About John Oliver Mason

I am a freelance writer, having worked for newspapers, magazines and blogs for over twenty-five years, covering neighborhood and working people making their communities and their lives better. I believe in the power of the written word to bring about change, and I put that into practice. I believe that when we become aware of the effect our small actions in the community have in improving lives, we can truly make a difference. I am also one of the leading poets in the Philadelphia area, and I also write fiction. I also act, performing on the public access channel PhillyCAM.

The Mason Missile, July 23, 2021

Greetings, Americans!

The assaults on our democracy go on, with the passage of restricting voting laws going through Republican-dominated state legislatures, including Pennsylvania. I commend the Democrats of the Texas legislature, who exiled themselves to Washington to prevent a quorum from voting on the voting-restriction bills. (https://www.texastribune.org/2021/07/12/texas-democrats-voting-bill-quorum/)

Governor Greg Abbot has threatened to arrest these legislators if they come back to the state; but they’re national heroes, and I commend them. This was a bold action, and we must take bold action to stand for the essential right to vote; take that vote away, and we lose all the others. This is what the late, great John Lewis, congress-member from Georgia and one of the heroes of the Civil-Rights struggle meant when he said, “Get into good trouble, necessary trouble, and help redeem the soul of America.” (https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/john-lewis-quotes/?template=next)

The idea against popularly-based democracy in this nation has a long history-the idea that a minority must have veto power over the majority. During the drafting of the Constitution in 1797-in Philadelphia-southern states know that, as they were an agricultural society, and the northern states were more heavily populated, any popular vote would turn against them, and the northern states could end up voting against the slavery system, while-this was the real danger to the slave system-slaves could united with poor white and overturn the dominance of the planter class-and the planter class tried to model itself on the noble classes of Europe, which still dominated their societies-but their dominance was starting to slip away.

John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, one of the great statesmen of the period between the war of 1812 and just before the Civil War-one of the “Great Triumvirate” alongside of Henry Clay and Daniel Webster. Calhoun, in his posthumous book Disquisition of Government, promoted the idea of “concurrent majorities.”  (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concurrent_majority) This is the idea that a majority of interests groups in a nation, and not the majority of the population as a whole, vote on an issue to approve it. This idea was used during the Nullification Crisis of 1832-1833, when he was against the Tariff of 1828, the “Tariff of Abominations.” Calhoun used the idea of Concurrent Majorities to make any federal tariff not apply in South Carolina if the legislature did not approve of it. (https://www.ushistory.org/us/24c.asp)

The opposition to democracy, once skimming around the fringe of our politics with lip service  to “democracy,” is crawling out of the political woodwork and into the political mainstream. Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) said of this country “We’re not a democracy,” and later, ““Democracy isn’t the objective; liberty, peace, and prospefity (sic) are. We want the human condition to flourish. Rank democracy can thwart that.” (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-election-lee-democracy/democracy-isnt-the-objective-republican-u-s-senator-draws-democrats-ire-idUSKBN26T2YX

And again, from Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky): “The idea of democracy and majority rule really is what goes against our history and what the country stands for,” and “The Jim Crow laws came out of democracy. That’s what you get when the majority ignores the rights of others.” (https://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/rand-paul-latest-gop-question-democracy-majority-rule-n1270697)

(I’m dating myself here: I remember the administration of Richard Nixon, when, as he expanded the Viet Nam War into Cambodia, he asked for support from the “vast silent majority” of Americans. The Republicans right has always used the argument of “We’re the majority of Americans, and we don’t care about your issues” as a way of evading the problems of racial discrimination, LGBTQ oppression, the environment, etc. they’re for the majority when it’s convenient for them, but they know now they’re becoming less and less a majority.)

Ruling elites have tried, and still try, to find some rationale for negating or vetoing any popular effort for social reform. This is the idea behind the shit-ass “fiction” and “philosophy” of Ayn Rand: The Superior Man-always a man to Rand-is a billionaire resisting his “inferiors” in telling him how he should run his business, no matter what damage he does to his workers, the local community, or the environment; and he, the Superior Man, presents himself as the person being oppressed. (It’s an old story, of a once-dominant group passing itself off as an “oppressed minority.”) Race and ethnicity enter into this mix, and further “scientific” excuse could be formulated to justify further social inequality affecting all of the lower classes, of all races and ethnicities.

From what we have seen in the past several decades, from Reagan through the t—p takeover of the Republican Party, corporate moguls and their political serfs, left by themselves, do NOT have the interests of the American public at heart; by indulging them like a bratty kids they are (I have ZERO respect for them), they have turned the federal treasury into their own personal piggy bank to tap into when their “free market” turns sour on them, as with the S&L bailout of 1990 to the Federal reserve’s loans to the mortgage companies after the 2008 Crash-and the general public, us working and low-income people,  and still struggling with food, mortgage payments, and medical bills.

Let’s stop falling for the bullshit! We must and will come together and make our elected officials know our grievances are real and our cause is just. Along with that, we will continue to educate ourselves on the issues, formulate solutions, and communicate our beliefs. The ruling elites portray working and low-income people as racist, ignorant, and only interested in the hottest video games; let’s give them one rude awakening.

Stay safe, stay strong, and stay together! America will be free! Bye!

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The Billionaire Space Race

Another billionaire-Jeff Bezos, formerly of Amazon-has launched himself into space, with his own personal space program, Blue Origin. This is what he has stent his billions on, rather than paying his workers a decent salary or improved their oppressive working conditions. He followed Richard Branson of Virgin Airlines, whose missile-plane by his space program Virgin Galactic just skimmed the Atmosphere bordering the Stratosphere. Following him will be Elon Musk of Tesla, with his program, SpaceX.

