Wednesday, November 29, 2006

They Kept On Walking

Our taxi dropped us off at the checkpoint outside Nablus, so we could then walk through the checkpoint and take another taxi into the city. With the travel restrictions and hundreds of checkpoints everywhere, this is the way you have to travel, if you’re lucky enough to be allowed to travel at all.

There, on the outskirts of this ancient Palestinian city, as with every other city in the West Bank, was a heavily-armed gang of young Israeli men and women in green IDF uniforms. One of the men inspected my passport, and spent a few minutes trying to discourage me from entering Nablus. “It’s crazy in there. There are Arab terrorists. There are bombs every night. It’s not safe.” I thanked him for his warning, and thought to myself that he might have an entirely different experience in Nablus if he visited the city in a role other than that of occupation soldier.

We got into another taxi and drove towards the city center, passing one destroyed factory after another, bombed in 2002 when Israel invaded, leaving much of the city in ruins. Several of the factories used to make soap, Nablus was known for them, but no longer.

Inching along in gnarled traffic, we eventually got to the campus of An-Najah National University. I was to do a concert there that evening to a large and appreciative audience. Due to circumstances beyond my control, each organizer on my tour of Palestine had only a few days to put together a concert, and Saed Abu-Hijleh managed to pull it off brilliantly.

Contrary to the warnings of the Israeli soldier, I only met really nice people like Saed during my stay in Nablus. He was my age, in his late thirties, a good-looking man in a sports jacket. He greeted us warmly and together we walked across the campus to his office. As we passed hundreds of students and other people on this extremely crowded, bustling campus, it was obvious that Saed commanded a deep respect and admiration from everyone.

Saed is a professor, and administrator in charge of public relations. Under the current restrictions of the Israeli occupation, the only way he could potentially get out of Nablus would be on foot at great personal danger. He, and his car, are not allowed to leave the city. Before the Al-Aqsa Intifada, when travel was easier for most Palestinians, he had studied for nine years in Iowa City, and remembered his time there fondly.

We got to his small office, and Saed was showing me a lovely booklet one of his students had made with Arabic translations of some of my songs, which was to be handed out to everybody coming to the concert that night. There was a picture of a woman on his desk, and I asked him who she was. He explained to me that she was his mother, and she had recently been killed by Israeli occupation soldiers.

They had pulled up to the house where both of them lived, where he still lives, and opened fire. Saed didn’t know whether they meant to kill her or him. Her greatest crime was being involved with a program that distributed food to poor people in Nablus. His crime was being a prominent member of his community, and an eloquent critic of the occupation. Just the sort of voice the Israelis have a habit of silencing.

Later I asked Saed if he had considered trying to leave Palestine after his mother was assassinated. He seemed slightly annoyed at the question, and told me that everybody was a target. He pointed to various students nearby. “Him, her, him – they’re all targets. Why should I be the one to leave? I’m not special. These are my people, this is where I belong. I’m not leaving.” Along with the annoyance, there was a look on his face that I would describe as a sort of fierce compassion.

Events like the assassination of Saed’s mother are a daily occurrence under the Israeli occupation. You can read a blow-by-blow account on the website of the International Middle East Media Center from Bethlehem. Woman killed by Army as she tries to save man bleeding to death on her doorstep. Settlers beat girl to death in Hebron. 21 residents of Jenin rounded up and arrested by the Army. Electricity plant bombed by IDF, several towns without electricity or water. Pregnant woman and her baby die in childbirth, prevented by Army from reaching hospital. Helicopter gunship demolishes home, killing Hamas activist and family of seven. Two school girls shot by snipers as they sat at their desks in their classroom.

And for each person like Saed’s mother, there is someone like Saed, refusing to be cowed. For every school girl shot by Israeli snipers, there are a hundred more who still go to class the next day.

The daily carnage in Palestine rarely makes it into the corporate news media, but every once in a while developments are dramatic enough to warrant the reluctant attention of the New York Times. During the recent Israeli invasion (“incursion”) of Beit Hanoun in Gaza, there was a stand-off at a mosque. Sixty resistance fighters had taken refuge in it, trying to avoid being killed by Israeli tanks. The IDF had surrounded the building.

