Dec 30, 2010

the pinky show

I just discovered the pinky show. There are a bunch of these, but this one cracked me up. It takes some patience to listen to the slow pace, and a certain sense of humour, but there are some profound and deeply funny insights about decolonizing solidarity in here!

Dec 24, 2010

changing the world with one foot in the academy

This interview with Derek Gregory is well worth reading. It's great to get to have him as my adviser and get to talk about doing this kind of work.

The citation for the interview is:

Keith P. Feldman, Anoop Mirpuri, Georgia M. Roberts, 2009. Affect, Ethics, and the Imaginative Geographies of Permanent War: An Interview with Derek Gregory. Theory & Event 12.

If you have academic access read the pretty version, but if not, I put it up here
Interview with Derek Gregory

Dec 15, 2010

it's so damn hot!

Yes, it is HOT in Barrancabermeja, Colombia, where Christian Peacemaker Teams does protective accompaniment. So hot that when I visited the team I ended up soaking my feet in pails of cool water because they were so swollen. Or better yet, a cold stream - like this picture taken on a CPT delegation. That's me on the left, with Sylvia, the CPT anti-racism coordinator. How fantastic is it that CPT has a position like that? But still a long ways to go.

I should have taken aspirin for a few days before getting there, apparently. Didn't help that I had been living in high high altitude Bogota. It *does* actually take my body a while to get used to humid heat - but this is no excuse for the racist environmental determinism that believes that people that live in cooler areas are just, well, better. Or that people with, say, African heritage can handle the heat better. Sylvia got heat stroke and it was no joke. You might think that these old racist beliefs are long gone, but this is such a deply ingrained colonial pattern that it keeps cropping up.

One of the geographers who has written a great deal about this is David Livingstone. He recently did a great series on the BBC of five short shows called the Empire of Climate. If you listen to only one, listen to this one on climate and race.

Dec 7, 2010


Tami's story of her arrest, and resistance, at the recent vigil to close the School of the Americas gets to the heart of the need to decolonize solidarity. THIS is why it is different for brown folks to go to the SOA vigil, and to get arrested. Twenty six people were arrested at the vigil. Many of them, like Tami, had no intention of being arrested and were doing nothing illegal. Four did purposefully cross on to the base and are facing six months in federal prison. One of the two who began serving time immediately, David Omondi, is a younger black man. I shudder to think at how he is being treated in prison. I am in awe of his strength in choosing, in protest, to willingly go into the prison industrial complex that works to eat alive so many men like him.

For a great full account of the protest and the arrests read this post by Clare.

Nov 29, 2010

seeing the invisibles

here is a gorgeous example of the tactic I've blogged about recently - of how famous people can use their voice to open space for the voices of those less likely to be heard. In this case the gorgeous Gael Garcia Bernal talks to 'invisibles' - watch it to see who they are. It's a short film in four beautiful and hearwrenching parts, this is just the first, the others are here. It's well worth watching until the end just to see the train.

Nov 19, 2010

protection manual

Protection International has a new online Protection Manual for Human Rights Defenders (3rd Edition)

Research and text by Enrique Eguren Fernández and Marie Caraj, 2009, 213 pages

chapters include (for live links to these and more PDF's go their site)


* Assessing the likelihood of different kinds of aggression taking place..
* Preventing possible direct aggression against defenders..
* Carrying out counter - surveillance..


* Assessing security at work or at home.
* Planning, improving and checking security in offices and homes.


* Looking at security from the perspective of women human rights defenders.
* Providing both women and men human rights defenders with additional security/protection knowledge and tools.


* To think about what makes members and organisations unable or unwilling to follow security plans and procedures, and find appropriate solutions.



they have lots of other great publications here

Nov 12, 2010

EAPPI: Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel

EAPPI has a one of the best "who we are" pages of any accompaniment group, here, with this photo (love the candles) and short bios of each of their current 36th group serving, made up of 26 accompaniers from eleven countries (Australia, Germany, Finland, Ireland, Netherlands, Norway, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, UK and the US). One of the Swiss accompaniers is originally from Colombia. His bio reads:


Originally from Colombia, Jorge has been living in Switzerland for the last 5 years. He has a BA in Psychology, a MA in Psychosocial Research and is about to finish his PhD in Neuroscience. He has researched stress, emotions and the psychobiological mechanisms related coping with chronic stress. Now he is interested on going from the lab to the field and as a EA he wishes to focus his efforts on the area of mental health in the conflict. As a Colombian, he is constantly mistaken for an Arab or Israeli, so decided to come and look for his roots!

Several of the EAPPI accompaniers have blogs, listed here with their bios. One recent intriguing entry is titled, Give young people a space - not a place - but sadly the rest of the entry is in Swedish!

Nov 8, 2010

"In the Company of Fear"

I *finally* got my hands on this documentary about accompaniment in Colombia made in 1999 by Velcrow Ripper (yes, yes, get past the odd name), with funding from the fabulous National Film Board of Canada. I'm afraid there is no trailer online to embed here, so I hope you will take my word for it - it's worth watching! Even eleven years later it is still timely, true, and well done. It includes some truly amazing footage. I wish it were more easily available! I've encouraged Velcrow to put it online and you can too. He's easy to find on facebook!

Oct 31, 2010

la zona campesina

another short video by PBI, this time about the zona campesina, a 'small farmer reserve zone'

Oct 26, 2010

charity stinks

Here's another one of those fabulous animated big thinker videos - this time its Zizek going on about the dangers of charity, "and so on and so on". What he frustratingly fails to do then is talk about how solidarity is different. Still, fun to watch.

