Archive for the 'CULTURE' Category

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

 

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.

monica_novoa_CLdrop the i word

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.

Anaheim and the Disneyfication of Death

August 3, 2012

“We’ve been protesting here at Disneyland for weeks,” Theresa Smith told me. “Because of the recent shootings, now everybody’s starting to pay attention to what’s happening here in Anaheim.”

Smith, a longtime Anaheim resident whose son, Caesar Cruz, was shot and killed by police in a 2009 incident that she still demands answers about, persists in peacefully protesting before the Magic Kingdom because she has to. Thanks, in no small part, to living just a short drive from the vast entertainment empire symbolically centered on Harbor Boulevard, Smith and other Anaheim parents know what what the world outside of Anaheim will soon come to realize: that if they are to protect their children from further extreme violence from the police, Latinos here and across the United States will literally have to defend themselves from Mickey Mouse and his militarized minions.

The current crisis in Anaheim began following a surreal and shocking incident in which Anaheim police unleashed a K9 police dog on and shot rubber bullets at a crowd of local small children, mothers with babies and terrified parents protesting against the police who shot and killed their unarmed neighbor, Manuel Diaz. In the wake of these violent incidents, street-level reality and Disneyesque fantasy are fusing in uniquely dangerous and strange ways. The response to the situation by both the Anaheim police and the media has magically moved reports of violence away from the concerns of Smith and other residents and on to the “violence” of “outside protesters”—kicking police cars, burning garbage cans, vandalism.

When viewed from outside of the very poor, overwhelmingly Latino community in Anaheim, Disneyland itself initially looked and felt like a funny foil for jokes that lightened the gravity of the bloodshed in the tiny city, where a militarized police department has killed three men in less than a week. But in a span of days, all this changed.

The spectacular contrast between the image of police “protecting” children in Disneyland and the images of those same police shooting rubber bullets at Latino children in Anaheim have made more obvious the lesser-known, local role of the “Happiest Place on Earth:” Creating a Disneyfied image of a city in which huge swaths live in deep poverty and under constant harassment of the Anaheim police and other security forces.

In the aftermath of the shooting of Manuel Diaz, Anaheim has, for many Latinos, come to symbolize the institutionalization of official police efforts and extra-official corporate efforts to distract, distort and deny the bloody on-the-ground realities that Smith and other local residents are desperately trying to keep in the public mind.

Just when we thought that the images coming out of Southern California could not get any more bizarre, Anaheim police decided to engage in their own imagineering. After more than a week of protests, theAnaheim police deployed officers dressed in military outfits and wielding military equipment, including what appeared to be hand-held rocket launchers capable of launching either rockets or beanbags. The military fatigues, camouflage, boots and heavy weaponry caused many to wonder were we watching a repeat of the images of national guardsmen deployed during L.A.’s social explosion in 1992.

Though the display of militarized police power ran the risk of moving the situation in Anaheim to tragic-comic proportions, the move by controversy-ridden Anaheim police Chief John Welton served multiple and very strategic functions. Consider how, for example, the deployment instilled fear among local community members. Gabriel San Roman, a reporter with the Orange County Weekly and Anaheim native who still lives in the affected community, told me he thought the operation resembled a “military psyop,” or psychological operations like those used in Afghanistan and other counterinsurgency settings across the world. Other Anaheim residents report increased fear of protest, as well.

At the same time, the deployment of the militarized-police deflected from the true source of deadly violence in Anaheim—the Anaheim police. By positioning themselves in front of Disneyland for all the local, national and global media to see, Anaheim PD is trying to divert media coverage away from images of a department shooting at a crowd of children and toward those of brave troops protecting the Happiest Place on Earth from marauding Latinos. And the local media, including media owned by Disney, appear more than willing to join them, as much of the reporting in Southern California includes images and stories about police “clashing” with “violent” “outsiders” described in the city’s press releases.

Though the roots of the Anaheim conflicts lie in little-covered police violence taking place in working-class Latino neighborhoods, the media treatment of the violence and protests there resemble more the frames and reportage that were eventually applied to Occupy: police-military “cleaning up” after the violent acts of unruly, dirty and anonymous subversives threatening the public good, in this case the public good embodied by Disneyland.

Though Disney remains officially silent about violence and protests (except for a tweet dispelling rumors that visitors were forced to remain behind the gated confines of the Kingdom), Disney and its multiple and intersecting media businesses wield direct institutional power in the life of Anaheim.

Disneyland—the motor of the local tourism and entertainment economy—is the digital age equivalent of the all-controlling Octopus in the classic California novel by Frank Norris. It controls (and owns) or profoundly influences local media, the land, the city council and, of course, the local police of this small city. On the ground, the ginormous power of the company is on display nowhere better than in its successful effort to block 1,500 units of affordable housing near the hallowed area known as “the Resort Area.” Whatever disturbs the flow of the local entertainment economy centered around the Resort Area is deserving of whatever police deem necessary, a mandate readily boosted by local media.

Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait has invited the president of Disneyland to lead the Anaheim business community in taking “a leadership role” in moving the city out of the current crisis. The effort may well become Anaheim’s own “Rebuild L.A.,” the largely forgotten and failed effort led by Disney and other corporations that were supposed to “rebuild” South Central Los Angeles and the rest of the city after the LAPD’s violence sparked a social explosion.

But there is good news in all this: The Latino community is losing its fear of the violent police in Anaheim and across the country, a theme not reported or commented on. Among the less-reported themes and images coming out of Anaheim are those of Latinos clamoring for justice. Powerful images of Latino children, youth and families standing defiantly before the police capture the only force that can bring an end to the official violence: protest and people power.

Roberto Lovato is a writer and commentator with New America Media and a regular contributor to Colorlines.com.

Open Letter to Ruben Navarrette: Why the “I-Word” Must Go

July 6, 2012

(This is a response to this article by Ruben Navarrette, who defends use of the term “illegal immigrant.)

Ruben Navarrette, we agree on more than a few things, but not on this one. There are multiple reasons to stop using this “illegal immigrant” term, not least of which are grammar and usage, and basic respect for people who don’t like being called “illegal immigrants.”

If, as your article states, you really “also prefer not to degrade the English language”, then you need to stop using the term “illegal immigrant.” The term is grammatically incorrect and illogical. I too make a living by using words. We don’t say “illegal jay walker,” we don’t refer to people as “illegal pot smokers,” we don’t call someone who doesn’t pay their taxes an “illegal taxpayer.” There are no other instances where the term “illegal” is used to designate a person in this way, except “illegal immigrant.” None. And then there’s the issue of degrading not just the language, but actual flesh and blood and feeling people.

I’ve spoken with and interviewed linguists like Otto Santana, Ana Maria Zentella and other lovers of language, including those who were involved in helping remove sexist, homophobic and other racist language from usage. ALL of them agree: the term “Illegal immigrant” is dehumanizing, racist language.

President Jimmy Carter removed the term “illegal immigrant” from official use by the US government precisely because his administration deemed the term problematic, as have governments around the world, many of whom use some variant of the French term “sans papier,” meaning “without papers.” Journalistic organizations like the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, UNITY Journalists of color (largest journalist organization in the U.S.) and even Fox News Latino have joined journalist organizations and individual across the country in rejecting the I-word and adopting other, more appropriate language. Many have also joined the Drop the I-Word campaign.

As a writer, you must be aware that language use is a choice, often a political choice laden with power relations and other influences. The “I-word” falls squarely into this category as growing numbers of immigrants, especially undocumented immigrants, demanding journalists and policymakers and other public figures stop using language they feel dehumanizes and diminishes them.
As a journalist, you are, no doubt, also aware that extremist, anti-immigrant foundations have invested millions of dollars to mainstream the term “illegal immigrant” and its variants. Given these and other facts, use of this racist, dehumanizing term is simply indefensible; Defending its use as some unpalatable “truth” does not, imho, reflect well on you, and I say this as someone who often agrees with and defends you.

