Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Women at War: The Guns of Fort Petticoat

The Guns of Fort Petticoat, screenplay by Walter Doniger from a story by C. William Harrison ("Petticoat Brigade"), directed by George Marshall, produced by star Audie Murphy and Harry Joe Brown, and released in 1957, is the tale of a Union Army soldier from Texas, played by Audie Murphy, who deserts his Arizona regiment and heads to his male short West Texas home town to warn its inhabitants of imminent Indian attacks after his martinet commander Col. Chivington (Ainslie Pryor) leads an assault on an unarmed Cheyenne village, a variation on real life historical incident the Sand Creek Massacre. Over the course of the film Lt. Frank Hewitt (Murphy) molds his "petticoat army" into a brigade that holes up for strategic reasons in a Texas mission and fends off an Indian attack.

The women of Hewitt's "petticoat army" include Sgt. Hannah Lacey (Hope Emerson), who repeatedly shows that she is as she says is, "worth more than three men". There is the sharp shooting and somewhat tomboyish Ann Martin (Kathryn Grant) who, after Hewitt discovers that his girlfriend Stella Latham (Patricia Livingston) is married, becomes Hewitt's love interest. There is the Christian pacifist zealot Cora (Jeanette Nolan) who learns that there are somethings worth fighting for. There is the toff from Charleston Charlotte Ogden (Isobel Epsom) who has her slave Hetty (Ernestine Wade) do most of her work until Hewitt teaches her that everyone is equal in an Indian attack. As for Hetty she proves to be a fine shot. There is the loose woman Lucy Conniver (Peggy Maley) whose piano playing and singing provide a kind of Greek chorus over the course of the film. The Guns of Fort Petticoat ends with Hewitt's "petticoat army" saving the lieutenant from a kangaroo of a court martial for desertion led by Chivington.

Though one might think that The Guns of Fort Petticoat would provide a lot of grist for the feminist cultural criticism mill and the representational mill that dominates a lot of cultural criticism of film and television these days, I couldn't find any scholarly writing on the film. This is a pity because The Guns of Fort Petticoat is both significant and important in a number of ways. The Guns of Fort Petticoat was made during an era in which the United States was dominated by a progressive liberalism, a progressive liberalism that would last from the New Deal to the oil crisis of the 1970s and 1980s, a liberalism which accepted the New Deal welfare state and even its expansion under LBJ. The Guns of Fort Petticoat was made during an era in which there were countercultures, business and cultural, hovering beneath the apparent Protestant-Catholic-Jew Cold War consensus that some have seen as dominating the era, a consensus that eventually would be torn apart by the civil rights movement, LBJ's Civil Rights act, Vietnam, and the Oil Crisis. The Guns of Fort Petticoat reveals some of the tensions amidst this apparent liberal consensus--divisions between American North and American South, the dominance of Jim Crow in the South, the need to fight the Soviets, the role women should and could play in the Cold War--and that makes the film not only historically and sociologically interesting but also historically and sociologically significant.

Whether someone likes, dislikes, the traditional binary pivots of film "criticism", or hasn't seen The Guns of Fort Petticoat, by the way, is immaterial unless you are engaged in audience analysis. Most audience analysis, when it is done scientifically, proves one thing, empirically speaking, over and over again. Some people like particular movies, some people don't, many people haven't even seen the movie at all.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Life in the Pissant Swamp: A Black Day for SUNY Oneonta

4 September 2015 marked yet another anniversary of the famous and infamous Black List at SUNY Oneonta and Oneonta, New York. On that day in 1992 an elderly woman was assaulted in her home. The person who assaulted her cut his hand during the assault and a police dog followed the trail of the assaulter to the SUNY Oneonta campus. To track down the culprit from there the police asked Vice-President for Finance and Administration Leif Hartmark, who was sitting in for the president of the college that weekend, for a list of Black and Hispanic male students. Hartmark authorized the release of the names of Black and Hispanic male students to the police and the police set about interrogating Black and Hispanic males on campus--one source claims some 300 were grilled--on the basis that the attacker was Black or Hispanic.

There was a backlash almost immediately. Black and Hispanic students, some faculty, and even some staff labelled what was happening an invasion of civil rights. The story of the Black List, as the list of Black and Hispanic students Hartmark released came to be called, went state wide and even national when it was picked up by the New York Times.

The fallout over the Black List has continued ever since. Vice-President Hartmark was suspended without pay, demoted, and later reinstated to his vice-president position. Suits over the action were brought by the students--all of them apparently were tracked down by the police and asked to show their hands to them--who were investigated by the police in their dorm rooms and at their homes in the city of Oneonta. A federal court dismissed the suits but later investigations found that the federal judges did not have access to the police reports which indicated that the victim said her assailant had a young voice and that she saw only his hand. She did not say he was Black or Hispanic. As a result of all of this SUNY Oneonta and the city of Oneonta have had to deal with claims that there was a strong undercurrent of racism in the investigation ever since. The national media occasionally report on the Black List and its fall out. A documentary, Brothers of the Black List, was released in 2014. Every 4th of September SUNY Oneonta ritually remembers the Black List and issues apologies for the release of the list.

