So, I was recently challenged to rethink the ideas I put forward in my blog about the 2020 U.S. elections. In fact, the very idea that “the battle is over, but the war goes on”, is rooted in the validity of the present capitalist system, a system that has proven time and time again to be morally and materially bankrupt when it comes to the common people—i.e., you and I.
Under the circumstances of bourgeois democracy, it seems to me , a good moment to remember the adage ascribed to Malcom X, that our liberation, comes about “by any means necessary”. That is why my discomfort with the reigning social system and my belief in a better, more just and equitable future— is both a contradiction, and— a strategy, that doesn’t simply see the debate as being between reform and revolution.
Under this lens, I feel we should work on numerous fronts and through numerous ways to change society to be more inclusive, just and equitable. As we know, institutions will not accomodate progressive demands (the unsurvivable minimum wage is maintained, costs are going up, hydro has raised its rates in this winter country, evictions have resumed, tiny pandemic wage increases are long gone, public sanitation and hygiene appear haphazard and determined by market force)s. The poor and working sectors are crammed onto unaffordable petrie dishes with haphazard service, ie, public transportation. Where is the pressure on municipal, provincial and federal governments? Why were we locked down in March for 2 months, with 1/3rd of the current covid19 cases, but now are laissez-faire, willing to make Darwin’s theory a eugenicist accelerationist’s wet dream?
This is the state of affairs to which we will return under the business as usual model touted by Wall street and Biden/ Harris. How ironic that Trump’s initial run was characterized by a wall, but it is the wall of money that was behind Obama and is now deployed by his Democratic successor Biden, that may be the end of Trump.
Of course, fascism is another thing altogether. The freeing of socially temporarily unacceptable ideas regarding race, gender, sexuality, eugenics, and social engineering– guns, pandemics, starvation, trigger happy racist policing, the expansion of self-defence laws in states such as Florida, the immense wealth of private prisons and the exponential growth of Amazon, Walmart, Facebook, What’sApp, Instagram, etc. is a cash and data grab of immense proportions. The looters of this virus are not the poor, nor the small business sector, but the mega-rich. These ultra-affluent bastards have set the tone and the stage for the rest of us.
The amount of sheer misery that haunts and weighs down our planet these days is a collective mourning for our little daily freedoms, and our big ones, like international travel. A grief for our departed too. Of course, lockdowns and restrictions unaccompanied with food and shelter support, are fundamentally class genocide, and exercises in social obedience. That’s because while things are being strangely locked down, dedicated COVID 19 facilities have not been made, shelter has not been put in place for the homeless during the winter season, affordable housing remains as elusive as ever for those struggling with poverty and food banks are begging those a little better off to help those less fortunate with cheap processed food—often laden with chemicals and toxins that we already know so much about.
During a winter where people are being forbidden to socialize indoors, municipalities are stopping snow removal services, leaving hundreds of thousands of “inner city” dwellers with minimal ways to get around during this upcoming pandemic winter. We can point our self-righteous fingers south of the border, or also , take a moment to look down the street and see our own worlds floundering.
It’s hard for me to end this piece on a positive note. I hope, in my lifetime we will see the world played, not as an endgame, but as the beginning of a glorious festival of labour, shared humanity, a culture of non-violence and social support and a celebration of spirit. “From each according to [their] abilities, to each according to [their] needs”. May we, trees, and slivers alike, see ourselves rooted in this grieving and resilient earth, and not wielded, by sinisterly banal elites.
For an excellent follow-up piece with lots of information:
Today I am sharing a poem by Emmanuel Ortiz. It was written back in 2002. I remember receiving it in my email so long ago. But it speaks to the importance of this date, September 11th, for millions of Americans–no, not from the United States, but from Chile. Like millions of people, the word “American” for me is not confined to the stars and stripes. As long as we take Amerigo Vespucci’s name for these vast continents, we need to remember that they include all who live in their lands. September 11th has been a day of mourning and reaffirming commitment to a better way of living since 1973. A day that puts people at the centre of human society, that rejects colonial conceptions of human worth as being linked solely to productivity and profit; that celebrates the voices of the silenced.
The September 11th U.S backed coup in Chile is memorable, because it turned Chileans into refugees and exiles. Its repercussions are being felt today throughout South America’s neo-liberal economies and the widening gap between rich and poor, white and non-white. I share below, along with Ortiz’s poem, a song of Victor Jara, mutilated and murdered for the power of his song and commitment, by the forces of General Pinochet. This song, referencing the Viet Nam War, shows us how the world is a vast cobweb of interconnections.
