Half a Life 1988

Half a Life

By: Stephen M. Chapot and his brother Hank

While on holiday in Europe, I traveled to London with my brother John for a little site-seeing.To learn the layout of the city would be no small triumph for me as I had little experience with traveling. Leaving the hotel was a bit intimidating because it seemed as if I would be run down by a taxi or lorrie at every intersection. Being an uninitiated Yank, I was always looking in the wrong direction at the crossings.

One evening, I found myself out in the street without hat or gloves, mapless, aimless and depressed in the cold London fog. After another unmemorable dinner and a return to our hotel room, I knew I had to get out for air. John and I were in the middle of another one of our arguments about our lives together and our lives apart. I wondered if he cared if I lived or died and he was offended that I would even ask. Did a terminal illness make me unique, was the experience impossible to communicate? How did his fear of death and loss compare to my pain at the potential loss of life? Questions became quagmire in a matter of minutes. Neither of us could claim objectivity and were both too pigheaded to give the other sympathy. After all, we were both cut from the same cloth, so to speak. My cancer riddled legs were burning and I couldn't sit a moment longer, so it was down to the street and out in the fog I went.

I knew only one route and that was down to the east toward our tube stop, Charing Cross, I think. I had to pay attention to the buildings and neon landmarks that I passed so I would not become lost. I felt so alone and misunderstood, a stranger to my family, and this city, walking wounded with my disease.

I shuffled past large silent hotels and restaurants with immobile waiters, waiting for patrons that may never come.There were few cars or taxis and no pedestrians. Only fog, cool and wet on my skin, polishing the streets darkly. I would walk in one direction until my head cleared, and then return to our hotel. All that awaited me was another sweaty night of little sleep.

I stood at a crossing for a moment to get my bearings. The cancer was screaming as if I balanced on two burning deadwood posts. I was truly amazed that I lived with the chronic pain and yet here I was, still walking.

Coming out of my self-pity for a moment, I heard a soft, repetative sound off in the fog encased darkness. It was the sound of rubber tires on wet pavement. A small squat shadow moved toward me on the sidewalk opposite the crossing I faced; a small young man in a wheelchair. He did a wheelie and paused to wait for the green light. He did not move, just stared quietly at me as I slowly lumbered across the street. His head and shoulders sagged and his hands remained folded across his lap. His legs were cocked to the left and he wore gloves with the fingers cut off, a dull sweater and a widbreaker. Like me, he wore no hat and his scraggly hair dripped with fogwater, framing a sweet but dark bearded face. He stared at me intently as I approached his side of the street and stepped up to the curb.

"Eh guv" he called out, "how's about a push?" He smiled and suddenly looked very young. I learned later that he was twenty-three. I stopped and smiled back but thought to myself, great, just what I need, somebody in worse shape than me, asking for help.

"where ya goin, guv?"he asked.

"Well," I replied " I'm not going anywhere actually, I'm just wandering around discovering your lovely little town."

His voice quickened, "Ya, well, gimme a push down to the tube stop, I'm goin' 'ta meet me mates and this time 'a night me arms get bloody tired."

"Sure" I said "I'd be happy to. I've got all the time in the world." The irony of the statement made me wince but he didn't seem to notice. I pushed off and finished with "I've got no special plans. Which way? Gauche?, a droit?" but he didn't understand, just pointed straight ahead. "Down tha' way " he mumbled. I was surprised at the strength required to get him off the curb and him across the empty traffic lanes. Perhaps I was sicker than even I had thought.

I wanted to chat but was afraid I might lose control of the chair. I wanted something from him, to ask a few questions. Had he been in this chair for his whole life?

He started right in, "Me names Robert, but you can call me Robbie." I responded, "my name is Steve Chapot" "sounds French but yer from the states, I"ll reckon." He spoke without turning his head, and I had to lean close to better hear his words through his thick accent. "Which part?" he asked. "Califirnia" I said.

" Ah, The golden west coast" he nodded with obvious approval.

"I was born right here in London and I ain't never been anywhere's else. Me Mum just could'nt 'andle me problems so she dumped me on me drunken ol' man when I was eight wit' me little brother who was six. But me brother ain't got the spina-bifida like I does."' I lives on the dole like 'alf the folks in this country, but I'd work if someone'd hire me. I spends me time ridin' 'round the streets. Last night i got 'ome at sunrise. I musta done twenty kilometers," he spoke proudly. "I was sure fagged when I got home."

I wondered out loud, "isn't it dangerous for you to be out at night, alone and all? In this chair. no less? How would you get around this mixed up city, anyway?" i was impressed and added, "there does'nt seem to be much handicapped access in dear old London." His voice dropped a few degrees and suddenly grew as cold as the night. " We don't like that word, 'handicap" in me circle. None of us is beggars and we don't hold out our caps in our 'ands, guv." I was stunned , but he went on easily, chuckled softly and said, " ya, it is hard to get around, but I hates the telly, and ain't got a job or nothin', so I just tours the streets and hangs out wi' me mates." He then told me about what a nightmare lorries and trams were and how often he was nearly squashed and how he'd been mugged more than once.

