Sense from Seattle

Common sense thoughts on life and current affairs by a Seattle area sexagenarian, drawing on personal experience, years of learning as a counselor to thousands of families and an innate passion for informed knowledge, to uniquely express sensible, thoughtful, honest and independent views.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Political Pendulum

The announcement this week of more decisions of the US Supreme Court by its 5-4 conservative majority confirmed that the Chief Justice Roberts has not been able to bring the Justices to a wider consensus. The Court seems to be even more divided than ever in its opinions, with four conservatives and four liberals and one swing man who leans toward conservative. Bush appointee Alito surprised no one with the extent of his conservatism, willingly striking more to the political right than even the late Justice Rehnquist. But Roberts is a true disappointment. Not only has he failed as a consensus builder and voted consistently with the political right wing point of view, but he also has shown a shocking willingness to discard legal precedent, incrementally rather than wholesale, but nevertheless in large increments.

Hope for more sensible majority opinions from the Court now rests on Justice Kennedy, who has taken over the middle role formerly played by Sandra Day O’Connor. But while the Court conservatives are voting to change precedent in large steps, Kennedy only seems willing to reduce the length of their strides rather than change the direction they are taking. Since the conservatives on the Court are also the youngest Justices, liberals who believe in an intervening God may need to pray for intervention. A prayer for change of conservative legal hearts would be nice, but a plea for conservative heart stoppage during the coming Democratic Presidency would be more direct.

Bush has kicked the political pendulum far to the right. The momentum has slowed greatly and now started to turn, most noticeably last fall with the Democrats gaining a slim majority in Congress. Democrat led Congressional oversight hearings have given cover to previously timid journalists, with resulting deeper disclosures of the secrecy, corruption and incompetency of the Bush administration. The American majority has gagged on the Bush effort to undermine Social Security, soured on the Iraq fiasco and been repulsed by the Bush embrace of torture and domestic spying. With a few exceptions, Republicans in Congress, fearing unsuccessful re-election races, are not openly resisting the change of direction, though they still are dragging their feet.

The next measurement of political pendulum movement takes place in November 2008, when Americans are expected to choose a Democrat for President. The movement toward Democrats could include holding onto Congress. It would be great if it went so far as to produce the needed 60 Democrats in the Senate to block Republican filibusters, though that is about as far as the Congressional pendulum ever swings.

But what about the underlying long range American pendulum swing? Unfortunately, in many ways since the 1970s, the movement has been toward the right wing, propelled by corporate funding and religious and racial exploitation. In limited areas, public sentiment has leaned left, but overall right wing momentum has prevailed. Consider this list of subjects.

Abortion - Though public opinion has been more accepting of reproductive rights, political action has not reflected that acceptance.

Capital Punishment - Like abortion, political reality is more to the right of public opinion.

Corporations - In spite of all they bad things they do, their money buys political power and public relations, and much of the voting public has at least token stock ownership through 401k plans, so corporations, quintessentially right wing, continue to enjoy unwarranted favoritism and influence.

Democracy - Money has undermined our democratic foundations. The Bush Administration came to power by trampling on voters rights and has continued the process under the guise of preventing voter fraud. Targeting black voters lower on the socio-economic scale has added insult to the injury, but not particularly in the eyes of white America.

Economics - The economic gap has widened with such debacles as the Bush tax giveaways to the rich and the huge increases in the national debt and trade deficits. Americans have fallen for the overextended credit mirage of wealth, and now the false image is starting to disappear. As more middle Americans fall into the financial hole and get abused by the Bush bankruptcy “reform” thumb screws, the opportunity to move economics back toward justice will improve.

Education - A truly educated electorate is a threat to right wing momentum, which is why the right continues to undercut public education. A credible movement for educational excellence in America has yet to emerge.

Environment - Great hope lies in the strange bedfellows of brilliantly practical environmentalists and sensibly realistic business leaders. Such partnerships, based on mutual acceptance of scientific reality, common appreciation of the wonders of nature and recognition of the economic benefits of wise environmental policies, can be the basis for significant improvement, especially once Bush is gone.

