Thursday, September 30, 2010

29 Septiembre Huelga General—29 September General Strike

Blog Entry #4

29 Septiembre Huelga General—29 September General Strike

Yesterday all over Spain there was a massive general strike that affected transport, mining, industry, and various other sectors of the Spanish economy. Markets were closed, and picketers forced department stores to close their doors. I decided I wouldn't let the day go to waste, so I armed myself with my trusty camera and went to the streets to see what the fuss was about.

Yesterday made me remember Berkeley, because thousands of people came from all around to struggle together for their historic causes. I walked to central Madrid, to the Atocha train station,1 where I joined a march put on by the CGT2 The march ended up in La Puerta del Sol, Madrid's living, breathing, pulsating heart. There were teachers, workers, doctors, gays, lesbians, immigrants, students, and all different types of ordinary people. Even a couple of crazy folks too!3

Why were they out on the streets? Directly, it's because of a recently implemented labor reform measure. The new law raises the retirement age, changes pensions, gives employers more rights to fire workers arbitrarily, cut salaries, and cut benefits. This is part of a general craze affecting the “developed” world, particularly the PIIGS countries,4 European states which have in recent decades invested more heavily in their societies. Politicians seem to like to call them “austerity measures.”5 What they seem like to me is simply taking from from hard working people to justify and rectify the fuck-ups of the people who like to think they run this society, and who gambled with our collective wealth on a system based essentially on nothingness. But hey, what would a gambler be without a system? It's too bad that that lost wealth is usually scooped up by people normal folks will never get to meet.

What I saw today was, literally, people yelling and screaming—the most basic expression. My favorite chant was, “Tthe capitalists should pay for the crisis.” Makes sense to me, not a single working person did anything to destabilize international finance.

But the experience made me think about the nature and necessity of protest. All demonstrations should be an expression of identity: “I am young. I am poor. I work. I study. I am different. I am the same. I am you. You are me. I don't want to buy what you're selling, or produce what you tell me to produce. But still, I have value, and you need to hear me.” Seeing it reminds me of the power of standing up for yourself and for your causes. Fear locks us up and sells us a bill of goods that compels us to want to be the same. Breaking out of that, even with small acts of resistance such as yesterday's strike and marches,6 is what stands in the way of a singular world of fear—the neoliberal world dream (or nightmare) of one world with one market, denying identity, denying history. Protest stands up for a world, entirely possible, of love, identity, and difference. The difference between Spain and the US is that here people seem more disposed to putting work on a back-burner and standing up for who they are. I'd like to see how it turns out. Hopefully the resistance here—the resistance everywhere—breaks the chains of fear instead of reusing them for just as nefarious activities.

Working for a cause is really rewarding. In my case, I've been most recently involved in the struggle to pass Proposition 19 in California.7 To me, this cause isn't about me being able to light up a joint without feeling like a criminal,8 although that's certainly a plus. The struggle against the War on (some) Drugs is part of the civil rights movement of my generation. We arrest far too many people. We arrest a greater percentage of our Black population than South Africa did at the height of Apartheid. We've maintained the color-caste system and reinforced it by expanding it to a whole litany of “undesirables.” With regards to this war on drugs, we see clearly the struggle of history: that there is an “US” oppressing a “THEM.” The good thing about this historical process, though, is that usually the oppressor pronoun's original sin is overcome—rectified—by the oppressed pronoun's eventual supremacy in numbers, motivation, and endurance. The risk, as always, lies in the latter pronoun's (the oppressed) propensity to want revenge.9 That propensity is part of the great human weakness: FEAR. Fear causes you to hate and it is often difficult for people to remember that hate is what got “us” and “them” into this unsustainable situation in the first place. You see, the drug war serves financial purposes that are a lot bigger than the people getting locked up for it. The problem “they” have is that those interests (the prison industrial complex, the police, and their inadvertent allies—large international drug kingpins benefiting off of the underground economy the Drug War has created) are losing justification for it. And with this contradiction, like all systems of oppression, it will fall.10

The lynch pin of this historical process is fear. Fear of those who haven't by those who have. A fear of moms for their children's safety, a fear of what's new and different. And even the fear of the injustice of yesterday returning—and the hate that this fear drives. On top of this, we're human. This means we have a lot of assholes around, both literally and figuratively. There's a good number of assholes who make use of this fear in the arbitrary lust for power and material wealth.11 Getting rid of this fear needs to be the object of revolutionaries. We must fight fear with the best tool there is to fight it with. The great thing about being human is that we have, an most often untapped, infinite capacity and possession of this tool—which in English, we've called Love.12

I'll Post more pictures once I get a better internet connection w/o a 250mb limit


