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Excuse me, but can you spare a smile?

New Orleans, LA–97 to 284… 381 people in total. Sat on Decatur St in the French Quarter and tried to spange [to ask for spare change, panhandle--ed] on all of these people–but not for money, or cigarettes nor booze. No, I was pleading for smiles, or grins or even a small smirk. I turned down every offer of money and cigarettes (though I did accept a bag of cookies from one man, for it was food. And a tall boy of PBR from a couple, as we had quite a long conversation about my thoughts on several scientific topics, including the most likely form of the universe, to cryogenics.

I spanged this way for a number of reasons; one, because a smile can be quite contagious. And I was hoping for a domino effect. But more importantly for the next two reasons, the second being that it’s a break from the usual selfish plea that barrage the average passerby on any given day. The plea wasn’t for me, but instead for them, to make their nights slightly better, and yes, if only slightly… but the main reason for this performance art/social study was to gauge just how detached we as a society, and as a species, have become towards the cries of those desperate and in need. It was meant to pierce that bubble of indifference, a calyx many have formed over their conscience throughout the years from a steady form of indoctrinated false elitism, in hopes of exposing the empathy that lies underneath and, more importantly, the ability to preform acts of charity and good will. I understand why people feel the need to turn a blind eye, though I can never condone such a reason.

In this country of extreme privilege, it’s difficult to see how one can be so self-absorbed with such petty first world problems, that they can’t even acknowledge others who are in far dire circumstances–to push that line of comfort to the point of breaking, just to be seen and heard, not as a beggar, but as a human being. And for them to understand that, they both are one in the same. With only a dollar in my pocket I turned down (for certain) 18 dollars (and another 43 cents that was thrown at me from what appeared to be a man who became quite irate after I turned down his first advance of the change… also, this excludes the uncertain amount from the offers of money from people who hadn’t pulled any out yet) and 23 cigarettes. I did so because it would have sullied the entire project, to look the way I look and to respond to these people with “No thank you, but please share the same consideration and kindness to any brothers and sisters in need of it, down the road.” And to see their expression change to slight confusion, and then an unspoken acceptance of such a drastic diversion of the usual routine, only better solidifies the message. And that is, it isn’t about what one needs, but what one can spare to make this world a better place. If only just a few fleeting seconds, to hear a voice that is usually lost to the wind.

On a side note, the dollar was given to me by a homebum, he saw me outside of a gas station salvaging some food from the trash. He told me not to do that, and before even laying eye on my face had offered and insisted on buying me a burger, a gesture I couldn’t turn down–not because I was starving, but because that must have taken a lot, when one has so little. When buying the burger he handed me the dollar, to my usual “No, brother, I can’t,” to which he insisted further saying, “Take it, son, it will keep the gangs off you.” He gave me some pointers on stealing food from major supermarkets, and he went on his way, not expecting anything in return. And that’s what it’s really about–to have a sense of humanity. Hence why you can see how I can’t understand how someone can’t stop for a few seconds just to acknowledge someone else. And for all of those who think they can’t, the bullshit you’re rushing off to isn’t that fucking important, hate to break it to you…
-William Gunner Estrella-

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A Victory for Everyone

Rosario, Argentina–So what ever became of Occupy Rosario and our struggle for affordable homes for everyone from Rosario, Santa Fe, Argentina? Subsequent to the publication of our article by Occupied Stories on May 29th 2012, the President of Argentina, Cristina Fernandez-Kirchner openly acknowledged on June 12th of 2012 that the nation was facing one of its worse national housing crisis ever. The cat was out of the bag and it went global!

In quick response, the Argentine government passed a housing law program (Procrear) to provide low cost financing to anyone who owned land or wanted to purchase a new home but was not able to afford financing through banks or conventional lenders.  Everyone is eligible for the program, all an individual needs is proof of a stable job regardless of the wage. Funds for the program are made available through the national social security monies. In an essence our own wage deductions are used to help finance low cost mortgages to the working class and poor.  Therefore, the banks and conventional lenders are completely cut out of the picture, preventing a home mortgage crisis similar to the one in United States.

