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Archive for May, 2014|Monthly archive page

Between Light and Shadow: the last words of Subcomandante Marcos

In Decolonization, Geography/ Spatial Justice, The Revolution on May 26, 2014 at 4:44 PM

 

EZLNDelivering his “last words” on May 24th, 2014—more than 20 years after the Zapatistas first launched their counteroffensive against NAFTA-mediated neoliberalism—Subcomandante Marcos was indelibly poetic and forceful. I’m sure numerous articles analyzing the Zapatista spokesperson are forthcoming (not to mention the numerous misnomers, equivocations, and otherwise hostile corporate interpretations), but I couldn’t resist the urge to share his powerful speech. In it, he runs through themes of primal importance to revolutionary struggles today, as pertinent to indigenous survival as to the larger preservation of humanity.

Talking in the aftermath of the murder of Galeano, a Zapatista teacher killed by a state-infiltrated farm workers collective (Central Independiente de Obreros Agrícolas y Campesinos Histórica, or CIOAC-H), he conjures up themes of memories, dreams, illusions, and holograms to discuss what is imminent in the struggle of La Realidad (“The Reality”), the telltale site of the murder. Speaking to the pain and rage of the loss of Galeano (as well as the loss of twenty years of Zapatista insurgency, and 500 years of indigenous resistance), his last words will likely leave an imprint as powerful as those of fallen revolutionaries like Malcolm X or Huey Newton.

Except that Subcomandante Marcos is an illusion. A hologram. A strategic fabrication. A spokesman placed before the media, a play of light and shade.

Speaking towards an audience of alternative media reporters, he talks about how indigenous leaders in Chiapas decided to construct the personage that became Subcomandante Marcos [self-translated; original transcript here; audio here]:

 

“Just days [after the initial uprising in January 1994], with the blood of our fallen still fresh along city streets, we realized that those on the outside didn’t see us. 

Accustomed to looking down on the indigenous, they didn’t look up to see us.

Accustomed to seeing us humiliated, their heart didn’t understand our dignified rebellion.

They focused, instead, on the only mestizo wearing a balaclava.

Our chiefs then said:“They only see things on their own level, as small as they are. Let’s put someone on their level so that they can see him and, through him, they can see us.”

Thus began a complex maneuver of distraction: a magic trick that was terrible and marvelous; a mischievous move the indigenous heart that we are: the indigenous wisdom defied modernity in one of its strongholds: the media.Thus began the construction of the character named “Marcos”.

I ask you to follow me in this reasoning:

Suppose there is another way neutralize a criminal. For example, creating his murder weapon; making him believe it is effective; order him to construct, on the basis of its effectiveness, his entire plan so that, in the moment in which he prepares to shoot it, the “weapon” turns back to what it always was: an illusion.

The entire system, but especially its media, play a game of building reputations only to destroy them if they don’t bend to their designs.

Their power resided (now no longer, as they’ve been displaced by social networks) in deciding who and what existed in the moment in which they chose who named and who silenced.

Anyway, do not pay me much attention, for as has been demonstrated in these 20 years, I know nothing of mass media.

The fact is that the SupMarcos went from being a spokesperson to being a distraction.

If the path of war–that is, of death–had taken us 10 years; that of life took longer and required more effort, not to mention blood.

Because, believe it or not, it is easier to die than to live.”

 

In speaking to the power of story-telling, illusions, and the violent coercive power of the statist, corporate media, Marcos—the hologram spokesman of the Zapatistas—deepens the linkage between hegemony (ideology) and material reality.

Undoubtedly, the media has long played an important role in projecting images and representations of the Zapatistas and their struggle against neoliberalism and State violence; many have even suggested that the survival of the indigenous rebellion in Chiapas necessitated something of a spectator “global civil society” (including its alternative media) to keep eyes on the State. Today, social media platforms are recent entrants to the mix of representation, helping project the voices of countless indigenous freedom fighters from Chiapas and beyond.

And at the crossroads of “vague geographies,” cyberspace, historical memory, and trans-generational story-telling, there arises in the physical death of Galeano the symbolic death of Marcos. The insurgency has decided that Marcos, the iconic image of the EZLN, had become obsolete:

“…we realized that there was now a generation that could look at us upfront, that could listen to us and speak to us without waiting for a guide or leadership, nor wanting submission nor following.

 Marcos, the personage, was no longer necessary.

The new stage in the Zapatista struggle was ready.”

