Monday, September 28, 2009

"Making Up with Mom" on WNYC

"As a new generation of young mothers try to accomplish it all, having good careers and raising families, they also struggle to find common ground with their own mothers. We speak to two mothers about how their own moms have influenced them and how they are forging their own paths."

K Webster's post to the site:

My mom moved in with us about 5 and half years ago. She has Alzheimer's with stretches of lucidity. Our relationship wasn't "easy" growing up but I appreciate her love and willingness to do whatever it took for us to make it. There are days when it wears on me, but I have to say that I am grateful for the chance to care for her. I appreciate having to “come home” and face whatever was wrong there head on. Not always easy and not what I’d recommend for everyone. But for me it has been a gift. As a mother myself I have been humbled to realize what this job entails, with no institutional support for it. Within the Alzheimer's community, for instance, there is a clear institutionalized understanding of "respite care". Not so with mothering. You are expected to do this job without any real support system. The question I often ask is, “what was life like for my mother as a woman, as a caregiver?”
Posted by kathleen webster, 10:11 a.m. Monday, September 28 2009

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Sisters in the Brotherhood now in paperback!

Sisters in the Brotherhood,
by Jane LaTour," is an oral-history of women who,
against considerable odds, broke the gender
barrier to blue-collar employment in various
trades in New York City beginning in the
It is a story of the fight against deeply
ingrained cultural assumptions about
what constitutes women's work, the
middle-class bias of feminism, the
daily grinding sexism of male co-
workers, and the institutionalized dis-
crimination of employers and unions.
It is also the story of some gutsy
women who, seeking the material
rewards and personal satisfactions of
skilled manual labor, have struggled to
make a place for themselves among
New York City's construction
workers, stationary engineers,
firefighters, electronic technicians,
plumbers, and transit."

Friday, September 11, 2009

9/11 Barbara Kingsolver quote

Published on Sunday, September 23, 2001 in the Los
Angeles Times
A Pure, High Note of Anguish

by Barbara Kingsolver

TUCSON -- I want to do something to help right now.
But I can't give blood (my hematocrit always runs too
low), and I'm too far away to give anybody shelter or
a drink of water. I can only give words. My verbal
hemoglobin never seems to wane, so words are what I'll
offer up in this time that asks of us the best
citizenship we've ever mustered. I don't mean to say I
have a cure. Answers to the main questions of the
day--Where was that fourth plane headed? How did they
get knives through security?--I don't know any of
I have some answers, but only to the questions nobody
is asking right now but my 5-year old. Why did all
those people die when they didn't do anything
wrong? Will it happen to me? Is this the worst thing
that's ever happened? Who were those children cheering
that they showed for just a minute, and why
were they glad? Please, will this ever, ever happen to
There are so many answers, and none: It is desperately
painful to see people die without having done anything
to deserve it, and yet this is how lives end nearly
always. We get old or we don't, we get cancer,
we starve, we are battered, we get on a plane thinking
we're going home but never make it. There are
blessings and wonders and horrific bad luck and no
We like to pretend life is different from that, more
like a game we can actually win with the right
strategy, but it isn't. And, yes, it's the worst
thing that's happened, but only this week. Two years
ago, an earthquake in Turkey killed 17,000 people in a
day, babies and mothers and businessmen, and not
one of them did a thing to cause it. The November
before that, a hurricane hit Honduras and Nicaragua
and killed even more, buried whole villages and
erased family lines and even now, people wake up there
Which end of the world shall we talk about? Sixty
years ago, Japanese airplanes bombed Navy boys who
were sleeping on ships in gentle Pacific waters.
Three and a half years later, American planes bombed a
plaza in Japan where men and women were going to work,
where schoolchildren were playing, and more humans
died at once than anyone thought possible. Seventy
thousand in a minute. Imagine. Then twice that many
more, slowly, from the inside.
There are no worst days, it seems. Ten years ago,
early on a January morning, bombs rained down from the
sky and caused great buildings in the city of
Baghdad to fall down--hotels, hospitals, palaces,
buildings with mothers and soldiers inside--and here
in the place I want to love best, I had to watch
people cheering about it. In Baghdad, survivors shook
their fists at the sky and said the word "evil." When
many lives are lost all at once, people gather
together and say words like "heinous" and "honor" and
"revenge," presuming to make this awful moment stand
apart somehow from the ways people die a little
each day from sickness or hunger. They raise up their
compatriots' lives to a sacred place--we do this, all
of us who are human--thinking our own citizens
to be more worthy of grief and less willingly risked
than lives on other soil. But broken hearts are not
mended in this ceremony, because, really, every life
that ends is utterly its own event--and also in some
way it's the same as all others, a light going out
that ached to burn longer. Even if you never had the
chance to love the light that's gone, you miss it. You
You bear this world and everything that's wrong with
it by holding life still precious, each time, and
starting over. And those children dancing in the
street? That is the hardest question. We would rather
discuss trails of evidence and whom to stamp out, even
the size and shape of the cage we might put ourselves
in to stay safe, than to mention the fact that our
nation is not universally beloved; we are also
despised. And not just by "The Terrorist," that lone,
deranged non-man in a bad photograph whose opinion we
can clearly dismiss, but by ordinary people in
many lands. Even by little boys--whole towns full of
them it looked like--jumping for joy in school shoes
and pilled woolen sweaters.

