Monday, January 22, 2018

I wonder if I've learned anything after fifty years on the barricades

This clever sign was sighted at the Wyoming Women's March in Cheyenne. The times they are a changin', but maybe not so much.
At the Wyoming Women's March Saturday in Cheyenne, i was a last-minute recruit for the security detail. To that point, my role had been membership in the food committee. I am a cook and  gardener so naturally gravitate toward the culinary part part of any event. I have cooked quiches, casseroles, and desserts for Democratic Party fund-raisers. I've been grill cook for non-profit fund-raisers, notably Wyoming UPLIFT. I've cooked my No Added Salt NASty Man Chili, for the first women's march on Inauguration Day.

Food is one of my favorite things. But yesterday, I was drafted into the all-male security corps. We were coached by Wendy Soto and an officer of the Cheyenne PD. And then we walked down Capitol Avenue to take spots at intersections. Our job was the prevent traffic colliding with the marchers. For that, the flashing lights and sirens of police cars helped immensely. I was at a busy one-way intersection. In front of me was a police cruiser. Behind me, a pick-up truck idled among the cars. I turned around to look at the stalled traffic. Nobody looked happy. Then again, none were flipping me off.  It was a typical Wyoming scene. Me in my arctic coat, wool cap and gloves. Polite Wyomingites waiting for a bunch of radicals to walk by. Nobody running anyone down, as happened in Charlottesville. Nice motorists who, in 2016, voted for Trump and right-wing state legislators who want to send immigrants back to Mexico and liberals back to Colorado. These regressive folks are in the majority here. They can make this place scary for liberals.

But on this day, the activists outnumbered the Know Nothings. I knew that security had become an issue with an online threat against the march. Our security chief, Gaylan Wright, was home sick. So we had to step up. All of us held the threat in our heads as we stood protecting our brothers and sisters from the anger that usually lurks just beneath the surface.

I am a veteran of protests going back to the Vietnam War. Back then, I was just a youngster, 19 and 20, confused about my role in the world. My confused pals, angry about the Kent State Massacre and the Cambodian bombings and the draft, had turned out for the protests equipped with gas masks we'd bought earlier that day at the Columbia, S.C., army surplus store. When the tear gas flew, we were going to be prepared, as the Scouts had taught us to be. We were good Scouts but lousy protesters. Thing is, I could have been at the Navy ROTC ball with a cute Southern girl instead of out on the streets. I was a good Scout but a lousy midshipman.

As we awaited the arrival of the South Carolina Highway Patrol riot squad, all as big as a Gamecocks' lineman, my buddy Pat cut off half of a finger throwing back a broken bottle which had come out of nowhere. Pat was in shock, bleeding profusely, searching the ground for his half-finger. Me and a guy who said he'd been a medic in Nam, helped Pat inside with a promise we would find the finger. The medic staunched the bleeding but said we had to get Pat to the ER. Meanwhile, the troopers had arrived in force, surrounded by a hailstorm of tear gas, and proceeded to bludgeon the protesters. I now was glad I'd gone inside. At some point, I agreed to find someone to help Pat. I found a sympathetic National Guardsman who looked young enough to be my freshman room,mate, and he agreed to get an ambulance on the scene.

He did. I was one of the stretcher-bearers who took Pat outsider to the ambulance. The photographer from the Columbia paper caught us as we hefted Pat into the ambulance. The photo was in the morning paper. Luckily, I was just shown from the back and not identified. The Marine colonel who commanded our ROTC unit would not have been pleased. But I clipped the photo from the paper and gladly showed it around to my dorm chums.

What did I do the rest of that dark night? First, I tried to get back to my dorm. I snuck outside and was prepared to dash across the busy street, when a Guardsman stopped me. Uh oh. He just cautioned me to get inside since the troopers were beating up anybody who looked like a protester. I thanked him and ducked into the Pika House, where Pat's brother Mike was one of the members. He needed to know about  Pat. I located him and gave him the news. He told me to stay here for the night while he tried to track down his brother. I nodded off at some point but got up early to go back to my dorm. As I walked the street near Campus, I was shocked to see that all of the detritus from the previous night -- tear gas canisters, broken bottles. gas masks -- had been swept away. The morning air was filled with the spring scents of  honeysuckles and lilacs. All was right with the world. But where was Pat's finger?

I went from the USC campus to the mass demonstration in Washington, D.C. I was an onlooker, caught up in the rush of events. I didn't really know what I was doing but I was in some fine company. Jane Fonda spoke. Lots of speeches. Richard Nixon journeyed out of the White House for an early-morning rap session with protestors who. like Nixon, had been awake all night. I just missed Tricky Dick, as I was on the other side of the monument, mellowing out after a night on acid. There was a concert, if I remember correctly. 