Our camp was comprised of a handful of families, almost all of who were jobless and homeless.  Nevertheless, our tireless passion for justice could not be quailed or shaken, after enduring countless of attempts by the City Mayor Monica Fein of the Socialist Party to tear down our Occupy Rosario camp, we defied the odds, earned the respect of many and stood our ground firmly during 126 days. Following our occupation and media attention we decided to take our struggle before the city council. We were determined to be the voice for those who did not have a voice.

Today, many of us who were homeless have obtained viable employment and a place to call home. As for myself, I continue to keep the story of Occupy Rosario alive by participating in nonpartisan protests as well as, by sharing our remarkable camp’s story in different disadvantage neighborhoods throughout Rosario.

We believe that everyone is Occupy; therefore, this victory belongs to everyone. We realized that without the support of vendors who donated food, groups and individuals who stood by us during evictions attempts our camp would have not survived as long as we did.

Our next endeavor is occupying the airwaves!! Stay tuned.

 -Claudia Minuet-

Camp organizer and facilitator

For more information on Occupy Rosario visit www.ocuparosario.org

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Young Elders

Editor’s note: This poem was inspired by Apaches and Angels, a tumblr blog by Douglas Miles portraying native culture.

 

Thank you for reading.

I hope I get this one wrong.

 

Visual indoctrination, brain st@mping. It’s real.

Lovely, we need more human Natives, preferably angry but most importantly: living.

Those NDN identity politicians are paid by the feds using pork policy.

Number & package Native bodies, rationed fractured identity. Mass frugality.

How does a Native body look in 2013 A.D.?

The WASP’s poison hibernates your mother & throws away your father.

 

Land O’ Lakes butter sitting on the bare countertop.

Native hands made mashed potatoes.

Choose your toppings.

Those “young people” prefer Frito-Lay & phone apps versus the butter.

 

That kneeling pretty face, she’s staring at me; offering Paula’s flavorful federally protected wicked Wampum of take. One handed traitor. When your mother doesn’t match the cover, O’ Land of Fakes, it’s more lemon on the opened skin endured growing up Native in America.

 

Native role models.

Script readers.

Made in China.

Her name, Stereohype.

 

Those swag hand-me-downs, we still thrive proudly in them. #Green was Red before “cool.” This is Native youth culture, live streaming & no filter. This isn’t a victim Olympics, Mills will tell you that.

 

Sir, the youth aren’t getting any younger. Younger elders then.

 

Q: Why did the Dineh watch the Lone Ranger?

A: To see their backyard on the screen.

 

Q: Why did you take all the copies of the sports page?

A: To see my older sister’s championship mug. Shero.

 

Artist hands smelling salts. Wake up, folks.

 

“We gotta stop tryna look like someone else except ourselves.” – DM “8 hours ago”

 

It’s our present recorded, Real Time Native Narratives.

 

Native talent already rose long ago & it still smells fabulous. Here’s the truth that’s making boardrooms & Diane Sawyer uncomfortable since America thought it had a conscience.

 

America swallowed Native youth & now they are full grown Athenas, born & bread in the womb of revolutionaries, thanks to Sir Miles. Native Ego is dangerous. DM isn’t avant-garde; he’s just sifting through the bullshit. You better censor him while you still think you can. He’s busy having fun.

 

Mr. Miles captures (no lasso, better tools) real live Natives, neither cover charge nor 3-D Ray Bans needed. Feel free to pop out the lens when you are ready, thou Proud Indigenous. We haven’t found the “young person” that’s been giving us a bad name … and we are still looking.

-Tristin Moone-

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VIDEO: “I’m not a criminal; I came here to make a change”

Editor’s note: This video is the first in a series produced by the Undocumented Citizens of the 805. You may view their Facebook page here, and YouTube profile here. The name of the video’s subject is Gio.

