Dec 26, 2009

accompaniers do a public witness in London

CPT accompanies a small community in Colombia called Las Pavas. (I recently posted a video a CPTer took of a resident of Las Pavas singing about their displacement) These 123 families have been illegally forced out of their homes and away from their lands by Daabon Organics, a palm oil company that, what do you know, is a major supplier of palm oil for the Body Shop. CPT is pressuring the Body Shop to pressure Daabon to give these folks their land back, since obviously this does not meet the Body Shop's goals or image. The above video is of an action they did at Body Shops in London during a CPT training. It's interesting that they label this a "public witness" (as opposed to the witnessing they are doing IN Las Pavas - not sure what they would call that). The Body Shop is saying that they are working on getting a third party assessment of what is happening in Las Pavas. Apparently they don't consider the documentation that CPT has given them to be "third party", which is frustrating. It raises the question, how can accompaniers both work with communities, but be seen as enough of an outsider for their witnessing to have greater weight?

Interestingly, rather than asking folks to write letters to the Body Shop CPT is asking folks to do actions similar to this one at your local Body Shop store. They have posted fliers you can use and more background info on Las Pavas here. Maybe even just doing three actions like this is more effective than the 100 emails they might generate?

Dec 13, 2009

solidarity in Uruguay

Thanks to Analía for the link to this video, for the campaign to annul the impunity law in Uruguay. Sadly they recently lost by 48%. So close! There is some hope now that the courts might act. Here's hoping. I am so inspired, yet again, by the strength and solidarity of hij@s shown in this video.

Dec 2, 2009

speaking truth to power

I've posted here before about Martha Giraldo and her family's very brave struggle to tell the truth about how the Colombian army killed her father, a campesino, and dressed him up to look like a "combat kill" (a so called false positive, a fake guerilla killed in combat death). As my previous posts recount, they have used video to tell their story in a powerful way that is an inspiring example for others to follow.

It was an honor for me to interpret for Martha at the Witness for Peace Colombia teach-in that happens the day before the vigil to close the School of the Americas, and to walk with her holding a banner with her father's name and photo during the funeral march held on the second day of the vigil. Martha has incredible energy and courage and is not only regularly going to court for the case against her father's killers (even after her uncle was shot in the head on the way to court), but after work organizes with other families that have faced similar losses. She brought photos of others who have been killed, like her father, and asked friends to hold them up around her as she spoke on stage (see video) in front of the main gates of Fort Benning, as we shut down the entrance to the School of the Americas.

Martha continues to be under serious death threats. Please hold her in your heart, your prayers, send her strength, however you think of these things. May we all hold each other in this struggle for justice for us all.

You can also more prosaically take a minute to send this quick click letter for her protection. Thanks.

Nov 15, 2009

vigil to close the School of the Americas

I am headed to the vigil this week! Proud to be part of the largest event against US Empire inside the belly of the beast.

Again we will be providing simultaneous interpretation of the entire outdoor and much of the indoor program into Spanish. We also hope this year to stream some of our interpretation online, and I'll let you know here if and where we get that set up. Wish us luck for getting that working!

If you can't make it this year you can support our work, and this powerful and important movement, by making a donation. We have a slim $1,000 budget for the interpreting, but even covering that is hard, so every bit helps - even $5 would be great, and really, it feels great to know you're a part of this. To do this go to the SOA Watch site and click the donate button on the upper right.

You can also support our team next weekend by doing last minute press release translations into Spanish from home (let me know if you are up for this).

And one last way you could be a part of this work is with suggestions and clean up of our very old glossary of terms.

Nov 8, 2009

video taken by accompanier

here is another video not about but by an accompanier. A non-musical description of this community's struggle is here, in another accompanier blog.

Nov 1, 2009

new peace brigades videos (1)

There's suddenly a bunch of new videos out about accompaniment. This one profiles my friend Jacob! It's fantastic. The best short intro to "what accompaniers do" that I've seen.

Oct 29, 2009

New video by/about the Nonviolent Peaceforce

One of the interesting things about the nonviolent peaceforce is that they recruit from around the world and have half, or it seems often more, people of color on their teams. Frustratingly this video does not mention this, or how this changes the dynamics of accompaniment. Rather less surprisingly they also don't mention the recent kidnapping of one of their (person of color) team members in Mindanao. Umar Jaleel was kindapped from February to June of 2009.

Oct 25, 2009

storytelling for solidarity

Right after I was bemoaning the lack of accompaniment blogs one such blog really took off! The slideshow above is only one small bit of many days of fabulous storytelling about this truly inspiring minga (mobilization/work action). The links to the other days of minga entries are on the right on that blog - well worth checking out! This kind of storytelling not only weaves our connections, but can help us hold each other - it moves us to take actions with and for each other, for our safety and well being. Fantastic work!

Oct 11, 2009

where have all the accompanier bloggers gone?

I have a blogroll on the sidebar of blogs by folks serving as international protective accompaniers in Colombia, but blog posting has been verrry slow lately! Some of the folks who set up these blogs have left the country, but I've left their blogs here because their old posts are still fantastic. But some I know are still in the country, and seem to have just lost steam. Come on guys! Your story telling work is so important!

I truly believe much of the safety in solidarity is built through stories. Working (far too slowly) on a chapter of the dissertation about this. But meanwhile, hoping people will post more and wondering if there are new blogs out there of new accompaniers that I don't know about? If so, please let me know. Would also be happy to start a section of blogs of accompaniers in other countries, so if you know of any of those, would love those links. Meanwhile, the three most active blogs from accompaniers in Colombia these days are here, here and here.