Oct 15, 2010

Our own settler reality

I appreciated this post sent by Christian Peacemaker Teams so much I'm reposting it in its entirety. (For the record, cpt does do accompaniment in aboriginal territory in Canada (see picture). For more on their work see

27 September 2010
AT-TUWANI/ABORIGINAL JUSTICE REFLECTION: Seeking the peace of Palestine by engaging our own settler reality.

by Steve Heinrichs

A life-changing thought came to mind this past week while I was serving in the village of at-Tuwani. I was out with Palestinian shepherds, watching the Jewish settlers of Ma'on construct another large chicken barn on stolen Palestinian land. As I watched, all of a sudden, the armed Jewish settlers and their bulldozers vanished from sight, only to be replaced by other white settlers—persons of European origin, carrying Bibles, guns, and Christian civilization. Then the Palestinian shepherds next to me, a couple of young Muslim teenagers, also disappeared, and in their place stood two men of First Nations origin. And before I knew it, the desert land beneath my feet began to tremble, and thousands of huge Douglas Firs erupted from the hillsides, while a raging river full of salmon and steelhead burst forth from the rocky valley below.

There was no mistaking it. I was in my “home and native land,” my country of Canada, my province of British Columbia. And as I looked around, I perceived the disturbing truth of the dream.

Historian Norman Finkelstein thinks what happened to the indigenous of Turtle Island (North America) is the best analogy one can draw on to understand current events in Palestine—the ethnic cleansing, the theft of lands, the racist policies. But I'm pressing beyond illuminating parallels. Could it be that the oppressions of these two peoples are connected in some deeper way? And could it be that we North Americans who seek justice in Palestine cannot actually do this work with efficacy, let alone integrity, unless we are seeking the same justice for the host peoples in our countries?

We see (or read about) the Israeli colonialists grabbing more and more land, and getting rid of more and more natives. We see and we cry out; we rage and resist. But where is the similar protest on behalf of the peoples who have suffered the largest holocaust the world has ever known? Conservative estimates assert that there were at least 10 million Native persons living on Turtle Island when Columbus came. By 1900, only 250,000 were left.

Where is our rage? And where is our repentance as inheritors and benefactors of the North American settler movement? If we condemn today's Israeli settlers for stealing Canaan from the Palestinians, what will we do about the Promised Land our settler forefathers wrested from indigenous people, land that we've inherited, land that we live on (and land, of course, symbolizing all our stolen wealth, power, privilege, culture, etc.) Is that simply all in the past?

We North Americans who are seeking justice and peace for the people of Palestine need some new priorities: to get to know the “Palestinians” back home, to hear their stories, and seek justice in solidarity with them. If we did, greater integrity would certainly come our way, but also something much more important. For in a cosmos in which Creator has made everything interrelated, the fight for justice in both places (abroad and at home) might mean that both peoples will experience some kind of just peace sooner.

The distinguished Palestinian poet Mahmoud believed and proclaimed that Palestinian and Native suffering were profoundly connected. In his poem, “The Speech of the Red Indian,” he tells settlers of all stripes—be they Jewish or North American like us —the posture that we need to adopt in order to heal our one human body. It is not a comfortable posture for us settlers. But it is the right and necessary one, and so deserves the last word:

There are dead who light up the night

of butterflies,

and the dead who come at dawn

to drink your tea

as peaceful as on the day your

guns mowed them down.

O you who are guests in this place,

leave a few chairs empty

for your hosts to read out

the conditions for peace

in a treaty with the dead.

Oct 11, 2010

Empire and Solidarity conference

I wish I were going to the third annual Empire and Solidarity in the Americas Conference in New Orleans this coming weekend. If you live nearby, go for me! The theme this year is Legacies of Central American Solidarity. The good news is that many of the papers are online here. Check it out!

Oct 8, 2010

accompanying the accompaniers

Just as I was complaining about the underuse of online video by accompaniers, PBI Colombia has taken off and gone gangbusters with a whole series of them. This one shows them accompanying the accompaniers - which happens quite often. In this case PBI is accompanying Colombian human rights workers as they travel out to accompany the Wiwa indigenous community.

(In other news, I'm having a great time at the Latin American Studies conference where yesterday I went to a session on solidarity at which Aviva Chomsky yet again wowed me. I hope to post both her paper and the others here soon)

Sep 29, 2010

speaking of the space provided by accompaniment

This is my favorite of the recent short videos by PBI Colombia, because this one so clearly opens a space for the voice of one of the people that they accompany. What is odd is that he seems to say that he also has armed bodyguards - which is against PBI policy I thought. So maybe PBI just accompanies the organization that he works with (CREDHOS) as a whole, not him. It's not quite clear here. What IS clear here is that when he says PBI gives CREDHOS more space, he means not just political space but very literally that with PBI along they can go further out into more dangerous countryside to do their work.

Sep 20, 2010

bringing attention to unheard voices

The theme of famous people bringing attention to otherwise ignored people and places continues - this video is by Greenpeace of a trip the actress Marion Cotillard did to an area of the Congo being devastated by logging. Rather than fetishizing the people of the jungle like the Cameron piece, in this one they're real people that can talk and tell their story - more so in the latter episodes than in this first one. Great explanation at the end of the traceability principle. These videos would be a great tool to foster discussion in class about commodity chains.

Sep 12, 2010

a message from Pandora

I continue to be in awe of the organizers of Amazon Watch's good work of getting James Cameron, the director of Avatar, down to the Amazon to meet with real live people facing environmental destruction of their lands in real live "Pandora". This little video above is him telling of his trip, and I'm sure it will get the story of the destruction of the Amazon out to far more people than would otherwise have heard of it. Not so surprisingly, it suffers from the same white man saviour syndrome that the original movie did. sigh.

Sep 2, 2010

using privilege to pee

If you wanted to use a nice clean bathroom and knew you could walk into a fancy restaraunt and use theirs without being hassled because of your race/class/passport privilege - would you do it?

Would you do it if you were with a friend who would NOT be let in?

Or would you try to walk in with her?

If you were the one who would normally be hassled, would you walk in with your friend?

These simpler questions might be a good way to start a conversation about how, when, and why accompaniment uses privilege. One way to make these exercises more interactive and kinesthetic is to do a sociogram with them. Rather than have people stand along a line of just a yes/no response, you can ask them to position themselves around the room in ways (sitting, standing, facing away, close to the facilitator in the center or far) that reflect the various aspects of their position.

Aug 31, 2010

does accompaniment do jiu-jitsu?

The book People Power: Unarmed Resistance and Global Solidarity (London: Pluto Press, 2009) has several articles on accompaniment, including "Making Accompaniment Effective", by Brian Martin, which is also available online, here.

