Bayard Rustin had class: a story from Todd Gitlin

bayardrustin_drtrmhoward_civil_rights_rally_may241956Which disguised his radicalism only occasionally.

A story the invaluable Todd Gitlin told me a few years back, which I likely can’t include in the book, but don’t want lost:

In the beginning of March 1965, Rustin met with former SDS president Todd Gitlin, who was considering a protest at Chase Manhattan Bank to explore potential for multi-racial, innovative organizing. Dressed to the nines and in his trademark stentorian voice, the civil-rights leader and executive secretary of the War Resisters League had an unusual message for the earnest young students. Despite his suspicion of SDS’ hard-left allies such as the the US Communist Party’s student “W.E.B. du Bois Clubs,””1 the elder organizer also told Gitlin that SDS needed to be more radical in what they sought. “He said we weren’t being militant enough,” Gitlin remembered. “We saw him representing the seamlessness of Gandhianism — and he was saying that with a week of sit-ins at Wall Street and the banks, we weren’t risking enough.”

I can almost hear the man singing.

 

 

news: the Monday dozen

AintMarchincoverbyAlexI know I haven’t posted one of these in a few days, but that’s not because there wasn’t much to note. Below is a full baker’s dozen, though some are echoes of stories already on our radar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A day for angelic troublemakers

2027777It’s kind of stereotypical, but every year I watch this film as part of the observance of Martin Luther King Day. It feels the least I can do, given what Bayard Rustin did for all of us.

This year, of course, I thought also of Rustin during President Obama’s Second Inaugural address, when the President said “We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths –- that all of us are created equal –- is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall.” I can’t think that Obama didn’t know that 60+ years before his election, the country was being rocked by a different hyper-articulate young African American trained in community organizing.

He’s also in Ain’t Marching: I count him as a dissenting soldier because as student at the historically black Wilberforce University, he  trained in the school’s mandatory ROTC program for close to two years. (Same with Phil Ochs and his stint in the military academy). Of course, he didn’t last long: repulsed deeply enough by hundreds of hours of drill and command, rifle marksmanship and “combat principles,”  he stopped attending drill and lost his scholarship. Later he was also a fervent organizer for the rights of black soldiers, submitting constant testimony at the Committee Against Jim Crow in the Armed Forces and turning to an Air Force veteran named Norman Hill to help run the 1963 March on Washington. All of it a sidebar to the major, world-changing difference he made, but enough connections to enough of “my” characters that his presence is almost required.

That’s not why you should see the movie below, though. That you do for the joy of it, to pretend you have his essential presence with you this holiday weekend. Share it with someone who’s never heard of him — multiple someones, if you work with groups.

Besides, if anyone insisted that the revolution include dancing, it was this guy.

Bradley Manning: WIRED folds, and my dilemma is moot.

WIRED has just released the full transcripts of the conversations between Manning and that snake Adrian Lamo – meaning that everyone that cares about Manning, thinks him hero or traitor, has no way of not knowing about the gender issues. They’re mesmerizing reading, though I agree with Gawker that Lamo turns out to be even more unethical than we knew before (and as much of a scumbag as Glenn Greenwald has said all along.)

And here I just got my letter from David Coombs, basically refusing to discuss it – and I was trying to figure out if that was a coded request to honor what was left of his client’s privacy. Now, I feel that writing about this respectfully is the only way to show that respect. What do you think?

More later when I’ve finished reading the transcripts:  comments sorely requested. Was it Hemingway who said, “The writer’s job is to find out the truth and then write it. But that can be very difficult.”?

Word is out

Image: New York Magazine

About Bradley Manning, I mean. Among what he reveals: most of those folks holding “I am Bradley Manning” masks don’t know what the hell they’re saying.

Ever since the story began to break, I’ve felt more and more drawn to it as a writer and, yes, as a queer person (any way you want to hear that). As I told someone this morning on Facebook, Manning in so many ways encompasses so many of my themes, from PTSD to gender to whistleblowing, that I sometimes think I made him up.

