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#Politics

  • ENLIGHTENED...by "BLINDED BY THE LIGHT"

    ENLIGHTENED...by BLINDED BY THE LIGHT

    By

    Chuck Cascio

         My students were adamant: "You have to listen to this guy, Mr. C.! You love Dylan, so you have to hear this guy!" One young woman waved a cassette tape in my face.

         Me: "Whoever this guy is, he is not Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan is a poet, the voice of the heart and of the conscience."

         Students: "But, Mr. C., you always tell us to try new things! You always say: 'Trying new things broadens your thinking and creativity.' So come on!”

         It was 1973 and I was a young English and Journalism teacher at George C. Marshall High School in Falls Church, VA. I loved my students' reactions when I had them analyze lyrics by Dylan and apply them to the socio-political climate of the time, or when I would play a Beach Boys song and ask them something seemingly bizarre like, “Equate their harmonies with the textured flow of a Dickinson poem.” At first, they would look at me confused, skeptical, but gradually they would dig in and they would come up with analogies I never dreamed of. Now, they were convinced, it was my turn to grow.

         So I relented: “Okay, so who is it that you want me to listen to? This ‘Dylan Equivalent?' "

         They did not waste a second. A cassette player appeared, the  tape was snapped in, and the entire class stood in a circle, smiling in anticipation as they awaited my reaction.

         The first sounds I heard from the recording were surprisingly appealing--a couple of engaging guitar riffs, a subtle drumbeat, another guitar floating through, hinting at something different. A few seconds passed and I was interested--not yet hooked, but interested. Then I heard the raspy, almost whispered words…

         "Sandy, the fireworks are hailin' over little Eden tonight

         Forcin' a light into all those stony faces left stranded on this fourth of July..."

    …and just two lines in, I knew I had to hear the rest. I listened intently, while my students nudged one another and some softly sang along with Bruce Springsteen's "Fourth of July, Asbury Park."

         My students did what they knew they could do--they hooked me on Bruce, and over the years I have thought often about that classroom experience (and many others)—and about how much we all have to learn by listening, looking, sharing. 

         That day, and those feelings, rushed back recently when my wife and I went to see the movie Blinded By the Light, which is based on the true story of a young Pakistani man facing the racism of late 1980s England. A friend turns the young man on to Springsteen, and his life is changed by The Boss's lyrics and music. 

         In the movie, Springsteen’s songs contribute to the young man’s development of personal strength. He experiences new insights into society. His thinking is influenced by many of Springsteen's lyrics, including one that especially hits home with him…and me… from the song "The Price You Pay": 

              “Now they'd come so far and they'd waited so long

             Just to end up caught in a dream where everything goes wrong

             Where the dark of night holds back the light of the day

             And you've gotta stand and fight for the price you pay…”

         I won't go into what are, to me, the rather obvious applications those particular lines have to life today. But it makes me think back to the 1970s when the kids I taught were experiencing a continuing era of overt racism, conflict over segregation versus desegregation, worldwide economic turmoil, a foreign war that was not formally termed a “war” by politicians of the time, talks of impeaching the president and more...and I wonder:   

         Exactly how far have we come? 

         Those kids in my classroom found a reality in the songs of Springsteen, and they shared that reality with one another and, fortunately,  with me. But they also heard and shared an element of change and a sense that life is fleeting, that people must determine what is right and what they want to pursue, and that the opportunity for personal or social change always exists…though sometimes with a price.

         Sure, they might metaphorically catch their shirts, as “Fourth of July, Asbury Park” says, on that "tilt-a-whirl down on the south beach drag" that "kept me spinnin'/I didn't think I'd ever get off…" but there is also this bit of hope at the end of the song:

              “…the aurora is rising behind us

             This pier lights our carnival life forever

             Oh, love me tonight and I promise I'll love you forever…”

         None of this is to imply that Bruce Springsteen or Bob Dylan or some singer-songwriter today has all of the answers to the looming socio-political issues we face or to the vast personal questions today’s youths confront. But the movie Blinded By the Light  emphasizes the importance of capturing the elements of hope and change, grabbing onto them, and not being afraid to “stand and fight for the price you pay.”

