Okay, short attention span crowd: Grab your remote (or mouse) and get ready to click, click, click…
“How much can you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight? I don’t wanna die without any scars.”
– Tyler Durden (Fight Club)
William Burroughs once wrote about how we humans—like the bull in a bullfight—tend to focus on the elusive red cape instead of the matador. Indeed, we are all-too-easily distracted from real targets by an attractive image or illusion.
Of course, some bulls see right through the red cape, uh, bullshit…and quite justifiably introduce the matador to the business end of their horns. Before you mistake that for a lesson and/or inspiration, don’t forget that such bulls are promptly killed while the matador is mourned as a brave hero.
Here’s my question: If every bull in every bullfight were to gore every matador, how long would it be before bullfights were a thing of the past?
Malcolm X sez:
“It is criminal to teach a man not to defend himself when he is the constant victim of brutal attacks.”
In the late 1960s—thanks to Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers (UFW)—deciding whether or not to buy grapes became a political act. Three years after its establishment in 1962, the UFW struck against grape growers around Delano, California…a long, bitter, and frustrating struggle that appeared impossible to resolve until Chavez promoted the idea of a national boycott. Trusting in the average person’s ability to connect with those in need, Chavez and the UFW brought their plight—and a lesson in social justice—into homes from coast-to-coast and Americans responded.
“By 1970, the grape boycott was an unqualified success,” writes Marc Grossman of Stone Soup. “Bowing to pressure from the boycott, grape growers at long last signed union contracts, granting workers human dignity and a more livable wage.”
Through hunger strikes, imprisonment, abject poverty for himself and his large family, racist and corrupt judges, exposure to dangerous pesticides, and even assassination plots, Chavez remained true to the cause…even if meant, uh…”stretching” the non-violent methods he espoused:
Once in 1966, when Teamster goons began to rough up Chavez’s picketeers, a bit of labor solidarity solved the problem. William Kircher, the AFL-CIO director of organization, called Paul Hall, president of the International Seafarers Union.
“Within hours,” writes David Goodwin in Cesar Chavez: Hope for the People, “Hall sent a carload of the biggest sailors that had ever put to sea to march with the strikers on the picket lines…There followed afterward no further physical harassment.”
To me, the following quote reads like a poem…so that’s how I’ll present it:
You’ve got to learn
that when you push people around,
some people push back.
As they should.
As they must.
And as they undoubtedly will.
There is justice in such symmetry.
– Ward Churchill
When early American revolutionaries chanted, “Give me liberty or give me death” and complained of having but one life to give for their country, they became the heroes of our history textbooks. But, thanks to the power of the U.S. media and education industries, the Puerto Rican nationalists who dedicated their lives to independence are known as criminals, fanatics, and assassins.
On March 1, 1954, in the gallery of the House of Representatives, Congressman Charles A. Halleck rose to discuss with his colleagues the issue of Puerto Rico. At that moment, Lolita Lebrón alongside three fellow freedom fighters, having purchased a one-way train ticket from New York (they expected to be killed) unfurled a Puerto Rican flag and shouted “Free Puerto Rico!” before firing eight shots at the roof. Her three male co-conspirators aimed their machine guns at the legislators. Andrés Figueroa’s gun jammed, but shots fired by Rafael Cancel Miranda and Irving Flores injured five congressmen.
“I know that the shots I fired neither killed nor wounded anymore,” Lebrón stated afterwards. With the attack being viewed through the sensationalizing prism of American tabloid journalism, this did not matter. She and her nationalist cohorts became prisoners of war for the next twenty-five years.
Why prisoners of war? To answer that, we must recall that since July 25, 1898, when the United States illegally invaded its tropical neighbor under the auspices of the Spanish-American War, the island has been maintained as a colony. In other words, the planet’s oldest colony is being held by its oldest representative democracy—with U.S. citizenship imposed without the consent or approval of the indigenous population in 1917. It is from this geopolitical paradox that the Puerto Rican independence movement sprang forth.
This movement is based firmly on international law, which authorizes “anti-colonial combatants” the right to armed struggle to throw off the yoke of imperialism and gain independence. UN General Assembly Resolution 33/24 of December 1978 recognizes “the legitimacy of the struggle of people’s for independence, territorial integrity, national unity and liberation from colonial domination and foreign occupation by all means available, particularly armed struggle.”
Prison did not dampen Lebrón’s revolutionary spirit as she attended demonstrations and spoke out to help win the long battle to evict the US Navy from the tiny Puerto Rican island of Vieques in 2003.
Emma Goldman sez:
“No great idea in its beginning can ever be within the law.”
In her excellent 1995 book, Bridge of Courage, Jennifer Harbury quotes a Guatemalan freedom fighter named Gabriel, responding to a plea to embrace non-violent resistance: “In my country child malnutrition is close to 85 percent,” he explains. “Ten percent of all children will be dead before the age of five, and this is only the number actually reported to government agencies. Close to 70 percent of our people are functionally illiterate. There is almost no industry in our country—you need land to survive. Less than 3 percent of our landowners own over 65 percent of our lands. In the last fifteen years or so, there have been over 150,000 political murders and disappearances… Don’t talk to me about Gandhi; he wouldn’t have survived a week here. There was a peaceful movement for progress here, once. They were crushed. We were crushed. For Gandhi’s method to work, there must be a government capable of shame. We lack that here.”
Huey P. Newton sez:
“In the spirit of international revolutionary solidarity, the Black Panther Party hereby offers … an undetermined number of troops to assist you in your fight against American imperialism. It is appropriate for the Black Panther Party to take this action at this time in recognition of the fact that your struggle is also our struggle, for we recognize that our common enemy is U.S. imperialism, which is the leader of international bourgeois domination. There is no fascist or reactionary government in the world today that could stand without the support of United States imperialism. Therefore our problem is international, and we offer these troops in recognition of the necessity for international alliance to deal with the problem … Such alliance will advance the struggle toward the final act of dealing with American imperialism. To end this oppression we must liberate the developing nations … As one nation is liberated elsewhere, it gives us a better chance to be free.”
(Excerpted from an October 29, 1970 letter to the National Front for Liberation and Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Viet Nam)
Arundhati Roy sez:
“People from poorer places and poorer countries have to call upon their compassion not to be angry with ordinary people in America.”
In his book Endgame, Derrick Jensen tells of a discussion he had with a longtime activist. “She told me of a campaign she participated in a few years ago to try to stop the government and transnational timber corporations from spraying Agent Orange, a potent defoliant and teratogen, in the forests of Oregon,” Jensen writes. All too predictably, the dedicated demonstrators assembled to protest the toxic spraying were, “like clockwork,” ignored by the helicopter pilots. Both humans and landscape ended up thoroughly doused with Agent Orange—time and time again. The protest campaign obviously had no effect, so a different approach was taken. “A bunch of Vietnam vets lived in those hills,” the activist told Jensen, “and they sent messages to the Bureau of Land Management and to Weyerhauser, Boise Cascade, and the other timber companies saying, ‘We know the names of your helicopter pilots, and we know their addresses’
“You know what happened next?” she asked.
“I think I do,” Jensen responded.
“Exactly,” she said. “The spraying stopped.”
“When you’re right, you can never be too radical.”