Health - We need better health insurance, and also better health. Partnerships of legitimate stakeholders like unions, employers and health care providers can bring significant improvements. The villainsous insurers, advertisers and drug companies, need to be regulated out of illegitimate influence. Hillary Clinton may have the knowledge and connections to generate movement in the correct direction.

Homosexuality - This hot button issue swings similar to abortion.

Immigration - Our nation of immigrants remains deeply conflicted about how much to close the door in the face of new arrivals, and especially about what to do with the millions that were encouraged to sneak in by employers seeking to cut wages of American workers.

Journalism - Right wing money continues to pervert and pressure the media, but the excesses of the Bush years provide an opportunity for the re-emergence of some respectable journalism.

Labor - Unions continue moribund, except for government employees. Some rumblings of fresh approaches within the labor movement are encouraging. The exit of Bush probably marks the farthest limit of the movement against labor.

Race - The Roberts Court has given new energy to the right wing racially reactive movement. On the personal level, Bush caused Colin Powell to embarrass himself, blinded Condoleezza Rice to reality and proved Alberto Gonzales to be just an empty suit. New Orleans shows just how unimportant the situation of poor black Americans is in the eyes of the rest of the country.
White American concern over the browning of America is a major factor in the immigration debate.

Religion - Republican embrace of evangelicals has at least slowed and maybe even stopped the right wing endorsed merger of church and state, but the Roberts Court will probably prevent any change in direction back to more separation.

Sex - Hypocrisy continues as corporate money exploits sex for profits, while supporting right wing Republicans who use sex as a political wedge issue. Our unhealthy sex obsessions are like the forest which we cannot see because of focusing on one Super Bowl breast.

UN - As the pendulum of the Iraq fiasco in Iraq has flown back to hit Bush in the face, Americans have reason for new respect for the UN.

War - Once again, we have been schooled that war is rarely a valid solution. As Pete Seeger memorably sang, “When will we ever learn?” For a while now, we will be less likely to Sabre rattle.

Women - Hillary’s run confirms the capability of powerful women, but women on the lower end of the economic scale remain largely underpowered.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Patience and Suffering

I just spent the better part of the week trying to replace our simple home network which attaches two computers to the internet. The old network router broke when Comcast was guiding me over the phone to make a cable service change. Having failed several times to get the router back in service, I did some research and came up with the idea of installing a much simpler switch. After much frustration trying to install it, I learned that simple switches will not work with Comcast cable (something the Comcast people did not seem to know, but the India based support tech for the switch company did).

More research led to the purchase of a different brand of replacement router, which I could not get to work with our system. Comcast and both router companies kept me on a wild goose chase, each blaming the problem on the next company. I’ll skip the agonizing details of the ordeal, since we all have had similar horror stories.

This experience reminded me what is wrong with American business and, in a related way, with America. Minimally regulated monopolies like Comcast try to steal turf from similar monopolies; Comcast is currently trying to steal phone and satellite dish customers. Meanwhile Comcast is ignoring the opportunity to sell home networking services to their existing customers. Their support people quickly tell customers that Comcast is responsible only up to the modem, and that any problem with network routers is “not their problem”. Likely more than half of Comcast customers have a home network or could benefit by having one. Comcast could be providing a worthwhile home networking service and making money in the process, but fails to see the need and opportunity.

Wondering for the umpteenth time why the original router stopped working, I re-installed it again and verified it was defective. Then I called son Anthony for moral support and for encouragement to maybe buy a new computer and start fresh. But “Voila!” - after being on the phone for several minutes, and with the router staying on, the device suddenly figured out what it was supposed to be doing and started doing it correctly. It was not broken; I had just not given it enough time to get back in full operation. The whole ordeal had been caused by my impatience.

The word “patience” comes from the Latin word for suffering, not in the sense of enduring pain, but rather in the sense of allowing things to happen. Think Mark 10:14, “Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of God.” Buddha saw suffering, in the painful sense, as the first noble truth, “Life means suffering”.

