Thursday, February 5, 2009

remembering a poet of crianza / the gift of nurturance

remembering a poet of crianza /  the gift of nurturance

Kenneth Patchen was a powerful working class poet from Ohio, USA. He wrote some of the strongest anti-war poetry alongside some of the most tender love poems. He laid some of the  the groundwork for the Beats by reading poems with the jazz musician Charles Mingus accompanying him on upright bass. He fought long and hard with his words, all of which were acts of defense; the defense of dignity, tenderness, nurturance, truth, and beauty, all in the face of the horrors of history. He wrote his poetry and prose through the two World Wars, and never lost sight of the human heart and the natural world, of the importance of communion and conversation, of resistance and regeneration. Patchen wrote, "Gentle and giving- the rest is nonsense and treason." 

Becoming rooted in the village of Totorkawa (Cochabamba, Bolivia), I've metaphorically kept that phrase tucked in my ch'uspa, along with coca leaves, and sometimes a little tobacco. I recall fondly an interaction I had upon first moving here with my wife Valentina, an embodiment of that phrase (which i've come to refer to as an ethic of crianza; nurturance in Spanish). I was introduced to a lumberjack/farmer in a neighbors' dirt floor courtyard where people come together to drink and share the fermented corn beverage called chicha. This man embraced me and said something along the lines of, "My friend, there are no strangers here. It is all about friendship, and nurturance." I see this gentleman frequently but still don't know his name ( often triggering further reflections upon what it really means to be a gentle man). I call him maestro, and he greets me with a tip of his hat and an "hola hermano!". Sometimes he even  kisses the knuckles of one of my hands. It was a profoundly moving moment for one such as myself; a survivor of the U.S., which often seems to be the polar opposite of such warm, human values/principles, ethics. The very word nurturance has even fallen out of use, damn near disappearing altogether. When I talk to folks about our work back in Totorkawa in the learning community of UywanaWasi (La Casa de la Crianza), there is usually an uncomfortable silence when I translate crianza into nurturance. In certain moments, time allowing, the pause becomes an inroad for having a deeper conversation about how that ethic manifests itself in Andean culture, and what it might look like locally if we recuperated and placed at the very center of our beings and communities such an ethic. In the book The Unsettling of America the Kentucky poet/farmer/philosopher Wendell Berry wrote, thirty years ago, about the dominant culture of exploitation and the threatened culture of nurturance, of how these two mind sets are present within everyone. 

I write this while back in southern Appalachia, where the culture of exploitation has reached horrifying new levels, in the guise of mountaintop removal, and the appearance of "supermax", for -profit prisons. There is still, fortunately, a cultural thread running through the land here that is a thread of nurturance. It manifests itself in home cooked meals, sitting on the front porch and conversing with friends and neighbors, playing music, tending a backyard garden of tomatoes, beans, okra, corn. Lots of young radical activists these days are locking themselves to the entrance gates of coal plants, to tractors and trucks, dropping banners that name the injustices and its collaborators. Rightly so. But if those faint and fragile threads of communion and regeneration continue to wither, if they are not affirmed, practiced, kept front and center in our lives, the laundry list of indignities will become so overbearing that we may ultimately find ourselves in an existential briar patch, whereupon every activist type lunge at "the problem" tears at us and draws a bit more blood. We may end up solely residing in a state of  indignation ( a barren land of countless indignities); knocked off center by righteous anger, no longer able to be "gentle", "giving", unconsciously contributing to the death of nurturance.

My sons Camay and Samiri accompany me most mornings, out towards the far side of one of our chacritas (in the Andean cosmovision, the plot of land where the human community, the community of dieties, and the natural world converse), to warm our bones in the first rays of  sunlight. Sometimes Samiri, two and a half, wanders over to nibble on some fresh spinach leaves or crunch on a string bean. Camay, going on seven, in those moments sometimes busies himself gathering up some lemons and apples from the trees that ring the chacra, to take down the road to share with his friends. They start their day nestled safely within a cultural hammock where crianza, nurturance, still holds sway. I'm careful not to idealize or romanticize here.  Forces of modernity and progress are weighing down upon our village every day, as they do upon thousands of other villages across the "global south".  Sometimes one can almost hear a "snap!" in the wind as the illusions of modernity seduce (trick!) folks into venturing into the city to sell their labor on the cold and inhuman free market. There is much confusion and ensuing violence; directed toward the self, others, sometimes the land and fellow creatures. The violence I believe comes when we feel the scales being tipped, when exploitation is held in high esteem and nurturance viewed as child-like, as a thing of the past, an impediment to "progress" even! It becomes more explosive when we find ourselves unable to name, to define clearly, this grave imbalance and to understand its roots. 

