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Blog from the Book Tour IV: The Snow Belt

Readers,

9am Thursday

Back in the La Paz airport, drinking coca tea in the small café upstairs, watching the morning news show and gasping for a bit of oxygen. In a moment I will pass from this odd life of spare beds, of hearing my voice far too much, bouncing from airport to airport, and meeting so many great people. I will disappear into my ‘real life’ of home and my family, of the cows and the corn. Cool, no?

We began our tour more than three weeks ago at UC Berkeley in an auditorium at the School of Law. We ended it yesterday with a large group of Chicago public high school students, almost all of them immigrants, African American, and Latinos. They as well saw something of themselves in Bolivia’s stories – in the teenager who watched her innocent mother jailed courtesy of the U.S. War on Drugs, or in the story of Cassimra Rodriguez, enslaved as a teenager to be a maid and rising to be an organizer of those same women and her country’s Minister of Justice.

Thanks again to one and all who helped along the way, by organizing events, giving us a place to rest our heads, and showing up in event after event, city after city, more than 1,500 of you. And thanks for buying the book.

I’ll resurface in a few days, after I get my shoes good and dirty.

Jim

NOTE: For those who are interested, this morning Chicago Public Radio aired an hour-long interview that we taped yesterday. The interview covers a range of stories from our new book, Dignity and Defiance: Stories from Bolivia’s Challenge to Globalization. You can listen to it here.

On the Banks of the River Charles

I love that dirty water.
Oh, oh, Boston, you’re my home.

–The Standells

The Democracy Center book tour rolled into Boston last Thursday afternoon by bus, to cold weather and warm receptions – Melissa Draper, Roberto Fernandez, and I did six events in three days.

We began at Harvard University, at the Kennedy School of government. A quarter century ago I was a student there. I was happy to see that the tree outside the library window, whose leaves had shown me the change of the seasons, was still there. Thirty students, faculty and visitors gathered to hear about Dignity and Defiance and to share their own thoughts about what Bolivia’s recent experiences teach us. Several were young Bolivians, studying at the school, or just living in the U.S. The love they have for their home country was obvious.

From there we set off across the Charles River to Boston University. Almost 100 students filled up the front section of an auditorium. At BU as in many stops across the country we ran into the familiar faces of students who had studied in Cochabamba with the great semester abroad program sponsored by the Vermont-based School of International Training. One of them rose during the discussion part of the program to ask my advice about what students could do to help close the gap between the U.S. rhetoric about global justice and its actions which too often undermine that justice. The BU student paper carried an article the next day about our visit and the exchange (you can read the article here).

“What does this gap mean for you students?” Shultz asked. “That as soon as you graduate, you need to get the hell out of here and go somewhere in this world and see what it means to live on the ground with what this country has to deliver, both good and bad, around the world.”

Brandeis University junior Nadine Channaoni, who spent her fall semester in Bolivia during a School for International Training cultural and development program, said what she had observed on the ground in Bolivia was very different from what she is being taught about the country in her university classroom. Shultz told her to not be afraid to speak up and refute any inaccurate academic theories. “I will definitely take his advice and use concrete examples from my experiences and not be too intimidated to speak up,” Channaoni said.

University of Massachusetts-Boston senior Michelle Tracchia said she was drawn to the event because of her research on the effects of World Bank and International Monetary Fund policies concerning water access in the African country of Senegal. “I wanted to understand why the people of Bolivia were able to revolt and not Senegal,” Tracchia said. “It was really important for me to hear from people living in the U.S. and Bolivia because there is so much more to take from their experience in both.”

At every stop on the tour I have been inspired by the young people that have come to hear us. These twenty-somethings belong to a generation dedicated to making their country a more moral actor in the world and they are struggling to understand what that truly means and how they can be a part of it.

On Friday we were invited to meet with a small group of undergraduate student activists at Harvard, and then ran off once more across the frozen-over River Charles to the Jamaica Plain Forum. Again, nearly 100 people came out in the biter cold to join us, filling up all the folding seats laid out across the wooden floors of a gracious old New England Church. It was a roomful of activists – people who are dedicating great energy to ambitions as distant as Middle East peace and as local as making Boston one of the most bike friendly cities in the nation.

For me, this was the first time in a decade that I have had so much interaction with people in the U.S. working for social justice. They came seeking what lessons Bolivia might have to offer but I told them that their own works were a model of citizenship.

Now an admission. At first I was not all that happy when the book tour team decided to take my one day off in 10 and turn it into a driving expedition to Western Massachusetts. I had visions of maneuvering a rental car through a winter’s blizzard, to have a chat with a handful of people in a bookstore, followed by another tiny handful in a college classroom. But on Saturday under clear skies Roberto and I made the trip and it was wonderful.

