Students at the University of Illinois at Chicago asked us last week who we were going to vote for in the presidential election.
We don't endorse candidates. We believe that people should start thinking in terms of what's good for their communities rather than what's good for a political party.
We are mindful that the American people have traditionally been asked to think about what they can do for their country; but for the rich and powerful, the question has always been, what can their country do for them?
In a nation and culture that celebrates individualism, thinking in terms of communities perhaps sounds heretical. But it isn't. In the past few years, both political parties have been touting the importance of community.
Starting with Ronald Reagan, and now presidential candidate Bob Dole, the Republican alternative to big government is "volunteerism"--which is the antithesis of individualism. Volunteerism is looking out for our neighbors. In this respect, there's not much difference between the rhetoric of the Clintons and Reagan/Bush/Gingrich/Dole in the "it takes a village" (snore) debate.
Unfortunately, it has taken a bipartisan pillage of the poor for many people to begin rethinking how we can participate in democracy and the political process.
So excuse us if we turn the question around and ask not which party should we vote for, but rather, what segment of society is looking out for us and our communities?
Given the country's political climate, some communities are not only neglected by government, but are being intentionally targeted for hostile action. These include the unemployed, the working poor, children, the elderly, communities of color, immigrants and women.
And politicians continue to divide people not solely based on color, language and appearance, but also by ideas. Simply because we disagree, we're supposed to become enemies.
In the past, we have spoken of "the third option" in politics, which doesn't necessarily mean a third party, but rather, breaking from the traditional view that politics is a choice between Democrats and Republicans.
One important element of that option is we as citizens not turn to electoral politics or government for our moral compass and not rely on government (a good Republican credo) to solve all of our nation's problems.
In an era of smaller, or even a hostile, government, it's important that communities learn to fend for themselves through collective action. This amounts to communities taking care of their own. Former President Jimmy Carter sets a great example with his volunteer home-building project, Habitat for Humanity. Many Asian communities also set examples, such as extending the school week to include Saturdays. Interestingly, Saturday schooling is also part of the ethic of Mexican/Latino culture, except in those communities, it's called catechism or religious instruction.
At a time when immigrants and bilingual education are under incessant attacks, perhaps the Mexican/Latino communities should also turn to Saturday bilingual schooling--something that in the end will give bilingual students decided advantage in our global marketplace.
For these communities, the choice between voting Republican or voting Democratic has become the choice between a party that is kicking them with the right foot and one that's kicking them with the left.
These communities are adopting or creating leaders who offer a political ethic that recognizes that their dignity is not for sale, so politicians who simply don a giant sombrero or mention Dr. Martin Luther King at a political rally don't cut it.
Of course, teaching people not to rely on government is a lesson currently sanctioned by our body politic. What we need to further teach people is not to rely on or look to political parties for moral or political leadership. We can get that instead from our churches, our schools and our elders.
What if instead of volunteering 20 hours a week to elect a candidate, someon volunteered to work with youth, the elderly, the disabled or simply to help his or her neighbors? Actually, that already happens across the country. I just doesn't make the news like a colorful drive-by shooting.
In Mexican and Central American communities in the United States, many people who come from devastated countries in which they had to be resourceful to survive, employ the indigenous tradition of the "tekia." It is a system in which members of the community donate one day of labor to help out another member or a communal project. Some also pool their money and send it home to build hospitals, schools, roads and irrigation canals. And they do this without government approval.
That's a village, and while government should always be held accountable for meeting the needs of its citizens, that's where our vote goes.
This April, ex-Drug Enforcement Agency agent Celerino Castillo made a pilgrimage to the Vietnam Memorial wall in Washington, D.C., where he left his boots next to the name of a friend killed in the war. The Pharr, Texas native also left his Bronze Star, which he earned for his covert actions in Southeast Asia in 1972, and a letter to the President:
"Dear President Clinton,
"...In the 1980s, I spent six years in Central America as a Special Agent with the DEA. On January 14, 1986, 1 forewarned, then Vice President George Bush, of the U.S. government involvement in narcotic-trafficking (Oliver North) ... but to no avail...
"In display of my disappointment of my government, I am returning my Bronze Star along with my last pair of jungle boots that I used in the jungles of Vietnam, Peru, Colombia, El Salvador and finally Guatemala."
While stationed in Central America, Castillo exposed the U.S. government's drug connection. He personally kept records on the planes used in the U. S.-Contra resupply operation at Ilopango Air Force Base in El Salvador arriving with guns, and departing to tlie United States with coca-irle from Colombia.
"Every single pilot involved in the operation was a documented drug trafficker, who appeared in DEA files," he says.
Castillo not only turned over his files to his superiors, but also confronted Bush with the information in Guatemala City--several months before American Eugene Hasenfus was shot down over Nicaragua, an incident which first exposed the Iran-Contra affair.
Had Castillo testified at the Iran-Contra Hearings, he says North would have gone to jail and both Bush and President Reagan would have been impeached. "But nobody ever subpoenaed me," he says and he notes that the DEA claimed no files ever existed.
