Archive | September, 2015

Happy Birthday, Olivia Newton John

26 Sep
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Today is Olivia Newton John’s 67th birthday!  I want to say Happy Birthday and I would like to celebrate a woman whose music has brought me endless joy and whose dedication to social justice inspires me. Olivia Newton-John was born in Cambridge, England in 1948. Her father was a Welsh-born professor and her mother a German Jew whose family fled Germany as the Nazis came to power. (Her mother’s father was Nobel-winning physicist Max Born.) The family moved to Melbourne, Australia when Olivia was six, and it is that country that she considers her home.

A talented singer, she began performing in her teens and took part in a number of Australian TV programs. She met future collaborator and producer John Farrar, who encouraged her to take part in a contest on Sing Sing Sing. She won a trip to England, initially planning to stay for a year to explore the country and her career. She built up slow, steady momentum and released her first album in 1971.

That launched real international success, including an invitation to perform the U.K. entry in the 1974 Eurovision contest. (She came in 4th; the winner that year was Sweden, with ABBA’s Waterloo.) She was still struggling to get a foothold in the U.S., but won a Grammy for best Country Female Performance. That award raised anger in Country purist circles, in part because she was still based in England. (The ever-wonderful Dolly Parton, however, supported her.) Taking advice from fellow Aussie Helen Reddy, Olivia moved to the U.S. In short order she launched a massively successful career.

I remember getting beaten up in the bathroom when I was a little kid at summer camp.  I was singing You’re the One That I Want from Grease, when a couple of bullies came in and beat the tar out of me.  How I hated those kids and how I loved Olivia and how did I not know I was gay back in the 7th grade?  Of course, even today I sing to Xanadu and all of the classic Olivia songs.  There is another song that holds a very special place in my heart, Tutta La Vita.  This song came out when my friend Kent was sick in the hospital and I loved this song for both the lyrics and for the music.  Sadly, my friend Kent passed away from HIV, but I think about him when I hear this song.  How wonderful that our Olivia stands in solidarity with the LGBT community.

Besides her beautiful music, Olivia has been a tireless advocate for many causes. She is an outspoken environmentalist and animal rights advocate. (She has cancelled Japanese tours over the slaughter of dolphins in tuna nets.) A breast cancer survivor, she also devotes a great deal of energy to cancer education, diagnosis, research, and treatment. She has also worked closely with UNICEF and been an advocate for LGBT rights.

A great singer, actress, activist, and all-around decent human being, I love our Olivia! (And who can forget her amazing performance in Sordid Lives?) Thank you for bringing your joy and passion into so many lives.

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Labor Day 2015: Much Despised by the GOP

7 Sep

Labor Day 2015Labor Day was started in 1882 by labor unions, but it would be many more years before it would be recognized as a Federal Holiday. Oregon was the first state to recognize and honor Labor Day in 1887.  Finally in 1894, it became a national holiday on the first Monday in September under the Cleveland Administration.  Congress passed it unanimously, a very rare event indeed. Today we have an opportunity to reflect on why we need to celebrate the laborer and to look at the maldistribution of wealth in the United States. It’s particularly important to note how all of the GOP presidential candidates show nothing but contempt, disdain, and even disgust for the laborer.

Reflecting back, the United States can proudly celebrate the influence of its labor unions and how they have helped to protect the too often marginalized and voiceless.  The Triangle Shirtwaist Company Fire proved there was still a great deal of work to be accomplished by the labor movement.  Labor Unions also worked to protect children and helped to establish an eight hour work day, fair wage laws, and breaks for safety and meals — that whole notion of having a weekend.

Sadly, America seems to be losing its appreciation of Labor Unions while privileging profit over people.  President Clinton left a nasty legacy called NAFTA and perpetuated a culture of vilifying those in poverty.

Many of us have been working in movements to increase the minimum wage to $15.00 an hour. This would be just a very small movement forward and still does not address a living wage. Sadly, the common theme from all of the GOP candidates has been nothing less than hostile, as they all seem to subscribe to the false notion of a meritocracy.

We hear Republicans bleat about jobs and the economy but do nothing, while at the state level we see a nefarious and dangerous Scott Walker are dismantling unions and isolating workers from the political process.  We have seen Walker, Christie, Kasich, and Jindal bash and target teachers and unions, rather than looking at how do we redistribute wealth in an equitable way that helps to lift people out of poverty. Please take a look at this short video on the distribution of wealth; this is what we should desperately focus on and how every GOP candidate is on the wrong side of history here.

Labor Day isn’t just an excuse for a long weekend or a chance to grill an extra hot dog before autumn sets in. It’s a chance to reflect on the work that is done at all levels of our society and the value of all that labor. It’s a chance to celebrate the collaboration that makes work better and working conditions safer. In the words of the great Joe Hill (as sung by Billy Bragg, thanks to my husband for the choice of Bragg):

Now I long for the morning that they realise
Brutality and unjust laws can not defeat us
But who’ll defend the workers who cannot organise
When the bosses send their lackeys out to cheat us?

Money speaks for money, the Devil for his own
Who comes to speak for the skin and the bone
What a comfort to the widow, a light to the child

There is power in a Union.

Happy Labor Day to all of our brothers and sisters that have to work today and that have no pension, no health benefits, and are at the poverty line.

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