Heather Conn Blogs

spoutin’ about by the sea

Code of conduct for federal librarians: Are book-burning parties next?

Prime minister Stephen Harper’s recent decision to muzzle public statements and activities of federal librarians and archivists is indeed a chilling echo of Orwell’s 1984. Controlling freedom of expression is one of the first dictates of a totalitarian regime. For Canada, this is the latest of Harper’s attempts to quash anyone or anything that challenges the actions of his government, whether it’s environmentalists slamming the tar sands or scientists reinforcing the truth of climate change.



I was appalled to read about the new “code of conduct” for Canada’s federal librarians, which lists “teaching, speaking at conferences, and other personal engagements,” as high-risk behaviours that might conflict with an employee’s “duty of loyalty” to the government. Heaven forbid that a well-educated, informed citizen might exercise his or her fundamental right and speak out against the prime minister and/or his policies!


Stay back in your dark stacks, you pesky librarians and archivists. How dare you exercise free speech and provide information that makes people think—and question authority.


Within Canada’s democratic process and heritage, Harper’s latest rule is a cringing, cowardly act. Can he control the creative spirit of those who choose to think and act as free individuals? No. Will he continue to try? Yes. Any politician, secure in his or her sense of self and position, invites public discourse as an open avenue of shared ideas, new discoveries, and rich platform for changing or expanding viewpoints. As they say, this is what democracy looks like.


This latest mandate continues Harper’s similar trajectory of trying to silence federally paid scientists who haven spoken out against climate change and verified its existence with research data. They, too, cannot speak to reporters or make announcements on their own volition.


Not surprisingly, the Writers’ Union of Canada (TWUC), to which I belong, and other organizations, such as the Canadian Association of University Teachers and the Canadian Library Association, have denounced the recent changes to the role of employees at Library and Archives Canada.


“We strongly urge Library and Archives Canada to reconsider and rewrite their code,” TWUC chair Merilyn Simonds said in the organization’s March 20 press release. “This kind of chill on free expression reflects very poorly on Canada, and is surely outside the mainstream of Canadian opinion. Canada has a proud history of vigorous public debate. Our national archives should celebrate that tradition, not repress it.”


Librarians and archivists are the lifeblood of writers and a free nation. They protect and make available the gamut of knowledge to those people, like me, who seek to learn, grow, teach, and share information with others. Totalitarian governments are the ones that try to make history disappear, rewriting it in ways that extol their ideology. What’s next for Canada —federally sanctioned book-burning parties in front of the Parliament buildings?


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March 21, 2013 at 5:40 pm Comments (2)

Fiestiness and fun: International Women’s Day comes to the Creek

The Suffragettes

Thanks to The Suffragettes, an all-women performance group on B.C.’s Sunshine Coast, I’ll never hear the song “There was an old lady who swallowed a fly” the same way again.


The four nimble dancers, clad in suffragette-style period costume, shared a hilarious, feminist parody of the children’s song on March 8 as part of an International Women’s Day celebration. To the applause of 150 people at Roberts Creek Hall, they related the tale, to the same tune, of a lady who swallowed a lie, rather than a fly.


The lady in this song version, whose lyrics are attributed to Meredith Tam, swallowed the rule “Live to serve others!” along with lipstick and fluff and a ring: “looked like a princess but felt like a thing.” One day she awoke: “She went to her sisters/ it wasn’t too late/To be liberated, to regurgitate.” She threw up the lie and unlike the woman in the original song, she will not die.

Nicholas Simons

This playful song was part of an excellent line-up of local talent—singers, musicians, and poignant speakers—at a pot luck supper sponsored by the Sunshine Coast Labour Council. Sunshine Coast MLA Nicholas Simons welcomed the crowd, which sat at tables adorned with arrangements of deep pink roses.


Emcee Alice Lutes, a Sechelt councillor, and some audience members teared up when shishalh elder Barb Higgins (Xwu’p’a’lich) recited a poem she’d written, Walking on a Mountainwhich evoked “warriors of the heart.”

