Category Archives: social justice

Only the Poor Starve: Hunger in the Time of Covid

Additional to the global health crisis and the coming worldwide economic collapse, Covid-19 is fuelling a humanitarian crisis. The World Food Program (WFP) warns that, “millions of civilians living in conflict-scarred nations, including many women and children, face being pushed to the brink of starvation, with the spectre of famine a very real and dangerous possibility.” The WFP’s view that the biggest impact of the pandemic will not by caused by the virus directly, but the hunger that flows from it, is in line with other concerned groups.

In a recent statement the WFP warned that “unless swift action is taken”, by the end of the year we “will see more than a quarter of a billion people suffering acute hunger…in low and middle-income countries.” This is made up of 135 million already facing food shortages, plus an estimated 130 million people (it could well be more), as a result of Covid-19. This would take the total number of people who go to bed hungry every night to over a billion – approximately, for all such statistics serve as a guide only; inevitably they miss the hidden hungry, people living on the fringes of society in every country, rich and poor.

In addition to the ‘130 million’ there are the tens of millions of casual workers who can only eat if they work. “Lockdowns and global economic recession have already decimated their nest eggs,” says Dr. Arif Husain, chief economist at WFP, “it only takes one more shock – like Covid-19 – to push them over the edge.”

Countries dependent on food imports and the export of oil are particularly at risk of increased levels of hunger, as well as communities that rely on remittance income from overseas, and tourism. In addition there is the uncertainty around foreign aid as donor countries face the prospect of recession. Those in greatest danger are in 10 countries affected by conflict, economic crisis and climate change – all of which are interconnected. The 2020 Global Report on Food Crises highlights Yemen (where two deaths from Covid-19 have already been reported), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Afghanistan, Venezuela, Ethiopia, and South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Nigeria and Haiti. Drought and the worst locust infestation for decades (triggered by climate change) have already caused food shortages in South Asia and the Horn of Africa, where according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, 12 million people are living under the frightening shadow of food insecurity.

Unless we prepare and act now – “to secure access, avoid funding shortfalls and disruptions to trade,” the WFP statement state, “we could be facing multiple famines of biblical proportions within a short few months.”

If the virus takes hold in locations where war is raging, in countries which have weak health care systems, the UN has warned that it would be impossible to limit the impact and/or deliver much needed humanitarian supplies, including food. In an attempt to safeguard these countries the UN Secretary general António Guterres has called for a global ceasefire. While some 70 member states, regional partners, non-state actors, civil society networks and organizations,” have so far endorsed his plea, “there was”, he said, “still a distance between declarations and deeds in many countries.”

If a ‘Pandemic of Hunger’ is to be avoided, in addition to peace and humanitarian access, supply chains, which have been disrupted, must remain open and fluid, allowing food to be transported easily. And, as WFP makes clear, states must not introduce export bans or import duties, which would lead to price rises.

These are urgent steps that must be taken to meet the immediate threat. But these measures will not feed the 800 million or so suffering from chronic hunger. The primary cause of hunger in our world is not conflict or access to food, it is poverty – there is nowhere in the world where the rich go hungry. To banish hunger for good, lasting fundamental change must be introduced. Systemic change and behavioral change, and the two are inextricably connected.

A perfect storm

Even before Covid-19 the head of the WFP forecast “2020 would be facing the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II.” He cites wars in Syria and Yemen; the crisis in South Sudan, Burkino Faso and the Central Sahel region in Africa, where UNICEF says, “4.3 million children are now in need of humanitarian assistance,” the economic crisis in Lebanon, as well as countries like Ethiopia, the DRC and Sudan. The list, he says, ‘goes on…we’re already facing a perfect storm.’

The ‘perfect storm’ is an extreme consequence of a series of interconnected causes; many, if not all of which flow from the all-pervasive socio-economic order and the divisive values and attitudes that are promoted. Crystallized as it is, the system is a construct of the consciousness of the past. It is not of the now or the time we are moving into, nevertheless it dominates all life. Like many of our structures and forms it needs to change, many know this and Covid-19 is highlighting the need for change and presenting an opportunity. It is acting as a mirror, an agency of revelation, bringing issues into focus and pouring fuel on already simmering fires, insisting we attend. With businesses closed large numbers of people are being forced to slow down, to stop consuming, stop travelling. A space has opened up in which to reflect and examine how we live, individually as well as collectively.

A range of festering issues, known but either ignored or inflamed, are being brought to the surface; interrelated crises that have been percolating for decades demanding attention and a new approach. The man-made environmental crisis, which is the pressing issue of the age, and the outdated economic structure, inadequate or non-existent public services, the crisis of wealth/income and power inequality and social injustice among a number of other pressing social wounds.

After the pandemic has retreated and lockdowns are released the world economy is, by all predictions set to crash. The IMF estimate The Great Lockdown, as they are calling it, will result in the “worst recession since the Great Depression, and far worse than the Global Financial Crisis.” But as the head of the body, Kristalina Georgieva admits, it could be worse, they don’t know. If the coming crash is met, not with desperation and despair, but with creative imagination and compassion, it may, indeed could, bring about widespread liberation, allowing for a new and just, long overdue, reorganization of the socio-economic and political spheres.

The Age of Reason

Consistent with the new time we are moving into, a shift in collective consciousness is taking place among large numbers of people all over the world. To accommodate this shift, this new awareness that is slowly emerging, new ways of thinking, new institutions and structures are badly needed, including crucially a radically overhauled socio-economic system. A flexible evolving model anchored in certain Principles of Goodness: Unity, sharing and justice.

This common-sense trinity is interdependent and encourages values of cooperation and understanding, responsibility and tolerance. By the expression of one quality the other is strengthened, reinforced, expanded. Key is unity, the recognition that all of life is interconnected, whole, that humanity is one and that all have the same and equal rights. That we all have a responsibility to one another and the natural world and our actions should proceed from a position of awareness. Any new system must have sharing at its core. Sharing would end for good the abomination of men, women, and children dying of starvation – with or without a pandemic –, or living stunted crippled lives due to malnutrition in a world overflowing with food. Acknowledging what each nation has to offer the world at large (natural resource, including food and water, knowledge and skills, etc.) and what it lacks, what it needs from others. And thirdly, Justice, – social and environmental justice –, under the doctrine of the present order there is neither. The system is inherently unjust and cruel, benefiting these that have, punishing and abusing those that are vulnerable and have not. The natural environment – forests, rivers, oceans, habitat, all are sacrificed or exploited for profit. All need to be protected, nurtured, and allowed to heal, as does humanity.

Through the introduction of sharing as the primary organizing principle underlying the socio-economic order and animating widespread change, trust would be created, relationships built, divisions eroded, allowing for peace to come into being. Peace and freedom are perennial ideals held within the hearts of mankind. Sharing, unity and justice are the means of entry into a world in which they become not just hopes and  unrealized dreams, but vibrant qualities animating all modes of living.

Will Covid-19 spur a Peoples’ Bailout for the World’s Poorest?

Image credit: Giacomo Carra on Unsplash

The question is whether Covid-19 will awaken us to the stark inequalities of our world, or does it simply represent a new cause of impoverishment for the vast swathes of humanity who have long been disregarded by the public’s conscience?

*****

Since the beginning of 2020, we’ve entered an extraordinary new era. There is still a great deal of fear and uncertainty about what lies ahead, and most countries are undergoing a kind of social and political revolution that is unprecedented in the post-war period. But amidst the tragedy and suffering of those affected by Covid-19, there is also a reawakening of hope about the future possibilities of this epochal moment. Political campaigners of every type are rolling out their progressive agendas, envisioning the crisis as an inflection point that could potentially kickstart a more just and sustainable economy.

The reasons for optimism are in plain view. With major economies temporarily frozen, state interventions on a colossal scale have directly contradicted the prevailing ideology of our time. The free market creed that has run the world for almost 40 years is, once more, effectively defunct; in its place, governments are forced to undertake huge feats of economic planning in order to avert an economic catastrophe.

Right across the Western world, state-imposed lockdowns have necessitated social solidarity policies that were previously unthinkable. Rescue programmes vary greatly in terms of social protection measures, cash assistance and workers’ rights, but there is no alternative to governments stepping in to secure the livelihoods of millions of people.

Despite the shortcomings of many schemes, together they have dramatically busted the myth that governments cannot afford to implement radical pro-social investments. Never has there been such a case for guaranteeing everyone’s right to an adequate standard of living during the current crisis and beyond, particularly by rolling back punitive austerity measures and the privatisation of essential public services.

Even a universal basic income has suddenly resurged in popular interest and been seriously discussed by policymakers of all political persuasions. From every quarter, the calls are ringing out for a different kind of economy to be built that recognises the limitations of the market, and that places finance at the service of basic human rights.

But the worst of the pandemic is still to come, and it’s too early to tell how events will unfold. An implosion of global financial markets is an imminent possibility, with a global recession of perhaps record dimensions a near certainty. What will happen then for social safety nets and economic priorities—will the burden of adjustment really be shouldered by large corporations and wealthy elites, or will governments heap the costs onto the poor and ordinary workers as since 2008?

