Friday, July 30, 2010

Who are the Terrorists?

For Over A Week Gerardo Hernandez Nordelo Has Been Held In The Hole At Victorville Prison Despite Committing Any Infraction.

Once Again the US government has imposed another cruel punishment against Gerardo Hernandez, one of the Cuban 5 imprisoned in the US for fighting against terrorism.

On July 21st, without committing any infraction, Gerardo was taken to the hole. The hole is an inhumane windowless space of 7 x 3 feet reserved for prisoners who the prison authorities, for what ever reason, want to isolate. Gerardo is sharing this small space with another prisoner and there is very little ventilation because the air comes from just a small vent on the top of a wall. Temperatures in Victorville are running as high as 105 degrees now and in the space of this tiny cell it is around 95 degrees. He is not allowed to take a shower and is being taken outside in a cage only one hour every other day. Gerardo has been seen by his sister Isabel through a glass with a phoney post.

Although Gerardo is still young, 12 years of living in high security penitentiaries is taking its toll and recently Gerardo began experiencing some health issues including high blood pressure. In April he requested a medical appointment and finally on July 20, three months later, he was seen by a doctor. Currently there is a bacterium that is circulating through the prison with some of those cases being serious. The doctor had prescribed a blood test for Gerardo but instead of receiving that he was abruptly taken to the hole the next day.

This new harassment against Gerardo takes place at a critical time when he is preparing his Habeas Corpus presented to the courts in June. It is alarming that this is the third time that Gerardo has found himself in the hole while preparing for an appeal.

The violations against Gerardo are endless and it has to stop immediately. During 12 years he has been denied the basic right to receive visits from his wife Adriana. Gerardo like his four brothers is innocent and the United States knows that his only crime was to defend his country against terrorist attacks.

Instead of freeing them and sending them back to their homeland and their families, as has been demanded by the Cuban people, 10 Nobel Prize and thousands of people from all over the world, the Obama Administration has picked up where Bush left off by punishing Gerardo at every turn.

Along with the Cuban people and the international community we hold the US government responsible for the life and physical integrity of Gerardo.

It is very important for every supporter of the Cuban Five and all justice loving people who receive this message to call, fax, mail or e-mail immediately to the numbers and addresses below to demand that Gerardo be:

* Returned immediately to the general population

* Receive urgent medical attention

* Allowed visits by his wife Adriana Perez

* Given space and respect as he prepares for his appeals

US State Department
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20520
Phone Number: 1-202-647-4000
Fax Number: 1-202-647-2283

Federal Bureau of Prisons
Director Harley G. Lappin
320 First St., NW,
Washington, DC 20534
Phone Number: 202-307-3198.

President Barack Obama
White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20500
Phone Number: 202-456-1111
Fax Number: 202-456-2461.

US Justice Department
Attorney General Eric Holder
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530-0001
Phone Number: 202-514-2000
Comment Line: 202-353-1555

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

vancouver folk festival slide show

my only real concern about this year's folk festival was the lack of indigenous bc artists, in particular there was no opening ceremony acknowledging whose traditional lands we were inhabiting for the weekend. and the theft of backpacks from the mainstage blankets - what's that about? mostly it was a very awesome weekend.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

"No We Won't" (pay your bribe)

photo from 2008, as we arrived at the Martin Luther King Jr. Centre in Marianao, Havana. The Reverend Lucius Walker, founder of Pastors for Peace, is in the foreground, Gerry's the grey haired fellow just behind him.

My friend Gerry just called from Mexico. He’s participating with the 21st Humanitarian Aid mission to Cuba.

Gerry called from Reynosa, a town that borders the USA at McAllen Texas. You leave the "we have way too much stuff" USA, drive over a bridge that crosses the Rio Grande, and enter Reynosa. And there, everything changes – or at least the language, much of the history, and the level of poverty (for now). Gerry called me from a 7/11, across the street from the Hotel Capri where the caravan stays the night (sleeping four to a room with two double beds in each. Boys in one room, girls in another).

