State of Confusion

President Bush gave his State of the Union last night. And I can’t help but think—man, are we in trouble?

The headlines focused on Bush’s statement that the American people are “addicted to oil.” Come on. We’re not addicted to oil. That’s the main energy option we’ve been given. By oil companies. By a government catering to oil companies. By Bush.

It’s as if we were thrust a bottle of rum since we were born, and later told we’ve become alcoholics. How many environmentalists, scientists, and social activists have fought and argued for generations to remove the oil bottle out of our mouths? Remember that former presidential candidate Ralph Nader was a pioneer in raising the failure of oil dependency to a national debate. Has Bush become Nader? For all the rigged elections and millions spent, we should have elected Nader; he’d do a better job at the necessary recovery program we’re going to need.

That’s the problem. We’re told that we’re addicted to oil, but there was no plan for our sobriety. Given permanent tax breaks to the country’s wealthy is supposed to do what? Save us from our dependency to oil? Come on.

Our country is a joke now. But we have to take it back. I was just in Venezuela, where a revolutionary process is being carried out. I know Hugo Chavez is being demonized in the media and by the government. But I heard him speak for more than two hours. I thought I would fall asleep. Instead I was engaged and moved. He drew quotes from literature, the Bible, common folk, and had big ideas on the economy, the people, the poor, and more; he even sang a song (in tune mind you). You couldn't even compare the two speeches between Bush and Chavez.

Why is our country so low-level, mistrustful, and a joke? Venezuela is a poor and chaotic place, yet there they have some notions of justice and equity—and plans to carry them out.

Where's ours?
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From the Poor to the Poor

La Vega is one of the poorest districts in the overcrowded poor hillside barrios in Caracas. On the drive there, you see stalls of people selling food and any other items of any value in the "informal" economy that sustains most of the world's poor. Garbage is spread everywhere. Makeshift housing of tin roofs seem to squirm up the mountainsides.

On Sunday, January 29, I was able to tour the district with members of the revolutionary government in Venezuela. Our main goal was to visit one of the communal housing areas where new schools, a new and clean market, a free medical unit, and a computer center have been built. The people in the communal house greeted the various members of the tour, which included Brazilians, Bolivians, Argentinians, US citizens, and others. They were so hospitable and eager to share the benefits they attribute to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Still, as one of the organizers said, "these benefits are not just a result of Hugo Chavez and the government; they are a result of the people getting organized and demanding that our needs are met."

I met two Cuban doctors and a nurse who lived 24 hours in a small structure to provide medical care to the community. One doctor, Osvaldo, has been in Venezuela for three years. He said the medical care is free to the community, not just the poor. "Anyone who comes here for health care, whether they are poor, middle-class or rich, will get it. It's for everyone," Osvaldo said.

We also talked to a family of Colombian refugees who fled the war and poverty of their country. They have now been in Venezuela for some 25 years. They are some of the strongest supporters of what the revolutionary government has provided to the people there. "We have seen the changes," the grandmother of the family said. "I was here when Venezuela had a repression and unresponsive government. Now we are being helped and provided for. I wish something like this could happen in Colombia."

In a couple of days, I return to the United States, renewed by this experience in the World Social Forum and in Venezuela to heighten our struggles for the well-being of the people in my country as well. The US is a country, despite its vast resources and power, that does not have healthcare for close to 40 million people; where 80 million are listed as below the poverty level; and where three million are imprisoned mostly for just being poor.

Almost all the Venezuelans I talked to were eager to hear about what Americans thought of their country and about Hugo Chavez. Unfortunately, little is known about Chavez or the revolutionary process in Venezuela--and what is often put out is misinformation and even lies. I hope to help break the blackout on the news of the poor, whether they be in the US or in other parts of the world. The coming together of our struggles, across national boundaries, language and racial differences, and even politics is more real now with the common objectives of ending poverty, misery, and war in the world once and for all.

