It’s quite impossible to tell the story of a place, or a moment, to those who have not been there, or might not want to go.
For instance, I’d like to tell people that in November 2017, over a hundred people came together in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to launch a new International. From 19 countries representing 5 continents, from Kurdistan to Kenya, from 12 indigenous nations, from 3 quilombo/Maroon villages, from every corner of the South American continent and multiple regions across the North, the people from Below and to the Left collectively drafted a plan of action for the salvation of Mother Earth.
But I fear that too many of these words conjure unsavory images in the mind: archaic gatherings in Soviet-era meeting halls, or montages of economic warfare on the streets of Caracas. I could try to subvert these associations by telling you this was a gathering led by Venezuelan women and indigenous peoples, on the riverside, under trees, where the community was strong and food was plenty; still, I may lose my readers to those hackneyed old dismissals: it’s too little; it’s too late.
Even worse, you might laugh at the thought of us: ragged Green Peace activists holding our sad protest signs and singing our sad protest songs. People to be pitied, scorned or jeered at, like the man on the street corner ringing his bell, promising that the End Is Nigh, Jesus Is Coming Very, Very Soon. That’s us, you thought: people to be side-stepped and eventually put away, out of sight in a cell or a room with barred windows to succumb to our own rambling dreams. You might think we’re nuts.
We are. Estamos locos. And we’re asking you to join us. Don’t think of the following as an article. Think of this as an invitation…
…to stand on your head.
Standing on one’s head is an ancient yogic practice, recognized across cultures for its mind- and body-altering effects. Here are some of the principle benefits of standing on one’s head:
1. Blood rushes to the brain, rousing it from lethargic slumber, which is why practitioners typically assume the pose first thing in the morning. This is an invitation to wake up.
2. The posture requires both strength and balance — it engages your core, your abdomen, forcing you to lengthen your limbs and align your chakras. Our world is lopsided, and everything is falling. This is an invitation to return to equilibrium.
3. It demands trust. You must believe your neck will support your body’s weight. Forget what you’ve been told about keeping your feet on the ground. Leave behind your fears of snapping spinal cords. Your body is a magnificent instrument and this is an invitation to take a leap of faith.
4. Finally, this pose offers perspective. What was up is down. What was normal, routine and acceptable appears idiotic, ridiculous, wrong. This is an invitation to inversion. Inversion is necessary to recognize truths, such as these…
…We are living in an epoch of insanity. But each day we are asked to ignore it, to turn our heads away and pretend we do not see that we are being robbed in broad daylight of our dignity, our labour and our voices, of our streams and grasslands, of our children’s homes, of our ice and our seas, of our soils and souls and self-determination. We are asked to turn away and ignore the fact that those same thieves and overseers and poachers who are snatching at every last little bit of life and greenery left on this earth are lauded — honored and compensated with riches and titles while the rest of us are branded and incarcerated, spied on, molested, and burned.
We have come to ask you to stand on your heads, because only by doing so can we see what is truly before us. It won’t be easy. It is a frightening thing, to assume a position in broad daylight that might invite the ridicule of the world: the laughter of those who are sleeping, imbalanced and fearful, who have spent so long turning away that their heads are now backwards, like the swiveled heads of devils. When these people see us, they will think the worst: that we are maniacs. But no matter: we have come to ask you to embrace madness. So, if you would, please, just invert yourself for a moment? No, I’m sorry, you can’t see it while standing upright. No peephole, no Google search, no satellite-drone-telescope-helicopter-time-machine can take you there. Only you, on your head. So, if you will? A leap of faith, if you please?
…You are in Venezuela, but before you can join us in the inverted place, you must first consider the things you think you know. Like Alice Through the Looking Glass, you must carefully unlearn the ways of the right-side-up, the voice of the newspapers who would have you turn, turn, turn away until your head is swiveled backwards like the devil.
For one thing, we’ve been told there is a dictatorship here. We’ve all read the stories, seen the glossy pictures printed by the great publications. But we remember that the compasses of the New York Times and others of its ilk point due North-West, towards the seat of empire that is the United States. We’ve been trained to see Hugo Chavez and his years of revolutionary governance as the work of a blustering pedant, a military man who seized power through a coup, the illegitimate ruler over the world’s largest oil reserves, the state in bed with all the rogue regimes of the world, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Libya, China. As a result we might be tempted to forget who are the real pedants, the oil-hungry beasts, the real rogue state?
Who invaded Iraq, Afghanistan? Who trained the Taliban?
Who dropped the atom bomb, who attacked the Vietcong
with Napalm? Who gives Israel arms?
Who warred with Korea, who invaded Nicaragua
Honduras, Iran? Who’s choking Pakistan?
Who colonized Puerto Rico, Hawai’i? The same men who condemned Troy Davis to die.
Who patents life, sues farmers for saving seeds, while denying people their basic health needs?
Who fucked the Philippines, who painted that canvas of grisly scenes
in Cambodia? Who bought slaves from Africa,
dug graves all across the Middle East?