1In 2004, right before a general election, tracks near this station were heavily bombed by terrorists linked to Al-Queda. Read more about it here.
2Several unions called this general strike. The CGT is an anarchist union that is now the largest anarchist group in the world, with 60,000 members representing 2 million workers through collective bargaining. These aren't the black-clad chain linked idiots representing anarchism in the US, these guys actually read, and organize. The tradition of anarchism comes out of a philosopher named Bakunin, who had a split with Marx in the 19th century over the need for a 'dictatorship of the proletariat.' Anarchism was big in Spain at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. Read more about the Spanish labor movement here.
3This is especially what reminded me of Berkeley!
4Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, and Spain
5In a parallel to our country, the USA, it turns out the Spanish politicians are as uninspiring as their American counterparts. The Minister of Labor, on speaking about the Strike, commented the usual tried squawk talk about “continuing dialogue.” The expression on his face while he said this, at least to me, conveyed a feeling that he wasn't all too interested in actually listening to what other people had to say about the situation.
6By the way, Madrid's events were tame, nonviolent, and rather fun. However, the news is showing that not all the demonstrations were peaceful. In Barcelona protestors ransacked a library, rioted in the city center, and were the target of police action.
8"I have always loved marijuana. It has been a source of joy and comfort to me for many years. And I still think of it as a basic staple of life, along with beer and ice and grapefruits - and millions of Americans agree with me."--Hunter S Thompson
9This is where we get firing-squads, and charismatic people who tend to repeat the mistakes of history. Example: 20th century.
10“History is a relay of revolutions.”--Saul Alinsky
11Example: Hitler, Stalin, Nixon, etc,
12Let me just say, at the risk of sounding ridiculous, that the true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love." -Ernesto “Che” Guevara

Friday, September 24, 2010

On homelessness, a cramped apartment, generational karma and the search for a place to hang my hats (the green, brown, and multicolored ones that is). 9/24/2010

It's been a while since my last post and I'm sorry for that!

Phewwww!!! To tell you the truth it's been quite a stressful week! The relatives who took me in were absolutely wonderful. Mercedes and Pedro have two daughters, Isabel and Ana (12 and 8 respectively), and a very nice house south of Madrid in a town called Valdemoro. Here's the interesting story: more thant half a century ago, Mercedes' mother (also named Mercedes) went to Argentina with her husband Bernardino for their honey-moon. Bernardino was my grandfather's cousin, and in hearing they were coming, my grandfather and grandmother offered them their own house and bed to sleep in, and they moved out for the couple of months they were in Argentina. As such, Tía Mercedes (the older one) and Tío Bernardino of course promised my grandfather and grandmother that when they came to Spain (which is where my great-grandfather came from) they would give them a place to stay.

Twenty years went by, and my grandfather, Juan Miguel Velázquez, passed away without ever seeing the land of his ancestry: Spain. So, (in a turn of events that strikes me quite emotionally) according to them, helping me out so much is just generational karma for a debt never repaid. It really hit me hard when the older Tía Mercedes said that to me when we were walking around Valdemoro alone one day. I've always heard people say wonderful things about my grandfather, but I never thought the things he'd have done in life would reflect on me like this, and that people whom I've never met would wish me well and help me out on my relation to him alone. It really makes you appreciate family, and know that what you do will in turn reflect on who you leave behind in this world. Hopefully I can live up to my grandfather's name and have the same kind of presence. I really do wish I remember him or had gotten to know him. Unfortunately he died when I was only two or three, so I have little memory of him.

On Saturday, the relatives showed me an empty apartment they owned in central Madrid. Unfortunately, the piso (as a flat is called here) was far too small for me too live in. The kitchen fit two people at a time and the bathroom, well....A grown man could not stretch out in any direction. Still, I wanted to get out of the family's house and get somewhere more central so I could look for a different option, and I decided I'd move into the piso temporarily until I could find a more suitable place.

On Monday I wandered into the city in the hopes of finding a piso to move into. I began my search at a place near the Callao metro stop, in the heart of the city. Unfortunately, walking into this first place was unfruitful. I knew from the start I had walked into some trouble: graffiti on the walls, the smell of burnt crack, and an absence of light. Sure enough, the room offered me was too expensive, hadn't a window, and I'm pretty sure the flat doubled as a brothel and drifters' den. Thankfully I kept up my search. It was, however, really difficult. Looking from place to place I found various obstacles. Lots of places didn't have windows and were dark. Others were shared with older people who I didn't think I'd get along with. Others I went to were shared by people who, I could tell, had their hippie-dar on high alert, and when I walked in had probably instantly decided against my boarding there. I didn't come to realize until later that the way housing works around here is not like a college town in the States. People rent whole apartments here, not rooms. Rooms are for short-term boarders or people just passing through, and so, when you find a room for rent, it's not really a “home,” it's more like a place to sleep with people you don't really know.

