Greetings From Scranton
Call this tale a color portrait of two cities.
Scranton, PA, stands as the historic birthplace of President Joe Biden. Oakland, CA, holds its own as the birthplace of Vice President Kamala Harris.
Scranton and Oakland reign as officially designated sister cities. Strong women mayors in both towns last year declared this sacred sibling relationship under the national political radar.
So let’s add to the luster by inviting Harris, the first Black Asian woman of color to serve as VP, to visit Scranton and help improve race and gender relations in this inflexible county seat mired in white, male rule.
Now is the time to fly high and prepare for a future that’s female. The time is long overdue to turn away from pale penis people who for too long controlled women’s lives everywhere.
Let’s hoist high an already solid bond that resulted in raising a specially designed sister city flag above Oakland and Scranton city halls and turn this friendship into a real revolution.
Smart Oregon native and Scranton Democratic Mayor Paige Cognetti has great plans for her city’s future. Oakland Democratic Mayor Libby Schaaf envisions freethinking progress for her town, too.
Schaaf is even married to a Scranton native whose brother lives across the street from me. Her in-laws fly the official sister city flag outside their house a couple of blocks away. If that’s not shared instant karma I don’t know what is.
Both cities share a rich history of civil rights struggle. A life-size statue of “Champion of Labor” and legendary head of the United Mine Workers of America John Mitchell stands tall on Courthouse Square in Scranton. A sculpted bronze bust of Black Panther Party co-founder Huey Newton stands in Oakland, the birthplace of the Panthers and symbolic national headquarters for Black power.
The Panthers developed their political clout struggling with the stranglehold of oppression, injustice turned upside down by Black radicals. That’s why racist cops killed them, hunted them and tried their best to discredit them.
The Panthers prevailed.
To this day Oakland activists and public officials celebrate liberation, linking the continuing crusade against racism and police brutality.
Joe Biden’s honky birthplace needs to shape up.
Despite a new NAACP chapter and a fashionable organization called Black Scranton, personality politics and fragile egos define these fledgling cliques. Leaders of both groups have ignored my questions about their vision for equity in the community.
Bourgeois white liberals in Scranton, not known for militancy of any kind, take shallow cultural comfort holding hands and singing “We Shall Overcome” at the annual Martin Luther King Jr. commemoration. Rather than campaign for more Black cops, firefighters and public school teachers, they stick signs in their front yards that proclaim “Hate has no home here.” Not a sign of righteous progress, my pallid brothers and sisters, not a courageous sign at all.
That’s why it’s important for Harris to tour my town. Biden’s not invited, either. When I voted for the 2020 Democratic ticket I voted more for her than for him. If Harris primaries Biden in 2024, she might get my vote as well.
My politics are steeped in leftist lessons of the 60s. Washington, D.C., anti-war protests, blood in the streets of Chicago during the1968 Democratic National Convention and San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury, bolstered by the Bay Area and Oakland, shaped the counterculture and my brain.
I also remember the lessons of the 90s when white Scranton police shot and killed Brenda Williams. Police opened fire in 2009, gunning down the 52-year-old Black Air Force veteran and diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic they claimed was a threat to their lives. Instead of shooting Williams multiple times, braver, better-trained officers could have disarmed the nude, mentally ill woman who had stopped taking her medication as she moved toward them holding a knife they allowed her to retrieve from the kitchen.
A good shooting, said the district attorney.
Justified, said the police union.
A federal judge tossed the lawsuit Williams’ family brought in her name. No excessive force, he said, as did concurring appeals judges.
Mindful Oakland residents remember their own bad cop story.
In 1968 Oakland police killed 17-year-old Bobbie Hutton who tried to surrender with his hands in the air. His death sparked a social justice movement that gave proof through the night that the Panther flag was still there.
Because peaceful patriots must continue to fan freedom’s spark, America must remember both deaths and act upon past warnings from each city’s history. A park and other Oakland commemorations honor Hutton. Nothing but Scranton excuses pay tribute to Williams.
A Scranton sister city mural memorializing these two sanctified street saints will remind us of the special relationship between Oakland and Scranton and the need for decent people to demand empathy and compassion from our leaders.
Provoking liberty matters.
George Floyd’s murder last year by Minneapolis police incited artists across the country to capture Floyd’s likeness in paintings and murals they defiantly displayed as part of increased willingness to fight racism and police violence.
Murals have popped up in recent years all over Scranton. The faces of John Lennon, temperamental actor Rainn Wilson from The Office and Martin Luther King Jr. all have their faces displayed on the sides of buildings. A starchy nonprofit called Scranton Tomorrow even promotes and helps fund such safe art designs.
“Scranton Tomorrow launched its Mural Arts Program in 2021. Designed to transform the Downtown landscape, and connect communities, murals will reflect the City’s history and qualities that make Scranton unique,” according to the group’s website.
A good place to paint and unveil the Williams/Hutton portrayal would be on the side of the Chamber of Commerce building and ask them to pay for it. If overpaid executive staff funds the project, we’ll at least be better positioned for relevant 21st Century consciousness raising rather than remaining stuck in the bland buttoned-down mindset of superficial Caucasian heritage.
One intense picture of Williams artists can use for inspiration remains indelibly etched in my mind: the framed photo showing her wearing a broad smile, dark beret and a blue-gray Air Force uniform that sat atop her casket during her funeral in the Bethel AME Church.
Famous musician John Legend served as choir director and played keyboards at AME from 1995 to 2004. Maybe Legend will help pay for our mural.
Maybe the Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation in Oakland will give their blessing as well to yet another public art initiative that compounds the ongoing support for public art installations the foundation has already commissioned in cities across the nation. Foundation leaders understand how public art and social justice work together to offer hope in the continuing Black liberation struggle. That includes the battle against sexism – there, here and everywhere.
America changed when the so-called scrappy kid from Scranton won the presidency and Harris carried historic gender and racial power into the White House. Now Harris is taking heat from mostly anonymous critics without hard evidence to back it up. And Biden has somebody to blame for his weaknesses, somebody to point the finger at for his failure to lead.
Don’t look at me.
Talk to Kamala.
Even Hillary Clinton, the woman who should be president, sees the stark disparity.
“There is a double standard; it’s sadly alive and well,” Clinton said in an interview last month in The New York Times. “A lot of what is being used to judge her, just like it was to judge me, or the women who ran in 2020, or everybody else, is really colored by that.”
What better foil for an Establishment white man from Scranton than a progressive Black woman from Oakland? Such brazen executive prejudice must stop.
Harris has already reminded Biden of his cracker past when she pointed out during a debate how he and his redneck Southern buddies tried to keep a little girl off a school bus during the national fight to achieve public school desegregation.
“That little girl was me,” she said.
Now that Biden’s president, she shouldn’t have to admonish him again.
My late friend and proud Black social justice warrior Stan Hamilton made clear our ongoing anti-racist mission one day years ago when he explained the movement to a boastful white civil rights veteran in a Wilkes-Barre, PA, college lecture hall.
“I stood on the bridge at Selma,” the man said.
“I don’t care what bridge you stood on,” Hamilton said. “What bridge are you standing on now?”
To this day, generations of radiant Oakland radicals raise clenched fists and utter the following powerful words to live by:
“All power to the people then and now.”
Our sacred vow requires reparation of spirit and soul.
Here and there.
Come home to Scranton, Kamala.
Our so-called Electric City needs a soul sister supercharge.