Sunday, August 27, 2017

Oops, I Did it Again!

Yesterday, I posted offensive material to Facebook, and lost a few friends over it. Again.

What was my offense? A photo (included below) and a short video of my participation in an anti-Fascist protest in San Francisco.

Following the events in Charlottesville, VA, where one woman was killed and 30 more injured while counter-protesting a rally filled with Klansmen and Nazis shouting their hate-filled rhetoric, similar "alt-Right" events were planned for the Bay Area.

Rather than attend their hate rally and confront them head-on (potentially leading to more violence), counter-rallies were scheduled for various places away from the epicenter of hate.

We were invited by friends to take part in the Ukulele Resistance Brigade, and attend the rally planned for the Castro district, then a march up Mission Street to Civic Center. We would sing satiric anti-Nazi songs and be accompanied by two electric magical unicorns. Harmless stuff.

The Ukulele Resistance Brigade, riding Mission Pony Unicorns, singing anti-Nazi songs at the intersection of Mission and Castro, San Francisco, CA, August 26, 2017
Harmless, perhaps, and yet, "friends" were so offended that I chose to say that I'm against Fascism by singing sarcastic songs while walking along Mission Street in San Francisco that they un-freinded me today.

Silly as our protest may seem, the cumulative effect of all these counter-protests worked: the leaders of the pro-Nazi rally kept changing the location and size of their event, until all that anybody saw were a few lost and lonely individuals with alt-Right slogans on their shirts stopping off at Starbucks.

I believe that those who un-friended me have two general misconceptions:
1 - That I'm using the word "Nazi" too loosely to describe those I merely disagree with, and
2 - That this protest means we leftists/progressives/whatever are against free speech.

First, no, I do not throw around "Nazi" as an all-purpose putdown for anybody with views even slightly more conservative than my own. I reserve that word for people who literally espouse the views and symbols of Hitler's Germany.

The "Unite the Right" protesters were not simply calling for conservative policies, like "tax cuts for job creators" or the right of people to die from easily preventable diseases if they're not clever enough to get a job that includes health care benefits.

They went to Charlottesville carrying semi-automatic weapons (their right), flags of the (defeated) confederacy, flags of the (defeated) Nazi Germany, raising their hand in imitation of the Nazi solute, and chanting such Nazi slogans as "blood and soil" while carrying signs reading "Jews will not replace us."

This is not rhetoric or hyperbole. I'm not saying that they're "like Nazis." They are literal Nazis.

And this is what they said they had in store for us in San Francisco. Nazi propaganda that includes calls for my erasure from America. Making clear that however much we assimilate, Jews will never be white enough for them.

That we chose ukuleles, unicorns, and satire (on the other side of town) as our weapons, rather than baseball bats, large rocks, and direct confrontation, is pretty much a testament to our tolerance for "opposing viewpoints."

But what about Free Speech!?

Yes, the Ukulele Resistance Brigade's big hit (captured in the short video post) was this:
If you're a Nazi and you're fired, it's your fault (clap, clap)
If you're a Nazi and you're fired, it's your fault (clap, clap)
Your were spotted in a mob, now you lost your fucking job
If you're a Nazi and you're fired, it's your fault (clap, clap)
What that refers to, of course, is that following Charlottesville, several of the people who figured prominently in the photos, carrying torches and screaming hateful rhetoric, were recognized by their employers and fired. No company wants to be represented by Nazis. That's a good thing. That's their right.

Yes, you have the right to say hateful things. But that doesn't mean there are no consequences.

There have always been limits to free speech. You cannot shout "Fire" in a crowded theater. You may not incite a riot. Threatening peoples lives or suggesting that someone else "needs to die" are bad things to say.

The propaganda shouted in Charlottesville went beyond hateful. Whether or not it fell within the legal of definition of inciteful, I'll leave up to the courts.

I know that when I saw those signs, I felt threatened. And when the organizers said they were coming to my region, that I'd be complicit in normalizing that speech if I did not go out and protest it. I have a right to be heard too.

No, I do not support firing someone for basic political differences that have nothing to do with the employer-employee relationship. But I know full well that if I make a public statement that goes against my employer's mission or damages my employer's image (such as suggesting a group of citizens is somehow less human than I am), I will be fired.

Check the fine print of your employee agreement or handbook: you probably already agreed to the same. I'll bet that each of the individuals who've been fired since publicly exposing themselves as Nazis agreed to such a policy. No way their employers would have fired them if their legal council hadn't made sure it would hold up in court.

Again: free speech doesn't mean no consequences.

If standing up and declaring I'm against Fascism is "too political" for you, then you're a collaborator.

And if you're thinking that their saying I have no right to exist is somehow equal to my saying I do, I do not mourn the loss of your friendship.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Nachum Khannina, Refugee

Nachum Khannina
On April 23, 1891, the Jews of Moscow were expelled from that city and forced to move west, into a region knows as "the Pale of Settlement." The Pale, roughly the region between Imperial Russia and Austria-Hungary, was first created by Catherine the Great in 1791 to remove Jews from Russia entirely, unless they converted to Russian Orthodoxy, the state religion.