This short article argues against understanding accompaniment as working through the 'jiu-jitsu effect' and for instead using a 'backfire framework'.

Aug 27, 2010

Protecting space for peace

That's the name of this new short video by PBI about the zona campesina, check it out. I'm thrilled that accompaniers are finally doing more online video!

Aug 20, 2010

circle of solidarity, circle of life

Mulatos Peace Village, June 2010 from Fellowship of Reconciliation on Vimeo.

This short video is a "video letter" from the FOR accompaniers with the peace community of San José de Apartadó. It shows the new buildings at the hamlet (vereda) of Mulatos that is part of the peace community. Mulatos is where Luis Eduardo Guerra, a leader of the community, was murdered, along with his family and another family. I went to Mulatos with the community in March of 2008 on the third anniversary of that massacre. On that trip a few brave families were returning to live in Mulatos. When I was there the only buildings were the abandoned health post and a simple roof only chapel they had built to commemorate the massacre site. It was great to see in this video how much more they have built and how many more families have moved back!

The peace community is an important example of how to resist nonviolently, engage in collective civil disobedience in the middle of a war, and make space for peace and life. It is an honor to be part of their circle of solidarity.

Aug 14, 2010

accompaniers support community in pressuring the body shop

In this video by the Colombian Christian Peacemaker Team they open space for the voices of a community they have been accompanying. The community has been displaced by a palm oil plantation that sells their palm oil to, of all places, the Body Shop.

Jul 30, 2010

solidarity is sexy

Vancouver status of women used this as the title for "a night of connection poetry and music to build VSW's volunteer base and raise support for Haiti"that they held last February.

I think solidarity IS sexy, but we don't often acknowledge that, or talk about it in those terms. It's certainly rare to recruit turnout with a slogan like that! I love that it was a feminist group that used it.

What does it mean that solidarity is sexy? There are the loaded relationships between Latin Americans (usually men) and North Americans (usually women) that come out of solidarity work. But I'm not just thinking about that, though certainly some more open talk about that would be useful for solidarity organizing.

It's not just the people that do solidarity work that are sexy, but something about the very idea itself. Making connections across difference to be more powerful in our organizing for a better world - it's hot!

Jul 20, 2010

Hearing the silences in the stories

It's important to remember that we can't hear it all or really 'know' another's experience when we listen to their personal stories. I've posted before about using fade outs. (Wim Wenders 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 can't fully see them.) The video above uses a strange black and white cut in that seems to serve as a similar reminder.

Jul 14, 2010

the Warsaw ghetto says free the Gaza ghetto

this "liberate all ghettos" graffiti in hebrew was painted on the walls of the old Warsaw jewish ghetto. great solidarity action!

Yonatan Shapira, former Israeli Air Force captain and now refusenik and BDS activist, said:

‘Most of my family came from Poland and many of my relatives were killed in the death camps during the Holocaust. When I walk in what was left from the Warsaw Ghetto I can’t stop thinking about the people of Gaza who are not only locked in an open air prison but are also being bombarded by fighter jets, attack helicopters and drones, flown by people whom I used to serve with before my refusal in 2003.

I am also thinking about the delegations of young Israelis that are coming to see the history of our people but also are subjected to militaristic and nationalistic brainwashing on a daily basis. Maybe if they see what we wrote here today they will remember that oppression is oppression, occupation is occupation, and crimes against humanity are crimes against humanity, whether they have been committed here in Warsaw or in Gaza’.

thanks to the people's geography site for this one.

Jul 8, 2010

yet another post about empathy

I'm in love with the guy who does these animations. Ok, I haven't met him, but I have spent way too long watching all of the RSA animation videos. They're fantastic! This one is about empathy, and there is another one of David Harvey, the best known living geographer, explaining the economic crisis.

Jul 1, 2010

solidarity with the dead

Powerful video from a campaign in Spain against impunity for the crimes of the Franco regime. Here's one case where I'm perfectly ok with trying to "be the one you're with".

Jun 20, 2010

building connections

My review of the book Feminisms in Geography: Rethinking Space, Place, and Knowledges, edited by Pamela Moss and Karen Falconer Al-Hindi just came out in thirdspace. The review is entitled Mutilingual, multifeminisms, and is online here.

I would be honored if you read the whole review, but here are two key paragraphs:

"... These issues are also addressed in Geraldine Pratt’s absolutely fantastic short chapter (if you read only one chapter, read this one) entitled “Complexity and Connection”. It takes her earlier piece (also included, and entitled “Reflections on poststructuralism and feminist empirics, theory and practice”), and carries it beyond a US context. She argues, again, for the central role that geographers can play in working through differences between women. Rather than spouting tired universalizing generalizations, geographers can actually do the hard work of translating across contexts, material differences and, as she puts it, “competing, situated universal norms and claims” (70), rather than simply translating ideas into the language of the dominant framework, or absorbing them into a generalization. As a translator, I couldn’t agree more. Although I have been arguing here for prioritizing and funding more translation into English, I envision this as only one part of an engaged back and forth building of more connections between (as the book calls us, though I do not love the term) “Anglo-American” and other feminist geographers. Gerry Pratt is absolutely right that as geographers we have an important role to play in building a transnational feminism by drawing, as Cindi Katz (2001) calls them, counter-topographical contour lines that show how the same processes affects us in different ways. Doing so can help us articulate struggles across different places. These lines, as Pratt puts it, open possibilities for political connection (71) and meaningful alliances. We are not pure victims or oppressors, and we can forge connections “across our many shifting complicities as well as oppressions” (73).

Kath Browne’s chapter was useful to me in thinking through how to do this work as geographers. In it she points to how power and privilege work even in feminist geographies. I very much appreciate that she asks how relations of power between feminist geographers re-produce experts and expertise, and that she looks in particular at the practices of power that continually re-create spaces of speaking and writing. This book as a whole works to interrogate, as Kath Browne puts it, how we do our feminism, and work to open those practices. Holding a review panel at the AAGs like the one these review essays come out of, with more ‘junior’ scholars, continues this work. But it is not just a matter of, again in Browne’s words, including more silenced voices, but actually sensitively and constructively engaging with one another in safe spaces. This book functions as one such safe space, the review panel was another, and I hope that this journal can continue to be one. .... continued here.

