Sunday, 25 November 2012

For Ben Linder

Ben unicycling for peace
Ben, his best friend, Jim, and I shared a house just north of the University of Washington for a year in the early 80s. I learned a lot from him and really miss him even now. Since those days (Reagan years) when anyone who cared about social issues was considered strange, I haven’t given up. Today, to be American seems to mean giving up power to corporations, who have it; before Reagan, people still were loyal to people first. I try to maintain critical social consciousness and to act positively, as Ben did, to both entertain and better society. He taught me juggling, how to cook, and introduced me to many local groups and experiences with all varieties of leftist organizations in Seattle--from on-campus anti-draft and women’s organizations to anarchists far from the ivory tower. But most of all, by his courage, he taught me that life has meaning when we hold ideals of social justice that cannot be denied.
If you don't know Ben's story, in short: he was, by building small-scale hydroelectric dams in rural Nicaragua, helping people who didn't have electricity. He was a big supporter of the socialist Sandinista government in Nicaragua (who didn't trust Ben at first, being an American). Nicaragua had been ruled by a select minority of families who owned most of the land and made peasants of the people and hadn't even tried to develop the infrastructure of the country. Yet the Reagan Administration depicted Nicaragua as a "domino" in the Cold War, and even though Congress denied funding, Reagan's henchmen (Oliver North the most famous) went ahead (see Iran-Contra Scandal). A witness who visited the University of Washington after Ben's assassination had seen Ben's name on a CIA "hit list" about the time he was killed, point-blank, after being captured by the American-backed "freedom fighters" who were actually counter-democratic thugs who sold out to the Americans or wanted the old oligarchy back. Just weeks before, Ben had filed a motion in the US against the US government for funding the war. 

Ben in Nicaragua

For Ben Linder

The northern divide sponsors landed men
with gold chains and gloved hands,

men pitched high on pasted billboards
and armed like the brunt of old ships.

Worn rubber soles slip toeing salt lines,
shoddy reserves in the bush bare cartography.

Every maimed and limb-lost feather of justice
speaks to theaters of pressure, harbors mined

to pay the northern tax of goods
to pay off what is not ours or anyone's

but the fancy barking of stiff dogs,
the interruption of ball games,

fires shot in closed offices across borders.
To be nowhere is the safest measure,

and so we juggle and appear from behind
the fine gauze of fluttering flagless drapes.

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