Category Archives: War & Peace

Bernie! Still All In (Critically) for Joe Biden

New York Times
Bernie Sanders: Joe Biden for President

By Bernie Sanders
Mr. Sanders is the senior senator from Vermont.
July 13, 2024

I will do all that I can to see that President Biden is re-elected. Why? Despite my disagreements with him on particular issues, he has been the most effective president in the modern history of our country and is the strongest candidate to defeat Donald Trump — a demagogue and pathological liar. It’s time to learn a lesson from the progressive and centrist forces in France who, despite profound political differences, came together this week to soundly defeat right-wing extremism.

I strongly disagree with Mr. Biden on the question of U.S. support for Israel’s horrific war against the Palestinian people. The United States should not provide Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing extremist government with another nickel as it continues to create one of the worst humanitarian disasters in modern history.

Continue reading Bernie! Still All In (Critically) for Joe Biden

Tell It Slant, Excerpt #6: Going Postal on EEO & Vietnam at USPS

Tell It Slant, Excerpt #6

[Chuck worked for the Postal Service from late 1985 to mid-1994. He first delivered mail on a rural route, then moved inside to work as a Mailhandler at a huge mail processing facility in Merrifield VA, an outer D.C. suburb. After four years of moving mail, there was a change]:

Chuck: I noticed around 1991 a posted opening for a part-time EEO (Equal Employment Opportunity) Investigator at Merrifield. I applied, showed them my books on Selma and the Poor Peoples Campaign, and was selected; spent two weeks outside Chicago in training to do investigations and reports.

Chuck ready to do some EEO work

Thereafter, I was called periodically to the EEO office, for some weeks at a time. To make the switch I traded my work clothes and union apron for a suit and tie left over from my years on The Hill; the transition was from one work culture to another: blue collar/calloused hands to white collar, college-educated office guy with a primitive laptop.

At first it was good to be back dealing with racial justice issues concretely. This was not protest or jail, but the humdrum nitty gritty of making the legal progress achieved through struggle and sacrifice work, day-to-day.

There was a possibility I could have been transferred to EEO permanently, but I didn’t pursue it. I did not want to “advance” in the USPS ranks, as that would involve at least a tacit commitment to stay for a career. Also, such jobs often required taking work home (like complex cases), and I didn’t want to do that. Mailhandler work, despite the tedium, could be left behind when I clocked out, and the rest of my time, packed with family and Quaker projects, was too precious to intrude on.

Even so, I learned much during my stints on EEO duty. With two to three thousand employees of many different ethnicities, Merrifield was both a testament to the “success” of integration in the federal workforce — and simultaneously its reality as an always simmering pot of subdued race-tinted conflicts.

This was, I should note, in the years when “going postal” became an accepted term for mass workplace shootings (twenty-eight USPS employees and bystanders had been killed by postal workers in several rampages during my tenure); the year I left, it even became a visual punchline for a slapstick movie series, The Naked Gun. Fortunately, we didn’t have any such in my time at Merrifield, but the tensions were always there.

A postal worker murdered 14 other employees in this Oklahoma massacre, wounded six, and then shot himself.

I saw telltale signs of hate in the men’s toilet stalls, scrawled on the doors. A lot of it was aimed at Asian-Americans. This didn’t surprise me; there were a great many middle-aged Vietnam-era veterans in the USPS workforce. PTSD was plentiful, and the sight of Asians, particularly from the defeated South Vietnam, now working nearby, set some of them off.

Two personal examples: one of the most confusing EEO cases I had was brought by a woman against her supervisor, based not on race but religion. The complainant was Hindu, and her crew included mainly South Asian persons, some Hindu and some Sikh. The supervisor was, I believe, a Sikh. The complaint was that he chronically favored other Sikh employees when assigning overtime (many employees sought to maximize better-paid overtime; I did not).

Since I knew very little about either religion, it wasn’t easy to sort this out. The supervisor stonewalled, stoutly denying everything.

The case went nowhere; I did not have the “rank” in the system to actually compel the supervisor to produce records or sign a sworn statement.

So, I learned then about the weakness (and protect-management-above-all-else bias) of the EEO machinery, as well as the difficulty in resolving many cases.

The other example was the “biggest” case I ever had, and it also taught me much, especially about gaming the system.

Background: among the many Vietnamese refugees at Merrifield, most were exemplary employees: good at the repetitive work and memorization, rarely absent or sick. They stuck together, and didn’t complain.

