Purdy Poetry

From an essay by Frank Davey:

[Sam] Solecki, however, disagreed with [Patrick] Lane that Purdy and his poetry are “most enduring,” or even “enduring.” He suggested that Purdy is already unjustly ignored by critics, and is losing his place in the teaching canon—along with Layton—to “new multicultural” poets who “write on the [currently] preferred topics (gender, homosexuality, language, postcolonialism, race, the native, etc.)” (xi). For Solecki, Purdy was, as he was for Bringhurst, Lee, Musgrave, and Lane, the major Canadian poet not only of the 1960s but also of the 1970s and 80s; however, his non-enduring choice of topics was limiting his relevance to more recent readers. The major problem with this argument is that Purdy indeed wrote about many of these topics— although not necessarily in the manner of Solecki’s “new multicultural” poets. He wrote about gender in the “Song of the Impermanent Husband” and “Home-made Beer”; he wrote about “the native” in “The Cariboo Horses” and “The Last of the Dorsets.” His fading from memory may have less to do with his topics than with his poetics and with the ideologies implicit in those poetics. For although Purdy’s poetics were a part of the 1960s, they were arguably a rear-guard element—both part of the 1940s poets’ revisiting of romanticism and part of the 1960s’ confused romantic mixing of the occult, individual liberty, heroic masculine resistance to authority, and pure presence with various quite different interests in collaboration, the discursive construction of experience, textuality (as, for example, in found and concrete poetries), otherness, and performance. [Page 49]

In The Montreal Forties: Modernist Poetry in Transition, Brian Trehearne has suggested that the dominant problem in poetics for Canadian poets of the 1940s was to find a way out of the modernism’s apparent proscription, through its doctrine of impersonality, of subjective ideological engagement. He argues that one of the more effective responses to this problem was Irving Layton’s strategy of transforming his subjectivity into a consistent persona which became part of the displayed materiality of the poem—”[t]he motions of the poet’s mind constitute the field of the poem” (224). The result is a “collapsing” of the poet’s “subject and object worlds” (225), a collapsing understandable as a kind of imagist presentation of a poet’s performance of subjectivity. “Such a fusion of subject and object worlds in the media of the poem and of the poet’s mind permits a spectacular freedom of imagistic movement and a fine interpenetration of conscious thought and delicate sense,” Trehearne writes (227). Layton’s strategy in effect merges Wordsworth’s autobiographical speaking subject of The Prelude with the modernist persona of Eliot’s Prufrock, constructing a poetic self that is at the same time both ‘objective’ in being on display as a dramatic image and ‘subjective’ in its active interpretation of the world.

This performed self is extremely similar to what Solecki finds in Purdy when, citing Richard Poirier, he describes Purdy’s first-person speaker as “‘a performing self’ discovering himself, as well as the limits of the self, in the complex, dramatic act of discovery that is the poem” (98). “[T]he representative Purdy lyric is held together primarily by its speaking subject—ostensibly the poet—and his narrative, which describes or enacts in an often characteristic voice an event encountered by the speaker” (97). However, while Solecki acknowledges thematic relationships between Layton and Purdy, he is willing to grant only minimal similarities in their poetics, attributing these mostly to their common interest in D.H. Lawrence and arguing that it is in Lawrence that Purdy discovered the possibility of a lyric persona.

For Purdy, Lawrence’s example, like Layton’s, sanctioned the use of a literary version of his own voice and allowed the shape of the sentence and stanza to be identical with the shape of the feeling-thought, whether in poems of reflection, description, dramatization, or statement. From the perspective of history, the ultimate debt may be to Coleridge’s conversation poems, but Purdy learned it from Lawrence.                                     (87)

Trehearne’s research and readings of Layton would suggest not only that Solecki is overemphasizing this debt to Lawrence but also that he may be [Page 50] exaggerating the originality of Purdy’s contribution to poetics in Canada— and thus locating the poetics of the performed lyric persona in the wrong decade.

The contrast that Solecki develops between Purdy and the “new multicultural” poets, and the claim he makes that Purdy is now being unjustly neglected, depends in part on the above exaggeration and on whether Purdy’s poetics were already somewhat anachronistic in the 1960s or whether they were mostly a new development. Were his “grand” poetry and self-identification with the Canadian nation characteristic of that decade or were they only a part of a decade that was already moving toward the poetries that Solecki sees now ascendant?