You’ve also noted, I’m sure, how terms like “illegals,” “illegal alien” and “illegal immigrants” show up on the placards and in the beatings of racists I know you oppose. There have not been any “illegal immigrant”placards at any immigrant rights march I know of in all my experience. Most of us who defend immigrants defend them on the linguistic front as well.

Lastly, I don’t know a single undocumented person who likes the term. As with the “N” word, or the “F” word in the queer community or the “C” word in the disabled community, when a group of people impacted negatively by a term deems it time to end the use of such language, then people of conscience should rally behind them. So, I implore you to Drop the I-word.

Respectfully,

Roberto Lovato

The #Occupy Anthem: “The System is About to Die, Hella Hella Occupy!”

November 3, 2011

Video captures Oakland youth , majority of whom are working class, non-white students chanting what is the national anthem of the black, latino and asian and other youth that are, indeed, in the movement that executed the historic shutdown of the Port of Oakland. Share or sing this with someone next time they say that “there are no “people of color involved in the Occupy movement.”

The Greatest Threat to Liberty on Its 125th Anniversary: Corporate Tyranny

October 28, 2011

Liberty turned 125 years today. The Statue of Liberty, that is. As we watch the celebrations of the anniversary of  the iconic statue symbolizing  Libertas, the Roman goddess of freedom, we should all take at least a moment to reflect on the state of citizenship and freedom -and unfreedom-in the United States.

In a word, freedom is in grave danger because of the most powerful Tyrant of our time: Corporations. There is no greater symbol of the destruction of freedom than Wall Street, which profits from all that has defined tyrants of previous eras: war, poverty, control of government, the lack of free speech, surveillance,  the denial of basic human and civil rights and even the the possible destruction of the planet itself.

The good news is that we are also witnessing an unprecedented global movement that’s trying to define freedom in the age of corporate tyranny. Movements like Occupy Wall Street, Spain’s “Indignados”, the Arab Spring and other movements are directly confronting the corporate control of everything from the culture, land, sea, air we inhabit to  our genetic code and the food we eat. Occupy Wall Street is nothing if not a reflection of the threat to freedom posed by the ways in which corporations dominate the Congress, the electoral system, the economy and the Presidency itself.

The duplicity and threat of corporate-controlled freedom can be found on the Statue of Liberty itself. Much is being made in the media about the “live web cams” that are part of the high-tech makeover of the Statue. Less (or not) reported are the dozens of infrared surveillance cameras, vibration sensors, experimental facial recognition monitors, and other now ubiquitous electronic surveillance devices that capture the image of visitors and send them to databases of national security agencies. The profits from this kind of multi-million dollar makeover of Liberty go to corporations invested in redefining freedom.

The same will to profit from the decimation of Liberty can be found in today’s naturalization ceremony being presided over by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. While Salazar is leading the naturalization ceremony of a small group of citizens at the foot of the statue, the Obama Administration is feeding the multi-billion dollar industry that persecutes and jails, surveills and deports more than a million immigrants since Salazar and the Obama Administration took the reigns of executive power. Such a situation has in essence has rendered meaningless the “New Colossus,” the poem by Emma Lazarus engraved on a bronze plaque and mounted inside the monument in 1903. The anniversary of “Lady Liberty” should give us pause to reflect on these words in the Obama era:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

The golden door has become an iron cage; the masses are being huddled into private prisons whose stocks and profits now light the lamp of Liberty brighter with each new immigrant prisoner; The language of the “wretched refuse” on the “teeming shore has morphed an “anchor baby” that corporate-sponsored Republicans and even Democrats decry.

Such a situation points to how non-citizens, especially undocumented immigrants, are being used to divert from and disguise and the sad fact about citizenship in our age: corporate citizenship has humiliated and practically destroyed human citizenship. The buying of politicians by corporations has become synonymous with “democracy” in this New Gilded Age. But, instead of putting responsibility for the death of citizenship on the Corporate Colossus, there is a huge industry invested in blaming the “huddled masses” described in the New Colossus poem.

In the New Gilded Age, freedom and citizenship have become commodities that can be bought and sold.Freedom has become synonymous with “Free Trade”; “Freedom of the press”, to quote the great journalist AJ Liebling, “is guaranteed only to those who own one.” Religious freedom is centered at the altar of quick profits in a society forced to worship Wall Street.

If we are to alter this humiliation of Liberty, we have no choice to look not at the technofied torch and eyes of Liberty, which are monitoring us even as the torch shines forth the false image of “freedom”, but at the invisible chains that shackle the feet of Liberty. At the moment,  bottom-up, street level movements like the Occupy Wall Street movement stand at the feet of Liberty, trying to unshackle us from the chains of corporate tyranny.

May we still yearn to be free.

Occupy Oakland and the “Post-Racial” Repression of the Obama Era

October 26, 2011

While President Obama was telling the small crowd at a $7500-a-plate fundraiser in San Francisco that “Change is possible,” Pooda Miller was across the bay trying to get her plate back from the Oakland Police Department. “They came, pulled out rifles, shot us up with tear gas and took all our stuff,” said Miller, at an afternoon rally condemning the violent evacuation of more than 170 peaceful, unarmed Occupy Oaklanders by 500 heavily-armed members of the Oakland Police Department and other local departments yesterday morning.

With a long metal police fence separating Miller and other members of Occupy Oakland from their confiscated items—tents, water, food, clothes, medicine, plates—and now possessed by the police, Miller grabbed a big blue and white bullhorn that looked like it was almost half of her 4-foot, 5-inch frame. “Give us our stuff back! It don’t belong to you!” yelled Miller, who also expressed relief that her baby was not camped out with her that morning.

The sound of Miller’s ire shot across the protective masks of all of the officers standing at alert on the other side of the metal police fence, but her loudest, most acidic anger was saved for the baton-wielding officer who, like herself and other officers, was a young African-American woman.

“Who are you serving?” screamed Miller at the top of her high pitched voice, turned raspy from hours of denouncing. “You’re being used. You’re getting paid with our tax money to put down your own people! Why are you doing this to your own people?”

Miller’s questions about the role of race in the policing of Occupy Oakland points to what is and will continue to be the larger question in Oakland and other U.S. cities where former “minorities” are becoming majorities: What does it mean when those charged with defending elite interests against multi-racial and increasingly non-white activists are themselves multiracial and non-white? The ongoing protests, mayor recall, phone calls, emails and other pressure and pushback of Occupy Oakland are no longer aimed at cigar-smoking white men. They are aimed at a power structure in Oakland whose public face looks more like Miller and other non-white protesters.

Miller and others are calling for the recall of Jean Quan, who made history as Oakland’s first Asian-American mayor (full disclosure: Quan’s daughter is my Facebook friend); and they are complaining about the use of excessive police violence authorized by Interim Chief Howard Jordan, an African American. Such conflicts between former minorities are becoming the norm in what more conservative commentators call the “post-racial” era ushered in by the election of Obama.

Quan and Jordan are in the throes of dealing with a police department plagued by officer-involved shootings and killings, corruption and other crimes—crimes that have forced a federal consent decree to reform the department, after officers were convicted of planting evidence and beating suspects in West Oakland. Taking her cue from the Obama campaign of 2008, Quan announced Jordan’s appointment at a public safety forum titled “Creating Hope in the Community.”

Many like Miller and other Occupy Oaklanders are having second thoughts about what feels like the affirmative actioning of policing and state violence. Others, like Ofelia Cuevas of the University of California’s Center for New Racial Studies, see the workings of a not-so-21st-century pattern of policing and power.

