The Democracy Center team continues on our national book tour for Dignity and Defiance, Stories from Bolivia’s Challenge to Globalization. Support has been great. Half way through the tour we have already had close to a thousand people turnout for our events in five different cities.
A great Seattle-based project called Talking Stick TV filmed our event at the University of Seattle and posted a skillfully produced video of it on YouTube today. If you haven’t been able to make it to the tour in person you can do it by Internet by clicking on the screen above.
Also, on Wednesday morning, I’ll be an in-studio guest on Democracy Now with Amy Goodman. You can watch that live or later at this link.
We still have nearly a dozen events ahead of us, in New York, Boston, Chicago and the Twin Cities. The schedule for those events is below. Please join us if you can!
Blog from the Book Tour II: From Washington to Washington
Thanks to my flight being delayed out of San Francisco two hours two things happened. The first was that I got to have a long visit with a friend from Singapore who stopped by the airport to see me off. The second was that I landed in Seattle less than 30 minutes before I was scheduled to speak before a packed audience at Seattle University.
Fortunately the 70 people who had gathered – students, faculty, and other friends – were still waiting patiently when I walked in the small auditorium.
The word globalization has a special significance in Seattle. The city that launched Starbucks also put the “G’ word into our public vocabulary.
It was there a decade ago that 70,000 people filled the streets to surround what would otherwise been one more obscure meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO). Labor, environmental, and social justice activists joined outside that meeting to draw global attention to the growing web of global rules that had been shaping the planet’s destiny, with remarkably little public notice. After ‘Seattle’ people did notice. And while much of the media focused on the handful of people who thought breaking windows at Starbucks was the thing to do, the real story was the explosion of learning and activism that began there.
The Democracy Center book tour is our effort to continue that learning, by telling the stories of what globalization has meant – both good and bad – in a country that has become synonymous with it.
The Seattle University audience was wonderful, full of good questions. The university is also the former home to one of my fellow bloggers from Bolivia, Dan Moriarty (a.k.a. Missionary Man) and Dan’s mother showed up bringing the gift of a box of Seattle smoked salmon. Thanks for that!
The next night was our main Seattle event, put together by the great people at Global Partnerships and the University of Washington, at the University. Leny Olivera of the Democracy Center’s staff in Cochabamba was there with me as well, and the room was packed, a crowd of nearly 200 with standing room only. We have been surprised, pleasantly, by the big turnouts at every event we have had.
After showing the video for the book we took turns speaking, sharing some of the stories captured in the book. A woman with white hair sitting in the front row was staring at us angrily. Leny told me later that it looked like she had arrows coming out her eyes. As we wrapped up our presentation she finally could contain herself no longer and began to speak, so we let her have the first question.
“You are blaming America for everything,” she declared, expressing a criticism of our work that we hear frequently here on the Blog. I answered her with the story of Christina Haglund, a young woman from Portland who authored the chapter of our book about the massive Enron oil spill in Bolivia in January 2000. I explained that, regrettably, it is a fact that the U.S. corporations, the U.S. government, and international institutions dominated by the U.S. have done the kinds of things we documented carefully in the book – spilling oil, putting innocent people in jail in the ‘war on drugs’, and coercing the privatization of natural resources.
“But the U.S. is a two-sided coin,” and if you want to know the other side know the story of our young volunteer from Portland. I told her how a 25-year-old fresh from a stint in the Peace Corps showed up at my door in 2005, a fan of the Democracy Center’s work, and offered to volunteer for six months. She stayed two years.
To bring the Enron oil spill story to public ligt she first poured through a stack of papers and documents a foot high. Then we boufght her a used bike and she put that bike on a bus and headed to the barren highlands where Enron and Shell had negligently poured 29,000 barrles of oil into a sacred river. For 4 months she pedaled from community to community, living in people’s homes, herding their aniamals with them, and gaining their trusrt to that she could take their testimony abiut what the corporation from Texas had done to them. It was in these hard-gained testimonies that we discovered that Enron officials has swept down by helicopter into these communities and told the people whose animals were dying and whose children were getting sick that the black in the river was fertilizer that would make their crops grow better. Confronted with this testimony later the corporation admitted it.
That was my answer to the woman in the front row that night in Seattle and it remains my answer to all those who think that the Democracy Center’s work is ‘anti-American.’ Our aim is to lift up what is best about our country, embodied in that young woman from Portland, and employ it to counterbalance what others from our country do in the world that is not beautiful or generous.
