GF 1619-2020

G.F. 1619-2020
by M. L. Graham

Ask
and ask
and then ask
why we can't breathe
why we can't see each other
in 'we'
at least not officially
why whenever we speak of history
it's dotted with caveats
inclusive I's
exclusive we's
narrating our story
while we can't breathe
ask why
grown men holler momma
eighteen months after she's passed
eight minutes before we do, too
which we know thanks to a seventeen
year old --
or so we're told
or so we're shown.
ask why
slave patrols kept their colors
their vicious dogs
their strikes like bloodhounds
unerringly cracking black spines
black kidneys
black arteries
until we can't breathe
Who's in control of the city?
Why we riot whenever we bleed?
Why we get asked to trust
those who've robbed our best,
robbed our breath?
Why black anyways,
isn't that the mark of a slave?
why not call me by my name?
There's nothing black about me
that wasn't left by brutality,
boots, batons, knees,
the hearts of those who refuse to hear my pleas.
ask, and ask why
ask until you hear your voice in
every preacher's cries
ululations, protestations,
hymns
parched and inflected
pitched and hoarse,
ask again
ask why you think riots
are uncalled for
when injustice is ringing
when the police who cleared the
streets
were still writing
false reports in our names
signed by the silent
coauthored by the medic
who backed our killer's tale
before they thought we knew.
I don't want your stores
or their windows
your streets strewn with broken glass
your loot,
we want to breathe,
like Eric Garner, Rodney King,
Philando Castile, Freddy,
Tamir, George, Brianna,
You & Me
Ask why
I had to write this
for 'We the People'
it's not for a cause
it's because 'it' happened again
and again
and again
and I'm not sure what 'we'
means anymore
they want prison for the perps
I want justice for all
they want harsher charges
I want a sweeter liberty
we can't have both
but we can have neither
ask why it seems that's what
we've got.
Ask why you think
peaceful protests are best
we had those three years ago,
at Trump's inauguration
at his appointment of Gorsich,
at the Kavanaugh hearings,
the Mueller findings
the Impeachment proceedings,
and yet Manafort is free,
as is Stone,
Sheriff Arapaio,
Giuliani & Co.,
and of course Trump is
still president
the glory of peaceful protests!
like flowers at a cancelled wedding,
like Floyd's nonresistence.
"Just be calm," he whispered
"I can't breathe," he replied
and peaceful crowds were dispersed
helicopters hovered
tear gas bursting in air
proof through the night
that they don't care.
Burn, New York!
Burn, Baltimore!
Burn, Louisville!
Burn, L.A.!
Burn, Seattle, Minneapolis, St Louis,
Houston, Oakland, Miami,
Burn! Burn! Burn --
with the flame of indignation,
the heat of reprehension,
the fire of compassion,
light up the skyline
with refrains
from Malcolm, Huey,
Angela and Martin
let your silhouettes flicker
to the tune of unrequited memorials
that ask why
through dead black throats
ask why
we can't keep our bowels from releasing
ask why
the EMT can't find our pulse
ask why
when your soul died you took my body
with it
ask why
our eyelids can't lift so we can
stare into the camera,
past the little girl holding it,
into your living room
He killed us!
His stare is still here,
we cannot convict him
he is us
ask why
convicting him is not suicide for you,
for all of you who didn't ask why
just repeated the lies
just retweeted the myths
covered the blows with words
hid the strangle holds behind
other breaking news,
concealed your broken face
behind 'my' facts
ask why
like you've never asked before
so you'll never have to ask again
ask
"Why can't you get in the car, George?"
and ask
"Why won't you be still, George?"
then ask again
"Momma!"
Why can't we breathe

This poem was sent to me to publish by my friend and penpal of 4 years who is currently imprisoned. I am happy to have a space to share with a Black poet, and am honored to call Mr. Graham my friend. Our letters have been a constant source of inspiration, intellectual exchange, and hope over the years. I would say a lot more, in less formal terms, about this poet and our friendship, but for his life being at the mercy of the ever watchful prison.

