Monthly Archives: January 2023

Cop City is the Future they Want, Unwavering Resistance must be Our Answer

Over this past weekend I went to see the new Avatar movie. I had seen the first one and, although it had flaws, I saw the overall message as compelling. Fair warning, here is a small spoiler: Simply put, the plot is one where humans in the future, with the help of gargantuan and lethal military might, attempt to colonize a planet called Pandora. It is another solar system many light years from earth, and it possesses many extraordinary and rare minerals and resources, as well as incredible biodiversity and Indigenous societies. In the sequel, the humans of earth have returned, and their goal is nothing less than total colonization of the planet for the purpose of resettlement. Earth, as one cold hearted military general says, is dying.

Hollywood produces a lot of rubbish. I mean, a LOT of it. And we are living in an age where fast paced computer-generated graphics and imagery have taken the place of meaningful dialogue, acting and plot development. Much of this is nothing new, the film industry has long collaborated with the Department of Defense, the Pentagon and the CIA in its productions. How else could a blockbuster movie have access to so much military hardware? Major box office money makers, like the braindead “Top Gun” series, rely enormously on the US military industrial sector.

Thus, much of the messaging in today’s blockbuster movies is lockstep with that of modern American imperialism. The military is almost always portrayed as a flawed, yet thoroughly heroic force for good in the world. Foreigners, especially if they are in the Global South or from Arab or Muslim countries, are othered. They are often depicted in racist stereotypes, stripped of their humanity, and given the role of a sinister or backward troll bent on the destruction of all that is good in the world.

So, watching the new Avatar film provided a refreshing break from such racist and ludicrous plotlines. Here, imperialistic military forces are portrayed in the more accurate light of world destroyer. One scene, in particular, is reminiscent of the American military’s murderous assault on Southeast Asia in the 1960s and 70s. Giant starships make landfall on parts of Pandora’s pristine rainforests, setting everything and every living being ablaze. It is scorched earth policy seen for what it actually is, ecocide.

Without a doubt, Avatar has many flaws. It is still very American-centric. And there is still the stench of “white savior” mythos haunting many of the scenes. But it is visually stunning. And it is a departure from most of the films generated by the film industry these days. I cannot imagine most people coming away from the movie with anything other than disdain for militarism and all of its nauseating jingoistic platitudes. What struck me the most is that while I was watching this movie about an assault on the ecosystem of a fictional planet and its Indigenous peoples, another was unfolding on a real forest and on the people attempting to protect it from destruction. That forest is in the city of Atlanta, Georgia.

On January 18th, the Atlanta police assassinated one of those defenders. Manuel Esteban Paez Terán, affectionately known as “Tortuguita,” or “Little Turtle” was gunned down in cold blood by a stormtrooper raiding a peaceful encampment. The defenders have been in the Weelaunee Forest (also known as the South River Forest), south-east of Atlanta, for nearly two years protesting the construction of a massive $90 million dollar, 85-acre, police training facility. According to Truthout, the project has the backing of major corporations like Coca-Cola, Home Depot, Delta Airlines, UPS and Cox Enterprises. The latter owns the Atlanta Constitution-Journal which has published endless articles in praise of the Cop City project and demonizing anyone who dissents or protests it. The citizens of Atlanta, where a majority has opposed the facility, will nonetheless be paying for a third of its cost.

The Weelaunee Forest was land stolen from the Muscogee people who were marched westward, many to their deaths, in the infamous Trail of Tears. It is also located in a predominantly working-class Black neighbourhood. And it had been slated as a much-needed greenbelt for the city and to mitigate the damage from climate change. It has been aptly named “Cop City” by many protestors and critics alike.

With all these characteristics, the assault on this forest and its defenders is one of the best analogies for our current predicament. It also parallels the ongoing war against Indigenous peoples in the Amazon or in Central America, where scores have been murdered by armed militias and illegal loggers and ranchers who have been decimating the rainforests for decades. But it also signifies something even more chilling.

The authoritarian state, now in the most dangerous and destructive phase of late capitalism, is ramping up its efforts to suppress any meaningful dissent. With each passing year it becomes more brazen. So sadly, in all likelihood, the Weelaunee Forest will be razed, and Cop City will be built. The state is already unleashing its arsenal and declaring protestors “domestic terrorists,” a term which has been made meaningless with each passing year as it is applied to virtually anyone who exposes or opposes state violence, mindless militarism, rapacious consumption and corporate ecocide.

