Belle of Liberty

Letting Freedom Ring

Friday, August 06, 2010

The High Priestess of Anarchy

“You’re good at researching,” said a Luddite friend. “Find out who’s behind the ACLU.  I just know there’s somebody bad in there. There’s something about the American Civil Liberties Union. Something deceptive that I can’t put my finger on.”

The operative word here is “liberties.” In their definition of the word, “liberty” means “chaos" and their intent appears to be to use our own freedom against us to destroy the country.

Well, they were right. There’s a bad actor. But it’s not so much the ACLU’s founders, Roger Baldwin, Crystal Eastman, and Albert DeSilver, who founded the ACLU in 1920, as much as it’s who inspired Baldwin.

According to Wikipedia, Baldwin was a Harvard graduate, social worker, and lifelong pacificst who opposed American involvement in World War I. After the passage of the Selective Service Act of 1917, Baldwin called for the American Union Against Militarism (AUAM) to create a legal division to protect the rights of conscientious objectors. On July 1, 1917, the AUAM responded by creating the Civil Liberties Bureau (CLB), headed by Baldwin. The CLB separated from the AUAM on October 1, 1917, renaming itself the National Civil Liberties Bureau, with Baldwin as director. In 1920, NCLB was renamed the American Civil Liberties Union with Baldwin continuing as the ACLU's first executive director.

In St. Louis, Baldwin had been greatly influenced by the radical social movement of the anarchist Emma Goldman. He joined the Industrial Workers of the World. In 1927, he had visited the Soviet Union and wrote a book, Liberty Under the Soviets. He later denounced communism in his book, A New Slavery, which condemned "the inhuman communist police state tyranny". In the 1940s, Baldwin led the campaign to purge the ACLU of Communist Party members.

Crystal Eastman was a lawyer, antimilitarist, feminist, socialist, and journalist. She is best fought for women's right to vote, as a co-editor of the radical arts and politics magazine, The Liberator, and as a co-founder of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom.

She was born in Marlborough, Mass., the daughter of a Protestant minister and sister of American socialist writer Max Eastman. She graduated from Vassar College in 1903 and received a master’s degree in sociology from Columbia University in 1904. She was second in the class of 1907 at New York University Law School.

Her first job was as a reporter investigating labor conditions for The Pittsburgh Survey sponsored by the Russell Sage Foundation. Her report, Work Accidents and the Law (1910), became a classic and resulted in the first workers' compensation law, which she drafted while serving on a New York state commission. She continued to campaign for occupational safety and health while working as an investigating attorney for the U.S. Commission on Industrial Relations during Woodrow Wilson's presidency. She was at one time called the "most dangerous woman in America," due to her free-love idealism and outspoken nature.

After a brief, and unsuccessful marriage, Eastman moved to Milwaukee where she managed the unsuccessful 1912 Wisconsin suffrage battle. When she returned east in 1913, she founded the militant Congressional Union, which became the National Woman's Party. After the passage of the 19th Amendment gave women the vote in 1920, Eastman and three others wrote the Equal Rights Amendment, first introduced in 1923.

Eastman was a noted anti-militarist, who helped found the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. During World War I, she was one of the founders of the Woman's Peace Party. She also became executive director of the AUAM, which lobbied against America's entrance into the European war and more successfully against war with Mexico in 1916, sought to remove profiteering from arms manufacturing, and campaigned against conscription and imperial adventures.

When the United States entered World War I, Eastman organized, with Roger Baldwin and Albert DeSilver, the National Civil Liberties Bureau to protect conscientious objectors. She functioned as an attorney in the ACLU.

Finally, there was Albert DeSilver a graduate of Yale in 1910 and Columbia Law School. Though he initially planned on a political career, he resigned his law practice in 1918 to become one of the founding members of the National Civil Liberties Bureau (later known as the American Civil Liberties Union) in order to devote himself full-time to defending conscientious objectors, other citizens, and immigrants against unconstitutional persecution under new laws such as the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918. During World War I, DeSilver used his own war bonds to post bail for defendants in free speech cases.

At the founding of the ACLU in 1920, DeSilver was named Associate Director and worked in legal defense, public education, and lobbying. While alive, DeSilver provided more than half of the ACLU's operating funds on an annual basis. After his death at age 36, DeSilver's wife Margaret continued contributing to the ACLU each year in his name.

But who inspired ACLU founder Roger Baldwin? There’s the question. The answer is: Emma Goldman. You may not recognize her name, but you’ll certain recognize the name of her journal: Mother Earth. Emma’s is a really strange and infamous story.

Born in Kovno in the Russian Empire (now Kaunas in Lithuania), Goldman emigrated to the US in 1885 and lived in New York City, where she joined the burgeoning anarchist movement, after learning about the Haymarket affair.