Impatience sometimes causes needless suffering. My impatient escalation of a minor problem reminded me of the American inclination toward impatience. At the beginning of our nation, the Revolutionary War was started in part due to our impatience with King George. Over two centuries later, George Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq in part due to his impatience with the UN arms inspection process. The Revolutionary War lasted many years and required patience to endure, which the American colonists had, while King George and his people ran out of patience. The Iraq occupation also requires patience to endure, which most of the American people do not have, but which most of the people in Iraq do. George Bush, so impatient to start the War, has now been preaching patience during the occupation. Fortunately, he is not King George and we will be rid of him in January 2009.

America has spent too much effort in surrogate turf wars supposedly to gain advantage over enemies, like the communists in the cold war and now the terrorists in the so-called war on terror, and too little effort on meeting the needs of our own people, like health care and economic justice. Two notable failures in the 20th Century led to wonderful American initiatives. The economic failure causing the Great Depression prompted the New Deal, and the diplomatic failure causing World War II prompted the U.S. led rebuilding of Europe and Japan and the creation of the UN. The New Deal taught Americans that we need to work together to solve national problems. We then applied that lesson after World War II, working with Europe and Japan on their reconstruction and with the entire world community on establishing the UN. Once we are rid of Bush, America should work to attain the cessation of suffering here at home, and then use that experience to help attain the end of suffering worldwide.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Choices -Finale-People

We possess varying skills at dealing with people, physical objects and abstract information like data and ideas. My skill with physical objects is quite limited, with abstracts appreciably higher and with people somewhere in the middle. I am on the line between introvert and extrovert, inclining toward the former; or maybe more accurately I can be a people person when I have to. When I make the effort with people, I can really get into it, but after the experience is over, I often welcome solitude.

My Mom was definitely a people person and I liked being around her. Step-dad was a solitary type, one of the few exceptional times being his brief social period of alcoholic intoxication before passing out. I disliked being around him. Like many siblings, my brother and I had enjoyable times together as well as times of conflict. Three years age difference meant different traveling circles. The passing of time sobered and mellowed step-dad and brought brothers closer, but sadly took Mom too soon.

We had only one other relative in the Seattle area, an aunt who was like a big sister. Some vacations and holidays were enjoyed with a sprinkling of out of town relatives, but such visits were infrequent. The neighborhood and school were where our people relationships developed. We lived in the same house and attended the same Catholic grade and high school throughout childhood, so changes were generated by the neighbors, classmates and teachers, not by us.

Some kids have imaginary friends. The closest I got was a baseball game I played with marbles as the players. I gave the marbles names based on their physical appearance and then kept statistics like their batting average. The data compilation was the most satisfying part of the game, relating to the marble people was secondary. I still like to play computer sports games and track the stats on my players. One time when my brother got mad at me, he claimed he had two imaginary friends, Oogoo and Jocko, who were going to pour poison in my ear when I was asleep. I didn’t believe they existed, but I still went to sleep with my ears covered. So it is even now with the unseen God I learned about in school. I do not believe, but still feel a tinge of inclination toward ear protection.

During my first couple years of grade school, our neighborhood, which had been slightly mixed ethnically, quickly changed into a de facto racial ghetto. I had not yet formed sufficient friendships to miss the fleeing white children. A large and friendly Filipino family remained, as did one other white family with a boy my age. The new “colored” families, as they were called, actually came in a full spectrum of colors. One of my best friends was “colored”, but could have passed for my brother, another was quite dark and a third was about as dark as could be. When the white boy moved, I remember feeling the loss. My passable brother kept in phone contact with our mutual friend and one day told me that the boy had been paralyzed in a diving accident. That made me even sadder, and I felt like I should be doing something about it, but I had no idea what.

