(In)Dependence Day for a Puerto Rican

On July 4, 1898, in the Central Presbyterian Church of Brooklyn, the Reverend J. F. Carson read from the Holy Bible, “And Joshua took the whole land, and the land rested from war.” He sermonized that “the high, the supreme business of this Republic is to end the Spanish rule in America, and if to do that it is necessary to plant the stars and stripes on Cuba, Porto Rico, the Philippines or Spain itself, America will do it.” That same night, in the Presbyterian Church of Fifth Avenue, the Reverend Robert MacKenzie prophesied, “God is calling a new power to the front. The race of which this nation is the crown . . . is now divinely thrust out to take its place as a world power.” Senator Albert J. Beveridge also saw a divine plan. “God has not been preparing the English-speaking and Teutonic peoples for a thousand years for nothing,” he declared. “He has made us adept in government so that we may administer government amongst savages and senile peoples.”

On July 21, 1898, the US government issued a press release stating, “Porto Rico will be kept. . . . Once taken it will never be released. It will pass forever into the hands of the Unites States. . . . Its possession will go towards making up the heavy expense of the war to the United States. Our flag, once run up there, will float over the island permanently.” On the floor of the US Senate, Republican Senator Joseph B. Foraker declaimed, “Porto Rico differs radically from any other people for whom we have legislated previously. . . . They have no experience which would qualify them for the great work of government with all the bureaus and departments needed by the people of Porto Rico.”

This is what “independence” means to a 2016 colony, the last colony in the world, Puerto Rico.

People may be aware of the recent news that has been highlighting the Puerto Rican economic crisis, 73 Billion US dollars of debt hanging over the head of the Puerto Rican people.  That is over 20,000 US dollars per person living on the island.

Currently there is a bill that was signed by President of Obama called PROMESA that was supposed to help with the restructuring of the debt for the people of the island of Puerto Rico.  Here are some highlights of the bill:

  • No clear path to restructuring the debt, no clear bankruptcy or restructuring protocol or procedure is outlined.
  • The installation of a Financial Control Board of the island that can overrule any financial decision made and voted on by the people or governmental bodies of Puerto Rico.
  • This Financial Control Board is allowed to receive “gifts”, no description on what is meant by “gifts”, on the bill though it is obvious this creates the inherent conditions for bribery.
  • The people of the Financial Control Board are to be selected by the US Senate, where Puerto Rico has no voting representation at all, and approved by the President. Not a single one of these people have to have any ties to the island.
  • The minimum wage of the island will be reduced to $4.25 for workers under the age of 25 on the island, a place where Cost of Living is already drastically higher than most other places in the US.

This bill obviously exerts the colonial rule of the US over Puerto Rico in 2016.  But it doesn’t stop there.  Other things are contributing to the miserable human and social conditions of the island.

  • Puerto Ricans pay the same amount for Medicaid as any other state or US territory but they only receive 50% of the Medicaid benefits that other states and territories receive. This coupled with the economic crisis has helped contribute to the closing of hospitals and clinics throughout the island creating a health crisis on the island that is already experiencing the Zika virus scare and the possibility of poisonous gasses being sprayed on the island to kill the Zika virus at the detriment to the health of the Puerto Rican people.  That gas spray is being protested by the people of the island.
  • Schools are being closed and privatized due to lack of funds. University of Puerto Rico has raised its tuition again making educational attainment ever more difficult for people already struggling to meet high tuition costs.
  • Public Beaches are being sold and privatized to pay for the debt. Obama also announced the “Promise Zone” which favors US developers to build resorts, entertainment, and high end real estate on the eastern part of the island.
  • The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) will no longer monitor water resources in Puerto Rico because the island’s government owes it $2 million

The slow death of Puerto Rico and the Puerto Rican people through an economic and colonial chokehold has gone mostly unnoticed and unchecked.  The reason why it has gone mostly unnoticed is because most people don’t know how it got this bad or that it really is this bad.  Until the debt crisis and PROMESA no one really knew anything about Puerto Rico outside maybe Jenifer Lopez and Marc Anthony.  Even many people within the Dream Defenders organization know little about Puerto Rican people or the history of US oppression in Puerto Rico despite the use of the Young Lords in the DNA development.  DD is no outlier here, many Puerto Ricans don’t even know the history of the island that led to these conditions.  That is due to the incredible refusal of US media to cover things pertaining to the island and, until recently, a scarcity of educational resources detailing the progressive destruction and now, in my opinion, a guided gentrification of the island and slow murder of the Puerto Rican people.  It would take too long for me to detail these things but if anyone is interested in taking a deeper dive read War Against All Puerto Ricans by Nelson Denis.

