Murals & Poetry in Los Angeles by Adolfo Guzman-Lopez

published on the KCET  public television web site


By Adolfo Guzman-Lopez
February 12, 2009 8:00 AM

A parking lot a block from MacArthur Park used to be the Vagabond Theater. As a teenager in the late 1960s painter John Valadez spent a lot of time there watching art house films.

The owner had painted scenes from Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin on large canvases and draped them on the side walls. John says right on, when I tell him one his newest pastel works, Muertedores Baile would be a great scene in an early Luis Buñuel film. In the pastel three bullfighters in blue, pink and white carry out a cape move in a circle at a dusty cemetery. The capes and bull are absent. A green-suited bullfighter lies on a cloud above, limp like El Greco’s Count Orgaz.

In the 1990s John shifted from Chicano realism to more allegorical, somewhat surreal work. His Broadway Mural, done in the early 1980s stands as a master work in Chicano art. John was one of the first to use superb draftsmanship to depict Chicano urban life in a hyperrealistic style. John’s friend Ruben Guevara – an L.A. poet, musician and concert promoter – said Muertedores Baile took his breath away when he saw John working on it. There’s a lot going on and the dusty cemetery reminded him of one he’s seen in Mexicali. When Kathy Gallegos of Avenue 50 Studio in Highland Park asked Ruben to take part in a February 14th reading that pairs up writers with works of art, Ruben said he’d like nothing better than to write a poem based on John Valadez’s painting. For Ruben, the bullfighters in the work of art pay tribute to the hundreds of working-class women killed in the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez. The killings remain largely unsolved. Here’s what Ruben will read on Saturday.

Traje de Luces / Suit of Lights
(Por Las Mujeres de Juárez / For the Women of Juárez)
A Xikano Haiku for John Valadez’s Muertedores Baile
By Rubén Funkahuatl Guevara
The warm night calls you
“Tonight, a Dance for Lovers!”
Corrida de luz

Strokes of life and death
Dance in the darkness of light
Dance with destiny

Aztec virgins scream
Hearts explode into fire storms
Souls cut, scarred, bleeding

¡Matador! Say it!
“¡Las mujeres de Juárez!”
“¡Descansen en paz!”

Fury transcended
Ignites the light in terror
Dries God’s bleeding tears

Life, love, ecstasy
A dance for lovers only
Xikan@ heaven


On Seeing “Invictus” the Weekend Dennis Brutus Died — by Matthew Rothschild

On Seeing “Invictus” the Weekend Dennis Brutus Died

By Matthew Rothschild, December 28, 2009 published on the web site of the Progressive Magazine

I saw the Nelson Mandela movie “Invictus” this weekend, the same weekend that the great South African poet Dennis Brutus died.

After being shot in the back in 1963, Brutus was imprisoned on Robben Island in a cell right next to Mandela’s, then exiled to the United States.

He was a leading anti-apartheid activist here, and continued to champion the cause of social justice globally after the fall of the apartheid regime.

I met him a couple times. He was an imposing figure, with a rich and distinctive voice, who bore the scars of apartheid nobly.

Just like Nelson Mandela.

But watching the film, you get the sense that the anti-apartheid struggle was almost all Nelson Mandela.

You don’t get to see the mass movement that led to its overthrow, the movement that Mandela and Brutus were a part of.

You don’t have any hint that Mandela himself and the African National Congress advocated armed struggle, or that a black consciousness movement, led by Stephen Biko, galvanized another generation, or that massive strikes by labor unions threatened to cripple the South African economy.

And, for that matter, you don’t get to see the hideousness of apartheid—the shooting at protesters, the torture of prisoners (like Biko) to death, the daily humiliations of the pass system, and the total economic, social, and political subjugation of blacks.

All you see is Morgan Freeman as Mandela, and every move he makes is glorified. Freeman and the scriptwriter depict him as preternaturally wise in everything he does. At one point, his aide asks him about where South Africa should turn for foreign investment. And he responds, instantly, to the United States.

Yet Mandela’s decision to adopt a free market orientation has had disastrous consequences for South Africa, and Dennis Brutus rightly criticized him and the African National Congress for it.

