Post-election malas : #1 / Harrisburg

1.  I took a train from New York to Harrisburg yesterday to join a protest urging the Pennsylvania electors not to cast their votes for Donald Trump.

2.  Looking out the window at the Pennsylvania fields I was thinking about King Charles II giving William Penn thousands of acres of other people's land.

3.  Of theft as a foundation.

4.  & of the people on my mother's side of the family who functioned as settlers in this plan.

5.  Hence my life here now.

6.  How the winter land & the rivers looked like graceful patient lovers, the ugly abrupt buildings & roads & machines like the fumblings of oblivious partners who'd never been taught how to have a conversation.

7.  Every once in a while you'd see an old stone barn, where you could hear the whisper of what might once have been a conversation, or the possibility of one.

8.  When I got to the steps of the Harrisburg Capitol people were being arrested & loaded into the back of a police van.

9.  It took me several minutes to figure out that they weren't Electoral College vote protesters.

10.  The Electoral College vote protesters, almost all white & young, were higher up the steps, approaching the entrance of the Capitol. The people at the bottom of the steps, of various ages & colors, were protesting a local immigration detention center called Berks.

11.  The people I saw being arrested were women of color.

12.  I didn't see any women of color among the Electoral College vote protesters.

13.  It was bitter cold & I kept walking up & down the Capitol steps to stay warm, between the two groups with a substantial distance of bright bitter morning between them.

14.  At the top of the stairs were also (a) a young masked white man with an anti-fascist flag (b) an older white man with a Trump flag & (c) an older white woman discussing how she'd complained to her union about immigrants.

15.  There were lines at the front & back Capitol entrances for security screening of the people admitted.

16.  It was bitter cold but for some reason I didn't want to go in.

17.  I stood at the bottom of the steps when they started speaking Spanish because I'd just been in Havana & the sound comforted me.

18.  They were reading letters from the mothers detained at the Berks prison for immigrants.

19.  All the letters said the same things:

20.  I arrived in 2015.

21.  First they put me in the freezer for three days. ("La hielera.")

22.  Then they brought me & my child to Berks.

23.  This is the second Christmas we've spent here.

24.  One woman was from Honduras, & I thought of watching tv in Havana when Barack Obama was visiting & seeing from the Telesur news zipper below his smiling face that Berta Cáceres had been murdered in Honduras.

25.  Berta Cáceres a Native woman who tried to protect her people's river.

26.  Which is secretly everybody's river but we haven't figured that out yet.

27.  Berta Cáceres whose life was exposed to that level of danger, operating with impunity, by a coup.

28.  Enabled by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton & President Barack Obama.

29.  I can already feel the weariness of documenting the details of crimes when they start to become the fabric of social life instead of a bright thread running through it.

30.  Yes, said my government, Go ahead & take the president of Honduras from his home in his pajamas, & make him sleep somewhere else. Use that Air Force base we used for the contras.

31.  It's not that the murderers of the river protectors weren't there before the coup.

32.  It's that the coup took away the last shreds of the civil society that protected them.

33.  The flawed but functional civil government, to the coup, to the murder of the water protector, to this Honduran woman fleeing the tempest, to the tempest, the prison with her child in Pennsylvania, for more than a year & counting.

34.  The woman at the top of the steps where the tv cameras are, discussing immigration, in a voice I remember from listening to people talk about busing, in the town where I grew up in Massachusetts.

35.  The 'I have nothing against these people. But" voice.

36.  The cigarettes & despair in the voice of the union woman & the quietness-nudged-into-public in the voices of the women with Native faces at the bottom of the steps singing Venceremos in Pennsylvania led by a man with a megaphone who looks like Víctor Jara.

37.  What terms on this earth might make these women sisters.

38.  At noon I went into a deli facing the steps to eat chili & get warm, & heard the people who worked there & the customers talking about sports with great detailed absorption & laughing about the protesters.

39.  "They have a right to their opinion," one woman said, laughing, "Here's mine," flipping a middle finger.

40.  It was funny to them because their team had won.

41.  It was so familiar from the town where I grew up, where people said publicly that they had political disagreements & privately that they didn't want their children going to school with niggers.

