Marching Again

BLM March July72016 VL

Thursday July 7, 2016
#BlackLivesMatter march for #AltonSterling, #PhilandoCastile, and all.

As I march through my city, enraged at the continuing and most recent murders of black folks in seemingly benign situations, I remember the first time I was part of an impromptu march in response to a publicized attack on a black man (not counting 1968). It was 24 years ago – 1992 – and Rodney King had been brutally beaten by a group of white cops. The officers were acquitted, riots broke out, and NYC marched through the streets.

24 years ago: I’d been working a part-time receptionist gig in midtown, and the meet-up point was Times Square sometime in the early afternoon. Wearing my pencil skirt and my kitten heels, carrying my bag full of dance clothes, I left work to join the people. I passed by shops closing up everywhere, pulling down their gates, fearing an outbreak of violence and destruction (which never happened). I joined up with the crowd of incensed New Yorkers and we soon began our march down toward the West Village. At some point we came up against a phalanx of cops in their riot gear – before tasers and zip ties and body cameras or cell phones. I remember how young they looked, how scared they looked, and how much adrenaline was in the air.

A fellow marcher and I fell backwards over some police motorcycles. Two cops grabbed us both by our shirtfronts and shoved us up against the nearest wall. I remember swearing my head off while explaining what had happened, and wondering at the same time: Can I be arrested for cursing at an officer? But they let us go, and we marched on.
Somewhere near Houston Street the march dispersed, and I caught a train to my African dance class in Brooklyn.

And here we are, 24 years later. This time we were meeting at Union Square and marching up toward Times Square. This time I came from home, so had more appropriate shoes on. And this time, as we were marching, I remembered that march so long ago, and it occurred to me that Rodney King was “only” beaten up.
If that happened now, he’d be dead.
In our new world, a beating is passé. Murder is what’s on. Murder after murder after murder.

Around 5 p.m. I joined a crowd of sad, hurt, and enraged New Yorkers gathering in the south end of Union Square Park. Already the barricades were going up. There was a summer stage concert going on – completely incongruous music. At some point they turned up their volume, but soon, they were done and we were ready to move. We had to stream through a strategically  tight opening between barricades to begin our march across 14th street. We chanted as we walked over and up and through the city. At times, folks chanted Whose streets? Our streets! I thought: Wishful thinking.

Sure, we streamed through traffic, snarled it some, rerouted around the cop lines to stream back through the streets. But we don’t own these streets. We passed by, through, and under all the blazing markers of ownership of our daily and nightly lives. We passed by the neon mega chains. We passed by the loud signage telling us who and what to buy. We passed by the cool cucumbers in their crisp cotton shirts looking down from behind high glass windows while sipping their expensive drinks. We passed by clean cut manicured couples clearly miffed at the inconvenience we created. We passed by fancy carriages, the horses getting skittish. We passed by the Strand bookstalls that tempted me to swerve – but I resisted. We passed by scared white chicks in their cabs. We passed by black and brown cab drivers honking in tune with us. We streamed our way up 5th avenue, past the museums most of us can no longer afford to visit. We made our way up through all the streets that are not ours at all anymore. We passed into the night, and up into Harlem, closer to what used to be a home, where folks stood in the streets and hung out their windows, cheering us as we went by. At this far point there were fewer of us, only about 200 hundred left. Eventually we came face-to-face with a calm line of cops up by the entrance to a bridge folks thought to shut down.

But no matter how many times we’d chanted “Shut It Down”, the cops weren’t going to let us do that; and nobody wanted to die for it, so we regrouped and went up Malcom X Boulevard to 145th, then across to St. Nicholas where, after 8 miles and 4-plus hours of marching, we finally sat down to have some silence, honoring those most recently murdered in cold blood.
When the police finally arrived, dispersal began, and many of us, including me, said goodbye there.