Jun 14, 2010

video of Finnish accompanier killed in Mexico

I was particularly struck by what he says here about solidarity towards the end. Updates on this incident and the ongoing struggle of the San Juan Copala community in resistance on the angry white kid blog. For those who haven't been following it, the brief version is that he was on a caravan trying to get humanitarian supplies into the community, which is blockaded by paramilitaries. Those paramilitaries shot at the caravan and specifically targeted Betty, a high profile Mexican human rights leaders. Jyri lunged in fronted of Betty to protect her and they shot and killed both of them.

Jun 6, 2010

more online privacy tweaks for the (appropriately?) paranoid

reposted from lifehacker

Top 10 Privacy Tweaks You Should Know AboutWith all the talk lately about Facebook's flawed privacy systems, it's a good time to consider what you're making available elsewhere on the web and on your system. These 10 settings tweaks and setups make your web life a little less public.

Photo by Jorge Franganillo.

Note: The most basic means of boosting your privacy in any computer system is encrypting your data, but that's more of a system setup than a slight change to your usual setup. Still, it's worth looking into if you've got files for your eyes only.

10. Run a Background Check on Yourself to Know What's Out There

Top 10 Privacy Tweaks You Should Know AboutIt takes only a few seconds to know what Google knows about you, but there are many, many other avenues into your past and present on the web. Want to know more about what a potential employer can know? Consumer action blog Consumerist has a nicely comprehensive list of background check tools to try out. You shouldn't try and run them all, but at least get a feel for what can be known about you with just a few clicks. Photo by omk_489. (Original post)

9. Skip Incognito/Private Browsing and Really Leave No Trace

Top 10 Privacy Tweaks You Should Know AboutPrivate browsing modes might prevent your coworkers or roommates from seeing where you wander on the web, but you still leave plenty of traces for someone who knows where to look. Take the How-To Geek's advice and really browse without leaving a trace. Wipe away Flash cookies, clean out DNS caches, and automate your system so every boot-up is a fresh start.

8. Pick Better Security Questions

Top 10 Privacy Tweaks You Should Know AboutSome security questions and password recovery schemes offered by webapps are so bad, anyone with your casual acquaintance and a small amount of Google savvy could poke into your email whenever they felt like it. To get around weak security questions, use blogger danah boyd's security question algorithm. Instead of straight-up providing your mother's maiden name, use a scheme, such as "[Snarky Bad Attitude Phrase] + [Core Noun Phrase] + [Unique Word]," so that your answer becomes "StupidQuestion MiddleName Booyah," substituting "MiddleName" for the actual answer. If you're lucky enough to be able to choose your own security questions, Lifehacker reader James has written about the best kinds of questions at his blog. (Original posts: memorable answers, good questions).

7. Set Up BitTorrent for Private Downloading

Top 10 Privacy Tweaks You Should Know AboutBitTorrent is a public commons of file sharing, and that means that all kinds of folks interested in, say, what your home IP address is, and what you're downloading, can dig into it. With both a proxy and settings in your favorite torrent app, you can protect your privacy when downloading. Nothing's foolproof, but a few checkboxes and a different downloading path can do a lot to give you great peace of mind.

6. Know Your Google Settings

Top 10 Privacy Tweaks You Should Know AboutIf you're anything like us, or most of our readers, you've got a lot of your life floating around in Google's cloud-based apps. It pays, then, to know how to set what Google shares publicly about you, how much of your search history is being saved, and how to back up your data so you've always got your own copy. These are among the 10 Google settings you should know about that center on privacy and data retention, though it's always a good idea to know the parameters of the spaces you share your data in.

5. Know How to Travel Without Being Spied On

Top 10 Privacy Tweaks You Should Know AboutJust because some countries have widespread net access doesn't mean it's an open and private web. It's often meant to deter dissidents in strong-handed regimes, but why take the chance of letting your web data fall into the wrong hands? One Lifehacker reader, wishing to remain anonymous and in a non-specific region, crafted a survival guide for traveling where privacy isn't respected. Using secure Gmail, carrying two cloned USB sticks, relying on KeePass and TrueCrypt for passwords and encryption, and knowing how to send data over the web without having it looked at are all good skills to have, both for traveling and in general. Image a composite of photos by hemmob and nolifebeforecofee

4. Know Where You Stand With Facebook at a Glance

Top 10 Privacy Tweaks You Should Know AboutFacebook has promised "simplistic" privacy settings coming soon, but in the meantime, knowing exactly what you've offered to share or keep private is far from transparent. One very crafty hacker at ReclaimPrivacy has put together a settings-scanning bookmarklet that shows what you're sharing beyond your social circle, and offers links and automatic fixes for those settings. Another coder, Ka-Ping Yee, offers a site that shows what the public web can see on Facebook, some of which you can then remove. They're both excellent eye-openers, both for your own account and for friends who refuse to consider what's being shown out there. (Original posts: ReclaimPrivacy bookmarklet, Facebook public).

3. Run Your Browser Through a Proxy

Top 10 Privacy Tweaks You Should Know AboutIt's not something you'll want to do all the time, but once in a while, you might want to hide your online tracks. To do so, you can use the go-to web randomization tool, TOR, which has tools available for nearly every OS and browser. For a DIY solution that can work from any browser, we've detailed installing the free PHProxy tool on your home computer or hosted web space to get around restrictions and slightly disguise your tracks. You could also run a proxy through Google's App Engine, and go the full-tilt geek route of encrypting your browsing with an SSH SOCKS proxy. Any way you choose, it's a smart skill to have handy for dodgy connections and restrictive networks.

2. Better Protect Your or Other Financial Accounts

Top 10 Privacy Tweaks You Should Know AboutThe thing that makes such a convenient one-stop shop for financial data and budgeting also makes it a gold mine for anyone looking to learn more about you, or know which accounts they could try to jump into. Security professional Jason Owens provides some smart tips on better protecting your account that can apply to any site where you manage your financials. Key among them—don't use your regular email address. Set up a new email address you don't tell anyone about as your login/password verification address. You can forward its mail to your main email, sure, but if someone compromises your email, don't make it too too easy for them to get a hold on your finances.

