Archive for the 'ENVIRONMENT' Category

DREAMers: Undocumented Youth Turn Images into Political Acts

December 20, 2012


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.”


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.

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.

Historic Black Latino Summit Previews Power of Solidarity- & Intimacy

October 8, 2008

I had the privilege and pleasure to attend this week’s Black-Latino Summit (BLS) held in Los Angeles on Sunday and Monday. Organized by Policy Link and the William C. Velazquez Institute, the BLS brought together more than 500 black and Latino leaders and activists who spent 2 days debating and discussing the history and future and concerns and shared agenda of our respective communities.

To their credit, BLS organizers opted not to include the media in their event, which , I think, says much about the commitment to go beyond much of the foto op opportunism that usually passes for “Black-brown unity.” I believe they are sincerely trying to develop an agenda. While I’m not at liberty to provide details of the intense planning that took place, I can say that they distributed and discussed position papers (see the Summit web page) around a number of critical issues including criminal justice, education and jobs, immigration and several other issues. And issues of the spirit and heart were also at the center of discussions.

One preliminary learning I bring back with me has to do with the enormous challenge we have before us in terms of moving the ripples of such momentous events beyond the local discussion of the 500 attendees. More specifically, I realized that one of, perhaps the, primary antidotes to the mediation of black-Latino relations by the MSM is obvious, fundamental, yet elusive: intimacy. Listening to the attendees articulate and struggle with feelings, thoughts and plans, it became clear to me that we need to short circuit the electric organization of our senses and thoughts by our increasingly noxious media system, especially around race. The struggle to allow ourselves to be vulnerable within our selves and with others, is the best way I know to dispel and decimate the racial workings that really do divide us. More on this later. For now, stay tuned for the next, more public events of the BLS beginning with a followup meeting in Washington DC in the Spring, when the new President will be greeted with a well-thought out and defined agenda for the Blacks, Latinos and the entire country. Stay tuned to the BLS website.

Bush,Calderon Plot Economic and Military Integration at NOLA Summit

April 22, 2008

At the center of today’s “Three Amigos” Summit in New Orleans between George W. Bush and his homologues, Mexico’s Felipe Calderon and Stephen Harper of Canada, is the sovereignty-swallowing nexus between trade, migration and military policy. As mentioned in this AP piece, Bush and Calderon held bilateral talks today in which they discussed NAFTA, the proposed free trade agreement (FTA) with Colombia and regional security. Much of the chatter in the press focused on how Calderon and Bush “defended” NAFTA and free trade.

Lacking in all of the coverage of this and other regional summits is any notion of the symbiotic relationship between trade and militarization throughout hemisphere, including the U.S.. None of the press, for example, makes the connection between how economy-integrating trade policies like NAFTA or the proposed U.S.-Colombia FTA are inevitably accompanied by increases in the domestic policing and military budgets of the U.S. and its “Latin American trade partners” like Colombia, home to the worst human rights record in the Americas thanks to the more than $4 billion in military aid it receives from the U.S.

As they continue negotiating an exponential increase in the military aid Mexico receives from the U.S., Bush and Calderon appear to be plotting a Colombianization (drug wars, counterinsurgency wars combined with free trade) just a stones throw from our southern border.

Nothing was said in today’s summit coverage about how Calderon and Bush are actually “defending” free trade with real guns and real troops.This link between increased free trade and mushrooming military budgets makes sense when we consider that border-smashing corporate interests represented by Bush and Calderon need uniformed people with guns to quash social tensions (formerly known as class conflicts) exacerbated by economic restructuring. Put another way, when the soft power middle class cushion between rich and poor gets tattered beyond repair by free trade, it is replaced by the hard power military cushion in both the U.S and Mexico.

Presidents George Bush (r) and Felipe Calderon in New Orleans, 21 Apr 2008

Following the same free trade+militarism=freedom formula, Bush and Calderon continued their plans to implement “Plan Merida”. Better known as “Plan Mexico”, Bush and Calderon’s plan is a “security” agreement designed deal with the “threat to our societies by drug trafficking and other criminal organizations operating on both sides of our common border. According to the Times Picayune, Bush told Calderon “I want to work with you in close coordination to defeat these drug traffickers”. After agreeing with Bush, Calderon added, “Recently, NAFTA has come under criticism, and I don’t believe people are realizing the benefits it has brought to the United States and Mexico”.

