It Wasn’t Supposed to Be Like This

As National Poetry Month Continues at Politics for the People.

A poem by Mary Fridley

A poem I just wrote. The first line is something that my mom said to me when I first visited her after she went into a nursing home.”

 

It Wasn’t Supposed to Be Like This

It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
Said simply
No lament of pity
Though many tears
An indictment of life?
A grasp for honesty
by a now blurry mind?
A tribute to dreams once dreamed
or futures never imagined?
It wasn’t supposed to be like this
Perhaps a realization created
as much by an ever-shifting present
than a past regretted
Necessary to say aloud
Preparing for what’s ahead
To live as she can.

Mary Fridley serves as the coordinator of special programs for the East Side Institute.  She is an activist with the NYC Independence Club and lives in Brooklyn.

 

Before the Scales, Tomorrow

We will leave our celebration of National Poetry Month with a final poem on May Day.  An appropriate poem to end on.  It is a poem sent to us by Juliana Francisco, an Independence activist from Brooklyn and a member of the IndependentVoting Phone Outreach team.

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Juliana Francisco, April 14th. City Hall Steps.  Denouncing NY’s Closed Presidential Primary and the lock out of 3.2 million independents.

“Otto René Castillo was a poet and revolutionary from Guatemala. I first learned about him at the All Stars where his amazing poem Apolitical Intellectuals is on display. That poem is riveting and compelled me to learn more about Castillo. Before the Scales, Tomorrow is a painful for me to read considering how his life ended but ultimately I find this poem very comforting and inspiring. Being politically aware and active at a young age often makes me feel pessimistic and depressed. However, it is important to press forward for what’s right, not only for future generations – I’m learning now that creating a world in the present that you believe in and is nurturing and just is something to be proud of and happy about.

“But it’s beautiful to love the world with eyes that have not yet been born” is one of my favorite quotes ever.

 

BEFORE THE SCALES, TOMORROW

By Otto Rene Castillo

And when the enthusiastic
story of our time
is told,
for those
who are yet to be born
but announce themselves
with more generous face,
we will come out ahead
—those who have suffered most from it.

And that
being ahead of your time
means suffering much from it.
But it’s beautiful to love the world
with eyes
that have not yet
been born.

And splendid
to know yourself victorious
when all around you
it’s all still so cold,
so dark.

If you enjoyed Juliana’s pick and live in NYC, you might enjoy seeing a performance of Castillo’s poetry coming later this month.

The Castillo Theater, named after Otto Rene Castillo, is hosting the American premier of Even Under Bitterness, a multi-media performance piece featuring twelve of Castillo’s warmly political and always moving poems.

Performance dates: May 6 – 15, 2016.    Friday and Saturday shows at 7:30 PM.  Sunday, May 8 at 2 PM. Sunday, May 15 at 4:30 PM.

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National Poetry Month–Rethinking Regret

Today’s poem was chosen by June Hirsh:

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Elaine Sexton is a contemporary poet who I’ve had the opportunity to meet. 

“Rethinking Regret” expresses that living life is not about order and being safe. Its passionately taking risks, falling on your face. It’s says to be human and alive is to be messy, awkward, not polished and perfect, but open to possibilities, open to impacting the other. 

Sexton says our “perfect mistake” is “keeping the heart awake—open and stunned, stunning.” 

Rethinking Regret

by Elaine Sexton

Let’s thank our mistakes, let’s bless them
for their humanity, their terribly weak chins.
We should offer them our gratitude and admiration
for giving us our clefts and scarring us with
embarrassment, the hot flash of confession.
Thank you, transgressions! for making us so right
in our imperfections. Less flawed, we might have
turned away, feeling too fit, our desires looking
for better directions. Without them, we might have
passed the place where one of us stood, watching
someone else walk away, and followed them,
while our perfect mistake walked straight towards us,
walked right into our cluttered, ordered lives
that could have been closed but were not,
that could have been asleep, but instead
stayed up, all night, forgetting the pill,
the good book, the necessary eight hours,
and lay there—in the middle of the bed—
keeping the heart awake—open and stunned,
stunning. How unhappy perfection must be
over there on the shelf without a crack, without
this critical break—this falling—this sudden, thrilling draft.

Reader’s Forum

By Michelle McCleary

Lisa McGirr’s ‘The War on Alcohol’ is the kind of book that stays with its reader.  I think this is especially true for a sensitive, long-time political and community activist like me who has spent decades anxiously hoping for and working toward the time when our world, simultaneously beautiful and cruel, will change.

