I am learning to see the intricate movement and colours of plants. I sometimes wish I had learned photography, but sometimes the impressionistic approach I take, must do instead. I think of their root communities and networks, their beauty and seductiveness, the scent and shape of petals and leaves. Pandemic life must be one that tries to find moments of joy or peace from the cruelty of a world that puts people below profit.
We are living in the age of human sacrifice to capital. The stock market, always oiled by blood, sucks the life out of humanity. Yet the earth continues its ceaseless spin and our days get longer, climate change brings droughts, heat waves, tornadoes, cyclones. But the plants have been enjoying the recent heat waves. Even the storms recharge them and gift them a shiny contented green. Raspberries and zucchinis show us the beauty of edible plants and mint has filled the corner , exhaling her cooling freshness. We are not yet in the dog days of summer, but sometimes it ‘s good to just look down and around to see, with our human imperfect eyes, not through the capture of the perfect machine.
Well, we made it to summer and the longest day of the year in this part of the world. The covid19 pandemic has slowed the travel of planes, and the city skies are becoming a delight. If you squint and stare into the sky, you can see way more stars than I ever have since my childhood. i am hoping to see the Perseid meteor shower and more shooting stars in the next while. The world with its cruel injustices and casual cruelties is sometimes too much And the spectre of illness and uncertainty that dogs us all…
Still, the act of typing a few words in spite of the malaise and depression that’s gripped me so unseasonably, is a little victory. And in drawing the beauties of this humble urban nature, which fights for triumphancy amid the cement, concrete and asphalt.
Flowers found in hot summer, blooming and scenting and shedding in a delirious cacophony. It seems the blooms are hardly here, and then they are gone. New plants take their place. This month, I’ve been enjoying showy crimson roses, delicate white ones, vibrant pink heirloom roses, and golden petaled beauties whose scent is thick and nearly fruity and whose heavy heads are bowed over, lushly petaled and too heavy for their pale green delicate stalks. Meanwhile the garden is slowly growing, sucking up the heat and humidity as much as the water we give it.
June is a month for many intertwined liberations-Black, Indigenous, Refugee/Stateless people. It’s important to think about decentering power, our relationship to land as non-Indigenous peoples and our relationship to Canada. Because I have never felt welcome in Canada, I lived an “in spite of” existence, I had not enjoyed its flora and landscapes. They seemed alien to me. Small towns struck me with terror. But the pandemic is teaching me to look for beauty in some simple things close to “home”. Peonies, roses, hummingbirds, colours, are summer seductions. June is also LGBT Pride Month, and although the corporate takeover of a fierce political movement is saddening, it seems the simplest definition of Pride in our contexts is desire among consenting adults, so a drawing about that too!
I have no fancy camera. I am a home bound storm admirer and fearer. Many years ago when I was living in Peru, I noticed the city of Lima rarely had thunderstorms. Instead, a stinging cold drizzle seemed to be the winter’s precipitation. It left a fine mist on everything and was not enjoyed by those of us wearing glasses. The limenos, call that fine rain, espanta-bobos, or “frightens fools” rain!
Stuck in quarantine I have found that the sky a source of wonder, and fear. I’ll be the first to admit that lightening and thunder send me scurrying for cover. But I love the imagery of storms. The majesty is something truly awesome! These pictures were taken on two different occasions. I like the contrast between the blue and orange tones, though both are before storms.
I’m taking a moment to “breathe”– a loaded word like a bullet or a beacon of hope for Black, Indigenous, people of colour at this time. I hope it’s the latter. I’ll leave you the water colours of the master painter. And the strange image in the last photo… Was I warped through the space time continuum and did I discover 2 other buildings existing simultaneously in our multiverse? What do you think?
The two countries that I have lived in most of my life, are undergoing upheaval. In Canada, the Coastal Gaslink Pipeline, travelling through We’tsuwe’ten territory, and exploiting and polluting the water and land, has been met with fierce opposition by the First Nations. Although the fight has been going on for quite some time in opposition to the pipeline route, both on the streets and in the courts, recent events where the RCMP ’s military tactics menaced the land defenders, resulted in a call-out for solidarity. It was heeded across the land, by First Nations, Metis and allies, who engaged in peaceful protests on the streets and on the rail-lines “from sea to shining sea.”
