Category: Indigenous Peoples

Pilgrimage to Freedom Caravan 2011

By admin, August 29, 2011 12:57 pm

Pilgrimage to Freedom Caravan 2011

Last year, over 150 migrant workers and their allies made history by marching over fifty kilometres, an equivalent of 12 hours, from Leamington to Windsor, Ontario demanding justice, respect and dignity for the hundreds of thousands employed under the auspices of Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Programs. After years of harassment, intimidation and exploitation, migrant workers organized and took to the streets to stand up to these abuses.

The march called the ‘Pilgrimage to Freedom: Breaking the Chains of Indentureship’ ended in Windsor at the Tower of Freedom that is dedicated to those who travelled the underground railroad. The monument was chosen as the ending point to reflect on the connections of past and the present to slavery, indentureship and statelessness that renders racialized peoples as non-citizens. Over the last year, thousands of people have heard the testimonies and the stories that led to organizing the march. Permanent residency and citizenship status, an end to repatriations and deportations, labour law reform, equal access to social entitlements and an end to the coercive role of recruiters and contractors has inspired many others about the realities faced by migrant workers in Canada.

Migrant workers and members of Justicia for Migrant Workers have continued to organize in rural Ontario and are once again demanding that the chains of indentureship in Canada must be broken. This year the pilgrimage continues as a form of a caravan across rural Ontario.

J4MW is requesting the support of community, religious, labour and allied organizations to join us for this year’s action. Migrant workers and their allies will be calling community meetings, and organizing meetings across south western Ontario. This year’s actions will take place across several communities.  If you are interested in further information feel free to contact Justicia for Migrant Workers. Tentative dates for stops on the caravan include

September 4, 2011
Niagara on the Lake, St. Catharines and Niagara Falls
For more details on the Niagara Action click here

September 25, 2011
Windsor, Leamington, Chatham and Dresden

October 2, 2011
Simcoe – Brantford – Hamilton – Toronto

Updates will be forthcoming in the upcoming weeks describing greater details the actions and what support we are asking for this event. We are seeking financial and in kind support but mostly your presence during these dates and communities.

Background Information

More than 20, 000 migrant farm workers from Thailand, Mexico, Guatemala, the Philippines, and the Caribbean arrive in Canada to work in our fields, orchards and greenhouses every year. Many workers pay thousands of dollars in fees to recruiters to be able to work in Canada, sometimes for jobs that do not even exist.   Once they arrive, many workers face dangerous working conditions, sub-standard housing and employment standards and human rights violations. As farm workers and migrants, they have little recourse to assert their human and labour rights and are constantly faced with the threat of deportation if they voice their concerns.

Justicia for Migrant Workers is an award winning volunteer-run collective that strives to promote the rights of migrant farm workers by creating spaces for workers to lead their own movement and articulate their own voices in a country that makes renders them invisible.

Justice for Migrant Workers!
Got food? Bought local? Thank a migrant farm worker!

Background on the Pilgrimage:
Call out for last year’s march
Message of solidarity from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers

Videos:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tsC1Bt-eSJg
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JB5fb3cyQyw

Photos:
Flickr
Labour Start’s International Photo of the Year, Pilgrimage Photo Won!
Tumblr Multimedia snapshots

Print:
Toronto Star
Windsor Star

Basil Davidson’s soul cannot rest in peace

By admin, August 26, 2010 3:57 pm

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Basil-Davidson-s-soul-cannot-rest-in–peace_7832155

PATRICK WILMOT

Thursday, August 26, 2010

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After 95 years, the last of which were spent in the fog of unknowing, this great but simple man died in July. He trekked through the jungles with Mondlane, Machel, Cabral and Neto, and now he has joined them in that immortality of the spirit created for those who rebelled, who said no to tyranny and oppression. Before his African odyssey he had evaded Nazi storm troopers hunting Tito’s partisans in Yugoslavia.

As a son of the privileged, a European whose forebears were members of the imperial navy, he could have become a member of the aggressors who benefited from the labour of masses oppressed by colonial Europeans. But in a rejection, later described by Cabral as “committing class suicide”, Davidson gave up a future assured him by his membership in the ruling class, and joined his fate to that of the oppressed.

In this he was following in a long line of “rebels’”who believed that the future belonged to those whose prospects had been blighted by the nihilism of their ancestors – Marx, Engels, Lenin, Mao, Chou, Gandhi, Nehru. Later Garvey, Du Bois, Castro, Guevara, Mandela, Nkrumah, Fanon, Mondlane, Neto, Cabral and Machel joined the ranks of those who preferred the terror, risks, uncertainties and loneliness of rebellion to the comforting illusions of the certainties of the predators.

Literature on freedom fighters was rare, and Basil Davidson’s works were a welcome contribution to understanding why it was the children of the oppressed, offered the opportunity to join the party of their parents’ oppressors, had turned to lead rebellions. In the Caribbean it had been slaves, given rare benefits in the system, such as Toussaint, Sharpe, Bogle and Nanny, who had sacrificed themselves for their comrades who remained in shackles.

In the mid-1970s when the Angolan war against Western imperialism was at its height, I received a warm letter from Davidson, congratulating me for an article I had written in The New Nigerian. Davidson was in Kano working on the great series on African civilisation he was making for British television. I was impressed because at the time he was someone who had been in the struggle for decades, and had acquired fame even among his enemies, and I was an obscure young lecturer at Ahmadu Bello University.

When I was abducted and expelled from Nigeria by Ibrahim Babangida in 1988, I received a sympathetic note from Davidson, while many of my “comrades” in Nigeria were oiling the nether regions of the “Maradona of the Niger” with fulsome praises. Davidson kept in touch, until he was struck down by Alzheimer’s, never afraid to stand up and be counted among those who defended principles and fought against corruption and barbarism.

As many of my former students who have remained faithful to these principles, and some who have not, will remember, Davidson’s books were required reading for those who wanted to understand the dynamics of neo-colonialism and decolonisation. If they had continued to follow the path of his thinking, they would not now preside over a country noted for poverty, disorder, kidnapping and advanced-fee fraud.

Without Davidson’s works it is unlikely that the world would have become acquainted with the lives and struggles of men in the obscure colonies of the most backward and dictatorial of European colonial powers. Western imperialism regarded these Portuguese colonies, Namibia, and apartheid South Africa as part of its “sphere of influence”, which had to be protected from communism by armies, air forces and navies. Portugal was a member of NATO, and its troops were equipped by factories in the USA, Britain, France and Belgium.

Apartheid and colonialism were sanctified as part of the West’s “civilising mission”, and freedom fighters were defined as “terrorists” , “dupes of communism”, and “rebels” against democracy, who deserved to be exterminated. Davidson’s works helped to transform this dominant perspective of imperialism, which glorified the assassination of Lumumba, Mondlane and Cabral as victories against communism, and would have justified the massacres of Sharpeville and Luanda as necessities for imposing order.

For those who still have copies of Davidson’s works, and the works of Fanon, Cabral, Guevara and others, it would be useful to look again on their analyses of why the people fought, and made the necessary sacrifices against an imperialism which condemned them and their children to perpetual slavery. The people fought not for ideas which existed in the heads of individuals, but to improve the conditions of their lives.

The people in the slums of “independent” countries did not fight to destroy British, French, or Portuguese oppression, to replace European masters with African ones. In a sense, Davidson was lucky to have spent the last years of his life unable to see what had become of the countries he helped to “liberate”. The slum dwellers of Luanda and the victims of narco-dictators in Guinea (Bissau) cannot appreciate the anti-colonial rhetoric which was used to mobilise them in the struggle. Basil Davidson’s soul cannot rest in peace when he surveys the mass suffering which persists amidst shameful, European-style excess.

Patrick Wilmot, who is based in London, is a writer and commentator on African affairs for the BBC, Sky News, Al-Jazeera and CNN. He’s a visiting professor at Ahmadu Bello and Jos universities in Nigeria.

GAZA FREEDOM FLOTILLA: EYEWITNESS REPORTS Featuring flotilla survivors Farooq Burney and Kevin Neish

By admin, July 3, 2010 2:49 pm

GAZA FREEDOM FLOTILLA: EYEWITNESS REPORTS

Featuring flotilla survivors Farooq Burney and Kevin Neish

P U B L I C   F O R U M

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Doors open: 6:30 p.m. | Event begins: 7:00 p.m.

Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE)

Main auditorium, 252 Bloor Street West

TTC: St. George | Public parking available on Bedford Road

Suggested donation at the door: Adult $10 | Student/youth/senior $5

- or -

PWYC (pay what you can): No one will be turned away due to lack of funds

Event on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cxy7fA

In the early hours of May 31, Israeli commandos illegally boarded and seized six ships carrying 663 unarmed humanitarian aid activists from 37 countries, and over 10,000 tons of badly needed aid for the people of Gaza. When the raid was over, nine passengers were dead, dozens more were injured, and hundreds were transferred to Israeli jails.

This illegal military assault on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla has, once again, focused the world’s attention on the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip. The flotilla’s cargo included food, medicine, medical equipment, toys, books, paper, school supplies, clothing, building materials, and electricity generators – items that Israel has kept out of Gaza since it imposed its illegal blockade in 2007.

The acute humanitarian crisis unfolding in Gaza, as well as the attack on the flotilla, are part of a growing list of Israel’s deadly violations of international law, including its war crimes committed in Gaza and documented in the Goldstone Report (http://bit.ly/99GPQb ), and war crimes committed against the Lebanese people in 2006.

While the United Nations and world states have remained largely silent and complicit, millions of people around the world have responded with outrage about Palestinians’ collective experience of over six decades of Israeli apartheid. Immediately following the attacks, protests were held across Canada and internationally to demand justice for those killed on the flotilla, to demand an end to the Israeli siege on Gaza, and to call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it complies with international law.

On the eve of the 5th anniversary of the Palestinian-led BDS campaign, join us for eyewitness accounts and discussion with flotilla activists.

Farooq Burney and Kevin Neish, two of three Canadians who participated in the flotilla, were aboard the Mavi Marmara when it was attacked by Israeli commandos. Farooq and Kevin will share their eyewitness accounts of the raid, and their experiences in Israeli detention. We will also discuss ongoing efforts to end the siege of Gaza, and and what you can do to support the broader BDS campaign to end Israeli apartheid.

Farooq Burney is the Director of Al Fakhoora (http://www.fakhoora.org

), an international campaign to defend the education rights of Palestinian students living in Gaza and the West Bank. He was transporting 65 computers to students in Gaza as part of the humanitarian mission.

Kevin Neish is a social justice and peace activist based in Victoria, BC. A retired engineer, he has participated in numerous solidarity campaigns in Canada, Latin America, and Palestine.