"Now, if I 'ad a big dog wi' me, then I'd fear no man, no way. But I ain't sure I could care fer one if I 'ad 'im." He looked at me with a piercing gaze, cocked sideways. 'Ey, yer from the states, ya ever seen one of 'em pit bulls?" thars the dog fer me, ya, a pit bull, noone'd bother wi' me if I 'ad one a them.eh? I seen em on the telly, they attacks on command! Ya that'd be the dog fer me."
We got into a long and I must say amusing chat about the pitbull mania that had been in the press lately, he asked about children getting bit for just being friendly and about dogcatchers being mauled when they came to impound the animals from hostile owners. His enthusiasm was amazing and a little scary. I just about exhausted every anecdote I could remember but he enjoyed it immensly, laughing at my crackpot American humor with delight and saying, "Death and money, death and money, that's America, nothin but death and money." "And taxes" I muttered.

I told him, "you could never really trust one of those dogs but that it was the owners who really made them vicious. He insisted that he knew they had been bred for it, and in England, for that matter. He went on, claiming that the yanks were hoarding the best of the breed and sending their rejects to the U.K. I had to give him a complete description of the American breed. He really wanted to know he could handle one. An American one, too. "English breeds ain't no good, they got bad hearts and slobber all over ya."

After I had run out of pitbull stories, he asked me about the well publicized tourist shootings in Florida that had stolen headlines from pitbulls in recent weeks.

We came to a crossing and I wasn't sure how to get him down the stone curb. He was quicker than I would ever imagine and with a flick of his left arm, was down and half way across the street before I caught up with him. I wondered where we were going and where the hell was my hotel, anyway? I followed, because I had become intrigued with this guy who had been in a wheelchair all his life. I might be in one soon and perhaps could learn a few tricks.

A brilliant light pierced the darkness as we rounded the next corner. Ahead stood the Charring Cross station. Nearly deserted at this time of night, there were a few people about. A dark-skinned sweeper pushed his way across the shiny floor. The station was grey, what seemed to be the national color of England. Grey faces, grey stone, Grey lives?

Buses lined up in front. Below level, there was the ominous third rail. The waiting area had cement ceilings not more than eight feet high, punctured every few feet by cold neon lights that gave everything a dead bluewhite glow. The station occupants looked very much the worse for war. A knot of drunks, a few sleepers, and a variety of 'gimps', as Robbie called them, hanging out. They were Robbies friends, they all knew each other, and they acted like any bistro crowd might act.Their congregation had been meeting for years. There were no late night travellers, only this collection of travellers not waiting for any train.

Robbie docked his chair at a scarred and badly painted post, set his breaks and peered around the place. A few people came by and greeted him as he sat, and I tried my best to blend in, but I stood out like a sore knuckle. Robbie nodded back, all the while shuffling an old deck of cards in his hands. A rough old drunk slopped up and guzzled somethind in Robbies face like, "I'm sorry fer ya in that chair and all, wha' happened to ya, God bless ya." Robbie, such a talker before,didn't even look up, he had heard it all before. I had long since stopped hoping that someone would say something magic to me that would change my condition. Robbie was way ahead of me on that one. Spina bifida, I wondered if these were the first words that he had ever learned. As familiar as his own name.

Many "Gimps" hung out at the station. One man, on one leg, walk-stepped past us and tossed off a hello to my new friend. Robbie had many friends here, one entered in a flash and almost laid rubber as he swiveled to face us. His name was Hans, handsome, strong featured and neat as a pin. Hans had massive shoulders and arms and tiny legs clothed in a pair of child's sweatpants. He wore a little boy's running shoes.

Robbies eyes glowed. He turned to introduce us proudly, "Hans is one of the top wheelchair champs in England. E's got the medals to show it, don't ya Hans? This blokes been in long distance races in France, Rome, you name it, e's been there." Hans nodded and looked around the station. He had georgeous eyes but only gave me short glances, he seemed to prefer to look around. Hans chatted a bit, and then departed, as quickly as he had arrived.

I asked Robbie about his life. And he began slowly, with a touch of emotion rising in his voice."Me father an' the Social worker 'ad me convinced in my youth that me mind was gonna be the way out a me dilemma 'You are a smart kid, they says, you can do anything you want, you just have to apply yourself.' Says they,' study hard. They hadn't thought about how 'ard it is ta get into a four hundred year old school in a wooden chair." Their stories had worked on him for a while, he knew that he was smarter than the average bloke. As for getting somewhere, he had come to believe that it was all a lie, that they had only wanted to protect him from the inevitability of life in a closed society like England. Funny thing was, he said,"they hated my situation more than I ever did."

