Support Proyecto Jardín: A Call to Thought and Action

Human rights and responsibilities

Inherent in a proper notion of human rights is its inseparable companion of human responsibilities. Humanity shines brightest when a spirit of care and stewardship infuses our communion with our fellow humans, our sister species, and our mother Earth. Whatever our faith or non-faith may be, together we can learn to respect and nurture this earthly trinity for the benefit of all.

Taking care of… the planet

Proyecto Jardín is a movement on the front lines of defending and expanding the most fundamental of human rights: the right to work in concert with nature to receive sustainable sustenance from its bounty. It is a life-giving oasis in the midst of Boyle Heights, one of our hyper-urbanized planet’s food deserts. It is a safe, liberating space that radiates empowerment.

Of rights and wrongs

And now, outrageously, it is facing elimination by usurpation. White Memorial Medical Center, the garden’s landlord, is planning to evict Proyecto Jardín in order to impose their own plans without input or participation from the community that’s made the garden into the thriving space it has become. Fortunately, Proyecto Jardín is nowhere near ready to go quietly into that goodnight.

Join the struggle

Proyecto Jardín urgently needs your support. This Saturday, January 30th they will be hosting an event at the garden from 9am to 5pm. Come out to show your solidarity. You can also help get the word out on social media by liking their Facebook page and sharing the event posting.

Thanks for reading, and I hope to see you out there! 🙂

Stop Islamophobia: a battle for public opinion

The following is a letter I wrote and posted to Larry Mantle’s Air Talk facebook page, in response to his coverage of the horrific events in San Bernardino. His is by no means the only voice promoting these harmful and erroneous views. People of conscience and courage need to band together to defend those among us who are being scapegoated and attacked in the name of “keeping us safe”.

Dear Larry,

I was more than a little dismayed to hear your radio segment in response to the recent tragedy in San Bernardino. I fully expect Fox News to rabidly promote Islamophobia, but your angle on the story shocked me, to be honest.

You too put Islam on trial and subjected innocent people to the harsh spotlight of guilt by association. I could hardly believe you would invite Muslim leaders to apologize for the heartless acts of fundamentalist wackos. Truly twisted is the universe in which those apples and oranges get conflated.

But the kicker was when you baldly asserted that Christians, when confronted with the atrocious acts of the terrorists of their ilk, have been apologetic under scrutiny. Please tell me, when did any of that happen?

Sounds more like the crocodile tears of the ill-begotten “persecution of Christians” narrative churned out by Murdoch & Co to buttress the US War of Terror [my intentional misspelling].

If the sources don’t match up to the claims—as I believe they don’t in this case—it would only seem fair to retract this apparent ruse.

Sincerely disappointed,
Dan Kaufman

My hope in sharing this is to hold to account those makers of public opinion who are, wittingly or not, helping to foment hatred and feeding into the wave of racist, xenophobic zealotry that drives the popularity of an inhuman monster like Donald Trump. If you encounter other public media stooping to such lows, call them out. Let’s actually learn and put into practice the lessons of Pastor Martin Niemöller’s vital words:

First they came for the Socialists,
and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists,
and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—
and there was no one left to speak for me.

Let’s speak out while we still can!

Desperately needed: “Hearts as Big as Cities”

image

As a Spanish interpreter, I’m constantly in a position to have others speak through me. It’s an honor and a solemn duty to strive to convey their messages safely across cultural frontiers. While my work deals in the crossing of metaphorical borders, vast and growing swathes of humanity (including most of the people I serve) know intimately the perils of traversing actual borders.

These are the least among the outcasts of today’s global capitalism, the base of those of us comprising Earth’s ninety-nine-plus percent. If there’s a lesson recent events should drive home for us, it’s this: we all must band together and support one another, recognizing that we’re all human beings on this planet. This week I had the tremendous fortune of interpreting for a woman who is precisely this ethic incarnate.

Olga Sánchez Martínez (pictured above) is a tireless warrior for the people who are most acutely feeling the suffocating squeeze of global capitalism’s vise. Extraordinary circumstances in her own life led her to undertake an extraordinary mission for the lives of others. She is the founder and coursing lifeblood of the Albergue Jesús el Buen Pastor del Pobre y el Migrante shelter in Tapachula, Chiapas, just across the Guatemalan border in southern Mexico.

As documented in Sonia Nazario’s national bestseller Enrique’s Journey, Ms. Sánchez Martínez is on the front lines of a great exodus underway here in the western hemisphere. She works  to provide shelter, medical care and the basic  necessities of life for those she finds most in need. They are primarily Central American refugees, fleeing the scourge of deprivation, gangs and devastation ravaging their homeland.

They are men, women and children who are running for their lives. In their quest for survival, many of them are maimed and lose limbs to the infamous “Death Train” freighters that connect southern Mexico to el norte. The tragic result of this deluge of disasters is that the migrants end up in a seemingly hopeless limbo where their disabilities won’t allow them to pursue their “American dream” up north, yet returning home is certain death. Many struggle to find a reason to keep living.

