I’ve been to Venezuela three times in the past ten years – to attend the World Social Forum with the theme of “A New World is Possible,” as an official reader in the Caracas Poetry Festival, and as invited guest and presenter to their amazing book fair that looked at the possibilities of revolution in the United States. Each time I could see a country in the throes of new beginnings, striving for justice for those abandoned by present social and economic conditions.
During those trips I visited outlying areas, met with indigenous people as well as young people including activists, poets, artists, and workers. I went to marketplaces and entered free computer centers and medical facilities in the poorest areas. I also spent time in the slums of Caracas (similar to Brazilian favelas only in Venezuela they are called ranchitos), which had no lighting until their president Hugo Chavez made sure they had access to electricity.
Once I got to meet Chavez briefly, just before he gave a more than two-hour talk at the main sports stadium that held up to 100,000 people. This was hard for me. I’ve been trained in the fast-paced, ADD-inducing, TV flipping realities of modern times. I have a hard time listening to most people for more than five minutes before my mind wanders and my feet get antsy. But I didn’t lose interest. Hugo Chavez spoke mostly extemporaneously, citing the Bible, Karl Marx, poets, and others. He knew facts and history. He was funny, serious, angry, and gracious. He even sang. At the time the U.S. had George W. Bush as president, whom satirists and other political commentators poked fun at due to Bush’s poor command of English, of facts or of history.
And I couldn't imagine Bush singing.
Bush a few times characterized Chavez as a monster, blaming him for turmoil and discord in South America, although most of this was due to U.S. foreign policy decisions and third world capitalist realities. The majority of reporting and comments on Chavez in U.S. media were unflattering and downright slanderous. I always knew U.S. media, except for a few remarkable instances, misrepresented Latin America. Being there in Venezuela, on the ground floor – as I have done over the past thirty years in Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, Peru, Puerto Rico, and Argentina – provided a fresh and more nuanced sense of what was really happening.
Yes, Venezuela is still poor (although Chavez in sixteen years cut the poverty rate by half). Slums continue to reach high up into the mountains surrounding the capital. There were also major political splits, although most of this fell into social class backgrounds – for the most part the rich (a small minority) hated Chavez; the poor and working class loved him.
Venezuela is also violent. For years, Caracas was known as one of the three most violent cities in the world. And Chavez had many issues, many holes in his doctrine as well as personality. I can be as critical about persons, parties and policies as anyone. But I also support unconditionally the Venezuelan people and their revolution – even with the back-and-forth, up-and-down nature of social change.
What the Venezuelan people have accomplished is a beacon for this continent – and the world. Venezuela represents hope and possibilities during this period of global electronics-based capitalism, when financial decisions in the office suites of banks and corporations of the U.S. impact more what Latin American countries do than their own elected presidents or legislators.
Chavez stood up against U.S. Empire. He stood up against those who would enrich themselves at the expense of the poor and working classes. He took over oil production and placed much of this income into bettering the country, but also in helping others. Chavez spearheaded a new Bolivarian Revolution, re-igniting the revolutionary spark that Simon Bolivar first lit to get rid of Spanish rule in the Andes region of South America.
Poetry, song, dance, political teachings, and more exploded in Caracas and elsewhere. Having free medical care and computer access – something not available in the richest and most powerful country in the world – is revolution in itself. I walked into one of those clinics, talked to the doctors and medical assistants, and watched as they brought the best medical practices to anyone who walked in the door. People needing help didn’t have to show their finances, their status, or even their passports. Rich or poor, Venezuelan or foreign, with no regard to religion, gender, sexual preference, or race – all were able to get this kind of attention.
Venezuela is a country of contradictions, like most countries of the world. But unlike many others it is moving in an equitable and embracing social economic and political direction. Hugo Chavez didn’t make this happen by himself, but he held the leadership.
Chavez died last week in Cuba from cancer. He was 58, born the same year I was born. I feel connected to his dream and his actions, his striving for more knowledge as well as his practice. Anyone who places a gulf between the two is missing the vital connection of how ideas become a material force. A vision, a plan, and getting things done – that’s Hugo Chavez’s legacy.
I send condolences to the Venezuelan people – who treated me as a brother, fellow poet and revolutionary – for the loss of their president: Hugo Chavez Frias.
Puerto Rican poet, band leader, and pioneer of the country's cutting edge in poetry performance, David Hernandez passed away on Monday, February 25, 2013 in the city he loved, Chicago, due to a heart attack. He was 66.
