Waging Nonviolence

A demolished Palestinian village comes back to life

by Melanie Nakashian

Saint Mary’s Church in Iqrit was the only structure left standing after a 1951 IDF bombing that destroyed about 100 homes in the Christian village. (Facebook / Iqrit)

Among the hundreds of Palestinian villages that were evacuated between 1947 and 1951, there is one whose descendants are actually getting close to fulfilling their right of return. In an unprecedented case, the demolished Christian village of Iqrit should soon be connected to Israel’s electricity grid. This comes just as a group of Iqrit’s young descendants mark three years, this August 5, of continuously inhabiting the church in their otherwise destroyed village.

Iqrit sits atop a hill in the Western Galilee, just a few kilometers south of the Lebanese border. In October 1948, as part of Operation Hiram, the then newly established Israel Defense Forces drove out the population of about 500 mostly Christian Palestinians living there. According to Israeli historian Benny Morris, the operation intended to create an “Arab-less border strip” along Lebanon to serve as a “security belt.” This was part of the larger ethnic cleansing that displaced hundreds of thousands and is remembered by Palestinians as the Nakba (Arabic for catastrophe). Jewish Israelis remember the same event as their War of Independence. The Nakba is marked on May 15, the day Israel was established in 1948.

Many of the millions of today’s ethnic Palestinians continue to fight to return to their families’ lands, a right first codified in United Nations Resolution 194 in December 1948. Israel has not complied with this resolution and its enforcement is a primary demand of the nonviolent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign known as BDS. Many Palestinians around the world and in occupied Palestine are barred from simply visiting the land where their families are from, making on-the-ground organizing out of the question. Returning remains a distant dream for most.

While some Iqritis were sent north to Lebanon, the majority were internally displaced and now hold Israeli citizenship. Today, there are over 400 Iqriti family heads dispersed throughout northern Israel in cities and villages such as Haifa and Rame. The latter is where most of the villagers were brought at the time of evacuation after being mislead into believing they could return home two weeks later.

The story of the Nakba is common to Palestinians. Iqrit, however, is unique in that its villagers brought their case to Israel’s Supreme Court and obtained a decision in July 1951 that legally granted them the right to return to their homes. The IDF, however, did its best to render that impossible. A few months later, on Christmas Day, they surprised Iqritis by bombing their entire village of about 100 homes. All that remained was Iqrit’s church at the top of the hill and their cemetery near the bottom, both still there today. Yet, despite this and 67 years of various setbacks, Iqritis have not allowed Israel to sweep the 1951 ruling under the rug.

Another major legal point in their favor is a 1994 ministerial committee recommendation that further reinforces their right to return. Late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin appointed a committee in 1992 concerning the cases of both Iqrit and nearby Kufr Bir’im, pairing these two Christian villages for reasons that remain unclear. The recommendation states, “there is no reason to prevent the displaced villagers” from returning and “it is the government’s duty to assist them in doing so,” as well as to provide compensation. It was never ratified and Rabin was assassinated by an Israeli ultranationalist in 1995. The following year marked the beginning of the reign of current right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

According to Nemi Ashkar, chairman of the Iqrit Community Association, or ICA, Israel claims that allowing Iqritis to return would set a precedent for similar appeals from other villages. “But this fear of precedent is not really valid [from the perspective of Israeli law],” he argued. There is no other village possessing Israeli legal support like Iqrit does — the most significant being the 1951 ruling and 1994 recommendation. At the time of the Nakba, according to Ashkar, Iqritis “simply got good advice” to go to the then newly established court and have managed to keep themselves on Israel’s agenda ever since.

Furthermore, there has been no Israeli development on Iqriti land inhibiting their return, as is the case with many other Palestinian villages in Israel proper that have been overtaken either by Jewish Israeli villages or Jewish National Fund forests. These forests occupy the majority of the horizon looking out from Iqrit’s hilltop with Jewish villages also in sight — the nearest one being Shomera and its IDF base immediately across the road. Aside from one man in Shomera who brings his cattle to graze on their land, Iqritis have no problems with their Jewish neighbors.

“There are a lot of reasons that have proven our right to the land,” said Ashkar, who resides in Kufr Yasif, a 25-minute drive from Iqrit. “Nobody can tell us that we have no right to own the place.”

A workshop at the August 2014 Roots Camp teaching dabke, the traditional Levantine Arab dance. (WNV / Melanie Nakashian)

Every year since 1995 — with the exception of 2006 due to Israel’s war with Lebanon — the adults of Iqrit have organized Roots Camp — an educational gathering for the youngest generation of descendants, who have not yet gone off to college. Since these youths are raised in the Israeli education system, the camp fills a narrative gap that Israel’s Ministry of Education tends to neglect. In fact, Netanyahu banned the word “nakba” from textbooks, essentially banning Palestinian children from learning the history of their families’ experiences, as well as preventing Jewish Israelis from being exposed to the narrative. Netanyahu’s Nakba Bill also penalizes government bodies and institutions for commemorating the catastrophe.

Samer Toume, a 25-year-old Iqriti graduate student of biomedical engineering at the Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, explained how Roots Camp combats Israel’s exertion of power through education by saying, “History books are written by the ones who can control what is taught and what is not taught. So, this camp teaches people about what nobody else teaches them,” including different aspects of Palestinian history and culture, “mainly through the story of Iqrit.” This year’s camp runs from August 18-22.

The villagers are also always open to anyone, Palestinian or otherwise, who wants to learn about Iqrit. Classes of Jewish and Arab students, as well as international tourist groups visit frequently.

Toume is part of the core group of about 15 third-generation-displaced Iqritis — mostly working students in their 20s — who decided, during their camp on August 5, 2012, that they had to return for good. They have sustained a constant presence since then, taking shifts 24/7 and sleeping in a room attached to the church or just outside of it under the stars. Many others who do not sleep there still visit frequently and are actively involved in other aspects of organizing, such as for the annual camp, cultural or political events and Christian holiday gatherings. Dealings with the government are usually handled by Iqritis from the second generation of displacement.

The annual Roots Camp also teaches about Iqrit’s natural environment, passing down knowledge about how to nurture the plants that have survived since before the demolition. This includes fig and olive trees among others, and soon they hope to grow tobacco again. “Our grandfathers were known for their good tobacco,” Toume said.

Unfortunately, even the plants of Iqrit are under scrutiny by the Israel Land Administration, or ILA, which claims ownership over the land. The villagers are prohibited from rooting anything new in or on the land. No “structures,” no plants, not even flowers. For instance, at the last camp in August 2014, one group of kids planted about a dozen trees outside of their cemetery, only to be greeted less than an hour later by a pick-up truck ready to investigate and soon uproot them.

This is a regular occurrence. Every couple weeks — or whenever the authorities hear about any sort of activity, as they somehow always do — officers come prepared with cars and trucks to remove anything diverting from the status quo.

Sometimes officers randomly stop by or a drone cruises through the air. In June 2014, three of the core on-the-ground activists were — according to other group members — arrested in an extremely unprofessional and unnecessarily violent manner. Jerius Khiatt and Walaa Sbait were kept in jail for two nights and Nidal Khoury was kept for three; Khiatt and Sbait were sentenced to house arrest and then prohibited from visiting Iqrit for several weeks. While such harassment and intimidation by authorities is not unusual, the Iqritis remain undeterred.

St. Mary’s Church is currently powered by four solar panels, but a Supreme Court Decision may soon see it connected to the Israeli grid. (Facebook / Iqrit)

Their church — still standing, but surrounded by rubble — is considered to be a symbol of their immovable presence. Right now, it is powered by four solar panels — their second set, after their first was mysteriously stolen — and a generator when needed. In April, Iqrit was finally granted a Supreme Court decision permitting them to be connected to the electricity grid.

Ashkar is one of five who has been spearheading this request for electricity. The case has been ongoing for years and he tends to it on a daily basis, but remains optimistic. “We see the progress, and we are satisfied with what is happening,” he said. They are in the process of mapping and the Israel Electric Corporation has a working plan. He expects to see more conclusive progress in the next three months.

Toume, on the other hand, is more skeptical and fears that the government won’t allow the electric company to follow-through with the court’s decision. “I won’t believe them until I see the first lamp really shining here,” he said, pointing out the lack of accountability pertaining to the 1951 decision. “Until I see electricity, I don’t believe it.”

Iqrit has been connected to Israel’s national water system since 1971, when the villagers received permission to be buried in their cemetery. Their next legal focus after receiving electricity will be to bring the cemetery’s land back under their legal ownership. This is already underway and will represent yet another step towards their eventual full return and rebuilding of the village, which they still unreservedly believe they will soon achieve.

Twenty minutes from Iqrit lies Kufr Bir’im, the one other village included in Rabin’s committee recommendation. Inspired by the return to Iqrit, activists attempted to do the same at Kufr Bir’im in 2013, but with less success, as their return only lasted about a year. They were subject to multiple raids by the ILA and were cut off from electricity, gas and water. They were eventually prohibited from visiting their own church, which is their only undestroyed building as well. Their cemetery has been vandalized several times.

Iqrit is an inspirational anomaly. Only time will tell how their case will influence the wider struggle for justice among Palestinians. Yet, despite the exceptional legal advantage that Iqrit has on paper, Ashkar said their case shows that they “are still fighting the war.” Iqrit may serve as an experimental model for other returning villages to learn about not just how to organize, but also how and when to negotiate with authorities — and to what extent they should negotiate with authorities at all, given Israel’s track record when it comes to following the law, not to mention its long list of discriminatory laws.

Samer Toume (left) and another core activist, Haytam Sbait, garden in potted plants, which are more mobile and easily hidden during ILA check-ups. (Facebook / Iqrit)

Unlike most Palestinian descendants, most Iqritis have the physical access to their village that allows for a connection with the land to be fostered firsthand. This connection is a major component underlying their struggle. Ashkar remembers his connection to Iqrit developing at a young age, spending time on the land with his family while growing up before Roots Camp was running. Toume’s interest began with hearing stories from his grandparents; it continued to grow at Roots Camps and has since evolved into something more. “After three years here, I have my own story, and I want to protect it.”

Toume discussed the challenge of keeping up such an effort on the ground despite all the powers working against them. “You have to have a lot of energy and want very much to do this for three years,” he said. “It is obvious that young people prefer to stay in Haifa and drink beer in a bar with their friends than to come here and try to do something.” He somehow finds the time to be particularly active, staying there regularly in between his studies and working on his two medical start-ups from a space in the back of Iqrit’s church. Working students are very much at the foundation of the village’s on-the-ground activism.

Ashkar believes that Israel hopes the Palestinians’ yearn to return will die with age. Within the next decade, they will be at the fourth generation of displacement. It’s as if the authorities are stalling, expecting the case to weaken with time, waiting for them to “forget [their] demands.” If this is what the Israeli government is hoping for, they are likely in for disappointment, as the Iqritis, it seems, are only gaining strength and speed with age.

August 5 marks three years since the core group declared their permanent return to Iqrit. Soon, if all goes according to plan, there should be an Israeli-powered light shining at the top of their hill. The youngest descendants are not only receiving education about their people’s history for the first time — a history that the Israeli government tries to ban them from learning — but they are also creating their own stories on their families’ land. Iqritis are clearly unrelenting in both their legal and on-the-ground organizing to hold their government accountable. Much like their church, they will not be moved.

The sacredness of working to end white supremacy — a conversation with Rev. Anne Dunlap

by Chris Crass

Leading singing at the launch of the Metro Denver Sanctuary Coalition, September 2014. (WNV/Anne Dunlap)

From the massacre in Charleston to the police murder of Sandra Bland in Texas, racist violence is being met with outrage, and a growing black-led multiracial resistance movement that is on the move. With a sustained focus on institutional racist violence in the media due to the Black Lives Matter movement, white people across the country are both coming to consciousness about the enduring reality of white supremacy and looking for ways to take action for racial justice.

To help equip and inspire white people to step up and take action, I reached out to long-time faith-based white anti-racist leader and United Church of Christ minister Rev. Anne Dunlap, who serves as a “street pastor” for racial justice and solidarity in the Denver, Colorado area. For over 25 years she has been working in freedom movements with folks across race, gender and class lines, with a focus on solidarity with black, immigrant, worker and indigenous communities. As a faculty member of Iliff School of Theology, she helps train religious leaders to not only work for social justice themselves, but to move their congregations and larger faith communities into action.

In this interview, Rev. Dunlap reflects on her anti-racist work in white communities, her multiracial alliance-building efforts, liberation theology and the guidance she received from her departed mentor, black liberation theologian, historian and visionary, Vincent Harding.

How are you working to move white people into the racial justice movement in this time? What’s working? And what are you learning from what works?

I have been a faith-rooted justice movement activist and leader for a long time — nearly 30 years if you go back to my “call” into the work at age 16 that launched this trajectory of my life. I’ve done this work in many capacities, and most often as a “bridge” between white folk/communities and marginalized folk/communities. Whether it’s racial and economic justice, police brutality, detention abolition, deportation resistance or indigenous rights, I do pastoral solidarity work, as well as constantly try to get more white folk involved. In addition, in our local United Church of Christ conference we are working toward creating a position for racial justice and solidarity in which part of my work would include resourcing our predominantly white churches so that they can be bolder for racial justice. More informally are lots of conversations with white friends and colleagues about how we can show up — and how we show up — in the work for racial justice. Resource sharing is incredibly important here, whether by social media or sending a friend my favorite Andrea Smith resource.

One thing I have noticed is that as a white clergyperson who shows up often in pretty public ways, I am finding white people seek me out for conversation to talk through how they might do that too, or that they find themselves emboldened to take action where they are because they have seen me do it. I take that to mean that white folk are longing for some white models for racial justice and solidarity, and so we need those of us more practiced at it and/or are willing to “be public” to continue to do that, and encourage more folks to try it. And here I don’t mean posting your selfie at the latest action, but more importantly being public about our questions and wrestlings, being public about our mistakes, being public about the resources we find helpful, being public about our horror at what is continuing to be done in our name. If I might channel my mentor, Vincent Harding, let people see you be fully human in this messy, magnificent work that is the freedom movement.

Presenting demands at the Denver U.S. Attorney’s office that Darren Wilson be held accountable for killing Michael Brown, in December 2014. (WNV/Anne Dunlap)

To that I would add a couple of things: 1) recognizing that I am not an expert or the model and being clear that although I have been at this a long time I am also always just beginning; and 2) being public does not mean centering myself as a white person and thus de-centering the voices, experiences and lives of black, Latina/o, indigenous and immigrant folk. That can be a tricky dance, to both not hide and also not center my white self, and I am sure I don’t always get it right.

How do you think about effectiveness and how do you measure it? Can you share an experience that helps you think about effective work in white communities for racial justice?

As a spiritual leader rooted in radical Christian tradition and informed by liberationist, feminist/womanist, and post-colonial praxis, I have to ask: How do we understand “effectiveness” in ways that are non-capitalist? Capitalism is its own theological system which I find runs completely counter to what my tradition teaches. Capitalist “effectiveness” is driven by numbers, by production as if humans were cogs in a machine, by increasing profit and consumption and by continuous extraction of resources regardless of impact, by dividing up winners (most worthy) and losers. Capitalist “effectiveness” requires, as Andrea Smith writes, perpetual enslavement of black bodies, perpetual disappearance of indigenous bodies, perpetual war against the “foreign threat” of brown bodies. I’m not interested in those definitions of effectiveness.

What is “effectiveness” that is prophetic and revolutionary, that honors the wholeness of human dignity and the tender fragility of human lives and bodies, that honors not only human life but all creatures, flora, fauna, mineral, liquid, vapor? One experience that helps me think about this is a 2007 action I participated in, a nonviolent act of resistance against the Columbus Day parade in Denver that resulted in nearly a hundred of us being arrested and being pretty brutalized by the Denver police, both in the street and in the jail. I helped organize students, faculty, staff at the Iliff School of Theology where I was a student leader at the time. We had a group of 11 students and alums who were among those arrested — and nearly 40 more were present.

From the capitalist view one might argue this action was not “effective.” We were arrested, the parade continued, and almost all of us who went to trial were found guilty of violating the city’s “parade ordinance” (put in place to prevent protests of the Columbus Day parade), resisting arrest and other charges. The Denver police were never held accountable for their brutality against us. Some of us continue to live with the trauma to our bodies and psyches from that day. The whole event and its aftermath of trials and healing took immense resources and energy.

From what I might call the prophetic view, however, this is what I see: white students at Iliff emboldened to take action on this and other justice issues, including white parents who went to their children’s schools to get curriculum about Columbus changed; healers who stepped up and identified themselves and have continued to provide for the community’s healing; relationships of solidarity, trust and fierce love that were born that day and continue; and for many white folk, including myself, the breaking apart of the veil of “legitimacy” of the “justice system” and policing, and how both of those systems actually serve to perpetuate white supremacy. I am still seeing the impact of that action to this day in our community; the city thought they had won but the result was a stronger multiracial community of resistance in Denver, and with white folks pretty radicalized by our experience (whether as arrestees, witnesses or seeing the aftermath).

