Friday, July 27, 2007

The World Can't Wait
by Wanda Sabir

I wasn't at the July 23 meeting between Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Jr., Cindy Sheehan, and Ray McGovern, where Rep. John Conyers was asked to consider impeaching President Bush and Vice President Cheney. Yet I am disappointed that as chair of U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary, who Yearwood said “is the person who can begin the process or keep is from happening,” Conyers did not agree with this proposal supported by 1 million signatures, among them mine.

Perhaps because I live in California where a governor was recalled, I am not opposed to pulling out the crooknecked cane and snatching from thrones any politician who forgets the tenets of democracy which means "people power." (This is not to say that I am pleased with Schwarzenegger or that I was displeased with the former governor, Gray Davis. The point is, there was a petition and something happened.)

After two terms, I would think George W. Bush has tried the patience of sainted legislators, perhaps this isn't true, if some are willing to wait his term out. I can't even conceive the damage. One might say, okay, he's impeached then there's Cheney and Rice...the list is not endless but it does go on and on. Impeach them all or thrown them in prison for their crimes, especially Cheney and the rest of the cabinet. Yearwood said “Rep. Conyers is the recognized authority on Capitol Hill both on impeachment and on the impeachable offenses of Vice President Cheney and President Bush. He and his staff literally wrote the book on them before the Democrats won the majority last November:”

Obviously, Yearwood and company thought, incorrectly that Conyers was an ally.
I can imagine the disappointment 400 activists waiting in the hall outside Conyers’ office felt when Yearwood, Sheehan, and McGovern stepped into the hallway and told them Conyers disagreed with their strategy and refused to participate. Conyers is key to the impeachment process, but I presume there are other avenues –what those are, have not been articulated.

One doesn’t necessarily get rid of someone just because their answer is no. Conyers is a free agent. However, if the mood of the country and the majority of its constituents is desperation over current leadership and these are the people you have sworn to represent and serve, then why are you refusing to support their request?

Okay, so Conyers stated there was not enough evidence to support a demand to impeach the president and vice president. I don’t know, the Downing Street document looks pretty comprehensive. Perhaps Conyers wants to spare this country and his constituents time and money on an issue which would not pass if brought to trial? If such is the case, then our constitution is a weak document that needs amending. Since when is starting a war based on lies legal? Since when is stealing an election, not once, but twice, legal? Since when is pardoning known criminals legal?

It seems to me that Bush has done so much wrong that his actions could not stand up to legal scrutiny, if Clinton was being impeached for lying under oath--what's the difference here? Isn't a lie a lie? Clinton's lies weren't attached to such decisions that have cost America dearly in nonrenewable resources—human life.

This administration has cheapened and eroded irreplaceable values, ones that made this country great, values such as tolerance of differences among its population, values like individual freedom to exercise one's displeasure in the ballot box and on the street corner. Now one can be thrown in prison where among the losses, post-Bush, is a right to due process and to a speedy trial.

One cannot even wear a dissenting tee-shirt anymore, and the news media is owned by the government or its corporate sponsors--democracy brought to you care of Bechtel, Halliburton, Clear Channel, or Disney.

Everything else is moving towards privatization—the airwaves, publishing houses, schools, prisons, the medical industry, gone are the family farms, why not a privatized government?

Elections are stolen, ballots destroyed, patriotism trampled along with it a spirit and a drive that once made me proud to be an American. I have to reach back and grab an ancestor's hand to know why I want to still participate in this farce called the democratic process. Why would anyone register to vote in this country if they watched the process unfold over the last two presidential elections without consequence?

This is why the impeachment process is being pushed. What else do we have as a democracy except revolutionary warfare to address this evil that is being spread throughout the land like a balm dulling senses and stifling resistance?

The emperor has gotten so comfortable he thinks he can do anything he likes and we cannot do anything to stop him. Damn, sounds like a dictatorship. New Orleans after Katrina was under marshal law, curfew instituted with shoot to kill orders in place for any black moving targets. Many people were killed by these guns for hire--Black Water vigilantes.

No one calls for revolution, it's an inconvenience most Americans are not interested in contemplating. This flawed system is slow and costly. It takes generations for things to happen; nothing is immediate and the laws in place just make it easier to keep the inequities stabilized and multiplying like an infectious bacteria.