Sometimes, as a younger man, I had a recurring dream of being up in the branches of a tree. Each branch stood before me as a person in my life. If I let my gaze trail down one particular branch, I usually , very quickly, arrived at the realization that there was a crippling pain killing that branch. The dreams have stopped in direct correlation to a growing commitment to get at the roots of all this pain, and to become a farmer, and a "poet of crianza". The late Eduardo Grillo (and his companeros), of the Peruvian learning community PRATEC, frequently uttered this phrase: "Criar y dejarse criar". Nurture and allow oneself to be nurtured. I added it to my ch'uspa,  where it nestled naturally beside the phrase from Kenneth Patchen. While chewing a little coca, our boys playing at my feet, I penned this tune, "You're Not Broken". 


A jar o´shine by my side

And fiddle tunes on the wind they do ride

And they tell me somethin´ I once did know

They remind me of somethin´ I once did know 

Boy, you´re a child of the Blues, God, and ol´ Mother Earth

& spirits gathered ´round at the time of your birth 

I recall the day like so many ones before

But it´s easy to forget here on the killin´ floor 

You´re a poet, a father, a farmin' man

A rebel, a race traitor, an American 

Borders will not hold you nor no silly little flag

Nor no party allegaince or a stupid little tag 

You´re a miner of truth & a laborer of love

Communin´with nature and the spirits above 

You´re not broken though society´ll try like hell

You´re not broken, go on boy, I wish you well 

A candle sits on a shelf in the hall

Step out on the front porch & hear them night birds call

And they tell me somethin´ I once did know

They remind me of somethin´ I once did know 

Ssshh, lissen´up, step inside the wind

Life is love and death your friend 

Morning glories open, close, climb & fall

Corn spires, cook fires, and childrens´calls 

Sayin´, “Hey Mister, ´Scuse me Ma´am,

Won´t ya drop down on one knee & help us understand” 

“All those hateful somethings you´re a-takin´ to your grave

Try takin´a nothin´you love...they call that gettin´ saved” 

“But not by no hustler with a bible & a billfold in his hand

Ya see the Holy Ghost don´t need no middle man” 

“`Gentle & Giving´ is what it´s all  about

`The rest is nonsense & treason´ do I have to shout, do I have to shout!?!”

Jack Herranen

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Re-thinking Poverty

Re-thinking Poverty (from the Bolivian Andes to southern Appalachia)

One of the greatest challenges in my adult life-as an artist,
activist, and son of southern Appalachia- has been the experience of
growing into the life of a rural farming village in the foothills of
the Bolivian Andes and the ways in which I've had to radically rethink
the very notion of "poverty". From UN reports to leftist journalism,
Bolivia is almost always described as "a dirt poor, landlocked,
primarily indigenous country in South America". Yet when I walk down
to my friend don Ramiro's house to pick up my son Camilo, after a day
of playing with his nine kids, I oftentimes literally feel giddy due
to the abundance and sense of generosity surrounding me. Any
well-intentioned development specialist would look out upon our
village and think, "How can we elevate these poor people out of their
stagnant and regressive lives?". I've learned to ask (myself first and
now others),'What Western myths need to be debunked to affirm the
dignified life here[in Totorkawa]?" Interrogating the confused Western
notion of "poverty", the lynchpin of the whole Western development
discourse, lies before me as a central task in the collective struggle
to recuperate human dignity.

