Sunday, January 30, 2011

Cold Coconuts, Prison Pals, Dr. King's Call For Revolution

December 25 Snowstorm in N.C.

           Cold Coconuts And A Warm Dirt Floor

In Sonora, Mexico. My old friends Marcelino and Susana are doing well, still selling cold coconuts, honey, and acorn nuts at their roadside stand. After you drink the coconut's water they chop it up and cover with hot sauce and lemon juice. A week ago they moved to a house they built among the saguaros on the edge of town. The temporary structure, with no plumbing or electricity, is made entirely of used metal roofing. At night Marcelino brings in his truck battery to power a light bulb and a portable TV. After renting for years, Susana proudly told me, “It’s not much, but it's ours.”

I went to see their new abode and they welcomed me in for a cup of coffee while Susana prepared fresh tortillas. From the outside their “shack” hardly appears habitable, but the inside has all the touches of home sweet home: kitchen cabinets, neat rows of jars with sugar and spices, and pictures on the walls, The love that was put into the details trumps the finest castle.

Most Mexicans are used to living in a permanent financial crisis—if you don’t have spending money you do without. Lifestyles don’t evolve around the high wire act of financing—so no home foreclosure crisis or credit-driven bankruptcies. Putting food on the table is a big enough concern to deal with.

Being around people like Marcelino and Susana sure helps me get grounded after just having traveled more in the past month than they ever will in their lifetime. Social interaction in Mexico rarely involves inquiries about one’s work and travels. Instead offering hospitality and camaraderie are the priorities. Also no advance notice is necessary to drop in on friends—spontaneous visits are the norm.

Snow Dreams

We visited my hometown of Elkin, N.C. (pop. 4,000) for the holidays. Snow was predicted for Christmas Day. I have many fond memories from the sixties of sledding and snowball fights, but after a decade of winter visits with no snow, my own kids thought I was blowing hot air. As Christmas Day approached the predictions of several inches diminished to calls for only a dusting of snow—another winter wonderland bust loomed.

Still we set out to make the best of things. My mother supplied the artificial Christmas tree and a friend gave us a load of firewood. On Christmas Eve we made a stop at one of Elkin’s two Mexican stores to pick up a few items. The friendly folks there were giving out hot chocolate and tamales to all who dropped by. The two plastic sleds we purchased at Kennedy Auto Supply hardware store, in Elkin’s downtown for 57 years—a dinosaur from the pre Wal-Mart era, sat at the ready.

We woke up on Christmas Day to overcast skies but no snow, but about 9 a.m. the first snowflakes fluttered down, and they didn’t stop coming down until late into the evening. Over the next couple of days we nearly wore out the plastic sleds.

Before the snowstorm we visited the nearby Amish community, a beacon of self-reliance and spirituality, and to purchase their delicious baked goods sold at the Shiloh General Store. One of their many cottage industries are outdoor sheds. One of the sheds is sold as a playhouse for children, which would make great starter homes in many parts of the world.

Finding Community Behind Bars; Reflections On Violence

For the past thirteen years a big part of my community of people has included prison inmates I’ve met through the Alternatives to Violence Project—the first ten years in a state prison in Tucson, and the past three years in a state prison in Mexico. One common denominator I’ve found is that inmates will always make you feel welcome and appreciated—in fact you can get rather spoiled with the attention.

At one of our AVP gatherings this month we reflected on the horrible violence that took place in Tucson on Jan. 8 (I was camped on a mountain overlooking Tucson that Saturday). We discussed how understanding the context of violence in the world today is important, and we talked about ways to counter violence. Decriminalizing drugs often comes up when the discussion focuses on the disastrous consequences of the war on drugs in Mexico.

I shared some insights from the film “Bowling for Columbine.” Like Littleton, CO. where the Columbine tragedy occurred, Tucson is also a major defense contractor city with Raytheon Missile Systems, southern Arizona’a largest employer. This month marks the fiftieth anniversary of President Dwight Eisenhower’s final speech warning about “the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, of the military-industrial complex.” During Columbine the U.S. was bombing Kosovo, while the U.S. is currently bombing three other countries.

