Tag Archives: death

The absurdity of mass repression

Documentary after documentary. It is how I have been spending the tail end of my nights lately, after long days of work and time with friends. Some we have published, some are submissions for us to consider publishing, a few I throw in as reminders of what is already out there.

They are all of struggle, so at some point every night I have sat here with tears pouring down my face. Sometimes they are indefinable tears. I don’t know why masses of working people in the streets and facing down riot police always make me cry, but they always do. Perhaps for the hope they give me where there is so little hope left. Too often they are tears of sadness, for those who have been injured, tortured, killed. The worst was Black and Gold, where there is a mother grieving for her son shot by the police. I have heard that grief before, it is hoarse and raw and rending, it shatters everything in you to hear it. It flays you to bear witness and be able to do nothing. It takes me back remorselessly to the burial ground and the huge machine already covering the coffin and tamping the ground even as the mariachis still played. Maria almost screaming, if she had had any voice left. I cannot understand how this can be the world that we have created.

And I cannot understand how these things continue. Chicago, Alabama, Buenos Aires, Oaxaca, Burma, Greece…these are just a fraction of the confrontations where governments have turned on their own people.  Intellectually, of course, I understand the intertwining of government and capital, the need to retain power at all costs, the strength and cunning of propaganda combined with media silence. But fundamentally, everything in me revolts at its very possibility. Everything revolts at the idea that a government that turns its army and security forces onto thousands of its own people could retain the slightest shred of legitimacy. With anyone.

What is a government for, and why does it exist?

How can a legitimate government defend itself from its own citizens with police bearing clubs, tear gas, pepper spray, pistols and machine guns? With helicopter attacks, secret and open raids, illegal arrests, disappearances, torture, assassination, bombs?

How is it possible that we have come to accept that a government can repress a mass movement of its own people? Who else do we think it is accountable to?

In my cynicism I know that’s a beginner’s question. Of course they are not accountable to the masses of their people; they are accountable to the few, the wealthy, the elite that they themselves are part of. They hold the money and power, and if persuasion does not work, they will use force. I understand all of this, but even so. I rage at the fundamental absurdity of this being the universal system that defines the lives of all us.

News in L.A.

Is horrifying, almost always, but today seems particularly bad…to sum up the L.A. Times California section’s dose of death and violence:

1. The son of Fabian Nunez, former California Assembly speaker and our own dear representative, was arrested in the fatal stabbing of a student in San Diego. Apparently he identified as part of the Hazard Crew…good old East Los gang, though maybe they’re operating in Sacramento?

2. A security guard shot and killed a man wielding samurai swords at the Hollywood Scientology building…this story is not without humour of course, the man was a former scientologist himself, and apparently talked of revenge. This only reinforces my theories about scientology…the actual article is on the fact that the guard will not face charges.

3. A Swedish hip-hop artist (!) by the name of David Jassy punched, kicked, and then ran over a pedestrian, after the pedestrian was rude enough to get hit by his SUV while in the crosswalk. The irony as acknowledged by Jassy is that the man, John Osnes, was a fellow musician, and deeper investigation reveals that he was of Norwegian parentage… the reporter seems to think that makes it all doubly ironic…

4. A mummified body was found in North Hollywood, the house was so stuffed with garbage that firefighters had to “hoist” the body out of window. It was of a woman who apparently lived with her 48 year old son, and died at least a year ago. It’s Psycho but with more trash. And no beautiful blonde. I do wonder about the theme music…

5. A woman is at trial for the 1969 murder of her toddler, she is charged with covering up the murder and burying the body. Her jury is deadlocked over her guilt.  I think I saw this case on some unsolved mysteries program at my parents house…

6. The coroner released the report today on the body of the train engineer responsable for the crash in Chatsworth killing 25 people. He was not drunk or high.

7. A Japanese businesman hanged himself with his T-shirt after being extradited to an LA jail to stad trial for killing his wife in 1981. Or so the LAPD says. His lawyer, however, states that the injuries are more consistent with choking or beating.

8.  An off-duty officer (in Central California, not LA) was convicted of felony battery for grabbing a man by his throat and the back of his shirt and throwing him down the concrete stairs of the Angel’s baseball stadium in Anaheim. What touched it off? He was tapped on the head by an INFLATABLE THUNDER STICK!

