Philly Integration

I came across a really sweet storefront in a somewhat dicey section of Philly and tried to photograph the hats. There was a black one with a black and white polka dot band I could see wearing with my 1940s Ceil Chapman dress with the silver thread half moons at a party celebrating my Nobel prize. But try as I might I couldn't get a photo without the reflection of the buildings across the street. I went back after hours when the sun wouldn't present its glare, but it had an iron gate to protect the glass from being smashed. When I looked at the photos I'd taken, they looked like murals painted on the brick row house. Philadelphia has a street art program and prides itself on its murals, so it was kind of cool that the theme manifested. 

But it struck another chord with me as well. As I was walking the streets, especially downtown where there are a LOT of homeless people, I noticed that a number of them were sitting on the sidewalks with their backs against the buildings, almost melding into the backdrop. Although I was tempted to capture a couple of these scenes...they make up so much of the inner city...guys defying the status quo, stretched out across the sidewalks getting high (recreational marijuana is not yet legal in Pennsylvania), and the cops just ignoring it. They've got more pressing matters here. I'm not generally comfortable with a police presence; you never know what can happen in a nanosecond when someone is carrying a loaded gun, but in Philly, where there are a lot of police visible and they tend to band together in small coteries, I was good with them all around. It felt like they were keeping the lid on a simmering kettle. I don't have any photos of these folks with nothing better to do than just hang around as it seemed kind of rude to take a picture as though they were a spectacle, and actually here and there it was plain dangerous, like the side street where someone I came across someone while he was shooting up, but you can imagine: most were dirty and weathered, wearing filthy clothes, some wearing shoes, some not, smoking if they could snag a cigarette, some just muttering nonsensical phrases, some sitting next to a plastic bag of stuff, just random stuff, some possibly useful as a pillow or blanket, some not, just things that people who are somewhat deranged might light upon and then drag along like a security blanket. Still, they just fit in with the scene, as though they weren't really homeless, the city was their home. It gave a new meaning to integration. 

The theme was repeated in this mural. Philadelphia is best known for the Liberty Bell and its history in the creation of the United States government. Picture hoop skirts and powdered wigs for both the gentlemen and the ladies in the 1770s. Philadelphia too, being in the North was one of the first sanctuaries for runaway slaves, being just north of Delaware and Maryland, both slave states of the South. It has a Quaker population, today more commonly known as Friends, who believe in peace and equality. And while of course problems persist... my ninth grade history teacher in 1970 remarked that while it was known as the City of Brotherly Love, the city of brotherly stabbings was more apt... there is definitely a volatile feel to it, there is much of it that embodies the higher arts of civilization: the museums, the plentiful sculptures around the city, an amazing symphony orchestra. Historical and modern characters are seamlessly integrated in this mural.

The next one integrates even more elements.

I sometimes feel like my rural county is suffocating in its homogeneity, especially the religious aspect, and the bizarrely self-righteousness that goes along with it - the unquestioning stricture that there is one Right Way to believe reality is... and I need to get into a city. Cities accept differing interests. I took this photo in front of the art museum, where it appears that more people are interested in having their picture taken with this sculpture of Rocky, a character from a popular film, than visiting the art museum. Most of them ham it up by holding their hands up, taking the same winning pose as Rocky the fighter. The scene amused me because the fellow lying on the bench is just chilling in the nearby shade listening to the baseball game on the radio, right there, sometimes the line stretched back to him, but a world away from the tourists. To me, that ease with others is a form of integration.

When I came upon this mural, it was hard not to compare the hair-dos to the wigged statesman of the 1770s, though of course the "founding fathers" who drafted and signed the Declaration of Independence here on July 4, 1776 were all white men.

Taken on a heavy particulate day when the city was suffering from the Canadian wildfires smoke.

Architects have found ways to integrate modern buildings with and newer additions to older ones.

This guy, Octavius Valentine Catto was a civil rights activist generally credited with  Pennsylvania ratifying the 15th Amendment, allowing black men to vote. It would be another 50 years until women were granted the privilege. Women have long been considered the property of their fathers and then "given away" by them, often in a business transaction, to a husband. Married women could not get their own credit cards without their husband's written approval until 1970. The 28th Amendment to the US Constitution granting equal rights to women was passed by the requisite number of states only three years ago, in 2020, but to this day has still not been formally certified as ratified. 

And women's rights are backsliding. The Supreme Court apparently still believes that men own women, recently ruling that women who become pregnant by any means must carry the embryo to term.

It really is this simple. No woman can call herself free who doesn't own and control her own body.