Co-organized by

Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid

Toronto Coalition to Stop the War

Students Against Israeli Apartheid, a working group of OPIRG Toronto

Endorsed by

Palestine House Community Centre

Palestinian Canadian Congress

Gaza Freedom March

Beit Zatoun

Canadian Arab Federation

Canadian Peace Alliance

Educators for Peace and Justice

Muslim Unity

Canadian Shia Muslims Organization (CASMO)

Independent Jewish Voices

Women in Solidarity with Palestine

Not In Our Name (NION): Jewish Voices Opposing Zionism

International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network – Toronto

The Holy Land Awareness and Action Group of Southwest Presbytery (United Church)

Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG) – Toronto

For more information or to endorse, please e-mail flotillareport@gmail.com.

For media requests, please e-mail flotillareport@gmail.com.

The Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid is part of the growing movement against Israeli Apartheid, and supports the global

campaign of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel until it recognizes the Palestinian people’s inalienable right to self-determination and fully complies with the precepts of international law.

http://www.caiaweb.org | endapartheid@riseup.net

The Toronto Coalition to Stop the War is Toronto’s city-wide peace coalition, representing over 70 labour, student, faith, and

community organizations, and a member of the Canadian Peace Alliance.

http://www.nowar.ca | info@nowar.ca | 416-795-5863 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              416-795-5863

U.S. Social Forum a Mechanism for Change

By admin, July 1, 2010 7:18 pm

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Written by Marc Becker
Tuesday, 29 June 2010 10:27
Fifteen thousand social movement activists descended on Detroit during the fourth week of June for the second United States Social Forum (USSF) to discuss and debate proposals for how to build a better world. The slogan for the forum added “Another Detroit is happening” to the previous USSF slogan “Another US is necessary” and the standard World Social Forum (WSF) insistence that “Another world is possible.”

The structure of a social forum originated a decade ago in the global south as a response to the exclusionary and militaristic policies of the World Economic Forum (WEF) that meets at the end of January each year in Davos, Switzerland. From its first meeting in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 2001, the idea of holding social forums quickly caught fire and spread across the world. This organizing strategy effectively shifted the terms of debate regarding the Washington Consensus away from social, economic, and political policies that benefitted a wealthy elite.

While the rest of the world seems to have moved on to other issues and strategies, and the political environment in Latin America that initially gave rise to the need for social forums has shifted significantly to the left, the social forum process continues to gain force in the United States as a mechanism to struggle for social justice.

WSF founder Chico Whitaker observed that Detroit had a similar ambience as Porto Alegre had at the first forum in 2001. People began to organize both forums without a clear idea about what they would find, but they realized unprecedented success in launching a new and innovative process. The challenge, Whitaker said, was to create spaces, to create a new political culture.

Similar to how the global south originally gave rise to the social forum process, marginalized peoples and those representing the south in the United States have taken key leadership roles in organizing the USSF. These include African-descendants, Latinos, Indigenous peoples, and poor people.

Although apparently not intentionally planned and organized as such, similar to how the initial WSFs were originally held opposite the meeting of economic elites in Davos, the USSF was held at the same time that the Group of the 20 largest global economies (G-20) met across the border in Toronto. Participants began to talk of the meetings as a tale of two cities, one with a heavy police presence while the other presented peaceful and positive alternatives.

USSF

Over the course of five days of meetings, activists in Detroit participated in more than one thousand self-organized workshops. Heavily influenced by critical pedagogy, the USSF attempted to move away from a standard conference model of panels with “experts” presenting their knowledge to a passive audience. Instead, organizers urged a more participatory model of collaborative workshops to bring people together to solve common problems together.

An innovation of the USSF was an emphasis on People’s Movement Assemblies (PMAs) that were intended to bring activists together around common issues and concerns. During the process of the Detroit forum, participants organized almost one hundred PMAs, 45 in the lead up to the forum and 52 during the forum. Summaries of the resolutions from the PMAs were presented in a National People’s Movement Assembly on the last day of the forum, and are posted to the website http://pma2010.org/.

A summary review of the resolutions indicates the broad array of topics and issues discussed at the forum, including worker struggles, gender justice, transformative justice, poverty, immigration, environment, media, and militarism. One group gave a passionate call for the independence of Puerto Rico. PMAs are a key feature of the USSF that will be contributed back to the broader WSF.

Most social forums begin with a march through the streets of the host city, and Detroit was no exception. On Tuesday, June 22, between seven and nine thousand participants paraded to Cobo Hall along the river front that was host to the meetings. Placards along the march pointed to the typical array of demands of social forum participants, while feeders that joined the main march emphasized more local concerns such as utility turnoffs. Detroit has a long history of radical labor union organizing, and is often the case the presence of the forum encouraged a heightened level of activism. Various marches and protests popped up during the week’s events, culminating with another massive march for clear air, good jobs, and justice at the world’s largest incinerator on the final day, Saturday, June 26.

Even though the Detroit forum was significantly smaller than the largest WSFs that have ranged up to 150,000 people, it was still massive enough that it remains difficult for one person to comprehend the entire event. Three blind people alternatively describing an elephant as a tree trunk, a wall, or a snake is a common analogy to explain how an observer’s position can influence perceptions of the event.

Venezuela

Latin American solidarity activists held a minor but impressive presence in Detroit. The Latin American Solidarity Coalition (LASC) pulled together an impressive listings of events at the meeting. Together with other groups such as the School of the Americas Watch (SOAW) and a variety of Venezuelan and Cuban groups, solidarity activists had a notable presence at the literature tables. At the same time as the forum met in Detroit, the SOAW organized a parallel meeting of Latin American activists in Venezuela to strategize on shutting down United States training of repressive Latin American militaries. The two events set up a video link to share their common concerns between the two meetings on the two continents.

Participants at the forum were also fortunate to be able to take advantage of a special preview screening of Oliver Stone’s new documentary “South of the Border” in which he examines the recent left-ward shift in Latin American politics. Participants jammed the theater to almost triple of its capacity. Most of the film focused on Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, and the Wayuu Indigenous activist David Hernández and a Venezuelan representative from the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) participated in a question and answer session after the film.

Cuba

The Cuban Working Group of the Black Left Unity Network (BLUN) presented a fascinating workshop on African Solidarity with the Cuban Revolution. Efia Nwangaza from the Afrikan American Institute framed the conversation with the observation that Cuba was an ally of African people on the continent as well as in the US. “We as African people have a long standing debt to Cuba,” she stated. Nwangaza read a March 10 statement that they presented in honor International Women’s Day to the Cuban Women’s Federation that declared that the revolution “remains a hopeful beacon in the western hemisphere that humane societies can be constructed that provide the basis for the elimination of all forms of discrimination, exploitation, and oppression.”

Tony “Menelik” VanDermeer from U-Mass Boston described a trip to Cuba that he took in March on a replica of the Amistad, the famous slave ship. In contrast to a recent trip to Nigeria, VanDermeer said that Cuba is much better organized, and that if Africa was 25 percent as organized as Cuba it would be a power house. Saladin Muhammad from Black Workers for Justice presented a thank-you Cuba campaign that they had initiated to highlight Cuba’s role in a struggle against racism. They want people to express their thanks to Cuba by signing postcards, holding events, and organizing other actions.

A common theme throughout the panel was how important it was that people need to travel to Cuba themselves to witness firsthand the advances in the revolution. What is happening in Cuba that the United States does not want us to see, panelists asked? An African-American woman in the audience said “it’s hard to find the language, something that you’ve never felt before in your own country” as she urged people to travel to Cuba “if you want to know what freedom feels like.” She pointed to her time in Cuba as a life changing experience, as a validation that she never felt or saw in the United States. Another audience member observed that the same people who maintain us in poverty in the United States also want to maintain Cuba in poverty. The only way we can make a revolution is to break that oppression, he said.

Haiti

In the aftermath of the January earthquake, Haiti also became a common theme at the forum. The Haiti Action Network, for example, organized a “Dialogue with Activists from the Haitian Popular Movement” that brought together a variety of leaders as well as the widow of CLR James, the famous author of The Black Jacobins. Panelists repeatedly complained that non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were making money off of the crisis in Haiti. One participant related that donated aid for the hurricane several years ago is still sitting unused on the loading docks. A main demand for those on the panel was a return of the former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Walter Riley from the Haiti Emergency Relief Fund noted that every U.S. president including Obama have opposed the forceful symbol of an independent Haiti. The session approved a final document “Support the Call of Haiti’s Grassroots for the Return of Aristide and the end of the UN Mission.”

Indigenous peoples

Despite their demographically small presence in the United States, amounting to about 1 percent of the population, Indigenous peoples had a notable presence at the forum. Indigenous representatives led the opening march, and a drum group and dancers initiated the opening ceremonies. George Martin from the Ojibwa nation invited participants to the native lands of Detroit.

Beyond rituals and ceremonies, however, Indigenous representatives held a significant presence in discussions at the forum, particularly members of the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN). In a final plenary session on alternatives and solutions, Jihan Gearon from IEN noted how native peoples are often excluded and forgotten. She framed her comments in a global context, in particular mentioning the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth that was held in Cochabamba, Bolivia in April of this year.

The IEN also took a lead role in organizing the Indigenous Peoples Movement Assembly. Tom Goldtooth, IEN leader and a member of the National Planning Committee (NPC) related that when he travels to Latin America activists there ask him what they are doing in the US to address ongoing problems with imperialism. Goldtooth, however, noted that Indigenous peoples represent the south that is located in the north, that they are also oppressed communities. He emphasized an urgent need to develop political connections with the global south to solve common problems.

Visiting from Peru, Miguel Palacín, the leader of the Coordinating Body of Andean Indigenous Organizations (CAOI), spoke about the move in Latin America from Indigenous peoples resisting oppression to making concrete actions and proposals. He described two key proposals that call for the establishment of plurinational states and the sumak kawsay or buen vivir, to live not better but to live well. The demand for plurinational states, Palacín explained, is to recognize the diversity that is in their countries, to make democracy more horizontal and to develop more equilibrium in relations. This goal has been codified into the constitutions of Bolivia and Ecuador, but still a lot of work remains to be done.

In explaining the second proposal of the sumak kawsay, Palacín noted how western states have destroyed the mother earth through an irrational exploitation of resources. People are responsible for the climatic crisis, he said, but Indigenous peoples live with this resulting reality that puts their lives in danger. Living well means harmony, being in equilibrium with our own selves, and realizing a full life with other beings in nature. The point is not just to accumulate riches, but to redistribute these resources for the betterment of humanity, he said. We have to “caminar la palabra,” to weave harmony with all of society, Palacín concluded.

At the final peoples movement assembly on Saturday afternoon, the Indigenous sovereignty group was the first to present their resolutions. They called for respect for their rights, and for a larger presence in next USSF.