Now why have these oppressive forces gone unchecked?  There are many factors that have contributed to the inability for Puerto Rican Freedom Fighters to do so through legislative or political means.

  1. Puerto Ricans on the island are unable to vote for the President of the United States.
  2. Puerto Ricans have no vote in congress, only an elected representative who can speak to the issues on the island but has no voting power at all.
  3. The Supreme Court ruled that Puerto Rico is in fact a “Territorial Possession” of the US and therefore any law or decision made by any governmental faction of the island can be, and usually is, superseded by the United States Senate.
  4. Puerto Rico was not allowed to vote for any government representatives on the island until 1941. Electing their first governor Luis Munoz Marin.
  5. 1953 Gag Law made it illegal to outwardly show any support for any Puerto Rican independence movement, which included even owning a Puerto Rican flag.
  6. 1917 US Citizenship granted to Puerto Ricans, only months before World War I draft is initiated. This allowed the US to exploit the people of the island for military means as well as recruit island people to the mainland to serve as cheap labor in industrialized cities in the US guised as the “American Dream.” This creation of the Puerto Rican diaspora has created a rift between mainland Puerto Ricans and island Puerto Ricans especially through language.

This also doesn’t directly account for the 1943 proposed Tydings bill that outlined a path to independence for Puerto Rico similar to that given to the Philippines that was blocked by then governor Luis Munoz Marin, who ran on the platform “Pan, Tierra, Y Libertad” (translated: Bread, Land, and Liberty).  Why would someone running on that platform vote against the bill.  FBI files show that J Edgar Hoover, a familiar name to Black Liberation movements in the US, had evidence that Marin had made an FBI case against him for drug trafficking and use “disappear” and J Edgar Hoover threatened that he would pursue not only the drug charges but federal fraud charges as well.  This was all the “incentive” Marin needed to betray his people and convince Congress that the Puerto Rican people were uninterested in independence. This wouldn’t be the last time that Hoover would be involved in infiltration and disruption of Puerto Rican independence movements.

Beyond the legislative pursuit, there also have been many different independence movements on the island that have sought to free the people of the island by “Any Means Necessary” if you will.  The US, at every turn squashed all movements towards independence created outside the US corrupted Puerto Rican political system.  Some of the main incidences are listed below.

  • 1937 The Ponce Massacre, the Puerto Rican Insular Police murder 19 peaceful marchers for Puerto Rico independence, including a 13 year old. They would later use photography and media to create the appearance that the independents instigated the shooting though it was later discovered that none of them were armed.
  • Pedro Albizu Campos Nationalistas bombed in Jayuya, PR by US Air Force in 1950. Shortly after Pedro Albizu and others would be arrested on charges of conspiracy.  Albizu Campos would be used for radiation testing while in prison causing him to get cancer and leading to his eventual death.
  • The Young Lords, a more household name stateside, were riddled with FBI infiltrators, fictitious arrests, and trumped up charges similar to that of the Black Panthers.
  • 1981 Oscar Lopez Rivera is arrested for seditious conspiracy for his involvement in FALN, a Marxist-Leninist Puerto Rican independence movement organization. At 35 years he is among the longest held political prisoners in the history of Puerto Rico and in the world.

This culture of infiltration and subjugation by over policing, AKA “The Trap”, has been existing in Puerto Rico since the beginning of Puerto Rico’s pursuit of independence.  As recently as 2012 the ACLU and the DOJ completed an investigation of the Puerto Rico Police Department (PRPD), which was founded in 1898 the year the US occupied the island of Puerto Rico.  The systemic use of the PRPD to subjugate the PR people into docility and fear is apparent through this report. Below are some highlights.

