It was a good day in Zuccotti Park. The sun was out, which mattered quite a lot after last night’s lashing rain, despite frigid temperatures that gradually softened as the sun crept between the highrises. The Mean Cops were out in force, one of them looking about 7 feet tall and another twitching his nightstick instructively at thin air, but their barks of “move along, keep moving, don’t block the sidewalk” were effectively countered by the sign holder who kept up a loud litany of, “Move at whatever pace you desire. Don’t listen to that bad advice. Remember you are entitled to freedom of assembly. Don’t be fooled into relinquishing your constitutional rights.” It was a good day to read the long poem “Zero Hour” by Ernesto Cardenal (from Zero Hour and Other Documentary Poems, translated by Donald D. Walsh, New Directions, 1980). It was a good day to review some of the 20th century history of Central America in general, and Nicaragua in particular. It was a good day to be reminded that the more things change, the more they remain the same: “But the United Fruit Company arrived/…with its revolutions for the acquisition of concessions/and exemptions of millions in import duties/and export duties, revisions of old concessions/and grants for new exploitations,/ violations of contracts, violations/of the Constitution…/And all the conditions are dictated by the Company/with liabilities in case of confiscation/(liabilities of the nation, not of the Company)….” (p. 2). It was a good day to shout out in the face of the police Cardenal’s lines about screams emanating from Somoza’s police stations. It was a good day to be reminded that it was indeed Franklin Delano Roosevelt who is somewhat credibly reported to have said of the Nicaraguan tyrant: “He’s a son-of-a-bitch, but he’s our son-of-a-bitch.” (Yes, FDR–iconic progressive POTUS, according to much of the rhetoric we’re currently hearing from those concerned with the rightward drift of the Democratic Party.) It was a good day to remember Sandino’s defiance: “‘We all greet each other with hugs,’/ Sandino used to say–and nobody hugged like him./ And whenever they talked about themselves they’d say ‘all’:/ ‘All of us…’ ‘We’re all equal.’/ ‘Here we’re all brothers,’ Umanzor used to say./ And they were all united until they were all killed./ Fighting against airplanes with hayseed troops/….” (6). If there can ever be a good day to recall the sacrifice of those who have given what should never be required of any human being, this was it: “And in Guatemala, in Costa Rica, in Mexico,/the exiles wake up at night screaming,/dreaming that they’re getting the ‘little machine’ again,/or that they’re tied up once more/watching Tachito coming at them with the needle” (15).
And as if in answer to my gender-related kvetch of yesterday’s blog, I was approached by four dazzling young women from James Baldwin School on 18th St. in Manhattan, who are studying Globalization and wanted to know my views on a variety of relevant topics, including the causes of unequal resource distribution and what I would like to see result from Occupy Wall Street “when this is over.” They listened seriously and wrote down my answers, which unfortunately were too long to fit into the forms they had brought along for the purpose. I was also questioned, very nicely, by two young Danish women with New York City tourist brochures in hand, who seemed surprised at the breadth of the concerns (not merely domestic U.S. economic problems) they were encountering at Zuccotti Park. And I met one Rodrigo Dorfman, who was filming the proceedings for, he said, a documentary about cultural resistance. He lit up with delighted recognition when he realize that I was reading an English translation of Cardenal’s poem. “The love poems of today are the revolutionary manifestos of tomorrow!” he announced, like someone giving the countersign.
And this is some of what the James Baldwin School has to say for itself: “It is our mission to provide a philosophical and practical education for all students, an education that features creativity and inquiry, encourages habitual reading and productivity, as well as self-reflection and original thought. We agree with Socrates that the ‘unexamined life is not worth living,’ and it is our desire to prepare students to live thoughtful and meaningful lives. We are committed to inspiring the love of learning in our students. This mission can best be accomplished in a school that is a democratic community. As a democratic community, we strive to exemplify the values of democracy: mutual respect, cooperation, empathy, the love of humankind, justice for all, and service to the world.” What a lovely aspiration, and what a perfect antidote to the corporate behavior so succinctly described by Ernesto Cardenal: “They corrupt the prose and they corrupt the Congress” (2). “But the hero is born when he [or ze] dies,” he adds (p.15).