The cute kid pic with this post is of kids in the peace community of San Jose, from Moira's latest post. which she also got published in alternative media! fantastic! Many many of the other posts I've been reading by accompaniers could do double duty like this, but accompaniers also shouldn't feel like a blog post has to be this gelled or coherent. Even scattered images and impressions do great work to help us not there with you keep feeling connected. Keep writing! It really does great work for building solidarity, and increasing safety.

Oct 4, 2009

shopping while black re-enactment

A re-enactment not meant to foster solidarity, but point out how little of it there is. Thanks to Jason Woods for this one!

Sep 28, 2009

re-enactment gone wrong

This certainly points to the dangers of thinking you can create empathy through re-enactment. This is from the Aid Watch blog, via Foreign Policy.

In the original blog post William Easterly writes:

When somebody sent me this invitation from Antonio Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, I thought at first it was a joke from the Onion. What do you think of the Davos rich and powerful going through the “Refugee Run” theme park re-enactment of life in a refugee camp?

Can Davos man empathize with refugees when he or she is not in danger and is going back to a luxury banquet and hotel room afterwards? Isn’t this just a tad different from the life of an actual refugee, at risk of all too real rape, murder, hunger, and disease?

Did the words “insensitive,” “dehumanizing,” or “disrespectful” (not to mention “ludicrous”) ever come up in discussing the plans for “Refugee Run”?

I hope such bad taste does not reflect some inability in UNHCR to see refugees as real people with their own dignity and rights.

Of course, I understand that there were good intentions here, that you really want rich people to have a consciousness of tragedies elsewhere in the world, and mobilize help for the victims. However, I think a Refugee Theme Park crosses a line that should not be crossed. Sensationalizing and dehumanizing and patronizing results in bad aid policy – if you have little respect for the dignity of individuals you are trying to help, you are not going to give THEM much say in what THEY want and need, and how you can help THEM help themselves?

Unfortunately, sensationalizing, patronizing, and dehumanizing attitudes are a real ongoing issue in foreign aid. David Rieff in his great book A Bed For the Night talks about how humanitarian agencies universally picture children in their publicity campaigns, as if the parents of these children are irrelevant. A classic Rieff quote: “There are two groups of people who like to be photographed with children: dictators and aid officials.”

Former World Bank President Wolfowitz with a few children

Alex de Waal in his equally great book Famine Crimes (and continuing writings since) writes about “disaster pornography.” He gives an example of a Western television producer in Somalia in 1992-93 who said to a local Somali doctor: “pick the children who are most severely malnourished” and bring them to be photographed.

Here’s a resolution to be proposed at Davos: we rich people hereby recognize each and every citizen of the globe as an individual with their own human dignity equal to our own, regardless of their poverty or refugee status. And Davos man: please give Refugee Run a pass.

Sep 16, 2009

another re-enactment

Another one from Osocio:

A guerilla marketing action by Group Eight was front page news in Singapore last november. Dressed-up child actors portraits victims of child abuse complete with fake bruises. Less than 20 people going on to approach the ‘abuse victims’ in the span of five hours.

The action was part of an integrated campaign for the Ministry of Community Development, Youth & Sports (MCYS) and aimed to send a message out to Singaporeans to be more sensitive and aware to the plight of abused children.

“Please. Don’t Just Stand There. Reach Out”.

MCYS: Please. Don’t Just Stand There. Reach Out

MCYS: Please. Don’t Just Stand There. Reach Out

MCYS: Please. Don’t Just Stand There. Reach Out

MCYS: Please. Don’t Just Stand There. Reach Out

Sep 7, 2009

photos of the white saviour

I am shamelessly reposting below an entire post off my favorite geography blog, from geographer David Campbell. He makes important points about 'the eye from below' not necessarily being free of structures of domination - an issue that I've been struggling with lately.

Aid images, and the solution offered by local photographers

by David Campbell

April 23rd, 2009

Some visual strategies are remarkably persistent, and few more persistent than those employed by humanitarian aid organizations when illustrating their appeals and campaign literature. We documented this in relation to food shortages in Africa as part of the Imaging Famine project.

You know the pictures without even seeing them – the photographs of mothers and their distressed children, or western aid workers ministering to victims who are passive, pathetic, poor and sick. Over on the duckrabbit blog – a regularly insightful source of photographic critique – there is an interesting breakdown of the Medecins Sans Frontieres photoblog that shows how these representations are alive and well even for one of the best activist organizations.

As they note, the photographs used by MSF show aid workers who are white and western even though the bulk of humanitarian assistance, even when provided in the name of European organizations, is delivered by local people. The images also suggest that dependency rather than empowerment is the best modus operandi.

Recently I have been trying to think about photography in ways that shifts our focus from representation to enactment, from the meaning of pictures to the work they do (see ‘War images at work’). From this perspective, even the most common visual representations can have important and unusual effects in certain circumstances.

This is not entirely the case with the MSF photoblog, and the problems raised by duckrabbit are significant. However, that MSF pursues these visual strategies is not all that surprising. Their purpose is to put MSF at the centre of aid work, show they are making something of a difference, and get viewers to open their pockets to fund that work. Whether we like it or not – and its part of what the social psychologists call “the identifiable victim effect” – when people like us are pictured aiding individuals who are helpless, those pockets open more frequently.

This is not to overlook the problems of the MSF photoblog as an example of the limitations of humanitarian photography. But it is not meant to offer a full pictorial account of aid, development and Africa. As such, I would put the problem this way: it less about the presence of these stereotypes and more about the absence of alternative visual stories in news from Africa, in particular. When it comes to the photographic production of ‘Africa’, it is largely disaster and humanitarian photography that we see. Sure, we get the exotic nature stories and the romantic travel accounts, but you won’t see many complexities of African culture, politics and society in those glossy narratives either.