This is the kind of effectiveness our tradition teaches us is possible. It turns the wisdom of the world on its head. What the Roman Empire determined as “effective” — executing the radical Jesus by crucifixion — was rendered as foolishness when the Spirit-filled community rose up in resistance with their ringing proclamation that the Empire had no power over life or death: “Christ is risen!”

What are the goals and strategies (as emergent, planned, messy, and sophisticated, basic as it is) you’re operating from?

My big goal — and I believe this is the “big goal” the Divine attests to and longs for us in our tradition — is the total undoing of white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy for a world in which all life, not only human, but creatures and the land, as well, can flourish. To get there my part is to be in deep human relationship with marginalized communities, and to work with white folk and faith communities in particular.

A delegation of clergy and supporters attempt to accompany Jeanette Vizguerra to her ICE check-in on February 12, 2015. (WNV/Anne Dunlap)

We need as many nimble tools as possible for collective liberation. Besides the organizing work and just plain showing up for actions and such, some other tools for white folk who claim to be Christian include: 1) recovering and immersing ourselves in the liberative and revolutionary sources, biblical and theological, of Christian tradition, and sharing and embodying those. This includes perpetually reminding ourselves that the Bible is not the victory handbook of the Empire, but the outcry and deeply human wrestlings of the oppressed; 2) educating ourselves all the time especially through listening to oppressed voices. And letting those voices interrogate us deeply, letting them make us confront the ways white supremacy lives inside our heads. This is the un-sexy (because it is often invisible) work of disrupting whiteness as a white person and it’s just as important as showing up publicly, because it helps us know how to show up in better, more liberative ways; 3) learning the “people’s history” of struggle and liberation, including the local history of where we live, and sharing it; and 4) knowing our limits and doing our own healing work. This is so important and must not be overlooked. Therapy, herbal practice, Sabbath, physical labor at my friend’s goat farm, and spiritual direction all help keep me going and help me bring my best, most grounded self to the work, and I publicly encourage and affirm other folks’ efforts towards self-care.

A word about spiritual direction: I find this helps me cultivate discernment, holds space for my vocational wrestlings in the face of challenge, and fosters my ability to sit in the unknown and trust there is more going on here than I am aware of; this in particular allows me to let go of control which is one way whiteness perpetuates itself.

What challenges are you facing? How are you trying to overcome them? What are you learning from these experiences?

There are a couple of main ones for me. The first is institutions. Entrenched oppressions in institutions — including and especially the church and the academy — and the institutional capacity for self-preservation rather than liberation challenge me at the deepest level and cause me the most despair. Community — both close friends and a community of solidarity — is so much help in navigating this challenge. I have also learned that if there is no space for movement, no space for Spirit to crack open something, it might be best to walk away. I have done that on occasion — not walk away from the freedom movement, but from that particular institution that will take my life in ways I am not willing to give it. Everyone must do their own discernment around this; I may leave where another person may stay, and that’s cool.

The second challenge is being overwhelmed. Constantly confronting injustice and the death-dealing powers of empire is wearying enough, and I think our saturation with 24-hour news cycles and constant social media updates can sometimes make this worse (though social media is great for connecting and expressing solidarity). I have to be sure to take Sabbath time to rest, integrate, tend to my spirit and body and home. As a white person I have struggled with this because the temptation to be the “perfect ally” who shows up to everything is very strong (and capitalist-driven). I’ve learned to remind myself that I am not the center of the movement, and a healthy me, even if I’m not at everything, is so much better for the movement than a burned-out me.

How are you developing your own leadership and the leadership of people around you to step up in these profound, painful and powerful Black Lives Matter movement times?

As I mentioned, I have been in this work a long time, though focused more on immigration and economic justice. Last year two things happened that prompted some deep vocational discernment for me: Vincent Harding died, a loss I grieved deeply, and a few months later Michael Brown was killed. These are connected for me because Michael Brown was killed not long after Harding’s memorial service here in Denver, and I began to talk to Harding every day, asking him what I should do. It soon became clear that I was being called to deepen my justice work through the Black Lives Matter movement, and to do so by leaving my prior congregational position and embracing my role as “street pastor” — as well as responding to the outcry for white folks to educate white folks — by offering myself to our United Church of Christ conference as a resource.

Invoking the presence of Dr. Vincent Harding, National Moment of Silence vigil in August 2014. (WNV/Anne Dunlap)

In these intervening months I have utilized this “in-between” time of unknown in terms of a particular job by reading everything I can, taking advantage of trainings, finding resources for working on collective liberation with white folks and white church folks, trying on some new ways of reclaiming my voice as a leader, and most importantly building relationships and showing up in solidarity with our Black Lives Matter leaders in Denver. I feel like these last eight months in many ways have been a preparation for some amazing and difficult work that is about to unfold.

Las comunidades Garífunas de Honduras se resisten a los desalojos y robo de tierras

by Jeff Abbott

Un residente de Vallecito acompaña a cantantes mientras cantan canciones tradicionales Garifunas. (WNV/Jeff Abbott)

This article is also available in English.

A lo largo de la costa atlántica de Honduras, las comunidades afro caribeñas garífunas se ven amenazadas por propuestas de creación de proyectos mega-turísticos y ciudades gestionadas por corporaciones, a menudo conocidas como “ciudades modelo”. Como consecuencia de ello, las comunidades garífunas están siendo forzadas a abandonar sus tierras.

En enero de 2015, el vicepresidente de los Estados Unidos Joseph Biden propuso un plan para proporcionar a los gobiernos de Centroamérica 1000 millones de dólares – además de otras ayudas acordadas con anterioridad – para incrementar las inversiones en la zona, con el objetivo de mejorar la seguridad y generar la oportunidad de combatir las causas “raíz” de la migración ilegal.

El plan ede Bide no es mas que la continuación del Tratado de Libre Comercio con Centroamérica y el Plan Mesoamérica mediante la ampliación del mercado energético regional integrado y facilitando a las empresas multinacionales la inversión en enormes proyectos de desarrollo en toda la región que provocarán grandes daños a la comunidad. Este verano el Congreso votará este paquete de ayuda.
Sin embargo, tal y como han señalado los críticos, los planes crearán un retroceso negativo para la gente de la región, incluyendo el aumento de conflictos sociales y la destrucción del medioambiente.

“El gobierno estadounidense está financiando a nuestro gobierno para desalojarnos”, dijo Ángel Castro, residente de la comunidad garífuna de Vallecito. “No están aquí para apoyar a las personas afro decendientes, menos aún al pueblo de Honduras.”

La conexión con el modelo económico de acumulación por desposesión no se pierde en Castro. Y añadió: “Esto es parte del capitalismo y la política del neoliberalismo”.

Los mega-proyectos son sólo uno de los problemas a los que las comunidades garífunas de Honduras han tenido que enfrentarse en los seis años transcurridos desde que el golpe de estado, apoyado por los Estados Unidos, derrocó al entonces presidente Manuel Zelaya. Ahora han comenzado a organizar y defender sus tierras a través de la resistencia noviolenta.

Defendiendo la tierra y la cultura

Las comunidades garífunas llevan siglos viviendo en la costa Atlántica de Honduras y han desarrollado su propia cultura, idioma, comida y música. Son los descendientes de los esclavos africanos y de las poblaciones indígenas Arawak que fueron deportadas de la isla británica de San Vicente en 1797. En la actualidad, las comunidades garífunas abarcan la costa atlántica desde Belice hasta Nicaragua con 48 comunidades en Honduras, en los departamentos de Cortés, Atlántida y Colón.

A principios de los años 1800 el gobierno hondureño dio a las comunidades títulos ilegales de 1,012 hectáreas de tierra. Desde entonces se han encargado de estas tierras colectivamente, alimentándose de la pesca y la agricultura.

Ahora estas comunidades se enfrentan al desalojo para dar paso a la construcción de proyectos de desarrollo apoyados por políticas económicas neoliberales como la Alianza por el Progreso y la Estrategia para el Compromiso de los Estados Unidos en Centroamérica. Además, el creciente interés de los narcotraficantes y las plantaciones de aceite de palma africana han forzado a las comunidades a abandonar sus tierras.

“Todos sufrimos la misma situación,” dijo Selvyn, de la comunidad de Porto Cortez. “Todos estamos siendo desalojados de nuestras tierras. El Estado ha decidido excluir a las comunidades del diálogo nacional.”

Pero frente a los desalojos para facilitar la creación de mega proyectos, y amenazados por narcotraficantes fuertemente armados, las comunidades garífunas han decidido dedicarse a la resistencia noviolenta para defender su territorio.

Filas de palma africana para la producción de aceite de palma dan la bienvenida a visitantes de Vallecito. La palma africana se ha propagado como un virus a lo largo del territorio Garifuna y de Honduras. (WNV / Jeff Abbott)

En agosto de 2012, miembros de las comunidades a lo largo de la costa atlántica de Honduras reclamaron el corazón de su territorio de la invasión de los narcotraficantes, los proyectos de mega turismo y la expansión del aceite de palma. Fueron ellos quienes fundaron la comunidad de Vallecito en el territorio que los garífunas consideran sus tierras ancestrales, a un kilómetro y medio del mar.

Al igual que en muchas culturas indígenas, la tierra y el mar están vinculados a la identidad del pueblo garífuna y son cruciales para la continuación de su sociedad. Las comunidades sostienen que el asalto de su territorio es también un ataque a su identidad y cultura.

“El mar y la playa son esenciales para el pueblo garífuna”, dijo Guillermo, un residente de Vallecito. “Es parte de mi vida; que es lo que significa ser garífuna”.

La resistencia noviolenta que utilizan para defender su tierra es también parte de la identidad garífuna.

“El pueblo garífuna es un pueblo pacífico”, dijo Yilian Maribeth David, desde la organización de base Organización Fraternal Negra Hondureña (OFRANEH). “Nunca hemos utilizado armas o la violencia en la lucha por la recuperación de tierras, ni tampoco en las manifestaciones en las principales ciudades contra las violaciones de los derechos de nuestra gente.”

Las comunidades garífunas no han recibido clases ni entrenamientos en las tácticas noviolentas. Más bien, su dedicación a la noviolencia proviene de su religión.

“No se nos ha enseñado acerca de las luchas pacíficas”, dijo David. “Más bien, la espiritualidad garífuna es el mantenimiento de la práctica de la lucha pacífica. Esto se debe a que nuestra religión se basa en la creencia en ancestros que dan señales en sueños y visiones de cuándo y cómo llevar a cabo una actividad y también indican en qué momento hay que parar. Todo esto lo lideran los chamanes”.

Pero la situación de estas comunidades se está deteriorando y su resistencia pacífica está siendo contraatacada con violencia.

Una situación que se deteriora

En los años transcurridos desde el golpe de estado, los inversionistas han encontrado un nuevo apoyo del gobierno cuando roban la tierra de las pequeñas comunidades campesinas e indígenas. En este ambiente los garífunas se han organizado para defender sus tierras.

“Las comunidades no van a vender sus tierras”, dijo Celso Alberto, de la comunidad de Santa Fe. “Así que el gobierno ha estado expropiando las tierras.”

La industria del turismo ha ido creciendo a lo largo de la costa de Honduras desde mediados de los 90. Pero en los últimos tres años, los proyectos de desarrollo turístico se han ampliado, y también lo han hecho los desalojos. Localidades costeras de las comunidades garífunas se han visto despojadas de sus tierras para la construcción de proyectos de mega turismo.

Los proyectos forman parte del Plan de Mesoamérica, que promueve la creación de un corredor turístico de Belice a través de Honduras a lo largo de la costa. Las comunidades sostienen que estos proyectos no les benefician y sólo mercantilizan su cultura.

“Las personas sólo vienen a consumir la cultura, beber el té gifi y vernos bailar”, dijo César Leonel, un joven garífuna y miembro de la Red Mesoamericana de Radios Comunitarias. “Se hospedan en hoteles en territorio garífuna, donde puede que sólo haya dos o tres garífunas trabajando.”

Además, la ubicación de las comunidades las hace vulnerables a la invasión de los productores de aceite de palma y los narcotraficantes. Por lo tanto, la defensa del territorio también ha llegado a significar la defensa contra estas industrias legales e ilegales. Si recuperan las tierras, las comunidades garífunas podrán seguir frenando el transporte de narcóticos a través de su territorio.

Cesar Leonel toca el tambor en el centro de la comunidad de Vallecito, mientras tres soldados están sentados en a periferia de la reunión. (WNV/Jeff Abbott)

Desde 2012, la comunidad de Vallecito ha evitado con éxito, a través de su presencia permanente, que los narcotraficantes locales reconstruyan un punto de tránsito a lo largo de la costa, que fue destruido por el ejército hondureño. Sin embargo, las comunidades se han enfrentado a la intimidación y la violencia por parte de los traficantes.

El gobierno de Honduras respondió a estas amenazas mediante el despliegue de un pequeño grupo de soldados para “proteger” a la comunidad garífuna. Ahora tres soldados están permanentemente en la entrada del territorio de la comunidad. Pero los miembros de la comunidad de Vallecito no ven las ventajas de la presencia de los soldados.

“El ejército es sólo la imagen de la protección”, dijo Guillermo. “Cambian los soldados cada mes, así que no se acercan demasiado a nuestro movimiento.”

A pesar de los éxitos contra los narcos, las comunidades garífunas todavía siguen siendo vulnerables al desalojo para dar paso a proyectos turísticos.

“El Estado está vendiendo nuestras tierras de manera ilegal”, dijo Leonel. “Nos enfrentamos a la expulsión sistemática de las comunidades garífunas de sus tierras para que los extranjeros compren nuestras tierras para construir enormes hoteles.”

La lucha contra la migración

Para las comunidades garífunas, la defensa del territorio y la identidad es también una lucha contra las fuerzas que les impulsan a emigrar a Estados Unidos en busca de oportunidades.

“Cuando las comunidades no tienen el espacio para reproducir su cultura, por supuesto que emigran”, dijo Leonel.

Las comunidades también han comenzado a crear sus propios proyectos de desarrollo para crear oportunidades para sí mismos, incluyendo la creación de espacios autosuficientes en las tierras recuperadas donde cultivan casi todos los alimentos que necesitan y continúan con la tradición de la pesca. Para estas comunidades, la recuperación de la tierra supone también la defensa del derecho a la soberanía alimentaria y el derecho a la subsistencia como comunidad.

Tres hombres de Garifuna salen a pescar desde la playa en la comunidad de Sambo Creek. (WNV/Jeff Abbott)

“Nuestra visión no es la de comercializar nuestra tierra”, dijo Guillermo. “Más bien, estamos sembrando las semillas de los alimentos que necesitamos para comer.”

Las comunidades, junto con la OFRANEH, han trabajado para desarrollar proyectos que ofrecen oportunidades a su propia gente.

“Dado el éxodo masivo de mujeres, jóvenes y adolescentes a los Estados Unidos en los últimos dos años, la OFRANEH está trabajando en diversas áreas con el fin de proporcionar una opción de ingresos para el pueblo garífuna”, dijo David.

OFRANEH, la juventud garífuna y las organizaciones de mujeres han creado proyectos para ofrecer oportunidades. Los jóvenes se han movilizado para crear una granja de cerdos, una plantación de plátano y un criadero de tilapia. Según David, “se crearon estos proyectos con la intención de mantener a los jóvenes ocupados e interesados, y al mismo tiempo mantener las tierras.”

El grupo de mujeres se ha centrado en la siembra de alimentos como el arroz, los frijoles, los chiles y la yuca.

“La siembra de alimentos básicos ha disminuido a un ritmo alarmante debido a la proliferación de la plantación de monocultivos [como la palma africana]”, dijo David. “Por ello las mujeres se están centrando en el tema de la soberanía alimentaria y la seguridad alimentaria.”

Defensa legal de la tierra

Junto con la recuperación de tierras, las comunidades garífunas han utilizado convenciones nacionales e internacionales para la defensa de su territorio.

Las comunidades poseen seis títulos de propiedad de sus tierras territoriales; títulos de los que son propietarios todos los miembros de las comunidades de forma común por lo que es imposible vender extensiones individuales.

Pero a pesar de estos títulos de propiedad, el Estado y la agencia de la tierra hondureña han vendido sistemáticamente la tierra de las comunidades a los intereses internacionales. Las comunidades han señalado que estas ventas son ilegales.

Las comunidades también han invocado los derechos reconocidos a las comunidades indígenas en el Convenio 169 de la Organización Internacional del Trabajo. Honduras se adhirió al Convenio 169 en 1996. La convención establece que las comunidades indígenas deben ser consultadas antes de comenzar cualquier proyecto de desarrollo en sus tierras. El Convenio tiene como objetivo que las poblaciones indígenas puedan participar en las decisiones sobre el uso de sus territorios.

Sin embargo, en ningún momento se ha consultado a las comunidades garífunas sobre el uso de sus tierras. El Estado ha respondido que las comunidades no entran en los grupos protegidos por la Convención. Sin embargo, las comunidades han mantenido sus exigencias de ser consultados.

Generando puentes entre territorios

Las comunidades Garífunas se enfrentan a una situación sombría, pero han contactado con gente más allá de sus fronteras para pedir ayuda en su lucha por defender su territorio.

