Sunday, June 29, 2008

Your 60 second tour of Lomas del Poleo

Sorry. This post was accidently published out-of-order. It was meant to conclude the week of 6/23/08. I've re-posted it on 6/29/08 so that it appears in the correct order:

Here is the land of Lomas del Poleo, as I filmed it in April; the camera's eye is my eye. We sneaked past the goon at the gate using a sort-of ruse.

I hid the camera. Ironically, you and I now know that the Lomas residents' lawyer--whose strategies to counter the Zaragosas (the family who claims to own Lomas) are discussed in the clip--was mysteriously assassinated this week. This event has run in the background of my mind, an undercurrent this week, as I visualize his widow and young sons at the doomed to life without him.

The first creatures to appear in my garden were the green beans, sprouting as though by magic, bounding toward the sky. Their amazing appearance from what seemed like nowhere brought to mind the story of Jack in the Beanstalk, in which a giant robs the poor peasants who have nothing. That analogy serves well here in Lomas, giving me the vehicle to finally tell the Lomas story (6/23/08 post).

It seems like we humans are most affected by what is near enough to us to have been part of our lives or have touched us somehow (the "proximity factor"). That's why we have to keep exploring on the boundaries of our open up our experience ever wider...enlarging our hearts to allow more reality to touch us. Having read/viewed this post, you've made room in your heart for Lomas, and for this I'm grateful. Thanks for helping me process this part of our world and incorporate it into my heart.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Is one small step for a man a giant leap for humanity?

Exhibit A: Mr. Border Explorer stands with left leg in the United States, right leg in Lomas del Poleo.

Yes, it is that close to:

  • assassinations
  • home razing
  • barbed wire access to homes and homesteads
  • "gated community"=someone else's goon decides who may visit you, who may not
  • median wage=$.50/hr if you're lucky
  • no health insurance, no IRA or retirement plan
  • no home security

But, come to think of it, if the reasons for what the right leg suffers originate from where the left leg stands, just where is the humanity?

Further: what happens to the poor of the 3rd World may well befall us of the non-uber-rich (we who are not in the "have more" class) in the United States, as well. In fact, just inside the U.S. border wall of El Paso, the Segundo Barrio (or 2nd Ward) may be "urban developed" into non-recognition in a plan masterminded by the same real estate outfit (the Verde Group) that could be behind the scenes in the Lomas real estate dealing. [There's more info on Segundo Barrio at Paso del Sur.]

So below we have a video showing the Lomas folk and the Segundo folk joining forces in a joint protest in Juarez. Mr. B.E. and I could not attend it as we were already committed to sheltering undocumented immigrants that day. Now, watching the video and seeing my friends in it, my blood runs cold as I wonder if they will be next to fall under the assassin's bullets. The degrees of separation are tightening.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

"Erasing Every Trace of Us"

Voices from Lomas del Poleo:

Watch this. Then tell me that your blood isn't boiling. (This post follows up 6/23/08 post. I must get out of the way and let the people tell their own story.)

Monday, June 23, 2008

Grim's Fairy Tales by Border Explorer

The Border Explorer began her story:
Once upon a time in a neighboring kingdom lived poor landless peasants without homes for their children. Desperate, they were willing to build cardboard huts in the most barren and remote lands of the kingdom where nobody else would ever live. According to the rule of their nation, after five years passed, that land belonged to them. It was called Lomas del Poleo. In the beginning there was no water, electricity, roads, schools or services. But the peasants only wanted to live: each on five acres with some goats, pigs, maybe cows, too.

But one day our kingdom passed a law making it possible to pass goods easily back and forth between the neighboring lands. Rumors of a new road which would pass through the barren Lomas del Poleo were whispered. The richest man in the country (who already owned more than all the people of the kingdom altogether) declared that Lomas del Poleo really belonged to him.

