The Revolution Inside

From Latin American Odyssey, to a profound investigation of the Bolivarian revolution. Hugo Chavez says: Socialism or Death! Leftists rejoice, and Capitalists squeal. But what do the people of Venezuela think about all of this?

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Road Scholar: Calexico

So, I'm still trying to figure out the best way to manage journaling on the road. Clearly, finding internet access and power is going to be key. But even once I do, I find myself having a difficult time figuring out what the tone of my posts should be... there's lots to say, but which story is important? Espcially, like, a week into this journey (the time lag on the date of this post is significant), and we've covered a lot of ground, and I don't always have time to journal before we've gone further on. And then there's the actual stories that we're pursuing, which don't mesh well with the more personal accounts of the journey.

My solution for now is to have several kinds of posts. "Road Scholar" posts will be more personal and first person, talking about the journey itself, and may not be that timely, but will generally be geographically oriented, or refer to specific people or events. "Mediacracy" posts will mostly be about specific radio stations that we visit. Other posts will be more journalistic, sort of editorals or opinion pieces. And as soon as I can figure it out, we'll have the audio up, which will be bona fide news stories. Or not.

Calexico: After San Diego, our entourage spent the night of Sept 17th in this mid sized border town, with Mexicali on the other side. We attended a rally and march which featured a hundred people on both sides of the border, meeting at that metal wall, and pounding on both sides, even climbing up the fence and straddling it 20 feet up. Volleyball over the border. The border patrol is very present, but actually kind of nice in this town.

A funny thing about the "delete the border" event: half of the people weren't from the area. And even though their ideas and organizing techniques were correct, in my estimation, their lack of connection to the people in the area caused some problems which I believe were unnecessary.

For instance: after the march, we were all gathered in the park. The mayor of Calexico, reportedly, is so supportive of the anti-vigilante camp that he waived the permitting process to allow the gathering to take place on short notice. Suddenly, there's a lot of commotion "let him go, let him go!" and a number of police are gathering facing a group of activists. While it was nowhere near out of hand, the group was definitely getting agitated over a young kid who'd been pulled out of the park bathroom and detained for graffiti (I didn't see any graffiti in the bathroom myself). And the police, became numerous - about 20 of them lined up.

We eventually heard that the kid, a local, was let go. His sister was there, and she was visibly upset that this was going down. Activists were calling the brown-skinned police officers traitors. What's uncomfortable about this, is that people I spoke to who are locals don't find much fault with their police force or border patrol. Now, I can't weigh in myself.. perhaps these informants of mine were there to make us feel like the cops were good and just go away. But that's the point: when we move into another community to agitate for change "for them" - or, at their request.. we need to make connections in the community first.. otherwise, we might just be another group of know-it-alls moving in and imposing our vision on local people.

Another example: later in the evening, planning for actions was going on, and the dominant mood was to group up, get organized, and go out and find cazainmigrantes. Organizing non-hierarchical groups is always hard, and models like the "affinity group" system.. where people stay in small groups that they trust, and representatives for those groups come together and figure out a plan of action that keeps everyone in their comfort zone. It's a pretty good model, and prevents people from feeling subject to the tyranny of the majority.. which doesn't work anyway, because in a decentralized model, if four friends don't want to do action X, they just won't.

A wonderful part of this event was that the activists and radicals from out of town were in solidarity with the locals. But the locals were not radicals, for the most part.. they're people who have had enough of the fear that their family members will be hunted by white racists.

When it came time to make a decision, most of the locals wanted to go out to a place called Jacumba.. word was that a small group of vigilantes were harrassing folks in that area. Many of us unacquainted with the scene were like, let's go! But the out of towners (correctly, in my opinion) didn't want to just see the whole group commandeered to drive 20 miles away, possibly leaving Calexico open to an invasion of migrant hunters.

So, the very dedicated and competent facilitators from out of town, who had done a lot of planning, were trying to get the group to agree to the affinity group model, so we could go do something in a coordinated way. One of the locals became frustrated with this, and proposed to put the matter to a vote - if majority says "yea", we all go to Jacumba. Admittedly, this was kind of a naive proposition. And the facilitators did a good job trying to explain: if a group of people wanted to go to Jacumba, they are an affinity group, they should go - and can't you just wait a few more minutes so you'll know what everyone else is doing? But eventually, the locals just felt stalled, so they left; and the out-of-towners felt like the locals weren't acknowledging the significant planning that had already gone on.

