Thursday, July 28, 2011

Historical Antecedents to Mayor Sullivan’s “Safe Mayor” Ordinance

Anchorage's Mayor Sullivan proposed a "Safe Sidewalk" ordinance, but I think it's more aptly titled a "Safe Mayor" ordinance.  It appears to be aimed at stopping one man from protesting the Mayor's anti-homeless crusade. [Looks like it didn't pass for now.]

 First he cleared out the homeless camps in the greenbelts.  More recently he’s asked the Assembly to pass a law banning sitting or lying on the sidewalk downtown, very clearly in response to a homeless man who has been doing that in protest of the Mayor.  He called it, I believe, “Safe Sidewalks” ordinance.  I'm calling it the Safe Mayor ordinance.

Kingsolver tells us of another time when the poor - veterans of WW I who hadn’t gotten their war bonus - sat in protest in Washington DC.  Sullivan, when asked if he would meet with the protester,  said something like, “No.  If this guy wants to talk to me, he can clean up and dress decent and make an appointment like everyone else.”

Knowing history helps put today into context.  While technology has changed greatly, individual human behavior hasn’t.  I’m reading Barbara Kingsolver’s The Lacuna while we’re here in Cordova.   Much of it takes place in the 1930s, in Mexico and the US.  She weaves in the current history of the day.  The incident below brings to mind Mayor Sullivan’s recent crusdade against the poor in Anchorage.  But there’s more that resonates with today.  Depression.  Congress turning down bills to help the poor.  It’s all happened before.

My posts are more complicated than some people think they should be.  I make them so, because life is complicated.  Things need to be put into context.  And what I write has much less context than they need, but more than one usually gets in mainstream media.  So bear with me here as I put this in context.  And note, by some coincidence, part of the events take place on July 28, 1932 and the date of this post is July 28, 2011.  Given the number of google hits with, “If I were born in 1908, how old would I be today?” I know that not everyone who gets to this blog can figure out that (1932) was 80 years ago.  That’s just a lucky bonus.

The main character of The Lacuna is Harrison Shephard, the son of an American bureaucrat and a Mexican mother, who returned to Mexico with Harrison when he was very young.  He’s now 15 and Mom’s sent him back to his dad to go to school in Washington DC.  It’s 1932.

Kingsolver throws in lots of little details, but they all seem to be there for a reason.  They set us up for little comments later in the story.  Here’s one that’s relevant to the quotes later.

[p. 86]“President Hoover is the greatest man ever lived,”  [Father] said, overly loud.  People looked.  “They’ve just had a telephone put in on his desk, for calling his chief of staff.  He can get MacArthur quick as snapping his fingers.  You think your president of Mexico has a telephone on his desk?”
  Mexico will be held as a grudge, then.  Probably for reasons to do with Mother.  Ortíz Rubio [President of Mexico] does have a telephone;  the newspapers say he can’t make a move without ringing up Calles first, at this house on the Street of Forty Thieves in Cuernavaca.  But Father didn’t want to hear about that.  People ask without wanting to know. . . [Yes, this kid is wise beyond his years.]
[pp. 96-7] May 5, [1932]

“A woman in a headscarf held up a naked baby toward our trolley.  The baby waved its arms.  A hobo jungle is unlike other jungles, where monkeys howl through the leafy air.  “What do they all want?”
“What does anybhody want?  Something for nothing acourse.” . . .
“But why so many of them?  And all the flags?”
“They’re war vetarans.  Or so they say, because vets are entitled to a soldier’s bonus .  they want their bonus.”  
Ragged men stood at military attention every few meters, like fence posts all along the edge of the camp facing the street.  Veteran soldiers, you could tell it from the placment of feet and shoulders.  But their eyes searched the passing trolley with a terrifying hunger.  “They’ve been here all week?  What do the families live on?”
“Shoe leather soup, I’d say.”
“Those men fought in France, with mustard gas and everything?”
Father Nodded. . .
So, can’t they get their money now, if they fought in the war?”
“I’d have  been there too in the Argonne,:  he said suddenly turning pinkish, “if I could have been.  Did your mother tell you I wouldn’t fight in the war?”
A subject to steer around.  “What’s the soldier’s bonus suppsed to be?”
Surprisingly, Father knew the answer:  $500 a man.  He is a bean counter for the government.  Five hundred bucks for risking a life in the war, so they could begin a new one here.  Congress turned them down, decided to pay out the bonus later when these men are old.  So they’ve come here from everywhere, wishing to take the matter up with the president.
“Does Mr. Hoover mean to meet with them?”
“Not on our life.  If they want to talk to him, they better use the telephone.”
McArthur’s troops are out with tanks, but Patton’s cavalry men on horseback get through the blocked streets easier.
[p. 106]
July 28, 1932“Between the stone wall and the crush of shoulders, it was hard to breath.  Over the sea of heads and hats you could catch sight of cavalrymen leaning down from the waist, on their horses, flailing their saber blades against whatever was below them.

  Against people.  That hit with a shock.  They were beating at the Bonus Army men and women with razor-sharp blades of sabers.”

[p. 107]July 29
It’s all in the newspapers today. . .
Gallinger Hospital filled to overflowing with the casualities. Any Bonus Marchers who made it to the Eleventh Street bridge joined the ones at the reiverbank encampment.  Mr. Hoover sent orders for troops to stop at the bridge, but MacArthur “couldn’t be bothered with new orders” so he mounted machine guns on the bridge and led a column of infantry across the Potomac into the encampment.  They set flaming torches to the canvas and pasteboard homes.  Exactly as Cortés said it:  Much grieved to burn up the people, but since it was still more grievous to them, he determined to do it.  [Remember, Harrison grew up in Mexico and he’d been reading about Cortés’ conquering the Aztecs.]

The late extra:  After sunset yesterday the flames in the Anacostia encampment rose fifty feet in the air and spread to the surrounding woods.  Six companies of firemen were required to defend adjacent property.  The president observed from the White House windows an unusual glow in the eastern sky, and conceded MacAruther was right to proceed with the routing.  In his opinion the Bonus Army consists of Communists and persons with criminal records.
Oh, yes,  One more Hoover telephone comment.  A joke this time:
President Hoover asked the treasury secretary for a nickel to telephone a friend.
Secretary Mellon said, "Here's a dime.  Call both of them."

We’re off to Childs Glacier for a couple of nights and, I assume, out of contact with the world.  I'll post one more ahead for tomorrow.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments will be reviewed, not for content (except ads), but for style. Comments with personal insults, rambling tirades, and significant repetition will be deleted. Ads disguised as comments, unless closely related to the post and of value to readers (my call) will be deleted. Click here to learn to put links in your comment.