Police forces are now being trained, not to protect people from harm, but to protect state and corporate power. And this marriage is classic fascism. They will be trained in urban warfare against civilians, primarily the poor, working class and people of colour, and all under the guise of “fighting crime and keeping people safe.” The real purpose is far more ominous.

As our climate becomes more precarious and erratic, social and economic tensions will continue to be exacerbated. Instead of dismantling the planet-killing arrangement of power currently in place, those on the top are seeking to bolster its defenses. And they will defend this racist, ecocidal and untenable fortress at all costs. But does it need to be this way? And how complicit are we in this scheme?

As I watched Avatar, I found myself thinking of this unfolding drama in the Weeluanee Forest. I thought of the two Indigenous Pataxó land defenders who were just murdered in Brazil. I thought about the protests happening in west Germany to oppose a mine, where Greta Thunberg and others were just arrested. And I felt myself grieving that many of us seem a bit too comfortable with the theme of abandoning our precious home world within the realms of science fiction movies. I understand that the broader message of films like this may be to defend what we have left here, but how often is this understood by the larger audience? How often do they recognize that they represent the fictional “Sky People” or at least tacitly support their destructive policies and projects by their silence?

The species on fictional Pandora aren’t more wondrous than the real ones who inhabit our fragile and beleaguered biosphere. Not by a longshot. I’ve been fortunate to witness so many of them when visiting various places around the world. From bioluminescent algae in the sea in Panama, to marsupials in Australia, to howler monkeys in Argentina, to sequoias in California, to glow worms in New Zealand, to sea turtles in the Caribbean Sea, to lynxes here in my native Nova Scotia. And the Indigenous peoples and cultures of that fictional world are no match for the real ones who still live among us, in our times, and who are at the forefront of this ongoing war being waged for profit, against the biosphere on which we all depend.

Resistance to colonialism, militaristic, state violence and ecocide isn’t fictional. Cop City is the future they want, but there are courageous people pushing back against that nihilistic narrative everywhere. It is a resistance that is happening now, in big ways and small, on this world, and in places not far from where you live. But it needs all of us, or it will fail. And this wondrous, real world, and all that rely on it, will be lost forever.

Kenn Orphan, January 2023

*Photo is of Tortuguita (Manuel Esteban Paez Terán), may he rest in peace and in power, and may we who are left behind on Turtle Island resist, with conscience, kindness and integrity, in solidarity with each other, until the very end.

On the nature of memory, a gift we cannot keep

Since the onset of my mother’s dementia, I’ve thought a lot about the nature of memory. I never realized fully how malleable it is. Or how subject it is to the influence of trauma or ecstasy or boredom or sensation.

We tend to think memory is forever. That it is a constant. I think this helps us to feel less terrified at the randomness that often seems to define our days. But it isn’t.

I never imagined my mother would forget that I am her son. Worse, I never imagined she would eventually forget the love of her life. But my father, many years gone, has gone too from her memory. Perhaps only returning like some draft from a door left ajar on a blustery day.

Memory is the foundation of so many things’ we humans consider essential. It has been passed down in spoken stories, scribed on great scrolls, etched in stone, printed in bound up reams of paper, digitalized. It has been studied, examined and analyzed for court documents and civil arrangements. Used as a bludgeon by some, and a caress by others. And yet, even after the thousands of years our ancestors descended from the trees of the savannah, it is a mystery.

A couple months ago, I drove by an old cemetery. They are quite common here in Nova Scotia. Sometimes meticulously maintained, but often covered in bramble and vines. This one was a bit of both. I stopped the car and ambled toward the gates with a bit of trepidation as I went.

After a time, I realized that I had been standing in front of one tombstone. My mind had drifted to another place, but my body stood in this one. I looked at the engraving on the stone:

Gone, but not forgotten

A simple wish. A fervent belief. A last gasp of grief. I could not know what feelings or thoughts were going through the minds of those left on this side of the veil. But I could fathom the pain. We all want this, after all. To remember. To be remembered. Because we all know we will eventually be gone from this earthly plain. And then I thought of my mother. How she has forgotten. And she is not yet gone.

But I began to realize that memory is more than the pieces and shards of recollection we store in our heads. There is memory in our skin. Memory in our breath. Memory in every part of our senses. There is the memory of water. The memory of stone. The memory of soil. The memory of sky.

This thought provided me some comfort as I wandered back to the car. But I would be lying if I said it wiped away most of the fear or pangs of grief that seem to meet me at the most inopportune times. Because these days, I am living in my head. And this is where memory asserts itself like an insolent child. Demanding my attention every minute.

