Sunday, January 31, 2010

Liana Badr Eye of the Mirror

This will be a short but heartfelt post about Liana Badr's The Eye of the Mirror, a book in the Arab Women Writers series. It was published in 1991 and has just appeared in English. Badr spent seven years interviewing survivors of the massacre at the Tal el-Zaater ( or Tal Ezza'tar) Palestinian refugee camp. This book gives us a perspective on women's lives in a camp during an onslaught of attacks, in this case in Lebanon in 1976, by "Christian" militias. The description of the progression from a barely lived life in the camps to the attacks and eventual massacre and evacuation of the people who lived there ( including some flashbacks to life in Palestine before the camps)is riveting and heartbreaking. It forms a partner to Joe Sacco's book discussed below, as it provides the women's experiences. While Sacco talked to women, this book gives us the day to day detail of their lives, cooking bread, giving birth, surviving with less and less, the courage of children, the deterioation of people even as they keep going, the final fall caused by the loss of the last waterpipe. The constant barrage of sniper's bullets, the final massacres, random violence, and wanton looting and destruction of the little that was left. There are many characters, mothers, grandmothers, grandfathers, fathers, children, adolescents, young women, all strong people. The book is described usually in terms of one main character, but I felt that all the characters were equally important.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Howard Zinn

Irreplaceable, outspoken voice against fascism. He never stopped speaking up. He is an example for all of us. Like Edward Said, his voice will be heard through the next generation of people he inspired. Terrorism and War 2002 is the book I have read most closely. Written right after 9-11 it zeroes right in on the gigantic military budget and the fact that it has "absolutely no effect on the danger of terrorism. If we want real security, we will have to change our posture int he world - to stop being an intervening military power and to stop dominating the economies of other countries. "

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Martin Luther King Day

This is the third year that my grandson Max and I have gone on the Martin Luther King Day March and he is only two years old!. The first year he was only two months old. I have a picture of that on my Flickr site. Last year he was just over one year, and I put that on my Christmas card This year as he marches along he makes it to the blog. His shirt and mine are supporting health care, education, housing and jobs, these are the same issues of economic justce that Martin Luther King spoke so eloquently about as the means of real equality for all races as Bob Herbert wrote so eloquently in his editorial today. As my grandson and I marched, we were surrounded by people who agree, who care, who are uplifted, as I am, every year, by this holiday. The march in Seattle always begins with workshops and a rally, it is more embedded in activism than the church concerts and community celebrations.
We urgently need to keep political activism going in the community. Last year this day coincided with the inaguration of Barack Obama. Blacks were thrilled, we were all hopeful.
This year we see reality. We are still in the struggle.
Obama may have had all the right ideas inthe world, but when he comes up against the huge forces of power, the corporations, the military, he plays ball. Under FDR the bankers got the first stage of relief in the 1930s, but then he turned to the workers and created huge jobs programs. We can perhaps attribute this and his funding of the arts to Eleanor Roosevelt's emphatic tours of the country as the eyes and ears of the President. Could Michelle play the same role, it doesn't seem so.
So Max and I marched for his future, and the future of all of us, and the planet, and in support of a better path. I would love to start a group of activist grandmothers who want to join me in political marches. (can't join the Raging Grannies, I don't sing), but who knows how to go about it. I would like Max to understand that organizing in groups and collaborating is essential to a better world. Marching alone is one step, marching together is the next step. Collaborating is the way to power to resist oppression.
I got to one workshop sponsored by Veterans against the War and other groups on how to resist recruiting in high schools. It was really good. The military are going into even elementary schools to start the seduction for recruitment. A young Iraq veteran explained why he had enlisted, for "freedom" which as he said, is at the expense of the oppression of poor people around the world, for "serving a noble cause" which as he said was a lie, as you are killing, torturing and terrifying women, men, and children, and locking up journalists.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Joe Sacco Footnotes in Gaza

Joe Sacco is profoundly engaged with the experience of war in his new book. It is a major work of art, a telling of the Palestinian Israeli conflict from the ground in Gaza, a layering of time frames, a balance of personal ( not his experience, but that of fighters and families in Gaza) and political. I haven't read the whole book yet. It is so important that I re-read most pages three times. First for the text, then for the images, then for the ideas. He alternates between large landscape scale images and close up heads of people he talked to, old fighters, survivors of massacres, from decades ago. Sometimes he has a sequence of smaller heads or a family scene. The scenes of families trying to live their lives in one room for twelve people, or having another child because the father may die are heartbreaking.