Although I often experience the writings of historians as entirely too preachy and wordy, I found myself wanting to read every word of Ms. McGirr’s book. In the book’s chapter ‘Selective Enforcement’ I was impressed by the author’s courage in exploring the un-equal treatment of wealthy (mostly white) Americans vs. poor white and poor black people.  Although black people in America have a particular and brutal history, I have never believed that the color of one’s skin is the only indicator of one’s suffering.  No heat and no food in the refrigerator equals cold, sleepless nights and empty stomachs whether the person has blue eyes and blond hair or dark hair and brown or black skin.  Poverty and race in America far too often equals a life of everyday experiences that are harsh and unfair.  To add insult to injury, the message is always clear that these experiences should be shouldered alone.   If I had a dollar for the number of times that my middle-class, white peers have told me that they don’t want to hear about my everyday experiences, or insinuated that I was to blame for those experiences, I would be a millionaire.

Lisa McGirr did a wonderful job of opening my eyes to the short but deeply impactful Prohibition Era in America. Prior to reading “The War on Alcohol” my knowledge of this piece of American history was nearly non-existent.  I vaguely remember a scene or two in movies where smiling, imperially slim, white men and women danced their hearts out at glamorous parties during the fun, ‘Roaring Twenties.’  Meanwhile, in back alleys ‘shady’ characters exchanged money for boxes of liquor. I think Brad Pitt had blown dried, blond hair in one of these scenes!   In her chapter “Selective Enforcement” the ‘movie’ scenes that the author created were far from glamorous.  In painstaking detail, Ms. McGirr told the history of the enforcement of Prohibition.  I found myself needing to take breaks from reading the vicious details of the uneven ways that Prohibition was enforced:  white, wealthy and able to pay off enforcement agents equaled little to no penalty; poor white, black, female or Mexican equaled fines, imprisonment and sometime death for possessing even the tiniest quantities of liquor.

Although I wasn’t surprised, I was struck by how history repeats itself over and over again.  I found myself cringing when I read about Bradley Bowling, a poor, white, unarmed man in an Appalachian town, who was shot and killed by a Federal agent over a half gallon of whiskey, because he ‘put his hand in his pocket.’ While I read this, the faces of unarmed black men and women who have been shot by the police moved through my mind.  Ms. McGirr posits that whites’ experience of unfair and unlawful over-reaches by police during the prohibition era helps to explain why there was strong and popular push back against Prohibition.    As per Ms. McGirr, black people had YEARS of experience of abuse and coercion by police and other agents but this treatment was largely ignored as were the public lynchings of black men and women.

The white pushback against the abuses of prohibition agents reminds me of America 2016.  News channels are filled with pundits nearly scratching their heads as they try to explain the tidal wave of white, working class voters who are clearly angry and fed up with the corrupt political system and its impact on their pursuit of the American Dream. Real talk, the American Dream died a long time ago.  Black people have been aware of this fact due to double digit unemployment, brutal and dismissive treatment by the police and shabby treatment by healthcare professionals.  I have no doubt in my mind that poor white people have had and continue to have similar experiences, but sadly seem to be holding out hope that their white skin will come through for them.  They could learn a lot from Lisa McGirr.

 

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Michelle McCleary is a long-time independent political activist and the President of the Metro NY Chapter of the National Black MBA Association.

Reminder: P4P Conference Call

with Lisa McGirr

Sunday, April 3rd at 7 pm EST

Call in number (641) 715-3605

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First Impressions from Catana Barnes

 

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The Notion Of Family by LaToya Ruby Frazier. pg 115: Momme, 2008

 

November 23rd, 2015

My “first impression” of Latoya Ruby Frazier’s The Notion of Family was how much it reminded me of the F.S.A. (Farm Security Administration) project.  With that project, which sought to garner economic support for various social programs in response to the Depression, the goal of the photographer was directed by those who sought specific economic packages from Congress.  At the beginning of the project, the photographers focused on the plight of people, with many people not being represented, and how much they needed help. It was then determined that the photographs weren’t showing enough of a positive outcome from the economic programs currently in place so the photographers were directed to show positive outcomes; with many continuing to be left out of the equation. What I find to be the most compelling part of the F.S.A.’s project is what they chose to leave out of their visual and historical narrative. What was left out is the fact that photographers, like Dorothea Lange, had no control over the narrative of the image, the photographer’s authorship and perspective, as well as which images would be used. The photographers were denied their role in providing their visual representation of the dire situation and the struggles of the people. This terrified me and made me question every single image I have ever looked at.  It comes down to the artifact; directed and undirected. Ms. Frazier, her mother and her grandmother took control over the authorship and perspective of their place in the history of Braddock, PA and, in my opinion, opened doors for further exploration with regards to the authorship and perspective in social documentary of photography.