From the local radio station the call went out for women to come to the mosque and try to protect those inside, in the hopes that the Israelis wouldn’t massacre a crowd of unarmed women. Scores of women responded quickly to the call and walked in between the tanks and the mosque. The Israelis then proceeded to start firing with tank-mounted machine guns directly into the crowd of women.

One line in the Times’ article particularly caught my eye. Women were falling from the gunfire, many injured and screaming in pain, two dead, and dozens running from the scene in panic. Still other women, though, were doing something else. The Israelis were firing, their compatriots were falling all around them, but they kept on walking towards the mosque.

A few days later, Gaza once again made it into the Times. The Israelis had identified a house in Jabaliya as being inhabited by a resistance fighter. Of course, the house was also occupied by his entire extended family. And of course, his was a legitimate resistance against a brutal, illegal, horribly violent occupation. Nonetheless, the IDF was preparing to do to his house what they had done to thousands of other homes around Palestine – destroy it with missiles fired from an American fighter jet.

This time the IDF telephoned the house first and told everybody to get out, that the house would be destroyed. On countless other occasions, the Israelis have destroyed houses with no warning, or almost immediately after issuing a warning, while people were still in the house, and many people have died that way. Knowing this, the residents of the house refused to leave.

Instead, they called on the community to come join them, which they did. People packed into the house and on the roof, including the Palestinian Prime Minister Ismael Hanieh. Knowing that death was quite likely around the corner, the people stood their ground. This time, the IDF backed down, and left the house intact.

It’s in moments like these, and in the faces of people like Saed Abu-Hijleh, that you can get a glimpse of the dignity that pervades the spirit of the Palestinian people. As with the women outside the mosque in Beit Hanoun, as with the boys and girls defiantly returning to school day after day, as with those trying simply to live in their houses, the Palestinian people are increasingly faced with the reality that they have only two real choices. To stand their ground one way or to stand their ground another. To die the death of a martyr or to live the life of a hero.

Before I got to Palestine I was having dinner in Beirut with an older, well-respected Lebanese man who worked for the UN there. I asked him what he thought of Israel. His was a long-term, philosophical outlook, I suppose. “The Moors occupied Spain for 800 years, but eventually they were kicked out, because they didn’t belong there,” he said. “The Romans occupied Jerusalem for 700 years, but they were eventually kicked out, because they didn’t belong there. Israel has been a state for only 50 years.”

Whether it takes eight years or 800 years to end the Israeli occupation of Palestine, there will surely be many more martyrs like Saed’s mother. And just as surely, as long as there are Palestinians left alive, there will be many like Saed -- refusing to leave, standing up, there in what remains of Nablus when the occupation is finally defeated.

David Rovics is a singer-songwriter who tours regularly around North America, Europe and occasionally elsewhere. His website is

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

SOA Protests 2006

As usual, it was almost completely ignored by the corporate media. But once again, tens of thousands of people of conscience made what has become an annual pilgrimage to Columbus, Georgia, to protest a large terrorist training camp. The camp is located within Fort Benning, and once again, there we were outside one of the entrances to the military base, remembering the dead, hoping to prevent future deaths.

While some protests can resemble TV caricatures of a protest – such as those that ANSWER is generally responsible for, with endless hours of rhetoric blasting from the big stage and then everybody goes home – this protest is equal parts heart, mind and spirit. It’s theater, it’s a convention, it’s a permitted protest, it’s civil disobedience, and it’s a big series of small and large celebrations.

This was the 15th annual rally at Fort Benning, and I believe it’s the eighth that I’ve participated in. Times have changed, but the size of the rally has consistently grown through the years. This one was estimated to be the largest yet. There was no Indymedia Center this year, and other aspects of the anarchist youth scene that was so prominent several years ago were missing. The dilapidated condominiums that used to line the road on stage left were gone, with what used to be the front yards lined with a big fence reading “private property.” So the Catholic Worker hospitality house, the puppetistas’ staging ground, and the SOA Watch media office had to move to other, disparate locations, but still the sense of community among those who had come to Columbus for the weekend was palpable all over the city.

