Remembering Jackie

February 4, 2017 Leave a comment


Her given name on some census records is Marie Jacqueline, but Marie also preceded her mother’s given name, Adele, and no one called her Marie either. The practice, a nod to the mother of Christ, was common among French-Canadian Catholic families almost a century ago in eastern Ontario and just across the Ottawa River in Quebec. The name on her certificate of birth dated Christmas Day, 1925, is fittingly enough Jacqueline Noella Ravary, sans Marie. In 1947, age 21, she married Leland Sullivan, a World War II combat veteran from the States, in a bond that would last 54 years. At that time, she was known as Jackie, but my two brothers and I called her Mom. She died peacefully Jan. 23.

I had a pretty tumultuous relationship with my mother but I am the fruit of her loins, so her passing last month was a milestone. I’ve known for years that the call was a possibility, but the real call is always different from the imagined ones. So I grieved with that photo of her from 2011 in front of me. It was probably the last time she looked like my mother, not an old, disheveled woman near her end.

We had fallen out of communication years ago. My visits were infrequent, there was dementia, or side effects, or maybe the intended effects of medications, but when I last saw her last August there was a light in her eyes that had not burned for a while. While there was no real conversation, there was an awareness; she would answer a clear question with a nod or smile without speaking. She knew where she was, with her three sons and their sprawling families with the Olympic track finals and a Yankees baseball game alternating on a big, wall-mounted TV and the smells of a monster dinner on the way. She was the matriarch again—more Victoria Barkley, as played by Barbara Stanwyck, in The Big Valley TV series, not the mother already dead and buried in the 1965 film The Sons of Katie Elder.  And she was visibly happy.

After one of my brothers and I returned her to the nursing home, where he was for eight bloody years, as we prepared to depart, she looked up at me from her wheelchair, her eyes filling, and asked “You’re not going, are you? When are you coming back?”

“I’m not sure, Mom.” It was our first spoken exchange in at least two years, and the last time I saw her.

My mother had a complete mental and physical breakdown after the birth of my youngest brother, never got a clear diagnosis or effective treatment, and some years ago she was discharged from an extended hospitalization almost fully paralyzed with the expectation that she would soon die. Better that occur at home than in the hospital, the doctors reasoned. My bullheaded mother, however, who was known to claim, “There’s nothing wrong with me now and there never was anything wrong with me,” recovered beyond what anyone thought possible.

My biggest concern when I got word her end was imminent was that she pass peacefully, not kicking and screaming in pain. The next day, writing the discrete obit she wanted, my brother Mike told me he was at my mother’s bedside holding her hand when her breathing ceased. In my reckoning, those were pretty good departure terms. I was happy for my mother.


Moonlight, Manchester depict two Americas divided by race

January 9, 2017 1 comment

Trevante Rhodes portrayed Chiron as an adult in Moonlight.


In Manchester by the Sea, Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) encounters his ex-wife, Randi (Michelle Williams), years after their separation.

The storylines of Manchester by the Sea and Moonlight, two of the most widely acclaimed films of 2016, are remarkably similar, yet each describes two very different Americas.

Each is a compelling existential tale that focuses on a male central character and his relations with his family within a defined, culturally homogeneous community. In Manchester, Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is expected to assume guardianship of his nephew after the boy’s father has been struck down prematurely by heart disease. In a flashback later in the film, we discover that the reluctant guardian once had his own family, which he lost when his two daughters were burned to death in a fire he contributed to, a tragedy that also split apart his marriage. The role earned Affleck the Golden Globe award last night for best actor in a dramatic role.

In Moonlight, which was honored as the best dramatic film of the year by Golden Globes, we follow the life of Chiron, who was portrayed by three different actors as a boy, teenager and an adult. Raised by a single mother, Chiron struggles with his identity and sexual orientation, first as a bullied schoolboy and later as an adult ex-convict and drug dealer.

Each film evokes a strong sense of place. For Manchester, it is white, working- and lower middle-class suburban Boston, whereas most of Moonlight unfolds in an economically marginalized, African-American section of urban Florida, presumably Miami. Yet despite the similarities in the stories, the films together suggest there would be little chance that these worlds would ever intersect in real life.

I don’t recall a single Black character in Manchester or a white character in Moonlight. The films are set in same country, but they depict two Americas separated by a centuries-old racial chasm. Chandler’s loss and Chiron’s quest are in many ways universal; their respective experiences cannot be racialized as distinct to any specific group. Yet we know, as attested to daily in the headlines, these two Americas seldom encounter each other, so that even the commonalities of the human condition, ties that ought to bind, are unknown to each other.