Forty-four days later, on June 6, 1891, my Great-Grandfather, Nachum Khannina*, journeyman tailor, paid 85 Kopecks to the Russian authorities of Vitebsk Gubernia (in the Pale, in what is now Belarus) for permission to travel to complete his training and receive certification as a master tailor.

Paperwork of "Jew Nofush Hofushov Hanin"
His travel permit says, "By order of His Majesty, the Emperor Alexander Alexandrovich, the autocrat of all Russia... Jew Nofush Hofushov Hanin,"* is authorized to travel for study. It is also specific that if he does not return to Vitebsk (and the Pale of Settlement) at the end of six months, he will suffer penalties under the law.

We are unsure of the route he took, but by 1894 he was known as Nathan Channen, of Boston, Massachusetts, and his family was with him. Also not known is if he had any paperwork or authorization to come to America before he arrived on his temporary travel-study permit.

The Channens: An American Family
We also don't know if Nachum/Nathan was new to being a refugee when he left Vitebsk in 1891. Did multiple generations of Khanninas make their home in the region? Or did they arrive there by way of evictions from deeper in Russia over the previous century, or just the previous four months?

What we do know is that he violated Russian law in traveling as far as he did, with no intention of returning. Nathan Channen and his family were refugees, as were each of my Great-Grandparents and Grandparents, who all came to America to escape Imperial Russian Pogroms, anti-Semitism, and the Pale of Settlement between 1890 and 1905.

They were all refugees. When I stand and march for refugees, it's for them, and the sacrifices they made, so that I could be a spoiled, privileged, American citizen. And I won't deny that opportunity to anybody else, regardless of race, religion, or country of origin.

The five daughters of Nathan and Sophia Channen. On the right is my Grandmother, Ruth Channen Goldstein. May their memories be a blessing
 * Nachum Khannina or Nofush Hofushov Hanin? One his Yiddish name, the other Russian, both approximate transliterations.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

"Looking uncomfortably to the world we inherit"

The quote that serves as the title for this post is from Tom Hayden, who passed away last October 23, shortly before the presidential election.

Many people today hardly remember the name. To some he was a mild-mannered, liberal state legislator, representing Santa Monica in the California Assembly and State Senate for a couple of decades. To some he was "that commie rabble rouser" - one of the Chicago Seven, who consorted with the enemy during the Vietnam War and caused riots here at home. To others he was just Jane Fonda's husband (between Roger Vadim and Ted Turner).

(Disclosure: Around 1983 or so, I went to work for Tom's organization, Campaign California, on 3rd Street in Santa Monica, as a political canvasser. We were working on clean air issues, and each afternoon we canvassers would get loaded into cars and taken to different areas around Los Angeles to go door-to-door, collecting signatures and checks to get Tom's work done.)

Since the election, and particularly since the inauguration of P45 (I can't quite bring myself to say his name), I've been thinking about Hayden, and that quote, "Looking uncomfortably to the world we inherit" ...

At my age now, it's not the world we are to inherit that bothers me; it's the world we are to bequeath. A few weeks ago we had a small family gathering, and looking at the youngest, my two-year-old grand-niece, I couldn't help but to apologize to her for the mess the world - and our country - is in.

It is for her sake (and others of her generation) that I cannot give in to depression over the situation, or allow myself to be overwhelmed by the avalanche of insanity that is coming out of the White House. I will continue going to protests and speaking out in any way I can.

I may not make it to every rally. I won't be able to change my Facebook icon to go along with every challenge to democracy. There won't be time to blog, or even tweet, about each new outrage. But I will do all I can, and I will not sit idly by while the rights and lives of anybody are threatened - whether they are my friend, family, ally, or not.

They want to overwhelm us. They want to divide us. They want to make us choose whether we're going to defend the rights of immigrants, or women, or LGBTQ, or Muslims, or... just give up and watch the Constitution get trampled. I will not pick and choose. We all stand together or we perish together.

At the close of the Chicago Seven trial, each defendant was given a chance to make a statement. Tom Hayden said, "We would hardly have been notorious characters if they left us alone on the streets of Chicago," but instead "we became the architects, the masterminds, and the geniuses of a conspiracy to overthrow the government; we were invented."

The new administration is good at inventing enemies. A free press, doing its job of asking tough questions, is referred to as "the opposition party." A Judge - a conservative Judge, appointed by George W. Bush -  is referred to as a "so-called Judge" for ruling to uphold the rule of law.

So fine, I'm an enemy of this President, and I encourage you to be an enemy too.

As long as I'm writing about the Chicago Seven Conspiracy trial, let's talk about Hayden's partner, Abbie Hoffman. A nice, college educated, Jewish boy from Massachusetts. I can relate. In Hoffman's final words to the court, he said:

"I always wanted to change my plea. I had just a great urge to confess; say, 'I am guilty,' because I felt what the State was calling me was an enemy of the State and I am an enemy of the State ... [B]efore, you [Judge Hoffman, no relation] said, '... you could have had a nice position in the system, you could have had a job in the firm.' ... We don't want a job there, in that system. We say to young people, 'There is a brilliant future for you in the revolution. Become an enemy of the State. A great future. You will save your soul.'"

Save your soul, and possibly democracy and America: Resist.

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