Sticks and stones…

IMG_0282People who use words, paragraphs, stories, images seem to have the power to push people in power to use weapons far deadlier than sticks and stones.

Let me explain this statement a bit with a personal experience.

In the early 90’s I took a picture of a girl fleeing from the bombs dropped over her rural area by state armed forces who were (and still are) fighting left wing rebels in Colombia.

This little girl was sitting in a 30 gallon bucket taking a refreshing bath. She was one of several dozen people who had made it to a school in Yondo, a small town along the banks of the Magdalena River in central Colombia.

There are now over 4 million displaced men, women, children in that country who have fled their lands and homes.

They know war. They have survived in the midst of death, bullets, men with guns, some sanctioned by law others called terrorists by those same laws. Those men on both sides of the conflict have been accused of thousands of crimes: rape, torture, murder, kidnapping and forced displacement.

Civlians know about war and that is why it is more than necessary to show their knowledge and experience in any way possible because it just so happens that the narrative of war is mostly about soldiers and battles, technology and weapons, and that narrative almost always comes to us from the perspective of the conquering forces, and their plight, their pain and loss.

This is not an exaggeration. All we need to do is watch the dozens of flicks and documentaries made in the U.S. about U.S. loss of life for U.S. audiences in wars fabricated with U.S. assistance.

The little girls and the throngs of parents, brothers, grandmothers, aunts who survive war do not get many opportunities to bank roll, make and distribute films that tell us their stories of war fought on their soil, in their villages and neighborhoods, wars that leave them with death as part of their historical memory. They have much more urgent needs.

This is where people who tell the stories of those who are declared [or not] enemies of the state, the motherland, the fatherland, the nation come into the picture. There are people in power who consider that poets, novelists, play writers, reporters, photographers, cinematographers who push and pull with their work deserve to die. They too can be collateral damage. No exaggeration. Think about the Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca.

And this is where the powerful come in: words can come back to hold you responsible, especially if you have ordered a killing, or a genocide; even if the order was given in the name of security, peace and democracy. So new orders are issued and reporters, writers are killed.

Yet there never seems to be a deep sense of loss when a artisan of the word is murdered. It is necessary though to remember that not all dead are created equal: the media exalt some and condemn others. It even turns out that we civilians victims of war were in the wrong place at the wrong time; and nobody ever said life was fair, right?

Maybe those pervasive TV images and scripts about callous reporters, ass wipes who care not an iota about people and roam the landscape looking for the next best headline desensitize the audience. Nobodies perfect. Reporters like that are out there.

But there is also Julio Daniel Chaparro, Rodolfo Walsh and Veronica Guerin and Marie Colvin. Just four names. Reporters, writers and poets, men and women who grappled with words, persecuted and murdered.

Julio Daniel Chaparro’s murder, shrouded in impunity, hit that statute of limitations on April 24 2011. Earlier this year Argentine General Jorge Rafael Videla acknowledged some irregularities during the dictatorship he led, like the kidnapping and murder of Rodolfo Walsh. The poet Juan Gelman also persecuted lives on long after Videla and his regime were gone, but his family was murdered.

Like so many people, civilians we are called, people on the street we are, we survivors may one day tell the children and grandchildren what ‘that’ war was like, if only we find the words, the patience, and the reassuring sense that our story matters, if we find those who care to listen.

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Here’s a story: we sell what we write/our labor

A_picture_is_worth_a_thousand_wordsWriting a story is an exercise in freedom and to certain degree power, but only to a certain degree because language and context will hinder, limit or change, the story.

You sell a piece, think about that. You sell a piece, it has so many words, the editors decide if it goes or not. It’s their piece now, their property not yours. Every publication has guidelines and if you decide that what you write fits you submit.

Some people would argue that your talent supplies the freedom to write whatever you want and ‘they’ will publish. Whoever “they” are you won’t ignore their guidelines.

But talent isn’t necessarily enough. Mexican writer and reporter Guillermo Zambrano once told me that talent could be a curse because it leads one to believe that work and discipline are not necessary.

