Against intervention in Syria by a friend in Lebanon

by Zayd Sifri

Temple of Jupiter in Baalbek

Temple of Jupiter in Baalbek

I visited Lebanon for the first time more than ten years ago. The wounds of the civil war were much more visible to a visitor than they are today. In Beirut, bullet holes of varying sizes and shapes arranged randomly on the exterior of countless buildings told the story of a city that was half-pummeled into the earth during vicious battles. Now Lebanon’s neighbor Syria has fallen to a similar fate. Looking at the situation from Beirut, the hope is that new strikes do not cause Syria to fall even harder and pull Lebanon to its knees in the process.

Most of those bullet-holes in the central parts of Beirut have been cosmetically removed for the sake of promoting tourism but, if you look carefully, you can still see buildings that are covered by them. Decades of instability have been chiseled into the concrete by various factions and militias, each one backed by an external power. Lebanon is the land of proxy war. Its internal politics and conditions are heavily influenced by regional and global trends. The current war in its biggest neighbor, Syria, has not been an exception to the rule. If there is an American military strike, it will not only exacerbate violence in Syria but will also have negative consequences on the health and safety of Lebanon.

While speculation has circled around whether or not a strike will result in a wider regional conflict, there is near certainty that a strike will be harmful in Lebanon. The Syrian humanitarian and refugee crisis will undoubtedly worsen after a military strike. The fallout in Lebanon has been tremendous thus far with tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of Syrians seeking refuge across the border. Lebanon’s infrastructure is ill-equipped for dealing with this human catastrophe. The Palestinian refugee camps and pre-existing informal settlements (shanty towns), which are already the most delicate and impoverished parts of the country, are now housing much of the population that has come across the border from Syria. In the past week, thousands more have already began fleeing Damascus in fear of a new military strike. Unlike in Jordan and Turkey, there are no refugee camps for Syrians in Lebanon because of decisions taken by political factions. Civil society, NGOs, and others have been doing their best to respond to the crisis, but frequently those who do not have the private means for dealing with the conditions suffer the most.

Before any news of a chemical weapons attack in Syria, August was a precarious month for Lebanon that saw an escalation in violence and tension between the main rival factions. In Beirut, a neighborhood controlled by Shia party Hezbollah was hit by a car bomb. The next week, in the northern capital Tripoli, a car bomb ripped through two Sunni mosques on a Friday. The Sunni-Shia rivalry has been defining the political landscape in Lebanon for some time. Tensions are increasing even further as both groups have allies that are fighting on opposite sides in Syria. Most Lebanese Sunni groups back some form of the opposition to the Assad regime and Shia Hezbollah supports its ally the Syrian state and Bashar Assad. In the case of a military strike, people in Lebanon will brace themselves for the possibility of fighting between Shia and Sunni groups that could evolve into an all-out war engulfing the country.

It is certain that Lebanon’s political situation will further destabilize as a result of strikes on Syria. The only question is how much it will destabilize. Will car bombings periodically occur or will all-out war flood the streets again, as it did during the brutal Lebanese civil war?

Speaking recently on the possibility of striking Syria, Susan Rice has said that the current administration does not “assess that limited military strikes will unleash a spiral of unintended escalatory reactions in the region.” In a region that’s been plagued by war for decades, this “assessment” is at best a crap-shot, but no one on this side of the Mediterranean is surprised to see politicians gambling with the lives of millions of people. Decades of unending foreign interference and the consequences of violence have hardened people’s hearts when it comes to understanding day-to-day harshness. In spite of these circumstances, optimists continue to exist and opt for the long-term perspective. Bullet-riddled buildings are made of concrete and with time they crumble. Eventually they become ruins–like the Roman temples in Baalbek today–and will mark a period among many in a long history.

American voices against war in Syria are being heard in the mainstream and people in Lebanon and elsewhere have not given up hope that there will not be military action. The recent Russian proposal to disarm Syria of its chemical weapons has been met with some acceptance in both Washington and Damascus. This diplomatic maneuver should viewed with critical eyes, but at the moment this surprise move augurs well for those who want to generate momentum against military intervention in Syria.