1. Stay Available on Facebook Without Really Being In It

Top 10 Privacy Tweaks You Should Know AboutYou might have considered quitting Facebook, but stopped short because it's how a few far-flung friends and relatives stay in touch, or a place those without your email address can ping you. We can understand, and, luckily, have a halfway solution to recommend. Quit Facebook without really quitting, as Whitson did. Create a new account, linked to a different email, and set it up so that your old friends are still there, but Facebook, even at its most Draconian, can't really reveal all that much about you, and your friends can't really overshare without your permission.

Send an email to Kevin Purdy, the author of this post, at

May 12, 2010

being safe online

I keep reading about Colombian government surveillance of activists, so here is more self-defense from the paranoia front, in a great article entitled:

6 Ideas For Those Needing Defensive Technology to Protect Free Speech from Authoritarian Regimes and 4 Ways the Rest of Us Can Help

the quick and dirty take away lessons:
  • Is it safe to talk about your civil disobedience plan on skype? Probably.
  • You can offer bandwidth in solidarity through Tor - a very cool way to do online solidarity.

May 5, 2010

voluntours for jutice?

This is a draft of a book review that I wrote for the Journal of Tourism and Cultural Change

of the book
Journeys of Discovery in Volunteer Tourism
Edited by K.D. Lyons and S. Wearing, 2008

This is a collection of glowing accounts of case studies in volunteer tourism. What is volunteer tourism (voluntourism)? Well, the editors begin by saying that they do not want to settle on a limited definition, though they recognize that one of them, Wearing, had previously (2002) offered a definition that is widely cited by authors throughout the book. That definition is that volunteer tourists are those who “volunteer in an organized way to undertake holidays that may involve the aiding or alleviating the material poverty of some groups in society, the restoration of certain environments or research into aspects of society or environment” (given on p. 3 of this volume). As they point out, the problem with this definition is that it limits it to those experiences that happen in the context of holidays or vacation. Presumably this is as opposed to longer-term stays? This is not specified.

I was interested in this book because of my own research on international protective accompaniers. These are people, generally from the “West”, who go to conflict zones, generally in “developing” countries, and serve as volunteer ‘unarmed bodyguards’ for local peace workers under death threat. These accompaniers generally do not consider themselves tourists, but some of them do only stay for 2 month stints, so I thought it might be interesting to think about it in these terms. Accompaniment is not considered in this volume, but it would seem that a robust framework would encompass this sort of volunteering. Certainly Wearing’s 2002 definition does not, for accompaniers are volunteering to build peace and justice, rather than alleviate poverty, restore the environment, or research society. A broadening of the definition to other purposes of the volunteering would be useful. Unfortunately since the editors choose not to specify a definition, authors here tended to rely on the limited definition given by Wearing in 2002 (above).

Though a broader definition is not explicitly formulated, the last section of the book is indeed aimed at expanding the notion of what volunteer tourism is. The book is divided into three sections, each with an introductory chapter by the editors. Part one is “Journeys Beyond Otherness: Communities Culture and Power”. Part two is “Inward Journeys: Motivations, Needs and the Self”. Part three is “Journeys at the Edge: Overlaps and Ambiguities”. This final section includes a chapter on museum volunteers (tourists in their own home town), volunteer national tourists in Indigenous communities in New Zealand (visit the “third world” in your own country), the way that the lonely planet shapes tourism (yes, they now have a guide to volunteer tourism), and, most inspiringly, a chapter by Higgins-Desbiolles and Russell-Mundine on speaking tours in the global North by social justice activists from the global South, and political delegations from North to South (both called here Solidarity Tours). This chapter, entitled “Absences in the Volunteer Tourism Phenomenon: the Right to Travel, Solidarity Tours and Transformation Beyond the One-way” asks, can volunteer tourism contribute to global peace and solidarity? It does not offer much of an answer, but suggests that it is more likely to do so when exchanges are two way, and it is not only, as is generally the case, the privileged who travel.

That essay is as close as this book comes to being critical. I was surprised to find no discussion in this book of the colonial patterns that volunteer tourism can often fall into, or of how it uses, and reinforces, passport/economic/racial privilege (so hard to untangle). No connection is made to the literature critiquing humanitarianism, or even critical reflections on the connection to Mission work. Quite the opposite. The New Zealand pakeha (non-Maori) volunteers on the marae are described as providing positive role models by virtue of having conversations with Maori youth about not having babies outside of marriage.

The chapter by Pearce and Coghlan on dynamics of volunteer tourism does point to the fact that most volunteer tourists are from Europe and North America, and not Asia and the Middle East, where there are, as they put it, “parallel pockets of affluence” (132). Rather than point to how this might be linked to a history of colonialism and mission work, their answer for this is simply cultural difference. They do mention that perhaps volunteers are trying to ameliorate the historical exploitation and environmental mistakes on which their society has been built (Pearce and Coghlan, 132). Sadly this does not lead to any further discussion of the role of guilt or accountability in this work, which I would have found useful for my own work on how these shape solidarity travel and activism (Koopman 2008).

Spencer’s chapter reviewing NGO study tours of Cuba does mention that it “could” be argued that voluntours are attempting to overcome their ‘complicity’. Yet rather than engage in that discussion, he moves right on to say that as compared to mass tourists in the developing world, they are benevolent. So voluntours are not only becoming innocent, they are good! I do not mean to imply that they are bad and guilty, but rather that these dynamics of being seen as, or imagining oneself in this way, are fascinating ones. Barbara Heron (2007), based on discussions with white women who do development work in Africa, argues that being a good helper to those with less privilege has traditionally been the way white women have gained subjectivity and gotten out of the home. These sorts of engagements with the links to the intimate histories of empire would have enriched this book.