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I am a Refugee

I am already misunderstood before you even look at me,

Imagine being forced out of your own country,

I saw death and my relatives go away explicitly,

Imagine how it feels to miss your own homeland,

And have no other way of getting back without the idea of death in your head,

I live in a gated camp with limited accessibility,

To food water gas and even electricity,

Imagine how it feels not to see your old friends and most of your family,

I have no income or it may be limited,

Everything I have is internationally supported,

By organizations that I have never even heard of,

Everything I have is internationally supported,

By corrupt governments, politics, and diplomatic appointments,

I am a burden on the whole world,

I am pity to the eyes of the average human,

A favor that I have never asked for,

Inferior, in my mind, I have no power,

They took it away when they put me these tents,

They took it away when they threw the food in the caravan,

They took it away when they treated me like an animal,

Yelling for my cooperation, seeking information,

They took it away when they woke me up, one day and I realized I am a Refugee I am a burden on the whole world,

I am a refugee

-Belal Bahader-

Written during travels in Jordan and Palestine over the last few months. Photo taken by Belal at Zaatari Refugee Camp. His name is Abderahman.

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A symphony for Trayvon Martin

Editor’s note: This piece originally appeared at Waging Nonviolence.

Atlanta, GA–I had been to Atlanta, Ga., before — running trainings with Occupy Our Homes Atlanta as part of the Wildfire Project. But until Saturday, I had never been to Atlanta the day George Zimmerman was acquitted for the murder of Trayvon Martin.

In some ways, it was strange to be away from New York when it happened — the city whose streets I’ve gotten used to marching in, the people I’ve struggled alongside for years, the cops I’ve learned so well. But in many ways, being in Atlanta felt lucky — away from the shiny glass of Wall Street, the manufactured dreams of Times Square, even the quiet Park Slopes that blur our vision and obscure hard truths. Instead, I was in a place where the faces of slave-owning Confederate generals still stand chiseled into the sides of mountains commemorating them, where a sizeable majority of the population is descendant from people kidnapped, enslaved and brutalized ever since. Being in the South felt somehow closer to the truth. But you know what Malcom X said: “Long as you south of the Canadian border, you’re south.”

The first night after the verdict came we marched in the streets, and the march grew with the very real anger and sadness and fear and hope drawing people out to join. The next day was even bigger, in the thousands. We must have marched five miles, much of it in the pouring rain. The city erupted in a symphony of car horns honking in solidarity, echoed by people cheering and clapping from their windows, emboldened by thousands of people stopping on every sidewalk with their fists up, and strengthened by people jumping out of homes, restaurants and cars to join. The music was loud — genuine mourning, righteous fury and deep purpose. I remember thinking, while marching to the beat, that this is the kind of music that revolutions come from.

The sound of the car horns struck me most — in anger, but not anger that they couldn’t get through, all in solidarity and encouragement. I heard from friends who were part of the demonstrations that took over Times Square that even there — in a city where people are so stressed out that they eat while walking — the honking was supportive. Tens of thousands were in the streets in dozens of cities across the country, and the media couldn’t help but report on it. Friends and family who have never identified themselves as political or radical were furious, and many of them took their first steps into a march. Maybe people have had it. Maybe the music is finally getting loud enough.

I suppose it’s like Aura Bogado wrote in The Nation: The question is not whether the Zimmermans of the world (or the rest of us) are white, brown or black; the question is whether we uphold white supremacy or fight to dismantle it. Oddly enough, in this sense, this case is black and white. In a country where a black person is killed by a cop or vigilante every 28 hours, where more black men are in prisons today than were enslaved just before the Civil War, where drones come home to rest after bombing people of color all across the world in the service of U.S. imperialism, you are either for white supremacy or against it.

The honking horns seemed to compel us — white, black and anyone else — to choose a side. They pierced through the wall of white guilt that threatens to handicap some of us, booming: Yes, you are different, your experience in this country is different, and your role in the struggle is different — but you, too, can choose a side.

Rather, You must choose a side.

As the march snaked through downtown Atlanta, the protesters flooded around cars like water. The drivers — the musicians of the day — sat with their windows down, high fiving or clenching a fist in the air. And every so often a marcher would stop at an open window, have a conversation and take down the driver’s phone number to put it on a list for future organizing. At moments like those I was reminded that people don’t march forever, that crisis moments pass and that we must always think of tomorrow today.