Speaking on Democracy Now! in September 2008, Brutus characterized the ANC’s economic policy this way. “First we keep the corporations happy. We don’t want them leaving the country. And if the people have to wait—questions of housing, jobs, education—all of that will have to wait.” As a result, he said, people are “living in the shacks and in the shanties, as they were under apartheid, still living under the same conditions.”

Brutus wasn’t the only one to fault Mandela and the ANC for kowtowing to neoliberalism. Naomi Klein in “The Shock Doctrine” writes that South Africa “stands as a living testament to what happens when economic reform is severed from political transformation. Politically, its people have the right to vote, civil liberties and majority rule. Yet economically, South Africa has surpassed Brazil as the most unequal society in the world.”

Yes, Mandela is a hero. I have a poster of him up on my office wall. But beware hero worship.

As for Dennis Brutus, a fond farewell, and condolences to his family. At college, I knew his son Tony, a wonderful person in his own right. Tony, I hug you from afar.

Dennis Brutus, in a poem from “Sirens, Knuckles, Boots,” wrote:

“Most cruel, all our land is scarred with terror, / rendered unlovely and unlovable; / sundered are we and all our passionate surrender / but somehow tenderness survives.”

Thank you, Dennis Brutus, for fighting the good fight, and for underscoring the triumph of tenderness.

[Matthew Rothschild is editor of The Progressive Magazine]

Dennis Brutus 1924 – 2009 — by Patrick Bond

[We have a special memory of Dennis Brutus, here in Chicago, from which our own federal government sought to deport him back to certain imprisonment and death in apartheid South Africa.  The battle to keep Dennis from extradition was long, ultimately successful, and brought together a remarkable group of active people who respected his poetry, his politics, his sports.  And Dennis was unstinting in repaying that support with his unique, enthusiastic and intelligent responses to the numerous causes that arose — Lew Rosenbaum]

Dennis Vincent Brutus, 1924-2009

December 27, 2009 By Patrick Bond

Patrick Bond’s ZSpace Page

World-renowned political organizer and one of Africa’s most celebrated poets, Dennis Brutus, died early on December 26 in Cape Town, in his sleep, aged 85.

Even in his last days, Brutus was fully engaged, advocating social protest against those responsible for climate change, and promoting reparations to black South Africans from corporations that benefited from apartheid. He was a leading plaintiff in the Alien Tort Claims Act case against major firms that is now making progress in the US court system.

Brutus was born in Harare in 1924, but his South African parents soon moved to Port Elizabeth where he attended Paterson and Schauderville High Schools. He entered Fort Hare University on a full scholarship in 1940, graduating with a distinction in English and a second major in Psychology. Further studies in law at the University of the Witwatersrand were cut short by imprisonment for anti-apartheid activism.

Brutus’ political activity initially included extensive journalistic reporting, organizing with the Teachers’ League and Congress movement, and leading the new South African Sports Association as an alternative to white sports bodies. After his banning in 1961 under the Suppression of Communism Act, he fled to Mozambique but was captured and deported to Johannesburg. There, in 1963, Brutus was shot in the back while attempting to escape police custody. Memorably, it was in front of Anglo American Corporation headquarters that he nearly died while awaiting an ambulance reserved for blacks.

While recovering, he was held in the Johannesburg Fort Prison cell which more than a half-century earlier housed Mahatma Gandhi. Brutus was transferred to Robben Island where he was jailed in the cell next to Nelson Mandela, and in 1964-65 wrote the collections Sirens Knuckles Boots and Letters to Martha, two of the richest poetic expressions of political incarceration.

Subsequently forced into exile, Brutus resumed simultaneous careers as a poet and anti-apartheid campaigner in London, and while working for the International Defense and Aid Fund, was instrumental in achieving the apartheid regime’s expulsion from the 1968 Mexican Olympics and then in 1970 from the Olympic movement.

Upon moving to the US in 1971, Brutus served as a professor of literature and African studies at Northwestern (Chicago) and Pittsburgh, and defeated high-profile efforts by the Reagan Administration to deport him during the early 1980s. He wrote numerous poems, ninety of which will be published posthumously next year by Worcester State University, and he helped organize major African writers organizations with his colleagues Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe.