The Haymarket affair (also known as the Haymarket massacre or Haymarket riot) was a demonstration turned riot that took place on May 4, 1886, at the Haymarket Square in Chicago. Initially a rally in support of striking workers, someone threw a bomb at police as they dispersed the crowd. The bomb blast and ensuing gunfire resulted in the deaths of eight police officers. Four men were convicted and executed, and one committed suicide in prison. The Haymarket affair is generally considered the origin of international May Day observances for workers. The event also inspired the notion of the bomb-throwing anarchist.

Inspired by the Haymarket riot, Goldman and anarchist writer Alexander Berkman, her lover and lifelong friend, planned to assassinate industrialist Henry Clay Frick. Fortunately, Frick survived the attempt on his life and Berkman was sentenced to 22 years in prison. Goldman was imprisoned several times in the years that followed, for “inciting to riot” and illegally distributing information about birth control. In 1906, Goldman founded the anarchist journal Mother Earth.

In 1917, Goldman and Berkman were sentenced to two years in jail for conspiring to “induce persons not to register” for the newly-instated draft. After their release from prison, they were arrested and deported to Russia. Initially, they were supportive of the Bolshevik revolution. Goldman opposed the Soviet government’s use of violence and the repression of free speech. In 1923, she wrote a book about her experiences, My Disillusionment in Russia. After the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, she traveled to Spain to support the anarchist revolution there.

Among the tactics that Goldman endorsed was targeted violence. She believed that the use of violence, while distasteful, could be effective in achieving a greater good. She advocated propaganda of the deed – attentat, or violence carried out to encourage the masses to revolt. She supported her partner Alexander Berkman's attempt to kill industrialist Henry Clay Frick, and even begged him to allow her to participate. She believed that Frick's actions during the Homestead strike were reprehensible and that his murder would produce a positive result for working people.

While she never gave explicit approval of Leon Czolgosz's assassination of U.S. President William McKinley, she defended his ideals and believed actions like his were a natural consequence of repressive institutions. As she wrote in "The Psychology of Political Violence": "the accumulated forces in our social and economic life, culminating in an act of violence, are similar to the terrors of the atmosphere, manifested in storm and lightning."

She disapproved of authoritarian rule and oppression, yet Goldman still viewed the state as essentially and inevitably a tool of control and domination. As a result, she believed that voting was useless at best and dangerous at worst. Voting, she wrote, provided an illusion of participation while masking the true structures of decision-making. Instead, Goldman advocated targeted resistance in the form of strikes, protests, and “direct action against the invasive, meddlesome authority of our moral code.”

Emma Goldman's mother Taube Bienowitch had been married before, to a man with whom she had two daughters – Helena in 1860 and Lena in 1862. When her first husband died of tuberculosis, Taube was devastated. Goldman later wrote: "Whatever love she had had died with the young man to whom she had been married at the age of fifteen."

Taube's second marriage to Abraham Goldman was arranged by her family and the mismatched pair’s relationship soon eroded. He invested Taube's inheritance in a business that quickly failed. The ensuing hardship combined with the emotional distance of husband and wife made the household a tense place for the children. When Taube became pregnant, Abraham hoped desperately for a son; a daughter, he believed, would serve as one more sign of failure.

They eventually had three sons, but their first child together was a girl, Emma, born on June 27, 1869. Her father used violence to punish his children, beating them when they disobeyed him. He used a whip only on Emma, the most rebellious of them. Her mother seldom intervened on Emma’s behalf, calling only rarely on Abraham to tone down his beatings.

Goldman's relationships with her sisters Lena and Helena were a study in contrasts. Helena, the oldest, provided the comfort they lacked from their mother; she filled Goldman's childhood with “whatever joy it had.” Lena, however, was distant and uncharitable. The three sisters were joined by brothers Louis (who died at the age of six), Herman, and Moishe.

When Emma was a young girl, the Goldman family moved to the village of Papilė, where her father ran an inn. There, she witnessed a peasant being whipped with a knout (a whip) in the street, contributing to her lifelong distaste for violent authority.

At the age of seven, Goldman moved with her family to the Königsberg and she enrolled in a Realschule. One teacher punished disobedient students – targeting Goldman in particular – by beating their hands with a ruler. Another teacher tried to molest his female students and was fired when Goldman fought back. She found a sympathetic mentor in her German teacher, who loaned her books. A passionate student, Goldman passed the exam for admission into secondary school, but her religion teacher refused to provide a certificate of good behavior and she was unable to attend.

One book in particular, caught Goldman’s attention: Nikolai Chernyshevsky's novel, What Is to Be Done?, an official Soviet “classic.” Essentially a guidebook to revolution in the form of a soap opera, the novel espouses the philosophical materialism and nobility of Russian radicalism. In it, the main character dreams of a society gaining eternal joy of an earthly kind.

The Goldman family then moved to Saint Petersburg, where her father opened one unsuccessful store after another. Forced into poverty, Goldman took an assortment of jobs including one in a corset shop. As a teenager, Goldman begged her father to allow her to return to school, but instead he threw her French book into the fire, exclaiming, “Girls do not have to learn much! All a Jewish daughter needs to know is how to prepare gefilte fish, cut noodles fine, and give the man plenty of children.”

