Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “Oakland”

Remembering Charlie Russell R.I.P

I was deeply saddened by the passing of Charlie Louis Russell, Jr. last month. I knew Charlie from the California Writer’s Club that we have both attended for many years. Charlie was a quiet, steady presence who was always interested and engaged in what was happening around him. He was generous in his encouragement and compliments, while always very humble about his own writing successes, as he was about his accomplishments and his brother.

What most impressed me was that he would never be drawn into compromising his work or cutting corners. He once said that it will take as long as it will take and if he didn’t finish it, then that was how it was meant to be. I guess his words were prophetic.

I hope he is up there in the great writer’s group in the sky, sitting with the greatest and working on his book. Those heavenly writers will enjoy his company as much as we did in the basement of the Oakland Public Library.

Below is his obituary.

 Charlie Louis Russell, Jr.

March 10, 1932-June 28, 2013

Charlie Louis Russell, Jr. was born March 10, 1932 in West Monroe, LA.  His parents, Charlie Russell, Sr. and Katie Russell, were hardworking, industrious, and ran a tight ship.  They had a wood-burning stove and no indoor plumbing.  He and his younger brother, William “Bill” Russell, spent days shooting BB guns, hunting birds, and going to the movies.  The “Spy Masher” serial was a favorite.  Charlie loved his mom’s cooking, especially her stuffed bell peppers and banana pudding. 

Katie emphasized education.  After discovering that Charlie had not learned to read in grade school, she insisted that he be held back.  Katie spent the summer reviewing lessons with him, making sure he could read before the new school year. 

In the 1940s, in search of a better life, the family moved to Oakland.  Charlie attended Cole Elementary and Hoover Jr. High.  Before she died, Katie used someone else’s address so he could go to Oakland Tech High, which she believed would better prepare him for college.    

Charlie attended Santa Rosa JC.  He was briefly married to Donna Diston.  Their son Michael was born in 1950 (d. 2000).  In the Army (1953-1955) Charlie was stationed in Korea.  He returned and went to U.S.F., majored in English and was on the 1957 basketball team that reached the NCAA final four. 

The Russell family’s westward migration was highlighted in Isabel Wilkerson’s book, The Warmth of Other Suns.

After college, Charlie moved to New York, married Tanya Johnson and they had a daughter, Katheryn (1961).  He joined the Harlem Writers’ Guild and published several well-received pieces.  His play, “Five on the Black Hand Side,” appeared off-Broadway and was made into a movie (1973).  Charlie won an N.A.A.C.P. Image Award for writing the screenplay.

He earned an MSW degree from N.Y.U. in 1966 and was a counselor at City College.

Charlie loved jazz.  Charlie Parker and Dinah Washington were his favorites. 

He returned to the Bay Area in 1978 and taught drama at Contra Costa College.  In the mid-1980s he moved to San Diego where he was a social worker.  He moved back to the East Bay to manage the care of his father and worked for Ala. County Child Protective Services.

His final writing project was a novel based on Toussaint L’Ouverture’s life.

He leaves to cherish his memory daughter, Katheryn Russell-Brown (Kevin Brown), son, Joshua Russell, grandchildren, Louis Brown and Sasha Brown, special friend Sandra Johnson, ex-wife Tanya Russell, and many, many other family members and friends.

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA – At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.   For more about the author, check out his website.

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Have you Been to Church? – Tom Rossi

Have you been to church lately? Have you worshiped the almighty Jobs? Have you read The Book of Jobs? Have you attended services to celebrate the resurrection of Jobs?

iphone4

 Steve Jobs was, as far as I know, the first CEO who was enough of an egomaniac to call big press conferences to announce a new device that his company had produced – even if that device was, many times, just the latest version.