Chilean copper and other goods had been a part of imperial trade since the British informal empire in the 19th century. By the post-World War II period, Chile was increasingly under the sights of the United States. Although turning to import substitution had helped the Chilean economy expand a national elite, its benefits did not trickle down to the vast majority of country’s people. This led to support for Salvador Allende and his project of social services, public infrastructure and bread with dignity for the poorest of compatriots. Awareness of anti-empire struggles like the Viet Nam war, inspired and motivated Chileans to fight the loss of their country’s sovereignty.
Intolerable to the 1 percenters of the time, the U.S. backed General Augusto Pinochet to assassinate Allende, and impose Martial law on the country, a situation that lasted until the election of Patricio Aylwin. During the years of dictatorship, countless people were “disappeared”, children were kidnapped, and people were tortured for believing another world is possible.
Chileans have a vociferous and active struggle for human rights and social development, indigenous survival and anti-poverty movements. The feminist and LGBT movements are also more vocal in the twenty-first century. I have included the beautiful “Gracias a la Vida” by Chile’s Violeta Parra, arguably the most famous song of Chile. Although her sudden death before Allende’s election may lead us to believe that she was not a political artist, Parra’s work testifies to her many social and musicological concerns that were rooted in hope for a better life for her country’s people.
For many in solidarity with Chile’s vision for justice, September 11th has shown, in the words of Peter Gabriel, that “You can blow out a candle, but you can’t blow out a fire”. I end with the words of Salvador Allende, himself; comrade, leader and fighter. It’s a good time to remember that elected officials and their supporters with progressive views have been in danger from fanatical right wing elements in other places and other times in history. We would do well to take a moment to think about where we go from here!
A Moment of Silence by Emmanuel Ortiz
A moment of silence before I start this poem
Before I start this poem, I’d like to ask you to join me In a moment of silence In honor of those who died in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon last September 11th. I would also like to ask you To offer up a moment of silence For all of those who have been harassed, imprisoned, disappeared, tortured, raped, or killed in retaliation for those strikes, For the victims in both Afghanistan and the U.S.
And if I could just add one more thing… A full day of silence For the tens of thousands of Palestinians who have died at the hands of U.S.-backed Israeli forces over decades of occupation. Six months of silence for the million and-a-half Iraqi people, mostly children, who have died of malnourishment or starvation as a result of an 11-year U.S. embargo against the country.
Before I begin this poem, Two months of silence for the Blacks under Apartheid in South Africa, Where homeland security made them aliens in their own country. Nine months of silence for the dead in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Where death rained down and peeled back every layer of concrete, steel, earth and skin And the survivors went on as if alive. A year of silence for the millions of dead in Vietnam – a people, not a war – for those who know a thing or two about the scent of burning fuel, their relatives’ bones buried in it, their babies born of it. A year of silence for the dead in Cambodia and Laos, victims of a secret war … ssssshhhhh…. Say nothing … we don’t want them to learn that they are dead. Two months of silence for the decades of dead in Colombia, Whose names, like the corpses they once represented, have piled up and slipped off our tongues.
Before I begin this poem. An hour of silence for El Salvador … An afternoon of silence for Nicaragua … Two days of silence for the Guatemaltecos … None of whom ever knew a moment of peace in their living years. 45 seconds of silence for the 45 dead at Acteal, Chiapas 25 years of silence for the hundred million Africans who found their graves far deeper in the ocean than any building could poke into the sky. There will be no DNA testing or dental records to identify their remains. And for those who were strung and swung from the heights of sycamore trees in the south, the north, the east, and the west…
100 years of silence… For the hundreds of millions of indigenous peoples from this half of right here, Whose land and lives were stolen, In postcard-perfect plots like Pine Ridge, Wounded Knee, Sand Creek, Fallen Timbers, or the Trail of Tears. Names now reduced to innocuous magnetic poetry on the refrigerator of our consciousness …
So you want a moment of silence? And we are all left speechless Our tongues snatched from our mouths Our eyes stapled shut A moment of silence And the poets have all been laid to rest The drums disintegrating into dust.
Before I begin this poem, You want a moment of silence You mourn now as if the world will never be the same And the rest of us hope to hell it won’t be. Not like it always has been.
Because this is not a 9/11 poem. This is a 9/10 poem, It is a 9/9 poem, A 9/8 poem, A 9/7 poem This is a 1492 poem.