The sight of a young woman taking down people’s numbers reminded me how too often we tell ourselves the myth of spontaneity to avoid the hard work of organizing. There is nothing spontaneous about people streaming into the streets. It comes from a rage that builds over years and centuries, the hard work shifting narratives and raising consciousness, the organizing to bring people in and connect groups to one another, the movement-building to create structures to carry us as we fight. And, of course, people join only when an organized community is willing to step off the curb in the first place, ready to go into motion when confrontations are thrust on us and lines are drawn in the sand.

Then I drifted back into the music, an epic score dedicated not just to Trayvon Martin, but also to all the kids carried through the streets those nights by their parents, whose raised fists seemed to declare that they would no longer permit a world in which they were forced to fear for their children’s lives. The horns — and the rest of the music that gives life to our struggles — blasted through Atlanta and all across the country. The tune was unmistakable: Choose your side, organize and take to the streets.

-Yotam Marom-

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Because I’m Afraid for My Child

Last Saturday (July 13) was the night that reiterated for the thousandth time that the system we continue to seek justice from will never provide that for us–especially if we aren’t white.

The months leading up to the Zimmerman verdict were filled with vigils and protests, outcries and anger, not for 1 young soul taken away from the earth too soon, but for many youth who have been murdered because they are black.  I remember sitting in the pew at the church where the 1 year vigil for Ramarley Graham was being held, listening to countless stories from a group called Stolen Lives.  I couldn’t contain my tears, my pain for them.

I have a 6 year old boy who I have to fear will grow up to be not a successful beautiful human who contributes to his community, but a target because of his skin color.  My son’s future is riddled with obstacles because they close schools to build prisons.  My child is worth more money to this capitalist slave system as an inmate than a productive member of his community.

All of these things came to a head Saturday night, and I could not contain the rage, the anger, the disappointment, the fear.  How in the Hell can I protect my child from being the next Trayvon Martin, Ramarley Graham, or Kimani Gray?  I felt helpless because I can’t protect him from this world, and it only made me more angry.

My temporary therapy is expression on social media, and while I do this often, this time was different.  Some family and “friends” reacted to my posts and became critical of me and upset.  They tried to pacify my anger and rage.  I was told that this behavior wasn’t good; I was told it wasn’t productive, and was even called a divider, a racist.  This society is so fearful of words, especially when spoken from the mouths of the oppressed.  An angry Latina anarchist who speaks her mind is viewed to be so dangerous and wrong, yet we passively watch as a controlling system wipes their ass with the Constitution and no one blinks.

My words aren’t the bullets that kill our youth, but rather the ones that blow holes through the oppressive state that systematically attempts to make us worthless, to make us afraid.

I used social media to process my very strong emotions about the verdict and what it means to a society of people who share that child’s skin color.  They don’t care about Black people.  They don’t care about our kids and they will never give us justice.

I had the amazing opportunity to process my anger in a more direct way because I was able to participate in the NYC Justice for Trayvon march.  Over 5,000 stood together in Times Square to rally for Trayvon and his family as well as all the families who have lost their loved ones to senseless violence at the hands of a racist system.

It was so invigorating to take the middle of Park Avenue in NYC and march all the way to Harlem.  ”Whose streets?!” That night they were ours.  I was able to belt out chants and hug my comrades, break down and cry when I needed.  Why? Because we were all one community that night.  We all worked together that night.  We were all one.

That was the display of unity I needed to see and feel.  That unity is what will move mountains.  That unity is what my son needs to be enveloped in, in order to survive.  That unity is what will save the lives of so many children in our communities.

I will stay angry and diligent.  I will continue to be a connector, bringing the members of our communities together so that we don’t have to hold a rally for a child who was senselessly killed.

It has been less than a week since this verdict and while my voice has become sore from all the chanting, I will continue to organize, educate and equally agitate the system, which has failed to represent us–especially the darker shades of us in this society.

-Katt Ramos-

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Speechless Death

Editor’s Note: This piece originally appeared at Existence is Resistance.

Sometimes, words can never describe how you feel. That feeling that is called “speechless”; yes, that is how I feel right now. I have witnessed what I have never thought I would witness. I have seen what I have never seen before. I have felt what I have never felt before.