In the closing pages of his essay, Solecki argues that Purdy “stretched the boundaries of the Canadian lyric” in order to enable it to express “his particular Canadian way of being in the world” (217). He laments that Purdy’s “‘you’” with which he invokes a community and a nation, as well as the inclusive ‘we’ that performs the same function, have been replaced in the work of younger poets by pronouns referring almost always only to a lover, a family member, or a personal relationship. This reduction in scope and ambition is particularly noticeable in the poetry of women, where politics and history have become gender specific. . . .                                                           (216)

Women poets and their readers, with their reduced ambition, Solecki hints, subscribe to an understanding of poetics that is both outside of that of Purdy and narrower than it. He also laments that the emergence of Canadian multiculturalism have reduced “the grand nationalist ambitions of Roberts, Pratt, and Purdy” to a “particular historical phase” (4). “We [currently] have diminished expectations of our poets, just as they have diminished expectations about their possible role in society.” Solecki’s frequent use of words such as “reduction” and “diminished” indexes a recurrent masculinist fixation on size in his study, and inversely echoes the expansive phrases he deploys in praise of Purdy—”grand and ambitious” (178), “sheer variety” (97), “stretched the boundaries” (216) “nearly countless” (217)—which in turn evoke the expansive terms—”greatest,” “like a god,” “most enduring”—of the funerary words of Lee, Musgrave, and Lane.

The presumptuous “we,” moreover, for which Solecki praises Purdy, was under question, and a potential embarrassment for many poets, by the early 1960s. Earle Birney had already shifted from the “we” of his political poems of the 1940s to the contextualized “I” of “November Walk Near False Creek Mouth.” The Tish poets had struggled publicly with the [Page 51] “stance” of a poet—a poet’s relationship to other subjects—adopting the ecological “field” theory of subjectivity outlined by Olson and his goal of “getting rid of the lyrical interference of the individual as ego, of the ‘subject’ and his soul, that peculiar presumption . . .” (59). bpNichol by 1965 had turned away from lyric self-expression, perceiving it to be an impediment to poetry, and to concrete poetry and comic-strip poems founded partly on linguistic theory. With bill bissett and David UU he was routinely attempting to subvert the implicitly asserted authority of the capitalized proper name and the capitalized first-person-singular pronoun. Daphne Marlatt’s two 1960s books, Frames: of a Story and Leaf/leafs, attempted phenomenological discourses in which the perceiving consciousness appeared much less authoritative than its perceptions. Margaret Atwood in this period was containing the first person-pronoun within various persona and within a collage stanzaic structure that prevented sustained lyricism. The 1960s were also a time of intense attention to the long poem or book-length poem as an alternative to lyric. That is, Purdy’s “stretching” of the lyric occurred at a moment when many other poets were perceiving it as an impasse—as a set of conventions that had lost opacity and credulity and that depend on a sharing of ideology between writer and reader. Solecki’s ‘reduced’ first-person pronouns are hardly a recent product of writing by usurping women.

The masculinism implicit in the terms of Solecki’s praise of Purdy has a long history in Western poetry that it is unnecessary to outline here. The general assumptions of the lyric at the beginning of the 1960s were still those of the courtly love tradition—men wrote or recited, as in Bowering’s “Inside the Tulip” (The Man in the Yellow Boots, 1965:16), women read or listened. The lyric was at once an instrument of courtship—and it was men who did the courting—and one of reflection. Purdy’s “Song of the Impermanent Husband” is a poem which both parodies heroic masculinity and reifies it through its extravagant performance of that parody. With its speculative list of fantasy women to whom the poet might make exotic love, it both reduces women to stereotypes, and also functions performatively as a courtship dance—the male poet strutting his peacock measures. The relatively few women in Purdy’s reflective lyrics are often similarly dehumanized, such as the native women, “Beaver or Carrier women maybe / or Blackfoot squaws” he ‘celebrates’ in “The Cariboo Horses” for having had “whiskey-coloured eyes” and having been sexually ridden like “equine rebels”— [Page 52]

such women as once fell dead with their lovers
     with fire in their heads and slippery froth on thighs