 In its stead shall thrive the resurrected Subcomandante Galeano, who states after Marcos disappears: “Ah, so that’s why they said that when I’d be reborn, I would do so in the collective.”

Between Light and Shadow, Fantasy and Reality. A comrade dead, another resurrected.  ¡Pa’rriba Subcomandante Insurgente Galeano!

Voten Galeano Vive

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The Overwhelming Present: On Having Too Much To Write About

In Chronic Pain, Class Politics, Creative Writing, Crip Politics / Disability Politics, Identity Politics, Intersectionality on May 26, 2014 at 12:55 PM
"It burns the thing inside it. And that thing screams." - "An Agony. As Now." by Amiri Baraka

“Cold air blown through narrow blind eyes. Flesh,
white hot metal. Glows as the day with its sun.
It is a human love, I live inside. A bony skeleton
you recognize as words or simple feeling.”
– “An Agony. As Now.” by Amiri Baraka

 

Over the past year I’ve come to realize that my constant hesitation to write emanates not so much from anxiety or deep-seated insecurity, but from an overwhelming sense that there’s way too much shit to write about. If you’ve ever had to make a list of all the possible topics you could speak, write, or blog about, then you might have a sense of what I mean here.

Just the other day, heading back home from work in an hour-long trek from one part of Brooklyn (Bushwick) to another (Sunset Park), I was engaged in my most common activity: sitting, thinking, dwelling on issues that seem insurmountable. Even indescribable. Just the thought of putting these experiences and thoughts into writing was exhausting.

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For me, there’s an almost-insurmountable catatonia that comes with writing about the struggles of the everyday. Where to begin? After all, the elusive present is hard to understand without an acknowledgment of history. Do I cherry-pick old historical events, like the wave of destruction that swept over the Arawaks of the Bahamas when Columbus landed his avaricious gold-seeking feet? Do I speed through Manifest Destiny and slavery-fueled industrialization? Or the reproduction of urban savagery a lá Robert Moses and red-lining and… Or do I begin with what I’m seeing right now in 2014: the drastic efflux of white (with the ever-so-often black, brown, and yellow-hipster) faces walking past me at the subway stop near my job.

Goddamn. In a mere six years, the social landscape of this neighborhood has changed at a terrifying pace.

A view of Bushwick (foreground) and a violet-lit Empire State Building (background). Neoliberal urban colonization (aka gentrification) has a surreality to it that is hard to capture solely with words.

A view of Bushwick (foreground) and a violet-lit Empire State Building (background). The multi-story condo to the left was opened just a few years ago and already suggests near-full occupation. Indeed, neoliberal urban colonization (aka gentrification) has a surreality to it that is hard to capture solely with words.

 

In a world with too many wars to fight, to many colonnades to dismantle, reality is jarring. And at the end of the day, here I am…sitting inside a train. Zig-zagging my way out of Brooklyn, then back again. Joining up again where the political meets the personal.

I still have to deal with soul-crushing limitations. Trying to live like a revolutionary in a neoliberal age, my mind slumped after a night of teaching in impossible circumstances. And as much as I wanted to scream, a bourgeois sentiment in me also wanted to make demands and compelling critiques. But the number of topics I could potentially write about (that were also personally embroiled) were staggering:

  • I can write about gentrification, urbanization, and settler-colonialism in the United States. Using the example of Bushwick or Sunset Park to demonstrate how gentrification—a term that has been popularized in the left and right to the point of losing considerable political valence—is really just another iteration of white supremacist, urban colonization. Even in cases where the gentrifiers and the gentrified come from similar ethnoracial backgrounds, a similar logic of invasion, plunder, and proselytization operates, often with indirect repercussions to communities of color.
  • I can write about the linkages between police brutality, mass incarceration, and the reciprocal relationship between carceral regimes and capitalist development (including criminalization and its association with gentrification in Brooklyn).
  • I can write about the struggles of adult education programs, or the constant struggles and physical and cultural violence experienced by my transnational, multi-status immigrant students. The unique, indescribable experience of being a teacher at the crossroads.
  • I can write about the insidiousness of the non-profit industrial complex (NPIC), its ableist romanticization of long hours, commitment, and passion. Its coercive management of dissent. The funneling of revolutionary momentum into the rat race of data-driven bureaucracy.
  • Then there’s the fact that I often feel like I’m being ping-ponged between the NPIC and the (bio)medical-industrial complex. As if I wasn’t already drowning in paperwork and numbers, I also have to keep track of my co-pays, premiums, medications, and insurance policies. I have to manage a deeply crippling, mysterious condition (chronic pain) layered upon another (multiple sclerosis). I have to deal with doctors’ racisms, insensitivities, and general misunderstanding. I have to deal with pharmacists and insurance reps and union reps and social workers and disability lawyers. More days than I can count, I am filled to the brim with sadness and fury and hopelessness.
  • I can write endlessly about what it’s like to live with pain, all forms of spiritual, existential, psychological, physical, collective, or intergenerational pain. And the wisdom that pain provides.
  • I can also join the graduate student-blogger bandwagon and write about my detachment from academia (here comes another industrial complex: the academic IC). I can write about my alienation as an economically precarious “millennial,” or write about intersectionality and identity through the lens of a crippled, queer cisgender working-class man of color.

