Sacred Places

There are sacred places in the woods
first recognized by the Tongva people
and revered to this day.

And who would not stand in awe of a mountain spring
or a mighty rock thrusting towards heaven
amid the woodland silence, and the subtle sounds.

The sacred is where you find it.
Here in Venice, the hidden Redwoods,
Japanese gardens and impossible flowers.

And walking toward the center, the Circle,
there is a Temple on a rise of ground,
Inside is a space like the Greeks once knew.

In ancient times they looked up in awe at the mighty Apollo,
or the wise Athena, until their calm places
were pulled down by Barbarians, blind to the sacred.

Inside our Post Office, the deified Abbot looks down
and watches us through the journeys of our lives
as we embrace the Sacred, or turn away.

And now we face the loss of our holy place
Where joy and sorry are carried in a letter
as the new Barbarians pull down our temple.

The Occupy Movement: When the Other Shoe Drops

Capitalism is doomed. The aged system has been increasingly unable to maintain people’s living standards since the 1970s. And now, everyone knows it.

Thanks to the Occupy movement, the viability of an economic system based on greed and survival of the fittest has been called into question. And found wanting.

We can thank the Occupy movement for two innovations in the art of political protest. The concept of the 99 percent versus the 1 percent has united everyone, no matter what their beef with capitalism, aka Wall Street. The other innovation from Occupy can be stated simply as, “don’t be distracted by specific issues,”  which can divide us by substituting “effects” (issues) for “causes” (capitalism).

The problem is capitalism, not high tuition, lack of medical care, foreclosures, homelessness, and the myriad other issues that confront most of us day by day. These are the effects of a system that serves the interests of a decreasing minority of the population (actually, far less than 1 percent). The time has passed for piecemeal solutions to these various issues. We must go to the heart of the problem, the system itself.

It is true that a once vibrant capitalism built the economic powerhouse known as the USA. It did this at the direction of a group of ruthless entrepreneurs, beginning in the 19th century, who ran roughshod over their workers, their competitors and the environment. Decade after decade, they accumulated more wealth, more capital and more power.

American literature is full of Horatio Alger rags-to-riches stories, and reverence for robber barons with good PR like Andrew Carnegie, who hired slave drivers like Henry Frick to build Carnegie Steel, which J.P. Morgan later bought for $480 million in 1901 and renamed US Steel. Then there’s railroad magnate Jay Gould, who famously said: “I can hire one-half of the working class to kill the other half.”

The problem with revolting against these “industrialists” was that they only controlled one corporation each, albeit some very large corporations. People not directly connected with the company as workers or consumers could only express solidarity at the latest outrage committed by the owner.

Wall Street Takes Over

This all changed in the late 1970s when finance capital, aka Wall Street, took control of nearly every corporation in the country. It was impossible for the industrialists to compete with the power and wealth of Wall Street, which controlled the great banks. Nowdays, nearly every corporation has the same owners, which are the banks and foundations where the 1 percent stash their money. There are still a few individuals like the late Steve Jobs, the Koch brothers and Rupert Murdock, who run their corporations without regard for Wall Street, but they are few and far between. And most of them are as bad or worse than the bankers.

So what did the finance capitalists do when they achieved control of thousands of corporations? They maximized profits, of course. The effects this had on working people were devastating. At the beginning of the 1970s, Los Angeles County had three auto plants, four large rubber plants (making automobile tires), and the giant Bethlehem Steel Works. A few miles to the east was the even larger Kaiser Steel plant which made more steel than half the countries in the world. All of these plants paid good union wages with fully-covered health care and livable pensions. By the end of the decade they were all gone.

Some of the plants packed up and moved to low-wage states in the South (”free trade” pacts had not yet been negotiated). Others were simply shut down, their products being imported from Japan or Europe. In spite of huge coalitions of workers and communities called “Save GM South Gate,” “Save Ford Pico,” or simply “Save Our Jobs,” thousands of relatively well-paid workers found themselves in unemployment lines, applying for minimum wage fast food jobs or selling the cars they used to build.

A direct connection has been made by journalists and academics linking the demise of manufacturing jobs in South Central Los Angeles, East L.A. and the San Fernando Valley, with the rise of the cocaine and amphetamine drug culture, and the criminalization and incarceration of generations of Black and Latino men. The Southern California experience was replicated across the country. The “rust belt” of the Midwest was comprised of mile after mile of abandoned and decaying factories. Every part of the country suffered massive job loss, broken homes, violence against women, racial tensions, loss of public facilities, swelling prison populations, psychological trauma and the beginning of massive homelessness.

