Race, Class, and Fracking

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Race, Class, and Fracking: Stuart Hall, Wanda Coleman, and Alfred Kreymborg

“Race is the modality in which class is lived,” Stuart Hall proposed as a fundamental component of social analysis. Wanda Coleman was one of the most important poets who dramatized in her poems and prose the compressed struggle to make that modality audibly visible to a variety of communities. Today, I wish to dig back to a book that was published the year that Wanda was born for a passage that brings to our attention a passage of writing by Abraham Lincoln that needs to be quoted as often as the Gettysburg Address.

My decision to present excerpt from Kreymborg’s book-length poem today is in part because I want to keep the extraction of oil by fracking in California (and elsewhere) as a crucial, turning-point issue in our ecology. Governor Brown has declared a state of emergency in regards to the drought, yet he has been very supportive of the corporation-sponsored drive to accelerate the deployment of fracking as a profit-making enterprise. It is my understanding that a minimum of two and a half MILLION gallons of water must be injected in an oil well in order to siphon off deep deposits of oil. At the same time, the ordinary citizens of Long Beach are being told to cut their average daily use of water from 114 gallons to under a hundred. Kreymborg’s call for a new political party has never been more pertinent. We cannot possibly hope that the so-called Democratic party really wishes to slake our thirst for ecological justice.

Finally, in bringing this matter back to the top of the list of concerns I wish to address in this blog, I need also to remind the reader of what should be obvious but cannot be overemphasized: the impact of pollution on communities of color is far more disproportionate than any “neutral” demographics would lead one to expect. The corrosive effects of ecologically damaging production processes on communities of color show up, in particular, in areas that affect public health. Wanda Coleman’s protests against the inherent racism of a capitalist economic system are not just against the most visible agents of that repression (e.g., the police force), but ultimately raise substantial questions about the practices of those who police our ecological well-being.

 

from MAN AND SHADOW: An Allegory: Second Movement, Part V (“Another Testament”) by Alfred Kreymborg. (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1946, 132-135)

 

All of us know the Gettysburg address

And how it was composed in tragic haste.

Stylists riddled the thing who made their prose

Much more cultivated and verbose

Than Lincoln had the time for. Yet it seems

That most of us today have never read

A pregnant message Lincoln sent to Congress

During the War, a speech men now suppress

Or fail to quote in after-dinner speeches.

 

Loving the truth and not expediency,

I read it aloud at a school for debutantes.

Oddly enough, I was a teacher then

Giving a course in our native poetry

In relation to our lives and destiny.

I felt so much of Lincoln in the style

Of Whitman’s Leaves and biblical tone they shared,

I couldn’t resist the occasion and therefore read

Lines containing a worthy parallel:

‘I see in the near future a crisis approaching

that unnerves me, and causes me to tremble

for the safety of my country. As a result

of war, corporations have been enthroned,

and an era of corruption in high places

will follow, and the money power of

the country will endeavor to prolong

its reign by working on the prejudices

of the people until all the wealth

is aggregate in just a few hands,

and the republic is destroyed.’

There was a pause,

A puzzled hush, until some bright girl said,

‘It sounds like free verse to me,’ and another,

‘No, it’s Karl Marx –‘ she said this angrily.

‘No,’ said I, ‘it’s President Lincoln – Listen!’

‘Capital is only the fruit of labour,

and could not have existed had labour not

first existed. Labour is the superior

of capital and deserves much the higher

consideration. I bid the laboring people

beware of surrendering the power they

possess, and which if surrendered will be used

to shut the door of advancement for such as they,

and fix new disabilities and burdens

upon them all till liberty shall be lost…’

Where are we now or whither shall we go

With so much in the air like Lincoln’s age?

. . . .

I’m quite against a double-party system

That worked in our youth; that day is out of date.

….

We need some check beyond the yearly check

Demos employs beyond his chosen column,

Or a progressive party deep enough

To keep our Constitution and Bill of Rights

In shape from first to last against miscarriage

In Washington lobbies and the subtle chains

Of the yellow press and purple radios.

 

Inside our double system we need a third,

Or one endowed with every right to say

A word for workers here and everywhere.