Zayd Sifri is a WRL supporter based in Beirut, Lebanon. In New York City, he has been involved in the Occupy Wall Street Global Justice Working Group, Turath: Arab Students Organization at Columbia University and Students for Justice in Palestine.

Aging Behind Bars

[Originally published on June 6th, 2013 on]


The End of Passive Revolution in Brazil



[originally published on June 22nd, 2013 in La Jornada.]

by Massimo Modonesi and translated from Spanish by Linda Quiquivix

The Brazilian experience over the last 10 years under its progressive governments (of first Lula and now Dilma) has been characterized by what Gramsci called “passive revolution:” a modernization process driven from the top, which only partially incorporates the demands of those from below, and is thus able to ensure their passivity and their silence. But not their complicity.

From this apparently contradictory formula we can understand how Brazil built an edifice that was precariously balanced but surprisingly effective and, moreover, durable. Always following the insights of Gramsci, it relied on a progressive “Caesarism” (the presence of a charismatic figure who catalyzed and channeled the tensions and embodied welfare paternalism) and “transformismo” (the displacement of popular movement leaders by incorporating them into conservative positions within state institutions).

Thus, what is striking about the country’s recent history is not today’s sudden eruption of protest, but of its absence in previous years. In fact, Brazil’s leaders have received impressive praise for the country’s high economic growth, its inclusive social policies, and the emergence of an impressive middle class consumership. Brazil has been envied and widely admired for a governance model of social and political control based on welfare programs and the mediation of a party – the Workers Party (PT) – and union – Unified Workers’ Central (CUT) – with massive hold, guaranteeing minimal costs in terms of repression and the criminalization of protest. Those resisting this Lulista hegemony existed and exist as fronts both from the right and from the left, but were contained and were relatively marginalized. This included the Landless Peoples’ Movement (MST), which maintained a cautious attitude of retreat with the exception of some major, but isolated conflicts (such as university strikes and indigenous struggles in defense of territory).

The protests of recent days, then, are inevitably something that was to emerge in the fissures or in the very exhaustion of this passive revolution process. Fissures are mismatches that generate inequalities that continue marking Brazilian society: those gaps that separate social classes in a context of capitalist modernization which, while the size of the pie increases and the slices that are distributed grow, they are ones that accumulate wealth and generate political and social powers that take over productive circuits in public institutions and ideological apparatuses. The governments of the Workers’ Party (PT) held a paradox: they generated oligarchization processes instead of democratizing wealth and opening up spaces for participation – spaces that in the past had themselves served to make this party arise and win elections. The exhaustion of this process is related to physiological wear after 10 years, but above all, it is related to the loss of progressive impulses and the increasingly conservative characteristics of Lula’s social and political coalition, which similarly sustain Dilma’s government today.

It is also not surprising that the protests take diffused forms and are led principally by youth labeled as middle class. The current shape of Brazil’s popular classes includes this youth sector, which has emerged amid the relative social mobility in the past decade – from poverty to higher levels of consumption and education – but were not removed from their placement in the field of working-class (whether blue- or white-collar) which they were born into and on which Brazil’s growth patterns inevitably depend. The protests’ diffuse forms correspond just as much to the rejection of the parties and unions as to a budding construction of new political cultures, in particular those of the so-called indignados (the indignants). These political cultures bring together a number of identities, claims, and diverse forms of struggle that have yet to fully define themselves, but continue to manifest themselves worldwide through a dispersed but recurrent and forceful manner.

With these protests, we are witnessing the end of Brazil’s passive revolution. They have lifted the veil and have shown the contradictory reality and misery hidden behind the myth of the Brazilian miracle, which had functioned decades ago and reappeared in recent years. Moreover, the passivity on which the Lulista hegemony stood now unravels in the streets. People might go back home, the streets might return their calm, and polls might show consensus on the PT model. But the visibility reached once the tear gas began to dissipate is extraordinarily revealing, and will remain etched in the memory of a generation.

