Category Archives: activism

Demonstratng in the Street

Woman and child in demonstrating

Woman and child in demonstrating

My first public demonstration was with Mothers for Peace & and Veterans Against the War during the Viet Nam war. Alice was a baby and rode on my back down Pennsylvania Ave.


We slept in the homes of Unitarian strangers. In San Francisco  I took to the streets again, marching  with the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence when Sarcoma Karposi needed to  be recognized as a dreadful, debilitating  medical issue that went way beyond the gay community. And, for several years, I marched (actually tapped, for we were a colorful lot) for animal rights with my friend, Virginia Handley. My last demonstrations were with Annette Kirby and other friends in Tehachapi , CA, against Bush’s insane idea of destroying Iraq for dominion of oil.

Since I decided to get to know our southern neighbors, I have seen demonstrations in several places. It is always the people who have to take to the streets. Wealthy folks have money to fight their battles, we have our voices and our votes if we are lucky.

Yesterday, on my way to the museum, I heard collective voices and musical instruments: drums, flutes, and a couple of guitars. Coming down the street were people representing CERCIA (Centro Rehabilitation Para Ciegos Adultos in Araguipa.) Blind adults, tapping their canes, accompanied by those who took up their the cause, marched beside them, guiding them through the streets. A woman, saw me taking photos and said, pointing to her eyes. Ciego. Que Lastima, as she hurried on. “What a pity.”  Indeed.imageimage

Less than an hour later another, a much larger demonstration filled the main street into the Plaza de Armas. Made up of mostly indigenous, and working class  people  they poured into the intersection. The womaimagen, some carrying babies and toddlers in brightly colored, hand-woven shawls on their backs, and some  with  buckets of food and juice for the marchers bore the heaviest burdens.

Many of the hand-made signs had  ‘agua’ printed on them. Later, at the hostel I found out that there is a severe shortage of water for the poorer folks, those who live away from the city where of course, water is plentiful, because money flows, so does water. At least for a while.

Arequipa is in a deep valley surrounded by desert. It has not rained enough to fill the aquifers, or even close to full. Potable water is scarce. The burden is on the poor. It was the same in Leticiaimage, Colombia where folks demonstrated in the park,  in Brazil, and here. It is or will be, in CA I’m sure. The globe is running out of water, but we are ciego. image

In the US we allow fracking to extract natural gas at the expense of our earth’s water table. “Generally, 2-8 millions of gallons of water may be used to frack a well. Some wells more. A well may be fracked multiple times, with each frack increasing the chances of chemical leakage into the soil and local sources.” (gaslandthe

We are not only ciego, we are stupido.  Maybe folks need to hit the streets, to drown out the sound of the Koch Bros. and oil/gas companies counting their money. To save ourselves.


The Manifestation
 People who live in glass houses should not throw stones.

“`What goes around comes around.” The hostel where I am staying is two blocks from the governor, Sergio Cabral’s, house. It’s a three story glass house    

on a corner directly across from the beach in Lablon, the suburb next to Ipanima. Wednesday night the ground floor windows were broken by folks protesting his corrupt politics.

Policia in full riot gear blocked the streets going north and south in order to confine marching angry protestors to the main east / west street and the street that runs along the beach directly in front of his house. To hear Brazilians talk, it seems that just about everyone but the wealthy are disgusted with him.

As the crowd passed our hostel  

the protestors were peaceable: a few in a party mood. A woman who lives in a favela spied me and began a weird verbal exchange-the kind I probably invoke with my limited language skills here.

“You Cheecaago?’
” No. California.”
“Ah. I know Cheecaago. I know you United States.”
“Not all of them. Only some.”
“You fala Inglas?”
Finally she had me dancing in the street and posing.   

She was with a man and maybe a very pretty girl-maybe her daughter.
When she found out it was against the rules of the hostel to buy her a beer they left.

I walked to the beach and to where the protesters had gathered: to listen, observe, and learn.
The avenue along the beach was quiet. A woman did yoga, dogs were being walked, skaters and bicycles went by.

A few minutes later, while walking home I heard, Bang! Bang! Bang!Then the smell of tear gas stung my eyes, my nose. Fires burning photos of the governor were lighting up the next block. We could hear glass breaking, ambulances screaming down the street. Our street. Suddenly it was quiet. I went to bed. The noise started again. I put the window down.
I took my hearing aids out of my ears and fell asleep.

In the morning I walked among the carnage. Broken glass littered the street. A clothing store on the corner was completely open-I’m pretty sure looted.   

Now it is covered with black boards that have slogans painted on them. Most of the banks along the main street had been vandalized. The young, professional Brazilian woman I walked with said, “the governor is probably in Cancun on the beach. He doesn’t give a shit.”

At the governors’ men were measuring to replace the glass. Policia guarded the street. She was right about him being gone. He is still gone.

Domestic Violence- A Family Affair.

The idea that girls are less valuable than boys-women less valuable than men- makes me crazy. Thinking about my female students in China, I recall an incident that happened to one of my students. It’s a common one-still happening in all cultures, all countries- regardless of laws,women’s rights, or women’s lib.

One morning, my student Cassandra texted to say she wouldn’t be at class because she was ill, and she had something important to do. What, I wondered, other than going to the hospital or doctor, would be important for a sick person to do?

 The following day her roommate came to class alone. She explained that Cassandra stayed home because she was recovering from the bruises she incurred when her jealous boyfriend beat her up two nights before.

I asked if the police knew about it. “They do. But, they say it’s a family matter. They don’t get involved in family matters.”

It was such a broad statement that I had trouble wrapping my head around it. She wasn’t related to the boy. She didn’t live with him. Yes. She knew him. Yes. She dated him. Does that qualify him as family? Is hitting a female member of your family OK?

Becaue she was afraid he would come back, Cassandra asked another boy she knew if he would sleep on the couch for the next few nights just in case. Against campus regulations, he agreed to. The boyfriend apparently heard about this so when he showed up again, he brought a partner with him to back him up.

The fight that ensued caught the attention of the campus police.The following day the boyfriend’s parents were called. He was warned that he would be expelled if he bothered her again.

The girls told me that his threat from the university was not because he had beat her up, but because he had been overt about it-had made too much noise. Had it been kept quiet it would have remained a family affair.

Wang Xingjuan, a women’s rights activist in Beijing says,

“Chinese women feel ashamed when this happens to them, and there are still so many people who think it’s a normal event. It’s a slow process. We’ve had hundreds of years where men were simply allowed to beat their wives,” she said. “The culture is deeply rooted, and for many, it’s still taken for granted that women are inferior to men.”

That is China, a developing nation.

Here in the US where we think we have already developed, RAINN, a national organization on rape, abuse and incest, reports that every two minutes someone is sexually assulted- an average of 207,754 women and girls over 12 each year!
54% of these cases are not reported to the police. 97% of rapists never spend a day in jail. 
2/3 of them are known to the victim.
Why is this?

Women still feel ashamed and somehow guilty when they are violated. Whether it’s been two hundred or five hunderd years, women’s feelings of inferiority are deeply rooted.

Men still make most of the laws in the world. They make more money and have more infuuence. Conservative media wonks like Rush Limbaugh are allowed to slander respectable women bcause they advocate for women’s rights.

Not enough women are demandng respect and equality. Not enough of us are speaking out. Women are the only ones who can make the family safer. We must.