Social Self-Defense: Calling all Warriors of the Light

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Los Angeles is a fascinating place to live for its diversity of peoples. In the shopping mall, on the Santa Monica pier, the Venice Beach boardwalk (above photo), and other public spaces, I blend in with the crowd. I am at home amidst the range of skin color pigments and English-speaking accents.

In spite of our rich cultural diversity, racism, misogyny, and xenophobia still circulate beneath our thin skin. At a local coffee shop, I’ve had to wait much longer for my coffee than my white companion. At a writers’ meeting, a white female club member told me not to touch her. “It’s offensive,” she said with an angry tone.

On a sunny, windy, Sunday morning in Santa Monica, someone in a passing vehicle threw water in my face as I crossed the busy boulevard. Was it the color of my skin that the stranger considered offensive or was it the colorful Indian print dress and shawl I was wearing? I’ll never know. Continue reading

Passage from Warrior of the Light: A Manual by Paulo Coelho

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My Poetry Corner January 2017 features a passage from Warrior of the Light: A Manual by Brazilian lyricist and novelist, Paulo Coelho, born in 1947 in Rio de Janeiro, Southeast Brazil. While Coelho’s background as a songwriter endows his prose with an engaging lyricism, the featured work is not a poem.

Warrior of the Light: A Manual, published in 1997, is written in the form of short philosophical passages. Drawing on his own life experiences and ancient Eastern wisdom, Coelho invites each one of us to become a Warrior of the Light: someone capable of understanding the miracle of life, of fighting to the last for something he believes in.

This is not a normal year. We must prepare ourselves to enter the battlefield to defend our civil and human rights under threat.

Every Warrior of the light has felt afraid of going into battle.
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Year 2016: Reflections

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Year 2016 began with the death of my friend and neighbor Benny on January 4. Every day, I looked out onto our desolate courtyard. Gone were the moments spent with Benny, his wife, and their nature-loving daughter.

I wasn’t alone in my grief. In the Middle East where our endless wars of terror ground on without mercy, death was everywhere. No family was spared. Collective grief saturated the air. Wailing mothers shattered the light. Traumatized orphaned children roamed the rubble of a stolen future.

How many more people must lose their homes, their livelihoods, and their loved ones for our freedom, comfort, and security? What are the consequences for the pain we inflict with impunity on women, children, and other civilians? Where is our moral compass?

The disintegration of my son’s marriage came two days after the news of Benny’s death. After my emotional struggle to let go of my son, his sudden return home disrupted the space (emotional and physical) I had created for myself in his absence. Watching my son’s battle to realign his life, while still clinging to his love for his estranged wife, frittered away at my inner peace.

During our 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, I observed the disintegration of our two-party political system. Both parties were in crisis. My disappointment at having my favored candidate lose the nomination for the Democratic Party shattered my hope for meaningful change. Whichever presidential candidate won the top post meant a loss for we the people.

The discovery of cancer cells in one of her lungs turned the life of a close friend on its head and threw mine off balance. Over the months that followed, experimental and other treatments didn’t prevent the spread of the cancerous cells to other areas of her body. Cancer sucked the joy from the time we spent together.

During his bid for the presidency, the Republican candidate unleashed cancerous cells of bigotry, hatred, misogyny, and xenophobia. This virulent cancer infected the heart and lungs of our nation. Millions of Americans can’t breathe under oppressive police force and an economic system that puts profits before people.

While we fought each other over our perceived differences and imagined threats, Year 2016 was the hottest year since NASA started recording global temperatures 136 years ago. In California, we entered our sixth year of drought. We also battled 7,200 wildfires that burned almost 570,000 acres across the state. Ice sheets on land and sea continued to melt at rates faster than those predicted by our climate scientists.

Thanks to my sons, supportive neighbors, and friends, I have survived the dark days of Year 2016. I send out a big ‘thank you’ to my blogger friends who brightened my days and buoyed up my belief in our human capacity for compassion and love for the other. Working together, we the people have won many battles in Year 2016 across America and worldwide against powerful transnational corporations who put their profits before life. We cannot give up.

Draining the Swamp

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Draining Toxic Lake Okeechobee – Florida – USA
Photo Credit: The Weather Channel (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

 

Metaphors are important tools in a writer’s word-box. “Draining the swamp” is a powerful metaphor put to excellent use by our President-elect during his campaign for our nation’s top post. He has promised to rid our government of entrenched cronies who only serve their own self-interests and those of their masters and facilitators. We-the-people can drown in the swamp for all they care.