This is a poem about what causes poems like this to be written. And if this is a 9/11 poem, then: This is a September 11th poem for Chile, 1971. This is a September 12th poem for Steven Biko in South Africa, 1977. This is a September 13th poem for the brothers at Attica Prison, New York, 1971. This is a September 14th poem for Somalia, 1992. This is a poem for every date that falls to the ground in ashes This is a poem for the 110 stories that were never told The 110 stories that history chose not to write in textbooks The 110 stories that CNN, BBC, The New York Times, and Newsweek ignored. This is a poem for interrupting this program.
And still you want a moment of silence for your dead? We could give you lifetimes of empty: The unmarked graves The lost languages The uprooted trees and histories The dead stares on the faces of nameless children Before I start this poem we could be silent forever Or just long enough to hunger, For the dust to bury us And you would still ask us For more of our silence.
If you want a moment of silence Then stop the oil pumps Turn off the engines and the televisions Sink the cruise ships Crash the stock markets Unplug the marquee lights, Delete the instant messages, Derail the trains, the light rail transit.
If you want a moment of silence, put a brick through the window of Taco Bell, And pay the workers for wages lost. Tear down the liquor stores, The townhouses, the White Houses, the jailhouses, the Penthouses and the Playboys.
If you want a moment of silence, Then take it On Super Bowl Sunday, The Fourth of July During Dayton’s 13 hour sale Or the next time your white guilt fills the room where my beautiful people have gathered.
You want a moment of silence Then take it NOW, Before this poem begins. Here, in the echo of my voice, In the pause between goosesteps of the second hand, In the space between bodies in embrace, Here is your silence. Take it. But take it all…Don’t cut in line. Let your silence begin at the beginning of crime. But we, Tonight we will keep right on singing…For our dead.
EMMANUEL ORTIZ, 11 Sep 2002.
A great resource to understand Chile’s struggle in context, is Uruguyan journalist Eduardo Galeano’s classic text, The Open Veins of Latin America.
As a person of colour with a lifelong, nearly daily exposure to racism, either directed towards myself, or Black or Indigenous people, and in the last 20 years against Muslims, I have too long been aware of the extent of police brutality and the over-incarceration of Black and Indigenous people in jails, as well as the criminalization of Islam, in Canada. Racism was probably the first lesson I learned at school, along with English.
As a young person my daily dose of racism came at school from kindergarten to the end of middle school, from peers and teachers. It was overt and naked, but as we grew into our teens, it transformed to more subtle and insidious forms. Part of the insidiousness is that we could not be angry about it, but always, understanding, educating, and forgiving; reluctant Gandhians. When we were younger, the open name-calling allowed us to fight back, whether through physical means or compartmentalization. These differing and sometimes simultaneously adopted strategies were measures for survival, but we did not yet know it.
One of the ways, white Canada downplayed its racism, was by telling us we had the carrot, while the stick was for American Blacks and people of colour. Canada’s smug official “imaginary” was one of liberal astonishment at racism. This allowed the gaslighting of generations on non-white and colonized peoples, who were held back from speaking about their lived experiences, and organizing on that basis, by the notion that things were not as bad as we made them out to be.
At the same time, in the mid-eighties, the state killing of unarmed Black men was a not infrequent occurrence in the mutliculturalist approach to racial and ethnic integration espoused by Canada. State assasinations of Indigenous people continued unabated since before the adoption of the Indian Act in 1876 and the over-incarceration of these two groups in Canada has been carried out in concert with the downsizing of governmental responsibilities and budgets in the most basic areas of housing, study, employment and health over the last 35 years, in particular. The 1992 Rodney King uprisings throughout the States spilled over here too. I was actually at the protests here back then. I share a poem I wrote at that time:
A New Remembrance
I read the news about L.A
In poverty our colour takes
On its own life. Beyond us.
Our colour takes action
Amid broken glass, white hate,
I read the news about L.A.
In misery our colour takes
On its own class. Beyond us.
Our colour demands vengeance
Concrete, artificial green.
I read the news about L.A.
In despair our colour takes
On its own voice. Beyond us.
Our colour cries to be heard
Amid city streets,
Maze of housing projects
I read the news about L.A.
In oppression our colour takes
On its own history. Beyond us.
Africa, Asia, Latin America
The new south is born in all of us.
A new remembrance.
A myth of peace shattered.
How sharp its fragments
How deep it pierces.
I read the news about L.A.
In rage our colour takes
On its own weapons. Beyond us.
Our hands sharpened into swords
In our eyes, the gun’s sight
In our mouths words
Like molotvs explode
Breathe fire in this
oh-so-calm gas chamber
where they teach us to love the executioner
more than ourselves.
I read the news about Toronto.
