People Get Ready, We Shall Not Be Moved, A Change is Gonna Come…
Think of America’s greatest civil rights anthems and chances are, those songs by The Impressions, Mavis Staples and Sam Cooke spring to mind, along with others, like Nina Simone’s Mississippi Goddam and Minnesota’s Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are a Changin’.
Now, you can hear a fresh protest anthem, from another Iron Range native, singer-songwriter Paul Metsa, who’s spent decades standing up and singing about civil rights.
After last August’s deadly White Nationalist march in Charlottesville, Metsa wrote Ain’t Gonna Whistle Dixie Anymore as a tribute to Heather Heyer, who was killed when a white nationalist drove into her and other counter-protesters. The new song also features legendary soul singer Wee Willie Walker and three-time Grammy Award winners The Sounds of Blackness.
This Monday, August 20th, 7- 9:00 PM, all are welcome at the East Side Freedom Library to hear Metsa’s new anthem and other songs. The half-hour performance is a part of Metsa’s IndieGoGo fundraiser campaign to release two new songs and a remastered 25th anniversary edition of his Whistling Past the Graveyard LP,.
The musical activist has earned eight Minnesota Music awards, and a dozen original recording projects. He considers his songs, including the classics Slow Justice and Jack Ruby, “bullets in the machine gun of peace.”
During this first anniversary of the Charlottesville tragedy, it’s fitting to hear and remember Metsa’s lyrics:
Hear Paul Metsa perform a short set of songs, including his powerful new protest song, as he raises funds for his IndieGoGo project to release and publicize Ain’t Gonna Whistle Dixie Anymore, featuring legendary soul singer Wee Willie Walker and three-time Grammy Award Winners the Sounds of Blackness. Read more about Metsa here!
Last year at this time, I was standing on a Bloomington football field with 800 other Minnesotans, after our state’s largest mosque, Dar Al Farooq Community Center, had been firebombed. Minnesotans showed up en masse, sending a clear message that we stand with our Muslim neighbors and won’t tolerate violence against them.
We still don’t know how many immigrant families this administration has ripped apart, or if they’ll ever be reunited. It’s not the first time our government has wielded policy against people based on their ethnicity and home countries. A century ago, instead of barring Mexicans and other Latinos, America was determined to exclude Chinese people.
Their story starts in San Francisco Bay, not far from Alcatraz, America’s most notorious prison, now a popular tourist destination. Tucked around the bay, stands a less celebrated place of history, Angel Island.
Named by a Spanish explorer, this idyllic spot became an American immigration detention center designed to discriminate against Asians. An Immigration Service brochure notes plainly, “Dubbed the ‘Guardian of the Western Gate,’ by its staff, this facility was built to help keep Chinese and eventually other Asian immigrants out of the country.”
Today, Angel Island welcomes all visitors. On a pleasant May morning, I mush aboard a ferry from San Francisco with a raucous bunch of high schoolers. Twenty minutes later, I’m first ashore, ready to speed hike up to the immigrant station, before the shuttle arrives with the teenage thrum. I climb 140 steep wooden steps then stride a mile along a paved road. To my left, far below, the bay’s turquoise waters sparkle. Tall grasses, willowy trees and reddish tan cliffs rise to my right.
Walking the curving uphill road, I pass postcard views of sailboats at play, then come to a wood and wire fence by three worn buildings on a sloping hillside. A small marker on the ground confirms that this is Angel Island Immigration Station.
From 1910 to 1940, more than 300,000 immigrants, mostly Chinese, were detained here. Many were held two weeks, some for six months, and at least one immigrant was kept here for over two years. To them, Angel Island was a prison.
Where barbed wire fences and gun towers once stood, today, the remains of a rickety wooden tower slump near a rutted driveway. I walk hesitantly down the drive, unsure if this is the public entrance. A sign notes that when the Army took over the island in 1941, it built two new guard towers around the detention barracks, which were used to house WWII German and Japanese prisoners of war.
At a bell tower overlooking the bay, Sam Louie, a cheerful native Californian, welcomes the high school and elementary students and the few adults for the daily tour. He tells us that his father, mother, and siblings all came through Angel Island. He casually points to an immigrant’s quote on a stone tablet: “It was a tough trip. I was only twelve and I was living with the rest of people, hundreds of them in the freight hole. The beds were stacked up two high…” “That’s my brother,” Sam says, eyeing John F. Louie’s name.
