Tuesday, March 29, 2005

seeing red

In one of those odd coincidences, the editor over at Radio Free Mike just blogged about the El Segundo city council's decision not to name a library room after writer Jack London. The council attributes their decision to their belief that the outspoken London was a Communist, a charge vigorously contradicted by journalist Rodger Jacobs.

It's odd because just yesterday I heard on the radio that congressional Republicans--yes, the U.S. House--are now blocking a bill that would name Berkeley's main post office after Maudelle Shirek. One of my favorite politicians, Congresswoman Barbara Lee, introduced the bill as an homage to her mentor, and it looked like a slam dunk, as these ceremonial bills tend to be. Naming post offices happens all the time, and hurts nobody; essentially it boils down to a $300 plaque on the post office wall.

The word going around is that Shirek, who served eight terms on Berkeley's city council and then as vice mayor was the state's oldest elected official, is believed by some congresspersons to be "a socialist or a communist."

I don't know if that's true. But I do know that Maudelle Shirek is a grand 93-year-old lady people around here call "the mother of progressive politics"; she's been active in community and civil rights politics, she's fought for fair housing practices, she's started two senior housing centers. When they came to ask her to run for the council the first time, she was scrubbing a senior resident's floor. I can't come right now, I need to finish these floors, she insisted.

Putting aside for a moment what a dubious honor I believe having a California post office named after one to be, considering how dang long one must stand in line in such a place, I don't understand the problem here. If London and Shirek were/are in fact Communists, what the hell difference does it make? Is all the good Shirek has done in her community, all the inspiration she's been to other people (both Ron Dellums and Barbara Lee credit Shirek with moving them to run for office), somehow lessened by the fact she dined with Fidel Castro twenty years ago, or chained herself to the fence around the factory that made the tear gas used on Palestinians?

Give me a break. She's a neat lady. And London was a fantastic writer. Both bigger not only than their assumed politics, but the tiny, tiny people who resist honoring them.