Venerations on the Street-Corners

Earlier today I watched three large military transport helicopters fly over Seattle. I was not yet fully awake, and I stared at them, gawking, grumpy, a little anxious, a lot angry.

And then I noticed her. She stood at the opposite corner from me, a queer, multi-racial transwoman who’s currently sleeping in a tent in a temporary homeless encampment near our home.

We’re standing near the intersection of 23rd and Union, the past site of much of the civil rights organising in Seattle, an intersection now nearly destroyed, its history demolished under the greed of developers and a city eager to quell dissent.

The city shut down 15 homeless shelters and encampments recently, raiding some, demolishing others. You are not allowed to live without money, live within the city yet outside the city. The commons are gone, the old ways lost. But not ‘ancient’ ways, just the old ones, just before Capital, just before Colonialism.

I’m tired, I’m confused. Helicopters full of men training for some new slaughter flying over my home, interrupting my walk. And across the street is this woman I’ve seen for years, seen her at protests, seen her riding buses all night to stay warm, seen her bumming cigarettes, seen her selling herself for a little money.

And I look away from those helicopters and towards her. She’s smoking a joint with one hand, and the other is raised in an underhand fist.  And then I see her middle finger upraised in defiance against those flying metal boxes full of hired murderers.

And then I remember:

She’s my religion.


And then a little farther along the street I see a tree that does not belong in the city. It has been cut, shaped, pruned so often its bulbous knots look almost lustful, erotic.  She’s in the middle of two construction sites, adorned with ferns and moss like a gaudy Jezebel, proudly whorish, strutting her curves in plain sight. She refuses to apologise for not being slender, not being ordered, rebelling against the paved space ordained for her.

Birds flit between her gnarled branches and shit on the new concrete. She drops leaves everywhere in the autumn, sloughing off her summer garments to litter the world of men. Near her base droops sloppily a knot, the sort more proper people tuck in under belts or hack off lest others be offended by the rudeness of it all.

She knows no shame. She cares nothing for boundaries.

She’s my religion too.


25 thoughts on “Venerations on the Street-Corners

  1. Ah, geez. Hired murderers? You know, I don’t like much of the military action our leaders send our youth to fight, but I think calling them “hired murderers” steps over a line. I appreciate the women and men in our military even if I don’t agree with what they are often called to do.

      1. Would you consider the warriors who saved ancestral land and people from the Nazi’s in WWII “hired murderers”? Or is it different now? Is it the politics that you object to, and not the warriors themselves?

      2. War is when groups of people murder each other. All the narratives of ‘nobility,’ ‘duty’,’service,’ and the pretty archetype of ‘warrior’ are just romantic ways of getting the murderers and their communities to be okay with it all.

        And under Capital, those murderers also happen to be workers like the rest of us. Like us, they’re hired by leaders and the rich to do their bidding.

        I’m a social worker. People like to tell me how much they respect my job. I tell them not to: I get paid to get homeless people off the street so they don’t disrupt the lives of better paid workers.

        We ‘respect’ the work of soldiers, but a few (including some of my veteran friends) will remind others that they get paid to murder people in other lands so the rich can secure their wealth.

  2. War is part of the human condition, it has been around for thousands of years, before Capitalism and will probably be around for thousands of years if Capitalism ever goes away.

    Given what was going in World War 2 for instance, what Should have been done by say, the UK as the Nazi forces were planning for invasion?

    1. Looking at the horrors at the time and in retrospect, fighting and responding to war the way that was done was exactly what was called for (though the US took its sweet time) in WW2. What I would advocate is that we not forget that the soldiers on the ground, who must be forced into submission or murdered in order for the end of the Third Reich to occur, were also common men who were told to murder other men by those in power. Calling it what it is does not pass judgement on right or wrong (that is too often left to victors and armchair generals), but it sure as shit doesn’t sugar-coat it, which happens too often for my taste.
      I would argue it should greatly increase our sympathy for those who wear any military uniform, that we understand as much as viscerally possible, to understand what is demanded of them. Violently ending the life of another is nothing to be done easily or lightly, and it’s been asked of so many, far too often. Yes, at times of necessity and great need (WWI and WWII), but also in waste and callous loss (Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq).
      I would never use “hired murderers” as a slur against anyone in uniform. They have my utmost respect. I think an informed citizenry should be acutely and completely aware just what that yellow ribbon they slapped on the back of their car really means.

  3. It occurred to me, how do you square this view of soldiers/war with Bendigeidfran leading his entire nation to war and invading another country? laying both to annihilation?

    1. The tears of Branwen answer your question better than I think I could regarding that particular war.

      And in a longer view of the second world war, the pro-nazi and anti-communist sentiment of the business classes in the US, UK, France, and England makes answering ‘what should have been done’ an almost trick question. The Nazis were ignored because they kept Germany from going far left at the same time the UK and US particularly were struggling against left-wing workers movements. Then, the Nazis got out of hand, and all the imperialist powers got to send their unemployed to the trenches while shifting public sentiment away from internal revolution towards Nationalist struggle.

      Neat trick on their part.

    2. Also, Lee, because I consider you a friend, I’m curious–did you read my piece first, or someone else’s criticism of my piece and then mine? Because this is a personal essay about watching a homeless trans woman-of-color give a middle finger to military transport helicopters, and then spending time with a tree, but I’m aware someone’s painted the whole thing as a smear on soldiers.

      And P.S., I’ll be in London May 18th or 19th (not precisely certain the date) if you would like to talk more about this over tea.

