Category: Travel

HistoryPoliticsTravel

Remembering Madiba in Cuba

Nelson Madela — affectionately known as Madiba — would have been 101 today. His impact on the world will be felt for generations to come and we can only guess how his life will ultimately guide our concept of leadership, the struggle for decency and humanity in the centuries to come. South Africa’s gift to humanity is that it is now a blueprint for what a multi-racial democracy should be. That it’s people was able to isolate and remove an anti-democracy president in the years since Madiba is a testament to how firmly it has taken root — the Economist ranks South Africa 40th in the world in terms of the health of democracy (another southern African country Mauritius scores significantly above the U.S.)

A year ago, we visited the Africa House in Havana, where there was an exhibit that explored Madiba’s connection to Cuba. I thought I would share some photos from our time there.

Today the United States is becoming again one of those countries spawns people like Madiba — people who are it’s soul, it’s children, it’s essence, for whom there is no alternative but to speak out, to act, to agitate, to transgress, to take back their humanity. Not because they hate it, because their life is the embodiment of the prayer and dream for what that place could be.

If you are a U.S. citizen and are Black, from Indian subcontinent, from the Caribbean, have ancestors who speak Spanish, are from the peoples who settled here 20,000 years ago, or one of the 100 million “marginalized” people of the country who are being told to “go back”, remember Madiba, remember Harriet Tubman, remember the Sudanese who are fearlessly standing up to bring freedom to their country. Remember that people like you were the reason that a semblance real democracy came to the United States in the first place. Remember that you birthed it in Wounded Knee and Selma. Be the beacon, be the light.

Lastly, there is something significant in Madiba’s structuring of the freedom struggle in South Africa as a collective movement of and for the people as opposed to a cult of personality centering the movement leader. It was hard not to think that through looking at the photo of Madiba and Fidel Castro. But it also is a lesson that freedom should not and cannot be delegated to a political party or it’s leaders, and that conversely tyranny is systemic (look beyond the MAGA hats). I end with a quote from Angela Davis

Even as Nelson Mandela always insisted that his accomplishments were collective—also achieved by the men and women who were his comrades—the media attempted to sanctify him as a heroic individual. A similar process has attempted to dissociate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. from the vast numbers of women and men who constituted the very heart of the mid-twentieth-century US freedom movement. It is essential to resist the depiction of history as the work of heroic individuals in order for people today to recognize their potential agency as a part of an ever-expanding community of struggle.

From an interview published at The Nation, https://www.thenation.com/article/qa-angela-davis-black-power-feminism-and-prison-industrial-complex/
inclusionPoliticsSocial JusticeTravel

Cuba as a prayer to inclusion

As the current administration of the U.S. continues to place restrictions on travel to Cuba, my heart aches, and my mind goes to back to amazing days that we spent in Havana and Trinidad last summer.

A year later, impressions remain with me. Walking the streets of Habana and Trinidad, one is left optimistic on what inclusion could be. As we traveled across half the island, and from one end of Habana to the other, I was struct by the absence of the “Black ghettos” — the all too familiar racial segregation that is imprinted on each and every U.S. city that I have ever visited.

I was struct by the fact that the resources, though humble, were shared by all across gender and color. People of different hues and ages did Tai Chi in the park. Occasional people on the street made sarcastic comments on the Castros or Trump, the bureaucratic inefficiencies, the resources constrained by the embargo.

But the generosities were unparalleled. The warmth is still in my heart.

Along the roads, I was struct by the absence of police. Or rather it was the absence of omnipresent force — of the signals that lethal violence is around the corner, trained on Black bodies. The occasional officer, there to mitigate traffic issues, no military grade automatic weapons, that’s what I needed for a vacation.

Seeing people with access to a basic burial, children able to attend a dance class without their parents having to defer due to money, people with access to a simple loaf of bread regardless of the meager cash on hand.

We saw families coming together to say their goodbyes.

I cannot unsee inclusion, I cannot unsee the basic respect for basic human dignity. I cannot unsee humanity in practice.

I hope that you visit soon.

HistoryPoliticsTravel

Austria as harbinger of change

Last night the, right-wing Austrian Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache resigned. He was allegedly videotaped asking a Russian citizen for donations in exchange for government contracts. It is a trope all too common in the democracy of my citizenship, tragically banal as mass shootings.

The impact in Austria was the apparent collapse of the current governing coalition of centrist+right parties. There were protests in Vienna, and the president has called for September elections. The people might need them sooner.

I hope that the elections bring about a political change that invokes the kind of open and forward thinking Austria, the kind of Europe even, that the world is desperately in need of.

Austria has no dearth of vision. The cover photo is of Ute Bock — a Vienna educator who worked on behalf of asylum seekers, especially with respect to educational opportunities, access to housing, and fairness in policing.

Bock’s legacy lives. When I arrived in Vienna, I encountered a poster featuring Katerina Anastasiou, top candidate of a coalition of the Green, Communist, and other leftist parties called KPÖ PLUS.

The agenda described on their website, emphasizes equal housing, job opportunities, and the dismantling of fascism. I’m too far removed for a subtle understanding of Austrian politics — I don’t even pretend to speak German — but the basic outline seems more in the line of public service than fascist money for favors.

To quote from one of Anastasiou’s recent speeches:

The Europe we want does not exist yet, but it lives in us!

So reminiscent of the last lines of Lincoln’s Gettysburg address

that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth

That the left is sounding a call for support of immigrants and access to housing is not surprising, I learned that they’ve been effective at it in Austria — Vienna at least since the early 20th century.

These are photos I took outside of the Karl Marx-Hof public housing complex, erected in the late 1920’s. To equate it with the oppressive housing complexes of the US is a sacrilege.

The day I visited, the grounds were vibrant. 20-somethings debated in the courtyard. In the steps leading to the entrance, the diversity of Vienna was on display, as Somalian, Bangladeshi, Middle Eastern, Turkish, Eastern- and Austrian-Europeans went about their way basking in the sun. Kebab vendors sold savories and outlined the veggie prospects to me.

As I entered the courtyard I encountered the following plaque

A testament to the 60 families, residents of the Marx-Hof, that had been executed by the Nazis in 1938 and 1939.

Austria’s gift to humanity is its ability to build from the memory of unspeakable horror. To help bring about that vision of the world to which we all aspire. I am with them as the continue the long march forward.

HistoryTravel

Stalinists in Georgia (the state)

We dined at the restaurant Lingenhel Käserei in Vienna on Wednesday night. It had an installation by the Georgian (as in Tbilisi) Helmut Spudich.

The title of the installation was “Georgia on my mind”!

This Op Ed by Stacey Abrams makes clear the case that the current government of the US State Georgia has been spinning into a one party, patriarchal, oppressive, racialist, and anti-democracy state for some time.

It is time to remove the would be Stalinists.