“Having people of color policing people of color is not new,” said Cuevas. “This was part of policing history in California from the beginning. In the 1940s, while the federal government was interning Japanese Americans in camps, officials in Los Angeles were starting to recruit black police officers as a way to decrease police brutality.”

Cuevas noted that big city mayors like Quan or Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa are, by electoral and structural necessity, required to act like any of their predecessors, who headed up police forces that attacked, surveilled and even killed those perceived as a threat to the establishment. The Bay Area police’s violent modern history stretches from OPD’s assault on the Black Panther Party—which was founded just blocks from the center of Occupy Oakland, re-named Oscar Grant Plaza—to the killing of Grant, a young black man shot in the back by a transit police officer at a nearby train station.

“Being mayor is being pro-police. They perceive that it’s their job to crush what they consider threats to the status quo,” said Cuevas.

Regardless of who is Mayor or police chief, keeping the status quo is the last thing that Gaston Lau, a 21 year-old english major at University of California, Berkeley, sees as an option. “[Quan’s] support for this amount of police brutality here is ridiculous,” said Lau, who held a placard that said “Down, Down with Jean Quan.”

“The future power struggles are not just going to be about fights between one race and another,” said Lau. “They’re mostly going to be about class, which is a big part about what the whole Occupy movement is about.”

Lau is hopeful that the movement will inspire younger Asian Pacific Islanders to engage with the issues of the Occupy moment, but worries about the generational conflict such a political engagement entails. “Some older Chinese might see having one of our own as mayor as a source of pride, but we need to help them understand how Quan and police act against us.”

Despite the internal and external challenges posed by multicultural powers putting down multicultural movements, Lau is, like his Occupy Oakland peers, undeterred. Clashes between Occupiers and Oakland police continued into last night as protesters tried to reclaim the park and police met them with tear gas. The movement has vowed to continue attempting to return to the space. “Whether or not the mayor is Asian,” Lau said, “when she acts against the people, then we will respond as the people.”

#OWS Pic of the Week: Sorry For the Inconvenience…

October 20, 2011

El tiempo está a favor de buenos sueños (Time is on the Side of Good Dreams)

October 15, 2011

Gazing @ the bright red map that is today’s #Occupiedworld, mobilizing w millions of like-spirited humans, breathing in the sigh of gratitude for our heroines & their children, I am reminded that we would not be here were it not for the parents, the teachers, the mentors and, most especially, the martyrs whose breath still inspires (as in “take in spirit”) that which many had already relinquished to the Powers That Be , Real Hope.

 

 

El tiempo está a favor de los pequeñosde los desnudos, de los olvidados.

El tiempo está a favor de buenos sueños

y se pronuncia a golpes apurados.

Of América’s Anthem: Latinoamérica by Calle 13

September 30, 2011

 

For those of you that haven't heard it, this song by the ever-incisive 
Calle 13, speaks to the sensibilities-cultural, political, visionary- that 
inform this blog. Check out the lyrics (below) as you play the vid. One thing 
i would add: include those of us in the new country we're
giving birth to-the United States of América.

Latinoamérica

Soy,
Soy lo que dejaron,
soy toda la sobra de lo que se robaron.
Un pueblo escondido en la cima,
mi piel es de cuero por eso aguanta cualquier clima.
Soy una fábrica de humo,
mano de obra campesina para tu consumo
Frente de frio en el medio del verano,
el amor en los tiempos del cólera, mi hermano.
El sol que nace y el día que muere,
con los mejores atardeceres.
Soy el desarrollo en carne viva,
un discurso político sin saliva.
Las caras más bonitas que he conocido,
soy la fotografía de un desaparecido.
Soy la sangre dentro de tus venas,
soy un pedazo de tierra que vale la pena.
soy una canasta con frijoles ,
soy Maradona contra Inglaterra anotándote dos goles.
Soy lo que sostiene mi bandera,
la espina dorsal del planeta es mi cordillera.
Soy lo que me enseño mi padre,
el que no quiere a su patria no quiere a su madre.
Soy América latina,
un pueblo sin piernas pero que camina.

Tú no puedes comprar al viento.
Tú no puedes comprar al sol.
Tú no puedes comprar la lluvia.
Tú no puedes comprar el calor.
Tú no puedes comprar las nubes.
Tú no puedes comprar los colores.
Tú no puedes comprar mi alegría.
Tú no puedes comprar mis dolores.

Tengo los lagos, tengo los ríos.
Tengo mis dientes pa` cuando me sonrío.
La nieve que maquilla mis montañas.
Tengo el sol que me seca  y la lluvia que me baña.
Un desierto embriagado con bellos de un trago de pulque.
Para cantar con los coyotes, todo lo que necesito.
Tengo mis pulmones respirando azul clarito.
La altura que sofoca.
Soy las muelas de mi boca mascando coca.
El otoño con sus hojas desmalladas.
Los versos escritos bajo la noche estrellada.
Una viña repleta de uvas.
Un cañaveral bajo el sol en cuba.
Soy el mar Caribe que vigila las casitas,
Haciendo rituales de agua bendita.
El viento que peina mi cabello.
Soy todos los santos que cuelgan de mi cuello.
El jugo de mi lucha no es artificial,
Porque el abono de mi tierra es natural.

Tú no puedes comprar al viento.
Tú no puedes comprar al sol.
Tú no puedes comprar la lluvia.
Tú no puedes comprar el calor.
Tú no puedes comprar las nubes.
Tú no puedes comprar los colores.
Tú no puedes comprar mi alegría.
Tú no puedes comprar mis dolores.

Você não pode comprar o vento
Você não pode comprar o sol
Você não pode comprar chuva
Você não pode comprar o calor
Você não pode comprar as nuvens
Você não pode comprar as cores
Você não pode comprar minha felicidade
Você não pode comprar minha tristeza

Tú no puedes comprar al sol.
Tú no puedes comprar la lluvia.
(Vamos dibujando el camino,
vamos caminando)
No puedes comprar mi vida.
MI TIERRA NO SE VENDE.

Trabajo en bruto pero con orgullo,
Aquí se comparte, lo mío es tuyo.
Este pueblo no se ahoga con marullos,
Y si se derrumba yo lo reconstruyo.
Tampoco pestañeo cuando te miro,
Para q te acuerdes de mi apellido.
La operación cóndor invadiendo mi nido,
¡Perdono pero nunca olvido!

(Vamos caminando)
Aquí se respira lucha.
(Vamos caminando)
Yo canto porque se escucha.

Aquí estamos de pie
¡Que viva Latinoamérica!

No puedes comprar mi vida.

White Nationalist Anger and Violence: A Preview of Even Greater Anti-immigrant Violence?

August 10, 2009

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Though its primary subject is the rise of violent white nationalism, this important article by Eric Ward and our friends at Imagine 2050 has indirect and seriously bad implications for the not-so-distant immigrant future.

I say this because I think and fear that recent developments- the acidic anger seen during the Sotomayor hearings, the deadly absurdity of the “birther” frenzy in the media and the outbreak of violence seen in the health reform debate- preview what will likely be even greater levels violence we will see during the immigration debate, if and when Obama and the Democrats decide to move forward with their proposal.

Given what I believe anyone traveling throughout the country sees and hears-that immigrant violence grows exponentially- we should begin preparing on how to deal with the more open anti-migrant warfare that those invested in promoting false ideas of immigrant criminality are working towards.

I say “even greater levels of violence” only because the violent cat of anti-migrant violence has already been let out of the white nationalist bag: spikes in anti-Latino, anti-migrant hate crimes, increased murders and only God knows how many unreported cases there are; The overwhelming number of hate crimes, especially those targeting the most vulnerable, undocumented have been perpetrated without ever being documented. And we can only imagine what it’s like in most places in the country, places that have never created systems to document such crimes as in Los Angeles, where we will likely see those systems diminished by budget cuts. I fear that such a situation make the anecdotal descriptions of violence I encounter with unrelenting intensity throughout the country a preview of things to come.