As I’ve stated here and elsewhere, such “benefits” come complete with plans for intensified militarization to respond to the post-cold war need for new enemies that both legitimate militarism and promote free trade as well as the idea of the state itself. Bush and Calderon are clear that, in the absence of the internal and external communist threat of the previous era, immigrants, drug cartels and youth gangs are joining “terrorists” in the mish mash of enemy-making in the post-Cold War politics of the hemisphere. For more on how this applies to immigrants in the U.S., see this recent piece. Those protesting the cheapening of their lives in the U.S. and Mexico are also joining the ranks of the unruly masses requiring enhanced legal and police control. Policing at protests like those of New Orleans preview and expand the closing of public space and rights by the true sovereign of our political and economic system: border-hopping big capital.

Interestingly, those protesting the summit included both locals organizing a very important “People’s Summit”, some left-leaning Latin American solidarity organizations and right-leaning Lou Dobbs “pro-sovereignty” groups and individuals, many of whom are quite anti-immigrant. Also curious was how Bush introduced New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin as “el alcalde” (Spanish words for “the mayor”). I remember being in New Orleans shortly after Katrina and hearing responses to Nagin’s statements about the need to “stop New Orleans from being overrun by Mexican workers.” I wonder what Nagin was thinking as he stood next to Bush and Calderon (see below) while they announced trade and military agreements that will foment further migration to New Orleans from Mexico?

Beyond Immigration Reform(ism): Direct Action Against the Wall

November 12, 2007

Rather than resurrect the decaying body of “immigration reform(ism)”, activists in Southern California have taken an important step toward an living alternative: direct action.

Concerned about the relentless environmental and human degradation (an important connection to make) wrought by the policies embodied in the border Wall, a group calling itself “No Borders! Earth First!” took its concerns to one of the many economic interests benefiting from Wall politics: wall builders. According this post on the Indybay media center site ,

In the early morning hours of Sunday, November 11, a group calling themselves “No Borders! Earth First!” sent a clear message to the El Centro office of Granite Construction Company: Their continued construction of the US-Mexico border wall will not be accepted. The activists hung one banner reading “Save the San Pedro!” on Granite Construction’s entrance gate, and another reading “Stop Building a Wall of Death” was unfurled from the company’s roof. Activists also wheat-pasted a message to the company to the front door, demanding that they halt construction on seven miles of border wall that will cut through the San Pedro National Conservation Area in the Southern Arizona desert. Locks on the front door and entrance gate were jammed with glue, and the gate was immobilized with epoxy.

Expect local, state and federal authorities and their right wing -and “mainstream” echo chamber to make a loud, visible example of “No Borders! Earth First!”- whether or not they catch them. Also expect Democrats and DC groups to denounce these tactics too. Like boycotts, work stoppages and other direct actions, such bold initiatives do what DC-based immigration reform doesn’t: remind us it’s the (immigrant-industrial) economy, stupid.

Think what you will of them, these kinds actions point directly at and foreground the vast and growing ecology of parasitic interests feeding off the the hunted immigrant living and the desert dead; These kinds of offensive actions alter and take us beyond the Wall politics of the right and their defensive liberal enablers.

Que Muera el Muro de la Muerte!

More to follow on this important development!

Air America Interview about Latino Political Strategy in 08

October 29, 2007


RADIO NATION with Laura Flanders

Check out a recent interview I did with Radio Nation’s Laura Flanders. Laura’s a very political, very informed host and asked questions not often asked on big radio or other big media. Hopefully, my responses also fall outside the pale of the Matrix too. Check it out here . And, if you listen to the show, please do let me know what you think. Gracias. R


October 8, 2007

This week’s Latino Congreso taught me that, from Maywood, California to the Bronx and Cochabamba, Bolivia, brown people are drinking brown water. I also learned about the deepening wells of of elite fear beneath racist metaphors like “brown tide rising” used to describe the political ascent of Latinos across the continent.

But what struck me most was how problems like the dirty brown water are giving rise to a political clarity and unified vision unprecedented in the annals of hemispheric history. Like the oceans and subterrenean waterways that have always united us beneath the surface, political agendas from the Canadian border to Patagonia are starting to flow from the same source: the pursuit of justice.