That's quite a goal, almost impossible as some may say. But those are the ones worth fighting for.
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Is Unity Possible for Social Justice in the World? In the United States?

Carlos, Mario, and Cesar are three of the young Venezuelans who've been helping some of the US delegates during our stay. There were many others, men and women, who've made sure we were safe, our belongings protected, and that we received proper directions for wherever we were going. It's always hard to manuever around in a foreign land, especially in a large and crowded city like Caracas. A few of our party have already had their cameras and wallets stolen. At one point, I was walking with another companion late at night to my hotel in a dark section of town when one of our Venezuelan hosts stopped in a taxi to make sure we were okay. We were only a couple of blocks from our destination, but this was most appreciated.

These young Venezuelans, dedicated to the growing revolution in their country, made sure we were welcomed and taken care of. With no pay (they were mostly volunteers). No tips. Nothing but thanks and un abrazo (a hug).

Yesterday, January 27, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez addressed participants to the World Social Forum at one of the stadiums where apparently performers like N'Sync play when they're in the country. The place was packed with people, signs, and mucho animo (much spirit). Countries like Bolivia, Colombia, Brazil, Mexico, and others were well represented. Our delegates from the Poor People's Economic and Human Rights Campaign of the United States were also in attendance. To signify the importance of our group, the Venezuelan government made sure six of us (including yours truly) were seated in the front roll in the center part of the stadium reserved for special guests. Among the dignitaries at the podium on either side of President Chavez was Cindy Sheehan, the US mother who lost her son in the Iraqi War and who has helped further propel the growing movement in the US to stop the war.

Song and chants honoring revolutionaries such as Simon Bolivar, Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, Evo Morales, the Zapatistas of Mexico, Lula of Brazil, and others were heard in preparation of the President's talk. When finally Mr. Chavez came to the podium, introduced by a leading priest from revolutionary Brazil, the audience was rapt (with interruptions of chants and applause). Chavez spoke for two to three hours. I don't know exactly because despite the time (and I may be a good case for adult ADD), I did not tire nor miss what he had to say. Chavez, in the tradition of Latin American poets, intellectuals, and political leaders, wove in history, famous quotes, the Bible, indigenous values, and political and philosphical discourse, while maintaining an engaging and lively tone.

Chavez stood firm against the policies of US President Bush, against war, against media distortions and manipulations, and against the growing marginalization of the poor in the world. He declared his roots in socialism and cooperation, going back to the first peoples on the continent, the Native peoples, as response to the wealth and power that capitalism places in the hands of a few. He spoke about Africa and its links to the Venezuelan people, but also in most of the Caribbean, and how the poor and forgotten are now gaining voice and power throughout that continent as well. He spoke about his friendship with revolutionary Cuba, still under the sword of a US-led blockade, and how Cuba, despite this, has sent doctors, engineers and others to help the Venezuelan revolutionary process (moreover, Cuba has invited Venezuelans to study medicine, social planning, and other important subjects).

Chavez welcomed representatives from France, the Phillipines, and other countries who have also supported the Venezuelan struggle. But he also spoke strongly in support of the people in the US, in support of those who are also suffering under the policies of Bush and US Empire. He called Ms. Sheehan a hero for her valiant efforts to challenge Bush. And he recognized the growing movement of the poor in the US as vital to hemispheric and global social justice and peace.

While it may not appear likely that real unity can exist in the world, or in the United States for that matter, for these causes and struggles, that night, with so many different faces, so many distinct tongues, so many races and religions (one group had a sign that read "Jesus Christ, the First Revolutionary"), unity was possible. Unity was reality. That unity in deed, in the word, and in the spirit could be realized for all.

I know the difficulties and sacrifices such unity will entail, but that night my bones sang and my heart rejoiced in the idea, the spirit, and the imagination that such unity will eventually uproot the present US-government led, capitalist-rooted, war, lies, and misery.