Tipping Towards Iraq’s Squares: An Interview with Falah Alwan

[Originally published on January 22nd, 2013 on Jadaliyya.]

by Ali Issa


Iraqis in the Northern province of Salah al Deen on 11 January 2013 holding a banner that reads “No to Sectarianism…exclusion, marginalization and the politicization of the judiciary.” Image from the “Great Iraqi Revolution” Facebook page.

 The Iraqi state releasing 335 detainees this past week? Prime Minster Nouri al-Maliki bussing in a few hundred paid “supporters” to rally? What gives? Signs point to the wave of mass anti-government protests mostly centered around the provinces al-Anbar, Niniweh, and Salah al-Deen, shaking Iraq since 21 December 2012. These evolving mobilizations have sometimes brought out numbers approaching hundreds of thousands (as in Mosul’s Ahrar Square) and led to the blocking of a major Iraq-Jordan-Syria Highway. Some have also claimed the recent mobilizations as an “Iraqi Spring.” By 7 January 2013, Iraqi security and pro-government thugs began physical attacks against protesters. The demands—ever a contentious issue given the many layers of influence in Iraq—have focused on releasing Iraq’s detained—namely women— the casual use of the death penalty, and the closely related issue of “combating sectarianism,” which lies at the heart of Iraq’s many social and political crises. In a complex interplay, much of civil society and the (sectarian) political elite have struggled over the meaning of these protests. Even interpreting the word “equality” very differently—especially as these calls have come from areas of Iraq traditionally associated with Sunni populations. Though garnering more media than the mass protests of say early-to-mid-2011, according to blogger Reider Visser, “International media are attracted to these protests precisely because they fit in a sectarian narrative about a simplistic Sunni-Shi’a battle over Iraq.” How “sectarian” are these protests exactly, and what might be their potential beyond that narrow frame? To get a firmer understanding of the moment’s dynamics, Ali Issa talked to Baghdad-based Falah Alwan, President of the Federation of Workers Councils and Unions in Iraq (FWCUI), about what brought this about and where it all may be going. The interview was originally conducted in Arabic.

Ali Issa (AI): What happened recently in Iraq to trigger mass mobilizations seeing as how the street has been very quiet the past several months?

Falah Alwan (FA): The protests that many Iraqi cities are witnessing now are not actually in reaction to a passing event. That is to say they are not the direct result of some government action. The street that your question describes as “quiet” is actually silent only as a result of repression, especially after the protests of February 2011 when the authorities revealed their violence openly—using the army to clamp down on nonviolent protests and firing live ammunition at peaceful protestors. It may be that a particular event triggered what is happening now, but the content of the protests now goes well beyond the Prime Minister vs. the Finance Minister. You have [surely] noticed the development of the slogans people are raising. So while the “event” was the arrest of the finance minister’s security guards, the protestors demanded the end of “Article 4: Terrorism”, which is a law that authorities have used as an instrument to repress any dissent. They have also used it against all strikes and nonviolent sit-ins that workers demanding their rights have organized for years—especially the protests of the Basra oil workers in 2006-2007. Protesters are also now demanding the end of sectarianism or sectarian discrimination, while others ask for work opportunities and a remedy to unemployment.

AI: What is the situation of prisoners in Iraq now, especially women prisoners? Are there reliable numbers?

FA: With regards to women prisoners we [at FWCUI] used to receive field reports from a team at the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq that visited women’s prisons, and they would report numbers of rape cases and other violations. The consolidation of government control post-2009, and especially in the aftermath the 2011 protests, have made these visits extremely difficult. Also, political, civil society, and feminist groups are absolutely banned from visiting the prisons that hold people for political reasons, under accusations of “terrorism.” As for numbers, according to government institutions, there are one thousand women detained, with four thousand arrested and under interrogation. Other media, however, put the numbers at the tens of thousands.

AI: If elite political and sectarian forces inside and around the regime have played a role in the recent protests, how has the street gone beyond those designs? In your opinion what is the biggest challenge to the movement spreading to the rest of Iraq?

