Tag Archives: resistance

How Food Can Be a Platform for Activism

Shakirah Simley | “How Food Can Be a Platform for Activism,” from Feed the Resistance: Recipes and Ideas for Getting Involved | October 2017 | 6 minutes (1,351 words)

Over the course of her career, chef and cookbook author Julia Turshen has made a habit of combining her passion for cooking with her desire to help. She’s volunteered at food pantries, with hunger relief initiatives, and with organizations like God’s Love We Deliver, which provides meal for people with HIV and AIDS. Still, she was a bit taken aback earlier this year when Callie McKenzie Jayne, a community organizer for the Kingston chapter of Citizen Action of New York, tapped Turshen to be “Food Team Leader” just upon meeting her. It didn’t take her long to get on board, though, and to then translate her new appointment into an opportunity to do what she does best: put together a book that’s about making the act of cooking healthy, delicious food easy and accessible to everyone. The result is Feed the Resistance: Recipes and Ideas for Getting Involved, which is equal parts cookbook, handbook for political action, and essay anthology. Proceeds from the book will be donated to the ACLU. Below is an excerpt by Nourish|Resist co-founder Shakirah Simley. — Sari Botton

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“That Was the Final Straw”: On Reporting From Venezuela as It Spiraled Downward

diego looking at Caracas landscape.
Diego, who's on the verge of leaving Venezuela, was followed by reporter Christian Borys during the July protests. (Daniel Blanco)

On July 30, Venezuela’s anti-government movement quickly collapsed after a controversial, and possibly fraudulent, vote radically extended Nicolás Maduro’s presidential powers. On the ground in Caracas during those fateful days was Canadian journalist Christian Borys, whose Longreads Exclsuive about the unraveling of Venezuela’s Resistencia movement, “You Can See the Battle Scars,” came out last week. I recently chatted with Christian over email about the protests’ sobering aftermath, and the experience of reporting from a country caught in a dramatic downward spiral.

* * *

It’s been almost two months since you returned from Caracas. Have you been in touch with some of the people you met there? What are they telling you about the current state of things?

Yes, I’m in touch with someone almost every day. The weirdest part about what’s happening now is that nothing is happening. The movement against the government died the day after the big vote on July 30. It was as if everyone either gave up the fight, resigned themselves to a future under a dictatorship, and returned back to their work-life routine or got out of the country. A lot of people told me that their friends just left afterward. That was the final straw.

You’ve reported about protests and civil strife before, in places like Poland and Ukraine. How was the experience in Venezuela different for you as a journalist, and as an observer?

Venezuela is in a far more difficult situation than any other place I’ve been to. It’s devolved into one of the worst places in the world to live, and although they’ve managed to avoid any sort of massive internal armed conflict, people are struggling just to get basics. You have people picking through trash to find food, which you can certainly find in any country, but everyone we spoke to said that they’d never, ever seen that in Venezuela before. The food shortage and poverty had grown so extreme that people were forced to pick from scraps. We heard stories about women turning to prostitution to make a dollar, about how insanely difficult it is to acquire medicine if you can’t afford it, and even about the trouble of acquiring something as basic as a T-shirt if you want a new one. The prices have just gone to such extremes in relation to the wages that nothing is remotely affordable anymore.

People with access to U.S. currency can live like kings in Venezuela because the currency has fallen off a cliff, but not everyone has relatives in the U.S. who can send them dollars. It’s this slow descent into the abyss. I think it was Diego — a young man featured in the story — who said to me, while we were at a market, something like, “Man, this is such bullshit, nothing is affordable anymore.” And I asked him about when he began to notice the changes. He said it was slow, so slow that you just got used to it each time it happened. Each time there was a spike, you thought it can’t get worse, but then it did. For reference, when I got there, the currency was below 8,000 bolívars per one U.S. dollar. When I left, it’d dropped to 20,000 to one dollar amid the chaos. Now it’s gone all the way to 30,000. People’s real earnings have just gone up in flames.

One of the most striking things in your piece is the way it conveys the normalcy of danger. How did it feel on the ground while you were reporting? Was there a sense of imminent violence, whether from the authorities or from random crime? Has it affected the way you went about reporting this story?