Here the collocation of native women with animals, whiskey, and reckless passion is as extreme and lamentable as any in our literature. This is the title poem of the collection for which Purdy was given his first Governor-General’s Award. [emphasis mine]

However, in general, masculinism in Purdy is presented both by his lyric performing of the itinerant semi-Odyssean male self, usually in male contexts such as the drivers seat of a car or beer parlour (“My 1948 Pontiac,” “At the Quinte Hotel”) and by his poems’ focussing on male subjects. Most of the people of Purdy’s poetry are male—from Kudluk of “The Last of the Dorsets,” to the mill-building Owen Roblin, to the epiphany-experiencing farmer of “The Country North of Belleville.” Often the effect of such poems is to locate art production, whether of an ivory swan or of a poetic moment, inside the gender that is also producing the admirable verbal performance that the reader or listener is experiencing. Perhaps there is a connection here to the care, noted by Solecki, of contemporary women poets to portray “politics and history” as “gender specific.”


 See “Purdy, Solecki, and the Poetics of the 1960s” by Frank Davey

Bill Ayers

Part of William Ayers’ response to his villification by just about everybody:

McCain and Palin demanded to “know the full extent” of the Obama-Ayers “relationship” so that they can know if Obama, as Palin put it, “is telling the truth to the American people or not.”

This is just plain stupid.

Obama has continually been asked to defend something that ought to be at democracy’s heart: the importance of talking to as many people as possible in this complicated and wildly diverse society, of listening with the possibility of learning something new, and of speaking with the possibility of persuading or influencing others.

The McCain-Palin attacks not only involved guilt by association, they also assumed that one must apply a political litmus test to begin a conversation.

On Oct. 4, Palin described her supporters as those who “see America as the greatest force for good in this world” and as a “beacon of light and hope for others who seek freedom and democracy.” But Obama, she said, “Is not a man who sees America as you see it and how I see America.” In other words, there are “real” Americans — and then there are the rest of us.

In a robust and sophisticated democracy, political leaders—and all of us—ought to seek ways to talk with many people who hold dissenting, or even radical, ideas. Lacking that simple and yet essential capacity to question authority, we might still be burning witches and enslaving our fellow human beings today.

Maybe we could welcome our current situation—torn by another illegal war, as it was in the ’60s—as an opportunity to search for the new.

Perhaps we might think of ourselves not as passive consumers of politics but as fully mobilized political actors. Perhaps we might think of our various efforts now, as we did then, as more than a single campaign, but rather as our movement-in-the-making.

We might find hope in the growth of opposition to war and occupation worldwide. Or we might be inspired by the growing movements for reparations and prison abolition, or the rising immigrant rights movement and the stirrings of working people everywhere, or by gay and lesbian and transgender people courageously pressing for full recognition.

Yet hope—my hope, our hope—resides in a simple self-evident truth: the future is unknown, and it is also entirely unknowable.

History is always in the making. It’s up to us. It is up to me and to you. Nothing is predetermined. That makes our moment on this earth both hopeful and all the more urgent—we must find ways to become real actors, to become authentic subjects in our own history.

We may not be able to will a movement into being, but neither can we sit idly for a movement to spring full-grown, as from the head of Zeus.

We have to agitate for democracy and egalitarianism, press harder for human rights, learn to build a new society through our self-transformations and our limited everyday struggles.

At the turn of the last century, Eugene Debs, the great Socialist Party leader from Terre Haute, Ind., told a group of workers in Chicago, “If I could lead you into the Promised Land, I would not do it, because someone else would come along and lead you out.”

In this time of new beginnings and rising expectations, it is even more urgent that we figure out how to become the people we have been waiting to be.

I don’t know what Bill Ayers did or didn’t do forty years ago, but I’m hearing him now.  I am frankly sick of people judging “the ’60s” and “the boomer generation” and finding it and them entirely wanting.  There were contradictions in what people were doing and in the results; but a lot of people tried.  Sometimes, I wonder why people aren’t doing now what they did then.  I try not to come up with “answers” that would blame another whole generation.  It’s worth looking at some of that history with a clear and critical, but fair, eye.  Someone might learn something helpful.  The ’60s was by no means a dead loss.  If the election of Barack Obama is recognized, at least in part, as the result of the struggle for civil rights undertaken by white and African Americans of that time, perhaps there was also something of merit in the struggles for civil liberties, peace, justice and economic equality both within America and beyond it.  Not that those struggles can be separated.

