Excerpts from my journal while touring the southern United States with new photographs and stories. The main shows are Gaza Steadfast, Bethlehem the Holy, The Hydropolitics of Palestine/Israel, and Quakers in Palestine/Israel. (I’ve completed the tour and I’m now happily at home in Cambridge Massachusetts for the foreseeable future.)
On the first anniversary of the Massacre of Gaza
VIDEO: a buddhist led pilgrimage: justice for immigrants
November 15, 2009, Sunday, Atlanta, Nipponzan dojo/Buddhist temple:
The train delivered me on time to Atlanta, and thanks to a kindly Denise and generous and patient Jean C, I made it to the dojo, dinner, a bed, sleep, and now this morning we drive some 3.5 miles to meet the walkers. The theme is immigrant rights, along with close the School of the Americas, SOA.
This is my final week of the 5-week tour, with only 2 gigs remaining, one in Birmingham Alabama, one in Columbus. The train stopped in Birmingham for about 15 minutes. I reached Jim Douglas who reported sales of his book, JFK and the Unspeakable, Why He died and Why It Matters, thanks in part to a recommendation by Oliver Stone the filmmaker, have topped 20,000. He has 15 radio interviews pending in one week, and will soon leave for Dallas for a talk. I joked with him, Jim, my friend, you have become a marked man. He replied, isn’t that the point, getting in the way?
On the train, as usual one of my favorite work sites, I completed the Miami settlement video, another installment of my blog, a new subsite, along with finishing my journal entry of yesterday. The train ran ahead of schedule, was about 1/2 full, a large percentage black (and fat), service was excellent, my power went out for awhile, then reappeared, and I worked mostly at my seat.
Passing thru the flat lands of Mississippi and Alabama, then Georgia, I noticed much water on the ground, learned later from Jean that tropical storm Ida had rained heavily further north, maybe here as well. What may have been cotton fields were now uncultivated. Mostly forests, with some timbering evident. Very few people in the fields. Of course this is early winter.
I missed sunset, emerging from my nap of more than one hour (unusual for me), and so I made only one sunset photo—a grain elevator brilliant in the slanting sun rays. I also tried making a video as we crossed the gaping Lake Pontchartrain. Weather has been cool.
Jean is a lively soul. About my age, with connections to the Atlanta dojo, she seems jolly, unflappable, patient, and loving. Waiting for me at the train station she had to circle in traffic for nearly one hour. She seems without a strong mission, other than to struggle for peace and justice.
November 16, 2009, Monday, Americus Georgia, on the SOA/immigrant rights walk:
Another unusual dream (2 mornings in a row): I noticed the light on a friend’s face that lit him so his eye sockets and mouth were totally in the dark. This was thru a window in the early morning. I knocked on the door, showed him my camera to ask his permission to photograph, he let me in but was busy with something like a mobile phone call. I made one photo and thought this might be the one.
This may be the first long walk (relatively long walk) I’ve made since the Middle Passage Pilgrimage in 1998-99. Very relaxed and well led, the group yesterday on the first full day of walking traveled some 15 miles, me joining at lunch riding with Jean, about 8 or 9 miles. We are residing at the Koinonia Community in Americus Georgia, a mythical site because of its history during the civil rights movement when it pushed for integration by integrating itself, black and whites living together. I learned that it is also the seedbed of Habitat for Humanity, organized by one of the early partners. If time allows I hope to scout the area, it seems extensive.
Last night at the potluck about 40 people showed up, from inside and outside the Koinonia Farm. It felt decidedly Christian, with a song about Jesus, some prayers, and an interdenominational Eucharist. Not exactly my path. So I ducked out of the after meal program, partly to dodge it but mainly to try to exploit my new found slow sketchy Internet connection.
I’d left a phone message for Y during the walking, recording the drumming sound for her before announcing where I was. Later I found an email from her asking me to phone that night, and informing me that she’d reached Napa after being frightened by a storm alert. She drove non-stop from the east side of the Sierra Mountains to Napa. Talking with her later she asked about my hips during sleeping—the only person on the planet that would be concerned about this—and about Sister Denise and Brother Utsumi—one of the few people sharing this interest with me. So the walk brings us close together.
Jim Harney is also much in my heart since one theme of the walk is immigrant rights. Y also told me that Nancy S had sent an email which included some of Jim’s last journal entries, and that she might continue doing this. A true gift. I intend to add Jim to the morning prayers—Jim Harney presente!
X wrote with
hello Skip, from Guatemala!
i loved your film through the golf course in florida – made me laugh out loud
i am not sure why but it made me think of this small video of Leonard Cohen’s
i hope you enjoy it
happy travels down south
Well, at least one person seems to have appreciated that video. The Cohen video did not strike me deeply, on first viewing. I’ll try again.
November 18, 2009, Wednesday, Birmingham Alabama, in the Days’ Inn motel, sitting on my bed:
Dreamt about saying goodbye to a sweet heart, forever, but she was not one of my actual friends. I was extremely sad, expecting never to see her again, or even remain in touch. Dreamt also about a very young grandson who walked perilously close to a precipice, almost fell over, caught himself at the last minute.
