Monday, January 30, 2012

Historic Hagatna

This past Saturday I took my Guam History students for a historical scavenger hunt in the historic area of Hagatna. It was a fun experience as I gave them 10 vague clues that were connected to different things in hopes of forcing them to go around and try to find what connections I was referring to. My students learned far more than they probably thought they would, the most important lesson being a simple one; history is everywhere, and it is always there in layers upon layers. Just because you drive by it or have a vague idea of what is there, it doesn't mean that you know it or understand it. People who have been to Hagatna countless times, found that they basically knew nothing about it.

While I was waiting for the students to finish their rounds I decided to take some pictures of different sites around Guam's capital and formerly largest village. I found a couple things I hadn't noticed before, which is always nice as a historian. Although I may know more than most about Guam History, there is still so much that others know that I don't and so I am always pleased to learn something new.

For the next week I'll be posting photoshopped images, like the one above on my Tumblr I Pilan Yanggen Sumahi..., check out my blog there to see some of the pics.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Worlds Within Worlds

I don't follow sports much anymore, unless you include eSports as I am an avid spectator of professional Starcraft 2 gaming. I did catch this though earlier on MSN and so I thought to post it here. It isn't really about sports, but more so about politeness and respect for differing opinions and the role that Facebook and other social media plays in terms of creating the public identities of people. As people create a virtual world that is an overlay of their everyday lives, is something lost when they tend to favor their Facebook world instead of the world around them in terms of their expression and the meaning they find in their lives? For example, is something lost when you are sitting in a room with friends talking, but you are continually on your phone chatting with people on your Facebook? Or are both circles the same? Can they co-exist or does favoring one make you value less the other?

I always wonder about this as it is becoming increasingly difficult to get students to pay attention in my lectures without them constantly being distracted by their phones. You can't argue that being distracted only came into existence after smartphones or texting was created, but is there something different to the distraction now? Is it more pervasive? Are the abilities to simply spend 80 minutes on Tumblr during class more detrimental than someone simply daydreaming the same amount of time?

But for other more serious things such as activism, does the ease of Facebook make it tempting to take it as a version of the world and then model one's actions, expectations and celebrations off of what takes place there? I have written about this elsewhere on my blog, but is there a danger to take too seriously what you hear and what happens on Facebook, in the same way in which you can assume that what your friends tell you is also what everyone else says and thinks?

The article below is an example of that from the sports world. It deals with a hockey player who disagrees with President Obama, and how when he is scheduled to meet the President along with other players from his team, he decides not to go, but instead speaks out on Facebook. Rather than take the opportunity, that few get to question or challenge the President, he resorted to the oasis of Facebook in order to express himself.


Taking a Stand: Internet is Not the Place
Jen Floyd Engel
Fox News Sports
Updated Jan 27, 2012 9:03 PM ET
Hockey has this tradition of tapping sticks on the ice or against wood in moments of admiration — after a fight, during a pregame ceremony for a retiring legend or once, in my case, on my way into the locker room after I recently had become engaged. It is more raucous than clapping and therefore way more hockey. It says "I see you and appreciate what that took," or in my case "about time."

And upon first hearing that Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas had unleashed a little of his First Amendment rights, I tapped my stick for him.

Good for him, I thought.

Sports need more principled athletes.

Wait, he expressed himself how?

Yeah, Thomas lost me when he bailed on the Bruins' congratulatory trip to the White House — and his chance to say his piece in person — and instead posted on Facebook.

We have become a society that has confused a status update with a stand. And we wonder why nothing changes.

Athletes used to take risks for things that mattered. Black-power fists shoved into the Mexico City night sky and Bill Russell’s willingness to march on Washington with Martin Luther King Jr. Nor was it only athletes doing so. Rosa Parks sat down. The unknown man stood tall at Tiananmen Square. Countless Tea Party-ers refused to go away.

So I'm sorry if I do not buy Thomas’ status update as a principled stand. Yet it is pretty standard nowadays.

Internet balls are the new tequila balls. Everybody has a pair.

What do you do if you are a 49ers fan or a random gambler distraught over two muffed punts by Kyle Williams? Tweet him a death threat, of course. Or if you dislike a column? Log on under a fake name and drop all sorts of racist, sexist idiocy.

Does anybody think Death Threat Guy would say this to Williams' face? Of course not.

This is not another rant about the death of civility, which has been harped on a lot lately, what with Republican debates turning into a celebrity death match and that governor from Arizona wagging a finger in the face of the president of the United States.

This is more about the death of principled stands, of disagreeing respectfully and believing so much in your cause that you are willing to be a little uncomfortable standing up for it.

This is the chance Thomas had, and what he failed so miserably at by not going to the White House with his team.

Full disclosure: I am a political junkie. The debates are like crack for me. My favorite parts of sports are where they intersect with life, politics, the human experience and teach us something about ourselves.

Tim Thomas had a point — a good point actually.

I tend to agree with him when he says "the federal government has grown out of control, threatening the rights, liberties and property of the people."

What he also had, that I do not and most do not, was a chance for an audience with the president. I know, I know, somebody is going to say this was not the time. I disagree.

I do not know President Obama, but he seems like a good dude. He stood there while that governor of Arizona wagged a finger in his face. And whatever shade you are on the red-blue spectrum, can we all not agree that that kind of behavior is unacceptable? So I am guessing he is the kind of guy you could go up to and say, "Hey, I love America, but I’m kind of annoyed how this thing is going. I'd love to see you . . . "

Whatever your problem is — sports, political or otherwise — I guarantee it is unlikely to be solved with a Tweet or a Facebook post. The only way to solve anything is dig in, take a stand — and that almost always requires a little bit of courage. It requires believing in what you are saying so much that you are willing to say it to another face.

It is just complaining otherwise. And there is a long line of people doing that right now, a line that Thomas joined.

He was entitled to his opinion.

The Constitution allows, if not encourages, him to respectfully disagree and to voice his dissent.
What was disappointing about Thomas was that he did not do so in person. There is no valor in that, and no stick tap.
You can follow Jen Engel on Twitter, email her or like her on Facebook.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Addicted to Racism

Check out this article below from KUAM. It deals with meetings that the Federated States of Micronesia Association of Guam had in order to draw up some plans on how to deal with violence and crimes that are being attributed to the Micronesian community of Guam, in particular the Chuukese. They even created an education plan with alot of ideas on how to alleviate the social problems within Micronesian communities and those which spill out into the general public.

I don't want to speak to the specific issue of Micronesians in Guam, as the available language and ideas makes it almost impossible to have a productive conversation. The "Micronesian problem" is what it is usually referred to as, and it is a textbook example of how a class or group of people become associated, in a way which becomes too commonsensically and too natural, with the ills of the world.

Every society has problems, and every ethnic group has problems or roles in creating those problems. The problem however is that in every society, usually a single group or a small set of groups become blamed for the majority of ills in that society. They come to signify too much wrong with things. They end up shouldering just about all the problems that you can find.

Part of the reason for this scapegoating is because of the way people in a society don't want to admit to their dependency. In every society, there are strong beliefs that those in the middle or those at the top are the ones who keep things moving. They are the job creators, they are the wealth holders, they are the ones who keep things ordered and work as a check to keep things on an even keel. Although the lowest classes are always the largest and actually do the most work, they never ever receive the most credit for what they do. Part of this might simply be logical, since it is easy to reward a few at the top, but how could you reward everyone at the bottom? There simply isn't enough to go around to reward everyone down there, so why not just give extra to the few at the top?

But it is cruel the way in which the assumption becomes that those at the top must be there for a reason. And while we could interpret their elevation to be due to trickery, greed, and other evil forms of social violence of taking from others and amassing so much for yourself, too often the assumption emerges that they are at the top because they serve a higher function. The notion that something is "too big to fail" is closely related to this. You are too high up to fall down. If you were to be dragged down, if you were to be stripped of everything, it wouldn't be you who loses out, but everyone else as well.