His real sadness came through when he started to talk about love, and he was very honest about it. "Theres a 'Bird' across the hall from me in me buildin', she's a chair person, too. Whole building full a 'gimps'. "I kinda likes 'er. She's real educated, but she's a real snob. Wheels by me with only a nod an' won't even gimme the time a day. Looks down her nose at me. Ya know, I'd like t' get t' know 'er, kinda seems like a lost cause, though." He looked at me sheepishly and whispered softly, "I needs yer 'elp, Guv, I gots t' use tho loo an' empty me bag." I had seen enough shit to not shy away from his request, it was so heartfelt and trusting. "Sure, I said just tell me what you need me to do." We wheeled into the toilets. The place reeked of wormwood scrubs, as Robbie called it, and the scent couldn't mask the sorry state of this all too public place. I got him to the door of the stall, and with a sort of a reverse heimlich maneuver, got him situated. A young guy cruising the 'tea-room', stared at us for a moment. I gave him my best shit eatin' grin. He left in a hurry.

Robbie called out that he was done, and after we got him fixed up right, it was back to our spot by the post . For a time, we just checked out the station in silence. Silent, trusting and comfortable. We hung out together.

I decided I ought to tell him about myself, tell him my 'secret'.

Slowly I began to speak. "You know Robbie, you and I have more in common than you might realize. You see I'm disabled too." Robbie looked at me puzzled, but said nothing. I knew that I had to go on, in fact I very much wanted to tell him.
"You see, I have AIDS. for the past few years, and I'm getting sicker every day." He opened, and then closed his mouth, and opened it again, and said, "Jesus Christ, whatcha doin muckin' round here for?. Shouldn't ya be in bed or somthin'?" But he caught himself on that one. He'd heard it before. I saw recognition in his face. I said " I want to travel before I die, and even though it hurts me a lot to walk, I'm glad you brought me down here." Robbie said, "Ya, we got the AIDS 'ere in England, but in the states, you got it real bad, eh?' I answered,"yes, the water is rising so fast that were going to need wings to stay above it. My only consolation is that I may get my wings sooner than everybody else."

Robbie said "don't that mean that yer gonna die an 'orrible death?" My only reply, "what death isn't?"

He didn't argue, just looked off into the night station. I had given him a piece of my burden now and couldn't take it back. I worried I might have upset him for some selfish reason of my own, and thought I should get going. I left him the name of the hotel, but didn't think he would call. I didn't know if I had done the right thing, after all.

I began to take my leave with a soft "goodbye friend", and as I walked away Robbie called out, "Ey Guv, ya know what me an' me mates says?"

I turned to look at him, looking straight into the face of terrible wisdom.

"We says, half a life be better than no life 't 'all."

I loved him at that moment. As I walked back to my hotel, I was lifted by my new pair of wings.

Letter to the Editor Berkeley Daily Planet

October 7, 2005

Editors, Daily Planet:

I agree with J. Douglas Allen-Taylor that it is bad public policy for Oakland police and the CHP to harass drivers in east Oakland just because the sideshow thing is out of hand, but how far does his freedom of assembly argument go?

On Saturday night, Oct. 1, we had a little activity of the unneighborly kind on my block of 58th Street near Shattuck, that spoke volumes about the lack of space for Oakland’s teenagers to hang out and to the inability or unwillingness of the Oakland Housing Authority to supervise its property, which happens to be across the street from my (rented) house. Perhaps I am being overly sensitive, but this is the site of two border dispute murders within five weeks in the summer of 2003.

There were no deaths this time but lots of broken bottles, a few car windows smashed and a lot of police time wasted because a 13-year-old’s birthday party, perhaps turned into a flash crowd by the ubiquitous cell phone, spread out into the OHA parking lot, then the street with cars blocking the street, fighting, drinking, loud music and waves of youths running away from the eventual swarm of Oakland police.

Adding insult to injury, my call to the housing authority police dispatcher was answered by, “we only have one officer tonight, and he’s busy.” (This on a warm Saturday night for an organization with more than a thousand units). I waited on hold for 10 minutes, hung up and called back, very angry this time, and finally got her supervisor, a corporal named Jerry Williams. He said “I only have one officer and what am I supposed to do about it?” Continuing, he said, “What can one guy do against a crowd?”

While many homeowners on this block want the place shut down, even considering a nuisance lawsuit against the housing authority in the wake of the murders, I am one of the few who’ve supported keeping the place open because people need housing. But now I have realized that the OHA can’t control its own property and can’t keep the peace on 58th Street.

How would J. Douglas Allen-Taylor answer this freedom of assembly issue?

Hank Chapot

Skipdeath: a short story


Frankie's stepmother smelled like booze and sounded gargly when she spoke. "Now listen Frankie. Your gonna take your little brother up to Grandpa's Bakery on the greyhound. You boys are gonna stay there for a while." Frankie shuffled his feet, "Can I have some money?" "Ahh, Frankie, you'll have to pay the bus fare. I haven't got a cent. Ask your Grandpa."