Then there is the problem of content. What you say and just how raw or powerful or against the grain that story might actually be could lead to closed doors.

Nick Turse, author of Kill Everything that Moves, told a story in a Fresh Air interview about how Seymour Hersh walked around with his piece about the MyLai massacre for a while because no publisher wanted to break the censorship on the killing in Vietnam.

Rodolfo Walsh, wrote in the introduction of his book “Operacion Massacre”, (a non-fiction tell all about the criminal shooting/extrajudicial killing of at least 10 men in Buenos Aires in 1956) about how nobody wanted to put his piece out there. Finally the owner of a small printing shop, despite the fear, did.

We think of what is said but not about how it is said. You accept certain criteria when you submit a piece, how many words, topics, fiction, non-fiction, for a magazine, weekly, monthly, and so on. Now we also deal with online publishing.

And lets think a bit about spoken words, the limits that exist to what and how we can say:

In a courtroom for example, our everyday common language is controlled and limited. It seems that our common sense response to a situation is not only mediated but altered by the language of the court and it’s experts: prosecutors, defense lawyers, public defenders, expert witnesses and judges.

So when you’re hauled in and put on a jury how a case is exposed to you, how all those words are used, might lead to a sense of confounding dread. We might feel bombarded by an endless stream of legal speak, that in some cases requires clarification.

A man who was on jury duty for a case involving two lovers, jealousy and a stolen 13 inch TV set told me it was an interesting experience yet a bit daunting to, on the one hand argue with other jurors, while on the other be fully aware that you hold in your hands the future of some other human being.

He sensed but wasn’t sure there were many lies and gaps in all the words laid out by the lawyers, defendant, witnesses but what really got his attention was the fact that some jurors were in a hurry to cast a verdict and hit the street.

Storytellers must accept at certain turns limits on style not just content.  You’ll write about things in a certain way and maybe avoid certain clarity. Yes, avoid clarity to build up your Style. The Correct usage of the language might be something antiquated in this era of books that read more like movie scripts.

Telling a story is an exercise in freedom and to certain degree power, but only to a certain degree because technology could hinder, limit or change the story.

Clarity might suffer with brevity and twitter, but the technology we consume allows us to move quickly from one issue to the other; speed, brevity, efficiency are a central part of Style in our global online friendship.

How do we read between the lines when there are few to none? Access is a wonderful thing, malleable, we go in and get out, say our piece, no need for editors, just Style, we accept the guidelines, we publish, we forget.

Using word[s] is an exercise in…

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Julio Cortazar y la subjetividad del tiempo

Language (idioma) is as much a necessity as an imposition. Born with the ability to communicate we learn a language, and we say mamá or vaca, or the ants go marching one by one, but we have little or no choice, maybe.

There are those who migrate and then we choose to put both languages into a competition and so with our siblings and classmates we speak in a language our parents cannot master,

but parents exercise some tender form of vengeance as they take us to unknown hills and streams, fields and games, while telling stories of bitter aunts, and exciting villains  we will never meet in a language we may[be] never [will] master.

In that tire y afloje de relatos y juegos time becomes flexible, there is a certain back and forth we could master, we could celebrate, if we allow ourselves to play the role of time tellers

we take the silent tic toc, and tell the story of someone who died on an open field on Christmas Day 1945 and we let the pain of death and joy of life to flow through us, perenne, inolvidable. we were actually born after 1960.

Julio Cortazar was Argentino born in Bruselas who made his way through Buenos Aires and ended up dying in Paris.

He said in what might have been his last interview,

“Yes, in these recent stories I have the feeling that there is less distance between what we call the fantastic and what we call the real. In my older stories, the distance was greater because the fantastic really was fantastic, and sometimes it touched on the supernatural. Of course, the fantastic takes on metamorphoses; it changes. The notion of the fantastic we had in the epoch of the gothic novels in England, for example, has absolutely nothing to do with our concept of it today. Now we laugh when we read Horace Walpole’s Castle of Otranto—the ghosts dressed in white, the skeletons that walk around making noises with their chains. These days, my notion of the fantastic is closer to what we call reality. Perhaps because reality approaches the fantastic more and more.”