Las comunidades están trabajando para atraer el interés internacional a su difícil situación. Este movimiento de hondureños negros en concreto, está trabajando para crear uniones con el movimiento Black Lives Matter en los Estados Unidos.

“La relación con Black Lives Matter nació a raíz de una reunión sobre la migración y la cultura en Los Ángeles en abril de 2015″, dijo David. “Nos pusimos de acuerdo y decidimos que si las organizaciones negras se unen independientemente de nuestras fronteras, podremos lograr resultados. Cada vez que tengan un problema en su contra, nos declaramos en solidaridad con ellos. Y cada vez que nos pase algo a nosotros, ellos harán lo mismo. Estamos unificando nuestras voces.”

Traducido del inglés por Nayua Abdelkefi.

Honduras’ Garifuna communities resist eviction and theft of land

by Jeff Abbott

A resident of Vallecito accompany’s singers as they preform traditional Garifuna songs. (WNV/Jeff Abbott)

Along the Atlantic coast of Honduras, Afro-Caribbean Garifuna communities are being forced from their land, as proposals for the creation of mega-tourism projects and corporate-run cities, commonly referred to as “model cities,” gain momentum internationally.

Congress is set to vote on one such plan this summer. Originally proposed by Vice President Joseph Biden in January, the plan would provide the governments of Central America $1 billion — on top of previously existing aid agreements — to bring further investment into the region. While the stated goal is to improve security and generate opportunity to combat the so-called root causes of illegal migration, Biden’s plan is essentially a continuation of the Central American Free Trade Agreement and Plan Mesoamerica and will only make it easier for multinational corporations to invest in more community-damaging mega-development projects throughout the region.

As critics have pointed out, the plans create negative blowback for the people of the region, including increased social conflict and environmental destruction.

“The United States government is funding our government to evict us,” said Angel Castro, a resident of the Garifuna community of Vallecito. “They are not here to support the people of African descent, let alone the people of Honduras.”

The connection to the economic model of accumulation by dispossession is not lost on Castro. He added, “This is part of capitalism and the politics of neoliberalism.”

Mega-projects are just one of the problems that Honduran Garifuna communities have had to face in the six years since a U.S-supported coup d’etat removed then-President Manuel Zelaya from power. Now, they have begun to organize and to defend their land through nonviolent resistance.

Defending land and culture

The Garifuna communities have called the Atlantic coast of Honduras home for centuries and have developed their own culture, language, food and music. They are the descendants of African slaves, and the indigenous Arawak populations who were deported from British St. Vincent Island in 1797. Today, Garifuna communities span the Atlantic coast from Belize to Nicaragua, with 48 communities in Honduras, in the departments of Cortés, Alántida and Colón.

In the early 1800s, the Honduran government gave the communities the legal titles to 2,500 acres of land. Since then, they have held this land collectively, sustaining themselves with fishing and agriculture.

Now, these communities are facing eviction to make way for the construction of development projects supported by neoliberal economic policies such as the Alliance for Prosperity and the Strategy for Engagement. Additionally, the expanding interests of narco-traffickers and African palm oil plantations have forced the communities from their land.

“We are all suffering the same situation,” said Selvyn, from the community of Porto Cortez. “We are all being evicted from our lands. The state has decided to exclude the communities from the national conversation.”

But faced with evictions to make way for mega-projects, and threatened by heavily armed narco-traffickers, the Garifuna communities have decided to dedicate themselves to nonviolent resistance in defense of their territory.

Rows of African palm for the production of palm oil welcomes visitors to Vallecito. African palm has spread like a virus across Garifuna territory and Honduras. (WNV/Jeff Abbott)

In August 2012, members of communities across the Honduran Atlantic coast reclaimed the heart of their territory from encroachment by narco-traffickers, mega-tourism projects and the expansion of palm oil. They founded the community of Vallecito in the territory that the Garifuna consider to be their ancestral land, a mile inland from the sea.

As in many indigenous cultures, the land and sea are linked to the identity of the Garifuna people and are crucial for the continuation of their society. The communities argue that the assault on their territory is also an attack on their identity and culture.

“The sea and the beach are essential for the Garifuna people,” said Guillermo, a resident of Vallecito. “It is part of my life; it is what it means to be Garifuna.”

The nonviolent resistance used to defend their land is also part of the Garifuna identity.

“The Garifuna Village are a peaceful people,” said Yilian Maribeth David, from the grassroots Fraternal Black Organization of Honduras, or OFRANEH. “We have never used weapons or violence in the struggle for the recovery of land, or in the demonstrations in major cities against the violations of the rights of our peoples.”

The Garifuna communities have not received classes or training in nonviolent tactics. Rather, their dedication to nonviolence comes from their religion.

“We have not been taught about peaceful struggles,” David said. “Rather, the Garifuna spirituality is the keeping of the practice of peaceful struggle. This is because our religion is based on belief in ancestors who give signs in dreams and visions of when and how to perform an activity and also indicate at what point to stop. This is all led by shamans.”

But the communities’ situation is deteriorating, and their peaceful resistance is being countered with violence.

A deteriorating situation

In the years since the coup, developers have found new support from the government when they steal land from small-farming and indigenous communities. It is in this environment that the Garifuna have organized to defend their land.

“The communities will not sell their land,” said Celso Alberto, from the community of Santa Fe. “So the government has been expropriating the land.”

The tourism industry has been expanding along the Honduran coast since the mid-1990s. But in the last three years, tourist development projects have expanded, and so too have the evictions. The Garifuna communities’ seaside locations drive the dispossession of their land for the construction of mega-tourism projects.

The projects are part of Plan Mesoamerica, which promotes the creation of a tourism corridor from Belize through Honduras along the coast. Communities argue that these projects do nothing for them and only commodify their culture.

“People only come to consume the culture, drink gifi-tea and watch us dance,” said Cesar Leonel, a young Garifuna and member of the Network of Community Radios of Mesoamerica. “They stay in these hotels in Garifuna territory, where there may only be two or three Garifunas working there.”

Additionally, the communities’ locations make them vulnerable to encroachment by palm oil producers and narco-traffickers. Therefore, defending territory has also come to mean defense against these legal and illegal industries. By recuperating the land, the Garifuna communities will be able to continue to slow down the transportation of narcotics through their territory.

Since 2012, the community of Vallecito has through their permanent presence successfully kept the local narco-traffickers from reconstructing a transit point along the coast, which was destroyed by the Honduran military. But the communities have faced intimidation and violence from the traffickers.

Cesar Leonel plays a drum in the center of the Vallecito community, as the three soldiers sit at the periphery of the gathering. (WNV/Jeff Abbott)

The Honduran government responded to these threats by deploying a small group of soldiers to “protect” the Garifuna community. Three soldiers now maintain a permanent presence at the entrance of the community’s territory. But the community members of Vallecito do not see the benefit of the soldiers’ presence.

“The military is only the appearance of protection,” Guillermo said. “They change the soldiers every month, so they don’t get too close to our movement.”

Despite the successes against the narcos, the Garifuna communities still remain vulnerable to eviction to make way for tourism projects.

“The state is illegally selling our lands,” Leonel said. “We are facing the systematic eviction of Garifuna communities for foreigners to buy our lands to build massive hotels.”

Combating migration

For the Garifuna communities, the defense of territory and identity is also a struggle against the forces driving them to migrate to the United States in search of opportunity.

“When the communities don’t have the space to reproduce their culture, of course they migrate,” Leonel said.

The communities have also begun pursuing their own development projects to create opportunity for themselves. This has included the formation of self-sufficient spaces on the recuperated lands. There, they grow almost all the food they need and continue the tradition of fishing. For them, land recuperation is also the defense of the right to food sovereignty and the right to subsistence as a community.

Three Garifuna men set off to fish from the beach in the community of Sambo Creek. (WNV/Jeff Abbott)

“Our vision is not to commercialize our land,” Guillermo said. “Rather, we are sowing all the seeds for the food we need to eat.”

The communities, along with the OFRANEH, have worked to develop projects that provide opportunities to their own people.

“In view of the massive exodus of women, youth and adolescents to the United States in the past two years, OFRANEH is working in various branches for the purpose of providing an income option to the Garifuna people,” David said.

OFRANEH and the Garifuna youth and women’s organizations have formed projects to create opportunity. The youth have mobilized to a create a pig farm, a banana plantation and a tilapia hatchery. According to David, “These projects were formed with a vision to keep the youth busy and interested, as well as at the same time maintain the land.”

The women’s group has focused on planting foods like rice, beans, chiles and yucca.

“The planting of basic foods has declined at an alarming rate due to the proliferation of planting monocultures [like African palm],” David said. “So women are focusing on the issue of food sovereignty and food security.”

Legal defense of land

Along with land recuperation, the Garifuna communities have utilized national and international conventions in the defense of their territory.

The communities hold six titles to their territorial land. These titles are all held in common among the people, making it impossible to sell individual tracts.

But despite these titles, the state and the Honduran land agency have systematically sold the land of the communities to international interests. The communities have pointed out that these sales are illegal.

The communities have also invoked the rights granted to indigenous communities by Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization. Honduras became a signatory to Convention 169 in 1996. The convention states that indigenous communities must be consulted prior to any development project on their lands. It is aimed at allowing indigenous populations to participate in the decisions over the use of their territories.

At no point, though, have the Garifuna communities ever been consulted on the use of their land. The state has countered that the communities do not fall under the groups protected by the convention. But the communities have maintained their demands to be consulted.

Building bridges across territories

The Garifuna communities face a bleak situation, but they have reached out across borders for aid in their struggle to defend their territory.

The communities are working to draw international attention to their plight. Specifically, this movement of black Hondurans is working to build connections with the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States.

“The connection with Black Lives Matter was born following a meeting on migration and culture in Los Angeles in April 2015,” said David. “We agreed and decided that if black organizations come together regardless of borders, we can achieve results. Every time there is a fight with them, we declare ourselves to be in solidarity. And every time something happens to us they will do the same for us. We are unifying our voices.”

Activists gain a temporary victory over Shell

by Ashoka Jegroo

Activists block Shell’s icebreaker Fennica from traveling under St. Johns Bridge in Portland on its way to the Arctic. (Twitter/Democracy Now!)

Activists managed to block Royal Dutch Shell’s icebreaker Fennica from heading to the Arctic for about 40 hours. And even though the ship was eventually able to weave through the activists, Shell now has to deal with some unwanted attention.

This battle between activists and the oil company began when Shell’s icebreaker Fennica ran into something around the Aleutian Islands and tore a hole in its hull earlier this month. The ship, which is needed for oil drilling in the Arctic, arrived in Portland for repairs on July 25 with the intent of returning to the Arctic once the repairs were done. Unfortunately for Shell, on July 24, activists from various groups including Greenpeace, Mosquito Fleet, 350, and Rising Tide had already begun their plan to block this ship from leaving Portland and were in the water near St. John’s Bridge, which the ship would have to pass under to continue its trip to the Arctic.

“[Fennica] couldn’t be fixed in Alaska, [and] presumably didn’t want to go back to Seattle, where there had been such protest, so it came to Portland on a very tight timeline to repair it and then get back up to the Arctic,” Annie Leonard, executive director of Greenpeace USA, told Democracy Now! “And that’s why this blockade was so powerful, was that any delay that we [created] could have shortened the amount of time that Shell can drill this summer, because they have such a short ice-free window. They have to get up there, drill and get out before the winter ice returns.”

The activists say that drilling for oil in the Arctic opens up the possibility of truly disastrous oil spills in a remote, ecologically-important region where clean-up would prove to be extremely difficult.

On July 25, activists in kayaks, known as “kayaktivists,” surrounded Fennica and chanted “Shell No! Save the Arctic!” Protesters occupied the waters off Portland for days after, and then, on July 29, 13 people, attached by ropes to the St. Johns Bridge, lowered themselves from the bridge in order to block the ship from passing under it. The activists stated that they were ready to remain dangling from the bridge for as long as it took to stop the ship.

“We’re prepared to stay as long as it takes to send a message to Shell and stop the Fennica from leaving,” Georgia Hirsty, one of the protesters, told Portland’s KGW.

Fennica remained at the dock during that day, but the next day, the ship attempted to begin its trip to the Arctic. Traffic on the bridge was shut down as activists hung from the bridge and occupied the waters below in their kayaks. As the ship approached early in the morning, activists on the bridge and in the waters put their bodies directly in the way of the ship’s path. The ship soon decided to turn around and head back to the dock as activists celebrated their temporary victory.

“This morning was quite the adventure. It felt really, really great to watch the Fennica turn around and go back to port,” Kristina Flores, a Greenpeace activist, told Democracy Now! “That was just a really great, great sign that we are winning, that we are strong, and when the people come together, we can win. And we will win.”

Soon, the Coast Guard, Oregon State Police, Portland Fire & Rescue and other government agencies arrived, shut down traffic on the bridge and in the waters, and attempted to break up the protest. Authorities began to cut the ropes connecting dangling protesters to each other and pull the kayaktivists out of the way. One kayaktivist even jumped out of his kayak, refused to get out of the water, got into a fight with a cop, and was arrested for “assaulting a public safety officer.”

Shell’s lawyers also asked a judge to fine Greenpeace $250,000 each day until the protest ended. The court found the group in contempt of court and ended up levying fines on them for their protest, starting at $2,500 an hour and going up to $10,000 an hour.

“We met with the climbers on the bridge. We really felt it was their decision, first and foremost,” Leonard said. “And we all decided to stay on the bridge, that saving the Arctic was worth more than the monetary value of the fine that they were imposing. So we stayed absolutely put there.”

Shell insists that they have no problem with the protests but are very worried about safety.

“We respect the rights of individuals and groups to express their opinion,” Shell Oil spokeswoman Megan Baldino told KGW. “All we ask is that they do so within the confines of the law and maintain safety as their first priority. Safety is paramount.”

Afterwards, a mix of intense heat and the police got some of the protesters to come down from the bridge and out of the waters. This soon created a gap in the activists’ blockade which was quickly taken advantage of by Shell’s ship. At around 6 p.m. that day, hours after their initial victory, Fennica, assisted and accompanied by police, weaved through the protesters and made its way toward the Arctic.

“The Fennica is now safely on its way to Alaska and will join Shell’s exploration fleet in the Chukchi Sea — where the Transocean Polar Pioneer commenced initial drilling operations at approximately 5:00 tonight AKDT,” Shell Oil told KGW in a statement.

Despite the ship making it through the blockade, Greenpeace activists managed to bring much attention to the issue as well as worsen Shell’s already-bad financial situation. The company announced that it would cutting 6,500 jobs because of poor second quarter earnings showing their profits have dropped by 33 percent since last year. Politicians like Portland’s mayor Charlie Hales and Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenauer also released statements denouncing the drilling in the Arctic.

The activists vowed to “double down” on their campaign against Arctic drilling and were encouraged by all the attention and support they received.

“People just came down by the scores to just fill the crowd. People were driving across the bridge, dropping off food and water for the climbers. We got emails of support from all around the world,” Leonard said. “I got messages from Argentina and Turkey, where people said that all around their offices and homes they were gathered around the TV watching this. I have never, in my 30 years of work as an environmental activist, seen this level of support coming in from locally and all around the world.”

Across the US, activists shine light on Sandra Bland’s mysterious death

by Ashoka Jegroo

The NYC Light Brigade and dozens of supporters gathered near the arch in Washington Square Park and held up Sandra Bland’s name. (WNV/Ashoka Jegroo)

In cities across the United States on July 29, the name of Sandra Bland, a woman whose mysterious death in police custody recently made headlines, could be seen bringing light to dark city nights.

The demonstrations were part of a nationwide action to remember Bland and bring attention to her death. Additionally, a petition by the nonprofit activist organization UltraViolet is soon to be delivered to the Department Of Justice and Attorney General Loretta Lynch, seeking a federal investigation into Bland’s death.

“There is going to be a massive petition tomorrow delivered to the Department of Justice demanding an investigation into [Sandra Bland’s] death and accountability for the officers who are responsible,” said Gan Golan, co-founder of the NYC Light Brigade and member of People’s Climate Arts. “And so this action was part of a multi-city action where there are light brigades all across the country going out tonight and spelling out in big lights ‘Say Her Name’ and ‘Sandra Bland’ and other messages like ‘Black Lives Matter’ and ‘Unite 4 Justice’ to help amplify this call for justice and accountability.”

Bland was found dead in a Waller County, Texas jail cell on July 13, three days after being arrested by Officer Brian Encinia during a stop for a minor traffic violation. Police claim that Bland hanged herself, but Bland’s family and many activists have expressed doubts that she would commit suicide and suspect a murder and cover-up by police. Bland had just moved back to Texas in order to start a new job on August 3 at her alma mater, Prairie View A&M University.

When dashcam footage of Bland’s arrest was made public, activists also expressed outrage at how Officer Encinia treated Bland during the stop and the subsequent arrest, commanding her to put out her cigarette and pulling her out of her car when she refused to do so. The released footage also included many obvious visual glitches, such as images being repeated and cars randomly disappearing, which led to claims that the video was edited and leading to even more suspicion of the police story.

The case has since put a spotlight on many other suspicious deaths of people, particularly women of color, while in police custody. Bland’s advocacy and involvement with the Black Lives Matter movement has also galvanized many other members of the movement to put more focus on police violence committed against black women. But for most people following the case, the main question remains the same: What happened to Sandra Bland?

