From the poem series Highway 99

Once a path down from

long mountains, cold black rivers

Down from granite ribs and

thin-soiled beds scoured by snow

and migrations of ice and elk

A route for exchange of flint and

shell and fur

Then the westward roll

of emigrants struck the trail north

settling alongside in foggy valleys

observed from dim places

Those seeking gold turned south

and shunned Oregon, took horse and wagon

into the great valley

and met crazed men fleeing ships

abandoned in the mud of Yerba Buena

 

The sickness swept valley and hill

and ran gurgling in dark ravines

Dug and gouged, ripped open

mountain guts, seams where once

the planet was stitched together

spilled out its offal on the ground

trickling poison into groaning rivers

And the Dawn People watched and

shook their heads and some

fell back to the mountains

there to fade

while others fell into the hands

of cold-eyed men

And those who were seized by this

fever bent muscle and spine under

the iron wheel, chewed  ore to

golden splinters

No one remembered his own name

or the names of his people

or the place from which his people came

All bound together in forgetting tribe

All forged together in digging nation

poured in from every land, enslaved and enslaving

severed tree and root, broken hills, shattered peaks

trampling the old route once marked

only by the tread of silent feet

rutting the road that runs from north to south

burrowing that track deep in the soil

Broken gash full of mud and stones and bones and teeth

 

This artery drew soil and spewed blood

Those in its path were subdued and those who

followed the rivers to the valley grew rich

or they worked for those who grew rich

Farms sprang up like white frost in the morning

Carved the yielding belly of earth

which gave endlessly of itself

Then the towns came, leaping from the minds

of men who disliked the night and the twilight

and the rustling of claw and wing and bare foot

under trees beyond the edge of sight

And the towns grew brighter

and sucked from rushing rivers

and the waters were pent up

Canyon and meadow drowned

Trees girdled, reached up with bare black fingers

and the night sky closed its stars

 

Out beyond the glare of things

Some people watched

The last of the First People

They stood a while

speaking quietly among themselves

One of them drew in the rich brown dirt

with a piece of stick

Then with one accord they stood

They picked up a few things

They turned without gesture

and walked out of the world

Jim Crow for the 80%

This compelling article  makes a case for a corporate war on education.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Corporate Plan to Groom U.S. Kids for Servitude by Wiping Out Public Schools

The Motivation: Keep the Masses Down as Inequality Rises

It’s one thing for big businesses to be anti-worker and anti-union, but also anti-student? Why would business lobbies deliberately strive to create what amounts to widespread education failure?

It’s not hard to see how certain sectors in the corporate world, like the producers of online learning platforms and content, could cash in. But it’s harder to fathom why corporate leaders who don’t stand to make money directly would devote so much time and attention to making sure, for example, that no public high school student in the state of Florida could take home a diploma without taking an online course. (Yes, that’s now law in the Sunshine State).

It’s about more than short-term cash. While Lafer acknowledges that there are legitimate debates among people with different ideological positions or pedagogical views, he thinks big corporations are actually more worried about something far more pragmatic: how to protect themselves from the masses as they engineer rising economic inequality.

“One of the ways I think that they try to avoid a populist backlash is by lowering everybody’s expectations of what we have a right to demand as citizens,” says Lafer. “When you think about what Americans think we have a right to, just by living here, it’s really pretty little. Most people don’t think you have a right to healthcare or a house. You don’t necessarily have a right to food and water. But people think you have a right to have your kids get a decent education.”

Not for long, if Big Business has its way. In President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, they have dedicated partners in redirecting public resources to unregulated, privately owned and operated schools. Such privatization plans, many critics say, will reinforce and amplify America’s economic inequality.

U.S. public schools, which became widespread in the 1800s, were promoted with the idea that putting students from families of different income levels together—though not black Americans and other racial minorities until the 1950s—would instill a common sense of citizenship and national identity. But today, large corporations are scoring huge successes in replacing this system with a two-tiered model and a whole new notion of identity.

Lafer explains that in the new system, the children of the wealthy will be taught a broad, rich curriculum in small classes led by experienced teachers. The kind of thing everybody wants for kids. But the majority of America’s children will be consigned to a narrow curriculum delivered in large classes by inexperienced staff —or through digital platforms with no teachers at all.

Most kids will be trained for a life that is more circumscribed, less vibrant, and, quite literally, shorter, than what past generations have known. (Research showsthat the lifespan gap between haves and have-nots is large and rapidly growing). They will be groomed for insecure service jobs that dull their minds and depress their spirits. In the words of Noam Chomsky, who recently spoke about educationto the Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET), “students will be controlled and disciplined.” Most will go to school without developing their creativity or experiencing doing things on their own.

