Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Statement of Concern

To the Federal Government of Mexico,

CAJA (Community Action for Justice in the Americas), a Latin American solidarity group from Missoula, Montana, U.S.A., wishes to publicly express its concern about indications coming from Mexico that a violent intervention will take place in the political conflict that is occurring in the state of Oaxaca. We strongly urge that a path of nonviolence through dialogue and restraint be sought.

We have been informed of the possibility of an armed-intervention in Oaxaca against the striking teachers and the APPO (Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca). We fear that if these forces were to enter Oaxaca to end the conflict that they will only escalate violence and result in further tragedy. In addition, there is a media campaign being carried out by the Oaxacan state government on national TV, which intends to criminalize the social movement and justify its call for the entry of federal forces. We denounce the media’s efforts and we maintain that a violent response is not the solution to this conflict.

Furthermore, we believe that a violent response to the conflict represents a serious violation of international accords on the defense of human rights and a departure from the democratic process that Mexican society has struggled to construct. A violent response will only serve to promote the systematic violation of human rights in Oaxaca. Various other national and international institutions have also expressed their concern sending urgent actions and recommendations that your government show restraint.

Therefore, we strongly reject any use of violence as a resolution to this conflict. It is in the hands of the Federal Government of Mexico to respond to the people of Oaxaca, and the APPO—to whom we give our full support—through dialogue and a complete respect for human rights.


Community Action for Justice in the Americas

More Victims of War

"Sometimes when you take a life it is funny. Watching a human body instantly become lifeless and tumble awkwardly in the heat of battle is a stress reliever; knowing that you eliminated the enemy (before he elimiated you) and watch him disgracefully land head over heels. Killing is what we as the US military are trained to do, whether you like it or not - that's just the facts. Why else have a military?" --posted by Killed Anyone Lately?

I read through this exchange and was very disturbed. As I read the comments I was overwhelmed with grief that these soldiers are so stripped of their humanity. I am not at all “glad” that they are wired so. I’m not at all glad that they are able to kill. The American war machine has made killing an easier thing to do, and it says that at least its soldiers are ready when it’s necessary. Well, what happens when it’s not necessary, like when they’ve come home to their families? I’d prefer that they were like anyone else, i.e. reluctant to kill, afraid to kill. Yes, we’d be an ineffective army, but I’d prefer that we weren’t so good at killing. For one, I still don’t believe this country has ever fought a “necessary” war like we’ve been taught to believe. World War II was way too full of contradictions and pretexts to be so easily billed as an “honorable” war. If you haven’t read Howard Zinn’s work on WWII, please take a look.

To me, one of the tragic victims of these wars is the soldier him/herself. Look at what they are capable of feeling, thinking and doing! It’s horrifying! These soldiers are completely blind to the causes of wars, and have very little capacity for doubting the merits of the wars they are fighting. One of the reasons they so quickly and vehemently defend their acts as “necessary” is an automatic defense mechanism against the cosmic guilt they must feel for committing these acts! They have these ready-made, fabricated responses all cued up and ready to spew: “we’re protecting your asses!”, “we’re protecting your rights to free speech!”, “we’re taking the fight to them, so they won’t bring it home to you!”, and on and on… They need to believe these lies so that they can manage the internal psychological war they are fighting. They hate it when people like myself say: “it’s not your war, this is a class war and you’re killing your brothers and sisters!” Or, “you’re not protecting freedom; you’re fighting a rich man’s war over resources!”

These soldiers so deeply identify with these wars because they have to! They have to in order to combat the guilt they feel when they recognize that their sacrifices or their killing was all for the power and wealth of the rich man who continues to control their lives even after the war is over! If my job description was, “protector of freedom…may require killing some innocent people, but that is the price of freedom,” what do you think I’m going to say to people who oppose war? Of course, I’m going to be defensive, even perhaps violent! Unless I’m willing to face massive shame and guilt and admit that I’d been foolishly or unwittingly duped into believing that my nightmare existence was necessary, I think I’d do every thing I could to continue the illusion! Fortunately, it doesn’t have to come down to a soldier’s individual guilt or complicity. That soldier had been indoctrinated, even brainwashed, into believing the nightmare to be true and could do little to resist it. I feel a great deal of compassion for the soldiers of war! They are victims of the worst kind. Not only do they suffer the internal contradictions of knowing something is amiss in what they are doing, they must take the memory of their acts with them for eternity.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

How to Resist




Resist corporate corruption and support local industries by creating local communities committed to social and economic justice. Communities across the U.S. are passing binding Sweatfree resolutions. In my own community (Missoula, MT), an amazing organization, CAJA (Community Action for Justice in the Americas:, is finding wide support for a Sweatfree Community Campaign. If you like, you can read about Sweatfree communities at:

Another simple thing one can do is to support local farmers' markets. You know: Buy Fresh/Buy Local. These kinds of actions are neither frivolous nor superficial. Through buying our food from local farmers (Missoula's farmers' market has grown into a hugely popular cultural event!) one is also conserving massive amounts wasted energy in the transportation/storage costs implied in our food system. Simply planting one's own garden in any green space in our community can become a revolutionary act. Take back our public space with community gardens—even in urban settings—and we are resisting the corporatization of our world. Local farmers (who are largely Hmong, Hudderite, Hispanic, and Russian minorities) are benefiting from this local action.