Bolivia

A very special treat for those Latin American solidarity activists who remained to the end of the final closing session of the forum was a presentation by Pablo Solon, the ambassador from Bolivia to the United Nations. Manny Pino from the IEN introduced Pino, once again situating their transnational work in the context of the Cochabamba Climate Summit in April. Solon then passionately and eloquently spoke in flawless English and seemingly without notes about the need for an end to neoliberalism. He had just arrived in Detroit from the G-20 meetings in Toronto, and framed his remarks in the context of a long struggle for water and gas rights in Bolivia. His message was that they learned that they could not realize these gains without political organization.

Immigration

In the aftermath of Arizona’s draconian anti-immigrant measures, immigration was naturally a large topic at the forum. Many attendees wore a variety of pro-immigrant t-shirts, including one asking whether the wearer looked “illegal.” Indigenous rights activist José Matos noted that even though they are not immigrants, all the issues that effect immigrants also effect Indigenous peoples, especially those living in the Southwest. These issues include a negative impact of border control efforts including fences on the environment and the destruction of ceremonial sites. Matos called for the United States government to respect the sovereignty and self determination of Indigenous peoples.

The USSF ended with participants promising to take action or stand in solidarity on a variety of local, regional, and global issues. In addition to events such as the upcoming climate summit in Cancun toward the end of the year as a followup to last year’s Copenhagen meetings, the Fourth Americas Social Forum will meet in Asuncion, Paraguay in August. After a two-year break, the WSF will once again gather in a unified meeting next February in Dakar. The Africa meeting will give activists in the United States an opportunity to take their messages from Detroit to a global audience.

Bolivia’s Ambassador at the USSF

Pablo Solon, Bolivia’s ambassador to the United Nations, spoke at the closing session of the USSF. Video of his presentation should be posted to the website http://organize.ussf2010.org/. What follows is not a transcription but rather quick notes summarizing his comments taken as he talked.

Solon began his comments with a discussion of the water wars that expelled Bechtel from Cochabamba when they tried to privatize the water supplies. This was the beginning of change, because if it was possible to expel Bechtal then anything is possible. From there they began to talk about the nationalization of gas, and they knew it was possible because they had already won the water wars. But they learned that they could not realize these gains without organization, and so they began to build political organizations.

In 2005, for the first time an Indigenous leader Evo Morales won the presidency with 54 percent of the vote, and six months later they nationalized the gas sector. Under Morales, they have improved the lives of the poor because now the resources of the country belong to the people. We can do this two ways, either ask for the people to sacrifice or to cut profits to the large corporations and then we’ll have enough resources for the needs of the people. The example of Bolivia shows that this is possible if we organize from the bottom up and take the needs of the people into consideration.

After last year’s climate change meeting in Copenhagen, we realized that the situation is getting worse and that we need to take action. We need to build a world-wide movement to defend life and the mother earth. We only have one opportunity, and it is now to create a new alternative not only for us but for our children and grandchildren.

What do we want? In the short-term, we want industrial countries to reduce emissions. This is the only way out. The Cochabamba meetings show the path forward, and we hope to achieve this in the followup Cancun meetings at the end of the year. But we can only achieve this with the mobilization of people. But to do this requires changing how to relate to Mother Earth. We’ve treated the earth like a commodity, but now we see the consequences of that. We need to change what BP is doing with the spill in the gulf. In order to guarantee human rights, we need to guarantee the rights of mother earth. We are part of a system; we’re not the owners, but just one part. We have to take responsibility to take care of it. We will present a proposal to the UN that the mother earth also has a right to exist. Both humans and nature, all beings have a right to water.

The challenge of this century is to build a new contract, not only a social contract, but a social and environmental contract. This is key to the building of a new and better world. The G-8 talks about a green economy, and it sounds nice. But it means bringing capitalism to nature, to put a price on nature, to emphasize property rights. Instead of the Washington Consensus it will be the Green Economy Consensus, but this still leads to the commodification of nature. We need to look for the rights of nature, this is why a declaration of the rights of mother earth is so important.

At Cochabamba, we also talked about making a court of climate justice where cases like BP can be tried. We cannot allow these abuses to continue. We need to build from the grassroots. Democracy is being constrained on a world-wide level. What is the message? Large countries drafted the Copenhagen Accord, gave it to small countries at 3am with only 1 hour to read it. But all countries have the same rights, and large countries who think they are the most powerful cannot decide for the rest. We have to end the five permanent members on the UN security council; no one has elected them, but yet they have veto power. Democracy means democracy at a world-wide level as well.

We don’t want to see more military bases in Latin America. In Latin America, we’re worried. Why do we need military bases in Colombia? What has happened in Honduras? We have to stop this process. We need democracy at a global level.

One of the proposals at Cochabamba was to create a world-wide referendum on climate change, to reach six billion people on the planet who are influenced by these policies. People around the world should be consulted on where resources are directed. Our challenge is to build this referendum for next year, because we see that Cancun won’t solve problems. Money needs to go to solve problems of poverty and climate change, not to war. We can only do this if we engage everyone, each one of you. That is why I have come from Toronto. I have heard that this social forum was a great opportunity to organize.

Ten years ago I was a water warrior in Cochabamba, but now I’m a water warrior ambassador. We want to declare in the UN the human right to water and sanitation. In the UN we’ve declared rights to food, education, shelter, but we have yet to declare the right to water. We need to count on your support to campaign for these rights.

Marc Becker is a Latin American historian and activist who attended the USSF with the Latin American Solidarity Coalition (LASC).

Building Socialism from Below: The Role of the Communes in Venezuela

By admin, June 13, 2010 1:35 pm
Socialist  Project - home The   B u l l e t Socialist  Project - home
Socialist Project • E-Bulletin No. 368
June 13, 2010

Building Socialism from Below:

The Role of the Communes in Venezuela

An interview with Antenea Jimenez

We met with Antenea Jimenez, a former militant with the student movement who is now working with a national network of activists who are trying to build and strengthen the comunas. The comunas are community organizations promoted since 2006 by the Chávez government as a way to consolidate a new form of state based upon production at the local level. She told us about the important advances in the process, as well as the significant challenges that remain in the struggle to build a new form of popular power from below.

Susan Spronk and Jeffery R. Webber

Can you tell us about the barrio where you live and the comuna?

I live in a barrio in the north part of Caracas and work in a national network that is building comunas. Currently we operate in seven states; the majority of the comunas are situated outside Caracas.

Antenea  JimenezAntenea Jimenez.

We are working with the comunas to construct a political space in participatory way. It is a new experience in Venezuela. Above all, the comuna is a political space, not like the State or a parish; it is created by the people for the people.

Currently there are many comunas in construction in the rural areas, where they are the strongest. Every comuna has its own reality depending on political culture and the form of production in the specific locale. For example, on the coastal zone the community is dedicated to fishing, while in a rural zone the production is based on the land.

We are working to discover which elements and principles unite these different experiences, which elements are the same despite the fact that the methods of production and cultures may be different. We organize national meetings where the comunas from north, south, east and west can share their experiences and learn from each other – the errors as well as the successes.

What is the main aim of the comunas?

The aims of the comunas are diverse, and take different forms. Before the comuna existed there were all kinds of community organizations where people would participate looking for solutions to their problems, their neighborhood association, the municipal government, etc. The goal of the comunas is to build on these processes and consolidate them by organizing on the basis of territory where people live.

For us the comuna is a territorial space, but also a political space where the aim is to build socialism on a permanent basis, where the people take charge of their own education and political formation. We teach about “convivencia” (living together well) and elaborate a plan for a particular territory. What is new about the process is that the people are also elaborating their own plan of formation.

The people are very creative; the most advanced work with the other neighbors in this process to create a permanent space of formation. Civil servants, working for the state, who went to these spaces, quickly learned that the people were elaborating their own plan by and for themselves.

Obviously some comunas are more advanced than other ones. It is much more difficult to build a comuna in urban areas, for example, because they have no experience with [different forms] of production; for example, they have no experience with [non-capitalist] social relations with the land. There is a dynamic in the city that is very capitalist. But in the rural areas they have conserved many elements of what is “ours,” from our ancestors, the indigenous communities, the Afro-Venezuelan communities. These values are still there. For this reason it is easier in the rural areas than in the urban areas. While there are fewer people in the countryside, the quality of the compañeros is very high. Sometimes there is not one person who did not vote for Chávez; this is less common in the urban areas.

Can you describe your personal political formation? How did you get involved in the comunas?

I was a student activist in University. I was active in political movements before Chávez, but there was no relationship between the social movements and political parties. In 1992, when Chávez was released from prison, things began to change. We have always been involved in the grassroots of the popular movement; there were few political spaces to participate in before [Chávez’s release] so you would get involved instead in your neighborhood, in your popular organization, in your cultural group.

But since Chávez was released [and began to build a political movement for the 1998 elections] things changed. I got involved; it was our responsibility to help build the process and the movement in Caracas. I was involved in the Popular Coordinator of Caracas, and afterwards the initiative to create the comunas. Now we are a group that works on the comunas.

There are a lot of different ideas about the comunas, for example, between our network of activists and what Chávez has suggested. There are various ideas. We are building it from the people, not the government. We have had extraordinary advances; but the strongest advances have come when the people have been convinced that this is the path, when they have become active in their own neighborhood.

How do the comunas work?

Historically there were diverse organizations that came together to resolve the problems of the neighborhoods. Our idea was to bring these organizations together to start to participate with concrete issues. We organize workshops. Let’s say that a community does not have water. We will organize a meeting about water. The people say, “Ah see! We can solve our own problems.”

We look for a socialist solution to the problem. Not just to hire a private company to fix something, but to work with the government and the people to fix the problem. Working first from the basic needs of the people will inspire them to participate. We also work with them to think more about the future, how we can improve things over the long term.

Step by step we work together toward solving simple things, like living together. Things that just require norms, a little bit of effort that helps us live together better. The community might decide that “We can’t drink in the streets,” for example. Other people see these small changes and then join the struggle when they see the results. They see that collective organization is possible.

There is a network of promoters of the comunas that coordinates, but the participation of the people is fundamental. There are people of all kinds that participate in the comuna: people from the left, people from the right, people that don’t care about anything. The people get involved with a problem that touches their family, the school for example because it involves their children.

Not everyone is socialist. Actually, a minority of participants in the comunas are socialists. We have to attend to the issues that matter to them. This can only be done through practice, and this is the way people get involved.

What are some of the main problems that you face trying to build socialism from the neighborhoods up to higher levels?

There is one factor that impedes our work which is the electoral dynamic, which is very exhausting. Constantly being in campaigns does not permit us to consolidate the organic process at the neighborhood level. It is difficult to deal with the problems in the community when we have to focus on issues like the constituent assembly, then the referendum, general elections, then presidential elections, then elections for governor, etc. Currently we are in elections for municipal councilors. This constant electoral dynamic weakens the organic process at the local level because it distracts us from confronting the daily issues that people confront in their neighborhoods.