This cruel, rich man built a razor-wire fence around the town. He posted a goon on the only road into town to control who could enter the town and who was forbidden. Life became very difficult for the peasants. Their pig stys and their homes burned mysteriously while their animals and even their children perished in the flames! The rich man sent a goon to each house, telling people they are going to get evicted and will have nothing. “Hence, it is better sign over your rights to the land and go somewhere else to live,” said the goon. He lied to people saying that “so-and-so has already signed and most people are signing,” showing lists of names of people who are going to accept relocation—people to whom he hadn’t even spoken! One by one, families gave up and moved away from their poor, but cherished, homes. Then the goons came in and bulldozed them, one by one.

But some of the families rallied. They knew that if they banded together they could prove that their homes were theirs. They could stand up to the cruel, rich bully. They hired a lawyer and found friends to support them.

The Border Explorer received an email on Sunday, which read:

“Carlos Avitia, the lawyer who was representing most of the residents of Lomas de Poleo, was gunned down today in Chihuahua at 1:15 p.m. There were no details as to who the assassins may have been or why he was murdered. Lic. Avitia leaves behind, in addition to his wife, four young boys ranging in age from about 13 years old to 3 years old.”

We hope that that is not the end of the story.
To learn about human rights abuses in Lomas del Poleo:

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Welcome to My World, part 1

"Dwight's"* property borders our community garden. I first met him last summer on my first time around in this economically disadvantaged neighborhood. He is a fixture here. A hand-written sign in the window of his shanty-home advertises his offer: Lawnmower repair, $25. Neighbors told me stories about getting their lawnmowers back from his "shop" in various pieces.

I felt proud when Dwight shouted out to me last week: "Girl, girl!!" to get my attention as I was headed home down the alley behind Dwight's backyard. I was proud that he recognized me; he considered me a friendly presence--no name necessary.

Dwight has diabetes, and the whole neighborhood considers it a responsibility to remind him of that. Since Dwight gets a good share of his diet from the neighborhood food pantry and the free "cafe" for the poor next door, we all see what he selects to eat. And he has a sweet tooth. These photos show his 2 liter bottle of Bubba Cola is the non-diet variety! "Tisk, tisk, Dwight," we remind him. "Should you be drinking that?"

He takes it in stride.

*name changed

Thursday, June 19, 2008

A Love Letter to my Blogging Friends

I will go to great lengths/heights for you. Here's a little vid of the
Davenport flood I took from the Skyway. [Warning: it is really dorky!]

Other bloggers have opened my eyes to wider ramifications and connections this flood triggers. I link Enigma who beautifully parallels federal response to Katrina and the Midwest Flood '08.

DivaJood drew me into the metaphor the flooding can represent vis a vis our nation's involvement in the Middle East...getting in over our head and being instructed to "stay the course"...being led by a crazy fool into deeper waters. [c.f. her comment to yesterday's post here.]
Let Pete Seeger lay it out for you:

Monday, June 16, 2008

Katrina on the Prairie

"What makes Iowa difficult makes Iowans strong."

It is a discouraging time to be in Iowa, "the beautiful land." The lone sandbagger in the photo taken just a few blocks from my home represents thousands of volunteers who contribute their sweat toward the anti-flooding efforts. Senator Tom Harkin advised my nephew David to "put on some sunscreen" when the two of them met on the frontline of the sandbagging effort in Iowa City. Sadly, despite the best of efforts, it has been a losing cause too often.

After an overnight evacuation, my sister's family joyfully returned to their home which was untouched by water in Cedar Rapids. Because they didn't lose electricity, the sump pumps had even kept their basement dry. But I'm sure you've seen the photos of thousands of structures with water up to their roofs when a dirt levee broke. Our family was fortunate.

Here in southeast Iowa, we're braced for the crest still to come when the Iowa, Cedar and Wapsipinicon Rivers...and all the rest...empty into the Mississippi. The "Old Miss," which forms the border of so many states, lends a poignant note this week to my "border explorer" theme.

Thanks for your thoughts, prayers, good karma, and concern as our nation faces a Katrina on the Prairie.

Hillary didn't get it, so I'm voting Republican...

Please watch this convincing and inspirational video with an open mind. Join the movement!

Well over 1 million have viewed this already, so apologies if you've already seen it. It's worth watching twice, however.

