Following weeks of public demonstrations against corruption, bad governance and a rapidly deteriorating economy, people all across Zimbabwe heeded a call last week for a nationwide stay-away, in an act of defiance against the government.
In recent weeks, protests both within and outside the country have increased in both number and intensity. On Friday July 1, the Zimbabwe-South Africa border post, Beitbridge, was shut down and a Zimbabwe Revenue Authority warehouse set on fire, after citizens took to the streets to protest a government ban on the importation of basic goods.
On Monday July 4, public transportation drivers in Harare clashed violently with police during riots over police harassment and extortion on the roads, while in London, UK activists besieged Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa. The following day, teachers, doctors and nurses in Zimbabwe began nationwide strikes over the government’s failure to pay their salaries on time.
President Robert Mugabe’s order for Zimbabweans to “go about their normal business” on Wednesday went unheeded. Rather, the national stay-away day, galvanized by the social media movement #ThisFlag (to contest ownership of national symbols by the ruling party), marked one of the biggest and most peaceful stay-away actions since 2007.
In South Africa, a wing of demonstrators from the #tajamuka movement, called for Zimbabwean residents there to protest outside the Zimbabwean consulate. The Zimbabwean government responded by shutting down the social media networks, particularly Whatsapp, in an effort to thwart the stay-away. The Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ) further warned members of the public against sharing information or images pertaining to the stay-away, citing such materials as threatening, subversive and offensive, and stating that anyone generating or sharing such materials would be arrested. Hackers from the group Anonymous Africa retaliated by shutting down government websites and the state controlled broadcaster, the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC). In the aftermath of the stay-away, leaders of the #tajamuka movement are calling on citizens to march on the State House this coming Saturday and demand Mugabe’s resignation.
While stay-aways have been held several times since 2000, this one is markedly different on account of its non-partisanship, and its use of social media as a mechanism through which to foment and coordinate dissent: Citizens, through direct public mobilization, have deliberately articulated the need for an alternative social order; they have done so without a formal opposition political party to galvanize them; they have done so using the technological avenues available to them. Zimbabwean Twitter feeds, Whatsapp threads and Facebook walls have become spaces of electronic civil disobedience.
This digital activism is not restricted to the online environment. It has manifested in the form of collective public action. The use of social media platforms allows for the co-construction of a new type of social movement and the possibility for alternative forms of social, political and economic organization. Concrete demands have been made. Calls have gone out for the government to remove roadblocks that police officers use to demand bribes, pay civil servants on time (by the end of last week, the government had paid some of the salary arrears), take action against corrupt ministers, remove import controls (which have since been somewhat relaxed), and rescind plans to introduce “bond notes” as a means of easing the liquidity crisis in the country.
Mugabe’s government is facing serious popular resistance. Could this resistance be the basis of a national movement with real political potential? Yes, absolutely. Zimbabwe is in a new phase of politics. The public demonstrations – both organic in the form of riots and protests and organized in the form of the strike and national stay-away – point to an increasingly active and performative citizenry. Through the interface of global digital platforms and local activism, Zimbabweans are reconfiguring visibility and voice, understanding them locally, nationally and transnationally, and thereby illuminating new possibilities for alternative subjectivities and social formations.
But, there are concerns. As things stand, three separate resistance blocs are most visible; #ThisFlag, #tajamuka and Acie Lumumba’s fledgling political party, Viva Zimbabwe. A key challenge moving forward is to foster a continued coalescence of ideas, visions and plans beyond anti-Mugabe rhetoric and politics. The recent and ongoing actions in Zimbabwe point to very real forces at work, with the potential to transmute political and social arrangements within the country. Looking ahead, Zimbabweans will need to harness those actions, ideals and agendas cohesively so as not to lose momentum or face the risk of falling into obscurity – the unfortunate and all too common destination of many such movements.
And then, of course, there's science fiction. Dave Hutchinson's Europe In Autumn predicted Brexit and the fences between Hungary and Serbia etc. five years ago when no one else was even thinking such things. And one of my favourite crime novels of the last decade China Mieville's The City and the City was all about the borders of the mind and the geography of difference both real and imaginary. A sophisticated exploration of frontiers, boundaries, immigration and sovereignty.