Those at the bottom get no such extra ideological meaning. They are cogs in the machine, not the master who runs the machine. This is also part of the reason why First World life is considered to be so much more valuable. They represent more embedded resources and power. There are less of them and they tend to die in smaller numbers and so it is easier to consume their tragedy. It is more "camera-ready" to use a completely inappropriate term. In a place where death and suffering are the norm, what is one more body on the pile? But in a place where the perception is that violence and terror are aberrations, the story is more dramatic and compelling since it is exceptional.

Part of the reason for this scapegoating is because it is selfish. No one wants to admit being dependent upon another, especially if the others are "other."There is a way that we can stomach needing people if fate has made us related to them or we see them as similar, but for those that fate has marked as other, and not just other, but someone that you see as inferior in their otherness, people go to great lengths in order to assign those people a particular subordinate meaning, so as to keep their dependency from bleeding all over everything and staining you.

One thing that students sometimes ask me about is why racism still exists. Why is it that even after people have "learned" not to oppress others or discriminate against others, that people still do it? Why is racism still around when just about everyone can publicly agree to it being bad and needing to vanish from human life? One answer deals with people not wanting to appear bad publicly and so saying things which will mesh well with prevailing opinion. So most people, even those who are racist will say less than racist sounding things since they don't want to stick out like a sore, racist, jerk-off of a thumb.

The other reason why, you can see clearly in the comments on KUAM that were attached to the article that I mentioned earlier about the Chuukese community. I've pasted them below and as you can see they are "racist" in the sense that they say horrible things that polite people aren't supposed to say. But this isn't really the best way to determine the racism of something. What stands out in nature of the comments below is not just that they say bad things, but the way in which they are said. There is a security in speaking that way. There is an assuredness, a safety in how they are attacking and who they are attacking. What you should notice in these comments is how comfortable people are in the way they say the things they say. They are not written as if they are being meekly put forth because they might not be true or might not be right, but they are written as if they are most certainly true.

You could chalk that up to simply the way people write on the internet, but there is another factor at play here. In his chapter "Of Our Spiritual Strivings" from The Souls of Black Folk WEB Du Bois discusses what it is like for him to be treated and discussed as "a problem." All forms of racism are such, they identify a people as "the problem." They are something to be figured out and something to be solved. If other groups, who are not identified as the problem have similar problems they are not treated with the same urgency, they are not afforded the same scrutiny. Racism is a lens that allows you to see the world where certain groups are magnetized with negativity. Much more than anyone else, those who you feel racism towards always attract your ire, your hate, your disgust. No matter what the issue is, you can always find someway of connecting it back to those you feel are the problem, and how they should fix themselves to spare everyone else.

Racism is a delicious experience that people become addicted to because of the intoxicating effect of truth beyond truth. Minagahet ni' mas ki magahet. As much as we may say that we are creatures of reason and intellect, racism is always appealing because it takes on the emotional appearance of truth, and can be in truth impervious to facts and truth. It is the way in which you can know something in sheer blinding ignorance that will resist anything and still stand tall and strong. Racism remains important to people because it can be something that is drilled into you as part of your upbringing or your community, but it is also something that you can cling do against all odds, like a desperate captain chaining himself to the mast of his fast sinking ship.

Racism is judgements about people and reality that are divorced from fact, but feel to people as if they are more real than facts. Why else would so many people for so long question the "Americaness" of Barack Obama, and then even when they are presented with copies of his birth certificate still refuse to accept it? Racism is a defense against everything. As Slavoj Zizek notes, that was the twisted genius of the Nazi victimization and scapegoating of Jews in Germany. You portrayed them as bloodsucking, evil fiends who were robbing the strength of great Germany, but when you actually looked at these terrible Jews, they seemed so normal. They didn't have fangs, wings, and were far from monstrous, they were just your neighbors, your friends, your fellow Germans. But that is where racism comes in to fill the gaps and provide a feeling of truth stronger than truth. People argued that the normalcy or banality of the Jews was the most insidious representation of their evil. They were so evil that they went so far as to mask their evil and make themselves appear normal. Such a mental juggling also took place around Obama's birth certificate. Once it was produced, those still mired in racism would constantly jump from new point to new point, fabricated in their mind, that felt so real. They argued that this birth certificate looked "different" and that everything from a smudge to a faded letter signified the "fakeness" of it.

Racism is a warm snuggie, that makes you feel like the narrow-minded and sometimes reptilian things that you feel about other human beings who may be a little different than you are eternal truths. Racism need not be spoken, it can be embedded and buried and kept from the public. But racism when it emerges it always does so with a confidence, that is why it is so attractive. Not only can it be articulated as a great truth, but since those you are speaking of are often marked as "a problem" by most of society, your articulation of your racist truth becomes an actual public service. By saying that Micronesians are the cause of so much misery on Guam you are not only speaking the truth, but calling attention to a great injustice being dealt to the people. No wonder racism doesn't go away. The most ignorant person can feel like the smarter person on the continent if they give in to their most base instincts. They can even feel like a great defender of their community by simply enjoying saying terrible things about people.

Read below from the comments to see what I mean.


From mitch: Here's an idea. Make Chuuk the landfill of Micronesia. Since the Chuukese do not seem to want to live there, we can let them all come here as long as all our trash gets shipped there for free.
From betterearth: It is a start; however, they really should emphasize the deportable clause. Also, they should periodically check out the homeless walking the streets and those found loitering in parks. Lastly, they should provide airline tickets to FSM citizens unable to survive here, or those who are jobless.
From Gary Chester: It is all talk, what can the FSM really do? The government of Chuuk does not provide proper education, medical assistance or Jobs for its people. What do you expect them to do? You can not blame them for wanting a better life. But the people of FSM need to do something more than just sit around and talk. I have seen Chuukese people come here after a typhoon just to get public assistance. We need to cut all public assistance. Better yet let the FSM government pay all the public assistance. How long do you think that would last? Then let us see who stays on Guam. We can not be a dumping ground for unwanted FMS people. I have not heard of anyone on the FMS side saying they will take back any of the bad breadfruit if they break the law.. I feel this situation will only get worse. The United States Government needs to be held accountable.. We need a deport clause. God help us..
From roland: My daughter's boyfriend is from Paluwat and we have a granddaughter 5 months old, his work ethics is good my wife and i didn't agree at first about our daughter being with a micronesian (chuuk) but when our granddaughter was born that totally change me about how we both feel. Now we both are enjoying the greatest gift that god has ever given is our granddaughter.

From Frank: I don't get what you mean mitch!? So using chuuk as a landfill!? That mean's bringing all of them here!! The biggest trash here on Guam is the chuukese! they alway's litter Guam with problem's!!

From Jane: This is no longer the Chamorros' island, Chuukese will one day rule this island. " God bless Guam the new Chuukese paradise". May they continue to use as much Chamorros and Filipinos tax money." Kinsou Chapur" that means thank you for all the welfare and quest card.

From Andrea: Send all the Chuukese back along with our trash. They live here like trash, and to the senators, if any of the outer islanders get in trouble, we should have a law that say they get sent back to were they came from and NEVER allowed back on our island again! And to you jane, like I said trash should be sent back!


Proposed FSM action plan up for discussion

Posted: Nov 12, 2011 5:09 PM
Updated: Nov 12, 2011 6:08 PM
Plan curbs crimes & violence committed by Micronesians
by Nick Delgado

Guam - A draft action plan will be presented to the FSM Association of Guam Board of Directors this week. The plan ultimately lays out the FSM Consul General's goals to put a stop to the crimes and violence being committed by those in the Micronesian community.

It's an action plan that most would say was sparked by the September triple-homicide in Harmon that involved two Chuukese gangs. According to the members of the special committee tasked with putting together ideas though, the plan has been in motion for several months prior to the fatal incident.
FSM Association of Guam and special committee member Koisumy Rudolph told KUAM News, "What we need to do now is work on a budget and some realistic outcome that we like to see happen, we are very optimistic that if we work together we can address the problems that we have and eventually the bottom line in all that we are intending to raise is that there is be less and less dependency of our people on public assistance."

