Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Ultimate Wager

My brother Kuri recently graduated from UOG and one of the last classes that he took was a philosophy of religion class. I’ve always enjoyed it when Kuri takes philosophy classes because he’ll talk to me about his readings and I’ll share my ideas with him. Although I would probably never be hired into a philosophy department, my social scientific training was primarily philosophical. Philosophers created the foundations of all social sciences. When I was in Ethnic Studies, it was frustrating having to read so many long dead white Europeans pontificate about the world, but later on I realized that such is the power of knowledge. Their ideas became part of the regimes of knowledge we know today. They moved from being the rantings of a particular person into the universal ways in which we are supposed to see the world.

One discussion we had recently was over the issue of Pascal’s Wager. Here is the gist of what Blaise Pascal proposes:

1.     There either is a God, or there isn’t a God.
2.     Life is a game, like a coin flip, and it can either be heads or tails
3.     Given the evidence we have, we can’t actually fully defend either of these propositions
4.     You have to make a choice, you have to “make a bet”
5.     When you look at the potential gain and loss given these choices, one of them clearly outshines the other. If you choose God, you can win everything if you are right, but you don’t actually lose anything if you are wrong.
6.     The choice is clear. Bet on God.

I have always thought of Pascal's Wager to be interesting because you can interpret it in so many ways. You could say it is for religion, against religion, you can say it is secretly appearing to support one and really supporting the other. I like to think about it through where it fits in within Christianity itself.

When we see how it evolved as a religion, what Saint Paul did to help it expand it beyond just Jews, but to anyone who has faith, he helped plant the seeds for it to become an inclusive global religion, but also for it to be as a philosophical framework, kind of crazy. Anyone can find salvation; can find their way to God as long as they have faith. Someone who lived a life of terrible deeds, killing, raping, stealing, molesting altar boys, no matter what you did, none of it matters, what matters is that you have a truly authentic moment of faith in God.

An evangelical Christian gave me a flyer the other day that outlined why Pascal's Wager can be considered both right and wrong. In the flyer there is a man who is standing before Saint Peter, and Saint Peter asks him why he should be allowed to enter the pearly gates. The man says, I never did anything bad. Saint Peter laughs. The man said, I always tried to do good. Saint Peter laughs again. According to Christianity, all you have to offer God is your faith, that is actually all he wants. He doesn't want you to give to charities, he doesn't want you to stay faithful to your spouse. He doesn’t even want you to not go around killing people. The only thing that truly matters is your faith.

But faith is a tricky thing. Somedays you might be filled with faith. Other days you might find yourself empty of faith. Finding faith doesn't mean it is always with you, and losing it or never having it doesn't mean that you will never discover it. The thief who was crucified next to Jesus Christ is a perfect example of that. He had never accepted Christ before, never had an ounce of faith really. But for one brief moment he had faith in Jesus Christ and for that he was saved.

The story of the thief is a big part of the marketing of Christianity in terms of expanding itself, but if you accept it, then you have to accept the inverse. Some people may go their entire lives with strong faith in God, but one day they are so tested, it is shaken they lose it. What if they die on that day? What if their faith decreased by 50% on that day?  Does God average it out? What if it fluctuated all day, and they went from cursing God in the morning to praising him in the afternoon? I sometimes think that life must be a very strange reality TV show for God.

On the one hand Pascal's Wager is a cheapening of the religion experience that is supposed to be spontaneous, and faith appear like a thunderbolt or some vibrant beautiful growth. But it doesn't actually matter where faith emerges from. That is one of the things people don't realize about God. He doesn't care what you've done, so long as you are truly committed to him. The nature of Christian faith means that what Pascal says is also completely in line with how belief works. How many movies are there where someone is pretending to be someone and ends up eventually accepting the mask as who they really are? Or an adequate reflection of who they want to be?

Such is the premise for so many movies about terrorists, secret agents and informants. You end up realizing after an interesting amount of drama that the fake you, was the you you always wanted. That the you who was pretending was the fake one, and that the you you have become is the real one. This is one of the ways in which we can truly understand the role that God plays in our lives. The consciousness and identity that we have is ours, but it is not who we really are. It is the thing we create to deal with the world around us, but what we exist for and what we truly are lies in what God intended.

Lady Gaga’s song “born this way” states this very clearly. “I’m beautiful in my way / Cause God makes no mistakes. Those who are homosexual or bisexual or some other “abnormal” sexual identity may claim to be “born that way” but the problem with this is it implies that God approves of such behavior. It is therefore necessary to criminalize and delegitimize that lifestyle in order to take the “blame” out of God’s hands and put it in the identities that humans create for themselves. Hence having an abnormal sexual identity means to be drenched in a house of sin that you have made for yourself. It is to be chained by your own choices.

Those invested in the perpetuation of a certain version of what a Christian church could be find an infinite amount of duress at a point like this. If certain things such as abnormal behaviors are genetic or part of God’s design than it leads to questions of whether or not human churches are in line with God’s plan. If such things are inherent, intended and not tricks of nature, tricks by the Devil than it means one of two things. It means first that there is something wrong with God and that he is approving of things he should not be. But this cannot be true because this is not a debate over whether the chicken or the egg came first, the answer to that debate is always “God came first.” The second thing this implies is that the Church must change to reflect God’s design. If human beings are not abnormal by choice, then it must be part of who they are and the church should change to accept and reflect that. Since every system of power relies upon exclusions I seriously doubt any church would ever want to take on such a task.

In its own way, Pascal's wager is part of God's plan. It is something that aligns with what we know of the universe and the path to Heaven. Even if you may have manipulated faith in an attempt to appear to be more Christian, to hedge your bets, ultimately at the end of the day, if it actually brings you to the point where your faith is real, God and the host of angels will celebrate your arrival on judgment day. Pascal's Wager is therefore something Christian churches should also incorporate into their evangelism. Forget the marches of old ladies holding pictures of aborted fetuses. The church should instead make big billboards at the ITC Intersection that blare "If life is a coin flip and one part gives you eternal salvation and the other side nothing, wouldn't you vote for God every time?"

Friday, June 29, 2012


I have barely been on my blog this week and I apologize. I've been busy with a grant application that is due today and two articles due this weekend. I promise next week to return to this blog and give it the respect it deserves.

I have also been distracted this week with my Tumblrs. I have my personal Tumblr, Sumahi going strong again. I also have a new Starcraft 2 Tumblr, dedicated to the team Startale. For those interested check them out with the links below:

Monday, June 25, 2012


Pictures taken from a recent concert for my kids' daycare. Akli'e' went on stage with his class but refused to do anything other than glare. This was an improvement over last year when he went on stage, cried and promptly walked off. Sumahi sang the song "Nanan-Mami" for those attending and also danced to "Time Warp" and "YMCA" with the rest of her class. This is Sumahi's last year in daycare and so she got to wear a cap and gown during the concert. In the fall she'll start attending school.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Chamorro Classes

My weekly Chamorro classes have started again. 

They take place each Monday at 2:30 at Java Junction in the Agana Shopping Center.