Peace and prosperity sometimes vote for its own destruction. Those that argue loudest for abandoning sane, well-tested arrangements often do so in the belief that the whole structure is so secure that it can’t fall apart.
Forget about Brexit for a moment. Take the Austro-Hungarian Empire; in its last half-century, it was a not a bad place to be born. Its 1867 constitution ended discrimination on religious or ethnic grounds. Like the EU today, prosperity was underpinned by the free movement of people and goods, and trade and improved transport links made close neighbours of once foreign peoples. The empire then attracted refugees from poorer, less stable, less liberal states. In 1905, waves of Jewish refugees fleeing Russian pogroms swept into the Austrian Empire; the combination of the free movement of peoples within the empire and the influx of non-Christian refugees from without was incendiary for Viennese politics. The two issues became conflated. The mayor of Vienna at the time, Karl Lueger, promised the Jews of the capital city a pogrom if they ever tried fomenting revolution as they had (as he saw it) in Russia.
A big part of Lueger’s appeal – he was mayor from 1897 until his death in 1910 – was anti-Semitism. Lueger exploited the anxiety that Vienna was losing its German identity, that the newcomers were taking over. Jews were only one of a myriad of minorities within Vienna, but Lueger kept the narrative simple by blaming the Jew for everything that had gone wrong or could go wrong. Lueger’s party, the Christian Socials, advocated the repeal of civil rights for Jews, their expulsion from the capital and the seizure of their property.
There is no indication that Lueger even believed his own anti-Jewish spiel. He had Jewish friends, and was widely considered to be a tolerant and humane person. He is credited for the modernization of Vienna’s drinking water supply and transportation system, and for developing welfare and public services that benefitted the humblest of the city’s citizens.
In Lueger’s Vienna, no pogrom occurred. There was no roll-back of civil rights, no expulsions of minorities. Lueger could not have effected such a programme without overturning the constitutional order of the state, just as there is no way a President Trump could exclude Muslims from the United States without overturning the constitution of the United States. With Lueger, with Trump, it’s mostly talk.
Of course, the young Hitler was in Vienna in Lueger’s years, and he picked up on what divisive democratic politics is made of.
There is no image more eloquent of the fix the British Leavers found themselves in than the sight of Boris Johnson, in the moment of victory, tongue-tied for the first time in his life and scurrying away from the media. Is this what victory looks like? It looked more like a disaster. The Leavers had been supposed to lose narrowly, then to make capital out of being gallant patriotic losers. The ingredient that everybody underestimated was the degree of anxiety about immigration.
Whenever a Trump, a Farage or a Lueger appears, the explanation from the Left is that the success of racist and illiberal rhetoric is due to the failure of politics to serve the most disadvantaged. There is talk about the decay of old industries, economic insecurity, the alienation of people from politics by the so-called elites. The idea is that it is the role of politics to give, and that the voter is rightly aggrieved at having not been given enough, that the victims of the political order are rightly angry. It’s a simple narrative, but one that fits nicely with that of the Trumps and Farages and Luegers, who operate by validating anger and a sense of victimhood, by urging the public to scratch their sense of grievance raw. The question is why the victim narrative is so strong in a period of unprecedented prosperity – whatever the unhappiness of the British working public, it is not sufficient to push them to seek employment in Bucharest or Warsaw.
Once the Jews were to blame, pretty much everywhere, for pretty much everything. The politicians told you that you were right to be angry with them. Now that they have been exterminated in their millions, new, suitably-vague transnational enemies are required. Muslims will do for Donald Trump. Anywhere in the European Union, you can blame the EU itself. Or – as Nigel Farage demonstrated with his poster of Syrian refugees lining up by the Slovenian border – you can blame an EU that admits Muslims.
The best in Britain – those who know the EU is a good thing – lack all conviction. Even they make it sound like the EU is a problem that Britain needs to solve. The nationalistic victim narrative has been allowed to win.
