Monday, April 30, 2012

Roadtown, a Western Fantasy

"Roadtown" was a Progressive futurist notion that Edgar Chambless came up with toward the beginning of the last century. He published a book in 1910, called "Roadtown" appropriately enough, that set forth his ideas about the linear City of the Future, and it apparently caused quite a stir, enough of one, in fact, to lead to much popular press. Nevertheless, January, 1914, issue of Sunset Magazine, published by the Southern Pacific Railroad, seems to be the last major press notice of Chambless's ideas for the Future. One of his plans at that time was to have a Roadtown exhibit at the Panama Pacific Exhibition the following year, but so far as I've been able to find out there is no record of any such exhibit.

Roadtown was intended to be a technological marvel and to use the latest technology of the era to improve the lives of citizens, city dwellers especially.

At the time, the City was considered to be the root of evil and the den of iniquity. I thought about this in connection with my mother's family's removal from Indianapolis and all its urban troubles -- including labor strikes and all that went with them -- to the very small and relatively isolated California town of Santa Maria in 1916. I tried to imgine what impelled them, and one of the obvious factors was the City itself. Indianapolis was a large, gritty industrial city at the time, and the lot of those on its economic margins (where I would say my mother's family lived) was not a particularly good one. When my mother's father was killed, life for her and her mother was made nearly impossible. There were few options available for young widows and orphans.

The lot of others was comparatively worse, and many poor City dwellers had no option to leave for California or anywhere else for that matter. They were tied to their sorry lot in life, and that was that. The United States may have been a Land of Opportunity, but it was Opportunity open to some, not all. The suffering of the poor was intrinsic to the Opportunities afforded to others. And the suffering of the poor in America's cities was intense and self-perpetuating.

One of the chief means social scientists imagined would alleviate the situation was to remove the City's population to the Country. Roadtown was seen as one of the ways to do that.

In essence, Roadtown is a version of a linear city that is built on top of the then prevalent interurban street railways.

Street railways were the principal public transportation method prior to the widespread adoption of the private automobile. In 1910, when Chambless published his Roadtown manifesto, there was little expectation that automobiles would ever become much more than vehicular toys for the rich; they were wildly expensive, unreliable, uncomfortable, dangerous, and so on. Outside the cities, roads were in deplorable condition. The commerce and sightseeing travel of the Nation was done by rail. For personal use, the bicycle was considered the most appropriate form of wheeled transport, and bicycling had become a popular national pastime.

So when Chambless -- a patent examiner -- came up with his Roadtown plan, the most up-to-date Futurist ideas did not necessarily include the Automobile as an important factor to consider. Not only was the need for them limited in 1910, their ultimate utility was questionable. Automobiles were on par with the then novel Aeroplanes. On the other hand, bicycles, interurban street railways and long distance trains were proven technology widely considered to be the most efficient and thus the most Progressive and useful transport systems for the Future.

Roadtown was conceived as a multi-layer, multi-mile long extension of the City along the interurban transit lines that had either already been developed or would be developed in the Future.

At the bottom, in a deep trench, was to be found the interurban express line, stopping maybe every five miles or so, that would deliver goods and people to and from the City cores from which Roadtowns would radiate. Above the Express lines would be the interurban local lines, stopping every hundred yards or so, to provide a means for goods and people to travel easily -- "effortlessly" -- within Roadtown itself along what were conceived of as silent running monorail lines, rolling on leathern tired wheels in futuristic, even somewhat streamlined cars that were something like this:

This test track was built and demonstrated in 1911 in the tideflats of Seattle, Washington. The rails were made of wood and track cost was estimated to be around $3,000 per mile. A bargain! The Seattle Times commented at the time that "the time may come when these wooden monorail lines, like high fences, will go straggling across country, carrying their burden of cars that will develop a speed of about 20 miles per hour." Like so many inventions, lack of financial backing prevented further development.

Above the local transit lines, and directly connected to the transit platforms via internal stairways, would be the residences of Roadtown citizens. In other words, the "front doors" of these residences would be on transit platforms, not on the street. In essence, there would be no streets, for all transportation would be along either the rail lines below ground or on the roofs of the attached dwellings above where there would be a Promenade -- open to the wafting breezes in the spring and summer, glassed in and steam heated in the winter -- where pedestrians, cyclists, and roller-skaters (using rubber-wheeled roller skates) could amble along the way, stop at leisure, and enjoy the bracing Country Air and rural sights as they chose.

The Roadtown dwellings would consist of five to seven rooms -- depending on family size and necessity -- two rooms deep and two stories high, built of precast (and we assume reinforced) cement (concrete), forms and materials for which would be rapidly and efficiently carried along the rail lines by construction trains and erected in a trice on a common plan. These attached dwellings would be between 21 and 33 feet wide. Approximately 1,000 dwellings would be found in each mile of Roadtown. Each dwelling would be provided, of course, with the latest equipment including electricity for lighting, gas for home heating and cooking, hot and cold running water, proper sewage, and telephony of many kinds which included applications that anticipated radio and possibly even television.

Each dwelling would be supplied with heat and refrigeration from central plants, carried in pipes below ground. In fact all utilities would be underground, easily accessible from below for inspection and repair as well as expansion when necessary through passages aligned with the rail platforms.

On either side of each dwelling would be the private plots of the residents, each the width of the dwelling and extending as far as the eye could see into the distance. Because not everyone would want to or be able to utilize such an abundance of land, arrangements would be made to limit the land-holdings of those who needed or wanted less, and expand the holdings of those who could utilize more for crops, though leisure and gardening purposes were by no means restricted or limited. The idea was to provide enough land for each household to enable it to grow sufficient produce (and if so desired, animals) for its own needs, and for those so inclined, to enable modest-scale intensive farming to produce surpluses for sale to those who weren't generally farm-folk by nature. Chambless seemed to recognize that not everyone who could benefit from Roadtown living had a green thumb.

Communal and cooperative ventures and endeavors were to take the place of the corporations and the trusts that dominated the economy in those days. On the domestic front, the drudgery of "women's work" in the kitchen and laundry particularly was to be eliminated through the utilization of central kitchens and laundries. Households would order their meals from the central kitchens which would prepare and deliver them at the appropriate times. Laundry would be sent out to be done in the central facilities -- which would of course include wet washing and dry cleaning -- to be returned when complete. Central vacuum systems would be installed so that all households would be free from dust and dirt, while automatic mechanisms would lift bedding into airing (and disinfecting) closets during the day and return it to the bedstead at night for restful and clean sleep.

Citizens would be able to work at home in low-impact industry, making necessary items for use or sale, while heavier industry could take place in factories set away from but convenient to Roadtowns. No factory or industry would be allowed to grow so large as to dominate the economy of any Roadtown or locality.

The Future, as seen by Chambless and the many Roadtown advocates is one of independence as well as community, of dignity and well as quirky eccentricity, of industry as well as abundant leisure and creativity, of freedom from drudgery, of education and entertainment, of innovation as well as preservation of tradition.

And yet, nothing quite like Roadtown has ever been undertaken, at least not on the scale Chambless envisioned it, nor for quite the purpose he had in mind.

Instead, the Garden City alternative has been almost universally adopted for suburban expansion of urban centers. Garden Cities essentially continue the endless grid of streets and surface, overhead or underground utilities that have been the hallmarks of Cities throughout history. The chief difference is that Garden Cities make the grids much larger than in the past, infilling the gridded sectors with curving streets.

The whole point of Roadtown is to get away from the street grid, eliminating it entirely.

