Lost in Dallas tracking the Daughters of Tabor..

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You learn the most about a place when your travel plans go awry and you  are hungry,  lost, and treading where no other tourist would ever go.

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We started out reasonably enough,  climbing in the airport shuttle to find breakfast and catch the train into Dallas. But the shuttle driver— a kind man in his late sixties who works 7 day weeks and 12 hour days, (including Easter morning)  offered  a short cut. He would drop us at the transit station where buses run straight into town.

As we rode the driver acted as our tour guide, as though we were driving through an area of interest and not the ugly backside of an airport/hotel nexus.   He pointed to a pile of sheet rock in an abandoned field.

“More construction.”

We passed a raft of empty town houses. “New structures  going up everywhere.”

He pointed to the other side of the street.   “See that palace? New Senior Housing.”

In the middle of all the new developments was an older run down housing project, and beyond that, a bit of  wild land — a gorgeous spring-green piece of East Texas thicket.

“This guy refuses to sell. He’s got a bunch of goats in there and a black donkey that herds them — protects them better than any guard dog. Once a feral hog tried to attack his goats.  The donkey killed him!”

We should have known.

The parking lot at the bus stop was empty, save for one lone bike. But the driver insisted the bus would come. He had already disappeared by the time we read the sign: no services on Sundays.

On the two mile walk back, we passed the thicket, hoping to get a glimpse of the donkey.
“Look like you are hungry enough to eat a goat. Maybe the donkey will come out to shoo us away.” I said.
I AM hungry enough to eat a goat. Been hungry since we got on the plane 15 hours ago.” Dave said, trying not to sound irritated.

“Hey this is just like the bike trip.” I said.  “Look out for a good story.” We laughed,  showing each other good humor that was part real and part feigning. The tickets for this impromptu trip to Dallas were cheap, but still a luxury. We were feeling an obligation to HAVE FUN.

As we passed an older run-down housing development we noticed something improbable. Something we had not see in the van. Something the driver had not mentioned.

Shelton’s Bear Creek Cemetery the historical marker read.

African Americans came to this area as slaves of white settlers …

After the civil war [they] stayed in the area and formed a large settlement. In 1879 Minnie Shelton purchased 80 acres including this site and the Shelton family donated the land for use as a cemetery. …. Buried here is] Elizabeth Lawson…   Her stone bears the insignia of the Fraternal Organization of the Knights and Daughters of Tabor.

According to  Portland, Oregon, blogger Jasper Wilcox, The Knights and Daughters of Tabor began as a militant Black underground anti-slavery organization. After the Civil War they  funded Black hospitals and encouraged their members to buy real estate to build Black capital.*  The daughters of Tabor in Texas bought real estate in downtown Dallas and saw to it that the Black community had a dignified final resting place.  However..- as the historical marker notes:

Access to the burial ground has often been restricted and regular maintenance was difficult in the 20th century. A Cemetery survey in 1970 found that there were 12 legible headstones and over 200 burials on the site….  

The historical marker was put up at the cemetery in 2001 – a demand of local activists. In 2013 that new senior housing palace was built,boxing in the cemetery.

The struggle for access and preservation of  the cemetery continues.

 

*Mississippi Knight of Tabor  Theodore Roosevelt Howard was a friend and mentor of Medgar Evers. He founded PUSH — that organization that came to be associated with Jesse Jackson — in 1971.

Bernie and the Bird.

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At an official peace gathering in Puerto Rico,  August, 14-15, 2002, hosted by Nobel peace Laureate Oscar Arias, event planners let go a cage full of doves. They went right for the lights — (or was it a wire loaded with fireworks?) and were immediately electrocuted, falling to their deaths.  We did our best to divert the attention of our twelve year old daughter, away from the rain of feathered carnage.

And the Endless War on Terror raged on.

You gotta let the birds make their own statements.

On January 8, 1959, a white dove  landed on young revolutionary Fidel Castro’s shoulder as he was delivering a speech to the masses, shortly after taking Havana.

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And now – the little bird came to join Bernie Sanders on the podium, telling him not to be afraid to stretch his vision of equality beyond U.S. borders. “Don’t be afraid to use the p word”  she whispered.

 

And then he wasn’t.

After Obama Returns from Cuba, Who Will Listen to our Dissidents?

IMG_0850 (3) This morning, I stared for a long time at the photo of President Barack Obama meeting with Cuban dissidents.  I wondered: who decided who would be invited to the meeting?  Do the gay activist and the Catholic lay leader often seek audience together?  To whom can I — dissident of the United States — appeal?

