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Who Are the Disappeared

For the Split the Rock Conference

Washington, DC


When we were here two years ago I spoke of the disappeared as individuals, those courageous activists who came forth from among us who are now incarcerated as political prisoners, some of them entering their 5th decade.  The ones we are most familiar with are Leonard Peletier and Mumia Abu Jamal, but they are only two of a few hundred.  All of them have been ‘disappeared” by our government into the prisons of our land.

I would like at this time to draw back and refocus the lens to a wider view, how our country disappears not its individual citizens, but whole nations, even factual truth itself.  I would like to do this by viewing not this aberrant behavior, but by what it ought to be doing, being a good neighbor.  We have often heard the term “good neighbor policy” among nations, so let us look at this word to see where it comes from, where it dwells.

Neighbor.  From the Old English neahgebur.  Neah is akin to Near.  Near in place, time, or relationship.  In verb forms: to draw or come near to: to draw near.  And Gebur is akin to Dweller, but also signifies the manner of dwelling: to cherish and protect, to preserve and care for.  So, neighbor is a near-dweller who cherishes, protects, preserves and cares for the one who is nearby.

There are two witnesses to this word I’d like to share, one from the Old, one from the New Testament:  From the Gospel of Luke (10:29), “Who is my neighbor?” a question posed by a lawyer to Jesus, and his response is the parable of the Good Samaritan, which makes us realize how we are to regard those who are strange and different to us.  It calls into question the connection between obligation and belonging.  It requires of us a shift from a physics to a metaphysics of nearness.  It reorients our obligation towards the stranger.  And from the Old Testament, The Book of Exodus, one of the ten commandments, a universal one that all cultures, all spiritualities and ethics are familiar with: Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.

I would like to take forward this word Neighbor into our present time, and lift its application from the personal to the collective, from the individual to the body that is the polis, the state.   And I’d also like take along the two witnesses who dwell, the one in the old and the other in the new testament, that they may bear witness to and testify how our body, the e pluribus unum, the one-who-is-the-many, our united states treats its neighbor, its near-dweller Cuba.

I will not go into depth how we-the-people that is our state has maintained for over half a century, presently in the 51st year, a blockade against this island, the blockade which is considered by the neighborhood of nations to be an act of war, and the devastation it has wrought on this island nation, our neighbor, and her children.  I will not go into how our body the state harbors and cherishes, protects and preserves, and cares for Louis Posada Carriles, the father of modern terrorism, the confessed and proud mastermind of the mid-air bombing of a Cuban plane killing all 73 passengers, most who were children, members of their fencing team.   And I will not beyond these words draw attention to the five courageous Cuban patriots known as the Cuban 5 who exposed terrorist organizations in our country, saving the lives of innocent Americans and Cubans and have received as their reward life sentences in our super maximum prisons.  I will leave that for your own good consciences to seek out and do justice.

I would rather recall the recent devastation of the earthquake in Haiti, and how Cuba’s valiant response and contribution to this crisis has been falsely reported by our media, or not reported at all.

In fact the first report came from Fox News who reported on January 13 that Cuba was “absent” from global aid efforts in Haiti.   “One geographically close country is conspicuously absent from the roster of helping hands.  Cuba… which had evacuated some of its residents as a precaution in case the earthquake triggered a tsunami, has so far not offered any assistance publicly to its devastated island neighbor.”

“The opposite is the case,” reports Tony Iltis at Green Left Online. “At the time the earthquake struck, Cuba already had 344 doctors and paramedics working in Haiti. Also, in the past 12 years 450 young Haitians have graduated as doctors from Cuban colleges, free of charge.”

Freelance journalist Dave Lindorff reported last week that Cuba was commonly overlooked when US news outlets reported on international aid efforts.

Far from doing nothing€ about the disaster as the right-wing propagandists at Fox-TV were charging, Cuba has been one of the most effective and critical responders to the crisis, because it had set up a medical infrastructure before the quake, which was able to mobilize quickly and start treating the victims.

A January 12 Granma article said that, within a week of the earthquake: Cuban doctors in the Haitian capital [had held] 13,418 consultancies, with 1,078 operations, more than 550 of them considered major surgery. The Cuban doctors have also assisted 38 births.

And yet, as the website Raw Story reports, Fox News is staying silent after bloggers and commentators criticized the news network, and left the false report uncorrected.

CNN has also given false or shoddy reporting.  One of the many Cuban doctors currently assisting the Haitian victims of the earthquake granted an interview to the CNN a few days ago and was strangely presented to the public as a Spanish doctor.

In a phone conversation with the Juventud Rebelde newspaper, Doctor Carlos Guillen —that is his real name and not Carlos Arguello, as the CNN reported— said… the CNN team did know we were Cubans. They knew that the doctors at La Paz Hospital were all Cubans because the Spanish doctors had left two days before. We told them so, and they didn’t have any reason to think otherwise,” said Guillen.