The absence of these alternative stories is often put down to the alleged lack of local and indigenous photographers, and the duckrabbit post makes this point. But I am a bit sceptical about this as the source of the problem. Can we say categorically that local people would be better storytellers? To me that assumption has as many problems as the reliance on the international photographic elite it seeks to replace. Are “local people” a single, homogenous entity with only one voice? Surely they are as diverse, plural and conflicted as our own societies, so which local voices are going to get to tell their stories, and which local voices are we going to pay attention to?

At about this point I’m going to be misunderstood as seemingly wanting to retain the status quo. Not so. The issue of greater attention to and work for indigenous photographers is an important issue of labour justice and political economy. There are many talented non-European photographers in this world whose work deserves greater play, and initiatives like are important in redressing the economic imbalances. And nobody could object to more assistance and training for locals to tell their own stories.

But the idea that their work, simply because they are non-European, offers a fundamentally different and automatically better visual account of the issues and places they cover is as sweeping a generalization as that offered by the stereotypical images that dominate our media. It may be true in some instances, but, for example, having viewed the work of many talented Asian photographers at this years Chobi Mela festival in Bangladesh, I was struck by how familiar were both their subjects and their aesthetic style.

It is also getting to hard to clear divide from “the local” from “the international”. The Palestinian photojournalists who produced impressive pictures to cover the war in January were in many cases already employed by the big news agencies like AP and Reuters – that’s how they could get their work out so quickly. Are they local, or are they part of the global image economy? They are obviously local to the war zone, but in their professional practice they have to conform to the codes of their global media employer, and these norms condition the pictures that are taken and published.

We must get to see more work from local photographers in Africa, Asia and elsewhere. But we also need better work from European photographers covering those areas. If both local and international photojournalists take the time to engage with the issues rather than just parachute in and out we will all be better off. In the end, though, we should judge them, not on their birthplace or nationality, but on their ability to employ visual strategies in the service of a complex and compelling story.

Sep 1, 2009

Unusual solidarity

Here is an unusual example of accompaniment. Lenca first nations people are accompanying the Venezuelan embassy delegate who is resisting deportation from Honduras by the coup regime. Thirty of them are camping out in front of the main gate. Story here.

Rumor has it that 60 days later the US government might FINALLY actually declare the obvious, a coup, and cut off military aid (hello? bit slow?). You can help this along with a call to State Department at 202-647-5171 or 1-800-877-8339 and White House 202-456-1111 with the message: "Legally define the de facto regime in Honduras as a military coup and cut off all aid to Honduras until President Zelaya is unconditionally reinstated."

Aug 25, 2009

accompaniers raped

Universal Justice: Rape as Torture from Women's Link Worldwide on Vimeo.

The video tells the story better than I could. I know of no other public case of international accompaniers being targeted and raped by public security forces. I am wildly proud of my friend Andrea and her colleagues at Women's Link for doing strategic legal work around it, and for telling the story this well as part of that work. (fyi some fubs in the subtitles)

Aug 18, 2009

Words that move by moving

This video is a fantastic example of kinetic typography - which can make text clearer and more powerful. I learned about it on a great new blog full of geographic visualization resources. Yet another tool for telling stories in new ways, with new media. Anyone know of any solidarity group using this tool yet?

Aug 12, 2009

How to avoid empathy fatigue

Jamil Zaki wrote a great article on this, that is well worth the quick read. He has some concrete tips at the end about how to present photos and stories. He argues for something I have long argued for in solidarity groups: no photos without names. (I would say if it's a large group and you can't get all of the names, try to get one - the fantastic photo here is from the CPT site with no caption, no date - the album is entitled mural painting by the Legion of Affection. In CPT's defense, they may have presented it elsewhere with names and stories, here it was in an album.)

Zaki also argues for the importance of offering, right then and there, along the story, something to do with that empathy. He quotes Sontag, "Compassion is an unstable emotion. It needs be translated into action, or it withers”. He conflates compassion and empathy here, which is an issue I have been chewing on for years, but I'll come back to that. At any rate, as much as I love the fabulous story emails that CPT sends about their accompaniment work (and if you're not getting these emails and care about Colombia, or are interested in accompaniment, you should get on their list!), it is notable that there is no ask at the end of most of these emails - not even for a prayer, or funds, or a quick click email action, or to tell a friend about this story, or to consider coming on a delegation. Something to consider for all organizations doing storytelling. I don't think it's offensive to readers, but quite the opposite - as Zaki argues in this article, it's a relief for them to be able to do something with the empathy you have just generated by telling the story. I would suggest making a different ask each time. Or maybe always a different action and funds.

Aug 6, 2009

Speaking for/about/with the dead

I've said before, I agree with Arundhati Roy that no one is voiceless, some are simply less heard. I actually think even the dead are usually not voiceless. Their writings, recordings, or simply their lives continue to speak to us. But certainly it is more complicated, speaking with the dead.

Mumia Abu-Jamal, the U.S.'s most famous political prisoner, touches on it in this poem (spoken in the video, written below). Thanks to open anthropology for pointing me to it.

Can I speak? Can I speak about our dead at this celebration? After all, they are the ones who made it possible. Can someone say that we are here because they are not? Is that permitted?

I have a dead brother. Is there anyone here who doesn’t have a dead brother?

I have a dead brother.