 Barb Higgins ((Xwu’p’a’lich)

Barb’s daughter Holly later sang several songs, her solo voice resonating clear and loud across the hall. She recited her own poem, which included the line “Thank you for this blood that runs through my veins.” She invited everyone in the hall to join hands with the people beside them, look into their eyes, and say: “Be strong.” The mostly female crowd—at least a dozen men were present and welcomed—eagerly complied.

Dionne Paul

Shishalh band member Dionne Paul, a local Idle No More activist, shared a moving story about her birth. As part of what she called The Sixties Scoop, when Canada’s federal government was taking First Nations children away from their homes, she was to be adopted by a non-native couple in West Vancouver. Her mother, in an abusive relationship, was unable to care for her. At the hospital, only minutes before she was to be handed over to the pair, her aunt and uncle rushed in and said that they would raise her. As a result, she grew up surrounded by her true heritage, enjoying the cultural blessings of her First Nations lineage.


She said: “My dad was the very first feminist I ever met. He told me I could be whatever I wanted. I got my fire, strength and drive from my dad.”


Fathers, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, mothers, and Gaia—all were honoured at this free neighbourhood event. From “Bread and Roses” and other labour songs to the traditional European songs performed by the seven-member group Sokole, the evening reinforced a flavor of gratitude and solidarity among women and all humanists, regardless of gender, who seek a world of respect and equality. As local school board rep Betty Baxter told the audience: “Our movement accepts people for who they are.”

Jill Conway, Karen Stein, and Daniela Dutto

Popular local groups such as the Knotty Dotters and Definitely Diva rounded out the delightful evening. An a cappella trio of Karen Stein, Jill Conway, and Daniela Dutto sang a women’s liberation song from Tanzania and a beautiful rendition of Gaia Chant: Another World is Possible by Ann Mortifee and Chloe Goodchild. Another world is possible, a new day is here/we can work together now, to go beyond the fears. . . Oh Gaia . . .             

The hope, clear spirit, and irreverence expressed throughout the entire event–not to mention an ardent refusal to adopt Stephen Harper’s vision for Canada–reminded me yet again why I feel so grateful to live in such a fabulous activist community.

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March 10, 2013 at 4:40 pm Comments (3)

Seek peace on Remembrance Day — and always

On Remembrance Day, I woke up at about 4:30 a.m., unable to sleep. Oddly, I was thinking of the life expectancy of a tail-gunner in the Second World War. These men, who operated machine guns while cramped into a highly visible plexiglass bubble in the rear belly of a plane, were exceptionally vulnerable to enemy fire. I had heard that they rarely survived a week of such work. Other sources say seven weeks or two flights. Twenty thousand of such allied gunners died during the war.


I can’t imagine what it would be like to take on such a high-risk task, knowing with complete certainty that you would be dead within weeks. Flying so exposed at high altitudes, these men often suffered frostbite. As lookouts, if they relaxed their guard for a moment and missed seeing an enemy plane, they and their crew mates could be dead within seconds.


Yet so many young men willingly undertook this dangerous role. I would like to honour the courage of such men and the thousands of others at battle on land and sea, who died for the cause of freedom against fascism and Nazi power from 1939-1945. But ultimately, is any war justified?


Remembrance Day always brings me conflict. I admit that I enjoy freedoms now because of those who gave their lives in the past. My heart aches for those whose young sons and daughters have died in a global conflict, for the veterans who have returned, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and receiving little government aid.


Yet, I don’t support the hype around labeling dead soldiers “heroes” when they were exploited as pawns in a war for oil interests under the guise of “liberation,” as in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Persian Gulf. I am a pacifist, committed to nonviolence. I don’t even like using the term “enemy.” I praise the nonviolent resistance movements of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi. I support the notion of ahimsa, which yoga master Kripalu describes in the following way:


Ahimsa is the state that exists when all violence in the heart and mind have subsided. It is not something we have to acquire; it is always present and only needs to be uncovered. When one practices ahimsa, or nonviolence, one refrains from causing distress—in thought, word or deed—to any living creature, including oneself.


