#ShutDownChi

This is a “found poem,” composed of words and phrases seen on signs at various actions in Chicago on April 1, 2016 as part of a one-day Chicago Teachers Union strike.

Mr. Rahm the Rat Mayor,
Mr. Burns/Rauner Governor,

Go furlough yourselves!
Why do you want children to suffer?
You can’t put students first when you put teachers last.
Teachers make all other professions possible.

We pay our taxes, you pay for schools!
Fund schools not prisons.
Fund mental health not corporate wealth.
Fund black futures.

Tax the rich.
Stop the cuts.
Stop deportations.
Stop cheating our children.

Dumbledore would never let this happen!

We’re no fools. You’re the ones killing our schools!
Broke on purpose.

Class wars.
The unions strike back!
The force is strong in CTU.
¡El pueblo unído jamás será vencido!

We demand:
Fair contract now!
Equitable funding for ALL schools!
Elected school board now!

Sincerely,
Chicago

P.S.
Sorry for the inconvenience–we are trying to save the world.

 

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My Name is Stavroula

When you meet me
when you see-hear-say my name
I want you to know:
the assimilation was incomplete.

Nazis killed ma’s grandpa,
burned the village to the ground.

Dad was born in the USSR,
partisan parents exiled.

The migration of defeat:
Chase American (-Backed Junta) (Day-) Dream.

Middle class home with
off-white
picket fence
and a spit.

Middle child left home and
found it all over again.

What’s in a name?
A history bittersweet
of a struggle for dignity
in word and in deed.

OXI Means NO

55% youth unemployment
45% of retirees living below poverty line
35% rise in suicides
$2.5 billion in profit made by the IMF on loans to Greece

But the thirst of a leech is unquenchable.

The other day, I broke down sobbing as I was heading into work. Scanning my Twitter feed for updates on Greece as I do on the CTA every morning lately, I looked out the window and saw a man on the sidewalk of Chicago literally on his knees begging for help. As I got off the bus, I stumbled down the street until I found a place where I could curl up into the fetal position and weep.

Why do we allow ourselves to be ruled by leeches?

Later that week, negotiations broke down between the Greek government and its troika of “lenders”. After five months of negotiations with the newly elected Greek government, the troika refused to budge, insisting that Greece sign a new memorandum that was virtually the same as the last, one that would deepen the austerity measures which have driven the country into a deep depression.

But Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras refuses to sign and instead calls for a national referendum on the leeches!

Cue the most vicious propaganda campaign of fear-mongering and lies to ever hit airwaves. A VOTE FOR “NO” IS A VOTE TO LEAVE EUROPE! SYRIZA WILL TURN US INTO A THIRD WORLD COUNTRY! IT’S EUROZONE OR ZIMBABWE! (Never hurts to fan the flames of racism while you’re at it). Most polls show the “YES” vote with a narrow lead throughout the week. Banks remain closed, with capital controls restricting withdrawals. The media exaggerate lines at ATMs, using footage from other countries and claiming them to be Greece. “NO” rallies get 1 minute of coverage for every 6 minutes given to “YES.” Newscasters break down in tears on television lamenting the fate that awaits their proud country should the people vote “NO.”

July 5, 2015: Shattering all expectations, scoffing in the face of crocodile tears and poisoned lies, 61% of the people vote OXI! No to leeches and fear!

I cried tears of joy that day. I felt in my bones that day the blood of courage and resistance running through me, passed down from pappoudes who fought against the Nazis, who fought with the partisans, who survived the junta, who chased the American dream, who brought me here today.

Tomorrow, the Greek parliament will vote on a preposterous proposal, a financial coup d’etat aimed at stripping the Greeks of everything they have, from property to pride. The fact that Tsipras has even allowed this proposal to be put to a vote is a defeat in itself, one that had the masses of people who voted OXI last week reeling in the confusion and bitterness of betrayal. Even still, they did not miss a beat. Protests in the streets and a 24-hour general strike will take place tomorrow. Against false leaders and leeches alike.

You see, the thirst of a leech is unquenchable, yes. But its intestines are finite. And we have them outnumbered. And the strength of the human spirit cannot be bled dry. And we will not stop until justice is served. And it is not a threat, it is cause-and-effect, when I say (and you repeat): From Chicago to Greece, no justice no peace!

Reflections Before the Greece Referendum

The last time I visited Greece was the summer of 2011. At the time, I was very politically naive (ignorant, really). I probably could have been classified as a liberal, a hippie-hearted humanist who always cared about social justice on some level but had no understanding of politics or the history of struggle. But the 3 months I spent in Greece that summer changed all that.

To make a long story short, I saw the encampment at Syntagma Square with my own two eyes, I lived through two transportation strikes, I fell in love with all the amazing street art and political graffiti in Athens, I visited the Polytechnic University and learned the story of the 1973 uprising against the junta, I talked to my grandmother about how the Nazis burned their village to the ground and killed my great-grandfather and many others from their village in WWII, I talked to my other grandparents about how they fought as Partisans in the civil war and were exiled to Russia, and I walked around every day in a country steeped in politics and a palpable sense of history–a history that birthed my own existence.

