Somehow, it seems appropriate, on the eve of Thanksgiving, to write about a wonderful Indigenous singer and activist whose music was actually censored by the U.S. government -- an artist who is, at 81, finally up where she belongs.
Have you ever heard Buffy Sainte-Marie sing in concert, live? The first times for me were in the 60s and early 70s. She sang of love, as everyone does, and she sang of the injustices perpetrated against her people, Indigenous people. I never heard anyone else sing about that in the 60s. So Buffy was educating me as she entertained me.
Whether the lyrics spoke of the delights of love or the history of her people, somehow a current of joy flowed from the singer to me in the audience. Buffy Sainte-Marie always lifted me up. She was one of those joyful performers.
Most recently, I heard her at a free concert outside iLincoln Center in New York. It was 1997. I remember seeing the poster advertising the event. Buffy Sainte-Marie? I hadn't heard her name in years, decades. Where had she been? To me, she remained a star. I had to go to that concert. I dragged an unwilling friend along with me.
We came early to that cold, concrete pavilion, because I was certain the event would be mobbed. But no. It was a decent crowd, but there were empty chairs. How could this be?
Oh well. She had the same bright, rich voice, the same beauty, the same rage against injustice, the same poetry in her lyrics. The same joy flowing outward to us. Wow. I didn't realize how much I had missed her. My friend was appropriately blown away.
And now, Sainte-Marie, 81 years old, is the subject of an "American Masters" documentary on PBS, "Buffy Sainte-Marie: Carry It On." And there is a long article about her in the NY Times. So she is finally getting her due. She has inspired singers from Joni Mitchell to Robbie Robertson to the Indigo Girls. "She's a massive bright light and a guide to so many," said Indigenous singer, Tanya Tagaq.
Sainte-Marie is the first Indigenous person to win an Oscar, for her pop hit, "Up Where We Belong," used in the movie "An Officer and a Gentleman." And she's the first woman to breastfeed her baby on television, on an episode of Sesame Street! ("Lots of mothers feed their babies this way," she explained to an inquisitive Big Bird.)
That's quite a range of accomplishments. And yet somehow, as she became more active in the American Indian Movement in the 60s, Sainte-Marie found it more and more difficult to get a concert booking.
From the NY Times:
Years later, before an American radio interview, a D.J. apologized to her for pulling her music from his programming in that era. He then showed her a letter, on White House stationery, commending him for having suppressed Sainte-Marie's music. She was flabbergasted.
"I was having a heck of a time in other countries," Sainte-Marie said, "and when I came back to the U.S. everything had kind of gone away and my records weren't played." It "never occurred" to her, she said, that there was a government-supported ban of her music. "I just thought, singers come, singers go."
Is that the reason that Buffy Sainte-Marie kind of disappeared? Is this why she isn't as well-known as, say, Joan Baez? I assumed she'd chosen to do other things with her time -- was totally focussed on activism or raising her kids. And, yes, she WAS doing those things. But she also couldn't get a concert booking in this country because her songs were kept off the radio, by secret government fiat! Were other musicians subject to this kind of secret censorship? Secret censorship is impossible to fight!
The Times article concludes:
Despite the challenges she faced, Sainte-Marie's hopeful energy and radiant smile seem impermeable to cynicism and despair. "I don't like misery of any kind," she said. "So if something starts bothering me, I either put up an umbrella or I go inside. I do something about it, because I'm really uncomfortable being unhappy."
These final words from Buffy Sainte-Marie stopped my brain in its tracks.
"Uncomfortable being unhappy"
Am I also "uncomfortable being unhappy"? I think I must answer no. Unlike Buffy, I am often very comfortable being unhappy. My unhappiness seems appropriate, inevitable, perhaps deserved.
Certainly her refusal to be unhappy must be part of the radiance that both I and the Times interviewer have experienced.
Thanks, Buffy, for revealing the secret of your flowing joy.
