Saturday night Dr. Helen Caldicott was speaking at Redwood Gardens in Berkeley and I went, not so much to hear her as to hear and meet the opening act, Lynda Williams, physics chanteuse. Yes, folks, you read that right. She is a physics professor at Santa Rosa Junior College and also a singer/songwriter. She specializes in writing and performing songs for conferences of scientists, and does anti-nuke work on the side. She does a sort of multi-media karaoke, singing to recorded accompaniment and visuals on her computer. Neat stuff, and I got to talk to her beforehand. She told me about the Science Songwriters Association, which I am joining. The only name I recognized on their roster was the Banana Slug String Band. Actually, the moderator, Andrea Joyce Turner, director of Vukani Mawethu, opened the meeting with a verse of “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around” and then introduced Max Ventura,  who sang a poignant and powerful song by Peggy Seeger about losing the future to nuclear war. Then we heard the opening act. Caldicott admitted herself that her speech was rambling, but it was informative and I enjoyed watching her field questions and stay in control (“no statements, just questions”).
Sunday afternoon we went to a program called “The Making of a President: Investing in Leadership...Transforming the World” featuring three community organizers who trained Barak Obama back in the day. It was a fundraiser for Genesis and I was surprised that there was no live music at all, since I had been so impressed by the use of music at the first of their meetings I went to. Our friend Lynice Pinkard (pastor of Oakland’s First Congregational Church) spoke on the history of leadership, beginning with an affecting account of her five-year-old self sitting with her extended family watching Martin Luther King’s funeral. She quoted John Quincy Adams saying “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” Leaders can’t be just visionaries, they are “undomesticated agitators” who must be able to mount carefully planned campaigns.
The first of the three community organizers and Obama mentors, Gerald Kellman, talked about stories. About the importance of the organizer first listening to people’s stories, and then getting members of the community to listen to each others’ stories. He asks each participant
1) what is your grief and hope?
2) how does it connect to others’ griefs and hopes?
3) what do we do about it?
This leads to action, he said, and action teaches us. He quoted Paula D’Arcy saying “God comes to us disguised as our own life.” The other two, Mike Kruglik and Gregory Galluzzo. gave good speeches too, and our friend Carl Anthony gave a rousing collection speech. He was funny, as usual, but I hadn’t heard him so impassioned before. In the speech he said he hadn’t been this excited since 1962, when he heard a young man speak about being arrested multiple times in the Civil Rights Movement and Carl decided he had to get busy. He talked about working for the Ford Foundation, looking for good people to give money to, and finding Gamaliel Foundation in Chicago, which trained Obama and is the national organization of which Genesis is the Bay Area part. (I suspect he was also excited because he was holding his first hot-off-the-press copy of Breakthrough Communities: Sustainability and Justice in the Next American Metropolis, for which he wrote the forward. Paloma Pavel, who was the MC for the meeting, is the editor. I’ll write about the book when I get my hands on a copy.
                    Carl Anthony, agitator for environmental justice
My favorite moment came during the question period. A young Asian-American woman came to the mike, introduced herself as a beginning community organizer, and asked the panel of community organizers how the field was different now from when they started. I think it was Gregory Galluzzo who answered. He said that the difference was that people like her were in it now. “Look at us,” he said, gesturing at the other two organizers, “we’re male, pale and stale.”
Technical note: I accidentally disabled the Add-a-comment function when I had to re-post my entire blog back in February, and didn’t realize I had till somebody told me. I just fixed it and you can comment now. Please do. I started this blog when I started to write my mother’s biography because I was, being a songwriter, used to faster feedback than book writers get. So I’d like to hear from you. Thanks.
©2009 by Nancy Schimmel
The Physics Chanteuse can be found at Science Entertainment
Wednesday, July 1, 2009