Beyond building and saving existing hate crime reporting infrastructure, by far the most important thing the immigrant rights movement can do is stop the debate from including any more legislation that directly or implicitly reinforces the constitutionally dangerous notions of immigrant criminality.

In other words, in an environment in which visual, verbal and physical anti-migrant violence has gone viral, there should be a moratorium against ANY AND ALL LEGISLATION PREMISED ON DANGEROUSLY FALSE NOTIONS OF THE IMMIGRANT AS CRIMINAL NEEDING AND DESERVING PUNISHMENT FROM THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT. Such notions only further legitimate similar notions proferred by pols -Republicans and Democrats-, mainstream media and the racial extremists whose ideas they give a platform to.

We no longer need to give extremists and their ideas a platform by legitimating them thru “tradeoffs”, “compromises” and with toxic talk of more enforcement and punishment. There has to and is another way: stop. Regardless of whether the messenger advocating for more punitive policy is Republican or Democrat, Minuteman or “immigrant advocate”, anyone promoting even more punitive legislation (don’t we have enough punitive laws as it stands?) should be called out for fomenting policies premised on dangerous ideas of immigrant criminality that enable further violence against immigrants and others.

If hate crimes are any indicator, the idea that comprehensive immigration reform will do anything to diminish hatred is proven painfully wrong by the broken bones, bruised faces and cracked ribs of the citizens and residents attacked for their appearance. Hate crimes against migrants are rapidly rising worldwide. Just imagine how vast the toxic sea of violence against migrants in the US is.

There is another way and it begins at the border between policies that equate immigrants with criminality and those that don’t.

Arrest of Gang Intervention Leader Alex Sanchez Raises Questions, Concerns in Community

June 25, 2009

alex-sanchez

Today’s FBI arrest of Alex Sanchez, one of the most respected gang intervention leaders in the country, has raised major concerns in Los Angeles and around the country. As his wife and children watched, Sanchez, who leads Homies Unidos, a violence prevention and gang intervention organization with offices in Los Angeles and El Salvador, was arrested and taken away by FBI agents this morning at his home in Bellflower. The federal charges- being a “shotcaller (someone who manages narcotics operations) for Mara Salvatrucha (MS) and conspiring to kill Walter Lacinos, an MS member shot and killed in El Salvador in 2006- have raised fears and great concerns among the many who’ve known and worked with Sanchez over the years, including myself.

First and foremost among the concerns in the community are concerns for Alex’s immediate safety. As a former gang member who works to help others leave gang life, Alex faces great danger in whatever LA County facility he’s held in-even if he’s put under Protective Custody (PC). Law enforcement authorities have an axe of historic proportions (see Rampart scandal) to grind against Alex and some have demonstrated a lethal propensity towards retribution. Known as “Pecetas”, those held under PC are considered by many gang members to be informants and, therefore, legitimate targets for direct retribution from gang members -and direct and indirect retribution from police.

For more reasons than I have time to enumerate here, I for one do not believe the charges. Rather, I think that these recent accusations are but the most recent in the long, rotten chain of attempts by law enforcement officials to frame Alex, who was regularly beaten, framed, falsely arrested, deported and harassed by the Los Angeles Police Department since founding Homies Unidos in 1998. First and foremost, I spent the evening calling those who know and have worked most closely with him, and they ALL share that sense that, as one of his best friends told me, “He really is a good person.” I’ve known him for years and will be sending a strongly worded support letter like the many I’ve sent over the course of the many years and many frame-ups law enforcement has ravenously pursued. Those close to Homies and Alex know and are again feeling that cloud of anger and concern that comes with being harassed by authorities abusing the power delegated to them.

Also, Alex is alleged to have conspired to kill Walter Lacinos, who sources in the Salvadoran and gang communities tell me had, in the words of one gang expert interviewed, “many, many enemies in the U.S.-and El Salvador.” While most of charges levelled against most of the the 24 other plaintiffs point to physical acts and evidence, the one and most serious indictment (see full indictment here) naming Alex alleges that he participated in “a series of phone conversations” in which the possibility of killing Lacinos is discussed. No proof is offered to corroborate the charges relating to managing narcotics operations for MS.

Lastly, the sensationalistic judgements of many media and some law enforcement officials raise serious concerns, as well. Close scrutiny of the media coverage reveals an definite disposition to judge and convict Alex before his trial even begins. For example, almost all of the coverage follows uncritically the logic laid out in the indictment. No attempt is made to notice that, for example, Alex is not named in most of the 66-page indicment. Other plaintiff’s names appear throughout. Those reading reporting in the LA Times and other outlets might come away believing that Alex might be involved in the murder of seven people or in conspiring to kill another 8. Consider this note from today’s LA Times:

The arrests cap a three-year investigation into the gang and its cliques, which operated in the Lafayette Park area, west of downtown. Among the most serious allegations contained in a 16-count federal indictment unsealed today was the claim gang members conspired to murder veteran LAPD gang officer Frank Flores.

Those named in the indictment include Alex Sanchez, a nationally recognized anti-gang leader and executive director of Homies Unidos.

Notice how there’s zero attempt to clarify or give greater context to Alex’s story, even though he headlines most of these stories. Even worse is the way that law enforcement authorities like L.A. Police Chief Bill Bratton, who the Times tells us has a big “I told you so” for the city, use Alex’s case to build the case for punitive-and failed-anti-gang policies,

LAPD Chief William J. Bratton said the Sanchez case reinforces the thinking behind the city’s efforts to consolidate and more strongly regulate anti-gang funding.

Bratton is no stranger to racially charged policing policies in New York or in Los Angeles (ie; Bratton was roundly repudiated when he first tried to apply the “terrorist” frame to L.A. gangs). Neither he nor any other L.A. official has accepted responsibility for helping create Mara Salvatrucha in L.A. and El Salvador, a country with no previous history of gangs before LAPD collaborated with immigration authorities to deport Mara members. Adding fuel to the fire burning to replace the anti-gang work of Homies Unidos with more punitive, law enforcement-centered approaches favored by Bratton and his, boss, L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, are reports like this one which have begun a non-profit and politico witch hunt even before Alex has seen a single day in court. Rather than look more deeply into the charges, media, political and police personalities appear bent on assuming Alex’s guilt and then waving this alleged guilt as if it’s a flag at the front of the contemporary equivalent of a witch hunt.

Although the story of Alex Sanchex touches upon people and issues-immigrants, gangs, Salvadorans- that are explained-and dealt with- simplistically, dangerously, the leadership of Los Angeles must speak out in defense not just of Alex, but of a fundamental principal of a just society: that you are innocent until proven otherwise.

Much more on this important issue in weeks and days to come.

Climate of Hate Means Immigrant Rights Organizations Should Commit to Excluding Punitive Policies in Any Reform Proposal

May 5, 2009

This post was inspired by another post by my friend, Alisa Valdez, who uses the MSM’s coverage of the Markoff “Craig’sList Killer” case to draw our attention to how twisted -and dangerous-the values of the media ecology we inhabit have become. Reading Alisa’s tight analysis alongside reports of that the racist killers of immigrant Luis Ramirez were declared innocent (and of course, the daily bread of anti-immigrant, anti-Latino hate found on radios, TV’s and websites everywhere), triggered concerns made even clearer during a recent visit to Europe to cover the UN conference on racism. More specifically, Alisa’s piece provided me with the spark to say something I’ve been mulling for while: the dangerous even murderous anti-migrant climate requires that immigrant advocates commit not to support any “Comprehensive Immigration Reform” (CIR) proposal containing punitive immigration policies.

