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Life Arts

Literature in a Locked Down Land

By       Message William T. Hathaway     Permalink
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I didn't listen at all
to the pompous, empty oratory of Walter Reuther;
inexperienced as I was, it revolted me nevertheless.
I saw even then that it lacked
the depth and resonance to express the lives
of the oppressed and turbulent people;
I didn't even much like
the uniform, stale, detached slogans
on the unions' perfect picket signs;
I sensed in them something bureaucratic,
not poetic, and I demanded poetry
to express the feelings of the people.
But I loved the faces of the workers,
warm, resolute, lively, varied,
experiences of great depth evident
in the lines on their faces, in their unevenly
developed muscles, and I noticed
that the hundreds and hundreds of buses of workers
carried the most vivid variety of people --
they, more than anyone else at the March,
already trying to live out
our belief in equality.

I was too naive to notice
a slight difference in tone
in the speech of John Lewis,
the young SNCC field worker from the rural South
who knuckled under to the big shots
and, moments before he spoke,
hastily removed all militancy from his text
and lost any chance
of presenting a radical alternative
to innocent but questioning
characters like me.

I was also too ignorant
to question the absence of Malcolm
who would have scourged the union hacks
and official black "leaders"
With a fiery exposure
and sent an insurrectionary spirit
running among the gathered masses
like a flame sweeping across
a spill of gasoline.

There were many things I missed that day,
many a lesson that went past me,
but that one fragrant blossom of hope
embodied in those singing, marching youth
and in those hundred thousand united workers' faces
changed my life for good.

Only Chiapas?

By Tamar Diana Wilson

(with homage to Allen Ginsberg)

I have seen the best minds of five generations destroyed by poverty
struggling naked moaning sobbing howling in despair
fighting battles often lost infants dying before one year
mothers fathers anemic shrunken crippled haggard hungering

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Who dragged themselves through dusty streets at dawn searched for a
way to survive laborers for others who had more lands or capital
sellers servants shiners of shoes bone pickers
great grandfathers who rented clothes from roadside stands
they hadn't even rags or cloth spare walked barefoot
queued up beside construction sites mines railroad lines
begged for a day's employment at any wage
hawked platanos and mangoes tomatoes and onions
while they did without or did with less
offered woven blankets embroidered lengths of cloth supplied by
middlemen work of wives and daughters straw hats and mats and
cane backed chairs serapes rebozos silver rings and broaches
carved statues of dogs cats burros children saints madonnas to people passing by mostly

tourists from nearby far off richer
lands where exploitations had occurred earlier in history but now
were exported mainly not exclusively

Who sowed hoed cut harvested tended sheep cattle
horses goats burros on haciendas from age seven or eight
beside fathers indebted by their fathers at the hacienda store
cross-generational peonage sweated in the sun
drenched in the rains shoeless bootless illiterate
their mothers sisters daughters worked free in the big house
washing ironing grinding corn cooking meals they never shared
emptying slop jars and spittoons sweeping floors and fountain adorned
patios amidst the bougainvillea for the privilege to remain
indebted without lands of their own or any hope of any
until they revolted 80 years ago

Who after 16 years of civil strife after more than a million men had died
after dislocations unrepaired after houses and scant possessions burned
after sons murdered after brothers lost after daughters sisters
mothers wives raped and disappeared
some became ejidatarios others pequeno proprietarios
some rural proletarians owning little more than life
most flocked into state capitals in Distrito Federal U.S. border towns
some to sell their labor power in fluorescing factories sweatshops
talleres cantinas on construction sites and brickyards
some to vend manzansas Marlboros contraband radios and relojes
to neighbors better off Mickey Mouse hand puppets ceramic
hamburgers slopping mayonnaise rearing stallions made of stone
mixed with traditional handicrafts woven dyed embroidered
carved painted to visitors from far off nearby richer lands
some to cross the raya to plant and harvest crops in California
Arizona Michigan Oregon Arkansas Texas or on the railroad lines
across the west or in factories foundries sweatshops in Gary Chicago
Los Angeles Detroit San Antonio until deported when no longer
needed 60 years ago 40 years ago 20 years ago today

Who then joined their urban cousins some to live on lonely brickyards
no electricity no fans no refrigerators no running water
no schools for their children mold bricks to build the malls houses
hotels industrial complexes tourist complexes banks
provide a subsidy wrung from sweat of self and family
to burgeoning urban conglomerations inhabited by the dispossessed
and those parasitic on them

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Some to invade unused lands to form squatter settlements
shanty towns colonias paracaidistas colonias perdidas
colonias populares to build shacks of tarpaulin scrapwood
cardboard crushed aluminum cans trashed by Budweiser and Coca Cola
drinkers to tap the holes against the rain

Who arrived in greater numbers after the Green Revolution
Rockefeller inspired chemicals fertilizers monocropping
imported John Deere tractors International Harvesters
the lucky buy land from the luckless those whose crops failed those
with nothing left to mortgage most day laborers deprived of work on farms now mechanized

no lands to sharecrop anymore
machines replaced men machines displace men imported machines
50 years ago and today and more tomorrow now that Salinas has
revised and mangled Article 27 for which the Zapatistas fought
in 1910

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William T. Hathaway is a Special Forces combat veteran now working to overthrow the empire he previously served. He is the author of Radical Peace: People Refusing War, which presents the true stories of activists who have moved beyond (more...)

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