Syrian artists Aziz Asmar and Anis Hamdoun finish a mural depicting George Floyd in the town of Binnish in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province on June 1, 2020. (Photo by OMAR HAJ KADOUR/AFP via Getty Images)

a lot of us are struggling, but this is a social problem

Over the last few weeks governors in almost every state have called for a “reopening” after the spring COVID19 shelter-in-place orders. During this time, in response to debates about whether returning to circulation in public again en masse is safe or not, I have repeatedly heard the answer given as some variation of “everyone has to decide for themselves what they think is best.”

like everyone else Like many of us, I am not sure what to do and am just trying to figure it out. This is a terrifying time. I think often of another pandemic, another plague, where people died in hospital hallways. This plague also seemed concentrated in certain cities (the same ones that loom large today – New York and San Francisco) and to affect a specific segment of the population. Unlike the Spanish flu, the majority of the population alive today remembers that plague. And maybe in some ways this is the more relevant lesson, because the majority of the population alive today actually doesn’t recall that plague with much specificity, although in some communities whole networks of people were dying by the month and even the week.

During that plague, it seemed that it was easy for a majority of people in the United States to ignore or feel unaffected by what was going on because they believed it was only affecting specific groups of people to whom they already did not feel connected. And once they had done that, they could simply ignore the crisis, the tens of thousands of deaths, and even laugh at jokes about it.

M0001845 John Haygarth. Line engraving by W. Cooke, 1827, after J. H. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org John Haygarth. Line engraving by W. Cooke, 1827, after J. H. Bell. Line engraving Gent\’s magazine Published: 1827 Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Then too it was easy to fall into debates about what behavior was the right behavior to prevent oneself or one’s beloved community members from getting sick. But the real culprits, the villains, the murderers, were the politicians and institutions that refused to recognize the crisis or do anything to solve it, and the social structures that sustain systems of inequality making specific groups of people so much more vulnerable to illness.

In fact, it is the same communities who are still being affected. African Americans, imprisoned people, drug users, queer and trans people – these groups are all still dealing with the HIV epidemic that did not go away, and they are the same groups at much higher risk from COVID19.

And it was easier for the pandemic to keep raging when a majority of people felt no urge to apply pressure, when they did not feel personally affected, when they did not feel that their communities would continue to feel the reverberations forever.

Like many others, I am struggling to figure out how to negotiate this situation. I do not understand all the biological science involved. But I do understand that an inherently social problem is going to call for a social solution, and better yet, many of the aspects of the problems that we face here in the US with COVID19 are political problems that require collective action. We have much we can learn from previous struggles.

That means the answer, in an inherently social situation with a contagious disease, is ANYTHING BUT “everyone should do what they feel most comfortable with.”


Some ideas for collective action:

  • The Poor People’s Campaign has launched a “moral non-cooperation campaign” called Stay in Place! Stay Alive! Organize! with actions you can take coordinated with others to push for a healthier plan for your community.
  • Now is a great time to find or start an existing mutual aid network. Create and share the resources people need together in your community to be safe based on community members’ own assessments, instead of saying “some people will have to go to make the tough choice to go to work,” which is another way of saying some of us need to decide between dying from hunger or dying at work.
  • Find ways to support the many workers who are striking right now (e.g., respect their picket lines, donate to their strike funds, amplify their demands).

rich countries

today, while sewing equipment for nurses

(like someone I once read about in a textbook)

from the comfort of my home I learned that

the local convention center

(where earlier this year I celebrated the legacy of Martin Luther King with a sales meeting)

will be converted into a “field hospital”

“A worker checks coffins, most of them containing the bodies of coronavirus victims, in the parking of a funeral parlor in Barcelona, Spain, April 2.” REUTERS/Nacho Doce

How We Can Help Each Other in a Pandemic

Like many other activists, I am not exactly sure how to organize in this moment. I like the phrase physical distance and social solidarity, but I find that I’m not totally sure how to put it into practice. This post is my imperfect attempt to share some ideas of what folks can do to help each other. I more than welcome suggestions, critiques, and additions. We are all learning how to do this together, and that is one example itself of social solidarity.

I first want to lay out that although we are all scared right now, we need to try to remain focused on centering the needs of the most vulnerable. We cannot get so wrapped up in our own needs, in securing ourselves and our families, that we leave behind everyone else. If we make sure our most vulnerable are secured, it’s pretty likely we will have created a network that can sustain everyone. Lead from generosity and love, not fear and scarcity. (Trust me, I know this is easier said than done; that’s why I think it has to actually be said. I am telling myself the same thing like a mantra as a way to work out of my own fear-based reactions.)