  • Use of excessive and lethal force against civilians, especially in poor and Black neighborhoods and Dominican communities, often resulting in serious injury and death.
  • Violent suppression of peaceful protestors using batons, rubber bullets, and a toxic form of tear gas that was phased out by mainland U.S. police departments in the 1960’s.
  • Failure to protect victims of domestic violence and to investigate reported crimes of domestic violence, rape, and other gender-based crimes.
  • Between 2005 and 2010, more than 1,700 police officers were arrested for crimes including murder, assault, and drug trafficking. That’s roughly 10 percent of the force.

The similarities between the current state of Black America and the trap used to subjugate black communities through economics, gentrification and disruption of black communities, and the use of the TRAP are eerily familiar.

Don Pedro Albizu Campos once said “[US] cares more about the cage than the bird.”  Our cage is physical, mental, and spiritual.  Colonialism has infiltrated our very veins through the 118 years of US rule over Puerto Rico. Now as the conditions have worsened for the people on the island to a breaking point independence movements and solidarity movements have begun to take form. It will be a long and difficult road but what more could be worth fighting and dying for than Freedom?  Vive Puerto Rico Libre!

 

Who is Really For Peace?

Who is really for peace?

It has been about a year since I first started to really entrench myself in movement spaces.  The murder of Mike Brown was a catalyst for many of us to get up, speak out, and act accordingly. I was no exception.  Before being deeply involved in movement spaces and organizing I would say I had read a number of books and heard a plethora of speeches by Martin Luther King Jr, El Hajj Malik El Shabazz, Huey Newton, Kwame Turee, Angela Davis, Che Guevarra, and many other revolutionaries of their time.  Their time was characterized by massive civil rights protests, actions, legislations, and even guerilla war based revolutionary overthrows of governmental structures

The argument of militancy vs. non-violent direct action is a common theme in most of these texts and speeches.  This argument has been muddied greatly over the years to mean “Violent vs. Non-violent” or even “peaceful vs. non-peaceful” action. I always find it very peculiar how interpretations of the words violence and peace can vary so widely amongst so many people.  This division in ideologies has always made me very interested in the word “peace” because the meaning of it seems to vary so greatly depending on who you ask.
I was confronted more directly with this idea when I went to a confederate flag rally this weekend as a means of non-violent direct action in which a group of local activists intended to march through the path of the confederate flag supporters to express our discontent with the symbols they choose to honor.

The confederate flag rally supporters and participants envisioned a meet up at the first park where they would socialize briefly till everyone arrived and then hang their confederate flags outside of their car and drive to the second park.  Once they get to the second park they would have a nice barbecue reflecting on their “confederate heritage” and the like.

Our intention was to throw a monkey wrench in their plans by making it known that people were in opposition to what was going on.  We showed up with signs in protest and we blocked the entry way to the park in order for the people to stop and recognize our opposition.  We were chanting many of our typical chants, black lives matter, no justice no peace, etc. While doing so we were welcomed with a plethora of racial slurs and degrading remarks.  Many of the people in our group returned the favor and decided to make degrading remarks in return.  Eventually a confederate flag was burned.  We then moved out the way and they began their drive to the new park.

We were able to beat most of their participants to the new park but and we blocked the entry again with similar chants.  They began to push us out the way with their cars.  We moved out the way to allow them to enter the park.  We followed them in and continued marching and chanting.  This led to some of our participants having one on one break off dialogues with their participants discussing the implications of the flag and mutual feelings on the topic.  These conversations ranged from productive to embattling.  There were allegations that one of our participants threatened a dog of one of their participants.  There were allegations in turn that participants on their side pulled a knife and a gun.  Police reports were filed.

It was a tense and heated exchange throughout.  Tears were spilt on our side.  A lot of ranges of conflicting emotions from hope, distraught, pain, and strength.

When I was leaving this action, which was while we were blocking entry into the second park, I walked past a car where two women with confederate flags flying saw my shirt, which said “world peace” on the back. One woman   complimented it saying “does your shirt say World Peace on the back?” I said it did. She then insisted on being overtly complimentary of the message on my shirt, which led me to believe she was mocking me.  Anyway, I thanked the lady for her compliments and went about my way.

