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January 18 - 22, 1999

Tuesday, January 19, 1999

Rain on the parade

"The Negro," Martin Luther King said in August 1963, "lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity and finds himself an exile in his own land." But during the next five years, as King came to realize that most poor Americans were white, he fused issues of race and class. His dream became revolutionary, and politics replaced charity: "True compassion," he announced, "is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring." He threw his energies into organizing a multiracial campaign for a new, poor people's bill of rights.

When the sniper's bullet exploded in Memphis on April 4, 1964, we may have lost the dream along with the dreamer. For people whose memories do not contain images of segregated lunch counters and bloody freedom rides, the civil rights movement seems little more than a blip on the timeline compiled by the Baby Boomers' Headquarters ("If you weren't around then, try to imagine yourself as an impressionable teenager when...."). And Martin Luther King himself sometimes seems to have become simply the subject of a commemorative medallion, just one more item in the showcase of Diamonds By Klure.

Small wonder, then, that the people of San Francisco's African-American community decided to use Glide's organizational skills (and a little money from the hotel tax fund) to celebrate MLKs birthday with a stupendous rally. Bridging the Generation Gap --- Translating "The Dream" for All Generations, they called it. And even better, they managed to hook it up with a local ceremony, the renaming of the portion of Polk Street where City Hall stands in honor of one of the city's black heroes, physician and publisher Carlton B. Goodlett.

The ceremony was a speedy one, as January open-air events in California tend to be. At midday, the heavens suddenly burst open, pelting the marchers with rain as, 7,000 strong, they approached City Hall. Side by side, Cecil Williams in black and Tom Ammiano in beige led the way across U.N. Plaza, singing valiantly of the Freedom Train. This train, like many others that traverse the Bay Area, was late, and Amos Brown was already waiting on the steps, along with a host of soggy dignitaries. They kept the speeches short but spicy, earning the gratitude of the spectators, who shivered and tried to dodge water dripping from their neighbors' umbrellas. Like many topplers of applecarts, "Doc" Goodlett had inspired reverence mixed with exasperation, as publisher Amelia Ashley-Ward, human rights activist Aileen Hernandez and Mayor Willie Brown attested. The dedication itself included a presentation of the new street signs (hurriedly repainted to spell Goodlett's name correctly) to the powers-that-were responsible for the name change; a grinning African American near me suggested that the people in the audience were more deserving recipients and that he'd be happy to take the first one. Then the ceremony ended, with an exhortation to join the festivities at Bill Graham Auditorium but --- oddly --- without the official announcement, promised in the Sun-Reporter, that the Faith Communities of San Francisco will devote this year's MLK celebration "to the issues of homelessness."

While the marchers were ambling across the plaza, I took a detour, to pay a quick visit to another of Amos Brown's pet projects --- the new Rite Aid at the corner of Market and Van Ness. By popular demand, the request of the pharmacy-cum-emporium for a general off-sale liquor license will return to the supervisors' Housing and Neighborhood Services Committee this Thursday morning, and I was curious to see what was provoking all the hubbub. The tinkling of lite rock music welcomed customers, who meandered among shelves of brightly colored packaged goods. One section, near the canned tuna and the soup mixes, was sparsely stocked, perhaps anticipating the addition of wine, beer, and hard liquor.

The service providers and commercial interests in the nearby Tenderloin are vociferous in their support of this new facility, with all the merchandise that Rite Aid customarily carries, including liquor. Many of the residents are less enthusiastic, arguing that the district already contains many more than the number of off-sale liquor stores allowed by the Alcoholic Beverage Control Agency. A stroll just two doors up Market reveals one of the sources of their uneasiness, for there, in the lobby of CATS (Community Awareness & Treatment Services, Inc.), sit a number of people from the Tenderloin waiting for referrals. Many of these people are homeless --- a sign on the wall outside reads, "Please Do Not Park Your Carts Hear They Will Be Removed" --- and many are alcohol or drug abusers, seeking help. The city is certainly sending out mixed messages in its consideration of a new off-sale liquor license in this area, where police treat public drunkenness with arrests.

I continued around the block and back to Bill Graham Auditorium, where the predominately African-American crowd was settling down for an afternoon of inspiration and entertainment. As Belva Davis welcomed the audience, in person and on two huge TV monitors, I wandered among the "ethnic vendor booths" in the hall, which included African-inspired clothing and jewelry, Clayborne Carson's new book (The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr.) and Negro League memorabilia. I walked out the door, past the serious young representatives of the Nation of Islam and the Mobilization to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal, past the banners warning of the imminence of Judgment Day, past the line of hungry people waiting for Ribs 'N' Things, past a group of Filipino veterans posing for a photograph.