The whole premise of “supply-side economics,” a reboot of the historically discredited laissez faire,   is that if we, the American people through our government, give corporations and wealthy people everything they want-grants, tax breaks, the “relaxation” of rules for environmental protection, consumer protection, and workers’ safety (read, total elimination), among others- and the profits these corporations will-somehow-seep down to the lower classes; and we are expected to have faith in our capitalist class that they would take care of the rest of us. (https://www.propublica.org/article/the-secret-irs-files-trove-of-never-before-seen-records-reveal-how-the-wealthiest-avoid-income-tax)

We see the results now of this faith-based economic scheme: the wealthiest Americans sock their savings away in off-shore tax havens and continue to purchase the most outrageously expensive luxury goods-such as their own space programs-and corporations, instead of hiring more workers and investing in new equipment, move their manufacturing to impoverished countries that have scant protections for workers, and governments that are willing to repress their own citizens. Instead of trickling down, the money is going up into space, and remaining with the dominant one percent.

No more, please, of this adulation of billionaires who attained their billions from gouging workers and consumers. We must continue to organize, in our workplaces and our neighborhoods, for our lives and our rights; our consciousness and our numbers are our superpower.

Space travel concept

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My Birthday Resolutions

My birthday is coming up, my biological new year; and so I continue my practice of writing down birthday resolutions, compatible to New Year’s resolutions. Here goes:

I will continue to conduct myself with self-love, self-esteem, and self-respect, and to forgive myself for any mistakes I’ve made in life.

I will continue to further myself in the art and business of writing, attending writing conferences and classes, notworking with other writers, submitting my material, etc.

I will continue to be faithful to Jewish religion and culture.

I will continue to be loyal to my various causes, and to be engaged in the community.

I will continue to pursue all avenues of education.

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The Praxis With John Mason, July 19, 2021

I speak today about billionaires-Branson, Musk, and Bezos-launching their own space programs, and of the fight to protect the right to vote.

I committed an error: Bezos’ space program is not Blue Horizon, it’s Blue Origins. I’m sorry for the goof.

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Teacher of the People, an original short story

On a June afternoon, from a radio station north of Philadelphia, the announcer blared:

“And now, the Bob Sealy Show, giving you news and commentary you won‘t get anywhere else! And now, the voice of the plain ole American, Bob Sealy!

A university fight song played, and Bob Sealy sat in the studio, his big rectangular body hunched over the microphone as he proclaimed, “Huh-low, huh-low, this is Bob Sealy coming at yah, an’ let’s look at the news!”

A pile of newspaper clippings lay on Sealy’s table; he grabbed one and declared, “The so-called gay-rights crowd’s been talkin’ to the state legislature about a hate crimes bill in this state! They are so shocked, shocked I tell you, that people don’t like them, like they think everyone ought to! Lissen, girls, don’t you know when you’re not wanted? Wake up, for God’s sake! Your lifestyle’s not popular with Christian decent people! So why don’t yah go back to your closets, an’ leave us normal people a-lone!

“Y’know,” groaned Sealy, “sometimes, people think they have rights jus’ ‘cause they live here! They’re entitled to this an’ that! Someone else has somethin’, so they think they should have it, too! We can’t all have a mink coat, or a Rolls Royce, now can we? An’ if you wanna call it discrimination, fine!” and he gave the call-in number to the station.

Picking up another clipping, Sealy barked, “Now we gotta story here about a little Black kid got shot outside a store on Allegheny Avenue. Story is he got caught in the crossfire between some drug dealers. An’ so now there’s the cry again for gun control! My God, we’ve become a nation of wimps an’ babies, cryin’ whenever somethin’ goes wrong! Why don’t you go after the drug dealers that shot the kid, rather ‘n take away the rights ‘a honest Americans?”

Sealy leaned over to the mike and proclaimed, “We need to have men again! We need some good ol’ fashioned guts again! We need men, men who’ll be willin’ totake the rough stuff and dish it out, too!”

Then, he stated, “An’ let me tell you Black people, cryin’ when things don’t go your way! My dad was a fire-fighter, we lived out in Tacony, and we worked for every damn thing we had! We had some morals and values, we didn’t hang out in the street doin’ nothin’! There was no affirmative action for us, no special privileges, and as for me, the only check I got from the government was for my time in the Marines! I didn’t get it from marchin’ and demonstratin’ out on the streets, I worked for what I got! You got all these privileges, you’re takin’ over city governments, you had your guy in the White House an’ you still complain about bein’ oppressed! Well, bruh-thuhs, I’m bein’ oppressed by the taxes I pay to pay for you! So jus’ shut up and get a job, okay? First caller, Bill, y’on!”

“Yeah, Bob,” said Bill, “I like what y’ say about havin’ manliness back in style. What with these feminists, an’ the queers, it don’t seem like men are men an’ women are women anymore.”

“Yeah, that’s how it goes,” proclaimed Sealy, lighting up a Lucky Strike. “What we ought’a do’s ignore all this sensitive new-age guy stuff, an’ bring back the he-man! Back in the Corps, you had an argument with a guy, y’ take him out back, an’ you fight it out! Do we have that anymore?”

“Naw, Bob,” groaned Bill, “No one wants to get hurt anymore!”

