Tag Archives: America

Thursday Evening Independence Day Poetry Blogging

Let America Be America Again
~Langston Hughes
Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!

Oh, That’s Never Where I’ve Learned to Be Comfortable

A million years ago when I was a girl, my mother let me stay up late one night to watch an episode of Upstairs, Downstairs. It was, for me, a great education in, not only sexism but, also, classicism.

In this episode the wealthy daughter of a privileged English family engages in civil disobedience in support of women’s suffrage. (And, Goddess bless them, those women who risked their v. nice lives in support of that cause. I mean that. Sometimes, the privileged have to get out in front of an issue that’s “too expensive” for those less privileged to risk. I have a suspicion that global climate change is like this.) There’s a mass arrest and, once at court, the wealthy young woman is (natch) immediately let go. Her servant, however, who really isn’t interested in women’s suffrage, is sent, along with the other women, to jail. Comforting noises are made. Suffragettes have been refusing to eat and, then, after three days, allowed to leave jail before they harm themselves. So Miss Elizabeth goes home, thinking that Rose will “simply” go hungry for three days and then be released.

However, there’s a new development.

Prison officials show the women a device that will be used to force feed them (through the nose, if the women “misbehave” by throwing up when force fed through the throat). It reminds me of nothing so much as when the Catholic church showed Galileo the “instruments of torture.” (Although, since he was a man, that incident echoes down through history.) A prison matron describes the process, in rather grisly detail, to the imprisoned suffragettes. One woman whispers, in a line that has never left me, “Oh, that’s never England.” And, of course, the point is that, yes, that was England. And the women (and children, and men) in India, and Africa, and the South Seas knew it.

Over and over for the past few decades, I’ve found myself thinking, in response to attacks on our safety net, to torture, to pollution, to endless war, to officially-sanctioned corruption, “Oh, that’s never America.” And, of course, it is America.

I thought about it this weekend when G/Son and I — hanging out at the RenFaire and enjoying a day of perfect Autumn sunshine, abundant good food (we have our own special tradition of buying up a ton of candied spiced nuts to get us through the Winter), great music, educational exhibits about beekeeping and wool spinning, and buying ourselves wooden swords and shields, chain mail costumes, inlaid wooden boxes, and other accoutrements of the privileged G/Son of a privileged Nonna — had an interesting discussion.

The recent death of Rev. Shuttlesworth led to a discussion between Son and DiL about the civil rights movement and, G/Son, off playing in a corner but paying keen attention (acorns not falling far from trees), had asked his father why little girls were killed in a church. Son had to explain to G/Son (who goes to a Montessori school that is almost literally a rainbow of children and teachers, whose closest buddy in the world is of mixed “race,” and whose closest cousin is a lovely shade of cafe au lait) what “racism” was. While G/Son and I were chilling in the sunlight and waiting for Son to return from buying roast turkey legs, an African American family wandered past and one of the little boys and G/Son enjoyed comparing the flavors of honey (orange, clover, blueberry (G/Son’s favorite), meadowmarsh, and Killer Bee (second favorite, of course)) that they’d recently purchased. After they left, G/Son said to me, “Nonna, have you ever heard of people who hate other people for stupid reasons?”

And I just wanted to cry. I just wanted to die and melt into the straw for failure. I just wanted to say, “Oh, that’s never 21st Century America, where I have to talk to my G/Son about racism.” But it was. It was. Ain’t that America?

G/Son and I hung out together the day that Obama was inaugurated (and had special Obama cupcakes from the local bakery and went outside and beat on pots with wooden spoons and cheered “O-ba-ma!” after we watched the new president make his “special promise” to us that he would follow the laws), and, whatever else I’ve felt about Obama, I’ve always been incredibly grateful to him for the fact that my G/Son will grow up believing that it’s “just the way it is” for African Americans to hold even the most important positions in America. I was born just before Brown v. Board of Ed. My G/Son will mostly only remember an America where skin color doesn’t matter (but sex and gender still do) when it comes to electing presidents. (My Grandma was born before women could vote. Women from her (lower, lower) class weren’t suffragettes. They couldn’t afford it. Before my grandma died, she cast a lot of Democratic votes. I’ve always been proud of that progress. I’ve never, once, voted w/o thinking of her, but someday my many-times-great grandchildren will vote w/o a thought for how women won the vote. That will be progress.) What G/Son mostly knows about “Preznident Obama” is that he caught some pirates shortly after he went to the White House, that he has two little girls and a dog, and that Mrs. Preznident Obama wants children to eat healthy food and play outside. G/Son is v. impressed w/ anyone who catches pirates.

But as much as some privileged part of me wants to say, “Oh, that’s never America,” I can’t forget what “America” did to suffragettes just a few miles from my home, in Occaquan, Virginia. I can’t unread the poem that says, “America Never Was America, To Me.” I can’t pretend that America didn’t have its beginnings in slavery, genocide against the First Peoples, patriarchy.

And so, as much as I want to say, “Oh, that’s never America,” at least half of me has to say, “America! Wake up! Stop being who you’ve been and start to be who you were meant to be! There’s no honor in the course that you’re pursing.”

There’s one other thing I’ve always remembered.