And in people like Carlos, Mario, and Cesar, I know the seed of this unity has already been planted and even blossomed.
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The Poor and the World Social Forum

When Cheri Honkala spoke about the woman in Tennessee with a debilitating disease who lost her health care from the state when 300,000 people were removed from TennCare, her voice cracked and she brought home the tremendous toll that poverty and government neglect can have on a person, on families, on whole communities. Cheri is head of the Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign. This week around 100 members of PPEHRC are in Caracas, Venezuela as delegates to the World Social Forum.

Cheri's words joined those of migrant workers, families who have had their children taken away by the government because they were poor, a mother who lost a son in the War on Iraq, and disabled Iraqi war veterans against the war. These people came here to voice the often misunderstood or misrepresented story of being poor in the richest, most powerful country in the world.

At a press conference on Thursday, January 26, across from the US Tent near the Museum of Bellas Artes in Caracas, the mostly Spanish-language media heard one heart-felt story after another of homelessness, government neglect, repression, imprisonment (the US has more prisoners than any other country in the world), and lack of media coverage that the poor in the US face every day.

The Venezuelan press seemed most eager to understand this phenomena of poverty in the US, news of which rarely comes their way from US media outlets. It was also clear that most Americans don't get an accurate account of the Venezuelan revolutionary process, nor the immense leadership of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in helping make "another world possible."

Presently, Chavez is being demonized in much of the US press as a murderous dictator (he hasn't murdered anybody, and he was elected in nationwide elections). We don't get the news about the tremendous support Chavez has among the poor, the marginalized, the forgotten.

One purpose behind the Poor People's Campaign's presence here is to defeat the lies about US poor (mostly by the media not talking about them) and the lies about the Venezuelan poor (again, by keeping this away from media attention). If an exchange of truths about our two countries is the main thing we achieve, it would have been worth all the work, funds, travails, and tears in making sure the US poor had a presence in the World Social Forum.

Later that night, I did a poetry reading and talk in Spanish and English to about 250 people at the US tent. The lights blew out and I had a hard time reading my text, but it was still a spirited and well-received event. It is important to make sure poetry becomes part of these types of gatherings. For beside the poverty of material things and the necessities of life, the poor everywhere face a poverty of spirit, of hopes, of imagination.

The World Social Forum is about creating and emphasizing a politics of imagination, of hope, of spirit--as well as meeting the material and health needs of all people. It's about establishing foundations for a healthy and balanced earth, for healthy and balanced people, across borders, languages, races, religions, and political affiliations.

As globalization (capitalism in the age of electronics) spreads from one nation to another, bringing more misery, war, and poverty, there is a growing response that is also global in nature for peace, justice, equity, and a dignifed life for every human being. From the indigenous groups that came here from every part of the hemisphere to the people fighting for health care in Ohio, whatever differences exist between the poor is nothing compared to what we have in common--hunger and the need to create effective organization and policies in our international efforts to eradicate poverty once and for all.
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Another World is Possible

The ride from the main airport in Venezuela to the capital city of Caracas took close to three hours, normally a half hour ride, due to bridge construction that complicated the accommodation of some 300,000 visitors to the World Social Forum here (with the slogan "Another World is Possible"). The re-routing took our bus through mountainous and heavily trafficked roads laden with shacks and poor people selling food and refreshments as traffic moved like molasses. Venezuela, as most Latin American countries, is extremely poor. Before you get to the main center of Caracas, you have to pass the poor dwellings, built as if on top of one another, in the outskirts.

Yet, Venezuela is in a revolutionary process, as the young members of the Frente Francisco de Miranda say, to remove poverty, erase illiteracy, and help become a beacon for social equitable change in the hemisphere.

I came as a delegate of the Poor Peoples Economic and Human Rights Campaign from the United States, representing leaders among the homeless, migrant workers, inner-city poor, Native American reservations, and in the battles of health care, decent housing, education, and dignity in the richest country of the world. The irony of bringing US leaders among the poor is not lost on me as Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and the government-owned oil industry have made numerous offers to get gas and heating oil to the poorest sectors of the US.

