“David Harvey says capitalism is amoral and lawless – and should be overthrown.”
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“Another world is possible” – that’s a catchword I’ve been hearing for more than a decade, and it still sounds catchy and urgent, broad enough for a huge diversity of people and movements to gather under its motherly umbrella. In 2003, in Porto Alegre, Brazil, the first World Social Forum was held, as the project of a global movement to create an alternative to the mainstream trend of globalization was gaining momentum. Rising up to confront the global dominance of corporate capitalism (always coupled with “shock and awe” politics), people all around the globe starting to voice their discontent with a system that generates vast accumulation of capital in few hands (the 1% denounced by the Occupy Movement), while causing massive empoverishment, debt and environmental destruction.
The Seattle No-WTO protests in 1999, and then Québec City’s demonstrations in 2001, and then Porto Alegre’s Forum in 2003 – this sequence of events, and the ones that followed, have shown that multitudes are willing to confront imperialism in its new encarnation as “neo-liberalism” – also known as “Free Market”, usually exported abroad by bombings and military coups (never forget: it took a Pinochet to enforce it in Chile, 1973). People are fed up of mercenary politicians, willing to sell all the public services to private interest. At the twilight of the 20th Century (an “Age of Extremes”, to quote Eric Hobsbawn’s excellent expression), and at the dawn of the 21st Century, we experienced some massive demonstrations against a world order ruled by the IMF, the World Bank, the OMC, and so on and so forth. It goes on. It’s going on right now.
The main difference I perceive between the mass demonstrations against the dominant model of capitalist globalization, on one side, and the social forums held by les altermondialistes, on the other, is this: in the first case, the focus is on protesting against the global elite (G8s and G20s, for example) and its un-democratic business decisions, made in military bunkers, surroundered by walls and riot police (we live in an age of epidemic tear-gas bombing of citizens); in the latter case, the focus is on a collective engagement to build a viable, effective alternative to our global elite’s mad ecocidal plans. That it is absolutely urgent to dethrone the New Emperor and its new clothes is nowhere stated better than in the global environmental crisis we are now confronting, and that menaces to wipe out entire ecosystems. If you are an apocalyptic freak or a nihilist, who wishes thousands of species to be extinct, all you need to do is this: nothing. Do nothing, and you’ll be siding with those who stabbing Gaia – and all living things within it, ourselves included – in her heart.
Arundhati Roy, speaking at the event held in Porto Alegre, stated that this “alter-world” wasn’t only a possibility, confined to the realm of potentialities, which may or may not come to life: “I can hear her breathing.” A Social Forum is a place where we gather to hear the Another World already breathing. And quite an interesting choice of worlds, Mrs Arundathi! To refer to the world-we-wish-to-build as a SHE sounds to my ears as an interesting concept, which suggests that too much testosterone and male-domineering-militarist culture is one of the most destructive trends in our world. This one that we need to subvert and revolutionize if Gaia, with the whole Web of Life in her bosom, is to survive this huge menace.
I believe in the fecundity of thinking about the alter-world as a she, which means a reawakening of respect for the Earth and its limites. And maybe mythology isn’t an innefective allie in our struggles if we regard our current crisis through the mythological lens of the goddess Gaia, symbol of interdependent and interelated Life, coexisting in a connected network of balanced, sustainable organisms that know themselves to be like instruments in the same symphony. She – alas! poor Gaia! – is currently ravaged by capitalism’s greedy extractivist & productivist húbris. So what we hear mostly, all around, is dissonance. A Social Forum is a place where we try, collectively, to bring back Melody and Harmony to our Civilization’s song.
Some may despise as corny and kitsch this sort of talk about “respecting Mother Nature”, but think about this: if we treat her like an exploitable whore, instead of a nurturing mother, we’ll pay a heavy price. We are already in the midst of a massive global crisis, and the prospect is that it will keep worsening as global warming produces brand-new draughts, floods, hurricanes, displacements, “climate refugees”, and so on and so forth. Here in Ottawa, 2014, the Social Forum provides its participants with hope that people coming together can join forces in order to save Gaia from this agony which she’s currently going through. Just regard her wounds and how much they’re bleeding!