“Well, that’s what I used to tell my players, when I coached football,” declared Sealy, “‘Get hurt!’ That’s what I told my players! An’ if y’ got hurt or injured, to me that’s a good sign you gave your hundred an’ fifty percent for the team! I tell others t’ do the same, no matter what they do!”

“It’s, like,” said Bill, “a lotta so-called workers don’t wanna get hurt, they worry about safety, they won’t accept risk! That’s what socialism has done to this country!”

“Like I said,” added Sealy, “nothin’ but fags an’ babies we’ve become! Gotta move on, Bill, gotta sell some stuff!”

“Okay, Bob, g’bye,” and Bill hung up.

The commercials came on – one with Sealy announcing Hamblin Cadillac, which gave him a new car every year for promoting the company.

Sealy sucked on the flask of Four Roses from his briefcase, and took another puff of his Lucky Strike.  Sealy always told of his time in the Marine Corps, where he served as a clerk in a hospital, and of his time as head coach of the Hollybrook University football team, where he ordered his players, “We’re takin’ on Temple, girls! Knock the black right off their asses, and send ‘em back to their ghettos, or I’ll make you all wear tutus on the field! An’ get hurt while y’ do that!”

Deborah Nullman, the president of the university, called Sealy over to her office about this. “Sealy,” began Nullman, “that kind of talk is racist, and reflects badly on the university. And telling these young men to get hurt, like that kid Gavin, his ribs were fractured at the last game, and you kept telling his to go back out there.”

“Hey,” snapped Sealy, “I’m motivatin’ these kids to win!”

“Win?” queried Nullman, “Hollybrook under your coaching’s never won a game, and the NCAA lists you at the bottom of university coaches. And calling the team members ‘girls,’ what’s the sense in that?”

I run the football team, not you,” declared Sealy, “and I’ll talk to them faggots on it any god-damn way I want!”

“That, Sealy, is what I can’t stand about you! You always insult and belittle people, as if you want to feel superior.”

“So what’re y’ gonna do?” sneered Sealy, “have me fired?”

Nullman leaned back at her desk and said, “Yes.”

After the firing, the radio station hired Sealy to do sports commentary, and everyone loved how he raved about how players were paid too much for their performance, about their sex habits while playing in other cities, and about their low intelligence. The owner of the station asked what he could do for Sealy for boosting the station’s ratings, and Sealy said, “Two hours a day on the air, to do what I want.”

He got it.

As he finished his cigarette, Sealy thought about what a sweet gig this was; the station paid him big money just to say whatever the hell he wanted; people, mostly men, called him and listened to his every word; and a network of radio stations across the country wanted to take his show nationwide.  Not a bad deal, he thought.

Gene Roeder, the engineer, said through the intercom, “Uh, Bob, be careful with the cigarettes and the equipment -”

Sealy flicked the switch on his mike to the left and snapped, “Shaddap, faggot!”, and flicked it back. The engineered stared at Sealy, and Sealy chuckled.

The commercials ended, and Sealy snapped, “Oh-kay, folks, that was one American speakin’ his mind! An’ speakin’ of speakin’ your mind, you remember a couple days ago, I said the local Hispanic Community Council’s run by drug dealers? You remember that? Did you hear the screams and cries come out of them, callin’ me racist? They call me bigoted? They say I’m spreadin’ hate? Well, amigos, I made a charge, now you have to prove it’s not true! It’s my right as an American to make these charges! Now I dare you to say I’m lyin’! And if you don’t answer my challenge, then you just proved me right!”

Sealy pointed to Roeder, and the sound of a crowd cheering, as if in a football game, came on. “How ‘bout the rest’a yah?” he proclaimed, “Come on an’ speak your minds! Go ‘head, Jim!”

“Yeah, Bob, this is Jim, I’m one of your biggest listeners, an’ this is my first time callin’. I liked what you had to say ‘bout gun control, I own a gun, a revolver an’ a shotgun, but I don’t go huntin’. I’m scared, Bob!”

“Scared of what?” asked Sealy as he leaned back, the chair creaking.

“Well, couple things. One, I’m worried about crime, bein’ robbed, that’s why I got the revolver.”

“Yeah?”

“I’m scared of gun control laws, that the government’ll take our guns away.”

“First off,” declared Sealy, straightening up, “You got every right in the world t’ own an’ carry a gun. Says so in the Constitution, Second Amendment. You got every right to protect yourself! The guy tryin’ to rob you, or rape your wife, don’t give a damn ‘bout your feelings, so don’t you worry ‘bout him!

“Second,” continued Sealy, “Politicians’re a gutless bunch! You stand up to ‘em, an’ they back down! So that’s my message to you all today! I want all you to call your friendly neighborhood Congress-man and say, ‘Leave my guns a-lone,’ an’ call me and tell me you did!”

(They did.)

That’s what they understand!” declared Sealy. “Maybe it had nothing to do with crime an’ violence after all! Maybe it’s an excuse to leave people helpless an’ dependent on the government, like with welfare an’ communism! That’s what liberals’re doing! They may not say it, but that’s what it’s leadin’ to! Your gun is your defense, an’ if the people’re defenseless, then socialism can take over! That’s how this country became free, y’know? People took their guns an’ rose up against the King of England, an’ won their freedom! If the guns in those days were registered, the British would’a taken ‘em! Okay, Jim?”

“Oh-kay, Bob!” and he hung up.