The chapter by Soderman and Snead on the motivation of volunteer tourists, does cite Simpson (2005) on the ‘geography of experimentation’ that began in the colonial era, where the colonies were a place to practice what could not be done at home. So too, Brits on their ‘gap year get to ‘practice’, say, construction and teaching, in ways they could not in the UK without qualification. The authors cite this argument, but fail to engage with it.

The most critical this book gets is of how the hegemonic forces of capitalism are trying to usurp, divert, and commodify volunteer tourism, as they have ecotourism. The editors warn in their introduction to the final section of the danger of volunteer tourism becoming a tranquilizer rather than awareness-raising, and of communities becoming ‘consumables’ (153).

I am all in favor of focusing on what works. I do ‘appreciate’ the chapter by Raymond, who used a method of ‘appreciative inquiry’ to discuss volunteer tourism with ‘sending organizations’. But I also think it is useful to look at what does not work, so that it does not sneak in to what does. It would also be more useful to look more carefully and what works and how. Some chapters paint in very broad strokes. Mathews’ chapter on the impact of volunteer tourism on the volunteers claims that these programs, “reinstate a sense of (at least symbolic) equality between self and other. By ‘giving something back’ a one-way process of knowledge consumption becomes a two-way process of knowledge-sharing and production, a mutual dialogue rather than a singular monologue” (108). This is a very idealistic vision. Often these programs are not premised on equality, but quite the opposite.

Some of the writing in this collection is quite stilted, for my taste, and constantly bows to the deity of objectivity (even to the point of seeming to apologize for doing ethnography). Most authors are based in Australia, as are the editors. There is a striking absence of authors based in the global South, particularly given the subject matter. Many of the chapters are quite dry. Lepp, for example, concludes that volunteers working with the community, and those working with wildlife, were similarly benefitted. Lepp goes on to argue that reflection is the key to benefitting from novel experiences (98). Yet neither Lepp nor the volunteers seem to be reflecting much on issues of power. Indeed, in the entire section of chapters on volunteers negotiating the self, this self is never discovered as privileged, raced, or gendered.

The chapter by McGehee and Andereck not only has the best title (pettin’ the critters), but does some of the most intriguing work. They are the only ones in the collection to turn to the “voluntoured”, yet do so based on very brief research. Clearly this is an area that needs far more attention. McGehee and Andereck look at two host communities in particular, in Appalachia and Tijuana. McDowell county, in West Virginia, started receiving VISTA volunteers in the 60s. Today most of the volunteers are, yes indeed, students on week long Christian mission trips. The missionary aspect and history is not engaged with. They do have a very brief section on the role of religion in voluntourism, but it does not go much further than to say that “if we were” to trace the roots of it, we would likely find mission and relief work of churches (20). There is no examination of how it follows those patterns today, and their impact. Instead there is a brief discussion of how the two host communities they studied do or don’t mind voluntours being associated with a church.

Tijuana, they go on to say, is a highly “voluntoured” city because of it’s proximity the US (17). A worker with a host organization there told them that voluntours frequently want to come and hand out used clothing, personally. Her term for it was that they wanted to “pet the critters”. The authors recognize that this points to how voluntours want to be thanked and feel good about what they have done, but do not engage critically with the unequal subject-making work happening here. Indeed, they go on to tell stories of volunteers surreptitiously giving away clothing, even though programs do not allow it, and romantically see this as something like a family exchange, a “joyous and equitable experience” (19). The authors do not speak Spanish and perhaps missed the power dynamics here in a country where used clothing is usually given to maids by the middle class. Yet at least these authors are engaging in the question of how othering happens in voluntourism, and how host organizations try to avoid it. For example, they report that one organization in Appalachia does not allow voluntours to meet the people who will receive the houses they are building (20).

The chapter by Higgins-Desbiolles and Russel-Mundine, which looks at two way solidarity tourism, examines volunteer tourism in terms of ‘justice tourism’. This book could have used much more evaluation like this of voluntourism’s impact on peace, justice and human rights. It could also use more creative thinking about how to overcome and rework colonial legacies of privilege that shape voluntourism. I very much appreciated the discussion by these two authors on the right to travel for all, and the long struggle for social tourism. These efforts are rarely put into conversation with voluntourism.

As I was write this, Gustavo Ulcue, a Colombian indigenous alternative media activist working with the ACIN, is driving with friends across Canada on a speaking tour. He is seeing the Rockies on his way to speak in Vancouver, but in helping to organize his visit I certainly never thought of him as a ‘voluntour’! Nor did I, in my own research, think of human rights accompaniers as ‘voluntours’. This book did left me wondering if it would be useful to do so. This collection does not make significant contribution to debates on colonialism in travel, the political geography of travel, nor to critical tourism studies.

Heron, B (2007) Desire for Development: Whiteness, Gender, and the Helping Imperative. Wilfrid Laurier University Press
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

Simpson, K (2005) Broad Horizons? Geographies and Pedagogies of the Gap Year. PhD thesis. University of Newcastle upon Tyne, UK.

Wearing, S (2002) In: Dann, G.S. (ed.) Re-centring the self in volunteer tourism. The tourist as a metaphor of the social world. CAB International, Wallingford, UK. 237-262.

Apr 28, 2010

stand with Haitian women

Haitian Women Testify from Adam Stofsky on Vimeo.

This is a powerful (disturbing) video of testimony about the crisis of rapes in Haitian refugee camps. I've written about the problem with rapes at the world social forum youth camp. I'm guessing rapes are an ongoing problem at camps around the world. It's strange - you would think having lots of people around would STOP sexual violence, not foster it! So the ask that comes with this video is a great quick click action from As they put it:

"There have been some efforts by Hait­ian offi­cials and the inter­na­tional com­mu­nity to pro­vide pro­tec­tion and post-rape ser­vices, but these efforts have fallen short. This is unac­cept­able. Numer­ous inter­na­tional stan­dards[iii] and guide­lines[iv] warn of height­ened lev­els of gender-based vio­lence in the wake of dis­as­ter and pro­vide rec­om­men­da­tions for ensur­ing women’s safety, care and legal recourse. Con­trary to the rec­om­men­da­tions, Hait­ian women have been sys­tem­at­i­cally excluded[v] or under­rep­re­sented in earth­quake response deci­sions. Women’s repeated requests[vi] for inclu­sion[vii] in the Post-Disaster Needs Assess­ment (PDNA[viii]) process and the UN Donor meet­ings[ix] on March 31 went unan­swered. By leav­ing Hait­ian women them­selves out of the dis­cus­sion, so too were their needs.