In each murder our colour takes
On its own spirits. Beyond us.
Our brothers haunt us
with their imperfections
their wrong turns
their mothers’ pain.
How we mass and break formation
Divide like continents
In that first broken splintering.
I read the news about Toronto.
Perhaps in justice our colour can take
On its own humanity. Beyond us.
When we recall all that
They didn’t give us
They can never take away.
from Kaushalya Bannerji, A New Remembrance, TSAR Press, Toronto, 1993
So, in a sense it was no surprise to hear that the U.S to the South of us, was the place where, in the last few months, Breona Taylor was killed as she slept in her bed, Ahmaud Arbery was lynched by a retired police officer and his son while jogging, a Canadian white woman tried to engineer the lynching of a Black New Yorker who was birding, and finally culminating in the on-camera execution of an unarmed Black man for passing an allegedly counterfeit bill to buy cigarettes. In Toronto, this was followed up within days by the death in suspicious circumstances of an Afro-Nova Scotian and Indigenous woman, Regis Korchinksi-Paquet, whose family called the police for help in taking her for mental health services. It’s part of the terrorizing of Black, Indigenous and others racialized as Non-white, that is so invisible, it is part of the very stitching of our social fabric.
In Canada, there is a constant gnawing unease between Black/Indigenous/People of Colour (BIPOC) and police. Indigenous deaths in police custody and at the hands of settler vigilantes, the murder and disappearances of Indigenous girls and women, the disparagement and brutality towards trans racialized peoples, and the demonization of Muslims as part of range of exclusionary and discriminatory practices that start from experiences at daycares, grade school and highschool, post-secondary education, housing, going to the store, and employment, shift scheduling and payscales for people of colour, inequality in access to tranportation and “discretion” in applying the law and enforcing it through the criminal justice system. Furthermore, the provision of health care in Canada has been gutted in the last 35 years, while chemicals and toxins such as racism, predatory misogyny, poverty, and unsafe working conditions have been underscored with the arrival of the COVID19 pandemic. The pandemic is inequality. The virus is capitalism that has infected everything, with a racialized construction of class and commodity, where white skin has a value not ascribed to ANY person of colour.
But back to me. Reading the stories of Black struggle, being comforted by my parents as a racialized child experiencing unintelligible hatred and contempt, learning about the Indigenous inhabitants of this genocidal country, being taught about the history of Nazi anti-semitism, were the ways I found self-understanding as a child of racialized immigrants. I did not have a teacher of colour until the second year of University.
As soon as I had a choice, I chose what I saw to be my people– those remade as racialized– and entered the field of Latin American and Caribbean studies, where I was fortunate to be surrounded by excited, enthusiastic students and teachers, keen on un-educating ourselves from the invisibility of the victor’s history and exploring new ways of making meaning of social injustice and inequality. I have always looked to the global south for answers to questions of domination and imperialism and this has been so enlightening, when I see the responses to 500 years of conquest, enslavement and genocide south of the border. I have studied the construction of race and racism from 1985 to now. I have lived in highly racialized countries on a number of continents and in all, except for the country of my birth, I have held the status of a non-white person. I have sought relief from racism in Cuban Black history and seen the huge shortfalls of the Cuban Revolution in adressing racism and racialized poverty in Cuba, while admiring many of the gains of Cuban socialism and sovereignty. I include here a poem by revolutionary poet and intellectual Nicolas Guillen and performed by Cuban singer/musician Pablo Milanes.
I feel no pity for the defeated bourgeois. And when I think that I am about to feel pity for them, I firmly clench my teeth and tightly shut my eyes. I think about my long days barefoot and without roses. I think about my long days without a hat and clouds. I think about my long days shirtless and without any dreams. I think about my long days with my prohibited skin. I think about my long days.
“Don’t enter, please. This is a club.”
“The roster is full.”
“There are no more rooms in the hotel.”
“The gentleman in question has left.”
“We’re looking for a girl.”
“Fraud in the elections.”
“A grand ball for the blind.”
“Someone won the jackpot in Santa Clara.”
“A raffle for orphans.”
“The gentleman is in Paris.”
“The marquess isn’t receiving anyone at this time.”
In the end, I remember everything.
And since I remember everything,
what the hell are you asking me to do?
But ask them too.
I am sure
that they will remember too.
Nicolas Guillen ( Eng. trans. O.A. Ramos)
I have seen the experiences of First Nations people and Afro-descended peoples in numerous circumstances. And it seems to me, that the the leadership of the United States has been as active in fomenting racialized empire with its allies in the so-called developing world for huge profits and cheap costs both in and outside of its domestic territory.