42.  We had our small swath of an earnest liberal anti-Vietnam-War movement, like a wind sweeping over the surface of an ancient ocean of sadness when Bobby Kennedy died because he was on our Irish team, & indifference when Martin Luther King died because he got what he deserved.

43.  I ate my chili & tried to figure out what would have stood against fascism in the little New England town where I grew up.

44.  I've since made myself & been made into a city slicker from Manhattan, a yogafied lefty anti-racist lesbian poet sister from another planet.

45.  Sometimes the people who send pictures of their guns via my Twitter mentions sound like people I grew up with, &/or people I'm related to.

46.  I thought of the young high school teacher in tears at the coup in Chile in 1973 & the liberal Christians against the war & how weak they seemed beside the vociferous racists.

47.  & how 40 years have passed & so much has changed but those social patterns seem the same here.

48.  & now we're about to be tested.

49.  I asked several white people outside how to get to the Civil War museum. One said she didn't know, & one said Oh you don't want to walk there.

50.  Eventually I figured it out from my phone. It involved walking across a long icy bridge, away from the Susquehanna, over land.

51.  On the other side of the bridge were all the Black people of Harrisburg.

52.  I talked to 2 people I passed on the bridge, warning them about the ice behind me, being a vecina a lo cubano, a neighbor, & they looked at me as if I were a sister from another planet.

53.  The houses reminded me of Cuba: materially crumbling & the look of people actually living there. Little gardens with pinwheels, everybody's couches on the porch. One sign on a wood plank said This Piece of Earth.

54.  When I asked for directions on that side people told me where to go.

55.  The Civil War museum in Harrisburg is designed to reflect the perspectives of both sides.

56.  In the gift shop you can buy a gray hat or a blue hat, depending on your team.

57.  There were photos & even movies of veterans regathering as old men in Gettysburg in 1913 to shake hands & be friends.

58. One photo shows them eating together, hundreds of white men at long outdoor tables, served by Black men.

59.  I have a picture on my wall of my great-great grandfather George Hackett at the Gettysburg veterans reunion in 1893, but he died three years later.

60. He left his right arm at the Battle of the Wilderness. Is political hegemony the control of the story of who took your arm.

61.  Maybe in 1893 it was still more like Cuba, where the likelihood of the old revolutionaries sitting down to chat & play checkers with the old defenders of the way it used to be is small.

62.  But by 1913 the white men were in the places they'd been in before the war, & the Black men serving them weren't slaves but also weren't free.

63.  There are photos of various conversations but none of Black men engaging in one.

64.  What terms on this earth might make these men brothers.

65.  Did the white men say to each other, The work we gave our limbs for is undone, look. There were 51 lynchings that year. 118 the year of my ancestor's Gettysburg fiesta.

66.  Did the Black men serving the former Confederates say, Now that we're all citizens, I respect your alternate point of view.

67.  Did the former Confederates say, I used to defend the Confederacy, but not anymore.

68.  I walked through the part of the museum about the old political consensus breaking down into civil war & could feel my heartbeat accelerating.

69.  Before that there's a diorama of a slave auction & a Black man with a whipscarred back in a cage, whose gaze I kept meeting, then turning away.

70.  He's not real. It's just an exhibit. "What about that man in the cage?" the fake customer at the fake slave auction said. "He has trouble written all over him."

71.  His fury seemed pure & wrong & permanent, & it seemed that if you dug down to the foundations of this republic you'd find this man in his cage.

72.  I'd walked more than an hour in the cold & didn't think I could do it again, back to the train station, & called a taxi, & the woman who picked me up had 3 different pairs of sunglasses hanging under her mirror, for different levels of glare.

73.  She was talking on her cellphone to her daughters as we drove, & told me she has 6 children, each with a different ring.

74.  That's the good daughter, she said, after the ring of Jesus Take The Wheel.

75.  That's the bad one, she said, after the ring of a mechanical warning voice saying Bitch on the Phone.

76.  We were the same age, although she seemed older, because I've transformed myself into a city slicker as per previous & am thin from yoga & don't drink anymore.

77.  We drove past the crumbling houses that reminded me of Cuba & then into more & deeper poverty that didn't remind me of Cuba because the threads of the social fabric seemed completely undone.