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Naomi Klein’s lecture was one of the main attractions of the Social Forum’s first day, August 21. When I got at the University of Ottawa to listen to one of the contemporary journalists that I admire the most, the place was packed-full and there were no chairs left. I had to resign myself to listen to her standing on my tired legs, as if I was in a rock concert regarding a far-away stage.
In her home country, Naomi is certainly a very well-known and respected writer, pride and joy of Canada’s intellectual landscape. As the author of the quintessencial “The Shock Doctrine – The Rise of Disaster Capitalism” – it’s safe to say it’s one of the greatest non-fiction books published in our century so far – she has earned recognition as one of the world’s leading thinkers about neo-liberal capitalism and the way it really works. She can count as some of her attentive readers and interlocutors some highly significant figures such as Noam Chomsky, Slavoj Zizek and Arundhati Roy.
Even though she’s Canadian, Naomi Klein doesn’t deal in the cheap merchandise of demagogic patriotism. She’s clearly no fan of Mr. Stephen Harper’s policies and doesn’t fall for his jive (she’s too smart for that). “In this country, he are in the midst of an extraction frenzy”, she denounced, exposing Canada’s current practices of tar sands oil extraction, pipeline construction, high-scale fracking and mining.
She describes the “logic that sacrifices life in the altar of money” with two peculiar adjectives: “supremacist” and “psychotic”. When her new book comes out in September, “This Changes Everything – Capitalism vs. the Climate” – we’ll see to what extent Naomi Klein has ventured into the diagnosis of our collective neurosis. In her Social Forum talk, she showed no signs of optimism: if we don’t change this system, she suspects, our future will be one in which “serial climate disasters will be dealt with dystopian barbarism”.
To explain what she means by “dystopian barbarism”, she mentions one of the greatest sci-fi movies produced in the last few years, “Snowpiercer” (by Korean director Joon-ho Bong). The Apocalypse on Wheels that the film portrays is one of the most poignant representations of what our Earthship may look like if we let business as usual proceed with its Earth-wrecking practises. “What we do in the next 10 years will define the fate of generations to come”, said Klein, underlining unequivocally that the doctrine of economic growth, when it disregards environmental sustainability, is a “suicidal path”.
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After Naomi’s thought-provoking contribution had kick-started the Forum’s multiple discussions and dialogues, it was time for us to take the streets. At least a dozen yellow school buses, packed with noisy bands of joyful and excited activists, were deployed for the transportation of the people from the University of Ottawa to the Canadian Museum of War. While police officers riding bikes stood by, just witnessing this strange gathering of colourful flags and shouting-and-cheering humans, a series of speakers adressed the crowd before the start of the march (videos coming soon!). Mr. Harper was treated as a punchbag, and the audience loved it. Leaders of labour unions, civil rights activists, defenders of First Nations (indegenous populations), all had their chance to voice their perspectives and to spark in the crowd the fires of enthusiastic democratic participation.
I must confess that I’m a sort of march-junkie – it’s one of my favorite drugs. My feelings of powerlessness get crushed when I’m embarked in the flow of a marching human stream. It almost brings tears of excitement to my face when my senses immerge in such a sea of human collective effort. It was my first day in Canada’s capital and I was about to participate in a massive take-over of Parliament Hill. Wow! Trust me, my friends: there’s no Hollywood thriller that can be provide thrills such as these. The avant-garde of this massive river-of-people – I would estimate that 10.000 people were marching – was composed of drumming and chanting First Nations representatives. Several different organizations were there adding their voices to the choir – a rainbow of diversity ranging from moderate and kitschy Nature Loving hippie-talk, to more radical, punkish and anarchist “smash the State!” utterings.
I must also confess that Ottawa’s establishment, its status quo, its machinery of power, its main public spaces, gave me a distasteful impression of too-much-militarism. By that I mean that military deeds seem to be celebrated much more than I think it should. It leaves in my tongue a somewhat bitter flavour to see plazas filled with statues of colonels and generals. I have also a difficult relationship with Ottawa’s monuments devoted to those who died in the battlefields – World War II or Korea, for example. Quoting from Virgil’s Aeneid, these military heroes are celebrated in Ottawa’s streets as men (they are all male!) “whose names will never be erased from History”. Methinks we should oppose the culture of militarism with the same fierceness with which we fight and despise the culture of rape, racism, patriarchy or xenophobia.
