On a bus headed from New York to Boston as the “spare bed tour” moves north. In the U.S. you can ride a bus with an Internet connection. Bolivian buses don’t have Internet; they have Jackie Chan movies dubbed in Spanish. It’s a tossup. But New York has bagels so you have to factor that in too.
We began our work here on Monday, which was technically supposed to be a holiday, but no such luck. I went to the lower Manhattan studios of Grit TV for a panel discussion on U.S./Latin America relations. You can see the short program at this link or just by clicking on the screen above.
“The danger here is that President Obama’s Latin American policy is essentially on Bush holdover autopilot,” I said (there or somewhere, after three weeks and a half dozen cities it is starting to run togehter). “At the State Department and elsewhere the people calling the shots on Bolivia and Latin America are the same people who held those posts before.”
In the near term, I think the Obama administration is unlikely to give Latin America much attention at all. For good reason it will focus on the global economic crisis and the twin wars he inherited in Afghanistan and Iraq. In mid-April, however, he is likely to attend the Summit of the America in Tobago, along with other Presidents from the region. We’ll see then what he has to say, who he poses with for photos, and how wide he smiles at their side. But as a colleague of mine close to the new administration on Latin American issues told me, it may be better now for progressive Latin American governments to propose an agenda for change to President Obama, instead of waiting for the U.S., to take the lead.
[Our bus winds its way through the streets of Harlem.]
Tuesday I spent the day at Drew University in Madison NJ, asked by the faculty there to give three talks, beginning with comments in the Drew chapel (the University has a special focus on people training to be ministers). In the pulpit I tried to find a religious connection. I told the story of how the day before I accidently got on an express subway that whisked me all the way to 125th when I wanted to get off sixty blocks earlier. The whole way there I was stuck two feet from a man screaming far too loudly about Jesus.
At one point he demanded of the passengers in the crowded train (in Spanish), “Raise your hand if you believe in Jesus! Raise your hand!” I explained how close I had come to answering back, “I believed in Jesus until 72nd street, but now I am an atheist.” My offering to the pastors-to-be – if you want people to listen to what you have to say, try some humility, a softer voice, and speak in a language people understand.
Tuesday night Melissa, Roberto and I were at New School in the West Village. A good crowd of 70 or so showed up, students, faculty, and kind readers of the Blog who have come to all of our events so far. Roberto explained the complex system that the World Bank, IMF, and foreign corporations had spent two decades setting up to structure their influence over Bolivia’s economic decisions – bonus payments to political officials, investments laws, and the like. “It is against this system that our people rebelled and dismantling that system is hard.” Melissa spoke of her friend Casimira Rodriguez, and of a life that went from the isolation of being an enslaved 15-year-old maid in Cochabamba to helping organize a justice movement for these women worldwide – the flipside of globalization. The globalization of solidarity.
Wednesday morning, while my cohorts set off for a talk at Brooklyn College, I traveled to the Canal St. firehouse where Amy Goodman and Democracy Now broadcast to thousands of people all over the U.S., a dedicated following that includes many of our readers. Her crew tortured me first with make-up (and hairspray!). On the set Amy asked me if people tell me I look like John Kerry.
“Only in the U.S.,” I told her.
“Is that why you moved to Bolivia?”
We spent 25 minutes speaking about the book, about Bolivia and about what the future might hold with a new U.S. President. The interview will air in the next few days. Watch for it here.
Last night we wrapped up our New York visit with an appearance at the Brecht Forum along the banks of the Hudson. The forum is a meeting point for progressive activists who briefed me on everything from events in Gaza to a new film on the recent rebellion in Oaxaca, Mexico. Before an audience of activists who already knew much of Bolivia’s own rebellions, I took the opportunity to go beyond the myths and legends.
“The Water Revolt teaches us not only the power of courage in the streets,” I told them, standing before the giant image of a woman in braids, with a sling in her hand standing alone before a line of armed police. “Nine years later the public water company that took Bechtel’s place remains inefficient and corrupt,” repeating a theme of that chapter in our book. “Resistance is romantic but what comes after is the challenge of the nuts and bolts of governance and we have to make that just as important if not more.”
So now Providence slides by out our window, snow covers the ground. We have two back-to-back events today waiting for us up the road in Boston – first at Harvard then at Boston University. Tomorrow we have two more. I’ll put the remaining schedule for the tour below.
Thank you to those who made our visit to New York so super, sleepless as it was. Thank you Nancy and Lew for lending us the third floor of your Brooklyn gray stone. Thank you to the wonderful people at New School and NACLA, at Brooklyn College and the Brecht Forum who hosted us. And thank you to the great friends, new and old, who braved cold weather to come out and hear us.
There are bagels in Boston, no?
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
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University of California Press