Friday, September 30, 2011

Pandering to the Right

Fortunately, when it comes to Republican Presidential debates, I can switch to another channel or find something useful to do.  I've tried watching a few times, but my tolerance (even pretending that it's only entertainment) runs out after a few minutes.

Whether it's Rick Perry (Social Security is a Ponzi Scheme; If you think I can be bought for $5,000, I'm offended); Newt Gingrich (Building a mosque anywhere near the Twin Towers site is Muslim "Triumphalism"); Rick Santorum (I believe American "Exceptionalism" should guide the world); Herman Cain (Wouldn't appoint a Muslim to his cabinet; Blacks are "brainwashed" into voting Democratic); Ron Paul (If you can't afford health insurance, you may die, but that's the risk you take); or Michele Bachmann (The Founding Fathers worked tirelessly to end slavery; Jesus Christ is the creator of the Universe!; Giving adolescents vaccine for cervical cancer causes mental retardation); they seem to be a group out of touch with any progressive thinking.

Of course, they are pandering to the extreme right of the Republican party, and the extremes frequently win primaries, although their candidates generally fail in general elections.  But what if one of these actually became President?  The United States has had weak Presidents in the Nineteenth Century, but has never had a blatantly unqualified person in the Twentieth.  At some point there is a risk of nullification by the public, refusing to accept the election results (as the Southern States did after the election of Lincoln).

The Republicans have two mainstream (and qualified) choices in Mitt Romney and John Huntsman. Romney is not the choice of the "Tea Party", having shifted on a number of issues after being Governor of Massachusetts; and Huntsman is unable to attract much support, having been President Obama's  Ambassador to China.    

It's been a sour summer listening to these people, including the "debt ceiling" spectacle.  I realize that I can ignore them, but it almost means blocking out the U. S. news.

Friday, September 16, 2011

La Paz - Historic Place

The United Farm Workers Union headquarters at Keene, California, Nuestra Senora Reina de La Paz (Our Lady Queen of Peace), has been added to the National Register of Historic Places.  Union founder Cesar Chavez worked and lived there from 1971 until his death in 1993.

Originally a tuberculosis treatment centre, the property was purchased and donated to the Union in 1970.  I was a volunteer at the Union headquarters in Delano in April 1971 when Cesar decided to move the central Union offices to La Paz.

The site wasn't much.  It had an administration building, a small hospital, a dining room, a couple of houses, and a few small cottages.  A few trailers were brought in for married couples. Staff  moved into the hospital; spent a week painting; and set up the Union administration, legal, boycott, accounting, and data processing offices, as well as the Robert F. Kennedy Farm Worker Medical Plan.

There wasn't any money for improvements. Cesar was very sensitive about appearing to be benefit personally from the Union, and La Paz was left in a fairly primitive condition. There were vague plans about transforming the property into a retreat for farm workers, but that was for some time in the future.

Today, La Paz is somewhat changed.  The National Chavez Centre includes a visitors centre, conference facilities, a museum, monuments, and gardens.  The walks are paved and there are stone benches.  Nice facilities, perhaps what Cesar would have wanted, but I wonder what the cost has been.  

One thing Cesar was very opposed to was creating a cult of personality around him.  Once, Ben Maddock at the print shop in Delano produced a badge with Cesar's picture on it, framed with "Boycott the Hell Out of Them".  Cesar became angry when he saw it and made Ben destroy the badges.  He said that the Union was about farm workers, and the last thing he wanted was to give the impression of self-promotion.

Cesar Chavez Gravesite
Opponents of the Farm Worker Union liked to claim that Cesar was secretly hiding a fortune away somewhere.  When I knew him, he had a family with six still dependent children.  For someone who had many opportunities to take a well-paying position, he received $231/month.  Today the staff are paid reasonably well; we received either $5 or $15/week, plus meals and accommodation.

I'm not suggesting that there is anything excessive about what's been done at La Paz.  However, when you have nice facilities and start paying staff good salaries, it may be harder to recruit volunteers and maintain grassroots support. The social and economic justice aspect diminishes, and the organization starts looking like a business. There is also some irony in making a modern facility a historic site.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Rhodes Family - Maryland and Pennsylvania

My 3x great grandfather George Rhodes (1783-1847) was a stonemason and house builder, who contracted for the U. S. Naval Shipyard at Gosport, Virginia.  He married Anna Maria McCabe in 1805.  Their third  son George (1813-1885) married Elizabeth Cunningham  at Georgetown, Washington, DC, in 1838, and took up farming around Hyattstown, Frederick Co., Maryland. George and Elizabeth had nine children, the eldest being my great grandfather William Lee Rhodes, born at Hyattstown in 1840.
William Lee Rhodes (1840-1902)

Maryland, being a slave state, but not in rebellion, had divided loyalties during the American Civil War.  Their father being a slaveholder, William Lee and his brother George joined the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, William attaining rank of captain, his brother that of sergeant.  A letter received by William's daughter Nelle in the 1920's indicates that her father served in General Jubal Early's Corps, General Robert Rodes Division.  He may have been at Petersburg at the end of the War.  His father George was held at Fort McHenry, Maryland, for two weeks in October-November, 1862, as a political prisoner, probably because of his sympathies or aid he may have offered the Confederates. (The Battle of Sharpsburg/Antietam was fought nearby in Maryland in September, 1862).

After the Civil War, William returned to Hyattstown for a short time, then moved to Chambersburg, Pennysylvania, where he married Barbara Allen Heayd in 1869.   William's uncle, William Powell Rhodes (1809-1887), had purchased property at Chambersburg in 1849, and it may have been this tie which attracted him there.  (William Powell Rhodes later relocated to Virginia and Missouri).

William Powell Rhodes' daughter Annie (William Lee's first cousin), who grew up near Chambersburg, married a Methodist Minster, Reverend Leonard Marsden Gardner (1831-1925).  They resided at York Springs, Adams County, Pennsylvania, north of Gettysburg.  On the morning of July 4, 1863, as Lee was withdrawing form Gettysburg, a messenger with dispatches for Union commander General George Meade asked Reverend Gardner how to get around the rebel forces and reach Meade's headquarters.  Gardner, being a strong Union supporter, personally escorted the messenger there; and then spent the following week assisting the sick and wounded from both armies who remained at Gettysburg.  He described the scene in an article, "The Carnage at Gettysburg - As Seen by A Minister".  During the Wilderness Campaign of 1864, he again ministered to and aided wounded soldiers, serving with the Union Army of the Potomac.

Of William Lee Rhodes' siblings, his brothers Charles Cunningham Rhodes (1850-1921) and Frank Valerius Rhodes became lawyers and formed the law firm Rhodes and Rhodes in Baltimore, Maryland.  Charles Rhodes met a sad end, when returning home from a store on the evening of November 29, 1921, and crossing the tracks at the Howardville, Maryland, station, he was struck and killed by the mail train of the Western Maryland Railroad.

William Lee Rhodes and Barbara Heayd had nine children, the second youngest being my father's mother Nelle, who married James Cowsill, Sr., in 1913.  The Chambersburg farm was sold in 1917 and is now the Rhodes Grove Camp and Conference Centre, a Christian retreat.