I heard this from 22 year-old Latino Congreso delegate Karen Linares. After looking at a thick, rusted pipe and a bottle of brown water used as part of the presentation by a South LA activist on a panel about “Water Justice”, very smiley Salvadoran-Mexican college student Linares got a serious look about her. “The L.A. river water running by my house is full of filth. I saw the same brown water in El Salvador. In Tijuana you see the sewage trickling down the dirt roads.” Asked whether a and what, if any, connection existed between what she saw in her neighborhood and in her parent’s homelands the rather “shy” (ie; “You should talk to my friend cuz this is my first event and she knows more”) answered, “Clear water runs upward where the money runs. Brown water runs down where poor brown people are.” In listening to Linares’ “shy” brilliance one hears the political music of the spheres, the hemispheres being written.

The beauty I found running through the Congreso was in how the line connecting Linares’ issues and consciousness to the rest of the continent is growing. “I look at the facial expressions here and I see meetings I’ve been to in America Latina” said Bernardo Alvarez, the US Ambassador of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela who also attended the Congreso as part of a large Latin American contingent. “I listen to the issues they discuss and they are the same issues: housing, employment, the environment, women’s issues, community development and others. We support the agenda in Latin America and we support the Latino agenda in the United States.”

Though not yet concluded, the Latino Congreso has already managed to channel the insurgent energies of its more than 1,500 delegates towards the development of a broad, inclusive and different Latino agenda that brings together and connects many issues. For example, members unanimously passed a resolution calling on the US to stop signing trade agreements they believe are one of the primary causes of immigration. Also connecting several issues, Oscar Chacón, Executive Director of the National Association of Latin American and Caribbean Communities, a National Congreso convener said “NAFTA has been the main cause for more than 1.3 million Mexican campesinos to lose their livelihoods. Not surprisingly, the number of Mexicans who have emigrated to the United States rose 60 percent in the first six years after NAFTA,” adding “We can only resolve immigration issues by addressing the bigger question of what is forcing so many people to emigrate in the first place. The first step is to stop expanding the same agricultural rules of NAFTA to Peru and other Latin American nations.”

Chacón and other Congreso delegates also passed resolutions around such “non traditional” Latin issues as Renewable Energy, Farm Bill Reform, Production, Ocean Management , Green Schools and many others. And, of course, they also addressed the very continental issue of how to turn brown water into clear water – and clear continental thought. Have a a clarisimo day 🙂



October 5, 2007

National Latino Congreso

For the next few days, I’ll be in Los Angeles blogging from, speaking at the Latino Congreso. This 5-day convergence of Latino leaders and activists from across the US is an important new political expression of the Latino community, one that tilts to the left of the usual corporate, National Council of La Raza-like corporate & Pentagon-sponsored love fiestas that pass for Latino political gatherings these days.

Check out the Congreso’s website and see for yourself a Latino event that (fasten your seat belts) actually talks about stuff like the environment, the Iraq war, criminal justice and US relations to América Latina (several ambassadors and other hemispheric actors will be there too) to name a few (yes, U.S., we do think about more than stealing jobs & hubcaps, marching madly and stuffing ourselves wild with tacos & Budweiser).

Will try to be a digital fly on the wall and bring you interviews with some of the luminary and, yes, handsome (cuz we are) Latina(o)s and Latinoamericana(o)s I run across. I’ll also test rumors heard at the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) project about the possibility of intelligent life in the Latino universe (“rumors” cuz the Roswell secret of our intelligence means no other media in the U.S. allows we aliens to think publicly). Much more to come on this breaking story.


October 2, 2007

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff blamed immigrants yesterday for environmental degradation near the border. “Illegal migrants really degrade the environment. I’ve seen pictures of human waste, garbage, discarded bottles and other human artifact in pristine areas,” Chertoff told a reporter from the Associated Press. “And believe me, that is the worst thing you can do to the environment.”

Chertoff’s remarks contradict studies and analyses of the environmental groups like the Sierra Club, which issued a report stating that the Bush Administration’s border wall will “put immigrants’ lives at risk, routing them deep into the arid deserts of Arizona where water is limited and a fragile ecosystem lives in a delicate balance” (also see this great report in the Texas Observer by my colleague Mary Jo McConhahay). And last week, Rio Grande Valley Sierra Club chairman Jim Chapman told the Houston Chronicle, “The fence, even though it’s not continuous, is an unmitigated disaster for wildlife along the river”. Chertoff also made no mention of the reports and intense criticisms of the flaws and delays in the construction of the border fence by Boeing and other contractors who continue receiving multi-billion dollar payments on the project.

