Category Archives: Poverty

In the Eye of the Eagle: From Strict Catholic School to Adventures in Rainforests

A slow, tacking flight: float then flap. Then a pirouette and it has swung on to a different tack, following another seam through the moor as if it is tracking a scent. It is like a disembodied spirit searching for its host…” — description of the strongest of all harriers, the goshawk, by James Macdonald Lockhart in his book, Raptor: A Journey Through Birds

We’re watching a female red-tail hawk rejecting the smaller male’s romantic overtures barely 50 yards overhead.

There it is. Ahh, the male has full extension. So does his girlfriend. I see this every day from here. This courting ritual . . . testing each other’s loyalty. Watching them in a talon lock, spiraling down, now that’s an amazing sight.

I’m with Chris Hatten on his 10 acres overlooking the Siletz estuary along a gravel road. Saying he lives for that typical red-tail hawk behavior would be an understatement. His passion for raptors has taken him to many parts of the globe, and those trips involved exhilaration, danger, risks to his life, and the trials and tribulations of living primitively in tropical zones which Westerners sometimes deridingly call undeveloped countries or third world nations.

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 Wild Harpy eagle being recaptured and treated after being shot in leg, northern Guatemala.

We are traipsing around his property where Chris is ninety percent finished with a two-story 1,400 square foot home, a modern efficient house he’s been building for two years from a kit out of Lynnwood, Washington.

He told me he’ll never do that again – building a full-sized house.

The 42-year-old Hatten got a hold of my name when he found out I write about Oregon coastal people with compellingly interesting lives. He is in the midst of witnessing adjoining land (more than a hundred acres) to his property about to be clear-cut – forested hillside owned by Hancock Timber Resource Group, part of John Hancock Insurance (now owned by a Canadian group, Manulife Financial).

When he first bought the land eight years ago, representatives of Hancock told him that the company had so much timberland it would take years, maybe a decade, to get to this piece of property.

We discuss how Lincoln City and Lincoln County might prevent a clear cut from the side of the hill all the way down to Highway 101. “It’s amazing to witness in this coastal area — that depends on tourism — all this land clear-cut as far as the eye can see.”

The red-tail hawk pair circles above us again, while a Merlin flits about alighting on a big Doug fir.

When he first saw the property — an old homestead which was once a producing dairy farm — Chris said two eagles cawed above where he was standing, which for a bird-man is a positive omen and spiritual sign of good health. He calls his place “The Double-Eagle.”

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Hands on bio blitz Northern Brazil.

Non-Traditional Student Backpacks into Jungles

He’s not living in the house, per se, but rather he has a tent he calls home. “I feel suffocated inside four walls. I want to hear animals, hear the wind, be on the ground.” He’s hoping to rent out the house.

His current kip is set up near a black bear den, where mother bruin and her two cubs share an area he is willing to stay away from. “The mother bear and I have an understanding. We don’t bother each other.”

He’s part Doctor Dolittle, part Jim Fowler (from Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom), and part John Muir. My own intersections with blokes and women around the world like him have put me eye-to-eye with pygmy elephants in Vietnam, great hammerheads off Baja, king cobras in Thailand, schools of barracudas off Honduras, and a pack of 20 javelina chasing me along the Arizona-Mexico border.

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Jaguar rescue northern Belize.

Hatten’s wildlife adventures indeed take it up a few notches.

“When I finished high school, I wanted to follow my dreams.” That was at Saint Mary’s in Salem, a school that was so constricting to Chris he had already been saving up dollars for a one-way ticket out of the country.

He had started working young – aged 8 – picking zucchini and broccoli in fields near where his family of six lived. “You feel invincible when you are young. You’re also more adaptable and more resilient.”

He ended up in Malaysia which then turned into trekking throughout Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, East Timor, and even down south to Darwin, Australia.

Those two years, from age 17 to 19, are enough to fill two thick memoirs. Upon returning to Salem, he applied to the National Park service and bought a one-way ticket to Alaska, working the trails in small groups who lived in tents and cleared trails with 19-Century equipment – saws, shovels, picks, pry bars.

With his cash stake growing, he headed back south, by mountain bike, along the Prudhoe-Dalton Highway. He hit Prince George, Vancouver Island, and stopped in the Olympics.

He then worked summers and attended Chemeketa College in Salem.

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Finding small spot fire Colombia River Gorge, Oregon, working for U.S.F.S.

Homeless-but-inspired at Evergreen State College

He wanted to study temperature rainforests, so he showed up unannounced hoping for an audience with a well-known scientist and faculty member — Dr. Nalini Nadkarni, who is an expert in temperate forests and sap maples. Chris had read the book she co-authored, Forest Canopies.

Before showing up to Evergreen, Chris had developed a sling-shot contraption to propel ropes into forest canopy. He barged into Nadkarni’s office with his invention. She was surprised Chris wasn’t already student, but she quickly made sure he enrolled in the environmental studies program.

Spending his last dollar on tuition, Chris resorted to sleeping in a tent and inside his 1988 Honda Civic while using campus rec department showers. He told me he received free produce on Tuesdays when the farmer’s market would pass out vegetables and fruit after a day’s sales.

Another faculty member, Dr. Steve Herman, motivated Chris to really delve into ornithology. Chris recalls coastal dune ecology trips, from Olympia in motor pool vans, all the way into the southern reaches of Baja. “We looked at every dune system from Baja all the way back north to Florence.”

The ornithologist Herman was also a tango aficionado, and Chris recalled the professor announcing to his students many times, in the middle of dunes in Mexico, it was time for some tango lessons. “He told us there was more to life than just science.”

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Educational Harpy eagle to take into classrooms Panama city, Panama, has one blind eye, could not be released into wild.

Adventures and Misadventures of a Bird Fanatic

My life’s work has been to produce scientists who will seek to protect wildness. But I also just really enjoy teaching people about birds. I’ve been lucky to get to do that for a very long time.

— Steve Herman, Evergreen State College faculty emeritus Steve Herman, 2017

Chris laments the lack of real stretches of wilderness in Oregon, most notably along our coast. These are postage stamp areas, he emphasizes, around Drift Creek, Rock Creek, Cape Perpetua, but “it’s abysmal.”

We have the Cascades in Washington and the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia, and lots of wilderness in Alaska. But really, nothing along the Pacific in Oregon.

After camping in the forest around Evergreen College, Chris still had the travel bug bad. On one foray, he went to Thailand, studying the mangrove forests there. He traveled with Thai army anti-poaching teams who went after poachers. He came across poachers’ camps, witnessed firefights and saw a few poachers laid out dead. “The captain gave me a pistol and one bullet. He said the torture would be so bad if I got captured by tiger poachers that I’d beg for a bullet.”

