By: Jane Stillwater
I arrived at the U.S. Social Forum in Detroit — without a clue about what I was getting myself into. But it turned out to be a very amazing gig. Hundreds (if not thousands) of people were there, all trying to rack their brains for solutions regarding what to do about America’s numerous major problems. Plus everyone was networking like crazy. And the grandiose size of this vast event made past Teabagger conventions look pretty puny. I had NO idea that there were so many progressives still left in America.
And I too was out there networking like crazy and racking my brains — but mainly about where I was going to be sleeping that night.
When people came up to the Free Palestine Movement booth where I was working today, first I would try to set them straight about what is really happening in Palestine. “Palestinians are basically just people like you or me, except for one big difference — they have the jackboots of the world’s fifth largest military machine slammed down onto their throats.”
“And why is that?”
If you ask me, it’s because American weapons manufacturers and their lobbyists keep goading Israel to keep on acting crazy; to keep on acting in ways that anyone with half a brain could easily see is going to totally piss everyone else in the Middle East off. So. Why do they keep doing these stupid things that obviously don’t work? Why? In order to create and maintain the perfect Endless War. You can’t sell guns if you don’t have a war. Duh.
Anyway, back at the booth. First I would cover all the salient points about what the FPM is doing to break the brutal blockade of Gaza — such as organizing ships and boycotts and divestments and perhaps even planning to fly an airplane loaded with humanitarian supplies into Gaza. The semi-crazy right-wing fundies currently in charge of Israel’s “Big Guns and F16s Department” wouldn’t shoot down an airplane with little old ME on board, would they? Don’t answer that.
Then, after I’d handed out all of my FPM brochures, I’d ask people where they were staying while at the convention. Here are some of the replies that I got:
1. “The Super 8 Motel.”
“How much does it cost?” I asked.
“It’s located way out on the freeway near Lansing, so it’s reasonable.”
“But how do you get there?”
“We rented a car.” Oh. Screw that. Too expensive for me and no place to park it here anyway. Next person.
2. “I’m staying in a church. In a sleeping bag. On the floor.” Oh.
3. “I live here in Detroit. I can bike over.” Lucky you.
4. “I’ve got a really nice room at the Regency.” Expensive. “But I’m sharing it with five other people so it’s not so bad.”
5. “We drove down from Canada. We’re staying with friends.” Rats. I have no friends in Detroit.
6. “I’m at the Doubletree. But my boyfriend is paying for it.” I shoulda planned ahead and gotten a sugar daddy. What was I thinking!
7. “We came up from North Carolina. The Victory Motel. Out on Route 94. $60 a night.” Yeah, and I bet that you have a car also.
8. “At the Clarion. $62 a night. No car. We take the 125 bus to the airport and then take a shuttle to our hotel.” How long does that take you? “Two and a half hours.”
9. A woman with a child had no idea where she was going to be staying. “We just got in from Ohio.” I felt her pain.
10. “Holiday Inn. Right down the street.” How much a night? “I’m not sure. I’m here with my parents.” I wish I had parents.
11. “I’m just down from Ann Arbor for the day. 45 of us chartered a bus.”
12. “In the dorms at Wayne University. 35 bucks a night. You get your own room.” I’m there! But when I inquired around, I unfortunately found out that there was no there there.
Then my friends said I could stay with them at the Code Pink house. Okay. But then Medea Benjamin got detained while crossing the border back in from Canada and the person detained with her was the one who owned the house here in Detroit and so that deal fell through.
Finally I decided to just go sleep on a park bench over by the river next door to Cobo Hall. On my way to the park, however, I saw some shuttle buses lined up to take conventioneers back to Dearborn. So I just got into the line. I’d never been to Dearborn before. And, once in Dearborn, I was lucky enough to find a cheap room for the night. And it is a good thing that I did too because it would have been like Dante’s Inferno out on that park bench because there is nothing outside my window right now except lots and lots of rain and brilliant and terrifying flashes of thunder and lightning. But at least it’s not Operation Cast Lead.
Without a car I was pretty much stuck in downtown Detroit, without many options. They don’t call this place the Motor City for nothing. When I finally did get onto that bus to Dearborn and hit the freeway, I noticed a lot of crumbling and deserted industrial buildings by the sides of the interchanges — but the freeways themselves were freaking works of art as they cut through Detroit like knives through butter. No neighborhood seemed to be spared. Freeways definitely take priority here.