If your income has not been affected, PLEASE consider donating as much money as you can spare to one or more of the funds below. Even relatively small amounts of money will go a long way toward assisting extremely vulnerable folks, and donations are tight for everyone right now as unemployment is raging. These are fairly Detroit-centric, because I live here, but also because it looks like Detroit is going to be one of the hardest hit places.

  • We the People of Detroit is giving out water to the 5,000 homes in Detroit without running water (there have been severe delays in getting the water turned back on). They are facing more need, higher prices, and difficulties distributing this water:
    https://www.wethepeopleofdetroit.com/get-involved
  • ABISA – an org assisting Black/African immigrants and refugees in the Detroit area. Your donation will assist undocuBlack immigrants keep the lights on, put food on the table, fill the gas tank, turn on water, preserve a home:
  • Movimiento Cosecha – Undocumented Worker Fund – this fund will go directly to assist undocumented families in need. I have recently been organizing with Cosecha Detroit:
    https://secure.actblue.com/donate/cosechamutualaid
  • Witness for Peace Solidarity Collective – The Solidarity Collective has been extremely hard hit by the fact that we have needed to cancel delegations, speakers’ tours, and other aspects of our work on short notice. In fact, if we are not able to raise several thousand dollars quickly, we will not be able to continue our international solidarity work and accompaniment beyond April. Communities in Honduras, Cuba, and Colombia, and our partners specifically, are facing great risks from COVID-19 and our international solidarity and vigilance on US foreign policy remains critical.
  • Brightmoor Connection Food Pantry –Food pantry in Detroit that works with We the People, Detroit People’s Platform, and advocates a “shopper’s choice model”:  https://brightmoorconnection.org/
  • Forgotten Harvest – metro Detroit food bank that redistributes surplus food:
    https://forgottenharvest.giv.sh/03a6

Beyond Donations

The vast majority of suggestions I have seen are calls for donations. If you, like me, are person whose income has been affected or who cannot afford to spare (much), it seems a little harder to figure out how you can work in solidarity with others right now, but I made a short list. Most of you are probably doing some of these, but it’s worth reminding us that they are important examples of solidarity:

  • Check on your neighbors, regularly.  Check on your loved ones, family and friends, emotionally, and see if anyone needs anything.
  • Consider buying gift certificates to any local businesses you can’t patronize now to help them stay afloat.
  • If you have space, grow or make something that you can share with your neighborhood either from afar or in a safe way.
  • I am also working on putting together a central way to distribute action items such as phone calls (phone zaps) to make on a given day.

I hope I will hear suggestions and ideas from people, in any possible mode. 

Here’s what else I’m trying to focus on right now:

We are connected. We can listen to the wisdom of people who have survived terrible events. We can continue reach beyond our own household and beyond ourselves. We can prioritize the needs of the most vulnerable and marginalized. And that will still be the key to something better.

Consider supporting artist Meredith Stern of JustSeeds Collective here.

Optimism Is Hard

For the last several months I’ve been trying to put into words how I felt with the coming of the new year. It finally hit me that the problem I’m having is that I actually feel kind of optimistic at the start of this year. I feel pretty uncomfortable with this—so uncomfortable in fact that my discomfort with the optimism is causing me anxiety.

There are very few times in my life I can remember feeling this optimistic. The last time I could not see clouds on my personal horizon was about four years ago. I had just settled into my new job and had bought a house, something I had previously never imagined I would do. Almost immediately, my sense of optimism and stability was shaken to its core as a stalker showed up, followed by an austerity crisis the destroyed the university where I was working, and an environmental disaster in my town. This series of events shattered nearly every part of my life.

But obviously the fact those things happened once before when I was feeling happy and settled has nothing to do with whether something similar will happen again. However I suspect this is the problem with living through traumatic events. You drag it along with you and it has the potential to ruin even the good things that happen. Because the fact is things are pretty good right now, and if I’m just scared that it will all be snatched away again, waiting for the next bad thing to happen, then I’m ruining the good things that are happening.

In the foreword to her book, Hope in the Dark, Rebecca Solnit describes the the difference between hope and optimism this way

Hope locates itself in the premises that we don’t know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty there is room to act. When you recognize uncertainty, you recognize that you may be able to influence the outcomes—you alone or you in concert with a few dozen or several million others. Hope is an embrace of the unknown and the unknowable, an alternative to the certainty of the both optimists and pessimists. Optimists think it will all be fine without our involvement; pessimists take the opposite position; both excuse themselves from acting (2016, xiv).