Sam says his parents never talked about Angel Island. Now, the retired educator does his part to share the story of this somber place, a chapter of history many Americans never learned or choose to ignore.
Sam’s weathered face crinkles as he tells the school kids on the tour he’s recruited a substitute tour guide — his father, Louie Share Kim. Turning his back, Sam dons a black Chinese jacket, and in a flash, becomes his father. We learn that Share Kim was 14 years old when his father told him to leave their poor rice farm in Guangdong Province, China and travel to “Gam Saan,” Gold Mountain, what Chinese people called America.
When Share Kim arrived in 1916, thousands of Chinese immigrants were already here, many working in mines or building railroads. As the economy soured, America’s anti-Chinese sentiments exploded. Chinese immigrants and new citizens faced racism and violence, ranging from special taxes aimed at Chinese miners to numerous towns that forced out hundreds of Chinese residents. Dozens of Chinese were lynched.
In 1882, Congress had passed the Chinese Exclusion Act to bar Chinese immigrant laborers. Senators, including John. F. Miller of California, the bill’s sponsor, called Chinese a “degraded and inferior race.” Other senators voiced fears that Chinese immigrants’ “muscles of iron” would overwhelm American workers.
It was the first time America used race to keep out one immigrant group. One senator, George Frisbee Hoar of Massachusetts, lamented “old race prejudice,” and called the Exclusion Act “a crime committed against the Declaration of Independence.” The Exclusion Act did allow some Chinese into America — including scholars, diplomats, merchants and children of U.S. citizens. That last category became a loophole for many immigrants.
Sam explains that after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire destroyed government records, many Chinese immigrants arrived, claiming to be the children of Chinese already living here. They were paper sons, not blood relatives of Chinese already here.
Sam tells us his dad was a paper son. Share Kim, like countless other desperate immigrants, lied to get into America. “I knew as a child growing up that I was never to reveal to others that my father was a paper son for fear that we might all get deported,” he said. For decades, Sam kept his family’s secret.
One scholar estimates that during the half century the Exclusion Act was law, some ninety to ninety-five percent of all Chinese who came to America with false papers. “The first to be restricted, Chinese became the first ‘illegal immigrants,’” writes University of Minnesota Professor Erika Lee, director of the Immigration History Research Center. Another estimate notes that now, one in three Chinese Americans are themselves paper sons or daughters are or their descendants.
Sam herds our group up to the detention barracks, where his father and other immigrants stayed.Sam explains that officials here interrogated immigrants to weed out the paper sons and daughters. The interrogations often lasted two or three days, with hundreds or sometime a thousand questions. “What was the distance between your house in China and your neighbors?” “To which clan did your next-door neighbor belong?”
Sam’s father passed his interrogation and was admitted to the U.S, as the son of a native. Share Kim got a job at a San Francisco noodle factory, then periodically returned home to China, where he married and had children. When he tried to bring his family here in 1936, he and his wife gave different answers about what the flooring in their bedroom was. The family was only admitted only after Share Kim convinced immigration officials that his wife tiled the dirt-floored room while he was in America.
The questioning was nerve-wracking. Then came the waiting. Sam gestures around the men’s restored barracks, sparsely furnished with exhibit displays and replica cots, asking us to imagine spending weeks or months or years here. In this big, drafty room, some 300 men crammed in skinny triple-level bunk beds. Women and children stayed in a nearby barracks.
Gesturing to the wooden slat walls, Sam tells us that Chinese people called this place “mook ook”– wooden house. In China, he explains, only animals, like chickens and pigs, lived in wooden structures. “They thought they were being treated like animals,” Sam says. A multitude of trees still shape the island’s landscape; when explorers first visited, they named it “Wood Island” for its ready supply of trees.
I look out the barracks window and see two palms trees, through a geometric grid of chain link and barbed wire fences. Between the trees, an American flag flaps in the wind, neatly framed within a diamond of the fences. How many immigrants stood by this window, looking out to freedom?
“The sad person sits alone, leaning by a window.”
Sam reads those words, the last lines of one of the many poems inscribed on these wood walls. Scholars have uncovered more than two hundred poems, many hidden under decades of paint. Sam translates a few lines from varied poems.