Bill Ayers’ full statement is here

UPDATE:  One day I’ll change my smelly socks and sandals, dye my grey hair another colour, pick up my saggy ideals and uncool slogans and respond to this piece of sloppy, ahistorical misunderstanding.

The ’60s Were GOOD!

Gary Leupp at Counterpunch:

Three years after McCain was shot down over Hanoi while on that bombing mission, [Bill] Ayers by his own admission participated in a bombing of a New York City police station, and went on to bomb the Capitol and Pentagon in the next two years. Each action came in response to a specific escalation of the Vietnam War. There were no casualties, and Ayers was never convicted of a crime. He denies that the bombings were acts of terrorism and points out instead that the war in Vietnam was a war of terror. (During this time, by the way, the 11 to 13 year old Obama was living in Indonesia and Hawai’i.)

Bill Ayers like many of his generation was a follower of Martin Luther King before joining the SDS then some of its spin-offs which (like many in the New Left) parted company with the doctrinaire non-violence they perceived as ineffectual. But consider his background. While studying at the University of Michigan in 1965, he joined a picket line protesting an Ann Arbor pizzeria’s policy of refusing service to African-Americans. (18 years later, when I studied at UM, such racist exclusion was unimaginable. How the world had changed because of people like Ayers!) He participated in a draft board sit-in, punished by 10 days in jail. He worked in progressive childhood education. These are the kind of rebellious activities that enraged the white supremicists (then far more respectable and mainstream than now), the kneejerk anticommunists, the reactionaries terrified by rock ‘n roll and the youth counterculture. But what’s there to damn here, for those who aren’t misled by a washed-up generation of racist uptight bigots?

People over 50 remember that period very well, and many much younger people view it with envy and fascination. After all, today’s youth listen to the Beatles, Stones, Doors, Jefferson Airplane and Grateful Dead, considering them their own. (We in the ’60s rarely listened to the music of the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s.) College students flock to courses on the ’60s, viewing that decade as one of turmoil, excitement, and progressive change. The verdict’s in: the war was wrong, segregation and all racism was wrong, sexism and homophobia were wrong—and the limited social progress as we’ve seen since the ’60s is largely rooted in the tireless efforts of the activists of that decade.  The ’60s were good!

Read the whole thing here

h/t wood s lot


Gee, how did I miss Obama’s patriotism speech?  If I’d heard it, I know for sure that I would have stopped giving him credit for being an intelligent human being.  Here’s some of what he said, as noted by Larry E.:

Still, what is striking about today’s patriotism debate is the degree towhich it remains rooted in the culture wars of the 1960s – in arguments that go back forty years or more. In the early years of the civil rights movement and opposition to theVietnam War, defenders of the status quo often accused anybody who questioned thewisdom of government policies of being unpatriotic. Meanwhile, some of those in theso-called counter-culture of the Sixties reacted not merely by criticizing particular government policies, but by attacking the symbols, and in extreme cases, the very idea, of America itself – by burning flags; by blaming America for all that was wrong with the world; and perhaps most tragically, by failing to honor those veterans coming home from Vietnam, something that remains a national shame to this day.

Most Americans never bought into these simplistic world-views – these caricatures of left and right. Most Americans understood that dissent does not make one unpatriotic, and that there is nothing smart or sophisticated about a cynical disregard for America’s traditions and institutions. And yet the anger and turmoil of that period never entirely drained away. All too often our politics still seems trapped in these old, threadbare arguments – a fact most evident during our recent debates about the war in Iraq, when those who opposed administration policy were tagged by some as unpatriotic, and a general providing his best counsel on how to move forward in Iraq was accused of betrayal.   download here [pdf]

The betrayal is Obama’s.  “… a general providing his best counsel …”  Hah!  I see nothing unpatriotic about a critique of Gen Petraeus that notes that it appeared that he had been bought by Bush and Cheney.  I would agree with that analysis and I think it’s a betrayal.  If some Americans feel betrayed and are agitating for a military man who is able to sustain his own opinion without selling out to the political goals of the Commander in Chief, I’d say they are patriotic by comparison.  I kinda hate the whole “patriotism” game, but it is an American trope that appears to be unavoidable.  This is America, love it or shut the feck up ya bunch ‘a poopie traitors.