This evening, the poem, APPLYING FOR CITIZENSHIP — read by author Ruben Medina, who has lived in the United States for forty years and is still considering becoming a U.S. citizen — spoke to the spirit of my morning questions. He read his poem to a crowd of eight at the Loft Literary Center.  You need to buy the book to see the proper format and read it all – but here is a taste:

Here, my fellow citizens are my conditions. 

English-only speakers should pay higher taxes

The welfare system should be abolished for big corporations

America should be dropped from the name of this country

Absentee ballots should be allowed for undocumented workers only …

The White House should be moved to Puerto Rico, The Congress to Harlem, the United Nations to Wounded Knee….

Half  of the billboards in the country should be given to poets or anyone who wants to imagine the nation, the other half to children. 

People who say this is the greatest country in the world should do volunteer work for the homeless, sing the national anthem backwards or attend every death sentence carried out in the nation….

Commercials on TV should be limited to one minute every hour ….

The Cuban National baseball team should play in the  major leagues…. 

All military forces in foreign lands should return within 30 days. 

This morning I voiced my dissent by tossing the morning paper, yelling at my radio.  This evening I listened, and felt  vindicated.

You should have been there.

* Ruben Medina, Nomadic Nation / Nación Nómada – Cowfeather Press, 2015.

 

 

 

 

 

What Kind of New Cuba/ U.S. relationship? A Proposal.

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Reuters photo March 21 2016.   Is there a third kind of economic relationship between Cuba and the U.S. that could actually benefit the Cuban people?

Obama is the first U.S. President to visit Cuba in 88 years.’

That much-repeated phrase  is  true, but it is also misleading, leading one to believe the U.S. and Cuban governments’ have been economically estranged since Calvin Coolidge was president. Erased are the six decades — from 1898 to 1959 when the United States manipulated Cuban politics, first stealing its independence struggle from Spain, then ruling the island with gunboats and economic threats.

U.S. Ambassadors before and after Coolidge’s visit, played kingly roles in Cuban politics, picking leaders and  threatening invasions if policies injurious to U.S. sugar interests were considered. During that time Cubans were constantly struggling to overcome U.S. domination. In fact, in 1928  when Calvin Coolidge visited, there was mass movement brewing, involved Afro Cuban sugar workers, urban labor and feminist (really!) groups and disaffected military,  that would result in a major revolt in 1933.  The U.S. ambassador would be key to subverting that earlier revolution.

After the 1959 revolution the U.S. hoped they could subvert the Castro forces. But  when Cuba began nationalizing sugar interests, the U.S. began 60 years of embargo.  Often, it included third party punishment — you trade with Cuba, you don’t trade with us. The embargo hobbled the nation during every period of its revolution, but since 1990, the fall of the Soviet Union and the collapse of the sugar industry,  choking access to essential goods has exacerbated the “special period” of want and even malnutrition.

As I watch coverage of this historic moment between Obama and Castro in Havana I find myself imagining what a third kind of economic relationship between Cuba and the U.S. would look like; one that would actually benefit the Cuban people.

Since Cuba has little in the way of international currency, a fair and reparative trade relationship  might start with barter. Cuban trades its know-how:  its years of experimentation with preventative health local care, its life-saving research on diseases ravaging the planet,  its of-necessity efforts building neighborhood organic agriculture, its vintage car repair. For a nation now considering the proposal of presidential candidate Bernie Sanders for free college tuition and health care, can learn from a nation that does so on an extremely tiny budget.    In a climate-changing world, Cuba’s ability to survive natural catastrophe without losing lives, is invaluable knowledge.

In exchange Cuba gets stuff:

  • Seeds, and all those invisible goods necessary for local sustainable agriculture (like cardboard boxes, fencing etc).
  • Building materials to address Cuba’s chronic shortage in housing.
  •  The solar and wind material to allow  Cuba to become energy sufficient.
  • The material to build mass transit on the island — sorely needed.
  • Medicine and other hardware to realize the possibilities of their health care system.
  • Books and other school supplies to make their education system what it wants to be.
  • The materials needed to jumpstart local economic enterprises.

U.S. tourism in Cuba is already burgeoning and would only multiply.   For this  industry to benefit Cubans, a different model is needed than the pre 1959 version — and that on most other Caribbean islands— where U.S. hotel franchises are the profiteers, jobs are few and bottom-rung,  essential resources like water go to tourists, and drugs and prostitution feeds foreign desires and leaves local tragedies. (Cuba is already struggling with all these things with its European visitors. Its beautiful beaches have been difficult for Cubans to access, as they were during the U.S. imposed Jim Crow segregation of the 1950s. )

Beyond trade, people-to-people exchanges  between activists  against white supremacy, for GLBT, women’s, disability rights and  environmental justice would be invaluable.     Scholars, isolated from scientific and social scientific exchanges with colleagues for decades, will benefit from greater access to the work of their counterparts.