The NYC Light Brigade, as well as light brigades in Houston, Milwaukee, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and other cities, joined up with UltraViolet to draft the petition to the DOJ.

“It’s important to come out for Sandra Bland because we have to name specific individuals,” said Athena Soules, co-founder of the NYC Light Brigade. “This is happening everywhere all the time. People of color are being mistreated by the cops, mistreated and murdered. So I believe the more we speak about specific people, the more we demand an investigation, the more progress can be made moving forward.”

But regardless of how Bland died, many activists still see the police as the ones responsible for her death.

“What happened tonight was a really moving vigil to honor the life of Sandra Bland and to call attention to the incredibly egregious and unjust death, and possible murder, of this innocent woman and to demand that there is actually accountability for the police who are responsible for this,” Golan said. “Whether she was murdered or whether she committed suicide, they are absolutely responsible for what happened to her.”

After the NYC Light Brigade and dozens of supporters gathered near the arch in Washington Square Park on Wednesday night, they held up Bland’s name and chanted “Say her name! Sandra Bland” and “Black lives matter!” Tourists and onlookers also crowded around and took pictures and discussed Bland’s case and the recent shooting of Sam DuBose by police in Cincinnati. New York City police monitored the vigil from a distance as people held up the letters of Bland’s name for as long as they could while speakers expressed their anger and sorrow over what happened to Bland. Whenever one person’s arms started getting weak, other supporters were always willing to step in and help hold up Bland’s name.

“As I like to say, it’s solidarity through light,” Souls said. “When people hold these letters, it shows that people are behind the messages. It’s not just a banner being hung. It’s people holding their arms high, getting tired because they believe in what they’re out here for.”

To succeed, movements must overcome the tension between rationality and emotion

by George Lakey

View image | gettyimages.com

When it comes to action, we are pulled by two tendencies that seem compatible but in practice are often in tension. We want our movements to be rational – that is, to strategize well, use resources efficiently, and stay nimble. Yet, on the other hand, we may also want the products of emotion: to experience solidarity, to let empathy connect us with those who haven’t joined us, and to tap the righteous anger that goes with caring about injustice.

In my lifetime social movements have increasingly turned to trainers to increase their learning curve and make actions more effective. However, a movement’s wish to draw on the power of both rationality and emotion poses a challenge for trainers, who are influenced by middle-class bias and traditional education. Class and the academy push trainers to privilege rationality and ignore the wellspring of emotion.

Fortunately, action reasserts the need for both, and training is learning to respond. The movement story in the United States shows the tension, and begins with the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

The civil rights movement didn’t solve this for everyone

The civil rights movement made more breakthroughs than today’s activists have yet caught up with, but that movement’s practice is not a complete answer for us today. I was a trainer in the civil rights movement and saw brilliant use of role play and other experiential tools for preparing to take on white segregationists and brutal police. The tools were helpful in bringing emotions like fear and anger to the surface and, by normalizing them, making them easier to manage.

The fullest positive use of emotion, however, was in the South where black church culture was strongest. Black preachers were experts in mobilizing what they called soul force for the nonviolent struggle, as we can see in the movie “Selma.”

That tradition is not so available for today’s movements, and experiments by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, or SNCC, did not develop an integrated alternative to the preachers’ model. After the civil rights movement faded a few of its members joined others to form in 1971 the Movement for a New Society, or MNS.

In the early days we in MNS discovered “Pedagogy of the Oppressed,” a breakthrough book by the best-known initiator of popular education, Brazilian educator Paolo Freire. Popular education takes sides in the class struggle and honors the wisdom of oppressed people, assisting them through dialogue to name their experience, connect the dots and encourage each other to take action. The tools reassure people who have been told they can’t think well, partly through the facilitator asking questions and showing respect, and partly through the experience of thinking out loud and noticing that others in the group are paying attention.

Our trainers enthusiastically used Freire’s approach, finding that it did elicit more fully the rationality of a group. When MNS combined popular education with the action training born in the civil rights movement, our trainers became in demand around the United States and elsewhere. MNS helped the nonviolent anti-nuclear power movement win its remarkable victory in the late 1970s.

However, a curious phenomenon began popping up in MNS workshops: emotional revolts of participants that most often were expressed at the facilitator team, but also at each other. The workshops’ empowerment tools focused on the rational dimension of the participants. In these mini-revolutions, the group’s emotional life was demanding more attention.

A group in Starhawk’s attic yearns for solidarity

The 1999 Battle of Seattle over corporate-led globalization led to a series of mass confrontations with power holders in the United States and elsewhere. Nonviolent trainers went from city to city, facilitating workshops at each convergence. After a few years, leading activist Starhawk and I called trainers together to take stock of how we were doing. We met in her attic in San Francisco.

Trainers reported multiple successes at working in the midst of chaos, as well as limitations. They also raised strategic questions about the value of mass confrontations that had no concrete or achievable goals.

We turned to skill-sharing, which was fun, and comparisons of analytical frameworks. Suddenly the amicable bunch of trainers turned crabby. We found fault with each others’ comments, but especially distrusted the person who happened, by rotation, to be occupying the facilitator’s chair at the time. Participants urged solutions to our unhappiness: “Let’s go into pairs.” “We need a break.” “We should never have left that earlier point of disagreement.” “Maybe a group song would help.”

Nothing worked. I was as lost as anyone while a storm raged within the group. The facilitator looked flattened. One of the participants lost it, dramatically. Then a respected group member expressed vulnerability. Suddenly, the sun came out, we hugged whoever was near us, we laughed and paused for tea.

Only then did I realize we’d experienced an emotional process that sometimes shows up in groups. We started with our “honeymoon” period when everyone was making nice, then began the raw conflict when people showed more of themselves while peacemakers tried the impossible: to find rational solutions to our pain. Finally, we experienced the breakthrough into community and became, to use organizational development jargon, a “high-performance team.”

I remembered that a group generates a storm when its members want to experience acceptance for the deeper layers of themselves, including differences that they have been, up until then, keeping under wraps. In short, they want closeness, because human beings happen to be social animals.

The rational model suggests that group members could state differences and negotiate common ground in order to gain the solidarity needed for action. True enough, for low-risk, low-stakes action. However, movements often have high stakes that require members to endure fatigue and high stress, execute detailed teamwork, take big risks and draw deep support from their comrades. Nearly everyone has seen this in movies, including sports and war movies, in which a team or platoon that includes members who could never get along back home have together gained a win.

Movements often state goals that require this level of struggle to achieve, and so attract participants who expect to find the support to “go there” — but do not find it. Middle-class control trumps effectiveness in those movements, having only its rationality to offer. In Starhawk’s attic those present would not have asked, in so many words, for that bonding — it would have seemed corny or naïve. Instead, we created it emotionally, by storming.

The good news is that facilitators can be trained to recognize the early signs of a storm brewing and techniques for supporting the storm when it comes. The bad news is that facilitators rarely seek that training, or the other techniques for assisting groups to access their unconscious resources. As with traditional education, popular education did not go there.

Trainers invent direct education to support solidarity-based action

The group of activists who founded Training for Change in the 1990s developed over time a training practice that could make the most of what happened in Starhawk’s attic, and harnessed other group dynamics that support empowered action. Training for Change trainers knew the tools of the civil rights movement and the popular education used by MNS, so we started there. However, we also turned to the resource of emotion, incorporating insights on group dynamics reflected in, among other places, Starhawk’s book “Dreaming the Dark” and psychologist Arnold Mindell’s book “Sitting in the Fire.” My book “Facilitating Group Learning” summarizes a decade of discoveries about both the rational and emotional life of the group, and shares methods that work best across many cultural boundaries. Significantly, this was the action training approach that attracted the widest range of groups, from religious organizations to anarchists to nonprofits to labor unions.

Direct education gets push-back from those who limit learning to the conscious, rational realm, including those who believe that social change happens through wielding abstract academic language like “code-switching” or “intersectionality.”

Our experience is that, when groups bring forth real-world conflicts in the training room, participants get the chance to go to a deeper place and experience the behaviors that abstract words were invented to represent. Supporting conflict in the moment even helps some participants to un-hook from the class-formed attachment to words and become more present to what’s really happening. Actions that flow from such a process are more likely to have an impact on the real world of injustice, because those actions come from experience rather than words.

But what about ‘triggers?’

Conflict-friendly pedagogy contradicts a current assumption in anti-oppression circles that the goal in, for example, achieving racial justice is protection. That assumption gives the facilitator the job of outlining rules to prevent conflict. In some classrooms professors are asked to give “trigger alerts” when material is coming that might in some way be experienced as oppressive.

I believe this trend is anti-liberation. It further empowers power holders, asking authorities (in this case, teachers) to take even more responsibility to monitor and control. It disempowers those who have suffered oppression, by assuming they can’t stand up for themselves when an insult appears. It excuses facilitators from the task of supporting participants to develop the muscles to fight for their own liberation.

The vision implicit in the current trend is to produce hot-house plants who can bloom only with shelter, called a “safe place.” That vision leaves me indignant: my gay and working-class self has grown in personal power in the real world where micro-aggressions abound. In fact, living in the real world helps motivate me to fight for broader change rather than retreat into yet another version of privilege where I will be insulated from the real world.

This well-meaning vision is, because of its classist roots, a version of the gated community.

Trauma survivors need and deserve support. Checking with the facilitator ahead of time might devise options that empower. Depending on the person’s own degree of healing, a particular workshop may or may not work for them. That may especially be true of train-the-trainer workshops, because new trainers need to unlearn reactivity and stay present with aggression that surfaces in a learning group.

The origin of direct education, with its roots in the civil rights movement and its use among oppressed groups that do stand up, insists on a distinction between safety and comfort. In a workshop the facilitator assists members of a group to be both safe and uncomfortable, because discomfort is where the greatest learning and growth are.

Needless to say, today’s movements need the steepest learning curve they can generate.

Communities struggling against mining win major victory in Guatemala

by Jeff Abbott

The victory was celebrated with a piñata of Darth Vader holding a sign with the name of the mine, which was enjoyed by both children and adults. (WNV/Jeff Abbott)

For three years the communities of San Jose del Golfo and San Pedro Ayampuc have struggled against the construction of a gold mine in their communities. The La Puya resistance has maintained their opposition in the face of criminalization and violence, but they have finally won a major victory.

On July 15, Judge Angelica Noemi Tellez Hernandez, an appeals court judge, ruled in favor of the nonviolent community resistance. The judge ordered Kappes, Cassiday & Associates, or KCA, to suspend the construction of all infrastructure projects at their El Tambor mine outside San Jose del Golfo.

She found that the company was operating illegally, because it had failed to perform a proper consultation of the communities affected by the project, and that they had failed to obtain any permits for the projects. She ordered that they had 15 days to cease all projects at the mining site, and requires the municipality to take steps to ensure the end of construction of infrastructure.

The mining firm’s lawyers argued that they had obtained the proper permits, and that a consultation had occurred. But the judge saw through the firm’s bluff.

For the communities, the court’s decision gives them further energy to continue in their struggle to defend their water and environment.

“There has been a lot of struggle and pain,” said Antonio Rez, a member of the La Puya resistance. “Now we are never going to stop.”

The band Los Acordes de la Resistencia, which came out of the resistance, preformed for supporters and other members of the resistance. (WNV/Jeff Abbott)

Following the court’s decision, the community and their supporters held a celebration organized by the Guatemala City based collective Festivales Solidarios, complete with piñatas and live music at the community’s permanent encampment at the entrance to the mine. It was a festive atmosphere as members of the peaceful resistance opened up their space to visitors and musicians from across Guatemala, Nicaragua, Canada, Venezuela and the United States.

“We knew we had a social reason to struggle, and an environmental reason,” Rez said. “But now, a judge has said that we are justified in protesting peacefully.”

The communities of El Carrizal and El Guapinol first filled the case in October 2014. The suit claimed that the government had failed to act in the interests of the communities by failing to hold a public referendum on the mining project, as is required by both national and international law.

During the case, the communities found an unlikely ally in the Public Ministry, which argued that the mining firm had violated the law with its project, and that the communities were right in their resistance.

The Tambor mine is easy to see from a hill just a short walk from the La Puya encampment. (WNV/Jeff Abbott)

The court’s decision is also a major victory for communities across Guatemala, which have called for the Guatemalan government to respect and comply with the requirements of public consultations prior to any mega-project as required by their constitution and the International Labor Organizations’ Convention 169 on the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples.

Since 2007, communities across Guatemala have held over 75 community-wide consultations on projects such as mining and hydroelectric dams. In every consultation, communities have overwhelmingly rejected any extractive project on their land.

This decision confirms the community’s right to prior consultation over projects, and orders KCA and the municipality to hold a proper consultation in good faith with communities affected by the Tambor mine.

The mining firm is expected to appeal the decision.

Since March 2012, the communities around the Progreso VII El Tambor mining site, which is owned by the United States mining firm KCA, have maintained a permanent, nonviolent, presence at the entrance of the mine. Communities fear that the mine will pollute their water and land.

The La Puya resistance has gained international recognition for their dedication to nonviolence. The community regularly welcomes supporters to their encampment to share with them their story.

Yolanda Oquelí stands in between the Guatemalan National Police and the entrance of the mine as the mining firm KCA arrives with machinery for the El Tambor mine on May 23, 2014. (Guatemalan Human Rights Commission)

In May 2014, the peaceful resistance was violently evicted by anti-riot police who were deployed by the Ministry of the Interior to ensure the arrival of construction equipment to the mine. Police were swinging batons and engulfed the encampment in tear gas as the company entered the mining site with their construction equipment. The community reclaimed their encampment the following day, but they have been under the observation of ever-present police since.

International supporters have launched a petition following the decision. The petition, which was organized by the Washington, D.C.-based, Guatemala Human Rights Commission, demands that the mining firm suspend their illegal operations at the El Tambor mine.

Rez and other members of La Puya resistance have stated their intention to maintain their presence at the entrance of the mine, and continue their defense of the environment. They’ve stated that they are planning new actions, but were unwilling to go into further detail.

Una iniciativa ciudadana pone en jaque a la justicia paraguaya

by Pelao Carvallo

Presentación de Somos Observadores en Madrid, españoles y migrantes en España se declaran observadores de Curuguaty. (WNV/Paraguay resiste en Madrid)

This article is also available in English.

“Condena cantada” es como en Paraguay se refieren a un juicio cuyo resultado ha sido decidido de antemano de acuerdo a intereses extrajudiciales. Contra un juicio que viene con condena cantada es que se levantó la iniciativa Somos Observadores de Curuguaty, una campaña ciudadana nacional e internacional de vigilancia al juicio oral de la masacre de Curuguaty, el cual ha sido pospuesto por tercera vez en ya casi dos años. La última fecha dada por el tribunal para su realización será este lunes 27 de julio de 2015 en la ciudad de Asunción.

En este juicio la fiscalía intentará castigar a 13 campesinos y campesinas por la masacre de Curuguaty. En la mañana del 15 de junio de 2012, en la zona de Marinakue, cerca de 350 policías fuertemente armados, en vehículos, a pie y a caballo, con un helicóptero, ingresaron a desalojar a cerca de 60 campesinos — incluyendo mujeres y niños — quienes ocupaban esa tierra exigiendo que fuera recuperada por el Estado para la reforma agraria. En medio del diálogo entre la policía y una delegación campesina se inició un tiroteo que dejó 17 muertos, 11 campesinos y 6 policías. La fiscalía investigó solo la muerte de los 6 policías caídos ese día. Los asesinatos de los campesinos no fueron investigados por la fiscalía, pese a las pruebas que indican la ejecución de la mayoría de ellos por la policía. Esa masacre fue el detonante para el juicio parlamentario que destituyó al entonces presidente Fernando Lugo. Este hecho ha sido llamado “golpe parlamentario” por la prensa nacional e internacional.

La no investigación del asesinato de campesinos y muchas otras irregularidades más han venido construyendo, a ojos de la sociedad paraguaya, esta “condena cantada.” Estas “condenas cantadas” son habituales en la vida judicial paraguaya. Las irregularidades abarcan todo el proceso judicial, desde la recolección de pruebas hasta los procedimientos de acusación y audiencia preliminar. La fiscalía ocultó evidencias, incluyendo balas de calibre de uso policial recolectadas en la “escena del crimen,” no investigó las denuncias de torturas y ejecuciones de campesinos. También fue ilegalmente añadida evidencia falsa — como una escopeta robada en una ciudad lejos del lugar de los hechos, días después de la masacre, cuyo robo fue denunciado, y que fue incorporada a las pruebas por la fiscalía, pruebas que en general fueron presentadas a bulto y sin que la defensa tuviera acceso a ellas, como la ley exige. La jueza de garantías realizó una conferencia de prensa contra los abogados defensores cuando estos le recusaron durante la audiencia preliminar del caso el año 2013.

