Tag Archives: solidarity

Unwavering Commitment

Emanuel AME Church  Google Street ViewThe historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church of Charleston, South Carolina, is no stranger to the barbarity of racism. It was born of insult when its Black members left the main denomination after white parishioners built a hearse house on a Black cemetery. It was burned to the ground by white supremacists and outlawed all together in the antebellum South, when members had to meet in secret for fear of their lives. And on Wednesday, June 17th, it suffered another blow at the hands of a young terrorist who, after marinating in the cauldron of racism that this nation has callously kept aflame, murdered nine people there in cold blood.

Charleston Vigil Source NY Times

But this building also nurtured the seeds of emancipation. It nursed the defiance of the Civil Rights movement. It sheltered the weary, the dispossessed and those rendered invisible by white society. And each time it was mercilessly marginalized or reduced to rubble it rose from the ashes brighter and bolder. This was not due to its foundation, structure or components, but because of the resilience and resolve of its beleaguered people.

Historic AME Church  Source Emanuel AME Church Charleston

Racism continues to blanket this nation like a shroud that refuses to give up its dead. It has morphed into the justice and prison system, it lurks in dormitories and posh clubhouses, and it furnishes young white minds with just enough hatred to commit acts of unconscionable evil. With all of this in mind, we remember the victims of Wednesday’s massacre, and their families today. And in their memory, we renew our unwavering commitment to defeat racism and social hatred wherever it rears its hideous head.

Kenn Orphan  2015


Cynthia Hurd, 54
Susie Jackson, 87
Ethel Lance, 70
Clementa Pinckney, 41
Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45
Tywanza Sanders, 26
DePayne Middleton-Doctor, 49
Myra Thompson, 59
Daniel Simmons, 74

Victims of the Massacre at AME Church in Charleston  Source Getty

The Easiest Job on the Planet

Leaders gather in Paris  photo Associated Press

It is difficult to muster any feeling other than nausea when looking at this photo of war criminals. Linked arm in arm, this junta marched boldly through the streets of Paris today, proclaiming their steadfast commitment to freedom of speech in the wake of the tragic attacks that left 12 dead at the French magazine Charlie Hebdo, and resulted in 5 more in the ensuing manhunt. The nausea comes when any person of conscience shirks the corporate media’s imposed amnesia and remembers the mountains of corpses amassed by each of them, from Iraq to Afghanistan to Pakistan to Yemen to Gaza to Libya and beyond. It also comes when one remembers the horrendous abuses and assaults on freedom of expression in the form of crackdowns on protestors and prison sentences for journalists in their own countries. This display was, of course, for one reason alone. It signals a new page in an unending war of imperialistic aggression, dressed up in the sanctimonious garments of western superiority.

Unlike most of the protestors who joined the march today, freedom of speech is meaningless to this gang of miscreants. But it is a useful phrase to employ when stoking the flames of social and racial hatred. Anti-immigrant fervor is already reaching fever pitch in much of Europe where austerity measures, imposed on the population by the very ones gathered today in Paris, have resulted in misery for millions. This spectacle provides a convenient distraction from their outright plunder and malfeasance. It gives them an exit from the ramifications of their murderous and cruel policies. And with a subservient press in tow, the same one that virtually ignored every other mass protest against their tyranny, their job has become the easiest one on the planet.

Kenn Orphan  2015

The Dark Legacy of American Imperialism

Vigil for Jennifer Laude  photo credit Ted Aljibe AFP

On October 11, 2014, the body of Jennifer Laude was discovered in a hotel room in the Philippine port city of Olongapo. She had been beaten, strangled and drown in a tub. Laude was beloved by all who knew her. She was a 26 year old woman who supported her family and enjoyed life. But she was born into a reality beyond her control. She was Filipino and transgender; and her unfortunate fate was sealed when she met her killer, US Marine, Joseph Scott Pemberton. This could be just another tragic story of sexual assault, transphobia and murder, which is bad enough.  But this incident represents a long, bloodstained history of American military occupation and imperialism.

Following centuries of colonialism under Spain, Filipinos, who had fought long and hard for independence, found themselves to be yet another chess piece in the geopolitical game of the elites. Despite the illusion of a conflict, the US struck a deal with Spain only to introduce a new era of subjugation on the indigenous population. Armed struggle against US forces proved futile for the Filipino people. Although they did fight fiercely again for their independence, the Americans had far deadlier weaponry. Hundreds of thousands of men, women and children, were massacred in the first years of the 20th century by US troops. Waterboarding, commonly thought to be a relatively new torture technique for American forces, was used liberally on Filipinos. The cruelty inflicted upon them was breathtaking in its depravity. The book “In Our Image,” by journalist Stanley Karnow, detailed many of these atrocities including rapes, village burnings, indiscriminate killings and concentration camps.