During the current coronavirus crisis U.S. billionaires have added $265 billion dollars to their pockets, while 40 million Americans and one-quarter of Canadians have lost their livelihoods. Workers speaking out about their unsafe and super-exploited conditions are being penalized and fired all over the place. Profitable long-term care homes for the elderly are showing themselves to be execution grounds. Personal Protective Equipment is unavailable to health care workers globally, while money is always found for toys for the boys in blue or khaki.
That’s why these current protests have me seeing red! They are about George Floyd certainly. No one of conscience could not be destroyed by seeing the snuff movies that pass for mainstream news when you are Black, Indigenous, people of colour. The deaths and murders of poor and non-white people (often one and the same, but not always) are so ever present that they become part of the air we breathe.
That’s why we can’t breathe. But beyond visceral reactions to the psy-ops of these images of murder, we need to begin to rethink policing, the courts and prisons, and notions of emancipatory justice. Defunding the police is a huge part of that. That is a huge and hard battle. In particular with the criminalization of anti-fascism as a movement, now in the United States.
And we need to surround that with the work to make living with respect for Black, Indigenous and racialized peoples a reality. That means an overhaul of the very nature of capitalism, which depends on these divide and rule tactics for its very existence. It’s time for a transformative movement that makes allliances out of solidarity, experience, and consciousness and that recognizes our rights to name our own truths. Because we can all agree with Bob Marley, that we need to “emancipate ourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds”. This is hard work to do if you are white, but even harder if you are not. Because you are always derailed at the point of credibility. and in terms of access to power, including platforms to speak out. The age of social media has brought that home to us time and time again.
Because if we don’t do this work, as hundreds of thousands of people have signalled— a life on our knees, with the boot of white supremacy on our necks— is not worth living. They are the people who grow and process and serve our food, clean our institutions, work night shifts at hospitals, transportation and gas stations and factories. They are the people who nurse our sick and look after our dying. They help us birth new generations. They are the people who have kids, are kids, and teach your kids, in spite of dwindling resouces for public education. They are students and unemployed, homeless condemned to misery on our bitter streets. They are us.
They/We have taken to the streets at the cost of their own lives and those of their loved ones, in the midst of this highly contagious COVID19 epidemic that has already taken black and racialized lives at 4 to 2 percent higher rates than whites in Anglo/Francophone North America.
Let America Be America Again Langston Hughes – 1902-1967
Let America be America again. Let it be the dream it used to be. Let it be the pioneer on the plain Seeking a home where he himself is free.
(America never was America to me.)
Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed— Let it be that great strong land of love Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme That any man be crushed by one above.
(It never was America to me.)
O, let my land be a land where Liberty Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath, But opportunity is real, and life is free, Equality is in the air we breathe.
(There’s never been equality for me, Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)
Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark? And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?
I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart, I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars. I am the red man driven from the land, I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek— And finding only the same old stupid plan Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.
I am the young man, full of strength and hope, Tangled in that ancient endless chain Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land! Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need! Of work the men! Of take the pay! Of owning everything for one’s own greed!
I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil. I am the worker sold to the machine. I am the Negro, servant to you all. I am the people, humble, hungry, mean— Hungry yet today despite the dream. Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers! I am the man who never got ahead, The poorest worker bartered through the years.
Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream In the Old World while still a serf of kings, Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true, That even yet its mighty daring sings In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned That’s made America the land it has become. O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas In search of what I meant to be my home— For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore, And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea, And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came To build a “homeland of the free.”
Who said the free? Not me? Surely not me? The millions on relief today? The millions shot down when we strike? The millions who have nothing for our pay? For all the dreams we’ve dreamed And all the songs we’ve sung And all the hopes we’ve held And all the flags we’ve hung, The millions who have nothing for our pay— Except the dream that’s almost dead today.
O, let America be America again— The land that never has been yet— And yet must be—the land where every man is free. The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME— Who made America, Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain, Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain, Must bring back our mighty dream again.
Sure, call me any ugly name you choose— The steel of freedom does not stain. From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives, We must take back our land again, America!
O, yes, I say it plain, America never was America to me, And yet I swear this oath— America will be!
Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death, The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies, We, the people, must redeem The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers. The mountains and the endless plain— All, all the stretch of these great green states— And make America again!
Let America Be America Again Langston Hughes – 1902-1967
If you would like to see some resources that speak to the issues I have raised here, I include them below. Here is a Triptych, I’ve done called “We’re All in This Together”.
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.