The bus ride was long and they were tired when they jumped off and hit the pavement. Looking around, Frankie realized he'd made a big mistake. As the door slammed shut and the bus crept away from the curb, Frankie stared back at the driver. Around them, San Francisco was all scary old buildings with peeked roofs with windows like big eyes, dark and darker. He'd dragged Paulie off the bus at the wrong stop, somewhere on Mission Street but he didn't see Woolworth’s or the Cable Car turntable. The Ferry building, his secret talisman for the city, was lost in the haze.

The only human for miles around was a big man in a hard-pressed dark blue suit. He looked down at them standing there like stunned rabbits, his one good eye brown as muddy water, the other a terrifying mass of flesh, scar tissue and tears, unseeing but utterly mesmerizing. Frankie could not help but look into that eye. The man took a step forward and cried, "Boys! At last I've found you. The time has come. I told 'em I'd make 'em see God in California! And I will make em see God before I'm through. And you gonna help me." He caught Frankie by the sleeve and the boy was struck mute, frozen, hypnotized, not sensing danger until Paulie grabbed his other arm to pull him away. The Man wobbled but tightened his grip, talking loudly into Frankie's face. His suit shone blue-black and glossy, crisp. His shirtfront was white as paper, his yellow teeth pointing places teeth don't usually go.

"Son, give a listen, give a care." He drew Frankie closer. "My name is Skipdeath. Known as Pastor Skipdeath in my home parish. I am a preacher of the gospel and man of the cloth. I need you to join with me in service to the Lord." Frankie stood still listening while Paulie tugged a little harder at his sleeve. "How'd you think I got the calling? How'd you think I got my name?" Paulie stopped pulling so hard, looked up and shrugged, "I dunno."

"I beat death, that's how, I been dead and I come back. Twice." He laughed through his huge smile, stopped and waited for his story to take, then bellowed on. "I needs your help boys." Paulie tugged harder. "Now don't shy away. You gon’ help me win my race with the Devil on God's green Earth." Paulie was looking for something, holding onto Frankie’s sleeve. Skipdeath shouted, "DO YOU SEE THE PEOPLE?! You See This Humanity? I got to share every one of my sermons before this day is done." He wagged a finger at a pile of mimeograph pamphlets on the nearby bus bench. Frankie looked around and saw nobody close. "I needs ten dollars more to open my ministry in Hollywood, and with you helpin', I'll be leaving on the six-forty starliner." Skipdeath swept the intersection with his huge gold limned fingers, taking in the traffic and few pedestrians. Frankie looked for passersby, but said only, "uh-huh."

Paulie stepped back defiant. "We don't know you mister. You let him go!" But Frankie wasn't afraid, he liked Negroes, at least he thought he did. So far he only saw them on TV being beat up by white men with dogs. Skipdeath was the first one he'd ever seen up close. The preacher drew his arm around Frankie and pulled him close, looking deep into Paulie's eyes. "Hey little Brother, you crazy? Why you want to treat me so mean?" He tightened his grip, pulling Frankie close. He smelled like aftershave, piss and wood smoke. Frankie wilted into the deep, slick coat sleeve, nearly buried in the slippery cloth. His eye's fixed on the maroon glow of the huge silk tie, held close by a string of small gold links. He felt safe. "Paulie, shut up."
Skipdeath went on. "I ain't no bad man, Son. I am a consecrated preacher and a man of God. I just needs a little a yo' help. You boys got any money?" Frankie stiffened, but Skipdeath thought of something and jumped back. Paulie grabbed Frankie around the waist, like he did when they wrestled. They tumbled on the sidewalk and rolled into the gutter beyond Skipdeath's reach. Paulie jumped up ready for battle, retreat or maybe to look for a cop, but Skipdeath wasn't coming anymore, he just chuckled to himself and placed his big ass onto the bus bench where he'd been sitting before they'd arrived.

