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A Lil’ Bit ‘Bout Leo’s Legacy…

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    by Raymond Nat Turner

    The “Leo” of this poem is the legendary Black longshore union activist Leo Robinson, who died this past January. “The deep, dark chocolate brown, booming / Baritone brother sportin’ black, Lenin-like / Greek Fisherman’s cap / comin’ Coltranish…

     

    A Lil’ Bit ‘Bout Leo’s Legacy…

    by Raymond Nat Turner

     

    I.

     

    1984:

     

    Hey-hey, ho-ho—apartheid has got to go!”

    Hey-hey, ho-ho—apartheid has got to go!”

    Hey-hey, ho-ho—apartheid has got to go!”

    Hey-hey, ho-ho—apartheid has got to go!”

     

    Crescendo chants arising from

    Python-like picket lines, slowly

    Circling shadows of South African

    Pirate ship, Nedlloyd-Kimberly—

    Leper loaded with loot off pearls of

    Sweat, vampire apartheid violently

    Sucked from Black African hides…

     

    Eleven days sitting, quarantined, its

    Booty untouched by Longshoremen’s

    Mighty hands, or huge white horses—

    I, like Reagan, “do not recall,” who

    Called the picket, who organized the

    Action, I remember one speaker only:

    The deep, dark chocolate brown, booming

    Baritone brother sportin’ black, Lenin-like,

    Greek Fisherman’s cap, comin’ Coltranish,

    Connecting dots, incendiary sharps and flats,

    Mesmerizing, clarifying, Frederick Douglass,

    Agitator tongues; no halting hemming and hawing,

    Bureaucratic, clap-trap; just good old-fashioned

    Gut-bucket Blues; no toned-down, detente trade

    Unionism; just cut to the chase, cornbread and

    Collard greens, proletarian prose; no milquetoast

    Mumbo-jumbo; just straight-ahead, swinging

    Soapbox, standing on shoulders of 1934 strikers—

    Bloody Thursday Martyrs—whose crimson silhouettes

    Still streak sidewalks of gentrified San Francisco…

     

    The deep, dark chocolate brown, booming

    Baritone brother sportin’ black, Lenin-like,

    Greek Fisherman’s cap, comin’ Coltranish—

    Natural notes eloquently crossing Black

    Baptist preacher, Harry Bridges, Ella Baker,

    Geraldine Johnson mojo with Mars-sized,

    Working-class coat of arms he wore proudly

    Like a big fire engine red badge of honor…

     

    II.

     

    I do recall how right speech, right on speech of

    The deep, dark chocolate brown, booming

    Baritone brother sportin’ black, Lenin-like,

    Greek Fisherman’s cap, comin’ Coltranish,

    Stoked my gut and left me standing thirteen

    Inches taller as a Black man, working-class

    Man, daydreaming of meeting and be mentored

    By this Black militant workingman and learning

    About labor at his feet, as he surely learned as a

    Young, second generation, Longshoreman…

    Acting out my dream, I bought a Greek Fisherman’s cap—

    It had to be the cap— the history, the analysis in the cap?

    I imagined I looked like him, sounded like him and walked

    Through my work a day world like he walked through the

    Reagan ‘80s, apartheid years of “constructive engagement,”

    Capitalist offensive crushing communist and workers movements

     

    III.

     

    2004

     

    Never would I dare dream mentorship dreams

    Would come flying standby, two decades later…

    Retired Longshoreman, Leo Robinson—as retired

    As Big Ben, or Old Faithful— eased his big white

    Diesel pickup below the legendary marquee of

    Oakland’s old Grand Lake Theater, right on

    Time from his refuge in Raymond at the side

    Of Ms Johnnie, his soul mate of many moons…

     

    A fresh, young, historic thing calling itself the

    Million Workers March, hurtled in to Leo’s orbit

    Like Halley’s Comet, coming every seventy-six

    Years, and firing up the ol’ working-class warrior

    Like a potbelly stove in a Wisconsin winter …

    This fresh, young, historic thing calling itself

    The Million Workers March came spreading

    Demands as contagious and timely as the flu:

    Slash the military budget”

    National living wage”

    Hands off Social Security”

    Stop Dismantling Public Education”

     

    Demands the Dems, the tops, TUBs, AKA

    Trade Union Bureaucrats, were dodging like

    Dracula dodges crosses, and iron stakes, dodging

    Using their same old songs, “Please, Please, No

    October Surprise!” and “It’s The Right Thing,

    But The Wrong Time, Brothers & Sisters…

    Sweetened with strings for dumping rank-and-file

    dollars down dark Democratic Party holes of imperialist

    Politician Kerry’s In exchange for February 30th promises, promises...