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The promised peace comes only when justice flows, like a mighty river

December 25, 2016 1 comment

The Sandia Mountains blanketed in snow backdrop the Rio Grande near Albuquerque, N.M.

Christmas Day 2016

For many people, this time of year is too hectic, too busy, with too many unrealistic expectations. For me, it is a contemplative time, which affords me the chance to ruminate on the year past and to imagine the future. As someone who finds it difficult to understand any life apart from the historical stew in which it is being cooked, I am still surprised how much the presidential election is influencing me. There is an understandable desire to treat this is as just another peaceful transition in power, but from day one, this presidential campaign was anything but normal. I have never been more palpably aware of the privileges I experience because I am a straight white male than when I witnessed the fear that the election results generated among my friends and students who are immigrants, Muslims, members of minority groups, women, and/or members of the LGBT community.

I gave myself 40 days, until Dec. 19, to develop a response of opposition and resistance to Trumpism. And while my plan is not complete, I know it starts with an effort to convince the policymakers at the community college where I am a part-time instructor to provide the highest possible level of “sanctuary” protections for undocumented immigrant students. Several days ago I attended a meeting of local activists and organizations that provide services to undocumented immigrants. They described what they have been doing for years to “protect our community” and the need to ramp up their efforts even more. Two days later, I took part in a silent procession to remember the 55 homeless and formerly homeless people who died in Albuquerque over the last year. Both events reminded me that while causes of injustice, poverty, and inequality are global, national and local, we encounter the consequences in flesh and blood in the communities in which we live.

Looking ahead, I want for you what I want for me: peace, purpose, spontaneous eruptions of joy, love and support, and the courage to face whatever the new year requires.

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On Election Day, hope is greater than any outcome

November 8, 2016 Leave a comment


No one has ever accused me of being an optimist, but on Election Day I remain hopeful that the political farce masquerading itself a pivotal presidential election may ultimately generate good outcomes, starting with the disintegration of the Republican Party and soon to be followed, I hope, with the fracturing of the Democratic Party.

Both parties are ideologically brain dead, having proven themselves incapable of generating policies capable of addressing the defining challenges of our time: for starters, economic inequality and the rippling impacts of human-caused climate change.  After four decades of spewing invective, scapegoating the weak and vulnerable, and purging itself of any moderate elements, the Republicans finally have a presidential candidate they deserve.  And after three decades of trying to act like the Republican Party, the Democrats have a leader with an unvarnished record as corporate bootlicker and global militarist.

Trump’s jumbled policy proposals, his hateful rhetoric, and his lack of a moral compass have alienated ideological conservatives, but his greatest sin may be that he has exposed with stunning clarity the internal contradictions of the Republican Party. You can’t claim to support family values or interests of the working class, the overwhelming majority of Americans, when you allow families to go hungry, underfund schools, fight accessible, affordable health care, while cutting taxes for richest individuals and corporations. The insane incompatibility of those proposals has been brought into sharp relief by a candidate who seeks the support of Christian evangelicals while behaving like a petulant misogynist bigot.

For their part, the Democrats have undermined their future by manipulating the party primaries to deny another grassroots challenge that could have pumped new life and energy into a moribund party that increasingly behaves like Republicans but with a kinder, gentler face.

May their internal divisions hasten the death of both parties, so that the corpse of the GOP and the rotten carcass of Democratic Party can be immolated together in great, purifying funeral pyre. From the ashes of one or both parties arises the possibility—not a guarantee—of new organizations and mechanisms of representing the political interests of ordinary Americans. That might involve a new social movement, a new political party, or new political alliances of new and old actors to fill the vacuum. The make-up of a reconfigured American political landscape is admittedly difficult to envision, but the weakening of the two-party status quo creates the space and the rare opportunity for Americans to imagine and began building a political system that serves the common good. At a time when the best that two parties can offer is more of the same, the chance to create a better future seems like a clear victory.

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Socialists can’t afford division based on presidential election choices

November 5, 2016 2 comments

If you support and work for a political economy committed to serving the common good, not the material interests of  few, then you and I are allies,  even if I disagree with how you exercise your vote in this ugly presidential election.

Every four years, I have seen animosity between friends who share a common political vision but split, often in anger, over the tactical decision whether to vote for a mainstream Democrat for president to prevent an even worse Republican in the White House, or to vote for a third party candidate more in alignment with that vision with the caveat that the third-party candidate has no chance of winning. This is one of the unfortunate consequences of a presidential election process that no longer serves the interest of anyone but the two dominant parties and their candidates, wealthy individuals and corporations who fund the campaigns, and the mainstream media, which fattens itself on campaign advertising spending. Electing a president is important, but the sad irony is that the process in this country has become one of great impediments to healthy democracy.