En el mes de mayo, una serie de personalidades y ciudadanos de Paraguay –incluyendo artistas, actores, religiosos, feministas e intelectuales- propusieron a la sociedad toda ser “Observadora” del juicio, para asegurar su trasparencia, que sea efectivamente un juicio público, el cumplimiento y respeto del debido procedimiento y de las garantías a la defensa. Somos Observadores sostiene que la presencia de público, de referentes nacionales e internacionales del ámbito del derecho y los derechos humanos y en general de cualquier ciudadano de a pie en el juicio, ayudará a impedir maniobras oscuras e irregulares que hagan posible la “condena cantada.”

Una activista de la campaña, Sandra González, llegó a ella porque pensó “que no se podía dar la injusticia sin que la ciudadanía colocase que estamos pendientes, que somos más que los familiares, más que las organizaciones que acompañan desde el día uno todas las acciones, que somos más que unos abogados y abogadas … que cada ciudadana y ciudadano que crea en la justicia, puede y debe participar, conocer al caso de cerca, seguir el juicio, apelar a la independencia, a la transparencia y a la imparcialidad.”

Marcelo Martinessi es un observador de Curuguaty y un director de cine y tv. (WNV/Somos Observadores)

El cineasta Marcelo Martinessi, director de Televisión América Latina, es una de las figuras públicas que ha declarado que será observador del juicio. Como muchos de los observadores de Curuguaty, Martinessi ha publicado una foto con el logo de la campaña en las redes sociales.

“El caso Curuguaty necesita que tomemos postura” señaló. “Y Somos Observadores es una forma de hacerlo. Lo otro es permanecer indiferentes, callados, es la inercia, el ‘no te metas’ que avaló prácticas nefastas, injustas y criminales, en los momentos más oscuros de nuestra historia.”

Lanzada públicamente a principios de junio, con ya más de dos mil personas inscritas como observadoras en el sitio web de la campaña y han publicado fotos suyas con el logo de la campaña y la consigna Somos Observadores.

Somos Observadores recoge firmas y compromisos de participación observadora en el juicio mediante su página web y en las redes sociales, aunque sus actividades principales son en las calles, plazas y eventos de Asunción y otras ciudades de Paraguay, así como también ha sido presentada en otras ciudades del mundo, como Madrid, Barcelona, Buenos Aires y Rio de Janeiro. Incluso durante la participación de la selección paraguaya de fútbol en la Copa América Chile 2015, se realizó una acción de apoyo a Somos Observadores y en demanda de justicia y libertad para los y las acusadas de Marinakue en la ciudad de La Serena, lugar de concentración de esa selección.

Acción noviolenta durante visita del papa Francisco I donde vecinos de un edificio del centro de Asunción usaron sus ventanas para hacer un gigantesco cartel. (WNV/Fotociclo)

“Se ve que están activos ahí y veo que cada vez se suman más observadores,” dijo la estudiante Jeruti Bareiro, quien se enteró de la campaña por las redes sociales. “Si su propósito es presionar y hacerse presente, creo que ya lo logró de hecho, pero no creo que depende solamente de la campaña el lograr justicia para Curuguaty.”

Durante el juicio los observadores seguirán el proceso mediante las redes sociales, las que mantendrán permanentemente actualizadas. También asistirán al juicio para asegurarse de que toda la información sea compartida tanto como sea posible, para que la ciudadanía tome medidas si el juicio no es justo.

“La suspensión (del juicio) no nos ayuda, porque queremos para los 11 campesinos asesinados, no sólo para los 6 policías,” dice Diana Rivarola, una activista de la campaña. “Tengo la esperanza de que se anule este proceso.”

A citizen’s initiative puts the Paraguayan justice system in question

by Pelao Carvallo

At the launch of the campaign in Madrid, Spaniards and Paraguayan migrants declare themselves observers. (WNV/Paraguay resist in Madrid)

Este artículo también está disponible en español.

In Paraguay, a trial is referred to as a “sung sentence” when its outcome has been decided beforehand according to extra-judicial interests. A national and international citizen’s campaign called We Are Observers arose in response to a coming trial with a sung sentence. It was created to monitor the trial the massacre of Curuguaty, which has been postponed for the third time in almost two years. The last date given by the court for it to begin will be July 27, and it will take place in the city of Asunción.

In this trial, the prosecution will try to punish 13 peasants for the Curuguaty massacre. On the morning of June 15, 2012, in the area of Marinakue, around 350 armed police, on foot and on horses, and with a helicopter, entered Marinakue to evict nearly 60 peasants — including women and children — who were occupying the land, demanding that it be returned to the state and redistributed to the people. In the middle of a dialogue between the police officers and a peasant delegation, there was a shooting that ended with 17 people dead, 11 peasants and six policemen. The prosecution only investigated the death of the six police officers. The murder of the peasants wasn’t investigated by the prosecution, despite evidence indicating that the majority of them were executed by the police. That massacre was the trigger for the parliamentary trial that removed then-President Fernando Lugo. This event in Paraguay was called a “parliamentary coup” by the national and international press.

The lack of investigation into the murder of the peasants and many more irregularities are signs of a “sung sentence,” which are common in Paraguayan judicial life. The irregularities cover the whole case, from the collection of evidence to the impeachment proceedings and preliminary hearing. The prosecution concealed evidence, including bullets of police caliber collected at the crime scene. There was no investigation into the allegations of torture and the execution of peasants. Evidence was illegally added — such as a shotgun used as proof of peasants’ weaponry, which was in the hands of its owner far from the crime scene at the time of the massacre — or presented in bulk without any details. Judges held press conferences against the defense lawyers, who are currently under investigation on request by the judge that led the preliminary hearing in 2013.

In May, ordinary Paraguayan people and a group of well-known figures — including artists, actors, religious figures, feminists, academics and intellectuals — launched a campaign proposing that the whole society become “observers” of this critical trial to ensure that it is public, respectful of due procedure and transparent. We Are Observers argues that the presence of prominent individuals, who will be rotating to attend and observe the trial, will help prevent a “sung sentence.”

“Injustice couldn’t be done if the people state that we are paying attention,” said Sandra González, an activist involved with the campaign. “Each citizen that believes in justice can and should participate, get to know the case from close up, follow the trial, appeal to independence, transparency and impartiality.”

TV director Marcelo Martinessi is a Curuguaty observer. (WNV/Somos Observadores)

Paraguayan filmmaker Marcelo Martinessi, the director of Televisión América Latina, is one of the well-known figures who has declared that he will be an observer. Like many of the observers of Curuguaty, Martinessi has published his photo with the campaign’s poster on social networks.

“The Curuguaty case needs us to take a stand,” he said. “And Observers is a form of doing that. The alternative is to remain indifferent, silent. It’s inertia, the ‘don’t get involved’ mentality, that endorsed disastrous, unjust and criminal practices in the darkest moments of our history.”

We Are Observers collects signatures and pledges of observer participation in the trial through its website and on social networks. Its principal activities, however, are in the streets, squares and events in Asunción and other Paraguayan cities, as well as the international cities where the group is building support, like in Madrid, Barcelona, Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro. During the participation of the Paraguayan football team in the Copa América in Chile, people gave out leaflets about the Marinakue case and We Are Observers, while they carried a banner supporting the campaign in the city of La Serena, which was where the Paraguayan national team trained between matches.

Launched publicly at the beginning of June, more than 2,000 people have already as observers by subscribing on the campaign website and adding a photo of themselves with a sign saying “We Are Observers.”

Neighbors in a building in central Asunción used their windows to make a banner about Curuguaty during the visit of Pope Francis. (WNV/Fotociclo)

“You can see that they are active and I see that more and more observers join,” said Jeruti Bareiro, a student who learned about the campaign through social media. “If its purpose is to create pressure and make itself present, I believe it actually has already been achieved. But I don’t believe that achieving justice in Paraguay depends only on the campaign.”

During the trial the observers will follow the procedures through social media updates. Some will also attend the trial to make sure as much information is shared about it as possible, so that people are ready to take action if it is not fair.

“Suspension [of the trial] doesn’t help us because we want justice for the 11 peasants killed, not only for the six policemen,” said Diana Rivarola, a key organizer of the campaign. “I hope that this process is overturned.”

Protests shine light on ALEC conference in San Diego

by Ashoka Jegroo

Hundreds of Teamsters from across California traveled to San Diego today to participate in a massive protest outside a national meeting for the American Legislative Exchange Council. (Teamsters)

More than a thousand protesters took to the streets of San Diego on July 22 to demonstrate against a conservative nonprofit’s annual meeting of politicians and corporate lobbyists.

“Today we refused to allow the actions of a group of anti-worker billionaires that push laws to make the rich richer on the backs of hardworking families go unnoticed,” Jesse Torres, a home care provider with the United Domestic Workers of America said in a statement by the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees.

Demonstrators were protesting against the yearly meeting by the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, a conservative nonprofit organization known for drafting and sharing legislation amongst politicians, thus facilitating the collusion between corporations and government.

On its website, ALEC touts the values of “limited government, free markets and federalism” and describes itself as a “think-tank for state-based public policy issues and potential solutions” that “develops model policies and resolutions on economic issues.” In essence, these meetings serve as a space for right wing politicians to network with corporate lobbyists and receive pre-written legislation from them that serves right wing political and economic interests such as anti-union “right to work” laws, anti-renewable energy laws, and laws allowing pollution by big companies.

“All of us here today are committed to building the middle class and lifting families out of poverty,” Torres said in a statement, “and ALEC is here to do the exact opposite!”

This year’s 42nd annual conference is being held at the Manchester Grand Hyatt. Protesters, organizing under the hashtag #NoALECZone, began gathering on Wednesday at Embarcadero Marina Park at around 3 p.m. They then made their way north on Kettner Boulevard to the Manchester Grand Hyatt hotel and chanted outside of the building.

“This is a no ALEC zone. I mean, we don’t want ALEC in our city or, quite frankly, in our state,” Mickey Kasparian, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers, told KPBS. “This is California. We fight for workers’ rights. We fight for affordable healthcare.”

Conservative politicians spoke at the meeting while local, liberal politicians spoke at the protest outside of the three-day gathering. Democrat Toni Atkins, San Diego’s Speaker of the Assembly, referred to ALEC as “E-Harmony bringing together corporate interests and legislators.” Francine Busby, the chairwoman San Diego’s Democratic Party, called on Mayor Kevin Faulconer to cancel his plans to address the ALEC event. The mayor went on to speak at the meeting, citing the fact that, as mayor, he makes opening remarks for many conferences held in San Diego. Kasparian referred the mayor’s decision as “definitely a disappointment.” The ALEC conference’s headline speakers were presidential candidates Gov. Scott Walker and former Gov. Mike Huckabee who spoke to the conference on July 23. Both Walker and Huckabee pandered to the pro-business, socially conservative crowd touting their past support for anti-union “right to work” policies.

Sen. Ted Cruz, on the other hand, was scheduled to speak on Friday but, amongst all the negative press, canceled. He’s not the first person to make such a move due to the negative press associated with ALEC. Organizations and companies like General Motors, the Gates Foundation, Google and Facebook have all withdrew funding from ALEC due to bad press associated with it.

The protesters hope that their demonstrations continue to publicly expose and shame politicians and companies who support ALEC and the anti-democratic, behind-closed-doors politics that the organization makes possible.

“They gather to do the public’s business in private, fashioning legislation that undercuts the public interest in things like clean air and water, quality public schools, economic fairness and participatory democracy,” Miles Rapoport, president of Common Cause, one of the groups that organized the protests, said in a statement. “And they do it all on the taxpayers’ dime. Every penny spent by corporations to cover the cost of legislator travel to the meeting, accommodations at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, and entertainment will be tax-deductible because ALEC is classified as a ‘charity’ for tax purposes. That’s wrong and it has to stop.”

Organized youth and top-level defections threaten Uganda’s dictatorship

by Phil Wilmot

View image | gettyimages.com

After a full day of darting around the congested Ugandan capital city of Kampala to meet with activists, civil society groups and community leaders, I gratefully swung my backpack off my shoulders and tossed it on the table. I sunk my body into the refuge of a few soft cushions and exhaled a deep sigh of resignation. My host eagerly dashed to his television to switch on the evening news, as if the physical, psychological and emotional beatings we absorbed that day had not diverted a single ounce of his energy.

“Haven’t you had enough political talk for today?” I asked him, popping the cap off a much-needed beer. “Don’t you want to rest so we can be ready to do it all again tomorrow?”

“No, Museveni must go,” he promptly replied. “The dictator is not getting any sleep. Why should we?”

He’s right. There’s no possible way President Yoweri Museveni is getting a good night’s rest with his 30-year military regime progressively imploding. When you’re a head of state for that long, no reality beyond lifelong monarchy seems safe. You have waged war upon your own people, you’ve stolen their natural resources, you’ve pillaged neighboring countries, and you’ve manufactured one of the most corrupt systems of governance in modern history. You cannot simply turn over the keys to the state house.

Internal defections cause paranoia

Dictators prefer to have a few allies they can trust, and for many years, Museveni was able to attract quite a number. His economic policies drove the Ugandan populace so deep into poverty that he was able to buy the votes and support of the masses with a mere bar of soap or a cup of water.

These days are different though. Two key long-time allies of the Museveni regime have defected since the last election cycle, causing many to question whether the three-decade ruler has the political infrastructure it takes to shield his power from the encroaching civil society movements.

According to inside sources, such as Museveni’s Press Secretary Tamale Mirundi, even the allegiance of Museveni’s closest kin — such as his wife and son — has become unreliable. However, the dictator was driven into a more severe frenzy in 2013 when General David Sejusa, the then-spy chief of the Ugandan military, decided he had enough after coming across a secret military plot to assassinate himself and other political leaders who had called for investigations into Museveni’s alleged plan to pass power onto his son.

Sejusa’s falling out with Museveni left him exiled in London, where he then established Freedom and Unity Front, a political movement provocatively abbreviated as FU. In December 2014, he returned to Uganda, which was a subject of much excitement for freedom-loving Ugandans, who were seeking a political figure not interested in occupying a high level office — an ambition Sejusa called “foolish … since Museveni has already stolen millions of votes for the upcoming elections.”

As if losing a member of the high command who knows all of the secrets behind his war crimes and political tactics was not enough to startle Museveni, his former prime minister, Amama Mbabazi, announced his intention to campaign for the presidency as the National Resistance Movement, or NRM, ruling party flag-bearer last month. Such intra-party competition is foreign to the history of the big shots in the NRM. Moreover, Mbabazi has been a driving agent of many of the most totalitarian laws passed in recent years, including the Orwellian Phone Tapping Bill and the Public Order Management Act, which renders unapproved conversations between more than three people illegal. Draconian partners are needed in a dictatorship and Museveni has lost the man who historically seemed to be his closest friend.

Youth organizing more strategically

The proverbial moat surrounding the Ugandan dictatorship’s castle is drying up, making it a perfect time for young unemployed people of the nation to launch their own offensive. Nonviolent civil resistance in Uganda is still a young phenomenon. Walk-to-work protests in 2011 pushed astronomically high food and gas prices down temporarily, followed by a successful peaceful campaign to protect Mabira Forest from deforestation by a sugar company later that same year. Teacher strikes have occurred annually to protest low wages in government schools. A few rallies and marches have been on occasion dispersed with tear gas. All of these efforts, however, have lacked continuity.

Police apprehend yellow pigs released by Ugandan youth activists in downtown Kampala on Feb. 16. (Kenneth Kazibwe)

Furthermore, actions in the past year have been mainly symbolic. A group known as the Jobless Brotherhood has been releasing pigs painted yellow to represent the ruling party in strategic locations around the country, often placing a hat that resembles the iconic one worn by Museveni atop the pigs’ heads. Other conglomerates of unemployed youths have organized marathons through Kampala in protest of corruption and life presidency. Until now, these movements have been fragmented, their actions being short-term and somewhat short-sighted. However, with the recent establishment of politically ecumenical groups, such as the Interparty Youth Platform and the No More Campaign, some much-needed synergy is brewing in the world’s demographically youngest nation.

Arrested for criticizing arbitrary arrests

On July 9, former Prime Minister Mbabazi and opposition party leader Kizza Besigye were arrested without substantial cause or charges. With the help of the youth groups, the Democratic Alliance — which consists of leaders of various opposition political parties — convened a press conference the following day to criticize the government for making politically-motivated arbitrary arrests. At this event, seven members were arrested, loaded into police vehicles, and driven from court to court (even beyond the geographic jurisdiction of the alleged crime) until the business day ended, necessitating their detainment. Both male and female activists were stuffed in the same small cell with other suspects at a rural police post.

Four visitors came that evening to deliver food to the detainees (who are not given dinner or breakfast in Uganda). Those visitors were also gathered and thrown in the cell. The following morning, an additional seven visitors were also arrested and thrown behind bars after the police officers on duty felt threatened by their large numbers and fired bullets. Altogether, 18 activists, many of them high-profile figures in civil society, were victimized by police brutality over a single incident.

Youth organizer Daniel Tulibagenyi poses at the press conference he organized to criticize the government for arbitrary arrests, before being arrested himself. (WNV / Daniel Tulibagenyi)

From symbolic one-offs to crisis-generating actions

There is clearly a fear that organized youths present a strong threat to Museveni’s interests. Now that the youths have finally strengthened their internal structures, police have been following them from meeting to meeting, cracking down at will despite the rights to assembly, association and movement guaranteed in Uganda’s constitution — something Museveni has publicly called “just a piece of paper.”