The dangerous part about Venezuela — and why it was so different than Ukraine, for example — is that when you cover war, you generally know which direction the threat could be coming from, you know who could be out to cause you harm. In Venezuela you had no idea, and the options were limitless as to who might put you in danger. There was SEBIN (The Bolivarian National Intelligence Service), robbery, kidnapping, National Guardsmen, Venezuelan officers, and random murder. It was an especially difficult place to work during that time because there were checkpoints, even casual ones, all around. Authorities were looking for suspicious groupings of people in cars to figure out which ones could be protesters. There was a lot of paranoia on our part about who was watching us — and it was definitely justified. One day, on July 30 actually, the day of the Constituyente vote, a middle-aged man came up and snapped my picture, then rushed away. My colleagues and I were concerned we’d be picked up.

Your reporting took you to very different areas in Caracas — from affluent enclaves to some of the poorest barrios. Does the despair, and the reactions to it, transcend these divisions, or did you see it play out differently across socioeconomic fault lines?

Yes, we went all over the city. I wanted to make sure we saw the whole spectrum of opinions, and frankly, everyone young, without exception, was against the government. It didn’t matter if they were ultra-poor, like Gaucho, or wealthy, like Federica — who are both are featured in the story — the young people were universally against their government. It makes sense when you look at the statistics and realize that they no longer see any future for themselves in their own country. I think people sometimes discount or can’t empathize with how difficult it is to have to pack up and move to a different country, even if you speak the same language. I mean, moving apartments can be enough of a pain in the ass, but fleeing a country, finding a new place to live, building a new social and professional network, restarting school, finding a new job, starting a career from scratch, learning a new culture, establishing new routines. Those are all emotionally exhausting.

Bringing this back to a North American perspective, the concept of political “resistance” has seen a major resurgence this past year. And it’s almost always framed in optimistic terms. Your story shows the moment where a resistance movement very clearly hit a major, perhaps fatal, dead end. Is there anything that can be learned from the Resistencia activists you’ve witnessed in Caracas in the days before the July 30 vote? What’s in store for this now much-weakened movement?

I honestly have no idea what can be learned. I was shocked to see the movement die off the day after the vote. I expected some massive uprising to take place, as did many people, except for the veteran correspondents who’d spent years in Venezuela. Several people told me to expect nothing much, but it seemed like such an intense moment that I discounted that theory a bit. But that’s exactly what happened.

Some people tried to explain it to me afterward as the failure of the opposition politicians to actually keep the trust of the movement. Their message changed so often, from “Let’s march on the Presidential Palace!” to “Pull over and turn your cars off in protest.” People were disheartened by their leadership, especially when they saw their leaders willing to cooperate with the regime in the wake of the vote. I mean, people on the street were screaming “dictatorship!”, and yet the politicians who’d asked them to give their lives for this movement suddenly changed views and began to negotiate. I guess the people felt betrayed. The only way you can ensure that doesn’t happen is if you make the resistance movement apolitical, meaning you don’t let a political party co-opt it and lead the charge. You’d have to let civil society lead it, and do it for the betterment of society, not for the political goals of any party. How you can ensure that a politician doesn’t step in and take over is beyond me.

As far as what’s in store for this movement, I honestly have no idea. I feel like the country is just going to lose a ton of its young, talented people and devolve further into a shadow of what it once was economically and culturally. I don’t know if there will be a big challenge to Maduro’s regime anytime soon.

Read “You Can See the Battle Scars”

You Can See the Battle Scars

In east-central Caracas, an improvised memorial for Neomar Lander, a protester killed in June.

Christian Borys | Longreads | September 2017 | 20 minutes (4,916 words)

Diego

Recklessly driving through the sloping streets of Caracas, Diego blares “Bonita,” the bass-heavy reggaeton hit of the summer. The stock speakers of his tiny sedan pulsate as we pass block after block of buildings, each cloaked with layers of razor wire and electrified fencing. Diego (whose name, as well as others’, have been changed to protect their identity) laughs and looks at me, smiling cynically, when I ask why it seems like no one bothers to stop at red lights.

“Do you want to be kidnapped or something?”

It’s the night of Thursday, July 27. In less than three days, Venezuelans will live through one of the most defining days in their country’s modern history — and one of the bloodiest. A vote nicknamed the Constituyente is scheduled for July 30. If successful, it would be a major step in president Nicolás Maduro’s march toward dictatorship.