The stories that the old soldiers tell, of their house being invaded by Israeli soldiers in 1956 and the mass murder of young men, simply lined up in a square and shot, are horrifying. These men escaped through luck ( they didn't quite die, when the Israelis shot them over and over, or they ran away), but so many didn't. Sacco gives us the up close experience of war, hatred, civilian confrontation. Sacco offers no solutions, although he is obviously aware that these people are pawns in political power games, but in depicting the house on the inside, or in one case we are in the line up of the men about to be shot, or we are seeing the devestation from above, we are somehow there. Not really of course, but more than in a photograph, a novel, or a painting.

And I have only read the first 100 pages of 400 pages.

Joe Sacco came to Seattle to speak about his book. One friend of mine described his presentation well "he spoke with the precision of a diplomat, walking through a minefield with a book balanced on his head." On my first impression, Sacco was understated and modest in his presentation, there was no heavy emotional load on the talk ( only one questioner said what we were all feeling, all the nightmare of the injustice). But then, I thought, he has so much in the book that he doesn't need to be emotional, and if he were it would have killed him long ago.
His survival is based on his care. His care in research, in protecting his sources, in negotiating war zones, in his brilliant art.

This book is a must read. It is far more complex than his 1996 book Palestine, which was more personal and had moments of humor. This book is set deeply inside Gaza framed around two massacres that occured in 1956 in Gaza, in Khan Younis and Rafah, but giving us backwards and forwards the conditions on the ground for people in Gaza. It was completed before Operation Cast Lead, or at least that atrocity is not cited in the preface. But the devestation it depicts is the same as that of any military conflict of soldiers killing in villages.

The first shock was the image of people literally digging in the sand to find shelter in 1948 when the refugees first arrived. Then the image of them crossing over the lines of Israel to their former land and being called "infiltrators." Then the fifties style development of housing by the UN, and now the seasoned soldiers who have fought continuously since the 1950s, understanding that the new battle today is beyond their human capabilities to fight, it is about the Israel/U.S. sheer technical killing power with machines.

Sacco wants to make sure that history is not entirely written by people who forget the early massacres that planted the seeds of hatred, as he puts it, quoting from one old man who was a child in the 1950s and saw his uncle die. As Sacco succinctly put it, it is as though the Battle of Britain has been going on continuously to the present day. There is no time for people to recollect, record, they have been in survival mode since 1948. He knows his book can't really change anything. There are huge powers at work that he cannot affect. But at least we can all know more about the history of this horrible conflict, as the last escape hatch is being sealed by Egypt and Israel with a fence manufactured in the United States.

We all share in the war crimes. We are paying for the equipment. Our support for Israeli military operations this year is almost 3 billion.

Read this book. there are lots of reviews and discussions on line. Here is an example

Monday, January 4, 2010

Joe Feddersen's Vital Signs

These are installation shots from Joe Feddersen's exhibition "Vital Signs" which closes on Sunday at the Tacoma Art Museum. The exhibition sings with the artist's poetry based on geometry and landscape. He celebrates ancient history as well as the contemporary land of today. The landscape of the Okanagan , shown in this detail of his wall mural of 500 separate pieces, is open and rugged. He refers to contemporary landscape destructions, like clearcutting, suggested in the brown triangles, and to geometric towers for the high tension wires that gallop across the open land in the center part of Washington State. The Okanagan is, for those who are driving to Spokane on the interstate freeway, a desolate empty landscape, made more desolate by the Grand Coulee Dam which was completed just after World War II. That dam destroyed the ancestral fishing streams of the Colville Indians, the Spokane Indians, and other tribes. There were no fish ladders at that time, the fish were completely unable to return to their spawning grounds.
Joe Feddersen is a Colville Indian. He comes from that land, it is part of him and his ancestors. After the dam was built, he worked for the power companies, a common occurance with Indians, whose only choice for a livelihood is the use of energy based on exploitation of their lands. But he knows those electrical towers, so when he includes them in a painting they are personal.
He has taught at Evergreen State College for the last twenty years and understands modernism, he understands color theory, his work draws on a sophisticated contemporary aesthetic, and materials- like the shining orange fish traps in glass, or the large vessels with reflective paint on which he has sand blasted the contemporary designs of parking lots and tire treads. In the exhibition he has also included some traditionally scaled woven baskets with tire track designs. He is commenting out of a deep silence and reverence, he accepts the present land, but he reminds us of where we come from, and suggests where we are now. He does not predict the future.
The exhibition has a curiously calming effect, as though we have gone into the landscape to meditate. I could feel his energy flowing through the exhbiition, as the various media, scale, colors, and geometries interacted. He is a master printmaker, a weaver, an artist of sand blasted glass. His connection to time immemorial is moving through all of the works. They are objects for sale now, not integrated with daily use, but they speak of their former functions. Since natives see our relationship to nature, to history, to prehistory, to each other, to animals as all part of a continuous non hierarchical flow of energy, these paintings and other objects suggest that idea as well. Abstract modernism has been re energized with its real sources of power in ancient abstractions.