This has especially been the case with gender stuff — in which dimension I’ve walked very gingerly. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my friends who’ve undergone gender transitions, it’s that only the person in question is entitled to talk about it. Period. Manning was out as gay, but relatively few pursued the clues pointed out by Gawker last year, such as Manning’s chat log saying that “my CPU doesn’t match the motherboard” or that he feared media exposure “as a man.”  Without Manning saying anything of the kind in public spaces, we all steered away from it, even though military intelligence didn’t seem to be (why else have the boy sleep naked in front of other soldiers?).

I didn’t even say anything after I watched the clip from PBS Frontline above, and told my wife that “the way Manning stands in that party, that’s a girl.” Only to my wife: it wasn’t mine to say. Still isn’t in some ways.

But now there’s this breathtaking piece in New York magazine, Bradley Manning’s Army of One.  Steve Fishman, the journalist, seems to be in about the same place I am with Manning, and traces what I call in my book the “this is for fighting, this is for fun” gender wild card – but in the process, he violates all my rules on respect for gender transitions.  In the process, he limns what I can only suggest – that even as in years past to even BE female OR gay in the military was inherently subversive, Manning’s outsider-self may have catalyzed a more profound kind of dissent.

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it sounds so much simpler when he says it

I know this blog has been silent for so many m0nths: more than six! How can it be? But I  didn’t feel like I could keep writing here until I had the book actually delivered to the publisher.

That has now happened, and I’ll say more about it later. But right now, I wanted to talk about the clip below, in which Lt.  Dan Choi is unapologetic in his support for whistleblower Bradley Manning. (At right, the March rally in which Daniel Ellsberg and Ann Wright were both arrested, protesting Manning’s treatment at Quantico.)

“A soldier who lived up to the mandate of the soldier.” That’s elegant. I now wish I’d managed to interview him directly, before including him as one of the major figures of my final chapter. Manning, of course, is a far more major figure, embodying at least three of Ain’t Marching’s core themes. And the first change suggested by my editor, when she read the book, was in its title: it’s now I Ain’t Marching Anymore: Soldiers Who Dissent, From George Washington to Bradley Manning.  I couldn’t say it better than Choi above, though I certainly did at greater length.

Like Choi and almost everyone else expressing an opinion about his case, I’ve not had the opportunity to speak to Spc. Manning, or even to his attorney or best friend. I’m trying not to project onto him my own ideas about dissent, or whistleblowers as mavericks, or the inherent challenge thrown at militarism by its gender issues. I’m hoping to be able to cover his  court martial this fall, and perhaps to offer some somewhat more direct observations.

But right now, it’s both true and poetic that the whole Wikileaks scandal has punctured anyone’s ability to make conventional assumptions about our foreign policy. And if that’s not dissent, I’m not sure what is.4

What do you think?

As for that list of officers McCain mentioned…..

Some reporters from this outfit looked more closely at the letter McCain was waving around this week before Congress and the TV cameras, saying the letter had proved that many officers supported the policy. But the average age of the signers was 74, most had never served since 1993, and when asked by the journos quite a few denied signing the letter at all.

But the juiciest part was the,ummm, questionable record of some of the most prominent:

• Rear Adm. Riley Mixson in 1993 received a career-ending letter of censure from then-Navy Secretary John Dalton for involvement in the 1991 Tailhook scandal, during which he failed to take action against allegations of sexual misconduct. According to the New York Times, “Mixson was cited for failing to take action when he saw a woman drink from a dispenser made to look like a rhinoceros’ penis and men shaving women’s legs.”

• Gen. Carl Mundy made several statements in 1993 on CBS’ “60 Minutes” that racial minority soldiers “don’t swim as well” or perform other duties as well as white troops. He also once unilaterally banned married recruits from joining the Marine Corps, a move Defense Secretary Les Aspin rescinded the following week.

• Lt. Gen. Fred McCorkle was head of Marine Corps Aviation in the late 1990s, during the design and test phase of the V-22 Osprey. He oversaw cost overruns and allegedly falsified records — all while praising the aircraft. McCorkle now works for and sits on the boards of several companies that manufacture Osprey components.

I wonder if David Mixner has seen this yet, and if the letter’s full exposure might inspire Elaine Donnelly, the old Phyllis Schlafly aide whose organization first published it, to finally close down her tired show. (Maybe she can retire to Florida, where she can make no sense amid people as delusional as she is, like the Scientologists.)