He was killed by a bullet to his head. It was the before dawn on the 1st of January, 1994. Way before dawn the bullet that was shot. Way before dawn the death that kissed the forehead of my brother.

My brother used to laugh a lot but now he doesn’t laugh any more.

I couldn’t keep my brother in my pocket, but I kept the bullet that killed him. On another day before dawn I asked the bullet where it came from. It said: “From the rifle of a soldier of the government of a powerful person who serves another powerful person who serves another powerful person who serves another everywhere in the world.” The bullet that killed my brother has no nationality.

The fight that must be fought to keep our brothers with us, rather than the bullets that have killed them, has no nationality either. For this purpose we Zapatistas have many big pockets in our uniforms. Not for keeping bullets. For keeping brothers.

Jul 30, 2009

Accompaniment on youtube

International protective accompaniers in action in Colombia are suddenly (and for the first time that I can tell) all over youtube. Below are two dramatic videos of IPO in action.

And the video below has CPT in action (unfortunately it has bizarre new age music in the background as well). CPT is asking YOU to take action in support of the displaced families whose story is told here. See the details on how on Chris's blog.

There are many many other cool videos in the video playlists link that is always in the sidebar and takes you here. If you know of any other videos that have international accompaniers in them - please let me know!

Jul 27, 2009

respect: can a poster build it?

I continue to really enjoy the Osocio blog, and this re-post from their site alludes to whitening creams in a powerful way. If you haven't read my post about how whiteness works in Latin America, please do. There is a fascinating discussion in the comments, and I'd love more.

No, I don't think a poster alone can build respect, but it can be an important reminder and work well in a broader campaign. Solidarity groups seem to use posters a lot less than we used to. (everyone should get to know the joys of wheatpasting!)

Osocio titled the following post, copied in full here, The best skin treatment doesn't come in a bottle

ANTaR Respect: The best skin treatment doesn’t come in a bottle

Most Australians agree there is little trust and respect between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. That’s why ANTaR launched a new campaign today entitled Respect.
The Respect campaign is a new campaign calling on all Australians to commit to a new partnership between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians and non-Indigenous Australians.

The Reconciliation Australia Barometer—a national research study that looks at the relationship between Indigenous and other Australians—showed that nearly 3/4 of Australians surveyed believe that a lack of respect for Indigenous Australians is one of the most important contributing factors to Indigenous disadvantage.

In addition, the Barometer showed that only 1/5 of Australians surveyed know what they can do to help disadvantaged Indigenous people.

This campaign aims to address both of these issues by compelling Australians to think about - and change - their attitudes and behaviour towards Indigenous Australians. People are asked to make a committment to do this. When they make the committment (by signing the pledge), they are sent tips on what they can do to help.
Once people sign the pledge, they will receive 4 emails starting in July, each sent about 3 weeks apart, giving them tips on how they can show respect to Indigenous Australians. The point is that everybody can make a difference, it’s not just up to policy-makers, so the tips in the emails are easy to do.

The campaign is aimed at the many non-Indigenous Australians who would like to work alongside Indigenous Australians to end the disadvantage faced by Indigenous communities, but don’t know how. This campaign will provide people with ideas for action that are simple and effective.

The Body Shop and Avant Card have helped ANTaR promote the campaign nationally. The Body Shop is promoting the campaign in their stores over the next 3 weeks. Avant Card distributes postcards to cinemas, independent bookshops, universities and cafes.
And of course you can be part of the Respect community at Facebook.

Jul 20, 2009

courage is contagious

what makes people take great risks and, say, do human rights work in Colombia? Or just join a barricade to bring down the coup in Honduras? Or even just do a banner drop in front of their Congressman's office in solidarity with brave resistance in Honduras? (see photo - and here for more on citizen power in Honduras, and international solidarity with it - if you are in Miami you can protest in front of SouthCom on Saturday)

Well, here is an interesting article by Jamil Zaki about how courage is contagious. I always love it when psychologists prove the obvious. Here are some quotes:

“Why would people overlook their personal safety and join a dangerous protest, even when their individual contribution to it will be inevitably small? One possibility that's often ignored is that courage may be contagious.

Psychologists have long known that we are enormously influenced by the actions, beliefs, and attitudes of those around us. For the most part, the study of social influence has focused on negative versions of these effects, cataloging myriad ways that the presence of other people renders us thoughtless and selfish. We tip less at large tables, fail to intervene when someone needs help but other bystanders do nothing, and spiral into debt trying to keep up with our neighbors' standards of living. However, social influence is not as one-sided as its most prominent descriptions. More recent research has demonstrated at least two ways that other people can bolster our ability to face danger.

First, others serve as powerful models of what we can expect from the environment, and ways that we can respond to it. The most well-known example of this is vicarious fear conditioning. During normal fear conditioning, you see a neutral stimulus (a blue square, for example), and it is paired with something aversive, like an electric shock. Later, seeing the blue square alone is enough to become tense and anxious; you have learned to fear something perfectly innocuous by association. In vicarious conditioning, people learn fear through others: I watch you being shocked after seeing the blue square. Later, when I see that square, my brain and body react as though I had learned to fear it by being shocked myself.

However, vicarious conditioning is critically different from regular conditioning; not only the fear-evoking object, but also your reaction to it, will shape my later emotional responses. If you fear something, I will also. If you do not, I may actually be buffered from feeling fear when I have to face it. This effect is called social referencing

The presence of other people not only reduces the anticipatory quakes of facing risk; it can also lessen the suffering we feel during hardships, if we have company. An enormous and underappreciated public health risk factor is social isolation. Lonely people suffer greater anxiety, stress, and heart disease than the non-lonely -- an especially troubling idea given that more people live alone now than at any time in history. The other side to this is that the presence of people softens the blow of negative experience. People living in violent neighborhoods, for example, report less anxiety about the risks of living there as the cohesion of their community grows. Physical pain sensation is also reduced by the presence of close others, and in a recent brain imaging study, people demonstrated less neural response to pain when holding their romantic partner's hand than when alone.