Public assistance is what Foreign Service Officer Robson Romolow says is a key discussion in the plan, as the goal is to try to get more citizens from the Federated States of Micronesia to stray away from using government aide. "Under our compact with the U.S., you can be deported if you use public assistance for life or a long period of time it is deportable," he said.

The draft plan also highlights parenting and how FSM parents need better education on the laws of Guam as they relate to domestic violence and rehabilitation programs for those who spent time in jail. Also noted is the need to address social issues in prostitution, suicide and bullying as well as the use of drugs and alcohol by adults and teens. Additionally, the proposed plan hopes to provide better awareness on educating new FSM immigrants.

Until the Association approves and implements these plans, Rudolph says, "I think for the interim there still something that can be done for us, maybe have our people work closely with police or mayors in the village."

While the FSM consulate continues to push that FSM citizens should only be on the territory for three reasons - education, employment or medical care - the special committee will also be hosting separate meetings for the FSM citizens on Guam to get their input on the action plan. FSM Consul General Robert Ruecho says recent town meetings with the FSM president were well attended, but admits they need to branch out to those in the FSM community who are not getting the message about Guam's laws.

"That's why we want to have these pocket meetings so we can reach out to everybody," he said.

Monday, January 23, 2012

A Year of Decolonizing Cheaply

Last year I was confirmed as the new Chairperson for the Independence Task Force for the Commission on Decolonization for Guam. The Decolonization Commission is tasked with guiding the process by which Chamorros will exercise their right to self-determination and select the next future status for the island. As part of the Commission there are three task forces, one for each of the three potential options: independence, statehood and free association.

There is pretty much taya' support nowadays for these task forces, but I'm trying to do my best to get things started without any budget. A temporary website will be up soon that myself and my girlfriend are working on. A meeting will hopefully be taking place before the end of the month of Task Force members to start work on creating a position paper on why independence is the best option for Guam. I'm also creating a listserv for events and news related to decolonization and independence.

I have also decided to start a irregular column or "Menashi ginnen i Gehilo'" where I will outline recent news or events from the decolonization commission. My first column titled "A Year of Decolonizing Cheaply" is pasted below. Hopefully in the next few days I'll have the link for the temporary website ready and so I'll be posting it there as well.


“A Year of Decolonizing Cheaply”

Message of the Chairperson for Independence Task Force for Guam

The last few meetings of the decolonization commission have been sobering ones, especially in terms of what sort of financial support the educational process will be receiving.

Although the Calvo-Tenorio administration started strong in terms of their rhetorical support for self-determination and decolonization, the results have been mixed thus far. We should applaud the Governor for getting this process started again, when his predecessor let it languish for so long. The decolonization commission board met twice in late 2011 and once so far in 2012 and these are good signs. The issue of when a self-determination plebiscite will take place is currently being addressed, but nothing official has been decided.

2012 looks however to be a very difficult year in terms of starting the educational process for conducting a self-determination vote. Funding battles between the Legislature and the Governor left the office unfunded for this past year and into the Fall of this current year. This means that the Task Forces for Independence, Statehood and Free Association, who are given the responsibility for advocating their particular statuses, will not receive any budgeted support until a new budget is created for 2013. During the last meeting of the Decolonization commission, 2012 was discussed as a year full of “happy labor,” or volunteer work amongst the task forces, on projects that require little to no resources to carry out.

Although there looks to be little financial support from the Government of Guam this year for education, the Independence Task Force will not be sitting around and just waiting. A temporary website with basic contact information and details about the self-determination process will be uploaded soon. As the Chairperson for the Independence Task Force I am working to confirm the members of the Task Force and one of our first major projects will be the updating of the official position paper that features detailed justification for why Independence would be an ideal status for Guam.

To those reading this, whether you be a supporter of Independence or just a supporter of the process of decolonization, I am interested in hearing your suggestions and thoughts on the following:

*What low cost ideas do you have on how the Independence Task Force can advocate its platform in 2012?

You can share your ideas with me by emailing me at If you know of anyone else who would like to be added to the Independence for Guam email list and receive messages or info like this, you can forward me their email and I’ll be sure to add them. Si Yu’us Ma’ase.

Sahuma Minagahet ya Na’suha Dinagi

Michael Lujan Bevacqua

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Think Lightly of Yourself

“The World, Deeply” Michael Lujan Bevacqua
The Marianas Variety

Every once in a while I leaf through the pages of “The Book of Five Rings” by legendary 17th century samurai warrior Miyamoto Musashi. This text, famous for the way it brings together philosophy and strategy, is where I sometimes turn to when seeking some pidasun finayi, or fragments of wisdom. For example, when I find myself at a crossroads in terms of activism, or needing a hint of guidance on how to approach some aspect of community engagement, empowerment or consciousness raising, I find that Musashi sometimes has some great, profound, sometimes vague insights.

Last year during the ideologically turbulent DEIS comment period on the Guam military buildup, I found some solace through Musashi’s notion that you should (in Chamorro) "Tungo’ i enimigu-mu, tungo’ i sapblå-ña." Or, in English, “Know your enemy, know his sword.”

Part of the wisdom of this quote is that in order to defeat your enemy, in order to truly vanquish him, it is not enough to hate him. Ti nahong na un chatli'e' gui' ya ti ya-mu gui'. You have to know him, and his sword, which is another way of referring to his soul, his essence, in order to defeat him. The distaste for something can often act as a screen, making you feel like you know everything about it even when you actually know very little. Hate can bring you to a battle and it can convince you that you can win, but it will always make you misjudge things and miss key elements. If you rely on such superficial tactics when dealing with anything you are doomed to failure, since the situation itself, your position and your opponent’s lies far outside of your grasp of understanding.

In the ideological battle over the buildup, We Are Guahan was successful in part because of this notion. Their greatest strength was not “hating the buildup” or “hating the military.” Their greatest strength came in knowing their enemy’s sword, knowing what its own weapon was in the fight, and finding ways to use it against them. In this ideological battle, the weapon with which the Department of Defense was stuck using was the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for their proposed buildup.

Critics of the buildup could have simply countered pro-buildup (military moalek!) rhetoric with their own (military båba!), but instead chose to use the words of the DEIS to full effect. During public comment meetings, signs with quotes from the DEIS adorned the walls, showing people the truth of what the DOD held in their hands. The DEIS, while at first imposing in its sheer amount of pages and its multimillion dollar price tag, was clearly riddled with weaknesses when studied carefully. There was plenty of it cut and paste sections, parts of it plagiarized, so much of it rushed and inadequate and above all not tied to any real fundamental planning. From a distance the DEIS appeared like a imposing, impossible to stop sword. From up close, spider web like cracks were everywhere on its blade, just waiting to be exploited and used against the wielder.

The lawsuit over the selection of Pågat and Route 15 as the site for a firing range complex was a clear example for this. The decision by DOD to voluntarily provide a supplemental environmental impact statement over where to put their five firing ranges clearly demonstrates the flaws in the DEIS and the possibility that if taken to court over their justification, they would have lost.

Another sen fehman na sinangan that I’ve taken from Musashi is, “respect the Gods, but do not rely on them for help.” For me this means that those things that we assume exist out there to keep things ordered, to keep the world spinning and to keep the rest of the world that you don't immediately see around you safe, we should always respect them, but be careful how much faith you have in them. It is always nice and comforting to believe in a higher power, but how much life is lost and how much death is created in this world because of the assumption of something greater as catching and collecting up all the shattered and wasted souls. Or in another way, it is comforting to think of God in your corner, but you should never expect God to fight your fight for you.

With a new year and new challenges just around the corner, I came across this quote, which will be the one I carry with me in the coming year.

"Think lightly of yourself, and deeply of the world."

Reflect for a moment on this quote, and think how it might apply to your own life.

A Moment Without Facebook

I love going to Anao in Yigo. I've only been there a few times, but I really enjoy it each time I go.

