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by Janet C. Phelan
Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2005 at 2:25 PM
firstname.lastname@example.org (310) 755-4469
An essay on class mentality
This is a little story about class. This is a little story about the emergence of an insidious form of class warfare in the country where Lady Liberty holds up her torch declaring a refuge for "the poor and downtrodden."
I call this little story, "Living on the Plantation."
Since my apartment and all assets were seized under the Patriot Act in a massive attempt to impede my path as a reporter, I have been traveling through the dark underbelly of America. As a target and as a homeless woman, I have been privy to view a side of America which rarely gets filtered through the press. Those populating the dark underbelly of America survive by scamming, threatening, finessing and "working" the system. The border between criminality and legality becomes blurred. The fact that the "disenfranchised" mimic the tactics of the powerful and well-heeled should not escape attention. Those residing on the steets are simply less genteel in their moves.
I came from a nurturing, loving and profoundly decent home, and availed myself of nearly the best education this country offers. To find myself "living on the plantation" at a point in history where we are cresting on class warfare has provided me an education simply unavailable in the halls of higher learning.
I was riding the bus in Santa Monica last week, when a black man boarded the bus. He was in his late fifties, short and wearing a fringed leather jacket and the air of angry entitlement. He smelled like brine. His eyes rested on the seat where my gear--backpack and sleeping bag--sat propped up.
"I want to sit there, " he stated. The bus was only half full, but I obliged him and put my gear on the floor. Instead of taking the seat, he sat across the aisle from me and began to taunt me.
"I was in slavery for 350 years, " he spat out. "Now you're in slavery. How do you like that, girlie?'
I looked at him and quietly said, "You are apparently still in slavery. You are enslaved to your rage."
He then stood up and a torrent of obscenities streamed from his lips.
I stated he was bothering me and told him to stop. When he did not, I rose and requested assistance from the bus driver.
"What do you want me to do?" he said. "I just drive the bus."
I returned to my seat, and the man pulled out a camera and began to snap photos of me. Alarmed, I again requested assistance from the driver, who again demurred. I then stated I would call the police. The man immediatelly got off the bus and took off in a trot.
Given a taste of power, the oppressed quickly adopt the accoutrements of the oppressor. One only needs to view the freedom-restricing decisions of the black, right-wing Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, which exemplifies the mechanism of "identification with the aggressor." whereby the abused becomes the abuser.
It has been often said that the black woman is on the very bottom of the pecking order. Condoleeza Rice brings none of the compassion forged by persecution to her role as Secretary of State, and all the accrued wisdom of the techniques of dominance and control.
I am sleeping in a tree house at a friend's Malibu home. There are several houses on the property, all occupied. Jesse lives in a one-bedroom unit, and it is her last night with her boyfriend before he goes up North to feature in a play. I will sleep in the tree-fort this night, in deference to their desire for privacy.
I creep into the house at 6:45 in the morning. There was a cold snap during the night, and my fingers are numb. I pad into the kitchen and run hot water over my hands, and begin to massage them back to life.
Jesse's boyfriend walks into the kitchen and says, "I don't want you in the house yet. Come back in a couple of hours. You woke me up and I need my sleep."
Two weeks later, on the morning after Thanksgiving, I am heading down the trail towards the gate on my way out after a sound sleep on the futon in Jesse's front room. Later today, she is again going up North for the weekend to be with her guy, and I am taking care of the yard work in exchange for house-sitting privileges.
Jesse's father had come down for the holiday and was staying in one of the other houses on the property. This morning, he is pacing by the security gate. He sees me and walks toward me. As I press the clicker to release the gate, he tells me that an eight year old boy will be staying on the estate this weekend and desires to sleep in the tree-house (there are two tree-houses on the property). "Could you please stay somewhere else so that he can stay in the tree house?" He forces a smile.
Jesse, who has a Master's Degree from a prestigious East Coast Music School, had been homeless nearly a decade when a life-threatening illness made it impossible for her to work. I had never understood how such an educated, bright and talented woman such as Jesse could have become homeless when she had parents who were livng and well-situated. Facing her father the morning after Thanksgiving, it became all too obvious.
I smiled sweetly at him. "Oh, I am staying in Jesse's house, so there will be no disruption of the child's time in the tree-house." He looked crestfallen, and I headed on out the gate into a cold black wind.
A Short List of Plantation Alerts:
1) Patriot Act
2) Homeland Security
3) RFID chips
4) "Lack of preparedness" for Katrina
5) The L.A. Times firing of Robert Scheer and Fred d'Aguilar
6) Army Regulation 210-35
7) National ID Cards
9) The epidemic of backpacks/sleeping bags/shopping carts
10) Sexual Predator/Priests
12) 80+ murdered biochemists involved in "plantation science"--the human genome
project, mad cow, the water project, etc.
13) 60+ murdered journalists
Martial Law is not listed as a "Plantation Alert." At the inception of martial law, we will have become --all of us--officially, plantation residents.
A few of my own "personal" Plantation Alert favorites--
1) Anti-homeless laws: on the books in Santa Monica California it is illegal to sleep in a car, illegal to sleep on the beach, illegal to brush your teeth in a public restroom, illegal to beg, illegal to feed people in the parks.
2) Psychiatric Medication for human emotions.
3) "back door" sex
4) blame, shame, lies, secrets and silence
5) "If you loved me, you would..."
And my very, very favorite Plantation Alert: "Accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior or you are going to hell."
Postscript: This morning, they were feeding homeless people at Santa Monica City Hall, one of the last "legal" public feedings in Santa Monica. Undercover FBI Agent David Moreno was there, snapping photos of the impoverished as they supped. I guess that was also a "Plantation Alert."
Janet C. Phelan
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