In the end, nothing happened in Jacumba, and nothing happened in Calexico, so I guess we all made the right choices. It seems to me that the lesson is to make sure you're coordinating your planning with a local when getting together an out of town action group. Work like this requires trust more than truth - even if you're "right", coming into an area and helping people without taking into consideration how they want to be helped can come close to imposing your vision. And haven't we had enough of that?

A Civilized Slavery

I'm starting to get the picture that this whole immigration thing is a little subtler than it seems at first. Over and over, people are saying, if la migra wanted to stop unauthorized migrant work, they would go to all the restaurants, agricultural fields, janitorial services, day labor markets, and round them up. I'm continually reminded: companies have no incentive to stop the flow of cheap labor from Mexico - and increasingly, further south - into the united states.

The vigilantes are another anomaly. While there are a few outspoken advocates of private militias at the border, they aren't well organized, and they never show up. This happened to us in Calexico, where we were to confront cazainmigrantes - migrant head hunters. There were two hundred people in town to show their disapproval, and hunt the hunters themselves. But we didn't spot any, there was almost no presence, and the communications of the so-called "Friends of the Border Patrol" were secretive and confusing. In Arizona, there was a lot of bluster, but mostly it was a few dozen unarmed retirees sitting in lawn chairs near the border with binoculars. It makes me think that, whether conspiracy or naivete, there is no organized militia activity on any significant scale. It seems like it's for show - as if a hastily organized deception scheme wanted people to think that the right wing really wants to stop immigration.. this is convenient for the racists, because they need somewhere to focus their fear; and an effective way of focusing progressive\radical energy in a dirction that is completely useless.

No. this administration, wants to keep the cheap labor coming... and they've found an effective, darwinian way to keep the population under control: make them run the gauntlet. Those who succeed are rewarded with a low-paying job with no benefits, and they contribute to our tax base through federal deductions they'll never receive. And this group remains fearful, they don't get organized because they can't risk what they've already given up so much for: the chance at a better life.

How can we have more undocumented migrants coming through the borders, more dying in the desert, more trying and failing, more border patrol, and more money being spent? Coyotes make some money moving people across the border. It appears to be an industry. And in order for an illegal industry to function on a wide scale, you've got a few crooked people on the inside.

Maybe. We'll see what we can find out.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

El Grito - The Scream

I learned something new recently. In nautical terminology, "shore power" is used to refer to plugging into electrical sources when a boat is in port. When the boat is out to sea, there's electricity stored in batteries, and, just like a car, the running engines recharge the batteries.

What I learned was that this nautical terminology is becoming used for travel with computers on batteries. So, when I'm on the road, I use my battery power, and when I finally get somewhere where I can plug in, I have "shore power". And, this feels right - it also feels appropriate for finding a wireless connection, like I've hit shore, and I'm kind of free floating otherwise.

I'm at Bentley's coffee and tea in Tucson AZ. Naturally, all plans have morphed into a reality that barely resembles them, but things are going well. Until Sept 29th, when we actually start this trip, I'll be catching up with reflections over the past several months planning this project. I think this is important if folks want to avoid our mistakes.

The friends of the border patrol in California claimed to start their activity on Sept. 16th, Mexican Independence Day. And we started our trip on that day too.

The plan: Pick up Judy, fellow KBOO volunteer, at the airport Thursday night, 15th. She's just coming back from San Miguel de Allende, MX. She has contacts and information for us. We grab a quick bite, share information, and Bartolina and I are off to bed by 10 pm.. we'll shove all of our stuff in bags and get ready for Lisa to come and get us at 530 am.

the reality: Judy's plane is late, and we don't arrive at the bar until nearly 10pm. Bartolina brings his sister, brother in law, and their child to the bar, where she can't be, of course.. we talk for quite a while, and others visit us. we leave the bar at about 130 am. It's after 2 before we reach Kara's apartment, so we just decide to pack and get organized and stay up. a difficult decision, but there's just no other way. I catch a second wind (bartolina and I already were up at 530 am the night before to go to the carpenter's strike), and get everything taken care of... until about 430 am.. and I can't find my passport wallet. So typical. I had just seen it an hour before. Lisa arrives on time, still can't find it. unpack, repack, it's nowhere. finally, we start taking things down one by one, still no sign... now I'm tired and worried. Lisa picks up the final bag of stuff, and there it is, underneath. Departure: 530 am. Not bad, considering.