Unequal outcomes

The one certainty is that the most vulnerable and excluded members of society will suffer the worst consequences, as with all economic crises. We may be all in this together, and the coronavirus may not discriminate as to one’s socioeconomic class, but the experience of lockdown will be very different with respect to one’s position and place in society. This pertains most of all to those who live in the world’s most downtrodden places, where even basic health advice is impossible to follow. Constant media reports now question how a billion people living in slums can practice social distancing, or frequently wash hands when there is no easy access to clean water or sanitation (a situation that afflicts 40% of the world population).

The prospects are terrifying for the millions of migrants and displaced people, prisoners, the homeless and those who live in disaster-prone areas. Not only are they most exposed to infection, but they are least able to access quality healthcare, and most impacted by a loss of income. No government support packages will be expected by the world’s 25.9 million refugees, of whom huge numbers may be left to fend for themselves in overcrowded temporary settlements.

For many low-income countries, the current health crisis could become a ‘double tap’ that exacerbates existing humanitarian challenges, such as conflicts, droughts, the locust plague or endemic poverty. Healthcare systems are already overburdened throughout the global South, especially where IMF-backed austerity cuts have been imposed. Scores of countries have endured waves of fiscal adjustment programmes that have increasingly weakened social protection schemes, curtailed labour rights and exacerbated precarious work.

If the virus takes off in its ‘third wave’ – after China, after Europe and across the developing world – the consequences could be devastating for under-resourced governments that are reeling from other humanitarian catastrophes.

As John Pilger has reminded, deaths from Covid-19 still pale in comparison with the 24,600 people who unnecessarily die from starvation every day, or the 3,000 children who die from preventable malaria. Not to mention other diseases of poverty like tuberculosis or pneumonia, or the cholera crisis in Yemen, or the countless daily deaths due to economic sanctions in countries like Venezuela and Iran. No pandemic or global emergency has ever been declared for these people.

Will Covid-19 therefore awaken us to the stark inequalities and injustices of our world, or will it simply represent a new cause of impoverishment for vast swathes of humanity who have long been disregarded by the public’s conscience?

A global action plan

Given the huge challenges for less developed countries, it is essential that governments respond to this global health emergency through genuine cooperation and the sharing of international resources. The developing world is already in turmoil due to falling commodity prices and foreign direct investment, a collapse in tourism and the weakening of their own domestic demand—even before the socioeconomic impacts of the virus take hold.

Heavily indebted countries are also facing a ‘double whammy’ of declining exports and sharply increased borrowing costs, raising the prospect of a new debt crisis that engulfs south-east Asia, Latin America and Africa. But the need for global economic sharing goes beyond moral imperatives: unless we prevent these regions from descending into chaos, the virus could circle around the world and be reimported into richer countries.

The scale of an emergency response plan is boldly summarised by Oxfam, who call upon governments to implement a globally-coordinated and massive investment in public health. This necessitates a degree of international aid-giving that is unseen in our history, as well as an immediate moratorium on debt interest payments for poor countries without conditions.

Oxfam estimates that it would cost $159.5 billion to double the health spending of the 85 poorest countries, home to nearly half the world’s population. Compare this with the trillions of dollars being released by the United States and European Union in their emergency relief measures. The United Nations, in contrast, has so far called for merely $2 billion to fund its Humanitarian Response Plan, which is seriously inadequate given the scale and complexity of the crisis, but still far from being met.

Beyond this emergency relief, there is also an urgent need to transform the global economy in the longer term. The coronavirus crisis has given renewed impetus for major structural financial reforms, including action against tax havens, debt cancellation and changes to trade rules. This is essential for enabling poorer nations to protect jobs and build comprehensive, universal public services and social protection systems.

Above all, a massive global stimulus package should be directed towards supporting green industries, rather than further entrenching fossil fuel interests. Similar proposals for a Global Green New Deal were put forward after the last financial crisis over a decade ago: now time is running out for governments to mobilise maximum resources towards decarbonising the global economy and restoring our natural ecosystems. A ‘just transition’ of sufficient scale will also serve to increase the resilience of low- and middle-income countries as they diversify production and reduce their heavy reliance on commodities.

A spirit of solidarity

The UN trade and development body, UNCTAD, has renewed its appeal for a new Marshall Plan for the global South, in which G20 nations act in a spirit of solidarity to assist the 6 billion people living outside their core economies. But there is little hope for such a historic level of coordinated global leadership to emerge, when the most powerful nations—particularly the United States—continue to view world politics as a zero-sum game in which states compete rather than cooperate. The global pandemic has arisen within a crisis of multilateralism which has increasingly eroded governments’ capacity for collective action in the post-crash years, so it is hardly surprising that the virus is already outpacing a global response.

Now, as ever, the responsibility for transforming geopolitical relations lies not with influential heads of state, but with ourselves. There may be much heartening evidence of national and local solidarity during this lockdown period, but the question remains as to whether that will be translated internationally once a vaccine is discovered.

Will the more privileged people in affluent societies continue to profess our global interconnectedness, while shrugging their shoulders at the dire inequality that leaves half the world impoverished? Or will we unify our demands in a deafening call for securing everyone’s basic socioeconomic rights, which would directly strengthen the United Nations’ capacity and foundational purposes?

It is one thing to call for a people’s bailout in single nations alone, but it is something else to call for a global people’s bailout that benefits every disadvantaged individual and family in all countries. If the coronavirus crisis is revealing anything of lasting human significance, surely it must be this necessity of finally sharing our planet’s phenomenal wealth and ample resources.

Death of the “Usual”: Economic Evolution and the Emergence of the New

Humanity is faced with a series of self-made, interrelated crises, from the environmental catastrophe to poverty, inequality, the absence of peace and an unprecedented level of displaced persons, among other pressing issues.  All have been brought about by the negative behaviour of mankind, by the pervasive modes of living, the corrosive values and ideologies that dominate all aspects of contemporary life.

The latest crisis is the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic and the potential resulting collapse of the world economy. It is a collective crisis the like of which we have never seen before. Whole populations are being forced to change behaviour, to stop travelling, to withdraw, stop shopping, stay at home and to support others in the community. It is forcing people to shift their focus and slow down, to simplify and re-examine their lives. Worrying and unsettling in the immediate term, but potentially liberating, providing the space in which to be quiet, to reflect and look within, and good for the natural environment.

With crisis comes opportunity, the possibility for growth and realignment with purpose; for change to take place – change that inculcates harmony, allowing for that which has hitherto been inhibited to be to be expressed.

The inevitability of crises

There is a natural order to life and certain fundamental laws that underpin all manifestation. When this rhythm is inhibited – individually or collectivelystasis takes place leading to dis-ease, and a crisis of some kind occurs. The greater the resistance the more inevitable and intense the crisis becomes.

Current modes of living are disharmonious, the socio-economic and political systems are totally unjust, favouring the few at the expense of the many; driven by divisive materialistic values and the reductive ideology of greed they sit at the core of most if not all of our problems. Ecosystems have been disrupted by self-centred human activity, weather patterns completely altered by the poisons daily poured into the atmosphere, leading to disharmony within the climate. Huge numbers of people recognize these facts and the need for a new way of living, but resistance among governments and corporate power is fierce; attachment to the status quo deep; fear of loss of power and privilege, intense. And so the required changes are consistently blocked; the natural order, which forever moves towards harmony for that is its inherent quality is consistently blocked, creating further inflammation.

The Coronavirus is beyond the control of governments, institutions and corporate bodies of power. It is causing widespread chaos and this will intensify and broaden in scope, affecting not just public health but social order and will devastate the consumer-led economy. As stock markets tumble, businesses fail, global supply chains fracture and nations are forced to turn within, governments (predictably) talk about the ‘fundamental strength of the economy’ and the ability of the markets to ‘bounce back’ quickly after the crisis has passed, returning to business as usual. The ‘usual’, however, is the problem: the ‘usual’ has poisoned the planet, created enormous levels of inequality, set one against another, nation against nation, sustained widespread exploitation of the vulnerable and encouraged a pernicious value system fuelling all manner of social ills. It is of the past and must now come to an end.

In the short-term, businesses that are in danger of going under need government support, and, more or less, this is taking place; employment/salaries need to be guaranteed, mortgages and rent payments suspended, as well as bank overdrafts and loans, credit card debt etc., but once the dust settles, instead of attempting to refurbish the out-dated, patch up the inadequate and carry on as normal, the opportunity for an Economic Evolution should be grasped; an opportunity to reimagine the way the socio-economic system functions, to recognize that the current model has had its day and to create a new system based on sharing, with social justice and cooperation at its heart. Indeed, if the collapse is as deep as it threatens to be, there may be no option. Welcome or not, this crisis could force the changes that some dread but many long for, and prove to be the final blow to the existing systems; inadequate forms that are already in a state of terminal disintegration as the energy that had sustained them is withdrawn and we transition from one age or civilization into a new, as yet undefined, time.

The teacher for this time

Standing back of outward events and unknown to most is the teacher for this time, the Lord Maitreya, head and leader of our spiritual hierarchy, a body that many in the West in particular, may be unfamiliar with. Foretold to come at this time by Gautama Buddha some 2,600 years ago and awaited by all the World’s religions under various names (Christ, the Imam Mahdi, Maitreya Buddha, the Messiah, Krishna), Maitreya has been patiently waiting for the right time to come forward, to be invited to begin His full and open public work. The Covid-19 crisis could well be the factor that allows this event to take place, an unprecedented event that would potentially change everything.