Apple-will-probably-hold-press-conference-on-October-4

 Now, press conferences to announce new toys or versions of electronic toys or versions of softwares are de rigueur, and reporters and “enthusiasts” (people whose lives revolve around having the latest iPhone or whatever) flock to them like kids to ice cream trucks on a hot day. We still have press conferences for Apple, but also Samsung, Facebook, and a host of other companies who have CEOs anxious to play the court jester. I think they all want to stick their success in the faces of the jocks who kicked their asses in high school and the girls who made barfing sounds when they asked them out.

apple-iphone-os4_007

 Yes, these press conferences are attended by throngs of reporters because the release of a new device version is what, today, passes for news. In between a few reports of shootings in east Oakland, this weeks big party parade across San Francisco, traffic reports, and horse-race political reporting, there is always “news” of some company releasing an iblender4.3, or something. “Apple announced, at its big event today, that iPhones will now be available in blue.” Very exciting news.

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 What really gets me about these press conferences is that they are purely for the purposes of publicity, and the media are complicit in the scheme. Every tech-head nerd-geek knows better than to take what is said at these release orgies too seriously. Anyone with more sense than dollars waits to hear from the reviewers who take the thing back to the office and work it over like Muhammad Ali beating up on Cleveland Williams. That’s why we hear so quickly about defects with things like map apps.

 But this is our new church. We, or our representatives, sit in the pews, waiting and hoping for a glimpse of our savior – whoever is the latest to promise us safe passage into heaven… or to heavenly FaceSpaceTumbling and Twitstagramming, anyway.

 I have an iPhone. It’s kind of a nice thing to have. I use the map a lot – that’s really what I bought it for. My iPhone is something like two years old. It still works well enough. I also have a hammer and a pair of vice-grips that I like. They’re all pretty useful tools.

 -Tom Rossi

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Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

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A Spirited Discussion: Occupy May 2012 – Roger Ingalls

Spring is in the air and so is the Occupy Movement. I had a great online discussion today with a couple of people and even with the realization that we had differing opinions, it was a comforting experience. It confirmed that people from all walks of life are still engaged, angry and it gave me confidence that the movement is still relevant.

 Here’s is the conversation.

Karen: “Watching the news and can’t believe the occupiers are throwing things at people and breaking things, I can’t believe how many police are out to try and contain them… Maybe if they were given the bill to pay for the extra police instead of my tax dollars having to pay for it they would think twice about it? Come on people, lets move on and quit bothering all the people who are trying to make a living!!”

Debbie: “I agree. No meaningful message gets out with violence and destruction.”

Roger: “Hmmm….should I comment? As initially reported, no violence until police arrived.”

Karen: “Roger, are you saying the police provoked these people into being violent or that they had no intention of vandalizing or being violent until the police showed up? The thing that gets me is that these people will go and smash in windows and “protest”, and wear masks so nobody knows who they are – if you are not planning on vandalizing or being an idiot you shouldn’t have to hide behind a mask. Maybe it’s just me…if you want to take over a building, do it the right way, not by throwing pipes and whatever else off the roof in a random manner not caring who or where it lands on. This whole thing has turned into mass chaos and destruction. Why was it necessary to mash in windows to small businesses two nights ago? What was the occupying and then the shop owner has to pay to replace their windows and cleanup – it’s bullshit?”

Karen: “Not all of that was directed at you, Roger, I was just asking you the question and then started ranting cause I find it so frustrating. I saw on the news this morning that some people who worked in downtown Oakland had a hard time getting home yesterday and I just don’t get it.”

Roger: “I think 90% of the Occupy folks are true protesters and then there are the other 10% that just use the movement as an excuse to be violent and break crap. Many of the bad 10% wait ’til the police show up so they can challenge them.”

Roger: “But…it is also Constitutionally illegal for the police to break up a non-violent protest on government or “commons” property. So many police forces yesterday were in violation of Federal Law. incidentally, many Bostonians in 1773 didn’t “get it” when the Sons of Liberty tossed the tea into the harbor but they are considered heroes today!

Roger: “I’m not offended, Karen, It’s good to vent!”

Debbie: “I am frustrated as a 99er because the message we are trying to get out is so important, the system is broken and no one in power will deal with it because corruption and greed are so wide-spread. But that small portion of protesters who start trouble by destroying things are destroying the damn message. Ergg!!”