         Our natural instinct is to hope that the price we pay is not too high and that what we pay for will have a lasting positive effect for us and for all. As Springsteen warns in his song "Better Days," we shouldn't be "just sittin' around waitin' for my life to begin/While it was all just slippin' away." 

         I don’t know what happened to most of those students I had all those years ago, the ones who felt comfortable enough to have me listen to Springsteen, knowing that I would be captivated by The Boss. I do hope that they are all and that they still enjoy his music, that they also see how his words apply to today’s world, and that they have lived with this simple lyric in mind from Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark”:

              “You can’t start a fire without a spark.”

         If you want to rekindle that fire, go see Blinded By the Light. It brings back memories, but more important, it serves as a reminder that art can spark meaningful thought, and that we are all responsible for starting our own fires.

    Copyright: Chuck Cascio. All rights reserved.

  • The Murder of RFK--An excerpt from THE FIRE ESCAPE BELONGS IN BROOKLYN

    REACTION TO THE MURDER OF BOBBY KENNEDY—
    An excerpt from the novel, THE FIRE ESCAPE BELONGS IN BROOKLYN
          A small group of weeping campaign workers sat around Professor Staunton in a corner of the campaign office. As Erica and I approached, I could see he cradled something in his hands. His face was flushed and his words slurred; he had been drinking. When he saw us, he held up a Kennedy poster. Red paint had been dripped across Kennedy’s head. At the bottom of the poster, someone had painted the words,  “Compliments of the friends of Jimmy Hoffa.” 
         “There is no end to it,” Professor Staunton said. “There will never be an end to it. We suffer once and then again and again and again. Hatred is in the air we breathe; it is what keeps us alive; it is what kills us all; it is what we worship; it is what we pray to; it is what destroys our soul.” 
         Wakonda, who had been kneeling next to him, stood and held his head in her arms. She said to us, “This is another day of evil, but we must continue to find hope in our souls.” 
         “But please, Wakonda, please help me; tell me what to hope for,” Erica said. 
         Wakonda’s kind, dark eyes focused directly on Erica’s, and then Wakonda reached out, held Erica’s shoulders, and said with soft but fierce commitment, “You can hope for the vision to live even as others die, Erica. You can hope for courage…You can hope for the unborn and the newborn. You can hope for those you love and for those who you will love. And you can hope for yourself; we must all hope for ourselves….” 
         Erica looked at me, full of youth, beauty, and pain, her words measured as if she were trying to keep from unraveling as she said, “Then I will continue to hope...that whatever is happening will all mean something. I can—and will—continue to hope!” She was almost shouting. She used no strange dialect to cover her pain, and she shook hard; I tried to steady her, holding her close as we walked to the car. 
         For the entire drive to her house Erica held her hands over her beautiful face, crying in sporadic, heaving sobs, blurting out in whispers a mantra, a repeated prayer, a confused contrition of sorts: “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry for everything I have done…I must hope…I must do better…I must be better…I am sorry for it all…” And she huddled against the car door, her knees against the backs of the hands that covered the face I could no longer see. 
         I pulled up in front of her house. Erica’s face re¬mained buried in her hands. She continued to strug¬gle for self-control, but then she shook and made one final, high-pitched burst—a sound so deep and for¬eign that I can still hear it clearly, painfully, a sound like exploding glass that sent a shudder through me.
    Copyright: Chuck Cascio; all rights reserved.
     