For those of you who haven't heard of Anao, it's north of Hanom, almost on the edge of Anderson. In order to get there you hike for about 20 mins through some jungle and then get to the cliff's edge where a trail will take you down several hundred feet to the rocky limestone shore. There are some pretty cool features once you reach the limestone shore for those who love natural beauty. There is a massive rock that some people call "the pinnacle" that sticks conspciously out of the rest of the fairly flat limestone.

When I took my History of Guam and World History 2 students to Anao last week, we explored to the north and found a pretty neat cove. There was a large rock, well over twenty feet high that stuck out past the shore, and was connected by a narrow land bridge. Several of my students and I climbed up it to take pictures.

I recommend visiting Anao, it is one of those locations on Guam where one can go and reflect on life, without what life has become nowadays getting in the way. There is no noise of cars, although there are sometimes helicopters flying overhead. There is no reception down there for phones or tablets, just the sound of the ocean crashing against the rocks.

For most of my students getting down there to that point is a strange, almost scary experience. The modern world, especially for those who enjoy as much of the comfort of the First World as possible, it is easy to feel like you are in charge of everything. Facebook is basically like being the God of your social life. You can know the intimate details of people, the stupid and boring things they are doing from day to day. With the inclusion of Four Square, it can even feel like you are omnipotent and know where all your friends are. The internet in general can give you this feeling of dominance and superiority. The answer to any question is just Google away. Communication appears to happen so fast, you'd never lose touch with anyone.

The advertising of the world we live in today is great. In times past, the advertising of the world was largely religious. You have this life because God gave it to you, so enjoy it! Nowadays, mankind seems to have created a world which is truly "the best of all possible worlds." With so much comfort, ease and prosperity at our fingertips! It is no wonder that first world countries like the United States are so pathetic and incapable of doing anything. They can obliterate a small country like Iraq or Afghanistan. They can use their power to oppress or exploit those smaller, but they have no ability to fix themselves or take any real leadership in changing the world. President Obama tried to invoke the specter of this in order to get Americans to support an "overhaul" of its health care system, but one of the rules of the world is that the more you consider your life to be the best, the more you will resist any attempts to improve it or change it.

When students who are born and breed in this world, where they cannot spend 30 seconds without looking at their phones or checking their Facebook updates, I find it fun to take them to a place divorced from that. For many of my students their relationship to the natural world is very simple. It is there primarily as an object of knowledge, and nothing more. It is there because they know it is there. They may even know some of the banal ways in which you are supposed to talk about it. So for example, during hikes, some students will say things like, "oh wow, how beautiful" or "wow, I'm so glad I got to see this and get out in nature!"

But within a few minutes, the platitudes dry up, and students often times don't know what else they are supposed to do or say. There is no Facebook on the cliffs. There is not Twitter in the jungle. There is no email to check. There are no texts to tell me what to think or feel or how to react to the world. It is a humbling and reflective experience for some, for others it is a bit frightening. All the things that made you feel like you were in charge, had a secure place in the world are gone and you are left with a completely different sense of being. One in which you are not the center of attention. One in which likes are not automatically collected for you and you are sent a note everyday reminding you when peoples' birthdays are. In this new world you have a space, but it is usually not one that your days of scrolling pages on the internet have prepared you for. It is still your world, but you have to relate to it differently.

Often times when we reach the halfway point of a hike, as we did at Anao, students look around, breathe the air, feel accomplished in how they conquered their aches and pains in order to get to this point, and then start to worry about what they are supposed to do next. Students always ask me once we reach the halfway point, "are we gonna start heading back?" They act eager to know what to do next, but you can tell it is an unease about not knowing what to do with so much nature and so little of the worldiness that they are used to that is irritating them.

At Anao I gave my students and their friends and family, 35 in all who had shown up, the option of turning back or staying down on the rocks for a while and exploring. Within a few minutes 27 of them were trekking back up the hill, back to civilization. Although I understand that people had places to go, people to see, jobs, lives, cellphone service and laptops waiting for them, it was disappointing. They had hiked for an hour and a half to get to that point, why not stay longer and explore? The fact that you don't hike much or don't get out much is even more so of a reason to stay longer, since the chances of you hiking like this again are slim.

Eight students remained behind, and they were a mix of those who wouldn't be hiking anytime soon and wanted to see as much as they could before they left, and those who hike regularly and simply like to explore. We found the land bridge together and even took a picture while standing on it.

All in all, despite the disappointment it was a good day. Check out the photos below:

Friday, January 20, 2012

Really and Not Really Existing Colonialism

Last year anthropologist David Vine visited Guam as part of a research trip where he visited areas around the world where communities were protesting (in various ways) the presence of US bases near them. While this is his most current research project, he is best known for his work on chronicling the plight of the Chagos Islanders, who come from the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. If you are in the military you have most likely heard about the base there. If you are a fan of the live-action Transformers films then you might remember it being featured as a secure location where a sliver of the infamous all-spark is kept safe. If you are someone, who like me keeps lists of the not-so-great-things that have been done by the US over its history, than Diego Garcia is a particularly gross and recent atrocity.

Through postwar collusion between the US and British governments, the people living in Diego Garcia were first tricked into leaving their island and barred from returning, and eventually just forcibly removed from the island and all their homes destroyed. The British government did the dirty work so that the US could use the island to build a key military facility in the Indian Ocean. As of today, that base is one of the most important the US has in the world. It is a base that defines "strategic flexibility." Not only is it close to so many potential "future" or "current" targets of the US, but it also has no sovereignty. There is no "government" in Diego Garcia that can or will cause problems, protest or make demands. In Diego Garcia, it is a military commander's dream in the sense that there is no law except military law and strategic interests. Diego Garcia is so valuable, that it is often remarked that if it did not exist already, it would have to be invented.

A longtime activist amongst the Chagos people, Lisette Aurelie Talate died recently, here is an excerpt from an article detailing her legacy of fighting for her people's right to return to their island:
When in the 70's, Talate was dumped in Mauritius along with her children and other Chagossians, she immediately embarked on a relentless struggle to go back home to Diego Garcia. During her lifetime she undertook several hunger strikes to draw attention to the legitimacy of her cause and, in the process, became an icon of the Chagossian diaspora.
She was a frail woman in physical appearance but, like an iron fist in a velvet glove, she constantly told the authorities concerned that her land has been robbed. When finally she was “allowed” to visit Diego Garcia, everyone still cherishes the vivid image of how she kneeled down to kiss the soil and screamed “Diego, my land!” while the military who "occupy" the island, witnessed the scene unfazed. It was, sure, only a short visit, like being on transit -- not to say a humiliating way to be asked to come and look at your home from far and then politely be invited to sleep outdoors !
At the funeral service, Olivier Bancoult paid tribute to Talate in very emotional terms. He recalled how one day he was with Talate in London fighting for their case when she found herself with some British MP who sympathised with her cause, at the Cafetaria of the House of Commons. When invited by the MPs to have a coffee and eat a bite with them, she flatly refused. She would later tell Olivier how could she be eating and drinking in the very institution that had decided to deport her from her island home. For her, the Houses of Parliament represented a dramatic symbol. She was a woman of conviction, who always got her message across forcefully in the creole language.

When David Vine gave a presentation at the UOG Lecture Hall (alongside Leevin Camacho from We Are Guahan), I thought at first that people might have difficulty following the woeful saga of the Chagosians. I thought that people might respond not with their minds when considered this story of the terrible and unthinking displacement of so many people, but rather with their passports and their blind patriotism. Such is common on Guam. When you aren't really part of America, but are groomed to desperately want to be, you find your own inkind donations to the making and sustaining of America. You are often more willing to look the other way and to refuse to acknowledge the sins of the US. Since you don't get to enjoy a casual, comfortable Americaness, you find ways to make up the difference by proving you are even more American than real Americans. So on Guam, people are often times more conservative than you might imagine, and will chose to forget or even recognize the way the US has damaged the lives of Chamorros, since that is the price of admission to the cheap seats of American belonging.
I was impressed however when people seemed to absorb very well the story of Diego Garcia, and even ask some very provocative questions, which made connections between Guam and Diego Garcia. As a historian these connections are obvious to me, but I was excited to see students and community members considered them.