I returned to the U.S. in September, but decided to make a 5-day detour in Madrid, Spain first. There, I encountered massive open-air assemblies of everyday people discussing politics and economics–I would later learn that this was the “Indignados” movement. I think this is when I really began to connect the dots. I remember specifically thinking, “This is so cool! It’s too bad nothing like this would ever happen in the U.S.” Little did I know that as I was having that very thought, Occupy Wall Street had just begun in NYC. And less than a month later, I flew to NYC myself and joined the occupation in Zuccotti Park. I returned to Chicago after 3 weeks at OWS and threw myself into activism.

Now, four years later, it has all come full circle, and I’m organizing demonstrations in Chicago in solidarity with Greece, at one of the most critical moments in the country’s recent history. It feels like everything I’ve done in my life up until this point was merely a precursor to this moment. The personal and the political woven into a single fate.

I don’t know which way the vote will go on Sunday but the fact that the referendum is happening at all is already historic. Either way the vote goes, there will be major political shifts in response to it.

I hope that the OXI vote wins. I hope that the people of Greece stand strong against the fear-mongering propaganda. I hope that they remember their history, our history, of all that Greece has been through and all the times it has remained strong in face of attacks. Because a vote for YES is a surrender in this economic and psychological war that the European elites have waged against Greece. A vote for NO is a vote for dignity, democracy, and justice, not just for Greeks but for people all over the world. I hope the people of Greece know what the European elites certainly do: If Greece successfully pushes back against their neoliberal austerity policies and their undemocratic authoritarian structures, then others will be emboldened and follow suit. That is their worst nightmare–and our greatest hope.

Tomorrow, the people of Greece have the levers of history, and my heart, in their hands.

My thoughts on the Greek election

I hope that SYRIZA wins today. I have a lot of doubts and reservations about what they will do once in power but I believe their election is a necessary (if imperfect, partial, full of potential pitfalls) step forward. I hope that SYRIZA wins and I hope that the Left and the masses of people are prepared to hold them accountable.

I believe that, ultimately, Greece will need to leave the EU and the Eurozone if they’re ever going to reestablish any real economic or political self-determination, and it disappoints me that SYRIZA (or rather its “leadership”) has removed this from their rhetoric of possibilities, among many other rightward shifts. But that doesn’t mean that the chain of events following a SYRIZA victory might not lead to a Grexit anyway (via expulsion from above or via pressure from below). And of course an exit from the Euro would be merely the beginning of a long process of rebuilding democracy and moving towards revolution, as is true for so many of the decisions that would face a SYRIZA government. In other words, we are along way from where we need to be. The devastation of the past 7 years of “austerity” and economic terrorism on the people of Greece cannot be overstated.

I give SYRIZA my critical, qualified support because I understand that they are the only viable option right now with any intention to ease the suffering of the Greek people and provide an opening for further progress. But this support is qualified, with criticisms, because there is indeed much to criticize and much that could go wrong and the fate of the people of Greece is what truly hangs in the balance. SYRIZA is far from a tried and true tribune of the people. SYRIZA is a necessary and promising experiment in rebuilding the Left, in challenging neo-liberal capitalism, and it is an encouraging development, a positive response to the economic crisis. But the contradictions of the current period are too great to expect that things will go smoothly after a SYRIZA victory. This is a critical juncture in Greece’s history and I believe that no matter what happens tomorrow, there will be a lot of volatility in the coming period.

So I will hold my breath, as I hope for a SYRIZA win and the kind of volatility that precedes a flower bursting from its bud.

On the murder of and by NYPD

There is nothing that can “justify” murder, there are only things that can *explain* it. Cause-and-effect operates outside of morality. Which is not to say that murder (or any human action) can be boiled down to a single cause but rather that a confluence of circumstances can be understood to have a certain potential to lead to a specific outcome, not unlike the way we understand the physical sciences. For example, different plants grow in different areas of the earth, they require a specific set of ecological circumstances in order to thrive, and changes to the environment consequently change the way plants grow, evolve, or die.

Human behavior is of course more complex, but I believe it still operates under the same basic laws of nature. By extension, I would argue that when you live in society dominated by a tiny minority of wealthy individuals who use murder, torture, exploitation, oppression, deception, etc. as a way to maintain their rule, you can expect to reap all sorts of unhealthy outcomes, including a police force that murders with impunity and individuals who see no other recourse than to murder back.

I do not believe we should seek to justify either side of this cycle of violence; rather, we should seek to expose the underlying causes of violence and move forward with the project of transforming this society into one that is capable of producing good rather than evil. Your individual morality does not change the inherent immorality upon which our current society is based. Only collective action can do that.