more accurately, the working woman). Not many of the ladies in the office were union members. My first task, as I saw it, was to recruit them.

My apartment was half a block from the office in Washington, DC, so I invited all the clerks over for lunch one day and hustled them to join the CWA. Only a few signed on, one being the boss’s secretary, an absolutely sweet woman whose name, alas, I have forgotten. She came to me the next day, full of apology, and asked for her membership papers back. The boss had talked her out of joining the union.

Actions have consequences, you see, and not always the consequences you were hoping for. Just before George W. Bush took us to war in Iraq I went down to Washington for a couple of peace marches. I tell you what, when you are upset with the government there is nothing more satisfying than to stand in the middle of Sixteenth Street and scream your lungs out. But the consequence of those marches was not peace. Instead we went to war, but not before ten women were arrested, grandmothers some of them, famous writers. I saw them led away in handcuffs while a squad of beefy motorcycle policemen came roaring up to menace the rest of us.

On November 21 a number of us are going to Washington again, this time to protest the policies of Donald J. Trump. I expect to stand in the street and scream. I also expect the people who love Trump, love him because his victory encourages them to abuse women, persons of color, foreigners, the disabled, and educated folks generally, to show up and be unpleasant to us. The police will be working for Trump. Can I say shitstorm on public media? Will that ruin my brand?

We’re going anyway, called to speak truth to power. You can come too. But be aware that it might not be a nice outing.

Working the Polls

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I have been seeing troubling rumors on social media, from both the far left and the far right, of how they expect the coming presidential election to be stolen. They don’t say how. It’s mysterious. Maybe it will be done with computers, by the people who count the votes. Maybe bad people will come to the polls and impersonate people who are dead.

I’ve been a poll worker for more years now than I can remember. We have seen a lot of amazing things, but we have never seen an election get stolen out from under our noses. Our voting machines here in Hunterdon County are antiquated, which means that no one can hack them. (Having spent thirty years in the computer industry, I believe I’m qualified to say that.) At the end of the voting day the machine prints out a tape of who got the votes. It’s posted on the firehouse door or wherever, and a copy goes to the County, to be added to the others and fed into the great stream of national election results.

People don’t show up and vote pretending to be other people, dead or alive. There is no need for voter ID. In New Jersey, those of us who work the polls are forbidden to demand ID from the voters. We know our voters  here in Lambertville, because it’s a small town. Every voter puts a signature next to the signature in the book. Okay, that’s you, here’s your ticket.

If there are too many voters in your district—one hears of such things happening in, say, Pennsylvania—if there is a line outdoors and around the block, such a crush of confusion inside that poll workers can lose track of who is actually voting, if the people outside are giving up and going home, then the answer is smaller districts and more polling places. The process is being mismanaged by your election commission. It’s not a fraud problem.

Gerrymandering is as close as anything comes these days to a stolen election, but that is already in place. If it comes as a surprise to you, you aren’t paying attention. They told you about it in high school civics. It’s a very old practice.

A hundred years ago the money that the parties poured into the electoral process went straight into the hands of the voters (who were all men, by the way), in the form of bribes-for-votes, $2.50 a vote, $4.00, $5.00, or straight down their throats in the form of free drinks. No expense was wasted on advertising to win hearts and minds, just pure graft. They didn’t tell you that in high school civics, though you may have wondered why it was illegal to serve liquor on election day in certain states. Now, instead of the voters being paid directly, the middle men in TV and the internet are getting rich by airing political commercials. I guess that’s progress. But you can’t exactly call it stealing the election.

No election will be stolen on our watch, not in Lambertville. We poll workers take our responsibilities very seriously. To a certain degree the firehouse is sacred space on election day, where voting is a holy ritual of democratic life. It’s true that there are voters who show up without proper preparation, like church parishioners who come to Mass only on Christmas and Easter. Maybe they’ll come to the primary election and try to vote as an independent. You can’t do that in New Jersey. You have to vote as a Democrat or a Republican in the primary. Or maybe they’ll fail to read their sample ballot and get into the booth with no understanding of the questions, whatever they might be. Then they hold everybody up for ten minutes while they figure it all out. Questions, as framed by our legislators, can be quite difficult to understand. Still we are happy to see anyone who comes in the door, prepared or not. They are our voters. We are here for them.

So don’t disturb yourselves over the specter of stolen elections. The republic has weathered all sorts of chicanery over the years and has managed to right itself time after time. The will of the people is heard, and the non-winners contain their disappointment until the next election, when they can have another go. In a democracy there is always tomorrow.

Attracting Eyeballs

What do you look at when you look at the internet?

which_dog_breed_do_you_look_like_featured_largeI asked myself this question the other day after blowing an hour or so on Facebook when I was supposed to be working. Why was I looking at all that? Mindlessly. Why did I take those stupid quizzes? We all know they’re worthless. If I don’t know by now, at my age,  whether I have an adequate grasp of English grammar or what country I should be living in, I’m afraid it’s way too late.

And yet we are drawn to this stuff, this clickbait. If only we knew why, we could use the knowledge to write irresistible blog posts.

WarningSignsofSociopathThe Knowing Ones give me tips from time to time on how to get people to read my blog posts. You know who they are. They write articles for the internet on how to improve yourself and your work, articles which you are irresistibly compelled to view. Mentioning a number in the title is effective, they say. Seventeen Terms Only Jersey Girls Understand. Ten Celebrities Who Have Big Bottoms. Anybody would click on that. I think about trying that ploy—Eight Ways to Cheat Death, Five Unpleasant People I Have Known. I dunno, it seems to me that anybody I would want to write for would be too smart to fall for it.

kittenI don’t really know for sure how to attract eyeballs. My own eyeballs go to ladies’ fashions from the olden days, notes about the state of health of my various Facebook friends, may they all be well, pictures of cityscapes from times gone by, and other folks’ political posts, sometimes. And cats. Cute cats. And babies. Cute cats with babies.

Also videos of Donald J. Trump. I hate myself for watching them but I can’t look away. With a sick fascination I watch him aggrandize himself, bluster, repeat himself while saying nothing, and when challenged on his policy positions, change the subject with practiced incoherence. What a showman. Watching him is like picking a scab.

TrumpBut one has to be so careful. Out there in Internet Land relentless bots collect information about everything we do on our computers. I go to Nordstrom.com and look at an interesting dress or pair of shoes and the next time I’m on Facebook there it is again, the same item, offered to me in an ad. Little does Zuckerberg know or care that I can’t afford the shoes, and the dress isn’t available above a size two. Maybe it’s cookies. It feels like some kind of conspiracy. Five Ways Your Computer Works to Destroy You.

I just had a horrible thought. The Internet knows that I watch Trump videos. What if they think I’m a fan and give my email and home address to the Trump campaign? What if they come after me for money and support?

Here I go to erase all my cookies. Or toss them.