Sealy added, “Y’know one thing, I been called a demagogue, like it’s somethin’ bad! But I looked the word up in the dictionary, and yeah, smart-guys, I know how to read! ‘Demagogue,’ is a Greek word, an’ it means ‘teacher of the people.’ That’s my job, boys and girls, I’m teaching you what goes on in the world! I’m educating you, and it don’t cost you a dime! This is the stuff they don’t tell you in college! Next caller, Ted, you’re on!”

“Hello, Bob?” said Ted.

“Yeah!”

“I gotta problem.”

“Well, I’m the answer!”

“I called a couple days ago about problems with this guy at work?”

“Yeah, I remember.”

“You said him an’ me ought’a go out an’ fight it out, like men do?” asked Ted.

“Yeah, I remember,” proclaimed Sealy, “That’s how you settled things in the Corps, that’s how men used to settle problems! Go outside an’ fight it out!”

“Bob?”

“Yeah?”

“That’s what I did.”

“Yeah?”

“I did jus’ what y’ said, Bob, I had an argument with a guy, an’ after work we went out to the parkin’ lot an’ fought it out. The plant manager found us fightin’, and we’re both in trouble, we’re gonna get suspended, maybe lose our jobs!”

“So what do you want me to do about it?” grunted Sealy.

“Bob,” Ted started to squeal, “I listen to you every day, you’re my idol!”

“I know I’m your idol, boy,” sneered Sealy.

“But, Bob, I need y’ help!” Ted pleaded.

“Take the lumps, boy,” snapped Sealy, “Y’ say you’re a man, take the lumps like a man! You were man enough t’ fight, you’re man enough t’ take punishment for it!”

“Y’ bastard!” howled Ted, “y’ sonuva motherfuckin’ bitch!”  (These came out as bleeps over the radio.)

Sealy pointed at the engineer, and Ted was cut off. Sealy declared, “Can’t anybody talk anymore without jumpin’ into the gutter? All the time, cursin’ an’ swearin’!”   The next day, Tom Erikson, program manager for the station, called Sealy to the office.

“Bob,” Erikson warned, “the show’s gettin’ too hot. That guy, Ted, I got a call from his lawyer, he’s suing us for giving him bad advice, like fightin’. The Hispanic Council’s takin’ out an ad in tomorrow’s paper against you. An’ a lot of sponsors are talking about pulling out of the show. Neither Roeder or anyone else wants to work with you.”

Sealy inhaled and grunted, “So what should I do, clam up?”

“Naw, just tone it down,” Erikson said, “An’ remember, a lot of people listen to you an’ take what y ’say seriously. They do whatever you tell them to do. If you told them to kill themselves, they’d do it! That’s the effect you have on people. Remember that, and be careful.”

Sealy left Erikson’s office, and he thought of this as he drove home; he also thought about his father, his drill instructor in Parris Island, and his high school football coach yelling at him:

“Put your back into it, boy!”

“Can’t you see that, boy?”

“C’mon, boy, wake up!”

Boy – boy – boy…

The memories pounded in Sealy’s head as he drove home. He hammered the dashboard with his fist, inhaled, and muttered, “I’m a man! Goddammit I’m a man!” His head hurt and his stomach tightened.

The next day, just before airtime, Sealy puffed another Lucky Strike and sipped his Four Roses – what Eriksson said; his effect on listeners; people doing what he said; the network deal –

Then, the intro, and the fight song, and Sealy was on the air! He began:

“Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve been informed that I have an effect on you, the listening public. They say that you would do anything I told you to do, an’ I’d lead you astray.

“Well, now,” continued Sealy, “I want all of you to call or write the station, and let them know how much you love Bob Sealy! Let ‘em know how much he means t’ you! How he tell you the truth no one else tells you! They’re tryin’ t shut me up here! Tell ‘em you need me t’ tell you the real story! Tell them!”

They did.

 

Stand Up For Voting!

During the audit of the voting machines in Maricopa County, Arizona-to hunt for non-existent voting fraud, and to find more votes for t—p that weren’t there-a delegation of Republican legislators from Pennsylvania went to observe the whole silly (but dangerous) business of the audit, which ruined the voting machines and the county would have to get new ones. (Genius move, NOT.) State Senator Doug Mastriano (R-Franklin County) has demanded from three Pennsylvania counties-Philadelphia, Tioga, and York-to submit to a similar “audit” of their votes, which would cost millions of dollars and raise questions as to who would do the “audit.” Attorney-General Josh Shapiro called it a “partisan fishing expedition” and urged the counties not to go along with it. (https://apnews.com/article/pa-state-wire-pennsylvania-elections-election-2020-government-and-politics-cf7cfe0566c9ef47489d7ecef88165f5?mc_cid=f8e3240d9c&mc_eid=1a031a046f) (https://www.alternet.org/2021/07/a-sham-pennsylvania-ag-torches-state-gop-s-push-for-arizona-style-election-audit/)

Mastiano, by the way, is an ally of t—p, and intends to run in the republican primary in 2022 for Pennsylvania Governor, seeking the votes of t—pist MAGA crowd. This is the crowd that participated in and supported the raid on January 6 into the Capitol, with the idea of-somehow- overturning the will of the people who voted for Joe Biden. That disqualifies Mastriano right there: he believes that the MAGA freaks are the REAL American people and he must go after their votes, therefore, he’s feeding into the “voter-fraud” myth, utilizing such far-right media as Steve Bannon’s podcast and OANN.