Roger: “Hang in there Debbie, you can’t hold back the will of the people forever. Unfortunately, violence is part of the process and it will get worse before true change occurs. I hope I’m wrong but history proves that changes in the power structure don’t happen until those in power feel the wrath of the people. Again, I hope I’m wrong!”

Roger: “Karen, Debbie, great subject and discussion!”

Hope Seedling, picture from robcubbon.com

After a winter of hibernation, the seeds of discontent and change are coming back to life.

I Think I Used to Care… – Norman Weekes

I saw Papa Jack (not his real moniker) on TV the other night. He was standing in front of Children’s Hospital in Oakland at a press conference, looking dapper as usual. There’s a long list of places I don’t want to be and Children’s Hospital is on that list. I already visited Children’s Hospital, sans press conference. Earlier this year my grandson was rushed there after suffering seizures due to high fever.  He was eventually released complication free but I hope I never go back. Papa Jack was standing in the background while the father of 23 month old Hiram Lawrence Jr. explained to the press that although his son was shot in the head during a shooting his boy and his faith was strong.

I know Papa Jack from bible study class. Papa Jack is a man in his late 40’s or early 50’s. The “papa” designation comes a bit earlier in the black community these days. He’s a man of faith without complication, unlike myself. He’s a smart dresser, always quick with a laugh or hello, warmly approachable and direct without offense. Now his grandson was on life support.

This particular shooting was much publicized because it had all the elements TV news can’t resist. Grainy nighttime footage of the shooters in action, random nuttiness, a baby victim, a rapper’s painted marketing van shot up at the scene and local media’s favorite crime canvass, Oakland. This is not the first time a member of our congregation has had their faith tested in the most unimaginable way. Over the summer a young mother lost her son in a shooting, a deacon’s nephew was shot and killed a few weeks back and if I were closer to the church I’m sure I could come up with a few more. And that’s only this year.

Fatalities in Oakland 2011

When I hear of a hedge fund manager going to jail for five or ten years I don’t feel much sympathy for him or her (when will women start pillaging our financial system? Or are they different?). I don’t have empathy for the children suffering behind the gated mansion or the difficult adjustment his wife will have getting by on 50 or 60 million after lawyer fees and fines. I just don’t care. I think when the grandchildren and children of the Papa Jack’s of the world are gunned down, poorly educated, polluted and pissed on most people who don’t know people like Papa Jack just don’t care. I understand the moral equivalency doesn’t quite work but what is true is I don’t feel bad for the problems the of privileged. I don’t think they feel much for me to people like me either. Is there something wrong with that?  

I don’t have some pompous pious answer to this one. I just think there was a time where we all cared about each other much more. If anyone can tell me how we got from there to here, please let me know. Unless you just don’t care.

Postscript: Hiram Lawrence Jr. was taken off life support Friday, December 9th, 2011.

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Norman Weekes is a volunteer in social justice non profits, account executive looking for work and occasional political activist.

Obama and the Arc of Hopelessness – Norman Weekes

From Alon: I met Norman Weekes over the summer. He is a thoughtful, erudite man. I am very happy that he will write a  couple of posts a month for Left Coast Voices. Welcome aboard, Norm.

Norman Weekes

Norman Weekes

Obama and the Arc of Hopelessness

“He’s a nigga! Are you a nigga???”

I thought about my brief phone bank exchange with a voter from the Sunshine State while I watched Obama address the Grant Park crowd on election night at the Marriott in Oakland. I phone banked for Obama a few days before and thought about calling my Florida friend. It was a fleeting thought. This was a time for pride and promise.

I didn’t really know Obama then. I didn’t know his rhetoric concealed the fact that he has the guts of Urkel, the bravery of the Scarecrow and would lose a fist-fight to Betty White.

Why resort to name calling and personal insults you say? Why disrespect the man and the office like that? Don’t forget he inherited the Bush economy and the Republicans are bad people blah blah blah. Why? Because I have every right. I’ve been disrespected by Obama’s substitution for rhetoric over action. Name calling? I’d rather be called a punk than be called unemployed (which I am).