9. And then of course, we have the news from the Bay…so i don’t know if it counts, but it’s about the teenager that escaped from his home and collapsed in a parking lot bruised and beaten, with a three foot chain padlocked to his leg.

What a beautiful world we live in…and this is just the death and violence juicy enough to print.

Mortality and Palin

written on wednesday with no chance to upload until now…

I confronted dying again today, it was very meditative, the plane left LA on usual course to Tucson, it starts out over the ocean and then makes a big U-turn but it wobbled in the sky today and just kept heading out rather erratically over the water and I knew something was wrong, we had to land again on manual control with fire engines racing beside us. Exciting. You know what the funny thing is? I’m not afraid of dying at all, I can’t see it as anything but a door in spite of myself…interesting that, since I’m not religious. I’m just afraid of pain. I figure there won’t be time for pain if your plane crashes so it’s a good way to go really. So I sat thinking about life and how I’m very happy with the fullness of mine, and how I’d be a bit sad if I died cos life is just so good…and tragic and difficult and beautiful and so many other things that fill it up and make it worth living. So I enjoyed the plane trouble.

Of course then I got on the next plane and the two desperate housewives behind me getting chatted up by an annoying and enormously successful businessman made me actually wish that plane would crash. Or I had access to an eject button…that would be far better, I think all planes should have them. They weren’t sure if they were voting for McCain but then he chose his running mate and they were overjoyed. Why? Because Sarah Palin is just so pretty. Honestly. But the vampire who also boarded the plane made it almost bearable.

Heroes

Season 1, I’ve been watching it, I’m entranced, dvd box sets are such dangerous dangerous things. I like how it makes heroism a complex and a simple thing all at the same time.

Tomorrow I’m going to a memorial for my friend Don White, my own hero. I saw him at the CARECEN reunion only a few days before he died…the first time I had seen him in a year or two at least. The last time. He looked the same as always, with his funny black hair, too black, his bushy eyebrows and big blue eyes wide open to the world, so blue, his vague happy smile. He made people happy just to see him, as always. He wandered through the crowd his eyes opening wider as he greeted each new person, his delighted helllooooo, his ‘hola companeros.’

He looked mild and harmless, somewhat exaggerated, even a silly old man perhaps. Thing is that you can never see what people are capable of from their appearance. Never. Old gueriller@s spoke of him fondly, they told stories of him standing on steps in San Salvador protesting and waving a huge flag during wartime, of camping out and eating an iguana roasted over the open fire, stories of him marching, shouting, handcuffing himself to fences, getting arrested, working tirelessly to stop the US involvement in Central America. Everyone I know has a different story, I believe if you added them up you would have enough to fill several lifetimes. And he never stopped. I saw him whenever I marched, in a wide variety of brightly coloured T-shirts. There was nothing he did not care passionately about.

We went to El Salvador together for the presidential elections, official observers with cispes in ’99 I think, almost ten years ago. Only three of us went from LA so we spent quite a lot of time together before we ever left, but my favourite story? I remember it was the day after the elections, we had all returned to San Salvador from wherever we had been sent…I was working with some guys on a report for NPR doing the translations for them and working on the text. It was late, 3 in the morning or so because it had to be done, and we were exhausted and all of a sudden I looked up and there was Don White coming into the little courtyard, his sheet wrapped around him like a toga. Silence fell, I think our mouths dropped open, it was a most unexpected and bewildering sight, we couldn’t tell whether he was wearing anything else. Or whether perhaps we were dreaming…he mumbled something about his roommate snoring, and went to curl up on one of the little wicker sofas in the front lobby where I believe they found him the next morning to great surprise.

There was just such an intense joy of life in Don White, a joy in struggle that you had to respond to, an element of the absurd, an absence of self-consciousness together with a courage that inspired respect, and a single-minded determination to make the world better. And he believed we would win. And it was contagious. And I loved him though I don’t even know his first name. And I’m just one among many who knew of him through struggle, not well but enough to have been impacted by him…since his passing so many different people have brought up the memorial tomorrow, people I never knew even knew him. And I think it shall be a joyful and sad gathering, a bringing together of all sorts of different people working for a more just world, and I can imagine no better celebration of the life of a revolutionary. Hasta la victoria siempre companero.