Following the political transition in South Africa, Brutus resumed activities with grassroots social movements in his home country. In the late 1990s he also became a pivotal figure in the global justice movement and a featured speaker each year at the World Social Forum, as well as at protests against the World Trade Organization, G8, Bretton Woods Institutions and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development.

Brutus continued to serve in the anti-racism, reparations and economic justice movements as a leading strategist until his death, calling in August for the ‘Seattling’ of the recent Copenhagen summit because sufficient greenhouse gas emissions cuts and North-South ‘climate debt’ payments were not on the agenda.

His final academic appointment was as Honorary Professor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal Centre for Civil Society, and for that university’s press and Haymarket Press, he published the autobiographical Poetry and Protest in 2006.

Amongst numerous recent accolades were the US War Resisters League peace award in September, two Doctor of Literature degrees conferred at Rhodes and Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in April – following six other honorary doctorates – and the Lifetime Achievement Award of the South African government Department of Arts and Culture in 2008.

Brutus was also awarded membership in the South African Sports Hall of Fame in 2007, but rejected it on grounds that the institution had not confronted the country’s racist history. He also won the Paul Robeson and Langston Hughes awards.

The memory of Dennis Brutus will remain everywhere there is struggle against injustice. Uniquely courageous, consistent and principled, Brutus bridged the global and local, politics and culture, class and race, the old and the young, the red and green. He was an emblem of solidarity with all those peoples oppressed and environments wrecked by the power of capital and state elites – hence some in the African National Congress government labeled him ‘ultraleft’. But given his role as a world-class poet, Brutus showed that social justice advocates can have both bread and roses.

Brutus’s poetry collections are:

* Sirens Knuckles and Boots (Mbari Productions, Ibaden, Nigeria and
Northwestern University Press, Evanston Illinois, 1963).

* Letters to Martha and Other Poems from a South African Prison
(Heinemann, Oxford, 1968).

* Poems from Algiers (African and Afro-American Studies and Research
Institute, Austin, Texas, 1970).

* A Simple Lust (Heinemann, Oxford, 1973).

* China Poems (African and Afro-American Studies and Research Centre,
Austin, Texas, 1975).

* Strains (Troubador Press, Del Valle, Texas).

* Stubborn Hope (Three Continents Press, Washington, DC and Heinemann,
Oxford, 1978).

* Salutes and Censures (Fourth Dimension, Enugu, Nigeria, 1982).

* Airs and Tributes (Whirlwind Press, Camden, New Jersey, 1989).

* Still the Sirens (Pennywhistle Press, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 1993).

* Remembering Soweto, ed. Lamont B. Steptoe (Whirlwind Press, Camden,
New Jersey, 2004).

* Leafdrift, ed. Lamont B. Steptoe (Whirlwind Press, Camden, New Jersey,

* Poetry and Protest: A Dennis Brutus Reader, ed. Aisha Kareem and Lee
Sustar (Haymarket Books, Chicago and University of KwaZulu-Natal Press,
Pietermaritzburg, 2006).

He is survived by his wife May, his sisters Helen and Dolly, eight children, nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren in Hong Kong, England, the US and Cape Town.

Person of the Year — op ed in NYT by Frank Rich

[Frank Rich has a point.  The real movers and shakers of the year and the decade are in the class whose responsibility is making the rest of us believe they have our best interests at heart.  I just got a letter inviting me to be part of the “Consumer Advisory Council” of Blue Cross, and telling me they have been doing surveys to find out their approval rating.  Not surprisingly, their surveys showed how much people like me love them.  Except it is not true.
True or not, their script defines our era and writes the 2,000 page script that masquerades as a health care bill just passed by the Senate.  Their script defines that fantasy called Renaissance 2010 in Chicago education, No Child Left Behind nationally.  Renaissance and NCLB are marketing phrases.  The substance behind the flim-flam is as real as the substance Frank Rich describes behind Enron.
Rich does point out how cynical people are about the political leadership they have.  And that is a step toward the resolution of the problem.  From Wall Street to Tiger Woods, the con artists require a certain complicity, a suspension of disbelief, from many of us.  They require a belief that we have a common bond with the hucksters who bamboozle us.  But we don’t.  Solomon Burke, in a 2008 album entitled Don’t Count Me Out sings the old refrain, “None of us are free — if one of us is in chains.”  The more we recognize how many of us are in chains, the closer we can be to acting in our common interest.  The sooner we will be asking questions about public ownership of the corporations which continue to play the shell game with us and our lives.
As we approach the New Year, Chicago Labor & Arts Festival wishes all our readers a prosperous new year, when prosperity is measured in how richly we are able to expand our vision of a cooperative future and to expand the recognition that private corporations can no longer be trusted to guide us out of the sand trap into which they have driven us. — Lew Rosenbaum]
Op-Ed Columnist

