Loyal to the Sky: Notes from an Activist

Views: 1263
Ratings: (0)

In this personal and political narrative, Salon.com journalist and anti-globalization activist Marisa Handler offers readers both a compelling coming-of-age memoir and eye-opening insights into what's really going on inside the global justice movement.

List price: $24.95

Your Price: $18.71

You Save: 25%

 

13 Slices

Format Buy Remix

One: Cape Town

ePub


Lunchtime at Camps Bay Primary School is when things tend to go severely wrong. Outside the structure of a syllabus, beyond the rigorous scrutiny of our teachers, I reliably blunder. These forty-minute daily ordeals typically consist in no small portion of us prattling about what our parents prattled about over the last night’s supper table. Election time is no different.

“Who are your parents voting for?” Joan turns to Catherine first. Joan is my best friend, and the only girl who can legitimately kick my ass at the hundred-meter sprint. Of course, going to an all-white public school does cut out a good chunk of the competition.

“The Nats, obviously.” Catherine nibbles delicately on the edge of her sandwich. Blond, green-eyed, and irritatingly demure, Catherine is the resident beauty in Standard 4P, Camps Bay Primary. At least half of the boys sitting on the other end of the playground spend lunchtime gazing at her with unadulterated longing. I, on the other hand, wend my way from one humiliating, clumsy crush to the next. Any attention I do get from boys is strictly limited to my skinny legs or massive, unwieldy glasses. Following the purchase of our house in Camps Bay, a sleepy beach suburb of Cape Town, my parents had been feeling a tad pinched when it came to finances. My mother succeeded in convincing my sister and me that her old frames were just perfect for us. Given that my vision verges on legally blind, the abnormally thick, oversized lenses make for a fearsome sight.

 

Two: The Valley

ePub


“Hey you! Chica! You!”

He is whistling at me. I keep walking rapidly. Where is homeroom again? Yes, B13, on the other side of the campus. That way, I need to go toward the central lawn and then—

“Hey, you! Girl, I’m talkin’ to you!”

Followed by a sodden trill of kisses. People are starting to look. I scurry along, head down. I hate this school. Every single one of my six classes is in a different location. Portola Junior High is roughly the size of seven Camps Bay Primaries put together. It’s my third day and I still get lost trying to find my classes.

“You! Baby! Turn aroun’!”

The hallways are clearing as the six-minute passing period ticks to a close. A good proportion of those who remain pause to take in the unfolding theatrics. I scan the faces around me anxiously. They are, to a last one, untarnished by empathy. Not a single face is familiar. No one to stand up for me. It would be impossible to know everybody here, or even a tenth of everybody. Who ever dreamed of putting two thousand kids into one school?

 

Three: Jerusalem

ePub

33


I have been living in Jerusalem for over nine months before I venture into its other half. I’ve thought about visiting East Jerusalem, but no one in my program has done so thus far. We have been warned against it. My year in Israel is approaching its close when a new friend, Gillian, suggests it. Gillian is from Montreal. She is tiny, with long ropes of hair and a brand of defiance that is at once familiar and a little daunting. Most of the time I can’t decide whether I want to follow her or argue with her.

“Let’s go into East Jerusalem,” she says to me one day. We are sitting on a bench just outside Hebrew University’s Rothberg International School, where most of our classes are held. It is a glorious day, the sky an azure-glazed bowl. Students flow around our bench and out to lunch in an ebbing tide, enveloping us in a menagerie of clanging American accents. I resent that I spend most of my time in Israel surrounded by other North Americans. Without fail, on weekends I flee the campus.

 

Four: Nepal

ePub


The women of Pathan are washing their laundry.