    Instead of taking the T-shirts sage advice and begin:

    Mobilizing in our own name

    The Million Worker March

     

    The Lincoln Memorial October 17 2004

     

    This fresh, young, historic thing calling itself the

    Million Workers March came with demands on the

    The Retiree formerly known as Leo Robinson: time,

    Like meeting more than four corners, 400 North Point,

    Money: the Retiree put up $50,000 of his own

    To take the rank and file’s demands to D.C.

    Demands on the Retiree’s third eye envisioning

    Brown, beige, tan and ivory hands gripping one

    Another’s wrists in unity, morphing into a militant,

    Moving circle understood by even Kindergartners—

    Leo’s logo on navy blue and ash grey T-shirts

     

    Leo laughed at my crazy calls, punctuated by

    Embellishments on my joke that Colin Powell,

    Or Condi Rice, had contacted me asking that I

    Ask Leo to call off the Million Workers March,

    And Under-Secretary of Labor in Liberia would

    Be Leo’s—post-election!

     

    Crunch, crunch, crunch of my driveway’s gravel

    Beneath the pickup’s tires signaled the end of our

    Weekly jam session conversation during our ride

    From Million Workers March meetings— return tray

    Tables to their locked position, seat backs to upright

    Positions —prepare to jam for another hour, or more…

     

    Leo’s interests, like U.S. imperialism, spanned the globe,

    Breadth of knowledge, youthful curiosity and that wise

    Warrior twinkle in his eye when workers were getting it

    On good somewhere, separated him from lords of capital,

    Separated him from many rank and file revolutionaries

    His grit and guts made him different

    With his same wise warrior twinkle, seven years later,

    He welcomed Occupy as the “new kid on the block”

    Recognizing its short-lived two months puts us all

    Two months closer to “…the final conflict…”

     

    IV.

     

    We’ve known Leo for a long, long time, those who know, know

    Longer than any of us recall, Leo’s lives earlier were spent

    Working on railroads spiriting enslaved Africans to freedom

     

    He was one who kept Nat’s secret those 1831 Virginia nights,

    He helped at Harper’s Ferry under Captain Brown’s command

     

    Grieving, mourning, maybe we can bring ourselves to beg

    Our evil enemy, Monsanto, to clone a hundred thousand

    Leo Robinson leaders and ship them to every port, dock

    Waterfront in the U.S.;

    Splice his genes with Egyptian canal workers, Nigerian, Iraqi and

    Venezuelan oil workers, Joe Hill and Mother Jones; and dust Leo’s

    DNA in every working-class baby bottle in the U.S?

     

    Monsanto’s Mengele-Frankenstein shit won’t be necessary—

    For Leo lives whenever, wherever some worker risks his

    Or her life to pull one of their brothers or sisters to safety,

    Leo lives in every navy blue or ash T-shirt with brown, beige,

    Tan, ivory, hands circled in solidarity,

    In every fiery speech during San Francisco strikes and

    Port Of Oakland shutdown, in fights for health care, cradle

    To grave, in housing, library, post office and school struggles

    He lives good fights against fracking and the Occupy Movement…

     

    Leo lives wherever rank and file working-class folks

    Dig deep in shallow pockets to weaponize their wallets

    Leo lives wherever the “voiceless” are booming in

    Concrete stratagems in the currency of courage and clarity

    Leo lives in London marches against war on Iran

    In Greek anti-austerity marches

    Wherever the ranks are rising up against top-down

    Corporate unionism, rising ‘gainst lil’ buddies, Jr.

    Partners who golf and vacation with the bosses,

    Leo’s Shreveport sound is embedded in the bathrooms,

    Woodwork and hallways of the hiring hall he’s haunted

    Since ‘63— you’ve been warned…

     

    Leo lives with Palestinian children resisting

    Apartheid captors, when their jobs should be day-

    Dreaming with dolls and chasing down soccer balls,

    Leo lives in the Boycott Divestment and Sanction movement

    He lives, for there are other leper ships to be left unloaded…

    Other fiery, militant speeches to be made,

    Other younger men and women to mentor…

     

    Hey-hey, ho-ho—apartheid has got to go!”

    Hey-hey, ho-ho—apartheid has got to go!”

    Hey-hey, ho-ho—apartheid has got to go!”

    Hey-hey, ho-ho—apartheid has got to go!”

     

    Raymond Nat Turner can be contacted at upsurgejazz.com.

    Raymond Nat Turner © 2013 All Rights Reserved

     

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