And that still seems to be a bridge too far for even today's Futurists.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

California Dreamin'

My mother was four or five years old when she came out to California on the train from Indiana with her mother and her new step-father. This was in 1916. California's population stood at about 3,000,000 at the time, mostly concentrated in two urban areas: Los Angeles with about 350,000 people and San Francisco with about 450,000.

The rest of California's population was scattered in rural areas and in small towns up and down the Coast and Valley. There were remnant Gold Rush towns in the foothills and mountains of the Sierras in the east and the Cascades in the far north, but most had become ghost towns when the easy gold was got.

My mother's parents settled in Santa Maria, which was at the time quite a fresh little town on the northern edge of Santa Barbara County. It was bordered on the west by newly plowed farm fields that led to the Guadalupe Dunes and the Pacific Ocean some ten or twelve miles away. On the north intermittently flowed (and sometimes flooded until it was dammed) the Santa Maria River. On the east were the Coast Mountains which blocked the Santa Maria Valley from the far more extensive Central Valley. And to the south were more rolling dune fields that seemed to stretch for dozens of miles until they blended into the Santa Ynez Mountains north of Santa Barbara. Oil had recently been discovered under the dunes.

Santa Maria had been founded sometime in the 1870's as Grangeville/Central City by a handful of farmers who saw potential in this windswept and rather chilly little valley that had once been part of the Rancho La Purisima that was headquartered at La Purisima Mission in Lompoc. When the California Missions were secularized in the 1820's, the land was pretty much abandoned except for the Chumash Indians who lived in the hills round about. It wasn't until the 1860's that settlement in the Valley was attempted by (Anglo) families whose names are still very prominent in the Santa Maria area.

The name of the town was changed to Santa Maria in 1885 because they say mail meant for Central City, California was being delivered to Central City, Colorado. Such were the vicissitudes of pioneering.

When my mother's parents settled there in 1916, Santa Maria had a population of between 2,000 and 3,000. It was a small town, but not a tiny town by the standards of the day, and Santa Maria considered itself highly progressive -- which in many ways it still does. Public education, water, sewage, electricity and so on were hallmarks of progressive infrastructure, along with active public health campaigns, scientific farming methods, irrigation systems, public parks and recreation and so on. Tidy little bungalows housed most of the people along wide tidy streets -- the width of Santa Maria's main streets is still impressive -- and the Southern Pacific Railroad ran a line along the Coast that stopped at Guadalupe on the eastern western margin of the farm fields to pick up the abundant produce that was grown then and still is. A spur line, the Santa Maria Valley Railroad, was run from the SP tracks in Guadalupe through the fields and to the produce packing plants in the Valley.

El Camino Real, the Spanish road in the province of Alta California, ran through the middle of town along Broadway. It's path is now followed or paralleled by Highway 101.

Perhaps most astonishing to these immigrants from Indiana were the flowers. The Valley was filled with wildflowers in the spring, and all through the growing season -- which was practically year round -- vast acreage was devoted to growing flowers for seeds and cutting in some of the most remarkable agricultural displays ever devised.

Well, of course, that and the fog and the ocean nearby. The Pacific wasn't visible from town but you could get to it reasonably easily either by going north to Pismo, which was even then a working class beach resort, or east through the dunes to what was essentially a wide deserted beach west of Guadalupe. The only thing about it -- apart from the wind and the cold and the fog -- was the tarballs. Oil leaked from fissures off-shore, and so the Guadalupe beach was often fouled with the smell of oil or the balls of tar that were washed up by the surf.

Oil would become my mother's step-father's key to living the relatively good life in California, for shortly after arriving in Santa Maria he was able to either open or become manager of an Associated Oil filling station. Car travel at the time was still in its infancy, but in California, the motor trip was already a way of life. My mother's step-father also worked as a mechanic at the Dodge Brothers dealership (I have the feeling that the dealership and the filling station were on the same site, though I have no real proof of it). Eventually, he wound up selling the Dodge Brothers cars as well.

Associated Oil became Flying A sometime in the 1920's or '30's, and I remember my mother telling me how proud her step-father was to have the Flying A logo on his station when the change came.

He retired in 1940 or 41 and bought a motor court up in Willits in the Redwood Country. Unfortunately for both him and his wife (my mother's mother) died within eighteen months or so and never had much enjoyment out of their retirement.

I'm surprised I remember as much of this story as I do. My mother was rarely inclined to talk about her childhood, and she harbored an intense resentment against her step-father (and her natural father, for that matter, whom she barely remembered.) From everything she said about him, her resentment was difficult for me to understand because she described her step-father as a very kind and generous man, strict but fair, and always willing to help a friend or a colleague in need.

She said he was never cruel to her, but she was always aware that she was not his natural daughter, and that seemed to make all the difference to her. She saw her mother as a saintly figure, but so far as I can recall, she never really had much to say about her.

I have often wondered what it must have been like for them to move from the gritty and hard-scrabble life of Indianapolis in the 'teens of the last century to the relatively easy life and lifestyle of pre-WWI California, and what they thought about it -- if they thought about it.

Picking up and moving to California was something that Americans did in those days, lured by the railroads and the real estate developers to low-cost land and homes and to pioneer communities where fresh starts were always under way. People were lured by the brochures, by Sunset Magazine, by incessant stories in the weeklies, and by a psychology of westward movement that almost assured that every year more and more people would depart from Back East -- which was anywhere east of the Mississippi -- and head out to California, or perhaps to Washington or Oregon if they could stand the constant rain.

California was a Promised Land like no other, and at least for some of the immigrants from Back East, it proved to be almost exactly as advertised. They came and prospered, living an adventure, and living well at lower financial cost than they knew where they came from, and with a far better sense of security than they had ever known before. It was possible -- back then, anyway -- to live modestly but well in California on a good deal less money than it cost to live poorly in any city Back East. It was possible to grow your own fruits and vegetables in your own yard or, if you wanted, to buy a few acres in the not-so-distant country and set out orange trees or any other crop you chose, and make a go of it as a small farmer or rancher. Many did and decided the rural life was not for them, but many others found they could take up residence in cities and towns in California and surprisingly fit right in almost immediately -- because nearly everybody was from somewhere else for one thing, and for another, because the early settlers tended to be friendly and welcoming.

Of course they were. They needed newcomers in order to prosper themselves.

The whole point of the California Dream was endless growth, after all, and without newcomers constantly arriving, there could be no economic growth, and without economic growth, there could be no Dream.

The Dream was built on the pocket-books of those who kept coming, and come they did for generation after generation.

While Santa Maria doesn't seem to be an obvious destination -- and it certainly wasn't in 1916 -- I can easily understand how my mother's parents would find it an almost ideal place to settle once they found it. I was never sure how they got there to begin with -- there was no direct passenger rail service, for example, and I don't know when they got a car, but driving continued to be something of a challenge for many years due to poor roads and unreliable vehicles. My mother never said what exactly brought them to Santa Maria rather than keeping them in -- say -- Los Angeles.

But I've lived in Santa Maria and I know it as one of the friendliest and most charming towns -- now a city -- in California, with a very "at ease" way of life. It is entirely unpretentious. Well, let me modify that a bit. The pretentious people tend to be known for what they are, and their pretensions tend to be the subject of friendly ridicule. This characteristic is said to go back to the earliest ranching days in the Valley, and I tend to believe it. A style was set back in the Old Days, and it's been carried on from then till now, and it shows no sign whatever of changing any time soon. Despite the fact that Santa Maria has grown substantially in the last 50 years (the span of time I've known the town), it still shows very much the same way of life and personality characteristics among the people as ever.

For me, it's not the place to be. I'm not very well suited to it, but I have no problem understanding why others -- especially newcomers from Back East -- find it delightful.

