When I heard that University of Washington students were poised to conduct a “disorientation” for entering students that featured the institution’s radical history I thought that was an oxymoron. Radical and U.W. in the same sentence? Surely, the administration had not engaged in “radical” acts. But then I realized I’d fallen into an Orwellian trap of accepting “radical” as a trait of leftists. More often it is used to smear liberal or moderate leftists. But in the forties and fifties many universities, including the UW, took radical rightwing action or supported it. McCarthyism reigned.
Flash! It’s 1954. I’m a U.W. student. I’m sitting next to Stull Holt, the chair of the history department, as we listen to members of the “Velde Committee” hearings hurl damaging accusations at university professors among others. Barbara Hartle, an admitted former member of the American Communist Party, has offered up to the committee more than three hundred names of people she alleges are or were Party members.
For weeks I’ve been ranting to Professor Holt about violations of civil liberties, but he just responds with a sigh of resignation, pointing out that throughout U.S. history Alien and Sedition laws had come and gone. These hearings, too, shall pass. I’m not confident of that, given the fact that UW President Raymond Allen has already fired three professors for “suspected association with Communists.”
That kind of radical action threatens the very roots of our freedoms. It pervades the university as well as the rest of America. In 1949 one hundred and three professors signed a letter to the U.W. Board of Regents objecting to the firings. But six hundred of the faculty remained silent. (For more on this topic go to http://historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm&file_id=1482
Flash! It’s 1966. In a Political Science class discussion, I refer to an article I’ve read in the New Republic. Another student, agitated, shouts at me across the room that I’m obviously a “Commie.” Clouds of anti-civil libertarian notions are omnipresent on and off the campus.
Academic radicalism takes the form of what is not taught.
Flash! It’s 1968. I’m a U.W. summer school student preparing to teach Washington State History to middle school students in the fall. All teachers of the course must take a university course in that subject. I know that teaching in the Central District will mean I have mostly black students. I want the course to be relevant to them but I’m required to use a particular text book and there’s not a word about African Americans in it. I ask my professor of Washington State history to refer me to some other texts that include the history of blacks in our state. “There weren’t any here,” he says, blithely. Though I have no evidence yet, I’m pretty sure he’s wrong about that. My skepticism is reinforced when I wind up spending most of that summer in the university’s Suzzallo Library pouring over scrap books kept by Negro church ladies’ organizations. I learn how wrong the professor is.
The textbook also excludes information about actions by the Industrial Workers of the World, the radical acts of creating Japanese “relocation” camps, corporations luring blacks from Indiana to Roslyn, Washington to break mine strikes. Nor does the book include more than a sentence about the Chinese exclusion acts or… well, it simply ignores any part of Washington history that is exciting or that casts a dark shadow over Washington’s political history. All this is supported by the disinformation spread by some of my professors in the history department.
While I try to engage my ninth grade students in our state’s past actions, history is being made nearby when the Central Contractors Association organizes for fail employment opportunities. The group protests the U.W. administration’s failure to abide by federal laws that prohibited racial discrimination in hiring. For more about this, see http://www.blackpast.org/?q=aaw/central-contractors-association
The students who are organizing the current “disorientation” event have their hands full in recovering even a few of the University’s radical actions. And the beat goes on, as current student organizations pressure the Board of Regents to divest the university’s investment portfolio of “all stocks in Big Oil, Big Coal, and all companies comprising the backbone of the fossil-few economy.” For more info, click here: http://blog.seattlepi.com/seattlepolitics/2013/06/13/students-to-regents-uw-should-rid-itself-of-oil-coal-stocks/
After taking this little stroll down memory lane, I’m curious about which of the many radical actions the University tour will relate. The “disorientation” for new students is a fitting way to begin their university education. For more information about historic and current UW students’ political actions see
Thursday, August 29, 2013
Monday, August 26, 2013
|I wonder whether this lovely building is now rubble|
|This poster against abuse of women might have been in the Seattle YWCA in the 1970s or '80s|
|I interviewed this impressive woman, a candidate for Parliament. She lost the election|
|This cosmetition lost the lease for her business after NGO personnel contributed to inflationary prices of real estate|
|Since she no longer had a shop to work in she brought her "shop" to her friend Mitra's house|
|This is a model for cosmetics|
|Mitra was an enthusiastic talker, especially about her micro loan, which allowed her to buy a second sewing machine and hire another worker.|
|The worker is happy too.|
|These men of "military age" are the staff gathered in our living room|
|This is what I could see from the burqa I tried on|
|Looking out my guest house window|
|Our group with two of our guides|
|More men of that dangerous age, the kitchen staff|
|The streets of Kabul were jammed but just a few minutes out of the center of town this was the traffic|
|Our guest house host, who was also a professor of French literature|
|School boys. Assuming they have survived the war so far, they are now be of miliatary age|
|Many girls wore hijab and many didn't|
SEEING FOR MYSELF: A POLITICAL TRAVELER’S MEMOIR
Below, you will find excerpts from my book, with more coming in future blogs.
