Activism! — Even heroes can
be frustrated without it

by G.S.      <george.salzman@umb.edu>
November 12-24, 2005

this page is at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Strate/Notz/2005-11-24.htm

      The world has many heroes, mostly – but not all – unsung. My last posting [1] spoke of three who are widely recognized: Robert Fisk,[2] Mid-East correspondent of The Independent (UK), Harold Pinter,[3] this year’s Nobel Laureate in Literature, and John Pilger,[4] journalist and columnist for The Guardian (UK) and The New Statesman (UK), and film maker. Each raises a strong and compassionate voice for, as George Wald,[5] another of my heroes would say, “A Better World for Children”. They do it by speaking the truth, without compromise, by refusing to sell their skills as bought propagandists for the dominant power structure. They do it, as Al Giordano,[6] yet another in my pantheon of heroes would say, by being “authentic”.

      Even people whose work is widely recognized, and who struggle hard to make this “A Better World for Children” can experience frustration, as all of us in this camp do. Fisk “cried out”, in frustration as it were, with an article, “We are all complicit in these vile acts of torture – but what can we do about it?: If our government uses information drained out of these creatures, it is we who are holding the whips.” [7] That plaintive cry, “What can we do?”, that shout of frustration, is what I want to come to grips with and try to answer, at least in part, in this note and the next one.

Look to the humble folks

      Anthony Fresquez <tfresquez@olc.edu> was the acting president of Oglala Lakota College on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota in the Fall of 1994, when I began a sabbatical year. I wasn't yet “on-line”, and my New York Times came by mail three days after being printed. One day Tony was walking by my desk, saw the last few days’ Times in a small, still-unopened pile, and, friendly as always, smiled and said, with no trace of guile in his voice, “Ah! The paper for those who like to think they think.” Of course he was right. I’ve always liked to think I think. But now it’s a decade later, I get most of what I know about the “news” on the internet, and I despise the New York Times, a leading purveyor of falsehood among those who like to think they think.

      Many of my good friends are addicted to those “respectable” pages headed by the self-promoting proclamation, All the news that’s fit to print. Day in and day out they believe they are ‘reading between the lines’ and are too well-informed to be taken in by propaganda, be it in the Times or elsewhere. In my article on Robert Fisk et al,[1] I highlighted Fisk's careful dissection of two Times items, both grossly misleading, that referred to the Armenian genocide. One Times article read in part:

    Relations between Turks and Armenians were good during much of the Ottoman period, but they were deeply scarred by massacres of Armenians that pro-Ottoman forces in eastern Anatolia carried out in the spring of 1915. Details of what happened then are still hotly debated, but it is clear that vast numbers of Armenians were killed or left to die during forced marches in a burst of what is now called ‘ethnic cleansing.’

Fisk shredded this paragraph for its deceptiveness, as well as another article on Armenians from the Times. One of my friends, Martin Davis <martin@eipye.com>, faithful to the Times, wrote dismissively, “Except for a few details, the Fisk articles told me nothing I didn't know perfectly well.”.

      While that may well be true, it is irrelevant to the fact that other readers whose knowledge of that hisotory may be limited and who rely on the Times are likely to accept a false frame of reference regarding the genocide perpetrated by the Turkish government beginning on April 24, 1915. In fact, Martin’s frame of reference is, I’m pretty sure, not immune to the misrepresentations in the Times, and helps shape his outlook on the world.

Subcomandante Marcos is a blowhard

      When Martin was recently here in Oaxaca, our conversation touched on the Zapatista struggle underway since 1984 in the Lacandon jungle in Chiapas, and in the Chiapas highlands as well. He stated at one point, “Marcos is a blowhard.” That, unfortunately but not mysteriously, is part of the picture the New York Times and the rest of the corporate press are so eager to portray. It’s true that the Subcomandante uses, perhaps overgenerously, many many words in his messages. Aside from the question of cultural differences between the U.S. and Mexico as to what is rhetorically desirable, what is much more significant is the effort of the American corporate media to focus our attention on the supposed importance of the “leaders” — in this case a non-Indian fluent in Spanish who is the designated spokesman for the CCRI-CG of the EZLN (the Clandestine Revolutionary Indigenous Committee - General Command of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation). The actual achievements of the Zapatista base communities “on the ground” get bare, if any attention in corporate media. I’ll return to this struggle, this activism of the ordinary campesinos, the humble (humilde in Spanish) every-day people about whom we hear so little, to shape their lives, this Zapatismo-on-the-ground, in my next note. It can be an inspiration to all of us.

― G.S., November 24, 2005
Notes
[1] That posting, titled, “True Life adventures, a true Nobel Prize, and truth writ large — Robert Fisk, Harold Pinter, John Pilger”, is at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Strate/Salz/2005-11-08.htm.

[2] A website devoted primarily to Robert Fisk is at http://www.robert-fisk.com/.

[3] Harold Pinter’s website is at http://www.haroldpinter.org/home/.

[4] John Pilger’s website is at http://www.johnpilger.com/.

[5] I introduced George Wald in a note, “Three voices of sanity”, at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Strate/Notz/2005-05-24.htm, along with two other of my heroes. About Wald, I wrote,
George Wald’s “A generation in search of a future”, was an extemporaneous talk given in the midst of the “first” of America’s Vietnam Wars. It’s as timely now as it was in 1969. Here’s a sample:
      “...I think the Vietnam War is the most shameful episode in the whole of American history. The concept of War Crimes is an American invention. We’ve committed many War Crimes in Vietnam; but I’ll tell you something interesting about that. We were committing War Crimes in World War II, even before Nuremberg trials were held and the principle of war crimes started. The saturation bombing of German cities was a War Crime and if we had lost the war, some of our leaders might have had to answer for it.”
George Wald’s talk is at
http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/SfHS/2005-05-23.htm.

[6] Alberto M. Giordano is the founder and publisher of the Narco News website, at http://www.narconews.com/. An introduction to Al and his work is at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Strate/Salz/2003-10-21.htm.

[7] Fisk's article, “We are all complicit in these vile acts of torture – but what can we do about it?”, is at http://www.robert-fisk.com/articles509.htm, and also at http://www.commondreams.org/views05/0618-29.htm.


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Last update of this page: November 24, 2005