What are the main demands in the north zone of Caracas where you live?

The main problem in this area is unplanned urbanization. Most of the land is in the hands of a very small bourgeoisie and so the common people have had to build their houses on the hillsides near the canyon, areas that were originally left vacant [because of the precarious conditions]. There are 29 rivers in the area of Caracas, and every time it rains heavily the people who live in these areas are at great risk. Their houses get washed away. Many people die. For example in 1999 there was a disaster in which many people were killed. People want a resolution of this problem.

The other theme is physical security or insecurity. It is difficult to find a place to meet because people are afraid. It is a real problem. But the right-wing opposition and the media has exaggerated the issue, and made it the problem in the barrios. I think that there are more serious problems. Security is the issue of the opposition, the press covers it, so there is debate about this problem.

How has the quality of people’s lives changed since the beginning of the Bolivarian revolution?

One of the main changes is in the area of education with the missions, Mission Sucre, for example. Now anyone who wants to go to university can go. Before only 7% of the students in the UCV were poor people like me. And perhaps only 2% of the students in Simón Bolívar were poor. Now everybody is studying at night. In fact, sometimes it is difficult to find a time to meet because everybody is studying! We can only hold meetings during the weekends.

Another fundamental thing that has changed is that before 1998, there was no political debate in the barrios. I was part of a small vanguard that was resisting this, trying to raise political debate in the university. In the 1980s, it was only the students who would mobilize, come out on the streets. But now people are talking about politics everywhere, on the bus and in the bars. It is rare that two people having beers are not talking about politics.

Another important success is that people talk about socialism. Maybe they do not talk about socialism in a “scientific” way, like about what Marx or Lenin said. But they talk about socialism with familiarity. There is still some fear, but way less than before. For example, once we showed a film about socialism in a barrio in the 1980s or 1990s. People just repeated what they heard from the press, that the socialists will torture you and that all socialists are dictators. Now people associate socialism with democracy. Indeed, the very concept of democracy has changed. If Chávez was assassinated, which is a real possibility because there have been many plans to assassinate him, there would be a civil war.

But no matter what happens, the advance of participatory democracy is irreversible. We cannot go back to representative democracy. There could be another kind of left, but now the people always have to participate; participatory democracy is a fundamental part of this revolution. The people understand the importance of it, demand it, and want to do it.

And they notice the difference in how politics works. Before the political reality was centered on what happened in “Miraflores” (the presidential palace). Now there is a lot of political activity, there are important social movements. There is possibility, there is hope. Now people do more than just wait every five years to participate in elections. We have seven million people who are militants in the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). There are millions of people participating in the communal councils.

This does not mean that everybody has a developed political consciousness or political experience; it is still a process in transition. There can be no revolutionary party without revolutionary militants. And the commitment to forming revolutionaries remains underdeveloped.

There are still problems in the Bolivarian process. There have been important economic improvements, for example, less unemployment, higher minimum salary, better pensions, but there is still a low level of political consciousness. People have to be able to handle political and economic theories if we are to advance further, like in Cuba, where the average person on the street has an analysis of what is going on in the country, in the world. In Cuba there is a high level of political consciousness. This level of [revolutionary] consciousness is still lacking in Venezuela. It is dangerous for the revolution. We have come a long way but we can still do more.

What does participatory democracy mean in the comunas?

There is a saying here that suggests that participatory democracy is not about what we are doing but about how we are going to do it. It means that we all build together that which we want to do, we decide what we want to contribute, our projects for improving our lives.

Participation has to be for everyone whether they are with the government, against the government, from the left, from the right. The only one who has authority is the assembly of citizens. It is the assembly, not an elected group… no, it is the assembly that decides on the development plan in each comuna.

When there are debates we try to reach a consensus, and if we don’t, we keep debating. When there is no agreement we break the issue down bit by bit to reach agreement on smaller parts. Participation for us is in the formulation of politics; we also participate in the execution of the project. For example, a community wants an aqueduct. The state says, “Ok. Here is the money. Now build it, execute the funds.”

But we do not participate in the formulation of national policy, not directly. The policy of the ministers is not decided by a participatory process. We have said, “But we should participate!” We participate at the local level, but socialism is not something that happens only at the local level. We need to weave together a web that brings together the local spaces, the territories, and the comunas, because the national and international levels have an impact on what’s happening at the local level. We can’t just be a socialist comuna, a little island in a sea of capitalism. After all, who are we going to exchange with?

There is a Ministry of Popular Power for the Comunas and Social Protection but there are no participatory mechanisms to set its policy. Right now this is happening with the indigenous communities. There is a Ministry of Indigenous Affairs and the communities are participating, they decide. They have a national council that makes policy. We have put forward a proposal to have more control over the Ministry for the Comunas, but it has not yet been approved. There is a lot of resistance.

You have to understand one thing. The comunas are a space of power. There are comunas that have executed more resources than some municipal governments. So, the comunas are constituted spaces of power; a majority of the comunas are formally part of the PSUV, but often Chavista officials at the local levels do not really want to share power. Instead, there is a confrontation between the comunas and the Chavista mayors and governors. Although we all stand with our arms together in the photo with Chávez, in practice there is a real confrontation. The governors do not understand this dynamic because the governors do not want to lose power.

The governors and mayors think that they are going to build socialism from their municipality, from their leadership. But we say, if a communal state is not born, socialism will not be possible. At the moment there is no perfect socialist comuna, where everything is debated, where there is an alternative, socialist, economic plan, where the teachers are also from the comuna, giving classes to the youth. This might be possible one day, but not now when there is another level of government that is deciding the overall budget. The project is to connect all these comunas at the national level; at the moment this is not viable because in most places we do not even participate in deciding the budget of the municipality. We participate in small projects, and the local government continues independently as if we were not in a socialist transition.

I only know of two isolated cases where this [participatory budgeting with the involvement of the comuna] takes place in reality: in the city of Torres in the state of Lara, and in Bolívar city in the state of Falcón. This is the case because in these municipalities the comrades [the mayors] are really from the left. The majority of the governors are not from the left. In most cases, the state is a bourgeois state and taking apart this state is the focus of continual conflict. This is taking a lot of political energy. The president is aware of these contradictions but I don’t think that he has found a way to overcome the problem. It is not simple. On the one hand you have people who are organized and making proposals and on the other hand people from the same party who are consolidating the bourgeois state.

What is the role of women in the comunas?

The majority of the people who participate in the comunas are women. I think that when we are talking about the advances of the process, this is a very important one. Right now there is a lot of participation by women and the grassroots level. But it ends there. When it is time to hold elections for positions with more responsibility, then it is men who are the candidates.

The president has put forward a number of initiatives to counter this tendency, and there have been many advances. In the party, for example, 50% of the candidates must be women. And when you go to the communities, the majority of those who are participating are women, and the majority of people who are studying in the missions are women. Historically in Venezuela and in Latin America, the societies have been very sexist and it has often been difficult for women to even leave the house. Before Chávez came to office, women’s participation was really rare. Women from the Left – from the vanguard – have always participated in social and political life. But now it is more widespread. I think that in the higher levels of the process, there are a number of valuable women doing incredible things.

There are some things that still need to change. Like the laws. For example, if I get pregnant I have six months of rest but my husband does not even get a day. One of the things that we have asked for is equality on this issue. I think that we will win on this issue.

Another limitation is that women are responsible for the children in Venezuela. It is difficult for women to participate, in the communal council, for example, because they have to leave their kids somewhere. This influences women’s decisions not to take political positions with more responsibility, especially if the position involves travel. This is a real barrier, although the level of participation in the communities is really high.

What is the long term vision for promoting participatory democracy from below through the comunas?

Here I have a different vision from the government. The vision of the government is that I show up in a community, starting from zero, and within half a week give workshops on politics. As I mentioned above, the level of political consciousness in Venezuela is still weak.

The process of building political consciousness, formation, can not be instantaneous. It is not like you can go to a school for a week and get a certificate. It has to be permanent. If you have a team constituted by the same people from the communal council raising the consciousness of people in their community, this is the way to create facilitators. It is a long process to learn about all of the different categories: anarchism, socialism and its various currents. It takes at least fifteen years. It is not just theory; it is also learned in practice. You learn in practice, but also through reading and reflecting. It takes a long time to figure out that certain social and political practices belong to socialism, while other ones are capitalist.

Some communal councils have higher levels of political formation than others. These organizations understand that the communal council is not just a space to receive resources. They understand that the council is a new “civil association.” It is a political space and a political exercise. Honestly, the majority of the councils do not understand it this way. We are still working with the councils to work on the idea that “hey, we can solve this problem in a capitalist way or a socialist way.” We want to solve the problems, but do so in a new way. But it is difficult when the companies that provide the services, for example, produce the materials for a house, are still capitalist. Housing is a good example because the problem of housing continues to be serious. Maybe we are making the blocks, but we have to buy the cement from a capitalist company. And then hiring the person to lay the blocks… It is not just solving the problem, but how we solve the problem… to build socialism rather than strengthen capitalism. We have 500 years of colonialism and exploitation, so this is a big challenge, to rebuild all of the socio-economic system. Building a new state is a big challenge.

For example, in some cases we have increased agricultural production. But the rice has been sent to a company that processes and packages the rice and sells it back at ten times the price. It makes me laugh, it doesn’t make sense. We have to take over the plants, take over the companies. But it is not easy to do. And the communal councils are not necessarily ready to take on all these tasks.

We find ourselves in a bit of a vicious circle. The only way to overcome this is to create relations between the communal councils, public institutions and the state. The councils are in the process of becoming stronger but it will take a lot to move to the next step.

What is the idea over the long term? Will the comunas continue to exist alongside the bourgeois state, or will they eventually replace it with new forms of self-governance?

This question makes me think because the revolutionary process has taken place through many kinds of organizations that got stuck on the path. The president mentioned once that the nucleus of endogenous development did not function well. The people often ask, “What kind of organization do we need, which is the adequate tool to help bring us what we want… a comuna, a cooperative?” And I explain what a cooperative is, a company of social property. The comuna is something else. We are doing everything to try to make sure that the comuna becomes the main instrument of social change because we are Marxists… it is the only way to build socialism, from below. In addition, in Venezuela there are historical experiences with comunas. This is our original form of organization. It is not strange for us. Of course, because of colonialism all of this changed. But the original form in “Our America” was this one. This is the political form through which people collectively governed their lives.

We have also seen other forms of socialism that were constructed by the state, like the Soviet Union. When that state collapsed, everything was destroyed. So, something happened there. Did the people really feel like they were a part of this process? There were some successes but people did not really feel part of it. The experience of all the revolutions of the past, in Russia, in Cuba, in the other countries of the South, show that if the people do not really participate, the bourgeois state simply continues. Such a conception of socialism is not viable, because the bourgeois state is not of the people. We are working now to build alternative systems, of solidarity exchange and barter. The idea is that the comuna also starts to run the community radio stations, the TV stations.