I also came as a writer for the various magazines and radio outlets I freelance for. This, as you can see, is not a contradiction. I can be part of a movement and I can also bring out the voices, stories, truths of this vitally engaging conference, its mission, and diverse participants.

There is a US Tent where many groups, including PPEHRC, will hold panels, reading, and press conference. On Thursday night, January 26, at 7 PM, I will do a poetry reading and lead a talk on the major issues facing the poor in the US.

My first night in Caracas involved trying to find a place to stay (some of our party ended up sleeping under the US tent in the cold). I was able to hook up an $18 (which translates into 40,000 Bolivars) in a rundown section of the city (few amenities and lots of cockroaches). I didnt mind since Ive slept in park benches, in caves, and hammocks in Mexico and other countries Ive visited.

The highlight of my first evening was an impromptu talking circle with members of the PPEHRC delegation (which included a cross section of US activists) and the youth leaders of the Frente Francisco De Miranda, presently active in the re-election this year of Hugo Chavez and the continued growth of the Venezuelan Revolution.

The country seems to be united on the need to end poverty and have the world come here to witness as well as to voice the intricacies and complexities of this process. I was particularly impressed with the intelligence, spirit, and selfless efforts of the Frente to make sure the US delegation was taken care of, protected, fed, and talked to.

There are some people I met who had bad things to say about Mr. Chavez and the whole revolution, including the hotel proprietor who, when he found out we were part of the World Social Forum, threw four of our company out of the hotel (thus their night in the open), despite our pleas and willingness to accommodate them. He said he had to follow "rules of business." We said, damn the rules, people shouldnt be forced to walk the streets at night looking for places to stay, especially guests of the country. Fortunately, most Venezuelans were hospitable and self-sacrificing, particularly to the needs of the many foreigners in their country.

Today, I hope to make some connections as well as interviews to leaders in the US delegation, the Venezuelan Revolution, and among the many visitors from around the world.
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Alma Delia Gamez -- 1959-2006

This past month, on January 8, a good friend of mine -- I am Godfather to her daughters -- passed away from complications due to stomach cancer. Alma Delia Gamez was only 46 years old. Yet she had been a fighter for the rights of migrant workers, the working class, and other oppressed peoples all her life. Her mother, Trini Gamez, has been a community leader in the Hereford, Texas community (and the Texas panhandle and other parts of the Southwest) for decades.

Delia became involved with the Texas Farmworkers Union as a teenager. In 1979, Delia moved to Chicago and became active with the Illinois Migrant Council. She later became an organizer in the highly diverse, mostly immigrant Chicago community of Rogers Park. In 1996, she returned to Texas where she remained active until the final stages of her illness.

She leaves two wonderful daughters, Janelle and Micaela, now young women and activists in their own right. I also recall how Delia helped my son, Ramiro, and daughter, Andrea, when they were both troubled teens in Chicago during the early 1990s. Ramiro, who's now 30 and incarcerated in Logan Prison in Illinois, wrote this about Delia:

It truly saddens me to learn that Delia has passed away. When hearing of this, the many memories I shared with her flashed before my eyes. My sister and I had an opportunity to be part of her life when we were in the Rogers Park Youth Congress. Delia had brought together many youth and elders to help form this organization when she was working with the Jewish Council for Urban Affairs. It was a great experience. The meetings at her house were great events. Eveyone there were like family. There was music, poetry, laughter, and lots of food (for me, that was my favorite part!). Delia had a loving heart and compassionate spirit. Especially when it came to her girls, Janelle and Micaela. She loved them so much and tried to keep them involved in all the positive things she was doing.

I can honestly say I'm a better person having known Delia. I learned a lot from her. She helped me to see that I had the potential to be a leader and the willingness to help others, even when it came to helping my "enemies." Delia was devoted and dedicated in helping the youth. And even when she moved back to Texas, I know that devotion and dedication stayed in her heart, that her revolutionary spirit filled her soul. She was a mother to us all.