78.  HEROIN said the last billboard before we crossed back to the neighborhood around the Capitol building.

79.  One billboard I'd seen as I crossed the long bridge on foot said Winning Is Everything.

80.  In the train station was a rack of free pamphlets called Where To Go When You Need Help, 2016 Edition.

81.  The longest section is called Food Assistance, more than 3 pages.

82.  For some reason the Harrisburg train station store has living food in it & a living bookstore, with Robert Ludlum beside Edward Said's Culture & Imperialism & the Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson & the comic book of John Lewis's March.

83.  I was happy to see that a bewildered 17-year-old could come in & find The Fire Next Time the way I found it at the department store in Avalon New Jersey where my grandparents lived, on the mass-market paperback rack next to the flipflops.

84.  The train station bookshelves were the closest approximation I saw all day of an interracial conversation.

85.  Around the corner from the bookshelves, pasted on the wall, was a poster of a woman's body showing all the places radiation was being deposited from Three Mile Island, the nuclear power plant 12 miles to the southeast, on an island in the Susquehanna.

86.  I remember taking a tv to my Dunkin' Donuts night shift in 1979 when the nuclear reactor at Three Mile Island started to melt down, 150 miles from where I was going to college.

87.  It's a club: Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, & Fukushima.

88.  A mala is a cycle of 108: I do 3 malas of yoga breathing every morning.

89.  Last September the Pentagon & the Joint Chiefs of Staff pledged to put $108 billion into US nuclear weapons.

90.  That kind of money would go a long way at say the Feed My Sheep Food Ministry in Where To Go When You Need Help.

91.  Mala in Sanskrit means 'garland,' like the Supreme Court Justice we're not going to have.

92.  Part of the purpose of a mala is to open your eyes.

93.  Some malas are general-purpose, some are pacifying, some for increasing, some for magnetizing, some for taming by forceful means.

94.  & of course 'mal' in Spanish is 'bad,' & unlike in English, also 'evil,' as in 'lo mal radical.'

95.  When I was in Havana I saw a movie about Operation Condor & the search for the bodies of the people the US-supported Argentine dictatorship killed, particularly those put in oil drums with cement & dropped into a Buenos Aires river.

96.  One of the bodies was that of Cuban diplomat.

97.  Did I mention that as I was eating chili in the Harrisburg deli a Turkish special forces policeman shot the Russian ambassador dead on live television.

98.  That moment in every fascism movie where public conversation becomes a babble in the distance as fraud & force move to the center & begin to unpack their furniture.

99.  The man who ran the Harrisburg train station store was Polish. He was worried about the rise of the right in Poland, & we joked about alternative places to flee to.

100.  Sarah Kendzior in Birdland:  "US citizens should be watching Poland to see how quickly democracy can erode."

101. How an Argentine judge in the Cuban movie described a police guard punching a pregnant woman in the stomach in the course of killing her, & said, If that isn't lo mal radical, radical evil, I don't know what is.

102. How in Spanish it's a regular word, mal, not dramatic or theological, for the bad luck when your team loses or the radical evil fascism makes everyday.

103.  The woman with a Native face on the steps of the Harrisburg Capitol with a banner that said Everyone Is Welcome Here, surrounded by the names of all the Native peoples of the Americas.

104.  How most of the Electors proceeded dutifully along our doomed path but one voted for Standing Rock activist Faith Spotted Eagle, water protector.

105.  I've been in the streets for almost 40 years now, I'm tired of yelling & no conversation.

106.  The beautiful Standing Rock night vigil at the Museum of the American Indian downtown before the election, where people of all flavors sat together on the steps meditating in the dark & those of us standing beside them passed around candles.

107.  Praise to the faithless elector with faith in Faith & the values she's faithful to. Sign this daughter of settlers up for protecting them & the rivers aka our shared world by any democratic nonviolent means necessary.

108.  Wes Clark Jr. for the veterans brigade at Standing Rock:

“Many of us, me particularly, are from the units that have hurt you over the many years. We came. We fought you. We took your land. We signed treaties that we broke. We stole minerals from your sacred hills. We blasted the faces of our presidents onto your sacred mountain. When we took still more land and then we took your children and then we tried to take your language and we tried to eliminate your language that God gave you, and the Creator gave you. We didn’t respect you, we polluted your Earth, we’ve hurt you in so many ways but we’ve come to say that we are sorry. We are at your service and we beg for your forgiveness.”