In some areas of the country, farmers who sell their products to multinational corporations aligned with the Museveni government are scheming to withhold their products and labor. Others are advocating for agricultural cooperatives in rural areas to spend a week without sending food to Kampala. Shutdowns of the transportation sector are also being planned. “We need to pin the dictator in a crisis,” noted one youth activist. “We have to present him with a scenario that hits him where it hurts and consequently undermines the assets that support his rule.”

Meanwhile, Jeff Wadulo, a civil society advocate in parliament suggested a different approach. “I think we should explore forgiveness as a tactic. Elections are just around the corner in early 2016, and Museveni is prepared for bloodshed. Is that what we want? Let’s move into the win-win quadrant. Let’s allow him to move out of power peacefully by appealing to his interests.” Wadulo acknowledged that this will necessitate appeals to bodies such as the International Criminal Court for Ugandan stakeholders to handle the terms of his exit from power. “He is a dictator, but he is our dictator,” Wadulo claimed.

“But will he keep the loot of 30 years?” asked Oyaka Makmot, one of my fellow board members at Solidarity Uganda. “Just because Mandela advocated for a flexible form of political forgiveness does not mean that such an approach should be replicated elsewhere in Africa. Reconciliation and healing is not authentic in the absence of justice.” Such comments echo the sentiments of youths throughout the country who are eager to witness an oppressive regime endure some form of payback.

Tilling the soils for war

The elephant in the room, as with many other dictatorships, is the United States’ military interests. Uganda is the key security partner in Sub-Saharan Africa for the superpower with the world’s largest military budget. The Uganda People’s Defence Force has fought proxy wars against the Al-Shabab terrorist entity in Somalia, as well as looted the mineral-rich Congo for raw materials sought by international companies that manufacture electronics and vehicles, among other products. When it comes to U.S. interests south of the Sahara, the U.S. base in Entebbe, Uganda is the jumping-off point. U.S. Ambassador to Uganda Scott DeLisi has maintained a neutral role in Ugandan political matters, though he has failed to recognize the lack of a level playing field for political candidates. As a result, activists have accused him of being complacent with the fact that his government is funding, training and equipping a military that has a terrible human rights record.

Ugandan youths are at the moment discussing a push for a freeze of military support from the United States if Museveni is on the 2016 election ballot, knowing that in the event of election violence or similar political mayhem, Museveni will be quick to turn to the Pentagon for help.

At the same time, however, it would be erroneous to insist that Museveni’s regime is solely insulated by a foreign government. He has invested national funds in his own internal security strategies, arming informal vigilante youth groups with weapons only intended for soldiers. Recent government budgets have seen the line items relating to community policing and crime prevention skyrocket, begging one to question what the country’s not-so-distant future has in store. Uganda is already overridden with armed police in public areas and at private businesses, soldiers on buses, civilian spies, and tear-gas-dispensing machines stationed in public areas. Every aspect of public life is a reminder that Museveni — and Museveni alone — is the man in charge. After all, this is the man who once said, “I own the money in Uganda.” But as we practitioners of strategic nonviolent action know, resources such as money, weapons and sanctions will ultimately prove insufficient.

Have reports of capitalism’s death been greatly exaggerated?

by Kate Aronoff

View image | gettyimages.com

Late last week, economic journalist Paul Mason, whose Channel 4 blog has been one of the best English-language sources for making sense of the ongoing Greek crisis, published an excerpt from his forthcoming book in The Guardian. It announces that the end of capitalism has begun and that (spoiler) it doesn’t look how we thought it might. The 20th century old/new leftist dream of some crisis-sparked proletarian revolt, he argues, has been battered by neoliberalism and, now, is being replaced by a steady trickle of viable, largely technology-fuelled alternatives to the current economy. “Capitalism, it turns out, will not be abolished by forced-march techniques,” Mason writes. “It will be abolished by creating something more dynamic that exists, at first, almost unseen within the old system, but which will break through, reshaping the economy around new values and behaviors.”

He contends that advances in information technology have “reduced the need for work, blurred the edges of work and free time and loosened the relationship between work and wages.” Stemming from the Wages for Housework campaign of the 1970s, feminist movements and scholars have for years highlighted the loose connection between work and pay, along with the blurry line between labor and leisure at home and in the workplace. And, as Doug Henwood rightly pointed out, there’s nothing inherent to technological innovation that means less work, especially for the market’s worst-off; in the last several years, the American economy has actually become more productive (that is, labor intensive) relative to GDP. To date, automation hasn’t so much reduced the need for jobs as it has expanded capitalism’s capacity to create more terrible ones.

Clearly, though, the economy is changing. For Mason, there are a few other factors driving this transition: an influx of abundant information at odds with capitalism’s drive to hoard scarce resources; the rise of “spontaneous production … that no longer respond[s] to the dictates of the market and the managerial hierarchy,” like Wikipedia; and, finally, the growth of alternative economic practices in the face of crisis — food co-ops, time banks, parallel currencies and other measures falling broadly under the umbrella of “free time, networked activity and free stuff.”

As austerity wears at its seams in southern Europe, all of the above are disrupting what Mason calls a “fifth long upswing for capitalism,” differentiated from the previous four by a lack of pressure from the workforce to herald in higher wages, new technology and more consumption. Increasingly, networks are replacing hierarchies and we’re all learning to share more, in cyber and real-space. In their beautiful abundance, these social and actual technologies chafe at ownership; influenced by technology, in turn, there is a new engine of change replacing the industrial worker: “the educated and connected human being.” Information technology and the networked social forms accompanying it are non-capitalist beasts just waiting to be let out of their stables to race toward a post-capitalist future.

But as Leah Hunt-Hendrix and Astra Taylor noted recently for The Nation, there’s no ready-made path from information to liberation. “Our high-tech tools are constrained by market incentives and government surveillance interests that are often intertwined,” they wrote. “We cannot think about surveillance without paying keen attention to the corporations that benefit from it and the deep inequities that result.” Not only is there a barely-hidden world of workers making the digital revolution possible, but tech itself is already being used to serve the interests of those driving our current, vastly unequal economy. It deserves noting that some of the biggest fans of decentralization — technological or otherwise — are right-wing libertarians, who would be as happy to see workplace protections stripped as they would to see a new start-up food co-op take root.

Consider Uber, the poster-child of the for-profit sharing economy now worth $50 billion. Until a landmark ruling last month, the company posited itself as a neutral technology, simply providing its army of contingent drivers with a platform through which to make their own money — and stay exempt from federal labor laws. By ruling that Uber is, in fact, an employer, the California Labor Commission confirmed what many drivers already knew: Work in the sharing economy doesn’t stray very far from the current one.

Left to its own, state-supported devices, capitalism has proven itself plenty adept at navigating crisis after crisis, and, from subprime mortgages to student debt to climate change, monetizing the seemingly priceless. As Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi wrote in 2010, banks are a “highly sophisticated engine for converting the useful, deployed wealth of society into the least useful, most wasteful and insoluble substance on Earth — pure profit for rich individuals.” Technology is just another hurdle they can ably jump over. Even against the information age’s more egalitarian impulses, tech remains firmly in the hands of the one percent — albeit a nerdier, tanner and more socially progressive one.

Conversely, Mason is exactly right to point out the incredible promise these emergent innovations hold to serve downright radical ends. But what’s going to take them there? “No doubt, the Internet opens up new avenues and opportunities for resistance,” Taylor and Hunt-Hendrix concluded. “But new technologies will not solve the problems at hand: People acting collectively will.” Tech is contested political ground. Even in the transition from feudalism to capitalism Mason references, it took a plague and, importantly, a widespread peasant revolt to lurch Europe out of stagnant feudalism. As in other historical epochs, disruptive power is necessary to drive society’s agenda away from the interests of those already in charge.

Mason’s call to “direct all actions towards the transition — not the defense of random elements of the old system,” to focus solely on building alternatives, is a false dichotomy. If Syriza’s project in Greece has shown anything, it’s that combining a broad-based solidarity economy with political power is deeply threatening to neoliberalism, the top brass of which will risk self-implosion to stamp it out. Acting alone, Solidarity for All didn’t provoke a sadistic backlash from Greece’s creditors. Syriza’s victory at the polls, its leadership’s presence at the negotiating table in Brussels, and the egalitarian populist parties grasping at state power across the Mediterranean did — but neither the challenge nor the solution could exist without the other.

Millennial-led movements from Black Lives Matter to Occupy Wall Street have already put the social technologies Mason describes into practice, and are writing new rules for how popular uprisings work in the 21st century. Podemos, Spain’s ascendant populist party, uses a sub-Reddit to make decisions among members at the national level. Thankfully, technology is changing organizing at least as much as it is the economy. Capitalism isn’t going anywhere without a fight, no matter how inventive the alternatives. If the early 20th century labor heroine Lucy Parsons were alive now, she might add an addendum on to the statement she’s best remembered by: “Never be deceived that the rich will permit you to innovate away their wealth.” Today’s movements will need to be at least as creative as the forces they’re taking on, and be building solutions that are even more so. Post-capitalism is coming, but a new and even more disruptive tradition of organizing will have to clear the way first.

What ‘Orange Is the New Black’ tells us about sexual abuse in women’s prisons — and how to stop it

by Victoria Law

Tiffany “Pennsatucky” Doggett talks with Carrie “Boo” Black during the third-season finale of “Orange Is the New Black.” (Netflix)

Trigger warning: The entire article talks about sexual assaults and abuse.

Spoiler warning: Episodes 10 to 13 are discussed in detail.

In this season’s “Orange Is the New Black,” viewers are introduced to a host of new characters, including a prison guard who claims to be in love with — and regularly rapes — Pennsatucky, the woman assigned to drive the prison van. Even if Pennsatucky were to report the rapes, her friend Boo points out, it’s her word against his. And who will the prison administration take more seriously? A woman imprisoned for a crime or a guard whom they saw fit to hire? At best, she will simply be disbelieved; at worst, she would be punished by being placed in solitary confinement and then being transferred to a harsher prison.

Meanwhile, the woman has van duty every day with the guard, an assignment that takes them out of the prison and away from any potential witnesses or watchful eyes. “He’s got you,” her friend Boo says.

This kind of scenario isn’t limited to fictional television series. We don’t know how often it occurs in real-life women’s prisons to real-life women, but the little that we do know indicates that it’s more than a once-in-a-blue-moon occurrence. In both men’s and women’s prisons, sexual abuse is more likely to occur at the hands of staff members rather than other prisoners.

I’ve written before about ways in which women who are not in prison have organized to prevent gender violence. But tactics and strategies that work on the outside don’t necessarily fly behind prison walls. Keep in mind that prisons are sites of total control. Movement is limited — and sometimes strictly controlled. So, while people on the outside can utilize tactics like banding together for safety, avoiding being alone with certain people or avoiding isolated areas, these strategies don’t work in an environment in which staff have the ability to give orders.

Those who refuse risk being charged with “disobeying a direct order,” which usually is punished with time in solitary confinement. Having such a charge on their record can also be held against them during a parole hearing, which means an even longer prison sentence. There is little to no opportunity for a person to explain that they disobeyed that direct order because they feared sexual assault. Even if there were, as Boo rightly pointed out, it’s the word of a prisoner against the word of a staff member. And physically defending yourself? In prison, that’s called “assault on an officer” and not only lands a person in solitary confinement, but garners an additional charge with the very real threat of more time in prison and, for the rest of their stay, unrelenting harassment and abuse from other prison staff.

Despite these limitations, people in women’s prisons (not every person in a women’s prison identifies as a woman) have figured out ways to try to protect themselves and others. In 1996, after the passage of Measure 11, a mandatory sentencing law, women’s incarceration in Oregon increased dramatically. Unable to handle the sharp influx of women, the state contracted with private prison company Corrections Corporation of America, or CCA, to house 78 of these women. That year, Barrilee Bannister and 77 other women were transferred to a CCA-run prison for men in Arizona. When they first arrived, Bannister recalled having to walk past a line of prison staff members who gawked, whistled and made lewd comments at them. But that wasn’t the only form of sexual harassment and abuse that the women would endure.

Weeks after their arrival, Bannister said that a captain visited several women (including her) in a cell, bringing marijuana with him. They all smoked and, when he left, the captain left the remainder with the women. Shortly after, he returned with other officers, announcing that they were searching the cell for contraband. But, they said, if the women preformed a strip tease, they would not conduct the search.

Knowing that being caught with marijuana would mean an additional charge and an increase in the amount of time they had to spend in prison, the women began to strip. After that, she said that officers frequently brought marijuana and other items that the women were not supposed to have. In exchange, the women would perform strip teases.

But it didn’t stop at strip teases. Soon, officers began raping women. But Bannister and the other women refused to silently accept this new reality. Bannister contacted friends and outside organizations and told them what was happening. They, in turn, contacted media. The negative publicity led to an investigation and the women’s return to Oregon — and out of the CCA prison. The women filed a federal lawsuit against CCA, eventually winning a public apology, a promise of stricter rules to prevent sexual abuse, and the reimbursement of attorney fees.

Sexual abuse isn’t a problem only in private prisons. It’s a frequent occurrence in publicly-run prisons as well. But women in publicly-run prisons have also banded together to try and stop the abuse.

In Battered Women’s Justice, Patricia Gagne describes how women in an Ohio prison were dealing with the same dilemma. In the mid-1990s, one particular guard seemed to have it in for one particular woman. Her cellmate recalled that he constantly harassed her. He also threatened her and her friends — if they attempted to report his behavior, he would plant cocaine among their possessions. Scared, the women kept quiet. But after he assaulted the woman, her friends knew they could no longer keep quiet. They filed a complaint with the administration and testified before the grand jury, which eventually led to the guard’s arrest and conviction.

Their actions also had a ripple effect. “We could never clean up the penitentiary or never change a lot of people’s minds,” the woman stated. But, she continued, after that guard was arrested and convicted, “a lot of the nastiness and that vulgarness … was seeming to cease a little bit and to ease up a little bit, because they began to get nervous. And more women stood up, and two other officers were escorted off because the women found enough courage to stand up.”

In Michigan, sexual assault in women’s prisons was so pervasive that the U.S. Department of Justice stepped in and launched an investigation. It found that “nearly every woman … interviewee reported various sexually aggressive acts of guards,” including rape, sexual assault, impregnation, abusive pat frisks and violations of privacy. The Justice Department initiated legal action against the state in 1997 on the grounds that Michigan was “violating the constitutional rights of inmates incarcerated in Michigan women’s prisons to be free from sexual misconduct and unlawful invasions of privacy.”

But women inside the prison system didn’t wait for the Justice Department. They filed suits on their own — both individually (as in the case of Stacy Barker) and collectively. In 1996, 31 women (including Stacy Barker) in Michigan’s two women’s prisons filed Nunn v. MDOC, charging that they had been subjected to sexual assault, sexual harassment, violations of their privacy, physical threats, assaults and retaliation by male prison staff. They also charged that prison officials had been aware of this abuse, but had done little to investigate or prevent it. Four years later, in 2000, the Michigan Department of Corrections signed a settlement agreement that banned cross-gender pat-down searches, meaning that male guards were no longer allowed to pat search women, and limited the circumstances in which male guards could transport women or remain with them in medical examining rooms. The settlement also limited staff allowed in the housing units, where women might be in states of dress or undress, to female guards.

That same year, women also filed Neal v. MDOC, a class-action lawsuit. Nearly 440 women who had experienced sexual harassment, sexual assault, invasions of privacy and retaliation for reporting staff misconduct signed onto the suit. In 2007, nine years after it had been filed, the case went to trial. The jury awarded the women more than $30 million. In July 2009, a settlement was reached for $100 million to be distributed to the class members — in other words, any woman incarcerated in Michigan who had suffered any of the experiences listed in the suit — and their attorneys.

These are specific instances that have been written about. But that doesn’t mean that they’re the only methods people have used to keep themselves and each other safe. In “Orange is the New Black,” Pennsatucky and Boo come up with a creative solution that enables her to escape from her driving duties — and the accompanying sexual assaults. It’s not a tactic that would necessarily make headlines or that she would even be able to tell others without jeopardizing her own escape.

From years of talking to people who have spent time in women’s prisons, I’ve learned that stories of resistance actions — whether individual acts or collective organizing — often remain undocumented. Creative strategies may be passed down by word of mouth and the prison grapevine, but unless someone takes the time to talk with people and ask them specifically about what they did to challenge and change conditions, those stories rarely make it past prison walls.

¿Puede ganar el movimiento por una educación gratuita, pública y de calidad en Chile?

by Javier Gárate

View image | gettyimages.com

This article is also available in English.

Los próximos meses son cruciales para el movimiento por la educación en Chile ya que la Presidenta Michelle Bachelet se puso como meta para este año la aprobación de una reforma educacional. Durante la campaña presidencial y también el primer año del gobierno, Bachelet enfatizó la importancia de una educación gratuita para todos, pero en las últimas semanas el gobierno ha dado un giro diciendo que algunas de las propuestas de la campaña en materia de educación no podrán ser cumplidas, por lo que hoy el rol del movimiento toma incluso más importancia. Para asegurarse de que esto suceda, el movimiento ha aumentado la presión al gobierno con grandes manifestaciones de estudiantes y profesores, incluyendo un paro indefinido por parte de Colegio de Profesores de Chile que empezó el 1 de junio.