Holy hells bells am I ever sick of the ahistorical, ignorant asses who characterize the movements of the ’60s the way Obama does here.  He wouldn’t bloody well BE WHERE HE IS without the movements of the ’60s, which included the CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT led by Martin Luther King, the PEACE MOVEMENT, which made it impossible for the Viet Nam war to continue, the FEMINIST MOVEMENT, from which Obama’s accomplished wife, Michelle, has benefitted and from which his daughters will benefit I sincerely hope. Jeeeebus Michelle Obama was educated at an Ivy League School and worked for a corporate law firm – THAT didn’t happen in the early ’60s –  people may have loved Jackie Kennedy but she was no feminist – it actually wasn’t until HILLARY CLINTON that the stoopid role broke half-way open.

If not for the Black Panthers, the community work that Obama likes to play up (even though he only did it for three years) might not YET have been invented, to say nothing of school breakfast and lunch programmes, head start programmes, community health programmes, hostels and beds for the homeless and transient, food banks, rape crisis centres, shelters for abused women, Roe v. Wade  ETC AD INFINITUM.

And US veterans of the Viet Nam war, very many of whom were involved in the peace movement when they came home, often received the ONLY attention they EVER got from student activists who gave them the models for self-help groups and welcomed them into their midst.  Remember, PTSD wasn’t accepted then -those vets didn’t just get poor treatment, they got NO treatment.  Dick Nixon never threw a SINGLE VICTORY PARADE for Viet Nam vets.  I’m sure some of them were confused about the anti-war environment when they returned to the US – after all, who wants to risk your life or sustain permanent injury in a war that most of the citizens of your country think is useless in addition to immoral.  For many, I’m sure it was damaging and alienating.  Who advocated for the vets?

… the claim that antiwar activists “failed to honor the veterans” of Vietnam. That is bullshit. It was the antiwar movement (usually in cooperation with Vietnam vets), not the American Legion, not the VFW, not the bloodlust war hawks, who established the coffeehouses, the counseling centers, the job centers. It was the antiwar movement, not the American Legion, not the VFW, who condemned the VA for refusing to consider PTSD a real condition. Indeed, for several years the Legion and the VFW weren’t interested in reaching out to or even dealing with the “pot-smoking” Vietnam vets “who lost a war for the first time in US history.” Buying into the concocted rightwing meme that “the antiwar movement hated the troops” has had a real political cost over the years and it is a disgrace to see Obama embracing it.

The actions of some activists eventually ended the draft.  A couple of priests, a Catholic nun and five other activists sparked that movement when they were jailed for defacing draft cards with their OWN BLOOD.

Flag burning can also be understood as an act of patriotism:

Flag desecration is recognized as an “epiphenomenon” that accompanies wars and other events that promote dissent by some citizens and “compulsory patriotism” by the state.

[emphasis mine]

Sure there were fringe elements of the ’60s movements that fell into the very violence they demonstrated against.  And yes, there were some kids who fell into the “counterculture” for the fun and the drugs and little else.  But it is the height of anti-patriotism to fail to acknowledge the hundreds and hundreds of kids, black and white and Native American, who did more than write blogs about their beliefs.  There were the  freedom rides through the South:

… an interracial group would board buses destined for the South. The whites would sit in the back and the blacks in the front. At rest stops, the whites would go into blacks-only areas and vice versa. “This was not civil disobedience, really,” explained CORE director James Farmer, “because we [were] merely doing what the Supreme Court said we had a right to do.” But the Freedom Riders expected to meet resistance. “We felt we could count on the racists of the South to create a crisis so that the federal government would be compelled to enforce the law,” said Farmer. “When we began the ride I think all of us were prepared for as much violence as could be thrown at us. We were prepared for the possibility of death.” [28]


The Freedom Riders never made it to New Orleans. Many spent their summer in jail. Some were scarred for life from the beatings they received. But their efforts were not in vain. They forced the Kennedy administration to take a stand on civil rights, which was the intent of the Freedom Ride in the first place. In addition, the Interstate Commerce Commission, at the request of Robert Kennedy, outlawed segregation in interstate bus travel in a ruling, more specific than the original Supreme Court mandate, that took effect in September, 1961. The Freedom Riders may not have finished their trip, but they made an important and lasting contribution to the civil rights movement.