I'm sorry I couldn't be there by Delia's side during her sickness. But I know she will stay by mine to help guide me, enlighten me, and to help me stay strong in being a better father to my children. I know her spirit will always be with me.

Mexika Tiahui,

Ramiro
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Writing for Life

Over the years, I've been interviewed about various aspects of my life, including my writing life. Here I share one group of questions with you all as we begin the new year. Writing not just for work or for fun, but for life.

What kind of writer are you?

I write in various genres – poetry, children’s books, novels, stories, journalism, essays, memoir, and now screenplays. I try to bring craft and rigorous work to my writing, but also an emotional center. It’s an odd combination of discipline and follow-through with levels of don’t-give-a-shit madness. At the root of my work is a revolutionary soul. I want to transform myself, my community, my world. Words as hammer, words as feather. I know I’m in the right space when I write and it scares the hell out of me.

Why do you write?

Why do I write? To heal. To dance (words as drum). To wake up something beastly as well as some beauty (women are beauty – even if they don’t look too hot; men can carry beauty if they do their art well). I write to stay alive. I feel the most whole when I’m in a deep state of transcendental writing. Writing then is my practice, my career, my life line. I learned this when I was in jail, on heroin and other drugs, drinking, and suicidal. Turning to my art, I found what could save me. My writing always carries the wounds of my life, and it’s the gift these wounds have to offer.

What made you want to be a writer?

I first wrote while in jail and juvenile hall as a teenager. Something about telling my story overcame me. I felt the need to voice these experiences, these traumas, the depths of what I saw and where I had come to. I began a life of “crime” at seven. At age nine, my family fought all the time and once my oldest sister stabbed her husband. At ten my best friend was killed after we broke into an elementary school. At 11, I joined a gang. At 12 I started using drugs – huffing, dropping pills, then heroin. At 13, I began getting arrested for stealing, fighting, disturbing the peace. At 15 I dropped out of high school and got kicked out of the house. At 16 I was put into an adult facility following the so-called East LA Riot. At 17, I was arrested for attempted murder in which four people were shot. At 18, I faced a six-year prison sentence for fighting with police officers, I was hooked on heroin and by then 25 of my friends had been killed. I needed to tell why. I needed to express the pains, the sorrows, the hates as well as the glories of this reality. After I left “the life” at around 19 years (including getting clean of heroin “cold turkey”), I worked in industry – I became a welder, pipe fitter, mechanic, carpenter, smelter, and a steel mill worker. Again, so many stories accumulated in me. The pressure of the stories was so great, that by age 25, after seven years of drug addictions and seven years in industry, I decided to become a writer – working in weekly and daily newspapers, in radio, as a freelance journalist, and a poet. It’s the stories, damn, the stories. I went to school at night, took part in writing workshops and circles, and began this writing life that I’ve done seriously now for more than 25 years.

What advice would you give to a fellow writer who was just starting out?

Writing is a practice, a passion, hard work, a business, a dream, and the most frustrating thing in the world. A writer must withstand all of this. Oh, yes, sometimes there’s money and sometimes there’s recognition. But that’s only sometimes. If you can’t help writing, then write. Write all the time. And always read. Despite my pathologies and rages, I loved to read. In the streets. When I was homeless. In jail. I never stopped reading. And, of course, I still read in this calm family home environment. Reading has been the one constant. Beyond that you must never give up. Persistence is the true test of shamans and madmen. Do it no matter what. No matter what obstacles and sacrifices exists. It shows in the work. Those who breathe in and exhale words, who can’t live without them, can’t help but write life-affirming work (no matter how dark). You write even when it seems the world says no. In every no, there’s curled up a universe of yeses. The only art that matters is the art that is not supposed to be there.
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New Year, New Ideas

This has been quite a year: War in Iraq continued with US casualties passing the 2,000 mark (more than 840 killed this year alone); members of the Bush Administration faced indictments in the CIA outing case; Hurricane Katrina tore through the Gulf States, exposing the insecurities in our Homeland Security system; accusations of torture were leveled against the Bush Administration (their main response: arguing the fine points of what constitutes “torture”); immigration issues became highly polarized with Minutemen on the border and members of Congress trying to make illegal immigration a felony and putting forth a multi-million dollar border fence; and revelations that domestic wire-tapping and surveillance went beyond possible “terrorists” to those who oppose the war and others not favored by the Administration (even former Black Panthers, although they were already targeted in the 1970s).