“I used to admire the land of the Flowery Flag as a country of abundance…”
“I thoroughly hate the barbarians because they do not respect justice…”
“I am anxious and depressed and cannot fall asleep…”
“Even if it is built of jade, it has turned into a cage.”
Those poems saved this wooden barracks. Back in the 1970s, a state park ranger spotted calligraphy inside the decaying building. That discovery stopped the planned demolition and spurred historic renovations. Today, this old immigration station is part of a California state park. Angel Island attracts visitors who come to camp, hike, bike, Segway, picnic, and explore the island’s forts, as well as the immigration station.
Less than 20,000 people tour Angel Island each year, a fraction of the million who tour nearby Alcatraz or the three million people who visit America’s most famous immigration station, Ellis Island. Still, the stories, poems and grief embedded in these walls reverberate today.
Angel Island was part of what one scholar called “The Great Wall Against China,” an echo the White House conjures with its fantasy wall against Mexico. Our country’s fear of Chinese immigrants, who accounted for less than five percent of all our newcomers, plays out again with this administration’s racism against Mexicans, Syrians, Muslims, and other immigrants.
We are doomed to repeat the history we ignore. We need to see and understand what happened in this wooden house of paper sons, a secluded lockup just around the bay from America’s most celebrated prison.
Two years after a police officer fatally shot Philando Castile, the protests, pain, anger and backlash continue to reverberate.
A quick recap:
Within hours of Castile’s killing, Gov. Mark Dayton told a crowd outside the Governor’s Mansion he didn’t think Castile would have been shot at a traffic stop if he had been white. Police union officials and some Republican lawmakers assailed Dayton for what they called his rush to judgement.
Within days, protesters blocked Interstate 94; more than a hundred were arrested; dozens charged with misdemeanor riot. Later in July, another 70 protesters were arrested for continuing to occupy space outside the Governor’s Mansion.
The Science Museum posted a small sign honoring Philando Castile by its “RACE: Are We So Different” exhibit, and critics slammed the museum for “taking sides.” The museum promptly removed the sign.
For the past two years, the Republican-controlled Legislature passed bills increasing penalties on protesters with fines of up to $1,000 and a year in jail. Governor Dayton vetoed those bills, which the ACLU-MN testified would have chilled Minnesotans’ rights to protest.
Now, the ACLU-MN is appealing one protester’s misdemeanor public nuisance conviction. Some protesters arrested outside the Governor’s Mansion are still awaiting trial.
In the two years since Diamond Reynolds live-streamed Philando’s last moments, many community members have worked to learn and heal. This month, the Minneapolis Institute of Art is showcasing an exhibit, “Art and Healing: In the Moment,” featuring posters, paintings, sculpture, video and a mural focused on Philando Castile and how his killing has touched people.
While the community works to heal, protests about racial injustice and many other issues have swelled — as have the angry reactions to those protesting. From the controversy over crowd size at the anti-inaugural protests to this month’s Families Belong Together, each demonstration seems to trigger a counter-protest, a continuing volley of action and then re-action.
Recently, after Rep. Maxine Waters encouraged protesters to challenge Cabinet officials anytime they show up at restaurants, shops or other public places, Waters faced a torrent of opposition. The president insulted her; conservatives alleged she was inciting mob violence. Leaders of her own party refused to back her up, and op-eds and calls for ‘civility’ have mushroomed.
What does civility mean in an era of repeated attacks on civil rights, and our country’s Constitution? Since Philando’s killing and this divisive president, have people become more or less tolerant of protest? More or lessing willing to take to the street in protest?
East Side Freedom Library will host a discussion with civil rights activists on how Philando’s killing has influenced protesters, police, courts, and Minnesota. All welcome to hear and talk with ACLU-MN’s Legal Director Teresa Nelsonand Saint Paul and Saint Paul’s Community-First Public Safety Initiatives Director Jason Sole.
After Philando: Have Protests Changed?
Tuesday, July 10, 2018, 7:00 – 8:30 PM
East Side Freedom Library, 1105 Greenbrier Street, Saint Paul 55106
It’s been four days after Sante Fe, Texas, the latest school shooting. Ninety-sevendays after Parkland. We’ve had so many mass shootings, we rely on a Joe Friday, staccato shorthand to describe the indescribable.