Personal? Long term unemployment is very personal. So don’t tell me about being too hard on the President. If you’re still hesitant to criticize the President you may believe OJ was set up and all the Jews working at the World Trade Center called in sick on 9/11. If so, I can’t dialogue with you. We can exchange food recipes but not talk politics.

A couple of weeks ago Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Ron Suskind started his book tour promoting Confidence Men, a behind the scenes look at the Obama Economic team. He had access to the team, interviewed the president and reported on the organizational interaction and leadership arc of Obama and his economic advisers. Suskind, a self proclaimed Democrat has been derided by the White House for his reporting and analysis. According to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner the book is filled with “sad little stories” that do not resemble the reality of the time.

Confidence Men

One sad little story is the response by Obama to the banking crisis. In the fear filled days of the crisis the Obama economic team debated as to how to deal with the banks. After listening to his team debate Obama concluded the government needed to take action to boost confidence, hold banks accountable and take control of toxic assets. To simplify, the choice was to act like the government of Japan in the 90’s or Sweden in the same decade. Obama choose a more Swedish like approach and decided to break-up Citibank, at that time the weakest of the” too big to fail banks”. He ordered Tim Geithner, who disagreed with the President to draft a plan to break up Citi.

A few weeks later Obama asks about the plan at a follow up economic meeting sans Geithner. He was told by Christina Romer, Chair of his Council on Economic Advisers there was no plan. Obama replied, “Well there’d better be!” (Goshdarnit!). Suskind says Geithner “slow walked” the policy. Washington is paralyzed but is still great at manufacturing euphemisms: slow-walking a policy, re-litigating policy, uneven policy implementation, etc. Here on Earth it’s called insubordination and regular folk get fired for it every day.

Last I checked Citibank is still Citibank, toxic assets are still on bank balance sheets and Tim Geithner is still treasury secretary. The banks and their investors have still not suffered the consequences of risky investment strategies. It’s mind-blowing Geithner has the balls to blow off the President of the United States. It’s even more amazing he’s still on the team. How arrogant do you have to be to ignore the President on a policy difference rather than resign? What does  that say for Geithner’s opinion of the President? How conflict adverse do you have to be to not fire someone who openly ignored your order?

I’m beginning to understand why single payer disappears, financial reform is weak, job stimulus is loaded with tax cuts (which don’t create jobs) serious job creation is ignored, Bush-based foreign policy continues and Obama gets rolled by Republicans on the debt, tax cuts for the rich and program cuts for the poor and middle class. Obama allows this by not fighting back. It’s that simple. My son asked me a couple of weeks ago why Obama’s getting all this heat. I told him, “Obama’s the guy on the basketball court you can push around and elbow all day long and nothing will happen. People just want to see him fight back.”

Is it his expression or the grey hair?

Erudite criticism is ignored. Criticism from people who use oligarch in everyday conversation is not working. When he has an opportunity to acknowledge he tells the Congressional Black Congress to “stop whining.” There’s no fight in this guy. It’s as if he never had to turn back and fight the bully at school than take an ass-whipping at home. I’m past frustrated and angry.

Hopelessness in Obama is on the horizon. I cried the night Obama was elected. I’m still crying now.

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Norman Weekes is a volunteer in social justice non profits, account executive looking for work and occasional political activist.

Bank Transfer Day

A friend of mine was frustrated with the General Strike on Wednesday in Oakland and with the Occupy Wall Street in general. While a member of the 99% and sympathetic to the cause, she had just heard from a worker at the Port of Oakland, who is paid hourly and worried that he lost a day’s income that he needs to feed his family.

From Star Wars to General Strike.  – Thank you to Oakland Mofo for the beautiful photo. 

We are hurting the very people we are supposed to be fighting for, she said (these are my words). Do you really think we hurt the 1% at the ports? She went on to complain that it is frustrating that there is no clear agenda and no clear tactics that will hurt those we are challenging to change their selfish and greedy practices.

