Sunday, March 20, 2011

Extraordinary ordinary people: Rosie the Riveter, Wisconsinites & Tokyo firefighters

My daughter Ashley needed a ride out to Richmond (CA) yesterday because of the pouring rain. Oh, okay. But while I was out there, I also went to visit the city's relatively new Rosie the Riveter/Home Front National Park. In the rain. And I also talked with park ranger Betty Soskin while I was there.

"I like the way this park looks," I told Ranger Betty, "but isn't all this talk about how wonderful Rosie the Riveter was just one more way to mythologize and glorify war?"

"That's not true," replied RB. "I'd never ever work here if it was. This park is very important to me -- but not because of its connection with World War II. This park has meaning because it makes a record in time and shows an example of what ordinary people such as you and I can achieve -- just by working together. In the Richmond shipyards here, in the course of just a few years, American workers -- many of them female -- built over 747 vessels in a mere three years and eight months. That is a more massive achievement than the pyramids of Egypt." Or even the Great Wall of China. "And that achievement has meaning."

Ranger Betty stated that the Richmond shipyards' example offers a vision of what people can do if they work together -- ordinary people accomplishing extraordinary things.

"Yes, I think that I see what you mean," I replied. "It's like what the people of Wisconsin did when they stood up in defense of their unions. Or when the young people of the Middle East achieved regime change armed only with their laptops and a burning passion for freedom. And like what the extraordinary ordinary firefighters of Tokyo did when they got into their firetrucks and drove off to Fukushima to try, against all odds of succeeding, to put out the terrible nuclear fires there -- knowing that they might never come back alive," mirroring the heroism of the first responders at the World Trade Center on 9/11.

Ranger Betty seems to believe that people are basically good -- and will eventually do the right thing. "It may take a while, perhaps decades or even centuries, but eventually it happens." And that is the story of how I left the rain-soaked city of Richmond with more hope for the future than I ever had before I arrived. Thanks RB.

And Rosie's important lessons of the 1940s are still pointing us in the right direction even today. "We can do it!" said Rosie back then. And she's still right. Not only that but, by working together in this time of crisis, we extraordinary ordinary people today can take even more steps forward.

We can stop building pyramid schemes for the pharaohs on Wall Street and start building a better world for ourselves and our kids.

We can invent and construct so much solar, wind, thermal and other alternative energy that we'll all look back on our former dependency on oil, coal and nuclear and just chuckle at those past follies -- much in the same way that we now do toward those who thought the world was flat.

"We can do it!"

We can repossess our government too -- take it back from the rich. We can limit campaign contributions, shut down the lobbies and impeach anyone in the executive, legislative and judicial branches who still believes that corporations are persons. We can put our government back to work building infrastructure, funding education, making healthcare work and protecting and serving -- instead of just handing out OUR money to oligarchs and war profiteers. And we can hand-count our own freaking ballots.

We can stop giving tax breaks to huge corporations, billionaires and weapons-peddlers and start giving tax breaks to ourselves. We can take our money out of usurious
banks that lie to us for profit and put it in credit unions that work for us instead. We can shut down banksters "too big to fail," shut down the casinos on Wall Street that happily gamble away our money and shut down those counterfeiters at the Federal Reserve. Let's make our hard-earned money work for US for a change.

"We can do it!"

And we can stop building warships for blood-thirsty, fear-mongering politicians and war profiteers -- and start building plowshares for ourselves.

PS: My father enlisted in the US Navy during World War II (anything to get out of the house!) and was stationed first in the Pacific and later at Yokohama Harbor where he was in charge of the Navy's fleet post office there.

My father's letters home from Occupied Japan (now donated to the Rosie the Riveter/Home Front National Park's archives BTW) were heart-felt and moving. "Today I was one of the very first Americans ever seen by residents of a small town outside of Tokyo. I think that they had been told to expect monsters and were probably surprised that we didn't have horns and tails."

When Pop came back from Japan, the ship he was on -- which was more than likely had been built by the Rosies -- got detained at Coronado and so my mom, who was a VERY determined young woman and who was sick and tired of her husband being gone, rented a rowboat, stuck us two kids in the prow, rowed out to my father's ship and waved to him from our boat.

You shoulda seen it -- hundreds of returning sailors, leaning over the rails, cheering, waving back at us and kidding my poor father. "Hey, Lieutenant Purpus! Look! There's your wife!"