Which came first, the prayer or the bomb? (a poem)

My God is bigger than your God
My weapons are bigger than your weapons
Because my God is bigger than your God
My country is wealthier than your country
Because my weapons are bigger than your weapons
My God is bigger than your God
Because my country is wealthier than your country

God likes the United States more than other countries
Because God helps those who help themselves
And no country helps itself to other countries’ wealth like the United States
God likes a winner
And the United States is the biggest winner since the Roman Empire
God liked the Roman Empire
Even though it used to persecute the church
But in the end the Romans made the church official
And then the church replaced the Romans
So it all worked out in the end

Roman Empire gladiatorsIt is possible to know what God wants
God speaks through the Republican Party platform
The platform says it represents God
Therefore what God wants is in the Republican Party platform
God gives the country with the most believers the most weapons
Because believers are the most likely to use the weapons
And then there will be less believers in other countries
So it will be easier to take those other countries’ wealth
Proving that the country with the most wealth
Has the most believers
And therefore is the best country
It is easy to believe

Happy holidays, everybody. And if you happen to be in New York on January 1, drop by the Nuyorican Poets Cafe for the annual Alternative New Year’s Day Spoken Word/Performance Extravaganza, from noon to 9 p.m. It’s free!

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The magic of the market comes to a national park near you (a poem)

The yuppie couple in the tent next door
Bring in their take-out pizza
Despite all the warnings against keeping food after dark
That’s good
Because if the bears come
They’ll attack their tent and not mine
Though the bears ought to get paid for making an appearance
Since this is a for-profit park
I don’t know what the government would do
If Yosemite stopped being profitable
One concessionaire already controls everything in the park
Would it be allowed to foreclose?
Maybe this is the first step in privatizing the parks
And then it’ll be made so expensive to visit
That only yuppies and the rich will be able to stay there
We’ll sneak into the park disguised as rangers
Then plant food inside the tents to draw out the bears
Putting new meaning into the concept of “eat the rich”

Too much of this will get the bears fired
No one will have civil service protection once the parks are fully privatized
Certainly not the bears
It would be a sad sight to see bears in the unemployment office
With few options
They might wind up in the military
Hopelessly out of their element in the desert
Unless this is seen as an acclimation program for the bears
Under full privatization
Parks will reach their full profit potential
All the hunting licenses that can be sold would be sold
The trees cut down
Until the parks are reduced to desert
And now the bears can come home
When their tours of duty in the desert are finished
Because they will now be acclimated for the parks

With nothing left but barren ground and a few disgruntled bears
Who are hungry too because there is nothing left to scavenge
The land will be of no use except as target practice for the military
And the bears will already be used to bombs dropping
A new way to see the nation
Bomb Yosemite! Bomb Yellowstone! Bomb Arcadia!
The psychological benefits of parks bombing will be immeasurable
If you can bomb your own parks
Bombing other countries will be even easier
Making it easier to export these ideals
More humanitarian bombing will lead to new privatized governments elsewhere
Which will sell bombing rights to their parks cheaper
Enabling the military to cancel its national parks leases
There will finally be no more profits to be made
The private parks company will sell the parks back to the government
They will again be open to all
Which will be fine by the rich
Since they won’t be interested in traveling to a wasteland
And the newly admitted will plant a tree

Happy holidays to you all. If you are in New York City on New Year’s Day and like poetry, considering coming to The Alternative New Year’s Day Spoken Word/Performance Extravaganza, taking place from 2 p.m. to midnight at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, 326 East Third Street. It’s free and more than 100 poets will preform.

The humanity of resistance can’t be erased by a Pinochet or a Friedman

I have long felt haunted by the fate of Chile. I can’t help but feel a strong attachment because the people who were involved, and “disappeared,” tortured and killed, were me and many of my friends and fellow activists.

Not literally, for I was a boy in 1973 and lived on another continent. But if I were then, and there, who I am now, I would have shared the fate of Chileans who believed a better world was possible.

Today is the 40th anniversary of the Pinochet coup. The first “9/11.”

La Moneda 9-11-73I continue to be struck by the fact that participants in the government of Salvador Allende freely apologize for their mistakes. It is no revelation to say President Allende’s Popular Unity government was not perfect. It was full of people who previously had been shut out of political participation — is it reasonable to expect perfection from them? But contrast their thoughtful reflection with the behavior of the coup plotters and those who took up posts in Augusto Pinochet’s murderous 16-year reign.

No apologies. Nothing.

It is to the credit of those who reflect on what they could have done better, who are moved to publicly acknowledge mistakes, particularly in actions or speeches that, intentionally or not, served to throw up barriers to participation by those in mild opposition or sitting on the fence. Their humanity is there for us to see. Where is the humanity of those who killed, those who tortured, those who willingly served a régime that inflicted casualties in massive numbers and hurled millions more into poverty?

The Pinochet coup was the first application of “shock therapy.” The intellectual author of this shock, Milton Friedman, repeatedly used the word “shock” in advising General Pinochet to apply a maximum of pressure, helpfully reprinting a letter he sent to the dictator in his book, Two Lucky People: Memoirs.

