DON'T REALLY KNOW WHAT SOLIDARITY IS, BUT I KNOW THIS WAS IT
By Eli Beckerman
Boston - February 21, 2006 -- The Boston Delegation’s presence at the Forum was an interesting experience. After months of planning, holding 3 public meetings and many planning meetings, reaching out to countless progressive organizations in Boston, arranging airfare and hotel rooms for dozens of Boston activists, culling together a Boston Delegation proposal for our World Social Forum workshop, planning mission tours for the Boston delegates throughout Caracas, and opening the Forum with a big march across the city, the Boston Delegation culminated in two events — a workshop at the Carlota airport and a rally at Plaza Bolívar.
The location and time of the workshop made for poor attendance — it was nearly impossible to find and the recommended Metro stop was a horrible choice, considering they had free bus service from a different stop. But a small team of Boston delegates took matters into their own hands and held signs and offered directions from the recommended stop. We started very late, and had about 5 people who were not part of the delegation in addition to about 30 delegates for the majority of the event. As more people filtered in at the end, and requests were made to hear statements from people who live in Latin America, things heated up. Ruben, our guide on one of the mission tours, gave an impassioned call for respect for artists and the importance of their work in the Bolivarian Revolution and any social movement. Shannon from the Boston Delegation followed with a response from a US artist echoing the importance and saying that real artists are making headway finally as so much art is getting tired and inauthentic. An artisan and merchant from Colombia spoke about their tough times and called for help from his US brothers and sisters. And a fiery young man from Venezuela spoke about his belief that there are US citizens who can help the Bolivarian Revolution because he fears every day that the United States is going to invade.
Things were cut short because of time constraints, but there was some hope that this represented a beginning rather than an end. Following the Boston Delegation event was a panel of Bolivarian Circles in North America, which included Eva Golinger, author of The Chavez Code, and Peter Camejo, Ralph Nader’s vice presidential running mate in 2004. Golinger blew me away with her portrayal of the US role in Venezuelan politics. The National Endowment for Democracy and USAID are knee-deep in disgusting anti-democratic activity, and the Pentagon has adopted a policy of asymmetric war against Venezuela. Camejo talked about the need for 2 tasks for US citizens — solidarity and a non-intervention movement. He also pointed out that radicalizations happen every 30 years in the US, with big ones happening every 80 years. This decade, he said, the two are coming together. Also on the panel was Dawn Gable, who was working in Venezuela as a biologist during the turmoil leading to the 2002 coup. She has since become very active in the Bolivarian Revolution, running a cybercircle and hosting webpages of Bolivarian Circles around the world. Jorge Marin, who runs the MLK Jr. Bolivarian Circle of Boston, emceed the event, and he was clear that it was crucial to extend the work of these circles beyond Venezuela. It was my hope that the learning process that was started by the Boston Delegation be continued via the Bolivarian Circle of Boston, changing the paradigm in which we view our work and learning from the Venezuelan people and from each other.
As a delegation, we had also decided to stage an action in Caracas. The plan was to hold a rally in front of the US embassy, but it was too remote and difficult to reach. We opted instead for the Plaza Bolívar where the mayor’s office is, and we would bestow our thanks to the mayor for the discounted heating oil from Venezuela. Our action was also a call for an end to the Iraq War and occupation and for the US to keep its hands off Venezuela. We had signs, like “Oil for Peace, Not for War!”, “Meester Danger — Hands Off Venezuela!”, “Chavez: Hero, Bush: Zero!”, “Tropas Afuera Ahora”, and of course “DARE to Keep Bush Off Drugs”. We also had our banners calling for an end to the war and occupation and a thank-you message to Venezuela from the Boston delegation for the discounted oil. The planning for the event was minimal, to put it gently, and actually most of the planning happened right then and there as we were setting up. People were asked to make speeches, lists of speakers were put together and changed, and the unscripted rally was going to happen one way or the other.
And as we started setting up in the busy plaza, the magic started to happen. First there was a young Caraqueña who wanted to hold a sign. Then a slow build-up of people who were curious about what was going on. Before long, we had complete strangers holding up our signs, kids fighting over signs to hold — and these kids were adorable — and a large number of interested and engaged spectators talking to us about our action. Once things started, it was a full-fledged rally, about to get even fuller. In the middle of Lyn Meza’s speech, someone from the mayor’s office worked his way through the crowd to offer use of a megaphone. By the time Jonathan Leavitt had the crowd singing and clapping and even dancing along to his Woody Guthrie cover, the mayor’s office was setting up plastic lawn chairs for people to sit in. And in the middle of a Vietnam Vet’s speech, we were being invited over to the center stage, complete with a full sound system. Before long, people were dancing salsa and singing along with impromptu contributors. I can’t describe in words the beauty and power of the things I saw that day, but seeing cute-as-hell six year old kids holding signs telling my government “hands off our country” can devastate you one moment, and seeing a gorgeous 80-year-old man dancing salsa to a Woody Guthrie song can make it all seem all right again.
I still don’t really know what solidarity is, but I know this was it.
And the calls earlier in the Forum for US citizens to act in solidarity, to stand up for what’s happening in Venezuela, and to call out against US intervention suddenly felt real. And the need to continue that solidarity once we returned to US soil felt ever more urgent. And the Boston Delegation, in my mind, for the first time, became real.