Another world is possible.

U.S. Cuban rapprochement could be a step toward that world,  but it will require something completely new for the United States — an internationalist mindset. For that, Cuba — who has educated foreign doctors for free if they agree to work in their nations for those who lack care, sends healthcare experts when epidemics like Ebola emerge, and is the globe’s first responder when natural disaster strikes —  can be a great mentor.

 

 

Too Old, Too Feminist, for Hillary Clinton.

 

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I have a friend whose 9 year old daughter is rooting for Hillary Clinton, wishing she was old enough to vote for the first woman president.  That makes sense. I can even understand the 19- 29 crowd, unschooled in the events of the last 40 years, falling for Hillary.  What I don’t get is  women in my own age cohort  who were adults in the 1980s – supporting Clinton as a feminist act.

Growing up in the sixties and seventies,  I declared myself a feminist before the backlash, and never questioned the label. As a white woman I could not be a part of Black feminism or the Chicana movement, but I schooled myself enough to recognize my ignorance; to recognize that sisterhood in the United States required dismantling white supremacy.

I don’t remember if I ever believed breaking glass ceilings would be enough to end patriarchy,  but If I did, the events of my adulthood, soon taught me otherwise.

Entering my 20s as a rape and sexual assault survivor, the Take Back the Night movement, fed me. When you need something so acutely you listen. I  heard survivors talk about the multiple struggles of race and class, forcing me to adjust my assumptions about the path to sisterhood.  I heard about abuse within the lesbian community, forced me to adjust assumptions about gender and assault.

I was introduced to the concept of systems of oppression, and to the power of solidarity.

I know I don’t know what it is like to be you,  but I have chosen to orient my life so that I see the injury to you as an injury to me.  

In the 1980s glass ceilings did break. A generation of women – largely white — saw doors to careers open (and salaries fall).  It wasn’t long before many of us had the experience of women bosses, every bit as tyrannical as men. It wasn’t long before sisterhood with its nessecity to lift all women– took a back seat to individualist-career-feminism.

A few women reached positions of elite power, and we soon realized that elevation of a few, by itself – would not change the gender power structure. To the contrary some of these women were especially adept at protecting the race, class gender and “first world” status quo.

If we were adults and “woke” in the 80s we remember Jeanne Kirkpatrick, recruited by the Reagan administration to be U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Kirkpatrick was a strong woman. Her role in the administration was vast. She went beyond carrying out policy. She had her very own Doctrine, just like Monroe! She transformed the world, in a machiavelian manner. Her theory that right wing authoritarians should be fostered and coddled by the United States because they were best bulwark against communism, justified the arming and funding of dictators in Latin America, Africa and South East Asia  These dictators protected U.S. business interests in exchange for the armaments needed to protect themselves from the will of their people.

For me in the mid 1980s, sisterhood meant protesting Kirkpatrick and the Reagan/ Margaret Thatcher world order, that  used militarism, impoverishment,  and systematic rape – literarily –  to hold women of the Global south in check, and privatization and union busting at home to destroy the lives of working U.S. and British women and their families.

Unfortunately the 1990s and 2000s only saw the codification of the Thatcherism and the Kirkpatrick Doctrine.  New generation of women — Madeleine Albright, Condaleeza Rice, and Hillary Clinton, continued to use positions of power to subjugate other women.

In the 21st century working class women entered the military and police forces and we soon discovered that simply changing the gender would not transform the destructive nature of these jobs.  Women in the military faced wide spread sexual abuse.  In police forces women and men of color experienced sexism and racism. They found they could not change the system from within.

At Abu Ghraib in 2004 we saw a  woman as perpetrator of abuse and torture. Last April 2015 in Baltimore, we saw that a Black woman officer was one of the cops charged in  the death of Freddy Gray. 

 

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Idle No More founders 

Feminism is alive and building today. Women are organizing.  Idle No More, Black Lives Matter, Code Pink.  They lead environmental and social justice and anti military movements around the world.  They are embracing internationalism, advancing a sisterhood without borders,that elevates men as well. One of those international leaders was Berta Cáceres, murdered this month in Honduras fighting a coup regime, protected and coddled Kirkpatrick-style by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

I remember when Hillary first burst on the national scene she declared she wanted to be an activist First Lady, like Eleanor Roosevelt. With her early work on health care and speeches on children’s rights, it looked as if she might mean she  would not only she speak up, but she would also use her voice to uplift. But then HRC embraced her husband’s welfare, mass incarceration and free trade policies and the U.S. bombing campaign in Iraq.

