Sunday, October 29, 2006

People's Power

This is what the power poles in Ejido Maclovio Rojas look like. They are very festive, with all different colors of wire coming off of them and heading off to this house, that street. Some of it is pretty heavy cable for carrying a good amperage over distance, but a lot of it is the cheapest gauge of lamp cord that you could hope to buy in the ferreteria, or hardware store. (Ferre refers to ferrous, or iron, I assume.) You see, the people of Maclovio have appropriated their power from the grid, and their water from the aqueduct. The land they acquired by homesteading it, in a legally sanctioned kind of land reform deal that isn’t that unusual in Latin America.
Here’s where they tapped into the aqueduct:

They did screw up one thing, however. They tried to choose land that was unoccupied and uncontested, BUT, they didn’t count on NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement), and the incredible proliferation of maquiladoras (factories) in this region. Toyota, Hyundai, Toshiba, and other international corporations are encroaching on Ejido Maclovio Rojas. It has gone from an abandoned cerrito to some fairly hotly contested real estate last appraised at $98 million U.S. dollars! It may be that what saves Maclovio Rojas is that globalization closes the maquiladoras and sends manufacturing overseas to China, where labor is cheaper and there are even fewer environmental regulations. Of course, if that happened, the local economy would collapse as well…
Theft of water was the charge that put community leader Nikolasa into jail for four long years. The claim that the founders of Ejido Maclovio Rojas were profiting by selling water to the people was the justification for her arrest. Because Mexico has Napoleonic law, where the accused is essentially guilty until proven innocent, this was adequate to lock Nikolasa, a woman in her sixties who has uterine cancer and other health issues, up for four years. When she spoke to our students, many were deeply moved. She has never spoken to a student group of ours before because she has been in jail since before the Woolman Semester started coming here, though students from the old John Woolman four-year high school sometimes spent Spring Break here. She told us that she was sustained in jail by her belief in Jesu Cristo, and her knowledge that since her arrest had alerted the rest of the community leaders, who then went into hiding and were not arrested though there were warrants out for them, that she was not in jail alone, but that the whole community was continually with her.
The seed of the community’s spirit, which squatted on the land, living in tents and eating rattlesnake meat in the founding days, is still present in Ejido Maclovio Rojas. You can still hear about how, when the Federales came to boot them out, all the young lovelies came to distract the soldiers, asking for special dispensations, etc., while the people of the communidad pretended to move their furniture and belongings out of their houses, but were actually creating a blockade of Mexican Highway 2, which runs along the foot of Maclovio. When the traffic back up began to effect things in the United States, the Federales were called off, and the people moved back into their houses to fight again another day.
There are also other forces at work, however. There are many folks in Maclovio who don’t hold these old revolutionary ideals. They have middle class aspirations, and want to work in the maquiladoras and be able to sell their houses and move “up.” Because you cannot sell your holding in an ejido, this creates tension. Communidad, and not real estate speculation is the value that the community is built around. Will these old values hold?
There are factions now, and I can’t follow it all, but it seems to me that it bodes ill for the ejido. Larger forces are always at work—can the government really afford to let this upstart social experiment exist for twenty years? They are at eighteen already. Who is really behind the opposition group—The Choke (pronounced CHO-kay)? Are they funded with corporate dollars?
Meanwhile, the perros [dogs] wander the calles [streets], the Chicago nuns tut-tut at the anarchical architecture of the school across the way from them. When you try to run a Skilsaw up at the health clinic, the amperage may not be what you would expect, but the saw will cut eventually. The purified water at la tienda will never make you sick, the arcade is open, and the citizens of Ejido Maclovio Rojas are as sweet and dignified as any people anywhere. There is an open air market, a huge soccer campo, an Internet café, and a dance hall. Even an artifact as dull and utilitarian as a power pole has style and soul in Maclovio Rojas. I like it here. It’s just a little bit like paradise.

Ah, Mexico!