Now why would this woman be mocking my shirt saying “World Peace” in this situation?  Yes, we were making noise by chanting and disrupting their normal pathway in order to express our discontent.  By my definition we were being peaceful and our action was derived solely from the desire to bring peace and harmony to a world we all love so dearly.

To better understand this let’s examine a few definitions of peace to see where incongruences may lie.

3.  a state of mutual harmony between people or groups, especially in personal relations: Try to live in peace with your neighbors.
4.  the normal freedom from civil commotion and violence of a community; public order and security: He was arrested for being drunk and disturbing the peace.
6.  freedom of the mind from annoyance, distraction, anxiety, an obsession, etc.; tranquility; serenity.
7.  a state of tranquility or serenity: May he rest in peace.
8.  a state or condition conducive to, proceeding from, or characterized by tranquility: the peace of a mountain resort.
9.  silence; stillness: The cawing of a crow broke the afternoon’s peace

Source: Dictionary.com

After reviewing the definitions it becomes quite obvious where the disconnections arise. When I speak of peace I am referring to definition numbered 3 above.  From our interaction it is possible that the woman I spoke with was referring to definition numbered 9 though there may be a lot of overlap between there.

When Dr. King and most movement people speak of peace we are speaking of the mutual state of harmony that can exist in the world if we all do our part to be global citizens. This means keeping our governments, businesses, people, and ourselves accountable for respecting the states of disadvantage many people in our society are encountering so that we can all be uplifted to a state of harmony that is not reserved for those born into more privileged social, racial, or economic classes.

When many objectors of protests and rallies speak about peace they are saying “Shut the Fuck Up!” without directly saying it and referring to definition numbered 9 above.
There is obviously a great variance between this these two perspectives. For example, definitions numbered 6, 7, and 8 refer to tranquility and having a state conducive to that tranquility.  For the confederate rally goers we disrupted their tranquility and thus arewere not being peaceful in our actions according to definitions 6,7, and 8.  On the other hand we could make the same claim that their rally disrupted our tranquility and also refer back to definition numbered 3 stating that we must act to bring about that mutual harmony we were referring to.

We can go on for days with these variances and stances back and forth. But at the end of the day, both sides being are just as warranted in their feelings that the other side is not being peaceful and they are in fact the “peaceful ones.”  So what does that mean?  Who is really for peace???

This question brings me back to an idea by Huey P Newton of the Black Panther party:

“I think that words, I think that Language, I think that poetry, none of it works.  I don’t think that human language has caught up with the human evolutionary process.  Because it seems like every time we try to express a deep thing, a heavenly thing, a God like thing, we come up short…So what do we do when our words fail each other?  We wind up trying to touch each other…”

In the context Huey was speaking he was relating this to poetry and expressions of Love but I think this is applicable across all areas of human interaction.  When words fail us in a confrontation we try to touch each other in a way that we feel is appropriate to express the emotions of anger, pain, or frustration.

So what does it all mean?

That question is a daunting one.  If we cannot even find common ground in a word as simple as “Peace” what can we find agreement on?  Are we meant to find common ground on anything or is this polarity a necessity to the balance of life?  A ying to a yang so to speak?

Towards the end of MLK’s life he alluded to America being a house that is burning down around us.  There is genuine merit to that perception. If that is truly the case, is there a way to create a more cohesive dissidence between the people?  Where we can all maintain our autonomy of thought and uniqueness while being more constructive and cooperative in our dissent?

These are ideas we must confront and address to truly create a long-term sustainable revolution in the world we live in.  What will this future society look like? I hope not one of group think.  I hope we are truly able to maintain the ying and yang and balance of individuality while still creating a culture of worldly human interconnection.  That is the goal we must challenge ourselves to live out.  But with every great pursuit there is left many unanswered questions.

I believe there is much value in the unanswered question.  The unanswered question has driven humanity to heights we never thought were possible.  We must not shy away from them.  In the unanswered we will find our truth.

So who is for peace?  The lady at the confederate flag rally is, I am, we both are, and none of us are.  We need to find a way to come to each other with communication and understanding rather than condescension because as the house burns. . . more fire won’t be what puts it out.
-Sobreviviente