The mere fact that the preceding paragraph is necessary is a testimony in itself to the disappearance of our neighbor Cuba from our moral viewscreen.  We the people have difficulty locating, as in True North, True South, the truth of Cuba, its people and its revolution, continually get lost,  cannot find, our moral compass.

We have managed somehow to disconnect from the magnetic pull of our collective conscience: we cannot find Cuba on our moral compass.  All we seem to be able to do is bear false witness against our neighbor, isolate her and disappear her  from the neighborhood of nations, use our power as the bully on the block to prevent other neighbors peaceable economic exchange with Cuba.  And when she does good in the world, as the rest of the world so applauds and honors her deeds as in the recent devastation in Haiti, we feel the burden to lie, to bear false witness against our neighbor.

And here is where I disagree with some others who think it is a conspiracy, that the government is instructing the media to give these false reports.  They don’t need to.  The lie has already been internalized.  What is compelling to me is how we as citizens allow ourselves or welcome the deceit.  Within a year of the attack on the World Trade Center the government was able to convince over 65% of  its people that the person responsible for this was Sadaam Hussein, not Osama bin Laden.   Not one of these individuals was kidnapped, drugged, or tortured psychologically to make them believe the lie.   How could this be, such a public event witnessed by the entire world, could our government like a sorcerer cast such a spell over its people to “disappear” the one responsible for another who was not?

This was accomplished by words: the fabrication of language to convince a falsehood and the willingness and desire of the one receiving the words to believe a lie.  This is why words are important, why they matter, why we are here, today.  The poem, “The Poet and the President Come to the Negotiating Table” by L.R. Berger begins:

“I only agreed to compromise when it became clear

they were already stealing them again out from under us:

words, one at a time.”

I would like to end with a poem, a prophetic wish that we-the-people with our many talents and powers as writers and activists press and persuade by all means necessary the government that represents us to make peace with our neighbor Cuba.

America, come out of your house.  Take an empty bowl,

and leave by your kitchen door, and go south to your neighbor’s house.

Knock on the door and ask forgiveness, and ask to borrow some sugar.

When she invites you in, accept; if she offers you coffee, take it black

or with milk.  Use the sugar she has given you in the bowl that is yours,

in her house; and sit down before she motions to the table; and let there be

something on your mind, something common, perhaps your children,

and when she finds no words but astonishment

let the space between you open—

don’t fill it with words—

let it be filled with the bread of silence;

and wait, patiently, while she waits upon Grace

to turn the vinegar back to wine, a smile on her ravaged face,

then reach across the table and offer your hand,

saying nothing, saying everything,

giving thanks with your neighbor, your new friend.

Moral Blasphemy in the Age of Jubilee

The year of Jubilee has its origins in the Book of Leviticus, 25:10.

And you shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land and unto all its inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubilee unto you, when each of you shall return to your property each of you shall return to your family.

An excerpt of this verse is the first line inscribed in the Liberty Bell, the iconic symbol of American independence, ‘’Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the land and unto all the inhabitants thereof” and was used by 19th century Abolitionists and Suffragists that this promise had not been fulfilled to all the inhabitants.

The Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 could be said to be the first Jubilee year of our nation, yet one hundred years later the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King would begin his famous “I have a Dream” speech to collect on the unfulfilled promise of that Proclamation.

“Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of captivity. But one hundred years later, we must face the tragic fact that the Negro is still not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination.”

This month we have celebrated another Jubilee—commemorating that historic March on Washington and Dr. King’s words.  There are many contrary opinions of this man from all political perspectives, but all would agree he was committed to justice by peaceful, non-violent means.

Many people heralded the election of Barack Obama, the first African American president as the fulfillment of that dream.  What would Dr. King’s assessment be of his supposed heir, who has ticked off the years of his presidency with the wars he has presided over and initiated: Iraq, Afghanistan, forays into Pakistan, Libya, Bahrain, and now Syria.

From Adbusters, the magazine that dis-spells the sorcery of our Madison Avenue culture, and that called for and inspired the Occupy Wall Street Movement, this quote from its current issue:

“After Obama’s first election in 2008, he was visited by a group of

African American women, all leading activists, who wanted to talk

with him.  When they came out of the meeting and were asked what

he was like, they replied, “this man has no moral center.”

Breach of moral character is not unique to this president, from the theft of land and the breaking of every treaty with the original inhabitants, the over one hundred invasions of our neighbor-nations to the south, the atomic destruction of Japan, the pornographic overkill of chemical weapons that wasted the land and peoples of Southeast Asia, the depleted uranium that tipped our missiles in the Middle East, and now the science fiction fact of drones roving the skies of the planet able to target any inhabitant for instant obliteration.