They are free of charge and open to anyone.

If you are interested in attending the classes please email me at with any questions.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Mensahi Ginnen i Gehilo': #4: Summer Plans

Mensahi Ginnen I Gehilo’ #4
“Summer Plans”

Earlier this month the Independence Task Force for Guam met to make plans for Summer 2012. Although we have no budget and there is much uncertainty in the formal decolonization process at present, we have decided that this won’t derail our efforts at consciousness-raising. We are determined to continue to promote decolonization and independence for Guam even if the actual self-determination has yet to be finalized, as such activities can be important in and of themselves. The more Guam becomes familiar with ideas of decolonization and independence the better off the island is, because both of these concepts are built around ideas of sustainability and empowerment.

Our summer planning meeting was a great success. We laid out the following actions for the summer and will be finalizing everything at our next meeting on July 1st.

1.     We will hold one community service event over the summer. By July 1st we will choose the location and the date and will hold a cleanup there in order to show the commitment of independence supporters to not just rhetoric but also action.
2.     We will also create a bank account by July 1st in order to accept donations from the public who support independence for Guam and want to help support our activities. As I have written about earlier the task force at present is a “Taya’ Salape’” organization.
3.     We will be holding over the summer two teach ins in order to help the public better understand decolonization and its importance. We will be selecting the dates and locations at the July 1st meeting.
4.     We will be creating a logo for the Independence Task Force that will also symbolize the spirit of independence for Guam in general.
5.     We will be creating 1 page information sheets introducing independence to people. The first sheet will be aimed at Chamorros, while the second will be aimed at non-Chamorros.

Stay tuned for more information on these activities, if you are interested in helping organize them or just attend them please contact me at

Si Yu’us Ma’ase.

Sahuma Minagahet ya Na’suha Dinagi

Michael Lujan Bevacqua
Chairman, Independence for Guam Task Force

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Announcing the 2012 Guam Political Sign Awards

A familiar creature has returned to the roadsides of Guam. For some, as they see the beasts lurking beside the road they may feel as if it is too soon. It was not too long ago that these beasts came to blight the land, and it cannot already be time for their return! But for others these creatures are things of beauty; who stand like quiet sentinels and brighten the days of those who pass by. These creatures come in many forms, their plumes multicolored, and their shrieks filled with familiar refrains and friendly sound bytes. The creatures I am of course referring to as the political signs for this year’s election season.

In times past, for most of the island, the next few months would be the highlight of everyone’s year. Families and friends would band together for months under the banner of Popular or Territorial, Democrat or Republican and waste the weeks away at pocket meetings and fundraisers. Naturally there was always a lot of bitterness and animosity during this period, but it gave everyone for a few months exciting things to do and exciting things to talk about. The point of politics is the same as ideology in general, it gives you meaning to life, and not just any meaning, but positive and negative meaning. Through politics you get a system for blaming a certain segment of the population for all the bad things, as well as a system for crediting another part with all the good things.

Nowadays the family and social networks that made politics fun and such an essential part of life have been diminished severely. Electoral participation was very high in the past, but has declined quite a bit. Part of the Americanization of Guam has been the development voter apathy and so now people look to a future election in the same way they look to paying taxes or having root canals.

I enjoy election seasons for many reasons, but political signs are the deliciously decadent icing on an already gof mangge na cake. I enjoy them so much that since 2008 I’ve given out awards to candidates for the political signs that are the most interesting, most ridiculous and sometimes the most inspiring/creative. After seeing the first crop of signs being erected, I’m certain that this is going to be a fun year. I’m really looking forward to spending a day sometime in October wandering around the island with my camera and a notebook. I’ll publicize the results sometime in November through both my Marianas Variety column and my blog No Rest for the Awake.

The award categories are ones that I create myself and I change them every election based on what sorts of signs are created. There is an art to the creating of political signs that most people don’t realize. First there is the crafting of the message. How do you say something that is memorable, inoffensive, not stupid, inspiring, simple and deep all at the same time? Few candidates can ever create a slogan that even comes close to all of these characteristics, but it is fun to watch everyone try.

What images do you use in combination with your message? Your picture? Your family picture? Pictures of your pet dog? Everyone feels compelled to force mate the American flag and the Guam flag into what becomes a gruesome hybrid, but what other sorts of images and colors can you use? How much are you willing to risk in designing your sign? Depending on these combination of elements you may create a work of political art that defines the election; or you may create something that people send to each other on Facebook with captions about how silly you are. You also have to deal with the “nickname” or “fina’na’an” factor. If you are Chamorro with lots of relatives, do you want to remind them about your connection?  In times past this was the best way to try to transform yourself from a lesser known to a well-known candidate. But nowadays it is less and less common as a more “corporate” and sleeker approaches to campaigning and messaging are dominant.

Once you have the sign itself it then becomes an issue of where you put it. Where will most people drive by it? Where will they see it when they are in the best frame of mind and so they won’t associate any negative feelings they are having about life or traffic with your smiling face? Where is it least likely to be spray painted or knocked down?

If you have any suggestions for signs that I should consider giving an award please feel free to email me ( Be sure to mention the candidate, where the sign is, and why you think it deserves an award. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

Lovers in Okinawa

While I was in Okinawa last month my girlfriend and I committed to writing a poem to each other for everyday that we were apart. Below are three of my favorites that I wrote for her:


I am typing on my love's laptop
I am missing her with every stroke
When my finger presses a
I wish my arms were wrapped around her
When my finger presses k
I wish my lips were on her
When my finger presses l
I wish I could tell her how much I love her

I found a knife while walking in Ojana Okinawa
I swore it was the knife you gave me with love
One sweaty Saturday morning
The knife looked like it would fit in one of the chambers of my heart
I plunged the knife into my chest and found that I could breathe again
I had forgotten the feeling of breathing


I wrote in my diary “I love you” a thousand times
Then I tore it up and walked to the store to buy a new one
I drew in stars on every page “I love you”
Then I set it on fire and rode a bike to the store to buy a new one
I dripped with soy sauce on every other page “I love you”
Then I laid it in the road and watched it get run over and over and over again
Then I flew to the store and bought another one
How will I tell you that I love you today?
And how will I destroy my message once I realize that you are so far away….

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Iya Saipan

Gaige yu' pa'go giya Saipan para i fine'nina na Konfrensian Estorian Marianas. I tema para este na gof gaibali na konfrensia, "Unu na kadena islas, meggai na estoria siha."

Meggai na gof maolek na fina'nu'i gi este na konfrensai. Manmatto todu ginnen meggai na otro tano' yan nasion siha lokkue'. Guaha Chamoru Guahan yan CNMI guini, lao guaha taotao Alemania, Hapon, Australia, Espana yan i US. Meggai malago' yu' lumi'e' yan humungok gi este na konfrensia lao siempre ti nahong i tiempo. Manali'e' ham yan noskuantos na taotao ni' gof apmam desde i uttimo manali'e'. Magof yu' na sina mana'tungo' ta'lo hafa tatamanu gi i lina'la'-mami.