He’s worked on the island of Hawaii with the USGS focusing on a biocomplexity project looking at how mosquitoes are moving higher and higher because of global warming. The consequences are pretty connected to other invasives – pigs introduced to the islands several centuries ago – disturbing the entire natural ecosystem.

Pigs chew down the ferns, and places that have never seen pooled water before are now wet troughs where mosquitoes can now breed.

Those insects carry avian malaria, and alas, endangered honey creepers can’t adjust to the mosquitoes like their cousins elsewhere who have evolved over millennia to just rub off the insects. The honey creeper is being decimated by this minor but monumental change.

Peregrine Fund

Right after matriculating from Evergreen with a bachelor’s of science, Chris ended up in Panama, working throughout Central America rehabilitating, breeding and introducing Harpy Eagles – the biggest forest eagle in the world with a wingspan of six and a half feet – into their native jungle habitat.

These are massive birds. They dwarf our American bald eagle, for sure. My job was to follow them when the fledglings were grown and released.

He acted like an adult Harpy who catches prey and puts it in the trees for the youngster to eat and learn some hunting skills. Frozen rats, GPS backpack transmitter fashioned on the birds, and orienteering throughout Belize and Southern Mexico were his tools.

It sort of blew me away that here I was living the dream of studying birds in a rainforest.

Territorial ranges for these birds spread into Honduras and south to Colombia. Wild Harpies eat sloth, aunt eaters, howler monkeys, even giant Military Macaws.

He ended up in the Petén, Tikal (originally dating back 2000 years), one of Central America’s premier Mayan archeological and tourist sites.

His role was to study the orange-breasted falcon, a tropical raptor which is both endangered and stealth. “We got to live on top of pyramids off limits to anyone else,” he says, since the bird was using the pyramids as nesting and breeding grounds.

He recalled tiring of the tourists down below repeating the fact that one of the Star Wars movies was filmed here – “I got tired of hearing, ‘Wow, is this really where Yavin 4,  A New Hope, was filmed? We’re really here.’”

Imagine respecting this ancient Mayan capital, and studying amazing raptors as the antithesis of goofy tourista comments.

No 9 to 5 Working Stiff

He tells me that his idols are people like Jane Goodall and David Attenborough. While he went to school in a conservative Catholic setting where his peers were mostly farm kids —  and some were already pregnant and married (before graduation), his family was not of the same stripe.

“We were like the people in the movie ‘Little Miss Sunshine,’’’ he says with a laugh. His parents took the brood to the Oregon Coast a lot, and that 1976 yellow VW van’s starter was always going out. “I remember we had my sister and mom blocking the intersections in places like Lincoln City while we pushed the van to get it started.”

He’s got a brother, Steve, an RN in Portland, and another Portland-based brother, Mark, owner of a micro-car shop. His older sister, Amy, is a newspaper journalist in Grand Junction, Colorado – a real lifer, with the written word coursing through her blood. She’s encouraged Chris to write down his story.

Their mother went to UC-Berkley, and has been a public education teacher for over 25 years. Their father (divorced when he was 12) got into real estate but is now living in New Zealand.

That one-way ticket to Singapore that got him into Southeast Asia, ended with him running out of money after a year, but he was able to get to Darwin, Australia, by paying a fishing boat in East Timor to get him down under illegally. He spent time picking Aussie Chardonnay grapes to stake himself in order to see that continent.

He was blown away by the kangaroo migration, a scene that involved a few million ‘roos kicking up great clouds of red dust. He ended up going through Alice Springs to see the sacred Uluru (formally known as Ayers Rock). He met undocumented immigrants from El Salvador and Greece while making money picking oranges.

We talk about some frightening times in our travels, and per usual, the worst incidents involved criminals or bad hombres, not with wildlife. For Chris, his close call with death occurred in Guatemala where he, his female supervisor (a Panamanian) and another raptor specialist were confronted by men on horses, brandishing machetes and leading tracker dogs.

“’We’ll let you live if you give us the woman.’ That’s what they gave us as our option.” The bird team went back into the jungle, the two male researchers buried their female companion with leaves, and then Chris and the other guy took off running all night long.

The banditos chased them through the jungle. He laughed saying they ran virtually blind in places where eyelash vipers (one bite, and three steps and you’re dead), coral snakes and tropical rattlesnakes lived in abundance.

“It’s a very creepy feeling being hunted by men with dogs.” Luckily, the female team member headed out the opposite direction, with a radio. All in a day’s work for environmentalists.

That’s saying, “all in a day’s work,” is ominous since we both talk about how most indigenous and local environmental leaders in so many countries have been murdered by loggers, miners, oil men, ranchers, and coca processors (many times executed by paid-for military soldiers).

Never Return or There Will Be Tears

Two telling quotes from world-renown traveler and writer, Paul Theroux, strike me as apropos for a story about Chris Hatten:

Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travelers don’t know where they’re going.

You go away for a long time and return a different person – you never come all the way back.

We talk about a crackling campfire being the original TV, and how being out in wilderness with 5 or 10 people for an extended period gets one really connected to working with people and counting on them to be friends and support.

“It’s tough going back to places I’ve been,” he says with great lamentation. In Borneo, a return trip years later discombobulated him. “The rainforest is being plowed over daily. I couldn’t tell where I was walking miles and miles through palm oil plantations. It was as if the jungle had been swallowed up.”

What once was a vibrant, multilayered super rich and diverse place of amazing flora and fauna has been turned into a virtual desert of a monocrop.

This reality is some of the once most abundant and ecologically distinct places on earth are no longer that. “This is the problem with any wildlife reintroduction program. You can breed captive animals like, for instance, the orangutan but there’s nowhere to release them. Everywhere is stripped of jungle, healthy habitat.”

The concept of rewilding any place is becoming more and more theoretical.

We climb the hill where the clear-cut will occur. Chris and I talk about a serious outdoor education center – a place where Lincoln County students could show up for one, two or three days of outdoor learning. We’re serious about reframing the role of schools and what youth need to have in order to be engaged and desirous of learning.

That theoretical school could be right here, with Chris as the lead outdoor/ecological instructor.

All those trees, terrestrial animals, avian creatures, smack dab on an estuary leading to a bay which leads to the Pacific is highly unique – and a perfect place from which to really get hands on learning as the core curriculum.