We are discussing how the comunas will be structured. What will be the relations of forces, which powers will the comunas be in charge of – judicial, executive, etc. All that exists now is the assembly for debate. But authentically socialist comuna does not yet exist; we are still constructing the comunas. We are in comuna when we govern ourselves, when we do not need a judge to tell us, “This house is not yours.” Or let’s say you live in a neighborhood and you need a letter that proves your place of residence. You have to go to an institution that says this. The comuna could do this. Your neighbor can verify where you live.

Capitalism created a layer of people who are the owners of peoples’ lives. If you do not have a residence card, there are many things that you can’t do. Why do we need resident cards? The bourgeois state has created this class of administrators that we do not need, who pretend they know things. The popular layers of community at the bottom have to wait until they solve the problems. But the comuna can do all of these things, decide all of these things. Before the Spanish came, this is how we lived. But it is a long process to raise the consciousness of the people so that they can take charge of their lives. It is also not an “anarchist thing” where anyone can do whatever they want. There are norms of living together that one has to respect. There are norms that regulate working life that also have to be respected. People have to respect these laws out of consciousness rather than because there is a law that represses them.

Ultimately, whether President Chávez is here or not, the process depends on the people. At the moment, the process as a whole is too dependent on the president. He is seen as the guarantee that this process will go forward, and for this reason the reactionaries want to get rid of him.

If another government replaces Chávez it may no longer be possible to meet politically in the streets. With the right-wing governments of the past, you only had to have a single book by Marx, Che Guevara, or Fidel Castro, to be persecuted. •

Susan Spronk teaches in the School of International Development and Global Studies at the University of Ottawa. She is a research associate with Municipal Services Project and has published several articles on class formation and water politics in Bolivia.

Jeffery R. Webber teaches politics at the University of Regina. He is the author of Red October: Left-Indigenous Struggles in Modern Bolivia (Brill, 2010), and Rebellion to Reform in Bolivia: Class Struggle, Indigenous Liberation and the Politics of Evo Morales (Haymarket, 2011).

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~(((( The   B u l l e t ))))~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Truth, Non-Violence and the Palestinian Hills

By admin, May 21, 2010 3:42 pm
There is no shortage of Palestinian Gandhis. (Anne Paq/Activestills)
By Samah Sabawi

http://palestinechronicle.com/view_article_details.php?id=15969(Based on a presentation given at Melbourne University Australia on April 30, 2010. The event was sponsored by Students for Palestine. )

Where is the Palestinian Gandhi? I get this question at the end of almost every presentation I’ve given on Palestine. This fascination with finding a Palestinian Gandhi has been reflected time and again in newspapers commentary, and political discourse. Obama has promised in his Cairo speech [1] that should Palestinians renounce violence peace will find its way. Singer Bono wished with all his heart for Palestinians to find their Gandhi or their King [2]. A slew of bleeding hearts said it, wrote it, preached it and insisted on it.

The search for the Palestinian Gandhi even manifested itself in well-intentioned projects that end up being incredibly patronizing and condescending to the Palestinians. Take the Gandhi Project [3] for example; an initiative by the Skoll foundation that aims to teach Palestinians non-violence by translating the movie Gandhi and projecting it in cities camps and villages throughout the West Bank.  This project – as well meaning as it appears to be – reflects an almost insulting level of ignorance of the existing Palestinian culture of non-violence and the challenges Palestinians face when protesting non-violently against the brutal apartheid State.

For generations, Palestinians have adopted in their daily lives a culture of non-violent “Sumud”, an Arabic word that means to be “steadfast” and to “persevere”. Through Sumud, Palestinians have been able to protect their identity and to refuse not to exist. After all, since its inception, the Zionist project denied Palestinians their existence. Who can forget the false claim that Palestine was “a land without a people”?

Although Sumud was always part of the Palestinian story, it came to a full bloom as a distinct feature of Palestinian life during and in the aftermath of the six-day war in 1967. Having learned from their 1948 experience, more Palestinians were urged to show sumud and chose to be steadfast remaining on their land regardless of Israel’s war and occupation. Many believe that Palestinian steadfastness and Sumud and their refusal to leave in huge numbers during and after the 1967 war contributed to the reason why Israel wasn’t able to annex the West Bank and the Gaza strip as they had a very high Arab Palestinian population [4] which could have undermined the purity of the Jewish state.

Palestinians exhibit Sumud in their daily lives as they perform what would amount to normal everyday tasks in other places. Palestinian children resist succumbing to the will of their Occupiers non-violently as they make their daily journey to school despite the long waits at the checkpoints and the harassment by Israeli illegal settlers [5].

Palestinian men and women non-violently challenge their occupiers when they continue to go to work even if it means riding a donkey using back mud roads because they are denied access to the main streets in their villages as well as denied access to the Jewish only roads[6] which Israel has built illegally to connect the settlements. It is worth mentioning here that to build these Jewish only roads Israel has confiscated and carved up pieces of Palestinian land fragmenting and isolating hundreds of communities.

Palestinian families non-violently resist the imposed isolation by the occupiers when they insist on doing their family visits, even though what should be a 10 minute walk at times can take an entire afternoon of waiting for permits, submitting to body searches, waving IDs and waiting and waiting and waiting…. [7]

Even when Palestinians get married and have babies under occupation they are challenging their oppressors in a place where birth registration, family reunification, marriage certificates and building permits are controlled by a state that has one thing in mind – reducing the number of Arabs and paving the way for Jews to colonize their land.

But Palestinians still preserver not only as individuals or families but also as organized communities!  Palestinian NGOs today play a big role in helping the people deal with these issues. Through the method known as Reverse Strike – a non-violent method of resistance that focuses on community building – Palestinian civil society has created alternatives for the people to help lessen their dependency on their oppressors. Palestinian civil society has also successfully built an infrastructure of resistance. Inside the Occupied Territories, non-violent resistance shines through as villages and various Communities take on direct action to protests Israel’s continued assault on their rights, their freedom and their dignity.  The protests of the communities of Jayyous, Budrus, Bil’in, Ni’lin and Umm Salamonah have now become known as the white intifada.  The organization of these protests reflects a healthy and determined Palestinian Civil Society.

Palestinian Civil Society initiated the calls for the BDS campaign and is also working closely with international organizations and individuals to support the Free Gaza campaign. Both campaigns aim at engaging international solidarity groups giving them an important role to play in the liberation struggle. This month, the latest BDS victory was Elvis Costello’s refusal to play in Israel. This happened while the Freedom Flotilla’s three cargo ships and five passenger ships set sail to Gaza. The ships are carrying 5,000 tons of construction materials, medical equipment, and school supplies, as well as around 600 people from 40 countries.  They will once more challenge Israel’s illegal hold over Gaza’s borders, air and sea. We are seeing a fantastic rise in a people to people movement that is inspiring hope for a better future.

In Diaspora as well as inside the OT, Palestinian academia, artists and human rights activists do their part in Palestinian Sumud as they document Israel’s atrocities, write about the injustices, paint pictures, publish articles, sing traditional songs, write books and recite poetry that keeps the Palestinian narrative alive. People like Sari Nussiebeh, Ramzy Baroud, Ismael Shamout, Rima Bana, Mazin Qumsiah, Sam Bahour, Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi, Dr. Sari Makdisi, Ali Abunimah and thousands of others who are hard at work non-violently protecting the Palestinian narrative. They have built the pillars of resistance that have kept the Palestinian identity and culture alive.

As I have shown so far, Palestinian culture of Sumud and non-violent resistance has encompassed direct action, reverse strike and civil disobedience over decades of oppression. There is so much evidence to show that the Palestinian non-violent resistance is and has always been central to the Palestinian struggle. But if that was the case, then where is that Palestinian Gandhi? The answer to that is simple: You are asking the wrong question.

There is no shortage of Palestinian Gandhis in Israel’s jails, at checkpoints, and in refugee camps.  There are even Gandhis as young as five years old walking to school holding on to their backpacks, to their pride and to their dignity while they get stoned and showered with settler garbage.  There are scores of Gandhis in Palestine, young, old, men and women. The problem is how to make these Gandhis visible to a world blinded by ignorance and by prejudice. The correct questions to ask are how do we make the work of the Palestinian Gandhis effective and visible? Can non-violent Sumud ever fulfill its goals of liberation and justice? What are the challenges facing the Palestinian non-violent movement and how can we help overcome these challenges?

There are two major challenges to Palestinian non-violence; the first is Israel’s reaction to peaceful protest. Israel is a country that views itself as being above international universal laws rights and jurisdictions. It often reacts violently to non-violent protests, spraying protesters with chemicals, rubber bullets and tear gas at times claiming their lives. Israel crushes political dissent by arresting political activists even those who hold Israeli citizenship. Israel holds activists on administrative detention without fair trial for indefinite periods of time. In short, Israel doesn’t respond and is not phased by non-violent protests simply because it views all Palestinians peaceful or not as a threat.  The minute a Palestinian baby is born, it is automatically a dangerous threat to the nature of a state that defines itself by its Jewishness. All Palestinians are seen as demographic bombs, they are enemies of the state and therefore no matter what methods Palestinians use – violent or non-violent, Israel will not change its course. It will still view them as enemies that must be fought, crushed and ethnically cleansed.

The other challenge to the Palestinian non-violent movement is that it remains invisible to the international community. Palestinian daily hardships in going to school or work or visiting relatives are all daily acts of non-violent resistance that go by completely unnoticed by Israelis and by the International community. The media is hungry for blood…a peaceful protest that occurs on a weekly basis with civilians sprayed with sewerage water or injured or even killed doesn’t make the news. A child’s journey to school, head held high as Jewish settlers’ children throw garbage at him and stones never makes the headlines.

This pattern of Palestinian invisibility feeds into Israel’s impunity. Soldiers and settlers are not held accountable for their actions and rarely, if ever, has any soldier been punished for degrading, humiliating, or taking the life of an innocent Palestinian. Even when Israel’s impunity reaches extreme levels as it did when they attacked Gaza, committing a long list of war crimes and human rights violations there was not enough international outcry to hold it accountable and to change the course of its actions.

So, where do we go from here? It is clear that the Gandhis of Palestine cannot succeed in their liberation struggle without the help of the international community. Palestinian civil society has called on people of conscience all over the world to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel.  This idea was inspired by the South African struggle against apartheid. BDS has been endorsed by over 170 Palestinian parties, organizations, trade unions and movements representing the Palestinian people in the 1967 and 1948 territories and in the Diaspora.  I urge you to visit the Global BDS website (www.bdsmovement.com) for ideas on how any one of you can help.