"It was Bush's operation. In fact, it was impossible for President Reagan not to have known about it," says Castillo.
In the 1980s, the same allegations of government sanctioned drug-trafficking were continually leveled by wild-eyed "radicals" and Central American peace activists. However, because of his position as special acent, Castillo's charges cannot easily be dismissed.
Amazingly, the drug operation at Ilopango was not a secret among U.S. and Salvadoran officials, he says. The Salvadoran military was perplexed as to why the drug connection was illegal. They thought it was simply part of the effort to topple the Sandinista government of Nicaragua.
When Castillo started with the Drug Enforcement Agency in 1978, he was ready to fight against a scourge that had claimed many of his friends in Southeast Asia, only to find that U.S. intelligence agencies themselves were involved in drug-trafficking and the training of death squads.
Recent expos6s by Congressman Robert Torricelli of the CIA involvement in the deaths of an American and a revolutionary in Guatemala barely scratch the surface. The real tragedy is that for decades, thousands of Guatemalans have disappeared yearly, says Castillo. Torricelli is expected to call for hearings this fall to investigate human rights abuses against U.S. citizens in Guatemala.
"I'm ready to testify, and so are three other agents," says Castillo, hoping that the role of the intelligence services in the drug trade, death squads and "disappearances" will finally be exposed.
Because Castillo's findings went unheeded, he recently left the DEA and wrote a book, "Powderburns" (Mosaic Press), which documents his charges.
Castillo says that on the basis of his work, he is convinced that drug money is what finances U.S. covert operations worldwide. He believes that despite the "War on Drugs," there are more drugs coming into the United States today than 15 years ago and estimates that at least 75 percent of all narcotics enter the country with the acquiescence or direct participation by U.S. and foreign intelligence services. It is they who must be held accountable for the flood of drugs on our streets today, he says.
Similarly, the policy of turning a blind eye to drugs has created narcodemocracies (governments tainted and funded by drug money) in Central and South America. That was the price of the U.S. war against communism, says Castillo.
Today, Castillo spends his time painting. One haunting image is of a Mayan warrior with an American flag in one hand, an M-16 in the other and a DEA helicopter with a skull insignia hovering overhead. The Mayan's face is that of his friend, a dead DEA agent felled in the drug war in Peru.
The image conjures up his plea to Clinton to not perpetuate this false "war" "Please do not do what Mr. Robert McNamara did regarding the Vietnam War."
Political observers are predicting high voter apathy in this year's presidential elections.
That's one way to interpret today's political landscape. But perhaps people are a little smarter than pundits give them credit for. What is possibly taking place is a genuine rejection of the choices being offered up to the electorate.
Suzanne Harjo, president of the Morning Star Institute, a Washington D.C.-based organization that fights for Native American rights, says that both major parties have taken humans out of the political equation, in favor of big business: "That's why everyone feels they are not being represented and feel they have no alternatives. It [government] has now become 'we the corporations' instead of 'we the people.'"
This generalized disenchantment may end up benefiting communities that traditionally have been marginalized by the political process, says Lydia Camarillo, executive director of the Southwest Voters Registration and Education Project (SVREP). For instance, people tired of the incessant anti-immigrant hysteria and the anti-civil rights mood of the country may turn out in unprecedented numbers.
In this election there are 1.5 million new Latino voters, many of them new citizens and young adults voting for the first time. This increase is largely due to a 13-month organizing effort by SVREP, the Hispanic Education and Legal Fund (HELF), and the Midwest Voter Registration and Education Project. Camarillo refutes the conventional wisdom that says people have become naturalized citizens out of a fear of losing government benefits under the new welfare and immigration laws. Instead, they have become citizens because they want dignity, respect, and want to be counted.
For example, following California's anti-immigrant Proposition 187 that passed in 1994, anti-affirmative action forces have now fomented a vicious anti-civil rights movement in the state, wrapped in an initiative known as Proposition 209. The measure--which has received millions of dollars from the Republican Party and has been enthusiastically endorsed by ex-KKK grand wizard, David Duke, and failed presidential hopefuls, Pat Buchanan and Gov. Pete Wilson--would eliminate affirmative action. By decree, proponents of 209 have determined that institutionalized racism and sexism is merely a vestige of history.
In this battle over Proposition 209, the relationship between people of color and white women is a dynamic worth watching. White women have historically been the biggest beneficiaries of affirmative action, yet it is still uncertain how they will vote on this issue.
While those who support affirmative action in California have a negative incentive to come out to vote, in Texas, those who support the consummate little guy--in this case, Victor Morales, who's running for U.S. Senate--are poised to come out in record numbers to send a message to Washington.
In the Northeast, many of the new Latino voters, who are mostly Puerto Ricans, Dominicans and Mexicans, are motivated to vote, both to be counted, and because of concerns over police brutality, health and housing issues, says Jaime Estades, executive director of HELF.