These most recent statements blaming immigrants for environmental degradation are important in that they mark an institutionalization of themes and ideas long promulgated by some of the more radical elements of the anti-imimgrant right. Groups linked to anti-immigrant godfather John Tanton have, for many years, taken out radio and TV ads and issued reports blaming immigrants for major environmental problems. The Sierra Club itself was threatened with a takeover led by anti-immigrant activists with advanced degrees and considerable prestige. Though their Sierra Club coup failed, Tanton allies UCLA physicist Dr. Ben Zuckerman, and Stuart Hurlbert, a 2003 National Academy of Sciences award recipient and fellow of the prestigious American Association for the Advancement of Science, continue longstanding efforts to mainstream the most extreme anti-immigrant ideas about the environment.

In addition to being another sign that immigrants are the political gift that keeps on giving to to political and economic elites stewarding the sinking ship of state, Chertoff’s unprecedented comments also signal the success of the environmental flank of the anti-immigrant movement. Ojo on this.



September 4, 2007


As you watch a “weaker”, but still dangerous Hurricane Felix flood and devastate the communities of some of the poorest people in the hemisphere, you might want to take special note of the US’s first priorities in response: its own interests. A report in today’s UK Guardian lays these priorities out succinctly:

“On Tuesday, in the final hours before Hurricane Felix hit, Grupo Taca Airlines frantically airlifted tourists from the Honduran island of Roatan, popular for its pristine reefs and diving resorts, while the U.S. Southern Command said a Chinook helicopter evacuated 19 U.S. citizens, including tourists and members of U.S. Joint Task Force-Bravo who were visiting the island.”

Felix’s path covers lush, verdant lands dotted with volcanoes, almond trees – and a long, painful history of US military presence. As the impacts of the hurricane become clearer, watch how the men and women in fatigues become the heroes of the story, a mainstream media story that will likely lack any explanation about why, for example, almost half of the people living in Honduras live on less than $2 a day. Neither will they report on how “Joint Task Force Bravo” is staging rescue operations from the same military bases where they trained and housed the infamous Contras as these “freedom fighters” killed more than 30,000 mostly noncombatant poor people in their failed Cold War quest to overthrow the Sandinistas who are now back in power.

If the mainstream media did report on this, it’d be obliged to mention that these same est. 2,000-5,000 US military personnel have a mission to help the governments in this economic desert of a region combat the new post-Cold War enemy: the poor. As you hear the media tell you how US and Honduran troops are helping rescue poor campesinos and their children, compare that with how this recent “exercise” of the US Southern Command in Belize conflates poor migrants with terrorists, traffickers and other “transnational security threats”:

Security, Illegal migration and illicit trafficking Exercises

One example of this type of multinational maritime exercise called TRADEWINDS which addresses transnational security threats in the Caribbean. Recent TRADEWINDS exercises have been crafted to provide Caribbean nations training for the security requirements they will have for the upcoming World Cricket Cup. This year, Belize hosted TRADEWINDS 2007 in which 16 countries enhanced their collective abilities of maritime and ground security forces to prepare for and respond to security threats.

While the hurricane of US economic policies like CAFTA are the primary source of the region’s poverty and propensity to migrate (ie; about 80,000 Hondurans try to migrate annually), the volcano of militarism also does its part to displace – and silence- the poor, especially poor youth, as noted in this report from Amnesty International, which documents how the same Honduran military that was trained for rescue operations is also being trained in counterinsurgency strategy and tactics targeting those most likely to rebel against a $2-a-day future: youth.

For a local perspective on the relationship between land, environment and militarism, see this excerpt from campesina leader and former refugee, Elvira Alvarado’s Don’t be Afraid Gringo. Though written during the height of the Central American wars of the 80’s and 90’s, it documents well how the elite “Gringos” saw powerful refugee women named Elvira and others as communist threats in need of a military solution. Hurricane felix provides another tragic object lesson about how, in the post-Cold War age of migration and other “national security threats”, hurricane survivors, environmetal refugees and other migrants named Elvira are now seen as requiring a military solution. Le Plus Ca Change… Le Plus C’est La Meme Chose.