Every day I interact with people here in East Tennessee who lead an
extremely impoverished existence, yet are swimming in goods, services,
modern amenities, and technological trinkets of all sorts. It could
be more precisely, responsibly, defined as "scarcity" although the
application of this term seems misplaced at first. When walking down
any one aisle at a typical grocery store in the United States,
"scarcity" may be the last word that comes to mind. One's thinking
gets jarred when striving to illuminate and understand all of the
subtle aspects residing within the blanket term "poverty". In the
chapter titled "Production" , in The Development Dictionary (Zed
Books, 1992), Jean Robert offers this insight into the violence and
degradation residing within these subtleties :

"Perhaps the modern economy is essentially a way of organizing reality
in a way that actually transforms both people and nature into waste.
For modern production to function, the economy must first establish a
system in which people become dependent upon goods and services
produced for them; and to do this, it must devalue historically
determined patterns of subsisting and corrupt cultural webs of
meaning. The mass production of modern goods, services and images
demands cultural blight through the spread of disvalue, that is, the
systematic devaluation of the goods found in traditional cultures.
Disvalue, to the extent that the economy is productive, entails a
degradation which touches everything and everyone affected by or
involved with this modern mode of organizing reality. A person is less
a person, the more he or she is immersed in the economy. And less a
friend. Less a participant in leisure- that is, in culture. The air is
less pure, the wild places fewer, the soil less rich, the water less

Many would beg to differ with this viewpoint, that one's humanity is
eroded the more they become involved in the economy. As a matter of
fact, many would say that "the poor" will only be freed by lifting
them up out of their villages and placing them into the labor force.
Ask a Chinese miner, an unemployed Nigerian tapping oil pipelines
under the cover of night, or a southern Appalachian miner's son
clocking in for his shift as guard -"over-seeing" primarily
African-American and Latino men- at the new Supermax prison about the
"freedom" and "dignity" they've found in the global economy. Wolfgang
Sachs' (along with others such as Ashis Nandy and Ivan Illich)
disentangling of notions of scarcity, destitution, and frugality from
the blanket term of "poverty" can greatly assist in the recuperation
of our critical faculties inside of imperial strongholds. Below is a
segment from Sachs' writings that is helpful in getting out from
underneath the suffocating blanket term of "poverty". It is a grave
injustice to define a whole people, a whole country, as "dirt poor".
It is an imposition and a violent assumption that wounds everyone
involved. It behooves us, especially Westerners suffering through an
accelerated process of social and cultural degeneration (inextricably
linked to our widespread ecological degradation), to hold this notion
up to the light.

Jack Herranen
(August the 2nd, 2007- southern Appalachia)

"Poverty" - In Need Of A Few Distinctions

You can't measure wealth by cash alone

by Wolfgang Sachs

One of the articles in Exploring Our Interconnectedness (IC#34)
Winter 1993, Page 6
Copyright (c)1993, 1996 by Context Institute

Many in the West misjudge our planet's diverse peoples by comparing
them with northern European and North American cultures. The following
excerpt from the October-December 1992 issue of Edges, published by
the Canadian Institute of Cultural Affairs, points to the
often-overlooked quality of life in communities that have kept their
distance from the commodity economy.

I could have kicked myself afterwards. Yet my remark had seemed the
most natural thing on Earth at the time. It was six months after
Mexico City's catastrophic earthquake in 1985 and I had spent the
whole day walking around Tepito , a dilapidated quarter inhabited by
ordinary people but threatened by land speculators. I had expected
ruins and resignation, decay and squalor, but the visit had made me
think again: there was a proud neighborly spirit, vigorous building
activity, and a flourishing shadow economy. [For more on Tepito , see
IC #30].

But at the end of the day the remark slipped out: "It's all very well
but, when it comes down to it, these people are still terribly poor."

Promptly, one of my companions stiffened: " No somos pobres, somos
Tepitanos! " (We are not poor people, we are Tepitans ).

What a reprimand! I had to admit to myself in embarrassment that,
quite involuntarily, the cliches of development philosophy had
triggered my reaction.

"Poverty" on a global scale was discovered after World War II.
Whenever "poverty" was mentioned at all in the documents of the 1940s
and 1950s, it took the form of a measurement of per-capita income
whose significance rested on the fact that it lay ridiculously far
below the US standard.

Once the scale of incomes had been established, such different worlds
as those of the Zapotec people of Mexico, the Tuareg of North Africa,
and the Rajasthani of India could be classed together; a comparison to
the "rich" nations demanded relegating them to a position of almost
immeasurable inferiority. In this way, "poverty" was used to define
whole peoples, not according to what they are and want to be, but
according to what they lack.