Every hotel in Columbus, as in previous years, was taken over for the weekend by the movement to close down the School of the Assassins. Large delegations from several Jesuit universities occupied the Sheraton. Pax Christi had their annual SOA get-together at Howard Johnson’s. The Columbus Convention Center was full of nonstop nonvioelence trainings, presentations on US foreign policy, screenings of new and old documentaries, and nightly concerts.

For many thousands of people every year it’s their first time at the annual protest, and many lives are changed profoundly. For them the weekend is an initiation, a gateway drug into the greater world, which will lead to years of activism, probably Spanish lessons, trips to Latin America, and a much more personal awareness of the fact that they are living in the center of an empire bent on global domination. For the first time, they hear stories from the survivors of torture and US-sponsored massacres. For them, the emperor is suddenly and forever naked.

For those of us who come most every year, it is a reunion. For many of us working on related issues but living in different parts of the country or the world, it is the only time each year that we see each other. For others it depends on what’s going on. Some of us may have seen a lot more of each other when the movement against the war in Iraq was in fuller swing, in 2003. For yet others, we saw more of each other when the movement against the IMF and the World Bank was still happening, before it began it’s slow decline after essentially being killed by Al Qaeda on 9/11.

But whatever else is or isn’t going on in terms of the progressive movement, there is always, it seems, the SOA. There are always more people coming to the protest, always a vibrant mix of young and old, Christian and atheist, spanning the political spectrum from liberal to anarchist. Staffing tables along the road to the gates of Fort Benning, there are always the familiar faces from CISPES, AFSC, and Witness for Peace. This year there are many new faces from Iraq Veterans Against the War, and the Common Ground Collective doing their invaluable work in New Orleans.

My favorite part of the whole thing is seeing so many of my fellow musicians. A strange thing about being a professional musician is you rarely see other professional musicians. Most of us make a living by touring, so anytime we’re in each other’s home towns, the other one is usually on the road, too. The times we get to see each other are at festivals and at protests. As with most other politically-obsessed musicians, they never let me play at the festivals, so I mainly get to see my musician friends at protests.

When Pete Seeger sang at the protest several years ago he called the movement to close down the SOA “the singingest movement since the Civil Rights movement.” This is surely the case (at least when we’re talking about the US). About every other person getting on the stage is a musician, or a group of musicians, singing new and old songs about making a better world. The calibre is generally very good, with folks like Charlie King and Karen Brandow, Jon Fromer, Francisco Herrera, the Prince Myshkins, Emma’s Revolution, Colleen Kattau, Chris Chandler, Anne Feeney, Dave Lippman, the Indigo Girls, Llatsasujo and the Chestnut Brothers being regulars. About half of the folks on my links page, there every year, all staying at the Day’s Inn with me! This year particularly featured the eloquent voice of Holly Near, and great musicians I had never heard before, such as Jose Saavedra. Other great musicians I had heard before but never met, such as Sara Thomsen. Others who only come now and then, but who add so much with their presence, such as Tao Rodriguez-Seeger.

After all the music, meetings, impromptu parties and reunions, the culminating event on Sunday took me by surprise, as it always does. I’m not a big fan of liturgical music, or songs from the 60’s that I’ve heard once too often over the years. Every time, I start out on Sunday with a sense of foreboding. Oh no, not another three-hour marathon of Gregorian Chanting. But then I get there and my reticence melts away. Like the thousands of young and old people standing around, taken by surprise by the intensity of the moment, sobbing unexpectedly, I am once again bowled over by the power of this ritual.