Lunch in Roseburg at Tom Tom's required only a single bloody mary for the driver. The place was oregon - handwritten gun show notice on the front door, a half full bar at 9am on a friday morning. Bartolina smirked at the Indian reference in the restaurant name, and the white clientele who would be the ideological descendents of Indian hunters.

After losing an hour, we agree to press hard. All of us are tired, but Lisa got four hours of sleep; Barto 2, and I got none. Lisa pulled an amazing shift from 5am to 2pm. After a nap in the back seat, I picked up the slack from somewhere north of Sacramento, through to that weird hilly windy area - Gustine. Lisa picks it up again, ferrying us all the way into Solana Beach where Kara's family is on the last night of their vacation. Arrival time: 130 am. Driving time: 20 hours.

The ocean was lovely. The sleep was insufficient. Our metaphorical scream for libertad was a yawn.

next: Calexico\Mexicali

Sunday, September 11, 2005

A Moment of Silence

September 11, 2002
by Emmanuel Ortiz

Before I start this poem, I'd like to ask you to join me
In a moment of silence
In honour of those who died in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon last September 11th. I would also like to ask you To offer up a moment of silence For all of those who have been harassed, imprisoned, disappeared,
tortured, raped, or killed in retaliation for those strikes, For the victims in both Afghanistan and the US

And if I could just add one more thing...

A full day of silence
For the tens of thousands of Palestinians who have died at the hands of US-backed Israeli forces over decades of occupation. Six months of silence for the million and-a-half Iraqi people, mostly children, who have died of malnourishment or starvation as a result of an 11-year US embargo against the country.

Before I begin this poem,

Two months of silence for the Blacks under Apartheid in South Africa, Where homeland security made them aliens in their own country. Nine months of silence for the dead in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Where death rained down and peeled back every layer of concrete, steel, earth and skin And the survivors went on as if alive. A year of silence for the millions of dead in Vietnam - a people, not a war - for those who know a thing or two about the scent of burning fuel, their relatives' bones buried in it, their babies born of it. A year of silence for the dead in Cambodia and Laos, victims of a secret war .... ssssshhhhh.... Say nothing ... we don't want them to learn that they are dead. Two months of silence for the decades of dead in Colombia, Whose names, like the corpses they once represented, have piled up and slipped off our tongues.

Before I begin this poem.

An hour of silence for El Salvador ...
An afternoon of silence for Nicaragua ...
Two days of silence for the Guatemaltecos ...
None of whom ever knew a moment of peace in their living years. 45 seconds of silence for the 45 dead at Acteal, Chiapas 25 years of silence for the hundred million Africans who found their graves far deeper in the ocean than any building could poke into the sky. There will be no DNA testing or dental records to identify their remains. And for those who were strung and swung from the heights of sycamore trees in the south, the north, the east, and the west...

100 years of silence...

For the hundreds of millions of indigenous peoples from this half of right here,
Whose land and lives were stolen,
In postcard-perfect plots like Pine Ridge, Wounded Knee, Sand Creek, Fallen Timbers, or the Trail of Tears. Names now reduced to innocuous magnetic poetry on the refrigerator of our consciousness ...

So you want a moment of silence?
And we are all left speechless
Our tongues snatched from our mouths
Our eyes stapled shut
A moment of silence
And the poets have all been laid to rest
The drums disintegrating into dust.

Before I begin this poem,
You want a moment of silence
You mourn now as if the world will never be the same
And the rest of us hope to hell it won't be.
Not like it always has been.

Because this is not a 9/11 poem.
This is a 9/10 poem,
It is a 9/9 poem,
A 9/8 poem,
A 9/7 poem
This is a 1492 poem.

This is a poem about what causes poems like this to be written. And if this is a 9/11 poem, then: This is a September 11th poem for Chile, 1971. This is a September 12th poem for Steven Biko in South Africa, 1977. This is a September 13th poem for the brothers at Attica Prison, New York, 1971.

This is a September 14th poem for Somalia, 1992.

This is a poem for every date that falls to the ground in ashes This is a poem for the 110 stories that were never told The 110 stories that history chose not to write in textbooks The 110 stories that CNN, BBC, The New York Times, and Newsweek ignored. This is a poem for interrupting this program.

And still you want a moment of silence for your dead?
We could give you lifetimes of empty:
The unmarked graves
The lost languages
The uprooted trees and histories
The dead stares on the faces of nameless children
Before I start this poem we could be silent forever
Or just long enough to hunger,
For the dust to bury us
And you would still ask us
For more of our silence.