As a result of the anti-Latino sentiment in the country, a number of civil rights organizations, including the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund have initiated "Latino Election Watch '96." It is an effort to monitor polling places, to ensure that Latinos aren't being discouraged from voting.
Since 1992, anti-immigrant activists have increasingly charged that "illegal aliens" have been registering and voting in U.S. elections. As a result of this hysteria, in past California elections hostile uniformed guards have been stationed at polling places to ensure that no "illegal aliens" are voting.
However, what does even more to discourage people from voting than the intimidating acts of a few wannabe vigilantes at polling places is the hostile atmosphere engendered by national politicians from both parties against Latinos.
The latest salvo has come from Bob Dole who charges that the speeding up of the naturalization process by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (under the Clinton administration) this year, is a Democratic plot to recruit new citizens to vote against Republicans. Citing some misleading statistics he also falsely claims that 10 percent of the new citizens are criminals.
To delay the naturalization process then, we maintain, must be a plot to kee people from voting Democratic.
For the Republican party, it appears as though it is still respectable to be a bigot--as long as you couch your hatred and scapegoating in political term and you're not wearing your bed sheet over your head in public.
But the Republicans aren't the only ones whom are giving politics a bad name
Democrats argue that a candidate's character should not matter in an election. But as Harjo notes: "In human relations, nothing matters more than character." And character is one thing most politicians lack. We believe that, given a choice between bigotry and heartlessness vs. a man and party without convictions, it is little wonder that many Americans appear to be rejecting both choices.
The only saving grace in this election is that the bigotry may end up backfiring. Those who apparently believe that both the Constitution and the Statue of Liberty have now become obsolete will hopefully find themselves sorely mistaken.
Thanks to science fiction, we can all imagine how the next millennium will be--subspace communications, warp-speed travel across the universe, and even replicated sushi at the push of a button.
Film maker Jesus Trevino looked at that future, but did not see himself represented in it. Deciding not to accept someone else's version of the future, he embarked on a near mission impossible to convince Hollywood that the red and brown-skinned people of the Americas do have a place in the next millennium.
As a result of his determination, Indian/mestizo characters can now be found in the new "Star Trek" TV programs, and Trevino himself has directed episode of "Seaquest," "Babylon 5" and "Space: Above and Beyond."
After reading "At Century's End," a compilation of essays and interviews wit some of the world's greatest thinkers, we also felt like Trevino. While there is a lot of great thinking in those pages, we did not see ourselves in the future.
Based on the book, apparently there are few women and no mestizos/Indians from the United States doing the thinking.
The end of this century signals the beginning of a new millennium and with i will come a genre of millenarian books. As agents of change, most women an people of color have been written out of the pages of this nation's history. The few times they appear are generally as victims, villains or as bystanders.
It is no irony that Trevino was also the producer of the recent PBS series "Chicano!" "If we hadn't done it, we wouldn't exist in history," he says. We suspect, that given Trevino's success, other people of color--thinkers, philosophers, theologians, writers and poets--will not allow themselves to b written out of humanity's future.
We look at today's society, as represented by the media, and see a bipolar world--a world in black and white that has never been black and white. We see a world of rich and poor, an age of great information and great ignoranc and a world formerly divided between East and West, now North and South and some say in the future, East and West again.
While poets and philosophers can perhaps imagine the world in the year 3,001 the rest of us can only guess what the advances in technology might be. But what of social relations between men and women and between the races? What of superpowers, borders, majorities and minorities?
An old friend of ours, a Lakota spiritual man, Ernie Longwalker Peters, used to tell us that if you mix the colors red, black, yellow and white--which signify all the peoples of the world--you come up with the color brown--the mestizo.
Theologian Virgil Elizondo, author of "The Future is Mestizo," believes that in the future, all cultures, peoples, races and even religions will mix and come together as one.
In many ways, the future is already here, in us, in the painful existence of the mestizo--a bridge people who are the sum total of humanity, yet rejected by all. The whole world is already mestizo, but in a society that clings to concepts of racial purity, which historically has been used as the basis fo white supremacy, accepting that fusion will be the challenge of the next millennium.
When we look through less powerful binoculars into the next century, we can see what has become of the former Yugoslavia and the collapse of the former Soviet Union and wonder what it is that holds the United States and the Western world together. If the glue is democracy, equal opportunity and justice for all, how does that explain Los Angeles aflame in 1992?
We're aware of the demographic trends that indicate a further browning of America and the fear and hate it inspires. We see walled communities, citie and nations and still we hear calls for bigger and higher walls. Meanwhile, our society finds less and less money to assist the poor, while continuing t find more and more money to fatten law enforcement agencies and our armed forces. This is done in the name of protecting the United States from the dark hordes who are blamed for our nation's problems--the populations that are supposed to remain on the other side of the walls and history.
Perhaps Trevino, the artist, has shown us a way--that we don't have to accep someone else's vision of the future. We can foresee the day when mestizo culture becomes the mainstream culture, and the elitists, purists and supremacists become the outcasts.
Compiled by: Glenn Welker
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