Slowly walking to the gates of Fort Benning are thousands of people, each holding a little white cross with the name of someone killed by a graduate of the SOA. On the stage are a few men and women, singing a few sparse notes in brilliant, somber harmony. They’re musicians, so the harmonies sometimes get a little more interesting than they need to be, sometimes resembling the Bulgarian Women’s Choir a bit, but this only adds to the power of the thing. They’re singing the names of the dead, and their ages, alternating between English and Spanish. So often they’re just children, often babies who are being remembered. After each name, we all sing the word, “presente” – present.

It’s 5:00 and the ritual is over, after a few more short speeches and songs. One of the organizers, Chris Inserra, announces that the 14th person has crossed the line through a hole in the fence. Thus, fourteen more people have joined the 283 before them, and are facing the possibility of a six-month jail sentence for trespassing on a military base. Father Roy Bourgeois, the founder of School of the Americas Watch, standing on the stage only fifty feet from his humble apartment right by the gates of Fort Benning (stage right, where the apartments still stand), says a few closing words.

The Democrats now control the Congress, but most of us are under the impression that we’ll see each other again next year. The empire needs it’s terrorist training camps. The US certainly can’t control Latin America through democratic means -- Venezuela and Bolivia have recently proven that.

The musicians and organizers all bid each other adieu. Speakers come and go, but the musicians generally all hang around backstage, so we’re mostly all there at the end of the day. Some folks are going off to spend Thanksgiving with family. Others are doing some more gigs in the area while they’re in the southeast. I’m sitting on this plane to go do another tour of Scandinavia. But whatever else happens, most of us will see each other next year at the gates of Fort Benning. Thousands of people will come from all over the US and elsewhere to protest. For many it will be their fourth, fifth or tenth time. For many others it will be their first protest anywhere, and their initiation into the progressive movement. And as usual, the mass media will be nowhere to be seen. At least some things are predictable.

The Plowshares 5 and the Raytheon 9

I drive off the ferry into the new Dublin. Much of it still looks like the old Dublin, before the EU and Celtic Tigerhood. The Liffey is still there, the foot bridges over it, the majestic buildings, the Winding Stair bookstore. I can still smell the sweat of the men marching to their deaths on the Easter Rising. Somebody on Grafton Street is still playing “The Foggy Dew” on uilean pipes. But the center of Dublin is a place for drunk college students and black-clad nouveau yuppies eating nouveau cuisine in nouveau restaurants. From what I’ve tasted it’s often the same guys who used to cook at Bewley’s who are now cooking in smaller kitchens, making smaller portions of the same food and charging a lot more money for it.

But other things haven’t changed. According to it’s constitution Ireland is a neutral country. Although it’s a member of the European Union, it hasn’t joined NATO, and there are people aiming to keep it that way. That night I’m doing a benefit for the Pitstop Plowshares, five men and women who are awaiting sentencing for their crimes. Their crimes were essentially trying to enforce Irish law when the Irish government wouldn’t.

These folks had noticed planes passing through en route to land at Shannon Airport that didn’t look like commercial planes. Upon closer inspection (accomplished easily enough by passing by the sleeping security guard watching over the airport), it turned out these were American warplanes refueling on their way to Iraq. When asked, the authorities told them these planes didn’t exist. When someone painted the planes’ windshields orange so they’d be a bit more visible, the authorities were embarrassed.

But the planes that officially didn’t exist also didn’t go away, and some people then engaged in what has become a long and honorable tradition. They took sledgehammers to the nosecones and other parts of some of the warplanes, causing millions of dollars in damage.

They were awaiting sentence when I saw them. They were preparing for what would likely be long jail sentences. But unusually, the judge had allowed international law to be brought into the equation, and the defendants were allowed to bring expert witnesses like Scott Ritter onto the stand and to talk about the illegality of the war in Iraq, how it was based on lies and all that. And as I was leaving Dublin the next day I heard on the radio that the Pitstop Plowshares 5 had been found not guilty.
As with a similar case in England ten years before, a jury had essentially found that what the government was doing was illegal, and what the activists did was an effort at law enforcement.

There was a general state of elation for a little while on the Irish left, it seemed, a little sense of vindication. And, not to rest on any laurels, the next day I’m watching the news in my hotel room and there’s a woman who came to the benefit in Dublin, getting dragged off by the cops for disrupting a speech of George Bush Sr. during his little visit to Ireland.