Solnit’s descriptions of hope throughout the book resonate deeply with my politics and activist praxis. I have no problem embracing the contradictions required of staring reality in the face and still hoping that somehow I and others can act to change the outcome. So why the difficulty feeling hopeful about my personal life?

I think what has been happening this year is that I am struggling to gain a sense of trust and control over my personal life. The struggle to accept that trust is particularly acute at a moment when I actually do feel optimistic because things are going well, but perhaps the issue is that I am growing. I am growing into the trust that I am the one has the control to act in my life. As a capable adult, I am the one who can protect myself, even when bad things do happen, as at some point, they inevitably will. But I think I am starting to accept that it will even be okay during the bad times in some way, because I can take care of myself.

Like most feminists I know, I am deeply committed to the idea that the personal is political. I am not sure if my struggle to feel comfortable with optimism in my personal life in contrast to my utopian politics is meaningful or helpful to others. I wrote this post to figure out why happiness was making me feel anxious, and I offer this reflection in the tradition of feminist personal essays in the hopes that it resonates with someone else too.

Colectivo de Arte Independiente CAIN, Puebla

spreading our fear of the dark

A few nights ago, I took a ride on my bike. Alone. In the dark. Through a wooded path.

In case this fact doesn’t upset or scare you, I will remind you: I am not a man.

 And guess what? Nothing happened.

Well, something happened.

Before that, every woman I work with offered me a ride home on my way out the door from work. They were all afraid for me to ride my bike home. I don’t mean to suggest that this was not nice (it definitely was), but primarily it was discouraging.

As I walked out and got on my bike, I did feel trepidation. Sometimes I think it is hard to make sure that modes of caring for each other do not to turn in to echo chambers that amplify our fears and hurts from the wider world. After everyone tells you to be scared, it is hard not to be scared.

Picture of a bicycle with a light showing a wooded area, leaves on the ground, and darkness beyond.
Picture taken by my male friend Dan Winchester of his night biking. No one responded to his picture with any concerns.

Once on my bike, the path was empty, and after a certain distance, I entered a wooded area that was dark and it was hard to see. My light was not working and I had to practically stop. I started to breathe too hard. I started to feel afraid in the dark. I started to feel afraid of the dark itself. I worried about what was in the bushes. But then I started to control my fear and I knew that it was only small animals in the bushes being disturbed by my bike in the bushes. I knew that without a light my eyes would adjust to the dark place and I would see different things. Moving at a snail’s pace, I could smell the leaves and hear the trees, in addition to the nearby traffic. I could hear the river. I could focus on feeling my cold breath. If I could control my fear, I could have a wonderful bike ride on a wooded path, no more likely to be attacked by the “crazies” (or just men)–my coworkers’ fear–than anywhere else in this beautiful and terrible world. If I could control my fear, I would be free to enjoy the world as it is.

Because the reality is, I am vulnerable to harassment by men in daylight or in darkness, in the woods or in my workplace, whether strangers or men I know. I am not denying this reality, yet I do not want to overstate it either. And if I refuse to overstate and let it control me, I can be free to enjoy a quiet solo winter bike ride home in the evening. And wow, that freedom felt as good! and as complicated as any other.

Even as I began to really enjoy my ride, I knew that almost no one in my life would approve of this ride. They would want me to turn back, they would want me to make “safer” choices; they would want to come rescue me from the woods. But what do we sacrifice when we continually choose safety over wildness? What do we lose when we share our fear with each other but never our courage? How will we teach each other to be free?

“Nos Están Matando Uno a Uno Nuestro Líderes”

This article first appeared online in English on The Progressive’s website

Mientras mueren lxs defensorxs de los bosques hondureños, en Nueva York se abre el juicio de narcotráfico para el hermano del presidente del país, Juan Antonio Hernández.

Por: Meghan Krausch

“Nos están matando uno a uno nuestros líderes” dijo el mensaje de texto reenviado. El mensaje venía de alguien de la comunidad indígena Tolupán de El Portillo, en la zona rural de Honduras.