Guam and Diego Garcia is very alike, yet you could consider them to be very different as well. They both have a very recent history of serious displacement in order to build US military bases. In Diego Garcia is meant total dispossession and an attempt to deny even the right to return to their island. In Guam, it meant that more than half of the island was condemned, Chamorros removed from their lands in order to build the bases we know of today (and a few more which have since WWII been closed). Of course, there are still differences. The people in Diego Garcia were not even notified about their displacement, whereas Chamorros in the ashes of World War II often times celebrated, at least for a little while, their displacement since it was a way they could give back to the US military after it had expelled the Japanese in 1944.

In liberal discourse, which in this vein you could think of as commonly invoked antiwar or peace activist narratives, Guam and Diego Garcia are very very different, for almost hysterical reasons. Diego Garcia is something that while few know about, those who do in the US, cling to it very tightly. It is on the Right, a key base. Forget about the history, as the Right is so adept at doing, what matters is the role its existence plays today as keeping America and its interests safe. On the Left, Diego Garcia is another tragic example of America misbehaving. It is one of those "rare" examples where America unleashes its inner colonizer and it does something truly "colonial" in the old fashioned sense of the word. In most cases, this abuse is exceptional and not the norm. It is not something that you should perceive of as being central to what defines America, but an occasional mistake. The US seems to have quite a bit of these mistakes.

Guam is the opposite. While very few can look at the history of Diego Garcia and say that it is not an example of colonialism, it is the norm to look at Guam and say that it isn't an example of such. This is something which I have struggled with in both my activism and academic work; the ways in which Guam is clearly a colony today, something that cannot actually be disputed in any way shape or form, but yet it is a peculiar case of colonialism that most people would argue doesn't signify colonialism. While in the states I got into many arguments with people who refused to accept the idea that Guam was something that needed attention, that needed to be fixed, that required some sort of justice. It didn't matter what the history was, people could not accept either the history of it or the current reality as something that you could use to condemn the US as a colonizer. In my academic work, most prominently my dissertation, I tried to theorize what this might mean, having a place that is clearly a colony, but is refused to be accepted as such. What sort of power does the US get by having such a strategically important place, with a history of racism, displacement and discrimination, not signify any real negative associations?

A case in point was when the US was starting to collect "terrorists" from around the world after 9/11 and did not want to go through the painful process of giving them trials or giving them any basic rights as prisoners, it created a list of places where those newly christened "enemy combatants" could be held. The list was determined by a number of factors. Military facilities, since it would be ideal for the US government if these terrorists could be dealt with in terms of military justice, since it is much more flexible and pliable than other legal systems. Jurisdictional and juridical flexibility in order to limit the number of ways the detention could be challenged, and give the Federal government more ways to argue it had the right to hold people in what most would call illegal ways. Guam showed up on the list, alongside other places such as Diego Garcia and Guantanamo Bay, which as we all know was the eventually winner in this gruesome legal contest. In the minds of those who designed the US's detention rules for enemy combatants, Guam was a possibility because of the banality that I've mentioned above. Although US laws now apply to Guam, they do not apply in the same way they apply to states. There is more flexibility in being in Guam, since more than a century of legal precedents say that the US Federal government can do whatever it wants in Guam.

This sort of banality is the norm in life. We make hierarchies of struggles, or human meaning. A first world life is worth more than a third world life, even if just for the simple reason that there is less of it. For some, the comfort of animals is more important than the comfort of other people. For many, the missing of a favorite show is more traumatic than the things that are done in the name of the US around the world. On Guam the right to vote for So You Think You Can Dance? is more important than the the ability to vote for President or in Congress.

For some, what happens in Guam is banal. It is something you can glaze over. If you even notice Guam amidst all the clutter of the world, how can you even consider it a place that is being oppressed? They have so much of the US there, so much of what everyone else in the world is supposed to want. The US saved them, takes care of them, does everything for them. If anything, colonialism there is nothing more than whiny children, thinking too much of themselves, with the US as the adult who has to do everything for their overgrown, overweight, but completely useless on their own child.

This is why I found it so inspiring that people on Guam were able to make connections, even if people elsewhere refuse to or just can't seem to make the mental leap. At the event with David Vine I was the moderator and screened the questions people asked. So many people did not take the usual route that First World people take when hearing about the Chagosians; "those poor people, suffering, I will show compassion and how it pains me to see them like that."

The capacity to show pain in this way, to feel it, and to have this emotional response is the prototypical first world reaction. It is as some theorists argue, the different between suffering pain and experiencing trauma. For the Chagos people, like the majority of the people in the world, their lot is pain and suffering, but for those from the First World who gaze upon them, it is much more complex, it is trauma that they feel. Trauma, which could be defined as the feeling of something terrible that is not the norm. The crux of this definition is that those outside of the First World live lives determined primarily by suffering, where the exceptions are happy, safe, comfortable moments. Their lives are pain and tragedy, and so there is no room for trauma, no room to sit back and reflect on how bad things are. They feel tragedy, but have no time or place to sit back and reflect on how tragic or sad thing are. Such an ability is only reserved for those in the First World. And that is part of the hierarchy of human life, part of the ways in which people at the top of the world argue for their reproduction at the top of the world; in this case it is because of the way they can see more and can feel more.The Third Worlder suffers without understanding, whereas the First Worlder understands suffering, but does not suffer it.

Some people responded like this, since it is such a tragic story and often times all people know how to do in response to hearing something, is to feel terrible and just feel how lucky you are not those people. But so many of the questions dealt with what meaning their story might have for Guam. People in their handwritten barely legible questions scratched on scrap paper, didn't see Diego Garcia as this place of suffering that they needed to do their First World duty towards and look at and say how big that is and terrible. Instead they connected their histories together and saw that they shared certain things, those things I mentioned above. As such, so many of the questions focused on the ways Guam and Diego Garcia are the same, and many asked, in worried ways, whether or not the displacement in Diego Garcia could ever happen in Guam or the CNMI? Alot was mentioned about Tinian, but I'll save that discussion for another day.

Here are some of the questions that people asked. I've pasted them below:

Can you both speak to more examples or stories of successful resistance to military/colonial control and limiting their control in general?

Has Dr. Vine studied the plight of the Kurdish people in Iraq?

Mr. Vine, do you think that what happened to the Chagos Islanders could happen to Guam?

Dr. Vine mentioned UN mandates and resolutions on decolonization; could he elaborate on that with names and dates?

Can you talk about the role of art and cultural resistance in building a movement against military imperialism?

Since we have local leaders here, do you think they can petition the Federal Government to bring the UN Fourth Committee to conduct a seminar here on decolonization?

Can you please explain the similarities between Guam and the Diego Garcia Ocean Monuments?

What will Guam win through its current lawsuit against the US military?

How can we expect the military to take root on island and protect whatever it is they are supposed to protect if we protest them?

Given the economic hardship in Tinian and the fact that people are leaving the island in large numbers, do you think that the US may one day want to turn it into a base like Diego Garcia?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A New Semester

Not sure when I'll be able to blog something, this week is crazy.

I taught two winter intersession courses at UOG that finished last week, and now this week I start teaching six classes at UOG for the Spring 2012 semester. Six classes is quite a load, and they are four different classes, meaning that I have to prepare for four different lectures, discussions each week, and then without any TAs or any other support, have to grade the work of 150 students.

I have so many thoughts swirling around my head, but just not enough time to type it into this blog.

I hope that once things calm down this semester, maybe next week I'll be back.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Gotta Catch 'Em All!

“Gotta Catch ‘Em All!”
Michael Lujan Bevacqua
Marianas Variety

It is interesting to contrast the 2012 Republican primary with the 2008 Democratic primary. In 2008, Democrats were overcome with stressful joy at the prospect of having so many great candidates, two of whom (Clinton and Obama) would be historic and nation-changing figures if elected. Fast forward to the Republican’s 2012 and we see a huge array of candidates, but little consistent enthusiasm.