The last gig on my little Irish tour was in Derry, a lovely town which has also benefitted from Celtic Tigerhood. Among the new employers in town is Raytheon, where lots of software developers work. The Derry City Council was assured that no military-related work would be going on there. But word had gotten out that they were designing software for guided missiles, and Raytheon was a popular subject of conversation when I was passing through.

A couple months later I heard from my friend Fiachra, from Donegal (for which Derry was traditionally the capital city, before partition). He tells me that nine people, representing between them three different political parties, went into the Raytheon plant and started throwing computers and filing cabinets out the windows. It took the police eight hours before they got around to storming the place and arresting them. Perhaps smelling the wind after the acquittal of the Pitstop Plowshares, Raytheon has apparently been reluctant to press charges or otherwise publicize the event.

It’s enough to give one a momentary sense of optimism. With heroic people like the Pitstop Plowshares and the Raytheon 9, and sensible judges and juries like those that acquitted these sledgehammer-wielding women and men, who knows what could happen.

Syrian Influence

It’s all over the news, Pierre Gemayel has been murdered in Beirut. Gemayel was a member of the Phalange party, who’s pro-Israeli militia in 1982 carried out a massacre of thousands of Palestinian women and children in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. A lot of people are upset with the Phalangists since then, and recent developments haven’t helped. Namely the airborne demolition of the country by Israel last summer, which the Bush administration encouraged. Nonetheless, the corporate media is awash with President Bush announcing he will “stand by Lebanon.” It’s this sort of thing which often makes me wonder if people like him are living on a different planet from the rest of us, or some sort of parallel universe.

He could have stood by Lebanon when Israel bombed the country into rubble, erasing all the progress made during the post-war years, destroying it’s infrastructure, killing over a thousand people, one-third of them children, all on the pretext of two captured soldiers. But no, a Phalangist government minister has been assassinated, Syria is surely to blame for everything, and now we’re going to stand by Lebanon. All the talk is of Syria, and Syrian influence in Lebanon. Though the Syrian Army withdrew when the UN told them to, and were not in the country when Israel destroyed it, the talk is all about Syria.

I visited Lebanon just over a year ago. My friend Rana is from Beirut, and she has cousins all over the country – in her family there are Sunnis, Shia, Palestinians and Maronites. I saw as much of Lebanon in a week as it was possible to see. We visited a lovely castle that the Israelis bombed for good measure in 1996. We visited the liberated Khiam Prison, where we saw the tiny cages in which it was impossible to do anything but kneel, where they tortured those they suspected of being Hezbollah fighters. It looked just like some of the photos from Abu Ghraib. Former prisoners were giving tours of the prison. Children were having a karate test in one of the rooms that had been turned into a community center.

But Khiam Prison is now a pile of rubble, along with all of the bridges we crossed as we traversed Lebanon, north, south and central.

Condoleeza Rice actually talked about “the birth pangs of a new Middle East.” As babies were dying along with their mothers, asphyxiated in their mother’s arms, as in one photograph. As other babies were arriving stillborn in the hospitals from their traumatized mothers. As other women in labor were unable to cross bombed bridges to get to those hospitals. There’s that alternate reality again, I guess.

I heard a Lebanese woman speaking from Beirut on a community radio station in California. She was talking about a joke that was going around Lebanon during the Israeli bombardment. Feyrouz, the famous Lebanese singer, sings a song called “The Bridge.” The Israeli military called her up and asked, “Ms. Feyrouz, where exactly is that bridge you sang about?” It seems that one way Israel’s foreign policy could be summed up is, once you burn your bridges, the next thing to do is to bomb them.

As excited as I was to see Lebanon when I visited, and as busy as my tour of the country was, I was staying up late every night in my hotel room, following news on the internet and on television. A massive hurricane had hit New Orleans, thousands were dying, the levees had broke. The National Guard was busy participating in the imperial adventure in Iraq, and nowhere to be seen on the Gulf Coast. The money that should have been spent on maintaining the levees was instead spent on the war in Iraq, and on military aid for Israel, among other things.