Hu gof agradesi este na konfrensia, lao hassan na hu bisita iya Saipan. I ettimo na biahi gi 2008 para i Mina'tres na Konfrensian Chamoru. Gof impottante na dinana' ayu sa' ayu nai i fine'nina nai mama'nu'i yu' gi fino' Chamoru ha'. Hu tuge' i fina'nu'i-hu gi fino' Chamoru ya anai hu presenta gui', puru ha' gi fino' Chamoru i kuentos-hu.

Malago' yu' pumaseo didide' mientras gaigaige yu' guini. Malago' yu' lumitratu i meggai na atbot det fuego. Malago'' yu' lumitratu lokkue' i edifision tufai siha. Estaba gof brabu i ekonomian Saipan, lao pa'go kalang keyao. Meggai na edifision hotet pat faktoria pat mall manonohge ha', lao hagas ti manmababa, yan este manna'triste siha.

Otro fino'-ta put i na'triste-na iya Saipan. I fine'nina nai matto yu' magi annai patgon yu', meggai fino' Chamoru gi oriya-hu. Achokka' ti sina yu' kumomprende i lenguahi, hu tungo' na gaige ha'. Annai matto yu' gi 2008 kalang esta ti meggai. I manmatto gi konfrensia sina mamfino' Chamoru, lao annai lumiliko' yu' yan manali'e' ham yan i manhoben na Chamorun Saipan, kalang esta ti sina siha.

Pa'go mas annok na ti brabu i lenguahi, ti metgot guini.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Occupied Okinawa #14: The "Right" Avengers

One of the most curious creatures that I’ve met as I’ve traveled to Okinawa, Japan and South Korea is a particular form of Rightist conservative. The majority of people whom I’ve interacted with during my research and solidarity trips over the past three years have all been leftists, albeit a variety of leftists. I talk and work with liberals, progressives, peace activists, decolonization and demilitarization activists and so the conversation usually sticks to a pretty familiar side of the ideological spectrum. But as I’ve travelled the other side, with its own diversity of opinion has always been there.

During my trip to Okinawa last month pro-military, rightist conservatives were always around the edges of my sphere of being, threatening to enter, but never really making a solid appearance. For example during a two day symposium at Okinawan International University on demilitarism and decolonization, a threat was called in to one of the organizers, stating that conservatives who support the presence of US bases in the island were planning to disrupt the event. We were on alert all day waiting for them, but they never showed up. The organizer who received the call explained that the week is busy with events dealing with the 40th anniversary of the reversion of Okinawa from the US to Japan, and so they probably had too many options in terms of events they might want to interrupt.

Ed Alvarez and I were scheduled to give a presentation at the Ryukyu University on language and decolonization. When we arrived on campus we were told that the venue of our talk had been changed at the last minute due to a bomb threat. Apparently earlier in the day someone had placed a sign on the door of the venue indicating a bomb had been planted there. No bomb was found but by the time we arrived on campus parts of campus, including the venue were still closed off. It is unlikely that the bomb threat had anything to do with our talk, but the timing felt ominous.

Conservatives can be found in every community, every context and so in this post it isn’t them that I want to focus on. Instead I’m interested in talking about a unique type of conservative who embodies so much of that ideological position on the one hand, but unravels and diminishes it at the exact same time. What makes this position to interesting and so contradictory is the way it combines both a strong jingoistic and sinless ideological argument about their nation, but also an exuberant attachment to the US bases being in their lands and therefore grossly infringing on the sovereignty of their nation.

In most contexts the rightist nationalist conservative is the last, most stalwart defender of the nation. He will defend the nation with his dying breath. He will defend it with a spork and a rubber band if that is all he can muster. Every life is disposable compared to the continuation of the nation. Every friend can become a huge enemy should the patriot believe them to be a threat.

The hardest of hardcore rightist of right sees the world akin to Dick Cheney’s infamous 1% rule. Any threat, even something that you judge to be just a 1% threat, you must treat as if it is a certainty. Any affront, any stain and scuff should be treated as akin to a nuclear missile aimed at the original Constitution document.

If you watch Fox News for an hour or so, you will see this illustrated very vividly, repeatedly, almost constantly. For example, why does Fox News hold so much disdain for the UN? The UN barely does anything to the US and doesn’t threaten or challenge it in any actual way, but because of the perceived threat to American sovereignty and dominance, it is always discussed as something that must be vilified and destroyed. Was it so wrong that President Obama accepted a copy of Open Veins of Latin America by Eduardo Galeano from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez? Or how about the time when the President appeared to bow to a Muslim leader? Each of those instances is a moment where America’s sovereignty, its power is tarnished just slightly, but it is treated as it some horrific and inexcusable affront has taken place.

There is no purity here however, at least not in any mainstream sense. No media outlet can taken their discourse to this level and still be considered mainstream. To be mainstream you have to anchor yourself to certain things, the troops, capitalism, family, Republicans or Democrats and so on. But as a purist you recognize the fact that even things such as American pie or the troops can actually under some circumstances be considered dangerous to the country or that they might damage or threaten it. To be true to the defense of the nation you must be prepared to even destroy those things which you might have held dear just a moment ago.

But, if you don’t attach yourself to certain things, you run the risk of being schizophrenic or a soulless avenger. While you may want to cheer for a soulless avenger during the five minutes where he or she is destroying the bad guys and finally getting vengeance, watching more of the character beyond this can be very dicey sometimes. One of the reasons why this could be unwatchable is because you cannot feel the possibility of a permanent or stable relationships to that reality, to that figure. The avenger is not restrained by any attachments and can turn on your or what you hold dear at any moment.

In both Japan and South Korea I have seen examples of this type of Rightist rhetoric. What I have found interesting is the way those who attempt to occupy this position can valorize it on the one hand and then proceed to destroy it the next.

The trademark of this position is the primacy and supremacy of the nation. It, at the end of the day requires no help, no friends of any sort. Should it need any friends it is understood that they are not equals but always truly beneath the nation. In the run up to the 2nd Iraq War, the US formed a “coalition of the willing.” The awesomeness of the name aside it reflected perfectly this arrangement. In rhetoric they were all allies, equals, but in truth, a truth that everyone from every perspective knew, the US was in charge and to join meant to acknowledge their power, to kiss their ring, and accept a polite, almost pep rally like form of subordination. This is the only way a conservative, rightist ideologue can accept cooperation, if it is just an illusion, but their nation is firmly in charge.

But could the US conservative ever admit to being subordinate to another nation? Could the US acknowledge being indebted to another nation? Forced to be loyal and forced to accept being weaker than another? In both Japan and South Korea we have conservative elements who enthusiastically accept this weakness, feebleness and dependency while also asserting jingoistic and statist sentiment. While these conservatives may argue that their government is good, it must be more militaristic, must be more Hobbsian, and has never committed a sin and is strong and the bestest in the whole world, they make these claims about the superiority of their nation by placing it within the palm of the superiority of another. 