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Local media networks that show us by us: could that be a model?

mujer y bebe en la calleWorking with news media is a challenge that has a quick pay-off: a story. That is exciting. There is a certain amount of tension in the race to produce but the final story brings out a renewed sense of life:

She talks I listen. I sit in front of a woman who works for a living. She puts in grueling hours, then heads home for more work with the kids, laundry, the kitchen. She tells me about her deported niece. She is raising the kids her niece was forced to leave behind. She isn’t alone. She has the support of a community based organization.

News reporters should also cover social and political movements where workers tell their version of events, and contribute as sources. That type of coverage could contribute to break the stranglehold experts and men of power have as sources.

But we need to face the fact that it takes patient and consistent work to build a relationship with sources. We live in a society where certain people learn to talk in public, even in the progressive camp. We are limited by organizations and confidentiality acts. People are taught a few lines: make sure the message is clear.

We live in a society that does not cooperate to help us tell our stories:

I recently sat with two people who have suffered from what mainstream psychiatry calls mental health illness. She is in her 70s, he is in his 50s. Different stories yet they have several threads in common, one jumped out at them: despite our age and all the years gone by since we learned about our mental health problems our families have never opened up to chat about our mental illness.

Mainstream news media works on several premises:

  • a story is short lived, so reporters and editors have to hit hard and quick, capture the audience, leave little room for doubt.
  • pour on the information, repeat as much as necessary, and limit who gets to talk, as was done during the 2012 presidential elections news coverage that banned Greens and Libertarians.
  • sources are power: be they academic, bankers, the famous, strong competitors, think tanks.
  • investigative journalism uncovers the rotten apple in the proverbial barrel. Like the soldiers at Abu Ghraib.

If we follow Mainstream media’s sources we realize they continue to utter the same speech. Mainstream media will only come back to an issue when they have a scoop or something new to add from the perspective of another expert or experts, who appear and talk time and again. As they do on Friday new roundups.

Mainstream media always proposes and even demands objectivity because it deems itself as part of that broad set of norms, the ethical standard, the moral high ground, even if it justifies war and avoids body counts as do the Generals. But the defense of privately owned media as THE model of the free press is not disputed. Over the last few months progressives have raised their voice to tell the Tribune Company that it should not sell its eight newspapers to the conservative Koch brothers.

The reality though is that the rich, liberal and conservative, own the media. And there is not one dominating force in that mainstream media today. In that environment we watch Liberals organize a reformist model that props up government and privately owned media and hard right wing moguls like the Koch Brothers have offered to buy eight Tribune Company newspapers so they can balance what they deem liberal bias.

Of course corporations like Comcast have a power that is almost impossible to imagine. They own so many outlets, they construct their impact, and continue to work along with federal and state government laws everyday through consolidation to broaden their economic power and deepen the impact of their products. But not even the most powerful corporations dominate the field. That is why there is such a push by the privately run corporations to mold the Internet into a cable television model: pay as you go.

An anarchist friend told me, “we must declare our politics.” I agree people must say who they are, where they’re coming from, where they’re headed, and what makes them different from those in power.

Any progressive, radical, anarchist media project must be personal and social, creative and political; this requires an enormous amount of tolerance and commitment. In this country the majority has a daily access, a very intense access to the media. It is an apparatus, but it is also an experience. And that experienced apparatus includes the news.

Please remember: all reporting is investigative. Or it should be. I speak up for the daily grind. Daily reporting requires research, data, sources and of course clear concise quality writing. The daily grind can build the knowledge and depth to release better stories, more local news and develop a pool of sources: workers, women, youth, and others who can tell the stories, cooperate with those who understand that capitalism is the problem.

Small outlets can bring up local stories that could help build a news media project that shows the importance of a progressive, leftist and radical news networks.

The development of media technology shows us that capitalism has many tools, especially in developed capitalist countries and in this age of global economies.

But we have to be careful with competition, it is a hindrance. We lose when we compete against each other or mainstream media. We must cooperate.