It is not hard for me to imagine Dr. King being alive today to commemorate this event. He would be 84.  It is impossible for me to imagine he would be sharing the podium with the one who occupies the White House.

There were protests that Obama not be allowed to speak at this Jubilee commemoration, and celebration of Dr. King who gave his life for peace; yet he did.  Then returned to the White House to wage the next war.  This is moral blasphemy.

Dr. King himself codified it most eloquently in his prophetic speech at the Riverside Church in New York City, April 4, 1967, the exact day one year before he was, perhaps not coincidentally, assassinated:

I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government.  …For the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.”

It is no mistake these words were not included among the fifteen quotes engraved on the King Memorial.  The government could not have allowed it.

If Dr. King had the prophetic vision to declare the promise of our collective dream, he also possessed the moral courage to name the nightmare we had inflicted on the peoples of the earth.  This connection between the dream and the nightmare—that they are mutually exclusive: there can be no peace at home while we ravage the earth and its inhabitants—is the final moral instruction he gave us.


Richard Cambridge

31 August 2013


Rep. Dennis Kucinich, a leading critic on the left of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, said Friday that the president’s musings about the inevitability of war and “war’s instrumentality in pursuit of peace” threatened to lead the United States into more bloody conflicts.

“Once we are committed to wars instrumentality in pursuit of peace, we begin the Orwellian journey to the semantic netherworld where war is peace, where the momentum of war overwhelms hopes for peace,” said the Ohio Democrat.

“Once we wrap doctrines perpetuating war in the arms of justice, we can easily legitimate the wholesale slaughter of innocents,” he said. “War is often not just; sometimes it is just war. And our ability to rethink the terms of our existence, to explore the possibility of peace without war, may well determine whether we end war, or war ends us.”

Read more:

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Hunting Season or Postlude to a White Paper

What needs to be done, right now, is for white allies to put their bodies between the police and the Black community. The murdering of Black people by the police will not stop until white allies find creative ways to do this.

There is no conversation, no dialogue, no dialectic that will stop the police from murdering Black people. Because of the Code of Silence there are no good police. All police are complicit in the murder of Black people due to the Code of Silence they keep. Were one to break the Code of Silence, that one would be silenced. It would take many police officers — a national collective outcry from police officers to break the Code of Silence. The police do not dwell in the realm of this possibility.

Peacemaking by white allies is the only way to stop the shedding of Black blood. Peacemaking is standing in the gap between the police and Black people. The police will be enraged when white allies put their bodies between them and the Black people they lust to murder. Blood will be shed. White allies will die. Racism requires it. White supremacy demands it. There is no way around it.

This historical moment in the United States is open season on Black people. Moose in Maine and bear in New Hampshire and deer in Vermont stand a better chance of not being killed than Black people. There is a law-bound season to kill for sport. Hunters abide by the law. It is an honor to so. Police do not; it is an honor for them not to do so. A Black person has no certainty they will not be murdered along a path in a village, a park in a town, a tangle of streets in the city, a sidewalk in the suburbs, or any of the highways and byways connecting them. Moose and deer and bear abide in peace outside the season to kill. There is no season of safety for Black people. There exists no sanctuary, no haven, no city of refuge, no building, no home, no bedroom, where a Black person may flee from the murderous rage of police to find safety and rest.

The very thought of a police officer serving life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, or on Death Row awaiting execution for murdering a Black person is preposterous. Pause for a moment. Take a deep breath. Close your eyes. Try to imagine this happening. You cannot. I can imagine a cure for all cancers. I can imagine earth being visited by a race of beings from a faraway planet. I cannot imagine police officers receiving life sentences or awaiting execution on Death Row for murdering Black people.

Not until white allies find creative ways to do this. Not until white allies wrench this into being. It will be a violent birth. The Gang of Blue will make it so.

Beyond Oracle

Presented at the 2009 AWP panel  “The Poet as Oracle”

Traditional societies considered poets as oracles, charged with mediating between human and greater-than-human worlds.  Whether that “other world” is described as divinity, the ancestors, or the earth, poets have served as mouthpieces for forces greater than a single human personality.  African griots, Native American orators, and Celtic bards put words and images at the service of their communities and their craft in the service of the transhuman.  This panel presents diverse traditions of oracular poetry, both traditional and modern.

Poets, priests and priestesses, prophets, shamans, griots, and bards have been the traditional vehicles of Oracle, the ones consulted, and the response would often be in the form of a puzzle, riddle, or enigmatic statement.  Saying and seeing sideways.  Seeing through the glass darkly, a way of speaking directly to our unconscious perhaps because our consciousness was as yet not fully undeveloped.