Sante Fe, May 2018, 10 killed, 13 injured
Parkland, Feb 2018, 17 killed, 17 injured
Sutherland Springs, Nov 2017, 26 killed, 20 injured
Las Vegas, Oct 2017, 58 killed, 851 injured
Pulse nightclub, June 2016, 49 killed, 53 injured
Sandy Hook, Dec 2012, 26 killed, 2 injured
Since Sandy Hook, we’ve had 1,686 mass shootings in the U.S., with 1,941 deaths and 7,104 people injured, according to the Gun Violence Archive. The Archive notes that the three days after the Sante Fe shooting were among this year’s most violent. Gunfire killed 88 people and injured another 222.
At least one Sante Fe student said she expected shootings to happen at her school; gun violence has become that commonplace.
We do have one power to prevent the next mass shooting.
We can vote.
It’s four days after Sante Fe, 168 days before November 6, the midterm elections. The first Tuesday in November is our chance to save lives.
We can vote out officials who have refused to pass common-sense gun laws. Electeds who won’t pass gun reform don’t deserve re-election. After all the deaths, still, too many lawmakers aren’t listening. On Friday, hours after the Sante Fe killings, Maryland high school students staged a die-in outside House Speaker Paul Ryan’s Capitol office. Four students were arrested because they demanded Congress vote on common-sense gun laws. Congress ignored their plea.
On November 6, voters have the power to make lawmakers listen. We the people will decide who gets all 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, plus 35 of the Senate’s 100 seats. Minnesota voters will elect a new governor, both U.S. Senators, 8 U.S. representatives plus all 134 seats in the MN House, where Republicans now hold majority.
It’s been two days since the Minnesota Legislature adjourned. In four months, legislators accomplished– well, almost nothing. They refused to consider any common-sense gun bills, including background checks and red flag bills. They couldn’t even pass a hands-free cell phone driving bill, which had broad bipartisan support and no organized opposition.
November 6 is when the people can shape the future, creating a wave that washes out the do-nothings and brings in a surge of actual leaders.
Of course, one election can’t fix everything. This midterm won’t change who sits in the White House. Still, voters can send a warning that we’re paying attention. In 2020, voters can remember that both the president and vice president spoke at this month’s N.R.A. Convention, promising the gun industry that no sensible gun laws would happen as long they they were in the White House.
November’s election is about more than preventing gun violence; it’s the day Americans can begin remedying so many tragedies, so many wrongs. After yet another mass shooting, after yet another Muslim travel ban, after yet another attack on the environment, on immigrants rights, workers rights, women’s rights…
After the relentless battering of civil liberties and human decency, citizens can use our super power, the ballot box.
With 168 days before polls open, now’s the time to register voters, doorknock and phonebank, donate to candidates and causes who will represent us and protect us, instead of gun manufacturers.
After Friday’s mass shooting, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo made the case for the urgency of voting:
“We need to start using the ballot box and ballot initiatives to take the matters out of the hands of people that are doing nothing, that are elected, into the hands of the people to see that the will of the people of this country is actually carried out.”
On November 6, when I stand in the voting booth, I’ll pause to remember the students and teachers of Sante Fe and Parkland, Red Lake and Columbine.
This weekend’s Saint Paul Art Crawl offers a bonanza of beauty and cool crafts, including powerful works rooted in solidarity and social justice at East Side Freedom Library.
The vibrant purples and hot pinks textiles at the Library are more than pretty pieces of cloth. This art has a story, woven by Karen women who meet weekly at the East Side Freedom Library. Weavers will demonstrate their skills and sell their handcrafts at the Library, throughout the Art Crawl, which starts Friday, April 27, 6-10 pm, and continues Saturday, noon-8 pm, and Sunday, noon-5 pm.
Veteran potter Claire O’Connor’s commitment to social justice shows up in the work she’s done helping battered women, at-risk young people, and people with chronic mental health issues, as well as in her artwork. Photos of civil rights icons and a burning bus, part of the Freedom Ride, cover the sides of a potent work, Fill the Jails 1961.
O’Connor takes a long view on history. In her blog, she notes that most of the although archeologists don’t emphasize it, most of the pottery artifacts come from women. O’Connor and the Karen weavers are part of a tradition of women making art– be it pottery or textiles– embedded with meaning.