It looks like, as the saying goes, “we’re going to hell in a hand basket” (not sure what that actually means, but it sounds about right).

However, there is some good news.

There is a growing awareness and unity among people in the US as well as the world against globalization, war, the death penalty, and poverty. All these became major concerns of the media, entertainers, and an increasing multitude. It appears that previously marginalized issues and ideas are now moving center stage.

While there’s darkness in the body politic, there is also an expanding conversation about where we go as a people. Included in this is how we achieve a world we know can be just, humane, peaceful, cooperative, balanced, and healthy? Words, by the way, you will seldom, if ever, hear from Republicans or the Bush Administration.

The right wing in this country long ago declared a war for the “hearts and minds” of the American people. They have much on their side—wealth, most of the media, fundamentalist Christians (not all, however), and their reliance on people’s fears and uncertainties.

Some of these conservative warriors were around in the 1960s and 1970s, and much of their ire seems to be directed at the last structural reforms in government (around civil rights and the rights of women). They held a grudge since then and are now getting their payback. That this is indicative of mental instability is another matter—or that their “scorched earth” tactics ends up destroying civil liberties, national unity, and real lasting peace for everyone (even their own children).

Their real opposition today, however, is not liberals—they were ideologically defeated when “reforms” could no longer meet the basic needs of the people. No, the very nature of the system they hold sacred will do them in. Capitalism has reached critical limits in its ability to expand and to find new exploitable markets (although it keeps trying). Even oil is finite and getting closer to being exhausted. War, lies, corporate greed, scrambling for power (or cover as the indictments keep coming) is now par for the course for the most powerful and wealthiest in the land.

The façade of social decency, civil discourse, democracy, and honesty has been slipping away as the most fascist elements in this country prepare their rule (summed up as the unity of capitalists and the government, but not the people).

Today more people are impoverished than ever before—while the richest share in the most obscene waste and extravagance (when poor people in the hood rap about “bling bling” and Bentleys, where else is there to go?).

So as the New Year dawns, let our hearts and minds and creative powers flourish as we collectively challenge the thieves, liars, and death-dealers.

We have to imagine another way to go, to envision a world where science removes disease, poverty, and cultural waste; where people are politically, economically, and spiritually sovereign; and where the world’s vast socially-produced wealth is distributed on the basis of need, not just to those who can pay for it.

Ashé
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War, Torture, and now Border Fences

So the Republicans in the House want to make illegal immigration a felony—and to build a 700-mile fence on the Mexican border. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. But consider the source: These are the same fools who most ardently supported Bush’s war in Iraq without real evidence (including backing the Patriot Acts’ most insidious provisions); they’re the same ones who failed the people of the Gulf States when Hurricane Katrina swept through there; they’re the same ones who have enriched their corporate friends (Halliburton and the oil companies never had it so good)—but moreover, they’re helping turn the US government into the administrative arm of the capitalist class.

Since the Republican’s control of the White House, the Supreme Court, and most of Congress, we’ve seen our liberties erode, our economy throw more people into poverty, and our government deeper in collusion with the most powerful corporations. Now supposedly alien concepts like “torture,” “voter fraud,” “illegal wire tapping” and “partisan corruption” (Delay and others) are linked to this country (the US always had these, but they were never part of the national debate as they are now).

And they also want to make felons out of people who just want to live? To make a fence that will cost billions that should go instead to housing, healthcare, jobs, and real security (economic as well as from natural or man-made disasters)?

As Bush once said, “Fool me once, shame on me…uh, fool me twice... uh, and you’ll never fool me again”—something like that.