We imagine young people learning the history, geology, biology, and ecology of where they live. Elders in the woods teaching them how to smoke salmon, how to build a lean-to, how to see outside the frame of consumption/purchasing/screen-time.

Interestingly, while Chris has no desire to have children, he has taught tropical biology/ecology to an international student body at the Richmond Vale Academy on the island of Saint Vincent (part of the Grenadines).

Koreans, Russians, Venezuelans, Peruvians and Vincennes learned organic farming, bio-fuel production, solar power design, how to grow passion and star fruit. There is even a little horse program in the school, founded by two Danes.

Chris said that the local population is taught about medicinal plants, recycling and responsible waste disposal. “Everything used to be wrapped in banana leaves in their grandparents’ time. Now there is all this single-use plastic waste littering the island.

Like the dynamic rainforest that once carpeted the Central Coast – with herds of elk, wolves, grizzlies and myriad other species – much of the world is being bulldozed over, dammed and mined. Wildlife leave, stop breeding, never repopulate fractured areas where human activities are the norm.

But given that, when I asked Chris where he might like to go now, he mentioned Croatia, his mother’s side of the family roots. He may have swum with 60-foot-long whale sharks and kayaked over orcas, but Chris is still jazzed up about raptors – maybe he’d end up on the Croatian island of Cres which is a refuge for the spectacular griffon vulture.

“Nature has a purpose beyond anything an extraction-based society puts its monetary value on trees. We have to show young people there is value to natural ecosystems beyond extracting everything for a profit.”

One-Minute Q and A

Paul Haeder: What is your life philosophy?

Chris Hatten: Make the best use of your time. Time is short.

PH: How do we fix this extractive “resources” system that is so rapacious?

CH: We need to value forests for the many multitude of services they provide, not just quick rotations. Forests are not the same as fields of crops.

PH: Give any young person currently in high school, say, in Lincoln County, advice on what they might get out of life if they took your advice? What’s that advice?

CH: Get off your phone, lift up your head, see the world for yourself as it really is, then make necessary changes to it and yourself.

PH: What’s one of the most interesting things you’ve experienced — what, where, when, why, how?

CH: I have had very poor people offer to give me all they had in several different countries. Strangers have come to my aid with no thought of reward.

PH: In a nutshell, define the Timber Unity movement to say someone new to Oregon.

CH: They are people who mostly work in rural Oregon in resource extraction industries and believe they are forgotten.

PH: If you were to have a tombstone, what would be on it once you kick the bucket?

CH: “Lived.”

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Running in step, at sunset on the beach with horse St. Vincent and Grenadines

Massive Rallies Work!

Around the world people are marching, rallying, and demonstrating in huge numbers. Some of these countries are ruled by dictators or plutocratic regimes, others are considered democracies. Despite the peril of protest, people are seeking justice, freedom, and decent livelihoods.

Many boast about the United States being the oldest democracy in the world. While there are some street protests in the US, they are sadly too few and far between. Rallies calling attention to climate disruption have received less public support and media attention than they deserve. Likewise, the Parkland rally in Washington, D.C. against gun violence could have received more follow up publicity. And we all remember the massive women’s march the day after Trump was inaugurated in Washington, D.C. The subsequent women’s marches have attracted smaller crowds and therefore less media coverage.

It is not as if our country doesn’t have a historic tradition of sustained demonstrations. Mass protests have carried the labor movement, the farmer movement, the civil rights movement, and the anti-war movement to breakthroughs. These mass protests alone were not the sole drivers of political action – books, articles, editorials, pamphlets, posters, and litigation were essential. But visible displays of aggregated people power had a profound effect on those politicians’ actions. When politicians put their fingers to the wind, the repeated rumble from the masses is what fills the sails of change.

It is not as if mass injustices are absent in the “land of the free, home of the brave.” Sadly, the informed populace is just not showing up in an organized, big crowd fashion – the way they did to challenge the nuclear arms race and nuclear power in the nineteen seventies and eighties. In the era of the iPhone and Internet, activists have greater access to organizing tools than ever – no postage stamps or costly long-distance telephone calls are needed.

Consider these candidates for mass demonstrations proximate to where the decision makers are located. Millions of young people are being gouged by student loan creditors and for-profit colleges. Whether it is the U.S. Department of Education’s high interest rates or the exploitation by for-profit universities, the abuses are outrageous, cruel, and in the latter case, often criminal.

Total outstanding student loans amount to over $1.5 trillion. These burdened young Americans know how to contact each other for free; they also can raise money instantly using new crowdfunding technology. They know how to use the visual arts and the verbal arts. Congress can reverse the predatory practices in higher education. Where is the advocacy from millions of student loan debtors? They could have a huge impact if they surrounded the Capitol or held smaller rallies around Congressional offices back home, especially in the coming election year.

Millions of workers are making, inflation adjusted, less than workers made in 1968. The federal minimum wage, frozen at $7.25, is the culprit. The House of Representatives finally bestirred itself to pass a $15 minimum wage stretched over a number of years. But when the Walmart-indentured members of the Senate look out their windows, it would be nice to see masses of workers surrounding their Senate offices, prior to some insistent personal lobbying?

There are no labor mass rallies in front of Trump’s anti-labor White House either, even though, the headquarters of the AFL-CIO are just yards away on 16th Street NW. The face-off of AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka v. Donald Trump is overdue.

Millions of minorities are suffering voter suppression. Civil rights leaders are angry. They anticipate Republicans at the state and federal level to again erect all kinds of insidious roadblocks that disproportionately affect people of color the most. Abuses in the Florida and Georgia races were rampant in 2018. Presidential races in swing states are also plagued by voter suppression tactics. All signs point to a more intrusive stripping of eligible voters in the 2020 election.

Where are the marches before the offices of the state secretary of state and culpable legislators and Governors headquarters?

A quarter of our country’s families are poor. A Poor People’s Campaign, led by the Reverend William Barber and local pastors, has been protesting in the streets in North Carolina and other states. Their protests deserve far greater attendance. The media has given them too little coverage. But if there were massive demonstrations in major cities and before state legislatures and the Congress, with coordinated demands and large photographs of key politicians fronting for the rich and powerful, will get mass media coverage.

Tens of millions of Americans have no health insurance or are severely underinsured. Thousands of lives are lost annually as a result. This is a problem in America but not other developed nations that have systems in place that prioritize their citizens’ health. Getting sick or injured without medical care is far too frequent in the U.S. Those who suffer from this deprivation can be motivated to take to the streets. The health care industry’s soaring profits and their mega-rich bosses should move additional Americans to rally for Medicare-for-All!