I was in a hotel room in a city that was well on it’s way towards rebuilding itself back into the beautiful, vibrant city that it was, back into the cultural and tourist capital of the Middle East. Sitting in Beirut, writing about another coastal city, another cultural and tourist mecca, another once-beautiful city, now destroyed. And now Beirut has re-joined New Orleans in the club of destroyed cities.

The destruction of New Orleans, though, was at least partially a natural disaster. The destruction of Lebanon was completely man-made. Planned and executed by Israel, made possible by American merchants of death, and constant use of US veto power at the United Nations.

The heat-seeking missiles dropped on the hospitals, fuel depots, cars, and bridges were dropped by American-made bombers, flown by Israeli pilots. The depleted uranium shells that destroyed so many houses in so many towns were made in the US, fired by Israeli tanks. The million-odd cluster bombs littering the countryside are yet another US-Israeli collaboration. Each one the potential death of a Lebanese child playing in the wrong field at the wrong time, sometime in the next few decades.

Israel, and the US, were everywhere, wreaking havoc, slaughtering the innocent, collectively punishing and killing the people of Lebanon. Syria was nowhere to be seen. Except, perhaps, in some parallel universe.

A Few Days in Mexico City

I arrived in Mexico City just before the Day of the Dead. For many people it’s a Hallowe’en sort of celebration, but typically with far more original and elaborate costumes than you’d find in the US, at least anywhere outside New Orleans. For others the day is a time to remember the martyrs among the dead, especially the dozens killed in the past few months in Oaxaca. I had been planning the visit to Mexico City for weeks, not knowing that my friend Brad Will would become one of those martyrs two days before I got there.

My visit began at the home a wealthy Mexican businessman, a sort of distant relative, I’ll call him Senor P. I visited him in one of his several homes. One of his security guards let me in past the 10’ gate with electrified fence on top. His chauffeur was standing by the black SUV in front of the house. In the kitchen, his maid/chef was making lunch. Stunning paintings, photographs and sculptures were featured in every room, tastefully.

I found Senor P upstairs watching CNN on a very large TV screen. Hanging on a wall nearby was a captivating, surrealistic underwater landscape. We were attempting to have a civil discourse on safe subjects like somebody’s new baby or do I smell mole sauce coming from kitchen, when I made the mistake of mentioning that the journalist from New York City who was just killed in Oaxaca City was a friend of mine.

Senor P became visibly agitated, and in a tone of voice somewhere between a blurt and a growl, he said “You knew him? He deserved to die! It’s good that he was killed. He was meddling in Mexican affairs. He should have stayed in New York.” He went on to describe the spokesperson for APPO (the umbrella group for the popular movement in Oaxaca) as an Orangetang. He said that some rich woman in the PRI was “inciting” the indigenous people there. The subtext: poor people couldn’t possibly be organizing the social movement that was running Oaxaca City on their own. He said they didn’t know what they were doing, had no idea what they wanted or what they were talking about.

I left there and took a cab to the San Jacinto neighborhood, infamous home of the Saint Patrick Battalion. I was staying there with my friend Fiachra, from Ireland, who is living there, getting his Master’s in Latin American literature. Things are mixed together in Mexico City, and around the corner from Fiachra’s humble apartment is a long, cobblestone street lined with mansions. Just beyond that is a beautiful old stone church with a large, peaceful courtyard in back, full of trees and little stone walking trails. In the front, facing the square in the center of the neighborhood, was a plaque erected in 1959 in memory of the San Patricios, the Irish men who deserted from the US Army and joined the Mexican Army during the 1846 invasion of Mexico. Fiachra pointed out that one of the names on the list was Polish. Neither of us had ever heard of the Polish contingent of the battalion.