The first thing I did in the morning, for instance, was to attend to a ritual considered to be a delightul spectacle for tourists: the changing of the Guard in Parliament. Quite a boring show, if you ask me, and I couldn’t help but secretly despise those tourists who were admiringly watching this display of traditional military ritualization. In exactly the same place, in the afternoon, I could experience something much sweeter to my taste: the Social Forum’s multitude claiming its right to occupy the Parliament. After a beautiful, noisy, exciting march through Ottawa’s streets, the people gathered there to exchange ideas, to make plans for action, to chant and drum – and even to sing protest songs against the very people who work in the surrounding buildings and who are supposed to represent the people.
“Whose streets? Our streets! Whose streets? Our streets!” This call-and-response massive outcry is still ringing in my ears, still fresh in my memory, and to have experienced this has a already become so dear to my heart that I’ll carry it through life until my dying day.
This, my friends, is what democracy looks like.
* * * * *
TO BE CONTINUED…
Next chapter: my remarks on Cowspiracy, one of the greatest docs I ever saw.
* * * * *
This was blogged by Awestruck Wanderer
from the Social Forum’s Media Center,
Ottawa, Ontario – 22/08/2014.
Ernesto “Che” Guevara (June 14, 1928 – October 9, 1967)
“Che was not only a heroic fighter, but a revolutionary thinker, with a political and moral project and a system of ideas and values for which he fought and gave his life. The philosophy which gave his political and ideological choices their coherence, colour, and taste was a deep revolutionary humanism. For Che, the true Communist, the true revolutionary was one who felt that the great problems of all humanity were his or her personal problems, one who was capable of ‘feeling anguish whenever someone was assassinated, no matter where it was in the world, and of feeling exultation whenever a new banner of liberty was raised somewhere else’. Che’s internationalism – a way of life, a secular faith, a categorical imperative, and a spiritual “nationality” – was the living and concrete expression of this revolutionary Marxist humanism.” — Michael Löwy, author of “The Marxism of Che Guevara: Philosophy, Economics, Revolutionary Warfare”
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SOME OF THE BEST BIOGRAPHIES WRITTEN ABOUT CHE:
Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life Jon Lee Anderson (2010, Grove Press, 672 pgs) Download e-book (7 mb, epub)
“Acclaimed around the world and a national best-seller, this is the definitive work on Che Guevara, the dashing rebel whose epic dream was to end poverty and injustice in Latin America and the developing world through armed revolution. Jon Lee Anderson’s biography traces Che’s extraordinary life, from his comfortable Argentine upbringing to the battlefields of the Cuban revolution, from the halls of power in Castro’s government to his failed campaign in the Congo and assassination in the Bolivian jungle.Anderson has had unprecedented access to the personal archives maintained by Guevara’s widow and carefully guarded Cuban government documents. He has conducted extensive interviews with Che’s comrades—some of whom speak here for the first time—and with the CIA men and Bolivian officers who hunted him down. Anderson broke the story of where Guevara’s body was buried, which led to the exhumation and state burial of the bones. Many of the details of Che’s life have long been cloaked in secrecy and intrigue. Meticulously researched and full of exclusive information, Che Guevara illuminates as never before this mythic figure who embodied the high-water mark of revolutionary communism as a force in history.”
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Compañero: The Life and Death of Che Jorge G. Castaneda (1998, Vintage, 496 pgs) Download e-book (5 mb, epub)
“By the time he was killed in the jungles of Bolivia, where his body was displayed like a deposed Christ, Ernesto “Che” Guevara had become a synonym for revolution everywhere from Cuba to the barricades of Paris. This extraordinary biography peels aside the veil of the Guevara legend to reveal the charismatic, restless man behind it. Drawing on archival materials from three continents and on interviews with Guevara’s family and associates, Castaneda follows Che from his childhood in the Argentine middle class through the years of pilgrimage that turned him into a committed revolutionary. He examines Guevara’s complex relationship with Fidel Castro, and analyzes the flaws of character that compelled him to leave Cuba and expend his energies, and ultimately his life, in quixotic adventures in the Congo and Bolivia. A masterpiece of scholarship, Compañero is the definitive portrait of a figure who continues to fascinate and inspire the world over.”
