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?