My Mother Was A Teacher! #120strong

My mother at a late age
decided to go back to college.
To become a teacher!
She was my Cub Scout den mother,
we saved stamps for Bangladesh.

And after we filled gallon ice cream buckets
with stamps, thousands of used stamps to
be matched face value, the Boy Scouts of
America put us on the front page of Boy’s Life!
They didn’t like our activism at first.

Bangladesh? Where is that? Many people
would ask, and us kids had just learned
ourselves, about poverty and working conditions.
We were doing something, just a little something
to help, my mother leading us by heart and action.

In college, she helped to fight Apartheid.
I learned to get up stand up, stand up for
your rights. I lived in fear my mom would be
arrested. I did my homework, with her new
college buddies at Denny’s – organizing.

After divestment, and graduation, she left
her activism to teach, “I took my activism to the
classroom” – she said many times. I remember
her first days, nervous and scared – the little
mixed girl from east Jefferson St. Mother of three.

Her first classroom was as small as a closet.
Her children labeled behavior problems.
She said frequently her kids were the poorest
of the poor white, and the poorest of the poor
black, Lake Dreamland and Cotterhomes.

Her children. She told stories of home visits
with kids who had dirt floors, and issues
because of where they were living.
She made a thousand excuses for them
because they were the ones left behind.

“Poverty knows no color”, I remember her saying.
I remember hours around the kitchen table
she worked at home grading papers.
Calls to parents, worrying about her kids.
Wondering if they would make it to school.

When the school system wanted to label me –
she let me quit school at the age of sixteen.
She knew i was special, her lessons deep
with moral, her life was lesson enough –
the youngest of many, an immigrants kid.

Raised in the Jim Crow south – her country
white Baptist mother and her accent –
her brown Lebanese father, afraid to teach his kids
their language because he didn’t want his
children to be made fun of. Singled out.

The underdog was who my teacher mother
fought for! Her kids, the ones who chemicals
had infected, music had exploited – parents
had abandoned, boys with no fathers, girls
with no roll models, families struggling to live.

If my mother could see what is going on now –
she would be another voice in the sea of red.
The teachers chanting “we’re not gonna take it!”
And it is a shame that these people who we all
have to thank, are having to take a day off.

Teaching is a calling, I saw it call my mother
to a life of struggle. Struggle like a mother
does when her children are sick. Or when her
classroom got too big for her to take care of
them individually. Or struggle with a Principal.

Who saw teaching like a business. Was more
worried about numbers than souls. Put their
politics before children. And it is sad that today
we are in this position. Our Teachers are begging
a government that has been raided by thieves –

for the right to do what they have been called
to do and for the pension and a retirement
that we all benefit from. This is a deep issue.
and if you think a bad teacher is hard to fire …
You really need to learn a serious life lesson.

Anyone can memorize talking points made
by the privitizers. The corporate lackies who
see children as products – say words like
productivity and profit. We as a people are
morally bankrupt, if we can’t stand up for teachers!

 

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To Jesus:

To Jesus:

Brother,

As a Teamster, it was hard for me not to think that the union I was in, somewhat mirrored your organization – your Apostles, your mission and vision, your message, followers and campaigns, all that seems akin to the work of a union. As a union democratic reformer, I witnessed corruption in our organization that resembled the same issues that you were upset with in your followers – our labor temple, the union, wrought with money changers and good people drugged by power, influence and titles.

Yet, it was reforming our union that was on our table. We knew the power of the union was when we stood, hand in hand. We knew the union was a tool that we were using to fight the same powers that you were fighting – governments, powerful people, greedy CEOs and it seemed to me that we clearly understood that we were organizing for the little people.

Today is the day your followers celebrate the day of your resurrection three days after your execution. I see today as the day you were put into action!

In my union we know:

Direct Action. Gets The Goods!
An Injury To One, Is An Injury To All!

And although, I am not what some would call a Christian, I feel a deep solidarity with your message.

Love thy neighbor,

give your money to the poor,

the sermon on the mount,

blessed are the poor.

All that stuff. I got it.

To your followers, you became a martyr!

Brother,

I must tell you that once I was a converted Muslim. in Islam, there is a tradition where you pray while on your daily journey to the Mosque. One day the Imam of the community, asked me what i pray for when I walked to the Islamic Center. I told him that I was praying that my brothers and sisters would understand your message. We called you Esa, and to Islamic people of faith, you are a very important Prophet.

An although I am not a Muslim now, I still feel a deep solidarity with Islam, especially the Sufis. They are somewhat the reformers of their faith and are sometimes still violently persecuted by the fundamentalists of their own religion. I think what i am trying to say to you Brother is:

Solidarity Forever!