The piece below floats the seemingly uncontroversial idea of a petition asking immigrant rights orgs-and their leaders- to commit
to excluding, not supporting any and all punitive policies in any “comprehensive immigration reform.” Seems pretty obvious,
but the absence of such accountability allows the noxious policies-and the immigrant=criminal logic undergirding them- to pass
with the apparent support of that segment of the “immigrant rights movement” that can afford media flaks, PR spinsters, bloggers
and others allowing them to speak for the entire immigrant rights movement. Hopefully, this is non-controversial, but let’s put it to a test.

Neither aggressive, nor hostile, such a petition simply commits its signatories to excluding policies that, in such a radically hateful
climate, enable further hatred, terror and death in immigrant communities. how could anyone purporting to be a defender of immigrants
not agree to something so basic?

I encourage any comments, suggestions or disagreements those of you reading this might have. Gracias, R

Here’s the response to Alisa’s piece:

That a crazed murderer would be described with such fawning language while maids, gardeners and immigrants and other Latinos are described in the harshest, most hateful language speaks powerfully to how perverted the “values” of this decadent “civilization” have become. Reinforces a theory I have about how we’ve moved beyond the rather stale notion that legalization or increases in the Latino vote will do anything to diminish the rise in hate towards Latinos.

Between radical demographic shifts (young, rapidly growing Latino population, aging, diminishing white population), editorial rooms chock full of old- and young- still mostly white “editors” who normalize lethal logics and the companies that capitalize and profit from “news”programs, talk shows premised on promoting Darwinian racial ideologies, what we have is the possible institutionalization of perpetual race war targeting Latinos, especially immigrant Latinos, who are suffering the brunt of hatred, death and devastation.

In such a lethally charged climate, at such a decadent moment in the history of this country, we need to raise the cost of promoting or enabling the radical racial logic of the newsrooms described so cogently by Alisa. This is why I propose, for example, that we start eviscerating any trace of the racially charged immigrant=criminal logic in our own “community.” We can start addressing this by developing and circulating a petition or some document demanding that any “immigrant rights organization” commit itself to excluding any and all punitive immigration proposals they might advocate in the name of “legalizing the 12 million” or whatever spin people come up with in their efforts to legitimize the now deadly immorality known in legislative circles as a “tradeoff” (legalization in exchange for more punitive policy). We can then extend the commitment to the Hispanic Caucus and other members of Congress and move forward into the editorial rooms with greater force and unity of purpose.

As the possibility of “comprehensive immigration reform” rears its head again, we might want to consider the possibilty that, in allowing or even supporting punitive policies, we in the “immigrant rights movement” are unconsciously accepting the logic of criminality by allowing or supporting laws premised on now extremely lethal notions of immigrant criminality manufactured in hate groups, “think tanks” and the news rooms Alisa aptly describes. Make no mistake, in times when hating immigrants is proven to yield daily profits for news organizations and their advertisers, times when you can kill an immigrant and go scott free (or even hailed as heroes as in the gross distortion that is the Compean case), “tradeoffs” mean we are willing to accept logic that kills, the same logic of the racists disguised as editors use. I also think that the institutions-news orgs, hate groups, political parties, including Democrats- invested and investing in this radical, deadly turn deserve the same treatment we used to give those who enabled the slaughter of innocents in El Salvador: pouring colored red liquid symbolizing the blood of the dead and maimed on their offices-or even their suits and dresses. Things, have, I believe, reached that point of urgency-but the “news” will not report it or, if they do, they’ll do so in the most banal terms possible. Such are the rotten fruits of decadent “civilization.”

Thanks again for your work on this, Alisa. Good writing should spark discussion and debate and you succeeded.

Best,

R

Silencing the Breakers of Silence: UN Durban II Conference Threatened by Conflicts

April 21, 2009

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND Before asking him about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s controversial speech here at the followup to the U.N.-sponsored World Conference Against Racism (Durban II), I first gave Nobel prize-winner, Elie Wiesel, my thanks. I thanked him not because of his condemnation of an opening speech in which the Iranian president called the holocaust a “dubious question”; I thanked holocaust survivor Wiesel because he provided us with one of the main slogans for combating past and recent racism in the United States: “No Human Being is Illegal.” After he shook my hand and after I offered, in the most Spanish-inflected French possible, my gratitude on behalf of the Central Americans who first launched the “No Human Being is Illegal” campaign back when the United States denied them political asylum and refugee status in the 1980’s, Wiesel smiled and reminisced,”Yes, I gave that term to the Sanctuary movement. It was wrong to deny them (Salvadorans and Guatemalans) (legal) status. I was happy to support the cause.”

As one who dedicated a significant part of his adult life to the cause of Central Americans, meeting Wiesel served as a deeply personal reminder of the profoundly serious issues being discussed here. But as one dedicated to the global movement for migrants rights, which has, in many countries, also adopted his elegantly simple coinage, I’m also gravely concerned about how the focus on Ahmadinejad and the boycott of the Geneva conference supported by Wiesel, the United States and the powerful minority of countries backing the Israeli government is distracting the world from one of its most urgent facts: the exponential rise in xenophobia, hatred and racism around the world, especially following the exponential decline in economic stability triggered by the global greed and corruption centered in the United States.

Were Iran, Israel and other players involved in this display of geopolitical drama not so viscerally divided, someone attending the conference might reach the conclusion that their high-profile conflicts are a subterfuge designed to mask over and disguise the most damaging and deadly racial and ethnic consequences brought on by the depredations and failures of western governments – and the “blue eyed bankers” in the U.S. and other countries recently denounced by Brazilian President Lula and others.

Speaking with some from among the thousands of passionately committed and very smart participants from around the globe attending Durban II, I couldn’t help but hear the grave disappointment and even anger at the damaging, even catastrophic effect that both the the boycott and President Ahmadinejad’s speech are having on issues discussed throughout the conference.  For example, lost in the global media’s almost exclusive focus on Ahmadinejad’s speech and on the walkout by a small minority of mostly white Western diplomats, are concerns of the overwhelmingly non-white majority attending the conference, attendees like Yousif Aboh.

“These conflicts (around the speech and the boycott) only help governments like Sudan’s to continue racist practices that push people out, that starve people and that attack and kill people,” said a very somber Aboh, who works with Darfur Peace and Development, a non-governmental organization which is the only Darfuri-led organization still operating in Darfur. “I’m here to get support for the people still living a great crisis in Darfur- people without food and water because of discrimination-and these kinds of controversies make my work difficult to impossible because many in the media don’t want to talk about anything else except Israel and Iran.”

Aboh and others attending Durban II also expressed deep disappointment at the Obama Administration’s decision not to attend the conference.  Non-attendance was roundly condemned as a very dangerous act that communicates the wrong message to racists, xenophobes and genocidal governments around the world. “Their (the Obama Administration) not attending tells governments like Sudan’s that their dangerous racist policies are not a priority,” said Aboh, who also condemned the government of Iran for its support of the Sudanese government.

For his part, Khalil Shahabi, an economist at the Tehran-based Insitute for Sceintific and Political Research, agreed with Aboh about the Obama Administration but also defended the Iranian government against Aboh, Wiesel and other critics, “Our President is the only head of state to come. It’s important that he tell the world about how Israeli racism kills innocent people in Gaza, including fifteen percent who were children.” When I asked him about the Iranian President’s statements about the situation in Palestine, Wiesel told me he thought Ahmadinejad had done “dishonor to his people, who have such a rich history. What arrogance he has to come here to a UN conference on racism only to express such hatred.”