I like the way kids meet and make friends. There is a gravity that draws a new kid in and puts a likely pair together. No introductions or match making - it just happens. I have always lacked a natural sense of direction, so am easily lost. Somehow, in first grade I got matched with a class mate who lived only two blocks from me. He had an excellent directional sense, which was great for me, since I lived 16 blocks from school and could walk with him to his house and then manage to find my way home from there. One day I had a problem and Sister made me stay after school. My navigator was hanging out in the doorway and Sister told him he could go home. Fortunately, he understood his role and told Sister that I could not find my way home without him, so she ended my detention. That may be my earliest memory of the value of friendship.

Maybe due to lack of open housing for persons of color, there was very little turnover in our neighborhood after the white flight. I spent much time in neighbor homes and had long childhood friendships with the kids and their parents. But as we kids finished school and started our own jobs and families, we moved away and did not stay in touch, something which has always bothered me. It is one of the dismays of life that those with whom circumstances put us in close association for a period of time (neighbors, classmates, military cohorts, co-workers, clients), usually do not stay in touch once the association ends. Our mothers had Christmas card lists filled with such names. Many mothers of my childhood friends became my legal clients in later years, but the friends rarely did. With bittersweet memories, I wish that I had been enough of a people person to keep in friendly touch with all the close associates I have had at different stages of my life.

Friends sharing joint interests can be called partners, but I think of partnerships more in regard to romantic or business relationships. Privacy and modesty (and at least as much humility) limit my sharing about romantic partners. Like many things in life, concepts of romance differ among individuals, between men and women, and as we age. The thrill of the chase and of the catch sometimes ends in the pain of the miss and of the release. Nothing ventured, nothing gained definitely applies to romantic partnering; never to have tried and therefore never to have lost seems a waste of a significant part of human life.

One wonderful benefit of romantic partnering can be children, a reward I received four times. The parent-child relationship is like no other. The roles of each are so different, as children have the opportunity to more profoundly realize when they become parents. I don’t believe in reincarnation, but if it existed one advantage would be to live as a young child with the knowledge of what it is like to be a parent.

Business partnerships supposedly work best if each partner goes into it with the idea,“This is going to be a better deal for my partner than for me, but being in partnership is going to be a better deal for me than being in business alone”. Lawyers have the highest percentage of sole practitioners among learned professionals. The nature of the work and the type of people drawn to it make this so. Too many law practice partnerships end bitterly, perhaps for the same reasons. With all this in mind, I never seriously considered seeking a lawyer partnership, and I was never sought out for one. Hiring young associates is supposed to provide retirement income, but I never seriously considered that either. I suppose I mostly looked at it negatively, that the young person might do something wrong which would reflect on me, or might work behind my back to poach my clients.

I don’t think I have any enemies, or at least none that know they are. There are plenty of public figures I despise, but they don’t even know I exist. Maybe a good side of not being a strong people person is that it also makes you a not strong enemy person. There are people I know whom I don’t regard very highly. I am sure there are people who know me and don’t think highly of me either. But we are not enemies. Like Anne Frank, “In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.”

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Choices - Part 5 (Work -conclusion)

That job interview 40 years ago was the last one I ever had. I took the job because I was desperate, and the employer hired me because they were getting a lawyer for what they paid clerks. They told me they did not have any need to hire, but wanted to give me the opportunity - you know, I could work into a job in the legal department and maybe some day even become company President. Employers like to make new hires feel like the boss is doing them a special favor in hiring them, even for the most lowly jobs, whereas the truth is usually that each needs the other.

I had never heard of the title insurance business, but starting like I did at the bottom, I got the opportunity to learn firsthand what everyone at the company actually did. I also worked as a peer with workers at those lower levels, forming the basis for good working relationships when I later did get promoted. I learned that the title business, like many enterprises, is a perfect fit for some workers and a miss for others. Talented ability for a particular job is only marginally related to educational level - for some people it is inherent. Our society needs to do a better job of determining what individual talents and abilities young people have and then guide them in that direction. Job dissatisfaction prevails in large part because people choose jobs for reasons other than talent and ability.

