Roberto Lovato Moving On From Presente.org

June 12, 2014

 

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Dear Friends

Greetings and good wishes to you.

Since 2009, I have served as Strategist for Presente.org, an organization I am proud to have (co)founded. I’m writing to let you know that I will no longer be working in that capacity. I have accepted an invitation to be a research fellow and scholar at UC Berkeley’s Center for Latino Policy Research, and will also continue my journalism and other writing projects. Other endeavors are about to come to fruition and will be announced shortly.

Though the immense challenges we designed Presente.org to face are hardly resolved, I leave the organization contented that our community has a longer list accomplishments with which to draw inspiration from as we continue our historic fight. At a time when the enterprise of “hope” and “change” have been twisted and humiliated to serve Power, Presente.org, with the support and solidarity of allies throughout the country, delivered real hope and concrete change,  : Lou Dobbs, the single most powerful anti-immigrant person in the United States, and the media company he co-founded,CNN, no longer enjoy millions in daily profits from the hatred of immigrants and Latinos on primetime national television;  The Associated Press stylebook-the stylistic bible for journalists and media organizations throughout the world–has tossed the term “illegal immigrants” and its derivatives into the the dustbin of decrepit, discriminatory words;  A Latino-led online organization with zero members in 2009 now has close to 350,000 members and Latino and other communities have a model for technological and political behavior; Presente.org, a multi-issue, consciously-left organization made it known that Latinos are concerned about and engaged with issues like criminal justice, LGBTQ rights, police violence, network neutrality, climate change, drug policy, workers rights, women’s rights, and, of course immigration; The Trail of DREAMs, a little-known group of 4 intrepid youth, helped focus attention on the need for President Obama to stop the deportation crisis; Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio was exposed in and forced to change his anti-immigrant positions as Latinos across the United States clamored “No Somos Rubios”; The historic Caravan for Peace established an unprecedented example of a different kind of solidarity that addresses issues on both sides of the border; Since we began in 2009, when most were delirious with the certifiably false promises of “comprehensive immigration reform”and its backers who were covering the Bush-era policies leading to the current immigration crisis, Presente.org joined those leading the immigrant rights movement -NDLON, NIYA and others on the left of the immigrant rights movement- to focus the country’s and the Administration’s attention on the deportation and detention crisis that began and continues the Obama legacy. Before, people ignored deportations and we were attacked and in the minority opinion. We leave Presente.org  in the majority of Latino opinion, as an polls and the recent, though stilted, movements of the Democrats and President Obama towards deportation relief indicate.

Most importantly, during my tenure with Presente, we helped create a powerful and independent voice in the Latino community and in the larger community. At its best, Presente.org echoed the dignity and aspirations of millions of Latinos and their allies who resist the corruption, cowardice and mediocrity that made too much of what we call “immigrant rights” and “Latino politics” subservient to corporate, philanthropic, non-profit and party politic agendas. These powerful interests–Republican and Democrat and their allies–may or may not have liked Presente.org, its independence or its imaginative campaigns, but they learned to respect and, sometimes, even fear our honesty and the singular integrity of our pursuit of justice. We need look no further than the immigrant condition–and at the Washington DC politics that define that condition– to see the very urgent need to continue the kind independent, bold and imaginative vision that Presente.org embodied.

It has been my honor to have led the development of Presente.org and its strategies and I am especially grateful to all the compañer@s inside and outside the organization whose unconditional support made possible the many victories we delivered to our community. Much love to you all and I look forward to continuing the work with you.

Un fuerte abrazo de tu amigo y compañero,

 

Roberto Lovato

 


Why the Media Are Giving a Free Pass to Venezuela’s Neo-Fascist Creeps

April 1, 2014

Luis García Britto
Luis García Britto (Reuters/Carlos Garcia Rawlins)

 

April 1, 2014

 

The novelist, essayist, historian and playwright Luis Britto García is a titan of Latin American literature and thought, though he’s not nearly as well known on this side of the cultural border between “America” the country and América the continent. Many consider this prize-winning author the most important writer and intellectual in Venezuela. In addition to his novels and many other books on language, culture and politics, Britto García has written extensively on the role of the media in Venezuelan politics. Earlier this month,Nation contributor Roberto Lovato met with Britto García, 73, in his home in Caracas to talk about the role of the media in the current conflict.

Roberto Lovato: You’ve written a lot about the media and politics in Venezuela. How are the media behaving in the current conflict?

Luis Britto García: The current situation in Venezuela has a historical context that must be understood. During the previous coup attempt, in 2002, the television networks in particular played a determining role in what amounted to a media coup. The media themselves became political actors, something I’ve documented in my book Media Dictatorship [2012]. Just consider, for example, how the Carmona decree—in which the coup leaders essentially gutted the Constitution—was signed by representatives of the major media. This same media also edited out images, stories and facts that didn’t fit their narrative.  During the coup, the television crews even showed up before the repressive acts were performed by the coup leaders.

And how are things similar or different today?

In this current coup attempt, the television networks have adopted a different tone, but the radio and social media and international press are playing a leading role, using images of repression in Egypt, Syria, the United States and other countries to depict supposed repression in Venezuela. Look, for example, how a few hundred violent students come to symbolize “students,” “youth” and “the country.”

Are you saying images of rock-throwing, tire-burning youth are inaccurate or fake?

No. I’m saying we’re a country of 29 million inhabitants. I’m saying that in Venezuela, nine and a half million Venezuelans are studying. Of these, more than 2.5 million are in higher education. What does that mean? That almost one in ten Venezuelans are in higher education. The overwhelming majority of them are in perpetually free institutions. This whole image that the media try to convey of a “student rebellion,” which [jailed opposition leader] Leopoldo López tries to project—the image that all youth are against the government, against [President Nicolás] Maduro, against Bolivarianism—is absolutely false. Yes, clearly there are young people who are against the government, for various reasons. We’re a free country, and people can think however they like. But it’s just a fraction, a small minority of the entire student population—something the international media aren’t reporting.

And what else do you see being edited out of the current Venezuela story in the media?

There’s an important split in the right that is also not being reported. To begin with, they’ve lost eighteen of the last nineteen major elections—and they’ve protested all of them, except the single referendum that they won. It’s also important to point out that López is being projected as the latest in a long line of messiahs of the right, even though he doesn’t even pull together the vast majority of the [voters] of the right. The right supported [former presidential candidate Henrique] Capriles Radonski in three elections, and he lost all of them. In the internal elections of the right, López ended up in third place; I think he got something like 2 percent of eligible voters. So, like I told you, the right wing in Venezuela is very divided. It plays with a messiah who’s going to hand them an instant paradise, and if he doesn’t do it, they become disillusioned, disenchanted with him, which is precisely what will happen with López, who has a strong rift with Capriles. López and his ally, María Corina Machado, another extreme right-winger, have chosen the option of desperate street violence. Capriles, meanwhile, has cautioned against “generating false expectations of change through street actions.”

So how did Capriles and López come to prominence?

There was a collapse of the traditional parties. From this void emerged the idea of founding another right-wing party. Study the rise of Capriles, López and their right-wing parties, and you see how weird politics in Venezuela are.

What do you mean?

Before becoming leaders of the right, López and Capriles spent part of their youth in an almost comical group called “Tradition, Family and Property.” It was a fanatical fascist group, somewhere between a religious and a political organization. They used to stand out on street corners of urban neighborhoods with large Superman-style red capes, berets, things like that. It was this ultra-super-reactionary, right-wing group. Yes, red-caped, like Superman! From there, they became the right-wing Primero Justicia [Justice First] party, which arose out of a television show begun by a lawyer named Julio Borges [now leader of Primero Justicia].