Since my mother’s diagnosis, I’ve feared losing my own memory. Any inkling that this is happening is met with a fierce internal battle. I SHALL NOT FORGET! I shout it in my mind. As if to defy Mnemosyne, the god of memory. As if to mark a moment in time, a line in the sand that cannot be crossed. But the truth is that I may forget, and probably will.

When I got home, I had a message from a friend who had end stage cancer. It said: “hope to talk to you soon.” I felt a sudden sting of panic and called him within minutes. I thought, lest I forget. “Tomorrow, I am going to visit my mother,” I told him. “I remember her. One of the kindest people I’ve ever met,” he replied. I didn’t realize that this would be the last time I would ever speak to him.

The next day I saw my mother. She was sitting up, doing a word search puzzle in a book that seemed to weigh more than she did. “Hi mom. How are you?” She looked up at me from the intensity of the printed conundrum and replied with a bright smile; “Hello Kenny.” I knew that she wasn’t greeting me as her son, but as one of her brothers. Because her life as my mother is all but forgotten to her. Decades are now erased from her world. But she still remembers my name. So, I will take that as a gift. Because it is. And because I’ve come to realize that memory, itself, is a gift. And, like all gifts, be it water, or breath, or life, it must eventually be returned to its source.

Kenn Orphan, January 2023

January 19th: In Solidarity with Antiwar Russians

In solidarity with antiwar Russians:

“For over a decade, Russian antifascists have commemorated January 19 as their day of solidarity. This is the date when in 2009, in the center of Moscow, the human rights and leftist activist Stanislav Markelov and the journalist and anarchist Anastasia Baburova were gunned down by neo-Nazis.

The murder of Markelov and Baburova became the culmination of the ultra-right terror of the 2000s, which killed hundreds of migrants and dozens of anti-fascists. For many years, while it was still possible, Russian activists held antifascist demonstrations and rallies on January 19 under the slogan “To remember is to fight!”

Today, when the Putin regime has invaded Ukraine and unleashed unprecedented repression against its own citizens who oppose the war, the date of January 19 takes on a new meaning. Back then the danger was posed by neo-Nazi groups, often acting with the connivance of the authorities.

Today, the ideology and practice of right-wing radicals have become the ideology and practice of the Russian regime itself, which is rapidly turning fascist over the course of its invasion of Ukraine.

Vladimir Putin is waging war not only against the Ukrainian people, but also against the Russian civil society resisting aggression. The brutal repressions hit, among other things, the left-wing movement: socialists, anarchists, feminists, labor unionists.

Before the New Year, the most famous left–wing politician in Russia, the democratic socialist Mikhail Lobanov, was arrested and beaten. The platform “Nomination” he created united the anti-war opposition in the municipal elections in Moscow in September 2022.

Kirill Ukraintsev, the leader of the Courier labor union and a well-known left-wing video blogger, has been in custody since April. The reason for the arrest were the protests and strikes the couriers organized as they sought to improve their working conditions.

A feminist, artist and anti-war activist Alexandra Skochilenko, who distributed anti-war symbols, faces a long prison term.

Six Anarchists – Kirill Brik, Deniz Aydin, Yuri Neznamov, Nikita Oleinik, Roman Paklin, Daniil Chertykov – were arrested in the so-called “Tyumen case.” They were brutally tortured, seeking confessions in the preparation of sabotage.

Daria Polyudova, an activist of the Left Resistance group, was recently sentenced to nine (!) years in prison for “calls to extremism.” Leftist journalist Igor Kuznetsov has been in prison for a year now, accused of “extremism” for his anti-war and anti-Putin views.

This is a far from exhaustive list of Russian leftists recently imprisoned or persecuted for their beliefs. As activists forced to leave Russia for political reasons, we ask our foreign comrades and all those who care to support the antifascist action on January 19 under the slogans:

No to Putin’s war, fascism and dictatorship!
Freedom to all Russian political prisoners!
Solidarity with Russian antifascists!
To remember is to fight!

We ask you to send us information about any solidarity actions during the week of January 19-24 – pickets, open meetings, online discussions, and even personal photos with posters – by e-mail at:”

– The Russian Socialist Movement

Photo is of journalist Anastasia Baburova and human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov. They were murdered by neo-Nazis in Moscow on the 19th, January 2009. The date is now remembered by Russian progressives, leftists, socialists and anarchists as a day of solidarity and resistance to fascism.

Kenn Orphan, January 2023