La semana anterior, yo había propuesto un artículo sobre nueve personas indígenas en HondurasAlisson Pineda, Wendy Pineda, José María Pineda, Ángela Murillo, Celso Cabrera, Óscar Cabrera, Óscar Vieda, Sergio Ávila, and Ramón Matute, quienes se enfrentan cargos penales por defender su territorio ancestral.

Antes de que pudiera terminar de escribir el ensayo, otro miembro de la familia había sido asesinado.

El 27 de septiembre de 2019, Milgen Idán Soto Ávila fue encontrado asesinado en el mismo lugar donde INMARE, una empresa maderera privada que actualmente está procesando a sus familiares por protestar contra la tala, trabajaba.

Milgen era un joven platicador e inquisitivo de veintinueve años, tenía una presencia constante en el Campamento Digno en Defensa del Territorio Ancestral, establecido por miembrxs de la comunidad que trabajan con el Movimiento Amplio por la Dignidad y Justicia (o MADJ). El objetivo del campamento es parar la tala de la empresa en el bosque de pinos que ha pertenecido a la tribu Tolupán desde que fueron reasentados en esta área, San Francisco de Locomapa, en el departamento de Yoro, en 1864.

Recuerdo bien a Milgen Soto, no solo porque tuvimos una larga conversación, sino también porque cada vez que estoy en Honduras miro con atención a todxs y me preocupo por quién podría estar ausente la próxima vez que regrese. Milgen era un compañero comprometido con grandes ideas sobre cómo crear una sociedad mejor, y compartimos una animada conversación sobre la política global y las contradicciones de sus experiencias en la pobreza extrema a pesar de su derecho histórico a la tierra.

En mayo, escribí sobre Ramón Matute y la ceremonia de levantamiento de los espíritus de su hermano y su padre, asesinados a principios de este año. Poco después de la publicación de este artículo, Ramón y otros ocho miembrxs de la comunidad fueron arrestados y ahora enfrentan cargos penales. ¿Su crimen? “Obstaculazición del plan de manejo forestal.”

A nivel internacional, más de 100 organizaciones firmaron una carta de solidaridad con los defensores de la tierra “condenando la criminalización de las acciones legítimas de protesta”. Aunque Milgen no fue arrestado, fue denunciado formalmente por la empresa maderera.

El 29 de septiembre, antes de haber asimilado completamente la realidad de la muerte de Milgen, recibí noticias del asesinato de otro líder Tolupán. Según los informes, individuos desconocidos le dispararon a Adolfo Redondo. Al principio, esta información fue difícil de confirmar porque, como lo expresó el mensaje de texto de El Portillo, “estamos incomunicados. No hay energía en la zona, no hay Internet”.

Milgen fue la tercera persona asesinada en la misma pequeña comunidad contando sólo este año, y la novena asesinada en el conflicto por la tala desde 2013. Sin embargo, el estado hondureño no ha ofrecido las protecciones requeridas por el derecho internacional, ni tampoco ha seguido procedimientos judiciales penales básicos.

Salomón y Samael Matute fueron asesinados en febrero, pero “no hay ningún avance sustancial en la investigación”, dice Mario Iraheta, representante de las y los Tolupánes en el proceso de medidas cautelares y miembro del equipo legal de MADJ. “Los autores materiales [del crimen] siguen libres en la zona, sin una orden de aprehensión”.

En cambio, los recursos del gobierno se están utilizando para criminalizar a los propios defensores de la tierra, que son todos beneficiarios de medidas cautelares de la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos.


Si bien es un tema muy mediático, Brasil no es el único país donde los bosques están en llamas. En una visita a San Francisco de Locomapa en abril, el humo de los incendios forestales fue tan grave, que todo un grupo de observadores internacionales del Colectivo de Solidaridad de Acción Permanente por la Paz, incluyéndome, se sintieron enfermos después de una sola tarde allí.

No está claro exactamente quién está prendiendo los incendios, que siempre parecen estar furiosos, pero la salud del bosque y de las y los Tolupánes está sufriendo. Los miembros de la comunidad dicen que sufren de una variedad de enfermedades respiratorias.

Una comunicación de 30 de septiembre lanzado por MADJ preguntaba: “¿Quiénes son los asesinos del pueblo Tolupán?”

“Invitamos a la población hondureña organizada y no organizada a identificar los actores intelectuales de la dictadura, de la violencia, de la desigualdad, del empobrecimiento, de quienes despojan y asesinan,” dice la comunicación. “Y a superar la clásica pregunta que busca ubicar a los autores materiales y a transformarla en ¿quién o quiénes ordenaron y consintieron sus asesinatos?” 