My mother's parents fit right in, and soon enough, they prospered modestly. They lived in a succession of tidy bungalows on the broad and tidy streets of the town, traveling extensively around California when they had the chance. My mother said she had been "practically everywhere" in the state by the time she was out of high school, going on road trips with her parents as often as possible. She was always happy to return to Santa Maria and said she didn't have any urge to live anywhere else until... well, after she was married the first time.

She married an oil jobber who worked for Associated and then for Standard Oil of California (now Chevron.) He had been coming by her step-father's station for some time, and they first met while she was still in high school. Her step-father did not approve of the young and somewhat flashy Texan who was making eyes at his step-daughter. He much preferred her to see the rancher's son that she had gone on dates with a few times.

As it happened, the rancher's son's family -- one of the First Families of the Valley -- did not approve of my mother, largely as far, as I can tell, as a matter of class. My mother's people were obviously working class, and her step-father was an actual mechanic. The ranchers of the Valley still consider themselves to be a kind of nobility (derived, I think, from the Spanish rancheros). They do not marry mechanic's daughters. They marry in their own class or above -- or they become monks and nuns.

As friendly as the Valley people are, there are certain lines and certain taboos that one does not cross or violate. Class lines being chief among them.

So my mother wound up marrying the Texas oil jobber who set her up quite nicely. I remember asking her how the Depression had affected her -- she married in 1932 -- and she said "it didn't." She showed me some pictures (I wish I had them now) taken of her outside her home in Santa Maria next to her car (she said it was a Dodge roadster purchased from her step-father). She was dressed stylishly for the time, looking very smart indeed. She said they lived very well and she never lacked for anything.

Except... the marriage was a failure. Her husband, it seems, had to travel a lot in his job, often staying overnight or longer at some of his destinations, and he was -- everyone agreed -- a charmer. One thing led to another... and another... and another... and so on. The fact that he was having affairs was well known to those in the business, but he was always devoted to his family -- which included his daughter, my (half)sister, and so it was a shock when my mother sued him for divorce after ten years of marriage.

It was apparently quite rancorous. My mother and sister moved in with her parents in Willits for a time, then my mother decided to strike out on her own, which wasn't a success, at least not initially. The story of her life from 1942 to 1949 was pretty chaotic, at least as I understand it, for even with the expanded opportunities for women in wartime, she still struggled mightily to maintain equilibrium and independence.

She said it was especially hard for her after her mother died in 1943, "so young" -- she was 54 -- as my mother put it. She never really talked about her mother with me, though, so I have only the sketchiest image of her, some coming from my sister -- who was very fond of her grandmother -- and some coming from friends of my mother's who were also friends of her mother. They said she was a strong and very sweet woman, and very fun to be around, and a damn good bridge player. She taught elementary school for a while, but as soon as her husband was making enough money to take care of the family well, she left the classroom and never went back. I've never seen a picture of my mother's parents, so I have no idea what they looked like. I can imagine, but beyond that, nothing.

It would have been so much easier for my mother simply to stay with her first husband (easy for a man to say!) since he had no wish for their marriage to end... I met him when I was a teen ager, and at that time he was a vice president for sales with Chevron; he was indeed a very charming man, married to a delightful woman he met soon after his divorce from my mother; they'd been married 25 years or so when I met them. They lived up on a hillside above Walnut Creek, in a sprawling ranch house with a spectacular view of Mt. Diablo. "California Dream" indeed.

I can't say that my mother ever looked back. Her reasons were complicated and tied in with other things in her life that caused her heartache and trouble till her dying day. Her relationship with my father was no less stormy.

But that's a story for another day.

The California Dream went well for my mother's parents, not quite so well for her. Subsequent generations -- my own, the two or three that have come after -- have a very different view of California. There's much about it I like, much about it that I question, and some -- not much -- that I despise, but I find I'm much happier in New Mexico -- "so far from God, so close to Texas." And I realize that a lot of my happiness in New Mexico is due to the fact that in many ways it is like the California I knew as a child, and indeed, it's not that different from the California my mother knew when she was a child. In some surprising ways, New Mexico is almost like California was 50 or 100 years ago.

Well. But the weather is different! And it's so close to Texas but so far from the sea!

[I may be on this tack for a while, I'm not sure. Biographical material is always interesting to me, though I'm sure it can induce catatonia in others. I beg readers' indulgence...]

Mossos d'Esquadra de Barcelona

Los Mossos d'Esquadra are the Barcelona police force.

The video is in Barcelona not Oakland, but the visuals and the action are strikingly similar. The police in both cities assault citizens, generally unprovoked, and typically with a casual nonchalance that the very least is disconcerting.

In the video, a couple on bicycles are fired upon by Mossos using "less than lethal" munitions. The projectile lands at their feet, and the young man shouts at the police, and they continue firing. For no reason.

Well. This was the evening of the day of the Spanish General Strike, March 29, 2012, and there had been... erm... confrontations throughout the day between strikers, protesters, and the Mossos. Many of the plastic garbage dumpsters used in Barcelona had been burned and a lot of windows of (mostly) multinational companies had been broken. The Mossos were dashing around the city in their Mossos Vans trying to intimidate protesters and squelch riots, but by evening, most of the disturbances had ceased and people were just standing around in the streets, as you can see in the video, while police maintained skirmish lines here and there in a show of force.

And there were incidents like this.

The impunity with which the police behave -- whether in the United States or Spain or practically anywhere else these days -- is one of the most striking aspects of this and so many other encounters between police and citizens. It's not so much the casual brutality, though that is just as important. It is the utter impunity with which they engage in such behavior, as if they know that they will never face any consequences.

It's yet another reason why there is a global revolution under way.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Servant Problem

Few of us are old enough to remember what an illustration like the one above refers to. Fewer still were raised in a house full of servants who did the necessary drugery so the rest of the household could frolic and play at will -- or at least maintain itself in the manner to which it was accustomed.

In fact, the idea of "servants" is almost bewildering now; did people really "serve" in other people's houses? They lived there? They took care of Their Betters? How can this be?


You'll note that in the illustration, three of the five smartly turned out servants are women, two are men, but in the real world of the Servant-filled Household, the ratio of female to male servants was closer to 9 t0 1; few households had even one hired man, while many -- never a majority, it is true -- had at least one female servant.

My father grew up in a household that had one live-in servant, a woman named Harriet who did the cooking and looked after the younger children. There was also a man who looked after the yards and the car, but he apparently didn't live with the household. A woman came in to do the laundry once a week. And from time to time, "girls" would come to do the heavy cleaning. There were a lot of children when my father was growing up (he was the second oldest of nine) and it was too big a job for my grandmother to handle alone; my grandfather certainly had enough money to afford "staff," and though he'd grown up on a farm, he had no intention of being saddled with yard work and other chores himself. He had business to conduct and politics to engage in after all.

My father called Harriet the Housekeeper not the maid or the cook or the nurse or the nanny. The idea of servants was somewhat troubling to him as it was, he said, to many of those in his household and his community. His family was reasonably prosperous at a time when many people were not, so he considered himself and his family very lucky on the one hand, and obligated to the less fortunate on the other.

Being less fortunate, however, did not mean that someone necessarily had any less dignity.

"Housekeeper" is much a more dignified title than maid or nanny or cook.

My grandparents had servants because they believed they needed them in order to maintain their preferred lifestyle, and most of the servants they had were women because most of the work of the household was "women's work" and most of those available to serve Their Betters were women.

We may ask why that was so.

Why was it necessary -- especially among the middle classes -- to have servants at all, and why was there apparently a surplus of women in the working classes who were willing to go into domestic service?