A television show? You mean that Primero Justicia, one of the most important parties of the right and a party that WikiLeaks cables tell us was partly funded for more than a decade by the United States through the National Endowment for Democracy, actually started thanks to a TV show?

Yes. Out of nowhere, all of the sudden Borges has a show on television that’s calledJustice for All. It was a show where he played the role of a justice of the peace, and plaintiffs were brought before him. These are often neighbors suing each other, and he tries to offer a sort of charismatic mediation of disputes. [In the show they] had the litigants pass through a narrow hallway so that they would run into each other, getting into fights and hitting each other.

Sounds like court shows in the United States.

Yes, it’s copied from reality shows in the United States. The curious thing, however, is that this program was converted into a political party under the leadership of Julio Borges. From Justice for All, Borges and his allies created Primero Justicia. The right needed something like a political right wing, because the social democratic and the social Christian parties that have traditionally dominated Venezuelan politics were so discredited that they didn’t constitute a force any longer. This new party was developed on one side by Capriles, and on the other side by López. So, the media also had a role in helping to create the current leaders and splits in the right.

Are you saying that the strategy and tactics of the right have an element of political and media theater? In a way. Look at the violent actions like grabbing and holding middle-class people prisoners in neighborhoods with barricades called guarimbas. I’ve never understood it. This “strategy” was “invented” by a Cuban-Venezuelan named Robert Alonso, brother of a Hollywood actress, Maria Conchita Alonso, who did a movie with Schwarzenegger. Mr. Alonso invented the guarimba as a way for a fractious minority to gain media attention by shutting off the street. They chuck trash or debris or waste so that their neighbors can’t get in our out. It gets media attention, but also immobilizes the right, a real political marvel. The guarimberos are cutting themselves off from the very people who could support the right. You hear the complaints, but not in the news reports. So what are you thinking, shutting down, burning down your own neighborhoods?

What do you think will happen?

We’ve seen a lot of this before. The cameras like the guarimbas, but, looked at from within the country, it’s a ludicrous political action. Insane. They tried this out before, in 2004, and it failed. They’ve had political messiahs like Leopoldo López, most of whom have been forgotten. You saw the future in the recent Carnaval celebrations. The right called for a boycott of Carnaval. The poor rejected their call and filled the beaches and the streets with their celebrations. Yet again, the international media didn’t take notice. The Colombian novelist William Ospina says that in the entire world, the rich celebrate and the poor protest. Only in Venezuela do the poor celebrate and the rich protest.


Fauxccupy : sous les masques de Guy Fawkes de l’opposition vénézuélienne

March 16, 2014

Caracas – Les news et l’imagerie disponibles sur le Venezuela de ces dernières semaines mèneraient l’homme de la rue à conclure que les jeunes d’opposition sont des “manifestants pacifiques” dans la lignée de l’activisme global des jeunesses du “printemps arabe”, du mouvement Occupy ou d’autres pays d’Amérique Latine. Une telle conclusion serait erronée tant les informations sur le Venezuela relèvent de pratiques journalistiques très contestables, sur une échelle sans précédent.

pour Roberto Lovato

Qu’on considère, par exemple, les personnes tuées dans les deux camps. Les médias privés (en anglais ou en espagnol) ont omis de couvrir les huit (et plus) victimes pro-chavistes des violences perpétrées par les étudiants ou par le reste de la droite. Aucun n’enquête sur les dénonciations selon lesquelles les morts sont en majorité imputables à l’opposition. Le gommage radical des victimes pro-chavistes est surprenant.

L’image ci-dessus montre, par exemple, des membres de la droite vénézuélienne tendant un fil barbelé qui a décapité un cycliste innocent, Rafael Durán de La Rosa, mort omise par la plupart des médias. Autre exemple du silence, l’assassinat de l’étudiante chilienne Gisella Rubiar le 9 mars à Mérida, tombée sous les balles de militants d’extrême droite alors qu’elle tentait de dégager une rue obstruée par leur barricade.

Un autre aspect de ce traitement très spécial des médias sur le Venezuela concerne les images des masques de Guy Fawkes, symbole des mouvements anti-capitalistes popularisé par Hollywood et, plus récemment, par les manifestations du mouvement Occupy.

La semaine dernière j’ai interviewé des membres de l’opposition, parmi lesquels des dizaines de jeunes. Presque tous ceux-ci sont des étudiants de classe moyenne et supérieure vivant dans les quartiers ultra-élitaires de Caracas, les plus riches des Amériques. Lorsque je leur demandai s’ils se définissaient comme “anarchistes” ou “marxistes” ou comme partisans d’une des idéologies qui ont caractérisé la plupart des oppositions historiques ou actuelles dans la région, ces étudiants ont uniformément répondu par la négative, certains y allant parfois d’un “para nada !” (“pas du tout !”) ou d’équivalents espagnols de “Jamais de la vie !”

Certains des interviewés m’ont dit s’identifier à des militaires tels que le Généralissime Marcos Pérez Jiménez, ancien et très répudié dictateur. Ils se sont également reconnus dans l’opposition vénézuélienne, emmenée par trois membres de l’élite du pays —Henrique Capriles, María Corina Machado et Leopoldo Lopez— tous trois impliqués dans le coup d’État de 2002 contre Hugo Chávez et possédant des liens familiaux direct avec les propriétaires ou les plus hauts dirigeants des plus importants conglomérats privés du Venezuela et du continent.

Or, si l’opposition du Venezuela est dirigée par des milliardaires dans un pays pauvre et si, au lieu de combattre les initiatives multi-millionaires de la politique des USA (comme le font la plupart des mouvements latino-américains), cette opposition reçoit des millions de dollars du département d’État, comment comprendre toutes ces images d’étudiants portant un symbole associé aux mouvements de gauche ?

La réponse est triple. La première est que l’idée de porter ce masque face aux caméras fait partie de la très sophistiquée formation aux médias que les étudiants ont reçue de OTPOR/CANVAS et d’autres consultantsloués avec les millions de dollars US. La deuxième est que des étudiants commettant des violences et qui craignent les sanctions ont besoin de se cacher. Enfin, c’est la logique du marché, il y a des personnes achetant des masques parce que c’est cool ou d’autres qui y voient une aubaine commerciale, comme j’ai pu l’observer dans les photos que j’ai prises la semaine passée.

Sans analyser de près l’imagerie dominante, sans examen minutieux de ce qu’est l’opposition vénézuélienne, on risquerait de la confondre avec quelque chose comme le Che Guevara ou Occupy ou le Printemps Arabe. Mais avec des dirigeants de la droite étudiante comme Lorent Saleh, lié aux paramilitaires de l’ex-président Uribe et à des groupes néo-nazis colombiens (voir El Espectador du 21/7/13) (1) ou Yon Goicochea qui a reçu les 500.000 dollars du prix “Milton Friedman” et d’autres financements privés ou gouvernementaux des États-Unis, il y a beaucoup plus derrière les masques de Guy Fawkes au Venezuela que ceux que nous laissent voir les médias. Et peut-être que nous voyons naître quelque chose de nouveau et radicalement différent dans le continent insurgé de l’Amérique : Fauxccupy

Roberto Lovato

http://www.latinorebels.com/2014/03/13/fauxccupy-the-selling-and-buyin…

Roberto Lovato est écrivain, journaliste et co-Fondateur de Presente.org, une des principales associations on-line de défense des droits des immigrants latino-américains aux États-Unis. Une de ses enquêtes sur l’exploitation des travailleurs immigrés à New Orleans après les ravages de Katrina, Gulf Coast Slaves, a servi de matériel pour une enquête du Congrès. Producteur de programmes de radio et collaborateur régulier de dizaines de médias dont Nation magazine et Huffington PostLire son blog. Twitter : @robvato.