In addition, I was stricken with how much I was reminded of Dorothea Lange’s images in her work as an F.S.A. photographer. I have always felt as though she had a special vision whereby she was able to see what needed to be framed in order to be compliant with the project while, at the same time, she was able to see what needed to be translated to the viewer…the ultimate message.  I did not study Dorothea Lange much beyond her contribution to the F.S.A. so I do not know what she thought about having to create directed artifacts. The notion of an artifact’s truthfulness is something I have put a great deal of thought into and what ultimately led to the motivation behind the photographic series I created as an advanced photography student (I received an Undergraduate Academic Affairs & Research Grant to complete the project and it can be found at www.catanalbarnes.com ). Like Ms. Frazier, her mother and her grandmother, I also took control of the authorship and perspective of the photographic social documentary I created. I wanted to challenge the traditional notion of what a photographic artifact is, who creates the artifact as well as to challenge the perspective of the creator of the artifact. My project was greatly influenced by what I learned about the F.S.A. as well as what I learned through the work of Cindy Sherman and Nan Goldin (see below for a link to Nan Goldin’s work) whom I truly admire for their candidness.

catana barnes speakingAs I worked my way to the end of Ms. Frazier’s work, I also recognized a similarity with Nan Goldin’s work . Nan Goldin’s work is extremely poignant and draws the viewer into the world they are witness to. In both works, the viewer is presented with a question, “do you recognize this?” and then they must rectify, in their minds, whether or not they do “recognize that” which has been presented to them. I find the strongest messages to be found in what is not being directly addressed, and I see that twofold in Ms. Frazier’s The Notion of Family. This is one of the most compelling works I have had the pleasure of experiencing since my undergraduate studies as an art student!

“First Impression” – While I have looked through Latoya Ruby Frazier’s Notion of Family more than once, I wanted to share my first impression because I believe that it continues with the spirit and notion that first impressions are not always accurate.

Catana L Barnes

Catana Barnes is the President of Independent Voters of Nevada.

 

REMINDER:
Politics for the People Conference Call

With LaToya Ruby Frazier

Sunday, December 6th at 7 pm EST

 C ALL IN NUMBER

641 715-3605

Code 767775#

Reflections on Reflections on The Notion Of Family

 

By Omar H. Ali, Ph.D.

I first saw images of Latoya Ruby Frazier’s riveting book of photographs, The Notion Of Family, in an NPR article about six months ago entitled “A Rust Belt Story Retold…” I wasn’t sure what to make of the images, as they felt a little distant at the time, despite my being familiar–as a historian of black labor and politics–with some of the history of those communities living “in the shadow” of Carnegie steel mills.

And then, this week, after receiving and reading through Latoya’s book, I read the reviews and commentaries by Michelle McCleary and Dr. Jessie Fields, among others, on P4P.

I’m not sure which impacted me more–the book or the commentaries. This is not to detract from Latoya’s truly extraordinary book (few artists capture, which such honest detail, poor people’s lives by poor and working people themselves–making their stories their own). But reading through the snippets of Michelle and Jessie’s lives as part of their reflections made the images in the book feel closer.

You see, I know Michelle and Jessie. They are two of my long-time political colleagues–extraordinary women–who have spent many years building an independent political movement in the United States to empower ordinary people, poor people, the outsiders, the forgotten, the survivors. I don’t know Latoya. But Michelle and Jessie are helping me to better understand her work.

While each of their experiences are different from the other’s, there are similarities in their experiences and the roles that women played in each of their lives–their mom’s, grandmothers, aunts, or great aunts–in helping each of them thrive.

Michelle writes, “I had come to realize that the feelings of pain and shame that I and millions of people experienced were manufactured and NOT in our heads nor were our fault.  Those manufactured feelings were designed to keep us in our place.”