The larger families of the era (my father was born in 1901) don't really explain it. In fact, the larger families should have made it possible for most people to get by with fewer or no servants. And that's essentially what happened. Most people in America at the time were poor, couldn't afford servants, and wouldn't have known what to do with them if they could afford to have them. The middle class was really quite small, a cadre of professionals and small land-owners who primarily served the interests of their Betters -- the Plutocrats and Oligarchs of the Gilded Age.

Those men lived very well indeed, in vast houses -- often several of them -- staffed by troops of servants who took care of every need and whim of their masters, to an extent almost unimaginable -- indeed, almost perverse -- by modern standards.

The Master/Servant relationship was critical to the social and employment conventions of the times. It was barely possible to even think outside that box.

My grandfather had grown up on a farm in rural Iowa, and his father -- I found out not so long ago -- had been brought to this country as a boy (well, a teenager) from Ireland by his father (who I know nothing in particular of, but I assume he was a tenant farmer in Ireland before the Potato Famine. According to the records I've seen, they emigrated in 1850, at the tail end of the Famine.)

I had been told that my ancestors were deeply involved in the American Revolution, descended from stalwart and quite early Colonial stock, at least back then they were immensely wealthy. I found out a few years ago that none of this was true. It was all Blarney. They were Irish not American Colonialists, and from what I could tell, they were Shanty Irish to boot. Which helped explain some of the things that never quite made sense to me when I was younger. Certain characteristics persist...

They had pretensions, though, as did many Americans, specifically many recent American immigrants, and so they did what they could to fulfill them.

Having someone to do the work of the household was part of it.

In 1910, according to Census records, there were approximately 1.9 million women working in domestic service nation wide; that works out to about one "girl" per household or family, but only about 10% of households had even one servant in their employ, which strongly suggests that only a few households employed most of the domestic servants (male and female) then at work in the United States.

It wasn't unusual for some of the more pretentious and better off households of the Plutocracy to have 30 or 70 or even 100 domestic employees, something that would be considered highly unusual now, even for our most robustly overcompensated CEOs.

There were so many servants in some of the larger estates because there was so much to do and there were few labor-saving devices available and used by households, even the most pretentious, in those days.

My father said for example, that they didn't get electricity in their house until around 1913. Cooking was done on a coal-burning range until the 1920's. I can only guess when the ice-man stopped coming.

Laundry was done by hand until washing machines were widely available, and even then, the process of using an early wringer washer wasn't that much of a labor-saving endeavor over the previous boiler and washboard tedium.

House cleaning was a twice a year affair during which the entire house was emptied of furnishings -- so as to "air" -- every surface was scrubbed to the bone, new paint or paper was applied where needed (sometimes even where not) and everything was put back more or less where it had been. This entailed days of effort and one can anticipate that several hired individuals (men and women) would be necessary to do all the moving and scrubbing and painting and restoring.

For the most part, poor people -- which meant the vast majority of Americans -- didn't follow this routine in their own households; they couldn't even if they wanted to. Some would be put to work serving other people's households, but most were kept more than busy trying to keep their own households together and to survive as best they could on their unstable earnings from "at will" employment in factories or working hard-scrabble farms.

My mother's father was a streetcar conductor in Indianapolis, for example. He wasn't well-off at all. During my mother's early childhood, the Indianapolis street railway was subject to a number of strikes, and I've read some of the testimony about the working conditions that led to the strikes. It wasn't pleasant reading. Many workers were paid -- when they were paid -- less than $.10 an hour, and their workdays were typically 12-14 hours long, so their earnings could be $20 a month or more if they could keep up the pace, but often they couldn't do it. Often, too, they were shorted in their pay-packets by various deductions and fines levied by the transit company. If they weren't able to maintain the pace of work, they were called on less and less, say only for fill-in work, and their pay plummeted even below the meager amounts they could make on a full time schedule.

Strikes were called to force an increase in wages, more regular scheduled employment, an end to common practices of favor and disfavor by the transit company, and a maximum 10 hour day. The strikes turned ugly, and from what I was told, I assume that my mother's father paid the price for his temerity in striking with his life. His death when my mother was 4 years old was deemed an accident, "crushed between the cars," but it happened soon after the end of one of the strikes, and at least in my view, it was probably not an accident at all. More than a few strikers were killed and injured during and subsequent to the Indianapolis transit strikes.

All this was before World War I, and as it happened, the transit strikes were essentially for naught as none of the objectives of the strikers were achieved.

After my mother's father was killed, her mother was in dire straits and in a quandary as often happened to widows in those days. She had no benefits, no savings, no property. But she had a little daughter to take care of and few or no prospects for either employment or re-marriage. So what was she to do?

As I understand it, her own mother took her and my mother in for the time being, but what arrangements were made, I don't know. I was told my mother's mother did go into domestic service briefly but found herself unsuited to serving other people and was either fired or quit within a few months. Lucky for her -- I guess! -- she did remarry not long afterwards, to a man who had been a friend of her late husband's, and shortly the new household moved to California, Land of Opportunity, where my mother's step-father ran a Flying A filling station, providing a modest living that was in many ways far better than anything they might have had in Indiana.

In those days you could live modestly and well in California whereas doing so in many places Back East was more and more difficult or downright impossible.

Since I've lived in the Gold Rush Country of California for many years, I've often wondered why so many people made the expensive, arduous and dangerous trek out here from what should have been a kind of libertarian paradise Back East, when they must have known there was practically no chance at all that they would find Gold and become rich, rich, rich.

I've read a lot of the correspondence of Argonauts from 1849-52 or so, and their stories are really striking and heartbreaking. It was, first of all, very costly to mount an expedition to California in the early years, and those who did so spent a lot of money up front for transport and supplies and continued to spend on the trek. Assuming they survived the journey, once they got to California, they were in almost every case deeply disappointed. They were barely alive, they were broke, many of the supplies they had so carefully assembled for the trek were long gone, much of it abandoned along the route. Often they were sick and could barely put one foot in front of the other. Everything they found in California was "wrong." It wasn't what they anticipated at all. Few ever found even a flake, let alone a nugget, of Gold. Many -- initially very many -- died shortly after arriving. Despondency, depression, starvation, murder and disease stalked the land.

And still they came.

Eventually, more came than perished and bit by bit a new society was pieced together on the ruins of what used to be and of expectations of what would be.

It was a new society that depended on more and more people coming West, something that was still true when I was a boy, and to a limited extent is still true today.

It depended on people who were dissatisfied enough with their previous lives to pack up and head to The Coast, prepared to risk everything for the possibility of a Better Life. California existed as a Land of Opportunity for the poor, the working class, domestic servants, and for others who were far better off, to try their luck at Something Else Again, and if they were lucky and persistent, they could do very well indeed -- as many did for many years, and a few still do today.

An elemental aspect of this New Society was to limit and eventually eliminate the need for servants and to ensure a sense of Dignity for all Californians. (Well, as long as you were White; racism in California was endemic and virulent when my mother was a girl; it still was in many ways when I was a boy.)

In California, you got rid of the Servant Problem by getting rid of the need for servants. Small households, efficient houses, easy and cheap access to electricity and water (often through public power and water companies), extensive public health and educational facilities, a relatively benign climate, all contributed to make it possible to live well without household help, and without the expectations and the strictures of hide-bound societies Back East.

It was a form of liberty few ever thought would be theirs, especially in the smaller cities that dotted the state. Finally, people could "relax." It was more a psychological than a physical relaxation, because people were still working very hard, but often it was in work they wanted to do rather than "had" to, and in many cases, it was work for themselves rather than someone else.