It was good to cover this city with our rage; good to shout Black Lives Matter, and Racist Cops Have Got To Go; good to shout out What Do We Want? Justice! When Do We Want It? Now! But Our Streets? Less and less. Shut It Down? How? When? Where? What? A bridge? A street?
Yes, all streets; that might help. Everyone “Out of Your Homes and Into the Streets” – maybe then we’d get somewhere.
But I fear the weapons of the masters. And I am in no doubt they will not hesitate to use ‘whatever means necessary’ to silence the rabble – including, now, robot bombs.
Without the kind of uprising and organization folks had in place in the 1960s, without phalanx after phalanx of our own, willing to die – because that is far more likely now than it was in the 60s – it won’t mean a thing.

This day, I felt like the cops knew it was best to let us blow off some steam – they weren’t really interested in messing with anyone. But they did have their boundaries, and bridges were at least one. Oh the happy youth who thought they were getting over on the cops, moving from one check point to another, thinking they were outwitting them. Wait til they suit up, like in Baton Rouge as I write this.

Early in the journey, one young person passed by me and said “Just like the 60s!”
I wasn’t sure if he was being sarcastic or not, but all I could say was “No, it is NOT like the 60s; nothing like the 60s. Don’t sleep -” The 60s were tame compared to what’s on now. And sure, we had a moment back then, but assassin’s bullets worked so well that our legs were taken out from under us and we’ve been floundering ever since. Malcom X, Fred Hampton, MLK, RFK…No, we lost.

One legacy of the undoing of that movement is this understandable idea that there should be no leaders of the current movement. But without leadership, there is no organization. When I was in Oakland at the initial Occupy skirmishes, this idea of no leaders played out: one person said Go this way; another said No, go this way. Some followed one person, others followed another. All the while I was thinking: Not only is our strength becoming dissipated, but these people folks are following could be working for anyone, splitting us up, leading us into a dead end, or worse, into a cop corral. But…try saying that, you older person. This is not your revolution.
Revolution, Ha.
I don’t want no revolution; I don’t want another go round on the circle.
I want out.
I want Evolution.

Black is Beautiful, and so is Diversity. And I want to celebrate that.
I want to share what we have with each other. I want smiles all around when I’m on the subway train. I want an end to rampant heartless greed. I want a country of villages of neighborhoods of the unique flavors that make the best of what this country has always been.
I couldn’t live without what I’ve experienced and learned from other cultures.
None of us would even be here – probably none of us anywhere in the world.
So, sure love is the only way out.

But it is hard not to rage when enraging things are happening, being committed, for years, 24, 60, 400 – or is it 500 years!

America is not the only country where one can find racism or oppression, but America is our country, and America threw that “All Are Created Equal” idea out there; so those of us who are fed up have got to say NO to the BULLSHIT. Every day, in every way. We don’t all have to get along; we won’t, we can’t; but we do have to cultivate an overall sense of Justice for ALL, Tolerance for differences, Love of the strengths we have here.

And for the small-minded tight-hearted haters, we have to leave no room – anywhere.
Excise that shit.

Testament of Vera Brittain

Testament of Youth
Book by Vera Brittain
Published 1933.

Testament of Youth is Vera Brittain’s memoir about her time, her generation, her circle: middle-class, well educated, aspiring writers, poets, young people having complex and nuanced conversations, experiences, and emotions, all the while writing diaries, letters and poems, just before, during, and after WWI – “the war to end all wars.” It is not a light read.

I picked it up some years ago because of my interest in early 20th century British women writers, their lives and their perspectives, especially of WWI, since most of what we have is written by men.  Not many women were being educated, listened to, or published in those days.

Vera Brittain was rare. A young woman who could get into Oxford in 1913 was no common creature – it was hard enough for men. She had to struggle against centuries of cultural baggage to be among the earliest to achieve such a goal. Along with a well-heeled upbringing, she had to have the brains, the drive, and the discipline to win that position. She made friendships during those years which developed through conversations about literature, the nature of life, and when it came to it, the meaning of war, fighting for one’s country, and eventually, the relevance of the life of the mind during such times.

