By Jared Olson (Photos: Katherine Lewin)
Two marchers carry the American flag towards downtown St. Augustine in a demonstration of remembrance to Dr. Martin Luther King: a man who is now revered in the same town where he was once brutally attacked and imprisoned
Under the cold bluebird skies of last Monday, January 15th- Martin Luther King Day- St. Augustine demonstrators amassed in front of the squat brick walls of St. Paul’s African Methodist Episcopal Church, a traditionally black congregation, to celebrate the memory of a civil rights hero in a town where that hero was once hated.
Congealing along the sidewalk into an amoeba of people whose numbers eventually crested at two hundred, the demonstrators – people black and white as well as young and old – stood shivering under an armada of American flags, held aloft loosely in the soft morning wind, as they waited for the yearly procession to get underway: a route that would take them from the steps of the storied black church, where Dr. King once thundered in indignation against racism, to the downtown market square, where black slaves were once auctioned off like cattle and goats.
Protesters reading from the manifesto of the striking prisoners inside, who are seeking to improving conditions and end what they perceive as quasi-“slave” labor
By Jared Olson (photos: Katherine Lewin)
A little past 3 pm, in the midst of a coppery gold, cloudless North Florida winter afternoon on January 15, 2018, protesters gathered on the rural road facing the remote Lake Butler Correctional Facility. They came together to speak out against mass incarceration in America and the unpaid “slave” labor of convicts, and to show solidarity with the prisoners inside, who were then participating in a statewide, daylong labor strike.
The protesters – a group of former convicts, veterans, union activists and distraught mothers – coalesced into a noisy caravan as they left their cars along the roadside, and marched back and in front of the facility, where state laws permitted them the right to assemble. (Within prison property, protesting is proscribed as an illegal offense).
Beating makeshift drums, blowing into trumpets and carrying signs, the stream of protesters led a rising chorus of chants:
“Brick by brick! Wall by wall! This prison slave camp has to fall!’
“We, will end, the department of cor-RUP-tion!”
Promoting the Black Students Association, for which Hasani is VP, on campus
Three years ago, when Hasani Malone first set foot on Flagler College to kickstart her career as a journalist, she knew from the outset that something about the school was off.
Hasani had spent the majority of her life in Atlanta, where growing up, she was enveloped in a largely African American community. Now, she was one of the few black students in the nearly uniformly white, liberal, upper-middle class mass of Flagler’s student body. And though many students treated her nicely, the feeling of cultural listlessness- that depressing sense, however diluted, of having been dropped in a foreign country without knowing the language- was nonetheless acute. Continue reading
The Superstition Mountains ride the horizon east of Phoenix like the old spine of a dying stegosaurus, the broken skeleton of upturned Earth baked to a hard and leathery brown beneath the burning, white-hot aura of the sun. In the warm, early morning light of December, the mountains look like serrated terracotta, their dusty brown slopes rising two thousand feet above the basin below like supersized mining spoils of shattered clay pottery. Driving up to them from several miles off, its easy to imagine at first glance that the mountains- a landscape seemingly parched, void of water, endlessly exposed to the suns ruthless gaze- are inconducive to life. But to believe such a thing is to be deluded.
There are cacti and birds, lizards and snakes, smokecolored herds of pronghorns and mule deer. If you go far enough up into these high and forlorn hills, you can even find remnants of former human life.
At dusk, in the rarefied, freezing-cold, mid-December air that settles over much of northern Arizona’s Colorado Plateau, the fading twilight skies over the Grand Canyon are shot through with soft hues of lilac, and for a brief moment, the canyonlands beneath acquire a stillness.
Nothing seems to move in this brief interlude between day and night: the huge, billowing winds that waft upwards against the canyon walls in the daytime cease, and the flocks of birds that normally wheel erratically over the ridges below- tracing invisible lines resembling a painters smearing brushstroke- lay up to roost in the pines.
For a brief moment, all in the canyon is still.