Photos : Roberto Lovato

Traduction de l’anglais : Thierry Deronne


Fauxccupy: The Selling and Buying of the Venezuelan Opposition

March 15, 2014

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MARCH 13, 2014 BY 
EDITOR’S NOTE: Latino Rebels contributor Roberto Lovato visited Venezuela last week and wrote the following opinion piece. As of this morning, according to reports, the death toll resulting from the protests in Venezuela is at 25. The most recent violent events have occurredin San Cristóbal, near the Venezuela/Colombia border.

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CARACAS—Reports and imagery coming out of Venezuela in the past weeks would lead the casual observer to conclude that the country’s youthful opposition are “peaceful protesters” following a long line of global youth activism seen during the Arab Spring, the Occupy movement or in other parts of Latin America. Such a conclusion would be false, as the news from Venezuela’s protests contains journalistic practices that are very questionable and on an unprecedented scale.

Consider, for example, how both sides have killed people. The corporate media (both in English and in Spanish) have failed to cover the eight (or more) pro-Chavista victims of student and other opposition violence. No one is investigating claims that the majority of the killings were committed by the opposition. The radical erasure of pro-Chavista victims is astonishing. The following image, for instance, allegedly shows Venezuelan opposition students setting up barbed wire that beheaded an innocent cyclist, 29 year-old Elvis Rafael Durán de La Rosa, whose death eluded most global media.

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Another example used in the carefully curated Venezuela media reports pertains to the images of rock-bearing youth wearing Guy Fawkes masks, a popular symbol of anti-capitalist movements, thanks to a Hollywood movie and, more recently, the Occupy protests.

Last week, I conducted interviews with opposition members, including dozens of opposition youth. Amost all of the youth were middle- to upper-class university students living in middle-class to ultra-elite neighborhoods of Caracas, the wealthiest in the Americas. Asked it they identified with  ”anarchists,” “Marxists”  or any of the other oppositional ideologies that have historically and which still define most opposition movements in the region, these students uniformly responded in the negative, with some even throwing in a “para nada!” or other Spanish equivalents of “hell no!”

Some interviewed even told me they identified with military men like El Generalísimo Marcos Pérez Jiménez, a much reviled former dictator. They also identified with Venezuela’s opposition, led by three elites —Henrique Capriles, María Corina Machado and Leopoldo Lopez— all of whom have direct familial ties to either the owners or top executives of the most important corporate conglomerates in Venezuela and the entire continent.

So ask the following question: If the Venezuelan opposition is led by millionaires in a poor country and if instead of fighting multi-million dollar US policy initiatives (as do most Latin American opposition movements) the Venezuelan opposition is receiving million$ from US policy, how do we account for all those images of students wearing a symbol associated with and used by leftist movements?

The answer is threefold. One is that the mask-wearing is part of the very sophisticated media training the students (and the opposition) received from OTPOR/CANVAS and other consultants bought with millions of US dollars. Second, students engaging in violent acts or those who fear retribution need cover. Finally, there is the logic of the market—people buying the masks because they’re cool and because someone saw a chance to make a buck, which is what I mostly documented in the photos I took last week.

Faux4RL

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(Photos: Roberto Lovato)

Without closely analyzing the imagery and careful curation of the Venezuelan opposition, one would conclude that this opposition is just like Che Guevara or Occupy or the Arab Spring. And with Venezuelan student opposition leaders like Yon Goicochea receiving the $500,000 Milton Friedman prize and other funding from private sources as well as from the U.S. government, there’s much more behind the Guy Fawkes masks in Venezuela than meets the media eye. And we may be witnessing the birth of something altogether new and radically different in the insurgent continent of América: Fauxccupy.

***

Roberto Lovato is a writer and dissonant dude. You can read more at his blog. You can also follow him on Twitter @robvato.

 


For Lulu: You Get What You Pay for in Venezuela-and Online

March 14, 2014

“Lulu,” one of many supporters of the Venezuelan opposition, recently tweeted complaints about my article titled “Fauxccupy: The Selling and Buying of the Venezuelan Opposition,” an article about how the Guy Fawkes masked worn by many youths of the opposition seems odd in a social movement led by millionaires and made up of middle to upper income people in a largely poor country. More specifically, Lulu challenged me about the vendor of the masks pictured here:

fauxccupy v

Curiously, Lulu questioned whether I’d even spoken to the woman and her life, while at the same time generously offering to host me in her (Lulu’s) home. The mix of her sincerity and the kind gesture informed my response, something I don’t bother to give most online right wing Venezuelan trolls whose invective and propagandistic repetition doesn’t even inspire a fart for an answer to one of her questions about the woman in the pic:

lulu ilulu ii

Not being able to tweet the pics I took bc they were too big, I am answering Lulu here by saying yes, I did interview her and she had a lot to say about a lot of things, including her poverty and what she thought of the middle to upper class, mostly white people protesting and buying the Guy Fawkes masks that most poor people “couldn’t afford and didn’t want them.” And she also had some choice words and body language for them…(expletives deleted)

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(Fotos by Roberto Lovato)


Venezuela’€™s opposition is united against Maduro, but internally divided

March 7, 2014
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History suggests it may be difficult to overthrow a Venezuelan government without support from the country’€™s have-nots

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Cristian Hernandez/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

CARACAS — His face and muscular arms sweating, hands dirtied from the sand-filled sugar bags he dragged toward the makeshift rampart blocking half of his street, Emilio Palacios’ immediate political struggle was with his mother. “No, Mama, no!” he yelled toward his mother, Maria Bravo, a longtime resident of the Chacaito district of Venezuela’s capital. “No!” he repeated, after hearing her tell Al Jazeera that the purpose of the barricade under construction in front of their apartment was “getting rid of this government.”

Measuring his words, he offered a different explanation. “We’re here as students to protest against the insecurity in the country and scarcity and the killing of students by the National Guard,” said Palacios, an engineering student at Central University. “This is not a protest against the government. We’re sending a message to the government.”

“OK. We have differences,” responded Bravo, a 48-year-old publicity and marketing executive, while sitting in a plastic lounge chair alongside her dog, Bruno, who almost knocked over a makeshift sign saying “Resistencia SOS Venezuela.”

On the anniversary of the death of socialist President Hugo Chavez, his successor, Nicolas Maduro, faces the biggest challenge to his 10-month-old government. Demonstrators frustrated by a long string of electoral defeats in municipal, gubernatorial and presidential election challenges to the Chavistas are exploring new strategies: taking to the streets to demand Maduro’s resignation as a solution for rampant crime and food shortages. But history suggests it may be difficult to overthrow a Venezuelan government without support from the country’s have-nots, and they have yet to be seen mimicking the burning of garbage or smashing of concrete seen in more well-off neighborhoods.

“Yes, we’re here to support the students, to protest the waiting in lines for food like we were in Cuba,” Bravo continued. “But we’ll be in the streets until this nefarious government, until this dictatorship goes, until Maduro renounces!” Asked how the crisis affects her well-groomed mixed sheepdog, she said, “Four kilos of dog food costs 400 bolivares ($63). Four hundred bolivares! Absurdo!”

A visibly tense Emilio raised his eyebrows, nodded his head from left to right and rushed down the street to continue gathering tree trunks and sugar bags to fortify the barricade. The lines of burning garbage, rocks and dead trees were not clearly drawn. Neither are the political divisions within Venezuela’s opposition.

The family argument between Palacios and Bravo reflects wider differences in the opposition involving politics, strategy and tactics over the protests and street clashes that have left 18 dead, including some Chavistas. While Chavez built the base of his movement among Venezuela’s poor and working class, the current protests are centered in middle- and upper-class neighborhoods. The movement challenging Maduro is led by wealthy and privileged individuals, some of whose photographs feature regularly on the society pages of El Universal and other newspapers. And they seem unable to agree on whether change will be achieved via the ballot box and negotiation or through insurrection and violence — and also on who should lead the opposition. What they are united over is their desire to end crime and shortages, but also to reverse the Chavez legacy of major government spending in housing, education and other social programs, limits on profits that can be made by companies and other socialist initiatives.