Bandied about during the last three weeks, we’ve heard a great deal of the ‘rule of law’. But the bourgeois media discourse propping up corporations and kleptocracies has obscured the impetus for this law, the origins of statist impulses to control and manage class -based consciousness and uprisings. In another century, in law school, we were explained the concept of rule of law in the following manner.
The law punishes both the rich and the poor man (sic) for vagrancy. This is the ideology that liberal legal constitutionalism seeks to promote. The problem with this, of course, is that the rich man has somewhere to go; a home — the poor man may have nowhere to go. Yet the law is enforced “impartially”, affecting the poor more frequently and adversely, because of their social location, than the rich. This sleight of hand for which the law is justly notorious, deploys a facade of universal equality, while hiding the uneven and biased practice of law.
To take the “rule of law” seriously, one would have to uphold this as an aspirational, not actually present, reality. First Nations people know, as do working class people of all backgrounds, that the law is enforced differently for the rich and poor, the indigenous and the white settler, for the union and the boss, the land protector and the land violator, the Muslim and the non-Muslim, the survivor/victim and the rapist. They know this, because a cursory look at their own history vis a vis mercantile and later industrial capitalism, has left them with a bitter taste of all the blood spilled to destroy and silence them. They know this because even pre-capitalist ways of belonging to the land are threatening to profits before people, not only anti-capitalism rooted in class development and analysis.
The challenge that allies and land defenders face, is how to make this equality of social bargaining power a reality, so that the “rule of law” will finally be a descriptive, rather than prescriptive term. Within this overarching challenge, are others. Overcoming the divide and rule legacy of the Indian Act, the racist fabric of Canadian society which underlies the entire development of this economy and polity, and the coming together of racial justice and environmental justice movements with the white and “othered” working classes.
Because it is going to be when when labour and native struggles can come together, that we can create a vision of Canada, where we equally benefit from a law which centers the land and its inhabitants as legal subjects worthy of remedy; that we can even begin to talk of the rule of law.
In another country, far, far away, the pretense of the rule of law, has been stripped totally bare in the most brutal way conceivable: state-sponsored mob violence. For Muslims, India’s largest minority, the last few weeks have culminated in murder and mayhem in ordinary neighbourhoods across north east Delhi during the official visit of American tycoon, Donald Trump.
The murderous rampage committed by Hindu mobs supporting the Narendra Modi’s BJP government’s CAA/NCR legislation in February of 2020, has resulted in 48 dead and hundreds injured as well as untold property damage to homes and business belonging to Muslim Indians.
These laws would deny citizenship and refuge to Muslims who apply to reside in India from neighbouring countries, as well as strip Indian Muslims of citizenship without documents proving the claim to nationality— in a part of the world where documentation is precarious at best, and corrupt and biased, at worst. And as an observer, I find the issues of these conflicts so similar. Central to the We’etsuwe’ten claim on territory in the 1990s, was precisely the issue of “documentation. Central to their legal case, was the holding that oral testimonies should and could provide title to land and proof of possession by Indigenous communities. That case is Delgamuukw v British Columbia,  3 SCR 1010.
While the Delhi police stood by, or even participated, in the days of violence sweeping the nation’s capital, journalists were attacked and removed from scenes of terror, threatened on religious and political grounds, and attacked for live reporting. This can be seen in a milder form with the treatment of journalists by the RCMP in their coverage of the We’tsuwe’ten protest. The fact that independent and live reporting has been brutally and so publicly censored, shows us the power of accurate reportage in a time of instant visuals and soundbytes. The news is not neutral.
The recent violence has reminded observers of the 1984 anti-Sikh attacks in Delhi, the Gujarat massacre of Muslims in 2002, and the violence of the Partition of India into Pakistan and India in 1947.
The Delhi massacre has been described as a pogrom; the use of violence to eradicate and terrorize a particular ethnic or religious community. It was practiced against the Jews at the end of the nineteenth century in particular in Eastern Europe, which account for the Russian origins of the word. In Germany, one of the most famous was known as “Kristalnacht” or night of broken glass, which took place against the Jews under the rule of Adolf Hitler in 1938. And it is a mode of violence which has popped up in conflict in Sri Lanka, on the African continent and in contemporary and recent eastern Europe (Bosnia).
Over the last few months, the world has been observing these two modes of fascism, the creeping Canadian and the blatant Indian, approach, and seeing the ways in which the rule of law grows further and further out of our reach, unless we put justice and equality first!