Many people might think that this state is unattainable. Yet, we can all become more conscious of the conflict within ourselves, which we project onto others. Peace begins within. Would I be willing to take up arms in self-defence? Probably. Does that make me a hypocrite? I don’t know.


On Remembrance Day this year, Yoga by the Sea offered a peace meditation at the same time as the memorial ceremony held at the Legion in Roberts Creek. Dozens of people gathered to meditate, in silence, for about 40 minutes. I think that such events are a wonderful counterpoint to the honoring and continuing of war. Peace rhetoric is easy; living it is a daily challenge. Let’s all strive for peace within our hearts and share this every day, as best we can, in forms both big and small.

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November 13, 2012 at 12:13 pm Comments (2)

Good on you, Danny Boyle

Few people would associate punk-rock strums from The Clash and Sid Vicious, the late Sex Pistols’ lead singer, with Olympic competition. But their gritty sounds helped make yesterday’s opening ceremonies of the 2012 Olympics in London the best I’ve seen.


I generally condemn the hype, corporate hoo-haw, and expense of the Olympics, but am a sucker for well-executed artistic, creative spectacle, from Burning Man to Cirque de Soleil. And director Danny Boyle’s historical extravaganza, although too long, was a whimsical, ingenious wonder.


I didn’t think that the bird’s-eye-view, film-journey intro was necessary and its quick-cut imagery created a disjointed effect. But overall, I liked the thematic thread of childhood play and discovery throughout the show, which I watched with my 93-year-old Scottish friend and neighbour Cathie. She loved it all, although the dance sequences that represented the 70s and 80s left her perplexed. (In the latter, I was delighted to see that the featured couple was not Barbie-and-Ken blonds with Chiclet teeth. Kudos to Boyle for casting against type.)


As a children’s author, I loved seeing J. K. Rowling, of course, and having children’s literature celebrated, along with kids reading surreptitiously in bed. But the benign stories included, such as Peter Pan and Mary Poppins, were far safer politically than the content of Charles Dickens, whose books like Oliver Twist revealed the many ugly sides of the Industrial Revolution (child labour, exploitation, pollution etc). No room for that in this sanitized portrayal.


Since my father received medical training at Great Ormond Street Hospital and always spoke highly of it, I was glad to see it gain recognition. And gee, in this era of Obamacare, what would the U.S. neocons think about this synchronized splash of light and dance celebrating Britain’s national health system? Subversive socialism propaganda beamed at the world’s millions, no doubt.


I appreciated the show’s historical perspective, the inclusion of suffragettes, and the portrayal of labourers toiling and sweating at their tasks. A fan of poet William Blake, I thought that the inclusion of his poem Jerusalem would undoubtedly raise the rancor of Arabs around the globe. Yet its inclusion was clever here. In the poem, Blake cites the “dark, Satanic mills,” used to produce iron and steel for England’s war effort, and mentions: “Bring me my Chariot of Fire.”


Blake’s Jerusalem, as one critic states, symbolized humanity free of war, the chains of commerce, and British imperialism; this was effectively conveyed in the bucolic splendor at the start of the ceremony. So, Boyle powerfully transformed this negative association of industrial production into the five Olympic rings, a symbol of countries coming together to show their best, not their worst.


My favourite parts of the compelling presentation included Daniel Craig as Bond, impatient to whisk away the Queen; Rowan Atkinson as Mr. Bean in the Chariots of Fire sequence; the choir of deaf children signing (not singing); David Beckham delivering the Olympic torch by boat, and the film series of “the kiss” projected onto the house exterior, which included Shrek, Prince William and Kate, and others. Sorry, Sir Paul, you’ve been far too familiar and predictable for too long and your croaky voice needs to stay low at your age.