The most visible leaders of the opposition — former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, the telegenic Harvard-educated former mayor of Chacao Leopoldo Lopez and Lopez’s closest ally, Maria Corina Machado — all hail from families that own or have powerful positions with conglomerates in media, food and other industries. All are connected to middle- and upper-class student groups currently protesting in the streets of Caracas. And WikilLeaks cables suggest that the key protest groups have, over many years, been the beneficiaries of hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. “democracy promotion” assistance.

Despite efforts to project unity at recent rallies and marches, deep differences divide the opposition. Lopez and Machado are seen as promoting the more confrontational street actions to end Chavismo, but other opposition leaders fear that those tactics will alienate the larger public. Some opposition leaders even called for a moratorium on protests out of respect for commemorations of Chavez this week — a call that was ignored by student leaders and Machado.

Capriles and his key allies, including a number of industrialists, are more inclined to press for negotiations with Maduro, signaling discomfort with the more radical approach of the unyielding “Salida” (“Exit”) call by Lopez, Machado and many student groups on the streets who demand Maduro’s ouster. Capriles ally Lorenzo Mendoza, one of the wealthiest people in Venezuela, recently stood alongside Maduro to report on the National Conference for Peace, convened by the president and attended by leaders in politics and industry. “This is a convening to build a peace agenda,” declared a solemn Mendoza to a national audience.

Statements like Mendoza’s also reflect growing discomfort on the right with some of the student violence, like that which ended the life of Santiago Henrique Pedroza Longa. He was a 29-year-old motorcyclist who was beheaded by barbed wire put up by students at the behest of a pro-opposition retired general who had tweeted instructions on how to “neutralize the criminal hordes on bikes.”

And then there are the more radical student activists who distrust the close ties between fellow student groups and well-connected, well-heeled leaders of the political parties. “Leopoldo Lopez is a prefabricated martyr engaged in political theater designed to promote him as the new leader of the opposition,” said Joshua Cespedes, a 20-year-old working-class student protester and member of the Organization of Nationalist Students (ORDEN). “Capriles is the same, but he’s losing ground to him because people on our side are getting desperate and want quick solutions,” he said on Sunday at an opposition protest, standing next to a colleague hiding his face behind large, dark shades and a black poster with big white letters saying “Negotiation = Submission.”

Cespedes and other youth founded ORDEN after concluding that “politics in Venezuela is controlled by international interests. The opposition is controlled by the U.S. and Obama, and the government by Cuba. So the only solution is a nationalist solution.”

ORDEN traces its nationalist legacy to El Generalissimo Marcos Perez Jimenez, a former dictator, whose repressive policies eventually brought about his demise. Many years and several political defeats later, Perez Jimenez’s legacy still brings division to the right. After unfurling a banner with a picture of the smiling generalissimo, members of ORDEN were violently challenged by supporters of rival opposition groups during a widely televised opposition gathering on Jan. 23, 2013. “We were beaten with our own flags, punched, kicked at and dragged out of the conference — all at the hands of our ‘allies,’” said Cespedes. Despite the internal tensions, he said, he and the other members of ORDEN will “continue to organize and agitate in the streets.”

Striking a philosophical pose about the possibility of continued student clashes with Venezuelan government forces, 62-year-old Edith Mujica, Secretary for Organization for Caracas in Primero Justicia — the political party founded by both Lopez and Capriles — worried that the continued confrontation will not yield the desired results. “We may learn that all this excitement in the streets turns out to be an error,” said Mujica. “We might actually end up looking like we don’t want peace. We may even end up strengthening Maduro and the Chavistas. And we all agree we don’t want to do anything to make them stronger than they already are.”


Stilling Words for Turbulent Times From Julia de Burgos

August 15, 2013
Reading the feral poetry of  Julia de Burgos, delving with her into the wide world of her courage, I’m obligated to reverberate. She writes of water and stills the soul like the calmest river; She sings to Love as if snatching our breath.The audacity and honesty of poems like “A Julia de Burgos” reminds me of who and how we are or aspire to be, with wonderful words like these:

Tú eres como tu mundo, egoísta;
yo no; que en todo me lo juego a ser lo que soy yo.

Written during a turbulent time in Puerto Rican & global history, De Burgos’s poem overflows with wisdom to face the turbulence of our own times. She reminds us, for example, of how, In order to rescue Hope, the severely ravaged, always necessary fount of any real and lasting change, we must of necessity heal our society, heal our selves. The rape of the soul , the radical global ambition of the absolute lie perpetrated by the extraordinarily powerful forces masked by trillion dollar machinery of “Hope” we face has no historical precedent.
Good news is this: if you can find the solace and social solution to confront & defeat the Falsity Within, you are or will be, in historical terms, quite the Bad Ass, a Julia De Burgos of your own turbulent times. And the world desperately needs the baddest bad asses in our bad selves right about now.

Gracias por recordarnos, Julia.


Breathing in Our Dead and the Spirit of Immigration Reform

August 13, 2013

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Of all our senses, the one that can most alter U.S. immigration history — and U.S. history itself — is our sense of smell. If we could, for example, magically bring the smell in the freezers of the Pima County Medical Examiner’s office to politicians, advocates and voters on either side of the immigration debate, the current bipartisan push for a “border surge” would die faster than a cricket stung by a scorpion in the extremely arid stretch of desert known as the “Devil’s Highway.”

I visited the Medical Examiner’s office and the Devil’s Highway, where most of the bodies of the migrants tagged “John Doe” were recovered, as part of the film project produced by Presente.org with the help of filmmaker Jason Michael Aragon of Pan Left Productions. Our goal: to document the impact of border security policies on communities living and working — and traveling — in and around border towns like Tucson.

“Don’t stay in [the freezer] too long,” Dr. Gregory Hess, the very gregarious and straight-laced Chief Medical Examiner, told us as if he were Virgil warning Dante against being too curious about the Inferno. “We try to get in and out as quickly as possible. After a few minutes in there, the smell will stick to your clothes — and it’s hard to wash out.” Forty-five minutes of filming later, we more than understood the cold wisdom Dr. Hess was dropping on us.

What we didn’t yet understand was what the smell of 100 decomposing bodies does to your spirit long after you get the smell out of your clothes. Almost two weeks later, my time in the freezer inspires thoughts of how spiritus, the Latin word for “spirit” and “soul,” is directly related to spirare, the Latin word for “breath”, “vigor” and what in spanish we call “animo.”

Breathing in the spirits of the dead causes an intense conflict in the stomach, a conflict between profound sadness and the amino to live and fight on. Hess’ matter-of-fact statements add even more tightness in the belly.

“Previous attempts to increase border security have not decreased the number of bodies we see here in the freezer,” Hess told us. “In June, we registered more than 30 deaths, a very significant increase.”

In the fight to end border militarization and what activists in Tucson and other border states call the “border overkill” at the heart of comprehensive immigration reform, nothing in Tucson or anywhere else matches the persuasive power of the smells emanating from the stiff, dehydrated and decomposing dreams stored in white body bags; Not Hess’ map with the red dots signifying locations of the more than 6,000 immigrants who have died from heat and dehydration in the desert since “increased border security” began in earnest in 1994; Not the scholarly reports on Hess’ bookshelf with titles like “A Continued Humanitarian Crisis at the Border”; Not the colorful crosses used in protests against “border militarization” and “racial profiling” of entire border communities; Not even the tears and pain-packed words of mothers like Guadalupe Guerrero who told us about how her unarmed U.S. citizen son, Carlos, was shot and killed by Border Patrol agents. None of these facts and stories match the gut-wrenching smell I first came to know in the 1980s and ’90s, when the war in El Salvador filled “fosas comunes” (mass graves) with the skeletons and dirt-filled clothes of with victims of war.