A WORLD OF WOMEN IN NAIROBI
At the 1985 U.N. conference on women I was exhilarated by the amazing mix of women from all over the world. I was also dismayed by how many U.S. policies women from many countries found oppressive. I felt the same outrage at President Reagan’s support of South Africa, but the number of other dictatorships my government had supported was astonishing. I learned not only about women worldwide, but also the suffering of all people in East Timor, Sri Lanka, Guatemala and other areas where dictators were supported by U.S. policies. Yet women from numerous countries greeted us Americans with warmth. Workshops were crowded but a South African presenter assured us, “there is always room for one more.”
As I tried to keep track of the bold actions women were taking all over the globe, voices in my head vied for attention. Brief exchanges with women I would never meet again segued to comments made in workshops, or to isolated sentences from pamphlets or articles in the Forum ’85 daily newspaper. I tried to absorb it all, but a mental kaleidoscope kept flipping my focus from one issue to another:
Flip: “Women must have their own banks,” says a representative of a
U.N. development organization.
Flip. “The West is to blame for most of our problems.” From various sources.
Flip: “The National Coalition of Black Gays is not presenting workshops because of fear of oppression. In the U.S. we are members of an undeveloped nation.”
Flip: “In Spain homosexuality was made legal in 1979.”
I was able to focus for a while on one remarkable story. In India as early as 1974, the NGO, SEWA (Self-Employed Women’s Association), had started a women’s bank, which made small loans (now known throughout the world as micro-loans) to women in the “informal economy.” The SEWA workers discovered that women could be relied on to pay back their loans and would use the money well. Men, by comparison, were not so reliable and tended to spend money on themselves. The story of SEWA’s beginning was an inspiration. When organizers had tried to get loans, the exchange with bankers went something like this:
Banker: “Give money to poor women? Who aren’t even literate? Don’t be ridiculous.”
Organizer: “Well, let’s see. How about if we give each borrower a picture i.d. card?”
Banker: “She would still have to sign her name on each loan, and some of these women can’t even do that!”
To learn more or to buy the book, click here: http://www.amazon.com/Seeing-For-Myself-Political-Travelers/dp/1609440676/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1377550659&sr=8-1&keywords=Seeing+for+Mysel
On the last day of Forum ‘85 my heartbeat was still accelerated by questions and ideas bombarding my consciousness. I stood with women on the lawnthe same lawn where seemingly long ago I had first seen that audacious sign, “International Lesbian Information Service.” Twenty women dressed in the modes of various countries leaned into a tight circle, discussing how to end men’s violence against women. I wondered whether I would be able to sustain my own awareness of the global feminist momentum without the continual stimulus of ideas pouring into my head. I need not have worried.
Undaunted by the enormity of the work ahead of us in turning the gendered world upside down, we were energized by all that we had learned and felt. How could we keep our connections going? And how would we explain it all to those who weren’t there? We quickly came up with the idea of a newsletter. I was excited about that, and suggested that each of us send news to the others. Then someone could collate and forward it all to the rest of us.
That “someone” was the catch. When no one volunteered, I offered to collect and distribute whatever was sent each quarter for one year, if others would take turns after that. We agreed to call our product the International Newsletter Against Violence Against Women.
“IT AIN’T WHAT YOU SAY; IT’S THE WAY THAT YOU SAY IT”
After driving for six days from Seattle to Guanajuato, Mexico, I was glad to relax and enjoy the bustling streets. I learned that the old tune about “the way you say it” is absolutely right.
Strolling along the narrow sidewalk lined with shops, I was astonished at how many people crowded elbow to elbow on the sidewalks. It seemed that everyone in the city was carrying out the weekly ritual of Saturday night shopping for clothing, food, and all manner of trinkets. They didn’t even jostle each other. Or so I was thinking, just as someone bumped into me. I wondered what sort of person would not even say perdon. I caught a glimpse of skinny man quickly looking over his shoulder at me as he darted past, but I gave only a moment’s thought to him.
Across the street a mime was surrounded by a mesmerized audience, and I moved toward the circle of spectators. I watched a tall, slim man in white face, red gloves, and a black suit as he told stories with graceful, expressive hands. The children’s expressions of awe, puzzlement, and sheer delight testified to the mime's talent. I was enchanted with the performance and paid scant attention to a man next to me. I was only vaguely aware that he muttered something incomprehensible in Spanish, I didn’t know if he was talking to me or to himself. When he raised his voice, I didn’t need to understand his words. I knew from his tone that he spelled trouble. Then he shouted at me in an angry tone, so I moved to the opposite side of the circle.
