Monday, May 29, 2006

Liberating Paris and De-Segregating Los Angeles

Yesterday, May, 28, I went to the 90th birthday celebration of Seymour Robinson and the 60th anniversary of Seymour and his wife Anita. Seymour and Anita are old friends (40 years at least) of my mother. Today is Memorial Day, and I wish to discuss Seymour.

I was seated at the World War II table as each table had a scrapbook giving memories. Seymour is particularly proud of his service during the war. He fought at Omaha Beach during the U.S. landing in Normandy. As a member of the Civil Affair D team, he was attached to the U.S. First Infanty Division which broke through the German lines at St. Lo. Then his Civil Affairs team was assigned to the French Tank Division commanded by General Le Clerc whose mission was to liberate Paris. His Civil Affairs teams was assigned to set up a new government in the 3rd Arrondisment.

As he drove his jeep through the countryside and then the suburbs of Paris, he remembers crowds waved French and American flags cheering them on. Then they entered Paris itself and as dawn on August 24th broke they "were surrounded by growing enthusiastic humanity ..." They discovered they were right in front of the Louvre, but Captain Bell told them their mission was to get to the Place to the Republic, so their group of jeeps headed in that direction, still surrounded by huge numbers of people who made it difficult for them to move but they kept inching foward.

They entered the Place de la Republic where French Resistance fighters had surrounded the headquarters of the Garde Republicain, now occupied by German SS. Seymour's group joined in alonside the Resistance and soon a white flag appeared over the building. Enterting the building they found that in the cells were dead bodies of men who had been shot--all wearing Jewish stars (Seymour is Jewish).

Emerging outside the building, he saw a crowd greeting him and the other American soliders: in the crowd were two elderly men wearing Jewish stars. They asked in English, "Whare is the will of the Americans? Are we still to wear our Jewish stars?" Seymour says, "We were unable to speak. Each one of us spontaneously removed a yellow star from the clothing of the nearest person and attached it to our uniform. A shout went up all around us--'Liberation!-Liberation.' " Later Seymour was awarded the Crois de Guerre from the French government as well as three Bronze battle stars

After he returned to the United States, Seymour went back to his hometown Chicago where he immediately maried his sweetheart Anita. They left Chicago, moving to Los Angeles where they had three children, settling on the westside in the large Jewish community of Pico-Fairfax. He had been active as a reporter for left newspapers during the Depression and was in the late 1940s working as a typesetter, facing McCarthy blacklisting, so he started his own typesetting firm.

During the 1960s Seymour and another friend Maury Mitchell organized the Progress Club at the Westside Jewish Community Center which my parents belonged to. They took part in the large black-Jewish coalition that was crucial in electing Bradley to his first term as Los Angeles's first African-American mayor. Seymour and Anita lived in a Pico/Fairfax neighborhood where blacks were beginning to buy houses. White flight was always a danger, so Seymour organized Neighbors United, a group that tried to stop white flight and keep his neighborhood integrated. Also, the Robinsons worked at desegregating the Los Angeles public schools.

At the luncheon some of Los Angeles's leading black politicans were there: Congresswoman Maxine Waters spoke a tribute to Seymour & Anita. Also Congresswoman Diane Watson and former Councilman Nate Holden were there.

I find a direct line between Seymour's heroic World War II service as well as his carrying those same principals into action twenty years later in Los Angeles, still very segregated in mid-1960s. He was courageous both in war and bringing justice on the homefront, and I salute both him and Anita on their 60th wedding anniversary and his 90th birthday! Congratuatations!

Friday, May 19, 2006

Report from the Los Angeles Subway

For the last four months I have been taking the Red line subway to work in Los Angeles from Hollywood to Downtown--and loving it. In early February when I drove home during evening rush hour traffic, the cars just inched along 5mph either on the Hollywood Freeway or the side streets. Driving through this crawling-along-traffic was agravating.

So the first pleasure of taking the subway was avoiding the rush hour traffic: on the subway it was much more relaxing. I get off the subway at 6:00 pm very rested. I also noticed that I was saving each week in gas--particularly important as the price of gas is now $3.50/gallon. Thirdly, there is less wear-and-tear on my car, so in the long run it will also save me money.

Yet more important is that I enjoy being with all the crowds on the subway. I'm happy to say that the cars are crowded whatever time I go--whether 8:45 am, 12:00 noon, 3:00 pm or 6:00 pm. The subway is a success as it has attracted a ridership! I sometimes get in conversations with fellow riders. I especially like to see the guys taking their bikes on the subway (L.A. is having a revival of bike culture). I like the cheer on the bike riders! Hurrah for you! I like the diversity of the crowd: Latino/a, white, Asian, black; Moms with babies in strollers, teenagers, young working people up to seniors; all classes from the poor to the well-to-do.

Being on the subway makes me feel like I'm not in suburban past of L.A. but entering into its urbane, sophisticated future. The folks driving in their cars seems like ancient relics of the past.