Goldman pursued an independent education on her own, however, and soon began to study the political turmoil around her, particularly the Nihilists responsible for assassinating Alexander II of Russia. The ensuing turmoil intrigued Goldman, even though she did not fully understand it at the time. When she read Nikolai Chernyshevsky's novel, she found a role model in the protagonist Vera, who adopts a Nihilist philosophy and escapes her repressive family to live freely and organize a sewing cooperative. The book enthralled Goldman and remained a source of inspiration throughout her life.

In 1885, Emma and her sister Helena moved to Rochester to live with their sister Lena. Fleeing the rising anti-Semitism of Saint Petersburg, their parents and brothers joined them a year later. Goldman worked as a seamstress, sewing overcoats for more than ten hours a day, earning two and a half dollars a week.

Less than a year after marrying a fellow worker named Kershner, with whom she shared the frustration with the monotony of factory work, they were divorced. Her parents disapproved and threw her out. Carrying her sewing machine in one hand and a bag with five dollars in the other, she left Rochester and headed to New York City.

On her first day in the city, Goldman met two men who would forever change her life. At Sachs's Café, a gathering place for radicals, she was introduced to Alexander Berkman, an anarchist who invited her to a public speech that evening, with whom she had a decades-long relationship. They went to hear Johann Most, editor of a radical publication called Die Freiheit and an advocate of “propaganda of the deed” – the use of violence to instigate change. She was impressed by his fiery oration, and Most took her under his wing, training her in methods of public speaking. He encouraged her vigorously, telling her that she was “to take my place when I am gone.”

Enchanted by her first experience at public speaking, she refined her public persona during subsequent engagements. Quickly, however, she found herself arguing with Most over her independence. After a momentous speech in Cleveland, she felt as though she had become “a parrot repeating Most's views” and resolved to express her own views on the stage. Upon her return to New York, Most became furious and told her: "Who is not with me is against me!" She quit and went to work for another publication.

One of the first political moments that brought Berkman and Goldman together was the Homestead Strike. In June 1892, a steel plant in Pittsburgh, Pa., owned by Andrew Carnegie, became the focus of national attention when talks between the Carnegie Steel Company and the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers (AA) broke down. The factory's manager was Henry Clay Frick, a fierce opponent of the union. When a final round of talks failed at the end of June, he closed the plant and locked out the workers, who immediately went on strike. Strikebreakers were brought in and the company hired Pinkerton guards to protect them. On July 6 a fight broke out between three hundred Pinkerton guards and a crowd of armed union workers. During the twelve-hour gunfight, seven guards and nine strikers were killed.

Goldman and Berkman believed that a retaliatory assassination of Frick would “strike terror into the soul of his class” and “bring the teachings of Anarchism before the world.” When a majority of the nation's newspapers came out in support of the strikers, Goldman and Berkman resolved to assassinate him, an action they expected would inspire the workers to revolt against the capitalist system. Berkman chose to carry out the assassination, and ordered Goldman to stay behind in order to explain his motives after he went to jail. He would be in charge of the deed; she of the word. Berkman tried and failed to make a bomb, then set off for Pittsburgh to buy a gun and a suit of decent clothes.

On July 23, Berkman gained access to Frick's office with a concealed handgun and shot him three times, then stabbed him in the leg. A group of workers – far from joining in his attentat – beat Berkman unconscious, and he was carried away by the police. Berkman was convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to 22 years in prison. Convinced Goldman was involved in the plot, police raided her apartment and – finding no evidence – pressured her landlord into evicting her. Worse, the attentat had failed to rouse the masses; workers and anarchists alike condemned Berkman's action. Johann Most, their former mentor, lashed out at Berkman and the assassination attempt. Furious at these attacks, Goldman brought a toy horsewhip to a public lecture and demanded, onstage, that Most explain his betrayal. He dismissed her, whereupon she struck him with the whip, broke it on her knee, and hurled the pieces at him.

When the Panic of 1893 struck in the following year, the United States suffered one of its worst economic crises ever. Goldman began speaking to crowds of frustrated men and women in New York. On Aug. 21, she spoke to a crowd of nearly 3,000 people in Union Square, where she encouraged unemployed workers to take direct action rather than depend on charity or government aid.

A week later she was arrested in Philadelphia and returned to New York City for trial, charged with “inciting to riot.” During the train ride, a detective who had witnessed the riot offered to drop the charges against her if she would inform on other radicals in the area. She responded by throwing a glass of ice water in his face. As she awaited trial, Goldman was visited by Nellie Bly, a reporter for the New York World. She spent two hours talking to Goldman, and wrote a positive article about the woman she described as a "modern Joan of Arc".

Despite this positive publicity, the jury was persuaded by Jacobs' testimony and scared by Goldman's politics. The assistant District Attorney questioned Goldman about her anarchism, as well as her atheism; the judge spoke of her as "a dangerous woman". She was sentenced to one year in the Blackwell's Island Penitentiary. To make money, Goldman decided to pursue the medical work she had studied in prison. However, her preferred fields of specialization – midwifery and massage – were not available to nursing students in the US. Thus, she sailed to Europe, lecturing in London, Glasgow, and Edinburgh, meeting with and encouraging anarchists worldwide for years.