Los cargos contra los miembros del Movimiento no son un caso aislado. Los defensores del medio ambiente de Guapinol han estado detenidos en prisión preventiva durante un mes debido a su oposición a un proyecto minero.

“Los procesos judiciales, junto con la represión activa por parte de las fuerzas de seguridad del gobierno revelan el compromiso de proteger los intereses corporativos en vez de los derechos humanos en Honduras”, dicen en una entrevista por correo electrónico Corie Welch y Alejandra Rincón, las coordinadoras del Programa de Honduras del Colectivo de Solidaridad de Acción Permanente por la Paz. “Bajo el régimen que llegó al poder en 2009, hemos visto una colaboración entre las élites poderosas y el gobierno de Honduras, ampliando las concesiones para la extracción y utilizando la policía y el ejército para hacer cumplir la construcción de estos proyectos”.

La ironía es indiscutible. Antonio “Tony” Hernández, hermano del presidente Juan Orlando Hernández, se enfrenta a un juicio en el Tribunal de Distrito Federal de Manhattan, acusado por el Departamento de Justicia de los Estados Unidos de narcotráfico, lavado de dinero y la coordinación de asesinato. El juicio comienza el 2 de octubre y el presidente Hernández es identificado como “co conspirador 4” junto con el ex presidente hondureño Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo.

Ambos, los dos únicos presidentes que han realizado campañas desde el golpe de estado de 2009 en Honduras, se ha alegado en documentos judiciales haber utilizado fondos de narcotráfico para sus campañas, aunque ninguno de los dos ha sido acusado en Estados Unidos.

Honduras no es simplemente un “estado fallido“; está activamente deformado por intereses empresariales e internacionales. El propio gobierno, enjuiciado por corrupción y narcotráfico, está lanzando cargos criminales contra algunos de sus más precarios ciudadanos por protestar en defensa de su propio bosque. Mientras tanto, los Estados Unidos mantiene una relación fuerte con la administración hondureña.

Los hondureños se movilizan dentro de Honduras. Pero la realidad del imperialismo en Centroamérica significa que el problema de los hondureños sea global. Cambiar la realidad política en su país requerirá un fuerte movimiento de solidaridad en los Estados Unidos. Mientras el gobierno de los Estados Unidos y otros regímenes internacionales otorguen legitimidad a Juan Orlando Hernández, puede permanecer en el poder. El caso criminal actual de su hermano es una prueba de esa legitimidad.

José María, un compañero mayor de la comunidad de San Francisco de Locomapa, tiene un dicho favorito: “La sangre de los mártires es la semilla de la libertad”.

story from the protest

The cop came over to express concern.

About me getting run over by a car

While handing out flyers to stop the concentration camps

From the sidewalk.

Then he walked me through moving traffic back to safety.

Two people standing together in front of the sun. Poster says "Communities not Cages"
Art by: Rommy Sobrado-Torrico

Power, Dignity, Choice, and Bobby Seale

I have a favorite story that helps me understand and explain a fundamental aspect of how power works.

Of course power is complex, and of course there are countless major social theories about its operation in the world. But like other complex and rich social phenomena, it isn’t as if we understand nothing without knowing the words of these theories. We have a rooted sense in our bodies and minds of how power from our own experiences with it, either from having power enacted upon us, enacting it upon others, or watching it play out around us. When I taught Intro to Sociology every semester, I actually used to introduce this conversation by showing an episode of the Office, which lead to a conversation about Weberian authority. Important for us today: no one has authority unless the people below see them as legitimate i.e. bestow them some kind of authority. But I digress, because that is not exactly the example I want to talk about.

The real point I want to make here is the related idea that when you really think about it no one can actually make you do anything. Human beings always have some kind of agency. They may have a very limited (or constrained) agency, when faced with a very bad set of options, for example: do something or be killed. But they can always choose to refuse and be killed. You have not actually “made” the person do anything. You have given them a crappy choice. This difference is more than semantic.

Here is my favorite example to illuminate that further.

Color drawing of Bobby Seale, bound and gagged in a seat, pen and paper in hand.
Courtroom drawing of Bobby Seale by Howard Brodie. Held by the Library of Congress.