The New Reality: Two Americas, Not One

Economist Peter Temin, former head of MIT’s economics department and INET grantee, has written a book, The Vanishing Middle Class, which explains how conditions in America are becoming more like a third-world country for the bulk of its people. He agrees with Lafer that the corporate-driven war on public schools is not just about money, but also about a vision of society.

People like Betsy DeVos, he says, are following the thinking of earlier ideologues like James Buchanan, the Tennessee-born, Nobel Prize–winning economist who promoted current antigovernment politics in the 1970s. The “shut-the-government-down” obsession is really an extreme form of libertarianism, he says, if not anarchism.

Temin also agrees that shrinking the horizons of America’s kids makes sense to people who follow this philosophy. “They want to exploit the lower members of the economy, and reducing their expectations makes them easier to manipulate,” says Temin. “When they aren’t able to go to college and get decent jobs, they become more susceptible to things like racist ideology.”

In other words, dismantling the public schools is all about control.

Buchanan was an early proponent of school privatization, and while he echoed the fears and frustration many Americans felt concerning desegregation, he typically made a non-race-based case for preserving Jim Crow in a new form. He argued that the federal government should not be telling people what to do about schooling and suggested that citizens were being stripped of their freedom. But as Sam Tanenhaus points out in The Atlantic, issues of race always lurked in the background of calls for educational freedom and “choice.” In a paper he co-authored, Buchanan stated, “every individual should be free to associate with persons of his own choosing.” Segregationists knew what that meant.

Policies that end up reducing educational opportunities for those who lack resources creates inequality, and economic inequality reduces support for public schools among the wealthy. It’s vicious feedback loop.

In his book, Temin describes a process that happens in countries that divide into “dual economies,” a concept first outlined by West Indian economist W. Arthur Lewis, the only person of African descent to win a Nobel Prize in economics. Lewis studied developing countries where the rural population tends to serve as a reservoir of cheap labor for people in cities — a situation the top tier works very hard to maintain. Temin noticed that the Lewis model now fits the pattern emerging in the richest country in the world.

America, according to Temin, is clearly breaking down into two sectors: Roughly 20% of the population are members of what he calls the “FTE sector” (i.e., the finance, technology, and electronics sectors). These lucky people get college educations, land good jobs, enjoy social networks that enhance their success, and generally have access to enough money to meet most of life’s challenges. The remaining 80%live in a world nothing like this; they live indifferent geographies and have different legal statuses, healthcare systems, and schools. This is the low-wage sector, where life is getting harder.

People in the low-wage sector carry debt. They worry about insecure jobs and unemployment. They get sick more often and die younger than previous generations had. If they are able go to college, they end up in debt. “While members of the first sector act,” Temin has said, “these people are acted upon.”

Temin traces the emergence of the U.S. dual economy to the 1970s and 80s, when civil rights advances were making a lot of Americans uneasy. People who had long been opposed to the New Deal began to find new ways to advance their agenda. The Nixon administration gave momentum to anti-government, free market fundamentalist ideologies, which gained even more support under Reagan. Gradually, as free-market programs became policy, the rich began to get richer and economic inequality began to rise. Economist Paul Krugman has called this phenomenon the “Great Divergence.”

But it was still possible to move from the lower sector to the affluent sector. The path was tough, and much harder for women and people of color. Yet it existed. Through education and a bit of luck, you could develop the skills and acquire the social capital that could propel you out of the circumstances you were born into.

The dismantling of public education, as Temin sees it, will shut off that route for vastly more people. Like the privatization of prisons, which has increased incarceration rates and cut the mobility path off for more Americans, putting schools into private hands will land even more on the road to nowhere. Even those who were born into the middle class will increasingly get pushed back.

The Ashland Blues Society: Origins and Influence

This article was published a year or so ago. I wrote it to document the origins and influence of a regional blues society and the power of one person’s dream.

 

                                                         THE POWER OF A DREAM

 

It started with a bad night’s sleep.

As with so many great adventures, the concept for the Ashland Blues Society began in the wee small hours, on a sleepless night in December, 2008. Blues singer/songwriter David Pinsky lay awake, pondering the direction–and oft- bemoaned decline—of the blues in America. As a musician, band leader and former club owner, David had witnessed the cyclical rising and falling of America’s Music for decades, and its fortunes on this particular morning looked dim.

“I woke up in the middle of the night,” David recalls. “I thought, ‘I have to do something to promote the blues in our area. The blues is still alive; we gotta do something about this.’”