Two weeks after I visited Tucson, the smell in the freezer inspires the will to peace, the necessary will to end the war — in this case, the war on immigrants. In the same way that smells and steam of desert plants like the ceresote, sage or the hediondilla (literally “little smelly one”) plant have long been used by local native and Mexican people as curative plants that relieve gut-wrenching pain and discomfort and other ailments, the smell of the freezer can and should cure us of the disease of “border security.” And in doing so, we will have made the bodies of the desert dead in the bags a little less anonymous — and a little more like the long line of peacemakers in the desert.

This post appeared originally on Presente.org. See hard-hitting new video by Presente.org & Jason Michael Aragon of Panleft Productions: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WvdJtAMQcX8


El Turno del Ofendido (The Offended’s Turn): Liberación Consciousness on 4th of July

July 6, 2013

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(NOTE: Best read while listening to the hope-filled song that, along with Roque Dalton’s El Turno del Ofendido & the ferocious spiritual and physical freedom fighting of all my Compañer@s de Lucha, inspired these lines, What You Say by Pete Rock & InI <Thanks, Ali!>

Liberacíon consciousness on 4th of July weekend: celebrate the absolutely undeniable, certifiably good and positively righteous fact that, despite the uber, techno-mediafied surveilling Big Mega Corporate-Military-Industrial Money domination of it all, despite the illusory psychological operation of this super duper f…n anti-terrorist-militarized-border-anti-human climate changing empire power, despite all that pointing at each and every single one of us, despite it all, liberation consciousness lives,  Liberacíon movements grow. Millions of us still really really feel “Venceremos” (Victory is Ours) as we fight thru the duration. So, rather than celebrate offensive  “freedom” on this Fourth of July,  “Independence Day” weekend, We, El Pueblo, We hold these truths to be self-evident and celebrate instead the Real Thump and Bump of that heart that still thuds & thunders divinely for the Better Day. Still strong -and living inside the Bestia! We have already torn down that border wall blocking our hearts. You cannot and will not divorce us from global liberation. Neither is global annihilation an option. Really. Lo siento pero, Global Liberacion still lives, it loves and we is fighting back to win.  Es el turno del ofendido. It’s the Offended’s Turn. Solamente, R

 


“Sî Se Drone!”: Music and Slogans for a “New Civil Rights Movement”!

June 28, 2013

dreames drones

The passage of the Corker-Hoeven amendment in the Senate has been called “historic”, “landmark” and lauded in many different visual,, verbal and vibrant ways. Others are protesting at the border and in different cities as if the Corker Hoeven legislation meant more death and destruction. Confusing, right? Needless to say, the passage of the Senate bill has also brought about much confusion and conflict within the immigrant rights movement.

Now that the extreme right wing Corker-Hoeven amendment has replaced the hard right wing “Gang of 8″ proposal as the new “bi-partisan” Senate “immigration reform” proposal, we “progressives”  of the “new civil rights movement” have to fight for and defend sanctity of the Corker-Hoeven legislation from the REAL extremists in the House. By linking “border security” to “citizenship”, all this legislation has made it neat and cool and necessary  for all of us to do our patriotic duty to support 20,0000 new border patrol agents, 700 miles of fencing and national ID cards as part of our “new civil rights movement” progressive agenda. As the pic created by a disgruntled DREAMer shows, Drones and the DREAM act are the essence of political cool. If we don’t fight to protect the DREAM and the drones, things could get worse because the Real Bad Guys in the Republican-controlled House will not give us any part of our “new civil rights movement” freedom.

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So, in order to save the cause of freedumb, we here at Of América, the people that brought “Si Se Pedo”, want to do our part for la causa by sharing  slogans that fit the joyous celebration of this “historic victory.” We also want to help of what some call a “new civil rights movement” (despite the fact that overwhelming majorities of black people “do not like the idea that (immigrant rights) messages might attempt to “piggyback” onto the Civil Rights movement.”) So, without further adios, we bring you new slogans that you can use as you march, protest and sit in as part of the”new civil rights movement”:

“We shall over love the DRO-O-O-NES, we shall love the DRO-O-O-NES, we shall love the DRONES todaaayyy. oh, oh deep in my heart, I dooo bleeeeed we shall love the DRO-O-O-NES today. Hallelujah!”

“El-pueblo-DRONE-jamas-sera-legalizado!”

“Que viva la muerte de inocentes en el desierto!” Que vivan los DRONES!”

“What do we want? MORE DESTRUCTION OF BORDER COMMUNITIES! When do we want it? NOW!”

“Si Se Drone!”

“El Muro Unido Jamas Sera Vencido!”,

“The (11 million) People United Will Never Be Legalized!”


El Nuevo Gulag: “Immigration Reform” Will (Further) Increase the Massive Latino Prison Population

June 26, 2013

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The country is paying attention to immigration of late, but few know about one of the recent history and coming  effects of federal immigration policy from Clinton to Obama:  transforming the federal prison system to make Latino prisoners the largest single group in that federal system. Though most immigrant prisoners have committed no crime, changes to federal immigration policy have created what’s known as the “crimmigration” system in which changes to immigration law have multiplied exponentially the ways in which undocumented immigrants can be prosecuted and jailed as criminals.

Most troubling in all this, is that the “crimmigration” policies were partially enabled by more than a decade’s worth of messaging about “tough and smart,” “bi-partisan comprehensive reform” premised on a dangerously simplistic equation: immigrant=criminal. Look at all of the “immigration reform” proposals with their emphasis of “earned legalization”, “tough enforcement”, “border security” and other multi-milloin dollar framing and messaging, and you will see the makings of the Frankenstein immigrant prison monster that has been pieced together “bi-partisan” patches of some legalization in exchange for massive amounts of more and more punitive policy.

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Legal experts and the Congressional Budget Office estimate that S. 744, the Senate version of the immigration reform bill, will  legalize no more 5-8 million, NOT the “11 million” undocumented people touted by reformers). This means that millions will be left as vulnerable to imprisonment, deportation and terror as any previous generation of immigrants. This is one of the many inconvenient facts that “immigration reformer” don’t mention in their talking points about a “tradeoff.” 

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At the same time, the current “immigration reform” bill will do nothing to impact the juggernaut of immigrant imprisonment-except intensify and expand it. Consider these impacts guaranteed under the Corker-Hoeven amendmendment, which is now the de-facto bi-partisan Senate bill: 20,000 more border patrol means more “detainees”; More surveillance equipment means more “detainees”; more billion$ for ICE means more privately run federal immigrant prisons and, therefore, more federal immigrant prisoners. New laws in the legislation will increase the categories of immigrant criminality, which means more immigrant prisoners.

And then there’s the policies that gave rise to mass mobilizations and demands for citizenship, policies like SCOMM that will remain in place as President Obama speeds to break his own record of 1.7 million deportations, hundreds of thousands of immigrant prisoners and countless children and families terrorized by thousands of ICE raids. When asked about these kinds of issues during a recent call with immigrant rights advocates, Sen. Charles Schumer, the lead Democrat on immigration, gave stayed with talking points heard from big money, Beltway immigrant rights groups: legalization means that people won’t be subjected to Obama’s deportation machine.

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While predictable, such responses from Schumer and other Democrats “leading the charge on immigration reform” are untrue and dangerous, beginning with the fact that the millions that will be left out of the legalization provisions of S. 744 will face an expanded and more aggressive immigrant prison and deportation dragnet. Future migrants will enter a United States growing even more hostile, more violent and more greedy with regard to immigrants. Nobody, it seems, is thinking of the future, especially the future of immigrant prisoners. Countless reports document that sub-human conditions in which immigrant prisoners are exposed to rape, psychological abuse, beatings, torture and even murder at the hands of immigration jailers.