Largely lost in the largely simplistic media coverage of both the conference and the speech by President Ahmadinejad were the more nuanced discussions taking place inside and outside the stately halls of the U.N. For example, Norway’s Foreign Minister, Jonas Gahr Støre, delivered a speech indirectly criticizing Iran, Israel and the United States. “We who have made a point of defending freedom of expression cannot opt for non-attendance as a strategy, leaving the floor to precisely those who hold opposite views” said  Støre  “We will not surrender the floor of the United Nations to the extremists.The President of Iran has just exercised that human right. He did so – I believe – in a way that threatens the very focus of this conference.”

Such an inauspicious start to an event of such global import inspires fears; fears that the specific conflicts involving only a few of the world’s many actors may detract from communicating the powerful spirit motivating most of those attending the Durban II conference. This spirit was best captured by Wiesel, when he said many years ago, “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

Izalco, El Salvador and the Way Beyond the Silence

March 12, 2009

izalco1

Mystical Izalco portends the end of Salvadoran silence.

To understand the current presidential elections in El Salvador, you have to understand the cities, towns and the campo, El Salvador’s countryside, located outside the capital of San Salvador. What follows is my attempt to provide further context for the media’s description of the horse race between the FMLN and the ARENA parties. A good starting point is the fact that both parties trace all or some of their political roots to Izalco, a relatively small town in the western, coffee-growing part of the country. Izalco is also home to one of the largest concentrations of El Salvador’s small (less than 1% of the population) indigenous population.

For strange, tragic, even mysterious reasons, Izalco, which in the racist popular national lore (ie; one way to call someone ugly is to say they look “indio”) is home to witches, is also home to what, in my opinion, is the ever-present, but unspoken political and cultural spirit of the country. And this region also concentrates large numbers of volcanos, some of which are also quite alive (see above) , as are the narrow and crowded streets of Izalco (below).

izalco-streets

If we want want to take the political pulse of a country as poor (50% of the population lives in poverty) as El Salvador, speaking with people who are not just poor, but a small, indigenous poor minority living in such an enchanting and dark land will give us a unique read. Not all people here in Izalco identify as native people, but all recognize and live indigenous reality like few other places in this country of 7 million.

kids

You can see the indigenous presence in the sublime faces of the kids here.

You can also find it in and on the nahuatl textbooks and notebooks:

nahuat-arm

And you can find the indigenous presence in the deep, dark soil of Izalco’s history. Almost all of the children from Izalco’s Mario Calvo school pictured above are descendants-great, great and great, great, great, grandchildren- of the 20,000-30,000 indigenous people who rebelled against deadly poverty and abuse and were then slaughtered in 1932 by General Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez, the dictator who perpetrated what is known as “La Matanza” (the Great Killing). Martinez and his troops did all this in less than a month, according to scholars like my friend Aldo Lauria-Santiago, whose book is pictured below with a cover of the Izalco volcano.

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Recent research like Aldo’s and that of other scholars reveals that the idea that the rural insurrection in the west was led by urban communists of the period like Farabundo Marti is wrong. In fact, these scholars tell us, it was led by the ancestors (below) of the children pictured above. Below is the picture of the real leader of the insurrection, Jose Feliciano Ama.

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The spiritual reality behind images such as these inspired revolutionary Salvadoran poet Roque Dalton to say in his oft-quoted poem,

Todos nacimos mitad muertos en 1932

Sobrevivimos pero medio vivos

(we were all born half dead in 1932

we survived but half alive)

Despite recent research, many still blur the differences between the communists and the indigenous rebels of the period. Even many members of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) make the mistake as do members of the governing ARENA party, which was founded in Izalco by Roberto D’abuisson. D’abuisson also founded El Salvador’s notorious death squads, one of which was named for the old dictator, Hernandez Martinez.

arena1

I actually have no idea who the group of Izalco Areneros pictured above are. I visited the office and spoke with the directores of Arena’s campaign in Izalco, who told me why their message of “democracy,” their message of “freedom” from the threat of El Salvador becoming a “Hugo Chavez satellite” moves Izalco’s voters.; The directores also lauded D’abuisson, whom they met, and Hernandez Martinez, whom they admire. The events of 1932, they said, saved the country from comunismo and laid the foundation for the later formation of the ARENA party. For these and other reasons, they said , ARENA always begins its presidential campaigns in Izalco, as they did when this year’s presidential candidate, private security mogul and former head of the national police, Rodrigo Avila, came here to kickoff his campaign.

The directores also showed me a copy of the ARENA anthem which hails El Salvador as the “tomb where the reds will be terminated.” I thought it odd that, rather than let me take their picture, the directores told the people pictured above to stand outside the ARENA office, where I took the picture. Less than half a small block to the right of the ARENA office is the large (1.5 blocks) field where most of the indigenous people killed in 1932 are buried in an anonymous mass grave (see picture of plaque and smoky Izalco volcano in background below) excavated by forensic scientists from Argentina in 2007.

32

The fact that this is the only commemoration of La Matanza in El Salvador, a country where surveys tell us that 75% of the population knows nothing about the events of 1932, provides an object lesson in the dangers of institutional and political amnesia; It also tells us why ARENA has won every mayoral election in Izalco since it was founded here in 1981; Every mayoral election until this year, that is:

f5-izalco-mayor

Pictured above in the blue shirt is Roberto Alvarado, a member of the FMLN and Mayor-elect of Izalco whose stunning victory last January reflects the depths of the changes here and in the entire country. “They sang that stupid song about “the tomb of the reds,” Alvarado,a former teacher who was pursued by death squads, told me adding, “Now we are going turn Izalco, the cradle of ARENA, into the the political grave of the ARENA party.” Alvarado’s coalition-students, indigenous communities, Catholics and evangelicos– provided the FMLN with a major spiritual and political victory -and a model to be emulated across the country.

Streets reddened and silenced for several decades by the blood of the indigenous martyrs are now red with the hope voters are placing in the FMLN and its candidate , the multi-mediagenic former journalist, Mauricio Funes:

fs-streets1

f5-cola-ii

f5-shoes

The unprecedented openness expressed in the shoes, shops and streets of Izalco has many, many reasons and thousands of people to thank for it. Together, these forces ended the silence that cast a permanent cloud over Izalco -and El Salvador-after the events of 1932. One of today’s most vocal and effective breakers of the silence is Juliana Ama, director of the Calvo school that teaches nahuatl. She is also the great, great granddaughter of rebel leader, Jose Feliciano Ama (above). Since 2001, Juliana has organized commemoration ceremonies every January at the site of the mass grave near the ARENA office in Izalco, ceremonies that draw conflict and controversy.

Despite the tensions, despite the threats she has received, Ama soldiers on in what she defines first and foremost as a”spiritual act” because, she says, “we have no choice; we can’t remain and suffer in silence.” Juliana also believes that there is a direct link between the commemoration ceremonies and the defeat of the ARENA party. “Those ceremonies made it normal and acceptable to be open about the loss of long ago, the loss that still lives with us,” she said. “Nothing like this was ever possible before and I think that the ceremony made it possible for people to start being more open about political feelings too.

juliana

Finally, as the son of the 10 year-old boy who witnessed and survived la Matanza and then went on to become my father, I want to thank Juliana and the people of Izalco for their example, their courage and their great wisdom.

R

Upload Real Change: What Activists Must Learn From the Obama Campaign

November 19, 2008

A cover story I wrote for this month’s issue of Colorlines Magazine highlights what the Obama campaign can teach us the urgent necessity of combining offline (actual streets, communities) with online organizing. While we may or may not want to support Obama’s policies, we should study closely the epoch-making deployment of technology to advance political ends. Hope you like it. R

Issue #47, Nov/Dec 2008

Upload Real Change

By Roberto Lovato

WHILE CRISSCROSSING CRACKED STREETS to knock on the rickety doors of rundown row houses in Philadelphia’s 14th Ward, Liza Sabater also found herself crossing the overlapping lines of political and technological history late last spring as she canvassed for Barack Obama’s campaign.