Dip, smear with soap, scrub, dip, swish, knead. Dip, smear, scrub, dip, swish, knead. Then a muscular wring and reach behind, to a growing mound. And ahead, to an eroding knoll. Dip, smear, scrub. Barefoot, squatting in bright salwar kameez above tin tubs. Dip, swish, knead. Working quietly, breaking rhythm only to borrow a neighbor’s clay-colored soap ball, or tender a lean limb of conversation. Dip, smear, scrub. The washing place is a sunken stone courtyard adjacent to a temple. Centuries of gentling by water and feet have worn its rocks smooth. Dip, swish, knead. A stream gushes from the side of the temple into a trough in the square, giving way instantly to extravagant suds, iridescent pinks and purples glistening voluptuous in the early evening light. Dip, smear, scrub. Occupying the center of this courtyard—as with most—is a shrine, a small cement replica of the temple, surrounded by oil candles and festooned with the vivid litter of devotion: smears of tikka red, plucky yellow marigolds. Dip, swish, knead, wring, reach—

 

Five: India

ePub

71


A boy of about eight is riding an adult-sized women’s bicycle. The seat is far too high for him, so he hovers as he rides, bottom angled out over the left side of the bike. His left foot works the left pedal while his right leg extends between the bars to push the right pedal. I watch from the garden where I sit, on an agricultural ashram I am visiting several miles outside of Bangalore. The dirt road he travels becomes a bridge of sorts, a mud dike elevated between two shallow bodies of water. The sun is behind him, and I squint watching his silhouette framed and reframed against the unforgiving midday light. I am holding my breath, convinced he will topple at any second. But this lopsided contraption, boy and bike in baffling harmony, perseveres. It shouldn’t work. He is heavily weighted on the left side, and his arms barely reach the handles. But somehow it does. As he approaches, strains of a hugely popular Bollywood hit waft toward me over the heat’s assault. He is whistling.


India. Nothing in this subcontinent of over a billion seems to work. Buses break down with near-clockwork regularity, trains leave dependably late or occasionally early. Post offices lack stamps. Gas stations run out of gas. You pay for one thing and get something else entirely—and invariably delivered with great pride. Tradition tussles with modernity, democracy wrestles with caste, Indian-produced Thumbs-Up dukes it out with global goliath Coca-Cola. The Hindus despise or endure the Muslims. The Muslims—a largely moderate minority of 130 million—struggle at coexistence. Meanwhile Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Christians, and even a few Jews busily carve out their own customized niches.

 

Six: Anytown, USA

ePub

91


“Water! Water over here, please.” I dash over with a water bottle, hold it up to Tom’s mouth as he swallows. “Enough?” He produces a grunt that sounds more like a yes than a no, so I pull the bottle back.

“Thanks.” He grins up at me briefly, then returns to the work at hand, brow folding, jaw working: “Occupation is a crime, Israel out of Palestine! Occupation is a crime…”

There are around a hundred of us, chanting vigorously. “Security for Israel requires Justice for Palestine” reads one sign. “A Jewish Voice for Peace” reads another. I am happy to see these folks here. And bobbing about on the edges: “Occupation Is Apartheid.” My friend Carwil is manning the microphone, airy afro abounce as he squires the masses, placid as ever amid the chaos. Our action is targeting the U.S. government, so we chose the Oakland Federal Building as our site. Its atrium is a massive, rounded, glassed-in affair, and the acoustics prove little less than deafening. Across the circle, Kate, one of the media spokespeople, is giving an interview to local radio station KPFA. She yells into the microphone as the interviewer nods intently, pressing her earphones closer to her ears. Beside me, Drew is getting a massage, emitting the odd groan in pleasure. One lockbox over, Lauren feeds Steve a spring roll, wiping his chin with a napkin and catching the shreds of sprouts and carrot that don’t quite make it. It’s lunchtime. All around the circle, those on “support” are gently plying with food those who have opted to risk arrest.

 

Seven: San Francisco

ePub

115


“Listen, I have to say that I have pretty strong feelings on this one. There’s no question in my mind: we really need the ‘the’ in there.”

“I know you have strong feelings about this, Jumble, and I also feel strongly. The ‘the’ makes it way too specific. We aren’t only about this war. We’re about all war, right?”