I had a conversation with a friend Mort who grew up in New York City but has lived in Los Angeles for over 40 years. Mort said that though he grew up in Queens, he always identified as a New Yorker as did other New Yorkers. Los Angeles, he added, is quite different, since few people identity themselves as from Los Angeles but say instead they are from Pasadena, Santa Monica, Long Beach, West L.A. etc etc.

Why is this difference between L.A and New York? Well, New Yorkers have quite a few places where all races and classes come together--Times Square, Central Park, the Yankees and the Giants games, parades up Park Avenue, and, of course, the subway. In contrast, in Los Angeles, most people never go downtown and lack a central park where all go to. Being in their cars also drives Angelenos apart, depriving them of communal feelings one would get on a subway.

I get a joyful feeling on the subway as I like feeling I'm in a city. Some of the students I teach downtown have been taking the train to school for a number of years. I think these students are L.A.'s future: they're growing up on the subway!

Sunday, May 14, 2006

NSA spying, AT & T & me

I learned like everyone else last week that AT & T, my phone company for local calls, as well as Verizon and BellSouth all turned over all their phone records to NSA, the National Security Agency. That action violates of the 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution which protects the citizens against illegal search and seizure. AT & T violated my Constitutional rights!

In January, the Electronic Frontiers Foundation sued AT & T for breaking the law while two New Jersey pubic interest lawyers have sued Verizon for $5 billion for violating its customers'
privacy. Also, the ACLU as well as Working Assets Long Distance (WALD) is suing NSA.
Lawsuits take time, but here's something you can do in quickly.

I have been a customer for Working Assets Long Distance (WALD) for my long distance for 15 years. WALD is a telecommunications company for social change that offers long distance service and cells phones. You can switch your long distance to WALD (, the only telecommunications company that has taken a principaled stand against NSA spying by participating in a lawsuit against it.

My only connection with WALD is being their customer for 15 years. They offer their services
over SPRINT. I've never had any problems at all with the WALD service. Every bill is on recylced paper and includes information on legislative actions that one can take if one wants. Also, they donated a percentrage of their profits to social change groups: they've donated $50 million since 1985. At the end of the year all the long distance customers get to vote on which social change groups to send the donation money to.

I've never had their cell phone service, so I can't comment on that. My only complaint against
WALD is that they used to offer their credit card through a small bank which is bought up by
MBNA, so now they offer their credit card through MBNA, which has excessive fees. So I'd
wish they end their connection with MBNA, but as I said, I'm not a credit card customer.

As for cell phone, I'm a pay-as-you-go customer since I refuse to have a monthly bill. WALD doesn't have a pay-as-you-go cell phone so I can't use them The most inexpensive pay-as-you-go plan in Los Angeles was T-Mobile, and I have no complaints. I was thinking about Verizon, but happily I didn't choose them; now I wouldn't choose Verizon
at all because of their turning over their phone records.

One problem: AT & T is the only local phone service offered in my area--they have a
monopoly of landline phones. I'm going to start to investigate Internate phones as an alternative.

Friday, May 05, 2006

What We Learned on May Day

As the Los Angeles Times said in the article "Throngs Show Their Potent Role in Economy" on May 1 we leanred in California that immigrants were crucial to the state's as well as the country's economy. Los Angeles, the nation's largest seaport, had only 10% of the trucks show up May 1st as 90% of the truckers boycotted. These truckers normally bring in all the retail goods--clothing, elecrtronics, car etc--that are then shipped all over the country. The Times quoted on truck driver George Fernandez saying that he made about $20,000 a year or about $10/hour, and wanted "some sort of relief from all the costs, like for fuel, and the low pay and the working conditions."

In agricultural May 1st was California's biggest work stoppage in the history of the state as most of the states 225,000 farm workers didn't work. Many of the growers let their employees take the day off. Near Salinas the Times reported Highway 101 was lined with tractors, trailers and harvesters--all just sitting there. Strawberries weren't packed near Oxnard. California grows 25% of the nation's food (at least 50% of the nation's fruit), so undocumented immigrants were crucial to growing food for the whole country.

Farmers truck their food down to the whole produce markets in downtown Los Angeles to supply the city each day with food. The Los Angles Times reported that on Monday the 7th Street Market, the second-largest wholesale produce operation in Southern California, didn't open at all while the Los Angeles Wholesale Produce Market, supplier for restaurants, caterers and independant grocery stores, lacked buyers as many retail stores were closed. Again immigrants were crucial in suplying Los Angeles with food: they work as truckers bringing in the food, labor in the wholesale markets downtown, and work in the retail stores that sell the food. Immigrants were also important as consumers--of food, gas, clothing, etc. As the Whole Produce Market worked, if the consumers don't consume, much less gets sold.

