Monday, August 18, 2008

Making the Connections

Brett Dennen's song and video (in preceding post) reminded me of two other similar productions. One is this rather elusive video called Drop the Debt. I believe it was first produced by Comic Relief in Britain but it has since been hosted on an Australian World Vision site. It looks like it's been on YouTube a couple of years now. It's a wickedly clever production with numerous layers of irony. The music is Michael Franti and Spearhead and you can see their video of the song here.

I wonder perpetually how we can better see our interconnection with everything that happens such that we just might choose to do something positive about it? And not something that just helps us cope better with feelings of guilt? That our wealth and privilege (says a white boy sitting here in downtown Toronto) is causally linked to the deprivation of the many is something i have believed for a long time and, having lived abroad and studied and researched, i know that this is so. And thus i have devoted myself to popular education both to support those struggling against oppression as well as to offer to the curious and the willing some avenue of understanding of the history of oppression and resistance as well as how we connect to it and can choose to act against it. I was particularly struck in Dennen's video, with the woman who finds a loose thread in her red sweater only to see that it is linked to three asian-looking women working in a sweatshop. This immediately reminded me of Sweet Honey in the Rock's song Are My Hands Clean? - a poignant tale of the journey that cotton (made into shirts) makes from "blood-soaked fields" to North American bargain basement bins. Here's the lyrics:
I wear garments touched by hands from all over the world
35% cotton, 65% polyester, the journey begins in Central America
In the cotton fields of El Salvador
In a province soaked in blood, pesticide-sprayed workers toil in the broiling sun
Pulling cotton for two dollars a day

Then we move on up to another rung - Cargill
A top-forty trading conglomerate, takes the cotton through the Panama Canal
Up the Eastern seaboard, coming to the U.S. of A. for the first time

In South Carolina
At the Burlington mills
Joins a shipment of polyester filament courtesy of the New Jersey petro-chemical mills of

Dupont strands of filament begin in the South American country of Venezuela
Where oil riggers bring up oil from the earth for six dollars a day
Then Exxon, largest oil company in the world
Upgrades the product in the country of Trinidad and Tobago
Then back into the Caribbean and Atlantic Seas
To the factories of Dupont
On the way to the Burlington mills

In South Carolina
To meet the cotton from the blood-soaked fields of El Salvador

In South Carolina
Burlington factories hum with the business of weaving oil and cotton into miles of fabric for Sears
Who takes this bounty back into the Caribbean Sea
Headed for Haiti this time
May she be one day soon free

Far from the Port-au-Prince palace
Third world women toil doing piece work to Sears specifications
For three dollars a day

My sisters make my blouse

It leaves the third world for the last time
Coming back into the sea to be sealed in plastic for me

This third world sister
And I go to the Sears department store where I buy my blouse
On sale for 20% discount

Are my hands clean?

(Composed for Winterfest, Institute for Policy Studies. The lyrics are based on an article by Institute fellow John Cavanagh [no relation -c], "The Journey of the Blouse: A Global Assembly." Lyrics and music by Bernice Johnson Reagon, 1985.)
I wish that this art could swing hearts to the side of compassion, solidarity and action. But, of course, social change is never so easy. I was startled (pleaasantly) when i saw Alice Walker on the cover of the May 2007 Shambhala Sun beside the headline "This is the best of all times to be alive." A counterintuitive thought if i ever heard one. In the interveiw which you can read here <We Live in the Best of All Times> Alice Walker explains this sentiment by saying:
There’s so much to do! (Laughs) We are so lucky. There’s no shortage of work to do! (Laughs) There’s no excuse for anyone, in my opinion, to complain that they can’t change anything. For instance, there are millions and millions and millions of hungry children, people who don’t have clothing, people who don’t have housing, trees that are begging us to let them live, rivers that are crying out to be clean, skies that are shouting at us to let the ozone layer live. There is no end to the ways we can have full self-realization. That’s what has to happen, and that’s what this time is pointing out. This is the time to have full self-realization as an earthling. It’s time to be responsible and take charge of that. It’s also a great time because if we fail, we lose the earth.
I plan to convey this message to the 500 undergrads to whom i'll be lecturing weekly starting in a couple of weeks. I'm teaching Perspectives on Environmental Studies this Fall and Winter. I'm still figuring out what to teach - this will be a new adventure for me - not my favourite form of pedagogy; but i'll make the best of it. I plan to tell a lot of stories. Any advice is welcome.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Life, the Bittersweet

Listening to Thursday's episode of Democracy Now i was grabbed by the song played at the last break: Ain't No Reason by Brett Dennen. The lyrics cut straight into my heart. It's a rare song that does that so quickly. I'd not heard of this fellow before today. And i'm impressed. This video that i've linked is a heartbreaker - not sentimental heartbreak but rather the heartbreak of truth. It's ironic that out of great suffering can come great beauty (which is not to suggest that we should have or need more suffering - there's more than enough to go around). Perhaps i was more deeply moved on account of the juxtaposition of hearing this song while also listening to Ron Suskind's explosive revelations about the Bush administration's illegal actions (can you say "war crimes"?) in forging a letter to fabricate evidence of a Sadaam-Al Quaeda link. It remains mind-boggling to me that Bush and his administration have been able to get away with so much and i despair of the world they have ushered in. I only hope that Obama can make some difference in all that. But i worry.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

New DVDs of and about Paulo Freire

Remembering Freire/Reinventing Freire is a two DVD set that has long been needed by popular educators. The occasion of this production was the "Conference and Dialogue on the 10th Anniversary of the Death of Paulo Freire" held on May 2, 2007 at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto (and coordinated by the Ontario Region of the Canadian Association for the Study of Adult Education). One DVD has footage of various presenters and panel discussions. The second DVD has the, until now, rare footage of Staring from Nina: The Politics of Learning made by the Development Education Centre in Toronto in 1977. This includes rare video of Freire speaking in English. As D'Arcy Martin, one of the producers explains, Freire urged that they solve their problem of production funds by offering this film (for a price) to the many people and institutions who were desperate for footage of Freire speaking in English. Needless to say, Friere said he would refer all such requests to the filmmakers. It's a charming film and it still carries relevant messages to todays educators. In addition to this film are three filmed dialogues between Freire and J. Roby Kidd and Alan Thomas: "Becoming a Christian", "Guns and Pencils", and "Letters in the Earth". This DVD set is beautifully produced by Bill McQueen of Fireweed Media Productions and they're only $20 (plus delivery costs). I highly recommend adding these to your collections. You can order copies by e-mailing Fireweed Media: fmp [ at] netrover [dot] com. (You can click on the graphic to see a larger version if you'd like to read the contents description.)