Finally, I’d like to say that it is a fallacy to assume that non-violent resistance is not a natural human reaction to oppression, especially when you’re dealing with unarmed civilians, families and communities. Non-violence is not a doctrine that has to be taught, preached, projected on large screens and stuffed down the throats of an indigenous people trying to survive and to have normal lives. Gandhi himself has refused to be seen as an inventor of the methods of non-violence, saying [8]. “I have nothing new to teach the world. Truth and Non-violence are as old as the hills.” If Gandhi was to visit the West Bank and Gaza Strip today, I am sure he would agree that truth and non-violence in Palestine are indeed as old as the Palestinian hills.

- Samah Sabawi is a writer and a human rights activist from Gaza.   She has published numerous articles and poems on the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. She is the co-author of “The Journey To Peace in Palestine:  From the Song of Deborah to the Simpsons”

Notes:

[1] See White House website.
[2] Ten for the Next Ten by Bono Guest Oped.
[3] “As part of its vision to empower people to create a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world, the Skoll Foundation has partnered with the Global Catalyst Foundation to sponsor the Gandhi Project in the Palestinian Territories.” See here.
[4] Waleed Mustafa, Former Dean of Arts Talking About the Concept of Sumud to Palestine-Family Bethlehem University.
[5] AT-TUWANI: Settler youth harass Palestinians and international human rights workers CPTnet
23 April 2010.
[6] B’tselem The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights:  Restrictions on Movement.
[7] Palestine Monitor:  Exposing Life Under Occupation.
[8]  Brief outline of Ghandhi’s Philosophy – by Stephen Murphy.

If you like this article, please consider making a contribution to the Palestine Chronicle.

JUSTICE FOR OUR COMMUNITIES! NO TO G8/G20! YES TO TAKING BACK OUR CITY

By admin, May 21, 2010 3:17 pm

Friday, June 25th, 2010
2:30pm
Allan Gardens (Carleton St. and Sherbourne St)
RALLY. MARCH. BLOCK PARTY. TENT CITY.

From June 25th and 27th, 2010, the world’s twenty richest countries (the
G8 and G20) will send their ruling elite, along with heads of the IMF and
World Bank, to meet in Huntsville and then in Toronto, to talk
exploitation, wealth, and greed.

These ‘leaders’ have shredded the public sector and social spending,
criminalized the poor, immigrants and racialized communities, continued to
plunder Indigenous lands and trash the environment, deported our families
and friends, gutted the unions, and closed hospitals and schools while
they grant tax cuts to the rich and corporations and boost police and
military budgets. These disgusting policies have enacted devastation
around the world and are reflected right here in Toronto.

We are the people severely impacted by this agenda: we are Toronto-based
community organizations, people of color, indigenous people, immigrants,
women, the poor, the working class, queer and trans people, disabled
people, and our allies.

We live in a city that houses the corporations that exploit and displace
people. Toronto police kills and brutalizes our communities. Toronto
housing kicks out our families. Toronto social services slam the door on
undocumented migrants. This city pushes out poor people and attacks sex
workers. Toronto exists on stolen indigenous land.

Toronto’s communities are uniting to take back what is ours! Join us on
the streets June 25, as we ensure the G20, the G8 and their deadly
policies are exposed and challenged! Rally, march, party and pitch a tent
city against Toronto and the G8/G20’s colonial, racist, sexist, abeliest,
homo/transphobic and capitalist policies.

Join Us for Justice For Our Communities!

Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, No One Is Illegal-Toronto,
LIFEMovement, Jane and Finch Action Against Poverty, Students Against
Israeli Apartheid, DAMN 2025, Women’s Coordinating Committee Chile -
Canada, No Games Toronto, South Asian Women’s Rights Organization,
Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid

Our organizations are campaigning for the some of the following demands:

-Stop the theft and plunder of indigenous lands: Indigenous sovereignty now!
-Housing for all
-Status for All! Justice for Migrants and Refugees!
-Affordable Childcare!
-Accessibility legislation that means something – NOW!
-Reverse the cut to the Special Diet, Raise Welfare/Disability Rates!
-Stop psychiatric assault
-Access to Social Services Without fear
-No to the Pan Am Games!
-End Israeli Apartheid! Respect the call for Boycotts, Divestment and
Sanctions!
-Stop racial profiling
-Free and accessible transit
-Stop the privatization of city property
-Justice for migrant and non-status workers
-Affordable and accessible post-secondary education
-Remove the cap on Direct Funding for Attendant Care
-Police out of Schools
-Stop the Social Cleansing of the Downtown East End
-Stop Police Brutality, Impunity, and Militarization of Communities

(To join the organizing, and to add your local campaign demands to this
call, email seetheg8onyourstreet@gmail.com

)

For more information about June 25th, visit http://25june.wordpress.com,
email seetheg8onyourstreet@gmail.com, or call 416-925-6939

For more details on the broader G8/G20 Convergence in Toronto, visit
http://g20.torontomobilize.org

Mining (in)Justice Events for This Week!

By admin, May 5, 2010 8:48 am

PLEASE FORWARD!

It is shareholder’s season once again, and for mining-impacted communities all over the world that means it is time to confront their corporate nemeses at these companies’ annual general meetings. To take advantage of this special time, we are throwing a conference and series of events to highlight the struggles of these communities and create space for them to network with people in Toronto and impacted communities in Canada.

May 5, 8pm: “The Devil Operation” + short films: Screenings in Bickford Park with filmmaker and Representatives from Cerro San Pedro, Mexico (Grace and Harbord)
May 6, 3pm: Protest and Performance w/impacted communities. New Gold’s Annual General meeting, 77 Adelaide St West.
May 6, 6:30pm-8:30pm: Opening Reception for “Someone Else’s Treasure” Photo opening. Toronto-based Photographer Allan Lissner has documented mining-impacted communities in Tanzania, Guatemala and the Philippines. Leonardo Galleries 133 Avenue Road
May 7, 8pm: G8/20 Special Issue Dominion release party + conference opening party. The Ram in the Rye (55 Gould Street)
May 8-9, 10am-6:30pm: mining (in)justice conference, Earth Sciences Building (UofT) (Bancroft and Huron)
May 19, 10:30am: Confront Goldcorp at their AGM, 1 King Street West


HAMILTON EVENT:
Can Mining Be Green? Discussion with indigenous people from Papua New Guinea, Trent and York University and the Green Party. 7:00 PM Milliken Mills Library, 7600 Kennedy Rd. Markham Ontario. http://www.facebook.com/#!/event.php?eid=118225634873301&ref=ts

MARKHAM EVENT: Canadian Mining Companies Operating With Impunity. Discussion with community representatives from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.  Skydragon Cafe, 27 King Street Hamilton Ontario, 7:00 PM. http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=119107694780400&ref=ts

For more information, go to: solidarityresponse.net

Endorsed by: INDIGENOUS ENVIRONMENTAL NETWORK • SCIENCE FOR PEACE • RAINFOREST ACTION NETWORK • RAINFOREST ACTION NETWORK TORONTO • FIRST NATIONS SOLIDARITY WORKING GROUP • CIRCLE OF SUPPORT/INDIGENOUS SOVEREIGNTY WEEK • RIGHTS ACTION • MINING WATCH • COUNCIL OF CANADIANS • UTERN • OPIRG – YORK • FRIENDS OF THE CONGO, UofT • OPIRG – UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO • CONTINUING EDUCATION STUDENTS’ ASSOCIATION OF RYERSON • YORK UNIVERSITY GRADUATE STUDENTS UNION • UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO STUDENTS’ UNION • ASSOCIATION OF PART-TIME UNDERGRADUATE STUDENTS UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO • ACT FOR THE EARTH • LATIN AMERICAN SOLIDARITY NETWORK • THE DOMINION • EXTRACTIVE INDUSTRIES RESEARCH GROUP • NO ONE IS ILLEGAL TORONTO • OIL SANDS TRUTH • SIERRA CLUB PRAIRIE CHAPTER • RYERSON FREE PRESS

WED Film-screenings

In lead up to the mining (in)justice conference and the New Gold shareholder’s meeting, please join us for a feature film and a mix of short movies in the park! We will be joined by Stephanie Boyd, the filmmaker of “The Devil Operation”, which recently debuted at HotDocs. Mining resistance leader Enrique Rivera of FAO Mexico will also join us and show a short film about New Gold in Cerro San Pedro, Mexico.

Bring Blankets! Some snacks and some blanks will also be provided.

“The Devil Operation” Synopsis

Father Marco, a humble priest from the mountains of Peru, is being followed. A private security firm is filming and photographing the priest’s every move; their meticulous reports are code-named “The Devil Operation.” Marco’s allies are murdered and tortured, but he and his disciples refuse to be victims. They turn their cameras on the spies and develop a counter-espionage plan that leads to South America’s largest gold mine.

For the past two decades, Father Marco has defended farming communities against the Yanacocha mine’s abuses, earning him the nickname ‘The Devil’.

The Yanacocha mine is owned by Newmont of Colorado, but mining giants defy borders in their lust for capital: the company’s Canadian subsidiary, Newmont Mining Corporation of
Canada, is listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

Ontario film-maker Stephanie Boyd has spent 10 years documenting the farmers’ struggle and became caught up in this real-life political thriller.

PROTEST NEW GOLD’S AGM
In 1996 the Canadian mining company Metallica Resources, now New Gold Inc., came to Cerro de San Pedro, Mexico to exploit gold through open pit mining and cyanide leaching. Since the beginning the company has faced resistance from the town of Cerro de San Pedro, the city of San Luis Potosi, and internationally, organized through the FAO (Frente Amplio Opositor – Broad Opposition Front). The struggle has used legal strategies, through which the FAO won the closure of the mine by the federal environmental authority in November 2009. But, in violation of Mexican law, the mine is still operating with the complicity of the Canadian government and financed by the Toronto Stock Exchange. In response, the FAO is bringing the struggle to the streets to Toronto to directly confront New Gold and give their shareholders a glimpse of the scope of the global resistance to the mine at Cerro de San Pedro, and other similarly destructive mining projects throughout Mexico and the world.
RSVP: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=118647984829529

PHOTO OPENING RECEPTION:
Broken promises, environmental disasters, human rights abuses, and cultural genocide, these are only some of the experiences that indigenous peoples all over the world have had to face when coming into contact with the global mining industry, and it’s perpetual pursuit of profit.
Four years in the making, Someone Else’s Treasure is a multimedia project examining the social and environmental impacts of different multinational projects from the perspectives of various affected communities.

Thus far, Someone Else’s Treasure includes the stories of affected communities in Australia, Canada, Chile, Guatemala, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, and Tanzania. These intimate portraits are both a critique of the myth of progress and a celebration of the spirit of resistance. In an effort to better understand the true cost of an industry that shapes the world around all of us, the focus is on the externalized – the men, women, and children, that have been left out of the equations and are therefore forced to pay the price for someone else’s treasure.