The usual conservative militaristic overtones that in other contexts in other countries that would insist upon the military prowess and aspirational dominance is not just tinged, but is soaked in the desperate need for a Big Brother, the US who must be allowed to do what they need to in order to ensure that they are able to save the day should anything happen. This is so contradictory it is almost beautiful to behold. The discursive thrust of conservative rhetoric is its attempt to purify or to keep something pure. Yet in this articulation the nation is tainted from the very start, it is tainted by the crippling need for someone else to take care of it, to save it. Because of that weakness the nation must give up land, money and lives in order to support this ally. The power of the patriotism is actually fed into the ally nation, who thus benefits from having citizens of a foreign country make their arguments for them about the need for their bases.

While I was in South Korea I wrote a post titled "Worst History Lesson...Ever," which also discussed this dynamic through a photo exhibit I saw in Seoul meant to commemorate the US intervention in saving South Korea in the Korean War. The exhibit featured a large banner that read "Thanks Runs Forever" implying that  South Korea will forever remain indebted in a way to the US for saving them. It was a strange experience walking through that exhibit, where you were surrounding with jingoistic messages about how the left in the country is anti-government, pro-communist and weakening the country, and then the ultimate message of the exhibit was a celebration and commemoration of weakness and a transformation of that weakness into a political argument for having US bases and interests dominate your country.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

We Are Spartacus

From the Huffington Post:

Kirk Douglas' tenth book, "I Am Spartacus! Making a Film, Breaking the Blacklist," is being released today by Open Road Integrated Media.


When you reach 95, after you get over your surprise, you start looking back. I've been thinking a lot about my parents, Russian immigrants who came to this country in 1912 -- exactly one hundred years ago.

For them, the United States was a dream beyond description. They couldn't read or write, but they saw a better life for their children in a new country half a world away from their tiny shtetl.

Against all odds they crossed the Atlantic. And like millions of people before and after, they passed close to the Statue of Liberty as they entered New York Harbor. Perhaps someone who could read English translated the beautiful words of Emma Lazarus, etched in bronze on the pedestal:

"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door."
What would my parents think about America if they arrived here today? Would they even want to come? I wonder.

A century ago, America was a beacon of hope to the world. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness were ideals not clichés. Any boy could still grow up to be president. Today, few boys--or girls, for that matter--dream of that. The American dream has become about quick fame and easy fortune, not public service and hard work.

I know something about this. I have been an actor for most of my life. When I started out, I didn't think about anything except what was good for me. Like many movie stars, I became all wrapped up in myself. When I threw off the wrappings, I wrapped myself in the character I was playing.

My change came suddenly when I heard these words spoken by President Kennedy in his Inaugural Address in 1961:

"Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country."

It was a moment of clarity for me -- like somebody had flipped a switch and the lights came on.

I had been lucky. Fame is as much about luck as it is about talent, perhaps more. My luck hadn't come without a lot of hard work, but I now realized that it carried a responsibility along with it. JFK's call to conscience made me understand that.

His words also reminded me of something my mother taught me.

For years we lived in a little town called Amsterdam, New York. We had a house near the carpet mills and the railroad tracks. We were very poor and often didn't have enough to eat. Although we had nothing to spare, the hobos from the trains still came knocking on our door in the evening, asking for food. It scared me to look at them--disheveled, dirty. My mother was never frightened. Somehow she always found a little extra food to give them.

Then she said something I never forgot: "Issur,"--that was my name then--"even a beggar must give to another beggar who needs it more than he does."

I was an American movie star whose pictures were seen all around the world. This gave me the opportunity to do something for my country that most Americans couldn't do. So I became an Ambassador of Goodwill for the State Department and traveled to 40 countries talking about America. I wasn't viewed as a Democrat or a Republican. They only saw me as an American. By the way, I paid all my own expenses--I didn't want anyone to say that Kirk Douglas traveled abroad on the taxpayers' dime.

But you do not need to be a movie star to stand up for basic human freedom. The fight against oppression and tyranny depicted in Spartacus is still going on all over the globe from Syria to Egypt to Iran. Even the Russians are once again facing the threat of a popular uprising.

I believe much of the divisiveness in the world is caused by religious fanaticism, even in the time of Spartacus when they worshipped many Gods. Man was not placed on earth to tell God how great He is. He doesn't need our help. As you study history, you find that millions of people have been killed because of religious divisions based on false orthodoxy not genuine spirituality.

After 95 years on this planet, I have come to the conclusion that the human spirit can never be crushed, no matter how cruel the oppressor or fanatic the belief. If we remember that simple truth--and act on it every day in small ways and sometimes in large movements--then freedom will ultimately win.

And then we are all Spartacus.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Beyond Wisconsin

 Stuff from my inbox about the Wisconsin Recall election last week.


From the AFL-CIO:

Dear Michael,

A year and a half ago, Gov. Scott Walker and his friends in the Senate forced through an extremist anti-worker agenda that divided the state.

Last night, Wisconsin took back its Senate. While Gov. Walker remains in office after being only the third governor in American history subjected to the humiliation of a recall, his divisive agenda has been stopped cold.

Though Walker was shielded with a flood of secret corporate cash, Wisconsin made its voice heard.
While we came closer to recalling Walker than many expected, we ended up coming just short.

The work we did together was about much more than just this one election.

We laid the groundwork for a powerful movement to push back against Walker-style anti-working family policies everywhere. The energy and momentum in Wisconsin have inspired working people from all walks of life to stand together in solidarity in unprecedented ways.

We cannot stop now.
Click here to sign our solidarity pledge to commit to building on the momentum working people created in Wisconsin and beyond to protect good jobs, working families and workplace rights.

Wisconsin is a small piece of a broader global movement of people pushing back on the corporate-driven policies that have favored the super-rich at the expense of good jobs, education and the health of our communities.

And we are winning. We’ve seen it in Tunisia, Yemen and other countries where the Arab Spring has taken hold; in Greece and France, where voters rejected the failed, Draconian policies of austerity; and here in the United States, where members of the Occupy movement continue to shine a much-needed light on Wall Street greed and ballooning economic inequality.

Working people are making history every day through their courage and resolve to work together for a better world. For you, it may have begun with Wisconsin, but it should not stop there.

Click here to sign our pledge of solidarity to say you will continue to stand with other working people to protect good jobs, working families and workplace rights.

Thank you for everything you have done and will continue to do for working families.

In Solidarity,

Richard Trumka
President, AFL-CIO

P.S. Want to be the first to hear about our exciting new campaigns planned for the summer?
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From DFA

Michael -

Right-wing Gov. Scott Walker and Citizens United may have won last night -- but this was a step forward for progressives.

Walker outspent Democrat Tom Barrett by more than 7-to-1 -- and that doesn't take into account the tens of millions of dollars that Republican Super PACs poured into the state.

But despite the avalanche of spending, a people-powered movement kept us in the race -- and DFA members were a powerful part of that movement.

Members in Wisconsin knocked on over 140,000 doors and members across the country made over 200,000 calls in the final six weeks of this campaign. Thanks to that work, Democrats won back control of the State Senate last night.

I have never been more honored to work with you and I look forward to the fights we have ahead -- reelecting President Obama, sending Elizabeth Warren to the Senate, and taking back the House from John Boehner and his Tea Party majority.