On her visit to Haiti last week­end, UN Deputy Secretary-General Asha Rose Migiro lis­tened to women’s fears[x] of being sex­u­ally assaulted or beaten. She also noted the crit­i­cal con­di­tions peo­ple are liv­ing in (see a video on con­di­tions in the camps and sign a peti­tion demand­ing improved aid dis­tri­b­u­tion[xi]). The UN Inde­pen­dent Expert on Human Rights in Haiti, Michel Forst is in Haiti this week[xii] where he too will report­edly lis­ten to women and other vul­ner­a­ble populations.

The UN has taken the first step by lis­ten­ing to women. Action must fol­low. To call on the UN, and more specif­i­cally the Secu­rity Coun­cil, MINUSTAH, UN Mem­ber states and the Gov­ern­ment of Haiti, to take the next step, sign the peti­tion by click­ing here.

Apr 24, 2010

easy way to make a short animated clip for your campaign

As a grad student, I find this animation (found thanks to Jon at posthegemony) hilarious - if you're not an academic, it will probably seem bizarre - but I'm posting it here for the software it was made with. Xtranormal is a site that for making free simple animations like this one. I have yet to see anyone use it for solidarity organizing, but it seems like it would be super easy. If you try it out send it to me and I'll post it!

Apr 6, 2010

animation for solidarity

I haven't yet found kinetic typography being used to build solidarity - but I did find this animation that is a sort of visualization of Burma solidarity. Sadly I couldn't embed it (bad organizing on their part it would seem).The other great solidarity animation that comes to mind is Colombia clean by AI, the video above. Older, but sadly, still all too true. Any others animations around solidarity that folks know of?

Mar 26, 2010

arrest yourself in solidarity

This is a cute video for a very creative campaign in solidarity with the people of Burma and their elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Other solidarity campaigns, take note! It does come back to the issue I keep chewing on as to whether we have to 'feel other people's pain' to be in struggle with them. Of course no one is going to think that by putting themselves under house arrest for one day they will have any idea what it is like to be under it for 16 years - but maybe it helps us to get to begin to imagine it, enough to spur us, and our friends, into more action. Which is not quite what I've been arguing in previous posts, so I guess I have mixed feelings because this campaign appeals to me! Thoughts?

Mar 22, 2010

decolonizing our use of photography

Caption: Bududa, Eastern Uganda. A boy walks over the churned mud after heavy rains caused landslides on Mount Elgon on Tuesday. Three villages were engulfed, at least 80 people were killed and around 250 are missing. The Guardian, 6 March 2010, p. 23. Credit: James Akena/Reuters

Photography is a powerful way to inspire solidarity, and I wish international solidarity movements used more of it, but it is also VERY easy for photography to unintentionally fall into colonial patterns in ways we may not see right off. Before you read on, stop and think: what patterns might the above photograph be falling into?

As David Campbell, one of my favorite geographers, put it: "The choices that Akena made in taking the photograph, and The Guardian made in making it the largest picture in its ‘Eyewitnessed’ double page spread for the first week in March, are evident when compared to other pictures from the same event. On The New York Times Lens blog Stephen Wandera’s photograph for AP (see slide 2) shows a large crowd at the scene searching for survivors, while a Ugandan TV report also shows the community at large. These demonstrate that the photography of the lone boy is a specific choice with particular effects that tap into a long history of visual representation.

It is time for the photographic visualization of ‘Africa’ to offer something different. ..One significant project doing this is Joan Bardeletti’s “Middle Classes in Africa,”...

Picture 4 Visualising Africa   moving beyond positive versus   negative photographs

Caption: Un dimanche après midi en famille sur la plage près de Maputo. Joan Bardeletti/Picturetank

The picture above just cracks me up. It's the little dog that gets me. In the rest of his post, David goes on to argue that it's not a matter of some pictures being right or wrong, or just thinking of it in terms of positive or negative photos, but aiming to not perpetuate cliches, like "lack and absences in ‘Africa’" and that instead we should aim "for a more complex, self-aware, form of ‘positive’ photography". Not sure that this exhibit of African women leaders by Bono's One organization fits that bill.

Mar 14, 2010

why avatar is screwed up solidarity and ...

A fantastic analysis of what is going on with white guilt in Avatar and many other sci fi movies, here. Utterly worth the read.

And, in the continuing effort to turn Avatar into some real solidarity, there was a campaign on to get James Cameron (the writer and director) to mention a real Avatar like struggle in Ecuador against Chevron at the Oscars. Who knows if he would have done it, because he lost to his ex-wife, Kathryn Bigelow, who amazingly is the first woman to win best director. What year is this?

Mar 8, 2010

solidarity mourning

I continue to be awed by the fabulous work done by Rachel Corrie's parents. Here is the latest, as the anniversary of her death approaches.

Call to action: Rachel Corrie trial in Israel and actions world wide

Rachel Corrie Foundation
10-24 March 2010


Rachel nonviolently blocks Israeli bulldozers from destroying  Palestinian homes along the Rafah/Egyptian boarder while volunteering  with the International Solidarity Movement.

Rachel nonviolently blocks Israeli bulldozers from destroying Palestinian homes along the Rafah/Egyptian boarder while volunteering with the International Solidarity Movement.

As many of you know, a civil lawsuit in the case of our daughter Rachel Corrie is scheduled for trial in the Haifa District Court beginning March 10, 2010. A human rights observer and activist, Rachel, 23, tried nonviolently to offer protection for a Palestinian family whose home was threatened with demolition by the Israeli military. On March 16, 2003, she was crushed to death by an Israel Defense Force (IDF) Caterpillar D9R bulldozer in Rafah, Gaza.