Tiger Woods, Person of the Year

Published: December 19, 2009   New York Times

AS we say farewell to a dreadful year and decade, this much we can agree upon: The person of the year is not Ben Bernanke, no matter how insistently Time magazine tries to hype him into its pantheon. The Fed chairman was just as big a schnook as every other magical thinker in Washington and on Wall Street who believed that housing prices would go up in perpetuity to support an economy leveraged past the hilt. Unlike most of the others, it was Bernanke’s job to be ahead of the curve. Yet as recently as June of last year he could be found minimizing the possibility of a substantial economic downturn. And now we’re supposed to applaud him for putting his finger in the dike after disaster struck? This is defining American leadership down.

Barry Blitt

If there’s been a consistent narrative to this year and every other in this decade, it’s that most of us, Bernanke included, have been so easily bamboozled. The men who played us for suckers, whether at Citigroup or Fannie Mae, at the White House or Ted Haggard’s megachurch, are the real movers and shakers of this century’s history so far. That’s why the obvious person of the year is Tiger Woods. His sham beatific image, questioned by almost no one until it collapsed, is nothing if not the farcical reductio ad absurdum of the decade’s flimflams, from the cancerous (the subprime mortgage) to the inane (balloon boy).

As of Friday, the Tiger saga had appeared on 20 consecutive New York Post covers. For The Post, his calamity has become as big a story as 9/11. And the paper may well have it right. We’ve rarely questioned our assumption that 9/11, “the day that changed everything,” was the decade’s defining event. But in retrospect it may not have been. A con like Tiger’s may be more typical of our time than a one-off domestic terrorist attack, however devastating.

Indeed, if we go back to late 2001, the most revealing news story may have been unfolding not in New York but Houston — the site of the Enron scandal. That energy company convinced financial titans, the press and countless investors that it was a business deity. It did so even though very few of its worshipers knew what its business was. Enron is the template for the decade of successful ruses that followed, Tiger’s included.

What makes the golfing superstar’s tale compelling, after all, is not that he’s another celebrity in trouble or another fallen athletic “role model” in a decade lousy with them. His scandal has nothing to tell us about race, and nothing new to say about hypocrisy. The conflict between Tiger’s picture-perfect family life and his marathon womanizing is the oldest of morality tales.

What’s striking instead is the exceptional, Enron-sized gap between this golfer’s public image as a paragon of businesslike discipline and focus and the maniacally reckless life we now know he led. What’s equally striking, if not shocking, is that the American establishment and news media — all of it, not just golf writers or celebrity tabloids — fell for the Woods myth as hard as any fan and actively helped sustain and enhance it.

People wanted to believe what they wanted to believe. Tiger’s off-the-links elusiveness was no more questioned than Enron’s impenetrable balance sheets, with their “special-purpose entities” named after “Star Wars” characters. Fortune magazine named Enron as America’s “most innovative company” six years in a row. In the January issue of Golf Digest, still on the stands, some of the best and most hardheaded writers in America offer “tips Obama can take from Tiger,” who is typically characterized as so without human frailties that he “never does anything that would make him look ridiculous.”

Perhaps the most conspicuous player in the Tiger hagiography business has been a company called Accenture, one of his lustrous stable of corporate sponsors. In a hilarious Times article, Brian Stelter described the extreme efforts this outfit is now making to erase its six-year association with its prized spokesman. Alas, the many billboards with slogans like “Go On. Be a Tiger” are not so easily dismantled, and collectors’ items like “Accenture Match Play Tiger Woods Caddy Bib” are a growth commodity on eBay.