Opponents of the CAA and its related laws draw strongly on the secular nature of Indian Constitution, but here again, India cannot rest on its laurels of inclusivity. Equality before the law has been increasingly out of reach of Muslims, Dalits, and women and children who are the victims of an ethos of dog eat dog survival. It is impossible for any country to honour a constitutional document without honouring those whose flesh and blood make material its social order.
It has been heartening to see the groundswell of support in both countries for the defense of land and peoples who are under attack by the same forces of “buy cheap and sell dear” capitalism that characterizes neo-liberal resource extraction and approach to labour power. Jumble the word “roti” and you get “riot”. Scramble the word “oil” and you get “loi”, the French word for law.
Who benefits when the rule of law cannot be implemented because there is no equality for social actors?
On my recent visit to Kolkata, India, I was struck by many things, but one that stands out for me in the wave of pollution that blankets the city, is the harsh cawing of the crows, who proclaim their resilience much like people.
Their ubiquitous presence was a big part of my urban childhood summers in the stifling heat and monsoony days, when humidity enervates the human body, but the crows in the giant tree in front of the veranda, never ceased their active and raucous lives, although they were often drowned out by the cacophony of horns, beeps, and engines that took over the main road between seven a.m. and 10 at night.
Many of those evenings (or parts of them) were spent in “loadshedding” or power outages, reducing the noise of radios and even the televisions that were just starting to take over the upper-middle class residences of Kolkata. While adults talked and joked over tea and coffee, I often sat and looked through the plaster railings of the wide veranda, where wicker chairs had sprouted blooms of people trying to catch even a tiny breeze. The crows meanwhile, cawed, looked for food, argued and harmonized on the tin awning of the floor beneath us, raised generations of children in the giant tree that stood by the bus-stop, and generally entertained me with their antics above the heads of street vendors, the paan shop, and the constant line-ups of people at the bus stand.
Crows, like people enjoy shiny and bright things, and the twilight gloam with kerosene lamps lighting up the footpath, where vendors sat in flimsy shacks with the colours of the universe spread around them in fabric and plastic, shiny lozenges and Cadbury chocolate bars stored appetizingly in glass jars, were as appetizing to the crows as to humans. They often collected shiny wrappings from the ground, and I imagine, spruced up their dusty nests, demonstrating their kinship with human foibles, such as making culture.
They bond monogamously and raise usually 3 chicks at a time. They live in large social groups. Their use of tools puts them in a category apart from many animals and birds, though I have long suspected that more species use tools and are capable of analysis than we humans realize!
I did not know as a child, the English language term for a collective of crows, was a “murder”. This term comes, like many descriptions of groups of animals, from the old English terms of venery— hunting. For approximately five hundred years, these appelations have survived the industrial world and our encroachment on nature. Other examples are an “ostentation” of peacocks, or a “parliament” of owls, a “school” of fish or a “pandemonium” of platypuses! The terms are colourful and poetic, if not scientific. Mystery writer Ruth Rendell has a chilling book called “ An Unkindess of Ravens”. Ornithologists generally, I think, refer to all birds as a “flock”.
Mythologically speaking, the crow’s scavenger status and alert, collective bonding has long perturbed the human world. While others from the corvid family, such as the raven, are associated with wit, humour and intelligence in many North American indigenous cultures, the crow has also been associated with death in European and British cultures.
Humans have seen crows hold “funerals” en masse, where they come to pay their respects to a fallen comrade. Scientists now believe this is another sign of their intelligence and allows them to collectively understand the demise of their fellow being and to spot sources of ongoing danger and predation. This teaches us that crows understand causation and thus are considered intelligent and perspicacious.
I am constantly amazed at the endurance of so many species against the vile chemical onslaught that is our current state of existence on planet earth. While so many animals and birds and insects are nearing extinction, the resilience and communication shown by the crow in the midst of overwhelming urbanization and smog is nothing short of a miracle. They are a worthy example to us, embodying the strength of collective survival by all means necessary! They are one of the brightest species in the world
I want to start off the new decade with a symbol of hope, intelligence and communication and can think of no better bird to symbolize the plight of common people than the misunderstood and often reviled crow, who like the poor people of this earth, astonish us every day with their survival, compassion, and hope for a better future.
I also want to thank all of you for viewing and sharing this blog, it is a labour of love and commitment to another more just and inclusive world. With your participation, Eartotheground has reached over 4000 views! I hope to keep sharing culture, politics, and hope over the next year. A happy and hopeful New Year to all of you! I’ll leave you with a documentary on these extraordinary birds as we enter a new decade!