In the last half of this year, Republicans have flirted with more “frontrunners” than Newt Gingrich has marriages. It will all be coming to a close soon, as the endless string of debates about who loves troops, tax cuts and Ronnie Reagan more will be eclipsed by the actual primary contests. Just as with the Democratic debates of 2008, little was yielded from them, as candidates are often more in agreement than disagreement, and did their best to score points by hitting each other with meaningless, witty one-liners. Before this great season of Republican tomfoolery comes to an end, I thought we’d look back at the Pokemon-like line-up that they’ve assembled so far.

Mitt Romney: The drama however where Romney seems unable to secure the first position in polling, and always seems to come in second to some temporarily insurgent flavor-or-the-week candidacy has been very interesting to watch. Romney always being a bridge groom and never a groom seems to be some friendly hazing. Republicans must really enjoy watching Romney pandering himself into knots in attempts to erase the memory of his liberal Massachusetts past. Still, his numbers have been consistent and he looks to be the likely nominee.

Ron Paul: Ron Paul is no longer supposed to exist. He and his kind were forced out of the party and into the wilderness in the 1980’s. When Republicans hear Ron Paul speak that are both enchanted and disgusted, in the same way you might react when you see pictures of yourself in high school. Ron Paul is a previous incarnation of an American Republican, and has such, something they respond to with great nostalgia, but also revulsion and embarrassment.

Donald Trump: He is the 1% and he is not ashamed of it. He is so rich he doesn’t have the ability to even consider what other people think, which is why his rhetoric as a politician is self-centered and childish. He is like much of the real estate and speculative projects he peddles; flashy and attractive from a distance, but up close, a terrible investment. In cartoonish fashion he is threatening to run if Republican voters nominate the wrong candidate.

Michelle Bachmann: Bachmann’s inability to admit that she is wrong, even about historical facts, would mean that she would be great at leading the party on time traveling adventures to change her mistakes into facts, and the lies Republicans tell themselves into truths. She is the type of candidate that you would most likely never want to actually have elected president, but you always want around because you never know what she is going to say next.

Rick Perry: If Rick Perry would lose his ability to speak, than he would immediately be the party’s nominee. Until then, he’ll just be great fodder for late night comedy shows.

Newt Gingrich: Since Rick Perry has thus far panned out as a candidate, the idea of nominating another type of George W. Bush “I think that candidate is dumb as a brick, but dammit I’d love to have a beer with that brick” is looking less and less appetizing. Gingrich is articulate, intelligent and therefore a nice conservative counter to Obama. The only problem with him is that if you know anything about Newt Gingrich, and what he has done or what he stands for, then you probably know enough about why he should never be President.

Herman Cain: The greatest candidate of them all. He argued that his appeal as a candidate was akin to a flavor of ice cream (black walnut). He reduced the intricacy of the economy to the number 9, written three times. He dealt with sex scandals the way a karabao swats away flies with its tail. His masterstroke unfortunately came, as his campaign imploded. During his speech where he officially suspended his campaign, Herman Cain uttered what The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart has argued are the greatest 9 words ever spoken by an American politician, “I believe these words came from the Pokemon movie,” and he proceeded to then quote a Donna Summer song from the film Pokemon 2000.

Herman Cain is a rare treasure of a candidate. To continue the metaphor he invoked, he is like a rare, impossible to catch species in the field of so many colorful, barely electable, but simply irresistible political Pokemon. This great season of Republican indecision is almost over, enjoy it while it lasts.

Monday, January 16, 2012

What Next for #OWS?

Published on Tuesday, January 10, 2012
 by The Nation
"Occupy Wall Street: Why Now? What's Next?"
Naomi Klein and Yotam Marom in Conversation About Occupy Wall Street

by Naomi Klein and Yotam Marom

The following conversation was recorded recently in New York City:

Naomi Klein: One of the things that’s most mysterious about this moment is “Why now?” People have been fighting austerity measures and calling out abuses by the banks for a couple of years, with basically the same analysis: “We won’t pay for your crisis.” But it just didn’t seem to take off, at least in the US. There were marches and there were political projects and there were protests like Bloombergville, but they were largely ignored. There really was not anything on a mass scale, nothing that really struck a nerve. And now suddenly, this group of people in a park set off something extraordinary. So how do you account for that, having been involved in Occupy Wall Street since the beginning, but also in earlier anti-austerity actions?

Yotam Marom: Okay, so the first answer is, I have no idea, no one does. But I can offer some guesses. I think there are a few things you have to pay attention to when you see moments like these. One is conditions—unemployment, debt, foreclosure, the many other issues people are facing. Conditions are real, they’re bad, and you can’t fake them. Another sort of base for this kind of thing is the organizing people do to prepare for moments like these. We like to fantasize about these uprisings and big political moments—and we like to imagine that they erupt out of nowhere and that that’s all it takes—but those things come on the back of an enormous amount of organizing that happens every day, all over the world, in communities that are really marginalized and facing the worst attacks.

So those are the two kind of prerequisites for a moment like this to take place. And then you have to ask, What’s the third element that makes it all come together, what’s the trigger, the magic dust? Well, I’m not sure what the answer is, but I know what it feels like. It feels like something has been opened up, a kind of space nobody knew existed, and so all sorts of things that were impossible before are possible now. Something just got kind of unclogged. All sorts of people just started to see their struggles in this, started being able to identify with it, started feeling like winning is possible, there is an alternative, it doesn’t have to be this way. I think that’s the special thing here.

NK: Do you feel that there is an organic discussion happening about fundamentally changing the economic system? I mean we know that there is a strong, radical, angry critique of corruption, and of the corporate takeover of the political process. There’s a really powerful calling out happening. What’s less clear is the extent to which people are getting ready to actually build something else.

YM: Yeah, I definitely think we’re in a unique moment in the development of a movement that’s not only a protest movement against something but also an attempt to build something in its place. It is potentially a very early version of what I would call a dual-power movement, which is a movement that’s—on the one hand—trying to form the values and institutions that we want to see in a free society, while at the same time creating the space for that world by resisting and dismantling the institutions that keep us from having it. Occupation in general, as a tactic, is a really brilliant form of a dual-power struggle because the occupation is both a home where we get to practice the alternative—by practicing a participatory democracy, by having our radical libraries, by having a medical tent where anybody can get treatment, that kind of thing on a small level—and it’s also a staging ground for struggle outwards. It’s where we generate our fight against the institutions that keep us from the things that we need, against the banks as a representative of finance capitalism, against the state that protects and propels those interests.

It’s surprising and it’s really encouraging because that’s something that has been missing in a lot of struggles in the past. You usually have one or the other. You have alternative institutions, like eco-villages and food coops and so on—and then you have protest movements and other counter-institutions, like anti-war groups or labor unions. But they very rarely merge or see their struggle as shared. And we very rarely have movements that want to do both of those things, that see them as inseparable—that understand that the alternatives have to be fighting, and that fighting has to be done in a way that represents the values of the world we want to create. So I do think there’s something really radical and fundamental in that, and an enormous amount of potential.

NK: I absolutely agree that the key is in the combination of resistance and alternatives. A friend, the British eco-and arts activist John Jordan, talks about utopias and resistance being the double helix of activist DNA, and that when people drop out and just try to build their utopia and don’t engage with the systems of power, that’s when they become irrelevant and also when they are extremely vulnerable to state power and will often get smashed. And at the same time if you’re just protesting, just resisting and you don’t have those alternatives, I think that that becomes poisonous for movements.

But I’m still wondering about the question of policy—of making the leap from small-scale alternatives to the big policy changes that allow them to change the culture. A lot of people have come to the realization that the system is so busted that it really isn’t about who you get into office. But one of the ways of responding to that is to say, “Okay, we’re not going to form a political party and try to take power, but we are going to look at this system and try to identify the structural barriers to real change, and advocate for political goals that might begin to mend those structural flaws.” So that means things like the way corporations are able to fund elections and the role of corporate media and the whole issue of corporate personhood in this country. It is possible to find a few key policy fights that could conceivably create a situation where, ten years down the road, people might not feel so completely cynical about the idea of change within the political system. What do you think about that?