There are a hundred ways to be a good citizen, and one
of them is to look finally at the things we don't want
to see. In a week of terrifying events, here is one
awful, true thing that hasn't much been mentioned:
Some people believe our country needed to learn how to hurt
in this new way. This is such a large lesson, so
hatefully, wrongfully taught, but many people before
us have learned honest truths from wrongful deaths. It
still may be within our capacity of mercy to say this
much is true: We didn't really understand how it felt
when citizens were buried alive in Turkey or Nicaragua
or Hiroshima. Or that night in Baghdad. And we
haven't cared enough for the particular brothers and
mothers taken down a limb or a life at a time, for
such a span of years that those little, briefly
jubilant boys have grown up with twisted hearts. How
could we keep raining down bombs and selling weapons,
if we had? How can our president still use that word
"attack" so casually, like a move in a checker game,
now that we have awakened to see that word in our own
newspapers, used like this: Attack on America.
Surely, the whole world grieves for us right now. And
surely it also hopes we might have learned, from the
taste of our own blood, that every war is both
won and lost, and that loss is a pure, high note of
anguish like a mother singing to any empty bed. The
mortal citizens of a planet are praying right
now that we will bear in mind, better than ever
before, that no kind of bomb ever built will
extinguish hatred.

"Will this happen to me?" is the wrong question, I'm
sad to say. It always was.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

United Nations: Global Movement Against Racism 26 March

UN 2001 World Conference Against Racism in Durban: Conference Review:

Sponsored by the SubCommittee for the Elimination of Racism of the NGO Committee on Human Rights in collaboration with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

K Webster, Discussant:

Thank you to the Organizers and to the Distinguished Panel:

Most of us came to Durban recognizing the desperate need to dismantle racist institutions and policies in order to end the creation of more victims and to alter the fate of those who are sinking under its weight.

We, United to End Racism, came primarily to provide a space for the activists at the conference to work on reversing the personal effects racism had left on them: The devastating, often hidden affects of racism when it becomes internalized as ones own thinking.
We listened. The stories were breathtaking and heartbreaking. And everyone who came had one to tell. Our goal was to make a safe place for these “agents of change” to unload the grief, terror and indignation at racisms legacy so they could carry on, unimpeded in their lives and their work. The ingenuity and resilience of people targeted by racism had been tested and intelligence triumphed over and over again.

There were many large success stories, but I’d like to remind us of some of the everyday stories of Durban. The ones that people told as they tried to free themselves of the hold of racisms corrosive powers; the accumulation of insults that slowly sap the life out of people.

There was the schoolteacher who had fought to end apartheid. Relishing the victory, she told of her excitement at attending an International teachers conference in Johannesburg for the fist time. But confronted by a sea of white faces, she wilted under a tidal wave of shame, embarrassment and a feeling of not belonging. She quietly packed up her bags and left. She had won the war, but the battle for her own mind was not over. And now she knew it.
Or the chance meeting with an Aboriginal leader as he stood frozen, discouraged by the lack of enthusiasm for his program. He sobbed for a full five minutes about the abduction from his people as a young boy by a white institution…and his powerlessness to stop it. He startled himself upon realizing he was feeling exactly as he had as a boy. Laughing suddenly, he raced off- to try again.
And there was the workshop run by two women: Palestinian and Israeli. They refused to accept the vilification of either ones people as the road to the resolution of the conflict. Preferring instead to painfully and awkwardly untangle the emotions that clouded their thinking.