FA: It is possible for any individual to project their judgments and understandings on any phenomenon, but this does not change the core of the issue. In addition, a situation may remain “quiet” for decades but continue to hold within it the elements of an explosion that can be triggered by any event. Looking at the objective basis, it is these elements that shifted the scenario. Tunisia remained under Ben Ali’s repressive regime for decades without us seeing the “elements” of a revolution. The suicide of Mohamed Bouazizi sparked events that led to the revolution that overtook all of Tunisia, then Egypt, then the Middle East and even beyond.

Not looking at Iraq as a chain of events, but rather seeking the roots, they lie in a political system and the division of a society based on what they call Shi’a, Sunni, Kurdish, Turkmen, and Christian “component parts.” The government then says that it does not discriminate between one part or another, and that “Iraq is one.” Then politicians wrestle over dividing the ministries between political blocs based on ethnicity, each in a team that hates the other, uniting only in their animosity towards Iraqi society. The centralization of power in Shi’a Islamic parties, the spread of corruption in the government institutions were set up, and the inability of the authorities to create a broad political frame that can contain the whole society has all lead to a general societal disgust, which the people have expressed through a series of protests and sit-ins across Iraq, that preceded the moment we are living now.    

All this led to discrimination against large sections of Iraq in the form of policies and actions like arrests, accusing any opposition group of having affiliation with al-Qaeda or the Ba’ath, etc. These then are the bases that today’s movement launched from. On one hand, this movement is expressing in a direct and practical way that the sectarian regime cannot lead society under any circumstance. On the other, the areas or provinces that were accused [by the authorities] of sectarianism or [links with] al-Qaeda and the like are now raising slogans that directly threaten the sectarian structure. This is because the regime actually relies on sectarian claims so it may then reproduce itself by “counteracting” a sectarian or Saddamist banner.

These regions have broadcast their opposition to sectarianism and put forward broad slogans—some of which are democratic and civil. As this grows it will seriously strike the ethnic discourse of the central government—which I believe will begin to identify itself on another basis in order to sustain its efforts.

The Maliki government victory over the people in February 2011, and then settling scores with its political opponents resulted in a narrow, top-down regime that only became more and more insular. The present wave may put an end to this tyranny if social forces can develop through it.

AI: How do the protesting forces attempt to go beyond sectarianism?

FA:  From the first days, slogans were demanding unity and a rejection of sectarianism and division. Coming about instinctually and organically—calling for brotherhood between Shi’a and Sunni, Arabs and Kurds . . . [but that is] as if “unity” were a coming together of Shi’a and Sunni. “Unity” is a positive slogan, no doubt, but raising it in this way, I believe, will again reproduce sectarian political tendencies. I feel that putting out a societal understanding of “unity” based on an objective class analysis is a serious political goal that falls on the shoulders of political groups that have a clear understanding of Iraqi society.   

AI: What is the relationship between these protests and the labor movement or the political formations that emerged after 25 February 2011—what some call Iraq’s forgotten uprising?

FA: I already talked about the relationship to 25 February. Now labor, across Iraq—while acknowledging the lack of deep-rooted institutions—has tools of struggle at its disposal. We are talking about a social class that is at the center of events, even if they are not participating clearly and directly as the working class, since the political situation and sectarian divisions deeply paralyze the organizing abilities of workers. In the end the strengthening of any mass democratic movement will improve the climate for direct workers’ struggle. 

AI: In your opinion, what could truly make this a turning point in Iraqi political life?

FA: This moment could be a crossroads for more than one possibility—all is open now. First, it is possible that these protests could transform into a broad social revolution that changes the political system and builds another. And a new socio-political model could develop, one that opposes the model imposed on, and advertised for, in the region. The development of the present movement could refresh the revolution in the region as a whole and will not be apart from it—especially if it spreads through progressive forces to the Southern and Kurdish regions.

Another possibility is the continuing stubbornness of the government, its success in strengthening sectarianism, and the eventual deterioration to armed struggle and widespread unrest. This may be similar to what took place in Syria as well as in Iraq during 2006 and 2007, now with the lack of a US presence. The regressive forces that risk losing their seats—should this movement grow—could push society in that direction. They could even attempt to divide the whole of Iraq officially.