Others' courage can both inspire us to face risk and support us as we experience hardships. This feedback loop between the bravery of individuals in a group and their effect on others lends people the tenacity to continue through dark conditions like the one we have witnessed in Iran in the last weeks.”

Jul 14, 2009

Another take on the power of reenactment

This is the text of an email sent by the Christian Peacemakers Team in Colombia on May 24, 2008

(photo is of CPTers speaking to the Colombian army in Bolivar, from the CPT web site)

That Was How it Happened

By Sandra Rincón
Translated by Michele Braley

Jonathan Stucky and I, along with three other organizations,
accompanied the Third Women's Conference of the Southern Bolivar Agricultural-Mining Federation in the village of Paraíso, Simiti. Even though participation was less than expected due to recent threats to several local priests, leaders and community workers, the organizers decided to continue with the event out of respect for the community that invited us.

Once the assembly had gathered and after they told the story of the village through an exercise, the community spontaneously organized a dramatization of what had happened. I was looking forward to seeing the presentation of what I had just heard. Nevertheless, this "sharing" by the community surprised me by its demonstration of the power of resistance in action.

Completely prepared in their roles, the actors reenacted the tragic day when the paramilitaries harassed, threatened, killed and disappeared two community members and destroyed the village.

"Don Carlos", the commander of the paramilitary group, was represented by the son of a man who was killed that day. Other actors in make-up completed the group that attacked El Paraíso. The play also included "Machuca" an informant and guerrilla deserter, who pointed out various
members of the community as collaborators with the guerrilla. Finally, the leaders of the community were played by themselves.

The first part of the play ended with the burning of the houses of the village (constructed with cardboard) and the community intensely recalling this moment. Someone said, "If you would have seen how it was after this; you could see from the soccer field (where we were)
the few things that did not burn, this made us very sad."

The actors portrayed the words and actions of this day so well that the people watching felt as if the play was real. In truth, I was deeply moved by this dramatization. The children were anxious around some of the frightening actors and the adults laughed nervously. People in the audience added lines to the dialogue and the oldest members repeated out loud, "that is exactly how it happened."

For the second act, unknown to the audience, the theater group had developed a new ending to the tragic day, to include all of us. The leaders, still full of fear but feeling accompanied by the
organizations attending the assembly, forcefully asked the paramilitaries to respect everyone's life and territory. Faced with the refusal of the paramilitaries to honor this request, everyone
present, actors and observers, united and ordered them to leave shouting "out, out, out!" until the disempowered paramilitaries left the assembly. At the end, everyone was looking at each other feeling that finally, for real, everything was over.

That was how it happened. The value of this play is hard to measure. Maybe for some people it was healing and empowering while for others it was only a painful dramatization. For me as an accompanier it was a unique moment: the victims who had lost so much due to the violence
reclaimed from the ashes their dignity and strength, becoming the protagonists of a new story where truth, justice and resistance are their guide.

Jul 6, 2009

for the appropriately paranoid

I would say that most accompaniers don't do most of the things in this guide to secure communications by the great folks at DigiActive, but given the recent DAS scandal in Colombia, it seems worth upping the hassle factor. What a pain. Also worth noting that they say cellphones should be left outside of sensitive meetings in the US too, since the ability to listen through them is commercially available and works on US networks too. I would assume that means Canada too.

Jul 3, 2009

and now a gadget! for getting us to see what we don't see

Osocio is really on a roll with this theme - here's another straight from the Osocio blog on social advertising

Billed as “the first poster that responds to people looking at it,” Amnesty International’s one-off domestic violence awareness poster includes an eye-tracking camera that changes the poster’s display when a viewer looks at the image.


The poster, titled “It Happens When Nobody Is Watching,” has been criticized for its being one of a kind (as opposed to a full campaign) and accused of pandering for an award (which it won). Berliners, be on the watch, this poster is displayed at a bus stop in your city. Have you seen it? What do others think of its efficacy?

Jun 26, 2009

put yourself in my placeless place

another one straight from Osocio
not quite as creepy as the last, but still, a bit bizarre
do you think this works to make the invisible visible?
is it effective at humanizing?
is this really how empathy works?
would this inspire YOU to solidarity?

Weingart Homeless Center: Before you turn away put yourself in my place

imageTo raise awareness for the Weingart Homeless Center, agency David & Goliath from Los Angeles took a non traditional approach that made people imagine themselves homeless if only for a moment. They photographed a dozen of the 70.000 people living on the streets of Los Angeles. They gave each of them a blank cardboard sign and had them write the same message: Before you turn away, put yourself in my place. Followed by the URL, Then they took those images, blew them up life-size, removed their faces and made them into photo-realistic cardboard cutouts. They placed the cutouts in upscale shopping centers in Bevery Hills and Santa Monica. Soon the homeless could not be ignored. This project not only raised awareness, but it ultimately raised funds according to David & Goliath.