I saw death in front of my eyes.

On July 5th 2013, I decided that it is time to speak up against all the unfairness that we face; I decided to go down the streets and protest and protect my revolution, our revolution.

Before joining the protests, I put on some sun block and wore my sunglasses; well, I never saw what was coming my way. As my parents and I headed towards the Nahda Square, we were adjusting our intentions; we are not protesting for Morsi, we are protesting for democracy, for our votes and for our freedom. As we entered the square, I could see my loved ones and friends that I always see at such times since January 25th, 2011. Surprisingly enough, my spirits started lifting up; I felt that there was still hope.

We joined the chants that were calling for the fall of the SCAF and the old regime: “يسقط يسقط حكم العسكر”. On the stage stood Bassem Ouda, the ex-minister of supply and internal trade, embedding in his audience the courage, hope and belief that we will win in sha Allah. My respect for that man increased the double; he was one of those respectful men who love this country truly from their hearts. As soon as Bassem Ouda finished his words, the square chanted in its loudest voice: “الإعلام فين، الشريف أهوه” (Where is the media, The noble man is here). I could see in the people’s eyes a lot of respect to that man; they carried him on the shoulders as he got down the stage. People hugged him and kissed his forehead; pictures were taken of him all the time; in those people’s eyes, he was a true hero and will always be.

After chanting for a few hours, we felt that our voices are unheard; there was no media coverage and no one acknowledged our presence, so we decided to march down the streets in Dokki and Mohand is in to make our voices heard. The march was marvelous; I could see more than 200,000 people in front me and behind me. The spirits were so high; the chants were so loud that we could hear the echoes as we march. We were so loud that the people in the buildings all came out to look at the march. We started our march at Al-Dokki street, then Al-Tahrir street, then Sheraton and Maglis Al Dawla. The chants were so powerful:

“دب برجلك طلع نار، إحنا معانا عزيز جبار”

“إرحل يا سيسى، مرسى هوه رئيسى”

(Leave Sissi, Morsi is my president)

“الإعلام فين الشعب المصرى أهوه”

(Where is the media, The Egyptian people are here).

The residents in the buildings started reacting; most of them were very supportive as they held Morsi’s pictures and cheered with us, while others would just take a look and turn around. Even though we marched with our loudest voices so that the media would cover this march and the world would know how we feel, not a single TV channel bothered to cover this march or even state that we were the longest human march done to support Morsi in Egypt.

We did our best. Now if the television won’t come to us, we will go to the television ourselves. And so, the march to Maspero (The Official TV station in Cairo) began. We won’t give up; we will make our voices heard no matter what. As we turned around to face the 6th October bridge, we started chanting in our loudest voices: “هما معاهم تلفزيون، و إحنا معانا رب الكون” (they have the television, but we have Allah, The God of the world)

We walked down the Korneish Street in the Agouza district till we reached the 6th of October bridge. I could see thousands of people climbing the bridge in front of me; hope, pride and dignity took over me. We can do it, God willing. Chanting all the way as we approached Downtown on foot through 6th October bridge, many people in their cars were chanting with us, showing their full support to our march. I started doubting; if all those people support Morsi, then what right does El-Sissi have to raise a Coup?!

As we crossed to the other side of the bridge to avoid getting near to Tahrir Square, we kept chanting “سلمية سلمية سلمية” (peaceful peaceful peaceful) to avoid any clashes with any of the protesters at Tahrir. Suddenly, we found the men standing in the middle of the bridge waving to the women to walk quickly and chant loudly. At the beginning, we did not understand what is going on, but when we asked one of those men, he said that there are some clashes on the other side and asked us to keep chanting loudly. As we descended the bridge, we could see thousands of people ahead of us in front of Maspero already; I was convincing myself by then that it was impossible for clashes to occur when we are in such great numbers, but apparently, I was totally wrong.