Besides growing produce, immigrants work in meat packing firms, cutting and packaging cows and chickens into meat for the nation's households and restaurants. On May 1 some of the largest meat packing firms--Tyson Foods Inc, Perdue Farms Inc, Cargill Inc, and Swift and Co.--closed many plants while cutting back workers in others. Again immigrants proces the chickens and cows that most of the nation eats. The book Fast Food Nation has a whole chapter on immigrant workers in huge meat packing firms in the Midwest states such as Kansas who work for low-pay in extremely hard, dangerous work.

Did this one-day boycott have a big impact on the economy? Financial anlaysts have said that 1 day of no work in these industries won't have a negative economic effect because the industry --agriculture, for instance--can catch up the work by the end of the week.

Yet we have learned an important fact. Before May 1, most people in the United States thought of undocumented immigrant workers largely as gardeners or nannies. Now we must change our thinking. Immigrants contribute every day in crucial, important ways to the nation's economy, particularly getting food to the table that most of us eat every day as well as trucking in retail goods that we buy. Immigrants also provide stimulus to the economy by what they consume. In Japan, where the population has been stable for over 20 years (the country has little immigration) the economy has stagnated. In contrast, the United States has had a growing population consuming more goods and a growing economy.

The average undocumented worker has been in this country five years doing this year--usually low-paid, with very little benefits. They do work that we all depend on. Their consumption stimulates the national economy. They contribute every day to the national economy.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

May 1, 2006 Los Angeles

I started May Day in Santa Monica holding a picket sign that said "Faculy Wants a Fair Contract Now" in front of Santa Monica College on Pico Street at 8:30 am. Seven of us from the faculty union were picketing for a contract. The faculty has been negotiating for a new contract for 18 months, and has been without a raise for 3 1/2 years. During that time the administration has given itself two raises so our union called for a picket line in the afternoon and morning starting last Wednesday. As we seven picketed, we received some friendly honks and waves, particularly from the truckers and bus drivers.

I taught my two classes and left campus. At 4:25 I was walking toward Wilshire and Highland to join the Wilshire march of the Day Without Immigrants. The marchers were starting to walk at 4:00 at Wilshire and Alvarado, over 4 miles away. I had figured that the marchers wouldn't get to my corner until around 6:00 p.m., so getting there by 4:25 was very early. Was I wrong. Getting to the corner, I was just arranging my camera for the first shot and watching some bicyclers and a few random marchers walk by for five minutes.

Then I turned and saw a huge mass of people approaching 1 1/2 hours early. Most people were wearing white and were waving American flags: big flags, little flags, flag hats, a flat wrapped around one's shoulder. Most were in family groups with children including many pushing baby strollers or men were carrying children around their shoulders. I thought it was amzing to push a baby stroller for four miles. It was an awe inspring sight to see this huge mass of people coming so early. While I was busy taking photos, two men approached me, and asked me to take their photo, handing me their cameras--both times I did so.

The marchers kept on coming and coming: again mostly in family groups. Most of the thousands who went by were Latino, but a scattered few were Asian or white or black--I saw a black mom walk with her ten year old son. More thousands kept coming--it was a festival, a carnival, a fiesta, a march down Wilshire Boulevard. Immanuel Presbyterian Church members marched by with a banner. Assemblyman Marco Firebaugh whom I once met had a banner saying he was present. I saw my studentKaren from LA Trade Technical College marching with her dad and her brother who looked around ten, so I took their photo. The onlookers on the sidewalk were friendly while most of the businesses were closed.

I decided to walk with the crowd to LaBrea which was about 6 blocks away but when we got up to Sycamore Street the crowd was so packed I couldn't march any more; it was impossible to get any closer to LaBrea where the sound stage was, so I turned back to Highland, taking more photos. Thousands more came by, so after over 2 hours by 6:45 the crowd seemed to thin after, with some marchers who had got near LaBrea turning back. I thought, well, this has been geat, but I've seen most of it. The cops were standing relaxed on the sidelines, and I started talking to one friendly black traffic cop who said she had started at 2 and had to work until 11. Her partner, she said, was on overtime. I told him, "I hope you get time and a half," and he smiled.

At 6:45 the mass of people approaching got even thicker than before--this was the heart of the march. What I had seen for the previous 2 hours 15 minutes was the advance troops. Again it was utterly an awesome sight to see the mass of people approaching down Los Angeles's biggest street.

Now, instead of family groups, people marched in front of big banners a few hundred strong. The Koreans of Korean Immigrant Workers Association (KIWA) marched in two lines in colorful black-and-yellow costumes banging drums. The Association of Hot Dog Vendors marched behind their banner. The Day Laborers marched behind their banner.

A few minutes later when another group got to the intersection of Highland people started yelling, "Bajo, bajo" and motioned to get down. Soon hundreds of people sat down in the intersection. Then five minutes later they got up in a group and shouted with delight. Yes, the march had great exuberance, peacefullness, and delight.

A 1/2 million people had marched peacefully down Wilshire Boulevard as well as another 300,000 had marched up Broadway earlier than day in downtown, and the truck drivers had closed own the port of Los Angeles, the largest port on the West Coast. It was quite a day.