Sunday, September 23, 2007

Some things never change in the Central Valley

I was reading about Railroad Cops roughing up homeless people in Fresno and reflecting on how things never seem to change around here. California is a "Garden of Eden," Yeah, but only if you've got the "Do Re Mi..."

The San Joaquin Valley has a long history of abusing the homeless. Ask Preacher Casey. Ask Tom Joad... John Steinbeck put us on the map, but our civic leaders were not happy with the images he painted of cops and vigilantees driving the dust bowl refugees from town to town "like a wild herd of cattle." The Grapes Of Wrath was banned in Bakersfield for years, and was not allowed to be used in Kern County Classrooms until 1974. Now we have learned to accept our dust bowl heritage with pride. Local museums and festivals celebrate our history, but have we learned anything from it? Can we learn to recognize that the outsiders who can't seem to hold down a regular job or live like the rest of us are our brothers and sisters? Our instinct, when we encounter the the dirty and unkempt refugees of American society is not to lend them a helping hand. It is to look down, look the other way and walk on... And if they hang around too long or start talking about their "rights," the instinct is to beat them up and force them to move on.

Woody Guthrie passed through here, and he wrote about it better than anyone before or since. Vigilante Man, Pastures Of Plenty, Do Re Mi, Dust Bowl Refugee, Ramblin' Round, Hard Travelin', I Ain't Got No Home... We can listen to these great ballads as historical artifacts, but that's not what they are. Shamefully, and Disgracefully, they are today's news. They are the headlines that the editors of the Fresno Bee and tha Bakersfield Californian will not place on the front page, or any other page. They are a mirror, and the face of the Vigilante Man looking back at us is you and I. As long as we allow our brothers and sisters to be treated thisaway...

Vigilante Man
Woody Guthrie

Have you seen that vigilante man?
Have you seen that vigilante man?
Have you seen that vigilante man?
I've been hearing his name all over the land.

Well what is a vigilante man?
Tell me, what is a vigilante man?
Has he got a gun and a club in his hand?
Is that a vigilante man.

Rainy night down in the engine house.
Sleepin' just as still as a mouse.
Along come a man, and chased us out in the rain.
Was that a vigilante man?

Stormy days we passed the night away
Sleepin' in some good warm place.
Man come along and chased us out in the rain.
Was that a Vigilante Man?

Preacher Casey was just a workin' man.
And he said, "Unite, all you workin' men."
Killed him in the river, some strange man.
Was that a Vigilante Man?

I rambled round from town to town.
I rambled round fron town to town.
And they herded us around like a wild herd of cattle.
Was that the vigilante men?

Oh, why does a Vigilante Man,
Why does a vigilante man,
Carry that sawed-off shotgun in his habd?
Would he shoot his brother and sister down?

Some things never change...