In a kind of ironic twist, the trade off for such relaxed liberty was conformity.

I'll try to get into that another time.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Modeling the Future

Wingnut Anarchist Collective, Richmond, VA.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of similar activist collectives around the country, some connected with Occupy, others independent of it.

The point being that what needs to be done is being done, and this particular collective in Richmond demonstrates one of the ways to do it.

Remember Where You Are

For Earth Day

NASA time lapse views of Earth from the International Space Station.

Music: "Walking On Air" by Howard Blake.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

On Violence and Resistance

Theodor de Bry, Ilustración de la Brevísima de De las Casas, c. 1552

The various Spanish entradas into New Mexico were accompanied by so much grotesque violence that it ought to shock the conscience of even the most hardened would-be conquistador. Today, of course, Americans are pretty much inured to the cruelties of Our Valiant Troops as they march in conquest around the globe, slaughtering and dispossessing the gibbering Natives along the way, while teaching them -- of course -- the benefits of Democracy. Not unlike the Franciscans who accompanied the Spanish Conquistadors, teaching the Natives to welcome the benefits of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church and of course to submit to the rule of their distant but always merciful overlord, the King and Emperor Whoever-it-Might-Be in Spain.

The scene above is not specifically from New Mexico, but it might as well have been. The report is that in the winter of 1541, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado and his multitudinous seekers after Cibola and the remaining Gold of the Indies decided to camp in the Rio Grande Valley, in the province of Tiguex, near modern-day Albuquerque. They demanded supplies of the Natives, which were mostly given though with some grumbling. When the weather turned cold -- and it does get cold in the Albuquerque area to this day -- the Spanish demanded that the Natives closest by vacate their pueblo and turn it over to the Spanish for their comfort and convenience; the Natives could go live with their friends in other pueblos in the region. The Natives vacated as demanded and the Spanish moved in.

The Spanish let their stock and horses graze over the Indians' harvested fields of corn -- thus consuming the fuel (dried corn stalks) that the Natives used for heat and cooking during the wintertime. The Indians captured some 40 of the free-roaming animals, mostly horses and mules, and according to reports, they killed them all. In addition to supplies and shelter and the consumption of winter fuel, the Spanish demanded women, and if they weren't sufficiently forthcoming, the Spanish took what they wanted. This was the proverbial last straw.

Naturally the Spanish proclaimed that the Natives had "declared war." Spanish conquistadors being peaceful and all.

The Spanish assaulted one pueblo after another, driving the residents to assemble in and fortify the one remaining pueblo where the Indians held out for two months against Spanish aggression. Finally, they negotiated a surrender of sorts, with promises from the Spanish of no reprisals, and in fact of "pardons" to the rebels.

What that meant was that two hundred of those who surrendered would be burned at the stake as a "lesson" to other Pueblo peoples. What would happen to the survivors was undetermined until they tried to flee, at which time they were slaughtered in their multitudes.

All of the Tiguex pueblos in the Albuquerque area were abandoned and some were destroyed altogether during the winter of 1541, but Coronado and his murderous band of thieves, er "Conquistadors", withdrew from New Mexico in 1542 after failing to find the fabled remaining Cities of Gold (but he did see the Grand Canyon and buffalo herds). He was a broken man, so they say, and never fully recovered from his failure. So we are supposed to feel sympathy for him. He did his best in a Glorious Cause, and only killed those Natives because he was provoked. You see. He took their supplies, their houses and their women because he needed them. Simple.

What actually happened during the winter of 1541 is still subject to considerable dispute in New Mexico, in part because the Tiguex pueblos were all reported to be occupied and prospering when the Spanish came back to reconnoiter in the 1580's and they were still apparently doing fine when Juan de Oñate came a-Conquering again in 1598, and they were still going strong until the 1620's when Spanish diseases started decimating the Natives, ultimately reducing their populations to only a handful compared to previously. The Tiguex pueblos would finally be abandoned during the Pueblo Revolt of the 1680's, though two -- Sandia and Isleta -- would be restored after the de Vargas Reconquista of 1692, and Indian refugees would be invited to return from their scattered locations around the territory.

After all, the Spanish needed laborers.

To this day, Coronado, Oñate, and de Vargas, so celebrated among the Spanish in New Mexico, are regarded with contempt bordering on fury by the Pueblo peoples for their cruelty and duplicity. While it is not completely clear what really happened during the Coronado sojourn in the Rio Grande Valley -- thanks to the fact that the Spanish had a tendency to wildly exaggerate their exploits (including their murderous rampages) and the Indians were reluctant to talk about it afterwards -- it's obvious from some of the remains that still litter the ground around the former pueblos that something terrible happened that winter and that likely many people suffered. The only problem the story as it was told in Mexico after Coronado's return is that burning two hundred people at the stake is no easy task, the Spanish were notoriously lazy when it came to performing "work", and the Indians were decidedly resistant to taking orders from their New (but at the time temporary) Overlords.

The point is that this first Spanish entrada, and all the subsequent ones were accomplished with almost inconceivable levels of violence by the invaders and any sign of even peaceful resistance by the Natives was brutally and murderously crushed. In other words, no matter what the Indians did -- including submission, or the appearance of submission -- the Spanish would treat them violence. The question for the Pueblo peoples then and now is how do you survive under the circumstances? Apparently they found some kind of answer, because they have not only survived but in some respects they have flourished; today the Pueblo peoples form the base and the backbone of New Mexico's unique culture and society.

This is no small accomplishment.

The Pueblo Revolt turned the tables on the Spanish in 1680, leading to the deaths of many Spanish and the expulsion of the remainder (actions that were patterned on the behavior of the Spanish toward the Indians). And it seems that "doing unto the Spanish" what the Spanish had done to the Indians, even if ultimately the Spanish were allowed to return, was sufficient to change the relationship between the Indians and the Spanish enough to develop a kind of mutual if grudging respect for one another and one another's presence and culture that endures (tentatively) to this day.

Anglos tend to be outside this whole cultural and social dynamic, and I make no pretense of understanding it more than superficially -- if that.

Humility about things we don't really understand is not generally something Anglos display with confidence, yet those of us who have so much to learn would do well to listen more than speak about such matters as the relationships between the Spanish and the Indians in New Mexico. It's certainly not what we may think it is, and it probably isn't anything like what it looks like to us.

So it's with something of dismay that I present the following video of Chris Hedges and Kevin Zeese pontificating at a gathering in Washington, DC, on the question of nonviolence particularly as it relates to the behavior of "Black Bloc Anarchists," which clearly they know nothing of.

Or if they do know something of that which they speak, they are deliberately obfuscating for the purpose of propaganda, demonization, and scapegoating. In other words, they appear to be on a mission to civilize and control the "natives" -- as it were -- and to expel (or otherwise deal with) those who refuse to submit to their authority.

Not unlike the Spanish priests and conquistadors back in the day.

And note, please, that the largely older and very Anglo (ie: white) crowd -- this event, remember, is taking place in Washington, DC -- cheers and applauds the assertions of Authority and the pontificiations of the Missionaries from the pulpit (in a manner of speaking).

They are certainly hearing what they want about the nature of "revolution" and the priority of "nonviolence."

Which, by the way, the speakers are only interested in to the extent they can control and direct the actions of others -- or eliminate them.

The obsession with Black Bloc that seems to animate these speakers and this crowd is in many ways the same sort of obsessive need to control The Other that was so prominent in the Spanish conquest of the Americas and the subsequent British and American fascination with doing likewise. Taking territory and treasure is certainly part of the process of conquest, but often as important, if not more important, is the control of the behavior of others, of the Natives as it were, and failing that (or sometimes as a consequence of the ability to control them) their extermination.