In the face of “immigration reform” guaranteed to degenerate further the immigrant condition-and non-immigrant condition(i.e. we are complicit with our silence)- in the growing immigrant gulag of the United States, these immigration reformers would do well to remember the words of Doestoevsky, “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.”

We are entering an immigrant prison without precedent, one being built and bolstered with chants of  “Si Se Puede” &  talking points that “trade off” millions of immigrant prisoners for increasingly fewer and fewer immigrant citizens.” (Some) DREAMers and other “Immigration reformers” are gearing up for what, in the context of the coming immgrant gulag can only be called an “Orwellian victory” (or perhaps a pyrrhic victory  What does it mean for the cause of immigrant rights? What does it mean for “civil rights” and Latino politics? And, most importantly, what does this all mean for our civilization? What?


Open Letter to Supporters of “Immigration Reform”: Defend, Explain Support for National ID cards

June 25, 2013

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Dear undocumented person, DREAMer & “immigrant advocate”, some of us have supported you, your cause, for decades, in some cases since before you or your CIR cause were born. Many of us in the immigrant ally community often draw inspiration and direction from your example, from your moral authority around immigration reform. At the same time, however, current “immigration reform” discussions have reached that delicate point at which “reform” is no longer just about immigrants anymore-if it ever really was. (i.e it’s also been and is about white privilege, empire and the decline of both). I write because as someone directly impacted by the possible institution of a national identification card system, as someone who knows the devastation wrought by such systems,and as a journalist who has investigated such systems, I have the moral responsibility to speak about this critically important issue.

As it becomes clear that “immigration reform” becomes an excuse for legalizing all manner of wickedness that has little to nothing to do with either immigrants or “reform”,  you should be aware that we have also reached the point at which there limits to your moral authority around certain issues in the “immigration reform” bill, issues like the totalitarian system of social, political control inherent in the national ID card proposal that’s in the”immigration reform” bill you say we need to support.

When I was covering state surveillance as a journalist, I tried to interview some of the national leaders in DC about national ID provisions Sen. Chuck Schumer was trying to introduce in previous CIR bills.  Many said “no comment”; Others called by long after my deadline.  None spoke on record. In muy opinion,  that’s not how we should deal with such colosally important issues. This is not how to give public face to talk of a “tradeoff.” It’s evasive, cowardly and dangerous. The national ID legislation is a Trojan horse that we can’t write off simplistically as “necessary to get Republican votes,” especially since a Democrat, Schumer, has been doing the bidding of high-tech moguls like Oracle’s Larry Ellison, who has offered the technology making national ID’s possible for more than a decade.

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And if you want my support for this bill, I challenge any of you or some of the big powered money and political interests behind the bill to publicly defend things like national ID’s as something worthwhile. At the very least, you should educate the broader community about what you’re asking them to support, you should conduct massive polls that ask people-all people because all are impacted- if they want this. If you can’t or won’t, then as a comrade-in-arms, I again challenge you to break your silence, to be “undocumented and unafraid” and say publicly-on television, radio, news, internet- that “national ID cards” drag us all, citizen and non-citizen, into 21rst century totalitarianism.

With all this surveillance, border militarization and other nefarious garbage in it, the “immigration reform” bill has morphed into a monster that impacts more than 11 million people. It impacts US-MExico relations, (further) impacts all US citizens and hurts all workers in profound and profoundly bad ways that extend beyond the simplistic, infantile stories we’re being told about this bill. When it comes to things like national ID’s and foreign policy, we can’t let desperation, lousy strategists & negotiators and youthful or willful ignorance drag us deeper into the totalitarian abyss. Not trying to out anyone as much as break the silence some have tried to enforce by ascribing moral authority to things like national ID cards where no such moral authority exists.

Thank you


“Oppressive” “Totalitarian” “Dystopia”:Technologists, National Security Experts, Public Officials, Media Organizations Condemn Obama-NSA Spying

June 10, 2013

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As the Obama Administration and its Democratic and Republican allies begin to try and defend & explain away Obama’s recently-exposed NSA spying, here are some major voices-technologists, national security experts, public officials, media organizations- offering their views of the threat posed to democracy in the United States:

Unwarranted government surveillance is an intrusion on basic human rights that threatens the very foundations of a democratic society.” Tim Berners-Lee, inverntor of World Wide Web

Is it just me, or is secret blanket surveillance obscenely outrageous?” – Al Gore

The (Obama) administration has now lost all credibility on this issue.” – Editors of the New York Times

We believe the large-scale collection of this information by the government has a very significant impact on Americans’ privacy, whether senior government officials recognize that fact or not.” – Senators Ron Wyden & Mark Udall

“The Foundation of a Very Oppressive State”- Brian Jenkins, Top Intelligence and Security analyst at RAND

 “On a Slippery Slope to a Totalitarian State”- William Binney, a former top official at the National Security Agency

Be careful” -John Schindler, former NSA analyst & technical director

“I, personally, am by now disgusted with their conduct: the national security apparatus has convinced itself and the rest of the government that the only way it can do its job is to know everything about everyone. That’s not how you protect a country. We didn’t fight the Cold War just so we could rebuild the Stasi ourselves.” – Yonatan Zunger, East German Chief architect of Google+ on what he thinks of the Obama Administration’s activities (FYI, the “Stasi” were E. German security apparatchiks, famous for massive repression

“…we now live in a surveillance dystopia beyond Orwell’s Big Brother vision.”- Nick Weaver, UC Berkeley professor & one fo the country’s top experts on computer and network security

 


Obama, NSA’s Crisis Giving Rise to Renewed (and Rescued) Hope

June 9, 2013

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In case you hadn’t heard: in an age in which so much of our productive, political and personal life is mediated by information networks, the cause of human freedom now has a direct & irreversible relationship to the free flow of information across these networks. If you feel an inexplicably warm and fuzzy feeling about what’s happening as Obama’s NSA crisis evolves, let it flow. Don’t shut it down, don’t keep listening to the comforting lies of the elected, bought and unelected killers of Real Hope.

Besides signaling profound societal shifts and possible threats, this tickle of astonishment and wonder might also be the battered, silenced, but still vital voice of Possibility in you. We have nothing to lose but the isolation, despair and powerlessness designed for us by the Killers of Hope.


Welcome to the Bushama Era of Privacy & Security

June 7, 2013

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Bush: “After September the 11th, I vowed to the American people that our government would do everything within the law to protect them against another terrorist attack.”

Obama: “When I came into this office, I made two commitments that are more important than any that I make: number one, to keep the American people safe and, number two, to uphold the Constitution.”

Bush: “The privacy of ordinary Americans is fiercely protected in all our activities.”

Obama: “That includes what I consider to be a constitutional right to privacy.”

Bush: “The intelligence activities I authorized are lawful and have been briefed to appropriate members of Congress, both Republican and Democrat.”

Obama: “When it comes to telephone calls, every member of Congress has been briefed on this program. With respect to all these programs the relevant intelligence committees are fully briefed.”

Bush: “The government does not listen to domestic phone calls without court approval.”

Obama: “Nobody is listening to your telephone calls … If the intelligence community actually wants to listen to a phone call, they’ve got to go back to a federal judge.”

Bush: “So far we’ve been very successful in preventing another attack on our soil.”

Obama: “They make a difference in our capacity to anticipate and prevent possible terrorist activity.”

(source: New York magazine)

Bush: “As a general matter, every time sensitive intelligence is leaked, it hurts our ability to defeat this enemy.”