Friday, June 13, 2008

The High Water View from Here

Iowa is under siege. This photo shows the Mississippi River water visible from my front yard. Even this hasty snapshot reveals the engulfed trees at riverside. Where I live is high enough that my dwelling likely won't be affected, but flooding is widespread and we are all affected. Everyone has a story to share.

My sister's family in another city evacuated their home last night. A couple tornadoes passed overhead here but didn't fully form or touch down. The rain is relentless. Note threatening sky in the photo above; we don't see much sun. A city street six blocks away from me closed a few days ago. Interstate 80 which transects Iowa is closed; through traffic must detour. I don't remember this ever happening before although I've lived in Iowa most all my life.

The proximity factor is high for me. As flood-swollen creeks and smaller rivers feed into the Mississippi, things will worsen here. Thanks for your concern, already expressed, as news of our situation dominates the media. I'm safe. I'll keep you posted.

Later on Friday: I walked around the neighborhood to take some shots of the local flooding:

Pumping out a cellar. Some people have several feet in the basement. For others, water is inundating the home. Note also the lime green sandbags in front of this business, ready to be placed. The rivers are expected to continue to rise. We're not near the record-level crests yet that are expected.

Davenport doesn't have a flood wall, so it erects temporary walls of dirt when needed. Here you see one that spans a major street. The truck carries sand/dirt to the site. The Caterpillar packs it down.

This is the second flood this year so far!

Just 4 blocks from my place, but......(next picture, please)

I took this one when standing behind the sign in the photo above, looking up the hill. We live almost 5 blocks up the hill from this point. We're in good shape (so far). We didn't lose electricity in last night's storm and our sewer is holding--two dilemmas others faced last night.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

What ICE Won't Tell You about May 12, 2008

Not long after the ICE immigration raid May 12 in Postville, IA human rights watchers reported:

  • Some of the women apprehended in the raid were still unaccounted for a week afterwards, having been initially detained in various county jails. ICE was unresponsive to requests for their location.

  • Several employees detained lost their housing because replacement workers Agriprocessors hired took over the former workers' company-owned housing.

  • The Agriprocessor plant brought in busloads of Lakota from the Dakotas to replace apprehended workers.

  • Union representatives claim the plant employed workers as young as 13 and that they have evidence that supervisors beat workers.

  • The employer has still not been charged in the raid for any violation whatsoever.

Tomorrow is one month since the raid. Activists call for a monthly moment of rememberance of the ICE raid on the 12th of each month. If anyone hears any work of the raid or of this movement in MSM, let me know.

LULAC (League of Latin American Citizens) states (5/21/08):

"It is about time that Congress begins to look at the extremely aggressive tactics of Immigration and Custom Enforcement Officials (ICE) and the effects on the immigrant community. Up to this time congressional hearings that have been held focus on problems of immigration and rarely on human costs. We urge Congress to hold hearings so that lawmakers are better informed about the human costs of aggressive enforcement measures so that they can develop more proactive immigration laws that meet the needs of our economy while expecting human dignity and the right to work.” (emphasis mine)

Who will step up to the plate with reasonable proposals for the reform of immigration law? I've shirked my duty long enough. This summer, I'm going to consider what acceptable comprehensive immigration reform should look like. If I come up with anything, I'll let you know.

Your thoughts will help. What should our country do to get our system in sync with our reality?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Immigration: a Rush to Injustice

The Boston Globe weighs in on the May ICE raid in Iowa, largest immigration raid in U.S. history: Globe Editorial: May 30, 2008

AUTHORITIES went too far when they raided Agriprocessors, an Iowa meatpacking company. Typically illegal immigrant workers face civil deportation proceedings. But this case was more drastic: workers faced criminal charges such as identity theft. In a matter of days, nearly 300 immigrants accepted a plea bargain. Most agreed to spend five months in jail and then be deported. Foul, cried the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, arguing that lawyers representing 10 or more detainees lacked sufficient time to sort out relevant details of criminal and immigration law. This rush to justice does little to solve the nation's illegal immigration woes.
Now to the "Every Cloud has a Silver Lining" Department:
My 88 year-old mom is a good barometer of how people in middle America think. When my husband and I left Iowa to work on immigration issues in Texas a couple years ago, she clearly disapproved. The mainstream media moulded her opinion, and it wasn't pro-immigrant. Now, after observing the situation in Postville (from her vantage point just 65 miles away), she is outraged. "What they did to those people just is not right!" she vents with the venom she usually reserves for GWB.