Who caused global famine so that they may feast
on food they didn’t grow? Who said Gaddafi’s got to go?
Who committed genocide, the world’s first holocaust
of Native peoples, whose land was lost
to gold diggers, cold-diggers, bold-sold diggers, corn stealers, five, six, seven-eight-figures
of profit, from the yellow treasure they say they ‘found’?
They stole. Cotton, sugar, tobacco and coffee grounds,
the arms-legs-lips-wombs of their pickers, pluckers, plowers bound,
forever, to the stock market.
There is chaos, they say, in Venezuela. In airplanes, well-heeled, white-skinned Venezuelans with Gucci-Prada smiles and show dogs in carry-on kennels on their laps, on their way back from Miami where they have second homes, ask me why I’m going to Caracas? It’s chaos, they say, madness. They flew to the US to buy toilet paper. There’s nothing to do in Venezuela, they say, nothing to see. Nothing to buy. They’re right. The most coveted things in Venezuela are not for sale anymore. Not the land, or the soul of its people. The streets are empty, they say. No, wait! They change their minds: the streets are full! Of protestors against the repressive regime! Of burning-looting-starving masses; and bread-lines. Well, which is it? you ask. Are the streets empty, or full? Both, they say. And that’s how they are, the opposition. Full of contradictions. They use the language of the enslaved, the words of workers. But it’s ventriloquism — words of the oppressed coming from the mouths of the oppressors. Often when the opposition says there’s nothing in the shops they mean Christmas hams, and birthday cakes: middle-class essentials, for that is the primary identity of the violent opposition here: middle-class, petit-bourgeois, upwardly mobile. They abhor and fear the Bolivarian revolution because it unleashed Venezuela’s poor, Black core, opened the doors on decades of disparity and dispossession by giving farmers back their land, and putting power into the hands of popular people’s councils. The opposition burns government schools, even as it calls the common man ‘ignorant’. It attacks clinics and other medical infrastructure while mourning the lack of healthcare. The opposition torches food-ration centers while lamenting the masses’ hunger. The opposition hacks Chavista lawmakers to death and calls it freedom of expression — freedom to denounce the government by any means necessary. The opposition has attempted to lynch Black activists in broad daylight. The opposition calls Chavez a dictator because they want the rule of the free-market. They want to roll in the cornucopia of “choice”, sticky with gringo dinero and peanut butter and syrup. Dollars and austerity.
Meanwhile, what do the masses say for themselves, if we can suffer them to speak, and force ourselves to listen? Enter their homes, sit with them for a meal, and ask: what is it like? A struggle, they say. Life is a daily struggle. But we love it.
They love it? They love waiting in line for ATMs? They love making do without salt, without medicines, without bread? They love traffic jams and a life without imported, processed food? Milk and meat, caffeine and candy? Are they unhinged? Unstable? Yes. They are. ¡Estan locos! because they are patient and steadfast; locos, because they are willing to withstand great hardships to defend socialism in their country, a socialism they struggled for, and won, a government that answers to the people, supplies them with food twice a week, builds apartments for the poor, provides free schooling and healthcare, trains its armed forces in the art of non-violence. Locos, because they are prepared to hunker down, to weather the storm of scarcity of material goods because, they say, it has brought an abundance of something else.
Freedom from what, we ask?
Invisibility. Wretchedness. Violence. Silence. Margins. Racism and poverty. Illiteracy and sickness.
And since you’re standing on your head perhaps you can see how this is not locos but logos — reason. A natural progression for a people who come from a long revolutionary bloodline, Maria Lionza, Rey Miguel, Cimarron Andresote, José Leonardo Chirino, Francisco Miranda, Simon Rodriguez, Simon Bolivar, Manuela Saenz, Ezequiel Zamora, Hugo Chavez. They say, “Todos Somos Chavez” ["We are all Chavez"], and from afar you hear this as despotism, the brainwashing of a population through hours of television programming featuring a fat man handing out washing machines to slum dwellers. But on your head you see that it is not empty nationalism but participatory grassroots democracy whose protagonists have turned in comfort for a chance at autonomy.
And while I have you here on your head, we can proceed to the state of Yaracuy, to the municipality of Veroes, to the three Cimarron villages of Taria, Agua Negra and Palmarejo, where the locos are joining with logos in the birth of a movement of madness: the formation of a new International. It could only happen here, in Venezuela, where many millions are infused with a revolutionary spirit which they are determined to share with the world.
