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!

 

Advertisements

Schoolidarity Forever #120strong #kyunion


Schoolidarity Forever

When the union’s inspiration through the worker’s blood shall run.

There can be no power greater anywhere beneath the sun.

For what force on earth is weaker than the feeble strength of one?

For the union makes us strong!

We are public educators and we’re here to take a stand!

This is not the lesson we asked for, this is a fight the politicians planned!

And we’ll stand up for our pensions and we’ll do it hand in hand!

For the union makes us strong!

Every school the board’s sabotage is ours and ours alone!

Every student, parent, worker every brick and every stone!

They are ours, not to languish in, but to thrive in and to own.

For the union makes us strong!

The politicians stole our pensions, and now they want our schools!

They tell us, “it’s just how things are,” and they play us for fools.

But we know that they rigged the game and we won’t obey their rules!

The union makes us strong!

They say “there’s no alternative,” they say it but they’re wrong!

There stealing from our children and they’ve done it for too long!

So join us in our picket lines and join us in our song,

For union makes us strong!

They have taken untold billions, that never toiled to earn!

But without our brains and muscles not a single kid can learn!

We can break their haughty power, gain our freedom when we learn!

That the union makes us strong!

In our homes and in our classrooms, in the banks and in the street,

our united people’s movement is a force that they can’t beat!

We are here to take back every Board of Education Seat!

And the union makes us strong!

In our hands is placed a power greater than their horded gold.

Greater than the might of armies magnified a thousand fold!

We can bring to birth a new world, from the ashes of the old!

For the union makes us strong.

Solidarity Forever!

Schoolidarity Forever!

Solidarity Forever!

For the union makes us strong!

Re-write 2018 – John Paul Wright – www.railroadmusic.org

Chicago Teachers – 2016 – Ralph Chaplin 1915 – I.W.W


 

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.
Wrecked the car.
Date raped the country
and someone caught
you on video.
You know slavery was
an evil and not to mention
a labor policy called
human trafficking.
A slave is:
a slave
is a slave.
Like the workers
who make your shirt!
Pick the apples
for your pie.
Like the
wage slave
at a for – profit or
501 c whatever –
who is expected
to trade
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

IMG_3594


The Table – A New Book By John Paul Wright

 


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.

This book is the first title released on the newly formed Long Steel Rail Press – more to come on that soon … 


IMG_3249

*** BREAKING *** Appalachian Coal Report – Boom or Bust, You Decide …

Leave the Lights On For Me is a song that I wrote on the day that the CSX railroad announced that it was going to shut down the Clinchfield coal division section of the railroad. I started writing the tune on a train heading to Nashville and finished it up at the hotel.
Many of my coworkers were being relocated due to the bust situation in the Appalachian coal regions. This tune represents what I was seeing happening to my friends. It is also an honoring of the rich folk music tradition of the Clinchfield Mountains.

How Tomorrow Moves is a CSX railroad slogan and Coal Keeps The Lights On, is the slogan of the coal industry’s propaganda arm, Friends of Coal. Because our Conductor and Locomotive Engineer seniority districts cover almost the entire country southeast of the Ohio River, railroaders were being forced to move from places that they had lived for generations.

Because of short-sighted union contracts and an aggressive / abusive employer, workers were being expected to spend 30 days working for free with the threat of not being able to “hold” a position when they were finished with their territory qualifications. Folks were being expected to “qualify” for upwards of 30 days. No pay!

lyrics

Leave The Lights On For Me
07-07-2016

I left my darlin’ family in a little ol country town
chasin’ these trains across the state.
When I call my little children they ask me
“daddy when ya coming home?” and
I just don’t know what to say.

This railroad says I have to train on my own dime, for thirty days.
Well, no one should be expected to work for free.
When I ask my union brothers, they say “it is what it is”
Now that we have southern system seniority.