Today progressives, leftists and anarchists must work together, even if we don’t believe in elections, one party systems, two party systems, developed or under underdeveloped capitalism. I’m aware that this is not simple. Media production is fun and complicated, and when all is said and done you have a commitment to those who work in projects and proposals that help develop alternatives to capitalism. That is no easy task, but I am convinced that we can chronicle those efforts.

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Humanists, atheists, agnostics, and violent death

head-viMen with guns kill people. At the moment of the kill some victims have a gun, others do not.

Guns are designed to injure and kill animals, people. If a man with a gun kills he usually creates havoc, grief, a spiral of human agony that so many people can only endure with God.

If you do not believe in God? I was raised Catholic in a Chicago parish managed by Irish catholics. I know about the pageantry of that church.

The voyage from the pews, stained glass, burning incense and Gospel has been an adventure, and the non-believer in me is a much happier man than the one who struggled with God and faith. My adventure from faith to compassionate action was not an overnight event but a path, a deliverance of sorts from the fear of death and never finding the grace to achieve an eternal existence in Heaven.

At a personal level this is fine, but echoing Samuel Freedman’s words, after the Newtown massacre

“Where were the humanists? At a time when the percentage of Americans without religious affiliation is growing rapidly, why did the “nones,” as they are colloquially known, seem so absent?”

The Challenge

What do non believers have to say to help the parents, uncles, aunts, siblings, grandparents, neighbors, friends, teachers of those 26 people murdered by Adam Stanza?

What do humanists, agnostics, atheists have to say to the parents, uncles, aunts, siblings, grandparents, neighbors, friends, teachers of the dozens of victims killed everyday, some shot to death, across the U.S.?

We could offer verses and songs created by those non-believers who came before us and contributed to humanity. Poetry, songs, gestures exalt the human condition, and put us in communion with others. This a powerful gift at a moment when brutality pushes us to ask why such horrors are possible.

But the most important contribution is the commitment to fight for something more than just waiting for those in power to pass new laws. Acts of community are far more complex but profound than raising funds for some lobbying group. When violent people strike it may just be our strength as community what makes life desirable once again.


Violence will persist. Violence will be with us day in, day out. The violence of hunger, economic greed, slavery, rape, and murder. Not only the insane kill. Dictators are not the only butchers. Many wars have been mandated in the name of freedom by people elected by their fellow citizens.

The first time I saw blood on the street it was coming down a man’s neck who was standing on a corner twenty steps from the front of the building where I grew up in Chicago. I must have been ten. I approached him, hypnotized by the site of so much blood. He was there, dazed, and all he said was that someone had walked by and thrown a firecracker at him.

The second time I saw blood I was fifteen. I was walking home at high noon thinking about lunch. It was a weekday. We kids were on summer break. As I walked into my neighborhood a guy came running onto the street about a block away from me. Two guys appeared seconds later, chasing the first, as if it was their moment on stage, and shot the lone runner. I stood there. When the shooters fled I walked up to the man. He was dead. His shirt was lifted, his stomach uncovered, he was dead, his revolver lay next to him. He never got a round out.

At that point in my life I still believed in the God of my ancestors. I believed in Jesus and was thankful for his sacrifice for my sins.

When I was in my mid twenties two good friends, one a communist, the other a liberation theology advocate were murdered. One was shot to death in November 1985. About six months later the other was detained, tortured and shot to death, after being put in a burlap sack. It was a violent time in Colombia. Upheaval. Revolt. Rebellion. Death. Exile. Fear. Guns. Those crimes were never resolved.

Violence dislodged my patience. It scared me to death. Violence that involves guns is much more efficient, it allows the perpetrators to move quickly, kill and injure more enemies, take down more prey. Guns allow the shooter to hit the perfect target.

And so we wait. We wait?

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Words for issues not easily understood

Books and readers find each other. It may be the result of marketing schemes or lust, avid readers looking, hunting, searching. However it works readers make it. Sometimes readers find they’ve stumbled on a different perspective, created by the writer, who has the freedom to explore individual experiences, and the opportunity to show how experience trumps theory.