CONFERENCE LAUNCH PARTY! MAY 7, Ram and the Rye

[Part of the Mining (in)Justice Conference, check it out: http://www.facebook.com/#!/event.php?eid=112912948735691&ref=ts]

The mainstream media portrays the G8/G20 summits as rigid dichotomies of mask-clad protesters clashing with faceless riot police in a cloud of tear gas, all while world leaders try to right the global economic ship.

We think that there is more to be told! Come and support the launch of the Dominion’s special issues on the G8/G20!!

The event is also the opening night of the Mining (in)Justice Conference.

There will be bands and fun times! So Far confirmed: illogik and stacey b. DJ Joe Blow

http://www.dominionpaper.ca/g20

CONFERENCE:

Mining (in)justice: at home and abroad is a conference on the Canadian mining industry (including Tar Sands) set to take place in Toronto on the weekend of May 7-9, 2010. It will feature leaders in movements against Canadian mining companies both within and outside of Canada and provide space for growing our own movements in alliance with communities impacted by this industry.

This is a follow-up conference to last year’s mining conference, which brought over 20 front line defenders to share their stories and strategize solutions to ending corporate impunity and strengthening the struggles against destructive mining projects around the world.

This year, we are expanding the conference into a 3 day event, providing more space for participants to meet each other, form alliances, and plan actions to foster a movement in solidarity with impacted communities.

Reports will be heard from delegates from Honduras, Guatemala, Carrier Sekani First Nation, Papua New Guinea, El Salvador, Ardoch Algonquin, Northern Ontario, Fort Chipewan, Mexico and more! Clayton Thomas Muller of the Indigenous Environmental Network is MCing the event!


CONFRONT GOLDCORP

Gold Corp is a Canadian mining company infamous for their human rights violation, harms to the environment and to human health. Support the struggles of indigenous peoples throughout the Americas to defend their land, livelihood and right to self-determination.
Human rights are not for sale!
RVSP: http://www.facebook.com/#!/event.php?eid=106254712751818&ref=ts


Sakura Saunders
editor, protestbarrick.net
member, solidarityresponse.net
skype: sakurasaunders
US: 415-287-3737 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 415-287-3737 end_of_the_skype_highlighting
*new* Canada: 647-838-8455 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 647-838-8455 end_of_the_skype_highlighting

*May 7-9, Toronto! mining (in)justice: a conference on Canadian Extractive Industries*

Alice Walker on “Overcoming Speechlessness: A Poet Encounters the Horror in Rwanda, Eastern Congo and Palestine/Israel”

By admin, April 19, 2010 8:51 am

Alice Walker on “Overcoming Speechlessness: A Poet Encounters the Horror in Rwanda, Eastern Congo and Palestine/Israel”

Alice-walker-dn

As the 2010 Pulitzer Prize winners are announced, we speak with the first African American woman to be awarded a Pulitzer Prize for fiction: author, poet and activist Alice Walker. She was awarded the 1983 Pulitzer for her novel The Color Purple. She was written many books since then. Her latest, just out, is called Overcoming Speechlessness: A Poet Encounters the Horror in Rwanda, Eastern Congo and Palestine/Israel. [includes rush transcript]

Guest:

Alice Walker, Pulitzer Prize-winning author, poet and activist. Her latest book is Overcoming Speechlessness.

Rush Transcript

This transcript is available free of charge. However, donations help us provide closed captioning for the deaf and hard of hearing on our TV broadcast. Thank you for your generous contribution.
Donate $25, $50, $100, More…

AMY GOODMAN: The list of winners for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize were announced Monday—among them, Sheri Fink, reporter with the nonprofit investigative news group ProPublica. She won the Pulitzer for investigative reporting for her story in collaboration with the New York Times Magazine on the urgent life-and-death decisions made by doctors at a New Orleans hospital when they were cut off by the floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina. Meanwhile, Anthony Shadid walked away with his second Pulitzer for his Washington Post series on the war in Iraq.

Well, my next guest is the first African American woman to be awarded a Pulitzer Prize for fiction: author, poet, activist, Alice Walker, awarded the 1983 Pulitzer for her novel The Color Purple. She has written many books since then. Her latest, just out, is called Overcoming Speechlessness: A Poet Encounters the Horror in Rwanda, Eastern Congo, and Palestine/Israel. Alice Walker, joining us here in our new firehouse—in our new Democracy Now! studios.

Welcome to Democracy Now!

ALICE WALKER: It’s so beautiful.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, welcome to the greenest TV, radio, internet studios in the country. It’s great to have you here.

ALICE WALKER: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: And I look forward to speaking to you tonight at the 92nd Street Y in the public conversation. But Alice, this latest book, why did you call it Overcoming Speechlessness?

ALICE WALKER: I wanted to address what I feel is a real problem that we have in the last century, actually, or even before. And that is that things can be so horrible that people lose the ability to talk about them. And I had this happen when I was in college, actually, when I learned that the King of Belgium had decided that if the Africans in the Belgian Congo could not fulfill their rubber quota that he had imposed on them, he could order their hands to be chopped off. This was so appalling to me as a student, as an eighteen- and nineteen-year-old, that I couldn’t speak about it. I just—I put it somewhere that I left for many years. And I think this has happened over and over to people, that they encounter these brutalities, these atrocities, and they literally can’t talk about them, and so we don’t speak. But if we don’t speak, then there’s more of it, and more people suffer. So it’s a call to overcoming speechlessness.

AMY GOODMAN: We just got word that eight Red Cross staff have been kidnapped by an armed group in the eastern Congo. Seven Congolese and one Swiss national were seized on Friday afternoon near the town of Mai Mai [sic]—well, near the town of—in a South Kivu province by the Mai Mai rebels, this according to the Red Cross. You went to eastern Congo?

ALICE WALKER: I was in eastern Congo, and I met some women who were survivors of enslavement and sexual abuse that was so horrendous that it was a challenge to even hear it and even to see some of the damage. On the other hand, I found that by being there, I gave myself some comfort, because I wasn’t trying to see people at a distance and removing myself, my feelings from them. It was very frightening, because there were lots of soldiers everywhere and people who had been damaged by soldiers, you know, people who had lost limbs. And it was traumatic.

AMY GOODMAN: You began, though, by talking about Rwanda, and then you trace the violence to Congo. Talk about Rwanda.

ALICE WALKER: Yes. Well, in Rwanda, because of the killing of so many Tutsis by the Hutu and the—really a slaughter—

AMY GOODMAN: And you trace it back. You go all the way—

ALICE WALKER: Well, I went all the way back to, again, those Belgians, the Belgians, and before them, the Germans. They came into the Congo, and they decided that the Tutsi people, because they had larger skulls, were more like Europeans, and so they should be in charge of the Hutu people, whose skulls apparently were not as large. Anyway, they instigated this rule of one clan by the other, even though these people had been fairly peaceful living together for centuries. And after they had done this, finally, after many years of domination, a century or so, they left. But they left the Hutu in charge of the Tutsi. And so, eventually, the hatred that had been building over a long, long period erupted into genocide.

And so, I had heard about this awful thing that the Hutu Interahamwe people had killed 800,000 of the Tutsi people. And that again was so awful, I couldn’t really entirely let myself feel what it must be like to actually have your body hacked away from you, which is what happened to all of those people. But eventually, I needed to go there, and so I did. And what I found was, you know, that the Rwandan people have done a wonderful job of memorializing what happened, and they have also elected more women to help run the country than almost anywhere else.

But on the other hand, the soldiers and the murderers, a lot of them, just went into the Congo. And so, we went there, not following them, but because we wanted to see the Congo, which is incredibly beautiful. It is the most exquisite country. I had no idea. I mean, lakes and trees and, you know, just a wonderful place, except that it’s torn to bits by the war. And a lot of the people who did the killing in Rwanda are there, and they had been murdering and abusing the people terribly.

And so, one of the women that I talk about in my book is a woman who had been basically chopped up, and I find it hard to talk about it even now. But she survived, and she is now looking for her children, who survived, one or two of them. The Interahamwe people had shot her son and her husband, killed them. So it’s—you know, it’s a kind of violence in the world now that is truly unspeakable. I mean, that is the part of it, that overcoming speechlessness means speaking about what really is unspeakable because it is so terrible.

AMY GOODMAN: You go, in the book, from Rwanda to eastern Congo to Palestine-Israel.

ALICE WALKER: Mm-hmm.

AMY GOODMAN: It was your first trip?

ALICE WALKER: To Palestine? Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: What made you go?

ALICE WALKER: Well, I was actually mourning the death of my own sister, and I thought that, oh, she was, you know, much older, and she was sick, and she died, and we’d had a horrible five or six years before she died. And so I thought, you know, when she dies, I won’t be devastated. And I was completely devastated. It was so painful.

And I was out trying to deal with my own devastation, when I learned about a woman in Palestine, during the bombing, who had been—who had lost five of her daughters, and she herself was unconscious. And it just instantly connected me to her. I felt, what will this be like? Who will tell her? Who will tell this woman when she wakes up that “your five daughters are dead”?

And so I felt that I had to go and present myself to this situation and to be attentive to it in a way that I had started being many years before, except that at the time I was married to and then related to, in many ways, to a Jewish person who always said, well, if you see the Palestinian side, almost anything, you know, positive about the Palestinian side, then it means that you are anti-Semitic. And so, this was so shocking to me that it silenced me for a while. I mean, I said a few things, I wrote a few things. But I felt that I had left something undone. And I realize at this point in my life, and years earlier, actually, that there are things in life that call to us, and they’re ours to do. And this was one of the things that was mine to finish.

And so I went to Gaza, and I met with women who had lost everything, and their children, their houses. You know, I sat on the rubble, even though there was the phosphorus powder, because it was just overwhelming to see the injury and the damage that had been done to these people by the Israeli government. And I knew that it was my responsibility as a writer and as a human being to witness this and to write about it. I mean, why else was I—why else am I a writer? You know, why else do I have a conscience? I think that all people who feel that there is injustice in the world anywhere should learn as much of it as they can bear. That is our duty.

AMY GOODMAN: Would you like to read a little from the book, Overcoming Speechlessness?

ALICE WALKER: I’ll try. I don’t have my reading glasses, but I can do my best.

AMY GOODMAN: Maybe “It Feels Familiar”?

ALICE WALKER: OK, yeah. Alright. Oh, where is it? Where is that, Amy? I don’t see it.

AMY GOODMAN: “It Feels Familiar.” Number seventeen.

ALICE WALKER: OK, I think we might—

AMY GOODMAN: Right there.

ALICE WALKER: Oh, yeah, I’m sorry.

“It Feels Familiar.”