“Jill. Just think for a minute, please. We are talking about war in Iraq here. We aren’t talking about Vietnam or Afghanistan. People aren’t going to get out in the streets over some war. They’re going to mobilize around Iraq.”

“Are you trying to build a movement destined to self-destruct? Is that what you’re doing? Because then you’re on the right path, my friend. I’m just thinking about the future. Holding the long-term vision here. ‘Direct Action to Stop War.’ It has a nice ring to it, don’t you think? I mean, come on people, that says it all. We’re against war, period. Right? Or am I at the wrong meeting?” Jill looks about for support. The other six people who are neither Jill nor Jumble gaze steadily at the table or the walls. We’ve been sitting here for two hours and the “the” debate is now hitting the twenty-minute mark. Initially there were a number of robust contenders, but now only Jumble and Jill remain in the ring.

 

Eight: Miami

ePub

133


Run, Marisa, run. Go. Go. Go. Faster. Keep running.

There is no other line of thought in my brain. The panic stretches so wide it exiles all but the nonessential. Run. Run. I am clutching my sign, my backpack is jogging hard against me, and it will be simply a matter of luck if I don’t slam into another runner. Sirens shriek. I am surrounded by choppy swells of black, a surging swarm of sprinters veering at manic angles. Cops at the jagged edges of the beast, prowling. Run. I’m not sure why, but I must keep running, can’t be left behind. Go. Faster. Move. Can’t see much in front: just bobbing heads. Behind: generous crescents of white around the eyes, pink Os of mouths.

Can’t—get—quite—enough—oxygen.

“Run!” someone is screaming, as if we weren’t already, as if hundreds of pairs of lungs weren’t already aflame. “Run!” Rape! Fire! Murder! they may as well be howling. Panic stabs through the crowd, and the pace picks up. Somewhere in the conjoined brain of this terrorized animal the primal impulse to flee has been slumbering; once aroused it is overwhelming, irresistible, familiar. A cheer arises from my left. On a window glints the strident black of a fresh-scrawled anarchy sign. Running through the streets of Miami with the Black Bloc: not what I pictured when I contemplated going to Miami to protest the FTAA.

 

Nine: Sarayacu, Ecuador

ePub

153


“Once, there were many sabios here. They were very pure. They were able to transform into snakes and tigers. They knew everything—sickness, healing, they understood it all.” Atanacio Sabino Gualinga Cuji, a shaman himself, is giving me a crash course on three and a half centuries of Sarayacu history. His gaze is piercing, unbending from eyes blued by cataracts, eyebrows riotous as the jungle floor. “Then the Christians came to convert us. Then the companies came to drill for oil.” He shakes his head. “In ’35 Shell came and put a pipeline in. Before, there were lots of fish, turtles, alligators. After, nothing was left. Everything died from oil.”

Atanacio is tiny, earnest, serene. His hair is oiled and neatly combed, his goatee white-filamented, his checkered shirt clean and pressed. We are sitting in his yard on two well-worn stump-stools, beneath the cool relief of palm-thatch. He looks beyond me to where Mario, my host here, sits with his wife, chatting in tempered tones, sipping homemade chicha. “I saw it. Everything died.” He considers the sweat-polished wood of his walking stick, propped scepterlike beside him. “There is money. But here there are marvels. Here we have pure air. Here women can walk freely.” He giggles, now a mischievous six-year-old dropping a punch line. “We only have to watch out for the snakes.” Then he’s abruptly somber again, with all the burden of his seventy-odd years. “The oil corporations—they want to kill everything here. They don’t understand. They live apart from real knowledge. We wouldn’t want that kind of knowledge.” Atanacio pauses as a tame toucan—the family pet—dashes boldly at us, formidable beak parted in an ear-splitting screech. He tosses it a nut. “We want to maintain our culture and identity. My role is to maintain the consciousness.” He looks past me, past the palm fronds, into the legendary mar verde of Amazonia. Quietly, now: “The earth is our mother and father. We can’t sell our mother and father.”