Fiachra took me on a lovely walk through colorful neighborhoods, parks full of purple flowers, past museums and into the bowels of Mexico City’s bustling subway system. November 1st is the Day of the Dead for children, November 2nd is for the adults, so there were little kids and their parents dressed up brilliantly, hitting everybody up for money all over the city. We got out in the center of town. Amidst the impressive, ornate government buildings, churches and vast public spaces were thousands of people who had set up camp and were there to stay a while. Many of them had walked there from Oaxaca earlier in the month.

The electric atmosphere was reminiscent of many of the protests against the IMF, World Bank and such around the world. People were busy. Everybody was doing something. Cooking with big pots, making coffee, staffing the media centers set up with computers, printers, fax machines, getting power from somewhere, having meetings, giving lectures from behind booths with audiences intently listening. The difference was that these were mostly poor people from rural Oaxaca, not middle-class college students like at the protests up north.

A cultural event was going on nearby, which happens every evening starting at 5. It was going on right across the street from the foreign ministry building, on a large, very public street. Having such events was clearly both an effort to keep up morale among those in the struggle, and to reach out to the wider population passing by. A quartet of men and women were harmonizing on the stage, energetically playing instruments clearly in the guitar family but smaller. Even as a non-Spanish speaker I could see that there was immediate political content in many of the lyrics -- there is a distinctive kind of collective yell that comes from audiences reacting to lyrics with immediate political content, whether it’s New York or Prague or Mexico City.

Fiachra and I struck up a conversation with a man from the APPO. Like so many of the people there, he was a Zapotec Indian speaking Spanish as a second language. Assuming we didn’t know what everybody was doing there, he patiently explained what APPO was all about. He said the government is corrupt, and the teacher’s union has to strike every year in order for the teachers to get paid anything. He said the people of Oaxaca don’t want corrupt, authoritarian governments, free trade agreements and new highways -- they want an egalitarian allocation of resources, egalitarian distribution of the land and wealth, and socialism. Sounded to me like he was pretty clear on the way forward.

A Mexican woman who has lived in California for the past 30 years sang next. She had a big voice with a wide range. She sang about the struggle of the people being like the struggle of a migrating bird to reach the shore. Very optimistic imagery, I thought, since the birds usually make it. I was talking with her before she went on stage. Like several others there, she had met Brad recently in Oaxaca. He interviewed her just days before he was shot to death by the paramilitaries, camera in his hand.

I sang my song about the San Patricios, receiving the sort of polite but unenthusiastic response I’ve come to expect from audiences who don’t speak the language I’m singing in. I was trying to gracefully exit the stage and let somebody else sing in a more familiar language, but the organizers kept on getting me to sing more songs. Eventually I rejoined the crowd. Now a man was singing and playing the sorts of complex, eloquent guitar riffs of someone who, I guessed, has probably listened to more than a few Silvio Rodriguez albums.

Two other people introduced themselves to Fiachra and I. They were also Zapotec. The man was a striking school teacher, and his wife was a doctor. Talking with this couple, I thought of Senor P, and something Fiachra had said about people like him, how their motto could be “Don’t let the tide in, I like my sand castle.” It occurred to me that Senor P might do well to meet some of these people sometime before the oceans rise. But, sadly, I have no doubt he’ll keep on hiding in his mansion as long as he possibly can.

"Eulogy" for Brad Will

brad will was a dear friend, and a true revolutionary. he died the way countless and uncounted numbers of beautiful people have died in recent centuries -- he was shot in the chest by rightwing paramilitaries. he was filming the scene around one of thousands of barricades that have shut down oaxaca city since last june, when the governor there tried to ban public expressions of dissent, thus throwing one more historical spark into one more historical powder keg.

brad embodied the spirit of indymedia. he was not just covering stories that the "mainstream" press ignores, such as the exciting, violent revolutionary moment which has gripped oaxaca for several months now. brad was not risking his life to get a good shot of a confrontation at a barricade because he might get a photo on the cover of a newspaper, get some (perhaps well-deserved) fame and money -- he was posting his communiques on indymedia, for free.