These rallies can be led by physicians and nurses, tired of the paperwork, the bureaucracy, and the health insurance companies denying access to health care for their patients and arbitrarily rejecting doctor-recommended treatments.

In the nineteen forties, President Harry Truman proposed to Congress universal health insurance. Americans still do not have Medicare-for-All and are paying the highest prices, premiums, and out of pocket bills in the world – not to mention the human suffering caused by an inadequate healthcare system.

What a great street story for television, radio, and print newspapers! Think of the tragic human interest stories, straight from the heart by mothers and fathers with children having limited or no access to health care.

Other marches can come from the homeless and the desperate tenants spending over half their income on rent in the many communities where there is a shortage of affordable housing.

All these mass turnouts can pass contribution buckets or tout websites and raise money from the crowds for the next round of even larger protests. At each event, a list of demands can be presented to decision-makers. At each event, protestors can go to the offices where the decision-makers are or insist that these lawmakers speak to the assembled protestors.

There are many innovations to make these action rallies more impactful, more motivating, and more mass-media-centric. There also have to be some enlightened billionaires, worried about their country and their descendants, who want to provide the modest amount of money necessary for event organizers and focused political action. Show up America!

Hollow Promises of a Better Life: Modern Day Slavery

Despite the fact that slavery has long been abolished it continues to blight our world, destroying the lives of tens of millions of people. The Global Slavery Index (GSI) 2018 estimates there to be 40.3 million slaves in the world; however, given the difficulty of collecting data, the areas that are not included – organ trafficking, child soldiers, or child marriage – and the fact that, as GSI says, there are ‘substantial gaps’ from the Arabs States, where 17.5 million migrants workers live, the actual number will no doubt be a great deal higher.

Of the 40.3 million total, 24.9 million people “were in forced labor and 15.4 people were living in a forced marriage.” Men, women and little children living inhuman lives, imprisoned, abused, crushed. Women and girls make up 71% of the total; a staggering one in four (10 million plus) are children.

Treated and regarded by those that exploit them not as human beings, but as chattel property victims of slavery are traded for money and services throughout the world. The Asia-Pacific region has the largest number of enslaved people – 30.4 million, and, according to Anti-Slavery International 9.1 million people are in slavery in Africa. Repressive regimes, such as North Korea, Burundi, Eritrea, have the highest prevalence of slaves. In North Korea it is said to be as high as one in 10. But no country, no matter how wealthy, liberal and well policed, is immune to this abhorrent practice, it is happening everywhere.

As part of the 2015 UN Sustainable Development Goals (UNSGD) member states committed to eradicating modern slavery by 2030. But, unsurprisingly perhaps, progress towards this has been slow and, as GSI puts it, “disgracefully marginal”. Human trafficking is now the second most lucrative criminal activity after drugs and it’s increasing; a large percentage is sex trafficking (of women and girls) and over half of people are trafficked within their own country.

The most common forms of slavery are: domestic servitude – widespread in the Middle East and North African (MENA) countries but also prevalent in western nations; sexual exploitation/forced marriage, and bonded labor (or debt bondage/debt slavery) – when a person works in exchange for a loan or to pay off debt inherited from a family member – particularly common in South-east Asia and the Gulf States.

In India bonded slave labor is widespread, with people, specifically women, from the Dalit (previously labeled the ‘Untouchables’) caste and tribal groups being most affected. Although the caste system is illegal, social classification based on the family of birth dominates, particularly in rural areas. In a detailed report on slavery the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) state that affected Indian “families [can] remain enslaved for generations, working in dangerous conditions without the means to pay for their freedom…the cycle often begins with a loan request made to a landlord or business owner for expenses incurred burying a family member, treating an illness, procuring employment, or staging a wedding.” Once the loan is given threats are made, exploitation begins, often the work done far exceeds the value of the debt. Rice mills, textile factories, farms, brick kilns are some of the prisons of bonded labor.

Lost lives

A large percentage of victims work in the supply chains of multinational corporations in the form of forced or bonded labor, including child labor. They are paid little or nothing, work extended hours often in unsafe conditions and live in appalling accommodation. The more complex the supply chain the greater the risk of slavery, the more difficult to trace. Food and tobacco companies, clothing/textile businesses, mining, construction (migrant workers are particularly at risk of exploitation in this area), seafood and electronics, all are vulnerable to modern day slavery.

While the act of enslavement may occur in the depths of the supply chain, products are imported to developed countries, making these countries and businesses if not wholly complicit, certainly partly responsible; GSI estimate that “G20 countries are collectively importing US$354 billion worth of at-risk products annually.” Hidden in large part from unsuspecting or uninterested consumers; slave labor is cheap, reducing costs, maximizing profits.

Consistent with most, if not all of our social and environmental ills the global socio-economic system of the age, and the attitudes, values and ways of being that it encourages play a significant role in feeding the ground for exploration and abuse. Under the poisonous shadow of Neo-Liberalism everything and everyone is regarded as a potential commodity, something, or someone, to be profited from in some way; it is an inherently unjust system that corrupts action and fuels social divisions.

Competition together with notions of reward and punishment form the foundation of its doctrine. Desire, and with it fear, are relentlessly agitated, contentment and harmony brushed aside in the relentless pursuit of profit.

Within the Ideology of Greed and Selfishness, negative tendencies are emphasized; instead of encouraging expressions of unity human beings are set in opposition to one another, forced to compete to survive. The economically weak and socially vulnerable are manipulated, exploited, enslaved, and when, through ill health, physical deformation, old age, or exhaustion, they can no longer work ceaselessly for a pittance or nothing at all, cast aside. Broken in mind, body and spirit, a life for many is lost.

‘I was looking for a job’

Human traffickers and criminal gangs engage in slavery for one reason: it’s the same reason that drives the business world, large and small, and preoccupies people around the world – to make money. As such, it is, as Kevin Bales, Professor of Contemporary Slavery at the University of Nottingham, says, “an economic crime”. They prey on the poor, the naive and vulnerable, those without work or those working but living in terrible hardship.

While it is estimated that one billion people in the world live in poverty, a great many more exist in economic hardship and insecurity. People living in destitution, desperate to support themselves and their families, are a soft target for criminal brokers with hollow promises of a better life: A restaurant job in the city for the daughter of tea pickers in Assam, India – and the teenager is swiftly trafficked into prostitution; work as a housekeeper in Dubai for a young Ethiopian girl, who ends up in debt bondage and domestic slavery, often sexually abused. Construction work for a Nepalese man in Qatar, trapped into debt by unscrupulous ‘recruitment agents’ and exploited by greedy employers.