There were countless examples of kindness and courage and patience and fortitude. People drank up the resource of the host of people who came to strategize together.

Durban was also an opportunity to address the effect on white people as the agents of racism (sometimes unwitting, sometimes willing). Absorbing its poison, being set up to play this role distorts our goodness and intelligence. It creates both monsters and a silent coterie of witnesses too frozen to act. We, too, have much damage to heal from having been coerced or bribed to barter our humanity for a counterfeit sense of “betterness”. I came from a home with good but terribly hurt people where the racism was overt and unrelenting. But I’m here now. I am very sure that white people want the chance to have our minds and hearts back. Even the most intransigent among us.

Last, as sometimes happens when people try to find a path through complex human tragedies, other forces were at work stoking confusions and fears, and encouraging the blaming of someone or group for the mess we are all in. Anti-Jewish oppression was shamefully but skillfully manipulated to target Jews and Israel and used to try to derail the intent of Durban. But it did provide a searchlight on oppressive beliefs and actions that must to be challenged if we are going to eliminate the particular destructive oppression of racism. You can’t liberate one group while targeting another.

This gathering today is a testament to the enduring belief that those forces will not win the day. That enough people will refuse to be guided by revenge or defensiveness (even when it is understandable, even when it feels “justified”) and instead will tackle the difficult task of using our minds to find our way out of this tangle.

The acts of September 11th seemed to overwhelm the large and small decisions to end racism that occurred in Durban. But eight years later, that same country elected a President named Barack Hussien Obama.

Racism is still ravaging the world. But a thousand acts of intelligence can change the trajectory of a chance meeting with a stranger, of a close friendship, of a beloved community, of a proud State, and finally, of a world.

Thank you.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Main Street NYC: The Bowery, Manhattan

Main Street NYC: The Bowery, Manhattan-By Brigid Bergin March 20, 2009
"WNYC’s Brigid Bergin takes us to a five-block stretch of the Bowery, from Houston to Delancey streets. The street is still home some century-old institutions like the Bowery Mission and specialized retail districts for restaurant supplies. But in recent years, an influx of new businesses along with cultural destinations are reshaping the neighborhood’s economy and streetscape....

REPORTER: ... the plan is to build an an 8-story, 72-room luxury green hotel. the site is fenced off with blue plywood, and there's no sign of construction going on here.

...A week before the opening, WNYC spoke executive director Lisa Phillips about the Museum's role in gentrifying the neighborhood.

PHILLIPS: Well we expected there would be changes in the neighborhood. But we didn't expect it would happen so fast. And we thougt we'd kind of be alone for a while...."

K Webster's post to the site:

The Bowery is a big place. An astonishing neighborhood of complex communities and interests: SRO tenants, families in tenements, artists in lofts, kitchen suppliers, lighting stores, missions to those in need, gardeners, theaters, and cultural institutions. Asian American Arts Center, Bowery Poetry Club, Bowery Mission, Liz Christy Garden, Dixon Place, CBGB’s, Amato Opera, and many more are/were institutions in this still gritty part of town.
Some try to redefine The Bowery by their arrival here. You might want to dig just a bit deeper for the full story. The New Museum plasters its logo up and down the street (even in front of local art institutions). It paves over the remains of an African Burial ground in its rush to be built. As for being surprised at the gentrification that followed its arrival, I quote a museum official (NYTimes 3/28/07: “once the new building opens, it will change the complexion of the Lower East Side”. Ms. Phillips wasn’t ever “alone” there were many arts institutions long before hers showed up. The “Green” hotel that purports to showcase living “green”? The small business next door had to be evacuated after the “green” demolition of a perfectly fine building to make way for the new hotel. (BTW: that is why it hasn’t been built – still sorting that out!). The Bowery’s Liz Christy garden, the grandmother of East Village Gardens, has been a fine showcase on living green over the past 20 years. The Bowery suppliers who own the SunShine Hotel? They had to be taken to court to protect the rights of their SRO tenants to stay in their homes of the last three decades or so.
What is slowly fading with the new onslaught is the delightful, irreverent cacophony of a working community that grows by that indefinable magic of people creating a place for their neighborhood and neighbors. You can’t fake that and you can’t create it by following “market” trends. Hence the collapse of such failed strategies writ large on the national and international front.
There is hope however. I noticed the relocation of a local lumber store on our illustrious street. A return to something real?