[chorus]

So I am, moving to the city to be employed or unemployed
Workin’ for this railroad for free.
I wonder how my kids are doin?
Wonder how my wife is holdin’ up.
And will those friends keep the lights on for me.

They say “coal keeps the lights on” but I can’t pay my utility bills.
And there ain’t no guarantee there’ll l be a spot for me to fill.
Then ill have to go somewhere’s else for 30 more days.
I guess this is “How Tomorrow Moves”

[chorus]

My family’s lived in eastern Kentucky for a really long time.
Working for the railroad, or down in some dark mine.
I’m proud to be a miner’s son,
never signed up to live a life on the run.
I wonder where those friends of coal are now.

[chorus]



*disclaimer

In a boom or bust economy – this song has been the breaking news for generations.
10873574_10205837113951202_4025941478021453275_o

The Cooperative Manifesto II

The Cooperative Manifesto II

 – in between

the old and the new –

I see the old,

grey hair with eyes

glowing of potentials.

Missions and Visions –

what was, growing old and

disappearing. Tired and worn of

speeches, marches and failures,

teach -ins, chants and just be in …

all the kings, horses, all the queens

and children cooperatively

playing alternative melodies

dreaming, eating and singing together.

What once was, in danger of coming

up short.

 

I see the young

excited faces with fists

clinched in solidarity,

decisions and resolutions –

what is, the passionate and

growing. Ready and willing to

stand, get in the way of weapons

made to destroy life as we know it …

all the groups, factions, the new people

and children competitive –

participating in innocence –

dreaming, fighting and looking

to what once was, in danger of coming

in last.

 

(In the fierce urgency

of our time …

I sit in the middle

branded and caught.)

 

The message:

Say:

We hold these myths to be potential

they, hold truth to be self-evident.

We cooperatively exist! –

on the other side

of duality. Afraid of nothing.

Lost and found –

rejecting all that is made

to destroy nature!

We, united in love

employed in each other.

In Conclusion:

Oh, my friends,

quiet your heart

from fearful beatings.

There is darkness –

because of light.

There is an end

because of beginnings.

Our lives, the planets –

our loves, circle.

Trust in return

and find peace

in each other.

Our solutions?

We already own.

 – Like my mother

      used to say –

First your money

then your clothes,

and then you find

yourself naked!

Change your mind

to change your life.

So let it be known …

We have no time

for worry! Power

is relevant only

to the ones

who unknowingly

and irresponsibly

taunt the risk

of extinction!

meet clipMeet full

Picture and Article from the Good Neighbor Food Cooperative newsletter circa 1990.

Louisville, KY

Tapestry by Donna and John Paul Wright


Section 1 – Even Further

 Even Further – was the working title of this project and a poem that was written on the first day of 2015. Donna renamed the project when we were reviewing the final mixes from LaLa Land Studio.

The poem somewhat was a warning to what might happen if you try to go Further than that. Especially if the folks on the “Further” bus are a nuclear family trying to transverse the winding road of American life post whatever the hell we are supposed to be post of these days.

The CD is in two sections. The first seven selections are songs that Donna and I had been working on when we could find the time to sit down for a minute. That time was not very available. The second section of the CD is why that time was not very available. I was working most of the time, 65+ hours a week as a Locomotive Engineer and on top of that, I was working as a volunteer union/community organizer. Donna was back at the house, homeschooling our son, Jonah.

We were both suffering from severe isolation and I was suffering from overwhelming occupational fatigue. The music was an escape. The CD was recorded in 3 or 4 studio sessions. Most of the second section was recorded on a day when I had already worked a train back from Nashville and had been awake for over 30 hours. The railroad life is historically lonesome and hard. When I got to the studio, I was exhausted and fatigued from a 65-hour work week. I gave the session my all.

Donna and I poured our hearts into this project.

