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.

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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.

Anatomy of a Capitalist Ransom Note

As I follow the “negotiations” between the Greek government and the troika on Twitter, it all just sounds like an elaborate ransom note to me. This is not a negotiation between “equal partners.” It is an entire country of people being held hostage by an international capitalist cartel intent on extracting every last drop of wealth and value from human life and labor, with zero regard for life itself. They speak on endlessly, genuinely content with their circular logic, which uses a sociopathic economic system as its starting and ending point.

If you accept the premise that capitalism is the best or only way to organize society, than it is easy to get caught up in their rhetoric because it generally follows an internally valid line of reasoning. But the fact is that capitalism is NOT the only or best way to organize society. Ultimately, as living beings whose survival depends on the functioning of an intricate ecosystem, it is actually quite illogical to base our society around a system of private profit and endless growth.

But, like parasites, the proponents of capitalism not only leech from us but convince us to love the leeching. In Greece, you can see this in the millions of people who still prefer to stay in the Eurozone at any cost, repeating the lies about their own “lazy” and “corrupt” nature as the source of the economic crisis. You see it, too, in the leaders of SYRIZA, like Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, who speaks of these negotiations as a means of creating an “equal partnership” with their “lenders”. A Stockholm Syndrome of epic proportions.

The victory of SYRIZA has in many ways upset the balance of forces in Europe and there are important gains that can be won by this new government, if their feet are kept to the fire. But they are still negotiating with sociopaths, within the framework of a sociopathic system—perhaps asking for a bit less blood loss, a clipping of claws. We can only hope that such gains will be enough to breathe new life into the masses of people and break the parasitic spell. Because freedom will not be found within the rationale of a ransom note.

Anatomy of a Capitalist Ransom Note

“Anatomy of a Capitalist Ransom Note,” by Stavroula Harissis. [Printed paper, newspaper, ink, on manila folder]

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.

Radicalized: The 2-Year Mark

Image

The other day, I came across this piece of paper folded into a book I had decided to start reading again. Dated 10 Ιουλίου 2011, I realized it was exactly two years ago that I had been in Greece with my cousin Giorgo giving me a “Radical Athens Tour.” And I realized how unexpectedly significant this piece of paper now was to me, a symbol marking the beginning of what turned out to be perhaps the most transformative period of my life.

That hot day in July, Giorgo took me through the Exarcheia neighborhood of Athens, a base for radical activity in the city. There I saw the spot that 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos was killed by police in 2008, which sparked massive riots throughout the country. We walked through Polytechnic University, where I learned the story of the 1973 uprising against the junta that ended in bloodshed. I saw the segregation of the city into rundown “immigrant neighborhoods” juxtaposed by shopping districts where Greeks sipped overpriced coffee. And then I got to witness history-in-the-making when we visited the ongoing encampment at Syntagma Square. That’s where I was handed this piece of paper—an open letter to the mayor of Athens from The People’s Assembly of Syntagma condemning the government’s violent repression of their encampment and their movement (among other indictments).

At the time, none of it really made sense to me. A bunch of people choosing to set up a permanent camp in front of the parliament building to protest? Bizarre. Having never learned the history of social movements, this was a completely foreign concept to me. If you would have told me at that point that three months later I myself would be part of a similar encampment in New York City, I probably would have laughed at you.

But the radical transformation I experienced that summer in Greece did not begin nor end with this tour of Athens. Living in a country that is going through such profound crisis and revolt, you are constantly steeped in politics. With each breath you take, you are breathing in the air of social change. No one living there can escape this, though many try to remain unconscious to it. Myself, I am an extremely open and sensitive soul who cannot shut my consciousness off if I wanted to, so every breath I took that summer impacted me profoundly.

I can’t say exactly what brought me to Greece that summer. I mean, I could give you the reasons I had stated at the time, such as connecting with my roots, spending time with family, practicing my Greek, traveling, etc. But those were reasons that I conjured up after the fact, to explain a decision that was really driven by an unexplainable impulse. I didn’t have a plan. I just bought a one-way ticket and went to Greece. At the time, I understood it as a quest for adventure and enlightenment. I had no idea that that enlightenment would take the form of political radicalization.

After two and a half months in Greece, still not aware of the transformation that was happening to me, I decided to stop by Spain before heading back to the States. Again, this decision was not politically motivated, it was motivated by my love of the Spanish language. But again, I found myself steeped in politics. In Madrid, I encountered the Indignados movement—though I didn’t know its name at the time. All I knew was that there were masses of people gathering in public spaces to discuss the future of human society. All of the talk about economics and politics outright was largely lost on me, but I could feel the importance of it in every cell of my body.

I got back to Chicago on September 19, 2011, two days after Occupy Wall Street had kicked off, I would later learn. It wasn’t until Occupy Chicago began about a week later that I heard about the protest in NYC. And that was when everything I had lived that summer in Greece and Spain crystalized. All the things that hadn’t made any sense to me before suddenly made more sense than I thought life could ever contain. It was as if I had spent the first twenty-eight years of my life merely observing a series of unrelated, unfortunate dots and then, in a single instant, a switch was flipped and an intricate, infinitely large truth was illuminated in the paths between the dots.

So I bought another one-way ticket, this time to New York City to join the encampment in Zuccotti Park. Three weeks later, I returned to Chicago and joined the movement here. Now, two years later, I am a full-fledged Activist committed to revolutionary social change with a number of significant experiences under my belt. From the NATO summit protest to the Chicago Teachers Union strike and the fight against school closings, from demonstrations in solidarity with Greece and against their neo-Nazi party the Golden Dawn to picketing my local alderman for his decimation of social services, I have essentially been going non-stop over the past two years, throwing myself into struggle at every turn.

I feel myself entering a new stage now, a more reflective period, as I attempt to make sense of the ups and downs I’ve experienced through participating in these struggles. Of course, I will continue to be involved in the movement (it’s an addiction really), but I hope to at least slow down a bit in order to process what I’m doing and who I have become. Finding this piece of paper was a good start.