Nov 26, 2008

using youtube to speak truth to power

Here is a short video about 8 women who are fighting arrest warrants for their civil disobedience against Goldcorp mining in Guatemala. Obviously they can't go out and about and do public speaking, so this is a great tool. Great use of testimony and images - a powerful way to make stronger the voices of those usually less heard.

Nov 22, 2008

this might really be it!

For the last several years at the big annual vigil to close the School of the Americas (US army school that trains Latin American military officers) as the votes in Congress have gotten closer and closer we've said - this might be it! this might be the last vigil!

Well after this last election I certainly hope so! Of course, it's a symbol, and we will find some other symbol of US militarism to focus on next, but I'm going to miss this version of the struggle, and I'm sad that I'm in Colombia right now instead of in Georgia, where thousands are gathering this weekend in what is the largest ongoing protest against US Empire inside the belly of the beast, both in terms of numbers present and in terms of ongoing civil disobedience. I'm proud that as part of the interpretation and translation working group I've been part of building a diverse multilingual movement that draws on everyone's strengths and works to make sure we can all understand each other well. Much love and strength to the fabulous interpretation team there this year, especially Leo and Marcos that stepped up to the coordination! (the pic here is of Jenny and I, exhausted from coordinating but shining from the beauty of it all, in front of the tent where we handed out the radios, several years ago)

You can participate in the vigil virtually by signing the petition to Obama to close the school. There will be great photos of the vigil on the SOA Watch main page soon.

Nov 4, 2008

Building Supportive, Respectful, and Collaborative Relationships with Survivors of Human Rights

I am so grateful to Adriana Bartow-Portillo for writing a fantastic article about working in solidarity with survivors. The full article is here, y aca en español. It is well worth following the link to read the whole thing with prettier formatting, but if you're in a rush at least read this excerpt: (art by rini)

"There are some survivors that are eager to share their story with others in hopes that doing so will contribute to saving others from their same fate. The sharing experience, however, is often excruciatingly painful and stressful. Survivors who choose to tell their story relive these horrors and suffer the aftereffects of having chosen to speak out on behalf of those who no longer have a voice. For many survivors, intense lights, the presence of police or military officers and the sound of police or ambulance sirens often lead to flashbacks.

For me, sharing my story is a sacrifice I make to pay tribute to my disappeared father and daughters and to all of those who have perished at the hands of Latin American soldiers and officers trained at the SOA/WHINSEC. It is also an act of defiance, a refusal to remain silent in the face of injustice.

As a survivor, I have traveled all over the United States raising awareness of human rights issues – not only in Guatemala and Latin America but also in the United States and in several countries around the world. My audiences have been religious groups, elementary, high school and university students and professors, women, trade unionists, refugees, trauma survivors, and members of human rights and humanitarian organizations.

I have had many positive experiences, but several times the experience has not been so positive and in some cases, frankly, quite traumatizing. We survivors do not like the “exoticization” of our experience. I remember one occasion when I was asked to share my story only, leaving an “expert” to provide the context in which the disappearance of my family took place.

Survivors don’t like to be treated like celebrities. Several years ago I was asked for my autograph. I felt as if I had been pushed into a deep well of shame and embarrassment. Most of us consider our social justice and human rights advocacy work to be a responsibility rather than a choice.

How I wish that in those particular cases, event organizers had asked me about what would have made the experience more comfortable. Things like pacing the number of presentations to my level of comfort while doing a tour, providing a safe space where I could have had some privacy, involving me in the event’s planning process, providing all the necessary information and preparing the audience would have made a difference.

I believe it is of critical importance when planning public speaking events, national tours, media interviews and other SOA Watch events to always take into consideration the needs of survivors of violence and repression. Education about cultural issues and language needs must be incorporated into every planning process. Involving survivors in decision-making processes will only contribute to their empowerment. In addition, the creation of safe spaces for when survivors are stressed and an environment where the survivor feels supported and respected will contribute to restoring a survivor’s trust in others, and his/her sense of control over what impacts him/her directly.

It is essential to the development of collaborative long-lasting relationships between survivors and the movement to make these efforts."

Oct 23, 2008

Resisting the Space of Exception

I have an article in the journal Antipode entitled

Cutting through topologies: crossing lines at the School of the Americas

Here is the abstract:

The School of the Americas (SOA) is a U.S. Army school that trains Latin American military officers. Manuals released detail torture techniques once taught at the school, and thousands of graduates have been linked to human rights abuses. The annual vigil in front of Fort Benning is the largest ongoing protest and civil disobedience against U.S. imperialism being held within the U.S.. The movement to close the SOA traces the twisted lines of the topology that shapes spaces of exception in Latin America. It traces those lines back to the SOA, and cuts through them with its own counter-topographical lines of connection to those Latin Americans that are made into ‘bare life’ by those topologies. This essay looks at the doings of protest space as a form of resistance to the space of exception, and how personal stories, and mourning, can put us beside ourselves, with one another.

I'm not supposed to post the pretty pdf version of this article, so if you don't have access through a university library and you'd like me to send you a copy, please ask me for it at sara at spanish for social change dot com.