The third possibility is that the protests remain concentrated in the West and North while the regime’s forces remain elsewhere. Then there might be a truce between some of the forces involved in the protests and the authorities, with a gradual shrinking of the movement.

All of these are possible. Though what has been realized now is that the regime is facing a broad mass of people that publicly reject its policies and boldly raise banners stating so. In other words, the people have intervened in a sphere that the authorities want to monopolize. 


U.S. Tear Gas Still on the Streets of Egypt: Honoring Asma Mohammed

Text by Judith Pasternak – translated into Arabic by Ali Issa.

Earlier last week, Egyptians poured out onto the streets across Egypt to protest President Morsi’s dictatorial decree overriding the power of the courts, attempting to keep a heavily Muslim Brotherhood-influenced constitutional assembly in tact, and granting himself seemingly unchecked authority over the nation. This past Friday, pro-democracy protestors poured into Egypt’s streets and pack its many squares again to counter Morsi and his attempts to quickly push through a controversial constitution in spite of popular outcry over his seizure of ultimate control over the Egyptian government.

U.S.-made tear gas has continued to rain down on protesters in Egypt calling for Morsi to reverse his decision as well as on those who filled Mohamed Mahmoud Street to call for justice and accountability for those who were gassed, beaten and murdered there exactly one year ago. Much of the tear gas — then and now — was made in Jamestown, Pa., by Combined Systems Incorporated, the same manufacturer whose seven-ton shipment, approved by U.S. government, was refused on November 27, 2011 by Asma Mohammed and her fellow customs workers at the Port of Adabiya in Suez.

The War Resisters League has awarded Asma Mohammed its 2012 Peace Award, given in the past to activists including Bayard Rustin, Bob Moses and Jeanette Rankin. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at the first WRL Peace Award event in 1958.

Mohammed’s refusal of the tear gas shipment from the Port of Wilmington, N.C., came following the unprecedented deployment of thick walls of tear gas against protesters near Tahrir Square during the “battle of Mohamed Mahmoud.” The “battle” on this street near Tahrir, began on Friday, November 18, 2011 and lasted for eight days. During this time, Egyptian riot police killed tens of young men, most of them poor and working class—some estimates of the death toll are as high as 50. Hundreds of thousands of people remained in the square during this time, and volunteers at the makeshift field hospitals in Tahrir for the injured noted that some of the bodies that returned were completely black from the gas, as if they had been burned.

In addition, though Tahrir was a relatively “safe” place during the attacks on people at Mohamed Mahmoud, a new kind of chemical agent was used against people in the square on at least one day in particular. On the spent canisters, protesters read the term “CR,” different from the “CS” gas they normally saw. CR gas was said to cause violent convulsions, unconsciousness, and seizures—something they had never before experienced. It was enough to spark a new macabre and biting chant among the revolutionaries: “asha’ab yureed al-ghaz al-adeem!” (“The people want the return of the old gas!”)

Asma Mohammed, whose act of resistance to tear gas and to US support for the regime led to the formation of the General Independent Union of Port Workers, recalls: “I said ‘No, I refuse — because I don’t want to be the cause of someone’s pain or death.’ So in solidarity with me, or with the cause, my co-workers said ‘No, we’re not going to work on it either.’”

Asma Mohammed and her counterparts in the independent Egyptian labor movement, a key force in the unfolding revolution, have been present in the streets of Egypt over this past week. The protests continue while the tear gas, beatings and repression remain the norm under Morsi’s civilian government, as it was under the Supreme Council of Armed Forces’ military junta. On Tuesday, the Egyptian “Popular Alliance Party” member Fathy Ghareeb died of asphyxiation as a result of tear gas fired in Tahrir Square.

As Morsi tries to justify his takeover with the promise for justice for those killed by government forces on streets including Mohammed Mahmoud, Asma Mohammed recognizes that only the people of Egypt can protect the revolution and calls on the people of the U.S. to join her: “The Arab people now want to be the decision makers. Just as the American people should be the decision makers and affect their government in the decisions it makes. We also want our rulers to know that we are the ones that are going to influence things. And they’re not going to understand that until governments of the world begin to act according to that logic.”