Weingart Homeless Center: Before you turn away put yourself in my place

Jun 21, 2009

ways of getting folks to see the unseen

a very different kind of postering.
do these make the kids seem more human or less?
I find it kind of creepy - but am heartened that people do break them out.

straight from the osocio blog:

Neglected Children are made to feel invisible

Provoking street campaign which can be seen right now in Melbourne for the Australian Childhood Foundation. For their ongoing campaign Stop Child Abuse Now agency JWT used child size mannequins to represent children suffering neglect. The mannequins were placed in high traffic locations around the city and then a billposter was pasted over the top of the figure so only the feet and legs could be seen. Words on the poster read, “Neglected Children are made to feel invisible.”

When the mannequin is removed the text “Thank you for seeing me” become visible.

Neglected Children are made to feel invisible

Neglected Children are made to feel invisible

Neglected Children are made to feel invisible

Jun 12, 2009

memory on the streets

straight from the blog mi mundo, cool pics of a great action by one of the all around best groups to learn from (ojo que HIJ@S is not just in Guate but lots of different countries).
Now THAT is some wheatpasting!

HIJOS: Public Poster Campaigns

Guatemala City, Guatemala.
May 6, 2009.

Next June, ten years will have passed since the HIJOS Collective exploded onto Guatemalan society (HIJOS means “children” in Spanish and it is an acronym for: Sons and Daughters for Identity and Justice, against Forgetfulness and Silence). Through public art, conscience-seeking events and political demonstrations, HIJOS has been seeking truth, justice and the continuance of historical memory with relation to the crimes against humanity committed by the Guatemalan State during its 36-year civil war.

Among its many activities, HIJOS periodically carries out poster campaigns in open spaces, particularly in Guatemala City.

The photographs and texts from HIJOS’ postings rarely fail to capture the attention of passerbyers.

Wendy Mendez (right), one of HIJOS’ founding members, shares with us the reasons behind such activities as well as HIJOS’ mission and overall motivation:

Today, March 8th, celebrated worldwide as International Women’s Day, also marks 25 years since my mother, Luz Haydee Mendez, was abducted, tortured, and disappeared by the G2 military intelligence agency. This was Guatemala City in 1984. I can’t help but feel a wide range of emotions. Some are anger and uncertainty, but above all hope prevails as I continue my path in search of justice for her and all the women disappeared and massacred.

Justice is a word that we have come to know due to its absence in our lives. It is not fair that my mother, along with many other mothers, was forcibly abducted and disappeared. It is not fair that in our families, as in many other Guatemalan households, a massive void remains where instead there should be a person who can be infinitely trusted in.

It is not fair that those who carried out such crimes remain free. It is not fair that those who ordered the atrocities now occupy political decision-making and influential power posts in our government and society.

It is not fair that my three-year old son has to grow up without a grandmother. It is not fair that my old lady never knew what it was like to be a grandma. It is not fair that 25 years have gone by since that tragic day and I still feel deep sorrow, fear, anguish, frustration, and many other emotions that I do not know what to call.

Today we live within a socio-political context where our authorities use the faces, names and memory of our fallen in order to cover up the forced evictions and repression carried out against peasant farmers who protect our natural resources. A context where our authorities don’t turn in the military campaign archives that support the genocide cases as they have been ordered to do. A context where our authorities mock war survivors and their communities, as they do not recognize the authenticity of repressive documents such as the Military Diary. The light at the end of the justice tunnel is a hard one to see.

Several have been the activities that our collective has spearheaded while seeking dignity for the memory of our men, women, and children who were victims of state terrorism. We have carried out demonstrations in front of judicial courts and homes of those responsible for genocide, marched through streets and avenues, denounced and displayed our historic memory on public murals, rescued testimonies about the lives and struggles of former guerrillas.

Yet, something we have not been able to feel in flesh has been a longed-for JUSTICE.

The 25th anniversary of the forced disappearance of Luz Haydee Mendez calls for a reflection on justice and how to achieve it. This is the basis for our commemorative public poster campaign.

Guatemala of the New Resistance, March 8, 2009.

“No more Military Impunity”

“Memory, Truth and Justice”

Jun 6, 2009

virtual guantanamo

and then there's the most full on simulation out there: Second Life - and sure enough, it has the most intense of scenarios on it - a virtual Guantamo, designed by USC Institute for Media Literacy and the Seton Hall School of Law. if you don't want to get sucked in to actually setting up your own avatar and joining Second Life you can get a sense of how the virtual guantanamo looks by watching these videos.

what do you think? does this build empathy? or is it pornography of violence? fine line. one that a gaming company nearly crossed when it was going to make a Gitmo video game simulation for profit. in the end they dropped it, not because of that concern, but because they thought it might be used as "al Qaeda propaganda".

but what we want to do is take down Guantamo, not recreate it. Amnesty International has done something along this line with - but while compelling, it certainly does not get the gut in the same way.

for a sense of other ways activism is being done on Second Life check this out

but reminding folks of what it's like and what's at stake by putting actual bodies in orange jumpsuits in front of the white house still seems more effective to me

I have mixed feelings about the touring cell - which you may have seen Jon Stewart redecorate. again, it seems 'too easy' somehow. I want it to be more obvious that the experience isn't that easy to recreate, that there's more to it. I want it to be obvious that there are silences, stutters. Still, the cell on tour I'm sure did raise a lot of awareness.

Jun 2, 2009

more ways of getting people to see things

from the blog Another Limited Rebellion
this simulation (?!) just seems a bit silly to me
what, we're building solidarity with miniature refugees?

Mini-Refugee Camps Sprouting Up in Germany

posted by Another Limited Rebellion at 12:14 PM

German artist Hermann Josef Hack, founder of the Global Brainstorming Project, has started setting up miniature refugee camps in public spaces to bring attention to the people already suffering from the effects of climate change. 500 tiny tents have already been on display in Berlin (shown) and are moving on to Leipzig and Dresden later this month.

