Saturday, November 26, 2011

Learning Curve on the Politic

I often get to wondering why some of us feel as intense we do regarding left and right stances in politics. A post: : aux armes? by al loomis (no capitals - ever), at Open Salon the other day reminded me of reasons for my own strongly left-leaning political ideals.

These lines, from al loomis, regarding his family history, shed light on why some things in my own ancestral memory bank are significant:

...... participants in the great depression are nearly all dead now, but my father grew up in a farm destroyed by the dust bowl, and had to leave home at 14, driven by hunger. his story was quite typical. for half of america, conditions then were vastly worse than now, but still the elite kept control of american society. socialism appeared but was subsumed into the democrat party, and strangled.

compared to the events of the 30's, calling ows a revolutionary movement is self-delusionary. yet it is not useless: this generation of unhappy people have to learn transformational politics the hard way, like everyone else.
In Britain, long before the 1930s, in the late 1800s in fact, my paternal grandfather was born in Suffolk, England, amid the beautiful pastoral landscape beloved of painter John Constable. There, in those days, wealthy landowners paid farm labourers such as those from the family background of my Grandfather, pittances to toil long hours on their estates and farms, with womenfolk as maidservants in their sumptuous households, under serf-like working conditions.

Grandad and his sister, both still very young, with their mother somehow found themselves in a workhouse in a neighbouring county: Essex. Details of how this came about remain unknown to me, as does identity of the children's father. As soon as Grandad was old enough he set off to walk northward to find work. Eventually, after many stops on the way, taking months or even years, picking up temporary farm work wherever he could, he reached Yorkshire, England's biggest county - English version of Texas I always think. He got a job as shepherd on a large farm, met my Grandmother who was then a servant to some branch of local landed gentry. They married, lived in the modest cottage provided for the shepherd. Children came in rapid succession, two daughters, then my father and, eventually, seven more assorted siblings.

1914: World War 1 - it changed the scene. Grandad served in the army, suffered injury to his leg, which though often painful didn't seriously restict his walking. On return home he began work as a postman (mailman), a job he carried out for the rest of his working life. His five daughters, when of age, had to take the only option of work available: domestic servants to the local wealthy. His four older sons, including Dad were obliged to leave school around age 14 to help provide for their siblings. My father had had ambitions of working in the local railway offices, or in the post office, but that wasn't possible without longer schooling. He eventually took apprenticeship to a local baker. Dad met and married my mother who was working as a domestic servant to some local dignitary or other. Once wed, they moved to Brighton in the south of England to seek better opportunities. Dad got a decent job as foreman in a big bakery, while Mum became domestic servant to a journalist on a swanky magazine, sadly only a minor improvement for her. In late 1938, before World War 2 began, my maternal Grandmother persuaded my parents-to-be to "come back home" to Yorkshire. They did, and happily my Dad soon got a job as manager of a big bakery in Hull, with Mum managing one of their shops, which had a house, for us, adjoining.

A few years after World War 2, my parents adventurously struck out in business on their own. They rented a property, previously a house and butchery business in a small market town in East Yorkshire. They equipped a bakery as best they could, using their own handiwork and what capital they had (very little) to buy equipment sufficient to transform the place into a bakery and update the shop, improving and modernising as soon as profits allowed. Through years of hard work and long hours, just the two of them, providing excellent bread and confectionery, they eventually made a comfortable living, and gathered experience to move on to other types of small business. For several years, before they retired, they ran sub-post offices in a variety of locations. My Dad's early wish to work behind a post office counter, had at last come to fruition. They had ridden the "spiral of time" through the worst of times and into a more comfortable era - for a while at least.

For a long time the lives of servitude of my earliest forebears didn't strike me as anything unusual or something to question. Unions and workers' rights had then been unknown in our part of the world. The wealthy were in charge, that was a simple fact of life, it had never been different. Bowing and scraping to those seen as "one's betters" was the done thing.

Thoughts on politics for me, as a teenager, were non-existent, in spite of some hints from a distinctly socialistic history mistress, whose habit it was to wear a bright red overall during lessons, I remained "in the dark" about politics in general.

My parents were mainly apolitical, but, as I recall, voted Conservative (until Maggie Thatcher's reign anyway), probably for the same reason people in that part of the world still vote Conservative; and for the same reason people in this part of rural mid-USA still vote Conservative/Republican. They didn't/don't "get it", in spite of family backgrounds, which in many cases include generations of servitude to the wealthy.

The light of understanding, for me, began to penetrate by degrees, with benefit of input from a well-respected first boss, who hailed originally from the cotton mill-towns of Lancashire. There Friedrich Engels, friend of Karl Marx, had long ago conquered hearts and minds with his efforts to raise awareness of injustices, and improve the conditions of mill-workers. My boss, steeped in Labour politics, influenced his young assistant to think more deeply on things political.