“One of the triumphs of the civil rights movement is that when you travel through the South today you do not feel overwhelmed by a residue of grievance and hate. This is the legacy of people brought up in the Christian tradition, true believers of every word Jesus had to say on the issues of justice, loving kindness, and peace. This dovetailed nicely with what we learned of Gandhian nonviolence, brought into the movement by Bayard Rustin, a gay strategist for the civil rights movement. A lot of thought went into how to create ‘the beloved community’ so that our country would not be stuck with a violent hatred between black and white, and with the continuous spectacle, and suffering, of communities going up in flames. The progress is astonishing and I will always love Southerners, black and white, for the way we have all grown. Ironically, though there was so much suffering and despair as the struggle for justice tested us, it is in this very ‘backward’ part of our country today that one is most likely to find simple human helpfulness, thoughtfulness, and disinterested courtesy.

“I speak a little about this American history, but it isn’t history that these women know.” These are the women, the Palestinian women, I’m with. “They’re too young. They’ve never been taught it. It feels irrelevant. Following their example of speaking of their families, I talk about my Southern parents’ teachings during our experience of America’s apartheid years, when white people owned and controlled all the resources and the land, in addition to the political, legal, and military apparatus, and used their power to intimidate black people in the most barbaric and merciless ways. These whites who tormented us daily were like Israelis who have cut down millions of trees planted by Arab Palestinians, stolen Palestinian water, even topsoil. Forcing Palestinians to use separate roads from those they use themselves, they have bulldozed innumerable villages, houses, mosques, and in their place built settlements for strangers who have no connection whatsoever with Palestine: settlers who have been the most rabidly anti-Palestinian of all, attacking the children, the women, everyone, old and young alike, viciously.”

AMY GOODMAN: Alice, I wanted to go back to March 2009—

ALICE WALKER: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: —when you were in Gaza, to a video of you there.

    ALICE WALKER: It’s shocking beyond anything I have ever experienced. And it’s actually so horrible that it’s basically unbelievable, even though I’m standing here and I’ve been walking here and I’ve been looking at things here. It still feels like, you know, you could never convince anyone that this is actually what is happening and what has happened to these people and what the Israeli government has done. It will be a very difficult thing for anyone to actually believe in, so it’s totally important that people come to visit and to see for themselves, because the world community, that cares about peace and cares about truth and cares about justice, will have to find a way to deal with this. We cannot let this go as if it’s just OK, especially those of us in the United States who pay for this. You know, I have come here, in part, to see what I’m buying with my tax money.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Alice Walker in 2009, interviewed by my colleague here at Democracy Now!, Anjali Kamat. When you look back at you walking through the rubble of Gaza, your thoughts?

ALICE WALKER: My thought is that I am so glad I was there. I am so glad that I managed to gather myself and present myself to this situation, because it is my responsibility, you know, as a person, as an elder, as someone who cares about the planet, who really wants us all to thrive, you know, or just survive. This is a very thorny issue, and it takes all of us looking at it as carefully as we can to help solve it. It’s not that it’s impossible to solve. But what will help a lot is the insistence by all of us on fairness and on people actually understanding what they’re looking at.

AMY GOODMAN: You say that the Middle East solution is beyond the two-state solution, and you also talk about restorative justice.

ALICE WALKER: Yes, I do, because I believe in restorative justice. I think we could use that here. I mean, I don’t feel great about the past leaders here not being brought to trial, actually, you know. But if we can’t have trial, we could at least have council. I mean, but to let people, any people, just go, after they’ve murdered lots of people and destroyed a lot, is not right. It destroys trust. So—what was the rest of the question?

AMY GOODMAN: And you believe in a one-state solution.

ALICE WALKER: Oh, the one-state solution. Yes, I do. I mean, when I think about my tax money, and I think about, well, you know, given that I’ve already given, and we as a country have given over a trillion dollars to Israel in the last—since, I don’t know, ‘48 or something, but a lot of money that we could have used here, where would I be happiest to see, you know, my money spent? Well, I would be happy seeing my money spent for all the people who live in Palestine. And that means that, you know, the Palestinians who are forced out of their houses, forced off of their land, should come back and share the land, all of it, including the settlements. You know, if I am going to be asked to help pay for settlements, I would like to be, you know, permitted to say who gets to live in them. And I would like the women and children, the Palestinian women and children that I saw, I would like to say—take them by hand and say, “You know what? Look at this. We built this for you. You’re home now.”

AMY GOODMAN: Alice Walker, her latest book, Overcoming Speechlessness: A Poet Encounters the Horror in Rwanda, Eastern Congo, and Palestine/Israel. We will continue our conversation tonight at 8:00 at the 92nd Street Y in New York City at 92nd and Lex. And we will play portions of that here. We’ll also post on our website Anjali’s entire interview with Alice Walker in Gaza last year.

Grassy Narrows – 40 years Later: Solidarity Action Requested

By admin, March 31, 2010 9:58 am

Grassy Narrows – 40 years Later

40 years ago the Grassy Narrows Asubpeeschoseewagong Anishinabek people were poisoned by mercury from a paper mill that contaminated the river upstream.  The community is still dealing with the ongoing health impacts of this avoidable disaster. It’s time to sound the alarm that this poison will affect everyone if we don’t stand together to protect our water.

Join CUPE Ontario, the Aboriginal Council, members of Grassy Narrows Asubpeeschoseewagong Anishinabek and the Council of Canadians to demand justice and protection of water, air and forests that give life.  Show your support, and join us in the fight to protect public water.

TORONTO COMMUNITY EVENTS

PUBLIC FORUM – TUES April 6 @ 6:30pm

Steel Workers Hall, 25 Cecil St.  (S of College, E of Spadina)

RIVER RUN, CREATIVE RALLY – WED April 7 @ Noon

Meet at Grange Park, Beverley St.  south of Dundas and behind the AGO.

Together we will form a wild river that will flow to Queen’s park to deliver our demands on World Health Day.  We invite Indigenous people to wear your regalia, others should dress in blue.  Bring your flags!

Need more info? Want to organise for this event?

Contact: Denise Hammond, 3rd Vice-President, via email – campaign@cupe.on.ca

~~~~

BACKGROUND ON GRASSY NARROWS

On April 6, 1970 the government of Ontario banned fishing on the Wabigoon River due to mercury contamination from a pulp mill in Dryden.  Overnight unemployment in the area rose from 10% to 90%, a primary food staple was lost, and the devastating neurological health impacts of mercury poisoning set in.  At the time the government said it would take months for the mercury to wash out of the river system.  Yet forty years later the effects are still being revealed.

A newly translated Japanese study on the health of Grassy Narrows Asubpeeschoseewagong Anishinabek residents shows that while mercury levels are going down, the health impacts of mercury poisoning are substantially worse now than they were in the 1970’s.  This has huge consequences for Grassy Narrows and the neighbouring communities.  It also has important implications about the long- term cumulative health impacts of low level mercury exposure.

According to the Council of Canadians, private water companies have been aggressively pursuing new markets in Canadian First Nation communities . At the same time, the federal government is actively seeking new solutions for persistent water crises, like those faced in Grassy Narrows, in First Nation communities by seeking out the feasibility and desirability of public private partnerships. Over the years, the Federal funding for water infrastructure provided through the Ministry of Indian and Northern Affairs (INAC) has been inadequate to address urgent drinking water and wastewater treatment needs of First Nation communities. We already know that governments have a tendency to under-fund public services to allow for privatization to happen.

When privatisation of water occurs it is frequently accompanied by infrastructure neglect, cutbacks in jobs and a decline in a regulatory oversight – often resulting in a threat to water quality rather than offering a solution.  First Nations communities throughout Turtle island have already felt the direct impact of crumbling infrastructure, equipment malfunctions, and a lack of adequately trained and certified water system operators – all of which result in inadequate water quality and ongoing boiling bans in place.

Unpacking the relationship between water privatisation and the quality of health is vital to understand the ongoing health issues confronting Aboriginal communities. As we are threatened with water privatization and commercialisation the health of women and the poor are at an increased risk. Elderly women living alone are among the poorest women in Canada, as are Aboriginal women and women with disabilities. Aboriginal women are amongst the poorest of all individuals in the country, with a poverty rate in 2000 of 36 percent, and are the most likely to raise children on their own (Statistics Canada, 2005) When a vital resource such as water, that gives us all life, is put up for sale or polluted the health and well-being of women and communities is directly impacted.

TAKE ACTION

Help defend public water, fight for water protections. Speak out and send a message to the Provincial government today!

To find your MPP go to the CUPE Ontario home page – www.cupe.on.ca . If you are not sure what your riding is go to http://fyed.elections.on.ca/fyed/en/form_page_en.jsp and put in your postal code.

For more info on Grassy Narrows and the struggle visit: www.freegrassy.org

MORE SOLIDARITY ACTIONS –

Help save the First Nations University TODAY by the April 1 threat of closure!

Dear sisters and brothers,

For the first time in Canadian history the government plans to close a University…?  The Federal government is threatening to close the doors on the only First Nations University as of April 1, 2010.

For information on this issue, please follow the links and watch this UTUBE video made by the students, staff and faculty at First Nations University, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1zc1xmmQlOY . Visit the website at www.fnuniv.wordpress.com and send a letter to the Federal government to stop this closure.

Below is a sample letter and email addresses to direct your letter to.

EMAIL:  Strahl.C@parl.gc.ca; pm@pm.gc.ca; Russell.T@parl.gc.ca; Crowder.J@parl.gc.ca

SAMPLE LETTER

The Honourable Chuck Strahl

Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs

House of Commons

Ottawa, Ontario

K1A 0A6

Fax: (613) 922-9376

The Right Honourable Stephen Harper

Prime Minister of Canada

Office of the Prime Minister

80 Wellington Street

Ottawa, Ontario

K1A 0A2

Fax: (613) 941-6900

Dear Mr. Strahl and Mr. Harper,

I am deeply concerned at the seeming indifference the Government of Canada is displaying toward the faculty, staff, and students at First Nations University who will all be the casualties of your decision to close down the only Aboriginal University in Canada.

The closure of First Nations University would be unprecedented in Canada – no other Canadian university has ever been closed.  Such closure would detrimentally impact First Nations people of today and tomorrow, let alone it sends the message that diversity in education and respecting the needs of First Nations people, culture and history has no value or place in our society. Such actions could be viewed as a reflection of systemic racism and deep-seated racial antipathy toward First Nations people.

The Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations has shown good faith in initiating the changes required to bring the governance structures at First Nations University into conformity with those of other universities.  A working group with representation from all stakeholder groups is currently developing a revised funding and governance model for First Nations University. The University of Regina has expressed its willingness to support First Nations University. But now is the time for the Federal government to step in and make a commitment to preserve First Nations University and stop the closure.

Therefore I find it incomprehensible that the government continues to pursue a course of action that in the long run will be detrimental to all Aboriginal people, to the province of Saskatchewan and to Canada’s international reputation.

I urge you, in the strongest terms, to support the continued operation of First Nations University.

Thank you for your urgent attention to this matter.

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