Another major factor allowing slavery to flourish is neglect or the total absence of the rule of law, as in countries that have been torn apart by armed conflict, or where corrupt police and government officials exist. In such places – Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya, Iraq, Syria and Yemen for example, human traffickers operate with impunity.

Over the last 70 years there has been a global population explosion contributing to a range of issues including slavery. In 1950 there were 2.5 billion people on Earth, now it’s 7.5 billion and there are also an unprecedented number of displaced people in the world – 70.8 million according to UNHCR. Without a home and stability, displaced people, including migrants and refugees, are extremely vulnerable. Uprooted and desperate, they can be easily manipulated by criminals seeking to exploit their dire circumstances. CFR relate that migrants and refugees, as well as ethnic and religious minorities, particularly women and children, are at heightened risk of enslavement.

The existence of modern day slavery is a stain on our collective humanity; this appalling practice must end, and, as GSI make clear, “governments around the world need to redouble efforts to identify victims, arrest perpetrators, and address the drivers.” The causes are complex, interrelated, connected to the current inadequate modes of living. If we lived in a world where social justice was central to economic policymaking, where the underlying causes of conflict were addressed and where values rooted in brotherhood and compassion prevailed, slavery would be banished. In the absence of such common sense and desperately needed radical changes, the steps required and advocated by those working in the field are all we have, and need to be acted upon – with urgency.

Like many of the issues facing humanity, modern day slavery demands a coordinated consistent approach, cooperation and commitment, not just among governments, but between nongovernmental organizations, and multinational corporations. Tougher law enforcement is needed, and greater transparency within global supply chains. Businesses should be forced to investigate their own suppliers, while responsible consumption should also play a part in cleaning up supply chains and helping to drive slavery from our world for good.

A Poor Perspective on the UBI

Of late there has been a lot of ink spilled over the idea of a Universal Basic Income (UBI).  Democratic presidential hopeful Andrew Yang has made it the center of his campaign.  Before going too far, it should be noted that there are legitimate questions to be answered with such a revolutionary proposal and many details to be worked out.  Some plans are generous and others much less so.  And there is the very real fear that a UBI could be used as a tool of the State to track and control the population.  But as important as these issues are they are not my primary focus.  The money is irrelevant for the time being since whenever the government really wants to do something they always find the money.  As for whether it is possible, we need remember that history is full of things that were impossible up until the moment they became inevitable.

What is missing is the perspective of the Poor.  The people for whom a job is simply something they do to pay the rent, not a central part of their identity.  It has not escaped notice that most of the people writing these articles, especially those against a UBI, are Professional Class (or to use a Marxist term Bourgeoisie). They are professionals who are valued for their skills and paid accordingly.  The Rich and the Professional Classes both fear that a UBI will be a disincentive to work.  But I can say clearly that work is a disincentive to work.  People who talk about the “Nobility and Dignity” of a job have never been the “monkeys who work the cash register.”

Andrew Yang’s UBI proposal is $1,000 a month, adding up to $12,000 a year.  I have survived off this this amount (this is not an endorsement of Yang’s plan nor his candidacy). It isn’t easy and many sacrifices must be made, but if I’m going to do it, I would rather take a UBI check than rent my life away to some petty tyrant for $10 an hour. This also dovetails into the idea that even many proponents of a UBI have stated: It should not be so high that someone can live comfortably off of it.  With these simple words those comfortable Professional Class writers have stated that the Poor do not deserve the comforts of life without selling off so many of their waking hours. This is nothing more than a restatement of Arthur Young’s words from 1771: “Everyone but an idiot knows that the lower classes must be kept as poor as possible, or they will never be industrious.”

It has taken about three centuries of browbeating, brainwashing, shaming, abuse, and outright theft to get us to accept wage labor. And it has not really taken hold too deeply. When the money was good we were more willing to accept it. However since neoliberalism has become dominant, the “job creators” have kept more money to themselves. The people, especially the Poor and Working Classes, who hold full time jobs and still cannot get by are beginning to say out loud what we subconsciously have always known: No one gets ahead by working. That’s why the Rich make most of their money off of their investments. In those three centuries, we have allowed the Rich to build a Work Society where all our social relations are based around jobs and employment. This serves the Rich and their needs before anyone else, rather than society as a whole. We see it everyday when professions like corporate lawyers and hedge fund managers earn so much more money than farmers or teachers.

But for their insatiable greed for profits, the Rich are destroying the very Work Society they created. Labor is one of the bigger expenses in any business, and where owners try to cut costs whenever possible. While the Professional Classes like to downplay the impact of automation, “unskilled” workers can see its impact with every self-checkout station. But there is a bigger factor in the decay of the Work Society.  Long-term careers (and the pensions that come with them) are falling by the wayside, being replaced by the “gig economy” and temp work which does not allow for the formation of social bonds like those careers once did. As the Work Society breaks down, some of the Rich realize they must do something to prevent a lot of desperate people with a lot of time on their hands from thinking about how society could be run better.  So they came up with their stopgap: the UBI, to keep the people pacified. It is a gamble on their part to keep their privilege, and like all gambling it is not guaranteed to go their way.

We can turn this to our advantage. Once jobs and income are divorced, if we no longer need to depend on their paltry wages to survive, if they want their jobs filled, we can demand several things, including: they pay well enough to make people actually want to work for them, and treat their employees like human beings. I have known poor people who stated when a UBI is passed so many businesses will close overnight because none of the employees would show up the next day. While I doubt things will be that drastic, it illustrates why they don’t want the UBI to be too high or too comfortable so that we will continue to be industrious, as everyone but an idiot knows.

Looking beyond those short term goals, however, we all know there is so much more to life than work. Not wasting the best parts of our lives at a job will also free us to ask questions, the serious deep questions we need to be asking ourselves now. As late capitalism is destroying the planet in our constant need for production and consumption, we can ask: Can we live without consumerism and planned obsolescence? How do we live without the tyranny of the boss? We can begin to think about what exactly we were put on Earth to do with our lives. Lives that are not relegated to evenings and weekends.

Think of all the people we met over the years. There’s that guy who plays guitar in the bars a few evenings a week and on Saturdays. The woman who is a gifted painter. The armchair historian who can answer any question one may have about the Napoleonic Wars.  The little old lady (who still works to cover the gap in her Social Security) who is always crocheting cool little things on her break. We’ve all met these people, they’ve been working alongside us for years for the same crap wages we got.