Actually the saying is: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”

How long are we going to be snowed over by these narrow-minded, incompetent, and callous people? And, still, they come back with more inane ideas and debacles (I must say they’re persistent).

Enough already.

Of course, I’m not saying the Democrats are doing any better (remember, 30 House Democrats voted for the latest immigration bill). They have no real challenges or meaningful responses to Empire, war, economic polarity, and racist and mean-spirited border policies. Both Republicans and Democrats are trapped in the past—the Democrats for the most part are in the New Deal era; the Republicans, unfortunately, are back there in the 19th century.

Who’s got a vision for our future? A vision that does not require war, fences, dividing the country (we are more divided now than anytime since the Civil War). Who’s got a vision based on cooperation and laying the economic, political, and cultural foundation for the full and healthy development of everyone?

Who’s got the vision that utilizes the massive social energy of people—our greatest resource—and the most advanced technology ever known to humanity to better our lives, our connections, and our world?

I heard a Republican once say that the border fence was to keep the “third world” from coming to our country. He forgets that we already have a “third world” here—parts of the de-industrialized Midwest and much of the South; inner-city LA, Chicago or New York City; and just about any rural hamlet in the country. We helped defraud and exploit most of the world’s resources and labor—now we don’t want the people who have paid the price for this from coming over to our shores?

What about consequences? Oh, these Republicans are gung ho about the death penalty; three strikes and you’re out; and having poor people suffer just for being poor—but not about their own crimes?

This situation is, as Malcolm X prophetically and truthfully once said, “the chickens coming home to roost.”

Only these “chickens” are not our enemies. They are not terrorists. They are human beings, like us, wanting to feed their families. As long as the extreme inequalities exist between the United States and Mexico (and the rest of the so-called third world) you will have people trying to come over (the 10 million Mexican undocumented and legal residents in the US make more money than all of the close to 100 million still in Mexico).

Enough already.

The Republicans and Democrats do not represent our interests—as poor and working people; as families with mouths to feed; as they ones who labor at the lowest levels of economic life and keep this economy going (despite never getting enough to cover the basic needs).

We have more in common with Mexicans, Central Americans and others who have had to come to this country to survive than we do with Halliburton, Bush, Cheney, DeLay or any of the other Republicans (and most of the Democrats) running this government.

The real con is thinking that these fools have the same interests as we do.

The real shame is having a significant portion of Americans falling for their schemes, their lies, and the deep mess they’ve put us all in.
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It's Important--that's why Tookie's Death is Still Being Debated

These past couple of days, I've taken part in some Internet debates on the execution of Stanley Tookie Williams. Here I present some of my responses.

One person claimed that Tookie was no hero--that he deserved to die because he was found guilty of murdering four people in cold blood. And if he was a real gangster, he should have "taken it like a man" and accepted the death sentence. This is what I wrote:

Okay, let's say Tookie was no hero. That he was a low-down gangster bum. Maybe Tookie "deserved" to die. He may have played everyone. But we shouldn't have anything to do with killing him. Not as a people, a conscious, alive and moral community with standards that should be higher than Tookie's or his victims (most victims want payback). If he was in the streets of LA instead of prison some rival gang member might have done him him. But why did it have to be us?

Now, I don't happen to think that about Tookie. But from the gangster view point, he should have "accepted his fate." He's supposed to do and die and not cry. Who the hell needs that? I've known countless homies and other vatos who've lived by that. What a waste.

The complexity of this issue, like any other, has to find a clear line of march regardless of the difficulties. Some stand with killing him. I stand with that's not for us to decide.

We're either in the life business or the killing business.

You want a hero? There's nothing heroic in having the full power of the state kill a man. Nothing. It's more heroic, believe me, to want to kill, to have so much pain and hate, to want revenge, and then decide, after the most wrenching battle with oneself, that there's got to be another way to go.