At the beginning of the war, her brother and their friends gave up school to join the fight. In 1915 she felt she too had to do something, and dropped out of Oxford to become a nurse. While posted in London, November 1915, she wrote to Roland Leighton, one of her brother’s best friends to whom she’d become engaged:

“I have only one wish in life now and that is for the ending of the war. I wonder how much really all you have seen and done has changed you. Personally, after seeing some of the dreadful things I have to see here, I feel I shall never be the same person again, and wonder if, when the war does end, I shall have forgotten how to laugh… One day last week I came away from a really terrible amputation dressing I had been assisting at – it was the first after the operation – with my hands covered with blood and my mind full of a passionate fury at the wickedness of war, and I wished I had never been born.”

That same month, he wrote to her:

“It all seems such a waste of youth, such a desecration of all that is born for poetry and beauty.”

In a letter from the summer before, he’d written:

“Among this chaos of twisted iron and splintered timber and shapeless earth are the fleshless, blackened bones of simple men who poured out their red, sweet wine of youth unknowing, for nothing more tangible than Honour or their Country’s Glory or another’s Lust of Power. Let him who thinks that war is a glorious golden thing, who loves to roll forth stirring words of exhortation, invoking Honour and Praise and Valour and Love of Country. Let him look at a little pile of sodden grey rags that cover half a skull and a shine bone and what might have been its ribs, or at this skeleton lying on its side, resting half-crouching as it fell, supported on one arm, perfect but that it is headless, and with the tattered clothing still draped around it; and let him realise how grand and glorious a thing it is to have distilled all Youth and Joy and Life into a foetid heap of hideous putrescence.”

In December 1916, Roland Leighton was killed. Over the next two years, Vera’s brother Edward and their other close friends were also killed.

“There seemed to be nothing left in the world, for I felt that Roland had taken with him all my future and Edward all my past.”

After the war, alone with her ghosts, she returned to Oxford, but switched from studying for an English degree to one in History, so that she might “understand how the whole calamity (of the war) had happened, to know why it had been possible for me and my contemporaries, through our own ignorance and others’ ingenuity, to be used, hypnotised and slaughtered.”

She graduated, wrote novels and became a journalist known as a feminist and a pacifist. In the early 1930s, she wrote Testament of Youth.

I recently discovered the 5-part BBC serial made in 1979, with Cheryl Campbell as Vera Brittain. Though slightly dated (get over it), this production incorporates lengthy philosophical conversations, arguments, recitations of poetry, long silences…One is given plenty to consider about the expectations of women in those years, the nature of life, and the cost of war – all at the heart of Vera Brittain’s reasons for writing her book. Of course, with 5 hours, one can get deep like that – if one wants.

Sadly, the 2014 film production of Testament of Youth is a product of our time. It skims over all the depth, and gives us a largely wordless tragic love story, essentially silencing the philosophy and purpose of the author. I’d taken myself on a date to see this film, considering it a sacred outing, and found instead simply another syrupy WWI romance pic – so much less meaningful than it could have been. The focus is a tragic romance between two pretty and well-dressed people – her neck, his lips, etc…Sigh; how dull. Especially annoying when Vera Brittain wrote things like this (from a letter to her brother in 1917): “But where you and I are concerned, sex by itself doesn’t interest us unless it is united with brains and personality; in fact we rather think of the latter first, and the person’s sex afterwards…”

The film does not delve into the intelligence and passion that drew these people together, or much of the wrestling with their beliefs that the war forced on them. Nary a complex conversation highlighting not only the conflicting perspectives of war, but also the rare circumstance of a young man falling in love with a young woman deeply interested in thought and writing – barely acceptable in 2015; certainly off-putting 100 years ago. Instead, we get looooong shots of Alicia Vikander’s eyes (god forbid she should talk too much!), and emotions conveyed mostly through her neck, until her final speech, suddenly melodramatic, as if spoken by a different character for a different film – showing, I guess, how the war had changed her.

Matching the cleaned up internal landscape was the distracting cleanliness and newness of the entire production: new clothes, new furnishings, new trains so shiny you could see yourself in them, full of soldiers in uniforms that were dirty but not lived in. There was plenty of predictable footage of young men in trenches, young men on stretchers, young men in bloody bits and pieces or splayed in death while prim nurses bustled about, all to epically tragic music; but ultimately, I felt no connection to anyone in the heart of the story, no relationship to their struggles, and no reason to lament their deaths, other than the abstract horribleness of it.