As always, thank you for everything you do.


Jim Dean, Chair
Democracy for America


From Truthout

The World Watches Wisconsin: Tom Morello Gathers Messages of Solidarity

Tuesday, 05 June 2012 09:33 By Tom Morello, Truthout | Op-Ed 
Tom Morello played a concert in Madison, Wisconsin, on Friday in solidarity with the effort to recall Governor Walker. In advance of the concert, he solicited messages of solidarity from around the world and they came pouring in from Spain, Quebec, Chile, Greece, Tunisia and Egypt.
Here is a collection of the statements.

From Spain: 
From Madrid, we send our support and solidarity to the people of Madison on their fight, which is our fight too. We are part of a global non-violent movement that claims for a true, direct and participative democracy of people and for the people. Because we are the 99% we fight for a change in the system, since the current system does not represent us.
The ruler's mistakes, sponsored by the dictatorships of markets and financial systems, are provoking the destruction of the deepest roots of the Rule of Law. We will not allow more reforms to undermine the basic rights.
The same claim sounds all around the world, in different languages: "we don't gonna pay this crisis" in Spain, "Your time is up" in Wisconsin and it has the same meaning: the power belongs to the people. "Madison, we are with all of you. We are the 99%."
(From Toma Madrid, the communication group of the 15M.)

From Quebec:
The fight we are currently leading in Quebec is the same as the ones workers and students of Wisconsin and throughout the world are in.
We are only a small part of a global struggle against social and economic injustice.
We have to restart to think about concrete ways to ensure solidarity between our struggles.
Over the borders, over our own interests, over our differences, we can find a global link that unites us all.
We are eager to be free.
Free from domination, oppression and domination from the corporate elites.
We might only be writing the first lines of the story of a global fight, but one thing is for sure, we all know the end of that story.
In the end, our solidarity will beat their oppression!
Quand l'injustice devient loi, la résistance est un devoir!
Which means: When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes a duty!
(From the Quebec student organization ASSESolidarite, sent in by ASSESolidarite member Guillaume Lagault.)

From Chile: 
Un fuerte abrazo desde Chile a todos los estudiantes y trabajadores de Wisconsin. Hemos estado luchando durante más de un año, y contra todos los pronósticos, para mantener la bandera de la igualdad de derechos para todos y por un sistema de educación pública y gratuita. No permitan que un grupo de personas decidan por todos, sin hacerles ver las injusticias que ustedes demandan.
Mantengan la fuerza, deben seguir luchando por sus derechos!
A warm hug from Chile to all the students and workers from Wisconsin. We've been struggling for more than a year and against all the odds, to maintain the flag of equal rights for everyone and for a free public education system. Don't allow one group of people to decide for all, without letting them know the injustices that you're complaining for.
Keep up your strength, you all must fight for your rights!"
(From Giorgio Jackson, a Chilean student leader.)

From Greece:
From Greece and Europe to Wisconsin and the Midwest, bankers, politicians and the 1% club are trying to make the rest of us pay for their crisis. In the process, they are attacking salaries, pensions and basic labor and collective bargaining rights. It is time for all of us to say: Enough is enough! It is time for all of us to join the movement of resistance to social and economic injustice, a movement that has been spreading from Tahrir square to Madrid's Puerta del Sol; from Greece to Iceland; and from New York's Zuccotti Park to Madison, Wisconsin, and hundreds of other cities and towns around the country and the world. Stop the social barbarism they have in store for us, join the struggle!
(From Costas Panayotakis.)

From Tunisia: 
18 months ago, we defeated a 23 year long dictatorship, one of the worst in the world. The power had not heard the silence of the crowds which announced a global geopolitical earthquake that began in a small town, in a small country in North Africa.
Today, the World citizens growl and revolt and the power refuses to hear the bells tolling for him. Institutions that govern the world are inhabited by men; the decisions taken there are human choices. We can change them right away; it is our choice to live differently. The pains, injustice and misery of our world are not inevitable, but the choices we make.
It is for this reason that I reiterate the call of Tunisian revolution to the world.
It Is Time For action. We Must Stand Together Against the Same Forces That Oppress and Exploit Us Both - Us All. The World is Art Of Being One, instead of being Nothing. This is a call to action. This is a call for the freedom. For the outliers. For the forgotten. This is a call for intellectuals. A call for journalists. This is a call for free thinkers. A call for the intelligentsia. This is a call for poets. A call for the strong. And a call for the weak. This is a call to the youth. To the wise. To the clever.
Occupy the World, Occupy your mind, get back the power.
(From Kerim Bouzouita, a well known Tunisian musician, professor and cyberactivist.)

From Egypt: 
The truth of revolution is the ecstasy that never shows a way ... neither sends you away. It's a faith that its path would never let you lose hope ... neither it'll let you lose the confusion. And that's a faith that us, revolutionaries need, others don't. There's no march that is just another march. Keep rocking the chair. Some people might call us ignorant, radical or they might just wave us way wishing us to grow up. I say we actually are radical - a revolutionary never takes half-answers, that's what tells revolution and defeat apart. And we might be ignorant of what's behind the hill, but we just know that we hate that goddamn hill! With revolution, time and space become meaningless ... thus we never age. If these words of mine come across, then know ... the revolution is well.
(From Amor Eletrebi, a young organizer who spent weeks in Tahrir Square leading up to the ouster of Mubarak.)


From Truthout

The Silver Lining in Walker's Victory

Thursday, 07 June 2012 14:12 By Arun Gupta and Steve Horn, Truthout | News Analysis 
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker did not win the June 5 recall vote because a parade of Daddy Warbucks stuffed his suit full of six-figure checks. The Democratic challenger Tom Barrett did not lose because he raised a scant $4 million to Walker's $30 million war chest.

Walker won because he had a vision, however brutish, and he forged a rich-poor alliance that supports it. Barrett lost because he stood for nothing, because the Democrat Party shuns organized labor, because labor retreats from street politics even when they have the upper hand and because progressives confuse elections with movements.

In short, Walker's cakewalk is a microcosm of why American politics tilts further and further right year after year, and why the Democrats, progressives and unions have an endless capacity for self-inflicted wounds. As much as liberals whine "big money thwarts people power" and the Obama campaign dismisses the loss as due to local conditions, the election portends deep trouble for a president and party facing an energized right in November's election.

The recall is also a study in the paths not taken for the Wisconsin Uprising and why the Democratic Party is the graveyard of social movements. There was an expression among activists in Wisconsin that went, "One year longer, one year stronger" a year after the beginning of the "Uprising." But the reality is that, one year longer, the left as an organizing force is, in actuality, "one year weaker."
Mike McCabe, director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a nonpartisan group that tracks money in state politics, argued the secret behind Walker and decades of Republican success nationwide is "a rich-poor alliance of affluent suburbs and poor rural counties." In the recall, Walker dominated country and suburb alike. McCabe said in 2010, "Walker carried the 10 poorest counties in the state by a 13 percent margin," which used to be reliably Democratic. He said, "Republicans use powerful economic wedge issues to great impact. They go into rural counties and say, do you have pensions? 'No.' Well, you're paying for theirs, referring to public sector workers. Do you have healthcare? 'No.' Well, you're paying for theirs? Do you get wage increases? 'No.' Well, you're paying for theirs."