And as the US embassy in Cairo tweeted last Tuesday, “The Egyptian people made clear in the January 25th revolution that they have had enough of dictatorship” while the US continues to send tear gas and military aid to the Egyptian government, the ordinary people of the US must recognize that we are the only ones here who are of any use to the revolution.

For more information about US-made tear gas in Egypt, go to:

منظمة مقوامة الحروب الامريكية تمنح للقيادية العمالية, اسماء محمد محمد, التي قالت لا للغاز المسيل للدموع, جائزة سلام

للنشر الفوري




علي عيسى – في نيو يورك 718-310-9968

 اسماء محمد – في سويس, مصر012-680-9980

منظمة مقوامة الحروب الامريكية تمنح للقيادية العمالية, اسماء محمد محمد, التي قالت لا للغاز المسيل للدموع, جائزة سلام

كان رفضها لتمرير شحنة المحرك الرئيسي لتكوين نقابات من عمال الجمارك في كل انحاء مصر

نيويورك – غدا, 27 نوفمبر, سيعلن علي عيسى, المنسق الميداني لمنظمة مقاومة الحروب الامريكية, منح جائزتهم للسلام لسنة 2012 لاسماء محمد محمد والعاملين في جمارك السويس. في 27 نوفمبر 2011 بالضبط قبل سنة من يومنا هذا, رفضت العاملة في ميناء الادبية, اسماء محمد محمد, تمرير شحنة ذات 7 اطنان من غاز مسيل للدموع امريكي الصنع, قادما من ميناء ولمنجتون نورث كارولينا, الولايات المتحدة.

جاء هذا الرفض في اعقاب استعمال الغاز المسيل للدموع بشكل غير مصبق في شارع محمد محمود قرب ميدان التحرير, حيث مات عشرات المتظاهرين نتيجة تنفس الغاز. اثار رفض السيدة اسماء تكوين اول نقابة جمارك مستقلة في مصر – النقابة المستقلة العامة للعاملين في الجمارك – التي بدأت في السويس ومن ثمة انتشرت الى جميع جمارك مصر كجزء من الحراك العمالي الذي اتسع بعد انتفاضة 25 يناير.

كما تقول السيدة اسماء – عضو في لجنة المرأة في نقابتها: “انا قلت, لا. انا آسفة. انا ارفض ان اعمل على هذه الشحنة. لانني لا اريد ان اكون السبب  في موت او اذية احد. فتضامنا معي, او الموقف بشكلن عام, قالوا زملائي في العمل – نحن ايضا لن نعمل على تمرير شحنة الغاز.”

اضافة الى ذلك تعمل منظمة مقاومة الحروب على حملة لحظر استدخدام الغاز المسيل للدموع عالميا, وفي داخل الولايات المتجدة حيث يستدخدم ضد ناشطين بما فيهم سجناء.

“هذه الجائزة معنية بوقف عسكرت العالم من قبل الولايات المتحدة – ممثلا بالغاز التي تصرده, ورفع صوت الذين يأخذون زمام الامور بايديهم, كما فعلت السيدة اسماء” قال علي عيسى, المنسق الميداني لمنظمة مقاومة الحروب. واضاف “ان هذا الامر متعلق بشكل مباشر بحملة منظمتي لحظر الغاز عالميا – حيث متظاهرين حول العالم – في اليونان, البحرين, اوكلاند كاليفورنية, فلسطين, وتشيلي, و كل اسبوع تقريبا في مصر, يواجهون استدخدام مفرط لهذا السلاح الكيماوي.”

وتضيف السيدة اسماء ان كل هذا يحدث اثناء الانتفاضة العربية المستمرة, والذي يعني لها ان: ” تريد الشعوب العربية الان ان تكون هي صاحبة القرار. كما ان الشعب الامريكي يجب ان يكون صاحب القرار ويؤثر على حكومته في القرارات التي تتخذها. نريد حكامنا يعرفون انه سيكون لنا التأثير. ولن يحصل ذلك الا اذا حكومات الاجنبية تتعامل بهذا المنطق: سيادة ارادة الشعوب.”