Set up local "free-schools." Very little money is needed, just a belief in unfettered community education. Anarchist Spain once ran free-schools with the idea of encouraging self-reliance, critical consciousness, as well as community and personal development. Young idealistic students set up the Missoula Free School with these very same beliefs.

Foster direct democracy by promoting community organizing. Encourage neighborhood groups to demand a role in local decision making. Take back local governments that were hijacked by conservative elites in our communities. For example, look at local school boards that are being manhandled by conservative bankers, lawyers, and business owners. Replace them with citizens from the growing poor class. When all else fails, encourage local level communities to take direct action to affect change.

Finally, one of the best ways to tie education, organization and emancipation together is through radical union participation. We must get people to organize themselves through their daily work. Unions like the Industrial Workers of the World still exist. Organizing all workers into One Big Union is still a practice: making an injury to one an injury to all. Only when the working class controls the means of production will they begin to be "free."

A lucid example of the genuinely positive effects of a general strike, took place in a most recent event in Chile. The high school students in that country were able to rally together the largest mass mobilization since Pinochet to their cause. Joining them in the general strike were their teachers, administrators, educational experts, labor unions, churches and other social stakeholders. As a result, they won a voice in the decision-making process for the reform of that country's educational policy in a relatively short time period (three months).

Calling the system "evil" is not enough! Educating our fellow community members of the benefits to supporting local business is tantamount to resisting corporate capitalism. The most recent E. Coli scare is a great point of departure for this kind of education. Why not encourage local communities to take direct control of their lives, especially control of our most basic needs: i.e. food, housing, and labor. Can't we imagine an organized group of local farmers benefiting from the protection of an educated local community that demanded their local products in lieu of the heavily subsidized Agribusiness products that are genetically modifying, chemically processed and unsafe?

Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, suggested posing problems for communities to solve and making education an informal process. This means that we engage in dialogical learning rather than the transmission of “facts.” Instead of having “teachers/leaders” educate the masses from on high, the oppressed can only become aware of their oppressor through action that is informed and linked to certain values. Creating the “time and space” for a community to dialogue about its problems is the key. As mentioned above, these spaces—where praxis is linked to education—are local: farmers’ markets, neighborhood circles, free schools, unions, etc.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

"America" is Not Evil

The U.S. is definitely dysfunctional! However, I can't go so far as to use the word "evil." What a tricky word! In particular, it seems precarious to try to personify "America" by qualifying it as "sick" or "evil." I cringe at the thought of the potential faces one puts on the idea of "America" when personifying it--especially when one holds it to be "evil."

For one thing, I am an American. I am not proud of my government. I disdain patriotism. Likewise, I loath its symbols and myths that misdirect and misinform. I do not, and will likely never, say the Pledge of Allegiance. I am a teacher, and I would never teach my students with the objective of making them patriots. I teach them to think critically of their reality. I teach them to assess their own crimes, misdeeds, etc. and to take responsibility for them. I teach them to set for themselves higher standards then they set for others. I teach them to see the interconnection of our entire globe.

However, that said, I am quite proud of many aspects of American culture and history. For example, I am proud of my fellow workers that have suffered –yet struggled against—the wrath of the employing class throughout American history. I am proud of the struggles of oppressed races, genders and sexual orientations. Therefore, if I were asked to personify "America" and put a face on it, I suppose I'd opt for the working class, American Indians, etc. Quite clearly, this face should not be seen as "evil" or "sick."

One of the things I respect about Fidel Castro--despite some obvious flaws--is that he has always been clear to distinguish between "America" and the "U.S. Government." Hugo Chavez seems to be embracing a similar pattern. This is important when discussing this North American empire. As a member of the working class, I see quite clearly that I have nothing in common with the employing class. Since the U.S. Government is beholden to the elite employing class, it represents as much of an obstacle to achieving true freedom and dignity to the American working class as it does to the working class around the world. Therefore, my common ground is with the global working class, the poor, the oppressed, etc.