We have a martyr in our union whose name was Joe Hill. He was shot by the copper bosses in the State of Utah. He was shot by firing line in a very public execution. And just like you, he looked his oppressors straight in the eye and kept his composure throughout the entire trial and execution. His last spoken words on this earth were:

Ready, Aim, Fire!

It has been over 100 years since Joe Hill was murdered for speaking out against greed. His songs liken your parables, were hard hitting and are still taught in institutions and sung by his followers. His ashes are in a shrine, in a labor temple also known as the I.W.W. General Headquarters in Chicago, USA.

As union people, we know that Joe Hill never died! His spirit lives on in the hearts of every union person who still, after all seems lost, can find the courage in their hearts to not mourn, but to organize! Even in the face of a jeer from a distraught fellow worker, being red baited, black listed, in the heaviness of a lost strike or after a long day working as a wage slave, we find faith in ourselves as union people in the One Big Union!

Brother Jesus,

today I pray that your followers will understand the message that you gave to them. I, as a universally faithful person, be it that i am very wary of the institutions created by people, know that your story has been well preserved and in that preservation
you also have never died.

Solidarity to you,

Fellow Worker,
John Paul

P.S.

Say hello to Sitting Bull for me.
amen, and women too.



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Railroaded – The Railroad Teach-in

This is a work in progress. Click the links as we go … 


1860 – L&N railroad chartered in 1860 by the Commonwealth of Kentucky

In 30 years grew from 300 miles of track to 6000 miles

1863 – Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers founded

1865 – Civil War ends April 9th 1865

Song – Railroading On the Great Divide

1868 – The Fort Laramie Treaty The treaty includes an article intended to “ensure the civilization” of the Lakota, financial incentives for them to farm land and become competitive.

1869 – Gold Spike Driven by Leland Stanford of the Central Pacific railroad. Spike is on display at Stanford University (Cantor Arts Museum)

1874 – Gold Discovered in Black Hills

1891 – Haymarket in Louisville established

STOP – Competition in Agriculture

1893 – American Railway Union – First and Largest Industrial Union formed.

1893 – Strike of the Great Northern Railway.

1894 – Pullman Strike

STOP – Industrial Unionism and Eugene V. Debs

1900 – Feb 3rd William Goebel Shot (only US governor ever assassinated)

1900 – Casey Jones incident in Mississippi

Song – Original Casey Jones song written by Mrs. Jones

1905 – IWW

1906 – Federal Employers Liability Act Enacted

STOP – Behavior Based Safety

1917 – WWI – Railroads Nationalized until 1920

1922 – The Great RR Shop Strike

STOP – Carl Braden’s father

1926 – Railway Labor Act

1941 – WW2

Song – The Fields Have Turned Brown

1956 – National Interstate and Defense Highways Act

1962 – Haymarket closes (I65 ramp construction)

1971 – L&N Railroad purchased by Seaboard Coastline

Song – The L&N Don’t Stop Here Anymore

1977 – Wendell Berry publishes Unsettling of America

1979 – L&N sells Union Station to TARC. TARC spends 2 million to renovate

1979 – NY Dock Railway v. I.C.C

1980 – Staggers Act – Railroad Deregulation enacted and sponsored by Democrat Harley Staggers

1985 – First Farm Aid Concert in Champaign Il.

STOP – Just Transition

Song – Leave the Lights On For Me

1986 – CSXT railroad

2010 – Berkshire Hathaway offers $26 Billion to purchase BNSF railroad (Largest Acquisition)

END OF THE LINE

Dear America,

America’s myths are
being exposed and run
through the ringer
of public discourse.
 
Dear America,
 
Keep trying to explain
your way out of this.
 
The more you talk,
the more you expose
your weakness.
 
You know you lied.
You snuck out of the house
got drunk and wrecked the car.
Date raped the country
and someone caught
you on video.
You know slavery was a
 
labor policy called
human trafficking.
 
A slave is a slave is a slave.
 
Like the workers who made your shirt.
Like the wage slave at a for
profit or non, who trades love for labor,
because they are part of the team.
Like the military protecting “Our”
 
oil interests in the region.
 
So, keep talking.
 
Your children are
getting the picture.
 
You can’t blame this
on commies and reds.
You cant blame this
on the media.
 
The issue is –
 
you lied about
what you did.
 
 
So, fess up.
America …
the more you try
to lie and make
excuses –
the more you
dig your own grave.
 
The founding fathers
were just men.
 
Like all other.
 
They were
just men, protecting
their own ass.
 
They wanted
power, land
and money.
 
They made selfies
called dollars.
 
They enslaved
women, children
nothing was
sacred unless
they owned it.
 