From a more narrow sectarian perspective, that of a building a socialist alternative to predatory capitalism, presidential elections help to divide our ranks, which has to delight the GOP, the Democrats, and the plutocrats.

I voted for Gloria La Riva and Dennis Banks, the presidential and vice presidential candidates of the Party for Socialism and Liberation. I am not a PSL member, but I support La Riva’s 10-point program of policy positions. I hope my vote, which registers my dissatisfaction with the status quo, will encourage alternative parties and new coalitions in the near future.

If you support socialism, broadly defined, but have or will vote for Hillary Clinton, largely to prevent a Donald Trump presidency, then you and I are still allies. I don’t have to like to your voting choice and you don’t have to endorse mine, but we need to be united after Nov. 8, regardless of who wins, to carry our struggle into the future. Please don’t allow this presidential election side show to divide us.

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Map explains opposition to Dakota Access Pipeline

November 2, 2016 Leave a comment

dapl_routes_map_largeWhen I decided to become a cartographer, I didn’t just want to make pretty and useful maps. I became a cartographer to make maps that change the world for the better. Right now, no situation …

Source: A #NoDAPL Map

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There has never been a better time to vote for a third-party candidate for president

August 15, 2016 1 comment

Clinton or Trump? No thanks.

To those who claim, usually with condescending self-righteousness, that a vote for a third-party progressive in the presidential election is the equivalent of a vote for Donald Trump, thank you, but I don’t need your help.

To those who claim, usually with a world-weary sigh, that a two-party system requires the electorate to often vote for the lesser of two evils, please muzzle your good intentions and go stand in front of a mirror and explain to yourself, not me, how voting for evil can be expected to produce good outcomes.  And don’t be abstract. Try coming up with some historical examples to show how and when this has happened before.

For those who claim that a vote for one presidential candidate or another will determine Supreme Court decisions for next generation, go bone up on your U.S. history to see how many Supreme Court judges have rendered decisions that no one predicted when they were nominated. This view assumes, first, that the judicial decisions of tomorrow can be predicted today and that judges are unaffected by the time and culture in which judges live. Case in point: Who among you predicted that this Supreme Court would rule in 2015 that states cannot deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples?

To those who claim that the voting in the presidential election is a political act of  historical significance, explain to me how the trajectory of American society as measured by, for example,  widening economic inequality, militaristic foreign policy (especially since 9/11), privatization of the commons, the militarization of domestic police forces, escalating gun violence, and an inability to address climate change, has been moving in the same direction ever since the presidency of Ronald Reagan and without interruption through the two-term Democratic administrations of both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Tell me again how eight years of “hope and change” produced anything but more of the same old shit.

And while we’re at it, tell me whose interests are served by a presidential campaign season that lasts for at least 18 months out of every four-year cycle. I’ll answer that. The only interests that are served are those of the Democratic and Republican parties, the mass media, and an entire industry of consultants, behavioral modification specialists and spinmeisters—all of which are fed by millions of dollar in donations, a system that favors the wealthiest individuals and corporations.  Even worse, the net effect of these painfully long and annoying campaigns is to ignore the pressing problems of the present in favor of fanciful speculation of what might happen in the future after election is over and before the next begins. This is an electoral system designed to prevent political change and its roots are in a Constitution that was written to make sudden change very difficult.

Fueled by donations, the electoral system is lubricated by misrepresentation, ignorance and lies that the mainstream news media reinforces by its lack of critical coverage. For example, for most of his campaign before securing the nomination, Trump received untold hours of free news coverage from the celebrity-obsessed media because he was, after all, Donald Trump, a guaranteed ratings boost, while Bernie Sanders was virtually ignored by the same media even when his rallies were drawing thousands of supporters.

The public doesn’t get off the hook either. When Trump proposes to control immigration from Mexico by building a wall on the U.S. southern border, which he claims will be paid for “by Mexico,” many of his followers accept that proposal uncritically. About 650 miles of that 1,969-mile border has some kind of physical barrier today. Has any Trump staffer or supporter bothered to figure the cost of building, maintaining and operating almost 1,300 new miles of border barriers? Do these supporters know that president cannot unilaterally dispense funds or create laws? Are they willing to pay more taxes for a multi-billion-dollar project that would dramatically increase the power and size of the federal government?

