August 26, 2007

The 1871 Commune, Edith Piaf, and Imagining Another World

The life of the famous French chanteuse with the thrilling voice, Edith Piaf, is the subject of a recently released film.

La Vie En Rose, named after one of Piaf’s most well-known songs, just left Salem Cinema (Salem Oregon’s only art house and foreign film venue).

After seeing this recount of her successful career and her short and difficult life which began with her birth into desperate poverty in Belleville, and also being in the middle of viewing at home on DVD “La Commune,” a film by Peter Watkins ( about the Paris Commune of 1871, I began to think about a few “what if” scenarios.

What if the Commune - and the idea of a society run by workers themselves in their own interests, not those of their employers and exploiters - had succeeded? What things would have been different in Piaf’s life? Would Piaf’s father not have to leave Piaf’s mother and his child to join the military in order to survive? Would Piaf’s mother been less likely to have died in poverty and alcoholism, estranged from her daughter? Would all women and children have been less vulnerable and less likely to be subject to resorting to prostitution since it would be illegal, and female workers would have been able to make a living wage and be independent? Would Piaf have been able to go to a free and public school? Would there have been a healthy environment for all? Without either parent to take care of her, would a decent orphanage or other caring situation been available? Would there have been enforced laws against child labor? Would ordinary workers have been able to craft their workplace and society?

Another very famous Piaf song was “Non, je ne regrette rien” which translates as “No, I regret nothing.” It’s a brave and moving song, but I regret the suffering of the child that was Edith along with so many unknown others - when it did not have to be so.

August 21, 2007

In Praise of ex- Governor George Ryan

Chances look pretty good that ex-Illinois Governor George Ryan will go to prison based on allegations of fraud and corruption. In a nutshell, Ryan is accused of handing out sweetheart deals while in office as Illinois' Secretary of State and Governor. In an Appellate decision today, Ryan's conviction was upheld by a 2-1 vote of the presiding judges; a second appeal is in the works.

What I remember about George Ryan is this:

George Ryan, as Governor of Illinois, emptied the Illinois prison system's death row; lock, stock and barrell! After reviewing the cases of the folks on death row, Ryan determined that miscarriages of justice were systematic and just about universal in the convictions of just about every inmate on death row. As a result of his review of the cases, Ryan commuted every death sentence in the Illinois prison system.

I think George Ryan recognized what some of us have known for a long time. That is, that the U.S. and in particular, the Illinois legal system is a racist system that that systematically denies the rights of the accused and falsifies evidence in the interests of convicting lower class and people of color.

It's not often that I can find anything to praise in the actions of 99.9% of what goes on in mainline politics: For me, politics in this country is racket (it's nothing but intuition, but why do I have this feeling that Ryan's conviction is paybacks from the system?).

George Ryan is however a great exception. As for me, no matter what happens to George Ryan, I will always honor him as a man of great moral courage and integrity for what he did with Illinois' death row. I wish him the best and may the gods of justice protect him and do him well.

August 9, 2007

Socialism in Oregon--Another Step Forward!

This is a photograph of early Finnish socialists in Oregon. That history--minus the tubas--lives on in our Willamette Reds group.

The Frederick Douglass School/Willamette Reds will sponsor a talk by community solidarity activist Juanita Rodriguez and Communist Party leader Scott Marshall on Saturday, October 6 in Salem, Oregon. The event will be held at Salem’s First Congregational Church, 700 Marion St. NE. We will start at 2:00 pm on Saturday, Oct. 6. The title of the event will be: Whose World Is It? Global and Local Communities In Action.

Please attend and please tell others.

Scott Marshall is a vice-chair of the Communist Party, USA and chair of its national labor commission. Scott grew up in Alabama and Virginia where he first became active in the movements for civil rights and against the Vietnam War in high school in the mid 1960’s.

Scott has been a life long trade unionist and was active in rank and file reform movements in the Teamsters, Machinists and Steelworkers unions in the 1970’s and ‘80’s. He was co-chair of the Save Our Jobs committee of USWA local 1834 at Pullman Standard in Chicago and active in nationwide organizing against plant closings and layoffs.

Scott has worked for the Communist Party since 1987 when he became the district organizer for the party in Illinois. He was elected chair of the labor commission in 1998. His main focus is on labor and anti-globalization issues. Scott is also active in the Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees (SOAR). He is the author of Working Class Strategy in the Era of Capitalist Globalization, a basic text used by Willamette Reds in creating a series of local events.

Juanita Rodriguez lives in Corvallis, Oregon and calls herself a "Freelance Community Catalyst". While she has traveled to South America, the Caribbean, and Latin America to learn first hand about the effects of Plan Colombia, the Blockade against Cuba, and NAFTA, her advocacy at home includes everything from representing women escaping domestic violence, to working through the deportation process with a young, undocumented Latino, to getting financial assistance for a Mexican mother to have a necessary operation, and to helping marginalized youth apply for scholarships to study medicine in Cuba. Since 2001 she has been a volunteer representative of a Zapotec women's weaving collective from Oaxaca, Mexico, working together with them to develop fair pricing and a dignified and mutually supportive group that markets their handcrafted goods directly to the consumer. She is a single mother of four, a gardener and an artist.

We hope to have music at the event. There will be snacks and beverages and time to dialogue with the speakers. There will be literature and other materials offered.