Thirty people crammed into the small but fabulous Odyssey Bookstore in South Hadley to hear us. A couple came up afterwards to introduce themselves. They had driven in an hour and a half from Albany, NY. With them was their young daughter, adopted from the same Cochabamba orphanage as my youngest. Several such families have traveled to greet us on the tour. They are each a reminder of how important it is that the U.S. and Bolivia sign a new agreement, reopening the adoptions that have meant so much to so many children and which have been closed for almost a decade. Afterwards students and faculty at Mt. Holyoke College, just across the street, hosted us for lunch.

Our event at Smith College was hosted by an extraordinary group of young women, the International Students Organization. We were led there by a pair of two bright young women from Bolivia – one from La Paz and the other from Santa Cruz. As we walked onto campus they presented the team that had organized things for us on campus, a half dozen women from every corner of the world. Globalization’s hope.

A hundred people filled the auditorium where we spoke, standing room only in Western Mass. – students, faculty and visitors. It was Roberto’s last stop on the tour before heading home and peop
le listened to him intensely than anywhere else. “In Bolivia, for decades, a whole system was constructed to put our natural resources and our finances into the hands of foreigners,” he explained. “Laws, bureaucracies, international agreements. Taking it apart is not going to happen overnight.”

On to Minnesota

Across the U.S. there are communities that for certain reasons have become especially connected to Bolivia. Arlington is home to the U.S.’ largest Bolivian community. San Francisco sent Bolivia both Bechtel and the Democracy Center. Minneapolis/St. Paul is another such place.

The Twin Cities-based group Mano a Mano has built dozens of Bolivian health clinics. Macalester College seems to send more students to the Bolivia S.I.T. program than any other. On Monday night Melissa and I were there to speak to a large gathering of students and faculty, and friends from the community. Among them was one of the young Peace Corps volunteers that the Bush administration pulled out of Bolivia last fall. We talked about how to get the Obama administration to send the Peace Corps back.

Then this morning we started the day bright and early by visiting with a class that had been assigned the book to read.

They met us armed with questions:

What’s the IMF’s version of the things you write about in your book?

What is the state of Bolivia’s feminist movement?

Is the U.S. government intervening in Bolivian politics?

We answered as best we could, acknowledging that the issues in the book are complicated ones, and encouraged them to get directly involved in issues of U.S. policy abroad. Then we left one more time for an airport.

Wrapping it Up in Chicago

There is a poetry, I suppose, in wrapping up a book tour that challenges market-driven globalization at a place known for the celebration of unregulated markets, the University of Chicago.

This morning Chicago Public Radio ran an hour-long interview that we taped yesterday, talking about a wide range of issues, from the Water Revolt to Coca, to the misdeeds of the U.S.’ former ambassador to Bolivia. You can listen to the program on-line here. Then on Tuesday evening the program’s host, Jerome McDonnell, one of the most thoughtful radio journalists we know, did us the honor of moderating the event with Melissa and I at the University.

This was out last big public event, so I spoke about one of the stories in our book tat got the least attention outside Bolivia, even though it was directly linked to a U.S. corporation, Enron. I shared the story of how, in January 2000, Enron and its partner Shell let 29,000 barrels of toxic oil spill into the Disaguadero River. I read aloud from the book’s chapter by Christina Haglund:

A week after the spill, the silence of the altiplano was interrupted by noises from above. Doña Julia, an almost toothless woman who speaks Aymara and only a few words of Spanish, came out of her adobe home where she was peeling potatoes. She bent her neck to the sky. For the first time in her life, Doña Julia saw up close a machine that flies. Enron and Shell’s representatives appeared out of the sky, arriving to villages not found on any map. The rural people were awed by the arrival of helicopters and anxious for answers to get their lives back to normal.

Six years later, Doña Julia kissed the banana that I handed her. She smiled wide and told me that she thinks her sheep are actually pigs. They never stop eating and never seem satisfied.

“They told us the petroleum was fertilizer,” she said.

“Who?” I asked.

“The oil spill people.”

These are the stories we came to the U.S. to tell. These are the voices from Bolivia that we felt it is urgent to bring before U.S. audiences.

Wednesday morning Melissa and I make out last stop, to speak with a group of high school students in Chicago. Then I board a plane to Miami and onward to Bolivia and home. Many of you reading this have joined us on this tour – in San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Santa Fe, Washington, New York, Boston, the Twin Cities, and here at the end by Lake Michigan. Thank you, all of you. Thank you for the spare beds we slept in, the events you pulled together, the meals you served us, the ideas you shared, and the solidarity that you offered.

And stay tuned for what comes next!

HOW TO GET YOUR COPY OF DIGNITY AND DEFIANCE
Order the book today from (click the links):

Amazon.com
University of California Press
Powell’s Books
Independent Bookstores


What's Next?