Reynosa is an interesting place, border towns often are. There’s the typical pedestrian market where you can find all kinds of clothing and trinkets, street corner food vendors, buskers of various types, and of course there’s the zocalo (the central gathering area that every Mexican town seems to enjoy), and restaurants and bars. If you climb onto the roof of the Hotel Capri, you can see an amazing number of 7/11s on various street corners. If you’re really lucky, you can smell the stench from the open sewers. Some things are different in border towns, some things just aren’t.

Gerry told me that there are just over 80 caravanistas bringing humanitarian aid to Cuba this year and, while the US authorities only held them for about 2 hours while Homeland Security checked through the aid, it’s the Mexicans who are insisting on being the sticks in the mud this year.

The Caravanistas, US citizens and internationals among them (including some from Canada) arrived at the US/Mexican border at about 8 am this morning, spent two hours as Homeland Security checked through the goods, and then proceeded across the bridge into Mexico. There they spent about 2 and a half hours with the Mexican authorities who also insisted (as they so often do) on searching through the material aid.

The Pastors for Peace provide a very detailed list of everything they’re transporting, these lists being lovingly prepared by volunteers who unload every box from every bus during a weekend in McAllen, and this after every box has had a list of its contents provided when it was initially collected along the route. The Mexicans often use dogs to sniff the aid but don’t usually take anything, and they didn’t this year either, but the US-Americans ‘detained’ five computers – the new Pentiums … they let the older computers go on to Cuba. Hopefully the P4P will be able to retrieve these computers after they’ve ensured the rest of the aid travels safely to Cuba, after they themselves spend a week in Cuba learning about their revolution and interacting with the natives. Then they'll concern themselves with those computers, that were donated by someone with the intention that they go to Cuba. The Pastors for Peace collect specific computer technology that will fit the network used by Cuba’s world class health system. If Homeland Security needs computers so badly they ought to tell Obama to quit spending so much money killing innocent people overseas and spend the money at home instead.

Anyways, back to Gerry's story from today. At some point the Pastors for Peace were told by the Mexican authorities that they would be charged $1000 a bus – some kind of fee to enter Mexico. There are 13 buses this year carrying aid destined (along with most of those buses) for Cuba which has been the victim of an economic blockade imposed by the US government these past 50 years. After some negotiation the Mexican authorities reverted to a $25 per person fee, an entry tax that’s usually only imposed on tourists. This was not acceptable to the Pastors for Peace caravanistas. After about eight hours of negotiations, including high level talks between embassy representatives and P4P lawyers, while the 80+ caravanistas waited and refused to leave, it was announced that the Mexicans would allow the caravanistas to attain their travel visas (as everyone entering Mexico must do) and proceed.

I asked Gerry why the Mexicans are suddenly the bad guys … through the years the challenge has been getting through the US border, the Mexicans are usually much more understanding and seem more willing to allow aid to travel to their Cuban cousins. Gerry suggested that these ‘bribes’ for entry are “probably in exchange for some other favour, maybe getting Mexico to do the US’s dirty work … either that or the officials saw some opportunity to line their pockets. But Lucius (Walker, founder of P4P) made it clear that they’ve been asked for bribes before and never paid one.”

The caravanistas are preparing for a 4:30 awakening from their cramped quarters at the Capri Hotel, at 5:30 they’ll leave for Tampico. Gerry reported having only four hours sleep two nights in a row because he was on night duty at McAllen, then two hours sleep last night. I know he’s vegan and I hope he (and everyone else) has enough food. It’s a long drive, along the highway of death (as its known), all the way to Tampico, and they want to get there in plenty of time to deal with the next group of Mexican authority. Last year we arrived just after night fall and were prevented from entering the dockyard for several hours – they used the excuse of ‘drug war’ to suggest that perhaps we’d be better off if the Mexicans unloaded all the aid (over 100 tons) into the shipping containers. We insisted that we had protected this aid from Canada, all through the USA, and weren’t about to trust it to anyone. Eventually we were allowed into the dockyards, and finally finished unloading in the wee hours.

You’re in my thoughts, brave caravanistas, and I know that when you finally arrive in Cuba you’ll be welcomed as the heroes you truly are.

Monday, July 19, 2010

got the post-festival blues .....

lots and lots of photos (some of them REALLY good) are here. you're welcome to take some and if you can donate, say, 5 bucks for each (three for $12 ) or whatever you can afford, that'd help me survive the hst. just don't claim them as your own. thanks.