I can’t imagine trying to conjure, let alone produce and synchronize, all of these shows-within-a-mega-show. Congrats to Boyle for telling the world: “Look who England is and what we’ve done!” You did it with more class and heart than any other Olympic opening ceremony.

Note: I didn’t watch the athletes’ procession. I was disgusted that sponsor Adidas had ordered all participants to wear Adidas shoes in this event. If they wore a pair made by a competitor, they had to cover the logos. Ridiculous and outrageous corporate power, all for the sake of advertising and marketing.

I wonder what Jamaican sprinter and Olympic medallist Usain  Bolt, sponsored by Puma, would have to say about that. He got a clause written into his contract to ensure that Puma outfitted all kids at his elementary school in Jamaica with running shoes. Otherwise, they’d be barefoot. Now, that’s a great use of corporate product.


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July 28, 2012 at 1:54 pm Comment (1)

What kind of change agent are you?

Awareness. Commitment. Action. One person alone can’t alter an entire economic system, but working with others who are committed to take action to change it can make a difference. That’s one of the messages of The Story of Change, the latest in environmental activist Annie Leonard’s animated video series The Story of Stuff.


In this six-minute short, Leonard blames bad policies and business practices for our current western economy, which values profits over people and the planet, and creates enormous inequities in taxation and income. It’s not enough, she says, to be a smart shopper and stop buying stuff that you don’t need that will end up in a landfill. We need to demand changes from politicians, regulators, and manufacturers.


The movie explores what effective change-making has looked like over time, presenting two world examples of successful mass change: the U.S. civil rights movement under Martin Luther King Jr., and India’s shift to independence, spurred by Mahatma Gandhi. Neither of these pivotal events of social transformation would have happened, Leonard says, if the respective leaders, King and Gandhi, had pursued their quest as loners.

Annie Leonard

She emphasizes that any significant effort to build a better future shares three key factors: a big idea, a commitment to work together, and the ability to turn the big idea and commitment into action.


I wholly agree, and yet the movie fails to acknowledge the value and power of inner growth and change, which often creates the launching pad for external action. The spiritual beliefs of both King and Gandhi were major influences behind their desire for change and their commitment to peaceful resistance. If King and Gandhi were themselves violent people, they could not have inspired and led others towards peace and dramatic social change. Their inner change had to come first.


That’s one reason, in my view, why many collective attempts at change fail. The so-called leaders haven’t done enough inner growth work (whether it’s in aid of maturity, anger management, compassion, forgiveness, love etc) to walk the talk and inspire others without creating emotional meltdowns, hatred, resentments, and disillusionment. The resulting hypocrisy and contradictions between their espoused views and goals and their daily behavior become too discordant for many followers, who often quit in disgust.



As they say: Never underestimate the power of one human being to make a difference. As Gandhi said: “We must be the change we want to see in the world.” Someone’s presence, demeanour, and attitude, even with no words spoken, can alter any atmosphere or group.


I believe in the approach Heal Yourself, Heal the World. Yet, as Leonard points out, it’s not enough to remain isolated after changing yourself for the good. Only when you join with like-minded others for a larger cause can widespread change take place.


What kind of change agent are you — networker or nurturer, builder or resister? Discover your “changemaker personality type” (communicator, builder, networker, nurturer, investigator or resister) in the short quiz following the video.

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July 23, 2012 at 8:15 pm Comment (1)

9/11: In One Degree of Separation, a Growing Distance

This week, my guest blogger, again, is Frank McElroy. As I  mentioned in last week’s 9/11-related post, this is his follow-up piece to what he wrote about September 11 a decade ago:


The loss of the Trade Center was deeply personal to me.  My brother and I know the man (Karl Koch) whose family company erected the buildings; for decades, my father, an orthopedic surgeon, treated Karl and he was often in our home.  My brother and I had a wonderful visit with him in October 1968, looking, through the night, over all of New York from the top of one of the towers.  In that view, seemingly of the entire world, it was palpable that there was something about and among us, a sense of shared purpose and identity.  Today, that sense has been drowned by an endless and immeasurable lack of civility, a contrarian and senseless interaction, an absence of concern about our larger family and each other.