YM: Well, I think you’re right that we have to find ways to do that, but ways that don’t compromise what’s been so successful about this movement and this moment so far, which is that it’s so broad that so many different people can find themselves in it.

I think that within the broader movement, we do have different roles, and there is a particular role for Occupy Wall Street. I personally don’t want to have anything to do with people lobbying or running for office right now, nor do I want to focus all of my time winning small policy changes, and I don’t think that’s the role of Occupy Wall Street. But I sure as hell hope the people whose terrain that is do go and do it. I hope that they can recognize that what’s happening now is the creation of a climate where it’s possible for them to push left and win more. I’m not going to be happy with all the compromises those people have to make, and I don’t think we’re going to survive on reforms alone, but we need that too. If we want a real, meaningful social transformation, we need to win things along the way, because that’s how we provides people the foundations on top of which they can continue to struggle for the long haul, and it’s how we grow to become a critical mass that can ultimately make a fundamental break with this system.

And in the meantime, our role as Occupy Wall Street should be to dream bigger than that. I think it’s our job to look far ahead, to assert vision, to create alternatives and to intervene in the political and economic processes that govern people’s lives. We need to recognize that the institutions that govern our lives really do have power, but we don’t necessarily need to participate in them according to their rules. I think Occupy Wall Street’s role is to step in the way of those processes to prevent them from using that power, and to create openings for the alternatives we are trying to build. And then if politicians or others who consider themselves in solidarity with this movement want to go get on that, then they should use this moment to win the things that will help make us stronger in the long run, and they have a chance now to do that.

NK: You know, I’m torn about this. On one hand, OWS is so broad that a huge range of people has found a place in the tent. And there is certainly value in just having a very broad movement that is able to intervene in the political narrative at key junctures. Particularly because, looking at what is happening in Europe at the moment, I think we have to brace for the next economic shock. It’s a very big deal that when the next round of austerity measures comes down in the US, there will be a mass movement ready to say: “No way. We won’t pay—if you need money, tax the 1 percent and cut military spending, don’t cut education and food stamps.”

But we should be clear: that’s not making things better, it’s just trying to keep things from getting a whole lot worse. To make things better, there has to be a positive demand.

Look at the Chilean student protests, for instance. That’s a remarkable movement, and it’s historically hugely significant, because this is really the end of the Chilean dictatorship more than twenty years after it actually ended. Pinochet was in power for so long, and so many of his policies were locked in during the negotiated transition, that the left in Chile really did not recover until this generation of young people took to the streets. And they took to the streets sparked by austerity measures that were hitting education hard. But rather than just say, “Okay, we’re against these latest austerity cuts,” they said, “We are for free public education and we want to reverse the entire privatization agenda.” And that may seem like a narrow demand, but they were able to make it about inequality much more broadly. They did it by showing how the privatization of education in Chile, and the creation of a brutal two-tiered education system, deepened and locked in inequality, giving poor students no way out of poverty. The protests lit the country up, and now it’s not just a student movement. So that’s a completely different circumstance from OWS because it started with a demand. But it shows how, if the demand is radical enough, it can open up a much broader debate about what kind of society we want.

I think it’s more about vision than it is about demands. My worry is that there are so many groups trying to co-opt this movement, and trying to raise money off of its efforts, that the movement risks defining itself by what is not, rather by what it is or, more importantly, might become. If the movement is constantly put in a position of saying, “No, we’re not your pawn. We’re not this. We’re not that,” the danger is getting boxed into a defensive identity that was really imposed from the outside. I think some of that happened to the movement opposing corporate globalization post-Seattle, and I’d hate to see those mistakes repeated.

YM: I think you’re right about that. And you’re right about the question of demands versus vision. We don’t have demands in the way that other people want to hear them. But of course we have demands, of course we want things. When we reclaim a foreclosed home for a foreclosed-on family, or organize students to do flash mobs at the banks keeping them in debt, or environmental activists to do die-ins at banks that invest in coal, these are ways of speaking our demands in a new language of resistance. Occupy Wall Street is a really big tent that doesn’t have one voice, but that doesn’t mean all of our other groupings disappear when we enter it. There are still housing rights groups demanding an end to foreclosure, or labor unions demanding good jobs, and so on. We are trying to build a movement where individuals and groups have the autonomy to do what they need to do and pick the battles they need to pick, while being in solidarity with something much broader and far-reaching, something radical and visionary. And that’s part of the reason vision is so important, since it connects all those struggles.

But I do think we have to win things, you’re absolutely right about that. I guess the way I look at it is that we’re now about to make a transition, hopefully, from the symbolic to the real, both in the realms of creating the alternatives and fighting back. We need to reclaim homes, not just as symbols, but for people to live in them. Open the shut-down hospitals and put doctors in them. And same with the fighting: to actually disrupt business as usual, to move from protest to resistance. We’ll have an actual impact when Congress cannot pass those bills because there’s too much resistance, because there are people in the streets. We’ll have a real impact when it’s not only bank branch lobbies that we’re dancing around in but when we’ve blockaded the doors of the headquarters where they make their policies. We need to force policy-makers to re-evaluate their decisions, and we need to build power to eventually replace them altogether, not only in content but in form. If this is just about changing the narrative and it stops there, then we’re going to end up having missed an incredible opportunity to really affect people’s lives in a meaningful ways. This is not a game. A society where there are empty homes but people who don’t have homes is a fundamentally revolting thing and it’s unacceptable, can’t be allowed. You can say that for all the other things: for war, or for patriarchy, racism. We have an incredible responsibility.

NK: And nobody knows how to do what we’re trying to do. You can point to Iceland or something that happened in Argentina. But these are national struggles, somewhat on the economic periphery. No movement has ever successfully challenged hyper-mobile global capital at its source. So what we’re talking about is so new that it’s terrifying. I think people should admit that they’re terrified and that they don’t know how to do what they dream of doing, because if they don’t, then their fear—or rather our fear—will subconsciously shape our politics and you can end up in a situation where you’re saying, “No, I don’t want any structure,” or, “No, I don’t want to be making any kind of policy demands or have anything to do with politics,” when really it’s that you’re just completely scared shitless of the fact that you have no idea how to do this. So maybe if we all admit we are on unmapped territory, that fear loses some of its power.

YM: Yeah, that’s really important. We’re all just making it up. What you just said kind of reminded me of this moment that we had that was really a turning point for me. About three weeks in, sitting and talking with a bunch of people I had only just met, we were thinking about the movement and where it might be headed, and I remember this crazy moment when it hit me: “Oh, we’re winning.” It was surreal. And then that thought was immediately followed by the question: “So what do we want?” You know, we hadn’t won much, and we still haven’t, and we’re nowhere near the society we want to live in, but it was still that feeling—that the narrative was shifting, that the whole world was watching, that there was a lot of possibility before us. It was the first time that I’ve ever experienced that and I think probably the first time that a lot of people who are alive today have. And that was an incredibly empowering moment, really changed my life, but it was also an unbelievably terrifying moment, because, holy shit, that means it’s real, this is high stakes, this is no joke.
So, then, following that thread of what’s possible: all of this was impossible a few months ago. All of this was inconceivable. And I felt that very personally and I was cynical and I learned a lot from that. Turns out we know very little about what is possible. And that’s really humbling and important and it opens a lot of doors. What do you think is possible?

NK: First of all, it’s a moment of possibility like I’ve never seen because we never had as many people on our side as this moment does. I mean in the Seattle moment, we didn’t. We were marginal. We always were because we were in an economic boom. Now, the system has been breaking its own rules so defiantly that its credibility is shot. And there’s a vacuum. There’s a vacuum for other credible voices to fill that, and it’s very exciting.