Both parties contribute to the ignorance of the public during presidential elections.  Neither party can acknowledge that the nation’s ruling (and unelected) elite are largely unaffected by who occupies the White House, so the candidates wildly exaggerate what they can and will do when president and predict Armageddon if their opponent wins. The two parties both know it would be suicide to acknowledge that their similarities overwhelm their few differences.  Trump isn’t fit to be president, but I believe the horror stories of a Trump presidency as imagined by Democrats about as much as I accept the vision of end-times conjured up by Republicans speculating about a Hillary Clinton presidency.

If my criticism of the GOP suggest I somewhat reluctantly favor the Democrats, think again. Clinton and the national Democratic Party have policy track records contributed to the long-term problem identified earlier, so I was delighted that Bernie Sanders sought the presidency, hoping he could challenge the two-party hegemony over the electoral system. My enthusiasm for Sanders waned when, rather than running as an independent or third-party candidate, he sought the nomination of the Democratic Party. In recent decades, the party has modified the nominating process, with features like super delegates, to protect the candidate and the policies favored by party leaders. Documents released by Wikileaks revealed that the Democratic National Committee leadership ignored its own procedures calling for neutrality toward candidates. The DNC offered its “deep and sincere apology” to the Sanders campaign for its failures and, yes, Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned as DNC chair, but the same day she was given a position in the Clinton campaign.

The outrage of Sanders supporters to the DNC chicanery also exposed their naivety. How could anyone have realistically expected the party machinery to be neutral toward a candidate who was never even a Democrat until he decided to seek the presidency?  The Democrats have a history of relentlessly crushing grassroots challenges, e.g., the Mississippi Freedom Democrats in 1963, the anti-Vietnam war movement in 1967 and 1971, the Jesse Jackson campaigns in 1983 and 1987, but not in any meaningful way after Bill Clinton and the Democratic Leadership Committee refashioned the party into “Republican light.” Since then, both parties are solidly right of center by any cross-national ideological comparison.

When it became apparent Sanders would not win the nomination, I hoped he would bow out without endorsing Clinton and redirect his campaign toward the future by contributing to a social movement and/or a new political party based on democratic socialist ideals. Sanders, however, capitulated and endorsed Clinton, for which he and his supporters received nothing meaningful in return, save a few scraps in the party’s policy platform.

With the candidates of the two major parties determined, we now move the general election when, we are told by the media pundits, the public will decide the next president. Hold on a moment. Without discussing the Electoral College, which was designed by the nation’s Founding Fathers to impede the popular democracy, there is no guarantee that votes will be fairly counted.

The Electoral Integrity Project, directed by political scientist Pippa Norris, measures perceptions of electoral integrity (PEI), which refers to “agreed international principles and standards of elections, applying universally to all countries worldwide throughout the electoral cycle, including during the pre-electoral period, the campaign, and on polling day and its aftermath.”

In the United States, a country with an already low rate of voter turnout, the Republicans for years have been erecting obstacles to registering and voting with the clear intent of discouraging participation by poor and minority Americans, who are more likely to favor Democrats. In our country, vote counting and recordkeeping is done on the local level, directed by an elected official, the county clerk and recorder in the state of New Mexico, a seat of power that is highly coveted by the established parties for obvious reasons. Congressional district boundaries are drawn every 10 years by the party in control of the state Legislature to ensure its partisan advantage for the decade ahead. The rules at virtually every level are written by either Democrats or Republicans, who have a common interest in discouraging third parties

According to the PEI Index report for 2015, The United States “ranked 47th among all 139 countries…achieving a score worse than all other established democracies. US elections got poor grades because experts expressed concern about the quality of the electoral laws, voter registration, the process of drawing district boundaries, as well as regulation of campaign finance.”

Both parties are intellectually bankrupt and both parties are answerable to a dens network of industrial power that directs the policies they create while funding their conventions, their candidates, and their campaigns. A lesser-of-two evil vote in a presidential election is always a victory for one or both parties. It endorses the status quo and the two-party stranglehold over electoral politics.

Under the existing U.S. electoral system, it is virtually impossible for a third-party candidate to win the president. But significant voter turnout for third-party candidates is a registered statement of discontent with politics as usual and, more importantly, it is a long-term tactic to undermine the two-party duopoly and create the space and opportunity for a political party that could effectively challenge or replace one of the existing two.

Voting for a third party in this election cycle could also have significant long-term impacts simply because public support for both parties and intra-party divisions are greater now than at any time in the recent past. The evidence could not be clearer. Trump captured the GOP nomination, despite once being a Democrat as well as a member of the Reform Party and having publicly excoriated Republicans in the past. Similarly, Sanders, who was never a Democrat until he sought the presidency, almost unseated the candidate most Democrats believed was unbeatable. Both parties are unraveling before our eyes. If there was ever a time to take to the long view and vote for a third-party presidential candidate, it is now.