It is a mere ten years since the World Trade Center in Manhattan was consigned to its grave.  In that short period, Americans have given up their optimism, their belief that if we work together, good and some measure of prosperity will come.  We have ceded our privacy to dubious authority in favor of asserted needs for endless security, our calm and good will to fear and paranoia.  We have reaped the “neither” and nothing of Ben Franklin’s astute warning: “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”


Now, after a commission’s investigation, countless hours of testimony and seemingly endless documentaries, we are privileged to learn that in this single event, America experienced the greatest string of failures, possibly complicity, in every part of government. This, particularly, applies to our President (George Bush), his Cabinet, the FBI, and the CIA.  Incompetence at the level of the tiniest failure that occurred should have led to firings, indictments, incarceration.  Nobody responsible for the massive failure is on trial, in jail, accountable.


But our nation was glad to wrap itself in the flag as the smoke continued to emanate from the hole in southern Manhattan. This marked a coming together, it seemed, in some ways, to celebrate the heroics and  unending courage of so many who dealt with the mess.  Yet, now, with a bit of distance in time, we ignore the claims for health benefits made by those same heroic and courageous members of our big family.  And we can do that easily because Americans are no longer anything like a family.  Nothing America is about is shared commonly —  any number of charlatans falsely claim the history of the country and claim to have the answers to every problem we face, individually and as a country.  Thrown overboard, the commonweal has sunk to the bottom in favor of the furious drumbeat of fear, pushed by desperate politicians currying favor with business and by the largely spineless and insipid media our Constitution so powerfully protects.


Not long after 9/11, Hurricane Katrina battered New Orleans and many small towns — another event that demonstrated both the failure of our government and our character as Americans.  Seven years later, that disaster continues, but is largely forgotten except by those who continue to exist in its endless wake.


Yesterday, just before Labor Day, I watched footage from Newfane and Jamaica in Vermont, two small towns on Route 30, places I love and mentioned in my piece back in 2001. After 9/11, I was driving north from Marblehead, through a flag-waving America in New England, so desperately wanting to feel like a family, to share something common and comforting after a foreign force had ripped the American fabric to shreds.  Looking now at the roads and bridges lost to Tropical Storm Irene, days after it happened, I didn’t see any flags being waved, any response at all except the sadness and desperation that come when we reflect, in the face of real disaster, that we really are alone, that all is lost.


That has become a mean calculus in America, seized by some to  enhance the division of the country by wealth, race, religion, sex, politics, employment, and every other factor.  The degrees of separation between us might be the same as they were in 2001, but the distance between us has grown dramatically in the last decade.


Anticipate, hope, and work for better days.  Peace.










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September 15, 2011 at 7:27 pm Comment (1)

Tenth anniversary of 9/11: one degree of separation

In this past week, marking a decade since the 9/11 disaster, I have watched several powerful documentaries about that horrific day, including “9/11: Heroes of the 88th Floor.” (This focuses on Port Authority workers Frank De Martini and Pablo Ortiz, who saved the lives of dozens of people trapped in the World Trade Center, only to die themselves in the collapse of the towers.) I find such tales of selflessness, and the pay-it-forward response to those rescued by such heroes, truly uplifting, despite the horrendous circumstances.

But my husband, a New Yorker, refuses to watch such shows. He thinks that they over-hype the event, exploiting tragedy, and manipulating sentiment. He finds reminders of 9/11 too upsetting. For two days, following 9/11, he heard the U.S. military jets continue their deafening flight between Boston and New York, circling the skies night and day, and zooming directly overhead his home in Marblehead, Mass., north of Boston. (Who needed such overkill, when all flights were grounded?) He bears his own connection to what happened that September day, which I share below.