To be sure, many individuals and organizations had promoted successful blues and roots events in the State of Jefferson. The Southern Oregon Blues Society (then in its waning days) put on hugely-successful outdoor and indoor events that included Portland’s Jim Mesi, Janiva Magness and a host of local talents. David Pinsky made sure the Jackson County Fair included blues events with such luminaries as Lowell Fulson, Mark Naftalin, Luther Tucker, Ron Thompson, Lloyd Jones and many others. The Siskiyou Blues Society put on a yearly festival at Mount Shasta that attracted national acts, and it was the first blues society on our region to send an act (Broadway Phil & the Shouters) to the International Blues Challenge in 2000. In the Redding area, the Shasta Blues Society (now Jefferson State Blues Society) has had a long-running and notable blues series at Anderson River Park. From the early 80s forward this writer hosted all-ages blues events and shows with Paul DeLay, Curtis Salgado and others.

But on that December morning in 2008, David felt the need for something more: an organization that would promote blues, educate blues audiences and musicians, employ musicians and provide a consistent home for blues events and resources for those interested in participating in the roots musical experience.

So he got busy.

In January of 2009, David printed off 3×5 cards and distributed them at the final Rogue Valley Blues Festival in Ashland. The cards were a call for interested parties to help with the formation of a blues society.

The first meeting was in February of 2009 in the back room of Alex’s Restaurant, and it was here that the nascent organization was christened the Ashland Blues Society. The first board members were David Pinsky, Julia Pinsky, Mark Howard, Susan Howard, Bill Fischer, Mike Ruiz, Nick O’Neill, Terry Erdmann and Bill Gates, owner of the Beacon Hill property which became the venue for subsequent festivals.

The mission statement of the ABS was formulated in February 2009. It reads, in part: Our stated mission is to assist in the preservation of the blues as a part of our cultural heritage and tradition through public awareness and education, and through fostering a supportive environment for blues artists in our community to develop, grow and prosper.

The first Beacon Hill Blues Festival was held on September 20, 2009 and included The Rhythm Kings and Guy Puma’s Main Street Blues Band with Mark Howard on Harmonica and the much-loved recently-departed Mark Cunningham on bass. There was also a blues jam band made up of ABS board members that later morphed into the still-active Blues Society Band. The festival was attended by 150 people and deemed a success.

The 2010 Beacon Hill Festival included the Main Street Blues Band, the Rhythm Kings, Broadway Phil and the Shouters and Pete Herzog. The audience size grew significantly and led the ABS board to expand the size and scope of the festival. Beginning with the third Beacon Hill Blues Festival, out of town acts were brought in.

Past president Mark Howard recalls, “It went like this: the third Beacon Hill Blues Festival starred Lloyd Jones, with Pete Herzog, the Rhythm Kings and Broadway Phil and the Shouters opening; Beacon Hill Blues Festival #4 starred Curtis Salgado, and opened with Doug Warner & the Night Train Express, the Rogue Valley Blues All-Stars, featuring David Pinsky, Gary Davis, Roger Volz, Dave Mathieu, Brent Norton, Gary Halliburton and ‘Broadway’ Phil Newton. It also featured a four-harp blowoff with Phil, David, Doug Warner and Mark Howard; the fifth Beacon Hill Blues Festival co-starred Kevin Selfe and Karen Lovely and their bands, and featured David and Phil with the Rogue Valley Blues All-Stars, and a harmonica blowoff. My memory isn’t that good, but I designed all the posters and they’re now hanging behind my desk. The fifth festival was the last one I attended, and for which I designed the poster.”

Blues jams were part of the ABS culture from Day One. Beginning as a musical get-together after membership meetings, the very first blues jam was held at Alex’s on March 3, 2009, with subsequent get-togethers at the Stillwater and the Avalon.

The board then decided they needed a regular venue and moved the jams to the Ashland Community Center, where they resided for a year or so. Every other week, David Pinsky held a blues class, where people were invited to bring their instruments and study a different blues legend each time: Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Willie Dixon, etc. The classes allowed the musicians to delve more deeply into an individual artist’s style and learn the facets of the music, both broadening and deepening the knowledge base among Rogue Valley musicians and blues aficionados.

David Pinsky was ABS president for the first two years, then moved to the events coordinator position following the election of blues harpist Mark Howard. Mark had the idea of moving the jams to the legendary Phoenix rib joint, Roscoe’s, which had been opened in 2007 by Will and Nikola Moore.