On September 6, 1901, Leon Czolgosz, an unemployed factory worker and registered Republican with a history of mental illness, shot US President William McKinley twice during a public speaking event in Buffalo, New York. McKinley was hit in the breastbone and stomach; eight days later, he died. Czolgosz was arrested and interrogated around the clock. During interrogation, he claimed to be an Anarchist and said he had been inspired to his action after attending a speech by Goldman. The authorities used this declaration to charge her with planning the action. Goldman was arrested, along with eleven other anarchists.

Learning of her arrest, Czolgosz insisted that Goldman had not guided his assassination plot, but she was arrested and held for two weeks. Goldman claimed he had tried to befriend her, but she and the others, assuming he was an infiltrator and spy, rejected his friendship. No evidence was found linking Goldman to the attack, and she was eventually released after two weeks of detention. Before McKinley died, Goldman offered to provide nursing care, referring to him as "merely a human being". Czolgosz was convicted of murder and executed.

Throughout her detention and after her release, Goldman steadfastly refused to condemn Czolgosz' action, standing virtually alone in doing so. Friends and supporters – including Berkman – urged her to quit his cause. But Goldman defended Czolgosz as a “supersensitive being" and chastised other anarchists for abandoning him. She was vilified in the press as the “high priestess of anarchy.” while many newspapers declared the anarchist movement responsible for the murder. In the wake of these events, socialism gained support over anarchism among US radicals. McKinley's successor Theodore Roosevelt declared his intent to crack down “not only against anarchists, but against all active and passive sympathizers with anarchists.”

After Czolgosz's execution, Goldman withdrew from the world. Scorned by her fellow anarchists, vilified by the press, and separated from her love, she retreated into anonymity and nursing. Using a pseudonym, she vanished from public life and took on a series of private nursing jobs. When the U.S. Congress passed the Anarchist Exclusion Act, however, a new wave of activism rose to oppose it, carrying Goldman back into the movement. A coalition of people and organizations across the left end of the political spectrum opposed the law on grounds that it violated freedom of speech, and she had the nation's ear once again.

In 1906 Goldman decided to start a publication of her own, "a place of expression for the young idealists in arts and letters". Mother Earth was staffed by a cadre of radical activists, including Hippolyte Havel, Max Baginski, and Leonard Abbott.

For the next ten years, Goldman traveled around the country nonstop, delivering lectures and agitating for anarchism. The coalitions formed in opposition to the Anarchist Exclusion Act had given her an appreciation for reaching out to those of other political persuasions. When the US Justice Department sent spies to observe, they reported the meetings as “packed.” Writers, journalists, artists, judges, and workers from across the spectrum spoke of her “magnetic power,” her “convincing presence,” her “force, eloquence, and fire.”

Goldman joined Margaret Sanger in crusading for women's access to birth control; both women were arrested for violating the Comstock Law. When Margaret Sanger, an advocate of access to contraception, coined the term "birth control" and disseminated information about various methods in the June 1914 issue of her magazine The Woman Rebel, she received aggressive support from Goldman. Sanger was arrested in August under the Comstock Law, which prohibited the dissemination of “obscene, lewd, or lascivious articles” – including information relating to birth control.

Although they later split from Sanger over charges of insufficient support, Goldman and Reitman distributed copies of Sanger's pamphlet Family Limitation (along with a similar essay of Reitman's). In 1915 Goldman conducted a nationwide speaking tour in part to raise awareness about contraception options. Although the nation's attitude toward the topic seemed to be liberalizing, Goldman was arrested in February 1916 and charged with violation of the Comstock Law. Choosing not to pay a hundred-dollar fine, she spent two weeks in a prison workhouse, which she saw as an "opportunity" to reconnect with those rejected by society.[90]

Although US President Woodrow Wilson was re-elected in 1916 under the slogan “He kept us out of the war,” at the start of his second term he decided that Germany's continued deployment of unrestricted submarine warfare was sufficient cause for the US to enter World War I. Shortly afterward, Congress passed the Selective Service Act of 1917, which required all males aged 21–30 to register for military conscription. Goldman saw the decision as an exercise in militarist aggression, driven by capitalism. She declared in Mother Earth her intent to resist conscription, and to oppose US involvement in the war.

Goldman and Berkman organized the No Conscription League of New York, which proclaimed: “We oppose conscription because we are internationalists, antimilitarists, and opposed to all wars waged by capitalistic governments.” The group became a vanguard for anti-draft activism, and chapters began to appear in other cities. When police began raiding the group's public events to find young men who had not registered for the draft, however, Goldman and others focused their efforts on spreading pamphlets and other written work. In the midst of the nation's patriotic fervor, many elements of the political left refused to support the League's efforts. The Women's Peace Party, for example, ceased its opposition to the war once the U.S. entered it. The Socialist Party of America took an official stance against US involvement, but supported Wilson in most of his activities.