However, there was a white male employee, let’s call him Arthur, a Vietnam veteran, who had a thing for Asian females. He habitually stalked the Vietnamese women.

It was creepy: he followed them to the restrooms, repeatedly approached them in the cafeteria, propositioned them (even clearly married ones), ignored brushoffs.

When someone in EEO advised him to cut it out, he proceeded to file complaints against the EEO office Director and staff. I was not named in those complaints, but only because I hadn’t been there when this started.

Which meant the case landed on my desk, as the newbie. Or a piece of it did, one very fat file. But this was just the tip of the iceberg: the EEO supervisor showed me a filing cabinet, in which the Arthur files filled two drawers.

Arthur was like a “jailhouse lawyer.” He was clever and had studied all the regulations I had just recently been introduced to.

One of them was that, if a complaint alleged more than one type of discrimination, each type had to be separately investigated and reported on. At the time, the EEO regs recognized seven types or “purviews”: race, color, religion, sex, age, national origin, disability, plus reprisal for filing. On each complaint, Arthur had checked every single purview. (Disability? What the heck was that about?) And each time he was interviewed by an EEO staffer or supervisor, he filed a new complaint, all purviews checked.

His output had quickly brought the EEO machinery to a standstill, while he continued to stalk the Vietnamese women.

So, I was supposed to master all this material, gather testimony from the women and other witnesses, and put it into a report solid enough to withstand his counterattacks and move some senior official to action.

What kind of action? Theoretically Arthur could be fired; but in fact, such firings were all but unheard of. Between union rules, civil service protections, and just residual racism, Arthur had better job tenure than any professor I ever knew of.

But long story short, though: I pulled it off. Sort of.

Besides burrowing through the mountain of paperwork, the hardest part was getting testimony. I needed the women to tell me what had happened, and then sign statements summarizing it, usually one I wrote and read back to them.

But to a person, they were petrified at the prospect. Several refused and hid. More than one sat across from my desk sobbing and trembling, afraid not only of Arthur, but also terrified of me.

Why me? “I’m on your side,” I protested. “I’m here to help.”

Yeah, sure.

An older veteran explained much of it: back home, besides the North Vietnamese invaders, there were petty and cruel dictators in the South. Official violence, interrogations with torture, unsolved disappearances, were routine. Plus, they or their families had worked for the American military during the war, which was why they had to leave the country after the Communist victory in 1975: they were enemy collaborators and lucky to escape alive. One survival skill they all had developed was that of keeping their head down and saying nothing.

But here they now were: away from their friends, sitting across from me, a strange white man with a beard, a power necktie (and for all they knew, a pistol tucked under my suit jacket, like the Postal Inspectors), interrogating them again, about another white man, and talking English just like that other white man who was after them).

I felt for them. I hated that my very presence was retraumatizing. But there was a job to do, and I really was on their side. After many tears, but without any physical torture, I finally extracted enough admissions for a report.

My senior EEO colleague was Quincy, a Black man who had no legs. He got around on leg-size prosthetics and long crutches. He looked at my report and his eyes widened. “That,” he pointed, “is a piece of art.”

That wasn’t exactly true, but it was Quincy’s highest compliment. And the report worked.

As I said, sort of. A high manager somewhere read it, likely consulted legal counsel, and told Arthur to go home.

On his way out the door, Arthur filed new complaints, again checking all the boxes, and now with my name at the head of the defendants list.

And the supervisor, to stay on the right side of the union, lower the risk of a lawsuit, and generally to cover his butt, did not fire Arthur. Or even suspend him.

Instead, Arthur was put on “administrative leave.” That meant: with pay. And benefits. Accruing seniority and retirement credits.

The term? Indefinite.

That is, Arthur got to sit home (or travel, learn a useful trade, whatever) and collect paychecks, until the matter was settled, which could take years.

That was my big achievement.

On the upside, Arthur was finally off the workroom floor. The Vietnamese women could now eat meals redolent of their pungent fish sauce, chatter in their tuneful tongue about hopefully non-traumatic topics, tend to calls of nature without being accosted.

Was this a piece of the “justice” I stepped into the streets of Selma for, 29 years earlier, walking behind Dr. King, ready to stop a bullet? Was it worth the sacrifice that Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner made a year earlier?

(Gimme a minute ….)

Yeah, I think so.

* * * *

Emma Lapsansky-Werner: How did Arthur’s case finally turn out?

Chuck has no idea.