I have been travelling and experiencing the world through the eyes of my childhood and the “now”. The city I return to is not the city of my childhood and teens, nor the city of my twenties and thirties, where the excitement of women’s liberation, the furious exchange of ideas, politics, and philosophies at the Universities, and the lack of consumer culture and indeed, “things” to buy were notable for their presence. Books, not bottles of cheap perfume from Forever 21, were our currency.
Perhaps that is why I feel at home in places where people still get excited by the art of the narrative, the meaning of the narrative and want to know more about the narrators. That is why, in a world which reveres the emoji, we need to encourage words and art to flourish. But equally, it is why half of what passes for “new” ideas in art and literature, is actually regurgitated without acknowledgement by contemporary figures, because they have already forgotten yesterday.
How many ways can we describe our worlds? I would say, nearly 8 billion. Because we all see the world from our vantage points, our standpoints, and each one is slightly different. How many ways are there of being a human? 8 billion.
How many ways are there to dehumanize others? Not that many.
Political neglect and oppression, unchecked male entitlement and patriarchy, and the disparagement of formerly colonized people– especially black, indigenous and brown, always looks more or less the same, and sounds it too. Whether insulting African men by calling them “Boy! as I witnessed regularly in Amsterdam, or throwing acid on women, as is the practice with women who are seen as transgressors in South Asia, or blinding protestors in a visceral fascist response to those who have witnessed neoliberal glory at the barrel of a gun in Chile, or those simple citizens of Mexico who co-exist with fear and deprivation in the same house, all over the world the possibility of the human story is being destroyed by human cruelty to those considered less than human. And this human cruelty is rooted in two things, profit— which needs deprivation and fear, to be in the red– and domination to make that profit.
I think the time is coming when we will realize that there are other ways to “succeed”. Breathing oxygen is already reserved for those who can afford it, in the hellish world of the Third World bourgeoisie with their Honeywell air purifiers, oxygen bars, and N99 masks (which, by the way, make a great profit for those same corporations that spew genocidal chemicals into the air).
I recently heard a story about a man who polished marble floors for a living in high-rises that are being built at a flying pace. He worked, as do millions of others, without a “health and safety” committee, in bare feet, with no mask, and for a pittance. When he dropped dead, they took him to the crematorium and his entire body burnt except his lungs. Why? They had hardened into cement and marble from all the dust the poor man had inhaled. What horror indeed.
What is going to happen to all those who buy and sell the bodies and labour power of the poor, when the poor are unable to breathe, to see, to move their mosquito and tick infested joints, to respond to commands as they lose their neurological faculties to insect-borne illness and chemical genocide?
As the old song says, “we are born on the same earth, we have the same blood in our veins and the same sky is above us”. And they have not yet built that surveillance camera or satellite that can see our souls, though they may demonize our very bodies.
I was first introduced to the world of Chileans in exile, in the late 1970s, as adults and children fleeing political repression, torture, kidnapping, political rape and murder, arrived in Canada. In fact, Chile had not been know for mass migration until the political banishment of left and progressive sectors under the Generals.
Chile’s self-image, shaped by the Spanish conquistadores and their later allies and competitors, the British government, presented a whitewashing of the country’s Catholic brutality and latifundista stucture, in which many toiled but hardly any profited.
The great influence of disaffected Europeans (Germans, Irish, British, Spaniards and Italians— who came to Chile to seek their fortune, was combined with successive waves of Eastern European and Middle Eastern migration; Turks, Syrians, and after 1948, Palestinians. Also, Chile has been home to over a million indigenous citizens (Mapuche and Quechua) whose numbers have steadily been reduced through the imposition of genocidal colonial rule and policy. This last demographic has increasingly gained allies among the non-indigenous left, fighting for a just future for indigenous communities while supporting the creation of fair and safe employment for the working class and a move to deprivatize and respect natural resources.
The recent events in Chile are a signal of the failure of a policy put in place over 46 years ago, a policy derived from the interests of Washington (more specifically, the Chicago School of Economics and its kleptocratic allies throughout Latin America. With the assassination of a democratically elected President, Salvador Allende and the imposition of a military dictatorship (September 11, 1973) whose accomplishment was to keep the people in line for maximum profit and sell off every bit of Chile’s natural world possible, it has definitely been a successful foray into super-exploitation— to a point.