Friday, March 13, 2009

Re “Panthers vow to shut down ‘Negro Head’ cookie baker” (news article, Feb. 4):

Cookie’s just tip of iceberg: The Villager

To The Editor:
Re “Panthers vow to shut down ‘Negro Head’ cookie baker” (news article, Feb. 4):
Racism has real impact on people’s lives; it kills, it hurts, it spoils our world. If you’ve ever seen the face or been the face of someone who gets targeted that way, you know. You know you don’t want it anywhere near you or the people you love or hope to love.
Good for the Black Panthers for standing against it. Good for the neighborhood for acknowledging those cookies as sheer racism and for not patronizing a business that would profit from it. No excuse avoids our responsibility for the racism we carry. But belittling the guy who wears his overtly, begs the question. It may feel easier for those of us who are white to point at this individual, distancing ourselves from his version of racism, harder to face our own.
You don’t grow up in this culture and not absorb its lessons. Whether you are the one “privileged” by racism or the one who is dealt the blunt force of it, you get the message.
Racism isn’t caused by “stupidity,” though it makes us act stupidly. It is caused and kept in motion by unaware or deliberate misinformation, enormous hurt and institutionalized policies. No one escapes its effects.
It is essential that racism be interrupted, but raining down condemnation on any one person who carries it masquerades as respite from its poisonous effect on every one of us. Really, the place to start cleaning house is in our own minds.

K Webster

Thursday, February 19, 2009

City strikes out on stadium

To The Editor:
Re “Paying for Yankee Stadium is a major league error” (talking point, by Deborah Glick, Jan. 28: The Villager):
Thanks to Deborah Glick for laying out the sheer hubris of luxury construction, of any kind, in our troubled city. The market for luxury projects is dwindling — rapidly. Whatever arguments were made for that strategy no longer apply. And they never did long range.
The foolishness of destroying Yankee Stadium is breathtaking. Taxpayers are subsidizing its reconstruction, parking garages, new train station and parks — in the last case, to replace those seized and moved far from their Little League users.
And in return? Five thousand fewer seats, most of these beyond fans’ ability to pay. As Bill Moyers puts it:
“…[T]here will be more luxury suites and party rooms… . Corporations and wealthy individuals will…rent the luxury suites for…$600,000 to $850,000 tax-deductible dollars a year, assuming they haven’t filed for bankruptcy... .
“…[B]id farewell to dear old Yankee Stadium, and await the new colossus… . It will cast its…shadow across one of the country’s poorest neighborhoods, whose residents will watch from the outside as suburban drivers avail themselves of…new…parking spaces. Never mind…the exhaust, even though in this part of town respiratory disease is already so high they call it ‘asthma alley.’ ”
Environmental damage, destruction of a historic stadium, loss of community space, less affordable entertainment and outrageous cost at a time when we desperately need ideas and projects that create a real future for our city.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

"Take a Bowery"

by Adam Bonislawski NY POST 12/18/08

"...Not, of course, that the Bowery is for everyone. As Eklund [Core Group Marketing managing director Fredrik Eklund] admits, recent changes aside, the street still retains a bit of its famed grit.
"You see very few families down here," he says. "It's not a quiet tree-lined street. It has the drama, the rock 'n' roll history, but it's not a traditional family neighborhood."...
[Adam] Gordon [elf-storage magnate and neighborhood developer] adds: "I don't pine for the Bowery of 50 years ago. It was a hole."...

Posted response from Bowerygals K Webster:

A bit arrogant to described a community as “a “hole” and I must differ with the assessment of the Bowery as being “not a traditional family neighborhood”. It’s well within the tradition of raising families in less wealthy communities. Having lived here for 30 years, I’d say this has been a pretty great place to raise my family. Is the point that it isn’t for families that would prefer to live behind doormen, afraid of the rest of us?

So much of what is arriving here might undo what made this place astonishingly good for families: An enviable music and arts scene, people who look out for each other, a neighborhood rich in unassimilated cultures, buildings with deep history in them, community gardens where children get their hands in dirt.

It’s now sold as a playground for hedge fund guys or a hip hang out (that scene is long gone –you chased it away or built right over it).

I hope we can wait this out, as the economy shifts, and we can get back to being this gritty, cool place again. Try not to destroy too much of its wild and beautiful self before you go.