Together with a large group of His closest disciples, the Masters of Wisdom, Maitreya will offer advice and guidance, pointing the way out of our troubles. It is up to humanity to listen and respond though; if there is a world saviour it is humanity itself. As Maitreya has said, “I am the Architect, only, of the Plan. You, My friends and brothers, are the willing builders of the Shining Temple of Truth.” The ‘temple of truth’ is the new civilization.

The presence, and gradual emergence (since July 1977) of Maitreya, was made known, up until his death in October 2016, by the British artist and writer Benjamin Creme: for forty years he travelled the world spreading what is an extraordinary, albeit controversial, story of hope to anyone who would listen. The coming of a teacher at specific times of crisis and/or transition is quite normal, expected, in fact; historically a teacher has always come forward from the ranks of the Spiritual Hierarchy. Now, as many realize, is such a time.

Maitreya is not a religious leader but a guide in the broadest sense, concerned with the pressing issues of the day. He is, Alice Bailey relates in The Reappearance of The Christ, “that Great Being Whom the Christian calls the Christ; He is known also in the Orient as the Bodhisattva and as the Lord Maitreya.” He is the great “Lord of Love and of Compassion” as the Buddha was “the Lord of Wisdom.” He is the Christ for this planet, a fact that many Christians will no doubt struggle to accept. He is the Master of all the Masters, and to Him “is committed the guidance of the spiritual destinies of men [mankind]. He is the World Teacher for this coming cycle; He is the Coming One.”

Some of Maitreya’s thoughts and aspects of His teachings were made known in the 140 extraordinary messages He gave between September 1977 and May 1982. “Allow Me to show you the way,” He says in one such message, “forward, into a simpler life where no man lacks; where no two days are alike; where the joy of Brotherhood manifests through all men. And in another asks, “how to start? Begin by dedicating yourself and all that you are and have been to the service of the world, to the service of your brothers and sisters everywhere. Make sure that not one day passes without some act of true service and be assured that My help will be yours.”

As the world faces the Covid-19 crisis, a coordinated response to the health demands and the economic impacts are needed; community service and simple acts of kindness are essential, as is sharing. This is a global crisis and a united response is called for, enough of competition and tribal nationalism – America first, China first, India first, etc., humanity and the planet first. Unity, cooperation, tolerance and understanding; these, together with sharing, are the hallmarks of the time and must guide our thoughts and actions, now more than ever.

The pandemic will be overcome, and, if we embrace the opportunity this crisis offers, there is a real chance that afterwards life could be fundamentally changed forever and for the good. A chance to re-imagine how to live, to introduce new modes of living that encourage the good, that cultivate unity, peace and natural happiness and allow the space in which to be.

King Tides and Who’s King of the Hill?

I’m watching the Pacific heave up a king tide in the tiny town of Waldport on the Oregon Coast. Houses right above the beach line are now soaked, their back and front yards littered with driftwood, logs and tree stumps.

And water. The power of that expanding ocean and the rising tides lend pause for any sane person realizing that this yearly cyclical event is a premonition: what I am seeing now is going to be the new normal. Everything shifts with one-three-nine feet of ocean rise in the next 20-30-50-100 years. The winds are pushing up more sea spray, and the entire scene is both amazingly beautiful and dangerous to the future of my town, a million towns across the globe.

That “normal” is no more beaches, or, that is, until the ocean takes out homes and front and back yards to sweep away more of the land to deposit beach materials to create beaches.

The idea of humanity is to deploy hard mitigation techniques to fight the tide of rising oceans — dikes, boulders, trillions of tons of earth, cement, sea wall, diversion conduits, stilts, bloated and expensive channeling and walling off wetlands.  You know, more and more busy bees, busy ants trying to push back on the forces of nature. Then there is retreat and abandonment. Obviously, we see how well retreat works when so many investments in capitalism are tied around the real estate and infrastructure of so many of their industries and businesses being so close to the impending ocean inundation. Forgot about abandonment for a long while, as we can see for obvious reasons beach community after beach community rebuilding after powerful hurricanes, that will look like rain storms under the impending new normal of heating ocean currents, etc.

There are other ways to plan for a world without ice, but we are an insane species who have let overlords control every blinking, swallowing, thinking, defecating, urinating, masticating, breathing, bleating, REM-ing moment of our lives. We have been so brainwashed and colluded and controlled that we can’t think even though we should and are capable of fixing the mitigation plans. Retrenchment is out of the question when it comes to capitalism, USA all the way, arrogance, and war making against people, planet, species. Ecosocialism!

Unless we change the conversation. Unless we get people to start thinking about and talking about and working for a viable alternative to the market-driven collapse of civilization. Our job, as ecosocialists is to put forward a practical plan to slam the brakes on emissions, an emergency response to the climate emergency. This plan has to begin with brutal honesty:

We can’t have an infinitely growing economy on a finite planet.

We can’t suppress emissions without closing down companies.

We need to socialize those companies, nationalize them, buy them out and take them into public hands so we can phase them out or retrench them.

If we close down/retrench industries then society must provide new low- or no-carbon jobs for all those displaced workers and at comparable wages and conditions.

We have to replace our anarchic market economy with a largely, though not entirely, planned economy, a bottom-up democratically planned economy.

The environmental, social and economic problems we face cannot be solved individual choices in the marketplace. They require collective democratic control over the economy to prioritize the needs of society and the environment. And they require national and international economic planning to reorganize and restructure our economies and redeploy labor and resources to those ends. In other words, if humanity is to save itself, we have to overthrow capitalism and replace it with some form of democratic eco-socialism.

Yeah, I know, we didn’t all sign up for the pollution, the massive surveillance, the penury, the ecosystems destruction, the addictions promoged and promulgated by consumerism, the predilections of greed, the gentrification, McDonaldization, Walmartization, Facebook-Google-IZATION of our worlds, for sure. But all of that didn’t just happen, since this country has a DNA-warp which allows for almost complete deification of the rich and the powerful and the controlling. Celebrity cultism doesn’t even scratch the surface of how colonized the Western mind has become.

Yep, we were sleeping when all the psy-ops, info-wars, algorithmic predictive shit came barreling into our lives. And complicit in the entire colonization of our minds, bodies, hearts, souls, futures and fates by a Brave New World corporate SOP and a big brother government.

Wet, Wild, Unpredictable

I’m talking to a few people who are here in Waldport photographing with phones the king tide phenomenon, and they dance back and forth out of the surge of high tide and the sneaker waves pummeling parking lots, cars and yards.

Some say, “Well, this is man’s doing. Or it will be more and more each decade. Amazing we think we are the highest forms of life in our universe.”

Yes. this is a direct quote from one of the bystanders who also told me she plants as many trees on her five acres, and she sees the little town of Waldport sort of vanishing in the coming decades because she knows there is no will of the people to work together to move it, or to put in hard barriers, which in the end won’t do that much.

Oh, those 7 R’s: retrench, retreat, regroup, reorganize, reassess, reinvent, revive.

In my slow (by many of my friends’ standards) life here, I am faced with a lot of time to write, a lot of people who are precarious, faced with poverty and with people who end up in my column for a little rag on the coast. Some of those pieces end up in Dissident Voice.

Not exactly tinged with revolution and Marxism and anarchy and ecosocialism and hard left zeal to at least give a decent run at this perverse society of exploitative and predatory capitalism, the columns are my emotional and intellectual Prozac, man, insulating me for a few nanoseconds from the madness of this world and the reimagining of my own sanity. I’ve got a friend out there who sees the scientists and others I feature in this rag of a column as sell outs, as reasons for the many precipitates  the communities and the cultures within those communities are failing.

Scientists and capitalism, an old pairing that has done wonderfully destructive things to people, planet, ecosystems big and small. And I get it, really, as I plod through slipstream after slipstream. Man, I am on the thin ice of aging (63 next month) and being made anachronistic daily by my idiotic dream of still getting something out there on some mainstream best sellers or notable list for my brand of literary fiction.

Reimagining Sanity - Voices Beyond the Echo Chamber (Paperback): Paul Haeder

I daily have fights on various channels and in person about how people like us, like me, give zero to society.

What great invention or engineering feat have you done? What contribution to the good of humanity have you done? I bet everything you do — including typing your idiocy on your computer — is the result of engineers and technologists and doers. Take your poor ass liberal teaching (indoctrination) and Podunk writing (who the hell reads your irrelevant stuff?) and crawl back to your tie-dyed, smoked out Oregon. Another libtard/turd . . . Living in Oregon? ‘Nuff said!

This is the hard-wired brain of many Americans — and the so-called left and the wavering liberals are part and parcel part of that mindset because so many in my lifetime have denigrated my brand of revolution, perspective and analysis as way too extreme or radical. Irrelevant. Utopian. Impossible. Foolish. Something along those lines, as tempered as the above quote really is since most people I run into who label me commie, socialist and libtard are threatening my life, want my expulsion from love-it-or-leave-it-in-a-coffin USA. It gets worse what these pigs of capitalism and red-white-blue Military Industrial Complex say to me on-line and sometimes in person.

They are here to wear us down . . . 

Nothing works, it seems. Each big, small, tiny, gargantuan community is flooded with takers, and the leavers of the world, the givers, are not only out-gunned, but the entire fabric of capitalism and consumer culture and this military-might-makes-right society is flooded with those Yankees.