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Che Guevara, Paulo Freire, and the Pedagogy of Revolution Peter McLaren (2000, Rowman & Littlefield, 264 pgs) Download e-book (31 mb, pdf)
“Che Guevara is usually perceived as a Romantic model whom we should admire, while pursuing our daily business as usual—the most perverse defense against what Che stood for. What McLaren’s fascinating book demonstrates is that, on the contrary, Che is a model for our times, a figure we should imitate in our struggle against neoliberal global capitalism.” (Slavoj Zizek)
“McLaren’s writing is a brilliant blend of passion, commitment, and critical analysis and insight. It is poetry and prose in an intimate dance that touches, at once, readers’ hearts and minds. This new book, which appeared at the very dawn of the new millennium, is no exception. Indeed, it is probably McLaren’s most important and exciting text to date. It is also one of the most important books on critical education, and thus also education and social justice, to have been written in the twentieth century. Only a ‘Comrade of the heart’ could have written with such ardour, precision, and depth.” (Paula Allman, Education and Social Justice)
“Peter McLaren’s Che Guevara, Paulo Freire is a vigorous intervention in the complexity of the contemporary political situation—from rearticulating the project of radical pedagogy to his argument to reorient the left itself. Through his groundbreaking regrasping of Che’s revolutionary practices,McLaren critiques the left—especially progressive left pedagogy—for its marginalization of class and complacent reformism. In an effective intervention, he puts the international class struggle at the forefront of a revolutionary pedagogy. As part of his argument for the reorganization of social institutions in Che Guevara, Paulo Freire, McLaren offers a sustained radical critique of transnational neoliberalism and its corporatization of education—in doing so, he places revolutionary pedagogy in solidarity with the oppressed of global capitalism.” (Teresa L. Ebert, Author of Ludic Feminism and After)
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* * * * *
Angela Davis speaks:
“In Wisconsin black people constitute 4 or 5% of the state’s population and about 50% of the imprisoned population. Our criminal justice system sends increasing numbers of people to prison by first robbing them of housing, health care, education, and welfare, and then punishing them when they participate in underground economies. What should we think about a system that will, on the one hand, sacrifice social services, human compassion, housing and decent schools, mental health care and jobs, while on the other hand developing an ever larger and ever more profitable prison system that subjects ever larger numbers of people to daily regimes of coercion and abuse? The violent regimes inside prisons are located on a continuum of repression that includes state-sanctioned killing of civilians.” (The Meaning of Freedom, p. 62)
“It cannot be denied that immigration is on the rise. In many cases, however, people are compelled to leave their home countries because U.S. corporations have economically undermined local economies through ‘free trade’ agreements, structural adjustment, and the influence of such international financial institutions as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Rather than characterize ‘immigration’ as the source of the current crisis, it is more accurate to say that it is the homelessness of global capital that is responsible for so many of the problems people are experiencing throughout the world. Many transnational corporations that used to be required to comply with a modicum of rules and regulations in the nation-states where they are headquartered have found ways to evade prohibitions against cruel, dehumanizing, and exploitative labor practices. They are now free to do virtually anything in the name of maximizing profits. 50% of all of the garments purchased in the U.S. are made abroad by women and girls in Asia and Latin America. Many immigrant women from those regions who come to this country hoping to find work do so because they can no longer make a living in their home countries. Their native economies have been dislocated by global corporations. But what do they find here in the United States? More sweatshops.” (p. 64)
“Our impoverished popular imagination is responsible for the lack of or sparsity of conversations on minimizing prisons and emphasizing decarceration as opposed to increased incarceration. Particularly since resources that could fund services designed to help prevent people from engaging in the behavior that leads to prison are being used instead to build and operate prisons. Precisely the resources we need in order to prevent people from going to prison are being devoured by the prison system. This means that the prison reproduces the conditions of its own expansion, creating a syndrome of self-perpetuation.” (p. 67)