Humans are 99.9 percent identical in their genetic makeup, as alike as two drops of water. One species. Homo sapiens. We are more alike than we are different. We are comprised of the same chemical elements, many of the same found in our atmosphere and trees. As COVID painfully underscored, we breathe in oxygen others exhale. And have so over history. The same air is recycled again and again within the thin envelope of our atmosphere. In his book Caesar's Last Breath: The Epic Story of the Air Around Us, Sam Kean points out that for example it is likely that in your next breath you will draw in one particle of the last breath Caesar drew as he was assassinated more than 2,000 years ago. Feeling a bit disappointed today? What might be contained within that which we do not yet know how to measure? We are connected in so many ways, probably more than we know.  So why the mistrust and need to control others? Must we, due to the apparent inherently aggressive nature of homo sapiens, always have a nemesis? Or can it be objectified, that is, rather than focused on an individual or group of individuals, be directed against something inanimate, like trash? Not those responsible for the trash, but the trash itself and then simply use our aggression to clean it up.

Can we cease seeing others as "The Other" and just try to get along? (Nod here to John Prine.) Recognize that beliefs are not universal, but personal? The Dalai Lama says that we should have close to eight billion religions, one for each person, as we are each uniquely both hard-wired and soft-wired. No one person or group has a superior moral right to enslave another, or to decide what someone else can do with their own body.

After all of these years of sodomy laws, governments are finally coming around to recognizing gay rights, or put another way, to realize that a government has no legitimate interest peering into people's bedrooms. It was only in 2003 that the Supreme Court declared a Texas law forbidding homosexuality an unconstitutional invasion of privacy, writing, "These matters, involving the most intimate and personal choices a person may make in a lifetime, choices central to personal dignity and autonomy, are central to the liberty protected by the Fourteenth Amendment."

What will make people understand that personal religious beliefs do not legitimately extend to others? Should we simplify the matter by bringing it on home? Make it as graphic and real to the proponents as it has become to all women in the United States by mandating that all men opposed to abortion should be mandated by law to have vasectomies or better yet, castrated? And all women opposed to abortion should be sterilized? This may not make a large practical difference. George Carlin asked why is it that people who are opposed to abortion are people you wouldn't want to fuck anyway. Joking aside, what if these new victims, alarmed at such an intrusion should ask who gave the States this control over their bodies? You simply answer, why the Supreme Court of course. Sorry, but  Liberty does not extend to  having control of your own body. Perhaps if it was their own bodies, these zealots would begin to comprehend the overreaching. To govern what a woman can do with her own body is an obscene invasion of privacy. Concisely, it is the enslavement of all women in the United States to fundamentalist Christians. 

What does this have to do with integration? It's hard not to see who we have been and who we could be in Philadelphia. The integration so visible in these murals has only come about because slavery of African-Americans was abolished. It has been far from a seamless integration. Many years of racial discrimination have accounted for grave socio-economic disparities. The problems are widely acknowledged and we are trying to move forward in a positive direction. 

Unfortunately, that is not the case when it comes to the rights of women. 

I'm shopping for a solution to our Supreme Court as they hardly seem in touch with reality. When Benjamin Franklin was pushing for the members of the Constitutional Convention to sign the Constitution, he admitted its shortcomings and that in its form, it may not stand the test of time, noting that in his own life, with experience he had changed his mind on important issues. And how could these privileged white men begin to anticipate American society two hundred years in the future? Not to tackle two volatile issues at once, but for example, the Second Amendment begins "A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." This is because when this was written we had state militias and men from the ages of 18-45 were required to serve on them should they be called in response to emergencies. That's simply not the case anymore. What we have is a country of nearly 337 million people, with according to the American Psychiatry Association anywhere from .2-6.2% psychopaths or sociopaths. I'd estimate closer to 10%, but maybe that just reflects where I hang out. At any rate, it's clear when comparing the statistics of mass killings in the US to countries where guns are not legal, that we've got a problem and powerful political interests are stretching the meaning of the Constitution and rallying an uninformed populace behind them. The point is, it's okay to make changes to the Constitution where its provisions no longer serve us. The entire point of the Constitution was to have a democracy rather than despotism. Clearly, a social democracy would better serve us, especially in these days with such an unbalanced economy, but that is entirely possible under the umbrage of democracy. 

So, back to the Supreme Court. If nothing else, abolish life tenures. Please already! It's bad enough they are political appointments, many times made via the Senate deliberately stonewalling appointments until the next party comes into power and yet... each candidate looks us dead in the eye and swears no political persuasion. No personal or professional history. Straight-shooters they are. Unbiased. Right. 

The extent and length of damage these nine people can do to our culture is staggering.