Friedman needed believers just as he needed the dictator to implement his ideas. That such ideas need force is exemplified in a revealing interview conducted by Patricia Politzer in her book Fear in Chile: Lives Under Pinochet. In a 1984 interview, an enthusiastic supporter of the régime and self-proclaimed “Chicago Boy” estimated that 80,000 to 100,000 had been killed — a figure, amazingly, he found acceptable because of the dictatorship’s “honest principles that I shared.” This Pinochet supporter declared that “sometimes democratic regimes suffer from too much freedom” in explaining why he applauded the ouster of the elected Allende government, later saying that “freedom ought to be restricted.”

Let us not dishonor those to whom the shock was applied by forgetting. Another story told by Ms. Politzer is that of a communist woman repeatedly arrested, beaten and tortured, as was her husband. One day in prison she was dragged into a torture room, where her husband had cold water thrown on him so that he would regain consciousness and the torture could be resumed. She recounts these grisly details from one session:

“They applied the electric prod to [her husband’s] penis, to his anus, to his eyes. … it was terrible. I knew what was happening from his awful screams and the way he was moving … every scream went straight to my soul. But I didn’t move or express anything. I was suffering enormously, as if they had my heart and they were squeezing and squeezing it. … The only prayer I had was that they wouldn’t go too far with the torture. That he wouldn’t die.”

The authorities had concocted false charges against the couple; the torture was intended to force a false confession.

The obligation of a poet

Let us remember Pablo Neruda, whose house at Isla Negra was ransacked by soldiers and some of his manuscripts destroyed immediately following the coup. He died only two weeks later, apparently silenced via a poison administered by an agent posing as a doctor. The opening of his poem, “Poet’s Obligation,” perhaps provides us one clue as to why the great poet was seen as a danger:

“To whoever is not listening to the sea
this Friday morning, to whoever is cooped up
in house or office, factory or woman
or street or mine or harsh prison cell;
to him I come, and, without speaking or looking,
I arrive and open the door of his prison,
and a vibration starts up, vague and insistent,
a great fragment of thunder sets in motion
the rumble of the planet and the foam,
the raucous rivers of the ocean flood,
the star vibrates swiftly in its corona,
and the sea is beating, dying and continuing.”

Let us remember Victor Jara. The popular singer and songwriter suffered repeated beatings in a sports stadium turned into a concentration camp, then had his hands mangled and his guitar thrown at him by the guards as they sneered “Let’s see you play now.” He did play, so enraging the ignorant shock troops of fascism that they killed him with dozens of machine-gun rounds. He could do nothing else but play. From the last song he wrote before he was murdered:

“Yes, my guitar is a worker
shining and smelling of spring
my guitar is not for killers
greedy for money and power
but for the people who labour
so that the future may flower.
For a song takes on a meaning
when its own heart beat is strong
sung by a man who will die singing
truthfully singing his song.”

Victor Jara’s songs live on. The singer and songwriter Holly Near celebrated his memory in her song “It Could Have Been Me”:

“The junta broke the fingers on Victor Jara’s hands
They said to the gentle poet ‘play your guitar now if you can’
Victor started singing but they brought his body down
You can kill that man but not his song
When it’s sung the whole world round.”

The spirit of life in the face of death

Salvador Allende captured that essence in his last speech. Speaking at the La Moneda presidential palace on the morning of September 11, the coup in progress and not in doubt of what his fate would be, he said:

“Placed in a historic transition, I will pay for loyalty to the people with my life. And I say to them that I am certain that the seed which we have planted in the good conscience of thousands and thousands of Chileans will not be shriveled forever. They have strength and will be able to dominate us, but social processes can be arrested neither by crime nor force. History is ours, and people make history. …

Workers of my country, I have faith in Chile and its destiny. Other men will overcome this dark and bitter moment when treason seeks to prevail. Go forward knowing that, sooner rather than later, the great avenues will open again where free men will walk to build a better society.”

Of what were the rulers of capitalist societies — those in the U.S., those in Chile, those elsewhere — so afraid? Why would an elected government determined to provide concrete reality to the word “democracy” by enabling all citizens to become real participants in the functioning of their society engender such frenzied reactions? Ariel Dorfman, in his memoir Heading South, Looking North: A Bilingual Journey, told the story of “Juan,” a factory worker who was being driven out of the country into exile with him in the aftermath of the Pinochet coup:

“[Allende’s] policies had created an economic boom: increased salaries and benefits led to skyrocketing consumption and that led, in turn, to a major increment in production. So, more goods sold and a better life for Juan and his co-workers, right? Not at all. The owner of the factory, opposed to the revolution, even if it did not threaten his property, had decided to sabotage production. … The workers had watched this class warfare patiently for months and, finally, when the owner had announced he was shutting down the whole operation, they had taken over the premises. It was the only way to save their jobs and keep producing the food that Chile needed. Allende’s government intervened in the conflict, negotiated compensation for the owner, and put the workers in control. Juan had been elected to head the council that, for a couple of years, ran that factory, and in spite of inevitable mistakes, it had been a successful venture.”

Professor Dorfman’s conclusion?

“[T]he Chilean revolution had given him a chance to prove his dignity as a full human being, had dared to conceive through him and millions of others the pale possibility of a world where things did not have to be the way they had always been. That is why the rulers of the world had reacted with such ferocity.”

Equality or dominance. The ability of everybody to develop their full potential and be full participants in societal decision-making or a minuscule elite hoarding wealth and dictating to everyone else.

Which do you want?