In steps Olga. Beyond a roof and basic needs, her shelter aims to provide prostheses, crutches and wheelchairs for the newly disabled. She and her modest team of mostly volunteers tend to the wounds, both physical and psychological, of those they take in. They train migrants in vital skills like baking, and donut sales become a fundraiser for the shelter.

To say that she operates on a shoestring would be a gross understatement. She has managed to fund her efforts by relying on the kindness of others, begging for donations on the street when necessary. The success she’s had up to this point is owing to her dogged determination to serve those in need. Presently, as the ranks of the needy are swelling, she is working to expand her efforts by opening a second shelter just for women and children.

In her presentations, in addition to the heart-wrenching stories of the individuals she has helped, she illuminates some of the basic ideas that animate her generosity of spirit and her undaunted optimism against all odds.
Smiling broadly, she says that:

* All around the world, people are the same. Race and skin color matter not.
* We all have dreams that we must and can make reality, if we work for them.
* Humanity needs “hearts as big as cities” to meet these challenges.

Finally, she entreats us to make this cause our own. Without our assistance, the vast and growing needs will continue to far outstrip the services she can provide. With our help, she can continue and expand her work. There are many dreams yet to be realized, owing to the scarcity of resources at her disposal. We can help, and grow our hearts in the process.

There are so many ways we can help. The only limitation is the scope of our imagination. Cash donations can be made, including donations made as a gift in others’ name (a great stocking-stuffer). Summer clothing, basic medical supplies (gauze, tape, etc.) and crutches, prosthetics and wheelchairs are needed. Volunteers are needed to work hands-on at the shelters. A virtual “street team” is needed to get the word out on social media and beyond. Help raise awareness among your social networks. Organize book clubs to read Enrique’s Journey. Host a potluck party fundraiser. Use you imagination. Get creative! And, share your ideas to inspire others.

As always, I welcome your comments and questions below, and I encourage you to take the initial step of sharing this post. ¡Sí, se puede!

A Tale of Two “Rough Rides”

JamesByrdJr.
James Byrd, Jr.

Rough ride #1: On June 7th, 1998 James Bryd, Jr. was the victim of an unthinkably brutal, hate-motivated murder. A gang of white supremacists–a modern-day lynch mob–chained him to the back of their truck and dragged him for three and a half miles until his arm was severed and he was decapitated by a culvert. One of his murderers was executed in 2011. Another was given life in prison. The third has a death sentence on hold pending appeal.

Freddie Gray
Freddie Gray

Rough ride #2: On April 19, 2015 Freddie Carlos Gray, Jr. died in police custody following an illegal arrest. He was not afforded even a modicum of the most basic respect for human life and compassion by his executioners. His cries for vital medical attention fell on deaf ears as he was subjected to a state-sanctioned “rough ride” that severed his spine. Six officers now face charges in his death. (As an aside, could you imagine them facing charges if the people hadn’t risen up in rebellion in Baltimore? I doubt it.)

Media reports have revealed that “rough ride” tactics are a commonplace for law enforcement across the country. Black men are still without sanctuary in this country. Freddie Gray’s killers must face the consequences of their murderous actions.

Genocide is the word…

The details of the history surrounding the Turkish genocide of the Armenian people are not well known to me. I know that every year, around Earth Day, many people can be seen flying a vibrant primary-colored flag from cars, homes and storefront windows. I’ve encountered some lively demonstrations in different sections of Los Angeles over the years, and although I’ve looked on them sympathetically, I’ve never taken up the cause as my own.

Turkish Genocide of Armenian People

Several months ago, my wife and I moved to Glendale, a beautiful city that’s home to a significant portion of the Armenian diaspora (only Moscow’s surpasses Los Angeles’ Armenian community). Since we’ve been here, I’ve made some minor inroads into learning about Armenian people and their culture–and I’m definitely hungry for more.

While I’m not well-versed in the particulars of historical or present-day Armenia and its diaspora, I do know that a spade is a spade. That might seem a trivial point, but things have names for at least a couple of important reasons: to designate that which they are, and to differentiate them from that which they are not.

For deeply cynical political reasons (i.e. wanting to maintain favorable ties with Turkey as a base for U.S. marauding in the Middle East) Obama has again refused to utter the one word millions long–and deserve–to hear: “genocide”. The British ruling class has also taken this brazenly cynical stance (as they’ve also done in unwaveringly supporting U.S. military conquest in the Middle East).

While this is stunning, unfortunately it isn’t surprising. The powers-that-be in the U.S. are well-versed in the meaning–and practice–of genocide. In fact, genocide of the original peoples of this continent was the sine qua non of its invasion and conquest. Professor Ward Churchill, in his book A Little Matter of Genocide: Holocaust and Denial in the Americas 1492 to the Present, delves deftly into the history of genocide globally and its deniers.