She is right. I think I argued with her and probably lost because I knew she is right (Don’t tell her I wrote this!). I reminded her about the post that my colleague Tom Rossi wrote with a clear list of demands, but I had to concede about tactics.

But today, we can do something…and I mean today. As part of the Occupy Wall Street campaign there is a call for people to move their money from for-profit financial institutions to credit unions. So far, almost 80,000 people have made the commitment on Facebook to “send a clear message that conscious consumers won’t support companies with unethical business practices.”

Patelco – my credit union

 

More than $4.5 billion have been moved into new savings accounts in credit unions according to CUNA. 80% of credit unions  are recording significant member growth since the campaign began at the end of September, which was a reaction to the debit card fees that have since been dropped. 

Skeptics say that even if the entire 80,000 were to move their money, this would represent less than 1% of just Bank of America’s customers. There is an estimated $7.5 trillion in banks, including loans and savings. B of A has 57 million customers.

However, there is potential here to make Wall Street listen, even if not to bring it to its knees. The rescinding of the debit card charges is a good lesson. Even when chasing the most profit, a company, even one the size of B of A has to listen to its clients.

And what if every one of those 80,000 who signed up persuaded 5 of their friends. 400,000 people could transfer $30 million. November 5th was the date set for protestors to complete their transfers because the organizers wanted to create a measurable impact. I regret not writing on this earlier. But even if you cannot get out today and transfer your money, or want to research deeper, the banks will take notice if more people continue to protest by moving money into the people-friendly (and people-owned) credit unions. 

Thought the organizers of Bank Transfer Day want to distance themselves from Occupy Wall Street, history (and even in a year’s time) just might record Bank Transfer Day as the most effective measure to come out of this time period. It might also be a turning point in the utilization of the Internet to make strategic strikes and to conduct dissent away from demonstrations, something which is often regarded by people as intimidating.

And perhaps in a year, my friend and I might look back on this period of time together as one of change and one of pride.

 

 

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

Oakland Oppression – Unanticipated 500th Post

I realize that this is a second post in one day. I always anticipated a celebratory post for Left Coast Voice’s 500th post. Maybe a nostalgic look back on the last two years that this blog has existed.

But I am listening to live reporting from the Occupy Wall Street protests in Oakland. There is something ironic that a country who is trying to architect democracy and freedom in the Middle East and Africa, cannot tolerate the assembly of their own citizens to express discontent.

Freedom of expression is integral to democracy. We all applauded a Chinese student who stood in front of the tanks Beijing‘s Tienanmen Square and other peaceful demonstrations, not least what has been coined the Arab Spring.

Whatever the legalities of lawful assembly in Oakland, and I am no lawyer, when the police open fire with rubber bullets and gas on children and people in wheelchairs, the machine is truly broken. People coming together to demonstrate remains a powerful expression of communal freedom.

Whether you agree or disagree with the protestors, and the 99% message is pretty clear, the right of people to organize, whether they are Occupy Wall Street or Tea Party activists, is an integral part of a democracy.

At a time when the US is working so hard to influence nations around the world who have thrown off the chains of their oppressors to choose the road of democracy, what is the message that they are hearing from Oakland?

As one man just said on the radio – my faith is just shattered right now. Hoping that Left Coast Voice’s 1,000th  post will be of a more hopeful world.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

Books that Matter: Farm City

There are a number of books about people’s personal crusade to get back to nature, whether heading out to the wilds or bringing the farm into the urban setting.  Novella Carpenter’s Farm City stands out for me because it is a stone’s throw from where I live.

It’s a cool book to read. You get a flavor for the neighborhood and the people who share, often with a healthy dose of skepticism, how Novella’s project grows. This is not a how-to book, though there is a lot that can be learned of what to do and what not to do. It’s her unabashed honesty that hooks you.

I was captivated for most of the book. It does seem that the emphasis of the book moved towards animal rearing which is not something that I, in my mostly veggie lifestyle, could relate to.

If you want to follow the progress of the little farm in the city, Ghost Town Farm is the name of Novella’s blog. Check it out.
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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

 

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