The Cry of Mother Earth
This is the first Ecosocialist International, and as the name suggests, it is a gathering of lunatics. Rather than bringing talkers together to discuss a plan , it brought planners together to act. Here we have: anti-mining groups. Traditional birth-workers. Hip-hop farmers. Seed-savers, healers, medicine-men. Maestro-pueblos, people-teachers. Bus drivers and garbage collectors (who are also recycled-jewelry-makers), urban planners, craftsmen, weavers and water conservationists. Here we have: people who have pledged their lives to the creation of an eco-centric socialism, a return to La Madre Tierra, people from the frontlines of global struggles, people who were never unwoven from the great spiral-spider-web of life, and people who were wrenched from it but are finding their way back. Black Panthers and Lakota, Amazonians and Indonesians, uniting to build a common platform for diverse and disparate global struggles. In order to find our center, we organized ourselves in a spiral: there were no working groups, no caucuses, no conference rooms or votes by majority rule. Instead, we engaged in dialogue in one of five elements: earth, fire, water, air or ether. We drafted proposals for the new way by universal consensus. I’ll say that again for the sleepers: you think 120 people, speaking different tongues, aren’t capable of reaching consensus? But we can, we did.
You laugh again—but since you’re upside-down on your head the laughter chokes you, dies in your throat, because this is no laughing matter. You already know about acid-rain-garbage-landslides burying people alive in trash-melting-ice-dying-dead-animals, birds with plastic insides, elephant corpses ripped of their tusks, world-wars-proxy-wars-civil-wars, poison-gas-nuclear-waste, radioactive fish becoming radioactive cancers in our guts-throats-groins-veins, factoryfarmsfactoryfarms, iphone-suicides-tumorous-vegetables-drought-famine-polio-stillborn-war, hacked-up-trade-unionists, lynch-mobs-penal-colonies of mass produced unconsciousness. So, you can understand…
…That we came to Veroes to Reweave Pangaea, the original continent, following the leadership of the original people. In Veroes, we were guided by maroon matriarchs, women carrying the memories of their ancestors who long ago cut themselves free from plantations, erected new civilizations in the forests, and washed away their chains in the rivers that still flow through the land. They tell us: “We welcome this crisis. It has forced us to return to our ancestral kitchens.” They are reviving the gastronomic legacies of their forebears who eked out a life on next-to-nothing, made it beautiful, filled their bellies with fruit and ferocity. They do not join the birthday-cake-toilet-paper lines in the cities. They tell us: “We are restoring our land, remembering our languages, reclaiming our place in history.” You can’t not listen. Never fuck with a mad woman. Never mess with a madman.
We didn’t gather in Veroes to make denouncements or demands. The time for identifying the problem is over. The time for demanding sanity from an insane system has passed. We only made directives—for ourselves and for our collective, which is the world. Our proposals were collectively debated and unanimously approved. To one another, we said: ¡A la orden!
- create medical militias in our own localities and countries, with the aim of empowering traditional healers and birth workers for a world free of medical and obstetric violence;
- develop economies of solidarity, which are eco-centric and anti-capitalist, like the trueke system to barter or exchange goods for goods, without currency as the mediator in all human transactions;
- promote schools for “open wings and open classrooms”, spaces of multi-lingual, multi-cultural learning and the exchange of knowledge, where children learn with and from nature, instead of confined within concrete walls;
- support and initiate the creation of global legislation banning the privatization of water by Coca Colaand other multinational corporations;
- take back food sovereignty from the hands of the state and take responsibility for our own nutrition and well-being;
- revive and restore the conuco and the milpa — forest gardens, the commons that supported families and communities for thousands of years;
- protect, preserve and promote indigenous languages;
- launch local and international campaigns and assemblies to debate the use and dangers of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and agrochemicals;
- decriminalize sacred and medicinal plants;
- save and exchange native seeds;
- struggle for the freedom of political prisoners;
- and harness the spiritual power of hip-hop for a higher ecological consciousness!
Adherents to the plan promised to:
- organize to bring about legislation that requires governments to gain the consent of communities before making decisions which may affect, pollute, divert, or interrupt any aspect of the water cycle;
- lead a transition to 100% renewable energy in Latin America;
- empower ourselves as mothers and fathers to decide how, when, where and whether or not to have children, and create anti-patriarchal circles to fight violence against women, non-heterosexual and gender-diverse people;
- train women in self-defense;
- launch campaigns of information and action against fracking and nuclear war;
- and promote the radical transformation of trade unions, convoking them to lead from within!
This is the First Ecosocialist International and we are all batty, bonkers, bananas. If we weren’t, we wouldn’t have been welcomed here, into this community of maroon matriarchs where extinction by slavery, rape, and backbreaking labor was not an option, and will never be. If we weren’t deranged, disturbed and dangerous, we wouldn’t have been invited here to the land where Chavista does not mean recognizing one single leader: it means becoming a leader. If we weren’t cracked, crazy and cuckoo, we wouldn’t have been sheltered and fed and loved in the homes of people who live their revolution every day, not only in the memory of their ancestors but also in their utopic vision for their children.
Now, we invite you. Join us. Dig deep into yourself for your own loony, loopy, lunacy, which is the only thing that will save us! Bring us your proposals that the world has scorned and jeered at, and let us find a way to walk together. Give yourself a directive, which will become ours, collectively, so we can join together in struggle. We are wide awake, strong in the center, perfectly balanced, and faithful that we will bring about the future we deserve.
And just think—all it took was standing on our heads.