On June 15, 1917, Goldman and Berkman were arrested during a raid of their offices which yielded "a wagon load of anarchist records and propaganda" for the authorities. The pair were charged with conspiracy to "induce persons not to register" under the newly enacted Espionage Act and were held on US$25,000 each. Defending herself and Berkman during their trial, Goldman invoked the First Amendment, asking how the government could claim to fight for democracy abroad while suppressing free speech at home.

The jury found them guilty; and they were sentence to two years in prison, a $10,000 fine each, and the possibility of deportation after their release from prison. In prison she was assigned once again to work as a seamstress She met the socialist Kate Richards O'Hare, who had also been imprisoned under the Espionage Act. Although they differed on political strategy – O'Hare believed in voting to achieve state power – the two women came together to agitate for better conditions among prisoners. Goldman also met and became friends with Gabriella Segata Antolini, an anarchist and follower of Luigi Galleani. Antolini had been arrested transporting a satchel filled with dynamite on a Chicago-bound train. She had refused to cooperate with authorities, and was sent to prison for fourteen months. Working together to make life better for the other inmates, the three women became known as "The Trinity". Goldman was released on September 27, 1919.

J. Edgar Hoover, head of the U.S. Department of Justice's General Intelligence Division, were intent on using the Anarchist Exclusion Act of 1918 to deport any non-citizens they could identify as advocates of anarchy or revolution. “Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman,” Hoover wrote while they were in prison, “are, beyond doubt, two of the most dangerous anarchists in this country and return to the community will result in undue harm.”

At her deportation hearing on October 27, Goldman refused to answer questions about her beliefs on the grounds that her American citizenship invalidated any attempt to deport her under the Anarchist Exclusion Act, which could be enforced only against non-citizens of the U.S. The Labor Department included Goldman and Berkman among 249 aliens it deported en masse, mostly people with only vague associations with radical groups who had been swept up in government raids in November. Buford, a ship the press nicknamed the "Soviet Ark," sailed from New York on December 21. Upon arrival in Finland, authorities there conducted the deportees to the Russian frontier under a flag of truce.

You sort of get the picture of Goldman’s career, and there are still more stories of her global adventures as an anarchist. Russia, Spain, Canada – wherever there was government, there was Goldman ready to do battle with it.

On Saturday, February 17, 1940, Goldman suffered a debilitating stroke. She became paralyzed on her right side, and although her hearing was unaffected, she could not speak. For three months she improved slightly. She suffered another stroke on May 8, however, and on May 14 she died in Toronto, Canada. The US Immigration and Naturalization Service allowed her body to be brought back to the United States. She was buried in German Waldheim Cemetery (now named Forest Home Cemetery) in Forest Park, Illinois, a western suburb of Chicago, among the graves of other labor and social activists including those executed after the Haymarket affair.

This woman – she just had an amazing talent for finding and causing trouble. It’s been a nuisance just to have to write about her. The blog is nine pages long; that’s how bad the ACLU is. Goldman did so many awful things, one just doesn’t know where to begin – or stop. But being sick of writing about her, I’ll leave it to my readers to research this High Priestess of Anarchy” on their own.

I hope this answers my friend's question (who was alarmed to find the answer is nine pages long).

Thursday, August 05, 2010

The Road to Hell

The N.J. Motor Vehicle Commission, in its infinite wisdom, ended mechanical motor vehicle inspections as of August 1st. They will however, continue the all important work of checking emissions on vehicles five years and older.

According to the N.J. Star Ledger, Motor Vehicle Commission administrator Raymond Martinez says the changes will save the state about $17 million. Most of the savings come from scrapping 2.4 million mechanical inspections and re-inspections performed each year and by shifting new car emissions testing back a year.

The Garden State joins 30 other states which no longer check for bald tires and faulty breaks, among other vehicle hazards. Buses and commercial vehicles will continue to be inspected.

This will be good news to all the illegal aliens and terrorist guys who had to live in fear that they might be stopped by the police for a broken tail light. They will no longer have to fear breaking these particular laws because they no longer exist. Since that was the only excuse the law allowed law enforcement to question a suspected terrorist, the terrorists are now off the hook.

Today, I visited a salvage yard as part of a work assignment. There were acres and acres of abandoned vehicles. Cars that had been in accidents or had been stolen and whose VIN numbers were changed, making the driver amenable to the law. But now the drivers can go back and claim their vehicles.

New Jersey’s roads will become a virtual rolling junkyard. You can just imagine what this mean for insurance claims, if a car’s brakes fail and that car rear-ends you. I was trying to visualize all those cars in that salvage yard out on the road (except for the cars whose VIN numbers were changed, of course).

Cars with bashed in sides. Mangled fenders. Stoved-in hoods. One minivan was completely missing its trunk and rear window. Beyond the back seats, there was emptiness. And goodness knows what mechanical problems they have. The driver’s seat in one car was pushed all the way up to the steering wheel.