For me, it feels like the possibilities are endless. I can write substantially about any and all of these things—not simply because they seem fascinating, but because they are integral to my everyday material experience. But unlike those who have the luxury of waging war in one or two battlefronts, I’m living in sheer and utter political cacophony, living with the threat of debt, hunger, and detonations of pain. I’m forced to deal with an amalgam of interrelated injustices, not simply an isolated cause or issue of the moment.

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Fact is, no one embodies single-issue politics; but for some, the layering of oppressions is too adamant, too imperious, to conveniently omit in any writing of personal experiences. For how have I become the sort of subject, the sort of human that I am today were it not for a constellation of experiences that is simply more than the sum of its parts? While disembodied scholarship coercively tempts us into partitioning our lives like specimens under a microscope, life teaches us how beautifully, sometimes agonizingly, complex and unpredictable the world must be.

Glancing back at this list, I am reminded of how overwhelming it all is. It is overwhelming to be alive today—and most of us ignore the telltale signs (sometimes out of necessity). Living through the tyrannies of a globalized capitalist order, sensing that the orderliness of modern civilization, urbanization, and economic development is actually more mythology than a worthwhile endeavor. Putting our bodies through cruel regimens of poorly cooked, chemical-ridden foods and substances while working until we literally drop. Or resorting to a jaw-dropping level of consumption of entertainment, drugs, and alcohol to deal with the pain of isolation. Or lest we forget the weight of ruptured, dismembered, or even annihilated communities and histories.

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Reflecting on the obstacles to produce through writing, I recognize how frighteningly obvious some of the “internal” ones are. With my eyes looking straight ahead to an impending life in grad school, I’m reminded of what Andrea Smith has written about with respect to the academic industrial complex:

“A phenomenon that results from academia’s myth of meritocracy is that scholars feel an undue burden to prove their brilliance. They can never take short cuts. They cannot publish anything unless it is perfect. Consequently, it takes many scholars an inordinate amount of time to finish their work because they suffer from excessive anxiety attacks as to whether or not their contributions are going to be sufficiently brilliant to warrant their publication.”

This resonates: I can be a perfectionist and hesitate to print or publish anything that doesn’t conform to a standard I’ve created for myself. I am also fearful of being “too public” with my thoughts, emotions, and experiences, and fear their resultant social repercussions. I fear being stigmatized, or analyzed, or romanticized and co-opted by well-meaning liberals. I also fear not articulating myself in a way that reflects how I truly think or feel—something that becomes particularly salient in my life with chronic fatigue. Even as I write this, I am constantly redacting my statements, cognizant of the critiques (feeling more surveilled than an object of the Panopticon state)….

Of course, the joint effect of these fears is to avoid writing altogether, with only an inkling that perhaps one day I can do so at a difficult convergence of free time, good health, good energy, and “feeling inspired.”

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So, to what extent are these barriers psychological/individual vs. systemic? And to what extent are these barriers that I have agency over? I don’t think I’ll ever develop a satisfying response to those questions, but I’m very much aware of how I’ve come full circle since my very first blog post on overcoming writing paralysis.

I still believe in the importance of writing, and speaking out against all forms of violence. I even see the importance of writing within political projects, even if those projects cannot be reduced solely to an ideological exercise.

But it’s fucking hard to put all the pieces together, to synthesize an amalgam of experiences that often feel too disjointed and irregular and incredibly messy. Sometimes it’s too much work to synthesize and create a story that fictionalizes a union of the world’s haphazard parts.