A lo largo de los años el movimiento ha aprendido a no tener grandes expectativas de los cambios que puedan venir desde el gobierno. En el 2011 – cuando las protestas lograron sus mayores niveles de movilización – muchos pensaron que la transformación era inminente, solo para sufrir frustración tras frustración y una pérdida de fuerza del movimiento en los años siguientes. Sin embargo, esta vez puede que sea diferente. Según Bill Moyer – activista por el cambio social y fundador del Movimiento por una Nueva Sociedad en EEUU, conformada por una red de colectivos que jugaron un importante rol en grupos noviolentos en los sententas y ochentas – y su modelo  “Plan de Acción del Movimiento”, los movimientos sociales muchas veces pasan por ocho fases. Basado en esto, podríamos inferir que el movimiento por la educación en Chile está acercándose a sus últimas fases.

Históricamente los estudiantes en Chile han estado al frente de las protestas sociales. Por ejemplo estudiantes secundarios fueron unos de los primeros en desafiar en las calles la dictadura militar de Augusto Pinochet, mientras que los universitarios usaban las facultades como lugares para la resistencia. Después del fin del régimen Pinochetista, el movimiento estudiantil necesitó de tiempo para re-enfocar sus demandas y  crear nuevas formas de organización y de protesta.

Tras años de esfuerzos para darle nueva fuerza al movimiento, en el 2006, estudiantes secundarios en la llamada “revolución pingüina” – por la forma y color de su uniforme – dio un indicio de la potencia que podía tener el movimiento estudiantil en Chile. Las movilizaciones del 2006 empezaron con exigencias muy específicas como el pase de transporte escolar, pero pronto pasaron a ser demandas por cambios estructurales contra las políticas económicas neoliberales en educación, en este caso representadas por la Ley Orgánica Constitucional de Enseñanza (LOCE), que limitaba la participación del Estado en la educación y que entró en vigor el 10 de marzo de 1990, el último día de la dictadura militar de Pinochet.

El movimiento por momentos logró poner la educación en la agenda política, pero las movilizaciones llegaron a su fin después que la Presidenta Bachelet – durante su primer periodo presidencial entre 2006 y 2010 – derogara la LOCE. Sin embargo las exigencias  por una educación gratuita, pública y de calidad  quedaron lejos de ser cumplidas.

En este momento,  el movimiento entró en la fase tres o “condiciones de maduración” según Moyer, en esta se forman nuevas organizaciones y pequeñas acciones de desobediencia civil empiezan a dramatizar la problemática. Después del 2006 hubo un período de menor actividad, pero lentamente nuevos colectivos empezaron a emerger con  exigencias más claras por un cambio radical en la educación en Chile.

El movimiento estaba listo para la fase cuatro o de “despegue”. Esta fase usualmente sucede después de un suceso desencadenante – causados por el movimiento o por quienes están en el poder – que después de mucha organización lleva a manifestaciones masivas, acciones de desobediencia civil y una amplia cobertura mediática.

En Chile, el suceso desencadenante fue la elección en el 2010 de Sebastián Piñera, el primer presidente de derecha desde Pinochet. Piñera ganó las elecciones entre otros motivos como reacción a muchos años de frustración con la Coalición de Partidos por la Democracia (Concertación) – coalición de centro izquierda que estuvo en el poder desde el fin de la dictadura de Pinochet-. Esta nueva situación, combinada con una percepción creciente que la verdadera justicia social no llegaría desde quienes están en el poder, produjo una mayor unidad en el movimiento para organizarse en contra del gobierno.

Los líderes, quienes representaban a los miles de jóvenes ansiosos por involucrarse en la política más allá del voto en elecciones, comprendieron que este era el momento para lanzar una movilización a gran escala.

El movimiento lanzó una campaña que incluyó una gran diversidad de acciones, incluyendo marchas masivas, toma de colegios, flash mobs, un plebiscito alternativo sobre si la educación debiera ser gratuita o no y muchas más. La gran mayoría de las protestas fueron fuertemente reprimidas por la policía y el gobierno trató de culpar a los estudiantes por la violencia en las manifestaciones, pero las imágenes de estudiantes, profesores y apoderados marchando de forma pacífica siendo atacados con gases lacrimógenos y cañones de agua no hizo más que desmentir este argumento. La represión no hizo más  que aumentar el apoyo de la ciudadanía al movimiento, las encuestas mostraban más de un 70% de apoyo a su causa, lo cual puso a la educación en el centro de la agenda política en el 2011.

En aquel momento  existía la sensación de que era posible lograr cambios en la educación casi de forma inmediata, pero como argumenta Moyer, el cambio toma tiempo y los movimientos muchas veces tienen que pasar por varias fases antes de lograr sus objetivos. Una de las debilidades del movimiento estudiantil es que depende mucho del año escolar. Es muy difícil mantener las movilizaciones durante las vacaciones de verano, al mismo tiempo, cada ciclo hay nuevos representantes de las federaciones de estudiantes, por lo que es difícil transferir los niveles de  movilización de un año para el otro.

Entre el 2012 y el 2014, el movimiento pasó por  la quinta fase, la cual Moyer llama “sensación de fracaso”. En esta fase, hay un menor nivel de participación  en acciones y el movimiento pareciera tener menor impacto. Muchos sintieron que las grandes manifestaciones no estaban produciendo el cambio esperado y que era tiempo de buscar nuevas estrategias. También hubo divisiones dentro del movimiento, las más notorias fueron las diferentes posiciones tomadas frente a la votación en elecciones, primero en las locales del 2012 y después en las presidenciales y el parlamento del 2013. Muchos de los líderes estudiantiles universitarios apoyaron el votar por candidatos a elecciones locales y después a la presidencia y el parlamento – algunos incluso se presentaron y fueron electos  al parlamento – por otro lado organizaciones de estudiantes secundarios llamaron a boicotear las elecciones, argumentando que el cambio profundo que el movimiento exigía no llegaría por medio de la política electoral.

Durante la quinta fase, usualmente los políticos dicen que han “recibido el mensaje de la gente” y que ahora es su turno el diseñar e implementar los cambios que la gente ha demandado. Para el movimiento estudiantil chileno, esto significó que el debate pasó de las calles al Congreso y  a los partidos políticos. Al mismo tiempo, la agenda política estuvo dominada por las elecciones presidenciales del 2013, donde muchas personas pusieron sus esperanzas en que una re-elección de Michelle Bachelet vendría con un mandato de refomar de forma radical la educación en Chile. Bachelet había terminado su primer período en 2010 con históricos niveles de aprobación, gracias a medidas económicas que  – en una forma asistencialista y limitada pero directa – apoyó a la clase trabajadora. La campaña presidencial de Bachelet para su re-elección giró en torno a su compromiso con acabar con la inequidad en Chile.

Sin embargo, desde su re-elección, Bachelet no ha  presentado propuestas en materia de educación que cumplan con las exigencias del movimiento. El gobierno argumenta que esto no es por falta de voluntad política, sino debido a un congreso hostil y recursos limitados por un bajo crecimiento en la economía. El año pasado el gobierno aprobó una Reforma Tributaria, con el objetivo de obtener más impuestos de las grandes empresas para poder financiar la reforma educacional. Pero para muchos, la reforma tributaria que fue aprobada no logró cumplir con la promesa de una reforma estructural para acabar con la inequidad en el país. A Chile no le faltan  recursos, lo que le hace falta es una distribución justa de estos recursos.

Actualmente, el movimiento se encuentra en la fase seis, llamada “convenciendo a la mayoría”. Después de más de un año del gobierno de Bachelet, el movimiento tiene claro que un cambio radical en la educación no llegará por medio de la reforma que este gobierno está proponiendo. La reforma del gobierno enfrenta una importante oposición de los sectores más conservadores en el Congreso, por lo que ha tenido que moderar sus propuestas para conseguir su aprobación. El movimiento entiende que ahora es de vital importancia presentar contra-propuestas que contrarresten las del gobierno y usar su poder de movilización para asegurar un acuerdo lo más cercano a sus demandas históricas, sabiendo que lo más probable es que este no sea el fin de la lucha.

A lo largo del tiempo, el movimiento ha sido muy bueno presentando sus propuestas de cómo se imaginan el sistema de educación en Chile y este año que el gobierno se fijó como fecha para aprobar la reforma educacional,  trabajar en contra-propuestas se hace incluso más importante. El pasado 6 de junio, la Confederación de Estudiantes de Chile, que representa a los estudiantes de las llamadas universidades “tradicionales” –  universidades que fueron privatizadas durante el régimen de Pinochet – acordaron una propuesta de educación llamada “Que Chile decida”.  La propuesta presenta un petitorio con 9 puntos entre los cuales se destacan: carrera docente construida con los profesores, estabilidad para los trabajadores, democracia interna para los planteles, gratuidad universal y fin al lucro en todas sus expresiones.

View image | gettyimages.com

La propuesta ha sido acompañada de una creciente presión social y junio fue uno de los meses con la mayor cantidad de manifestaciones por la educación, por ejemplo, la marcha organizada por estudiantes el pasado 10 de junio movilizó  cerca de 350.000 personas a lo largo del país. Estas acciones suceden al mismo tiempo que el paro indefinido de profesores y algunas tomas de colegios.

Según Moyer, hay dos  fases más después de la sexta fase: “éxito” y la “consolidación del éxito y abordar nuevas luchas”. Por lo que la tarea no está cumplida incluso si es que se logran los objetivos propuestos.

A pesar de que estas fases no son necesariamente lineales y no todos los movimientos pasan por cada una de ellas, este es un modelo que intenta explicar los procesos que vive un movimiento social y mostrar que los cambios profundos pueden tomar tiempo.

El movimiento por la educación en Chile se encuentra en un punto histórico, habiendo ya  pasado por varias fases de una larga lucha. El movimiento no estaría en la posición que se encuentra ahora – con el gobierno de Bachelet presentando reformas al sistema de educación – si no fuese por la continua presión social. El movimiento tiene claro que este es un momento crucial, y por ende ha aumentado su nivel de movilización, sabiendo que es posible que el gobierno modere sus reformas por la presión de sectores más conservadores. Sin embargo, si logran conseguir importantes niveles de apoyo – como lo hizo en el 2011 – es posible que pueda finalmente conseguir los objetivos de una educación gratuita, pública y de calidad en Chile.

Can the movement for free, quality public education win in Chile?

by Javier Gárate

View image | gettyimages.com

Este artículo también está disponible en Español.

The next few months are of critical importance to Chile’s long-running education movement. President Michelle Bachelet has said she plans to implement comprehensive education reform this year, which will guarantee quality education for everyone. To ensure this happens, the movement has increased pressure on the government with huge protests by teachers and students last month, including an indefinite strike by the National Teachers Union that began June 1.

Over the years, the movement has learned to temper its expectations. In 2011 — when protests were last at a peak — many thought change was imminent, only to suffer frustration and loss of momentum in the years that followed. But this time may be different. According to Bill Moyer — a social change activist and founding member of the Movement for a New Society, a network of activist collectives that played a key role in nonviolent social movements in the 1970s and 1980s — movements often go through eight stages. Based on the model he designed for understanding the cycle of a social movement — called the Movement Action Plan, or MAP — the education movement in Chile is nearing the final stages. Before learning about those, however, it is important to understand how it got to this point.

Students have historically been at the forefront of social protests in Chile. High school students were some of the first to defy Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship, while university students used their campuses as safe places for resistance. After the end of Pinochet’s regime the student movement took time to re-focus their demands and set up new forms of organization and protest.

Following this process of re-adjustment, high school students sparked Chile’s movement for education in 2006 — known as the “penguin revolution” because of the shape and color of the school uniforms — with a very specific demand for free and universal student transport passes. They soon moved on to more structural demands against the neoliberal economic policies affecting education, specifically the Organic Constitutional Act of Teaching, which reduced state involvement in education and came into force on the last day of Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship on March 10, 1990.

The movement was briefly successful in putting education on the political agenda. Mobilizations came to an end after President Bachelet — during her first term in office from 2006 to 2010 — repealed the controversial act. However, the demand for free, quality public education, was still far from being met.

At this point, the movement entered stage three, or “ripening conditions,” where people form new groups and small civil disobedience actions start to dramatize the problem. After the 2006 protests there was a period of lower activity within the movement, but slowly new collectives began to emerge, along with a clearer demand for radical transformation of education in Chile.

The movement was then ready for the fourth stage, or “take off.” This usually happens after a trigger event — caused by the movement itself or by the power-holders — and, after significant organizing, which leads to massive demonstrations, large acts of civil disobedience and extensive media coverage.

In Chile, the trigger was the 2010 election of Sebastián Piñera, the country’s first right-wing president since Augusto Pinochet was forced out of office. Piñera’s government came to power as a reaction to years of frustration with the Coalition of Parties for Democracy — the center-left coalition that had been in power since the end of the Pinochet dictatorship. This development, combined with a growing perception that real social justice would not come from the top down, created stronger unity on the left to organize against the government.

Student organizers, who represented the many thousands of young people eager to engage politically by creative means other than the ballot box, understood that the time was ripe for massive mobilizations.

The movement then launched a campaign that involved a great diversity of actions, including mass marches, school occupations, flash mobs, an alternative referendum on whether education should be free and much more. Most of the student protests were heavily repressed by the police. The government tried to blame the violence on the students, but the images of students, teachers and parents marching peacefully being tear gassed and hit by water cannons belied this narrative. This repression backfired, as polls showed that the movement had more than 70 percent approval among the public, which put education at the top of the political agenda in 2011.

At the time there was a feeling within the movement that it was possible to change things immediately, but as Moyer argues, change takes time and movements usually have to go through various stages before achieving their goals. One weakness of the student movement is that it is very dependent on the school year. Students struggle to keep the momentum going during the summer break and every year there is new student leadership.

Between 2012 and 2014, the movement went through the fifth stage, which Moyer calls the “perception of failure.” In this stage, there is a lower level of participation in actions and the movement appears to be having less of an impact. Many participants felt that large protests weren’t bringing about real change in education and that it was time to look for new strategies. There were also divisions among those in the movement, most notoriously manifested in the different positions taken by activists on voting — first in the 2012 local elections and later during the 2013 presidential and parliamentary elections. While many of the university student leaders strongly supported voting for different candidates to local government — and some even ran and got elected to parliament themselves — the high school student leadership could not have been more different. They called for a boycott of the elections, arguing that no real change would come through electoral politics.

During the fifth stage, politicians often argue that they have “received the message of the people” and that now it is their turn to design and implement the changes that the people have demanded. For the Chilean student movement, this meant that the debate moved from the streets to Congress and the political parties. At the same time, the mainstream political conversation was dominated by the presidential elections of 2013. Many people had hoped Michelle Bachelet’s re-election would come with a mandate to radically reform the education system. Bachelet had finished her first presidential term in 2010 with historically high approval rates, thanks to economic measures that — in a limited, but direct way — supported working-class people. The main message of her 2013 presidential campaign was a commitment to end inequality in Chile.

Since her re-election, however, Bachelet has failed to put forward education proposals that actually meet the movement’s demands. The government argues that this is not due to a lack of political will, but rather the limited resources of a stagnant economy. To implement and be able to afford their education reform, the government passed tax reform last year, with the goal of raising more taxes from big companies. To many, however, this reform fell short of the promise to end inequality in the country. Chile doesn’t lack resources, what it lacks is a just distribution of wealth.

At present, the movement is in the sixth stage, which Moyer called “winning over the majority.” After more than a year of Bachelet’s government, the movement is clear that the radical change they demand for free, quality public education, will not come through the reform that this government is proposing. The government reforms face strong opposition in Congress, so the government has had to water down their proposals to make sure they get approved. The movement understands that it is now vital to work on proposals that counteract those put forward by the government and use its power to secure as good a deal as possible, knowing that it will not be the end of the struggle.

While there have been proposals for reform from students and teachers over the years, they have become more important than ever now that the government is sending education bills to Congress. On June 6, the Chile Student Confederation, which represents students from the so-called “traditional” universities — public schools that were privatized by Pinochet — agreed on an education proposal called “Chile decides.” It put forward a petition with nine points, including: the development of curriculum by teachers, stability for workers, internal democracy for schools, free and universal education, and an end to profit in education in all its forms.

View image | gettyimages.com

The proposals have been accompanied by growing social pressure. In June, there was an increase in the regularity and the number of people at marches. For instance, the protest organized by students on June 10 mobilized almost 350,000 people throughout Chile. These actions are happening at the same time as the indefinite teachers’ strike is taking place.

According to Moyer, there are two stages after the sixth: “success” and the “consolidation of success and moving over to other struggles.” Even though these stages are not necessarily linear, and not all movements go through all of them, it is a model that attempts to make sense of the processes experienced by a movement and to ultimately show that change takes time.