sure, brad was filming in order to cover history. but he was there also to make history. brad knew that a camera is a weapon, or hopefully a shield of some sort, and sometimes can serve to de-escalate a situation, to protect people from being violated, beaten, killed. and brad knew that if the independent media didn't document history, nobody else would.

brad deeply appreciated the power of music and culture. if he didn't have a camera in his hands, he often had a guitar. during some of his many travels around latin america he wrote emails to me about the musicians he met, with whom he shared my songs and recordings. he particularly liked my song "saint patrick battalion," and reportedly shared his rendition of it with lots of people. he would not live to know just how much his life and death would resemble the san patricios, who died fighting for mexico during the first u.s. invasion of that country in the 1840's.

through all brad did and saw on large swaths of three different continents, he somehow continually brought with him a boundless enthusiasm and obvious love of life, love, a good party, or a good riot. he was my favorite kind of person, my favorite kind of revolutionary -- the sort who is just as comfortable talking about revolutionary theory, current events, music, relationships or smoking a bowl on a manhattan rooftop at sunset. the kind of person who is alive, in mind, body and spirit, in equal proportions.

brad became a radical long before it was briefly fashionable in the u.s. (with the wto protests in seattle), and long since it became unfashionable there (september 11th, 2001). the kinds of tactics and politics that the global justice movement became briefly known for were practiced by people like brad in the squatters' movement in new york city and the radical environmental movement on the west coast in the 1990's. brad was in both places and many more. brad was somewhere near the ground floor of many other more recent anarchist institutions -- food not bombs, critical mass, reclaim the streets, guerrilla gardening, indymedia. he saw the connections, deeply understood the concept of "the commons," and went for it, as an activist, a videojournalist, a musician and a cheerleader.

i never knew brad's last name until he was murdered. for me he was just brad. in my cell phone he was "brad nyc" (to distinguish him from another good friend named brad, who lives in baltimore). i don't remember talking with him much about his past, where he grew up, how he became a revolutionary, though we may have talked about that sort of thing. but generally i saw him in the course of events, whether it was a film showing/concert on a brooklyn rooftop, a land occupation in the bronx, or, just as often, a large demonstration against an evil financial institution somewhere in the world.

i've sung at many such events, and brad has been at most of them -- and he's been present at many which i didn't make it to. they're all such a blur, i don't remember which ones anymore. but the many encounters always start out with a warm smile and a hug, and usually involve some kind of chaos going on, with brad comfortably in the middle of it. sometimes -- all too rarely, i suddenly realize -- the encounters would continue after the chaos subsided, and we could be in a quiet place with a small group of people, chilling and talking about life, my favorite bits.

there have been many debates about whether it is more useful to organize large events or to focus on community organizing locally. whether to focus on recording history or making it. whether to educate or to act. whether to have a party or have a meeting. brad clearly decided that the correct answer is "all of the above." the reality of this is easy to demonstrate -- talk to anybody in new york city involved with just about any aspect of the progressive movement. it's a city of 8 million people, but if they are serious participants in the more grassroots end of the movement, they know brad. though they may not have known his last name. he's just brad, the tall, thin guy with long hair who is often flashing a warm, gentle smile with a compassionate, intelligent glint in his eye. he's often described with a connector like "brad from indymedia" or "brad from more gardens" or "brad the musician."

i haven't seen him in a while. several months at least. but suddenly i miss him so much. i miss hanging out with him in the lower east side, chilling at his place there, swapping stories. i miss the rejuvinating warmth of his presence. i miss the unspoken, mutual admiration. i miss the feeling that i was in the presence of someone who so deeply felt his connection to the world. the feeling that here was someone who would die for me, and me for him, no questions asked. and now, like so many others before him, he's done just that.

like all of the rest of us, over the generations his memory will fade and eventually disappear. but for those of us alive today who had the honor of being one of brad's large circle of friends, his memory will be with us painfully, deeply, lovingly, until we all join him beneath the ground -- hopefully only after each of us has managed to have the kind of impact on each other, on the movement, and the world that brad surely had in his short 36 years.