The man followed. He stood too close to me for comfort. I glared at him, and was met with a glassy stare from a pair of eyes that pierced.
To find out happened next, go to the book at
THERE’S ALWAYS ROOM FOR ONE MORE
My Todos Santos, Guatemala “home” with a family of eight consisted of a one-room house with an indoor fire pit that provided heat and fuel for cooking. The floor was of hard packed dirt and there was no electricity or plumbing, yet the family welcomed me so warmly I didn’t miss any of those amenities.
Despite her labors of weaving, and cooking, and caring for the children, Juanita found time to be with me. We were each limited by our inability to speak much Spanish, which together with her shyness and my time-consuming classes, meant we did not talk much. But sometimes we were alone together for a couple of hours, and I learned how to simply be with her; how to let feelings of closeness develop without the need for conversation. That was new for me. Years earlier a man I was involved with had tried to persuade me that talk wasn’t the only way to communicate. I had scoffed at that idea. But I had laid the notion aside, and now I was finally ready to give up some of my reliance on words.
When the time came for me to leave Todos Santos, Juanita and I both felt sad….My bus out of town was over an hour late, and the two of us stood in silence waiting for it. Every now and then I would look at Juanita and her eyes would fill and she would say, "Ahhhh, Ginny..." in a tone of longing. I would smile weakly and touch her arm.
That limbo of waiting and longing was too melancholy for me, and the language of silence this time was too difficult to sustain. So, when a truck pulled up and the driver invited all of us waiting for the bus to ride with him to Huehue, I was relieved to climb into the truck bed. In a few moments I was waving goodbye. Juanita looked very small standing by the road waving back.
SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE, MEXICO
I spent seven winters in San Miguel, which was a stark contrast to Todos Santos. My San Miguel quarters weren’t luxurious. But plumbing and electricity were taken for granted, at least for gringos and middle class Mexicans. And I had plenty of space all to myself.
I soon found a one-room house, complete with the luxury of my own phone. My nearly private garden…included my own jacaranda tree, and the rent was only one hundred and thirty dollars a month. Within weeks in San Miguel, I had acquired a community of friendly relationships. My days fell into a pattern that seemed perfect. I rose at nine or ten, wrote until mid-afternoon, and then attended a Spanish or writing class, or a critique group. In late afternoon I might meander….
To find out more about life in San Miguel ask your library to order it or buy it here
A TASTE OF IRAQI POLITICS AND ACADEMIA
By the summer of 2002 President Bush had me worried about the imminent war against Iraqis. I kept asking, “Who are those people,” and I wanted to see them for myself. Friends kept telling me that would be far too dangerous to visit Iraq but in early fall of that year I signed up for a two week trip with a politically oriented group. In Iraq we met doctors who worried about children dying from lack of medicine because of U.S. sanctions. I saw for myself the results of the U.S. war, sanctions and interventions. I met school children shouting “Down with Bush” and university students who said U.S women had “too much freedom.” I had met Rahim at a party in Baghdad and was overjoyed when he invited me to visit his university class. I began the session by asking the students about their current reading:
Rahim’s class was studying Waiting for Godot. The women were shy and the first students to raise their hands were the two men in the class. But with encouragement, a few brave women spoke up. All the women students were dressed more or less like western office workers, except for their omnipresent scarves, either white or patterned in numerous colors. When I asked whether they saw a connection between Godot and their situation, the class burst out in unanimous laughter.
“We are waiting, waiting, waiting,” someone said.
I assumed that meant waiting for the American axe to fall. I was wary of inviting comments on that threat too soon, but the students soon warmed up and, all fluent in English, they were eager to praise Hussein and criticize the United States:
“I want to express my love of my country and my president. He is an example for the world. We are a great country because of our president.”
“We have lost a lot and have nothing more to lose. But the U.S. has no right to make us feel so afraid just because someone wants to drive a big car.”
“The sound of bombs makes me feel afraid. It’s now every day, and they make our fear worse.”
“They should leave us alone. We want to live in peace.”
I was surprised by the vehement tones and sharp criticism because our group had met graciousness from everyone we encountered. But they were all able to separate the American government from us American people. The next topic I invited was the only time I heard critiques of American culture:
I asked, “What do you think about the freedom of women in the U.S.?” Students took turns answering my questions.
Student: “You have too much freedom.”
Ginny: “What kind of freedom are you thinking of?”
Student: “Freedom should have some limitation.”
Ginny: “What kinds of limits are useful?”
Student: “You need protection.”
To learn what happened next, ask for the book at our library or order it here: http://www.amazon.com/Seeing-For-Myself-Political-Travelers/dp/1609440676/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1377550659&sr=8-1&keywords=Seeing+for+Mysel
Stay tuned for more excerpts in future blogs.