Violence is the closing of our imaginations. Tookie could have taught our kids there's another way to imagine life, even if you've done terrible things. That even in prison, you can do some good (we have enough of our brothers and sisters in prison, wasting away. Let them do some good).

Remember, he was the one leading Crip who turned against the gang life. Far more who continue the gang life from behind prison bars are still at it, doing damage as we speak. Nobody is stopping them. But even if we could, we can't kill them all (nor do I advocate we do that--many of them are also capable of helping our youngsters).

We have to imagine another way out.


Another person said, "I consider myself liberal and progressive... but I don't object to capital punishment for cold-blooded murder." Here's my response:

You have to maintain a certain assumption to believe we have the means, the desire, or the kind of system that can actually make a cold-blooded killer pay for his crimes. In South Central LA--as most poor communities--there are no CSI teams, no great forensics doctors sweating over details of evidence to make sure they get "the right person." That's TV, in fantasy land (although quite possible in wealthier communities).

Instead there are overworked police, detectives, and lots of pressure to "get somebody" versus getting the truth.

I know. My wife worked for the Cook County court system in Chicago for years--she quit, finally, after witnessing too often the injustice of poor black and brown people being shafted by mostly white judges, prosecutors, and defense lawyers in a complex and intricate system (and I know there are good white people out there who do care, many of whom stood by Tookie until the end).

I've also been a court advocate for a number of youth (including my own son, but also in a "Walking With" project I've been involved with for years) and an expert witness in some federal deportation cases. And with my own experiences as a youth in juvenile hall and adult jails in the East LA area I can tell you--if you're poor, you're screwed.

I was around LA in the 70s and early 80s (I moved to Chicago in 1985), when police went all out war with gangs, including Crips and Bloods. There were lots of murders, lots of arrests, but not necessarily the right arrest to the right murder. It's possible Tookie killed other people. We don't know (and I may have a strong assumption about this, but who cares). It's also possible in that kind of warfare climate that he was set up. Many thousands were set up. I know of killers walking the streets, while some other poor fool is in prison for life. I also know that Tookie was somebody the police wanted to get. Find the right murders, the right people to turn against him (his own accomplices, done by separating them, scaring them, even beating them if they have to--real "gang" loyalties fall quickly in many a police station), and some jailhouse informants (who would lie to save their own asses), and they got their man.

What's the more probable? He could have killed those people. But it's also probable in that climate that he was set up.

People get arrested for things they didn't do all the time. Remember, 120 men have been found innocent and taken off death rows around the country, despite prosecutors, jurors, police, and others swearing to their mothers that they were guilty.

President Bush once claimed he could sleep at night despite allowing the executions of many Texas death row inmates because he said the system was infallible and they were all guilty. Now there's proof that at least one Texas executed man, Ruben Cantu, killed at 26 for a murder he allegedly did at 17, has been found innocent.

But he's dead. "Sorry. We'll try harder next time."

No. If there were a real system of justice, with real equal access to science, dedicated detectives and resources, and no racism or class prejudice in the mix, you might say, just maybe, that real killers should be killed.

But a real system of justice wouldn't even go there.

There are 3,000 murders in LA that have not been solved--what about those victims? There was a time when the United States had 20,000 murders a year (significantly down over the past ten to 20 years). Yet slightly more than 1,000 people have been executed since 1976. What happened to all those other murders?

Can we possibly kill 20,000 a year for every murder committed?

How come there are Crips who have done more damage than Tookie, yet are still alive?

Maybe (here's something to think about), since Tookie was accused of killing non-black folk he needed to go. Maybe that was his downfall. Lynch a black man for daring to kill a white guy (and Asians as well). Most Crips who have killed have killed their own people. When was the last time one of them got executed?

There are statistics proving that blacks who murder outside their race have a greater chance of being executed than if they killed other blacks.

How much more do I have to go on?

No, we can't allow the state to kill in our name. I will fight for the healing. For the peace. For the imagination and the deep changes we need for real justice to exist. California, or any other state, don't kill for me.
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