I can see why so many Africans in the Diaspora are leaving this country and headed to Africa, yet even Africa has been bitten by this disease nicknamed Western culture. Funny on the 200th anniversary of the end of the slave trade in Britain, Americans are losing their freedoms secured by the blood of Africans even when black people weren't seen worthy to be called human, even when these rights were not extended to them, and when they were, quickly legislated away during a period called Reconstruction and Jim Crow and Segregation and now one called by the titles "Patriot Act" and "No Child Left Behind" and “Mandatory Sentencing Laws,” our tax dollars split between the military and prison industrial complexes.

One cannot sensibly contemplate taking up arms in a nation where arms stockpiling is first to none, but if one cannot remove leadership which is threatening to the well-being of not just Americans, but the rest of the world, what can one do?

Waiting is not an option. I'm sure Rep. Conyers knows this as our president contemplates a war in Iran and a way to put off the election by throwing this country into some sort of turmoil so the 2008 elections can be suspended. Remember 9/11.

Visit and for Yearwood’s piece see: "Race is the Tripwire for the Progressive Movement: John Conyers and Impeachment"

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Les Blancs by Lorraine Hansberry @ Stanford University through Aug. 5

Reviewed by Wanda Sabir

In its ninth season, Stanford University Theatre Department is putting on a summer series of theatre that challenges as it entertains. Perhaps the series theme, “Africa on Stage: Let Us Tell You a Story,” was chosen in support of two exhibits at the Cantor Arts Center this summer, one already closed, Bare Witness: Photographs by Gordon Parks which closed July 1, the other “Art of Being Tuareg: Sahara Nomads in a Modern World,” up through Sept. 2. Who knows? It is great to finally see Les Blancs, the Whites. I knew the translation without being able to speak French. What I didn’t know was that Lorraine Hansberry wrote this play in response to French playwright, Jean Genet’s The Blacks (1935). I remember this play was celebrated for its outstanding cast. Harry Elam said during the Q&A after Sunday evening’s program, that many considered The Blacks the official start of the Black Arts Movement. I certainly hope this is an overstatement.

In Les Blancs Hansberry rolls out the script for so much of what is wrong in Africa today magnified now that colonialism is supposedly over. Abderrahmane Sissako, the Malian director, asks the same questions in his film, "Bamako," when the World Bank stands trial and loses.

Briefly, the story is one of two brothers who have the same mother, and one, the third child, also the youngest, has a different father, a white man. But the fight isn’t with the younger son, it’s between the two older brothers when they meet again at their father’s funeral at a time their country is in turmoil. They both love their country and its people; yet like Martin and Malcolm, the methods utilized vary greatly.

Hansberry tosses the typical colonial ingredients in the bowl and the salad leaves one chewing long after the final bow. As one picks her teeth with metaphors—what does she mean when she has Tshembe Matoseh marry a white woman and have a son, a boy who resembles his brother, whose life cost his mother hers. Then there is Abioseh Matoseh, who loves his master more than his flesh and blood.

The action is set in a mission hospital where two doctors, one a skeptic, the other a racist philanthropist minister to the ill while the army led by Major George Rice says all the politically incorrect things most assembled believe are true. There is the dutiful wife, and lot of African servants who reinforce the stereotypes, except in Les Blancs, it’s a ruse to dash water on the scent.

It is the villagers who provide the context for the dilemma Tshembe faces when he’d rather just bury his dad and return home to Europe where troubles are on the tele, a distance so safe he can pretend they aren’t there.

Les Blancs is extraordinary in its relevance today—call the two brothers Arab and Jew, or poor and rich, or old and young, or chronically ill and well. The juxtaposition is the same, the fight is the same too.

Though two of the cast members Anthony J. Haney and Kieleil DeLeon are equity actors, the fine student cast blurs the line between professional and amateur. All are great, especially Cameron Drake's "Peter" character, a man who loves his people. Another character I liked was, “the woman.” Actress, Aleta Hayes' character opened the play with dance, her silhouette in the shadows. Rush Rehm's "Charlie Morris" is great as the sympathetic writer who is so paralyzed by privilege he can’t hear Tshembe talking to him because he is a black man and therefore inferior. The villagers are also great. They change the sets as they dance, and the drummer—Tumani Onabiyi, who sets the pace in partnership with choreographer Aleta Hayes, make the play feel like we are really in Africa.