Americans, it’s past high time for us to educate ourselves on the real issues the country faces, like gun violence, workers working for poverty wages (and still requiring public assistance), universal health care (especially with the COVID still out there), and infrastructure needing serious upgrades. Then, we organize, and we get out there and vote, and never allow some gang of punks and thugs-be they armed MAGA-heads or state legislators-to intimidate us. The future of our country demands we do so.

person dropping paper on box

Photo by Element5 Digital on Pexels.com

The Mason Missile, June 28, 2021

Greetings, Americans!

On Saturday, June 26, I took part in a bus ride, sponsored by UNITE/HERE in Philadelphia, to join in the Freedom Ride For Voting Rights, sponsored by Black Voters Matter. We were all reminded of the work and sacrifice brave activists-like John Lewis-undertook so that ALL Americans can vote. the rally at the north side of the Capitol Mall to advocate specifically for the For The People Act, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, and statehood for the District of Columbia-a district of about 700,000 American citizens who have no say in their federal government. we’re the only nation that doesn’t allow representation from people in its own capitol.

This past month, we recognized and commemorated the Tulsa Race Massacre, in May 31-June 1, 1921, when a white mob descended upon and destroyed the predominantly Black business district of Greenwood-a thriving neighborhood of stores known as “the Black Wall Street.” Triggered by rumors of a Black man sexually assaulting a white woman, a gang of white men went to the county courthouse demanding the Black man be surrendered to them-and a group of armed Black men, some of them veterans of World War I, confronted them. Later, a white mob rampaged through Greenwood, some of them deputized; at the end of the massacre, an estimated 300 people were killed, and a thriving community was demolished. (https://www.history.com/topics/roaring-twenties/tulsa-race-massacre) (https://www.cnbc.com/2021/05/31/black-wall-street-was-shattered-100-years-ago-how-tulsa-race-massacre-was-covered-up.html) This May 31, President Joe Biden signed a proclamation recognizing the massacre, and recommitting the administration to addressing the racial problems we face today. (https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/05/31/a-proclamation-on-day-of-remembrance-100-years-after-the-1921-tulsa-race-massacre/)

This begs the question-who writes history, and who decides what “history” is? For a century, the story of the Tulsa Massacre was never fully discussed, either in high school or college history classes; it was swept under the rug, and serious scholars worked to unearth the truth. The true study of history goes beyond the classroom and the official textbooks; just as we must come together to study our problems today, and deal with them, so must we also band together to study our history.

The Tulsa Massacre is another example of the racism that permeates our society, and our need to deal with it to this day. Over the course of the year, Republican-dominated state legislatures are passed, or are trying to pass (like in Pennsylvania),  a series of laws that world hamper the ability of certain demographic groups-seniors, students, people of color-to vote, which is the basic pillar of democracy. Just like with the original Jim Crow laws after Reconstruction, the trick is to not phrase these bills to prevent specific people from voting, and to continuously call them “voter integrity bills.” (https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/state-voting-bills-tracker-2021)

Voter integrity? Do they think we’re buying that bullshit line? Or is it a line they put out through their favorite media, to the people who still vote for them? The Republicans don’t’ give a damn about their voters; they just want to infuriate them with the latest scary thing, such as “urban crime” and “Willie Horton,” feeding into the racism lurking in the subconscious of America.

Also, we must remember that June is LGBTQ Pride Month, the month commemorating the Stonewall Riots, when in June 1969, patrons in a crappy mob-owned bar faced a raid by police, and all of a sudden they felt like “Enough is enough!”, and battled riot cops for three days, thus jumpstarting the contemporary Gay rights movement.

At the head of the riots were two transgender women of color-Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. The legend was that Johnson, who like Rivera was a sex worker, was the first to throw a brick at a cop during the riots. Together they formed the activist group Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) as a support system for young trans-people. But alas! The leading Gay Rights groups didn’t want to be associated with trans-people, sex workers, or drag queens, and Johnson and Rivera were all but written out of the history of Stonewall, and LGBTQ history in general. Johnson was found dead in the Hudson River, and the police called it a “suicide;” and Rivera died in 2002. (https://www.vogue.co.uk/arts-and-lifestyle/article/who-was-sylvia-rivera) (https://www.vogue.co.uk/arts-and-lifestyle/article/who-was-marsha-p-johnson) In June 2019, the City of New York dedicated two statues to Johnson and Rivera, commemorating their efforts as LGBTQ rights-after their passing. (https://www.nps.gov/articles/000/marsha-p-johnson-sylvia-rivera.htm) It’s again the question, “Who decides what is history?” The role Johnson and Rivera, and other marginalized people in our country, must be more full told.

That’s our job-to study our nation’s REAL history, and not the coloring–book versions we were fed as kids. We must especially look at the contributions of working-people, low-income people, and people on the edge of society-like the drag queens and sex workers at Stonewall in June 1969. And when we do, we can realize the power they acquired by banding together in solidarity, and we, in this portion of the 21st century, can therefore learn our own power. We have a long, strong legacy of freedom fighting in this country-think about John Lewis getting beat up at the Edmund Pettis Bridge during the March on Selma in 1965 for voting rights. Let’s follow their examples, and pick up where they left off in the struggle.

Stay safe, stay strong, and stay together! America will be free! Bye!

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The Stoa, an original short story

1

Pomeroy College sat within the farmlands in north-east Pennsylvania. An old mansion served as offices for administration and faculty; newer buildings held a stage for the theater department, classrooms, more offices for faculty, dormitories, and fraternity houses.

On a Friday evening in June 1951, Professor Clyde Milvern, Professor of Classical Studies at Pomeroy – and a world-renowned expert in the field – prepared for the semi-annual dinner of the Stoa, the club of certain of his current and former students. He was careful about how he looked – soft grey hair in place, thinning at the top; moustache neatly trimmed and waxed, and a blue suit and grey bow tie. Pleased with how he looked, he went to the dinner, in the restaurant of the Hotel Percival in Scranton.

