|John and I wake to a sunny morning riding past Klamath Lake, and spend the next two hours birdwatching -- egrets, pelicans, red-winged blackbirds -- and enjoying the sweeping vistas of lake, mountains, mesas, and pine forests.
I feel strangely removed from the immigrants' rights marches and rallies of this International Workers' Day. The train staff are white and African-American, probably all native-born. Without TV, radio, computer or even a newspaper, I have no connection except my imagination with the momentous gatherings beginning to happen all over the country. As the day goes on, I picture the Albertson's on Monument Blvd. in Concord and wonder how it's going, how big the turnout will be. I think mostly of Ivette and Mike, my buddies of Contra Costa CODEPINK. I know THEY will be marching, and Mike will have at least one of his amazingly sturdy political signs. Mike doesn't just make signs; he engineers them.
We are seated at lunch with a pleasant retired couple from Sacramento. (Many of the sleeping compartment passengers are happy older married couples; I suppose unhappy couples would never put themselves to the test of being in such close quarters for days at a time.) We spend a leisurely lunch talking about our gardens, the strange cold spring we've had, the killer traffic outside Sacramento, as the green glories of the Oregon Cascades pass by in the windows. At times we stop briefly to look at a waterfall, or a particularly beautiful grove of firs.
The conversation turns to solar energy; why hasn't it really taken hold, especially in the Sacramento area, so well-suited for it? Why don't we have non-gasoline engines? Why don't we start weaning ourselves off petroleum products? The questions are pertinent, the concerns are real, yet I am struck by how we, four middle-aged, middle-class people of some competence and initiative in our professional lives, have been passive consumers, waiting for an eco-savvy future with sensible energy choices for home and transportation that never seem to arrive. We are aware of the destructive nature of our oil-based economy and culture, and make some small, less-destructive choices, and yet... Hey, we're riding the train! We're gardening without pesticides! We're living in small (for the US middle-class) homes! We're not so bad! Why hasn't all that good stuff we were talking and reading about in the 70s happened already?!
But I don't, as John would call it, "launch." That is, scold or rant. Anyway, who am I to judge others in this respect? I'm a car-driving, long-shower-taking California consumer myself. Mostly I listen, and watch the fertile farms and nurseries of the Willamette Valley come into view. And then Mt. Hood, the towering white triangle that presides over northern Oregon, a powerful spirit, one of the range of individual volcanic peaks that starts with Mt. Shasta in California and goes to Mt. Baker in Washington.
At the mid-afternoon wine tasting, the craggy-faced guy pouring our California and Oregon wines gives us first-class passengers a history question: What US president claimed to have killed his grandmother? I guess Ulysses Grant, thinking that he was such a depressive alchoholic he might have said something morbid like that. John guesses Andrew Jackson, surely one of the most violent of our presidents. Wrong! Showing his gap-toothed smile, our sommelier tells us the following anecdote:
FDR grew bored in a long reception line one day, and said the man next to him, "I bet I could say anything to these people [in line to shake his hand] and they would just nod and smile." As the next 20 folks shook his hand and asked, "How are you, Mr. President?" FDR replied, "Very well! I just killed my grandmother this morning." As he had predicted, all simply nodded, smiled and moved on, except for the last, an ardent Democrat who replied, "I'm sure she deserved it, Mr. President!"
That evening in Portland, I watch CNN, C-Span, and Fox News for May Day coverage while John visits his parents. The overall tone of the TV coverage of the vast, historic marches and rallies from NYC to LA seems to be: "Damn the illegals! Damn them all to hell for their lawbreaking!" The hypocrisy and just plain ignorance would be amusing if it were not so insulting, not only to undocumented immigrants but to anyone allied with or sympathetic to them. CNN runs a loop of scenes of young men running across the Mexican-Arizona border or climbing fences, over and over, as Anderson Cooper talks up the "documentary" he has just made on illegal immigration. He then interviews a major TV newscaster for the Spanish-language media, who makes a calm, reasoned defense of undocumented immigrants, while Anderson seems at a loss for how to respond. On the show "Nancy Grace," the agressive former attorney shouts at her various guests, "If this [the Sensenbrenner bill] passes, there are going to be 11 MILLION felons! Where are they going to put them? We don't have enough room for the felons we have now..." Her only outrage seems to be that politicians don't understand the shortage of beds for already existing felons. C-Span is showing presentations by naturalized citizens, mostly Latino/as, who speak of their own devotion to the USA, their struggles to follow immigration law, and their moral superiority to the "illegals" who, for their own whimsical amusement it would seem, flout the laws "of this great country." We are the GOOD immigrants, they all say, in one way or another, and these later-arriving law-breakers are the BAD.
NAFTA is never mentioned, nor the devastating effects it has had on the Mexican economy, especially the agricultural sectors. Not a peep about the hiring of "illegals" by the agents of US capitalism. Nor any word of the thousands of Mexican nationals pulled into the US military to fight and die in Iraq, with the promise of earning a green card (but only after coming back in a coffin, there's the catch!).
But Fox coverage is the worst. A blaring headline screams: "Boycott -- economic terrorism?" Yes, anything bad for the Masters of the Media Universe is "terrorism." Later in the program the headline has been changed to something like, "Boycott: overstated?" Demonize or minimize.
In scenes from the various marches, particularly in LA, I notice with pleasure the element of joy, of young people dancing together holding a US flag, for example, or simply enjoying each other's company. Lots of music and friendship, as well as the more overtly political messages and demands for respect, integration and security.