November 19, 2009, Thursday, Buena Vista Georgia, St Mary Magdalene church, in the back pew:
About the most torturous sleeping conditions of this journey—on the floor, on a thin pad, narrow space between pews, cold, no sleeping bag or blanket, rising a few times to pee (partly because of the cold, me not sleeping well), stepping over bodies, some slight snoring (mostly Sister Ichikawa). But hey, adapting what they might say in Gaza, that’s life on a pilgrimage.
So what? It’s fun. Talking with M after a delicious dinner of spicy potatoes and black beans cooked by our local host, the voluble Patrick, we agreed, this life is fun (for awhile). A slumber party.
~~Morning prayer begins, I take a break from journaling.~~
Once again I seem to be in the mentor role. M, young, blond, shapely, beautiful, in her early 20s, wishes to write, to perform in plays, to photograph, all about her dying and dead father, about the funeral. What to do in my life? The big question of those in their 20s. Why do some seem to find me useful?
What do you suggest, she asked, for becoming a good writer (or photographer)?
Write, desire to be a writer, join a writing group, circulate your writings, read Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, read good writers (she’d not heard of Proust or Gertrude Stein).
An easy day walking since Dave and I, driving 4 hours from Birmingham, joined at lunch, and walked for the afternoon about 7 miles into Buena Vista. For the first time on this trip that I’ve experienced, people came out of their homes to greet us, ask us where we were from (all over the country), where we were going (to Fort Benning to close the School of the Americas), what we were walking for (peace). Lots of good will, especially among black people who were the preponderance of greeters. Occasionally we passed men who looked Latino. They seemed dazed by us, not fully registering that one of our 2 themes was immigrant rights. An older woman greeted us as we entered downtown Buena Vista with the words, welcome to Buena Vista even if you’re coming for the wrong reasons. She gave us an article about the value of the military, why they should be honored rather than opposed.
I’m making more videos on this trip than usual. Yesterday feet and shadows, plus lunchtime snoozing. Then this morning at prayer. I feel I’m understanding better the differences between motion and still, sound and silent. I play with the differences, oscillating between video and still. My Canon camera encourages this since it has both functions and can switch readily between the 2.
D is like a wandering ghost, rarely fully present, eternally hovering. He stands to one side, gazes, rarely interacting with others. A blank personality. For his intended occupation this is a handicap. As R wisely surmised after sharing a room with him, D has a self-esteem problem.
Last evening was free. I’d accidentally chosen an ideal spot for my home, the backbench, the last pew, relatively private, adjacent to a power outlet. So after the delectable dinner and the equally delectable conversation with B, I retired to my home away from home and finished sketching another blog, No. 5. Also a new subsite, mostly Baton Rouge. Looking at what I’d photographed, with the crucial assistance of my host there, M who graciously drove me around on tour, I realize how dependent on others I am for my photos. Without him I’d have been severely limited.
November 20, 2009, Friday, Buena Vista Georgia, st Mary Magdalene church, in the back pew:
A long day walking, some 17 miles, thru heavily forested and harvested rolling hills with a fair among of truck traffic. All this made the walking boring, dangerous, arduous, having to dart off the road to dodge traffic. Yet I am so pleased I can walk. Earlier, anticipating problems from my arthritic hips and sore legs, I said to Brother Utsumi when we met, I’m not sure I’ll be able to walk much. In fact, the walking seems to heal me. I feel as strong as ever.
Our destination yesterday was Culetta which we learned from a plaque outside the municipal building had been a major Creek Indian site. Some migrations, and then a disappearance, presumably but not noted—the infamous Trail of Tears. Another plaque admitted that an early courthouse had been built with slave labor.
Long chat with Z, again about favorite books, sharing lists, with him also, like M, comparing me favorably to one of their art profs. He asked, are you Dutch? The resemblance. Their prof is senile, however, and Z believes I’m not. He nurses a sore knee, perhaps from so much early sports playing.
No photos to speak of, a dry day photographically. I find I wish not to repeat myself, feel I’ve sufficiently shown key aspects of pilgrimage, either on this trip or on others—the long line, individual walkers, the circle, prayer, etc. Only if I can find some distinctive way to show the event and people do I even try. Is this laziness or conciseness?
Talking with Laura, swapping stories of Mordechai Vanunu, the Israeli who disclosed that Israel had nuclear weapons.
Hard to write this with so many distractions, upcoming events, uncertainties.
Winding down, winding down from this tour. Thinking of home, privacy, predictability, boredom. Love, love, love.
November 21, 2009, Saturday, Columbus Georgia, home of N and J, bed of my bedroom:
An ideal housing arrangement, producing dreams, and a few extra minutes for my morning routine, including journaling. My own room, soft bed, up early enough to write, quiet. In 2 groups, me and 4 other men separate from the monk and nuns. No prayer. Fast Internet connection. And so these 3 dreams, amazingly vivid:
Observing and analyzing a photo of Jimmy Carter taken thru a keyhole. He’d almost been assassinated, shot. The photo showed him smiling, and I noted to others that had something been slightly different (angle, light, I’ve forgotten the detail), he’d be dead.