Begging for a countywide warming shelter, no free clinics, no dentists, reckless law enforcement hobbling the poor with more violations and court dates and jail time. The RV-with-Jeep-in-tow-and-vacation-home America against the very people who do the oil changes, the plumbing fixes the burger flipping, the road . . . .

Have a beer and celebrate when the video of Saddam’s neck is snapped by a rope. Celebrate with tailgaters when Osama bin Laden’s supposed dead body is sealed up in body bags  by those magnificent SEALs.

Despair is easy in this country, with the wide gape of peering into the belly of the beast, which is really us, US, USA.

I work as a substitute teacher and also work for a national non-profit that has designed this anti-poverty program around social capital and unconditional cash transfers. I am daily struggling to see how my two books that are coming out will make a drop in any bucket, and I am plagued with the fear of lifelong bad decisions, with a general anxiety disorder, and my own form of collective Stockholm Syndrome just daily slogging along in this messed up culture, society and country.

Let me reframe here — Any creative artist who is revolutionary and communist in purpose is going to be whacked hard in this competitive, superficial, predatory, hard-boiled, violent, usury-drawn country. Every single monetary interchange and human exchange is filled with duality after duality. Contradictions. Counter-intuitive thinking. Equivocation. Rationalization.

Daily it’s as if I have to fight very hard to stave off the insanity from surfacing, or at least battening down all those mental duress points from congealing. Daily, I have to quell the anger. Daily, I have to resort to looking toward some spiritual  formula to stay sane, pacific, and within the constraints of the social contracts laid out to keep me from going ballistic.

And yet . . . . I also work with people in complete struggle against all aspects of capitalism — shitty jobs, low pay rates; shitty vehicles or vapid public transportation; shitty local culture for people with no money, or no places for children to gather without throwing in dollars for the ride; shitty schools for their kids; shitty housing situations; shitty social capital and community resources; shitty backgrounds; shitty family dynamics; shitty physical and mental health; shitty credit scores; shitty prospects; shitty people controlling their shitty lives; shitty air and water.

Then, it’s up against this backdrop of drive-in fast-food culture, in this homogenization of every mile of roadside attraction country. Little things like — Did you know that the 7-11 corporation is directly responsible for all those bodegas and cool little family holes in the wall in places like New York going belly up? Colonization, like cancer . . . page from the playbook of Starbucks, Walmart, Amazon, the lot of them. Flipping 7-11 “convenience” stores flooding neighborhoods using economies of scale and the power of billions to push out the mom and pop’s, the little guy or gal. Rents go out the roof, and that’s it, RIP small town/big town America.

Yet . . . but . . . however . . . hold on a minute! Many of these people living under shitty circumstances can muster some sense of positive daily outlook. Sure, many have false hope, and many believe that hype and propaganda of the American Dream, that anyone can be a millionaire — forgetting that there is-will be-was always a million suckers born every minute in this stolen land.

Given that, though, my whole life has been compelled to understand that survivable character in these people — how they can get a can of sardines and believe they have caviar. You know, the old lemons made into lemonade axiom.

That’s what the new short story collection coming out, Wide Open Eyes — Surfacing from Vietnam, galvanizes in the 17 short stories: the will to survive, and not always thrive. Like that coyote chewing leg out of trap to limp on three legs to still live another day and another. Three-legged Americans, these characters in this collection are all somehow tied to the Vietnam War, plagued by their own survival or someone close to them. It’s not thematic, and each story is a stand-alone. I didn’t even try and thread this or that juxtaposition to make the collection super cohesive or interlinked. Alas, though the book is a stand-alone in that all the stories have that atmospheric and gritty demarcation between failure and giving up and just going on, moving ahead . . . no matter the circumstances of past, present or future.

In that sense WOE is an American book, like the wide scope of American literature. That’s Wide Open Eyes from Cirque Press, available, gulp, on Amazon, my arch nemesis. There will be a review of the book here soon. Looking at maybe four sales from my DV crowd. Oh well.

That little detail is like death by a thousand cuts, and, coming around the bend to 63 years old, I am having a difficult time having my principles stick. Everything about Amazon, about Bezos, about the people who plan the company from coder to software and logistics engineer, who develop AI and flood the world with the non-competitive shit that is the company, I despise . . . and yet, here we are, Year of the Rat, 2020, and I have just given over my soul in a Faustian Bargain to Amazon hawking my book with their bloody cut of the deal.

Checking out isn’t an option, and the fight is now for the little guy and gal, the child, the wordless old man with Parkinson’s, the bent over old lady checking items at the Safeway. There may be MAGA in some of those struggling souls, and that’s a whole other deal. For now, though, what is this country, and what is the ordinary man-woman-child?

Country as an idea, country as something that doesn’t exist, country as something continually changing because of outside forces. Country as a word from the enemy, meaning the empire. — Roque Dalton, Salvadoran poet

Joseph Campbell (“The Power of Myth”) quote roiling around my busy mind:  I don’t think there is any such thing as an ordinary mortal. Everybody has his own possibility of rapture in the experience of life. All he has to do is recognize it and then cultivate it and get going with it. I always feel uncomfortable when people speak about ordinary mortals because I’ve never met an ordinary man, woman, or child.

Poetry and Political Struggle: The Dialectics of Rhyme

Fist with pen illustration by CHema Skandal!

When power leads man toward arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the area of man’s concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses.

— John F. Kennedy, Remarks at Amherst College on the Arts, October 26, 1963

Introduction

Poetry is often associated with genteel people and laid-back lifestyles, yet over the decades since the Enlightenment many poets have been actively involved in the most radical of political and art movements. Setting up a solid foundation for such attitudes was the poet extraordinaire, Alexander Pope. In this essay I shall look at the connection between poetry and socio-political struggles over the centuries. From Pope to the Chartists, and from the Irish revolutionary poets to the postcolonial writers of Africa, poetry has played an important part in social change. The recent explosion of global demonstrations and rallies has also been connected with radical poetry as will be seen in Chile, for example.

The New Augustans v Medievalism – ‘shall not Britain now reward his toils?’

Imagine being one of the generation of poets to follow Shakespeare. The Enlightenment poets response to Shakespeare was that they believed that Shakespeare was good but not perfect and so looked back to Roman times, to that of Augustus for a more political and satirical model for their poetry. Alexander Pope (1688–1744) was highly influenced by the poet Horace (65 BC–8 BC) whose work was created during a momentous time when Rome changed from a republic to an empire. Pope’s poem Epistle to Augustus (addressed to George II of Great Britain) initiated The New Augustans, as they were known, and they created new and bold political work in all genres as well as sharp and critical satires of contemporary events and people. Pope’s best known works The Rape of the Lock, The Dunciad, and An Essay on Criticism made him famous in his own time for their biting criticism and wit. Equally satirical but with more emphasis on prose than poetry was his contemporary, Jonathan Swift (1667–1745), the Anglo-Irish satirist, essayist, pamphleteer, poet and cleric whose A Tale of a Tub (1704), An Argument Against Abolishing Christianity (1712), Gulliver’s Travels (1726), and A Modest Proposal (1729) led to the creation of the term ‘Swiftian’ for such sharp satire.

The Augustan era was also known by other names such as the age of neoclassicism and the Age of Reason. It was a time of increased availability of books and a dramatic decrease in their cost. This in turn meant that education was less confined to the upper classes and that writers could hope to make more money through the sale of their works and therefore be less dependent on patrons.

The greatest patron of the arts throughout the Middle Ages was the Church. Patronage was also used by nobles, rulers, and very wealthy people to endorse their political ambitions, social positions, and prestige. Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, William Shakespeare, and Ben Jonson all looked for and received the support of noble or ecclesiastical patrons.

Alexander Pope, painting attributed to English painter Jonathan Richardson, c.?1736, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

The sales from Pope’s works allowed him to live a life less determined by other people’s wealth, and this independence is reflected in his lines from Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot:

Oh let me live my own! and die so too!
(‘To live and die is all I have to do:’)
Maintain a poet’s dignity and ease,
And see what friends, and read what books, I please.

While Pope read a lot of philosophy, his concerns were mainly poetic. As David Cody writes:

Like many of his contemporaries, Pope believed in the existence of a God who had created, and who presided over, a physical Universe which functioned like a vast clockwork mechanism. Important scientific discoveries by men like Sir Isaac Newton, who explained, in his Principia, the nature of the laws of gravitation which helped to govern that universe, were seen as corroborating that view. “Nature, and Nature’s Laws lay hid in Night,” Pope wrote, in a famous couplet intended as Newton’s epitaph, but “God said, Let Newton be ! and All was Light.” This view of the universe as an ordered, structured place was an aspect of the Neoclassical emphasis on order and structure which also manifested itself in the arts, including poetry.

Pope was famous for his biting criticism which spoofed the mores of society or mocked his literary rivals. His critical political savvy was also on show in lines like:

T is George and Liberty that crowns the cup,
And zeal for that great House which eats him up.
The woods recede around the naked seat,
The sylvans groan—no matter—for the fleet;
Next goes his wool—to clothe our valiant bands;
Last, for his country’s love, he sells his lands.
To town he comes, completes the nation’s hope,
And heads the bold train-bands, and burns a pope.
And shall not Britain now reward his toils,
Britain, that pays her patriots with her spoils?
In vain at court the bankrupt pleads his cause;
His thankless country leaves him to her laws.