Many years ago I met an artist who managed to eke out a living selling his stone sculptures. It was not luxurious, but he was happy. When the topic of jobs came up he gave me the best wisdom I ever received: “You don’t want to spend your life doing someone else’s work, do you?” A UBI is not a perfect solution, and there is still much to be worked out. But it is the first stepping stone. So when the UBI comes, I will gladly take advantage of it. And I won’t be the only one.

A Poor Perspective on the UBI

Of late there has been a lot of ink spilled over the idea of a Universal Basic Income (UBI).  Democratic presidential hopeful Andrew Yang has made it the center of his campaign.  Before going too far, it should be noted that there are legitimate questions to be answered with such a revolutionary proposal and many details to be worked out.  Some plans are generous and others much less so.  And there is the very real fear that a UBI could be used as a tool of the State to track and control the population.  But as important as these issues are they are not my primary focus.  The money is irrelevant for the time being since whenever the government really wants to do something they always find the money.  As for whether it is possible, we need remember that history is full of things that were impossible up until the moment they became inevitable.

What is missing is the perspective of the Poor.  The people for whom a job is simply something they do to pay the rent, not a central part of their identity.  It has not escaped notice that most of the people writing these articles, especially those against a UBI, are Professional Class (or to use a Marxist term Bourgeoisie). They are professionals who are valued for their skills and paid accordingly.  The Rich and the Professional Classes both fear that a UBI will be a disincentive to work.  But I can say clearly that work is a disincentive to work.  People who talk about the “Nobility and Dignity” of a job have never been the “monkeys who work the cash register.”

Andrew Yang’s UBI proposal is $1,000 a month, adding up to $12,000 a year.  I have survived off this this amount (this is not an endorsement of Yang’s plan nor his candidacy). It isn’t easy and many sacrifices must be made, but if I’m going to do it, I would rather take a UBI check than rent my life away to some petty tyrant for $10 an hour. This also dovetails into the idea that even many proponents of a UBI have stated: It should not be so high that someone can live comfortably off of it.  With these simple words those comfortable Professional Class writers have stated that the Poor do not deserve the comforts of life without selling off so many of their waking hours. This is nothing more than a restatement of Arthur Young’s words from 1771: “Everyone but an idiot knows that the lower classes must be kept as poor as possible, or they will never be industrious.”

It has taken about three centuries of browbeating, brainwashing, shaming, abuse, and outright theft to get us to accept wage labor. And it has not really taken hold too deeply. When the money was good we were more willing to accept it. However since neoliberalism has become dominant, the “job creators” have kept more money to themselves. The people, especially the Poor and Working Classes, who hold full time jobs and still cannot get by are beginning to say out loud what we subconsciously have always known: No one gets ahead by working. That’s why the Rich make most of their money off of their investments. In those three centuries, we have allowed the Rich to build a Work Society where all our social relations are based around jobs and employment. This serves the Rich and their needs before anyone else, rather than society as a whole. We see it everyday when professions like corporate lawyers and hedge fund managers earn so much more money than farmers or teachers.

But for their insatiable greed for profits, the Rich are destroying the very Work Society they created. Labor is one of the bigger expenses in any business, and where owners try to cut costs whenever possible. While the Professional Classes like to downplay the impact of automation, “unskilled” workers can see its impact with every self-checkout station. But there is a bigger factor in the decay of the Work Society.  Long-term careers (and the pensions that come with them) are falling by the wayside, being replaced by the “gig economy” and temp work which does not allow for the formation of social bonds like those careers once did. As the Work Society breaks down, some of the Rich realize they must do something to prevent a lot of desperate people with a lot of time on their hands from thinking about how society could be run better.  So they came up with their stopgap: the UBI, to keep the people pacified. It is a gamble on their part to keep their privilege, and like all gambling it is not guaranteed to go their way.

We can turn this to our advantage. Once jobs and income are divorced, if we no longer need to depend on their paltry wages to survive, if they want their jobs filled, we can demand several things, including: they pay well enough to make people actually want to work for them, and treat their employees like human beings. I have known poor people who stated when a UBI is passed so many businesses will close overnight because none of the employees would show up the next day. While I doubt things will be that drastic, it illustrates why they don’t want the UBI to be too high or too comfortable so that we will continue to be industrious, as everyone but an idiot knows.

Looking beyond those short term goals, however, we all know there is so much more to life than work. Not wasting the best parts of our lives at a job will also free us to ask questions, the serious deep questions we need to be asking ourselves now. As late capitalism is destroying the planet in our constant need for production and consumption, we can ask: Can we live without consumerism and planned obsolescence? How do we live without the tyranny of the boss? We can begin to think about what exactly we were put on Earth to do with our lives. Lives that are not relegated to evenings and weekends.

Think of all the people we met over the years. There’s that guy who plays guitar in the bars a few evenings a week and on Saturdays. The woman who is a gifted painter. The armchair historian who can answer any question one may have about the Napoleonic Wars.  The little old lady (who still works to cover the gap in her Social Security) who is always crocheting cool little things on her break. We’ve all met these people, they’ve been working alongside us for years for the same crap wages we got.

Many years ago I met an artist who managed to eke out a living selling his stone sculptures. It was not luxurious, but he was happy. When the topic of jobs came up he gave me the best wisdom I ever received: “You don’t want to spend your life doing someone else’s work, do you?” A UBI is not a perfect solution, and there is still much to be worked out. But it is the first stepping stone. So when the UBI comes, I will gladly take advantage of it. And I won’t be the only one.

Bulletin For The Comfortable Class: Mass Murder Was Americana Before Trump Was Born!

The U.S. air war in Japan was one of the most ruthless and barbaric killings of non-combatants in all history.

— General Bonner Fellers, MacArthur’s Intelligence Chief, from Cultures Of War: Pearl Harbour/Hiroshima/9-11/Iraq by John W. Dower, 2011, pp. 195-96.

The recent anniversary of the mass murder that took place in Hiroshima, followed three days later by another mass murder in Nagasaki, would have dominated the consciousness of a nation in remorse for past horrors committed under the degenerate belief of justifiable homicide as long as its warfare. As the comment above helps make clear, these particular acts of dreadful violence were only unique in that one bomb was used for each city, instead of the thousands used to set fire to entire cities in Japan and Germany and immediately burn tens of thousands of their inhabitants to death. American ingenuity made it possible for an early and perverse form of one-stop-shopping as entire populations were slaughtered and cremated in one action, without need of camps, chambers, ovens or any other real or legendary forms of brutality.