As our President-elect begins draining the swamp, he has skimmed only the surface scum and dead leaves and, based on his latest selections for his cabinet and other top administration posts, has made room for more toxic detritus.

The swamp extends across America. In some places, it’s dense and putrid with the carcasses upon which we have built our nation. Are we ready to drain the swamp? Some among us want to make America white again. When was that? Was that after we had decimated the Native Indian populations who inhabited these lands thousands of years before the white man’s arrival? Their carcasses rest at the bottom of the swamp.

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Wounded Knee Massacre – North Dakota – December 29, 1890
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

 

What about the African slaves and their descendants whose forced labor built this nation? Their carcasses form another layer in the bottom of the swamp.

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Lynching of African American in Omaha – Nebraska – 1919
Photo Credit: Daily Kos

 

What about the successive waves of black, brown, white, and yellow immigrants who labored under inhumane conditions to fuel our industrial revolution? Their carcasses intermingle below the surface of the swamp.

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Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire – New York City – March 25, 1911
Photo Credit: NYU/STERN Center for Business & Human Rights

 

It’s easy to skim the surface of the swamp of toxic algae and decaying vegetation. Are we ready to go deeper? Are we ready to drain the swamp?

Are we ready to face our barbarity and callousness towards those we have deemed a threat, worthless, inferior, or dispensable?

Are we ready to ratify that all men and women are created equal and deserve the same treatment and opportunities for their growth and prosperity?

Are we ready to let go of our selfish desires and work together to save ourselves from becoming yet another layer of the swamp?

Draining the swamp will be tough and soul-searching work. It will test the human capacity for openness, forgiveness, sharing, kindness, compassion, and love. It will require a collective effort.

Are you ready to join me in draining the swamp?

“If I Had A Hammer” by Pete Seeger & Lee Hays

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U.S. Post-Election 2016 – Stop Hate Crimes – Muslim Lives Matter
Photo Credit: Quartz.com

 

In keeping with my end-of-year tradition, I feature a song on my Poetry Corner December 2016. Bob Dylan’s award of the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature prompted my choice. In the uncanny way that our memory weaves songs and events into our lived experiences, the song “If I Had A Hammer” forced its way to the frontline and hammered for attention. I discovered that Bob Dylan didn’t write this song. We owe this tribute to America’s folk singers and social activists Pete Seeger and Lee Hays who wrote and recorded it in 1949.

If I had a hammer
I’d hammer in the morning
I’d hammer in the evening
All over this land
I’d hammer out danger
I’d hammer out a warning
I’d hammer out love between
My brothers and my sisters
All over this land

Owing to the political controversy surrounding the lyrics and Seeger’s connection with the Communist Party, the song disappeared from public radio and TV. But folk songs with an enduring message never die.

During the Civil Rights Movement and anti-Vietnam War rallies of the 1960s, the song surfaced anew. With a new melody and the harmonized voices of the folk singing trio, Peter, Paul & Mary, the song soared to the #10 position of the top charts in October 1962. Eleven months later, the Latin-tempo rendition by Trini Lopez catapulted the song to #3.

I was a kid when the song hit the top charts in my home-town Georgetown in what was then British Guiana. With its feisty beat and repetitive lyrics, the song became an instant hit among us kids. We banged out the rhythm with sticks on pots and other makeshift drums.

It’s the hammer of justice
It’s the bell of freedom
It’s a song about love between
My brothers and my sisters
All over this land

The years leading up to our country’s independence from Great Britain in May 1966 were dark days in our small world on the shores of South America. On winning the 1961 General Elections, the East Indian left-wing socialist party gained the right to lead the colony to independence. This development troubled Uncle Sam. After Fidel Castro had seized power in Cuba, the Americans feared the spread of communism in their backyard. Those were the days of Cold War I.

With financial support from Uncle Sam, the opposition parties incited demonstrations and strikes across the country. The fire that razed the capital’s commercial district on February 16, 1962, was just the beginning of the racial/ethnic struggle between the leadership of the majority black and East Indian populations for supremacy in the emerging nation.

Today in America, our President-elect has unleashed the demons of bigotry, misogyny, and xenophobia all over this land. The struggle continues. Once again, we must hammer out our need for justice, freedom, and love.