The education movement in Chile is at a historic point, having already gone through several stages of a long struggle. It wouldn’t be in the position it is now — with Bachelet’s government set to reform the Chilean education system this year — if not for continuous organizing and creative actions. The movement is aware that this is a crucial moment and it has raised its level of mobilization accordingly, knowing it is possible that the government might make compromises on many of their demands in response to pressure from more moderate sectors. However, if the movement manages to gain majority support — as it did in 2011 — it may be able to secure free, quality public education for everybody in Chile at last.

Eric Garner’s death remembered with a week of actions

by Ashoka Jegroo

On Tuesday, members of NYC Shut It Down unfurled banners in Grand Central Terminal, while chanting Eric Garner’s name and “Black Lives Matter.” (WNV / Ashoka Jegroo)

After a week of actions, Black Lives Matter activists in New York City are set to march today to commemorate Eric Garner, the Staten Island man who was killed by police last year on July 17. His death — along with that of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and the ensuing non-indictments of the police officers responsible in both incidents — sparked months of nationwide protests and the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Garner’s family recently accepted a $5.9 million settlement from the city, which Comptroller Scott Stringer noted was not an admission of liability. For Garner’s family though, the settlement is far from the end of the fight.

“Don’t congratulate us,” Gwen Carr, Garner’s mother, told CNN. “This is not a victory. The victory will come when we get justice.”

The Garner family and Rev. Al Sharpton have called for a rally on July 18 in front of the federal courthouse in Brooklyn. The family plans on continuing to call for federal charges in the case.

“This does not represent justice,” Erica Snipes, Garner’s daughter, told USA Today. “We are calling on the Department of Justice and [Attorney General] Loretta Lynch to deliver justice for my father.”

Meanwhile, on Monday, as the settlement was being announced, Snipes joined dozens of protesters in Staten Island as they marched from the Staten Island ferry to the spot where Garner was choked to death by NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo.

The march was one of NYC Shut It Down’s weekly #PeoplesMonday protests, during which the activist group highlights the case of a different victim of police brutality.

“We held the Peoples Monday that was dedicated to Eric Garner in Staten Island for several reasons, said NYC Shut It Down member MJ Williams. “It is where Eric Garner lived, where he was constantly harassed by the police, and where the police killed him. The action kicked off a full week of commemorations with energy and love.”

She went on to explain that Staten Island is where Garner’s family and community are located, as well as “the district represented by former-DA-now-Congressional-Representative Daniel Donovan, who oversaw the grand jury that failed to indict Eric Garner’s killer.”

The march was led by Snipes and also attended by members of Millions March NYC and the Peoples Power Assemblies. The protesters made their way from the ferry to the front of the Richmond County Supreme Court where they took the streets, stopped traffic and attracted the attention of local police. The protesters then continued marching through the streets, passing the NYPD’s 120th precinct building — where Pantaleo worked — before making their way through the St. George neighborhood. Members of the community joined in the march at various points until protesters reached the front of Bay Beauty Supply, the spot where Garner was killed. Snipes and Hertencia Peterson, the aunt of Akai Gurley, a Brooklyn man who was killed by the NYPD last year, spoke to the crowd about the need for justice in these cases of police brutality.

After that march, NYC Shut It Down staged multiple surprise banner drops at two different locations to remind people that one year had passed without any legal consequences for Garner’s killer or changes to the policies that led to Garner’s death. On July 14, members of the group unfurled two banners that read “#ItStopsToday” and “I Can’t Breathe” inside Grand Central Terminal, while chanting Garner’s name and “Black Lives Matter.” The former were his last words and became rallying cries during protests. They were chanted yet again on July 16, while NYC Shut It Down dropped another “I Can’t Breathe” banner, this time from the High Line public park.

“On the days when no mass actions were scheduled, we planned strategic interventions in public spaces as reminders that Eric Garner and his family have still not seen justice, and that the conditions and policies that led to Eric Garner’s death, including broken windows policing, have not been addressed,” Williams said.

NYC Shut It Down, along with various other groups, have also organized a march for July 17, intended to commemorate Garner’s death exactly one year ago.

“Millions March NYC, NYC Shut it Down, People’s Power Assemblies and Black Lives Matter NYC are joining forces to demand justice for Eric Garner on the one-year anniversary of his death,” Williams said. “The purpose for why we come together and march is to raise awareness, show our unity against oppression, and to create a forum in which people are free to utilize their voices and their bodies to express their dissent.”

So far, over 1,500 people have RSVP-ed on the march’s Facebook event page, and the activists have promised that the actions will continue until they get justice for Garner and his family.

“The family will continue to seek justice,” said NYC Shut It Down member Q.B. “Even though the city has reached a settlement, the city will not take ‘liability’ for Eric Garner’s death. This means we are not done.”

Colombia arrests social activists for Bogotá bombing despite lack of evidence

by Kate Aronoff

In a sign that reads “No legal false positives,” activists in Popayán show solidarity with the 16 jailed activists (WNV / Irene Arenas)

On the morning of July 8, the district attorney of Colombia, in coordination with the National Police, rounded up and arrested 16 people for their alleged connection to a bombing in the capital city of Bogotá a few days earlier. Today, those arrested sit in their cells awaiting indictment. The question being asked by the country’s activists, progressive media and a growing base of skeptics outside of the cellblock is whether they’ve done anything wrong.

Despite a marked lack of evidence, Colombian President Manuel Santos has pinned the attack on the National Liberation Army — the country’s second largest terrorist group next to the FARC. Following the raids, Santos’ Defense Ministry further claimed that the suspects were “acting in the name of the ELN,” the Spanish abbreviation of the rebel group.

But are those arrested the hardened guerrillas the government claims? Among the jailed are Jhon Fernando Acosta, a 19-year-old performing arts student active around issues of gender equality, and Heilar Lampara, a 25-year-old representative to the Superior University Council from the National Teacher’s University and an advocate for free higher education. Writer Sergio Esteban Segura Guiza, who has covered the country’s armed conflict and peace process as a correspondent for the independent news outlet Colombia Informa, had his journalistic archive seized at the time of his arrest. Women’s rights lawyer Paola Andrea Salgado Piedrahita, also arrested, could face as many as 30 years in prison if the case goes to trial.

Many are organizers within Colombia’s student movement through the National Student Roundtable, or MANU, and seven are affiliated with Congreso de los Pueblos, a social and political movement fighting, amongst other issues, against displacement by the country’s extractive industry. Two are contractors with the city government. While Fernando Acosta is the youngest of those arrested, none are over the age of 34.

Notably, no members of the ELN have claimed responsibility for either the attack or those arrested. In an interview conducted via Twitter by VICE News, an ELN representative working with their broadcasting outlet, Radio Patria Libre, said, “Absolutely all our structures and fronts do not know any of those captured and not one of them is an ELN militant.”

Although the public explanation for the arrests was the bombing, Adriana Leaño Siado, a lawyer on the case, said that the bulk of the evidence presented by the district attorney in early indictment hearings thus far has been related to a riot and demonstration at the National University in late May. In the wake of the attack, she said, this “is a case of a legal false positive, to show rapid results to the terrified public and citizens.”

Given that those arrested share a background in activism, civil society groups are tying the raids into a large pattern of government repression. According to a press release from Congreso de los Pueblos, 8,600 people were arrested between 2009 and 2012 in Colombia for ties to terrorism; more than 75 percent of those have been declared innocent. The Foundation for the Freedom of the Press also reported that, in 2015 alone, 85 journalists have been “victims of persecution and human rights violations.” According to Amnesty International, there has been “a significant increase in death threats against human rights defenders and social activists” in Colombia.

Congreso de los Pueblos and others are now mounting a campaign to demand — at the very least — that those accused receive a fair trial and due process as the case proceeds. Colombia Informa is enlisting journalists from around the world to call attention to what editors say could set a “frightening precedent for the freedom of press in Colombia.” While most signatories are culled from Venezuela and Argentina, writers from Belgium and France have also joined in the call. The hashtag #LibertadSonInocentes has also emerged as a means to show international solidarity online. Camila Vallejo, the former student movement leader now serving in the Chile’s governing House of Deputies, voiced her support for the cause on Twitter earlier this week.

According to Siado, the district attorney’s initial presentation of evidence revealed that all of the detained have had their phones tapped by authorities in the last several months. “The results of the monitoring and the surveillance,” she noted, “show basically the same: departures and arrivals of the young people from their houses, to the university, to a meeting, to a paper supplies store, to a mall.” Those arrested had computers, phones, hard drives, cameras and USB drives seized as evidence, yet in none of the raids did police find weapons or evidence that students had been building explosives. “Amongst the seized material the only thing allusive to the ELN and ‘other terrorist groups’ (according to the DA) were some flyers and pamphlets and stickers, ‘allusive to the revolution,’” Siado added. Authorities even confiscated supposedly incriminating items of clothing carrying revolutionary cache: berets, overalls, balaclavas and cargo pants.

“The presumption of innocence,” she said, “is a constitutional right. They should not be in prison until the investigation has culminated… when they are judged and put on trial.” Regardless of how this case proceeds, organizers in Colombia are making sure that news of the activists’ fate extends well beyond their own borders.

Family members of prison hunger strikers mobilize against solitary confinement

by Victoria Law

A banner is held at Oakland’s Oscar Grant Plaza as part of the Statewide Coordinated Actions to End Solitary Confinement on March 23. (San Fransisco Bay View)

“By our silence, this is how they’ve gotten away with decades-long isolation,” Dolores Canales told me as this year’s anniversary of the California hunger strikes drew close. In July 2011, Canales’s son Johnny and several thousand others incarcerated in the state’s Security Housing Units, or SHUs, went on hunger strike to protest the policies allowing them to be placed in 23-hour lockdown for an indefinite period of time.

In the SHU, people are locked inside their cells for 23 to 24 hours a day. Although prison policy dictates that they be allowed outside for one hour each day, Canales and other family member report that their loved ones are often held in their cells for several days without respite, then allowed outside for a single five-hour stretch. Until recently, those who had been classified as gang affiliates were placed in the SHU for an indeterminate or indefinite period of time. The only way out was to debrief — or supply information on the gang in question, including identifying other gang members and associates. Those who refused remained in the SHU. In Pelican Bay State Prison, a maximum-security prison near the Oregon border, nearly half of the prison is devoted to the SHU. Some have spent years, if not decades, in the SHU. Although the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, or CDCR, insists that the SHU is not solitary confinement, those within and their loved ones outside dispute this claim.

The hunger strike that began on July 1, 2011, was the first of three. The third, which began on July 8, 2013, rocked California’s prison system when over 30,000 people refused meals the first day. The strike, which lasted 60 days, catapulted California’s prison system — and the issue of solitary confinement in the nation’s prison system — into the national consciousness. It also galvanized family members to connect and begin mobilizing against the conditions that their loved ones had been living in for years. For many, it was their entry into prison justice organizing.

In 2012, the CDCR implemented the Step Down Program to assess those who had been validated as gang affiliates. Each person’s classification is reviewed by the Departmental Review Board which then assigns them to one of five steps. Those assigned to the first two steps remain in Pelican Bay’s SHU. Those assigned to the third and fourth steps are transferred to the SHU at Tehachapi, a 670-mile drive southeast. Those in the fifth step are placed in general population. As of June 12, 2015, 1,274 people have undergone these reviews; 910 have been released directly to Step Five.

For the past four years, I’ve been following and writing about conditions within Pelican Bay, as well as the organizing both inside and outside. I’ve repeatedly interviewed people inside the SHU, those who have since been sent to Step Five, and their family members. As this year’s anniversary of the strikes approached, family members have continued organizing around not only their loved ones’ confinement, but also to end the practice of solitary confinement altogether. In southern California, family members have banded together to form California Families Against Solitary Confinement.

Maribel Aitkins (née Herrera) is one of those family members. Her uncle, Luis Esquivel, had been confined in the SHU for 17 years. In 2011, when he told his sister Martha that he was joining the hunger strike, the entire family sprang into action. Using GPS to guide them through unfamiliar streets, they drove from San Diego to Los Angeles and joined the solidarity rallies. Throughout the strike and in the months after, they continued making the 100-mile drive, connecting with other family members who had also come out to support their loved ones’ efforts and to demand changes. Locally, they connected with the Chicano-Mexicano Prison Project, connecting the issue of solitary confinement with issues around race and incarceration and supporting each other’s efforts.

In February 2015, Luis Esquivel was reviewed and assigned to Step Five. He was transferred to the state prison in Calipatria, a two-hour drive from San Diego. Although his family can now visit him more frequently, hug him and buy him food from the vending machine in the visiting room, they continue to press for change for everyone. “My uncle was the reason we were introduced to this type of activism,” Aitkins explained to me. But they want to be sure that no one ever has to endure the SHU again. “We may be called California Families Against Solitary Confinement,” Aitkins said, “but in actuality, we want to abolish solitary confinement.”

Being involved in the movement to end solitary has pushed both Aitkins and her mother Martha into public speaking and political organizing. The day before our conversation, both women had participated in the Chicano-Mexicano Prison Project’s annual conference on prisoners and colonialism. Martha facilitated a workshop about the SHU while Aitkins acted as the conference’s emcee, a new role for her. “It was the first time I’ve ever done anything like that,” she recounted. “I was nervous, but it was a great opportunity.”

At the conference, she and her mother urged attendees, some of whom had long been involved in prison activism and some of whom have family members in prison, to join their anti-SHU efforts. They told attendees about the July 14 hearing in Sacramento about CDCR’s proposed new regulations for people in the SHU participating in group activities. Currently, those participating in group therapy or other programs are locked in Treatment Modules, which CDCR defines as “heavy steel and mesh telephone booth types of enclosures with transparent high-impact strength plastic on the front and sides.” Each person participates in the group from inside his individual locked cage. The new regulations propose swapping these booths for Security Desks and a Security Table where, rather than being confined to a booth, a person is secured directly to the desk or table. (The Treatment Modules, or booths, will not be discontinued. They will still be used along with the proposed alternatives.)

Canales and other Los Angeles area family members are planning to drive to Sacramento for the hearing. “At least a couple of carloads will be heading up,” she told me.

Aitkins is hopeful that it will be more than a couple of carloads. She’s hoping that the connection with the Chicano-Mexicano Prison Project will gather enough San Diegans to warrant chartering an entire bus for the seven-and-a-half hour drive to the state legislature.

Although many of the people in Pelican Bay’s SHU are originally from southern California, family organizing is also happening in the north. In the Bay Area, Marie Levin, whose brother Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa had been in the SHU since 1990, has been organizing with Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity, a coalition formed in 2011 to support the hunger strikers. In response to requests by those still inside the SHU to keep up the momentum and increase public awareness about their everyday conditions, they began holding monthly events. “We chose the 23rd of each month because these guys are spending 23 hours a day in their cell,” she explained.

The first of these monthly actions occurred on March 23, 2015, at Oscar Grant Plaza in Oakland. Levin and others stood with a banner, handed out information and urged people to get involved. In May, they held two actions. Some canvassed door-to-door in Oakland, while others headed to the pier in San Francisco where tourists catch the ferry to visit Alcatraz. “Many weren’t from the area,” Levin recalled. “They were shocked that these conditions exist.”

More and more family members have been joining the movement. “Since the last time we spoke, there are more family members involved,” Canales told me. “It’s spread out.” Word has spread about the organizing efforts of Canales, Levin, Aitkins and other family members — through media and word-of-mouth, both inside and outside of prison. Now, when a person enters the SHU, others will tell him that their family members should contact California Families Against Solitary Confinement. Other times, SHU prisoners will write directly to Canales with the phone number of the mother of a new arrival. Connecting with these women helps family members navigate the confusion around SHU placement — and gives them the opportunity to become involved with fighting for change.

And these new family members are ready — and eager — to take action. “They really want to get involved with policy change and rule changes,” Canales told me. “There are so many family members who have so many ideas.” One way they’ve been making their voices heard and breaking the shame and stigma of incarceration is by visiting their local legislators and introducing themselves with the words, “I’m a constituent and I have a loved one in prison.”

They’ve also helped each other stay connected to their incarcerated loved ones — pooling resources and sharing information to ease the financial burden of visiting nearly 700 miles away. “If a cheap flight is available, we spread the word and share the cost of car rentals and hotel rooms,” Canales explained.

And, as Aitkins and her family have demonstrated, they don’t drop out even after their loved ones are released from the SHU. Canales recounted getting a call from a reporter who wanted to interview a family member about CDCR’s emergency regulations that allow for strip searching visitors in certain prisons. The regulations do not pertain to Pelican Bay, where the 90-minute visits take place through glass and physical contact is absolutely impossible. But they are in place in other prisons that allow contact visits, including some prisons where people have been sent as part of Step Five. Canales contacted a woman whose husband had been transferred to one of those prisons. Canales recalled that the woman, who had never spoken to media before, was initially hesitant, fearing that speaking out might jeopardize her husband’s new placement. But, Canales told me, she spoke with her husband who “encouraged her to speak out, saying he didn’t care if he was sent back.” The woman agreed and shared her experiences with CDCR’s new strip search policies.

“We have to be able to speak out,” Canales reflected. She’s heartened by the new family members joining the movement and the growing demonstrations that they are not alone. “You see that more people, including legislators, are willing to stand up, speak out and say, ‘No, this is not right.'”

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