I then see one of Latoya’s photographs …

The Notion Of Family by LaToya Ruby Frazier Pg 131, Aunt Midgie and Grandma Ruby, 2007

The Notion Of Family by LaToya Ruby Frazier Pg 131, Aunt Midgie and Grandma Ruby, 2007

And I hear (read) Jessie’s words “Ordinary people, though poor and abused are leading and fighting.” Part of that leading is giving expression to the plight of the voiceless, nameless, and unseen–here voiced, named, and seen through new performances.

Thank you, LaToya, for your book of photographs; thank you Michelle and Jessie, for your beautiful, painful, and moving words; thank you, Cathy, for giving us P4P and a space to reflect and support those who “stand in the rubble and fight,” as Jessie poetically writes, as Michelle explains, and as Latoya photographs.

Omar H. Ali, Ph.D., selected as the 2016 Carnegie Foundation Professor of the Year in North Carolina, is a historian and community organizer who teaches black labor and political history at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro. E-mail: ohali@uncg.edu 
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Politics for the People Conference Call

With LaToya Ruby Frazier

Sunday, December 6th at 7 pm EST

 C ALL IN NUMBER

641 715-3605

Code 767775#

Reader’s Forum-Kathleen Delaney

For our exploration of The Notion of Family, several Politics for the People members have chosen a photo from the book to respond to with thoughts, words, a photo or a poem. Today our next installment is from Kathleen Delaney.

The Notion Of Family, LaToya Ruby Frazier pg 15 Grandma Ruby Smoking Pall Malls, 2002

This image of Ruby, caught unposed, surrounded by her dolls and anticipating the pleasure of a cigarette, offers some relief from the brutal images of poverty and hopelessness. Perhaps her strength brought relief at other moments not depicted.

FullSizeRender (3)~Kathleen Delaney is an emergency department physician and educator in Texas and New York City.

 

Politics for the People Conference Call

With LaToya Ruby Frazier

Sunday, December 6th at 7 pm EST

 CALL IN NUMBER

641 715-3605

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LaToya Ruby Frazier Makes Moving Pictures | ART21 “New York Close Up”

A Documentary Series on Art and Life in the City

Released February 10, 2012

In this video from New York Close Up, LaToya talks about her collaboration with her mother.

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/36565215″>LaToya Ruby Frazier Makes Moving Pictures | ART21 &quot;New York Close Up&quot;</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/art21″>ART21</a&gt; on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

If the video does not appear, click on this link or visit the blog.

From the video, some thoughts from LaToya:

People think that families struggling economically don’t add value to society.  It became about making a family album of images, day to day that defies what I see in the media….”

I was combating stereotypes of someone like my Mother and I who are often depicted in the media in the most dehumanizing was, as poor, worthless or on welfare. We found a way to deal with these types of problems on our own through photographing each other.  I realized it’s important to give the camera to my family and also become the subject of the work….

I’ve always been in the shadow of the steel mill.

 

Politics for the People Conference Call

With LaToya Ruby Frazier

Sunday, December 6th at 7 pm EST

 CALL IN NUMBER

641 715-3605

Code 767775#

 

Reader’s Forum–Michelle McCleary

For our exploration of The Notion of Family, several Politics for the People members have chosen a photo from the book to respond to with thoughts, words, a photo or a poem. Today our second installment is from Michelle McCleary.

Gallery Image

The Notion Of Family, LaToya Ruby Frazier, pg 21: Home on Braddock Avenue, 2007

I felt a familiar wave of depression descend upon my body like warm honey moving through my veins as I perused Latoya Ruby Frazier’s book The Notion of Family.  The somber faces, bodies mangled from neglect and destitute living conditions reminded me so much of my life growing up in Harlem.  The picture in Latoya’s book on page 21 brought back the memories of the destruction of nearly every poor, black and brown community in America.

I remember the early morning when my family had to climb down the fire escape because my building was on fire. I was eight years old.  I can still remember my mother’s sharp shove and anxious command to ‘get up.’  Smoke was rapidly filling up our apartment as firemen came through the door and helped usher my family down the fire escape stairs.  I honestly don’t remember where my family and I stayed until day light but I do remember that I went to school that day.  I remember that I was silent and didn’t tell a teacher nor any of my wealthy classmates what I had experienced that morning.  I was a gifted scholarship student at a private school on the upper east side of Manhattan.  Even at the tender age of eight years old I had already begun to experience the vicious rejection of being poor, black and female in America. I had also begun to learn an ugly truth: You don’t talk about your suffering because no one wants to hear about it and no one really cares.