Even today, 40 years later, nothing has replaced well-paying union jobs for unskilled or semi-skilled worker. At the same time, rents and home prices have skyrocketed and real wages continue to fall. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, average weekly earnings peaked in 1977 at $310 per week. In 2004, they stood at $277.57 (in 1982 dollars). This only illustrates part of the problem. While real wages were declining, the wealth of the country grew nearly six fold during the same years. Where did this vast wealth go?  A Congressional Budget Office study in 2011 found that the top 1 percent gained the most (a 275 percent increase in wealth) in the period between 1979 and 2007. In addition, much of our national wealth continues to be squandered on wars, weapons and a bloated Pentagon bureaucracy.

The Occupy movement is motivated by a recognition, understood either emotionally or intellectually, that things are going very badly. It is obvious to most people that there are overlaying crises – the environment, the income gap, education, housing, health care, jobs and a declining standard of living. Piecemeal reforms in any of these areas are becoming harder to implement because of the huge economic and political power wielded by Wall Street.

Since 2008, capitalism has been unable to function in a way that can calm the masses. As both mainstream and Marxist economists acknowledge, capitalism must grow in order to survive. That growth has hit the wall. There are too many things – homes, cars, clothes, airplanes, tools – you name it, for sale. All of which must be sold for a profit or someone is going bankrupt. Now the technological revolution has worked against capitalism by making it possible to produce more and more “things” with less and less workers (consumers), thereby creating a glut of unsold stuff. There is now a better than 50-50 chance that we are headed into a worsening, a double-dip, of the current depression. And after that? No one can say.

At this point, it is important that the Occupy this-and-that stand their ground, and not be dispersed. The second wave is coming. It is made up of those who are watching and waiting – the foreclosed, the evicted, the long-term jobless – literally millions upon millions of people who have lost their faith in the current system, and have nothing left to lose.

The Other Shoe Will Drop

What will Occupy Wall Street or Occupy L.A. look like with millions clogging the streets for miles around? And what will happen in Washington when millions fill up the Capitol Mall and the government buildings, and do not leave? What will happen when the police, the National Guard and the army are no longer reliable enforcers of the 1 percent order?

This is the nightmare scenario that they’re sweating about at JPMorgan Chase and in the Washington think tanks. But for the rest of us – a growing part of the 99 percent – it has the sound of liberation.

What will come after our current rules of oppression – and rulers – are chased into oblivion? We can hope it will be a system based on equality and sharing, of concern for human welfare, not corporate profits. Perhaps the government will be based on General Assemblies, where everyone can have their say, that were created in the early days of this revolution by the Occupy movement.

It is the hope and belief of Occupy supporters that the great wealth created by the people of the world, that is now being squandered by the 1 percent, instead can be used to ensure the economic security of the seven billion people on this planet.

For the first time in our lifetimes, because of the failure of senile capitalism, and the willingness of millions worldwide to stand up and be counted, real change, not cosmetic change, is possible.

The World Wave

There’s a Tsunami comin’
to shake up the whole wide world.
You can’t escape this big old wave
hittin’ every city where there’s a slave.
Gonna feel this human tidal wave.
 
Listen, rich man
Your pockets got half of everything
If you billionaires won’t share the wealth, 
and the things we need
Someone’s gonna bleed.
 
You made us the wretched of the earth
’cause you won’t give us dignity and jobs
So we’ll do a little night work.
And if we don’t get a pay raise
we’ll get extra cash another way.
 
Rich man, you got your armies
goin’ around the world
terrorizin’ folk. That’s gonna end.
Hey, we got our army, too.
25 million jobless comin’ unglued.
 
So call out your army and The Fear
Tear gas and water cannons by the ton
Lots of us want justice even more than livin’
Dyin’ might be our pride and our fate
But all you got is your hate.
 
You can knock us down once, twice
maybe more, but we’ll keep comin’
got no where to go so we’ll play your game
’til your soldiers join us in our fun
whatcha gonna do when they cut and run?
 
You seen it comin’ rich man
Hard-workin’ folk fed up in North Africa,
the Middle East, Greece, Spain,
and hairy old England
The World Wave keep on rollin’.
 
We’re gonna make a better world
Annihilate hunger, vaporize your greed.
Egypt didn’t need your pet dictator
like them we’re gonna put you in our past
We’d like to take it slow, but it could be fast.
 