Kids were murdered at South Carolina State University after a demonstration demanding the integration of a bowling alley in Orangeburg.  Kids were murdered by the National Guard while demonstrating against the Viet Nam war at Kent State University in Ohio.  Native Americans died at the siege at Wounded Knee Pine Ridge Reservation:

There was a time in 1973 when the possibility of change presented itself. People seized that moment. And those moments can happen at any time. I hope I’m part of more moments like that.”

These were not patriots?

These committed individuals, these collective actions, have been criminally forgotten or stereotyped out of existence.  In those days, there was a politics of hope and change for which millions of people put their bodies and their lives right out there ON THE LINE.  We ought to be PROUD of that heritage.  Barack Obama does all those people a huge disservice in co-opting their words without one iota of their intelligence and commitment.

I no longer see the difference between John McCain and Barack Obama except that Obama has managed to pull the wool over the eyes of the millenial generation of so-called Progressives.  I think it will actually do more harm to America if it elects Barack Obama.  It will take that much longer for them to figure out that they’ve voted for a wolf in sheep’s clothing and that much longer for the people to take decisive action against the Emperor and for the American Empire to fall.  He’s actually a dangerous man.  At least with McCain, you know what you’re going to get.  BARACK OBAMA’S NOT WEARING ANY CLOTHES, guys.  He’s parading around like the next emperor apparent and he’s completely neckid.  He’s sounding an awful lot like Newt Gingrich:

“From 1965 to 1994, we did strange and weird things as a country. Now we’re done with that and we have to recover. The counterculture is a momentary aberration in American history that will be looked back upon as a quaint period of Bohemianism brought to the national elite”—the notorious “counterculture McGoverniks,” an elite who “taught self-indulgent, aristocratic values without realizing that if an entire society engaged in the indulgences of an elite few, you could tear the society to shreds.”

That is, I’m sorry, I can’t resist, an abominable lie.  If people believe it without questioning, perhaps the result will be deserved, though that sounds more vengeful than I’d like.

Here’s a critique of Obama’s patriotism rant that I can’t beat:  Lotus.  Glenn Greenwald’s also has a few comments, here

Before I leave off, I’ll share with you a description of the 1960s that I think actually makes some sense, just so ya know:

A generation that, as I wrote to a friend some years ago, lived with

the sense that you could make a difference, that your dreams could be lived out, that they really could come true. For all the sexism we came to acknowledge in the counterculture and the peace movement, people were trying to live more egalitarian lives. For all the undercurrents of racism we dug out of white activist’s relations with black groups, people were trying to work it out and live more justly. For all the awareness of our umbilical cord connections to the consumer society, people were trying to live more simply, with greater ecological awareness. There was a sense that you could make it better both in yourself and in others by both your social example and your political actions.

Promises and Pain

As we move on toward the general election in the US in November, I detect a slight change in the popular view of Barack Obama.  Obamamania could be a thing of the past?  I’m not sure.  But this observer, in an attempt to find the positive in Obama’s shift from a Clintonian position to something even closer to the centre, politically and economically, thinks there may be something to gain from liberal disappointment:

As this newsletter has argued for years, there’s great political potential in popular disillusionment with Democrats. The phenomenon was first diagnosed by Garry Wills in Nixon Agonistes. As Wills explained it, throughout the 1950s, left-liberals intellectuals thought that the national malaise was the fault of Eisenhower, and a Democrat would cure it. Well, they got JFK and everything still pretty much sucked, which is what gave rise to the rebellions of the 1960s (and all that excess that Obama wants to junk any remnant of). You could argue that the movements of the 1990s that culminated in Seattle were a minor rerun of this. The sense of malaise and alienation is probably stronger now than it was 50 years ago, and includes a lot more of the working class, whom Stanley Greenberg’s focus groups find to be really pissed off about the cost of living and the way the rich are lording it over the rest of us.