The Anarchists, Black Bloc or not, have been demonized by Hedges and Zeese and their ilk as The Other, to be feared, denounced, expelled and eliminated from the Occupy Movement, and I would suggest the reason is simple: they've been successful.

The success of genuine Revolution is not at all what Hedges and Zeese and their followers want, at least not the success of a genuinely populist and largely anarchist Revolution. There is almost nothing more fearsome to them. What they want, if I can carry the analogy to the Spanish Conquistadors and their religious advocates a little farther, is to be able to order and control the lives of others even more thoroughly than present governments do, and to become those governments.

This is a form of Revolution, to be sure, but it is Revolution by imposition from the top down.

The notion that Anarchism and/or the Occupy Movement as a whole is somehow or can somehow become a violent insurrection because somebody somewhere sometime ago threw a bottle or broke a window is absurd on its face. Yet Hedges and Zeese and their followers at this event (as well as a whole cohort of "nonviolence" advocates) continue to insist that a broken window or a thrown bottle is the most serious offense possible if it occurs in connection with Occupy. The violence of the state or the implicit violence of their demonizing and eliminationist rhetoric is nothing compared to the overt "violence" of a thrown bottle or a broken window. After a while, this sort of ridiculousness becomes tiresome. But they are preaching to a choir of believers, and that's the most important -- and potentially dangerous -- thing.

One of the points often made by the Anarchists who are and have always been at the core of the Occupy Movement (unlike Hedges and Zeese) is that prefiguration, anticipation, and modeling what kind of future we want to see is an important, indeed fundamental, aspect of the Occupy Movement. It's the central element of the Revolutionary nature of Occupy, and it is the most threatening to the Powers That Be. That's why there had to be such a coordinated and brutal suppression of the Occupy encampments, for they are the "models" -- or at least the beginnings of the models -- of what can be and ought to be in the future.

We find with Hedges and Zeese and their followers, however, that the kind of future they are modeling is more like that of a Medieval Inquisition. Hedges, especially, is becoming more and more like a Savonarola. As you see in the video, He and Zeese sit in judgement of their nemesis, the Black Bloc, and declare from their pulpits anathema upon them, just as the Spanish priests railed against Native observances, always leading to more or less brutal suppression -- until the Natives fought back using Spanish terror, demonization, and expulsion tactics against them.

That changed the dynamic.

In the modern situation, there is no necessity to fight back against Hedges and Zeese and their followers because they have little or no power over the Movement -- regardless of their desires and demands. It is their powerlessness over the Movement that seems to be driving them to ever greater levels of rhetorical excess.

The question is whether the Movement in its collective wisdom will find ways to change the dynamic between the ruling corporatocracy and the People such that the corporatocracy must "respect" the People rather than continuing on the course of mindless destruction and exploitation.

The Pueblo People found a way to change the dynamic between themselves and their Spanish overlords by assaulting them with their own tactics: they learned and used the bloody and violent means of the Spaniards against them and drove them out of the region. The consequence was that they found themselves becoming too much like the Spaniards, however, and in the end, they decided it was better to preserve what they could of their traditional way of life and to go forward on a new path with the Spanish rather than in constant conflict and opposition to them -- or in intentional or unintentional emulation of them.

The Pueblo Peoples of New Mexico are the descendants of the legendary Anasazi who built the proud ruins in the Four Corners region of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado. Despite extreme natural and human pressures over many centuries, they are extraordinary survivors, and we'd all do well to consider their example.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


I've been back in California for a couple of days studying New Mexico topics that I've glossed for many years but have not delved deeply into, particularly the Chaco Culture story and the story of the Spanish missions in New Mexico. I'm also trying to complete Dana Millen's dissertation on social/political movements in New Mexico. It's an overflowing plate, so I probably won't post a whole lot until some of this research material is digested.

The previous two weeks in New Mexico opened more doors to understanding than I realized, and right now, I'm not sure where these paths will lead.

In a way, I'm just grateful I can still learn!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Stories Amazing and Wonderful and Some of Them Are True

One of the Seven Cities of Cibola as painted by Carl Von Hassler in the KiMo Theatre.

Last night we attended a New Mexico Centennial event at the KiMo Theatre in Albuquerque.

It was called "Doña Tules: Gambling Queen of Santa Fe." It was a delight.

The KiMo is a legendary Albuquerque showplace, a unique Pueblo Deco movie and live performance theatre built in 1927 and purchased by the city in 1977. After a long and arduous process, the KiMo was handsomely restored and reopened to the public in 1999. Despite the fact that I've been by the KiMo numerous times, last night was the first time I was actually inside the theatre, and given all the hub and bub of the event, I didn't have much time to explore and enjoy what's been done to it. From what I saw of it, anyway, it really is a fine place, and like so much else in Abq (aka "'Burque") it's warm and inviting and quirky.

Pueblo Deco is not exactly a well-known style for movie palaces -- and for good reason. Pueblos are not exactly palaces, and the style of the pueblo doesn't adapt well to the "palatial" concept. To see it adapted to a pretty standard 1920's (small) movie theater template is remarkable. Some of it works. Other aspects, not so much. But that's OK because what doesn't work so well is still charming, and it is the charm of the KiMo that captivates.

The KiMo today is the home-place for certain types of performances and special movies in Albuquerque much as the Lensic is in Santa Fe. That means it's not really a commercial venue, though commercial films and shows do appear. But then you also get something like this:


And last night the KiMo was the home-place for "Doña Tules: Gambling Queen of Santa Fe." I had heard of this character, of course, but only in passing, as one of the many historical characters of New Mexico, though perhaps she is the most prominent woman in New Mexico's long history. In a strange sense, her story reminds me somewhat of that of La Malinche who served as intermediary, translator and lover to Cortez in his conquest of the Aztecs.

La Malinche is maligned in many quarters to this day, for her service to Cortez was a chief factor in the destruction of the Aztec empire and the conquest of Mexico -- which led to the enslavement and death of many millions of indigenous people of the Americas. Of course to the Spanish, she's a hero, practically a saint. It all depends on your point of view, doesn't it?

Doña Tules has a somewhat less polarizing reputation, at least so far as I know, and that's not saying much at this point. There is so much I don't know about New Mexico history! And I often think that's probably for the best. For very often what you think you know is simply wrong. And the stories you're told are probably fabrications, pious frauds, or joyful deceptions.

The point about the story of Tules's life as presented last night on stage at the KiMo and in much of the literature about her is that she was a key player -- perhaps the key player -- in the "bloodless" conquest of New Mexico during the Mexican-American War of 1846-48. For it was through her agency and with considerable contributions of her money (gained through gambling hall and reputed bordello operation in Santa Fe) that the Mexican governor of Nuevo Mexico, Manuel Armijo, was convinced not to oppose the American military invasion of New Mexico and withdrew to Chihuahua, Mexico, in 1846 with his 75 dragoons rather than fight General Kearney and his 1,700 well-armed troops. Doña Tules it was, supposedly, who raised the American flag over the Plaza in Santa Fe proclaiming her delight in the American conquest.


How much of the story is true, I don't know. Nor, I think, does anyone. Needless to say, the American conquest was not without incident by any means, and a revolt in Taos in 1847 was brutally put down with much cruelty, bloodshed and destruction among the locals. The Americans were victorious in that odd way of Victory in New Mexico. Meanwhile Taos seems to have recovered smartly.