A weekend at the Vancouver Folk Music Festival, and it’s almost possible to believe that everything will be right with the world, that all people of all nations can learn to live in peace and harmony with respect for diversity of gender, sexual orientation, size, age, ethnic and cultural diversity. There’s music and musicians from all over the world in a beautiful park setting with oceans and mountains nearby, but more than that there’s a spirit of co-operation, of watching out for each other, and a rare feeling of satisfaction that results from such a shared experience. Those who’ve arrived early enough to stake out turf for the evening mainstage performances get to know their new neighbours, and there’s an unspoken agreement to watch out for each other’s stuff as folks wander around the other 7 stages throughout the day. Kids are safe and cared for – there’s an entire musical stage and fun play area designated just for them with face painting, clay making, arts, crafts, and this year a climbing wall. It’s as if we really can create paradise on earth.

Then comes Monday, and the harsh reality of a world whose gears spin entirely the opposite way. Getting to work on time to make the paycheque to pay the bills takes precedence over the weekend stresses: finding the right stage at the right time with adequate lawn space to experience your favourite musician or wondering what’s going on at the other stages and whether you’ve got time to run across the park to catch the last few minutes of a set that’s ending ten minutes after the one you’re listening to.

Even if you don’t work a nine to five job, I’ll bet that whatever you had to concern yourself with on Monday morning after the festival wasn’t nearly as much fun as whatever you dealt with over the weekend.
My main concern, at the moment I write this, is two-fold. One - isn’t it illegal, or at least ignorant and cruel, to allow a BC Ferry to leave the dock only moments after it’s been announced that a pod of Orcas has been sighted on both sides of the boat? And secondly - while I appreciate the new wifi experience that BC Ferries offers (though for the life of my I can’t understand why the Germans who built this ship didn’t put electrical outlets in the area designated for people who want to work, or why Germans rather than Canadians built this ship), why are there absolutely no email addresses listed for those of us concerned about such things?

Thank goodness there are folks with Monday to Friday jobs so that EVERYTHING is about making sure the gears run smoothly (we’ll clean the Killer Whale blood off the ship after we make sure our paying customers, who are a captive audience anyways), get their money’s worth and don’t clog up our email with complaints about vessels leaving ten minutes late. Ah, the Profit Motive. Isn’t it grand.

While it’s lovely to escape, for a weekend, into a world that promises so much, at the same time it’s frustrating when such an opportunity, with tens of thousands of people present, doesn’t include any acknowledgement of some really really important things.

One – WE ALL LIVE ON STOLEN NATIVE LAND. There are very few celebrations, events, or ribbons cuttings that don’t invite representatives from the First Nations, whose unceded territory we are all guests upon, to perform some sort of ceremony acknowledging that fact. Heck it happened at the national radio conference I recently attended, I mention it with every introduction to my radio show, and we have Rose Henry or someone acknowledge it as we commence the annual Golden Piggie Awards. Just a simple acknowledgement will do, a show of respect for the history of this land and its peoples, though one would of course expect much much more from the Vancouver Folk Fest.

Two – Why were there no Canadian indigenous performers in the line-up with the exception of Elisapie Isaac, from the Nunavik region of northern Quebec? There are many vibrant and colourful indigenous musicians in this province, on this west coast. Why couldn’t our fabulous, world class, international music include them?

Three - I’m not thrilled with the beer garden – not because I have any aversion to beer, but just because some people shouldn’t drink it in public. I appreciate that the festival needs money, especially since it depended on gambling money that’s no longer available, but the beer garden is just another form of gambling really, isn’t it? With the beer garden comes an entirely new level of security – professionally trained guards and, for the first time in about 15 years of working this festival, actual real live cops in the field, and even backstage in the kitchen.