Tonight, the sidewalks are empty and the roads nearly barren. For the few brave enough to be out, traffic laws go by the wayside. Even the sunlight brings little comfort. Just the day before we met, Diego was driving home after making a late-afternoon withdrawal at a nearby bank. En route, three men on motorbikes surrounded his car and tried to steer him off the road. “I always knew it was dangerous here,” he explains, “and you get used to it. But in my whole life, that never happened to me before.”

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Eileen Myles: There’s No Escaping History

Eileen Myles attends the annual Edinburgh International Book Festival at Charlotte Square Gardens on August 23, 2017 in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo by Roberto Ricciuti/Getty Images)

At Rolling Stone, Helena Fitzgerald profiles punk poet and 1992 write-in Presidential candidate Eileen Myles. Myles’s new memoir, Afterglow, was released this week, and their first autobiographical novel, Cool for You, was recently re-released and included an introduction by I Love Dick author Chris Kraus.

Myles (who prefers gender-neutral pronouns) has been publishing since the 70s, but has lately experienced a new wave of popularity, gathering new young fans in part because of their Twitter presence and also the character inspired by them on Transparent.

Among other things, Myles talks with Fitzgerald about the importance right now of poetry and art as forms of resistance under the current U.S. presidential administration. Interestingly, though, Myles points out that what’s been happening really isn’t all that new.

In this current moment, the feeling that we’re facing an avalanche, that we might be destroyed, is hard to ignore. When prompted to speak about art in the current political moment, Myles says: “You know, there is nothing new about what’s happening now.” Myles goes on to call Trump’s assembled henchmen “a cabinet of cockblockers: an educational secretary who’s against education, an attorney general who’s a Klansman.” But they also stress that there’s precedent throughout our history for all of these, that none of these people came out of nowhere. As much of Myles’ work — such as the seminal “An American Poem” — has grappled with in the past, this is the America in which we have always lived. The James Comey testimony took place a few days before our meeting, and Myles was passionately skeptical of the liberal praise that has been showered on the former director of the FBI. “They’re like, ‘Oh, Comey’s the good guy!’ Are you kidding me? He’s talking about a Shining City on the Hill; he’s talking about the horror, and the outrage, of people interfering with our election — like that isn’t what we do in the Middle East and in South America. I’ve never been so driven to make the argument about the nature of our history.”

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The Revolution Will Be Handmade!

Anne Herdman Royal wears a brain hat during the March for Science on Saturday, April 22, 2017, in Chattanooga, Tenn. About a thousand demonstrators marched from the Main Terrain Art Park to Riverfront Parkway and back in support of science and education in solidarity with other marches nationwide. (Doug Strickland/Chattanooga Times Free Press via AP)

At one time, women’s education included critical training in needle arts like sewing and knitting, which were “not only necessary skills but also political tools for the women involved in resisting authority.” At PBS, Corinne Segal reports on pussy hats and brain hats as just two examples in a long line of handmade symbols of women pitting themselves against the status quo. Then and now, knitting circles are perfect environments in which to sew the seeds of political and social discontent.

In October 2014, Sewell and Payne helped form the Yarn Mission, a knitting collective aimed at fighting racial injustice through community organizing and by supporting black creators’ work. The quiet setting of a knitting circle has helped them discuss difficult topics, Payne said. “A lot of times what we’re talking about is really traumatic,” she said. “It’s the only way I’m able to talk about a lot of the things that have happened in Ferguson and continue to happen in St. Louis.”

Recent marches such as the Women’s March on Jan. 21 and the March for Science on Saturday have brought knitting into the international spotlight and lured newcomers to a symbol of activism that dates back hundreds of years.

Academics and historians say that these new knitters are tapping into a long history of needle arts in the U.S. that is inextricably bound up in race, gender and class issues. Its recent popularity is only the latest chapter.

And during the movement for abolition, sewing circles continued to serve as a place for women to exchange ideas and talk about political work. The Liberator, an abolitionist newspaper published by William Lloyd Garrison between 1831 and 1965, wrote on Dec. 3, 1847:

“Sewing Circles are among the best means for agitating and keeping alive the question of anti-slavery. … A friend in a neighboring town recently said to us, Our Sewing Circle is doing finely, and contributes very much to keep up the agitation of the subject. Some one of the members generally reads an anti-slavery book or paper to the others during the meeting, and thus some who don’t get a great deal of anti-slavery at home have an opportunity of hearing it at the circle.”

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