At six o’clock the members came. These were men of prestige in their communities and professions–business, law, politics, clergy, and military. Professor Milvern stood at the head of the table, which was the signal for the men to take their seats.

“Brothers,” intoned Milvern, “I welcome you to another symposium of the Stoa. As I have said before, the Stoic philosophy takes its name from the stoa, the Greek name for the portico of the temple where Zeno, the founder of this noble philosophy, held forth its truth.

“When I started this group,” continued Milvern, “twenty-one years ago, I worried about the vulgarization of the mind in this country, with jazz, illegal liquor, gangsters and movie actors the nation’s heroes, and Communism. I formed this group to study the teachings of the great Stoic philosophers, and see what they have to say to us in this era. But first–”

A young man who sat in a chair in the back – slender, thick blond hair, a look both intelligent and nervous – stood and stepped towards Milvern, who clasped him on the shoulder and said, “This is Peter Dancy, my most prized student. He has a grasp that no one else has on Greek Philosophy, History and Language.”

These words resonated with the men in the room. They were all praised in some form or another by Milvern, who they regarded as the wisest of men.

Milvern took a small metal pin from his coat pocket–a pair of Greek pillars with a roof over them – and pinned it on the lapel of Dancy’s jacket, saying, “I welcome you, Peter, into our brotherhood. You will be an asset to society just by practicing Stoic belief into our corrupted world.”

The men at the table applauded. Milvern said, “Peter, it is our custom for a new member to tell us how you apply Stoic teachings in your life.” He sat down.

Dancy inhaled, pressed his hands in front of him, and said, “I often have to pass by the Gamma Psi frat house, and the guys there make fun of me as I pass by, they call me ‘sissy boy’ because I won’t go chasing after girls, prostitutes, like they do.

“But I do my best,” he continued, “not to pay any attention to them, to endure their taunts, and let their words pass right by me. The Stoic teachers teach us to endure hardship with dignity, and to not fall into your lust and passions, to be the ideal man.”

The older men applauded. Milvern stood and said, “Thank you, Peter. Brothers, please greet the new brother.”

Dancy went around the table, shaking the hand of each man present. He ended shaking Milvern’s hand, and Milvern said, “Peter, you may take your place at the table.” The men ate, starting with red snapper soup, rolls, and Caesar salad, followed by steaks with brown gravy and rice, concluding with a variety of pies and coffee. As they ate, they spoke with one another.

Dancy sat and ate, awed to be with these distinguished men, a young kid among the grown-ups. He was one of them now, a member of the Stoa, the most exclusive club on campus.

“So, Peter,” smiled Walter Skyler, a prominent attorney in Philadelphia, “What year are you in?”

“I’m entering my senior year in September,” said Dancy.

“What do you plan t’do with this degree, what career?” said Skyler.

“I could be a professor, like Dr. Milvern. Greek History is so fascinating.”

“Anything special you like about it?” David Siller, a bank president, asked.

“I’m intrigued at the concept of an aristocratic class,” Dancy explained, “being in the service of the community. It’s in Plato’s Republic, how a class of people can be trained to run a society for the society’s benefit. To be quite honest–” He paused.

“Go on, Peter, you’re free to speak you mind here,” urged Milvern.

“I have trouble with Democracy in this country,” sighed Dancy. “I’m afraid that Democracy has led to the cheapening of all that’s good and noble in life. Like music – nobody listens to Bach or Beethoven anymore, but now we have this jazz and big band junk filling the minds of people, instead of serious classical music.”

“Yes, I’ve felt that way as well,” nodded Skyler.

“And politics,” added Dancy, “politicians act like vaudeville clowns going into town, and they promise the moon and stars, like Santa Claus handing out candy to kids. That’s no way to govern!”

“True,” nodded Milvern. “A man of the background of the late President Roosevelt has to cater to the mob. You remember it was the mob that had Socrates executed just for telling the truth.”

“Yes, and Jesus as well,” agreed Samuel Collier, a Methodist bishop. “The mob in Jerusalem howled and screamed for the Blood of Jesus, and for the release of the criminal Barabbas! That’s the people for you!”

“I’ve learned,” declared Ernest Toller, a radio executive, “that the masses of people can be moved one way or the other by their emotions. In the broadcasting industry, we know how to move their emotions. With the war in Korea, we can put it in the wider context of the Communist drive to dominate the world, but in a simple manner so that the masses could understand, not let it be too complicated. They wouldn’t comprehend.”

The men finished their dinner; Milvern rose and stated, “Brothers, it is our custom after we eat for us to stand and state how we apply the Stoic philosophy to our lives.”     Joseph Demming was the first to speak. He had a patch over his left eye and three fingers missing from his left hand.

“I fought,” said Demming, “in the late World War as a captain of an infantry company. As we were getting ready to enter Germany, a German mortar shell went off near me and sent me flying. During my stay in the hospital, I recalled the teachings of the Roman Stoic philosophers, such as Seneca and Marcus Arelius. They taught that so-called misfortunes – in my case, losing an eye and some fingers, and having some fractures – were not bad or good in themselves, because they had nothing to do with me as a man.

“I was also,” added Demming, “reminded of the Roman hero Scaevola, who stuck his hand into the fire to frighten the enemy. I would like also to praise the young men who served under me in the war. They served with great fortitude, discipline, and courage, enduring hardship and death for their country. We need more, many more men like that in our society.” He sat down, and the men applauded.

