An Open Letter to Supporters of Occupy Lewisburg

Let me start by saying I get how difficult things are, and how busy we have all become.  I get how overwhelming it can be to just keep up.

Part of what we are fighting, what we’ve all agreed is the problem, is the way that we are being disabled by the 1%.  After all, if these folks had not conspired to rig the financial system in their favor, we would all have approximately 50% more income to use to help us meet our needs, and at least 20% more time.  That’s one extra workday a week, and, for many families, one extra income.

So our efforts to restore sanity and justice to a system gone mad are hobbled by the insanity and injustice of the system we are up against.  I get that.

I want you to know, too, I appreciate the efforts you are already making.  I know we are all, daily engaged in unseen and unrewarded efforts to help those near and dear to us, and, for some, just to meet our own needs.

Several of us have managed to go beyond our immediate friends and family and it is important to acknowledge the work these folks are doing.

  • Sam Pearson is working tirelessly on a number of fronts, the Local Action Network and the Sierra Club, among other things addressing the environmental threat from natural gas fracking,.
  • Charles Sackrey is working with OUE on opposing the proposed tire burning plant upwind of Lewisburg.
  • Jove Graham and Steva Stowell-Hardcastle and John Peeler and others are working to prevent the worst-case electoral scenario.
  • Barb Sundin, Charles Facka and Lexie Orr are working on electoral reform so we can vote with ballots not dollars.
  • Kathy Kristjanson-Gural is working to shore up community ties to help families in our community.
  • Cindy Peltier is working with CARE on racism.
  • Judy Peeler and others supporting the work of the Heiter Center to provide support for working families and their kids.
  • Pat Rock and others are working on a Clean Water Initiative.
  • Joe Manzi is promoting non-violence through the CNL;
  • Joe and Jackie Detelj, Johnny and Leah Tewks, Jen and Harvey Partica are helping to restore sanity to our food system.

Each of these people are working with many others, and many other organizations and individuals deserve mention.  Most are doing this work on top of paid jobs that also serve the community.

So, yes, I am going to ask us all to do more, but please know that I get how much we are already doing, privately and publicly.  And I get that what I am asking is completely unreasonable.

It’s a bit hard to wrap our minds around what is happening to us.  I think about Virginia Zimmerman’s comparison to the Elizabethan era explorers who first gazed out across the unbelievable expanse of the Grand Canyon.  They saw evidence of the true dimension of time, the incomprehensible scope of our past, and they simply had no conceptual framework to understand it.  They literally couldn’t see what was before them.  That was a moment like the one we are in now.

It makes perfect sense to be thrown off balance.  Our hearts are telling us something is true that our minds simply can’t comprehend.  Our minds are encountering truths that our hearts are just not willing to take in.  I get that too.

Here is the rub.  Our inaction is the only guarantee of our defeat.

This week, in Durban, South Africa, the representatives of the global poor are dashing themselves on the rocks of those who represent us, the nations of privilege, desperately hoping to get our representatives to see reason.  I listened to Apisai Ielemia, Foreign Minister of Tuvalu, whose nation will be entirely underwater in my lifetime, asking, in vain, only that we set and enforce a limit on what we are entitled to spew out into the air, the ocean of air on which we all depend.

The planet is warming and the polar ice caps are melting faster than even the most pessimistic scientists predicted.  That’s not just bad news for Tuvalu.  It means the storms we’ve seen this fall, storms that our neighbors in Bloomsburg are still recovering from, will become commonplace.  It means that we can no longer depend upon the weather patterns we require to grow our food.  We’ve seen the effects already on the bee populations, these unpaid, unsung heroes of the food system without which we would be hamstrung in our efforts to feed ourselves.

How many of us are already feeling the effects of this emergency?  How many have more friends sick or dead from cancers and other chronic ailments than they believed possible?  How many have seen their households striven by divorce or their children founder on the way to independence?  How many have already lost their jobs, our homes to this scandalous betrayal by our corporate elite?

So there is the problem.  We are all too busy, and feel too powerless, to undertake the collective actions we need to change our deadly course, but unless we change course, we will only become more embattled.

The only answer I can see is this:  We have to act together.   And we have to do it now.