To honor his response to 9/11, and those who died that day, their loved ones who remain, the survivors, and those who worked so generously in the clean-up and aftermath, I include my husband’s article, which originally appeared in the Marblehead Reporter. It was later reprinted in The New York Times. This year, the editor of the Reporter asked him to write a follow-up piece, which I will include next week. Stay tuned.

One degree of separation

Frank L. McElroy


On the 11th day after the 11th day of September 2001, I found myself in escape driving through the heart of New England from Marblehead to southwestern Vermont. It couldn’t have been soon enough or more necessary to try to leave behind, even for a moment, the horror of the destruction in southern Manhattan and in Virginia.

Ellen, Mad and I drove along the winding roads of New Hampshire and Vermont, the names of the small towns passing by – Wilton, Peterborough, Dublin, Dummerston, Newfane, Jamaica, Winhall and Peru.

These are tiny places far away from the island of Manhattan, where I was born and where Ellen produced and directed broadcast advertising. Yet people in these places are more closely connected to New York than one might imagine.

The connection was made obvious in the messages which lined our route. There were innumerable flags displayed, beginning in Nashua and continuing the entire route, the greatest density on the roadside likely being in Dublin, N.H. Sign boards related a supportive or conciliatory thought: “Stand Tall America,” “Pray for those who died on Sept. 11,” and “Proud To Be An American/Proud To Be From New York.”

America is a nation of small towns and New York City just happens to be the biggest of all. People in the little towns have always known this – now New Yorkers have learned the same.

I didn’t think I knew anyone who died in the conflagration. My father was safe, as was my niece who lives on Manhattan. A week after the bombing, I connected to the Cornell University Web site. That early list of alumni dead numbered three, and I knew one. Not well, just an occasional acquaintance in the class below me who was a remarkable lacrosse player.

When I saw that name, all courage drained from me. I couldn’t search for any more friends or classmates that day or for days after, because I knew there would be more. And there will be, for everyone.

When the final list is made, many of us will discover that a lover, friend or classmate has been lost. What we won’t directly observe is that this calamity is so awesome and extreme that the six and seven degrees of separation which supposedly connect us all have been pared to one, maybe two.

When we are able to read the final list of the dead, I fear it is safe to say that nearly every one of us will either know someone who died or someone who knew or was related to a victim. In this there is a parallel to the Second World War. Other parallels include extraordinary acts of bravery and heroism, during the attacks and afterwards and continuing.

Driving along New Hampshire 101 and Vermont 9 and 30, I found no relief from the fear and heartache of the earlier 11 days. Looking at the messages, remembering the images, I cried, Ellen cried, Mad, too. We have grown accustomed to our even existence, won and preserved by so many who have come before us and made immeasurable sacrifice.

That existence is forever changed, but I am calmed by the knowledge that the loss occasioned by the brutal attacks is one shared so directly, by so many.

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September 9, 2011 at 9:38 am Comments (0)

Women in transportation in the early 1940s: Keep ’em happy with tidy hair and lipstick

While going through old files last week, I came across excerpts from a July 1943 issue of Transportation magazine, which dealt with the hiring of women. Full of outrageously sexist assumptions, it was written for male supervisors during the Second World War; since men were away fighting, the public transportation industry let women get a variety of jobs such as “conductorettes.” Once the men returned from the war, most of these women lost their positions. (In the next decade, some females got hired as bus drivers. I interviewed a few of them for the employee newsletter when I worked at BC Transit.)

Here is some of the content from “Eleven Tips on Getting More Efficiency Out of Women Employees”:

  • “Pick young married women. They usually have more of a sense of responsibility than their unmarried sisters, they’re less likely to be flirtatious, they need the work or they wouldn’t be doing it, they still have the pep and interest to work hard and to deal with the public efficiently”;
  • “Older women [Does that mean fortyish?] who have never contacted the public have a hard time adapting themselves and are inclined to be cantankerous and fussy”;
  • “General experience indicates that ‘husky’ girls — those who are just a little on the heavy side — are more even tempered and efficient than their underweight sisters”[Gee, I didn’t know that physique and temperament were so closely linked];
  • “Retain a physician to give each woman you hire a special physical examination . . . [this] reveals whether the employee-to-be has any female weaknesses which would make her mentally or physically unfit for the job”;
  • “Numerous properties say that women make excellent workers when they have their jobs cut out for them, but that they lack initiative in finding work themselves” [Yes, we’re all so helpless without direction — as if]
  • “Women are inclined to be less nervous and happier with change”;
  • “You have to make some allowances for feminine psychology. A girl has more confidence and is more efficient if she can keep her hair tidied, apply fresh lipstick and wash her hands several times a day”;
  • “Women are often sensitive; they can’t shrug off harsh words the way men do. Never ridicule a woman — it breaks her spirit and cuts off her efficiency”;
  • “Even though a girl’s husband or father may swear vociferously, she’ll grow to dislike a place of business where she hears too much of this” [obviously, they never listened too closely to some women]
  • “Get enough size variety in operator’s uniforms so that each girl can have a proper fit. This point can’t be stressed too much in keeping women happy.”

Regardless of laws or legislation, attitudes are often slow to change. But I’m pleased that today, we see far more women working in transportation, and most receive equal pay and respect and have equal rights to their male counterparts. Kudos to those who endured the early days and helped drive a new path forward, to make it easier for subsequent generations.

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August 19, 2011 at 9:12 am Comments (0)

Yippies in Love: truly a riot


A current celebration of Vancouver, B.C.’s radical early-70s era presents the delightful fun and conviction (in both senses of the word) of an activist spirit. My husband Frank and I saw Bob Sarti’s play Yippies in Love at The Cultch last night, and I came away so enthused, I couldn’t sleep for too many hours later. Frank, a former New Yorker, commented: “This was way better than a lot of off-Broadway stuff  I’ve seen.)

This campy musical romp, “borrowed from a true story” of Vancouver history and Sarti’s own anarchic actions, recreates key public protests of 1970-71, using the ideals of a fictional Yippee household as its thematic lens. The love story begins unwittingly, when Andy (Steve Maddock), a U.S. surfer dude avoiding the Vietnam draft, decides to try and cross the border at Blaine, WA on May 9, 1970 — the same day that hundreds of peaceniks and Yippies from Vancouver invaded Blaine to protest the Vietnam war and claim the Peace Arch as their own. (Sarti still retains a small chunk of the Arch as a souvenir of his involvement that day.)

Caught up in this raucous group action, Andy meets plucky protester Julie (Danielle St. Pierre), a feminist single mom who cherishes her independence. She later invites him to join her household of Yippee enthusiasts (actors Bing Jensen, Emily Rowed and Rebecca Shoichet), who each play a series of characters, ranging from local Yippie motivator “The Wizard” to Vancouver Judge Les Bewley and the city’s former notorious hippy-baiting-and-hating mayor, Tom “Terrific” Campbell. All of the actors are excellent; my only criticism is that Bing Jensen’s singing voice didn’t project loudly enough to we folk in the last row.

One might expect a Question Authority play, which mocks The Man and slams capitalist power, to lay on the heavy rhetoric, but Sarti keeps the tone entertaining and educational, in irreverent Yippee style. His pithy lyrics are hilarious and the choreography routines, especially Dancin’ Doobies, are great. His use of news footage of police violence at events like the Gastown riot (on Aug. 9 1971) enhances the injustices rampant at the time, as do the excerpts from court transcripts that Sarti weaves into dialogue.

A retired Vancouver Sun reporter, Sarti projects above the stage numerous media headlines, including ones from The Sun, which aptly captured the public hysteria over peaceful protest. (As a cub reporter one summer at The Sun too many decades ago, I  benefited from Sarti’s information-sharing and enjoyed his reporting of non-Establishment events.) In the program for Yippies in Love, he thanks the Newspaper Guild, his union at the time, “for protecting my job security while I juggled two careers — while collar worker by day, white collar Yipppie by night.”