Samuel Collier, the Methodist bishop, rose and spoke:

“I was a poor kid with only one pair of shoes, and my father walked out on my mother and me when I was ten. But I felt a calling to serve the Lord on the pulpit, but I had no money for it. So the pastor of the church I went to took me to see Professor Milvern, who showed me how to apply for scholarships. I found there are good and decent rich men who’ll donate money to put a poor but honest young man through his schooling, so long as he keeps his grades up.

“Brothers,” Collier continued, “when you find a young man trying to better himself, give him a little help. I don’t mean smooth the road for him, for the rough road is always the road to glory, as Seneca teaches us. Give him guidance, give him the opportunity to prove himself, let him know when he’s about to make a mistake,  mentor him, just as Professor Milvern guided me, and guided all of us. If more rich and successful men did that, and recognized poor but talented young men, why, we wouldn’t have Communism.” He sat down, and the men applauded.

Stuart Hilliard rose and said, “I own the biggest anthracite coal-mining company in the state, and I’m eternally grateful for the men I have working under me. But I’ve had to be stern with them lately. They went on strike, and I refused, and still refuse, to deal with the union. I fear that if I give in to their demands, I would be indulging a spoiled child – I want this and I want that. Yes, coal-mining is a dangerous job, but that’s the way it is, and they could not accept that. They must, as Captain Demming said, be willing to face hardship, pain, injury, and death, for that is the sign of a noble man.” He sat down, and the men applauded.

Walter Skyler stepped over to Hilliard and whispered, “Stu, I know how we can get some niggers t’work f’you–“

”Okay, later,” said Hilliard quickly, and they shook hands.

Milvern rose and stated, “Brothers, we have seen in our lives the truth of Stoic teaching. We have seen the ordinary people on the street to be like a heard of sheep, that can scatter during a storm. We in this room, the leading figures in our various fields, have the great responsibility to be wise shepherds for the masses of people. They need and want to be led wisely, for they do not have the ability to govern themselves. Someday, and may it come soon, the world will acknowledge the truth, and accept the leadership of the men schooled in philosophy and government.”

Milvern lifted his hands, and the men rose from their seats.

“We go forth now,” said Milvern, “to lead, to guide, and to rule. May we make our decisions like steel, which when put to the fire is made stronger. Thank you for coming, and fare you well.”

2

In the sixties, Pomeroy College had become a state university, and could no longer exclude anybody for any reason, except bad grades. The state’s student grant program made it easier for less affluent students and women to enter Pomeroy.

Professor Clyde Milvern regularly walked down the Avenue-the main street of the campus- on his way to the commons for lunch. He frowned at the Black Student Union and their insistence on more learning about the history of Africa; Milvern, as an authority, stated, “Young man, Africa has no history, except during European colonization.” From this, he wrote in quarterly journals about how students’ political agendas are dictating curricula.

The campus feminist group, because they insisted on more studies on the role of women in society, drove him to give lectures about the Amazons and how they symbolized barbarism, while the Athenians symbolized civilization. He was amused at the happy zealousness of the young men from the local churches preaching on top of the Mound, the pile of earth used for public speaking.

Milvern regularly sat with Peter Dancy, who remained in Pomeroy as an associate professor of Greek and Roman History, making his own reputation of scholarship in the field. Once or twice a week, Dancy visited Milvern at his bungalow on the edge of the campus. They sat in the dimly-lit living room drinking coffee – it was all that Milvern could make for himself – and discussed Greek and Roman history and philosophy, and the decadence of the current era.

“Oh, Peter,” moaned Milvern, “what’s going on in the world? What’s happening to everything we’ve stood for?” Milvern showed Dancy an editorial in the student newspaper, The Pomeroy Press,  that said, “The Stoa is nothing but a fancier version of a kid’s tree fort, where no girls are allowed and they can do things that their parents can’t see.”

“On top of that,” griped Milvern, “the woman’s libbers on campus are calling themselves the Amazon Club, just to taunt us!”

“Ah, Doctor,” pleaded Dancy, “Don’t let those chicks get you down. Don’t worry, it’ll all turn out right in the end.”

“Well, we can at least hope,” worried Milvern.

Often, at close to nine AM, Milvern looked sunken, hollowed-out; he would ask Dancy, “Peter, I’m tired, please help me to the bedroom.”

“Sure, no problem, Doctor,” said Dancy, and he lifted Milvern to his feet and guided him to the bedroom and on the bed, took off his shoes, and laid him down.

“Thank you, Peter,” said Milvern, “oh, and from now on, please, call me Clyde. So very few people have done so.”

“Oh, uh, okay, Clyde.” smiled Dancy.

3

On June 1971, Milvern presided at the Stoa’s biannual dinner. The men of the club dined on roast beef and au gratin potatoes, string beans, Caesar salad and varieties of pie and coffee. After dinner, Dancy gave the opening address:

“Our club has come under attack from various quarters, as being an elitist club. What people fail to understand is that there will always be an elite to run society. The question is, how will it run society? Will it govern by moderation, wisdom, and prudence? Or, will it be pushed and pulled by every whim of the mob, every fad that comes along?

“Still, the Stoa continues to gain new members, men, exclusively men, who value Classical education as a guide to living the good life in society. We don’t seek a mass following; we seek quality, not quantity, in men.”

His voice softening, Dancy said, “And now, for our main address, I give you our founder and leader, Professor Emeritus Clyde Milvern.”