The lawsuit is one piece of our family’s seven-year effort to pursue justice for our daughter and sister. We hope this trial will illustrate the need for accountability for thousands of lives lost, or indelibly injured, by occupation—in a besieged and beleaguered Gaza and throughout Palestine/Israel; bring attention to the assault on nonviolent human rights activists (Palestinian, Israeli, and international); and underscore the fact that so many Palestinian families, harmed as deeply as ours, cannot access Israeli courts. In order to deliver these interconnected messages as effectively as possible, we are asking for large-scale participation in the trial itself as well as in the events surrounding it. We hope you will join us for all or some of the events listed below and help us to put the call out to others.

9:00-16:00—Trial Begins in the Haifa District Court (12 Palyam St. Haifa)

A strong presence of human rights observers, legal observers, and others on the first day of the trial will send the message that this case is being closely monitored and that truth, accountability and justice matter to us all. Other trial dates are: March 14, 15, 17, 21, 22 and 24. Supportive presence at all court sessions is both welcome and needed!

13:00-15:00—Film Screening at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque (2 Shprinzak St. Tel Aviv)

Screening of the documentary film RACHEL followed by a Q&A with filmmaker Simone Bitton and the Corrie family. RACHEL is a cinematic inquiry into Rachel’s killing. It raises many of the questions that should be asked and addressed during the trial.

20:00-22:00—Memorial; Location TBA

March 16th marks the seven-year anniversary of Rachel’s killing. We hope to mark this day as a “Day of Conscience” with a large gathering that calls for truth, accountability and justice, in Rachel’s case and beyond. There will also be events in Gaza (at the Rachel Corrie Children and Youth Cultural Center in Rafah), possibly in the West Bank (TBA), and around the world. If you are not with us in Palestine/Israel, please think about how you and your group/community can be visible/audible on March 16.

Cindy and Craig Corrie

Cindy and Craig Corrie

We expect this to be a challenging time, but we know the friendship we have felt from so many of you over the years will help us navigate the weeks ahead. Though the course and outcome of the trial are unknown, we welcome the opportunity to raise and highlight many of the critical issues to which Rachel’s case is linked. Thank you for your continuing support.

In solidarity and with much appreciation,

Cindy & Craig Corrie

Mar 5, 2010


Solidarity has been defined by some as activism for the benefit of differently situated others (such as the quite dry Giugni and Passy book, details below). I prefer to think of it using the phrase from sub Marcos, 'detras de nosotros, estamos ustedes' - which is very hard to capture in English, but means something like, 'behind us, we are you'. But sometimes solidarity does fall in to this trap of doing things for others, instead of for, with, ourselves defined more broadly.

One concept that can be useful for rethinking solidarity is collectivism, which the Autonomous Geographies Collective

(details of the article below) define as "the acceptance of human interdependence and the belief

that society will be bettered through the achievement of collective goals rather than individual

aspirations, and the importance of the commons" They go on to say (in regards to being scholar

activists, but I think this applies to doing solidarity more generally) "there is a need to approach

our working practices with more desire for horizontality in organisation, an emphasis upon

sharing and co-operation, more consensual decision-making, an awareness of inherent unequal

power relations, and finally a fundamental acceptance of freedom as individuals within a


It's a great article - if you're interested in academic activism I recommend it. The citation details

are below but it's all online here.

the Autonomous Geographies Collective, 2010. Beyond Scholar Activism: Making Strategic Interventions Inside and Outside the Neoliberal University. Acme, 9(2), 245-275.

Giugni, M. & Passy, F. eds., 2001. Political Altruism? Solidarity Movements in International Perspective, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. (but sadly I don't recommend this book)

Mar 1, 2010

Our brains were built for feeling each other's pain?

In another of my long running musings on empathy and many posts about re-enactments, I want to quote an article, by this title (but without the question mark) by Richard Restek in Huffpo that argues:

"... When we watch another person move, our observations of their movement activates in our own brain the same areas that are involved when we make that movement. This innate tendency for imitation was first observed in macaque monkeys where "mirror neurons" in the monkey's prefrontal cortex respond both when the monkey grasps a peanut and when it watches another monkey grasp it. Mirror neurons are also active in our brains.

If you observe my hand reaching for a cup of tea the motor cortex in your brain will become slightly active in the same areas you would use if you reached for the cup of tea yourself. Further, if you observe my lips as I savor the tea, the area of your brain corresponding to lip movements will fire as well. Of course that doesn't mean you can taste my tea but it does mean that I am directly affecting your brain as you watch me drinking it. And the process is reciprocal. If you pour yourself a cup of tea, a similar pattern occurs in my brain. In both situations the artificial distinction between you and me breaks down; we form a unit influencing each other's actions: I alter your brain as a result of your observations of me, and vice versa.

A similar process takes place in regard to emotions. We relate to other people's emotions by unconsciously simulating in our own brain the same activity that takes place when we experience those same emotions.

Edgar Allan Poe described this empathic process long before neuroscience established it. In "The Purloined Letter" Poe writes of a method for intuiting the thoughts of another:

I fashion the expression of my face, as accurately as possible, in accordance with the expression of his, and then wait to see what thoughts or sentiments arise in my mind or heart, as if to match or correspond with the expression.

Unfortunately the brain's empathic powers aren't evenly distributed. While some of us are highly empathic and experience empathy for everyone we encounter, others restrict their empathy to the people they can identify with. They have little empathy towards the stranger or the foreigner, the practitioners of other faiths, the holders of different political persuasions or sexual orientations. Fortunately such empathic limitations can be overcome by the steady application of ones own effort."

... ok, but I come back to what my friend Patricia, a torture survivor, says. You can't feel what it is like to be tortured, and I wouldn't want you to. Likewise, I can't quite feel in my body what it's like to have someone try to kill me, because thankfully I've never been through anything like that. That doesn't mean I haven't been scared for my friend Martha who went through that last week. Not scared as her, but scared with her. And in the struggle for justice with her. Many thanks to all of you who made calls and wrote letters for her protection. I'm happy to report that it led to a high level meeting at the US embassy. Please keep holding her in the light, as she continues to be in danger.

And, to come back to the title, could we focus on how our brains were built for feeling joy together, rather than pain together? Could that also move us to build a more wonderful world?