#  #  #

 منظمة مقاومة الحروب, منظمة تأسست في عام 1923 ومقرها في نيو يورك, الولايات المتحدة. للمزيد:

Celebrations, Resistance, and Us

by Matt Meyer

This week, a project six years in the making – and which many of us hope will have a significant positive impact on US movements for social change – finally shot off the presses. We Have Not Been Moved: Resisting Racism and Militarism in 21st Century America, which I had the honor of co-editing with Mandy Carter and Elizabeth “Betita” Martinez, is ready for distribution. In thinking about how this fact needs to be celebrated – in addition to the very real, vital and hard work of coordinating speaking tours, loading and unloading boxes, and paying for printing costs – it is hard sometimes to remember how vital celebration actually is, and how very poor the left can often be about positive thinking. We are so mired in the depressing work of fighting against a seemingly all-powerful empire, and in the tedious work of basic survival (sometimes our own, sometimes our organizations), that our output becomes more negative than is healthy for either of those worthy goals. How then to stay positive while not getting distracted from the struggle?

Two short examples came to mind:

The first is from Africa, from a recent book by Albie Sachs, the former political prisoner, former ANC militant based in Mozambique, who had his arm blown off with damage to one eye when a car bomb intending to kill him exploded one day outside his office-in-exile in Mozambique. Albie is also a former Constitutional Court judge, who helped write and shape the foundational document for 18-year-old democracy in his country. From an early age, he has chronicled his life amidst the horrors of racist apartheid in beautiful prose contained in several books. His Soft Vengeance of a Freedom Fighter is must-reading for anyone concerned with the art of reconciliation. But I am just now finishing a more recent work – The Free Diary of Albie Sachs – which he was challenged to write in the more positive environment of a post-apartheid society. He reflects on his own doubts at being able to coherently express his more nuanced thoughts about freedom.

One passage struck me:

In a “flash-back” describing a party held in 1956, after the detained leaders being charged during the infamous Treason Trial were released on bail just before Christmas. Sachs notes “I am being taught to dance by the pulsating joy of the bodies around me…It is as though my soul in being rattled and escapes from my tight, white, intellectual skin. South Africans of all communities love to dance. There is a happiness in our country waiting to express itself: apartheid is doomed, and I feel personally liberated as the irrepressible shared popular excitement wells up within me.”

Another memory floods through me:

In the late 1980s, with my own dancing (and social) skills quite lacking despite being in my twenties, ready for rock and roll and revolution, there were two figures I loved and respected who stubbornly insisted that we include some informal dancing after every War Resisters League meeting, conference, or event. Mandy Carter, African American lesbian feminist, and Jon Cohen, Euro-american bi dead head, dragged us onto the dance floor in celebration of I-can’t-remember-what. Despite their differences in age and culture and experiences, they knew something vital about social change and the human condition which Albie and the South African liberation movement, and Emma Goldman with her famous quote about revolution and dancing, also understood. If we don’t express joy at our accomplishments, celebrating one another at as many turns as possible in glorious defiance of the repressive, militaristic state, we lose a vital chance of pushing our movements forward.

As Mandy and I get ready to celebrate, thinking about Jon (whose early death from cancer makes him unable to join us in the flesh, but whose never-before-published essay on accountability accompanies us between the pages of the book), it will be good to think about the larger uses of celebration. No successful organizing can be sustained in the dark negativism of misery without hope, or work without a sense of at least occasional joy. There is resistance and wonder and beauty in our country waiting to express itself: US imperialism is doomed.

Matt Meyer is an educator-activist, based in New York City, and serves as convener of the War Resisters International Africa Working Group. His recent books include Guns and Gandhi in Africa: Pan-African Insights on Nonviolence, Armed Struggle and Liberation (Africa World Press, 2000), the two-volume collection Seeds of New Hope: Pan African Peace Studies for the 21st Century (Africa World Press, 2008, 2010), and Let Freedom Ring: A Collection of Documents from the Movements to Free U. S. Political Prisoners (PM Press, 2008). Meyer is a contributing member of the Editorial Advisory Board for New Clear Vision.