Some people are eternally awake because of the evil they’ve done. The problem with the situation between the colonized and the colonizer is the fiction erected between the reality and the what they’d like to believe is true.

At one point the major tells Peter to dance for his American guest who is on safari, only the wild animals are human beings. Peter parrots his carefully rehearsed script of how great for Africa is the European presence. “I have nothing against Africans,” the major says by explanation, “but this is my home. They had it for hundreds of years and they weren’t doing anything with it.”

Peter sees it another way. He tells the story of the hyenas and the elephants. The elephants needed more space, and the hyenas went to the counsel to ask for advice. The animals thought about it so long the elephant continued to expand its holdings until the hyenas were completely pushed off their land. This is why they have such an anguished and sad laugh.

The same was happening to African people as European people weren’t waiting for an African response, rather they were pushing forward with expanding their territories. Les Blancs questions this right to western expansion in an occupied land and a people’s right to resist this insurgence and rupture of their lives.

Since Hansberry didn’t get a chance to complete the work and her ex-husband did, what is the impact of his intrusion on the world she fashioned? We’ll never know what this is the director, Harry Elam said. However, there is enough here, even where one might think—could Hansberry really have written this like this? The work's integrity makes one look at all the stereotypes and maladies associated with colonialism or enslavement whether that is with a whip or bible or bottle. Ingredients, once again in that salad.

When the story begins we have a man returning home after a long time away. His father is ill and he has been sent for, but he arrives too late. Tshembe is married with a wife and baby. When he tells this to his little brother, Eric, the sibling is not impressed. Married to a white woman, Tshembe’s baby probably looks a lot like his brother he shares a mother with, but not a dad. The boy is mulatto.

We wonder for most of the play who the dad is. (I won’t spoil it for you.) Anyway, the brothers put on customary costumes to celebrate their departed father. When the third brother arrives, he protests, and when he removes his over garment, we see why.

The play continues for two more weeks running Thursday-Sunday, August 5, 8 p.m. at Pigott Theatre at Stanford University.

Visit or call (650) 725-5838 or There are also free movies on Mondays at 7 p.m., in Cubberley Auditorium. Visit the website for the full schedule.

The Spot

Reviewed by Wanda Sabir

“It goes back to when life first began…all life began at the watering hole. …. and this is where evolution has taken us: churches, fast food cardiac arrest pit stops and an endless supply of liquor stores. The Africans used to say: “Before the white man came we had the land and they had the bible. Now we have the bible and they have the land.”
--Homeless Man

I left the San Francisco Black Film Festival’s Award’s night last month feeling really happy as I headed for Recovery Theatre’s The Spot in its final performance at St. Boniface, located in the heart of the Tenderloin on Golden Gate and Jones Street in San Francisco. The streets were quiet that evening compared to just days earlier when a young man was killed and drunken or otherwise inebriate denizens toyed with the idea of entering the church for the play, then decided not to. I found a parking spot just across the street, and when walked in, the director and playwright Geoffrey Grier was speaking as I spotted my friend.

I was so happy that I hadn’t missed the last performance of the play I’d been trying to get to for over two years? Just after Shabaka made his acceptance speech, I eased on down Florida to my car and headed over to Golden Gate where I found a parking spot just across the street from the church where Marvin X hosted his Black Arts and Poetry Festival a few years ago. I had no time to spare as I scanned the room looking for my friend and or a seat. Chokwadi waved her hand and I sat down next to her just as Recovery Theatre director and playwright Geoffrey Grier mounted the stage to open the show.

The theatre went black and we heard a voice telling us a story of seduction: James Brown’s “King Heroin” was speaking –heroin a master lover whose jones rode even the most stalwart ex-lover. It was hard to shake him, the promises so sweet, the lovin’ so good. It’s the same with his queen: crack, the poison of choice we find when its personnel take their posts at the Spot.

I’d never heard the song before, but this others that night provided eloquently a libretto for the characters whose lives we were to meet at The Spot. The music, which was on sale afterwards, added an extra dimension to the story as it unfolded like the first step in a 12-step process most characters hadn’t heard of or responded well to.

