Passionate Truths



The rise of Ronald Reagan and free market worship has by now long cast a pall over the soul of America. Memories of the radicalism of the 20th century linger, but the energy is largely gone. We’re catching a glimpse of the old spirit with the demonstrations against police slayings of Blacks, but the collective strength of the left is hard to find.

But Gay City News columnist Susie Day has never forgotten. Her writing, as presented in “Snidelines: Taking Trash to Power,” pulses with the moral clarity that is the left’s greatest gift: the detection of right from wrong.

Her satire, like Jonathan Swift’s, cuts to the quick. Her wish is that we retrieve the passion that drove politics during Vietnam and the AIDS epidemic. Today’s world is turned upside down. “Radical capitalist circles” from tycoons to ice cream vendors support the “Wealthy Underground,” chanting “BANKERS UNITED WILL NEVER BE INDICTED” while wearing sequined T-shirts reading “FIGHT THE POWERLESS.”

For sure, Susie is an upfront lesbian, but her cause is human solidarity and her barbs are directed at a mind-numbing consumerism and social conformity. She worries that marriage equality will erase the taint of transgression that once imbued gay rights with an outlaw spirit and identification with society’s outcasts.

Susie Day’s satire sensitive to human suffering, aimed at world turned upside down

Gay men, she writes, “think they know about opera. Ha. They don’t know about lesbian opera.” The “Sapphic Ring Cycle” tells the cautionary domestication tale of “naughty and heedless, Clarinda a baby dyke just out of reform school.” Clarinda marries Phollabia, “Queen of the Lesbian Social Change Activists,” and suddenly “all the oxygen is sucked out of the theater.” The sex goes out of their marriage and Clarinda, bereft, sings, “Tis awful to be lawful; O Phollabia, why didst we not elopia.”

Susie Day has a true love. As a reporter, she met Laura Whitehorn, who was in prison for her participation in the bombing of the empty US Capitol, breaking a bust of Teddy Roosevelt. Whitehorn stole Susie’s heart because she combined “complex layers of fact with a gut-level identification with suffering.” The courtship that started in prison waiting rooms and continued by letter goes on to this day long after Laura’s release.

Susie’s passion for human rights and her sorrow at the injuries done by the powerful –– whether against prisoners in Guantanamo Bay or displaced Palestinians –– still flourish. There is nothing chic or easy about her radicalism. While most of us deplore the mass incarceration of America’s war on drug prisoners, Susie has befriended Herman Bell, a Black Panther who was convicted for the 1971 shooting deaths of police officers Joseph Piagentini and Waverly Jones. Forty-three years later, Bell is still in prison because New York State does not parole “violent felons,” much less convicted cop killers.

In most countries, a prisoner can earn credits for good behavior –– the elderly Bell has certainly done that, coaching football and earning college degrees. Merit time, as it is called, allows prison authorities to encourage positive behavior and create tests to see if an inmate is safe to release into society. One reason the US relies so much on solitary confinement and super max prisons is that without merit time punishment is the only hammer. To this day, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association opposes the release of Herman Bell, but Officer Jones’ son disagrees, saying, “Nothing would give us more pleasure or joy than to see that man walk out of prison doors.”

Susie’s satire warms the heart with bedrock truths. I’ve read her columns for years, but it is only after reading this book that I learned about the unifying truth that drives her imagination.

SNIDELINES: Talking Trash to Power | By Susie Day | Abingdon Square Publishing | $12; 160 pages