The scenario was far different 50 years explained McCabe, "The Democrats were identified with programs like Social Security, the G.I. Bill and rural electrification. People could see tangible benefits. Today they ask, 'Is government working for us?' And often their answer is no. They see government as crooked and corrupt. They figure if the government is not working for us, let's keep it as small as possible."

Into this story of Reagan Democrats - working-class white Democrats who shifted to the right years ago - entered the Wisconsin Uprising. In February 2011, thousands of university teaching assistants and striking public school teachers in Madison sparked an occupation of the Capitol after Walker unveiled plans to strip public-sector workers of collective bargaining rights and hack billions of dollars from public schools, higher education, health care, poverty and children's programs. The takeover of the state building foreshadowed the Occupy movement, while the six weeks of nonstop protests by tens of thousands were "the biggest sustained mass rally for workers since the 1930s," according to Matt Rothschild, editor of the Madison-based Progressive Magazine.

Charity Schmidt, a Ph.D. student in sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and co-president of the Teaching Assistants' Association, explained the uprising broke new ground "because it moved beyond the interests of organized labor to address health care for all, voting rights, education funding and accessibility, housing rights, immigration rights and so on."

The UW-Madison teaching assistants got the ball rolling, explained Schmidt in "It Started in Wisconsin," edited by Mari Jo Buhle and Paul Buhle. After Walker introduced his "budget repair bill," on February 10, 2011, teaching assistants conducted a Valentine's Day's action in the Capitol and coordinated with labor groups organizing a door-knocking campaign in Republican Senate districts around Madison to demand public hearings on the bill. Rothschild said the next day, February 15, Madison public school teachers "held an all-membership emergency meeting. They all took a democratic vote to say we're going to go out on an illegal strike for the next four school days." The same night, teaching assistants and students came prepared to sleep over at the Capitol so as to provide a continuous supply of voices to testify against Walker's bill in legislative hearings. An attempt to squelch testimony backfired and the weeks-long occupation of the Capitol building began.
Just like the Occupy movement months later, the Wisconsin Uprising crackled with life. Rothschild said, "I would look out my window three blocks from the Capitol and see people stream up the street every day for a protest." There wasn't just outrage and anger, he noted, "There was jubilation, there was creativity; there was cleverness; there was fun. But there were also hard-edged slogans like, 'How do you solve the budget crisis? Tax, tax, tax the rich.'"

It was also historic. Rothschild said, "Every sector of public workers was there. You had private sector unions like electricians, carpenters, machinists, teamsters. I've never seen anything like that. I'd read about it in history books and Howard Zinn's works, but I've never seen real solidarity be a living, breathing thing instead of a hackneyed cliché at the end of a union meeting."

The Wisconsin Uprising fired the imagination of liberals and leftists in Wisconsin and across the country because it was a mass, democratic uprising. Labor was taking radical action in defiance of all the powers arrayed against them. The occupation maintained the cause in the public spotlight for weeks. The crowds grew from thousands to tens of thousands. The air rippled with talk of a general strike.

That seemed the next logical step, à la the Egyptian revolutionaries who had just ousted Hosni Mubarak, but few thought Madison could pull a mass walkout. Allen Ruff, a former lecturer in US history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said talk of a general strike was pie in the sky, but added, "If one trade union leader had followed the lead of the teachers and called for solidarity strikes or to stay out, even short of a general strike, then the political and social terrain would have been far different."

Rothschild contended other radical alternatives were possible. "There could have been a rolling blue flu epidemic in which workers in one occupation after another call in sick. There could have been work to rule, just doing the bare minimum that the contract requires. But none of this."
Schmidt listed factors why a general strike was premature ranging from "the lack of infrastructure to make sure children are cared for and families have money for groceries and bills" to the need for "rank-and-file democracy" and "strong networks of support with community groups" to an "overdependence on representative democracy and the courts to solve our problems." But ambivalence crept into her assessment. Observing that the main labor federation in the Madison area "endorsed taking steps to prepare for a general strike," Schmidt said, "It is a mystery to me why the movement did not go into a general strike and instead went into a recall."

Ruff pinned the blame on labor leaders who have become "too accustomed to business unionism and politics as usual and too fearful of penalties that would have resulted from a mass action." Ruff suggested psychology played a role, too: "There was a general deference among the masses of people present in the Capitol to established norms and authority like the Democrats, to trade union leaders, to the police."

Rothschild added that local labor leaders "did not understand the power that was present in those huge numbers. I think they were not only surprised by, they were scared by that magnitude of a protest they couldn't control and maybe go in a direction they wouldn't want. They didn't have a strategic plan for this uprising."

Even as the uprising was blooming, it was being co-opted and demobilized. A telling moment for Schmidt came early on when "The message of collective bargaining and the middle class became dominant." She said that the language in the Capitol consciously included all segments of society - the poor, elderly, immigrants and children. "The talk about the middle class fueled a division.
Obama and the national Democratic Party, meanwhile, shunned the uprising because it threatened their corporate benefactors, not just the right's. Rothschild said in February and March of 2011, "We thought we're fighting alone while the snow is falling and our ears are getting cold and red. Where is this president who said he would get his marching shoes on when labor rights were under attack?" In fact, Obama vowed in 2007, "If American workers are being denied their right to organize and collectively bargain when I'm in the White House ... I'll walk on that picket line with you."
Ruff said state-level Democrats actively demobilized the uprising. "One got up in the middle of the Rotunda when there were a few thousand people present and asked them to walk out to show we are willing to compromise and around 1,200 people left the Capitol with him. At the last big rally in March, with more than 200,000 people present, Democratic Sen. Jon Erpenbach, said 'I don't want to see you people back here. Go back to your home communities and work on the recall.'"

Rothschild ticked off reasons why demobilizing the protests for elections was a mistake. He said, "It diffused the energy of people emotionally. It geographically diffused people. It fed the misconception that there are no routes for exercising power other than the electoral arena, that there is no workplace strategy you can do, there is no street strategy that you can use. Finally, elections feed the illusion that the only option is working through the Democratic Party."

Labor and the Democrats have little to show for three rounds of elections since the uprising began. Republicans snagged a critical state Supreme Court post in April 2011. That August, the GOP clung to a razor-thin majority in the state Senate by holding four of six seats up for recall. Having pummeled the Democrats again by a 53-46 percent margin, Walker and the right are riding high. The only bright spot for Democrats is they captured one of four state Senate seats, giving them a 17-16 majority. But no legislative session is expected before January 2013 after regular elections for half the Senate, so the Democrats may lose their majority before they ever exercise it.