But never mind. We’ll still have the emissions testing. People will die by the scores in accidents involving unsafe vehicles. But at least they won’t be emitting anymore CO2.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

The Towers of York

I wrote this poem in 2001; it was published in a local newspaper in 2002 for the first anniversary of 9/11. I was going to save it for the annual anniversary, but now seems like a good time. I can put it up again Sept. 11th.

So Mayor Bloomberg thinks this is a controversy that, like all controversies, will eventually “go away,” does he? The World Trade Center was a controversy at the time it was being built. New Yorkers were furiously opposed to it.

But eventually, it “went away”.

The Towers of York - A Ballad
I. Not Today (Yesterday)

Many yesterdays ago, in a feverish time,
When Hell bent the world in a peaceful sign,
High over York rose a towering display.
Alas for that hope evil was born to betray.

At his birth seers warned, “The end of the world is today.”

Travel’d we there to gaze at the sight,
To witness this twin silver monument to might.
It soared to the clouds, to conquer the sky.
While others exclaimed, I only could sigh,

“Shadows fall over a day far from today.”

Fearfully I stared at the façade’s Gothic arch,
Then up the sleek girders gusted by March.
“What think you,” asked they, “of buildings so tall?”
Said I, with a shudder, “York’s Towers shall fall.”

“How say you so, miss?! They rose only today!”

“Peevish nonsense,” cried they, “from a girl of thirteen!
‘Tis but dizzy heights imagination has seen.”
Dazzling towers I’d view’d that rose to great heights.
But no pinnacle had crush’d the heart with such fright.

“The Towers will fall! I’ve seen enough for today!”

A bright future those slender arches belied;
Beyond their façade lay the ruins of pride.
Above their cold shadow, silver met the gold sun.
But its weight poorly borne, frail beauty’d succumb.

“Pray God, should they fall, let it not be today!”

Up we sped through the tower, my mind ill at ease,
Fears foster’d in magnitude by brothers who tease.
In mind’s eye did approach future terror on wing.
‘Twixt heav’n and earth, no refuge to cling.

Mist-vanish’d fate’s bolt would not strike today.

“How come you to think of such gloomy disaster?
Give us some reason for this Armageddon of plaster!”
“Perhaps an explosion, like the ones that wrack Eire;
A bomb in the basement, or maybe the spire.”

“One tower may explode, but not both in one day!”

“To accomplish that feat would need an army of men
To go unseen from floor one to one hundred and ten!”
“A storm then,” tried I, “with a wind of such power
To shatter the glass and send it down in a shower.”

“The sun shines brightly! There’s no danger today!”

“Its supports are outside,” one yielded, “’tis true.
A fire could melt it, but could a fire melt two?
For lightning to strike twice would be quite a plan.”
Said I, in a caution, “Don’t underestimate Man.”

“We promise the Towers won’t fall – not today!”

Man builds empires up to the sky;
The physical materials God does supply.
But the material world’s the Devil’s to rule.
Against Man’s ambition, he plots chaos most cruel.

Man can’t reach Heaven with towers of steel
Nor trade for God’s love by making a deal.
Yet York’s Towers won’t fall by God’s loving hand -
The spiteful Devil shall knock down our castles of sand.

“The Towers won’t fall. What more can we say?!”

Away in disgust my audience drew.
‘Twas impossible for a girl to know what I knew.
Not for my pleasure did I divine the Unknown.
Sight came unbidden, unwillingly shown.

“They won’t see the truth. Oh no, not today.”

II. Signs of the Times (Today)

Now it’s today and people are weeping.
From the inferno, the hopeless are desperately leaping.
One tower wobbles, wagging its finger,
“Calamity’s upon you, dare not you linger!”

At Hudson’s last bridge, they look’d for a sign;
Their target in sight, with Fate they align’d.
Like a bird in whose reflection an enemy glares,
They slamm’d through the glass with their innocent fares.

To fight such a blaze needs an army of men
To climb from floor one to one hundred and ten.
Ten claxons clang for the World Trade Center;
Into the fiery maw, only the bravest dare enter.

Heroes and victims pass on the stairs.
Fate’s the precarious splitting of hairs.
Gasping for breath and toting their gear,
Those who go up must set aside fear.

York halts in horror to stare at the sight;
Billows of smoke turning day into night.
How, on this perfect day of sky blue,
Could tragedy strike, such hatred spew?

Stop up your ears to the thunder of rubble,
To the explosion of rage bursting our bubble.
To safety the panicking crowds madly run
From the hideous cloud that wipes out the sun.

All that is left of the towers I saw
Is the skeleton clinging to life by a claw.
Nothing is left to bury the dead.
Their ashes have buried the city instead.

The shadow of silence befalls our great land;
All music and laughter – even our band.
Not a bird, not a plane, not a single sweet note.
Every sound but crying has the enemy smote.

Six weeks has it taken for peace to return.
Even now, the smoldering ruins still burn.
“How could this happen?” ask we, wringing our hands.
“America was surely the safest of lands?”