In the apartment of Marta Rojas- here on display with a picture of her with Fidel Castro, a personal friend- one of post-Revolutionary Cuba’s foremost living writers
The old writer draws a picture from a stained folder in the musty wooden cabinet and contemplates the image of her younger, more beautiful self, many years ago, sitting next to Fidel Castro. We draw closer to her, a collective gasp of astonishment escaping us all. We can see the resemblances in her face, her eyes. These two women- the one in the photo and the one holding the photo- are the same person, separated only by half a century’s time. Together, they constitute one of Cuba’s most important writers, a witness to massive upheavals and an unmatched chronicler of history.
Marta Rojas, a Cuban journalist and Revolutionary heroine who exudes an inexplicable brightness of spirit, smiles youthfully as she flips through the pictures of her past life: here she is again with Castro, testifying at a table in the early months of the Revolution, her shapely, wine-dark face in the picture lowered down to speak into a microphone before her; here she is on that picture hung up on the wall, standing there in the black and white photo taken when she traveled to Vietnam to cover the war as a correspondent.
Atop the Escambray Mountains in Topes de Collantes Cuba, watching the Caribbean Sea to the south
When people ask me, knowing that I’ve been there twice in the past year, what I think about the prospect for change in Cuba, I’m always struck with the sense that there’s a premade answer they want me to respond with.
Yes! They’re expecting me to say. The pressures for democratic reform are pushing to a tipping point! That as clandestine groups plot revolution in dimly lit alleyways and garages, flag-waving masses of disgruntled citizens will soon pour into the streets demanding change, and that as corrupt government bullets ring out in retaliation, Cuba will become the next bloody iteration of Venezuela or Libya or Syria; that heavily romanticized rebels (perhaps even with the aid of a glorious NATO bombing campaign spearheaded by the United States) will fight on with gathering strength in the mountains, in the plains, and in the streets, finally deposing those communist dicks in Havana in a fiery show of cinematic, democratic glory.
The camera is gone. The images are missing. Now, after having my school-rented Nikon mysteriously stolen not even two weeks after returning from Cuba, the only way I can recreate the time I spent on that slender Caribbean island is to rely solely upon my memory.
For the two weeks I traversed the Cuban countryside, my Nikon was slung as preciously over my shoulder as a revolutionary would carry his rifle. At every possible moment, I lifted my camera from my side and carefully sought out shots like a soldier setting the crosshairs on the enemy. With my lens, I endlessly sought to reinterpret that feverish tropical dreamscape, trying to divine meaning out of the passing of the Earth around me. By the end of the trip, my efforts had yielded an enormous pictorial catalogue of my journey.
It was my second time traveling in Cuba. The first time I went I had gone with two friends, on our own, and we had stayed in around Havana, whiling the bulk of our week there wandering the labyrinthine tanglework of broken backstreets that are as emblematic of that city as the Eiffel tower is of Paris. And though I was exhilarated by the first trip- by the adventure of exploring a new land where I could practice my pent-up Spanish language skills- I was not in love. The second trip, however, was different.
When they first emerged out of the jungle early that morning, New Year’s Day 1994, it seemed at first that the Zapatistas materialized out of nowhere.
Their takeover was quick, a flash of ominous lightning that struck Mexico with a force unseen since the sepia-tinted, early days of the Revolution.
Within the space of just a few hours, the scantily armed rebels of the Ejercito Zapatista Liberacion Nacional (Zapatista National Liberation Army)- black-masked mountain dwellers who looked out upon the world with dark, mysterious, indigenous eyes- overran the numerous large towns that strung across Chiapas, the southernmost
Mexican state whose rainforests border Guatemala to the south, effectively taking over the entirety of the state. By the time the millions of urban dwellers in Mexico City several hundred miles to the north, presumably reeling from the previous night’s drinking, awoke to this development, the rebels had already broken the news, having issued their startling ultimatum to the world: the Zapatistas had declared war on the Mexican government.
Not only had they declared war on their own government; they had begun the first leg of a cosmic battle against the brutal economic ideology of neoliberalism, whose coercive and terrifying tendencies was the symbolic culmination of the more than five hundred year tradition of exploitation, abuse, and genocide directed against the indigenous peoples of Mexico.