Our next stop was the hometown of my co-editor on the book, Melissa Draper. El Museo Cultural, a space filled with art and culture and a generous spirit, hosted us for an event that brought 60 people out to see us, including, it seemed, everyone Melissa had ever known there. The local paper, the New Mexican, ran a profile of the hometown girl turned book author. At the signing afterwards I wrote to most people, “Thank you for giving us Melissa.”
A Bolivian friend played music on the charango and later joined Leny for a duet on the flute. But here in Santa Fe the most important connection we made was with the local indigenous community, and saw first hand the inspiration that Bolivia is to many indigenous people in the U.S. A group of teenage students at the Santa Fe Indian School presented Leny with a resolution of solidarity with their Bolivian counterparts.
The next night we stood before a packed room at St. John’s College, welcomed by the college President and faculty. Again people asked most about the new Bolivian constitution and the Bolivian lithium issue highlighted in last week’s New York Times.
Arriving on the east coast Leny Olivera headed back to Cochabamba and Melissa and I were joined by our friend Roberto Fernandez Teran, a professor at the University of San Simon and one of the most knowledgeable people in the country about Bolivia’s struggle to reclaim its natural resources.
he three of kicked off the second half of the tour with a bang, at an event hosted on Thursday by the Institute for Policy Studies at the popular Washington bookstore and café, Busboys and Poets. So many people showed up for that event, more than 120, that the bookstore had to close the doors to its events room after it reached capacity and people were sitting in the aisles on the floor. A congressional staff member emailed me from his Blackberry to say that he was in the store but couldn’t get into the event. Bolivia’s representative at the United Nations, Pablo Solon talked his way in by explaining he was a diplomat. Nearly a dozen former Peace Corps volunteers were in the audience, including several who were part of the group yanked out by the Bush administration last year. I told them all to go talk to Pablo and tell him that the Bolivian government ought to ask the Peace Corps back.
Friday the three of us were at George Washington University. Over and over on the tour people have come up after these events and introduced themselves as avid readers of the Blog. At GW a young Bolivian professional said to me that he doesn’t always agree with what I write but thanked me for the Blog anyway. “I like to read it at work to keep from getting bored.”
Then today we had out last Washington area event, a special one. The Virginia suburbs outside of Washington are home to the largest Bolivian community in the U.S. Saltenas can be bought here easily and the newspaper Los Tiempos has its own news racks outside of local Metro stations. At a modest church in Falls Church members of that Bolivian community gathered for an event in Spanish. Midway through our hosts asked if we could take a break in the presentations for a surprise. A quartet of dancers, the women dressed in the traditional skirts of Cochabamba, came out to perform in honor of Lily Whitesell, the Virginia native who was also a part of our book team and wrote the book’s amazing chapter about this immigrant community’s experience.
As I watched Lily join them to dance a ‘cueca’ I missed Cochabamba as much as I have since we began this tour two weeks ago. Now we have two weeks left to go – off to New York, Boston, the Twin Cities and Chicago. Here is a list of our remaining public events. Come see us on the road!
February 17 — New York, NY
When: 6:00 pm
Where: The New School, 66 W. 12th St., New York
February 18 — New York, NY
When: 7:30 pm
Where: The Brecht Forum, 451 West Street (between Bethune and Bank), New York
February 19 — Boston, MA
When: 7:00 pm
Where: Boston University, The Jacob Sleeper Auditorium CGS building,
871 Commonwealth Ave, Boston, MA
February 20 — Boston, MA
When: 7:00 pm
Where: The Jamaica Plain Forum
First Church in Jamaica Plain, UU
6 Eliot St. (across from the monument),
February 21 – South Hadley, MA
When: 11:00 am
Where: The Odyssey Bookshop, 9 College St., The Village Commons, S. Hadley
February 21 — Northampton, MA
When: 3:00 pm
Where: Smith College, Neilson Browsing Room, Northampton
February 23 — St Paul/Minneapolis, MN
When: 7:00 pm
Where: Macalester College, John B Davis (JBD) Lecture Hall, Campus Center, Lower Level
February 24 — Chicago, IL
When: 6:00 pm
Where: The University of Chicago
International House, 1414 E. 59th St., Chicago
HOW TO GET YOUR COPY OF DIGNITY AND DEFIANCE
Order the book today from (click the links):
University of California Press