See the complete song “If I Had A Hammer,” learn more about Pete Seeger and Lee Hays, and listen to Trini Lopez’s rendition of the song at my Poetry Corner December 2016.

Our Sacred Responsibility as Human Beings

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Protesters demonstrate against the Dakota Access oil pipeline near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation
North Dakota – United States – September 9, 2016
Photo Credit: Andrew Cullen / Reuters

 

My third quote for the ‘Three Quotes for Three Days’ challenge – an invitation from British author and blogger Frank Parker – comes from Tom Goldtooth, a Native American environmental leader and executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) since 1996. It’s an excerpt from his keynote address, “The Sacredness of Mother Earth,” at the Bioneers National Conference held on October 18-20, 2013.

The European concept of the natural world which has become a dominant concept worldwide – where knowledge and culture are property, with the attitude that commodities are to be exploited freely and bought and sold at will – has resulted in disharmony between beings and the natural world, as well as the current environmental crisis threatening all life. This concept is totally incompatible with the traditional indigenous worldview… Our sacred responsibility is to safeguard and protect this world. Human beings are not separate from the natural world but were created to live in an integral relationship with it. That’s what we have to offer. Continue reading

“Our Flag is Education”

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Military police in high school occupied by students in São Paulo – Brazil
Photo Credit: Agência Brasil Fotografias/Jacobin Magazine

 

My second quote for the ‘Three Quotes for Three Days’ challenge – an invitation from British author and blogger Frank Parker – comes from Ana Júlia Ribeiro, a sixteen-year-old, public high school student in Curitiba, capital of the State of Paraná in South Brazil. It’s an excerpt from her ten-minute impassioned address before the Paraná State Assembly on October 26, 2016, in defense of the student occupation of their high schools.

Our flag is Education. Our only flag is Education. We’re a nonpartisan movement. We’re a movement by students and for students. We’re a movement that cares about future generations. A movement that’s concerned about society. Concerned about the future of the country. What future will Brazil have if it doesn’t want a whole generation to develop critical thinking? People must have a political, critical sense. People shouldn’t just believe any stuff they read. We must know what we are reading. We must stand against functional illiteracy which is a major problem in Brazil today. That’s why we are here, and that’s why we have occupied our schools. That’s why we have raised the flag of Education.

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A Mouth Is Always Muzzled

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I thank Frank Parker, a former engineer and author of five self-published books who blogs from Ireland at http://franklparker.com/, for nominating me to take up the ‘Three Quotes for Three Days’ challenge.

The rules of the challenge are:

  • Three quotes for three days.
  • Three nominees each day (no repetition).
  • Thank the person who nominated you.
  • Inform the nominees.

Due to time constraints, I will not be posting my quotes on three consecutive days, but rather one a week on Sunday. In keeping with the vision of my blog, I will share quotes from a Guyanese, Brazilian, and an American.

My first quote is taken from the 1969 poem, “A Mouth Is Always Muzzled,” by the social-political Guyanese poet Martin Carter (1927-1997).

But a mouth is always muzzled
by the food it eats to live.

The young Martin Carter came to maturity as a political activist during Guyana’s struggle for independence from Great Britain. While campaigning for the colony’s first mass-based, multi-ethnic, democratically-elected government, the young poet used his street corner meetings to educate his listeners about their social and economic condition and to bring together workers of different ethnicity. Continue reading

On Gratitude by Brazilian Poet Maria Cristina Gama de Figueiredo

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Cavalo Pavão (Peacock Horse) 1998
Oil Painting by Maria Cristina Gama de Figeiredo
Photo Credit: CristinaGamaEscritora Blogspot

 

My Poetry Corner November 2016 features a poem on gratitude by Brazilian poet, painter, and philosopher Maria Cristina Gama de Figueiredo (1964-2010), born in Aracaju, the capital of Sergipe in Northeast Brazil.

Very little about the life of the poet is available online. She died at the relatively young age of forty-six years. Newspaper articles about her passing don’t state the cause of death. Her producer for more than twelve years defined her “as a restless soul who managed to transform her pain into art.” Was her pain emotional, physical, or both? I don’t know.

The journalist and historian Luiz Antonio Barreto (Sergipe/Brazil, 1944-2012) noted that Maria Cristina Gama always stood out for her irreverent and strong personality revealed in her writings, by thinking of poetry “with reflection that goes beyond language to become an instrument that art brings to the cultural dialogue of peoples.”

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