Karl Lueger, for all his talk of expulsions and pogroms and expropriation, probably never imagined the constitutional order he operated in utterly collapsing and being replaced with a dictatorship. He surely never envisaged his Jewish friends and neighbours being sent to extermination camps. He didn’t dream of the starvation of millions of prisoners of war, of the reintroduction of slavery, of the scale of political terrorism employed by Hitler and Stalin, of a war that reduced cities to rubble and to the brink of famine. He couldn’t, because he was the product of an enlightened, optimistic political culture. But this is what happened, and in 1945, when the continent of Europe stopped fighting, the eastern half of the continent remained in the grip of totalitarianism.
This is the origin of the EU. It was created in view of what has happened before in Europe and with the intent to stop it happening again. And it is extraordinary that few will stand up in Britain and say that it is a great and bold and beautiful idea – and that, more than that, it has been extraordinarily successful. Above all, it has fulfilled its vocation in absorbing the ex-Communist states of Eastern Europe.
I am writing these words in Bucharest, Romania. Without the support of the EU – yes, its bureaucrats and its money – this country would have gone the way of Putin’s Russia or Egypt after the Arab Spring. There was no material or institutional basis for democracy to succeed here, and it is due to the EU that it is succeeding. Even the ex-Yugoslav space, ripped apart by war and genocide, has the potential to reintegrate itself, with some of the ex-Yugoslav states already members, others such as Serbia looking to join. The conflict in Northern Ireland, once considered as intractable as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, has in large part been resolved by the EU, by the idea of borders being permeable and less defining.
If there is anything the recent Chilcot report demonstrates about Tony Blair, it is not the criminality of his actions in going to war against Iraq, but the utter mediocrity of his vision. A message to George Bush on the 26 of March reads: ‘So our fundamental goal is to spread our values of freedom, democracy and tolerance and the rule of law.’ It may be Britain’s imperial past that led Blair to execute this mission in the Middle East, but the fact is that this was what the EU was quietly and successfully accomplishing in Eastern Europe during those very years, and yet this received relatively little attention. It seems strange that Blair’s sense of historical mission was born from a spectacular attack on New York, while the example of the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo produced no such epiphany about the importance of the European Union. Kosovo, where a million people – half the population of the province – became refugees in 1999. Bosnia, where at Srebrenica in 1995 over 8,000 men and boys were murdered, in a massacre reminiscent of WWII. The victims were European Muslims.
The problem, for Britain, is amnesia. It is the sleepiness of wealth and safety and stability. Perhaps Britain is now waking up. But there is also the possibility that ground has been conceded, intellectually, and that it will be hard to make it up again. The institutions that underpin safety and affluence are only as real as we believe them to be. We talked them into being, and we can talk them in the other direction too. One politician can talk about a pogrom, the expulsion of foreigners, the supremacy that must be accorded to the native, and not really mean it. But such ideas are powerful political currency. They become vivid enough in the popular mind, like a fantasy, and beg to be taken further.
One of the most chilling sequences in Mihail Sebastian’s 1934 novel, For Two Thousand Years, describes a conversation between the narrator, a young man who happens to be Jewish, and a man called Vieru. They are both Romanians, intellectuals, and good friends. Vieru asks the narrator why he no longer comes into town – the town being Bucharest. The narrator responds that he is weary of the tense, poisonous mood, with an apostle at every street corner, calling for the extermination of the Jews:
He didn’t reply. He reflected for a moment, hesitating, a little embarrassed, as though he wished to change the subject. Then, probably after private deliberation, he addressed me in that determined manner people have when they want to get something off their chests.
‘You’re right. Yet there is a Jewish problem, and it needs to be solved. One million eight hundred thousand Jews is intolerable. If it was up to me, I’d try to eliminate several hundred thousand.’
I was startled. I think I failed to hide my surprise. The one person I had believed utterly incapable of anti-Semitism was he . . .
There is another detail worth noting in this exchange – part of a much longer discussion – and that is Vieru’s assertion that there are one million eight hundred thousand Jews in Romania. There were never even half that number of Jews in Romania. The numbers were regularly inflated by the anti-Semitic agitators in order to create the impression that the country was being invaded by immigrants. The interwar politics of Romania was crippled by the obsession that the presence of foreigners was a fundamental problem, just as Lueger made it the fundamental issue of Viennese politics.