I met David thirty years ago exactly, 1983, during a fundraiser for mayoral candidate Harold Washington, who went on to become the city's most beloved mayor. I then moved to Chicago in 1985 and worked with David in various configurations of the poetry and art scene in that vibrant city until I left in 2000.
David Hernandez and Street Sounds were the performers to bring to any occasion. Combining David's humor, poignancy, and rhythms with words, the group took poetry to new heights. According to the Chicago Tribune, David once performed to a million people in Chicago's Grant Park and was commissioned to write a poem for the city's 150th anniversary. He worked with troubled youth in lockups and prisons, with the homeless, with the most forgotten and pushed aside. He carried the soul of his Puerto Rican heritage through words and music. At the same time he reached out and embraced all peoples, all colors, all of Chicago's amazing cultures, languages, and voices.
He was my friend and a poetry partner, helping me also create Tia Chucha Press in 1989 and in establishing the Guild Complex Literary Center. Along with books by Michael Warr, Patricia Smith, and Rohan Preston, David's 1991 poetry collection "Rooftop Piper" helped launched this press to national status. At one point he was declared the city's "unofficial poet laureate."
David also knew about drink, drugs, and the street life--in this respect we related, even as we got clean, worked hard to help others, and tried to tear away from the most debilitating prisons of the mind and spirit.
David was one of the sweetest person I ever knew; he always embraced me, treating me like a brother. The last time I saw David, Tia Chucha Press was doing a reading at Jak's Tavern and Restaurant near Greektown as an offsite reading for the American Writing Programs Conference in February of 2012 -- celebrating 23 years of existence. Also on the bill were veteran TCP poets Mary Hawley, Warr and Smith, among others, and new ones such as Jose Antonio Rodriguez, Luivette Resto, and Melinda Palacio. I recalled his big smile, as if he was enjoying not only colleagues but his children continuing to break through all boundaries as we revolutionize the world with words, ideas, and song.
David's legacy can be found in all that we do.
His spirit is now in Tia Chucha's Centro Cultural and Bookstore, which I helped bring to the Northeast San Fernando Valley section of Los Angeles in 2001 with a strong influence from Chicago's cultural cafes, theaters, art galleries, and studios.
Hermano, compay, te doy abrazotes fuertes -- que en paz descances.
This is a statement by Luis J. Rodriguez during a national CONFAB on February 16, 2013 for the U.S. Justice Party. Luis was the Justice Party vice-presidential candidate along with Rocky Anderson for president during the last presidential elections. He is author of many books, including the bestselling “Always Running, La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A.” and its sequel “It Calls You Back: An Odyssey Through Love, Addiction, Revolutions, and Healing.” He is co-founder of Tia Chucha’s Cultural Center & Bookstore and the independent cross-cultural publishing imprint, Tia Chucha Press. In addition he was a co-convener in 2011 of the Network for Revolutionary Change.
In my work as a writer, community activist and urban peace advocate, I travel around the country and speak to thousands of Americans. Recently my trips have taken me to economically strapped communities in Michigan, Illinois, New York, Maryland, Washington, Colorado, Arizona, and California. Let me tell you all these people, many without jobs or in low-paying work with no benefits, need a Justice Party.
I’ve spoken to youth, men and women, mostly of color and all poor, in juvenile lockups and correctional centers—in the past two weeks in California alone I visited Soledad and San Quentin prisons, the San Bruno County Jail, and the Alameda County Juvenile Hall… they need a Justice Party.
I read today that unmanned Drones have been bought by U.S. police forces under this current administration to be used against us—already those given the badge to supposedly “protect us” have shot and killed many innocent people in our urban centers. And they want police officers in all our schools?
As a former steelworker and organizer for AFSCME, it’s also outrageous to see corporations and banks steal the homes and livelihoods of union workers – they need a Justice Party.
To migrants from all over the world, but in particular those from the native lands of Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, forced to leave the countries they love just to survive – they need a Justice Party.
To the neglected people in our Native American reservations, in our migrant camps, housing projects, trailer parks, and homeless enclaves, where for decades I’ve done workshops, readings, and talks – they all need a Justice Party.
Presently the interests and aspirations of the working class, of the poor, of the pushed out and neglected, are incompatible with the capitalist motive aim of profits over lives… and incompatible with a two-party system that has strangled the democratic process and brought war to our doorsteps.
This country, more than ever, needs a Justice Party, beholden to no one but the majority of the American people who cannot accept any longer the deterioration of our environment, our healthcare, our schools, and our economy.
These people are hungry for a new politics and a new America. They need a vision of what true justice looks like, feels like – one that can last. It’s time for new thinking and new ways to unite the most diverse cultures, to cross over our varied beliefs and even ideologies, pulling these streams into one energy, one ocean, in cooperation for the benefit of everyone, everywhere.