And my experiences in Detroit only fortified my opinion that without gas and cars, America is pretty much screwed. Without gas and cars, we are pretty much stuck wherever we are — be it in the inner city or out in the suburbs. We don’t have to wait for “terrorists” to come and blow us up. We appear to be pretty much doing that to ourselves without any help already, thanks to our crippling reliance on oil and cars.
“Don’t forget the Motor City….”
I’m currently manning a booth at the Detroit Social Forum, and across the aisle from me is a booth run by Katrina victims who have driven all the way up from New Orleans. And guess what? Katrina is STILL the issue.
“15,000 perfectly good housing units have been destroyed in NOLA since 2005,” said one woman manning the “Stand With Dignity” booth. “Not enough affordable housing is being built to replace the homes that were lost, and NO ONE is being issued HUD housing vouchers.”
250 Katrina survivors came up here from New Orleans to make their pain known. And they gave me a free breakfast too. And sold me a mini Second-Line Club umbrella for my granddaughter Mena who loves umbrellas.
Then Forum members were given a sneak preview of the latest Oliver Stone movie last night. Did you know that Stone went to South America and did a documentary on the new “Bolivarist” leaders down there — including a big long interview with Hugo Chavez that apparently lasted for days. They went to Chavez’s hometown. He also drove Stone through corn fields. “This is where we make all those Iranian atomic bombs,” Chavez joked. Stone also included that famous clip of Chavez saying, “You are a donkey, Mr. Bush,” wherein everyone in the audience laughed.
There was also an interesting clip of GWB saying, “The best way to revitalize the economy is war.” Wrong, Mr. Bush. That’s just the best way to revitalize the rich. The best way to revitalize the economy is to invest in jobs, education and infrastructure — and to tell weapons manufacturers to go take a hike.
Then Stone interviewed Evo Morales and the “Bolivarist” presidents of Ecuador and Paraguay. Who would have ever thought that Paraguay would go socialist! Paraguay? And then Stone interviewed Raul Castro. I wanna interview Raul Castro! I’m all jealous.
Anyway, the Stone preview was a big success. People flooded the theater. People were jamming the aisles and even lying down on the stage. Don’t tell the fire marshall.
I don’t think that “South of the Border” will ever become a blockbuster at your local cine-plex but I gave it two big thumbs up.
Then I trudged back to my newly-found fleabag motel, past Cadillac Drive and Chrysler Drive and the General Motors headquarters, which appears to have been built from mostly glass and chrome. But its flags were all at half-mast. In honor of the long-overdue death of GM’s famous gas-guzzlers? Then I trudged some more — past several large buildings that were boarded up and deserted, and a convenience store where I bought a bag of “Better Made” potato chips, Detroit’s finest chips. Founded in 1930. “For your eating enjoyment, our potato chips are cooked in the finest oils, contain 0 grams of Trans Fat and are flavored with the highest quality seasonings.” I’m saving them for breakfast.
I also talked with someone who had just gotten back from Nepal. “I met an Israeli girl over there who had just finished her military service and was on walkabout. She said that she was a complete Zionist. She said that Israel used to be all theirs — meaning the Zionists of western European origin — but now Israel’s majority consists of Sephardi and eastern European Jews. She hated that. And she kept talking about ‘Zionism, Zionism, Zionism’. But then she also incidentally mentioned that she planned to get out of Israel and move to Europe just as soon as she could.” Interesting.
But after working the Free Palestine booth for three days, I was beginning to fade. I mean, how many freaking brochures can one hand out? Hundreds! And how many arguments over the Palestine Question can one survive? Not all that many happened here, actually. Most people here at the Forum tend to agree that the issue of fairness for Palestinians is right up there with issues like fairness for Native Americans, oil spill victims, workers laid off when their jobs moved to Asia, voters, people who still believe in democracy and the Constitution, victims of corporate America’s war on the middle class, Afghan and Iraqi women and children caught in war zones, victims of bank greediness, victims of media war-mongering, victims of environmental sloppiness, and victims of corporatists, racists, neo-colonialists and misguided viewers of Fox News.
Then Noor Elashi walked by my booth and told me her story — and I was shocked. Apparently her father had been happily running a charitable organization called the Holy Land Foundation, which collected money for Palestinians in need. The foundation then gave its donations to a zagat committee to distribute in Palestine — the very same zagat committee that distributed monies from the American Red Cross, US-AID, the United Nations, etc. Then Noor’s father came under viscous verbal attack by Zionists for helping malnourished Palestinian children. And while under such severe attack, Noor’s father kept asking the U.S. government to please tell him if he was doing anything illegal or wrong — and they kept telling him, “No. You’re fine.”