They prayed
to God that trust
wouldn’t find them
delusional.
 
Now, they
are being
crucified,
by their own
children.
Melted away
in a pot of
their own
creation.
John Paul

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The Table – A Reading at Surface Noise Records


The Table is a book about becoming a radical activist. It is also a book about what happens to a person, a folk musician, radical activist when they burn out. This book is about being the first musician to open the I.W.W endorsed musical tour, The Joe Hill Roadshow.

This book is about inspiration, meeting famous people, NYC, Christopher Street and … meeting with poet Wendell Berry several times at his farm in Kentucky. This book is about railroading, hobos and darkness. It is a wee bit about wildness and want.

This book is about me, growing up with a mother who was a radical activist. This book is also a little about being diagnosed with Bipolar disorder, living with the scare of a relapse. This book is absolutely, punk rock and slightly a bit Grateful Dead, minus dreadlocks and rainbow family oiled hippies, but … add bikers.

I wrote this book because when I was in marriage counseling, the counselor suggested that we needed to know our story. I also wrote this book because a woman, who is also a radical activist, suggested that I should keep writing it. She was reading a few chapters that I had shared on social media and thought that I was being courageous talking openly about mental health issues.

It’s intended audience would certainly be for young radicals. It would also appeal to older folks who remember some of the names that I mention in the book. I hope the audience would be somewhat GENx. I am from that branded generation and think we might be stuck in the middle of something. I would also like to think that my involvement as the National Organizer with Railroad Workers United, my two year stint with Teamsters for A Democratic Movement, my folk music audience and my membership in the I.W.W. might add to the list of rad progressives who would buy this book.

John Henry died for our sins!

I am thinking back to my last

days on the rail.

Back to a final run that ended

in Cave City, KY.

My conductor and I

waiting for a van ride home.

We dogged, didn’t make it.

 

Thinking back to the train derailment

in Colesburg, Kentucky.

Thinking back to the locker room

in Nashville.

Sitting at the picnic table, in the crew room –

listening to five trainmasters

make light of an unsafe situation

that could have killed

four of my union brothers

and possibly an entire town.

 

A 16,000 plus ton train.

Two locomotives on the head-end.

Two locomotives in the middle.

The train being in total, almost two miles long.

 

Two days before, a train just like this one

came off the rail putting 20 something

cars on the ground.

 

Half of it, still sitting up on Tunnel Hill.

Rumors, as of that morning were;

that the cleanup crew while

trying to move the rest of the derailed train,

what was left of it, almost derailed again.

 

I am thinking about the day

that broke the camel’s back.

My plan was to go to work and

just do what they tell me to do.

 

The trains that we were being expected

to run, were the talk of the town.

Something was always going wrong,

numbers were being crunched,

books being cooked, and we were all

being expected to just, “run the plan.”

 

I am thinking about

a conversation

with my bosses.

The tremendous pressure that was

causing them to try and gauge

what my modus operandi would

be for that day.

 

One on the bosses, matter of fact,

the Terminal Superintendent,

suggested that he had heard,

 

“that us Louisville boys

don’t really like this train.”

 

I snapped.

 

I asked the railroad officials

the names of the people who were

almost killed the day before.

 

They didn’t know their names.

 

I am thinking about what I said,

head hot,

sweating and

pissed off more than ever before.

 

I almost marked off sick. Language, native.

A language only railroaders know.

Marking off sick,

the ace up the sleeve

that gives us a way out.

An ace.

 

I told them very sternly

to get out of my fucking face.

I told them, I would show them how

to inspect four locomotives.

 

Twenty minutes for each machine.

They knew what I was saying. Implying.

They knew I was right to be throwing this fit.

Nobody thought these new trains were, a good idea.

 

That is why I never heard

the threat of insubordination.

And to be more explicit and

somewhat to conjure another voice

that was informing my resolve –

I told my train masters to …

 

Go take a flying fuck at a rolling donut,

go take a flying fuck at the moon.

Ting a ling, and so on.

 

They didn’t mention that they would

charge me with delay of trains.

The five bosses knew that what we were

being expected to do was insane.

Greedy.

 

They mentioned that this was not their idea

and were only taking orders.

They were half drunk on kool aid –

half on my side and wanting the strength

of my union educated foot to somehow

strike out at the ass of the message maker,

not their messenger positions.

 

I am thinking about how,

for almost two years before that day in the

locker room – about how a fragment of a speech –

from a presentation at Yale University

that Wendell Berry,

the poet, family man,

seeker gave,

and how it

resonated

in my soul.

 

I am thinking about how two lines

haunted my moral convictions.