SIlvio Rodriguez wrote Quiero Cantarte Un Beso and to me it is something of what Don White has meant to me in all my own despair over the pain of the world, el amor que todavia velaba cuando crei que nadie estaba, que nadie respondia. A love that did more than mourn and remember the dead. The answer to the constant question of whether or not humanity still exists, proof that it does. I did not live through the civil war in El Salvador and US intervention that Don White fought so hard to end, only through three years of recording daily the declarations and testimony of those who had. One cannot compare with the other, yet how heavy it is simply to know and to carry the shadows of memories. It is why most look away. To me, he is someone who managed to hate what should be hated, to fight what must be fought without selfishness, to find joy in living all the same and to love and to be strong enough to never forget. It is something to be aspired to.

Quiero cantarte un beso,
mas todo se confunde
entre un millón de huesos
y derrumbes.
Así que el beso huye
con ojos de reproche,
mientras la sangre fluye
por las noches.

La muerte se ha regado
por toda la pradera.
A aquel que la ha sembrado
¿qué le espera?
Dicen que el responsable
nunca ha gastado cuernos,
sino un traje impecable
en los infiernos.

Y vuelve la necesidad
de repasarme dónde estoy,
si existe o no la humanidad
y si se ha visto hoy.

Creí que nadie estaba,
que nada respondía,
pero el amor velaba
todavía.
Y el viejo centinela,
en medio del desierto,
prendió infinitas velas
por los muertos.

Bad News

In Boston.  Want to go home, but wish it wasn’t in LA.  The son of one of my tenant leaders and friends was shot yesterday morning on his way to work.  He’s dead.  I’ve known that family five years and was the madrina del vestido for his sister’s quinceaneara…wish I was the kind of girl who could cry when things like this happen, I think I would feel better.  Instead I just feel sick and nauseous inside.  And angry.  I hate the ghetto, I hate poverty, I hate the systems that create and maintain both for profit, and I feel like I’ve had enough, but what a priveledge to be able to pick up and leave when I want to.  It feels like running away.  I’ve never run away from anything.  Still, it’s a physical and everyday pain to me the daily ugliness, seeing people shooting up on the streets, the old men drunk in the early morning, loud angry voices, violence against women, mother’s losing sons, the collections to pay for burials or food or rent or escape from an abusive husband, kids who can’t function anymore because of too much chrystal meth, apartments with fleas and rats and cockroaches and chinches and broken plumbing and dingy and dirty and sad inside and out…even the amazing people in the community I work with who are fighting to turn all this around don’t seem to be quite enough to make me hopeful anymore, and I’m becoming a confirmed existentialist doing what i do not because of any hope but because I cannot turn away from injustice and do nothing about it.  That makes me a crap organizer though, none of this is good for inspiring people. I’m afraid I’ve become the heroine of a Camus novel, maybe even Sartre which would be worse, but neither are any good for a happy and rounded life.  I am funny though…those French people didn’t have that going for them, maybe I’ll make it.  Humphrey Bogart seemed to do just fine in Casablanca and To Have and Have Not, I think I need to work on my one liners and sardonic air.  And get a cool hat.

Death

I just found out that one of the old women I used to work with died.  She died on Thursday and they didn’t find her until Sunday, and she was one of my favorite tenants in that building.  We have this video of her talking about all the problems they had with management, Property Management Associates the bastards, harassing and threatening elderly ladies.  Not that you could threaten her.

My favorite part of the video is where she’s talking about the fact that the manager won’t give the tenants the key to the back gate. She was a kindly, grandmotherly old African American woman, and she loved her wrestling. But when she got mad…damn! She said something like…if there was a fire, do you think I could get my black ass over that fence?  Hell no!

We finally won the keys to the back fence two weeks ago. It only took us two years.  I’m worried about the other ladies though, they’ve all been living there friends together upwards of 20 years.  They’re saying death is in the air…I suppose I’m still young enough and far enough away from death, I can’t feel it the way they can…