Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Writers Guild Office Boy 1971 (xxvii)

It was while working for the Writers Guild-East and living in the Bronx in early November 1970 that I voted for the first time in a United States election. The voting booth for my electoral district was located in a public elementary school a few blocks from my slum apartment.

The way you cast your ballot in those days was to show your voter registration card, pull a big lever in the voting booth that closed a curtain behind you which protected your right to a secret ballot, rotate small pointers until small "X"s appeared next to the candidate or "yes" or "no" choices on bond issues you were voting for and then again pull the big lever in the voting booth in the opposite direction to simultaneously record your vote and open the voting booth curtain before you left the booth. As a protest against the U.S. corporate elite and corporate media-rigged nature of U.S. elections, I just cast a protest vote for a Socialist Workers Party [SWP] candidate, who was one of the few anti-war left or anti-capitalist left minor party alternative candidates that I was able to find on the ballot in New York City in November 1970. I would not bother to cast a protest vote in another U.S. mass media-rigged election again until Ralph Nader eventually ran as an anti-corporate protest candidate in 1996.

In November 1970, the 26th Amedment to the U.S. Constitution which lowered the voting age in the United States to 18 years of age had still not been proposed and ratified, so you didn't see many hip young anti-war college age people lined up to vote near the public school where I went to cast my protest vote. The vast majority of the people in my Bronx neighborhood who were bothering to vote in November 1970 seemed to just be politically and culturally straight white working-class or white middle-class people of either Italian-American or Russian-American Jewish background, who were all over 45 years of age.

Casting a protest vote in a booth after standing in a line surrounded by few hip-looking people, but by many older conventional-looking folks from my parents' generation, seemed like a poor substitute form of protest. Militant non-violent street protests and militant non-violent campus protests in concert with large numbers of other culturally and politically hip and hip-looking young people of your own generation seemed like a much more effective, more meaningful and more real way for politically powerless youth to make an immediate political impact on U.S. history than meekly pulling a lever for either a lesser-evilist mainstream party candidate or a minor party candidate who--without equal mass media access--had little chance of getting elected.

Ironically, by the 21st century, even the way U.S. elections were conducted and rigged in November 1970 seemed like a less rigged electoral process than they had now become. Instead of going into a voting booth, rotating small poitners and pulling a lever behind a curtain, voting now in the USA at many polling places consists of making marks by an open, un-curtained desk on paper ballots with magic marker-type pens, before the paper ballots are folded into an envelope and shoved into an uncurtained box. And if your local election board's computer print-out mistakenly fails to include your name on the list of registered voters it provides the election day temps at your polling place, then the cop there won't let you cast an official ballot--even if you provide him with an official notification from the election board which previously confirmed your eligibility to vote.

Despite the election of more anti-war Congressional candidates in the November 1970 election in which I voted for the first time, the Nixon Administration and its right-wing South Vietnamese military allies, predictably, again escalated their war in Indochina by invading Laos in February 1971.

There was some relatively small anti-war student protests against the Nixon Administration's 1971 invasion of Laos on some campuses and on the stretts of some U.S. cities. But within the U.S. television network mass media world in Manhattan, there was no visible individual or collective protest by any of the culturally straight, white liberal corporate media workers against the Nixon Administration's 1971 invasion of Laos. And although most Writers Guild-East members and union office staff workers were all individually anti-war by 1971, as an organization the liberal Writers Guild of America-East felt no moral responsibility to organizationally speak out against the Nixon Administration's 1971 invasion of Laos and latest escalation of the war in Indochina--despite the further increase in civilian casualties in Indochina that this latest escalation was likely to produce.

By mid-March 1971, the chatterbox receptionist who had started to work in the Writers Guild-East office in September 1970 at the same time I started to work there as its office boy--Maria--had thrown in the towel and suddenly quit her job. Since the union office was run in an undemocratic, hierarchical way, Maria found her job at the Writers guild to be boring and unchallenging. And Maria could not escape being in the office for a few hours each day by delivering and picking-up messages, office supplies and scripts for Guild members and other office staff employees as could I.

After Maria quit her job, I quickly decided that it was now a politically appropriate time for me to protest against: (1) the Writers Guild-East's failure to really use its collective bargaining power to attempt to end institutional racism, institutional sexism and the exclusion of anti-war, Black Liberation and women's liberation Movement voices in the U.S. television network world of the 1970s; (2) its failure to run the Guild's own union office in a democratic, non-herarchical way; and (3) its failure to speak out against the Nixon's Administration's February 1971 invasion of Laos, by also suddenly quitting my office boy position at the Writers Guild-East.

So in mid-March 1971, I stopped taking the subway down to Manhattan from the Bronx in order to appear at the Writers Guild office at 9 a.m. between Monday and Friday and, instead, mailed a formal letter of resignation to the Guild's assistant executive director, Paul Erbach, in which I explained the political and moral reasons why I could not, in good conscience, continue to work as the Writers Guild's office boy.

No comments: