I was saddened to learn of the death of Tom Hayden yesterday morning. I read a lot of his writings in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, and was especially affected by The Port Huron Statement, a manifesto for the New Left and one of the most important political documents of the times, which was largely written by Tom. I talked to Tom once at an airport when he was working on Jerry Brown’s campaign for President. A few years later I wrote him to ask some organizational questions about his LA-based group, Campaign for Economic Democracy, and he wrote back and answered them. Continue reading
By Mike Davis
Fifty-two years ago this December, an obscure group of young activists, Students for a Democratic Society, held a national council meeting in New York to discuss the next year’s work. As I recall there were about forty people present, some of them recent veterans of Freedom Summer, others peace and civil rights activists at campuses such as Swarthmore, Michigan, Chicago, Harvard and Tufts. Continue reading
“Should this book one day be published…” So began a dedication that, seventy-five years ago in Nazi-occupied France, the renowned French historian Marc Bloch inscribed in a small book he was then writing. As it turned out, the book — The Historian’s Craft — was published, but posthumously, and unfinished. Shortly after he wrote the dedication, Bloch joined the resistance. Captured in 1944, he was tortured and executed by the Nazis scarcely a week after the Allies landed at Normandy. Continue reading
In 2013, I taught my first university course: it was to be just me, then a fourth-year graduate student, and five college juniors in the Harvard English honors program. Some weeks before, a student who’d been assigned to my tutorial approached me at a department reception. “I’m so excited for the class,” she said, “I love comedy.” She told me she was a comedian and an actor. We talked about what we were going to read and watch — Chaplin, Joyce, Nabokov, Rogen, Rock, Glazer and Jacobson, and Kondabolu were all on various drafts of my relatively improvisatory syllabus — and how we were both thrilled to have the chance to combine theory and practice. We’d be reading about laughter and trying to make each other laugh. “It’ll be awkward,” I said, “but eh!”
Surprisingly — to me, at least — my half-joke didn’t hit. Taylor looked at her feet, and then she looked at me. “I wanted to tell you something, which is actually why I came over,” she said. “I can’t laugh.” Continue reading
It is well within the range of the plausible that the next President of the United States will be an ignorant, authoritarian game-show host peddling an improvised basket of incoherent, would-be catastrophic economic and foreign policies, the wreckage of which, ironically, would offer nothing that might improve the lot of his core supporters. Continue reading
By Sara Lipton
One of the more disturbing aspects of the current presidential campaign has been the proliferation of anti-Semitic imagery on Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, and other social media platforms. While such imagery has long been a staple of alt-right and neo-Nazi publications and chat-rooms, in the past year symbols associated with Jewishness have spread far beyond extremist sites. They are now tweeted or retweeted by individuals apparently unaffiliated with fringe groups, including elected officials and members of the Trump campaign, and are often directed against journalists perceived to be critical of Donald Trump or his family. On July 2nd, 2016, for example, Donald Trump tweeted an image featuring Hillary Clinton’s face and a red six-pointed star inscribed with the words, “Most Corrupt Candidate Ever!” superimposed against a background of hundred-dollar bills; many critics considered this image anti-Semitic. Some of these symbols — such as the Star of David and the hook-nosed caricature — can be traced back hundreds of years. Others are of more recent vintage, such as the cartoon character Pepe the Frog, newly endowed with hooked nose, yarmulke, or Nazi uniform; or the “echo” symbol (three sets of parentheses surrounding the name of someone assumed to be Jewish), a symbol which has been traced back to an anti-Semitic podcast in 2014. Continue reading
By David Shook
Juan Tomás Avila Laurel is Equatorial Guinea’s most important living writer, but he’s often been persecuted by his own state for his outspokenness regarding their blatant disregard of human rights. This week that disregard has turned dangerous, as Malabo’s infamous security forces have forced Avila Laurel, 48, into hiding for his work as activist. Avila Laurel had planned a sit-in protesting a recent wave of police brutality, and had requested official permission to stage the event, as required by national law. Soon after being denied the requested permission, Avila Laurel was informed that political party El Elefante y La Palmera [Elephant and Palm Tree], which had made the official request, had been declared dissolved by the Guinean government, and that he was one of several activists targeted for arrest without formal charges. The government crackdown centers on the political party El Elefante y la Palmera [Elephant and Palm Tree], known for its peaceful protests of police and government brutality, and is officially focused on the arrest of party founder Salvador Ebang Ela.
Avila Laurel, whose first book in English is forthcoming from And Other Stories in a superb translation by Jethro Soutar, is no stranger to government harassment. After declaring a hunger strike in February 2011, he eventually sought exile in Spain at the recommendation of national and international observers concerned for his safety, where he lived for two years before having his request for asylum denied. Since his return to Equatorial Guinea, Avila Laurel has been active in organizing peaceful protests of the Obiang regime, especially its police brutality.
Under the leadership of Guinean president Teodoro Obiang Nguema, now the longest-serving head of state in Africa, Equatorial Guinea continues to rank among the most corrupt states in the world. Its human rights record is particularly concerning. The Human Rights Watch World Report for 2013 reports:
Corruption, poverty, and repression continue to plague Equatorial Guinea under President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who has been in power since 1979. Vast oil revenues fund lavish lifestyles for the small elite surrounding the president, while most of the population lives in poverty. Those who question this disparity are branded “enemies.” Despite some areas of relative progress, human rights conditions remain very poor. Arbitrary detention and unfair trials continue to take place, mistreatment of detainees remains commonplace, sometimes rising to the level of torture.
Avila Laurel’s extensive work includes novels, short stories, plays, and poetry, like this newly translated poem from his collection Intimate History of Humanity:
en boca de pelinegros
de seso torcido.
de indígenas indigentes
de fe y bravía.
Al color rojo lo llaman sangre
la púrpura de los prebendados.
Bantúes con lengua negra
y con todos los pecados capitales en la punta
de los pies y labios carnosos.
Eso sí, no murió el gran Cristo entre nosotros.
Y playas, ríos, plantas y otras plantas que atraen
de ladrones de ilusiones ajenas.
Muchos citan el refrán del río.
in the mouth of black-haired men
with twisted brains.
of the indigent indigenous
of faith and savageness.
To name the color red blood
because they don’t know
the purple of the prebendary.
Bantus with a black tongue
and with every cardinal sin on the tips
of their feet and fleshy lips.
It’s true, the great Christ didn’t die among us.
And beaches, rivers, plants and more plants that attract
of thieves with foreign illusions.
Many cite the refrain of the river.
translated from the Spanish by David Shook
Juan Tomás Avila Laurel’s safety is currently at risk; he faces dire conditions if captured by Guinean security forces. The international visibility of his situation is an important protection. Follow his case and learn more about what you can do at the PEN Center USA and EG Justice websites.