This approach provided a justification for intervention; wherever low
income is the problem the only answer would be "economic development."
There was no mention of the idea that poverty might also result from
oppression and thus demand liberation. Or that a culture of
sufficiency might be essential for long-term survival. Or even less
that a culture might direct its energies toward spheres other than
economic ones.

Binary divisions, such as healthy/ill, normal/abnormal, or, more
pertinently, rich/poor, are like steamrollers of the mind; they level
a multiform world, flattening out that which does not fit. That
approach also fails to distinguish between frugality, destitution, and

Frugality is a mark of cultures free from the frenzy of accumulation.
In these cultures, the necessities of everyday life are mostly gained
through subsistence production. To our eyes, these people have rather
meager possessions - maybe a hut and some pots and a special Sunday
outfit - with money playing only a marginal role.

Instead of cash wealth, everyone usually has access to fields, rivers,
and woods, while kinship and community duties guarantee services that
elsewhere must be paid for in hard cash. Nobody goes hungry.

In a traditional Mexican village, for example, the private
accumulation of wealth results in social ostracism - prestige is
gained precisely by spending even small profits on good deeds for the
community. Such a lifestyle only turns into demeaning "poverty" when
under the pressure of an "accumulating" society.

Destitution, on the other hand, becomes rampant as soon as frugality
is deprived of its foundation - community ties, land, forest, and

Scarcity derives from modernized poverty. It affects mostly urban
groups caught up in the money economy as workers and consumers whose
spending power is so low that they fall by the wayside. Their capacity
to achieve through their own efforts gradually fades, while at the
same time their desires, fueled by glimpses of high society, spiral
toward infinity. This scissor-like effect of want is what
characterizes modern poverty.

Until now, development politicians have viewed "poverty" as the
problem and "growth" as the solution. They have not yet admitted that
they have been largely working with a concept of poverty fashioned by
the experience of commodity-based need in the North. With the less
well-off Homo Economicus in mind, they have encouraged growth and
often produced destitution by bringing multifarious cultures of
frugality to ruin. The culture of growth can only be erected on the
ruins of frugality, and so destitution and dependence on commodities
are its price.

In societies that are not built on the compulsion to amass material
wealth, economic activity is not geared to slick zippy output. Rather,
economic activities - like choosing an occupation, cultivating the
land, or exchanging goods - are understood as ways of enacting that
particular social drama in which members of a community see themselves
as the actors. The economy is closely bound up with life, but it does
not stamp its rule and rhythms on the rest of society. Only in the
West does the economy dictate the drama and everyone's role in it.

It seems my friend from Tepito knew of this when he refused to be
labeled "poor." His honor was at stake; his pride too. He clung to his
Tepito form of sufficiency, perhaps sensing that without it there
loomed only destitution or never-ending scarcity. "

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Reflections on Racism


(mid July, 2007)

There, unfortunately, exists very little interest in understanding the dominant vision of “progress” and “development”- the ways they are driving all of our increasing problems, especially in regards to racism- nor is there much desire or willingness to explore solutions to our social ills that may arise out of our immediate, local contexts, especially when all of our leaders/authorities are conditioned to seek the answers solely in “Western” thought structures. So the constructed beliefs and myths continue in a very effective manner, like the belief that the spirituality of the indigenous peoples was “assimilated” into Christianity, when in fact, from the very beginning, there was a natural inclination among the indigenous towards respect and recognition of the “Other”, as opposed to tolerance and assimilation.

For the Andean everything can be cultivated, nurtured, welcomed, where the Western economic notion of “scarcity” does not exist. People interacted with each other in a manner that transcended differences without dissolving into one whole unformity. Sadly, this dynamic of universalization, or homogenization, flourishes in the modern guise of “syncretism” (the “positive” and “beneficial” absorption of indigenous rituals into institutionalized Christian traditions). Originarios (original people) who currently practice Andean rituals are deemed ignorant or backward. The modern educational system strives to indoctrinate the communal-minded man into individualism- based upon the distrust of “the Other”, preparedness for competition within heirarchies, instructed in the violent struggles for economic resources, armed with the fear of subsistence, perpetuating the terror of scarcity.