Nothing wrong with theory, think Foucault or Bakunin, think Angel Rama or Jose Miguel Oviedo, but literature must avoid theory. Literary theory is not literature. Writers can speak after the fact, they can review the land mines they stepped on or missed but that comes after the fact, after the reader has taken the time to read.

Writers need to avoid archetypes, and this I take from Juan Rulfo. I am not trying to create symbols, but developing a story plot where characters take on life, even if they are dead, even if they are from another planet, even if they are vampires. Think H.G. Welles, Edgar Allen Poe, Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley.

Words are a tool. We can speculate, lie, invent, but words cannot be taken for granted, our mastery of language is necessary, an obligation, a quest not easily understood. Words will not necessarily allow us in, they can keep us out. Words do not necessarily have a life of their own, but they do come to us through people, who can speculate, lie, invent, keep us in the dark, or create arcane worlds of words.

Literature has its own militant minority: humanity, people, life and its impositions, its possibilities. A writer can expose the misery of everyday life. Say Philip K Dick. This in no way means a writer is on the Left or the Right, or isn’t. It just leaves doors open to explore those who are fully committed to some form of institutional human experience. Think about Jorge Luis Borges or Jose Saramago, Cesare Pavese, Heinrich Boll.

Not everybody can use the written word to speculate, lie, invent, keep us in the dark, or create arcane worlds of words, and even fewer people can do it well. We need people committed to creating as part of our daily human routine. It isn’t far fetched to think that everybody can be creative. It’s just that some populists would put spontaneity in the same bag as patient and revised creative work. It is important to point out that creativity and art are not limited to the market, but in that same breath it is important to also understand that not all creativity is art.

Many, many people equate art and creativity with liberation. I think they should read Dylan Thomas, or study the portraits of Francis Bacon. Art can be a legitimate and vital exploration of human agony where long-term solutions do not exist. So many lives are an example of endless hopeless pain. Art must be able to take this on. Simply put in the end not every story or life has a happy ending.

I admire people that can turn a piece of lumber into a table. I admire welders and builders, weavers and glass workers, mechanics, and in our time electricians, hence my admiration for Bauhaus and trabajadores.

My link with them is that they can be evaluated based on the quality of their creation. The house stands up to the wind and can be lived in. Or not. The table can support weight and is pleasant to the eye. Or not. A writer must put together a text people can read and understand. I loathe people who think they are too smart and write for the illuminati.

The 20th Century jazz master Art Blakey once said that getting on stage and playing your modern vanguard piece and laughing at the audience’s perceived ignorance was dishonest and just plain bullshit. I think two enormous examples of fun and complexity are John Coltrane and Astor Piazzola. Julio Cortazar of course, por aquello de cronopios y famas.

Creating is not just about what I like, it’s about the meaning, open to the reader, the audience, the listener, and dancers. And creating is also about form. I must remember that the result could go beyond my aesthetics. I’ll try to make that happen, but it isn’t a given, I might not be able to create beyond self.

Even though we can all write a diary not everybody will produce a text that goes beyond his or her individual experience. That is an idea to kick around: ubiquity, totality, the ability to turn the private into public with a critical evaluation.

And critical not as an effort to point out mistakes but critical because we use a human individual situation to show in words the injustice, or fear, or pain, or anger, or laughter, or all of the above of self and others. Think Roberto Bolaño.

Finally there is language, paragraphs, sentences, words. I love words, I see them as collective beasts that come out of peoples experience and at certain times are the only link we have to who we are, where we’ve been and what we expect and dream. But words are unruly and demanding, they hide the path. A path we might find if we write with care and consistency.

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El video muestra la experiencia del programa VOCES NUESTRAS en Bolivia, realizada por el PCI-MEDIA IMPACT y el SECRAD de la Universidad Católica Boliviana con la metodología del Edu-Entretenimiento. El programa trató los temas: Pluralismo y Diversidad Humana, Derecho a la Comunicación e Información y Participación Ciudadana y Democracia. En su Radionovela CIUDAD ESPESA. (2099-2011). La Radionovela Ciudad Espesa ha sido realizada en los idiomas: ESPANOL, QUECHUA Y AYMARA.

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