Luckily, Monday night I received an email from an old friend of mine from Sevilla who gave me the number of a friend of his who was looking for a piso in Madrid as well. Her name is Libia (from Córdoba in the south) , and she's here with her American boyfriend Max who's doing the same program I'm doing and is from Ventura, California. I offered Max and her a place to stay with me at my relatives' spare apartment, that way I'd have some company and perhaps get some leads on a place to stay. Luckily, they had an in with a lady near where we were staying. By wednesday night we had an appointment to sign a contract today (Friday). We convinced another Auxiliar (our job position) to come check it out with us while we signed the contract. Upon seeing it he signed up right away, and now there are four of us splitting a second floor piso near Plaza Legazpi in south central Madrid: Max, Libia, Mark (from New York) and myself! I've got my Bob Marley poster, my Che Guevara photo, family pictures, and tie-dye tapestry up and ready, and I can finally say that I have a place to hang my hats! It's a great feeling to finally have a place to live. Coming to a foreign country and not knowing where you're going to live is quite scary and frustrating.

Next items are on the agenda are opening up a Spanish bank account and buying a guitar. The bank account is so I can get paid. The guitar is so I can stay sane and, hopefully, use it in my job. My entire goal this year is to have a room full of 8 year olds singing Bob Marley's “One Love,” or the Beatles' “All You Need is Love.” Those are some of the best mantra's around, and with messages that I think all children should hear: We're all one, and we only need one thing in life.

Until next time.


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Flying Sucks

It was raining in Madrid when I landed this morning at around 10am local time. I flew out of LAX about thirteen hours before. From there I flew to Dallas, Texas where I boarded a second plane to Madrid. As the title of this piece suggests: flying sucks. American Airlines packed absolutely everyone and everything they could into the Boeing I was stuck in. The seat reclined a full three inches into the knees of the poor bastard behind me. Combine this with the anxiety of leaving your friends and family, a slight hangover, and a troubled belly, and what you get is an incredibly uncomfortable flight in a piece of loud tin.

After taking a cab to Valdemoro (a town south of Madrid) I got to meet my distant family their. Tía Mercedes greeted me, and later I got to meet her daughter, also named Mercedes, who works as a teacher at a local school. It's quite amazing that without having ever met me these people have offered me absolutely everything. I've already been treated to great Spanish food (Spanish Omelet, Croquetas: fried balls of cheese and ham) and an assortment of pork--Spain exiled or killed most of its Jewish population during the inquisition, hence the Spanish affinity for pork. Mercedes' father was my grandfather's cousin, that's how we're related. She's married to a computer technician named Pedro, and they have two little girls named Ana and Isabel.

For now, nothing much is new, I'll be posting up some pictures and what not as soon as I being taking them. Until then, it's figuring out where I'm going to live (which shouldn't be too hard, since Mercedes and Pedro own an empty apartment in the center of Madrid) and maybe making some couch surfing friends.

My only reflections now are just the fact that I've got to accustom myself to thinking and talking in Spanish.  Which is pretty easy the more I listen and talk.  It's pretty nice not being as confident in a language you can understand perfectly, but where you make mistakes verbally.  It makes you listen more, which is a valuable tool in seeing how people construct not just what they say, but how they think.

Much love to everyone. You'll hear more soon.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Holy shit I'm moving to Spain!

My name is Esteban. But you probably know that. Welcome to my blog. I couldn't think of a title, hence the witty name. I've reached out to you to let you know about this blog because in one way or another I am related to, or have a deep respect for, each of you, and I want to make sure I stay in touch with you over the course of the next year or so.

If you haven't heard already, I'm moving to Madrid, Spain, in a couple of days. I'll be working with 5-10 year old kids as an English Language cultural assistant. Don't ask for much more of a description (it's a grant program through the Spanish government—like all things Spanish, details are lacking). I suppose the details of that will be yet to come in the coming entries to this blog.

Keeping a blog like this will be good for keeping in touch with you. More importantly, I think it'll provide a bit of insight for you and I. For you, I promise stories about my experiences, encounters with interesting people,1stories about completely fictional experiences and interesting people, mundane things I do, funny things I see and hear about, not-so-funny things I see and hear about, and pictures. And sometimes, what I think. For myself this is a reflective exercise to develop my capacity for praxis: the process which turns consciousness into action, which in turn, reinforces itself and transforms the world around me.2 Just maybe, sitting down every so often to collect what I've seen, done, and thought about will be good for me, and show you a different lens with which to see the world—through my eyes.