And while it’s generally hard for most people to find the time and space to write, the challenges are exponentially worse when you have to struggle with pain, fatigue, and brain fog.

Yet, none of that is to render invisible a more basic conundrum: There is too much shit going on in the world. There is too much shit going on in my life. There are too many fucking things to write about.

Yes, there is way too much shit. 

View of Chinatown from the Manhattan Bridge.  What life in the city feels like to me, all at once: ever-moving, exciting, imprisoning, chaotic, indecipherable.

View of Chinatown from the Manhattan Bridge.
What life in the city feels like to me, all at once: ever-moving, exciting, imprisoning, chaotic, indecipherable.

That Thing About May Day

In Geography/ Spatial Justice, Identity Politics, Philosophical Musings, The Revolution on May 1, 2014 at 2:34 AM

Image           There’s something about May Day that still does it for me. Jaded as I am about many of the current leftist political formations in the U.S.—with its constant back-and-forth wrangling around sometimes tepid, sometimes fascist, routines around political correctedness and “privilege”–I still find myself drawn to the basic message of the big ol’ General Strike. As I re-examine the May Day poster circulated by Dignidad Rebelde two years ago at a peak of revolutionary revival, there is something very material, very real, very primal about its messaging: “TOMA LAS CALLES” and “Ni Trabajo, Ni Escuela, Ni Compras, Ni Actividades Bancarias” (“Take the Streets” and “No Work, No School, No Shopping, No Banking”).

I’m torn, however, by a confluence of different thoughts and feelings that have arisen from a decade of community organizing and nearly three years of chronic pain. In thinking about the post-Occupy landscape of New Left movements and their linkage to the radical origins of May Day, I feel a faint nostalgia and sense of loss. Behind me are the days of organizing against gentrification or police occupation or wage theft …and ahead? After all is said and done, where has my endless critique taken me?

Into this downward spiral, I wonder:

  • Where am I in this new swirl of discombobulated movement activity?
  • How did I survive a traumatic autoimmunological assault on my midbrain, the torture of endless head pounding, and a dragnet that nearly sucked me into a suicidal black hole?
  • How did I survive the soul-crushing loneliness wrought by my positionality as a sick and queer working-class second-generation immigrant with roots in the global south?

These questions have plagued me in such a way that they challenge my pursuit of an impermanence-appreciating dharmic temporality. I become lost in this haze of old wounds and a pessimism about the future. And as another May Day rolls along, I am made aware of the stark reality: I have become another one of those revolutionaries who receded into the shadows. The disaffected New York City leftist.

But maybe there’s room to hope. After all, May Day has something to it, something that captivates my often-schismatic and contradicatory personas and sensibilities.  Being a bit older and weighed down by a baggage of pain-induced awareness, I appreciate the simplicity of a call to take the streets and stop working. In a city like New York, it’s simple…yet complicated.

The geographer geek in me also realizes the importance of claiming public space in a city wrecked by incessant privatizations and realtor usurpations. In a time when political questions around space have commanded the public imagination, when neoliberal gentrification has turned neighborhoods into warzones, and when Facebook event invites have become poor substitutes for wheat pasting and door-knocking …there’s just something about an event that does the damn job of bringing workers, immigrants, students, and the unemployed together into the same physical space. In an alienated metropolis like New York, where “business as usual” foments multiplicative forms of postmodern isolation (I think of spiraling “intersectional” subject formations and cyber-addictive social withdrawal), there’s something powerful in simply standing our ground, together, in a space we can claim.

Image

Two Years ago at Union Square

After all, how often to the disparate groups of the New York Left—separated by ideologies, positionalities, boroughs and neighborhoods—physically congregate? For all its ugly shortcomings, I think my slight nostalgia for old labor politics stems from a basic appreciation of taking the streets. And although many rallies at Union Square are admittedly redundant and stale, I appreciate the importance of such convergence. Even if only temporarily, the centrifugal machine-logic of the city is arrested as otherwise far-flung people chant, commiserate, gossip, and bullshit.  Even when the chants become repetitive to the point of irrelevance, it is the very real, material gathering of people that sparks possibility. For who knows what will spark the next revolutionary moment?

I might have become disillusioned with many things, but I also understand that the ongoing capitalist wreckage won’t be stalemated by cynicism. Neither will it be arrested by an imprisoned imagination or a blasé mentality. And it most certainly won’t happen with business as usual.

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Pigs protecting the heart of the heart of capitalism: Wall Street.

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