Romania did descend into fascism, the Jews were eliminated within a few years of this conversation being registered. And the Vierus, afterwards, if they ever said anything, insisted that that really wasn’t what they had meant by ‘elimination’. But we have such words, in black and white, in the speeches of Karl Lueger and in the conversations recorded by Mihail Sebastian and we have enough perspective on events for them to shock us awake.
Now Britain has made the control of borders and the free movement of people its central obsession, its fundamental national anxiety. This is how democratic politics decays. This is the moment the demagogues are granted centre stage.
Michael Cimino’s last feature, “The Sunchaser,” was released in 1996, twenty years before his death, on July 2nd, at the age of seventy-seven. His first film, “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot,” came out in 1974. In the seven features made during his all-too-brief directorial career, a certain kind of male character recurs. The Cimino Man is strong-willed and ruthless in his quest for power, which he puts in the service of those who don’t have power and are the victims of the powerful. He’s not Superman—not invulnerable, and not endowed with anything but some natural talent, some audacity, and some practical intelligence—but he’s fiercely principled, and his devotion to his principles lends him an extra measure of efficacy. This man even manages to help—sort of—but his actions, for all their good intentions, result in a trail of tears, of corpses, and of physical and emotional wreckage that will burden him for the rest of his life.
The Screenwriter of “E.T.” and “The BFG” Says Goodbye
“The Shallows” Sticks All Too Close to the Surface
The Muhammad Ali Documentary That Gets to the Existential Heart of Boxing
“At eighty-seven years old, I am the world’s oldest mime,” Richmond Shepard says. A New York native, Shepard studied under the mime legend Etienne Decroux and alongside Marcel Marceau in Paris in the nineteen-fifties. He went on to be featured in countless national commercials, and made appearances on daytime talk shows and television programs such as “The Jeffersons” and “Kojak.” Nowadays, Shepard says, a mime is often considered just “a pest on the street, making a wall and asking for money.” But this short film by Riley Hooper and Noah Wagner, which follows Shepard through the New York City subway and streets, explores the fleeting connections and subtle interactions that the art of miming can still inspire. “A lot of communication can happen in silence,” Shepard says. “But you have to listen.”
It’s the End of the U.F.C. As We Know It
Police Shootings, Race, and the Fear Defense
Anyone who has recently spent time in a public space—traversing the aisle of an airplane, say, lurching toward your seat adjacent to the toilet, trying to shift your backpack without thwapping a fellow traveller on the forehead—has likely noticed the sudden and extraordinary ubiquity of headphones. “Do people really like music this much?” I have wondered, incredulously, while tallying endless white earplugs. The outside world, once a shared auditory environment, has been effectively fractured. We now lilt about in our own bubbles of self-programmed sound.
What Ever Happened to the Couch Potato?
A Long-Ago Interview with Dave Van Ronk About the Blues
Why Record Stores Mattered
The Internet Archive has been making print materials more accessible to the blind and print disabled for years, but now with Canada’s joining the Marrakesh Treaty, our sister organization, the Internet Archive Canada might be able to serve people in many more countries.
In 2010, we launched the Open Library Accessible Books collection, which now contains nearly 2 million books in accessible formats. Our sister organization, Internet Archive Canada, has also been working on accessibility projects, and has digitized more than 8500 texts in partnership with the Accessible Content E-Portal, which is on track to have over 10,000 items available in accessible formats by the end of the month.
On June 30th, Canada tipped the scales towards broader access to books for all by joining the Marrakesh Treaty. This move will allow the Treaty to go into effect on September 30, 2016 in the nations where it has been ratified, so that print-disabled and visually impaired people can more fully and actively participate in global society.
The goal of the Marrakesh Treaty is to help to end the “book famine” faced by people who are blind, visually impaired, or otherwise print disabled. Currently only 1% to 7% of the world’s published books ever become available in accessible formats. This is partly due to barriers to access created by copyright laws–something the Treaty helps to remove.