About the time the report on Arthur was filed, in spring 1994, Chuck got a job offer from a Quaker center near Philadelphia. It paid less than half of what Chuck was making at Merrifield. But, “It was my longed-for escape from postal captivity,” he said. “I jumped at it, and never looked back. Somebody else had to pick up Arthur’s case.”

From “The Naked Gun, 33 1/3”: “O my God, it’s the disgruntled postal workers , , ,”

At about the same time, a new movie was released. Wikipedia notes: “The 1994 comedy film Naked Gun 33 13: The Final Insult (the third and last entry in a “Naked Gun” comedy series) includes a scene where the main character must deal with a series of escalating threats, including the sudden appearance of dozens of disgruntled postal workers, randomly firing automatic weapons in every direction.”

One critic said, “By the time the disgruntled postal workers show up, you’ll howl with laughter. The laughs don’t stop there. … “

Chuck got the jokes, but didn’t laugh.

The film co-starred former football player-turned actor O. J. Simpson, in his last film role before being arrested for two real, non-postal murders in June of 1994.

 

How to order.

More excerpts  from Tell It Slant are online at:

> Excerpt #1: A Quaker’s Life in Our “Interesting,” Tumultuous Times:
> Excerpt #2: “Fighting for A Future”:

Excerpt #3: A Whippersnapper & His Elders:
>Excerpt #4: “Tell It Slant”: Author Emma Lapsansky-Werner Speaks

> Excerpt #5: San Francisco & “Going Naked for a Sign “ — or at least a job

Excerpt #4 – “Tell It Slant”: Author Emma Lapsansky-Werner Speaks

This excerpt is adapted from the new book, Tell It Slant, which charts Chuck Fager’s prophetic life of adventure & writing on religion, war, and justice, love and laughter.

Tell It Slant is available now, in paperback & Kindle versions. Details here.

By Emma Lapsansky-Werner

A short bio:  Emma Jones Lapsansky-Werner is emeritus Professor of History and emeritus Curator of the Quaker collection of Haverford College.

Chuck, Emma, and Douglas Gwyn – November 2019, at the launch of “Passing the Torch,” to which each contributed.

Emma lives near Philadelphia, PA, where she continues to teach, to do research and to publish, to consult with scholars, to work as a professional editor, and to host periodic writers’ workshops at Minerva’s by the Sea, her bed and breakfast near a lighthouse in coastal New Jersey. [Check out her website for another Writers Workshop upcoming November 2024:  MinervasBandB.com]
Continue reading Excerpt #4 – “Tell It Slant”: Author Emma Lapsansky-Werner Speaks

“Tell It Slant”: Excerpt #3: “… A Whippersnapper and His Elders …”

“… A Whippersnapper and His Elders …”

Adapted from Tell It Slant.

This new book recounts Chuck Fager’s prophetic life of adventure & writing on religion, war, justice, love and laughter. By Emma Lapsansky-Werner, with Chuck Fager.

Tell It Slant is available now, in paperback and Kindle, here.

After two years of attending Friends meetings, beginning while he was in alternative service at Friends World College in New York, and continuing after enrolling at Harvard Divinity School in 1968, Chuck knew that the basic moves of becoming at home in a Quaker meeting are relatively simple, and easily learned. One can sit in meeting-for-worship, where in silence the newcomer may appear equal in weight and wisdom to the most venerable elder. Perhaps one speaks now and then.

For many this is enough, for years, or decades. But to others who want more understanding, and Chuck was one of them, it soon becomes evident that much more is involved. Despite its small size, and vocal dedication to plainness and simplicity, the Religious Society of Friends is a remarkably complicated body. This is true historically, organizationally, culturally, theologically, and not least, politically. Continue reading “Tell It Slant”: Excerpt #3: “… A Whippersnapper and His Elders …”

From “Tell It Slant”: Fighting for A Future

Adapted from Tell It Slant, a biography of Chuck Fager, by Emma Lapsansky-Werner.


St. Paul, Kansas, 1939

“When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
                           — Yogi Berra

Plowing to a fork in the road.

This story begins with a young man coming to a fork, pushing a mule-drawn plow down a long furrow on a small farm in southeastern Kansas, in summer heat, circa 1939.

The young man was Callistus Fager, known as “Click” to his friends. On that day, like so many, Kansas farming would have been sweaty, dusty work. But that work was about all that was available. Kansas, like much of the United States, was mired in what is now called the “Great” Depression.

Even many years later, Click Fager remembered the unfamiliar noise he’d heard behind the plow, that summer day: a buzzing that wasn’t a farm sound. Continue reading From “Tell It Slant”: Fighting for A Future