We have to act on two fronts.  One is to interrupt business as usual in order to change the course we are on. This means challenging the priorities of the institutions we are part of and the institutions on which we depend. The longer we wait, the more serious the disruption to the planet and its people.  The other is to continue to maintain and extend a safety net for each other, to mitigate the harsh effects of this increasingly heartless system on our community.

So I know it seems that coming together on a monthly basis to hold signs and listen to each other seems futile.  But despair is the very glue that holds this immoral system together.  And the only thing that dissolves that glue is our unrelenting determination to show up – to show up against the odds, against the dictates of our unmanageable schedules, against the ongoing demands of our children, our jobs and our marriages.

And, I know it is counter-intuitive, we need to celebrate.  Yes, celebrate.  Because unless we find some joy in this most perilous moment that we inhabit, we will surely be pulled under by the tides of resignation.   We need to call on the better angels of our most resilient selves to laugh at the absurdity of the army arrayed before us, to weaken their hold on us through our ability to sing, to speak poetry, to enact on stage our refusal to be swallowed up.

We need to activate our most creative, most resilient selves in order to be able to imagine what we can do in the face of this deepening crisis.  We need to draw encouragement from what we see in each other, our faces that reflect back to us the knowledge that we can do this impossible thing.

That is the reason I am asking you to continue to lend your support to the Occupy Lewisburg gatherings.  That’s why I am asking you to come to Cherry Alley on Friday night.  Just show up once a month, on top of everything else you are doing, to lend your encouragement and support to others and, in turn, to gather strength of purpose and resolve to continue to insist that we can learn to live with each other with respect, in solidarity, and in mutual recognition of the enormity of what we are facing.

If you can’t make dinner, come after dinner.  Read the attached articles and think about what you would like us to all to take up. If you can’t come Friday, join us at the Post Office from noon to one on Saturday, bring your homemade sign, and share your abiding presence.

If you can’t make either, I get that, but please, somehow seek to make visible your continuing support for our courageous collective effort, the effort to create a world that makes sense for us, for the people of Tuvalu and for all those who come next.

In solidarity,

David Kristjanson-Gural

Occupy Cherry Alley!

For Immediate Release: Occupy Lewisburg Downsized

Early this morning official sources within the Mayor’s office confirmed that Occupy Lewisburg had been downsized. “We just can’t put this many protesters to good use,” Mayor Judy explained, “I mean, how much civil unrest can we handle with just a part-time staff? Really.”

The 300 strong supporters of Occupy Wall St. have not taken the downsizing sitting down. “Fine,” said organizer David Kristjanson-Gural, “Just fine. Be that way.” The organizing committee has proposed a new action that will involve, well, sitting down.

“Occupy Cherry Alley!” the rallying cry of the new, smaller, leaner occupying force, intends to take over the local café on December 9th, beginning at 6 pm.

“We will not be silenced,” Kim Daubman emphasized, “Except during the actual part where we eat.”

“The whole town was just getting to be too… roomy,” Robin Jarrell added.

“No progressive movement can sustain itself long, in the absence of art, humor and song,” rhymed David Kristjanson-Gural. “We hope people will come, express their views and support the movement, but not be too windy.”

To submit proposals for the open mic segment of the evening, contact kristjan@bucknell.edu

Tickets are $14 available in advance at, where else, Cherry Alley.

Oh, yes, Earl Pickens will perform. You don’t want to miss that.

Actual Useful Information:

Friday, December 9th, 6-10pm

Dinner: Indian (Chicken or Vegetarian) $14

Tea, Coffee and Dessert a la Carte, BYOB

Tickets available at Cherry Alley beginning Wednesday, Nov.30th. Seating is limited.

Open Mic:

During Dinner – Tell us what you envision for Occupy Lewisburg community

After Dinner – Skits, stories, songs, theatre, humor, express your views creatively.

Please let us know what you intend to contribute by emailing (kristjan@bucknell.edu) by Dec. 7th.

Earl Pickens will close out the evening with a fine solo performance.

The Feet

by Karl Patten

for Estragon

They walk together down the street –

Easy paces, easy strides, a bit

Of stop and shuffle – writing a poem.

The stepstepping eyes of the feet

Are lithe, never gawk or blush.

They look and look – calm potatoes.