As for Doña Tules, her reputation is maligned and celebrated in turn. She is buried "under the floor" of the Basilica Cathedral of St. Francis in Santa Fe, formerly the site of "La Parroquia", but I'm not sure of the exact location as I haven't been inside Bishop Lamy's Cathedral and probably wouldn't know where to look if I had been. She was a great benefactor to the Church, and she is said to be the last person actually buried there, but seems to me that the Archbishop Lamy was buried in the Cathedral when he died in 1888. ("La Parroquia" was an adobe church built on the site of the present stone Cathedral some time after the Pueblo Revolt. The Cathedral was built around it, and when the exterior of St. Francis Cathedral was complete, La Parroquia was dismantled and carried out the front door brick by brick, viga by viga, bultos, retablos and all. One, called "La Conquistadora" has a shrine unto herself in the Cathedral. She was brought to Santa Fe in 1624, miraculously survived the Pueblo Revolt and was taken along with the Spanish refugees to El Paso, and ultimately returned in triumph with the de Vargas reconquista expedition. Well, that's the story anyway.)

Maybe Doña Tules was the last person buried inside La Parroquia.

She was maligned in her own time, and she was celebrated last night in song and story. Many kudos to VanAnn Moore as La Doña and to Andre Garcia-Nuthman whose piano and vocal accompaniment and occasional solo performances were outstanding. Some of their performance was based on scenes in the musical pageant-play, "Doña Tules: Gambling Queen of Hearts," (alternate titles, "Viva Santa Fé!" and "New Mexico, the epic musical of Doña Tules, Queen of Hearts") which is the kind of thing that gets done in this country to celebrate the multi-hundredth anniversary of some geopolitical event. In New Mexico, that's the 400th Anniversary of Santa Fé's founding (thought to be in 1609 or maybe 1610), the 300th Anniversary of the founding of Albuquerque (recorded in 1706), and the 100th Anniversary of New Mexico statehood -- which as every school-child knows was in 1912, the same year as the sinking of the Titanic.

Did I learn anything last night? Oh, sure. First, that there are endless stories to tell and re-tell in New Mexico, and there is no definitive version of any of them; second, that VanAnn Moore and Andre Garcia-Nuthman are having the time of their lives creating characters from New Mexico history and presenting them to audiences all over the state, the country and abroad. I learned that there are many false stories about Doña Tules and perhaps only a few true ones. The beauty of her character is that she can be presented as either a victim or victor much as New Mexico and its people can be. I learned that the KiMo has been nicely restored and renovated, that it is quirky and welcoming, and that not every technical aspect works perfectly all the time (and I won't belabor the point; there were snafus.)

And I learned that I've been away from the theater too long...

¡Viva Nuevo Mexico!

KiMo documentary from Colores

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Once The Revolution Begins

Part of the Pueblo Revolt display at the New Mexico History Museum, Santa Fe

Does it seem like times are very strange? A between-times?

I went to a book signing yesterday, met some of the authors whose work is focused on New Mexico, northern New Mexico specifically but not necessarily exclusively (this is New Mexico and one does what one inclines toward...) and it was odd and rewarding at the same time. Which things tend to be around here.

One thing I noticed at this book signing is that the authors were mostly older and Anglo, which isn't that surprising, but yet it seems a bit odd. This isn't like Florida, and it does snow here. Sometimes quite a bit.

And many of those I run into at events and memorials I attend in New Mexico are originally from California, often enough from Southern California, from around Los Angeles or the Central Coast area, places that I know very well, places I left long ago yet have returned to many times over the years. It never occurred to me to eventually settle anywhere but here, though.

Here in rough and hardscrabble high-desert New Mexico where I thought I saw a white buffalo yesterday, but it was only a rough and hardscrabble white bull out in the field that seems to go on forever until it touches the mountains on the west. There ought to be buffalo around here, and I assume there once were, but there never were any in California; too many mountains to climb and deserts to cross to get there.

Ranchers run cattle on these high desert plains. One ranch close by has a herd of prized Angus which they feed with the hay they grow on their irrigated fields. Irrigation is not unknown around here, but most of the ranches rely on the highly variable and often unreliable monsoon rains to grow enough forage for the stock, or in some cases to grow crops. Yes, beans and corn and squash are grown around here and they grow very well when they get enough water, but there has been a several year drought -- again -- that has made stock raising, let alone crops, somewhat chancy to say the least.

I have not known the ranchers in these parts to complain about it very much, though, unlike ranchers and farmers practically everyplace else I've ever been who complain about everything all the time as if they had nothing else to do.

Drought is part of the cycle here, and when I was talking to one of the authors yesterday, she made a profound observation: "You adapt."

Yes. Well.

You do.

And once the revolution begins, you can't control the outcome.

In 1680, for example, Popé led the Pueblo Revolt against the Spanish colonists who had been abusing the Indians for generations, since they first penetrated El Norte under Coronado in 1540, stealing, slaughtering and destroying with abandon in their mad quest for gold -- which the Indians here did not have.

There's a large Pueblo ruin just west of Albuquerque that I didn't even know was there until I read about it in the Archaeology magazine last month. The exact site has been kept secret from the public since the City of Albuquerque acquired it in the 1980's.

They say that Coronado laid siege to this site called Piedras Marcadas and ultimately destroyed it, but views differ on that point. Many metal items and weapons parts dating from the 16th century have been found at the site, so it is likely that Coronado did indeed assault the place, but he and his people assaulted many Pueblo sites along the Rio Grande, destroying some but taking over others so as to have shelter and food during their travels through the region. Or simply because they wanted to.

The Indians have always fought back in their own way. Even when such gross slaughter and plunder as that of Coronado and then Oñate was going on, the Indians did not simply yield. They fought back, and it made a difference. Fighting back is a way of life among the Natives and the locals.

There are some in the "nonviolence" community who simply can't grasp the thought and the theory of fighting back. Especially when faced with overwhelming force arrayed against you. Submission, it is declared, will lead to victory. Except it doesn't. Not always. Nor does fighting back. The trick, if there is one, is knowing what to do when.

They say that Popé's Revolt was in essence a religious crusade against the alien and cruel Spanish invaders, particularly the Franciscan priests and their vicious ways of stamping out Native observances. First, the rebels killed all the priests, then they went after the settlers, and eventually they drove them all out of New Mexico... for a while.

It has been pointed out that Popé, for all his drive and determination to cleanse the Rio Grande Valley and the rest of Occupied New Mexico of the Spanish, was himself a highly Hispanicized Indian, and his revolt was very much like something the Spanish might have done under similar circumstances. This is not to disparage him in any way, nor to discount what he and his comrades were able to do. Nothing else like it happened in the history of relations between the Indians of North America and the European invaders over all the hundreds of years that those relations have been going on.

And yet the Spanish came back. The mythology says that the "re-entrada" -- or rather, reconquista -- was peaceful. Hardly. Several thousand Indians are said to have been slaughtered and their pueblos put to the torch as de Vargas made his way up the Rio Grande in 1691 and 1692. They laid siege to Santa Fe and ultimately were able to reclaim the city, but not without considerable bloodshed among its Native defenders. Santa Fe was not much of a city in those days, and even now Santa Fe is hardly a metropolis, surprisingly perhaps, given its global romance and renown; when a novelist wrote about the "seven story building that overlooks the Plaza" not long ago, I had to laugh. Not only are there no "seven story buildings" overlooking the Plaza, so far as I know, there are no seven story buildings in Santa Fe at all.

It's not that kind of place. Now, Albuquerque, that's different. Skyscrapers galore. Well. What we would call skyscrapers in these parts.

That is of course an old and very famous photo of Central Avenue in Albuquerque looking east from Carlisle toward the Union Bank First National Bank Building on San Mateo (now Bank of the West).

