Mas: Puro John Ross, RIP

"Then there was John. Even in his seventies, a tall imposing figure with a narrow face, a scruffy goatee and mustache, a Che T-shirt covered by a Mexican vest, a Palestinian battle scarf thrown around his neck, bags of misery and compassion under his eyes, offset by his wonderful toothless smile and the cackling laugh that punctuated his comical riffs on the miserable state of the universe."
--Frank Bardacke, in the Nation

"Life, like reporting, is a kind of death sentence. Pardon me for having lived it so fully."

--John Ross, in refusing to accept recognition from the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, 2009. They wanted to celebrate him for telling "stories nobody else could or would tell." John defiantly created his own story that they would not want to tell. Here's the poem he read to them to conclude his bit of very public guerrilla theater.


Coming out of the underground
On the BART escalator,
The Mission sky
Is washed by autumn,
The old men and their garbage bags
Are clustered in the battered plaza
We once named for Cesar Augusto Sandino.
Behind me down below
In the throat of the earth

A rough bracero sings
Of his comings and goings
In a voice as ronco y dulce
As the mountains of Michoacan and Jalisco
For the white zombies
Careening downtown
To the dot coms.
They are trying to kick us
Out of here
They are trying to drain
This neighborhood of color
Of color
This time we are not moving on.
We are going to stick to this barrio
Like the posters so fiercely pasted
To the walls of La Mision
With iron glue
That they will have to take them down
Brick by brick
To make us go away
And even then our ghosts
Will come home
And turn those bricks
Into weapons
And take back our streets
Brick by brick
And song by song
Ronco y dulce
As Jalisco and Michaocan
Managua, Manila, Ramallah
Pine Ridge, Vietnam, and Africa.

As my compa QR say
We here now motherfuckers
Tell the Klan and the Nazis
And the Real Estate vampires
To catch the next BART out of here
For Hell.

Three recent tributes to John Ross really catch his flair and his life, so I thought I would link to them: The Frank Bardacke piece in Counterpunch linked to above; "Rebel Journalist John Ross, the Master of Speaking Truth to Power, Is Dead" by blogger John Nichols in the Nation; and "John Ross, 1938-2011, Beat Poet, Revolutionary Journalist" by Tom Robbins in the Village Voice. Each writer seems to have known John well and loved and respected him. It's nice to see John get all this attention. The Nation piece has John's complete rant of the speech to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. He was a Wobbly in the original sense. He spoke his truth to power, he put himself in danger, he was brilliant, he was raw, he was witty, and he loved the Lakers (why, I don't know) and probably the Knicks too if they would ever get their act together.


JOHN ROSS, 1938-2011

Photograph by Elizabeth Bell
Rebel Journalist, Poet, Novelist, Human Shield
He was a good friend. May he rest in peace.


The Revolution does not begin
over coffee at the Epicurean,
does not begin over gravy and grits,
in the first joint, the last hit,
the Morning Chron, your morning shit.
The Revolution does not begin
pulling greenchain on the graveyard shift,
or making the welfare line by nine.
The Revolution doesn't begin
in your mind, your heart, your liver,
your prick, doesn't begin
when you clench your fist,
The Revolution doesn't being in 1776,
1917, the depression, the dawn,
doesn't begin with gurus, Cinques,
the news from L.A.  Havana, manana.
The Revolution doesn't begin
with both barrels, at the bottom of bottles,
on the pages of bibles, with the blues.
The Revolution does not begin,
The Revolution has no beginning.
The Revolution is unending.
The Revolution is not like a faucet –
you can't turn it on and off.
The Revolution leaks all the time –
you can’t call a plumber to fix it.