The Marrakesh Treaty removes barriers in two ways. First, it requires ratifying nations to have an exception in their domestic copyright laws for the blind, visually impaired, and their organizations to make books and other print resources available in accessible formats, such as Braille, large print, or audio versions, without needing permission from the copyright holder. Second, the Treaty allows for the exchange of accessible versions of books and other copyrighted works across borders, again without copyright holder permission. This will help to avoid the duplication of efforts across different countries, and will allow those with larger collections of accessible books to share them with visually impaired people in countries with fewer resources.
The first 20 countries to ratify or accede to the Marrakesh Treaty were: India, El Salvador, United Arab Emirates, Mali, Uruguay, Paraguay, Singapore, Argentina, Mexico, Mongolia, Republic of Korea, Australia, Brazil, Peru, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Israel, Chile, Ecuador, Guatemala and Canada. People in these countries will soon start realizing the tangible benefits of providing access to knowledge to those who have historically been left out.
To date this material has only been available to students and scholars within Ontario’s university system. The Marrakesh Treaty now makes it possible for these works to be shared more broadly within Canada, and with the other countries listed above. Hopefully the rest of the world will take note, and join forces to provide universal access to all knowledge.
The last time that Saul Williams and Black Spirituals shared a stage, the global ride-hailing corporation Uber had just announced it would expand its headquarters to Oakland—San Francisco’s relatively down-market, but doggedly resilient and resistant neighbor across the water. Decades of uneven development had made Oakland a site of both economic suffering and social refuge for many people of color, migrants, and other marginalized groups. Now, the announcement seemed to script the city’s next chapter as a leading location for the growth of the region’s high-technology (and high-inequality) economy and workforce. This narrative of rebirth had been penned years ago. But the news about Uber arrived like a cold breeze off the water from the west. The city—like any city, never of one mind—groaned and cheered all at once.
For many, the news sent anxieties about accelerating displacement into overdrive, calling forth the specter of “uber-gentrification.” After all, the developer behind the deal wasted no time snapping up three “underutilized” parcels in the area (read: beauty supply store, burger stand), promising to make them proper with market-rate housing (which would cost the typical household 70 percent of its income). Furthermore, the tech sector had been excoriated of late for under-hiring Blacks and Latinos relative to their rates of education in computer science and participation in the national workforce (let alone their residence in Oakland). This controversy came to signal a skirmish within a broader war, unfolding across the region, over the social and spatial positionality of precisely who is entitled to design, engineer, manufacture, hustle, pray, conjure, code, write urban futurity.
Williams and Black Spirituals reconvened on June 2nd—this time with local poet, actress, and playwright Chinaka Hodge—for the opening night of the Bay Area Book Festival in neighboring Berkeley. Titled “Poetry as Design,” the performance promised to collapse the binaries seemingly hard-wired into the logic and narrative of “uber-gentrification” as the progressive conquest of science over art, technology over soul and innovation over old.Image Credit: Benjamin Michel (KQED Arts)
Each of these artists, noted Zoé Samudzi—a curator with the Matatu Festival of Stories, which organized the event—was united by a common drive to undermine and manipulate dominant languages in order to unleash meaningful difference. It is this formative quality of language—the fact that, whether textual, musical or corporeal, it underlies and directs everything from ride-hailing apps to poetry to the raced, classed and gendered notions of the “good city” that drive inequitable development in Oakland—that gives art a politics, that makes poetry, potentially, an act of design. If language informs actions, enabling some, disabling others, then we must always ask: Which languages, whose languages, script the sensible?