As Senator and Secretary of State Clinton showed us that international vision was in line with Kirkpatrick and Kissinger, not Roosevelt, who helped birth the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.   Just to make it clear that was not the Clinton of the past, she bragged about her mentee relationship with Kissinger during the  February 4, 2016 debate in New Hampshire.

It is up to us second wave elders to share this history, to show fifth wave 9 year olds why we feel elevating the individual career of one woman at the expense of systemic change, solidarity and sisterhood is no kind of feminism.

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Article 25 of the UNDR  

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control….

 

Sanders’ Truth-Speaking on Latin America is what is Exceptional.

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When Clinton  attacked Sanders for speaking out against the Contra war in Nicaragua in the 1980s, the Bay of Pigs in 1961 at the Univision debate March 9 she exposed an awful truth:

U.S. is not exceptional in its imperial role in the world.  What is exceptional is a mainstream party presidential candidate willing to speak historical truths.   

Sanders responded with a mini history lesson about CIA-supported coups  that overthrew democratically elected presidents Jacobo Arbenz, in Guatemala (1954)  and Salvador Allende in Chile  in (1973).  He could have also mentioned the  Obama/Clinton-supported coup in Honduras in 2009 which overthrew the elected president Manuel Zelaya.

Honduran President Zelaya, like Arbenz and Allende before him*, was taking steps to reign in foreign corporate control of the Honduran economy by endorsing the regional cooperative trade group ALBA. He was also considering bans on mining.

Honduras may seem like a hiccup, a sideshow for those considering a Clinton presidency. But this intervention signaled that under Obama/Clinton, the era of U.S. domination in Latin America would continue. For Latin Americans the coup and Obama/Clinton’s immigration policy — especially toward Honduran children fleeing the post coup violence —  is the same old same old U.S. imperialism.

When Hillary Clinton claims Kissinger — mastermind behind the overthrow of Allende —  as her mentor, Latin Americans know what she means. It is people in the United States who need the primer Sanders offered.

The murder last week of Berta Cáceres, environmental activist in Honduras, was a devastating reminder of the violence that is endemic in Honduras since the 2009 coup, where dozens of activists have been assassinated. It is this violence that has spurred the child refugees to travel solo to the U.S.

The U.S. detention and return of these children is …. “Criminal” is not a strong enough word.

Clinton  (and Obama’s) Honduras policy is not a hiccup, it is everything — an indication of a commitment to an imperial future that looks just like the bad old days.

In memory of Berta Cáceres  in support of other environmental, labor and feminist activists  in danger for their activism in Honduras; for the children of Central America fleeing violence; lets push Sanders and ourselves to continue to demand a future that is truly exceptional – a real break with the colonial past.

Photo by  International Business Times

*Arbenz took steps to nationalize the banana industry in Guatemala and Allende  took on U.S. copper and AT&T in Chile that the U.S. intervened to destroy democracy in these nations.   

Pivot Toward Asia. Chris Rock, Military Bases, and Slave Labor.

 

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Posts about Cris Rock’s offensive Asian jokes and news of a  U.S. military base  in Okinawa ,showed up in my facebook feed at the same moment on this Super Tuesday afternoon.

The Obama/ Clinton policy, dubbed Pivot toward Asia, began in 2009. One could say it combined a focus on free trade and military expansion, or one could say trade and the militarism were one policy, the guns needed to protect the expansion of U.S. economic supremacy in the region.

When Chris Rock made the comment about kids making phones... there was nothing funny about it. His delivery – using three children– was despicable.  There is also nothing funny about the expansion of child labor and sweat shops through the Trans-Pacific Partnership, -( a free trade policy pushed by the Obama administration, endorsed by Republicans and Hillary Clinton, and opposed by Bernie Sanders) throughout Asia.

Children making phones is not a stereotype,  but a geopolitical reality bolstered by  free trade policies.

A few days ago Obama made U.S. purchase of goods made by slave labor illegal.

My first thought was “good”. My second thought was compare it to  Hubert Humphrey’s Democratic Party plank against lynching in 1948. Well duh, I sure hope so! My third thought was to thank movements for labor rights everywhere. This is what they mean by leading from behind — but we will take it.  My fourth thought was to wonder how slavery will be defined ( what about workers with no other options, paid less then promised, child workers, wage theft?). My fifth thought was to wonder how the ban will be enforced.

Not with another military base in Okinawa/Jeju Island.

Military bases on foreign soil.

Slave labor, child labor and sweatshops.

Any policy that denies labor’s right to organize.

Racists jokes, and the erasure of whole peoples by Hollywood.

I vote against them all.