Slowly, Milvern pulled himself to his feet – his legs and feet hurt him lately – as Dancy helped him up, to the applause of the men in the room.

“My friends, my brothers,” Milvern said, “I feel all my years coming up to meet me –” He smiled and the men laughed lightly.

“I have taught the truth of Greek and Roman classical thought, about how a man should conduct himself in society, in his public affairs, and in his private life. The men who founded this country, the United States of America, were well-versed in the Classics, and they lived their teachings.

“One of the things the Classics teach us is to be active in the affairs of society. If the wise man stays away from civil affairs, public life then, as Plato teaches us, would be handed over to being run by inferiors! Yes, I’ve said it, inferiors! Men who would promise anything to the mob, who succumb to the whim of the moment, as Professor Dancy said.”

(Milvern never voted in an election, and seldom left the campus, except to visit the doctor twice a year.)

“Democracy has debased everything in this country!” continued Milvern. “It has turned our political life to hordes of cheap lawyers bargaining for position! It has legislatures turned into places where goods are exchanged, like a flea market! Education has become exercises in teachers repeating information to puny minds who could not begin to comprehend the knowledge! It has reduced the arts to nothing more that pretty pictures and pretty sounds, nothing to intrigue the mind or stir the spirit of Man! We have mass communications for the mass of people!

“Perhaps,” he decided, his head down, “it’s best that way. For the masses of people, there is the mass media, fitted for their small minds and limited visions. But for us, the men who aspire to the Platonic ideal of Man, there is something different, something higher and nobler, and that is what we must hold on to for ourselves.

“The commonest excuse is ‘Times have changed.’ Yes, times have changed, but that is all that has changed. Principles have not changed, nor will they ever. We must and shall stand with the Truth and our principles, no matter what happens in the world.

“One principle is the obligation of a citizen to his polis, his community, his state. It is, was, and will always be the obligation of the citizen to obey the laws of the state, and to fulfill other obligations, such as military service. But I’ve had the misfortune to see young men refuse to take up arms for their country, in the war in Viet Nam. It is proper for a country to demand its young men enter military service, and it’s the mark of a great and noble man to be ready to go through the hardships that military service entails!”

(As a young man in the 1910s, Milvern was eligible for the draft for World War One, but he did not go in – he wasn’t called, and he didn’t ask questions.)

“I have seen Negroes rise up and demand their rights as a group of people, and the men in charge of the democratic state give in to them. Let me remind you, gentlemen, that even the democratic regime in Athens had a vast slave class, and Sparta had their helot class. Individuals of the inferior classes were able to rise out of their subordinate status, based on their merit, and they or their sons could hope to be full citizens. But the class they emerged from remained. A subordinate class is and will always be needed to carry out the manual labor of society, but they cannot, must not, make decisions for society. Communism is the present example of what happens to a society turned over to its workers, its mechanics, and its hobos.”

(Milvern then remembered his father, a farmer, beating him whenever he felt like it, and calling young Clyde “my little girl” when his friends came by.)

“We must also reject,” Milvern went on, “the false idea of universal, equal rights, the belief that simply due to residency, you have the rights of a citizen. In ancient Rome, citizenship was a privilege conferred by the proper authority, as a reward for service! Citizenship is not a gift, and not every person is capable of earning this honor! We must return to the idea that citizenship is a privilege belonging to those who have proven worthy, its finest, most productive people, and all others must be excluded for the good of the nation!”

The men in the room-wealthy, influential men, men taught thus by Professor Milvern-rose and applauded for fifteen seconds, then sat down.

Milvern added, “I must speak this time about religion. This club as a group, and I in particular, have been accused of atheism, of not believing in God. I shall speak for myself and say that I do believe is a form of Supreme Divinity. But it’s not the religion performed by the masses of people! That religion is mainly the same mass-produced painting and music I’ve talked about, but suitable to whichever commonplace image of God is available at the time! Such a mass religion, like the mass media, is suitable only for the minds of the mass of people! We who are the heirs to Greek Philosophy know the true nature of the Divine!”

Milvern sighed, and intoned, “I speak of God this time, because I shall meet Him presently. I’m dying of cancer, and I only have at least three months to live.”

There was a moan from the men, with mouths gaping, and a few jumped to their feet.

Milvern continued, “During this time, I have been putting my affairs in order, which is simple due to the fact that I’m not married, and never have been. I have never need or wanted the company of women. The study of Classical wisdom has always been my passion. You, the men of the Stoa, have been my brothers, my real family. It is therefore fitting that I leave you my true legacy, my life’s work.”

He turned to Dancy and said, “Peter, please stand.”

Dancy rose; he knew that Milvern was ill, but he didn’t know how ill. What was going to happen?

“Peter,” said Milvern, “”I have found you to be one of the finest minds in the nation on Greek and Roman studies. You have produced a wonderful newsletter for the club, so that I could communicate with the brothers on a regular basis. Plus you have raised funds from our members to keep our projects flourishing. At this time, before I die, I hereby name you my successor as Leader of the Stoa.”

The men rose and applauded as Dancy hugged Milvern, who kissed Dancy’s forehead. Both men wept.

The applause faded; Dancy inhaled and said, “Let us remain standing and hold our glasses high.” Lifting his champagne glass–the other men followed suit–Dancy announced, “Let us drink a toast, to Clyde Milvern, the wisest man this nation has ever had!” and he and all the others drank.

Milvern wept, but he smiled. His life’s work was not in vain; it would go on.

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