Monday, December 06, 2004

If his chest had been a cannon, he would have shot his heart upon it

I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night
alive as you and me.
Says I “ but Joe, you’re ten years dead!”
“I never died,” says he.
“I never died,” says he.

Many readers of this blog know that my love for language comes from my parents. In specific, my mother has a love for the folksy turn of phrase, which I have inherited. Mom taught me at an early age exactly the right way to describe just how angry I was Thursday night,

I could chew nails and spit nickels.

Two thousand of them, to be precise.

"In Salt Lake, Joe, great God" says I,
him standing by my bed,
"They framed you on a murder charge,"
Says Joe, "But I ain't dead,"
Says Joe, "But I ain't dead."

This is all Neil Gaiman’s fault. He’s the one who got me riled up. It was on his blog that I heard about the Alabama state representative who wants to purge from any Alabama state-supported public or academic library anything, fiction or nonfiction, which suggests that homosexuality is normal or acceptable.

I hit the roof. This is the most repugnant, reprehensible idea I have heard in a long time. It’s morally offensive; it’s ignorant; it’s even bad politics.

It put me immediately in mind of The Commissar Vanishes, a museum exhibit which documented Stalin’s massive doctoring of the photographic record of the Soviet Union. Pulled from opened archives, the exhibit showed series of photos in which people were added and moved as their fortunes rose in later years. And they were, literally, blotted out as they fell from favor.

”The copper bosses, they framed you, Joe!
They shot you, Joe,” says I!
“Takes more than guns to kill a man.
Says Joe “I did not die.”
Says Joe “I did not die.”

Now I know that any given yahoo could get elected to any given statehouse, if they find the right district and the right opponent to beat. Caligula’s horse is far from the least qualified legislator of history. But it’s not often I hear somebody who got the whole history of Western Civ wrong.

But then, I was brought up in a Catholic tradition which says you love the sinner and worry about the plank in your own eye. (I will admit that I’m having a great deal of trouble extending Christian charity to the Alabama representative.) I was raised in a Thomistic tradition which says that questioning your own ideas is the best way to make them strong. I am of an ethnic tradition which reminds me that we’re only three generations away from “No Irish Need Apply,” and we never, ever let The Man hang that sign again, about anyone.

And I was raised, and educated, and trained, and chose, to believe that libraries are one of the sacred spaces of education, and that education is the most powerful weapon of democracy.

I guess I was a little torqued.

And standing there, just as big as life,
smiling with his eyes,
says he “What they forgot to kill
went on to organize!
Went on to organize!”

And finally, I got off my ass.

My American Library Association membership expired back in August. I’d just been delinquent about sending in my check. Most people don’t know how active ALA is in fighting for freedom to read issues. We’re even beginning to learn how to fight those battles effectively (which is kind of a nice switch from some of the knee-jerk shrillness of the mid-90s). But I got on the website, and I made sure to join the Intellectual Freedom Round Table and make a donation to the ALA’s legal fund.

Well, that does my professional bit, but it wasn’t quite satisfying enough. Anger does tend to make me suggestible, and Mr. Gaiman was kind enough to provide a link, so... it seems I’ve a member of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. Yes, I know. It seems a little… niche.

It’s the niches we have to defend. These things which people think aren’t “real”, don’t “count”, don’t have anyone over 14 to defend them… that’s what we have to stand up for. Not to mention that there’s real interesting storytelling being done in graphic formats.

When I was a kid, the two comic books coming into the house were G.I. Joe and X-Men. G.I. Joe lived in a world where terrorists were nice enough to scare absolutely everybody, and leave their bases in plain sight where we could blow them up. The X-Men lived under a repressive political regime which was undoubtedly a McCarthyist reference, but also had some parallels to the backlash against the gay rights movement. On November 4th, it appeared that about half the country would define one of these as a dangerous idea. Didn’t hurt me none.

Besides, I think the parties will be more fun than the ACLU.

From San Diego on up to Maine,
in every mine and mill,
where workers strike and organize,”
says he “you’ll find Joe Hill!”
says he “you’ll find Joe Hill!”

It’s not like I donated a ton of money. It’s not like I’m doing enough. But I made the membership list of each of those organizations go up by one. I backed up what I believe with some cash. And I hope these organizations will keep me informed about ways that I can be active… actually write my government, call my legislators, put my feet in the street and participate in the democracy that happens every day that’s not election day.

If you can read this blog, you can find out who your elected representatives are. And you can send them a few responsible emails, just to tell them what your concerns are, and remind them that you’re keeping an eye on them.

(Side note: my Congressman is the joker who invented the phrase “freedom fries.” Yet we agree about the PATRIOT Act being frighteningly broad. I wouldn’t know that if I hadn’t written to him.)

And it doesn’t even matter to me which side of which issue you’re on. This is how we do democracy. With debate and discussion, we can differ, we can compromise, we can progress.

Banning books? That’s Uncle Joe’s way, not ours.

I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night
alive as you and me.
Says I “ but Joe, you’re ten years dead!”
“I never died,” says he.
“I never died,” says he.

(I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night was written by Alfred Hayes and set to music by Earl Robinson. The lyrics quoted here are as they are sung by Utah Phillips on Fellow Workers. Used without any intent to infringe copyright, and Joe Hill would tell you so, by God.)


Blogger Joe said...

OK, this is a little freaky... the voice of a Constant Reader just came out of my iTunes random shuffle, exhorting me...

"Calling all dreamers and optimistic fools!
Don't let go..."

You wonderful people and your freaky psychic iTunes can just back the truck up.

11:47 PM, December 06, 2004  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

AAAAAARGH! I listen to that recording and cringe. I am SO white, and my vibrato is way too wide and slow. That was my first arrangement for the group (actually, a transcription). Thanks for the mention, though.

Constant Reader"Constant Reader" reminded me of a line from Dorothy Parker's review of "The House at Pooh Corner" -- "Tonstant Weader Fwowed Up".

Wonderful post, though.

8:18 AM, December 07, 2004  
Blogger Joe said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

11:19 AM, December 07, 2004  
Blogger Joe said...

I happen to be very fond of that track, but then, I've never heard the original. I will grant you that it's not exactly soul-infused, but there's a hopeful innocence which moves me.

You're right, of course, Constant Reader was Parker's name for herself, not her readers. I'm fond of that House at Pooh Corner review, but my favorite is her (quite possibly apocryphal) comment that some book "is not to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force."

11:20 AM, December 07, 2004  
Blogger lemming said...

(hugs Joe) Terrific post. Your $20 and my $20 and someone else's $20 - they do all add up.

My new mantra is to point out that the repressions and morality of the 50s were followed by the 1960s.

I don't think this yahoo realizes just how many books he's talking about. I also don't think he should be written off and ignored. You did the right thing.

Love itunes.

2:55 PM, December 07, 2004  

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