On the one hand, everything gets more Mexico-like as you approach the border, until you start to think, “Well, this is almost like Mexico here, so it’ll probably be a fairly subtle transition.” But it’s not. You cross the line into Mexico (with hardly anyone taking any notice of your passage at the border—who cares what comes in?) and are immediately confronted with bewildering streets, strange signs and symbols, the different customs and rhythms of Mexican traffic (which you will perceive as sheer chaos), and shortly, the smell of Mexico.
The smell of Mexico is hard to describe (like most smells), and of course, it is not one consistent entity. It is composed of numerous ingredients. Firstly, there is no real system of emissions standards and inspections for vehicles in Mexico, and many of them are in quite bad repair and beyond the point where they would likely be retired in the United States. Secondly, the cheap, and in many cases the only system for dealing with basura, or garbage, is to burn it. You might think of Mexico as a non-industrialized country where the garbage to be burned was composed of mostly natural materials, but this is not the case at all. The garbage is as full of plastic bags and packaging, disposable baby diapers, putrescibles and old shoes as it is in the United States. In addition, in many places in Mexico the sewer system is not up to the challenge of toilet paper, so soiled paper this is put into the garbage and burned as well. It is quite a melange! It would be great if there were a single day when everyone burned, but such is not the case. It is all burning garbage all the time.
Where we are, at Casa Emaus, is on the crest of a hill between Tecate and Tijuana, overlooking the Ejido Maclovio Rojas. To the east of us the land still supports dairy, so this smell can be added. There are also a veritable plague of flies that comes with this proximity to bovines, though mercifully they don’t seem to be the kind of flies that like to light on people all the time. They love all food and food surfaces of course.
In Mexico, a butcher’s shop smells like a butcher’s shop before you get to the door. Various pipes and standing water emit odors. On this industrial corridor in Northern Mexico among the maquiladoras, there is constant diesel truck traffic spewing soot on the way up hills, and blaring the jake brake on the way down. Dogs frolic freely throughout, doing their thing.
To encounter a human being who is malodorous is very unlikely. I’m not sure why this is, but I have found it to be so. Within a couple of days, our little troupe will smell worse than any one hundred Mexican laborers you could find. I know this from personal experience. Having camped and sat in hot cars for the last several days without proper showers (there was a swimmer’s shower at the Salton Sea, which many took advantage of yesterday), we may already be there…
I think so romantically about the two-thirds world (and really, as the world goes, Mexico is decidedly a middle-class country). I think that I might really enjoy living simply in Nicaragua. I am convinced that the powers of fascism are running almost unchecked in this country, although it may be politic for them to do so under guise of some Democrats in power for a while (as happened under Clinton). I am prone to accept Thoreau’s maxim, “That government which governs least governs best.” Then, I come to Mexico, and I start to think that at least a functional municipal system of governance might be a good thing in as much as it might help us to bury for all time, rather than burn, our basura. As a card-carrying environmentalist I am opposed to “sanitary land fills,” but there are worse alternatives. Zero Waste seems like an end of pipe dream down here…

Friday, October 13, 2006

Luddite Glory!

It's funny; we are constantly making fun of the Amish (perhaps a bit less so, given the recent shooting tragedy), as though to live a life with technology that supports your deepest values were ridiculous. In his essay, "Civil Disobedience," Henry David Thoreau insists that it isn't good enough merely to petition the government to make choices that are consonant with our values, but that we should cease to participate in the immoral actions of our government "at once."

If I am to live a life consonant with my values "at once," I cannot wait for government or industry to create a life that recognizes the equality and worth of all persons and heals the bioshere. I am unlikely to live so long! Rather than wait for "zero point" energy, or be bamboozled by hydrogen, why not go with something that works now?

What the Bleep is the EarthQuaker Doing Now?

Yes, I have finally gone round the bend. First plain dress, now horsefarming, and next...? Carfreeness still eludes me, though I am currently very car light, with my greasel truck having carried me only about 100 miles in the last four months. Those were key trips, though!

One of the key things for living a sustainable life, is to have community, and, of course, I do. The Sierra Friends Center has many new residents this year, all of them wonderful. One of them is my partner, and her adopted niece. (It is her friend who brought his horse over to help us with the potato patch. We went the next day in work exchange to his place, and hope to have an ongoing reciprocal relationship.)

What could be better than a vivacious, beautiful, spiritual partner with her own delightful child companion?

She's better with horses than I am, and lots of other things as well:

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Ohio Valley Yearly Meeting

I had a rough time leading up to Ohio Valley Yearly Meeting last July. I was supposed to be one of two plenary speakers there, and I kept waiting for Spirit to give me my words, but it didn't happen. I had the right elder, however. Elaine Emily wasn't perturbed in the least. I think that she took it as a good sign that I had nothing to say!
The other plenary speaker was Doris Ferm, of Bellingham WA, who had specifically asked to speak the night before me. It turns out that she said much of what there was to be said on Ohio Valley Yearly Meeting's theme: "Seeking an Earth Restored." Now what? Talk about a tough act to follow! Her speech is available on their website, below.
I wrote some notes and an outline of sorts, for the twentieth time, but every time I started this process my whole crazy EarthQuaker gestalt came out with every thread I pulled. Finally, we had a worship before the gathering. The clerk of the Meeting assured me that Ohio Valley was ready to hear me, and I felt an easing in myself, though no language came. I knew how to open, with a song--your voice may be untrustworthy in these situations, by the way! Elaine checked my chi, we went pee, and off to plenary. Bob Schmitt had given me permission to have nothing to say, and dear friends were standing West for me. I felt held by the Spirit, humbled, tendered, and oddly ready.

I don't know how to make URL's work on this blog, but you can hear my plenary talk at:
or navigate there from: You can also find Doris Ferm's speech here.