On Woody Guthrie’s Birthday

Oh Woody, I am thinking about you!
I have grown somewhat bitter.
I must admit!
I know you – sometimes I fancy
that I am just like you.
But maybe it is because I know too much
and have been burnt by the fire.
So, a few questions I might ask. For
I am romantically involved so as to
mention – Sarah Ogan Gunning!

Was she bitter because Aunt Molly got
to hang around all them rich folks?
Was it because Pete played for the
Rockefellers, while singing –
I don’t want, your millions mister?

Hypocrisy is a bitch!
If you point it out –
they will bury you!
How much more crap should I take
before I “die with my hammer in
my hand?”

I heard Sarah ripped your ass once –
because you did one of her songs.
She picked your little ass up and
almost ringed your neck.
Is that true?

Woody, brother, i see what you saw,
and I think I know why you wrote all
night, alone, falling asleep on your
typewriter, full ashtray …

It takes a worried man,
to sing a worried song.

I certainly am worried.

One last question:

Did you ever hear Joe Hill talking
to you? I have.He said,
Don’t mourn, Organize.
So, i organized my life.
Trying not to get bitter and
am working now as a deck
hand on a Ohio River
Steamboat built two
years after you was borned.

Brother,
I wish we could hang out!
See, I worked on the railroad.
Found a lonesome darkness
engulfing me.
I gave it all up.
Once I built a railroad ..
you know the rest.

Brother,
For your birthday –
I offer you a song.
I wrote it for Jimmie
Rodgers. I have alot
in common with him too.

When the song
gets to the part where
I sing “I think y’all knowd.”
That part is for you!

Happy Birthday.

Love,
JP “Catfish John” Wright

P.S

You wanna hear some shit?
I heard Sarah Ogan died at a
singing circle. Time came
for her to sing. She took a
deep breath, and died.

I wonder if the dress she
wore was blue?

She sure knew how to
drive that steel!


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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!

 

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

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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 … 


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*** 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.
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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