"Come on boys, look at this face, I ain't got but one good eye and peoples cain't look at me. I needs your help. You see those peoples?" He gestured at the sparsely populated street, "I got to save every soul, starting with you. Got to get each and every one to finance the Lord's work, any little bit of cash or coin will secure my ministry, do the lord's work." Free money sounded good to Frankie, he always needed money, but Paulie yelled at Skipdeath, "You can't have our money mister, we only got enough for the cable car." Skipdeath let out a howl like an old hound dog and threw his head to the side like he'd been jawpunched, but he came back smiling. "You got a hard heart son, got no charity for an old nigger like me, got no religion, eh? You love your brother little man? Your brother love you." His voice dropped to a gentle drawl, full of love and honey. "Why you think they call me Skipdeath? You wanna know?" Paulie just stared into his huge black face. "I'll tell you why. Cause I been to the other side. I got the shine of the Lord in my good eye, Ya see it?" Paulie looked close. Frankie whispered, "How could you beat the Devil?" then both boys were silent. "Let me tell you son. I was a railroad man, when I was a young I always worked the rails. That's a good job for a man like me. Made it to Road Inspector, takin' short runs looking for track need repair or just oiling." He raised his right hand and they sucked in their breath. Only half a hand, a gnarled claw, middle finger to wrist, white and ghostly skin almost as white as Grandpa's. Frankie thought he could see through it. Skipdeath went on. "Fell under a train in the fitting-out yard, thinkin' about somethin' and not thinkin' about my job, fell under a train going two miles an hour. Hit my head and smashed my eye and fell into a deep sleep, a deep dark sleep. They said I was dead, doctor at the yard said I was dead and put me in a box. My wife, bless her soul, was fit to be tied, didn't want to live without me. Say she screamed and cried for three whole days." He rocked his bottom on the bus bench and continued. "Right there in the middle of my funeral, all my family singin' for my ever lovin' soul, I sat straight up in my casket, I really did. Looked around and blinked my one good eye and asked for a drink of water. My auntie screamed and the preacher shouted ‘Hallelujah! The lord ain't ready for him yet.’ I tried to smile and two ladies fainted, a man ran out but my wife threw her arms around me and proclaimed me God's miracle. So they call me Skipdeath ever after and everybody in north Louisiana wants to talk to me about the afterlife and if I know when they gonna die, so I become a preacher. But I got tired of the questions an' come West to preach the everafter in California." Traffic flowed and stopped in the automated rhythms of the traffic lights, and Skipdeath fell silent. Frankie finally spoke. “You said you died twice.”

“You a smart man, son. Yes, I died once 'afore the rail yard tried to kill me. Playin' hide and seek when I was four years ol', I spent a night in an ol’ icebox. Nearly froze at night and nearly fried during the day. Always wantin' for air. My Mamma searched for me everwhere and then somebody opened the ol' icebox in the yard and I fell out dead. Took three days a praying and warm baths to make me live again.” He looked hard at each child and knew he’d made a proper impression.

Frankie was impressed and started selling Skipdeath's sermons with great dedication. Paulie was pretty good for the first hour but got tired. They chased down every citizen who came within a block. Frankie thought he might start a church at school for money if it was this easy. He was always looking for ways to make money.

The boys gave Skipdeath their take as it came in, and he paused occasionally to count the money. When the boys tired, he settled up and handed over four dollars and some coins. Frankie and Paulie cheered. They'd had less than a dollar between them when they got off the bus, and this was real cash money. Skipdeath got down low, looked at them smiling, and was about to speak, ready to say thank you, but looked over their heads and his smile collapsed. When the boys spun around to see what he saw, two pink-skinned men were walking hard at them. When they turned back, Skipdeath was gone. The boys spun back to face the non-descript men. Paulie pocketed the cash.

"Whatcha got there son?" The tall red-eyed one said as they cornered the children. "Tell me son, I'm a policeman!" Frankie had never seen a policeman in street clothes. "Idiot, you know what they got." The second cop was fat and short, closer to a kid's height. He stabbed his hand into Paulie's pocket and pulled out the four dollars. Paulie pulled back, yelling, "Hey! that's mine." "Where'd you get the money? What’s your name kid? You get that cash from the Nigger, son?" Frankie grabbed at the cash. The big red-eyed cop snatched his collar and tossed him like a rag doll across the back of a car, his huge thigh in Frankie's groin. Stubbly face in close. "Relax kid, we're the good guys."

The fat cop laughed out loud, "Be good boys or we'll call your mother." The red-eyed cop let Frankie drop to the curb. Paulie, unable to stay invisible, started to cry. The fat cop counted four dollars. "Looks like lunch Jack." He turned back to Frankie. "Son, did you suck that old Nigger for four dollars? You little faggot." Paulie stopped crying and got ready to fight. "No, you suck mister!" The cops loaded them into the rear of their prowl car, asking all kinds of questions. The fat one said "crack the window, Jack, let's go have lunch and then figure out where they live." The boys slumped down defeated.

After a short time that felt long, Paulie watched a black claw snake in through the window and pop the lock. Frankie snatched something off the front seat and they made their escape. The boys eventually made it to North Beach, but it took hours. When the cops got back to their patrol car, one of Skipdeath’s sermons fluttered beneath a wiper blade and two children were not in the back seat. Frankie kept the leather enclosed gold star under his mattress. He never showed it to anyone, he just looked at it sometimes after bedtime.