“The global war on drugs is responsible for the soaring numbers of people behind bars – and for the fact that throughout the world there is a disproportionate number of people of color and people from the global South in prison. (…) The drug war and the war on terror are linked to the global expansion of the prison. Let us remember that the prison is a historical system of punishment. In other worlds, it has not always been a part of human history; therefore, we should not take this institution for granted, or consider it a permanent and unavoidable fixture of our society. The prison as punishment emerged around the time of industrial capitalism, and it continues to have a particular affinity with capitalism. (…) Globalization has not only created devastating conditions for people in the global South, it has created impoverished and incarcerated communities in the United States and elsewhere in the global North. ” (p. 82)
“Why, in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, have we allowed our government to pursue unilateral policies and practices of global war? (…) Increasingly, freedom and democracy are envisioned by the government as exportable commodities, commodities that can be sold or imposed upon entire populations whose resistances are aggressively suppressed by the military. The so-called global war on terror was devised as a direct response to the September 11 attacks. Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, and George W. Bush swiftly transformed the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon into occasions to misuse and manipulate collective grief, thereby reducing this grief to a national desire for vengeance. (…) It seems to me the most obvious subversion of the healing process occurred when the Bush administration invaded Afghanistan, then Iraq, and now potentially Iran. All in the name of the human beings who died on September 11. Bloodshed and belligerence in the name of freedom and democracy!…
Bush had the opportunity to rehearse this strategy of vengeance and death on a smaller scale before he moved into the White House. As governor of Texas, he not only lauded capital punishment, he presided over more executions – 152 to be precise – than any other governor in the history of the United States of America.
Imperialist war militates against freedom and democracy, yet freedom and democracy are repeatedly invoked by the purveyors of global war. Precisely those forces that presume to make the world safe for freedom and democracy are now spreading war and torture and capitalist exploitation around the globe. The Bush government represents its project as a global offensive against terrorism, but the conduct of this offensive has generated practices of state violence and state terrorism in comparison to which its targets pale…
Estimates range from 500.000 to 700.000 so far – some people say that one million… – people that have been killed during the war in Iraq. Why can’t we even have a national conversation about that?”
“What is most distressing to those of us who believe in a democratic future is the tendency to equate democracy with capitalism. Capitalist democracy should be recognized as the oxymoron that it is. The two orders are fundamentally incompatible, especially considering the contemporary transformations of capitalism under the impact of globalization. But there are those who cannot tell the difference between the two. In no historical era can the freedom of the market serve as an acceptable model of democracy for those who do not possess the means – the capital – to take advantage of the freedom of the market.
The most convincing contemporary evidence against the equation of capitalism and democracy can be discovered in the fact that many institutions with a profoundly democratic impulse have been dismantled under the pressure exerted by international financial agencies, such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. In the global South, structural adjustment has unleashed a juggernaut of privatization of public services that used to be available to masses of people, such as education and health care. These are services that no society should deny its members, services we all should be able to claim by virtue of our humanity. Conservative demands to privatize Social Security in the United States further reveal the reign of profits for the few over the rights of the many.
Another world is possible, and despite the hegemony of forces that promote inequality, hierarchy, possessive individualism, and contempt for humanity, I believe that together we can work to create the conditions for radical social transformation.”
The Meaning of Freedom
City Lights Books
San Franciso, California, 2012.
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Mountains That Take Wing
(2009. 97 min. Color.)
A WMM (Women Make Movies) release:
firstname.lastname@example.org and http://www.wmm.com.
“This film, co-directed by C.A. Griffith & H.L.T. Quan, is a “Conversation on Life, Struggles & Liberation”. Internationally renowned scholar, professor and writer Angela Davis and 89-year-old grassroots organizer and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Yuri Kochiyama share intimate conversations about personal histories and influences that shaped them and their shared experiences in some of the most important social movements in 20th century United States. The film’s unique format honors the scope and depth of their knowledge on topics ranging from Jim Crow laws and Japanese internment camps, to Civil Rights, anti-war, women’s and gay liberation movements, to today’s campaigns for political prisoners and prison reform. These insights, recorded over the span of 13 years, offer critical lessons about community activism and tremendous hope for the future of social justice.”
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