“I got to spend some time with these Puerto Rican mechanics—guys most people wouldn’t expect to have Internet access,” said Sabater, an Afro-Puerto Rican technologist who blogs at culturekitchen and The Daily Gotham. “But there—among the wrenches and jacks—were their cell phones and handheld devices they use to surf the Web.”

Sabater, who helps nonprofits use technology to further their missions, canvassed in Philadelphia with her two sons and coordinated work in the 14th Ward with three Latino volunteers from the Obama campaign. She saw in the mechanics’ mobile devices proof of her belief that “the ‘digital divide’ is a crock when we realize that laptops and desktops aren’t the only ways to access the Web.” But was the Obama campaign reaching these mechanics on their cells?
•••
As they write future narratives of Obama’s astounding rise, historians will likely foreground how skillfully the “change” candidate maneuvered around the racial, geopolitical and economic terrain of our crises-ridden time. Lost in the background of most of these narratives will be how Obama, the former community organizer, took what he learned about mobilizing working- and middle-class residents on Chicago’s South Side and combined it with the stuff that actually wins elections: money, organizing and technology.

Obama’s campaign for the White House deployed in unparalleled ways Web. 2.0 tools—the set of technological developments that turned the World Wide Web into the ubiquitous, mobile, wireless and interactive Web we use today. As this issue of ColorLines went to production in late August, Obama’s Web site, Mybarackobama.com, was as interactive as any online social networking site. More than 10 million people had signed up at the site, and the campaign had raised millions of dollars. The Web site was the centerpiece of an online and offline political strategy that defeated the Clintons—one of the most powerful Democratic political dynasties—and, in the process, Obama took community organizing to new territory as he redefined the practice of electoral politics in the United States. Whatever the election results, Obama’s campaign demonstrated that it’s possible—and necessary—to go online and move people to action offline.

Sabater, who was born in New York’s El Barrio
neighborhood and raised in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, was one of the many who responded to the campaign’s appeal. She is still fascinated by how Obama’s team fused state-of-the-art media and technology with the community organizing that the candidate learned in poor communities. Yet while she thinks community-based organizations can learn from the online organizing methods innovated by the Obama campaign, she also sees reason for concern in the cracked streets of Philadelphia.
Sabater noted, for example, that although her fellow Obama campaign volunteers were by definition “Latinos,” it was a poor decision on the part of the campaign to send three middle-class Chicanos from the west coast to a predominantly working-class, Spanish-speaking, Puerto Rican neighborhood.

“When my colleagues told me ‘we don’t speak Spanish’ and couldn’t interact with the people, I saw the interface problem,” said Sabater, adding, “I saw the disconnect between the online and offline strategies, both of which are focused on middle-class people. Nobody’s reaching out and targeting these working-class communities of color with technology. They don’t think that the mechanics and maids use technology or vote.” The Obama campaign fell through the cultural cracks in the street, while members in the community fell through the technological cracks of the campaign’s Web strategy.

“The (Obama) campaign created a fantastic interface for people to join the campaign,” Sabater said. “But it didn’t do as well in reaching people who don’t have laptops and whose technology is primarily their cell phones. There’s an age and class and race gap.”

Sabater saw these gaps while trolling the same streets canvassed in a previous era by W.E.B. Du Bois, who went door-to-door documenting how railroad tracks in Jim Crow Philadelphia served as a wood-and-steel color line dividing poor, politically disenfranchised Black neighborhoods from wealthier white neighborhoods where electoral participation was encouraged and expected.

Today, Sabater and others concerned with poor communities must prepare for similar but perhaps more nuanced racial, political and economic divisions in the city of brotherly love and other urban areas. If left to the folks who ran the Obama campaign, equity and freedom may well depend on which side of the silicon and fiber optic tracks a person lives on. If activists take to heart the lessons of this last presidential campaign, though, we might just see what political changes can happen among poor people when we combine media and technology with street-level political organizing beyond elections.
•••
Anyone dealing with what are traditionally defined as “racial” or “social justice” issues (housing, labor, criminal justice, immigration, LGBT, women’s issues, etc.) will have to figure out the “interface” problems identified by Sabater and others like U.C. Berkeley’s danah boyd. A digital anthropologist, boyd caused considerable controversy when she wrote a paper in 2007 positing that MySpace was more working-class than Facebook, which she says tends to cater to older, more elite social networkers.

Whether we deploy MySpace or Facebook, those
of us committed to pursuing the possibility of bottom-up democracy in the digital age will also have to confront
the same kinds of issues Benjamin Franklin identified in Philadelphia. Back when newspapers began their long reign as the defining medium of politics, Franklin wrote: “Those who govern, having much business on their hands, do not generally like to take the trouble of considering and carrying into execution new projects. The best public measures are therefore seldom adopted from previous wisdom, but forced by the occasion.” But one definitive difference between Franklin’s age and ours is the degree to which our economy, our government and politics, and even our culture are for better and for worse being fundamentally reconfigured by media and digital technology.

The need to deploy media and technology as a force on those who govern is a daily concern for Chris Rabb, a Philadelphia resident, entrepreneur and founder of the popular political blog Afro-Netizen. Of particular concern to Rabb is the urgent need for Black, Latino and other communities to use media to flatten the deeply entrenched political pyramids built by the large national Black and Latino nonprofits born in the waning decades of the industrial age in the United States. Many of these nonprofits, he says, center power in Washington, D.C., at the expense of the majority of Blacks and Latinos who are far from the Beltway.

“Hierarchies in Black and brown communities are as bad as in any other community,” said Rabb, who also consults with nonprofit organizations about how to make media and technology a component of their core strategy. “There’s so little power that people hold on to power as long as they can. Blacks are the most urban, overwhelmingly Democrat-leaning community in the country, but we have the least democracy. Black politicians last forever, and lots of our [nonprofit] organizations tend to be run by people who stay there for life.”

Rabb thinks the stunning accomplishments of the Obama campaign mirror the ways in which technology gives communities the capacity to self-organize on a scale never before seen.

“We need to study the Obama movement,” he asserted. “They weren’t the first to use the media in this way, but he came along at that precise moment when the technology had matured, when the audience of media users had reached critical mass.”

To illustrate his point, Rabb mentions the Jena 6 movement, which, he said, used media and technology to alter the game of “ethnic” politics. Initially ignored by the mainstream media and major civil rights organizations, as well as by traditional leaders, bloggers concerned about the Jena 6 case, like Color of Change’s James Rucker and Rabb, took their case directly to the community by using the Web.

By combining Web 2.0 tools—blogs, MySpace, and other social networking sites and interactive websites— with traditional media like radio and newspapers, the more youthful organizers of the Jena 6 movement made it politically impossible for mainstream Black leaders like Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and NAACP leaders to ignore the cause. The tech-savvy organizers gathered hundreds of thousands of signatures, raised hundreds of thousands of dollars on the Web, and in the process, they informed, engaged and activated constituents. Similar media and generational dynamics can be found in the immigrant rights movement.

Policy people at the National Council of La Raza, the National Immigration Forum and the majority of large Latino and immigrant rights organizations were in the throes of defensiveness before the onslaught of the Sensenbrenner immigration bill, which sought to criminalize the undocumented. One jaded policy analyst told me at that time that the Republicans “are going to push Sensenbrenner through—and there’s nothing we can do.” Apparently, someone forgot to communicate the analyst’s resignation to the local and regional grassroots groups who used media and technology to organize the largest simultaneous mass mobilizations in U.S. history in 2006.