An opportunity in the legal department opened up sooner than I expected. I appeared to be the obvious person to fill the position - except to the head of personnel, who gave the job to an attorney who had left the legal department for private practice some time ago and then decided to come back. I told the personnel chief that I could understand why they gave the legal opening to the more experienced attorney, but I had a problem with not being told ahead of time, before I was embarrassed by being introduced to him in front of my co-workers, who like me thought the position was mine. A perfunctory apology confirmed what I had already been gathering, this employer did not really care about its employees.

A short time later, another legal opening occurred [which should have told me something], and this time I got it. With a new position and a new wife, things looked set, but Lyndon Johnson had just figured how to get a troop surge for the increasingly unpopular Vietnam War, by using the seizure of the USS Pueblo as a pretext to call up the reserves, and I was yanked from my job and into Air Force service for what turned out to be 18 months. Remember in life, stuff [euphemism] happens.

What I did in the Air Force for those 18 months is a story for another time [did I hear a “whew” of relief?]. Federal law guaranteed my rehiring within a few months of return from active duty. A couple of those months got used for a European tour before settling back to work and starting a family. Traveling when young is so much more beneficial than waiting for retirement years. The young are more adventuresome and physically capable, and enthusiastically open to seeing life in new ways. A lot of George W. Bush’s failure on the international scene is rooted in the defect of his personality that caused him to shun such travel during his privileged youth.

The title company did not want to take me back. They had hired an older attorney to take my place and they tried to discourage me by relegating me to a semi-clerical job examining court files at the courthouse. [I suspect this story is being repeated today in the lives of many reservists returning from service in Iraq, but is not being reported in the media. Employers are patriotic when it comes to getting defense contracts, but not when it comes to re-hiring reservists they have already replaced.] Valuable learning sometimes comes from unexpected places, and the file examining job was one of these. In a few short months at that job, I was able to see the paperwork involved from start to finish in many hundreds of cases of great variety. This was experience that would have taken me twenty years to acquire in a law office. The main thing I learned from the files was that lawyers and judges were very often quite unconcerned about fastidious paperwork, and just did what needed to be done in whatever way worked. I no longer had the fear of a need for perfectionism that had driven me from the practice of law.

Workplace mentors may have mixed motivation. In the law office, Mr. Greenlee taught me about practicing law, not just to be of help in his business, but also because he wanted me to learn from his experience. The older lawyer who had taken my place at the title company also mentored me in a way. He taught me that taking on new challenges is essential to a career, like learning to swim - if you don’t get in over your head, you’ll always just be treading water. Good advice, but since he was sort of burned out and had no particular talent or interest in the title business, his encouragement for me to take on more tasks might have had a selfish motive. Anyway, I took his advice and accepted every challenge the job had to offer, quickly becoming Mr. Indispensable. [I still haven’t learned to swim though - maybe later]. Buddha correctly said everyone is a teacher. We should be able to learn something from everyone we encounter. The motivation of a teacher is not as important as the subject matter of a lesson, and perhaps as the talent of the teacher, if that talent is being used. Sometimes what we learn from a teacher is not what the teacher thinks is being taught.

George Bush could have handled employee relations for the title company, because they operated on loyalty and fear. Loyal employees did what they were told and were too afraid to ask for raises. I was loyal enough, but not fearful. My supervisor, the head lawyer, loved having me do everything and was actually a pretty easy touch for raises, which I persistently pursued. I was on friendly terms with everyone in the company, and especially with some of the better workers. I started hearing stories from some more senior workers about how junior ones were being underpaid, even in the face of raise recommendations from the seniors. Employers often try to drive a wedge between senior workers and junior ones, as a tactic to undermine collective bargaining, but they fail to appreciate the genuine bond between good workers of all ages. Eventually a group of senior and junior workers, including me, met to consider organizing a union. I was designated to talk to the National Labor Relations Board to determine what our rights were, and was told by the attorneys at the Board that this was not the 1930's and we had every legal right to do what we were doing, so we decided to proceed to organize our fellow employees.