 

I am thinking back,

in hopes my hindsight is 20/20.

I am thinking about being part

of an organization that beat down

the first widespread union supported

attempt to reduce trains crews

to just one person.

 

I am thinking about the

luddites who quickly new –

 

“the industrial economy from agriculture to war

is by far the most violent the world has ever known

and we are all complicit in its violence. The history

of industrialization has been violent

from the start”

 

I am thinking about the word,

informed and

 

how that word is used to suggest an authoritative

voice that speaks from experience.

And how that thought

takes me to this fragment.

 

I am thinking seriously about a moral.

 

A moral to a folk story and how that story,

and the fragments of a presentation from a poet,

informed my decision to walk away from a career.

A career that I was proud somewhat,

to be part of.

History.

 

John Henry died for our sins!

 

John Henry lives every day when a

human being is being asked

to conform to an unreasonable shift.

A shift to the inhumane practices

of an industrial economy.

He died with a last request.

He wanted a cool drink of water

before he died.

 

What informed my decision

to abandon my post of Locomotive Engineer

was a complicated list that stretches as long

as the trains that were being demanded of us

to operate.

 

And down a side track, I go, again.

I am also informed by another folk story

of what seems to be happening to me now

because of my decision.

 

Jumping Mouse, the fictional mouse in a well know

native peoples’ folk tale, is found to be suspicious after

his decision to leave his community.

 

After Jumping Mouse

was tricked to fall into the river –

he found himself not

trusted by his friends!

The searching –

that want to go away –

leave, find wisdom –

became a serious burden

and a long, difficult journey.

 

And what seems to me

to be a one-track pondering –

running through

most of my narrative of late is …

 

A question.

A burning question

that fuels this want

to present ideas,

what some

may call prose,

other may brand

a long read –

poetic justice.

 

Isn’t’ this enough?

The creative questions presented!

Isn’t the hook baited well enough to be

expecting further questions?

 

I have named dropped well known

contemporary thinkers, folk tales,

scary stories of possible destruction!

 

What gives?

 

I guess I am tied to John Henry

and his demise.

As many railroaders

who have not a clue

who their own

folk hero was,

there are as many

folklorists who didn’t

ever stop to think –

 

what was the moral to the story?

 

I have never heard a question

presented by any academic

accreditation that went to the

very end of the folk thesis.

 

Did John Henry ever

get his cool drink of water?

 

If I must suffer another narrative

of what is wrong with the railroad,

I also may just die before being allowed

time to vindicate the demise of my fellow

worker and brother,

John Henry.

 

I am thinking back to

the day, I walked away.

I am thinking back

to a lonely dark spring early

morning, watching leaves

blow down the street in

Cave City, Kentucky –

the day I sidetracked

my train and went home.

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I Stand For Freedom!

I stand for freedom

and the right to organize!

 

I stand for love

and strong communities.

 

I stand for immigrants and

the poor.

 

I stand for human rights

and all marginalized voices.

 

I stand up for rivers

and on top of mountains

that you think you own –

i’ll stand with anyone

when your banks are

stealing their homes.

 

I stand for children and

dreams & folk traditions

that are passed down &

work to preserve our

stories, until all your

myths are torn down.

 

I will stand if that flag

is draped over a coffin

 

only devils disrespect

the dead

 

So much blood

has been spilled

for profit – I won’t

stand for Red.

I won’t stand for White

when it time to have

an American dream.

I will stand for Blue

when it’s in a song

about suffering and

when walking in someone

else’s shoes.

 

I will stand for fifty billion

stars and that stripe

called the milky way

as I look toward the heavens

& kneel down to to pray.

 

I won’t stand when you

trade blood for oil – &

trap people in cages to

work for you.

 

I will stand with any veteran

of any of your stupid wars

like i’ll stand with all workers

& the disabled when they

are knocking on

freedom’s door.

 

I will stand with the

gay community and all

of their alphabet soup –

my momma didn’t raise

no dummy – to trade

his soul for a

two piece suit.

 

I stand in my grandfather’s shoes

with his red, white and green

cedar tree flag, his brown skin &

Arab blood, he came here

looking up to you!

 

I stand with my German heritage

although my neighborhood has

been sold to the highest bidder!

Who find favor with our mayor

& their LLC’s and doctrines

of prosperity.

 

I’ll stand behind

any Native peoples!

 

– some of them fought

for you –

 

although you pitted them

against each other like you

so often do!

 

I’ll stand anywhere I please

and sit down like Rosa Parks

if need be! This land was

never your land! Do you

remember Wounded Knee?

 

So, America,

get off your high horse

and practice what you

preach – you once

put that flag on the moon

with your ego and

gritted teeth.

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