Obama: “I don’t welcome leaks, because there’s a reason why these programs are classified.”


“Get Used to it”: How Obama & Allies Are Trying to Avoid NSA Scandal Becoming Watergate-Level Crisis of Democracy (or Bigger)

June 7, 2013

king threat

These are the kinds of messages & tactics that (some) corporate media, Obama allies (including some Republicans) & government are using to spin & divert in order to avoid having revelations of Obama’s massive spying network becoming a Watergate (or bigger)-sized crisis of government:

- making light, making jokes (i.e. playing James Bond music, laughing, smiling during reports on spying)

-  saying “this has been going on for years” – in other words, “not a big deal”

- “get used to it”, “get over it” (many headlines with these messages in Slate, Mashable and on TV networks

- launching a war, putting the country on war footing, including a cyberwar

- blame the Chinese. Say they’re for stealing state and corporate secrets (as if the U.S. government has not, does not spy massively around the world)

-create a false dichotomy, create a “tradeoff” between “privacy” and “security”

-Use the power of government to create government diversions

- repeating “this is legal” message through Congress and other messengers like Dianne Feinstein

- attack NY Times and other media trying to call this crisis for what it is: a massive crisis and opportunity to turn back the unfettered power of the security state in our midst.

-attack the messenger – Glenn Greenwald and others

- play up other sensational stories that take up space this unprecedentedly huge story merits

- continue the massive distraction from world and domestic events that is daily life in the U.S.

-anything but tell the people that their privacy has been destroyed, that they are at risk of serious anomalies destroying their reputations, livelihood and lives, that the government is pacifying the populace for coming repression


The White House Wants “Immigration Stories” When It Already Has Plenty

May 8, 2013

WH STORIES

White House want “immigration stories,” Why are they asking, when they already have a huge cache of stories, stories of soon-to-be 2 million dreams destroyed by ICE,

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400,000+ stories of butterflies sexually & psychologically abused and fed rotten bologna while languishing in immigrant prisons,

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stories of people with heavenly dreams pushed by desperation and Obama’s drones and policies to die alone in the driest desert and then stored like so much meat in morgues that smell of hell

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stories of murders covered up by the Border Patrol that, thanks to bi-partisan “Comprehensive Immigration Reform is on the books to get billion$ more to beat and stomp and kill and shoot even more innocent people with impunity.

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So, the White House doesn’t need “immigrant stories.” It has plenty of immigrant stories; It helps create them every single day of immigrant life. Every single hour of every single day…


The Indignity in Disneyfing Our Dead

May 7, 2013

disney trademark

This Disney Dia de Los Muertos situation touches something deep, strikes that delicate and high decibel chord of the indignad@ in us.  As one who, before I even understood anything about death, was taught to honor his grandmothers on Dia de Los Muertos, even the attempt by Disney  to “trademark” this tradition passed on over the (non-Western) ages feels barbaric on imperial steroids. And as one who still goes through personal Dia deLos Muertos rituals, attends events and celebrations to honor family and loved ones-  friends robbed of precious life by AIDs, compañer@s destroyed by war, homies annihilated by senseless violence and family embraced by nature- I really am really, deeply, offended by what Disney is doing. Profoundly so. And I am not alone.

This trademarking of Dia de Los Muertos raises many questions for many, many people. Makes one wonder what Disney & the rest of corporate “America” that brought you “Drinko de Mayo” will do for Dia de Los Muertos.What’s next?  “Dia de Los Nachos”? “Tequila Party de Muertos”? “Mucho Macho Muertos Power Drink”?

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Regardless of the profit-driven inanities to come, one thing is certain: cultural matters matter; They mean much to many of us in more and more places, especially in Mexico and Centromamerica, where this tradition has been part of the fabric of our consciousness for thousands of years and for millions of families. Also means much in a “majority-minority” United States on the verge of a Latino breakdown.

I, for one, confess to having some sublimely strange feeling come over me around Dia de Los Muertos. There’s something in knowing and sharing with others who live with and celebrate and feel their loved ones lost as you do. Something. This something comes from América and is swallowing “America”; It  is the spiritual reason this war-crazed country is deploying Disney, one of its most powerful cultural drones, to destroy that which it fears like it fears immigrants, to commodify  that which defines the the immigrant and their descendant’s ferocious espirit de corps as much as fighting for their children’s future does: fighting to defend their dead, their past, their cultura.

There’s nothing in Christmas, in Thanksgiving or any of the zombified, corporate excuses the United States props up as the center of “family” and “culture” to match Dia de Los Muertos. Nada.

If Disney wants to eat up our traditions, wash it down with the blood of our ancestors and stuff itself in money made off of our cultura, then let us show this zombie of dead culture what a living, breathing and vibrant tradition looks and feels like…

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I think people-and I- rightly, even righteously perceive Disney as a threat to one of our few cultural flowers that still blossoms in air that is still mostly free from the disease of commodification. In response, many of us choose to try and prevent these very real, very dangerous attempts to kill even those last, truly free things in the spirit world some of us choose to inhabit and honor. That’s a little of what I think is underneath this latest Disney attempt to kill our culture, a little about why it’s important to fight it as if fighting to defend the living among us.


Thoughts On the Decline and Fall of That Most Ignoble of Terms, “Illegal immigrant”

April 2, 2013

AP NO MORE

Today’s stunning  announcement by the Associated Press that it dropped the racist term “Illegal immigrant” from its AP Stylebook, the BIble of  journalistic usage, marks a historic juncture. The history of the decline and fall of the term “illegal immigrant” and it’s derivatives (“Illegals”, “illegal alien” and the like) is one that should be recounted, IMHO.

Firstly, it’s important to understand the long how and the deep what of this collective accomplishment, this latest victory, because victories, including linguistic victories, are one of the defining characteristics of major social movements. One need look no further than  the social and linguistic change engendered by the movements of black power (“N” word, African American), women (“B” word & others), queer communities (“F’ word & others), disabled people (“C” word) and many others. Many, many did indeed work on this and we should all celebrate. In the words of Ivan Roman, former President of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, which led the fight in the quiet of editorial rooms throughout the country since the late 90’s,

“Thanks to lots of work by a lot of people and more intense work more recently by a certain cluster of folks, it’s finally happened! Kudos!”

Journalists and the poc journalism orgs led and were the most consistent in this fight for many years and that needs to be underscored because it is less-known.

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Within that most recent “cluster” Ivan mentions, I identify and salute Jose Antonio Vargas & Define American, Oscar Chacon & NALACC, DREAMers, Presente.org, artists, linguists and lots of local, regional and national groups who mounted different initiatives with different outlets in different cities at different times in the past 3.5 years that defined that cluster moment. Of special note are Rinku Sen and the Applied Research Center (ARC) and their Drop the I  Word campaign for the money,  for the full and part-time staffing and for the consistency that, since 2010, carried the campaign to national scale and attention, far and beyond the polite (and sometimes impolite!) conversation of the editorial room.

And I know of no single person who spent more time thinking about, who worked more hours (slept fewer hours!) with more groups in more cities and with more media outlets to drop the I-Word than Monica Novoa, ARC’s former Drop the I-Word Coordinator, current Define American team member;  These facts I want not to be lost in the thrill and buzz of victory.

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In terms of the deep what of what was accomplished, we should recall that the roots of the Associated Press’ decision-and the campaign that brought that decision- lie  in the history  and confluence of the Jewish and the Salvadoran experiences of violence- and the dehumanization that enables it. Unbeknownst to most is that the language activism of  Drop the I-Word and the immigrant rights movement that informed it was itself a continuation of the work begun- en Español-  by Salvadorans organizing the “Nigun Ser Humano Es Ilegal”campaign in the 1980’s. In support of the right of Salvadorans in the 1980’s to legal status in the U.S. under international political asylum statutes, Nobel Prize-winning novelist Elie Wiesel gave the Salvadoran sanctuary movement the now storied phrase, “No Human Being is Illegal.” “Yes, I gave that term to the Sanctuary movement, Wiesel told me some years ago. “It was wrong to deny them (Salvadorans and Guatemalans) (legal) status. I was happy to support the cause.” And there,  in the marriage of Jewish and Salvadoran dignities, was born the beginning of the end of the ignoble term “illegal immigrant.”