The annual vigil to close the SOA is fast approaching - on November 21, 23. If you can possibly get yourself to Georgia, it is incredibly worth going to this beautiful inspiring gathering.

Oct 12, 2008

video for the people

There are some amazing videos about struggles for peace and justice in Colombia up on youtube. I've set up playlists of these in the sidebar - check them out!

Oct 7, 2008


Saw this movie (preview above) tonight as part of the Bogota film fest. The idea is that it gives voice to folks who are generally unheard. It has fantastic cinematography and production values - much better than these sorts of things usually have. Not surprising given who all is involved. I particularly liked the piece directed by Wim Wenders, that had women from the DRC telling their rape stories and their images fading in and out while they were telling them. It works to remind you that you still can't fully see them, can never really know that sort of experience. I do wish that the folks shaping the story-telling, the filmmakers, had somehow been more clearly present in the film - in that feminist film sort of way. As it is, it appears too transparent. Still, a great project by Doctors Without Borders. Though I recently posted about my frustration with their style of solidarity, they seem better at doing the story-work of solidarity.

(The full movie is now online here)

Oct 6, 2008

Empire and Solidarity in the Americas Conference

There is an amazing conference on solidarity coming up in New Orleans with a bunch of my favorite people presenting. I really wish it weren't so far for me to go. As well as the title above, it's being presented as "Rethinking Solidarity" - which is actually the title of a panel I submitted to the upcoming LASA conference. Plenty of rethinking to do, and this conference seems like a great place to do some of it.

The web site for the conference is here, and soon it should have copies of the papers, in case you can't go but want to read them.

Their description of the conference:

The inaugural Empire and Solidarity in the Americas Conference will examine the meanings, forms, histories, and futures of solidarity within the Americas. We are particularly interested in the intersections between North-South solidarity and labor solidarity, but especially between activists/NGOs based in the North and social movements and organizations in Latin American and the Caribbean. In the context of neo-liberal capitalism, what forms of cross-border alliances have labor unions from both sides of the divide established with each other as well as NGOs and solidarity groups? Likewise, what kinds of transnational ties and strategies have Latin American communities and movements, particularly those most directly impacted by U.S. corporations and foreign policies, been able to create and sustain with solidarity groups regionally and in the North? What are the challenges, possibilities, and futures of North-South solidarity?

Sep 13, 2008

Sep 11, 2008

anti-ops policies for brief gatherings

as a follow-up to my previous post on this subject, here's an example from the recent US climate convergence:

Anti-Oppression Policy:

The organizers of the Convergence for Climate Action believe that anti-oppression work is vital to community organizing and to building a movement to eliminate the exploitation of people and the planet. The Convergence for Climate Action will have anti-oppression workshops and participants will be strongly encouraged to participate.

In order to create a safe and productive environment for activism and community, we will not be tolerating behavior that demeans, marginalizes, or threatens people. Examples are offensive remarks about person’s gender, age, sexual orientation, race, mental health, culture, general appearances, income status, being a parent or a child, employed or unemployed, level of experience in activism, etc….

Any type of sexual, verbal, or physical assault will be taken especially seriously by the convergence organizers. On account of the short nature of the event and limited resources, convergence participants may be asked to immediately leave the event should they be accused of oppressive behavior.

We thank everyone for helping to make the convergence a safe, comfortable, productive and super fun environment!

Aug 27, 2008

the price of indifference

Youtube is such a fantastic organizing tool. This video was put together by the Canada Colombia project. Not all that hard - you probably have pictures of your sister church, that delegation trip you took, etc.. You too could be using photos and music to build solidarity!

Easier yet than a video, you can put your pics up on picasa or something similar. To give you an example, my pics of a recent FOR delegation I took to the San Jose peace community in Colombia are here. I like picasa because it's so easy to add and read comments, which help tell the story.

I think photos are a powerful tool for building connection across distance and difference, but of course colonial patterns do sneak into photography. It's not my main focus, but I am interested in how that happens, and how we can decolonize our phototaking. Any suggested resources?

Aug 20, 2008

where there is no doctor

I was recently reminded by a compa of the dangers of the Doctors Without Borders model of solidarity. Yes, sometimes after disasters, wars, etc emergency hand outs are needed - but instead of coming for two months, these folks stay for two years, during which time existing health systems are wiped out, so when they leave, not only do they leave no one trained as a health worker, but the health workers that might have been there are out of work, doing something else. Oy. But sharing health knowledge with health workers who have less privilege and access to that knowledge is great solidarity work, and I certainly know other folks doing this in various ways - be it while living a two day canoe ride in to the jungle, or flying occassionaly to give in seminars at a University in Guatemala city.