Like those organizing the movement in support of the Jena 6, the local and regional networks at the core of the immigrant rights movement also deployed a number of media tools to bypass the lethargic hierarchies of the larger Washington-based groups. Many in the media focused their coverage on better-funded and (mainstream) media-savvy groups in the Beltway who rallied behind different versions of the McCain-Kennedy immigration bill, which, in its “bipartisan tradeoff” combined legalization with some of the most punitive immigration proposals in U.S. history. Left out of this coverage was the galaxy of organizations opposed to McCain-Kennedy.

In the face of such a limiting of the political debate around immigration, local and regional activists combined old-school media with a big “M” (television, radio, bullhorns and butcher paper) with new-school media with a small “m” (MySpace, text messaging, cell phones, radio, video and YouTube). Suddenly, mainstream media outlets were forced to cover the political messages that Latino teens were sending with their cell phones in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., and in rural Oregon.

While the mainstream media’s immigration coverage remains in its default position of focusing on the larger, better-funded national immigrant groups in Washington, activists like Sabater are combining online and offline organizing to influence the political process around and coverage of immigration and other issues that strongly impact Latinos. Sabater joined other bloggers to form the Sanctuary, a bloggers’ hub that combines information-sharing with offline activism. Members of the Sanctuary developed a survey of the presidential candidates and received coverage by CNN and other media outlets who usually interview only the National Council of La Raza and other large Latino organizations when it comes to “Latino issues.” At a time when political theorists like Manuel Castells tell us that “media is the space of politics,” the old rules just don’t apply, and that can be good news for poor communities of all colors.
•••
Regardless of the election outcome, Rabb, Sabater and others see valuable lessons in how the Obama campaign positioned itself to benefit from the epic self-organizing movement enabled by Web 2.0. It’s especially critical for activists (and everyone else, for that matter) to learn how the Obama campaign used its Web site,
Mybarackobama.com. More than 10 million people signed up at the site, and 1.5 million of those donated money. At the site, the campaign provided volunteers and organizers with campaign literature, virtual meeting spaces and other resources. Even viewers who might have been skeptical of Obama as a candidate or those not interested in electoral politics couldn’t help but be a bit curious. At every turn, the site insisted on interactivity. In August, a huge banner on the site stated: “Who will be Barack’s VP? Be the First to Know. Sign Up Now.” Below it was the “make a difference” banner with ways to volunteer and find local events, and then, of course, there was the “Obama Map”—where a few clicks and the inputting of zip codes got Americans tuned in to groups supporting Obama in their neighborhoods. Indeed, by the time Obama’s party gave him the official nomination in August, journalists and historians were already pointing out how the multimedia-genic Obama fit well with the media of his time as did Kennedy at the dawn of the age of television.

“The next step of activism is for grassroots groups to connect online and offline organizing like Obama did, but targeting working-class people,” said Sabater. “And the first step is for us to learn how our communities use their media and to engage them on their own terms.”

Rabb agreed. “The big question is whether activists for social justice can make the leap from what an organizer candidate did in the presidential cycle to the kind of organizing needed at a time when media and technology are so central to the work of government and power,” he said.

Rabb believes that groups who are organizing communities need to prioritize breaking down the barriers that separate media from their programmatic work. “It’s the very nature of organizing to want to reach audiences on race, class, immigration and other issues” he said, adding, “People have to get with the fact that media’s not replacing but complementing and enhancing their ability to do more with less, to achieve better and greater outcomes.”

Roberto Lovato is a writer with New America Media based in New York City.

Ahorra Votamos y Manana Militamos: Direct Actions Against ICE Preview Post-Electoral Militancy

November 4, 2008

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I know we’re all growing anxious and increasingly elated at the probable outcome of today’s elections, but I just caught wind of a very important development in the Bay Area. From San Francisco, my hometown, a preview of things to come.

A warm, powerful hug and shout out to the more than 600 young people and community-based organizations who organized and participated in this weekend’s Halloween actions against the terror wrought by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE). As some of us have, for some time, been suggesting to the movement here and here, we will get nowhere without going on the offensive against ICE, without taking direct action against them. Young activists in San Francisco have taken a clear and hugely important step towards the more militant actions necessary to effect a change in the disastrous and devastating immigration policies; Drumming, marching and chanting “No More Raids!” students from San Francisco, Richmond, San Jose and other locations throughout the Bay Area delivered a powerful message to ICE -and to the community: we will start taking more direct and militant action to prevent the terror infliicted on families and children.

Not only will we undertake hunger strikes to stop the anti-immigrant madness; We will literally start shutting down ICE.

Activists temporarily closed the entrance into ICE offices by locking themselves down with 55-gallon drums on both ends of the ICE building’s driveway, where vans normally load and unload detainees. I can tell you that, though many, including more centrist, foundation & corporate-funded “immigrant rights” organizations and their “leaders”, will tell you that such actions are of little to no use, these more direct actions do much to communicate urgent messages to numerous sectors; Current and former ICE agents I’ve interviewed tell me that nothing throws agents off their game, nothing SCARES them like direct actions, especially those that political acts that target. Same with the politicos, including the Democrats, who need to start fearing us if we are to see any change in migration policy. Such proactive, offensive actions do much to take the psychological pressure off of our communities and put it where it belongs: on ICE; Such actions communicate to the community that it’s not just OK to be angry; it’s OK and necessary to be angry to the point of striking back at ICE in a direct and political way; Such actions make clearer the distinctions between those in the “immigrant rights community” willing to accommodate terror and those ready to fight it.

Along with ongoing fasts, vigils and other actions, these more militant actions allow us to re-take some of the integrity we lost in the perpetual psychlogical warfare inflicted on the group that’s the object of the most hate crimes according to the FBI: Latinos, especially immigrant Latinos. Given the promise of action inherent in the chants of “Ahorra Marchamos, manana votamos,” events in San Francisco, Los Angeles and other locales preview the coming militancy that will become clearer as the smoke, confetti and genuine joy inspired by the end of the elections clears. For more information check out alianzanews. Thank you, San Francisco.
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Infomercials, Hatemercials and the Multi-mediagenic Presidency: GRITtv Panel Analyzes Elections & Media

October 31, 2008

http://a5.vox.com/6a00cd970c86034cd500fa967c8fb50002-500pi

This was a fun and informative panel. Always-thoghtful host Laura Flanders gets her guests -the New Yorker’s Hendrik Hertzberg, Chris Rabb of Afronetizen and mois- to spill the media beans on this breathtaking political moment. Don’t miss a minute!

R

[blip.tv ?posts_id=1421941&dest=-1]

Fast for Our Future: Massive Fast Seeks Justice for Immigrants

October 29, 2008

In what organizers say is one of the largest single fasts in U.S. history, over 100 people are engaging in a hunger strike to mobilize 1,000,000 people to sign their Pledge to vote and take action for immigrant rights. Seeking to “reignite” the somewhat slowed movement that brought us the largest mass mobilizations in U.S. history, fasters are currently engaged in locations across the country, with Los Angeles’ historic Plaza Olvera serving as its spiritual center.

Several friends of mine are participating and I encourage you to visit their website and sign the pledge. Though I think there need to be more such actions when the glare of the election lights dims, taking action now really is critical. Having recently interviewed some of the main movers and shakers on immigration policy, I can tell you that nobody, not the corporate-funded, DC-based Latino and immigrant rights groups, not the pols and, yes, not even Barack Obama are signalling anything except the possibility for legalization
(and recent statements by Pelosi put even that in serious question.)

None of these powerful interest are saying anything that will fundamentally alter the devastating immigration policies -and their tragic effects: thousands of raids terrorizing families and entire communities, hundreds of thousands (including families and children) jailed, thousands dead in the desert, detainees killed and dying in detention. Our silence this time around means that we too will be complicit with the Democrats and their allies. So, please do visit the Fast for Our Future site and sign the petition.