My latest essay on Bolivia was published by Allegra Laboratory. It looks at the deeply felt woundedness around Bolivia’s loss of coastal territory to Chile, and the surprising notion that exporting natural gas from a Peruvian port could heal that wound.
Poverty is there, however, unbearable and discreet. On every page it manifests itself, in three elementary actions: carrying, scavenging, pilfering.
In all the capitals of poverty, the poor carry bundles. They always keep them close by. When they sit down, they place them by their side and watch over them. What do they put in them? Everything: wood gathered in a park, hastily, crusts of bread, bits of wire pulled off a fence, scraps of cloth. If the bundle is too heavy, they drag it along, in wheelbarrows or handcarts.
In all the capitals of poverty, people scavenge. They scavenge in the soil and the subsoil; they gather round refuse bins; they slip right into the rubble: ‘What others throw away is mine; what is no longer of any use to them is good enough for me.’ On waste ground near Peking, the rubbish piles up. This is the refuse of the poor; they have sifted through everything, they have already rummaged through their own rubbish; they have only left, reluctantly, what is uneatable, unusable, unspeakable, revolting. And yet the flock is there. On all fours. They will scavenge all day, every day.
In all the capitals of poverty, there is pilfering. Is it stealing? No, just picking things up. These bales of cotton have just been unloaded. If they stay an hour longer on the dock, they will disappear. No sooner have they been put down than the crowd rushes forward and surrounds them. Everyone attempts to pull off a handful of cotton. Many handfuls of cotton, gathered day after day – that makes an item of clothing. I recognize the look on the women’s faces, I have seen it in Marseilles, in Algiers, in London, in the streets of Berlin; it is serious, quick and hounded, anguish mingles with greed. You have to grab before you are grabbed. When the bales have been loaded onto a lorry, the kids will run after it with outstretched hands.
Every day the poor people dig, scavenge and gather.
Preface to D’une Chine à l’autre,
by Henri Cartier-Bresson and Jean-Paul Sartre,
Paris, Editions Robert Delpire, 1954.
(a book of photographs taken in China by Cartier-Bresson)
The image above is from the Kariobangi Waste Management Alliance in Nairobi, Kenya, over 300 young Kenyans who have made a waste collection system for the slum of Kariobangi; photograph borrowed from this 2013 article. The image below is a photograph by Henri Cartier-Bresson taken in Nanking in April 1949. Original caption: “Peasants rest at the foot of the ancient walls of Nanking after collecting lotus roots for fuel. In the background: Jade Mountain, and the lake where sailors received their training during the days of the Ming Emperors.”
A major protest mobilization by Ecuador’s indigenous movement, led by the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (Confederación de Nacionalidades Indígenas del Ecuador, CONAIE | website facebook twitter) began on Sunday, August 2. The following is my translation the document produced by the organization’s July assembly spelling out its demands.
Resolutions of the Annual Ordinary Assembly of CONAIE
July 17 and 18, 2015
The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, meeting in its General Assembly with the participation of official delegates from grassroots organizations and from the regional affiliates CONFENIAE, ECUARUNARI, and CONAICE, faced with current political conjuncture and the situation of the indigenous movement, resolve:
1. To convene the grassroots of all the peoples and nationalities of Ecuador to the Great Indigenous Uprising, in unity with sectors of society and the Ecuadorian people in all the provinces of the country, on August 10, 2015. Putting forward the national demands of our people and our own agenda as an indigenous movement. We ratify our firm position of No to the Dialogue [as proposed] with the national government.
2. To recover the autonomy of Intercultural Bilingual Education and to demand the immediate reopening, instead of the closure, of intercultural bilingual education schools, teaching institutes, colleges, Childhood Centers for Good Living (Centro Infantil del Buen Vivir; [an early childhood education program for poor children]), and the Amawtay Wasi University [an indigenous university co-founded by CONAIE in 1989], free access to public education, as well as the creation of research centers at the regional level to strengthen the process of autonomous education on the part of the nationalities and peoples.
3. To halt the plunder of the land and territories that government promotes by means of the new land, water, and mining laws; and thus, we call for the land law to be shelved and for the repeal of the laws that affect the development and rights of indigenous peoples. To strengthen control over our territories and to not permit the entry of any government functionary nor of a single transnational corporation.
