Saturday, July 18, 2009

McAllen, Texas !!!

we arrived in mcallen, texas, just in time to get checked in and signed up for sleeping quarters and make the rounds saying friendly hellos to our caravanista friends from previous years and fed (ample vegan options). and now it's orientation time ....

we're learning who the board of directors are and who the drivers are and which are from europe (germany and holland) and how many from canada (7) and which are the pastors and who's under 25 and who's on the caravan for the first time. the oldest caravanista is 76 and the youngest, for two years in a row, is the lovely jovanna. there's a contingent from seattle, brown berets from watsonville, and a bunch of individuals from various states across the union.

from what i can gather after a quick scan of the sign up sheets, there are two other vegans aside from gerry and i. we're movin' on up!!! and gerry and i have agreed to work different shifts in the kitchen so we can inform each other which are the really vegan choices.

we're being encouraged to think as a collective, after emerging from our various bus groups. we're gonna learn how to make decisions as a large group, how to be inclusive and respect each others' decisions, how to work together and get to know each other as we pull all the aid off the buses the next few days and re-sort and re-label it in spanish and english.

with one exception .... when we're crossing the border, challenging the usa government's starvation plan for cuba, we listen to the board of directors and the ifco staff. they're the ones threatened with the million dollar lawsuits, in and out of court on contempt charges .... so when it's time for those big important decisions, we listen and obey. we don't have to risk our own lives (if folks want to hunger strike, it's not required that everyone participate), but we do need to learn the best way to cross that border - both ways.

we're flying to cuba a day earlier than planned, so we've lost a day on the ground doing that work (which means we'll be working extra long days this weekend and monday), but we're flying early because we've been invited to attend the graduation ceremonies of cuba's latin american school of medicine. this is very exciting .... the school trains people from poor neighbourhoods all over the world. it's an inclusive and holistic methodology these folks learn, for free and with a living allowance included. the only catch is that the applicants must be otherwise unable to attend medical school (ie harvard), and they must return to their communities and serve their neighbours for a period of time (i think it's five years).

i've heard that cuba has more doctors per capita than anywhere else in the world, and they export doctors all over the planet. there were a thousand doctors ready to go, with backpacks containing medical supplies and their own food and water, after the new orleans hurricane. because they were cuban, george bush fuckhead denied them entry. he, i guess, preferred to let the blackwater goons just shoot them.

we're being reminded that the name of the organization is the interreligious foundation for community organizing, and the project is the pastors for peace caravans to cuba. there will be morning reflections, of an interfaith flavour. it's not about trying to convert people to any particular religion, we're told, it's not about converting the cubans. it's about seeing the blockade against cuba through a moral, rather than merely a political, lens. what kind of humans are we, if we continue to allow this denial of freedom (americans are denied an opportunity, by their own government, to visit cuba), if we don't speak out in protest of the imprisonment of the cuban 5 who found anti-cuban terrorists and are now serving life sentences because of it. who are we if we watch a 'war on terror' kill civilians around the globe, while anti-cuban terrorists (many miami based) run free.

one of the wives of the cuban five was recently denied a visit to her husband (who is in a usa prison because he was trying to protect his homeland from terrorist). she was told that news on the day of their anniversary. apparently the usa injustice committee pulls these sorts of pranks frequently. they hate that the cubans are creating a different world, that the hedonists lost the revolution.

back to logistics ..... there are affinity groups assigned by geographical region. this enables the process of democracy. one person will be assigned, from each group, to meet separately with the representative from the other groups. they'll take issues from caravanistas, ideas, concerns and collectively come up with solutions and bring those solutions back to the affinity groups and keep on doing that until we're all happy campers.

we're encouraged to provide our own plates, cups, bowls, and cutlery. ifco has bought their first and last stack of disposable plates (hurray!) so we're encouraged to be environmentalists and care for the earth and reduce and reuse. it turns out that about 40% of us are vegetarian/vegan (another hurray!).

there's plenty of work to do. there's security, there are kitchen shifts, there are buses to paint, recycling to organize, and there's all the aid that needs to be sorted and labelled.

they want a small media crew to organize - i suppose i'll involve myself in that again this year. it's amazing how little media we've had, though i've heard that fox ran something they taped while the caravan was in fresno, there was one newspaper that talked put a story about the cuban five on the front page, and wolf blitzer let a couple of men go at each other over the cuban five. there's been some local media, ellen spoke on a conservative radio station this morning. but where's democracy now? i wrote to them the other day ... whether they'll consider that 150 people defying the usa government on this 20th caravan to cuba in their 50th revolutionary year is newsworthy is anyone's guess. if enough people knew about cuba, realized that tax-paying citizens in the land of the free are forbidden from travelling there, i'm sure things would change rather quickly.

our work, this weekend, is in the details, and also in the big picture of what is right for the health of people and the planet.