Pope’s poetry reflected the Enlightenment popularisation of science through scientific and literary journals, the development of the book industry, the promulgation of encyclopedias and dictionaries, and new ideas spread like wildfire through learned academies, universities, salons and coffeehouses. The Enlightenment period can be dated from the beginning of the reign of Louis XV (1715 ) until the turn of the 19th century but was soon followed by the Romantic period from about 1800 to 1860.

Chartism v Romanticism – ‘How comes it that ye toil and sweat?’

The Romantics preferred intuition and emotion to the rationalism of the Enlightenment and placed a high value on the achievements of “heroic” individualists and artists. They turned inwards, seeing art as an individual experience and emphasising such emotions as apprehension, horror and terror, and awe. Romanticism looked backwards to folk art, ancient customs and medievalism. As the bourgeoisie achieved their main aims of wresting control of land and power from the aristocracy, the responsibility for continuing the struggle for the principles of ‘liberté, égalité, fraternité’ fell upon the organisations of the working classes.

In England, Chartism was a major working class movement called after the People’s Charter of 1838 and was a movement for political reform in Britain until 1857. The movement’s strategies were constitutional and they used petitions and mass meetings to put pressure on politicians to concede manhood suffrage. The Charter demanded: a vote for every man twenty-one years of age, secret ballots, payment of Members (so working people could attend without loss of income), equal constituencies, and annual Parliamentary elections. The Chartist movement was a reaction to the passing of the Reform Act 1832, which failed to extend the vote beyond those owning property. The political leaders of the working class felt that the middle class had betrayed them.

In conjunction with Chartist demonstrations and strikes, the Chartist press as the voice of radicalism existed in the form of The Poor Man’s Guardian in the 1830s and was succeeded by the Northern Star and Leeds General Advertiser between 1837 and 1852. The press covered news, editorials, and reports on international developments while becoming the best-selling provincial newspaper in Britain with a circulation of 50,000 copies. It also became an organ for the publication of working class poets and poems.

Front page of The Northern Star and Leeds General Advertiser, 1837

With such a wide circulation, it was no wonder that so many sent their poems in for consideration. According to Mike Sanders:

The Northern Star’s poetry column was not an attempt to impose ‘culture’ from above, rather it was a response to a popular demand that poetry could and should speak to working-class desires and needs. From the start, literally hundreds of Chartists sent in their poems and quite a few appear to have pestered the editor with enquiries as to when their work would appear.

It is believed that up to 1,000 poems by up to 400 Chartist and working-class poets were published in the Northern Star between 1838 and 1852. Michael Sanders notes that:

Most have names, but a high percentage are published either under initials, under a pseudonym or anonymously, presumably by writers who would fear reprisals, such as dismissal or blacklisting, if they were known to be writing for the Northern Star. By and large, we know nothing of these people. They are permanently lost to history. But these poems show us that poetry was once central to the way working-class communities expressed themselves both politically and otherwise.

Ordinary people used poetry as a way of demonstrating their humanity in the face of grinding poverty and dehumanising industrial capitalism. By composing poetry they showed they could produce ‘beauty’ as well as surplus value.

An example of an anonymous poet’s endeavour is AW’s poem To The Sons Of Toil published in 1841:

How comes it that ye toil and sweat
And bear the oppressor’s rod
For cruel man who dare to change
The equal laws of God?
How come that man with tyrant heart
Is caused to rule another,
To rob, oppress and, leech-like, suck
The life’s blood of a brother?

We still don’t know anything about AW but he or she is an example of many men and women who turned to poetry to express their desires for social justice. However, several important poets did arise out of the Chartist movement such as Ernest Charles Jones (1819–1869) novelist and Chartist. In 1845, Jones ‘joined the Chartist agitation, quickly becoming its most prominent figure, and vigorously carrying on the party’s campaign on the platform and in the press. His speeches, in which he openly advocated physical force, led to his prosecution, and he was sentenced in 1848 to two years’ imprisonment for seditious speeches. While in prison he wrote, it is said in his own blood on leaves torn from a prayer-book, The Revolt of Hindostan, an epic poem.’; Thomas Cooper (1805–1892) poet, leading Chartist and known for his prison rhyme the Purgatory of Suicides (1845); Gerald Massey (1828–1907) was an English poet and only twenty-two when he published his first volume of poems, Voices of Freedom and Lyrics of Love (1850); George Binns (1815–1847) was a New Zealand Chartist leader and poet.

Photo of Ernest Charles Jones (1819–1869)

There was Ebenezer Elliott (1781–1849) who was an English poet, known as the Corn Law rhymer for his leading the fight to repeal the Corn Laws which were causing hardship and starvation among the poor. Though a factory owner himself, his single-minded devotion to the welfare of the labouring classes won him a sympathetic reputation long after his poetry ceased to be read; and John Bedford Leno (1826–1894) was a Chartist, radical, poet, and printer who acted as a “bridge” between Chartism and early Labour movements, he was called the “Burns of Labour” and “the poet of the poor” for his political songs and poems, which were sold widely in penny publications, and recited and sung by workers in Britain, Europe and America.

The Poets’ Revolution v Modernism – ‘Viewing human conflict from a social perspective’

The connection between the radical poets and the working class continued into the twentieth century even as Romanticist modernism took hold. Modernism rejected the ideology of realism, while promoting a break with the immediate past, technical innovation, and a philosophy of ‘making it new’. As such:

Modernist poetry in English is generally considered to have emerged in the early years of the 20th century with the appearance of the Imagist poets. In common with many other modernists, these poets were writing in reaction to what they saw as the excesses of Victorian poetry, with its emphasis on traditional formalism and overly flowery poetic diction. […] Additionally, Modernist poetry disavowed the traditional aesthetic claims of Romantic poetry’s later phase and no longer sought “beauty” as the highest achievement of verse. With this abandonment of the sublime came a turn away from pastoral poetry and an attempt to focus poetry on urban, mechanical, and industrial settings.

Despite the modern context and simpler language, Modernist poets moved further away from Realism as they developed literary techniques such as stream-of-consciousness, interior monologue, as well as the use of multiple points-of-view, undermining what is meant by realism. Thereby moving further away from the kind of narrative and descriptions of external reality that seekers of political change and social justice use as an art form to create and propagate awareness of their social conditions.

The Chartist tradition of radical politics associated with radical content in poetry was continued in Ireland whose revolutionary radicals perceived in the First World War an opportunity encapsulated in the slogan, “England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity”. The culmination of nationalist and radical politics of the previous centuries was demonstrated in the Easter Rising of 1916. Indeed it is often described as the The Poets’ Revolution as three of the men who signed the Proclamation in 1916, Pearse, MacDonagh, and Plunkett, were published poets, while many other participants were also writers of plays, songs and ballads. The leader of the Irish Citizens Army, James Connolly wrote:

Our masters all a godly crew,
Whose hearts throb for the poor,
Their sympathies assure us, too,
If our demands were fewer.
Most generous souls! But please observe,
What they enjoy from birth
Is all we ever had the nerve
To ask, that is, the earth.

The leaders of the Irish revolution were generally a young, artistic group of revolutionaries and their executions by the British colonists sent shock waves throughout Ireland leading to the War of Independence (1919-1921) and the Civil War (1922–1923).

Photo of James Connolly, c. 1900

Later in the 1920s and 1930s a more politically conscious working class poetry developed. In the United States the combination of influences from the Soviet Union and the Great Depression led to the growth of many new leftist political and social discourses. Milton Cohen summarised the aesthetic, stylistic, and political concerns being debated at the time. He noted that poets were expected to:

(1) View human conflict from a social perspective (as opposed to personal, psychological, or universal) and see society in terms of economic classes.
(2) Portray these classes in conflict (as Marx described them): workers versus bosses, sharecroppers versus landowners, tenants versus landlords, have-nots versus haves.
(3) Develop a “working-class consciousness,” that is, identify with the oppressed class in these conflicts, rather than maintaining objective detachment.
(4) Present a hopeful outcome to encourage working-class readers. Other outcomes are defeatist, pessimistic, or “confused.”
(5) Write simply and straightforwardly, without the aesthetic complexities of formalism.
(6) Above all, politicize the reader. Revolutionary literature is a weapon in the class struggle and should consciously incite its readers if not to direct action then to a new attitude toward life, ‘to recognize his role in the class struggle.’

These ‘proscriptions’ ran straight in the face of every tenet of Modernist poetry which emphasised the personal imagination, culture, emotions, and memories of the poet. Major poets of the radical movement in the United States include Langston Hughes (1902–1967), Kenneth Fearing (1902–1961), Edwin Rolfe (1925-1954), Horace Gregory (1898–1982), and Mike Gold (1894–1967).

Post colonial poetry v postmodernism – ‘The bitter taste of liberty’

As the United States suffered under the heightened political repression of McCarthyism in the 1950s the mantle of radical culture moved to the countries who wrestled themselves out of British colonial stranglehold in the form of postcolonial literature. The English language was imposed in many colonised countries yet came to be the language of radical anti-colonial poets during the liberation struggles and afterwards in the independence era. African poets, for example, were able to use poetry to communicate to the world not only their “despairs and hopes, the enthusiasm and empathy, the thrill of joy and the stab of pain … but also a nation’s history as it moved from ‘freedom to slavery, from slavery to revolution, from revolution to independence and from independence to tasks of reconstruction which further involve situations of failure and disillusion’.”