Letter to the Editor Fast Food Litter Tax in Oakland CA


Berkely Daily Planet 3.24.06

Editors, Daily Planet:

In your coverage of the Oakland City Council vote to tax fast food, liquor stores and convenience markets for littering Oakland streets, I was surprised you repeated the arguments of the Chamber of Commerce without analysis. These commercial establishments, by delivering every serving in throwaway containers, have increased their profits through the elimination of a huge portion of the true costs of doing business by shifting trash-related costs onto the city, the environment and the streets and since most fast food restaurants and coffee shops no longer deal with plates, forks, spoons and cups used by their customers, they no longer hire dishwashers, busboys (and girls), waiters or food servers. Gone are these entry level jobs. They put their product in cardboard and plastic.

The overwhelming majority of their containers ends up in city-sponsored garbage receptacles, while a small percentage ends up on the street or in the gutter. The Oakland litter tax is a small recompense for the windfall profit they reap by eliminating these food service-related issues.

These industries will claim “the customer wants the convenience of throwaway containers” or they blame it on the public’s penchant for littering, and threaten lawsuits. Let them squawk. While locals are busted and fined for illegal dumping of “household” or “business-related” garbage, the highest form of illegal dumping is your local McDonald’s franchise that expects the city to provide garbage service for free. These food corporations and restaurants have shifted their waste problem on to the city and the street. Kudos to Jane Brunner for her small attempt to shift the responsibility back where it belongs.

But, you and I are not off the hook. Every one of us who takes a cardboard cup, a plastic lid, a paper or clamshell food container, whether dumped in the trash can, the garbage slot or the gutter, are complicit in this capitalist enterprise of shifting the costs of our convenience onto the earth, our children, the city and the future.

Hank Chapot Oakland Ca

letters to the editor - Jan 2005

"Don Perata: The Man. The Machine. The Investigation," Feature, 12/8
East Bay Express

You call that a machine?
Thank you for the informative articles on Don Perata and his current tribulations. I have to ask: You call that a machine? A half-dozen overpaid civil servants, exemplars of the Peter Principle, who couldn't lose an election (unless their name was Elihu) if they tried, running things in a single-party hegemony that would make the Politburo blush?

The state of politics in the East Bay has become so inbred and stultifying that Tom Bates and his wife can switch seats and nobody complains, Dion Aroner can serve two terms and nobody notices, Ron Dellums can resign midterm so his selected successors can play musical chairs, and Jerry Brown can steamroll the entire city of Oakland while a chump like Perata becomes kingmaker.

The only reason for even caring is that these people handle millions of our tax dollars and apparently some have found clever methods of pocketing some along the way. Where are the Panthers now that we need them?
Hank Chapot Oakland

It's Time For Labor to Leave the Democrats

It's Time For Labor to Leave the Democrats
By Hank Chapot - 1995

Try to imagine my sadness at learning that at the recent founding convention of the Labor Party, organizers decided not to run candidates. Like the New party, the Labor party has not addressed the central question all progressives must decide in 1996.

Is it time to leave the Democrat Party?

The Greens consider ourselves the first major constituency of the Democrat party to strike out on it's own, and we have been waiting impatiently for other constituencies of American progressives to do likewise. Rather than claiming to be the vanguard of the long visualized but never to be realized "unified" movement the old New-Left, we are espousing a model more like the one growing in New Zealand. It is an alliance of five distinct political parties, each maintaining it's own discreet membership, but allied into a force that is able to fulfill the most important goal of political activists; to contest for power. Not only political power, but also the power of ideas and the power of the grassroots.

I have met at least a dozen politicians from alternative parties in foreign countries, from the Workers Party in Brazil, Les Verts in France, Causa Radical in Venezuela, the New Labor Party in New Zealand, and numerous others. Every one has adamantly stated that "you must leave the dominant parties," as your first act and it must be done completely. Expecting to create new political institutions in league with the Democrat Party is a little like telling Zapatistas to work with progressives in the PRI. It just will not work, and the sooner we force the question, the sooner we can get down to some real work.

This is where my arguments with the New Party (and Labor Pary Advocates) begin and end. The labor Party KNOWS it will not be able to break from the Democrat Party. Not only has the New Party leadership tried to downplay their relationship with the Democrat Party, this same leadership has consistently refused to enter into coalition efforts with the Greens, and they seem to be trying to ignore that we even exist. Further, They have asked another progressive effort, the Independant Politics Summit, to join the New Party because the New party has more members than NIPS. On those criteria, everybody should join the greens because our candidates recieved over 1.1 million votes in 1994. But we are not asking that. We want to join with others, not necessarily lead. We have found ourselves, however, leading by default. For the greens, it is as if the meek shall lead.

And now we have Nader. I'd ask the old New-Left to get out of the way if they are not gonna lead. Consider this, if the Labor Party or New Party had convinced Jesse Jackson to run as an independant or third party candidate, the greens would have joined in a heartbeat. Alas, our potential allies hang back, snipe from the sidelines, and wallow in the failure that the American Left has come to believe is it's fate. My other complaints with the New Party are well known, they take credit for winning Democrat candidates they have only endorsed and they talk about fusion, but rarely fusion with any other party besides the Democrats.

