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Honoring Bradley Will

Of the many people whose lives Brad Will’s intersected, several of us have written about our memories of him, about his commitments and interests, and our shared involvement in trajectories of global justice activism from temporary autonomous zones, earth first, to housing and squatters’ rights, gardens, critical mass, independent media, reclaim the streets, direct action network, protests against international monetary organizations, for landless workers, to most recently the teacher led civil rights movement in Oaxaca. Some of us who knew him, whether for a short or long time, are, only in his death confronted by the fact that it was his stumbling “grand fool” of the court-like character, that calm but giggling simplicity, that enabled him so often to rush in where angels feared to tread, for better, and sometimes for worse. That is not what I am writing about.

In the 15 or so years of knowing Bradley since our first meeting at the Naropa Institute in 1993 (we both landed in NYC’s lower east side squatters’ community the next year), to organizing, getting arrested, singing, and dancing with him, we and most of our wide, inter-nected web of friends have often said that what we needed and most hoped for was the birth of some kind of international movement for equality and peace, that great big movement to unite us all that humankind’s talked about since the beginning of time but never achieved. Our desire and need to build such a movement rises not so much from some moral and ethical conviction or good will. It rises from our understanding that only an egalitarian social contract among humankind can foster the level of mutual trust and responsibility, economic development, and environmental sustainability, necessary to prevent the already mounting violence, poverty, disease, and environmental degradation encircling our world. If there is one defining sentiment of our generation of activists, it is the perception that the need to live by the prophetic notion of ‘oneness’ and ‘doing unto others,’ is no longer simply a matter of moral or spiritual choice, but now a matter of life and death, survival of the planet or imminent, irreversible destruction.

But while the global justice and peace networks, digital technology, independent media, and worldwide sentiment evidenced in Oaxaca, Chiapas, Porto Alegre, and the World Social Forum, have all greatly increased the potential to realize such a global imagination, we in the U.S. are no closer now than we were 15 years ago at incorporating our myriad sub-protests for housing, farmers, landless indigenous populations, and against the WTO, the Iraq War, or arctic drilling, within a clarion movement for global economic equality or civil rights. Almost unbelievably, despite the fact that republican voting farmers in the United States have been losing their farms at the hands of the same system that subjugates middle eastern families to the global oil market, and leaves Oaxacan people dead in the streets for demanding livable wages and sanitation, the progressive community in America has been less successful at expressing the clear link between exorbitant wealth and poverty, than the Bush administration has been at convincing the majority that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction or that Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden were bed-buddies.

In part, our movement has remained scattered because it is so diverse, widespread, and resultantly disjunct: many of us have been so busy trying to correct the myriad wrongs around us that we’ve all headed off, some to the barricades of Oaxaca, some into organizing, some to the redwoods, some into protest music, some to Porto Alegre, some to Palestine, many of us, frenetically, to all of the above. On the other hand, either because of lack of leadership or for political/funding reasons influencing editorial, and lingering McCarthy-era self censorship, our larger progressive networks have shied away from the message of global economic equality which should be the basis of our domestic and foreign policy position against war, poverty, disease, debt, and for fair trade, indigenous rights, etc. The problem is, no movement for civil rights in history ever succeeded by being anything but just that. The Indian Independence movement and the Civil Rights movement were not movements against salt taxes or to get to ride on Montgomery buses. The latter were sub-campaigns within the framework of a larger, positive demand for basic rights that were irrefutable. The demand for these rights identified the respective movements and provided the basis for the positive imaging, more universal accessibility, and ultimate undeniability of those movements. The no-compromise stances empowered effective non-violent strategy.

We are kidding ourselves if we think we can address the root causes of the Iraq war by ousting the Bush administration, that we can affect the sources of Mexican inequality, unless we primarily address the system of global economic hegemony that is proving itself both humanly and ecologically unsustainable. We are squandering the opportunity of the immigration struggle if we continue to allow the importation of Mexican products at prices that enforce wages there below those of our own country’s minimum. The same goes for our efforts to put an end to sweatshop labor in free trade zones, to protect the arctic from further oil drilling, or genuinely address the debt of developing nations. We have learned nothing from the history of social movements if we think we can create an international movement for civil rights and global economic equality without stating that as our purpose.

If we want to honor Brad, the people of Oaxaca, the citizens of chaos-ridden Iraq, the old growth trees and oil rich arctic wildernesses, it is time we stepped back and looked at where we’ve come. It means assessing the tools at our disposal to create a movement for a different global economy. If another world is possible, it will be because a movement erupted demanding it. Like Brad’s body, that movement has to come home. In our mourning for yet another colleague among thousands needlessly killed, let us focus our energies at last on building that movement, no holds barred, and let’s go where angels fear to tread.

STEPHAN SAID, aka Stephan Smith is an activist, recording artist and journalist living in New York City. His works appear on Rounder Records, Artemis Records, Universal Hobo Records, and in The Progressive Magazine, San Francisco Chronicle, Sing Out!, and other publications. He is Iraqi-American. He can be reached at: management@stephansmith.com

 

 

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