But hardly a moment was wasted on those past horrors given that America suffered tragedies occupying national consciousness due to what we’re told are Trump inspired outbursts of racist-sexist- madness, as usual having nothing to do with the political economics of blood profit capital but all about evil individuals and special categories of “identity groups” different from all other members of the human race. Somehow, this fanatic fundamentalism still works to keep us shopping, killing and destroying the environment in pursuit of ever greater personal fortunes for some, appalling poverty for far more, and majorities sinking into unpayable debt and facing planetary doom if radical transformation of the prevailing political economics are not performed for humanity’s sake and not just the pleasure of a minority identity group we worship: the rich.

With most of the nation under the control of mass media even more powerful than it was in the days of World War II, corporate mind management has us in a state of mourning over tragedies which cost the lives of 30 innocent Americans over a period of three days. Said to be murders committed by the mentally ill or fascists inspired by the evil Trump, or both, the villains have some foaming at the mouth under around the clock bombardments of stories of the innocents, mourning by thousands and worst of all cries for vengeance against alleged fascism and/or white supremacy in a national racist mental ward counting deaths by identity group other than the human race and not noticing that most of the recent American victims were of the racist designated “white” group.

To put tragic deaths in perspective, while these poor souls were being murdered in Gilroy, El Paso and Dayton, some 200 other Americans, equally innocent of anything other than possible driving errors, died in the raging road wars of our overwhelmingly private profit transit system. It kills an average of 100 of us every single day and little if anything beyond a small notice appears in local newspapers with hardly anything said about the national insanity of such suffering inflicted on innocent people no more guilty of wrong than any of the poor souls murdered by affordable gun owning citizens in a nation with more than half a million humans who cannot afford the market force to enable them to find a place to live. That damned Trump! Oh wait…maybe it’s Putin? Or perhaps Oprah, Dracula or Joe Biden?

Those who think this nation was a Garden of Eden until the dreadful Trump became president need to learn their country’s history and not just that of one or another identity group somehow experiencing history in a vacuum of suffering or wealth while tens of millions of other people simply amount to works of fiction at best and matters of intense disrespect and outright bigotry, at worst. What is going on now isn’t even slightly new and blamed on one or another set of villains it displays a pattern in operation for generations and getting worse by the minute.

Trump is as much an aspect of our system as diversity, war, sex, jazz, TV, shopping, deceit, slander, pets, propaganda and love. All that is good and bad is hidden by some calling every American social disease since our founding as something of his creation. The continued divisions of Americans into racial categories in defiance of all science let alone common sense continues the work of individualism and racism that make us such a unique historic nation able to call itself a democracy while controlled by billionaires while millions of our children live in poverty, hundreds of thousands of our families live on the street and we spend trillions on war and billions on our pet animals. Is this a great country or what? Or at least it was until the vile Trump arrived, according to some who’ve been mentally murdered by the assault on consciousness conducted for generations but never quite as vile and all encompassing as at present, with the empire sinking faster and the danger to humanity growing at an even greater speed.

The American mass murders of the second world war in Japan and Europe were closely followed by mass butchery that killed millions in southeast Asia and our savage behavior towards humanity, under command and ownership of our royal 1%, has slaughtered more in the Middle East over the last twenty years than we have sacrificed to profit making transit on our highways. This, while an upper class has expanded slightly, including what racism identifies as “people of color”, and some other groups previously trashed and treated as less worthy of life than what passed for “normal” have become acceptable members of the market hordes consuming more trash with less money. Meanwhile, our poverty and prison populations explode in this material land of over consumption for a minority that would make the originator of the term “conspicuous consumption”, Veblen, apologize for mincing his words in critique of capital.

We are told by legend and there is some material foundation for belief that in biblical times every few years there was a forgiveness of debt and it may have been easier for civilization, or what it was called then at a time long before the savage circus we call a democracy, to clearly see and react to a reality that could not go on without radical change. Of course, those poor souls didn’t have what we now are taught to call “social” media, which makes us so much smarter than those poor fools of the past that we can carry the burden of trillions in debt, the continued slaughter of human beings all over the planet including our own domicile, and rage against the latest white house pinhead in the fashion of the clients and crew of the Titanic screeching about the lousy captain as they were about to drown on a sinking ship that, like everything else then and since, would never have existed without the motive of private profit, and the public good be damned.

We may be able to elect a new CEO of Capital Inc in 2020, if we don’t destroy even more than our electoral façade and sink in our own sea of political, social and environmental excrement before being able to vote. But if we simply choose another chairperson for the system of private capital and do not demand and execute a social revolution that puts all humanity before any single un-chosen figurehead, we will face far more than personal need for therapy visits or social prayers for divine intervention. All of us or none of us was the call much earlier in our history and it has never had more meaning than at present. In closing, the words of a truly great American sadly unknown to many of us:

Democracy can become truly a rule of the people only when it is extended to the economic life of the people.

— Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, The Trial of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, the American Civil Liberties Union, January 1, 1968

Women We Are Fighting For

There are stories that are unrelated to the news, but can explain much better than many combat reports, why people like me are fighting against the Empire and imperialism, with such determination and vehemence. Not all stories are ‘big’ or ‘heroic’; not all include famous people or iconic struggles. Not all take place on battlefields.

But they ‘humanize’ the struggle.

Once in a while, I like to share such stories with my readers. As I will do right now.

Because without them, frankly, nothing really makes sense.

*****

It was a hot, humid night in Jakarta; a megapolis with the worst pollution on earth, and with some of the most monstrous contrasts on our planet. A literally sinking city, constructed against the people; fragmented, serving only the few hundred thousand extremely rich (most of them accumulating wealth through corruption and theft), while condemning millions of struggling individuals to a slow death.

For the ruthless Indonesian elites and their Western handlers, the poor of Jakarta (the great majority of city dwellers) simply do not exist. They live in crammed slums, called kampungs – literally translated as villages. Kampungs fill huge spaces between the skyscrapers, malls, and mostly empty five-star hotels. Individuals living there consume very little, and therefore matter close to nothing. Even their number is underplayed in the official statistics.

One night, my small film crew and I were driving though the Klender neighborhood in East Jakarta; a poor, religious and monotonous part of the city.

Re-editing my big film about Indonesia after the US-sponsored military coup of 1965, an event which I often describe as an “Intellectual Hiroshima”, I had to again spend a few days in Jakarta, collecting latest footage, filming contrasts between the people and feudal elites.

We were all tired. Traffic jams have brought the city to an almost permanent gridlock. The pollution is unbearable. Life has come to a standstill. As planned by the regime, no one seemed to be thinking. Nothing seemed to be working.

We were driving past Klender train station a few minutes after midnight.