Dear Bloggellinis: I tried to find a link to the Times article published yesterday, but I couldn't. Is it too soon for it to be online? Or perhaps Buffy is being censored for having revealed government censorship? I do not remember having this problem before.
In any case, Happy Thanksgiving! This holiday has always been important to my family because, as Jews, it was the one major holiday we shared with everyone. It was also the one holiday that my mother always hosted. And now, I am hosting, and using my mother's fancy silverware, which I inherited. We will be vegetarian, for the second year in a row. I feel good about that because I hate cooking a turkey. The kitchen gets covered with grease and I have no idea how to make good gravy and then I feel guilty throwing out all that damn leftover turkey which somehow grosses me out. So, we will be turkey-free!
AND I am going to bake my first pumpkin pie! I have found the pies of the last few years unsatisfactory. Yes, just like Buffy, when something bothers me, I DO something about it!
I will report back on the satisfactoriness (or lack thereof) of my pie-making debut.
All for now. Terry
Lilith Women's Theater | 547 Douglass St., San Francisco, CA 94114
So Gordon Mar is a good liberal supervisor who represents the Sunset, the southwest area of San Francisco. It's all single family homes and is the most politically conservative area of the city. Mar took a stand against all the recalls for the D.A. and School Board that we just had. That took guts because the recalls were popular in his district. I also was against the recalls.
And now he is suffering for his integrity. Gordon Mar's challenger and has no attributes other than having supported the recalls. He's only lived in the district for seven months. He's done nothing And he might win. And Mar has created affordable housing, is working on climate changes issues. He's been a hardworking progressive supervisor.
So it seemed a good thing to support Gordon Mar's re-election.
So Saturday, it was raining very lightly. I put on my raincoat and sturdy leather boots, walked down to the underground Muni stop in the Castro. And I mean down. I could have rolled down to the Muni stop.
But still, I did walk eight blocks.
Took Muni underground to the West Portal station, then got the 48 Quintara bus to 21st Avenue. Walked four loooong blocks to the Gordon Mar campaign headquarters.
My job was to ring the bell of every voter who had already been identified as a Mar supporter and find out if they had already voted, if not, did they have a plan to vote, and basically urge them to vote. And record all this information.
I was assigned a VERY LARGE precinct that was VERY FAR AWAY. That's because I got there kinda late. All the close precincts were already taken.
I walked from 21st Avenue to 36th Avenue, so that's fifteen blocks.
Then I walked from Noriega to Ortega to Pacheco to Rivera to Quintara. It is so very cool that the streets in the Sunset are in alphabetical order. Okay, that was four looong blocks.
I HAD ARRIVED AT MY PRECINCT! I COULD START RINGING DOORBELLS!
I had taken two forms of public transportation and walked THIRTY BLOCKS in a light rain. I was wet. I was cold. My heavy boots made every step more work. I was exhausted.
So I called Mar headquarters and told them I would finish the precinct the next day. I didn't mention that I hadn't even started canvassing.
And then I called a LYFT and went home.
That was my political activism for the day. Oh, my home felt so cosy and warm. I was so happy to be there. I took a nice nap. And when I woke up, I realized it was the last Daylight savings day, and I could still take the pups for a walk in the late afternoon! Somehow, I got my mojo back and walked up hill and down dale with the pups.
We went to our favorite park, which is a bit hidden. In this late afternoon, it was empty. It wasn't really raining. It was misting. I had never seen an angel trumpet so full of blooms.
And somebody had written an entire poem in chalk on the blacktop! It was so beautiful.
This is the top part of the poem.
"Morning movements call awake
As cup to saucer."
I'm not sure what that means, but it conjures something in me.
This is the bottom part.
A lovely, strange, partly incomprehensible, neatly written in chalk, poem to say to me, "Yo! I'm here, you're here. This is the moment! Here's a present of some words to remind you of the fog and the morning and MUNI's whispering metronome."
And I had just been on the MUNI and I hadn't even noticed! No, that's not true. I always hear the shoosh-click shoosh-click sound the MUNI makes. But I never thought of it as a whispering metronome.