It’s been encouraging to hear the debate about the vitriolic political discourse in this country, but it barely seems to scratch the surface. The political center of gravity has shifted so far to the right in this country that the recent health care bill, which saved the private health insurance industry from extinction after single-payer and even a "public option" were rejected, is often called "socialism."

Then there’s the renewed debate about gun control and banning the 33 bullet magazine used in the Tucson massacre, and the need to return to the 2004 legal limit of 10 bullets. How about Deputy Barney Fife’s one bullet? (“The Andy Griffith Show”) or following Sheriff Andy’s example of not carrying a gun. Chris Rock has said guns aren’t the problem, it's the bullets. They should cost $5,000 apiece; then people would be more reluctant to ever use them.

Dr. King’s Words from 44 Years Ago--More Relevant Than Ever

Perhaps the greatest national holiday in this nation is the celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday on Jan. 15, though Dr. King’s slaying on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis might be the more significant date to recognize. According to a jury verdict in the wrongful death civil trail brought by the King family, “governmental agencies” were parties to the assassination plot.

On April 4, 1967, exactly one year before his death, Dr. King gave perhaps the most important speech of his life. So much of what he said that day at Riverside Church in New York City (at a meeting of Clergy and Laity Concerned) resonates loud and clear today. Here are some excerpts from his speech entitled “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence.”:

“As I have walked among the desperate, rejected, and angry young men [in northern ghettos in the U.S.] I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked—and rightly so—what about Vietnam? They asked if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the change it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today—my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.”

“Before long they [the U.S. troops] they must know that their government has sent them into a struggle among Vietnamese, and the more sophisticated surely realize that we are on the side of the wealthy and the secure while we create hell for the poor.”

“They [the Vietnamese] watch as we poison their water, as we kill a million acres of their crops. They must weep as the bulldozers roar through their areas preparing to destroy the precious trees. They wander into the hospitals, with at least twenty casualties from American firepower for one “Vietcong”-inflicted injury. So far we may have killed a million of them—mostly children. “

“What do the [Vietnamese] peasants think as we ally ourselves with the landlords and as we refuse to put any action into our many words concerning land reform? What do they think as we test our latest weapons on them, just as the Germans tested out new medicine and new tortures in the concentration camps of Europe?”

“The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality we will find ourselves organizing clergy-and laymen-concerned committees for the next generation. They will be concerned about Guatemala and Peru. They will be concerned about Thailand and Cambodia. They will be concerned about Mozambique and South Africa. We will be marching for these and a dozen other names and attending rallies without end unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy. Such thoughts take us beyond Vietnam, but not beyond our calling as sons of the living God.”

“In 1957 a sensitive American official overseas said that it seemed to him that our nation was on the wrong side of a world revolution. During the past ten years we have seen emerge a pattern of world suppression which now has justified the presence of U.S. military “advisors” in Venezuela. This need to maintain social stability for our investments accounts for the counter-revolutionary action of American forces in Guatemala. It tells why American helicopters are being used against guerillas in Colombia and why American napalm and green beret forces have already been active against rebels in Peru. It is with such activity in mind that the words of the late John F. Kennedy come back to haunt us. Five years ago he said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.“

“Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken—the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investment.”

“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

“These are revolutionary times. All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression and out of the wombs of a frail world new systems of justice and equality are being born. The shirtless and barefoot people of the land are rising up as never before. ‘The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light.’ We in the West must support these revolutions. It is a sad fact that, because of comfort, complacency, a morbid fear of communism, and our proneness to adjust to injustice, the Western nations that initiated so much of the revolutionary spirit of the modern world have now become the arch anti-revolutionaries. This has driven many to feel that only Marxism has the revolutionary spirit. Therefore, communism is a judgment against our failure to make democracy real and follow through on the revolutions we initiated. Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism.”

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