I was back in D.C. in July, hitchhiking from Norfolk with my ROTC cruise-mate Paul from Notre Dame. On Honor America Day at the National Mall, cops tear-gassed the Yippie Smoke-in at Washington Monument and the gas seeped down into the crowd of My Fellow Americans who just wanted to see the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and listen to Bob Hope's jokes. And see the bitchin' fireworks.

You would think that all that would have cured me of activism. But it did not. A cloud of tear gas would put a hurting on this 67-year-old cardiac patient. Yes, I am a bearded 6-foot-2 security guy in a day-glo vest who couldn't withstand a bit of tear gas or a raging Trumpist. But the point is -- I keep showing up. Not only for me but for my wife and children. The cameraderie of a march helps soothe the sting of Trumpism. It may make a difference and it may not. But I am here. I am. A Man. Who supports equal rights.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Donald Trump's Know-Nothing attitude would have doomed my Famine Irish ancestors

A Thomas Nast cartoon in Harper's Weekly depicts ape-like Irishmen beating up police on St. Patrick's Day 1867.  

Great read from a 1/10/18 article on Irish Central by Cahir O'Doherty: "President Donald Trump would have turned away the Famine Irish just like the Salvadorans."  Go to

I don't know much about my great-great grandfather Thomas Shay.

He was Irish, as you might deduce from his last name, born in County Clare.

He left Ireland in the late 1840s (probably 1848) bound for the U.S.

He married Anna Agnes Burns and had three children when they were recorded in the 1850 census as residents of Monroe County, N.Y. By the 1870 census, the Shay family had moved to Iowa and eight children were listed on the rolls.

Thomas died in 1879 and is buried in Johnson County, Iowa.

His first name is my late father's first name and my middle name

My late Aunt Patricia researched these details before the wide use of the Internet and the advent of She printed out a family tree on a dot-matrix printer. She put the evidence into a memory book for my daughter, born in 1993.

That's what I know. I also have read about anti-Irish sentiment in the mid-19th century. White people feared non-white people, although they were willing to use them as slaves and indentured servants. Strange to think that Irish immigrants were depicted in American papers as unwashed, uncouth bumpkins, or as monkeys and apes. They were Catholic, too, as were their swarthy cousins from Spain, Italy, and Mexico. You know, "Shithole" countries as Trumpists say.

The Know Nothings live. They were out in force last fall in Charlottesville, them and  their vile attitudes and precious tiki torches. They are descendants of the anti-Irish Know Nothings, although I would guess that some of them have Irish or Scots-Irish bloodlines. Scary to think how many Trumpists have Irish surnames. They do not know their history, and they don't care to learn.

Trump's policies may have doomed my Irish ancestors. But who knows -- maybe the Irish Shays would have survived in Ireland and my DNA would have never taken the pathways that eventually led to me. The Shay line would not be in its seventh generation of causing trouble in the U.S.

Immigration can sure be a random thing. You never know where curtailing it or encouraging it will lead. Sometimes you get a Barack Obama.

And sometimes you get a Donald Trump.

A cartoon from the 1850s by the "Know-Nothings" accusing the Irish and German immigrants of negatively affecting an election. From Victoriana Magazine.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Partners in protest -- male writers support Wyoming Women's March organizers

My wife, Chris Shay, shows off her Women's March T-shirt.
I just finished reading thoughtful columns by two male residents of Wyoming -- one a blogger and one a columnist for the Wyofile online newspaper..

Both columns are excellent and I encourage you to read them. Go here:

Cowgirl up: It's time for a  broader perspective in politics, by Kerry Drake, Wyofile

Time to go to the streets, by Rodger McDaniel, Blowing in the Wyoming Wind blog

Both columnists invite their readers to attend the Wyoming Women's March in Cheyenne on Jan. 20. I did the same thing in blog posts here and here. We are the men behind the women who are organizing this event. Partners in protest.

A crew of women is organizing the Cheyenne march. I won't name them here because I might forget a crucial member. It takes a lot of work to stage a protest. Permits, security, speakers, equipment, food. The committee has been meeting weekly and this Sunday is our final tune-up before next weekend's march. If you're interested, the committee meets at 1 p.m. on Jan. 14, at 1 p.m., in the Laramie County Public Library's first-floor Willow Room.

Thus far, I can tell you these details. Marchers will assemble at 10 a.m. on the Depot Plaza downtown. Then we -- and our creative signs -- march to the deconstructed Capitol and march back again. Speakers will speak. We then convene for food inside the Depot. The event should wrap up by 1 p.m.