Four – In case anyone hasn’t noticed, we’re living on a planet with a Gulf of Oil explosion that threatens to destroy all the earth’s oceans eventually. It’s six months after the Haiti earthquake and nothing has really changed there except the vampire capitalistas have moved in to capitalize on the disaster and re-enslave the first nation of slaves that freed themselves. The people of Gaza are being starved to death, and tortured. And the 21st Humanitarian Aid mission to Cuba is preparing to challenge the US blockade on Wednesday, in an act of civil disobedience that’s most remarkable. Closer to home, the Jericho Beach park pond is looking small and lacking in oxygen. The mountains are carved with new cutblocks for yet more monster homes that will require more than their fair share of earth’s resources. Our provincial coffers have been robbed to pay for the Olympics, and there are more and more homeless people every day because the minimum wage is still 8 bucks an hour (6 if you’re new on the work scene) and rental housing is at a premium. Any or all of these might have been discussed from the mainstage, or indeed any of the stages, over the course of the weekend. Of course folks like emma’s revolution, Tao Seeger, and the Haitian band Boukman Eksperyans made some references to some of the many crises we humans face, but I remember much more critical banter from the hosts on the main stage during the comparatively benign years of the NDP than these past fascist years of the BC Fiberals. What are you afraid of, festival staff, that people might ask for their money back or not return next year? Get real – politicians know all about short memories, and those of us who really do care will be drawn to re-invest in the folk tradition of constructive criticism and world awareness that has presumably given way to some crazy attempt to please everyone. An impossible task at best. Silence IS complicity.

It’s kinda too bad that the truly free-market craft sale, a tradition of the folk fest that’s grown increasingly over the years to occupy more and more space along the outside of the festival fence, was adopted as part of the festival. Vendors now pay $280 for a weekend stall space, and mostly they seem happy about that. They’re set up in an alley way created on the grass that’s between two fences, vendors on each side along the fence and a walkway in between. There’s even an ATM and porta potties in their area. They don’t have to pack up all their stuff every night, festival security watches over it. And they’re not on the dirt pathway anymore. But their anarchist free market has been reigned in, they’re minus the grassy knoll at the west end of the park where the drummers used to gather (and maybe they did this year, I didn’t check, but certainly the atmosphere is different). Capitalism, eh?

That’s about all I have to complain or otherwise rant about. The festival is a truly wonderful experience where we’re all encouraged to reduce, reuse, recycle, and compost. Those of us who volunteer at the festival learn about team spirit and the importance of cooperation and communication. We’re backstage mingling with the musicians, standing in the same lineup for the same food. We know that it’s our work that keeps the festival going. We provide a sense of security, we do our best to make sure your children and possessions aren’t subject to just anyone who happens to want to hop the fence on a whim. We sort through your recycling, we clean up the site, we answer questions, share our programs, watch your children.

The festival was one of the first experiences in my life where I learned that another world is possible. It always takes me a day or two to adjust, to re-enter a world where ferries must run on time – killer whales be damned.

Friday, July 16, 2010

lunch in the downtown eastside

(more photos here)

Today I walked along East Hastings St., in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES). The last time I was here I helped secure a small patch of vacant (and stolen) land (we all live on stolen native land) for a tent city. The land is owned by a condominium developer and has been vacant for a very long time. It’s fenced, and I see they’ve added some extra height to the fence to keep everyone out. Across the street, a man is napping on the sidewalk, surrounded by his friends outside the United We Can recycling centre. He’s all wrapped up, inside his sleeping bag.

I find Sean, a couple of volunteers, and one of the Megaphone’s vendors at their small distribution office near Pigeon Park. We walked the couple of blocks to the Carnegie Centre for lunch, and chatted about street newspaper business, the upcoming conference in Chicago, the National and International Street Newspaper associations we’re members of.

We pass InSite, Vancouver’s legal injection site where users can find a bit of privacy, cleanliness, and support if that day they decide they want to talk to someone about their addiction, and I ask Sean what’s the status there (knowing the on-going difficulties advocates have keeping the place open). Sean tells me that two judges in a BC Supreme Court hearing ruled in favour of allowing InSite to remain, but the Federal Government doesn’t like that decision so they’re spending our taxpayer money to take it to the Supreme Court. Stephen Harper's Canada will not tolerate compassion of any kind.

I think these the same lunatics, the ones who think that it's okay to punish people who have fallen into the gaping wounds of capitalism, they're the same ones who believe that the world is really going to end in 2012 (just because someone said it will), and they’re helping facilitate the apocalypse. (Did you hear about the dolphin, the otter, and the sea bird who walked into an oil slick?)