Compared to the festivity of Central Ave seen in this picture taken in the late sixties, the street seems deserted today. There are remnants of the signage, but much is missing. It's been cleansed of the taint of what used to be; even the Aztec Motel is gone but for its sign.

Of course Central Avenue is the Old Route 66 through Albuquerque and beyond, and in the late 1960's it was still the main highway -- and main street -- through Albuquerque. Much of the allure of the Mother Road still endured, as in traces it does to this day.

The Spaniards came back in 1692, but there were more revolts of the Pueblos, right up until the American conquest in 1847, when the Taos Revolt (that included Taos Indians and their Hispanic allies) was brutally suppressed by American troops. Still Taos Pueblo endures (though much of it was destroyed in the suppression of the 1847 revolt, it was restored and is today a tourist magnet.)

Today's Pueblos are undergoing a transformation -- some would call it revolutionary -- thanks to the advent of tribal casinos which have helped provide the Pueblos and other tribes with revenue to improve their living standards. In other words, they can become as materialist as they want. The interesting thing is that most reject the Anglo form of materialism and individualism and maintain close connections with their culture and traditional ways. The casino revenue helps make life easier, that's all.

Who would have thought that this would be the result of the ongoing struggles of Pueblo peoples against their oppression? Or that the revolt/revolution of 1680-92 would lead to this, but there is a direct line from what was to what is, and unlike many other places in the United States, that line is easily recognized in New Mexico. People's memories don't fail them here -- though everyone makes up stories about their history.

As I was chatting with one of the authors yesterday, we found we had many things in common, surprisingly or maybe not so much, and we talked about Berkeley and the Free Speech Movement, the various radical and revolutionary aspects of the era, especially in California. And she said, "You know, a lot of what used to be in California is still present here in New Mexico." I said, "I know." She said, "Maybe that's why I was drawn here." I said, "I know that's part of why I was."

She said, "There are so many stories people tell here."

There are.

They are amazing and wonderful and some of them are true.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

On Marketing vs Reality

The video above features Amalia of (un)Occupy Burque, one of two Occupy efforts in Albuquerque (it's a long story). She's speaking to a group of people on the edge of the campus of the University of New Mexico, but her pointed comments are directed at Mark Rudd and his perspective on "nonviolence." In the background are some of the police present that day (I believe it was a Friday). As far as I know, there were no arrests that day -- though police repeatedly pushed the Occupy effort off the campus. Amalia mentions the fact that during the police push that morning, one of the officers put his hand on her, and it was all she could do to keep from socking him. Such is the depth of feeling of many oppressed peoples toward those who do the oppressing.

Such is the blindness of those who would play a marketing game with regard to Occupy or any other movement. They cannot fathom that depth of feeling on the part of anyone. Everything seems to be a game to them, with only the most tenuous connection to reality. I'm reminded of the pimple-faced youths who sit in darkened facilities in Florida, Virginia and Nevada (among others) watching the video feeds from the various drones deployed over the global battlefield -- the whole earth being the Official Theatre of War these days -- and pushing whatever buttons must be pushed to fire rockets and drop bombs on unsuspecting suspects, blowing them and theirs to smithereens as if they had exactly the same reality as the figures in a video game. Which is to say none at all.

Our systems are broken, our institutions are broken, our world is broken in part because of the attitude of the maketeers that seems to permeate and objectify everything, such that there are no more "people" any more, no more "society," no more "institutions" for that matter. There are only "products" and "consumers."

And even they seem to be losing their basis in actuality. A question naturally arises: What happens then?

Maybe people like Amalia can help explain. When you and yours become objectified to the point non-existence, as many American Indians became and are still, especially in the eyes of the institutional players of our world, you do what you have to to defend yourself and become real again.

Marketing is not reality. Marketing is a game.

Nearly all the complaints about Occupy that I've been running into for about as long as there's been an Occupy to complain about have to do with its marketing faults -- as well as some of its surprising marketing successes. These complaints come from people who tend to see Occupy as a brand with marketing value, not as a genuine People's movement based in the reality of their lives.

The theory seems to be that unless you can mount a successful marketing campaign, your effort, whatever it is, will fail (generally miserably). Everything is reduced to a commodity in other words.

In the video above, Amalia is addressing the group but is speaking specifically to Mark Rudd's point about so-called "violence" with regard to Occupy, and how to him and many others in the "nonviolence" community, even a hint of potential violence (such as wearing bandanas as masks) can be used to discredit the Occupy movement and thus have no "strategic" value. Such hints of potential "violence" are "violence" in his view and cannot "build the movement."

And "building the movement" is code for branding and marketing a product to be sold to the masses.

This is an idea that Gene Sharp and his followers (as well as other "revolutionary" minded folks) are devoted to. They believe in and promote "revolution" as a product to be sold, and they see the campaigns associated with "revolution" as marketing campaigns, in no way different from product/candidate introduction and marketing campaigns in the commercial or political realm, and they measure the success or failure of campaigns on their market penetration and level of popular "support" -- or product purchase.

Amalia and others point out that that is not what Occupy is primarily engaged in.

But, claim the marketeers, Occupy must become primarily a marketing campaign selling a branded product ("revolution" or what have you) or it is a failure by definition.

(About my use of scare quotes in this installment: I have long been skeptical and cynical about marketing and the campaigns that go with it, whether they are commercial or political. I don't see marketing efforts as much more than superficial activities. Thus the scare quotes.)

By those standards many of the movements and revolutions of the past (such as the Civil Rights Movement) were failures because they were never Mass Movements, and at the time of their political success, they were not popular successes in a branding/marketing sense.

The Communist and Fascist revolutions of the 20th century were failures, not because of any intrinsic flaws or external pressures, but because they were not Mass Movements and popular marketing successes. Or maybe people tired of those brands...

They weren't sold properly in other words.

The Marketing Theory of Everything, I would argue, is part of the problem of our times. We have to get past it somehow, and simply repeating the marketing strategies of the past and calling it "revolution" won't do for the revolution this time.

Something else, something truer and closer to the People, is necessary, and that's what many of those involved in the struggle are searching for.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Battle Lines and Rituals

Copyright 2007. G. F. Hohnstreiter
All rights reserved
I spent most of yesterday with a group of people engaged in memorializing the life of an ex-cop who died suddenly last October. He was the husband of a close family friend.

We spent the morning scattering his ashes in the East Mountains and the afternoon attending a memorial service that included a Bernalillo County Sheriff's Department honor guard. The memorial was presided over by the Albuquerque Police Department chaplain. This was actually the third memorial for him; there were two previous ones in California. He was from New Mexico, however, and had served as a Bernalillo County deputy sheriff and as a Rio Rancho Police Detective. He had asked that his ashes be scattered in the Sandia Mountains, and so, respecting those wishes, yesterday's events were organized.

I naturally thought about how ritualized all this was from the moment of his death, all the various officials, the priests and chaplains, churches, friends, family, the officers of the law and so on who were brought together, some repeatedly, over the months since his passing to handle the many details and to remember and to honor his memory.

And I thought about the many battle lines that have been drawn between the People and the troubled or failed institutions that have been involved in these memorial activities. They and we are able to engage in these rituals and memorials, to come together for a period of time -- at least in some cases -- and then return to the Struggle for however long until the next time we are brought together in something like harmony.

Was it like this during previous revolutionary eras? Somehow I think it must have been.

Much as rebels may seek the overthrow or replacement of the Existing Order, we and they are still so intimately intertwined -- especially if we are of a certain age -- that the sorts of rituals that bring us together are as commonplace as confrontations over important (and of course revolutionary) issues.

We are intertwined until the moment we aren't.