In the fall of 1969, Bobby Seale, at the time the National Chairman of the Black Panther Party, was on trial in Chicago. Seale was being tried in the aftermath of the 1968 convention in Chicago. The charge was using interstate transportation to incite a riot.

Originally Seale was the only African American on trial alongside seven others, a group that included Abbie Hoffman. The trial was a circus, which was to some extent intentional on the part of the defiant, countercultural defendants. Apparently one day two defendants wore judge’s robes to court and then wiped their feet on them. Eventually Seale’s case was severed from the other seven.

Bobby Seale and his lawyer asked for a delay for his portion of the case because his lawyer was sick and couldn’t represent him, but Judge Hoffman refused, saying that Seale could just be represented by the defense lawyer representing some of the others. Seale insisted on his right to represent himself in that case.

It would seem that this violation of his right to a lawyer outraged Bobby Seale and he continued to complain about it in an attempt to stop the trial from going forward without him being represented by his own choice of counsel. The judge, in turn, wanted to stop Seale’s outbursts and to keep the trial moving.

Of course in the United States due process requires that defendants must be present in order for them to be tried. What generally happens in this situation is that judges threaten to hold defendants in contempt of court, a crime which can include significant fines or jail time. Dear reader, you may have already gotten there: this does not actually solve the problem unless the defendant chooses to change their behavior to avoid further penalty because the defendant must still be in the courtroom for the case to go on.

Bobby Seale was a trained revolutionary, who did not expect justice to be issued in a US court because he sat quietly and waited for it. He was not moved by being held in contempt of court.

In this case, an extraordinary (and horrific) measure was taken. Judge Hoffman ordered that Seale be bound and gagged inside the courtroom. Even more extraordinarily however, this act could not quiet Bobby Seale. Even bound and gagged he found a way to use his voice to disrupt the unjust proceedings. The UPI headline read “Bound, gagged Bobby Seale still manages wild scuffle in court.”

They could not silence Bobby Seale, because no one can actually make another person do anything. Power must be consented to in some way, shape, or form for it to work. It can be difficult to risk, but we do have the choice to try it, especially when we can get together with others and train ourselves to do so. The judge could not make him be quiet, even using significant force.

Bobby Seale is still alive and free to tell the tale.  Do not consent if you do not believe it is the right thing to do. Power is not power without legitimacy and consent from those subject to its will. Whenever it feels like I have no choice, I think of Bobby Seale.

Luchar para Proteger el Bosque en Honduras

This article first appeared online in English on The Progressive’s website

Muchos en los EEUU están inconscientes de la conexión entre los y las refugiados huyendo de Honduras y la lucha allá por justicia ambiental.

Por Meghan Krausch

En un grupo de casas aisladas en un bosque de pino en las montañas de San Francisco de Locomapa, Honduras, en el territorio ancestral del pueblo Tolupán, asisto a la ceremonia para  levantar los espíritus de Juan Samael Matute y José Salomón Matute. El evento es cuarenta días después de su doble asesinato.

Samael y Salomón fueron asesinados el 25 de febrero en el bosque de pino que defendían ellos junto con unos otras y otros miembros de la comunidad Tolupán.  Como parte del Movimiento Amplio por la Dignidad y la Justicia, ellos y ellas se han opuesto a la tala desmesurada por empresas privadas, quienes reciben asistencia directa de la agencia hondureña el Instituto de Conservación Forestal (ICF).

Samael y Salomón son el séptimo y el octavo asesinato de esta comunidad extremamente empobrecida históricamente, la cual está profundamente dividida por la lucha por el derecho a la tierra y por la intervención del dinero empresarial en la política local. Líderes del Movimiento han sido amenazados y judicializados por sus esfuerzos a defender el bosque. Al mismo tiempo, sus asesinos caminan sueltos por la comunidad, y el Ministerio Público sigue declarando que “no hay novedades” en el proceso judicial de los asesinatos.

Ahora que caravana tras caravana de refugiados salen de Honduras, muchas personas también quedan, enganchado en una resistencia fuerte contra los proyectos extractivistas. Estas están apoyadas acá en los Estados Unidos por militantes que llaman la atención al papel de los Estados Unidos en hacer crecer la crisis hondureña.