Speaking of lunatics, I witnessed several police officers alongside an obviously intoxicated street man as I wandered through Gastown. A tourist looking woman was having her photo taken with one of the officers, while the other two were standing near the drunk guy, each with blue gloves on. A Downtown Ambassador security type guy was standing nearby, so I asked him what was going on. “That man has a mental illness,” he told me. “He’s drunk and was yelling and punching people so they’re going to arrest him.” It seemed a bit harsh, arresting him, when obviously he had calmed down. “Society has the mental illness,” I replied to the security guard man, thinking about how Goldman Sachs made more off the increase in their stock prices than the amount they announced they’re going to reimburse people they ripped off, thinking about the migrant workers I heard about on Wake Up With Coop this morning – BP won’t let them wear gasmasks in the cleanup zone because it wouldn’t make for good publicity. I watched, until I felt he was safe, the situation with the intoxicated man who probably needed, more than anything, somewhere to just sleep it off.

Along the next block I noticed Carole James in a side alley, and stopped to say hello and see what was happening. They were creating a video announcement about the HST. We all love the HST. Who knows if Carole, and/or the NDP, have the ability or the gumption to make big changes even if they get a chance in the power seat. I sent her a card with Che Guevara on it recently, thanking her for her Street Newz subscription, and hoping she might be inspired to ponder the significant structural changes we need to ensure people are housed, fed, educated, and able to live in healthy bodies in a healthy environment.

(There’s a story on the APTN news, as I write this, about a native man who died at the hands of RCMP today in Prophet River BC. Hmmmm …. And another about the re-claiming and re-naming of the Salish Sea....)

On my way back to my weekend home I stopped at MacFalafel – definitely one of the best kept secrets in this international city – and picked up some dinner and food items I can take to the festival later. Countdown to a little time in the closest thing to paradise this crazy planet has to offer ……

Thursday, July 15, 2010

waiting at the naam

I’ve made the trek across the sea a day early for the fun-filled weekend that is the Vancouver Folk Festival. I travelled a day earlier than necessary because I can, because it’s so much more pleasant travelling when everyone else in the world isn’t, and because any visit to Vancouver is also an opportunity to catch up with a friend I met in a previous lifetime, 28 years ago. We were both youngsters, she a bit younger than I, employed at a small start up computer software company. I like to believe we were two of many who contributed to the company’s inimitable success and we sometimes, over the years, have reflected on what might have happened if we’been better capitalistas. We might have hit the big time like so many of our work colleagues. But we didn’t, and perhaps we’re better for it. At least we can say we’re still friends, and that’s worth an awful lot..

So I’m sitting at the Naam, which has become a regular tradition with us over these many years, waiting for her to finish with a business appointment, sipping on an organic stout that I’m not 100% certain is vegan (but it was on tap and it sure tastes delightful and they don’t have wifi so I can’t check and I am indeed feeling slightly guilty and hoping that I’m not ingesting some ground up shellfish which is so commonly added to wine and beer to “clarify” it. It’s stout, how clear does it need to be?!) My friend’s business appointment is keeping her late not because she’s still a workaholic, (luckily or unluckily two car crashes and various subsequent health concerns later she’s simply unable to work those crazy high tech hours), but because she works on contract and there was some client schmooze fest that it was necessary to attend. I suggested she just start talking about all her various health issues and sooner than not they’d be nudging her towards the door. She ought to be here any time now.

I was reading the Georgia Straight newspaper, which has increasingly surrendered to various corporate and local advertising over the years, when I happened upon an article about the Folk Festival and the “artists who use songs as tools for social change.” There are four showcased – emma’s revolution, Brett Dennen, Sarah Harmer, and Tao Rodriguez-Seeger.

(As I write this the distinct smell of skunk is wafting over the outdoor patio, I’m hoping that the city dwelling clientele will choose to move inside so I don’t have to feel so guilty occupying this patio table for so long on a rare sunny Vancouver evening … but at least I’m drinking a beer and plan to tip nicely. Who knew skunks could survive in such a city?!)