The tactics of mass disappearances, military massacres of civilians and leftist and progressive sectors, and the redefining of everything left of centre as a “threat” to capitalist order and good government characterized new neo-fascist regimes in Latin America, starting with the U.S. intervention in removing Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala in the 1950s and reaching to Brazil, Chile, Argentina, El Salvador and Colombia in glaring relief. Refugee production from these countries spiralled and the international settlement of exiles aided in publicizing the plight of some of the regions’ peoples. But simultaneously, active multi-pronged campaigns were in place by the army of the business class– the CIA. Campaigns spread misinformation such as rumours of Allende’s suicide and abandonment of his people, used to destabilize the resistance to General Pinochet, cultural figures such as Victor Jara and Noel Laureate Pablo Neruda are assassinated– these now commonplace strategies to deter opposition to neo-liberal military regimes have strong roots here.
As in many places in the capitalist world, the acquisitive power of the majority of people is very low. This means the cost of goods and services are not keeping up with the starvation wages received by the majority of the population. Education, health, wages, housing, pensions — all indices point to unaffordability. It has the dubious distinction of being the only country in the world with privatized water— and that should tell us everything!
When I went to the pampa I brought my contented heart like a hummingbird. But there, it died on me. First, it last its feather and then, its voice And up high the sun burns down.
When I saw the miners Inside their homes I said to myself, the snail lives better in its shell, or in the shadaw of the law– the refined thief. And up high the sun burns down.
The lines of shacks Side by side, yes sir, the lines of women waiting for the only tap With their buckets and faces of affliction. And up high the sun burns down…
The rule of General Pinochet begun on that cursed day, September 11, 1973, ushered in an era of constitutional dictatorship that suspended democratic and labour rights, social, political, and cultural rights, denied women’s right to choice, and shaped the consciousness of both the left and right in Chile. When I visited Chile, 22 years after the Dictatorship had begun, the cost of Valium was cheaper than the cost of bread. I was made aware of the very human and psycho-social costs of fascism– heightened anxiety and insecurity, increased control of women and a general air of entitlement by the blonde, blue-eyed rulers of the country, while the majority of people languished in fear, frustration, and disillusionment.
During the progressive years of Allende’s government(1970-’73), Victor Jara became known as one of the most popular progressive and committed artists of the Unidad Popular movement. His fame and integrity were such that the murderous Generals had him killed in the National Stadium in Chile. I’ve included a few versions of The Right to Live in Peace, the “anthem” of the people’s movement. I’ve provided an English translation below.
The Right To Live In Peace
The right to live
poet Ho Chi Minh,
who struck a blow from Vietnam
for all of humanity.
No cannon will wipe out
the furrow of your rice paddy.
The right to live in peace.
Indochina is the place
beyond the wide sea,
where they ruin the flower
with genocide and napalm.
The moon is an explosion
that blows out all the clamor.
The right to live in peace.
Uncle Ho, our song
is fire of pure love,
it’s a dovecote dove,
olive from an olive grove.
It is the universal song
linking us, that will triumph,
the right to live in peace.
And finally, no article on the progressive movements in Chile would be complete without a reference to the popular slogan, ” The People United Will Never Defeated!” which comes from a song of the same name by new song /Cancion Nueva group, Quilapayun and performed by Inti-Illimani.
The cacerolazo (clashing of pots) was a protest tactic popularized by women of the right wing against Allende. It involved the clashing of pots and pans as a way for “house-wives” to protest. The tactic has been used numerous times since then, by sectors of the left as well. Most recently, Chileans in the streets against the corporatocracy that reigns in their country, have employed the cacerolazo as a sound of protest!
I’ve included a link to a 1982 Movie by Greek Director, Costa Gavras, Missing, starring Jack Lemon and Sissy Spacek based on the original coup of 1973.
And I am ending with the names of those people who have fallen victim to the neo-liberal government of Sebastian Pinera.
These are a few recent pieces, as I enjoy one of the most colourful autumns I have seen. We are turning the corner into winter soon… I hope you all enjoy this visual homage to the seasons. And a huge thank you to all of you who’ve allowed me to celebrate 3500 hits to this blog!
a yellow butterfly flew past
brushing bougainvillias with dreams
now the grass is solemn
does not dance
a shadow grows longer
upon the limewashed wall
somwhere near by, children
to capture even half this beauty
in the palm of the heart
from A New Remembrance, 1993, Copyright Kaushalya Bannerji