The theme for the march is Women's March Wyoming -- Hear Our Vote! It encourages women to register to vote, vote, and run for office. Why is this important? Trumpist Republican men from mostly rural areas of the state are making laws for all of us. Women are not in the legislature. Women are usually not heard in committee meetings. That leads to the absurdity of the Agriculture Committee holding hearings on two restrictive abortion laws. Drake writes about this in his Wyofile column. We all should be asking why. And then we should go out and vote for those who would better represent our needs for the 21st century.

See you at the Depot on Jan. 20.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

The sordid tale of the proposed Wyoming private prison for immigrants

It's not a prison, says the people building a prison for immigrants in southwest Wyoming's Uinta County.

And so says Gov. Mead's office. As related in a Dec. 20 Wyofile story by Andrew Graham:
Gov. Matt Mead’s spokesman said a federal immigration jail proposed for Uinta County does not count as a private prison under Wyoming statute and doesn’t require the Governor’s approval to be constructed. 
The jail is proposed by a private-prison company, Management Training Corporation, to hold increasing numbers of people arrested by U.S.  Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. As of October, county officials said they remained uncertain whether the proposal would require the approval of Wyoming’s five state elected officials, as state law requires for private prison contracts with local governments. A spokesperson for Mead told WyoFile at the time that the governor was unaware of the proposal.
Opposition to this non-jail jail is building. #WyoSayNo is holding an info session on the issue on Saturday, Jan. 13, 5:30-7 p.m. at the Laramie County Public Library in Cheyenne. Get more info at If you live far afield from Cheyenne, you can sign up for a 6 p.m. livestream at

This is just another sign of the cruelty practiced by Trumpists. Jailing hard-working people, Separating families. ICE raids at the workplace. Make tons of money for private prison stakeholders in the process.

Trumpists have no shame.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

First comes the reading and then the literary tourism

I start each weekday watching the network news. Not sure why. Goes good with oatmeal, I guess.

I usually watch until Trump's smarmy face appears. It doesn't take long. I then switch around the the Weather Channel or Turner Classic Movies. Today I clicked on TCM just to see the middle part of "The Adventures of Mark Twain," a 1944 film starring Frederic March as Twain. I was shocked to learn that Twain ran a publishing company or, rather, he hired his nephew, Charles Webster, to run the company and named it after him. Two early successes were "Huckleberry Finn" and "The Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant," Parts I and 2.  I read Huck Finn. I have poked around in my 1885 copy of U.S. Grant, long enough to know it is not just a pretty good presidential memoir but a pretty good book. I wonder if Twain played a part in that? I will probably read the trade paperback copy as the old hardback is falling apart. Too bad I got to it so late -- it's probably worth something in pristine condition.

Twain's press folded in 1894, after publishing several Twain books and two volumes by some Russian guy, Leo Tolstoy. Twain had hoped to get rich off of other authors' works. Instead, he owed creditors more than $200,000, which adds up to millions in today's dollars. Instead of making a deal with them, he embarked on a world speaking tour to every continent. He made enough to pay off his debts. Meanwhile, his wife died. Twain's death coincided with the year that Halley's Comet returned. But I already knew that from the Wonderful World of Disney version of Twain's life.

Seems as if Twain is the gift that keeps on giving.

He may be the most notable American author of the 19th century. We continue to read him. His books, mainly Huck Finn, continue to be banned by school districts upset with the casual use of the N word, realistic depictions of slavery, and youngsters defying their elders.

I am a Twain fan. I have seen Hal Holbrook's stage presentation of "Mark Twain Tonight." The author was quotable, that's for sure, and Holbrook does a great job with the part.

I am a bit miffed at his participation in the "Gilded Age" with Rockefeller and Carnegie et. al. His youthful goal was thee be rich, not to be a notable man of letters. He reached that goal several times but keep losing it on other dubious get-rich-quick schemes.

He wrote some great novels and some scathing literary criticism. I dare you to read "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses" and not laugh. Anyone who has read any of Cooper's convoluted "Deerslayer" tales should enjoy the humor. Here's a sample from the piece:
There are nineteen rules governing literary art in domain of romantic fiction -- some say twenty-two. In "Deerslayer," Cooper violated eighteen of them. These eighteen require: 
1. That a tale shall accomplish something and arrive somewhere. But the "Deerslayer" tale accomplishes nothing and arrives in air. 
2. They require that the episodes in a tale shall be necessary parts of the tale, and shall help to develop it. But as the "Deerslayer" tale is not a tale, and accomplishes nothing and arrives nowhere, the episodes have no rightful place in the work, since there was nothing for them to develop. 
3. They require that the personages in a tale shall be alive, except in the case of corpses, and that always the reader shall be able to tell the corpses from the others. But this detail has often been overlooked in the "Deerslayer" tale.