If you want a moment of silence
Then stop the oil pumps
Turn off the engines and the televisions
Sink the cruise ships
Crash the stock markets
Unplug the marquee lights,
Delete the instant messages,
Derail the trains, the light rail transit.

If you want a moment of silence, put a brick through the window of Taco Bell, And pay the workers for wages lost. Tear down the liquor stores, The townhouses, the White Houses, the jailhouses, the Penthouses and the Playboys.

If you want a moment of silence,
Then take it
On Super Bowl Sunday,
The Fourth of July
During Dayton's 13 hour sale
Or the next time your white guilt fills the room where my beautiful
people have gathered.

You want a moment of silence
Then take it NOW,
Before this poem begins.
Here, in the echo of my voice,
In the pause between goosesteps of the second hand,
In the space between bodies in embrace,
Here is your silence.
Take it.
But take it all... Don't cut in line.
Let your silence begin at the beginning of crime. But we, Tonight we will keep right on singing... For our dead.


Emmanuel Ortiz is a third-generation Chicano/Puerto Rican/Irish-American community organizer and spoken word poet residing in Minneapolis, MN. He is the author of a chapbook of poems, The Word is a Machete, and his poetry has appeared in numerous publications, including two books published in Australia: Open Boat - Barbed Wire Sky (Live Poets' Press) an anthology of poems to aid refugees and asylum-seekers, and Passion for Peace: Exercising Power Creatively (UNSW Press). His poetry will also appear in the forthcoming FreedomBook, an anthology of writings in support of Puerto Rican political prisoners. He currently serves on the board of directors for the Minnesota Spoken Word Association, and is the coordinator of Guerrilla Wordfare, a Twin Cities-based grassroots project bringing together artists of color to address socio-political issues and raise funds for progressive organizing in communities of color through art as a tool of social change.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

El Filo de la Frontera

We're less than a week away from our departure from Portland, OR. Our friend Lisa, former KBOO volunteer, has offered to ferry us from the Northwest to the Southwest. We'll be leaving at about 5 am on Friday 16 Sept, and trying to make it all the way to San Diego in one day.

Though it seems almost incomprehensible, 16 hours - we will try to make it in a day. From there, to Calexico\Mexicali for "delete the border". While Bartolina and I have chosen Mexican Independence Day (Sept 16th, 1810) to initiate our cross-cultural bridge building, the Friends of the Border Patrol have chosen the same day to launch their "Border Watch". We'll show up there on the 17th, and collect audio.

Definition: cazainmigrantes - a person who hunts immigrants.

The timing is evocative. This is the perfect way to begin this expedition - from the end. A lot comes to an end at La Frontera del Norte. Cultures, values, economics, and lives. They are powerful places, geographic atherosclerosis. But like most conditions of this world, these hardened arteries have a greater effect on the poor than others. Over 130 deaths have been reported in the Arizona desert this year. My mother lives in Tucson, where I grew up. I was horrified to hear her exclaim, in frustration, "those people are stupid!" She means to refer, of course, to the high risk of death for crossing the Sonora desert - but it's painful to hear her say that.

It's a more complicated issue than stupidity. The question I return to is: If industry can move across borders at will, why can't people? In 1994, NAFTA opened up the borders for global trade. That has permitted maquiladoras to proliferate along the border, and brought people from further south up north to get jobs. It only makes sense for a company to move it's operations to Mexico, right? Fewer regulations, lower wages, limited labor rights, bigger paychecks for the company.

So, how is it that we can blame people for making the same decision? Would the minutemen advocate the elimination of maquilas because they export profits out of Mexico? NAFTA (and CAFTA, the Central American Free Trade Agreement) squeezes the people of Mexico and Central America up against the border...

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In the 1990's, the US implemented a new tough border policy, focusing on the major arterials - San Ysidro, El Paso, Nogales. Cameras, surveillance planes, and a doubling of agents in the major areas... our borders are tougher, all right. But oddly, the number of immigrants entering each year has doubled since then, the number of arrests has doubled.. and the number dying in the desert.. well, it just didn't use to happen that way at all. 1998 was the first year the Border patrol kept track - 28 died that year, and that freaked people out. We're at 130 in Arizona this year. I'm glad we're counting, there's a lot of counting to do.

Oh, and the cost - about $480 million adjusted $$ in the 90s, and now? $1.4 billion per year.

NAFTA and Tough Borders - more expensive, deadlier, and less effective by any measure.