In front of Maspero, the men stood to pray Maghrib while the women prayed as they sat on the ground. It was time to take a breath and drink some water to get back to the chanting. Unfortunately, we were unable to enjoy 5 minutes of peace and rest; the men starting asking us to move forward in a hurry. I could see the panic in their eyes; what was going on?! The chanting started again: “عسكر عسكر عسكر ليه؟ هوه إحنا عبيد و لا إيه؟” (Why Military? Are we slaves or what?). I could see in the people around me that something wrong was going on. My doubt became certain when I heard the gun shots as clear as they can be. The men started shouting, urging the women to move faster and keep chanting, but everybody knows women; they worry, and my mother was the first to worry. As my mother grabbed my hand and told me to stay next to her, I turned around to take a peek at what is behind us; I was unable to see the clashes or the thugs, all I could see was fireworks in the sky on the other side, on Tahrir square’s side. With each firework, I could hear a gun shot. With each firework, somebody was injured. I turned back to see guys running towards us shouting for people to step aside; there was a car coming towards the crowds. I could see the women look inside the car then their faces turn pale. I swallowed. Did someone die? I took a glance at the car as it passed by me; there were many people in the car, but on the couch lied two injured people drenched in blood. One of them looked dead with his face covered by red blood, red cold blood; he was shot in the head. The other man’s abdomen was drenched with blood; it looked like he was shot in below the heart. It took the car a glimpse of a second to pass by us, but it will take me years to forget how those martyrs looked like. I looked around me to see a girl drenched in tears, a woman with her hands up in the sky screaming “يا رب” (Oh God) and many others stunned in pale faces. My mother was already crying and saying “ده مات، قتلوه قتلوه”. I stood there, unable to comprehend what I just saw. I felt something hurting in my heart, a lump in my throat and the tears in my eyes. I looked at my mum, I found her crying as she mumbled “they killed him, the killed him”; I was unable to pat on her shoulder or ask her to calm down, how could I?!

The girl next to me was still crying as she leaned on her friend’s shoulder.

This time, a motorcycle passed by; there was an injured man on it, he was covering his eye with a white piece of cloth that turned red.

A minute passed.

The girl was still crying.

Another injured man passed by us, this time the white piece of cloth was on the back of his head, he was unconscious.

My mother was at that time fine. She locked her tears in and started chanting with the rest of the women.

The girl next to me was still crying.

Another girl started dropping some tears on the opposite side.

Another injured man passed on the motorcycle, but this time there was no piece of cloth, the blood covered all of his shirt and face; the piece of white cloth wouldn’t have been enough.

I stood there numb. Tears started falling, questions revolving in my mind; why do they have to die? I could not control my tears; it hurt so much that I couldn’t control it.

Two injured men passed by on the same motorcycle.

The girl was still crying.

I turned my face away, tears rolling down my cheeks. All I could think of is one thing: “يا رب احفظهم يا رب احقظهم” ( Allah, please protect them, please protect them)

I looked around me again; many girls now were crying.

Suddenly, a woman stood between us and shouted at the top of lungs:

“Those who are crying, go cry alone, or lock your tears in. We are not here to cry. We have Allah on our side and He will never let us down. Stop crying and pray and say يا رب يا رب يا رب”

All the women raised up their hands in the sky as one of the women started praying as loudly as she could while we all said “Ameeeeen” after her.
I can’t find the words that can describe how I felt at that moment. Injured men were still brought in to the crowds while we raise our hands asking Allah for His mercy and help. It was something I have never experienced before. Death was so close, so close that it could have taken anyone of us, and it did; but it took those who deserved it.

I lost count of the number of injured men who were brought to the field hospital as well as the number of fireworks in the sky. All I could hear was the sound of stones breaking next to me and people shouting and others chanting.

Standing there within all of this, I had flashbacks in my mind of the way I used to criticize the Muslim Brotherhood and their supporters. Is this how they felt each time there was a clash?! I got flashbacks of the people who always abuse them with their words or actions. I got flashbacks of Mubarak and his old criminal regime. I got flashbacks of revolution.

It hurt. I wanted to scream out loud.

WHY DID THEY HAVE TO DIE?

Those guys were defending me, protecting me from those thugs and police that were attacking us. And after all that, they were called the killers, liars and criminals. WHY?!