On another level, "America" as an identifier is additionally tricky because it includes North America, Central America and South America. Perhaps we should reclaim the understanding that we are all Americans. Por eso, me gusta como actualmente el mundo hispano-parlante se está distinguiendo a los habitantes del imperio como "estadounidenses" en vez de "americanos." Todos somos americanos: peruanos, guatemaltecos, mexicanos, canadienses, etc. Al mismo tiempo, cuando uno quiere destacar un aspecto negativo, o un comportamiento feo ("malo" o "enfermo") cometido por unos estadounidenses, uno debe agruparles como "yanquis." No soy ni "yanqui" ni “gringo” ni “gabacho,” pero sí soy americano al mismo tiempo que soy un estadounidense…y sí hablo español. [Translation: "For that matter, I like how the contemporary Spanish-speaking world distinguishes the inhabitants of the empire as "United Statesians" instead of "Americans." We are all Americans: Peruvians, Guatemalans, Mexicans, Canadians, etc. At the same time, if one wants to highlight a negative aspect or some ugly behavior ("evil" or "sick") committed by a "United Statesian," one should call that person a "Yankee." I am not a "yankee," nor a "gringo," nor a "gabacho," but I am an American as well as a "United Statesian"...and yes, I speak Spanish."]

I do not believe “America” is something “to be got rid of." The U.S. government, perhaps! But better yet, let’s look at the system that precedes the thinking that one might—for lack of a better word—call “sick.” If there exists a system—a superstructure—that pervades every aspect of our lives (Mexican, Angolan, and American alike) especially the formulation of our thinking, what hope is there that we will ever “get rid of” any of the dysfunctional effects by calling them “evil.” It isn’t the effects that are “evil” or even dysfunctional, but the cause. That cause is a system that divides, oppresses, and has an insatiable appetite for profit over people. That system is capitalism. It isn’t the “Americanization” of the world one should fear, but the “Coca-Cola-ization” or “McDonaldsization” of the world! Resist branding by corporations! Resist corporate globalization! Resist capitalism! Resist orthodoxies como el fin de la historia!

Monday, October 09, 2006

Direct Action

Yet another example of how direct action through mass mobilization can lead to a more democratic process took place in Latin America this year. This time it was in Chile. The honeymoon for the "first-ever woman elected president" Michelle Bachelet ended in April of 2006 as Chileans "organiz[ed] against market-based education" (International Socialist Review, Sept. 2006), which Bachelet showed no signs of ending. It's odd that Bachelet was reluctant to reform the educational system that her once arch-enemy, Pinochet, established as means for providing huge profits to private industry. However, where Bachelet seemed complacent, the students seemed more than willing to motivate Bachelet to action!

Not too long ago, I remember being struck by many progressives' enthusiasm for Bachelet despite her unabashed support for neoliberal economics through free trade agreements. Sure, she was knowingly elected as a "social democrat" that promised that in Chile "la Alegria ya viene" ("happiness is on the way"). While several improvements may have taken place, including the end of "senator-for-life" appoinments, the immense wealth generated by Chile's copper is still not reaching its poor. One of the notable area's of Chilean society not receiving any benefit from Chile's copper wealth was education. The reaction should therefore not be surprising.

What has ensued is a mass mobilization unwitnessed in Chile since Pinochet. Most of the protests and marches have been led by student/parent/teacher groups. Some have actually led to takeovers of school buildings. There has been repression and arrests of students, but this has only lended itself to the continued rise in numbers protesting the government's repressive actions. "Among the students' short term demands were free bus fare and the waiving of the university admissions test (PSU) fee, while the longer term demands included: the abolition of the Organic Constitutional Law on Teaching (LOCE), the end to municipalization of subsidized education, a reform to the Full-time School Day policy (JEC) and a quality education for all" (Wikipedia: "2006 student protests in Chile").

Since April, 2006 nation-wide mobilization and protest had grown. Students were joined by parents, teachers, administrators as well as other trade unions. As the movement grew so did the police repression. The Minister of Education, Martin Zilic, continually refused to meet with the students further provoking their protestations. President Bachelet had to take notice of the growing protests. Finally, in response to school-takeovers, Bachelet began to sound like a man that was once responsible for her own capture and torture: Pinochet. Bachelet said: "Let me be crystal clear. What we have witnessed over recent weeks is unacceptable. I will not tolerate acts of vandalism or intimidation. I will apply the full force of the law."

On June 5, 2006 an estimated 900,000 students assembled for a national strike. This was the largest mobilization since 1972! The students are not buying Bachelet's bill of goods who has told the students there is no money. A student was quick to point out that for the "price of just one of the seventeen F-16 jets she bought for the armed forces this year is enough to cover all or our demands."