Reading the article, wherein the author (Alexander Varty) queries these selected artists about their decision to publicize their political, environmental, and social views through their music, I wonder when an article will be written asking musicians and other artists why they AREN’T expressing their concern for our unhappy earthly plight, seeking some escape from the increasingly militaristic and totalitarian machine that we who are awake find ourselves unable to escape.

The infamous Nine Eleven is, of course, mentioned and queried. I’m reminded of last night’s conversation with a different friend, on the other side of the pond, about how we’re going to insist, whenever we hear the dreaded Nine Eleven mentioned that, in fact, referencing The Day That Changed Everything is commonly known as “Seven Eleven.” We figure that memories are short, and we know that if you tell a lie often enough people will start to believe it.

The Naam is a vegetarian restaurant (with vegan options) and it’s open 24 hours a day. They’ve managed to keep the prices reasonable, comparatively, and the portions huge. Their menu states “The Naam Café was founded back in 1968 when 4th Avenue was still called Rainbow Road. It began as a gathering for people who were seeking “the good life.” Naam means “name” – the original name.”

Thursday, July 8, 2010

worser and worser ....

one might hope that the despicable behaviour by the cops in toronto would be the beginning of the end ...

.... unfortunately it appears to be the beginning of the this is just getting worse and worse ....

Monday, July 5, 2010

Quebec and BC Caravan to Cuba Crossings Successful!

to track the caravan's progress, attend events, or arrange interviews as the buses pass through your town, visit the pastors for peace website.

The IFCO/Pastors for Peace 21st US-Cuba Friendshipment Caravan – dedicated to and celebrating the children of Cuba – hit the road this weekend in Canada with events in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario.

This first of two successful challenges to US policy from the north was on Saturday from Quebec. Thirty members of the Caravane d'amitie proudly walked boxes of medical and educational supplies for Cuba across the border into the waiting arms of members of the Let Cuba Live group from Maine.

On Sunday came the crossing from Vancouver with aid for Cuba on a school bus from Saltspring Island decorated by local children. US customs had given indications in advance that the bus would not be allowed through to go to Cuba. Well…maybe they were in holiday weekend mode, or maybe the sight of 100 supporters from both sides of the border, plus a samba band, melted their resolve…and the bus went smoothly through. Or maybe they just realized that the blockade is totally discredited.

Two more Canada crossings, from Manitoba and Ontario, are due later this week – but today the US part of the caravan begins with the very first events in Olympia, WA and Greenfield, MA. By July 21st we will have 13 buses and one truck down at the US/Mexico border and ready to cross into Mexico and then on to Cuba!

If this message has been forwarded to you and you would like to subscribe to the IFCO / Pastors for Peace mailing list, please visit and follow the instructions provided, or send a blank message to ""

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Cuba Caravan Crosses Canadian Border Today!

Pastors for Peace Border Crossing
Picnic & Rally @ Peace Arch Park
Canada-US Border White Rock/Blaine
* For carpooling call 778-882-5223 *

Pastors for Peace has coordinated more than 50 Caravans to Mexico, Central America and Cuba - delivering life-giving aid, and organizing at home for a more just policy toward our neighbors in the hemisphere.

Each caravan is an endeavor of love rooted in social justice. It's a huge project linking people, vehicles and humanitarian aid. Caravans travel on different routes throughout the US and Canada from north to south, ending up together at the Texas border with Mexico, and then moving ahead to their destination country.

Our largest caravan – to Cuba – has 14 separate routes. Often our vehicles are brightly painted school buses, but we also donate trucks, ambulances, mobile libraries, and cars.

As we travel through the US and Canada over a 1-2 week period, we make many pre-arranged stops in cities and communities. There, we talk in public outreach events about what is happening in the country we are going to and the purpose of our trip. We also participate in press conferences and media interviews. We usually stay in the homes of local volunteers from organizations that arranged the public event – usually churches, solidarity committees or peace and justice centers. At many stops we pick up new caravanistas or aid that has already been collected and packed by the host organization.

The humanitarian aid we take is principally medical and educational supplies and equipment, but also computers, bicycles, tools, and sports and cultural equipment. Some of the vehicles we use to transport the aid are themselves donated in the destination country.