All of this to point you to a cool resource. You've probably heard of the book, Where there is no doctor. It's a bit out of date now, but there are two processes underway to update it, so keep your eyes out. Meanwhile it's fabulous that Hesperian has made both this and their other publications available for free online, and many of them translated into Spanish. Their list of publications is below.
in English:

A Community Guide to Environmental Health
Where There Is No Doctor
Where Women Have No Doctor
Helping Health Workers Learn
HIV Health and Your Community
Where There Is No Dentist
A Book for Midwives
Helping Children Who Are Deaf
Helping Children Who Are Blind
Disabled Village Children
Sanitation and Cleanliness for a healthy environment
Water for life: community water security
Pesticides are poison

in Spanish:

Donde no hay doctor
Donde no hay doctor para mujeres
Aprendiendo a promover la salud
Donde no hay dentista
Un libro para parteras
Ayudar a los niños ciegos
El nino campesino deshabilitado
Saneamiento y limpieza para un ambiente sano
Agua para vivir
Los plaguicidas son venenos

Jul 29, 2008

using personal stories

I am interested in how solidarity activists use personal stories, and how we can be more careful and strategic about how we use them. One of the books that I've found most helpful in thinking about this has been Human Rights and Narrated Lives: the Ethics of Recognition. It looks at several cases of stories being used to build solidarity across difference and push for social justice: Tiananmen, South Africa, WWII Korean sex slaves, the Australian stolen generation and, astoundingly, prisoners in the US. All have different lessons for any social movement using stories, and I found it all a really compelling read - but then, I'm a geek. You could get a lot of it by just reading the first 50 pages (the overall picture) and the 12 page conclusion. Well worth it.

Jul 21, 2008

Making our spaces more liberatory

One of the ways that we can better walk our talk in our movements and improve our internal power dynamics is by working to make sure our own spaces are safe for all (and eventually, ideally, actually liberatory for all – such that the process of working together for justice in itself builds justice among us). I was reminded recently by discussions over my kitchen table that one step in this direction is having clear sexual/racial harassment/assault policies and procedures – even for when we gather temporarily, such as at the vigil to close the School of the Americas, a delegation trip, or at the World Social Forum. This was clearly not the case at the World Social Forum a few years ago, and I wrote about it, and how we might do things differently, in an article entitled A Liberatory Space? Rumors of Rapes at the 5th World Social Forum, Porto Alegre, 2005 (that link is to the pdf). Happily this one is also in an open source journal, the Journal of International Women’s Studies, and that article is in a special issue entitled Women's Bodies, Gender Analysis, and Feminist Politics at the Forum Social Mundial. This image, off indymedia, is of the women's march through the youth camp after the rape rumors.

Jul 9, 2008

colonial patterns in our activism and how we might rework them

I published, bilingually, an article in the open source journal acme that outlines much of my thinking about ways that we might decolonize solidarity. Abstracts and links to the pdf's are below. (art by Rini)


Imperialism affects “here” as well as “there”. White middle class women have historically gotten out of the home and gained more of a Self by being good helpers, classically as teachers and missionaries. In this role they consolidated empire’s power, often unintentionally. Today the good helper role is being widely used, not only by white women, to work against empire. Yet this master’s tool is toxic. It may appear to take tiles off the house, but it reinforces the systems of domination that prop up empire. Those of us who struggle against empire must also struggle against the imperialism within ourselves. This analysis of ways to decolonize solidarity work is grounded in the movement to close the School of the Americas [a U.S. army training camp] and a collaborative theorizing process with white middle class women prisoners of conscience. This work engages in alter-geopolitics, working to build another world.

download the full PDF here

Koopman S (2008) Imperialism within: Can the master’s tools bring down empire? Acme: An International E-Journal for Critical Geographies 7(2):283–307

Imperialismo Adentro:

¿Pueden las Herramientas del Amo Derribar el Imperio?

El imperialismo afecta tanto el ‘aquí’ como el ‘allá’. Mujeres de clase media y blancas han históricamente salido de su hogar y logrado ser más un ‘Sujeto' siendo buenas ayudantes, típicamente como maestras y misionarias.

En este papel han consolidado el poder del imperio, a veces sin intención. Hoy en día el papel de buen ayudante se usa ampliamente, no solamente por mujeres blancas, para trabajar en contra del imperio. Pero estas herramientas del amo son tóxicas. Puede parecer que estamos quitando tejas de la casa del amo, pero en realidad reforzamos así los sistemas de dominación que son los pilares del imperio.

Nosotros que combatimos el imperio debemos también luchar contra el imperialismo dentro de nosotros mismos. Este análisis de maneras en que se podría descolonizar el trabajo de solidaridad tiene raíces en el movimiento para cerrar la Escuela de las Américas (un campo de entrenamiento del ejército Estadounidense) y en un proceso de teorización en colaboración con prisioneras de consciencia blancas y de clase media. Este trabajo hace ‘alter-geopolítica’, trabajando para construir otro mundo.

se puede bajar el PDF aca.

Jun 5, 2008

the zapatista model of solidarity

article on this in the Resist! newsletter

RJ, who wrote this, I'm pretty sure must have been one of the folks who ran a workshop looking critically at solidarity at the US Social Forum last summer? At any rate he's in the same collective, a bunch of men that do childcare for social justice groups in NYC. how fab. He publishes the great blog