The technology is on our side, the digital revolution that has preceded the social upheavals and discontent in our midst. For the first time our governance can align with the best clean advancements and the immense capacities of the people.
It’s time for a new party based on a truly broad movement for meaningful and livable work, for peace and the healthy wellbeing of children, teens, adults and seniors. It’s time for the Justice Party.
I, therefore, challenge all of us – can we find the character, the courage, the big ideas needed to create such a party? Can we set aside the unprincipled differences and drama that has dogged so many burgeoning third parties? Can we find the people and whatever funds are necessary to get the Justice Party on the ballot in every state of the union?
To reach out, to awaken, to incorporate more activists, thinkers and leaders into a different kind of politics – this is our challenge. I, for one, am willing to assist this course of action – to see if we can finally break the slavery of the two-party system and begin a new road toward the emancipation of the American voter.
I’d like to end with a story – of a young Guatemalan who had legal U.S. resident status and who graduated from high school in the Los Angeles area. Marine Lance Corporal Jose Gutierrez, age 22, became the first U.S. combat death in the last Iraq War. His citizenship was bestowed after his sacrifice.
Can we have a country worthy of people like Jose Gutierrez – who loved this nation and gave his all to the war makers, yet there are many like him returning home to little or nothing?
Please join with me in what is no doubt a historical and practical necessity. Join with me in making justice a reality for all.
I’m 2012’s vice-presidential candidate for the Justice Party, running with presidential candidate Rocky Anderson. Why? Because we need justice in our economy, in our environment, and in our politics.
Today there is a growing gap between the wealthiest and the poorest people of the land, a largely closed and corporate-run democratic process, and few remedies to address climate change and fossil fuel dependence.
Neither Republicans nor Democrats have the long-range, comprehensive, and substantial solutions to any of these as the two parties are daily revealed to be two heads of the same beast.
I understand the dangers of having Governor Romney and Senator Paul Ryan possibly becoming our president and vice-president with the same outlook, policies, and war-mongering that got us into this mess in the first place—there is no way they can be removed from the hammer blow of responsibility for what Republicans in the White House and Congress have done to our country.
I support the historical place Barack Obama has as our first African American president and whatever good he has done against terror in the Middle East and for job growth. Most of those who voted for him reached out to the hope.
But as many others have said before—we should want more.
The Obama Administration’s continual bail-out of financial institutions that have mercilessly ripped off the American people, increased raids and deportations of hard-working immigrant families from Mexico and Central America, and the fact that 60 percent of the job growth has been in the low-paid, unorganized and unrepresented sectors of the service economy cannot be excused.
The eroding of our civil liberties, the waste of lives and monies in the drug wars, and the ongoing use of military operations to resolve the world’s problems, leading to more insecurity, cannot be excused.
President Obama is also a leader. It’s clear he can’t lead us out of economic and political collapse, except to prop up the same ideas and tired structures from the other side of this two-headed entity—which has also failed us.
I’m in this race with Rocky Anderson to inject new ideas, to inspire a new imagination for what’s possible, and to help with a true healing of the people and the land.
I’m in this to make sure the poor and pushed out are at the forefront of any policies and plans—finally… justice for all.
The first step is to allow the voices and alternatives to the two-party system a full airing, the same free and equal access to the media, and to be given a chance to speak out on these issues. You don’t have to agree entirely with Rocky or I, or any of the other far more interesting and knowledgeable candidates out there. But you can agree we all need to be heard.
I’m a first generation U.S. born son of Mexican migrants. My parents believed in the American Dream, which in poor neighborhoods we lived in like South Central L.A. and East L.A. was largely frozen. Although I was a troubled youth—on drugs, in gangs, and out of school—before I left my teens I dedicated myself to education, books, social justice as well as deep economic and political change. This provided me direction, meaning, and energy to move forward as a person and for my community.
I myself became a steelworker, construction worker, paper mill worker, and foundry smelter for many years until I decided in my mid-twenties to be trained as a journalist, and later as a poet, fiction writer, essayist, and memoirist. I’ve also stayed active in my community for some forty years for proper youth development, immigrant rights, better schools, neighborhood arts, and for a vibrant economy and a dynamic political reality.
That’s why I’m running as vice president of the United States for the Justice Party.
Can we win? All I know is that with the Democrats and Republicans we constantly lose. It’s time to vote for what you believe, for what you know to be true, for what you deserve.
It’s time to vote for true justice.