Hopscotching girls, cathedrals,

Pigeons, funerals, bus-stops,

Trees, do not notice the feet

Measuring them into poems.  What

Touches, the tough sidewalk surface,

Matters most to the feet, their

Demesne exclusive and proper.

On that terrain left foot, right

Foot are confident, come down

Time after time, having long

Construed the offs and ons of slips

And balances.  Only the knees,

Other upper joints and twining

Muscles vex the feet, could

Deflect them from their poem.

Their only enemy is the head.

from Touch: Poems

 

Comment:  This poem had a memorable origin, which has nothing to do with its worth, but seems right to mention here.

On a sunny day in August, I was sitting on a doorstop across from the portal of the North Transept of Chartres Cathedral, and I jotted down what I was seeing.  Those details appear in stanza three, chiefly.  The rest of the poem developed later that fall.

I was taken by the notion that feet, just walking along, could write a poem.  I knew that poems come from one’s whole experience and that they are never written by the head, though of course that can play a guiding role.  The grittiness of the sidewalk and the particular ways of walking really mattered, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of the legs.  I did not know how the poem would end until nearly through with a full draft, and then it become obvious.

I did know fairly on that poems in English are written in feet, generally, and I liked the idea of the feet “measuring” the world seen into poems.

Finally, I should add that the dedication to Estragon came naturally, for he is the bum in Beckett’s Waiting for Godot who has trouble with his boots and his feet.  I sense that Beckett would have approved of this.

Breakfast and Bulldozers

As I spread –lustrous, smooth –

The oil on the pan I recall

Strolling through pathless groves

Surrounded by silver leaves,

Beatitude of ancient growth.

“Arthritic,” “colorless,” “warped,”

“Dull,” “stunted” – casting words

Like these at olive trees ignores

A long shaping of wind and sun,

Decades of gripping hard earth,

That make any olive grove

An integument of the planet.

Now bulldozers cross boundaries

To flatten olive trees.  What of

The olive branch of peace, hope

Offered over no-man’s-land?

Or of the leaf in the dove’s

Mouth?  Is the past only

The past, green and unseen?

My breakfast eggs are browning

Now, not those of the farmer in

Gaza where blind Samsons level.

Karl Patten

From Spaces and Lines

 Commentary

 I was almost physically shocked several years ago when I read that Israeli troops with bulldozers had wantonly destroyed many acres of olive groves in Gaza. (This was before the wall and the siege.)  I had spent enough time in Italy and Greece to know olive groves intimately, to know how many years it took in growing for one to bear, and to know how vitally important olive groves were for a rural economy.  I also had come to believe that on olive tree was in itself beautiful.

 I cook my breakfast eggs in olive oil, and so it was only the next morning that this poem began to shape itself.  It seemed necessary to have a passage on how some (Americans?) think of the trees as ugly and to counter that.  Then, of course, the Bible leapt forward and the symbol of peace.

 It was always going to be a short poem, and my eggs were just about done, but here I identified with the Gazan farmer, whose breakfast may not have existed, so I returned to the Bible, remembering the super-muscular Samson “eyeless in Gaza” (Milton’s phrase), the Israeli who could destroy.

9/12/01, Florence

Drawing on a cigarette outside a lavanderia,

Two weeks of sweaty clothes burbling inside,

I found myself in conversation with a fellow

Washer.  Only one topic, yesterday’s news.

What I remember best of this Florentine’s

Words is that the madmen would smash a plane

Into St. Peter’s, because it is the heart

Of Christianity, and his tangible fear as

He evoked such outrage, the basilica as pure

A target as the New York towers – “gemini”

To the Italians.  He was no Catholic, “of course,”

But centuries of baptism had rubbed in and

For a moment Il Papa seemed to be a father.

 

Years later, I reflect how many times Rome

Has been destroyed, reduced to rubble and

Looted, and I think, lapsed Protestant

And infidel, it’s good that never happened,

As he must think now. One of a kind, let

The building be, no matter what nonsense

The Pope dribbles from his throne. Nothing’s

Permanent, but this building is different,

And we must admire the difference of things.

 

Back then, I told the accidental Florentine,

“Don’t worry. Those men aim at and bomb only

Centers of money and power, and even though

The Vatican has vast stores of wealth it’s all

Like saints’ bones, not to be cashed, and the church

Is merely a feather in the wind. Rome’s safe.”

