So I hear lots of grumbling about how Occupy Wall Street has disturbed the peace of the general population, that OWS does not have a mission and they are wasting tax payer dollars by pre-occupying local police forces who could be spending their time preventing crime. I hear how OWS has caused people a number of different inconveniences. For example, traffic detours that make a person: late for work, late for getting home from work, late for meetings, late for dinner, late. Perhaps it’s also a bit annoying because all one hears on the news is…Occupy this…Occupy that…BLAH. BLAH. BLAH. Why can’t a person just watch the NO NEWS in peace, or not watch the news but do it in PEACE. PEACE. PEACE. Why is one forced to hear about corporate greed, economic injustice and those poor people? Why don’t they just get a job! Ya know! A person just wants to get home and live a peaceful life! Is that too much to ask?
And so I ruminated on these perspectives this evening as I made my way over to an event at a local college. I thought, maybe there is way in which OWS could avoid alienating people by pissing them off and include them somehow. And then I thought, well isn’t this the point, to draw attention to the movement and therefore the injustices that are occurring in this country and around the world? And then I wondered, is there a way we can create a dialogue with these people who may agree with a lot of what’s going on at OWS, and at the same time respect a persons need to get to work on time. Lots of wondering. And then I arrived at my destination.
Walking over to the Humanities building on the campus of Macalester College I thought little more about OWS or the minor inconveniences that people were complaining about. My thoughts moved toward the topic for the event this evening, The Ongoing Struggle for Land, Justice and Indigenous Rights in Guatemala, brought to the campus by the Guatemalan Human Rights Commission. I was hoping that I would get there early enough to meet and chat with the speakers. I imagined that much of the talk was going to be about the newly elected Guatemalan president and the effects his election will have on the Guatemalan citizens. I was not entirely correct.
Tonight I heard the stories about how indigenous communities in Guatemala must struggle every single day for their land and for justice. I learned of one women’s sense of solidarity with other indigenous women fighting against oppression in their country. Fighting for their basic human rights, fighting for their children and against poverty and violence, each fight a risk for their own lives. I listened as this brave 32-year old women told of her brother who has been jailed for three years because he was defending the rights of others. She told of her brother-in-law who was brutally murdered while protesting an illegal eviction from their land. He was attempting to protect the children of his community from gun fire by peacefully asking the security forces to stop the violence. He was shot in the back and beaten with machetes. She told of their homes and fields being burned to the ground. She also told of the many, many women who are brutally gang raped by security forces, all just for living on a piece of land that someone else wanted to take from them.
All these atrocities have occurred within the last 3 years, most within the the last seven months. And these accounts are not the beginning of the story, nor are they the end. All of these human rights abuses have been executed by private security forces that are hired by the MULTI-NATIONAL CORPORATIONS that come to Guatemala to extract the country’s many resources. The security forces are hired to remove indigenous peoples from their land in order to pave the way for the corporations to rape and pillage the land for their own economic gain. Their homes and fields are burned to the ground to prevent the indigenous people from trying return.
As I listened to this testimony my thoughts drifted back to what I was pondering prior to arriving to this event. The people in the streets in New York City, Boston, Washington D.C., San Francisco, Portland, Harrisonburg and Minneapolis, among others, that are blocking traffic and chanting about corporate greed, ARE chanting about the corporate greed of the very same companies that are behind these crimes against humanity. And while OWS may not be outright saying that they are fighting for the human rights of the indigenous people in Guatemala and other oppressed peoples all over the world, any thoughtful person observing Occupy Wall Street could extrapolate that this is part of the message.
As for the inconveniences that a person may experience on the way to… or on the way from where ever, I can only hope that this story has provided some perspective. I finish with an image that perhaps the ripple effect of each our actions reaches further than we could ever imagine, and that maybe our collective actions will effect a positive change. And the hope that one day the women in Guatemala may enjoy peace as well.