David Diop’s poem Africa weighs up past and present political complexities:

Africa, my Africa
Africa of proud warriors in ancestral savannahs ….
Is this you, this back that is bent
This back that breaks under the weight of humiliation
This back trembling with red scars
And saying yes to the whip under the midday sun…..
That is Africa your Africa
That grows again patiently obstinately
And its fruit gradually acquires
The bitter taste of liberty.

The development of the postcolonial in the South paralleled the development of the postmodern in the West. However, the philosophical bases of postmodernism would not sit easily with the practical contingencies of newly achieved nationhood. Postmodernism rejected the grand narratives and ideologies of modernism, and like modernism, called into question Enlightenment rationality itself. The tendencies of postmodernism towards self-referentiality, epistemological and moral relativism, pluralism, and irreverence would make it an uncomfortable bedfellow with the socialist and revolutionary nationalist exigencies of the newly decolonised. As the Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o notes:

Literature does not grow or develop in a vacuum; it is given impetus, shape, direction and even area of concern by the social, political and economic forces in a particular society. The relationship between creative literature and other forces cannot be ignored especially in Africa, where modern literature has grown against the gory background of European imperialism and its changing manifestations: slavery, colonialism and neo-colonialism. Our culture over the last hundred years has developed against the same stunting, dwarfing background.

In a way the radical political changes wrought by anti-colonial struggles kept the culture tied down and anchored to the values and aspirations of the masses. Postcolonial ideology was relevant to society in a way that postmodernism was not. It could be argued that postmodernism actively sought to remove itself from political relevance by decrying grand narratives and elevating relativism.

Radical poetry today? – ‘only injustice and no resistance?’

Until relatively recently it seemed that the sentiments of Bertolt Brecht’s (1898-1956) poem To Posterity had become almost universally true in the 21st century:

For we went, changing our country more often than our shoes.
In the class war, despairing
When there was only injustice and no resistance.

However, there has been a sea change in attitude with people demonstrating on the streets in many cities globally in only one year: the Yellow Vests in France (October/November, 2018), Sudanese Revolution (19 December, 2018), Haiti Mass Protests (7 February, 2018), Algeria: Revolution of Smiles (6 February, 2019),  Gaza economic protests (since Mar, 2019), Iraq: Tishreen Revolution (1 October, 2019), Puerto Rico: Telegramgate (8 July 2019), Ecuador Protests (3 October, 2019), Bolivian protests (since Oct, 2019), Chile Protests (14 October, 2019), Lebanon Protests (7-18 October, 2019).

Protests in Plaza Baquedano, downtown Santiago

The eruption of protest and violence in Chile started with students demonstrating against the proposal to raise the subway fares. This was unexpected as Sofía del Valle noted:

Economists have long called Chile’s economy “the miracle” of Latin America, where GDP per capita has noticeably grown from $2,500 in 1990 to $15,346 in 2017. However, these numbers hide a fundamental problem: they do not account for inequality. Chile’s late poet Nicanor Parra said it best: “There are two pieces of bread. You eat two. I eat none. Average consumption: one bread per person.

She also states that the people themselves are starting to participate in political activity with the “proliferation of “cabildos ciudadanos,” or self-organized participatory meetings of citizens that have gathered to discuss problems and solutions for the country we dream to be.”

This has led to the connection between the masses and poetry, similar to Chartist times, being restored to Chile. According to Vera Polycarpou, the people on the streets are “singing the songs of Victor Jara, listening to symphonic music in the squares, making street theatre and reciting the poems of Pablo Neruda, declaring that it will not tolerate military rule, repression and injustice again.”

Pablo Neruda (1904–1973) was a Nobel Prize winning Chilean poet-diplomat who wrote in a variety of styles, including surrealist poems, historical epics, overtly political manifestos, a prose autobiography, and passionate love poems from a very young age. Neruda was living in Madrid at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War (1936 to 1939) and with some friends had formed the Alliance of Anti-Fascist Intellectuals bringing popular theater to the people, plays from Cervantes to Lorca. The assassination of the Spanish poet Federico García Lorca (1898–1936), a friend of his, a month into the war had a profound affect on Neruda. According to Mark Eisner:

Beyond the horror of a friend’s assassination, Lorca’s death represented something more: Lorca was the embodiment of poetry; it was as if the Fascists had assassinated poetry itself. Neruda had reached a moment from which there was no turning back. His poetry had to shift outwardly; it had to act. No more melancholic verse, love poems dotted with red poppies, or metaphysical writing, all of which ignored the realities of rising Fascism. Bold, repeated words and clear, vivid images now served his purpose: to convey his pounding heart and to communicate the realities he was experiencing in a way that could be understood immediately by a wide audience.

This shift away from Romanticism can be seen clearly in Neruda’s poem I Explain Some Things:

You will ask why his poetry
doesn’t speak to us of dreams, of the leaves,
of the great volcanoes of his native land?

Come and see the blood in the streets,
come and see
the blood in the streets,
come and see the blood
in the streets!

The demonstrations in Chile have also seen the return of the ‘cacerolazo’ or ‘casserole’ a form of popular protest used globally consisting of people making noise by banging pots, pans, and other utensils at demonstrations. The Chilean rapper Ana Tijoux brought out a song about this form of protest, called ‘Cacerolazo’ (on YouTube) where she raps about cacerolazos as a form of massive protest in defiance of police and military violence describing them as “[w]ooden spoons against your shooting”:

Vivita, guachita, Chile despierta
Cuchara de palo frente a tus balazos
Y al toque de queda, ¡cacerolazo!
No somos alienígenas ni extraterrestres
No cachai na’, es el pueblo rebelde
Sacamos las ollas y nos mataron
A los asesinos ¡cacerolazo!

(Vivita, guachita, Chile wake up
Wooden spoon in front of your bullets
And at the curfew, cacerolazo!
We are not aliens or extraterrestrials
Don’t shit, it’s the rebel people
We took out the pots and they killed us
To the killers cacerolazo!)

Conclusion

The Chartists may not have had the access to the internet or video production of Ana Tijoux but their newspapers achieved large distributions and sales, spreading a similar culture of revolt and opposition. Since the time of Alexander Pope, poetry has played an important part in the struggle for change and social justice and the potential for poetry to consolidate people’s feelings, aspirations and desires has remained strong. The decision by poets, themselves, to participate and apply their art to the issues at hand has reinforced and inspired people the world over.

• All images in this article are from Wikimedia Commons

Why I Was Put on Administrative Leave Toward a Termination: Planned Parenthood, A Vaccine, Doublethink Alive and Well in the World of Non-profits

The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them… To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just as long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies—all this is indispensably necessary. Even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink. For by using the word one admits that one is tampering with reality; by a fresh act of doublethink one erases this knowledge; and so on indefinitely, with the lie always one leap ahead of the truth.

— Orwell, George (1949). Nineteen Eighty-Four. Martin Secker & Warburg Ltd, London, part 2, chapter 9, pp 220

Part One

I was taking a sex education class with 40 other social workers in Seattle, Washington, at the Planned Parenthood office, this past sunny October 16. It was innocuous, infantile, silly and with a room-full of young (except me, my colleague and the trainers) social workers and providers for youth – young folk, teens, into their twenties. Homeless, drug affected, with mental health issues, identity questions, you know, youth at risk! I was cooperative, not argumentative, and rather “chill” to use the parlance of many generations.

At the end of the day, less than two hours after the session, I was called by my boss in Portland and I was told not to return for Day Two of the training. In her words: “You are not to go back to work Wednesday until I find out ‘what was going on in Seattle.’” That phrase, “what was going on in Seattle,” is one key element of how a 32-year-old supervisor with a master’s in social work from the so-deemed liberal social work program at Portland State University sees the world. She never told me what it was that got me expelled from the second session of the two-day mandatory training.

This story is on-going, unfolding, a sort of discombobulating process even (especially) innocuous non-profits, run by social workers, engage in when they want to sack someone who has shown passion for the youth and the work, created radical (social justice leftist radicalness) work around’s dealing with bureaucracy after bureaucracy, and who is loved by his clients/youth. I have been told to stay away until further notice. I even missed out Friday on a yearly retreat with my cohorts from other Portland area sites whom I have never met before.

Moreover, even under the precarity of my position (this is a ‘we got the right to fire and frog-march ya’ right out of the premises on a whim or a prayer’ state, and this behemoth of a non-profit is not worker organized; i.e., unionized), I have to believe it’s okay my sticking my head out there on the proverbial chopping block – writing about it — since it’s now October 21 and I have three days before I have a one-on-one behind closed doors meeting with the HR Director. I’ve been on paid administrative leave since October 17 (my sister, the social worker’s birthday); forced to drop my appointments with youth in crisis and others I depend on professionally; been informed to wait for the head of HR to return from vacation (this from a non-profit with over 700 employees, and only one person can hear me out, so I’ve had to stew and stew and then second- and third-guess what is the actual “charge” against me by Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest to Include Washington, Idaho and Hawaii, Alaska).

What A Wonderful Day of Sex, STIs, and LGBTQI Training Turned into a Storm

We had all sorts of fun activities and ice breakers and plenty of Seattle food during the tax-funded training. It was a mix of what we might have to tell our youth in times of trouble; i.e., possible STIs contracted, possible pregnancies to be faced, possible physical abuse endured, possible queries into what to expect during first-time sex, possible questions about sexuality and sexual identity. It was taught at times in that silly sort of way, as if we were the youth.