In front of me, a bearded man with a braided gray ponytail strode purposefully across U.N. Plaza, a pile of neatly folded clothes visible in the black trashbag he held slung over his shoulder. I followed him as he walked toward the Tenderloin. As I reached the corner of McAllister, I looked up at one of the city's shiny new signs. It read, "Carlton B. Goodlett Pl. (End)."

--- Copyright Betsey Culp 1999

Wednesday, January 20, 1999

Progress report

This morning we continue the refrain, "The state of the union is strong," and detail how America's vaunted strength and prosperity stacks up against the world's 18 other industrialized nations:

* * *

And in the spirit of President Bill's promise to "put a human face on the global economy," herewith is a sampling of recent wire reports:

  • China: Zhan Shanguang, an independent trade union activist in China, was sentenced on December 27 to ten years imprisonment by a court in the Hunan province. Accused of "threatening the security of the State," Zhang was incarcerated for trying to set up an organization to defend the rights of the unemployed and for giving the foreign press information on social unrest in Hunan. Earlier, three other democratic activists, Xu Wenli, Qin Yongming and Wan Yucai were sentenced to 13, 12 and 11 years imprisonment respectively. Meanwhile, a recent report by the Asia Monitor Research Center describes the deplorable conditions in which toys are manufactured in China, the world's biggest toy producer. A worker in a Chinese toy factory earns less than $50 per month, for working six days a week and 14 hours a day, says the report.
  • Guatemala: On December 11, 1998, the Phillips--Van Heusen Corporation (PVH) suddenly closed its apparel factory in Guatemala. The factory, Camisas Modernas, was the only maquiladora (apparel-for-export) factory in Guatemala with a collective bargaining agreement, won by the union in 1997 after a six-year campaign. It was also PVH's only unionized factory. PVH, the U.S.' leading marketer of men's dress shirts, cited the loss of a major business customer as the reason it had to reduce its plant capacity. The loss of the customer, Mercantile Stores, does not appear to be significant, accounting for 1.6 percent of PVH's annual apparel sales according to PVH's own figures. A prominent PVH contractor and leader in the Guatemalan maquiladora industry warned at the time of the workers' victory that PVH would close the factory in a year and shift the production to a non-union contractor. PVH is one of members of the Apparel Industry Partnership (AIP), a White House--initiated task force of industry and human rights groups charged with the task of eliminating sweatshops in the apparel industry in the U.S. and abroad.
  • Honduras: On January 13, Chiquita Brands International said it would abandon Honduras and not rehabilitate banana plantations damaged by Hurricane Mitch if by Friday, January 15, workers didn't sign a new agreement that would weaken the union and roll back advances they had previously won. Chiquita employs approximately 7,000 banana workers in Honduras. Chiquita's threats to leave Honduras in the wake of Mitch come despite public promises to the contrary. According to a November 13 AP story, Chiquita President Steven Warshaw said Chiquita would rebuild in Honduras. On November 12, during a visit to Honduras, Mr. Warshaw assured Honduran officials that the company would not leave the country. In Guatemala, COBSA, a subsidiary of Dole, sacked 465 workers following the hurricane, despite a court order prohibiting it to do so, while in Nicaragua, COBSA has reneged on its commitment to contribute towards the rehabilitation of its suppliers' plantations, which has resulted in a large number of layoffs. Unions in the area are writing to Dole, urging them to reinstate the workers, and to contribute towards the rehabilitation of the banana plantations.
  • Mexico: In a report published on December 29, Human Rights Watch accused employers in Mexican maquiladoras of violating maternity protection measures. Pregnancy tests upon hiring, discrimination in employment and unfair dismissals are among the principal findings by the organization, which examined 50 factories. In a related vein, the daily La Jornada reveals that five million children are working in Mexico, half of them school dropouts, and that most of them work between five and 14 hours a day.
  • Pakistan: A decree promulgated on December 22 ,1998, by the president of Pakistan exempts Pakistan's water and energy authority (Wapda) from legal provisions concerning the freedom of association and collective bargaining. The decree, which is a contravention of the Constitution of Pakistan and ILO Conventions (87 and 98) deprives Wapda's 130,000-plus employees of their fundamental rights.
  • Zimbabwe: On December 30, the head of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, Gibson Sibanda, warned the government that the economic crisis that spread across the country in 1998 was a social time bomb. More than half the population is out of work and inflation is more than 45 percent.
  • --- Copyright John Hutchison 1999

    Friday, January 22, 1999

    Practicing the faith

    The novelist Charles Dickens, who started out as a reporter, didn't have much use for American newspapers. He described them as "pimping and pandering for all degrees of vicious taste, and gorging with coined lies the most voracious maw; imputing for every man in public life the coarsest and vilest of motives; scarring away from the stabbed and prostrate body-politic every Samaritan of good conscience and good deeds; and setting on, with yell and whistle and the clapping of foul hands, the vilest vermin and the worst birds of prey."

    Gee, I wish I'd thought of that.

