Saturday, December 13, 2008

Just a Closer Walk with Thee

It snowed two days ago in the Skagit Valley. The roads are still ice-covered because we have no snowplows or trucks to spread sand on the slippery stretches. It's very cold at night and the snow will not melt until next week. We've been starting the fire in the wood stove first thing in the morning, to keep the frost out. It's not like real winter back in the Midwest, but it's cold enough for me.

BUNKY THE BALD EAGLE. I call him Bunky. He perches at the top of the cottonwood in back of our house on Fir Island. He only recently got kicked out of his mama's nest -- has those mottled juvenile feathers. The adult bald eagles look like they own the country, with a commanding predator's glare. But Bunky looks lost, "Mom?.... Mom?.... Where's the food?....What am I supposed to do?" Bunky is perched up there in the cottonwood, all alone in the world now, looking into a lean winter before he figures out that he has to get his own dinner.

HE'S SERBIAN. Illinois Governor Blagojevitch is neither corrupt nor insane, he's Serbian. Chicago has a large Eastern European contingent -- Poles, Ukrainians, Croats, Slovaks, etc., and they are aware of the ethnic distinctions. Serbia was that country that Pres. Clinton bombed back to Bejesus after they invaded Kosovo. They also started World War I at Sarajevo, in Serbia, and now we have this Governor, the most famous Serbian-American in the country. But his name will be forgotten by next week. As they say, in Chicago, to the rest of the country "What's it to you?... It's not your state and it's not your tax money."

Of course it does reflect a bit on our new President, as the nation slowly realizes that Obama is the brains and the style, but Mayor Dailey is the muscle. It took muscle to kick that cowboy out of the White House -- just being right and asking nicely won't get you anything.

TAKE IT BACK. But another event in Chicago will become an important date in American history, December 5, the day when the workers at the window factory in Chicago decided to take it back. They were laid off with only three days notice, more than 200 workers, many with more than ten years experience -- no severance pay, no accrued vacation pay, just "get out."

But they didn't just clean out their lockers and go home -- they refused to leave the premises until they got paid. They began a six-day occupation of the window factory, until all the politicians, and reporters, and bankers, and owners came by to hear their story. Their calm determination prevailed, and they got their back pay.

And did those workers win because they deserved it? Because they were right? No, they prevailed because they seized the premises -- an illustration of muscle effectively deployed on behalf of labor.

I am just astounded by this act of labor militancy, because it marks a turning point. Labor has been meek and subnmissive since another famous date in American history, August 3, 1981, when President Reagan fired 11,000 air traffic controllers for going on strike. Eleven thousand he fired, with a stroke of his pen, and ever since that date 27 years ago American workers have cowered while Reagan spoke about a city shining on a hill. Reagan's shining city exists, but most of us don't get to live there. Instead we bought his promise, "If we all work for less money, the nation will prosper" .... ? .... Reagan said it with such a nice smile, that many of us believed him, and many of us got confused. "Okay, I get it, I'll get rich if I just work harder for less money" ..... but that doesn't actually make sense.....

UNLESS you live in Alabama. Senator Richard Shelby, a Republican from Alabama, was the leading voice in oppostion to the Detroit bailout. Alabama is the home of cheap labor. Their state motto is "Dirt Poor and Proud of it."

Alabama gave America slavery, segregation, Jim Crow, sharecropping, mule plowing, George Wallace, the Klu Klux Klan, corn pone, fat back, pellagra and tuberculosis, and six different flavors of chewing tobacco.

That's all I need to know about the bailout. Think what you will about Mayor Dailey and the Big Three automakers -- but people got paid well. I don't want to live in Senator Shelby's cheap labor world, do you?

So, I will close with a wonderful, moving song, sung by Mahalia Jackson, often considered the finest gospel singer who ever lived. Her voice, with its infinite power and grace, represents that best of life of Chicago. Even her life story illustrates the story. Mahalia was born and raised in New Orleans, but she came north, as so many other Southerners did, black and white, to escape grinding poverty, because they could get factory jobs in Chicago, and the jobs paid so much better than picking cotton. Mahalia Jackson came north to freedom. Listen to her music. Listen to "Just a Closer Walk With Thee."

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