Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Which Side?

A few weeks ago, I went to a memorial service for the father of a good friend of mine. Norm Adelman, the father of my friend, was a fine person, but I only knew him during his last ten or so years of life, when he had been visited by Parkinson's. In his earlier life, which I learned about mainly from his daughter, he had been a vigorous political activist--pushing for integration in the Milwaukee of the 1960s--and a social activist, leading a community organization that sponsored summer camps that were not only coed (considered scandalous when he first proposed the idea) but also racially integrated (unheard of!). I think he knew that no one could overcome racial/ethnic fears and misconceptions without exposure to "The Other" in a daily and communal context. And, as my husband said, he likely also thought that the artificial divisions set up between people and groups based on sex and race/ethnicity were just stupid--and also damaging and diminishing.
     Norm and his family were/are extremely musical, and camps always have music (camp songs) associated with them. So the memorial had much music--from this family members, including daughters and grandchildren, as well as former campers and camp staff. It was pretty great--all the variety of styles and voices and sounds.
     One song we heard that day was "Which Side Are You On?" which was written in 1931 by Florence Reece, the wife of a union organizer for the United Mine Workers in Harlan County, Kentucky. This song made a lot of sense in those union-organizing times and also in the context of Norm's memorial--because of the era in which he came of age and his political activism.

As I listened to the song, though, I thought about how much times have changed--not just the attitudes about unions (imagine, Michigan, a right-to-work state!), but how we've come to see (in these post-modern times) things as not so clear anymore, or to use an old (and perhaps racist) expression, not so black and white. There are no longer just two side to be on (though I realize the state of the polarized US political system likely belies what I am saying here). To me, the idea of having to choose a side, declare which one I'm on, is pretty terrifying. We live far more in the era of nuance than sides. At least that's how it seems to me. Though I still feel a thrill at the images from that era, and the courage, to declare which side one was on and stand with it, despite the high stakes and the consequences, which were often dire.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

I frighteningly agree that no one side suffices in today's world, not even left or right of the "middle of the road".
I am proud of my hippie status, although adjusted as much as I can to current reality.
That said, I am equally upset with my anti-Joan Baez peaceful solution to world horror, instead supporting NRA gun control in our schools (although Ted Nugent's home State and mine are totally different in concept). Reality says we need to fight back.
Those in charge of Logan Airport called upon Israel for suggestions to make our airports safer. The NRA spokesman suggested again calling upon Israel to make our schools safe. My heart cries, but my head agrees.
We can't leave our belongings on shelves in the foyer at the non-existent Detroit JL Hudson Co. and expect they will be there when our shopping is done.
How it seems to you is how it is. We must hope for better!

Rose D. Sigman
rasirds@cox.net

Susan Messer said...

Wow. You're saying you agree with the NRA in supporting guns/armed guards in the school? That's a hard position for me to get behind, though I certainly understand that there are plenty of really disturbed people around and that many of them are armed.

Anonymous said...

This is a big WOW for me. Me, wearing my peace sign bracelet and peace sign mind. But there are two choices. We let THEM win or we fight back. My young cousins were educated in Israel. They had no problem feeling safe in school because of armed guards. If you can bring yourself to watch and listen with an open mind to David Gregory interviewing the NRA spokesperson, although Mr. Gregory was a bully, what he heard is, unfortunately, the only way we are going to make a dent in these killings. We can't wait for the FDA to do their part and we can't stop guns from falling into the wrong hands.
The idea of posting guards is not new. Many schools employ guards. I'm not denying this can also be a dangerous idea - guns in wrong hands, all the obvious.
We know what will continue to happen if we do nothing.
Rose D. Sigman

Susan Messer said...

I appreciate your acknowledgment of the potential dangers as well as the difficulty of listening with an open mind. I've written about that before on this blog--the desire to cover one's ears.

I'm not sure about the "only way" or even the possibility of making a dent or even what a dent would be. I'm not sure about much, as you can see. especially when it comes to big societal issues/policies/diseases such as these.

Attempting to regulate access to guns or to the particularly destructive ones that these twisted/sick people seem to be so fond of isn't "doing nothing." I agree that gun control isn't likely in this political atmosphere.

Jim Poznak said...

I wonder if we are in more nuanced times or if there is so much more information that it seems more nuanced.

Anonymous said...

Most importantly you must know that I am not at peace with my feelings. Nor am I arguing, unless you count arguing with myself as well.
Bad guys use guns. They have and will always will.. Consequently more, better, serious gun laws affect you and me. Additionally, there are too many FDA drugs available. Alcohol is legal. These are fatal combinations takers and to normal function of society.
There is no "only way" to stop mayhem.
I don't pretend to know the way, but I don't like seeing small caskets, whose makers are also victims. Again, thank you for allowing me to express my feelings.
We must not give up hope!

Rose D. Sigman

Susan Messer said...

Thanks, Rose, for the thoughtful post. A lot to think about here . . . how one deals with one's own evolving/changing positions on hard issues.

Susan Messer said...

Thanks, Jim. The more complex view we have is definitely related to the new flood of information, and from so many non-traditional sources. But it's also related to post-modern-type thinking, and a new emphasis on "critical thinking," which taught us to look beyond words, that all reporting is subjective, growing from personal biases and experiences--that there is no "neutral," that everything is constructed by someone, even the definition of where the line between the sides will be drawn.