 

Ten: Urubamba, Peru

ePub


“Adiós amigos! Take care!”

Pablo and Campbell stand waving on the riverbank, growing smaller and smaller against the long, skinny curve of bridge and the stocky cement houses. Ivochote: the last town in Peru’s southeastern Amazon reachable by road, where last night we sat eating sopa de gallo as Arnold Schwarzenegger gunned down terrorists on a forty-inch TV and half the tiny town watched blank-eyed, squatting in front of the screen or hunched over the wall or reclining luxuriantly at tables over their pricey desserts. Across the street blared the competition: here the other half of the town sat, squatted, or hunched as Sylvester Stallone stalked his prey. “What do you think they did before TV?” asked Campbell. “Talked?”

Ivochote, being the jumping-off point into the remote lower Uru-bamba region, has made a modest mint since the Camisea Gas Project began. Or at least its two inns have.

Pablo and Campbell are still waving and hollering their good-byes. I will miss them. It astonishes me, traveling alone, how quickly strangers become family. Even after a few days shared, I miss new friends abjectly when we part. I wave until they are the size of my fingernail, then turn around, leaning into the wind, and settle onto my bench. I watch with satisfaction as the blade of our motorboat slices neat through the obliging glide of the Río Urubamba.

 

Eleven: New York

ePub


It is Thursday, September 2, 2004, the final day of the Republican National Convention. George W. Bush is about to accept his renomination. He will thank the delegates for their support and speak of the American soldiers who have charged through sandstorms and liberated millions.

Hundreds of demonstrators have gathered in Union Square tonight, huddled over candles flickering in jars and paper cups, keeping vigil, silent or praying or sharing stories. A single saxophone moans in sluggish sobs. Meanwhile we in Code Orange are staging some guerrilla theater of our own.

We move slowly through the crowd in a single-file line, timing our steps with the person in front. Left, pause. Right, pause. Our hands behind our heads or joined behind our backs. Gags over our mouths reading RNC and CORPORATE MEDIA. Signs on our chests spelling out PEACE and DEMOCRACY, HEALTH CARE and EDUCATION. People stare at us and whisper. We snake through the plaza for a while before pausing at the front, where we spread out in a line at the top of the stairs and stand immobile. We are silent, our eyes fixed ahead. Passersby point and snap photos.

 

Twelve: Fort Benning, Georgia

ePub


Have you ever stuck around after they’ve all gone home? After the march has passed through, the rally run its course? There isn’t a whole lot left. Papers littering the ground announcing upcoming events, pleading for a wealth of good causes. Posters pimpled with the imprint of street and sole, leaflets tattered and grimy. Trash cans towering, cathedral-like, amid variegated landscapes of aluminum and plastic, a topography molded from the drained and consumed. Wind shuffling these crumbs about, or stillness amplifying their silence. These intersections are the loneliest of poems, the ghostliest of towns. Everyone gone back to their bunkers to wrestle with the same doubts and the same people they wrestled with the night before. The echo of songs and speeches, of outrage and hope and entreaty, bouncing against the concrete and glass like rubber balls in a lockbox.

Later the city’s forces will emerge—those forces that tidy and groom the apparatus being protested—to clean it all up. Laborers who can’t afford to live in the city they clean will sweep away what remains, and the next day the apparatus will trundle on, humans in tow like ducklings. One day closer to demise. Nothing lasts forever, and that which consumes its own flesh falls a good deal short of forever.

 

Discussion Guide

ePub

 

Details

Print Book
E-Books
Slices

Format name
ePub (DRM)
Encrypted
true
Sku
9781609943653
Isbn
9781609943653
File size
0 Bytes
Printing
10 times
Copying
Disabled
Read aloud
Yes
Format name
ePub
Encrypted
No
Printing
Allowed
Copying
Allowed
Read aloud
Allowed
Sku
In metadata
Isbn
In metadata
File size
In metadata