Later, Bill, my well-loved late significant other enlightened me further. His background was very different from my own. His mother had been the daughter of a very conservative, rather snobbish family in Northern Ireland. To the family's utmost chagrin, she had married an engineering blacksmith, one of the leaders of his trade union and activist in the local Labour party: Bill's father. Hearing about his father's ideals and good works, the light flooded in, I realised exactly what I felt about it all. The darkness has never descended again.

As al loomis points out in his post (linked above) things now are quite different from the way things were for our parents and grandparents. Similar patterns do remain though. History is rhyming again! Instead of landed gentry and wealthy industrialists we have corporations and oligarchs ruling the roost. The spiral of time and history has brought us to another point, via some helpful periods during which things seemed to improve for ordinary folk, back again to a pattern that is becoming suspiciously recognisable.

When I write on politics, or discuss politics with my husband, I get an instinctive feeling of a supporting, encouraging presence of those gone before, both loved and unknown, who suffered indignities themselves, or who have understood the crux of poliical problems. (Note: I am not normally given to such fanciful ideas!)

If matters are allowed to slip back, as they appear to be doing, into a 21st century version of serfdom or indentured servitude for the masses, to last for decades, we shall be doing ourselves, and those who will follow when we're gone, the greatest possible disservice. Surely a return to an old darkness, albeit a newer version of it - akin to one of those unfortunate Hollywood re-makes, need not be inevitable? Surely we do not need World War 3 to force us to turn a corner into the light again? Surely we have learned some lessons?

And that is why my political views are as they are!


Anonymous said...

GP: Very inspiring post, T.

What are what you call "your political atavisms", while reading your family's history as you relate it, remind me of my own, more of the religious variety:

My paternal ancestors (farmers in the western Swiss Alps (close to Zermatt) got themselves involved in religious "wars" to the point that, being protestants, they had to flee/emigrated to more friendly Graubuenden, presumably taking their goats and cows along.

But there not "all was roses, neither". Some joined Napoleon's army as mercenaries, then returned or ended up in Milano. One even became a rather successful banker there. Others moved to the Engadine (Samedan near St. Moritz) which was a protestant bastion since Italian protestant refugies in the 17th century had populated the region. The sculptor Alberto Giacometti is one of their descendants.

As a boy, with my brother, we enjoyed putting on Napoleaonic uniforms and especially carrying the rifles and daggers some of our grand uncles had left over from their military carreers. More important, the spirit of revolt or "move on if feeling restricted" which happens to be mine, (my Mars is in Aquarius) must have its mundaine roots there. Makes one think that the Chinese tradition of "honouring ones ancestrors" does possibly weigh much more than we usually assume...

Twilight said...

Anonymous/Gian Paul ~~

Thank you for your contribution to this, GP. Very interesting it is too, and reflects well the flavour of the times in your (then) part of the world. :-)

Yes, the "honouring of one's ancestors" must be part and parcel of our sub-conscious mind/heart, and drops of their astrology must also seep through into ours.

Your Mars and my Sun might be astro messages (and potential instruction manuals) constructed from long gone hopes and wishes of generations of our ancestors.

Yvonne Mokihana Calizar said...

Digging into your ancestral roots to confirm your politics to share here was inspiring. I read your story and relate to it from the other side of the globe, with my roots in the islands of the Pacific, and the 'occupy' layers of many thousands of years. Ancestral memory in my culture is the beginning and the ever on-going coil. When oppression and culture are bred over you for generations, the backbone and staying power goes underground for a time until enough new body-mind-soul are alive at the same time.

Hawaiian Culture persists against all odds and is in all ways, an example of sustaining in spite of 'cultural fatigue.' I see the movements of serfdom and unleashing the yoke of consumerism in civiliations today as a collective opportunity to know one's roots; one's indiscretions; one's Nodes (North for evolutionary progress and South for ancestral memory/burden). Compressed as the Hawaiian Islands are, these small land masses have been a lookout post for the rising and fall of both the specific and metaphorical of the stars and bodies of heaven (as seen from Earth). I maintain my journey as a Makua O'o, an elder in training. The training never ends, it spirals and the river moves in all directions at once.

I love how your post affirms your backbone, and makes your politics an authentic expression of all that you and your ancestors remember.

Christina said...

I found this piece very moving, Twilight.

We all carry the burden of our ancestry & it's interesting how, as we grow older we become more conscious of the exact weight and shape of it & of how it has been passed down many generations, reshaped each time of course.

Juno said...