Coincidentally, on a recent trip to Sonoma, I serendipitously encountered a very powerful essay precisely on this topic, entitled “National Hypocrisy: Why Do We Dare to Call It Genocide?” by Elbert “Big Man” Howard, one of the founders of the great Black Panther Party. He applies the term “genocide” to a number of historical and present-day realities, including the police killings and mass incarceration of our youth of color here in Uncle Sam’s back yard.

The closing paragraph of his essay is particularly salient in these times of genocide-denial as mass-media spectacle. It resonates deeply, as the need to call things by their true names, and to act based on such an understanding, pervades so many dimensions of our collective (global) her/history and present-day reality.

Big Man concludes:

It is of necessity and urgency, that in order to recognize and understand our present situation and strive for change, we must tie America’s history of genocide and racism to our current history, to our so-called system of democracy, which is fundamentally hypocrisy, and to the lives of our lost youths of color at the hands of this system. It is of dire necessity that we do all we can to enlighten our children, for that is what we owe them, and their futures depend on it.

I couldn’t agree with the Big Man more. Let’s enlighten ourselves and our children so that genocide can be spoken of exclusively in the past tense. Let’s strive for that change.

Man Kills Himself Holding ‘Tax The 1%’ in Front of Capitol—and Nobody Hears About It | Alternet

Man Kills Himself Holding ‘Tax The 1%’ in Front of Capitol—and Nobody Hears About It | Alternet.

This is a must-read article (click link above)! The following are comments I posted on the Daily Kos website via my disqus account:

“I’m with you all day 33.333!!! I hear you. Sadly, I also hear the soul-screams of the men burning to death (as they doubtless burned bright in life) with no Jon Snow to put them out of their misery with a swift, compassionate arrow. Mance Rayder could never touch their tragic nobility. Yet Mance’s name will be in madd people’s mouths while these true heroes languish in the swamp of media-blackout-land. Good thing for humanity we have knowledge-archaeologists like yourself, steady exhuming the remains of the lost and forgotten. Teach on, my friend. Be well! :)”

For Charly Leundeu Keunang aka Charley Saturmin Robinet aka Brother Africa

A beautiful human being lost his life here! Homeless lives matter! Jail the killer cops!

Does a rose by any other name not smell as sweet?

Does a person that goes by another name cease to be a child of Mother Earth?

What do the words “serve” and “protect” mean?

serve: to be a servant, a person who is devoted to or guided by something
protect: to keep (someone or something) from being harmed, lost, etc.

No excuses.

If you’re charged with serving and protecting the people,
you put your own life on the line every day for them.
You’re devoted to the people.
You’re guided by your commitment to their well-being.
Your mission is to keep them from harm.
All of them. Period.

Yet, so many fall at the hands of the police.
So many served nothing more than a volley of bullets.
So many robbed of protection, and life.
So many stripped of their humanity.

Brother Africa was a fellow human being.
He’ll never be replaced.
He’ll never see his chance to shine on the silver screen.
He’ll never set foot back in his native Cameroon,
feel the African sun on his hopeful face.
Never again will friends and loved ones
bask in the majesty of his humanity.

Some of us never knew you,
but we won’t forget you.
And those who did will carry
those indelible marks,
only you could leave.

Farewell, Brother Africa!

dk

People paying their respects.

p.s. — This was my humble attempt to speak poetically to this tragedy. Countless others have done so much more effectively and beautifully than I can muster. Here’s a link to a magnificently damning collection of poems I found at the Black & Blue blog:
https://policeviolence.files.wordpress.com/2010/11/poetryaboutpoliceviolencefinal.pdf

And just to whet the appetite, here are a couple pieces I’ve cut and pasted from the collection:

Southern Cop
By Sterling Brown

Let us forgive Ty Kendricks.
The place was Darktown. He was young.
His nerves were jittery. The day was hot.
The Negro ran out of the alley.
And so Ty shot.

Let us understand Ty Kendricks.
The Negro must have been dangerous.
Because he ran;
And here was a rookie with a chance
To prove himself a man.

Let us condone Ty Kendricks
If we cannot decorate.
When he found what the Negro was running for,
It was too late;
And all we can say for the Negro is
It was unfortunate.

Let us pity Ty Kendricks.
He has been through enough,
Standing there, his big gun smoking,
Rabbit-scared, alone,
Having to hear the wenches wail
And the dying Negro moan.

*****

Black Power
(For All the Beautiful Black Panthers East)
By Nikki Giovanni

But the whole thing is a miracle – See?

We were just standing there
talking – not touching or smoking
Pot
When this cop told
Tyrone
Move along buddy – take your whores
outa here

And this tremendous growl
From out of nowhere
Pounced on him

Nobody to this very day
Can explain
How it happened

And none of the zoos or circuses
Within fifty miles
Had reported
A panther
Missing