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Speaking with Wiesel and with Salvadorans, Guatemalans and other victims of extreme violence, one thing about language becomes tragically obvious: violent, oppressive language is a necessary precursor to both violent, oppressive policy and violent, oppressive physical and psychological action; What also becomes clear is that eliminating such language does, in fact, make bad policy and violent behavior that much more difficult and avoidable. This alone is reason to celebrate.

Let us now add this ignoble term to the dustbin of dead and offensive language that includes “nigger”, “faggot”, “cripple”, “chink”, “jap”, “bitch” and too many others in a country born of a noxious blend of Biblical language and the language of exploitation and officially-sanctioned violence.

Let us rejoice that, over time, our children will learn you don’t refer to human beings as “illegals”, “illegal immigrants” and other dehumanizing (to referent and to speaker) terms.

Over time, we will all proudly remember that we held our own faith and were resolute in delivering the Word: Ningun Ser Humano Es Illegal.

DREAMers: Undocumented Youth Turn Images into Political Acts

December 20, 2012

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by Roberto Lovato

(A Creative Time Reports and Culture Strike collaboration)

On a recent Friday in the nation’s capital, visitors to the U.S. Capitol, the White House, and other white-walled centers of global power dotting the National Mall stood beneath sunny autumn skies papered with colorful dreams. Literally. Thanks to a collaboration between artists and DREAM Act activists (aka “DREAMers”), images of faces representing millions of undocumented youth gleamed on kites in the upper echelons of Washington. Their stories have come to the forefront of a national immigration debate that, until recently, excluded them.

Writing in the same unequivocal tone that forced President Obama to grant DREAMers a temporary, but historic, stay of deportation, the organizers of the Dream Kites project declared its simple objective: “to highlight a flawed system and request that we turn our attention onto the current state of inadequate immigration reform.” With the help of artist Miguel Luciano and Culture Strike, an organization bringing artists and activists together in the U.S. immigration debate, images of Dream Kites glided onto the front page of the Washington Post, along with the stories behind them.

The kite action reflects how the wings of artistic and political imagination are helping the immigrant rights movement grow beyond the multimillion-dollar policy designs of national immigrant rights groups. The latter have remained largely uncritical of President Obama, even as he has deported 1.4 million immigrants (including many DREAMers), a record for a single term in office. On the eve of another national debate about immigration reform, artist-enabled people power has found new ways to soar above the money-enabled Powers from Above.

My current understanding of the role of culture and cultural workers in immigrant rights and other social movements has its roots in Latin America, the source of most human and butterfly migration to the U.S. It was in El Salvador—the tropical, forested land of my parents—that, after graduating college, I first came to know the Tree of the (Cultural) Knowledge of Good and Evil. Slowly, my time in El Salvador withered away my former college radical’s cold aversion to protest songs, to poetry, to the delicate stencils of the talleres culturales (“cultural workshops”) there as no more than the work of revolucionarios de escritorio (“desktop revolutionaries”). I developed an altogether different sense of the political and the cultural—and the transformative, silken space between them. I learned how words could be liberating, but also dangerous. After government, media or right-wing civil society groups eviscerated the humanity of nuns, priests, peasants or students by labeling them comunistas or subversivos, they sometimes ended up being persecuted or killed.

Cultural struggles to preserve, protect and promote the humanity of all—like those of the butterfly-bearing activists—have been and remain paramount to disrupting the violence of state and non-state actors: psychological violence, physical violence and the violence of bad policy. In the face of such abuse, artists have often been the earliest adopters of the call by rights activists to see immigrants for what they are: human. It was novelist and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, a conservative, who gave the Central American refugee movement what became the international slogan of immigrant rights: “No Human Being Is Illegal.” Since he spoke these words, more left-leaning artists have reproduced “No Human Being Is Illegal” and other pro-migrant memes and messages in rap lyrics, digital images, t-shirts, posters, poems, films, chalk drawings and many other media.

Some 25 years and several local, national and global campaigns after I made the “hard” distinction between the “concrete” work of “real” political organizing and what I saw as the more ancillary work of artists, creative interventions like the kite action have turned me into a cultural believer. Of special note is the symbol of the butterfly, a new face for the immigrant rights movement. As a bearer of beauty symbolizing the life force (the Greek word for butterfly is “Psyche,” also meaning “soul”), the butterfly appeals to everyone’s humanity at a time when the dehumanization of immigrants fuels multimillion-dollar industries in lobbying, media, electoral politics, prison construction, border and other security industries.

I recently witnessed the symbolic flight of the political butterfly during a misty exam week at UC Berkeley. Students rushing in and out of the Life Sciences building were momentarily startled out of their concentration by an image of a blue and white butterfly with the word “MIGRANT,” and the phrases “All Humans Have a Right to Migrate” and “All Migrants Have Human Rights,” drawn in chalk. “Don’t step on it! It’s art,” said one student to her classmates. Another student, a 20-year-old political science major named Andrea Lahey, said: “You can’t really argue with the message because being human is not controversial—we’re all human.” Hours later, the DREAMer butterfly was washed away by evening rain. But, like the colored dust left by the pollen-covered wings of a butterfly, the DREAMers’ image had already made its mark, turning the prosaic activity of walking to and from science class into a poetico-political act.

Forcing the country to face social issues through cultural interventions is especially critical for a grassroots U.S. immigrant rights movement, given that none of the “leaders” of the Washington-based immigrant rights groups with national media clout is an immigrant. That’s right: none. This is one reason why it is so important to stage protests with powerful images of immigrants and symbols of migration: for example, displaying digitized DREAMer posters that depict butterflies yelling “Our Voices Will Not Go Unheard” into a megaphone, or more directly, getting undocumented writer José Antonio Vargas, undocumented artist Julio Salgado and other DREAMers on the cover of Time magazine under the heading “We Are Americans.”

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Artists will need precisely this kind of political imagination to confront the extraordinary and unprecedented challenges facing immigrants. By working together, artists and activists have exposed Barack Obama as the worst U.S. president ever in terms of persecuting, jailing and deporting—and, I would argue, terrorizing—mostly innocent immigrants, including children. Washington-based artist César Maxit’s powerful image of a sinister-looking Obama accompanying the message “1,000,000 Deportations. Ya Basta! No More! Obama: Stop the Deportations” took big risks that paid off. The image became iconic, appearing in national newscasts, mass protests, online videos and other media as it went viral, despite disapproval from Obama’s powerful allies within the immigrant rights movement. In the process of putting potent and uncompromising images before the public, DREAMer and other immigrant activists and artists have redefined the relationship between Latinos and both major parties.

As we enter a super storm of intersecting and rapidly growing global crises—economic decline, food shortages, climate change, etc.—that are leading migrants to embark on their often-breathtaking journeys, the truth-telling work of artists and cultural activists has taken a definitive turn. Foregrounding immigrant beauty, immigrant freedom and immigrant solidarity in order to disarticulate the myths manufactured by the anti-immigrant industries, as the Dream Kites and butterflies do, is still vitally important. But, because of the astonishing confluence and complexity of these crises, engaged artists must not only fight dehumanization but also craft a constructive path towards the social equilibrium necessary to decimate anti-immigrant hatred everywhere. Through the storm, the perilous flight to freedom continues.


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