Over the course of a 40-minute sonic ceremony, Black Spirituals, composed of percussionist Marshall Trammell and electronic multi-instrumentalist Zachary Watkins, gave new meaning to the notion of technological “wizardry.” Methodically gathering fields of noise from Trammell’s precise but evolving drum patterns and Watkins’s space-clearing synthetic drones, the duo conjured what amounted to an awe-inspiring electrical storm (creative destruction, Samudzi called it). Their elements—one hard and punctual, the other open and spacious—met and complemented each other like the earth and the heavens. When after 15 minutes the drums fell silent, dissolving the musical container, the distant reverb of the synthesizers, ceaselessly recirculating, rushed into the void like wind through a cavern; as if by synesthesia, Black Spirituals crafted an ethereal landscape of sound.Image Credit: Benjamin Michel (KQED Arts)
Next, Hodge piloted the audience back to earth with poems contoured by the pleasures and pains of places she and her family have made home: West Oakland (before and after gentrification), Brooklyn (after Biggie), Kankakee, Illinois (known for its three K’s…). Her work is ever attentive to urban geography as both place and narratives about place, each heavily contested, each informing the other. “I’m from West Oakland,” she stated. “We get a bad rap…And as we get a bad rap, we’re being replaced, as if our bodies never mattered, as if our stories never mattered.”
In response, she read two pieces from Dated Emcees (2016), her first published book of poems that narrate the neighborhood through its long-term residents. In “crude portraits of the Lower Bottoms,” she told of a beauty store where women decorate and deaden themselves “like pressed flowers,” rendering them pretty, but “easy to move.” “what about the live rose with thorns / what about the dangerous beauties / americans never picked?,” she pondered. How might such bodies resist being contained or culled?
Finally, Williams took to the stage accompanied by Black Spirituals. In their second ever collaboration, he surfed through pages of poetry, serving up whole pieces without reading their names, or spitting choice lines, before going off-script in an improvisatory dialogue with Trammell and Watkins—truly a free style. For Williams, who regularly remixes the vocabulary of our digital age, this kind of poetic praxis is a powerful means to “override your history.”Image Credit: Jessica Jones (KQED Arts)
“Dismantle definition dogma and duty,” he urged in “Coltan as Cotton.” “Hack into masculinity/femininity sexuality. What is taught? What is felt? What is learned? What is shared? Hack into God. Stories of creation: serpents and eggs.”
Throughout the performance, Williams posed a paradox, one familiar to the poet and the freedom fighter alike: How can one make anything new—make the “past die,” as he put it—while operating within codes inscribed before our time? And with this he issued a warning: The techno-utopianism typical of the Bay Area runs the risk of importing the systemic viruses of the past into the future social order. “It may have already,” he noted. “What does Uber pay its drivers?”
For that reason, Williams re-centered the audience on the importance of poetry as design, on divining ways of coordinating collective action that don’t depend on corporate-owned mobile apps or even things as basic as the Christian calendar (“I think the Church was the first start-up,” he mused). So what might a liberatory technology look like, a futurism of freedom?
“Got me thinking that maybe the past tense of ‘dream’ is ‘drum,’” he flowed during his freestyle. Or maybe “future conditional,” he corrected, after a beat.
It’s twilight, and we are deep in the jungle. Before us, there is a clearing, with a primitive shelter made of bamboo and leaves. A nude man, covered in tattoos, lies in repose, facing away from camera. A naked woman is seated beside him, and tends a small fire. Both are covered in dirt and bug bites, and appear ragged and hungry. The woman gazes into the rising smoke.
Loneliness Belongs to the Photographer
Soaking Up New York City’s Pools and Beaches
Seventy-Five Years of Cycling
The space of adultery is a space of artifice. When the space of "pure adultery" is closed of, the film settles into a less extravagant, but still not at all "normal" audiovisual register. The rest of the film isn't set inside the space of adultery, but always in its vicinity. Or maybe rather: it's all about the discursivation of adultery. At times more of an intellectual game than a psychologically grounded fiction film, The Kiss Before the Mirror proposes: There's a script for adultery, and there's a script for jealousy. Because the second one ends with murder, it has to be changed, through judicial negotiations, and through the bodily eruptions of the great Frank Morgan. And then there's a wonderfully sardonic Jean Dixon, as a lesbian lawyer, suggesting the possibility of life outside the script.
It’s difficult to think of a harder film to sell than Jacques Rivette’s Out 1: Noli Me Tangere (1971). Over 12 hours long and devoid of an easily describable plot, Out 1 has spent nearly half a century as an elusive object, glimpsed only at the odd film festival, late-night European TV broadcast or film […]
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