I really do hope you read it. Not because I'm afraid of losing contact with any of you, I know that those who interest me, my people, will come out in the end. But also for your thoughts about what I see and think. I want to hear from you. If you've been to Spain, I want to know where I should go and what to do. If you've any experience with 5-10 year old kids, I wanna know what you know so that I don't fuck up all that badly. Whatever else you think you can help me with, I welcome your advice.

Now for some context:

If you don't know me already, I've just graduated from (or, more appropriately, been chewed up and spit out by) what was at one time the greatest Public University system in the world, the University of California. I graduated from Berkeley last may (2010) with a BA in Political Science and since then have been working as a security guard at the UCB Library. Luckily, that was an easy job, which meant that concurrently, I had the privilege being an organizer on the front lines of one of the most important causes of our generation: drug policy reform.

I've been trying to poke a hole in a system of lies and injustices which has ruined lives and wasted resources. Specifically, I've been working with Yes on Proposition 19, the initiative on California's ballot that would control and tax cannabis—ending the arrest of nonviolent cannabis consumers by allowing the possession and cultivation of cannabis by adults over 213. It has been the most fulfilling political experience I've had, and one that I'm sad to leave. But alas, there are always choices, and the Road is too enticing for me right now. So I've made my choice and am getting on a plane on September 15th. I've got confidence, however, that there will always be struggles to get my hands dirty in. And I need this trip, it's a chance to enhance my critical thinking, and get me to engage effectively in praxis. I've a feeling that the velcro “rip” sound and feeling of uprooting to another place and sense of time for a while might be good for me as a person, and make me a better prepared actor in the historical process when I get back home—wherever that ends up being.

Berkeley was pretty fun, and I'm going to miss the Bay Area. It's a really beautiful place. Many of you reading this blog are from there or have spent time there. The Bay has a certain way of amassing a wide variety of people with the sun in their eyes—not the vast majority, but a lot. People who embrace the 'otherness' they possess. It's a legacy of the University, the Beats, the upheaval of the 20th century, and the counter-culture of the 1960s. I'm not saying that it's a reflection of that time and place today—in this sense history is always echoing—but rather, its history belies a certain undercurrent of resistance. On the flip side, there are plenty of people who did what I did (got their degree at Cal) who were and are blinded by their desire to see their name on a prestigious diploma. A lot of folks are chasing the free-market dream. They might see idealism as wasteful and stupid, but conversely, I see them as cynical and arrogant. An ideology of no ideology is similarly as dangerous.4

My last year in Berkeley was interesting. I came to a lot of questions about what the hell was coming next. Needless to say, the question I hated (and still hate) hearing is “What are you going to do now?” The real thought I always kept to myself was: “None of your goddamn business but if I figure it out I'll let you know!” I've been living in 'Obama's America' and trying to come to terms with my place in it, and my role in the progress of history going forward from it. It was a seminal moment in my formation as a political entity (and we are all political entities, whether we know it or not). I remember storming into the library with a bottle of wine and other amenities with my friends Tom and Pete as we celebrated by the thousands a victory over the forces of ignorance and bad governance. But over the last year, I saw the increasing reality of the situation. I saw police treat students as threats to the State when we asked for a say in the University we gave prestige to. I saw the State use its monopoly of force against people I knew, and people I cared about. I couldn't watch the news because of the rage that I felt watching death being dredged up from the depths of the earth to ooze forth in the waters of the Gulf Coast. I saw criminal finance wiz-kids walk away from the fraud they perpetrated on the public, blaming 'the boom and bust' cycle of money. I can't help wondering, “what's next?” I reserve the right to be wrong, but I think that anyone not recognizing the inevitability and necessity of a shaking transformation of the way things are operated is just talking about the weather. I'm still searching for my place in this historical process, and I think with an open and critical mind, I'll find it.

It's getting late and my front porch here in Pasadena is calling me like the 3rd story deck of my last house called me at 2am. I think I've done enough to introduce you to my thoughts and the context I'm telling you them in. I hope you enjoy the next year or so, and that you read my communiqués and talk to me about them. I want to engage in dialogue with the people I care about, and I hope you want the same. Much Love.

1“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes "Awww!”--Jack Kerouac, On The Road

2This definition is up to some interpretation, and like all things I say in this experiment, please feel free to provide me with feedback on what you think. A definition of the term is: “practice, as distinguished from theory; application or use, as of knowledge or skills.” I, however, am deriving this notion out of the work of Paulo Freire who defines praxis as "reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it." Freire, P. (1986) Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum. p. 36
4“There is nothing more ideological than to say, 'Everyone is ideological; I am the only one who is lucid.'” Sub-comandante Marcos, Of Trees, Criminals, and Odontology: Letter to Carlos Monsivais, The Zapatista Reader Edited by Tom Hayden 2002 Avalon Publishing Group