I went with the flow, and while I was one of only three males as students, and while my grizzled beard and sport coat put me into that other protected class – anyone over fifty – I did blend in fine. Or at least I thought I had . . . .

I headed back to the hotel 19 blocks away, with my African-American colleague, female again in that protected age class. We decided to meet up later, for a drink. However, the supervisor in the program for the non-profit I work for in Portland called me up 90 minutes later and said I was on administrative leave and to not to return to work until the HR director could be contacted and then “my side of the story” would be aired. My supervisor was dry mouthed, didn’t give me a chance to ask “why” and was curt. End of debate (sic).

In the scheme of things, one 60-year-old socialist/Marxist getting sacked – this is what the unfolding reality of what’s occurring – is nothing. No tsunami, no reverberating story of my house burning down in the Columbia Gorge, or three nights weathering a hurricane hitting Puerto Rico, or surviving a Las Vegas mass shooting spree.

High turnover rates and no cause dismissals and pile-on workloads is the defining characteristic of social work/mental health healing. This is typical in my field – social services – where people in their mid-twenties are coming onto the job market with big hearts, a dedication to social work, and a big school debt load for their vaunted masters in social work, AKA MSW. Coming out of the flagship university of Portland, PSU, they might have $50K or more for debts incurred for tuition, books, living – i.e., rents that Robin Leech from Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous would have been citing as his millionaires’ monthly mortgages for regular lower middle class youth and adults. Make that a master’s degree holder getting $12.25 an hour working with some very challenging cases of people on the edge.

Fighting for the Young-Old, Tired, Hungry, Poor, Disenfranchised, Houseless, Young, Misbegotten isn’t Radical, it’s Normal

I am not laughing, but the insanity of what happened to me in a 12-hour period also shines the light on the corrupt Planned Parenthood, specifically the trainers and development directors at PP who see anyone who might be both against a Trump and an Obama (me) and a dyed in the wool Marxist (me) and doubter of Western medicine (me) and this boondoggle Gardasil (me) — [more on the vaccine now forced on young girls and boy at an early age to prevent HPV — Human Papillomavirus] — as a threat . . . . But a real threat to what, that’s the question?

First, the very nature of what I do in social services is suspect every day when I work with non-profits and some of those MSW supervisors who not only make life a living hell for their workers through impossible caseloads, impossible work hours, obscene paychecks, but also through very little emotional or institutional support. We are always on the chopping block, cogs in a social services scheme that ties state-federal-philanthropic funding to our jobs – this is a veritable shitstorm of begging for funding from various agencies like Planned Parenthood (who gets money from Bill and Melinda Gates, Starbucks, Pfizer, Johnson and Johnson, Unilever, Wells Fargo, Stanley Morgan, et al) and federal and state entities to smear on the Vaseline and adhere the Band-Aids to a very stressed-out/underfunded web of mental health and addiction issues killing this country.

We all should be on the streets during breaks, in between client visits, around town with sandwich board signs espousing an end to exploitative criminal capitalism; tooling around in our private vehicles plastered with all sorts of political and social justice billets glued on – “we are social workers and the mental health and homelessness and drug addiction and medical health issues are a crime, perpetuated by Capitalism, and in the case of Oregon, by Intel and Nike and the others who fight paying their fair share of Operating Their Billion Dollar Industries in Oregon.”

Instead, we work our caseloads with a passion and continuous trauma cortisol-laced operating procedure while in many cases the entire rotting non-profit affords us zero agency, zero trust, and in my case, my word (and the words of two colleagues who were at Planned Parenthood training, at my same table, perfect witnesses to my stellar behavior) against whatever word the Planned Parenthood trainers (three total with a fourth PP observer – we’ll get to her later).

You don’t have to get the Catholic Worker or World Socialist Web Site to see which profession is the number one stressed and most difficult in America – try CNN:

Median pay: $43,200
% who say their job is stressful: 72%

Social workers step in when everyone else steps aside to help people and families in vulnerable situations. They provide patients with education and counseling, advise care givers and make referrals for other services. And with social workers in short supply and programs underfunded, few must juggle the work of many, while reaping little reward.

Just ask Heather Griffith, a social worker who works with children in intensive foster care in Boston: “You’re getting paid $12 an hour and kids are screaming at you, telling you that you are just in it for the money and you’re just like, really?”

Portland is plagued with a huge class divide while homelessness, addiction recovery, physical/emotional trauma and mental hygiene are churning up a bloody storm of Biblical proportions, precipitating this glasshouse we are living in that shines the light on the fallout (victims) of Capitalism and neoliberalism. But, also, this quadruple storm and tsunami is illustrative of the inhumane nature of so-called liberals, white liberals, and in my field, mostly white female liberals, who have set up so many chinks in the armor of safety nets and true communitarian support and radical social work (there’s really no radical social work being done in the USA) that the people working with youth and adults in crisis are then put into crisis after crisis, daily traumas from management, threats of firing, and in my case, warning after warning for disagreeing with police who laugh at youth drug addiction or individuals with Department of Human Services branches who continue to propagate the virus that Donald Trump is good for homelessness because he is picking up the local economy.

I’ve been called on the carpet by my much younger supervisor with her shiny MSW and white privilege smirk actually because I was advocating for my foster youth, for not accepting misstatements and for denying the ageism-sexism-racism that comes from so many people’s mouths – those in some minute form of authority. I’ve been called on the carpet for voicing both a wise and no-backing-down support of my caseload – young kids and those up to age 21 who have been in foster care.

If you think I’ve strayed from the current thesis of my job now in the balance because of an outside non-profit, Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest (I do not work for PP), think otherwise since I have to get to the nuts and bolts of my current fight to stay employed not only with L———-W, but in the field of social services. Count the number of men social workers and DHS case managers in any given organization or county-city-state agency on your hand. Some meetings I go to and the trainings like this one held in Seattle by Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest reflect a less than 9 percent (or less) male attendance or worker ratio.

I have been with 60 case managers, and was only one of five males in the crowd.

This is also the terrible nature of the beast – out of balance demographics. Youth and adults want-need-should have male workers as well as female ones. But, the nature of this field as a female field over time has ratcheted up the idea that women are givers and men aren’t. Anyone with a socialist underpinning knows that the fields with nurses, teachers and social workers have largely been populated by women because of the patriarchy and outright misogyny of a white Christian-Jewish male dominated upper echelon in the fields of education, medicine, psychology/sociology. Low pay and no power, that’s the jig in social services, education, journalism, and now, almost in every field in America, counting 80 percent of us as members of  the precariat. The elite class and upper echelon of the fields I have worked in have largely been from Ivy League schools, and many are self-described Jews or Democrats. Count other professions I have been a worker in to include English studies, higher education, journalism, mainstream novel publishing, union organizing, environmental activism, urban planning, and now social work.  Many fields are populated largely by women, and our pay is obscene.

Back to Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest – Sasquatch Ate the Homework!

The Seattle Planned Parenthood office looks like it was designed and built for Patagonia executives: lots of old growth beams, exposed cedar wood, metal I beams and tons of windows from floor to ceiling. This is not a welcoming place, but I did what I was supposed to do as a social worker for youth in foster care: these incredible 16 to 21 year old’s who I help with mentoring, health, education, employment, cultural, physical and intellectual and spiritual pursuits. I manage funds and sources of support for them, too, as well as provide invigorating, thoughtful and fun conferences and outings and the like.

This Planned Parenthood training is a curriculum that is two days of exposing social workers and youth advocates on the basics of sex ed. It’s a cross between adults – us—getting a childish bunch of things pressed upon our brains and then some up-to-date’s on STD/STI (sexually transmitted infections) and contraception.

We do some really juvenile things as ice breakers, and, well, I am a team player and active kind of 60-year-old, and my belief is that if I am being paid to go to a training, getting a fancy hotel to stay in and per diems, then I throw in with an open and engaged mind. But I am no wall flower.

What will follow will be highly informed speculation as to why I am currently on paid leave from L———W and am faced with a Monday morning HR visit tantamount to a termination hearing:

And that’s the problem I am facing – I threw in and took the PP spiel and promise about safe space and respected opinions and in the case of my situation, anonymity, seriously. Again, I work for L———W, not for Planned Parenthood, and as of Tuesday October 17, my job was on the line because Planned Parenthood called my boss (a white thirty-something Portland State University MSW graduate) who put me on notice I am in deep shit.

I have to riff here with some common threads in my life as an activist and leftist-socialist: This is the epoch of the neoliberal and Political Corrupted left, and it’s a world of warped Political Correctness, Identity Politics, and a lot of bullshit ranting at cocktail parties, lots of railing against the Orange Monster, but in public, these people are bereft of voice, passion and spine. Few I see in the social services rail or rant or debate against the Trump-Pence-Neoliberal insanity of this world. How is this, when the reality TV Dystopian outgrowth of elitism and corrupted patriarchy power, this obvious creation of neoliberalism and anti-worker Democratic Party, Trump et al is front and center and no one tackles his presidency as an obscenity, in the lines of previous presidencies?