Remember that this was way before bloggers invented snark.

If we are looking for purists among our literary practitioners, well, the boat has already sailed on that one (not the one that Hart Crane jumped from). Hemingway was a misogynist, Fitzgerald a drunk. Flannery O'Connor couldn't stop talking about those scary creatures she invented to frighten us out of our lethargy. In this New Gilded Age, we want some literary heroes, or at least cool  hometowns to play tourist in, such as Cather's Red Cloud or Hurston's Eatonville. And Twain's house in Hartford.

As a literary tourist, I have seen most of these sights. They are interesting. But you can't really get to the heart of Hemingway's Nick Adams' stories by ogling the descendants of his six-toed Key West cats. You have to read the books. That comes first -- you cannot skip this step. Then you can talk to me about Annie Proulx's Wyoming influences or D.H. Lawrence's New Mexico years.

Read. And just think: every book you read is another blow against Trumpism.

Friday, January 05, 2018

Sankofa African Heritage sponsors film series for Black History Month

The year gets off to a rousing start with the Martin Luther King, Jr., March on Jan. 15 and the Women's March on Jan. 20.

Lots of events showing up on the Arts Cheyenne web site. Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue come to the Civic Center on Jan. 31 and Fridays at the Asher has released its spring schedule. It includes an April 20 reunion concert by regional favorites Patti Fiasco. If spring is looming, can summer's many concerts and festivals be far behind? Yes it can!

For Black History Month in February, Sankofa African Heritage just announced a series of four films, Feb. 14-17. Here's are the details:

What: African-American Black Film Exposition

When: Feb. 14-17, 2018

Where: LCCC Conferences and Institutes Building, 1400 E. College Dr., Cheyenne

How much: Free; donations are accepted and appreciated

Contact: Jill Zarend, 307-635-7094;;


Wednesday, Feb. 14, 5:30 p.m.: "I Am Not Your Negro," author James Baldwin's unpublished journal on racism in America, Academy Award nominee
Friday, Feb. 16, 5:30 p.m.: "500 Years Later," filmed on five continents, this film chronicles the struggles of peoples still fighting for self-determination
Friday, Feb. 16, 7 p.m.: "The Birth of a Movement," William Monroe Trotter's battle to mobilize censorship of the 1915 silent film, "Birth of a Nation"
Saturday, Feb. 17, 9 a.m.: "The Birth of a Nation," formerly entitled "The Clansman," the D.W. Griffith film remains controversial for its portrayal of the KKK as heroes and for its racist stereotypes of African-Americans during the Reconstruction era in the South

If you still have some film-going energy left, Feb. 17 brings the Sundance Film Festival Shorts Tour to the Civic Center in downtown Cheyenne at 8 p.m.. More info at

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Women's March Wyoming organizing update

The Women's March Wyoming is set for 10 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 20, in Cheyenne. Gather at the Depot Plaza, march to the State Capitol, where surprises await, and then march back to Depot Plaza for speakers. This year, organizers have arranged for a super-duper sound system that will allow you to hang on the words of every speaker -- and we have some great ones.

Starting at about 11:30 a.m., the WMW food committee will dish up hot and cold luncheon items, including desserts and beverages. We will have vegetarian items and possibly some gluten-free selections. Feel free to bring your favorite pot-luck food item. You can drop it off inside before the march. Food committee solicits crockpot items, such as chili, stew or soup, but keep in mind that our crockpot extravaganza at last year's march blew some circuits at the Depot. Pizza and sandwiches always welcome, as are casseroles in cloth food warmers, which can be pink or any other cool color. We also welcome brownies and cookies and other assorted desserts.

If you are interested in being a part of the organizing committee, feel free to attend the next meeting on Sunday, Jan. 7, 1 p.m., in the library's third-floor Sunflower Room.

If you are a crafty person and wish to make buttons and pussy hats to sell at the march, assemble from 5:30-8:30 p.m., on Wednesday, Jan. 3, at a location to be announced. Update: Location is Danielmark's Brewing downtown.  Go to the Facebook page for more info.

Wordsmiths are invited to the Wines & Signs March Prep Party on Friday, Jan. 19, at 5:30 p.m., at the UU Church in Cheyenne. BYOB or BYOW. Also, snacks.