Long is the story of sorrow and grief,
Of how America fail’d to keep out the thief.
Of closing our eyes and our ears to the fey.
Of saying too often, “Oh no, not today.”

Into our country fanatics were welcome,
No matter how dang’rous their activities made them.
Political correction corrupted the rules
So onto our planes they could march with their tools.

The mind guards fast an obstinate gate
Against the grim specter of unthinkable Fate.
When safe in the present Men warnings ignore,
The future’s a battlefield scarred by war.

III. The Test of Time (Tomorrow)

The long year has passed and now it’s tomorrow.
Fate’s spared us to finish the tale of our sorrow.
The fall of York’s Towers caus’d the breaking of hearts,
Suffr’d even by those with the smallest of parts.

On that terror-fill’d day, York stood not alone;
Against other symbols was death being flown.
Anxiously Americans scanned the blue sky
For zealots praying to Allah to die.

For three harrow’d days after the fall,
O’er York hung bleak a dust-poisn’d pall.
For three days more, the cold North Wind flew,
Restoring the sky to that morning’s true blue.

In funerals and ceremonies to honor the dead,
Sad songs were sung and eulogies read.
The Towers deflated to a six-story pile;
An anguish to clear in air cindr’d vile.

One sleepy dawn came a low distant thunder;
With a roar it rent the stricken silence asunder.
The eagle was bound for hate strifen’d lands,
Bringing justice’s wrath to those hid in the sands.

The grief-stupor’d nation awakened at last.
The Ground Zero flag flew from Ted’s mast.
No more taken for granted the stars and the stripes;
Freedom’s banner wav’d defiant in all sizes and types.

On went the descent of the now-aging year,
Yet the season of fall was loth to appear.
Springtime’s red robin, driven off by fall’s crows,
Returned to the garden and sang in the boughs.

Straight through the winter robin sang a bright tune.
The rose bloomed at Christmas as though it were June.
A balm of peace offr’d at the gift-giving season.
God’s mercy and pity transcend human reason.

Travel’d we back to gaze at the site.
Gone is the twin silver monument to might.
Where once lofty arches loomed fragile but fair,
Naught now remains but columns of air.

‘Tis lighter and warmer but the shadows are chill.
Disbelief and mute awe do the empty void fill.
In the ruins the echoes of footsteps still clatter
And the wind carries whispers of long-ago chatter.

“Sixty years when I’m old?” asks a young voice from the past.
“Will that be how long York’s Towers will last?”
“More like thirty;” says the elder, “’tis I who’ll be gray.”
Twenty-nine years and six months, give or take an odd day.

When view’d from the past, tomorrow’s but today.

Always in mem’ry may York’s Towers arise;
Remember their splendor and not their demise.
May those who were lost be found in God’s glory
And granted a happier end to this story.

The Towers of York – A Ballad
Copyright 2001 Carole J. Rafferty

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Taming of the Shrews

Blanche Bickerson: You used to be so considerate. Since you married me, you haven't got any sympathy at all.
John Bickerson: I have, too. I've got everybody's sympathy.

Marriage, despite the old adage, is not made in Heaven. Neither is it made in Hell; it falls somewhere in between, because men and women are human. Couples run into trouble when they realize sometime shortly after the honeymoon that their marriage wasn’t made in Heaven, and so they make it into an unnecessary Hell.

Someone has trotted out the theory, as old as the classic radio comedy series, The Bickersons, that arguing and bickering is good for couples. Some psychologist (a liberal one, no doubt, who’s getting worried that the nuclear family might be making a come-back), insists that bellicose couples stay together longer. Perhaps they stay together because no one else would want to marry a shrew or a louse.

I’m an old bachelorette.  A spinster.   I’ve lived alone for a long time and have become accustomed to it. I’m quite accustomed to having my own way, doing what I want to do when I want to do it. I don’t have to share the remote with anyone. I don’t have to eat something I don’t like. I don’t have to worry (too much) about the way my house looks, except when my mother comes to visit.

Bachelorettehood has made me into a very lazy person. I’m too apt to sit around reading a book when I know I need to weed my garden. Where is that special someone to nag me into doing what I know perfectly well is the right thing to do?

Marriage keeps people on their toes. You have to love someone an awful lot to spend every night for the rest of your life listening to them snore. Or seeing them without makeup the first thing in the morning.

Money and kids are the chief trouble spots in marriages. Couples forget that the money and the kids are not exclusively their own, and a sort of checks and balances system develops, one most couples don’t appreciate in the least. “I’m right and you’re wrong and that’s that.”

That’s when the yelling and the screaming starts. That’s when people stop being nice to one another. They could get over the money issues and agree to do something about the kid who’s eight years old and still eating with his hands. But not if they can’t be nice to each other.

It’s true that some bantering, like the Bickersons above helps the partners maintain some of their individuality, or they’d go out of their minds. The trouble is, they get carried away with it. One young man and his wife spent 15 minutes literally screaming at each other over a bottle of water right in front of their mortified friends, and his parents. Being the only single person present, I decided to take pity on the onlookers and told the couple to knock it off.