Thank you :0 given your previous comments on OWS and Hollywood, I thought you might enjoy this blog article. HEre is the link:

JD said...

very illuminating Twilight m'dear :)

and your ancestor tale is probably typical for most of us in the UK - mine is the same but different, if you know what I mean :)

my grandfather crawled around on his hands and knees, deep underground hewing out coal and he came home black as the ace of spades because the Coal Owners provided nothing in the way of welfare or even 'health and safety' - anything not directly connected with actual coal production was an unnecessary expense.
And the plutocrats wonder why we hate them.

But I am still standing and one thing I know for sure is that no politician is ever going to do anything to improve things. That is not why they go into politics.

As always, it is up to the people to change things and I know that, however difficult my life may have been, it is better than that of my parents and infinitely better than my grandparents' generation.

Twilight said...

Yvonne Mokihana Calizar ~~ That's a beautiful comment - thank you for it!

What a richly patterned ancestry, with deep wisdom embedded, you must have!

I spent a 3-week vacation on Oahu in 1984 -- wept when it was time to leave. The sea was sooooo blue, and the water so clear and clean then. I hope it's still the same. On return home I read and re-read James A Michener's book "Hawaii". :-)

Twilight said...

Christina ~~ Thank you.
That is true. Maybe this is the "wisdom" we are told comes with age. :-) The wisdom of honouring the past.

Twilight said...

Juno ~~ Many thanks for that link - I have read the beginning and know I'm going to "eat it up" in full shortly - then save the website for future reference!

Twilight said...

JD ~~ Yes, the UK is a kind of concentrate of these patterns isn't it?

I almost mentioned the mines in my post, though I have no miners in my background (none I'm aware of anyway). Those men were some of the most mistreated and under-appreciated of any workers.

We all owe a debt to those who've gone before, don't we? We are standing on their shoulders now.
Whatever things, no matter how small, we can do to help ensure that coming generations don't fall off the shoulders they stand on , has to be worthwhile. In the end they'll have to do it for themselves, of course.

Anonymous said...

GP: Having red the preceding and very pertinent comments I wonder if by leaving astrology and atavistic notions apart, there is not some moral/ecological spirit alive wich may gain the upper hand - the more the circumstances depravate.

Yvonne from Hawaii points in that direction when she says that "body-mind-soul" forces go underground until thay gather enough strenght to surge and open new avenues!

The OWS thing is too much of a "have-not against whatever % of rich people" spectacle to have any chance to move things, in my opinion. One merit though is that it has created more awareness of the crying discrepancies existing.

It's not Wall Street (admittedly a symbol only) but the "consumerist and ever more savage economic dictat" that smacks so much of the Kali Yuga Hindus (and may-be the Mayas in Mexico...) are considering for our current epoch.

Twilight said...

Anonymous/Gian Paul ~~
Yes, I think that's the case. However differently we each describe it, there's "something happening" now.

OWS and protests by ordinary people in many countries is the first evidence - not any solution (yet) though.

We could use that line of Tessessee Williams from Camino Real
(also on his tombstone)

"The violets in the mountains have broken the rocks."

Wisewebwoman said...

Beautiful heart felt post, T dear!
I am one generation removed from tenant dirt farmers (mother put out to 'service' at the age of 12) and Lord **** estate workers on the paternal side (mix of servants and labourers) so come to my left leaning principles well also. Bitterness ran with my maternal grandfather as his land had been taken generations before and his entire family apart from one slaughtered.

I am not hopeful with regard to today and what is happening with the oligarchs and the theocorporatocracy. The ignorances of the poor astonishes me, but religion also keeps them stupid and easily subdued in the name of the lord.

I could write reams on all of this but this is your blog :)

Thanks as always!


TE said...

Funny to read this post right now when the Tories are attempting to role back most of the social advances of the 20th century. And ordinary people are for the most part passively standing by and allowing it to happen.

Maybe, it's as Julian Fellows, the screenwriter of Downton Abbey (the BBC's modern day 'Upstairs & Downstairs') says, that it's popularity is because 'the english actually long for the good old days of class priviledge'!

Twilight said...

Wisewebwoman ~~ Thank you - and for input of your own family's experience.

I share your doubts, but at the same time cannot help but feel that something is changing now - very, very slowly though....maybe too slowly for us to notice clearly, and be sure of it - yet.

Twilight said...

TE ~~ Hi there!
Ah yes - Downton Abbey - we watched it a while ago, when it was screened on PBS. Not my favourite subject matter as you might guess - interesting to see how it was portrayed though. Saw a trailer for a re-run just last evening too.

'the english actually long for the good old days of class priviledge'!

You know - there's a lot in that! And many people in the USA feel likewise. Very curious quirk of human nature isn't it?

Thanks for the link. :-)