May 28, 2009

poorism doesn't just happen in Mumbai

and then there's the danger of thinking you "know" because you've "seen" it.

in light of my ongoing musings about simulations - is going to "see it yourself" any better than playing a fakey sim video game? what makes solidarity tourism different than poorism (poor tourism)? (lots, but worth musing about)

I love the kind of video activism above that calls out poorism voyeurism. so powerful. and more and more accessible, in an age of flips and internet cafes and open source editing software.

May 25, 2009

simulation games

Back to the simulations questions. I stumbled on a bunch of simulation video games where you can

be a "third world" farmer

be a sweatshop worker

be a displaced Darfurian

be an African health service worker

be a refugee

As the Darfur game folks put it, "it offers a faint glimpse of what life is like". Is this useful? Or dangerous, to think that you know? Or will it be obvious that through a video game you only barely know? Can these games weave connections between here and there, us and them?

May 15, 2009

please take 30 seconds to help protect Martha and her family

Extrajudicial Killing In Colombia from Witness For Peace on Vimeo.

A few days ago I posted this great solidarity video work and incredibly brave and powerful testimony and video footage by Martha, the daughter of José, a campesino who was killed by the Colombian army, who then concocted a scenario to present him as a guerilla - ie, a "false positive" - a hideous euphemism if ever there was one.

The trial against a soldier indicted in this case began ten days ago. I am horrified and outraged to report that Martha's uncle--a key witness in the case--was shot in the head on Sunday in an apparent attempt to disrupt the trial and scare the other witnesses, including Martha. He is in intensive care awaiting neurosurgery.

MARTHA IS IN IMMEDIATE DANGER. She and her family need your support. They simply ask for protection and justice in the cases of Martha's father and uncle. Please take one minute to send a letter to U.S. Ambassador William Brownfield, asking him to stand up for justice in this case.

You can also send Martha and her family a message of support, in English or Spanish. They are incredibly brave and these letters mean a lot to them.

A new video of Martha asking for justice, and for your support, is below.

Target for Telling the Truth from Witness For Peace on Vimeo.

May 11, 2009

the power of having a video camera handy

Extrajudicial Killing In Colombia from Witness For Peace on Vimeo.

Absolutely amazing that this campesino family had quick access to a video camera to document how the Colombian army had left their father's body. Imagine a wold where everyone has quick access to a cheap and discreet flip camera? This is also very inspiring solidarity work by witness for peace as they amplify Martha's brave brave voice. You can stand with Martha, stand for justice and dignity, by taking this quick online action to ask the US to stop funding an army that kills it's own people. In a very cool online activism move I've never seen done by a solidarity group before, you can also send Martha and her family a quick online note of support here. I can't emphasize enough how scary it must be for them to put themselves at risk by telling this story, and how much letters like this must mean for them. please take a minute to write both.

May 4, 2009

what work do simulations do?

I had a great conversation with my friend Amy over lunch today about simulations that medical students do of being, say, (and each person gets a different person to play) a person with one leg, substance abuse problems, and trying to get housing, and having to go to stations around the room to talk to simulated social service offices, the bank, landlords. Does this help these students be more empathetic when they are doctors? Can such a brief distant semi glimpse into what it miiiight be like for someone make a difference? How so? Well a lot of people seem to think that the similar sort of glimpse offered by the game In her shoes originally designed by my friend Karen Rosenberg and distributed in the US by the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence makes a difference. It's been played by service providers, cops, judges, and all sorts of folks for years. Another friend, Lupita Patterson, worked on making a version reflecting the realities of Latino survivors in the US, and then PATH, the Program for Appropriate Technology in Health, localized versions for several other countries (localizing means more than just translating, but making the scenarios, stories, etc relevant to the context). What I think might be even more important is that the Coalition has followed it up with an advocates guide called In our shoes, next steps. As they put it "This workbook helps communities take the next steps beyond understanding a survivor's experiences (In Her Shoes) to embracing our collective responsibility for ending domestic violence and poverty (In Our Shoes)." Because too often I worry that simulations leave people thinking they've really been in someone else's shoes, when of course you have only had the vaguest sense of it - and don't help us think about where then we want to walk in our own shoes, and how to walk alongside people in other shoes. I also worry that, as my friend Sarah puts it, if I walk in their shoes, is there still room in their shoes for them? Or to use academic jargon, when does empathy become appropriative? But really, in a workshop simulation, will anyone think they are *really* in anyone else's shoes? Or will it be clear it's just a paper doll cutout of someone else's shoes?

For another way more high tech simulation, check this video out: (I think it does good work, but it doesn't feel much to me like what I had going on emotionally when I walked down a path where folks had been hurt by mines a few days before, or when I chose to pee in a field that might have had mines rather than by the truck next to 30 people)

A Virtual Minefield from on Vimeo.

Apr 25, 2009

connecting torture, North and South

I was incredibly moved by the article It's important that we make connections in the latest issue of Presente! the newspaper of the movement to close the School of the Americas. The article is an interview/conversation with black freedom movement leader Ruby Sales. Ruby has personal experience with accompaniment. In '65 Jonathan Daniels, a young white man working with SNCC in solidarity with black activists, was killed as he pushed Ruby out of the line of fire of a white vigilante.

Ruby's analysis in this article is so powerful and clear. I really encourage you to read all of it, but here are a few key snippets:

(warning, disturbing stories - but we need to be disturbed! see through our tears!)