ICE is turning the hearts of middle America. Our immigration laws are not in sync with reality. We need to pressure our leaders to face facts and resolve this mess.
And from the "BTW" Department:
* The Iowa Independent reports that the Iowa Division of Labor Services fined the Agriprocessors plant $182,000 in March, based on 39 violations, but the fines were later reduced to $42,750. [emphasis mine]

Sunday, June 8, 2008

And here I was feeling blah.

Saturday was an "off" day. I was feeling a little blah; it lasted all day.

My husband and I were chatting in the evening, and he shared with me an incident from the day before. He volunteers as the supervisor of the day shelter in town. He sits at the front desk and handles the inquiries, problems, incoming phone calls, donations, and emergencies. It can be stressful but he, no ordinary person, enjoys the challenge and the opportunity to interact with the homeless who use the shelter.

So the story began, "I got to talking yesterday with a guy who told me that his wife died exactly a year ago to the day. He was a young guy--about 40."

My exclaimed "Oh!" punctuated the narrative.

He continued, "So I asked him, 'Was it an unexpected death, or was she sick?' and the guy told me that she was on dialysis and she decided not to continue. 'I tried to talk her out of it,' he said, 'but she said it was her decision.'"

At this, my husband paused a moment and looked directly at me. "Dialysis is expensive. They were poor."

And here I was feeling blah. Suddenly I felt lucky...and sad, too. But not sad for myself anymore.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

The Proximity Factor

Upon awakening on Sunday morning a couple weeks ago, I was greeted by my husband's advisory: "The town of Parkersberg was demolished last night by a tornado. Seven dead." Horror and trembling galvanized me. I had slept peacefully through the storm. These others didn't wake up that morning, not so very far away from me, in a little town I've been acquainted with off-and-on over the years. Unfortunately in the path of an EF-5 tornado, it was effectively eliminated.

The Iowa news media blanketed the state with coverage of the devastation and its aftermath. Iowans poured forth volunteer assistance and donations. Nice.

I've mused these two weeks since on the tens of thousands dead in Myranmar from a cyclone. And, there's no forgetting the earthquake in China where thousands of people died or are missing, and more than 270,000 were injured. The China earthquake left an estimated five million people homeless, with over 200,000 recently evacuated for fear of flooding. Despite the overwhelming magnitude of these events, the disaster in tiny Parkersberg wielded the greater emotional impact to me.

I suspect that the greater the heart and the more well-developed the individual's morality, the more that person can transcend "the proximity factor" in allowing her/his heart to be moved. It's only when my vision perceives "the other" as "related to me" that I'm willing to extend myself in a generous, compassionate response.

The challenge, then, is to make my heart bigger and see myself as part of the whole. I want to keep pushing "the proximity factor" into ever lengthening measures.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

"But what if I'm in an accident???!?"

One of my regular projects for the local emergency homeless shelter these days is to organize their donation room. Yesterday I tackled the men's underware section, sorting and sizing it. I encountered these items:
I can't speak for your mom, but my mother would never forgive me if I was wearing underwear like this when the ambulance picked me up!
What are people thinking who donate items like these? Maybe something like: "Well, it's better than nothing." Or "This would be good enough for those people."
Mr. B.E. remarked, "That's not the worst I've seen. At least this underwear is clean." So as not to gross out my gentle readers, we will now draw the curtain on the ensuing underwear incident that Mr. B.E. related from his volunteering past.
So, this concludes my Andy-Rooney-grumpy-rant (sans his endearing humor). Thanks, Everyone, for listening. [Hey, this is a lot cheaper than therapy!]