Thank you, unknown poet of State Street Park.
So I tossed the ball for the pups for a while. I throw two balls, one after another, so that they both have something to chase.
And then we headed home. I noticed that someone had a wonderful surprise waiting for them on their doorstep.
And on Eureka Street, the Gingkos are beginning to turn gold.
And then I was home.
And the next day, Sunday, the sun was shining and I put on my good walking shoes and took a Lyft to my precinct. Of course mostly people weren't home. But some were and I recorded their responses. Many were very enthusiastic about Gordon Mar, which made me feel good. And I walked the twenty blocks back to headquarters, and turned in all my data. And then I took a LYFT home.
I sure hope you win, Gordon. But I can't do any more for you. You're too damn far away. And your blocks are too looong. Good luck!
Today and tomorrow, I'm sticking closer to home. I'm going to phone bank in the Castro at the Democratic Party headquarters. I'll probably be calling Georgia or Pennsylvania. But I'll be closer to home myself.
Bloggellinis, I'm scared. I think we all are. Doing these little things, like canvassing that precinct, holds back my fear a little bit. I won't let that fear keep me from enjoying the special moments, like a poem on the blacktop in the park. Terry
Lilith Women's Theater | 547 Douglass St., San Francisco, CA 94114
Now the day we've all been waiting for, dreading & hoping, is almost upon us ---
I wish I had some weird font to make those words all zigzaggy and scary.
This is the time the rubber hits the road.
PEOPLE WILL BE PHONE-BANKING.
PEOPLE WILL BE DISTRIBUTING LITERATURE.
PEOPLE WILL BE CANVASSING VOTERS.
PEOPLE WILL BE RALLYING IN PARKS.
PEOPLE WILL BE STANDING ON CORNERS,
WAVING SIGNS AT PASSING CARS.
(AT LEAST IN SAN FRANCISCO, PEOPLE WILL BE DOING ALL THOSE THINGS.)
PLEASE JOIN THEM!
PICK A CANDIDATE OR AN ISSUE
THAT YOU REALLY CARE ABOUT,
AND GET OUT THERE AND DO SOMETHING!
VOTING IS NOT ENOUGH!
(and if you live in Maine but care fiercely about the Texas governor's race, you can make phone calls!
See resources below.)
Maybe you loathe some candidate
can't stand some Proposition on the ballot...
THEN GET OUT THERE
AND WORK TO DEFEAT THAT PERSON OR ISSUE!
Democracy is not just about making good things happen. It's also, and sometimes mainly, about preventing bad things from happening.
Yesterday, I was talking to my friend in Oregon, and she was bemoaning the state of the world, and the election for Governor in particular. And I was bemoaning the state of the world. And we were bemoaning and bemoaning. And we were making each other feel worse
But, by golly, she's got to do some work to elect the governor she wants for her state!
And I decided I've got to work to re-elect Supervisor Gordon Mar! He's not my supervisor, but he's a very good man. And he's had the integrity to speak against the recalls we've had -- even though the recalls were popular in his (conservative for SF) district. And now he's suffering, facing a strong challenge from a conservative with zero experience in anything but supporting recalls.
So this is the campaign that I'm going to put my heart and time into.
Now I love canvassing -- the laborious work of schlepping door to door, ringing doorbells and actually talking to registered voters. There's nothing like discussing the election with whoever answers the door or giving an undecided voter some information they didn't have. For me, it's kind of a spiritual communion with democracy.
And if it turns out that Gordon Mar wins a hard-fought election...
I feel partially responsible for the victory!
And if it turns out Gordon Mar loses,
after I feel terrible...
I feel good that at least I tried to make a difference.
Because, you see:
ACTIVISM IS THE ANTIDOTE TO POLITICAL DESPAIR!
And DON'T WAIT until you feel MOTIVATED to do something because:
MOTIVATION FOLLOWS ACTION!
That's right. Those two sentences above in red are psychological truths. The first truth I discovered myself. The second truth has actually been established by psychologists.