It’s All One Thing #107: How City Hall Became “Free” Trade

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“You can’t stop trade” they say just the way they used to say “You can’t fight city hall”
with a pointed grimace of sarcastic gall “ha, ha, ha” back in the nineteen hundreds as
they now call the 20th century seems so quaint now when once, well, the 1950’s were
you know with it, happening, even ultra-modern. The present, state of the art, always
gets a free pass as in I can’t believe we’re having to talk about the confederate battle flag
this far into the 21st century. Meanwhile free trade is so 19th century, the 1800 hundreds,
that is the 1800s like those sunspots that come and go with the droughts and floods but
never seem to manage to even correlate much less prove causation. It’s enough to make
you think. It’s enough to make you think it’s a conspiracy or some thing. You see you really
do know. J. Edgar Hoover had a program to target and fire every person suspected of same
sex relations from the government that went on for decades but now we’re not to worry
about ubiquitous global mass collection and surveillance of every body. Turns out helping
the banksters do more bansktering doesn’t really help the economy (or the environment
or workers or anything). In fact those with more money than common sense can steal from
the commons for quite a while but eventually we all pay for it even them. And you might well
ask who they are for you see I’ve got one I’ve been thinking on for many months as this last
bookend of my adult life, the war of, by, and for terror has been seeping out everywhere and
the torture, the industrial scale assassination has been revealed by leaks and investigations.
I’m thinking of my great, great grands great, great grand (father) Robert “King” Carter. I even
look like this guy from eight generations back. He had the gout. I have the gout. There are
pictures of him young, middle and elder age. I’m almost 69 the age at which he died. I’ve been
to the church he had built and it was a cool cross with oval windows at the foot and arms and
head surrounded by deep shadow. But, of course, he was one of the most, if not the most
powerful men of his Virginia world while I have had almost no power over anyone my whole life.
He owned a thousand human beings and bought and sold many more. I considered myself
lucky that I had managed not only to stay out of debt but actually always supported sacred
places of enlightenment and learning. But he was the one of the founders of William and Mary
College another elite institution paid for with money derived from the slave trade and global
economy the trans-Atlantic triangle of which it was a part. The human labor that produced
and sent tobacco, rice, and sugar and then cotton, the gold and silver and copper, the hemp
and timber back to the European mercantile centers –Portugal, Spain, Holland, England and
France each with its own global competing colonial empire. The U.S. made its bones as rising
world power by taking out and over the old Spanish Empire that started the whole 500 year
mess when Ferdinand convinced Isabella to finance Christopher Columbus’s voyage to the
west. And this all brings me back to thinking about the house on Townsend Street which as
a kid I identified with the Townsend Acts that helped provoke colonial rebellion after they were
instituted to pay for the 7 Year/ French and Indian war where my grandfather lived whose
father, my great grandfather, was ten years old when his father was camped near Manassas
rail junction waiting to fight the first battle of the Civil War at Bull Run where it made a circle
a “horseshoe” around Carter family land. When I was a kid E. Detroit was a huge mostly black
ghetto where horse drawn carts still sold watermelons door to door in the Summer. Once my
young brother was playing soldiers in the little piece of lawn in front the house and some black
boys took his toys and I trying to be the big brother went to get them back and they told me
they had a pin to stick me with and I backed away astounded at their faces which I realized I
couldn’t even remember. I would look at them trying to remember who to tell on but then
would find I couldn’t recognize who I had just been looking at when I looked back. I felt this
great emptiness just like when years later my other older brother told me the house was still
standing while most were not and even though the corner of Mack and Townsend once a
thriving urban neighborhood is now vacant lots and boarded up store fronts . Only one bar is
left where Uncle Ed used to go to have a beer and smoke his cigar and they always said no one
ever bothered him blind as he was white. My grandfather was a quiet man who sat in his tall
chair by the front windows and puffed his long Chesterfield cigarettes in a cloud of smoke. He
told my big brother that we didn’t use that “N” word for those he in his southern drawl called
“Negras” when negro was the polite term of the day. But now the “N” word is forbidden to any-
one white and no wonder I think as they put all of my great, great grandfather’s great, great
grandfather’s “King” Carter journals and letters on line where I can read as he casually
discusses which property (slaves) will go to whom. You can’t stop free trade they say. City Hall
has become “free” trade. You can’t fight city hall. Can you?

 

James Van Looy has been a fixture in Boston’s poetry venues since the 1970s. He is a member of Cosmic Spelunker Theater and has run poetry workshops for Boston area homeless people at Pine Street Inn and St. Francis House since 1992. His work appears weekly in Oddball Magazine.