My supervisor was a nice enough man, and he had just got a raise approved for me. It had been especially hard to work on him this time, even though he highly praised my work, but I worked especially hard in getting this one, because I figured once the union drive was above ground, I would not be getting any more. So as a courtesy, I gave him a heads up on what we were doing and told him a letter announcing the campaign had just been deposited in the mail. Operating out of the loyalty and fear conditioned by over 20 years employment, he ran down to the company President with the news and within half an hour, Mr. Indispensable had been fired for lousy work [ignoring the fact the President had just approved my raise based on excellent work].

The amazed lawyers at the NLRB quickly got my job back for me with a written apology from the company President. The company fought the union campaign like George Bush runs his campaigns and administration. Fearful loyalists were turned on the messengers. Promises were made but never kept. Threats, some more veiled, were made. Pay raises to women as a result of a sex discrimination case were portrayed as magnanimous gestures by the company. Ultimately, the company chose to irreparably damage itself rather than fairly bargain with the union that eventually did get certified. Good workers gradually left, replaced by mediocre ones. The company eventually was sold and the employer got out of the title business. “In order to save the title company, it became necessary to destroy the title company”, they seem to have said.

I considered seeking labor law work with the government, but Nixon becoming President nixed those thoughts. I did not like the idea of working for someone else, so I decided to give law practice another chance, this time doing it on my own, applying what I had learned at the title company. Tightening my belt and taking advantage of a generous offer from my brother for initial free space in his real estate office helped me get started, and I spent the next 25 years in solo law practice.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Choices - Part 4 (Work)

For most of human history, and still today in many parts of the world, people have had little choice about the work they do to earn a living. Socio-economic level and the prevailing economy made the choices extremely limited. Those born to the silver spoon could choose not to work, or to pretend to be working at whatever strikes their fancy - the most egregious example being the man currently pretending to be the US President.

Women traditionally had little choice but to work as homemakers, or be more adventurous and become a teacher, nurse or nun. Domestic service, sewing, and later, cooking and waitress jobs in restaurants opened up new choices. My mother had to quit school to help her mom do laundry and ironing my grandmother took in for extra household income. Mom graduated into restaurant work and got interested in the union that was bargaining for the contract that affected her job. She entered union politics and was elected to the executive board of the Cooks and Assistants local in Seattle, where she participated in numerous grievance hearings involving employer mistreatment of workers. She often told me about the grievances, which introduced me to the first principle of labor-management relations, a principle that my subsequent experiences, personally and as an attorney, has strongly confirmed - “start with the strong presumption that the employer, however nice as a person, is an a__hole as a boss”.

Mom got active in unionism at a most interesting time, the 1950s, when American unions were at the peak of their political power and when unions were recognizing the importance of women’s rights, though like the rest of America, they were slow to champion racial justice. Volunteer political work through the union led Mom into a job as office manager in charge of the women’s branch of organized labor’s Committee on Political Education (COPE), the lobbying and campaigning arm of the union movement. Through that position Mom became friends with many local politicians, mostly Democrats like Senator Henry Jackson. Democrats overwhelmingly supported the goals of workers, whereas Republicans considered the desires of business more important than those of employees.

COPE published many excellent educational materials on the labor laws in America, for distribution to workers, who were encouraged to register, inform themselves and vote. I devoured these easy to read publications and followed along with Mom on the political developments of the day. All was well here in Washington State, with Democrats as Governor (Rosellini) and US Senator (Jackson and Magnuson), but at the Presidential level our Adlai Stevenson lost twice to Eisenhower. [“non-political” Generals like Ike and Colin Powell almost always reveal themselves as Republicans when they retire their military uniforms - Wes Clark being an interesting exception].

My early exposure to work was to help Mom do housework (I had no sisters), and to slave at endless yard chores for our step-dad [I often wish I could have time traveled and brought a weed whacker back to the 1950s ]. Those two experiences led to my first jobs away from home, yard work for neighbors and then dishwashing jobs in a couple restaurants where Mom worked , in the Pike Place Market and in Pioneer Square. With two friends, I organized a yard work business one summer, and liked the experience of being my own boss, or at least one of three self bosses. I got along fine with my partners, but they had friction with each other, which probably helps explain why I ended up practicing law solo rather than in partnership.