100 Flowers –  is a compilation of poems by two prominent women poets. Emily Dickinson’s “I Never Saw A Moor” is juxtaposed with Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “One Hundred Flowers.” The song 100 flowers combines light and shadow, as the vibrancy of Millay’s life and poetry contrasts greatly with the somber mood of Dickinson’s. This song is a celebration of women poets in all their glory and gloom. dw

Freedom – is an honoring of one of the most memorable musical performances that I have ever seen. I saw the Woodstock movie on the screen when I was a young teenager and will never forget seeing the powerful Richie Havens. The backstory of his performance is fascinating. jw

As the opening act at Woodstock, Richie Havens was supposed to perform for only 40 minutes. But when an unexpected traffic jam delayed the other performers, organizers asked him to keep playing. Three hours into it, Havens had run out of songs, so he started to make one up to the melody of “Motherless Child,” a spiritual he’d sung as a kid. “I think the word ‘freedom’ came out of my mouth because I saw it in front of me,” he said. “I saw the freedom that we were looking for. And every person was sharing it, and so that word came out.”

 Songs Are Blue – is a song that I learned while I was on the Joe Hill 100 tour. I met songwriter, Jason Eklund, in Illinois and he traveled with me for several of the performance dates. This song, to me, is very needed these days. My favorite line is – pink, is for open hands. jw

Dance This Waltz – I heard about a contest where the descendants of Joe Hill, the I.W.W. songwriting organizer, were giving away a gorgeous handmade guitar. Contestants were to take one of his two poems that were found in his apartment while he was imprisoned and facing a death sentence, and put them to music. Since putting poetry to music is my jam, I jumped on it.

I looked at the two poems and knew immediately which song I would do. As usual, I sat down and fiddled on the guitar and the song melody poured out. The words are truly beautiful and I wrote the melody and arrangement at a very lonely time in my life. My husband was working for the railroad and union organizing all the time and I felt very estranged from him.

I was deeply longing for his love and connection. It is a very hard song to sing. It’s filled with a dream of freedom and longing. Joe Hill would be executed before ever dancing that dance or experiencing the etheric magic that he describes, in what can only be a love poem to whoever held his heart at the time. dw

She’ll Never Be Mine – From U. Utah Phillips Starlight on the Rails songbook.

This song kind of sums up all these things that happened in the west after the civil war. It’s a boomers song about silver mining, about farming, about cattle ranching, with the recurring refrain, “I guess she’ll never be mine, “but with the final statement, “ I’ve won all my treasures so simple and fine, and I know one day she’ll be mine.”

 That’s what union organizing or any kind of organizing is supposed to be for: to help working people, no matter what their trades, to reach out toward each other, the sit down together and define their problems, define their solutions, and then to get to work on it and begin to get back some of the wealth that they have created over the years.

 This is a love song. It’s my love song for the country I come from. I’ve tried to include in it a lot of the ways I know other people feel about it too. bp

Tapestry – is a love song I wrote for John Paul at a time when I was very lonely and longing to hold him and look into a future at a beautiful life we might share together. My music is not worked on or written, instead, I get my guitar and receive the song. I usually have something on my mind or a poem before me that then takes flight of its own.

The light and overarching brightness were born when the image of the ancient Egyptian goddess of the sky came into my mind as she was arching over the earth. It reminded me of being protected by an arch, like her body in the ancient paintings; an arch of light and love.

To this song is added a much-loved nursery rhyme, “Donkey, Donkey Old and Grey” that I sang to my son when he was a baby. Finally, “I Love You a Bushel and a Peck” is thrown in. Notice how much I love singing the donkey part, as I could not stop singing it in the studio. dw

Section 2 – Work Songs

The Capitalist System is a song written by Kentucky CIO era union organizer/ songwriter Sarah Ogan Gunning. I changed her original lyrics to match why I also hate the capitalist system. Sarah Gunning when asked if her song might be too radical, suggested that when she wrote it, that she wasn’t really sure because she had to look up what the Capitalist System was. After she looked it up, she said, nope, that is exactly what I meant. I wrote this tune while under a grant from the Kentucky Arts Council working with Kentucky folk musician Sue Massek.