Today, however, it is the hunters, trappers, and fisherman from the Artic rim who are on the front line of food and survival, and the scientists, mathematicians, and journalists, recording and reporting on the data, giving us the warnings and prophesies about climate change who are our oracles.  It is the language of charts and graphs, and photographs we can see, such as the glaciers thawing southward and the line of trees marching northward. Simple math such as the plus few degrees rise in temperature in the Artic causing ice to break up before summer.  Numbers and pictures everyone can understand.

You don’t need a weatherman

to know which way the wind blows.1

The new oracles are the project engineers in the Netherlands, in their far-seeing, giving land back to the sea in order to protect the cities in the near future; the climate scientists in Antarctica measuring the ice core, the mathematicians interpreting the data.

Oracle is a 42-year-old Artic hunter named Igor Macotrikas, who says, “The food is not easy to come by now that the weather has changed.   The south wind is a bad wind.  It moves the walrus to another place.  The walrus is hard to find.”  Maxim Agnagisyak, who pays close attention to the animals he hunts.   “The meat of the grey whales is rancid; it smells like medicine.  The sled dogs won’t eat it” Or Caleb Pungowiyi,  “When this earth starts to be destroyed, we feel it.”2  Plain speaking.  Simple declarative sentences.  Almost like a child’s primer.

And it is the so called “dumb” animals who speak to us, especially the ones who have already checked out of existence, their no-more speaking, eloquent in their absence, their silence.  At what point do you notice when someone is missing from the choir, the flute section from the orchestra, the bright threads faded from the tapestry?

Ursula K. LeGuin says, “There are areas of vast silence in any culture, and part of an artist’s job is to go into those areas and come back from the silence with something to say.”3 What if the “something to say” is the Silence itself?  In the former generations governments “disappear” dissidents.  What happens when the new “disappeared ones are the fauna and flora?  When we must say as sacred gatherings:  Polar Bear— Presente!  Spotted Salamander— Presente!

Do we even need oracles anymore?  Is it not plain seeing at this point?  We have named recent “ages”— The Age of Enlightenment, The Age of Reason, The Age of Analysis.  Did we just pass through the Age of Warning— when there was still time?  Are we as a species about to be taken to the woodshed?  Is Mother about to shake us off her lap?  Is it the very Earth who is our Oracle?

Ask the one in Newtoc, southwest Alaska, who’s house just tipped over because the ground gave way.4 The permafrost, it seems, is no longer permanent.  Why it’s been there for thousands of years.  Where do you go when the ground goes?  How far can you fall?  Can you fall off the Earth?  Is there a new word for it?

Perhaps Language itself is becoming a sort of meta-oracle.  The Native peoples in the North are having to create new words to describe a change in the state of being:  Native language with such precise words describing the condition of ice and snow are having to invent words such as “misullijug” for “rainy snow” and  “uggiantqtuq” which is a new term for weather conditions that means “a familiar friend acting strangely.”5

Has the time for Oracles passed?  There is no un-clarity to pass through, puzzles we don’t understand, riddles that make only non-sense.   Perhaps we as people the world over are moving beyond the need for Oracles because the Oracles have already spoken.

“When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I though as a child, I understood as a child.  Now that I am a man, I put away childish things.”6 Did not our new president say that?  Have we grown up now to hear and understand on our own, unmediated by Oracle?  Has human consciousness evolved so we see collectively the warnings, are all, with our many, beautiful and creative talents capable of letting go, in this case, rather than doing; not doing, doing less; using less.  Letting there be a season, perhaps a century of rest.  Now the Oracles are at rest.  We know what to do.  And we know what not to do.  All of life is speaking to us.

Angaangak, an Inuk elder and shaman from Greenland whose name means “The Man Who Looks Like His Uncle” says, “The ice is melting in the north, but the hardest ice in the world to melt is the ice in the heart of man.”7

The Black Earth Institute is a progressive think-tank dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society.






“Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change” Elizabeth Kolbert, Bloomsbury, 2006

  1. “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” Bob Dylan
  2. “The Artic Meltdown: Quick Thaw Alarms Natives and Scientists” by Usha Lee McFarling. April 15, 2002, The Seattle Times
  3. “Talking on the Water: Conversations about Nature and Creativity Dreams” by Jonathon White. Random House, 1994. Interview with Ursula K. LeGuin
  4. “The Village at the Tip of the Iceberg,” by Ed Pilkington. The Observer, pg. 14, Sept. 28, 2008
  5. “The Artic Meltdown…” See 2.
  6. “The New Testament,” KJV. 1 Corinthians 13:11
  7. “The Man Who Looks Like His Uncle,” by Joshua Singer, published in The Bridge, December 6, 2007


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