To earn more serious money for school, I worked at the post office terminal annex as a mail handler during Christmas vacations and then for a six month stint right before law school. Because the post office did not discriminate racially, it was one of the better jobs available to racial minorities, so I worked with a diverse group of people. I remember working with two older men who were bosom buddies on the job, one white and one black. One day, out of earshot of the black, the white man launched into a racial diatribe typical of that era, denouncing black people. When a white woman asked him if that applied to his black friend, the white man stopped and looked stunned as he realized that he seemed to have forgotten the man’s skin color and that the diatribe could not possibly apply to him. The people I worked with in the post office were some of the hardest working people I have known. To this day, the US Postal Service does a fantastic job and does not deserve the negative comments too often heard about the postal work ethic. I think some of those comments come from latent racial discrimination.

I can’t resist telling another post office story, about the time I had the most cash I have ever had in my life. As mail handler for the small air mail section, I was once entrusted with a large handcart piled high with neatly stacked postal sacks. I was to sign for the cart and then deliver it to the loading dock, where a truck driver would sign it away from me and drive it to the airport. Two police cars were waiting to escort the truck, because I had just temporarily been in possession of the entire monthly payroll for Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska, all of which was paid in cash back in those days.

Between the second and third (final) year of law school, many students were taking jobs in the legal field. They seemed to have connections I did not have, since many had fathers who were lawyers. I did not say mothers, because the overwhelming majority of lawyers back then were white and male. My first year law class had almost 200 students, including about 6 or 7 women, and 2 minority men, one black [I am using “black” in this article for brevity -the common term back then was “Negro” or “colored”; today I usually use “African-American”]and one Asian. The two men dropped out after the first year, but 3 or 4of the women went the full three years. Lacking connections, I opted to knock on the door of the only lawyer in the Central Area, Archie M. Greenlee, whose office was right around the corner from my bus stop for the UW. I was pleasantly surprised to find the legal secretary was a friendly and very professional black woman, and even more pleased to find the attorney was not white, as I at least slightly assumed he would be, but also black. Most pleasing of all was that he gave me a job and mentored me on the practice of law and the running of a law office and opened himself to me on what life was like for him.

I stayed at the law office for my final year of school and returned after my time away for military training. I was too young and too intimidated by a legal field where all the authority figures, except for my employer, were old white males. Being one of only a small hand full of black attorneys in Seattle, Mr. Greenlee correctly surmised that the quality of his work would be especially scrutinized by white lawyers and judges, so he was very perfectionist in what his office produced. He and his secretary were up to the task, but I was becoming frustrated by the need for perfectionism when the laws and rules we worked with were so imperfectly drawn. At 23, I lacked the poise and self-confidence an attorney needs. I struggled with my concerns and analyzed them and then decided to talk to Mr. G. About my feelings. He seemed impressed by the thoroughness of my analysis and presentation and then gave me a simple solution I had not expected. If it bothered me that much, I should quit right then, and that is what I did.

By the time I quit working at the law office, I was living on my own for the first time in my life, except for boot camp. What had I just done? I guess I had just edged myself into quitting. I did feel relieved about leaving my frustrations behind, and I enjoyed the extra time I had to think and read. I decided I should get a job with the State and did the paperwork, took the tests and had the interviews, but before anything came through, I was broke and my rent was due. So I turned to the State Employment office to see what they had in private sector job postings. The older lady who helped me was quite experienced and turned immediately to her contact file. I had done some personal injury work at the law office, so she figured I could work as an insurance adjuster, and she called her contact at Safeco. Ouch, I might have to take a job for “the enemy” - but the rent was due. The contact was not hiring, but said Safeco had just purchased some kind of “title insurance” company and the nice lady set me up with an interview.

[to be continued in part 5]