I felt this film was a squandered opportunity. There was so much material to work with, especially the internal struggle this group of young people went through from believing in the glory to experiencing the reality, the cost and the waste of war, as well as the incredible uniqueness of Vera Brittain, herself an inspiration for so many women – all reduced to a fashionable, if sad, photo shoot.

WWI wasn’t pretty, and Testament of Youth is about much more than how sad it was that the boys died.

If you can find it, take the time, do them the honor, and read the book. (quotations courtesy of http://spartacus-educational.com/Jbrittain.htm)

Also, listen to this 30 minutes (BBC Great Lives) about her, interview with her daughter talking about her, her life, and these ideas.

Read My Lips

Listening to BBC World Service this eve, talking about google glass: how it is being worked up to read various facial expressions/emotions, like happy, sad, angry, etc…

As one speaker said, eventually this facial recognition stuff is “gonna do a better job of identifying my emotions than [a person/you] will.”

You want to know how I’m feeling? How about if you just ASK ME!!!!

It’s called Communication!

Been Awhile…

How many times have you read that on someone’s blog?

I have to admit: facebook did it.

I realized today that I’ve posted many things on my fb page that might have otherwise gone here, PLUS! I had to limit my word count!

Still, the discipline of having to write in short blurbs, a la twitter (which I do not do), is sometimes liberating, certainly challenging.

I also had to sum my self up for an online application form lately; serious editing there: from 450 characters down to 200.  200 characters to describe, for instance, my past experiences, and things I’ve learned from Writing!  in 200 characters???

I didn’t do too badly, either –   might use it on a resume someday.

One of the annoying things about filling out job applications is, you spend a lot of time working on, perfecting your resume, and what happens?  You’re asked to fill out, by hand, all over again, all the stuff that you so carefully parsed for that nicely designed document that is now rendered redundant.  jeez.

…and then there was the 25 minute fairly invasive questionnaire I had to fill out for a retail job at Macy’s!  the first three questions were about whether or not I obeyed rules, and my superiors, and authorities in general – I really wish I’d cut and pasted the whole thing.

Way more fun than that was filling out a personally designed set of questions for a music/video store.  I wasn’t even sure I wanted a job there, but I just loved answering their questions: 5 fave movies, fave cds, interests, and so on.

Meanwhile, been tinkering around with a blog site for the radio show I’m doing for the summer at least. Plans in my head for podcasts too.

The world is really crazy right now, and I wake up to BBC  World Have Your Say every week day – my time live it’s 10 am (bbc time I believe it’s 6pm).

I’m still ranting, but I’m also dancing.

Hope you are too.

Henry Who????

Oh, Tom Ashbrook has Henry Kissinger on his show right now, interviewing him like a good ol’ boy – shite.

I had to post (OnPoint site) my poem about him, written in 2001 in response to a lament and curse for voices to haunt Henry Kissinger (found here, by Chris Brandt).

Here it is for all of you:


Response to “For Henry Kissinger” by Chris Brandt.

Victoria Larkin


Henry Kissinger couldn’t give a fuck…

He won’t be hearing voices in his dotage

His conscience is clean.

He’s quite happy with his long list of accomplishments,

And laughs at all of us sorry Poets

Crying over the long dead…


Henry Kissinger regrets nothing –

He only says that now and then;

It sounds good.


The Devil laps up the curses of the vanquished,

They are his morning’s fare.


Songs of love are sentimental hogwash

When The History of the World is at stake.


Henry Kissinger has made History;

We are merely the dust on his hem:


Shoo away little flies, I have Empires to build!


Henry Kissinger sleeps well tonight,

Despite our condemnations –

Hot air to the winds…


His mind dances over the bodies of those he’s felled,

Fertile and brown, in the dirt where they belong…


Henry Kissinger’s name is known to all,

Henry Kissinger rules in Hell.


Sing on, Poets, sing on,

But don’t think Henry Kissinger hears your song…