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A lil’ bit ‘bout Leo’s legacy …

April 2, 2013

by Raymond Nat Turner

I.

1984:

Leo Robinson
Leo Robinson
“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

Million Worker March 101704 by Stan Hoff, web
Leo Robinson was a major force behind the Oct. 17, 2004, Million Worker March. Here, Dick Gregory speaks to the thousands of workers who came from across the U.S. and as far away as Haiti and Japan to the National Mall. – Photo: Stan Hoff
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 crackling potbelly stove in 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: $50,000 from the Retiree’s and Ms Johhnie’s

Nest egg to take 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 militant,

Moving circles, understood by even Kindergartners –

Leo’s logo on navy blue T-shirts, priceless!

Leo laughed at my crazy calls, punctuated with

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 ends of our

Weekly jam session-conversations, during rides

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,

Leo’s grit and guts made him different, lion among Tomcats!

That same wise warrior twinkle in his eye, seven years later,

Occupy Oakland General Strike view from Adeline St. Bridge to Port of Oakland 110211
Leo Robinson welcomed Occupy Oakland’s call for a General Strike Nov. 2, 2011, that brought tens of thousands to shut down the Port of Oakland and much of the city. This is the view from the Adeline Street Bridge.
Welcomed the Occupy Movement as “new kid on the block,”

Seeing that Occupy’s 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,

Long before any of us recall, Leo’s earlier lives were spent

Working on railroads spiriting enslaved Africans to freedom,

He kept Nat’s secret those August 1831 Virginia nights,

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

Grieving, mourners, maybe we can bring ourselves to beg

Evil, arch enemy, Monsanto, to splice Leo’s genes with

Egyptian canal workers, Nigerian, Iraqi and Venezuelan oil

Workers, Joe Hill and Mother Jones; dust his DNA in doorways

Of every working-class home in the U.S., then clone a hundred

Thousand Leo Robinson rank-and-file leaders and ship them to

Every port, dock, waterfront in the U.S.?

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

For Leo lives, wherever, wherever, some worker risks his,

Or her, own life to pull a fellow worker from water 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 shutdowns, in fights for health care, cradle

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

In good fights against fracking and in the Occupy Movement …

Leo lives wherever rank and file working-class folks

Dig deep in shallow pockets and weaponize their wallets

Leo lives wherever the “voiceless” are booming concrete

Stratagems in currency of courage and clarity,

Leo lives in London marches against war on Iran,

In Greek anti-austerity marches –

Wherever 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 bathrooms,

Woodwork and hallways of the hiring hall he’s haunted

Since ‘63 – tops, you’ve been warned …

Leo lives with Palestinian children resisting

Apartheid captors, stealing their jobs of day-

Dreaming with dolls and chasing soccer balls,

Leo lives in the Boycott Divestment and

Sanction movement, he lives, for there are

Raymond Nat Turner 053007 by Kamau, web
Raymond Nat Turner – Photo: Kamau Amen-Ra
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 © 2013 All Rights Reserved – Raymond Nat Turner, one of the Bay Area’s best known and loved poets, left recently for the East Coast, but judging from this poem, he seems to have left his heart in San Francisco. He can be reached at upsurgejazz@gmail.com.

 

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