Watching a parade in which I’d have my last chance for marriage. If the last puppet figure was somehow not my wife to be I’d not have much chance of ever marrying. The last figure was not even a puppet—but a dog.
Teaching a painting workshop to about 4 adults. We each were to choose something in a small room or hallway to paint, and then my plan was to look at all the paintings and comment. I chose an inch-long section of chipped wood, labored over it, fairly proud of what I’d achieved, even tho in the dream I was not an accomplished painter. Then—we might have been on a walk—it was time to begin walking and we never were able to analyze the paintings. Upon awakening I thought, however, this might be a good way to teach photography—by having my students actually paint small sections of a surface.
Altho I thought yesterday was to be a short walking day in Lumpkin, the site of the Steward Detention Center run by the private security company, Corrections Corporation America— the nation’s industry leader of privately-managed corrections solutions for federal, state and local government, quoting their website—I was mistaken. We walked (my face sunburned, forgetting to carry my sunscreen) for about 6 miles, 3miles a sort of warm up on a highway coming into Lumpkin and then another 1.7 to and from Lumpkin center and the detention center. We were told that some 1000 men were held there, most of them non-criminal immigrants, most about to be deported. We carried the photo of a young man who’d died from a heart condition complication, Mr. Roberto Medina, in his early 30s.
We were a funeral procession, marching slowly, with the Buddhist Nipponzan Myohoji prayer drums serving as the signalers of grief. About 100 participants, all ages, after a rally at the old courthouse and another at the gates of Stewart. I photographed extensively, especially at the gates, trying to show the stern scowling officials holding the gates, one with a brush cut (a style I’d not seen in ages), nor responding in any way to the procession, even tho invited to sing Amazing Grace with us.
Anton did a fine job leading this event, and I assume designing it. It is the 2nd or 3rd year. He also gave a rousing speech to conclude the various remarks delivered by others, all brief, including a young woman whose father had been deported, breaking up the family. Apparently, despite promises from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ICE, not much has changed under the new administration, a pattern and not a surprise.
We could ask, who profits from the system? Why does it continue? Greed is a key answer, the privatized “security” industry, plus fear. Greed motivates the leaders of the companies and the municipal officials, and fear allows the populace to accept this dirty rotten system. And this is probably a pattern for understanding societal injustice generally.
I found myself switching back and forth between still and video, thinking, what can I show here, and how can I best show it? For instance, approaching the gates. Show the gates and the personnel and then in one take swing the camera along the road to show the approaching procession. To portray the juxtaposition of sign announcing Stewart and the procession, use a still from behind the sign and include the back of the line stretching out.
Having both functions in one instrument helps. I observed a media man with 2 still cameras, one long lens, 1 video camera, and a notebook and tripod trying to manage all the gear, running from spot to spot, and trying to keep up with the slow moving march. To his credit, he came fairly early and stayed to the end.
A few days earlier we’d noticed another photographer on the road, stopping to photograph us, a short man with a beard, not smiling, with a Fort Benning parking permit and a license plate that said media. He showed up behind the detention center gates, and we suspected that he is employed by Stewart. He had privilege, for sure.
D noticed—at times he may be a klutzy organizer and poorly organized himself, but he can be astute—that buses may have been rented in case of a mass arrest, and they were parked to block the view of the prison. I tried to show what I could thru the openings between buses.
Some of the events forming the School of the Americas Watch itself are housed in several places in Columbus Georgia, including a converted industrial building that now serves as a convention center. Huge, wooden in parts, large beams exposed, much space, gorgeous. Nearby is the Howard Johnson’s Inn where I attended a program about Guatemala. I did this in solidarity with my new friend who has focused recently on Guatemala, is there currently, and might find her path more and more entwined with that region. Odd that I’d come to a possible emerging involvement in Central and South Americans affairs thru a new friend. I’m so pleased I attended, not only for the information and stimulation provided by 3 speakers about the region, including a torture survivor, American widow of someone disappeared there (Jennifer Harbury), and another woman, plus a very well made video, Do Not Forget, but to build a friendship.
I noticed some parallels with Gaza: a peace accord in 1993 (same year as the Oslo Accords), the use of a fact-finding commission, ignoring or neglecting the results, a call for bringing the case to the International Criminal Court, the continuing presence of criminals in government, etc. I also realized I could end my new slide show Gaza Steadfast better by concluding with a plea for justice, as Do Not Forget does. So I might revise my show.
In a nutshell the situation in Guatemala: in 1954 a democratically elected regime fairly responsive to the needs of Guatemalans. Then overthrow from corporate-driven interests, like United Fruit, supported by the United States. Responding to egregious oppression, the formation of an armed resistance group. Brutal retaliation by the government and militias in the 1980s—more than 300 massacres, many disappeared, a wave of emigration. Both sides committing atrocities, but something like 90% of them from the government and terror groups. In 1993 a peace accord but little change, the oppression continues.
So not only do I possibly connect more directly with X but I learn about a parallel case. And I can be more in solidarity with my colleagues at Cambridge Center for Adult Education from Guatemala.