Leave the Lights On For Me is a song that I wrote on the day that the CSX railroad announced that it was going to shut down the Clinchfield coal division section of the railroad. I started writing the tune on a train heading to Nashville and finished it up at the hotel. Many of my coworkers were being relocated due to the bust situation in the Appalachian coal regions. This tune represents what I was seeing happening to my friends. It is also an honoring of the rich folk music tradition of the Clinchfield.

How Tomorrow Moves is a CSX railroad slogan and Coal Keeps The Lights On, is the slogan of the coal industries propaganda arm, Friends of Coal. Because our Conductor and Engineer seniority districts cover almost the entire country southeast of the Ohio River, railroaders were being forced to move from places that they had lived for generations. Because of short-sighted union contracts and an aggressive employer, workers were being expected to spend 30 days working for free with the threat of not being able to “hold” a position when they were finished with their territory qualifications. Folks were being expected to “qualify” for upwards of 30 days. No pay.

They Must Be Stopped is a spoken word piece inspired by a conversation between Bill Moyers and Wendell Berry. In the conversation, Mr. Berry recites his poem, “The Contrariness of the Mad Farmer”. The first line of that poem and the conversation in the video haunted my mind while I was making the decision to walk away from my career as a Locomotive Engineer.

Wendell Berry for some people in my hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, is kind of like a native plant. I had heard of Mr. Berry and had been around his work for years, but I had never really heard him speak until watching the video on YouTube. Hearing his voice read his work was what attracted me to it, his voice was like many I had heard before. jw

The Vision was inspired by a powerful poem written by Wendell Berry that speaks deeply to my feelings about the earth, in all of its destruction and possibility. Upon meeting Wendell two times at his farm, I was amazed at how comfortable I was sitting with him and his amazing wife Tanya. I enjoyed his simplicity and how he cuts to the quick with no hesitancy or apology.

I looked this poem over and again the words that would become a song came to me and I arranged it without much effort. I usually channel poetry arrangements, but since Wendell is alive and well, I wanted to honor him and what I perceived to be his intention as clearly as I could. I did work on it more than other poems, nonetheless, it pretty much arranged itself.

I tend to select poems, melodies, and arrangements that are complex and a bit gut-wrenching and hard to sing. This one takes a lot of air! It also takes a bit of courage to sing because of the state of the world. I love the harmonies John and I do on this one. db

One of the pictures on the back of the CD is from the visit when we presented our version to Wendell. Jonah and Wendell are standing together looking up the pasture at sheep being called in for the night. Watching Donna sing this song at Wendell’s kitchen table, looking up from my guitar at him listening to our music was wonderful. Wendell loved our version of his poem. jw

International Brotherhood of Contraries local 1 is a spoken word piece inspired by a line in Wendell Berry’s poem, “Contrariness of the Mad Farmer.” There is a section of the poem where a conversation is happening between what seems to me to be two activists having an argument.

When they asked me to join them I wouldn’t,

and then went off by myself and did more

than they would have asked. ‘Well, then,’ they said

‘go and organize the International Brotherhood

of Contraries,’ and I said, ‘Did you finish killing

everybody who was against peace?’ So be it.

Going against men, I have heard at times a deep harmony

thrumming in the mixture, and when they ask me what

I say I don’t know.

While I was burning out as a union activist, this poem spoke to me. I can feel the frustration coming from the person who wishes the “mad farmer” wouldn’t be so stubborn. When I first read this poem, I was helping to organize a safety conference in Richmond, California. The conference included railroaders, environmentalists, oil riggers, electricians, dock workers, labor unions, native people and community groups.

The conference was organized to get many folks, who normally don’t see eye to eye on some difficult issues – get them to sit around the table and discover common ground to organize from. The conference was very successful and inspiring.