And then suddenly Noor’s father found himself being charged by the feds with financing a terrorist organization. And now he is serving a 65-year jail term — and on trumped-up evidence too. Yikes! Shades of Nelson Mandela and Wen Ho Lee!
“But why aren’t the American Red Cross, US-AID and the U.N. being charged with helping terrorist organizations as well?” I naively replied.
“Because of pressure brought to bear on the federal government by Zionists.” Double-yikes.
Do you know what this means? It means that anyone who asks for justice for Palestinians — or even just tries to raise their standard of living out of the dust — may be facing a possible 65 years in jail! Even me. Even you.
Right now, all I have to worry about is figuring out what to eat for dinner tonight. But who knows? If I keep on fighting for justice for Palestinians, I may never have to worry about what I will be eating for dinner ever again — or at least not for the next 65 years — because I will be having all my meals catered for me until I’m 133 years old by United States government correctional facilities.
I usually don’t print other people’s stuff in its entirety (because I like my stuff better), but there was an important editorial from the Israeli newspaper, “Haaretz” that I would like to share. The article is called, “Israel should be thankful it didn’t make it to the World Cup”:
An Israeli presence at this greatest of global sporting spectacles would have been guaranteed to attract an unrelenting wave of protests, PR stunts and bad publicity. As the World Cup progresses, Israelis might consider sending thank-you bouquets to the national soccer teams of Switzerland and Greece, who knocked Israel out at the qualifying stage.Fans support Israel’s soccer team in a World Cup qualifier against Moldova, October 11, 2009
Of course, it would be nice to wrap ourselves in blue and white, and cheer on the likes of Yossi, Guy and Ben. But on this occasion, one should probably be thankful that we didn’t make it.
There were large demonstrations in Cape Town last week following the Mavi Marmara incident. An Israeli presence at this greatest of global sporting spectacles would have been guaranteed to attract an unrelenting wave of protests, PR stunts and bad publicity.
In the days since Operation Sky Winds, Israel has been able to get a glimpse of the future and into the abyss that awaits if we continue on our current course. It is a future replete with both insecurity and the indignity of global opprobrium and sanctions. Palestine has now irrefutably become a global cause. That is certainly inconvenient for Israel and maybe unfair.
Popular consumer, labor union, and cultural boycotts are gathering new momentum. Israel’s predicament will not be rectified by better PR or a new foreign minister; it has become structural and therefore far more worrying.
The logic of the kind of unarmed resistance represented by flotillas to Gaza is to shine a light on the wrongdoings of an offending party. Ideally, one will succeed in appealing to the better nature, to the humanity, of the offending party (Israel), and its behavior (in this case, the blockade on Gaza) will be corrected. If not, then one may seek to shame that party in the court of global public opinion. Any over-reaction or additional offensive behavior will only serve to strengthen the case of the light-shiner and “prove” the original premise of wrongdoing.
In this instance, Israel’s leadership played its role with Lionel Messi-like perfection.
In short, the game is up. This is not defeatism — it’s an acknowledgment of a reality that, by ignoring, causes Israel to imperil itself. It cannot be reversed by a good YouTube video or by cloning President Peres. An occupation that just entered its 44th year and entails denying basic rights to millions of Palestinians can no longer be sanitized. As long as Israel maintains that occupation, the costs will become increasingly burdensome.
Having lost the world, Israel’s focus turns in on itself. The country’s leadership has to work harder to keep its own public on board for the occupation project. This requires a growing suppression of dissent, further ostracizing Israel’s Palestinian minority, and ever-more aggressive appeals to Jewish national pride. Democratic norms are thereby eroded, further feeding the tarnishing of Israel’s image. This is the vicious cycle in which Israel is embroiled.
It is true that there will almost certainly always be unjustified prejudice toward Israel. Whatever it does, some people will always be out to get us. But prejudice is not what motivates the vast majority of those mobilizing in solidarity with the Palestinians. The occupation is the oxygen of their campaign, and the vast majority seek an end to it — not to Israel itself. An Israel that fails to appreciate this and which sustains the occupation is the single most proximate cause of its own delegitimization.
It is still in our power, however, to change all of this. We can genuinely end the 1967 occupation and live up to our declared democratic ideals.
But if Israel does not take the lead, then let us at least hope that our remaining friends in the world will step forward with their own proposals and that we in turn will have the wisdom to say yes to them.
Enjoy the World Cup, and let’s look forward to Israel’s qualification in 2014 being all about soccer and blissfully devoid of politics.