We know those talkin’ heads will lie, lie, lie
your punk politicians will try to make us die.
Tsunami comin’ this way can’t be stopped
Rich man, where you gonna hide?
where you gonna hide?
   
(This poem appeared in the Occupy Wall Street Poetry Anthology, published 2012)

How Can Venice Be Preserved?

There are currently 24 historical districts in Los Angeles (HPOZs). There is no reason why Venice should not be the 25th.

A Venice historical district can be proposed to the City Council by our Councilmember, Bill Rosendahl.

At the least it should include the walk streets, canals, old canal district, Abbot Kinney Blvd., Ocean Front Walk and most or all of Venice west of Lincoln.

See “Neighborhood Initiatives” at laconservancy.org and zimas.lacity.org for more information.

Let’s preserve Venice for future generations.

beats and The Changeling

 

beats

By Jim Smith

Holy Voice of Venice
Crying out softly
in the morning mist.
Escapees from an empire
gone mad with power.
Out they come
from the Venice West
from the Gas House
from the ancient bungalows
lining the walk streets.
Walkin’ down Ocean Front Walk
Got a nickel for a coffee?
Hey man, give me some
of those bennys.
Is that Bird blowin’ out
of Billy’s apartment?
Yes. Bop’s the thing
Oh my head is racing
Gotta put the words
on paper.
Don’t try to think.
No why, No how,
Just go. go, go, go
Listen, man, listen
the ocean will tell you
The gulls are chiming in:
Chee wah wah
And Bird’s layin it down
for a gone world.
Man ooooo man,
We are in The Groove.
Listen you slaves of production
Listen you slaves of adverting
Turn your back on the city
Look out at the ocean
Just stop. Just Stop. Let it take you
in its arms. In its infinite arms.
We are home. We are home.

———–

Changeling

 She rides upon her great mare, Gladus
From end to end this town is hers.
The timid peek over their fences
Others wave from their porches.
We recognize her without a doubt
A bit of pink or brightly blue, it’s her.
One of a kind, A Venice woman.
Hard to predict, easy to admire
She’s up to nothing but good.
Cooking for the sick.
Entertaining the elderly.
You’ve got to be Bad
for Suzy not to think you’re good
…down deep.
 
When night falls our fair maid
changes before our eyes
and under the moon
into the Vamp of the speakeasies
and Queen of the b l u e s
bop bop a be bop
Yeah, sing it baby sing
sing that song of a woman’s torment
sing that song of a woman’s ecstasy.

Power

(In answer to Byron’s The Isles of Greece)

Too many tyrants have risen
and ruled heedless of our suffering.
O, to smash them down
And set our selves, our land and people free
Which of you will wield the Power
and drive away the dark?

Young liberators take action.
Ride the tiger to the far horizon
Yet, it is a dangerous game you play
Power is not free or freedom.
It has a deadly price
to pay

Power is always either here or there.
In times past with mighty strokes
we laid our oppressors low
and put all wrongs to right
then gloried in our deeds.
till time again began its march.

Slowly, slowly, Power took control
the servant became our master
Black and white became our colors
Our veins ran cold
with only the cruelest blood
and the tyrant lived again.

And tempting us still
are the gods of Homer
inviting us to slay another foe,
whose threat we will soon invent.
But what foe is greater than Power
and harder than it to slay?

Come here my friends
and drink good Venetian wine
and take this soothing herb.
For eons we have in battle raged
and still we suffer like the beasts.
Let’s play an earthy tune instead.

Comrades, I would remove my armor
and hang my sword upon the wall.
Leave me amid gardens and sparkling canals
and ocean sunsets caressing Venice.
Pray let’s celebrate our peaceful ways
writing verses in these golden days.

Yet even now I hear the sirens’ call,
the march of pickets echos in my head,
and martial chants entice me still.
Whoa Power you shall not win this day.
Your time is passing. You will not thrive.
Our human race, and me, without you will survive.

Venice Dreams

Venice, it seems, is buildings, streets, canals
but look again, it is built from dreams
and knitted together by we, the dreamers

The biggest dreamer, Abbot Kinney,
dreamed Venice out of the void
And into the soft fog of the world

By his side, Irving Tabor dreamed
of sunlight and good for his people
In a few blocks called Oakwood

When Abbot died, little dreamers
sat by the beach and dreamed
only for a family, a job and a home

Then came the poetic dreams of the Beats
set to the lonely bebop riffs
of seagulls’ cries and waves pounding

Stuart Perkoff dreamed
of the Lady, and the Lady
dreamed of Stuart

John Haag dreamed of freeing Venice
for the people, for all the people
to live in peace in a city of their own.