The movement forced the president to concede to create an advisory committee. While the students pointed out that the committee should consist of "students, teachers, school administrators, education experts and other social stakeholders...[and that] half of them should be determined by the student assembly," the government explained that the president was free to decide who would be included. Six of the 73 members of the committee are high school students. With the formation of this committee, the students agreed to end the strike, return to school and continue negotiating for the end of the LOCE, a notorious legacy of Pinochet and neoliberal economics.

To me, the most important lesson learned from our Chilean brothers and sisters is the effect of direct action as a means for achieving change when the representative deomcratic system seems to represent/favor mostly the interests of the polictical and economic elite. Watching the changes in Bolivia, Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, et. al. is inspiring. As long as the U.S. is tied up in Iraq, it seems that there may be too many fires for our government to put out. Recent events in Oaxaca, Mexico are yet another example of popular resistance led by teachers. Que viva los maestros y los estudiantes!

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Who Can Afford Life?

What a truly dysfunctional society we have created that tells us that some lives are worth more than others. Only those that can afford a safe car, car seats, side-collision airbags, reinforced steel, etc., etc… “Larger, heavier cars with poor ratings may easily produce better results than smaller cars with good ratings” ( But who can afford the heavier cars? For that matter, how many poor families in poor states like Montana—which happen to have very high traffic fatality rates—can afford a new car with basic safety features at all? Besides, even if you’re lucky to be in one of the safest small vehicles, you will still not survive a collision with Richie Rich’s Hummer.

What does a poor family choose to do as winter nears and they have to decide whether or not to buy much needed new tires to make their cars safer or to take their sick children to the doctor during flu season? The fact is money doesn’t go far enough and millions of American families are forced to make decisions that one should not be forced to make.

Health care is but one of many factors in the widening gap of haves and have nots. Fewer and fewer Americans can afford the best medical care. The rest are left to decide whether or not they should tough out preventable and curable illnesses. Disclaimers, caveats and loopholes make many group medical plans (HMOs, etc.) dangerously deceiving to unsuspecting and ignorant policyholders. In some cases, specific procedures that are necessary for survival are seen as “elective,” such as some organ transplant surgeries. Millions of Americans depend on their employee insurance to protect them and their families, yet are completely unaware of exactly what their insurance affords them. Besides, the out-of-pocket expenses make insurance a less-than-effective means for sound health care. Again, the “unaffordability” of health care determines that only a select group of people are worthy of care.

It is striking to think of the political platform of many American politicians and their supporters that claim to be against abortion, calling themselves “pro-life.” In many cases, these same politicians are the ones that are against socialized medicine—a system of medical care that nearly all of the first-world countries employ. Not coincidentally, first-world countries with socialized medicine have much better overall public health and health care. What on earth are we waiting for? A “pro-lifer” seems to be telling the world that they are “pro-life” only up until the point that the person is born, then afterwards…not so much!

Money buys one the means of production, influence, power, safe cars (that kill the people in the little cars), best lawyers, best education, best houses, best cars, best health care, best food, luxury items, best clothing, best vacations, and on and on…those without money, well…I guess you can join the rich man’s army and fight their wars.

The sickness of capitalism is further highlighted in “terminator seeds.” Terminator Technology, a brainchild of the monstrosity known as Monsanto, was designed as a means for restricting the natural process of seed regeneration, thereby forcing farmers to purchase their seeds each year from, you guessed it: Monsanto and Co. To me, very few modern business practices more eloquently express the incompatibility of a capitalist system and the natural order. A company thinks up a way to create an everlasting monopolistic dependency by modifying the most basic processes of life: life itself. The process creates seeds that are sterile so that they can not regenerate. Perhaps this is capitalism at its worst, but innumerable cases such as Monsanto abound, and they only serve to add more evidence of its “anti-life” by-products.

Capitalism cannot be reformed, nor would an informed and aware populace wish to reform it. Since the world is divided into a capitalist class and a working class, the work must be to continue to point out to the working class the absurdity and “anti-life” nature of capitalism. We must be made more and more aware of the oppressor. This work involves highlighting the fundamental disparity between capitalism and democracy. Theses two concepts have been too closely linked and they should be clearly demarcated through education.

The Wobblies, IWW, in Butte, Montana from 1905-1920 believed that the raising of the social consciousness and the overall education of the working class was a natural process of direct action. They believed that true revolutionaries would lead the revolution through direct action and the working class that participated in these actions were learning of the actual power, inherent rights and dignity they had when they acted.

Perhaps many once believed that the feudal system was inevitable, immutable and eternal. Yet a quick glance through history reminds us that there is a definite trend towards libertarian socialism. Long live the social revolution!