If the Clinton/Dole match up is a continuation of the fight between the WWII generation and the baby boomers generation, is the rise of the Green Party and the discomfiture of the old New-Left the beginnings of the next generational struggle? Will we be fighting this same battle twenty years hence? The irony is that progressive american activists trumpet poll results that show over sixty percent of citizens want a new political party, but then retreat when the time is so ripe, where the Green Party with it's global connections seems to have broken through with Nader, a party for whom the future is as important as this year's election. I guess because they didn't start it, many seem to want to have nothing to do with it.

Not all, though, progressives are working feverishly to expand the Nader campaign, and politics is made by people who speak AND act, and action outmaneuvers inaction every time.

my wikipedia work

==New Articles in March 2006==

*[[Storybook Houses]] *[[William J. Quinn]] San Francisco Police Chief *[[Atherton Report]] *[[Edwin Atherton]] *[[Food Conspiracy]]

==Edited March 2006==

*[[Audie Bock]] * [[Jerry Brown]] criticisms, personal life *[[Hunter's Point]] *[[Gardener]] - added [[Peter Joseph Lenné]], * [[Thomas Jefferson]], * [[Hotsukimaru]], * [[Ihei Masatake]], * [[Ihei Sannojo]]

==New articles in February 06==

*[[William H. "Dad" Martin]] *[[The Origins of the American Military Coup of 2012]] *[[Lone Mountain]] *[[Overland Monthly]] *[[Portsmouth Square]] *[[Kearney Street]] *[[Lotta's Fountain]] *[[Port of San Francisco]] began project... more work

==Edited February 06==

*[[Earl Warren]], added Alameda County info *[[Coup d'état]] *[[Jerry Brown]] added Barzaghi, added "political criticism of Jerry." *[[Adolph Sutro]] * [[Seal Rock]] *[[Cliff House]] *[[Preferential voting]] added San Francisco reference *[[Robert Louis Stevenson]] *[[Market Street]] * [[Hall of Justice]] * [[Proportional representation]] *[[Peter Camejo]] *[[University of California, Berkeley]] *[[Sabotage]] added "Righteous sab.." *[[Critical Mass]] conflicts *[[Port of Oakland]] added dredging info *[[Capote (film)]] plot and cast *[[Gardener]] added those who labor for money *[[Embarcadero]] San Francisco *[[San Francisco Belt Railroad]] *[[University of California, Berkeley]] setting *[[PG&E]] wrote a history and an environmental section *[[Brokeback Mountain]] I insist this is a [[star-crossed lovers]] story *[[Quentin Crisp]] five pounds of Henna

==New articles January 06== (fixes in February)

*[[Jack Lait (newspaperman)]] *[[Audie Bock]] Had to do it *[[Saint Margaret of Cortona]] new submission *[[London Calling (lyrics)]] Sorry, didn't think about copyright, (speedy deletion) *[[Jim Savage]] white man discoverer of [[Yosemite]]. *[[Matthew Brady (District Attorney)]] of [[San Francisco]]. *[[Wealth primary]] *[[Jack Manion]] Chinatown squad *[[Raker Act]] concerning [[Hetch Hetchy]] Valley Dam *[[Robert S. Allen]] journalist *[[California Senate Factfinding Subcommittee on Un-American Activities]] *[[Sally Stanford]] Madam, Mayor of [[Sausalito, California]] *[[Green Party of California]] *[[Sierra Valley, California]] *[[Dick Tuck]] Political trickster *[[Pest house]]

==Edited January 06==

*[[Spanish bombs]] Clash *[[University of California, Berkeley]] added list of labor unions, including mine, [[AFSCME]] and Brechin as further reading *[[Imperial Japanese Navy]] added Chitose reference *[[London Calling (song)]] added lyrics, they got reverted, created new page *[[Spanish bombs]] added lyrics from liner notes, copyright 1979 Nineden Ltd. (PRS))
*[[Lawnmowers]] - history, link *[[All in the Family]] trivia *[[1980s fashion]] punk, to do list *[[Tre Arrow]] changed charge to arson *[[Montgomery Block]] again More info, another reference *[[sabotage]] added environmental and political sab *[[Armand Jean du Plessis, Cardinal Richelieu]] added link [[The Devils]] and [[Three Musketeers]] films
*[[Adah Isaacs Menken]] added info, source *[[John McDougall]] *[[FBI]] added [[cointelpro]] sentence *[[Dutch Schultz]] added *[[Polly Adler]] reference *[[Federal Bureau of Investigation]] (added Estrada/Atherton citation) *[[None of the Above]] [[Green Party of California]] reference *[[Opposition research]] *[[Roger Lapham]], Mayor of San Francisco * [[Beniamino Bufano]] sculptor * [[Hetch Hetchy]] * [[Alexander Pantages]] added [[Jake Ehrlich]] *[[Polly Adler]] *[[Charlene Spretnak]] book list *[[California]] again *[[Montgomery Block]] again *[[University of California]] added labor union links *[[Peter Camejo]] criticisms *[[California]] poorest communitities *[[sabotage]] workplace, environmental, political *[[Dirty tricks]]