The sad fact is Walker should have been history. State prosecutors investigating political corruption have been circling the waters around him for two years and have picked off three of his former aides, an appointee and a major campaign contributor on criminal charges, stoking speculation that Walker is the big catch. In November 2011, as the recall kicked off with signature gathering, Walker was floundering with a 58 percent disapproval rating. And in addition to igniting the uprising, he pissed off most women in Wisconsin after bashing teachers and nurses, pay equity, sex education, abortion rights and social programs. But he glided to victory over a sputtering Democrat who did not offer voters a compelling route out of the economic chaos.

We got an inkling of how disconnected Democrats and labor are from genuine politics days before the recall. We slipped onto a conference call organized by We Are Wisconsin, a liberal coalition that channeled millions of dollars into Barrett's campaign and coordinated the Democratic get out the vote effort. First up for discussion among the dozen representatives of liberal groups and unions was debunking a Marquette University Law School Poll that showed Walker with a comfortable seven-point lead. The analysis went like this: "It is partisan. The data set was skewed. It is an outlier compared to other polls. The news and numbers are trending Barrett's way."

Except Marquette hit the bull's eye - Walker notched a 6.8 percent margin. Plus, other pre-election surveys came to the same conclusion. Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette Poll, told us that of 18 surveys conducted in the gubernatorial race since April, "Walker led in 17 in those and one was a tie."

The verdict was already in, but the veteran organizers on the conference call were convinced against reality that victory was in their grasp. The rest of the discussion burbled with talk of volunteers, early voting patterns, door knocking, mailings, "making three passes" at 535,000 phone numbers, analytics, television ad buys, voter suppression. It was all tactics. The sole mention of politics was a quick rundown of the issues in the Democrats' ad campaign: the corruption cloud hanging over Walker, cuts to education and the "war on women." There was no conversation about labor rights, Walker's attack on democracy or the strangling of social welfare - the issues that catalyzed the uprising.

Whereas the recall began as a democratic, populist revolt, by the end, the politics were dictated by consultants, pollsters and advertising campaigns. Rather than spending the last 16 months organizing workers and the unemployed, building community groups, educating the rank and file on radical social history, democratizing union decision making, going door to door relentlessly and patiently explaining how unions can increase everyone's wages and benefits, all the energy was spent on futile campaigns for Democrats who support austerity-lite policies.

Perhaps it is expecting too much of labor to act in the interest of all workers - as capitalists tend to act in the interest of all the rich. Robert Fitch, author of "Solidarity for Sale," described unions as "fiefdoms" that are afflicted by "corruption and stagnation." In a 2006 interview, Fitch said, "Essentially, the American labor movement consists of 20,000 semi-autonomous local unions. Like feudal vassals, local leaders get their exclusive jurisdiction from a higher level organization and pass on a share of their dues. The ordinary members are like the serfs who pay compulsory dues and come with the territory. The union bosses control jobs - staff jobs or hiring hall jobs - the coin of the political realm. Those who get the jobs - the clients - give back their unconditional loyalty. The politics of loyalty produces, systematically, poles of corruption and apathy. The privileged minority who turn the union into their personal business. And the vast majority who ignore the union as none of their business."

Rothschild echoed this view, "A lot of labor unions have become sclerotic. The day-to-day functioning of the union has been with a small group of people." That began to change during the uprising, he said. Workers would say, "I've been a union member for 10 or 15 years but I've never really been involved in my union." Since Walker effectively eliminated collective bargaining and cut workers pay by forcing higher pension and medical costs on to them, many public-sector unions in Wisconsin have lost half their members or more. The loss of collective bargaining is a huge blow, but it does provide labor with a well-traveled if hard path out of the mess. Rothschild said some stewards and local labor heads recognize "they have to involve their members in the day-to-day functioning of the union. If unions are to succeed in this next generation, they need to be able to talk to their members and organize at the base, rather than just run an office."

Charity Schmidt said, in her opinion, "Unions must rebuild internal democracy and establish connections with wider movements for economic and social justice." She added that, at a tactical level, labor should "maintain a program of direct action from interrupting legislative hearings and votes to sit-ins on campuses and in Capitols to protesting banks and chambers of commerce to occupying our public spaces and homes under foreclosure."

But the immediate task is dealing with the fallout of the triumphant right. Rothschild said Walker's win has many negative ramifications. "It will be psychologically devastating to tens of thousands of people in Wisconsin and materially devastating to people who've already seen a 10 percent cut in their pay and no longer have collective bargaining in any real sense." In terms of policy, Rothschild said, "Every item on the progressive agenda is at risk: the environment, the social safety net, public education." Nationally, Walker's victory "will hurt Obama's chances in Wisconsin and maybe nationwide. And the message to every Republican governor and legislature is you can put your boot on the throat of labor and get away with it." Finally, Walker's cakewalk indicates how the right is energized, which will demoralize liberals and labor going into the presidential contest.

This is the pickle Obama is in. Mitt Romney and the right will have a king's ransom in advertising dollars to promote their vision of Biblical fanaticism, 19th century Social Darwinism and high-tech surveillance and repression. It's a bleak future, but the Democrats have nothing to offer than, "me too!" and Obama has little progress to point to. He came into office hyping a New, New Deal, but punted on the home foreclosure crisis even when the banks were on their knees, rubber-stamped a woefully inadequate economic stimulus and bungled health care reform.

Going into the election, the right's strategy is to portray Obama as a failed overreaching liberal - which is working - but the lesson is Obama did far too little. Take the auto bailout, which while deeply flawed, saved an estimated 1.5 million jobs. Many of those jobs are in Ohio and Michigan, two swing states where Obama is polling better than expected. So where the Democrats can point to policies that benefit people, they are more likely to notch wins in November. But it may be too little too late with a pumped-up right facing off against dispirited liberals and inept unions.

Referring to Walker, but possibly foreshadowing a Romney victory in November, Charity Schmidt sees a silver lining. "There are two possible effects. One is people feel utterly defeated and just drop out of the movement. Or the other effect is people realize the change they want to see is not going to happen through electoral politics. Our power is through collective action, our power to withhold our labor, our power to interrupt their work."


From NationofChange

"Walker Wins Wisconsin Recall Election: Flooded With Outside Spending"
Paul Abowd
Iwatch News
June 6, 2012

With a 7-to-1 fundraising advantage and record turnout, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker defeated a union-led recall challenge by Democratic Mayor of Milwaukee Tom Barrett.

The Wisconsin vote captured national attention, and a flood of out-of-state money. Of the $63.5 million dollars spent, $45 million came from Walker’s campaign and supporters, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. The record spending total was made possible thanks to the Citizens United U.S. Supreme Court decision — which had the effect of invalidating Wisconsin’s century-old ban on independent expenditures by corporations and unions — and a state law that allowed unlimited contributions to the incumbent in recall elections.

Eager to repudiate Walker’s restrictions on collective bargaining for public employees, national unions focused money and manpower on the state, but struggled to keep up with the governor’s fundraising machine.

 The nation’s three largest public sector unions sent at least $2 million to two outside spending groups — We are Wisconsin and Greater Wisconsin — which fought for airtime with the Republican Governors Association and the conservative group Americans for Prosperity.