They didn’t like it, but I didn’t care. When they told me to mind my own business, I reminded them they were the ones broadcasting their problems to the whole world, on a public street, no less. There was nothing funny about it. There was no laugh track. They shut up.

Luckily, there is forgiveness. And therapy, if a couple is too far gone for forgiveness, as in the case of Mel Gibson and his girlfriend. The first time you find yourself pressing, repeating a point for the third time, you know you’re on the brink and it’s time to stop and breathe.

Somewhere along the road to Hell, love gets left along the curb. How much more important is that bottle of water than the person you’re arguing about it with? The dirty socks? The leftover dinner? Some issues are critical, of course, like a maxed-out credit card or a drinking problem.

Those are the times when the shouting begins in earnest, encouraged by all the petty bickering that came beforehand. Exactly when people need to keep their heads is precisely when they lose them, when they’re about to lose their house or one of the kids is in serious trouble.

Anger is a natural human emotion. There are times when we all lose it and need to ask for and receive forgiveness. We should just try to not make it a habit, using our marriage partners as target practice for our own over-inflated egos.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Miss Westchester County

I hadn’t looked at my Facebook page in ages. Originally, I set it up with an alias name, a nom de guerre, figuring giving out one’s real name was rather dangerous. I also hadn’t looked at the e-mail account that served that Facebook page in as much time. I was surprised to discover a line-up of people I knew waiting for me to “friend” them on the alias account.

So much for secrets. So I changed it to my true name and now I have friends! One of the features of Facebook is that you can list your interests and activities for all the world to see. “Belle Likes Tea Parties!”

A couple of my new friends posted that they liked the Puerto Rican flag. I had to laugh. The same way I would at people who display the Irish or Italian flag. When I think of those people, I think of my mother (who’s still with us at this writing).

Mom was born in Manhattan, then lived with her grandmother on the Bronx/Westchester County border, in Lake Edenwald, which was a Scandinavian neighborhood in those days, in the Great Depression, days when every housewife swept not only her sidewalk but her section of the street until they all met in the middle.

Mom took a job with an architectural trade paper. Although she began as a clerk, she demonstrated enough intelligence and initiative that they soon gave her a job as a reporter. A field reporter, which in those days, was a job for men. Visiting construction site wasn’t considered fitting for a lady.

But Mom did it; in high-heeled shoes, no less. Westchester County was her beat. She loved Westchester County. She had lived on its border, she worked there, she was married there, two of her three children were born there.

But in those days, Westchester County was the way New Jersey is now; heavily taxed. After trying out California, my parents returned east to live in New Jersey. The houses were cheap, jobs were plentiful, the schools – well they weren’t so hot – but the taxes were low. New Jersey was an ideal state for a young, middle class family.

Once here, though, the locals practically greeted her with “Hee-haw! Welcome to our town!” My parents were aghast and my mother was heart-broken, pining for the Westchester County of her youth.

I think if they had a flag of Westchester County, she would have gladly bought one and hung it outside our New Jersey home, the way other people hang Irish, Italian, or Puerto Rican flags.

She took us to visit her friends back in Westchester County as often as she could until we were as familiar with their highways as with our own. As we grew up, she told us wonderful tales of Westchester County, as though it were a long-lost Camelot.

We children, meanwhile, were New Jersey, through and through, with a little California thrown in for good measure. My older brother might recall something of Westchester County, but my first memories were the palm trees of Los Angeles, and finally, our house in New Jersey. My younger brother was born here in the Garden State, and that’s all he know, though he travels just as often as he can, all around the world.

My ex-sister-in-law felt something akin to my mother, I guess. She wrongly assumed my brother had inherited that same passion for a cultured life, not the backwoods dullness of the northern New Jersey woodlands (I don’t know – I though it was pretty exciting, discovering The Iron Door).

She was so disenchanted with the New Jersey suburbs, she left my brother and moved to the other side of the world for a change of scenery – and cheap household labor. We offered to bury my mother in Westchester when the time comes, but she says that my father is buried here and we’re here, so there’d be no use in going back to Westchester now.

Everybody has their flag, I suppose. Mom’s is Westchester County. My ex sister-in-law’s flag is India. My Facebook friends, Puerto Rico. I don’t know that I’d particularly want to hang out the New Jersey flag. One of my friends is now a California gal and so are her daughters, although they were born here in the Garden State.

But I am rather fond of the American flag. The American flag sort of says it all. Wherever you go, whatever locale you have a passion for, you’re at least still an American, whether you want to live in the mountains of Vermont, the deserts of Arizona, the Kansas prairie, the North Slope of Alaska, or some sun-drenched Hawaiian island.

That’s the beauty of being an American. You’re free to live wherever you want, which is not always the case in other countries. Yes, we have minor skirmishes over whether California is better than Texas, whether it’s nicer to have four seasons, as in Connecticut, or one, long season of sunshine in Florida (with a few hurricanes thrown in).

There’s something for everyone in America, all sorts of climates and environments. But most importantly, there’s freedom.