The play runs until July 3 and I urge anyone with an iota of activism in their blood to see it. Its message of grassroots action seems especially a propos while people riot and die for democracy in the Middle East, and Vancouver reels from the yahoo riots by drunken Canuck fans. (After today’s performance, Sarti is hosting a panel “Yippies and Yahoos: What’s the Difference?”)

Yippies in Love is dedicated to the memory of Sarti’s father Paolino, who fought fascism in Spain. It’s directed and produced by Jay Hamburger, artistic director of Theatre in the Raw, which bills itself as “giving exposure to voices seldom heard” since 1994. Jay appeared onstage to introduce the play, and read Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s poem “The World is a Beautiful Place” to evoke the protest tone of the early 1970s. The third stanza reads:

Oh the world is a beautiful place
to be born into
if you don’t much mind
a few dead minds
in the higher places
or a bomb or two
now and then
in your upturned faces.

Noted pianist and arranger Bill Sample, the play’s music director and composer, joined guitarist Robbie Steininger to energize the whole show with great live keyboard action, from ballads to Hendrix. All ’round, a wonderful experience.

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June 26, 2011 at 4:12 pm Comments (2)

Guest blog: Bin Laden’s death no civilized result

As a guest blogger this week, Massachusetts lawyer Frank McElroy (my hubby) offers his view of Osama Bin Laden’s recent death (murder).

The summary killing of Osama Bin Laden, though it may have been necessary on the ground, is just a damned shame. Had he been captured and brought to answer in the sophisticated federal district courts of the United States (or the courts of many other countries), I, and the world, would have had the benefit of a public procedure, a trial, likely a sentence.

 Most importantly, we would have had an affirmation that even in the most difficult circumstances, civil society is based on law, not on personalities, heinous, kind or powerful. Having Osama crack big rocks with a hammer into smaller rocks, alone, until his last moment, is a punishment that I believe befits his crime.


Death at the end of a muzzle or a hangman’s knot is far too easy in my mind. Just think of the crimes he committed. It’s one thing for a dead body to twist in the wind at the end of a rope, another to twist in the wind and contemplate an unending misery borne of the horrors visited upon one’s victims.


I can’t imagine anything more interesting and likely instructive than Bin Laden, in chains in the U.S. District Court in Southern Manhattan, properly defended. I’d have traveled and stayed for that, maybe even have volunteered to defend him.  That’s what makes the results legitimate, credible, civilized.

I cannot begin to credit the claims of Republicans who, long ago, affirmatively minimized Bin Laden to a point of no influence or activity. Now they claim that their former leader, George W. Bush, is ultimately responsible for the great feat of eliminating this true scourge.


Barack Obama and the power of the United States of America killed Osama Bin Laden.  Nobody else.  That was not wrong, but it was a lot less than what the world needed.  The audacious nature of the raid ensured shooting and death, and that’s what happened.  Not a lot really, compared to what Bin Laden has wreaked upon the world.  It could have had a different result, although I can’t imagine any planning that would have assured Bin Laden’s capture rather than extinction.


When Saddam Hussein was being tried for his horrifying crimes, I tried mightily to find a way onto his defense team, led by Ramsey Clark.  I wasn’t in time — they hung him from a hook in a dark room with no windows.  That’s not justice.  Having him testify or not, but being present in a court of law with unbiased triers of fact and administrators of law, that’s justice. 

I don’t believe in the death penalty for lots of reasons, one of which is that it doesn’t carry any real weight.  It creates an artificial end, and history shows that the value of human life is thin at best. 

Editor’s note: As someone committed to a path of nonviolence, I feel conflicted over Bin Laden’s death. I am grateful that Obama chose not to use a missile to kill Bin Laden and hence, risk killing innocent civilians. Yet, when westerners joyfully gather publicly to celebrate his death, how is that different than those in the Middle East who cheered the fall of the Twin Towers? 

May 16, 2011 at 8:05 pm Comment (1)

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