Ruby: No, it was a whole body of white people. For example in 1930 a lynch mob of men, women and children in Meriam, Indiana mutilated and lynched Tom Ship and Abe Smith and lynched them. And they also burned their bodies, and then after their bodies were burned, white men, women and children tore off the victim's clothes and ripped apart their genitals to keep as souvenirs and reminders of their power over Black lives and bodies.

And as the crowd lynched Will Brown, they set up a cheer. And the white representatives of the criminal justice system that were sworn to uphold the law colluded with these crimes. And although when you look at those historical pictures you see the faces of the criminal, the criminal justice system never charged or punished them for these heinious crimes. Very much like police operatives today getting away with this kind of execution.

And then in 1918, a white mob lynched Mary Turner in Brooks County, Georgia. A mob of about several hundred people, and she was 8 months pregnant, and the mob tied her to a tree, took a knife and split her wide open and her unborn child fell from her womb to the ground, where the mob proceeded to crush the baby's head with the heels of other members of the mob. And then they riddled her body with bullets and set her afire with gasoline. And no one was punished for mutilating or murdering Mary Turner. And in the crowd, of course, there were policemen, and the policemen in these small counties knew exactly who had done it, and they never brought charges against them.

Most recently in 2007 in Logan County, West Virginia, Megan Williams was hospitalized after six white men and women held her captive and tortured her for days. They tortured her, they sexually abused her and forced her to eat rat droppings. They choked her with a cable cord and stabbed her in the leg while using white supremacist language designed to dehumanize her. According to Megan Williams, these white supremacists poured hot water over her and made her drink from a toilet. As of this writing, representatives of the criminal justice system both locally and nationally have decided not to charge Megan Williams' torturers with these crimes.

And then of course we have the murders of Adolf Grimes, who was murdered most recently in New Orleans, where the police for no apparent reason at all pumped 14 rounds of bullets in his body. And of course we have Oscar Grant in Oakland/San Francisco, most recently, who was shot by the police as he lay on the ground with his hands cuffed. And we of course have Sean Bell who was shot multiple times by the police in 2006 as he came from a bachelor's party that preceeded his wedding the next day. And of course you have 17-year-old Billy Joe Johnson who died mysteriously in the hands of the police. And on the day that he died, the police would not permit the parents to identify or see his body. As a matter of fact, the parents did not see his body for five days later. And when they returned the body to the parents, Mr. Johnson said that his son had been butchered like a pig. And later on we discover that his brains, tongue and the right side of his jaw were missing.

Vera: It's an overwhelming history and present of --

Ruby: Well, it's like the death squads of Latin America. That's exactly what they did. They cut out people's tongues in El Salvador. elsalvador.jpgSo this continues a trajectory of state violence against oppressed peoples, whether you're in Latin America [or not]. That was my thing, that people could make the connection in El Salvador, but they couldn't bring it back home to this country that has had a heinious history. The trainers of the death squads were able to teach them to do this because they had practiced it domestically at home. That's why they came to this country to be trained in how to commit these heinious crimes. Because this is what had happened in this country with African Americans, Native Americans and Latinos.

Vera: And because in this country, the state had this whole body of white people who were supporting them, either silent, and/or perpetrating it themselves.

Ruby: And when the Dyer Bill that came up in Congress against lynchings, that had been fought to bring to the national forefront by Ida Wells Burnett, most white Congressmen voted against the Dyer Bill. Voted against the bill to stop lynching in this country, and that was in the 20th century. That was not in the 18th century.

And I can tell you the story of Will Brown, whose body was broken and charred, after a white mob lynched him and hung his dead body from a telephone pole in 1919 in Omaha, Nebraska. They shot several hundred bullets into his lifeless hanging body. They then cut the rope and then tied his body to a car, and dragged it through the street. Next, they poured oil on his body and burned him. And once again, although the faces of members of the white mob are clear in the photographs, the white representatives of the criminal justice system that was sworn to uphold the law ignored the crime and no one was ever charged.

And what I'm trying to say is that this has always been a community event within white society. And white people have been told that this kind of blood letting and killing and lynching and torture of African Americans are essential to protect law and order and to protect the perogatives of the white community. That left untouched, Black people would destroy civilization and everything that's good in it. And so white people have been taught to fear African Americans. And they have most of the time bought into this.

So when we talk about torture abroad, you must understand that torture abroad that America is involved with begins at home. Even water boarding is not nothing new. The tactic was a little different, but it was water boarding when you unleashed water hoses on demostrators, water hoses that were going about a hundred miles a minute.

Vera: I'm wondering how to stand where we are and push against this. As a white person, I feel a lot of responsibility for pushing other white people, and myself, to see this and to study this and to understand this, but also to work in community with communities and leaders of color, to push against this. I'm wondering if we can speak about that a little bit?

Ruby: Well, one of the reasons why the movement here against death squads in El Salvador and the violence and terrorism in Nicaragua never gained hold among the African-American community here, because it rung with deep hypocrisy. We were living in the heart of police and state violence, and there seemed to have been on the parts of white people no recognition of this and no willingness to admit the truth about the country that they lived in and how their silence accelerates and sustains this police state that Black people have lived in for years. So it seemed weird to go running somewhere else without making a connection between that somewhere else in this community. And so Black people, when confronted with this situation, really saw white people as real hypocrites and that's why -- it's not that we didn't care about what was happening in Latin America, but we simply could not work with people who would deny what was happening in this country and who insisted on remaining ignorant about it. When there have been hundreds of books written on the subject.

So part of what I think needs to happen is that I need to bring young activists together in a kind of school, a movement history of militarism so that they can do their work within the context of a historical frame of reference. Because right now it's ahistoric.

there's much more great analysis in this article, keep reading here.