From what I can tell, Accenture is a solid company. But the Daily News columnist Mike Lupica raised a good point when I spoke with him last week: “If Tiger Woods was so important to Accenture, how come I didn’t know what Accenture did when they fired him?” According to its Web site, Accenture is “a global management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company,” but who cared about any fine print? It was Tiger, and Tiger was it, and no one was to worry about the details behind the mutually advantageous image-mongering. One would like to assume that Accenture’s failure to see or heed any warning signs about a man appearing in 83 percent of its advertising is an anomalous lapse. One would like to believe that business and government clients didn’t hire Accenture just because it had Tiger’s imprimatur. But in a culture where so many smart people have been taken so often, we can’t assume anything.

As cons go, Woods’s fraudulent image as an immaculate exemplar of superhuman steeliness is benign. His fall will damage his family, closest friends, Accenture and the golf industry much more than the rest of us. But the syndrome it epitomizes is not harmless. We keep being fooled by leaders in all sectors of American life, over and over. A decade that began with the “reality” television craze exemplified by “American Idol” and “Survivor” — both blissfully devoid of any reality whatsoever — spiraled into a wholesale flight from truth.

The most lethal example, of course, were the two illusions marketed to us on the way to Iraq — that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and some link to Al Qaeda. That history has since been rewritten by Bush alumni, Democratic politicians who supported the Iraq invasion and some of the news media that purveyed the White House fictions (especially the television press, which rarely owned up to its failure as print journalists have). It was exclusively “bad intelligence,” we’re now told, that pushed us into the fiasco. But contradictions to that “bad intelligence” were in plain sight during the run-up to the war — even sometimes in the press. Yet we wanted to suspend disbelief. Much of the country, regardless of party, didn’t want to question its leaders, no matter how obviously they were hyping any misleading shred of intelligence that could fit their predetermined march to war. It’s the same impulse that kept many from questioning how Mark McGwire’s and Barry Bonds’s outlandishly cartoonish physiques could possibly be steroid-free.

In the political realm, our bipartisan credulousness has also been on steroids in this decade, even by our national standards. Many Democrats didn’t want to see the snake-oil salesman in John Edwards, blatant as his “Two America” self-contradictions were if you cared merely to look at him on YouTube. Republicans incessantly fell for family values preacher politicians like David Vitter, John Ensign and Larry Craig. Fred Thompson was seen by many, in the press as well as his party, as the second coming of Ronald Reagan. Karl Rove was widely hailed as a mastermind who would assemble a permanent Republican majority. Bernie Kerik was considered a plausible secretary of homeland security. Eliot Spitzer was viewed as a crusader of uncompromising principle.

But these scam artists are pikers next to the financial hucksters. I’m not just talking about Bernie Madoff and Enron’s Ken Lay, but about those titans who legally created and sold the securities that gamed and then wrecked the system. You’d think after Enron’s collapse that financial leaders and government overseers would question the contents of “exotic” investments that could not be explained in plain English. But only a few years after Enron’s very public and extensively dissected crimes, the same bankers, federal regulatory agencies and securities-rating companies were giving toxic “assets” a pass. We were only too eager to go along for the lucrative ride until it crashed like Tiger’s Escalade.

After his “indefinite break” from golf, Woods will surely be back on the links once the next celebrity scandal drowns his out. But after a decade in which two true national catastrophes, a wasteful war and a near-ruinous financial collapse, were both in part byproducts of the ease with which our leaders bamboozled us, we can’t so easily move on.

This can be seen in the increasingly urgent political plight of Barack Obama. Though the American left and right don’t agree on much, they are both now coalescing around the suspicion that Obama’s brilliant presidential campaign was as hollow as Tiger’s public image — a marketing scam designed to camouflage either his covert anti-American radicalism (as the right sees it) or spineless timidity (as the left sees it). The truth may well be neither, but after a decade of being spun silly, Americans can’t be blamed for being cynical about any leader trying to sell anything. As we say goodbye to the year of Tiger Woods, it is the country, sad to say, that is left mired in a sand trap with no obvious way out.