Philomene Long wove
her dream of timeless love
from her lofty perch by the sea.

Now, thousands dream
their dreams that everyday
recreate Venice in our minds.

Do you have a Venice dream?
If you do, make if real,
make if real.

On First Looking into the Collected Poems of Philomene Long

After Keats’ On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer

By Jim Smith

Much had I traveled – or so I thought – in the lands
made brilliant by the poet laureate of Venice
‘til this mammoth and beautiful book
revealed to me my ignorance.
But now, with book in hand,
I can journey to every realm
under heaven and beyond the stars.

I took this magical tome in hand
and opened it at random.
Three baby pigeons flew out
and began chirping
Philomene, Philomene.
The room came alive
with gulls, doves and
regal Ravens

Turning pages,
I was now on Paloma’s beach
The sun became bright
and chased the fog away.
I looked up at an old castle
and saw two poets
standing in the window
their gaze was upon the ocean
far away.

Storm clouds appeared
as suddenly as turning a page.
The poet appeared as a giant on the beach
gliding toward me out of the setting sun
Twenty feet tall at least.
Her voice roared like a winter storm,
A booming roll of thunder seemed to say,
who will walk upon our footsteps
that the light of Venice not be extinguished?

Then I was in her room
high up in the Ellison
She was alone,
but a presence lingered.
She spoke to John
across the chasm of death
as if it were of no consequence.
As she told us, her poems
have conquered death.
They are beyond his reach.

I closed the book
and looked around
at my familiar room.
I will return often
to this magic book,
I vowed.
I thought of Philomene
and the journeys
we would have together.

Gaza, 90291

We are all Palestinians, and we are all Venetians. What if the two were one and the same?

By Jim Smith

The Gaza strip
extends from
Santa Monica
south along the coast

Many thousands of us are packed tight
and cannot leave what is called
the world’s largest prison

We have been driven west
until we can go no further.
Here, under the Pagodas
we line up for UN food distributions

Walking down the Boardwalk
I see the wounded,
and the ghosts of many friends

A new explosion billows
black smoke across the sand
sending us into chocking fits.

A women on her knees is crying
“They took our land and homes,
what more do they want.”

A man walks by.
He was a vendor not long ago
Now he is a fighter, “They want us gone.
They want us dead,” he shouts.

Ali walks up and whispers in my ear,
“They are targeting The Waldorf and
5 Rose today. Stay away,” he urges.

But where can I go? On the sand
I feel naked and exposed.
Should I swim out into the ocean?
And how could I run away
when our people are dying?

Once long ago, our tormentors
were the tormented.
They were horribly incinerated
on another continent.
They came here to find peace,
and found…us.

Today, another hideous crime is underway.
Four hundred children dead already.
Genocide is such a big word to
describe a little guy being blown apart.

Boom! A missile has exploded
an apartment building a block ahead
Many of us are running to help the wounded.
Bodies are strewn across Ocean Front Walk
The living are screaming and crying.

Should we fight back?
They call us terrorists when we do.
And with what shall we fight?
Do we throw sand in their faces?
Is it sacrilege to hurl devotional candles at them
from Sponto’s memorial.

The tanks are rolling down Pacific Avenue now.
Someone has found gasoline for a
Molotov cocktail. He hurls it at the tank,
but it burst against the steel without effect.

The tank turns and fires down Paloma.
The roof of a house flies off, a fire erupts.
Was a child inside doing her homework?
or just playing a video game?

Is there no justice in the world?
Why do people see our destruction
and turn away?
Are we not people? Do we not suffer?

In my reverie, I’ve wandered close to 5 Rose.
Soundlessly I see white bricks flying toward me.
They push me back into the parking lot.

I cannot stand the pain, then it ceases.
Now I am riding the bricks into the sky
I look down and see Gaza one last time.

Mr. Price has come to town

This poem was inspired by Whole Foods

Mr. Price has come to town

with a smile on his face
and a wad of bills in his hand.
With just a hint of pity, he says
“I have big plans for you,”
A new suit of clothes
just like they wear uptown.
And the finest shopping
you can ever imagine.
If you still think the old days were grand
Perhaps this check for your favorite cause
will make you forget that nonsense.
And a little more under the table
will make you betray those bums
who have overstayed their welcome.
You can’t beat our PR machine
but if you do, we’ve got the police.