I moved back to Harlem 18 years ago.  Harlem was still in its pre-gentrification days.  As I walked the streets, tears filled my eyes.  Nearly every building on every block had been deserted, burned down and neglected for decades. I could literally still smell the smoke.   I was no longer a naïve little girl trying to figure out why some people seemed to have everything while others had nothing.   I had spent years reading and learning the lessons of writers who eloquently wrote about the nightmare of the American dream.  I had also spent decades involved in political activism both on the college campus and in poor and wealthy communities around the country.  I had come to realize that the feelings of pain and shame that I and millions of people experienced were manufactured and NOT in our heads nor were our fault.  Those manufactured feelings were designed to keep us in our place.

I recently participated in a march through Harlem with dozens of caring people from all around New York City.  We were marching to protest the New York City Housing Authority’s plan to basically get rid of its poor residents.  I cried tears of anger and pain as we marched and raised our voices in protest.  As we marched and chanted the people who lined the sidewalks chanted with us.  I had the spirit of my mother, a woman who was raised as a sharecropper and never learned to read and write, and millions of women like her with me.  I had the spirit of my father, a black man raised in the midst of vicious southern racism who came to New York alone at the age of sixteen in 1945, like so many other black and poor men, to try to make a life in a world that did not want him.  In the midst of my tears I remembered that ordinary people in America and around the globe had changed the world in big and small ways.  We were marching and chanting in solidarity with the children of Birmingham, Alabama, some as young as five years old, who had faced the viciousness of jails, dogs and fire hoses to say NO MORE!!

One day WE. WILL. WIN.

~Michelle McCleary

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Michelle McCleary is an independent leader with the NYC Independence Clubs and Independent Voting. She is the President of the Metro NY Chapter of the National Black MBA Association.

 

 

 

 

Politics for the People Conference Call

With LaToya Ruby Frazier

Sunday, December 6th at 7 pm EST

 CALL IN NUMBER

641 715-3605

Code 767775#

Reader’s Forum—Josephine Coskie

For our exploration of The Notion of Family, several Politics for the People members have chosen a photo from the book to respond to with thoughts, words, a photo or a poem.  Josephine Coskie, a member from Long Island kicks off this series with her thoughts on Grandma Ruby and Me.

LaToya Ruby Frazier, pg 59 The Notion Of Family

LaToya Ruby Frazier, The Notion Of Family, pg 59: Grandma Ruby and Me, 2005

 

Remembering My Grandmother

 
Grandmothers are the keepers of tradition.

The 2005 photo of Grandma Ruby sitting on the floor of her living room with the author inspired me to recall fondly the memory of my grandmother.

My family lived in a back apartment of the Brooklyn home of my grandparents. My father, a World War II veteran, was the oldest of five children born to my Italian immigrant grandfather and Brooklyn Irish grandmother.

As the oldest of three children living in that household, I would help my grandmother get the dining room table ready for our traditional Sunday dinners. Memories and activities of childhood stay with us. I realize now that my enjoyment of setting a lovely table originated back then in the 1950’s. After dinner, my visiting aunts and uncles would play several games of poker and I would play my grandmother’s “hand” whenever she went into the kitchen to get more food for the table.

My grandmother loved the holidays and always had a live, tall Christmas tree decorated with old-fashioned ornaments. I recall painstakingly hanging tinsel piece by piece on the numerous branches. At midnight on New Years Eve, she would open the front living room window and bang an old frying pan with a spoon, then go downstairs, open the front door, and “sweep out the old year” with a broom.

She would speak of the old days when there were gaslights along the streets. I was fascinated by her history lessons and my interest in old New York continues to this day.

Frequently, we would travel together to the downtown Brooklyn shopping area, stop for lunch in the dining room of a large department store, and finish the day at Howard Johnson sitting at the counter, enjoying ice cream sodas.

The time spent with my grandmother enriched my life as I believe it was the same experience for Latoya Ruby Frazier. I am grateful this photo helped me relive those wonderful childhood memories of her.

—Josephine Coskie

Josephine Coskie, NIcholas S. Johnson Independent Spirit Award 2013

Josephine Coskie is an independent activist and was the 2013 recipient of the Nicholas S. Johnson Independent Spirit Award given by the NYC Independence clubs to recognize outstanding volunteers.

Politics for the People Conference Call

With LaToya Ruby Frazier

Sunday, December 6th at 7 pm EST

 CALL IN NUMBER

641 715-3605

Code 767775#

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