Mark Howard comments, “The jams at the Community Center were a lot of fun for players, but never drew much of an audience. I had drinks one night with Karen Lovely and picked her brain. She declared that blues lovers wanted to eat and drink while they were being entertained, something the Community Center didn’t offer. So I set out looking for a food and drink venue, and when I spoke with Nikola [Moore] at Roscoe’s she loved the idea and a deal was struck.”

The first ABS jam was held at this much-loved restaurant and blues club in December of 2010, with the Ashland Blues Society members hosting. The jams thrived there until Roscoe’s was forced to close in March of 2013. No more buttermilk pie. No more barbecue. No more sassy good times with friends and family.

Interviewed for this article, Nikola spoke for all of us when she said, of Roscoe’s closing, “It left a hole in my heart.”

After a brief sojourn at Howiee’s on Front Street in Medford, the jams moved to the Little Brown Jug in Talent in the summer of 2013.

Host bands over the years include The Rhythm Kings, Duke Street, the Muscadine Blues Band, Mercy, the Main Street Blues Band, The Rogue Suspects, The Randalz, Soul’d Out, Leonard Griffie, Broadway Phil & the Shouters, The Roadsters, The Blues Dusters, The Blues Society, The Teri Cote Band, Dan Day and many others.  

The Ashland Blues Society has seen many changes. Several years ago David Pinsky and others stepped out of the organization and Bill Gates formed a new board. Festivals and jams continued successfully, but entropy took its toll and by summer of 2016 the ABS was on the ropes. There was no festival and the jams stopped.

Enter board member Linda Huffman.

“I took over as President last summer when everyone resigned due to health and personal situations,” Linda says. “The Society was near-broke but the response of people that wanted to see the jams reinstated spurred me to try to see what could be done. One person offered to match funds if we raised $250.00. We did that easily.”

Next came the task of getting the jams going.

Linda says, “It took some time to reorganize the board and get the jams started again. We tried to find a location that could allow minors on the premises.” The ABS search for a venue finally located The Grape Street Bar & Grill in Medford.

Linda is happy with the new venue. “We wanted a place that was large enough and could have minors. There wasn’t anything in the Ashland area that would work, so the jams moved to Medford.” The inaugural post-hiatus ABS jam was on December 13, 2016, “and we’ve been holding them on the second and fourth Tuesday of each month since then.”

Linda was next able to get a grant for $2,500.00 from the Fred W. Fields fund of the Oregon Community Foundation to put in savings for the next festival. “I was told about the grant two weeks before the deadline, and I had no paperwork to submit. Believe me, in the future there will be better record-keeping. We are also working to get corporate sponsors for the festival. We’d like to grow it to a weekend event.”

Linda anticipates that proceeds and donations from events will also be used to help sponsor acts that compete regionally and then enter the International Blues Challenge in Memphis. “Plus, you have to pay the bands that host the jams. You can’t ask them to play for peanuts.” The proceeds from the festival will go toward more events and help bring in talent to the area, offer benefits to members and “keep the music going.”

The ABS believes in reaching out to the younger people in our area with the blues message. One idea is to participate in the Blues in the Schools program, however finding the personnel to commit to fulfilling the specific requirements of this worthy project is a challenge. Reaching out to college students is also a desired goal.

Another challenge to the ABS is finding interested volunteers to fill board positions and do volunteer jobs such as working at the blues festival, handling publicity, logistics, etc., but Linda is optimistic. The tide seems to be running in the ABS’s direction again: jams are well-attended, former members are coming back to help and the enthusiasm is there.

With 2017 comes the fantastic news that the ABS is going to have a blues festival at Grizzly Peak Winery on the last Sunday in June. Details will be forthcoming, however the return of the blues festival marks a real change in fortunes for the State of Jefferson and the Rogue Valley in particular.

Over the years ABS board members have included, in addition to those already mentioned, Marsha Carrino, Robert Ogle, Phil Newton, Erin Koltner, Bruce Dunn, Peggy Dunn and Gary Roberts. Current board members are Red Ohmer, Lloyd Lawton, Linda Huffman, Linda LaCasse, Katherine Keys and Bob Crowly.

Linda is happy with the board and with the direction the Society is taking. She acknowledges the task is a formidable one, and has had some doubts over the past few months, but she is determined to galvanize the Ashland Blues Society into a successful iteration of David Pinsky’s original vision on that sleepless winter morning over eight years ago.

“I couldn’t just sit back and watch it fade away,” she says. And we are glad she feels that way.

Persons interested in volunteering for the Ashland Blues Society events, or for being considered for the ABS board are encouraged to contact Linda Huffman at (530) 262 5270.