  • Voices of Concern for Our Imperiled Democracy

    VOICES OF CONCERN FOR OUR IMPERILED DEMOCRACY

    An Introduction by Gerald A. DiGrezio, Colonel, USA, retired

    Below is a letter I signed along with 16 other members of my 1968 Infantry Officer Candidate School at Ft Benning, GA.  While we certainly do not claim that we represent the views of the entire class during this period of extreme political diversity, we are a group of mostly Vietnam Veterans with a very singular concern. The signers come from all political persuasions and areas of this country but are united in our concern for what has transpired during the past four years of this presidency.

    We are in an era of time when each week a discovered situation would bring the demise of an administration, but we have become so shell shocked that it barely causes a ripple in the news cycle.  We are led by a president who is only concerned with his own image and is bereft of any concern for the Constitution and the rule of law.  Just two instances in a very long list are his multiple firings of Inspectors General and the U. S. Attorney in Manhattan.

    The duplicity by the Republicans in Congress and the United States Senate has been palpable.  To watch the demise of a political party that prided itself on  patriotism and support of the Constitution has been mystifying at best and duplicitous at worst.

    While we know that this letter will only be a raindrop in a deluge of national concern, the signers felt compelled to issue it.  After all, we took and oath to defend this country against all enemies “foreign and domestic.”  And while I never expected to say it, the greatest threat to the United States of America is resoundingly domestic.

    ###########

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    VOICES OF CONCERN FOR OUR IMPERILED DEMOCRACY

    We the undersigned are former or retired army officers now in our seventies.  We share a common bond, having graduated from the U.S. Army Officer Candidate School at Ft. Benning, Georgia in 1968.  From there, we served in the military in a variety of capacities, wherever we were needed.  As young men, we were committed to defending America’s values, our freedoms, our democracy, and our Constitution.  Some of us made a career in the military, but most of us went on to have productive careers back home in the civilian world.  As a group, we have diverse political views: Republicans, Democrats, Liberals, and Conservatives.  But we are all concerned Americans.

    In the past few months, our system of government has been increasingly under siege.  Our nation has reached this critical point under the current administration of Donald J. Trump.  Important voices have begun to speak out, led by respected members of the highest military rank.  We would like to join this chorus of alarm.

    Our government structure, with its co-equal branches, is in jeopardy.  Our judicial system is reeling.  The FBI, the CIA and the NSA are being mocked and belittled.  Our Attorney General’s office is overtly politicized.  Our State Department is being decimated. Where are the voices of outrage in Congress? The Senate is virtually mute.

    We are concerned that our country is rapidly spinning toward a Presidency staffed by family members and cronies in which the only prerequisite is blind loyalty.  The United States is withdrawing from the world, enjoying little respect internationally.  This cannot continue.  

    Quoting James Mattis, a Marine Four Star General and former Secretary of Defense:

                     “We know that we are better than the abuse of executive authority…We must reject and hold accountable those in office who would make a mockery of our Constitution.”

    We honor the General’s courage, and emphatically call on both chambers of Congress to follow his lead in defending our democracy and our Constitution.  We urge all Americans to consider these ideals as you vote this Fall.

             Signed:                                                                   

    John F. Baxter III (1LT, USA)
    Mark T. Creaven (1LT, USA)
    Larry W. Clark (1LT, USA)
    Colonel Gerald A. DiGrezio, USA, Retired
    Joseph F. Frisz (1LT, USA)
    John A. Guy (1LT, USA)
    Gary J. Goodman (1LT, USA)
    Captain Robert R. Hammeras, USA, Retired
    Daniel R. Mabesoone (1LT, USA)
    A.C. (Budd) Mazurek (1LT, USA)
    John F. McMackin Jr. (1LT, USA)
    Carl A. Ohlson (1LT, USA)
    Charles A. Powell (1LT, USA)
    John B. Slidell (1LT, USA)
    Lt. Colonel Charles R. Stone, USA, Retired
    Lt. Colonel Ralph S. Swingler, USA, Retired
    Wayne P. Yetter (1LT, USA)
     

    Copyright: Gerald A. DiGrezio, all rights reserved.