In the weekend before the vote, Greater Wisconsin spent $68,000 for online ads opposing Walker, and $30,000 more for a last-minute TV blitz. The Republican Governors Association spent more, dropping $475,000 on TV ads and $50,000 on Facebook ads opposing Barrett, and $94,000 on robocalls supporting Walker.

Barrett supporters looked to close the fundraising gap by deploying a vast network of union-funded field offices. We are Wisconsin hired campaign staff for an extensive get-out-the-vote campaign. The group reported through its Twitter account that its 50,000 volunteers would “knock on 1.4 million doors & make 1.5 million calls” by the time polls closed.

The effort appeared to work in Madison — a Barrett stronghold. The city clerk projected that turnout was on pace to surpass 100 percent in the city — signaling an influx of new voters registering at the polls. In Barrett’s Milwaukee, poll workers reported running out of voter registration forms.
The state’s Government Accountability Board predicted between that 60 and 65 percent of Wisconsin’s 4.4 million eligible voters would cast ballots, which would set a nationwide record for a gubernatorial election.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Occupied Okinawa #13: Sanshin Music

As I already mentioned in an earlier post on the second to the last day of my trip to Okinawa our hosts held a small party in our honor. The meeting was held in a cafe which will soon be open owned by Midori Teruya. Midori was kind enough to escort Ed Alvarez and myself around Naha and Ginowan on our last day in Okinawa, and took us to several locations including a mall for some last minute shopping, an independent movie theater to watch the film Standing Army, and the Sakima Art Museum.

Over our ten days in Okinawa we spent alot of time at Midori's Cafe and the Okinawan language school on the floor above. The school is free for the public and is just getting started. I took some pictures, video and notes while I sat through one of their sessions and will hopefully we writing about it later. As the Chamorro and Okinawan language are in similar not too healthy states, that was something that I had constantly discussed with people.

While we were sitting at the cafe sampling some Okinawan treats I have to admit I was very jealous. Midori intends that when the cafe is open it not just be any cafe, but be a place for activists who are interested in demilitarization, decolonization and language revitalization. In other words, it is a place from which her and her friends can spend time together relaxing or making plans for their activities and organizations. I am jealous because there is no such place on Guam. I still remember when I first moved back to Guam in 2008 after being away for four years in grad school. Several members of the group Famoksaiyan had also moved back and so we were determined to be active. The issue of where to meet however became a problem. When we met in homes people tended to be very laid back and there was no public place that was obviously ideal for meeting to discuss decolonization. We tried coffee shops and even once met at Wendy''s in Barrigada. It was a very eye-opening experience for me, to think about how the movement has gotten quite far despite alot of public infrastructure. No activist groups have offices or paid positions and few have any websites and so to think that we have even changed the conversation a little despite these disadvantages is immense.

The decolonization movement on Guam in its current form still has yet to really take shape. It was weakened as groups like Nasion Chamoru and OPIR started to fade, but it was invigorated by the military buildup. Where it goes from here will depend on whether it can achieve a certain type of public presence or whether it will remain the extra projects of conscious people, who are committed to the cause and thus continue to pile more onto their already overloaded plates.

My favorite part of the party at Midori's cafe was that we were treated to some sanshin music by Jun Sakima, whose father is the owner of the Sakima Art Museum. The sanshin is a three-string guitar that was introduced to Okinawa via China and later made its way to Japan. He played several songs song of which got the Okinawans in attendance up and dancing. I wish I could remember the names of the songs that the played and what they were about. According to what I remember one song was about refusing to accept the world around you as real but always feeling that it is a dream. Another, the one that had everyone dancing, was a song that celebrated the end of the World War II.

I've posted below some videos of Jun playing.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Historical Disloyalties

Wednesday, 18 Apr 2012
The Marianas Variety

 IN MY Guam History classes when we discuss the Chamorro-Spanish wars of the 17th century, I always see my students torn. In terms of the history itself, as objectively distanced from the present as possible, it is clear who the good guys and bad guys are of the story. For every Chamorro that readily accepted Catholicism, there were dozens or hundreds who resisted Catholicism and believed they should have the right to live as they wished. Although there were atrocities on both sides, in truth the Spanish were aggressors and the Chamorros were legitimately resisting. One had the right to defend themselves, while the other didn’t.

Students, Chamorros and non-Chamorros alike are torn because what they see in that war is the messy and complicated birth of the present day. They see the foundation being laid for much of what we accept as being Chamorro or an integral part of Guam’s culture and way of life today. They cheer for the Chamorros against the Spanish, but they are conflicted because if the Spanish did not win, the present moment as we know it might not exist. As a result, they might not exist either.

Although there is this urge to side with the victim, or those in history who don’t have blood on their hands, you might nonetheless feel an innate, almost instinctive loyalty to those “bad guys” of history. You might feel this because of the way we associate them and their dominance with how history has unfolded. It is only because of their sins that we are who we are.

Some would say for example that without the Spanish, Chamorros would be uncivilized brutes living in huts. We would be uneducated devil worshippers who would be ignorant to religion and therefore salvation. There are also forms of this that defend the U.S. and their presence on Guam, insisting that without the U.S., Guam would be nothing; that if we were not a colony of the U.S., we wouldn’t have gotten everything from the Internet, to air conditioning, to indoor plumbing, to capitalism.

These loyalties feel like they make sense. They feel like they are appropriate, but they truly aren’t. These historical loyalties can be damaging because of the way they skew histories, the way they make people feel as if what has happened was inevitable and couldn’t have happened any other way. There is an obvious element of truth to them. For example, if the U.S. didn’t take Guam as a colony in 1898, then it would be much less likely that people would become U.S. citizens or speak English. This historical loyalty is misleading because it makes people feel like modern religion or other things could have only arrived on our shores through colonization.

“If San Vitores didn’t come to Guam, then we would not be Christians” feels true, but isn’t really. Catholicism came to Guam in a way which could be considered the least Christian; in other words, it came by force. San Vitores and his missionaries didn’t show up on Guam one day and set up a kiosk down by the beach in Hagåtña where they passed out pamphlets about how Chamorros should accept Christ. They didn’t visit Chamorros in their homes and after they refused to convert, politely leave vowing to come back again later with hopefully some other strategy for reaching the Chamorro people. They came and asserted control over those who willingly converted and those who did not.

Catholicism’s place in the history of Guam would be more secure and less problematic if it had taken root initially not through guns and steel, but through the light of God shining through the virtue and deeds of those who claimed to be his representatives. You can argue that the times were different and that such things were common at the time, but how does that in any way make it right?

The most common historical mistake humans make is the assumption that just because it happened it must have been right and inevitable. The truth is that the history you have is never the only way things could have been. Guam could have become Catholic, “modern” and anything else without colonization. Things could have happened differently, and in cases such as this, could have happened in a much less violent, less vile and immoral way. Without this understanding, history is reduced to a story written by those more powerful, and that whatever they decided is the way things are supposed to be.

History can be troubling not only because it can reveal to you how things were; but can also end up haunting you because of the way it illuminates how things could have been, and possibly should have been.


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