Water boarding of Filippinos by American Marines Photo Stock FootageAmerican Moro Crater massacre Muslims Philippines  Photo stock footage
As was the case with all people of color, the dehumanization of Filipinos became embedded in American policy and practice. Anthropologist W. J. McGee called them “monkey-like” and exhibited them at the St. Louis Fair in 1904 much to the amusement of curious white Americans. Prominent periodicals like National Geographic referred to Filipinos as “uncivilized.” And these attitudes had a direct impact on their rights, both there and in the US where they were segregated, prevented from voting, having property, or working in most careers.

St Louis Worlds Fair Souvenir 1904

Anti Filipino sign  Source UCLA

Boston Sunday Globe clipping

Following WWII, and a brutal Japanese occupation, the United States picked up where it had left off. As with Native Americans, Filipinos were systematically stripped of their culture and language. And racism became the class designating factor, where those with more European features were favored with more benefits over everyone else. With the force of the military, American imperialism morphed into national security interests. American corporations sliced up the country for their own profit and employed a loyal band of well paid locals to enforce American interests within government. Vast swaths of land were handed over to US corporations, leaving indigenous Filipinos impoverished and disenfranchised in their own nation. And any dissent or resistance was met with swift violence.

USS Guardian at Tubbataha Reef   photo from AFP Western Command

The independence the Philippines eventually attained was an illusion. Sovereignty was supplanted by the “free market” with the result being gross income inequality and pollution left behind by the US military. Subic Bay, where the US Navy dumped raw sewage and chemicals like asbestos for decades and where thousands of Filipinos live, continues to cause disease, premature deaths and birth defects in the local population. And the US has yet to pay for the destruction of coral reefs at the UNESCO World Heritage site in Palawan by the USS Guardian. The Philippines became fertile ground for the ruthless economic policies of the global elite. It has seen a long list of presidents who bow to Washington and Wall Street.  And current President, Benigno Aquino, as well as a slew of other politicians on the dole, do their best not to disappoint in carrying out the duties of an obedient, client state.

A boy swims in polluted Manila Bay  Photo credit Cheryl Ravelo  Reuters

The tragic case of Jennifer Laude is emblematic of the savage legacy of military occupation and economic imperialism. Misogyny, heterosexism, and racism underpin its foundation and it permits such injustices by its very nature.  Her murderer will most likely go unpunished as other similar incidents have proven. American military personnel enjoy immunity in the Philippines, as they do in any other occupied territory. But her life will be honored; and her death will be remembered by people everywhere who struggle for a more just and equitable world and who long for an end to tyranny.

Jennifer Laude  Photo Source MNLCandlelight Vigil for Jennifer Laude in Manilla  Photo by Jose Del  Rappler
“…I have seen that we do not intend to free, but to subjugate the people of the Philippines . We have gone to conquer, not to redeem… And so I am an anti-imperialist. I am opposed to having the [American] eagle put its talons on any other land.”
— Mark Twain October 15, 1900 The New York Herald

Kenn Orphan  2015

Self Destruction Writ Large

Polar bear on dwindling Arctic ice sheet  PA     Recently, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, one of the most conservative, scientific/political organizations, issued its most dire report to date.  It warned that climate change will have “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts” in coming decades.  It goes on to say that “the risk of abrupt and irreversible change increases as the magnitude of the warming increases.”   Unknown to most of the public is that this panel is very conservative and years behind reality in its assessments.  Their reports are also subject to being watered down for geopolitical and economic reasons.  As a UN body, the IPCC responds to its masters.  And, like the World Bank, they follow the dictates of neoliberal capitalism.  The common definition of neoliberalism, the dominant geopolitical force of our age,  refers to “economic liberalization, privatization, free trade, open markets, deregulation, and reductions in government spending in order to enhance the role of the private sector in the economy.”

Popular Resistance

Economic neoliberalism attaches a monetary value to everything that exists and, in doing so, catastrophically demeans that value, transforming it into something that is easily disposable.  It commodifies the very building blocks of life.  It dismantles the commons by enforcing private ownership.  It replaces citizenship with consumerism.  It hustles us toward extinction and ecocide with a jingle in our heads and a shopping bag in our hand.  It endorses endless war, endless distraction and the rape of the natural world, because these are the only things that will sustain its existence.  It is self destruction, writ large.