The war continues against the “poor” and the “illiterate”, the majority of whom are campesinos (farmers, or country folk)- the very ones who nurture biodiversity in their region, keeping at bay the notion of scarcity, and whom safeguard the wisdom of subsistence from the mediocre notion of “progress”. But nevertheless it is them and the subsequent generations of the uprooted (these latest, victims of the untiring pressures of colonization; debilitated, urbanized) who are blamed for the perpetuation of more “poverty” and “ignorance” and considered, along with their rooted traditions, to be the greatest obstacles to “progress” and “development”.

The hatred and scorn of/for the “Other” continues prowling about, after more than five hundred years, carrying with it the modern domination of economic power over all values, fueling even more racism, and discrimination against all who perceive life differently, who keep the economy subsumed to the life-giving values of the community. The same colonization of old continues to declare war, as noted by Ivan Illich, “against subsistence.” ;against all the forms and diverse systems of collective subsistence, attacked by the imposition of new “needs”, continously pillaging natural resources in order to sustain the elite. The destruction of subsistence signifies the dependency upon one dominant global system- “the global industry of ‘development’”.

The path towards “the end of privilege” could be the path towards the end of this infinite war. Dismantling the chains of injustice and terminating the continuing exploitation of people and places in the name of “privileges” is our pressing challenge, our daily practice.

Valentina Campos
Totorkawa-Cochabamba, Bolivia

(translated by Jack Herranen)

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Excerpt from an unfinished essay (7-12-07, Knoxville)

This essay was begun in the days following the deadly conflicts in the city of Cochabamba, between campesinos and members of the extremist (and inherently racist) civic committees who identify primarily with the lowland political and landholding "Eurocentric" elite. On the 11th of January, 2007, three people were killed and literally hundreds hospitalized with severe injuries. The conflicts were/are about race, class, land reform, indigenous sovereignty, the decolonization of Bolivia's constitution (the Constituent Assembly), and oil and gas resources. To put all this into context, please take a look at an article written by Boilivia-based Mexican journalist/activist Luis A. Gomez:

More soon, from beneath the Killing Floor,




“ A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say: ‘This is not just’. It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of Latin America and say: ‘This is not just.’ The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.”


“Next to money and guns, the United States idealist turns up in every theater of the war; the teacher, the volunteer, the missionary, the community organizer, the economic developer. Such men define their roles as service. Actually they frequently wind up numbing the damage done by money and weapons, or seducing the ‘underdeveloped’ to the benefits of the world of affluence and achievement.”


We, as activists, as American “do-gooders”, mostly continue to compartmentalize our understandings of economic justice. In our decades-long efforts at dismantling racism and building class solidarity we rarely touch upon the fact that economic growth demands cultural uprootedness and the dis-value of vernacular, indigenous wisdom. Nor do we even come close to identifying that that uprootedness is what allows us to become economized, what forces us to become competitive, violent individuals, mere consumers; what Ivan Illich earlier referred to as Homo Economicus, later as Homo Miserabilis. I am not trying to be tricky or vague here. The industrial era has grossly crippled us. We are ensnared in the web of the market, the global economy, and have traded off our commitment to place for a truly dizzying array of goods and services. Economic growth cannot permit conflictive allegiances. So, we spin things by correlating “liberty” to the uninhibited acquisition of more comforts and luxuries, and then will send our sons to war to protect this “right”. We no longer know what the good life, la vida dulce, might look and feel like. There is no functioning social fabric where one experiences such intangibles as care, solidarity, reciprocity. All these acts have been transformed into commodities. We’ve been duped into thinking that cultural traditions, place-based wisdom, the holistic and harmonious, the small and simple, - manifestations of the indigenous, and the vernacular-are impediments to “progress”. There is a radical analysis shared by certain intellectuals and activists that, before certain nations’ began violent colonialist and imperialist expansion/ subjugation of "the other", their own citizenry had to be colonized mentally. Uprooted from the land; ties severed, allegiances subsumed, convinced that the land based practices and communal responsibility practiced by our relatives were backwards, embarrassing. We had to be “individualized”, reduced to the lowly titled of “consumer” and, every few years, “voters”. This is what it means to be “economized”.

