Curtain Raiser

Beyond Toppling Statues, Colltalers

Most Americans and the world know by now that the U.S. won’t entirely retire from Afghanistan. New evidence also shows that its latest drone strike, loaded with the Pentagon’s new secret, bladed creepy-named Hellfire missile, may have killed 10 members of a family by an all-too-common mistake.
Led by Indigenous women, thousands have taken to the streets in Brazil to protest President Bolsonaro’s anti-native policies, as the Supreme Court reviews a 1988 landmark land-demarcation law. And it’s been a decade since Occupy Wall Street first posed a challenge to capitalism’s Holy Grail.
Let’s get going in upstate New York, where an uprising at the Attica Correctional Facility 50 years ago led to the killing of 29 inmates and 10 hostages by National Guards and the police sent by Gov. Nelson Rockefeller. The Sept. 9 massacre of American prisoners lasted four days and led to few prison reforms. Half a century later, though, overcrowding, racism, violence, poor health care, and miscarriages of justice still plague the U.S. jail system.
In the unfiltered virtual world, human misery is profitable. Take the uproar over the trading of human bones that now thrives on Instagram, Facebook, eBay, Etsy, TikTok, and other social media. Mapping “the contours of the human remains trade,” History professors Shawn Graham and Damien Huffer see “the powerful collecting the powerless.” Which means, Brown, Black, and Indigenous bodies are the most sought after.
“We shouldn’t need a law explicitly declaring, No one can own dead people,” they write. Yet demand by “collectors” matches that coming from med schools and if private graves or sacred places can’t be robbed, supply is usually provided by “the indigent, the racialized, the people treated as less-than-human.” The Alliance to Counter Crime Online’s co-founder has one advice: don’t buy human remains or participate in their dehumanization.
In Richmond, Virginia, one of the largest Confederate monuments has come down as the Black Lives Matter movement exposed the incongruity of having past slave owners celebrated with statues, while the descendants of those they enslaved are still suffering from institutional white supremacy. In Mexico, similar reasoning is behind the toppling of a Christopher Columbus statue, to be replaced by a Pedro Reyes’ sculpture of an Olmec woman.
The healthy cross-border trend has also reached Canada, where statues of queens Victoria and Elizabeth II have bitten the dust. Nominally toppled in protest for the deaths of thousands of indigenous children, the common thread is a desire for justice for generations of genocide victims they represent.
In California, the attempted recall of Gov. Gavin Newson has empowered a vocal minority angry at his strict measures to prevent the spread of Covid. Behind that, of course, there’s the Republican Party’s real motivation to support right-wing talk show host Larry Elder: the governor has the authority to name a replacement for Senator Diane Feinstein, who at 82 may be forced to retire. If Newson loses, Democrats may also lose their Senate majority.
Called a “more humane” way of killing, the difference between the RX9 Hellfire missile suspected in the drone strike in Kabul and other hits is that it allegedly delivers rather than an explosion, an infernal set of high-speed razor-thin blades that tear open steel and flesh. Not understanding why this is an upside to anything helps identify those truly horrified with how military experts and defense contractors routinely dehumanize human casualties.
It also indicates that the future of war in Afghanistan was never at risk of petering out, unlike women, human rights, and heaven forbid, peaceniks. President Biden’s troop withdrawal has been a watershed moment for his administration. But it’ll be meaningless if we continue to bomb the Afghans.
The 900,000 or 0.5% of the Brazilian population who’s Indigenous has been fighting for decades for the demarcation of its land, but big landowners supported by Bolsonaro have been ignoring federal law and conducting invasions and burnings of their 13% share of the territory. Thousands of natives are in Brasilia to pressure the Supreme Court to save and protect their land, and to be in an expected massive Indigenous Women’s March on Thursday.
On paper, the United Nations is everything we’d need to organize the world: under a general peacekeeping mandate, it plays referee in international disputes, promotes human rights and fair trade, and helps global leaders work together on common problems. But alas, the 76th General Assembly that gathers in New York City this week has been anything but what we’d need now. And that’s mainly because rich nations won’t give it its due respect.
The Covid pandemic has exposed this vulnerability once again as it failed to engage the powerful into lifting patent restrictions owned by big pharma; without it, vaccines are available now only to those that can afford it. For similar reasons, the U.N. is losing the climate emergency argument too. Part of this negative outlook is intentional though, as far-right leaders here and abroad who back undemocratic regimes hate to be lectured by the Assembly.
When Occupy Wall Street erupted in downtown Manhattan in Sept. 2011, it was the aftermath of the near-collapse of the world’s finance system, out of unbound greed and ambition by the so-called “masters of the universe.” Initially dismissed as a leaderless ragtag of privileged kids playing revolution, the OWS grew exponentially, both in the U.S. and abroad, into a powerful even if brief civil resistance movement. It shined bright and then it fizzled.
It bred however at least one outstanding business, R.I.P. Medical Debt. The not-for-profit founded in 2014 by ex-debt collectors Jerry Ashton and Craig Antico has reportedly wiped out the debt of some two million Americans, erasing almost $3 billion in medical debt. They do that using the same tactics and training of active debt collectors: they purchase the debt in bulk by “pennies to the dollar” and instead of charging the borrowers, they zero all of it.
It’s “Cry of Dolores” day, the 211th anniversary of Mexico’s Independence from Spain. On this date, priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla rang the bell of a church in Dolores town, to call out Mexicans to kick the Spanish out. It’s this bloody colonial past that fuels the toppling of the Columbus statue, for instance, and recent rulings on abortion and weed are also welcome changes as Mexico struggles to join the new century. ¡Feliz Cumpleaños, Mexico! WC


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