Personally, I think the greatest possibility lies in bringing together the ecological crisis and the economic crisis. I see climate change as the ultimate expression of the violence of capitalism: this economic model that fetishizes greed above all else is not just making lives miserable in the short term, it is on the road to making the planet uninhabitable in the medium term. And we know, scientifically, that if we continue with business as usual, that is the future we are heading towards. I think climate change is the strongest argument we’ve ever had against corporate capitalism, as well as the strongest argument we’ve ever had for the need for alternatives to it. And the science puts us on a deadline: we need to have begun to radically reduce our emissions by the end of the decade, and that means starting now. I think that this science-based deadline has to be part of every discussion about what we’re going to do next, because we actually don’t have all the time in the world.

We should also be aware that this kind of existential urgency could be a very regressive force if the wrong people harness it. It’s easy to imagine autocrats using the climate emergency to sa, “We don’t have time for democracy or participation, we need to impose it all from the top.” Right now, the way the urgency is used within the mainstream environmental movement is to say, “This problem is so urgent that we can only ask for these compromised cap-and-trade deals, since that’s all we can hope to achieve politically.” Talking about the links between economic growth and climate change is pretty much off the table because, supposedly, we don’t have time to make those kinds of deep changes.

But that was a pre-OWS political calculation. And as you pointed out, OWS is in the business of changing what is possible. So what I’ve been saying when I speak to environmental groups is: start to imagine what would be possible if the climate movement were not out there on its own but part of a much broader political uprising fighting a greed-based economic model. Because in that context, it is practical to talk about changing this system. It’s much more practical, in fact, than pushing corrupt plans like cap-and-trade, which we know don’t stand a chance of getting us where science tells us we need to go.

I’m also excited about the fact that, over the past ten years since the peak of the so-called anti-globalization movement, a lot of work has been done that proves that economic re-localization and economic democracy are both feasible and desirable. Look at the explosion of the local food movement, of community-supported agriculture and farmers markets. Or the green co-op movement. Or community-based wind and solar energy projects. And then you have cities like Detroit, Portland or Bellingham, which are working on multiple fronts to re-localize their economies. The point is that there are living examples that we can point to now of communities that have weathered the economic crisis better than those places that are still dependent on a few large multinational corporations, and could just be leveled overnight when those corporations shut their doors. Most importantly: many of these models address both the economic and ecological crises simultaneously, creating work, rebuilding community, while lowering emissions and reducing dependence on fossil fuels.

Coming back to the idea of resistance and alternatives being the twin strands of DNA, I see a possible future where the resistance side of OWS could start to support the policies these economic alternatives need to get to the next level.

So, yeah, that’s where I see a lot of potential—both potential strength and also potential loss, lost opportunities. You?

YM: I think there is more possibility right now than I could have ever imagined. I think in the not-so-distant future, we can win a lot of things that actually improve people’s lives, we can continue to change the political landscape, and we can grow into a mass movement with the strength to propose another kind of world and also fight for it. I think we’re only in the beginning of that, and I think there is a ton of potential. And I also see that kind of possibility in the long term. I think we can win a truly free society. I think it’s totally possible to have a political and economic system that we have a genuine say in, that we democratically control, that we participate in, that is equitable and liberating, where we have autonomy for ourselves and our communities and our families, but are also in solidarity with one another. I think it’s possible, and necessary. That’s kind of the amazing thing about this moment and this movement, I guess. Right now, sitting here, I can’t even imagine the limits of possibility.

© 2012 The Nation

Naomi Klein is an award-winning journalist and syndicated columnist and the author of the international and New York Times bestseller The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, now out in paperback. Her earlier books include the international best-seller, No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies (which has just been re-published in a special 10th Anniversary Edition); and the collection Fences and Windows: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Globalization Debate (2002). To read all her latest writing visit You can follow her on Twitter: @NaomiAKlein.

Yotam Marom is a political organizer, educator, and writer based in New York. He has been active in the Occupy Wall Street Movement, and is a member of the Organization for a Free Society.

Sunday, January 15, 2012


Everyone hates "politics." It is almost funny how it works. How people sneer, and jeer and frown when something happens and its "political." On Guam for example people say or think these things so much and so often it makes you wonder what they expect?

In an ideal world, government is supposed to work for the good of all and run based on strong principles. The same goes for those elected into the government or working in it. But we don't live in an ideal world. We may pine for it, dream about it. But in truth, the ideal world only exists to make us feel crappy about the world that we have. The ideal world also exists to be an excuse to keep us from acting in this world. No one has the ideal form of government, but for the majority of people, if their government is found wanting, they fill the void of inadequacy or mediocrity not with engagement, hardwork and a determination to fix things. Instead, they fill the gap with complaints that make them feel like they are accomplishing something while actually doing nothing.

Politics is one of the main ways in which you don't just provide some critique or comment on the state of your government, but condemn its soul as well. It is one thing to look things and talk about how the weather affects how people act, or how the limited funds make it so you can only do so much. But when you draw out the politics card you are blaming things internally, not externally. Some people might say the problem with education on Guam is lack of funds (external). Others would say the problems are teachers, administrators, Senators, Governors and so on (internal).

While the stigma of politics is always around, so is the irritating question of why people expect anything else? Politics at its worst is when people obstruct things for no real reason. When they block any discussion, any progress or any change for some ridiculous and pointless reason. But what about politics in the form where someone does something but for the wrong reasons? In 2010 in his last year of office Felix Camacho, then Governor of Guam called upon the people of the island to help him change the name of this island from Guam to Guahan. It was something that could have been profound and powerful. It was something that I would absolutely support, but his gesture was one of those things that defined political in the poorest sense. It was an empty gesture, with very little thought put into it, something meant to help create his legacy, with very little though about how to lead on the issue and make it truly mean something. This was a good thing to do, but for the wrong reasons, or carried out in a way that had no principles.

Politics can be worse than this of course. Bribes. Nepotism. A certain Senator makes a little extra for that project. The bid goes to the person worst for the job because some favors are exchanged in the background. Principles are sacrificed for money, power, re-election and who knows what else. In this post I'm not excusing politics in the sense that I'm saying that what people call politics is justified or acceptable. What I find interesting is the way people respond to politics as if it isn't always there, when it is always there. It doesn't matter where you live or what fantasy you have of somewhere else, there are politics in your government and whatever idealized vision you have of the other government as well.

One of the most hysterical paradoxes of human life is that the more people say there is politics in something, the more by definition that they should become involved to help keep such self-interest or greed out of the equation. Such is not the case, as people use the naming of things as "political" or "politics" as an "ideal" reason to stay out of something. Or to argue that there is no reason to be do anything more about it. The problem is internal and what can you do about something like that?

The thing which is most political right now on island is the closing of Untalan Middle School in Barrigada. The school was closed last week for not passing a safety inspection. I asked a teacher what had happened in the past week? Did the library cave in killing a student, why was the school suddenly shut down? The response was that everything was exactly the same, the school was just as terrible as always, it's just that the politics changed. For years, no one wanted to close down Untalan since it would be too much paperwork and too much of a hassle for everyone. Now there are reasons to close down the school and so in comes the pressure to get things done.

Below are two perspectives on the Untalan issue. The first is a video from the Governor of Guam from his Youtube page. The second is a message from the Guam Federation of Teachers to a link on Pacific News Center to an interview between GFT President Matt Rector on the same issue.


From GFT:

We have less students now than we had 10 years ago. If we need to clear a school out, we can rearrange and redistrict. That’s the Board’s job to solve these problems and use that $4.5M a year to fix the schools,” stated President Matt Rector in an interview with Ray Gibson last week. GovGuam has already implemented several cost-cutting measures hurting public workers and the services they provide. Giving a private corporation $4.5M is not a bright idea when we need as much money coming into our island to improve our public structure. Although the $4.5M is in the form of tax credits, it’s even worse than actually handing out money because there is very little accountability. President Rector further explains, “The OPA has issued a number of reports on tax credits explaining how bad this is for the people of Guam…I think that money is better spent investing on the children of Guam and the people of Guam as opposed to investing into the profits of corporations.” CLICK HERE FOR INTERVIEW LINK


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