    * * *

    My favorite story in the papers over the weekend was about how Jerry Falwell, one of many evangelists fevered by the millennium-end-of-the-world cash cow, asserted that the anti-Christ is already traversing the planet. And --- guess what? --- he's a male Jew!

    Christ was also a male Jew but that got lost in the translation somehow.

    I suppose the anti-Christ is also working as the head of a Hollywood studio --- or a standup comic --- or working in a deli in Sheepshead Bay where he's surreptiously slipping date-rape drugs into the chopped liver.

    But Falwell wouldn't --- or couldn't --- identify him. Why he thinks he's a male Jew, I don't know. But like Magellan, he'll probably try to circumcise the world.

    The Second Coming of Christ, says Falwell, will occur within ten years. My question is this: If there's a Second Coming, does that mean we get to celebrate Christmas twice a year?

    That would make Macy's happy.

    * * *

    On Friday, Pat Robertson --- a.k.a. "the grinning skull" - bought time on one of the independent television stations here to air a live telethon to raise a little pre-Apocalypse money. It's funny how the Protestant church got started by denouncing the Catholic Church's practice of selling indulgences. I wonder what Martin Luther would have to say about this fire sale for salvation.

    * * *

    I don't know about you but I'm a little puzzled why the respected editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association was fired for running a piece about what's considered a sex act while Clinton's impeachment trial is underway. It seems just about the right time to run such a piece. You know, like newsworthy. This man's dismissal is clearly a case of premature termination.

    * * *

    San Francisco astrologer Joan Quigley is back in the news. You might recall she was celestial adviser to Nancy and Ronald Reagan, guiding the president and First Lady through the tribulations of governing the nation.

    Perhaps Quigley was instrumental in some memorable presidential decisions: "Mars is in retrograde. It's a good time to visit the Nazi SS graves at Bitburg."

    And while the lineup of planets was auspicious, Quigley might have advised, "If you send arms to Iran for hostages right away, no one will find out."

    In exasperation, Quigley went to Nancy with her lament, "There's a guy down in the Caribbean, in Grenada, who still owes me money for doing his chart. Can't Ronnie do something about it?"

    Quigley now predicts --- according to astrological charts --- that there will be a germ warfare attack on the East Coast of the United States sometime between August 1999 and June 2000. I don't suppose she's referring to the Millennium Bug.

    Just think: If Reagan had gotten his way with the Star Wars program, we could rearrange the paths of the stars. (And just wondering: Have Joan and Willie Jeff suddenly established a cosmic connection?)

    No word whether the FBI is taking Quigley seriously. The producers of "The X-Files" aren't saying anything either.

    * * *

    The diaries of the late Madalyn Murray O'Hair, the famously bombastic atheist, are about to be auctioned. Her notes include her desire for power, a house full of servants and political office --- but the irreligious right movement never took off.

    I wonder what devil worshippers will do about the millennium's arrival on New Year's Day, 2000. They can't celebrate a Second Coming. Satan never left. Perhaps someone will raise Guy Lombardo from the dead.

    * * *

    In Japan, people have been buying cyanide from a crazed pharmacist on the Internet, who advocates suicide. There have been at least two deaths. The Japanese are great imitators and it appears they have now duplicated Dr. Kevorkian. Can't we start a trade war over this?

    * * *

    Hulk Hogan, the wrestler/actor, told Jay Leno that he'd like to run for president in the year 2000. Not too many noticed, although Ralph Nader did. He's taking Hogan pretty seriously, given the manic mood in this country these days. Nader says Mr. Hulk could be an attractive candidate to the many of millions who don't vote, "Blue-collar laborers who hunt, drive motorcycles and sport tattoos--- or more silent types who turn off politics because it turns them off --- who'll respond to a rough-hewn, no-nonsensense talker, known by millions."

    Naturally, "The Hulk" is encouraged by the political success of "The Body" up in Minnesota. And think of all the wrestling phrases that could be employed in the campaign, "Take it to the mat," or "I'll make ground chuck out of you, buddy" or "Your spleen would make a nice necktie."

    Hogan is already talking about a platform --- seriously --- and it includes advocating for a flat tax and putting "America First."

    Has anyone ever heard of a politician endorsing "America Second"?

    * * *

    I kept wondering what promised surprises would be delivered at the State of the Union address Tuesday night. I thought Mr. Clinton might abdicate to "be with the woman I love." That would have been one of the eternal riddles of the universe.

    * * *

    Ironic to learn of the passing of 81-year-old author William Whyte, who wrote The Organization Man, a cautionary tale of the conformity of corporate culture.

    Whyte worried about how individualism was being replaced by "modest aspirations of organization men who lowered their sights to achieve a good job with adequate pay...in a pleasant community populated with people as nearly like themselves as possible."

    Mr. Whyte was rolling in his grave even before he got there.

    --- Copyright Bruce Bellingham 1999

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