4. To shelve the proposal to amend the constitution, which promotes the restriction of the rights which we, by our struggle, managed to have included in the Constitution.
5. To stop political persecution and the judicialization [of politics; i.e., using court cases to pursue political opponents] implemented by the government of Rafael Correa against the leaders of social movements, and the leaders within indigenous peoples, students, doctors, retired people, defenders of nature, and of human rights, and other organized social sectors. To do away with institutionalized corruption and the state of repression so as to build plurinational democracy.
6. To strengthen a unified agenda together with the other sectors of society. To organize the mobilizing process that begins with the great march of the peoples from Tundayme-Zamora Chinchipe on August 2, the Indigenous and Popular Uprising on August 10, and the national strike organized by the Unitary National Collective on August 13.
7. To ratify our full commitment to defeat the capitalist economic model built upon oil and mining exploitation implemented by this government and to establish an alternative community-based economy coherent with the [concept of a] Plurinational State.
- Was an acquaintance or someone you know closely the victim of an unwanted sexual touching or assault?
In January 2015, jurors being impaneled for the rape trial of former Vanderbilt students Brandon Vandenburg and Corey Batey were asked this and similar questions. This turned out to be a pivotal issue because although the jury convicted both men of multiple counts of aggravated rape and sexual battery, the jury foreman’s impartiality was called into question based on his answer to this question. The foreman had had sex as a sixteen-year-old with an older man, who was prosecuted for statutory rape and did not mention this fact during jury selection. On June 23, Judge Monte Watkins found the juror ought to have disclosed his past and ruled that the juror’s “credibility had been tainted and brought a presumption of bias to the jury.” (His ruling did not imply that the juror intentionally withheld the facts or that he sought to influence the outcome.)
There’s experimental evidence that victims of a particular crime are more likely to convict defendants charged with that crime. This evidence backs up the common legal idea that such jurors must be probed for bias and may be removed by the defense. (On the other hand, withholding is very common practice: a study using follow-up interviews found that 25% of jurors in 31 trials were victims of a crime and 30% knew a law enforcement officer, but did not reveal these facts in voir dire.)
The sheer frequency of sexual assault and the stigma surrounding being its victim, however, raises a more complex problem. Being a survivor of sexual assault is very common: to take one data source, the CDC, 18.3% of US women and 1.7% of men report having been raped; between 5 and 6% of both men and women report having been sexually assaulted in some other way. If someone has just ten women they “know closely” there’s a 13% chance none of them have been raped. If someone knows twenty people, the chances of none of them being sexually assaulted are less than one in six. Even with these conservative ideas of people close to you, no conceivable jury would have fewer than two people saying yes.
With greater honesty (and bigger friend circles), the truth is there are only two answers to the jury question above:
- Yes, but they haven’t taken the initiative to tell me.
You certainly know someone who has survived rape. If you can answer “yes,” you probably know the emotional weight attached to the widespread impunity for rape. If you have to answer “yes, but…,” then it’s possible that this person is one of the many survivors who doesn’t come forward publicly. (There are plenty of good reasons.) New York Magazine recently symbolized the many couldn’t come forward mostly (because) we, as a culture, wouldn’t believe them” with an empty chair. Social media has made #TheEmptyChair a symbol of socially produced silence around rape and sexual assault.
But then again, maybe the problem is not just that “we, as a culture,” won’t believe them. Maybe its personal. And here’s the conundrum for jury selection. “Yes, but” isn’t a neutral category; it’s the sum of social and individual choices that mean no one came to you with one of our society’s most common traumas. One juror like that might be a coincidence. Twelve is a problem.
That beginning could come sooner than expected. On June 22, the Bolivian–Venezuelan consortium Petroandina announced “encouraging results” partway through the exploratory drilling at well LQC-X1. Company representatives expect to deliver a full report on the test well, which is operated by in September.
Historian William Sewell makes a striking claim about how the taking of the Bastille, 226 years ago today, marked not just the key moment in the French revolution, but an originary point for the very concept of revolution in the Western world. “It was by this process,” Sewell claims, “that the modern concept of revolution definitively entered French political cuiture, effecting a hitherto undreamed of but henceforth enduring articulation of popular violence to popular sovereignty.” The argument takes up a whole chapter in his book Logics of History (2005), and it’s worth your time, but here are three excerpts on the Bastille and its place.Read More »