Never did the possibility of disappointment offer so much hope. That’s not what the candidate means by that word, but history can be a great ironist.

The last time I was truly excited by a politician was when Bob Rae of the New Democratic Party won the Ontario election of 1990.  Oops. 

And unfortunately, disillusionment with Rae politics didn’t lead to the revolution some of us were hoping for but rather, to Conservative Premier Mike Harris’ “common sense revolution“.  Harris cut taxes, cut education funding, cut health care funding and just generally decimated social services. 

Here’s what Mike had to say about workers about to lose jobs as a result of his government’s decision to shut down several Toronto hospitals (remember that, fellow Ontarians? bleck!):

“Just as Hula-Hoops went out and those workers had to have a factory and a company that would manufacture something else that’s in, it’s the same in government, and you know, governments have put off these decisions for so many years that restructuring sometimes is painful,” Mr. Harris told reporters yesterday on his way into a cabinet meeting.

Workers in hula hoop factories continued to feel the pain right through Harris’ victory in the next election and past that, of course.  I’d venture to say that Ontario workers, hospital patients, school kids, working poor or anyone else who required social services in order to keep them twirling their hoops still haven’t recovered from the revolution that followed Bob Rae’s move to the centre.

I wish I thought that the world could bear the cycle of hope and disillusionment that Obama’s candicacy promises.

And with respect to this, disappointment is hardly the word:

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama says he disagrees with a Supreme Court decision striking down the death penalty for child rapists, telling reporters Wednesday that states should be able to execute people for “heinous” crimes.

“I think that the rape of small child, 6 or 8 years old, is a heinous crime,” the Illinois senator said. “And if a state makes a decision that under narrow, limited, well-defined circumstances the death penalty is at least potentially applicable, that does not violate our Constitution.”

Since 65% of the inmates of US prisons are African American males, I think Obama is taking his plan to stay out of “racial politics” just too far.

Herstory II

From Women’s eNews:

During the 1960s many women in political movements grew tired of being relegated to making coffee instead of making policy. The male-dominated anti-war movement in particular obscured women’s work for peace and by the end of the decade, it would be clear that women needed a movement of their own.

In the summer of 1967, the fledgling National Organization for Women, launched by Betty Friedan and others, was gathering steam, while a lot of younger women headed for San Francisco or elsewhere bedecked in beads and humming Janis Joplin songs for “The Summer of Love.”

But as the number of U.S. troops in Vietnam rose to nearly 500,000 and the majority of Americans said they did not know why the troops were there, what came to be called “Vietnam Summer” absorbed the energies of still more women. All summer long, volunteers across the country knocked on doors and educated citizens about the human, moral and economic costs of the war and the legitimacy of dissent.

Who were those women? Since nobody signed attendance sheets, participants in Vietnam Summer show their faces serendipitously. A recent obituary of Dr. Barbara Haumpt Mohrov, a Massachusetts professor of German literature, reveals her among the hundreds of anonymous female participants: “Starting with the local activities of the national movement ‘Vietnam Summer’ (1967) she participated in many vigils, protests and other activities attempting to promote peaceful resolutions to U.S. military actions.”

Vietnam Summer took its name from the civil rights movement’s “Freedom Summer” of 1964, when thousands of people went south to register black voters. Many civil rights activists joined the war protests. Among them was Diane Nash, who had orchestrated freedom rides to Mississippi three years earlier and was a firm believer in non-violence.

Along with writer Barbara Deming, whose history of non-violent activism stretched back to protests against nuclear bombs, Nash joined a delegation of women traveling to Vietnam to meet with the Vietnamese Women’s Union. A delegation from the older Women’s Strike for Peace–Dagmar Wilson, Mary Clarke and Ruth Krause–did the same in 1967.

The women’s delegations returned to expose the government’s deception about the extent of bombing and its damage to Vietnam and its civilians. They also promulgated a new chant among younger activists in the streets: “The women of Vietnam are our sisters.” And, as delegate Vivian Rothstein said, “The trip thrust me into the role of public speaker for the peace community and changed my sense of my personal power forever.”

At the end of Vietnam Summer, the young activist movement gathered in Chicago, Ill., to shape its future course. Women there were ignored and ridiculed. Some, including Vivian Rothstein, left to form a group of their own that became the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union. A new political movement was being born.