La Ley Berta Cáceres, originalmente presentada en 2016 por el Congresista Hank Johnson, Demócrata del estado de Georgia, subraya el papel de la policía hondureña en la corrupción y los abusos de los derechos humanos. La ley reclama la suspensión en la “asistencia en materia de seguridad de Estados Unidos a Honduras hasta que cesen las violaciones de los derechos humanos por parte de las fuerzas de seguridad de Honduras y hasta que los responsables de estas violaciones  sean llevados ante la justicia.” Cáceres, una hondureña destacada por su trabajo con el Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas Nacional de Honduras (COPINH), fue asesinada en 2016 por hombres contratados por una empresa que pretende construir una represa en el territorio de la puebla Indígena Lenca.

Las y los participantes hicieron esfuerzos extraordinarios para asistir a la ceremonia de dos días en honor a Samael y Salomón, viajando por horas a pie o abarrotados en camionetas. Había vecinos, miembros del Movimiento Amplio por la Dignidad y la Justicia de San Pedro Sula, dos observadoras internacionales, y el Consejo de los Ancianos del Pueblo Lenca, quienes vinieron de sus propias tierras en Intibucá, Honduras, para compartir el liderazgo de la ceremonia con una delegación cristiana local.

En el centro de la reunión estuvo Ramón Matute, un familiar de las víctimas. Él reporta que recibe regularmente amenazas de muerte desde las mismas personas que mataron a su padre y a su hermano. Muchos en la comunidad dicen que la policía hondureña son poca asistencia, aunque Ramón es uno de los 38 miembros de la comunidad que fueron otorgados “medidas cautelares” en 2013 por la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos, debido a sus altos niveles de riesgo como defensores de derechos humanos.

Samael y Salomón están enterrados uno al lado del otro en una sola colina, adornada por una pequeña palmera y flores decoran las nuevas cruces. Hay banderas y pancartas señalando la continuidad de la lucha por los derechos humanos y la justicia ambiental, y un anciano se balancea una olla de barro llena de incienso.

En la ceremonia, Ramón habla del martirio de su padre y su hermano, y de la lucha para defender el bosque, el agua, y el territorio ancestral del gobierno y las empresas privadas que los quieren explotar. Compromete con Pascualita Vásquez, la líder espiritual del COPINH quien guía esta ceremonia, para fortalecer la relación entre sus pueblos y trabajar conjuntos para recuperar y proteger sus tradiciones, su dignidad, y importantemente, su autonomía.

La violencia y la represión han crecido en Honduras desde un golpe en 2009, pero las cosas se empeoraron después del fraude electoral del Presidente Juan Orlando Hernández en Noviembre 2017, donde más de treinta personas fueron asesinadas por las fuerzas del estado, sin asumir responsabilidad.

El gobierno de los EEUU reconoció a Juan Orlando oficialmente como ganador de la elección disputada, cuando aún no terminaron es escrutinio, así mismo, EEUU  ayuda con entrenar y financiar las fuerzas de seguridad en Honduras. El efecto desalentador de esta violencia se nota por toda la sociedad hondureña en donde, como me comentó una persona: “No tenemos la oportunidad de salir de un luto antes de que estamos entrando en otro.”

Respondiendo de cómo defensores y defensoras de derechos humanos y del medioambiente logran seguir, enfrentado con tanta violencia, la cantautora y periodista Karla Lara, quien era amiga cercana de Berta Cáceres, me cuenta que ella ve la espiritualidad como “una estrategia de lucha, porque la cultura dominante es la cultura de la muerte.”

“Tengo estos pequeños altares de Berta,” dice Karla. “No había hecho los altares antes. No sólo yo, sino muchas personas, estamos buscando una espiritualidad que nos protege. Hay un entendimiento político de la espiritualidad, de la necesidad de protegernos.” Ella describe un rito cotidiano de pasar el humo del palo santo por toda la casa, y especialmente de “pedir a Berta que nos de la capacidad de lectura estratégica política, porque eso es la ausencia más grande de Berta: su capacidad de analizar todo.”

“Tenemos que hacer un compromiso de hacer bella esta lucha y reivindicar la alegría,” dice Karla.

Hay bastantes razones para estar triste mientras soltamos los espíritus de Samael y Salomón, quienes en vida fueron tomadas simplemente por avaricia. Sin embargo el énfasis está en las flores, en las comunidades juntándose a través de distancias grandes, y sobre todo en la posibilidad de una vida con dignidad.