Our field of social services and in PP’s case, reproductive health services, is tied to the almighty government dollar entwined to the power brokers who fund these outfits and ask for all leftists’ mouths to be taped shut: Here, Planned Parenthood’s money trough: Adobe, American Cancer Society, American Express, AT&T, Avon, Bank of America, Bath & Body Works, Ben & Jerry’s, Clorox, Converse, Deutsche Bank, Dockers, Energizer, Expedia, ExxonMobil, Fannie Mae, Groupon, Intuit, Johnson & Johnson, La Senza, Levi Strauss, Liberty Mutual, Macy’s, March of Dimes, Microsoft, Morgan Stanley, Nike, Oracle, PepsiCo, Pfizer, Progressive, Starbucks, Susan G. Komen, Tostitos, Unilever, United Way, Verizon, Wells Fargo.

Now, I believe this is a tale of Big Pharma and Big Non-Profit colluding together to write a false narrative about one vaccine that has gotten a lot of negative press and more negative testimony from young women and their parents on the vaccine’s debilitating and life altering (negative, full of chronic pain/fatigue, sterility!). But, that’s part two of this story – after I end up in a one-hour fact-finding meeting with my non-profit’s HR to “discover” exactly what went wrong in Seattle October 16. On all accounts, not a single untoward or odd or explosive or demeaning or contentious thing occurred in my physical participation in the Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest training.

Also, this is a story of how the Political Correct non-profits do not follow the rules of safe space, anonymity in written comments and evaluations, fail to honor all people in one setting, and go on a witch hunt if even one thread of their nationally made reputation is untangled in the fabric of their overreach. Look, I am one worker, old, through the ringer in other jobs, other professions, who is now awaiting word of my future.

Twenty bucks an hour, some paid time off, health insurance, and an office and a large caseload. I have been left since October 16 to stew, to ruminate, to consult a labor attorney and to visit a psychologist as part of our company’s three free visits with a counselor tied to stress in life, stress at work.

We Are the Gift That Keeps on Giving — Social Services Worker!

I’ve been red-flagged in the minds of my youth, since I’ve never dropped appointments, and now I’ve been forced to. My teammates are left wondering what happened to me and what might happen to them. My office mates from other departments in this non-profit are wondering where I am since I’ve always been a stickler for showing up and not taking time off. I’ve been told no work, no emails, so I can’t even let my teammates know that I am okay, not terminal (maybe terminated) and let them know I am under forced administrative leave.

Here’s the rub about places where the workers aren’t organized, where there is no contract, where the bosses run roughshod over workers, though we outnumber them 100 to one: whatever the bosses do in their convoluted process and whatever they might think is due process, they are wrong.

Due process is not accusatory and is not a process of railroading — setting up an employee as presumed guilty before a fair airing of the complaint. This sort of management and supervisorial style is counter to these non-profits’ (mine especially, since we were trained recently on it) motto that we have to be social workers who use trauma informed care as our operating principle. They in turn have zero sense of trauma informed supervision.

Definition:

Trauma informed care is grounded in and directed by a thorough understanding of the neurological, biological, psychological, and social effects of trauma and the prevalence of these experiences in persons who seek and receive services.

Trauma informed care is about creating a culture built on six core principles:

1. Trauma Understanding: through knowledge and understanding trauma and stress we can act compassionately and take well-informed steps towards wellness.

2. Safety & Security: increasing stability in our daily lives and having core physical and emotional safety needs met can minimize our stress reactions and allow us to focus our resources on wellness.

3. Cultural Humility & Responsiveness – when we are open to understanding cultural differences and respond to them sensitively, we make each other feel understood and wellness is enhanced.

4. Compassion & Dependability – when we experience compassionate and dependable relationships, we re-establish trusting connections with others that fosters mutual wellness.

5. Collaboration& Empowerment – when we are prepared for and given real opportunities to make choices for ourselves and our care, we feel empowered and can promote our own wellness.

6. Resilience & Recovery – when we focus on our strengths and clear steps we can take toward wellness, we are more likely to be resilient and recover.

Recovering reputations, no mater how micro-aggressive the impugning is, directly or secondary, is not an easy thing when management assumes guilt — in my case, something so terrible that Panned Parenthood would ban me — and puts an employee through this process of locking him or her out of the team, out of the unit, out of the safety and sanity of fellow workers who are the front-line of work and of supporting fellow workers in times of need.

Second, having the rules of discovery broken by a non-profit during a so-called investigation is not only unethical but unprincipled. I do not have any sense of the nature of the complaint leveled against me by Planned Parenthood, so when I go into the meeting with HR Monday, it’s cold, lacking context, lacking any ability for me to get my head wrapped around this entire event.

I’ve sent emails to the four trainers for PP, and I’ve sent emails on a very human level to the supervisors’ supervisors, and even one to the company’s Executive Director, who espouses an open door policy on our web site.

Nothing in return. No phone calls allying my fears. Nothing. The Planned Parenthood people who called for my ban from the second day training did not email back, my supervisor has told me zero about the nature of the complaint, and the ED of my non-profit didn’t reach out. This is a 55 year old Portland-based non-profit, and I am being treated as a non-entity. I can’t imagine an HR person holds sway over the ED’s compassion or ability to engage with an employee.

I have two colleagues who were at the Seattle training who have told me in written texts that nothing went awry and they are more than willing to attest to my composure and level-headedness at the training. There were others there, people from Seattle, who would be just as capable as witnesses to attest to my professionalism.

This is the issue, then, a non-profit following some secret plan to investigate me after putting me on forced administrative leave. This is quasi-judicial, and I have no union to back me, no negotiator, no representative or ombudsman. In some circles, this could be called a witch hunt, monkey trial or a rail-roading.

Assume positive intentions is another mantra in the non-profit world, and again, the positive intent of whatever might be the craw in the throat of the Seattle Planned Parenthood trainers should be on my company to hold to me.

Finally, I gave these people — supervisors, HR, PP, my colleagues the thought experiment: Now, what if I was one of the many Christian social workers, evangelical, even, coming to a training put on by Planned Parenthood and funded by taxpayer money (it is)? What if this person stood up and espoused her opinions about the greatness of the current leader of the USA, President Trump. What if she went further and said that while she is willing to sit through two days of training, she wants it to be known that she supports Mr. Trump’s anti-Planned Parenthood stance. And she continued by saying she supports Oregon and Pacific Northwest lawmakers fighting against abortions and federally funded services around birth control and contraception? What if this person continued by stating that while she will listen to the trainings and participate as best she could considering her Evangelical Christian views, that she also disagrees with the LGBTQI designations bandied about cavalier like by Planned Parenthood? And what if she was in favor of the Oregon baker who refused to make a cake for a same sex couple? What if she added that she was President Trump’s calling for the US Supreme Court to rule in favor of the Colorado baker who too refused to bake a same-sex marriage-wedding cake?

That thought experiment is key to where I stand —  I am the exact OPPOSITE of that hypothetical social worker above, in both my actions, my words, and my writing. Further, I am philosophically and politically and fundamentally for anyone’s right to get birth control, birth control services/education, and to access abortion. I believe bakers or dress makers or baristas have zero ground to stand on by refusing services to African-Americans, dwarfs, people with Down Syndrome and gays or LGBTQI, anyone, including frosting a cake. It’s discriminatory. Period.

I have seen a psychologist, and he’s recommended I do not keep all this in my head. “To find some release,”  Paul. Here it is, in writing. One lawyer I called pro-bono said to keep copious notes and be as lawyer-like as possible Monday. My friends and significant other and relatives all say this is an insanity, whatever I have been accused of to be banned from a mandatory training (for my job) at the Seattle Planned Parenthood.

However, Part Two will be started the hour after HR meets with me. What will happen I can’t crystal ball into the future, but my gut feels like a process of termination, one that looks above board compared to other firings this non-profit has engaged in.

I’m no Karen Silkwood here, or Erin Brockovich. So, on the scheme of things, I’m what Death of a Salesman’s about — small potatoes, nameless worker, one of the masses busting his head against the wall of capitalism, for profit or non-profit.

But mark my words — even if one person reads this, then one person more bears witness to this injustice after injustice. If I’m sacked, the clarity of how Planned Parenthood and Big Pharma are interlinked in a nefarious game, and deadly because of the product both are pushing, will be clearer.

What more can I do in an age of dead journalism, that is, the so-called traditional and mainstream? There’s not a bunch of editors in Portland for the three alternative rags and for the mainstream dying rag waiting to report on my case. You the reader will get my own personal journey and the larger colluding of Planned Parenthood with the forces of Big Pharma. In that process, my catharsis will be evident, and the storied history of Planned Parenthood will be developed.

This is a simple case of an unfair labor practice, a violation of my free speech rights, a violation of confidentiality, and now workplace harassment, wrongful suspension and possibly wrongful termination. In a right to fire/right to work state, no less, my words and my calls for justice crumble and float away like the very parchment of treaty right given to all the great first peoples of this land and of Canada after they were torched! What’s worse is that Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest is creating a specter of insanity, Orwellian, a flipped over reality where someone, me, not even associated with the organization, is being called to task by his employer. What is the definition of insanity? Someone else’s projection?

He [Trump] has stepped out of our celebrity reality-TV screened world to carry on the media’s task of what Orwell said was a necessary task for the rulers in a totalitarian society: ‘to dislocate the sense of reality.’ … We have now entered a new phase of propaganda where sowing mass confusion on every issue 24/7 is the method of choice.

But therein lies hope if we can grasp the meaning of Oscar Wilde’s paradoxical statement: ‘When both a speaker and an audience are confused, the speech is profound.’

Ed Curtin