I found my mother pulling me towards the other side asking me to move faster; I didn’t understand where we were going; I knew I didn’t want to leave. Apparently, we were leaving through a boat in the Nile, since there was no way out except through the Nile.

We got into a boat with many other women and families; we were running away as if we were criminals through the Nile. Very humiliating.

The boat driver asked us to remain silent as we passed under the 6th October bridge in order to avoid getting caught by the police or thugs. I looked around me, I could see the thugs shooting at the courageous men on our side, and I could see the fireworks on the other side.

We were dying  while they were celebrating.

I am home safe.

I am a coward. But that was only till today.

Not anymore.

-Soumaia Hashad-

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VIDEO: Understanding Egypt

In the following video, Egyptian Shimaa Helmy describes the recent military history of her country and answers some questions about government and power.

-Shimaa Helmy-

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‘Lone Ranger’ Premiere, Part II: Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer and a Mystery Woman

This piece was originally published at Indian Country Today. This is the second part of Simon Moya-Smith’s coverage of the Lone Ranger premiere held at Disneyland on Saturday, June 22. To read his first installment, click here.

Anaheim, CA–By 5 p.m. I was completely sunburnt – even my eyes felt singed by the scorch of the Southern California sun. I was seriously depleted of anything resembling energy. I was done. My knees were buckling underneath the weight of my tape recorder, sweat and even that faux black feather that landed ever so gently on my shoulder … No energy to flake it off. I was losing it.

Calmly, coolly coming down the red carpet, past the teen and tween Disney actors, past that juggling long-legged stilt master, was a finely bedecked LaDonna Harris, Comanche, president of Americans for Indian Opportunity. Harris, Johnny Depp’s adopted mother, wore hypnotic turquoise. I could hear the audible gasps of the white reporters around me. They don’t experience turquoise often – not like this. They see it on shelves in Middle American trading posts. Not on bona fide Indians, and definitely not on red carpets at Disneyland.

I spoke with Harris, the whole time feeling the bony fingers of my elders poking at me insistently: “You have one mouth and two ears for a reason. Shut up and listen.” So I did. I asked only questions, if I could, and then thanked LaDonna for sharing a moment with me – Simon, the oft-verbose pain in many asses.

Then along comes Johnny Depp. There was an immediate roar from the crowd, like teens at a TOOL concert. People pushed hard at my back. “Johnny! Over here! Johnny!” The actor’s name was shouted maddeningly … like cries from a sinking boat. And all I could think was, “Who is this lady standing in front of me?”

The lady had appeared almost immediately. I could see her eyeing the white, laminated sign I stood before. It read, “INDIAN COUNTRY TODAY.” She looked at it with a stare & glare, then said, “Here, Armie. Right here.”

Armie Hammer, the actor who plays John Reid/The Lone Ranger in the film, suddenly appeared in front of me, standing tall in a soft-grey suit and with a smile that could melt the hearts of the darkest demon.

I found myself before the man in the mask. … What do I ask him? I thought. I could jab him with something major – like, “What do you know of the plight of Native Americans today?” Or “What does ‘Redskin’ mean to you?” No, I thought. Just tag him with the question I laid on Bruckheimer. I have only a moment:

“Why should Native Americans support this film? Why should they watch it?”

“Because I think this is a great project and one of the few examples when you actually see the Native side,” he said. “You see what happens when, through the Industrial Revolution and the building of the railroads, there was exploitation of indigenous peoples across the entire continent. And this is a movie where they don’t paint it in a positive light. In fact, there’s a very serious thing that happens at the end of the movie, and I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s a moment where you look at it and go, ‘Uh, yeah. We definitely didn’t handle that right.’ There’s no glorification of it. It’s a very real sort of side of what happened, and I think it’s a great side to see.”

Then, zip. Armie moved on and Johnny was gone, slipped past me somewhere behind Hammer during the interview. …Did they plan this? I thought. Was that an intentional diversion?

Who was the mysterious lady?

I didn’t get to speak to Johnny Depp, or even see him up close. But from the roar of the reporters and photographers, and the elbows in my back, I know he was there, in close proximity, just on the other side of Armie and the mysterious lady.

-Simon Moya-Smith-

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