Dying forests in the Northern Rockies  NRDC

The malignant tide that brought us to this place is rising fast.  Centuries of plunder and exploitation are rendering the oceans and the planet barren and fallow.  Soon it will be impossible for any human being to traverse this landscape unsullied, where the snares of a beleaguered ecosystem are ubiquitous, the currency of the state is violence, and the native tongue of its leaders is cruelty.  In fact, the established plutocratic class is getting nervous.  They do not have a plan outside of maintaining their current campaigns of plunder, distracting the public, and constructing a police state to insure their power and wealth remain intact.  So it is a fair assumption that their well deserved paranoia will spark even more heavy handed repression and violence.

Protest in Chile  Roar Magazine

But more people are beginning to shake off the shackles of endless fear mongering and war drumming imposed on them from the powers that be.  More are beginning to tire of the vapid celebrity worship, the car-wrecks of cruel humiliation that pass as entertainment, and the empty promises of fulfillment and wholeness that feckless cupidity and consumerism offer.  More are beginning to see through the lies.

Vigil in Bangalore

 It is unclear if our species will weather the coming storms, droughts, social unrest, police state violence, corporate plunder and threat of nuclear war.   Indeed our right to go on is questionable given our long history of horrific treatment of the most vulnerable among us, and the countless species with whom we share this planet.  But one thing is certain; no one will be able to take this journey unmolested.  Even as it is being decimated, we are all inextricably connected to this marvelous world.  And perhaps, with that in mind, we can turn away from the self-indulgent madness of our time and appreciate what is left and realize just how good we had it.

Kenn Orphan  2014

Our Shared Humanity

thanks for the advice palestine  FergusonFollowing the execution of an unarmed black youth by a police officer, images of the over the top militarized response in Missouri toward an entire community have gone around the world.  Even the press has been targeted.  Many in Gaza have taken note of this, and have offered much appreciated support and advice to the besieged people of Ferguson.  For instance, Gazans, via Twitter, advised protestors on how to dilute the acerbic sting of tear gas. This should not be surprising in the least.  After all, the Palestinians know better than most of how to cope with the brutality of state violence.

Gaza is an open air prison where 1.8 million people are surrounded by walls, barbed wire and sentry towers; and where they are subjected to collective punishment, humiliation and dehumanization by an occupying military.  Their diet is strictly controlled, their water is mostly contaminated.  And when they try to fish or farm they are routinely fired upon.  They understand what it is like to be in captivity with no voice.

Ferguson is a microcosm of the institutionalized systems of racism that have been permitted to fester and entrench themselves within the American landscape.  It is a visible manifestation of the pernicious segregation that never completely dissolved.  And so it naturally has parallels to other marginalized and disenfranchised communities the world over, including Gaza.

Solidarity in the struggle against tyranny between two different peoples is irreproachable.  It is the recognition that ordinary people anywhere in the world not only wish to live in peace, but demand social and economic justice for their communities.  When we finally realize that our strength lies in our interdependence, and is the only answer to state violence and oppression, the powerful tremble.  They should.  Because this kind of non-violent resistance is formidable.  And the legacy of our shared humanity endures far longer than their brutality ever could.

Kenn Orphan  2014

(Photo is of two women attending a vigil in Ferguson, Missouri/Twitter)

Images Can Be Powerful

pope3Images can be powerful. Arguably, this one of Pope Francis making an unscheduled visit to the Separation Wall in Bethlehem is just such an image. While the Israeli government claims it is for security, the facts tell a different story. The Wall has been widely criticized due to its carving up of Palestinian ancestral lands and has made life a living hell for the tens of thousands of people who must traverse its dehumanizing checkpoints to get to school, or the hospital, or to their own olive groves.

It is fatally easy to be cynical in this day and age. It is easy to be suspicious of every act taken, however symbolic, of a powerful religious or political figure. But one has to question whether such cynicism is warranted in every instance.

The Pope represents worldwide Catholicism, and there is much to be criticized about the institution of the Catholic Church from its horrendous record of child abuse and subsequent cover-ups, or its egregious stance on women’s and LGBTQ rights, or its bloody and cruel history. But there are millions of devout Catholics around the world who struggle for peace and justice. And there are nuns, priests and brothers who are persecuted and even killed for the stands they take to protect indigenous peoples from exploitation and ethnic cleansing. I have been fortunate to have known some of them.

This action taken by Pope Francis can be taken as an empty gesture; but I will choose to check my cynicism at the door this time. If this image can shed even a small amount of attention to the plight of the Palestinians, if it can open up the hearts and minds of people, regardless of their religion or lack there of, to the universality of human rights, if it can show that this ancient land is home to all who live there, be they Jewish or Arab, or if it can lead, even slightly, to the demolition of this wall instead of houses, then it is a worthwhile, welcome and beneficial gesture to be lauded.

Kenn Orphan  2014

(image courtesy of the International Middle East Media Center)