==New articles in December '05==

*[[Arthur Samish]] - *[[Potrero Point]] - *[[Dumpville]] - *[[Idora Park]] *[[Montgomery Block]] aka, [[Monkey Block]] *[[California Green Archives]] - *[[Sam Brannan]] - *[[Melvin Swig]] *[[Jake Ehrlich]] - *[[Good Roads Movement]]

==Edited in December '05==

*[[Tom Mooney]] - *[[Jerry Brown]] - *[[San Francisco Bay Bridge]] - *[[Claus Spreckels]] - *[[Preparedness Day bombing]] - *[[Union Iron Works]] - *[[Luisa Tetrazzini]] - *[[Angelo Rossi]] -



( written for the California green party rag called green focus, not sure if th ditor used it.)

By Hank Chapot
January 2006

Recent commentary on the national level has revolved around the question "what to do in 2006 and beyond?" A delegate from Utah recommends targeting the House of Representatives based on our rise in vote totals from a tenth of a percent in 1992 to nearly half a percent in 2004. Ohio delegates put out a proposal that state parties run slates for statewide and legislative offices and encourages the Coordinated Campaign Committee to develop a plan for volunteer recruitment and fundraise for two pledge campaigns; the first; help Green congressional candidates, the other, help statewide and lastly, almost as an afterthought, local candidates. To its credit, the Ohio proposal recommends we focus (but not exclusively) on "doable" races, city, town, and village councils. I can only advocate this last part of the proposal.

This strategy, coupled with an obsessive focus on the presidential campaign, is problematic for many reasons; it may be good promotion for the political careers of certain individuals but for the most part, house and state legislative races are un-winnable for greens. Those who defend them show a remarkable lack of political practicality when they say, "this will be our breakout year." We all know the barriers to participation, higher partisan races are difficult to win, they devour money, volunteers and talented individuals with small returns and few women run show campaigns.

In California, these electoral fantasists will not face facts. I have so often heard, so-and-so "could win." I just shake my head at the self-delusion that calls for another year of wasted show candidacies. It is, to quote one old green's jibe, "where the rubber meets the clouds."

An alternative strategy (borrowed from others) that I am keen on would have us concentrate on mayoral races, because cities are at the forefront of the environmental and human rights crises, mayor's have executive power and more than half the world's population lives in cities.

The effort to organize the mayors of the world has already begun. At the World Environment Day held in San Francisco in June 2005, mayors from around the world were offered this strategy;

"Mayors are emerging as the most powerful and flexible agents of change. They are able to respond quickly to environmental issues and are uniquely accountable to their citizens. Their enormous purchasing power is shaping markets and making environmental sustainability a manufacturing consideration. They are tackling the globe's most challenging environmental issues and their visionary solutions provide inspiration and serve as models to all sectors of society."


"World Environment Day bring(s) together the world's Mayors to share their environmental innovations and commit to taking action towards further environmental sustainability. Cities have a great deal in common: they have to provide energy, water, transportation, recycling, parks, trees, and clean air for their citizens. Additionally, Mayors are directly accountable to the people in a way that is not always true of national leaders."

Link: http://www.wed2005.org/wiki/

Focus on mayoralties and lesser races as a matter of policy, would help achieve the goals of Green politics, would satisfy our belief in localism, would reduce the tensions created by high profile, high waste (and high risk) campaigns, would be a declaration of independence from the rat race and would prove that greens can lead. Actually, they already have. Some have been elected outright, others attained the seat because they received the highest vote, or simple rotation. These mayors have been excellent for the image of Greens, and they've had a chance to actually make policy. In San Francisco, California greens have served as mayors. In New York state, Jason West has become a hero of the new civil rights movement. Elsewhere, green mayors are making great change.

With apologies to the delegate from Utah and the folks Ohio, I oppose focusing on a national race or state-wide seats currently, we are sucking the party dry with these more or less useless symbolic races. An American Third Party has an arc or lifespan that is somewhat predictable, we have ten to thirty years to transform society and force adoption of our policies before we collapse into a cult or bureaucratic sinkhole of internal navel-gazing.

My suggestion that we retrench and aim lower have fallen on deaf ears. I'd like to speak to greens everywhere; organize something as yet unmentioned in all our discourse, build a slate of one hundred mayors(and city council candidates) for cities large and small and step back from the guaranteed loser campaigns. Consider the possibility that dozens of Green mayors will have a more powerful impact on the future and the planet than a dozen symbolic vanity campaigns.

Hank Chapot - Volunteer archivist