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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My new position with Railroad Workers United

Two days from now, I officially start my new position with Railroad Workers United.

I will be a contracted organizer …

 

but what they don’t know is that they have hired a KAWA.

 

From what I humbly understand, from my deep study of West African, Guinean village tradition, is that the Kawa is the person who is in contact with the ancestors. The Kawa knows the natural medicines of the area and where they are to be found and is sort of the maintainer of society.

 

Sort of like a peacekeeper.

 

When there are ceremonies and community events happening, the Kawa wanders the crowd making sure people are staying appropriate and respecting the tradition and others.

 

Kind of like the Sergeant of Arms in a union meeting.

 

The video below is one of my favorite all-time YouTube videos. It is a Kawa and his apprentice.

Fadouba Oulare the Djembe player, was a very respected musician. I never had the honor of meeting him, but one of my teachers, Bolokada Conde was very good friends with him.

I take the human side of organizing very seriously. Speaking as someone who has burned out as organizer before – One of the many problems that I see with the labor movement is that they put their apprentices into very powerful positions.

Sometimes organizations expect interns and paid organizers to do way too much internal organizational work. They put people into positions that they’re not ready to fill.

Sometimes that’s OK, however, only if there are patient and loving elders who have tons of experience. Elders who are employed to mentor and challenge strategy that is academic in nature. (that is not to say that all academic study is bad)

The native peoples for centuries solved many of the social problems that We, in the various movements that we are in, are suffering from today. Many native societies had already weeded out the organizational sicknesses that I see today that are originating from corporate thinking … i.e. metrics, performance evaluations, production goals and certain team building cultures.

Those sorts of corporate ideals are evasive and do not belong in structures that are designed to care take human conditions of exploitation, violence and intentional conditions of un-organization. Labor Unions and Community organizations are infested with academic corporate culture and language that is toxic.

In my humble opinion, that is why the AFL-CIO, the UAW and many other community organizations can’t seem to organize the south as well as they would like. They need more Kawas. The organizations need more elders who understand the community and know how to hold it.

The Kawa is sort of the police department. Sort of the internal auditor of the code of culture … the protector of the mission and vision. We need as a society, to re-evaluate and define social policing. Many native societies had already figured that out as well.

more on that later ….

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I refuse to be reactionary …

I refuse to be reactionary …

 

“Until the color of a man’s skin

has no more significance

than the color of his eyes.”

 

said the Ethiopian king –

who was scared to get

off his flying machine

when his followers

mobbed his reverence.

White men

Black men.

Color is not

the main issue.

War

profits of

religion of

money –

time to rethink

slave owners

wage slaves

labor policy …

The haves

and the have nots …

Time to remember

a man ain’t nothing

but a man and his Gods

seem to get him in trouble.

 

He puts his friends

in power – gives them

the benefit of circulation –

and in mint condition

preserved for generations

to question.

 

Once black was negro

once black was non-human

and red skins were less.

Property of men

and devils of the

earth to be beasts

of some man’s burden.

 

I am a ghost dancing

around the issue.

We are all slaves to

the mighty dollar.

 

Slaves to Capital

plans.

 

What are we gonna do

when the new monuments

get raised.

 

Fists and marches and love

and hate and Ad clicks

and hear ye’ here ye’

read all about it!

War in the east!

War in the west!

War up north!

War down south!

 

What color

are your eyes?

At The Labor Temple

23 June at 09:41 ·

Silver Spring, MD ·

 

… At the labor temple –

 

The mockingbirds are at war.

One dives from the 30-minute

parking sign, one perched on a

high security camera. They are

fighting over a small pin oak planted

by union hands and hearts.

 

Who represents the voices of the night?

The little voices who sing their hearts out

until they find a partner. Their class, the

songbirds – the whippoorwills, the loons

all the poets and song crafters who lift

inspiration from the air.

 

Lofty attempts to re-create what

nature provides, like that pin oak –

all mulched up and majestic.

Who represents the carpenter bees?

They are being trapped in mason jars,

to keep them from boring into the

fancy benches placed around the

workers memorial!

 

Who represents the crow?

Labeled ominous, being chased

by two smaller birds. They dart across

this neatly sodded land, held away from

a separate set of capital plans.

The solid black shadow of a trickster,

bell weather of doom …

Who placed that

on the crow?

 

Who represents the little birds?

Pecking and soaring the crows away?

 

At the labor temple, this morning –

around and around we go …


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