Shrugging agreement, eyes lowered to the stubbed

Butts on the pavement, he sighed and returned to

The arms, legs, and body parts tumbling around.

 

From Irreplaceable You and Other Poems

By Karl Patten

 

Commentary:

 

9/12/01 Florence was written several years after that date.  At the time we had been living in the Tuscan countryside, and that day was the last of our rental.  The owner told us of the massacre and said we could stay, but we had a hotel reservation in Florence and chose to take that up.  Nobody could fly into the States at that time, and we had to stay in Florence, hardly a problem, indeed.  Also it gave us a chance to do our laundry.

Everything in this poem is simply a remembrance of that occasion.  I did chat with a Florentine out on the sidewalk, and there was only one subject.  The invention here comes in the words I say to him.  I did assure him that St. Peter’s was safe, but the remarks about the Pope and the Vatican I made up and are probably what I would have liked to say but refrained from in fear of hurting his feelings.  The last three lines are truth, though.

EARLY LEARNING

submitted by Karl Patten

Duke Ellington comes to Salem, Mass.

The front row of the Paramount Theatre
Is the only place to be and see and hear
For two nights running the Duke’s spectrum
Of Olympians.

                                       I proclaim their names:

Hodges, Hardwick, Webster, Carney, Noone,
Williams, Stewart, Miley, Nanton, Brown,
Raglan, Guy, Greer, the Duke himself.

                                   *

— And a couple of days later I was told
That Ellington’s band could not stay
At Salem’s one good hotel, the Hawthorne,
But had had to put up at the fleabag down
By the railroad tracks.
                                           All of those gods
Sequestered in that dump!
                                                       In all white
Salem I was only fourteen but suddenly
Saw some serious problems in the USA,
Not just Salem.
                                   Good jazz swings lessons.

                                       *

Hodges, Hardwick, Webster, Carney, Noone,
Williams, Stewart, Miley, Nanton, Brown,
Raglan, Guy, Greer, the Duke himself.

from Spaces and Lines
by Karl Patten

Commentary: “Early Learning” is simply a brief narrative poem, based on my memory. Enamored of jazz, my best friend and I had to sit in the front row for the two nights that Duke Ellington’s orchestra played in Salem, a truly special event. Somehow, I learned that the band had had to stay in what could hardly be called a hotel down by the railroad tracks. It was my first encounter with race prejudice, but it was a searing one and taught me.

To me, the strength of the poem lies in the recording of the names of the players, exactly as they sat up on the stage. They were Olympian gods on their mountain, and their names had to be repeated.

Eugene Debs Leaving Atlanta Penitentiary

A newsreel.  1922.

 

In the background a high block-long building

With hundreds of windows –

A sidewalk leads away from it diagonally,

Toward the camera.

 

A tall upright older man

In a dark overcoat, wearing a dark felt hat,

Walks forward, away from the building.

 

Abruptly, at 16 b&w frames per second,

He stops, turns back to the building,

Looks up at those windows,

Raises his hat in salute,

And stand there, stands there, hat in air.

 

A thousand convicts are cheering

The release of Eugene Debs from prison.

  – And it is all silent.

 

 

from Touch: Poems

by Karl Patten

 

Commentary

 

This little poem is simply what it says it is: a few frames from a 1922 newsreel.  It is representative, a description, nothing more.  And yet it becomes metaphoric overall.  This change occurs because the poem is motivated by emotion: first, my choosing it out of a world of dense phenomena; second, my very strong feeling in response to its single action; and, third, my imagined presence at the scene, which brings the total silence alive.  My admiration for Debs matters, too.  He had been imprisoned for opposing the draft in World War I.  In the 1920 election he received 2 million votes while in his jail cell.  In this newsreel, we see that huge bleak prison, a fair distance from Debs; then we “hear” in silence the cries of applause and praise, and we realize that those windows are crowded with prisoners and that their cheers are so loud that Debs hears them and turns to salute his fellow felons.

            What a different world.  Today, how many Americans would vote for a convict?  And the solidarity manifest is alien to us.  Finally, in the game of determining our Worst President, Harding’s pardon of Debs – a recognition of justice – raises him far above the Bush league.

 

Karl Patten