Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Gangs of America: Crips, Bloods, Rosies & the Fortune 500

(Photos are of Rosie the Riveter, Ranger Betty Soskin, me and baby Mena pretending to be Rosies, Mena laundering money and me practicing my gang signs)

A friend of mine who can no longer afford to pay the high rents that landlords are now charging in Berkeley, has been forced to move to East Oakland, right near the place where four policemen were killed in a shoot-out last month. "How the freak did four policemen -- two of them members of a freaking SWAT team -- manage to get shot to death by just one lone gunman?" I mused.

"Focus here, Jane," said my friend. "Forget about SWAT team incompetence and just give me some information on how to adjust to living in my new neighborhood. You know a lot about gangs. Help me out here. What if there are Crips and Bloods in my neighborhood? Will they mess with me? Do I need to read up on my gang signs? Do I need to start wearing red bandannas or something?"

"No," I replied. "You don't need to read up on your gang signs. You need to read up on your GANGS." The Crips and the Bloods are now Old School. There are currently several new gangs running the show in East Oakland right now. First there's the Nortenos. They are a Latin gang that originated in the California state prison system. Their rivals are the Surenos, also coming out of the California state prison system. And then there's the Fortune 500 and the Rosies.

Actually the Rosies are a Richmond gang.

Yesterday I went to a film debut in Richmond (California, not Virginia) at the Rosie the Riveter Home Front National Park. It was an interesting film about the life and times of the women and men who worked at the World War II Richmond shipyards back in the 1940s. My friend Betty Soskin was in the film, which was written and directed by a talented group of local teenage girls under the auspices of the national park staff.

"For me," said Betty, "sexism was not an issue back then -- because racism was the big issue." In Richmond, the white Rosies were treated badly by some men at that time just because they were women. And the black Rosies also became the brunt of sexist behavior -- but the black Rosies were treated badly mostly because of their race. And for this reason, Betty never looked closely at the gender issue or at black men as being oppressive because the black men were being oppressed even more badly than the women due to their race. Racial oppression trumped gender oppression for her.

"This is all very interesting, Jane," said my friend, "but what does it have to do with gangs?" Not much. So far.

Then the mayor of Richmond spoke at the film presentation and she made the point that although she admired and respected the Rosies a lot -- both black and white -- they still hadn't brought "sustainable" jobs to the Richmond area. "Jobs based on war are never sustainable. Back then, World War II gave us jobs -- and now the war in Iraq is giving us jobs. But jobs based on war are never sustainable."

That's what everyone in America right now is talking about -- sustainable jobs. "But," said my friend Tom who was sitting next to me at the film screening, "what exactly IS a 'sustainable job'? Many of the so-called sustainable jobs that we knew 50 years ago no longer even exist. For instance, it used to take many people to run a farm and now much of our farmwork is done by machines. Many of those jobs from 50 years ago have simply disappeared. And who's to know what kind of job will be sustainable 50 years from now?"

Hmmm. That's what my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Hilda Harrison, used to call a "thought problem".

I figure that either the sustainable jobs of the future will be in the Green sector or in the technology sector -- or else they will be in the sector that makes candles, weaves baskets and manufactures arrows, flintstones and clubs.

And there also have been huge changes regarding which companies were on the "Fortune 500" list 50 years ago and what companies are on the Fortune 500 list now. 50 years ago, the top ten companies were strongly rooted in industry -- U.S. Steel, General Motors, etc. And now? It's laughable. The top ten companies now include WalMart, AT&T, Bank of America, Exxon Mobil and CitiGroup.

CitiGroup? The bank that needed a bailout to keep from going bankrupt is now in our top ten? Boy are we in trouble.

And WalMart is the top Fortune 500 company right now? That means that CHINA is America's top producer of goods these days.

And Bank of America, Exxon and AT&T too? This means that dinosaur bones, customer service and Wall Street roulette, not industries, are currently driving America's economy. That sucks eggs.

"But how does this relate to gangs?" you might ask. Do I really need to spell it out for you -- that my friend who has just been forced to move to East Oakland has been gang-banged out of his home and his job by the best of them -- the Fortune 500 gang.

And if I had a crystal ball and could look 50 years into the future, would I be able to see that America finally has gotten some real industries -- not just shell games -- back on to the Fortune 500 list? With "sustainable jobs" and healthy, ecological, non-munitions-related industries in the top ten? Or will the Gangs of America still be ruling the shambles of what is left of our once-thriving economy?

PS: I just went to a film presentation on 40th anniversary of People's Park, wherein Frank Bardacke gave an empassioned plea to stop the ruthless march of corporations over our economic and civil liberties. His was a clear and concise warning, given to us FORTY years ago. But did we heed it? http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-5260741209625137775&ei=bhfuSaboMo_8qAOz8s35Dw&q=+people%27s+park&hl=en

PPS: For those of you who missed it when it first came out, here's the URL to a wonderful film on Black Rosies made by my friend Betty: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hc490zRLWMA
PPPS: If there is one thing I have learned from working with young gang members in Oakland, it's this: These are intelligent, basically good-natured and ambitious kids who, if they had grown up in different circumstances and with different expectations, would have used all their multiple talents and skills to get into Harvard, join Big Pharma and work on Wall Street instead of dealing illegal drugs, running numbers and becoming outlaws.
YouTube sez "Know Your Gangs": Latin King vs Surenos vs Nortenos vs Crips vs Bloods http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I9hVvq5blG8