Louise Bernikow


Ideas and Idealism

This endless personal context of thought is what I want to insist on – even for the heaviest thoughts of the weightiest thinkers on the thorniest topics. Each idea arises in a context, a moment in the chain of associations and digressions that comprise a conscious life. You can strip it from its context and lend it a certain autonomy, disconnected from life, but that won’t change its provenance, which affects its content and authority. Most intellectual history takes account of the autobiographical setting of thought, but as lip service, the way biographies often deal with childhood: a quick chapter left behind, rarely treated as the decisive period in every life ever lived, its effects reverberating till the end. (Rosebud, Rosebud – always Rosebud.) We remain the kids we were, and our ideas stay rooted in our autobiographies, far more than is usually assumed. Those bios are not mere backdrop for the thoughts. The thoughts don’t exist apart from the lives in which they are embedded. They are warp and woof.  [more]

The Autobiography of an Idea: Rethinking the Holocaust in light of 9/11,my mentor and my dad”  Rick Salutin, The Walrus Magazine

Wish I’d Said This

From an expanded version of a talk given to University Democrats at the University of Texas at Austin on April 16, 2008:

It may seem odd to talk of sorrows around race and gender in politics when we are a few months away from being able to vote for a white woman or a black man for president of the United States. When I was born in 1958, any suggestion that such an election was on the horizon would have been laughed off as crazy. In the first presidential campaign I paid attention to as an eighth-grader in 1972, Shirley Chisholm – who four years earlier had become the first black woman to win a seat in Congress – was to most Americans a curiosity not a serious contender. Today, things are different.

Today Hillary Clinton’s and Barack Obama’s battle for the Democratic Party nomination suggests progress. Though the pace of progress toward gender and racial justice may seem slow, we should take a moment to honor the people whose struggles for the liberation of women and non-white people have brought us to this historic moment. If not for the vision and courage of those in the feminist and civil-rights movements there would be no possibility of a contest between Clinton and Obama, and the debt we owe those activists is enormous.


What are the sorrows to which I’m referring? I don’t mean the disgust and distress that many of us feel when we read the blogs, listen to talk radio, or watch cable TV news – places where some of our fellow citizens and journalists wallow in the sexism and racism that still infects so much of this society. I don’t mean the ways in which, even in polite liberal circles, Hillary Clinton is scrutinized in ways no man would ever be. I don’t mean the ways in which, even in polite liberal circles, Barack Obama’s blackness is examined for either its inadequacies or excesses.The attacks on Clinton because she is a woman and Obama because he is black should make us angry and may leave us feeling dejected, but for me they are not the stuff of sorrow. We can organize against those expressions of sexism and racism; we can mobilize to counter those forces; we can respond to those people.

Remembering the radicals

My sorrow comes from the recognition that the radical analyses of the feminist and civil-rights movements – the core insights of those movements that made it possible when I was young to imagine real liberation – are no longer recognized as a part of the conversation in the dominant political culture of the United States. It’s not just that such analyses have not been universally adopted – it would be naïve to think that in a few decades too many dramatic changes could be put into place, after all – but that they have been pushed even further to the margins, almost completely out of public view.

For example, when I talk about these ideas with students at the University of Texas it is for some the first time they have heard such things. It’s not that they have rejected the analyses or condemned the movements, but they did not know such radical ideas exist or had ever existed. These students often do not know that these movements did not simply condemn the worst overt manifestations of sexism and racism, but went to the heart of the patriarchal and white-supremacist nature of U.S. society while at the same time focusing attention on the imperialist nature of our foreign policy and predatory nature of corporate capitalism. The most compelling arguments emerging from those movements didn’t suggest a kindler-and-gentler imperialist capitalist state, but an end to those unjust and unsustainable systems.

The irony is that Clinton and Obama, who today are viable candidates because of those movements, provide such clear evidence of the death of the best hopes of those movements. Those two candidates have turned away from these compelling ideas so completely that neither speaks of patriarchy and white supremacy. These are not candidates opposing imperialism and capitalism but candidates telling us why we should believe they can manage the system better.

Atlantic Free Press

 Robert Jensen  here