There were two young women standing by the side of the road. One of them caught my eye. She was clearly a prostitute, or a ‘sex-worker’, as they would call her in the West. But in reality, no, she was not a ‘worker’; not her. Just an abused, tired women.

I liked her face. Hers was an honest, good face. And after all that nonsense I heard during the day, after all that ‘feel good’ crap, I needed to hear something real, honest.

“Stop!” I shouted at my driver. He stepped on the brakes, then backed up a few meters.

“I want to talk to her,” I explained. Then to her: “I want to talk to you.”

She did not find my request strange. She nodded. After years of moving all around the world, while documenting the state of our humanity, I have developed certain instincts. I can tell from the faces of people, whether they have a story to tell; and whether they have the desire to speak. She did, both.

We emptied the front seat for her, next to the driver. She got in. Jakarta is a dangerous city, especially for women. But she did not seem to be frightened. She trusted me, as I trusted her.

“My name is Andre,” I said. “I am a filmmaker, and this is my team”.

“My name is Risna,” she answered and smiled.

“I want to hear your story,” I said.

“OK,” she said.

“Do you mind if I film?”

“Go ahead. I don’t mind.”

I put my GH5 over my knee, turned on the little light on the ceiling of the car, and pressed the “Record” button.

Just like that. No coaching, no preparation. And then it happened. She spoke. Clearly. Bitterly. Honestly.

*****

“It was four of us,” she began, softly:

Four children. Little ones. Two boys and two girls. Our father, a pious religious man, used to use all of us. He had sex with us, with males and females. By then our mother was gone. He wanted to get married for the second time. To a young woman. But he had no money. And so, he began pimping all of us, for cash, so he could save enough, to start his new family. All four of us… you know; we all failed in life. At seven, I often slept on the streets. My siblings are all dysfunctional. I got married, had children, but my husband left me. I’m thirty years old now. I do this to support my children, and my brothers and sister.

Trains kept passing-by. Loud express trains, rushing to far away cities: Yogyakarta, Solo, Surabaya.

“I couldn’t talk to anybody. Here, it is always woman’s fault. No matter what happens, it is woman’s fault.”

I was frozen in my seat.

“This is my story.”

“And now?” I could not think about anything else to ask.

“Now I am speaking to you.”

I stopped the car in the middle of the night. I wanted to hear a story of a woman who was working by the side of the road. And that is precisely what I got: she described to me, briefly, her life.

She did it in a simple, touchingly naïve, pure way. There was nothing unnatural in her voice.

She spoke for herself, and for millions of Indonesian women like her, too.

I cared about her, but did not know how to express it, what to say.

We spoke for a bit, about the terrible fate of women in Indonesia. About the hypocrisy of this society. But it was well after midnight, and she had to earn her living. I had to let her go.

“You will be in my film, together with your former President Gus Dur, and the greatest writer, Pramoedya Ananta Toer.”

She nodded, in a matter of fact way.

“What do you dream about?”

And that’s when her eyes filled with tears:

“I want to raise my children as a good mother; from honest work.”

I looked at the monitor of my camera. 8 minutes and few seconds had passed since I began recording. One human life, in a summary. One complex, broken human life. I bowed to her. Shook her hand. Thanked her.

“Do you have hope?”

She looked at me, deep into my eyes. Then she nodded.

“Yes!”

*****

At night, I couldn’t sleep.

I knew all about what she was talking about. My friend who works for the UNDP once explained to me, that Indonesia has one of the highest child abandonment rates in the world. And also, one of the highest amounts of sexual child abuse cases, particularly inside families; committed by family members. All these topics are taboo, and no ‘official’ study can be produced, as most women are only willing to speak ‘off the record’.

In Indonesia, after 1965, everything collapsed; was destroyed. But this downfall, and almost nothing related to it, can be discussed openly. Here, the fear of truth is omnipresent, and I will soon address this shocking issue in one of my upcoming essays.

*****

In 1979, when the pro-US Somoza’s regime collapsed and the Sandinistas took over the devastated Nicaragua, my friend, an American poet and translator, happened to be in Managua.

He was very young and confused.

He understood, theoretically, the greatness of the revolution. But he was still lacking examples.

Then, one afternoon, he saw a bus. A beat-up public bus, slowly moving towards the center of the city, while sun was setting down, behind the hills.

He told me the story, a long time ago, in New York, as I was ready to depart for Peru, to cover the so-called Dirty War:

It was the end of the week. The bus was full of girls; young women from slums. Some were barefoot. But they were dressed in their best. They were travelling to the center of the capital, to dance!

The voice of my friend broke. He was overwhelmed by his memories.

Do you understand? Before, they only went to the rich parts of the city in order to serve, to be humiliated, used; to labor for the rich. Now, they were going to those clubs that only a week ago were frequented exclusively by ‘gringos’ and local elites. They were going to dance. It was their country, suddenly. It was their city. They were free. The country belonged to them.

“This is when I understood,” he concluded, “that the revolution was right. Not because I studied Marxism, not because of some theory. But because these girls from the poor neighborhoods of Managua had suddenly gained the right to dance. They gained their right to exist; to be alive!”

*****

In Cuba, they say: “Everyone dances, or no one dances!”

Covering the world, documenting wars, conflicts, but also revolutions, I often encounter women like Risna.

Whenever countries collapse, whenever they are destroyed by savage capitalism, by religious extremism, or by subservience to imperialist powers, women suffer the most. It is almost the rule.

Most of them suffer in silence, as even their voices are being muted.

The more oppressive, regressive society gets, the more subjugated are its women.

Their humiliation, repression, suffering gets glorified as virtue. While rape, molestation, and submission are hushed up, never discussed. In countries such as Indonesia, if a woman protests and speaks about her fate, she gets ridiculed, discredited, or even thrown into prison, as has happened recently, on several well-publicized occasions.

Western hypocrisy is obvious: while everyone there is obsessed with ‘political correctness’, London, Washington and Paris are glorifying, supporting and even producing regimes which treat women worse than animals.

*****

Risna deserves to be in one of those proverbial buses which are taking women to the once exclusive clubs, so they can dance. In a rough translation of the metaphor: ‘so they could become the owners of their own fate, of their cities, and their country’.

Women like her are the women we are fighting for.

Their stories are our stories. Be they in Managua, Jakarta, Kampala, or Mumbai.

They are as significant as those stories from the war zones near Syrian Idlib, or Afghanistan, or Libya.

Not to tell such stories would convert us, revolutionary writers, into liars.

Originally published by NEO – New Eastern Outlook