      1. nah, I read this first (it pops up in my blogger feed), but inevitably saw it mentioned as it was close enough to the new-right squabbles to be caught up in the backwash. I think we have um..talked about the military thing before. Anyhoo…I have read a lot of the chatter about he recent fascism posts, a lot blown way out of all proportion “he is trying to destroy polytheism!” nonsense etc. The Venn diagram of our views will cross in some places, and not in others. Not to worry, tea on the 18th? I will most likely be free for that 🙂

  4. You really have no clue how the military functions and what else it does other than going to war.

    The military is the major organ through which government-sponsored humanitarian aid is delivered to those in need, the ship I served on included among those in the service who helped in the delivery. A great example is the humanitarian relief after the Haiti earthquake.

    Educate yourself further before you open your mouth to speak badly of those who serve to protect your right as a citizen to do so in the first place. Painting us as “murderers” (I don’t believe I’ve ever had to kill anyone during my time in service, thankfully) is an over-generalized assertation, if not wholly inaccurate, at best (if done so out of ignorance), and pure propaganda at worst. Which is the case with you?

    1. I’m glad you’re involved in giving aid to Haiti. It might be interesting for you to read about the United State’s government’s role in overthrowing elected leaders in Haiti and supporting dictators, as well as setting up punitive trade agreements which have kept Haiti so poor that there was little in the way of infrastructure to even be destroyed by natural disasters.
      If you’d like to know more, I’d be happy to give you references and talk with you about this further. You may not like everything you learn. The veterans who first told me about all this weren’t happy about much of it, either.

      1. I am aware of the things you mentioned. Irrelevant. You called servicemembers “hired murderers.” In attacking the government you are so set against, you have smeared everyone serving in the military and have absolutely no say in those aforementioned agreements, operations and sanctions. You have personally attacked people who have absolutely nothing to do with the problems you bring up other than providing for their families and for some a sense of patriotic duty. It is uncalled for, it is unjustified, and it is reprehensible. There is no “it may or may not have been a smear against soldiers” (by the way, the operations in the Pacific Northwest which you wrote about were in all likelihood the operations of the department of the Navy, not the Army; sailors and marines are not soldiers, but I digress) when you explicitly call people in the services hired murderers (most MOSes, rates, etc aren’t even combative roles, the only time I so much as picked up a gun during my service was small arms training in boot camp).

        You do not have to and you should not insult and attack honorable people who happen to be doing what they need to make a living and most likely never have and will never have to take a life in order to make your point about the government. It is too far, especially when many of the veterans of foreign wars end up homeless and suicidal. Calling them hired murderers does nothing to help their self-esteem, many of them suffer psychological trauma because of the actions they had to take during their time in service, and quite frankly what you called them is horribly unprofessional for your line of work.

    2. Funny story: when I was on active duty, it wasn’t all that uncommon to hear my fellow service members refer to our job as being to “kill people and break their things.” It was always said kind of tongue-in-cheek, but we all knew it was also true (or, if not to do those things, support the people who were actually trained and potentially/actually doing those things).

  5. Considering how many people join the military for economic reasons (including simply not being homeless- this includes a lot of GLBTQ youth actually!) and large numbers of American Indians you’re not exactly being Mr. Working Class Solidarity here. I mean, haven’t you yelled at rich liberals who condemn people who work in factories, mines, or clear-cutting trees? Apparently everyone is supposed to make a living in some way you approve of Until the Revolution Comes (or not if they are bankrolling your magazine or your pilgrimages I’m guessing you don’t ask if their money ultimately comes from the Koch brothers or something)

    1. You’ve read my writing long enough to know that’s untrue, that I am fully aware of the larger societal reasons which push poor people to enter the military. And it’s not ‘my magazine,’ (you already know Gods&Radicals is a non-profit, and I am not paid as managing editor), and if you intend to criticize those who offered support of my last two pilgrimages to holy sites as potentially being bankrolled by multi-millionaires, then I am noticing your criticism is much more personal than an essay about a homeless trans woman of color and a tree warrants.

  6. You’re right, I did the thing you described above, reading someone else’s criticism of it and then reading your thing & then responding, while reading stuff into it that wasn’t there. I don’t have a problem with anyone who has funded this magazine (not “yours” I did mess that up) or pilgrimages- yours or anyone else’s. Just saying that everyone who earns money somehow is getting it ultimately from a source from Something Bad.

    1. Thank you. And I fully long as the only means to survive is through working for the profit of others, our choices are never fully our own, and we are always negotiating between harms. Even my social work job is not immune…in fact, the agency I work for gets most of its funding through showing that we reduce crime and disruptions to business, rather than arguing that helping vulnerable people is a human good. No one is immune, and no one can be truly free until we all are. That includes the soldier as much as the social worker, the housed person as much as the homeless.

  7. Ollie, you volunteered and while the US armed forces do participate in humanitarian efforts, you are not clean. You may not have a MOS that is tip of the spear, but your business is the business of death, of war. You support it, straight up. You run your mouth like you have no say in the matter. Pfffft. And you want respect for this. Wow. It’s not easy to own up to it, I know. Hope you get there one day. For now, your shifting the responsibility for your choices unto Rhyd is ….pffft.

  8. Though I disagree with your use of “hired murderers” in concerns with the military, it is your right to say so. On the topic of how the poor are pushed into military service, back when I was a Marxist I wrote a piece on uniting the low and middle class because of their unseen common ground. I outlined how the military is chock full of low and middle class, how the lottery system generates billions of dollars per year by desperate folks and so on. If interested, I’ll send you it and you guys and G&R can use it. Even though I don’t abide by Marxist ideals anymore, I still think it’s relevant in the fact that low and middle class see themselves as different when they aren’t. Cheers!

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