We are in a minefield. There are craters all around us. Certain words and notions are grenades. Pick one up: “Progress”- bam! “Poverty”-boom! “Development”, “Modernity”, “consumer confidence”, “Production”, “Industrialization” “First World”, “Third World”, on and on. Could this cruelty-uprootedness, placelessness- that we are all being subjected to be the source of our ethnic, race, gender, and class violence, not even mentioning the most obvious; the violence wrought upon the earth!?! From southern Appalachia to the war-torn factory towns of the rusted-out iron belt, from the mono-crop soy fields of the Amazon to the Nigerian oil fields, would it not be completely justifiable to don black ski masks and revolt, Zapatista-style? If neoliberalism is the common enemy we all share, maybe we can help steady one another as we walk away from that mine field. Maybe in the silence, back out in an untainted field of some sort where children can run freely out of our eyesight, a word, notion, or sentiment of some sort might pass across all of our lips; something akin to…regeneration. Maybe then we can begin to slip the trap of all of these polarizing identities and these cruel and mutually debasing hierarchies. Remember, CEOs with nine figure incomes are “offing” themselves too. Of course let us keep in mind that the powerful, the political elite, might choose to take the whole ship down as opposed to admitting their grave errors, joining hands with indigenous campesinos and working-class folk, and working together to regenerate our communities. So yes, when it all shakes out, we’ll have to reckon with our own lived experiences, and the sides we did or did not take. Race, class, age, gender, and geography (First World/Third World, underdeveloped/developed, North/South, Capitalist/Communist) will continue to be used to divide us, to turn us against one another. Our current capitalist global economy is literally fuelled by inequality. An American writer/political philosopher by the name of C. Douglas Lummis put it this way; “The world economic system generates and it runs on inequality. Just as the internal combustion engine is propelled by the difference in pressure above and below the piston, the world economy is propelled by the difference between rich and poor.” (“Equality”, in The Development Dictionary, Zed Books, 1992). When coal company gun thugs beat down the door of Florence Reese’s Appalachian home, looking for her “union man” husband, she knew which side she was on. After they left, furniture turned over and drawers emptied out, Mrs. Reese picked up a pencil and began to write on the back of a calender; “Which side are you on? Which side are you on?” A Harvard-based Palestinian radical educator by the name of Munir Fasheh, in a letter penned to the Pope, put it this way; war is being enacted upon communities, plain and simple. He wrote, “The real struggle through history has been between people and communities on the one hand, and those who want to rob and control them on the other…The main issue is choosing between being on Caesar’s side or on people’s side; it is between people/communities and power, control, winning, and greed”.

Let us be careful not to side with a mere illusion; “I’m on ‘freedom’ and ‘liberty’s’ side!”, I hear some growl. “I’m for ‘progress’, ‘development’, and ‘the end of poverty’ I hear the well-schooled argue. The great, almost-forgotten, U.S. working class poet Kenneth Patchen wrote, “I’d rather take a nothing I love to my grave/ Than a something I have every reason to hate.” I personally take this to mean that the intangible solidarity and spirit of “crianza”, or nurturance, that I share with my Quechua neighbors means infinitely more than a steady career, material trappings, and a slow dance of concessions with capitalism, neoliberalism, or whatever you choose to call this…”structural immorality ”.

It almost doesn’t translate, this dignified life in the foothills of the Andes and a notion, an ethic/principle/ value really, such as crianza. In the Quechua language, “to nurture” is uyway”. I’ve heard it described as the capacity, the sensitivity and attunement achieved between the myriad communities of people, nature, and the spiritual for the sake of regenerating one’s locality, one’s lived world. It, “crianza” or “uyway”, is the closest you’ll get in the Aymara and Quechua languages to the concept/word “work”. But it rose up clearly before me one late afternoon, shortly after settling into this village. I had just started forging a friendship with don Ramiro- Quechua farmer, father of twelve, lumberjack- and his wife Ilda, running a chicheria out of their home. I strolled down to purchase and share a small jar of chicha with whoever might have been gathered there at the time. Upon entering the small dirt floor courtyard, ringed by children and chickens of various sizes, a fellow campesino/woodcutter stood up and greeted me, literally, with open arms. Upon being introduced to me, what he said roughly translates into English as this: “My friend, welcome! There is no such thing as a stranger here. It is ALL about friendship, and nurturance!” He then brusquely kissed the knuckles of one of my hands. I instinctively did the same with his hand, then sat down to pass around the hollowed out half gourd cup of the fermented corn brew with a smile on my face and warmth in my heart. That’s the side I am on. If the power elite- or those of a certain class who are tricked into denigrating that dignity as a trade off for more power, privileges and “comforts” for themselves- strike a blow, physical or psychological, against such a man, such an act, it’s the same as beating down my door, guns loaded, looking for my loved ones. Again, I find myself humming a few bars of Mrs. Reese’s class war anthem. I recall John Dos Passos’ rebel confession/utterance in the trilogy USA, worth including here in its entirety, the way it appeared on the page:

“they have clubbed us off the streets they are stronger

they are rich they hire and fire the politicians the newspaperedi-

tors the old judges the small men with reputations the collegepresidents

the wardheelers (listen businessmen collegepresidents judges

America will not forget her betrayers) they hire the men with guns

the uniforms the policecars the patrolwagons

all right you have won you will kill the brave men our

friends tonight

America our nation has been beaten by strangers who have

turned our language inside out who have taken the clean words our

fathers spoke and made them slimy and foul

their hired men sit on the judge’s bench they sit back with their

feet on the tables under the dome of the State House they are ignorant

of our beliefs they have the dollars the guns the armed forces the


they have built the electricchair and hired the executioner to

throw the switch

all right we are two nations

-from the trilogy U.S.A.,

John Dos Passos

Albert Camus wrote, in The Rebel , “Economics, in fact, coincides with pain and suffering in history.” In that same book he also wrote, “The myth of unlimited production brings war in its train as inevitably as clouds announce a storm.” Some say that when Jesus entered the temple to drive out the sullying presence of the moneylenders he wielded a whip. The severity of our current situation cannot be denied. I’m consciously calling upon our collective legacy of rebelliousness here. We can derive much strength from it. Hell, my great grandfather, Jacob Nisula, was a Wobbly. As a young Finnish immigrant arriving through Ellis Island, he ended up in near indentured servitude in the silver mines of Montana. Somehow he escaped and wound up in the waterfront town of Ashtabula, Ohio, delivering produce, and organizing/agitating in the great labor struggles of the early 1900s. As a father now though, living in this little farming village in the foothills of the Andes, I see that our western notions of justice are not enough. By extricating ourselves from the traditional political struggles for more rights and more justice, we by no means forsake our shared legacy of rebellion, resistance, and struggle. We honor it by arcing towards something more profound; something along the lines of the regeneration of place-based wisdom, the re-valuing of the vernacular, the spirit of crianza. It is indeed a defiant act of rebellion in these days of widespread dehumanization. It is revolutionary, but in the realm of culture instead of the corrupted, broken-down spheres of “Nation-States”, two party politics, and representative “democracy”. Illich and King were both what one might call “cultural revolutionaries”. We are not alone in this struggle.

The lines in the sand are abysses really. When we peer down into them we’re often frightened stiff by a sense of vertigo. Though if we are genuinely committed to a larger struggle for liberation and the recuperation of dignity we must not only look unwaveringly into them. We must, in a sense, rappel down into them, down to rock bottom. There we can shine a light and identify the institutions, political structures and social constructs that dis-value (meaning, rendering something nonexistent, as opposed to simply placing it at a lower place on a hierarchy) the vernacular, the dignity of subsistence-oriented communities and, as Dr. King noted, place “profits before people”.

From the essay-in-progress, "Lines in the Sand, and Reading Between Them; Reflections of Race, Class, and Crianza" by Jack Herranen

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

From the Andes to Appalachia (Knoxville, Tn./ 7-11-07)

The yearly foray back up into the imperial labryinth; onto the "killing floor", as defined in the blues vernacular. Striving to move away from the obsession and ensuing confusion regarding "rights" towards...responsibility, and from resistance to regeneration. A phrase I just came across describes perfectly what one feels here in this advanced state of consumption and materialism; the "dictatorship of commerce". One could extrapolate from there and think of our current ecological crises as the result of "dirty wars" against the Commons and communities. There are root causes to our myriad social ills and geopolitical injustices that we must unearth. It is a collective undertaking that, in my opinion of course, can only be carried out on the margins of our mammoth institutions and fast-paced global justice campaigns. As the vagabond philosopher Ivan Illich noted,
"We have embodied our world view in our institutions and are now their prisoners."

More soon...