The “going against men”, seriously resonated with me because of all my work as a Teamster. As a rank and file democratic reformer. Going against men? –  yup  – got it. I have been the single no vote many times. I have heard that thrumming I think Mr. Berry is talking about. My poem … is taking the challenge given. Making sure that thrumming has a voice. I take the caretaking side of union organizing very seriously.

The Princess That I Love was written for Tiécoura Traoré who starred in the film Bamako produced by Danny Glover. Tiecoura was the union leader who tried to save the railroad from privatization in Mali, West Africa.

From Wikipedia:

The film depicts a trial taking place in Bamako, the capital of Mali, amid the daily life that is going on in the city. In the midst of that trial, two sides argue whether the World Bank and International Monetary Fund are guided by special interest of developed nations, or whether it is corruption and the individual nations’ mismanagement, that is guilty of the current financial state of many poverty-stricken African countries as well as the rest of the poor undeveloped world.

 I got an opportunity to host Tiecoura in my home for three days while he was on a speaking tour of the U.S. We talked nonstop about railroading, agriculture, labor unions and politics. I gave him a tour of the rail yard where I was working, and right when we drove into the entrance, right in the middle of a wild conversation, he saw the row of yard locomotives parked and said in his thick African accent, “now, this is the princess that I love!” We both knew what had just happened. We were railroaders. We love it. Who knows why, but we do.

Oh, You Railroad Men is me being really frustrated at my national union president. He is Casey and I am Eugene V. The membership, seemingly most of the time would like to take the radical position, however, the leadership does not. The radical position, in this case, would be to not allow for the railroad to cut the position of the conductor from the train crew and to be more serious about addressing the issues of automation of the railroad.

The Grandsons of Pullman Porters is a loose rewrite of the American folk music classic, “The City of New Orleans”.  While it is romantic to speak of the railroad … I wanted to somewhat expose the railroad for what it is now; the toy of CEO’s, banks and hedge funds.

Much of the story of the railroad in culture, music, art and in railroad poetic metaphor was created by the good old American corporate media. The railroad used to be an important part of everyday life. It was the way people moved, the way agriculture moved, and the industry that built many of the small and large towns that grew up around it. It seems to me, now, being used as a tool to destroy the land, farms, people and communities that are associated with it.

Ride This Train – was written as a campaign song for the work I was doing with Railroad Workers United. We had partnered with an environmental group, The Backbone Campaign, for a conference in Richmond, California. The conference was the start of me realizing that my days were numbered at the railroad.

When I was asked to give the opening remarks at the conference, I knew the atmosphere was going to be tense. Many of the organizations that were invited, in some ways, are at odds with each other. I knew that environmentalists and their organizations have a long difficult history trying to work with labor organizations and vice versa, so, I sought out a solidarity statement from an elder from my community in Kentucky. I knew many environmentalists know who Wendell Berry is. I thought it would be welcoming if the organizer from a railroad labor organization greeted them with words from one of the most respected voices in their community.

Wendell sent via the Berry Center his poem, “The Vision”. While memorizing the poem, I was deeply moved by it. And in further exploration of Mr. Berry’s work, specifically his presentation at Yale University in 2013, I was moved into the position of wanting out of the railroad.

This song is based on the melody of Johnny Cash’s song, “Come On and Ride This Train”.

Old River Blues was written by Riley Coyote of the hobo songwriting collective, The Rail Yard Ghosts. Riley and I talk via phone frequently and collaborate whenever we get the opportunity. In one of our phone conversations, we talked about this song and what I meant to be so lonely, traveling dark places, getting caught by railroad police and then sitting on the banks of the Mississippi nursing wounds.

That is what this song is about.

I have friended many of the folks who ride the rails. It is an honor to be trusted by them; trusted to tell their story in song and verse.

John and Donna Wright

www.railroadmusic.org

railroadmusic333@gmail.com

2017

Special thanks to:

Wendell Berry

Will Oldham

Ron Kaminkow