When Rose is finally returned home, she has a cup of tea. And then she immediately scolds another servant for not having already scrubbed her mistress’s floor. And that’s how it goes. I, too, have found a clean cottage to be a bulwark against everything that I do not want to acknowledge. That doesn’t mean that clean cottages are evil. It means that we always need to be conscious. Doesn’t it? That’s always England. That’s always America. Be Here Now.

Picture found here.

Sunday Truth

A Spell for Religious Liberty and a Discussion of Bliss

As we draw closer to Mabon, we’re also drawing closer to the formal initiation of spiritual warfare for control of Washington, the District of Columbia. October 3, 2011, will focus on Hawaii and then the Dominionsts will move eastward. The Wild Hunt has been providing comprehensive coverage of this attack on the separation between church and state for some time and, now, mainstream media outlets are beginning to pay attention. (Enough attention that the Dominionists are beginning to complain how persecuted they are. Sunlight, disinfectant, just saying.)

Earlier today, @PhaedraBonewits passed this spell on, via Twitter:

A Charm for Religious Liberty

This is a voice of the people, the people of the United States of America.

In the United States, let no god be master, and let all be free.

Let this be the voice of the Wise, for wisdom is my prayer.

In the United States, let no god be master, and let all be free.

Let the wisdom of the founders bring freedom.

In the United States, let no god be master, and let all be free.

Let the freedom in our spirits be the foundation of the law.

In the United States, let no god be master, and let all be free.

Let our law proclaim that we have no ‘lords’.

In the United States, let no god be master, and let all be free.

May our Ancestors witness our commitment to freedom and justice.

In the United States, let no god be master, and let all be free.

May the Other Kins of North America know our commitment to their well-being.

In the United States, let no god be master, and let all be free.

May the Gods and Goddesses of all peoples know welcome in our nation.

In the United States, let no god be master, and let all be free.

By Sky and by Grain, by Mountain and by Plain, by Liberty and by Justice

In the United States, let no god be master, and let all be free.

From sea to sea, so be it!

The spell was written by IanC, “a Neopagan of the Druidic sort, interested in Celtic polytheism as it might manifest for modern people in North America.” I not only like the spell (IanC calls it a charm, but I’m a Witch and, to me, those are the words of a spell), but I very much like the idea of investigating Paganism “as it might manifest for modern people in North America.”

Don’t get me wrong. I love the old Goddesses/Gods, the old ways, the old religion, the old rites. Even the words stir my blood. My roots run fairly recently back to Northern and Western Europe. And my religion is true to that. But religions, in many ways, are like languages: they either evolve or they die. And there’s something “off” for me in a religion that would require me to ignore the realities of my own life, my own landbase, my own watershed, my own foodshed, my own experience of nature. (Just as there would be something “off” in a religion that required me to ignore the realities of my sexuality or my ancestors.)

I picked up Paganism, a Nature Religion, twenty-some years ago and, when I lay it down to head for the Isle of Apples, I want to leave it better than I found it. And “better,” IMHO, means: rooted in America, evolved for the 21st Century, holding on to and building from what was wonderful about, for example, Celtic (or Hellenic, or Kemetic, or Norse) polytheism, but also responsive to, for example, the fact that most modern Pagans now live in cities.

What does that MEAN? I think we’re still finding out. But I’m pretty sure that a part of what it means is increased devotion to the American Goddess(es) Columbia/Liberty/Freedom/Libertas (and who, pace Neil Gaiman, are the American Gods?). I’m fascinated to watch as American Pagans go, “Hmm. I never thought about an American Goddess. That’s interesting. That ties me to my own landbase. Let me explore and play with that idea a bit.

As I recently wrote, I’m always working on the questions: “What are Witches FOR? And, if I’m a Witch, what am I FOR?” Joseph Campbell said:

If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Wherever you are — if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time.

My bliss is a Paganism that is actually rooted in 21st Century America, a Nature Religion that ties me to the animals, plants, land spirits, genius loci, dryads, fairies, and Goddesses of “this place.”

What’s yours?

Picture found here.

Go Read This. Now.

A second possibility is that he is simply not up to the task by virtue of his lack of experience and a character defect that might not have been so debilitating at some other time in history. Those of us who were bewitched by his eloquence on the campaign trail chose to ignore some disquieting aspects of his biography: that he had accomplished very little before he ran for president, having never run a business or a state; that he had a singularly unremarkable career as a law professor, publishing nothing in 12 years at the University of Chicago other than an autobiography; and that, before joining the United States Senate, he had voted “present” (instead of “yea” or “nay”) 130 times, sometimes dodging difficult issues.

. . .

But the arc of history does not bend toward justice through capitulation cast as compromise. It does not bend when 400 people control more of the wealth than 150 million of their fellow Americans. It does not bend when the average middle-class family has seen its income stagnate over the last 30 years while the richest 1 percent has seen its income rise astronomically. It does not bend when we cut the fixed incomes of our parents and grandparents so hedge fund managers can keep their 15 percent tax rates. It does not bend when only one side in negotiations between workers and their bosses is allowed representation. And it does not bend when, as political scientists have shown, it is not public opinion but the opinions of the wealthy that predict the votes of the Senate. The arc of history can bend only so far before it breaks.

Here’s the link to the whole thing. GO!