I’d just seen a film the day before at the SFBFF, “Transformations,” directed by Javier Molina, which reminded me of The Spot. Same scenario, folks stuck in a place where death or imprisonment are the only way out unless one finds a way to leave “the life of crime” behind. The Spot focused more on the trap of addiction, addiction to illegal and legal drugs. One often hears of how crack cocaine will make a mother sell her child for a hit, it also affects fathers the same way. One addict (Vinny Smyth)lets his child burn up in a car on one of San Francisco’s hottest days because he couldn’t stop chasing the high.

Another character, Lex, (Luchen Baker)was angry because his dad had had an accident that crippled him, the resulting pain and addiction to first legal, than illegal pain killers occurred when his insurance refused to approve his surgery. It’s a complex story which I think is the point of The Spot.

The stories of the people who find themselves pouring libations on Golden Gate and Leavenworth, Jones, or Taylor –and other such spots in urban settings, are often victims of a system in this country where depending on your zip code police services won’t respond to nuisance calls. A woman was having people sign a petition closing night to address this. It’s a place where one is not granted human status, so if one’s life is to have value, it has to come from within—there is no outward social reinforcement. Even the poverty pimps benefit from one’s destitution. No one wants the folks hanging at the watering hole to prosper.

The play opens with two men talking about the absence of places where black people can gather and celebrate. Call it redevelopment or urban removal, the result is the same, wastelands filled with wasted people, most of them poor black and male. Survivors of “the last lobotomy attempt,” a drunkard (Vernon Madera) with brimless hat and disheveled disguise says to no one in particular. He’s alone on stage— standing in the twilight he pulls out a flask takes a sip then pours a little for the ancestors.

“Before whites came, we had the land—they had the bible.” He says. “Now we have the bible and they have the land.” He stumbles off stage as two others—drug dealers this time, arrive early to claim the spot for a day’s business. The spot is near a liquor store. One of the men acts as security for the business –it’s early morning, and the day is threatening to be one of the hottest of the season for the second day in a row. When Mohammed (Doug Marshall) arrives with his two nieces he’s putting through school he thanks his friend and invites him into the store for a beverage.

The language here is beautiful. Grier told me that Vernon Madera who found himself homeless during this current run of the play, developed this character—the elixir in the magic potion, but on the mean streets of San Francisco and other mythic spots, there are no magic wands or fairy-godparents to ease the sorrow. And so the day goes, drug sales are slow. Old friends come by, customers who want a better deal, former addicts in recovery now, one of the men’s sons, and a man who is just out of a treatment center for a month.

This man brags about his son and how he’s clean 30 days, the rejoinder is why are you’re here if you are trying to change your life. The temperature rises and the activity on the corner increases, the OGs Geno ( Stefon Williams) and John (Darrin Westmore) are joined by Lex, a youngster, John’s son.

Lex shoots his gun in the air and a man dies. He is charged with murder or manslaughter, along with the death of the child in the car who isn’t his. Without a previous record, Lex gets ten years. It’s criminal the time he has to spend behind bars when an anger management class would have been a more positive intervention back when his dad got hurt, became disabled and lost his job.

After his girlfriend (Nicole Harley)is harassed by the guards when she visits, then stops visiting as much, the tough street savvy kid realizes just how little control he has over the situation he's in. He drops the street bravado he can't back up and decides to listen to the older men inside who assist his adjustment to prison life.

The prison scenes are realistic –drugged inmates, transvestites, players whose game is tired, and the indignity of the treatment of the visitors not to mention their wives or significant others. Also addressed is the mental illness among the prison population.

Grier’s writing is three dimensional, the characters live and breath. The spot is a place people call home when in fact it is a grave. Lex returns home to find everything different especially at the place of origin. His girlfriend is older and a lot wiser. His children are 10, his father is dead and he has to make some choices so that he can live.

The actors are marvelous, especially the young couple, the griot or sage and the two OGs who hold it down—until one of them returns home. One could see director Ayodele Nzinga’s hand in the production—especially the dialogue and the relationship layers between Lex and his dad and Lex and his girl, both in and out of prison.

The audience was receptive often singing along with the soundtrack. The Spot will be back continues through this weekend at The Next Stage, 1620 Gough St. @ Bush in San Francisco, Thursday, July 26 and 27. All shows at 8:00 p.m. For information call (415) 643-6011 or visit