Dissolve and cut from SUNY Oneonta, were I work as a part-time lecturer and have since 2010, to Honest Weight Food Coop in Albany, New York. My Oneonta and Honest Weight lives are about to connect. I, a member worker and eventually a part-time cashier at Honest Weight since 2012, learn that Leif Hartmark is a member of the Coop when he comes through my line. I am not aware of his role in the release of the Black List when he first comes through my line. I haven't since asked him when I have seen him why he released the Black List to the police. I don't know his motivations for potentially violating the privacy of every Black and Hispanic student on campus. Was it fear? Was it mental fog? Was he convinced that he was right in his actions? What was it? I would like to ask him this question, though I hesitate to do so since it undoubtedly will open wounds and I wouldn't want to do that. As a historian and sociologist, however, I would love to get answers to these questions.

Speaking of Honest Weight, Honest Weight is in the midst of "change" or so some member hope and say. Charges have been made by some, likely thanks to advice from the National Cooperative Grocers Association, UNFI, CDS Consulting, and the National Cooperative Business Association, that Honest Weight's member programme, where members work for discounts, and the member programme of "coops" everywhere are illegal. At Honest Weight Board members including the aforementioned Leif Hartmark sent a letter to the New York State Department of Labour informing them that "new management" is "modernizing" the store and that part of that modernization process is the elimination of the "member worker" programme, something that has long been the symbolic and actual heart of Honest Weight and coops everywhere though many of these latter have raised the flag of surrender long ago without going to court and establishing a legal precedent in the process. Others at Honest Weight have fought back, however, and the "transition" the letter proclaims has been put on hold if very tenuously for the moment wince Deb Dennis and what is left of the executive committee, Leif Hartmark, and their lawyers met with the DoL after Board member and former Board president William Frye was recalled and John Serio, who as Board secretary was on the executive committee of the Board was defeated in a special election. They are apparently trying to persuade the DoL to issue a ruling on the legality or illegality of the programme, a ruling they likely think will go their way.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Times They are a-Changing: Has Change Come to Honest Weight?

When I began blogging about Honest Weight in 2014 I never thought I would see what happened at the Special Member Meeting on Monday. I felt like a voice in the wilderness while exploring historically and sociologically anti-union ideology, creeping corporatisation, and Board politics at Honest Weight.

Now, however, thanks to all these things and particularly Board overreach, namely, the Board’s attempt to lower the discount for weekly working members and to end the member owner worker programme in general, one Board member has been recalled despite the difficulty in getting 75% of the vote to recall him, another has lost by a massive margin in the special election, four other Board members have given votes of no confidence as has corporatisation at Honest Weight and the management team.

For me, this should not be the end of the story. I want to urge, in this blog, that the four Board members who have been given votes of no confidence do the right thing and resign at the next Board meeting. The reasons they should resign are several. I list them by Boad member below:

Writ of Particulars, Deb Dennis
1. Sent a draft letter to the Department of Labour that could cause irreparable harm to Honest Weight.
2. Ended the member labour programme without a membership vote in violation of the by-laws.
3. Was either part of a group that bullied Board member Ned Depew or did nothing to stop the bullying.
4. Got the support of only 33% of voters at the Special Membership Meeting.
Deb Dennis should and must resign.

Writ of Particulars, Leif Hartmark
1. Ended the member labour programme without a membership vote in violation of the by-laws.
2. Was either part of a group that bullied Board member Ned Depew or did nothing to stop the bullying.
3. Got the support of only 35% of voters at the Special Membership Meeting.
Leif Hartmark should and must resign.

Writ of Particulars, Roman Kuchera
1. Ended the member labour programme without a membership vote in violation of the by-laws.
2. Was either part of a group that bullied Board member Ned Depew or did nothing to stop the bullying.
3. Got the support of only 38% of voters at the Special Membership Meeting.
Roman Kuchera should and must resign.

Writ of Particulars, Rossana Coto-Batres
1. Ended the member labour programme without a membership vote in violation of the by-laws.
2. Was part of the group that drafted the letter to the DoL.
3. Took part in a video that was put up on Youtube that likely violated state law.
4. Was either part of a group that bullied Board member Ned Depew or did nothing to stop the bullying.
5. Served like Erin “Je Recuse” Walsh before her, on the Board nominating committee while running for the Board.
6. Got only 42% of voters at the Special Membership Meeting.
Rossana Coto-Batres should and must resign.

So are things really a-changing at Honest Weight? I am not sure. I will be more convinced they are and that coop oriented Honest Weighers are really putting a halt to creeping corporatism and reversing course back to cooperatives if these four Board members who have just been given significant votes of no confidence by the voting membership resign. Time, of course, as it always does, will tell.